24 October, 2021

The Ghost says 'Boo!'

(boo: from the Latin for 'I alarm') 

His name was Kieron.

I don't even remember anymore how it was we became friends, probably because it happened so quickly and naturally, with zero effort on my part. That's beyond rare in my life even now and back then, at the tender age of eighteen, it felt portentous. 

In fact, it felt like nothing so much as falling in love.

I reflected on that in my diary at the time, and not a week later my parents delicately raised the question of whether their son might be a homosexual. (Delicately: "Are you a homosexual?!") I can't prove they read my diary, but the timing was awfully suspicious. Not that I would have cared if they had. As you've doubtless noticed, I'm not ashamed of what I share. Now you know that predates social media.

But the question was alarming. I was still rather homophobic at the time -- and all those mocking taunting schoolyard voices  would rise every now and again like a wave of neural indigestion: faggot gaylord cocksucking butt-puncher fudge-packer. I'd heard them all and many like them daily, almost hourly, from grades four through eight. On the question of Kenny Breadner's sexuality, my peers had decided that for me long before. And never mind that I spent my every night ravishing dreamy versions of every girl who so much as smiled at me over those years: that didn't signify.

Now here are my parents wondering if I'm gay. It kind of forces you to consider the question.

I had written about a "warm feeling" that had "started in my chest and suffused my entire body" after seeing a movie with Kieron. And yes, I know how that sounds. But I felt it, and strongly, and that had to be acknowledged and examined. I'd even written, immediately after that confession, that I had never had a sexual thought about him, and if my parents did read that they either ignored it or dismissed it as "he doth protest too much". 

I get that a lot.

It wasn't too long after when Kieron and I spent some time at my dad's place -- the only male friend of mine to this day who has had that honour. Yes, we shared a bed. No, we didn't share anything else but a wrestling match (and I know how that sounds, too, it sure sounded suggestive to my other set of parents downstairs). You can believe me or not, your choice. But I don't lie about stuff this personal and important. 

Here, let me muddy the waters even further with honesty. If Kieron had confessed to me that he was gay and further that he was attracted to me, I loved the guy enough that I would have given that some serious consideration and likely experimentation. I did so not four years later with another very close male friend, and determined that (a) I'm straight; (b) I could certainly appear bent in certain contexts. In this time and place us putatively straight men aren't usually given the tools to properly process love when it shows up for another man. It's kind of odd when you think about it, since it's also true that when it comes to women, straight guys tend to have less than zero trouble compartmentalizing sex and love. There's the woman you fuck, and the woman you marry, and for some reason I have NEVER understood those are different women for many. But as soon as a guy so much as hints at love of a male friend, they must be catamites and sodomites and just plain icky mites. Bizarre. I'm not quite alone in thinking so: I have one dear pal who regularly informs me he loves me, and I love him back, and I know him to be straighter than a ruler. I've never once thought of him in a sexual or romantic context. 

Anyway, back to Kieron, who also never intimated homosexuality or attraction to me, but whose relationship with me was intimate nevertheless. I felt like he was the first person in my personal history who really understood me. That's a powerful feeling, right there. We were close. I can't say what it is to have a brother, but when I think the word, I think Kieron. 

I haven't seen him or heard from him since my wedding night in 2000. 

He'd actually vanished from my life well before that, or perhaps 'vanished' is too strong a word: "faded" might be better. And oh god did that hurt, because he wouldn't explain himself. I would have much rather heard something like "you know what, Ken, I have come to realize you're actually a giant douchebag and I want nothing more to do with you". But he didn't say anything even remotely like that.  He just got more and more distant until I couldn't see him anymore, for reasons known (I hope) only to him.

Agony. I felt like I  had to be responsible for this in some way, and his obstinate refusal to tell me how was its own proof. 

We're a storytelling species. Perhaps there are others: for all we know, corvids have an oral history to make a bard weep. But we have a way of making up stories about everything, and then living as if those stories are true. I fall into that trap even now, on some of my more arduous adventures in overthinking. 

Maybe Kieron never came to think of me as a giant douchebag. There are many other reasons people get 'ghosted', after all.

Maybe Kieron was going through something so awful he couldn't share it with anyone, even me. The thought of that stings, of course -- there's nothing I could think of that I would have judged him for, at least without a whole hell of a lot of listening first, but maybe he didn't know that.

Or maybe he had gone through something so awful that it changed him. I know more than one person like that. I attended the funeral of a man  who was, to put it mildly, a right prick (really there to support his son and daughter-in-law) only to hear over and over in eulogies that 'before the accident' you couldn't have found a more generous and caring man. Hearing that rewired my brain a tad.

Maybe Kieron was just too busy. Actually, that's likely: he threw himself at university life with a will, seeming to want to explore it all. He changed his major three times in three years, eventually settling into pre-med (and we all know just how many milliseconds of free time that program grants you). Still, that hurts, when a solid dollop of previous free time got allocated your way. But let's add in a related reason: he outgrew me.

This is, I suspect, the most common personal reason to get ghosted. By which I mean, when there is a personal reason, it's quite likely that one. How do you tell somebody that without insulting the hell out of them? If there's an answer to that, I don't know it. Out of respect for the friendship that was, you don't end it dramatically. Instead you just let it...fade away on its own.

I don't want to make everything All About Me, but nor do I want to ignore the distinct possibility that I did  say or do something so crazily offensive that Kieron could no longer abide me. If so, I can't think what it might have been, and I spent days thinking about it, but Christ knows I can and often do miss how my words and actions can play out in real life where ideals aren't ideal. I felt, very intensely, like he owed me some kind of explanation, or if not me, at least the friendship, but is that true, really? We were still practically kids. Or at least I was. 

I don't think it was me, if only because Kieron made one more appearance in my life, nearly a decade later. My friend Jen -- she stood by my side in the wedding party, might have been my best man if best women were a thing -- somehow tracked him down and convinced him to come. For one night it was as if he'd never gone away, but a wedding night is not the time to get into deep philosophical questions on abandonment. I told him, more than truthfully, that I was overjoyed to see him and left it at that. He said the same and did the same. And after that night he vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. I of course asked Jen how she had found him, and her answer was rather vague. At any rate it felt presumptuous to even attempt contact, and so I didn't. But even now I wonder.

There are three occasions of which I can state with certainty I was responsible for my friend ghosting me. Both times I snapped and said something unforgivable: once I was blocked instantly and the other time a very close and warm friendship freeze-dried into something much less comfortable. All three occasions took place in the last five years, and both times I sat there stunned not at the consequences, but at the hateful, hurtful thing that had spilled out of me. Why did I say that? I didn't even mean that. Fuck.

I said three and enumerated two. I can't think of how to tell the third, even in the most general terms,  without severely compromising someone's privacy.  I've hurt her badly enough as it is. 

For a guy who spends his life in reflection, it can take an unconscionably long time to come up with the right words, and if the knee jerks in just the right way, they never get the chance because entirely wrong words spill out instead. Some things can't be unsaid. It took a long time for me to learn that little sour nugget, but learn it I have. Self-flagellation isn't attractive, either. I've had to settle for saying yes, I know what I said and did; no, I don't know why (although I dearly wish I did); yes, I know how much I hurt you, because I hurt myself  very badly hurting you;  and no, I will never do such a thing again. That was with the one person who gave me the chance to say such. Did she believe me? Who knows.  Finding myself in a position to say such three different times with three very different fuckups in yeah, about three years... it makes me wonder sometimes if I can believe myself. 

Yet another friend  -- again, very recently -- was doing a very Kieronesque slow fade out of my life and saying the same nothings about it. Everything was always "fine", but increasingly never fine enough to elaborate. Weekly discussions because monthly check ins became why are you even still my friend since you never contact me. Goddamnit that hurts. It catapults me right back to high school -- or to toddlerhood. 

Eventually I unfriended her.

Two days later I got a message from her thanking me for years of friendship and saying she understood. A part of me has been crying over that message since it was sent. 

I'm going to say this once more, not by way of excuse but by way of simple, earnest regret. There was a period there where I became a ghost of myself. A scary, spiteful poltergeist, horribly uncharacteristic (no: the true horror was considering that maybe this was in fact the real me...) 

It wasn't and isn't, but that didn't stop me from being hateful and hurtful more than once. Much more than once. A veritable host of people and events have conspired to pull me back from a precipice of fear, rage and disgust, and I have vowed to myself never again  to approach the edge of that cliff. I think it fair, I hope it fair enough to say that if I'm ever again the cause of my own ghosting, it will be the furthest thing from deliberate. 

Thank you for reading. 







17 October, 2021

ART YOU SHOULD EXPERIENCE: AMOUR (2012)

 You know how people say Schindler's List is a hard movie, but a necessary movie? A film people need to see, even though it's tough to sit through?

Yeah. Like that.

The subject matter couldn't be more different between the two masterpieces, and yet they share a...gravity. You don't watch either movie for the lolz. In reviews of both works you'll find words like "unflinching" and "powerful". One is a deeply human distillation of hope amidst terrifying inhumanity you pray to your god you'll never experience; the other is a profoundly human treatise on love in the middle of the terror that waits for us all.

I had to watch a movie for one of my French classes. Most of my classmates chose comedies. Comedy is a hit and miss genre for me since so much of it exploits people's pain, which I do not, can not, find funny. If I'm going to watch something in which people suffer -- and contrary to popular belief, I don't shy away from that -- I only ask that the suffering be treated...honestly. Not played for laughs, not...played...at all. That's my issue with the more bloodthirsty horror flicks: the tone of them often strikes me as playful, gratuitous, cartoonish,  and that disgusts me.

Amour won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013. It was nominated for FIVE Oscars -- Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Haneke), Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film (it won the latter). My Google-fu is failing me, but I don't think any other non-English movie has scored so many nominations. At least until Parasite.

Riva, in particular, should have won. I say that before checking who did (Jennifer Lawrence). No disrespect to Jennifer, she's one of my favourite actresses, but watching Riva play Anne Laurent, you forget you're reading subtitles. You forget you're watching a movie. You forget this is an actress at all. This is your mother, your grandma. Eventually, this could well be you. 

Anne and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant, himself a legend of French cinema turning in a capstone of a performance)  are in their eighties. Both piano teachers, they live a sedate life in a Paris flat. One morning, Anne suffers a stroke at the breakfast table, freezing in front of her husband, only coming around as he's about to go for help.  She has surgery to repair a partially blocked carotid, but something goes wrong and she's confined to a wheelchair. She makes Georges promise not to take her back to the hospital or put her in a home, and so he becomes her caretaker. She has a second stroke, becomes demented and incapable of speech, and Georges soldiers on, eventually breaking down and hiring nurses. There is friction between Georges and their daughter, Eva, who can't understand why Georges won't put Anne in care.  

I won't spoil what comes next. Suffice it to say that in its way, this is one of the most gripping cinematic experiences I have ever had. Of course, part of it was because my stepdad was caring for my mother in much the same way at the time, but I don't think the personal connection is at all necessary to be utterly transfixed by the performances and the steadily mounting dread. 

Typical of European films, this movie takes its time to unspool, with a paucity of dialogue (in French, with English subs) and camerawork that forces you to pay attention. Its silences, its juxtaposition of warmth and coldness, love and death, all of it pulls you in and...changes you, in the manner only the best art can. 

I can not stress enough that this is not an easy movie to watch. You will cry, if you are at all human. But I can also promise you than if you watch Amour, you will never, ever forget it. 

26 September, 2021

Porn

 ADULTS ONLY

Very interesting piece in the New York Times about porn, the problems and perils of. It sounds as if the lewd and licentious pendulum is starting to swing back towards more healthy and above all complete depictions of sex.

You don't need me to tell you porn is everywhere. You also probably don't need me to tell you that porn and sex are very loosely related, that pornography bequeaths a wide and ruinous variety of completely unrealistic expectations on many of its viewers of any gender, or that nearly every participant in a porn shoot is being objectified, or that women in porn are not just objectified but outright abused. Given this, you might wonder why it is that our society is soaked in pornography.

The writer of this article contends, and I agree, that it's because men gleefully co-opted  the 'sex positive' feminism. Hey, all we ever wanted to do was fuck 'em, and now we've convinced them that they're less of a woman if they don't do what we want! Better yet, we've gotten other women to tell them that!

This article is about sex positivity. I have a complicated relationship with the term: I'm enthusiastically positive about real sex, that being sex that is about people rather than their poles and holes--but if you hang out on the internet long enough, you will be told that this is actually very sex negative, that sex positivity involves a total embrace of any act, no matter how outré, performed on or by anyone of any gender involving any number of other participants of any gender on short, or no, notice.

That's not sex. That's porn.

The sex positivity movement was born out of laudable ideals. You might recall Dworkin's dictum that all sex is rape. This was not a tremendously popular view even when it was current, but it had a fair bit of influence on culture...until it didn't. You'd think a radical feminist would understand women a wee bit better: that women have sexual desires and experience sexual pleasure; that women can actually be the aggressors in sexual encounters; that in real sex -- as opposed to, well, porn -- women are equal and very willing participants. 

So women protested, and third wave feminism was about, among other things, sexual empowerment of women. Wonderful. Except most pornography is still produced by men, and nearly all pornography, including lesbian porn, is produced FOR men. 

From the article:

Feminism is supposed to ease some of the dissonance between what women want and what they feel they’re supposed to want. Sex-positive feminism was able to do that for women who felt hemmed in by sexual taboos and pressured to deny their own turn-ons. But today it seems less relevant to women who feel brutalized by the expectation that they’ll be open to anything.

This is how you get a guy choking a woman on their first date. This is how you get a man who just sticks it in, pumps for a while, comes, and then leaves, because hello?  it's obviously over. This is how you get deeply unsatisfied women who went out in search of their own orgasms only to find themselves dating men who don't know women can have orgasms. 

What, in short, has dropped out of sex? All semblance of emotion.

If you watch porn, it's one of the first things you realize. There's no emotion. It's all performative: positions are predicated not on comfort but on visibility. This is especially true when more than two people are involved. Check out the train position they inevitably arrange themselves into. The groans and screams are cloyingly fake. I mean, I'm sure there are screamers out there -- I've even heard a couple in real life, from rooms and houses adjacent to mine -- but I assure you no woman starts shrieking the instant you touch her with your Magic Dingus. 

Here's some more things that distinguish porn from sex.

PORN: There is no or very little foreplay.

SEX: while quickies are a thing and can be accomplished without foreplay when both parties agree to that, in most cases women require attention be paid to some parts of their body (and mind) before they're ready for the act. Incidentally, this can be true of men, too. (My apologies for the cisnormative nature of this post: I'm simply not qualified to write on trans sex.)

PORN: Anal sex is utterly banal, not just done without introduction but done after PIV sex and in many cases before oral sex. 

SEX: Some women adore anal sex. Others absolutely detest it. Even for the women who enjoy it, it takes preparation and usually copious amounts of lubrication. Going from anus to vagina virtually guarantees a nasty infection; going from ass to mouth is...well, ask yourself how you'd feel if it was your ass and your mouth a dick was going into.***

PORN: Semen goes wherever the man wants it to go.

SEX: Semen goes wherever the woman wants it to go.

PORN: Kissing is as rare as unicorn teeth.

SEX: Very much enhanced by kissing.

And the biggest, most profound and ugly difference:

PORN: Consent is assumed. To anything. (Have you EVER seen porn where one party asked if they could do something? EVER?)

SEX: Consent is absolutely vital, not just to PIV sex but to any new act.

***That's something I've found many men just don't do, is imagine what sex might feel like for their partner.  Again and again I flash on what a woman who really loved sex once told me: "You've got an itch in your ear. You put your finger in there and give it a good scratch. Now, what feels better, your finger or your ear?" I've never forgotten that. 

I have long wondered about gay porn.

Yes, I've watched gay porn. Not because I'm gay, or bi, but because I was curious what porn would look like if it was completely male. It looks pretty similar to straight porn, actually, which shouldn't be a surprise because straight porn is pretty much completely male, too, no matter how many women are in it.  No emotion, certainly no affection. If there is gentle gay porn, I haven't found it. It's all hyper-aggressive pounding. I find myself wondering if this is a gay ideal or a male ideal: just get your rocks off in the nearest hole as quickly and violently as possible and then get on with your day. I don't know. It's certainly not my ideal. I get more pleasure out of giving pleasure than anything else. But gay porn is still porn: no emotion and no consent. 

ow here's the thing.

If you are in a sexual relationship of some duration, straight, gay or anything in between, certain activities can be consented to ahead of time. You might, for instance, have blanket permission to have sex with your sleeping partner. It is necessary to revisit even the most blanket permissions from time to time, because comfort levels change. Consent will also be easier to obtain with closeness: you'll have a better (though never foolproof!) idea what what your partner is okay with, what s/he is more than okay with, and what is off the table for now or forever. I have that talk before sex happens. At the risk of TMI, I'm good giving and game so long as it doesn't involve any of six things:

  • inflicting pain
  • receiving pain
  • inflicting degradation
  • being degraded
  • former food
  • anything sentient but non-human, or formerly human.

New activities open up as your explore each other's fantasies and some of those activities might end up well beyond first date (or first sexual encounter) territory. THAT'S where I look to porn: to enhance an already established and loving sex life. I take what I see in porn and add love to it I have a very limited subset of porn I enjoy. For some reason most of it is German, but what all of it has in common is enthusiastic participation from all parties involved -- especially the woman or women. Any coercion and I deflate. Any fake moaning and I'm out of there. 

Even the most vanilla porn is actually sexually advanced in that you don't see that explicit consent. But of course people don't see it that way. They see sex acts depicted, ergo, they think this is what sex is. Not just sex: good sex, the best sex.  I mean, porn stars, some of them, are PROFESSIONALS. Wouldn't you want to do sex the way the "pros" do it?

The answer is no, you don't. Because even if you're an exhibitionist, there's more to sex than theatre. A lot more, as it turns out. 

Count me glad...overjoyed...that women are rejecting the 'anything goes' ethos in favour of something that serves them better. But as this pendulum shift gathers speed, I do worry about the male reaction. Not just from the incels and guys whose little heads do all their thinking, either. It's not just that men don't see women as fully human: many of them can't. I read something in the Atlantic a few years back from a young man that made me simultaneously weep and shake in my boots: 

"We hook up because we have no social skills. We have no social skills because we hook up". 

This is why I say the overwhelming emphasis on pornography in our world, and the misplaced assumptions it, ahem, engenders...that's not just harming women. It's really doing a number on men, too. 

18 September, 2021

Canadian Federal Election Blog, 2021

I wasn't going to write this blog.

I promised it back at the beginning of the campaign...and then the campaign happened, and it was even uglier than I expected it to be. I've been saying for years that we are no better than the United States when it comes to political trends: we're just two or three electoral terms behind them. It's a lonely drum I've been beating: Canada has long had a massive inferiority complex masquerading as a superiority complex about the United States. (You don't think it's an inferiority complex? Watch how the media reports any American celebrity venturing into the Arctic tundra wasteland. Do you like us? How do you like us? Please like us!)

As I have been bloviating on Facebook, the ugliness -- of the political landscape around the world;  of the climate catastrophe that, by some accounts, will see us all dead by 2050; of an economic system that worships the most exploitative and obscenely moneyed individuals and excuses their every fault, while trodding on regular every day people with an increasingly heavy boot; and and most definitely permeating everything about the pandemic...has been tremendously disheartening and enraging. I have allowed it to infect me, and I'm trying to root the infection out by disowning the ugliness wherever I can. 

That's difficult, and it's only going to become more so as the world deteriorates. I'm trying to figure out how to stand up against hatred, bigotry and ignorance without becoming a hateful ignorant bigot myself. The thing is, if I don't stand up for my beliefs, I am accepting, condoning and encouraging monsters. That makes me a monster just as surely.

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”  --John Stuart Mill

Many people claim they're not political. They're fooling themselves: everyone interacts with politics hundreds of times each and every day. You can't get out of bed without benefitting or suffering from a whole bunch of political decisions. The engine in your car is profoundly political -- see "Who Killed the Electric Car?" for details. The fact you need a car at all is also profoundly political. Elsewhere in the world, cities are built for people, not cars. You can easily walk to your local grocer and for greater distances there is cheap and ubiquitous public transportation. But here in North America, car companies didn't see any profit in that urban model, and more importantly they were allowed to dictate policy. That's why it takes four times longer to get anywhere by bus -- and why your busmates are largely the dregs of society. 

Oh, and if you have children? Your school's efforts to teach them that people who don't look like them are just as worthy of respect as they are came about because of political will. If you live in a place where announcing you're gay or nonbinary gets you expelled --  that's likewise a political decision. 

And I probably don't need to tell you about the politics men play with women's bodies. I will never understand women who tacitly accept this, because I don't, and I'm a man. Stand up for yourselves, women. You are not incubators. 

The ancient Greeks had a word for people who let politics wash over them without actively engaging: idios, "private". If that word looks awfully close to an English word, yup, that's how the Greeks felt about such people.

I don't. In a way I admire them: their lives look blissfully unencumbered from here.  But I don't understand them, because politics has become more about morality than philosophy, and while you may find the minutiae of politics dull and inscrutable, the words and behaviours of political actors should register, one way or another.  

Consider one of the election slogan of the "People's Party of Canada": "It's okay to be White!"

Now, if you are an idios, you might wonder what's wrong with that statement. Of course it's okay to be White -- who ever said it wasn't? Well, the answer is nobody, but many people don't believe that. This slogan, and its close kin "White Lives Matter", never entered the language until someone had the colossal gall to suggest that maybe police should stop murdering Black people for no reason, bragging about it, and going completely unpunished for it. Hell, despite clear video evidence of cold-blooded murder, there are still many people who think the Derek Chauvin verdict was a miscarriage of justice. Gotta keep those n*ggers down. 

That, too, is politics. Ugly politics, to be sure, but the real McCoy. 

But no, caring about Black people is a threat to White people, by some mechanism I don't understand.  I see White fragility everywhere lately. 'WE'RE BECOMING A MINORITY IN OUR OWN COUNTRY!!!!!" ... to which I respond  so what's so bad about that? Do we treat minorities poorly, or something?

Ahem.

To summarize this introduction. Everything is political, your politics are a clue to your morals, and do we let immoral people win by ignoring them?

_____________________

I'm not sure why Justin Trudeau called this election. I'm not sure he's sure. That's maybe the only thing the NDP and the Conservatives agree on, that there was no need for an election. But we've got one, and so on with the show.

And it is a show. I won't argue you there. I understand why cynics disengage from the process when political promises are usually so much hot air. A really good example of one comes from Trudeau himself: electoral reform.

Now, if you don't give two shits about politics, the topic of electoral ref--see, you're already asleep. Gentle question: is one of the reasons you're politically ambivalent because you don't think your vote matters? I get that. Oh, do I get that. Because in many cases, you're right. Under Canada's archaic electoral system, called "first past the post" (FPTP), the winner of any election is not the party with the most votes but the party with the most seats. Let's take my seat, or riding,  as an example. It's currently Liberal, and considered a "Liberal safe" riding. If the polls hold,  the Liberals will get 44.8% of the votes in my riding: the next closest party, the Conservatives, will get 25.7%.

The practical upshot of this is that unless you vote Liberal in this riding, you are wasting your time. Your vote for any other party will of course be counted -- we're not the United States -- but fat lot of good that will do when so many others around you are voting one way.  The same is of course true for many Conservative safe ridings, among them Kathy's and my father's. Voting anything but Conservative in Parry Sound District or Oxford County is throwing your vote away.

It gets worse because it's not just a local issue. Seats are distributed by population. It's not partisan the way it is to our south: our elections are governed (as all elections everywhere should be) by an apolitical body. But in a way it's very partisan because have you seen how many seats there are in the Greater Toronto Area? I'll tell you how many there are. There are almost enough. Show really well in Toronto and you probably win the country.

Toronto is a city. Liberals show well in urban populations the world over.  So Toronto can go a long ways towards deciding an election all on its own. And trust me, Conservative ridings do not like this one little bit. I wouldn't either, were I them. The entire province of Alberta, but for a couple of urban ridings, votes Conservative without fail. They feel alienated, and as much as I disdain their politics, I can't say I blame them one littler bit for that. 

So I have largely been concentrating on the Liberals (who fancy themselves "Canada's Natural Governing Party" with typical arrogance) and the Conservatives, who have devolved over my lifetime from a party I regularly voted for into something I wouldn't vote for with a gun to my head. The Canadian political landscape regularly flips between the two parties (and in my province, we seem to like to elect the opposite of whatever party is currently ruling nationally).

But there are other parties here. And at least one of them, my political home, polls better than any third party in modern U.S. history (while never well enough to win anything, federally). 

Current polling suggests this election will change nothing: another Liberal minority. (Apolitical friends, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph; American friends, by all means read on if you wish). Minority governments are different in origin but very similar in effect to, say, a Democratic President and House with a Republican Senate. The only difference is that there's still some faint notion of the common good up here, so parties work together a little more easily. Majority governments are not something I trust even if "my" party has the majority, because they confer far too much power. Picture a Democratic President with a supermajority of Democrats controlling both houses and you'd be about halfway to as much domestic power as a Canadian PM with a majority enjoys. It's practically a dictatorship: the only check such a PM has is the Supreme Court. Incidentally, our leaders are elected by their parties, not by ordinary electors. This doesn't entirely negate a cult of personality -- our current PM's father had a pretty potent one -- but it does tend to blunt it. Oh, and we don't tend to elect celebrities, either. I think that might be because to be a Canadian celebrity you have to make it in the U.S. (inferiority complex, remember) and thus you're a sellout. We're complicated. 

There are four other parties that will garner 3% or more of the vote, besides the Libs and Cons. In projected order of popularity, from most popular to least:

  • The New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Jagmeet Singh, the first person of colour to lead a federal party in Canada. Current projection: 19.5%, 34 seats, plus or minus 17. 
Always the bridesmaid, or an usher, federally at least. The best the NDP can hope for is to hold the balance of power in a Liberal minority, as they do right now. This ensures the Liberals have to pay attention to NDP priorities, which happen to be mine. Platform here.
I like Singh. Not as much as I liked Jack Layton, the former NDP leader who died on us shortly after I voted for someone for the first time in my life. But it's because of Jagmeet Singh that I got to keep my home during the pandemic.  And if the guy I elect has to be religious, I'll go with a Sikh seven times a week and six times on Saturday. Sikhism isn't about telling you you're going to hell and I'm going to heaven, or making gays and women second class citizens. Sikhism is about community service. A politician who genuinely believes in giving to his community? Singh me up! They are not perfect, but "voting isn't marriage, it's public transport. You're not waiting for "the one" who's absolutely perfect: you're getting the bus, and if there isn't one to your destination, you don't not travel- you take the one going closest." I have no idea who wrote that. I wish I did. 

  • The Bloc Québécois, led by Yves-François Blanchet
I am including this party for the sake of completeness. It shouldn't be allowed to exist. 
That is NOT an anti-Québécois sentiment. Provincially, I would not just expect a Bloc but possibly vote for it, if I lived there.
I don't, so I can't vote for them -- because they only run in Québec ridings. Why this is allowed is a mystery: federal parties, to my way of thinking, ought to be required to run a candidate in every riding nationwide. 
As can be surmised, this party is for what it deems are its province's interests -- and nothing else. They house the Québec separatists, who fantasize about leaving Canada (what would happen to the indigenous population, the Canadian military bases, and the anglophones is unclear like any pipe dream). 

  • The People's Party of Canada, led by Maxime Bernier.
I am not going to link their platform. Google it if you must.
If Covid-19 hadn't happened, the newest federal party we have might have disbanded by now. It came about because its leader almost became leader of the federal Conservatives (in my darkest, darkest nightmare, he tries again and wins). Maxime decided the problem was that the Conservatives weren't extreme enough, and so he founded the People's Party, a catch-all haven for craziness of all kinds. 

They aren't going to win anything, but they are polling much better than they did last election....because they're the anti-lockdown, anti-mask, anti-vaccine party. Many people are voting for them for this reason alone.
I am refraining from launching into a diatribe against such people out of fidelity to my real values. I have decided that if they do gain popularity, I will fight them every legal way I can, and if they ever gain power, I will leave this country as quickly as possible because (a) I will no longer recognize it,  (b) nor wish to, and (c) I would be very, very tempted to go extralegal. That's how I feel about these people: they are an existential threat to everything I hold dear. It's not enough to deny science, you see. You must also deny the basic humanity of anyone who doesn't look like you. As I once said on Facebook, if that's the People's Party, I'm not a people. I can -- barely -- stomach you voting for the Conservatives if you have to. But if you are a People's Party of Canada supporter, the very best thing you can do is quietly sever all contact with me, forever.

I should put "led" in quotes, because Annamie has done precious little of that. Last I looked, she hadn't even left Toronto. For all I said about Toronto singlehandedly electing governments, you have to admit it's a novel strategy when your object is supposedly to gain recognition.
It's sad that the Greens must still gain recognition. Given what's going on with the climate, they should be in power. They are miles and miles and MILES away from that: they're currently polling nationally at 3.4% and are slated to take one, maybe two seats. One of the ridings adjacent to mine is in a statistical three way tie between the Greens, the Cons and the NDP: by all accounts, the guy running for the Greens, Mike Morrice, should be leading the national party. 
I have voted Green provincially, but federally it's  beyond pointless until we get a fair electoral system. 

Saving the titans for last:
  • The Conservative Party of Canada, led by Erin O'Toole (platform here)
Erin has tried to campaign closer to the center than Conservatives usually do. Or maybe it's that Bernier has out-crazied him. Take that platform with an ocean of salt, because O'Toole has flip-flopped on pretty much all of it. And then there's the matter of that slogan, "Securing the Future". That's lifted from the 14 words, the most popular white supremacist credo in the world. In my experience, Conservatives don't care for the future one bit. They vastly prefer the past, when women were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and those uppity minorities knew their place. I'm also not a fan of their economic policies, which benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us.
If you strip all the emotion I'm sorry I put in there, though, you're left with a party that wants to conserve -- and I beg you to look at what "business as usual" has done and is doing to our world. 

I feel that the Conservatives are the People's Party with legitimacy, and it really scares me.
  • Finally (whew) the Liberal Party of Canada led by Justin Trudeau. Platform here (pdf)
The question must be asked of any incumbent party, why are you making promises when you've been in power the last four years? You have suddenly noticed housing is a problem, have you? After he reneged on the biggest reason I voted for him, I don't trust him one bit and quite frankly, I'm sick of him. He really is your quintessential liberal: he'll say all the right things about caring, but when push comes to shove, money talks and bullshit walks. I'd rather deal with Conservatives: at least they're honest about their intentions. 

There are six competing and very, very different visions for this country. Please pick one. I know voting feels stupid and it seems awfully symbolic. But it's the only way we can make our voices even heard.



06 September, 2021

Road Trekkin': The Sequel

 This time we went southeast.

The idea, as usual,  was to stay away from crowds. I'm not scared of C19 for the moment but still feel prudence is called for when things get sardine-y. Besides, quite frankly, neither of us like crowds overmuch. Kathy grew up where the only traffic jams came at harvest-time and I just plain detest so many competing energies mashed together. It being a holiday weekend here, we set ourselves a bit of a challenge.

Niagara Falls was right out. I've heard from multiple people it's as if there was never a pandemic at all there and you have to suck your gut in to turn around. But there are lots of places around Niagara that are off the water-eroded path.

About the only place we'd determined to hit -- Beamsville Fish and Chips in Welland, highly recommended by our friend Sue -- wasn't open. That possibility hadn't so much as considered crossing our minds...what sort of  restaurant is closed on any part of the last long weekend of the summer? (They were going to open at 4 pm; it was noon; we wanted to see more than just Welland today; we'll have to go back someday. Sue reports it's worth it. 

The Canal! I rode the length of it on one of then-future PM Paul Martin's company's ships back in grade seven or eight and I haven't been anywhere near the canal since. We got to the Lock 8 Mellanby Park just in time to catch the Maria G. Valletta moving down the Canal at about a tenth the speed of smell: considerably slower than a walking pace. 






Lunch was at the South Coast Cookhouse, which was worlds better than its surroundings. Crystal Beach was once a booming little town with an amusement park that operated from 1888-1989. The beach itself is lovely; the town around it has seen much better days. Many of the businesses are boarded up, and those that aren't look dingy and dilapidated. But the restaurant was open, and partly open to the air. A very good lunch. 

From Welland, we wandered along the seashore lakeshore. Quite frankly, Lake Erie doesn't hold a candle to Lake Huron: the water in Erie is brown rather than blue, scummy rather than crystal clear, and rankly redolent of dead fish. It also doesn't have anything like the shoreline Huron boasts. Huron, and especially the "sixth Great Lake", Georgian Bay, is just worlds cleaner in every respect. 

We tried to get to the Port Abino Lighthouse, but it was Covided up tight. (It's hard for me to understand, honestly. Obviously it's up to any business whether to open or not, but I can't think what excuse a tourist attraction needs to STAY CLOSED when so many businesses have closed forever.) 

Not to be deterred, we found another lighthouse one town to the west, where the Grand River empties at Port Maitland:




A wee bit of a hike. It was almost, but not quite, windy enough for whitecaps. I would not advise going anywhere near this pier in a serious storm: you'll get swept off. 

Behind the lighthouse, land's end: 

The water looks almost Huronical...
                    
Next stop, Port Dover. We double-dated with Jade and Darien minigolfing here a few years back, and Kathy was relishing the chance to kick my butt again...but it was waaay too peopley...we didn't even slow down.

One of the best things about Kathy and Ken days like this: we're easy. I was disappointed not to get to try that Beamsville fish and chips, and Kathy was disappointed not to see the Port Abino Lighthouse, but "disappointment", contrary to popular belief, need not have any sort of emotional attachment to it. The way I look at it, this is yet another of those words that needs a hyphen. We had an appointment (even if it wasn't written down anywhere) and we got "dis-appointed". There's always something around the next bend, and often for every thing you were looking forward to and missed out on, there's something you never suspected that turns out to be a highlight.

Behold, Lynne River Falls, which is not in our Waterfalls of Ontario book:

I hear running water...hey hon, they're playing our song!



From Port Dover we wandered back home, stopping only to pick up two small pizzas from the best pizza joint in the known universe, Woodstock Pizza and Pasta. For the first time in my life, I chose not to finish a small pizza. This is significant because I have utterly routinely eaten a medium by myself and on many occasions have done the same with a large. 

Noom refuses to allow me to pay in instalments, or lower their price, so I'm doing this on my own. I have two friends who have recently lost a large amount of weight (and Kathy has lost as well), so I am motivated. Tomorrow, weather permitting (it won't), I'm going to start walking.

Back to the weekend. We got home, ate pizza, sat down to watch a mutual favourite movie -- Contact, with Jodie Foster. It holds up wonderfully, and I had fun teasing out similar lines and mannerisms between S.R. Haddon, the reclusive billionaire, and another character Foster would share screen time with named Dr. Hannibal Lecter. ("Clever girl", says Haddon, and whereas most people would immediately think velociraptor, I filled in the next line from Silence of the Lambs: "You're so close to the way you're going to catch him." 

Then I lost the cat.

We were going to go out, brave the bees and mosquitos, and indulge in some coolers on the deck. Luna wanted to be on, or even more improperly, under, the deck as well, and it took an hour of teamwork, cajoling, failed bribes, and quick reflexes from Kathy to finally snag her and put her back inside where she belongs.

Today we went to Southside Park to feed the ducks. We knew not to bring bread but didn't know what else might bring them waddling (maybe some grapes? Naw. Quoth the Google, corn, oats and rice. The Google neglected to inform us that corn is crack cocaine for ducks while oats and rice are, respectively, kale and brussels sprouts. Oh, they'll eat it if they have to, but....

....the gentleman behind us had corn.

They ignored us with haughty dignity as they congregated in search of The Good Stuff. 


That's maybe half of them. Maybe. Ducks, cobra chickens (Canada geese) and a family of swans that crashed the party. Honk honk. 

More running water!

Another lovely weekend. Next on the docket is a trip up the Escarpment to see the fall colours. Thank you, hon, for the journey. It means the world, and so do you. 💜




18 August, 2021

A Belief Is Not A Fact

I said this on Facebook recently:

From now on, before I engage in any argument either online or off, I'm going to ask one question: "What evidence might it take for you to change your position?" I suspect that nine times out of ten I won't get an answer, or I'll get something patently ridiculous. I'll walk away, content to let the other person think they "won".

...and was immediately asked why I feel the need to win. 

I put "win" in quotes for a reason. I should have put "argument" in quotes, too.  Because what goes on on the internet these days is anything but argument: it's almost always just pointless screaming, ad hominem attacks, and piles and piles of logical fallacies. We desperately need a required course or two in rhetoric and critical thinking. It should, in fact, be the entire focus of school curricula. Critical thinking and empathy ought to be the whole purpose of an education -- the information is very much secondary.

What I was trying to say was that I'm content to let people think they "won" a game I refuse to play. 

I will no longer engage with people who can't support their positions without those ad hominem attacks or logical fallacies. As Hitchens says, "that which can be asserted without evidence can be refuted without evidence".  Or indeed, simply ignored. 

Let's take one topic that is, for some ridiculous reason, extremely touchy: the Covid-19 vaccines. Obligatory blahblahblah: people who are allergic, or who have some other condition that contraindicates innoculation, you're not my target audience here. 

I confess to a great deal of impatience with the vaccine-hesitant, at this late date. There have been over four billion shots administered worldwide, but let's use the Canadian numbers current as of August 6, 2021: 50, 204, 577 doses administered vs 12,006 reported adverse effects. Note that of those 12,006 adverse effects - a whopping 0.024% of all shots given - most of them aren't serious. The "serious side effects": 

  • Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (clotting, low platelet levels): 76 cases -- 56 of which involve AstraZeneca which isn't even given anymore, so 20 cases
  • Myocarditis/pericarditis (inflammation of, respectively, the heart muscle and the heart lining): 607 cases 
  • Capillary leak: two cases, both AstraZeneca
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: 58 cases. Of these, 27 were AstraZeneca (0.96 cases per 100,000 doses); 22 were Pfizer-BioNtech (0.06 cases per 100,000 doses); 9 were Moderna (0.2 cases per 100,000 doses). The AZ number here IS actually higher than they expected, which is a big reason it's been pulled. But even that "high" number is infinitesimally low.
There are more categories much less severe. But they add to that 12,006. Out of FIFTY MILLION. 

All of this information is easily accessible. You can also very easily find a breakdown of cases/hospitalizations/deaths by vaccine status: simply put, your chances are dying fully vaxxed are not zero, but damned near.  So what is it? "I don't know what's in it"? You don't know "what's in" most of the pills you take and food you eat, so that can't be it. "It's experimental"? Yeah, they've been working on it for EIGHTEEN YEARS. 

How can they have been doing that when Covid-19 happened in, duh, 2019? Gotcha!

Not so fast. Do you remember the full name of this virus? That's right, it's SARS-CoV-2: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Now you may ask yourself, why 2? And I will answer: Sars CoV-1 hit at the end of 2003 and killed  774 people. That's a tiny number -- the current coronavirus has killed at least four and a half million -- but the reason SARS-1 scared the almighty shit out of the world medical establishment was its lethality: 9.6%. If Covid-19 had that lethality, instead of four and a half million deaths we'd have well over 19 million. With tens of millions yet to come in the Third World, because the First World is hogging all the vaccines. Less than 2% of some African countries are vaccinated: but hey, since when has Africa had actual people in it? Since never, as far as North America and Europe are concerned.

Aside.

Yes, this bothers me. A lot. And a certain class of people belittles me for it online and calls it "virtue signalling" -- two words I simply loathe to see next to each other. I've given some thought to it, and I think we get accused of "virtue signalling" in cases where the evil we're protesting is too large for us to affect it in any meaningful way, and yet we feel we must protest it. This behaviour is bewildering to the sort of people who use "social justice warrior" as a pejorative, as if fighting for social justice is somehow wrong. What does it mean to care for something you can't change in any way? Pointless, right?

And as for the anti-vaxxers, the conspiracy theorists, the plague rats: these are one class of people I'm no longer going to engage with. You can't change their minds and they'd better not try to change mine. Does this make me closed-minded? Think hard before you suggest it does.

Dropping that and picking up a generalized worldview. 

"I'm saying that even if you disagree with their reasons, they nonetheless have reasons" to believe as they do, said my friend, and I'd like to deconstruct both their sources and their rationales. 

"Because Mommy and Daddy did" is not a valid reason to believe anything. You aren't them. Neither is "because it says so in this holy text". Holy texts say a lot of things and not one believer actually believes all of them. I should hasten to say that "because my political party does" is also, in and of itself, a pretty poor rationale for belief. 

 There are two valid reasons to believe something. One is because people who have studied the topic believe the same. The second is lived experience -- and yes, science has a hell of a time grappling with lived experience, which is one of several reasons many people don't trust scientists--one of the only half-decent reasons.

How many times have you heard "the plural of anecdote is not data"? What a neat and efficient way to gaslight the fuck out of somebody. "MSG has no effect on human digestive systems" is a perfect example. Science insists on this no matter how many millions of people experience cramping and diarrhea after ingesting it. They'll even go so far as to suggest you're racist because you bitch and whine after eating MSG-laced Chinese food, but don't even notice all the other "white" foods you eat that are similarly loaded with MSG--discounting those, again, who ingest MSG and suffer no matter what it's in.  Scientists take note: avoid certainties and simply suggest "MSG has adverse affects on a subset of the population, and we're not sure why yet."

So no, it's not cut and dry. But all the same, I'd trust someone who has spent years studying a topic over a random YouTube video with unsourced claims you can't even verify. Yes, it's important to see who funded a study, because a few "scientists" are actually paid shills. But very, very few -- and let's see what we can do about Occam's bushy beard, I'd suggest that it's likely the shills have the position that's contrary to the majority. You can always find a few people who will say smoking is beneficial and cures the common cold if you bribe them hard enough. Our problem is that we've given these people visibility and validation. 


"You might think those reasons are crazy, but they might think your reasons for thinking the way you do are crazy, too. Who are you to say to them, you need to change over to my way of view because it's the right one?"

In some cases, I'm the guy with the right answer. If someone comes up to me and tells me 2+2=5, then whatever reasons they have for believing that are crazy and their "point of view" is invalid. You don't get to have a point of view over a fact. A fact is true regardless of what you think or how you feel about it. And no, you don't get to say 2+2=5 for extremely large values of 2, that's not how it works either.

It is a fact that the Covid-19 vaccines are virtually harmless and strongly effective. You're free to feel, of course, that the risk is not worth it -- and I'm free to tell you that if you believe that, your understanding of probability is nonexistent. And then you'll feel belittled and mocked and I get that this is not helpful, but when I keep banging my head against the implacable wall of "we don't know what's in it it's too rushed BUT MAH RIGHTS wah wah wah" I seriously don't know how not to snap.

It is a fact that the climate is changing; it's another fact that we're causing it; it's a third fact that more than a hundred species of plants and animals are going extinct each and every day. You don't get to have an opinion on this, either. It just is. You can have an opinion on what to do about it, and I suppose "nothing" is one nihilistic option. It's not one I can accept for that same pesky humane reason that I'd prefer to minimize mass death and immiseration given a chance. You wouldn't? That says something supremely unflattering about you. 

It is a fact that explicit and comprehensive sexual education in schools directly leads to a dramatic decrease in: abortions, teenage pregnancies, rapes, and STIs. Yet people who claim to be viscerally against those four things are also against sex ed. So I feel no compunction calling these people out and saying they support abortion, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and rape. And then I have to ask them why -- and not a one of them can answer. To a man and women (shockingly, there are women who think this way), they simply dismiss the facts and go on braying that two and two are five. Walk away -- and hope like hell these people don't have children and can't influence somebody else's. 

I do wonder how this correlates to a religious upbringing. It seems to me that many religious people are very prone to confuse belief with fact. Not all, of course: Judaism is very much a questioning faith; the Jesuits question everything, and hell, one of my favourite UU hymns is called "To Question Truly Is An Answer". But the kind of received literally from On High "wisdom" religion promotes -- well, it's easy not to question it. Feels like blasphemy to dare to question Almighty God -- or more pertinently, the kiddy-diddler who claims to speak for Him. And to be fair, religious people often view science with skepticism because science does the same with them and can be viciously condescending at it. Nobody responds well to condescension. 

Let's talk about some other beliefs some people think are facts.  Like, say, that [insert several juicy racial slurs] shouldn't be allowed to marry white people. Or that it should be legal to fire and evict those nasty homosexuals.  Or that women should be made reproductive slaves to men, which is what happens when you outlaw abortion.  Or that six people should not have more wealth than six billion people. Views like that are crazy, dangerous and not to be tolerated. 

The Right calls me a hypocrite for this...I call for tolerance but won't tolerate intolerance. This is absurd on its face: you're saying I'm calling for love and won't accept hatred. You're right! Bravo!

Now. Perhaps you believe that gay people are people, that the entire idea of "mixed-race" marriages is ridiculous because there is only one human race, and so on. This is what the "All Lives Matter" crowd says to make themselves look less odious, forgetting that straight pride parades weren't a thing before gay pride parades, that "all lives matter" didn't show up before someone dared to ask that Blacks have a voice and a place at the table. But let's say you're somebody who actually does believe that black people are people. 

WHY WOULD YOU VOTE FOR PEOPLE WHO DON'T?

The only reason I can think of is that you see some more pressing personal reason to do so...and in this case my bet is lower taxes. This means you tolerate bigotry for selfish reasons. At least own up to it. 

I don't feel that it should be my job to bring people back to reality. Especially when they don't want to come. 








17 August, 2021

ART YOU SHOULD EXPERIENCE 1: WATERSHIP DOWN, Richard Adams

Administrivia: 

It occurs to me, at this late date, that there are all sorts of books, movies, and music I've championed through the years, but I haven't really offered too many reasons for doing so -- nor, in some cases, solid descriptions of what it is I love and why I love it.

Accordingly, over the next I don't know long, I'll be choosing the very best of my limited life's media experiences so far. Things I believe ought to be required listening, reading and viewing, because they will edify, enlighten...and almost certainly excite. 

 1) WATERSHIP DOWN, by Richard Adams

I don't know anyone who, having read this book, wasn't moved and improved. I also don't know anyone who didn't enjoy it immensely. Some of the people who most enjoyed it almost put it down after five pages. I'm sure haters exist. and doubtless the next three people I lend a copy to will hate it just to spite me. But I'm serious: in my experience, if you're a reader at all, you will enjoy this book. Probably quite a lot.

I have not seen the 1970s-era animated rendition that is said to have scarred the souls of many a child (and bewildered many a parent who had no idea what they were gifting their children with). I'm unlikely to ever watch any adaptation of this masterpiece, truthfully, because I simply can't imagine capturing even a tenth of the emotional depth of this story in any other medium by any other hand. 

Perhaps its only flaw is how challenging it is to recommend to people. "Well, see, it's this story about rabbits...." and right away 99% of your audience has tuned out. 

So perhaps it's better to say this is a story about friendship, leadership, a hero's journey, the merits and perils of different political systems and cultures (don't flinch, it's very deftly done without preaching or endless politicking)...and the characters happen to be rabbits. But these rabbits have their own culture, their own mythologies, their own language that again is lightly sprinkled through the narrative in such a way that when five vicious curse words are shouted in a climactic scene, you don't even have to stop to think to translate them. 

You are thoroughly immersed in the world and worldview of these creatures, who are on a journey to find a new home. The group learns to work together as a cohesive unit to overcome all manner of obstacles and dangers. They encounter other rabbits who see the world very differently and want them either subservient or dead. They befriend and enlist the help of a delightful bird named Kehaar (he's a black-headed seagull who talks with an Eastern European accent). Most of all, they learn about themselves and each other, and tell each other (and us) stories. Stories about them, stories about how their world came to be. 

There is more than a little of The Lord of the Rings in here, at least in terms of general plotting and overall structure. I can't get through LOTR: the lore is far too thick on the ground for me. Not so in Watership Down. It helps, of course, that this novel is shorter than even a volume of Tolkien's epic "My elves are entering a forest, which I'm going to assume none of my readers have ever heard of, and so here come ten pages describing it" fantasy. You can almost get away with skipping the chapters dealing with lapine legend and myth, in the same way you can, if you want, eat bread without butter or any other topping. I mean, the story's still there. But Adams has managed to pack a full fledged culture into this and its trappings are rich and delightful (except for the tale of the Black Rabbit of Inlé -- that's shockingly dark.)

What a relief that there's no explicit allegory to this story. It hasn't stopped people from trying to invent one, of course, but Adams is on record as saying it's "just" a story about rabbits. (It really IS about a lot more, but not in any way that will suggest to you there might be a test later.)

The prose has just a tiny bit of that slightly old-fashioned British feel to it. Just a tiny bit because it was published in 1972, not 1922. But it's charming rather than dated and not at all dense. You will feel, first off, as if you're in a simpler time, a bucolic and pastoral existence that is soon shattered as the adventure begins. A bunch of rabbits escape a doomed warren and light off cross country, employing all manner of cunning and teamwork to survive. 

An example of how tightly packed the lore is without being stifling: Rabbits, as you can perhaps imagine, lack the facility to count above four. Any more than four is 'hrair' or 'a lot, a Thousand'. A Chief Rabbit is addressed with the honorific rah, or "prince".

In the rabbits' creation mythos, Lord Frith told El-ahrairah, the rabbit Adam, "your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince With A Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning." When a rabbit dies, another says "my heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today". 

Other rabbit words that might stick with you for decades after reading -- they all did for me:

silflay: the act of feeding

hraka: pellets, excrement, shit

tharn: a paralysis of fear (I adore this word and have been sticking it in all manner of places since I first read this novel in my teens, from college essays to poems)

hrdudu: any human machine (these tend to make rabbits go tharn)

Oh, I want to talk about the rabbits! Bigwig, the bully-turned-loyal-pillar of the warren; Fiver, the runt with a sixth sense; Blackberry, who's too smart for his own good sometimes; and of course Hazel, who is blessed with the ability to synthesize his warren's talents and concoct strategies that put each member to their best use. They live and breathe in a way very few human characters have in other works of literature, for me. 

I don't want to have to beg, but you should read this novel. 



08 August, 2021

All My Life's A Circle

 sunrise and sundown

the moon rolls through the night time

til the daybreak comes around

all my life's a circle

and I can't tell you why

seasons spinning round again

the years keep rolling by

-Harry Chapin, "Circle"

This post is not a pity-party invitation and I'm not attention seeking.

Some day, and not too far off, I'm going to be writing a long, very meaty and INTENSELY personal post entitled "It's Not What It Looks Like". Because that could very well serve as an epitaph, were I to die today. I have tried very hard -- perhaps too hard -- to defend my life choices over, especially, the last seven years, but what I haven't done, because it really is so terribly personal, is give you the context of those decisions. Lacking that, you're prone to assume the worst of me, and I would too. And let's be clear: sometimes, rarely, it very much IS what it looks like. I'm not perfect, far from it. It's not always misplaced idealism that leads me astray, either.

But that's right (or wrong) ACTION, and the biggest issue in my life is INaction.



I'm going through one of my cyclic depressive periods right now. They are all broadly similar: I rail against the undeniable fact my life is largely virtual, and of course I do this virtually.  In one of my classic knee-jerks, I  talk about simply abandoning online life entirely, am inevitably told I should seek a balance instead. To which I retort, would you say that to a heroin addict? Oh, don't cut out the heroin entirely, just go for a balance!

But as I've said probably far too many times to count, the fear of engaging in the real world is all but paralyzing. Most of my online friends are strictly online friends (thank you, Covid-19, you bastard) and even cutting down my online time feels like hey, you think you have no real life friends? Tell you what, shoot them all and then you REALLY won't have any real-life friends!

How DOES an introvert develop this chronic and powerful need to feel connected? I wish I knew.

My existence, even now when I'm double-vaxxed, is almost entirely housebound, which is one reason why that road trek two weeks ago was so welcome and cherished. Well, that's easily fixed, you say. Just leave the house, the door's right there. Yeah, okay, and do what, alone? Experiences may as well not even exist if they're not shared. I've seen movies by myself. I can barely remember them. I've eaten meals outside the house  by myself. There's no joy in that. Also: while you will never catch me complaining about a mask in public (the fogged glasses and the vaguely, sometimes anything but vaguely fecal smell of the things are my two largest gripes), I'm not going to put myself in a mask-required environment without a good reason. Drifting through different environments all by my lonesome isn't a good enough reason. Sorry.

So basically I've just been going in circles. Some parts of my life have improved beyond all measure, but I'm not content and I'm tired of the un-merry-go-round. What's most exhausting, because it gives me that anxious rat-scurrying-in-cage feeling, is knowing that I alone am responsible for my emotional state, yet not knowing what to do or how to do it. And round and round we go.

Don't panic with this next, okay? Also, don't feel guilty. I've got enough guilt for all of us. Trust me. 

When the word suicide makes its first appearance in my mind, it does so sneakily, like a snake or something similarly slithery and  full of sibilants. It doesn't shout. It doesn't even whisper hey, have you thought about offing yourself? No, it just sits there in the shadows, presenting itself as an option if I want to consider it.

I don't. At all. But the word shows up anyway. And all the practiced gratitude -- because I do practice gratitude, consciously -- doesn't shove it away. And so, after a few days if it sitting there in the back of my mind, I'll drag it out and look at it, because that's what I do with my thoughts, especially the persistent ones, especially especially the persistent negative ones. I handle this particular thought with utmost care, because in 2014 it took on a life of its own and I have absolutely no desire to visit those depths again, thank you. 

So I pull it out and examine it, very carefully and in an utterly detached manner, and what strikes me is that while I can't articulate a valid reason to kill myself, I also can't articulate a valid reason to go on existing...not living, existing. I've said before that I consider the internet to be vampiric. I stand by this: it sucks all the life out of living and replaces it with pixels on a screen. Piss poor alternative, but when you don't know your purpose and everything looks pointless, what other alternative is there, exactly? All my friends are online! My whole goddamn fucking LIFE is online!

The nature of depression is that it seeks and devises every opportunity to reinforce itself. It's also ruthlessly internal, in that the well-meaning and loving actions of others don't move the needle overmuch or for long. So please don't think for even a millisecond that I'm not profoundly grateful for the love of friends in my world. I am. These thoughts run on their own track, independent of anything else so far as I've been able to determine. 

If I'm not careful, the thought that comes next is "nobody will care; few will even notice". THAT thought is a one way trip into those depths if I let it take hold. It's also (I hope) patently false. It's the pretend voice of my parents...they never lamented out loud that I became a nothing, so they do it in my head quite often. It's the voice of my over-developed conscience, telling me I don't deserve notice, let alone care. I mean, Ken, what have you done to be noticed or cared about? Not a whole fuck of a lot, right?

It always comes back to doing...and not knowing what to do.

_____________

I had a brainwave laying in bed last night. Four words. Play to your strengths.

Many people have told me variants of "you're the most self-reflective person I know". I suppose: the number of people who seem not to ever think about their thoughts and emotions, let alone share them, blows my mind. They're yours, people! Maybe the only things that truly are! Why wouldn't you be curious? Why wouldn't you share, in case someone else can relate? In any event, I do spend a lot of time in my own mind, when I'm not out of my mind, ha-ha. And it occurs to me, for the first time ever, that I'm seeking external validation for something that needs to be internal. It is a choice to be happy: follow that choice religiously, and that's how you "en-joy" something. By putting the joy in beforehand. You teach what you have to learn. I've been teaching this for years and not living it myself. 

Because I didn't know how. I focused on others because that felt selfless. Making others feel good really does make me feel good -- for a time. I'm that person who made his friend feel good. Which is all well and fine, maybe even admirable, until I reflect that here I am defining myself in relation to others. It's easier to do that than to confront self-hate with an empty toolbox.

Maybe not completely empty. Play to your strengths. I am ruthlessly and relentlessly self-analytical. A friend last night suggested cognitive behavioural therapy, and that made sense because it's training my mind how to think differently about the stuff I can't stop thinking about. 

Name a flaw in yourself that's developed relatively recently.

Easy. I'm a tubbo. A lardass. Three years of sedentary employment and a pandemic have seen to that. Also: I like food. I like food too much. Working at Walmart, that didn't matter because pounds melted off me before I could put them on. Now? Now I gain weight by breathing. It has progressed to the point where it is affecting my ability to engage in moderate outdoor activity.

But changing that means sacrifice, and a whole lot of it! 

Maybe not. Maybe what it really takes is a different mindset. 

But how do I get one of those? I don't know where the Mindset store is and I'm not sure I could afford to go in there if I did.

My Facebook feed had an answer: Noom.

I don't know whether it's a good answer or not. But I intend to find out. Perhaps the biggest reason I intend to find out is that they insist they are not a diet but a cognitive behavioural therapy course that changes your relationship with food by making you more mindful of it.

Food has long been one of the things I'm most mindless about. It's going to be a nice fresh turd in a few hours, why go to absurd lengths to make it? Just grab something and stuff it in there. Mmm, tasty. Or do I even notice? Not really. It's this pleasurable but very fleeting feeling: I can feel it again with another bite...and another...and another...

The program is pricey only because it's paid for all at once. I haven't started it yet, but I think I'm going to once I can scrape up that money. $27 a month -- less than a dollar a day -- and they ensure me that if I commit, I will lose 80 lbs by April 2022. That's the "slow and steady wins the race" option. The husband of a friend of mine did something more aggressive and has lost 68 lbs this year with the program. He renewed it, it worked so well for him. 

I'd like to experience feeling proud of myself just once in my life. I figure that feeling is probably addictive itself, and will motivate me to do more, this time with an outward focus.

I want to live.





02 August, 2021

Road Trekkin': The Last Two Chapters.

 Day 3: Parry Sound - Minden MIDLAND

(little in-joke there: Kathy kept getting the two confused, eventually deliberately.  Kind of like this.)

A cold front has swept through overnight and it's nipply out -- about 10C/50F. In its previous incarnation as the Traveller's, our hotel had been known far and wide for its breakfasts. Lingering C-19 protocols mean they're only serving a box (continental) meal now, and we're in the mood for something more substantial. Off to Trapper's Choice. This is yet another locally iconic place -- it's been around my entire life -- and this morning an indoor table is a half hour wait. Kathy and I have had more than a few picnics in less-than-ideal conditions, so we opt for the patio. 

Brrrr. Good food, but brrrrr.

The second stop today is no stranger to this blog. Bearly Used Books. They're up to 300,000 books on hand now. The place is just completely packed: it's actually a bit overwhelming. Dad has gifted me with some store credit. In the end I replaced several books that were read to tatters here, and one I lent out and will never get back. As is usual, I keep thinking of authors I should have checked for, long after I leave. 

We walk around downtown, and stop in to the Trading Post, which has had pride of place on James Street at least since I was a wee sprat. I got myself a copy of a T-shirt I owned 25 years ago -- a map of Georgian Bay etched into it. 

Then out to Waubuno Beach:






When Kathy and I were planning this trek, we were looking for boat rides. The original plan was to take the Segwun out of Bracebridge, a two hour cruise through Millionaire's Row on Lake Muskoka, past cottages belonging to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Wayne Gretzky, and others. The Segwun, alas, hadn't run during the pandemic and wasn't running when we planned this. (Of course, it is NOW.)

Plan B: the Island Queen in Parry Sound. Kathy did the romantic dinner cruise 23 years ago, and it's not offered this year; I've been on that boat several times throughout my life and would never turn down the chance to go. We couldn't get an Island Queen cruise to fit comfortably into our schedule, so we ended up settling for the one-hour Lady Wenonah II. (We wanted to do a floatplane or helicopter tour, but couldn't get that to fit comfortably into our budget. Yeesh, stuff is pricey. 

Kathy has always said she's impulsive, and honestly I don't see that side of her often, but I saw it today as we snagged two of the last tickets available (everything still has Covid capacity limits) and boarded the Island Queen for a three hour tour.










Before we even left port, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. There is an ambulance on Parry Island, and when that happens, the swing bridge doesn't swing. "We're going to take our northern route instead. Anyone who had their heart set on the swing bridge is more than welcome to disembark and come back another day."

I had been looking forward to going through that passage. It's really cool. But also: I had never taken the northern route.

It honestly wasn't as interesting as the traditional cruise: there was a lot more open water. It still did go through Hole In The Wall, though, which is a highlight. 


Hole In The Wall is hard for a camera to do justice to. Here's a video that does.

nce we came back to port, we did a tiny bit more exploration of the town and then  set out for Minden. MIDLAND. 

We passed through here last year, but tonight we're staying at the Midland Inn and Suites. Kathy picked this one, and it's the nicest room of the three we've seen by quite a margin. The mattress is still a torture rack, albeit not quite as bad as the ones in Bracebridge and Parry Sound. On the plus side, a full, and really tasty, hot breakfast is included--but that's tomorrow. Tonight we're eating at Phil's Pub and Eatery where I had a wonderful club sandwich and Kathy enjoyed pickerel and shrimp. 

Dinner done, we hightail it to the harbour and finally catch a sunset. We've been trying to do this for two years and the weather never cooperates. Tonight, it did.


The sun went down as if it was on an escalator, sinking below the horizon in one smooth, remarkably quick motion.

Day Four: Midland - Collingwood - Meaford - Waterloo/Woodstock

Morning. Both of us are in dire need of caffeine and a familiar bed. Tea'd and coffee'd up, we depart for home--the scenic route again, taking in a park in Collingwood we missed last time we visited


and finishing off with the traditional Meaford visit to Perogie Palace for the best perogies either of us has ever had. This is our third time here and not our last. 

Georgian Bay calls to us. We'd move up here, given half the opportunity.

This was a great trip. I want to thank my dad and stepmom for one of the best meals I have ever had, and even more so, for seeing us. I want to thank Gertie for the entertainment (she pronounces "Seguin" like "se-GEEN" when it's actually pronounced "SEE-gwon"; several times she routed us incorrectly and stuttered as if drunk, and oh, yeah, she must have told us six or seven times "in five hundred metres, keep straight to stay on Highway 11 North" why are you telling us this you've already told us we're going straight for twenty km, Gertie you goof.

And of course I want to thank Kathy for the company, the laughter, and the love. We make a good team. The treks are getting more and more ambitious: we're hoping for a circle tour next year covering Manitoulin and Sudbury. And one of these years we're going to hit somewhere exotic: Hawaii, perhaps, or Iceland, or Scotland. That's a long way off. In the meantime, baby, you're my open road.