Cereal

I can remember the first time I consciously decided to take initiative, to suffer the consequences, and to acknowledge that my values were my own. It was over Cheerios.

I’m unsure as to my age at the time, but let’s say 6 for the sake of the story. It was early in the morning and I was alone in the kitchen, waiting for my parents to come start breakfast. After some minutes the idea came to me that I could start breakfast. I had never done that before, but had followed instructions on many occasions. I can do this, I thought. Just set out the cereal boxes and bowls and stuff so we can get going right away when they get here. So I climbed up on the counter – the kid climb you know that involves more knees than you seem to have as an adult – and one by one brought down the cereal boxes. I noticed that we had run out of Cheerios and there was a new box. Untouched and unopened and that was really going to slow things down as I wasn’t going to be able to dish in before everyone showed up. After a few more minutes the further idea came to me that I could open the cereal box. This was a bigger idea than just setting up. This was the sort of thing I should be asking permission for, but that seemed unnecessary at this point. It wasn’t like I was doing it for a private snack – I was doing it for a family breakfast. That box was going to be opened this morning either way and there was no reason I saw that should make this action illicit.

So as carefully as I could I pried apart the cardboard flaps, taking care not to rip the top – then I tackled the sealed bag. That was tough for little fingers but I got into it without any massive spillage or mutilation and to my delight, discovered that for once the toy was right on top! No elbow length groping or waiting ages till we ate the box down – there it was pretty as you please sitting right on top. Well now, that made all of this quite worth it!

However long later, when my parents joined me in the kitchen I proudly announced that everything was ready and look! The Cheerios toy had been right on top! My mother’s dead reckoning fell upon the Cheerios box and the heroic moment went downhill from there. I had, turns out, opened the Cheerios box upside-down. There was a terse lecture. Maternal tones of disapproval were employed. My intentions were questioned, as was my moral fortitude. I remember being mildly chagrinned that what I felt was the real point here was being missed, and giving some serious thought to the validity of her viewpoint.

My parents have often reproached me for not listening to them, but I can say with all honesty that I listen very well to them. Often years later I can recite their wisdom, advice and warnings back to them while they have no recollection of ever partaking in such a conversation. My parents are very smart people. They are also truly wise which is not the common pairing many people assume it to be. But from this Cheerios day, I have realized that I do not always view things with the same value, risk or solemnity that they do, and my decisions are my own, as are the consequences whether they are good, bad, or a mixture of both.

The outcome of this was that I acknowledged my mother’s assessment and did not argue back, and speaking with her now she has no recollection of this event. But on that day I decided that upside-down Cheerios were not so bad a thing in the world, and while I would not intentionally have done it, and took care that it did not happen again, I was still pleased with my endeavors and that a couple of weeks of soireehC was not a sufficient reason to take upon myself guilt of any magnitude.

Looking back now I realize what a huge lesson that was to learn at 6, and how much it has influenced who I am and how I go through life. Not only did it teach me independence of thought and action, but also to challenge norms, and to hold my personal values for reasons that I have come to terms with, not just bestowed upon me by tradition or culture. What if I value ease of access to the toy over the proper orientation of cereal boxes? What if you opened my cupboard right now and found that all my cereal had been opened upside-down and were devoid of toys?? (Sorry mom, they are not by the way.)

Life is more than survival I think. It’s more than success or failure. It’s more than happiness or achievements or comfort. Human beings were made to be thoughtful. Intentional. Distinct. I have hope.

 

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The Inquisitor

Red Dwarf was a special occasion when I was a kid, the only way you could watch it was in day-long KCTS 9 telethons and those were fairly rare. If it was unannounced all else was dropped. If it was a scheduled event the prep was meticulous. Blankets and pillows were amassed on the couch, a perfect balance of sweet and savory snacks on hand and of course, anyone who could sing through ‘Tongue Tied’ was invited.

While Red Dwarf hit me in that time & place way that makes something become a part of one’s fabric, I think I can honestly say that one or two episodes have actually in some small way shaped the course of my life. Or perhaps the episodes simply articulated something that was always there. Either way, the visuals of Season 5, episode 2 come not infrequently to mind.

The episode is titled “The Inquisitor” and features the boys all being judged by versions of themselves hosted by ‘The Inquisitor’ – a being who believes those who have ‘wasted’ their lives should be snuffed from ever having existed and their place in the universe given to someone who never had the chance to live. The interesting part of the episode being they are judged by themselves. Rimmer and the Cat pass easily as they honestly believe that they are the best versions of themselves they could be given their circumstances. Rimmer willingly admits he is nothing, stating “…but from what I started with, nothing is up.” And the Cat is content with his good looks.

Kryten and Lister on the other hand, fail themselves, believing they could have done better, made something of themselves, possess untapped potential. This episode first aired in 1992 and I have been thinking about it off and on since then. The 90’s were formative workforce years for me, the type of years you do a lot of thinking about what your strengths are, how you like to spend your time and what you want to contribute to the world. Culminating in the most basic of realities: “Crap, I have to feed myself now. How do I do that and stay sane?!”

In the episode Lister asks the questions “Who is to say what’s worthwhile?” and upon discovering that the Cat and Rimmer have passed while they did not is told “By their own low standards they have acquitted themselves.” On a grander scale I believe what is worthwhile is a no brainer, but on a daily, minute-by-how-you-spend-your-minutes scale – it can be quite subjective. Since 1992 I have tried to keep the question “What is worthwhile?” in the forefront of my daily thinking, and sometimes the answer really is day-long Red Dwarf marathons or sleeping in till noon on rainy days. Worthwhile for me does not mean constant action. On the other hand this question has prompted many a step outside my comfort zone with the half serious expectation of being asked at the end of it all to…

“Justify yourself.”

The Death of the Hobby

People fascinate me, and not often in a good way. I’m always trying to figure them out and therefore I ask questions. “Where are you from?” Is a nice starter, but one question I’m fond of asking for a variety of reasons is “What do you for fun?” I find this is a pretty normal question – and I ask it to discover what the person is interested in, to watch them talk about their passions and honestly to see if there’s anybody in there.

More and more these days in return for this question I am receiving The Blank Stare. Why is this? Are they simply unused to someone taking a mildly nosy interest in them? Or is the thought of doing something for fun becoming an endangered concept?

Let me clarify what I’m talking about here. I’m not talking about 19 year old fun that is really just a lot of energy expended and blurry recollections the morning after. If you can’t remember most of the event it’s not fun. Neither do I mean your workout. You may love your workout and even consider it fun. But it’s your workout.

I mean hobby I guess. A handy definition of Hobby I found is:
Noun
1. An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.
I like this definition because I think every word counts. Activity. As in, something you do, participate in, are active about. Regularly. As in, more than once, over time. Leisure time. As in, spare time, time not allocated for work or chores. For pleasure. As in, something that makes you happy or gives satisfaction.

What they are missing I think is that hobbies have an inherently creative element. Even reading, which may appear passive, requires imagination, thoughtfulness and intentionality that say, watching tv or skimming tweets does not. We’re missing out. We can hear all the reports of busier lives and shorter attention spans… but what does that really look like? A better question is what does that really feel like?

For starters, I think it makes us a lot less interesting as people. Having a hobby means you’ve taken the time to discover what you like. That’s huge. You just don’t pick up a crochet hook or book of stamps one day and say “Yup! This is my thing! I’m a philatelist now!” I think there is probably literally something for everybody, and I’ve met people who make chain mail for historical reenactments, who use gps to hunt for ‘treasure’, and do slam poetry. Are we really staring at our phones in public because we’re busy or shy? Or do we just have nothing to say?

For nexters, I think it makes us generally less satisfied as people. Hobbies are satisfying. When we engage regularly in an activity we learn things, we discover things, we acquire skills, and we might even produce something we’re proud of. Having a hobby to look forward to, even once a month or seasonally creates a personal space in the world. I am inundated all day and everywhere with people around me posting self-affirming trite about how they are ok with their body, their family, their faith, they play by their rules, they don’t care what anyone else thinks… People? If you have to shout that all day every day – newsflash… you’re not that comfortable.

And lastly, I think having a hobby (or twelve) makes us more intentional people. Discovering what we like, what satisfies us, what we’re interested in, carving out time to do it, honing skills, learning new things – takes work. More work than you’d think. Hobbies are often more exhausting than our work sometimes physically and sometimes just in the self-awareness it takes. The effort it takes to be firm in protecting that chunk of time, the thoughtfulness of project planning, quiet moments alone and experiencing something new.

Our world seems fixated on flashy stimuli. Whatever is quick, whatever is new, whatever everyone else is into. We are missing out on whatever is us.

The Dirt on Me

I dug in the dirt this week. Gardening for hobby and sport is not typically my thing. There were hours of childhood punishment picking rocks, and a proffer of pennies per bucket of weeds – which seemed outrageously futile, but the joys of horticulture largely escape me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love plants. Trees especially, and flowering trees extra specially. Cherry blossoms, chestnut spires, mountain ash crowns, golden chains, dogwoods, even elderberry. I love plants in general, and by way of a strange and geeky season in my life I actually know many of the Latin names. I also love the idea of gardening. I enjoy wandering through hair frizzing greenhouses, the humid smell of green, the sturdy heft of the tools, colourful crinkly seed packets, the promissory stick labels… it’s all so… optimistic.

It’s optimistic until day four when the lovely things you brought home and carefully planted fall over in limp yellowing death throws. Or until day 20 when the promissory stick labels are still solitary little monoliths. Or until day 35 when you finally get outside again and the fresh black earth and neat geometric planting scheme is now a compacted rockery of unidentifiable vines, thorns and exploding seed pods.

Ok so I’m not great at this. Like I said, not typically my thing. I won’t even discuss indoor plants… I get enough disparaging looks from the House Beast over the monthly cat-grass debacle20140505_102314. Meh, she loves me for other reasons.

But all that aside. I have been watching the patch of dirt in the back suspiciously for over a year now. It hasn’t made a move. “Patch of dirt” is perhaps generous. “Heap of rubble” might concoct a closer mental picture. There are rocks, and weeds, and coat hangers, and cigarette butts. Some old landscaping fabric, chunks of broken foundation and pipe, a rusty usb cable and a big hole. It’s perfect for me. How can I make that worse? So I picked some rocks and I spread some dirt and I found a few plants that purportedly “like full sun”. It was quite satisfying.

I noticed one very interesting thing as I picked and hauled and dug. Neighbors came round. Really. Just like in the Britcoms and housewife romances. They strolled past and said Hi, they walked their dogs by and commented on the flowers, they stopped to talk about the neighborhood and the weather – it was nice, and it will teach me (a previously private backyard lifer) to wear bras now when I go out to dig. Live and learn.

We Don’t Like You, so You Can’t Play With Us.

There’s been a bit of a fracas lately over a Christian University in my neck of the woods. Trinity Western University was founded in 1962 as a Christian University and has continued as such, having now become the country’s largest independent Christian liberal arts institution. Last year the school was granted the appropriate permissions and accreditations to form a law school.

Given the school’s excellent academic standing with its A+ rating for quality education (The Globe and Mail) and #1 ranking in other NSSE categories such as academic challenge, student-faculty interaction and enriching educational experience (NSSE) it really cannot be said that TWU lacks in any academic standing or ability to produce top quality grads and the decision to award accreditation for a law school was largely uncontested.

The fracas developed because the Law Society of British Columbia proposed to disallow graduates of this school to practice law in the province. Their reasoning for this essentially boils down to: “We don’t like you, you can’t play with us.” You see, TWU has a Community Covenant Agreement that students who attend must agree to sign. Pretty much all universities do btw. A code of conduct agreement somewhere that every applicant signs agreeing to abide by the particular rules of the school they wish to attend. UBC for instance leaves its own so vague that they end up stating; “The following list sets out specific examples of prohibited conduct…: it is not an exhaustive list and students should be aware that their conduct may still be considered prohibited conduct under this Code even if it does not appear in the list below.” (UBC Conduct)

The difference in this case is that TWU – an openly and proud Christian University has based its covenant on Christian principles as set out in the Christian Bible.
Shocker. A privately funded Christian University wanting to promote and setting its on-site codes of conduct to Biblical principles. What madness is this?

In the first section, the covenant asks members to commit themselves, while members of the TWU community, to Christian virtues; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… to live exemplary lives characterized by honesty, generosity and integrity and to be responsible citizens. In the second part it asks that members voluntarily abstain from gossip, prejudice and harassment of any form, also drunkenness and underage or on-campus use of alcohol and the issue in question: sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. The full covenant can be seen here.

What did I find interesting about all that? Was that nowhere does the school ever say what you must be or think, just how you must behave while a member. TWU does not restrict its admittance to those of the Christian faith or to straights or to any other group. They have always admitted people of various faiths and students who declare themselves part of the LGB community. They have never demanded these people change who they are or what they believe – simply said that if you want to come to my House, you take your shoes off while you’re here.

People keep shouting about discrimination. But where is it? No group is being denied an education here, so who wins? Sexual expression or freedom of religion? How did we get to pitting one against the other when nothing is lost in this case? How can the University take any further steps without compromising their values? Not only their values but their Whole Religion?! This is the piece that I cannot figure out how went missing. Law Societies across the country (as well as other groups) are shouting for the University to change its covenant. How do they not understand that what they are asking is for them to not be Christian? If the University is going to declare itself Christian based, and take its principles from the Christian Bible, and therefore from the words of Christ… that’s what it says!! How often do you hear people of faith being slammed for just being a bunch of hypocrites?! Saying they follow one thing but never living like it? Just because society may not like their values does not give us the right to tell them to think differently. It will never be as simple as saying “We don’t like your religion, change it please before you can sit with us.”

Is imposing those values on their students for the duration of their stay going to make some of them uncomfortable? Yep. Anyone anywhere taking any sort of stand on anything is going to make somebody uncomfortable. If I, as a rampant carnivore and sometimes hunter wanted to attend a vegan culinary institute, would I walk in and demand they change their views because I was uncomfortable?! This seems ludicrous to me. Likewise, if the vegan culinary institute decided to run a carving program would I believe their graduates to be incapable of carving because of the school they went to?

This outcry that graduates from TWU will not be able to practice law in other provinces IS actually discrimination. They are being denied the right to practice (have a job) because of their religion. Saying a Christian couldn’t represent LGB issues is like saying someone who has never stolen anything on moral grounds couldn’t represent an embezzlement case. People are different. They believe different things and they each have their strengths. We can’t legislate away opposing views without destroying a free society. That’s why we have these schools. That’s why we have places for people to go who want to explore a religion, or a lifestyle, or a community group. To say “Well, if you graduate from there you can’t be a member of productive society with your degree” is exactly the behavior we are trying to get away from!

The bottom line is that either we tolerate other views or we do not. There is no room for “We don’t like you, so you can’t play with us.” In this case it seems the University has gone as far as they can and remain true to their beliefs. They have not denied anyone admittance or and education – the things they are in the business of doing. This is the part people are not getting – contrary to popular culture, declaring yourself to be a follower of a certain religion does not allow you to pick and choose the bits you’re going to take seriously and the bits you aren’t. It’s an all or nothing kind of thing. Rewriting holy books is not an option, neither is ignoring commandments or the words of God because you don’t like them. The Law Societies have strangely forgone actual law in order to deny graduates to practice. The 20-6 vote in BC to uphold the degree was based on the legal system and is a beautiful example of non-discrimination even when you just don’t like it. Many of those who voted in favor were strongly opposed to the principles of the covenant in question. So why did they uphold it? Because they left “We don’t like you, so you can’t play with us” in high school. Where is belongs.

Things I Want to do Someday

I have a list of Things I Want to do Someday. I add and subtract Things as imagination strikes or as I get the opportunity to cross them off. Previously checked off Things have ranged from simple skill building, such as Learn How to Make Jam to the more risky or complex such as Smuggle Bibles into a Communist Country.

In some cases I have lucked upon the chance to cross Things off and in some cases a mixture of restlessness, boredom and a fear of complacency has urged me to pursue others.

I guess Things I Want to do Someday could be equated to a bucket list – with the exception that some of the Things I will never do. I will never get to challenge someone Rooster Cogburn style with a bitten out “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” and I’m ok with that. I will (likely) never get to be shipwrecked on a deserted island and have jaguars as pets. I will (definitely) never use my (totally non-existent) mad hacking skills to uncover a heinous government conspiracy and I’m quite doubtful that I will ever have to cauterize a buddy’s gunshot wound with nothing but a bottle of tequila, a hot clothing iron and a seatbelt. (Ok maybe a few of these are more a case of Things I Want to Have Done, rather than Do…)

And while I am at peace with the fact that I will never do some of the Things I Want to do Someday they will remain firmly on my list, just in case. That is what reading books is for after all.

On gloomy days like this I like to mentally visit a Thing I do actually hope to do someday – stride up to the departures desk, slap down a credit card and say “Gimme a seat on the next flight out!” – and then hope it’s somewhere interesting. In my imagination I’ve already packed. To be honest, in reality I could probably be out the door in 20 minutes or less. I imagine grabbing a Lonely Planet in the airport bookstore and highlighting sights to see while I sip ginger ale. Of course I imagine a lot of Things, but other Things for other days.

Surrounded by Beauty

It’s April in Vancouver, and I have the privilege of being right downtown in an area known as English Bay.

It is early yet, before 10:00am and today is Palm Sunday. It is one of our most beautiful spring days and everything alive be it plant or animal is engaged in seeking fornication.

There is a city crew painting lines down on Pacific and Davie and even in 13° weather steam from their white plastic paint rises off the road.

A couple of years ago a dodgy looking character in muddy jeans with a nervous twitch approached me at work and asked if I’d excuse his load of rebar of and zip ties. At my raised eyebrow he showed me an official certificate and explained he was commissioned every spring to erect protective fencing around swan and geese breeding grounds near the park and shoreline. I think of him now and all the other seasonal workers coming out of hibernation.

The city isn’t really awake yet. I can tell because the Starbucks line is only three people deep, but the cyclists are out, merrily blowing through stop signs and red lights. As are the herds of runners, chugging along, pausing now and then to snap off a few smug burpies, or even smugger yoga poEnglish Bayses – I have to avert my eyes from such disrespect in the midst of all this splendor.

Even this early there is a portly senior in nothing but a pair of boxers setting up his blanket on the beach – that’s optimism.

The blossoms and early leaves are out in their newborn harlequin laciness and the bay is flat calm, a silver blue that runs out into the sky where the cargo ships wait, an impossibly patient form of commerce.

There is a lazy mix of leisure and labour down here at this hour. Food carts are beginning to fry things and shuttle busses tiptoe through uncontrolled crosswalks, while tourists pose with the Laughing Men and photographers play with the light.

In an hour or so the mood will have changed and this world will disappear. The cut off for any civilized dawdling seems to be noon, but that’s ok, morning will come again.