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Homes of Circles

In order to avoid the overwhelming construction on Eglinton, I veer off onto Burton and drive through the stately leafy Forest Hill area where the mansions are eye catching. Even this street is full of trucks and cars and requires some slow down. I wonder who lives here, their families, friends… and I think back on where I grew up- also in Forest Hill but behind and above my father’s store at the furthest edges of the boundary of the borough. My parents had chosen the location for the reputation of the schools, but perhaps our mother had imagined her daughters worthy of the society embraced by the children of the rich. Although I truly believe her impetus had to do with education that she had dearly savoured for herself, I think she was fascinated by the artefacts of the wealthy too.

I never considered that my home was any less than my friends’ abodes. We had formerly lived in a house on Glengarry that my parents had designed before my father had succumbed to polio. Now their plan was to simplify life, and to combine my father’s living and working spaces. But this new building also on Eglinton that we were to inhabit had my parents’ stamp on ideas and needs marked on it, my mother insistent on a small yard for us planted with grass and demarcated by a fence at the end of the alleyway.

My parents, especially my mother took care to consider, plan and arrange our living space, always aware of my father’s meagre income. I was never aware that we were likely at the thin edge of the financial spectrum. Somehow we participated in numerous lessons , were well dressed, and to my child’s mind, the equal of our neighbours around the corner or in ” the village.”My father recalled so many horrible fights between his parents caused by the lack of money  during the Depression so there were never squabbles over money in our house. He did not want his children to grow up under that nagging, cheeriless gloom. Foremost, our food was the central concern purchased at the best stores, fish and chocolate cake almost necessities, bought where all the financially comfortable neighbours also shopped. In deed I believed my pink bedroom, I no longer had to share with my sister, was- palatial in size. It overlooked the lane but its dimensions were spacious enough for two girls until our sibling squabbling encouraged our parents to cut through the wall and give my sister her own room.

I remember my surprise when my best friend Nancy who lived near West Prep made a comment about how small my room was. I was stunned , taken aback , wondering if in deed she was describing my royal bedroom. Granted, I’ve never been great with spatial measurements but I truly believed my room magnificent, with matching furniture, shelves overloaded with books and personal possessions.

In those days I would tell my father that the house I would eventually inhabit would be round. Perhaps I intuited that like a wedding band, a circle has no beginning, no end, continuous for all time. There is a vague memory of a house I had once visited that if not perfectly round had no walls to divide up the rooms so there was a flow that carried you from space to space.

And interestingly when I began my search for a perfect wedding dress at the elegant Jean Pierce ,the most coveted dress shop on Eglinton back then, I pined for a gown that was circular. Somehow about it piqued my imagination. When the price made it be unobtainable, friend and department head at Westview Centennial in the Jane Finch corridor where I was newly teaching suggested her present to me would be an incredible French crepe and lace gown that she sewed by hand. We did fittings in the girls’ washroom. It hangs still in my closet- as fabulous now as forty- four years ago.

But this idea of the circle intrigues me and not surprisingly when my real estate friend in La Jolla shared a picture of a Mexican heritage house in the shape of circle, my heart sang out and I was again smitten. But like the dress, the price, and plus I am Canadian, were only dreaming points of awe and desire for an ideal not a possibility.

Perhaps part of the reason I admit to being unable to throw out and clean up my basement of my home resides in the fact that the items I have in my home not already purged are imbued with emotions. As I attempted to unsuccessfully clear out the art room last week, I was waylaid by the books that connote significance from different stages in my life. Steppenwolf and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse from university days consumed as a mantra when we dressed like hippies. Hesse played a rallying point for Boomers. Hesse predated Mindfulness and long before “ Journey” became a ubiquitous word, particularly in speeches regarding life and profession, we actually pondered its meaning : now I cringe when I hear someone, their gaze fixed loftily away, murmurs the word. Sadly, we can say -poor  tired “ Journey” has passed away, been depleted of meaning, overburdened with overuse.

In the basement of my home, there are books associated with my years of teaching of Postcolonial Literature and writing for the now defunct Multicultural Journal , my major contribution to Northern Secondary’s Gifted Program, but one gradually erased when I left to work at OCT. I have evidence of my student’s brilliance from those days in the format of handcrafted books, paintings, videos: beginning points to my students’ immersion into the study directed by the intrepid students themselves. These fill me with pleasure.These cherished items are artefacts of my life.

From OCT are the booklets and research, journal articles and two books I wrote, edited and collaborated on that contributed to the teaching profession, my favourite published by Sage. These concrete items, gathering dust, make me proud. Other heaping piles contain the standards and implementation strategies and presentations created for the more than 300,00 teachers in Ontario. And to think I worked with almost all the faculties of education in the province also writing their additional qualification courses for post study. Impressive, no? Although courses will change, reviewed every three to five years, the standards and ethics of the profession will remain as the values we should uphold. These tenets have been with us forever: respect, responsibility, care, compassion, collaboration, etc. Back when I started at the College, Dr. Linda Grant was the brains and insightful leader of that endeavour.

In university I studied Sartre whose La Nausee addressed why we keep items close, outgrown things like teddies or even hair brushes. It is because they demonstrate that we once had a relationship with them and they validate us in terms of who were at a variety of points in our lives. They are small houses for the machinations, emotions, goings on of who we were. And particularly as we age, we try to maintain that smart and vital image of ourselves preferring not to focus on the aging mind of body of today, recalling in stead the relationships, actions and pursuits, the exhilarating and inspiring contexts that formed and nourished us. The happy child of loving parents, the aloof adolescent or careless student, the committed professional, the caring lover: all the passages into self awareness. The so- called journey. 😉

So the importance of a house, especially a circular one brings one back to the start. In the home of my house lives memories and books and reminders, the exterior – whether on Burton or Eglinton, no matter.

Pondering how far is the distance between connotation and denotation and confusing and conflating much else in between

The latest thing seems to be writing on gratitude- not that is a bad thing as it doesn’t hurt anyone to pause and consider the good in our lives. But like words and phrases, “ gratitude” seems to lose its meaning as people post their reflections: on Facebook, for example, and there attach them to certain notions and expressions that have become rather hackneyed or taken for granted, even twisting original notions into strange knots.

When we worked at the College, Fred M (and he was a brilliant scholar and thinker) and I used to discuss how certain phrases no longer purveyed their original intent because the “actual” meanings had been subverted and perverted as individuals put their own spin on expressions: words such as “Post-modernism” so that we often debated what was really being spoken of, what was anticipated , or morphed from the intended term.

One of my favourites was the transformation of the word “ collaborator”. During war, to be a collaborator was a bad thing in that it meant to conspire with the enemy. Now, all children are taught to collaborate with their peers- and to co-operate when they are engaged in their daily activities. Holocaust images of women who conspired, hair rudely shorn, shouts out at me as the signs hung beneath their necks publicly proclaimed them as collaborators, heads wobbling low. A bit like Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame on a recent episode of Game of Thrones. No one would want to be called a “collaborator”!

So now I ponder what it is that “gratitude” actually means and how we have spun it into another realm of meaning. My Pilates instructor initiated her blog writing on the topic of gratitude and I complimented her on her second piece that extolled water, connecting her experiences in a communal bath with friends in Morocco. It was an exceptional piece and I told her so. She segued into revealing how writing had triggered an unexpected line of events. For example, she explained that several years had passed since she had lunched at Marche downtown with her sister and a friend, F . Deciding to frequent the restaurant with another friend who was leaving town, she was aghast to run into F again: as they had not seen one another or spoken in quite some time. And I wondered is that gratitude or coincidence or a flick of fate?

I could offer a similar story. I had been at York University immersed in a course on artists’ materials and re-creating an illuminated manuscript, even applying the gold leaf bits with egg yoke as I endeavoured to imitate original techniques. I finished the piece and presented it to my sister when she graduated from medical school. Some years later, my husband and I were in London and rambling this way and that through the British Museum, with no specific plan, in the medieval section where precious pieces were housed beneath glass. Even few days, the manuscripts and treasured books were changed, pages turned or repositioned. As we strolled casually, my eyes were drawn to something that looked vaguely familiar. As we approached closer, I gasped to note that on display was the REAL manuscript- exposed there for only a few days- in the time when I chanced to pass by in my meanderings. How was that possible? How had my path crossed that of my manuscript? Was I filled with gratitude for this sighting?

My Pilates instructor says we are on paths that take us to places. Likely it is certain words that trigger our exploration and signify signposts around which we decide to allot meaning to certain events. To this I gloomily query, then we have no free will as our journeys then appear determined by something or someone, and we are perhaps like

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.

They kill us for their sport.” (William Shakespeare, King Lear).

She, my Pilates person, might say no, that we are all intertwined in the cosmos, Gaia, the personification of the Earth, one of the Greek primordial deities, the great mother of all: the primal Greek Mother Goddess; creator and giver of birth to the Earth and all the Universe.

But I also reflect on those three Greek goddesses whose job it was weave, measure and cut the cloth that determine our trajectories. A fatalist, I am, perhaps! Stuck in the factory of beginning and ending the lives of just so many people as throw away garments.

All words- as we were taught in school- have both connotation and denotation, as we pad them out with our own interpretations and conjecture, layering and bundling them with more than the dictionary assigned, conflating “gratitude” with something else deeper and more mysterious. More likely, this is the work of imagination or faith or belief, for should we strip all words of their associations, we would inhabit a life of bare bones without colour or possibility. However, if we cannot trust what a word really means, are we able to communicate at all?

When I taught Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage I structured my classes with different ideas of the Beginning, referring to male and female origins as adopted by various early societies. I found in The Chalice and the Blade (Riane Eisler 1987 ) interesting theories, some also harking back to Gaia. I recall relating to my students interpretations of the story of Rapunzel where transformations from single to multiple could also be discussed in light of the earth’s beginnings of asexual and sexual reproductions… along with ideas of communities of womanhood… and even explanations of the witch not being so witchy as she sought to protect Rapunzel from a male world.

That is the beauty of these old tales that almost call for paradoxical interpretations as an invitation to debate and conceptualization. But I also think in terms of embroidering a term, blowing it up like a balloon, stretching it beyond the literal, and losing sight of the triggering denotation.

So many concepts about where we come from, where we are going, the whys, the wherefores and perhaps ultimately how we choose to describe our own limited comprehension of our miniscule place in the scheme of things. Some might venture , hey, whatever gets you through that long dark night because we cannot live with utter simplicity.Play with your words; re-invent them; however, if we cannot agree on their meaning, we have returned to Babel: confused illiterates who cannot get the meaning of worlds because we all speak different languages and so we wander in our own small worlds.

I am not completely skeptical but hold to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation of the willing suspension of disbelief -for the moment, which constitutes perhaps poetic faith and fascination with the past and language. Maybe we veer here towards the Mystics as I imagine ladies in séances poring over crystal balls and Madame Blatavsky, her Theosophists influencing Kandinsky, Mondrian and Gauguin, William Butler Yeats, L. Frank Baum. But how far have we come when a “collaborator” is the aim of our education?

But what would life be without metaphor? As well, a fundamental belief in unity leads naturally to the further belief that all things about us are but forms or manifestations of a divine life. I ponder too the Romantic poets and their landscapes in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, or The World is Too Much with Us. Certainly Wordsworth and his pals placed immense importance on mysticism. Symbolism and mythology are, as it were, the language of the poet: Wordsworth staunchly trusting in an inward eye focused to visions, infinity, the boundlessness of the opening-out of the world of our normal finite experience into the transcendental.( See The Project Gutenberg EBook of Mysticism in English Literature by Caroline F. E. Spurgeon). Often artists and poetics see so deeply into a reality hidden beneath their paints and words that enables them to light their works towards another level of existence: that happily disconnects with this sad, torrid life that is crumbling by greed, politics and pollution. Even in the times of Wordsworth and Kandinsky, an inner life provided the solitude and balm to a less than perfect society. But the populace on Facebook, plagued as well by all the burdens of everyday existence appears in their posts far from poets in using language.OMG!

Maybe we have come full circle to the notion of gratitude with which I began this string of thoughts and I end with my favourite but crazed William Blake who wrote:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour (Auguries of Innocence).

With ONLY “infinity” and “eternity” open for diverse interpretation.LOL!

Stars, Emotions and What Hides Beneath the Surface

“Shabam-shibbebel-yibbam”, ( or some such expletives) shouts the Bone in The Amazing Bone by William Steig. Unexpectedly, the loathsome fox begins to shrink until he is the size of a mouse, no longer a threat to succulent Pearl the Pig whose oven was heating in wait for her. The Bone unaware how he/it had muttered the magical words, declared he did not know where he had absorbed them, maybe from living in the pocket of a witch, but who knows for sure?

When I worked on a paper for Children in Poverty in Ontario, I recall reading that what impacts most strongly on a child is having a parent, a teacher, a friend who supports that child emotionally. One person can make such a difference. Yet why is it that even some children or adults with packs of friends cannot find their way through an abyss? No magic bone appears to rescue them from their traumas. But often, there are attacks that arrive from not just outside but inside as well. This week Robin Williams took his life and I’m sure many wondered, how if a person such as Williams with all the love, concern and care from friends and family in his life could not survive the crises that plagued him, then how anyone?

Just yesterday I read Joanna Schneller in The Globe who reflected on our connection with movie stars, illusions that we extend to entwine ourselves in, imagining that we possess meaningful association with them: “… actors who come into our lives through film and tabloids whom we think we know because so much is published that we feel affinity to them.” She maintained that what we feel, our emotions, nonetheless are in deed real towards the celluloid super star and we should not dismiss or diminish how we feel. She asserted. “We are not wasting our time if we take to the internet to help us process the weight of depression that crushed Williams. We’re not even pathetic if we try to express our feelings in 140 characters or less. The feelings are real. It would be tragic not to feel them” (Aug 16, 2014.)

I disagree.

We, of course, do experience feelings for ourselves. However, we have no idea what Williams truly was , neither the deep inner thoughts of Philip Seymour Hoffman or the insights of Lauren Bacall when she was married to Humphrey Bogart. These people are mere areas for transference for us, a palimpsest that we employ to post on, then erase our thoughts and feelings. That we think we know them is perhaps saddest of all and to be given permission to grieve for them is saddest yet. The basis for our response not even real or true, often manufactured.

True enough that we don’t always own our emotions, their presence, their façade that obfuscates what lurks beneath. Providing license for grief should herald a wakeup call to look within, not without. Why listen to Jenny McCarthy when you really know so much better.?

In contrast today in The Star,( August 19), Dr. Gabor Mate, took another stance in saying that childhood conditioning can play a role in depression and that Williams was bullied as a child and found his father “ frightening”. He said “[ Williams] early in life had learned early in life to cover up his feelings, as a child does when he is emotionally alone and there is no one with whom to share”. Does this tidbit of information allow us to rationalize and psychoanalyze, pondering like Dr. Freud’s penetrating Ah-ha : that was the reason! as we smugly don our own white coats, clucking as if we knew the secret yearnings and despair that dog some members of society.

However, reading Ruth Ozecki’s book “ A Tale For the Time Being”, I could begin to understand the depth of depression a child/adolescent would face by the constant mockery by their peers. For Nao, one of the protagonists, it is life’s constant brutalities that encourages her to seek suicide as well. Fortunately for Nao, she unearths shreds of resilience and as the literature on that topic teaches, one person- a friend, a teacher, a family member can make the difference.

For Nao, it is the wisdom of her grandmother nun, the perseverance of a great uncle written in a French diary, her own purpose and project that persuade her to continue on for her own sake. Being inspired to find a glimmer of hope when all the lights are dimming is the challenge. For the heroine of Ozecki’s book, Nao may find solace;and in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, the reader is able to envision her heroine Ursula’s diverse trajectories, a plethora of alternate paths taken or not with varying outcomes.

Yet, as I stand outside a character such as Nao and peer into her soul and thoughts, make connections, and think I comprehend her pain, I am at a remove from the scorching mistreat by her classmates that reinforces she is worth less than her twisted underwear. The value of books is to bring us to the edge so we might peer over and try and empathize. At least a book gives us context and reason, words that convey reason. Our television glimpses or media-driven reports are not truths that can instruct the way into a tortured soul. Like the commercials created by Don Draper in Mad Men, they are snippets created to manipulate our emotions for a variety of reasons; most commercial.

When I worked at OCT, my research for the ethical standards revealed that several universities offered classes or courses to teach the values we hope our children will espouse and make their own: Care, Respect, Trust and Integrity. Coupled with the standards, these ethical incentives are what we all should strive towards in our daily actions : codes to guide our behaviour and interactions with others.

Williams’ death makes us stop and face our own mortality. I think that it was his sweetness, self-deprecation, laughter and crazy antics that endeared him- at least on screen and the zines that profiled him. At least that was how he portrayed himself in his film roles and comedy shticks. Too bad there were no magic words for Williams as in The Magic Bone to ward off his demons and shrink them to mouse size. Even nanoo- nanoo did not do the trick.

Facebook and such

I freely admit being a Luddite. Much to my father’s disappointment I possessed absolutely no technological acumen, no understanding of how things fit or should work. My 5 year old grandson comprehends Legos much better than I ever could- not to mention the internet. I guess it’s that part of my brain that owns weaker synapses and prefers the flash of colour to the driving pursuit and ability of putting things together and making them actually perform. I belong to the observer set, the passive enjoyers, not the active engagers. That’s just me.

Day long sessions at computer schools were wasted on me. I most often lost one thread of sequencing and was set adrift on the wild seas of information.I was thrown back on the pile of self-incrimination and embarrassment, clutching for a familiar word to ease me back to port and complete the action. Others seemed safely involved in their lifeboats, continually and competently dipping their oars towards the targeted goal. I would smile vaguely, pretend I was yawning, resting, whatever, just wanting desperately to get out of the so-called learning situation where all I knew was that I was incompetent.

The wisest tutorial came from a co-worker at OCT who demonstrated one single function of the computer and then disappeared. Thus I learned, used, and made the function my own.

Years later, others confided they had taken those beginner computer courses several times : Ah, how wise, particularly when the company is footing the bill.

Similarly even when I was attempting to learn to crochet, I overheard class participants also explain this was not their first kick at the can. I should have figured it out earlier because as a believer in Multiple Intelligences, I do know that we all learn in diverse ways and one instructor or teacher may or may not enlighten us in a way that makes sense to our variously- strung brains,others only reinforcing our foibles and being unable to throw us a life preserver.

In a nutshell, I’m no fan of computers. I don’t find them helpful or fun or intriguing. In fact I am infuriated by their correction of my spelling that I do not want corrected as in names that are close to nouns. As well, I fear pushing the wrong button and either losing my work or signing up for offers that will cost me a small fortune. I’m aware of “cookies” collecting data on me to be sold and meant to manipulate my daily life. Yuck.

So it will come as no surprise that I had resisted enrolling on Facebook’s site. However when number #2 daughter wanted me to vote for my gorgeous grandbaby, I had to belong to the Facebook crowd. So reluctantly I joined. I voted often, but the link on Gerber baby foods only circled round and round to bring me back to my “homepage”. And now I am stuck. Without even one vote for the most beautific child in the world. So much for Facebook.

It is a phenomenon of the times. Email replaces letter writing and phone calls and puts up for examination small bits of conversation for other Facebook joiners. I am wary of all the participants who live on or in Icloud or inhabit evanescent spaces. Some grownups embarassingly using baby pictures to indicate who they are.

There are so-called “ friends” who post “ selfies” of themselves continuously as if their incremental portrait changes reveal something new about them. Some post pictures of ads or things they find interesting and await others to comment. There is quite a bit about diets and friends of friends. Why would anyone tell you that they have visited store X three times that week or won a scrabble challenge or visited their sister in New York? Like really, does anyone really care? Apparently so!

Perhaps Facebook will eventually replace newspapers that are said to be dying. Although I cannot imagine a Saturday morning without a cup of coffee, perusing the paper by my window in my sunny kitchen. Recently in The Globe an article on Carl Klaus, a 19th century Viennese critic, decried journalists because of the spin they put on the reporting of events that removed any chance of viewing it through one’s own imagination, and fresh eyes. He was referring to the manipulation of the press. Rather, the author of the article suggested- technology provides more opportunities for diverse perspectives by individuals -as in Facebook to comment.

I think there is always a bias. Anyone who has taught English or even read a book knows a first person narrator is unreliable and even the omniscient voice moving like an angel gathering a multiplicity of views exudes a point of view in spite of pretending equanimity – written ironically from the perspective of one author who imagines what it must be like to be many, not just one voice.

When I taught Post-colonial Literature, I purposely engineered a discussion between two students to whom I deliberately assigned arguments that went totally against their loudly proclaimed personal views in class: the die hard conservative and the bleeding heart liberal on human rights issues. Apologizing first, one pleaded “Miss, I really don’t believe in this stance, however…” . Each debater was required to walk in the other’s shoes a la To Kill a Mockingbird. Even if the forceful interchange lasted only ten or so minutes, each had experienced a new way of thinking about an issue.Were they changed? Likely not, but perhaps some new angle or perplexity had permeated their thinking to encourage possibilities .

Besides locating a certain community with apparent friends whose faces, not pictures, we might better respond to with a laugh, wink or touch, Facebook provides a static interchange that does not really flow as good conversations should. It puts out random thoughts and expects quick responses. Sound bites with stunted communication. I really don’t get it. But then I belong to the Boomer generation that grew up and old before computers.

And although I am a worrier- that has nothing to do with computers, the Christmas storm showed us that everything that runs on power SUCH AS COMPUTERS can be wiped out. And if you do your banking on line, list valuable information such as phone numbers or email addresses, and your computer receives a bug, mysteriously goes off line, inextricably has not been updated or your system has been hacked, you may find you have lost valuable information, not to mention your identity. Not being able to vote on Gerber is small potatoes.

A recent documentary, “Goggle and the World Brain “ by Ben Lewis explained how Goggle was saving for our use all the books in existence, touted as “ The most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet”. Although Google maintained they were building a library for mankind, it’s easy to imagine their purposes were not as forthright as it appeared on the surface. What if, an interviewer queried “Google wanted to sell the information in those books, that was compiled from 2002-2005 more than 10 million books? “

Big surprise that copyright laws by authors and permission to scan was overlooked or even “forgotten” by the esteemed Oxford –Bodleian and Harvard libraries. Only the skepticism and chagrin of a French librarian who did not believe that Goggle was being totally altruistic instigated a law challenge to stop the compilation. The end result yielded a mere $60 per author per copyright stipend.

What we would like to believe is good often is underpinned by less than honorable intentions and although sometimes good things come from the bad, thanks Donna Tartt, I have my druthers.

Still one must reluctantly move with the times, even if it means using technology.I guess I can use it to shop!

The Sesame Street Phenomenon

When I was still at OCT, I often had occasion to work at the Ministry of Education, attending briefings and conferences. One particular day, I sat beside an employee who was ragging on about her child’s teacher. The woman said, “My child is reading War and Peace and the damn teacher won’t let her read in class. She can do her work and read too.” I suppose I was expected to remark how brilliant her Grade 4 child was, and maybe she was. But although reading Leo Tolstoy is awesome, it is necessary to be appropriate in a variety of places and actually attend to each task we are presented.

Trying not to roll my eyes and be judgmental, I wanted to tell her and her progeny to slow down, and smell the proverbial roses. Or as Heraclitus is reported to have said, “No (person) ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river…” Maybe it’s just baby boomers and their parents, but life moves so much quicker today that often it feels as if we are enveloped in a merry-go-round of images and events.

Personally, I actually charge Sesame Street for the phenomenon of attention loss and the increased frenetic pace of life. When my kids were little and Sesame Street had just come into being, their goal apparently was to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.” Endowed by The Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation and two years of research, Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) developed a show that reached millions of children.

Unlike Mr. Greenjeans, Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Pockaroo and others who maintained a human pace of interaction, Sesame Street was fast, funny and furious. In truth, the animation and colourful sets made the others look dowdy and slow-dare I say boring? Jim Henson’s puppets in particular were thrilling and hilarious: the dour reflective Kermit the Frog, the outrageous pink-boa wrapped and overbearing Miss Piggy, the humming Swedish chef all tossed into the Sesame Street mix that taught about relationships, alphabets, sensitivity and the minutiae of a pre-schooler’s everyday existence.

Even thirty years ago, I recall wondering how will an ordinary teacher, bespectacled, polite and ever smiling, ever compete with this phenomenon. In 30 seconds or usually less, the characters emblazoned in boldly textured costumes immediately grabbed their audiences and taught them something exciting : like the powers of the letter M. Bells, whistles, music, noise, over-sized eye catching decorations ensuring memories stuck because of the mass appeal to the senses.

This is not to say it was bad.

Kids’ attention quickly fades and they lose interest. Sesame established equity, especially for toddlers of poverty, providing ubiquitous television learning; however, there is little in real life that can match their pace.

Interestingly or perhaps prophetically, Sesame Street foreshadowed the fast pace of life that would soon emerge as more technology made information emerge more swiftly, thus avoiding waiting time. (That desire for expedience even effecting road rage as we sneer and yell at other drivers when construction on the road has us fuming. )

I think of the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel. A child was offered something sweet and told that if s/he resisted the urge to gobble it down immediately, a second treat would appear. The wait was about 15 minute minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! In follow-up studies, the researchers noted the apparent benefits of delayed gratification were patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower, all of which are involved in self-regulation. I tried this with my grandson, he laughed and persisted a few minutes- which even I could not do. Maybe his tummy was all ready filled with tasty treats. ☺

Everything seems to have sped up.Now we have to be reminded to breathe- in exercise or Pilates classes, to find time in our day to relax. We catch ourselves giggling as the instructor implores us, “B-r-e-a-t-h-e”.

Does anyone remember Hans Selye and his warnings about the impact of stress or The Hurried Child by David Elkind in 1969. We presently believe that it is normal or just part of life to be stressed out as we multitask and, like that crazy juggler with the spinning plates that we once watched open-mouthed Sunday nights on Ed Sullivan, expect to keep it all together, not anticipating the crash. We are so similar to the Cirque de Soleil acrobats hanging upside down, turning ourselves inside out, twirling non-stop, forgetting to take a moment to inhale and exhale.

In a sense, we do feel more powerful, more alive when we think we are accomplishing a lot: we see ourselves as Superpeople, superheroes, able to control, manipulate and maneuver whatever befalls us or the boss throws our way. And in today’s world, we do encounter more frustrations, more bureaucratic curveballs, less means maybe for redress, more opportunities to stuff the issues away,put them on hold, grin and bear it, and get on with the job. And likely, more depression and cynicism, when we reluctantly accept there are many things we cannot control. ☹

Even at home when my computer could receive but not spew out emails, I of course contacted Rogers. Sweetly but disingenuously I was told that there was no problem with the server and to try another Roger’s venue. That I did calmly TWICE, and then again, and again, each time growing in frustration. And each time, serviced by Saleh and then Tyler through live chat- which means you don’t speak but chat with them on-line, each kindly provided me a “link”. The link would not work because my computer could not send emails to contact the link! Finally in desperation, I called Harold V., a friend, knowledgeable in the ways of computers.

Like the doctor who once made house calls in the middle of the night, Harold V. came, spent much time on cleaning up files, answering questions and eventually got around to addressing the problem at hand. I think this typical of people who problemsolve on computers as every aspect of that damn technology fascinates them so, and Harold V. can lovingly discourse on the reasons, possibilities and delights of the hunk of plastic. I try and remind him that users like me just want it fixed and a day of tutorials is meaningless. Once when I worked at OCT, the best instruction consisted of single operations that could be practiced, applied and absorbed so that dulled brains like mine could move on after learning one easy task.

In any case, Harold began to bore into the guts of the machine, who by the way, we take rather seriously, endowing them with personalities and emotions much like avenging angels sent onto this planet to try our patience, incur our swearing and drive us to the edge… Harold said the problem had occurred because my mail program was two years out of date( the machine being an Apple is only 2 years old!) And he would return to clean it up; however, because of the snowstorm that was heavily threatening, he would give it one more try. He suggested we call Rogers again.

We called, and with Harold on the phone, he asked the right questions and John responded appropriately and easily and quickly, remedied the issue. John from Rogers listened.

I reflected on how often we are pawned off or passed on to someone who refuses to hear what we are saying. Likely they are multitasking or cannot be bothered. Best yet, we are angry, filled with seething emotion, smack in the throes of a problem and being put on hold or disconnected doesn’t increase our ability to communicate effectively. However, is there nothing sweeter than a recorded mellifluent voice or musical pap that confronts you while you are pulsing in rage? Talk about stress. We’re like the roadrunners of cartoons in days past scurrying in circles in clouds of dust that gets thicker as we pound our feet in the same place.

Will that little Grade four year remember what is important in War in Peace? Can she possibly in Grade 4? What has the experience taught her about life, handling complex issues and attitudes towards the world? As my early days in the Jane-Finch corridor ( See previous blog “A pair of Ducks)instructed me: it’s all paradox. The more we have, the more confused and frustrated we become, unable to juggle without dropping something of value.

Playing Catchup

I write my blogs when an idea hits me. Always the English teacher who demanded her students compose several drafts of their work and continue to refine their writing, I, too, play with a germ of a topic, see if it will grow into a paragraph, if it can go the distance of having something to say with a few examples that actually tie it to the topic of  “boomerism”.

So it is for that reason that my last blog on Kennedy was created near the anniversary of his death on November 22, and there was a lag between the so-called story I was sharing and the publishing of the piece here last week. And a few of my favorite pieces, some actually safe in my computer (others sadly lost) such as “Ghosts in the Glade” about returning to California for a wedding are narratives that have been stored after being rejected by journals or magazines. However, because I believe that these stories propel me backward to a notion of who I once was, I have not shredded or trashed them. Fortunately for me, they survive.

I chortle a bit, because even as a teacher at Northern Secondary and the advent of commandeering computers for mark-input, my department head suggested a perfect job for me was to be hired by a computer company: to demonstrate how to make any document disappear. So it was true, that my draft thesis, “ The usefulness of art in education in and out of the classroom” in 1996 hid unretrieviable somewhere in the bowels of technology. Gulp!

 There is much of the old teacher in me, the love of Bakhtin’s dialectic, for example. ( See Bakhtin, M.M. (1981).(ed. Holquist). The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.). I think of Bakhtin’s treatise as suggesting a vertical conversation. A writer/ speaker puts out an idea; a reader/ listener offers a response that ponders, adds, changes or critiques that idea, morphing it; thoughtfully the author of the idea also contemplates the new direction or the evolution of his/her original idea, and the conversation grows, swells, soars upwards, goes off in a new direction because a second consciousness has added depth, or prompted a new awareness to it. That is what I adore about a good discussion; it takes you to unexpected realms because someone else’s experiences enhances your own comprehension and your idea becomes fresh again because of another’s insights. In this way, a conversation spirals, veers and catches both/ all participants in a volley of cogitations.

Here I offer the feedback of a few of my readers to my blogs with their own memories in tribute to Mr. Bakhtin. In Blog 3, while describing the jaunts to the library and the milkshakes afterwards, a friend actually researched strawberries, saying that strawberries are sometimes associated with purity and freshness as they are the first fruits to appear in the summer and hint at hope for the future. He quoted, “Strawberries are also sweet, they might symbolize sweet personality, kindness, and childhood.” As well, their shape suggests a heart. He proceeded to discuss his ailing sister in palliative care in Florida who brightened when he brought her a milkshake. More than a drink, a milkshake instigates associations with cheerful days when we were young, even when we ourselves cannot physically perch or spin on bar stools at soda shops. I recall Norman Rockwell paintings that stand as icons of an innocent age and remind us that once we were free of fears and worries, where the rich sweetness of thick ice cream was all: the consuming moment in childhood. I can envisage my own childhood, clasping my mother’s soft hand, my heart bursting with love, skipping along Eglinton and savouring the taste of Saturdays, hoping they would never end.

Another reader suggested a reference to Katniss in The Hunger Games. Can you find strawberries?

Much like the icongraphy that I once studied in art history classes: fruit, particularly in 17th Century Dutch or Flemish work, symbolized death in life, the so-called “ vanitas” of life, that all things ripe will wither and die and our time on earth is fleeting.  Painters often inserted skulls into their work, but most comprehended that fruits and flowers concealed the metaphors of mortality and thus, morality.  Reflecting on this last reference again gives me rise to the giggles as sometimes- although it is so me to find the blight under the rose petal, the half full glass- sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. 😉

Another reader, Emma reflected surprisingly, or maybe not, “Your piece has evoked very powerful memories in me.” She contributed that for her, it was the Wychwood library, and very slowly sipping Vernors Ginger Ale at The Egg. She continued to ferret out one of those flashbulb memories, a day in Grade 3, walking home from school and finding a slightly muddied picture book on the road, encountering bewildering pictures of starving, wide-eyed people, naked bodies in mass graves: her discovery of the holocaust . ”To this day I remember the moment of picking it up and instinctively being strangely connected to these images”, she contributed in an email. I could imagine a shadow falling on her face and downcast, the taste of ginger ale souring in her mouth.

While I worked at the College of Teachers, presenting to many of our faculties in the province, one of my talks concerned which of all the days of our lives we actually retain strongly in our minds and emotions. I used that as a mental activity to engage novice teachers into contemplating what a “good “ teacher does, how a role model might act, and eventually I segued through their own personal experiences into the standards that we had developed as a guide for teacher behavior. So powerful are these triggers from our pasts.

Certainly it would be impossible to recall every single day and every single moment in our lives, yet the happiest and brightest days, such as birthdays, holidays; along with the abject sadness of other days do filter through our heads with stark details and vivid sense reactions so that you are able to restore the smell of pancakes, the sizzle in the pan, the delight in your mother’s voice, even the clothes you wore on your fifth birthday breakfast celebration. Such events impact so forcefully that they continue to fill one with the impressions and sensations of those days. Yet, standing back from those memories, we rationally must admit that we are remembering in present time and all of the years between may have actually warped the memories somewhat.

When I taught Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro’s short stories, contextualizing their fictionalized remembrances made me realize that not all of our images are literally true; that you can never really go home again because the home you fantasized about  is –not only gone, but never was ( half-empty again?).

And as I reflect more honestly, I never liked the clogging thickness of milkshakes; I was a chocolate soda girl even years back.

But to end on a more positive note, I will add Kerrie’s reflection, “”I too have wonderful, happy memories of visits to our local library–but it was my dear maternal grandmother (Nanny) who took us.” And the bare bones of going to the library, with a dear one , surrounded by love are a testament to the real and true, then and now, forever.

Whether created, collected accurately or not, these are the moments we go to, serene and supportive places that make our bodies actually relax and dream of a sweeter alternative that has built our present day realities in a good way. Half-full?

 

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