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."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Things one should never outgrow:

To me, this broken tree looks like a lion. 
showing who you are on the inside.

Vulnerability requires courage. It might feel like you're breaking. In a way, you are. But the beauty's inside. Bring it out. Your honesty will encourage others to be more authentic too. And it frees us to become more.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Things one should never outgrow:

If a kid gives you a drawing, pay attention because that is an honour, a true gift. It's also a reminder of who you used to be.

Sadly, most of us outgrow picture-giving. But why? Is it because it's just too vulnerable? Is it because we fixate on so-called imperfections? Why do most people think they can't draw? Why do we become so self-conscious? When exactly did that inner critic suffocate the artist within?

Kids don't much care about that stuff. This drawing may look a little nightmarish, but it's definitely a delight. That gaping maw looks like some sort of invitation to another world, a world where carefree kids live, where imagination and creativity is still more important than banal conformity. Don't be afraid. Go ahead, hop in there. Explore.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Out of reach?

I'm taking some courses and one of the treats are all the new words. Yup: wordnerd. But sometimes, when I learn a new word, I think, where have you been all my life?

Recent example?

Liminality: the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual (a process?), when we occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a threshold.

Aka life? But what a smart way to describe it. Aren't we always between things? Firsts and lasts? Novice and expert? Illness and recovery? Winter and Spring? Darkness and light? The decision and the consequences? Starting over and starting over again? The me I was and the me I am becoming? What it meant then and what it means now?

The messy stage. Between the tyrant and the deliverer. All the while seeking meaning, seeking much-needed clarity. Waiting. Or moving forward, full speed, trusting our headlights in the snowstorm.

Hold on, my friends. This too shall pass.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Arrangement

Often art is all about the arrangement: words, shapes, images, narratives, chronology, choreography, notes, even wind-blown pine-cones.

Nature is definitely an artist.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Things one should never outgrow:

Tex
fetch.

This dog has energy! And it's tough. And it's relentlessly playful. And it stinks. And that orange ball is basically a petri dish six weeks into some harrowing experiment.

But come on, you can't not play fetch.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Let's be honest...

I thoroughly enjoyed playing the International Oilman Game with my wife, my son, and his girlfriend recently, but its gleeful capitalism reminded me of an important idea I read somewhere: nobody gets rich on their own.

In other words, it's a good reminder to me (especially in Canada) that my access to health-care, education, and infrastructure all contributes to a quality of life that enhances my success. Yet another reason to keep one's greed in perspective.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Things one should never outgrow:

Thanks Mac & Shay.
a wiener roast, especially a Winter wiener roast.

It's weird when you get oldish and your kid invites you over for supper. But I like it.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

?













Like millions of others I'm reading about, I am bewildered by what is happening in the United States. Sure, I was bewildered last year too. Shocked. Angered. Grossed out. Worried. But now it's worse. And it renders me unable to think clearly. This is not the US I grew up next to. I'm not American and I don't pretend to know what it's like to be an American. It's always a matter of worldviews and perceptions, but I'm so confused by this open bigotry and ignorant tyranny and "alternative facts."

I always seek to understand people because, despite differing ideologies, the great leveler is that we are all human and don't we want the best for our children, for all children? This situation is way beyond political parties. Yet not everyone (?!) feels some combination of appalled and outraged, so what now? And what next?

Often, I am guilty of leading with my feelings. As we all should know, feelings are not facts so perhaps that isn't the best way to think critically and calmly about 2017 in North America. Nevertheless, this FEELS like when I was a kid and I watched Roots or when Sting sang, "I hope the Russians love their children too." It FEELS like when I read Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank or Night by Elie Wiesel or 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale or when I met a man who lived through Hiroshima. It FEELS like my Great-Grandfather, who paid the ultimate sacrifice at Passchendaele in World War 1, would be sickened by these developments. I don't even know how to explain these feelings. It's a heavy feeling, a fog. Growing up privileged and safe and comfortable and free likely explains why I feel so confused at times. But right now, I'm awake. I'm alert. And I feel empowered by all those who DO feel appalled and outraged and MOTIVATED.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Test

I was eating a pomegranate and after about thirty minutes of fighting with that lemony-sweet bag of deliciousness, I realized that eating a tangy, cold apple would have saved me A LOT of time. Pomegranates eh?

As the saying goes, “patience it taking too long.” So maybe patience is overrated? Sure, it improves mental health, relationships, and achieving goals, but if it’s so good for us, why is it so difficult? We need a patience hack. My research revealed a foolproof training strategy for mastering patience: “make yourself wait.”

Really? That’s it? That’s all you and I have to do? Not likely. Well I guess since I’ve been wrong about 2.8 million times before, I decided to test it.
  1. So I made macaroni. I had to wait for that water to boil. It wasn’t that bad actually. I used self-talk but then I had to wait for it to cook too. Ugh.
  2. So then I also picked the longer line at the grocery store. Brave, eh? BRUTAL. In fact, it didn’t even work because the cashier waved me over to the next check-out.
  3. So then this: my wife ordered a very cool gift for me but it did not arrive in time. No worries; I decided to embrace this crime against me and go full chill. I simply wiped it from my mind. After a week, my wife tracked it online and shared that it’s en route. I continued in full chill mode. Everything was moving along swimmingly and I was learning loads of patience until we saw said gift advertised on TV. My wife tracked it again and discovered it has been in the same location for weeks. WHAT? Haven’t I endured enough? I demanded we call customer service and RAGE AGAINST THIS INJUSTICE but then we got distracted by the Food Network and forgot.
  4. So I worked out for thirty minutes but still no abs. Sheesh.
  5. So I also tested the theory this way: I texted my son. Yup, he REALLY supports my patience mission I guess.
In conclusion, this strategy is bunk. So what now? Let’s all resume instant gratification mode because I think that’s really working out for everyone. Right

Friday, January 6, 2017

Check

Checklist for an amazing January:
  1. Furnace
  2. Fuzzy blankets
  3. Wi-Fi
  4. Booster cables
  5. Alcohol
  6. Throat lozenges
  7. Mittens
  8. Electricity
  9. Fireplaces (or perhaps the Fireplace channel)
  10. Firewood
  11. Repeat quietly as needed: "A little more daylight every day. A little more...."   
  12. Chips (because buying fruit might require a second mortgage)
  13. Books
  14. YouTube
  15. Hot chocolate
  16. Command start
  17. Skidoo
  18. Reminder: mosquitos are deader than disco
  19. Friends who bring the funny
  20. Potluck parties
  21. Skating (no skates required, some days)
  22. Snow forts
  23. Snowshoes
  24. Mukluks
  25. Hoarfrost
  26. An awareness of upcoming Sweet Short February
  27. Hoodies (bunny-hugs, kangaroo jackets)
  28. People who clear and sand the roads
  29. To heck with shaving
  30. Mettle (noun): a Canadian’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face any demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way. Synonyms: fortitude, strength of character, moral fiber, determination, backbone, grit, courage, fearlessness, daring, disposition, nature, temperament, personality, guts, spunk, balls. [See Alberta man who punched a cougar at Tim Horton’s in Whitecourt, nuff said, drops mic.]
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