Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Imagine Nothing

Imagine you had nothing.

That thought will scare the tar out of more than a few of you.

I was watching Up in the Air a while ago and something stuck with me from the film. In the movie, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) talks about having a backpack and stuffing everything you own into it. Toys, cutlery, DVDs, TV, clothing, lawnmower, four wheeler, boat, cars, house (apartment, condo)... everything you own or rent. 

Now try to pick it up.

According to Bingham, the more stuff we have, the more we have to weigh us down and keep us from moving (i.e. living). The idea being, the more we have, the more time we spend caring for those things and the less time we spend actually having a life.

He then goes on to say we have a second backpack where we put all of our relationships; parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, best friends, coworkers, acquaintances, children and our significant other. Try lifting that backpack. “Make no mistake”, he says, “the relationships in your life are the heaviest things you will carry.”

Is he right?

While he may be spot on about possessions, I disagree, with a corollary, regarding relationships. Any relationship built on trust, honesty, openness and love is going to be uplifting. It’s when a relationship is abusive (physical, emotional, verbal), continuously one sided or relentlessly clingy that it weighs heavy. I have no use for the latter.

People who build you up are more like balloons in your backpack... they’re going to help you levitate. Maybe that’s the magician’s secret.

It’s easier to build the tallest building than it is to spend your life tearing all the others down.

I’m a pretty simple fellow when it comes to owning things. I don’t need a lot of possessions surrounding me to make me feel better. It’s nice to have the convenience of having things at my finger-tips and is it really necessary? In fact, the less the better. Ultimately I would like to have few possessions to weigh me down allowing me to travel and move on a whim. I need a home base, some things to provide creature comforts and necessities for living and that’s about it. The rest, which I may use once or twice a year, I can borrow, push come to shove.

As for relationships, I only surround myself with those people who lift me and whom I lift. Together we can fly. (Yes, I understand this axiom is seemingly over-used yet it still holds true.)

I think the character in Up in the Air (Ryan Bingham), and ultimately the screen writer (obviously), have it partly right and partly wrong. The more possessions we have, the more we are weighed down (glued to a spot). However, the people we choose to surround ourselves with determine whether the backpack we carry lifts us up or weighs us down. We all have a backpack and we all choose what we stuff inside.

The image of having nothing is a bit frightening at first and I think simplifying is the ultimate goal. At least, it is for me. How much more would we all have if we chose to possess less and share?

What is more frightening to me is not having people around me who hand me balloons.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Riding the Bus

“Sit on your hands on the bus of survivors”
David Bowie
from Young Americans

One thing I miss since I moved to the ice-covered north is walking to the local java pusher to get my caffeine fix while hanging out to see who shows up for a chat.
On many Sundays I was found sitting in the local coffee shop reading a book on paranormal psychology (or something akin to it) knowing someone would come along and sit at my table. More often than not, the boys would show up. We're kind of cut from the same cloth in that we're all pretty creative people and we like to think outside the corrugated cardboard penal complex. I recall one afternoon chatting about opportunity and why people don't take risks then invariably lament their decision to avoid risks.
The four of us are risk takers at one level or other.
Something has triggered this line of thought... again. Perhaps it's my annual odometer getting closer to clicking over to a larger, more irritating number. Perhaps it’s the wearisome annual self-imposed hibernation due to excessive snow coverage and an underlying mild trepidation this may actually be the next ice age. Perhaps I’m just missing hopping on my cycle or into my kayak.
Anyhoo... I'm getting off topic.
On this particular Sunday, my friends and I were discussing how we arrive at our station in life. My birthday is coming up and about this time every year I invariably begin to evaluate myself and wonder; what have you accomplished? I'm pretty hard on myself at times like this. It's all good though. I work it out by writing twisty tales like this, talking to people like my buddies or the love of my life, or staring aimlessly out into the white blanketed back yard taking solace in the fact I’m not the only one buried to my armpits in frozen H2O molecules. Now, what was it I was worried about?
It's all about decisions.
Having a dream is all well and fine. Making the decision to take a step toward it is courage. I've always prided myself on being a survivor. Someone who is knocked down and gets back up because of ingrained blatant stupidity or some resilience gene that simply refuses to be screwed over. Either way, I keep getting up. The last time I checked though, simply being a survivor isn't living the dream.
Is being a survivor such a great thing to be proud of? As David Bowie states, am I really happy living life safely with all the other flummoxed survivors looking at the world go by through a dust streaked bus window? It's insipid and riskless on the bus of survivors, but is it living?
Whenever I get blindsided by some event, I threaten I'm going to sell everything and move to Mexico. Why Mexico? Damned if I know. I've been saying the same thing for years; either Mexico or some cabin in the woods out of reach of The Man. In either case, it's a place that comes to mind when I'm neck deep in life altering, pungent poop and can’t see a way out.
I'm not really going to bail on humanity to spend the rest of my life contemplating life, love and the pursuit of happiness in a self-imposed vacuum. I can do that in my back yard. I also like living in Canada; the culture, the perks, the opportunity, the red-plaid shirted, blue jean wearing women, etc. Still, it's pretty easy to follow the path of least resistance and pursue the crowd over a cliff, ya know? It seems to me there is greater risk to my psyche sitting on my hands riding the Bus of Vapid Expectation wishing to simply survive as long as possible... for the sake of saying I existed longer than anyone else.
Winning the longevity race for its own sake seems mundane. There’s more to life than riding a bus experiencing the same hapless view as other riskless automatons, hands tucked neatly under their thighs, while someone else drives us all over the cliffs of despair.
I think I would rather look back when I reach the end and say, "Look at all the really cool stuff I did".

In Defence of Snow

Winter is really here. Ugh!
One thing Canadians are Olympic Champions at is bitching about weather. It's a topic of discussion on every block in the country... primarily because there's a Tim Horton's coffee shop on every off ramp in the country and it's a great place to thaw out while figuring out how Mother Nature is going to screw up your day.
If I can find where I dropped my keys, we can drive out of here.
In keeping with the incomprehensible annual customs of Canadians during winter, I'll be out early on a lot of mornings huffing and puffing in an interminable battle against old man winter.
Yup… I'll be shovelling snow.
Well, I used to shovel instead of using a snow blower because the exercise helped me keep my girlish figure. For those of you unfamiliar with Canada, a “moderate” amount of snow during a passing storm is 10 to 20 centimetres (2 to 4 inches). Anything less and we simply drive over it. Anything more and we curse a lot and still drive over it. When the piles of snow get over six feet, we stay where we're at, dig out a snow bank and install central heating for temporary housing.
We call that an Ice Hotel and charge tourists eleven million dollars a night to watch their fingers freeze off and their breath adhere to their nose hairs.
Selective laziness is the reason for shovelling. It’s easier to shovel the drive than push out 2500 pounds of buried truck with nothing more than a framing hammer, a hunk of two by four and winch rope made from three rolls of braided duct tape.
At some point during my shovelling last year, I leaned on my shovel, stared at my truck and realized how demented we really are. Who in their right mind would continuously dig out a patch of their yard to park something that requires a cleared area to move in the first place? A dog sled might indeed be a better choice. The dog sled would make it difficult to keep my cheap three piece suit from getting wet and shrinking into a set of chest constricting, pinstriped, spandex leotards. Just imagine having a Seersucker boa constrictor clamped on your loins.
The doggies from the sled would keep me warm on frosty nights though.
And what about the collateral damage of lives lost? Snow blowers and snow ploughs thrust their way through mounds of snowflakes that, with no ill intent, just happened to fall on the roads and into my driveway. Is this fair to snow? If you think about it, snow has travelled great distances to settle into a new neighbourhood. They’ve barely gotten a beer open to get acquainted with the new neighbours when some gas guzzling slum lord with a blower or a quad with a plow pushes them into a snow bank ghetto packed tighter than a Northern Pike's waterproof behind.
I say we leave the snow where it is! In these economically difficult times, it requires less gas to operate a snowmobile and we haven’t a need to plough the roads. We can park the sled anywhere we like. We wouldn’t even have to shovel the walk. We could just don our snow mobile suits and mukluks and crawl out a second story window when the snow blocks the door.
After my nonsensical daydream ended I went back to murdering snowflakes. I cringed at the tiny little screams with every shovel full. The thought of their broken bodies tossed into a pile was almost overwhelming. Almost.
I have a solution. Let’s stop torturing them by throwing them into overcrowded apartment banks. They should be allowed to live where ever they choose, free and unfettered by the vagaries of the human slumlords!
Better still, let’s end the shovelling nightmare, fire up the sled and run the little buggers over.
I’m already tired of snow.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Harmonious Balancing Act

My balance is pretty good. That is, I don't fall off precarious footings often unless I'm in red four inch spiked heels. (That's a story for another day.)

I hear frequently the goal in life is to find balance; balance of food and drink, balance of work and play, balance of emotions, balance of... whatever. I hear and read it in quite a lot of religious and spiritual teachings, particularly from Eastern philosophies. 

There came a time in my life when I understood (for me) a balanced life might not be all that it’s advertised to be. There's always a well-meaning member of sprawling humanity coming along who nudges me far too close to the edge for my liking. I don't mind the edge once in a while but it is not a great place to live consistently... unless I acquire a death wish.

The easiest way to attain a balanced life is to sit on a mountain top with your legs crossed for twenty or thirty years wearing a loin cloth and singing the praises of “Ohm”. It's also not my idea of true happiness. That brings up the issue of connection, which, though tied in, is a whole other mangled ball of string. The idea of sitting on a mountain top only becomes appealing when things are so messed up down in the fertile, green Valley of Bliss I feel like hibernating. Otherwise, the mountain-top is just a lonely, unconnected, unbalanced existence.

It's easy to “feel” balanced when there isn't anyone around to push my buttons.

The Universe has a funny way of messing up my equilibrium. Every time I think I have it right, some person or event, which I likely have no control over, comes along and starts scribbling with a stick in my sandbox. Balance isn't something that is sustainable and believing you can achieve balance and hold it consistently will drive you insane. Holding balance is like holding water by squeezing your fist.

You’ll occasionally find balance and someone or something will come along and throw it off. It’s a part of connecting with other humans and things and places.

So, what am I really looking for? In a word, harmony.

Harmony is the acceptance that life will be out of balance from time to time. Being out of balance once in a while is just the way it is. There is always someone who will somehow do something that will screw up something of mine; whether intentionally or not. I can't control anything outside of me, so why try? Why worry about exterior events and people when I haven't any power or inclination to regulate them?

When I think of being harmonious, it isn't standing in the Garden of Eden while birds chirp, butterflies flit from flower to flower around me and Julie Andrews repeatedly sings a nauseating, barf-inducing melody that pierces holes in my eardrums. It's more like the credo, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Being in harmony is having the wisdom to know the difference.

I think true joy in life comes from being harmonious. It's impossible to be in a state of continuous joy when I try to keep things balanced because it's just not the way the world works. If my joy is riding on the idea that I have to remain balanced, I'm going to be disappointed a lot. There will always be some lion chasing me along a gravelly path trying to chew on my butt. There will always be a gremlin throwing a spanner into the works. There will always be some well meaning do gooder trying to fix me (even though I'm not broken) and make me into some version of what they think is whole.

The simple truth for me is I need to find acceptance of what is. All the events and people that wander in and out of my life affecting me in some way have little bearing on my mental state. I simply have to accept they are who they are or that the event is just an event. That can only be achieved by continuing to strive for harmony.

None of this means I am not bothered by an event or don't become upset at what some people do. What it does mean is I get over it quickly. Even though I may still be out of balance, there is a harmony in the Universe delivering what I need to know to move on and learn the next thing.

Oh... and in case you're wondering how harmony works in primary relationships... sometimes being out of balance in love (in whichever form you choose to manifest it) is being in perfect harmony with the Universe. Just saying.

It's exhausting trying to remain on life's balance beam when so many events are trying to kick me off. I would rather accept that I’ll fall off once in a while and get back on when I’m ready.


Kicking My But

I tend to be a bit of a language snob.
Perhaps it’s a simple matter of hoping for universal understanding and I do tend to stew a bit when I see a commercial or a news cast where language is used improperly. People who are purported to be professionals in communication should speak properly, no?
There’s one word in particular that sticks in my craw a lot. (What the heck is a craw?)
I was sitting in my favourite chair reading with a fire going when one of the cats decided it was a good time to snuggle up. Any time one of the cats gets close, the dog, Taz, decides it’s a good time to get jealous and push somewhere on my carcass with her nose to get attention. With both hands occupied (petting the dog and the cat), I stopped reading for a bit until the cat became bored and Taz, thinking she had won another battle of attention getting, wandered over to the sofa across the room and curled up. Left once again to my own devices, I stuck my feet closer to the fire, turned back to my reading and immediately noticed the word “but”.
I love you to pieces, but…
It doesn’t matter what comes after that word. Everything before it becomes conditional on what comes after. That is, when the word “but” is used in a sentence the first part of the sentence becomes possible only if the second part, the condition, is carried out. The first part of the sentence becomes forgotten the moment the word “but” is used.
“I love you, but I wish you wouldn’t leave your clothes on the floor.”
What I hear as the receiver of this last statement (commonplace as it may be) is the person speaking will love me more if I pick my clothes up off the floor. Or worse, the person delivering the message will stop loving me if I don’t pick up my clothes. The “I love you” statement is a light example of course but there is certainly a level of weight to it.
Quick question: Which part of the last sentence in the previous paragraph do you remember? “Light” or “weight”?
It has become common place to use the word “but” in our society.
You’re a great artist, but...
You’re a really nice guy but...
I think you’re pretty but...
Each statement above comes with a condition. The subject of the statement is not going to hear the first half. They are waiting for the shoe to drop brusquely to the floor in the second half of the statement. What they really hear is; “I’m not a great artist unless...”, I’m not a nice guy unless...” or “I’m not pretty unless....”.
To me, the worst use of the word “but” is in love statements. “I love you but...” is heard more often than not in our society. The first part of any statement using the word “but” is meant to soften the second part. Unfortunately, it often has the reverse effect. We profess to love people without condition yet consistently use the word “but” setting myriad conditions how that person can be loved more. The truth is, for most people, they are either loved or they are not. Putting a condition on it tells me I am almost loved and not quite there until I change whatever part of my character has come under scrutiny.
The best way not to put an implicit condition on any statement is to use the word “and”.
“I love you and I wish you wouldn’t leave your clothes on the floor.”
By using the word “and”, I have told my partner if they don’t pick up their clothes, I will still love them. So? Unconditional means unconditional. Every time I put a condition on my love for another person, there is another shim driven into the gap that is growing between us. Eventually, there are enough shims that the rock that was once our unyielding love for each other shatters in two.
The message I really want to deliver when communicating with my partner is I love them and it would be really nice if I didn’t have to trip over their stuff. Please, please, please pick up your damned clothes. As much as I wish my partner would pick up their clothes, I don’t love them less. I just love them and that’s it... period.
Now, if only I can get Taz to understand I love her and I’m still going to pet the cat, all will be well in the universe. Well... that and when my feet warm up.