Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mice, Mankind, And Marvellous Moments!

Nellie McLung's great-granddaughter sat in the aircraft seat beside me as we waited for takeoff from Vancouver Island's main airport. I did not know her, then. Around my age, she wedged down in row 6B. A young man eventually arrived from amidst the turgid stream of boarders, plonked down beside her, his earphones in. The woman looked over at my script. "You're reading a play?" she asked, pleasantly. "Tuesdays with Morrie," I replied. "Loved the book," she said. "Yes," I said, and I got on with visualizing my lines. Possibly because of the slight weaving of my hand as I internalized a monologue, she offered: "You're learning lines! You've got to be Morrie!" I smiled and looked out my window as the plane began hurtling down the Victoria airport runway, then responded, "Canmore production. Mid-month. I'm off to meet my fellow actor for the first time. Rob Murray. We have a week to rehearse." She seemed surprised. "A week! Well then, let me help you! I'll play Mitch Albom." Whereupon she took the script from me, and we began my recital; she reading. All the 90 minutes to Calgary we flew over mountains and lakes and wondrous scenery; I spoke into the window pane; she had her eyes glued to the script. And she was good! Her being 'Mitch' was fluent. And just before we landed, we finished!

And so, naturally, we fell to introducing ourselves. "Rosemary," she said. Only later did she make reference to Nellie McLung.  Now, I knew of The Valiant Five*, as far as Canadian History is concerned, and I knew there is a school named after her, in Calgary, and that she configures in the downtown statue of those five radical women, of that time. But to confess, I was not clear, then, as to when 'that time' really was. Rosemary took my card. "This is going to make for an interesting entry into my journal tonight," she declared. And with our landing, she was gone.

"The Nellie McLung school is just across the road from here," Jessie Peters informed, gesturing from her armchair, two weeks later. The wife of Vic (whose horrid disease of ALS over two plus years, back in 06/07 had taught me how physically to portray 'Morrie',) Jessie had yet again driven the 80km from Calgary to see my performance. This time she’d brought Vic's brother, Bill and his wife, Lorna. Last year, when I'd performed the play in Victoria (with Perry Burton as ‘Mitch’,) Jessie had flown out to see it with her daughter, Sharon. Their bravery in facing death, and in encountering ALS head on, has been for me such a model of endurance and love and care. Yet like the mouse in the closet in the middle of the night with the hosts where Jessie and Vic once visited deciding to empty all the closet-contents in order to find that mouse, “right there and then, in the middle of the night,” one can allow for the brain's inevitable ramble and chatter and distraction of what's the matter and where exactly are my thoughts now leading?

Distraction! That's what happened, opening night. I fell in front of the audience! For the first time in over ten years of performing the play, in the fifth act, instead of tipping my wheelchair forward, it lurched sideways and slid out from my behind, and whump!, I landed with several jolts of pain immediately coursing through me. 'What's my next line?' my brain chattered. "Mitch," I called, rather desperately. Thing is, Mitch was supposed to be nattering away, distracted. (‘Morrie slumps over’ was a move designed by the playwright, Mitch Albom.)  Eventually, Mitch (the empathetically gifted actor, Rob Murray) did save me, and hauled my supposedly limp body back up onto my chair, and then, when my limp arms and feet had all been replaced in proper position, he at last says, "what happened?" I pause, breathe, and announce, "I was playing hockey!" And the audience laughs. Always. Their relief for Morrie is palpable. They did not know that right then, given my lack of fluid between my vertebrae, I was in quite a crucial state of discombobulation. My brain raced through alternative scenarios; paralysis was a real fear. And the instant chatter of ‘what's the matter and what's the next right thing to do’ coursed through me like a squeaking mouse, scurrying in the corridors of my mind. But I persevered, and the audience, none the wiser, thought it all part of the act. Yet the fifth act was only half way, there were five more acts to go!

The decades we have mount up quickly. All the while we struggle to be at peace with ourselves. We try to be fully human, but our concentration is indeed confounded by the distractions and insecurities and particularities of circumstance and advent. And so we scramble at times for the next right thing to do. Often, someone is watching us. Yet inside ourselves, we are mostly alone, the captain of our thoughts. Marshalling our reserves, counting on experience, and directing our responses becomes the very art of living. Or does one simply withdraw from life and shrivel into old age, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans ears, sans everything? Ah, the plays (with life) are the very thing by which we may capture the real essence of living! To contribute to the health of the whole; or what is one here for? Such are the marvelous moments among men and women, and the course of our thinking and feelings too. Connected as we are. Bring on The Singularity! Or does my brain now chatter with "what's the matter with that," or even this? Anon! "Next?"

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Guard at The Gate

Here at my castle there's a guard at the gate. In my castle I hold the keys to all my past, and to my present, and wonder about the future. Given the Internet, and my computer, and social media, I can see or look up and find the 'friends' and family of days gone by. They do not see me in my dressing gown, my coffee beside me getting cold, nor do they feel the tears I at times have at the fond memory of this one or that. I am preserved, digitally, as are they. And each to each we no longer are actual realities, shaking hands, seeing into each other's eyes. We can but assume tone from text. We can but hope that the love and hugs and kisses are meant with sincerity. We can but harp on old feelings, old memories, and recall the details or feed the need to add yet more. Yet who really cares how many laundry-loads I do today? Perhaps the devil is in the details. Almost every phrase can appear narcissistic, self-reflective though it (and this) may be.

Thing is, the guard at the gate needs a password, needs assurance that your missive to me is well-intended, is authorized. (It can be daunting to find, or to reach the other.) When last did we communicate? What are the details we recall, that we ought better to recall? Should someone have lost a mother or father, and I've forgotten about it, I may well be remiss in asking after their health! Then too, there are too many of our friends who face death and dying, it seems, far too early. And what of those far older than us? There are the effects of stroke, the results of which are the heart-stopping attacks that we fear. There are the aches and pains of a thousand natural circumstances. In sharing, some persons are happy to spare no details; others are most circumspect. A modicum of happy mediums, usually, is in the modifier. (Must one always be on guard?) But at least, when asked, and ensconced within the purview of my own castle, I am at liberty to choose just how much to reveal of my otherwise private ails.

Long-distance relationships tend to do that to us; they divorce us from intimacy, real intimacy, in which one can see, hear, touch, and smell the other. (Writing that much helps us to stay in touch, ha!) "Familiarity breeds discontent," goes the saying. And being with and around anyone too long can indeed strain at whatever romance, adulation, favour, and even respect one may harbour for the other. "Beware disliking the faults in others," the adage goes, "they are in you." (It often takes me by surprise just how comprehensive that ‘they’ is!) And in exercising compassion, in being aware of the need to be yet more integrative, one can grow and grow. “Don’t hide your light,” says Professor Morrie Schwartz. Yet still, there is the guardian at the gate. We choose our words carefully, or not. We consider and then act with care, or not. We try to assume nothing 'wrong' with another, yet we hold the other in abeyance with our judgement or appraisal, or not. And we certainly don't always do our best with whatever we've got at the given moment, for we are innately lazy. "Laziness is the original sin," says Scott Peck. So... I do not communicate with you as often as I 'should'.

Guarded, and careful, I allow you the news I think you'd like to hear; or worse, I take in and recall only the news from you of interest to me. (One does not necessarily listen to the other.) We are creatures unto ourselves, each moving about with our own interests. Birds do that. Utterly focused on what each hopes to find in someone else's turf; only at the provocation of alarm do they flock off. "Birds of a feather flock together," is Holland's Theory. It is the guard at my gate that disallows the looky-loos. That guard has me kept safe. And when you attempt to visit, or to come find me, or to drop in (unexpectedly), that guard can find curt phrases and intellectual sophisms with which to dissuade you, waylay you, and even discard you. Sorry!

"Every man is his own castle," someone wrote; meaning 'hu-man'. Thing is, the mote around us does have crocodiles or orcas or bug-catchers or biting dogs, and we do have a drawbridge. And unless really, truly, all alone, we do not even have to answer to anyone saying, "who was that knocking at the door?" Yes, truly, one is never really very much alone to do exactly as one wishes at all. The guard at the gate knows that; one is watched over. Always.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Winsome Words

Somewhere in all the words are real people. We write with care and love and hugs and affection and phrases that can sound trite, or not. We write that we may connect. We write with a sense that the other will chew on our words; (will masticate.) Ha! We hope that we will reach the other. We trust that they will understand. (Diction matters.) And thereby, in the solipsistic stylization of our affect we hope the effect will be enduring. We write to send love, care, thought, and well-wishes for the others' welfare. Yet we care not too much about spelling or homonyms or phonemes. We trust all will be forgiven. Because somewhere in all the words are real people.

Death brings on that bereft feeling of never hearing from a person again. Little deaths occur month after month as time slips into years and one thinks about the loss of contact from so and so, or him and her. We are creatures of the moment. And so, we tell what's happening 'now'. That we were in Ottawa once is interesting, to me. We saw the Canadian History museum, visited the Houses of Parliament, and went to a maple-syrup farm. Yet the more detail, the less you may identify. My words may lose you; though somewhere in there is the real me. We are mirrors of each other. We reflect that which we know. And we keep behind our backs the things the other does not see. Death is like that. It takes away the chance yet once more to be able to peer into the other's eyes, and to see the soul. (When shall one never again hear the (last) words of the other? Hm?)

Words are such constructs. We fixate on meanings. The soul is named, so it must exist. So too must Santa. And so forth. Constructs make up our mythologies. Yet history has made a mockery of the immanent beliefs of the Greeks, and then the Romans, and then the Celts, and the Zulu. Their gods have lost power. Beliefs have eroded. Words denoting cherished entities have devolved from adulation to mere intellectual apprehension. We no longer recall the Pantheon. We no longer have reference or deference. Yet in the present we now co-exist with words that give other meaning and import, (despite the avowed intention of some to have those self-same contentions overthrown). OMG! The constructs of our times are imminent iconoclastic impulses toward the dissolutions of eminence. We are in, 'The Iconoclastic Age'! (as hereby given coinage.)

Names for things appear to bring them to life. Kathmandu can be found. So can Timbuktu! But Xanadu is sadly no longer. Yet all of history precedes us, and within the scope and content of its passage we each have had the seeds of progeny that have brought us, willy-nilly, to this place, you and me, (or, "I, and Thou," as Martin Buber would have it). Children become adults.

Trouble is, there are so very many things to know. For some, there are so very many concepts to refute! There are (hierarchical) rungs to climb in the metaphors and analogies of life. But taking on yet one more rubric can be like taking on an accretion of mere facts, rather than being given the wings to soar to the next levels. Words. They can make or break me. Familial words. (That everyone has a Mummy and Daddy certainly does not make all parents the same. Even Brothers and Sisters applies, usually, to The Chosen.)

Words. Big ones are off-putting. Small ones can be paltry. Thing is, words between us are about things, people, and ideas. We apportion the subjects according to our own proclivities. But most frequent is the weather, the immediate, the sense of an other's health, well-being, and welfare, and then the mention of places been, places to go, and the feeling of missing the other (or why write at all?) And in all of these words, somewhere, are the real people. Writing about it all. You?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Reaction, Response, Reflection

Reflection is everything. By it we grow. We learn to fear the scorpion. We learn distrust. We learn survival. "I won't do that again!" We alter our behaviours and reactions and responses. It becomes a fundamental imperative, or not. Yes, some-times we simply do not learn. Sometimes we keep repeating our mistakes. It might be as simple as spelling it's when it should be its (or alot when there is no such thing,) but we do it. Repetition can be our downfall. Habit can trip us up, and indeed, we get up and do it again!

Reaction is primeval, in most instances. Acculturation is in our DNA. We learn reaction from our fore bearers, from our families, from our cultural constellations. And unless we question or take our cue from observing others not to do this or that, we continue reactively to kill grass snakes. Yet it is amazing how many apples have been consumed within Biblical history. It is amazing how many pigs have been killed. It is astounding how many wars we've had. It is incredible that we bicker over guns and tanks and resources and taxes. We still do not have it right. We still are insufficiently reflective. We still do not temper our responses. And we still simply react.

Responses are of very many levels. They are, ideally, the measured and the considered and the thought-out preferences to a given situation. We all know that. But still, we tend to react. (Few, for instance, change the WTF? phrase to a "what to fear"; or "who to follow"; or "which temperament follows?") It is easier to follow pattern, to follow suit, to dress oneself in the cultural predilections of the times and to fit within the norm. After all, the great bell curve does not like outliers. It distrusts outliers. And so, we advance together, slowly, like an inch-worm, stretching out together as a culture only when impelled by some significant need to move. The Internet has provided us with that. Growth. There has been a growing response, stretching out in multiple directions. But when one imagines, conceives of, or even introduces the inevitability of The Singularity (thanks to Kurzweil and the AI advances in microbiology and Nano-bots,) there is generally a negative reaction. It's as if we, still in our caves, can only grunt with fear at the thought of TV. Yet surely its influence on the masses has been to elevate, to unify, and to make significant to a man his responsibility to and connection with mankind. No? Oh, that's because...

Reason gives us too many excuses. Our reaction to things, ideas, influences, snake-oil and smoke and mirrors has given us a way of living that is driving up 'the selfie' of our idiosyncratic natures. We are deeply self-obsessed. Our reality TV shows feed our narcissistic investigation of what our species 'is really like'; such that we may see ourselves not only reflected in 'the Stars’, but may also excuse our behaviours, our reactions, and our habits. Our TV has given us a license to be 'as somebody else is'. Children are most susceptible. Habits of language, of dress, of conduct, and of thought itself are inculcated by the watcher. (Even if never watching a TV until our 20's, as did my brothers and I, growing up in Africa,) we still are deeply imprinted by the prevailing cultural aspects of our times. We follow 'role' models. It's natural. We are not necessarily taught how to respond rather than to react; and then, even more so, not taught how best to reflect, so that one's response, “when the lesson comes around again,” may be even more-better tempered by maturation and insight and compassion than it was before.

This is no moralistic missive. It decries naught. It merely invokes the passages of reflection that might provoke our individual lives into being the series of lessons that they appear to be, such that our enlightenment may bring us peace, piece by piece. We can hardly have done but what we did; we were as sufficient unto a given moment as was our totality at that moment. But it is our reflection that will at least prepare us to have a yet more-better response to the moment by moment existence of our lives, in the grander scheme of wanting always to contribute to the health of the whole. Always. (And what a reflection of Humankind’s potential would that not be!)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Takes Two to Tango"

Eartha Kit had it right. Her name itself suggests so. One needs to be kitted-out on this earth best to coordinate with others. Then too, the 'It Takes Two to Tango' song itself suggests the duality inherent in life; energy overcoming inertia. But one is better off to have the steps learned, a basis by which to integrate the variables. Yet to many the dance of life comes naturally; any partner will do. To others, steps need first be learned. And many just don't want to dance at all. It's as though we do not hear the same music. The rhythm is off. The beat is unequal. Our chemistry does not jive. But some of us keep applying the lessons, and although we may not master the steps, we certainly get to enjoy the dance, however unnatural we initially may appear. Or awkward we may feel. Growth can be a vertical accretion, and we learn from others.

Natural accord is a marvelous thing. One speaks easily to another stranger on the phone, or over a counter, like making new friends. One can do that with people one knows too. Yet some stultifying of phrases can block up the flow with others. It's as if some sort of disconnect is at variance with possibility, with potential, with being commensurate as a way of life. One or the other has not given in to the music. And the music, as we both know, takes two to appreciate, (even though one of us may play the lead). But we certainly do not all like the same (i)tunes.

Broken promises are like that. A song that runs in the expectation plays, and then the band suddenly stops playing. Broken conversations are like that. A series of questions that run dry, because one or the other does not syncopate, does not advance the dialogue, does not reciprocate or resonate with an adjoining. We cannot and do not Tango. It takes a certain passion to do it well, beyond the conventional steps, beyond the traditional expectations of contrapuntal tensions. It takes degrees of resonance that involve similar interests, similar experiences, similar ages, (even), and very much it is about similar cares. Birds of a feather flock together, is Holland's Theory. (Now which part of that really needs further explication?)

Every 'thing' resonates with our subjective apprehension of it. Everything. We like the brick wall because.... We like the T.V. show because.... We do not like this or that or him or her, because. It is a universal imperative that we are selective, individual, apportioned, allotted, conscripted, and contained, curtailed, and confabulated by our own proclivities. It is at once isolating and invigorating. I am 'me'; not you; not he or she, but me! And the thing is, if it takes two to tango, then I at least expect the other to know the steps! (Who's the idiot who gave me this jarring tune, this awkward moment, this aberrant partner, this indelicacy to my sensibilities? Who? It's their fault I can't get it right; it's their fault I appear the fool. It's their fault the music is off, or at a discord, or hateful, hurtful, and fraught. If not for the anchor of others, where might one be?)

Thing is, it takes two to tango. We are dependent on the other to make us mutually of a 'perfect' accord, (as imperfect as the journey toward all but a momentary perfection can ever be). If another is 'perfectly' to interact with me, then somewhere in our chemistry there needs to be a deep recognition of our essential humanity, not the superficiality of dance steps learned, the artificial conventions of observing rhythm and meter and rhyme and pacing, but the real raw and visceral reality of the fact that we are of the same species, humankind, as differentiated as we may appear, and as differentiated as our acculturation may be. It takes but a catching of the eye, a seeing of the light in the soul, a reciprocity betwixt the essence of each other, and all else disappears. Unnecessary. Acceptance is all. Compassion is all. Awareness is all. And since it all is a part of everything, even not condoning can be 'all'. Integration is like that. It loves every tune, but does not 'like' some. It can even disapprove. And it certainly cares to pick its partners.

Now then, who will come dance with me?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Loving Lasts

There is a last for everything. Which words shall you last read? Who shall you last see? To whom will you last write? Which shall be your last Christmas? What will be your last gift, to receive, or to give? And in the long journey from birth to the precise second of this reading, how many lasts have you not known? We cannot but be ourselves, no matter the choices we make en route from there to here, and at the final period of a given phase, we must but move on.

After 25 years in the same little room, that's what a tenant just did, soon after Christmas. He'd been in the same house, climbed the steep stairs from the back entrance, slipped into his one room, one-window and a toilet and basin abode for 25 years. Some sort of war veteran. Hardly ever said anything. Do not know his past. Do not know his future. Because that house is selling, he was given a termination notice. And now, evidently, he has gone to a new place. Silently, I surveyed the room. The bed was left, made. The carpet was threadbare and stained. The desk was scarred. The chair looked infirm. The window was filthy. The small old portable TV and the digital clock were still plugged in. A jacket was left hanging in the closet, with some dozen hangers, dangling. Two fragile and skeletal old balsa-wood aeroplanes, their propellers missing, were appended to the wall. Like potential, going nowhere. A cardboard box of food-stuffs, boxed cereal, bagged buns, and tinned things lay aside. Not once, in 25 years, had the room been re-painted, refurbished, his life been (know-ably) renewed. Such a protracted stay, the longevity of focus within a small radius of influence, had come to a last moment. Gone. (At the airport, I'm told, there was not even a hug of farewell.) He disappeared into the air, to who knows where.

The last time I phoned my friend, or wrote a letter, or spoke with a him or her may well have been the last time, ever. We grow older. Life has a way of allowing us each comparatively little time on this planet. (There are trees that still stand, even as they did when Shakespeare was alive! There are parrots older than ourselves. Tortoises too!) And in each moment of the living years we breathe and breathe, albeit not always consciously. A purposeful and purpose-driven life is not the purview of all. Many of us are subject to time and circumstance and import directed by others. Yes, man in his time may have seven ages, and each has his entrances and exits, but many are victims to a script not of their own making, and are puppets directed by the displacement of an indelicate or uncaring overseer. Individuality, real individuality of choice and purport gives rise to resistance against the status quo. And in the great bulge of the bell curve we find ourselves concomitant in so very many layers with others, such that our tapestry is their tapestry, and the singular thread of oneself takes shape really in its consort with the passage of the story of humanity itself, our being hardly traceable in its great stitches in time. We blend in. (The last time I checked, my bills needed paying, my taxes are coming up, my days are pretty much the same as the days of persons of my age, and the regular dictum of the day unfolds, despite what individuality I may bring to it.) Yet to everything, there is, was, and will be, a last time.

So, to the point of the needle that threads one's significance into the weave of the whole: We are imbued with a sense of mattering, or not. We matter to others. We matter to ourselves. We matter to the community, directly or indirectly, and we matter to our nation, let alone our world or our universe. The degree of our consciousness about it all variably determines the degree of our awakening. If we are able to surmount the guilt over being a consumer, a user, a contributor toward this or that '-ism', and can integrate our flow with the flux of the whole, torpid and turgid and rigid and structured and survivalist as it proves, we can be at a piece of peace in much of the moments. Or we can be so phlegmatic as not to care much at all, and merely to keep pursuing the self-satisfactions of the daily dictum. Then too, we can wallow in existential crisis after crises, insecure and unsure and uncertain. But it all will only last so long. So, one may as well love the moments, last for last for last, as one is threaded along, consciously, or not.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Surfeit of Solipsisms

Enough of the self-referencing. Almost everything affects me. We tend to be like that. We tend to see everything as it impinges on, appeals to, or at least relates to the ‘self’. Such is the world since our birth. And for a while, like Schrodinger’s cat, we find ourselves boxed in by our own beliefs. The family eventually grows. An extended family eventually amplifies our sense of self. And all things, all people, all incidents, and all experience, as I see it, utterly attain significance in relation to ourselves. After all, a Boston Marathon is just that, until we directly know someone who was in it. And then we feel more. Then we tell others. Then we are yet more deeply affected. Even the shape of someone running by, as I type this, reminds me of so and so, and so I am given to the relation, to the relationship, and to the solipsism of my own import. (“We are, after all” as (Tuesdays with) Morrie says, “in the human race!”)

Solipsisms are about me. Is that why we do not easily take to the listing of inherent differences amongst us? We’ve heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy; Maslow's Hierarchy; Kohlberg’s Moral Levels; of the Dabrowski Theory of Disintegration (with its Five Stages); of Holland's Theory of Social Differences (birds of a feather flock together); of Gregorc’s Mind Styles; of Dillinger’s Psycho-Geometrics; and of the Johari Window. No? Well, what about Astrology? Well, in each (never mind all the very many other theories out there) I am searching for the identification of, an icon of, specifically, me! Where do I fit in? Not necessarily in a narcissistic way, but in a solipsistic way. (The difference is in that narcissism is about things that directly affect the self, whereas solipsism is about identification with that which we personally have encountered.) So... Any template suggesting that I am a number 3, for instance, as opposed to a 7, or a 1, will resonate more with my apperception of myself. (An enneagram!) Yet any suggestion that I am ‘less’ than this, or not ‘that’, may well set me back on my heels! I can feel marginalized. Hurt. Disbanded.

Predominance is a grounding concept. It suggests that while I am a bit of everything (since we all are comprised of only six essential elements: Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Carbon, Calcium, and Phosphates), it is the predominance of the apportionment of chemistry, or of habit, or of conceptualization, or of instinct that impels me. And as generic as I am, I actually am the only living being exactly like me, specifically me, in the whole world. As for me, so too for you! But then, this essay is all about me, really. (Or do you find yourself in here too?)

We are instinctively put off when we are pigeonholed. The bell curve can very much annoy with its containing the vast majority of us within its bulge, despite the progress of all mankind, in generality, through the centuries. You mean I'm normal, average, the same as everybody else? Yet I see the bell curve not as a flat diagram on a page but rather as a multidimensional ball of wool through which each of us, like knitting needles, pokes in differing lengths. Yet what exactly is the object of this ‘wooly’ advancement, this journey? Well, surely we all can agree that there are concepts like depravity, decadence, violence, corruption and flatulence at stake? (After all, where will you be at your “moment of poof”?) Who surrounds you? What will the significance of your having passed through our world, through our space-time continuum, through our warp and woof have proven, other than that you got to do what you wanted to do, saw the world through your own filters? (Yes, this all is indeed about you. Or do we now think it still is about me?)

With yet another year soon to be turning over (since we can but persist with the clunky calendar however Gregorian we may aspire not to be) there will be a host of celebrations and compulsions attending a variety of traditions. Each is to each of significance. How can it be otherwise? (Well, raise a baby into an entirely different culture, with different belief system, and even on a different continent, and that is how it can be otherwise!) Thing is, the point of all this is that you or me cannot help but be who we are, relating to that which we do from the basis of our past, our present, and our wishes for the future. How we care for others, ultimately, makes all the difference. Thing is, as for me, so too for thee? Or is this now, in-deed(s), still all about me?