Uncategorized

Who Are You?

Are you optimistic, pessimistic, neutralistic? Is the world abundant, scarce or three bears just right? Is your view of the world about how you perceive the truth, your disposition, and/or your experiences? I can find myself feeling ‘hell-in-a-handbasket’ like my father, my grandfather and I am sure on occasion my grandchildren or I can deliberately expect and demand a different perspective from myself and different results from the world. My tendencies are a matter of wiring and if I don’t want to continue wallowing in self-pity I can undertake to rewire my brain to observe the magic, beauty, and mystery alongside the tragedy, hatred and vitriol.

For me, it begins with morning meditation. I use a guided application called “Simple Habits” and practice is the first activity I schedule after my feet hit the floor. It isn’t a spiritual exercise as much as a consciousness and mindfulness kick start. This morning’s meditation was about gratitude for discomfort and how the aches and pains I feel physically and emotionally are likely my body and brain attempting to protect me from additional harm. Without feeling the twinge in my left Achille’s tendon, I might run until something snaps. If I didn’t feel anxious, I might jump off the next cliff without some measure of investigation and reflection. If I didn’t feel regret for not saying something to a loved one in a time of trouble, I might become callous and distant.
I don’t have any chronic conditions that cause me distress do I am not sure how someone could feel grateful for that kind of infliction but I encourage you to take a moment to understand and appreciate your stress, aches, or anxiety. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in it and don’t just accept the situation if there are options to improve or dissipate them.

My tactics for reframing are ecological, entertaining, and explicit. If I want to change my patterns, thoughts or actions I need to be aware of the surroundings that I find myself in and the surroundings that fit with how I see the changed self I want to become. In order to be more grateful, I can’t be surrounded by ungrateful or selfish people. I need to be surrounded by light, love, and learning. I can’t continue doing the same things in the same places in the same way that brought me to the valley of distrust and disappointment. For the circumstances to change, I need to change my where and how and who. Escaping from stinking thinking is essential. It means that there are people in my life today that can’t be in my life tomorrow. There are places I need to stop going and actions that I must stop undertaking. We all have a preferred or imagined ecology that fulfills more of our aspirations and unfortunately, it won’t manifest itself. We need to seek it out through our actions.

I can be shallow and unfocused and unless the change process is fun, I know that I might retreat to the depths that I am trying to escape. Fun need not be onerous or expensive. Meeting with uplifting people for an activity, a meeting, a coffee, a walk will put a smile on my face even when or because the conversation is an adventure. I met with three friends this morning for ninety minutes and we ranged across the sublime and inane to the profound and debatable. We laughed, we shared, we disagreed and we hugged. We expressed our gratitude for each other and the time spent and booked another gathering for a month from now. I left inspired, thankful and challenged. The stimulus of camaraderie and conversation caused neurons to fire against my hippocampus and began nurturing new pathways.

My final tactic; explicit is really an e word for intentional. ( I love alliteration so much that I always trying to catch it in my lists – ecological, entertaining, and explicit). In my worldview, nothing happens organically. Or nothing will predictably happen without intention. I must invest my resources and time in creating a V2.0 or V11.5 of me and I need to be vested in the outcome.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

Make Today Remarkable, by choice,

Bob

Uncategorized

Wide or Narrow

The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out. ~ JRR Tolkien

Start wide, expand further, and never look back. ~Arnold Schwarzenegger

Let’s not be narrow, nasty, and negative. ~ TS  Eliot

There is in true beauty, as in courage, something which narrow souls cannot dare to admire. ~ William Congreve

Certainty narrows, curiosity widens. ~ Bob McInnis

We live in a world of unparalleled possibilities yet more often than not we rely on the tried and true heuristics that worked yesterday and on all our yesterdays. Fear, laziness, complacency or ignorance convince us that there is ‘nothing new in this world’ that is worth exploring, worth trying, worth learning. In my not so humble opinion, there is everything new in this world, and I can soak it up, synthesize it, reflect on it and then reflect the as yet unimagined creation to those willing to see it.

My youngest grandson loves binoculars. At three, he prefers to look through them backward from how I use them. He ‘likes things far away’ better than close up. I have tried them both ways at his insistence and realize that I see more clearly having seen the tree and seen the leaves. Simply by adding one perspective widened my view of and appreciation for the world. If I had continued to bring things close, I wouldn’t have seen the forest.

When I read Robert Sapolsky, YH Harari, and Ali Bryan over the last few months, my perspective widened. When I investigated and booked a trek, my world became wider. (and when we climb the Via Feratta, it broadens). By looking at the world differently, we see a different world. When we read or listen to a new voice, our understanding gets broader. If I go somewhere and do something for the first time my experience of life is deeper.

I can be a creature of habit and choose to live narrowly, or I can opt for richness and surprise. Mediocrity lives and thrives in habitual practice, routine observations and rigid, echo chamber ideas.

This week, let’s explore getting wider and broader.
B

The Cultural Curiosity Daily will be a hodgepodge on some days and a treatise on others. If you are entertained, provoked, inspired, edified or angered by any of it you can respond with comments and as always you can ‘buy me a coffee.

Uncategorized

Support and Disappointment

In my not so humble opinion, relationships are complicated, exhilarating and require dedication and commitment. There is a theory that we basket our relationships into four categories; intimate, personal, social and public. I hold one person in my intimate basket, dozens in my personal, hundreds in my social and thousands in public. At the widest point, my commitment and dedication are lowest and so is the exhilaration and complexity.
Those in my personal basket are people who I care about; I care enough that when I am making a decision, I consider how my actions will impact them. We remain connected through an undocumented and unaudited reciprocity. We support each other; we listen for opportunities to offer sincere feedback, and we extend grace to each other when we screw up. It is hard to acknowledge and own the mishaps (maybe it is in all cases), but if I am open to accepting culpability,  the relationship remains authentic. If I am ducking for cover and denying involvement, the relationship is eroded.

In my intimate relationship that has survived and flourished for 43 years. All of the above is encapsulated; complicated, exhilarating, supportive, dedicated, grace and committed. But I believe that the reason that we have continued to work hard every day to live happily ever after is because we don’t want to disappoint each other. I have disappointed her and been disappointed, but I know that each day I ask myself “if I do this would it disappoint her?” 99.5% of the time the answer is “no” and 99.9% of the time when the answer is “yes,” I don’t make that choice.

My relationships are my responsibility, and I take seriously the role that continues to evolve and hold those close to me to a high standard.

Are your relationships healthy and reciprocal? Do you care and demonstrate that you care in equal measure? Are you willing and ready to step up and move to the next level?

Make Today Remarkable, for someone close  to you,

B

The Cultural Curiosity Daily will be a hodgepodge on some days and a treatise on others. If you are entertained, provoked, inspired, edified or angered by any of it you can respond with comments and as always you can ‘buy me a coffee.

Uncategorized

Even When I Don’t Want To

Being considerate, caring and compassionate shouldn’t be optional. Regardless of how I feel, what the situation is, or who is involved, I should strive for the three big C’s.

It seems paradoxical that I can be inconsiderate of people that I have never met and people who are closest to my heart. Neither are acceptable. When I encounter someone, for the first time, that challenges me, offends me, or rubs me the wrong way I feel justified in any rudeness or callousness that pours out of me. I am not justified in treating them badly regardless of the circumstances. Rudeness begets negativity, and I am always in the position to decide to break the cycle.  As I reflect on the times that I haven’t considered someone else, there are far too many times that the object of my derision is the person or people who mean the most to me. I take them for granted; I raise my voice; I cut them off; I can be mean-spirited. Is this because I feel safe that my outburst will be forgiven?
There is a huge segment of my social and public spheres that have never seen that side of me.  I see them once a month, once a year or in specific situations. I treat them with respect even when I challenge them. We disagree without animosity. Is the reduced familiarity a factor? I don’t know how they will react, so I am on better behavior? Am I consciously deciding to treat them as I want to be treated even when I may want to lash out? Can I consistently decide to be respectful to everyone? I think it is possible. I know people who are always sincere, interested and ethical (I don’t live in their skin so my impression may not be accurate).
It is my responsibility to choose to be respectful. To decide to be compassionate. To opt for consideration, especially when I feel challenged.

I am going to observe my tendencies and alter my approach as needed over the next month. Would you benefit from a wee modification?

Make Today Remarkable, for someone else,

Bob

Uncategorized

Normal

If you are reading this post, you likely live in a world where abundance exists, and possibilities abound. In the Information Era, we should have the desire, opportunity, and curiosity to break free from the mediocrity of normalcy. But many of us cave into the pressure of believing without investigating, saying without examining and doing without agreeing. The blandness of social channels exemplifies how truly unremarkable our lives can be when we chug along with the crowd. The backlash of trolls and the general churlishness of the global gossip network reinforces the bounded rationality of normal. Breaking out of the square mold takes courage, commitment, and curiosity but the reward of becoming unbound is that you get to sing your own song to your own beat without worrying about the naysayers and critics. In fact, once you gain some distance from the mob, their resentment becomes part of the motivation to continue.

When we live within the circle of sameness, we miss all the as yet unimagined. The remarkable accidents don’t have time or space to change our trajectory.The status quo seems okay, and we begin measuring excitement and joy on a scale with an extremely low bar. If the path is void of unplanned adventure, we plod along as if on Prozac with ups and no downs. Flatlining should only happen after we are dead.

Living a life less conventional is a choice that you can start at any age. As with most things it would be great if you could take one big step and become a curious adventurer but there are years of conforming and pressure to be ‘a good girl’ from a peanut gallery that wants you to toe the line, so they don’t need to consider how small they are living their lives.

The disposition to go along can be gradually shifted towards nonconformity and even contrarianism by taking one small step at a time. If you intentionally do something, anything, differently today than you did it yesterday, you are moving towards a healthier mental state. If you plan to take an action that will be seen as unconventional and even accept that you may initially be embarrassed, then your courage will be rewarded. When you understand that the social conventions and long-standing acceptance of unwritten rules is just a shared fiction that can and should be challenged, you have altered your journey.

If you tend to think of yourself first, then try to consider how your choices impact those around you. If you are more altruistic, then lean towards self-interest for a couple of decisions. If you favor a healthy lunch, then shake it up with something decadent.
Is your bookshelf full of nonfiction because it will improve your work performance, then try a month of nothing but fiction to improve your imagination.
Once you establish a comfort level in challenging your norms, you can venture into the area of debating and commenting on the opinions and ‘values’ of the amorphous blob. Values are in quotes because values are usually deeply considered and held views and beliefs but much of what I hear and see is just an aping of what has come to be called common sense.

The big takeaway and action I hope you get from reading through to the end are that you can be remarkable and lead a big life, but it needs to be on your terms, with your goals, your tactics, and your passion. Don’t let someone, anyone dictate your path or force you to hide who you are and what you believe from the world. We not only need differences but we should celebrate those who dare to present themselves uniquely. We should celebrate you, who you are and who you can be.

Make Today Remarkable in the most exciting and outrageous way,

Bob

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncategorized · Uncertainty

Learning Curiousity

Am I a slow learner? Am I in the too old to teach a new trick category? Do I continue to expect a different result from the same process? Am I unwilling to consider possibilities that don’t confirm what I already hold to be true? Yes, yes and yes but not as often as I was three years ago and not as often as I was three months ago. I am getting better at listening and observing. I have improved my willingness and ability to embrace strategies, tactics, and practices that don’t guarantee an expected and preferred outcome. I am able to say ” let’s give it a try and see what we learn.”

It’s not easy being curious but inquisitiveness has it’s own rewards too. Accepting that what you are doing, in this moment, is the best use of your time and the actions you are taking will give you the best bang for your buck is the easier road. It is more difficult to question the status quo, make an inquiry that doesn’t have a ready-made answer or just do what ‘we have always done’. It seems impossible to lift our heads and see how the world has changed since we started and see if what we have been doing has made an impact on what we are trying to achieve.

Learning isn’t a random activity. I conceded that we can acquire experience by happenstance but curiousity requires intention (non-randomness). I have gained information in moments of chaos but recognize that I ascribed the result post experience and missed a genuine window to learning something as yet unimagined because I hadn’t set out to intentionally absorb, digest and regurgitate. We can commit to being observant, reflective, questioning, and accept knowledge lightly without grasping it to our chest and pretending it is sacred.We then actively search for confirmation and actively pursue misunderstanding so that our delusions don’t disolve.

I am a self-confessed impatient imperfectionist with and extreme action bias. This leaves me jumping to conclusions and off bridges before I spend time hearing the options and then making an informed decision. My stubbornness and self-importance present as unreasonable pride and can limit my willingness to explore. Some days I believe I am the most accommodating and interested person that I know and on the next day, I am self-assured, self-righteous and self-centered. I can constantly convince myself that I understand how the world works without applying any rigor or testing to the thesis. I can smile and nod with self-satisfaction when nothing out of the ordinary or nothing I couldn’t have predicted occur. It would seem, after some thought, that the results are a function of the conditions and preconditions that I established rather than some sacred or scientific rule. The same results are a function of the same blind routine rather than the best and only impact that is/was possible.

If I consider and then change the starting parameters I can reasonably expect that the process and ends will be different. Even if I am pleased with the way things went, isn’t it incumbent on me to see how I may improve the results?
As always, when I write in the first person I could as easily be using second or third. Are you a slow learner? Are we in the too old to teach a new trick category? Do you continue to expect a different result from the same process? Are we unwilling to consider possibilities that don’t confirm what we already hold to be true?

Embrace some ambiguity today. Test a new ‘off the wall’ thesis. Be bold and go where you have never gone before.

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
~ Walt Disney

Curiousity is the lust of the mind ~ Thomas Hobbes

Science means constantly walking a tightrope between blind faith and curiosity; between expertise and creativity; between bias and openness; between experience and epiphany; between ambition and passion; and between arrogance and conviction – in short, between an old today and a new tomorrow.
~ Heinrich Rohrer
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
~ Albert Einstein
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. – Zora Neale Hurston

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
e. e. cummings

My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.
Mario Testino

As I get older, the more I stay focused on the acceptance of myself and others, and choose compassion over judgment and curiosity over fear.
Tracee Ellis Ross

 

Make Today Remarkably Curious,

B

Uncategorized

Nostalgia

Nostalgia’s only frame is our imagination. Whether the lens is rose, green, or black, we rearrange and edit to suit the mood and moment we are trying to recreate. In the memorable moment, we store the events and circumstances arbitrarily influenced by how well we slept the night before, how much traffic we encountered, or if the sun is shining. If I have expectations that joy and laughter, or anger and sadness will be present the data that is stored through confirmation or denial of those expectations alter how the event is captured. When the extraction of a memory happens, it is revised by the proximity to the moment, the reference it is being called to explain, the stimulus evoking the need, and my mood, disposition and experiences since the last filing of the remembrance. The first telling is freshest, although potentially fictional, and then influences subsequent testimonies based on how the story impacted the teller and the audience. Black becomes grey, sad becomes despondent, or late afternoon can become evening. The shading towards larger or smaller, louder or quiet is a reflection of observation of the narrative rather than the instant being described.

The following is a chapter from my “Faded Recollections” project. See if you can hear where my shifts and shades push into the narrative. This chapter was written 3 years ago, I wonder if you can feel my state of mind then?

After ten weeks in grade 4, I had figured out a pattern that made me popular or at least not unpopular. Being a teacher’s kid wasn’t as bad as a pastor’s kid but I was always viewed with a little suspicion. ” He might tell his mom.” ” Bobby is coming, don’t let him see it”. It made it difficult to be part of a group and impossible to get a girlfriend (whatever that meant). Patty and Diane, two very cute girls, didn’t reciprocate any of my clumsy advances but there were a couple of other boys who would run to the far corner of the playground with me and sit watching the girls giggle at us oogling them. Crossing the monkey bars, two hand holds at a time and shinnying up the swing standard had given me some credibility with Brian and Allan and instilled some awe in the grade 2 kids. For north end kids, all we had was name and reputation.

Life for kids was far more disorganized then, and way more fun. No teacher picked teams at recess for baseball or hit fly balls for Shag or explained the rules for freeze tag or fretted about boys being boys (or girls being boys). Life was simpler. You knew who liked you. You knew who you hoped would like you. You knew who didn’t like you and you shunned them just like they were avoiding you. Feelings got hurt all the time. Kids pushed each other and name called. Kids got knicks, and bled and bumps and bruises appeared and disappeared. Kids learned a lot.

November 1963 had been chilly, dipping to -20C ( 4 below on the old scale) and winter felt like it was edging in early. Well, maybe not early because my memory serves up many Halloweens with snow covering the lawns and eggs freezing on windows. Regardless, the weather hadn’t gotten frigid enough to confine the 200 kids in the basement at lunch and recess. That only happened when they were really afraid that one of us would get frostbite or stick our tongue to the bootscraper, on a dare. After all the teachers needed a coffee and a smoke in the teacher’s lounge and 15 minutes away from their charges. For Mr. Berg there wasn’t any respite. He had grade 5 kids asking inane questions, getting on his nerves, not listening to instructions and yawning in his classroom and then did supervision so his wife could get new curtains, or slipcovers, or dishes or something. “Every little bit helps”

At morning recess, he faced south leaning against the greying brick at the ready to pick up the pieces if a humpty dumpty incident happened, like when Harvey parachuted off the big swing and broke his left leg. Like the all the King’s men, he wasn’t responsible for stopping the carnage just repairing the damage and watching for true craziness and listening for potty mouths. He could hear Kevin say “shit” from 200 yards and knew that if Adele was moping by the back gate that she might be contemplating a runner. In September, Adele took off at morning recess heading east and Patty said: “ her parents found her in Winnipeg a week later.” I don’t know how a ten-year-old could travel 500 miles but that is what Patty said and we always listened when she was making pronouncements, besides the goal posts.
At lunch break, Mr. Berg faced east imagining something better. Maybe some excitement would jump in his lap tomorrow. “It is only November, I have 7 months until summer and two months away from this drudgery”. When he was in the noon position, he couldn’t see what was going on at the swings, teeters or climbing bars and was oblivious to the activities at the corner gate. Plots were hatched, nicknames were taunted, horseplay arose and I remember trying to hold Patty’s hand. Nobody swore, or thought about smoking or really hurting each other but the rules were different then.
By the afternoon recess, Mr. Berg had given up on another day and didn’t even come out of the covered entry. The principal always took an extra five minutes before ringing the bell and never did a sweep to see if he was earning the extra $2. If havoc and mayhem was going to break out, this was the time. For most of us, we had no real sense of time but it was obvious that freedom was on the horizon. Even in November, the sun was still promising something and our imaginations worked together to fill the hours between supper and street lights. We were powerless to change the cycle so we adapted to the rhythm.

November 23 started just like November 22. Harvey and I were first to the playground, just before 8:30, and staked the best spot in the grade 4 territory, on the pavement under the Kindergarten window. We bragged about yesterday and proudly prophesized about tomorrow, avoiding today. Four other boys joined us before the lineup bell rang and then the stragglers raced across the field from every direction. If we timed it perfectly, we could meander kicking stones and looking cool to arrive at the back door just as the second bell rang and the girls lined up. The daily dance started. It is hard to flirt and avoid being seen or seeing all at the same time. By now, we were pretty much in sync and our moves were choreographed like the Virginia Reel we practised in the playroom. “Would today be the day that Mrs. Mattson actually paired me with someone other than Shirley – Squirrelly Shirley?”
I don’t recall what occurred at morning recess or in any of my classes which is weird because I did well in school and this would turn out to be one of the most important days of my life. Maybe I was foreshadowing the upcoming events or maybe the rush that was coming has erased pieces, to leave room for clarity and sharpness, in what was important and remarkable.
Lunch was the highlight, for me. I rushed home to grab a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of whole milk with a plan to meet back on the playground in 5 minutes to play a game of Aerial. Aerial was a local version of football where one kid, the quarterback picked up the ball off the dirt field and all the other kids on his team raced toward the goal posts. The quarterback had three or five elephants to select a receiver and heave the ball in his direction before the opposition madly chased him in an effort to tag him with two hands. Invariably, “ I got you on the back”, “ You only tagged with one hand”, “Missed me” rang from the playground as often as the ball was caught. The team with the ball had three chances to score( CFL rules) and then the other team took over and tried to move the football across the other goal line. A score of 21-14 was a good noon hour, especially if you scored one of the three touchdowns. You could be a minor celebrity for a couple hours. “Nice catch”, “ You really deked him out”, or “ I want to be on your team tomorrow” was the highest compliment.
For some reason, the television was on. It was never on at lunch. Maybe one of my sisters turned it on hoping to catch Flintstones but with only one channel you got what was delivered not what you wanted. A news program was playing and a serious man in a dark suit was saying something important. All the suits looked dark in black and white. “ President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, at Dealy Plaza at 12:30 Central Standard Time. “ How could he be shot at 12:30 when it is only 12:10?” was my first thought and then the serious man said “ Reports indicate that the wounds were fatal but the Whitehouse hasn’t confirmed this”. Shot, president, wounds, fatal… fatal meant dead didn’t it? There weren’t any pictures, just serious man. I imagined as hard as I could what the president looked like. I had seen glimpses of him on the news that was on every day before supper, when we all had to be deadly quiet if dad was watching. I conjured his image and a gunshot with blood spurting out like when I got clunked on the forehead with a rock hit off a broken bat. I couldn’t picture dead, I didn’t have a picture of shot dead except from the occasional Saturday movie at the Capitol Theatre. Then no one ever bled, they just fell down when it was their turn.

I was 9 years old, living in a different country but this was the most important thing that I had ever heard and there was no one to tell. My sisters had already headed back to school to sit by the playground and watch the big kids climb, swing and teeter. It felt like I was teetering. My heart and brain were racing. I remember touching my tongue to the roof of my mouth and it felt soft and sticky. I had stopped munching on the PB&J and was sitting with my mouth wide open staring at the first images of the car and the chaos. I didn’t see blood but in black and white not everything is clear. I don’t know how much time had passed but I eventually recovered and washed my mouth out with a big gulp of still cold milk. I picked up my sandwich and glass and took them to the sink. I wasn’t supposed to eat in the living room. There were rules that you never got caught breaking.

I knew who I could tell. There was one adult who I knew would be there. Mr. Berg would be standing guard in the schoolyard and he would know what to do with this information. I slammed the back door on my way out and took the three steps off the stairs in a leap. I raced back to school rehearsing the words, rethinking the words, reconsidering the words. As he got closer, he seemed so relaxed as if nothing had happened. “he didn’t know”. I was going to be the one to tell him, to share this important news. I had something he didn’t have. I knew and he didn’t. I slowed a bit to relish the moment of power but unfortunately, I didn’t have much restraint. From ten steps away I shouted, “ The President has been shot and I think he is dead.” All the kids in earshot turned and the sentinel swiveled in my direction. Everything went into slow motion and this was way before slow motion replay on every second play of the televised football game. The pace crept and sound lengthened so as to be almost unintelligible. Those final steps took what felt like minutes and I had become the center of attention for hundreds of kids. It was likely less than 20 kids, but when you have the spotlight it seems like more.
The moment was greater than scoring a touchdown and greater than what I had imagined kissing Patty would be like. I felt my head swoon and I started sweating and panting. I could taste steel in the back of my throat like when I fell off the roof of the school after retrieving a football. I couldn’t catch my breath.
“Stop, What did you say, young man?” ‘Young man’ was his phrase when you were in big trouble. It was like I had said “ shit, damn, piss”, he was glaring at me with crazy eyes like when Kevin pounded on Larry beside the pump outside the gate. “Why was he furious?” I was the messenger, not the shooter. My left arm felt his grasp and I was lifted into the air in one motion. “ You are coming with me. You are a liar. You can’t spread horrible rumors like that”. He shouted as loud as I had. “ Mr. Davidson will want TO DEAL WITH YOU”. Mr Davidson was the principal and grade 6 teacher. He didn’t come out on the playground unless a man arrived to do an inspection and then we all lined up alphabetically by grade so he could check out our hair, fingernails and for some reason the knees of our pants. What did he mean Mr. Davidson was going to deal with me? I had heard about the ‘strap’ but surely he meant I would get some kind of award.
We were charging up the back stairs and down the hall towards the teacher’s lounge. Before I could feel true foreboding, he opened the door and tossed me through it. I stumbled and fell forward onto a chair where the Kindergarten teacher was sitting. She looked as stunned as I must have looked. “ He is telling lies on the playground and scaring all the other kids”. And then the most shocking statement rose from Mr Berg. like a machine gun in a mobster movie, he rat-a-tat-tatted;“ He needs to be strapped for saying that the President, the president of the United States was shot and is dead. Make an example of him so he learns not to say things just to scare us, to scare the other kids”.
Now my audience was six teachers and Mr. Davidson and the venue was their territory, not the schoolyard where I knew every turn, every stone, every dip and rise. I was in their sanctuary, still not sure how or why I had arrived. My mom, who taught grade 2, must have been there but I don’t remember seeing her and we have never really talked about the incident.
But the teachers and Mr. Davidson weren’t looking at me, they were staring at Mr. Berg. I glanced up and his face was flushed, like he had just run around the schoolyard, his eyes were as big as the big red balls we threw at each other when he wasn’t watching and his nostrils were flared. I had only seen nostrils like that on the horse at grandma’s farm. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one shocked by the past five minutes.
There was silence, staring and then a sigh from the school nurse. Not the kind of sigh that says, this is good but the kind that says “oh no, what should I do?”. The principal broke the spell and stood up. As he approached, his eyes moved from me to my charge and back to me. “ What’s this about William?” I didn’t know who he was talking to but Mr. Berg started “ He came racing across the playground past the grade one and two kids shrieking that the President of the United States had been shot and was dead. I had to stop him so he didn’t really scare the little kids. You know how they are. What if what he said was true? We would all be doomed to the Russians coming over the north pole.”
The voice of authority regained composure and plainly asked “ Why would you say something like that?” Before I could respond Mr. Berg said “ He is a bad kid who will do anything to get attention. I saw him pretending to smoke just to impress a couple of girls.” I wasn’t a bad kid. I listened in class, got mostly As and Bs, didn’t swear when adults were around, didn’t tag hard in football… I wasn’t a bad kid. The voice continued ignoring the rantings saying “ who told you to say that?”
I collected myself, “ no one told me to say it, I saw it on TV and thought I should tell an adult and Mr Berg was the first one I thought of”. This time I could tell where the sigh came from, maybe from everyone. It was probably more of a gasp that sent one of the teachers to the radio on the counter. She either turned it up, I hadn’t noticed it being on or turned it on. I really hadn’t noticed anything in particular but now I saw the yellow-brown walls and thought of my last diarrhoea and realized the room smelled like sweat, cigarettes, and maybe fear (not at all like diarrhoea).
As I started scanning the room, which was way smaller than I would have imagined, the radio announcer solemnly reported “ President John F. Kennedy is dead. He was shot in Dealy Plaza in Dallas while his motorcade was on parade. Vice President Johnson will be sworn in as President this afternoon”. Then almost as an afterthought “ Investigators are searching for the gunman or gunmen”.
The silence was different this time. Not driven by fear but rather a disbelief. Not the ‘you are lying disbelief’ but the kind that rises when you don’t want to believe. I felt Mr Berg’s hand leave my shoulder. I really hadn’t known it was there until it wasn’t. He sort of swayed sideways and fell to his knees. No one breathed as if we could reverse time if we didn’t move it forward. The room was choked and I felt responsible. It felt terrible and thrilling all at once. My knowledge, my words, my little voice had power.
“ Bobby, go back out to the playground” the principal whispered. As I made my way to the door I heard
“ What do we do? What do we do now?”

My only visit to the teacher’s lounge was over as the door closed behind me. The hallway was empty and seemed longer than a few minutes ago. I was on a rollercoaster as the floor pitched and the walls shook. I was at the stairs before I knew I was moving and through the east doors. The light was bright and my eyes dilated from the glare. The image ahead of me was fuzzy. It seemed all the kids were huddled in a semi-circle around the entrance. There was no one on the field, or on the swings or at the gate. They were all here waiting. They weren’t pushing. There wasn’t any swearing or name calling. My ears rang from the stillness. Still swaying from the hallway pitching, I hit a wall of anxiety and worry.
Harvey and Brian started it. The applause rippled through the circle. Even Patty and Diane were clapping. My only possible response was a smile, a crooked disbelieving smile. I told the group, who listened without interruption the news I had heard on the TV. The reaction wasn’t like the teachers or like what Mr. Berg anticipated. Like me, they didn’t know what to do with the information. There wasn’t enough information to think about the consequences. Slowly small groups drifted away back to regular lunch hour activities. I was famous for a day but the story of the teacher’s lounge got me an audience every time I told it until I went on to middle school.
We were all changed that day whether we knew it or not. Innocence evaporated for some, dread directed decisions for others. Our future changed and we can only imagine how another 5 years of Camelot might have played out. I learned that knowledge is power and even when you don’t completely understand it you can still wield the sword.

 

The sword and shield are important tools in the reconstruction of the past. In rereading the piece today, I still believe that there is no intentional misrepresentation but acknowledge that there could easily be significant misremembering.