Words, Like the Wind…

I’m having trouble with something, but I don’t know what. It’s something I can’t seem to describe in words –nothing fits. I suppose I could be forgiven for dismissing it as nothing; there’s a word for everything isn’t there…? Everybody important gets a name –so does every place. I’m wondering about every feeling though, or every concept… Does everything like that get assigned a descriptor? A label?

For the longest time I assumed that everything that was too difficult to encapsulate in a word was either relegated to a category –the same flock, as it were- so that it could be described by a common theme, and whatever adjective or noun that seemed relevant for one, could be assigned to another by extrapolation; or the responsibility for describing its ineffability was delegated to metaphor. To poetry.

But as age slowly creeps across my neural circuits forcing me to neologate in order to deputize new sounds to stand in for those I’ve forgotten, I realize I’ve only had my hand in one pot. I’ve been drawing water from the same well all this time, and it makes me wonder what I’ve missed -or rather, what has missed me. Have I -limited as I have been by the cadre of words assigned to me, and bound by the metaphors my culture would understand- been restricted in what I feel as well? Would those evanescent emotions even be recognizable if they resisted condensation? If they were absorbed by some other, larger, but different entity?

It’s an interesting question, and one only partially addressed by a fascinating article in the BBC Future series: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170126-the-untranslatable-emotions-you-never-knew-you-had There are certain things that seem obvious when pointed out, but which might never occur to someone unaccustomed to viewing them that way. They are often fleeting, and if not captured as they occur, pass like the wind in a field of grain. Tim Lomas, from the University of East London, searched through the academic literature for ‘untranslatable’ words and his first compilation was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. ‘“In our stream of consciousness – that wash of different sensations feelings and emotions – there’s so much to process that a lot passes us by,” Lomas says. “The feelings we have learned to recognise and label are the ones we notice – but there’s a lot more that we may not be aware of.’

The words he found range from the more banal, such as the Tagalog Gigil: the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished’ to the profound –Wabi-sabi: a Japanese term that describes our appreciation of transient and imperfect beauty – such as the fleeting splendour of cherry blossom’ – a “dark, desolate sublimity”…

And then there is Lisa Feldman Barrett at Northeastern University. ‘Her research was inspired by the observation that certain people use different emotion words interchangeably, while others are highly precise in their descriptions. “Some people use words like anxious, afraid, angry, disgusted to refer to a general affective state of feeling bad,” she explains. “For them, they are synonyms, whereas for other people they are distinctive feelings with distinctive actions associated with them.”

‘This is called “emotion granularity.” Importantly, she has found that this then determines how well we cope with life. If you are better able to pin down whether you are feeling despair or anxiety, for instance, you might be better able to decide how to remedy those feelings: whether to talk to a friend, or watch a funny film. Or being able to identify your hope in the face of disappointment might help you to look for new solutions to your problem.’

But, for me at least, these observations are largely beside the point. Too reductive. Too pragmatic. Like embarking upon a study to find out where the geese actually go as you hear their honking disappear into an early morning mist, rather than being captivated by the magic of its occurrence. Captivated by the feeling. The moment. It’s why, I suppose, I was so enthralled by the concept of Wabi-sabi –it seems so… perfect! It’s not needing a scientific explanation for, say, a beautiful sunset, and being unentangled by an urge to describe it further, but rather, watching it wordlessly. Mindlessly…

Experiencing is mindless, I think. Listening to a symphony doesn’t necessitate describing it. It isn’t a purposive exercise requiring a justification, nor even an explanation. Much like the evanescent bewitchment of the cherry blossoms on a tree one morning, it just is… And yet, if there were a word that acknowledged the feelings it engendered, a way of expressing it, characterizing its effect on you to someone not present, and conveying the emotion, it might help to reify something that would otherwise disappear -a memory unshared and unsharable no matter the desire for acknowledgement. For someone else, it might never have existed, and in fact didn’t…

So does the inability to adequately encapsulate a moment in words –or in a word- either diminish its appreciability, or lessen its likelihood of being noticed? I suppose, without reverting to the linguistically oppugned Whorfianism (which suggests that language itself can influence thought), I would prefer to defer to the Bard himself and paraphrase his Juliet’s ‘What’s in a name?’ –a rose, even without a name, would smell as sweet.

Even so… a name is something sharable isn’t it? You would know it wasn’t a lilac I had smelled. You could partake of my experience, if only vicariously.

And sometimes, that’s enough. It’s something, at any rate…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortune’s Fool

Health –what is it? The older I get, the more I wonder what I’m supposed to feel like. Is it merely the absence of something like sickness and incapacity, or are there positive attributes, whose presence somehow summons it from the vasty deep? There are official attempts to define it of course -the 1984 WHO revised definition of health defined it as ‘the extent to which an individual or group is able to realize aspirations and satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment’- but that’s about as solid as a cloud, and as useful as a stopped clock.

No, I want to know whether, apart from having survived long enough to have a history, I am hale. I figure I get sick as much as the next person, but insofar as I can determine, I am content… And yet I realize that’s not saying very much.

Anyway, I am always amused by those who claim they never get sick, and yet are unwilling to define their terms. An article in the Guardian newspaper renewed my interest: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jan/24/secrets-of-people-who-never-get-sick?CMP=share_btn_link and it reminded me of my recent trip to New Zealand. Many of those on the plane –well, at least those sitting nearby- had personal hand-sanitizers that they would brandish from time to time like crucifixes. I felt distinctly apostate, and not a little unprotected when I dared to eat the meal unconsecrated. At least it kept the person in the next seat off my arm rest, though.

But I mention the trip because a 14 hour direct flight demands entertainment other than movies, and creates opportunities that are otherwise impractical: it allows time to design and conduct scientifically rigorous observational experiments. The possible topics are, of course, legion, but I decided to measure Health –or at least, its simulacrum –as best I could from my aisle seat, mid-plane, and in spite of an elbow that kept poking me. Would hand-sanity prevent anything, I wondered –at least in the short term? And what would that be? The sniffles? Respiratory infections? Polio?

I decided I would do a simple comparative analysis. I could measure the difference in health between the beginning of the flight (before they served the dinner) and its end (in the morning before breakfast) -with maybe a few random observations mid-flight during the enforced sleep to validate the progression towards whatever conclusions I might draw as we landed.

I had a purpose at last, I realized with a sigh as I drew some columns on the pale and rumpled surface of an air-sick bag someone had re-stuffed in that little pocket behind the seat ahead. To wit: were hand sanitizers effective disinfectants -or merely proxy-deodorants that gave the impression they were eliminating something that they were only temporarily covering up?

In the interests of adequate and representative sampling, I decided on two study groups: those who initially hand-sanitized without symptoms -no use of tissues- (i.e. initially healthy -arguing that the act of wiping or blowing was likely purposive), and of course the comparison group -the healthy control group- were those who neither sanitized, nor were startup tissuers. I accepted the occasional sneeze in this group in appreciation of the accepted wisdom that we all sneeze from time to time. I wasn’t sure what to do with polite little coughs however, so I tabulated these in each group. Horky, wet coughs, of course, I immediately assigned to the already sick group and just made sure they were not doing it around me or anything –I figured that was fair. So, any change by the end of the flight, and Nobel’s your uncle.

As the flight wore on, I began to hope that this data might well be cutting edge research -New England Journal of Medicine stuff. I was concerned, however, that during those periods of turbulence when I was unable to write, let alone judge the intricacies of tissuing (simple wiping vs full-nose clearing), data compilation might be compromised -but of course both groups would be equally affected, so I decided it would probably cancel out nicely.

I began to have some doubts again during the lights-off section of the trip, however. For some reason, the absence of light and the difficulty of individual identification seemed to engender episodes of what I can only describe as spiteful rogue coughing and camouflaged blowing –the perpetrators obviously having waited for darkness in order to remain anonymous. But fortunately, the distribution was random –indeed, stereoscopic. The initial no-blow areas seemed to be contributing as much night noise as the areas I had previously thought were affected regions –although in the dim light, and ubiquitous ambient groaning of uvular obstruction, all my previously ascertained and meticulously mapped certainty seemed to meld together into unclassifiable lumps.

I suppose the greatest disappointment, however, was with the innocuous, albeit large man seated next to me –the one who had ceded the armrest. It wasn’t so much his sleeping head constantly sliding dangerously close to mine before it mercifully underwent a miraculous gyroscopic correction, nor the gurgling that -in the absence of sufficient light- reminded me of the pebbled creek that burbled and bubbled behind my house. No, rather it was his surreptitious experiments in clandestine wiping and foxy rasping, hitherto undisclosed. Who would have thought that an experimental subject that I had, in good faith, enrolled and randomly allocated to the hand-sanitizer healthy arm, would go over to the dark side? I felt betrayed. But not only that, it made me realize just how porous my categories had become. How similar to Matryoshka dolls were even the best dressed passengers. How they will all ‘round a varnish’d tale’, as Shakespeare could have had Othello say, but didn’t.

So, in the dim, inadequate glow of floor lights, and amidst a symphony of unheralded respiratory dissonance, I decided to suspend the as-yet embryonic study before arriving at the statistically verifiable conclusions for which I had striven. And yet I suppose that with the current penchant for counting simple trends as signifiers, and given observations that were unable to reach even the firm ground of bullet points, let alone a satisfactory level of corroborable validity, I can say with words Shakespeare did write -this time for Banquo: ‘The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles.’ So, despite a bout of violent turbulence when the lights came on again, I began tabulating the trends with shaky arrows on the sick-bag until a pale-green shoeless man grabbed it as he torqued past me down the aisle.

I can therefore offer only a shadowy recollection of my findings. First: hand-sanitizers clearly do not work in the absence of light (which serves to let nearby people know you have one); second -people who only cough at night are hiding something; and finally, but even more startlingly, herd immunity becomes herd acquisition on a plane -flagrant plagiarism that begs for further studies.

Me? I didn’t resort to tissuing until the third day of my trip, and even then it was desultory –I’m really not very good at sickness. I did find that I developed an inordinate proclivity for washing my hands, though. That’s healthy isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

Boundary Issues

I don’t believe I have anything against religion. And yet when I come across it unawares, I am sometimes unsettled by the earnestness with which it is pursued. Or maybe it’s just the facial expressions that seem to surface whenever an administrator of the creed begins to talk.

Still, the older I get the more I wonder about things. It’s strange -I find I’m tangled in the words of Shakespeare’s court jester, Touchstone: ‘A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.’ Which am I? Which are any of us? It seems there is no winner.

But the more I struggle to free myself from the web, the more enmeshed I become, the more I see it as a lesson: we are both.

“How can you say that?” Edward almost rose from his chair as he pounded the table. It wasn’t only the loudness of his voice that attracted attention in the room, but also the expression in his eyes when people turned to look. His face was red and several fat veins had surfaced on his temple like snakes sunning themselves on a rock. He looked furious. Dangerous!

The man sitting at the adjacent table studied Edward almost clinically for a moment and then, glancing briefly at me, asked if he could be of some help.

The snakes disappeared immediately and Edward stood up, pretending to smile. Then, after trying to attack me with a glare, he slipped out of the room embarrassed by the silence and the flock of eyes that followed him to the door.

“A friend of yours?” the man asked, barely able to suppress a worried grin.

I nodded as nonchalantly as I could manage, but I think I blushed all the same. “I don’t think today is one of his good ones…”

The man was silent for a while and had a sip of his coffee, but he was obviously upset. It was clear that he was thinking about the outburst, because he soon turned to me again. “Look, I realize this is none of my business,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “But is he all right?”

I summoned my eyes from my coffee cup where they had been resting and sent them to scratch at his face. As they circled to alight somewhere I noticed he was wearing a grey clerical collar. I think I must have gasped, because he smiled and shrugged as if to say you never knew who you’ll be sitting next to -especially someone with a grey collar. At least it matched his suit, I thought. Maybe the church was finally looking into fashion.

I took a deep breath and sat back in the hard chair. “He thinks he is…”

His smile broadened. “And you…? Do you think he’s all right?” It was my turn to shrug. “Because he seemed very angry at something… In fact,” he continued, “I think he even frightened some of the customers in here.” He had a sip from his now-cold coffee and extended a hand for me to shake. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude talking to you like this. I’m Gregoire –Greg.”

I introduced myself with a tentative handshake –I didn’t want to commit to anything. “We…” I hesitated to explain, lest it be misconstrued. “We were talking about God.”

Greg’s eyes attached themselves to my face like roosting birds preparing for a storm. “And I take it you disagreed.”

I nodded, but carefully -Edward is my friend. “He just gets excited sometimes.”

“About God?” I could see a little smile trickling across his mouth –I was in his territory after all.

I shrugged and decided to be honest. “Well, not exactly about God, more like whether God…”

I was still locked in the talons of his eyes like a prisoner. “And he felt strongly about his opinion?” he said kindly –like he’d heard it all before.

I had to smile; Edward feels it’s his duty to stand on the other side of a fence no matter what. “He sometimes thinks with his mouth. Words tumble out and then, like a father, he feels he’s obliged to support them.” I sighed to show I’d heard it all before as well.

Greg summoned his eyes back for a moment as he finished off the rest of his coffee. “And are the arguments usually about god?”

I could tell he was trying to be nonchalant about the word. In fact, I think he purposely avoided a capital G. But I had to think about the question. I saw Edward infrequently, often in this coffee shop; and yes, the conversation usually ended up with religion. I had no recourse, especially under the attentive pecking of his eyes, but to shrug again. “He seems to have a thing with religions…”

His eyes nibbled harder on my cheeks and he smiled a weary smile. “Competitive ones…?”

I blinked. “No, neither of us belong to anything…”

“So…?”

I have to hand it to Greg, he knew how to interrogate. Maybe it’s part of pastoral training. “So, I suppose we compare them…” I tried to pretend the arguments we often had were usually just discussions -explorations of contrasting myths, and not heated quarrels.

His face dissolved into a wicked grin and his once predatory eyes now twinkled back to their cages. “Just window shopping… or looking for the best deal?”

I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but it made me wonder about Edward. His wife had belonged to a church before her death many years ago. He’d always resisted, but now that he was retired, he seemed, well, anxious. Or…empty, as he once put it. “Maybe…”

“Maybe he’s read Pascal’s Wager,” Greg interrupted with a mysterious smile. “You know, Blaise Pascal. He thought that even if the existence of a god was unlikely, the benefits of believing in one far outweighed those of any disbelief.”

A light suddenly went on inside my head. “And he’s just trying to find the most comfortable pew?”

Greg nodded, obviously pleased his observation had fallen on fertile ground. “We seem more at ease when we have a direction to face. Then we just need to find a road going there.”

His face was a poem and his metaphors so apt. So certain.

Religare, eh?”

He seemed surprised that I knew the etymology. “Re-fasten? Re-attach…?” And then he sighed the sigh of the contented. “Exactly.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boundary Issues

I don’t believe I have anything against religion. And yet when I come across it unawares, I am sometimes unsettled by the earnestness with which it is pursued. Or maybe it’s just the facial expressions that seem to surface whenever an administrator of the creed begins to talk.

Still, the older I get the more I wonder about things. It’s strange -I find I’m tangled in the words of Shakespeare’s court jester, Touchstone: ‘A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.’ Which am I? Which are any of us? It seems there is no winner.

But the more I struggle to free myself from the web, the more enmeshed I become, the more I see it as a lesson: we are both.

“How can you say that?” Edward almost rose from his chair as he pounded the table. It wasn’t only the loudness of his voice that attracted attention in the room, but also the expression in his eyes when people turned to look. His face was red and several fat veins had surfaced on his temple like snakes sunning themselves on a rock. He looked furious. Dangerous!

The man sitting at the adjacent table studied Edward almost clinically for a moment and then, glancing briefly at me, asked if he could be of some help.

The snakes disappeared immediately and Edward stood up, pretending to smile. Then, after trying to attack me with a glare, he slipped out of the room embarrassed by the silence and the flock of eyes that followed him to the door.

“A friend of yours?” the man asked, barely able to suppress a worried grin.

I nodded as nonchalantly as I could manage, but I think I blushed all the same. “I don’t think today is one of his good ones…”

The man was silent for a while and had a sip of his coffee, but he was obviously upset. It was clear that he was thinking about the outburst, because he soon turned to me again. “Look, I realize this is none of my business,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “But is he all right?”

I summoned my eyes from my coffee cup where they had been resting and sent them to scratch at his face. As they circled to alight somewhere I noticed he was wearing a grey clerical collar. I think I must have gasped, because he smiled and shrugged as if to say you never knew who you’ll be sitting next to -especially someone with a grey collar. At least it matched his suit, I thought. Maybe the church was finally looking into fashion.

I took a deep breath and sat back in the hard chair. “He thinks he is…”

His smile broadened. “And you…? Do you think he’s all right?” It was my turn to shrug. “Because he seemed very angry at something… In fact,” he continued, “I think he even frightened some of the customers in here.” He had a sip from his now-cold coffee and extended a hand for me to shake. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude talking to you like this. I’m Gregoire –Greg.”

I introduced myself with a tentative handshake –I didn’t want to commit to anything. “We…” I hesitated to explain, lest it be misconstrued. “We were talking about God.”

Greg’s eyes attached themselves to my face like roosting birds preparing for a storm. “And I take it you disagreed.”

I nodded, but carefully -Edward is my friend. “He just gets excited sometimes.”

“About God?” I could see a little smile trickling across his mouth –I was in his territory after all.

I shrugged and decided to be honest. “Well, not exactly about God, more like whether God…”

I was still locked in the talons of his eyes like a prisoner. “And he felt strongly about his opinion?” he said kindly –like he’d heard it all before.

I had to smile; Edward feels it’s his duty to stand on the other side of a fence no matter what. “He sometimes thinks with his mouth. Words tumble out and then, like a father, he feels he’s obliged to support them.” I sighed to show I’d heard it all before as well.

Greg summoned his eyes back for a moment as he finished off the rest of his coffee. “And are the arguments usually about god?”

I could tell he was trying to be nonchalant about the word. In fact, I think he purposely avoided a capital G. But I had to think about the question. I saw Edward infrequently, often in this coffee shop; and yes, the conversation usually ended up with religion. I had no recourse, especially under the attentive pecking of his eyes, but to shrug again. “He seems to have a thing with religions…”

His eyes nibbled harder on my cheeks and he smiled a weary smile. “Competitive ones…?”

I blinked. “No, neither of us belong to anything…”

“So…?”

I have to hand it to Greg, he knew how to interrogate. Maybe it’s part of pastoral training. “So, I suppose we compare them…” I tried to pretend the arguments we often had were usually just discussions -explorations of contrasting myths, and not heated quarrels.

His face dissolved into a wicked grin and his once predatory eyes now twinkled back to their cages. “Just window shopping… or looking for the best deal?”

I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but it made me wonder about Edward. His wife had belonged to a church before her death many years ago. He’d always resisted, but now that he was retired, he seemed, well, anxious. Or…empty, as he once put it. “Maybe…”

“Maybe he’s read Pascal’s Wager,” Greg interrupted with a mysterious smile. “You know, Blaise Pascal. He thought that even if the existence of a god was unlikely, the benefits of believing in one far outweighed those of any disbelief.”

A light suddenly went on inside my head. “And he’s just trying to find the most comfortable pew?”

Greg nodded, obviously pleased his observation had fallen on fertile ground. “We seem more at ease when we have a direction to face. Then we just need to find a road going there.”

His face was a poem and his metaphors so apt. So certain.

Religare, eh?”

He seemed surprised that I knew the etymology. “Re-fasten? Re-attach…?” And then he sighed the sigh of the contented. “Exactly.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identifiably Old

Who are we? No, really… I’m not talking Canadian, or Catholic, or even hominid –and certainly not the kind of who you’re expected to reveal at a party or perhaps on the long census form. And just what is an identity anyway? The word itself ultimately derives from the Latin idem: ‘the same’; or even identidem: ‘over and over’ –although that’s a bit of a convoluted etymology. The point, I think, is that identity is supposed to be something that is consistent –perhaps unique.

Unique, I realize, is easy –each and every one of us is unique. But if identity is an attempt to pin something on any of us that is consistent and the same, there is a problem.

George was sitting on his veranda as I walked by on the sidewalk in front of his house. It was raining lightly and wind was raking the yard and robbing the trees of what few leaves they still possessed. But he seemed entertained by the scene and sat serenely comfortable on a deck chair dressed in a heavy grey coat and blue toque. It wasn’t cold enough for a toque, but he’d knitted it himself and wore it at the slightest provocation to show off.

I tried to pretend that I was texting and didn’t see him, but he called out to me. It’s hard to pretend you don’t notice somebody when they shout your name and wave.

“Come on up, Goz,” he said when I raised my head. I forced a smile -it bothers me when anybody calls me the childhood nickname that I let slip late one night at a party.

“Don’t call me Goz, George. It’s not my name.”

He sighed over-elaborately and pointed to a seat beside him on the porch. Sometimes  it wasn’t just his toque that was annoying. “I’m sorry, I was just teasing. I like the name…” he added to mollify the expression on my face.

“My father liked it, too, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I explained -it seemed to encapsulate my feelings. I hoped he wouldn’t press it any further.

He smiled broadly at my biblical reference. “Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians, isn’t it?” George is an emeritus professor of Philosophy who took an early retirement and I think he likes to keep in practice.

I had no idea where the phrase came from, but I shrugged as if to indicate that it was common knowledge. I probably shouldn’t have used it around George, though.

“Names are like adjectives, don’t you think? They describe the noun.” He wasn’t going to let the nickname go without a fight.

“Described, perhaps,” I said, attempting to emphasize the past-tense of the word.

“We all change, I suppose,” he said, trying to be conciliatory, and pausing briefly to let me enjoy the reprieve. A gust of wind swept a parcel of leaves onto the deck and he studied them for a moment. “But sometimes I wonder just how much…”

“How’s Retirement, George?” I had to change the subject before it got out of hand.

He looked up from the leaves and smiled with an expression that said his mind had been miles away. Then, he sat back in his chair and stared at an empty tree across the road for what seemed an eternity. “It’s given me time to think,” he said, finally breaking the fast of his silence.

“Think…?” Good I thought -it worked.

“Those leaves,” he continued, pointing at the dreary, sodden lump near his feet. “They’re not where they used to be…” He paused as he thought it through. “And they’re not doing what they were designed to do on the tree…” He looked up at me. “I suppose they’re fulfilling another function in nature now… But they’re still called leaves.”

I had a feeling this was not going where I wanted. I decided to shrug. “It’s a generic descriptor, I suppose.” A weak response, but couched in big words. I hoped it would suffice.

He stared at the tree again, considering my answer. “There’s been a change -I’ll concede that, if you like- but the name is still apt nonetheless, don’t you think?”

I studied his face for a moment. I had the uneasy feeling I was being led into a kind of Socratic trap. “George, I’m not the same person that ‘Goz’ described, if that’s the trap you’re trying to entice me into.” I felt pleased with that –especially when he sent his eyes out to perch on that tree again. I was a bit concerned about the smile, though.

“Who are you, then?” he said, still examining the tree. “A rose by another name…?”

I hate it when people use Shakespeare against me; it almost seems sacrilegious to argue the point. “I just don’t like the name…” I might as well put it on the table, I figured.

His eyes flitted to my face for a moment and then withdrew to their assigned cages. “Because you’re not the same person, you said?”

I could feel the door closing on me. “No, I’m not the same person I was when I was ten. Neither are you,” I added, hoping to salvage something in the argument. Anything, actually.

His eyes were twinkling now, although he was trying to disguise them by sending them back to the clump of leaves to hide. “Neither is the tree, I suspect…” He freed his eyes briefly to sample my face.

I took a deep, somewhat stertorous breath -I also dislike losing arguments. The funny thing was, I wasn’t actually sure that I had. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

The rain had stopped and although it was still windy, I could see some blue sky beginning to accumulate in little patches. “I was just heading for a coffee,” I said, rising to my feet. “Want to join me?”

He smiled and nodded his head. “Actually, I could use an espresso this morning…”

“Still coffee, though, isn’t it?”

He looked at me and laughed. Sometimes friends have to let each other win…

Days of Wine and Linament

The time is out of joint, says Hamlet. I can relate to that –only it’s my knees that are complaining, not my Time. But, in fairness to my movables, I suppose I should be mindful that rust is preferable to replacement.

Even so, I find I’m spending more on liniment than wine, nowadays, and the only heady bouquet in the kitchen is that of demulcent emollients from the pharmacy. Friends have stopped dropping by for coffee, though, so I guess I’m saving on that.

I want to be clear: I am as deeply committed to exercise now as I was in grade 5 at the Riverview Elementary School in Winnipeg. I had never excelled at Height, and so to compensate for this disability I concentrated on developing Mouth. It worked in the first few grades, but as my age wore on -and the more evolutionarily successful louts in the back seats began their recess-driven raids on those of us who preferred the front- it soon became apparent why our genetic pool was at risk. It was then that I discovered Run. It was amazing what Mouth could get away with if it couldn’t be caught. I developed what I have come to think of as the Border Collie Defence: a kind of broken field zig-zag that was impossible to predict –a David and Goliath defence that I’m sure is still legend in Winnipeg.

But I digress. I meant to say that I have been intrigued by exercise since I was very young. You’ll note that I used the word ‘intrigued’ rather than ‘excelled’. To excel at something suggests a level of commitment I was seldom able to sustain. In Run, the clearly understood goal was to escape. Only later, in my more mature times, did I realize that it could also be utilized for non-utilitarian projects such as fun, or -if I happened to be chosen for the pick-up game of football on Saturday afternoons- sports. I was usually chosen last, though, and each side always fought over who would be forced to take me, so I often spent Saturdays reading.

As I got older, however, it became de rigueur to pretend I could keep up with my own kids, and so I learned to push my envelope. But when it became embarrassingly evident that I was enclosed in a rather old envelope, they switched tactics. They began to challenge me at chess, then –out of pity, I suspect- Snakes and Ladders, and finally, the  entrance exam for most Retirement Homes- X’s & O’s, so I opted out of team sports and limited my exercise to solitary moonlight walks and private, keyed facilities like the mat in my basement.

As a Retirement gift, though, I ventured online and bought myself a programmable stationary bike with speakers into which I could plug my iPad and its retinue of Netflix movies. It seemed like the perfect answer to unfavourable, ego-dystonic juxtapositioning with those -other than my children- more endowed with the atavistic simian traits that I had learned to avoid at Riverview. Sometimes I wonder if I harbour some lingering bitterness about my youth.

I’ve never been a big movie fan. We front-rowers who could actually hear the teacher, quickly realized that the strange black things scribbled under the pictures in our books were words –and that there really were two roads that diverged in a yellow wood that we could see with our minds without photographs. And never the twain did meet… Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.

Anyway, because of my exercise bike, I became enthralled with movies. Entranced by the colour and the action, no longer did I have to imagine what was happening –it was all done for me like magic. My aging friends started to roll their eyes when they saw me coming because they knew I would have discovered some great film to tell them about that was all the rage when they were still working. They had to assure me that the marvellous old cars I described were not just special-effects, but were actually the ones being driven when the movie was made. Who knew?

But, when I immersed myself in this new medium, I lost track of time –all the while pedalling away on my endlessly repeating program of hills and mountains on the bike, heedless of the increasingly hoarse shouts from my knees. I would emerge from the film and then buckle when I tried to stand. Well, not actually buckle or anything –but when I tried to walk, I would hear what I used to hear in the bowl when I poured milk on my Rice Krispies. Whatever; I’m not convinced that stationary bikes are equivalent to standard-issue outdoor bikes whose movies are more three-dimensionally compelling, and also subject to balance and dog issues.

And then there’s the muscle thing –the char, or whatever they call the thigh pain you get when you keep pedalling and watching the screen. I never used to suffer it when I ran, and my legs stayed neutral when I biked for miles around my paper route, so this is all new to me. It makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with the bike. I’d take the whole thing back, only I got a deal online and saved a lot of money by renouncing the warranty. Also, somebody scraped the brand name and serial numbers off, so it would be difficult anyway.

I’m going to persist, though. I’ve decided to bike in smaller aliquots to accommodate different viewing opportunities. I’ve switched from movies to the shorter TV shows, and lately I’ve found that some of the children’s programs actually help with my muscle-driven attention span. I do worry, though, what this ever-diminishing physical stamina says about my cognitive capacities -that I can now lose myself in a cartoon I mean.

But my new selections have also taught me a few tricks I can spring on my kids if they ever try to go back to those game challenges -I think I’ve discovered a sure-fire algorithm for Rock, Paper, Scissor victories, for example. I can’t wait.

What did you say?

Language evolves; that’s what I like about it. New words keep popping up all the time so we don’t have to stick with the mouldy old mossbacks we were taught in school. Some of them, like say, LOL, are marvels of brevity and look good on a page even though nobody over forty has the slightest idea what they mean. Others, such as ‘choss’ are kind of catchy and begging to be used. Personally, I prefer the long ones because they presuppose some erudition and some of that clings to the user like an expensive scarf. I’m thinking here of ‘isms’ I suppose: eliminationism, or perhaps internalism -I don’t want to appear choosy. And yet I’m kind of partial to the ‘inters’ too –‘internaut’ springs to mind- however they do seem a little New Age and that’s passé now. But some are simply clever assonances such as Masshole (pardon the inadvertent phonological resemblance); pithy combos of different things of which ‘vog’ is a good example; or borrowed words like ‘tenderpreneur’, or even ‘yaar’ –which rolls nicely off the tongue.

But we have to be careful in our attributions, though. Most young people assume that words arise fully-baked from social media –spelled wrong, perhaps, but they’re easier to write that way. Texting does that to a language, of course, but I want to point to an even more fertile womb of neology: Retirement.

Neologisms are the undisputed prerogatives of the aged –make that elders. In fact, vocabulary, and its bejewelled use of new and hitherto forgotten permutations, are almost the sine qua non of respect for seniors. After a certain point, we simply cannot remember the common word for something in time to complete a sentence, so we have to futz around in the pot of syllables and come up with something tout suite –and make it sound natural. If you can perfect that, you are an elder; if not, you are just another doddery old person to be humoured. But sometimes we are judged, rather shamelessly I think, on our verbal performance -our repartees and the like. Our capacity to engage… In fact, inability to come up with a clever response is one of the key criteria that families use to register their parents in Homes –in loco parentis or something.

I can think of no better place to experience this semantic slight-of-tongue than in a Starbuck’s after the morning rush hour, when the kids and the workies have left enough tables for those of us who don’t eat and run –or can’t… I sometimes sit in the corner pretending I’m reading my iPhone and try to remember the words. I found myself inadvertently swimming in waters beyond my usual depth last week, when Joshua accosted me in the washroom lineup, however.

“You too?” he said a little too loudly. As a rule, I don’t like to let the baristas in on my personal activities. I figure their duties are to serve me, not watch me. Joshua was unfazed, however. He seemed to revel in the attention.

“I think the heightened lavatorial requirements are a function of age, don’t you?”  I said, trying to impress him with my command of bathroom words.

He shook his head. “Prostate,” he replied, trying to outmaneuver me by switching into anatomical mode. “It’s a function of hypertrophic dissonance.”

Whoa. This was getting serious. I nodded quickly to let him think I agreed, but actually it was to buy some time to find another, better phrase. “Obstructive uropathy can certainly be a problem when you’re over a certain age, eh?”

His eyes narrowed; the game was on. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, drawing out his words in an all too obvious delaying tactic. “Coffee is a diuretic even for the testosterone replete.”

I awarded him a slow, contemplative nod. “But they seem to come with larger holding tanks, don’t you think. There’s no one in this line who hasn’t fall’n into his sere, or his yellow leaf.” Shakespeare usually trumps, and I could see him stagger mentally for a moment.

Then the quick twinkling in his eyes. “So must we only look to have curses, not loud but deep, or mouth honor…?”

He knew he had me on that – you only get to quote Shakespeare once each from the same soliloquy. I lowered my head, so it must have looked to him as if I were speaking through my eyebrows –a Ciceronian technique I hope he caught. “Well, at least I’m not standing here in need and desperation; I’ve come prophylactically. Better three hours too soon, than a minute too late,” I said, but I knew in that moment he had me. I’d used the Bard twice, albeit this time from The Merry Wives of Windsor which I figured he’d never read.

I could see triumph in his eyes as words formed slowly on his lips. They were peeking out from inside his mouth, eager to slice me to the ground when the toilet door opened and an old man sauntered out casually feeling to check if he’d remembered to close his fly. Joshua was next in line; he had no choice but to leave me there, bleeding, but not defeated.

As the door closed behind him, I saw my opportunity to escape mortal combat, and took another road to leave ‘just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear’. And as I left Starbuck’s I couldn’t help feeling sad. I would have had him on that one…