26 June, 2016

Picnic

Parents of my acquaintance, your world is not my world.

It's not that I have had no contact with children. I did babysit a little as a teen (nobody younger than seven or so). And at any family gathering, kids have always gravitated to me. I have a cousin who can still recall the ghost story I told her almost three decades ago.

I do well with kids ... once they reach a certain age I think of as "human". Children of human age can communicate in coherent sentences. They express their needs, wants, and frustrations in a language that is easily understood. And most notably, they are at least reasonably predictable. They'll do stupid things, of course, but you'll see them coming most of the time.

Proto-humans are something else altogether. They communicate, all right, but I would need considerably more exposure to pick up any of their language. They have the attention span of gnats on speed. And they are UTTERLY unpredictable. They'll do something downright dangerous without any warning at all, not because they spit in the face of danger but because they're too young to understand what danger is.

That last part is what terrifies me. In fact, the nature and level of the fear is roughly akin to that I get contemplating driving a car, and for much the same reason: at any second you can expect a small child in your care or a driver in your sight to do something so patently insane that there's simply no guarding against it. I have enough trouble understanding how drivers can process such a nearly infinite number of variables and have a response ready for each one. Parents of young children are basically driving cars with no brakes and wonky steering. All day, every day.

My nieces, Alexa and Lily, are four and two and adorable.




They have very distinct personalities, and if I'm right, both of them are going to go a long way in the world, in different directions.

Alexa is an old soul, receptive to and respectful of feelings. She's courteous and caring and (today at least) she was very well-behaved. Alexa has a healthy dose of caution and an even healthier dose of bravery to overcome her fears.

Lily is a force. A totally fearless  force. She's so unlike me at her or any age that I'm honestly in awe of her: she will fall, hurt herself, shriek for  fifteen seconds or so, gather herself together...and go right back to doing whatever it was she hurt herself doing in the first place. Like as not, she'll succeed at it the second time. Even if it's...I'm getting ahead of myself.

Further analysis of Lily's personality I will leave to her parents: she's still in that proto-human stage. Today was the first day she was able to repeat "Uncle Ken" and "Aunt Eda", which amazed and melted me.

By comparison:

Alexa called Eva "E'a" at Lily's age; at four years old, Alexa's current age,  I was still of the opinion that ninety percent of English words began with the letter B. Cars were bars and trucks were bups and Gramma was Bumma (she loved that, I'm sure). Both my nieces are so far ahead of where I was at their age that it's humbling and a little  frightening.

Smart children or not, I was still very worried about taking them to a Stratford park and playground for a picnic. Very worried. I was reasonably certain I could outrun either of them, but VERY certain I couldn't if they ran in different directions. Knowing Lily, she'd defy all the laws of physics and get the playground swing all the way around. Then she'd fall out. And trying to pay attention to both of them, at all times?  I was strung out before I even started.

So we did the playground.


Lily loves the swings

Alexa would alternately beg to be pushed high and then say she was too high and beg to stop. Lily could have swung all day with the same ecstatic grin on her face.

After some swings and slides, we decided to break out the picnic:



...which was yummy. Alexa liked Aunt Eva's ginger ale most of all.

Uncle Ken packed up the remains of the picnic and ferried them to his truck. Aunt Eva asked for the keys back and Uncle Ken absentmindedly handed them over. Then, his mind still completely full of Alexa and Lily, he noticed out of the corner of his eye some things that he'd missed that needed to be stowed away. Back to the truck he went. The windows were all down, it being hotter than the hinges of hell, and he put the things, whatever they were, in the truck. Then he patted his shorts and froze.

No keys.

No keys was quite a bit better than no Alexa or no Lily, but it was still a real problem. A predictable problem, to be sure: Uncle Ken misplaces things like this at least once a day, and more often when his mind is occupied. And Uncle Ken's mind was seriously occupied.

I mean...I wouldn't be a helicopter parent. I don't want to give that impression. I believe kids should be given free range to make mistakes and hurt themselves and yadda yadda yadda.

But these aren't my kids.

These are the most precious possessions of my brother and sister-in-law and while a scrape or a bruise wouldn't force Eva's brother to decapitate me, anything more serious probably would. Anything more serious probably wouldn't happen, but...unpredictable.

I recognize that after a few weeks or months of this, you probably develop a pretty good sense of what's worth worrying about and what isn't...just like after a while driving a car, you probably don't think about things like this happening (CAUTION: THESE ARE GRISLY) But things like that happen, and kids do the damnedest things, and...my brain hurt.

"Love, have you got the keys?"
"Yes, I just asked for them!"

Whew. Keys accounted for. There's Lily, where's Alexa? 

???

There she is. Wait, now Lily's gone.

I'm not cut out for this.

Back to the playground we went.

This playground was missing the sorts of amusements I remember from my childhood, the tire swings and the teeter-totters and the merry-go-round-type thing I recall getting dizzy and puking on. But it had a nice assortment of slides, one of which I even tried, and some climbing walls, and a monkey bar ladder to a high platform that Alexa gingerly picked her way up, saying she was scared, she was scared, she was SCARED!, she DID IT! That platform was about seven feet off the ground and I was very proud of her. Then to my mixed amazement and horror, Lily started up.


Holy crap

She did it! She actually climbed up almost entirely on her own, with barely a nudge from Uncle Ken, who was absolutely convinced she was going to plummet. 

Then she did it again and plummeted.

Right through my arms before they could  snap shut around her. She landed on her butt, fell backwards, bumped her head, shrieked for Daddy for fifteen seconds... and then climbed the damned monkey bars again, this time making it up all on her own. 

Incredible kid.

After that we went and fed some ducks and swans (sorry, no pics)...and then...we came home. And this is what I looked like on the way home: 



Thank you, Jim and Ally, for letting me into your world. My respect for you both, already very high, has SKYROCKETED. And Alexa and Lily: Uncle Ken and Aunt Eva love you very much, and want to do it again.






25 June, 2016

All Good Things (1)

I'm home.

This trip north was originally supposed to be all about my Dad's 70th birthday. That got nixed in no uncertain terms: those two numbers are hitting him hard, and he didn't want any kind of celebration of them. Seventy, he informs me, is when you're an old man.

Well, he's my old man, but he'll die young at a hundred and ten, as far as I'm concerned. He's the same man he always was: his day isn't complete without copious quantities of laughter. That keeps him young, whatever his body says.

It was, in some respects, a trying trip. I found it not-so-surprisingly difficult to adapt to a day schedule after fourteen months straight on solid nights. At one point I slept five hours in fifty. I'm a right bastard when I'm that tired.

We went, first night, to a roast beef dinner at the Legion Hall in "downtown" Britt. (Aside: Location Services on my iPhone refers to Britt as a "city". That's amusing: its population was 321 in 2011 and it's probably declined since.)
Anyway, that Legion hall was crowded with about 40-50 older people who seemed, to my tired mind and ears, as if they were all trying to out-yell each other. I have a touch of social anxiety and in crowds like that and noise like that and exhaustion like that it's maybe more than a touch. I'm sure I made a lovely impression on the citizens of Britt.

I have completely lost track of which day was which for a bit after that. Hazard of life on holidays in a place where time doesn't mean much and sleep was almost impossible to come by at first. It was either Sunday night or Monday night when I went to help crush cans for the Lions' Club.


It's actually FRIGHTENING just how many cans there are in Britt and area. This is only three weeks or so worth--thirteen Hefty Bags of THOROUGHLY crushed popcans, along with just shy of 400 beer cans (and that's not much; least time it was four times that, I seem to recall). Watching a front-end loader run over these things a few dozen times is kind of awe-inspiring.



After that I went home, took two sleeping pills and played dead very convincingly for eight hours. I woke up feeling almost human.

The highlight of the trip for both my father and I was a trip to see the Jays beat the Arizona Diamondbacks. Even the trip down was a blast. Dad hadn't been on the subway for as long as he could remember. We were decked out in our Britt and Area Fire Department hats and shirts

(I still think it should have been called the Britt and Area Rescue Fire Emergency Department, BARFED for short, but Dad's acronym -- the "Bad Ass Fire Department" -- works too.)

We got our tokens for the subway and the attendant said firefighters ride free. Now, only one Ken Breadner is a Fire Captain, but Junior was playing one on TV and was loth to correct the nice attendant.

 Our seats were by far the best I've had at a game: three rows from the field, right at first base. These were also the best seats Dad had ever had by virtue of the fact it was his first game!



The Jays won, 5-2. Martin, Encarnacion and Tulowitzki homered for our side. We had primo seats for what ended up being the second out of the ninth inning after a lengthy review. No foul balls, but that was only because Dad brought his glove. Had he not done that, I'm sure a foul ball would have taken off my head and his left arm.

Both of us ran our phone batteries into the ground. Well, I'd been doing that all trip long, to my dad's mixed amusement and exasperation. Keeping in touch, you understand. Keeping connected. I tried and probably failed to explain that to my father, just how critical it is for me. Dad's not on Facebook, though if he were, he would have hundreds of friends and he'd know every one of them. I don't have hundreds of friends, but I have many more than I ever expected to have, and some of them are very, very close. Dad was chagrined (and to be honest, so am I) that I have turned into one of those people who hears a ding and automatically reaches...Damn it, I swore up and down that would never be me. I get it, though. I would much rather talk to people then text them, but nobody wants to talk on the phone any more. Regardless, when you're on a phone and somebody says something, you don't sit there silent for minutes or hours, you say something back. Likewise if you are in a text conversation, it's kind of rude to just ignore whatever it was your conversational partner just said. You answer it.

Besides the textual tethers, I got in even more deck time than usual. It was very windy for a a couple of days -- whitecaps windy -- and so I kept dodging between sun and wind, trying to strike a balance. Only a bit of a burn on my arms, and most of that came at the game.
The best times, though, are just after sunrise, when the river is like glass and the first of the day's heaping helping of motorboats has yet to poison the air with its insectile buzzing.





Only one medical call, no fire calls, although the fire danger is now extreme there and unless rain happens, there will be no fireworks on Canada Day this year. It's too bad, in a way, that there were no fires. My dad respond to a fire call is something to behold, and it belies the age he says he feels so harshly.

Eva was up for a very short time, but at least she made it up. We took Dad to St Amant's (pronounced in the Britt vernacular that so confused Eva for a time, "Santimaws") for a delicious dinner. And we came home the next morning, but not before Eva got a little deck time of her own:


And so that trip is at an end. It was wonderful. Thank you, Dad, for having me. Love you very much.










21 June, 2016

Boundaries


So I'll be your friend
And I'll be your lover
'Cause I know in our hearts we agree 
We don't have to be one or the other
Oh no
We could be both to each other
Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska, "Friends and Lovers (Both To Each Other)" (1986)

That's yet another of the songs that hit home with a resounding "of course" the first time I heard it. I guess you could say I'm a relationship anarchist from way back.

I hate that term, by the way, almost as much as I hate "friends with benefits". Anarchy to me implies not freedom, but chaos. Call me poly, call me openhearted, call me anything but an anarchist. Especially since, for somebody whose ideal involves the blurring of lines, in real life the lines have always been sharp and pointed.

And respected. I'm not known as a walking safe space for nothing. Establish a boundary and while I might push it a little in mutual play, when the chips are down I'm firmly on my side.

But while I may hate the term, I am, at heart, a relationship anarchist. It's because of my beliefs about boundaries.

Boundaries are fluid in polyamory. Within a relationship, they are distinct from rules, which are hard, non-negotiable limits on behaviour. Incidentally, poly or mono, the fewer rules in your relationship, the better chance that relationship has of lasting happily. Rules go where trust should be.

Boundaries are different: they change as the relationhip does. Safer sex is a common boundary: after a time sufficient to establish trust, partnes may 'fluid-bond', but not before. Other boundaries might involve places, intimacy levels, time together, or even something as momentous as shared living arrangements or children.

Anyone who squirms at the notion of children and polyamory ought to think really hard on the phrase "it takes a village..." As is often the case, objections are based in fundamental misunderstandings of what polyamory actually is. It's not about the sex so much as it is about the relationships, and the more loving, stable relationships around a child, the better. One family member loses her job; others pick up the slack. There's more likely to be someone available for quality time, and the child will gain exposure to more viewpoints and thus (hopefully) become more empathic. Of course, this is assuming a properly functioning poly household. Dysfunctional poly is just as bad as dysfunctional monogamy, i.e. bickering, abuse and divorce.

Anyway...Many poly people (by no means all) find that once they've opened up their hearts, the rules they used to live by become boundaries instead. Relationship signifiers may shift. People may move between friends and lovers, or lovers and friends. This is, in my mind at least,  the inevitable byproduct of living by the poly maxim that serves as the basis for MORE THAN TWO, the go-to text on the subject: "The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship".

Ideally, the downshifts happen without acrimony: it's simply a case of putting the person before the relationship. "This arrangement doesn't work for you anymore; let's try being friends instead". Would that more monogamous people lived that way, but all too often they've been led to believe that the relationship is more important than the people in it. Thus you stay married "for the sake of the children", even if your marriage is loveless or worse; your relationship is successful if it lasts a long time, with no regard to whether or not you grow or wither within it.

Does this seem selfish to you? It did to me, at first blush. Then I remembered that, in Heinlein's immortal definition, the state of love exists when someone else's happiness is essential to your own. In ANY relationship, you ought to be looking out for each other and checking in: does this arrangement still serve you? If both of you are committed to doing this, odds are excellent you'll catch problems early and your partnership will prosper.

I'm in a relationship right now that has tested my boundaries like no other.

Oh, don't get me wrong: we're friends, never were anything else, will almost certainly never BE anything else. In that respect the boundaries have held and will hold fast. But otherwise--

Well, start with the facile observation I've made before, more than once: "friends" is pitifully inadequate to describe this level of emotional intimacy. Nor does it account for that sense of time-stop you get with deep relationships, where five hours go by in a moment and two months becomes two hours. One Facebook meme referred to this space between friend and lover as a "flirtationship", while another one I found on r/polyamory several years ago called it "smit", as in "she and I are up smit's creek" or "well, we're in deep smit now!" That's....apt.

I thought that this might be  a "game changer". and actually voiced the thought. Once. That's the kind of disruptive love that poly people dread: the kind of thing that opens up undreamed of possibilities and upends lives. Most relationships aren't game changers. Most new relationships are simply new relationships following more or less the patterns of older ones. But every once in a while you find somebody that so changes your perception of yourself and life in general that you get swept up and away.

The reason I thought I might be in that situation was simply due to unprecedented depth of feeling over a very short time, coupled with a lust I haven't felt to anything near that degree in...a very long time. The two together nearly unmanned me. As it turns out, this flirtationship, this smit-show, is not a game changer at all. It is, in fact, the same game I've played many a time before. This time, though, I wasn't just playing with myself. Double entendre definitely intended. That one change shifted the dynamics of the thing into something utterly out of my life\s experience. which left me flailing for a while. People don't return my serves!

Eva, my rock in this as in everything else, actually let me muse about game changers without ripping my head off, merely asking for clarification, and with amusement, exasperation, and deep, deep love, let me flail, trusting that things would work out as they eventually did. Every man should be so lucky as to have an Eva at home: such a bottomless well of love is beyond price. I love you, love: the game we played was for keeps.

I have admitted to a powerful temptation to discard my ethics with respect to pre-existing relationships. I struggled with that for about three weeks, all told. It felt like three years. You will doubtless be as pleased as I to know that I got control of my wayward ethics and harnessed every last one of them. It was a near thing, because that pre-existing relationship was on unsteady ground (not, I repeat, NOT my doing) for a little while there.

I've never in my life so dearly wanted somebody to consider polyamory, and that was a boundary broken, to my shame. I have always resolved to simply live a poly life and let its benefits speak for themselves, but my want got the better of me here. I knew where she stood...the same place most people stand, not with me...and I tried anyway. I regret that. I regret that because it's interfering with pre-existing relationships through a back door. To borrow a phrase wrongly applied to polyamory, I was looking for a way to ethically cheat. Except, of course, there is nothing ethical about cheating.

We're still working on the final boundaries that will protect that other relationship, which must be done. They're slippery little buggers, those boundaries, partly because of emotional closeness and partly because we both have, shall we say, a cheeky streak. But my heart is in the right place, finally. and so is hers. I told her as I commenced my falling, maybe three days into talking to her, that come what may and whatever I did, I would always respect her.

That's no boundary. That's an ironclad RULE.

In a scant three months -- not even -- she has gifted me with confidence and upped my game considerably. In return, I got a start on convincing her she's loveable; he can finish the job, with my utmost respect and gratitude.

I'm always going to love her, because I don't know how to turn love off. But I can confine it to its proper boundaries in my life, and that, for her sake and mine, I have done.


Orlando

I'm late to this one. I hope I have something relevant to add.
Up here in the wilds, as I mentioned in my last post, time goes backwards. Because internet is suboptimal and costs, it's better (if damned inconvenient) to get news the old-fashioned way: through TV (remember TV news?), the radio, and the newspapers, none of which can be procured without, at minimum, a 25 minute drive. 

This resurrects, of necessity, a need to deep-read. When the paper in front of you represents that much effort to get a hold of, it seems only fitting to devote like mental attention to it.

In doing so, I have noted that more than one week on, the coverage of the Pulse massacre in Orlando has split into predictable, contradictory narratives. The terrorist/gunman was clearly motivated by Islamism/internalized homophobia to commit an atrocity which wouldn't have happened if Pulse hadn't gleefully advertised itself as a "gun-free zone"/ people previously investigated by the FBI (twice) for national security reasons should find it a trifle more difficult to legally obtain an AR-15.

Now, one of these divides is of course unbridgeable. Short of civil war, the United States will never resolve its issue with guns. It's not the prevalence of firearms, or not merely; while no other country boasts more guns than it has people, there are countries with relatively high rates of firearm ownership yet DRASTICALLY lower incidents of gun crime per capita. It's the culture as well. The United States is a country of the nerve endings. It runs on emotion. the higher the better.

I'm not sure why that should be, though I can hazard a few guesses. Between a history emphasizing individualism over any form of collectivism to a self-congratulatory mass media that dominates the planet to the current geopolitical reality of a hegemon weakening yet determined to appear strong at all costs, emotion trumps (that should be "Trump"s) rationalism at every turn.

So one divide is a bridge too far. The other two divides though...aren't. At all.

TERRORIST/GUNMAN: Only in America is such a distinction so quickly made and emphasized. In any other country, a man wielding a gun and killing 49 people of an identifiable group with it would be called a terrorist, full stop. "Gunman" seems to me to be an invention of the NRA, a term purposely designed to minimize an act of terror. It almost sounds like a profession, doesn't it? Councilman, fireman...gunman. Let's note that the divide here is artificial: a "gunman" IS a terrorist.

ISLAMISM/HOMOPHOBIA:  I find that both sides of this particular divide are blind to each  other in dangerous ways. President Obama seems to have a congenital inability to say the words "radical Islam", and half of the media trips over itself to avoid mentioning the religious faith of the terrorist. Instead we're told that he was a deeply closeted self-hating gay man who lashed out at his fellow gay men. That he interrupted his rampage twice to deliver pro-ISIS messages is minimized or ignored.

 The other half screams that OF COURSE the shooter was an Islamic terrorist, aren't they all? (Emphatically not: of the 998 mass shootings since Sandy Hook--!!!--2 (two) were perpetrated by Muslims.) This approach completely minimizes the victims and their shared identity, and verges on homophobia itself.

MEMO TO BOTH SIDES: Islam is not exactly friendly to gays. Islamism even less so. Daesh routinely tosses homosexuals off buildings. Being gay is still a death sentence in many parts of the world, Muslim parts most particularly. At the very least. gays can expect the lash, which is defined as less than capital punishment but which is often fatal itself.

As an aside, I do find it perplexing how many self-proclaimed advocates of feminism and gay rights choose to ignore Islam's track record on feminism and gay rights. There's some kind of wilful blindness at work there. We have become so cautious about giving offense that we have neutered ourselves from responding to offence.

But as to the Pulse massacre: This isn't either/or. This is both. Omar Mateen was BOTH an Islamist terrorist AND a self-hating gay man.  The two are far from mutually exclusive in a culture where homosexuality is so reviled.

It can't be stressed enough that while we view Daesh and like-minded groups as barbaric and morally bankrupt, they are viewing us exactly the same way. That's the thing about morals: they're not absolute. but vary from time to time and place to place. The Aztecs were even more into ritualized death than Daesh is today: from earliest childhood, you were raised to ASPIRE to be sacrificed. There was no higher honour. This is utterly alien to us, but it was not just accepted, it went completely unquestioned.
This is not to defend the ISIS viewpoint in any way. Only to suggest that their hatred of us is not blind, at least by their lights. Knowing why an enemy fights is at least as important as knowing how. And trying to shove people and their motives into a single box, when they clearly fit in two or more...not productive.



17 June, 2016

Heading North

Longtime readers of the Breadbin will know what "Up North" means to me.

My dad's place, between Parry Sound and Sudbury on the Magnetawan River, is seven kinds of heaven on earth. It's criminal how little I get up there. A four hour drive is a nontrivial issue when you don't drive at all. My job has intervened as well: I had to wait a year for vacation time.

And, as always seems to be the case, I've bloody well earned this vacation.  The past week has been just awful: inventory, late trucks, short-staffed, and on Monday night the most spectacular incident in a retail career full of them: a skid of chilled juice approximately eight feet tall and leaning ominously collapsed out on the sales floor. It was a close call: I took a single step forward thinking I could avert the inevitable, when the inevitable asserted itself with shocking speed. Half a foot closer or half a second later and I shudder to think what might have happened to me. Not that anyone there would have noticed or cared beyond the paperwork, of course.

My job has LONG since passed the point where "if you don't have anything nice to say..." -- which is why you haven't heard anything about it here. I should be looking for another job. I'm not doing that, because -- to be frank -- the prospect fills me with horror. The last job search was depressing, degrading, and humiliating. Working where I work isn't quite as depressing, degrading, or humiliating, although gods knows it's getting close.

Instead: up north.

By Ontario standards, my dad's place isn't remote at all. It's 45 minutes north of a town of six thousand people and an hour south of a city of 160,000 or so. He just got back from a fishing trip to Pickle Lake, and that IS remote: it's as far north as you can drive, year-round, in this province. That's about eighteen hours away from me. Straight.

But once you get north of Barrie, you hit Canadian Shield country, and that is broadly the same: rocks, trees, lakes. Pure, clean air.  Silence; darkness. Time flows differently up there, more like an eddying pool than a rapid. And of course, at my dad's, there's...my dad. And my stepmom Heather. And many other people, some of whom I have known since early childhood.

One less, though, of those people. My dad's closest friend John passed away several months ago and left a huge hole in my father's life. I should have been there for the memorial, but at the time couldn't afford even one night off work, pitiful as that sounds. I know Dad is still grieving. I hope to finally offer him what comfort I can.

There are, in fact, more people of importance in my life than I ever get to see on any one trip.

Going north does mean a regression back in time for me. My dad does have internet, but his data caps are ridiculous and there's no wifi. Accordingly, I have to *gasp* drop my second life. Facebook doesn't even load properly most of the time and its games are unplayable ALL of the time.  Losing that sense of connection is hard. (I'm still reachable, and hope to be reached occasionally, by text...and if you EVER told me I'd say that, and mean it, I'd have called you eight kinds of crazy.)

And of course Eva. She'll be joining me up there later; she couldn't get the whole week off. I'll miss her, too, while she's here and I'm there.

Aside from the pleasure of my dad and Heather's company, and various and sundry other outings (with pictures to come, never fear)...books. Two of them: Scott Lynch's THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES, third in the exquisite Gentlemen Bastards sequence; and Guy Gavriel Kay's latest, CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY. Both are novels I've been looking forward to reading, by authors I admire.

And music, lots of it, including (hat tip to my friend Brinn) SONATA ARCTICA, which is new to me but which I adore.

And sleep. Who am I kidding? I'm deprived, again, and the last week in particular has been emotionally and physically draining.

Heading up to the North Country, folks. See you in a week.







10 June, 2016

My Mom, My PIano, and Me

Today marks my Mom's 68th birthday...I wish she were around here to celebrate it. I mean, she's still "around"...I've felt her, all around me, after all, suffusing my entire environment with the love and support she was famous for. But the part of her that I could hug...the part of her that could speak, and hear...that part's not anywhere I can quite reach. And I miss it. I miss her.

Today is also the day I'm expecting to receive a piano, ordered from Costco.ca yesterday morning:


This is only fitting, since my mom got me my first piano, and found money for lessons, and encouraged me to play every chance I got.

In fact, my Mom is in large part responsible for my love of music in the first place.

She had a lovely singing voice she rarely let loose, and she played clarinet, once upon a time. It wasn't as if Mom was prodigally gifted, musically. Nonetheless, in a very real way, Mom was music. Her heartbeat was the first rhythm I ever heard; her voice the cantata of my childhood; her laughter a leitmotif of life.

I would have been three when I got my first keyboard, a Magnus chord organ you can see on the windowsill of my bedroom here:


That's E I'm carrying, my first teddy bear, so named because the "Ted" part was beyond my ability to pronounce when I got him.  

But that organ...two octaves and six chord buttons: C, F, B-flat, G, D, and A major. The keys were numbered 1-15, and the songbooks showed both a treble clef staff with notes, and the corresponding numbers, with the chords in squares above. You'd be surprised how many songs you could play within those parameters.
A few of my songbooks were for a more deluxe model of organ. They showed some chords in negative images, i.e., a black square instead of a white one. When I tried to play songs from those songbooks, those black-squared chords sounded horribly wrong.  I experimented, playing actual keyed chords -- had to figure out how to do that, first, by ear -- and flattening the third, not that I could even begin to tell you that's what I was doing, and that's how I discovered minor chords just in time to graduate to my piano. 


This thing weighed a freakin' TONNE..probably more than that. It had glass feet, as well. Let's just say it was not fun to move, particularly the time we moved it down an exterior flight of stairs in freezing rain.

But it expanded my musical horizons immeasurably. 

The first song I wrote -- I can still play it today -- was a cheerful little ditty I called "A Trip Down Main Street", after The Price Is Right. Three chords, painfully derivative of something (couldn't tell you what, but you'd sure tell me if you heard it)...and I was off to the races. 

I liked playing well enough, don't get me wrong. But what I really enjoyed was composing: creating a soundscape out of silence and populating it with tunes of my own devising. I could pick up pop songs by ear easily, having trained my ear on that little chord organ, and as I got older that became a reasonably useful skill, enough to get quite a few girls in the room listening to me while they thought of other people, anyway. 

The first three songs I can remember learning to play were The EntertainerHeart of Gold, and Music Box Dancer. I hasten to add that only Heart of Gold was even close to note-for-note perfect at first. I heavily abridged (and faked) The Entertainer and, to a lesser extent, Music Box Dancer. Later on I'd learn to play them properly...but that took hours of practice. 

Hours of practice: in music as in life, the thought of devoting hours to any one thing, over and over and over again, filled me with a boredom so strong it was  almost violent. How people can play the same song, over and over and over again, when just a slight adjustment to one chord opens up entirely new vistas of music to explore...it boggles my mind. Sure, I could spend untold eons of time learning to play one thing perfectly...or I could play hundreds of other things, things of my own...MUCH MORE ATTRACTIVE.

And so I played. Played, you know, the opposite of "worked". I did take lessons, thanks to Mom...I even got as far as Grade V in the Royal Conservatory. But my disdain for practice and my constant yearning to change the notes eventually caught up with me, along about the time my bad habits (fingering? who needs fingering? the right note came out, didn't it?) proved fatal. 

After that, it was just me and my piano. I gravitated to it whenever I was feeling anxious or depressed. I was both, and often: I was a sensitive kid. At school, I composed the music for a production of Charlotte's Web...two productions, actually, morning and afternoon, and the music was entirely different each time. I was just noodling. At one point I injected a song written for me by my first love (called "Just Bein' Friends", natch) and fitted it fairly seamlessly to a (mushier, needless to say) song I wrote for her...and then noodled off in some entirely different direction. Afterwards, people came up to me and asked how long I'd practiced. How do you answer that? "I didn't"?  

And yet...give me some real piano music to play, for instance a Bach fugue, and watch me blanch at it and botch it up royally. I could read it, but I couldn't make my hands do what the sheet music told them to do. It would take me hours upon hours of the same eight bars over and over and over again to play it up to tempo, and again...how badly do I really need to play this, anyway?

We moved a lot when I was young, and one of our moves, to an apartment, necessitated getting rid of that piano. In its place came a succession of synthesizers, some of them pretty pricey, all of them loved in their way....none of them even remotely comparable to an actual piano. 

Okay, so you have a whole bunch of sounds besides a piano sound. (Actually, one of my synths had four different piano tones, a couple of organ tones, a harpsichord and a clavichord, to say nothing of strings and brass and other more exotic things). You've got drums, you've got accompaniments, and you can even record things. Fantastic, right? Sure! But 66 keys (let alone 49) is tremendously limiting: so much of the piano repertoire relies on those low, low notes for sonic texture and emphasis. And the feel is just...wrong. It's hard to explain just how.  Also, without weighted keys, your dynamics are completely compromised: you get one volume and one volume only, that's it that's all have fun. Kind of negates the whole piano-FORTE experience, when you can only play piano or forte. 

It got so as I would choose not to play at all rather than cope with such severe restraints. For the last several years, my piano playing has been almost entirely limited to my friend Nicole's piano (thank you, Nicole, there have been some moments I simply couldn't write out). 

And now, I'm getting a piano.

!!!

It IS digital. That's for two reasons: one, I live in a semi, and I don't want to power chord my neighbours out of bed (digital pianos have HEADPHONE JACKS!) ... and two, space just doesn't permit a full sized piano in here. Just try to get a piano into our basement, I dare you. 

But it's fully weighted, has 88 keys...and a USB port. That's going to be explored, because that appears to offer me a way to get my music heard. My music probably isn't as viable as my writing as an option to get me some extra $$$...but neither of them are in fact doing that right now, are they? You never know who might hear something and like it, right?

I'm going to be setting that piano up in our basement under a painted portrait of my Mom and I. I like to think she'll hear me play. Maybe even sing along.



06 June, 2016

A Joyous Week

I have had quite the week. A week filled with joys large and small, tinged by occasional wisps of pure wistfulness. A week in which I learned some more about myself and some more about others. And I experienced several emotions that begged for reflection I couldn't properly give them, for reasons that will become clear.

Let's see. I had a first date...not just a first date but my first date in the context of life as I'm finally living it. I had several social outings, some of them long-planned, others deliriously spur-of-the-moment. I had nighttime talks with friends old and new. And of course the needed balancing of that consuming relationship I talked about a couple of posts ago.

(Two months with no contact, yeah, like that was going to happen. That lasted two hours. Maybe.)

You want details on that date?  Here they are: it was a qualified success, by which I mean there will be further interaction.  The connection was primarily intellectual, at least on my part; frankly, in the presence of a Great Mind like hers I felt rather flattered to have my mind even noticed, and believe you me I'm not putting myself down saying so. Not just a mind, mind: I did find her quite attractive in other ways.

As such, we may be friends. Possibly more than that, down the road, but that's down the road around at least a few bends. I will cherish what I have with her, just as I do with everyone else.

And if you were looking for more detail than that, so sorry (actually I'm not): you're not going to get it from me, here or anywhere else. The curtain of privacy on that is and will be completely opaque.

 I can say this. I wasn't all that nervous, going in.

That surprised me a little. Okay, more than a little. There are certain endeavours I'm naturally confident in: test-taking and public speaking spring to mind. Tests don't faze me, and I have no trouble speaking in front of a crowd of any size. (I read somewhere that public speaking is the number one phobia in the world. Number two: death. There are people who would rather die than talk to other people? Seriously?)

But one on one social interactions are a different beast entirely, one I've been wary of my whole life. And dates are right up there with job interviews as the most stressful of those for me. (Actually, a date is a lot like a job interview, really...)

 She noticed a couple of unconscious physical tics...as little as two years ago, her noticing those would have derailed me. But then, as little as three years ago, the physical tics themselves likely would have overwhelmed me all by themselves.

I think I'm actually starting to come into my own. Even as I'm still learning what 'my own' actually is.

So that was one part of my week.

The social outings...all of a sudden my calendar was full to overflowing by Ken-standards. That came along as soon as every last speck of she cancelled therefore she must hate me had FULLY evaporated. Funny how that works. Again, cherish what you've got, let each relationship find its own level. It's one of many polyamorous principles that can be applied in monogamy as well. I've been saying that for a long time, but little niggles of insecurity were preventing it from fully taking hold in my own mind. Now I can actually feel that it has. It was an almost-audible click.

And over the past few weeks I've been experiencing something I thought was NRE but in reality was "only" limerence.

Oh-oh, he's lapsed into Martian.

Limerence is the clich├ęd experience of falling in love: giddy, all-consuming, often idealistic thoughts of another; desire; yearning; an aching need for reciprocation.

If limerance is falling in love, NRE -- "new relationship energy" -- is helping each other up from the fall and talking your first x steps together. It's just as giddy, just as all-consuming: the difference is, it's happening. NRE is limerence allowed to be mutually acted upon.

My wife, as usual, was right. Maybe because I wear my heart on my sleeve, my limerence suffuses my surroundings. My mind, I must admit, has not been firing on all cylinders of late. Details slipped out through a cranium that suddenly became a colander; what misted in instead were thoughts of her. Nor even fantasies, just thoughts: I wonder what she's doing right now, is she thinking of me, too?  Each time that thought recurred, at, oh, roughly ten second intervals, a little burst of mmmmmmm popped in my head.

"You know", Eva warned me two years ago, "when NRE hits you, you're going to be a total basket case."

Yeah, love, I see where you're coming from. If that was "just" limerence...

It's fun to watch someone go through the throes of NRE. Occasionally you have to kind of tap them on the shoulder (in my case, punching might work better) and say psssst, don't forget me, I'm over here...but seeing your partner so deliciously happy is one of the joys of polyamory ("I love to hear you sing, even if I didn't write the notes/I love to hear you laugh, even if I didn't tell the joke"). That's compersion, the opposite of jealousy: not pain, but happiness at another's happiness. And I'm feeling that too. Because the women I feel all that limerence for...we both know we're not in a place to indulge it. There's definitely some wistfulness watching her deep in NRE with a partner better suited to this time and place in her life...some that could have been me. But not once I have thought that SHOULD have been me, and so there's even joy in the sadness.

If I can keep this joy...if I can harness it and put it to use...there's no telling how far I can ride it. I have some thoughts on that. I'm going to keep them to myself for the time being: doubtless you, Dear Reader, have noticed the succession of Grand Plans I've announced over the years that have immediately fizzled. I think, rather than announcing what I'm going to do, I will simply do it, and then announce it done.






30 May, 2016

Wants, Needs, and Weeds

One of my many weaknesses is a need to feel needed, and a corresponding need to need.

You shouldn't need anyone in your life: philosophers have been telling us this for millennia. You are complete in and of yourself.

Many, perhaps most, people don't feel this way, of course. They feel as if there are pieces missing, and they seek these pieces in many places. Some think if they only had the right piece of stuff, or a certain amount of money, they'd be complete. Some try to fill the hole they perceive in themselves with drugs, licit or illicit. Or food. And the whole of our society teaches us that we can find the "missing" pieces of ourselves in other people.

This piece of faux-wisdom is so common that it's rarely even questioned. We refer to our spouses as "other/better halves"...and although that supposedly refers to the couple as a single unit, it's nevertheless telling. We write songs and poems extolling our need of other people: pop culture is positively littered with them. "You complete me" is a common love trope.

It's wrong. And it kills relationships dead.

Think about it: when you think of someone as the missing part of you, chances are excellent you are taking a single snapshot of them, however comprehensive, and claiming that as the missing piece. This denies your partner growth. If her life priorities change, if he takes up a new hobby that you have less than zero interest in, if his personality changes as a result of mental or physical illness...is that an extension or refinement of you? Of course it isn't. It's them, all them.

The greatest gift Eva ever gave me in a married life chock-full of great gifts was the ability to be myself, at my own pace, as painfully slow as that has been. I have grown steadily since I met her: it's fair to say I am not the same man I was then. My political beliefs have undergone a deep-sea change; latent thoughts have been encouraged to develop and be expressed in their time; my confidence has grown from non-existent to almost enough to be trusted. I've learned from her to consider things from more than one angle; that there's never an answer that's 100% right and will satisfy every interest; that the people who disagree with me hold their opinions every bit as fervently as I hold mine, and should at least be listened to with an open mind.

Eva has never NEEDED me in her life. Long before I ever met her, she was worlds more self-reliant than I am now. I like to think I have enriched her life, and gifted her with some tools that have helped her through some tough times...but those tools are not mine alone. Indeed, others have shown her (and me) uses of those tools I'd never even considered.

At a very high spiritual level, you're not even supposed to want people (or anything else) in your life. The Universe is a giant copy machine: when you state "I want thus-and-such" to it, you get back that precise experience...of wanting!

The way to get what you think you want is to realize you already have it. Do this wholeheartedly: don't give to get. For instance. Are you poor? Do you want to be rich? There's been a lot of talk about the "1%" in the past few years. Guess what? Chances are you're in that 1%. If you make US$34,000 a year, you're in. That means that even the poorest of the people reading this is actually extremely wealthy by world standards.
Want to put that reframe in action? Give money to someone poorer than you are. Now notice what you did. You thought that you were poor, but in fact you were rich enough to just GIVE somebody money, no strings attached.
I repeat: if you do this thinking about all the wealth you'll get by doing it, you're doing it wrong and it won't work. If you start thinking of yourself as wealthy--wealthy enough to just GIVE people money...well, then, you are. And chances are excellent you'll attract greater wealth.
This works with things besides money. It certainly works with love. The way to get love is to realize you have love to give...and give it. Just as with money, if you give love in order to get it back, you're not doing it right. You love people because they're loveable; whether they love you or not is irrelevant. In loving people, though, you will discover that love is actually yours already. And loving people are loved themselves.

The thing with love, though, is that we've created another pervasive societal trope about it that's just as wrong as the notion that another human can "complete" you. We view love as possessive.

Love is not possessive. If you are my possession, I own you and I use you. We abolished ownership of humans  a long time ago and we look upon it as morally repugnant...and yet our love songs celebrate it.  So here we are wanting something, not recognizing we have it already, possibly because the thing we think we wanting is actually a pale and twisted imitation of the real deal.

Love is not wanting, not really: we want for nothing, remember, we are complete in and of ourselves. Love is CERTAINLY not needing.  Love is choosing.

I love Eva. I choose to be with her. Every day, I make that choice: it's a conscious choice. She does the same with me. The choice is a free choice: she could choose to leave, and so could I. I can't see a situation where that could happen...especially since there are no artificial socially constructed limits on our relationship. It  has evolved and will continue to evolve. Do we need each other? No. Do we choose to experience life's joys and sorrows together? Emphatically yes.

The others I choose to share my life with--the friends, the loves--it operates on exactly the same principle. It's not looking to find something that's missing in myself OR my marriage: it's simply, and beautifully, a conscious and continuing choice to share life and love on some level.

There's a certain pleasure in needing and getting that need satisfied. There's a POTENT pleasure, for me at least, in feeling needed and fulfilling that need. These are the pleasures of the junkie, who lives for his next hit. Choice doesn't enter into it: once addiction takes over, there IS no choice. I call that level of want -- where you want something or someone so much that you've convinced yourself you can't live without it or them --  a "weed": if you're not careful, weeds can and will choke out all the life around you. That kind of pleasure, in short, is self-destructive. Love, by contrast, is creative: it creates a new expression of joy each time it is expressed. It could be the joy of a screaming orgasm. It could be the quiet joy of a night cuddling by a fire. It could be a newborn babe. Or any of a million million other things.

I choose creative love. I choose love that seeks to genuinely heal. Not to fulfill a need, but to demonstrate that need is an illusion.