Monday, December 23, 2019

An AGAPE (Ah-Gha-Pay)

            Immersed in his painting, twenty-five years ago, his inclination was to be dismissive of the unexpected visitors. In the hot August sun of a Canadian afternoon, on the front-deck of ‘Kluane,’ (a friend’s residence on Denman Island,) the young South African had sought refuge in more ways than one. Next to his own property, up the road away, the neighbours were boring a well, and the persistent thump-thump of the machine was simply too much for focus. Besides, he wanted no distractions while working on his large 6ft by 3ft6ins oil painting, minutely detailed and surreal in its contrasts of historically garbed humans, each plotted on the squares of a chess-board, with greater than life depictions of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ in a wood-panelled train-car observing the game, all passing through a sylvan landscape, and all, progressing through a desiccated one. The still-wet canvas had the painter deeply involved in the yoking together of the variables of his past.

            And then, she stood there. Instantly, as they looked at each other, there was an accord, an understanding that there would be unconditional, utter, and complete acceptance. Thirty years his senior, she was a sprightly and altogether younger looking sparkling blue eyed blond; he a bearded and rugged thirty-something. And the year was 1993. And the years, twenty-five of them (at the date of this writing,) were yet to pass. Indeed, their friendship was instant.

            That late afternoon of their first meeting, while she stayed on the coast-side property of her war-bride cousin, a few kilometers down of the artist’s own property, he kayaked to her vista, and she saw him from the cliff top, and he parked the kayak up above the tide-line, scaled the rocky cliff, and sat in the lawn-chair, chatting. And she loved him, and he her, in the way that people do who have an instant sense of their commensurate way of being, their connection that goes beyond age, or sex, or even background. The details of each other’s lives slowly filled up conversation, filled up their constant letter-writing, filled up thought and care and became a constant stream of consciousness that filled up much of their continuing history. He was, indeed, twenty years later, to fulfill his promise to be her amanuenses. Her colourful, painful, and rich Memoir was fundamental to their communion.

            We each have friends like that. We each have experienced that Greek sense of AGAPE, a love that “embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.” It is an entirely selfless feeling at best, wanting nothing but the best for the other. While the details of the other’s life can be intriguing, interesting, absorbing, we care more for the very spirit of the compatriot. While age, and looks, and circumstances of wealth and possession can be attractive, we care not so much for these things as we do for the feeling we experience with the other. The connection runs deep in the veins, in the arteries, in the very soul.

            Twenty-five years later, that friendship not only remains, it has grown and evolved, deeper than a well, more reliable even than a well, it proves to be the very life-source of a sense of profound accord and care and compatibility. And so it shall always be. It is a persistent thump-thump revitalizing the heart’s core. Always, so long as either shall live. By it, the yoking together of the variables of one’s past is a constant; we each grow by the years, and although there may be fulcrums around which we turn the pages toward new chapters, we know, always, that the footnote to our progress is made up of the love we experience along the way. Such is the power of agape. Such is the beauty of a pure and Platonic and everlasting love.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Christmas Conciousness

As the season draws nigh we begin the clothing of it. Decorations. Lights. Trees. Cards. And presents. It all becomes a part of the make-believe of Santa, yes, but for many of us it is imbued with the spirit of giving. It is a giving of the self, beyond the self. And it can be in the small pleasures of glitter and baubles that we take delight, a sensibility of something ethereal made real, tangible, and shared. Yet, knowing lots of people gives much concern at this time. Who does one forget? Whom do I consciously overlook? After all, signing, and then sending cards can absorb very many hours, cost much in postage, and feel somewhat compulsory, obligatory, rather than providing a sense of generosity and clear-headedness. After all, if I send to so and so, then should I not also send to him or her, who happens to know so and so too?

Women, it appears, feel more stress at Christmas than do men. Apart from having the house all decked out, and the tree ‘just right’, there is the meal to prepare, the consideration of whom to invite, and all the appropriate presents to give. Then too, the present wrappings need ‘be right’. The man, by contrast, generally tags along. Some of us may grumble at the time of putting up lights, and decorations, and at the price tag of purchased items, but we do get to enjoy the basic magic of Yuletide. And the extra treats of chocolate and eggnog and... well, being at liberty to treat the self more than usual can be pleasant, for those of us who can afford it.

Much of the world cannot. Much of the populace at large is so desperately impoverished and unable even to find a piece of paper, let alone a glittery card, that Christmas may indeed come and go, and be just another day.

Just another day. We tend to make of our days something special, where we can. Born in an African country where no commerce whatsoever was allowed on Sundays (not even petrol-stations were open,) it struck me as unfair, odd, eventually, when that law was relaxed, that some people had to go to work on a Sunday. Not everyone gets the weekend off. And then, as far as special days go, in the North American calendar, there is a holiday every month. A holy day, off. That sense of taking additional holidays, of having time and space to relax and do what one wants sure can drive the weekdays to an anticipated special day; a special date. Yet Christmas, one can aver, is hardly relaxing.

Perhaps the worst Christmas I can recall happened when I was about seven. We had a tree. We had presents. And by about 6:30a.m., wide awake, my two younger brothers and I were in the living room, taking it upon ourselves to rip into our presents, with exclamations of some dismay (in my recollection) as I unearthed a small-child’s gardening set: the little shovel, the little fork , the little rake. But suddenly out guardian father was upon us, and we each in turn were yanked into the air, our backsides walloped, our ears boxed. Summarily, we were ordered back to bed. So much for Christmas. Then too, when I was nine, there was the time I peeked into the corner of my present, when I’d been warned not to, and got charged with doing so, and lied about it, and... well, many of us have sad stories. At issue is not my own sad tales of the past, nor even of yours, but of the sad tales that are happening now, all around us, and into the future too. Our world is in a sorry state, indeed. And doing what we can for some other individual, each by each, surely simply has to help.

But why wait for Christmas? After all, much of the world is not Christian. And much of the world does not subscribe, even, to a holiday ‘season’ at all. But to be sure, at any time, at any day, every little girl and boy appreciates tokens of care and consideration, love and warmth, and an honouring of their very existence. So too for each human being. We may not all know how to express gratitude, and some even how to feel it, but the hobo without socks or shoes is better off for them; the addict somewhere down deep understands a direct look into the eyes, with a ‘hang in there!’ And even the spirit of Santa, large as he is, appreciates the clothing of care and consideration and the generosity that some of us, more privileged than others, can bestow. After all, such is a consciousness of Christmas, indeed.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Interesting Interests

Entirely self-involved, we hardly but can see things from our own perspective. (Does compassion come ‘only’ because I feel good about being aware of practicing it?) Our own perceptions do govern our apprehension of life, and the Oscar Wilde statement, “I’m only interested in...” strikes me as a symptom of our human condition. We are raised to respond to external stimuli. Something or someone outside of ourselves needs elicit our interest. Flowers, bees, spiders, and snakes! Beauty, ugliness, accidents, and loud bangs! Something grabs the attention. And as judgementalism goes: “Inferior talk is about things; mediocre talk is about other people; and superior talk is about ideas.” We are given to absolutes. We are governed by the majority. And we certainly also have a collective common sense. It is those who break the code, who betray our common values, who step out of the box that we find ‘interesting’. After all, the poor bird that bashed into the window, lying now upside down but moving, remains more interesting than those flying freely around. And since it is outside, we may watch with interest sufficiently long enough until the concussed thing flits off again. For some brief moments, in all of this, we forget about ourselves, entirely captivated by the drama without, and in that catharsis we experience but brief surcease from the perpetual self-involvement that inhabits our own corporeal state of being; release is a feeling we instinctively seek, again and again. And finding something to interest me, as the acculturation of my learning has established, becomes a lifelong pursuit. After all, that which you find so interesting, indeed, may not much interest me.


It is a phrase often heard. Our ‘taking’ an interest in something seems to elude us, generally. Were we to suffer solitary confinement, be penned up in some dim cell with virtually no outside stimuli, we might begin counting the cracks in the wall, the number of tiles, the threads in our clothing, the.... we might ‘make’ something interesting. After all, as the poet Earl Birney has it, (in the poem David) “caught on a cliff ledge, our frozen fingers and boot-nails clung to the ice, we recalled the fragments of poems”. That is, from inside the self, there is best to come that curiosity toward life that precocious children tend to exhibit. Questions. Observations. Arrested interest, yes, but then a readiness to find almost anything else also worth examining. We are better off “to take an interest in,” than we are to have something “make us interested”, indeed.

And yet...

Real life, lived life, is about hierarchies. Preferences abound. This is better than that. More is often more desired, than is less. Our five senses guide our sensibilities. Our moral rubrics; our acculturated physical codes; our liabilities and consequences; our sensitivity, and productivity, and our very inclination is driven by our proclivities born of a lifetime of acquisitions. We may indeed accrete, but do we do so entirely horizontally, ever expanding our knowledge and reach, or do we consciously go about improving vertically, enhancing our enlightenment and intuition and comprehension and integration? The questions are not always rhetorical. The choices are not always a simple uni-dimensionality of left, or right? ‘Less’ is decidedly not necessarily worse than is ‘more’. And in our every encounter on the road of life, as we, like any other vehicle, are contractually bound to obey speed laws, are necessarily subject to the traffic around us, and are indeed contained in the vessel transporting us, we are subject to things being interesting, (and may as well also take an interest in that which is all a real part of the ongoing journey.)

“Are we there yet?”

The same road, travelled very many times over, perpetually reveals something not seen before. It is because of the light. It is because of the focus given in a moment. It is because of others who point out things one has not hitherto noticed. It is because life itself is so very rich and vibrant with change and possibility and potential and interest (that word) that we can always find things to be interesting. At issue is, how ‘to make things interesting’, and not to be dependent on things interesting me; that’s how to be invigorated! (Or do I hereby speak just for myself? Hm?)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Elementry Errors

We all make them. Errors. And we don’t just make them as children, advancing through the grades. No, living is not merely an existential endeavour through a clunky deliverance of curriculum, but rather is an intuitive and implicit journey along the quest given by open-ended questions. As such, to err, indeed, is human.

It is guilt that can erode the psyche. After all, who am I to pretend to this or that when I know of my previous indiscretions, betrayals, falsehoods, lies, thefts, and even killings? After all, is a silvered book-fish not as valued a life as a bitty fly? Is a wretched mouse not as valuable as a cat? And does not my own usurping of another’s argument continue my vainglorious path of pretense, until I am more ‘whole’? No; one is now whole, as one is, now. All the fragments and fractions and fractals of one’s days amount to The Now, individually, collectively. We carry guilt with us, at best, but as a reminder not again to delve unheedful into the possible.

Repetition assails us. The possible becomes probable by dint of our own efforts, despite the vagaries of chance and circumstance. Simplicity can elude us. And connotation can confound us. Why can’t things be simple? Yet we discover the ascension of grades to be a series of similar bricks of concepts, made at times (even by ourselves) more complex by our climbing the ladder of natural ascension; baby to child, teenager to adult; adult to dotage; dotage to death. We accrete quite readily in our acquisition, our knowledge, and our experience. And as we age we can more easily let go of the trappings of youth. A sense of “been there, done that,” can settle one into the comfy chair. And as one’s wants and needs shrink, so too can we let go of our mansion, and clear the clutter, and reduce our footprint to that of a small apartment, (if not the necessity of succumbing to a nursing home.) At risk, always, is the shrinking of the mind. At risk, always, is the shriveling of the soul, such that we can become embittered, curmudgeonly, and sad. The denotation of the lessons of life can become a pile of unyielding bricks, built like a wall around (if not within) us, and we no longer may be interested in the potential, the possible, the probable, but instead may arm ourselves for death; some railing against it; some inviting it in; some so self-assured about the surcease of their physical vessel, yet reassured by the sense of an ongoing coagulation of their individual soul to meet in heaven those who’ve gone before.

We make mistakes. Our lives may well start as a tabla rasa, but quickly become a palimpsest upon which our deeds are written, and rewritten, our ‘doings’ repeated in ever larger cycles as the years go by. Once we were but the proverbial “brick and a tickey high,” (“knee-high to a grasshopper,”) but suffice to say that the errors of our ways, and those errors in our way, and the way itself was not always of our own choosing. At issue is what we do with it all. And doing, hereby, is promulgated as an instant activity, instant for instant. One grows toward peace, or not. And peace, as we know, is very much about an individual acquiescence (different from a dreaded ‘succumbing’) to the need to integrate everything ‘as it is,’ while still doing whatever one can to advance the inch-worm-like collective progress of The Bell Curve, in deeds, indeed.

Dense and turgid thinking can give way to enlightenment. One can see the forest from above the trees, yes, but to be within it and have a whole sense of it simultaneously, now there’s the thing! We do tend to immerse ourselves in the details. Yet, after all, one can only go halfway into the forest before one is headed on the pathway, leading halfway out, ha! (And given that there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, is it not astounding that we nowadays have over a million words with which to play; concepts to lead us straight; concepts to lead us astray.)

Errors are most easily overcome if they be non-intentional. Some errors are silly, foolish, immature, and careless. Some are born of laziness. Many are as a result of one being ignorant in the moment. Many are spawned from impulsivity. Most are regretted. (Sorry.) Regrettably, very many are repeated. Over, and over. Elementary errors indeed. In thought, and deeds.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Black and Red and Blue

We drove the gasoline-empty black car toward a red cliff. (Actually, our borrowed Acura kept heading toward Redcliff, but we did not know it was there.) The digital gauge warned us, and when the alarmingly fast count down from 50km to ZERO happened, we were seriously worried. Eastern Alberta prairies are an endless field after field. The gauge now read naught! Yet the engine kept running. Our cellphone did not tell us of any nearby gas station. We slowed right down, coasted the downhills, and phoned the number on our Automobile Association card. “You have to be stalled,” they told us. So long as we were going, they would not help. Well, for at least ten long minutes, or longer, we travelled in disbelief that the car did not stutter. And then, Redcliff magically appeared! A Shell Station sign enticingly beckoned. We turned left at the light, and drove up the side road toward it, only to discover a yellow tape around all the derelict and disused pumps! So, carefully we turned around, and espied a Co-op petrol station, hidden behind some other buildings, across the highway. At the light, which stayed red overly long, I envisioned us stalled while crossing the highway, and so right in the speed-path of the huge 18 wheelers, or any other vehicle, unable to see us until the last moment. And when the light let us move, I gingerly gave the gas paddle a little press, and must’ve muttered under breath, “Please don’t stall.” And... we made it! At the pumps, we replenished! And we laughed, at last angst free.

Risk is often miscalculated. Yes, we’d checked the gas gauge before setting off. Our destination would’ve left us with 80km to go. But given the excessive headwinds of a chinook, (that warm wind that Albertans love in winter,) as well as the posted speeds above 110 kmph, we must’ve swallowed more gas than estimated. And the rest is history. At the very least, we barely made it in time for our appointment at Medicine Hat. At the very least, all was well.

But not so if the black car stood for a bank column, the red cliff stood for imminent debt, and the helpline was, like a perched vulture, awaiting one’s bankruptcy. The simile abides. Then the metaphor changes. Then the analogy can be scary. Then the story gets more complex.

Given colour, red states and blue states battled it out, these past elections. Particularly in the USA. But so too for Canada. Conservative versus Liberal. Republican versus Democratic. And then there are the other parties. The orange and the green. We are so easily divisive. We are so easily contrary. We are so readily persuaded. In Alberta, the oil-rich but untapped province that voted entirely for conservatism, there is now much talk of Wexit*. Many want to leave Canadian liberalisms! The Alberta west wishes to establish itself, like Quebec, a sovereign nation. And so, the disgruntled populace of Alberta, suffering under growing joblessness and plummeting real estate values, wrestling with clogged reserves and not sufficient arteries to get the produce to the coast, is considering withdrawing from the federal playing field. In the USA, the president’s impeachment is under the microscope. In Canada there is anger over the prime minister’s face masked by black makeup. And yes, like most things, one needs to have been there, seen that, even done that, in order more fully to appreciate the references. We do prefer our own colours!

An autumn friend turned eighty. A summer friend turned ninety-six. The years tick by. The decades grow by dint of time, irrespective, in spite of, and despite ourselves. We each have a tank of gas, and unlike the car, we do not easily refill. Our lot is our lot. Yet “living on borrowed time” is not so unusual a phrase. So too for “having one’s luck run out.” And in the meantime, we travel into the future, by diurnal turns, minute for minute. We sleep. We arise and vote. We go make our choices. We live, impassioned, and full of intention, and we take our chances.

But when the brown-rich topsoil is all stripped from the skull of the land, and the exacerbating wind distributes it all, will-he, nil-he, against the arid and unyielding surfaces of our fears and concerns, shall we still ride in our luxurious vehicles of privilege, despite our constraints; and shall we all be heading toward a cliff, lemming like, from which there really is no return? Or might we each, each by each, check our gauges, determine our co-ordinates, and take fewer chances? After all, above us, does the sky not quite often still become an unblemished blue?


Friday, September 27, 2019

Moving Metaphors

We are so dependent on our batteries. We are so dependent on the vessels that buoy us. Even afloat, we have the swirl of potential and possibility happening around us. Logs can suddenly surface. Big obstacles can impede one’s flow. Waterfalls plunge. Rapids rock. Driving too. The traffic can be so very unpredictable. Just like life. We contain ourselves in the shell of our exoskeleton and hope that all our memories, all our treasures, all our luggage, stays intact. Even though we may not handle all of it our self. Along the way, we must entrust to others much of what once was ‘just’ ours. But even so, wrapped up, boxed, locked in the trunk, and hidden from view, very many of our treasures do not get seen until we ourselves unwrap them.

Adam Broadford (in his: Admission, A Story Born of Africa; as well as in his: Transition, From Africa to Canada) finds a constant need to rely on his own battery. It is the vital source impelling him from place to place, from predicament to predicament. So too for each of us. But admittedly, Adam has an extraordinary set of challenges, much beyond the average experience. His need to keep himself charged up, ready for reaction and response, becomes habitual. Most of us, thankfully, may take things more easily.

Yet all batteries can lose their juice. Compartmentalized, each cell does its thing, yet is essentially interdependent on the others. Like the Johari Window. It’s four panes look both outwards and inwards. 1) We see ourselves as others see us. 2) They see things in us we do not see. 3) We know things about ourselves that others do not know. 4) And then there’s the unknown that neither of us know. So? What is it that invigorates one to open one’s window to the outside world and invite change, impel the move to yet another place? How does one maintain a sense of equilibrium within the resultant flight from one place to another? Does a yacht not pitch and yaw to the rigging of the sails? Does a plane not shudder and gyrate in the turbulence? Does a car not screech at corners too sharp, squeal at sudden stops? And does the body not ache from the muscular adjustments to the variant slopes of the floor, the shudder of lifting packing boxes, the unending sorting of one’s stuff? Even pack horses must sometimes go uphill. Even steam trains need sand on the rails to prevent the big engine’s drive wheels slipping and squealing against the incipient threat of sliding backwards. Buffeted by winds, the free bird on the wing adjusts. But not all is a voyage with wings outspread to the ease of thermal dynamics.

But ‘bad’ batteries do not respond to kick-starts, push starts, or even to patience. Kaput, they give but an ineffectual clicking at the starter. And then, with one’s bonnet open, and the jumper cables, like blood red and old black placenta dangling, awaiting vital connection, well, it can be an awkward thing. Help. Please. Someone must stop; and have the generosity of spirit to regenerate the evidently immobile.

We move. Most of us move without much thought to the effort it takes to rise from inertia and to go about one’s daily gig. For some, each movement costs. For some, a steeling of reserves and intention and objectives becomes essential to lift a mere cup of sustenance, never mind the focus needed to move boxes, furniture, stuff. And the batteries are best removed from clocks that may be packed away for a year. But the battery in the vehicle, well now, that best be changed. Especially after packing up and needing a boost, twice, within the last fortnight.

We move into the unknown. The new place; the new city; the new friends to make; the new adventures to have. At issue is whether one moves horizontally (despite the accretion of yet more to know, and to have,) or moves vertically, acquiring yet more insight, more clarity, more enlightenment. That Johari window is most easily rendered with four equal panes. But real life is not about equality. Is it? We each are not given the same. We each take on different paths. And we each use our batteries according to the will within. Especially when adult. Especially when given license to be independent; and most especially, when free to move.

Still, best to keep one’s battery charged. Best to renew the old one. And best to have jumper cables handy in case we need help. After all, we’re never really, truly, independent. Are we?

Monday, August 5, 2019

Grist For The Grail

Since antiquity we have searched for The Grail. Alas, its elusive quality remains ephemeral. We can but briefly attain it. Out there, beyond ourselves, it might be felt or glimpsed or realized in a moment of consciousness, in happiness with an object, or in a paradigm shift of apprehension that evolves our sometimes-sluggish psyche. But always, it is attained comparatively briefly, before we must be off and on The Quest, for yet more. After all, stasis goes nowhere. And deep in the atavistic instinct of each us, surely as we each indeed were the winning 'swimmer' to attain fusion with the fertility of being born, we are profoundly restless. We want more. We want somewhere else. We needs be doing, be going, be producing, be attaining, be fabricating, and even be sustaining. Movement is all. Who can sit still, always? Eventually, we want elsewhere.

So long as The Grail is elsewhere, we shall pursue it. Given that it be something beyond our inner selves, we shall never be happy. We can forget our essence. We can forget the precise moment by moment of The Now. We hanker. We yearn. We fear being selfish. We understand that our ‘real’ connection, since birth, is essentially about interconnection. To survive, we first needed a parent. Then we wanted a family to fit into. After that we wanted to establish our individuality. Competition gave us status. Then we gave of our individuality an allegiance to a larger group, subscribed to our parental or self-chosen religious base, subsumed ourselves to an established organization, or affiliated ourselves to a political base. Fence sitting is felt to be too wobbly. One needs to declare oneself a part of This or That. And to have one’s feet straddling two camps is often construed as betrayal of another’s paradoxical singularity of cherished ideals. Integration comes slowly. It can wear the cloak of arrogance. At worst, it does not without contempt suffer fools. At best, it creates the illusion of benevolence. After all, without oneself at the helm, where would one’s ship of state be? And then, realizing that the very ship one sails is depending on the egalitarian equitability of all counterparts, one may well yoke the entirety of mankind into a collective, (yet still deem all those who misunderstand an umbrella of protectionism to be essentially misdirected.) After all, some are fools, idiots, and even oxygen thieves. Full Integration, compassion, absorption, assimilation, and acceptance comes but slowly. After all, just who do you think you are? Indeed, to differentiate so drastically from the generality of the acculturated contention of one’s compatriots is to have entirely to be self-reliant, to have hold of The Grail, to know peace with every moment, and who among us is always ‘there’. No, peace has its place; and then one moves on. Irritation, grief, annoyance, dissatisfaction, incompletion, and wont impels us elsewhere. The Quest persists. After all, as even John Wayne (that icon of manly and independent self-actualization) is purported to have said, “we can cry more comfortably in a Mercedes than we can on a bicycle seat.”

Cycling alone up the east coast of Great Britain, and desperately fearful of being apprehended by the police, Adam Broadford was in search of The Grail. In the sequel novel to his Admission, A Story Born of Africa, Adam makes the transition from Africa to England, then to Scotland, the remote Orkney Islands, and finally to the frigid north of Canada. His story, called Transition, is actually more about the inner journey toward enlightenment than it is about the outer journey of geographical displacements. For Adam, being essentially autotelic, meta-cognitive, and impelled by an entelechy (an innate drive) to surmount and surpass the circumstances of his birth and upbringing, he strives to transition from a world of victimhood to a world of choice. Many of the cages in which one dwells are cages of one’s own acceptance of circumstance. For Adam, creating a life of freedom for circumspection; for freedoms of choice; taking advantage of varied opportunity; and taking on a chosen citizenship (as opposed to being compelled by the circumstances of birth and acculturation,) his journey is of one of adventure and excitement, yet also a journey of profound inner transition. One learns to forgive the past.

The Quest is ongoing. The Grail is always there, however fleetingly observed. Thing is, to awake each day to its presence. Our interconnection, our integration, that’s grist for The Grail.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Of Truth in The Tales

Ask Dorothy, our imaginings can bear fruit, (oh my!) To be here, or to choose not to be there, is the question. So very much is predicated on our choices. (Woody Allen has it that 80% of life is just showing up.) Yes, when we act, we do contact the future. Even the actions of our thoughts, like silken silvered threads, can connect with materializations, so that long-ago friendships can be rekindled, or our more immediate ones we may allow to fragment. Our actions stir. We give energy a form with our constructs. Words matter. Images do too. Concrete words create imagery.

Yes, twixt truths and tales lies a colourful tapestry of one’s past. Yet golden-yellow bricks may but be clunky concrete through our personal chronology. Old decades become specific years; are months; are days; are hours; are right now. (You’d think we need no reminder.) Yet without an ontology, or our suspending disbelief in our meaning-makings, we may become but robotic. We do this. We do that. Our choices can become uni-linear. This is better than that. Honesty is better than lies. Dicotyledonous, we can eschew multidimensionality. We grow more left than right, or is it ‘righter,’ than left? Even then, our accretion may be but horizontal, scarcely vertical. We do not necessarily evolve in our paradigm shifts. Should we not, intentionally, aim at wisdom and insight, we can grow bitter, unloving, cynical, and distrusting. We can close ourselves off to forgiveness, to hope, to love, and to growth. We may just choose: This, which is better than That. No abstractions about it!

Truths and Tales dominate Adam Broadford’s extraordinary past. As the protagonist, the narrator, in his ‘Admission, A Story Born of Africa;’ and in his, ‘Transition, from Africa to Canada,’ he makes constant choices. Truths are necessary; his tales give them meaning. (Yes, Dorothy meets the tin man, lion, and scarecrow. But by twisting at the tale, it can bedevil those who know ‘the real’ Truth.)

Then again, we do like to know the truth. “Did you really kill?” someone asks. And as questions become more intimate, so too do my deflections. After all, a novel is just that: a work of fiction. (Still, I would not set my novel in Paris, or Turkey, having never been to those places.) No, it’s better to write from what one knows. It makes the passages more visceral. It makes experience more real. It makes the story, the tale, more believable. It gives scope and dimension and insight a chance to dance. Yes, novels, we know, are not the truth. One ought best, when reading a novel, (like being absorbed in any theatrical play, or when captivated by a film,) suspend one’s disbelief.

Yes, that one might learn something is not always the goal of entertainment. Catharsis is not so much a paradigm shift of apprehension as much as it is a release from the constancy in our containment of the self. Catharsis, in Plato’s realization of it, can be achieved in the moment of utter and total absorption in the shadows on the wall, such that one momentarily forgets the self.  As such, comedy and tragedy, like the iconic masks of theatre, are indeed yoked. (Indeed, too much of didacticism, of preaching, of persuasion, or even of teaching, can be much off-putting.) 

Yet for me, specifically, I most enjoy something created that engages me more than a temporary sense of relief from the self, (pretty as a perfectly or abstractly painted vase of flowers may be). I prefer stretching into other precepts and percepts, or my yielding into the sense of spiraling on a tangential path, so that the wondering and wandering and time spent with another’s work may leave me, specifically, feeling that my time was well spent. Indeed, to be here, or to choose not to be there, remains the question. And choosing the pathways that are less trod, in deeds, may make all the difference. (Truth be told.) Abstraction, indeed, is among the great treasures of life!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Gradual Gradations

           The Integrative Gradation Theory: (by Richard Michelle-Pentelbury)

            “Adam? What one word sums up your understanding of life?”

            “Grades,” the word came out. He wanted to explain, ‘but not in actual years; it is about one’s individual insights, progressing through the grade levels, in ‘the school of life,’ and about us all, all of us, being simultaneously in the various lessons, our individual integration dependent on our own handling of life’s curriculum. To wallow, or to grow.’

            But Thom, the older man asked: “As in ‘mental age’?  Different from our actual age?”

            “Yes. We have different degrees of innate intuition.”

            “To what purpose?”

            “To contribute to the health of the whole. To learn.”

            “Will we ever stop learning?”

            Adam laughed. “There will always be continuing education.”

            “And who is in Grade Two? And who in Grade Three, or Four?”

            “All of us. Simultaneously. In some things one may be in multiple grades, but in some things, predominantly, living chiefly in a given grade. We ascend, depending on our own perceptions, our own taking in of lessons. We grow, or wallow, given individual understanding, by our insight on any given aspect of progress. It is not for the lesson to teach All, but for us to learn All from the Lesson. Tadpole to frog. Caterpillar to butterfly. At a sophisticated insight, we may become dimly aware of something to yet learn, while processing yet another lesson, chiefly, at a ‘grade three.’ One may even be in high school, while trapped in aspects of a ‘grade one’ lesson. Kindergarten, or University; our ascending, our ‘aging,’ is not dependent on real-time.”

            “This is positive and negative? Grade-One being negative, compared to Grade-Thirteen?”

            “Not necessarily. A person chiefly in Grade Two is better asked to be the best that he can be, within Grade Two. We progress toward the next grade, independent of physical age. A given child may be wiser than an elder. Still, it could be foolish, inadvisable, to ask either the Grade Two child, or Grade Two elder, ‘entirely’ to practice the more mature Grade Six, or to accommodate an inappropriate aspect of more complex lessons, for most lessons are there for all to see, or hear, almost all the time. We each do as we can within our own understandings, our own awareness.”

            “I see. Do we all get ‘older’? Do we all, invariably, progress up this graduated ladder?”

            “Yes, and no. If by ‘we,’ you mean the individual, the ‘I, me, mine,’ then not necessarily. If you mean by ‘we,’ the collective, the amalgamation of like-mindedness, the gathering together of fragments in order to progress toward the next junction, or level, then ‘yes,’ we collectively evolve, progress, contribute, ascend, but each by each, contributing, yet not simultaneously.”

            “Wonderful! So, you’re saying we do not necessarily retain our ‘individual’ identity once we’re dead, but fragment, spiritually, and regroup into some other evolving individual, as it were.”

            “Ha! Constructs are but a theory, I am thinking. Some of us are personally sure. Some say, ‘possibly, yes.’ Some say, ‘definitely no!’ Some identify, piecemeal. And we may integrate not just once we’re dead. We can connect, spiritually, and become collective even while alive. It all is One. But dead, some, I am thinking, may maintain selfhood. Ghosts. Others may yield themselves up, fragment, into the greater whole. Down here, alive, some are of one people, one tribe. Others free themselves only to come together in yet another grouping, made of many different tribes, but now dependent on the new collective. That is why one is better off, I am now thinking, comfortably alone. Alone, yet connected to all. Alone, yet intentionally learning. Alone, we are to find our own truths.”

            “I see. Are truths, individual or collective, ‘wrong,’ or ‘right’?”

            Adam smiled, remembering an answer to that sort of question, so very long ago: “I am thinking, truths as constructs are neither completely wrong, nor entirely right, except in the minds of those whose thinking makes it so. We allow for all. We integrate all. We accept all. Ha!”

            “Hmm. Evil too? We can ‘allow’ it? And besides, what of those lesser things than us? Animals. Stones. Grass. Other material things. How do they fit into this theory?”

            “It all is in One!” Adam laughed. “But just like people, some are ‘denser’ than others. Concentrated. Evil is intentionally destructive. Purposefully harmful. Dullness thinks little of consequence. Some energy is slower. Less reactive. Less responsive. But it all is One. Energy. And it moves, feels, breathes. And we all know, somewhere down deep, whether our part in it is healthy, or feeling ‘off,’ or ill, or selfish. Even a bare room, or this home of yours, I am thinking, has a feeling, even when we are gone from it. We give energy. Positive, a concept, can be suspect, fake. And so too can Negative. Yet we all share energy. It all is One. We may choose to be healthy, to contribute to the health of the whole, or we may choose to be self-centered, to focus only on that which we want, which we understand, which we hold dear. And most of us feel ourselves fitting somewhere in between it all, aware, but not aware, depending on the circumstances, the lessons, the impetus of our own lives. It all makes for One, in the end. Ha! Sorry, I’m preaching.”

            “In the end? What end?”

            Adam reflected. “Change. We all recognize that the change of one thing to another brings about an ‘end.’ So too will this universe perhaps collapse and fragment and change into other things, eventually. Unrecognizable things. Even as the caterpillar, I am thinking, never exactly suspects that it will become a butterfly, but deep down, somewhere in its subconscious, its ‘other-knowingness,’ I surmise, it knows it is surely and steadily on a path of metamorphosis. Change.”

            “And it is better to be a butterfly than a caterpillar?”

            “Ha! That too is a matter of perception. Tadpole, or frog? But most helpful to us all is the common feeling that we reach for, that we think of, that we prepare for: something better. Ha! Even those who think only of making ‘the now’ the very best that they can make it, day by day, for all of us, make our tomorrows ‘better.’ Healthier.”

            “And you? What grade are you in?”

            “Well, certainly not at Graduation Day, ha! Then again, the same as anyone else: in every grade, simultaneously. Parts of all. Yet wherever we are most comfortable, where our awareness feels the most accord, there we are most to be found. Whatever is, ‘predominant.’ So too are the grade levels, or gatherings, or given societies, for each of us, and all. Yet we are all One.”

            “And what would the advantage of our understanding be that we progress through Grades?”

            “Compassion. We could, I am thinking, allow the one mostly in Grade Seven to progress predominantly within that grade, knowing he will eventually pass through it. We may evaluate ourselves, our own reactions, our own grade, which, ideally, is more about ‘integrating,’ being considerate, than is our having a negative attitude, or judging. We too were once in Grade Two. So too might we take more responsibility for some Grade-Two soul, so that he does not, as an older mentor once said, ‘We do not just allow for the child to fall down the stairs!’ Ha!”

            Thom paused. “Hm. So, is there such a thing as predestination?”

            “Hm? Predestination pretends at certainties. One thinks one is important enough that some Overlord, in the fact of the burgeoning billions of us, can take time out to care for just one special little me? Ha! There is but choice! Response, and reaction. Grow, or wallow. Lessons. Grades.”


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Costly Confessions

Once she admitted it, he became vengeful for the rest of her life. She was 87. He was 92. They’d been married 63 years. But shortly after they were married, 1942, while he was away at the war, and she had not heard from him in seven months, she presumed him dead. So did their family and friends. And she took comfort, eventually, in the arms of a friend of theirs. How many times? Well, does that signify? When he found out, he didn’t care. Once was too many. But for 62 years, he never knew about it, luckily. So, when he returned from the prison camp, he had enjoyed the presence of his wife, and she his, and they had had children, and adventures, and expeditions, living in a sense of love and fidelity. Until June, of five years ago. On moving (given his need for a house with no stairs,) an old shoebox spilled open from his fingers. He found the letters. And the birthday cards. They were wrapped in a purple ribbon. And they were dated 1942. And they proved that his wife, despite being married to him, so young, at the outset of the war, had been unfaithful. Way back then. How many times? It did not matter; once was enough.

Carly Simon sings, “Sometimes I wish, sometimes I wish, you never told me, some of those secrets of yours”.

Children soon learn to lie. Creativity, aggrandizement, yes. But often, a need for escape. Harsh parents make the consequences for truth not worth it. If truth were (always) received as a mark of honour, of courage, of integrity, then many of us would more readily admit to the errant passages of our times. But given an admission, derision, shame, judgment, and penalty have cowered most. We learned that others do not necessarily understand. Our teachers, our elders, our peers, do not necessarily have compassion. A single slip-up, like “the time you stole the chocolate bar when you were seven,” can have one branded by a parent as a thief, or liar, for the rest of one’s life. Tell me the truth now, which of us has never told a lie?

Adam Broadford, in ADMISSION, A Story Born of Africa, struggles for survival. He finds the need to obscure the truth, over and over. The cultural paradigms of his upbringing, given South Africa’s strictures against racial integration, homosexuality, and even secularism, disallows Adam to lead an invigorated life of exploration, integrity, and truth. Brutal consequences lie in wait if people know what was in his past. Harsh punishment, dreadful shame, and even imprisonment await him should his illicit liaison across the colour-bar be discovered. And dishonourable discharge, or worse, would befall him once his AWOL from an embittered, and desperately apartheid regime, was known. He had to escape!

But in the lies we tell ourselves, and others, do we ever escape? Is the insidious snake of truth always lurking, slithering up into our consciousness each time we know we are living with a lie?

“You cannot handle the truth,” declares the inimitable Jack Nicholson, in A Few Good Men. It is a line that resonates. It dances with the song, Takes Two to Tango, by Eartha Kit. One needs not only to be honest with oneself, but to handle honesty from others too. Forgiveness, let alone affirmation of the self, is differentiated from the wrong-doing of the deed. How else consciously to learn but through the making of mistakes? Do we have to leave “no stone unturned?”

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” wrote Walter Scott, (not Shakespeare,) in Marmion, in 1808. Evidently, love triangles have invaded lives ‘forever’. Our lack of something, and the need to have a desire fulfilled, has us breaking boundaries, despite the fear of consequence. In childhood, and in adulthood too. We betray others, or ourselves. It takes much maturation, and a distinct integrity, entirely to be ‘greater than human.’ Betrayal, in its various guises, (from the addictive mind to the occasional dalliance,) is about just how much one can get away with. Still, for the guilty octogenarian, as above, and her hard nonagenarian, might it not have been better for her to have thrown that old shoebox of memories.... away?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Absolute Anger

There is nothing like it. At least, that’s how the usual advertisement goes. There’s nothing like marmite on toast. There’s nothing like the rain in Spain. There’s nothing better than…. Nothing like vanilla! No belief like…. And then, “How dare you touch my things? I’m absolutely furious!”

Absolutes dominate. They get launched in declarative phrases that are designed to swallow one whole. We are susceptible to their impetus, and are supposed to go shop, and to try on, and even to go to places we’ve never been before. After all, there’s nothing like a tequila sunrise. Nothing like morning coffee. Nothing like a hiding! Nothing like being shamed. Nothing like….

Yes, girding oneself against the grievous onslaught of those who would grab out of one’s purse becomes an exercise in discernment. (Huh? Ok. Watch how one spends one’s pennies!) It is not easy to determine that nothing is true. Well, absolutely true. Ok then, if concrete facts are irrefutably true, then what about the fact that nothing beats a fair election. Nothing? Midst the extremes, surely, is the happy hunting ground, whether in the grocery store, comparisons in any given fish pond, or even among the clouds of hope and possibility. Nothing like dreams! We want a slice of the pie, at least. The perseverance of hope persists. There’s nothing like it.

Absolutes tend to slide us toward the slippery slope of disillusionments, or elevate us toward the improbable. We’ve absolutely got to clean our house. Dust! Yet we’ve reached the moon, and mars. We’ve come out of caves. We’ve turned our stones into tools, our clay into ores, our minerals into mechanization, and our ethers into chemical additives. We’ve conquered the world. We’ve increased our population density, exponentially, (despite the absolute fact that history has given us plagues and pestilence and wars.) And we absolutely know what we know, and even know what we don’t know. Absolutely. Well, absolutely partially, then, ok?

“But what boils my blood,” a friend used to say, “is that nothing gets accomplished by the incumbent party. They sit on their backsides and make absolutely no sense at all. And every bit of our tax money is wasted. And all of their time is wasted. And not one of us benefits. It all is a bloody shame!” Boiled blood, indeed. Nothing like sharing one’s irritation. Nothing like being annoyed. Nothing like reacting. Nothing like feeling so much of life is a waste of time.

Thing is, in-between all of the crisis of life there are the ‘perfectly’ average mundane moments of washing dishes, making the bed, doing the laundry, and catching up with correspondence. Or are they meant to be mundane? If everything is indeed to be made interesting (rather than something making things interesting for us) then so much as a soap bubble, an ant, a misspelt word, a stray thought, or a resurfaced feeling can be of interest, absolutely! (Well, alright then, 'somewhat'.) And if we are to live in a state of grace and gratitude, or even an awareness of enlightenment (as a journey rather than a product) then we are absolutely to find a sense of completeness within the moments, breath for breath, without waiting for some exterior provocation to prick us into sensibility. We are entirely responsible for ourselves, ultimately. Response needs dictate to a reaction, and reaction needs inform a response. After all, there is nothing like unbridled passion, whether in pleasure, or in pain. And anger is indeed a product of personal pain, or why take on so?

Absolute anger and absolute pleasure, as polar opposites, are impermanent at best. Life is a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, or maybe even the tunnel of horrors? But there is life, or......? So we need be ok with the ride, exercising choice wherever we can, accepting the state of things otherwise, and having the proverbial knowledge to go the distance. Nothing like it, for each of us. Unique, to each of us. And yet the same, for all of us. Breath for breath.

Absolutely angry at something? Yes, but in actuality, just for a little while. So too, one notes, for pleasure. La petite mort. It all, comparatively, is just momentary, for each of us. Nothing like it!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Constrained By Chaos

Chaos abounds. It breaks apart time. We cannot expect to live forever. We cannot expect to have every hope and dream and wish fulfilled. There are too many variables. There is too much misalignment. If expectation be the triumph of hope over experience, then caught up in the course of experience, one learns to allow for sand castles to be taken too.

Friends find themselves waylaid by vicissitudes. The vagaries of chance and accident and the sadly unexpected beleaguers them. This one has been in the hospital for six weeks now. That one has just suffered atrial-fibrillation. This one has just fallen off a buckling ladder, broken both wrists and an elbow. That one, suffering from undissolved embolisms, paid a second visit to the emergency department. This one... And so it goes. Old age is not for sissies. Yet children also wail from behind closed doors. Chaos attacks any age, in any decade. Chaos can be cruel, inconsiderate, and enervating. It robs. It destroys. We can despair with its relentless erosion of our preferred possibilities. And at times it can test our resilience, repeatedly. Yet not all is bad.

Adam Broadford, relating his ADMISSION, a Story Born of Africa, finds much of his life a turbulent challenge. Chaos envelopes him. But central to his resilient disposition is the perpetual determination not to react, but to respond. That which is cruel and brutal and awful has him determine to be different. That which fragments and breaks apart has him determine to become yet more accommodating, inclusive, integrative. There is always a tomorrow, and each day brings him closer to a time when he will be free to make choices independent of others. Children do not have those choices. But beyond the enclosing walls of secrecy and shame that Adam must countenance, there can be a good influence, if someone, somewhere, sometime, gets to know it.

The great adventurers lost to us, remain lost. Take Sir Robert Broadford. He left Britain and ventured with a small party into the heart of Africa, in the early1800’s, even before David Livingston. Problem is, he was never heard from again. In an age when mounting an expedition to go in search of a lost soul was fiscally, logistically, and materially very different from today’s ease with planes, trains, and automobiles, not to mention telephones and internet, Sir Robert’s life became ‘lost’. What he learned, is gone. But how many people, en route, did he not affect?

Point is, the interior journeys we each make are not always visible to others. The chaos we endure, as the fragmentation of our own ideals gets shattered, can remain concealed unless we succeed (let alone choose,) to bruit our finding abroad. And even then, which of our words do not get misinterpreted, what intentions do not get misconstrued, and what adventures do not find satisfactory conclusion? Yet just by living, itself, we affect others. The net effect, bit for bit in the annals of history, horizontal step for step, hierarchical spiral for spiral, engenders mans’ very progress within the greater chaos that has inveigled us all. We can but plan, and allow the Gods their laugh. It is in our response (as opposed to reaction) that we show conscious evolution. It is in our individual cognizance that we each contribute toward the bell-curve, shuffling it along the mortal coil inherent not only to each of us, but to any Time Period defining a given lifetime.

Adam Broadford stepped out of the box into which he was born. He needed to. Not everyone feels so compelled. But given our burgeoning refugee numbers, and given the dissolution of our old historical traditions and values and practices, it is evident that we, as mankind, are speeding up, comparatively, toward a future that some think they can foresee, that others think might be bright, and yet others feel is more akin toward heading into an abyss. And you? How fare you?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Dispelling Deep Dark Depression

‘They’ say depression can be more a matter of chemistry than it might be in the mind. How truly awful for those so afflicted. Is life really just a matter of ‘what you eat, you are’? We can attempt to think our way into a new threshold, but if the body will not follow, and the mind will not accept, then we can but rail, rail against the loss of the comfort-zone. Despite ‘choice,’ tradition and acculturation envelopes us. Throughout history we’ve bemoaned ‘change.’ Great swaths of time have proved severe, horrid, and entirely unacceptable. In the rear-view mirror it can all be seen as very dreadful, if not in the window upon the future outlook from within our present times too.

We are ‘victims’ of the times. Awful circumstances can envelope us, enfold us. Yet quite often, rewarding times can enrich us too. It’s at the ‘crossing of the threshold’ that we can determine our viewpoints. In the sense of paradigm shifts needing the dissolution, the degeneration, or the fragmentation of the old, before the new paradigm asserts itself, one may find the insecure anxiety of awaiting the certainty of the new, to be disarming, indeed. Like stepping from the jetty onto the rocking boat; like feeling blindly for the unseen rung below one’s foot; like hoping in the dark that one’s stretched-out fingers may click on the light-switch. What does the future foretell?

That’s what happens to Adam, the protagonist of ADMISSION, A Story Born of Africa. Twice, in the dark, he feels for the light switch, the same switch, in the generator-machine shed. The first time, when he is four, it ends in humor. The second time, when he is eleven, it ends in death. But for Adam the ongoing challenges of his life never culminate in depression; he is too determined to keep journeying toward a future that is of his own making. To choose! In his life, each obstacle is something, at the very least, to be outwaited, since he knows down deep that circumstances keep changing, as long as he looks for, or awaits, the time to make his choices.

Helpless, we may not always leap the chasms between what was, and what we foresee; and therein, in that very uncertainty, can lie our debilitating fear. If life were more assured, we may more easily go into the ‘good night’ of old age. Not all of it ought to need to be a raging-rage against the dying of the light. Not every future is dismal. Not every ‘progress’ is detrimental.

Thing is, depression itself can arise out of traumatic experiences. But not necessarily. Post trauma (as we know the syndrome,) is usually the result of some awful experience. But not all depression needs one’s own direct physical experience; our mental apprehension can be quite sufficient. The little girl, seeing and hearing her mummy get bitten by the bee, may register inordinate anxiety over bees the rest of her life. The boy, seeing and hearing his dad panic over the snake in their path, may never overcome such built-in fear. Indeed, some of our problem is that many fears are deeply subconscious. And then again, sometimes we know precisely why we fear, are anxious, or get depressed. Life has taught us ‘a sadness.’ We feel that we cannot change our external circumstances, let alone ourselves. We do, indeed, fear for the future!

Indignities can attend our aging and bone-aching cage. Hurt digs at our heartsore of personal losses. Anger rises at those who do not, will not, cannot alter the seemingly clear and imminent foreclosure on our earth. The dismal outlook for our children; the earth’s bulging and unchecked masses; the shrinking biodiversity; the soiled ocean; the gritty air; and the painfully inherent actuality that we no longer shall be able to protect and contribute and give succor to those we love, closely, much less the populace and the fauna and flora at large, all of it, is a future bleak and uncertain and horrid in the foreseeing. Mindfulness, chemistry, feelings, choices; where does one draw a line? ‘God give me the grace to change what I can, and to accept the things I cannot’?

Then again, if ‘choice’ be the elixir of life, then by breathing, now for now, and feeling grateful for each breath, we may find ourselves a passage of rite; a depression perhaps given light; right? 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Humbled By Humor

“Being able to laugh! That’s the golden secret to life. We take ourselves so seriously,” answered my friend. At 78, he has much wisdom to share. It may not be ‘new’, but it is tempered by the sheer endurance of his own longevity. Overcoming several physical ailments, and the irregularities and vagaries of the vicissitudes of an individual life, as he has, my friend’s words are not delivered lightly; they arise out of the wellspring of a life lived with keen observation.

One’s ability to encounter life’s history with humor is one thing, but to release it during duress is quite another. (Abashed, we do not like to undress.) In my novel (ADMISSION, a Story Born of Africa,) Adam Broadford is not one to guffaw, nor to chuckle. His humor is confined to a smirk, an intellectual enjoyment of predicament, an intentional play on words, and sometimes even, a deliberate obfuscation. The subtlety is in the mind. Although others may laugh at predicaments, Adam cannot easily give his humor reign. He is always analyzing. Word-play is his favored laugh. (A nosey and disliked teacher, named Mevrou Neusindruk, means Mrs. Nose-shove-in, ha!) Yet, as in Adam’s story, not all word tapestries are woven with the same thread. Although flecks of silvered humor in his writing may appear, here and there, it is a more resilient material, overall, that sews up the course of his progress. His is the sensibility of perpetually thinking about his thinking. If reaction is at the point of having a funny-bone, response is the approbation of events. The approval. We laugh at he who slips on the banana peel (especially if others laugh too). We grow concerned if, having once slipped ourselves, we’ve cracked our tail-bone.

Like using our hands, there are perhaps six deployments to humor. Most obviously, the lewd, crude, and vulgar may be represented by the thumb. Thickest of our digits; it often is the most useful. Second is the index finger, that which pokes fun at others. Third is the middle finger, that which is suggestive, explicit. Fourth is the implicit, the ring finger, circumscribed humor, not readily recognized, until evidently deployed; (my friend, reading this now, may chuckle at this recalling of his bizarre image of decapitating pigeons; another reader may well shudder.)  The fifth, the pinky, is humor that entails wisdom, insight, care, compassion. Rare. And the sixth? In the unique lines and craters of our palms, time worn and grooved into our individual psyches, lie the experiences of our personal lives; a smile; a wink; a yoke (ha!) Some things, indeed, are funny.

In order to get their laugh, comedians choose those things common to the crowd. A friend, more personally, may choose something esoteric; something we each know. An acquaintance may tell a joke: “You’re the ugliest buffaloes I ever did see,” said the cowboy, and rode on. The one buffalo turned to the others and said, “Was that a discouraging word?” … What? You don’t know the song: “Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play! Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the clouds do not shame us, all day”? So...? Got you singing? (And yes, I do refer to Jungian shadows by way of using ‘clouds’, indeed! Ha!)

Thing is, as one smiles into the eyes of others with our laughter, we become connected, glued, made humble by the sharing, and transported beyond age, race, religion, and division. Or not. Some humor is sadistic. Some humor is too off colour. Some humor is far too dependent on identification with specifics of language, ideology, place. Some humor is esoteric, built up out of intellectual commonality. Some has its foundation in wit, witticisms, and word-play. But that which tickles our collective funny bone quite clearly needs be germane to all; commonality is the precursor to the longevity of a joke. We know that. How else to laugh at the sheriff saying that the cowboy is wanted for rustling! Why? Well, since he wears a paper hat, has a paper gun, and even shoots paper bullets! (Rustling! Ha! Get it?)  …..Oh! (ha! ha!)

In the laugh and the catching of another’s eyes we are humbled by humor. Age, and distinctions of attainment, pedigree, race, religion, and even sex can all disappear in the connection of jokes. It can. But it seldom does. After all, to let go of all inhibition, one needs to undress. Ugh!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Poisoned by The Past

Broken, we can never be whole. The cracks can show. Especially under duress. “Just who do you think you are?” can resonate down the decades. We can poison ourselves with our past. We can so easily be hamstrung, hobbled, hurt.

Overcoming childhood insufficiency can be the worst of it. Little girls are demeaned by boys, by parents, by others. Little boys too. Like atavistic swimmers, all hoping to reach the edge ‘first,’ there is little of compassion for (let alone consciousness of) others. It becomes a learned thing; we are taught not to step on ants. Gratitude to those who teach ‘love,’ gets profound.

It is thinking about our thinking that enlightens us. Victim, or victorious, that which was the past can debilitate, or temper our metal. And although we each are influenced by all those around us, ‘good,’ or ‘bad,’ (according to The Good Book, to steal from Tevye’s performance in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’), in the sum of it all, what one makes of one’s life, along the way, is actually up to oneself. Indeed, one needs think about one’s thinking.  

That’s the rub. We are so easily given to blaming others, or even relying on an ‘Other,’ that such qualities of ‘Self-Reliance,’ and ‘Self-Actualization,’ (let alone ‘Independence,’) are relinquished into the purvey of our acculturation. Thus it is that there can be a perpetual ringing of bell-curves in one’s sensibilities. At each juncture of one’s paradigm shifts (or not,) there is the sense of being an outlier, leaving an old perspective, until absorbed by the ‘kismet’ of others into yet more and more acceptance of what once appeared surreal.

In, ‘ADMISSION, a Story Born of Africa,’ Adam Bradford encounters extraordinary challenges. Given the physical and emotional abuse perpetuated by a family who do not understand his gifted nature; given the page-turning adventures among lethal snakes; a child-snatching crocodile; attacking baboons; a marauding leopard; his having to shoot his beloved pet donkey; and given the racially charged threats, subsequent murders, and the political capitulation of Northern Rhodesia into Zambia (1974); for Adam there is an ‘otherworldly’ quality to his life that (unless in some measure personally experienced by others,) can indeed appear surreal.

His reader, one trusts, can relate to the secrets he is forced to keep. His reader, one trusts, can relate to the necessity to surmount physical pain, emotional difficulty, and inordinate challenge.

But in relating his unusual story, Adam realizes that the sheer gauntlet of challenges can hardly be de-rigueur, for most. Thank goodness. It is his teenage years that become all the more remarkable. His illicit and interracial affair could prove lethal. His countenancing an abusive uncle results in extreme hardships. His gainsaying the church gets him whipped. His escape to a boarding school results in yet more secrets to keep, and when graduated, and a conscript in the South African Army, he needs take control of his future, let alone be a victim of the past.

We turn the page to a New Year. We celebrate the old, learn from the past, and venture into a relative unknown. Some of us are comparatively secure. We have loved ones near enough. We do not necessarily feel geographically displaced. We have positions in society, welfare sufficient to our means, and friends and family, and are relatively fortunate. (Yes, despite it all, there are those in dire distress, near and dear.) Yet we are not necessarily victims of our past, unless ‘pushed’. Oh, certain things can ‘set us off.’ Most usually, they are the things that result from our perceptions during our upbringing. And thinking about our thinking, indeed, can prove not only a necessary thing, an immediate thing, but an enduring thing. Accordingly, adjustments are, consciously, made. After all, each year may indeed be ‘new,’ but so is each moment.

Or do we declare ourselves, ‘always,’ poisoned by our past?