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.

Re: Change

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. When I think of the word Change the most available quote that comes to my mind is one my mother used to say often; “A change is as good as a rest.” She was referring to getting yourself out of a routine. Being in a rut is not a helpful place to be when you are on the road of life. I believe my mom was right; choosing a different path can bring refreshment, even enlightenment.

Not all change is welcome. In these changing times brought on by COVD-19 we can feel that change to our very livelihood has been inflicted upon us. Change is easier to handle when you are the creator of it or even if you have a stake in it. When someone else brings change there is a tendency to grumble. In our community we have a Grumpy Taxpayers Association who regularly criticize any change that our elected municipal officials legislate. Specifically they are concerned about the cost of things. In that regard I can relate. I often find myself gazing at the loose change in my hand and wondering how quickly it loses its worth.

Like cities throughout time, our downtown has its share of panhandlers. One fellow in particular gained some notoriety by the manner of his shout to passersby. “Spare a little change.” was his plea. You could hear the long drawn out word ‘Cha-i-n-ge’ a block before nearing him and for blocks further along. He was a veritable institution on one corner and when he relocated it caused a buzz in the community until word got out that he was working a corner closer to his new home. Throughout his time collecting coin he saw an abundance of pennies and nickels, then dimes and quarters. Regardless of the amount his cadence was never changeable.

Our change has changed. Inflation is ever changing the value of change in everyone’s pockets and purses. Where I used to keep a jar for quarters, I now have a plastic tub for loonies and toonies. I haven’t changed how I process my change even though the worth of it has declined. I still feel a childlike thrill when I save enough change to roll into a special paper sleeve designed for its respective denomination. A cylinder of nickels will total two whole dollars, a roll of quarters will create the equivalent of ten bucks and, hold your breath, a single tube of toonies amounts to $50! I’m old enough to remember my excitement as I walked to my corner candy store with a roll of pennies quickly growing warm in the grip of my tight little fist. A large bag of jujubes, caramels, liquorice and jawbreakers would soon be mine.

Change in the 21st century happens faster than it takes for a soft caramel to melt in your mouth. As always, there will be things we can change and things out of our control. Peace will come from knowing the difference.

Re: Judge

Someone who has an opinion is often thought to be judgemental, now that’s an unfair judgement. In fact I believe the word Judge needs a hard look before we jump to conclusions regarding a person’s intent during a conversation. I think evaluation is appropriate. It keeps us safe from dangerous situations and people who may wish to harm us. Judgement implies sentencing and I’m not for that. Society sometimes has to judge and individuals who are authorized by governments to make judgement must tread carefully, lest their judgement ends up doing harm. In my experience judgement can lead to abuse.

For example, I may be walking in the wilds and come across a bear. I have heard that bears are dangerous, shouldn’t be fed and may strike out when cornered. My personal conclusion is to give bears a wide berth. My evaluation may suggest bears and I have to find ways to co-exist. That would be my preference. It would be wrong to judge, that because of my evaluation, all bears must be killed or be put in cages.

I have been in conversations where someone has said, “Now don’t judge me.” This usually means that the person is not sure how I would feel about their behaviour. I have to reassure them that I’m not here to judge. I might jokingly say that they are in luck because I didn’t have my gavel with me that day. Or I might refer to Sammy Davis Jr. posing as a judge on the television show Laugh-in and uttering what would become one of comedy’s first memes “Here Come Da Judge! ”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hIcKkKID8k . Hippies might have said, “I don’t care about your behaviour, just don’t hurt anyone.”

Polite manners of speech often force us into thinking along the lines of judging or being judged. Too bad, since once an emotional line has been crossed both sides stop trying to come to a mutual conclusion. A threat has been perceived, thoughtful exchange degenerates into shouting or worse. When an evaluation can come about as a result of full participation then no judgement is really necessary, only planning together for resolution of the original problem. No further protest is needed since there is a will to rectify rather than justify.

I’ve been shaped by film as some people are shaped by books or influential mentors. One of the themes of A Christmas Carol (1951, starring Alastair Sim) is judgement. In a memorable scene at a rag shop, characters gather to talk of their employer after his death:

Charwoman, “Why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? …If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after him…”
Mrs. Dilber, “It’s the truest word that ever was spoke…It’s a judgment on him.”

This scene is the clincher. Lucky for Scrooge he is given a view of his selfish, misguided life while he still has a chance to change it. He sees the truth in his charwoman’s statement, not in judgement, but in genuine curiosity; “Why wasn’t he kinder?”

Re: Sort

Carl Linnaeus, considered the Father of Taxonomy, developed a system of sorting plants and animals in the mid-eighteenth century. In university, I enjoyed an Entomology course where 50% of the final mark was to sort hundreds of varieties of insect specimens found mounted and stored in dozens of drawers in the lab. Many features on each specimen needed examining before it could be assigned its proper Order, Family, Genus then Species names. I got my highest mark in this course, where order took precedence over randomness.

Not without coincidence perhaps, my favourite candy as a boy was Liquorice All Sorts. When we first came to Canada they were hard to find in stores. Sometimes my grandmother would send a package from England at Christmas. My sister and I had different favourites which luckily avoided conflict; she liked the black tubes filled with white sugar paste and I loved the coconut wheels with the liquorice centre. I still enjoy them as a treat, my wife loving the colourful beaded ones that look like buttons. No arguments here: Harmony reigns.

An English phrase I recall my parents using was, “Let’s get you sorted.” I’d have a problem with my bike, or something troubling happened at school or sibling rivalry reared its head and Mom or Dad would sit us down to get to the bottom of it. We were encouraged to sort through our problems in a structured way by examining ourselves first.

What sort are I? Like my fellow human, I am a person wanting to be able to express free will. The more you put me in a box with a singular definition the less I will feel free to be me. In the documentary film, ‘Ask Dr Ruth’, Ms. Westheimer rejected being classified by her daughter and granddaughter as a feminist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkZ8Kn3xVO8
I thought about this scene in the movie for days afterward since it seemed obvious to me that she represented in word and deed what a feminist would stand for. She later accepted the label saying she wasn’t ‘radical’. I wondered if her reluctance had anything to do with being sorted, as so many of her generation had been, in the methodical terrorist manner that was the Nazi Germany of her youth. Under Adolf Hitler, people were identified and classified. Once labelled, a person could be discriminated against, legislated against and potentially exterminated.

None of us want to be put in boxes. We are much more than one aspect of ourselves. We are many facetted. We are all a unique combination of our skin colour, our beliefs, our upbringing, our occupation, our thoughts, our daily activities. We are complicated. We are right to reject being classified. We must shout loudly if necessary, that we are a member of the human race. We can say this with certainty, objectivity and truthfulness in our hearts and minds. History tells us that this fact needs to be declared repeatedly so that we remember our common natural classification as Homo sapiens. No further discussion needed. What else needs sorting?

Re: Truth

There is only one truth. Usually this universal truth is described as scientific fact. The existence of gravity on a planetary body is irrefutable. Scientists use the scientific method to explain observations, then they form conclusions which can then be tested over and over by other scientists for accuracy. Empirical evidence is the cornerstone of any scientific discovery.

Often Truth comes with a number. You get a traffic ticket because you were travelling at 100mph. The measurement on the bathroom scale indicates 85kgs. The library fine must be payed since your book is 2 days overdue. You may disagree with any of these numbers but you can’t say they are false. Science isn’t the only area where we can be confident in a singular truth. Banks keep track of the financial numbers and we feel confident that our account is accurate and up to date. Our judicial system is based on finding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Historians make a point of checking facts of events so that we all can agree that certain things did happen as witnessed. Unscrupulous governments or corporations can distort historical documentation to bend the truth in their favour and thus control the citizen or consumer. I remember first being awakened to this deception thru George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Ybkd_beUU

We often like to ignore the truth, even when it is staring us in the face. Seems these days that people are playing fast and loose with the truth. We see so many examples of the twisting of facts and figures that we can lose trust in the authority of numbers. Mark Twain found humour in this manipulation by suggesting, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” We’d like to know deep down that the truth can set us free, yet how will we know it when we see it?

Oprah Winfrey has often encouraged her followers to trust ‘your truth’. I would call this Personal Truth. It is subjective. It is not truth at all: it is belief. We all have a belief system that helps us make decisions. We grow up learning rules of life; some we keep from childhood, some we discard when they are no longer useful. ‘Your truth’ may put you in danger if it causes you to ignore objective truth. Our true selves may crave speed but we are testing the laws of physics and tempting statistics when we drive our car too fast. Slow down or better yet, stay off the roads or maybe try out for NASCAR. You pick.

Throughout history people have found comfort in joining others with similar beliefs. When your truth finds commonality in a community then you have found faith. This is Social Truth. Like Personal Truth it is still subjective. Viewing Social Truth as fact can be comforting but also very dangerous. Religion is a Social Truth. Some sects attempt to provide evidence that their faith is fact or at least better than the other person’s faith. This has led to war.

And, perhaps finally, there is our current Inconvenient Truth: Climate Change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4DFXUndvbw