Where Did It Go?

The subject is tanning.  I’ve had a lot of history about the topic.  A lot of angstful energy has accompanied my emerging life.

I knew the truth early: girls like guys with a tan, and I didn’t have one.  In high school, a last minute invite to a friend’s cottage called for desperate measures.  My friend had a gorgeous older sister (age 17) and my body was white.  That just wouldn’t do.  My teenaged mind knew how to fix things though, a day or two before the big weekend: buy a tube of some permatan goop and apply it liberally to all the places that should be brown.  I woke up the morning after application to find that my fine motor skills weren’t optimal.  My chest had gross orange streaks, as did my back.  And my toes?  Perfect ridges of artificial darkness framed by lily white skin.  (Sigh)  It was a forgettable weekend chock full of self-esteem spasms.

The need was still strong as I became a newbie adult.  The backyard, hemmed in by lots of bushes and trees, would provide me the solitude necessary for unselfconscious tanning.  But there was that one neighbourly window staring down in likely disapproval.  During all my darking sessions, I never saw any face looking at me but I bet there were lots of them behind the glass – laughing and immediately posting photos on Instagram.  (Wait a minute … there wasn’t any Instagram.  Whew.)

I remember being called “Whitefoot” for years.  The tan line went down from my shorts to the top of my socks.  Forearms also looked good.  But the rest of me?  Yuck.  And when inattention led to sunburn, I had the distinction of being tri-coloured.  More “woe is me” doldrums.

In prep for Caribbean vacations, I’ve hung around in standing tanning booths.  With lengthy periods of commitment, I emerged looking … good.  Naturally brown.  No doubt a man’s man.  A likely recipient of womanly attention, but on the beach it didn’t seem like any lovely lasses even noticed.  (Sigh again)

At the beginning of this summer, I stretched a robin’s egg blue sheet over a foam pad and toasted my bod on the back patio.  “It’s only June.  Imagine what I’ll look like in August!”

***

Well, it’s August, and a miracle has happened:

I’m still white
I don’t care
I’ve just lost interest … for the first time in my life

I didn’t grit my teeth.  I didn’t spew out endless and tanless affirmations.  didn’t do anything.  But the need for brown is gone.  How incomprehensible.

The divine force within you is mightier than any mountain

Lailah Gifty Akita

How Does Change Happen?

It was a few days ago.  I was out and about, in Belmont and in the country on my almost daily walk.  It was cold.

As I turned west on Borden Ave. heading out towards the fields, a headwind blasted my skin.  Toque on, hood tied tight.  The left right, left right of the moment turned into a slog.  And then the snows descended … or better said, they were pretty much horizontal.  As Borden Ave. magically morphed into Glanworth Drive, my black coat was also transforming – into white.  Pebbles of snow/ice massaged my forehead.

About two kilometres later, I turned north on Old Victoria Road, a gravel surface.  There were clicks on the side of my hood but my skin was spared the fury of it all.  It’s not far at all to the pavement of Manning Drive, and a couple of hundred metres before the intersection, the sun came out.  The slopey edge of the asphalt shone brightly.  Very cool.

As I turned right onto the smoothness, the shiny blackness of the road was a wonder.  As far as I could see, the glow ran towards Belmont.  The sun was bright and so was the road … everything seemed so alive, so animated.

I basically blew along, with the wind urging me forward.  Something caught my eye on the edge of the road, where the gravel greets the pavement.  Little spots of light grey had emerged, maybe three inches in diameter.  They were dull when seen next to the shine.

Later similar circles began to grace the crown of the road, every twenty metres or so.  Occasionally there’d be a wee dip in the asphalt, and lightness showed there too.

I was approaching the boundary between where I’d been (officially the City of London) and where I was going (the Municipality of Central Elgin).  At the sign, the road switched from pristine smoothness to a mottled tar-and-chip surface, with little stones embedded.  Not really rough but no longer a skating rink.  Suddenly the wetness was dark brown/dark grey.

Over my time on Manning Drive, the spots of light grey slowly expanded.  On a little rise ahead, I couldn’t tell if there was more wetness than dryness.  There seemed to be big patches of both.  When I got closer, I saw that my distance vision was tricking me … the light grey was still in a severe minority.

As the village water tower grew, so did the dullness.  Swaths of dry began sweeping across the road.  The shine was retreating in the sunlight, ever so slowly.  Standing in one spot, I couldn’t see the transition but it was obvious as I walked on.

And then the welcoming sign: “The Village of Belmont, 1961”.  Just a few dips in the asphalt left to embrace the wet.  As I approached the intersection with Main Street, the path beneath me was totally dry.

I stopped.  I smiled.  It was such a privilege to be in the middle of change.  The sun had worked its magic.

1087 … 7801?

This is the 1087th post I’ve written on WordPress. A journey indeed. It all started on June 20, 2014:

I retired yesterday and decided to declare 4:00 pm as the end point of my teaching career. My wife Jody and I have a lovely home on a deep lot. At the back of our lot are maybe 20 metres of trees, and then it’s on to a farmer’s field and beyond that a wide expanse of trees leading down into a ravine.

Taking my trusty red fabric chair in hand, not to mention a Bacardi Breezer, I trundled off to a spot at the edge of the field and plunked myself down. It was 3:00 o’clock. The sky was blue. The wind whistled through the trees. The shade was cool. One hour away from being a retired human being.

That was many chapters ago in the patchwork quilt of a life. “Sitting and Watching” grew out of the person I was becoming since 1949. Reflecting on retirement wasn’t just a moment beside a field in Union, Ontario. The words spilled out under the influence of Toronto, Vancouver, Lethbridge and London; under the influence of accounting, teaching, social work, life insurance and real estate; and under the influence of confidence, depression, courage and wimpiness.

Five years after that first post, I’m still on the road towards the unknown. Who will I be in ten years? What current parts of Bruce will I have left behind? What outrageous newness will flood my being?

The journey hasn’t been a gentle uphill climb. There have been soarings and plummetings, twistings and turnings. More to come.

In 2030, I may not recognize the soul in the mirror. I may be living in New York City. I may be impossibly handsome. But whatever the world gives me, I bet I’ll be smiling.

Switch

I was driving through Belmont today on the way home from school.  The bus ahead had just spat out a gaggle of kids.  Five of them jumped onto a white lawn and started throwing snowballs at each other.  I laughed.  It’s just what kids are meant to do, even though it’s not allowed at school.

And then I flashed back.  To about 1960.

An 11-year-old kid had just been released from school.  The wet white stuff was falling.  He walked along Bedford Park Avenue in Toronto with two words on his mind: “good packing”.  For those of you in southern climes, that means the snow sticks together well.  The boy started winging snowballs at his friends and other kids.  He was splatted a few times in return.  “By accident”, one of the missiles happened to hit a car crawling by.  Unfortunately that car was driven by a teacher at Bedford Park Public School, and he recognized … me.

The next morning I was in the principal’s office, quivering about what I knew would be next.  Ah yes, corporal punishment.  The strap.  A long piece of leather with the power to decimate an open palm.  And it did.

Today, in my rental car Bullet, I reflected on how I’d changed from little to big, from young to old.  Now I was the one with power and status.  I have the responsibility to maintain my home and pay my taxes.  I don’t play “guns” in the back alley anymore.

Am I still that young fellow on Bedford Park Avenue?  Do I still feel the thrills of being alive?  Yes, I do.  They’re different thrills, for sure, but I still glow hot and jump up and down.  May we all continue to throw ourselves into life.  May we continue to have fun.

Permanent?

Tim Hortons is an outrageously successful chain of coffee shops in Canada.  The country’s caffeine needs are covered coast to coast with approximately 5000 outlets.  I can vaguely remember when there were no Tims but that was in the ancient era of teenage life.  If a town has four shops, it’s a good guess that a fifth is coming soon.

I was driving down Highbury Avenue in London this afternoon, approaching Hamilton Road.  As I slowed for a red light, I glanced to my left to see … a derelict Tims.  The familiar reddish brown brick was still there, and the high oval sign out front, but the “Tim Hortons” on the vinyl above the brick was a shadow of its former self, and the ovals were merely full of air.  Beige curtains fell down the many windows.  And weeds were taking over the parking lot.

I gaped for as long as the light was red.  This did not compute.  A Canadian icon had died a ghastly death, and my stomach churned.  Somehow our national identity felt wounded and a fear bubbled up that it could all come to an end.  “Because of a coffee shop?  Get a grip, Bruce!  Drive ten blocks and you’ll find a thriving Tims.”

As Scarlet slowly left the scene of the crime, I reflected on permanence, and how I dearly love to hold on.  The inner voice says I need safety, predictability and stationary happiness.  Hmm.  Not too likely.

1.  Bruce remembers names.  Bruce remembers everyone’s name.  Except now I don’t.  People I talked to three weeks ago are often a mystery when they reappear in my life.

2.  Bruce is a master of words.  He has such a wide vocabulary, don’t you know?  Except I now struggle mightily with the names of … containers.  I’ll look at an object sitting there on a shelf or on the floor and no descriptive label will enter my brain.  (Okay, now I’ve looked it up on Google!)  Is it a bowl, a basket, a can, a bottle, a tub, a bucket, a jar, a pail, a vat?  I don’t know!  In polite conversation, I retreat to “container”, unbeknownst to my companion of the moment.

3.   Bruce drives so well, including at night.  Ha!  Not a chance anymore after dark.  That’s when I have to concentrate so hard.  And during the day, the time is long gone when I can pass someone in moderate traffic.  I have trouble judging distance and speed.

4.  Bruce loves playing famous golf courses on the computer, creating works of art called batik, and running 10k races.  Okay, but those were much earlier versions of this man.  How did those passions float away?

All this brings me to the present moment.  What I love right now seems so solid: my work in the Evolutionary Collective; my travels to Belgium and Senegal, New York and San Francisco; my red-walled home in Belmont, Ontario; my Wednesday evenings at the Acoustic Spotlight folk music club.  Could it be that they too may crumble away into the past?

And then the ultimate:  Bruce Kerr was a boy and now is a man.  That too goes poof!  A world without me.  Maybe no me at all, anywhere.

As Bob Dylan sang …

As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

The Play’s the Thing

How many times in life have I told myself something and then proceeded to do the opposite? Many! I’m so right about something and then in the next day’s breath my vision shifts. There’s a bending here, a flowing rather than a solidity. And I like that.

To supply you with an example, I received an e-mail from the Port Stanley Festival Theatre a month ago, one which waxed poetic about their summer season. “No thanks” was my response. “I have three airplane trips planned and when I’m home I want to kick back rather than stretch out for more.” Now that sounds logical and wise, right? I sure thought so.

Then was then and now is now. I’ve been sitting in the Marienbad Restaurant in downtown London, enjoying a non-alcoholic Heineken beer and yummy portobello penne pasta. Mid-yum, I glanced at my phone … and there was another Port Theatre e-mail. “Last chance!” Without a shred of thought, I started in on picking a package of six plays and what nights would work. Strangely, I was confident that concert dates between plane trips would magically appear, and they did (except for Ed’s Garage, which is on in early August).

I was on a mission and didn’t have a clue what was happening. “They’re all comedies. I hate comedies!” Here’s one about the Donnellys in Lucan, Ontario, and their murdering ways. Or a father and son smilefest. And how about a story of the pastel beauty and ridiculous situations in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia?

Here I am, the proud owner of a ticket for each of six plays, taking me to late August. If one of you wants to go to Ed’s Garage, comment after this post and I’ll send you the ticket.

Oh Bruce, I hardly know ye!

Anger

For years now, I’ve defined myself as a nice little Buddhist guy – sweetly peaceful, wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I certainly have that part of me but sometimes another version of Bruce pokes his head above the ground.

***

One day at school, a group of girls were laughing beside me.  I asked “What’s so funny?”  The main giggler stepped forward and told me that she had got some ketchup packages, squeezed the contents onto her face, and then lay down, still and silent, waiting for people to find her.  I don’t know if she was with family or friends.  I just stared at her at first.  The fury was climbing up my throat.  And then it burst out …

“What?  That’s such a cruel thing to do!  When someone came upon you, they’d wonder if you were dead.  Don’t you see what that could do to a person?”  The girl giggled some more.  “You can laugh all you want but that was a rotten thing to do.”

Was I yelling?  No.  Was my voice raised?  You bet.  And that vein in my neck was probably throbbing.  Speaking out in anger is not something I’ve done much in my life but here it was.  The insensitivity towards another human being was completely unacceptable to me.

Hmm, I thought.  This is new.  And it doesn’t feel like a bad thing.

***

This morning, I walked into the Belmont Diner.  There were six guys sitting at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  I cheerily said “Good morning.”  Silence.  A pause.  And then me: “Isn’t anyone going to say good morning?”  Woh.  Was that really my voice?

I realized that two of the fellows had been wrapped in a conversation, but the other four had sat there like stones.  The fury had exploded again.  Within twenty seconds, people were engaging me in conversation, and my antagonism faded to the background, but the initial spurt was vivid.

***

So, dear friends, what kind of person am I becoming?  Not all peaches and cream, for sure, but I still love peaches and I still love cream.  Bruce, antagonistic?  No way, I’ve declared.  But clearly I have that part too, lurking within.

It seems that more of me is emerging from the shadows – more love, more compassion, more energy, more anger … and more courage?  It feels right to embrace it all.

 

Fresh

Take one aspect of your life where it’s been “same old, same old” for a long time.  It’s comfortable but there’s something missing.  You’re going through the motions.  Little frustrations nip at you but you don’t seem to have the energy to make a change.  That pretty much sums up my experience at the fitness club.

Jody and I started going to this gym about ten years ago.  It was fine – a reasonable variety of machines, super low cost, friendly staff.  After my dear wife died, I simply carried on, sometimes sporadically, usually without much enthusiasm.

Yesterday, a voice inside said “You’ve been sleepwalking.  Wake up.”  So … I got my gym clothes together and set off for a workout.  I considered it an experiment in paying attention.

A staff member whom I really enjoy was at the front desk.  She was all excited about a job she’d just got at a high end pub in London.  She wasn’t sure if she’d also continue working at the club.  “Really, I feel done here.”  Could that be my voice speaking?

I thought of the many staff members I know.  They’re fine people.  A few of them have been especially kind to me.  Is that enough of a reason to stay?

This visit I really looked around.  The main room was sort of … dark.  A few machines had “I’m sick” signs attached to them.  Was I creating a reality here or was the environment just plain blah?  And so what if it was?  The most important thing is what I create, rather than what the surroundings offer back to me.

I went into the locker room to change.  The soap dispenser took several seconds to deliver a dollop to my palm.  Assuming I’m a fairly mature person, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Maybe this is all mental.  Nevertheless, I kept looking.  The paper towels wouldn’t rip properly from their machine.  Cubicle doors banged hard when they closed.  Months ago, I asked the manager to buy some little fuzzy pads for the doorjambs but she never did.

After stretching, I reached my favourite elliptical machine.  I knew it was my favourite because none of the others worked perfectly well.  That’s okay.  At least I had my own personal steed.  After pressing the start button, I realized that the intensity was too high.  My first few minutes are usually a stroll in the park, but immediately it was a grind.  Soon I got into the flow pretty well, but on the cool-down, I had to struggle rather than relaxing into the end.  Hmm.  Are inanimate objects in the habit of sending coded messages to human beings?  Perhaps.

The last couple of months, I’ve been going to a sports medicine clinic for my knee.  I’m not really worried about the joint because after all I have a spare on the other side!  This clinic is located in a downtown fitness club.  Guess I’ve been sleepwalking on that journey too but today I decided to go there and ask for a tour.  I opened my eyes upon arrival.  This is a “clean, well-lighted place”.  (A quote from Ernest Hemingway).

A smiling receptionist (who earlier in the day I had sung with as I left my physio appointment) ushered me to a little table.  Right away, another smiler approached me with her hand out in greeting.  “Jessica” made gentle eye contact and clearly had no interest in some canned sales talk.  Actually she did more listening than talking.  And there was absolutely no sense of hurry about her.  I realized that she was “seeing” me, something I deeply value.  As members walked by us, my new friend greeted many of them, and clearly each was happy to see the other.  Hmm again.

As we talked, I counted many smiling conversations happening near me.  And there were a lot of folks here to exercise.  I listened to the energy in the building and it was happy.  Jessica was happy.  Gosh, I was getting happy.

At one point, I said “Okay, sign me up.”  Jessica looked over and said something like “Really?”  There was an amused and quizzical look on her face.  I had sensed into the truth of this place.  This could be home.  I didn’t need the grand tour or pricing options or a long list of benefits.  I knew.

I had my tour.  I signed on the dotted line.  I clutched my free gym bag and water bottle to my chest.  All of that was fine.  But Jessica’s care and the glowing passersby did the deed for me.

I had walked in the door at 6:55 pm.  I walked out at 9:00.  Towards the end of the evening, something that Jessica said made me wonder, and I had to ask the question “Was your shift over at 7:00?”  >  (Pause)  “Yes.”

I intend to pass all this goodness on to the people I meet here.  Naturally I want to get fitter but more than anything I want to create a new community for myself, to contribute to the members and staff every time I walk in the door.  It’s a fun thing to do.

The Hip … A Step Forward

It’s intermission time at London’s Aeolian Hall. I’m here to see The Strictly Hip, a tribute band for Canada’s great rock group The Tragically Hip. It’s been decades since I’ve been to a rock concert (other than dancing to Five Alarm Funk at Sunfest) and here I am in the front row.

Straight ahead of me, fifteen feet away, a young man wields an impossibly long bass guitar, his head bobbing and weaving. The lead guitarist plays some incredible licks with a macho flair that has the girls swooning. The drummer is brilliant. Still, the star of the show is the Gord Downie lookalike, complete with cowboy hat. I can barely make out the words but he’s belting out the hits as folks wearing Hip t-shirts move their bods in front of the stage.

Sometimes I close my eyes and feel the pulse of the drum in my heart … it moves right through me. The guitar runs, the deep bass parts and Gord’s strident vocals flood me with the juice of life.

***

And now it’s later. A little girl is jumping up and down by the stage and Gord reaches down to shake her hand. She bounces giddily back to her seat. The way ahead of me is crowded with dancers. A couple slow dances for a slow song. Friends jump straight up and high five for the fast ones.

I don’t know the songs but clearly just about everyone else does. I don’t feel like dancing and I wonder if that’s because of my recent ankle and knee problems. I take a second to poop on myself and then that smallness magically disappears.

I’m loving the energy in the room but then a thought comes: this group surge is nowhere near what I feel when I’m online with members of the Evolutionary Collective global community. That energy bubbles up from within. Tonight’s source is the wild band in front of me and their songs – some raucous and some tender. The truth is that I don’t need rock concerts to expand. Just give me a few open-hearted folks and I’ll bring forth love. A subtle and yet immensely powerful surge.

I continue to change in the world. Old versions of me are honoured and included in what’s emerging. Thanks, Gord and friends, for being on the journey with me.

Tomorrow?
A delightful mystery

Next year?
Perhaps a Bruce I can’t even imagine

Bring it on

A Natural Exit

When I drive into London from Belmont, I usually take the 401, our Southern Ontario freeway, which has a speed limit of 100 kph (about 60 mph).  After ten kilometres or so, I’m ready to take the Wellington Road exit.  The ramp goes straight for maybe a kilometre, and then around a slight bend is a 50 kph (30 mph) sign.

As I veer off onto the ramp, I lighten the pressure on my gas pedal and gradually decrease to the 50.  I sense I’m in a natural rhythm of blending with my environment.  It feels good, like I’m flowing from one chapter of my life to the next.

Other drivers disagree.  Usually I’m tailgated on the ramp and the crowd of cars behind sometimes reaches double digits.  Once a fellow swerved onto the paved shoulder to get by me.  At the 50 kph sign, a second lane appears, with traffic lights shortly thereafter.  If the light is red, a vehicle or two has time to blast by me on the left and then slam on their brakes.  If it’s green, a convoy flows past, with most of them then flashing into my lane, since lots of us are turning right at the next light.

I let myself feel the pressure of the tailgating, and my fear.  It’s definitely a part of life.  But it’s very sweet to maintain my flow in the midst of impatient drivers.  I’m the source of my actions, not them.  Overall, the whole thing is a meditation and I’m pleased that I choose to experience it regularly.

***

I ask myself if I’ll have the same grace as I leave this planet.  Will I let myself feel the body diminishing and the mind clouding?  Will I let the words of William Shakespeare linger?

Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace!
And lips, O you the doors of breath
Seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death

Or will I vote with Dylan Thomas?

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

The ramp awaits
Soon, or not soon, my turn signal goes on