Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

A few days ago, I went to a team meeting away from my regular work-site and discovered when I arrived that I was wearing two different shoes. One gray. One black. One with a thicker heel than the other. Um....

What can you do but laugh? (I've actually done this before.) So I showed everyone at my meeting and we laughed and laughed. Did I mention I'm the oldest one on our team? I really enjoy working with those toddlers though, so no big whoop.

Then...I texted my wife a photo and she laughed too.

Returning to work the following day, I made an usual discovery...first one co-worker...then another....then another...then another....

My sneaky wife! I felt a simultaneous aching sheepishness and utter love for those charming buggers I work with. What's better than that?



































Sunday, September 10, 2017

Things one should never outgrow:

Sometimes I recall so clearly the pull of lakes and rivers from my youth.

Looking into water is like that suspension of disbelief that occurs while watching a good film.

I have read that seeing water triggers our overstimulated brains to rest, and that swimming resets our circadian rhythms and restore healthy sleep patterns.

Water rages in many parts of the world today, but I am hoping that soon there is a rippling stream or a lake or even a pond in your life, some simple calm, some reflection.

Whether within it or not, water immerses us.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Good Look

The Firth of Forth, on toward the North Sea,
North Berwick, Scotland







































My wife and I spent ten days in Scotland this summer (and one weekend in London). What a dream.

I kept a journal. But first, why Scotland? Our anniversary gift to each other. And my heritage. On both sides. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting my maternal great-grandparents in Saskatoon. I couldn't decipher the content of their discussions due to their Scottish accents but they fascinated me. And we ate toast with tea. I always thought they looked a little pissed off and they seemed to be arguing much of the time. While visiting the Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival, a comedienne explained Glasgow face: bitter, brows down accompanied by a gruff voice (translated as 'appy to see yer).  Lightbulb.

Back to the journal. Giddy, with some highlights:

  • Scottish breakfasts are massive and amazing, odes to protein, haggis included.
  • deep fried fish and chips and mushy peas
  • respect for diversity in art and architecture and urban development, and seriously the best Indian food I've ever eaten
  • a pop-up library in Glasgow
  • Thrift store charity shops all over the UK
  • once locals determined we are Canadian they immediately began to trash-talk Trump, "why would they elect that vile, vile man?" Good question. Perhaps the only redeeming thing about Trump: he helps bring people together, bonded in confusion and distaste. 
  • taking the train through the highlands, all the waterfalls and rusty-red deer, very Harry Potter
  • the Scottish flag painted on a rock high above Ft. William
  • pipers on many street corners
  • Inverlochy castle
  • Arthur's Seat
  • Crabbie's Ginger Beer
  • JK Rowling's old writing spot, The Elephant Room (apple pie and scotch)
  • everything about North Berwick: the beach, Mary Brown, the Lobster Shack, cemetery stories, scones with butter and jam
  • climbing the Scott monument
  • the closes along the Royal Mile
  • finding the home where my great-grandmother and her siblings spent family time together
  • Grassmarket in Edinburgh, and the dungeons at Edinburgh castle
  • rain and cool weather
  • the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square and taking a boat down The Thames
  • our airbnb neighbourhood, Islington, London where we had a salted caramel & popcorn milkshake with a shot of whiskey at the Screen on the Green while watching Dunkirk.


All of it, beauty. I must say, it is most pleasing to have a good look at the world. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Full Cup

We've all had the is-the-cup-half-full conversation. I've been thinking a lot about this debate lately, and the people in my life whose perspectives has greatly influenced mine. Sadly, one man whose point of view always pointed me toward realism will now be missing from my life much, much too soon. Dear friends: I urge you not to surround yourself with people who agree with you all the time. Like the saying goes, if everyone in the room is thinking the same way, then no one is thinking. We only grow through challenges.

Despite the unfair loss of his voice, I seek to remain optimistic and hopeful, yet, thanks to him, realistic too. Because, let's be honest, the cup may only be half full of water but it's also half full of air. If you ask me, that's a full cup.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Past Imperfect

All summer, in a nod to Canada's 150th birthday, the Art Gallery of Alberta is featuring Canadian art, photography, and sculpture as well as Andy Warhol's Wayne Gretzky prints. Aptly titled Past Imperfect, visitors are invited to write postcards to mail or to add their voices to the exhibit for others to read. There's also a wall display of notes from Canadians describing what they love about Canada.

I was encouraged to read these postcards, these modern, inclusive, Canadian voices: a person offering support to LGBTQ Canadians, a writer questioning why some Canadian Indigenous communities don't have clean water, and an immigrant, who when questioned, described her Canadian boyfriend's ethnicity as "human."

Exactly: human aka humane aka benevolent.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Inside My Box

Inside my box.
I slept in a box this weekend. Along with several other people, I participated in a homeless simulation, and I got the message. 

I have seen bums sleeping on the streets in Edmonton, Montreal, Paris, Rome. Sometimes I would put a coin or two in their cups and move on. Before my experience, I hadn't thought about what it means to label someone a "bum." Sleeping on asphalt outside overnight has me thinking carefully about that word and its intent. When I call someone a bum, am I saying...You are a piece of crap? You are connected to a bodily function that I'd rather not dwell on? Hence I can ignore you?

My 12-hour homeless experience was the tip of the tip of the poverty iceberg, yet the event clearly said gratitude. Usually blind to my privileges, I saw them everywhere at home today: blankets, pillows, lip balm, toothpaste, mosquito spray, deodorant, sunglasses, socks, shampoo, food. So much comfort. Doesn't everyone deserve this comfort? Yet the poor are blamed, dismissed, disrespected, ignored.  

How does that lack of compassion impact a person's daily mental health?

Science teaches that pain is subjective. Our brains use pain as a signal for action; the actual pain is not an accurate indicator of how much damage has occurred to our bodies (or minds). Thus pain responses are individual in nature. This is both fascinating to me, and, considering the homeless, tragic. Yet it explains a lot, because if my pain is not your pain, it takes effort to truly understand your pain. Thus the homeless, and what they're experiencing--so abstract to me--becomes invisible to me as it does for so many of us. 

I survived one night sleeping outside in a box, but if I had to do it again tonight and tomorrow and tomorrow and almost everyone ignored me everyday...who would my pain make of me? A thief? A drug addict? Dead? It's not so abstract anymore. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The last Friday in May.

Who doesn't need to take a moment the last Friday in May? A moment to just enjoy the sky and the sun and apple-tree flowers and bees everywhere. A moment to look at a stump left behind by a tree almost 40 years old, a tree that was dying. A moment to marvel at its life and the space it left behind and how it is actually possible to miss a tree. A moment to contemplate change. A moment to push off whatever sits on your shoulders and push off into another space, a quiet, safe space where you can stop thinking for a moment. A moment to stretch your back and sigh and put your feet on solid ground and close your eyes and breathe and just inhabit the moment and so what when inevitable distractions occur, well that's just balloons floating away. A moment to remember someone no longer here, no longer laughing and eating ice cream or dancing in a parking lot or mulching the garden or planting gladiolas or baking bread or driving a tractor through a field dreaming much too much into a future instead of the only place we can find happiness: in the now.  A moment to ponder what the last Friday in May should be about: friends and gin and pumpkin break pudding and text messages about Austin Powers and letters mailed like silent promises. A moment to celebrate and say thanks for everything you have and everything you once had and everything that you might have someday but so what if you don't? Because, today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Look.

Pay attention. I was well into adulthood before I discovered that even spruce trees flower.

Much goes unnoticed. Distraction syndrome eclipses all sorts of things.

Look. And look again.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Versions

A big crappy chunk of parenting is not not being yourself but accessing another version of yourself, a hard-ass management version. Inevitably, it's necessary. Because raising adults (as opposed to raising children) is sometimes grueling yet critical both for personal well-being and society. Raising adults is super annoying too. And frustrating. Inevitably, there will be hard conversations. There will be lines drawn in the sand. And crossed. And crossed again.

Yet there is also compromise and negotiation and forgiveness too, all of which may feel painful for everyone involved. And of course it's sunnier too: there are birthday parties and vacations and board-game arguments to laugh about (eventually) and a million other funny-tender-soft moments knitted into a fabric more valuable than its design.

But sometimes it was so hard.

Sometimes I would step out of myself and watch us all dysfunction. We were trying to say hear me and listen to me. So were they. And I knew it wasn't working for any of us. Sometimes because what they said or did was so shockingly stupid. And sometimes because we were so confused about what to do. I would hear myself lecturing my teens and bubbling just underneath my frustration was
  1. my irrational fears.
  2. a startling cynicism.
  3. that muffled nonsense Charlie Brown adult noise.
But let's be honest. My main point was this: I love you. I love you enough and you are important enough that I won't give up and I won't give in even though I soooooooooo want to. Truth: I did give up a few times; no parent gets through this parenting gig without regrets. If only the big picture, the long term perspective, were available when you need a lifeline.

Back then I wondered sometimes if my teens would ever really know me as anything but the asshole who napalmed their hastily defined fun. Would they ever realize I didn't enjoy tearing down that rickety scaffolding they called teenaged life goals? Would they ever be able to acknowledge that my heart was in the right place? Damaged but still beating, not so defiant anymore.

And then it's YEARS later and I forgot many of these events and yet something still lingered for a long time, sort of a melancholy, an ache. I did not dwell on it because I know that shame kills, both the giver and the receiver. And then one morning, my daughter (who lived in a University dorm 48 hours away at the time) texted me because she heard bagpipes, and thought of me.

What?! Me? She remembered I love bagpipes? I don't know how to tell you what that felt like.

Several years later now, our family functions again. There's more to learn, but the past is the past. My children made me a better man. I learned my lessons, so did they. Once again, we connect, we celebrate, we endeavor to become who we dream to be. It's a privilege many don't have. I'm not so naive anymore: I know there will be hard times again. Yet a tender core survived. I don't know where I read it: "thick skin like a rhinoceros, tender heart like a lamb."
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