Sunday, December 30, 2012


Over Christmas I escorted two of my young adult clients to the Sexual Health Clinic for HIV/AIDS testing.  Situated on the main floor of a municipal building right downtown (Addictions Services is on the second floor and the Mental Health Clinic on the third floor), the place was busy.  While waiting for my clients to complete their medicals, a dozen or so other consumers walked in.  Some came as singles, some came in pairs.  Not so strangely, I guess, I recognized two from my downtown summer busks. Most of these walk-ins were there for the Needles Exchange Program, and they seemed to quite know their way around.  All the others were there for anonymous testing (no identification, no health card required). My two clients only, actually filled out the optional forms for their demographic information. 

The waiting area was typically clinical, two female receptionists across the counter, sexual information posters hanging on the wall, free condoms for grabs on the floor.  Several dated Home & Garden and Female Fitness magazines were strewn about the coffee tables between the chairs.  A cold water fountain stood in the corner.  The friendliest female nurse ever, peeked out the examination room door and beckoned each client by first name only.  (I only know she was the nurse because my clients told me so after the event.) In Dostoyevsky-like fashion (The Idiot, 1868), both clients resolved to themselves and to each other and to me, that should they prove clean, they would never use again.  (This clinical information for such a resolution, they would not officially know until January 7th in the New Year.)

Promises to keep, I guess, just as lots of us promise to start and keep something going in the New Year.  But why would these two have to clinically prove clean before they come clean?  And this is what I shall write about today, what to consider when New Year’s resolutions are vowed.

If you want to become the person you really want to be, if you truly want a richer life, please take heed:
First, the time for positive change is right now.  If you’re stuck and waiting for the perfect time means that you’re waiting for some imaginary event to occur, some event that will prompt and affirm your decision making.  The simple fact is there will never be a better time than right now to derring-do, not tomorrow, not next week, not even New Year’s.

Second, you never really know how things are going to turn out.  Things will always change (for better or worse) no matter what, no matter your circumstance, no matter your gallivant or gambol. This is life.  Even so, make your plan and prepare, and you will not easily succumb to the whims of your negative nature and ways.

Third, listen to your common sense inner voice.  You know what is right for you – and so you have told yourself over and over for some time.  It is time to adhere to that inner voice of yours.

Fourth, you must realize that you are never alone.  Know that there is someone who is rooting for you.  Perhaps it is someone who always used to be in your corner.  That person is waiting for your comeback.  There are sure to be groups of people in your same situation, people having the same hamartia.  Back at the Sexual Health Clinic I noticed Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other such meeting schedules posted on the information bulletin board.

Fifth, find a passion.  Rekindle your love affair with someone or something. It could that you were a swimmer; it could be that you played a musical instrument; it could be that you were a student; it could be that you were a (fill in the blank).  Recreate yourself and replicate any of these past actions that provided you pleasure.

And finally, sixth, you don’t need to be perfect to be better.  It is never necessary to be the best at anything – it is only necessary to give it your best (and like I’ve just stated, your best does not need to be perfect).

I tend to believe that before I busk, I need permission from the nearest boniface to thrum and sing (whenever I sling my guitar), to pump and pinch (whenever I amuse on my accordion), to hum and drone (whenever I de-quiver my didge).  I always try to make my request reasonable; I never ask for the moon; I never pile on the reasons why I want to busk -- these people know that I’m there for the coin.

Changing things within yourself, you only need permission from yourself. To plan for some positive changes is setting the stage, a mise-en-scene, for a richer self.   
Making simple plans for a more positive lifestyle is not like asking for the moon – you do not need rocket science to get you there!

The Chaucerian Character marching in my busking parade this week has got to be the panhandler on Scarth Street.  En route to do some downtown didge and drum busking, Baron and I stopped in at the bank.  While in the bank line an angry forty something customer with faux-hawk hair was hollering, My parents did it again just like they did last Christmas … left me hanging without putting money in my account! Immediately following his outburst, the fellow politely apologized to the bank teller and stomped out.  Whilst scouting for a buskspot, a darkly hooded cadge was panning for some spare change.  Baron gave him some coin and four cigarettes, and recognized him as the noisy guy in the bank!


Saturday, December 22, 2012


Popeye the Sailor had a couple of catchy lines:  “Ja’ think I’m a cowboy?” (His first line ever) and “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam” (Thimble Theatre Comic Strip, 1933).

Each of us has an identity which is often determined by our circumstance (e.g., I’m a middle-aged white guy who controls the Western world), our behavior (e.g., I’m a busker), our position (e.g., I’m a counselor).   Social Psychologists would inform us that it is comforting to wrap ourselves in these self-sought descriptors and so doing, however, we limit our personal growth. 

Some proof of this is when we become unwrapped we come undone. A change of our circumstance can certainly wreak havoc with our identity (e.g., Breaking from a marriage we become forlorn and broken; e.g., Ending a job either by firing or retiring we view ourselves unworthy or useless).
Some Social Psychologists insist that we are so latched to our descriptors that even our negative ones can be comforting; most of these being excuses for never having to stretch into activities even mildly discomforting (e.g., I’m not mechanically inclined; e.g.,  I can only sing in the shower).

Here is more of that you-are-not-what-you-do theory:  You’re not a teacher – You’re one who teaches.  You’re not a Republican – You just attach more to the Republican policies.  You’re not a Buddhist – You’re a practitioner of Buddhist doctrine. The real you, they claim, is distinguished and rises above all of these things. Your real essence, they claim, is much deeper than what is defined and observable from the outside view of you, from your observable behaviors, so to speak. 

Some advocates of this theory actually believe that our real self, that our essence, is completely detached from our circumstance, our behavior, our position. These people say they like the person, they just don’t like the behavior.  To those who insist that people are not really bad, that they happen to be people who just happen to do bad things, I say all of this is balderdash!  Contrarily I can say to them, people are never good then either, they only seem like good people because they just happen to do good things.

I believe that who we really are is determined by our self-assessed identities, and these self-assessed identities are guided by a sort of community compass.  We need only to look into our particular communities to see where we’ve positioned ourselves and understand who we truly are.  Our circumstances, our behaviors, and our positions are all determined by that compass needle that points towards our particular communities.

To help prove my point I shall employ some inductive reasoning; that is to state, I shall view everyone's identity choice by focusing an identity lens on myself.

My being a white guy in the Western world is my circumstance.  I had no choice in the matter.  I was born in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.  We moved west when I was young.  This was not my choice either.  I went to the University of Regina.  This was my choice.  The place of my current employ is Regina.  This, too, is my choice.

English Literature was my favorite subject in high school.  Literature and Reading were the only subjects I ever liked in school, no matter the grade level.  Even in my grade twelve year I only liked English.  I was one of those who would skip school to shoot pool every afternoon, but I never skipped English class.  This was my behavior.  When I decided to attend university, my logical choice for a major was English.  I completed a degree in English, and then did a graduate degree in Psychology. And now to me, English and Psychology have become synonyms, both disciplines purporting to be the study of the fictional and non-fictional aspects of our human condition, our human behavior.

My position seems very predictable, resulting directly from my chosen circumstance and chosen behavior.  I am a middle-age white guy, with three grown children, living in the western world. My family position seems biologically and evolutionary natural, continuing the species and all that.  My salaried position is that of a counselor (in both public and private practice) and that of a part-time university professor.  Considering my choice of circumstance and choice of behaviors, my choice of workplace, too, seems very predictable.

Over the years I’ve decided to register myself as a buskologist.  To become a buskologist was all me, all my choice.  As a buskologist I usually choose urban settings for my circumstance.  As a buskologist, I can be both a busker and a psychology consultant.  By choice, as a busker I practice, practice, practice on the public dime.  This is my behavior.  And also by choice, I’ve gained some respect as a psychology consultant.  This blog has a readership in 142 countries to date and … some people have identified me because of this blog.  Being a buskologist is truly a position of joy.

Now I shall discuss my community compass.  As a psychology consultant I quite like having a private counseling practice.  I have a shared office space in a renovated heritage building situated in downtown Regina.  All the other offices on our floor in this same building are used for private and clinical counseling.  All the other counselors and psychology consultants in the building are quite like me with regard to circumstance, behavior, and position.  All of us chose to lease similar offices.  All of us behave similarly; we book clients and we counsel them.  And all of us are considered to have middle class positions of some prestige, but only in the sense of having the gumption to establish for ourselves, a private and clinical workplace.

As a busker the sidewalks and parks and parking lots are my office, which I share with anyone and everyone who happens by.  (The world is my oyster office.)  I don my  busker duds, white t’s, faded jeans, work boots, a blues harpoon and guitar.  As a consultant my work threads are very expensive; crisp long-sleeved shirts, brand name jeans, and polished black leather Doc Martens. When I’m busking, down-and-out vagrants toss me dimes and quarters and kids ask me to pull beer.  When I’m a counselor, clients write me cheques; kids pay me no heed whatsoever. Attired as a ne'er-do-well or e'er-do-well, I can be readily identified by where the needle on my community compass is pointing.

As a busker I stroll, oftentimes with an Americano decaf in hand.  As a busker I work wherever I want, on a sidewalk, in a park, at a mall.  As a counselor I drive my Acura to work.  I have an indoor office with my framed credentials placed in a line along a wall.  I’ve a security fob to let myself in and to keep the riffraff out.  Whether outside on my sidewalk office or inside beside a coffee table, I can be readily identified by to where my community compass needle is pointing.

Strangely I know, the needle of my community compass points 180 degrees toward the circumstance, behavior, and position of two different worlds, that of a psychology consultant and that of a busker. My compass needle of economics points to the desire, costume, and prestige of a buskologist; whereas, my compass needle of adventure points to busking.  As adults, we all have within us the power to change our locales.  As adults we all have within us the power to do good things and/or bad things.  And, as adults, we have the power to earn respect and/or disrespect.

The climbers at Khatmandu, the surfers at Huntington Beach, the boarders at Chamonix, the buskers at Barcelona; the Cardinals at Vatican City, the doomsday Mayans, the students at Bocconi; Goths, Hell's Angels, Jesus Freaks; the Talking Dead, the Beliebers, the Call of Duty gamers; the Nelson hippies, the East Hastings druggies, the Peggy's Cove fishers -- all members of these groups and every other group are following their community compass, some of which are bastion, whereas others are callithump; some of which are bright-lined, whereas others are Aesopian. Be it common belief, common activity, or common taste, pride paraders and glee club singers and guru followers are all guided by their self-constructed community compasses.

But what happens to those who have lost their community compasses?  What happens to those who, through no fault of their own, become consumers of the mental health system?

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA), insists that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  Wayne LaPierre insists that we place police and armed security in every one of our schools.  Wayne LaPierre insists that a gun is only a tool, and that video games and the media and the environment and the mental health system are complicit co-conspirators -- the real cause for mass shootings in America.

America is perceived as having a culture of violence because ...
Fact: People in America are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than someone in another developed country.
Fact:  Wayne LaPierre refers to mental health consumers as lunatics and monsters.
Fact:  People with mental health issues should not have access to guns.
Fact:  Ordinary folk (the ruck) of our citizenry should not have access to guns.
Fact: Schizophrenia does not increase the risk of violent crime.

Many people with Schizophrenia tend to wander through life, having lost their collegial, social, and familial community compasses as a direct result of their illness.  People with Schizophrenia suffer intensely from loneliness, emptiness, and solitude. Wayne LaPierre offers that if we think his ideas are crazy, then we can call him crazy.  To the gun-and-mud-slinging Wayne LaPierre ...
I am calling you CRAZY

I began this blog with reference to Popeye the Sailor.  Those who’ve read me before know my affinity for the sea (my father was a sailor) and my affinity for weight training (my favorite fitness shop is Popeye’s).  And those who've read me know my affinity for busking.  

Thus said, the idea for this particular blog was not prompted by Popeye the Sailor. Actually, the idea for this blog was prompted by my colleague and confident, Rick, and a mysterious late night caller.  Rick and I chit and chat every day about philosophy and snappy titles; in fact, Community Compass can be attributed to him.  

Within a day of him creating this phrase, phenomenology kicked in.  On the eve of the Mayan doomsday prediction a mysterious midnight caller left this message: 

Hey Neil, I just thought I’d call seeing how it’s the end of the world. So how ya doin’. My marriage has ended, I’ve two kids, and I just wanted to give you a call.  Whenever I think of you I think of scuba diving.  I think of our times in the deep end. I guess you’re retired from teaching now but I still think of you.  Sorry for calling so late; I’ll call again tomorrow or the next day.  You take care, Neil ..  You take care, Cowboy.   
And that’s my proof, my scumbled argy-bargy of inductive reasoning.  Further proof is that from my caller's perspective I was a teacher and a cowboy.   

I guess I yam what I did.  And I still yam what I hum (harp), thrum (guitar), and doo (didgeridoo).  I am still a teacher and I am still a cowboy (whichever one is my alterity is still being determined).  The needle on my community compass still points toward buskology, the mis-adventured e’er-do-wells and ne’er-do-wells of corporate America.   

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Once upon a time that oftentimes seems a fillip into yesterday, my boys, Baron and Travers, respectively 13 and 10, had a t-shirt company.  And what a glorious time that was! Both boys were Regina wood-riders (skateboarders) and Beatnik Apparel was their favorite skate shop, owned and operated by an extraordinaire gentleman, Pierre Cato. 
The boys named their t-shirt company, GHOTI (FISH) T-SHIRTS.  GHOTI and FISH were homonyms, both pronounced as “fish” -- the phonetic explanation as follows: For GHOTI, the gh is like the f sound in enough; the o is like the short i sound in women; the ti is the sh sound as in station.

The boys sold their t-shirts to skate shops mainly situated in Western Canada:  Kamloops (British Columbia), Medicine Hat (Alberta), Swift Current, Regina, and Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), and Brandon and Winnipeg (Manitoba).  Typically we’d go on a selling road trip each summer, and during these road trips, I remember the boys counting their sales money with glee, whilst I wondered how we were going to make the credit card payments for the petrol, hotel, and meals.

The key to the GHOTI sales seemed to be noetic logos printed on quality 100% cotton tees.  I remember, especially, the GHOTI HIGHWAY issue, inspired by the t-shirt in Pierre’s shop which read, Cars are People Too.  Pickles are People Too (a dozen or so people squashed inside a pickle jar) and DEKREPIT (skyscrapers with smashed windows and a jungle of trees wildly growing), too, are Ghoti issues that are fixed in my memory.  From a corporate sales perspective, the GHOTI enterprise was really a small fish with big talk in a small pond.

In Corporate America snappy headlines and taglines transcend to bigger fish and bigger ponds,  America runs on Dunkin (Dunkin Donuts) and Just Do It (Nike) being a couple examples.  And my favorite example just happens to be the wordswords in my blog title.  Is it meant to be words words?  Or word swords?

No matter the meaning, wordswords is but one phrase amongst the millions on the conversation continuum of phatic chats, sound bytes, shaggy dogs, and word salads.

Phatic chats are those thin and wispy weather clouds having the simple social function of acknowledgement, employed sometimes to predict whether or not the person directly addressed wants to engage in thicker and richer discussions. Generally speaking, such salutations (How ya doin’, How’s it goin’) are not solicitations for a longer response.

Usually for the media, a sound byte is a synonym for that pithy bit of spoken prose that is metaphorically representative of the current computer bit lingo of today. The punchy, Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee (Mohammad Ali), and the catchy, If you come to a fork in the road, take it (Yogi Berra), are a couple of doggerel examples -- with both puns intended.  Alas, Ali and Berra are legendary ... as literary poetasters.

We all know people who never seem to shut-up, and at every opportunity perturbingly nose in and take over every conversation, and specifically link and layer topic upon topic.  Such oneversational diatribes are referred to as Shaggy Dogs, so labeled because they go on and on about nothing in particular, as did that 1959 Disney flick, The Shaggy Dog, starring Fred MacMurray.  (There has been a 2006 re-make starring Tim Allen!) 

A Shaggy Dog example:  You talk about peanuts … when my uncle from Nebraska came to visit us one Christmas he brought a bag of peanuts not knowing that my sister was allergic to peanuts, and she’s 40 years old now and you know she has three kids, two from one marriage and the other as a single parent and those kids, my oh my, all three are allergic to peanuts … when the youngest, Sam, first started kindergarten my sister got a call from the school saying that Sam had to be taken to emergency … who would have thought … and the hospital there was one of those small town hospitals … one nurse and no doctor and …

Word salads (Schizophasia) are those confusing jumbled sentences, oftentimes regarded as a positive symptom of persons with Schizophrenia. Here is a not-made-up macadoine example:

… the icy universe kerplunks the infinity of my powerful being of nothingness …

Strangely, I’ve heard and read enough of these seemingly nonsensical word salads to wonder if they are not really brilliant pieces of poetry, especially with the common themes of power and infinity and grandeur.  These notions are always expelled, unfortunately, whenever I witness the actual person delivering these rant and roar word salads.

Being a registered buskologist, I love to talk in tee shirts. My goal for next summer is to create a GHOTI busker line of tees and actually strut along the concrete wearing the following epigrams:


In closing, I must mention the troupe of characters who marched in my CHAUCERIAN PARADE this week:
·         -The KAWACATOOSE BOYS -- who allowed me with my didge to join their drum song (a picture of me playing my didgeridoo taken by my friend, Bill, is atop this blog entry).

Fellow buskers, our station being the sidewalk minstrels of the hoi polloi (physical presence aside) we are judged significantly by the words we speak, the sentences we construct, the paragraphs we put together.  Our listeners/customers can readily determine from our spoken word whether we are logical or scattered, coherant or crazy.  Because people really see who we are through language, I leave you with the following talking t-shirt:

Muster the consumers ... 
Master the small talk!

The end.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Man I used to love growing a mustache in November.  Growing a stache would cost nothing and took little effort to harvest; and this was such small gesture in the grand scheme of joining my mates in the international rally for the cause and the research for prostate cancer in men.  Movember used to be mod and a la mode.  I loved Movember so much I even blogged about it!  (See my blog entry Sunday November 14th, 2010, The Hirsute of Happiness.)

But now Movember has changed.  Movember has adverted, not only to beards, but to other causes (mental health issues among men being one example).  I am in agreement for raising money for men’s mental health concerns (after all, I do busk, on a regular basis for the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan);  I am just not in agreement  that issues other than prostate cancer be linked to Movember.  Movember has become thinner than Errol Flynn's mustache.  Movember has become abstruce and just another macedoine of causes, all of which I care about, none for which I want to grow a mustache. 

Oh, and I do have a history of growing a mustache!

I had a mustache in the 70’s as I attended university.  There was I, in my t-shirt and jeans and hiking boots, sporting a black and thick mustache, rolling stogies with Shakespeare and Chaucer, and banging around on my black 750 Honda.  

I had a mustache throughout the 80’s.  In fact, my kids those days, never knew me without one.  My stache was the envy of the other dads in the neighborhood (this is how I remember it).  I stood tall with my stache while I mowed the lawn, trimmed the trees, and hauled rubbish to the dump. My mustache added to my roll-up-the-sleeves working man persona   

I had a mustache in the 90’s when I taught high school English.  I cut quite the literary figure with my always-needing-a-haircut do, my sports jacket buttoned over my t-shirts, my ripped Lees recycled from my university days, and my black steel-toed work boots.  By design, I projected the stereotypical English teacher, in similar costume to that of my university days, but certainly more polished in presentment.

When the century turned, I minified my mustache to the bare skin, growing it back only when the Movember movement began.  Each sweet Movember my workmates and I styled and waxed our obligatory staches, transmogrifying and cosmeticizing ourselves into the good, the bad, and the ugly for everyone in the cause.  Man, do I miss that Movember mafficking amongt the other mustachioed contestants!

Alas, but soup-strainer Movember is no mo fo moi, no more experiencing those imaginary sex symbol mustache movie moments, as in the ilk of  Errol Flynn (Captain Blood), Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind), Burt Reynolds (nude centrefold for Cosmopolitan), and Tom Selleck (Magnum and Quigley).  (Australian actor, Errol Flynn and Australian setting, Quigley Down Under remind me that I've kept my self-mand not mention my didgeridoo in this blog:)

And what has all this rant to do with busking?

As a social entrepreneur, the thirty days of stache hath November is personal essay of a common cause that I once shared amongst the mobros.

As a buskologist it is a commentary of a not-so-projected image for one designated male month of hirsuteness.

As a busker this rant is a necessary confession … that these days in this Movember , I am but a nudnik, a cranky busker abrogating myself not to compete and join in the grow-bro cookie-duster camaraderie … abrogating myself only to squinny at the porn Selleck staches of others.