13 May, 2017

The Teddy Bears' Picnic

I'm not going to say I was dragged. I didn't even go under protest. But I can tell you I did go mostly for form's sake.

It was my five year old  niece Alexa's very first dance recital today. I was really looking forward to seeing her dance -- don't let anyone suggest I wasn't. This may sound cold, uncaring, distinctly un-Ken-like...but I wasn't really looking forward to seeing anyone else dance. Even though this was, in my mind, a little thing involving, what? Ten? Maybe twenty students and an audience of three times that, tops?

It was probably a good thing I didn't ask Eva for details before we left. She would have told me this recital was being held not in a small dance studio, but in the gymnasium of Stratford's Northwestern Secondary School, the school Eva herself attended once upon a time. That gymnasium is positively cavernous, with capacious balconies on two sides of it, and mirroring the parking lot outside, it was absolutely PACKED. Striding across that darkened gym with program in hand, the scale of this enterprise kept ratcheting itself upwards.

I opened the program in the gloom and some things became clear.
One, this was being put on by the On Stage Dance Studio, and was indeed much, much larger than I had anticipated. It was also multidisciplinary. Alexa is in a program called 'Dancin' Kids"; there's ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip-hop...it seemed like everything short of Morris dancing was part of this program. WELL over a hundred performers in a myriad of troupes. Thirty-eight (38!) dance numbers. And the first one lasted twenty minutes. We came in the nick of time and had to search for a parking spot...it was standing room only by the time we got in there. I did some quick math in my head.  Even cutting the rest of the acts to ten minutes apiece, carry the eleven I'm going to be standing here for SIX HOURS.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to find Alexa's name on the program. It refuses to be found, at first, and then there she is #14 in the first act.

Better settle in. As much as one can while standing.

It dawned that me, of all people, shouldn't poo-poo dancing overmuch, because dancing comes with music. The entire program was called "The Great Outdoors", and each number was themed around something outdoorsy. Almost every genre of music imaginable, and dance to suit. Of course the primary attraction for something this would be aural, for me...and yet it took all of a number and a half before my eyes joined the party.

Impressive. Highly impressive, even before Alexa came out.

Please note--no photos allowed, no video allowed. They did, apparently, film the entire production, to be made available as a download at some future date. I will have to resort to word-pictures.

The choreography was intricate and, to my novice eye, flawless in number after number. I noted the presence and excellence of not one but several women who could be described, unabashedly, as "plus-sized"...and a like number of women who were quite tall. I know from reading this that the latter is almost as much of a stigma in dance as the former.

The other thing that impressed me -- maybe it shouldn't have, but it did -- was the instructors. They joined their charges on stage for every single number. That had to be tiring.

At one point the "Macho Outdoorsmen" strutted out to the tune of "Macho Man"...and both Eva and I wondered where they had managed to find an entire troupe of boys. Turns out they weren't. Boys, I mean. All but one (or possibly as many as three of the nine performers, allowing for unisex names) were female, but padded and performing so convincingly as males that it utterly fooled us.

Okay, yeah, I was enjoying the music, which veered all over the place from the Carpenters to Pitbull to Hans Zimmer. And marvelling, as I watched the action, at just how much of my mind is taken up with song lyrics. A number called 'Letters from Summer Camp' came up, accompanied by this old chestnut, which I haven't heard in years and years and years. But which, as it turns out, I still have memorized.

These are amazing dancers. Much, much better than I could ever be...I used to joke in high school that I dance like a rusty robot. I don't lack for courage to perform in public, even knowing how bad I am...at high school dances I would clear a space and gyrate wildly all over it, looking not so much like a dancer as a combination epileptic/Parkinson's sufferer...because by high school I had learned the magic necessary to turn malice into mirth. To wit, if you do something so deliberately over-the-top as to make it obvious you're laughing at yourself, very few people will laugh at you. They'll laugh with you, instead.

But I doubt I could summon even a thimble full of the grace I'm watching here. Even the frantic and frenetic is composed and smooth.  There was no pause between numbers. One act would be coming on stage left as another exited stage right, and everything was bopping along at a crazy pace, after that first, extended opening number.

The number before Alexa's was called 'The Weather Girls", a medley of "Winter Wonderland", "Heat Wave", and "It's Raining Men". That last morphed into what sounded for all the world like the initial flourish of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"  (the telltale first iteration of the theme was buried by crowd noise). In the space of half a second, I thought

they're not really going to have five year old girls dance to THIS, are they?
this really does fit with the campy disco thing established by 'It's Raining Men', though
which one is she? can't tell from way back here

and the music resolved into a much more appropriate song for five-year old girls, and in fact the first recording I ever heard of the tune...Anne Murray singing The Teddy Bears' Picnic.

And out she came with seventeen others, Alexa, all pink and sparkling and dancing. Not just following the routine, either, but actively helping the girls around her follow, too. I was so proud of her, pirouetting and stepping right on every cue.

Five years old, and living up to her middle name.

There were a few acts after hers before the intermission. Had we been able to secure seats, I might well have stayed for the second half, despite nobody I know dancing in it. That was thoroughly enjoyable and I eagerly await watching my niece dance again.

Picture snapped by Eva afterwards, as we presented the tiny dancer with a well-deserved bouquet:

We love you, Alexa Grace.

10 May, 2017

"The Feminization of Everything"

Robert A. Heinlein, the first Grand Master of science fiction and the quintessential Man's Man,  once suggested that we ought to disenfranchise men for a while and see how that works out. His reasoning was that (a) men had disenfranchised women for far longer; (b) he felt our society had suffered for it; and (c) women, generally speaking, tend to have a longer view -- and a more gentle one.
There are, of course, numerous exceptions to that general rule. And oddly enough, many of them seem to end up in politics: Margaret Thatcher; Hillary Clinton; Sarah Palin; Marine Le Pen...all of the, to one degree or another, have gotten to where they are by imitating the worst behaviours and thought processes of men.

George Carlin, the renowned comic and social satirist, had this to say on feminism:

I happen to agree with most of the feminist philosophy I have read.

I agree, for instance, that for the most part, men are vain, ignorant, greedy, brutal assholes who've just about ruined this planet...because they're afraid someone might have a bigger dick out there somewhere...

I also happen to like it when feminists attack these fat-ass housewives who think there's nothing more to life that sitting home on the telephone, drinking coffee, watching TV and pumping out a baby every nine months. P-poom, p-poom, p-poom, p-poom, p-poom...will seven be enough Bob? ...p-poom, p-poom. 

But what's the alternative? What's the alternative to pumping out a unit every nine months? Pointless careerism? Pointless careerism? Putting on a man-tailored suit with shoulder pads and imitating all the worst behavior of men? This is the noblest thing that women can think of? To take a job in a criminal corporation that's poisoning the environment and robbing customers out of their money? This is the worthiest thing they can think of? Isn't there something nobler they can do to be helping this planet heal?

There have been a number of columns in the National Review of late lamenting America's collective loss of masculinity. The latest one is right here, and I stewed about it for a while before writing this response.

Along with the Carlin and Heinlein above, you should bear in mind who's writing this. I have had my manhood questioned in pretty much every possible way since I was a little boy. I don't look feminine, but outside of a very few contexts I sure do act that way.

I am acutely aware I am speaking in stereotypes; most of my female friends -- who outnumber my male friends probably three or four to one -- are 'unconventional' women in some sense. Please do be aware that *I* am aware of the nuances here, and I'm also concerned about how best to portray the larger-than-you-think number of nonbinary folks out there in this. Ultimately, since gender is a social construct, people will exhibit traits from all over the spectrum, no matter what their biological sex is. Hell, even I get called a man every once in a blue moon.

I harbour a deep distrust of conventional masculinity. By and large that's because I don't understand it. What could possibly be the appeal in destroying things? Aggression is not something I comprehend, much less credit -- as French does in the linked article -- with 'creating and preserving civilization'. (?!) (To be fair, he calls it 'rightly channeled' aggression...what is that, exactly? Are there certain classes of people it's okay to punch? Are some objects meant to be broken? I'm clearly missing something.)
Risk-taking? I freely admit I don't do enough of that, but that's because I know my own shortcomings. Could I have done more to push myself and eliminate those? Certainly, but then again, it depends on the shortcoming. There's not a hell of a lot than can be done with my all-around shitty eyesight.
There are a lot of 'boy games' I didn't play at all as a child. Anything involving toy guns, for example. I don't understand killing people and don't see why I should have to pretend to do it. Do you? Is it because I'm a boy? Well, fuck that.

And no, I didn't play with dolls (excuse me, "action figures") very often, either. I did have a very respectable collection of Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Majorette and Corgi Jr. toy cars. I drove them sedately around the floors and carpets--never intentionally smashing them, because again, why would I pretend to do something that damaging?)

French repeatedly shows his misogyny, and his privilege (the former is always a function of the latter, I've found) repeatedly in this article. Noting an increasing imbalance of females to males in higher education, he asks,

When will there stop being a crisis for women on campus? When they reach two-thirds of the higher-education population? When three out of every four college grads are women? 

No, sir: there might be 99 females for every male on campus. and that crisis will continue so long as the lone remaining male feels it is his right to look down upon, subjugate, and occasionally rape the women around him. You know, because "masculinity". 

French talks about the dissolution of the family, which is a concern in many communities. The odd thing about that is that families tend to fall apart because men, ever so "masculine", feel the need to desert their families and go fuck the waitress at the truck stop one town over.

"Boys need dads", he says. No word as to whether girls do, too. Notice that?

I read between the lines in this article and I can't help seeing the same thing I see whenever I read something on the family written from a conservative perspective: the 1950s. Man as sole breadwinner, woman barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. You get the feeling French is pissed off that women have dared to usurp traditionally masculine roles, that they ought to "know their place".

There are no longer different paths for boys and girls but instead unique paths for special snowflakes, moans French. Funny, last I looked, he's an American, writing in an American publication. Isn't America that bastion of individualism where relying on other people for anything is communism? You'd think the idea of each person charting their own path would appeal to an American. Instead, we get this 'me Tarzan, you Jane' bullshit.

Adding to the feminized home is the feminized school, complete with its zero tolerance, mortal fear of anything remotely martial, and its relentless emphasis on compassion and nurturing--

OH, THE HORROR! COMPASSION! NURTURING! BEGONE, THOU SPAWN OF SATAN!

Yeah, you know what we had in schools before this scourge of compassion and nurturing? Bullies, the bullied, and the bystanders. Boys and girls both, by the way. We've come a long way since I could expect at least one highly unpleasant thing to happen to me each and every school day. We still have a long way to go.

Finally, and you can almost hear the wail (I'm sorry, the manly bellow):

Is it not possible to preserve masculinity while demonstrating compassion for those who don’t conform? Must we burn it all down?

Why, yes, Mr. French, we must. Do you know why? Because "masculinity" and "demonstrating compassion for those who do not conform" are almost...almost...mutually exclusive. I didn't conform. And it was always the manliest of the men who made repeated note of it, by means of punches, kicks, and assorted humiliation. The girls, tomboy or otherwise, never picked on me, not actively. Neither did the weak, 'feminine' boys: they were too busy being stomped right along with me. No, it was always the alpha males, the fine manly specimens. They tended to get all the girls, too--while girls never picked on me, they certainly did shun me.

While we're feminizing everything, let's not forget that we're granting women the right to be as 'masculine' as they wish. This is something French doesn't even mention in passing, because it destroys his argument that "everything" is being feminized.

Let's be who we are, as long as who you are isn't, you know, an asshole. If you're a boy and you want to play with dolls--even dolls that aren't action figures--you go right ahead. If you're a girl and you want to build snow forts and stunt ride your bike--go to. If you're somewhere between and you want to do *both*, or one or the other, or neither...it's YOUR life. Not mine. And CERTAINLY not David French's.



07 May, 2017

"True Intimacy"

I had somebody stomp all over my go-to analogy for polyamory. Both of them, actually. It left me floundering for a minute.

I saw an opportunity to educate some people -- quite a lot of people, actually, the audience for that particular forum is potentially in the tens of millions -- on polyamory when someone joked that they had a hard enough time maintaining one relationship, and anyone trying for more than that was 'out of their minds'. 

Somebody just called me crazy on the internet! Must respond!

I jumped in to say: "as a poly person who lives with his wife and her boyfriend, and who has a girlfriend, yes, it's challenging sometimes, but I'm not crazy, thank you. Giving and receiving abundant love is actually really quite amazing."

Right away I had to confirm what I just said. People really seem to have trouble grasping that I, a man, live with my wife and her other partner, who is also a man. I find this endlessly amusing, in part because I know the reaction would be completely different if Eva was bisexual and I lived with her and our mutual girlfriend. That's called "living the dream", right? Two women can share a man, that seems to be no problem (for men). Two men sharing a woman? That's unpossible. 

Quick point of terminology: This house, taken unto itself, is a V, with Eva as the hinge partner. In other words, Mark and I are not partners. This is not unheard of, but it's relatively rare. Many groups of three living under one roof seem to be MFF triads, where everyone is romantically/sexually involved with each other. Again, that is NOT us. 
But even some people who identify as poly have raised eyebrows when I've said we're an MFM vee. And for monogamous people it may as well be incomprehensible. 

That out of the way, I had to (also predictably) dispose with the 

"do you guys ever high-five?"

Um, no. Never. Opportunity to explain that it's not about sex, which proved an even higher hurdle to clear for some minds. 

Many polyamorous people themselves aren't helping matters much. It is an ENDLESS topic of discussion in any poly forum, sex is. Any assertion that the focus of poly AMOR y ought to be the AMOR, "love", is met with cries of 'sex-negative'. 

Which I am emphatically not. It's true I have a bugaboo about casual sex...for myself. And--something I've never explicitly stated, but which I believe to be true: it's not casual sex per se, it's casual ANYTHING. Anything involving people, anyway. I'm not
someone who objectifies people. I care too much to do that.

To be fair, the official definition of polyamory casts a very wide net:

Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there.

I still have trouble accepting this, for reasons that are mine alone. It's just that upon hearing I'm poly, IMMEDIATELY people think I'm looking for a quick shag. It drives me batshit crazy.

And this, this drove me--what's beyond batshit crazy? Humanshit crazy? Let's go for bluewhaleshit crazy:

Eh, whatever mental gymnastics you've performed to be able to think and say you're happy, I don't care. All that exists is this moment and more of one means less of another. If you call that love then fine, it's a wonderful drug either way. If the animal is hungry for something, it will seek it. Or the great Woody Allen film, "Whatever Works." We're all just killing time until time returns the favor.

I stared at that for a while, marvelling at the cynicism. Then responded:

Mental gymnastics? No. Just because you don't identify with something, doesn't mean it's not real for others. Love is NOT like money, despite being treated in just that way. Do you have more than one friend? Why? Isn't one friend enough? Doesn't having another friend diminish your affection for the first one? Or kids. You can't love two kids at once, right? Poly works the same way.

This is old ground for readers of this Breadbin, and I apologize. What's coming may be something that some of my readers have thought or said in response, but which I had never actually heard or seen before:

Yes, comparing true intimacy with the relationships you would have with a child or an acquaintance. Beautiful.

The level of "wrong" here is just off the charts.

First, let's review what an analogy even IS. If I make an analogy, say, by comparing polyamory to friendship or parenting, I am NOT suggesting the two things ARE THE SAME. I'm saying they are similar in one or more significant respects.

Beyond that, who gets to define 'true' intimacy, and what exactly is it? There are, after all, many forms, and the person who assumes there's only one -- sex -- is missing a LOT. I defy you to tell me that a healthy parent/child relationship is not intimate. And as for my friends, which have been minimized above to 'acquaintances'? I'm intimate with every single one of them, male and female both. That is, in fact, the definition of friendship for me. If you insist on thinking this means I'm sexual with a large number of people, I want you to go, now, and bang your head against a brick wall.

It is true that any partner of mine is, has to be, a friend first. That's called demisexuality, and it's a completely separate beast from polyamory. Complicating things even further, I'm not a typical demisexual, either. I need an emotional bond for a sexual bond to develop, but in my case that emotional bond can come on much stronger and faster than it can for many other demisexuals, who are closer to asexual on the spectrum. This lets me almost pass for 'normal' (in some respects) even though I know damn well I'm not.

My friends on Facebook rallied around me. A couple of them asked me why I bothered. Simple. People hate what they don't understand, and I do whatever I can to reduce the level of hatred in the world. Also, I am NOT the only polyamorous person out there. I'd venture to say that every single one of the people reading this right now knows a polyamorous person who is NOT me. Anything I can do to make polyamory slightly less threatening/incomprehensible will only rebound well on the next poly person you meet.

I'm still sticking with the friendship analogy; I think it's the best one to explain polyamory to people who have never heard of it before. Many -- by no means all, but many -- of the questions you have about polyamory you can answer yourself by substituting 'friend' for 'partner':

"How do you manage your time?"
"How come everybody isn't always jealous?"
"How do you decide which one you prefer?"
"How can you commit to more than one person?"
"How do you decide who to take to event X?"
"What if a person is upset they don't get to spend enough time with you?"
"What if you don't get to spend enough time with them?"
"What if they decide to go somewhere and don't invite you?"
"What if you can only invite one person and can't decide who to take?"

Note that many of these questions don't even come up with friendship. Or if they do, they pretty much answer themselves. Poly need not be much different.

Time management: Google Calendar and constant communication.

Jealousy: doesn't come up much within these walls, and where it does in my life I try to respond by recognizing it's my insecurity...and communication.

Which one I prefer? Okay, we'll go with that construction, as much as I hate it (no better or worse, just different). But I might prefer to take one partner somewhere when I know the other has zero interest in that place. Certain partners might enjoy certain activities more than others.

How do you commit to more than one person? How do you commit to more than one friend?

Event questions--who wants to go? Both/all? Maybe we all go together!

What if a person is upset they don't get to spend enough time with you? Or you're upset that you don't get to spend enough time with them? COMMUNICATION. Use you words. And recognize there are more than just the two of you involved. You don't always get what you want--which may well be a drawback of polyamory for some people. I'll freely admit I have trouble with this one.

If they decide to go somewhere and don't invite me? The only way that registers at all is if it happens to be one of those places I have expressed a serious interest in going to, with them. And even then, only if I'm told I won't get to experience that place with them. That would be pretty fucking inconsiderate, though...and my partners are NOT inconsiderate.

Can only invite one? In many cases, that means I don't go at all. Sorry (not sorry), but if you can't accept my family in toto, you're not accepting me.

04 May, 2017

"May The Fourth Be With You"

...because it isn't with me.

There are an astonishingly large number of cultural things of which I am either semi- or entirely ignorant. STAR WARS is one of the biggest of them. 

Not *the* biggest; that's probably the entire Marvel universe and everything else out of a comic book. I shunned comics when I was a kid, dismissing them as childish. You have to understand, I was "the man of the house" at five, a role I embraced with alacrity. I had no idea what it entailed, but I figured out what it didn't: kids' things. 
The unspoken reason I didn't bother with comic books is that, since they are primarily a visual medium, I didn't understand them. My eyesight was poor, yes. But as with my coordination, my ignorance of all things mechanical, and a myriad of other things that (whodathunkit?) turned out to be kind of important, I didn't do anything to address the issue. Why would I? There were better alternatives. In the case of comic books, the alternatives were, obviously, real books. Books with words I understood in place of pictures I didn't. There you go, little Kenny in a nutshell, denigrating anything he didn't understand. 

STAR WARS is not a childish thing. I would say that out loud everywhere, especially just outside the convention, while inwardly laughing at the people playing dress-up, I mean, seriously, come on, grow the f--

Ahem.

STAR WARS is not a childish thing. Indeed, I recognize I was too young (five) when I saw the first instalment (the trash compactor scene scared the ever-loving shit out of me). I was MUCH too young for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The political chatter bored the awake out of me. And I haven't bothered with any newer episodes. With each new one that comes out -- and is it me, or are they just making them to milk the cash cow now? -- the learning curve becomes steeper and steeper, and I become increasingly unlikely to ever bother. 

Which part of me recognizes as a shame. No, worse: I know, on some level, that I would love STAR WARS if I could somehow get all eleventy dozen movies osmosed into my head without, you know, the tedium of watching them. 

Why wouldn't I like STAR WARS? It ticks all my boxes: science fiction that's crafted to explore timeless themes; sprawling epic with endless reams of backstory to lose myself in; characters (I'm told) worth caring about; a hero's journey invoking the power of myth at every turn; it's almost as if Lucas created it thinking of the me I'd become

But. But two things, actually.

One: Outside of hockey, in which I've kidded myself I have a vested interest (go Leafs go, finally becoming something to be proud of again)...I don't watch television hardly at all. And I don't watch very many movies any more, either. Hollywood is obsessed with creating sequels, comic book movies, sequels of comic book movies, comic book movies, prequels to comic book movies,  comic book movies, and movies and sequels to movies (the Fast and the Furious endless series) that might as well be comic book movies...

It's a rare show or film that actually catches, let alone holds, my interest. Anything beaming out on me from a screen has to, after all, compete with my computer--on which I have access to damn near everything, not to mention nearly everyone I care about. I know that there is little difference physically between a couch potato and a mouse potato; mentally, to me, there seems a huge difference. I've been anti-television for a long time now, and like my disdain for comic books (and STAR WARS), I recognize it's irrational. It doesn't stop me, however. 

If a show or movie is going to grab me, odds are it's an adaptation of a book, or series of them. Yes, Game of Thrones, but also, this year, I plan on seeing The Dark Tower and IT, as well as pirating The Handmaid's Tale (since Hulu doesn't believe in Canadians). I loved all of these things in text form, and the screen will be judged against the text, and that's as it should be, forever and ever, amen. The last series I watched was CARDINAL, based on Giles Blunt's John Cardinal mysteries (highly, highly recommended, books and series both). 

(Why won't someone, anyone, adapt Spider Robinson? Or Guy Gavriel Kay?)

Back to STAR WARS. Its cultural cachet is obviously significant. It has its own day, today, "may the fourth be with you" -- tomorrow is obviously "revenge of the fifth", and hey, I even get that. Yes, I'd probably like STAR WARS quite a lot...except

Two: if anything (and pardon me for stating this preference, which is heathenish to many)...if anything, I'm a Trekkie.

Given what you know of me, is that really a surprise? You only need to examine the titles. STAR WARS is about, um, a war. I'm not a fan of war; really, I'm not. STAR TREK is about...trekking. Exploring "strange new worlds", etc. THAT, I like. But beyond that, Roddenberry's vision resonates with me. Post-scarcity economy, a genuine effort to observe and learn without interfering (the "Prime Directive"), huge emphasis on empathy, conflict that tends to resolve without people having to die...STAR WARS might interest me, but STAR TREK is a universe in which I'd like to live. And I say that even though ST:TNG is the only series I have seen in its entirety. (Passive television vs. "active" computer...see above). 

Every year I fall further and further behind, picking and choosing only two or three things annually so I'm not completely culturally deaf and blind. I've made my terms with that...usually. Sometimes, though, I realize just how much I have missed, and the realization is almost numbing. 

Happy STAR WARS day, for those of you celebrating. I did watch a great documentary on how the Death Star was built. I tell you...it was...riveting




23 April, 2017

What Next?

Not a happy time around the Breadbin.

The bariatric surgery Eva had three and a half years ago continues to provide us with surprises, none of them pleasant.

You may recall that everything seemed copacetic at first. She lost close to 200 lbs, and although she has regained some of that, she's a much healthier weight than she was when she was Eva-squared. Her diabetes, once heavily, heavily medicated with insulin, is now kept in check with pills alone. She--well, for a time she did have a lot more energy to burn.

But a year and a half afterwards -- almost two years ago, now -- Eva's mental health suddenly took a turn for the worse.

We still don't understand why malabsorption of her psychiatric medications took so long to manifest. But it did, and it precipitated a months-long medicine dance, trying to find something that kept her anxiety in check without her having to take five times the recommended dosage just for one times the recommended dose to actually absorb and do what it's supposed to. That was not fun to live beside. I can't even imagine what hell it was to live with.

I'm happy to say that problem was eventually solved. I'm not so happy to say that a further problem has suddenly appeared.

Eva has always been proud of her teeth. With good reason. She's always been cavity-free, her teeth nice and white and even. Certainly nothing like my chipped, cavity-ridden mess of a mouth. She's achieved this all on her own, without frequent dentist visits.

About a month ago, coming out of a bout with the flu, Eva suddenly had to deal with excruciating pain in her mouth. Smiling hurt. Yawning was torture. And chewing was agony.

Two broken teeth. SIX cavities, two of them in the broken teeth. A nasty infection. And even more worrisome, an eroding jaw.

What can that possibly have to do with bariatric surgery?

Malabsorption strikes again. This time, vitamin D.

Vitamin D has one major function in the human body, and that is to maintain adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus, both of which are integral to healthy bones and teeth. You're supposed to take a maximum of 2,000 units a day of vitamin D. Eva takes 6,000.

And even so, this is happening to her.

Rather than go for three root canals at $1000+ a pop, Eva elected to simply have two teeth yanked.  Which made everything fine...for all of two weeks.

Another infection. Two more cracked teeth. More cavities, too. Pain that is REALLY FUCKING UNFAIR.

For the first time, Eva told someone asking if she'd have the surgery all over again an emphatic NO.

I feel bad because I should never have taken what I heard at the initial seminar at face value. They utterly neglected to mention possible long-term side effects. They made it sound like as long as you didn't do something stupid like smoke a cigarette, drink soda or alcohol, or eat like a pig, your post-op life would be mostly sunshine and roses. Yes, malabsorption was covered: bariatric patients find themselves on a host of nutritional supplements for that reason. But nobody said boo about what turns out to be an extremely common after-effect: vitamin D deficiency shows up in SIXTY THREE percent of post-operation bariatric patients. What's worse, the pattern of eating you are expected to maintain -- grazing throughout the day, rather than three meals -- exacerbates the problem. So do chewable vitamin supplements (which Eva, thankfully, does not take).

The list of common deficiencies after gastric bypass includes but is not limited to:

  • protein
  • iron
  • calcium
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B-12
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin K
  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • vitamin C
All of these are typically absorbed in the foot and a half of intestine that has been removed in bariatric surgery. What's really bothering me is that it seems like these deficiencies can stay hidden for years, only to pop up (surprise!) and prove extremely difficult to treat because of malabsorption.

I should have looked all this up. It may well have convinced her not to have the surgery, and to pursue weight loss by other means. Not that anything had worked in the past...that's why she was ACCEPTED for bariatric surgery in the first place!

So, so frustrating. And so, so expensive. Dental care is, for reasons of ancient professional ego, entirely separate from other forms of medical care in Ontario and indeed in North America. Dental benefits are sufficient for routine cleanings. Not for something like this. Hell, we don't even know exactly what this is going to turn out to have to be. Dentures? Implants? Jaw reconstruction? All of the above?

Daunting. Very daunting.

Wish us luck, folks. And if you meet Eva and she's not smiling at you, perhaps you can understand why.





Is Polyamory Only for the Rich?

Geez, I hope not, because if it is, I can't be poly.

Still, I can understand the sentiment. There's a dirt-common poly saying: "Love may be infinite, but time is not." You can substitute money for time and it's no less true.

I am a man naturally given to the extravagant, when the extravagant fits within my budget. I love to give, and while I have very much internalized 'it's the thought that counts'. my thoughts for loves and friends run to spoiling them.

My budget does not run. My budget occasionally limps out to the kitchen, looks around, and slinks back to the couch in despair.  And yes, sometimes that bothers me. I've never been anything close to 'wealthy', materially; truth be told, I wouldn't necessarily want to be. Comfortable, is what I aspire to. And I've had to redefine comfort a few times. Largely successfully, but with occasional wistful moments that force me to reframe my thoughts.

In a poly context, it becomes just one more insecurity to overcome: he's richer than I am, he can give her things experiences that I can not. What makes financial jealousy all the more pernicious is that I can't point to a single thing or experience a poor person (me) can give that a richer person (he) can't.

Negative thought, perish the negative thought. Reframe, reframe, reframe!

Maybe he can take her halfway around the world and I can't even get her out of the province. But I have one thing, one obviously desirable thing, that he doesn't: I'm me. Our experiences, all of them, are fundamentally different because of that fact. Note again: there is no judgment, positive OR negative, implied in the word 'different'. His experiences with her are no more or less valid than mine are.

And rich or poor, you can't put a price on unconditional love.

Actually, there are some aspects of polyamory that make it very well suited to LOWER class people. A sufficiently close polycule shares finances, or if that step hasn't been taken, at least may have access to emergency funds. Calamity is spread out, both emotionally and financially, such that any one person isn't expected to bear any one other person's burden. That is immensely liberating, and it makes for a nice Scotiabank commercial: you're richer than you think.

Never mind emergencies: sharing expenses amongst a larger number of people makes available experiences (and things) that may otherwise be out of reach. It takes compersion, a great deal of it, to take some of your money and give it to your partner to spend on their partner. Knowing that reciprocity exists -- your partner, or hell, your metamour, does the same thing  -- makes it much easier.

Yes, you run the risk of being financially taken advantage of. This is no different than in monogamy; "gold diggers" are, after all, a thing.  That comes down to selecting partners who are not assholes.

What I have found is that love flourishes not in the grand gestures, but in the mundane, quotidian details of life. Whether you go to bed on an air mattress in a bare room or on a bed adorned with 17,000-thread-count unicorn hair sheets, cuddling and drifting off to sleep together is pretty much the same. Great joys can be had as easily on a Sunday drive as they can be on a weekend jaunt to Paris (then again, what with the price of gas, perhaps a Sunday drive isn't the best example to use here).

 Rich or poor, we live and laugh and love in our own unique ways. And if we are poly, we cherish each other, and all our partners, and ideally all our metamours too,  for that unique love.

16 April, 2017

Death And Life

Last week, I officially became a member of Grand River Unitarian Congregation.

Whatever else that place becomes for me in the future, I am sufficiently aware it is a community that shares my ideals, many of my modes of thought, and above all my empathy.

As is said every week in the introductory announcements for the benefit of any guests in attendance, they are a community bound not by shared beliefs, but by shared values and a desire to support one another in the search for truth and meaning.

Anybody who is interested to look further into what could convince a staunchly irreligious person to take this step (and lament not taking it twenty years ago!) should go here and have a look around.

_________________

Today's sermon was, as befits Easter, about death and what comes after.

I have often been accused of being morbid. This comes, I think, from my complete lack of hesitation in discussing death.

I won't say death fascinates me. That sounds too much like I long for it, and I don't. At all. I have far too much to live for; the past year has reinforced that immeasurably.

But it interests me, death. More specifically, what may or may not come after. Of course, we can't be sure if something does...or doesn't. Personally, paraphrasing Jodie Foster in Contact,  Time is a very big place. So big that if this is all there is...it seems like a waste of Time.  To me.

Then again, there are spiritual and scientific postulates that Time is an illusion, that everything which has ever happened or will ever happen is actually happening in the Eternal Moment of Now. It's hard to wrap your head around that when you live in a world as governed by Time as we have allowed ours to be. But perhaps it's true.

Rev. Jess today told a secondhand story about Oral Roberts, the fundamentalist televangelist. In his faith, and in the faiths of many Christians, death is -- for the righteous, of course -- a "calling Home", a gateway to eternal life with God. And yet Roberts told his viewers in 1987 that if they didn't raise $8 million in three months (over and above their usual tithe), he, Roberts, would be "called Home".
His viewers raised $9.1 million. Oral Roberts lived another 22 years.

Which is...perplexing. Surely being "called Home" is a good thing? If you're a Christian?  Why is "God" trying to extort people (for money, no less, the love of which is supposed to be the root of all evil) by dangling something that any self-respecting Christian ought to see as a reward? I leave those answers as an exercise for my readers.

For me, the Christian version of heaven holds less than zero appeal. Not that their hell is any better, mind you, but it doesn't seem much worse to me.

I have thought a lot about this over the years and while I lack for anything definitive to buttress my beliefs, I nonetheless feel quite strongly that

  • death is a transition, not an ending;
  • death is nothing to be afraid of (although dying may well be);
  • whatever comes after is at least to some degree up to us...much as our lives are. 
Perhaps we are reincarnated, as the Buddhists and Hindus believe. I live with a man who believes very passionately in past lives. Speaking for myself, I prefer to concentrate on this life; what's past is prologue. In fact, it seems to me that no matter what you believe about the hereafter, concentrating on this life, this world, is the prudent course of action. If you are in fact to be reincarnated, it's supposedly based on your actions and beliefs in this reality. If heaven or hell awaits, your final destination is predicated on your actions and beliefs in the here and now. And if there's nothing after death, well, then, this life is all you get and it's up to you to make the most of it. 

I learned today that Christians in the first millennium of their faith had a much more prominent belief in bringing 'heaven on earth' about. Their focus wasn't on death and eternal reward or punishment; it was on acting in love to create a paradise in the world they knew. That, to me, seems a much more reasonable and attractive goal than hoping you were born into the right time and place to run across and adopt Christianity so you could be "saved" after death. 

At any rate, death doesn't frighten me. It never has. If there is a next life, I look forward to loving the people I didn't get to this time around. If there's a heaven, I would visualize it as a state of absolute, all-encompassing love. And if there's nothing, if this is all we get...then I will love as many, as much, for as long, as I can. 

08 April, 2017

Coming Out, Part II: To Others

This is a follow-up to my entry from February 18 about coming out to yourself.

I'll start with something I neglected to mention there, and should have. Coming out to yourself is a slow process for most people.

Not all. Some of us know we're poly from an early age. I did. I've often repeated the story of how I shared Laura, Catherine, Sonia, and Anna with my best friend Gordon in thrice-daily bouts of kissing tag. There was no jealousy, probably because both Gordon and I knew that if we weren't kissing someone, we would be, soon.

Kissing tag is puppy love, of course--but I bought Laura a button that said "Let It Be" on it (my first love-gift, at all of eight years old), and I meant it.  I'd have bought Sonia, Anna and Catherine gifts as well, but I ran hard against a poly truth: love may be infinite, but time (and more pertinently, money) isn't.

Anyway...some of us know from an early age, and some of us run across polyamory and immediately know that this is us. Others grow into it, first by recognizing the potential in themselves and then through a lot of observation, reading, and questions.

And that's important, because the key to polyamory is freedom.

There is no one structure you can point to and say "this is poly; all others are not". Actually, it's closer to the truth to point to monogamy and say "this is monogamy; all other relationship structures, so long as they are ethical, are polyamory."

Gay closed triad? Poly. Married couple with additional partners they either share or don't? Poly. Woman who lives alone, and has several committed partners who know about and accept each other? Poly. Add in all the possible permutations of romanticism and sexuality (there are many polyamorous asexual people!), living arrangements, sleeping arrangements, and so on and you end up with a dizzying array of things that are all polyamory. The nice thing is that you get to decide what works for you and your partners and (if applicable) their partner(s) (your metamour(s)).

The downside to this is that coming out as poly isn't quite as self-explanatory as, for example, telling the world you are gay is.

People know what gay is. People, still, have no idea what poly is...and even other poly people might make the mistake (unlikely, but possible) of assuming their brand of poly and yours are identical.  So explanation will be necessary.

And then people will ask questions. Some of those questions you may feel are inappropriate.

_________

I got outed at work not that long ago. Now, contrary to what some of you may think, I don't flaunt my poly any more than any of you flaunt your monogamy. My close friends know, of course, and in quite a lot of (vetted) detail. People further from the center of my life know a lot less, but the ones I'm on decent terms with (and whom I feel I can trust) at least know the bare bones. The overwhelming majority of my colleagues at work had no idea until one of them blurted it out into a packed lunchroom.

Inwardly, I was furious with her, while cursing myself for a fool; I could see how she may have felt she had free rein to talk about it, because of the easy, breezy way I had discussed it with her. Outwardly, I smiled: it was vital I not look discomfited in any way, since this is, as far as I'm concerned, perfectly normal. I engaged with the storm of questions it raised. Yes, I live with my wife and her other partner. No, I don't feel any jealousy over them. Yes, I've been this way as long as I can remember, and I'm committed to both my partners. Yes, I actually DO live with my wife and her boyfriend. (That really proved hard for people to grasp.) And --

--now, really. Would you ask that question of anyone else?

No, you wouldn't. Because you know who sleeps where is none of your business. I will say this, though. Who sleeps where, and more pertinently, who does what with whom before sleeping with them, is none of my business, either.

Other poly people feel differently about this, of course. Some people love to share the intimate details, and some love to have them shared. Some people all share each other, for that matter. For me, it's simply a recognition that each relationship deserves its own space.

I sat back to watch the aftermath. The woman who outed me redeemed herself a little by correcting someone -- before I could! -- who used the word "cheating". "It's not cheating if he knows and accepts," she said. Exactly.

Afterward, several people came to me and disclosed: either they were poly themselves, they had tried (in one case for fifteen years!) a poly relationship in the past, they knew people who were poly, or they were just curious about it.  Others still said the tried and true "I could never do that!"...but there were no hostile reactions.

That's not always the case, of course. For every positive reaction I have heard several negative ones, and some of them are outright vicious. It truly is amazing how much energy some people will put into discrediting something that (a) makes you deliriously happy and (b) doesn't affect them at all.

You'll have misconceptions to address. Some will think you're a swinger (and you might even be one; polyamory and swinging coexist happily for many). To those people you can remind them your partners are not playthings, but people you love and care for, and who love and care for you in return. Some will call you selfish, and you can calmly tell them your partners are free to see other partners, so how is that selfish?

Some will say you can't commit. Don't take that one personally. By "commit" they mean "commit to one person and one person only, you know, like normal people do." Normal people, you see, only love one person at a time. Hint: nobody only loves one person at a time. Guess what, folks? You're all polyamorous, every last one of you reading this post. You all have multiple simultaneous committed loving relationships, and the people in those relationships know and accept it. Your best friend is also close to your brother. Your mom and your husband get along great. (Hey, it does happen.)  The only difference between you and people who actually identify as poly is that we take it one step further into our romantic (and, yes, often sexual) relationships.

WHY COME OUT?

Good question, for which you get to supply your own answer. I have several that work for me. A very important one has to do with the nature of poly itself. Poly, as the woman who outed me helpfully explained, is not cheating. Since cheating means secrecy. poly in turn should (I feel) mean transparency. Not full transparency, of course--there really is such a thing as TMI, even for me--but transparency nonetheless.
The other reason, just as important, is that in poly, your partners are family. These are people you are committed to, people who ideally ought to be accepted as such.

I get that this is uncomfortable for some. What I'd like those some to understand is how uncomfortable it is for me, not to mention a partner of mine, when that partner is denied.  A reminder: any love of mine is known, fully accepted, and probably liked a great deal by my wife. This is not me fucking around behind her back.

Another reason, less true for me but still true, is that coming out is a political statement. What that statement says is: I am free to conduct my life and love in a way that benefits 'more than two', and I grant that freedom to my partners. 

Still another reason to come out is that being in a closet is tiring...and stifling. Keeping an entire slice of your life -- and by definition, an important one -- from the other slices of your life is difficult and ultimately self-deceptive.

HOW TO COME OUT

(a) to a partner

This is by far the most difficult part of the process, because your partner is almost guaranteed to feel supremely threatened by your disclosure, as if she is not good enough. And no matter how gently you couch the revelation, it's entirely possible, even likely, your partner will run away screaming. And so: test the waters first. Ask her if she feels it's possible to love two people at once. Get an idea of what,  exactly, scares your partner (remember: a large component of jealousy is fear). Move slowly. And for God's sake, DON'T have another partner in mind right off the hop. If you say "I love Billy-Bob, but I also love you", it's no different to most people than saying "I'm about to leave you for Billy-Bob".

As to "I'm not good enough"--this is a hard, hard thing for many people to get past. Why do you need someone else, if you've got me?

I have found at this point it's germane to bring up friends. Your partner, hopefully, has more than one friend. Why? Why does he spend time and emotional energy on other friends when he already has one?  Isn't that one friend... good enough?

But I don't have sex with my friends. 

And that's the crux of it, for many, the point she'll either get past, or he won't. You'll have to convince her that your love for others, even if it's physical, will not detract from your love for her. That is, in fact, a hard sell for most; we're all conditioned otherwise. Heavily. But it's important to at least plant the seed that comparison need NOT involve judgement: that "different" is not "better" or "worse". Use any analogy you want. Food works: pick two foods she adores and ask her which food is BETTER.

You're going to be talking a lot before you get going. If communication is not something you do well, I'm sorry to say you're going to have a right bitch of a time with polyamory. Make sure that's tip-top, first.

(b) to your family

Probably NOT a good idea to spring it on the entire family at once, particularly at some holiday gathering or other. Do you have a trusted, reasonably open family member? Particularly one who is at ease with things like LGBTQ rights? That's not a guarantee he'll be equally accepting of poly, but it's a damn good sign.

Here's where you can keep the details down to a dull roar. I mean, even if you're monogamous, how much does your family know, or need to, about your love life? What ought to be important to your family is your happiness.
If possible, it's a good idea to have at least one partner present when you come out. Two (or more) may be a bridge too far. But one partner can deflect some of the heat off you.

And there will almost certainly be heat. You have to remember: this is cheating to many folks; the distinction must be made clear, and driven home, more than once. Give them a chance to research polyamory for themselves, and see what it is and isn't.

After that...time. Time and normalcy. Be open, but not too open, to the questions you'll get. If it all goes pear-shaped--always a possibility--remember the abundant love you can, or do, have, and remember above all just whose life you're living.