Star Struck

27 Apr

Are the stars out tonight? For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an infatuation with space. I think reading ‘The Martian Chronicles’ by Ray Bradbury at the age of 12 was the great definer. I became a true believer of the mysteries and possibilities of the universe. I transformed myself into an urbanite decades ago, but sometimes I find myself longing for the heavily sparkled skies that were once part of my every night. Before light pollution was so prevalent, I could see and name many constellations among other heavenly bodies without having to travel afar. I was once visiting a small dark island in Turks and Caicos right after a hurricane and experienced heaven on earth. I believe that every star was out that night, a veritable explosion, and hanging so low that it almost seemed possible to reach up and grab one.

Years ago, driving back to Calgary late one dark winter evening from a town north of Edmonton in Alberta, I could see the Northern Lights dancing across the sky above a vast, seemingly uninhabitable wilderness while Marilyn Monroe sang to us from the car radio. I was to see them again at different times and places over the years, even from an airplane window. When the electricity went out briefly in our Manhattan neighborhood after 911 and for a longer stretch after Hurricane Sandy, the stars came out for a rare light show then retreated back where they came from. It was quite amazing. The emergency line in one large city apparently received calls from frightened citizens during a blackout demanding to know what that shockingly huge mass of light was overhead. Not alien invaders or falling planets. It was the milky way.

Not long ago, after browsing through an exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver, I happened to wander off the lobby into the entrance of the planetarium. I’ll note here that the whole building was once the planetarium and the site of many starry adventures in my youth. The same giant silver-metal crab, an interpretive symbol of the crab nebula, stands guard in the middle of a large fountain/pool. The planetarium, or the building it’s smaller version is housed in, is still a bright white and in the shape of a flying saucer. I can see it across the water from where I live.

Wandering off into the planetarium entrance that particular day turned out to be an epiphany of sorts. One of those ‘timing is everything’ moments. A few dim lights illuminated the darkness and I was alone. Suddenly, a large screen lit up with images of the earth and out came that beloved voice that I hadn’t heard for such a long time. It was Carl Sagan reciting his Blue Dot speech. It brought tears to my eyes. He had famously quoted that…”we are made of star stuff”… during an episode of Cosmos in the eighties. Carl was a notable influence in my life and continues to be to this day. Just yesterday I heard a recording of an old interview he had done on CBC radio. He died in 1996. I like to think that he is up there somewhere in his cosmos, traveling the universe among his billions and billions of stars.

I’ve had people tell me that they found it impossible to believe the idea that space has no end, that it just keeps going on forever. It’s a very humbling thought that we are simply tiny specks in a much larger landscape. What does our time on this planet amount to? What does it all mean? Perhaps if we really thought about it it might change how we treat the earth and each other. I still believe that Mr. Sagan described it best.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” An excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Blue Dot speech, 1994.

This post was written by Jude L. Gorgopa, Founder of Clout Et Cetera & The Fundamentals of Clout. For resources, services, and eBooks, go to cloutetcetera.com

INCOMMUNICADO

30 Mar

According to the English Oxford dictionary, the origin of the word ‘incommunicado’ is mid 19th century from the Spanish ‘incomunicado’, past participle of ‘incomunicar’ meaning ‘to deprive of communication’.

I have been thinking a lot about communication lately. In fact, it has become an ever present focus in my daily life. I keep coming across articles referring to it and hearing podcasts about how communication has been going through, if not a revolution of sorts, at least a significant reinvention. The word ‘incommunicado’, the ‘comunicado’ part sounding to me like a Spanish town that you could actually be in, has always held a special place in my vocabulary. Perhaps not for it’s direct meaning, which can sound rather bleak, but for what it connotes.

To be deprived of communication. What does that mean in our society? Having your cellphone or laptop taken away? Texting each other instead of speaking while on a date? Electronic devices and social media aside, I have been confronted by this question often…Doesn’t anyone have meaningful conversations anymore? By that I am assuming face-to-face but the several crammed coffee shops in my neighborhood on weekends seems to beg to differ this concept. On the other hand, who knows what they’re really talking about. I personally find the conversation quota in Vancouver originates more out of a kind of politeness or form of banter…filling an awkwardness of silence when riding in an elevator with a stranger…than in a larger eastern city such as NYC. There the moments of silence can be almost zen-like. It’s a different communication style altogether.

This takes me back to last Fall when I began a position as an instructor at an international business college. A whole new world of communicating has opened up to me. All of the adult students come from several foreign countries, some with a high capacity for English comprehension while others are challenged, usually with grammar. At this point, it might be of interest to note that I am not nor have I ever been an ESL instructor. Even though I have had many years of diverse multi-cultural teaching experiences I find myself having to use a different way of communicating than I’ve been used to. I’ve grown a larger ear and use my emotional intelligence skills a lot more. Marking indicators like body language, particularly puzzled facial expressions, has also been helpful.

Much of how we assimilate information, how we actually process it, is based on factors such as perception, preconceived ideas, and even cultural belief systems. I have had to become ever conscious of my speed of delivery, using repetition and testing for student comprehension, and enabling smooth transition between subjects to ensure that all students in the classroom are learning at the same level. Not an easy task when one has been used to simply delivering information, but the process seems to have changed my own communications in a very positive way.

On another note, there are the more unusual situations that I’ve come across where people with no particular language barrier choose to not communicate on a regular basis or as little as possible, many preferring to live alone in remote areas or in long-term relationships that are certainly unconventional in that, other than phone or Skype-style conversations, daily face-to-face is not shared except for the occasional visit. Are we going through a communication evolution? The definition of relationships, both personal and professional, are definitely being redefined worldwide and with them how we communicate with each other. Professionally, particularly in multi-cultural situations, it’s so easy to be misunderstood or even offensive if we don’t fine tune our messages to our receiver. Think about it. With personal perceptions it’s never simply black or white.

I often find it remarkable how my foreign students, who range in age from young millennials to older generation x’ers in the same classroom have no problem communicating with each other once they start talking. They display a mutual respect, enthusiasm, and curiosity with each other. Perhaps being in a non-judgmental space is conducive to critical thinking and more meaningful exchange. It’s quite an unusual, inspiring sight, and sound, to behold as several diverse cultures, languages, and attitudes come together as one collaborative team. Could this be a glimpse into our future? Maybe, but it might simply be an insightful communication model that we should all consider.

This post was written by Jude L. Gorgopa, Founder of Clout Et Cetera & The Fundamentals of Clout. For resources, services, and eBooks, go to cloutetcetera.com

A Remarkable Randomness

25 Feb
Randomness: the quality or state of lacking a pattern or principle of organization; unpredictability.

An old literary connection named Thomas Wolfe re-entered my life last month after years apart. It all started when I was sorting through some movies on Netflix and came across one entitled ‘Genius’. The film is about the author and his relationship with his famous editor, Maxwell Perkins in NYC. I had seen it before but for some reason, I felt impelled to watch it again. Thomas Wolfe, born in 1900 died in 1938 but has lived on through his influential and lyrical books for decades. His first book. ‘Look Homeward Angel’, published in 1929, shot him to instant international renown and it’s this book, or I should say the random experience of it, that I am writing about.

Timing is everything. Recently, while returning home from a long walk, I decided to turn down a certain street where a neighborhood book depot resides. I opened the small door and…there it was…like it was waiting for me. ‘Look Homeward Angel’ is now on my bookshelf. It never ceases to amaze me, the experiences that find us when we allow ourselves to simply wander. And since I don’t believe in coincidence I’ll just let this be whatever it wants to be.

There are many types of randomness. The other day I was thinking about the old adage that goes something like if you see one red car you’ll start to see red cars all over the place. While sitting in a window of a cafe, I noticed four different women walk by separately, at different times, wearing exactly the same coat. I haven’t seen that particular coat again on anyone during my roamings but I remember a fleeting glimpse of it hanging in a shop. Perhaps a rather small example but the timing was remarkable just the same.

Then there are the numbers that can consistently come into play. They are always there. It seems as though most times I look at the clock exactly when it’s 1:11 or 3:33 or another similar time. According to the science of numerology, numbers…odd or even…and their sequences are extremely significant in everyday life and scientists have found in testing individuals that the most commonly chosen random numbers are 37, 17, and 5 in that order. (No answer as to why exactly.) Winning the lottery, or any form of gambling is a perfect example of the remarkable randomness of numbers. Wikipedia has an excellent article on randomness including such areas as science, mathematics, finance, and politics, proof that there’s probably a mathematical equation for just about anything.

Although I have experienced episodes all over the world in my lifetime, I realize that if I haven’t been available at the moment, I might never have recognized what was happening. There’s a magic in all this that, although most likely undefinable in most cases, happens every day. What if you wouldn’t have turned that corner or left home 5 minutes earlier? You hum a song while turning on a radio and there it is. Many years ago in NYC, while walking down some back stairs from one floor to another in Carnegie Hall, my anthem song, ‘Hey Jude’ came blasting up the stairwell and it was a message that I needed at that very moment. An answer to a prayer. Through all the stress, noise, and distraction of life in a very large city came a random moment of quiet solitude that I have never forgotten. It was simply remarkable.

Here We Are & There We Go

28 Dec

I realize that the subject of time has appeared in several of my essays but here I go again anyway. The question of the year here is…where has all of the time gone? I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately. Although time is relative and open to personal perception, it can seem like one minute we were there and now we’re suddenly not, it can be quite a remarkable entity unto itself. In our daily existence, we run on a man-made interpretation of time measured out in the usual minutes and hours that pass into months and years. They seem to add up more quickly as they go by. Time can also pull and push memories and experiences across our conscious minds from moments archived like films, some long forgotten. We can suddenly be reminded of something in the oddest of places, seemingly and totally irrelevant to the actual memory.

This past year has brought on so many more of such moments than usual that I’ve taken to examining them after-the-fact and have discovered some revealing truths. One spark, in particular, has been a series of photographs taken over a span of thirty years that my husband recently re-introduced to me. The same inanimate object appears in almost every one of them…a sleek silver-metal electric floor fan. I can remember when I bought it at DF Sanders, a now-defunct modern design store that had been located on upper Madison Avenue in Manhattan. I dragged it home up five flights of stairs to my top floor apartment and it’s there that its prolific history began. Since then it has lived in four other apartments in two different countries. It’s been through a lot and has been privy to many things. If that fan could only talk.

So what does this all mean? That fan is a time machine of memory. Each photo holds a moment in my history on earth from the beginning of my time with it to now. I can remember the simplest, everyday episodes when I look at them, also the saddest and most joyful. Things that become fresh once again. That fan has marked the lives of loved ones recently and long passed, hopes and dreams defined, and everything else that has contributed to the present. Where is that fan today? It resides in the laundry room of my condo building in the West End of Vancouver. Still working and now privy to many stranger’s lives. I came across a quote the other day that read…’It might be painful to let go but it’s even more painful to keep holding on’. So true.

There is measured time and then there are our own personal clocks where we have the power to slow it down, speed it up or even re-play it whenever we wish. For example, when I used to fly regularly from NYC to Vancouver I always liked to think that I had recovered three hours that I had already lived somewhere else. Going back in time for a chance to redo history if I chose. If you think about it, we’re still in our own time no matter what zone we’re in and crossing back and forth doesn’t really make a difference. Our memories aren’t strictly timed or contained, they are created and flow freely along with us as we move along. They exist off the clock.

There are moments when it can be difficult to reconcile the past with the present, perhaps wondering how did we get here from there so quickly? After my two cats passed away, I have walked out into my living room some mornings momentarily expecting another scenario when I realized that that was then and this is now. It’s a sensation that I call, for lack of a better term, emotional vertigo. It’s been said that perhaps we need to look into our pasts to see the future, but maybe we just need to rethink time, to simply and fully embrace our every moment before those moments become memories. To see and experience it all now completely instead of later with no what-ifs. Off the clock, while here we are and there we go.

This post was written by Jude L. Gorgopa, Founder of Clout Et Cetera & The Fundamentals of Clout. For resources, services, and eBooks, go to cloutetcetera.com

Simply Illuminating

26 Nov
“It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us…on the inside, looking out.” 
― 
Jonathan Safran Foer

Last week I went to visit my father. It was the usual one and a half hour trip; a bus to the train and then another bus to his home. Since my move back to Vancouver over four years ago, I have done this trip many times through all four seasons…and I still become entranced with the pure ordinariness of it all. I might read for a bit or have a brief conversation with a stranger, but more often than not, I just sit in front of the windshield window of the first car and watch as the stations suddenly appear as beacons of light in the long dark tunnel, marking where I’ve been and where I am going. I can watch the tracks and anticipate the burst of the bright sun as the train emerges from underground into the day. I often marvel at how quickly the journey goes now when I used to think it seemed to take forever. Then I got it. 

Working out scheduled connections has definitely helped to make the trip more enjoyable but, as I’ve discovered, it goes way beyond what time it is. I have found that when I just let myself go to the experience, I give myself up to each moment, one after another, allowing my mind to clear itself out, letting my mind wander where it will. A sort of transit meditation. The results have been insightful and even remarkable at times. My extraneous mind chatter shuts up, I can observe the world around me without bias or interruption. Ideas pop up, situations become clarified, and my attention goes where it will.  I couldn’t do that while driving a car. 

And unexpected moments they have been. I have received messages from the most seemingly every day and often mundane of places such as while waiting for a bus to my father’s and then while walking back home from my stop afterward, two different women began to sing right beside me. I have heard or noticed seemingly disconnected things that have sparked my memory or my imagination. Possibility. It’s like tuning in to my own private message center, lightbulb moments that make everything suddenly brighter. 

The road to my father’s home is paved with a personal history. The landscape may be decidedly or even drastically different, but in my mind’s eye, it all looks the same as it did years ago. Looking out in any direction, passing by suburban neighborhoods packed with houses, wondering what the people who live there think of and what they do. The small yet meaningful things that make up a life. It can suddenly all become so clear, so simple, so utterly illuminating.

This post was written by Jude L. Gorgopa, Founder of Clout Et Cetera & The Fundamentals of Clout. For resources, services, and eBooks, go to cloutetcetera.com

 

 

It’s For The Birds

28 Oct

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“In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
― Robert Lynd

Something strange and wonderful happened this past year. I discovered birds. What’s so great about that you might ask? It’s not that I’ve never noticed them before, on the contrary, but I seem to have developed a whole new understanding of them and the reason for this is what I am writing about.

If last year was a ‘thank god that’s over’ experience, this year has been one of transformation, a cycle marking new beginnings and significant endings. There have been flash moments of joy, of recognition, and bittersweet reflection in the most unexpected of places. Grief can change us forever in unanticipated ways. Suddenly one day a light appears at the end of our dark tunnel and we move forward. Life can become so much simpler and quieter. We can feel and notice things more and even become healthier. We might hear or see wonderful things that we never really noticed before. We can become more absorbed by moments instead of hours, our life unfolding like one of those pellets that blossom into a flower when dropped into a glass of water.

bird
/bərd/
noun
plural noun: birds
  1. 1.
    a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, and a beak and (typically) by being able to fly.

I’ve discovered that living on the 21st floor of a hi-rise facing an ocean and a huge wooded park provides a perfect perch for observing a variety of avians as they go about their daily business. Recently, late in an afternoon, I went out on my balcony to check on something and suddenly all these birds came shooting by. Gulls, Crows, groups of swooping Starlings with the sun glinting off their feathers, a Hummingbird hovering, Pigeons, and an Eagle, like an arrow with beak outstretched racing intently toward the trees. Later, my partner alerted me to a large flock of Canada Geese honking loudly along the coast flying off to wherever it is they go. It was an impromptu air show of the most exquisite form of flight. And how I envied them.

Here, where the sun rises at 5 a.m. and sets at 10 p.m. during the summer months, the birds wake very early to lend a unique cacophony of chirps and caws and trills heralding in the new day, a dawn chorus. Assorted feathered creatures can be observed lounging and feeding at the beach in a congenial, multi-cultural mix. In the Spring, I often come across the birds remembered from my earlier years; Magpies, Robin Red Breasts, Sparrows, Wrens, Warblers, Doves, Herons, and Chickadees. The trees take to loudly chirping with tiny invisible songbirds that can only be seen if one peers up into the branches in the center of the tree. I have also often come across two crows sitting side-by-side overhead, appearing to be having some sort of an argument and whenever I see them I wonder if it’s the same pair.

Last May I had the great fortune to witness seagull couples starting their families, jointly and tirelessly caring for the two or three offspring they hatched. There were many anxious moments while the babies grew and always a great relief when I noted that all was well. I took to calling them Baby Hueys. They grew quickly and in mid-August began scurrying about, flapping and trying their wings. By the end of the month, the Baby Hueys had all become fledglings, finally flying away. Initially, they haunted the nest sites, the parents still checking in and sometimes feeding them in an attempt to quiet the loud and incessant chirping that could be heard all over the neighborhood. They would fly by my window and I swear that I could see the pure bliss of soaring in the flap of their wings, a smile curving their beaks. I would sometime see them walking about the streets, looking lost and bewildered with tufts of feathers on the tops of their heads like some trendy haircut. I miss them all.

You could likely be correct in citing that I had engaged myself in a form of bird therapy. According to an article in Psychology Today, .’..bird sounds engage the human brain as well, conveying information about our surroundings. They foster a connection with nature, which research shows may provoke effortless attention, restore alertness, reduce stress, decrease hostility, and promote a sense of well-being’. I am grateful for all the feathered dinosaur ancestors that fly past my windows and often perch on the railing, for their daily songs that I can hear even if I can’t see them, and for their reminders that there is magic in our days, that anything can happen if you simply be quiet and listen.

This post was written by Jude L. Gorgopa, Founder of Clout Et Cetera & The Fundamentals of Clout. For resources, services, and eBooks, go to cloutetcetera.com

IMG_20180812_172008762

Baby Hueys at the beach. It takes 3 years for gulls to mature. They start off a brownish gray then gradually take on a grey and white speckled coat before becoming gray and white adults. 

On The Way to Somewhere Else

30 Aug

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This week marks the end of another Summer and where I live the air has suddenly cooled down to a comfortably melancholy kind of temperature that can induce one into thought dozing. Not a difficult task with the warm sun washing over everything. Just sitting on a bench by the ocean, in a wooded park, or even seated at a desk by a window can become a challenge to remain fully conscious. It’s a typical symptom of late summer. Our minds can take to wandering away at any given moment but if we simply give ourselves over, we could possibly conjure up new ideas that we’ve never thought of before or a different way of looking at things. Wandering can open up our minds and imaginations to discovery; it can take us to places in ourselves that we’ve never been before.

For many, September usually signals a season of change and transition along with the shortening hours of daylight. It’s also a time for letting go of what has become a burden, what doesn’t work anymore and acknowledging impermanence. Fall also has a mystical side that has been written about for centuries. Nature projects it’s astounding beauty in the changing light and brilliant foliage. The air has a new freshness mixed with a smoky scent. The sky takes on a particularly brilliant shade of blue and the birds fly off in their secret formations to destinations mostly unknown to us.

There can be a kind of magic in all of this, something that transcends the everyday. Things can happen that may seem, well…mysterious or of a psychic nature like getting an email from someone that you had given up on ever hearing from again right after you thought of them or running into someone you haven’t seen for a long time right after they entered your thoughts. Perhaps it was a song playing in your head that suddenly came on the radio. Light bulb moments.

According to a Cambridge Dictionary definition of magical thinking, it’s the belief that thinking about something or wanting it to happen can make it happen. Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. Apparently though, according to some specialists, it can be psychologically controversial in adults. Barring an actual mental disorder, there is still a strong case for using it. As I had written in a previous post, not everything can be explained away by science and it seems unfortunate to banish an unusual experience from our lives simply because we can’t explain it. Think about it. Many fantastic stories would never have been written without magical thinking. Harry Potter anyone? Perhaps we need to tap into the child within us more often.

According to a quote by Arthur C. Clarke, “Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.” Whatever it is, it’s happening all around us every day…whether we want to accept it or not. Those exquisite moments that will pull at the strings in our memory, that can fill us with wonderment and delight, that can change our lives in inexplicable ways. We might be wandering along as usual when suddenly, just like that, ‘it’ happens and we find ourselves on the way to somewhere else. Timing is everything.

On a side note, this is my 60th essay published to date. But even more importantly, it’s my Dad’s 92nd birthday today. Remarkable to say the least.

This post was written by Jude L. Gorgopa, Founder of Clout Et Cetera & The Fundamentals of Clout. For resources, services, and eBooks, go to cloutetcetera.com