Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Free-Fall Funnies

Headnote: Here in Canada, trade with Cuba is perfectly legal. We ship them steel locomotives, they ship us leafy cigars—much to the chagrin of Yankee imperialists. In fact, adding further chagrin,  the head communist, Fidel Castro, was a pall bearer at our prime minister’s funeral. (Pierre Trudeau) At least my good U.S. cousins can take consolation from being so patriotically anti-communist! … Because it’s a pity they can never know what a truly good cigar tastes like.

…Ya, but only the good die young. I bet delinquent capitalists secretly sneak behind the boardroom to puff on contraband communist cigars. You think?

Hello Reader,
Got right-brain humour?
From writing fast?

At the writer’s centre: As we mingled putting our coats on I overheard someone going into the next room and saying my name. “Sean had good humour today,” answered by “Yes, we could hear you guys laughing.” So, I can seize the excuse to be lazy! Today I won’t spend man-hours crafting my weekly essay. But first:

As you may know, I meet at Friday Free-Fall with other writers. We write with a timer going, then we STOP, (with a one minute warning) and then around the long table we read aloud what we just wrote. 

We gather to use our creative side, to write without editing for once, and to crawl out of our lonely garrets to come and mingle. By free-fall I mean someone calls out a “prompt.” Then: Get writing! No pausing, no stopping and no looking back to make corrections. 

Of course, when you are “falling” so swiftly, it’s easier to be melodramatic than dramatic, easier to miss the funny-bone completely than to be slightly amusing. Writing in mid air makes any humour twice as funny, “if you could be there,” than if it were carefully crafted at a remote desk.

Well. I’m not saying my pieces will bring you a smile: Someone else did. Here goes:

why wait

Every day I would see Mrs. Pringle walking down the alley in her sensible shoes. Plock plock plock. She would pass east; and passing west was the flower girl, still energetic this early in the day, walking skipp, skipp, skipp, The sun would shine, and the air would blow nice smells from the bakery as I sat at a cutesy iron table, with a decent wooden chair.

Every day I would sip my coffee and think elevated noble thoughts—coffee does that, you know. And I would watch those people go by. I would think how formidable Mrs. Pringle was, in her prim outfit. I wouldn’t dare talk to her. At least, not in the here and now. Someday. 

And I would watch that sprightly flower girl. I wouldn’t dare talk to her, not when I am a dull flowerless middle aged man. She probably drank lemonade or organic tea. I would talk to these ladies one day, maybe, perhaps. Then one Wednesday morning, when the sun was particularly bright, I thought: Why wait?

Oh, course I had lots of sensible reasons to wait, or never talk at all… but… if I felt permission to talk some day, then now was the day. So I shouted, “Hello Mrs. Pringle!” And she stopped, stopped dead, turned her body to look at me, and I could tell her face was not used to smiling. A beat went by. Then, in a reserved voice, “Hello” she said.

At this point the flower girl was coming by. She saw Mrs. Pringle stopped still, and so she slowed, glanced at me. “We’re practising our hellos!” I said wildly.

look up

I love being a tourist at the seaside. Fresh air, the sound of seagulls going “scree, scree”—you never hear them inland where I live. The sight of sparkly waves, and all the real locals—and one of them was doing Tai Chi. Wow. Everybody knows that you travel to “meet the locals.” Although, maybe some of them were travellers like me. That Tai Chi lady looked like all her clothing was brand new, not like a tired local.

When I say tired, I mean that none of them looked up. Not at the exciting freighters passing in the distance, not at the mountains looming so close. Not at nature’s creatures of the air, wheeling and soaring on the air with their God-given wings. No, they all seemed to look down, or at least straight across. “How curious,” I thought.

Many, both young and old, had yellow sun hats. This being a school day, there were no big children, only the littler ones. A line of perambulators were lined up on the sidewalk. That’s what the locals call a stroller. Pram for short. I just took it all in, casting glances back at the prams, and forward at the mothers on their beach towels, bent over their little devices. Lord knows what they were texting and gawking at. This while the little ones were delighting only God and me. The mothers were missing out. But hey, what do I know? I was a tourist. 

A helicopter breezed by and I looked up. It was a Royal Marine helicopter—that was all the time I had to squint at it, because then I was really squinting. Some poor seagull, seeing that metal monster, had the—how can I put this politely?—had his innards scared out of him. And since gravity pulls innards down, and I was looking up… now I know why the locals never look up.

See? Actually, at that point I couldn’t see very well— but, see? Being a traveler can be educational! You learn things. I’m going back, as soon as I buy a sun hat.

For variety, sometimes we “write a list.”

(prompt-) of how to get along with in-laws

Tell jokes

Laugh at in-law’s jokes.

If your in-laws have stone faces and never joke, then be God-fearing and charitable.

Remember that some people can only smile a bit, and some laugh inside.

If your mother-in-law has a yappy dog, don’t kick it.

At least, not where she can see you do it.

But if you can terrify the dog, then she’ll be amazed at how well it behaves around you.

Don’t waste your good Cuban cigars on Father-in-law.

In fact, don’t light up unless he does.

Then bring out your drugstore cigar, and that’ll shut him up.

But stop before you get sick, because that will give you away.

life is wonderful

Life is wonderful if you are a tourist. You can pick up stories of seagulls, pick up a bored sister of a tired mother, You say, “OK, you watch over your darling as she takes her nap, while we’ll just go outside so we can shout at each other.” Is that rude? No, mothers need their rest too, and their friends deserve a chance to be restless.

As for the friend, I can’t tell you about her. I mean, I can, but then the rest of my story would be anti-climax. For I travel to meet the people, and her I got to know very well.  A little rushed, but well. So I better tell you about something else, like goldfish.

I went into an office building, and there was a canal right on the bottom floor. How bizarre. It had wonderful waves, and bubbles, and it disappeared into a tunnel at both ends. So people could still walk across the floor. The most wonderful thing was that my Australian drinking buddy didn’t abandon me when I commented to the security guard, “Ah, those luscious fish. I just want to pick one up and take a big bite!” 

The guard said, “You need to kill your appetite. Try this.” And he gave me a free cigar and stepped out side with us to smoke. But it was a fire door, and he closed it on us, locking us out. 

So I shared my cigar with my drinking buddy. But it was a drugstore cigar, so all he said was “Ar-r-r-rg!  Time for a drink!”

Sean Crawford
January 31
(Princess) Alexandra Writers Centre Society
at the new C-space
the renovated sandstone King Edward school

~This truly was written last Friday (Jan 25). I’m joking about being lazy. Someday, shall I do another free fall post? 

~I’ve never tried to free fall at home on my own, but you, dear reader, may find FF at home rewarding, if only as a confidence booster showing you too can write, and that you can do so without needing a big block of time. …Most of us at Friday FF don’t use a keyboard like a working stiff, but rather, a pen and pretty notebook like a writer having fun.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Lies of the Poor in Spirit

Recently a close relative lied to me about another relative: Some people have no self-discipline.

“I once made a small decision never to lie again.

Maybe not so small, but it didn't seem like a big deal since I didn't see myself as someone who lies often. This little thing changed me far more than any other big decision.”      Felipe (2016-04-23) #33
from the article Small Actions Changing Self Identity on the blog of Derek Silvers.

Hello Reader,
Did your relative tell you a lie?
If so, then I’m sorry.
And I’m sorry your relative won’t say ‘I’m sorry’ to you.

Did I ever tell you I grew up poor but honest? Supposedly, nobody in my fine family ever lied.

Well. To paraphrase the preacher on Firefly, “There is a special place in hell for those who talk in theatres, molest others or tell lies to children.” 
(Forgive me for saying so, but the test to check if you are molesting is: Are you being gratified?) 

The test for lies, to me, is not are you are being happy?—of course we are happy to tell about the tooth fairy, and our child is too. The test is whether you’re being happy at the expense of an innocent child.

Here’s an example. I was a small boy in a poor remote large family. Our mattresses and pillows had stripes like in a prison camp. My much older brother, in a fit of low self esteem, told me and Mum that my pillow had bugs in it. I’m sure Mum answered me that no, that wasn’t true. And—memory is hazy—I think I was so distressed that, maybe, I got her to admit that my brother didn’t really think so… If indeed I did so, then I have pushed the knowledge away. I didn’t want to think anyone in my family lied. Because in the face of all our poverty and abuse, at least I could still be proud to be a member of a family that was “poor but honest.” 

How honest? We had a big dog that barked and chased people so much that I feared police trouble. We had a long dirt driveway. One quiet summer evening, without hearing or seeing their car, I suddenly noticed two mounted policemen were standing at our porch. The dog, lying there, hadn’t said a thing. Yes, even our dog was honest and respectful of cops.

One thing I know for sure: When a lie doesn’t nurture, it’s abusive. 

Again the porch. This time it was cold, after dark, in the fall. Parents far away. No dog. My older brothers were upstairs playing cards in the kitchen, not in the “front room” by the front porch door. From the basement, I could see a man in a long dark blue penitentiary coat banging his poor knuckles on our solid hardwood door. A futile effort, it must have really hurt. We were too poor for a doorbell or knocker. So of course I went upstairs and informed my older bothers that there was a man at the door. They disregarded my information; didn’t believe me. So I opened the door myself. 

Yes, my brothers were idiots. My point is that abuse comes in clusters. (Like a Venn diagram) If people will lie to others, then they may also disregard others, perhaps after lying to themselves about the gratification they feel from their disregard and lies. As you might say about convicts in “the joint,” or executives at Enron, “They start out undisciplined enough to con others, and end up slack enough to con themselves.” I question now whether my family believed what they said about me—maybe they were just weaklings.

Another perspective: Over in Europe, back when my dad was a young man serving with the allied forces, a freedom fighter said, “If you lie to the public, sooner or later you start believing your own lies.” I agree. One day you find yourself planning to invade a country with over twice the population and over ten times the steel and factory capacity. And nobody can pierce your lies with common sense to tell you: It’s madness to invade Russia.     

I remember a child in high school—a girl, not a woman— storming out the door, gone forever, as her abusive father yelled, “You’ll become a street prostitute!” Not in those words, exactly, but you know what I mean. The girl believed her father meant it. She still does, and so do I. 

You may think he was telling her a white lie, for her own good, to enable her to rebelliously find the strength to avoid prostitution. I doubt it. If so, then surely his lie gratified him into believing it. His daughter can’t mind-read, she won’t ever know anything but what she heard that night. 

Happily, she ended up getting her own business over in Australia, and even owning a house. Years later, back in Canada, she went job searching and kept a manila folder of her rejections—for the humbleness. Ever reminding herself that yes, you can be a “winner,” and still not get a job during a bad economy. When I last saw her? She was working again. Happy ending.

It wasn’t until years after my home, one night at a smokey (open)  AA meeting, that I heard a concept-tool: “cash register honesty.” Aha! That’s what my family had! Their constant “honesty,” of the cash register sort, served to give power to their secret weapon: Being dishonest about each other. I was sure angry when I saw through their “honesty camouflage.”  All that disregard, all those things they “believed” about me—you know, there’s a movie about “dirty rotten scoundrels.”

No wonder a certain fairy tale is classic. You know, where from the other side of the looking glass an ugly duckling is actually a swan, paddling away from the ugly angry birds.

Today I can recite, “Doggone it, I am a good guy, and people like me.” And hey, a great man has mercy: That is why, on my good days, I don’t think certain lying relatives have a special spot in hell.

Sean Crawford

~As Grandmother would advise a young woman: No artist paints one picture, no criminal commits one crime. If your date lies to the waiter, then sooner or later he will lie to you.

~I like how the main character in Summer of My German Soldier never tries to con herself, or anyone. She sees her family and community through innocent eyes.  I read the sequel too: It’s at the university education faculty library…. I guess a life among fellow innocent swans is the best revenge.

~Of course it’s hard to believe your nearest and dearest are lying. I find newspaper advice columnists are usually too compassionate to name a lie. Rather, they work around it by advising a reader to use assertiveness or find an objective third person for counselling. So often someone writes in, no doubt having cried tears on the page, “But when I ask him about it, he says (X)!”

The sob sisters are blocked by statement (X)  That’s understandable. Sometimes it’s just too sickening, right to the pit of your stomach in the well of your despair, to admit your loved one is lying to you.

~Excellent review (link) for Firefly by my buddy Blair.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Doctor Who and the Lady Who Cluttered

“But in my experience, if the difference between reality and your idea of “perfection” is too great, you may lose the will to be tidy, and just allow things to accumulate.” 
(page 93) The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi subtitled How to Get Rid of Clutter and Find Joy …Also known as the book that inspired The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (Both books have sold millions of copies worldwide)

Hello Reader,
Got clutter?
Of course you do, even if you are a minimalist Buddhist Shinto Japanese person.
Unless you’re a Japanese android.

There is a critical scene in the TV show Doctor Who where the camera is centred on a very young lady, looking glum, living on her own. Surely employed, (she has her own flat) in a blue collar job. She is on her couch, with her kitchen blocked from view behind her. A cabinet is to the left… To me the issue is not her “clutter” but her mental state: It’s not a matter of her needing a few more storage boxes. Here is what I see: 
Untidy tacks of narrow boxes of board games and things, on her cabinet, and elsewhere, precarious and not at all squared away.
Clothes draped on her kitchen chair and couch, dropped and not folded at all.
A cabinet drawer pulled out, to the point of hanging down.
A cabinet door hanging open.
By the kitchen chair, on the floor a low colourful grouping of stuff, hard to know what it is.
I dimly see photos on the fridge, squared away, of course, and a bulletin board with an angled photo, and a few untidy scraps of paper. No art anywhere, none.
The coffee table in front of her is full, with a precarious stack or two.

My Freudian subconscious must be protecting me, because although the scene looks familiar, I can’t remember ever living like that. A friend’s place, perhaps, out of my past? Doubtful. It must have been me. What state would I have been in to leave a drawer slid out, and a cupboard door hanging open? I will say that, compared to others, even now, I have a very little need for order: I never put stuff at right angles, but still—those stacks look so precarious.

The woman’s mental state, to me, shows not a “low need for order” but a state of being “unstuck in time” taking no thought for the next minute. No thought, as she leaves open her cupboard door, that in five minutes she might want the door closed. Unhappy? Why? The clue is when she holds up a paper and the camera looks over her shoulder: The heading? “Christmas Day Itinerary.” It’s numbered, so obviously she is trying for a bit of order. 

Numbered down the page are DVD movies to watch. Sci-fi ones. Well, call me a nerd, but I, for one, would be happy to watch those shows. Then I see that one of the numbers is “Dad comes over.” Did he? The last item, with lots of question marks, is “Forgive Dave?” I get it. Not only is she unstuck in time, but she’s probably out of community. And for some time has been without a boyfriend. That would explain her glum state. No boyfriend, alone on Christmas.

I can relate. Decades ago, around age 35, I had a chance to go off to China to teach English at a certain school. As it happened, I was too busy: happily learning the skills of being a junior manager, having to lead myself so I could better lead others. But still, the real reason I didn’t go off adventuring? I had already experienced living as a very young man, employed, on my own in a strange city, alone, not learning skills, not in school, not with future, stuck in an eternal present… and I had no wish to be alone, alone, all over again.

For clutter, and your life too, if the difference between your reality and your idea of life is too great… then you will “lose the will.” I can remember once, around Christmas, seeing my college counsellor, and denying that I had any sort of Christmas depression. She asked, “If you did have the money, then would you travel home for Christmas?” Yes. “Then you would naturally be feeling down.” Oh, that pesky subconscious!

Life goes on. These days I’m not glum, even when I feel like a boring person, and, like Eeyore, I can sit in my gorse patch and wonder, “Why-fore?” I do have reasons for cheer. Last year a young man at work said I was the most interesting man he knows. Before Christmas an old serving officer in the armed forces said a man was claiming to be from my old platoon, which years ago was mentioned in dispatches. I feel a strange wonder: I’ve never been important enough for someone to claim to be part of my outfit before… 

But in the end, here on my blog, I remain private. Sorry. Not unstuck in time, but on a time rail with chocks blocking off the earlier years. Maybe someday I should go to some retreat in Southern California, and get unstuck.

Happy 2018!
Have a good year!

Sean Crawford

Footnotes: I won’t blab which episode the scene is from. But if you’ve already seen it, and you don’t mind a Youtube clip that stops before you see Clara’s last Christmas (because some commenters weep at seeing a similar clip that goes longer) then here, showing that cluttered young lady, is a link to near-the-end scenes.

Update: It was a BBC site, but now it is gone. For weeping though, here  is a Last Christmas still with sad music, for late at night when one is vulnerable, put up by Fan Boy.

The silver lining for youth, however dreary, is their life is stretching onwards. Let’s remember, as The Doctor knows, “Every Christmas is last Christmas,” because it may be the last time certain folks are gathered. So enjoy it while it you may.

Someone said we (humans) all live the same amount, because we all live in the now. Only the doctor can physically travel to all those nows, and, unfortunately, have to apologize for taking so long to visit. Ok, if you want to peek, here (link) is a gorgeous fan music video that has glimpses of Clara's last Christmas. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cheap Hotels I Have Known

Hello Reader,
got yearning to travel?

The title is inspired by the classic Wild Animals I Have Known, which I read in Classics Comics as a boy.
Part one, published in the fall, inspired two comments, so I thought I would publish the rest of this piece for folks who yearned to travel under our big Alberta sky.

Edmonton (The capital)
In Edmonton I would stay at the Grand, just across from the Greyhound Station. People kept arriving wearing big backpacks or carrying duffle bags. It must have looked strange when I walked in the front wearing my big day pack, and then asked, “Where can I park my car?” 

The answer was: in the alley, as long as you don’t block the door to the kitchen. “The cook gets annoyed.” They even gave me a wee brown parking pass. For this hotel, every room came with a rotary phone. Calls out were billed a dime each call. I only got called once: It was eight minutes to check out time. I answered, “Room 212.” 

“Are you checking out?” 

“Sure I am, I’m all packed, but hey, I’m watching The Rocketeer. (The black and white original, not Disney’s) I’m coming right down when it’s over.” (At two minutes to eleven) When you checked out you handed in your TV remote, along with your key. The TV was mounted on angle iron high in the corner of the room where it would be safer.

Later they renovated by putting a shower in every room. That wouldn’t be so bad, but they raised the prices too! So I never stayed there again. Instead I went across the river to the historic old Strathcona district, which used to be it’s own separate town with it’s own armoury. There I found a good cowboy hotel. No TV, no phone. There I would happily pay a little extra, just to have one of the few rooms with it’s own toilet. Sometimes such fancy rooms were all taken, but that was OK, as then I could save some money.

Loydminister (Bordertown)
Back around the turn of the century, when I took a couple all-weekend classes in Loydminister, I horrified my local classmates by getting a room in the heart of downtown: Something as I always do, right in the cheapest hotel. With a bar on the ground floor. I don’t think my room had a phone, but it had a black and white TV with two fuzzy channels, the mosquito screen on the window was broken, and—hurray! My own rusty shower and toilet! Just by paying a little extra!

When I checked in, the desk clerk gave me three keys. I asked, “Why three?” 

“One’s for your room.” He pointed to the stairs “One’s for the door to the stairwell. No overnight guests.” 

“And the third?”

“After midnight there’s no one at the desk. So there’s a chain around the front door with a padlock.”

Red Deer
I can’t say what the best hotel in Red Deer is. The only time I stayed there I was in a normal hotel, how boring, but only because I had to stay beside the hospital, because someone had rolled his car four times. I counted the roof marks in the snow. But don’t worry: In Alberta, when the ice makes you roll, the snow cushions the blow. 

I invite you to drive Alberta, under our clear blue winter skies. Go ahead, frustrate a city chamber of Commerce by staying in some sagging historic hotel. Cheaply.

Sean Crawford
Keeping myself amused,
stuck in a fuselage,
Somewhere over the arctic,

Autumn of 2017

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Giving Love

Hello Reader,
Got love?

They sing, “Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.” (by Stephen Sondheim) Exactly. 

My next post could be something complex, dark and heavy, like Russian politics. Today it’s a brand new year, time for something that feels simple, productive and light.

They sing, “Love is something if you give it away, 
Give it away,
Give it away,
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” (Magic Penny) Exactly.

Sounds similar to what I would hear from a wholesome, clean cut man in Alcoholics Anonymous, telling me he needs to go help a gutter wino if he hopes to keep his own sobriety—You keep it by giving it away. Like love.

I’m no expert. Not in addictions and not in love. But every one has their own little story to offer, whether at an AA meeting or in a little new year’s essay. Today I want to offer my thoughts on love. Three thoughts. As I see it, if you only like two then, as they sing, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” (Meatloaf)

Thought One
The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said, Being deeply loved gives you strength, loving others gives you courage. That’s true for me. 

A man with his own floor all dusty will go sweep his fiancĂ©’s floor. I have done terribly risky things to help someone I loved. (No examples today, lest you think I’m trying to look like a hero)

Thought Two
They say, “You can’t love others until you love yourself.” Really?
Not true.
Not for me.
Maybe because I didn’t get strength from being loved, or maybe I didn’t have role models for love, I don’t know, but I surely couldn’t love myself, not for many years. Only when others needed me to summon my courage to love them, and I took action, did things change. 

Maybe I role modelled for myself, deep down inside, how I could believe in love. Believing first for others, and then at last for myself. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that wise old saying is wrong for me. I had to love others first.

Thought Three
To explain this thought I need to tell a story. At my toastmasters club, at a recent Tuesday night meeting, I did the opening invocation to get the meeting started. I said my “one to two minute” invocation and ended it with a phrase about love that moved people. I know, because people referred to it during the meeting. So here’s my story:

When I was college I would sometimes see my counsellor —and I don’t mean for study tips! You had to sign up for a slot well in advance. One time I went to my appointment with a light heart and nothing to say but, “(cough) I made this appointment because I knew it would be during mid-terms, and I didn’t want to take any chances.”

In my career program in recreation therapy there were eighteen of us. In our first semester we all signed up for a class in drama, thinking we were going to make puppets or something. Nope. It was your standard “introduction to” class: Nothing to do with acting or staging a play, for humans or puppets, and everything to do with experiencing the zen of drama, learning to have “energy and concentration.” 

Our teacher was excited to learn that some of us had taken drama in high school, thinking these students could set her class an example of “courage to be present.” But no, because one or more of these high school graduates was a spoiled brat. Truly. One day our teacher just snapped, yelling at us future therapists, “If you’re going to stay in this field then you’re going to have to be more loving!”

I just happened to have an appointment that day. After class I went stomping down the hall to go see my counsellor. “How the hell,” I demanded “am I supposed to be more loving?” …My counsellor gazed at me steadily and then replied: 

“The way you’re doing it now… Looking for the good and projecting warmth.”

“Oh” I said, relieved to hear this was something within my power.

… Happy new year!

Sean Crawford
By the walls of Mount Royal College,
January, 2018


~Next week’s post? It won’t be a “dark one,” I was only kidding!

No, I don’t want to write about Putin and the older Russians being still like communists inside their minds—did you hear their propaganda recently when they were banned from the Olympics for national doping?Someone told me there’s a word in Russian for telling lies when your listener and you both know, and you both know that you both know, but you keep on propagating lying words from your mouth. Stupid communists.

No, let’s stick to comedy. Next week I’ll do part two of “Cheap hotels I have known” here in Alberta—and in that town sprawled across the border into Saskatchewan.

~Thinking of the benefits of college drama classes, I did an essay on Creative Movement, archived April 2012 

~Incidentally, if you like today’s sort of blog, I did a new years essay in late December, on the last day of 2011, about Affirmations. It’s archived. I could have done a light self-improvement piece for each the of other new years, too… but I forgot to even think of it.

Update, regarding Thought Two: I just found this quote in Brave (2018) by a sexual assault survivor, Rose McGowan (page 244) 
"The reason I know my own worth now is because I see all that worth in you. I see how much you are worth and how much you don't see in yourself. If I can do it, anyone can."