Friday, July 29, 2011

Not so Different

Have you heard of the documentary called Babies, released last year? Directed by Thomas Balmes, Babies gives the viewer a look at the first year of four babies’ lives—four babies from very different places in the world (Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco).There isn’t much talking, just snippets of conversations and some baby-talk—no narration—but it’s fascinating.

Watching four babies in four completely different cultures grow in their first year is interesting and really cute. I thought, going into this movie, that I would see remarkable contrasts between the lives of four different babies from all around the world. I thought the movie was going to be all about how differently the cultures of the world have and raise their babies.

I was moved, however, as I saw inherent and somewhat unexpectedly obvious similarities between those babies.

The scene that impacted me the most was one in which the Mongolian baby started crying, and he sounded identical to Emmett crying. I could hardly believe my ears.

Mongolian baby

This got me wondering at how similar babies from all around the world really are. They need the same things, they make the same noises, they all babble “mama,” they love their pets, they are entertained by random objects (toys or things—doesn’t matter), their mothers care for them and love them. Babies in their pure, free-from-insecurities state-of-being, untainted by the pressures and the stresses of this world, are very much the same. If you removed the framework of society and culture from around them, babies are not so different.

We are not so different. People are not so different.

We love our family; we love our friends. We need food and water. We need the security of a roof over our heads to feel safe. We have pets. We find humour in life. We raise up the next generation in the best way we can. We seek fulfillment. We just want to be happy.

Just like those babies are so similar, we are similar. You and me and the next person. My grandfather and your neighbour and the people across the world. Those who have and don’t have, those who live a happy life and those who live in poverty…we are all brothers and sisters, and God is our Father.

As many as there are differences between one culture and another, there are similarities. And I think the similarities are more significant than the differences.

I wonder why, then, does it seem like the focus is always on our differences and what separates our culture from the next culture? Is it in the name of  fear or in the name of hate or in the name of separation...or in the name of diversity? 

If we could be aware of and focus on the similarities between the peoples of this world, then wouldn’t we be able to appreciate and respect our differences

And then wouldn’t we be able to celebrate our differences in a positive way instead of highlighting them and separating “us” from “them” using the divisive walls called “I’m Better Than You” or “I Don’t Understand You”?

I'm thankful to have watched Babies because it shed some light on the way I've perceived others, challenging me to rethink my perspective. I learned through watching Babies that that which on the surface may appear to be a marked contrast between race and culture actually served to represent a subtle, stunning comparison:

We are not so different; we are the same in many significant ways.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A New Newton

Isaac Newton

On the History Channel last week, there were a couple of shows on about Nostradamus, and I was intrigued, so I watched them.

What I ended up taking away from these shows was, yes, a little food for thought about Nostradamus and his prophecies, and even more impactful, a real inspiration from many other people that the featured historians, professors and authors referred to: people like Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei (their discoveries and theories in relation to Nostradamus etc.).

Galileo Galilei
Isaac Newton lived in the 17th century, and he is most famously known for “discovering” the law of gravity. Galileo also lived in the 17th century, and his research helped develop modern science. Mathematics, physics and astronomy were his main subjects. Galileo also invented the microscope.

There are many more people like this: How about Leonardo DaVinci and all of his inventions? He’s my personal favourite; I have his birthday on my Verjardakalendaar in my bathroom (I know, I’m a dork)…

…Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Gregor Mendel (did you notice his tribute on the Google home page a couple days ago?), Pierre and Marie Curie…the list goes on and on…

 I started wondering,

[ If these famous inventors, theorists and discoverers had never taken risks or pursued their intellectual curiosity, would they have changed the course of history? What kind of effect would that have had on our development?]

Leonardo DaVinci
OK – I’m sure someone else would have figured out that things fall down if they are heavy enough…and given that law a name. But who? When? In what chain of events? Why?

I am extremely inspired by these great inventors and thinkers. They had questions, so they sought answers. They had passions and dreams, so they chased them. They had to take risks and probably had to make sacrifices—they may have had colleagues or family members ridiculing them for their ideas—but they kept on going, accomplishing much, blazing a trail to perpetuate the course of history and cultural/theoretical/scientific development.

We are the same. Sure, maybe we’re not all going to become great inventors, but we all have passions and dreams…and if you don’t follow your dreams and feed your passions and take a few risks, who will?

You can’t expect anyone else to do what you were created to do. You can’t give up your dreams to someone else. Perhaps there are many other people with the same general dream as yours, but you are the only one who has dreamed that dream in a certain way based on your own personality and experiences...

…and you are the only one who will follow that dream and take those risks in your unique way!

Be your own version of the likes of Isaac Newton and Leonardo DaVinci. Take a long, hard look at that apple that fell from the tree in your life, pertaining to your passion. If you won’t, who will?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Childhood Memories

The only time I have ever cut grass...with a toy lawn mower!

There is a series of thoughts that has probably worn blisters on its feet from walking through my mind so much (haha - that sounded like a pickup line!). It’s those thoughts concerning the realm of [childhood memories].

In fact, I’ve mentioned childhood memories in this blog before.

We all have certain childhood memories that will stay with us forever. Out of all of the years, days, hours and minutes that comprise our childhood, only some memories last a lifetime (The Stickers), and those ones are repeatedly remembered. They probably still impact us today in some way or another.

I’ve noticed, now that I am a mother, that a lot of the things I do with my child bring back my own childhood memories. For example, last week when I poured a cup of water over Emmett’s head to rinse out the shampoo, I remembered that my sister and I used to call those “dunkovers.” (Maybe that’s a common term; I don’t know.) I also remembered that we used to have a black bottle of bubble bath in the closet upstairs when I was a kid, and I remember bringing it out periodically, asking my mom if I could have a bubble bath instead of a regular bath.

I remember grocery shopping being the most exciting experience. My mom would always say that groceries cost much more in the weeks that she brought us kids with her. We would beg for this and that, and usually come home with some pretty awesome loot. My favourite things to bring home from the grocery store were cinnamon buns from Sobey’s and fresh onion buns to melt mozzarella cheese on in the oven.

We all have lots of these memories. Many of them involve our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or whatever other important friends, caretakers or guardians we had. How many times do people recall memories like this:

“When I was a kid, my dad used to take me fishing.”

“My aunt used to wear this really strong perfume and she would squeeze my cheeks every time she visited.”

“When we were little, my sister and I would play Barbies with our cousins.”

“We used to have sleepovers at our grandparents’ house, and I remember one time going shopping with them. They bought me a Treasure Troll. We would have crepes for breakfast.”

“One time, my brother and I made a killer fort in the woods and pretended we lived there.”

OK, you get the point.

Since I had my baby, I started realizing that one day, he would remember things from his childhood.

This is his childhood…my adulthood is his childhood, and it’s happening right now.

The time will soon come that he will start remembering things—and compiling a log of childhood stories to tell other people: his friends, his girlfriend (one day a VERY LONG time from now), and his own children.

Then I started to panic, thinking, “I am going to contribute to his memories.”

[What a responsibility!]

More than that, I have a responsibility to make sure that he has some great memories. I have a responsibility to show him wisdom because he will always remember some of the things I say, especially the things I repeat. I have a responsibility to come up with fun things to do, sprinkled with adventure, composed of variety--the stuff of stories told for years to come. I have to make sure he is safe but has the opportunity to try new things and go new places to experience his life to the fullest.


Maybe you aren’t a parent. Maybe you are an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent or a close friend of the family who spends tons of time with someone else's kids and loves them like they are your own. You have a responsibility, too. What will the child or children in your life remember about you? 

What did you teach them? Where did you take them? What did you give them? What did you say to them? How did you treat them? How did you show them you love them? How did you react to situations when they were watching?

I don't mean to make you panic. I panicked a little, but only until I reasoned that these kinds of questions are worth pondering now as opposed to later, when you wished you could have been a better role model.

Children’s memories don’t happen entirely by accident. They are shaped by the people around them. Adults definitely can’t control everything that happens to the children in their lives, but we definitely should realize how important we are in shaping their memories and experiences. After all, those memories have the potential to last a lifetime, impacting them and could even qualify to be passed on to the next generation.

Wow! This opens a whole world of possibilities! I would love nothing more for Emmett to recall certain pivotal childhood memories in his wedding day speech (if he gets married—no pressure!), saying that his parents said or did things that had a positive influence on him. That would definitely get the water works going! Maybe I should start stocking up on Kleenex now.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Little Hell

City and Colour: Little Hell

Somehow, this has ended up being my third album review in two months. My blog isn’t a music review blog, but somehow, these albums have definitely given me ideas and thoughts to ponder and wonder about, so they just “fit.” Plus, I'm very passionate about music.

Dallas Green, or City and Colour, (I love the name—poetic and literal all at once) released the album Little Hell on June 7.

One of the aspects I like about Dallas Green is that he is from the same city that I live in: St. Catharines, Ontario. I have lived in St. Catharines since 1995. I went to high school in St. Catharines. I am well aware that St. Catharines is a real place—I am writing this post here, in my house, in muggy St. Catharines. Because of this, Dallas Green is more real to me than the next famous person from either “prestigious” places like L.A. or New York or "unknown", "mysterious" towns in the American Midwest or eastern Canada. (I feel the same about Ron Sexsmith because he, too, a singer/songwriter who just released his 12th album, grew up in St. Catharines.)

The fact that such a great musician and singer came from my city grounds him to reality by offering a refreshing reminder that even well-known, accomplished, visible, talented people are still people, just as you and I are people. They are real.

This whole idea got me wondering about the concept of “celebrity.” We can Google hundreds of pictures of well-known people on the Internet, read about them on Wikipedia and countless other websites, see them in movies or on TV or on YouTube and play and replay their songs. I wonder if society, using this repeatable visibility, or audibility, builds well-known people up until they are so big that we are convinced we would lose our faculties should we ever meet them in real life. We make them larger-than-life.

I like that Dallas Green is not perched on a high pedestal in my mind as some untouchable superhuman (respected, yes; heavenly voice, definitely; unreal, no) because I’m not forced to think worse of myself in the process—instead, I feel inspired and energized. 

Moving on to the actual album:

Here are a few of my listening experiences and related thoughts and ponderings about some of the tracks:

You’ve probably heard the awesome single, “Fragile Bird.” I knew it was good because Joel asked me a few weeks ago, “Have you heard the new City and Colour single? It’s so wicked!” (I trust Joel’s musical opinion explicitly.) The music embodies the here and now, while the lyrics pay tribute to Dallas’ wife’s night terrors, making the song sweet, sensitive and intense all at once.

My sister came over the other morning, and we listened to and talked about “Silver and Gold.” In this song, there is a beautiful chord, and I couldn’t figure out technically what it was that made it so pleasing to my ear. Apparently it’s the use of chromaticism that literally adds “colour” to the song by using a relative minor: notes that don’t belong in the key of the song. Little details like this are what makes listeners want to listen to a song again and again—because of those little rewards.

I was listening to the album a couple of days ago as I laid outside in the sun. A thunderstorm threatened the sky, but instead, as I gazed at the sky while being serenaded by the acoustic guitar in "Northern Wind," the clouds passed by overhead—a race between white and dark, in sync with the beat of the next song I heard: “Natural Disaster.” I almost wished that the dark clouds would have rained on me because then I could have said, “It started to rain, but I didn’t notice, the music was so good.” But the clouds blew away. Either way, it was beautiful sky show, made even more dramatic because it was soundtracked by such a great collection of songs. 

My favourite song on the album is “Little Hell.” In the MuchMusic interview I watched, Dallas explained that the title “Little Hell” refers to all of the little things that can have such a large negative impact and influence in our lives—things like afflictions, addictions, fears, guilt, shame, weakness, unforgiveness, resentment and memories we wish we could forget. We often carry these with us through life as heavy baggage that threatens to affect the ones we love. 

I just so happened to first hear this song in bed before I fell asleep, using headphones that literally obliterated all other sounds but the music, and it was dark. I closed my eyes, and all I felt was the music. I felt the emotion, the sorrow, the truth and the hope of the song. When all the instruments joined the acoustic guitar, “what if everything’s just the way that it will be/ Could it be that I am meant to cause you all this grief,” the sounds became a physical feeling that impacted me. You should try listening to this song in the dark. It's awesome.

Another little note about the concept of “little hells”: I like that he brought up this topic because the more I thought about it, the more I have realized that if we carry burdens from our past, we shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and accept them as an inevitable weight to bend our backs for the rest of our lives. We can forgive and forget (just as God forgives and forgets), overcome, make peace, deal with those issues that plague us and move forward lighter and easier, with eyes set on the future instead of glancing back at the heavy past.

I highly recommend this album. It’s different, it’s beautiful, it’s poetic (the lyrics would stand alone strongly even without the music), it’s moving—it was a delight to experience and it was my pleasure to write about.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Meaning of the Greeting

What do you do when you notice someone in the grocery store whom you haven’t seen in years? Maybe you’re at the mall on a Saturday and by glancing into a store, you see someone you know. Have you ever deliberated the situation?

[Should I go and talk to that person, or should I just pretend not to notice and walk away?]

In a few seconds, webs of logic and a flood of memories can stream through your mind, weighing the options:

“If I quickly glance away, he might not see me. I just don’t feel like talking today.”

“Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen her in absolute ages! I want to say ‘Hi.’”

Perhaps you call out that person’s name in a desperate attempt to greet him or her. Maybe she doesn’t hear you, you feel embarrassed and just forget about trying.

Or if that person is walking in your direction, and is someone you haven’t talked to in years, maybe your memory will recall incidents in which that person hurt you. Or maybe you think that person never liked you much, so you immediately feel self-conscious, your stomach does a quick flip-flop and your face turns red, you pick up a box of cake mix with flustered hands and pretend to scour the ingredients, complete with a deliberate frown.

How do you greet people?

I’ve been wondering about greetings, “hellos” and the like for a couple of weeks. I’ve paid attention to my greetings. I’ve watched complete strangers greet each other. It’s interesting. Very interesting.

This is what I’m thinking: when you greet someone, especially if you are the first one to say something, your greeting can determine the feel, or set the tone, of the conversation you end up having. In a sense, what you say has the ability to steer your conversation into the awkward zone, to build up walls or to create an open, welcoming feeling that covers over any possible assumptions or misunderstandings. You might desperately try to conjure a decent excuse to abruptly end the talking, or you might find yourself in a conversation you hope could last for hours. 

I’m sure you know people, who, when you see them, literally greet you with open arms and an enthusiastic, friendly “hello.” Don’t you love that? A welcoming, happy greeting paves the way for an open, friendly conversation. I always feel extremely comfortable when talking to someone who greets me like that. Any misgivings or awkwardness are whisked away and forgotten.

On the other hand, I have to confess that there have been times when I’ve greeted someone in such a way that separated me from the other person. Perhaps I tried to sound too proper and polite, but in doing so, I unintentionally distanced someone with formality. Or maybe my perceptions of that person, or what I thought that person thinks of me, got in the way and made me feel awkward and unsure of what to say.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I want to make an honest effort in being relaxed instead of formal, open instead of narrow-minded and speculative, and welcoming instead of avoiding, at the start of every conversation. We ought to take responsibility for our position within every conversation we have. Why not make a deliberate choice to steer communication into the sweet, open air of future possibilities instead of receding into the swampy past?

Of course it’s easy to greet friends and family. Of course you are friendly and relaxed with them. Of course you can easily have fun greeting people you know well.

I’m referring to those people you see in church (they know who you are and you know who they are) but haven’t ever talked to; those kids who were in Grade 12 English with you but you were always worried they didn’t like you; those girls who were in your Psychology seminar last year that you sat next to, but you wonder if they remember you; those guys you were friends with in your teenage years, but then you grew apart when you grew up, so you haven’t talked to them in years and you wonder if they’d actually want to talk to you; the couple you worked with forever ago, and with all the time that’s gone by, you don’t know if they "qualify" as people you would walk up to to say “Hi” if you ran into them…

 …all of those people who you have the chance to create positive connections with—just by putting a little enthusiasm into your greeting, by being open and accepting—just by going out on a limb, throwing yourself out there to make a point of saying “hey.” For it is in the relationships and connections we have with people that make life sweet, exciting, spontaneous, pleasantly surprising and never quite what we expect.

Happy Canada Day!