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Primal Scream

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Get out… NOW!!”

man yelling

WTH!… where is all this screaming coming from?

In reaction and haste, I try to slot the hot water sprayer back in its “holster” but miss the target and shoot a spray of steaming water onto the back of the trousers of Barb, one of the other volunteers.

She jumps in surprise but doesn’t seem scalded. She even smiles. Hallelujah!

I’m the soup kitchen dishwasher today – and turn around to see what the rowdy kerfuffle’s about in the dining hall.

Joe, one of the scruffy diners in the main eating area of the Soupateria is carrying a tattered plastic Value Village bag filled with 6 small canisters of propane.

I don’t know his why. Maybe he has a small Coleman stove he cooks his supper on in a cramped culvert pipe down by Okanagan Lake.

He’s worked himself into an infuriated lather.

Brawny Liv, the security lady that resembles Lucille Ball, is yelling at Joe to get the hell out of the building with the flammable/explosive material.

Instantly, they’re both lit, flammable and explosive.

Ear-piercing F*-Bombs are flying back and forth like shuttlecocks in a badminton match.

Other wide-eyed diners around the noisy display show a mixture of adrenalinized excitement, some fear. The anti-anxiety drugs may not be enough.

It’s just another round in a daily lunchtime set of mostly minor squabbles amongst folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

Volunteering a few days a month in a soup kitchen has probably been one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done … partly it’s because of the internal stroking I get helping to relieve the discomfort in others’ lives, but more so because of the greater perspective others – different others – out there have given me in my world.

soup kitchen2.jpg

In many ways, the sights and sounds of this foreign world are surreal to my life’s experiences.

We all live in a rarified, kind of ignorant strata of life, don’t we?

It’s like taking a shovel and pushing into the soft earth. We lift the blade and see the layers, the various types of minerals and tiny pebbles that make up that microcosm of soil.

Then we dig in again and scoop down further and lift another strata of soil sub-structure. Now we notice that the types of minerals and composition of clay vs. sand vs. silt has changed from the first shovelful.

The world beneath us has changed in just one quarrying of the shovel.

Most of us never dig and bore in on the second or third shovelsful of humanity surrounding us. We believe that all of our world is made of the same soil because that’s all we’ve been exposed to.

We live and breathe within our own strata of life.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I believed everyone lived a similar life to my own. Didn’t every town and city have a mix of British-heritaged and Eastern-European and Italian families that loosely amalgamated as one group to work in factories that produced steel and cars and appliances with an abundance of smoke pumping out of their chimneys?

It wasn’t until I reached my twenties that I learned differently.

Thank God I had a fortuitous phone call with a job offer from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories that flung open the doors and windows inside my head. That clear chill Arctic air changed my life forever as surely as Dorothy and Toto experienced plowing down into Oz post-tornado.

It shocks me that there are so many out there who are unwilling to accept the differences that make our world a special place.

differences.jpg

This year… today… I’m living in this surreal space north of an unguarded, supposedly friendly border where the seemingly unbelievable is bizarre reality.

The usually amiable country to my south is like the soup kitchen, filled with a confused mixture of folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

There are canisters of fiery propane exploding daily with every tweet.

The fetid anger and stink is blowing across the globe like a cloud emanating from a volcanic eruption. There is one mouth, one volcanic spew that’s precipitating a sensation of global chill.

I’m disturbed and gobsmacked by the “Ice Age” that’s descended so quickly.

All of this blah blah blah above really comes down to my need for some self-soothing.

It’s childlike and its primal. My thumb is getting way too wrinkled from spending so much time suckled inside my mouth.

More soothing? Reading through some course materials in the Screenwriting course I’m just beginning brought me this short monologue spoken by the character Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in the movie, The American President:

……………

You want free speech?

Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.

Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.” 

I wrap myself in a warm blanket of comfort when I spot intellectually rational, yet emotional memes and speeches that exude hope and positivity to push back against the rage and fear and ignorance.

It keeps my primal scream in check.

……………

It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of others and truly feel their pain.

That old Scout’s song, The Quartermaster’s Store called it right…

My eyes are dim I cannot see, I have not brought my specs with me…

But when I visit the soup kitchen, I pop on my specs and see that I’ve been “segregated” from parts of my own world that are difficult to understand.

When I travel to other countries and grasp the way others live and survive, I grow out of my ignorance.

Like any stressful period in human history, we all need to hold on and know that this moment, this challenging epoch… yes, This Too Shall Pass.

Brrrr… It’s a chilly autumn day here as I scan the grey, clouded Okanagan hillsides.

Chris, today’s chef du jour, has made 3 deliciously amazing soups for the folks in the Soupateria today: Tomato Vegetable, Bean and Bacon, and Seafood Chowder.

Why don’t we sit down together, and share a calming bowl of hot soup?

eyeglass of ignorance

 

 

 

A Prelude To A But …

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so-you-think-you-can-dance-dancer-wallpaper

I was watching an episode of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) the other night.

I love this show filled with crazy-talented young dancers.

How is it possible for JaJa and Virgil and Gaby to master 3 or 4 formidably challenging new dances EVERY week?

I look for inspiration everywhere, ALL the time.

These dancing Olympians are inspiration defined.

As it was, light rain drops pattered against my living room window ledge – occasional quiet thunder rumbles rolled in like bowling balls careening down the lane towards the pins –  and the early evening sun was trying mightily to edge its way through the clouds to brighten the 50 shades of grey.

One of the chickens in the yard was squawking loudly like she was giving birth but all the eggs had already been laid for the day.

I turned my attention back to the TV screen as one of the SYTYCD judges, Jason Derulo, began his critique of a just-finished dance.

Then an unexpected lightning bolt crashed into my head … his words were a PRELUDE TO A BUT.

PRELUDE TO A BUT?

Derulo meandered and danced through his critique – his words filled with “great” this and “dope” that .

But it struck me in a puzzling fashion that just by the tone of his voice, the expression on his face and the usage of his words, it wasn’t going to be all sunshine that he was dishing up, he would be crashing this love party with something negative to add …

At some point in his next few sentences or paragraphs, there would be a big BUT …

Big But

Nope. NOT a big BUTT… A big BUT!

He had signalled a Prelude to a BUT …

But … how did I know that?

I’m gobsmacked that the human mind in its understanding of language and nuance to tone, can feel, sense a change, a foreshadowing of things to come.

We all do it. We watch and wait for the signs with keen intent.

Many years ago, in my teenage or young adult years, I’d hit those rare eclipse-like moments.

The instant where I summoned the knee-knocking courage and found myself meekly asking a sweet young candy-scented maid to a movie or dinner.

Those first few words that slipped from her delicious lips? The hesitation? The smile or dour look on her countenance?

They would tell me if I should begin cheering or shrinking away in embarrassment like a naked man in an icy cold shower.

It didn’t matter if her first words were “NO” because the prelude to the “No” was enough to signal the direction of my exaltation or humiliation.

I’d love to … (oh oh! No, don’t say it…) … BUT … I have a hangnail treatment scheduled that day.

Or better still, “I’d love to because  (yay… no BUT!) I’ve always wanted to sky-dive. Sure, that would be nice.” See? No pause, no prelude to a BUT!

When a doctor enters the cubbyhole office room or slowly saunters into the hospital room where his patient awaits?

We all know from real life experience or vicariously through watching any of a million TV hospital shows just what the “news” is going to be.

The smile or look of reticence on the physician’s face, the slow or optimistic slide of the shoes over the floor, the medical chart held close to the chest or swinging at the doctor’s side, the small corny joke … there are so many tiny nuanced markers that answer the questions that have yet to be asked.

And then the tone of voice, the inflection of the words. Listening for a prelude to a BUT.

“Your lab test results are all fine (oh no, frown on Doc’s face, slowing speech)BUT … the CT scan has a small shadow we need to look into”

Your lab test results are all fine (no hesitation, serene look on Doc’s face)AND … the CT scan looks clear.”

doctors-exam

My ears are buzzing. Did you say I have 2 days or 2 years to live?

Will she go to the movie with me? Did he love my dance performance? Do I have terminal cancer or organ failure?

In most cases we know almost instantaneously because we’ve learned to observe all of the tiny details that speak to us before words ever float through the air.

We know if the dark brown stuff flying towards us is shit or chocolate before we ever get to taste it because we are amazingly attuned to the fine details of spoken language and body language.

The SYTYCD contestants are strong-willed soldiers of positivity and great attitude. The hours and years of dedicated effort and pain and sacrifice that come through in their attempt to impress, mean little in this competition they’ve willingly jumped into.

They smile brightly at the bouquets and the brickbats sent their way. Occasionally a small willful tear escapes and slides down a cheek.

But.

They know in a Santa-flew-down-the-chimney-in-a-flash moment when the judges begin to speak and critique their work.

They know if it is all just a Prelude to a But.

Happy sad eggs

Choosing My Own Path…

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shame 2

THERAPY TIME!

My Dad was ashamed of me fairly frequently as a kid, teenager and young adult (He died when I was 23, so I never saw his take on my later years.)

I was a good kid, a pretty good son.  I think I was one of the white sheep in the family (I won’t mention any “black sheep” by name!).

I was:

  • a good student,
  • a fair athlete
  • respectful of adults
  • had some musical talents
  • I delivered newspapers every day and paid for most of my own “extras”
  • I didn’t do drugs.

Of course I wasn’t perfect.

I was also:

  • a lazy student (then AND now!).
  • I was a bit arrogant – my Grade 2 teacher did mention my “superiority attitude” in a report card
  • I became moderately chubby in my early teen years
  • I illicitly sampled frighteningly horrible mixtures of my friends’ Dads’ homemade Italian and Hungarian wines on a regular basis from the age of 13 onwards.
  • I snuck into crowded wedding receptions at the local Greek Orthodox church to get free alcohol.

better than you

I realize now the great power that resides in the hands and words of parents as they raise their young, often unknowing the good and bad they impart so innocently to the cherubic sponges in their care.

SHAME is a nasty thing to hang on your kids. I was lucky, really, because so are physical or sexual abuse, or neglect, or a bunch of other mean, nasty things that somehow end up screwing with our heads for months and decades to follow. Those were never a part of my life experience.

But my father tried to put me in jail. The warden was called, “Mr. What Do People Think of You“.

I’ve lived now almost as long as my father – I still don’t agree with everything he did, but in every year that passes, I gain a better understanding of who he was and why he did the things he did.

There is wisdom to be found in the Indian prayer:

Oh, Great Spirit, grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Understanding

Understanding.

Yup … Understanding.

I’ve thrown away my ignorance and I “get” it.

Whaddy mean? “Get” what?

Well, I get the things we normally shake our heads at and say, “why did he/she do that? … what could possibly motivate a person to live their life that way?”

And if I don’t truly “get” it, then I can at least remind myself that something in their history has shaped them and pushed them in a certain direction.

I UNDERSTAND, even if I don’t really get it.

Understanding is one of the reasons I enjoy travel so much. In the people I meet and the places I go I develop a growing understanding – a realization that everyone simply wants the best for themselves AND for their families.

No matter how old I become, I still carry in my head my father’s disapproving voice, his disappointed expression, because my hair was too long, or my grades too low, or my decision to live common-law before marriage not acceptable to him. There’s not enough street drugs or Lucy’s 5 cent therapy to rid the voice and facial disappointment.

But I’m OK with that, because …

I’ve Chosen My Own Path.

I’ve decided it wasn’t my Dad’s fault when he wanted me to be a star for all the neighbours and relatives to look at and see the shine reflect back on him.

He was likely raised in a lake of shame himself and it was a part of his genetics … a part of my genetics that I have to push back against cause my Mom swore to me that I was his son. My Ma would have never lied to me, right?

My mother, like so many mothers, was always the counter-balance, the unconditional loving sort that took me as I was. Aren’t (most) mom’s great?

My Dad probably journeyed through life with one or both of his own parent’s voices ringing in his ears, and my kids probably live their days with my voice in theirs’ – poor sots …

Watching the movie WILD this week (a great movie BTW in this reviewer’s opinion!), I was reminded of how we all seek meaning and understanding in our own way.

Reese Witherspoon (as the main character Cheryl Strayed) wanders the difficult Pacific Crest Trail while fighting an internal battle in her mind that wanders uneasily through the difficulties of her life – until at the end of the exhaustive trail she gains a greater understanding and acceptance of herself.

She chooses her own path knowing there are missteps and fumbles, loves, losses, joys – and realizes that her life is all about her own choices – good or foolish – that eventually brings her to a peaceful place and an acceptance of herself.

My Dad wasn’t a bad man. He was a good guy who supported a household and a family of 5 kids. He kept us safe and well fed. He went to church on Sunday and paid his taxes. He laughed at his own bad jokes and drank alcohol infrequently.

He wasn’t a perfect man or father, just like I’m not a perfect man or father to my kids. I resented him for many years. But I’m past that now that I’ve lived and walked some of the roads that he travelled.

I’m choosing my own path and learning understanding along the way.

Thanks for taking the time to be my therapist … Your 5 cents is in the mail …

Lucy Charlie Brown