Friday, August 29, 2014

Familial Feelings

We identify, or we do not. A listing of places we've visited can mean a world to those who've been there, whereas to others they are but unrealized and undiscovered words. So too for ideas and concepts and beliefs and contentions. Even when with 'other' people, strange or known, or when given a listing of familiar or unfamiliar names and places, we identify, or we do not.

As such, with the visit of my 'long lost' brother (though neither of us were actually lost), we met after 40 years again in Calgary (not forgetting the one week we were together in Bredarsdorp, South Africa, ten years ago). We stayed three days in dear friend Jessie Peter's vacant house in Calgary's Palliser neighbourhood (a pretentious name for a comfortable suburb). After the first night's barbecue at Peter and Laura's, our Calgary nephew and wife's house (since we both are his uncle), where Andy and wife Elsabe also stayed overnight, they were given a tour of the city the next day. That night we met up at Open Sesame, my favourite restaurant, and a symbolic beginning to the precious time we were yet, and are now indeed sharing. The details are in the names and places; it is in the accord between persons that one finds the measures of life.

At Open Sesame were Laura and Peter's children (Sean and baby Jack,) and Laura's parents, Peter senior and Caren, and 'my' Linda's best friend Karen, and Karen's daughter Lisa with her husband, also a Sean, as well as Linda's son Keith, and... Do you know any of them? And that late night, alone with Elsabe and Andy at Jessie's house, we four swapped our own stories, past and present. Words are like little clarifications; window-panes to the soul; and tears are jewels; gifts we give with grace.

The next day the family of us travelled in three separate cars for the two or so hours East, to the Badlands, and the Tyrell Museum's Dinosaur Provincial Park. Linda and Elsabe and Andy and I were in our vehicle; Laura and Peter and children, Sean and Jack, went in theirs. And 'my' stepson Keith and his friend, Rob, went in Keith's car. Got it? After a ginormous time with incredible dinosaurs we stopped en route back at Horseshoe Canyon, then later The Station, converted into a restaurant, in Strathmore. That night again we chatted into the wee hours, all alone with my warm-hearted younger brother and his perceptive and rich-of-soul pretty wife.

Then, Canmore's Spray Lakes road, Banff's Mount Norquay ski-lift road, and then down into and through Banff's town up to Sulphur Mountain Gondola (too cloudy to take). So on to beautiful Lake Louis, with supper in the chateau's Grizzly Saloon, and then on to Golden, where we turned North to Glenogle Lodge. Dorris and Norbert, the proprietors greeted us, she with hugs. That late night we conversed in the lounge, a grizzly bear skin and an elk head mounted beside the fireplace. And yet more doors were opened, more windows peeked through; vistas revealed.

The following day we visited Hemlock Grove, Giant Cedar boardwalk, and Skunk Cabbage boardwalk. We stopped off at The Railway-Looping Tunnels, Three Valley Gap, and... There was the Ramada at Kamloops, and Stanley Park drive in Vancouver. And the magic of the ferry between the smaller islands to Sydney, on our island, and at last the drive to 'our' Victoria.

On the 26th of August we shared the last sips of Dads whiskey, found beside his bed, 2004.

This morning as I type a man with his phone to his ear at Tofino's Middle Beach Lodge (a five hour drive to 'our' extreme West coast) stands on the vast lounge deck overlooking the sea. He listens intently for long minute stretches, nodding, and when speaking gesticulates, as though 'the other' can see. And as I watch it strikes me that we are like that, conveying our messages from inside ourselves with gestures and feelings and thoughts and care, whether or not the other person can get or respond to all the details. We are so much more than is the immediate. And as subtle as it all is, feeling is all. We forget the details, eventually. Yes, feeling is all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brotherly Bonds

It seems self-evident. We mimic our parents in many ways, some overt, some subtle. We share talents with great-grandfather, or we inherit traits directly from father, or mother, or... The point is, we are usually proud of such things. And sometimes we are embarrassed and resentful. Balding, or bandyness, or meanness of spirit or quick tempered or being too short may build up a sense of wishing one were otherwise; but now, thanks to the scientific research in the essay as shown in the link above, one can overcome the genetic transference of the past, but one must really truly want to try! And then one must really truly practice different habits, over and over until a genetic transference of energies overcomes the basic DNA. Is this not the Lamarkian giraffe theory, in which the animal, wanting over centuries to reach the tree tops (or needing so to do) innately affected its genetics and grew a longer neck? Is this not what Darwin suggests as a species alters to suit the climate, the geophysical properties of its environment; and for humans the metaphysical properties of mankind's thinking? For we are what we think! At least, Alan Watts would have it so. And so would Khalil Gibran. And so would Jesus. And so would Plato. And so would.... You?

I watch this brother of mine, the youngest of we three. After a forty year absence seeing him again is a revelation. Apart from the natural disassociation we have (given the intervening years) in which our stories are so dissimilar in terms of the voyage (yet so very similar in terms of being a human), he is so very much like me. Physically. He is much like our middle brother too. We have the same kind of hands. The same sort of body. The similarity of chin and nose and neck. We have a ready kismet between us. We have the accord of familiars. We have an adult sensibility and nothing to prove. But three or so years apart physically, we are men who've made life interesting because we are interested in life. And we have miles to go before we part.

Habits are handed down by our commonalities. As cultural specimens we are Italian or Greek or Jewish or Portuguese or Afrikaners. One could go on. As a member of that larger gene pool we exhibit the status quo, and it too has a bell curve. Within each culture are the most liberal and the most conservative, the most intelligent and the most disadvantaged. And there is good and bad, and potential unrealized. Mankind is seldom seen globally. It is us, and them. We, and they. And we sit in judgement of those who have less than, exhibit less than, care less than, are educated less than, or god forbid, are less clean than ourselves. It is the way of we humans. It seeps into our genetic codes, these traits. And unfortunately, if altogether true, no child is indeed a tabla rasa (a blank slate), but comes trailing clouds of the aforementioned, with glories, or with turmoiled intangibles. And to affect all of mankind by each individual realizing he or she has a specific responsibility to the whole is not only idealistic, it is impossible. Or is it? The internet has already linked the most poor countries with the most 'civilized'. And one by one each are hearing that others in the world truly feel and need and prefer and wish for much the same things as themselves, despite all evidence of war and hate and xenophobia and racism and greed to the contrary. In each phrase given to children, let alone our actions, we do promulgate the future!

But this brother of mine is already aware of these things. He has traveled, seen the world. He is authentic and genuine and considerate and compassionate. If enlightenment may be defined as a journey and not a product, then like me, and like you, he is evolving. He sees a moment's lessons and potential. He contributes. And he, like our beloved middle brother too, has climbed out of the cage into which we were conscripted as boys and has advanced far beyond the prophecies of a culture that would have enslaved us. Yes. We are more than survivors! And the future is yet more too.

                 [No, not Richard, Peter, and Andy, but this photo could have been us, ha!]

Monday, August 25, 2014

Red Light Reasoning?

I ought not to have gone through that red light. We do things at others' peril; and we do things at others' good. At issue is knowing when the choices we make, consciously or unconsciously, affect the whole. For a life unexamined is a life perhaps less anxious, less self-reflective, less narcissistic, and less stressful, but it is a life, nonetheless, that also impacts others. And each of us is on this planet as participants in the whole.

The red light was awfully long. We had waited perhaps three minutes, with no cars yet coming, let alone anyone waiting behind us, when I decided it was foolish so to be caught by a light. And given that our trip was very long, and that we had several hours yet ahead of us, and that there was no one, no house, no pedestrians, no vehicles, not even a policeman to see me, I checked yet one more time, and crossed the road despite the red light. Civil disobedience is such. It aims to allow for the video of me, if there is one, to record that the light's sensor needs adjustment, that the traffic patterns ought better dictate the length of the light, that anything would be more-better than so to test my impatience. Yes, I'll pay! Yet I did not (and do not) feel fully justified.

Jason Majid was with me back in the early 90's, a gifted student of mine who for some reason was walking beside me when we were probably searching for some or other set piece for our drama production. "You're not going to jaywalk?" he remonstrated, just as I set off. "No cars," I ventured back. "Wait," he begged. "The laws are set up to protect the people, to assure drivers of not having people in the road, to ensure we don't get hit. Let's please use the crosswalk." Now, Jason nowadays is a prominent lawyer, and his words were not exactly as penned, but you get the gist of it. He impacted my sensibilities that day. The ethics of that which we do is significant, for society needs laws and regulations despite their common sense too. And we can do much harm when we cross against red lights.

"Wait!" A woman urged anxiously from behind me, just last week, as I was about to cross against the pedestrian light on my power-chair. Some three or five people had walked across in our direction, despite the red hand, and I presumed it was safe and so, like a child, I started off and would have been directly in the path of the oncoming vehicle, had it not been for that woman's kind constraint. We affect others. We are examples. We lead and teach and promote and guide and do for ourselves as others will follow suite, consciously or unconsciously. Or am I not my brother's keeper? Do I really not care that others may indeed be affected by my actions?

"So I hid under a blanket in the back of the jeep and did not pay the ferry toll," the young man grinned as he told us the story. Yet he had plenty of money. And of course, my mind reached to remind him of the stages of Kohlbergian  thinking, that at its very best, we are aware of how we might affect the whole. That the ticket taker, as a result of discovering him might be constrained now to have to come out of her booth, to walk around and examine inside every vehicle from then on, as a new policy, and thereby incrementally delay the boarding time for everyone wanting to get onto a ferry forever afterward was not in the young man's mind at all. Yet as I told him, when I was a stowaway back in 1975 aboard the S.A. Oranje from Cape Town I did not think how my discovery might affect the ability of guests from then on to visit their departing friends and family before the ship leaves. (Here in Canada, with the cruise ships docking so frequently just across the harbour from me, there is no more going up to visit the innards at all!)

"A gentleman is defined by what he does and thinks when all by himself," I pretentiously wrote not too long ago. And didactic as my meaning may come across, there is some value for me in our examination of all that we do, and don't do, as it affects our friends and family alike. Or am I truly not my brother's keeper? And am I truly just a person who may do as I damn well please? 


Reservations? (penned Aug 18/2014)

Awakening is not necessarily a waterfall. Fulfilment can be quiet, and deep, and ever wider.

But the Calgary Glenmore Reservoir is not so peaceful now since the summer walkers are noisy with chatter and quite a few families picnic at the BBQ stations in animated excitement over their munching, while various parents guard their excitable children. Two men stand too near my vehicle, and through the open window I hear their unselfconscious vulgarities over the many fish they've caught, both fanciful and real, both metaphoric and actual. Such are the days of our lives; we grow from overly guarded children into constrained adults to become contained old agers, and then we seem to drift off and away. And it all might be good, if only we'd see it as such. But our world has much pathos and greed and hurt in it, and many succumb. They succumb to a dreariness and to an ennui, and succumb to depression and victimization, and to sadness as a consistency, or to a compromise of personality, and their character may get maligned, confused, abused, and calumniated. Yet not you! And not me! We survive! In a measure, we even thrive. And we accrete as surely as does this burgeoning reservoir, or do we?

It is apt, this typing of a letter in front of a reservoir. Reservoirs collect and contain and keep safe the very lifeblood of cities and towns. We depend on their waters. Like depending on memory. To be in poor Amnesia's state of mismanaged memory must be like being bereft of a lifetime's riches, reduced back to the child without more than the immediate, and worse, without much of a future either. One gathers so much stock from memory. And not to recognize the photos or the real faces; and not to recall the real places; and not to know if you love someone (or if you even like them); and worse, perhaps even to fear the apparent stranger before you, is such an awful drain on the richness of the reservoir in one's own mind; memories we each expect as our privilege. We gather things and memories like sentiments and scars, like treasures and troves, or we imbed ourselves with memories such that they affect our character, distill throughout our personality.

One thinks back and feel this intense sense of the years and months and weeks and a day that have gone into the making of any 'today.' I am grateful that circumstances allowed for me to be here at the lip of this reservoir again. But I confess I am largely unaware of the constant stream of consciousness that is filtrating into my reservoir of a sense of life and my love for being; it is a containment of the very things along life's pathways that have given me a collective sense of the journey's value along the way. How rich anyone of us is for knowing each other, for caring so, and for being able so to share too. And how hurt we can be by the moments of disassociation.

"Give me your wallet," a teenage girl demanded of her father, "I want to buy ice-cream." Not too reluctantly he fished it out. She took it without thanks or comment and walking away shouted at her baseball friends playing catch, "Anyone want ice-cream?" I watched the father pause and hold his breath. I watched her waddle off. I watched other youngsters come join her for the free offerings, and even as I type, I now watch her coming back, with some dozen or more ice-creams, and not one person thanking the dad. But my watching may be askew. And in some other season of this young lady's life she may rescue someone bereft, or succour someone hurt, or provide ice-cream to the poor. It is for the father to make his stand, yet in that too is a matter of imposed values. We each have stuff that comes into our reservoir, and we each have drains upon it too. And the cauterization of that which is depleting, or the siphoning off of that which is fulfilling, or the necessary filtration of that which seeps into our systems is not all just entirely up to ourselves.

Or is it? 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pervasive Peace?

Anxiety fragments peace. At least, my anxious moments do. Waiting at a traffic light when I am in a hurry will test me. So too will the slow poke ahead. Yet pause for the distinction between peace and happiness best be clear. The pursuit of happiness is aptly phrased. I am in haste because what I want is deemed more necessary than where I am right now. Or worse, I am anxious because my ego is threatened, my reputation is threatened, the photo of me does not show me at my best. Happiness is indeed a fleeting thing dependent on duration. But as for peace? Peace may be experienced as a perpetuation of acceptances within, even when one's happiness is at a dis-ease. So accept red lights. Yet how to be at peace when the car conks?

Journeys depend on our vessels. So too for the plans we make and the images we have of how things might be. Yet reality has a way of putting us in the immediate. Somebody's lawnmower disturbs the summer Sunday peace. Or skydiver planes overhead buzz endlessly. The snarl of a weed-whacker sounds angrily. Or over-heard vulgarities intrude. To get or keep things exactly as  wanted is so fleeting. The first scratch; the first break. The first fight; the first death. Nothing lasts forever. So we collect and contain and control and accustomize ourselves to our lives such that we assume an identity that has its own balance, is its own boat in the sea of humanity. We resent those who rock it. We resent those who peer down at us from their larger yachts. We resent those who bump up against us with their dirty dinghies. We cheerily wave back at the kayakers and the canoe and even the stand-up board. And we marvel at the seals and the otters and the heron on shore and the fish we can see swim by. Some of us stay inordinately tantalized by the desire to catch, to hold onto, to pirate, to usurp, to blare, to win the race; yet others sneak into coves and drop anchor and do not get heard from again. Metaphors and analogies abound. In the traffic of life, whether on the road or at sea, we are wanting a certain peace, a definite happiness; and the security of a vessel of containment in which we may ride as error free as possible is a necessity. For who wants something that needs perpetual fixing?

Sometimes I can see clear through to the ocean floor into the bay before me, like now. From my fourth floor window the sun penetrates the surface and feeds the green kelp and the raccoon-sized rocks. Once we watched a seal, like a living torpedo, explore the cove. It is the heron who is most frequently there, as though a sentinel to the visiting geese and garrulous gulls and busy black crows. Oft there are otters, with their long tails like a wet Labrador dog's. And then the wind will make waves, the sun will move, and the tide will turn. And no longer is there reflection.

The phone jangles and it's the service department for the vehicle! Or is it the heart specialist's office? Or the... Better answer the phone. And the news is not good. And anxiety takes over peace. When a vehicle has 200,000 km it has done a lot of service. When a body is in its seventh decade a lot of parts are no longer reliable. And how long have I got? Will the vehicle I have suffice for the duration of my plans? Does my boat need fixing?  And once fixed, what if there's a major storm? What about the inconvenience to my dependants, my friends, my family?

Anxiety arises out of our inability to predict the future. We are wanting defined certainties and proven assurances that others cannot give. We apply band-aid solutions to our hulls, replace our innards with new belts, new rods and pistons, and put stents in our arteries, and send our vehicles of exploration on their way. But the sea is not clear. And there are rocks awaiting below the surface. And the weather is unpredictable. And there are storms that swirl out of seeming air. It is in the nature of things. And peace comes dropping slow, drip by insightful drip into the grail of the soul, until it is more than half full, so that peace may predominate when the going is slow, or when the vessel is taxed. Happiness, that elusive product of dependability, is appreciated; but peace, that vast sense of intercellular connectivity, pervades all. To be content with what is, is. And so, with what was once today's news, R.I.P? sad Robin.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Just in Ambles?

I am most at fault. Few things prove my inability to stay in the moment more than my daily (if not three of four times) search for my glasses. Ha! Seeing clearly at the time of not reading or not writing means I do not need them, and so... Where did I leave them last? So too for so very many details in our lives. The friend visits and leaves, even after a day or more of having been in my presence, and my wife or another will ask after some details about our conversation, and I shall have neglected mentally to record them, or even to ask with more interest in the first place. Does the loss of one's insight in the moment also slide away from us so easily? Is that why we are so slow to evolve? In the great grand sweep of history we've had thousands of phrases that promote our well-being, well-doing, well-seeing and well-living, yet here, in the eighth month of 2014, there is so very much on the news about strife and contention and greed and hate. On the tv news I hear or may see the degradation of mankind's potential. So much war. But blessed be the circumstances, not in my own yard. I'm geographically very privileged. And the statistics on the Bell Curve would indicate that...

Wait ... let me find my glasses.

Giving one's full attention to a matter does not ensure memorization. There are very many scripts I've learned in my lifetime of theatre, major roles I've performed, and though I recall snippets, I certainly would need much re-investment to perform the role again. Even as I type I cannot recall the names of all the characters I've played. Yet still, your identification with those characters is at stake; your having seen the shows, read the scripts, or performed in them, let alone playing alongside. As such there's my being Mabel (in Pirates of Penzance when I was 14). The year after that I played Hamlet's crotchety old Polonius. In my 20's I was Og the Leprechaun in Finian's Rainbow and...., well, many other characters along the way. Recently I was Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie (for some 50 performances!) Still I would have to relearn the lines. And I've played the lead in South Pacific, and the lead in Educating Rita, and... But the point is, I've learned these reams of lines and can recall actually relatively little. One of my favourites is some of the extensive Latin I learned from Friel's play, Translations, and I sometimes will impress with my "Quantumvum cursum longum fesumque morator sol", but... You had to be there. I was. Played the role. And yet I cannot recall but a smidgen of details, show after show, whether I performed or directed, for some 50 years. Where are those casts now?

As I type two seals cavort at the entrance to the small bay four floors down from my apartment window. They distract, yet I've seen them before and am able to keep this narrative going out of familiarity. I wonder how often we amble along with our friends in conversation and so too let the words slide into a connectivity from which we take the general gist of time as communion in situ, such that we hardly focus on the actual factual details and accept the expectation that our friend shall always be there, and that this time is not the last time, and that we can re-gather the fact-content later, or again? Like finding my glasses in the house. Yet I am altogether more aware of where I put them down, or into which pocket they go when out and about; it is the fear of losing something that makes us more aware. Janice Cook in the Orkney Islands in 1975 taught me that the trick of memorization is to be a mental tape-recorder, devoid of one's own thought-chatter, and entirely to be receptive to the phrases and pauses and facts of the other. It served me well for awhile. And now, in my seventh decade of being, I take on practicing it again.

But I am guilty of not actualizing it when on the amble along our sea-front with my dear friend Justin. He sat occasionally in bits of shade and we dialogued. And for every hundred of his words I perhaps can recall an actual five. Yet words give life meaning. Meaning is made up of words. And beware the traditions of believing in the constructs of history and the infallibility of pronouncements; we are ontological and solipsistic and fallible. And our attention span is limited. Now, could you repeat all I've just said? Could I? Ha! Not without my glasses!