Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Dad

March 1st usually sneaks up on me. To be fair, any time it is a new month, it doesn't normally register anything for me. That's why I never have any good pranks for April Fool's Day. My brain doesn't grasp it is even April until halfway through the day and then it clicks after that that I could have pulled off some great trick on an idiot. But I need more than a mere few hours to get into a rubber suit. This has already gotten off the rails.

March 1st usually sneaks up on me. It's again, about halfway through the day that I realize it's March and then that's when it sinks in. My dad died on March 1st and so it has been a certain amount of years since he's been gone.

When I realize this anniversary, I don't give more than a few cursory thoughts about it. I think about how it's been so long since he's been gone. I've lived more of my life without him that I did with him. It's been many years since I can remember how his voice. In fact, it was not even that long after he died that it faded into the mists. It was surprising how quickly it happened. The best I can do is half imagine him shouting and the way he kind of did it. Don't get me wrong, he didn't yell very much at all, but that's all I can recall. I can't even tell you anything he told me specifically.

That's not entirely true. There is one phrase that I remember and I will always remember. When I was mischievous little rapscallion, he'd always call me a "turkey-faced sheep". He never varied that phrase. I don't even know how he came up with it. It wasn't from TV or movies or anything. Nonetheless, that was his go to identifier for me. I was used to it as anyone who grows up with a repeated phrase and I didn't reflect on it until one day after him calling me that for 11 years (I assume the first time he would've called me that was when I was a toddler and I straight up stole his glass of clamato juice and downed it right in front of him before he could react in an act where I tried to establish my dominance). One day, he called me a turkey-faced sheep, as was tradition, but then he paused and said, "A turkey-faced sheep would look pretty weird." WHAT?! He didn't even know what he was saying all these years? What farce is this? Yeah, Les, that is pretty weird. I don't know what about me specifically invoked the idea of a sheep with the face of the ugliest bird in the world.

I don't haven't really thought about my dad too much in the past several years. I mean my life is so vastly different than when I knew him. There's no context to bring about memories of him in my world.

The thing that has struck me though over the years is just how prominent my dad was in my life. He was retired by the time I was 5 and so it was like I had a grandpa that lived in my house. In the summers, we'd go on these hour long walks around the town in the morning a few times a week. He was the first person that I would talk about all sorts of things. He told me things I don't know if he told anybody else in the world. When people would ask me who my best friend was in high school, I would say one of my friends who I spent much of my time with. However, I've discovered in my reflection of my time in Minnedosa, that truly, it was my dad who was my best friend. I knew him and he knew me.

I've also become aware of how rare of a relationship I had with my dad. Some people never had a strong father figure in the life or if they did, they had a job and they would have limited time with their kids. For me, my dad gave me so much time. We'd watch tv together and talk and he'd tell me stories. He was still an authority figure and I still treated him that way, but I could reason with him and converse with him.

I have been asked in the past about what made my dad such a great dad and at first, I didn't have a great response. I wouldn't say that he had any special parenting tricks. It wasn't like he had amazing spiritual insight since he never really went to church until his late 40's. He had trouble connecting with my brother. I concluded that why I respected him so much was that time I had with him. That's the only tip I have for parenting. It's time.

I feel like I've done generally okay without him in my life since he died when I was 15. Like I have food and can pay rent on my own. Sure, it would've been nice for him to have been able to teach me how to drive standard or talk about how to avoid the financial pitfalls my parents fell into. I've had to essentially find out for myself.

That's why March 1st usually sneaks up on me. I've been able to operate without his help as an adult and so I am not missing that element in my life.

This March 1st was different. I knew it was coming. Not because my calendar is calibrated to do a morbid countdown. I knew it was coming because I've been thinking about dad a lot lately and how I need him right now. Every time I wish I could talk to him about something, I'm reminded about the loss March brought about in my life.

I currently find myself in one of the darkest places I've ever been in. I don't have great solutions. All my options are going to be awful. I've never had before. I've been in situations that are tough, but I knew it was something you walk through and you will come out the other end okay and perhaps even stronger as person. This time, I dread it.

This post is not supposed to be about that, but rather how I've never wanted so bad to have one more chance to walk past the lake, over the dam, past the bison compound, through downtown Minnedosa with dad and talk with him. Ask him for his thoughts. What would he do? Because I have no idea. Not one. I have nothing. I don't have things he has said to cross-reference. I was 15 when he unexpectedly died. I wasn't asking him about these things. I never got to really talk about dating or marriage or life choices or careers.

Great. I just cried in the middle of this Starbucks.

The best I can guess as to where he may point me is something like the tried and true Psalm 23.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me."

I know it was words like this that got my dad out of one the darkest times in his life. I trust that the words hold true of the Lord being my shepherd. Even if I'm a turkey-faced sheep.

To close this post, I am going to quote a song like I do every time, but this one is my dad's favourite hymn. It comforted him and it comforts me.

"I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

  And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
  And He tells me I am His own;
  And the joy we share as we tarry there,
  None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

  And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
  And He tells me I am His own;
  And the joy we share as we tarry there,
  None other has ever known.

I'd stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

  And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
  And He tells me I am His own;
  And the joy we share as we tarry there,
  None other has ever known."

- "In the Garden" by Charles A. Miles

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Better Valentine's Day

When David Bowie passed away not too long ago along with Alan Rickman within a couple of days of that, I was reminded again of the curious response of people pouring forth their sentiments of how these individuals impacted their lives and yet never mentioning it ever before that moment.

Bowie released his album on the Friday and not one person had mentioned in conversation or on Facebook anything about his new album. He dies and suddenly it's considered a masterpiece. I wonder if he hadn't died if that sentiment would come forth.

Hear me clearly, I think that people are sincere when they say they appreciate their heroes when they pass. I believe that people are not just fooling themselves when they say his final album was amazing. What is curious to me is how often you rarely hear about the impact a person has on one's life until that person is dead.

Now, I'm sure Mr. Bowie and Mr. Rickman were aware of how much people loved the work they produced and they had some idea of the impact they had. However, I want to bring it closer to home. Just like when the impact of faraway celebrities is rarely mentioned until their death, I see it the same with people in everyday life. It's not until the funeral when praise is lavished upon the individual for all their great qualities and accomplishments and impact. Does that person you admire for their honesty or hard work or kindness know that you hold them in such regard? I think it is often easy to neglect such a simple form of encouragement. We always believe that we will have time later. Or perhaps we don't believe it to be a worthwhile endeavour.

I think that's stupid. People are not going to benefit from your kind words once they're dead.

So what are we to do? How do you find a way to remind and push yourself to encourage another or to uphold people?

I believe the answer lies within what humans have done to help remind themselves. Use a reminder. Mark a special day to do it. Christmas reminds us of hope. New Year's reminds us that we can change. Remembrance Day reminds us of the depths of sacrifice. Thanksgiving reminds us of how we should be grateful for all that we have. I've heard the argument that these are attitudes and actions that we should do throughout the year and not relegate it to one day. I agree with that. However, life goes along and it is all too easy to forget these beautiful ideas and to raise it to the social consciousness to remind ourselves of the ideas that we hold important as a society.

I think encouragement for one another is a beautiful idea that is often forgotten.

My vote for a day to encourage people is Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day in North American tradition has been about expressing the depths of your love for another. It has always been about a romantic love which is nice, but hardly scratches the surface of the breadth of love. It also alienates many people who are not in a romantic relationship.

Wouldn't it be great if Valentine's Day was a day about expressing the depths of our love for one another but not just the romantic kind? What if it was also a day where you call or message or meet with two or three or twenty people that have impacted your life and inspire you? Wouldn't it be great to share your love of artists and heroes with people?

The best part is, that this day opens up for everyone. People without a romantic connection can be included. You can encourage people that maybe overlooked and would be overlooked for their whole lives.

Sure, it would be great if this happened all year, but it can hard to do that without a reminder.

So, my encouragement to you to contact a small selection of people in your life and express to them your care for them. Post on Facebook about artists and heroes that inspire you.

Make Valentine's Day about love.

"Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now."
- "Lazarus" from the David Bowie album "Blackstar"



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remember

This Remembrance Day, it stands out to me how many people offer their thanks to the veterans and to those serving our country currently. What stood out to me was how vague many of the sentiments were. I thought about it more and realize that it makes sense. Especially, when the second World War (the last war that involved most of an entire generation) ended 70 years ago. I know that even for those who are my peers, some of their grandparents were too young to be a part of the war effort. Even if people do have grandparents who served in the war, many do not hear of their story. Perhaps it was too horrible or perhaps it simply doesn't come up. Many will hear stats such as that there were over 1,000,000 Canadian soldiers with over 42,000 of them dying during the war. Even though those numbers encapsulate many individual tragedies, they are just numbers. Humans have a hard time feeling bad for numbers.

That's why a personal story and a personal connection can turn one of those numbers into a someone we can identify with. It can bring the ideas of sacrifice and honour to a tangible picture.

I wonder if that many people lack that personal connection to someone from that era and although they intellectually understand the danger and sacrifice involved in such an event, maybe they feel detached from it all.

Growing up and going to Remembrance Day services at the school, I recall some of the other students and how disinterested they were in it. Now, I can understand it, but back then I could not.

That's because my own dad was a veteran of World War II. I was invested in those ceremonies because it involved my dad's own friends, classmates and even his other siblings. This was important to him and so it was important for me.

What I want to share with you today is what I can remember from what my dad told me about his experiences and my hope is that it will be a record for my own benefit, but also hopefully for those of you who feel so far away from the war. I want to take one of those numbers and make it real. I realize that I have a unique position of being closely related to someone involved in the war. I got to spend so much time with him because he was retired by the time I was 5. We would go for long walks around Minnedosa in the summer time. Sometimes we would talk about the war and his experiences and it's not until now that I realize how rare and beautiful a gift that was.

My dad, Les Rae, was born in 1925, which means he turned 18 in 1943. Four years of the war had already passed when he was enlisted and join the war effort. My uncle Frank was already over in Italy as artilleryman and my aunt Nina was a radar operator for the Navy. Dad told me about how there was a sense with his friends and peers that they needed to go and join. He told me that a few of the others who were too young would lie about their age and join. It was a sense of duty that drove them. Perhaps even the adventure of it.

He lived in a farming community west of Virden, Manitoba called Two Creeks. He told me about how throughout his teen years, the pilots who were training in their fighter planes would sometimes fly overhead and swoop down and fly right over your head with the roar of the engine blaring in your ear. My dad really wanted to join the air force. When he was old enough, he tried to join, but he was rejected because he failed his eye test. Not to be discouraged, he went to another place where the air force was recruiting and hoped to pass. To his chagrin, he got the same eye doctor and was once again rejected.

Enlisting in the army instead, my dad was sent to Kingston, Ontario which was the major army base of the Canadian Forces and went through basic training. He told me about the gruelling day long hikes with 80 pounds of gear on his back. One of the drills he had to do  was to crawl through the mud underneath barbed wire as they shot live ammo over them to simulate what it was like to crawl through the battlefield. They'd have to make their beds perfect so that if a commanding officer checked, they could bounce a quarter off the perfectly tight bedsheets. To contrast, I take up to an hour to get out of bed in the mornings.

After basic, my dad was assigned to be a signalman, which means he got to ride Harley Davidson motorcycles. Although it was not the same as flying a plane, it was still pretty exciting. The signalman’s job was to hand deliver messages when the officers did not want to use the radios to transmit secret plans. This also meant that the enemy would target the guys on motorcycles first to stop the messages from being delivered. My dad was sent to England for motorcycle training where they had learn how to expertly handle their machines. One of the tests was the riders would have to drive their bikes underneath a wire that was only a foot above the height of the bike and they’d have to duck.

Once done his training, my dad was sent to Germany to join the fight there. He was not there long when the German army surrendered. He was really fortunate given the dangerous role he had. Dad had told me about one signalman who he had met who had been involved at the battlefield. This other signalman was riding along when he stopped and looked around and realized that he was in the middle of a mine field. The enemy was firing at him and the only thing he could take cover behind was his bike. As he took cover, he prayed for the first time in his life. He realized he needed to move. Slowly pushing his bike along, he carefully navigated the field. Once out of the minefield and to safety, the reality of how close he was to death hit him as he looked upon his shrapnel-ridden bike. 

Another one of the stories that stood out to me was about the night the Germans surrendered. He and some of the other signalmen took the local German kids for rides on their bikes. Many Germans hated the war and some of them were opposed to the monster at the top as much as anyone else and were relieved that it was over. 

It's also worth noting that no one really knew of the holocaust while the war was going on. Much of that information came out after the war. Many people were unsure whether to be involved. Especially the United States. The States were cautious and stayed out of it. The presidential election taking place at the time had both candidates promising to not get involved because it was not the job of the United States of America to police the world. Funny how the times change.

Despite the German surrender, the war was not over. My dad was sent down to the southern United States to do some specialized jungle training so that they could send him to fight in Japan. While he training, the Americans dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan which lead to the surrender of the Japanese.

My dad was sent home. In the end, he never participated in any actual fighting. He’d tell me that some of the men who had seen fighting avoided talking about the war and what they saw because it was such a scary memory for them. War for many was not the exciting, flashy action movies and comic book stories that you see. War meant people were putting their lives, their minds and their souls on the line for their country.

I realize that this story is not a flashy story of heroism and sacrifice. One of the things I take away from my dad's story is that there were others like him who didn't have such a happy ending. They shared his hope for adventure and the deep sense of duty for his community. I can see how it was resonate with me to be involved in a such a vital way. This was a way you could have a strong sense of purpose. These men and women would serve selflessly because it was right to help your fellow countrymen.

Another thing that has struck me over the years is the idea that some veterans would not share their experiences because of the emotional trauma of what they saw. It's another kind of wound that would follow them for the rest of the their lives. I never met my uncle Frank. My family always spoke very highly of him. How he was funny, smart and handsome. He died sometime after the war when he was hit by a train as he was walking in Virden. What's interesting is that my family claims that it was an accident. That he didn't hear the train coming because of the wind. It sounds like a comforting lie. I always wondered how the war impacted him. They said he changed after the war. He was one of those that would not speak of his experience. I suppose we'll never know for sure what happened.

It's one of the reasons that I am grateful that my dad didn't experience the horrible realities of war like others faced. Many didn't get that benefit. They either died or came back never the same. Perhaps even living with those memories and unable to purge the horrors from the cages of their mind. 

I hope my dad's story is a reminder that the people who were involved in this war were like the rest of us. That war changes people. That war destroys people. That we must not take war lightly so as not to needlessly endanger those brave enough to defend us. That we push for peace. That we should live well so that the soldiers did not sacrifice themselves in vain.

I tell you this story in hopes that we do not forget and do not repeat.

"Kudos, my hero
Leaving all the best
You know my hero
The one that's on
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary."
- "My Hero" from the Foo Fighters album "The Colour and the Shape"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Love Letter to the Edmonton Comedy Scene

(This post is in regards to an article in Vue Weekly, which you can find here: http://www.vueweekly.com/edmontons-underground-comedy-scene-is-weird-inclusive-and-positive/)

I was recently quoted and interviewed for an article in one of Edmonton's local arts papers that has led to a bit of a stir in the Edmonton comedy scene. The article focused on a supposed "underground" comedy scene (I guess Whyte avenue is considered underground? I wonder if the writer had confused "underground" with "south of the river") and it was presented in such a way that it made it seem like these shows were inclusive while the big comedy clubs and other shows were not. Which is not true.

This has led to many to be upset at such an idea as they should be. The comics that are hard working in the clubs and other shows are not creating an exclusive environment.

Some of their responses have pointed out something to the effect that those interviewed have no authority speaking on comedy because they are so new and/or are bad comedians. Some have indicated that those interviewed are creating a divide or are unfairly insulting fellow comedians. I can't speak for the others in the article. So I won't. I will, however, respond for myself.

I have no idea if my comments were considered to be hurtful or divisive or if it was simply because my name appeared in the article and thus it seemed like I agreed with the content of the article. Perhaps I'm being vain to assume people misunderstood me or even cared what I said. I don't particularly think my opinion is one of any authority in the scene. Some dude asked me questions and I answered them. The problem for me is if people did misunderstand me and felt slighted, then I should clarify myself.

I do believe that what I actually said in the article but not necessarily anything else. I tried to mention in my conversation with the reporter as many of the rooms I could think of including the Druid which was one of the shows that preceded the existence of Dr. Jokes and all of their kin. The Druid and Rouge Lounge are different than the alternative rooms, but they are just as vital.

I like the weird, alternative comedy-leaning rooms because they allowed me to explore concepts and were willing to go with me on my longer story-telling style. As well, like I also said, a comedian needs to do all kinds of rooms. You need to be able to win over crowds that don't innately like you because you're weird and adorable. As Lars Callieou has pointed out to me before, referring to something that Jerry Seinfeld said: "Good crowds help you explore; tough crowds help you edit."

My start in stand up comedy in Edmonton entailed going to the Druid comedy night (hosted by Lars) where I got my emotional teeth kicked in for months. I struggled to write short jokes that got quickly to a punchline and my round about pseudo-Stuart Mclean story-telling style didn't work great with a 5-minute set when a crowd can easily get distracted.

That's when I discovered Dr. Jokes where I was given more time for sets and I could explore premises and stories. It would give me some of my favoured bits that I still enjoy doing.

I still continued to go to the Druid and if forced me to come up with quicker jokes and I'm so thankful for that.

In the end, I do all these shows so that way I can go into the clubs and on the road and bring the best I can there. I would love to work consistently at the clubs, but I want to be good enough that they want me there. As Jim Gaffigan has said, "be so good that you are undeniable". I appreciate the clubs because they bring comedy to all sorts of people. They are a vital part of the engine of giving comics a chance to live and survive doing what they love.

The best part of stand up to me is that if a person feels like they have a point of view that they'd like to share with a crowd (perhaps a crowd of people that would normally disagree with them) you can. You may even plant the seeds to change minds. The only requirement is that you be funny. And you can't become as funny as you can be holed up in the rooms that you feel safe in.

What I'd like to end off this post is something positive. I know this may be hard for some of you comics to swallow but I'm not responsible for your cynicism.

I am thankful for the Druid. It's the first stage I ever performed on after I decided to become a standup comic. It has taught me some critical writing skills that I still need to work on. It also helped prepare me for road shows.

I am thankful for Dr. Jokes for allowing me to explore and giving me a place to figure things out.

I am thankful for Rouge Lounge because it was my great challenge for a long time. My style is weird to them there. That room was my Moby Dick if you will. I still remember the first time I did well there and I am always happy when I do.

I am thankful for the Comic Strip and the opportunity it is in this city. Major headliners come through and you have a chance to perform in front a diverse crowd. When shows are full there, it is so exciting to perform. Plus their joke battle show has lead me to find some of my best bits.

I am thankful for the Empress comedy show and the Underdog comedy show because of the opportunity to play for an engaged audience. I don't have to fight the crowd and I can experiment with some really weird ideas.

I was about to write a list of people to thank. But I realized that that I would likely get me in trouble. Just know that I try to learn from all of you and I appreciate it. Whether its comedy stuff or otherwise. Maybe I'll even tell you in person something instead of some note on the internet.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Just Jokes

It's weird to get a theatre degree and then wait 10 years before you actually start performing in a theatre. I mean, sure, I wrote sketches and videos for churches, camps and for kicks, but I haven't really had the experience of doing acting exercises and rehearsals since college. It has been a lot fun joining up with my improv troupe, Sorry Not Sorry. 

Improv is not really my strength in regards to acting. Normally, I prefer prepared scripts and thought out monologues and I always figured I'm not fast enough on my feet to effectively do improv. Honestly, I'm not as quick as some of the folks in the troupe who seem to have minds that can spontaneously combust into quips and jokes and characters that are funny and entertaining. I will say that my strength lies in my character work. If I can conceive a character, I can make it come to life. I suppose it was all those years of doing monologues with weird characters.

Anyway, that's the background to something that happened that caught me and had me reflecting for the next couple of days. We had a rehearsal where we focused on a long form story and we took suggestions for a location to be used at some point and we went with "church".

What ensued was a story about a new priest who was trying to help out this town that had fallen into a terrible debauchery since the last priest left. There was a couple of brothers who wanted to sabotage the new priest because they feared their pickle empire would suffer (because when people are debaucherous, they eat pickles - improv is weird sometimes). The story was cartoonish as people would switch from bad to good at the mere reading of any phrase in the Bible (or "bibble" as it was called by the unknowing bad people). It was silly and fun and everything turns out well. It was a pretty standard improv story.

After the story, one of the actors felt really apprehensive about doing such a story involving religion. He was concerned that it may come off as offensive to Christians because of the way improv has a natural tendency to trivialize whatever topic is involved. It is true that improv tends to play fast and loose with topics because it has to. If you are stopping and editing yourself, it will lead to a stilted presentation. I could appreciate how he felt about the whole thing. You don't want to make light of someone else's beliefs or philosophies or culture.

Some of you may feel like it may have been inappropriate to take the suggestion of "church" in the first place because that is what would lead to such a potentially hurtful situation. Here's the thing. I was the one who accepted the suggestion of "church" from the crowd. It was one we hadn't done before and I figured that it might be interesting to do.

Now, I have no idea if any one else in the troupe would identify themselves as Christian as so I don't know if they would have taken offence at it. I haven't tried to do the secret handshake to discover the others and so we could conspire to turn the group into a troupe that only does Christian messages and quotes the Bible every scene. (To be clear to everyone, I don't plan on doing that. That would be stupid.)

Admittedly, the way the church and members of the clergy and were portrayed in the scenes were very inaccurate. No one would just turn from selfish ways at the mere mention of a line from Jesus. A town doesn't become a complete den of inequity because there's no priest around. The Bible is not magic in that way. (Funny enough to me, it could have been made into a movie and it would been celebrated as a wonderful Christian film celebrated by the church for it's positive portrayal of Christianity.)

I suppose I had the "right" to be offended. It had took a jokey approach to my faith and could have been construed as being dismissive to my beliefs. This is where I say I shouldn't be offended. It would be stupid of me to be offended. It would be immature of me to be offended. If I would be offended at someone making fun of my faith (especially one where the church were portrayed as the good guys. How often does that happen anymore?) then I would communicate something far more damaging about Christianity that anything joked about. I believe it would communicate that my faith and my God is not strong enough to overlook a joke. It seems to me that if you can't bear to hear a joke about your beliefs then you probably don't believe in that thing very much. Also, it shows that you either lack the intelligence or humility to differentiate when someone is joking and when someone is trying to harm you.

The more defensive you are about your beliefs, the more uncertain you are in those beliefs. If all you hear about my beliefs is how I'm offended at something, then I'm missing out on the opportunity to talk about what is good about my beliefs.

If you can't take a joke, then I can't take you seriously.

"Some people try to find the meaning in life but that's the craziest thing you can do,
Because the meaning behind something as f***ed up as life would have to be pretty f***ed up too.
Some people think a wizard lives up in the sky
And he looks after people after people die
And also there's a monster underneath the dirt
And his job is to trick us into being jerks
But other people think none of that exists
And if you try to argue they get really pissed
The only thing upon which they can all agree
Is at the end of the day there's nothing more crazy that Scientology
People's opinions are all stupid and bizarre
Believing in stuff is mostly crap"
- "Life" from the Success 5000 album "Laughcore"


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ferne

I'll be honest. I don't know how to approach this post. I don't know how to present my reflections in a wonderfully worded way. Hey, alliteration! Maybe this will be alright.

I want to talk about some of my reflections on my mom's passing. For some, they may be interested in hearing how I'm doing. For others, perhaps my weird understanding of things might be interesting. For others, perhaps they'll have a connection to my experience and find some comfort there. Perhaps this is ultimately for myself to remember my thoughts. This is not for everybody. If you don't want to read, you can excuse yourself. By simply clicking on the link to this post, I've already got my view stat up. Yep, I just cracked a joke about my petty nature.

I should start off by stating that I did not have the best relationship with my mom. I really struggled to connect with her on a significant level. Conversations were simply passing information back and forth like we presented each other with headlines from the newspapers of our lives without actually talking about the content of the articles. 

Even when it came to issues about faith, something important to both of us, our understanding and approach to faith were very different. When I hypothesized the idea that perhaps there is no real being commonly referred to as Satan, she responded the next day with every reference of Satan from the Bible. I sighed because I was aware that the name Satan was used. Even if I tried to engage in a conversation about it, she would just point to the word Satan written on the page.

She knew how everyone was connected through the family tree and genealogies. She pointed out that one of the girls on the Summer Ministry Tour team was actually my third cousin once removed. I had no idea. I didn't particularly care either. We would pass a random farmhouse in western Manitoba and tell me who lived there and how we were related. I would turn around and ask, "Could you tell me a story about them?" and she usually couldn't. We found different things interesting.

The idea of family was not that important to me because it seemed to be presented to me that how we were connected to others was more important than actually spending any time with them. We rarely saw the extended family for whatever reason and to me family seemed like an irrelevant concept. Unfortunately, that has stayed with me through these years and even now as I am married, I have a hard time not seeing family as obligation. That's probably going to make me a little unpopular. Admitting that the idea of family is not 100% necessary rarely goes well. I'll let it be an open end because that's not the point here.

When my mom died, it did not make me sad. My emotional reaction was more of mild surprise. The kind of surprise that sounds like, "Oh, today? I guess I'm going to Manitoba." I've never known my mom to be in good health. When the ambulance pulled up to my house 16 years ago, I was surprised that it was my 73 year old dad that they were there for and not my 51 year old mom.

Truth be told, my mom never did recover from my dad's death and the whole experience put a strain on our relationship. Dad was the diplomatic buffer that I didn't realize he was until he was not around for me to go to. If I something that was at all serious, I went to my dad. His passing left me to craft a kind of close relationship that my mom and I never had before then. Our disagreements would not go over well when I would try and make proposals to do something bringing in my history of compliance with laws of the land, my aversion to drugs and alcohol, my known associates to not be larcenous thugs and she would sometimes say 'no' with no rhyme or reason and make me sit at home and do nothing. If I would resist the request, the answer was a very frustrating and insulting, "You never listen to me." The grand generalizations did not sit well with my tendency to see a little more nuance in things. 

Of course, I should make a point to say, that this is from my perspective. Perhaps if you had a third party observing, I would come off as more of a jackass and she was the saintly mother. Who knows? What I do know, is that our own subjective perspectives on those late years of my high school led to an ongoing stain in the relationship that would follow us until the end.

I remember in one of my drama classes in college when we were looking at the Tennessee Williams play "The Glass Menagerie". It is a play about a fatherless family where the demanding mother tries to get her son to help find a man for his sister who was socially awkward. Everyone else in the class was speaking ill of the son in the play as a callous jerk who avoided his family and how could someone be like that to their family? I was the one dissenting voice that said, "I know exactly how comes to be. I am that son."

Mom would call me almost daily when I was at college and even as I was out of school living in Winnipeg. Our calls did not amount much more to: "How are you?" and "So-and-so was asking about you." Sometimes I would try to reach out and try to dig a little, but it wouldn't really go anywhere.

It wasn't until I watched an episode of "Six Feet Under" that my perspective changed a little bit and I grew more sympathetic to my mom (Stories have the most impact on me I've come to realize and maybe that's why I love them so). That's a show about a family who lost their father and now run the funeral home. The characters are a domineering and demanding mother who alienates her children and her three adult children who to varying degrees try to love their mother and run the business. One episode ended where despite how frustrating she acts towards her children, her loneliness is made apparent and you sympathize with her. She doesn't know how to be some other way.

I decided that I would try to be less annoyed in conversations with her and remember that she is who she is and is not trying to frustrate me.

I should point out that my mom also was not nearly as extreme as the examples in the stories I just mentioned. There were similarities. My mom was sincere in her faith regardless of my dislike of her approach to it. It was due to her and dad that I went to church and through it all explored faith on my own. My mom was not domineering. She wanted the best for Darwin and I. It was just that she didn't know how to go about helping us do it. She was always supportive of my own life decisions.

The biggest lesson that I learned from her life is just how important it is to find a way to move on in a positive manner. My mom experienced difficulty in her relationship with her own mom. Her mom seemed to put far too many demands on her and had an unfair bias against her. (At least that's how it my mom explained it to me. I have no idea what grandma's perspective on it was. Wouldn't it be nice to know the other side of the story? That's why I want to remind myself and all of you reading this that this is a subjective perspective.) My mom felt she was a victim of her mom's actions. When my dad died, she wanted to find love with another person and could not get past dad's death. I haven't lost a spouse of my own, but I did lose dad at an early age and I try to not let that dictate what I do now.

The last thing I want to share in regards to this was when Darwin, Kyla and I were combing through mom's apartment looking for important paperwork that we would need to deal with all the legal stuff. We came across a binder that kept track of the people that she had helped with taxes. She used to work for H & R Block and after she continued to offer her services to those in Minnedosa and had done Darwin's and my own taxes. The binder started in 2007 and it had a sheet that had a table listed all of the people that were her customers for that year. It kept track of their names, numbers, addresses, etc. The sheet was hand made and carefully made. It was neat, clean, organized. And it had 20 names listed. With blank spaces for more customers. I didn't think much of it. I was looking for pertinent information that I would need for funeral arrangements and for estate management. Later in the binder, I found another sheet with a carefully made handcrafted table of her tax return customers. I noticed it was a couple of names shorter. I found 2009, 2010. Each made with the same perfect columns and rows. Each made with plenty of spaces in case of a growing customer base, but each year it retained fewer and fewer names. I found the 2011 table. Only 4 customers remained. My brother, myself and two others I didn't know. It was the first time in the whole process of Mom dying that I felt pain. Especially since I knew what to expect on the 2012 list.

The 2012 tax return customer list held only two names and the hope that 25 others would fill in the rest. It was brother's name and another person from Minnedosa. My name was not there. That's because she had messed up my taxes due to my moving around to other provinces and she didn't file it right. It wound up causing hassles and repayment to the government. I had trusted Mom to know all the dynamics of how to handle the nuances of tax returns, but she didn't. Perhaps it was because she had less and less practice over the years since leaving H & R so many years before alongside with the ever changing tax code.

Regardless, it bothered me that it she mishandled it and I decided it would just be easier for me to just figure it out on my own.

I had vacated my space on the tax return customer list. And it broke my heart in that moment sitting in the middle of her small apartment. It was the moment that encapsulated how our relationship was.

My mom was not (in my mind) a great mom with me. She wasn't horrible or in any way abusive. She just had characteristics that crawled under my skin and had issues that she did not deal with and it was alienating. However, on the other end, I did not know how to deal with her. Despite my own understanding that loving and caring for your family is important, I didn't know how to navigate an honest and loving relationship with her. In the end, if people would know what our relationship, it would look like I had removed my name from her list of people.

The truth is, I believe that death was a release for her. I have said before that she died when Dad did, it is just her physical body was still going. That's a little dramatic perhaps, but a little true.

Lydia Elizabeth Ferne Rae was a woman who did not want to be the harsh, demeaning mother hers was to her and never told me what I could not be. She wanted Darwin and I to do what we chose to do. That is a gift that some do not get. She spoke highly of us and hoped the best for us. She cared for us the best she could despite me.

What is the take away for you, the reader? I don't know. I suppose I encourage you to find ways to understand your own parents. Sympathize with them.

One idea that I've had comes from the Commandment from the Old Testament that says "Honour your father and your mother." The common understanding is that you should obey your parents. It does not say that though. People who get to the point that they rebel against their parents, they often simply avoid everything the parents hold dear. Especially if you come from a Bible-believing household where "Honour your father and your mother" is used as the argument to obey them. However, it may be reckless to toss everything. I think what "Honour your father and your mother" is touching on is that your remember them. Learn from them. Learn from the good, the bad. I believe that that is the best way to honour their legacy. Try and understand them. You have the advantage of knowing them better than most others. You do not get to see the good, the bad and ugly sides of a person like your parents and you would do well to learn from them regardless of whether they were close and loving or distant and apathetic or angry and violent.

I hope this post honours my mom in what I've learned from her, what I've learned about my own nature and perhaps insight for another.

"Now my curtain has been drawn
And my heart can go
Where my heart does belong
I'm going home"
- "Reunion" from Collective Soul's self-titled album

Friday, March 07, 2014

Seasons Change and So Did I

Why not an update, hey? It's been a thing I've been avoiding because I don't really need another creative avenue to express myself. I've been doing stand up and that's been enough when most of my week is just standing behind a counter in a Costco just hoping I don't look like I hate being there.

Perhaps some of you may be thinking that I'm going to talk about my mother's passing here, but not now. It will need it's own post to reflect upon and it's my blog and I'll write what I want. Sorry, that got snippy for no reason.

Comedy has been getting better. I've been finding myself get more confident on stage and being able to delve into some personal stories and ideas. Even exploring aspects about faith and my weird experiences with sexuality growing up in the church which I never really thought I would. However, as much fun as it is to do a silly dinosaur, I've found the most rewarding thing is to share something personal. One of my strengths in comedy is finding a way to be vulnerable and yet at the same time be entertaining enough to share those vulnerable thoughts. It's been nice to have people say afterwards that they've never heard anything like that before or that they have had a similar experience and they felt a connection.

At this point, comedy continues to draw me forward and I have a couple of opportunities that I'm looking into that would be real exciting, but I'm not going to say here in case it doesn't work out. Before I started to focus on this, I told myself that I'd give myself 2 years to completely suck at it before I would reconsider and now that I'm at the year and a half mark, I don't completely suck at it. And that was from a comic that used to think there was no hope for me. So, I'll stick it out a little longer at least.

Marriage is obviously the other major change in my life and goes along. I will say it is a little more difficult to fully express myself about the matter because although I am okay with sharing my personal thoughts, experiences and struggles, I now have to be considerate of my wife's privacy. One thing that has struck me about the whole thing so far is how much of introvert and solitary person I was and am. With another person around most of the time, I find myself trying to carve out time to be completely separated, not because I do not enjoy my time with Kyla, but rather my mind cannot wander and think and explore when it is also subconsciously checking in on her when she is nearby.

On the flip side, spending time with her has made me be more silly. Sillier that I've ever really been. Making stupid faces at each other and playfully teasing each other. Stuff that would make anyone sick to actually witness and so we hide that it happens just like the Tanners hid Alf or like I hide the fact that I play way too much Candy Crush on Facebook.

By the way, let me apologize if updates of me playing that appeared on your newsfeed. I have no idea how Facebook works anymore as I found out when it leaked out before I intended that Kyla and I were in a car accident.

Which is another thing that happened on my birthday. Between figuring out the legal stuff with mom's death, figuring out how taxes change when you're married and experiencing how insurance claims work, I now feel like an adult. Being a cog in the wheel of bureaucracy with no end to the stupidity of paperwork and obligations until it squeezes the last bit of life out of your soul. You know, an adult.

Don't read into that. I'm being silly.

Something I've noticed after all these major changes that I've had in my life is that the ever present low level of depression that followed me still continues to linger regardless of the changes. I understand when they say it's not a thing you can just will away with a better attitude. It's like a lens that colours everything just a little greyer.

"Hey, wait. Aren't you the idiot that does the stupid dinosaur thing? You of all people shouldn't be mopey. Maybe ashamed. But not mopey!"

The challenge I've found throughout my whole experience is not being silly and pointing out stupidity. The challenge is finding the things that are not silly and then allowing yourself to earnestly enjoy those things. It is common to see when people are being funny, they are tearing down something or someone or some idea and that can be so much fun. However, if everything is ripped apart then what is left to enjoy? It's easy to point out the ridiculousness of things. Whatever it may be. However, the people that can expertly rip things apart also seem to be the most miserable.

The folks I appreciate the most are the ones that take the less easy route of being genuine and kind. I try to model myself after that. Telling comedians specifically which jokes I like or giving them words that build them up. It feels weird to do it. I'm analyzing myself as I do it and I'm afraid I look like I'm just trying to butter them up so I can get something out of them later or I feel a sense of vulnerability at the hand of people that could turn around and perfectly eviscerate me with their words.

Being in Edmonton and starting a new life here has been strange. I feel especially disconnected from my friends in Winnipeg and it feels like a different dimension going back there. Many of them have kids and have been married for a while and in the middle of careers and the last time we talked in depth has been years. It's not anybody's fault because it is just how life goes. It gets busy and time is rare commodity.

This post doesn't have the same element of some significant reflection as some of my other ones, but that's because this is just to be a form of personal update for those curious. I hope to share more when I have time. Which may be a while...

"No time for a summer friend
No time for the love you send
Seasons change and so did I
You need not wonder why
You need not wonder why
There's no time left for you
No time left for you."
- "No Time" from the The Guess Who album "American Woman"