I, R.H.K.

A Personal Journey Publically Recorded

Winter and the Quest for Coffee

I have no major problems with winter. I’m Canadian, and we are bred to a life that includes the frost and the cold. Frost is in our blood. I also don’t have a problem with all the Game of Thrones references to the coming of winter and the ambulatory habits of White Walkers. To be honest, it’s a bit of fun, and I have made quite a few references in this vein myself. Nor do I mind, the seasonal attention deficit disorder that affect most urban folks, at the slightest dusting of snow on the roads, display with their inability to remember how to drive. These things are part of the season, like sappy holiday music, colourful lights, and shovelling snow.

” There are some things, up with which, I shall not put!”

What bothers me most about this season, what absolutely infuriates me to the point of Hulk-like rage, it the failure of the auto-mobile industry to adequately design automatic windows to handle the sub zero frost of the early morning. I mean seriously, can we even have a civilization here? The last thing I want to deal with on a morning so cold that even Yeti from the Himalayas would be whining to turn the furnace up a few degrees, is having to fight with my automatic window controls in a drive-thru trying to get a hot coffee.

Winter and I are generally friendly, but when old Jack Frost comes between me and coffee, I draw the line. There are some things, up with which, I shall not put! A Window inoperative prevents ordering and receiving the life restoring coffee of the early morning. The lane was too narrow to merely open the door a crack either. Cars to the rear of me prevented a honourable retreat from whence I had come. The only thing left to do was to summon the courage to keep buggering on until through the drive-thru,I could find a parking spot and go inside the cafe to order. I good naturedly suffered the giggles of the baristas, retrieved the steaming waters of life and returned once more to the car that had betrayed me.

Just watch yourself winter…

The Road to San Miguel

The mid morning sun radiated blistering heat on the dirt road from La Paz to San Miguel. The kerchief hung around my neck “Gringo” style, soaked in a river of sweat. I wiped my mouth dry and took a long drought from my canteen. The water was stale and warm but any refreshment in this heat was a blessing. I capped the canteen and leaned out the side of the jeep. The wind rushed by, evaporating the moisture on my face and gave some small cooling comfort. I had always thought that dogs were stupid creatures for doing this same act, but now I had more appreciation for their apparent wisdom.

“in the heart of the equatorial pressure cooker, I found myself offering novenas for just a few clouds to filter the heat of the relentless sun”

“She’s a some hot eh?” the driver said nudging me with his elbow.

“Si Juan. She’s a hot.” I replied “If it ain’t the heat it’s the humidity.”

“Qué?” Juan’s face was blank.

I made a mental note to add silly heat clichés to the list of useless English phrases I was teaching Juan.

“She’s a mucho hot,” I corrected. Juan grinned in comprehension.

I asked Juan in my mangled Spanish how long it would take to get to San Miguel. At least I think that’s what I asked him. For all I know I could have said something like “How long is San Miguel?” or “Is San Miguel short?” From the expression of mirth on his face, however, I believe it was closer to “Juan, when we get to San Miguel I’d like to eat my shoe wrapped in a tortilla with lots of salsa.” Other than communicating the fact that I “no hablez Español”, I am at a complete loss when it comes to speaking Spanish.

“Two hour we there,” he smiled.

Juan’s English was no better than my Spanish. Communication between us has been mostly through use of clichés, in either language, or shared cultural phenomena. Juan is a great lover of American films and if I want to indicate that I like something a lot, for example, the phrase “Siskel and Ebert say two thumbs up,” with proper inflection and accompanied by the required hand gestures, produces exuberant laughter and understanding in Juan. The words themselves are meaningless but, between two linguistically challenged individuals, a communion of thought was formed.
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There’s None More Scot than the Scots Abroad

I was raised to be a Scot even though I’ve never once stepped foot on the old sod. This is a direct result of life under the dual Dowager Empresses of of my family’s matriarchy. My Grandmother and my Great Aunt instilled hyper loyalty and appreciation of all things emanating from the mystical land of Alba. I was taught to believe that bagpipe music was hip, wearing kilts was manly, haggis was good for you, and that given the chance Culloden best two out of three would have resulted in the triumph of Jacobite cause.

In a little under two days Scotland will vote on independence or a continued union with the UK. This is a fairly significant event in the history of Scotland and one that could seriously alter the future of a land that I love. Union has been that status quo since 1707 baring the brief interruption of Bonnie Prince Charlie and it is hard to imagine a UK without a Scotland. On the other hand the dream of the highland heart is to “be the nation again”.

Whichever way it turns out I will still hold a deep and abiding love for this country, the home of my ancestors, the centre of my imagination. I hope that all the peoples of Scotland will think and choose wisely the way of their future. Make no mistake, it is theirs and theirs alone to decide. While I am a hyper loyal Scot from away, it is not my place to say yes or no to this question. It is rather for the citizens of Scotland to choose their future and for those of us who love Scotland to help and support them in the choice they make.

Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic Fallacy. Incorrectly projecting (attributing) human emotions, feeling, intentions, thoughts, and traits upon events or objects, which do not possess the capacity for such qualities. A term coined by John Ruskin (1819-1900). In literature, you often find it when nature mimics the emotions of a main character by changing the weather patterns. King Lear is a prime example, Shakespeare being particularly fallacious in the pathetic vein, and is reflected in the scene where a great storm rages around the mad King and his fool. We see his insanity in the insanity of the tempest. [Of course I’m being needlessly pedantic here, probably more information than you need to know, but I’m trying to set a tone here and if I’ve bored you with too many details, I’m sorry. If, however, you’re impressed by my erudite intellectualism – well OK then!] Pathetic fallacy works very well in literature but rarely in “real” life, and seemingly never in mine. The universe travels its course. I travel mine.

“the Universe goes its way I go mine”

I know this to be true, for the considerable amount of empirical evidence I’ve collected over the years attests to the fact and shows me categorically, that pathetic fallacy in nature works only in books. Two cases in point will illustrate what I mean. Firstly, the day my dog was hit by a car and died the sun was shining brightly, warmly and did not have the decency to go completely black at the moment of my most terrible shock and horror. I was four at the time and the dog pushed me out of the way of an oncoming truck but didn’t manage to get clear himself. The dog and I were inseparable companions and suddenly we were no longer. I cried and was incredulous that all of creation was not crying too.

Now I realize that this first example is not the most pleasant one to contemplate and the fact that I’ve come right out and hit you over the head with it might probably make you reconsider reading on. You’re probably thinking, “OK dead dog, little kid crying – that’s just great! What next? Famine? War? Pestilence? And whatever they call that other apocalyptic horse guy?” I simply needed to illustrate my point strongly. I’ll refrain from pushing any more emotional downer buttons, but the essential fact remains, the universe went along its merry way.
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At Summer’s End Work Begins.

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano heralds the spring, so too do the returning commuters to the highways and roads denote the end of summer. Lanes once denuded of traffic are again full of congestion as summer vacations end and the need to transport one’s progeny to centres of education becomes the morning’s de rigueur. I will spare you the tales of walking five miles to school each day, uphill in both directions. Safe to say kids today have it easy.

“Winter is Coming”

The end of summer is also the end of idleness. Everything is busier. During the long lazy days of July and August one could take one’s time. At work, the dearth of colleagues and staff present made it easy to defer and delay tasks. At home the days were sunny, warm and like the song of sirens enchanting us into relaxation and repose.

Now, however,  is my glorious summer made the winter of discontent. Projects languishing and unattended are now first and foremost on my plate. Time has condensed and shrunk and all is now cause for alarm. I knew this was on the way. Just as Starks know that “Winter is Coming”, so can I read the signs of my time. It is the circadian rhythm of the working year. After a summer of rest we charge into the headlong pace of project completion before the end of the budgetary year. Old monies must be spent before new monies are given and new money is ever dependent upon successful delivery of deadlines. Then we rinse and repeat, it was ever thus.

The Lull

The summer progresses slowly. Nothing much is going on, nothing seems to be progressing, nothing comes from nothing. The world, or at least my portion of it, seems to be in a kind of stasis waiting for a log jam to break before a deluge of activity ensues. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a break as much as the next guy. The eye of a storm is a perfectly peaceful place to read a book, enjoy thoughtful contemplation, or just grab a beer. As long as you don’t pay too much attention to the wall of swirling chaos that is ever inching towards you.

“Looking for a place to happen, making stops along the way”

Work waits for a host of colleagues to return from vacations. Once back, a critical mass of collective realization will result everyone discovering that those projects we were working on are way behind schedule. The ensuing panic and mayhem will coalesce into urgency and purpose and productive efficiency to meet hastily redefined deadlines will be the watchword of the day. Home and family life mirrors this in its way, the other shoe will drop and we will be headlong into the school year and frantically planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is an odd professional and personal symmetry to be sure , but I’ll roll with it.

Until the inevitable strikes, I am going to enjoy the lull. I’m going to sit in my lawn chair, read my book, think thoughtful thoughts, and enjoy a beer or three. I will be just looking for a place to happen, making stops along the way. Then, like a crazed college freshmen trying desperately to finish an essay in too little time, I will gather myself to do the things that must be done and return to the fray. It’s about balance people.

Vacation Returns

Well I’m back, but not so sure that it is well that I am. I have just returned from a week long vacation from the office, a time to revitalise ones being and gather strength for whatever it is that one does. Looks good on paper, as all plans do, however like all plans they do not, as von Clausewitz says, survive contact with the enemy

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one”
― Elbert Hubbard

This vacation was a “staycation” but the purpose of it was never relaxation. This vacation had lofty goals of domestic accomplishments; make a new laundry room, various and sundry yard improvements, following up an myriads of “little things” that needed to be addressed and handled. In other words it was exactly like work with far fewer coffee breaks, and an order of magnitude more hard labour.

So I’m sitting at my office desk, going over a week’s worth of correspondence and tasks that need to be attended to. I feel like a latter day Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down once it reaches the top, never getting ahead of the things that need to be done. Elbert Hubbard says “No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one”, and I am the poster child for this sentiment. Perhaps next time I will use the break as an actual time of rest. It’s good to have hope and dreams, so this will be mine.

Drawing a Blank

Sometimes life slows down to the levels at absolute zero, nearly all molecular motion ceases. It’s not like there aren’t things to do, but the motivation to do them needs a swift kick in the arse to encourage some momentum. When life hits these little blanks, I get thrown for a loop. Normally I’m engaged, involved, eager even to carry on with my job, chores and interests. When the barren times come, however, boredom sets in, food tastes bland, and getting out of bed in the morning becomes as insurmountable as an ascent on Everest.

“Ennui is the echo in us of time tearing itself apart.”

These moments are temporary, often lasting only a couple of days here and there. Eventually the sheer boredom and ennui propels me into some new endeavour that sparks a fire of creativity and drive. It’s important during this period of renewed focus, that the burst of energy is channeled into appropriate pursuits. Unchecked it has led, in my past, to ill considered endeavours; becoming a monk, my first marriage, countless job changes. These mistakes cannot bear repeating as the only vow I’ve managed to maintain is poverty, my current relationship is arguably my best, and I’ve discovered that I’m unemployable in any other vocation. So age and experience must shepherd exuberance and vigor down the paths they must go.

Emile M. Cioran tells us that “Ennui is the echo in us of time tearing itself apart.” If so then I must wait a little while until time mends itself together. A time for reflection and contemplation about the next engaging thing. I spend this in-between time reading, thinking, and a legion of other activities that may cause iron and flint to inflame something new. Perhaps something new will be learned along the way, perhaps I’ll finally master B Minor on the guitar. I don’t know what the “new” will be, but I’ll know it when I see it.

Soldiering On

I am a firm believer in the precept that if you are sick you should stay home. Nothing drives me more insane than coming to the office only to be besieged by legions of the infected. It is as if I find myself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, trying desperately to avoid whatever rare form of Ebola my co-workers are spreading. Infected and unclean they insist on coming to my workstation and speaking to me. Politeness dictates that they should at least wear a bell. Inevitably their mission of unleashing the next global pandemic is successful and I succumb to millions of years of bacterial evolution.

“To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.”

At this juncture a strange transformation occurs and I find myself honouring my stay at home precept more in the breach than the observance. I delude myself into thinking that my work is of extreme value and that Western Civilization will perish if I am not standing to my guns all day at my desk, ensuring that vital important work related decisions are being made; “No, let’s order a sandwich tray for the lunch meeting instead of pizza”. Good catch on my part, I feel.

It is as if being miserable and just barely functional are my birthright. My co-workers don’t understand that I must trudge onwards. “To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on”1 Ever the good soldier me, I will hold my position at my desk fortified by cold/flu medications, boxes of tissue papers, bottles of cough syrup. I will not be deterred from my goal of accomplishing my appointed tasks. Right up until the point where my co-workers charge the barricades armed with pitchforks and torches and drive me out of the office with strict instructions “If you’re sick stay at home!”

1. Geoffrey Chaucer (Character) from A Knight’s Tale (2001)

Father’s Day, Might as Well Go For a Soda

My Father’s Day wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. A day of rest and relaxation for for “Dad” only works if there are offspring around to lighten the load. Things being what they are, and absent any genetic progeny within earshot, the regular weekend chores fell to me [queue lawn mowing montage]. I saw the Father’s Day messages from social media sites from friends and acquaintances and I was envious. I used to enjoy Father’s Day very much, I used to look forward to it, but now it is the hardest day of my year.

Might as well go for a soda
Nobody hurts and nobody cries
Might as well go for a soda
Nobody drowns and nobody dies

The estrangement with my children, or as I like to call it, The War of 2012, continues. Since a general falling out with my kids in 2012 we have seen each other an average of two to three times a year, mostly at family holiday gatherings. These meetings are generally filled with uneasy silence between us, as we don’t have a lot to say, and the central causes of the issues between us are left undisclosed and likely unremembered by all parties. Maybe it’s me, perhaps it’s them. It doesn’t seem to matter as we have become complacent in our apartness. The See Your Folks website indicates that at this rate my children will have 75 short visits left before I will, actuarially, shuffle of my mortal coil. Prospects dim I fear.

I was filled with a mixture of trepidation and hope when my son and daughter called me on Thursday to ask if they could take me out for dinner on Father’s Day. They left the invite vague enough so that it was not clear that my wife of  a decade and a half was invited. Past history of subdued animosity suggested she wasn’t and she opted to not take part. When the time came to meet them at the restaurant I thought I was in for a repeat of previous meetings; little meaningful conversation, no desire to plan  a next meeting, etc. This time, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  My son said that he didn’t know if my wife was coming and sounded genuinely surprised when I said that she didn’t feel invited. My son said that he was very sorry and that in future he would ensure that he would make an effort to be more inclusive. What followed was a nice meal and a pleasant conversation. We discussed what we had been up to and what future plans we were concocting. The kids indicated that they would like to get together more often, and perhaps come over to the house for an afternoon sometime soon. This was quite  the departure from the usual. There were smiles and laughter and best of all (for me) it ended with a feeling that I haven’t had for quite some time – I liked my kids. A typical meeting of this kind in the past would have ended abruptly in frustration, anger and tears. The contrast was striking and welcomed. Sometimes “going for a soda” works out, much thanks to Kim Mitchell.;

“Might as well go for a soda
Nobody hurts and nobody cries
Might as well go for a soda
Nobody drowns and nobody dies”