The Journey Reconsidered

“How many more miles, daddy?” 

The 1954 Pontiac was well-equipped for a car of its day. Which is to say four wheels (and a full sized spare, usually inflated), bench seats (unheated, and one small step away from ironing board rigidity), ash trays (my father still smoked cigarettes, purchased by the carton, ‘over the river’ and spirited home in the generous sleeves of my mother’s Persian lamb coat, all times of the year), and a reliable, six cylinder engine that burned fossil fuels at a modest rate. 

Our family’s first ‘automatic’ had posed a bit of a steep learning curve, prompting a call to the dealership shortly after delivery with a complaint from my father that ‘it won’t start’ — reference the car’s mute response to a turn of the key on its second day. A driver, well-schooled in the wisdom of ‘leaving a car in gear’ to minimize the risk of its rolling down the nearest hill when left to its own devices, my father had dutifully and reflexively placed the transmission in ‘D’ (just to be safe) for its first overnight in our driveway. 

Guidance was still managed via a collection of paper maps, prepared at source by experts in origami (and never able to be quite replicated)  and stored in the glove compartment — the maps, not the expert — (although I don’t recall ever seeing so much as a mitten therein — the glove compartment, not the map nor the expert). Windows ascended and descended with turns of a crank. Devices to amuse the back seat occupant (aka, me) were comic ‘books’ (with the clear instruction not to risk motion sickness by reading with the car moving). And, for longer trips, a small stash of my mother’s (amazing) chocolate chip cookies, carefully loaded into a repurposed Christmas cake tin and typically sufficiently tightly sealed that the back seat occupant could not prise it open without alerting the front seat passenger. Audio entertainment was limited to an AM radio, connected to the outside world via an antenna, generally telescoped into its fender cavity — to prevent it being savaged in parking lots — and, hence able to ‘tune in’ nothing. This seemed to well suit my father, grateful for the solitude and respite from the hurly burly.

And so travel became about the journey. 

A toss-in paragraph in a novel I’ve just finished reading, set in immediate, post-WWI England, made brief mention of a minor character’s celebration of train travel. Nothing about the urgency and barely concealed irritation or intrusive behaviours of fellow passengers. No toe-tapping or watch-checking to ensure ‘things are running on time’. Instead, the trip became a kind of time-suspended interlude that would take as long as it took. The ‘world’ one entered was equipped (bearing in mind this was mid-1920’s) to meet one’s immediate needs (good seating or even a closed compartment, ‘dining car’ amenities perhaps). It became an occasion to introspect with points of departure and destination removed from consciousness — at least for a time — leaving the opportunity to essentially ‘just be’. 

From the mid-50’s rolling along in that cream coloured pod of my parents — with little else to do but gaze at the passing landscape — to any number of modern echos. Trains in particular have been host to that state, wherein the pressures and demands of our normally purposeful and directed activity are simply moth-balled; and we’re held completely captive to the surrounds of this moment, in most cases, these hours — with naught to do but engage it (or them). 

High speed ‘bullets’ are a favourite. Traversing the breadth of France from Aix to Paris was a first experience. Travelling in this quiet ‘seam’ between the early morning launch from the country’s southeast corner — but before being dropped back into it, Gare de Lyon, then navigating the Métro at rush hour — gifted 3 hours of suspended bliss. 600 or so kilometres, moving in the upper 200’s, rekindled early memories. The odd paradox of moving through space, but removed from it, free to look and appreciate, but absent any of the compulsive, purposeful participation that occupies so much of our  time. 

Giving oneself up to the space and time, to reflective moments, is a rarity it seems. Distractions, intrusions, the imperative pull ‘to do’, and to schedule our days is typically consuming — leaving precious few ‘remnants’ to spare. Leisure itself is often fully ‘booked’, slotted in along with all the other diarized entries. Discovering venues where this is not the case, finding those surreal gaps, wormholes connecting one obligation to the next with ‘nothing to do’ serve as reminders to distance from not only multi-tasking, but from tasking itself. A 30’ sit, an ‘aimless’ jaunt on the bike. . . or a train ride are the quiet presents we can give ourselves. Restorative, grounding, ‘pointless’ — but increasingly necessary.

My father’s gentle response to my backseat query: ‘Not sure. . . but we’ll get there when we get there’.

EDI Goes Rogue

So perhaps it’s time to make trigger warnings a bit more inclusive. By definition, in the shoal-ridden and unpredictable waters of academe, said forewarnings are ‘explicit alerts that the material (a student) is about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder’ (NY Times, 2014). There is considerable controversy as to whether these well-intentioned, ‘protective’ efforts achieve the desired end of insulating students from being re-traumatized — or in fact, do the reverse: sensitize. More or less the equivalent of the B-movie scenario where we know the psycho is going to jump out of the closet. . . we just don’t know when or which closet. Perfect recipe for anticipatory anxiety.

Evidently, the Halton District School Board has found its own creative solution: simply don’t watch the movie. In case it got overlooked on your Twitter feed, a high school in Oakville is reputed to house a, well, we’re not exactly sure a what. According to hastily cobbled together defences from Board trustees, it’s neither student, nor employee. They (the trustees) are adamant that it’s not the teacher named in the ‘misinformed information in media, conventional or social’. Whatever it is (or isn’t), it’s gone viral — perhaps one of those rare circumstances where both the content and the speed of transmission is entirely aptly so described. In short, heads buried in sand followed hard on (as it were) by denial — and ultimately shelter taken behind that one-size-fits-all shield of freedom of personal expression, and insulated by the angst accompanying any trans(gression) of diversity and inclusiveness — seems to have been the prevailing Board wisdom. And in the unlikely event that none of the above succeeds, resort to corporate double-speak to further obscure:

While we cannot confirm the identity of the individual in the photos/videos/radio segments, we can confirm that the individual is not ________ ________. ________ ________ is a staff member of the Halton District School Board who is an entirely separate individual and is completely unrelated to this matter. (HDSB release, Sept. 20, 2022).

And so, in a world where institutions are regularly being taken to task for failing to give the heads up to unsuspecting students that the psychology video they’re about to shown may contain highly disturbing content (rats trapped in cages, forced to press bars to stave off starvation) or the text they’re about to open may reference animal abuse (‘beating a dead horse’), it may be time for the HDSB trustees to step up their game. Perhaps a word of forewarning that the shop teacher may not be entirely what was expected. Or perhaps they (the trustees) are just concerned about creating a generation of power tool phobics riddled with post trauma. How thoughtful of them!

Self-Awareness & Self-Acceptance

DSCN3602+If we think of ourselves as a ‘community’, rather than a single ‘person’ we have started down the path of self-awareness and self-understanding — and of becoming a more balanced and complete individual.

Four of the five large (empty) circles shown in Stage 1 are ‘new lands’, planets if you will that are largely outside of our awareness. We may not even know they exist. Or, if we are vaguely aware of them, they feel foreign, and are often viewed with suspicion, even aversion — the ‘no, that’s not really me’ pieces of ourselves. The small black circle, representing our consciousness, shows us living in a single space, encircled, limited. We haven’t yet looked through the telescope or knocked, with curiosity, on our next door neighbour’s door. There’s nothing unusual about it.

Screen Shot 2022-07-07 at 10.38.14 AMIn Stage 2, our ‘awareness’ shifts slightly — or, more properly, expands. We continue to view things from our original ‘self’ (small black dot) — but we develop a sense of these ‘neighbouring selves’. Think back to the first time, as a child perhaps, when you left your home property to explore your ‘street’, maybe heading off to attend school. ‘Home’ continues to be your primary base of operation — but other, similar ‘houses’ now become a part of your world.

The move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 is significant. A number of changes in our conscious awareness occur.
— First, we move our primary point of view to a more central location — namely, into the centre of our ‘solar system’. Instead of the ego-centric, single-minded, ‘Earth-bound’ perspective, we allow that these ‘other worlds’ are a part of our space — and not ‘foreign bodies’ that occupy the house next door, or the neighbouring street.
— Secondly, we risk exploring these other selves. Recall first visits to a friend’s house. Instead of walking past and wondering who all occupies the dwelling, you go in, explore, and meet the other occupants — parents, siblings of a friend.
— As was likely true in childhood, the inhabitants of these ‘other spaces’ were people we already knew and liked. These were the ‘comfortable, easy places’ to visit and explore. Other ‘houses’, we came to know, were occupied by less appealing residents. Naturally, we tended to give a wide berth to those places; perhaps even developing a dislike of, deserved or not, the individuals, wishing they’d ‘move out of the neighbourhood’. Nevertheless, this second group is a part of the community and will remain so going forward.
— Our work in Stage 3 is to begin to understand and identify the parameters or aspects that define and characterize these other places in our consciousness. A useful exercise is to recall your immediate neighbourhood as a child. Who lived next door? Which houses did you frequent? Which ones did you avoid — and why? Which ones remained something of a mystery, had a particular ‘feel’ to them? Which ones became familiar destinations? Did you develop ‘short cuts’ to and from certain places? Were some ‘pathways’ well travelled, others risky and little used — and why? With this exercise, is it possible to suspend judgment of each of these ‘houses’; to think of them in neutral terms, without attaching a label, positive or negative, to them? The exercise is simply to remember, not evaluate or judge.
— Our perspective, as began with Stage 2, moves to a fully centralized posture. We effectively still ‘live our house’; but are aware of the neighbourhood. And we’ve begun to investigate.

Stage 4 is by far the most challenging shift. Now, instead of occupying one ‘place’, we allow that there are many selves. We recognize these aspects as significant pieces, parts of the whole. Our ‘core self’ will continue to be the centralized ‘bus driver’. But we begin to spend time in the other dwellings, ‘staying over’ in other houses. As with the ‘neighbourhood’ analogy, some elements will be acceptable, places where we like to hang out — the best friend’s home. Others will be more difficult to tolerate, perhaps being avoided, denied as a ‘piece of you’.

The critical work in Stage 4 includes a number of aspects:
Recognition of not just the ‘who’ occupies a particular place, but what their ‘purpose’ might be. Why are they in the neighbourhood? What do they bring to the community? There will always be ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Learning to allow someone to remain, despite the differences in values, beliefs, behaviours between ‘them’ and the core self can be very difficult. A simple exercise in recognition is to create a descriptive label for your various elements. Personally, my critic, my empath, my competitor, my cynic, my analyst are all part of the constellation. They have their roles, all of which contribute, many of which conflict, one with another. Could I do without some? Unlikely. Would I prefer one or two might be less present? Almost certainly.
Acceptance that all aspects are a part of the fully formed ‘you’. Like any neighbourhood, each aspect ‘moved in’ for a reason. Stage 4 is about getting to know these ‘subs’ (sub-personalities) and cultivating a relationship with each that allows their presence.
Learning from each aspect. If we can suspend judgment, we are more open to listening to what each of these individuals has to say, what they have to teach us. As is often the case, the more ‘difficult’ a resident is, the more important the lesson might be. Developing a sense of ‘voice’ is also critical. As with neighbours, not all ‘sound alike’. Learning to recognize ‘who is speaking’ — and giving them ‘air time’ — is a part of Stage 4. As these are all ‘pieces of us’, we have the potential equally to modify their ‘styles’. The neighbour who throws open the window and yells at us to get off the lawn is less likely to be heeded than one that uses a softer approach. Some of our aspects with be crusty, loud, inappropriate, and intolerant — benefiting from a bit of ‘socializing’.

Finally, as with neighbourhoods, occupants move in and move out. Residents may remain but will evolve, develop different relationships within the community. This is a dynamic process and one that benefits principally from openness, attention, and acceptance.