23 November, 2014

Recurring Nightmare

Here's another thing we say to the surviving spouse. 
"I'm keeping him in my thoughts."

...Where?

Where exactly in your thoughts does he fit? In between "my ass hurts from this chair" and "let's fuck the waitress"? What are your priorities?
--George Carlin (RIP)--"Things We Say When People Die"

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I wake up dead.
I've had this dream a good dozen times since I was a little kid, maybe more often than that. I wake up dead. It's hard to explain how I know I'm dead even before my field of vision starts expanding to impossible angles, but I know. Probably the same way I know I'm alive in the mornings before I open my eyes.

Like a helicopter lifting off, my perspective starts whirling slowly around the room. The details are always different. Sometimes I look down at my body and think it almost looks asleep. Other times I've been savagely murdered and hacked, almost minced. Sometimes there's just a newspaper article...that's when it's a continuation of another recurring dream, one in which I'm trying to teach a pretty girl how to swan dive: I bounce on the diving board, sproingy-sproingy-sproingy, and launch into my dive...except I keep going up. First the pool, then the city is lost to sight as I find myself high in the stratosphere, and only then do I curve and plummet to earth. As I'm bracing myself for the impact that will turn my body to paste, the dream cuts out to a black-and-white newspaper shot of my remains, and then I'm in my dead dream.

Regardless, I know the dream immediately. Oh, no, not this again.

If it's not suicide-by-impossible-swan-dive, I resolve that this time I'm going to gather some details about my surroundings. I never manage to do it: it's as if my disembodied eyes are on strings and everything I'm supposed to see is spotlighted while everything I'm not is in deep shadow.

There's then a jump-cut and I'm at my funeral. Here's where things come clearer, visually. This part of the dream is always different, too. Sometimes I'm in a huge and packed cathedral; sometimes I'm in a simple country church (more than once it's definitely been the church Eva and I got married in); one time it was a graveside service, and you couldn't have picked a better location for a grave if you tried: forest, overlooking a lake. 
I'm able to fit around the ceremony, observing the congregation, noting who's there and who isn't, who seems to be happy I'm dead and who is inconsolable. Often somebody I'd expect to be on one side or the other of that emotional equation isn't where he should be.

 When I was a kid I used to jerk myself awake at this point, because everybody was pointing at my corpse and laughing...and when I was a teenager there was one instance where all the men were taking turns pissing into my coffin. 

Last night there wasn't a soul there at all. Just a preacher droning on, his voice echoing in a church where I was the only other presence. There was music (there's always music--my dreams should have soundtrack albums). In this case the song was Corey's Coming by Harry Chapin, a song that really affects me every time I hear it. 
Not a sign of Corey, though. Or anyone else.

The worst thing wasn't the empty church. The worst thing was that I wasn't surprised.

Last night, for the first time ever, the dream didn't end at my funeral scene. I found myself Steadicamming up the aisle, making a right and entering a hallway, then a left into a small office. A computer sat on an old desk and before I knew what was happening, I was inside it--where my actual funeral was taking place.
No people, of course, any more than I was a people in this eerie blue digital world...but lots and lots of thoughts. Thoughts both fleeting and eternal, like everything else online. 

------------

I usually catapult up out of that dream sucking in air, heart pounding. Having been so recently "dead", it's a shock to the system to be alive again. This time I floated up gradually, trailing dream-strings like so much seaweed.  Some of them were knotted up and I struggled to untie them, feeling as if I had just dreamed something both personal and profound. 

I know what ingredients combined to make that nightmare stew. I heard that Carlin routine above yesterday for the first time in years; obviously that got filed away where it jibed with my recent (and not so recent) musing on the deceptive depth of purely online relationships. Add a soupçon of loneliness, stir vigorously and voilà. 

Laying in bed, dream both fading and solidifying, I think to myself:

ONLINE = UNDEAD

What's online stays online, of course: it's there forever, if you know where to look. Give me two minutes and I can find you the first thing I ever posted to the internet, in late 1991. It was quickly followed by a torrent more posts, in forums as diverse as can.politics, rec.arts.pinball, and (yes, indeed) alt.polyamory, among half a hundred others. The internet very quickly subsumed my waking life and before long I could not be said to have a waking life. I was hopelessly entangled in the Usenet: I'd invited it in, and it was sucking my lifeblood out of me, drop by drop.

I neglected my real-world relationships...they all migrated online. It's a world of pure thought (often impure thought, but whatever) and seemingly pure emotion, and that is a potent, heady cocktail for such as me. Only in hindsight--as in, this morning--did I realize that only one relationship which originated online lasted. With a very few exceptions, any friend I made in real life first is still a friend today, even if the relationship is largely online now. I'm certain of his place in my world and just as certain of my place in hers. The woman I married? I didn't have her email address until it was the same as mine.

The online relationships are almost  without fail ephemeral and uncertain. The only real exception I think  of is ironic given this extended 'undead' metaphor: it spawned in alt.horror in '92, and though I've never met her, I know she's a friend.
Excepting her, though, the more real emotion I pour into an exclusively online relationship,  the less solid it feels. 

It's not that these people are fake. Not at all. It's that the online realm takes real emotions and makes them indistinguishable from ersatz copies. "I'll keep him in my thoughts". Really? Where? This cause is important to me...so important that I will spend three seconds "liking" and "sharing" it. It occurs to me, for the first time, that pouring all these real emotions into a giant facsimile machine is probably a waste of energy. If only it didn't have such a bloodsucking hold on me.

Circumstances combined to deprive me of a computer for several years. I'd allowed the internet vampire to eat my scholastic career; any more feedings would (I'm not exaggerating here) imperil my life. It was to the point I was starting to forget to eat. I put a lot of effort into keeping access, piggybacking on my only friend's account; when she graduated, I was left pouring my money into Spectrum Internet Café...which promptly closed.

For two years I wandered around, leeched of most of my vitality, recoiling from the sunlight, not entirely sure how to even begin to start over in the real world. Very much like someone who has been bitten. Gradually, oh so gradually, with the help of a LOT of (offline) writing, I recovered enough of myself to make a friend who became a lifemate; she helped me with the rest of it. I'm not sure there are enough words in this language to express my gratitude for what she's done for me. I've been saved twice in my life, once by my stepfather and once by my wife. That's twice more than I deserve. I'm working to become someone who's worthy of it. 

Alcoholics say they are always alcoholics, no matter how long they've been sober. Likewise, I'm an internet addict. I've kept my addiction mostly in check this year, but it's been difficult and there have been days when I've slid back into an early-nineties mindset. 

The net hasn't changed much in twenty plus years. Oh, it's obviously no longer just on university campuses: now it's in the palm of everyone's hand. And there's endless video. But Skype aside, most people communicate online exactly the same way they did in 1990: with words. And the words are just as fake-seductive and often meaningless as they ever were. I've become more and more convinced that the sentiments behind them are real...and if they're expressed face to face it's still real...but in many cases putting it into a series of texts makes it fake anyway. Kind of the way vampires turn people into something that's not dead, but not living either. Undead.

Recognizing this, being able to put it into words and post them (online, natch) is important for me. It makes it easier not to throw my whole heart into relationships that don't reciprocate--and easier to blame the net, rather for the person, for that lack of reciprocation.  It's only the vampire doing what the vampire does, sucking all the bloody substance out. Dracula can't help his nature.



20 November, 2014

An Unjust Word

'A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As Time Goes By'
--"As Time Goes By", Herman Hupfeld (1931)

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You know what's an unjust word? "Just".

I'll start off here with a big one: "just friends".

Oh, the pain of that phrase when you're a love-besotted teenager and you've convinced yourself the essence of love involves, well, spilling your essence. "Just friends" means you have to console her every time she's dumped by men who aren't worth a booger (or who aren't worth one of your boogers). "Just friends" means that at some point she's going to look at you, probably crying as she does it, and say something like "why can't men be more like you?" Because, you know, you're not actually a man, just a friend.

You grow up, you find love--it's usually hiding in plain sight in those people you call "just friends"--and you realize one day that you were right all around, the word "just" is a bad word...but for precisely the opposite reasons. You learn, with some people, that what you have is more than friendship--the word "just" belittles the relationship, makes it smaller than it is.

There isn't a word in English for that kind of friendship, and so we're stuck with the catch-all word I've written far too many times over the last ten years: love. It's a perfectly good word, to be sure...the only problem with it is that nobody knows what you mean when you say it. So you either don't say it at all, or you have to have a nice long discussion explaining the (ahem) ins and outs of what this particular flavour of love is for you, and making sure that the flavours match.

Friends are family you pick yourself--in that way, often, they become even more important to you than family is . It's ideal if you make your best friend of the appropriate sex your spouse...that way you have a friend who is family. That's Eva for me: if someone asks me to explain the longevity of my marriage, after I react incredulously at the mere thought of fifteen years being "a long time", I would probably first cite that she's my best friend. It makes breaking up doubly unthinkable because you'd be losing a spouse and  your closest friend.

 Then you have other friends, a very few, who would uproot their lives for you and who would help you with body disposal if it came to that. There's no "just" about it: they're not lovers, but 'friends' is pitifully inadequate to describe what they are. But, ha-ha, you can't even say "more than friends" without people thinking dirty thoughts. Even "close friends" is tainted. Screw it--if you're a friend with that kind of depth, I love you and I'm not afraid to say it.

Of course, sometimes there's a huge imbalance between what you feel for someone and what they feel for you. Call it unrequited love, or call it wishful thinking, sometimes you have to insert that word "just" where you hoped and prayed it didn't belong. That's a hard thing to do. I keep thinking I've learned the last of the big "adult lessons", that life school is over and I can finally get on with the business of living...the reality is you graduate from life school by dying and (I hope, anyway) levelling up. Letting relationships settle into where they're supposed to be, versus trying to inflate them into something they're not: it's usually easier to just part ways and move on.

"Just" is used in other places where it shouldn't be. "A kiss is just a kiss", for instance.

Um, no, not really. A kiss is usually considered more intimate than sex. Prostitutes, for instance, rarely kiss their johns. Given that many people would unthinkingly hold out sex as the most intimate activity two people can get into, well, the realization there's something more intimate than sex should always and forever exempt the word "just" from having to appear near it."
There are cultures where kissing on the lips is considered disgusting--you eat with those lips! Ewww! Suffice it to say that even a chaste kiss packs a fair punch in emotional power, and a serious, hungry kiss is like being hit by lightning while riding a different lightning bolt.

A "sigh is just a sigh"...not with me, it isn't. I have a whole sigh thesaurus I employ. There's an angry sigh (really? Were your mother's eggs expired?), an exasperated sigh (I just saw that damned commercial); the bored sigh (and now for an encore, we're going to twiddle our LEFT thumb!); the tired sigh (I think my eyes fell shut as my shoulders fell); and a whole bunch of levels of happy sighs, from mildly pleased up to delirious.  If I ever lose the ability to speak and write, I think people will still be able to decipher my mood fairly easily.

Last but not least, I want people to stop referring to their professions or jobs with the word "just". I've actually heard 'I'm just a teacher". That means you're only the most important person in the lives of the kids in the room with you, for as long as you share that room. "Just"? Seriously?

But it's more common with retail workers and "lowly' office peons. "I'm just a part time clerk". No, right now you're the face of an entire company in your customer's eyes. That's a massive responsibility, and if you think of yourself as "just" a clerk, you'll shirk that responsibility sure as shit.

"Just". It's a word that needs to go away.

Change My Mind, Please:

1) That we need easier access to alcohol in this province.

I need my mind changed on this because I don't think we do...and for thinking that way I'm treated like pond scum.

I think people have absolutely no trouble procuring more than enough alcohol. The cops are called to one street in our fair city an average of more than once a night. Alcohol has something to do with the vast majority of those calls. And while I understand that there are in fact people out there who can drink booze without turning into raving lunatics, the sheer number of people who do turn into raving lunatics makes me very leery of loosening restrictions on alcohol in any way.
"But it will be cheaper and there will be better selection!" Cheaper, yeah, just what we need. More selection, ha. How many different kinds of drunk are there, anyway?
"Keeping it restricted hasn't stopped people from drinking to excess, so we might as well make it cheaper and easier to get." Yeah. Restrictions on guns don't stop murders, so, hell, let's just hand them out in the schoolyard.

I shudder to imagine the midnight clerk at 7-Eleven having to cut off someone who's intoxicated. Those folks make close to minimum wage and they work alone. Given how crazy drunk people get if you deny them anything at all, the thought of denying them more alcohol chills my blood.

I know it works elsewhere--almost every elsewhere, actually. I just don't see how the culture here can handle it.

2) That texting is actually the bee's knees.

I'm sorry, I don't get the appeal. I don't understand why we had to shrink a perfectly good keyboard from "my finger rests on one key" to "my finger rests on six". I don't understand why *anybody* would prefer such a soul-destroying, dehumanizing form of communication over all others. Truth be told, I hate messaging/emailing people on Facebook with a bloody passion. I would much rather at the very least hear their voices. and even better actually see them face to face.  Instead I have to stop what I'm typing and restart in light of the text that just came in; my 'phone' rings every time the person I'm 'talking' to so much as clears her throat. And nobody but nobody can text as quickly as they can talk, or even type on an actual keyboard. I've seen people who can text so fast my eyes blur--I can still out talk them.
Messaging is great for getting in touch with lots of people quickly. But one on one, it sucks. I'm sorry. I keep coming back to "Ily", the three-letter acronym that means "I love you, but not enough to type seven extra keystrokes".

I have to remind myself that so many people prefer to message *everyone* and when they keep *me* at a distance I shouldn't take it personally. It's hard, though.

I had a friend call me last week. I get about one friend call every six months, and truth be told it had been several years since someone has called me just to talk. No time anymore, I guess. I say that knowing full well you can talk an a telephone while doing something else, even without speakerphone, but texting takes both hands and (usually) both eyes (unless you're driving, then you can occasionally spare half an eye for the road). But no, Ken, there's no time to talk to you.

I ask people if I can call them and outside that one friend who called me, I almost invariably get a no. No, Ken, no, stay behind your screen, we don't want to hear you or God-forbid see you, because if that happened we'd...I don't want to finish that sentence. I've stopped asking. There's no point. Pile up enough rejections like that and you start wondering if maybe the few people who do seem to want to hear your voice really don't, and are only doing so out of politeness.

So I'm stuck with the screen. I take what cold comfort I can out of it. To be fair, I've racked up a lot of nice things "said" to me just in the last week or two. I appreciate them, I really do. At the same time I wonder: would I hear them, face to face? In some cases I know the answer. It's no.

I need my mind changed on this more than possibly anything else. As you can see, it has a direct line to a lot of really shitty thoughts I'd prefer not to think.

3) Lotteries. Why. Just...why. The supreme irony is that many of the people who play the lottery will tell you with a straight face that they pay the damn government waaaaaaay too much in taxes. I mean hey, if you want to set your money on fire, go to, it's not my money. But it's utterly bizarre behaviour so far as I can see or say. It's even stranger that so many of the people playing the lottery are the ones who can least afford to do it. If someone could explain why so many people are so willing to throw so much money away in search of an impossible dream, I'm all ears.

4) Smoking. I have the utmost sympathy for smokers trying to quit (for the record: Champix if you have no history of depression, e-cigs if you do). What I don't get is why, in this day and age, someone would start. I could certainly understand people smoking fifty years ago, when it was marketed as a cure for the common cold. Now....? I can't help thinking anyone who starts smoking nowadays is mentally defective.

---------------

The rest of these things I don't *need* my mind changed on, because I'm perfectly content thinking the way I think...but I like to understand the people who think thoughts diametrically opposed to mine, and in some cases I can't do it.

Case in point: same-sex marriage.

Open invitation to anyone reading this who believes same-sex marriage is bad/evil/wrong. Look, I promise not to judge you or yell at you. In fact, if you can articulate your thoughts in some sort of compelling way, I'll bow down and kiss your feet. I've yet to hear someone explain to me just how same-sex marriage affects their marriage, or anyone else's, and why "traditional" marriage needs "protection" or "defence". I sincerely don't understand these things, and I'd like to. You won't change my view, but you'll help me understand yours, and that's a good thing.

I want to understand strongly religious people, for similar reasons. I want to know how you believe in an all-loving God, a God who loves unconditionally, and yet who judges, let alone condemns, let alone damns, let alone forever. To love unconditionally means that you do not judge, by definition--at least it seems to, to me. I simply can not accept a universe in which a Hell exists.

Pot. People who are viciously against it--why? Have you tried it? Do you discount its medical effects? I am not a pot smoker, but I do not understand the level of fear and loathing it presents to people. I especially can't figure out why the Harper government is so dead-set against a huge new revenue stream stream that only affects users, and likewise a solid blow against organized crime. Harper claims to care very much about organized crime, and he certainly hates the idea of raising taxes--well here's a way the government could cut taxes and still keep the same revenues. Why not jump at it?

And that's all I can think of for tonight. So come on, folks, change my view. I've had it done successfully on two issues in the last fortnight. Let's go for more.










18 November, 2014

Does A One-Eyed Trouser Snake Make a Man?

...or get a man made, so to speak?

Surprisingly serious question.

NSFW, adult themes, obviously

If you know me at all--if you even know of me--you can probably figure out I'm not the sort of man who would ever even dream of putting a picture of my penis on the internet. Under any circumstances. Ever. I wouldn't email such a thing to Eva; I certainly wouldn't send one to a stranger.

Sources, multiple sources, suggest that this is yet another way I'm something of a rare breed. I don't mean to exalt myself here, or anywhere when I say that. I'm just friggin' human, and I am not my penis.

I get offended enough on behalf of women whenever I hear of yet another 'dick-pic' thrusting around in some unsuspecting inbox. And yes, the crass innuendo is completely intentional: it's obvious that a "box" serves as a useful metaphor, as far as all these men are concerned. A box with holes in it. A receptacle.

What moved my disgust to a whole other level was the subtitle to this article.  "Men are all too eager to send them...sigh...and they get offended when you tell them to stop."

Say what? I was struck dumb at this--kind of the way Eva was yesterday when I told her that Giancarlo Stanton had signed a contract with the Florida Marlins for $325 million dollars--$154,321 per game. She reacted with mock horror to that, a flat refusal to accept that any one person could possibly be worth that kind of money to anyone. 'Nonononononononono" seems to sum it up, along with "stupid, stupid, stupid..."

I've long known of this scourge of the internet, of course. It's right up there with Nigerian princes. Back in days of yore when the 'net was text-based and viewing images took real know-how, the equivalent was a marriage proposal. Often it was a man's first point of contact with a woman...I couldn't believe that even after I read through dozens of them aimed at a woman who was to become my girlfriend. They were all very similar, bragging about how well the men behind them could "provide" for her, and most of them seemed to originate from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent.

Now, of course, the Internet is much more commonly used for, shall we say, commitments of a shorter duration. And the currency of choice for males is a picture of the equipment they wish to commit with. It's another of those things where you don't know whether to laugh, cry or scream.

Getting offended at any reaction other than slavering drooling lust is--well, let's go well beyond the pathetic here. This points to a deep, deep problem in society that I suddenly realize is going to be much harder to solve than I'd thought.

Because if these men are offended that you could possibly demand they stop sending you cock-shots, it suggests they don't understand in the slightest that they're doing something wrong.

And what are they doing? They're objectifying themselves. Gleefully. They are announcing to women and the world, I AM MY PENIS. They have absolutely no problem with this.

Which means they almost certainly can't understand women's objections about being likewise objectified.

-----------

I can't speak to what it is to be a young girl, but as a young boy you discover the joys of your johnson right early. Babies get erections in the womb; once they're out (he said, autobiographically), it doesn't take long for them to realize that touching it feels good and rubbing it against things feels even better. Your parents tell you--well, mine did--not to do it, but c'mon, it's just hanging there, a twig and two berries, and it begs to be played with. It's your own personal Lincoln Log. Flop it around, slap it off things, squoosh it into shampoo bottles (oh, dear, am I scaring anyone?)
And that's before, long before, the real erections come. Sigh, another pun. Yeah...the first time that happens, you think you broke your dick and you wonder why you suddenly smell fish when you haven't eaten fish for like a week. But it feels so damn good that you do it again as soon as you can--which is probably in a few minutes. "They" tell you that you'll go blind, so you close your eyes and tighten your grip. "They" say you'll grow hair on your palms, so you go find something hairy and vigorously hump it and think to yourself, "wow, this feels incredible".  It's about that time you suddenly volunteer to do more household chores, specifically the laundry.

Uncomfortable yet? American Pie is a DOCUMENTARY, is what I'm trying to tell you.

Every...single...girl in every...single...class is fuel for your fantasy-fire. The pretty ones, of course, but also the ugly ones (you've got more of a chance with them. right?) Women: I assure you that many men have thought of you while, ahem, performing manual labour. That may titillate you, it may disgust you. Doesn't matter.   A teenage boy is a horndog of jittering hormones and he pitches tents in his pants without warning or explanation, so he rushes to make one up...the nearest bit of female flesh is as good an explanation as any.

Then, if you're good and lucky, you get to experience sex sometime before you're collecting old age security at seventeen. Me, I was nineteen and naïve as all get-out and I think that was where I first deviated from the standard sexual script.

Because my first time wasn't all that great. It wasn't for her, either. There was the matter of the condom...guys don't masturbate with condoms on, and it really is like trying to operate with a winter glove on. There was the larger matter of the fact I didn't really love her, nor she me. We thought we loved each other, of course, for values of "love" applicable to naïve nineteen year olds. I've learned a hell of a lot about love since, and I'm sure she has as well: she's married to her high school sweetheart, the man I briefly supplanted, and they have at least one child. I wish nothing but the best for her, despite--no, because of--the horrible break-up we went through. I wasn't right for her, she wasn't right for me, and I think on some level we both knew it all along. Hell, our first dance was Meat Loaf's "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" ("I want you, I need you, but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you")...and my first sexual experience had Air Supply's "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" as a soundtrack..you'd think I've have realized something was amiss much sooner.

But anyway...after that first experience, sex came off its pedestal for me. That first time wasn't the last time I "made love out of nothing at all"....but I did eventually learn that sex is so much better when love precedes it. I'm not sure sex "makes" love at all; that phrase, "making love", has always confused me.

Evidently many (most?) other men either had better first experiences than I did, or were willing to stick it out the way you get past your first hacking attempt to smoke a cigarette. Because there seem to be an awful lot of men of almost all ages who are still acting the way I did at fourteen.

Yes, sex for men feels exquisite. Though I have to tell you, it feels better for women. I can't even remember which woman told me this, but it stuck with me: you have an itch in your ear and you scratch it. Now, which feels better, your finger or your ear?

You don't see women pursuing sex as avidly, as dog-with-a-boner, as men do because women have been culturally conditioned to believe something is wrong with them if they like sex too much. Remove slut-shaming from the picture and you'd see women on the prowl at least as often as men are. But even then,  I find it hard to imagine a world where you'd see as many slots in random internet messages as you do tabs.

Maybe it's because, evolutionarily speaking, sex is an end for men and a beginning for women. Men can lay 'em and leave 'em; indeed, from a solely genetic perspective, it's advantageous to impregnate as many women as possible to ensure offspring. Women are stuck with nine months of various kinds of hell and then years of childrearing. We're only into our second generation, as a species, with reliable birth control--that's far, far too early to be expecting women to act as if the shackle of likely pregnancy has been lifted.

I'm not sure how to solve the dick-pic problem. I only know it needs to be solved. Because as long as there are dick-pics, there will be rampant sexism and objectification of women.









17 November, 2014

Do Clothes Make The Man?

Story here: short version is a male TV anchor in Australia wore the same suit on air every day for a year without anyone noticing, even as his female co-host was routinely praised or criticized for her outfits.

"You look a bit like Sheldon Cooper with your clothing choices today," said my darling wife on her way out the door.
True to form, I failed to see the problem. I was (and am) clad in a pair of what are for some reason called pajama pants (I don't know any--well, adult male--who wears anything more than maybe underwear to bed) and a sweater. Black and grey all around, what's the issue here? I had no plans to go anywhere.

I know better if I'm going someplace...I'll wear jeans in good repair at the very least...but I'll do it grudgingly. It's not like I'll complain to anyone other than the inside of my own head, but I simply do not appreciate most clothing. My sole criterion for clothing is this: is it comfortable? If yes, add to cart. If not, let it rot.

Most of my professional life I've had to wear a uniform of some kind, and they're always ill-fitting, itchy, and generally unpleasant. And that's without having to wear, say, a suit and tie, which is low-grade torture that nobody with any sense would willingly put up with. And yet we all do. Not only that, we treat people vastly differently depending on whether they're wearing a suit or not.

And yes, I know this from personal experience, too. Apparently I clean up well: I've drawn countless double-takes and even a few triple-takes on those few occasions I suit up. I'm supposed to feel flattered at this. I don't. I feel annoyed instead. C'mon, people, explain this to me. Did my hair change colour? Did this suit come with a six-pack? Can I suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound? Am I suddenly smarter, funnier, more compassionate? 

You know what I think it is? A suit costs anywhere from, what, a hundred bucks on up into the thousands. If I can afford to waste that kind of cash on stuff to cover my body, who knows what I might buy you?

Yeah. a suit makes a man attractive. But apparently nobody notices a man if he wears the same suit every day for a year.

Women, I ask you: what would happen if you wore the same outfit two days in a row? Let alone a week straight? Let's assume it's properly laundered and you don't smell like deodorant failure. Wouldn't matter, would it? You're probably horrified at the mere thought. People would talk. Your professional reputation would be ruined. All over some scraps of cloth.

One of my dear friends--a woman, oddly--thinks much the same way I do: she owns the bare minimum of clothing and she wears whatever she feels like (within reason) on any given day. I've kidded her about it...but I hope she understands the sincere admiration behind my jibes. She's smart and frugal and as far as I'm concerned she's got her priorities straight.

Even she wouldn't wear the same thing day in and day out for a year. Hell, I wouldn't do that, not even on a bet or a dare. I'd get sick and tired of doing laundry every single night, for one thing.

Look, I kind of get it. All of us use our eyes...supposedly men use theirs differently from women. A study has found that men are significantly more motivated by sociosexual visual cues than are women; the hypothesis is that rapid response to such visual cues ensures men a great chance of passing on their genes. (You never hear that women are interested in passing on their genes; why is that?) Maybe my crappy vision has led to a disconnect, or at least a distrust, between how I see things and how things are, and that explains why I almost completely ignore outward appearances.

But the thing is: things, and especially people, often aren't how they look. We all know this: we've all heard "don't judge a book by its cover". This makes me wonder how and why people, especially men, routinely disregard such a basic lesson.

Women, by and large, have their own oddities. Shoes..big one there.  It's a given that high heels absolutely wreck most of your body. Women insist on wearing them anyway, claiming that men insist they have to. Not this man, it goes without saying. I'm told they're sexy. Yeah...nerve damage, spider veins, and soreness everywhere...that gets my motor revving, how about yours? If they're not wearing heels, they're wearing sandals or flip-flops or something else guaranteed bad for the feet. So much masochism.

Shoes are also the first thing women notice on men. This utterly baffles me. I mean, I understand if the guy's wearing hip waders in the desert, or if there's a big hole in the toe and the sole is flopping, that's bad. Beyond that kind of obviousness, what the hell are you looking at shoes for? Do you interact with them? Do they tell you if the guy's a cheater? I mean, of all the things you could be looking at, feet seem to be the silliest. Hello? I'm up here.

I can hear you now. If all he cares about is his own comfort, he's a selfish unfeeling prick.

Dead wrong.

I've been called a lot of things, but in my entire adult life I've never been called selfish, unfeeling, or a prick. Oftentimes I wish I was at least a little more unfeeling and selfish and prickly. Here's the thing: If I'm not constantly having to flex my toes, or scratch myself, or concentrate on my tie not choking me to death, I'm going to be able to spare a lot more attention for you (and you and you...)

I tell you right now, allow people to wear sweatpants or pajama pants to work and productivity would skyrocket. Men--men could probably get away with it. Women, not so much....and that's not just a shame, it's a travesty. "It's not professional!"--look. Obscene tattoos are not professional. Nudity isn't professional (though how I wish I lived in a world where it was...it'd save me a lot of money on scraps of cloth. BEHAVIOUR may not be professional. Clothes...are clothes. If they're clean and in good shape...that's good enough for me.









12 November, 2014

My Life's Lesser -- And Greater -- Joys


  • That slow dawning of consciousness, wrapped in layered blankets against the chill of the room, with a cat purring away to itself in the nest it has made at my knees.
  • Sometimes, I intentionally wake up just so I can slide blissfully back down into sleep.
  • Getting up before the sun and seeing it safe into the world for another day.
  • Sleeping in (but not too late, else the day is shot before it starts).
  • The shower. It sounds so dirty--hot and wet and dark and steamy--and makes me feel so clean.
  • The first use of a freshly laundered towel. How it slurps the shower residues off me from the top of my head to my knees.
  • How Tux tries to dry off the rest of me -- with his tongue.
  • The donning of clothes, especially comfy clothes, and especially especially new socks.
  • The Giving Of The Things to the Tux. Never have I seen such an old dog act so much like a puppy as when Tux knows his Cheese and his Biscuit is coming.
  • That first shot of coffee. It's a shower for the inside.
  • Going to work. Take it from somebody who doesn't right now, the work is secondary to the people at the work, and I miss them.
  • Staying home. Take it from somebody who has gone to work, staying home is nice, too.
  • That first step outside. The weather doesn't matter: you can feel invigorated by the cold, caressed by fog, warmed by the sun, cuddled by the breeze, cuddled with authority by the wind...rain is hard to get excited about without an umbrella, but remember; there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.
  • Peace and quiet. Turning off the yattering television when Eva leaves for work--the only joy in her going to work.
  • Petting cats. And the dog, but mostly the cats. As much as I love my Tux, he doesn't purr.
  • Connecting with friends on Facebook. Feeling like I make a difference in their worlds. KNOWING they make a huge difference in mine.
  • My niece Alexa and my newer niece Lily: watching them discover the world is a sight to behold.
  • Reading. Nothing else opens the outer world half as well.
  • Music. Nothing else opens the inner world half as well.
  • School. Not the commute there, but the actual experience.
  • The first hour of the commute home from school, which I share with a classmate now: it makes the bus bearable.
  • Anything Eva makes for supper.
  • Watching the Toronto Maple Leafs (but only when they win). 
  • The slow stealing of fatigue up your body and the knowledge that bedtime is coming.
  • Bedtime. To sleep, perchance to dream.

11 November, 2014

...But Many Are

My previous entry rubbed some folks the wrong way, and so I would like to clarify my thoughts on this most somber of sunny days. Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veterans' Day, call it what you will. It matters.

Several times at school and many times at work, I was the one asked to give the announcement at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I've read "In Flanders Fields"  for an audience on several Remembrance Days, and I make a point of reading (when I can), "Dulce et Decorum Est", linked in the last blog, as well. It conveys, as few other works in my experience can, the horrors of war and the birth of a global cynicism that has deadened our society.

I don't have any direct link to the military in my family, but my father raised me to respect service, and I do.

One friend of mine gently chided me yesterday for what she perceived as criticism of the uniform and what it stands for. She feels very strong that the choice to join the military does automatically make one a hero--after which point, of course, one is obligated to live up to the heroic standard. That some disgrace their uniforms does not disgrace the nobility for which a military is supposed to stand: the steadfast determination to protect strangers, even in the face of death, is possibly the highest ideal to which a human can strive.

It's a pity that on so many occasions their deaths and maimings accomplish so little. It's a pity that returning veterans are so often treated with contempt by the very governments that sent them off to die in the first place. It's nothing short of disgusting that war has become just another industrial endeavour...and THAT's what I was vociferously protesting yesterday: the weird dichotomy that glorifies the soldier while remaining resolutely ignorant of what it is that soldier confronts.

I will explain that.

Once a year, we stop to remember. Once a year, for a whole minute or perhaps two, we're asked to consider the fallen and those who stand ready to fall. We pay them a minute or two's worth of respect; they paid with lives and limbs. And after that minute or two is over? Back to business as usual, killing and being killed, for small causes made great by a society that is thoroughly infatuated with war. It's infiltrated the language: the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Christmas(!) It's so thoroughly a part of our culture that it sickens me: the average child sees thousands upon thousands of deaths long before she reaches the age of ten. We rush out and buy the latest instalment of Call of Duty so we can play-act war even more realistically. And most distressingly, we get all jingoistic about it.  All sentiment, no substance. Even today, in many cases, it feels as if sentiment has won out.

If we really cared about peace, we wouldn't be at war so damned often.

I think most soldiers would agree with me. For all the stripping of individuality that is the hallmark of all things military, these people remain people, with minds and hearts and souls of their own. Most of them join with ideals held aloft like banners, and many of them live up to and surpass those ideals, in life and in death. I feel very strongly that the overarching causes these men and women fight for have been warped beyond recognition. Most of them aren't aware of it; I doubt many of their commanders are truly aware of what they're really fighting for. Far too often, it's not freedom.

But that does not lessen the sacrifice. Indeed, for me it makes it even more poignant. What passing bells for those who die as cattle?

I remember. Not just today, but every day. I wrote this entry ten years ago today and I stand by it. Saluting.




09 November, 2014

All Soldiers Are Not Heroes

It's the lead up to Armistice Day (which got renamed "Remembrance Day" because...well, because as a species, we seem to suck at remembering).

"Aye, young Willie McBride, I can't help wonder why--
Did those that lie here know why did they die?
And did they believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?

For the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain,
the killing and dying was all done in vain!
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again
And again and again and again and again..."

("The Green Fields of France",  Eric Bogle, as sung by John McDermott)

That whole song is worth listening to, incidentally. Very much so.

Salon magazine obviously thought this would be a good time to drop a bomb of their own...and they're getting an incredible amount of blowback online for it. Yet I feel there's a great deal of truth in this linked article, and it should be read and digested not just by the doves who will gulp it down and beg for seconds, but also by the hawks who may choke on it.

The thesis is twofold. One: we--by which the author means Americans, but Canadians can be included--have not fought a 'heroic' war, a war for freedom, in seventy years. Two, donning your country's military uniform does not automatically convey heroic stature upon you.

These do not strike me as overly controversial statements, but that's because I'm wrong and a leftist-liberal commie terrorist-supporting fucktard who should be shot. Or at least that's the tone of the internet comments not just on this article but on every single article Salon has published today, no matter the topic. You can cut the hatred with a knife.

I guess I can forgive people for doubting the first statement, that we haven't fought a real war since World War II. The media, especially the American media, takes very much the opposite view, that every war is a war for freedom and democracy and the American Way, and so to oppose a war on any grounds at all makes you un-American.

But no matter what the media might say, it's true. No American's personal interests are at stake in any "war" the American military is currently embroiled in. Plenty of American corporate interests are at stake, as always--that's what war is for nowadays, after all, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the last great Republican president, saw this coming when he coined the term "military-industrial complex".

World War II was a civilizational conflict: a pivot point in world history. Had Hitler and his allies won that war, it is entirely possible the entire First World would be under German control right now, and there's little doubt in my mind Hitler's Final Solution would have indeed been final. That was a war of freedom versus tyranny, a war that pretty much demanded you choose a side and fight.

No war since has even come close.

The current war against ISIS has potential to evolve into something civilizational, I will concede that much. They are no doubt barbaric and they have global aspirations even more grand that Hitler's--their Jews are everyone who does not practice their fanatical perversion of Islam.  But ISIS' diffusion throughout the world--which is currently seen as a strength of theirs--will in the end prove to be their weakness. Individual terrorist attacks can be tracked and thwarted, especially in the surveillance state we're a-building. We need to guard against the coalescing of an actual state with an army and weapons to carry out major atrocities--and make no mistake, they're working on that.

We do need to stop them, and airstrikes alone aren't going to do it--which is why, in this very peacenik essay, I'll suggest military action has a place, even a pressing place, even in today's world.

But can we maybe stop the rah-rah-boosterism and examine what we're fighting for?

I was a supporter of the war in Afghanistan for quite some time. It felt, to me, like a war worth fighting: surely we'd stop little girls from being burned alive in schools, by whatever means necessary?

Except we didn't.

The war in Afghanistan has been ongoing for THIRTEEN YEARS now, and if you ask the people we've tried to "save", most of them support the Taliban--or their local warlords, which amounts to the same thing. We've tried to impose our way of life on them and they don't want it. Moreover, our efforts--both in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East--have done little but ensure things like the attack on our Parliament would happen.  I'm not sure what the answer is--better minds than mine have grappled with it--but war doesn't seem to beget anything but more war.

It's a growth industry.

That repulses me. It disgusts me as a human being that companies profit off the senseless killing of civilians and the rampant destruction of their cities. You think ISIS is barbaric? That's barbarism. Even worse, we consider our soldiers heroes because they're doing their part in keeping the industry going.

Which is not to say that individual soldiers can't be heroes--and the article takes great pains to make this point, which most readers seemed to have missed anyway.  Even in an immoral and illegal conflict, many heroic acts are performed and they deserve recognition.

But you can ask a soldier: not one of them who has actually seen war considers him or herself a hero. Not even the ones who are most decorated. It is, as Wilfred Owen observed referring to his--and Pt. Willie McBride's--war. a Great Lie: Sweet and proper it is to die for your country. It should be noted here that more Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan have since committed suicide than were actually killed in Afghanistan. How heroic did they feel, I wonder.

The definition of heroism needs to be both narrowed and broadened. To me, as to the writer of the Salon article, teachers, hospice workers, nurses and many other people are more likely to qualify as heroic (though again, not all of any of these groups of people should be considered heroes automatically).  Mascina's final paragraph is worth quoting verbatim:

The assignment of heroism, exactly like the literary construct, might have more to do with the assignment of villainy than the actual honouring of “heroes.” Every hero needs a villain. If the only heroes are armed men fighting the country’s wars on drugs and wars in the Middle East, America’s only villains are criminals and terrorists. If servants of the poor, sick and oppressed are the heroes, then the villains are those who oppress, profit from inequality and poverty, and neglect the sick. If that is the real battle of heroism versus villainy, everyone is implicated, and everyone has a far greater role than repeating slogans, tying ribbons and placing stickers on bumpers.






Sex and Relationship Advice, Ken-style

Wow, so many things that pricked my blogmeter today. Eeny-meeny-miney-this one.

12 Insanely Bad Pieces Of Sex and Relationship Advice


Okay, now, see, quite a few of these really are truly insanely bad. Others are not bad at all...and one of the things on this list I dole out myself all the time, so I feel like I'd better qualify it.

1) STAY TOGETHER FOR THE KIDS

Yup. Insanely bad advice. Luckily, not so common any more, but you'll still find it floating around. It usually comes from conservative folks that feel they've sinned somehow by divorcing. One Christian friend of mine rationalizes her "sinful divorce" as follows: we were never really married. Now, there are obvious traps in thinking this way, but in her case...she's right. The relationship was not anything remotely resembling a healthy marriage, irrespective of faith, and it was not a healthy environment for children to live in. 
Don't stay together for the sake of the children. I'm a child of divorce myself and I echo the writer here: there are far worse things in life than celebrating two Christmases.

2) LOVE HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP LOOKING FOR IT

Oh-oh. I've been saying this one for years and years, and it's "insanely bad" advice? Let's unpack this:

On one level, this makes sense—and indeed, we think love happens when you “stop bitching and get a life,” that is, cultivate your own interests and hobbies, stop fixating on any one outcome and believing a relationship will solve all your problems. ‘Cause, it won’t. But you know, it helps if you like, go on a date every once in a while. Does this count as “looking”? We think so.

Yes, dating does count as looking. But I believe most people 'date' while fixated on one possible outcome of that date, i.e., a relationship. They therefore view any date that does not result in a relationship as a failure...and it's a short hop skip and a jump from there to "I'M a failure", which is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, incidentally, is "wanting" a relationship. If you announce to the world that you want a relationship, the world will oblige you with that exact experience...wanting a relationship.
The other thing is that many people view relationships as needs-fulfillment tools. "You complete me", "he's my better half", etc. This makes for a romantic sentiment, to be sure...but it's not true. We are each of us complete human beings on our own.
If you act incomplete, that's exactly the aura you're going to project. It's not an attractive aura.
So here's what you do instead.  Cultivate the relationships you have...all of them. Make every single person you meet or spend any time at all with just a little bit happier for having been in your world.
Two things will accrue from that. One, you'll be happy because you're spreading happiness: that tends to splash back on you. In turn, that happiness will attract someone. It may take time, and yes, you do have to get off your ass at some point.  But too many people look for love and miss the love right in front of them.

3) ONCE YOU REACH A CERTAIN AGE, YOU HAVE TO LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

Again with the 'expectations'. God I hate that word. Now, it is reasonable to expect to be treated with respect--which covers a multitude of behaviours: expecting fidelity, by whatever definition of that word you agree on; expecting the truth; expecting to be treated like a human being, and so on. Beyond that, though, it is unreasonable to expect--well, much of anything. It's entirely possible that your partner will grow and change and that your life goals will diverge. It's entirely possible, indeed all but certain, that some of his interests will be different from yours. The problem with expectations is that sooner or later they go unmet, and then what?
My thinking has evolved somewhat on this, thanks to Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, whose ook More Than Two is a goldmine of solid relationship advice for anyone, not just people wired like I am. One of the guiding principles of that book is "The people in the relationship matter more than the relationship". This is simple...and revolutionary. I believe it puts the focus where it belongs, while having the neat-o side effect of actually helping sustain the relationship in whatever form it's meant to have, expectations be damned.


In terms of *starting* a relationship--well, okay. There has to be attraction on some level. There should be compatibility...actually, that's probably the most important thing. But both men and women in my experience want all that plus--and it's the plusses that I'll get into away down at number 10. Suffice it to say that many people, regardless of age, need to lower (or at least re-focus) their expectations

4) PRETEND YOU HAVE A PROBLEM; YOU MIGHT MEET SOME NICE PEOPLE AT AA/WEIGHT WATCHERS/CODEPENDENTS ANONYMOUS.

You've got to be kidding me. Is this really a thing?

Nope, it turns out. The writers of this "advice" suggest you really ought to have the problem, not pretend to. That said,  this is an approach that's rather fraught. It's certainly valid and viable...if both of you are focussed on overcoming the problem. You'll certainly find people who understand you. The danger is you'll also find people who enable you.

5) MOVING IN TOGETHER
WILL SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS
6) HAVING A BABY

(actually, to be fair, #6 was worded "having a baby together will bring you closer together than ever before").

These are possibly the worst pieces of advice I've ever run across in my entire life. Especially the one with the innocent third life involved in it.

I fell myself once for a variant of this: I thought that buying her a ring would shut up all the little niggly voices in my head telling me don't buy her a ring.
There, voices, I went and did it anyway. Now will you shut up? 

They didn't.

None of these things work. Solving the problem will solve your problem, and having a baby together--well, actually it's just as likely to drive you apart as bring you together. There are three periods of common marital instability. The first is during the first year, when you realize that you done gone and married the wrong person. The second is after three years...and linked strongly to having children. The third--which doesn't surprise me in the slightest--occurs after the children have left the nest, when you realize you've spent so much time parenting that you've forgotten how to be a couple. (Don't do that).

7) ONCE A CHEATER, ALWAYS A CHEATER

I hesitate to refute this...mostly because I've cheated not once but twice. Both times were long before I met my wife; I haven't ever thought of cheating on Eva. (and yes,  poly people can cheat; it's actually worse on one level because you might be affecting more than two people with your deception).
What the writer is actually saying here is that yes, there is a possibility you'll get hurt by loving someone. This is a fundamental truth, and not a risk that should be shoved aside. What matters is the mindset of the cheater. Is he fully repentant? Has she made amends to the best of her ability? Then you might consider provisionally accepting them. As with anyone, trust needs to be earned: a former cheater may have to earn considerably more trust, and that's a legitimate cost of cheating, is my view.

8) IT IS BETTER TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE WHO CHEATS ON YOU THAN SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T FLUSH THE TOILET.

Uma Thurman actually said this. Then again, this is the same woman who sees all potential dates as "prey". Seriously effed up, in other words.


For the record: cheating is bad. Incalcuably worse than "if it's yellow, let it mellow".

9) IF YOUR PARTNER DOES SOMETHING YOU DON'T LIKE, TRY WITHHOLDING SEX.

This is indeed shitty advice. "You did something I don't like, so I'm going to not do something you like" might work with a five year old, but let's at least pretend to be adults here. That said, something about the whole "withholding sex" thing rubs me the wrong way for an entirely different reason related to my odd psychological makeup. Sex just isn't the end-all and be-all of a relationship, for me. Intimacy is. I've no doubt the two are synonymous in most people's minds. They definitely aren't in mine.

10) Don't be so shallow.

They actually claim this is insanely bad advice.

It's damned good advice and I'll maintain that in the face of torture.

Like she's done with several other points, the writer here has stretched her definition of "shallow". She's implied that if you're not attracted to everyone, you're somehow "shallow". That's obviously bullshit, and I don't see anyone else out there using that paradigm.
You want someone who treats you properly, with whom you are reasonably compatible, and for whom you feel some level of attraction. That may well encompass some physical features--I certainly don't imagine there are many other people like me who love from the inside out--but having a list of such features to check off strikes me as shallow. Likewise requiring a certain (large) amount of money in a prospect's bank account is extremely shallow and damned unattractive...especially to rich people who are extremely wary of people developing relationships with their billfolds instead of their hearts and souls.

11) DON'T SLEEP WITH HIM TOO SOON.

Sigh.

This advice is good as far as it goes. As the writer notes, your vagina is not and should not be tied to your sense of self-worth. Also, sex is a hell of a way to bond, if bonding is what both of you are after. Provided you're on the same page with your partner(s), I say read every word on the page and act them all out.
But.
You ever notice how the advice is never phrased as "DON'T SLEEP WITH HER TOO SOON"?
You never hear that.
Maybe it's me (and if so, I apologize)...but I'm hypersensitive to this notion that sex is (a) all a guy wants out of a girl and (b) a guy's prerogative. (I guarantee you that back at #9 it wasn't the guy withholding sex...) It really pisses me off. It gives guys a bad name..."you all think with your dicks". You know what? My dick thinks, yeah, it does. It can be overruled. And I know I'm not alone here.

12) "...YOU GOTTA LOOK GOOD TO ATTRACT A MAN."

...where looking good is (predictably) defined as being a size two.

Shallow, anyone? Oh, wait, supposedly being shallow is a good thing.







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