Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yesteryear's Scars

"Get that taken care of! Cedar splinters reappear, even after decades," I was warned by Glen Snook, a self-sufficient man. In his 80's, a good friend, he was a giant of a fellow at about 6 foot 4, and he lived in a shoe-box house he'd built himself on Denman Island, soon after the last Great War. "Great? Ha! Nothing great about wars, or about scars for that matter, cedar or otherwise."

"Just keep going and never look back," Glen observed at the eventuality of my having to leave Denman Island. He was affirming; "A reason, a season, a lifetime." Time on Denman had come to an end. There were other things to do, oceans to sail, lands to visit. While there, my property, for all its beauty, had both injured and marooned me. 1996 was the year of constructing my own house, with a handsaw, right next to the sea, but it also was a year of my building a fulcrum between a past and present. (Come to think of it, does not each moment provide that fulcrum too?) So much loss attended the years concerning Denman, and the scars run deep. We all have them, scars that once felt a wound, and given the right moment, we pluck up their stories again, or we bury them yet deeper beneath the skin, cover them up, that others might not see.

When I carried the squared cedar tie-beam for the foundation I was creating I was nearly 18 years younger, bare-chested, and strong. I was not then in a wheel-chair, and though I had had my spine welded together with chips from my hips, some 20 years previous to that, I still was pushing the limits of endurance and tolerance. But later, in 2004, when titanium rods and screws replaced my bones, the old fusion showed it'd been cracked all along, so hair-lined that no x-ray had picked it up. Ha! At the very least the chronic pain I've continually experienced was given validity! Then again, within a year or so of getting the spinal hardware, I became power-chair dependent, now nearly eight years ago. And the condition grows worse. They said I'd not work again, but six more years of teaching proved my point; there are ongoing wounds and pains that need not hold one down, ha! At least, not until...

Too much personal info! Of what benefit to others that I reveal? I remember at twelve years old reading of a forlorn Romeo saying to Benvolio, "You jest at scars that did not feel the wound." Ha! Shakespeare was for me! After all, we do "take on so." To quote Socrates, "Of what use, the unexamined life?" (or someone like him.) Still, it feels solipsistic, an exposition of my own scars.

Yet scars happen. Physical or psycho-ma-logical, scars carry their own story. And mine, in the deep scratches of cedar on the right side of my chest, arise and provoke at me, repeatedly, over nearly eighteen years now. Each time the bits of splinters get scoured sufficiently away the skin grows over them and they disappear for sometimes a year or two, but then the tiny bits of wood remake their way to the surface, and irritate the heck out of me. So too for memories? So too for happenstances? So too for the choices we made? So too for the slip-ups and falls and the cuts and bruises of a lifetime. They resurface. The ones I'm surprised to see, among my many scars, are the ones whose origins I have forgot. Not because I am no longer bothered by them, but because they no longer bother me; the distinction, though subtle, is significant, yes? No pains?

We each have a past. We each have wounded and been wounded. And for some the scars run deep and cannot be ignored. Anyone public sees the unnatural cicatrix across a face, or on the skin where one 'ought not' to be. It is the deeper scars, those in the psyche that are not so readily seen. And even those can surface too. But when we overcome the past (possibly by realizing that all that was, and all that could be, was all that we could be, or we would have done other) then we can forgive ourselves, and so too the perpetrators of our scars. Sure, the irritant remains. There are some things that do not go away. Product presents itself in many forms, but attitude therein and thereafter remains our choice. Ha! My scars remind me to take care. Yours?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Point No Point?

Even in heaven death reaches for us, but we continue to want identity. At which point are we prepared to go entirely without meaning? The cellular activity of our physical being resonates, is fragmented, is atomized, and energy does not die; it transforms, scientists say. They inform that water is a finite amount, forever shifting and transmuting, but quantifiable. So too for energy; it cannot be destroyed, only transmuted; a form evidently made changeable. So too then of the energy of a dead bird seen betwixt me and paradise? Will its 'being' now be given more lasting significance thanks to the possibility that these words may resurrect its having once existed?

My paradise was immediate. 'Point No Point' is an actual place on the West Coast of
Vancouver Island. The restaurant there with its clusters of cabins alongside the tree laden cliffs overlooks the grandeur of the pounding Pacific Ocean. And on the mist laden afternoon of December 21st, 2013, at the prime location of the corner table with nothing but glass window panes between me and the almost audible sea, way down below, there is a feeling of being on cloud nine. Until I looked through the glass, just below my window, at the floor-level ledge, and there was this dead bird. Blackened already, and rotting, it entirely suffused me with a sense of 'ugh!' But I said nothing. I did not draw my wife's attention to it. I tried not to let it distract. Why spoil my wife's birthday celebration? Why bring such an ugly image into such a pleasant day? But it has haunted me, that image. Death and rot and pain and disease attend our pleasantries. We are best to integrate them. Heaven, to be almost sure, will not be all it is cut out to be.

Overexcite-ability is a Dabrowskian term for the hyper-sensitive, especially when still a child, and not yet sophisticated enough to process, integrate, or respond with both intellect and emotion to the vagaries of life. A child may be highly superstitious, see omens and portents in the slightest of events, and refuse to get aboard the plane when the sighting of a dead bird en-route has provoked a deep and atavistic reaction of other-wiseness. So too for many an adult. The significance of events is almost directly related to the self; endemic symbolism is placed specifically 'there', by a universal power, in a solipsistic intuition of immediacy and accountability to the self; or larger, the self in the group. Life is all about me! And that dead bird had bashed up against the window at some point in time precisely to be seen by me in order to be immortalized on this page. Or not? At any point, there at Point No Point, I was distressed in that moment, and found myself processing the overcoming of the advent of death so near to my other sense of being in paradise. It easily could've spoilt my day. Certainly, I struggled to dismiss it from lunch.

Reflecting (ha!), I saw the bird as having nothing to do with me, specifically. It was as natural a process as dead butterflies found in the car's grill after a journey. At what point do we not assume responsibility? Birds all over the world bash up against window panes. Perhaps we should hang ribbons from every ease-trough? Creatively thinking (ha!), I could imagine the bird's partner or offspring pining for the non-returned. Many a bee brings home a story to tell about reeking from falls into summer afternoon beer. Many an ant has relayed being blown away by a giant's breath. And what of the mice I used to catch in the live trap? What a story told of transport in a cramped steel space-ship doing a great jiggle-distance on some giant pedalling contraption just to be joggled free into some far off field. Ha! As adults we teach children to be kind to snails, slugs, spiders, and creepy crawlies everywhere. Our Paradises are full of them.

Point No Point is an earthly paradise. Its restaurant, food, cabins, and setting is sublime. But it too, as of 1952, intrudes on nature. Our cities, our subways, our towns and our very beings are all part of that same energy, nature, transformed, transmuted, and given reference, point by point. But at the bashing up against the glass, for that bird, by these words, perhaps there is now no longer a natural 'nevermore'. Point made? Or is there really no point? Death takes all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Xmas Xpurgations

"Horrors," one might exclaim melodramatically, "I forgot Penelope!" Such is the anguish of the times, these Holy-Day, holiday, Christmas, seasonal times. I re-conjure the rosters of people I've known and love(d) over the past 60 plus years, and I wonder how their Xmas is going, or should that be 'Christmas,' or perhaps you'd prefer 'Holiday Season'? Point is that a Time-Period is reached and one gets well-wished, palpably, or not. The card, the present, the phone call, the email, the generic and the specific and the particular, anything; just don't be the one to overlook, or worse, be the one who is overlooked? The awful 'horror' of it may be that guilt and concern and worry and money and effort and time and even fear attends so very much of The Big Significant Day of Celebration. Not just Christmas, but a Birthday can be missed too!

In another cartoon a cynical husband tells a wife, "Sure I can tell you what Christmas is all about; learned it as a kid: It's about a decorated tree and Santa leaving presents under it, for me!" Ha! It takes a moment to realize he speaks not of gifts from him to others; and when he does, he says, "And it's about all the bills at the end of this December! Happy New Year!" Ha!

Counting one's cards can hardly be deemed proof of having been thought about too. Very many of my friends no longer send cards. One of my dearest friends, M'Lady Nancy, at 91, starts hand-writing cards almost two if not three months in advance, and posts over 130 in time for Christmas! I doubt that she receives as many. But she's been doing this for years. Yet in the long list of people to whom she does send cards there are so many others in her ken that do not get such tokens of her remembrance, not for her lack of care or interest, but simply because in one's lifetime there grows hundreds upon hundreds of persons one has met and liked and shared time with and known, and some contact-loss just has to be expected. They too, each of them, might well spare a thought of well-wishes and fondness and kindness toward her. Yes?

And what of YOU, specifically? If you're reading this you may well know me, personally, and by a long-shot recall having had a much more personal communication between us than is this generalized missive. (Just this last week I received a Facebook note from Brent, a person I could no longer place, until he reminded me that we'd performed together in South Pacific, over ten years ago!) Among the thousands of students and actors and colleagues with whom I've shared time over three-plus decades (as well as the non-job related friends and acquaintances along my 60+ years of life) it makes for an over-long list of people to whom I'd like to send well wishes, specifically, particularly, precisely, and pointedly: You. But....

Time arrives at points. And then they too pass us by. We turn up in the moment and much is made of it, or not. We give our love and care and well-wishes, and are heard, read, received, or not. And in the great glue that is this world of connections amongst us all there continues the memory and the imperfection and the hopes and dreams and even the disillusionments of time and pace and intention and action, always. Point is that to take much of it personally is perhaps to be left rather sad indeed; someone somewhere is bound to feel overlooked, neglected, forgotten.  We carry people with us, always. We think of them, sometimes. We think of others, often. We think yet again of another, once in a while. And yet another, continually. Almost always we wish them well, Godspeed, health, and care. Let there never be 'horror', but frankly, myrrhth, and merry moments too! And so, Penelope, and you and you and you too, Merry Christmas! And love, always.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meant To Be?

"It must've been meant to be," the phrase came, trippingly. And I halted. Semantics and colloquialisms and idioms abound in every culture; hoist us on their petards. Within, we may become ineluctable victims. Without, we may easily perpetuate phraseology. And overall the shaping of our minds may be such that we react, respond, think and feel along with our sayings, or perhaps even worse, are not aware of what we're saying at all. Like do-do in the wind.

Predestination is a fascinating concept. We more easily ascribe it to an individual than to a group. Those souls in the towers of 9/11 could hardly have been predestined to be there; yet we believe he or she who was meant to be there, but missed the bus, was meant not to be there? Not quite like our concept of karma, with its overall sense of retribution or just rewards, or like Newton's laws of action producing equal and opposite reaction, we take predestination to mean some magical, mystical, religious or spiritual event that was, well, "meant to be." So we open our sails and set loose upon the seas of fortune, favour, and storms. We fall on our knees and break a knee cap (at 90 plus years old). We have a stroke. We have an accident. We miss that bus. We receive an award. Our book is published. We manage to finish the painting, or not.  We win the lottery. "If you're to have it, it will be meant to be, or not." Ha! One may as well not stir.

Hubris, ego, narcissism, and selfishness invest themselves in our language, our culture, our outlook. We almost cannot imagine ourselves not being conscious. Heaven and many mansions hereafter buoy our hopes. Ambition and perseverance and belief invigorates us. We are naturally given to crossing our fingers, to lopping off rabbits' feet, to throwing the bones. And despite all the chance and circumstance and ceremony, we instinctually adhere to phrases such as, "it's meant to be." After all, somewhere outside of ourselves is a coincidence of points that opens luck's door at the precise right time; that turns the traffic light green; that allows for our precision of presence when John Cleese sits down right in front of us at the London theatre; that brings about the dropping of the crystal salad-bowl. It was "meant to be." That parking spot made available just as we arrived, or not; that money found on the pavement; the glove lost; the letter not delivered; the recalled hug given that may well have been the very last, "meant to be"?

Malcolm Gladwell has it that there are three coordinates that usually occur for more than kismet to be made: thousands of hours to be poured into the work; a support network of backup people; and chance. The painting may well have taken 15 years to produce; there may well have been some 8,000 people who saw it at the art show; but without that one special person who has the right connections, the influence, the insight, the clout, the interest, and the wherewithal the painting in question goes back to the artist's studio, to be stacked up with other projects that might never see ‘the light of day’. So it goes. Imagine if the latest art treasure haul had not been hidden from the nazis by one man? Ah well, hiding it was "meant to be."

Fatalism has its flaws. Prayer and hope and luck and instinct have theirs too. And whether we win or lose, shall we in the end say, "It was meant to be"? Meant by whom? And if meant, then why should one struggle so to do, to overcome, to fix, to right, to address, to achieve, if it all was meant to be, or not? Why do both sides in sports teams bend alike to pray before competition?

Whenever I succeed, or not, it has or shall not have been entirely due to my own artifice; there be hundreds of persons involved in the steps along my personal way, and each have impacted my getting to this very 'point in time'. But not one of them is in the least bit as responsible for me as I myself am. Like your reading this, or not. Indeed, just as it was all meant to be? Pet phrases can be cute, indeed, but then again, they can be cumbersome. Or do I blather against the wind? Hm? Should one just leave things as they're meant to be? 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Creativity Crisis

Genius can appear as instant. The 90 percent perspiration formula, as we understand it, in such instance, disappears. Looks easy, as the little girl climbs through the looking glass; the corner of the canvas lifts; and the derivations from centuries of impressions upon the Akashic records of time are streamed in a recognizable flow of consciousness. Otherwise, Fosbury might have flopped; Seurat may have pixilated beyond recognition. And a Sunday in the Park might lead into a succession of ordinary days of unproductive restfulness. We are humans, doing, as well as humans, being, and genius, that brilliant capture of the ephemeral made concrete in the mind, or made inordinately productive, is almost invariably particularized by others' recognition of usefulness, impact, effect. Lightbulb moments are too easily turned off by trip-switches. What profit it mankind if a manuscript of brilliant insight be tossed to sea in a bottle that is swallowed by a whale, never to be seen again? What profit the intentions of the writer of such a work other than that she or he has done something with the minute particle of Everything that is his or her own uniqueness? Do the canvases in the mind do any good until they find their way through the hand? Is an audience necessary? And even then, there be but few moreover moved indelibly.

Already, like notes tossed to sea, I mayve lost you. Fosbury and Seurat are esoteric references, admittedly. The simplicity of the anonymous cartoon depicted above becomes for the viewer yet more of genius dependent on one's knowledge of art, the reason why that particular painting was chosen, the consciousness of the derivations of plucking up sufficient courage to peek past the obvious, and to render insight into other dimensions. Plato's cave, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, and M'Lord William Turner all have something in common. But shall we give to Plato the pre-eminence of looking over his shoulder for truth?  Even Aristotle found fault. Genius is not dependent on accuracy. It is in essence about insight. And then we may give the idea to the engineers and mechanics and glass blowers to create the mass-production to enlighten us all. Or perhaps the publisher and the journalist and the television will bruit our product's efficacy, even if not attached to our name. Not all genius is publicized, seen, appreciated, or understood.

Theatre Shows I have directed, performed in, designed, have had thanks to others momentary qualities of ephemeral beauty that needed being there fully to appreciate. No video has given the product credit. No photo. Yet even among all those present, we each see, feel, apprehend, comprehend, and process differently. Very seldom, by the light of the fire, do we conspire. We sing carols; we hear the same words; we listen simultaneously. Yet I know some who actually do not like Bob Dylan. For me, as singer and guitar player, I take great pride in never delivering the product the same way as before. Firstly, because I'm incapable of it (my musicianship is insufficiently developed), and secondly, because each time I sing a song it is "the first time", and emotion evolves as I find the words give meanings to my rendition; or is it the other way round?

I am stalling. My newest painting has/is undergoing several metamorphoses. But I am not finding flow. That which is in my brain is instant, like seeing a heron poised to strike from its solitary perch on a rock in an indistinct seascape that is as fragmented as a multifold of molecules intersecting in time and space so as to be barely recognizable in the singular focus that one maintains on the stilled shape of that mesmerizing bird. Not quite like in a fog. So too for anything else we give focus. This next word, 'now', is all your eyes see/saw in the blur of everything surrounding it. How to paint that, and yet to give everything else sufficient content that the viewer may appreciate its significance to the whole? And therein resides my meaning: the significance of everything to the entirety of the whole. Genius lies in those who do make it all look effortless, complete, and worthwhile. Yet perhaps the atavistic genius in each of us lies instinctual in every molecule, as but part of the grand complexity? Integrated. After all, which part of All and Everything is not also a part? Come, by my fire, lets conspire; breath for breath.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Against The Grain?

Ugly presumption is awful. Behind every beauty, youth, innocence, charm, care, compassion, or generosity lies deceit? Are we really so inured to “original sin”? Do we automatically subscribe to the “selfish gene”? Must there be a soiled identity lurking behind the civil and the noble? Is there always an evil eye waiting behind the many masks we see? And just because there is so much in our 24/7 pop culture that perpetuates a sense of distrust, so many examples of honourable men gone wrong, lovely women turned horrid, do we needs become a society of mistrust and misanthropy? Or can we, Rogerian like, still wag with puppy-delight at each new soul we encounter? Can we see the beauty behind the mask?

I would the image above were painted the other way round. Surely there is beauty so profound in every being it just takes some delving sometimes to see it? Do we not like the lion, and the tiger, and the crocodile? No? Ah yes, crocodiles are not quite so photogenic as to appeal. But have you ever seen a mother croc with her babies aboard? The great “Intentionality” in life is the real divider behind what we understand as truly ugly, and what is just natural. How would you like to be the pretty little lady-bug being unwittingly masticated by a bovine? What a bad ox!

But each time we purposefully hurt and betray and harm we forget our essential beauty. And our pop culture, our televisions and newspapers and images and art and words and films and stories and fears create for us an ongoing sense of the monsters behind our perceptions of innocence. The post-apocalyptic world is presented as essentially self-serving, so invariably dystopian. Is the beast in us all?

Thoughts of Original Sin ought carefully to be examined. As a cardinal concept it is a fulcrum around which fear for the future continues to profit. We purchase our relics; we pay for our sins; we procure ourselves a spot in heaven. We are thereby leavened, purified, made again innocent. And all the while we live we perpetuate our sense of shame at being alive with this ugliness within. How dreadful. How very painful. “The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.” How seemingly inescapable! And how very debilitating to feel, no matter what, that I wear only a mask. How very difficult it is then for one to see oneself as but a molecule of the whole that has form and identity given it by the very life in which one grows up, that one leads, that one conceives of as true and real and viable.

Yes, let’s take the masks off, and thereby reveal the loving and connected beings that we are; or does that really go against the grain? Hm???  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Complementary Cousins (Guest Response)

My cousin, Engela Mawson Ellis writes in response to my previous essay, Provoking Pictures:

I fully get and empathize with your confidence thieving, authenticity crushing childhood fear of making a mistake and the completely disproportionate punishment. 

It seems the flavour of many adults of the last generation in SA was anger and shame! In our family, most childhood 'incidents' were met with violent punishment. The "wet your pants" kind of fear was present on several occasions. I too have had to deal with my feelings around childhood lies but have thankfully realized that it was merely self-preservation! If you wanted to survive AND be the inquisitive, fun loving child you were meant to be - boy you had to learn to be very creative. Survival of the fittest? 

I am proud to report that my generation has struck much less fear in the hearts of children, but the children still lie, not out of fear of physical pain, but out of fear of disappointing and or any kind of discomfort around being caught being human.

I am prouder still to hear the approach of the current generation of young Parents when dealing with mistakes that would require owning up and possible punishment or consequences. They sympathize with the children about their mistake and will say something like this: "Aaah no, I'm so sorry that you messed up like that, now I will have to take away a privilege for a while whilst you learn that there are consequences" There is questioning: "Why do you think it is wrong to do ...?" There is understanding and awareness, not just force and indoctrination which our egos just reject anyway.

Like most things, fear also has a good side in some instances. It makes us aware, fully alert and present to consequences. We should trust our guts more when fear is felt there, see it as a possible warning and investigate it, not explain it away in our heads as many adults do or merely let it overpower us so that our fear has us in its clutches – and we do not have our fear in control. Possibly we should examine what is our relationship to fear? Do we feel it, question it and then take control of it, or do we just allow it to wash over us and freeze us?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Provoking Pictures

One is not always honourable. A single picture can provoke much in memory. And memories are not always good. Aside from the unfairness of advertising, the objectification and belittling of women, the crumple zones of impact upon a populace at large, there are the individual impacts we each perpetrate in the immaturity of our considerations as we evolve toward adulthood, and even then, as adults, we do not necessarily continue with clarity, with truth, with honesty, with ethics, with integrity. We are befuddled. And yes, I speak of more than crumpling a VW's fender. "Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things," is the advert's opener.

Much can be made of excuses. When a culture is predominantly brutal it teaches children to lie. It is easier to get away with things than to own up. Honesty is squelched in the face of fear or unfair reprisals, harsh consequences, and inordinate accountability. Especially in South Africa, where I grew up; one learned to keep secrets. Parents, church, school, peers, colleagues, the boarding school, the army, and even society maintained a sense of shaming way beyond the moment. To own up was to be punished, yes, but to be punished severely, caned, whipped, vilified, and traduced for the rest of one's life. (An uncle of mine who committed a childhood indiscretion was never allowed to forget it; every little cousin was reminded of how they did not want to be like Uncle X.) In boarding school one could get an unsavoury nick-name from being caught at something untoward, and in the army, the whole troop might pay for a foul-up by a single unfortunate. So one learned never to rat on anyone else, never to own up to the mistakes made, unless self-evident, and never to disclose vulnerability, softness, emotional honesty, or any of the misadventures of the exploring nature of youth. In Africa there remains many secrets in the sunsets of yesterdays. And there are indelicacies even here being perpetuated. Why, over here, Mr X or Ms Y will not ever be told what we really think of them, will they? Even now.

But, with reference to the picture of that VW Bug, seen above, I speak of the crumple zones in my youth. I have often felt guilty for the lies I told. And especially with that bug, I wonder that I was not hauled up for retribution, for accountability, for repayment, especially in the face of the fact that no one else could have damaged the car except me. But fear drove my response.

Mevrou F.J. Human was our Afrikaans language teacher. She was possibly 35, or even 40, which was old to me, and I was in my last year. I had just got my licence, and there was possibly only a month of school left. And on this day, for whatever reason, she acceded to my borrowing her car to go and see my mother in the hospital (which may have been my story.) I recall driving her VW to my friend's house, and then, Wally not being there, my turning the car around in his stone-walled driveway, and my hearing that unmistakeable scraping sound as the distant front fender buckled. But I returned the car and said nothing. I recall (now more than 40 years later) her asking me the next day or so if it was me who banged up her car. In my mind’s eye I can still feel my heart pounding, "Not me!" After all, I recall that her car was pretty old and the dent not that bad. Also, I had no money, no resources, no one I could rely on to bail me out financially, and I certainly was afraid she'd send me to the headmaster or some such authority. Fear does horrid things to ethical considerations. Fear fabricates. Fear cripples. Fear crumples integrity. Yet then again, perhaps I did `fess up?

That guilt of my instinctual inability to admit my culpability remains with me; resurrects. Even if I did tell the truth, I recall the fear so vividly that it colours my memory with shame, guilt, and my self-preservation. Then too, by our possible over-reactions to others' confession, do we as individuals or a society continue however inadvertently teaching children and others to lie? Fear is an awful master. And fear is not easily fixable. Yes?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Forever Friends?

Friends stay friends even if they do not reciprocate. At least, for me they do. It matters not that I have not heard from one or the other, let alone seen someone in months or years or decades. On sight of some old long lost friend there is a spark in my heart; this is someone I still care for! But the respective degrees of that care is highly relevant. To one I would give all my available money, to another none. One I would go rescue in some far flung country, another I would leave to their own devices. One I would not hesitate to invite into my house, another I prefer to meet at some impersonal venue. Seems for me that it is the degree of their reciprocity on which I am dependent; not an equivocal reciprocity, but an emotional one. There is a mercurial link that allows me to love another so deeply that my regard is unconditional, while many other friends are peripheral, temporary, and momentary, no matter how much I like them. And I have wrestled with guilt over my seeming fickleness. But there also has to be a boundary to how much of me I can share, for in my fields of operations I have met many thousands of 'friends' along the way.

Naturally, acquaintances and friends and colleagues and family and even strangers all are differentiated. Catching the eye of a stranger is sometimes to feel total accord. Real friends have a category that suggests intimacy beyond acquaintanceship. No student of mine can really be my friend until they are no longer under my supervisory care. Many a cast member in my career as a theatre director has befriended me, but, well, there is no longer a reason for them to contact me, I surmise. And so too for my colleagues in education. I do not reach out to all, nor they to me. Put to pasture as I am, I am an old horse who no longer pulls a cart, is not ridden, has no use, and cannot quite be made into glue. It is but my neighing across the fence that still may attract attention. Yet even so, there are precious few who acknowledge that I'm even here. But yes, it cuts both ways!

Yes, I know that reaching out to friends and writing to them and asking questions and involving them directly in your life is the way to keep the connection alive. I have such a friend in her 90's who writes me from an ocean away almost daily, and another my age, who writes almost daily too, whom I have known longer than any other friend, for we were boys together. And some of my friends write infrequently. And some write hardly at all. And I, like them, do the same. Our friendship is not questioned. Should occasion grant us time we will hug and share and be caring and be glad for each other's company. And then we'll move on. I shall go back to grazing in the valley of my aging. Some of them shall go on clambering the mountain tops. Such are degrees.

If you're reading this it is most likely because we 'still' know each other. And somewhere in our knowing there has been a degree of friendship shared. You and I and he and she are everything, I believe. We are ugly and beautiful and selfish and noble and everything all at once; it is the degrees of predominance in any one of us, however subtle, that differentiates. And evidently the more similar our tastes and interests the more ready we are to dance with each other, let alone graze side by side. When one likes people, loves the very soul in any human being, it is easy to be a friend; but to have reciprocity, ah, that is a magical thing. As Wyatt Earp said to Doc Holiday, "I like your cut." It has something more than the way a person dresses, than their physiognomy, their talent, or their education; it is something about their outlook on life that is commensurate with yours that most attracts one to another. In Holland's Theory, it simply is stated: birds of a feather!

I am an old horse. Yet my future is still before me. What I have yet to produce will bring me yet more acquaintances, more friends, and new people to love. And if you are still reading this it is not that you were once a friend, but that you still are. It is just that we may not much share much that is personal any more. But should I see you, the love for you will still pour from my eyes. You? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No Matter What?

Shall I speak of my specific sins? Will such a confession allow you to speak of yours? Shall I show you my shame? Will you reveal yours, see yours, find yours, go looking? At which point is all this stuff about me ever really important to you; or is it at our intersection of consciousness that we relate? And when we actually do meet, do the specifics matter? No matter what? Does it help you to know that I stole the money off the bedroom dresser when I was six? Should I know that you were entirely self-serving when you seduced your first prospect? When I betrayed, lied, cheated, stole, did you not even once do so too? And now that we are older than all that, what sins do we continue to commit? Are our mistakes ones of withholding truth, withholding intimacy, and withholding perception? Do we continue our shame, being at our extremes either more-than or less-than human? We want to be perfect, or we don't give a damn. Degrees of the shades of getting greyer vacillate in-between, but essentially we are driven by the need to protect our ego within the degrees of this debatable dichotomy: To strive, or just to be left to be.

My specific sins haunt me. I shudder at certain reflections, can taste the bitterness of my once upon a time foolishness, churn the old misdeed over, or even chuckle at my hubris, my silliness of maturational mistakes; but then I remind myself of the essence of forgiveness: without consciousness of forgiving others, how can I possibly forgive myself? I could not do better!

No matter who did what dastardly deed, some essential trip-switch of insight was not within reach sufficient to stop them, or me, or you, for that matter. We may see the switch, know how to operate it, be reaching for it even, but ego, immaturity, desire, want, or plain obstinacy then takes over, and we drive too fast, drink too much, take what is not ours, or say the thing that hurts. Such is humanity. Yet forgiveness does not condone, nor does it excuse; it understands.

Understanding does not necessarily bring about compassion; different words are indeed used for a different reason. Understanding can stay intellectual. Compassion, being more, is always aimed at being entirely inclusive. As such, accepting the self, and others, arises from the certain knowledge that we cannot in a given moment do other than we do, than we have done, and so forgiveness allows for that moment, knowing that there is more than that moment to be reached for too. Compassion does not condone; it sees that one is but part of a greater whole.

"Ah but thy reach should exceed thy grasp, or what's a heaven for?" said the poet. And indeed being more-than human would go along with that. Perfectionism has its downfalls, its pitfalls, its frustrations. So does not giving a damn. We each are wrought from the daily grist. We each are moulded by the hands of habit. And we each are here, purpose-driven or not. Acceptance would have us just that: accepting of everyone's process of being alive. Not all need to look things up.

My specific sins make up a long list. So many names, hurt. So many misdeeds, done. So many self-serving thoughts, spent. So many opportunities to do better, lost. But in the face of all that, I can bring to bear the good things of my life too. Is there a balance? Does one outweigh the other? Time and circumstance and intention marry in the purpose-driven-life; so too for the one who neither cares nor pays heed; awareness indeed differentiates. Where I crack, there is light.

If you've read this far then you've journeyed with me through this pedantry, this pontification, this  pretentiousness. And mayhap there be some seed sown of forgiveness of the self (if not of others) in the vastness of possibility, or not. I only know that some undeniable energy drives me on to cheep so into the wilderness, like a little bird calling out for sustenance, even though some snake may be alerted to its very presence. We make a noise, or we be silent. Either way, we breathe into life until we have no breath left to give. And we all 'sin', naturally, all along the way. And therein lies much matter, in-deed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Creative Compassion?

When her baby was knocked from her by the charge of the giraffe, and then, under its gangling legs and huge hooves, trampled, she ran back, grabbed up the gun and in a fit of vengeance shot the beast. Or perhaps it was her husband who shot the animal, and then she wanted to pose with the deposed. Or maybe she was a fearful and sad victim of the hunting party, the tag-along cook-wife of one of the men, and when one of the men shot the giraffe she was appalled, hurt, bereft, and in order for her to overcome her horror the men had her pose with the rifle so that she too may feel some pride in bringing down so large a trophy. She was reluctant. She was with others. She was goaded into it. She was ill-schooled in the art of the hunt. Or maybe it was her first time out and she could not help but shoot the first big thing she saw. After all, maybe she was scared and thought it was a lion rustling in the bush, or a leopard in the tree, and when she fired, to her dismay, the great spotted thing collapsed from on high.

We make up stories for a photo such as this. The giraffe had to be culled; it was sick and would’ve contaminated the herd. The giraffe was a rogue, destroying farmers’ crops and ransacking flower beds; it needed to be put down. The giraffe was choking on something it had ingested (note the large branch beside its throat) and the best thing was to shoot it. Poor giraffe. Poor woman. Surely there must have been a reason? There had to be a reason!

Found on Facebook, this picture stirred up hundreds of very vile comments. The posing woman would have suffered greatly under the barrage. If people were to carry out their vitriolic words she no longer would be alive. And whatever excuses she had might not have been heard. Speculation abounds when we see images such as these. Interestingly, were it to have been that of a man, we might expect far less visceral a reaction. One might expect an outpouring of sympathy toward the giraffe and a condemnation of the man, but it is the woman who received the veritable brunt of hatred, vilification, and threat to her life as a consequence. After all, how do we possibly excuse such evidence of our collective capabilities? No compassion! We are incensed!

Compassion would have us caring and understanding and forgiving and sympathetic and empathetic and willing to hear and comprehend and learn. Compassion is integrative. It does not condone. It does not necessarily excuse. But it does understand. It understands that everything is holonic; it all fits within everything else. The killing of a fly, a mouse, a gopher, rabbit, deer, pig, cow, or chicken is but a smaller holon of the larger. We kill as human beings. It is who we are. We are not perfect. They shoot horses, don’t they? 

Whatever reasons brought this woman and this giraffe together, we can condemn or condone or create excuses or have compassion. And we can learn. Or is there an elephant under the carpet? A rhino in the bedroom? After all, making the best out of what already has transpired is the best one can do; yes?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Familiar Friends?

Friends are not forgotten; some we simply do not meet often. After all, dependence on friendship is to have one or both frustrated; obligation makes martyrs of us all. We think of our friends. We miss them. We dip into their lives and into their immediate, and they into our immediate, commingle briefly, then we or they lift off from each other’s vicinity and we know it may  be days, or weeks, months, years, decades before we see one another again. And if you’re like me, the “wish I hadda” phrase comes haunting. What might I have said? What did I forget to say? Eh? And how much of our time was really mostly about me? What should I not have said? What did I forget to show my friend? What did I neglect to find out?

Like that of a dartboard’s mathematical precision, there are segments to friendships. We place boundaries around certain topics. We allow proximity at given perimeters. We ward off with an almost magical shield the would-be darts to our most intimate centres. We apportion and fixate and tabulate the results of friendships, and some flow easily, and some appear to depend on circumstance, and some friends go forever unquestioned, whatever, yet others are indeed equivocal.

Things are not always as they seem. That word, ‘equivocal’, means vague, ambiguous, ambivalent, oblique, unclear, evasive, or shifty. I used to think it meant ‘equally-vocal’, equally matched, well paired, commensurate, on the same page, of the same mind, at ease in one another’s company, or not arguable, ha! Goes to show it’s good to check up on guess-work.

Assumption, presumption, inference, speculation, supposition, and a host of other possibilities attend friendships. Rarely is ‘unconditional positive acceptance’ simply one of those things. We talk about our friends. We praise them in glowing terms and then say, “but”. We absently give voice to ‘barely being able to stand’ a given friend, and then treat that same person with civility, pleasantness, and even affection when in their company. And most often, we treat the discourse over a friend as though it is confidential, just between us, guised as mere analysis. Ha! Seems that in the company of those who talk about others, knowing they’ll talk about you, it’s best not to talk about others in the negative at all, ever, ha!

There is a homily about conversing. It says how one oughtta be more conscious of a hierarchy in conversational topics. We talk about people; or things; or ideas. And that’s just a ranking for us when talking! We easily throw mind darts at dress, music choices, physical types, and hygiene!

Friendship is difficult to define. We choose friends at the slightest of whims, or not. We build friendships carefully, or not. We sometimes write or receive letters and notes that declare care, or worse, bring an end to friendship. We dismiss, snub, ward off, or drop friends. We also keep them close, contact them, maintain them, and cherish them.

For me the love I give a friend never goes away, but the liking, interest, sense of a commensurate companionship and ease of conversation sure can fluctuate.

For you?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reciprocity Revealed?

My Excitability is quite temporary. As the decades go by there has grown too much a sense of wherever I am, there I am. Geographical dislocation, material acquisitions, epicurean differences, or even a rare find for my personal library raises a delighted sense of momentary distinction from the norm, but that generally quiet sense of being at peace with whatever, wherever, pervades. It is appreciation that predominates; and the depths of my appreciation accretes with age. Contentment. Peace. Acceptance. In my seventh decade, I am hardly excitable any more. Positively, or negatively. Well, at times.

Excitement and Appreciation differ. That indelicate anticipation of early childhood before the first flight on an aeroplane can still be conjured. But fleetingly. Back then it was a feeling so overwhelming I recall not being able to sleep beforehand. Now, as I sit here and type at 24926 ft and descend at 454mph I am aware of my profound appreciation, but hardly feel distinct excitement. Been there, done that. Fewer of things are personal.

Taking life apparently for granted appears in growing older. Presents still momentarily excite. Going on holiday still raises anticipation. Seeing friends decidedly stirs interest. Looking at a splendid view with which one now lives (instead of just visits) deeply satisfies. But that childlike quality of excitement is now elusive; been there, done that.

Emotional resonance is not always a measurable response. The myriad faces of people enraptured in a movie, or a stage performance, can be as differentiated as rows of masks in a costume room. We give response to each according to our projections. In an audience one hopes that some apparently bland-faced people are enjoying themselves, that the person distractedly reading the program may not be bored, that the persons laughing out loud at the humour, or cringing at the drama, are entirely invested in the show. Non-response is difficult to gauge; reptilian and dismissive, such lack of evidence of being affected can discomfort. But then the mouth-open eyes-glued non-mobile face of some person watching an action-packed fiction can be mesmerizing. Yet it is the animated semiotics of those reciprocal viewers, such persons as full of responses to provoking images as if they themselves were actually on the rickety-rack-click-clack of the knuckle whitening roller-coaster that is altogether more interesting. Do I do that?

We are different in our responses. Childlike, childish, stoic, weepy, stolid, chatty, we each process the provocations of life in our own diffidence. And to presume that the more excitable one has been reached more readily than has been the strong silent type is assumption in action. Two pebbles given to a friend can mean more than a Rolex received for retirement. And a single hug at a given time and place can mean more than endless conversations. It is the sinking down into the depths of an ocean that can take longer than the splash-splash of a skipping stone. Appreciation may last; excitement may dissipate as quickly as smoke from a birthday candle. Hate hurts the hater most.

Thing is, if peace comes with acceptance as things are and excitement comes with things as we'd like them to stay it is no wonder we are at times so sad when the holiday, hardly begun, is already on its way to being over! Got to stay excited, one seems to keep feeling. Got to make things exciting! After all, peace is for later, when I am... old?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Helmet Head?

Common sense ain't what it used to be. The self-evident black or white of yore has fragmented into modern shades of grey. Ethics is debatable. Rules are for others, and entitlement is the common denominator. Dr. Tom Olson urges us not to die with our helmets on. Indeed, our self protection and need for security engenders such a fear-based society that we are stultifying ourselves to death. Despite our seeming freedoms and individuality it is our protectionism against others and the environment and our future misfortune that ultimately is abrogating unto ourselves those very liberties. It is debilitating, limiting, and enervating. We want everything neatly spelled out for us. We eschew the dictionary. Tell me what to do. We mistake lack of action for security, and rather than be invigorated by self-reliance, self-actualization, and independence, we subsume ourselves to security and selfishness. The paradox of wanting what's right for 'me' is that it captures my concerns, has me grabbing for a helmet, and has me warding off the potential I have to soar unencumbered by the trappings of assurance against any mishaps. That is, the world needs to protect me; I want insurance against complications.

Mentoring, multidirectional, and multifaceted, Dr. Tom takes us through his longevity of marriage (and the discourse needed to keep it alive); the trade off of freedom for security; the need for focus on an internal locus of control rather than an external locus; and the endemic 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' thinking that encumbers our lives. A 160 page straight-shooting narrative comprising eleven short chapters, his topics range through our modern idiom of expectations that others look after us; our loss of appreciation for our communal and familial histories; our possibility to be extraordinary within what appears commonplace; our being a victim of the past rather than by current deeds determining our future; our necessary choices of friends, family and collaborative partners; our being authentic rather than passive; our being optimistic rather than being cynical, skeptical, and pessimistic; our easy proclivity for practicing the sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, or melancholic dispositions endemic to our natures, without consciousness; our possibility to be c.r.e.a.t.i.v.e without being acrimonious; and our need to be risk-takers, inventors, and problem solvers, rather than our reliance or expectation that others ought protect, rescue, succour and secure my life for me. A manual for mankind, Dr. Tom's booklet is a quick and easy read, and like a magic carpet everywhere, will transport the reader to vistas of life as it mighta, oughta, coulda be.

At issue is making the magic become real. And that, as we know, is up to each one of us. But even as we gingerly step aboard the conveyance to a possible new paradigm of involvement in life, we want our helmets of security. We want assurance that others have been there before us, and succeeded. We want immunization against the unexpected, the accidental, the incremental, and the ineluctable. Our innate fears need to be assuaged. And we want someone else, if at all possible, to take the reins; then at the very least, if things go tipsy-topsy, we've got someone else to blame.

Dr. Tom and I grew up in an age when we were sent outdoors to play, to make our own way, and to be responsible for our own mistakes. There were no helmets. There was little or no mollycoddling. There was an expectation that we practice common sense.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Responsibility Reincarnated

Met a reincarnated person? Me neither. Nor can I definitely relate to any past life. So therefore it doesn’t exist. Simple. It doesn’t exist! After all, as an awakening child my own fertile imagination was most likely provoked by the image of an Arthurian knight, or that of a full-sailed pirate ship, or that of an Egyptian pyramid, or what of that opening sword fight in Romeo and Juliet? De ja vu! Such excitability to my sentiments is proof perhaps that I once was someone in the past, perhaps a soul in several pasts? Then again, that concept of reincarnation is surely just that, conceptual. I mean, there are arguments we never descended from baboons, and hairy as I am, it is no proof that my genetics are from their lineage! Nor that of caterpillars, gazelles or worms! And just because someone has feminine traits, or a female is overtly masculine, for that matter, it does not mean he or she is a carry-over from a past life-time! What rubbish! Reincarnation, like Alice in Wonderland, is a fig-a-ment of the imagination! Why, if I were to... And so it goes.

Thing is, unless one specifically can relate, can identify with, can feel for, can be sure of, there is much dismissal of concepts at the expense of those who believe, or who’ve ‘been there, done that.’ Some argue having a 'soul'. Yet there certainly are sufficient proponents of reincarnation enough to fill out books and tracts and orders and religious gatherings on the subject. 'I want what’s right for me,' is the ubiquitous category. Indeed, we are so concerned with the ‘me’.

My soul. My spirit. My body. My life. My lives. My likes. Wants. Fears. Feelings. Loves. Me, mine, and I. And don’t you cross me. Don’t invade my space. Don’t you try to change, influence, persuade, preach or proselytize; I am me and I will believe as it suits me. Predominantly. Sometimes I shift gears and am swayed by the momentum of my family, my friends, my society, my governors, my God. It is my prerogative! It is my right! I am a soul on a journey, or not. I know some say I am just here for just this lifetime and then gone, dust to dust. All of me? Well...

Iconoclasm is the instinct of the cynical, the existential, the distinctly left-brained. Its break-down and examination of improvable constructs keeps a check (and balance?) of the status quo. After all, between theory and fact lie many a discussion, many a contention, many an argument, and many an opinion. An individual is so very paramount; so very iconic; so distinctly significant; so completely important! Or not. Depends if that individual is ‘me’, or not.

Me and I drive sensibility. My belief will dictate my life-style, dominate my desires, depict for me my choices. And to let go of my sense of me, once I die, seems unfathomable. Surely I will go to heaven, I will evolve to the next level, I will be held accountable, I will be free from suffering, I will go on... won’t I? What’s more, I will meet my maker. I will reunite with my family. And when the jury is in, I will...
Met someone who’s been to Heaven? Hell? And not the ones we make or find ourselves in down here, but up there, in the afterlife? Certainly, there are reams aplenty about that too.

Thing is, my own conceptualization of the molecular dispersal of ME into the Whole is but an idea. It may discard Future Ego, leaven MY past, free me of MY future, attempt awareness of my present, and be fancifully osmotic in the extreme. It may discount mirrored continuity, it may discount my owning an integral cellular antiquity, but it does not disavow a responsibility to the health of the whole. Ha! It is my, me, I, and mine idea. And I can live with that inadequacy. You?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Imbalanced Integration

The balance between adulthood and childhood is easily overstepped. We can at times forget who is managing. And to bring the past along with ourselves, step for step, is not necessarily to make the paradigm shift into a new Meme. Such a shift into a progressive predominance of preferred behaviours, or a new set of proclivities, is too easily to fear being hoisted on one's own petard. Yet it is an Integrative Maturation that would have us evolve, become more sophisticated, realize our potential, and provoke at our entelechy. (Or is it that entelechy provokes at us, or not, given its Greek concept of 'innate drive'?)

Throughout history we have eschewed hierarchies. More evidently though, we actually have bowed to them. We have allowed the natural evolution of childhood inculcations of the paternal and maternal dominance to propel us a populace, and we've given over our individualism to the leadership and governance of An Other. Naturally. Our families, our schools, our churches, our institutions, our political system, our religions, and even our spirituality renders it so. We are more easily subservient to the cultural paradigm into which we are born than we are emboldened to walk out on the tight ropes from one paradigm shift to another, and to 'go it alone'. It is a natural gregariousness, a natural interdependence, and a natural need to have group inclusion that drives us to stay within the species into which we are born. Especially if not impelled by adversity. And though there are indeed rarities, anomalies, and individuated persons who clearly are far out to left field (or is it too far on the right?), there is a generalized adherence to the status quo by the vast majority of us that is undeniable. We are who we are. And we resent those who think they are better than ourselves. They may evidently seem better, be taller, have more money, be more innately academic, be more beautiful, have altogether better luck; but we resent it if they look down on us; or conversely (to use a sad phrase) there are those who from cat-like aloofness 'do not suffer fools gladly'.

Most sets of paradigms aspiring toward depicting mankind's evolution has the basic tenants of self-centricity, filial-centricity, ego-centricity, cultural-religio-centricity, nation-centricity, and world-centricity. To complicate matters, within each set of such a centricity are a similarity of persons with personality traits and character traits (inherently different in themselves) as well as the whole gamut of the bell curve of I.Q. In other words, an exceptional talent and gifted scholar may still predominantly operate from a Stage Three of six. And the loving circle of a psycho-geometric meme may well find herself caught up in her proclivity for a Stage Two Paradigm. That is, we are as intermixed and convoluted as can be, and in our small meme behaviours we can live comfortably within our Large Meme habits, without consciously thinking. Six large Memes. Kazillions of little meme behaviours. Yet each of us is hopefully aspiring to evolve toward more effectively contributing to the health of the whole Whole. Or do we?

Huh? Meta-cognitive thinking does not come easily. We simply think. It is not the simplistic choices between left and right that keeps us in balance, nor is it the incremental steps we take from A to Z; it is the integration and inclusion and acceptance and absorption of everything not only as it is, but as it may yet evolve to be. Had we not evolved we would still be Neanderthals. If we do not evolve we, as a species, will keep revolving around the first Six Memes. For fear of becoming Integrative, we may well stay in a tension of unmanageable imbalance. Ha! A pity. Even a cat has only nine lives.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wealth of Words

26 letters. Kazillions of words. Multiple languages! We make of symbols a myriad of meanings. And conflict is at essence in every story, or else we have but description, exposition, and instruction. Yet even here we might give pause; our constructs are such that they can become inviolate. Especially if handed down to us by tradition.

Stories comprise the six themes of conflict: person versus person, self, society, nature, supernatural, and the artificial. And the tale to be told usually follows a traditional pattern of climbing and descending a mountain, with the exposition, the inciting force, the rising action, the foreshadowing and crises along the way to the climax; then the descent of the action, with suspenseful crises en route, until its denouement satisfies, or as in Romeo and Juliet's case, is a lesson. Most of us know these terms. We have a clear concept of protagonist and antagonist and characterization and narration and purple patches everywhere; they are the stuff of the educated. Yet there is many an author who knew not the academic tools by which to build a story; the artist just created from an innate ability to yoke the sentences together, to embroider a tapestry of words full of similes and metaphors that did not clash, but revealed us unto ourselves.

Magic. Wicked. Radical.

Words may take decades to change their meaning; 'making love' ain't what it used to be. So too are the strings of words that go to make up memory. Yes? Verbal phrasing changes as one repeats one's story, except mayhap where the rhythm or rhyme of the pattern is regular. Hence the old tradition of memorizing verse, like 'The Rime of The Ancient Mariner'; the passing on of a tribal history. But between the foul script and the published product is many an editorial intervention. Still, the printed word is taken for truth. And we are affected by our stories. "What boils my blood" an old friend used often to say. At his deathbed he did not go with acceptance; he raged against the dying light.

Acceptance. We accept the stories and the laws and the idioms and the icons of others in our meaning-making ways. We suspend our disbelief and we take for truth fictional lives. We feel for and with them. We even cry at their distress or demise. And we care so deeply that even if the new character in the new story as seen on our screens is yet again a real Brad, cheeky Tom, irascible Clint, or a mayhap a marvellous Meryl, we accept such as an altogether different person, a different construct. After all, the venues of imagination have little room for reality. We are easily ontological, without knowing it.

It is The Word that might best be examined. Any word. Impeccability of word choice is ascribed to Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe. Some liked Hemingway. But still, their stories may be retold, rendered anew, even in the semantics. The elements of a story may wear different clothing, speak in a different tongue, make meaning with different sentences, and yet still have Romeo and Juliet die in the end of having followed the exact same plot. Such is the power of language. And of The Book. And of ideas.

Read. Write. But beware of thinking it all, well, right.  Or have I not stirred up some conflict?