Thursday, June 4, 2020

Subtle Sensibilities

Dissolution is everywhere. We easily tear down, minimize, shame, or dismiss others. It takes too much energy to absorb, include, integrate, and assimilate. Rather, we expunge, cauterize, and ignore. Knee jerk reactions can even incite us to violence. We can swear at, mock, and vilify those who are different from ourselves. Our impatience, perceptions, and cultural appropriations set us up for non-acceptance of that which does not suit our status quo. And such negative judgmentalism is endemic to every culture, to every group, subgroup, and clique. Worse even, it is harbored in the individual. We walk around with the censorship deep in our psyche, anchored in our adopted values, and yet too often can unleash it on the tip of our tongues: “Disgusting. Idiot. Shame on you! Buttocks’ hole! Fool. Lowlife. You’re a bastard.” And worse: “Retard!”

Thing is, too often, the very subtlety of it all can disguise it. Our own self-righteousness can feel laudable. “It’s beneath me. She wears dreadful colours. I hate people who do this, or do that!”

All our lives we get taught by others what to think. And we even take on other’s feelings too. A child learns fear responses, learns racism, easily adopts a sense of hate. Taking on the sense of self, a child begins a journey fraught with the acculturation of ages, tradition, expectation, and of maturation toward a plateau of regular and steady personality and character; it is a stance from which one may ineluctably choose not much further to grow; yet for some it is a conscious choice. Such are the pathways for most of us. We evolve rather slowly along the continuum of enlightenment as we adopt the main behaviors and sensibilities of our ‘being’, as opposed to our ‘becoming’. And being ‘just fine for who I am’ becomes our happy place, or our main place, (or our being accustomed to accepting a Thoreauvian sensibility of unrequited desperations.)

We eschew the imposition of being called out, pigeonholed, labelled. Or perhaps not. Some of us are at ease with wearing white capes and hoods, like living ghosts. Some of us are at ease with brandishing swastikas, or badges and emblems and identifying slogans. We care not that we are purposefully and utterly committed to what amounts to a petri-dish of convention within the whole spectrum of mankind. We cling to the sense of our culture, unable easily to ascend beyond it. At most we may side-step the Venn Diagram of our birthright, or even of our particular pathway, but we do tend readily to settle into another. We replace the Bible on the shelf for the book of Tao, (but we do not necessarily read either, let alone immerse ourselves in their preferential practices.) We are content to be as we feel, rather than to understand, deeply, profoundly, entirely, what it is that we are really, truly, being. And so, our prejudices mount. It is natural to flock together with our own species. Different sports for different sorts. Different cars for different drivers. Different houses. Different clothes. Collective, acculturated thoughts. Yes, it can become natural to be divisive, exclusive, demeaning, and self-serving. Differences become reference points to judgmentalism and prestige. 

Thought drives us. Emotions can anchor us. It is thinking about our thinking, (the perpetual practice of meta-cognition,) that can invigorate our evolution through the multi-dimensional dynamics of aspirations toward more and more enlightenment. Like compassion, it is a journey, not just a product. We are too much of everything to be ‘perfect,’ entirely with consistency. As Bob Dylan puts it: “I contain multitudes”. At issue is the choices we make, moment for moment, however caught up we are in survival modes; familial anchors; competitive striving; the fundamentalism of political stance or religious segregations; the inviolate dispensation of being self-righteous; the inarguable need to level the playing field; or then the dreadful insecurity of feeling fraught by one’s individual ineffectiveness; until the paradigm shift of a generalized integration becomes ‘the new norm’, such that one’s actions can begin to contribute more and more effectively toward the health of the whole. Acceptance is all. Integration is everything. And compassion continues in its dendrite-like veins of more and more understanding. If ‘Everything’ is important, and ‘Nothing’ really matters, how then to suspend negative judgements? How to accept, assimilate, absorb, integrate, and nurture the edges of insight? Whatcha thinking? Hm?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Keys to The Kingdom

We seldom can see everything at once. We take things in briefly, training on specifics. The horizon, with Denman Island, was my focus. For another, I knew, it would be the foreground of Qualicum Beach. For someone else, it would be the dancing flowers in my camera lens. Without your seeing my picture, how could you possibly find the keys to my meaning? We each make metaphors of our lives, turning the past into symbolism, significance, and perspective. But seldom do we see everything. In retrospect, or when viewing an image again, one may notice something altogether missed, (as did I, recently, when taking the photo (above), more than a week or so ago.)

The key to an effective composition lies in the rule of three. The key to another’s heart lies in treasuring not only the lock, but how to open it. The keys to the kingdom lie in the phrases passed down through history. The key to mankind lies in his ability to marry with her kind too. We are inundated with keys. We carry them like jingle bells, each opening a portal to the new present. And sometimes, oft times, frequently, we come across a key and no longer know what it is for. Our rules of conservation, of co-operation, of collaboration can so easily dissolve trust and security with the loss of keys. We are both collectively and independently dependent on keys. So too for the attainment of them. We get keys to lock something in, or to lock something out. And putting one’s address on the name tag of a key is hardly the way to ensure against future loss. We are conscious of where we keep our keys, most of the time. And sometimes, we give friends a spare key. But the keys to our bank accounts, or to our computers, or to our castles are kept private, secret, secured, we hope. The rule of three applies both to our artistic and practicable sensibilities: head, heart, and kept somewhere filed away for reference.

In that singular adverb, ‘somewhere’, lies the problem. The key to a life is somewhere. Thing is, should we die (when we die,) there is the need of another (preferably one’s trusted loved ones) to unlock one’s ordinarily private files in order to access the bank accounts, the computer files, the life insurance papers, the mortgage and tax papers, as well as the photos and letters of a lifetime. And the key to it all, in the necessity to disburse, or to preserve, or to discard, lies in the value given to everything in one’s will, or given by the subjective decisions of the one who retains the key. Undiscovered wills leave great confusion. Un-updated wills can leave a great sense of inequity. And too decisive wills (“I’ve left all my millions to Fluffy,”) can drive some to despair. Somewhere, somehow, sometime or another, we each must become responsible for knowing where we, or those we care for, keep our keys.

To get to the point. Unlocking one’s thoughts is seldom a direct process, especially if one is right brained, an abstract thinker, or of a metaphorical mind readily given to a predilection for the propensity to prevaricate. Words are not always clear-cut keys. Stop. No. Go. Shut up. Rather, like the very many brush strokes attending the making of a painting, words are as layered and as multifaceted as a moving stream that gurgles and burbles its way to the ocean. And somewhere in all of the tumble of activity and surge of energy that allows for the song to be created, the essay to be written, the bruited meaning(s) to become clear, are the key phrases that invigorate another’s understanding, that unlock the symbolism and the metaphor and the meaning. Or do we not get the drift? Do left-brained apprehenders prefer precise impeccability of phrasing?

We keep our keys close by. We find another’s keys and we hope to help the owner rediscover them. We decide to be more secure, more conscious, more responsible, more prescient, and, yes, even more-better with our lives. We look at others more closely. We look at our landscapes with yet more appreciation. And we look at ourselves with more circumspection, with yet greater metacognition, and with more clarity. Clarity. How very obscured all else can be when we no longer have the keys to our kingdom. Or is my meaning lost too? Look yet more closely at the picture provided to you, (above); like the overview of one’s life, the keys we might have lost are there. We need but see them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Insidious Insights

The cages are of my own making. Is it not so for most of us? Except that, at this age and stage, I can walk quite easily through the first-floor bars, their being neither too tight for my older frame, nor yet all clad up so that only an open door might provide egress. It is now as though the ribs contain but light-filled spaces, allowing one freely to breathe. We each know such cages. And we each know the other cages too, the ones that we keep dark. We each can have these conscious curtailments that define our existence, mostly of our own making. We can draw our curtains. We can close our doors. We can lock away our treasures. And from our own windows we can survey that which is without, from within. But not all cages are of our own making; many get imposed on us by our acculturation, our circumstances, and by the power of others. How to stay clear?

Such has been the insidious effect of this 2020, with its social distancing, its laws and regulations forbidding this and that. We find ourselves in the cages of our dwellings; or in the confines of our automobiles; or visiting each other from a distance; like prisoners of our collective dilemma.   

As a friend writes, “[I’m] Going into my mind because going out of my mind is not an option.”*

Yes, the cages that define our comfortable rooms, that contain our hopes for the future, that outline the very superstructure supporting our individual existence, needs be thought about. Or else we shall but go our habitual way from room to room, or mayhap venture outside, yet stay leashed to the expectations, and the conditioning, and the perpetuation of unquestioned traditions imposed by our history. Since babies, have we not been stopped from unfettered freedom by the bars of our cribs; by the locked doors and cabinets of our childhood; by the fences of our yards; by the rules of the classroom; by the expectations on us of being a responsible adult? It all has been structured to keep one safe. The societal cages make of us a species apparently free to move around the globe, (particularly before the advent of Covid-19,) yet still, we were enabled to do so precisely because we were expected to follow conventional rules, regulations, and expectations; it made no matter how different the society was into which we were able so freely to move about. After all, barring places like North Korea, we did travel fairly easily. After all, except that one needed a visa, and a passport, and proof of financial wherewithal for the journey, one could just about go anywhere.

Given the new framing (as seen in the picture above,) that sense of freedom is what I got when actually walking through the walls of the superstructure of the building in situ. There was the delight of being entirely within my rights. There was no guard to harry me off the property. There was no time-constraint other than that which I chose. There was nothing other than the differentiation in the sizes of rooms that could curtail my process. Except that all the cages were on one level. And the stairway, although nailed down the first five steps to the landing, was entirely loose up to the second floor. To hazard going the next four, to the loose board at the top, merely to get a glimpse of the vaster expanse before me, was risky at best. But at the very least, provided I thought about where to place my balance, I was safe enough, temporarily. The superstructure was not yet ready to ascend to a second floor.

We progress through the Memes of evolution in simultaneous apprehensions of horizontal and vertical accretion. We comprehend but barely, at times, the significance of the cages into which we become conditioned. We at times do “go out of my mind.” And that fear of not being able to understand, to be conscious, to be alert, can indeed be scary. So, yes, it is best advised to keep ‘going into one’s mind,’ for in our better perception of ourselves, within our world, we shall indeed be broaching the universe of what it means to be free, to be compassionate, integrative, and healing.

(*By permission: Mike Jablonski) 

                            “Going into my mind because going out of my mind is not an option.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Family, Friends, and Faith

That’s what came out of the funeral service for Sharon, that sad morning of last March: the three cups of Family, Friends, and Faith. We can be fixated on precise dates, yes, but grief knows no boundaries; so too is happiness best not to be truncated, forgotten, or packed away. Our lives are a stream of consciousness in which the memories come and go, and we easily can re-engage with the old feelings, if we allow their conjure, if we give in to their quick and sudden provocation, or purposefully draw out the memory, or determinedly pull images up from our interior spaces, like yanking up a bucket from our own well. And sometimes the cup overflows. And sometimes, one might aver, it is empty. Yet, since we are always a reservoir of that which was, if the bucket does come up empty, it is because we did not nurture each tug on our emotion, nor did we dip it deep enough. Friends, Family, and Faith are not so much metaphors as living entities by which we perpetually are sustained. We feel all the more deeply for our knowing, and loving, our dear Sharon.

To you though, she may be just a name.

Friends and Family, and Faith too affects the isolate, the lone homeless person, with no connections, no sub-culture, no network of social support systems. Such a person rises into our consciousness like a boil on the pavement, unwanted, even despised by some. But for most of us, care for such an one is not within our usual purvey. We can afford not to have to dwell on their predicament. We can trust that someone else will take care of them. We can hope that they will take care of themselves. We can have faith that somehow, somewhere, in this vast world of inequalities, there will be succour enough unto the needs of such-like others. We cannot identify with real starvation. We cannot identify with absolute drought. We cannot identify with their apparent rejection of societal norms, expectations, values. We cannot identify with their evident mental aberration, the practice of their physical addictions, or even their horrid hygienic habituations. We have faith that God will take care of them. Somehow, down deep, we feel that they made a choice, and that their way has led way to way. (At least, that allows very many of us freely to skirt past the hobo on the pavements.) And thank God for those who are prepared to minister to them, to stand and serve at the soup-kitchens, to distribute blankets and socks and clothing. They are the angels, indeed. But it becomes necessarily sufficient that we make the Salvation Army coinage-donation, the unwanted-clothes drop. Somehow, God is taking care of it all. Besides, there are too many of ‘them.’ City by city. Country by country. After all, how does one retain one’s need for self-sufficiency, first? If one gives too much, then how quickly will all one’s resources not be depleted? No, better to be in the position to be able to continue to give, but from the well-spring of having one’s ‘own’. Such, generally, is our faith.

In this 2020 time of social isolation and physical distancing we still are able to write, to phone, to skype and zoom and tweet and make communication with friends and family. Yet still, we do not necessarily reach out to all our friends, or even to all our family. We trust we shall hear the news should someone be in trouble, should someone need help. And we keep the faith. After all, at the precise moment of typing these words, at noon, 09/04/2020, there are 94,888 deaths from Covid-19, world-wide. And for me, not a single person of those is someone I know, personally. No, with a little faith, with prayer, with God’s grace, no one that I know will be affected. Such is faith. Such are my friends and family. We are sufficiently connected.

But the statics keep creeping upwards. And it seems the roll of the die may eventually touch a person I personally love, (God forbid!) And therein lies the rub. Until we are personally aggrieved, reached, touched, affected, we do but continue to progress along the way. And the wellspring of our empathy can become cauterized by the sheer volume of statistics. Still, our cups are not entirely empty. Yet behind every one of those nameless 95,047 (a mere two hours later, on checking the burgeoning statistics,) there is family, friends, and faith. And so, weep not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee too. It tolls, awfully.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Mending Walls

We are astounded at unprovoked aggression. We startle! It’s like the surprising attack of an angry and noisy dog, (especially when one is not trespassing.) We are astounded at territorial imperatives. Like that of a neighbour who measures the one-inch overhang of your eavestrough onto his property, and then sets up a letter that arrives in the mail, full of legal complaint. Yes, we do need distance from each other. Yes, we are wont to protect our property, our view, our safety, our security, our sense of ownership of a particular space. But how to mend the rift that can occur in relationships, to repair the neighbourly wall that breaks between us? How to reach beyond impatience, and to speak to each other with dignity and grace and care? How not to threaten?

The current of Covid-19 knows no boundaries. Insidious, it has resulted in our putting walls up, everywhere. In the supermarkets there are taped-distances for us each to stand. On the pathways we veer away from each other. We do not share elevators. We do not share transport. We do not touch. And when that month comes in which we all, tentatively, try to resume the normality of our old lives, shall we easily handshake and hug and speak close across the fences of our social conventions yet once more? How long shall we cling to the ghosts of those so drastically fallen?
Robert Frost, the old poet, in ‘Mending Wall,’ (below,) finished off the poem with these phrases:
 “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees. He will not go behind his father’s saying, And he likes having thought of it so well He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbours.’”

Indeed. We resonate by clinging to the past. Indeed, we move in the darkness of our established conventions. We inculcate tradition and fear and xenophobia and acculturation as easily as many children once had their private-parts altered in the name of religions. Many still do! We still set up borders, and vaingloriously can defend them against submitting to the differences between our expectations, and that of our neighbour’s. “Having thought of it so well,” we resume and perpetuate our forefather’s practices. Caveman like, we certainly will not allow for someone’s unwanted (or even unexpected) presence at our entrances. Self-protection, and the security of those we love, is quite naturally paramount. And much like Plato’s cave, in which we face the wall and see the moving shadows and mistake them for reality, we perpetuate quite easily the suspended-disbelief of our lives, and presume to squander time, checking the state of our own contrivances, such that we live in the need perpetually to find yet another object, point of focus, or belief that may sustain us. We do not easily turn to the light. We do not easily give up that which went before. We do not easily move beyond the horizontal accretion of our gathered experiences,

“Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: ‘Why do they [fences] make good neighbours?’” Robert Frost asks.

Well? Why? What is there about our fragmentation and dissolution and isolation and disconnect that we so readily can resort (in the face of attack, of fear, of uncertainty, and even of reasonable precaution) to the persuasion to keep at mending the wall between ourselves and the other? Indeed, as Frost intimates: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out.”

Thing is, as the poet said: “Something there is that does not love a wall.” Then again, “Spring is the mischief in me.” Indeed.

Mending Wall by Robert Frost - 1874-1963
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Em's and En's

“Em? That’s not a word!” At eight years old, I felt cheated, incensed. My uncle often tried to beat me at scrabble. “It is a word,” he remonstrated. “Look in the dictionary.” And indeed, upon flipping through many familiar pages, I realized I was mistaken.

In the relatively short dash between then and now, so very much has transpired. That singular line between dates, like 448-338 b.c.; 356-326 b.c; 110-44 b.c.; 33-61 a.d.; 539-612; 1122-1204; 1343-1400; 1412-1431; 1564-1616; 1756-1791; 1809-1865; 1819-1901; 1879-1955; 1892-1951; and 1918-2013 certainly represents a chronological series. Yet these dates are specifically significant, indeed, and perhaps even recognizable; but it is that all too brief em dash betwixt the dates that really signifies. Therein lies the life. Therein lies the influence of a given person on others, from birth to death. And suspended as that short-stroke em-dash is between the book-ends of any given dates, it is there that the very chapters of all history get written.

Social distancing is creating a stressful acclimatization to a new world order. Indeed, we adjust to being alone, and we preoccupy ourselves with the house-chores of isolation and free time. Indeed, we phone and email and Skype and Facebook, etc., but the physical reality of hugs and handshakes are very much a current aversion. We are to stand six feet apart, if we do not want to be buried six feet under. And evidently, too many lives have been foreshortened by a bug, a disease, a contagion, that horridly knows no international boundaries. Our globe is under attack, or at least, we human beings are the ones being attacked at this dastardly time on our world.

“A debacle! It is my favourite word of the month,” writes 97-year-old M’Lady Nancy Sinclair. In her long lifetime she’s seen the world wars, and plenty more. She’s endured and persevered within the storms of inordinate odds. At now, just about to turn 98 on April 01, she is supposed to allow no one into her cottage on The Swan, near Perth, in Australia. Her adult daughters, her friends, her neighbours, how will they be able to celebrate M’Lady’s birthday? That em dash of her life is indeed experiencing an awful shrinkage in the debacle of this 2020 year. To be so very alone is difficult for anyone, let alone those who care to be generous with their love toward and care for others. It is in direct contact with others that most of us share our very vitality.

A debacle is defined as ‘a sudden and ignominious failure’. Therein lies the rub. Are we, by staying chiefly in a virtual reality for the next long while, able to control the contagion, to contain it, and even, like polio, or the bubonic plague, or malaria, or aids, to stem the spread and so to keep things in check that we no longer need to be so fearful of each other? Certainly, all personnel involved in essential services, from our health, food, and maintenance workers, deserve a hero’s accolades. Their bravery to keep us all as cared for as possible is deeply profound.

And as for that all too brief em dash in the lives of those who once lived, and all those not as yet book-ended by a final date, we can but love day to day, appreciating all that is good and beautiful and marvelous and wonderful within our lives. The em dash of Plato, and Alexander, and even Caesar, and Queen Boudecia, and Bertha of Kent, and Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and Joan of Arc, and President Lincoln, and Einstein, and Sir Arthur Street, and Mandela too, contains their experience of love and appreciation of life. Then too, they also indeed needed to overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So too, one fears, for each and all of us.

And as for the present debacle, darn it, we need, indeed, keep apart, and keep clean. Let us not play scrabble with the rules. After all, life for any of us can be too short. And lest we do not take precaution, unlike the inevitable and unavoidable reality of our own personal em dash; for some of us, we fear, it might become the even shorter ‘en’ dash. (Yes, the same, but shorter still.) We need think of our own impact on others. So stay safe. Be well. Move about with care. Please.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Baubles and Bangles and Balls

“I’ll lasso the moon for you,” young George tells Mary, in Thornton Wilder’s 1910 ‘Our Town.’

And as the 'Ball of Gold' poem by Stephen Crane (1871-1900) goes:

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it,
And eventually he achieved it --
It was clay.
Now this is the strange part:
When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold. 

Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.

Yes. “Be careful what you want, for you’ll get it,” goes the saying. Yet, the thing is, it’s the envisioning, the dreaming, and the actions taken toward our objectives that count, over and over. How else to live life as fully as we can? With goals in mind we move ourselves from stasis. Yes, there is no real perfect paradigm; no one size fits all. Still, by making choices, choice after choice, it is the journey itself that involves us most, very seldom the finality. We move! As Robert Frost (1974-1963) wrote: “I have promises to keep; And miles to go, before I sleep.”

Thing is, are we internally, or externally, motivated? What incites us most to action? And once a thing is obtained, then, what’s next? After all, as Robert Browning (1812-1889) urged: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?"  Then too, as Shakespeare’s Juliet exhorts: “Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon.... [of the 1500’s] but swear by Thyself.”

True, restlessness grips us. We scarcely can stay put. We hardly can wait. We find our bones need shifting. We find our brains need stimulating. We want more, and more, and something else, somewhere else, (and sometimes even someone else.) We seldom can meditate. We seldom can sit still. With no magazine to flip, no phone to check, no music to hear, no new person to enter the room, no drama, no tv, no games, no cookies; how to be self-satisfied? Cigarettes, and coffee, and chatter, and (unchecked) thoughts govern us, mostly. Sometimes our brains simply slip out of gear. Yes, ideas (and ideals) can be ephemeral. Obtaining them is satisfying, yes, but soon enough one needs to be away. Like birds on twigs, or even at last in our nests, we humans are fundamentally itinerant. All that glitters, indeed, is not gold.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss,” goes the dictum. Frequently though, one meets the exception. (Wendy, of the Shady Rest in Qualicum Beach, has worked there for over 30 years. So too has Darci worked for three decades in the same barber shop, in Victoria’s Fort Street. Then, recently, our too-young-looking server at the Maple Bay Pub revealed that she’d worked there for over 22 years.) Everywhere, there are outliers. Indeed, at times when we over-generalize there is often enough evidence to disprove one’s contentions. (Yes, one can become quite astounded at how utterly wrong one can be.) Our gold can become clay. Then again, generally, like “the inconstant moon” itself, we prefer once more to be on the move! Wonderful as anything is; where’s the next pot o’ Gold?

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sunshine for Sharon

We human beings are fundamentally ontological. Sharon would’ve liked that word. In the meaning making sense of things, Sharon took special delight. But she does not get to read this tribute. When she died around 7:00 p.m., this February 28th, she did not make it into the leap year. The 28th we get to remember, yearly. She left the up and down and round and round carousel of life. She was, at last, free. Yet a surprising day of sunshine, Feb 29th, wedged into the calendar for those on Vancouver Island. The preceding weeks of grey clouds and rain had marred wishes for pleasant weather, and the horrid threat of Sharon’s cancer loomed over all those who loved her. By March 1st, here, so far from Calgary, it again rained and rained. ‘Tears from heaven’, indeed. Our grief is profound. Sharon’s life was too short, at 57. And as for March, we are called upon to march on and on. Sharon would like that image. Yes, we each must eventually also go, but for Sharon, cancer was her last marathon, here on earth.

She’d actually run a marathon in every province of this vast country. That’s ten 26.21875-mile marathons in a lifetime. Most of us have not yet run one. For those of us unfamiliar with this Canada of ours, it makes for an incredible feat of training, preparing, flying or driving to, and then attending the grueling races, stretched out on diverse tracks across a vast country thousands of miles wide. And always, she appeared humble about her achievements. Always, she was interested in and caring of others. Always, she loved her dogs, and loved nature, and loved the people she knew. And always, she was supportive and compassionate and insightful.

Jessie (Sharon’s mother) and Sharon had flown out westward, 2016, just especially to see me perform with a new actor, Perry Burton, who played ‘Mitch’, in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ (Morrie dies, onstage, of ALS.) Nine years before, in 2007, they’d seen Jay Newman’s ‘Mitch’. (That was the same year Jessie's husband, and Sharon's father, Vic Peters, died of the disease.) In 2010, they saw me do it with Donovan Deschner. And next, in 2018, when I was invited to perform ‘Morrie’ in Canmore, with Rob Murray, they drove to see the show yet again. Think of the courage, the bravery, it took them to stare down the face of death, again and again. Yes, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, has claimed and is claiming many victims, but for Sharon, and her mother, as well as for Sharon’s older brothers, Doug and Russ, their father, Vic Peters, succumbed to ALS, finally, back in 2007. For them all, and for the family and friends who knew and loved Vic, it all was a dreadful time. And now, with Sharon being taken by cancer too, how awful it is that we each must march on, without her. How very sad for her two daughters, Maryanne, and Jessica (with Charles and little baby Leo, who will not get to know his grandmother,) and for Sharon’s dearly beloved husband, Ken.

“My funeral was last week,” beamed Morrie. “All those people saying all those wonderful things about me, and I got to hear every word. I kept thinking; Morrie would’ve liked this! And I did!”

Sharon would beam at the reminder. During the dreadful last months, we all gave her love and care, and our prayers were felt by her, to be sure. And now, as she is off on “that final journey into the great unknown,” as Morrie puts it, she indeed has packed with her our love and concerns and appreciation for all that she gave us, while she was still here, running her marathons in the psyche of our consciousness, sharing her love and good humour and deep interest in our lives. So, it continues. She would want us to share our puns. She would want fun.

On Feb 7th, to my texting her about kismet and the unending love we shall have for her, always, she responded: “I cannot say anything quite so eloquent but say it like this: love, love, love.”

Yet her eloquence lay in the very art of love with which she contributed to life and gave to us all; it was so much greater than mere words. And as for sunshine, she shall always be a ray of love and lightness of being in our memories, for each of us. We now can but stand at the sidelines, cheering her on in the marathon of our minds, sustaining her spirit in our hearts, and carrying her love for us, always.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Carman's Carousel

[Artist Unknown]

Milton Carman let go of the carousel. He’d lived 91 years. Round and round the cycles of his lifetimes he’d gone, but just before his birthday, February 14th, 2020, he set off into the great unknown. “Happily.” At least, that’s what I inferred by the gleam in his eye when he told me he was “looking forward to the inevitability of the journey.”  Reincarnation, for him, was a foregone conclusion. It was a visceral entity, an inherent belief.

We’d known each other but a scarce seven months, before this last January 27th, and yet his vitality still resonates. It was the energy of a deeply profound man, an ordained monk, a Buddhist teacher, writer, composer, husband, father and grandfather. In short, he was a man who’d lived a full, long, life. And he seemed (as Morrie Schwartz in ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ would put it) a man “at peace with himself.” Morrie’s lines also advise: “Do what the Buddhists do. Every day, have a little bird that sits on your shoulder, that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I being the person I want to be?'” Indeed, Milton Carman appeared always to be the person he wanted to be.

“Are you the artist?” he asked, back in June. We were at The Broken Paddle CafĂ©. My thirteen paintings had been up on the walls for the month. He appeared an older man than me, but I would not have put him in his late 80’s. His interest in my work, his care to continue the conversation, and his invitation to visit him, and to meet Carol, his wife, was deeply appreciated. By email, Friday, June 14th, he wrote: “My dear Richard, I immensely enjoyed our time together.  It is rare indeed during these turbulent times to come upon another soul who speaks the language with the lilting cadence, precision and metaphorical whimsy that excites another’s curiosity and imagination.   It was lovely indeed being with you. The book about dying that I mentioned is titled, Preparing to Die by Andrew Holecek.  ‘Tis a life-changer.” Yes, from the very outset, Milton was prepared to talk about death. 

A sense of friendship formed quickly. A tea at his house, then a dinner with others of his friends, “at a date for the assignation which suits us all.” And at each meeting Milton was content not only to listen, to ask questions, but equally to expound about his abiding interest in the Anima and the Animus*, and its essential interconnection. It formed the foundation of the novel he was writing. (It is a novel, at this writing, that is “sadly a few pages” unfinished.) The cycles of re-incarnations fascinated his imagination, became a belief so endemic to his apperception of life that he was convinced he would “experience life again shortly after regaining entry into the hereafter.” Milton, captivated by the philosophy of Hermann Hesse, also wrote, “I would truly appreciate receiving your extra copy of Demian, which I’ve never managed to catch up with.”

Thing is, the man was still wanting to add to his book collection, wanting to read yet more, wanting still to take an interest in others around him, willing to add to his burgeoning set of acquaintances and friends even at his very late stage and age of life. Thing is, we each are affected by the memory and awareness of others, throughout history. And the thing is, we each, individually, are made more fortunate by the touchstones and special persons that are revealed to us in the passage of our own lives. Thing is, as Milton would have it, each person is special, all in and by themselves.

He signed his emails: “Be well and happy.” At question, one might aver, is just 'how happily we are being the person we want to be.' For me, he was an exemplar. Be well. Stay well. Be happy.

                                                Milton Samuel Carman: Feb 14, 1929- Jan 27, 2020

*Anima and Animus
The anima and animus are described in Carl Jung's school of analytical psychology as part of his theory of the collective unconscious. Jung described the animus as the unconscious masculine side of a woman, and the anima as the unconscious feminine side of a man, each transcending the personal psyche. Jung's theory states that the anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind, as opposed to the theriomorphic and inferior function of the shadow archetypes. He believed they are the abstract symbol sets that formulate the archetype of the Self.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Collision Course

The shattering sound of the crash had people craning their necks. Had the overladen waitress flawlessly balanced the tray no one would have applauded her. We go about being perfect with nary a notice. But at our collisions, at our mistakes, at our upsets, we easily draw attention. To her credit, the waitress did not swear. To her colleagues’ credit, several appeared quickly on the scene, and voiced concern for her, and offered help. Disconcerted, she appeared flustered, but not self-deprecatingly so. And close as I was, I thought to get up from my table to help, but realized the ineffectiveness of my position. Yet as alert as I’d like to think myself, I did not see my partner react to the splashed orange juice on the back of her own leg, nor did I note the fresh stain on our server’s apron, let alone the bit of pulp on his wrist. Only later, in my partner’s writing of the incident, did such detail come to my attention. How much else did I miss?

We each are fixated in moments, and our senses apprehend but a smidgen of the whole. We retain the stains, the sounds, the images, and even the feelings, perhaps, but the fullness of the moment, the accuracy, the whole of it escapes us, clearly. How many glasses broke? How much juice spilled? What was the colour of her hair? How many came to her aid? Was the floor mopped, afterwards? How much detail of it, after all, signifies?

Writing can be like that. We cram details into it sufficient to get our story across, but must leave out the whole. We can only particularize. Like comprehension itself. Very few of us can recall an entire page of writing, let alone the precise phrasing of an exact sentence, unless we give it much focus, or mental intentionality. No, we glean. We gather. We coagulate from the flow and make concrete, at best, our collective impression. Individually. And then, when some other reader draws any kind of editorial comment through a word, a phrase, an observation, we might be dissuaded from the power of our own vernacular. We can feel impoverished in the wake of someone else’s seemingly superior insight. We can feel insecure about the balance we strike between the hefting of words onto the platter of the page, and the tipping of them so far off-centre that they might come crashing to earth so as to embarrass oneself for having delivered an offering of ‘personal’ images to another in the first place. We can be our own worst enemy.

No amount of observing others will have one balancing the tray of life. One must needs carry it oneself. And indeed, learning from others will assist with the displacement of the proportions of our actions. But not to carry our talent until we are recognized as a professional would be never to get there, in the first place. One needs best play the guitar with the decision to allow mistakes. One must throw the ball at the hoop with persevering intentionality. One must write, and write some more, until the words hone sentences into double-edged swords that slice though simile and metaphor and symbolism so keenly that oneself be satisfied. Therein lies the crux! Self-appraisal. Self-worth. Self-evaluation. Yet humility always to learn more. But if always waiting for another's appraisal, our progress may be very slow. We play, we do, we evolve all the while we grow at the immediate limits of our capacity, naturally. And it’s best to enjoy the very process, indeed.

That waitress will perhaps not attempt to balance quite so much next time. She will have learned. And so too, as we delve into our own lives, we might best participate with what we have, from where we’ve taken it, rather than o’erreach ourselves. And we shall keep doing so with all the certainty that attends our age and stage, one hopes, or what else is living for? 

There are but six major conflicts in all of literature: Man versus man; nature; the supernatural; society; technology; and himself. Amidst all of these, a crises of confidence is the Achilles heel to bring down the most stalwart amongst us. A jury of peers will each render a different opinion if asked to review one’s art, one’s performance; one’s game; one’s writing, no matter how praising they may  collectively be. But to be able to continue to practice one’s art, despite what anyone else may say, now that’s the true measure of overcoming all that which has gone before. And that’s why, no doubt, that waitress will still be found, carrying yet another tray.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Liking 'Likes'

Perhaps among the most difficult of lessons is to give without expectation. We expect the other to like the gift, to show appreciation, and at least to express gratitude, somehow. We expect, in our very gesture of giving, to feel pleasure. All the uncertainty of, “I hope you like it!”; or that of, “You can use the gift receipt to exchange it, if you want,” ... all that aside, we do feel good about giving. It is very difficult, at best, not to be acknowledged.

At best?

20 years ago, a grade 12 student, Penelope, alone in the corridors while classes droned on, and not seeing me, turned down a hallway. From the T junction, I noted her veer to some discarded wrapping. Stooping and picking it up, she retreated toward the rubbish receptacle, saw me, and blushed. “I have a hall-pass,” she offered.

I smiled. “Penelope, was that garbage yours?”

“Well... no.”

“Then why pick it up?”

“Oh. I think it good to help the janitors out,” she offered, blushing again.

“I’m putting your name in for commendation, Penelope. I wish all students would follow your lead and help out around here.”

“My name? Oh no, please don’t do that. “I’ve no desire to get any credit.”

I balked. “But how else to serve as an example to others?”

She demurred. “Well, what about saying you saw someone help out, and hope we all might help out, and leave it at that.”

I beamed. “Done!”

Thing is, that single gesture still resonates, and very many hundreds of students have been told about Penelope, (and now you too.) And no, Penelope was indeed not her name. (And no, the argument does not hold that if we all did it a janitor would be out of a job, ha!)

We do things for each other, one hopes, by contributing to the health of the whole. We are polite, considerate, compassionate, caring, and responsible. Not to expect any reward is a most difficult lesson, indeed. Gifts or no gifts. After all, I want to be liked, loved, and appreciated. It’s natural.

But to continue contributing, silently, unobtrusively, and not to expect anyone even to find out, or necessarily to notice, now that’s the thing of enlightenment. We stoop to pick up other people’s garbage, if not our own, and we dispose of it without looking up to see who is watching. We do it for stranded earthworms. We do it for the helpless. We do it because it is ‘the next right thing.’ Over and over. Or am I hereby waiting for you to respond? Hm?

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Inculcating Integrity

I wish I’d been taught more intensely about integrity. But whichever way the lessons of honesty and intention were delivered, they still have not settled. Attitude and insight may be up to me, (New Years’ resolutions aside,) but betraying promises, cloaking truth in lies, or protecting the self from the judgement and the reprobations of others, continues. Then again, even Churchill is purported to have said, “Truth needs to be concealed in fabrications, if Truth is to be kept safe.”

Yet what about the small truths of our lives? What about the promises we make that we perpetually break? That cookie jar of our promises can get emptied more quickly than we intended. Surely intentions need consistency of action if we are to inculcate integrity? The promises we make need be valuable. After all, is deception not, at its core, guiltily enervating, disassembling? (Yes, then there are those invigorated by evil, or intentional harm.)

“Did you touch your present?” she asked the five-year-old, her eyes hard and threatening.

“No Mammy, I didn’t,” he lied, feeling at once desperately afraid.

Her voice as sharp as a spear point, the adult challenged, “Then why is the corner torn a bit, and the present not exactly as I put it? Don’t you listen? I told you not to touch the presents!”

He blanched. Involuntarily, his eyes darted over to the Christmas tree. He shook his head. “It must’ve been the cat,” he suggested. “It likes to go under the tree.”

She snatched forward and tugged at his ear. “Tell me the truth now!”

Great fear overwhelmed him. He knew he was in for a painful hiding if he told the truth, so he persisted: “I didn’t. I promise. I did not!”

She let go of him. Then, striding toward the presents and plucking his up, she ripped it open. She thrust forward the shiny new pencil case, and growled angrily, “Well, that’s the last you’ll see of this, you little liar! No presents for you, this Christmas. That’ll teach you!”

And the thing is, he never saw the pencil case again.

Yes, little lies come from our need to protect our actions. Fibs alter reality, and serve, ultimately, to undermine our sensibility of what integrity is actually about. The ability to be true to the self requires constant vigilance; the ability to be true to others requires constant evaluation. (What use is truth if you’re being tortured in order to reveal where your friends are hidden? What use is truth if you know, down deep, you’ll never be forgiven, or trusted, or believed, or loved?)

Integrity gets inculcated in us, lesson by lesson, over the length of our lifetime. We learn to be discreet, careful, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, conscious of our choices, considerate of our actions, and to nurture our intentions. Yes, we make promises that we break. Yet in so doing, one hopes, we feed off guilt and its negativity in an integrative spiral of enlightenment toward yet more solidity of being. Our integrity is the gathering of the fragments of our actions, habits, thoughts, and preferences into a package that is indeed full of the present. It is a present guided by the yesterdays of the lessons of our life, and it also is a present imbued with the potential of what is yet to be. Our own integrity might appear wrapped up for others, but at least we know what is inside.

Yes, New Year’s resolutions aside, we are best off, daily, to be inculcating our own, inner, (and preferably) inviolable integrity. No fears about it. Right?