"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!

Monday, 30 January 2017

Your Character

Years ago, I had a job working for a film director(Ousama Rawi) in Toronto. I was hired as a gopher initially and busied myself completing tasks such as figuring out which door matched each key on a ring of a what seemed like hundreds, or sourcing a missing console radio button on one of the K-cars used for errands. Rawi seemed like a nice enough guy, but demanded deference from his employees. It was rumoured that his secretary had a paint chip that she had to match his coffee to in order to avoid his disappointment. Okay, so perhaps he was a handful, but he was respected in his field and still is as far as I know. There were few remarkable days in his employ except for one: 

On this day, Rawi requested that I drive him and two other staff members somewhere. I met them at the car and pulled my seatbelt on as the three of them climbed into the back seat. I drove the car out of the parking lot and followed his demands, navigating down Spadina and through a largely asian chunk of the city. Rawi and his staff started laughing and making fun of the asian people crossing the street in front of us, or gathered on the busy sidewalks in front of the shops. The comments coming from the back seat were appalling and juvenile. I listened, considered, and then decided not to fold, not to laugh along for the sake of fitting in. I decided to concentrate on driving and avoid any hint of showing approval of their remarks. I looked back at them in the rearview mirror and then ahead to the road. They kept at it for what seemed like a very long time before Rawi asked me to drive back to the studio. I thought it was odd that there seemed to be no destination, no point to the trip. We arrived back where we started and got out of the car. Rawi then, put his arm around me and brought me into the office. He introduced me to everyone and slowly, it dawned on me that the little car ride was a test. He wanted to see what kind of character I had. Would I laugh along at something completely inappropriate and disgraceful simply because someone in power was doling it out? He was curious, and sneaky but he got his answer. Rawi was very kind to me from that moment on and had the studio not closed, I'm sure I would still have a place there. 

I've been thinking of that day lately. Now, more than ever, I feel it's necessary not to fold, not to enable hatred by allowing the terrible sentiment delivered in the package of an offhanded joke. It's time to summon your good character to action. We are all being tested on a global scale.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

That Light

When I was a kid, I was good at stuff: I could run, throw, ski, bike, and climb, and I could sing every  TV ad jingle. It never mattered though. I never once remember my parents marvelling at my speed or arboreal locomotion prowess. I admit that it's been a while and there is a possibility that I could misremember, but I think I would have remembered seeing either of my parents' glowing faces as I crossed a finish line. Instead, what I remember is, 

Come on, it's time to leave for Quaker Meeting.

 Ugh. This sentence, usually hollered up by my father early on Sunday morning would send my brain down into its file room to try come up with an excuse that would relieve me of my having to attend:

I can't come. I've suddenly gone blind.
My legs are both broken.
I have a Journey song stuck in my head.

Quakers, for those of you figuring that I am made of oatmeal, is a religion basically about not being a dick to each other.  The premise is that there is the spirit of God in everyone, or the light as we call it. In consideration of this, Quaker Meeting has no minister. Everyone has a direct line so you can stand and gripe directly. Quakers are pacifists, and are accepting of other religions and races, because, light. The problem was that, for years, I was the only regularly attending kid in our meeting. One kid is not enough for Sunday school so I had to sit with the adults on the pews for the hour and listen to them drone on about Vietnam, El Salvador, or whatever the world had offered up for its violent, oppressive whim at the time. I found it to be excruciating. What exacerbated my frustration exponentially was the imbalanced focus at home. I could not understand why my father never went golfing or fishing like other people. He would come home from the city and help out in the barn or the fields, but he would talk to himself, mutter the whole time. I never saw him spend a whole day goofy and excited. We had an argument, he and I, one day. It was, I think, the only one. He was sotted, and sad about children of war somewhere and I had had enough. I wanted attention, you know, like a member of the family. So we yelled at each other for a few minutes, both standing at opposite ends of the house. It never took. I remember driving into town later that year, and seeing a man, by himself, with a placard, marching for El Salvador. It was my dad. I was horrified. I'm ashamed now to say that I was embarrassed.

Now I totally get it. 

Now with the Trump administration I can hardly function. I fear for the planet and humanity. Time has taken on a surreal feeling, braced to some extent by the women's march. I was grateful to have been one of the 60,000 people marching in Toronto and more around the world. It helped. But my diligent attempt at a balanced life has tipped. Now I am reeling at steps taken in Washington. I feel fiercely moved to reach back and draw forth my Quaker roots, no matter what kind of anger, change and struggle they fed on during my life up to now. They are, I'm glad to say, still solid. 

I am gut-dropped frustrated that in this age, 2017, some think it's okay to behave like a condescending dick towards others. Plus, the very idea of treating the planet as nothing more than an expendable way to make money, to me, heart-wrenching. Unforgivable. Astoundingly arrogant.

The comedian Bill Hicks said in regard to life,
It's just a ride. 

This is as much a perspective for us as it is for the Trump administration. None of the hate and posturing is necessary. Why on earth are they compelled to make the ride so shitty? Why are they so blind, keeping their lights so dim? Why not make the planet a great place for everyone? 

It could be so great!

I can't figure it out. I can hardly breathe. And I would give anything to go back, right now, and sit in meeting with my father again. I would do that in a heartbeat. No Journey songs. No excuses. Because I could use some kind of grounding to help figure out how to navigate this insanity right now and keep my own little flickering light burning.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Going Forward

My favourite word, next to, shenanigans, and maybe obfuscate (which sounds like a sport), is the word gracious. Gracious, is defined as to describe someone who is marked by kindness and courtesy with some tact and delicacy thrown in. It requires a certain presence, an inner stillness and the rare ability to connect, listen and not judge. 

Tall shoes. 

The word came to me this morning, while mulling over this Trumpian dystopia we are all faced with. It seems that the world is losing its mind over him, and justifiably so. I won't go into the details of his petulant need to bully. You already know about that. But I can't think of a better way to anchor our efforts to maintain our integrity going forward than to be gracious in everything we do. Everything. This does not mean abiding, or being the least bit complacent. This does not mean escaping, becoming insular and self-serving. This means catching those throw-away comments, denigrative remarks made in jest and gently hauling them up onto the proverbial carpet. This means getting the conversation going but with grace. 

"What are your thoughts?" "That's an interesting viewpoint. What made you decide that?" 

Through personal experience, I've found that this process, completely non-judgemental and non-confrontational, serves to draw the person into reframing their perspective. Simply by hearing their own words(therapy) they can discover a problem or a struggle that they never realized that they had. You become the facilitator. The easiest scenario to start from is when someone says, 

   Well, there's nothing we can do about it.

That's the insidious anthem of the complacent. Really, it's the easiest opener of all. Start with the sacredness of our human connection and go from there. You've got this. Just be gracious. You can't lose.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Broken Plate

While house sitting, I broke a plate. I notified the house owners this way:

I have broken a plate. Pick one:


She finished her dinner standing in the kitchen. The sun had set. It was a cold, gun-metal grey day that she was glad was done. She was not partial to any particular part of it. She set the plate down, olive oil shining on it; the only addition to the knot of spaghetti she had made for herself. She began cleaning up. The plate broke. The day ended. No fish.

F. Scott Fitzgerald:

She finished her dinner, oddly, by herself, standing in the kitchen, one hip shot against the island. She toyed with the loops of pasta knotted on her plate. She heard the wind howl up and pass outside, like nails against nylon. The sun, almost timid in this cold, hardly rose, at least not like the julep-prone summer. Those days when the summer breezes lifted the sheers like angels in song and flight! She finished her meal and began fiddling with cleaning something. She wasn’t sure how that worked. She was never comfortable in a kitchen, but here she was. She twisted one of the water taps on and then, as she watched the water pooling in the sink, she reached back to grab her dinner plate. There was the slightest tap and then the plate fell in pieces. It fell. In pieces. She turned and looked at it. The sink filled. 

Cormac McCarthy:

In this world everything breaks. It is only time that marks the history of the event. A heart broken is the only breakable that can be hidden and yet it is the most painful. Everything else leaves a mark, a clue: Cattle through a fence, a busted femur from the fall off of a green broke horse or the bullet hole from a rusted 22 fired at the last moment in a drunken bar brawl. It was nice to have peace for a change. It was nice to be able to stand and eat without smoke from a campfire burning her eyes whenever the wind felt compelled. She stood and ate watching the birds through the glass window puffed up to twice their size in this cold. She stopped, took her guns off and set them on the counter in the laundry room away from her then walked back and finished her dinner. She chuckled and pulled a barb of black locust from her hair.

 “Magine havin’ a room jus for laundry,” she thought out loud. 

The sun eased down off of the day and the light with it. She finished her meal and set to washing up. There was no sand around to get the food off of her plate but there was a sink and a spigot. She fiddled with the toggle until water came not without protest. She watched it then pushed her hat back on her head. How this water came she had no idea. She turned and without thinking grabbed her plate. There and then in the space of a shot it broke. It sat there on the wooden island in pieces. The edges were raw and showed white like bone or teeth. She spit.

“Damn it. Ain’t a girl got no ability beyond what she’s had to put up with? Cain’t I be careful at all?”

She threw her hat off of her head. 

“Do I gotta break everthin’ I likes?”

Friday, 6 January 2017

Heavy Late Bombardment

 It is the scale that is troubling. My efforts to take it all in, really see it are exhausting; a relentless challenge always bounded by time. It bothers me, while I'm thinking, that time is passing. I must think faster to keep up. If time would stop, if I could do my thinking between the seconds so I would have the minutes and hours to piece together what I discovered, I wouldn't be so frustrated. But this damn scale of things...

I'm trying to piece together, or, make sense of, God and the universe. Right now, I don't believe in God. If he exists, I think he's an asshole. And I will gladly step outside with him if he's got a problem with my name-calling (I work out a lot. So I got that going for me...). Then, the universe and the fact that we won the lottery when it came to the earth. Any closer to the sun and we would be...you have to understand this:

 This earth is the only one around within parking distance. It started as dust and ice crystals four and a half billion years ago.  

Go outside and put your hands on the ground and think about that. 

                 WE ARE BONKERS LUCKY.

Yet we're treating this precious orb like something we can replace with a trip to the mall. Or Cost-co.

I've lost you already. You've heard this before.

Scale again. More pacing. What the hell?

While I don't think that the biblical God exists (You know, that bible held up in defiance by the hateful?), I do think there is something. Maybe it's laced into the dark energy wafting around, permeated by neutrino's, protected from radiation by the earth's magnetic shield. I don't know. But I felt it when I was in love. And I feel it when I listen to music. It's a delicate, but fierce power unlike anything else. It is profound; makes us authentic. You can't feel it and not be changed. This is the substantial framework of our humanity: our connection.

Piecing this together...

Basically...(would you stop with the clock already?) I feel that this deep, sacred connection as humans is being assaulted by the shallow, attitudes of the incoming American government. Gains made in outreach and inclusion that had the potential to pick up momentum towards a remarkably productive and cohesive society may have influenced the rest of the world into finally getting over the needless oppression and judgement stalling progress. But all of this is under threat to be shredded. The cotter pins have been pulled. People don't matter unless they're shareholders.

And the earth? Well, how much time is left now?

 I keep trying to think of the right words to bring about sanity. I keep trying to come up with a process to shift ideologies around oppression and judgement, to stop us from sliding backwards, being complacent. I go to bed at night hoping that I will have a dream that will explain it all. 

Time. Time. Time.