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 30, 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.” Oh, that pesky subconscious!

Life goes on. These days I’m not glum, even when I feel boring, 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 timeline 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 young lady, is a link to near-the-end scenes.

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.

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.