Absolute is absolutely baffling

Dear Uma: CBC seems to have a rule: in order to be a guest on any of their radio shows one must have in one’s vocabulary the word…

Dear Uma:

CBC seems to have a rule: in order to be a guest on any of their radio shows one must have in one’s vocabulary the word “absolutely” and be prepared to use it often and with great emphasis.

One is, after all, an expert, and experts, at least those on CBC, are always the most expert in their field.

The hosts often audibly salivate with pleasure and excitement when listing all the degrees and prizes these experts have in their resumes.

There is no such thing as a mere notion, an idea, a point of view, or even an observation. One must be absolutely convinced of what one is saying.

How I would love to be so certain — of anything. I can’t defend a position in an argument or a debate because it seems I don’t have one. I stand tentatively on constantly shifting ground.

My mental house has doors and windows that don’t close; new people, new information, new ideas are free to come and go, assured of welcome and attention — for awhile, anyway.

My convictions are like my interests, passionate and temporary. Remember the caged-bird society?

Nearly a whole year of reading, studying, and deep involvement in a subculture that vanished from my world when I happened to fall into conversation with a bird watcher in a park one day.

Twenty minutes exposure to a radically different view of birds and I was burning my membership card, throwing out my badge and trading in my books for a pair of binoculars and some sensible shoes.

I was so glad you took the parakeets, though, and you did enjoy them, didn’t you?

Embroidery — there was an example of a passionate interest. I went from pillowcases to bedspreads to Pete’s shirts in a matter of weeks. From there I segued into researching historical works and attempting to duplicate them and that led to more and more books and an online group and pretty soon I was so far behind in my work I was threatened with being “let go.”

Not to mention what else fell by the wayside during that period. Pete started hiding his clothes after I turned his favourite jeans into a St. George-and-the-dragon scene.

Do you still have some of the stuff I did for you? Those sweet potholders with good wishes in Latin all around the edges?

Religion is an area ripe for explorations.

I was baptized a Catholic, remaining Catholic enough to go to Mass every Sunday till I went to a poetry reading and was introduced to Wicca.

Suddenly taking Holy Communion paled in comparison to chasing through the forest after a naked young man wearing deer antlers strapped to his head. Going sky clad to a bonfire was easier than getting dressed for church, and feasting more appealing than fasting.

It wasn’t a big jump to the ashram in India, where we met, Uma. You went from there to marriage to Andrew, kids and your horse farm, where you have been these last 25 years.

Spiritually, I’m still involved with trying to sort the pony from the horseshit.

And I still need to move — physically every few years and mentally every moment of consciousness.

Married was something I was willing to be, but I don’t remember ever feeling I would be unhappy if it didn’t happen.

I’ve never yet been in a place where I could see myself staying forever; though I am open to the possibility, I won’t feel it’ll be sad if there is no such locale.

So, not only is the world divided into haves and have nots, squatters and sitters, and hundreds of other divisions large and miniscule, but also in questers and stayers. One could be a mixture; one could be a have-not, squatting stayer, or a having, questing sitter, or questing, sitter have-not ….

You and Andrew are rare among the stayers, I think; stayers who are not absolutes.

You are able to enjoy people who are radically different from yourselves — you don’t judge them. You are interested, appreciating the things that make them different, even while not wanting those things for yourselves.

The questers don’t want what the stayers have either, but they appreciate and respect that the stayers do, and to me (so far) that’s the biggest difference between the two.

I find it appealing when a person is passionately interested in something, but one who is absolute about something? What does one talk about?

There is nowhere to go conversationally; their map has been drawn and coloured in — no more explorations necessary, and certainly not desired.

My favourite maps are those ancient ones, the ones describing what they figured was there and marking the unknown with “here be dragons.”

Dragon territory is my place of choice, the mysterious realm. There are no absolutes fencing one in or shutting one out, and everything is possible.

A few days ago I attended another bonfire tea party. Again, not a lot of people, but what a convivial gathering! Both genders (always good), all ages (excluding infants and toddlers, always good), at least three different races, (I think that represents all there are here in Watson Lake), a couple of visitors, an outsider old-timer, and some transients.

It was another good time, with lots of food and talk, the kind of talk that’s full of exuberance, fascination, humour and hope. There were lots of opinions and ideas, liberally shared and warm debate, but nary an absolute to be found.

When I hear an absolute, I feel something dark uncoil. I usually find I have nothing to say; small talk has never been easy for me and the other kind mostly gets me into trouble around the absolutes.

If the situation is such that there can be no polite and immediate exit, experience has taught me to carefully limit my verbal contributions.

Observations about the weather are safe, as is praise for the food or drink on offer. Admiration for the absolutes’ belongings is appreciated, but can be risky as I am not always capable of a convincing mien in accompaniment.

Sometimes irony can slip by undetected, providing me with harmless entertainment till departure time.

Going into observer mode is easy for me, too, but not always as interesting as I would wish; absolutes are not difficult to understand and thus mostly predictable.

If sometimes I slip up, eased by food and drink, and reveal what I am actually thinking or feeling (at the moment!) about most other topics, I’ve been subject to a demonstration of that lovely old Cypriot proverb: “If the stone falls on the egg, alas for the egg; if the egg falls on the stone, alas for the egg.” Thereafter I’m avoided like I’m ringing a bell — the party leper.

Sometimes there is another non-absolute in the place. This is a happier circumstance; we become friends for the duration, or make an escape together. Often these auspicious meetings have become lifelong friendships, or in the case of Pete and I, something more.

Pete, as you know, is more adept than I at the social scene, but I suspect his gender has a lot to do with his success at blending in; a man’s opinion is granted an automatic respect, and Pete will rarely express any that don’t fall into the comfort zone when in the midst of the absolutes.

Add to that his love of sports and all things masculine and it’s no wonder he is generally regarded as a gregarious man married to a shy woman.

I hear you laughing, but truly, I am mostly silent in this, my new place of residence. If it weren’t for the bonfire parties and a couple of friends, I would be mute except for the times Pete is home.

Happily for me and perhaps less so for Pete, I then make up for those quiet days with a steady barrage of pent up observations, notions, and new opinions.

And, of course, there is writing — these long epistles to you, and now, renewed work on my manuscript.

Revisiting said manuscript after a dormant period, I find a lot of the ideas I was espousing have undergone revisions and in many cases have vanished entirely and been replaced. What a surprise!

Looking forward to seeing you next month in Seattle. No, I don’t mind going to the horse show with you; what have I been telling you about if not my readiness for yet another subculture?

In anticipation, Pete has already listed to me all the reasons why we cannot have a horse.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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