"Spin" in aviation training: a "stall" or loss of lift, a subsequent nose-down spin, the specific actions required for recovery, and the feeling, after recovery, that you could tackle absolutely anything!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Leroy


There is nothing better than good conversation. To sit with another and share ideas, thoughts without the dictatorial calibrations of time or any secondary agenda is rare and precious. I have noticed of late that we are often better at talking than listening, sometimes eager to unleash our own concerns like rice out of a sack without a spit of hesitation. And that's a shame. It's a shame because we are cheating ourselves out of the sacred experience of getting to know ourselves, of recognizing the soul that is ours in its naked truth responding to another, sheltered only by our belief and the intrinsic desire to be authentic. The thing is, this kind of discovery takes guts. Not everyone is ready, but when you are, and you go through it, you are keen to run into others. There is little else but the hope of this to summon the strength to throw back the sheets and test your shadow in the new day's sun. Everything else is tedious.


When I was a kid, we had large groups of people out to our farm. Few came from my father's corporate world. Most came from the Quaker part of our family life and were made up of myriad personalities seemingly separated by minute and monumental differences as the day is long.  As a kid, many of the people in our meeting made me want to yawn and roll my eyes. There was, however, one man who always stood out, whom I was always glad to see. His name was Leroy, emphasis on the second syllable. He was married to a lovely woman named Pearl, and the pair, though humble, had more class and spice than any other couple I could name.  Leroy was absolutely authentic, the real deal, and if you were in a conversation with him, you were too. He wore a straw hat in the summer, less to keep the sun off of his head than to prevent, I think, the sun from being outshone by his smile. Such a smile he had! To him, I was not a bother. He was interested in what I was up to. We would talk and he would laugh the most delightful laugh. Not a big belly laugh, but something lighter, as if he was a conduit of joy from the heavens. We would discuss all kinds of things, and when we parted, I felt special. I felt seen. I'm not sure how we would have met outside of the strangeness that was our farm.  Whatever the machinations behind it, I am grateful for our bond. He was like an angel sent to rescue me from losing my mind, from feeling invisible, like a spectre.

You don't have to connect deeply with everyone in the world. You can't. Some humans are sleepwalking, hardly aware of the tender heart beating inside of them. The grander swath, hopefully, is learning, growing, and stretching toward the goal of openness and the ability to sense the rich poetry of life: the deepest love, the most vibrant consideration of humanity, and the fired desire to care and caress.  The hard part, the risk, is committing to being open and vulnerable, but then knocking against another's armour: the closed body language, the words of defence and distance, and a self-righteous air worn like fancy tack on a parade horse. There is no grace in whittling away someone's worth. There is no power in declining an offer to be present and truthful. But it is hurtful. Traumatic, even. Behaviour likened to a bully. It's disappointing to have such an experience, especially from someone you've known for some time, but when you think back, you realize that you have stretched so much further. You have outgrown them and the need for armour. You have nothing to hide and everything to give. According to the way this poetry works, you DO have the difficult task of seeking out new souls in similar step. Hard to find this late in life, but the option to settle is, well, it's not an option. I do have a few good friends, helpful and supportive, but busy in their own lives. I look forward to running into that special one, that person who lights me up, where neither of us want to rush off to anything more important, because what is there that could be? 

I am grateful to have known Leroy. He bookended the start of the most charged parts of my life, strewn with beauty, hopeful narrative, and tragedy enough.  Surprisingly, now, I am grateful to have gone through the challenge of the past years, as dark and insurmountable as they seemed at different times. I couldn't be who I am with what I have to offer in any other way. So, when you're ready, you with your sacred soul, whomever you are, wherever you are, send up a flare! I'll make tea and we will have ourselves a long, luxuriously rambling conversation out in the sunshine.










Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Courage


One trick I have when walking into a challenging social situation is to pretend I am someone else. The someone depends on the situation. Usually, it's a fictional character. I don't do this all of the time. More often than not, I am me, but if there's a room full of challenging personalities, or some sort of overwhelming interaction in the works, I might reach back into a Cormac McCarthy novel and wind myself around one of his characters:

"Officer, I do agree I was moving with a certain marked intensity. Just tryin' to get clear of my history...keeps snappin' at my boots.  I reckon if I were to keep on, I would only run into the back end of it eventually. Here's my license and insurance."

Or Kathryn Hepburn:

 "You are an absolute gift! Cherish the energy you must have to speak so clearly and for such duration without hardly a breathe! Such a strong voice...clarifying the clarified so we are not left to the random, unbridled peace of our own thoughts.  What a waste that would be. Care for a toffee?"

There are, however, situations in our lives that demand the authentic us and nothing but. To venture in with anything other than our truth and vulnerability is to cheat ourselves and squander the opportunity to make ground in our struggle forward. I found myself, recently, laid bare, open and honest, having shrugged off the usual pleasantries and tired conversation that I now find suffocating. From deep, deep inside came words that should have been said well back in my history. I felt them coming. I stood down and let them come, all the while terrified. It was like an exorcism, something more powerful than me. Once the words were out, I stood amazed that I had said them. Stunned that I had had the courage, finally, to get this out, to demand another to be accountable. This would never have happened years ago, deep in that history, but I am not the person I used to be. Not even close.  

This event shook me. I felt like I had been in a fist fight. I was almost sick. I figured myself unravelling and tumbling into chaos, rolling towards my ultimate demise until an objective third party, wise, thoughtful, made the observation to the contrary. I had stepped up. I had done something new. This was a big deal for me. Very big. McCarthy could not have done this. Hepburn neither. This was pure me.

In the words of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest), "The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you."

I do believe he was on to something...and I ain't done yet.






Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Angel


I spin out of the revolving door into an uppercut by a cold April wind. I take it, still dazed from an earlier battle; a day with a judgemental, condescending harpy in full-blown ego who sends my very soul to the wall. 

                    "Use your words," 

she says when I choke on part of a conversation. Subtle. Mean. Sums me up with,
 
         "Hmm. A Quaker raised on a farm!" 

in a throw-away, arrogant tune. It took all of my strength not to explode out of my chair and pin her by the throat against a shattered window...explain through clenched teeth that there is no scale from 1-to-10 for this rage that I have, and it didn't come from the Quakers. It came from Beefeater, darkness, unbearable heartbreak, and two cartridges from a shotgun. 

But I don't. I endure and behave. Now, hours later, I'm out on the street weighed down with my bags strapped over my shoulders, committed to continuing this fraud of contentment, of competence, taking random hits from wind and spatters of rain doled out like difficult blessings from a crazed priest. I walk up University. I can not bear the subway right now. I am constantly pushing my hair up out of my face and imagine that if I sat on a corner with a cup, nobody would think it strange. 

Outside of the hospital on my route, I notice a middle-aged man bent over near the curb fussing with a bundle of bags or maybe a bike. He is wearing old hospital scrub pants and a navy-blue bomber ski jacket with hood. He has a bandana around his greying, wild hair and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. His face is seasoned like a creased leather bus seat. I am ten feet away from him, trying to figure his story, when he turns to take a cursory look at me. He stops what he is doing and looks again, rests his hands on his thighs and in a voice betraying the scrape and grit of a hard life, says, 

            "You are so fucking beautiful." 

He stands and takes the cigarette out of his mouth, pivoting as I pass.
 
"You are...you are so fucking beautiful. You've got it. You've got everything...fucking beautiful..."

I keep moving but turn and smile at him. I make it clear that I am grateful, acknowledging him, pulling my hair out of my face again and walking backwards away from him. He is still talking but the wind scuttles his words. I wave and turn back towards my route. Something about him; his sincerity cloaked in whatever unknowable lunacy or struggle, timing as if sent. It wasn't like I was wearing a cocktail dress and heals. I had cowboy boots, jeans and a trench coat. 

So I take it. Keep walking. Slowly unclench my fists.






Friday, 14 April 2017

Cycling Clothes are Ridiculous


After my ride, a seat by the pond: cat tails blown on paper stalks, soon to lean out of the way for new green. Bird chatter. Pairs running sorties for nests:

"Honey I got that twig you wanted."

Wind sidling through the trees, dropping down to test the water and send new ripples across the surface.  Behind me, naked maples catching the sun's heat make a point of ignoring me.

"Eyes closed everyone. She'll go away. They all do...and what the hell is she wearing?"

I can hear the frenetic scurrying of squirrels:

"Hey. Someone took my fucking twig!"

"Relax. Would you relax? Have a nut."

Subtle shifting along the forest floor. Everyone knows what to do. 





Monday, 27 March 2017

Wrapped


I'm sitting in the audience waiting for an afternoon concert to get underway. There is a choir, and two dear friends are playing in the accompanying string chamber orchestra. The venue is a big old church, brimming with old church smell and the whispers of human endurance through historical political change. Then there's me: I've been angry lately; waking up and wanting to put my fist through a wall. Here, I'm sitting, constantly scanning my body, unclenching fists, relaxing shoulders, letting my jaw go so nobody notices. Everything seems like such an effort. 

                          The music starts. 

The one requirement of classical music is that you open yourself to it, let yourself be vulnerable. This music doesn't work if you use only your ears. Your heart's the thing. Otherwise it's like looking at a painting with your eyes closed. Open yourself up, the notes sift through your soul like the fire or caress of whatever story is being told.

                                  Like life.

So, I'm open and notes from Beethoven's Mass in C find their way in and settle me down. 

It feels good. For a moment, I am aware of where I am in space and time. I grab onto a note and wrap myself around it instead of letting it disappear up into the ether. I want it for myself. I want to use it as a weapon against this anger. Use it to pry open these fucking knots forcing me to ruminate over the unchangeable, the dealt hand. I'm trying to shake loose offhanded, arrogant comments that have made the last chunk of time like trying to travel on stilts while someone swings at them with a bat. Powerful. I am amazed at how powerful. 

                                  Words.


Why am I so damn angry? Why the desire to spit fire now?


 I feel empty. I feel like a sucker, like my tiny victories happen in the wrong arena after the crowd has left, but somehow this is supposed to be good enough. I should just run along now. No idea how long this scenario is going to last. It seems different than the others.  Deeper. Get the knots undone and use the freed rope to climb down to terra firma.



I'm holding onto this note for now. Its nuance makes the rest of the world seem ridiculous but without it I feel no grounding. I can't be the only one, but it sure as hell feels that way.










Friday, 24 March 2017

Energy Vampire



This past week I found myself having to spend time with two energy vampires. Fuck me. I'm still tired. Thinking of it a year from now will probably still make me tired.

                                  Jesus. 

I'm sure you've all experienced being preyed on by the energy vampire though the term may be new to you. I don't want to get all flakey here. I'm not secretly rounding up memberships for Ed's Chakra Shack. Talking about personal energy is a risk. Not everyone is keen on it but if you've been around one of these vampires you will know what I'm talking about. You feel yourself being deflated, sucked dry of any spark you had. 

It was awful:


  "What the hell is going on?" I asked myself. 

One minute I'm laughing, sharing stories, jokes with a bunch of guys over here, and the next, I'm standing talking to someone else in a hallway feeling like my insides are trying to roll themselves up and go home without me. My self-esteem, confidence and creativity have all called a cab. The person in the hallway? Energy vampire. Damn it. 

There is nothing they say that is terrible. They seem, initially, to be good people. There is nothing about them that overtly suggests that they might be dickheads. I don't think they even realize their vampirousness. I did notice, in both interactions this week (second one happened elsewhere) that neither vampire was comfortable in silence. I like silence; gobs of it. I am a fan of breathing, pondering and, I know it's crazy, but even pausing between sentences. These fuckers both mistook my silence as an invitation for them to talk. I found it necessary to fight the urge for me to scream and pull my lip over my head. It's hard to read the train schedule with your lip over your head so I endured.

It is unlikely I will ever meet these specific vampires again, but it could happen. Plus, in this sea of humanity, there is a good chance that I will run into another one, a new one, in an elevator, on a plane, running from armed republicans, you know, wherever life leads.

                          What do I do? 

How do I prevent them from draining me? Do I cover myself with gravy? Curl into a ball and roll into a corner? Punch a wall and then act like nothing happened? I'm not sure that there is a defence. Energy vampires are sneaky, subtle. Hard to pick one out of a crowd. Other than saying, "Excuse me, I have to leave because you suck," I think I have to consider them part of the landscape of humanity; annoying like highway construction, but not worth becoming a hermit. 

If you do have any ideas, let me know. I want to know, but right now I need a nap.



  



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Weekend in Port Stanley



In all of this floundering, an opportunity to get a breath; a weekend in an old villa with ten people in mid-March: Painters, writers, photographers, two pilots, a communications expert, and two lovely young students.  The gathering, suggested and convened by Liz Kuzinski, a talented landscape and portrait artist. We are all tripping over ourselves to get there, packing, car pooling, navigating through capricious curtains of weather; sun one minute, then snow the next; the asshole wind shoving the van like a bully at recess.

We arrive and peel off our Zeitgeist armour at the door. The villa is comfortable, huge, and inviting like a favourite sweater. Knowing Liz, I am confident that I will be fond of her other invitees  and I am right. There is nobody I am hesitant to sit next to. The conversations throughout the weekend cover the wavering strengths and weaknesses of humanity, interspersed by long, therapeutic courses of laughter. One painter, Robin Grindley, has only to tilt his head and the rest of us are on the floor. On Saturday, we head out like a cartoon cloud with numerous feet sticking out the bottom. We explore the town, lacing our way through the shops despite the cold, arrogant wind coming off of Lake Erie. We run to watch as the lift-bridge raises and lets an ice-covered fishing boat through into the safe harbour.  Back to the house and an evening that fills with more people coming for dinner. I run into old friends of my family, a couple who had started an organic farm(Orchard Hill Farm) decades before it was the in-thing. This blows my mind.

The evening empties out into morning. We rouse, have breakfast, and linger, nobody keen to vacate. Time, the dictator, finally wins. We pack, load our van and leave the villa, but don't head straight home. One of the pilots is a volunteer with the Museum of Naval History in Port Burwell and has promised us a tour of the HMCS Ojibwa. How often do you get such an offer? Carl, our pilot, talks us through the sub, detailing the mechanism, the world scenario when the sub was in use, and the finesse required to live and work in such a rig. Me, I could not get over how little space there was. Hardly enough room to change your mind. I was floored at the engineering that went into this beast; a remarkable display of the ingenuity of man. I was also tremendously sad that all of this effort was sweated in order to fight a war against other humans. 

It should be noted that Carl, well over six feet, hit his head six times during the hour.

The weekend was over. I found it powerful, wonderfully unique in that the winter light and the vastness of the lake out the south window made it seem like the villa did not exist in real time or space. To be in a strange house, meeting people, running into old acquaintances, and then having a tour of a submarine, well, you'd think I was telling you about a dream I had.

Whatever it was, I was grateful for the break.