Sunday, March 26, 2023

Ergo Ego


“Come to the edge of your limitation,” she urged, “and then leap; you shall feel free.”


“But I am afraid,” he responded.


“Ego,” she said. “Get past your fear.”


“But I am uncertain,” he reasoned.


“Ego,” she said. “Get past insecurity.”


“But I am not strong enough, healthy enough, settled, enlightened enough,” he averred.


“Ego,” she repeated. “These things will always be with you, but they contain you in your smallness of self-centredness; they capture you in your sense of imperfection; they garb you in clothes of vanity, however subliminal, as your ego demands that you be aware of your physical limitations, yes, but does not free your mind and spirit to be bigger than the moment.”


“Bigger than the moment?”


“Yes. Small ego is irritable, insecure, vain, anxious, uncertain, belligerent, obstinate, and whatever else does not allow for being ‘larger than the moment.’ Large ego is inclusive, absorptive, assimilative, understanding, compassionate, and holistic. Why fragment yourself in bits of enlightenment when you can come to the edge of your limitations, and in allowing for a paradigm shift, let go? Then shall you be at peace.”


“Be at peace? Sounds like R.I.P. (ha!) I’d rather be alive.”


“Yes. Yet peace while alive is about complete acceptance of the circumstances. Like the age old prayer: grant me strength to change the things I can, courage to let live the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


“That’s not how it goes.”


“Yes. But the sense of it is the thing offered here. So accept that much. Needing perfection is for material things, like building bridges and designing cars and making aeroplanes fly. Accepting imperfection is for spiritual things, like faith, and hope, and insight, and enlightenment, and wisdom too. One makes paradigm shifts incrementally, independent necessarily of one’s age. And the grade levels of one’s insight are not a lockstep, like being in regular school. In our lives one may be in grade three in mathematics, but at university level in reading. Accepting that much differentiation for each of us, and most especially of the self, is the primary root of compassion. And compassion, like enlightenment, is not a product, but an ongoing journey. So… come to the edge of your limitations, one by one, and let them go.”


“Hmm. Tomorrow.”


Tomorrow and tomorrow creeps on this petty pace, from day to day.”


“That’s from Macbeth.”


“Indeed. The operative word here is ‘petty’. A myriad of petty things inveigles the perceived needs of our egos. We are so very concerned about how we are perceived by others, even if we are in strange crowds. But to let go of all that and to be concerned for, interested in, and loving of others truly begins with loving the self sufficiently enough to let go of one’s limitations. So then, be larger than the moment. Go to the edge. And grow beyond.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Toy Trains And Tiny Troubles


Grandfather’s hands were scarred with age. As he placed the gift of my new toy trainset on the tracks I noticed them, as if for the first time. The backs of his hands were criss-crossed with enlarged blue veins, like railway tracks on the map of Rhodesia. The veins ran up the insides of his bare arms, and disappeared into his shirt sleeves. Somewhere in there, in his chest, in his heart, lay the origins of him, a son of Africa as he too was. But now his voice rumbled.

“See. It takes patience, care, and precision, old son. You’ll get it right. Just align the wheels very gently with the tracks as you put the engine and carriages down. And notice that their couplers will connect on the rails if you nudge the pieces together. If they do not, it’s because a wheel is not properly on the rails.”

At least, in what was my five-year-old memory, that’s what Grandfather said. Then too, perhaps my observation of his physique, at the time, was not so acute. Thing is, one makes up stories as one goes along the train tracks of life, and alights at stations, and visits here and there, and feels the years go by as perseverate as is the click-clack-clack sound of time, sliding away from oneself, connected by month after month in the journey of one’s life.

Sixty-five years later, I still have that trainset. And even now, as my own hands and forearms bear the veins of a journey across the continents, the essence of Grandfather’s lessons remain. One need be cautious, caring, considerate, thoughtful, aware, and precise if one is to have a trainset working properly. As a metaphor for life, the slightest disconnect makes for a train-wreck, over and over. The tracks need to be stable. The carriages, like the chapters in a book, need to be coupled. The wheels, like sentences, need to align with each other so as to carry the entire conveyance forward, and around and around. And therein the metaphor breaks down. One can get bored with around and around. Maintenance of the parts, of the essence of the thing, of one’s life, in fact, is utterly necessary to keep it going, yes, but around and around? Where be the progress, the excitement, the new vistas in that?

Yes, one adds to the set of one’s life. We acquire new carriages, different engines, add adjoining rails, and replace the accoutrements of scenes around the circumstances of our lives. And the journey swells. It goes round and round. But essentially, it is flat, horizontal, and even predictable. Until there is a crash.

We speak of the stations in our lives, the tracks we’ve taken, the engine that drives us, the carriages of convenience, and the strangers we meet and befriend along the way. We speak of connections. We speak of timetables and tunnels and watersheds and bridges and being transported. And through it all, around and around we go; humanity, that is. Despite aeroplanes, and even rocket ships, we seldom consciously aspire toward higher degrees of enlightenment. As a people, our veneer of civilization is a thin covering over the savagery of our malcontents. As soon as something goes wrong, we are stopped up by the train wreck of our disappointment, anger, frustration, angst, and disfavour. What now?

“It takes patience, care, and precision, old son. You’ll get it right,” is not so much about the mechanics of living as it is about the essence of perception. To accept, to yield, to include, incorporate, assimilate, and integrate becomes a pathway of itself. And unlike the tiny troubles of the disconnects in the railways, (those that stop up the entire progress of one’s trainset, one’s mindset, one’s evolution,) we can o’erleap the gaps that would halt our progress, whether by accident or design, by getting to the heart of the matter; one has the gift of grace within oneself. And gratitude for everything, even the smallest of lessons, is yet one more way to be at peace with it all.

Such was the smile in my grandfather’s eyes. So it would be, were he to see my trainset, still going.


Monday, December 5, 2022

Sowing Seeds


“Incredible! You’ll take the lot?” (It became difficult to conceal my excitement.)

“Yes, everything,” he affirmed. “Since I’m an art collector, and a dealer, I see them all as a great investment. Certainly, (as I’ve been overhearing,) the majority of them are unlike anything one sees locally, and even in Europe these would fetch much attention. Renaissance glazing is almost a lost art. And almost everyone I’ve watched in this exhibition space over the last two days has been mesmerized by the imagery.”

“I wondered why you kept returning,” I beamed. “And here you are again, just as I’d hoped, just before closing time. Just as I’d envisioned, taking everything. Thanks!”

It’d taken me by surprise, having my works in this exhibition. The invitation sprang into action the afternoon before the local Art Walk began. The owner of the empty building, knowing my friend, invited me to use the space. So, Rory arrived, and our two cars were loaded with eighteen of my paintings, as well as hanging tools, an easel, my business cards, and my two novels for display beneath the related painting, (on the cover, of ‘Admission’.) Then too, the gallery owners set up a blurb about me on their website, and the instant exhibition was born. The intensity of it all was deeply absorbing. Over the two days some sixty people popped in. Some stayed longer than others. Several asked questions. And my stories about the paintings got repeated. Each time, like a dramatic performance, I did my best to sustain the import. But not one, no one, made me an offer on any of my works. (Except my dream buyer: “Even if art is disadvantaged by being a luxury item. Then too, many 'have no space on their walls'. Then too, people will often have to pay as much as three times the value of art, ‘just’ to have it framed.”)

Our lives are art works. We sculpt them. We adorn them. We frame the particularities of our own stories into meaningful chunks, and we display them in our language, our habits, our preferences, and our vocations. Some of us are very conscientious about the details. Some of us are highly abstract. Others are a mixture of the surreal, the ontological, and the existential. In our simplicity we naturally go for that which is most comfortable. And hanging there, in the wall spaces of our interiors, the innate art works of our past can be passed by with hardly a glance, (as we often do with the paintings and artifacts presented in our real houses.) We take displays for granted. Imagery is everywhere. Studying it takes effort. It takes an intensity of focus. And since the meaning of imagery is not easily articulated, it is indeed subject to interpretation.

We are right to be subjective. That which appeals to me is for me; you have your own viewpoint. Our preference for agreement is innate too. (“I like this one, don’t you?”) But to own something? Most of us are constrained by our budgets. As such, we are often out there, without a specific list of needs, and something attracts us. It can be the thing we had no idea we wanted at all.

So too for the adventures in our lives. We do not necessarily go searching; they happen to us. From our own reference, we are more comfortable with those who can relate. We nod in affirmation at those also eschewing predestination. We agree with those disagreeing with clear cutting. We beam in recognition of anguish-experienced enlightenment. We chuckle at the symbolic yoking of disparate entities, depicting collaboration. We marvel at history’s lessons, not being learned. “No, life is not cricket!” One is drawn in by the peace within ‘Mornings Missed’.

At least, that last phrase was the exact title of one of my paintings. And the descriptions of life embedded in the preceding paragraph do apply to each of my works. Yet of what matter? They do not adorn other people’s walls. In fact, there was no such benefactor, as depicted herein, at all. No. Nothing sold. Yet one puts one’s intensity of purpose into one’s daily life, and advertises with one’s card, and who knows where such honourably intended seeds may grow? ("Here, do take my card.")

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Lancaster Lessons (second half)


We are about to leave the Mosquito when the young man pauses. He turns toward the other side of my display table. He points at the music-speaker to the right, and leans forward to inspect another model plane atop it, displayed seemingly to float on the air. “And this one is an Avro Lancaster, yes?”

 “Yes. Even more significant to me. Had a model of one as a boy. Played thoughtlessly with it.”

 “Hm. Boys play. But now, like that Mosquito there, you knew someone else who’d flown one?”

 “No. But M’Lady Nancy Sinclair’s twin brother, Denys Street, flew one. His plane was also shot, and he also had parachuted out, but he too was captured and sent to Stalagluft Three, just like his counterpart, the Mosquito pilot, Denys Sinclair.”

 “Counterpart? They both were called Denys?”

 “Yes. And more than that. They met on the prisoner train when on their way to Stalagluft Three, became firm friends, and were in the same bunkhouse for the next four years in prison. Not only that, but Denys Street, Nancy’s twin brother, told his pal, Denys Sinclair, all about his beloved blue-eyed and beautifully intelligent sister, Nancy; so much so that after the war, when Denys Sinclair was finely free, he searched Nancy out, and the rest, as you’ve learned, is history.”

 “Well, not quite. What happened to Nancy’s brother, Denys Street?”

 “He was one of the fifty caught, and then shot, in the so-called Great Escape.”

 “Really? Wow. There was a movie about that. Right? With Paul Newman?”

 “That motorbike-maniac story was entirely fabricated for the sake of the movie. But Nancy’s pain at the untimely loss of her brother, that way, endures to this day. They were born in 1922, see, and that means he too would’ve been100 this year, had he lived. But neither the mighty-might of the British air force, back then, nor the luck of drawing the right straw was with Denys. And the tragic story of those fifty brave souls who tried to escape has resonated through time. Denys Sinclair did not draw a short straw. Denys Street did. And what followed is a very sad story.”

“All sad? But what about the Sinclair story? After the war, when Denys Sinclair got free, what happened to them? He, and your M’Lady? You said they moved to Australia?”

“I did? Oh? Good listening skills. Yup. They first had their five children. They tried to make a go of a vegetable farm in southern England, a place near Godalming, but the economic after-effect of the war was too strenuous on them, so they emigrated to Oz. Ended up near Perth. Denys taught flying lessons, and M’Lady Nancy taught French lessons. She also did pottery, paintings, furniture upholstering, pot-pourri flower arranging, and recorded-readings for the blind, among other things. She is a most gifted person. But eventually Denys died too. She’s lost a lot.” 

“And she’s still there, near Perth?”

Yup. But she’s here too,” and with that I reach up and touch my heart. “Always.”

 “A bit like these boy-toy planes of yours,” the young fellow smiles at me, “constantly alive with very real and quite profoundly significant memories. Always.”

Mosquito Memories (first half)


“And why do you have that one? What is it?” The young man asks, pointing at my model. 

“A Mosquito. They were used extensively in World War Two, for reconnaissance especially.”

 He looks at me askance. “You were in World War Two?”

 “Ha! No. Number Two had a 1941 date. The First World War, as you may know, was during 1914. I was born in the early 1950’s. But the plane in question signifies much to me, particularly since it was flown by the husband of one of my very dearest friends, M’Lady Nancy Sinclair.”

 “A real Lady?” There is no artifice, nor disbelief in him. “Was her husband a Lord Sinclair?”

 “No. But her father was Sir Arthur Street, minister for Air Defense in Great Britain. So, Nancy, quite appropriately methinks, got called M’Lady, by me.”

 “Hm.” The fellow leans forward. He inspects the camouflage and bomb-riggings of the model plane, set on its plinth. He is about to turn away, but I persist. “So that particular plane means a lot to me, since her husband, Denys, flew it, even though I never met him.”

 “And why is that? Did he die during the war?”

 “No. Thank goodness. He was shot down, over Germany. He escaped his plane by parachute, but then was captured, and taken by train to Stalagluft Three. It was a prison encampment for flying officers. Several years later, and only after the famous Great Escape, in which he was not one of the men selected to escape, thank goodness, he was at last set free. He found Nancy, proposed some seven times over to her, and at last they were married. They had five children, three girls, and two boys. Had I been one of their children, I’d be their very youngest.”

 “Hm. So, how’d you meet her then, this Lady Syn…, this Nancy?”

 “Denman Island.”

 His hand lifts, and he points up the channel of Canada’s Georgia Strait, about eight miles from where we now stand in my sea-view den. “Denman? What were you two doing there?”

 “She came up from Down Under. Visited her dearest cousin, a war bride from those olden days, whose husband had settled on Denman. I was busy building my own house there, back then. It’s now nearly thirty years ago. We met by chance, through a mutual friend. Took to each other, right off. She came to Canada every three or four years, back in those days, and we saw each other as much as possible. Then too, our correspondence never let up. With the advent of emails becoming possible, she undertook to get and to learn how to use a computer, back in 2012, despite her being ninety years of age at the time. She still writes to me, to this day.”

 “Still writes? Started emails at 90? Why, that makes her over 100 years old? Really? Wow. So, what do you put her longevity down to?”

 “Asking questions. Curiosity. Being interested in everything and everybody. Like yourself. You might not have asked me about that plane, and we’d both be poorer for bypassing that little Mosquito. Pesky they may be, questions that is, but at least they produce answers.”

 “Ha! Mosquitoes. Pesky. Still, if you don't ask, you'll not know.” Yet still, he asks no further. Still.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Elemental Excavations



“No, it’s true!”

“Then how come you’re climbing down these steep rocks, like a mountain goat? ‘Twelve years in a wheelchair? Hardly able to walk five paces. Then decided to walk again’? I mean, really? You’re having me on,” the younger man scoffed.

Adam, at seventy years of age, fixed his eyes steadily into the young fellow. “It is the years of self-discipline, inculcated since childhood, that has helped. At boarding school, not wanting to be caned instills self-discipline. At conscription into the army, not wanting to be singled out, or to be responsible for the whole troop having to suffer, also establishes self-discipline. And so, bred into the bone, as it were, it was easier, six years ago, to make the decision to be mobile again.” 

The young man stopped talking. He leaned back on his huge and now silent yellow excavator. He puffed on his cigarette. His great bare belly protruded above the beltline of his grease-smeared jeans. Adam waited. The workman pulled out his palm-held very thin phone. He squinted at the little screen. Then, smoke curling up from between his gorilla-like fingers, he tapped with both blackened thumbs at the miniature keyboard. 

Adam waited. At last, feeling somewhat intrusive, Adam tried: “Our modern age, particularly in countries without real strife, allows for persons to become reliant on something else to interest them, to entertain them. Intrinsic reward is not much realized. Most of our interests come from external things. We are easily bored if something doesn’t make things interesting for us. It’d be better perpetually to practice making everything interesting, from within oneself, yes?

“Uh-huh,” the disinterested rejoined. And scrolled through something on his flat little machine.

“Yup,” Adam continued. “We seldom ask the five W’s of others anymore. The television has taught us to not have to question. And curiosity is all but gone. Except for our phones. We always seem to want to know exactly who is binging, or buzzing, or ringing us now.”

“Yup.” The young man’s energy perked up. “You know, this device has more computing power than the first one that landed man on the moon. Everything I want to know is in here. So… why should I learn anything if I can get it instantly? Corrects my spelling. Gives me pictures. Checks my email. Plays my music. Even does my banking. So… what’s your problem with it?”

“With it? Nothing. A great tool. But some of its operators are not as deft with it as you are at handling this giant machine. Not as sensitive at the controls. And while you are constantly having to assess the possible consequences of each maneuver, and the damage it might do if you’re not utterly careful, as isolated as you are in the cocoon of that iron cage atop it, the rest of us can only watch, and listen to your cantankerous noise. Those rocks you pluck out; they have not seen the light of day for perhaps millions of years. And now too they shall have a renewed life, as it were, gathering new dust, arranged according to our whim. Interesting, so to excavate old things to a new light. So too for our habits, our thoughts, our history, our feelings, and… Ha! But at least with it you are making progress. The earth moves.”

The chap looks up at Adam. “And while I must be careful, moment for moment, so too do you, old man. A slip. A fall. It could have serious consequences, not just for you. Your wife too.

Adam smiles. “Yes. I admit it. Consequences. Ha! Glad we dug into this little chat. Thanks.”

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Subtle Self-Centricity

This is about you. And me too. We cannot help but see things from our own point of view. Yet some of us are overtly, deeply, self-centric. We can stand in another’s studio and prattle on about a relative of ours who also paints. We can stand among another’s library of books and prattle about the book they have not yet read, or worse, haven’t yet got. We can stand in a custom-built home and prattle about the grand view to see from some other home. Our sense is about ourselves, and how the world, elsewhere from the immediate, affects us.

In the immediate we are a paradox of being. We exist in the moment yet are full of stories about the past, about other things, or about other people. Our own ideas can be limited to a restructuring of what we know, have seen, or can interpret. Naturally so. Yet often the lack of compassion, awareness, insight, or empathy can speak volumes about ourselves, like it or not.

To advocate here for inculcating, as a habit, the 5 x W’s can appear didactic, or patronizing. And yet it is remarkable how little we can practice it. Which of us engages in another’s presence fully, consciously? When with another, how much of that person’s life-story do we absorb, or easily recall? Why can there sometimes be a sense of disconnect? Who among us is so much in ‘the now’ that we can sensibly integrate the other with compassion? What is it that imbues our immediate interests: the evidence before us, or some memory of the past? Where does it end?

Often, during someone else’s speech, we interrupt easily, and draw attention back to the self. We listen not to understand, but to interject with our point of view. Worse, often in our own speech we speak on and on without pause for the other to intervene, easily, with their response, interpretation, or intervention.

Self-centricity is subtle. The ‘I’ in almost everything we apprehend deeply impels our lives. It is a small-meme behaviour at best, but can also be a large-Meme attitude, to our disadvantage. We like certain colours, music, food, fashions, and even vehicles. These things can easily change over time. But not so easily changed are the large Meme adoptions we’ve acquired. They are the ones of our culture, political persuasions, religious affiliations, and sense of morality. At times so very constrained by our childhood beliefs, we eschew the shift we can feel toward having to enlarge, accept, integrate, absorb, or include yet something other into the oeuvre of our own cherished contentions. And thus, evolution, in all its tugs toward enlightenment, gives pause to one easily overcoming oneself.

Self-centricity, at its worst, tugs us away from the other. It tends to make everything directly relatable to the self. It engages life in terms of how life itself affects the self, with little genuine inclusion of the other, for the other’s sake. It can bloat the self. It can diminish or negate the other.

And so, in having read all these words, do they prattle on about you, or are they meant as a subtle reflection on me? At the baseline is this: Do we predominantly give, or do we chiefly take? (And in giving, do we indeed get to feel sufficiently good about ourselves?)

Such can be one’s not so subtle self-centricity.