Hanging On … Letting Go

It seems pretty clear – happiness resides in the land of the open palm, the gracious gesture, the ease of time stretching slowly away.  Misery knows the closed fist. the grasping, the muscles tense and rigid.

But then there’s money.

I love tennis.  In August, 2019, I booked ten nights in a Montreal hotel for the summer of 2020.  My sole reason for going was to feel the majesty of the women’s Rogers Cup tennis tournament.

This spring, the Government of Quebec said no to any professional sporting events in the province, due to Covid.  Sad but alert, I leapt into action, asking the hotel to refund my money.  They told me I’d have to talk to the travel company with whom I booked.

And so it began.

Actually, it wasn’t just one conversation with the hotel.  I’m guessing that I’ve phoned them 20-25 times and have talked to a real person 2-3 times.  Many requests on the answering machine for the manager to phone me went for naught.  (Sigh)

Four months after my initial contact in May, and after probably 8-10 hours on the phone, $886.83 is still in someone else’s pocket.  Today’s contribution was over two hours, talking to two reps of the travel company.  My case had been “elevated” but instead I felt submerged.

Throughout the process, I’ve seen errors of omission, broken promises about when people would get back to me, and I believe (on the hotel’s part) some deceit.

The next chapter will be a phone call on Monday morning – the hotel manager, the travel company, and me.

I’m not letting go.  Am I creating a lot of unhappiness for myself?  Am I wise to stand up for myself?  Am I being “Bruce”?  Somehow it feels right to be in these shoes of mine.  To quietly ask for fairness.  To not give up.  Although there are far better ways to spend eight hours than speaking into my smartphone and listening to what comes back, I find myself quietly nodding in approval for the journey I’ve chosen.  Whatever the outcome.

Soaring

Right now my feet are dangling over the edge of my Lazy Boy chair. My stomach is heavy and my eyes feel like closing. I’ve been sick the last few days.

I wonder if it has to be this way.

Can I create flying right now? Can I rise above the vague nausea and lift into the sky? Can I feel the power of my wings pulsing down, pulling me upwards? The wind whistling through my feathers?

Can I look downwards to the sweep of the land and all the folks walking on it? Can I then lift my head to the far horizon and the mysteries that lie beyond?

Or am I stuck in the pull of the body … the pain and the weakness? I know. I’ll ask a friend:

He says “Come join me on the currents of air. There is much to discover, dear human.”

The Java Shop

Many moons ago, I was a 20-year-old university student in Toronto, knowing virtually no places except TO.  And I knew this was a problem.  When I noticed cards advertising a summer jobs booklet, I wrote away to any employer who lived far away.  Three positions were offered.  Since one was a resort in Southern Ontario, there really were two to choose from.

There was the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and The Java Shop in Fort Macleod, Alberta.  Research at my public library revealed a panoramic view of a Swiss chalet hotel standing on a hill above a long lake, with two rows of mountains framing the scene.  My God.  I was sold.  See you around, prairie coffee shop.

Indeed I would.  The bus bringing me south from Calgary made a stopover in Fort Macleod.  The Java Shop doubled as the Greyhound depot.  Awesome!  I’d get to experience what I’d missed in choosing the PW.

I walked through the door and felt the call of nature part two.  Too distracted to notice the pioneer ambiance, I highstepped to the washroom.  I reached for the cubicle handle, barely noticing the box hanging beneath.  The door did not open.  A sign on the box said “25 cents”.  What?!  Pay a quarter to poop?  What kind of place was this?

Girding my loins, I laid down on my back and started pulling myself under the door.  What awaited my gaze was a row of metal teeth welded to the bottom edge.  Oh my.  Take me home, country roads.

***

And so The Java Shop became a joke in my memory.  I thought of the place today and went to Mr. Google to see how it was doing.  A 2008 article in the Macleod Gazette told all:

A Fort Macleod landmark is closed.  The Java Shop served its final meals Friday after decades as a popular meeting place and destination.  “I think it’s a tragedy,” long-time Fort Macleod businessman Frank Eden said.  The distinctive building at the corner of Second Avenue and 23rd Street has long been a popular meeting and eating place, and home to the Greyhound depot.

On Friday customers returned to The Java Shop for a wake of sorts, to say their goodbyes and enjoy one last meal — on the house.

The Java Shop was an important part of life in Fort Macleod, cultivating its share of regulars like Chris Cheesman, the Town of Fort Macleod’s electric department superintendent.  “I had my morning ritual to come here every morning to pick up my coffee and my two daily newspapers,” Cheesman said.  Cheesman had another ritual associated with The Java Shop.  It’s where he would bring his daughter Sara for special father-daughter meals.  “Fort Macleod is kind of a hub, and The Java Shop is part of the hub,” Cheesman said.  “The spokes of that hub are now shattered.”  Cheesman also recalled special feelings attached with picking up Christmas packages delivered by bus, and meeting loved ones travelling on Greyhound.

Greyhound bus drivers looked upon The Java Shop as an oasis on the prairie.  “Coming through Fort Macleod, this was my supper break or this was my breakfast break,” said retired driver Al Douglas, who spent 35 years behind the wheel for Greyhound.  “You were dying to get here.”  Drivers appreciated the warm welcome and friendly service they received.  “It was great,” said retired driver Lorne Eremenko, who put in 38 years with Greyhound.  “You were always treated good here.”

Eremenko: “This was so busy you wouldn’t believe it.”  Added Douglas: “I can remember us having nine or ten buses lined up in the alley.  You won’t see that anymore.”  The two retired drivers agreed The Java Shop was a Fort Macleod landmark.  “It didn’t matter where they were from,” Douglas said of his passengers.  “People knew The Java Shop.”

Waitress Judy Thomas, who has worked on and off at The Java Shop for 23 years, spent Friday consoling her soon-to-be former customers, putting on a brave smile and handing out hugs.  “I’m going to miss the people who come in here, even though I always gave them a hard time,” Judy, as she is known to everyone, said with a smile.  “I’m going to miss the people big time.”

***

I would have been a Java Shop employee sixteen years before Judy arrived on the scene.  I would have been part of a longstanding tradition of welcome.  I would have been in the centre of the community.

But I chose elsewhere, missing out on an experience far greater than coin boxes and jagged teeth.

It’s Been Awhile

I’ve enjoyed blogging so much in the past year that I never thought I’d go five days without doing it. But here we are. I’ve been on lots of trips where my writing started with Day One and ended as the plane touched down back at Toronto Airport. Not this time.

As much as I’ve loved being so regular with the posts, there’s a rigidity to it that doesn’t serve me. ‘I don’t have to” could be my mantra. Actually, I am free. On any given day, I can focus on pleasing myself rather than reaching out to you. And I love reaching out to you!

There’s no wisdom in feeling guilty about a five day absence. Truly a waste of energy. The Evolutionary Collective seminar was immersive and very challenging. I felt my power … I felt my weakness … I felt my love for other human beings … I felt my need to be loved, noticed, included, accepted, communicated with. I felt the whole darn enchilada! And I chose not to write to you about it.

Hmm. This feels good – writing again. I knew down deep that I wouldn’t be gone for long. It’s too much fun to put thumbs to screen. Writing “sings” to me. It makes me smile.

There’s no need to “catch up”, to remember something that happened on Day Five, etc. So … a ten day trip that seemed to end on Day Four but really was just hibernating for a bit. I wonder what else I need to say. A few hours from now, I’ll be in the Pacific Grove Library – a perfect spot to share some more stuff. Stay tuned.

A or B?

Unity – the state of being made one; a condition of harmony

Separation – a break; a place where a split happens; an intervening space

Awakening – an act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of something

Dormancy – something that is not active or growing

Intrinsic – belonging naturally; essential

Extrinsic – not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside

Mutual – feeling the same emotion, or doing the same thing to or for each other

Unilateral – (of an action or decision) performed by or affecting only one person involved in a situation, without the agreement of the other

Emergence – the fact of something becoming known or starting to exist

Stagnation – the state of not flowing or moving

Contact – the act of touching each other

Avoidance – the act of keeping away from

Resonant – something with a deep tone or a powerful, lasting effect

Muted – not expressed strongly or openly; (of a musical instrument) having a muffled sound as a result of being fitted with a mute

Transcendent – describing the rising above something to a superior state

Mundane – very ordinary and therefore not interesting

Include – to make part of a whole

Exclude – to shut or keep out

Love – an intense feeling of deep affection

Apathy – lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern

Visible

To be seen or not to be seen? Especially when I have no smile in me and my thoughts seem like bouncing balls in the basement of my mind. Or maybe I’m within the crush of life and the world is pressing down hard. Aren’t those the times when pulling the covers over my head would be prudent?

Speaking of which, who ever came up with that word “prudent”? The dictionary calls it “showing care and thought for the future”. Okay then … I disagree with myself. Being prudent sounds like a fine thing to do.

Hmm. Maybe this moment is a good illustration. Shouldn’t I just delete my righteous pronouncement about the word “prudent” in the interest of maintaining my dignity?

Speaking of which, who ever came up with that word “dignity”? (No, no Bruce. Don’t go there again.)

Now, where was I? Getting rid of the prudent and dignity discussion … so I look better. Naw. There’s no value in that. Picking out the good parts and hiding the naughty bits is a strange way to be visible. There’s contraction all around if I venture down that road.

What if I allowed the cool and uncool elements of Bruce to be plastered on some neon sign (such as this blog) and truly got that I’m the same as you – chock full of virtues and foibles, insights and nonsense, transcendence and stumbles? Well … perhaps that would be deeply okay.

Maybe I’m on this dear planet Earth to express myself, and then do it some more. So – write, speak, sing, smile, frown, bliss out and get pissed off. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe some other folks would see me as a worthwhile example of letting it all hang loose.

I’m participating in a global community of consciousness explorers. It’s called the Evolutionary Collective, and members of the group can meet live online as many as five times a week. Last night, Patricia Albere, the founder of the EC, asked for a volunteer to do the “mutual awakening practice” with her. The practice is a 1-1 half hour where the partners answer the question “What are you experiencing right now?”

I froze.

I’d shared in the group many times but this would be hugely different. I’d be groping my way into whatever I was experiencing, with an audience of forty people or so. And I was terrified. It felt just as horrifying as riding my bicycle beside those semitrailers three weeks ago.

I didn’t volunteer and fell into an agonizing pit of self-loathing. I love myself regularly, but not then.

I was not willing to be seen, in all my potential beauty and warts. (Sigh) As the clouds darkened and brooded, I sank lower. Thoughts jumbled. Fear screamed. And then – wonder of wonders – a tiny shaft of sun poked through. Somehow, somewhere, I was all right. The past moment of hiding away didn’t have to create a future of seclusion.

Next Tuesday evening, Patricia will be in the online session again. She expects to ask for more volunteers to do the practice with her. I’ll answer the call. Of course she may pick someone else but my triumph will be clicking the “Raise Hand” button.

On I go in my life. Participate or hide out. Express or fall silent. Live with huge sweeping strokes or tiny jagged lines. I get to choose.

Expression

I wanted to put energy out into the world today.  I wanted to do things, with no concern about how people would react.  So I did.

1. I watched an erotic video.  It was so cool.  Clearly the couple loved each other very much.

2. I walked to the Belmont Diner.  I could have driven.  Three minutes compared to twenty.  I love to walk, seeing the world unfold before me.

3.  At the Diner, I met a woman and told her my name was George.  Jean was sitting beside her, and laughed.  She knew my name was really Oscar.

4.  I had pancake and sausages.  Pretty fatty, Bruce.  Too bad, Bruce.

5.  I waxed poetic with a fellow at the lunch counter about Tarandowah, the golf course I love.  I talked about the beauty of the course, rather than scores and swings.  He was willing to share his favourite hole (13) as I shared mine (14).

6.  Back at home, I tried to figure out a grommet kit I’d bought, so I could line up my funky new shower curtain with the separately purchased liner.  Couldn’t make head or tail of the instructions.  Knocked on two neighbours’ doors for grommet relief.  Borot sat on my porch and showed me what to do.  Now I’m perfectly aligned with the universe.

7.  It was cold.  I drove to Tarandowah.  I walked some fairways.  I moseyed over to the farmer’s field beside the fifth fairway and searched for golf balls.  I found ten.  Yay!

8.  I walked the fescue mounds by the 14th fairway.  I found the highest spot on the course and drank in the 360° view.  Then I sauntered over to a mound behind the 6th tee.  From there I gazed out on eleven holes in the gathering gloom.

8.  Back to the clubhouse at twilight.  Nobody home.  I sat on the patio in the dark and ate the second half of my Subway sub from yesterday.  Cold cuts.  I wanted to donate my balls to the club but I couldn’t find a bucket.  Laid all seventeen on the patio by the front door.  The pro will find them tomorrow morning.

9.  Drove to Costco in  London.  My new sunglasses were ready.  Was thrilled to put them on my nose but they weren’t much good in the dark.

10.  I remembered my favourite Costco meal – $1.50 for a hot dog and drink.  Too fatty.  Ate it anyway.

11.  Drove downtown to the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club.  Sat entranced for two hours in the presence of a harpist from Ireland and a guitarist from England.  How they traded melodies back and forth!

12.  At the break between sets, I contemplated having a pint of Delirium Tremens beer (the best I’ve ever tasted).  Decided no … too fatty.  Had the DTs anyway.

***

Now I’m home, tap-tapping on the keys.  You may be liking what I’m writing or maybe not.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m doing stuff.  Stuff I want to do.  Throwing myself into my local universe.  Makes me happy.

Choosing A Golfer

It’s Saturday morning, “Moving Day” in golfing parlance.  During the third of four rounds, players often move way up or way down the leaderboard.

I’m about to head downstairs at the B&B for breakie.  Among the weighty matters I must ponder is  which golfer I will follow for eighteen holes.  Brooke Henderson is Canada’s sweetheart, an 18-year-old who’s pretty, hits the ball a long way and has a glowing smile.  She’s the obvious choice … but maybe not.  Cheering for Canada feels good but it has the sense of ethnocentrism – my group is more important than people outside my group.

Going with someone close to the lead seems natural too.  I feed off the drama of win-lose situations.  So Marina Alex from the USA is the head of the pack right now.  Wander with her … or perhaps not.

In the spirit of the human family, I could choose any twosome on the fairways of Whistle Bear Golf Club.  We all have the joys and agonies of being human.  I could watch life reflected in the birdies and bogeys of the golf course.  Just pick someone at random, Bruce.  Hmm.  No, I don’t want to do that.

Okay, I’ve decided.  I will walk with whom I perceive to be the nicest person out there – kind to her fellow golfers and to the fans, accepting of her mishit shots, loosy goosey on the fairways and greens, with an easy smile.  Lydia Ko from New Zealand.  She also happens to be the number one player in the world, but right now she’s eight strokes behind Marina.  I want to see a full human being.  I want to see her interact with other human beings.  I want to cheer her on.

Time to eat.  Time to walk.  And my day unfolds before me.

Beyond The North American Norm

I sat in a theatre this afternoon watching Michael Moore’s latest film Where To Invade Next.  It wasn’t about war and keeping the world safe for the American way of life.  Instead Michael visited Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Portugal, Iceland, Norway, Germany and Tunisia in search of best practices – things that those countries are doing well.

Often, when Michael was sitting with a business leader, government official, educator or just plain folks, he’s tell them how things are often done in the USA.  In those moments, the movie was a study in astonishment.  I very much enjoyed looking at the quizzical facial expressions.

Here are some highlights:

Italy – Employees get eight weeks of paid vacation plus generous wages, and work fewer hours than we do.  When the owners of a factory were asked why they don’t keep more of the money for themselves, one of them replied, “Why would we want to be richer?”  They were committed to the happiness, and thus productivity, of their workers, who typically go home at noon for a two-hour lunch.

France – Elementary students eat three-course meals in the cafeteria.  When Michael showed a few of them photos of a typical American school lunch, their pained expressions said it all.  Plus no Coca-Cola, thank you.  The kids were happy with their water.  Lunch takes an hour and is also an opportunity for teaching the value of balanced nutrition.

Finland – There’s virtually no homework in the schools, no standardized testing, and a commitment from staff members to teach the children how to be happy.  School days are relatively short, with the students encouraged to explore interests and socialize with their peers.

Slovenia – University is free, even for foreign students.

Portugal – Drugs have been decriminalized and the focus is on rehabilitation for the users.  Police officers talked about the importance of human dignity.

Norway – In one prison, inmates live in cottages and wear their own clothes.  In a maximum security facility, the culture promotes caring about each other.  Prisoners working in the kitchen have access to knives, and no one seems concerned.  Guards don’t wear guns.  “Talk is our weapon.”

Iceland – Women are well represented among government and business leaders.  In the aftermath of the country’s economic collapse in 2008, the bankers whose actions precipitated the crisis were convicted of crimes.  No bailouts.  Many jail terms.

Germany – The Holocaust is remembered, not swept under the rug.  Public art includes replicas of notice boards with anti-Jewish messages, such as requiring Jewish folks to sit only on the yellow public benches.  Discussions are held in classrooms, acknowledging inhumane Nazi actions.

And … in one of the countries, the young people receive sex education focused on relationship, giving and receiving pleasure, and on effective birth control.  Michael suggested the possibility of abstinence.  The female teacher didn’t see the value of that choice.

***

It was a jolt of a film, dissing various forms of ethnocentrism in favour of people-centrism.  A you and me world.  I like it.

 

 

Mastery of the Moment Part Three

Where is the power in all these attitude choices?  How can they make a difference right in this moment?  Let’s say someone cuts me off in traffic.  How can I hold onto my peace of mind, rather than letting that driver control my level of well-being?  Am I supposed to remember the 45 possibilities among the 22 choices and magically pick 3 or 4 that allow me to stay calm?  Let’s see … which ones would I choose?  How about Source Internal, You and Me, and Not Important?  Yes, they’ll do fine.  But how do I access them at 100 kph on the freeway?  I could open my laptop with one hand, turn it on, go to “Posts” on my WordPress page, locate “Mastery of the Moment – Part Two”, and scroll down to find the choices that seem to fit the moment.  But maybe I’d better keep my eyes on the road!

For that presentation in 1988, I laminated 1″ x 2″ yellow cards listing the attitude choices.  Do I whip one of those out of my shirt pocket?  Do I start the week thinking about only three of them, such as the ones up above?  And then bring those ones to mind as I hurtle down the highway?  I could start with three new ones every Monday.

Maybe I should use all of the choices only in retrospect.  If I have an A > B moment (see Part Two), I could analyze it later to see how I might have handled the situation differently.  Perhaps enough analysis would automatically bring A > B > C to consciousness in the future, as my neighbour’s right rear bumper slips by Hugo’s front left.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to do.  The ideas are powerful.  The trick is to harness them, like a cowboy calming a bucking bronco.  I’ll figure it out.  I’m just glad to be along for the ride.