21 September, 2016

Hey, babe, what's your sign?

Rumours spread all over the Internet the other day that NASA had "changed" your zodiac sign. You can thank Cosmopolitan magazine for these bogus rumours. No surprise there...this is the same source that thinks spreading hot pepper on a man's frenulum will, ahem, spice up his sex life. (Don't do this. Don't even THINK this ow ow ow ow ow.)

Repeat after me, COSMO: AS-TRO-NO-MY. AS-TRO-LO-GY. Two entirely different things. One is a science. The other...isn't.

Astronomically speaking, the Earth's spin 'drifts' slightly, about one degree every 72 years. Over two millennia this adds up to a shift in the signs of the (astronomical) zodiac. This is not to be confused with the astrological zodiac, which is a constant. For a more in-depth discussion, go to this astrology-friendly page.

If you live by your daily horoscope, you'll hate what I'm about to say. It's bunk. Complete and utter bunk. You can prove this yourself, if you'd like to, by gathering a bunch of today's horoscopes for your sign. Here, I'll do it for mine.

September 21, 2016

1) From Astrology Answers.com:

Moon in fellow Air Sign Gemini is in your fifth house of pleasures and fun, Aquarius. Matters pertaining to your children, may be a focus today. Or maybe you are just throwing some caution to the wind and enjoying some fun in love today. Good for you! Having fun and feeling carefree and lively is just what the Universe has ordered for you today, Aquarius. A Sun and Saturn quintile in your eighth house of resources brings some news on a matter that gets you closer to a big dream of yours. What dream is that, Aquarius?

...wow. Lots of arcane words to sound authoritative, followed by...hmm, fun in love. And blah blah blah closer to a dream. Oh, I like this. Yeah, I can live with this.

2) From the Globe and Mail:

Don’t worry about your rivals and enemies – act as if the whole world is your friend. That need not be far from the truth as it happens. You have a natural talent for winning over those who, for whatever reason, doubted you to begin with.

I'm feeling buttered up here...but nothing about resources or dreams or love. Just some good advice for anyone, of any sign, on any day: act like the world is your friend and most people will react favourably, no?

3) From Horoscope.com:

Information gleaned from surprising sources could lead to sudden, fortunate career breaks, Aquarius. You might explore totally new fields, although this could be temporary. Your efforts should attract the attention of those who matter and eventually lead to advancement or a raise. Don't be afraid to continue to explore these sources. Keep up the good work!

This one's all about my professional life. No love here. No dreams. "News", yes, as in 1),  but not quite the same kind (unless I want it to be...maybe my dream is career-oriented?)

4) From ELLE.com:

Don't quit your day job just yet, Aquarius. While globetrotting visions of freelance life could tempt you to pull the trigger, try not to act overly rash. The moon is in your passionate fifth house and forming a dicey square to foggy Neptune in Pisces, confusing your priorities. You don't have live like a nomadic rock star to sate the part of you that longs for creative fulfilment. What you might really need is more artistic expression in your daily life. Free-write, take an art class, doodle in your sketch pad. Channeling the muse will help reveal your true calling.

Oops, I guess I'm not getting a break in my career after all. Now I'm supposed to concentrate on artistic hobbies....

As you can see, these four horoscopes, same sign, same day, are NOTHING ALIKE. If there was anything to astrology, they'd be four differently worded versions of the same message. Go ahead and do this for your sign, or your partner's, today, tomorrow, or any other day, and you'll come to the same conclusion I have: daily horoscopes are a bunch of hokum.

I won't go so far as to suggest that ALL of astrology is bullshit, though. Not if you think...mythically.

A myth, according to mythologist Joseph Campbell, can be defined as "something that never was, but always is." Both halves of that sentence are critically important. A myth is not LITERALLY true, in any way. But it contains a kind of truth that speaks to anyone open to hear it.

We all create a mythic version of ourselves. Social media is one big giant myth-mash. Those silly Facebook personality tests that don't actually test or measure anything? If you post the results from one, it means you agree with its "assessment"...so even if it generated at random (and it did), you have chosen to incorporate its pronouncement into your personal mythos.

This is also true, I believe, of some facets of natal horological astrology. It's not true...unless it's true for you, in which case it couldn't be any more true.

The funny thing about actual astrological readings--based on your date and time and location of birth, and intended as a clue to your personality--is that they're considerably more consistent than the horoscopes that show up in newspapers or online.

If you run down the characteristics of an Aquarius man, you tend to see the following words show up:

  • original
  • open-minded
  • idealistic
  • intellectual
  • independent
  • loving
I think many of my friends would agree I fit most of that quite well. Maybe not "independent" (but then again, that's a tricky word that can mean a myriad of different things). 
The typical Aquarian flaws:
  • impractical
  • pessimistic
  • arrogant
  • distant
  • manipulative

The first one is definitely me. Practicalities bore me: I prefer to let people who enjoy them, i.e., practical people, take care of them. This is a handicap. I recognize it, own it...and have no intention of addressing it.
I lean towards pessimism (or as I prefer to call it, "realism") as well. Give me a reason to feel a little anxious and my world will be ending in short order.
Arrogant? Distant? Those don't square at all with my perception of myself. In fact, I believe I'm modest and close to a fault.

Manipulative? I used to be. It was a defence mechanism, back in my teens and early twenties, meant to assuage my social anxiety. I planned out every conversation and meeting like chess games, and I wasn't above steering people where I wanted them to go.

That's long gone. The problem with trying to operate the world from behind the curtain is that everything becomes a scenario. Fake. I despise fakery and insincerity. Especially in myself. Accordingly, I have done everything I can to eradicate it. What has replaced it is an extra several helpings of empathy. 

Astrology will have a nice pat answer prepared for any way that I do not conform to the standard Aquarius profile. It's my moon sign, or some transiting planet fucking up my chart, or something. I'm deeply suspicious of anything that claims to have all the answers, and astrology is one of the things that often seems to make that claim.

But I'm certainly more Aquarian than I am any other sign.

And THIS...this is my wife, Eva Breadner, in the flesh. I could not have described her any better.

There are other people in my world that fit their signs to a T -- the playful, passionate and impulsive Aries; the ambitious, confident and stubborn Leo; and on and on...so often that it really does give me pause. It's not as if astrology is a constant presence in most lives: people can't possibly be picking up on how they're "supposed to" behave as a native of whatever their sign is. It's not the Forer Effect either, because his personality sketches are deliberately, blatantly vague ("you prefer a certain amount of change and variety") or applicable to everyone on earth
 (at times you have serious doubts about whether you've made the right decision or done the right thing").  Detailed birth readings, on the other hand, tend to make declarative statements. take it or leave it. Virgo women are analyzers. Aquarius men are offbeat idealists; Geminis are outgoing people-pleasers...direct, stark language that doesn't leave room for misinterpretation.

Astrology is originally one of many ways humanity attempted to impose order on a chaotic world. Religion is another. Both are, to my mind, largely mythological. Never true, but always true.





18 September, 2016

Happy Birthday Love

I love my wife so much.

She knows it (I hope)...after having known her for seventeen years and change, well, she'd better know it. Still, it's important to reaffirm (a) that I love her and (b) how much I love her, some place where everybody can (c) it. 

Her birthday offers a convenient excuse.

Eva has had a succession of bad years. Shortly after her birthday last year, she hit rock bottom and started her long climb up. It's been nothing short of inspiring to watch her, hand over hand, ascending. Don't get me wrong, she's not doing this alone. She has the unfailing support of Mark and I, and she needs it on occasion. But the strength, the determination, the necessary softness and critical hardness: that's all her.

Eva's not where she once was; she may never scale the heights she once did. But she's scaling entirely different heights now, heights of love and compassion.

People say I have the most open heart they've ever encountered. That's nice, but it's only because they don't know Eva. She has an open heart that -- well, I won't say it puts mine to shame, but put it this way: I had the basics down...she's offered, by the model of her life lived, several refinements.  I know now, if ever I had doubted, that when love is augmented in my world, her love will expand as well to enfold it. I know now, if ever I had doubted, that Eva is fully in tune with abundance and compersion and all those other concepts that have become so important to me. In fact, it could as easily be said that I'm fully in tune with her vision of life and love. 

There's much more to Eva, of course, than her full embrace of polyamory. She has always possessed a restless, curious mind. It has NOT been reduced by her battles with complications from bariatric surgery or her anxiety, only...redirected. She used to be frighteningly multi-tracked, needing six or seven stimuli at once to keep her brain occupied. Now two different things at once can overwhelm her...but when she gives one problem her full attention, she still comes at it from seemingly every angle at once, including angles from inside the problem itself, quantum angles from different dimensions...

The most impressive thing about my wife, to me, is her CALMNESS. This is something she is wilfully cultivating. As she gradually adjusts from being in seventeen places in time and space at once to being here/now in the moment that is, that calmness only grows. And it radiates. Both Mark and I have noted that people grow in her presence.  That Eva can broadcast peace and tranquility even though she lives with generalized anxiety is really no mean feat.

I have no idea what's ahead for either of us in the coming year, although I can say that whatever it is, Eva will face it, and face it down, if necessary, with her typical grace and strength. 

Eva, you are my constant. Others have cycled and will cycle in and out, all of them important and cherished for themselves (something you have helped crystallize in me), but you are my rock, my anchor partner who keeps me centered and grounded and fully in touch with life and love. I am honoured beyond words and humbled beyond understanding that you have chosen me to share your life's trials and triumphs with.

I love you, love.

I love you.

Happy birthday. 






Tell Me On A Sunday

I post a fair bit of music to Facebook, usually stuff that I think my friends haven't heard. All sorts of different genres. I don't know how many people listen to my song of the day. I hope at least one does each day: this stuff ought to be appreciated.

Today I went to put a song up and realized I had to write a blog about it. Then I started writing the blog and it kind of ... grew.

______________________________

I have a deep, abiding love for musicals.

This shouldn't come as any surprise to people who know me: I love music, I love stories; stories set to music are my favourite songs. And if you can gather a bunch of song-stories together like a bouquet of flowers and put them into the service of a single, overarching story, and give that story capable, talented actors and singers to tell it...I'll be captivated.

People have assumed, based on that single piece of information, that I must be gay. To be fair, I conform to some other gay tropes, but I've had people who only knew one thing about me -- he likes musicals -- figure I also like men.

It's stupid, that stereotype. And outdated. It's true that gay men have long been attracted to theatre, especially back when they were cast in the eternal outsider's role and forced to act their way through life, but that increasingly no longer applies (and thank Whatever for that).

There is, may I remind you, more than one kind of outsider.

No, I'm not gay. But I love musicals.

My first exposure to them came late. Grade 11. Our small but mighty band at Westminster played selections from Fiddler On The Roof. I will never, ever forget that performance, because I almost shit myself the instant it started.

We had one trumpet, and only one: my friend Craig Robertson. He was and is prodigiously talented, and coupled with hard work and discipline borne of true passion, he has parlayed that gift into a richly satisfying career. I entertained thoughts of following in his footsteps and my mother gently but firmly steered me away from those thoughts.
But back then, Craig was also, how shall we put this, a bit of a dick prankster. And he chose that performance to act out just a bit. Not the rehearsal, but the actual performance.

That particular arrangement of Selections from Fiddler On The Roof opened with the iconic title theme played by solo...you guessed it...trumpet. Craig decided on the spur of the moment that he was going to take it slightly...uptempo. More than slightly, actually. Damn near twice as fast as marked.

This presented a nontrivial problem for the rest of us. Because after Craig's eight bar solo to open the piece, I came in (baritone, think a small, higher-range tuba) with a counter-melody (you can hear it fourteen seconds in)...and that counter melody is intricate...twice as many notes, meaning it was effectively TWICE AS FAST as the outrageous speed Craig had set.  After me, that counter-melody got passed around the entire band at the same ridiculous speed before segueing into another segment.

Later, I asked the conductor, our affable teacher Mr. Clark, how he felt when Craig decided to...test us. "What can you do?" he answered. "We were all along for the ride. I was sure we were going to fly off the road eight bars in."

We didn't.

With the kind of terrified exhilaration I'd previously only felt on roller coasters, I whipped into my turn with that melody. Valves pistoned up and down. I wasn't thinking; I had no time to. The music was supposed to played with a bounce, clearly articulated, which meant -- at the speed I was going -- that I had to double-tongue. I'd never done that in performance, but here I was doing it of necessity. Damn you, Craig, I thought, with more than a little admiration.

The least player in that little band was at least competent, and several people, including Craig's future wife Nicole on flute, were members of the Youth Symphony or otherwise played outside of that ensemble. We each took our turn, and we nailed it. What's more, it sounded better fast, as far as I was concerned. Not that this was something you could say to Mr. Clark, who was as agitated as I'd ever seen him once we were safely offstage.

Sorry, caught up in the memory riptide there for a moment. I miss band. I really miss band.

I made it a point to see the movie version of Fiddler and I was hooked. The late eighties was the heyday of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and I became a little obsessed with Phantom of the Opera. With (okay, maybe not-so) typical teen ardour, I changed Christine to Darlene and sang Raoul and the Phantom as applicable...then I learned to play the entire score from memory, taped myself doing so, and presented the tape to Darlene. I cringe a little thinking of that, even though I haven't changed much--I still fall hard for people and occasionally have to restrain myself from extravagant gestures. But Darlene took that tape with good grace. Wouldn't have been long before the evening, come to think of it, which itself came a scant couple of months before her proposing to me.

Think of all the things we've shared and seen
Don't think about the things which might have been
--"Think Of Me", PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Eventually I saw Phantom on its first run at the Pantages in Toronto. High school graduation gift from my parents. Went with my then-girlfriend, Lynne. SECOND ROW seats. The chandelier damn near decapitated us at the end of Act 1. Confession: that was and remains the only time in my life that I was with somebody and fervently wished she were someone else. Phantom was a Darlene-thing, not a Lynne-thing. Lynne didn't even really like musicals, I don't think.

University brought my room-mate and lifelong friend Jason, who shares my love of musicals. He introduced me to a lot more Lloyd-Webber (including the one I'm EVENTUALLY going to highlight here). Also a little-known musical called CHESS (lyrics by Tim Rice, Lloyd-Webber's usual librettist, music by the male half of ABBA). You've almost certainly never heard of this one, but if you're of a certain age I guarantee you've heard the song that starts Act II, a mega-hit called One Night In Bangkok.

CHESS is probably still my favourite musical. There are several snippets of lyric in it that felt, at various times in my life, as if I might have written them specifically for myself. Starting when my relationship with Lynne went kablooie:

What's going on around me
Is barely making sense
I need some explanations fast
I see my present partner
In the imperfect tense
And I don't see how we can last
I feel I need a change of cast
Maybe I'm on nobody's side....
"Nobody's On Nobody's Side", CHESS

At intervals even now, this one recurs:

Now I'm where I want to be and who I want to be and doing what I always said I would and yet I feel I haven't won at all
Running for my life and never looking back in case there's someone right behind to shoot me down and say he always knew I'd fall
When the crazy wheel slows down
Where will I be?
Back where I started
"Where I Want To Be", CHESS

Or how about:

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally
Perfect situations must go wrong
But this has never yet prevented me
Wanting far too much for far too long
Looking back, I could have played it differently
Won a few more moments, who can tell
But it took time to understand the man
Now at least I know I know him well...
"I Know Him So Well", CHESS

Yeah. Change the gender up and I've lived that. That whole bloody song. "But in the end (she) needs a little bit more than me/more security"...

I could just keep linking CHESS lyrics all day along--there an entire song that moves in and out of the libretto with each new production which I consider to be one of the saddest, most beautiful songs ever written--but I haven't even approached what I'm going to write about today and have probably lost half my readers already.

The musicals continued. I have related before how Lynne and I went to see Les Miserables, how I bawled and she remained steely-eyed throughout. My contention is tht if you can see that production and NOT cry, you are in fact dead and don't know it. Incidentally, Eva and I will be seeing it next week at the Grand Theatre in London. It's this year's High School Musical project (last year's was The Addams Fanily and it was far better than I'd thought it would be; any chance to hear Craig playing, I leap at).

I've also seen The Pirates of Penzance and Cabaret, both enlivened with my friend's trumpet. And of course, The Book Of Mormon, a couple of years ago, still among the funniest things I've ever heard. On my bucket list are Rent, Titanic and doubtless a bunch more to come, but I'm open to anything.

One of the musicals I have NOT seen, but DO have memorized, is probably Lloyd-Webber's least known. You probably know that along with Phantom, he wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Evita and a few others, but I'm betting you've never heard of Tell Me On A Sunday.

Tell Me On A Sunday is the "song' half of SONG AND DANCE. The 'dance' half is something called Variations, a set of, ahem, variations of Paganini's 24th Caprice, here performed on cello by Julian Lloyd-Webber, the composer's son.

I could write forever on this. I own no few than five different sets of variations on the 24th Caprice (Rachmaninov, Brahms, Lutoslawski, Hamelin, Lloyd-Webber) and am composing my own. It's an extremely well-known classical piece that (for me, at least) isn't well known enough. To me it's like Pachelbel's Canon--endlessly malleable in the right compositional hands--except I never did like the Canon and its overplay hasn't improved it.

When Rachmaninov finished his 18th variation, he knew he had a hit. "This one", he wrote, "is for my agent". The 18th variation is by far the best known of Rachmaninov's set and is often included on compilation albums by itself, something I've always considered a travesty.

Lloyd-Webber's echo of this is a freaking GORGEOUS piece. He must have known he had a hit, too, because it shows up in both 'Song'  (Unexpected Song) and 'Dance' (5th variation).

'Tell Me On A Sunday' is a remarkable and demanding one-woman show. The female character is deeply, deeply flawed, and unable to learn from repeated mistakes in love. She would seem like a caricature but for the fact I've known more than one woman just like her.

Emma defines herself entirely in relation to whatever man she's with at the time. She's incapable of being alone and a series of men see this and batten on her, something she mistakes for eternal love. After each failed relationship, she rationalizes 'it's not the end of the world' and proceeds to the next, eventually ending up with one who's married to someone else. This being a traditional show, that doesn't end well, either...but she finally seems to grasp that her final reinvention must be for her and not for some him. 

One of the breakup songs in this musical extravaganza has always stuck with me, and it's my song of the day today. It's the title song,
Tell Me On A Sunday. Please listen to this, it's a powerhouse.

What a stunning, emotional performance. And thirty five years on, when people routinely get dumped by text, the lyrics to this pack a punch:

Don't write a letter when you want to leave
Don't call me at 3 am from a friend's apartment. 
I'd like to choose how I hear the news. 
Take me to a park that's covered with trees. 
Tell me on a Sunday please. 

Let me down easy, no big song and dance. 
No long faces, no long looks, no deep conversation. 
I know the way we should spend that day.
Take me to a zoo that's got chimpanzees.
Tell me on a Sunday please.

Don't want to know who's to blame, it won't help knowing. 
Don't want to fight day and night -- bad enough you're going. 
Don't leave in silence with no words at all. 
Don't get drunk and slam the door, that's no way to end this, 
I know how I want you to say goodbye. 
Find a circus ring with a flying trapeze.
Tell me on a Sunday please. 

I don't want to fight day and night -- bad enough you're going. 
Don't leave in silence with no word at all. 
Don't get drunk and slam the door, that's no way to end this.
I know how I want you to say goodbye. 
Don't run off in the pouring rain.
Don't call me as they call your plane. 
Take the hurt out of all the pain. 
Take me to a park that's covered with trees. 
Tell me on a Sunday please.

11 September, 2016

Who Do You Love MORE?

There is an absolute plague of supposedly just-for-fun apps on Facebook purporting to tell you things like who your soulmate is, who your eleven most important friends are, what your greatest flaw is, who plays what role in your 'gang'...silly little things. You click on them, they say something like "analyzing profile....calculating results" to make it look like analyzing and calculating is going on...and then they present you with an answer in the form of either the person who 'likes' things in your feed most often, or someone chosen at random. Retests usually prove one or the other.
They're silly, they're fun (sometimes)...and I usually don't post their results, because those results are often...awkward. Sometimes hilariously so, sometimes just...awkward. One of my cousins used to like and comment on practically everything I'd put on my timeline, so for a while she was my "next great love" and "the other half of my heart". Cassidy, I love you, but I'm not your Kenny.

And "eleven best friends"? Now, I have more, and better, friends than I ever would have imagined years ago. But I've never, ever, ranked them.

The idea of ranking a friendship, or a love, has always struck me as offensive. "Who do you love MORE?" It's another question you get from confused monogamous people who think if you have more than one love in your life, you must have them arranged hierarchically and some of them must mean less.

No. There is no "more" and no "less".

Kimchi Cuddles is a cartoonist I've showcased here before. She can get a bit lecture-y, but her heart is in the right places. Her most recent effort does a nice succinct job of explaining how I love.


Big deal, you're thinking. That's just another way of ranking: some people in the inner circle, some in the outer, most people not in any of the circles.  Smartass.

Let's note some things. 

One, there are people, plural, at Kimchi's centre. There are at mine as well. 

This is probably the hardest thing for mono people to understand. I'm told I can't possibly be committed to any 'extraneous' people. This is easy to refute: are you committed to more than one friendship? Yes? So am I.

So why not just call them 'friends', then?

Because they're more than that. I have three people I call 'loves'. Not to their face (and sorry for the confusion here)--"love" as a term of endearment is always and forever reserved for Eva and I. I will hastily correct anyone else using that term on me, and will never use it on anyone else.  But there are other terms of endearment, and each one kindles a different warm glow in my heart. Besides "love" from Eva--(I only get 'Ken' from her when I'm in trouble), I get called 'Ken-Ken' on occasion by one of my loves and 'big guy' by the other. 

I call them loves because they're not lovers. Well, by my lights they are, but that's because I insist on using a strictly literal interpretation of "lover" that NOBODY ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD USES. A "lover", as far as I am concerned, is "one who loves", in ther same way that a runner is one who runs and a hammer is something that hams. But since that is SO easily misconstrued, I'll settle for "loves". 

I think there's been maybe three months in my entire life when there's only been one love. Sometimes zero, but when there's one, others follow in short order.

Two, THEY PLACE THEMSELVES THERE. I don't. 

They do this of their own volition, through their own actions. Some people have moved to the center of my life, and some have moved outwards; a couple have moved out so far I no longer have contact with them (I still love them, mind). 

That drifting in and (well, no, just) out is hard on me, I won't lie. But it's probably the most critical part of love as I believe in it. Love is freedom, not possessiveness. I have no claims on any of my loves. 

That's another thing that's hard for your average monogamist to understand. How can I not have a claim on Eva, for instance? She's my beloved wife of sixteen years next month.  Yes, she is, and I am just as surely her beloved husband. That's precisely why I don't have a claim on her. To me, a claim is an obligation, beset with expectation. Our love for each other is freely exchanged, no obligations involved. It is, in other words, an act of continuing choice.
This, of course, does NOT mean I'm free to act in any old harmful way I choose, to Eva or anyone else. Well, I suppose I am, but that would mean shoving myself forcefully out from her centre, and that's something I can't imagine doing. 

Ditto the other people whose centre I occupy or will occupy in the future.

Three, the people in, say, that second circle are no less important than the ones at the centre. Nor are the people in the outer ring. 

I have lots of people in that outer ring. I may hardly ever see them. I can think of several I've met once or twice.. Those people will still get heartfelt "I-love-yous" from me, and my love for them is just as deep while I'm in their presence, real or virtual. There's actually someone I've never met and almost certainly never will whom I love dearly and deeply.) It's just that I'm not in their presence, real or virtual, very often. 

EACH RELATIONSHIP SEEKS AND FINDS ITS OWN LEVEL. 

Now, since apparently I write about sex all the time, I'll confront that here.

You simply CAN NOT correlate my level of sexual desire for any given person on their closeness to the centre. Don't bother trying. There are people towards my center for whom I have very little physical desire. Doesn't lessen my love for them one bit. There are outer-ring people I wish I could spend a night or a weekend with. (Here's where I reiterate, to save you that "is he talking about me" alarm: if you're are in a COMMITTED, MONOGAMOUS relationship...wishing is as far as he gets.) 

Who do I love more? Nobody. I love all of you, as fully and completely as I can and you'll allow, while I'm with you.


10 September, 2016

Suicide

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I have never attempted suicide. I idly thought about it as a teenager and came very close to attempting early last year, but I didn't go through with the attempt. I do, however, have more of an intimate history with suicide than I'd prefer to have.

David Foster Wallace, a writer who ended his own life, had this to say on the subject of suicide:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

People who feel that "terror way beyond falling" seem to come to me to express it. Eight so far. That doesn't even count my mother, who never told me she was intending to kill herself before she left the house and attempted just that. That would have been 1987, I think, maybe '88, and my stepfather went out and found her before she actually suicided. That was the first time I ever saw him cry; the second was after she died in a fire in November of last year.
My mom and I never talked about that darkest of nights for her. Part of me remained angry at her for years because she didn't come to me beforehand. Another part felt enormously guilty. I had just taken an entire week of classes on suicide, the signs and signals and what to do and say with someone who was suicidal.

I had just taken that unit and blithely come home every day and not noticed ANYTHING unusual about my mom. In hindsight--or rather, hindsight decades removed--I should have. The thing I recall most clearly even now was that in what would have been my last time seeing her, she said she loved me three times and asked me if I understood that. It felt odd, strangely final, and yet it didn't twig any of my freshly implanted suicide sensors.

I've never shared this publicly.  Two people in my current life know about it. I've chosen to share it today because of what I'm about to say next.

Shortly after my stepdad rescued my mom...it couldn't have been more than two weeks...a girl in grade thirteen, somebody I didn't know at all, had never even seen, cornered me in a hallway at lunch and told me she was going to kill herself.
Why she chose to tell me this, a kid in grade nine she'd never seen before, is a complete mystery. Nobody in MY class was talking to me that year. But once she did it, she set something in me in motion. I had missed the signs with my mother. Here was a clear-cut sign thrust in my face: I had to engage.

And so I did. She told me her life's story in bullet point form, and it was awful. Her pain was a palpable thing and it sent daggers into my gut and got me crying. I still remember her drawing back for a second, gazing at me with something like wonder...and then all her inner dams burst and I hugged her as best I could. She soaked my shirt with her tears, eventually snuffled herself under a semblance of control, and I gathered myself together and started grilling her. Had she chosen a method? (She had.) Did she have the means available to kill herself? (Yes). When was she going to kill herself? (Tonight.) Had she written a note, did she care who found her.

This is where I panicked and did precisely the wrong thing. And I knew it was wrong and still did it. If somebody has a method and a time and a place, and they have the equipment handy, the risk is extremely high...much higher than a barely trained minor niner should have been handling on his own. I should have found a teacher. I should have called 911 -- but this was before the age of cellphones, and there were no teachers around, and this unknown girl had chosen me, for whatever reason. I felt like I couldn't run away from her.

So I asked her what she wanted me to do with what she told me. I asked her for her phone number (the first time I'd ever done that with a girl, and needless to say not under the pretences I would have preferred). She actually gave it to me, which lent even more of an air of unreality to the very real situation we were in.)
 I was going to use it to call her family and make sure she wasn't left alone. Then, as if waking from a dream, she thanked me for listening to her and started to walk away.

"Wait", I called, desperately. "I don't even know your name, but wait."

"You don't need to know my name," she said. "After tonight I won't have one anymore."

"No!", I almost shouted. "You have a name, you're important, you're loved, and the way you're feeling now will CHANGE!"

She stopped. I still don't know why, but she stopped. Turned. Smiled the most ghastly smile I've ever seen to this day. "I doubt it", she said.

"Tomorrow." I said, "I want you to come see me. Same time, tomorrow. We'll talk some more. I care, damnit. TOMORROW."

That night, I called the number she had given me several times. Nobody ever picked up. It just rang and rang. And I felt more and more dread. I barely slept that night.

But she was there the next day at lunch. I saw her and ran to her and said "you still have a name, and I want to know what it is."

"Karen," she said. Then she told me that she hadn't gone home until late the night before, and she was going to kill herself but decided not to, at least not yet. I had the little pamphlet we'd been given in the suicide prevention unit, and I  handed it to her. It had numbers to call if you were thinking about killing yourself.  The girl -- Karen --  looked at it, looked at me, and said "where did you get this?"

"I brought it from home," I told her, and mentioned the unit we'd just taken on suicide maybe a month before. "I was hoping you'd be here so I could give it to you."

"Thank you," she said. "I don't know why I picked you to come to yesterday, but I'm glad I did."

My heart sang.

_________
This is where I tell you Karen and I became fast friends and still talk today. Except that would be a lie. I never saw Karen again. I do know, however, that she graduated that year with her class. I checked. I went through all the Karens in the yearbook until I found her picture. Seeing it, something in me relaxed, a breath I'd been holding for months escaped me, and I felt better.

Until the next time.

Karen was only the first woman -- they've all been women -- to come to me and tell me she was thinking of killing/going to kill herself. There have been seven others.

Seven.

I lost one of them. I won't write that here...I can't. I just can't.  I carry that with me every day, wondering if I said something wrong that pushed her over instead of pulling her back. I'm not going to take credit for the other six, any more than I feel I should take credit for Karen. I did what I could, what I've been taught to do and what I've taught myself to do, but it's only what anyone would do if they knew. So--

TALK ABOUT IT. DIRECTLY. If somebody comes to you saying that they are thinking about suicide, THINK ABOUT SUICIDE right along with them. Get right in their head. Find out what, where, when, and most notably HOW. Don't shy away from it like it scares you.
LISTEN. DON'T JUDGE. STAY CALM. The would-be suicide feels judged enough already--by herself.  He needs an ear and he needs support. What you say is important, but not nearly as important as how you say it. Your own emotional distress at what you're hearing will simply pile onto what's already unbearable, so don't show any.
BE HOPEFUL, BUT NOT CHEERY. You're going for an ironclad conviction that things will get better. You may not feel that conviction yourself, but you know something? It's all right in the end. If it's not all right...it's not the end." The line is Paulho Coelho's", popularly and falsely attributed to John Lennon. I firmly believe it.
HELP IS CLOSE BY.  Here are numbers for the various distress centers  and hotlines in Canada. 911 will also work; so will 1-800-273-TALK.  Text START to 741-741. There are lots of total strangers out there willing to talk.

I never knew Karen for longer than an hour (even though I got to hear details of her life I don't think anybody else knew). I did, or do, know, and love, the other seven, to varying degrees. And including the one that did commit suicide, all seven of those women were/are treasures. Treasures who had convinced themselves they were worthless. It's horrifying, how often this happens.

It's World Suicide Prevention Day. The need will still be there tomorrow.


09 September, 2016

Hospital Visit

I woke up Wednesday morning, glanced over at the clock, and froze.

5:03

My alarm is set for 4:30.  That's much more time than I strictly speaking need to get ready to go to work: I don't leave until 6:00. But I like to take my time. There's nobody online to chat with at that hour (believe me, eighteen months of straight nights has gifted me with an intricate knowledge of the sleeping and waking habits of Facebook friends)...but there is news to read from various places, coffee (sometimes pluralized) to drink, breakfast to consume, and all of that is after I shower and dress in the dark.

So 5:03 was the first wrong thing. Would that it had been the last.

I lay there for a moment, trying to translate 5:03 into how much time I really had. Did I have to skip my shower? Quick brush of my face, which proved raspy and scruffy enough that the answer had to be "no".

And that's when the trouble started.

I sat up and immediately wished I hadn't. The room wobbled and spun. What the hell?

Gingerly, I pulled myself to my feet. The room pulled itself in some other direction. I stagger-stepped out to  the bathroom, just a couple of steps outside our bedroom, willing everything to just stop MOVING...surely this would pass.

In the shower now, and getting woozier and woozier. I suddenly realized if I didn't do something I was going to f jump cut I'm on my knees. The shower is off but the bathtub tap is running full blast. I have two imperatives running through my addled head: I must shave and I must not stand up.

Reach up, pull the shaving cream down from its place in the shower caddy. Reach back, almost falling backwards, grab blade. Apply cream, run blade in what I frankly don't care are not even remotely sane patterns over my face. Do this long enough and I'll get...most of this scruff.
Fuck, I'm dizzy.

Turn shower off. Somehow worm body around so I'm sitting on the tub, blankly noticing the curtain wasn't closed properly, hoping I haven't flooded anything, then suddenly hoping I have because water is less hard than floor from the height I'm about to fall int jump cut I'm in the bedroom with absolutely no recollection of how I got here.  Sitting on the bed, pulling on work clothes that were (luckily) laid out the night before. The dizziness seems to be abating somewhat stand up to pull pants up no it doesn't fall backwards. Spinning. Wrongness.

It fades and -- v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y -- I start the trek downstairs, one runner the stairs time step down pull other foot down, gripping railing clenching other wall stairs insist running themselves sideways until I get a rush of brains to the head and close my eyes.

Downstairs, on autopilot with most of its guidance systems askew, I have made a coffee. I am sitting in front of the computer, drinking. I have no time for breakfast now but I'm also too nauseous to think about breakfast, so I don't. At least now everything is obligingly staying still. If it stays like this I can work today which is good because I have stuff to learn and stuff to prove I've learned and besides, Walmart doesn't pay sick pay for the first day, unlike every place I have ever worked--

noise

Eva is downstairs. This is not normal, she doesn't get up until at least seven, after I've gone. I turn my head and the room turns the other way fuck.
Explaining to her that I  don't want to go to the hospital. I have been to the hospital and at the hospital you sit and you wait all day and all night and then they give you a pill that's maybe one notch above what's here already and that's what hospitals do.  But no, I can't ride a bike like this. So yes, I will accept a ride in to work, without the argument I customarily put up (not driving means you're imposing any time you need somebody to take you somewhere and I really don't like imposing). But today I will impose. I will get up and yawn jump cut "I think I need to go to the hospital".

Memo to self, marked High Priority: DO NOT YAWN. Yawning causes the room to spin and weave in and out of reality.

Eva has found information online claiming the expected wait time at Grand River Hospital is one hour. This is clearly bullshit of the purest ray serene: one of the last times we were here the wait was actually SEVEN hours before Eva was even looked at (and another eight hours until she was released). But it's finally dawning on me that work is simply not an option today. One of my loves is online fifteen minutes earlier than her normal wake-up time. A quick texted conversation and now I have two people worried about me.

I have managed to call in, a scant half hour before my shift was to start. Even calling in there is difficult because they never pick up the damn phone. It took four tries, but I've called in.

The trip in is NOT PLEASANT. I keep my eyes closed for most of it and will myself not to throw up. Eva has retrieved a wheelchair and I'm being wheeled bump bump herk to the triage, where I am assessed immediately and sent to begin the long wait.

That turns out to be twenty minutes long. I'm in one of those embarrassing hospital johnnies, laying back on the bed. Everything is still moving. The lights are hellishly bright. I'm getting a headache on top of it all.  They have taped a bunch of leads to me, taken my blood pressure several times, and ruled out a stroke. (!) A doctor comes in and does some vision and head balancing tests which I flunk most spectacularly.

I have something called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. I like the benign right in the name. This, I'm told, is the doing of a stonelike deposit in my left inner ear. I am given a Gravol injection and some pills, and Eva pays $20 for a note granting me three days off work. They tell me that this is good because I'll also have the weekend to recover (assuming, as most people unthinkingly do, that I don't work retail). As it so happens I do work retail, but don't work weekends.

I am in and out of the hospital in seventy minutes flat. This is some kind of medical miracle. The nurses and doctor have been unanimously friendly. This is a hospital experience I would recommend, were it not for the crazy vertigo that landed me in it. We are en route to where I'm supposed to be working right now to drop off my doctor's note (Eva does this while I fret in the car) and pick up my prescription (ditto)

The Gravol shot knocks me out. The pills -- betahistine, they're called -- do the same thing. I spend most of Wednesday asleep. Eva is working from home in case I need her. I love my wife.

Thank you, love, for taking me in, for holding me up, for (literally, this time) being my port in a storm. Thank you to everyone who has checked in on me. I'm on the mend. Each day has been a little bit better, with fewer and fewer dizzy spells. Today I've had four, the worst being when I woke up and got out of bed.  I should be all clear by Monday...back to my standard level of dizziness.

02 September, 2016

Reflections On A Week of Days

Wow, that week went by pretty quickly.

I am off until Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. This is the first long weekend I've had off in a year and a half; Labour Day will be the first holiday I'm not scheduled for since I started here. And I asked to work Monday (actually Sunday night). It's the money: at time and a half I still make less than I made...wow, a little more than two years ago now. Time is elastic.

Witness my mornings. They go by in a blur: cull and face my department, reduce product, see what I need to stock, check off what came in and get it on carts to come out or shelves in the cooler if I don't need it, and fill the shelves. You put it in one sentence like that, it doesn't look like a lot of work.

It can be. Today the order filled the cooler such that I couldn't even move in there. My fresh meat was two pallets, each taller than I am. My full-time deli girl, who has been tasked with training her boss, was actually impressed with me today. She said she wouldn't have got the order processed as quickly as I did. (I think she's lying -- she's good -- but it felt really good to hear, anyway).

It's a far cry from how I'm sure she felt on Monday.

Reducing product: the reduced stickers are perforated in three places. Between stickers (obviously); horizontally between the reduced price and the bar code; and INEXPLICABLY vertically in the exact middle of that bar code. I made a complete ass of myself trying to peel those stickers on Monday. They'd rip and tear and at least half the time the barcode would rip down the center, forcing me to place that code in two pieces very carefully. All of this at half the speed of smell.
Each day I got a little better. I still have the odd bar code rip, but now at least I've mastered peeling the damned stickers.

The simplest physical tasks can prove daunting to me if I've never done them. I'm not one of those people who can look at anything and determine how it fits together, or what I'm supposed to do with it. But...practice practice practice.

Yeah, my mornings fly. I look up and it's break time; I look up again and it's lunch time. My lunch is supposed to be 11-noon, or something like that, and I love that, because my afternoons are so short.

They miss me on nights. I share a freezer with grocery and...yikes.

Part of me misses nights too, to be honest. A small part. I saw more of Eva when I worked nights (through the week, at least): she gets home from work not long before I go to bed, and I'm gone by the time she wakes up in the morning. There's also the quietness of the store (though it's nice to interact with customers again, I've missed that).

The strangest things come to mind as for differences. Riding TO work isn't much different at 6:00 a.m. than at 10:00 p.m., at least this time of year. Riding home, however, there is a TON more traffic...and it's MUCH windier. Every day. It takes effort to pedal. You don't have that problem at night.

Winter may be interesting. The busses don't run quite early enough to get me to work on time. It's a 45 minute walk on bare and dry pavement.  I can just picture the night of a heavy snowfall...I'll be up at something like 3:00 a.m. to get the driveway shovelled. Best not think of that. The price you pay when you don't drive.

The job itself is...I'm enjoying it. I want to know a LOT more than I do. I want to fix a myriad of problems, and I know that I have to curtail that part of me because (a) I only have so much time in the day and (b) fixing problems there is a slow, unbelievably ponderous process. One thing at a time, one day at a time. A little bit better every day. That's my goal.

But that's for Tuesday. Right now it's the weekend. And I'm going to have one.








28 August, 2016

Meating The Dawn

I'm excited.

A bit of trepidation, to be sure, but mostly excitement. Tomorrow as of 7:00 a.m. my professional title will have the word "manager" in it for the first time ever.

I've been a "co-ordinator" and an "operator" and an "in-store trainer" and a "senior sales associate" and a few other things that said "manager" without saying "manager".  I've led teams, assessed productivity, won contests for both sales and merchandising, mentored troubled kids (by far the most rewarding part of my career so far)...and when it comes to dairy and frozen foods, I've seen and done it all at this point. Even as an overnight stocker where I am now, I'm in dairy/frozen nine nights out of ten. I have been out of my comfort zone fairly often, and that's a literal as well as figurative comfort zone. I'm perfectly happy in the cooler or even the freezer clad in nothing but a T-shirt (okay, pants, too, smartass) ...as long as I am moving. Put me anywhere else and I'll sweat myself silly in short order.

I'm grateful to say that my new job still involves coolers and freezers.

I am, as of tomorrow at 7:00, the meat department manager.

I know my frozen inventory like the back of my hand already; I've been stocking it and building displays with it for the past sixteen months. The refrigerated stuff--well, some of it comes in on the dairy truck, so I've seen the packaging but never stocked it; the rest of it  (to my knowledge) comes in on the produce truck at 3:30 in the morning and so I've dragged scores of skids the three and a half miles from receiving to "my" cooler.

But of course knowing the inventory is, instead of being all I need to know, suddenly and once again, the very first step. Now I have to familiarize myself with sales patterns;  ensure that we have what we need when we need it; grow sales and reduce shrink; and manage a team to do what I do. All things I have years and years of experience doing. Just not here and not with (some of) these products.

I'm excited. I'm going to grab this and RUN with it.

I don't know my schedule for sure, and won't disclose all I've been told. I can say that at this point it looks like straight days.

Days, as in, not nights. No more graveyard shifts.

I can't even remember what that's like at this point. I've been working nothing but nights since April 1, 2015. My struggles with this schedule have been well, probably too-well, documented here in this Breadbin....for the longest time, I felt utterly removed from the world at large. Eventually -- relatively recently -- I started pushing myself on weekends (I've inexplicably been getting Saturdays at 7am to Mondays at 11pm off for the past eight months or so)....staying up and living on catnaps. I got used to it. There are things that could be said here. I'll settle for: now I know how you parents of newborns do it. A newborn entering your life is something like being hit by lightning, isn't it?  A lot of energy in a lightning bolt.

Last night was the first night I slept with--I mean s-l-e-p-t, not the euphemism you automatically thought of--Eva for an entire night in SIXTEEN MONTHS. I'd often go to bed with her and get up as soon as she fell asleep; even more often I'd just tuck her in, bedtime for her being the equivalent of ten in the morning for me. And last night, let me tell you, I SLEPT. I'd worked Friday night, and forced myself to stay awake through a day that was by turns intensely rewarding and physically and emotionally draining.  I woke up once at 2:14 a.m just long enough to tell the clock to go play with its digits and then blinked and it was almost 8 in the morning.

I'm sorry. I know you don't care. I do. People are supposed to sleep at night. At least people like me. I'm a natural lark--once I've flipped for sure, getting up at 4:30 for a 6:30 shift is going to seem like the most natural thing in the world for me.

It will, however, mean adjusting my routines. By now I'm used to tucking people in and gently waking them up, textually. I'll be hitting the hay early once again and will be on my way out the door precisely at wake-up time. Ah, well, wasn't I the man who needed to be shown that his friendships were more than virtual? The computer is a crutch. I don't need it to walk my path. I hope.


------

I want to thank the people I've worked with over the past sixteen months. Many of the ones who really made work worth going to have since moved on (hi Jason! Dwayne! Glitch! Ferda! Carolyn!) Others are still there, and at least I will see them at the tail ends of their days. A special thank-you to Gloria...who understood.

All in all, this is going to be a very good thing for me. I'd steak my  watch and warrant on it. It's been a loin time coming.

Up and at 'em, Ken! Chop-chop!