Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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15

Feb

2017

Listening with your whole body

Author: Jim Taylor

Why would most of us rather attend a live concert than listen to a recording – even though the recording may be technically superior? Why do we go to hockey games, when we can see the puck better on TV?

            A deaf percussionist offers some answers.

            Dame Evelyn Glennie can hear next to nothing through her ears. But when she performs with an orchestra, she has to know when the trombones blare, when the violins sing. She says that she feels the vibrations. Through her bare feet. Through her skin. Through her internal organs. Different parts of her body resonate to different frequencies.

            "The whole body's like a huge ear," Glennie says. "It's as simple as that."


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8

Feb

2017

A Declaration of Interdependence

Author: Jim Taylor

Daily, the news suggests that human civilization spirals toward chaos. On some parts of the planet, humans wage war with other humans. In other parts, they war with words, firing accusations and denials at each other, engendering hatred and hostility.

            Yet evolution teaches that survival is not to the fittest, or the strongest, but to the most cooperative. Physics, astronomy, sociology, psychology – all reinforce the same message. We do not live in a stand-alone universe. We are not independent, but interdependent. 

            I’ll repeat that word, in case you slid over it – INTERdependent.


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1

Feb

2017

Making do with what I have

Author: Jim Taylor

I was asked recently to do a talk about books that had influenced me as a child. Robinson Crusoe, for example. And its imitator, The Swiss Family Robinson. Treasure Island. Ernest Thompson Seton’s books about wood lore. Enid Blyton’s Railway Children. 

            Perhaps most influential, the Arthur Ransome series, about English kids turned loose for summer holidays in the Lake District – and in later books, around the world – with no adult supervision! In the first book, Swallows and Amazons, the oldest was a boy of twelve, the youngest seven. Unthinkable today. But in the 1930s, that was apparently quite acceptable parenting. 

            And I realized that all of these books had a common theme -- making do with what you have. Crusoe couldn’t run to the nearest Canadian Tire store for a package of nails. Seton’s boy heroes didn’t have a Mountain Equipment Co-op handy for bows and arrows.

 

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25

Jan

2017

Dreaming of something beyond ourselves

Author: Jim Taylor

 Dogs dream. 

            That should be an obvious statement. All dog owners have seen their pet’s legs twitching while asleep. Clearly, the dog is chasing something. A rabbit perhaps. Or romping for sheer joy through an imaginary meadow. 

            We cannot know exactly what the dream consists of, because dogs can’t talk to us. But the fact that dogs can dream should tell us that dogs are capable of imagining themselves in situations that transcend the immediate present. 

            That is, they are not simply creatures that react to external stimuli.


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18

Jan

2017

Un-learning things we were taught

Author: Jim Taylor

You probably had drilled into you, at school, a number of rules about writing:

·       Never split an infinitive.

·       Never start a paragraph with “I”.

·       Never end a sentence with a preposition.

·       Never start a sentence with “And” or “But”.

And you’ve spent most of your adult life trying to conform to those Never-Never rules, even when doing so required a mental hernia. 

            Those rules never were rules. Every one of the great English writers, the ones who set a model for us, broke those rules.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: grammar, English, rules

11

Jan

2017

The hidden wisdom of folk saying

Author: Jim Taylor

My mother had a maxim for every occasion. If I paced impatiently waiting for something to happen, she’d tell me, “A watched pot never boils.” If she had reservations about my friends, I’d get “Birds of a feather flock together.” If I got a Christmas present I didn’t particularly want, I might hear, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” Or perhaps, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

            It took me some time to realize that many of those maxims come in contradictory pairs. 

            “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” encourages me to squeak up. But “Speech is silver, silence is golden” advises me not to. 

            One maxim advocates caution: “Never put all your eggs in one basket.” Another expects me to take risks: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

 


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4

Jan

2017

How do ideas spread?

Author: Jim Taylor

          You remember those jokes, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” The jokes assumed that a chicken actually had a reason for crossing a road. California quail don’t. When a car comes, they scuttle across, then decide they preferred other side, and reverse direction just as the car reaches them.

            In the muted light of dawn or dusk, they sometimes move in such numbers that it feels as if the earth itself is moving.

             They land on my bird feeder the same way they travel on the ground -- en masse. They shoulder each other off the platform. They climb over each other. They can empty the feeder in a day. Last winter, I put out an estimated 300 pounds of sunflower seeds. Quail got most of it.

            This year, I decided to outsmart them. I made a wire cage to cover the feeder. Its mesh had holes big enough for chickadees and finches, but too small -- I thought -- for bulkier quail.

            I was wrong.


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28

Dec

2016

Those life-changing experiences

Author: Jim Taylor

“Car Crash Changed His Life Forever,” declared a pre-Christmas headline. The story below the headline described the effects of the accident on a young father. Brain damage affected his employability, family income, etc.

            The story was, of course, intended to elicit support for regional Food Banks. Christmas brings out heart-tugging stories as surely as silver bells, Santa hats, and plum pudding.

            I don’t mean to disparage efforts to help the unfortunate. Nor do I want to make light of this particular father’s predicament. But I did find myself wondering, as I read the headline, why only the major crises, the tragedies, are considered to “change life forever.”

            It’s worth considering, as we move into a new calendar year.


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21

Dec

2016

Our compulsion to get together

Author: Jim Taylor

During the next week, families will gather. Most likely for a festive dinner – often turkey and trimmings. Perhaps just for gift giving. But they’ll want to get together.

            The ritual is reflected in the songs of the season. “I’ll be home for Christmas.” “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” Other songs evoke nostalgic images: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells ringing, stockings hung by the chimney with care….

            Satirists love to skewer the sentimentality of Christmas rituals. Families sit “in old stone circles,” wrote the Irish poet W.R. Rodgers, cracking open “the tinned milk of human kindness.”

            Because, to be honest about it, not all Christmas gatherings are harmonious. Some families are, and will always be, dysfunctional. Members dread getting together. They know old wounds will be torn open, old scars exposed, old grievances rekindled.


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14

Dec

2016

The White Helmets of hope

Author: Jim Taylor

Around Christmas in North America, children (and many adults) hang their hopes on a man with a white beard.

            In the war-torn Middle East, they’re more likely to hang their hopes on men in white helmets. 

            The White Helmets are standard construction-worker hard hats. The men need those helmets, because they go into places where no North American construction worker would venture. Into shattered buildings, where concrete block walls teeter. Where floors have collapsed, trapping victims beneath tons of rubble. Where snipers’ bullets fly, and unexploded bombs await the unwary. 

            In Syria, the White Helmets – officially the Syrian Defence Force -- have saved at least 70,000 lives, and probably many more.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: hope, mercy, rescue

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