Tuesday, November 22, 2016


A single word killed thousands. In 1945 the difference between 'ignore' and 'consider' was not translated appropriately. The Japanese mokusatsu, which can mean either word, was incorrectly interpreted, delivered to the Allies, and so, with Truman, Churchill, and Stalin's ultimatum 'ignored', the great bomb fell. Had the translator but understood mokusatsu to mean 'we are considering your ultimatum', much of history would be different. Words. Does not a person living, and some dead, have so much impact on others? Do we not all want a win-win?

We are buoyed by words. We float or sink by them. We wrestle with the poet's meanings. We find ourselves smiling, or frowning, or turned off. Chaucer and Shakespeare, or Marlow and Bacon can still seem dreadful to some. (Yes, even those who like bacon can be confused). Much of the wordsmith’s meanings rely on the listener, the reader, the interpreter, and the interpretation to be accurate. Or as Romeo said, we can “jest at scars that bear no wounds.”

So we can find ourselves discombobulated. There grows a great plethora of multiple meanings and double-speak, of double-entendres and metaphor and symbolism. Accuracy and precision are not the purview of most politicians. They certainly are not the tools of the poet. Hemingway would call a spade a spade. But Tolstoy, that inimitable interpreter of the human condition, as well as Wordsworth, or Jung, make much of the ontological differential. We prefer a clear stage direction, as in the final imperative of 'Waiting for Godot’: (They do not move.) Yes, the esoteric can be upstaging, off-putting, frustrating. Knowledge relies on the connections we have made with another's contentions. With what else might we prick the consciousness into yet more light?

Responsibility relies on ethics. Contracts ensure a measure of obligatory actions; promises can otherwise too easily be forgotten. In the clouds of obscurity o'erwhelming the margins and the vocalizations of intent, there lies many a broken promise along the waysides; what else is a divorce, a betrayal, an obfuscation, an outright lie? We are brutalized by the actions that gainsay our words. We are eroded. We are bereft of character, of compliance, of honour. The desperation of hara-kiri, that Japanese extreme of doing away with the self, is indeed a tragedy.

Ethics has it that there be a win-win. Ethics does not imply absolute truth. One knows when the truth will hurt or betray. Just because a question is asked, does not mean it deserves the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Many a priest has to swallow the confessions of others; and so the identity of even a murderer can remain concealed. We humans make much of the words we parlay. Phrases sew up the tapestry of our lives, give meaning to the confabulation, and wend their way into our psyches such that we become variously religious, variously spiritual, and variously aptitudinal. Yes, neologisms create new words. Language itself entwines the frayed edges of our collages and evolves new meanings, new morphemes, new invigoration in order to adapt to the changing paradigms not only of our meaning makings, but of our evolution itself. Still, we do not easily seek a win-win. We remain rather keen on getting the best end of a deal.

That our world is shrinking, in terms of natural resources, forests, clean water, and arable land is no longer in dispute. Steve, the bush-pilot said, just today, "You'd hardly recognize Northern Ontario. The Kimberly Clark logging has decimated it. Pristine places I visited as a child when my father and I flew all over this land, British Columbia, have dwindled down to logging roads. The effect is dramatic. There are fewer and fewer places now to take the tourist for a visit." And yes, the oceans are absorbing our toxins. And yes, the miasma of despondency pervades. We are not making careful choices. The latest news of the daily toxins into the seas of Japan confirms it. With what then, as a single individual, is one to respond? There is but ethics, each for each, or are we but a collection of rock faces, frozen into petroglyphs; a passive record of our passing? Mokusatsu, to be considered rather than ignored, indeed.

Blue North (1976) by Richard M-Pentelbury

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trumped by Trauma

“Trauma Farm,” suggests something awful. We go to the play with uncertainty. As individuals enter the hall we integrate them in feelings of camaraderie even before the drama begins; we all are submitting to an immersion in self-evident tragedy. Why else attend a play with such a title? But then the actor reads entirely from the script.* And the engaging story of a man and his woman dealing with the daily dictum of the difficulties of survival on a farm charms us. At the slaughter of animals, of the pigs, of chickens, and at the death of a favoured horse, I shudder. Life does end. Our killing of it is harder.

We create barriers wherever we go. Because of this, that. Fear trumps freedom. We fear snakes. We fear the unknown. And even more, we can fear the known too. Our perceptions, layered on by the feelings evinced by others, or even from stories like this one, let alone the images we see on the screen (if we do not become desensitized) surmount our innocence. So we progressively can become racist; become convinced that we can’t do something; become assured that we are religiously right; become inured to a group-consciousness that retains a moral stance. How else to express our humanity? How else not to be entirely bland? How else not to be so integrative that “anything goes”, utterly anything! No, it’s best to have a wall (or two) against our Southern Border, (if not the Northern Border too.)
Subjects of sex and subjects of intellect can bear an equal parameter of exclusion, of fear of entering, or entertaining. We “do not talk politics or religion or sex,” is the social didactic. “I’ll die if you mention that!” is the voice of our shame. We have private parts, private thoughts; we can have (perhaps not so) private beliefs; and we can even have private politics. The marriage of Hope and Self-Evidence triumphs over experience. How else to o’erleap the barriers that hold us back? We physically can learn to leap the fissures and the crevices, and can be so emotionally buoyed by our success that we say, “I’m going to do it again!” We can say, “I want more! Tell me more. How did you do that? How do you know that? Where can I learn more? What does that mean?” Or we can be like the house across the street, with its curtains drawn, its door always locked, and the interior beings hardly (if ever) seen.

“My body is my own,” we’ll say. Circumcision feels like a betrayal. Abortion feels like a most necessary alternative. Or why go through it at all? And so too for assisted dying. So too for euthanasia. So too for the necessary slaughter of cows and pigs and chickens and the plucking up of huge nets of struggling fish. We make choices. And we have a collective conscious that some things are necessary, are ok. Dreadful things. Cruel things. Horrid things. Why else go to war? Why else enlist? Why else kill and maim and harm and segregate and enslave and apportion? Individualism and individuals are not homogeneous. We can be, (as Michael Enright of the CBC News** put it): “...a dystopian nation cringing in fear.”

Entirely to lose the self “in a sea of troubles,” and get absorbed, is at once ridiculous. One does not step into the marching colonnades of red-ants. In my boyhood in Northern Rhodesia, on the farm, we learned that such a creepy-crawly army utterly overwhelmed any living thing in its voraciousness. So too in the South African Army did I learn that to be overwhelmed by Communism, and all its attendant atrocities of taking away the rights of the individual, was an anathema to “living free.” And one sets up walls of salt-trenches against red ants. One kills communists. “Him, or me,” goes the self-forgiving phrase. How else to end being subsumed? (Let the tears flow.) After all, “Love conquers all,” is such a trite phrase. Indeed. For those of us old enough to see where barriers need be, and where there is no need for a barrier too, hope indeed triumphs over trumped up fears. Hope. All else is action. Indeed.

*        www.cbc.ca/.../2011/04/trauma-farm-a-rebel-history-of-rural-life.html (as read aloud by Richard Newman, November 13th, 2016)

** Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news: July 20th, 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

C'mon Sense (at 17:00hrs, on this Election USA Day!)

You'd think we'd know better. But we persist. Common sense is not what it's urged to be. The rallying cry, "C'mon man!" does not necessarily provoke sufficient hesitation; sufficient checking of facts; sufficient gathering of details. We tend, generally, to leap as though we were angels from cloud to cloud. And very many clouds have no substance. Very many clouds are but wispy and waspish and full of cotton-floss; we best examine carefully their silver-linings. Yes, common sense is not a thing to be taken for granted. After all, sensibility itself is often predicated on the groundwork laid down by one's forbearers. They determined that the snake, all snakes, are to be feared. They determined that the spider (that-sat-down-beside-her) would get in her curds and way. And not all of us have been taught (or have been made aware of) the distinction 'twixt whey, weigh, or way. We learn from our past. So, “C'mon man; you outghtta know more-better!”

What mistakes we continue to perpetrate! Lots of hurt and vengeance and destruction attends our emotional reactions. We hardly have time for response. Response is too cerebral, too calculating. It's not instinctual, nor even necessarily intuitive. We indeed cry, "C'mon man!" And we tend to have a gut reaction. Yes, we go from there. And so we easily accept phrases like "battle-ground", "war-room", and "enemy." But c'mon man, surely we can take pause to choose!

As I type the USA (all that North American territory under the 49th parallel,) is slowly filling up, choice by choice. Two houses stand divided. And the Red and the Blue pours in, blue ink drop by red ink drop, to see who first shall reach that magic 270 number, and break the tension in the withholding meniscus. Interesting word: men-is-cus. (No, it's not locker-talk.) It's the delicate skin that holds back the bulk of liquid potential from spilling over and pouring down the sides of a given containment. The combined States of the USA contain a total of 538 electors. When a single person votes, that ballot goes to their respective group of electors. These electors depend on the number of people in the state. Rep by pop! Each state gets only one elector per representative in the House, plus 2 for each senator. Who spills over first? California has the most electors, at 55. Important to win California. (And according to the pundits, North Carolina will make or break a candidate.) For the populace of the USA, that 270 number is the determinate margin by which so and so will be president, (or is that such and such?) And like ants, the shuffling lines to the polling stations grow and grow. Confusing enough, eh? But, c'mon man, get out there and vote!!

Thing is, history depends. A ferry captain today, reflecting on a dramatic accident, said over my car-radio: "There's a different point of view for each person who was there that day." Yes. Our sensibilities are not quite so common. Yet we'd expect honesty and decency and integrity and consideration and compassion and care and thoughtfulness and even self-control from our leaders. We would think that anyone dedicating so much of their time to the people would be altruistic, operating from the highest of principles. But then, like the proverbial Camelot of Cards, the whole shebang falls down. We do not always follow protocol. We do not always avoid graft and corruption and deceit and selfishness. We do not always trust. No, history, our own history, has taught us to be altogether more common-sensical than simply to submit to blind trust.

If the ship of state is about to set sail with a new captain at its helm, surely common sense would have it that we all (since much of the world is dependent on the mercies of this particular ship of state)... that we all be on board without undermining the captain? That we rally behind that head and do what we can to help keep the whole ship, well, ship-shape! Ha! But this is no laughing matter. It is clear that the starboard side and the port side of ‘our’ USA would have the vessel split in twain.  And the flags from the masts do not fly high and proud, no matter what the result may be; for dissension, like a serpent discovering itself shedding its skin, lashes at the very winds of progress, simmering in anything else but common sense. Really? C'mon man! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Impatient Immediacy

There is a tanker clogging up my bay. It’s a great monstrous thing dominating the horizon, parked parallel to the beach-line, about half-a-mile off. Been there five or more weeks now. (And yes, I am taking ownership of the bay. That’s how I feel about the swans and the herons and the gulls in the nearby lagoon; I feel a sense of ownership. When people walk their dogs along the shoreline of the lagoon, instead of taking them on the other side of the mile-long causeway, along the beach, it bugs me. Why not go where birds will not be disturbed?  Swans waste so much energy by dashing off and away from dogs; even though the brutes be leashed. Sometimes it’s children. Parents would be better to leash them too! At least with words that would have offspring be considerate and gentle and cautious, if not with actual tethers of constraint.) But that is just how that tanker remains so stationary amidst the glide and flow of shipping traffic, or against the bashing of the white-caps; it is tethered by constraints. Leastwise, it does not disturb the birds.

We find ourselves often wanting things to be different. Acceptance is hard come by. There are so very many things that can offend. We grit our jaws at graffiti. We snarl at the driver who cuts us off. We growl at the fact that we missed checking the milk-carton before we went shopping. We dislike the big clog of anything cluttering up our hallway. We rush about and clean and tidy the reality of our daily living just in order to treat a guest to an environment so pristine they may actually sit upright and stiff with discomfort, afraid to disturb anything. It is our way. We have inner-scapes that are determined by idiosyncratic proclivities. (To hear Lightning Hopkins over early morning coffee can really only be appreciated if you too were once in Cape Town, nearly fifty (!) years ago.) But already I have introduced foreign elements into my narrative, like letting loose the dogs to bark among the birds. (And it’s not always big things that arrest us!)

Herons are particularly patient. They seem virtual statues of intense staring through the water’s surface, as if mesmerizing the little fish to come up and see. And then, with an ecstatic suddenness, they strike so swiftly that from stasis to action takes all by surprise. Perhaps that’s what will happen one morning. I shall wake up and the tanker won’t be there. It’ll have slipped its knots and slid away. But in the meantime, like a great monster at repose, hibernating in the grays and the rains and the winds of this winter weather, it sleeps and broods, still there!

Not all things move. Some people have lived in one place for years and years! Only their interiors change, and even then, not much. Some new picture on the wall may make for subtle changes of perspective, but essentially things remain the same. “Mitch, just look at this room!” (Morrie says in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’) “Everything in here has been the same for the past, oh, thirty years. The newest things in this room are You and my wheelchair. But now [‘since my disease,’] everything has changed. This room has filled up with warmth and honesty and tears. This is a wealthy home!” Indeed. It is our inner perspective that matters most. And big as the obstacles may be that prevent flow and grace and usefulness and care and considerations, and even compassion for others, so we may well remain clogged up and victims of our own recalcitrance.

Yes, trapped in body though one may be, we need not necessarily always tug at the tethers, yearning to be free. We can still feel vital and wealthy. Unless truly immobile, and not changing, we may but brood, endlessly. Ha! Now therein may the bulk of a disturbed and disturbing pair-a-dox be!