Saturday, March 25, 2017

How do you say in English, "Give'em the hook!"?

Sometimes, you realize you know stuff you don't even know you know.

Earlier this afternoon, I learned that I understand way more of the Polish language than I'd thought. And it came to me like a two-by-four upside the head. 

Get this:

MAKING MUSICAL HOUSECALLS: Have accordion, will travel
I was at a nursing home, about 12 city blocks south from our house in Toronto. It's called Copernicus Lodge, and my lovely and late mother in law Marie Szybalski 
spent the final 18 months or so of her life there, on the fourth floor.

The fourth is where the residents with advanced alzheimer's and other dementia-type problems live.   

When my time comes, I'll be fine if they park me at Copernicus. The staff's always smiling and compassionate; the patients' lounges look out over Lake Ontario, and the food's tasty, I hear. 

The only thing is, there's a lot of downtime. 

When Marie was alive, my wife Helena encouraged me to visit with my guitar or accordion in tow. She said it livened things up between meals.

So once in a while, you'd find Pete strolling among the fourth-floorers, strumming his way through "Fulsom Prison Blues," or "Sudbury Saturday Night", to an extremely receptive albeit alzheimery audience of about 15 or 20 souls--the majority of them in wheelchairs, many completely unaware of what's going on around them; and most two breaths away from their post-lunch naps.

The population is about 90-percent Polish-speaking. I have no clue whether they liked my versions of, say, the saddest country song ever written--"He Stopped Loving Her Today," or the equally heart-breaking, "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town." I've also quote unquote performed my own composition "All of My Good Friends Are Dead."  They  get more than their fair share of Stompin' Tom Connors, too.

I actually know one real Polish song--"Sto Lat!" The title means "100 Years" and it's the equivalent of "Happy Birthday."   A few residents and the staff usually clap and sing along with that one. Truth is, they'd be fine if I just forgot about the other songs and just did "Sto Lat!" over and over and over again.

I LOVE where this audience sets the bar.

(I'd like to at this moment give a nod to my grand nephew Timothy Gordon Jr., a swell guy who also plays guitar and who says he likes my blogs but they do go on a bit and he's right. They do. I'm almost done, Tim.)

My mother in law passed away about two years ago. Recently, Helena suggested we relaunch my alzheimers singing career,and that's why we were there today.

We were happy to see some of the same residents are still on hand. And I've grown my repertoire. One of my new favorites is a singalong called "Shine." If the Copernicus residents understood the lyrics, they'd love it. The chorus? 

"Let'em get high,
"Let'em get stoned,
"Everything will be alright, 
"If you let it go." 

Speaking of--and here's where I realized I know more Polish than I thought--I was about 25 minutes into the visit today when I heard one of the residents--a retired priest and scholar who many years ago earned a PhD in Theology and who used to be the late Marie's lunch tablemate at Copernicus--make a comment, in  his native tongue.

To my surprise, I understood.

Here's what he said. "Dosc! Boli mnie bol glowy."

Here's how Google Translate (and my brain) translated it: "Enough! You're giving me a headache." 

I took the hint, came home, and wrote this blog.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Wildman Emeritus Mayoh: Why heaven, not hell, is other people

REHAB'D RICK: By the time he was 27,  Mayoh had lived under 21 roofs. 
This week, here at Pete's B&G, we welcome a guest blogger: The wild-and-whiskered Rick Mayoh.

I first met Mayoh in second-year university. He was a mature (ha!) student returning to school after  what most of us would have considered one and three-fifths full lives.

Among the first things he told me: He attended Woodstock.

I heard that, I was like, "Can I touch your robes?"

Since that meeting, some stuff happened. If Rick's reading this, I'm kinda hoping he's worried I'm about to lay bare details of the bordering-on-calamitous insanity that he got up to, but no. Those lurid stories he can save for his autobiography or obituary, whichever comes first.

Given Mayoh's epic shenanigans, it's hard to believe that he is now into his 23rd(!!!) year of total abstinence from dangerous substances. For the past dozen and change years, he's been a trauma and addiction  counselor and workshop facilitator, mostly with Inuit and families impacted by addiction. At the  moment, he's with a group called Serenity Renewal for Families in Ottawa.

Another thing about Mayoh? He is a gifted writer. And last week he showed me a story he produced about the link between loneliness and addiction, for the Alta Vista VISTAS newspaper. I liked the column so much I asked if I could reproduce it here. (And not just because it  means less work for me!)

You've heard of designated drivers? After the next paragraph,  sober Mayoh will be my designated writer.

But first. It occurred to me that letting Rick write my blog reminds me of a clever idea that my brother Eddie came up with:  Ed's thinking of writing cover versions of famous novels; the way musicians produce cover versions of famous songs. I tell ya, the guy's a genius.

So might also be Mayoh. You decide.

Loneliness: Our Need for Human Connection
By Rick Mayoh
Serenity Renewal for Families Workshop Facilitator

“If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t get married,” wrote Russian author Anton Chekhov, his tongue only partially in cheek.

Like many people, I carried a deep burden of loneliness throughout my early years. I lived under 21 roofs by the time I was 27, attending 17 schools all across Canada and the United States. I accumulated six mostly dysfunctional parents along the way, with no siblings or other family members on either side to interact with.

As Simon and Garfunkel sang, darkness and loneliness were “my old friends.”
ALWAYS A MOVING TARGET: Somewhere on the Autobahn circa 1972

As I later discovered, there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone. That transition emerges when you learn to like the person you are alone with. 

 Jungian analyst James Hollis figures that when we are not alone when we are on our own, then we have achieved solitude, a positive state versus the pain of loneliness. The moment that realization dawns feels like an epiphany of belonging.

Sounds good but how do we get there?

“Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being,” says Dr Dhruv Khullar of Harvard Medical Centre.

Johann Hari, in his wonderful book on addiction “Chasing the Scream,” agrees: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.”

Like all emotions, sometimes we get lonely, but excessive loneliness is simply not good for us.

Social isolation has become a growing epidemic and a serious public health issue.
It has dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. The ranks of lonely adults in the U.S. surged from 20 to 40 per cent since the 1980s, according to recent articles in the New York Times.

Studies show socially isolated people, especially those in middle age, have a 30 per cent greater risk of dying in the next seven years. Social isolation is a greater predictor of early death than obesity. Lonely people are more prone to disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, increased inflammation, a higher level of stress hormones and increased blood pressure.

Studies also found increased risks of 32 per cent for stroke and 29 per cent for heart attack, angina or death from heart disease. Almost 70 per cent of Canadian university students struggle with loneliness. One-third of people 65 and older live alone.

We have a basic need to belong. Loneliness can arise from a strong sensitivity to social cues, which can then generate increasing negativity. To counter this, we can intentionally develop good acceptance skills and self-compassion.

When we help others, our own concerns diminish dramatically.  We can recognize solitude as an opportunity to improve our social skills and to boost interaction and support. Try journaling. We can create meaningful personal rituals, such as quiet time to start the day.

Sharing our stories in a safe environment with like-minded people is immensely beneficial. That has been the successful mission of Serenity Renewal for Families for the past 34 years.

Maybe because I had few options, I decided the most effective way to heal the wounds generating my intense loneliness was to embrace loneliness. We already have all we really need inside.

I still adhere to the existential view of loneliness . . .  recognizing that we arrive in this world alone and we depart it alone. But what a marvelous adventure human connection provides along the journey.

Returning to Chekhov’s view of marriage, or for any other relationship, my favourite observation about loneliness, solitude and human connection comes from poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Working from home one year in. Help me Jesus.

I've been working from home for a little more than a year now. This is my report and I'll cut to the important part right away.
SNOW JOKE: Even cleaning off your car requires exertion.

Working from home can be very bad for your health and everything else.

We'll deal with health first.

Every regular job that takes you away from your house involves way more physical activity and movement than you might think.

First off, I'm not a guy who goes to the gym.

But at the very least, when I had an office job, every morning, I walked to where my car was parked. I know it doesn't sound like much but think about it. Working from home, I don't even HAVE to walk that measly distance.

Stay with me here.

Since we're down to the details, even dead simple activities such as getting into and out of the car entail more stretching and bending than is required if you don't get into a car. Come to think of it, moving my right arm up to change gears and twisting my neck to check my blind spots as I drive are activities that are no longer required.

Then, once at the office, I got all kinds of exercise. In a typical first hour of work, I would be up and down from my desk maybe 15 times. Mostly it was to join other people standing at the coffee machine. Sometimes, I just roamed from office to office bugging my co-workers  until they pointed out that they had real work to do and would I please leave them alone? But at least I was on the move.

Add lunchtime food runs to the mix and we're talking real exercise. If I was eating at the Woodbine Centre shopping mall,  I walked to my car (opening big glass office type doors) and then hoofed it from
JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH: Nourishment for the body and soul 
from the parking lot to the food court. Sometimes, I went to the hot-dog stand beside the huge evangelical church called "Catch The Fire," which was about a mile from our old office.  I'm not the only one who used to call their food Jesus dogs. The very friendly Latin American couple who run the place are named Mary and Joseph, a fact I and they agree is funny. They also gave me permission to use this photo, in case you're wondering.

Point being, food runs at work definitely involved more exercise than walking from this desk to the kitchen.

If  I wore a Fitbit, it would transmit emergency messages to somebody. "This man," the Fitbit would say if Fitbits talked, "is dead. He hasn't moved a limb in hours!"

So far today--and it's almost noon--I've walked from my bedroom on the third-storey of this house to the bathroom on the second floor, then down to the kitchen and finally to the living room, with a  trip to the basement to do the kitty litter. That's it.

At this rate, I'll weigh 398 lbs. by Christmas. I'm losing muscle tone by the minute and believe me there wasn't much to start with. You've heard of a trophy wife? I'll be atrophy husband!

Then there's that other big thing nobody warned me about.

For just over a dozen years, my daily commute involved a trip that, one way, usually took between a half hour and 90 minutes, depending on the traffic and weather. So let's say, every day, I was commuting for about two hours all told.

I miss that commute as if it were a long-lost lover.

Just moments before I started this blog, I caught myself  gazing out the window, fantasizing.

In my fantasy, I'm alone in my Malibu, stuck in traffic on the northbound 427, sipping coffee and listening, half-blast, to Frank Zappa's  Peaches en Regalia, or, maybe, on days where things hadn't been going so hot at home, a little Garth.  Another time, I might be laughing at the stand-up comic John Melaney's routine from about seven years ago where he talked about how Donald Trump is like a cartoon hobo's idea of what he imagines it's like to be a millionaire. "If I was rich I'd be putting up ta-a-a-all buildin's with my name on them. And I'd have fine golden hair!" 

Sometimes I'd opt to drive in silence.

But the choice was always mine. Private intimate self-indulgent moments that I  shared with my beloved commute.

What's more, the drive time played an integral part in my so-called professional development.

Each morning, the commute served as valuable waking-up time. Like being a pitcher in a bullpen. It was the perfect  time to strategize.

I'll give you an example. Say, for instance, you're a magazine editor. And let's say a day earlier, you produced a story about a certain industry and you tried to mention all the players in the story but you forgot one and that company happened to be a huge advertiser. And the story was now at the printing press. And you know that your boss knows but he hasn't "talked to you" about your mistake. Yet.

NOT DRIVING's me crazy.

Every nano-second of that commute and every nerve cell in your body are at rigorous work planning your explanation. It's on a day like that you hope traffic is especially snarled so you have ample time to figure out what you're going to say when the boss tells you the company might be out like $100,000 and why shouldn't he fire you on the spot?

Not that I've ever been in that situation but it is the kind of thing you might want to plan for during a commute.

Or vice versa.

Say the day's work is done. And you're headed home, looking forward to the evening because you're going to a Jays game and maybe later for a few beer with your brother Ed and friend John O'Callaghan. And you managed to make all those plans at the last minute but  you forgot to tell your significant other who is under the misapprehension that you're planning to stay home and watch that great old movie "Gaslight" with her on Turner Classic Movies.

See? You can use commuting to make big life-changing decisions. Message strategize. And perhaps stopping in a gift store while you're at it. Maybe I'll open one up between this room and the kitchen.