09:32:37 pm on
Saturday 22 Jun 2024

Word of the Year 2017
David Simmonds

It is becoming customary for dictionaries, to pick a word of the year. Hey, we’re all entitled to have a little fun with our work, and fun must be rare in the dictionary world. For 2017, dictionary.com picked “complicit”; the Oxford dictionaries picked “youthquake” and Merriam-Webster picked “feminism.”

Here’s my word for 2017.

That means that I should be entitled to a little fun as well. Without meaning to make enemies among fans of complicity, youth or women, I offer my choice, “mindfulness.” Every problem we face these days, whether it be public or personal, seems to come up with the same solution: practise “mindfulness.”

Mindfulness is the recommended technique of Fortune 500 companies and new age crystal gazers; boomers and millennials as well as the rich and the not so rich. Forbes magazine reports there were some 667 articles on mindfulness published in scientific journals in 2016; Amazon.com currently lists over 100,000 mindfulness titles. Altogether, according to Forbes, mindfulness is now a four billion dollar industry.

What exactly is “mindfulness”? The Oxford dictionary defines it, generally, as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”; particularly, “a mental state achieved by focusing … awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting … feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations; used as a therapeutic technique.” Forbes describes mindfulness as “the awareness that arises when one pays purposeful attention to the present moment.”

Now, who among us would say that mindfulness is not good? It’s one thing to endorse mindfulness as an idea and another to hold up an example of action, in your own life, that is mindful. In fact, my life probably offers up examples of what mindfulness is not.

Let’s say my wife has been out for most of the day. She comes back asking whether anything has been happening on the home front. I reply that no, it’s been an uneventful day.

Mindfulness delayed.

My nonchalant reply triggers a tiny spark of doubt in my brain, which does not ignite until just before bedtime. Oh yes, I say to her, there was one thing, today. Your brother called just after you left and said his house was burning down; he wanted to know if he and his family come and stay with us for the next six months, starting tomorrow. He made it sound urgent and wanted to know if you could call him back as soon as you got the message. You may want to phone him soon.

My wife was grateful I eventually passed on of the message. This overshadowed, slightly, her fury at my not telling her immediately. Seemingly, the fact you were watching darts on television at the time of the call does not cut much ice with her.

Upon reflection, I conclude that had I been more “in the moment” of the phone call, I would have realized the message had a degree of urgency to it and that my wife would want to know of it on immediate, home, rather than same day basis. I would have written down a reminder note and left it some place where she would be bound to have stumbled across it. I would have spared myself the tongue-lashing and perhaps spared her the embarrassment of a laggard response to the telephone call.

I remind myself that if I had meditated or taken some other step to rid myself of my mental clutter, my mind would have been free to concentrate on the telephone conversation. Still, I have trouble imagining any meditation that would not have focussed on kicking myself over my divided attention, only increasing my own frustration.

This mindfulness business would get some greater support from me if it could alleviate some of my most basic mental lapses. These include “incomplete errand syndrome.” Sent off to the grocery store to buy three things and casually dismiss the need to write them down, I arrive back with six things, only two of which were on the original list. I get no points for buying the four bonus items, and soon I am back at the grocery store to buy item number three, much to the amusement of the store clerks.

The “clever place” effect kicks in when I have no idea where I left my passport, wallet or keys. I just know I put it in some place that was so clever I was bound to remember it. The “room change blank out” occurs when I leave one room intent on fetching something, but entering the next room wipes out any memory of what it was I was after. The “name freeze’ happens when I run into someone I know, but in another context. I have no clue what the person’s name was and spend the next six hours obsessing about it, until it comes to me as I am clipping my toenails.

Paper and pencil notes return.

On the other hand, the prospect of having to read 667 scientific papers and 100,000 self-help books scares me off mindfulness. Perhaps I should just start by keeping a pencil and paper nearby and writing things down straight away. Maybe I should suffer the shock of having my house burn down and relying on some dolt to pass on my message requesting help. I’d teach him some mindfulness quickly.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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