04 October, 2015

Advice For and By the Polyamorous

Virtually every person who walks the poly path runs into (problems/challenges/opportunities). Until fairly recently, we pretty much had to figure out solutions on our own...or have our partner(s) impose them on us, which may or may not be beneficial.

If you've ever wondered what kind of advice polyamorous people give and get, well, here you go. There was a thread in r/polyamory asking "what's the best piece of advice you've ever received?" and the replies are enlightening.

Emotions come from a very old part of your brain that's trying to motivate you towards a certain behavior. Jealousy = "Danger! Danger! Protect your stuff!" NRE ("new relationship energy") = "Hang around this person all the time and make babies!" Etc.
The rational, decision-making part of your brain is totally separate. So you can say "Hey, thanks for the warning emotions," and then choose what you want to do with that information. Your emotions aren't what you HAVE to do; they're just a suggestion. They're not bad or "less than" the rational part, but they have a job to do that's not always conducive to your true happiness. I like to think of them as an overly-sensitive smoke alarm!

One of the reasons I am well-equipped to handle polyamory, relatively speaking, is that I have always been self-reflective. When I feel an emotion, I can almost always tell you why (though sometimes I may not want to admit it). If I can't explain my emotions, I get very nervous, very quickly: I feel as if my mental ground has shifted from underneath me.
This allows me to process my emotions reasonably well, most of the time. Of course, there's the trademark Breadner knee-jerk reaction to change, which isn't pleasant to experience or behold, and in my case it's compounded by an overactive "what's the worst that can happen? gland. Thank Trintellix that last doesn't squawk quite as loudly as it once did.

At this point, a year in, it's hard to rattle me. Which I think is a good thing.

Relationships aren't owned, they are experienced. You don't own your friendships, your romances, your long term partnerships. They aren't possessions, and they aren't reduced or destroyed by other relationships. You don't own the connection between yourself and your partner, you create it every moment you are together.

Put this one in the column of advice I've never needed. To me, this is the emotional equivalent of two plus two. If you believe you own your partner, that makes your partner a slave.

She/He didn't do that TO upset you. 
She/He did that AND upset you.

Now this, on the other hand, is advice I continue to require almost daily...and I have a woeful feeling that other people consider this to be kindergarten-level stuff.

I've actually been rejected in a poly context, and the pain from that lasted roughly forever. Maybe two forevers, I kind of lost track of time there for a bit.  I let it render me an emotional wreck. Had I the maturity to actually take the above to heart, I would have been much, much more resilient. We really do choose our emotions--or, given the first advice-nugget, our response to them--the same way we choose our loves. and I'm going to resolve never to forget that going forward.

"You were already in two relationships. Your relationship with her, and your relationship with yourself. You already know how to balance those two, how to keep one from being a negative on the other. She's the same way. She just knows how to balance three or four. You'll learn. You may never balance more than two... but you'll learn why she does."

"Mono-Guy" is something of an r/polyamory celebrity. As you can infer from the above, he is the monogamous part of a "mono/poly" relationship. Such beasts do exist, though you'll trek far and wide to find one that works as well as his does.

I have a friend like him, a person who truly gets polyamory despite being monogamous. It's really humbling to always get solid and sound advice from such a person. You find yourself thinking geez, if monogamous people can saw right through this so easily than I certainly should be able to. Someday I'll actually meet another polyamorous person, for offline values of "meet", and I can onlt hope she'll have that mental toolkit.

Change is inevitable. You can hold on to feelings and let them fester or you can release those hang ups. Be okay with things not being what you thought they should be.

That's good advice for anyone, mono or poly, and it holds true for all of life, not just romantic relationships. It's also something that I once had a great deal of trouble with, something that, again, Trintellix has helped me banish. "Festering", great word. Derives from the Latin for "ulcer", and sure enough, if you let feelings fester that's something you might end up with.

And finally, because I can't resist quoting this song...

you love to hear me sing, even if you didn't write the note 
i love to hear you laugh, even if i didn't tell the joke 
you know i love to cuddle, love to pull your body close 
and i love it when you're happy even if i have to let you go
cuz if you need your space then baby you can let me know 
i'll you from afar you my star in a telescope 
i'm not a god, i'm not a fool but I would be both 
to think that love was something i could control

--"Can't Help But Fly (The Poly Song), 'naimainfinity'

Truer words were never sung.

02 October, 2015

The veiled threat: a longer thought.


Our Prime Minister hired an Australian political whiz named Lynton Crosby to  return him to power.

Mr. Crosby fights dirty. He has a history of exploiting latent racism in the electorate, and sure enough, he's doing that again here.

Harper et al have been very careful not to actually tell you how many Muslim women have tried to remain veiled as they took the oath of Canadian citizenship. (The law banning niqabs was found to contravene the Citizenship Act,  just another chapter in Harper's continuing war with the Supreme Court of Canada.) Just yesterday I had to refute somebody online who was convinced the number was "millions".  Obviously that's hyperbole, but surely there are hundreds, maybe thousands?


There are two.

Two. Second source provided because I'm sure nobody believes me.

That's right, the whole country is frothing over two Muslim women who tried to exercise their right to wear a veil as they took an oath. (My cousin--the one I recently unfriended because I don't accept racist bigots in my family--tried to tell me that for all we know, those women were actually men. Nonsense--anyone taking the oath must prove their identity beforehand.

So here we all are, passionately arguing back and forth about whether or not two women (or, let's be honest, any of their co-religionists) ought or ought not to be allowed in this country, with or without veils, and nobody's talking about the Duffy trial anymore.

Or the Brazeau trial.

Or any of the other Senate trials and charges.

Or the election fraud, the bribing of a dying MP, the muzzling of scientists, the omnibus bills, the contempt of Parliament, the fact we had 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers ten years ago and now have 159... Shall I go on?

...The repeated proroguing of Parliament, the book burnings, the crazy fiscal mismanagement before this sudden fake surplus, income splitting that disproportionally benefits the people who least need the help, the killing of the long form census (because the government respects your privacy), Bill C-51 ((because the government doesn't give two shits about your privacy)....

The scariest thing is that I've barely scratched the surface of all the misdeeds Harper has perpetrated on a sleeping public. I haven't even brought up the warmongering -- Harper's got to be the only person who has ever celebrated the BEGINNING of the First World War! -- but soldiers only give him warm fuzzies while they're fighting and dying, not afterwards...

And even if...even if somehow you can look past all of this...do you really want a PM who only accepts questions from his citizens if they pay his party $78,000?

But he'll keep you safe from those two Muslim she-monsters.

I guess that's all that matters, right?

28 September, 2015

The veiled threat: a quick thought.

"I don't think that anyone has the right to tell a woman what to wear, or what not to wear. And if indeed there are cases of oppression, let's not go after the  oppressed person, let's go after the oppressor. And it's not by depriving a woman in that circumstance of her citizenship and of her rights that we're going to be able to reach out to her."
--NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (source)

I've been wrestling with this issue since it showed up in Qu├ębec a couple of years ago. I have the privilege of counting among my friends an extraordinary woman who has spent time in Saudi Arabia, where she was required to be veiled. Her views match quite well with those of women's rights activist author, and president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Raheel Raza.  I would love to see Raza, or my friend, debate Mr. Mulcair.

Because both sides here have valid points. Both sides can legitimately claim to stand for women's rights.

It is true that the niqab--the burqa too, for that matter--is profoundly misogynistic. It's also true that neither is a requirement of Islam itself. That renders the religious accommodation rationale moot and takes quite a bit of the wind out of the sails I had been floating as a proud supporter of women being able to wear whatever the hell they want.

Not all of it, though. Because as Mulcair notes, punishing a woman who is already being oppressed is not exactly fair. Also because xenophobia hides so easily beneath the veil of concern for women's rights. I just unfriended a relative on Facebook the other day when a discussion on veiled women suddenly veered off into la-la land: "Forty-eight percent of people in this country weren't even born here," he informed me. "Soon we'll be a minority in our own country."

The horror.

America is a melting pot and Canada is a cultural mosaic: we learned this in social studies class, and it's true. There are benefits and drawbacks to both models. I can't deny that occasionally I've felt a pang of what the hell are you doing in my country when I'm confronted with someone who's been here forty years and never bothered to learn a word of English. But I happen to think that many cultures mixing together enriches the larger culture. Provided that our laws are respected. There is no place for shari'a law in my Canada.

Let's continue to welcome women and men from all over the world. In view of the fact they have a right to wear what they want as Canadian citizens, depriving them of that right at the moment they're granted citizenship seems hypocritical in the extreme. And yes, if they are being forced into wearing a veil, let's go after the man who is forcing them to wear it.

Okay! Blue Jays! Let's...Play...Ball!

I know there are many people out there who believe baseball is only slightly less boring than competitive paint drying. I'm not going to disabuse you of your notion, because we all have sports we can't stand.

For me it's football. I've only ever watched one football game from beginning to end, when the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks defeated the Mount Allison Mounties to win the Vanier Cup in 1991. It was a school spirit thing, even though I never really had much of that.  (Still remember the T-shirts, though, with a Golden Hawk extending an upraised middle talon, caption "Mount This!")

I have a prosaic reason for hating football: it was always the football players who took the keenest interest in rearranging my face. I've been beaten up (quite badly) by Tim Tindale, who went on to play for the NFL's Buffalo Bills (slogan: Boy I Love Losing Superbowls). That's my claim to football fame right there.

I'm a fan of baseball. It appeals to me on many levels. George Carlin has a primer on the differences between baseball and football that, while quite funny as he always was, makes several underlying points that really resonate with me (as he always does):

In Football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemies’ defensive line. (applause) In Baseball, the object is to go home, and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home, safe at home.

The whole atmosphere surrounding baseball is unlike that of any other sport I can think of. There are rivalries, sometimes heated ones...but most baseball fans really do respect other baseball fans and usually 'their' teams. Baseball's the only place they stop the action so the entire stadium can rise to its feet and start singing a song that dates to 1908. There's a sense of camaraderie with baseball fans, a studiousness that mirrors my personality. And then, of course, there's the history. No other team sport is so rife with history. The stats encoding that history in its minutest detail have gotten a bit ridiculous--"he's the only lefthanded knuckleballer in major league history with a career WTF of .360, an OMG of .750-plus, and a BBQ of -1 or better"...but every player who steps into a batter's box and runs the bases is literally walking in the footsteps of his sport's greats...and he knows it.  The crowds cheering today's Trouts and Donaldsons and Arrietas and Prices are no different that the ones who cheered Mantle and Maris and Koufax and Ruth...and they know that too.

I've been holding off on writing a Toronto Blue Jays blog out of fear I might jinx them somehow. (Scratch the most rational sport's fan's surface and you'll find a dark cave riddled with superstitions: you don't refer to "no-hitters" until they're over, for instance: the same goes for shutouts in hockey.) Now that they Jays have clinched a post-season berth for the first time in 22 years, ending the longest drought in professional sports, I feel like some shackles have been removed.

Do you remember 1992 and '93? The Jays won back-to-back World Series titles and the celebrations were just amazing. I lived then, as I do now, an hour west of Toronto and the main drag in my city shut down as throngs of cheering people, by no means all of them young, rushed out into the street and starting hugging and kissing total strangers.  I still get chills listening to this (RIP Tom Cheek): "Touch 'em all, Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."

And then things went south in a hurry. The Jays entered a prolonged period of mediocrity. You'd find at least one star player on every year's roster--Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay being the two most memorable--but the team never seemed to put it together. They compete in the nuclear arms race that is the AL East division, and until recently they've been bringing budgetary pop guns to each year's nuke-fight...with predictable results.  They'd sometimes go on a run of eight or ten wins in a row, but the fans and even the players seemed to know they couldn't sustain it...and they never did. Each eight game winning streak would be followed in short order by a stretch of ten losses in twelve games, and Jays fans everywhere would return to their somnolent doze.

Not anymore.

The 2015 incarnation of the Toronto Blue Jays looked, at first, to be destined for the same scrap heap that had consumed its predecessors all the way back to '95. They could hit home runs, there was no denying that...with Bautista and Encarnacion, power wasn't a problem. Josh Donaldson looked as if he might provide some pop and much-needed defence as well. But pitching? Arguably their best starter was  the ageless Mark Buehrle, a solid and dependable #2 or #3 on contenders...and a whole lot of question marks after that. Even the days of the the Doc, when the rotation consisted of "Halladay, and pray, pray, pray", were more inspiring. And the bullpen was, in my considered opinion, a disaster.

On July 28th, the Jays' record stood at a game under .500. Josh Donaldson had proven to be everything we could have hoped for and much more besides...and yet the Jays kept finding new and interesting ways to lose baseball games. It was infuriating, because once again this year the AL East was uncharacteristically the AL Least division. Getting into the playoffs was a less daunting proposition than it had been in many years...but the Jays didn't seem to be into daunt. Dilly-dally, dither, dipsy-doodle...not enough daunt.

Alex Anthopoulos had had enough.

First he traded one talented but laid-back shortstop, Jose Reyes, for an even more talented and driven Troy Tulowitzki, also picking up LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe to stabilize their bullpen. Then he rented the consensus best pitcher available, David Price, who instantly became the Jays' ace by a country mile. Almost as an afterthought, Anthopoulos brought in Ben Revere, a pesky outfielder who had a career history of spraying hits every which way and an above-average glove.

And what happened? Oh, nothing much...the team just went 38-14 in its next 52 games. Price has been lights-out every time he has stepped on the mound, compiling an 8-1 rec with a no-decision since joining the Jays and making himself a good bet to win a Cy Young. Tulowitzki started his tenure with a bang, going 3-5 with a home run  and two doubles, and has contributed most games since (although currently injured after an unfortunate collision with Kevin Pillar). The bullpen has snapped into form thanks largely to the emergence of Roberto Osuna...the youngest player in franchise history to don a Jays jersey (and the youngest player in the history of baseball to record an extra-innings save).

And that Josh Donaldson guy?  The odds-on favourite to win the AL MVP award. It's an honour and a privilege to watch this guy play baseball. He  does it all and he does it well, never taking a second off and making it all look easy.

Yes, the stats get a little out of hand. But look behind the numbers and what you see on this team is...a team. They care about and for each other and they emanate an intimidating aura of confidence: we're going to win and we're going to have fun doing it. Fans of other teams have started to take notice, and in the manner of baseball fans everywhere, they're appreciative of the talent and the teamwork.

A division pennant is well within their grasp, and then the playoffs await. Nobody wants to face them. But I sure want to watch them win it all.

C'mon, sing along with me:

27 September, 2015

This Is How I'm Different

I knew I had a real problem the first time I used Microsoft Word.

This little puppy popped up on my screen and asked me if I needed help. I didn't, and so he tucked his tail between his legs, gazed forlornly at me as if I had just banished him outside, and slunk off the screen.

Now, it's not as if I cried, or anything. But I did get a little hitch in my chest. I wanted to tell the puppy that he could come back and stay on my screen as long as he didn't get in the way of my typing. Maybe wag his tail every now and again. Look at me with a little happiness in his eyes.

The Microsoft Office assistants have been mocked, parodied, and called "one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing" by Smithsonian magazine. And all I remember about them was banishing the little puppy, and feeling awful doing it.


A couple of weeks ago, with back-to-school in full swing, the amount of garbage set out to the curb in my neighbourhood suddenly quadrupled, and included all manner of cast off furniture and such. Eva and I watched as two burly sanitation engineers wrestled a queen size boxspring into the back of the garbage truck, which ate it in stages, setting off a cacophony of creaks and groans and snaps. I winced several times and gritted my teeth: I found the noises ugly almost to the point of physical pain.


More than twenty years ago, I went to visit my best friend, who was living and working in downtown Toronto at the time. I met him for lunch, in the towering atrium lobby of his office building. There were what seemed like thousands of similarly dressed men rushing to and fro like so many rats in a maze. You've heard the saying 'you could cut the air with a knife'? I felt as if I had to use a machete, hacking through thick brambles of tension with every step.  The best metaphor I can come up with is a psychic smell, a mental miasma of fear. It was an indescribable relief to get out of that building into the open air.


I can go on and on with anecdotes like this: rare is the day I don't gain a new one.

I have too much empathy. Way too much. It sits in my gut, ready to give my insides a good rearranging any time someone is in pain around me. The nausea can and does progress to the point of vomiting if the pain is severe enough. I can harden myself against it, if I know it's a long-term thing I can't do anything about, but I feel compelled to do what I can to lessen that pain instead. People think I'm so loving and caring, and I am, but that love and care as a selfish component to it. I want my gut to stop pogoing around my body cavity, okay?

It doesn't matter whether it's a person, an animal, or an inanimate object. If it's being destroyed in some way, I empathize with it. I seem to be incapable of turning that off. God knows I've tried.  I've tried because even I recognize those anecdotes above are not indicative of mental health. I can forgive you if you laugh at me for wanting to run away whenever anything explodes, or for getting a little bit misty-eyed at this

"That is because you crazy", indeed.

Over the eleven years I have been writing this blog, I have repeatedly cited Spider Robinson's philosophy, given such high expression in his Callahan's Place novels, that "shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased; thus do we refute entropy". If I could sum up my mission in life in one sentence, that would be it. That maxim permeates virtually every important interaction I have, both on and off line. I seek out pain, it seems. I never have to seek far to find it: pain is lurking behind so many smiling facades, and so many people have constructed intricate and persuasive personas to mask their pain from themselves and especially from anyone else who might see it and judge them for it.

I don't judge. I feel.

It's why you'll see me always trying to drag people closer to the center of any argument, seeking consensus. Consensus is harmonious; extremism breeds free-floating hatred, which all too often is unleashed on total strangers...wounding me by proxy. It's hard for me to read the kind of vicious, unthinking attacks that pass for 'debate' when you can't see the person you're debating. I don't understand why rudeness and worse is so damned common online: how are the people behind the pixels so easily minimized? The few times I have found myself feeling the kind of intense anger that I see all around me, I've withdrawn completely. I don't want to inflict pain on people whom I know are already hurting.

It's why I love the way I do: because people are loveable. Simple like that. Also because so many people have forgotten they are loveable, and reminding them seems to me like a good thing to do. It might just lessen some of their pain...especially if they choose to share it with me.

It's why I love music so much: because music is universal and heals pain like next to nothing else. Through music, I can share my hurt and you can share yours and somehow we'll end up with less than half a hurt apiece. 

It's why I read: because reading expands perspectives, opens you up to different perceptions, and allows you to better understand people and their pain. 

Many folks do not believe that shared pain is lessened...they act as if sharing pain just provokes a different sort of pain. I may not be able to heal what's causing your hurt -- I'm only human -- but goddamnit I can do something about that other pain. Expressing your anguish should never cause more anguish...but bottling it up will

Since I can't seem to turn this empathy off, or even down...I might as well do something constructive with it, no?

24 September, 2015

So, like, total freedom, right?

--the Wiccan Rede (song here, one I love and live by, live and love by)

So I've been reading a lot about poly relationships, and there seems to be a recurring tend. The impression I'm getting is that if you're poly you have to be okay with everything your partner wants. For example, you're not comfortable having sex with someone who's having unprotected sex with someone else. The response is usually to tell that person to work on themselves so they're not stifling their partner's expression and that hard limits are just signs the person shouldn't be poly. Am I missing something? Is it really fair to tell a person they're not allowed to say they're not okay with something?
--user "CSpyder", posted to r/polyamory, 9/23

This is an extreme variant on a common question in poly circles. Indeed, it's pretty fundamental to relationships in general.

We're all familiar, or we think we are, with the freedoms and restrictions in monogamy. Odds are you'll find yourself less familiar than you think, though. According to this survey, 92% of women and 86% of men consider "having sex with someone else repeatedly" to be cheating. (Presumably the minority, which I find surprisingly high for both genders, would feel differently if that sex was paired with emotion.) Towards the other extreme, another survey found that seventeen percent of women and nine percent of men considered viewing pornography to be cheating, while seven percent of women said if their man stayed up all night talking to another woman online (no mention of topic), that was cheating. (Yike.) But by and large, we know what we're talking about when we talk about monogamy.

Polyamory is a whole different world. YOU decide what's legal, what's illegal, and what penalties will accompany illegal behaviour. And the YOU here is plural...by which I mean more than two: remember, polyamory is "multiple committed relationships with the knowledge and consent of all involved".

Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, in their book MORE THAN TWO, have devised a "Relationship Bill of Rights" that is useful for everyone, be they mono or poly.

You have the right, without shame, blame or guilt: 
In all intimate relationships:

to be free from coercion, violence and intimidation
to choose the level of involvement and intimacy you want
to revoke consent to any form of intimacy at any time
to be told the truth
to say no to requests
to hold and express differing points of view
to feel all your emotions
to feel and communicate your emotions and needs
to set boundaries concerning your privacy needs 
to set clear limits on the obligations you will make 
to seek balance between what you give to the relationship and what is given back to you
to know that your partner will work with you to resolve problems that arise
to choose whether you want a monogamous or polyamorous relationship
to grow and change 
to make mistakes
to end a relationship

In poly relationships:
to decide how many partners you want
to choose your own partners
to have an equal say with each of your partners in deciding the form your relationship with that partner will take 
to choose the level of time and investment you will offer to each partner 
to understand clearly any rules that will apply to your relationship before entering into it 
to discuss with your partners decisions that affect you 
to have time alone with each of your partners 
to enjoy passion and special moments with each of your partners 

In a poly network:

to choose the level of involvement and intimacy you want with your partners’ other partners
to be treated with courtesy
to seek compromise 
to have relationships with people, not with relationships
to have plans made with your partner be respected; for instance, not changed at the last minute for trivial reasons
to be treated as a peer of every other person, not as a subordinate
(Veaux, Rickert; source)

I think nearly everybody can agree on the first set, and even the most staunch monogamist can understand how the second set might function. Many people have problems with the third set, specifically the very last point:

to be treated as a peer of every other person, not as a subordinate

One of the most common mistakes people make transitioning from monogamy to polyamory is to draw up a long set of rules and restrictions designed to ensure the primacy of the existing partnership over any other. This seems like a logical thing to do if your object is to ensure the primacy of the existing partnership over any other, right? Unfortunately, logic doesn't always obtain in a world full of emotion.

And sometimes logic just goes right out the window. My favourite two examples of that both concern the RMS TITANIC. If she had rammed that iceberg head on instead of (logically) trying to port around it, she wouldn't have sunk. She'd have been towed into port with her bow heavily damaged, an international laughingstock to be sure, but loss of life would have been minimal, perhaps zero.
Once that iceberg was hit, TITANIC was doomed...but what did Captain Smith order? The watertight doors shut--which had already been done, because it was the logical thing to do. But if those doors had remained open, TITANIC would have sunk on an even keel, taking much longer to do so. She could well still have been afloat when  the CARPATHIA arrived.

Elevating one relationship over another breaks both of Veaux' and Rickert's Rules of Polyamory, to wit:


If you treat people with the love, respect and devotion they deserve, you're likely to get the same treatment in return. This means wherever possible, boundaries should replace rules.


The difference is surprisingly simple. A boundary is negotiable; a rule is not; a guideline is a self-imposed rule.

Rules are usually enacted in response to fear and insecurity, and enforced because it's easier than working on that fear and insecurity.  Boundaries can be used to set limits on freedom, but those limits are expected to be discussed and expanded as relationships evolve.

Without getting personal, Eva and I have one rule, one guideline ("don't be a dick") and a few boundaries that are always negotiable. We believe this model will allow us maximum freedom while still respecting each other and our metamours to the utmost degree.

It is not only okay, it is obligatory to express discomfort in relationships. In good ones, regardless of their form,  the expression of discomfort is seen as an opportunity to heal the hurt. If you are in a relationship where it is not okay to express discomfort, that is an abusive relationship, and you need to leave it. Relationships of all kinds imply freedom granted, not denied.

23 September, 2015

Escape to Another World

The cinematic highlight of 1993 for me, and I'm sure for many others, was the release of JURASSIC PARK. 
I had seen virtually everything Hollywood had put out over the preceding two years--cinephile girlfriend--but our relationship  had blown up like a Michael Bay explovaganza by that point. Hobson's choice: I saw JURASSIC PARK alone. 

I have always hated going to the movies alone. It hasn't stopped me from doing it, if I really want to see the movie badly enough, but I feel like the world's biggest loser, sitting by myself...almost as if I'm wearing a trench coat with nothing underneath it. But for JURASSIC PARK, I didn't care. Dinosaurs trump low self-esteem. Dinosaurs trump a lot of things, really.

And that movie performed. It was damn near perfect: stunning spectacle--the effects hold up 22 years later--but so much more besides. It functions as a scathing critique of blind faith in science, of capitalism, of humanity's misperception of its place in the world. All this and velociraptors. 

There was a heated debate, at the time, over that film's rating. It was rated PG-13, meaning any child could get in and see rampaging dinos chasing kids just like them. My Media Studies prof allowed me to write an essay on whether or not children should be allowed to see such things. (Longtime readers may be surprised to find out I argued they should.) 

I wrote that essay much the way I would write a long Breadbin entry today, with a framing personal story and references pulled from all over. I got a 95 and a complimentary question I've never forgotten: "have you considered writing for the media?"

I had, as it so happened. And so I went to that prof and had a long sit-down discussion with her. Shortly after, I dropped out of university.

What she told me was a variant on what people have been telling me my entire life. I have talent, she said, but talent alone is meaningless. In order to succeed at a newspaper--the first step, at the time, towards writing the long-form articles I admire as a writer and a reader--my talent must bent indefinitely  to the will of an editor, and behind him, a readership, with very firm ideas on what is and is not "news"...ideas I vehemently disagree with. Her words, as well-meaning as they were, had the effect of slamming a door in my face. You'll have no doubt noticed I don't handle rejection very well.

I have digressed.

Movies. Dinosaurs.

In those halcyon days before stadium-style cinema seating had made it to our fair city and drove most of the rest of the business out of business, there were three movie theatres within a couple of square blocks of downtown Kitchener. Before JURASSIC PARK, for whatever reason, I'd only ever been in two of them, the Lyric and the Capital. I saw SILENCE OF THE LAMBS earlier at the Lyric and loved it so much I went back to see it again the following night; I saw TITANIC later at the Capital and did the exact same thing. 

The Hyland occupied a cavernous space in the basement of one of the few office towers that existed in downtown Kitchener ca. 1993. It had seats for more than 450 people, and on the night I saw JURASSIC PARK, I got one of the last ones: frontmost row, off to the right. Not ideal seating, but so what? Dinosaurs!

All this trivia is about to mean something, I promise.

I'm convinced that each of us has at least one incredible ability that happens to be incredibly useless. I, for instance, can sit down at a piano and play a song that's never been played before (and most of the time will never be played again). 
My darling wife has this astounding, and astoundingly pointless, facility of recalling anywhere she has ever sat. Go into a restaurant, no matter how long ago it's been since she was there last or how many times she's been there, and she can tell you "I sat there, and there, and over there..."

This talent of hers of hers seems to have come at the expense of her ability to recall dates. She wouldn't be able to tell you within three years either way when JURASSIC PARK came out; even important dates rarely imprint on her. We joke that we married in 2000 so she'd always remember which anniversary was upcoming: I'm the one who remembers dates around here. 

So Eva says she sat "front-middle-left" when she saw JURASSIC PARK at the Hyland theater, but couldn't tell you whether it was the 7:30 showing on June 12, 1993. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if it was: it wouldn't be the first time we had crossed paths, long before I met her at a job interview in 1999.

The Hyland cinema closed shortly after we saw JURASSIC PARK, and laid vacant for some time. It has reincarnated as the second-run/repertory Apollo,  and last night we went full circle there and saw JURASSIC WORLD.

The theater itself couldn't be more different. It's considerably more upscale, with actual tables to rest your popcorn and local craft beer (that's another change) on; much more comfortable seating, and no sense whatsoever that you're in a cave. That said, the prices are quite reasonable (even more so if you have a Groupon that effectively gave us two-for-one admission and concessions). 

We needed an escape; it had been a very rough day. Luckily, the theater was almost empty--I think there were three other couples there besides us, not that I was paying that much attention.

No commercials or trailers before the film started, and right away I was hit with the HOME ALONE problem: I couldn't shut my brain off.

HOME ALONE is one of two movies that I have walked out on partway through (the other was BEETHOVEN).  HOME ALONE is considered a comedy classic, but I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to even let the comedy begin. I'm supposed to just accept that a mother and father would accidentally forget to take one of their children on a trip to Paris?  After sending him to his room the night before? And the kid would let this happen?  Yeah, sure, tell me another one. On second thought, don't, because I can see the "comedy" is going to involve pain, the way it so often does. Excuse me...pardon me...sorry...I'm gone.

So here we have JURASSIC PARK up and operating bigger than ever, in the wake of -- did the first three movies even happen? Apparently not. Okay, it's a full reboo--wait a minute, they're fully acknowledging at least the first movie not ten minutes in. Um? Hello? The first generation of life, uh, found a way, and I'm supposed to think "try again, fail again, fail better"? Even more astonishing, regular boring old velociraptors and T-rexes aren't good enough anymore and we need to (gasp) GENETICALLY MODIFY even bigger, badder beasties? Give me my hip waders, I beg you, the bullshit's getting thick on the ground here. 

I was turning all that over in my mind and I realized that yes, actually this sort of thing probably would happen. It's a chronic failing of humans to forget the past: every real-estate and commodity bubble pops and blows goo all over investors who, right up until the splat, were feverishly arguing about how "it's different this time". Austerity as an economic strategy has never worked, and yet it's always the first "solution" trotted out to any economic problem. If you prayed to God and bad things still happened, you didn't pray hard enough. Try again, Fail again. Fail better. It's something Ian Malcolm would have said, with a sardonic grin on his phiz.

Okay, let's see if they even allude to this.

Not quite, but several of the characters seemed as if they were in on the joke, which I appreciated. Those characters were cardboard cutouts, every last one of then--the dinosaurs, especially the raptors, had more depth--but before long the gobble-gobble had commenced and my brain had finally winked out. It was just Eva and I and our limbic systems, out for a stroll in the woods. 

The popcorn ate itself as the people got popped and eaten. Predictable, sure, but the journey was fun. 

Total escapism...which is just what was needed. I'm glad I saw that on a big screen. Incidentally, once again the 3-D glasses were entirely unnecessary. I'm still waiting for another movie that actually demands those glasses. I'm thinking I'm gong to have to wait for the sequel to the only one that has so far: AVATAR.

Thanks, love, for a great night.

21 September, 2015

Refugees, Again

1956...Budapest is rising...
1956...Budapest is fighting...
1956...Budapest is falling...
1956...Budapest is dying...

It's sickening, what Hungary is doing to Syrian refugees.

Hungary has a far-right PM (Viktor Orban) with an even-further-right opposition that has been gaining in popularity lately. The Syrian refugee crisis is the perfect opportunity for Orban to be a good Nazi and "preserve the Hungarian nation". And so you have razor wire, tear gas and water cannons to repel the tide, and worse-than-prison conditions for those refugees who managed to get in before Hungary had any clue as to the scope of the situation.

It's strange that Hungary, of all nations, should be so virulently anti-refugee. The 1956 uprising, the first spark of heat in the Cold War, is still within living memory. It produced over two hundred thousand refugees, more than a few of whom are still alive.

But in Hungary, and in Eastern Europe generally, a strain of xenophobia has existed since time out of mind. The Museum of Terror in Budapest, a memorial to the horrors of communism, heavily implies that communism was actually Jewish revenge for the Holocaust...but only in Hungarian. The English plaques make no such claims.(source one) (source two)

There are people in Canada who share this xenophobia. It goes without saying they are on the rightward end of the spectrum and the redward end of the necktrum. In the wake of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned off the coast of Turkey, a Conservative supporter heckled a reporter by asking “How many kids drowned in pools in Canada this past summer? Do you blame the government for that?”

I'm seeing all kinds of hate masquerading as concern for the--to borrow a useful phrase--"old stock Canadians". There's the picture floating around Facebook of ISIS flags flying over Syrian refugees in Germany...WE DON'T WANT THEM HERE! it says, and no, we sure don't. Only problem is, that ISIS flag was Photoshppped into an older picture.

There's the "refugees make better bank than Canadian pensioners!" claptrap I refuted a few blogs back. And just this morning, I got this piece of bile in my mailbox:

Can someone please explain the following regarding the Syrian refugees arriving in Europe and perhaps Canada from worn torn (sic) destinations.

 1/ How come they all seem to have endless supplies of money to pay the people traffickers.

 2/ Most appear to have working mobile phones. 

 3/ Most appear well dressed and fed and do not appear to be suffering the effects of malnutrition.

 4/ Most of the refugees are men of military age. 

 5/ Why are other Muslim nations not helping their fellow Muslims. (Saudi, Kuwait, U.A.E. Indonesia but to name a few) 

 6/ How come the two boys and their mother drowned off the Turkish coast can be returned for burial to the place they fled so quickly, what I believed to be I.S. held territory. ]]

Could it be they are being paid to come to Europe as a way to increase the Muslim population and get IS fighters embedded in Europe? We all know life is cheap from an I.S. point so the loss of a few lives along the way has no meaning for them as long as it benefits their cause. Just a thought.

I almost burst a blood vessel reading this. Really, refuting it is like swatting dead flies, but...

1) Define "endless supplies". It cost one migrant $2000 for the privilege of a twelve hour sea voyage with 75 other people on a boat meant for 30. That's more than a year's salary--likely most of his life's savings. If you're leaving home, with no guarantee you'll ever see home again, would you not take money with you? I would.

2) Okay, here's where I LOSE IT. Such parochial thinking. GO ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, from the slums of Calcutta to the favelas of Rio to the poorest parts of Africa and EVERYBODY HAS A WORKING MOBILE PHONE. Just because it's obscenely expensive in Canada doesn't mean it's that way...anywhere else.

3) They are fleeing a WAR ZONE, not a ^&^*ing FAMINE. This is not the Middle Ages: ISIS doesn't besiege a town hoping to starve people out.

4) Oh, really? You counted? I'M a male of military age, and if ISIS was on my doorstep I'd be over the hills and gone. Call me a coward if you will, but what I really am is a realist. I am not physically, mentally, or ammunitionistically equipped to deal with that threat. Sorry. If it's any consolation, you're welcome to come with me. I am intimately acquainted with several dozen places ISIS would consider well beneath notice.

5) Now HERE's a legitimate question. There's an air-conditioned tent city in Saudi Arabia that's used for the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It holds over 300,000 people...and it's sitting empty. The whole region is filthy rich and could easily absorb ALL of Syria. But it won't, for a couple of reasons. One is that many of the Syrian refugees are the wrong flavour of Muslim. The overwhelming majority of the refugees are Sunni, so they are not welcome in Shiite-dominated areas. And ISIS hates all Muslims that do not adhere to their strict perversion of the faith. They loathe Saudi Arabia in particular. Sheltering refugees invites reprisals.

6) Kobane, Syria, the hometown referred to here, was not and is not 'IS held territory". It is in fact rather hotly contested territory, having been the site of several ISIS massacres, but it is not under ISIS control. See, that's kind of how war zones work, and why people tend to flee them.

A final note on the final note up there. Migrants are not being paid to go anywhere. The Muslim population in Europe is doing just fine all on its own, since their birthrate is higher than the native populations'.

There are, sadly, many Canadians who will read these questions, rephrase them as statements, and repeat them. And that hurts my head...and my heart.