Re: Accessible

I’ve wondered what it means to be personally accessible. Throughout my varied relationships with others I have striven to provide access even though I have a reticent personality. I resist the pronouncement, “My door is always open.” Because in truth it isn’t. Just because I consider myself a good listener doesn’t mean I’ll always hear what you say. My spirit has access points. I’ve discovered I’m more open to someone who poses thoughtful questions. The way to my heart is not through my stomach but by accessing my sensitivity to truth, justice and inclusivity.

When my wife and I were looking for a place to live after retirement I thought up an ABC list for a potential location. The A stood for Access, the B for Beauty and the C for Cost (an obvious bottom line in any list). At the time, our accessibility needs were few since we were both retired and healthy. So there was no need to be near work, a hospital or a school since our family days were well behind us. We desired to be near to city services, cultural amenities and community gathering spots all preferably accessed by foot. Victoria B.C. provided on the first two so we had to adjust our budget and expectations to fulfill our dream. I stuffed my desire to curse the cost.

Like other white middle class males I have felt the urge to get huffy when my access is denied. As a teen, at a beach resort I once fumed for several minutes after I showed up bare chested to a ‘No Shirt/No Service’ restaurant and was turned away. “How dare they!” I railed against the authorities. My friends covered me, literally, by finding me a Tee to wear. When you get used to doors opening for you, it’s easier to be shocked when access is denied. We all get a little testy when internet service goes down or water gets shut off in our apartment. I can make myself feel outrage when something appears unjust. I’ll go to lengths to advocate for myself and those I love. The squeaky wheel does get greased.

Some folk strive for access: to the executive washroom, to the halls of power, to the information highway, to the happening concert, to the next big thing. I’ve never been ambitious enough to barge in front of people, yet I have coveted what others have excluded from me. The child in me wants to point and shout, “But how come she has one and I don’t?” In my perfect world no one needs to fight an urge to bud in line, because there is no line. In this world we shape laws that focus on inclusivity. Technology is used to further the goals of accessibility rather than being commodified for the rich. Here, we are taught that our resources are plentiful and not restricted to a pie shape. As a matter of justice, we all have equal access to food, shelter, education, healthcare, employment and recreation. Here, truth opens all doors.

Re: Attachment

My son watched aghast as Prince Harry was asked yet again if he misses his mother. I understood how he could relate to the royal, having lost his own mom to cancer twenty years ago. We both wondered why some people maintain such strong attachments.

“Hang on tightly, let go lightly” is a wonderful line from the film ‘The Croupier’. I’m proud that my sons and I have found ways to detach ourselves from events that have caused us sorrow. We have learned to say goodbye without forgetting. In our own ways we continue to practise the meaning of living in the present. I love my sons not because they are mine, but because of who they are. When I learned the value of loving detachment I made a committed step towards a more mature attitude to life in general and other people in particular. I feel safer knowing I can detach from my own ego, from unhealthy situations, from the pressures of conformity. I will not blindly wave a flag nor join a parade.

I’m learning late in life not to be attached to an outcome. I wished I had had a clearer sense of this when I had sought out opportunities in the past. Perhaps a desire for something is closely linked to our wish for attachment. Sometimes our singularity compels us to seek the security of group membership. Even a kite needs to be tethered by guiding hands before it can soar. Admittedly, this analogy falls down when you consider that your individuality risks being constrained by an idea, a process or a brand. An obligation can also be an attachment that holds you back from discovering what’s best for all concerned. Truth can be the scissors that cut through those tethers that prevent us from experiencing a healthier personal reality.

Getting over ourselves can often mean stepping from the centre of our web of connections. Detaching from some filaments and letting go of the security of the collective is frightening but necessary to growth. I was clinically depressed five years before the death of my wife. I look back in gratitude that I had that span of time to sort myself out. In hindsight, I needed those years to be a better person for my dying spouse. I found ways to be more responsible for myself so I could be of greater assistance to my loving partner.

It isn’t an easy journey but I believe it begins with the cutting of the umbilical cord. To me that marks the start of one’s life, when you know you are truly alone. From that moment there are varying degrees of dependency, agency, and clarity regarding who is really in charge of your existence. Calling the shots means knowing when to seek help, receive help and provide help.

These days I’m attaching myself to the joys of life using a lighter thread enabling me to feel less bound by convention: More tuned in to the slightest breeze of welcoming change. I wish to fly higher and see further.

Re: Media

The first time ever I thought deeply about this word was when my grade ten art teacher started a lesson by using a Marshal McLuhan quote: ‘The medium is the message.’ After the discussion, we chose the medium we felt was appropriate to a theme of our choosing. Back then I believed I was being clever by using plasticine. I wanted to give a cheeky message that media could be molded or manipulated to suit the situation. Today, as a writer, I’m using this blog as my medium of choice. Let me massage your thoughts.

Most people view media as the platform through which any information is delivered. In a free society this means that the message is rarely filtered and can get manipulated. Wars and governments are won or lost on how well the propaganda machine can spew out ‘alternative facts’. The messenger becomes very important when it comes to interpreting the barrage of information. As citizens we must take some time to discover what is believable and who to trust. It has become difficult to discern the truth, especially when we are in such a hurry, yet some subjects are just too important to rely on a swipe right or left methodology.

Courtroom decisions are being made based on media evidence of crimes committed. Darnella Frazier was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.

Today the options for information and entertainment are vast. My blind mother-in-law is less alone because of the joy she finds in listening to her reliable radio. I cling to a traditional, home delivered newspaper in a similar way. I enjoy television too, perhaps too much, especially now that I can stream programming without the annoyance of commercials. I’ll confess that Twitter has been a remarkable addition to my life. I find this format of social media helps me to see interesting perspectives from all over the world.

Media and reality have never been so blurred. I’m respectful of journalists who sometimes risk their health and safety to bring us important stories. Cellphone technology can transport us live to scenes only passersby used to witness. Film can be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram for millions of users to take a collective gasp, then resent for political action. I remember being shocked by one-day-old film from the war in Vietnam. Now with the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, pictured below, can bring a real time humanitarian message to viewers of the Grammy Awards show. Art imitating life imitating art, was never more true.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cG86Kezt0K0

I won’t take a medial position on this. A spiritual medium may mystically propose that my being and my message are essentially interconnected. I’ll interpret Mr.McLuhan by proffering that we are all, Media. I believe our thoughts/feelings/expressions can be connected to form a singular reliable understanding. Wow!

Re: Anecdote

My dad was a great story teller. It took patience to listen to his picturesque anecdotes about his day at work, his thoughts on clover, his belief that we all mattered. He rarely repeated a story. Each new day brought new material for him to wonder over. Each tale was embellished beyond practicality. For my father, the act of storytelling was the most important thing. He once held my sister and me captive as he dramatized his amazement over the amount of condensation he had had to wipe from a bathroom window after he had taken a shower.

His presence in my life was undervalued when I was young. His legacy remains however, as I have recorded that joy of the awesomeness of life by journaling. I have kept anecdotal thoughts on the events of my life in diaries, on note pads, in newspaper columns and internet blogs. I’m not alone, nor unique really, since anecdotes are the history of humankind.

Society can dismiss information that comes from others as not being accurate or not science based. Yet we do love to gossip. Often evidence in a trial is invalidated if it is anecdotal but get a large enough group to say they believe in something then fiction becomes truth. Old wives have been shamed for hundreds of years just because their tales were considered suspiciously held. Stories that are passed down from one generation to another may lack documentation but that doesn’t necessarily make them untrue. An oral history can indeed be worthy of note.

Indigenous peoples of the world have taught us colonizers that stories from our elders can be genuine. We can trust what our mom or dad or grandparents tell us. Take the recent discovery of the two ships from the Franklin expedition in 1813 as an example of the value of anecdotal evidence. Searches using various scientific methods were conducted on many occasions but it wasn’t until oral heritage descriptions from Inuit stories were analyzed that the search narrowed to the location of discovery. Now the area is a Parks Canada Historic sight.

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/nu/epaveswrecks

Speaking or writing anecdotally is sort of an analogue version of history. We may not need to gather around the tribal campfire anymore but family gatherings always enable experiences to be shared in an informal way. At the family level or nationally this is heritage talk. Inevitably there are paper trails to be followed when one is researching antiquity. There are legal documents, court reports, death notices, registries of births. The pages will sit in some file, or listed in a computer data base, maybe even laminated and framed for posterity.  My eldest son is a historian. He does painstaking research through various archival sources but the final product he creates reads like one of my dad’s stories.

Tales of where we have come from or who we were can act as a guide for us to discover our own lost wrecks.

Re: Family

I sit perplexed, thinking I have taken up residence in a snow globe. Flakes of white float about me while I remain, a tiny plastic figure, securely fastened. Presently, I feel like life is swirling around me. There are few familiar things to remind me of time or space. My extended family is scattered and I am tethered to a temporary existence that seems destined to be permanent.

Elders in my family are approaching death. At a time when a shared experience is almost mandatory these two souls are turning their backs on reality. We have an apartment nearby the care giving scene. Younger members of the fam have come to visit and offer their unique words of kindness, understanding and support. Friends too, have offered grace, humour and encouragement. These are the times we all look for signs of familiarity.

Family is defined differently from person to person. The word conjures up feelings of warmth and harmony for some, discord and coldness for others. Family was so rigidly defined by my first set of parental in-laws that, when their daughter died, I was written out of the will. Some families have members referred to as black sheep. My mother once wrote off several in her clan, vowing never to have them darken her door again. My father, in contrast, welcomed all as if they were blood relations. My sister and I were bonded only through our DNA. Our characters were as different as night and day, therefore I find the term family is best defined by closeness to another rather than genetic similarities. Blood is thicker than water but so what?

I have felt a soul connection with many, yet my reserved nature holds me back from collecting friends as family. I bristle when a boss in a work environment encourages us all to be like a family. Surprisingly, I can tear up when witnessing signs of a universal family yet it has to be at a certain remove. For example I love marching with crowds committed to a cause yet intimate Christmas gatherings of ‘the whole fam damnly’ put me on edge. On those occasions I keep looking for a singleton to share some meaningful thoughts of quiet reflection. In certain contexts the family collective can generate within me a sense of claustrophobia.

During a recent conversation with my stepson, I remarked how I envied his ability to maintain friendships. Unlike me, he seems able to spread his familial energy to help others feel included. In his company you feel his empathy and willingness to be a part of your life. I am unable to spread myself that thinly. My emotional capacity appears limited to one key person. My head puts Love and Family in the same mental box so I have trouble sorting out the contents. I feel stressed dividing my attention between multiple individuals while reciprocity is paramount in my relationship guidebook. In truth I am a son, father, uncle, nephew, husband and reluctant friend.

My wife understands all this about me and I am blessed. 

Re: Face

One of my very first memories was of me, chattering nonsense at the dinner table, then being told by my mother to “Shut your face!” I would come to face the truth that that was her way of joking. Growing into an adult I have had to face the facts about my parents, as all children must do, if any sort of relationship is to be maintained.

I have another memory of my mother when she was a municipal politician, where doing an about face was a match for her personality. Getting ready for a meeting, she would always get her face on. She rarely wore makeup but used cosmetics to make herself ‘public’ as she would put it. I’ve often wondered about the sincerity of the cosmetic industry for this reason. As a heterosexual male I have always been most attracted to women who eschew adorning themselves. Natural faces are so beautiful; freckles, blemishes, scars and all.

Let’s face it, many people create a facade for their true selves. Some can’t accept their reality as they face the mirror, so they invent someone who is more in line with who they wish to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZsndEc830 .

It must be hard to use dating apps for that reason. As you scroll through the choices all you have to go on are the manufactured bios and carefully posed selfies. When it comes time for the risky face to face meeting, it is like the old notion of a blind date; cross your fingers and hope you haven’t made a mistake.

I’m that way with the celebrities I have chanced to meet. I usually get all flustered, heart racing in an OMG moment. I lose my sense of normality as I overthink what I must say or do when faced with the fact that they are right there in front of me. I’ll always regret a brief encounter with Neil Sedaka. He looked lost without an entourage at an airport in North Bay, Ontario and I didn’t offer to help, rudely acting like a VIP myself, off to catch my flight.

Other times in my life I have been able to put on a brave face. During sick leave for depression, several of my grade eight students sent me get well cards asking if I would attend their graduation ceremonies. I didn’t know whether I could face the music, so to speak, of returning to the environment that had been partially responsible for my nervous breakdown. Thankfully, with a friend to accompany me, I could face up to the hard therapy of getting on with life. Facing reality is damned hard work. That event was the first step of many I took to recover and rebuild my identity.

Using Facetime is a wonderful way to show your two dimensional self during COVID19. I live far from my grandkids, so I love to see their grinning, curious faces. While I long for a good old fashioned three dimensional hug, at least having screen time with them is better than any television show.

Re: Spy

When is a spy different from a whistle blower? Or an investigative journalist for that matter. When we think of spies we think of deviousness, subterfuge, plotting and secrets to be discovered. There’s irony here: A spy is asked to uncover things whilst doing undercover work. A spy has to keep a secret in order to unearth one. The side that has the spy network is happy when results are obtained, the other side shows disgust that their privacy has been invaded. Spying rarely produces the win-win scenario much sought after in modern international politics.

The Cold War, begun in 1947 and not really over until the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., was originally about maintaining a balance of power between potentially warring nations. In order to achieve that, everyone had to be on an equal footing so espionage was an accepted practise. Some spies were imprisoned, if caught. Some disappeared. Many, like Sir Anthony Blunt, despite being considered a traitor by his countrymen, was not prosecuted due to the sensitivity of his proximity to the British Royal Family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFl7NdzOOZg&list=PLkmRedTjok3Sfpkq9AhhCXHr675gI9RJd&index=52

As a young fellow I loved reading the short graphic tales in MAD Magazine called Spy vs Spy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onR7PD3Grc0. The cute characters, one white and one black, would basically chase after each other, laying traps, throwing cherry bombs while neither came out the clear winner. When I was older, my dad introduced me to Ian Fleming’s pulp fiction tales of James Bond. When the film franchise began I knew from the start I would be a life long fan. My mother relished being a sort of spy. She enjoyed ferreting out weaknesses in people and then holding the information, ‘over their heads’. She was once a personal assistant to a private investigator and went on stake-outs that my father frowned upon, until he was needed to pose as an ‘Englishman’; a role he played during a tense weekend in Hell’s Kitchen, a sketchy part of New York City.

We live in a time where security cameras are common. Privacy is hard to find, yet we expect transparency in government and business. Corporations might lose their new product’s edge if a design secret or release date becomes common knowledge. A brave few who work in industry, the military or in politics feel it is socially responsible to reveal insider information. Jeffrey Wigand may have singlehandedly changed the way North Americans thought of cigarettes. Journalists Woodward & Bernstein told Mark Felt’s Watergate story, which brought down a U.S. President. Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Juliann Assuage, Bradley(Chelsea)Manning, Edward Snowden are familiar names of people who have revealed truth to the public.

Whistleblowers, like spies, are frequently vilified yet they report they are acting according to their conscience. Even though the ‘top secrets’ exposed are shocking/dangerous/controversial, the informers feel they are acting in the public interest and fulfilling a personal directive that supersedes conventional authority. History may reveal the rightness of their tales, but at the very least we can be grateful for their courage.

Re: Side

An argument I had with someone long ago involved the use of this question, delivered at maximum volume, “Whose side are you on anyway?” It was really a one sided yelling match with someone who felt unsupported. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I still don’t because choosing sides makes me uncomfortable. Waging war is all about picking sides. Wayne Dyer once said, “When you live on a round planet, there’s no choosing sides.”

As a young boy I enjoyed the mythic stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. By definition the table lacked sides; no left, no right, no head, no foot. Political equality in theory and practise. Every knight’s opinion counted and there was no need to forge allegiances. There I go being naive again. Every kid learns early how to choose a member for his/her side or team and often it has less to do with talent and more about hard to define things like loyalty, friendship, or expectations. The business of Sides usually is about favours earned or collected: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

And that’s when things can go sideways since one side often perceives that they are not getting an equivalency. Strong emotion then comes into play as the one on the other side feels let down, “I thought you had my back!” There may be good reason for someone to be construed as a turncoat. Sometimes a person’s principles dictate a different path from their usual comrades. Friendships aside, there are times when it’s important to diverge due to conscience.

Imagine being a staunch Trump supporter because you’ve always been a Republican in the United States. Perhaps your view of things from his side is now starting to unravel. Perhaps The Donald is making you question your loyalty to the Party of your ancestors. You may be virtually beside yourself with the dilemma of how to vote this November. Your country’s core values are being questioned at an international level. This particular decision to choose sides is way more crucial than what side of the bed you might prefer.

Heads or tails. The coin is tossed in the air. It has two sides and you are encouraged to choose. Yet often in life things can seem like two sides of the same coin. Environmental concerns and the use of fossil fuels are linked. In Canada we feel that Peace, Order and Good Government are not mutually exclusive.

A celebrity’s fan base can have members that vary from mild appreciation to rabid exclusivity. A Fan is often called on to take sides based on their celebrity’s announcements or positions on things unrelated to their particular talent. A celebrity may ‘go too far’ and alienate previous followers. Taking sides is serious business. Taking sides can sometimes involve an oath, of love or of fealty. Promises made aren’t necessarily kept for all time. Circumstances change, new data disturbs the parameters from which the original decision was made. An awakening!

Siding with truth, is something with which I can find fidelity.

Re: Preserve

Preserve and Conserve are words often used interchangeably, yet each will evoke a different feeling within the spoken or written context. As a result, their subtle separate meanings can feel rather jammy in your head. When I’m writing, sometimes I want the exact word that will deliver my point, other times it’s just fun to mess with all available synonyms to create a mood rather than a message.

My former wife was into preservation, of fruit, of vegetables, of well used bits of fabric which she turned into kid’s clothing and patchwork blankets. She loved the process of conservation. She maintained detailed genealogical records and worked hard to sustain the values she found in her local church. She was proud of her choice to be a modern example of a Homemaker. I built a cold room space that was stocked with the many varieties of her jams, jellies, pickles. I made my own wine from berries picked from our yard, preserving their goodness in a different way. We both worked at preserving the culture of family mealtime.

Human communities value conservation efforts so we set up wildlife preserves. A conservative thinker will often choose the preservation of jobs over the conservation of natural resources. Often we work hard to maintain an institution because we want to preserve a way of life that has become our very identity as a society. Here is Old Fezziwig in a scene from A Christmas Carol, asserting his believe in the ways of old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy_G0wvlJXU

Planting a tree is an act of preservation and conservation. We are sequestering carbon dioxide, creating habitat, and providing shade for future generations. We can’t know what the future holds but we know trees are an important part of the picture. Doing art is conservational and the results may be found in a conservatory. Taking aspects of our culture and portraying it in any artistic form is a statement about our present reality and a message for our future unknown selves.

If preserving history means never updating our understanding of its context, then I’m with the people who are currently tearing down the statues of former slave owners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVELtGOaqxY. I’m into sculptures as an art form but not to iconify individuals. Death belongs in the past and must be documented within the past: Not as a roadmap for the future, but as a story book of how things were.

As a society we sometimes hold on too tightly to outdated things. We give too much credence to conserving tradition when considering how we want our future to look. I believe there is no truth to the phrase; “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We humans just keep being human regardless of our memory of history. Unfortunately, our nature drives our actions more than our intellect.

Preserves come with an expiry date. If used beyond that point we risk our health. Our current climate crisis suggests we have failed to conserve our valuable resources. Our pantry is being depleted of the things we need and poisoned for lack of stewardship. We are losing sight of the garden.

Re: Cliché

With the COVID19 pandemic, clichés are going viral: ‘We’re all in this together’, ‘The new normal’, ‘Flatten the curve’, ‘Social/Physical distancing’. Everyone is catching these phrase viruses. Clichés are just phrases that were once respected for their originality and meaning yet in these compacted times, a phrase, however helpful, can easily become worn out from overuse. Then people may stop paying attention.

My former father-in-law wrote the book on clichéd discourse. He revelled in bromides such as, ‘Love your enemies:It drives them crazy.’ He enjoyed teasing actor friends with the worn platitude, ‘Break a leg’. He preferred the banality of weather talk over conversations that challenged his one sided view of things. He sometimes sat me down and issued a string of trite phrases that blurred into a single slurry of thought, like this memorable one after I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As I recall he said something about; ’The blushing bride, bury a hatchet, at loose ends, busy as a bee, depths of despair, easier said than done, the fair sex, calm before a storm, to the bitter end, in no uncertain terms.’ We shook hands after this confusing monologue, which I took to mean he was blessing our union.

I’ve always thought that clichéd statements were examples of lazy speech, much like swearing. I discouraged my sons from wearing out words while trying to say what they were feeling or thinking. When my wife and I went on a cruise, we agreed beforehand to steer dinner table conversation away from clichés like; ‘So, where are you from?’ or ‘What do you do for a living?’ or ‘What’s your story?’ Or, the worst of all; ‘Is this your first cruise?’ Instead of using these banal queries we tried something refreshing like; ‘How do you express your artistic side?’ or ‘What would you find hard to live without?’ Or even a cymbal clasher like, ‘Who do you love most?’

Clichés can be considered the comfort food of language. A cliché will sound familiar and therefore safe. We often speak them to get quick acknowledgement of our ideas and a sense of where the other is at, in their view of the world. A cliché spoken and received may identify your level of understanding or establish you as part of the club or tribe. For example, when we want to show support for soldiers we speak of their ‘supreme sacrifice’. We often acknowledge grief by sending ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Over time, we might cultivate phrases that become the proverbs or slogans by which we live. My favourite is, ‘Plan for the worst/Hope for the best’. The truism, ‘You get what you pay for’ will quickly establish a point of view. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ holds bits of sage wisdom, however the language we use to describe our complicated lives requires more than hackneyed old sayings. Insight can be found in some clichés yet I’d hate for them to disguise the whole truth about me or the world.