21 August, 2014

I Like Big...Whats?

...and I can not lie: I've never understood the fascination with fundaments.

I mean, by now everybody knows exactly how little bodies in general mean to me, right? I know that's strange, but(t)...if you have to be attracted to the outermost layer of a person, why on earth would you focus on that specific part?
Both genders do it, so there's got to be some evolutionary reason why asses are where it's at. Me, I look at an ass, and I think that's the part the shit tumbles out of. Hence I don't look at them very often. I'm nobody's coprophiliac.

Name another body part that seems to garner more than its fair share of attention. On women, it's breasts. And while I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like boobs, as a man it has been drilled into me, over and over and over again, that I better not be caught looking at them because that's tantamount to rape. Now, I disagree with this notion quite strongly, but disagreeing with notions like this will get you nowhere.  So I don't look at breasts, either. Not unless and until I'm allowed to, at any rate.

That leaves faces, and that's the one part of the body that tells you something useful about the person underneath. You can tell a lot from a long look at a face. You can get a pretty fair gauge of empathy just from the depth of the eyes. You can tell if someone smiles a lot (even if they're not smiling when you look at them). You can tell how much pain they're in, and sometimes how long they've felt that pain. I seem to be particularly good at noticing pain that's been locked away.Not bad for a guy as supposedly unobservant as I've been told I am..

I'm attracted to faces. You want to get me warm? A warm smile does it every time.

Anyway, back to the behind. As I was saying, the bean-blower has just never held any interest for me. I'm practically alone among male humans in that regard. Popular music is just full of anal referents, from the iconic 'Baby Got Back' on up to this summer's feel-good-about-yourself-and-especially-your-bum song, "All About That Bass." If you're being told to shake something in popular music, it's a pretty safe bet it's your butt.

Body image songs.

I'm still waiting for a really good one. No matter the song or the good intentions behind it, there always seems to be a word or a line that jars, something that lifts me out of the song and says to me this singer doesn't really mean it.

Let's take "Baby Got Back" as an example.. Sir Mix-A-Lot was quoted in 1992:

"The song doesn't just say I like large butts, you know? The song is talking about women who damn near kill themselves to try to look like those beanpole models that you see in Vogue magazine."

Fantastic sentiment, otherwise damn near perfect song, marred in the very first verse. C'mon, we all know it:

"when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face, you get sprung..."

Hang on a second. What's that "itty-bitty waist" doing in there? Tiny waist, big ass, what kind of unnatural shape is that, anyway? Even if that's normal, why exactly does the waist have to be small?

To say nothing of the fact that the butt and the waist are the only two body parts mentioned here. Even for a song focussing only on bodies, that seems kind of narrow.

Then there's Meghan Trainor: "All About That Bass". This one suffers from the opposite problem:

I'm bringin' booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I'm just playin' I know you think you're fat
But I'm here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

Again, lovely sentiment. But did she have to call them skinny women "bitches"? Was that really necessary? Oh, hang on, she said "no, I'm just playin'." Ah. Okay. That excuses that, then.

No it doesn't. I've heard "I'm just playin'" used to justify pretty much every hurtful thing that has never been said to me, and more importantly, to others. It's often said to fat women (always women...) Remember the schoolyard chant? "Fatty, fatty, two-by-four, can't get through the bathroom door"? Did you ever think to ask the person those words were addressed to if she thought the "game" was fun?

No, there's nothing wrong with being fat. Of course there isn't. But there's nothing wrong with being skinny either.Being skinny doesn't make you a "bitch". Being bitchy all the time makes you a bitch, and those come in all shapes and sizes.

There are lots of other body acceptance songs out there -- MIKA's "Big Girl, You are Beautiful" comes to mind. It has its issues too...it comes across as a fetishist's song, kind of creepy in places. That's the inevitable line you walk when you write these songs that focus on the body like it's the only thing that matters.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but these song are always, without exception, about women. Now, believe me, I'm extremely sensitive to the body image plight that nearly every woman wrestles with. But I'm here to tell you us men have body issues, too. In spades. Women aren't quite as shallow as men are (in general): guys without six-packs can still aspire to be friends with women, at least. But we all know what gets your motors revving: biceps, triceps, abs, delts. quads...Where's our body acceptance song, anyway?

19 August, 2014

Black and White

  1. 1. (of a situation or debate) involving clearly defined opposing principles or issues.
    "there is nothing black and white about these matters"

  1. 2. (Informal) a police car.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I have made a point of defending police officers online against mindless tides of derision and worse over the years. There are many "good cops" in my family, and I love them all and respect the often thankless job they do. My father (now thankfully long retired) tops my list. Here's a cop who never fired his service weapon on duty though his entire career (he received a commendation for that). He's known far and wide as a person who serves his community, who genuinely cares. And on any given shift, his job could turn from routine to deadly in an instant. I will never forget riding along with him when he pulled a speeder over. "Now if anything happens, Macaw", he said, "press this button. It'll put you in touch with North Bay [at least two hours away at top speed, probably closer to three]. Give the cruiser number and describe the situation."

Nothing happened.

But it could have,

Now, I know for a fact my father didn't disproportionately pull over or arrest anyone. The Canadian equivalent in terms of racial prejudice would be the First Nations, and reservations dot the area he patrolled. (He didn't often venture on to them: they have their own police forces. One of the few things we got right in our treatment of aboriginals, in my view). But I know my father. Like the majority of police officers, he is a fair and just man, and what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri is not his idea of policing.

Indeed, that police action has more in common with a police action than anything I'd expect of a police service. What does it tell you when the peace officers declare and prosecute a war?

Canada is not immune from police behaving badly. The three incidents that immediately spring to mind are the Robert Dziekanski fiasco in Vancouver, the totally unjustified killing of Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in Toronto, and the utter insanity of the G-20 protests, which put a mob of protestors against a mob of police officers. Like every other G-anything, this didn't go well.

There are doubtless many other rogue cops in Canada, and many cases of police insanity. This should not obscure the fact that most police officers are truly motivated to "serve and protect", to "maintain the right".

You get to wondering if this holds true south of the 49th parallel.

Again, I'm sure that there are countless police officers down there who have their communities' best interests at heart, and who act responsibly at all times. But there are enough bad apples that cynics might feel perfectly justified appending "...as long as you're white" to that sentence.

Black people live in a different world. Whether it's in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, New York, or just about anywhere in between, a black boy learns very early on to distrust, fear, and hate the police. And why is that? Because the police in America routinely target blacks and Latinos, far more than whites. Take a look at these stats for Illinois, for instance. White motorists are 49% more likely to have contraband material in their vehicles than blacks, and 56% more likely than Latinos; yet police search nearly twice as many cars driven by blacks and Latinos. Similar discrepancies hold true across most jurisdictions I have looked at. I don't want to bog you down with stats. Suffice it to say that if you're black or Latino, you're a target.

And why is that? Well, in New York City, at least, it's done to create a culture of fear: to let the black man know at at any time, he can be stopped by police. Keeps him in his place, see? The NYPD has quotas for this. (You almost have to laugh: In 2011, more young black men were stopped by police than there are young black men in New York City. )

 Despite its blatant unconstitutionality, stop-and frisk wasvigorously defended by  the two   previous mayors  and the current police commissioner, who has no intention of  ending the program, saying "you can't police without it".

Don't think for a second this is limited to NYC.. The attitude behind stop-and-frisk: that any young black man is ipso facto suspected of something, and the use of petty peccadillos like jaywalking to stop and detain young black men...that leads us into


Michael Brown.

It is a fact that Michael Brown broke the law. He stole a box of Swisher Sweet cigarillos from a convenience store.  Darren Wilson was unaware of this when he first confronted Brown and his friend: their offence, so far as Wilson was concerned, was "blocking the street".

I will repeat that.

As far as the police were concerned, Michael Brown was guilty of the offence of "blocking the street".

Now, I am an inveterate jaywalker. It drives Eva nuts: I like to diagonalize my way across streets, on as shallow an angle as safety permits. Saves time. Hasn't got me killed yet.  I've been doing this for a very long time and no police officer has ever looked twice at me, let alone stopped his cruiser, backed it up, and told me to "get the fuck off the street". I can't say for certain that this is because I am Canadian and white...but I'm beginning to think that might be why.

Reports from here on out conflict. The police report states that Brown became aggressive and tried to get his hands on Wilson's gun, He was shot several times in the fracas.

That's what the police say. Numerous eyewitnesses say otherwise: the general picture seems to be that
Wilson nearly ran over Brown, opened his cruiser door so violently that it bounced off Brown and ricocheted shut, and that Wilson then reached out and tried to drag Brown through the window. Brown struggled--wouldn't you?--and Wilson, still inside the cruiser, shot him. At that point, again according to numerous eyewitnesses, Brown fled, and Wilson exited his cruiser and shot him several more times. In the final seconds of his life, Brown reportedly turned around to face Wilson...and was shot again.

You're supposed to believe the police officer in cases like this...and the chief of police, who oddly enough waited almost a full week to release Wilson's name (and when he did, he mentioned the robbery for the first time, as if to say "he had it coming!")  Let's just say that given the way the Ferguson PD conducts its business, I'm disinclined to believe a word they put out. Especially given that the autopsy on Brown showed no signs of struggle.

It's worth noting here that that two thirds of Ferguson residents are black...and 94% of its police officers are white. It's also worth noting that this police force has a token two dashboard cameras...and  has never bothered installing them.

The initial incident was reprehensible enough. How the Ferguson PD has behaved since is beyond the pale and it opens up a whole other topic: the police as occupying army.They have arrested and detained journalists for nothing more than recording police activity (which is one hundred percent legal). Two days ago, they threatened to mace and shoot members of the media doing their jobs. They have deployed tear gas (banned in warfare by the protocols of the Geneva Convention, somehow legal for use in quelling riots...or, you know, just firing into crowds for shits and giggles.) The same tear gas used in Ferguson, Mo. was used in the West Bank the week prior by the Israeli Defence Force. Which is interesting, because the police chief of St. Louis County, Mo, spent a week in Israel learning counter-terrorism measures.

Terrorism is such a big problem in St. Louis County, you understand.

Last night they shot two people, used flash grenades on a "peaceful but tense" group of protestors, and once again fired tear gas into the crowd. I have the horrible feeling that events are running ahead of this writing, and that worse will happen tonight.

Did you know it's common procedure in some jurisdictions that SWAT teams are deployed to execute warrants, often with tragic results? Did you know that Tiffin, Ohio (population 17,800) has procured for its police department a nice seven-ton armoured vehicle? They paid a dollar for it: a larger department was upgrading its equipment. That larger department made a buck on the deal, since vehicles and other military materiel is provided free of charge to any police department who asks for it, courtesy the Department of Defence and Homeland Security. I'm amazed a country's populace lets this happen. It just boggles my mind. What's even more incredible, to me, is that these police forces are given all this military excess gratis WITHOUT TRAINING ON HOW TO USE IT..


Four years ago, I wrote about the G20 riot in Toronto, and back then I took the side of the cops. In similar, entirely predictable protests and riots, I will usually take the side of those trying to maintain or restore order. G-anything protests are pointless. They happen every time world leaders get together and they don't accomplish a damned thing. Likewise, when your team wins (or loses) the Stanley Cup--I'm looking at you, Vancouver--there is no reason other than pure idiocy to smash store windows and set cruisers on fire. Further, when force is used against peace officers, they have every justification to use force right back.

Michael Brown is different. Anybody with half a brain and a tenth of a heart can understand exactly why people have chosen to protest this. And when peaceful protests are met with tactics straight out of a war zone, well, that's grounds for a much more violent protest, as far as I'm concerned.

Police are supposed to be peace officers. Not soldiers. But it looks for all the world as if war has been declared on the residents of Ferguson, Mo. And if you are at war, especially through no fault of your own, it's only reasonable that you fight. Not to do so is to accept living in a police state.

16 August, 2014

Inked and Holed

I woke up this morning at least as depressed as I've been over these past two months. Over the same shit, too. It's human contact, I'm not getting enough of it, I'm craving it, and my attempts to procure some of it have been roundly, if silently, rebuffed at every turn. I had officially reached the point of being depressed that I was depressed. Once that takes hold, it's an endless feedback loop that leads ever downward to places I've never been and have no wish to go.

And today was a special day. No day is fit for emotions like those; this day less than most. Today was tattoo and piercing day. This was to be the day I symbolically changed. It wouldn't do to walk into it feeling like I didn't deserve to change.

I got angry with myself. Quit yer whining, I admonished, or I'll have to call you a wahmbulance.

That didn't work. That just added anger to loneliness. Corrosive combination.

So let's try positivity. Let's cast back to grade 13, Rev. McCombe's Classical Civilizations class. There was a handout every day we spent five or ten minutes discussing. Well, actually, if it took the period to discuss it, that's how long it took. Rev. McCombe was that kind of a teacher.

The handout I remembered said

If you have one friend, you're lucky. Two, you're blessed. Three is impossible. 

I remember scoffing at that when I first read it. I was surrounded by people who numbered their friends in the dozens. That was long before Facebook came along to make a mockery of the word 'friend'. Rev. McCombe did his best to redefine 'friend' such that I understood. There are acquaintances, there are friends, and then there are friends. The real friends tended to be as close, or closer than, family: there for you no matter what. It doesn't diminish the importance of those other tiers of friends to know the close ones for who they are.

Well, I have two friends in my life. I married one of them. And what's more, I have at least two people who would have taken that second friend spot (since three is  impossible) had my life unfolded a little differently. Let's re-recognize these people for the treasures they are and stop trying to turn others into something they were never meant to be. As for that human contact: like everything else, it'll come as soon as you stop needing it so damned badly.

Writing that out--and then going up and playing my keyboard for an hour--set me right again. Right and ready to make myself over.

We met our friend Ande at Way Cool Tattoos   Now, Eva had had a tat done here before, and I'd been here once to put down the deposit for today's collection, but I couldn't help but notice a whiff of ancient prejudice. Why do tattoo parlours always have to look like they do, I thought. Way Cool was on the main floor of a converted duplex in a, shall we say, seedy part of town. There were enough crazy posters on the walls to make me either feel like, or wish I was, on acid.  Hip-hop music thumped through the place. And while you should never trust a skinny chef, these tattoo artists were heavily inked. I've come a hell of a long way since I met my wife and learned that body art was just that, art...but apparently I'm still a little leery of people who feel the need to cover every square inch of skin.  I would feel better, I thought, in a clinic: nice nondescript beige walls...a landscape here and there, a standard drop ceiling...

Jesus, Ken, today seems to be your day for shitty thoughts. Zip it. 

After some fiddling with designs, we were ready to go. Ande was up first...these were to be her first tattoos as well: serotonin and dopamine molecules.  But wait, what's this? "Let's get the piercing out of the way first".

Uh, let's not. This was the part of the day I was dreading. As many times as I told myself that five year old girls get their ears pierced, I couldn't stop thinking he's going to drill a hole RIGHT THROUGH YOUR EAR. One slip and he'll puncture your eardrum and you'll be deaf in one ear. RIGHT THROUGH, MAN! Picture a hole right through your arm. Or your foot. They send people home from wars for that. 

Is you a man or is you a mouse?


John explained the process , had me sit up, and handed me a cup to catch the needle in. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the RIGHT THROUGH I knew was coming.

"Okay, bring the cup over, now tilt it a little." *clink*

Huh? Seriously? I've had dust motes hurt me more than that did.

"Not a drop of blood", John said. The stud was in. I was officially studly.

Amazing. I felt a little tingle for the first half hour or so, after that, I couldn't feel the earring at all.

Ande,  meanwhile, was almost done with this:

She looked fantastic, and told me if she could handle the feeling behind her ear, I'd surely be able to handle the feeling on my shoulders.

I was highly impressed with how meticulously Kyle cleaned everything. I mean, you expect as much, but seeing it is reassuring.
A couple of razor strokes, an alcohol rubdown, and then the stencil was applied. Everything looked good. I got up on the table. The infinity heart was first.

Now, these tattoos were supposed to be the easy part. It had variously been explained to me as a scraping, a scratching, and a bunch of bees stinging me. I discarded that last because otherwise I would have ran away screaming. Instead I thought scraping, scratching. You scrape and scratch yourself for sport and never even feel it. I warned Kyle that I'm naturally fidgety, and resolved to sit as still as I can manage.

'Okay, outline first", said Kyle. "This is going to scrape and scratch and sting a little".

The needles were applied.

Scrape, scratch, sting. Yup, that's exactly what that feels like. Not pleasant, but not unbearable.

What I'd neglected to realize is that when I scrape or scratch myself, even without noticing it, I only do it the once. I don't think you know what, I didn't feel that quite enough, so I'm going to do it again and again and again and I'm really gonna WHALE on that area. Nope, never even crossed my mind to do that.

Damnit, this hurts. Some places more than others. Some places that really stung were about a quarter of an inch from other places that didn't. There was no predicting the level of OUCH I was about to feel. Eva's looking at me. I'm allowed to look like I'm hurting in front of Eva. ANDE'S also looking at me, along with a room full of strangers, and I'm not allowed to look like this hurts in front of them.

Damnit, this HURTS.

Halfway through, my favourite Eminem track came on. My eyes must have lit up like a pinball machine: this song was exactly what I needed to hear today.

I guess I had to go through that place to get to this one...

But I think I'm still tryin' to figure this crap out
Thought I had it mapped out but I guess I didn't
This fucking black cloud still follows me around
But it's time to exorcise these demons
These motherfuckers are doing jumpin' jacks now!

Suddenly it didn't hurt quite so badly.

Maybe 45 minutes later:

(The scratch below is where Eva tried to demonstrate to me how much today was going to hurt. "Does this hurt?", she asked, scratching. "No." "Okay, this?" "Not really", "Well, how about--" "okay, now it hurts, stop it!)

A break to move around, and then the blue spruce. This was larger and considerably more detailed: unlike the infinity heart, which is a standard design we'd given Kyle, this tree was Kyle's own creation. The stencil looked good: all systems go.

This hurt more.

I started talking to Kyle to stop myself from thinking RIGHT THROUGH, man, do you have to poke those needles RIGHT THROUGH MY ARM? Actually, he asked me first what kind of music I like to listen to, and I answered truthfully, a little of almost everything....and we were off and running. He is a guitarist in a punk rock band...and a cellist. We were able to mesh musical minds, running from Dream Theater to Queen to the Forgotten Rebels to (yes, Nicole) Tool--he specifically told me the Aenima album was fantastic front to back.

The pain was gone. My mind was thoroughly engaged.

An unknowable, but not very long, time later:

 I love this. I mean, I really love it. It's better than I had any right to imagine it would be.
The roots were Eva's addition; the rest of it is all Kyle...and it's perfect. It actually looks quite a lot like the blue spruce on my front lawn.

Kyle made a point of telling me I sat better than many people who were not tattoo virgins. I was awash in good feelings. A friend of mine called me "brave" last night; I savoured that, it occurred to me that this was maybe the first time I'd ever heard that particular word applied to me. For you people out there with sleeves and giant back pieces, I'm sure these don't seem like such of a much...but they are for me, They mean a lot. Aside from the individual meaning of each piece...well, for a great many years I swore up and down I would never do this, and to join the love of my life in the ranks of the tatted...it feels good.

You know what feels even better? This.

That's right, Eva got a matching infinity heart. Kyle did that one up lickety split after I was off the table.
I love you, love.

Thanks to Kyle and John at Way Cool for making this day...way cool. Thanks to Ande, who kept me honest over the length of that first tattoo (and yours look great!) And thanks again to my darling wife, who has made and is making this possible.

15 August, 2014

Canoe Envy

Friends of mine embark tomorrow on a week long canoe adventure in The Massassauga Provincial Park. (The definite article is presumably there to differentiate this one from the hundreds of other Massassauga Provincial Parks in Ontario...)
The Park stretches from Parry Sound to the Moon River and encompasses 131 km2. I'm told their campsite is four hours by canoe from the park entrance, and a map and compass are needed to get there.

Heaven. Not their first time there, and I doubt it will be their last, either.

I've only been canoeing once in my life. It was in that general area, actually, but it was so many years ago now that I can't remember what lakes we covered. I remember it was a camp; that my cousin Terri was a counsellor or guide or whatever she was called ("boss lady" seems to fit); that, being as I was in a group of kids my own age, bullying surrounded me like a cloud of mosquitoes; that Terri kept most of it at bay without twigging everyone in on the fact we were related.  I loved her for that.

I remember portaging through thick mud, uphill, discovering for the first time in my life that I had some strength in me. I remember sleeping like the dead. But mostly I remember the sounds: the wind on the lake and soughing through the pines on the shore; the pattering of rain; the loons; the utterly relaxing noise of the paddle stroking through the water.  I can't say I had much stress in me at ten years old or however old I was...but whatever stress I did have was leached out of me in short order. Well, the portaging helped, too. Canoes are freakin' heavy. Turn-in time would see me basically fall comatose.

The dark. You don't know dark until you've camped out in an Ontario wilderness on a clear, moonless night. Stars speckle the heavens, each one a tiny firefly impossibly far away; other than that there is nothing. If you're in the forest you can't see the sky for the canopy and if that's the case, you can't see your hand in front of your face, either.  Yet somehow this isn't a frightening dark at all. It's almost...sensual. It thoroughly enwraps you, caresses you, and makes you a part of itself.  Okay, maybe a little frightening. Best shared, at any rate.

Your odds of seeing any significant wildlife are slim, although deer are plentiful and moose can make an appearance that far south. You might see a five-lined skink (Ontario's only lizard). What you really need to watch out for is the Massassauga rattlesnake (which happens to be Ontario's only venomous snake). Now, these friends of mine returned not all that long ago from a sojourn in Australia, so a Massassauga rattler is probably a plaything to them. I mean, in all recorded history the snake has only killed two Ontarians, and it's not an aggressive snake either. But it will deliver a painful bite, and antivenin is hard to come by, especially four hours from nowhere.

I envy the heck out of them. A week cut off from all civilization is something I could really use right about now. Safe trip, you two. Happy paddling.

13 August, 2014

Won't You Be My Neighbour?

Macleans has a very interesting article this month entitled "The End Of Neighbours".

Do you know your neighbours? I don't. Now, granted, for me on both sides those neighbours change every four months with the school term. But the only time I ever think of them is on those rare occasions when the concrete wall that separates our side of the semi from theirs isn't enough to muffle their party. (Why do people turn music up so loud they have to shout over it to be heard? Never understood that.)
I've lived in upwards of twenty different places--whenever I try to count them all, I can't help but think I've missed one or two, but they're a different one or two each time. And I'd have to go back all the way to the first home I ever had to find neighbours we were on close terms with...and then, only on one side. Martha Culver babysat me for a few years and I spent enough time with that family that I still remember...wow, all of them.  John and Lilian, Mark, Martha and Faith. Never noticed until just now how Christian those kids' names are. Not surprising. The Culvers also gave me my first and last experience of Sunday school. Church for them was an unshakeable obligation.
Since I moved from Bramalea in 1980, I've lived in apartment buildings, townhouses, semi-detached homes and bungalows. I've lived in dorms and in the basements and second floors of homes and rarely have I known anything more than the first name of any given neighbour. Usually not even that. A man's home is his castle, the saying goes, and I like mine equipped with moat, thank you.

In this I know I'm not alone. According to this article, fewer than half of people surveyed could pick their neighbours out of a police lineup. I've never even seen mine, on either side. How sad is that? Even sadder that I recognize how sad it is and still don't want to do anything about it. For all I rationalize that they'll be gone by next term, most relationships in life have expiry dates. Some of them last mere seconds. They can still be important.

"No man is an island", wrote John Donne in 1624, but that was 1624. We moderns are ever more insular (insular: Latin from 'insula' - "island") and proud of it. For once the Internet isn't to blame here. The Net is merely the latest coping strategy we've created to sanitize our social lives. This is actually the inevitable byproduct of cheap oil, which is the only reason suburbia exists in the first place...and which, incidentally, will be gone within the lifetime of my younger readers, if not sooner. It's bad enough that most of the skills we're going to need in the centuries ahead were lost with our great-grandparents. Even worse, we certainly don't have their social skill, and that will be even more necessary for survival.

Think of the clubs that used to be an integral part of life in the small towns where most of our distant ancestors lived and died. The Grange, 4-H, the Rotary Club, and so on. At one point in the 1800s there were dozens, even scores, of them. Now think of the churches we've abandoned and their emphasis on community and service. Most of us claim we don't have time for any of that any more in our harried modern lives, even as we sit on our butts and watch screens for hours at a time. We say we don't need those connections because they're all online now--and yet online connections are tenuous and they don't replace actual face to face contact.
As the article linked above notes,  online relationships not buttressed by real-life contact tend to peter out, many of them in as little as a year and a half. (Whereas online relationships that include face-to-face contact grow stronger over time).

I've always liked the Internet because many times it has given me a step up at the beginning of a relationship. People have been forced to look at me without looking at me...in other words, the way I look at them. That's all well and good--it's worked, as I say, several times. But of my closest friends and loves

--I met exactly one of them online
--not a single one of them is strictly an online relationship (although damnit I don't see you people near as often as I'd like)

and of course it's very telling that Eva and I have never had an online component to our relationship at all.

I find it deeply ironic that I, a person who has lived all his life with varying degrees of social anxiety, would be so passionate about preferring to see people in the flesh rather than on a screen. Failing that, I'd like to talk to you and hear your voice--but even that's taboo now: they're still called "smartphones" but the "phone" component is all but forgotten. Seeing you, though...I can talk faster than I can type. We can sit and chat about everything and nothing. We can actually laugh out loud and marvel at the depth of shared feeling that creates, so much deeper than looking at "LOL" on a screen.  We can even be completely silent, if we're that comfortable, and let the silence speak our words for us. And of course, no combination of keystrokes can ever come close to duplicating a human hug.


We now have amorphous social groups, centered primarily online, that span the globe. This is wonderful insofar as it allows for instant, free communication and it can have a powerful positive effect. But it also produces, again as the article notes, a kind of echo chamber. We tend to stay in the "safe" areas even online...places where we know we're unlikely to be disagreed with. There was a time, and it really wasn't that long ago, when we had enough actual social contact with people that invariably some of them would think differently from us. This is called "diversity", and it's now a concept we pay extraordinary amounts of lip service to while making damn sure we don't actually have to interact with it in any meaningful way.

This has polarized the electorate in both Canada and the United States. Neither side understands the other, nor has any wish to: they're all barbarians, stupid, even evil. It's only by meeting people face to face that you can begin to break that barrier down and really appreciate there are different ways of seeing the world and value in each other's perspectives. And we won't meet these people if we stay locked within our four walls thinking our social network can replace a social network.

12 August, 2014

Delete Facebook?

I'm 31, I'm 34. pretty soon I'm 42
Loggin' in and zonin' out, isn't what I'd hoped to do...
The Paperboys, "After the First Time (paraphrased)

I've been entertaining thoughts of deleting my Facebook account.

I probably won't. I'm too much of a coward. Also, it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that isn't Facebook's fault, but mine.

If you tell me I've spent way too much time logged in there over the past two months, I won't argue. It's been a great way to keep in touch with people I no longer see in real life, and also people I do see. How many of those friends are artificial, though? Studies have shown that we talk to somewhere between six and ten percent of our Facebook friends, and even fewer are close friends offline.  I have no real wish to personally test that hypothesis. It's so much easier to live in pretend-friend world.

The other problem with Facebook, of course, is that it's a self-validation echo chamber. Post something: get likes and shares and comments and WOW, PEOPLE NOTICE ME. Don't get those likes and comments and shares and oh shit, what did I do, why does nobody care...You know what that is? It's high school. I couldn't wait to get out of high school...why am I back in it at 42?

I didn't notice this so much when I was working, spending nine hours a day in the company of actual living breathing human beings. I knew where I stood, then. Some of them liked me, most were indifferent, a couple outright hated me. I looked forward to seeing the likers and was indifferent abo0ut the indifferenters and I avoided the haters as best I could, and it was easier. Confined to a digital world, in many ways I find myself thrust back in time, to when I spent even more time a day in front of a screen than I do now, desperate to communicate, wielding words like weapons to hack through the isolation. Back then it was self-imposed. Now it's less so. There's not much of a difference.

Like I say, Facebook isn't a disease for me, it's a symptom. Most people can go days without logging in there; some of them go weeks or even months between posting anything. This is unimaginable to me...and it's only been seven years. What on earth did I do before Facebook came along? I honestly don't recall. Surely I didn't feel like this so often.

But...there are people I care very much about here. All in one place. To cut myself off from them, voluntarily, seems rash and foolhardy, like cutting the ropes on your parachute before you leave the plane.

So here's the deal. I'm going to try to cut back just a little. This is, I recognize, a recurrence of a bitchly horrible addiction I last battled in university. Once I'm employed again, this won't be such of a much, of course...but until then I simply have to lessen my dependance on this place. I've been saying for a bit now that I must divorce how others feel about me from my perception of myself.  Making a point not to notice 'likes' would probably be a good place to start.

Comic Tragedy

I was going to write about...something else...and then Robin Williams killed himself, and nothing else seemed to matter.

I missed the beginning of the man's career. Mork and Mindy ran from '78 to '82; I was born in '72. (Eva was born just three years earlier than I was, but we have a pop culture age difference of at least a decade: I didn't even really become aware of the world of entertainment until I was in my teens, while it seems as if she absorbed it with her mother's milk.) There's something ironic, though, in a man who first made his Mork as an alien battling and losing to a disease that alienates like no other.

Robin first imprinted on my consciousness in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). Listening to that soundtrack, you can't help but be aware you're in the presence of a remarkably adept mind.  (In all my life, I've known two people who can make improv funny. Robin Williams was one of them.) From then on, I made a point of watching Williams on screen and on stage. The older I got, the more I recognized the depth of the man. For one thing, his comedy was balls-to-the-wall flat-out: he had an astonishing, nonpareil facility to fully adopt personas and switch between them in the blink of an eye, and he seemed to invest all of himself into every single one of them, even if it lasted for ten seconds.

But it was his dramatic roles that really brought his profundity into focus. From The World According to Garp through to One Hour Photo and beyond, Williams never gave anything less than his all in every role he played. It's hard not to read his mental illness into his unparalleled career trajectory (has any other actor ever veered so wildly between fluff comedies and dark indie dramas, back and forth and back again?) It's as if he was endlessly searching. He covered the whole of the human condition over his acting life, never settling.  Maybe he tried too hard.

For my money, he was at his absolute best in a movie that critically bombed. What Dreams May Come (1998) casts him as a loving husband and father who loses his sons, then loses his wife. He looks down on his surviving wife, who is understandably battling severe depression. He tries so hard to communicate with her, almost succeeding...but she kills herself and descends into a self-created hell, from which he eventually rescues her.  According to Neale Donald Walsch's CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD series, it is one of the most realistic visions we've had as a species about what comes after death.

It was a ten-hankie kind of movie sixteen years ago: I bawled like a baby. I don't believe I could get through it now.

The role I would have most liked to see him tackle was Jack Torrance in THE SHINING (1980). Kubrick wanted him for the part; Stephen King vetoed him. At the time, Williams was comparatively small potatoes, yet Kubrick obviously grasped the man's depth of feeling. I personally believe Williams would have made a much more suitable Torrance than Jack Nicholson did. Nobody can out-crazy Jack Nicholson, but the real horror of THE SHINING lies in watching a loving (though flawed) husband and father go insane by slow degrees. Nicholson was batshit crazy from the first shot. I think Willams would have invested that role--the way he did every other role he played--with humanity.

Williams certainly knew how to lift other people's spirits. When his friend Christopher Reeve suffered that tragic accident that robbed him of his career and mobility, it was Williams who came to make him laugh. He did the same thing for Sharon Osbourne following her cancer diagnosis. While Steven Spielberg was filming Schindler's List, Williams took it upon himself to provide much-needed comic relief.

That was what Williams was, at heart, even in his dramatic roles: a comedian. He could don his hilarious Aspect and raise up his Attribute of Laughter at will. In that respect, he was a fully realized, outer-directed human being.Always there for his friends, to make them laugh, to remind them that life is worth living. Who was there for him?  It would take a perceptive person indeed to peer behind the comedy and glimpse the tragedy that fuelled it. If only he could have found a way to apply some of that infinitude of life-force he so freely gave to his own obviously tormented inner life, the world would still be laughing with him instead of crying over him today.

Tributes are pouring in, from the famous and the not-so-famous alike. One of my friends noted that comedians like Williams see the world too clearly, and there's little doubt that for all their efforts, the world still sucks. He is not the first comic to end his own life and he won't be the last.

Robin, I'm so sorry, but you know, you're right...the world isn't worthy of you. We'll keep trying to redeem it, though, the ones you've left behind. In the meantime, I hope you've broken free of your self-created hell and created a heaven to your liking, full of life and laughter and love...what dreams may come.



11 August, 2014

(Mind and) Body Stripped Bare

Personal blogette, to begin: I am truly healing. Yesterday I walked into two grocery stores, one I worked at until 2011 and another that belongs to the chain I just left...and didn't once think I belonged in either of them. That''s a first in almost fifteen years: I used to pay inordinate attention to everything in the dairy/frozen aisles out of professional interest that turned personal after a while.  This time I walked through both, picked up a few things, and left. No thoughts of ha, look at those holes, my aisle looks better than that. Not the slightest desire to front and face anything (yeah, I got to be a bit anal about that, before). And most importantly, no numbness, no  no-feeling that masks shame and hurt. I was simply a shopper.

I've had something of a mental breakdown over the past two months. Nothing requiring hospitalization, or anything, but...well, I'd find myself crying for no reason I could discern fairly often. I was hypersensitive to words and actions (at times it felt like thoughts) of people around me: any slight real or imagined caused me to descend into a funk that could last a day--whereas any positive interaction would send my mood soaring beyond the limits of the rational. Happy medium, indeed. I still have bad hours here and there, and yesterday was an awful day...but overall I seem to be levelling out. 
Thank you readers, friends and loves, for sticking by me through what probably seemed rather distasteful. I appreciate it more than you can know. My boat may rock a while yet, but I sense the worst is over.


Note: I am not writing this blog stark naked.

Disclaimer: I am not a practicing nuturist. In my life, I have indeed spent some time outside sans clothing...well out of view of any Mrs. Grundies with an insatiable interest in my genitalia. I have skinny-dipped (well, more like chunky-dunked); I have sat nude on a deserted beach (not recommended: sand is sandy) and I have even done things outside that deserve a curtain of privacy. Nowadays, though? Given the UV ratings tend to top out around "nuclear meltdown" lately, you pretty much have to have actual brass balls to sunbathe naked. But hey! if you do not need a pocket and you wanna just defrock it, strip 'n' rip, I say. 

Dennis Roszell doesn't say.  Dennis Roszell says you're a terrorist. Because, you know, nudity kills. Those children in Gaza? It's a good thing for them the IDF hasn't decided to doff their clothes and bring out the heavy ammunition. And maybe the Palestinians ought to look at firing a different sort of rocket, the casualty rate might go up.

Incidentally, don't you think the world would be a better place if we could magic away all weapons and soldier uniforms? You wanna fight all together? You gotta do it in the altogether. 

What could make someone so disgusted with the human body? Even the Christians say it was made in the image and likeness of God. For the love of whatever you consider sacred, it's just skin. We've all got it, every last one of us. Does it have to be out there where you can see it? No, it doesn't. But if you happen to see skin, it shouldn't provoke any kind of visceral reaction in you, either. Naked people, no big deal.
Except we get the oh-so-predictable real reason for the moral outrage buried deep in the cleavage of the of the story:  

He said the beach has also become a meeting place for people seeking sexual encounters and there are ads posted online by people looking to hook up.

I wonder how he knows this. Do these ads get  routed to his inbox, somehow? If not, you kind of have to figure he goes looking for them. Naughty, naughty.

Roszell doesn't say if he's seen any actual sexual activity. I rather doubt he has: naturism is not about sex and official clothing optional beaches have very strict rules against it. That said, Three Mile Beach is not an official nude beach. There are only two of those in Canada, one in Vancouver and one in Toronto...although naturists are accepted in many more places, as shown, and it looks as if only in the most exceptional circumstances will  you face prosecution for bein' all nekkid and bare.  It is possible some people had sex on the beach. They won't make that mistake again: as I believe I may have mentioned, sand is sandy.

In any event, I find it highly unlikely Roszell is having his eyes seared out by widespread (so to speak) fornication. And if he does see a flash of nudity, or heaven forfend, a beast with two backs cavorting around, the prudent prudish thing to do would be not to stare at it. If you don't like it, don't look at it. And if you're worried that it might corrupt your children...trust me, they've fooled around naked already. Sorry, I know you don't want to think about that, but that doesn't make it any less true.

I once attended a clothing-optional sunrise wedding.

It was, as you'd probably imagine, a smallish affair. It was also possibly the most moving wedding ceremony I've ever seen.  (If you're wondering, guests could be naked if they chose; a few among the dozen or so of us did so choose.)
The bride and groom were fully clothed for the processional. The vows alternated between bride and groom, and as each was spoken, the speaker removed one item of the listener's clothing until both stood naked facing each other. It sounds like a burlesque striptease. It was anything but: I found it solemn and dignified and extremely meaningful. Most of those assembled were in tears by the end of the thing just from the sheer power of the words and actions.  Pertinent to Mr. Roszell: there was nary a snicker or a snort, let alone an outraged scream or a  stampede of people ducking and covering away from the "terrorists".

There is nothing wrong, let alone sinful, about people's bodies. My next post will be about how there's nothing wrong with yours.