Positivity

I’m sitting in the living room area of a motel which I have sat in, on and off, since 1968, and I am celebrating my 51st birthday.  I’m alone and I’m enjoying myself.  The TV is on and I’m playing a game of cards and trying to decide what time to dive in to my much-anticipated homemade chicken noodle soup for lunch as it’s now 12:30pm.  The TV is tuned in to the noon news hour.

It’s occurred to me that I have very little information news-wise in my life.  I do not own a smart phone, do not have cable-based television, do not have any social media accounts nor any free web-based email addresses and I spend very little time online in any given week.  As well, I usually don’t see many people other than my wife each day.  My wife sees very little news either.  Overall, we are relatively disconnected from local, national and world news.  I have to say: I like it.

My friend was generous enough to volunteer her vehicle for me to reach my holiday destination and asked that I take her to visit her daughter who lives less than an hour from where I was heading.  This friend has cable television at home and watches a news program every day.  It was this friend who asked me if I had tried the new dark roasted peanut butter that Adams (both of our favourite brand) had recently come out with.  I’d never even heard of it and was immediately interested in what it tasted like.  I asked her if it was delicious and she said she hadn’t tried it yet because she had 2 jars of the regular kind in her cupboard and was waiting to finish them before moving on to the dark roasted.  That was a few weeks ago.

While the news was on today there was a commercial for this peanut butter and it reminded me of how uninformed I was by not watching traditional television.  I don’t mind, though.  I actually quite like the idea of hearing about things from other people rather than from a newscast.  It is through friends and family that I learn about certain celebrity deaths, upcoming concerts, new food products, heartwarming stories, upcoming expected weather troubles, world news and anything else worth talking about.  It’s a connection with another person versus the impersonal delivery by a news anchor through a TV screen.

My younger brother once told me I was ‘stuck in the 80s’ and this comment confused me because I thought he was referring to my taste in music and how I dressed.  I didn’t dress like I did in the 80s anymore and while I love 80s music, I also love classical music and every genre of music under the sun (barring death metal) from the 1920s through to current music being released today.  Then I thought about his statement a bit more and realised that my lack of a technology-based lifestyle may be what he was referring to instead.

I like playing cards with a deck not virtually with a computer that deals for me and makes my moves automatically without my own strategy being put in to play.  I like talking to friends and family face-to-face rather than typing words on a screen or texting (I quite hate texting to be honest).  I like going to the movie theatre and watching films on the big screen and I also miss the ability to rent movies.  I like to go out for dinner with friends and family and have conversations rather than sitting in a restaurant with everyone at the table staring at their phones—I don’t understand the point of going out if everyone present is staring at their phones.  I don’t mind having food delivered when I’m not in the mood to go out however I rarely enjoy the food as much because dining out is a social event for me, not simply a way to get food into my body.

Those are just a few examples of my being ‘stuck in the 80s’ and I’m perfectly happy with all of them.  I’ve joined the 21st century in terms of using the internet, having my music on an iPod (I still have records, cassette tapes and CDs though) and I do text—as little as possible—so I am ‘accessible’ to everyone in my life who is completely ‘wired’ but I will always opt for conversation over watching the news; for sitting down and playing a board game or card game over doing it online/on a computer; for eating the delicious homemade meals my wife creates rather than eating take-out or order-in at any given meal; for chilling out in a motel that has barely changed in 50 years rather than blowing a grand or more on some fancier room when all I’m doing there is sleeping.

I like the simpler things in life.  I like writing letters—with a pen and actual paper—and going to the post office to buy a stamp and I love receiving the same kind of hand-written letter in reply.  I do send emails but I always appreciate a handwritten letter.  All of these things make sense to me.  All of these things are accessible to me.  When I go online, there are times when I get ‘stuck’ in a cortex of useless ‘news’ feeds and web pages that won’t load or the computer crashes or the internet disconnects somehow and it all seems like so much more trouble than it’s worth.  I miss having a phone book.  I was on my way somewhere a few weeks ago and realised I needed a taxi but didn’t have a taxi phone number.  Without a phone book I was forced to turn on the computer to look up the number for a taxi firm and as I was doing so, the computer decided to do some ‘updates’ and it took so long to get the computer running that I ended up calling my dad and asking him if he still had a phone book and if so, could he find me the taxi’s number.  Well, my dad didn’t have a phone book but turned his own computer on and we ended up turning it into a contest to see who could find the number first.  Dad won.  It took about 15 minutes and I was almost late to my appointment—it would have been less than a minute if I had a phone book.

This is only one reason I’m not a fan of technology.

 

On another note…

The fact that everyone not only has an opinion but feels strongly about sharing those opinions, even when extremely negative and hurtful to others, is an indication that we have moved so far away from one another personally that it disconnects us emotionally, morally, ethically and even empathically from the humanity from which we are descended from.  Not every opinion needs to be voiced; not every argument needs to be had; not every thought needs to be shared.  Be considerate, be kind, be thoughtful; be aware that what you say affects others just as much as what others say affects you.  It’s easy to be kind—much easier than being nasty (in my opinion).

The opinions of others often leads to depression when you are not strong enough in your own character to recognise that what people are saying is an opinion; it is not fact.  When people are lacking in self-esteem or self-worth, other people’s opinions can be very damaging.  It is always better to stick to the golden rule: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  We can’t always control how we feel or what we think but we can control whether or not we voice an opinion that will do only harm to someone else.

Ellen Degeneres ends every one of her talk shows with the words, ‘be kind to one another’.  Why wouldn’t we?  It’s a shame that we need to be reminded—it should just be a given.  My mother, whose birthday is also today by the way, taught me growing up the golden rule as well as another very valuable thing to remember: don’t burn your bridges.  I have heeded that advice and it has been extremely helpful advice to me—especially when facing certain difficulties in both job and relationship situations.  I may walk away from something because it’s not helping me in my life but I do not set fire to that situation and trash-talk the people involved.  Of course I’m going to have feelings about it—it’s made me unhappy or unsettled—however severing ties or seeking revenge or gossiping or denigrating the people involved isn’t my modus operandi.

Be the kind of person you would like other people to see you as.  Be the kind of person you would love to meet on the street.  Be the kind of person that leaves you on your death bed without any regrets.  Be the kind of person you can feel proud of.  I strive to every day.  I choose my words carefully and I try to show only kindness and generosity.  I may not always succeed—I am fallible just like anybody else is—but I try.  I will finish my life knowing that I did my best and that I offered my best and that I concentrated on being kind and looking for the silver lining in every situation.  That’s what it’s all about.

Put down the iPad and the iPhone and the i-whatever and look up and see the people in your life.  See the world around you.  It’s so much more valuable than whatever electronic detachment-inducing device you’re holding could ever be.

Be kind and while you’re at it, get yourself properly stuck in the 80s.  It’s such a great place to be.

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Pleasantly Unexpected

I just watched a documentary about shoe shiners around the world.  I loved it.  When I watch nature programs and the photography/cinematography is so beautiful, so captivating, so awesome (in the true sense of that word), I get a high from it.  This documentary gave me that same high—not because of the cinematography but because of the way it was filmed; because of the people in the film and their stories and their lives and their realities.  Every one of them seemed happy in their own way.  In some countries it’s a difficult job with very little reward and in other countries it’s a revered ‘art of a bygone era’ which has become a novelty.

One of the shoe shiners said that for 20 years there was a guy who played saxophone not far from where he lived.  One day he realized he hadn’t heard the saxophone and wondered what had happened to the player.  It turned out he’d died and the shoe shiner had no idea who he was or what his name was or if he had children or anything about him.  It made him sad to think that he hadn’t taken the time to ask the man anything about himself in all those 20 years.  He hoped that one day someone would notice he wasn’t on that corner shining shoes any longer and think to themselves, ‘I miss him, he was a good guy’.

Last night I was talking to my wife and I could hear this jazzy kind of noise coming from the distance somewhere and I watched her run her hand up and down the radiator next to where she was sitting.  It occurred to me it might be her making that sound but the more I listened, the louder the sound got and she’d stopped running her hand on the radiator.  It sounded like a saxophone and another brass instrument playing together and I wondered if someone was playing jazz in their car outside.  The sound kept escalating and so I thought perhaps the car was trying to get someone’s attention in our building by turning up the volume.  It wasn’t any kind of song but rather a tune played over and over and then I realized it wasn’t a car or even someone at the control of a volume button but it was actually people outside playing instruments.  There is a young teenager living across the street and it occurred to me it might be him, practicing with a band mate for an upcoming concert at school.

My curiosity was becoming greater and greater so I got up and took a look outside, my wife hot on my heels and we scanned the newly post-dusk street for any sign of a fractured marching band.  The house across the road had the same idea, peeking outside to see where the sound was coming from, which confirmed that it wasn’t the boy who lived over there after all.  Then we spotted them—I wasn’t too far off the mark—two teenagers, one with a saxophone, the other with a trumpet, walking down the street playing their tune, just for something to do.  At their loudest they were right across the street from us and then their sound began to slowly fade as they continued their jazzy quest to arouse curiosity and interest from others in houses further down from us.  It made me smile.

I turned away from the window once they’d passed and came back into the living room.  “Weird,” said my missus, amused.  I said in response that it was no weirder than a peacock stopping traffic on its daily commute and she had to agree with me.  We used to live in a village in England where a peacock seemed to be the King.  Our flat overlooked the car park of the local Co-Op which gave us a view of the high street where all the busiest of traffic passed.  Every day at 8:00am there he would be, wandering down the high street in his pursuit of his day; cars, push-chairs, pedestrians, stopping to let him pass before they all carried on with their day.  At 5:00pm the same would happen in reverse as the King made his return commute to wherever he lived—stopping traffic and the like in his wake.

It warms me when I think of these odd little happenings which seem so novel at the time yet often get forgotten in the mundane repetition of our daily lives.  I don’t want to forget them—they are what make life so interesting.  As I sat down last night I told myself to write it down.  I have little scraps of paper with thoughts, concepts, titles, ideas, anecdotes, novel plots and random thoughts all over the place; but I didn’t actually write it down.

When I saw the documentary about the shoe shiners and one of them talked about a saxophone player, it jogged my memory of last night and reminded me that letting it pass into a forgotten memory wasn’t what I wanted at all.

Sometimes I’ll think to myself that I have more little scraps of paper than I need and I sort through them to see if I need to hold on to any of them and I’m often delightfully surprised and even sometimes inspired by the little thoughts and ideas that I scribble onto notes here and there.  Occasionally, the idea or thought is so obscure I’m not sure what to do with it and I’ll sometimes just put it in the recycling bin but more often than not, I keep these scraps and when I want to smile at a memory or be inspired, they’re handy to have around.

I wonder if I’m unique in my stash of scraps or if everyone keeps a scattered log of their thoughts and ideas around for inspiration and amusement.  I am always delighted with anything pleasantly unexpected—surprises and silliness and clever wit and random joy and the all the little things that make up the bigger things.  It gives my heart happiness and I would like to think that others find the same pleasure in these little hiccups which make life worth living every day.

The more we appreciate, the happier we are.

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Part Two

Grandma (my paternal grandmother) was two different people to me.  When I was little, she was a disciplinarian and didn’t much go in for silly or playful (in my experience).  She interacted as a one-step-removed parent and while she was pleasant—she was the only one of all my grandparents who hugged and kissed us each time we saw her—she was very much a grown-up and behaved like it.  She cooked a damn fine pot of porridge; rich and sweet and creamy and felt so good going down.  She also cooked (when I was 8) a freshly-caught rainbow trout fried in butter in a cast iron pan.  Nothing ever tasted as good as that trout.  Every birthday we would get a card with a $10 bill enclosed which, to me, was a fortune and a treat and I still have (or at least my mother has) the afghan that my grandma crocheted for my bed in pink and green and white for my 7th birthday which I proudly kept on my bed.

As an adult, my relationship with Grandma changed to one of family histories and jigsaw puzzles and comparing aches and pains (she had taken a bad fall and I had many injuries from a car accident) and I enjoyed spending time with her.  She became sillier (to me) as we aged.  She always had a silly joke to tell me when I would go visit her which would have me giggling or rolling my eyes (always with laughter).  As often as I was able to, I would drop in to spend the afternoon with her and I’d call up beforehand to ask her if she’d like me to bring lunch.  Sometimes she would say no, she had something in the fridge that needed using but more often she’d relish the treat and ask me to ‘grab a couple of Horton’s’ which was her way of saying she wanted us to have a sandwich from Tim Horton’s.   Other times she’d request a chicken sandwich from Wendy’s (and always with a sheepishness in her tone request a ‘fresky’—her version of Wendy’s famous frosty).  The frosty must have felt like a guilty pleasure to her and when she’d diligently finished her chicken sandwich, she’d start on her ‘fresky’ and when she’d reached the half-way point, she’d ask me to put the rest in the fridge and explained that she drank the rest as a milkshake later in the evening as a treat.  I tried this only once myself and obviously didn’t experience the same pleasure with it that she did.  She never finished a whole ‘fresky’ in one go.

Grandma was always working on a new jigsaw puzzle and seemed happy enough to have me join her when I would visit.  She would go through a new puzzle using little Styrofoam trays and separate pieces into categories that made sense to her.  Her card table was set up with a swing-arm lamp over it to make seeing the pieces of the puzzle and the puzzle itself so much easier.  I would tuck right in because I loved jigsaw puzzles and later, as Grandma’s ability to tell the difference between green and blue became a bit difficult I would (at first, secretly and later, on her insistence, quite openly) ‘fix’ the pieces she had placed in the wrong spots.  If there was a lot of sky or grass in a field on the puzzle, I would work on those parts while Grandma would work on the barn or the log cabin or the boats in the harbour—whatever didn’t require so much green and blue.  Every few months Grandma would send me packing at the end of a visit with a stack of jigsaws she’d finished and every year I’d buy her a new puzzle for her birthday or Christmas to add to the ones she received from others.  She never ran short of a new puzzle.  She loved crossword puzzles as well.  I attribute her puzzle-loving genes for the reason I love puzzles so much—I have jigsaws and crosswords in my blood!

Occasionally, Grandma would phone me at home and have a chat with me and I remember one time I wasn’t home when she called.  The message she left for me was so entertaining and silly that I still laugh about it to this day.  In her slightly croaky answering-machine-message-leaving tone she sang, ‘oh, it’s just me from over the seeeeaaaaa……’ and added a tiny vocal diddy-doo kind of noise at the end then hung up.  I listened to that message so many times because it cheered me up so much.  If anyone knows me, they know how much I enjoy silly and that message hit the very right silly button for me and endeared my Grandma to me even more when she left it.

Grandma lived alone after Grandpa died when I was fifteen years old.  She moved from their house into a townhouse next door to her sister-in-law Elsie, who had been widowed by Grandma’s brother years earlier.  Every day at four o’clock, Elsie would knock on Grandma’s door with a little bag of ice in her possession and Grandma and Elsie would pour themselves a drink for ‘happy hour’ and visit until the last sip.  Once the last sip went down, Elsie would gather the glasses and take them in to the kitchen and say her farewells and let herself out to return next door to her own home for the evening.  Very occasionally, Grandma’s sister Marie would be visiting and watching the three of them enjoy their happy hour together was always an experience.  My dad carries on this tradition sometimes and when I’m at the cabin with him, he and I have ‘happy hour’ together—one of the very few times I imbibe.

Grandma was one of three children—she was in the middle of an older brother and younger sister.  According to Marie, Grandma was a tattletale and didn’t like to have as much fun as Marie and their brother Grant.  Grandma didn’t speak much about herself when she was little however she did talk a lot about her parents and I knew how much she loved and adored them and how obeying them and being a good girl was important to her.  Marie was mischievious and adventurous and I think Grandma was a little more content to stay in and read or embroider or help her mother with household duties.  What the truth of it all is I’ll never know but it fascinated me to hear how Marie saw her older sister and how I saw her older sister, my grandmother, because as I said before, the older we got, the sillier Grandma became.  Her parents were gone by the time I was born so I never knew them but my great-Grandpa Jack sounded like a real character—full of aspirations and get-up-and-go and always up for the next big thing.  He kept a diary of his historic drive into the Rocky Mountains accompanied by his pregnant (with Marie) wife, Mabel, Mabel’s sister, his 21 month old daughter (my Grandma) and his 4 year-old son (Grant) in May 1915.  He drove the first automobile (a Ford, he was proud to say) to make it past Mount Castle (west of Banff) all the way across the BC border.  His written account of this struggle clearing trees with his axe, shifting fallen rocks, trying to see through driving rain, using the clutch to make it up different inclines and over rutted paths, making his passengers walk on the really steep areas…his written memories are very focused, fascinating and succinct.  Although he never mentions who his passengers are other than to state “3 adults and 2 children”, they traveled about 1,000 miles altogether in less than two weeks (in his words: “without the slightest accident not even a puncture, using only 2 galls of engine oil and 49½ galls of gasoline”).  His notes show how thoroughly proud he was of this trip.  My Grandma told me about this story when I was young and even she would explain it with pride in her voice that her father had been the first to drive into British Columbia from Alberta through the Rockies in a Ford.  You’d think he worked for the Ford Motor Company the way he talked about it!

My Grandma lived independently until she was 85 years old and took a fall that left her unable to care for herself any longer.  Her three sons found a local care home where she had her own room and where they could visit her often.  At Christmas one year I arranged to create a 12-days of Christmas for Grandma which would ensure that every single day for 12 days until Christmas, Grandma would receive a visit from a family member (on the days I wasn’t able to see her myself).  I bought her a table-top tree and 12 little ornaments to decorate the tree with (plus a tree topper for Christmas Eve) and on the first day I brought her the tree and the first ornament.  By Christmas morning her tree was fully decorated and she hadn’t spent a single day in nearly two weeks without a visitor.  That was the real gift.

At 87½ Grandma was struggling.  I was visiting with her a couple of weeks before Christmas and she told me that she was very tired all the time and couldn’t seem to stay awake for long.  I said to her ‘then sleep’ and I held her hand and just sat with her while she nodded off.  She’d wake up on and off, delighted to see me still there and ask me questions about my life before falling asleep again.  Something inside of me knew this would be the last time I would see her.  I stayed for as long as I was able to, holding her hand and letting her know it was perfectly fine to sleep if that’s what she needed to do.  She’d been in a wheelchair for a number of years at this point and as she got older she would slouch more and more and eventually her slouching was simply too difficult for her heart and it decided to call it a day.  Grandma died two days later with her youngest son by her side.  I was grateful she wasn’t alone when it happened—she deserved to be accompanied by someone who loved her.

I was 33 years old when Grandma died—my last surviving grandparent.  I’d shared such an enjoyable time in my life with her and have so many fond memories.  While my dad makes a damn good pot of porridge I still crave my Grandma’s porridge and nobody could ever treat a freshly caught rainbow trout the way she did (although a cook in south Wales came close one time).  When I think of her now, her voice on the answering machine rings in my mind’s ear… it’s just me from over the seeeeaaaa…… I hope you’re with your mother and dad, Grandma, I know how much you missed them.

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Part One

I consider myself very lucky.  When I was a child, I had four grandmothers and two grandfathers.  Two of my grandmothers were great-grandmothers—I never knew my great-grandfathers.  Each one of them played a role in my life—each one of them influenced me in various aspects of who I would become.  I felt a deep love and emotion with all of them, albeit in very differing ways.

Grandpa on my Dad’s side was English.  He emigrated to Canada in his 20s—one of 16 children whose mother had died giving birth to his youngest sister when he was only 12 years old.  She wasn’t yet out of her 30s when she died.  It makes me sad for the kind of life she must have lived.  The story goes that the two eldest children (both boys) left the family farm for Australia, disgusted by their father who ‘used Mum as a baby making machine’.  Kathleen, just 14 years old at the time, took up the slack left by her poor mother and, with the exception of the newborn, looked after the rest of the children.  The newborn was taken in by friends but grew up knowing who her brothers and sisters were.  I was in contact with the grandson of Grandpa’s eldest brother, Stanley (Stanley’s grandson’s name is John) and John told me that traditionally, the first son took the middle name of ‘Stocker’ which was from the paternal side of my grandfather’s father’s family; hence my great-grandfather being named Frederick James Stocker… and Stanley’s middle name was also Stocker.  When Stanley had a son, he refused to pass on the Stocker name because of his disgust for his father and turned his back on his father’s family name.  Stanley’s son took the middle name ‘Stanley’ and when this son had John, John told me his middle name was Stanley too.  I can only guess that John’s son is also carrying Stanley as his middle name.  My own younger brother’s middle name is Stocker and one of my nephews has the middle name of Stocker as well.  Ironically, my father and his two brothers escaped the ‘Stocker’ moniker so perhaps my own Grandpa refused to use it when his sons were born.  I have no idea if the siblings who remained in England carried on the Stocker name with their own offspring or if all of them let the name die out of the family completely.

Grandpa was an amazing artist.  My mother has his drawing book from his school days which is now well over 100 years old.  His drawings are intricate and detailed and precise.  He was a Virgo like I am—we enjoy details and precision.  He became a painter by trade—much of his work was sign painting and even house painting but he also painted landscapes which graced the walls of grocery stores.  I remember being in Woodwards at Guildford Mall with my mom, grocery shopping, and she pointed up at the walls with the paintings on them…the one I remember best is a cornucopia of produce spilling out of a conical basket…she said, ‘your Grandpa painted those up there’.  I was transfixed.  Unfortunately, Woodwards was demolished in the early 1990s along with my grandpa’s beautiful paintings.  Our home as well as my grandparents’ home was hung with different works my Grandpa had painted.  One was of ‘Shep’—the dog of my fathers’ childhood—a lovely German Shepherd with bright eyes and a smile beneath a panting tongue.  Another, which is at the family cabin and which I love, is of a derelict rowboat resting on a piece of land above a lake in late autumn.

I have two very distinct memories of my grandpa and me—one is from when I was about 2 years old and our family was together at my grandparents’ house at Christmas time.  I was sitting on my knees upon Grandpa’s belly, facing him, trying to poke one of the strands of his bolo tie into the dimple on his chin without him trying to bite my hand.  I remember giggling and laughing and feeling that rush of excitement mixed with fear yet secure in the knowledge that he never would have actually bitten my hand.  I tried over and over again to pop the bolo tie end into his dimple and he would endlessly thwart my efforts by pretending to bite my hand so I would withdraw in a gale of giggles and he would get a reprieve while I composed myself enough to try again.

The second memory I have is up at the cabin that he owned with my grandma.  I wanted so much to go fishing with him, like the boys did, and he let me come with him to collect worms.  I wasn’t interested in the worms, I just wanted to be out on the boat in the sunshine, doing what I thought would be fun.  I was about 7 years old at this time.  He collected the worms into an old coffee tin and I asked him if I could carry the tin to the boat.  He said yes and gave it to me and we walked along the path that led down to the boat, a tin with wriggling, squirmy worms in my hands.  I tripped on an uneven part of the path and went head over heels, the tin leaving my grip and the worms spreading like wildfire.  Well…Grandpa wasn’t impressed in the slightest and while I don’t remember his actual words, I do remember feeling immensely disappointed that I had let him down—he was very upset by this loss of his collected worms.  I don’t even remember if I actually went fishing with him that day but I do recall watching him bang a fish on the head with a small wooden club and I felt sick about it—sad for the fish.  It was my first introduction to where that tasty fish came from and what it endured in order to feed me.  I must have gone fishing with him at some point to have that memory although I don’t know if it was the same day or not.  My memory of eating a freshly Grandpa-caught rainbow trout which my grandmother cooked in butter in a cast iron pan is, to this day, deliciously seared into my taste buds.

There are a lot of other memories I have of my grandfather—the plaque that he got from one of his sons when they were playing cribbage and Grandpa got three 5s and a jack with a 5 upturned: a perfect 29.  My uncle says that Grandpa didn’t give anything away and played the hand like any other.  He quietly counted his hand and took his points.  My uncle HAD TO commemorate such a fantastic hand in the family’s favourite game and had a plaque made which Grandpa had on the wall in his dining room—where crib was played.  Crib is still one of my favourite games—I had a game the other day with my dad (and he absolutely wiped the floor with me).

When I was 10 my family moved a six-hour drive away from friends and family but every summer my grandparents would come up to spend a week with us and every visit, the night before they would leave to drive home again, we would go for Chinese food at a restaurant in town.  My grandfather loved Chinese food.  Another time we drove up to the local ski hill to see what it was like in the summer time and so there we were, shorts and t-shirts, driving up the mountain on a beautiful day—I hadn’t even put shoes on when I got into the car—and at one spot, my grandparents decided they wanted a family photograph of this drive up the mountain.  There was snow on the ground!  It was the height of summer and I was stood, barefoot, in a few inches of snow with my family, waiting for the picture to be taken so I could warm my feet back up again.  It’s been decades since I’ve seen that photograph but my feet get cold whenever I think of that drive up the ski hill.

On my first trip to England in the month I was to turn 30 years old, I went to Somerset where my Grandpa was born and raised, just to see where and what it looked like and what it might feel like in an attempt to get closer to my Grandpa and his younger life—I’d lost him when I was 15 years old.  In my Canadian way, it didn’t occur to me to choose the day of the week that I traveled to the village where Grandpa was born—I went on a Sunday and I found out all I could in a small English village on a Sunday: not much at all.  I spoke to a volunteer in little village shop who told me that all of the people with my last name were ‘over in Chilcompton’ and explained to me how to catch a bus there.  As an introvert, I surprised myself at how bold I was when I walked up to a farm and spoke to the young man there (who could only have been around my age) because I knew his last name was the same as mine.  He invited me in and introduced me to his wife and his three children—was he my cousin?  They pulled out a big family tree and I scanned it beside him, looking to connect our two families in some way.  We weren’t able to make a direct link based on the tree and came to the conclusion that our grandfathers may have been cousins or even our great-grandfathers were cousins.  Still, it felt like I was connecting with Grandpa even though I didn’t know how this farmer was related to him (or me).

One of my favourite meals is a wooden cutting board laden with cheese and crackers and cut vegetables and turkey sausage rounds or leftover chicken with chutneys and a nice cold drink.  I think I come by this honestly because my grandparents would have this for lunch regularly.  I introduced this love of mine to my wife when we met—she had enjoyed the same thing called a ‘Ploughman’s’ in England—and we merged our shared love of this treat into picnics and simple meals while traveling.  We’ve had this meal on road trips; in hotel rooms; sitting in the car overlooking the ocean; in parks and on beaches…we’re having it again for Christmas day.  I can’t wait.

Every time I eat it, I think of my Grandpa and it makes me smile.

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Good Night

It isn’t that I don’t care.  I care very much.  It isn’t that I don’t want to.  I do.

Okay so now I’ve clarified what it is that I don’t…or rather, what I do; however it doesn’t clear anything up really so saying that I’ve clarified it is actually a load of tripe.  I’m not sure I’m even bothered to clarify what I was trying to clarify in the first place.

I care.  I want to.

Or do I?

Inside of me, the answer leaps up automatically into my brain—straight from my heart: YES!  I’m guessing that another part of my brain steps in at the exact moment my heart message appears because it stomps out the next action: do it.  I don’t.  I allow the stomping brain cell to overtake the heart brain cell.  Why?

Who knows?  Who cares?  Who buys your underwears?

I care.  I want to.

Maybe the past little while has made me retreat a bit too far inside.  In the morning, every morning, I try to keep myself occupied in some way that exercises my brain and (much less successfully) my body.  I listen to music in an attempt to connect to someone else’s words in the hope that it pushes me forward to develop some of my own.  I used to write as often as I brushed my teeth—I used to have a pen in my hand more often than I didn’t.  Why did I stop?  I didn’t want to stop—I simply did.

Dribbles of words slip quietly from the inside out and when I turn around sometimes, I see that they’ve formed sentences on a page and it makes me smile.  Well, I smile on the inside—one of those smiles you can feel in your brain but not necessarily on your face.  I think your face smiles when your heart does so how come your face doesn’t always smile when your brain does?  Not ‘your’ as in YOU—but ‘your’ as in you general—I guess ME…why doesn’t my face smile when my brain does?

Is there a brain specialist in the room?  No?  That’s okay…it was kind of a rhetorical question anyway.  Or was it?  Lately I’m quite disconnected from both my brain and my heart (and probably even my face) so expending the kind of energy I’d need to in order to have that question answered is too much.  To be frank, it took more energy than I wanted it to just to type the damn question.  I’ve gone on about it so long I don’t even remember what the question is…or was.

My wife said once (or twice) that she needs things to look forward to and I accept that completely because she works every day at a job that often leaves her cognitively tired.  Of course she wants to have something fun to look forward to (I threw in the word ‘fun’ because who looks forward to something that isn’t fun)?  Except weirdos…wait, I’m a weirdo…except people who aren’t what society thinks of as ‘normal’.  Wait…

Well, normal is different to everyone, really, isn’t it?  In reference to the point I’m trying to make, I think that if you, reading this, are normal (or whatever) you know what I mean.  If you don’t, there’s just no help for you.  I’m trying too hard to work out what I’m trying to say without actually saying much of anything.

Perhaps I don’t really have anything to look forward to and that’s why I’m not interested in very much.  The things I really want to do cost too much money—travel and take pictures for one.  Buy a small bungalow and make it up just the way I think it should be (yes, my wife can have input too but she’s not the one writing this, is she?  I am).  Buy a car and go for a drive and turn up some good music really loud and sing at the top of my voice (this I would do daily—it’s amazing therapy to scream and it’s much more fun when there’s music involved).

There are many hobbies or pastimes I call my own and even quite enjoy however they tend to take up a lot of space.  Photography: photo albums and albums filled with negatives (yes, being an actual film photographer is what I like best—I’m not dissing you digital shooters, I simply prefer the old fashioned cameras with the spools of film and the creativity of setting the light and the exposure without pushing buttons and hearing beeping noises—beeping scares away the wildlife).  Scrapbooking creates…well…scrapbooks of course, which take up space.  Lego…don’t even get me started.  The bathroom is the only place in my house that doesn’t have any Lego in it.  Yes, I’m serious.

Writing…I have boxes (and shelves) FILLED with all the writing I’ve done over the years (not including all the space on my laptops—yes I have more than one laptop—my hobbies take up SPACE) that I’ve typed rather than handwritten.

Sometimes I wish my hobbies included exercise.  I do like hiking and walking and riding my bike—all of which don’t take up personal space and don’t cost very much.  The thing is, I’m not the kind of person who motivates myself to do physical activity—no matter how much I want to.  We’re back to the brain interception thingy—don’t make me try to explain it again.  If someone else suggests it, I am more likely to participate than if I try to tell myself to do it.  It isn’t that I need someone else with me to enjoy it; it’s that I need someone else to provide the motivation part.

After I broke my ankle the second time my mobility was so awful that it kind of took the enjoyment out of walking and hiking (even biking because of the pressure of pedalling).  Doing the simplest tasks like walking 3-4 blocks to get a few groceries or run a few errands takes it right out of me, physically, and I end up in considerable pain for a day or two (sometimes more) after I’ve gone out.  I think to myself, ‘I need stamps and we’re low on milk and I should go to the bank and it would be nice to surprise my working missus with a dinner invitation’.

Sometimes I manage it.  Sometimes I don’t.  If I have an appointment then I can’t avoid it.  I often cram in all of my errands around an appointment because I have to be out anyway.  Whether this is the right attitude or not doesn’t matter to me so much.  I’m the one who has to deal with the pain so I’m the one who gets to decide when I go out and what I do when I’m out.  My body, my choice.  Please feel free to keep your ideas about what I should do inside your own mind because it isn’t you who has to cope with the pain for the next couple of days.  If you’re happy to take on the pain, I’ll gleefully pass it over to you and then you can tell me what you think of what I am or am not doing ‘right’.  Try not to wince or gasp while you’re telling me, though.  You just have to cope with the pain without complaining—that’s the deal.

I like Almond Roca.

Just thought I’d say.  I don’t have it often because it’s filled with horrible ingredients but when I indulge in all of those chemicals and sugars and Type 2 Diabetes contributors, I do so knowing full well that I may very well slip into a coma and I console myself of that possible eventuality by reminding myself that at least my coma will be induced through pure flavour bliss.  Kind of like slipping into a coma in the middle of an orgasm—what a way to leave consciousness!  Slipping into a coma while having an orgasm and eating Almond Roca simultaneously?  Sure!  Where do I sign up?

It’s late and I keep thinking I’m meant to be fast asleep but (by the way ‘but’ means I’m now going to tell you what I really think) because everyone else is asleep (and I’m weird) it means the night belongs to me.  During the day people bang around and talk loudly on their phones and drive past my windows with music blaring (I can only hope they’re singing at the tops of their lungs to release stress)—still, it’s a loud invasion into my own day.  At night the most I hear is some snoring off in the distance.  Big deal…it’s kind of a soothing rhythm I don’t mind (provided I’m fully awake and okay with being so).

Writing often happens at night—late at night—because the creativity is all for me.  No interruptions—no phone calls or text messages or doorbells or appointments or errands or anything else.  It’s bliss.  My bliss.

I guess that’s what I look forward to: the night time when there are nothing but hours of silence for me to embrace and employ.  I’m going to have to remind myself to go to bed in the morning rather than at night.  The night is when I can write—something I’ve missed more than I can express.

Good night!

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Inside

About five years ago while relaxing at my family’s cabin in the woods—once my favourite place on the planet with its isolation and quiet so permeating you actually feel deaf a lot of the time—a friend who was accompanying me for a ‘writing retreat’ asked me, “How long could you spend up here completely on your own without any contact from the outside world?”  It didn’t take me long to answer.  That was like asking me when my birthday was.  “About 6 months,” I responded.

She was flabberghasted.  “With NO phone calls or visits from anyone at all?”  She needed clarification because, while she swung onto the introversion scale, she couldn’t quite believe my complete lack for need of human contact.

“No,” I said, thinking about what that would mean.  Six entire months without a phone call.  Six months without a visit from anyone at all.  Our cabin (at that time) was my idea of bliss: they hadn’t brought a cell tower anywhere near it so texting (or phone calls) were out of the question and the internet was a spotty, hit-and-miss experience which I didn’t care about in the least.  My parents hooked it up one summer when they were living at the cabin but it wasn’t something I spent time on because the cabin wasn’t about being connected—for me it was always about disconnecting.  My favourite thing in the world is to completely disconnect from everything and everyone and simply take in the quiet in all its magnificent magical marvellousness.

I’d watch the birds flitting between branches, swooping low over the lake, pulling worms from the ground, flapping their wings on the water, hovering around like giant bumblebees searching all the red on the deck for nectar.  I’d watch the chipmunks scurrying along the shore in their acrobatic naturalness and even watched them come up on to the deck from the ground below it (which was no small feat for humans let alone chipmunks) and stuff their cheeks with the cotton filling of the armchair until they looked like their cheeks would burst open in a volcano of white lava but chipmunks are clever and know just when they’ve stuffed their cheeks enough.  Off they’d scurry to unload their cache into wherever they were making their nest.  I’d listen to the squirrels chirping away in the trees and watch them commute along their tree branch highways collecting nuts and maybe even just exercising.  Back and forth they’d go like blue collar workers from one job to another.  I’d watch the people from other cabins canoe, kayak, rowboat, peddle boat, raft their way from one point to another and back again on the water—at a safe enough distance from me in my solitude to warrant only an occasional wave rather than the banal and uninspiring small talk so many people feel is necessary.  Sometimes I’d see deer in the yard eating breakfast and quietly tiptoeing through the green before running off up the driveway when something would inadvertently startle them.

Being at the cabin allowed my writer the freedom it needed.  It allowed my introverted self to decompress from the hustle-bustle of city living.  It allowed my brain to relax enough to sleep—often 10 hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep every night.  It allowed me a kind of liberty I didn’t have otherwise.  Demands and expectations from other people: friends, family, co-workers, the world in general all melted away when I was at the cabin.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love or even enjoy my friends, family, co-workers; it was that it was more than I could cope with day-in and day-out for months on end.  When my friend asked me the ‘how long’ question, six months sounded like the perfect amount of heaven.

At home, I often don’t go out for at least a week at a time.  It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the changing colours of the leaves on the trees or the rustle of leaves under my feet (the rustle happens less often than I’d like it to because I live in such a damp climate) but I’m perfectly content in my home.  I don’t even bother to open the blinds most days because I like the cosiness of my home and if the blinds are open somehow the cosiness bleeds out.  I do like the blinds open when the sun is shining brightly as it floods my cosy den with added warmth and makes building or disassembling my LEGO projects much simpler on my eyes but some days when the sun is banging on the windows begging me to let it come inside with me, I ignore the request.  A niggling voice somewhere deep inside me says I should open the blinds.  I should go out for a walk in the glorious sunshine…but I rarely do.  At the end of the day, if I stay inside, if I putter around doing what feels right for me then I am more content than a narcissist staring longingly at their own reflection in a mirror.

Extroverts (or not-quite-so-introverted-introverts) ask me what on earth I do all day; how do I keep busy; why I’m not out for a walk or off meeting someone for coffee or lunch. This question often surprises me because I’m so busy all day every day—I have more to do than I can even keep on top of—and I wonder what on earth all these people who question me spend their days doing.  I have hobbies and interests that take up a lot of my time and I love to read and I love to write and sometimes, despite knowing how much time I’m wasting, I even get stuck playing computer card games after I’ve forced myself to check email when I realise a week or two have gone by since I last looked.  I have a Facebook profile but rarely log in to it—I have two friends that I ‘poke’ on Facebook and the last time I went on there to ‘poke’ them it told me I hadn’t done so in two months.  I can’t even remember when that was but it was at least two months ago.  The internet bores me.  I have a couple of pages that I visit frequently as they are informative for one of my hobbies but I know that if I open one page to take a look it often leads to another page and then another page and while I find it all interesting, I don’t want to be stuck there staring at a screen all day.  I don’t find it energising.  I find it saps my spirit and leaves me a lot less productive physically and mentally—and probably even emotionally.

I love spending time alone and I am sad to know that I don’t have a lot of people in my life who are ‘like me’ so that I don’t have to explain or justify or spell it out.  I love spending time with the people I care about in my life.  I love being completely alone as well—maybe even more.  I need the down time—I need bags and bags of down time.  The people in my life either haven’t tapped in to their own introverted tendencies or I am surrounded by extroverts who can’t wrap their heads around the fact that dancing on table tops shouting at the top of my lungs when a good song is playing isn’t something that revs me up nor floats my boat.  Give me a room filled with books and an extremely comfortable chair and I can stay there very happily until a decade meanders past me.  I’m simply at my best when I’m not trying to meet the expectations of anyone other than myself.  It amazes me to think that not everyone would want that for themselves—the complete freedom to be exactly who they are, all the time.  To me, that’s heaven on earth.

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Living Wish

If you could make a wish and that wish would be guaranteed to come true, what would you wish for?  People often say they’d buy a house or pay off their mortgage or take a dream vacation or even pay off the mortgages of the people they care about.  What if that wish was more than just monetary?  I know the world revolves around money—those who have it, spend it, those who don’t have it, wish they had it.  But dreams are often so much bigger than what money can ever buy.  Sure, a paid-for home is a security very few people truly have (when we balance homeowners around the world) and dream vacations are wonderful experiences with memories that last a lifetime but what about making a wish that lasted forever instead of for now?

As an introvert, I am a keen observer and my life has been spent watching, listening, hearing, empathising, caring and sometimes I’ve even caught myself staring.  People frustrate and fascinate me in equal measure.  People are, in general, simply going about their days doing the best they can for each day they have—whether the best they can is to climb Mount Everest that day or the best they can is to muster up enough energy to pick up the remote control and watch ‘My 600-lb Life’ all afternoon.  Every human being had a beginning and are living in the middle and wondering, worrying or planning their end.  Nobody knows for sure when they’re going to cease to exist—even top-notch medical diagnoses can’t predict the day or the moment when a person leaves the world as they know it.

Dying wishes are always referred to—an edict for that person’s entire existence—the one thing they would have done if they’d only known they’d never have the chance to do it again.  Family members and loved ones sometimes bend over backwards to fulfill the dying person’s wish, even after they’ve long gone.  It’s a way of giving that person the one thing that seemed to mean more to them than anything else—but did it mean enough to them when they were living to actively pursue that one thing?  It makes me wonder.

Recently, my uncle died after months of hospitalisation and while my aunt and my cousins and his grandchildren knew he was leaving them, they couldn’t know when.  What day he would decide to slip away from them forever.  When we’d first learned that he’d been admitted to hospital, we went to see him—my parents and I.  My aunt was there, my cousin (his daughter) and a while later, another aunt and another cousin showed up.  That was the last time I saw him because his wishes were that nobody but his wife, children and grandchildren should be with him.  They were his wishes and, like it or not, we had to accept that those were his wishes, no matter how it affected us or made us feel.  Many in our family did not get an opportunity to say goodbye to him and he, in turn, did not get the opportunity to say goodbye to them either.

It got me thinking—whatever my uncle’s motivation was for spending his last months away from the swell of our extended family, the fact was that it was his wish and, as far as I know, everyone respected that wish.  He was dying and so we respected his wishes.  Why is it not that way for those of us who are living?

Through my life I’ve really struggled with the social dynamics that are constantly surrounding me.  I grew up as a member of a large extended family and while I enjoyed playing with my cousins as a child and even spending time with them when I was a teenager, I found the socialising draining and felt like I needed a long period to recharge afterwards.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the interactions and the games and conversation; I thoroughly enjoyed them; however they were an effort for me rather than a simple ‘visit’ like it seemed to me it was for them.  Christmas was a whirlwind of family get-togethers and even friend get-togethers when I was a child.  We would have a big family gift exchange at my grandparents’ house and we would get together at the house of the parents of my mother’s high school friend and we would spend Christmas dinner with my other grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins and we would make a Boxing Day visit to my dad’s high school friend and his wife and whatever other get-togethers cropped up through the years.  As I became an adult there were work parties and get-togethers with friends and all kinds of gatherings which, while I enjoyed myself, I began to really dread as the years went by.  The parties and noise and merriment were overwhelming and not something I found myself enjoying so much.

In the sanctity of my own apartment I would steel myself for months knowing that the holiday season was approaching—as soon as the summer was over I would start to feel a panic creeping slowly up on me.  I would immediately launch into the card making and gift-buying, taking everybody on my list into consideration as I carefully chose something I felt they would truly enjoy.  I would wrap them up, address the cards, put the stamps on the ones I wouldn’t be seeing in person and, before the end of October, I would simply wait.  I would wait and the stress would build and I would distract myself by reading a good book or going out in the cooler weather to photograph the changing leaves or the frosty patterns of fallen leaves or bare branches and I would try not to focus too much on the month that gave me so much stress and anxiety.  Normally, I would find an excuse not to attend whatever work get-together had been planned but trying to find a way out of the family gatherings and especially Christmas day itself was always a lot more difficult—feelings were on the line.  Not my feelings—if I could find a way to duck out of the whole season entirely without hurting anybody else, I’d be over the moon with giddiness and joy—but I never found a way to do that.

This past year, my wife and I decided that trying to keep others happy was making us miserable and, while my wife enjoys Christmas, the stress of obligation had been wearing on her for years—first with her own family and then with my family.  Like me, it had nothing to do with enjoying family members’ company or interacting with them—she gets on with them very well—it’s the break in a Christmas that is what we want it to be rather than what everyone wants it to be for us.  In June last year, we booked ourselves a bed and breakfast far away from where we live and from anyone we knew.  We agreed not to buy each other gifts and just to go away and be content in our own company, drinking in the peace and the lack of festivities that we both found so draining.  We opted to fulfill our own wish rather than everyone else’s.  We begged out of the big family get-together and despite initially accepting a dinner invite from another family member for a week prior to Christmas, we opted to renege on that one as well, simply because it was more than I was able to cope with (there have been a number of very stressful things going on for me and my solitude was paramount in getting through them prior to heading out of town for a relaxing Christmas).  I wanted to enjoy my getaway, not feel rushed or obligated or over-stressed or overwhelmed by what I had been going through already.  It has taken me nearly half a century to focus on me and what I want this time of year—and hopefully it encourages other people to accept that Christmas means something different to me than it does to them.  I’ve done it ‘their way’ for so many years and from now on, I’m going to do it my way.

Our Christmas was pure magic and the quietest one I’d ever experienced.  It was perfect.

My wish (my living wish, if you will) would be that the people who know me and who say that they care about me to accept that what matters to me is just as important as what matters to them.  I would love it if people would stop arguing with me about how I feel or about what I want or putting their values on me as though it fits me like it fits them.  I’m not perfect—I too have placed my own expectations on others despite those expectations not being realistic for those particular individuals.  I’ve learned to back off and to back down and give the benefit of the doubt and I always approach people with the very best of intentions and with my heart in my throat.  I am not malicious or two-faced in my heart; I am generous and giving and as kind as I can be, no matter how other people choose to accept this of (or from) me.

When others are struggling, I do what I can to empathise and even to help; when people are dismissive and belittling, I do what I can to distance myself from their negativity.  While the holiday season is the time of year I find the most difficult, I do find myself having to say ‘no’ more often than I want to throughout the rest of the year as well.  It isn’t that I don’t value the fact that you thought of me or that you want to spend time with me—I am flattered and I am grateful that I matter to you.  It is the fact that, at times, there are events and occurrences going on in my life that take more out of me than I know how to deal with sometimes and when I am experiencing those moments and those times, I am not going to make good company.  I will not be a good conversationalist; I will not give to you what it is you are seeking from me in those moments.  My wish is that the people in my life who care about me will recognise that it is okay and it is acceptable for me to set the boundaries around myself which I need to.  I do not set boundaries for myself to hurt others nor to alienate them, nor to offend them.  I set those boundaries because I am unable to function within someone else’s.

This is my living wish.

 

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