Category Archives: stories

What gets passed down…?

Here are some questions and thoughts I’ll put down while they occur to me:

What gets passed down?

From father to son: is it that men don’t show weakness, or admit to making mistakes? Is it that boys don’t cry?

From mother to daughter: it is that the mother’s relationship with her own father is the only father–daughter bond worth tending to? 

From father to daughter: is it that the parent’s needs outweigh the child’s? 

From mother to son: is it that no matter how much you search for me, you won’t find me. I was never there to be found.

Souls chase each other, maybe endlessly, seeking answers to their private questions, demanding that their anguish be recognized by someone.

Proxies may play the role at different stages.

An old drama, never finished. Conversations seem to barely begin before the actor gets yanked from the stage.

The Director has a sick sense of humour.

I really want my money back.

Days of Wine and Regret…

Movies or music that speaks to you plucks old strings that are personal; a matter of past influences and conditioning, present circumstances, and futures you used to want.

The movie “The Days of Wine and Roses” is (IMHO) overly dramatic, a sixties romance, showing people drowning in alcoholism, and in their binges, reverting to helpless, childlike despair.
It had been recommended to me, and I ran across it tonight on TCM.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Days_of_Wine_and_Roses_(film)

But among its hollywood love-theme about a couple trying to rebuild their lost love and innocence, it did surprise me with a few paralell themes from my own life:
A drunken mother who accidentally sets fire to her home,
a father who loses his job, then loses his wife, and then struggles with sobriety.

Those kinds of things happened around me and my sister.
But real-life leaves scars on top of and under the skin that Max Factor can’t conceal. No retakes. No redemption.

Nobody talks, reconciles, or gets back together. They just stay hurt, and gradually go numb in their respective neutral corners,
and leave their loose ends for law enforcement, healthcare, and social workers to sort out.

Just days and days of Sherry and Port. No romance. No sweetness.

Be the light.

Digging down a bit, processing in prose, some images, themes and feelings from my recent weeks, and stories from friends and colleagues who’ve been struggling.
(If we’ve spoken recently friend, know that I’m thinking of you.)
———————-
How do you react when your peace is threatened?
How do you calm the fear in someone’s eyes when they’re afraid?
Each of us hits a fucking wall of emotional exhaustion at our own limit, in our time.
Sometimes, it’s a major disaster in a very bad year.
Sometimes, it’s dark, scared moments in your head in any given month, where nobody else can see.
For some, loss is a way of life, like the pain and pace of a marathon hike.
For others, loss is a looping internal pain, a black hole to be repeatedly filled and emptied, or avoided.
We’re each of us incomplete, finite, looking for something external to fulfill us.
We’ve all had loss. We all share some truths, and maybe we see them, and maybe not.

Happiness and love are the light source you cannot see.
Light itself is invisible: it can only be seen by its effect on other things.
Sunlight lights up pollen and swirls of dust in its beams, reflecting the path to light the way.
“Got to be an Invisible Sun. Gives its heat to everyone.”

So, my best advice is to be the light.
Don’t worry about not knowing what to say in some crucial moment.
Don’t worry about being shone on yourself, being lit up by the embarassing frailty of your heart.
We all have that. Nobody is any less scared than you are.
Be a way to help someone else shine, even if it’s just by being comforting company – a presence, a companion.
Bear witness, lend a hand, an arm, a shoulder, a hug, a kiss.
Be the light, the warmth, that the moment needs.
Help others find their way, and your own path will never be unlit.

That closet, full of moments…

It’s a metaphor for storage, for the past, or for things that may remain hidden away: the closet.

It’s a place for some people to emerge from, because they’ve been hiding in it for protection from someone or something nasty.

It’s a place to hide your past, your insecurities, and those bad memories.

It’s a smokescreen, a duck-blind, a refuge – a place to hide the truth from yourself, a diversion to pretend things are better than they are.

I’ve prided myself on being honest and straight-forward, on being someone who doesn’t feel shame for past mistakes. And yet, you cannot wear the past on your back everywhere you go. That’s for stronger beings than me (like crabs or snails). It has to be stashed somewhere, packed up, tucked away from your current life (therapists are really closet organizers – everything’s still there, just easier to recognize and manage).

All this is just so you can *have* a current life, and rebuild new healthy contexts and interactions. The present must transform into the past, eventually. Otherwise, you’ll make people roll their eyes and feel uncomfortable at parties. Leave that shit at home, please.

So, I see my past as a large walk-in closet, behind a thick door. The door gives direct access but opens outward, and there’s a lot of stuff piled up behind it. My conceit is also my fear: when opened for someone, all my crap will spill out, and simultaneously impress and alienate whomever sees it.

The thing is, I’m fooling myself into pretending the closet is secret or private. In actual fact, I’ve been spilling my guts in one way or another for almost 20 years. The other side of the closet is made of magical glass walls, like an infinitely large display case. From the outside, it’s a huge diarama: an organized, staged display of various wonders and horrors, which I weakly attempt to curate like an amateur PT Barnum, or that Ripley guy. (Step right up, folks!)

But I do want to share it with you. I want you to spend time looking around, but I guess I’m afraid that after you do, you might never want to visit again.

Anyway, thanks for your interest. Here – let me stamp the back of your hand. Don’t worry, that mark should wear off in a few days.

Have a good time, my friend.

A beautiful blossom, and a community to nurture it.

These words will be my attempt to capture the joy and delight of watching a friend and former colleague unfurl like a crisp, white sail on a very special day.

I first met Carol when she interviewed for a co-op programmer position at Vancouver English Centre (a large ESL school in the Yaletown district of Vancouver). We needed a programmer and DBA, and I’d convinced my boss to hire a co-op student. Carol’s grades and programmng training were strong, but having interviewed a number of enthusiastic young students in the past, what stood out for me was her interpersonal skills; she had a sensitive emotional intelligence which I’d not seen in her peers. So, Carol signed on for an eight-month co-op appointment and she rapidly became not just a technical resource to me and our staff, but also a warmly-liked (and to some, beloved) member of our school’s little technical team.

Still in her mid-twenties at that point, Carol had many observations about life, and was still in the midst of deciding which path she might take in her career. As she told me about her life in China before her family came to Canada, and about her life as a student at Simon Fraser University, she aways emanated a hopefulness, lightness and buoyant optimism that easily eroded any of my jaded experience and cynical world-views. In short, in spite of any worries or questions that may have been facing her, Carol always smiled, appreciated her life, and held a hopeful, positive approach.

Over those eight months working together, Carol became a joyful “little sister” figure to me, inspiring me to be at my best as her mentor and supervisor. I’m about ten or eleven years older than Carol, and have had some experience managing small teams in other companies, but I’ve always wanted my working relationships to be that of equal humans who happen to have different experiences. I try to remember that regardless of our different backgrounds, each of us is an expert in something, and so, each is worthy of respect. Carol would sometimes tease me and refer to me as her teacher or mentor, and we’d laugh as I stroked my long, imaginary wizard’s beard.

I cannot recall if I ever gave her advice of any real value, but we talked about beliefs a lot – belief systems, values that were important to each of us, and events in our families or personal experiences that influenced us. Carol had her own ideas about values and morals, and her inquisitive nature and life experiences led her to consider Christianity as her preferred value system.

After her co-op term was completed and she graduated from SFU, she found employment nearby, doing programming and testing for a large software company. She had settled into the beginning of her career and transformed from a student-learner to a skilled knowledge worker and engineer.

After that point, Carol and I generally lost touch for many years, finally connecting again in the last few years via LinkedIn, and then Facebook, where I discovered that she had an eye for beauty and a talent for photography. It was in Carol’s close-up photographs of flowers and plants that I caught a glimpse of her curiosity and her idealism: her love of simplicity, purity, and iconic symbolism. Maybe all the world might be found in the heart of a flower, or in the right moment of light cast upon a statue in the park. I could see that Carol had calm patience, a good eye for detail, and a steady hand.

When we finally shared lunch at my work a couple of months ago, my little Chinese sister bounded into the foyer like a reindeer on Christmas morning. Rarely have I felt so touched and welcomed as by Carol in that one, enthusiastic greeting. Once again, I felt that familiar glow of unbridled joy that was dear Carol. She told me I was still her mentor, and we laughed about my continued yet unlikely candidacy for that position. After we had a happy lunch catching up on each others lives, she invited me to attend her wedding. As my jaw hung open, she laughed, telling me that her fiance was also named John. I beamed, telling her how very happy I was for her. Now, her joyous leaps and bounds became even clearer to me: this was the major happiness in her life, and she was truly the happiest I’d ever seen her. The young lady who’d wondered to me about philosophy and values had found them within her Christian faith and, through her church community, she’d also found her life partner. Carol had indeed resolved her personal patterns and closed her circles. She seemed to truly  have found the things that she needed to complete herself on a personal level.

My wife and I sat in the church, and witnessed the community and camraderie around us. The mothers of the bride and groom held hands as they walked to the front and lit a candle together – a most heart-warming and beautiful symbol of family unity. We watched the groom and his party walk with head held high to the front, and finally, Carol and her father walked gingerly down the aisle, walking in carefully-timed steps, as if on eggshells. Carol was an elegant, beautiful vision in white satin and lace, and she seemed in that moment to embody the idealistic virtues that she’d demonstrated in the past.

My impression is that this new couple are surrounded by loving family and friends, and grounded in a very strong community. Such caring support bodes very well for their future happiness and success. What a lovely couple they make, and how happy I am for dear Carol.

It’s indeed a joy and an honour to witness the moment when someone you’ve known is unfurled into their fullest, best self, like a crisp white sail in a strong wind.

You are the tapestry you’ve been trying to create.

You’re born into the middle of someone’s else’s life; pushed out onto the stage during the middle of someone else’s big monologue. That’s their spotlight that’s warming your tender skin and blinding your sensitive eyes, kid.

Your lines are not your own to speak until you’ve owned them for a long time. How much of your personal dialogue – your own story – was subtly embedded within you by your parents, or by their parents? Where do they end and you begin?

Plans – words- are just intentions, not guarantees. Everyone you know is really just making it up as they go along. Anyone who claims otherwise is bullshitting you.

Life can strike a hard line for you to cross. The proof’s in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words. Put your money where your mouth is. Shit or get off the pot.

It’s up to you to take all your little threads of memory, the little scraps of life from your past, and weave them into something new. If you’re artistic type, you’ll feel compelled to externalize it all – to make some artefact that others can see. That’s your inner gut-animal crying out “Look at me! See me! Join me!”

Maybe, whether or not you create an artefact, you are still creating something real and new each day, just by living your life. You are still adding to the fabric of life just by being there.

Maybe you are the tapestry that you’ve been trying to create all along.

Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say…

My god, of all the things that I could call important in this life, perhaps authenticity (or perhaps better stated as sincerity) is the most important thing.

When people say you are real or the real deal, this is what they mean.

When people know where they stand with you, it’s because you are this way.

When their eyes say that they care, even if their words don’t, it’s because you have been this way with them.

When they reciprocate with support, honesty or integrity, it’s because you have demonstrated those values to them.

With anyone of good character and compassion, you will get out what you put in.

The Ebb and Flow of Curtis James

Today, as I often do, I saw Curtis James pan-handling at Stadium SkyTrain station. Normally he’s a fairly upbeat, even cheery fellow, but he was different today. He was quite agitated with humanity.

“You’re not in your usual spot, out front there today”, I observed, dropping a little change into his upturned ball cap. It was weird to see Curtis standing off to the side, shaking his head and not smiling or interacting with people. Usually he was quite social.

“People are mean today. They don’t care,” he said bitterly. “I’ve had it – to like, like this!” He raised his hand above the level of his head. He was fucking frustrated, the poor guy.

His fingernails were long, dirty and hooked like claws, making his hands look dangerous. I wondered if anyone ever took care of him.

“Aw, people can suck sometimes, yeah,” I tried to sympathize. I’d never seen Curtis so obviously impatient with the apathy of his fellow man. I speculated that maybe he hadn’t gathered any change today, or maybe he’d just felt ignored.

“Don’t let ’em get you down, man. You stay positive.” The words came out automatically and sounded hollow even as I said them.

“Yeah, I need to change my outlook,” he muttered, working on convincing himself.

“Find that happy place – your happy place.”

Curtis’s face changed from disappointment to resolve, just like that. His energy picked up, and he looked at me with furrowed brows and serious eyes. He began quoting something inspirational from the bible, and I found us both walking down into the SkyTrain station together.

He was resilient, and was starting to mentally self-correct. “You take care of yourself now,” I said, starting to turn away.

“God bless you, brother,” he said, patting my shoulder. He was happier now, and gave me a big open yellow smile. I smiled back and meant it, and Curtis exclaimed “John Love!”, which was the nicest compliment I’d gotten all day.

Everyone has a shitty day sometimes, no matter who you are.

 

Remembering Dad’s Birthday…

Remembered Dad’s birthday again. Sometimes it feels like it’s slipping away.
I remember the man at different times.

I remember when he taught me to lace my runners when i was eight. He taught me the shape and sequence of tying them myself.
Later, when I twisted my ankle badly, he put me down on the couch and i felt cared for.

I remember him being the boss at his job, commanding respect with his inherent authority. At home, he was the boss too, and hated criticism and was not wrong.

I remember being a teen. He taught me how to punch, and he let he practice my one-two, left-right punches on his open, calloused hands. I wasn’t as big or confident as the other guys, and he wanted me to defend myself. He made me feel strong and proud, like a young man. There was no defense from him though, if I ever crossed him or challenged him. He did punch me once in anger, and it hurt. When I didn’t look up to him, I might feel fear of him.

I remember the contradictory lessons. The words he spoke were right, fair and ethical: “Respect the rights of others”, he would preach, and we tried to understand. But some of his words were sometimes racist, and some of his actions had no self-respect in them, or were downright hurtful to others.

He had difficulty with women, yet probably yearned to put them on a pedestal. He had serious, intelligent thoughts, yet being aďdicted to alcohol made him seem less intelligent. He loved his siblings and spoke warmly of being a kid and playing with them, but he rarely phoned any of them, and never wrote.

You were my hero, old man, from when I was old enough to walk until your heart attack and numerous strokes took away your ability to walk. By the time that your body had broken down enough and it stopped obeying you, I was beginning to live my own life at 19, and didn’t have to obey you. Then, when i loved you, you were a busted-down, but sweet and harmless man, staring off dreamily into past glories, remembering how great you once were. If you were bitter or hurtful, or had resentment or anger in your voice, I could tell myself it was maybe your own karma coming back to haunt you. I didn’t have to listen, and now I would never fear you again. Damage and near-death had rendered you a docile and toothless old tiger. Now I feared for you, not from you.

You built our family, and you played a huge part in tearing it down, directly and directly. I stood by you when you needed me, and I needed you to need me, Dad. If you learned from the mistakes you made, you didn’t admit it, but I could see the damned regret in your eyes.

I may be bitter about how some things happened, or wish that we’d had more years together, or that, most of all, you and mum could have stayed healthy and in love, instead of resentful, hurt, and physically and emotionally separated for the last 15 years of your life. It was what it was, and you and mum take many truths with you, that we’ll never see.

So this is this year’s memorial to you, Dad. My contradictory, heroic, villain of a father. Your sweetness comes with some bitterness,  but I hold my head up for having been your son once, about twenty-six years ago.

“All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

My street-panhandler friend, Curtis James, was on a real funny rant today, outside Stadium SkyTrain:

Curtis: “Doctor Love! I should call you Doctor Love!”

Me: “Sure man. You wouldn’t be the first. I do make house-calls.”

Curtis: “You should be Professor Love!” Then he thought for a moment before continuing. “Naw, you know, you don’t need a doctor of science degree, or a masters of math degree, or a bachelors of arts and science degree. You don’t need a PhD or a Doctors of anything degree. What you need is an E.D. All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

Me: “An E.D.? What?”

Curtis: “Everyone should have an E.D.”

Me: (Starting to chuckle) “Naw man, I don’t want E.D. Anyway, they have a little blue pill for that.” No response except for Curtis’ confused expression. Then he was off again on his universal idea.

Curtis: “You need to be a Doctor of Education, that’s all you need! Then you’re the doctor. ED – the Education Doctor! That’s all you need man!” By this time, Curtis has really gotten me laughing.

Me: “I think that the good teachers want you to really learn how to learn, to be able to teach yourself, to learn face-first from life.”

I shook his hand and wished him a happy day.