22 October, 2016

On Art (sniff, sniff)

Jeff Foxworthy, redneck supreme, defines being a redneck as having a "glorious absence of sophistication". I may never have brought beer to a funeral, but in a very real sense, I am a redneck. Sophistication, to me, is more precisely called "putting on airs" and I despise it.

I am pretentious in my lack of pretension. It's a fault of mine.

There aren't very many personality traits that elicit instant dislike out of me. Probably the biggest is snobbery: the closely cherished illusion that you are superior to the rest of us. I have no time for that. None.

Unfortunately, it's everywhere. I run across people whose noses rip the clouds all the time.

Organized religion is thoroughly infected with it, to the point where those who adhere to your exact set of beliefs are "saved" and others are "lost"; taken to its logical extreme, those others are infidels and fit only to be killed. And lest you think that commandment is only Islamic, go check out Deuteronomy 13 and 17, or Numbers 31,  and ask yourself what kind of god commands its followers to kill not only unbelievers, but children. Oh, sorry, only male children are to be killed--the female children are to be distributed to the soldiers as "spoils of war".


You see snobbery in politics, which nowadays is just a civil religion anyway. Oh, brother, do you. Without forty plus years of the salary class shitting all over the wage class, you don't have the conditions for a Donald Trump.

In fact, whenever humans can divide themselves into different groups, there seems to be an inherent tendency to elevate one group (mine) over another (yours).

You'll find me pretentiously unpretentious on nearly any subject you'd care to name. Reading: I shun "lit'rary" like the plague. Tell me a STORY, don't bore the tits off me with authorial intrusion. Sports: I'm a fan of teams...but unlike many fans of teams I don't hate other teams, their players, or their fans. (With a couple of exceptions: I find many fans of the Montreal Canadians insufferably arrogant and I really don't like anything to do with the Philadelphia Flyers. The team culture glorifies goonery to the point where I have watched their fans CHEER an opponent's injury and BOO when he regained his skates, in defiance of hockey protocol and basic human decency). Food: keep that goat's anus tartare away from me and give me comfort food. Poor man's food. Food that doesn't scream I'm better than you because I can afford this and you can't.

There's one place where I'm probably seen as more of a snob than a redneck, and that's my taste in music. Now, it's pretty wide-ranging, and I do like a fair bit of 'rednecky' music. But my first love when it comes to music is classical, and classical is seen as a very highbrow form of art nowadays.

It hasn't always been that way, of course, and it certainly shouldn't be dismissed entirely: what's called classical music spans a spectrum that dwarfs every other genre of music put together. There's something for everybody in there.

Classical music is seen as snootish partly because of concert etiquette (dress up! don't move a muscle between musical movements! don't make a sound during the music!) That, too, wasn't always the case: go back a couple of centuries and the performers on stage actually had to work to obtain and maintain the audience's attention and appreciation. Concerts of the 1800s were more akin to sporting matches today. This is meant to be funny, and I find it hysterical, but there's a nugget of truth in here. Wouldn't it be great if some classical concerts came with play-by-play and colour commentary?

Even within the realm of classical music, and for all the openness I strive to cultivate in my mind, there are certain no-go zones for me, and they invariably involve what I can't help but think of as pretentious crap. And that pretentious crap is itself almost invariably modern.

There's a reason for that.

John Michael Greer, a writer and thinker whom I deeply admire, has written a 'history of the future' over twenty five blogs entitled RETROTOPIA.  In it, he has one character come to a realization about art that resonates deeply with me:

Any art form has a certain amount of notional space to it, and each work done in that space fills up part of it. Before you’ve filled up the space, innovation works more often than not, but after the space is full, innovation just generates noise. That’s why the history of every art gets sorted out into a period of exploration, when you succeed by trying new things, and a period of performance, when you succeed by doing old things very, very well. If you keep on trying to innovate when the notional space is full, the results are either going to be derivative or unbearable, and either way they’re not going to be any good, because the good options have already been taken. (The Archdruid Report, July 6, 2016)

(He goes on to apply this to technology as well. I find it fascinating, and demonstrably true: there just aren't that many new things that are sharply better than the things they replace, and novelty itself is now marketed the way things like, oh, I don't know, quality and durability once were. The notional space for many technologies is full or close to it.)

When the notional space for art gets full, artists and the intelligentsia who proclaim what is and isn't art must find ever more ridiculous ways to maintain their superiority.  Hence Greer's parable of "The Emperor's New Art" in which a dog barfs up some paint on to a canvas...and it of course becomes a masterpiece:

Now of course the first thought of every member of the imperial art committee was, “That looks like dog barf.” As soon as that thought entered their minds, though, every one of them thought, “Oh, no! Does that mean that my tastes are pedestrian and I don’t understand the true sublimity of which art is capable?” So none of them said anything at first. Then one, who felt a little more insecure than the others and felt he had to prove that he didn’t have pedestrian tastes, said, “This is indeed a great work of art.” All the others thought, “He must have refined taste and deep aesthetic sensitivity.” So they all began to praise the painting, and the more they looked at it, the more they succeeded in convincing themselves that it couldn’t be what it obviously was, that is, a canvas on which a dog had thrown up. (Ibid., August 10, 2016)

I'm not a fan of modern art, by and large, because to me, it's noise. It's pretension. There's no "there" there. I get the facile point some of it tries to make -- oh, how shocking, someone shit all over a crucifix -- but to my mind, that's not art, that's dog barf someone shitting all over a crucifix.

When it comes to visual art, my tastes are decidedly boring and, I'm actually a bit ashamed to admit, comparatively narrow.  I like landscapes, especially if they have water in them. We own a couple of prints; my favourite is by the man who designed Canada's two-dollar coin. It's called "Shoreline Encounter".

I'm not completely shallow. I like abstract art if it has vibrancy and a sense of movement. I appreciate many of the classics in various schools of art -- Dali (one of the only posters in my university residence room was "The Persistence of Memory")...Picasso...
Rembrandt...Monet...I will look at anything, and give it an honest chance.

But things like "Voice of Fire"...$1.8 million? Seriously?

What am I supposed to appreciate here? How straight the lines are? Because I don't see anything else. I leave it to the People Of Discernment And Aesthetic Sensitivity to tell me how lowbrow, how unintelligent, and how...rednecky I am.

A glorious absence of sophistication. You know what? I'll take the absence of sophistication over the sophistication of absence.

Two Poly Posts In One!


Polyamory is a high-risk, high-reward lifestyle.

The risks, to monogamous people, are obvious.  Intrinsic to polyamory, you have

  • additional relationships that can upset apple carts
  • heartbreak potential that isn't just magnified, it's more like cubed
  • the certain exposure of every perceived inadequacy, every flaw in your relationships with your partner(s) and especially yourself
  • the weird way poly has of creating ethical dilemmas you never dreamed you'd find yourself in the middle of.
As if that's not enough, there are considerable social risks, although these should abate both over time in any poly relationship and with time passing overall as ethical non-monogamy becomes more visible and acceptable. The biggest one here is the risk of censure and rejection by family and friends. This social discrimination stings in a way you can't even imagine until you experience it: it feels like a complete denial of a part of your family and a larger part of yourself.  
That social ridicule can prevent people who are otherwise perfectly suited to poly from ever trying it...all by itself.

There are even, as ridiculous as this is, career risks, because somehow the presence of abundant love in your personal life is seen to negatively impact your professionalism (???) 

A little over two years in, I have experienced most of what I just detailed. Most of it. I can say out loud that my heart has been broken in large and little ways; and that I've had to confront jealousy and especially envy, among several other flaws, head-on. And  oh, yeah, those ethical dilemmas. I want badly to be out in the open, but it's not always possible. I strive for honesty and some agreed-upon degree of transparency in my relationships...does that even allow me to be party to a lie, if it's not my lie and it's in a good cause? Why am I continually finding myself hoping I'm on a relationship escalator, even as I (intellectually) pooh-pooh the whole notion and claim to accept whatever is? It''s a learning process, a growing process.

Most of my friends have stuck by me, I am eternally grateful to report. Some of my family hasn't. That's fine; that's their choice to make. I hope they're happy with how much they hurt me.

Yes, I think it's fair to say I have experienced the downsides. I am very circumspect in my writings on personal poly -- I confront every one of these blogs as an exercise in saying as much as possible without saying anything at all -- but attentive readers, especially those privy to my Facebook timeline, have drawn their own conclusions and, in some cases, confronted me (or, worse, a close friend who is NOT a partner) with them. Not one person has correctly assumed what's going on in my world -- some can't even guess the people involved properly -- and so I know I'm doing this right.  My advice to you is to stop guessing. I don't speculate on your love lives; it's none of my business. 

With all that risk, why? Why practice poly at all? 

Well, as I hope I've made clear, I don't have a choice. I have been emotionally poly for as long as I have had relationships: even in their embryonic, "puppy love" form, there was always more than one of them, each one cherished for itself. 

That's the biggest reward, right there: more relationships means more experiences, more perspectives, more...love. Not just among partners, either: relationships among metamours are their own joys. When functioning properly, a polycule is akin to a happy family: a loving support network. It really makes you wonder why society would have any sort of problem with polyamory. We're no threat to anyone. 
I can state without outing anyone or anything that loving this way has gifted me with confidence and contentment, and opened my mind to new possibilities. I have grown a lot in the past two years. I'm no longer afraid to put myself out in the world. And all those things I said about about confronting your flaws and facing down your demons? Might have still happened, but wouldn't have happened so quickly or so thoroughly. 



A couple of months ago, give or take -- time blurs in this information-rich world, have you noticed? -- I shared something on Facebook that said 



I think many men actually believe that women are machines that dispense sex if you learn how to work them properly. This, needless to say, distresses and disgusts me, not least because I'm positive women think that I think that way. ESPECIALLY since I'm poly. I mean, polyamory is just another word for promiscuity, right?


I've been quote-unquote friendzoned since. I used to take such treatment -- and I've been through it a LOT -- as a binding referendum on my physical appearance, one I failed every single time. I've heard it all: "I love you like a brother" (which should be comforting to an only child, but usually has me thinking about incest taboos); "I love you, but not in that way" (ugh) and most recently, the plain truth free of euphemism: "I value our growing friendship, but I don't see anything physical developing between us".

It does sting.

Not because I had ever once thought "gee, if I do everything just right I might get to fuck this woman". Sex, for me, is NEVER an end goal, or even, properly speaking, a goal at all. I am open to giving and receiving love in whatever capacity is acceptable to my partners, and derive a lot of joy in doing so purely platonically.

But it's a limit. A hard limit.

I accept the ones society has imposed: my oft-repeated refrain that I will not interfere in committed, monogamous relationships. (Ethical dilemma: what exactly constitutes "committed"? Can I trust my partner to tell me when that state has been reached? Will she even know? Maybe her partner sees them as committed now, even if she doesn't. Am I under any obligation in that case? How would I know? And round and round in my head we go.)

It stings even more in a poly context because poly people (outside of the polyfidelitous folks in closed triads or quads) tend to have a lot fewer limits, and they're all self-imposed, not society-imposed.

I'm not sure what she actually said to me, and didn't ask for clarification lest it be seen as a protest. What I heard was "beyond a limited level of intimacy, which may be expressed a very limited number of ways, you shall not pass." And yes, that hurt. I do want to get closer to people, not further away from them. Sex, for me, is a plausible expression of a closeness that will never come in this case.

But there is nothing wrong with being friends. Nothing at all. So if I had hoped for more, eventually...does that make me a bad person? Does that make me (Jesus, no) a typical man?  You get that going around in your head too.

And what do you do when you hear but I DO love you 'in that way'? How do you NOT respond to that if you feel the same yourself, emphatically? Do you accept what you hear and press for the closeness you both claim to want?

Poly people call this "processing". Both my partners call it "overthinking". I do it a LOT.

See, I've been taught that pressing is bad. Pressing is what men who objectify women do...keep fiddling with the controls and eventually the sex will spill out. And there's still a small part of me--it's smaller by the month, but it's still there--afraid to state my desires lest they be rejected.  But when the desires are STRONG, they should be expressed, no? Provided I accept her response? (What if her response changes day by day?)


(get your mind out of the gutter)

I don't know where I'm going. But I'm

Who I want to be and where I want to be and doing what I always said I would and yet I feel I haven't won at all (yet)
Running for my life and never looking back in case there's someone right behind to shoot me down and say he always knew I'd fall
when the crazy wheel slows down
where will I be?
Back where I started (source)


17 October, 2016

Love Isn't Always Gentle

Administrivia:  A blog on art has been commissioned...that will be forthcoming.


I think I would have made a pretty fair father.

I still wish I'd had the opportunity--the CAS adoption rejection of 2005 still stings me, likely will for the rest of my life. But that ship sailed long ago. Doesn't keep me from looking out to sea every now and again. And when I do, I see 'good' kids and 'bad' kids. Oddly -- or maybe not so oddly when I think about the adults I'm attracted to -- it's the 'bad' kids that most interest me. I wonder how I might have done by them.

It's said that people turn into their parents. I've found that this is not always true. I think the more introspective of us look back on our childhoods and choose to either perpetuate or put an end to various patterns. There are many -- a great many -- parenting wins I would have chosen to pass on, and a few things, looking back, that I would have chosen to leave in my childhood. And  no, I'm not going to catalogue either list.

Except to say two things. One: I should have had much more of an understanding of how finances worked before I ever left home. Yes, that's partly on me -- I should have asked -- but it's also something I shouldn't have had to ask about.
And two: there are times I could have used a little more tough love than I ever saw.

My rebellion came late...after I left home, in fact. That's not to say I was any kind of model child, especially early on. I was a habitual liar, an incredibly sore loser, and the most rigid, unyielding, black-and-white person you were ever likely to meet. Among numerous other flaws, of course.

And I played my mom. I really did. She felt guilty any time she had to discipline me, and that guilt could be easily exploited and turned into some kind of treat afterwards. My stepdad put a stop to that...sort of. The trick with him was to pretend to listen to his interminable talks, nod and say 'yes, sir' in all the right places, and then carry on as before.

John's patience would have put Job's to shame. I wonder if he could ever have imagined that his patience would the the thing about him I would most internalize.

The worst punishment I ever got, I earned. Surprise, surprise, I've written about it already, the last time I tacked this topic, four years ago. (Damnit, is there anything I haven't written about yet? That anybody wants to read?)

I stand by everything I wrote in that blog.

I think many kids today have it far, far too easy. Hell, I had it easy growing up. There was a bare minimum of chores I was expected to do. I didn't get an allowance -- I think maybe that would have helped me learn how money worked, but I see my parents' point, too: you don't do household tasks for money, you do them because you live in the house and that roof over your head comes with certain obligations.

Oh, and I had no privacy, either. It's not that my parents came barging in all the time, but I was made to understand that they could at any time. You know, it being their house and all. If I wanted privacy, I could pay rent. Simple like that. Likewise "my" stuff was actually their stuff under the same logic: it existed under their roof.

I suppose I could have argued this, if I was into wasting breath.

There are things I would do today. The Wi-Fi password would change daily: my child would have to complete her daily chores to get that password, and she would have to send me pictures to prove it. So as to ensure she couldn't just re-use the same pictures over and over, I would specify: clean kitchen counter with a can of tuna by the sink. Would I do this right off the bat? Depends on my kid's attitude towards doing chores.

I must stress I am not pro corporeal punishment. I've seen my rationale expressed as a simple flowchart that I will textualize here:



I actually took some flak, positing that on Facebook. I'm sorry (actually, I'm not), but I'm pretty goddamn firm on this. Your boss doesn't hit you when you fuck up at work. What gives you the right to hit a defenceless child?

But oh, there are consequences to disrespect. They bear a striking resemblance to...disrespect. I don't own a shotgun, so I can't put a bullet through a laptop, but I could soak a phone, if you provoked me enough. Oh, I'm sorry, were you under the illusion that was your phone? See above about the property in my house, ownership of. No, this isn't my first response--I really do have more patience than average. But you test that at your peril.

You hate me? Wow, you're the first teenager ever to hate his dad. Give it a decade or two and see if you don't feel differently.

 You might even find yourself fritzing your kid's virtual reality device.

13 October, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Eva-love

You might wonder what more I could possibly say about my wife, Eva, after sixteen years of marriage and more than a few anniversary, birthday and random because-I-love-you occasion blogs.  It's true, I've said a lot of loving things, because I love her a whole lot.
Longtime readers know the story: I met her at a job interview. She hired me, and at the end of that interview I knew my new boss would be a friend and quite strongly felt she'd be a great deal more than that. Hit by lightning, I was.
What I haven't told you about that interview was that I was dressed in full double-breasted suit and tie. The owners of the market research company dressed that way, and so did various presidents of sundry corporations that often attended focus groups. But for a man applying for a position in the phone room, calling people to try and recruit them for those focus groups...my appearance could hardly have been more incongruous had I sashayed in wearing  nothing at all.
Eva admitted to me, much later, that my choice of attire was the subject of more than a little snickering later, behind closed doors. I honestly didn't know any better; I'd been taught to dress up for interviews, and so I did, and that was that.


It wouldn't be the first time I'd made a complete ass out of myself in front of the woman who became my wife the following year. (It's worth noting that I didn't start dating her until May; the second date was June 11th, on which date we bought a bed together, on the grounds that I had no intention of subjecting my back or hers to that shitty futon ever again; and I moved in with her on the third date. The marriage fourteen months later was a formality.

About making an ass of myself, though...

Oh, I'm good at that. The first movie we watched together was The Matrix. The second -- my choice, again -- was Instinct, with Anthony Hopkins. I'd heard it had gorillas in it. Eva loves gorillas.

I didn't know a bunch of those gorillas are shot and killed. My new love was NOT impressed.  (Thirteen years later I'd take her to see the film version of Les Misérables, in which the father-figure dies at the end...a few short weeks after her father had died. Oh, yeah, THAT was brilliant.)

Over the course of our seventeen-plus year relationship, I've said things I shouldn't have said, done things I shouldn't have done, NOT done any number of things I should have--this is, of course, the long-form definition of "husband". But always, always, ALWAYS, Eva has reacted with consummate grace. We've had three fights in seventeen years. Three.

It's not that emotions don't sometimes run high around here. They do. It's not that I'm a total pushover who will avoid conflict, either, because, well, sometimes the conflict comes running after me. And as previously noted, usually the reason the conflict runs so fleetly is because I've been an unthinking stupid ass.

And what does Eva do? Employ just enough emphasis to ensure I understand my ass-ininity, the peculiar ass-inacious quality of my action. Three times she's had to go full ballistic because my ass and head had fully switched places and my mouth  ears were clogged with shit.

And I'd step back and rethink (eventually). And then I'd come forward again, apologize, explain what I did or didn't do in my own words, and we'd go forward. Eva's not one to let ice form, let alone glaciate, and so whatever-it-was would be...not forgotten, but forgiven...fairly quickly.

Because the person in the relationship is more important than the relationship. We both feel this way, and it (perhaps counterintuitively) has kept our marriage strong and secure. If you're looking out for each other, you tend to stick. And we do that. We look out for each other.

Nobody ever questioned why we married. Not in the first thirteen years, at any rate. Anybody with eyes to see would understand immediately why we had married, after all.

I was VIGOROUSLY questioned about it in year fourteen, when we opened our relationship. The questioner had no idea that we'd been talking about the possibility for as many years as we'd known each other, off and on; that there were a myriad of (extremely personal, of course) reasons why we chose to open then; and that, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but we both learned how to share in kindergarten, if not before.

And so it goes. And so it has been.

Our transition from mono to poly has gone remarkably well, two years and change in, especially considering Eva had never imagined polyamory before she met me. It's incredible, really, because she does this, on the whole, better than I do, and I'm not too bad at it.  An absolute minimum of jealousy -- zero on her end -- and only a few hiccups (none on her end),  the most serious of which was my being unbelievably stupid and committing the cardinal sin of comparison. I tasted shit as I did so and realized right quick that my ass and head had switched places once again.

(Don't compare. It's not about what he gives you that she doesn't...it's only about what you can give and be given while you're with each partner, full stop, end of story.)

The other loves who share our lives have been profoundly respectful of Eva's place in mine and my place in hers. And I believe we have, in turn, been profoundly respectful of the place those other loves have themselves

I couldn't ask for a better person to share my life with. I couldn't ask for a better person to share.

I love you, Eva Breadner. I'd do it all over again without a second thought.

Happy anniversary. We're just getting started, love. But you know that.

12 October, 2016

The Team From Cleveland

The Toronto Blue Jays are into the ALCS.
There was a brief moment where my faith in them faltered this season...they took a tumble in the standings that almost carried them right out of the playoffs. In the end they got in and dispatched the Texas Rangers in three straight.

You have to feel a little bad for the Rangers if you're any kind of baseball fan. They threw two of the better starters in the AL at the Jays; both were shredded. They made the third game as close as could be only to lose as one of the more sure-handed players on their roster committed an error that led to the winning run in extra innings.

Now it's on to Cleveland to face the--

Okay. The nickname of Cleveland's MLB team is the Indians. One of my Facebook friends--a friend of a friend, in fact--posted this to her timeline yesterday:


Whereupon one of her friends posted "Cleveland it is." Thus ensued a debate that got a little heated.

I originally came down with her in favour of calling the team what it's called. They're the Indians; that's the team name. It is indeed politically incorrect, nowadays, to refer to indigenous people as "Indians" -- not to mention factually incorrect, as Indians are from India. I'd never call a First Nations person an Indian. But I'm not calling indigenous people that, I'm calling the team that.

Oh, how I should have known better.  Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It's even more inexcusable given the overarching theme of this autumn's sermons at GRU: Truth and Reconciliation. The fact is, if you're going to call the team the Cleveland Indians, you may as well go ahead and make up other teams in the same league. The Fresno Faggots, maybe. Or the Nashville Niggers.

In my weak, weak defence, I did make it clear that I felt the name should have been changed years ago. But you know, if I really did feel that way, I shouldn't have felt any inclination to use it myself.

Jerry Howarth, the play-by-play radio announcer for the Blue Jays, got a fan letter from a First Nations youth in 1992. and ever since he has refused to call the Cleveland team by its name. Ditto Atlanta: "Brave" is likewise offensive. (That link will prove educational for some of my readers.) He has since received a tonne of fan support for his stance, which has only recently gained a wider recognition; other broadcasters such as Sportsnet's Jamie Campbell have pledged to follow suit.

And oh, the reactions I've seen since...the crazy, outlandish and hyper-exaggerated protestations...suggest to me that yes, indeed, there's merit in calling people what they want to be called and refraining from using offensive terms to describe...anything.

I'm offended by the term "Blue Jays".  Blue jays are nasty birds that break into other birds' nests and steal their eggs. As a bird lover, this is disgusting.

I hope dear Jerry will not refer to the Chicago White Sox as the "white sox"... I take offence to referring to white people as socks or worse implying they are stomped on. 

This is political correctness gone too fucking far, I'm going to call the team the Cleveland Alcoholic Squaws in protest!

Any time I see "political correctness has gone too far" , I'm forcibly put in mind of this from Neil Gaiman:

I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.” Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile. You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening. I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!”
My life so far has been an ongoing lesson in kindness, compassion and respect for others. Calling people by the name they choose for themselves is one tiny, tiny part of that. Another is avoiding words that cause offence. And in this case, there are so many perfectly acceptable alternatives! Rather than indian, what's so difficult about indigenous person? Aboriginal? First Nations? member of _____ tribe/nation? 

The team in Cleveland needs to change its name. They have several antecedents they could draw on...baseball teams in Cleveland once went by the Lake Shores, the Blues, the Spiders, the Forest Citys. They could select an entirely new name. I mean, it's only called the Indians because an "Indian" played for the team for a few seasons...and baseball is the ultimate in team sports. One player, no matter HOW talented, will not win you baseball games.

I too stand with Jerry Howarth. They'll be called the team from Cleveland until they get with the program.

10 October, 2016


In my last blog, about gratitude...I expressed it. 

In this one, I'm going to try to accept it.

I didn't go looking for compliments when I posted that. I never do. Taking compliments is much harder than giving them, for me. For most people, I think. Most of us don't think of ourselves as particularly worthy; for many, the thought is outright heretical. Which is one reason (among many) that I persist in spreading compliments and love. I usually see people as they are. Don't be alarmed: Who You Are is beautiful. 

That's nice, Ken. Apply that to yourself

I wrote a self-love post, not all that long ago, at the urging of someone my self loves deeply. Since then I've been the subject of some compliments that have left me at a loss for words. Yes, me.

Today was a case in point. I spent some time this morning in the presence of a Beautiful Mind (TM): a lovely person whose intellect would be intimidating if it weren't so welcoming and accepting. Some of our deepest beliefs seem to  jibe, although we have taken radically different paths in life and don't express them in quite the same manner. 

To repeatedly be called "bright", with some "very"s added here and there, by such a person...at first it beggared belief. A few short minutes convinced me of a lack of pretension and an abundance of honesty and sincerity, but...really. 

I'm used to being called bright. And I'm the first person to tell you I'm NOT. I have a trio of arguments to refute the claim. 

One: spend any substantial time in my life and you'll eventually notice my natural state is much better described as DIM. Mark tells me I enter a hypnotic trance very easily. Indeed I do. I leave most of the world behind without effort and enter a realm of no-thought. Music is usually what carries me there, but writing a blog will do it; so will reading; so will just sitting in a car--which is one reason driving said car is not such a hot idea for me. 

Two: I'm stupid. 

Okay, that's harsh, and not really true. But my knowledge is skin deep if that in many places. I know a very little about a very lot of things. People often assume I know more than I do. There are vast categories of things which open a trapdoor in my head, and not all of them are silly things like celebrity culture, either.  People have tried to explain various facets of the economy to me...how stock markets work, for instance...and it just doesn't take. We won't even get into the mechanical ineptitude (oh, wait, we just did). 

Three: I'm impractical. Which is one reason whatever intelligence I have has not translated into something meaningful (for values of 'meaningful' the world appreciates).

My impracticality, my idealism, and my intellectual grasp on life and love was examined today -- by, I repeat, a mind I'm a little in awe of -- and it became apparent that she didn't mean 'bright' in an intelligent sense. Or not just an intelligent sense. 

She called me 'pure'. 

I scoffed at that: I'm no more pure than I am bright. But she made reference to a sort of philosophical bright light..."blinding" was in fact the word she used...and I was struck dumb. Struck dim, you might say. 

The discomfort was acute, actually.  THIS IS JUST ME, I wanted to shout. I told her I've never given it much thought, and that's the truth: my ideas on loving many--of giving love in whatever manner, to whatever degree, it is accepted--have always been there. Of course I've had to defend them, repeatedly, in a world hostile to abundance. But actually thinking of the mechanics and metaphysics of it proved tiring. I almost felt myself falling victim to the Centipede's Dilemma as I struggled at self-definition; the conversation began to feel like a hyper-lucid dream I was having, and I wasn't sure if I was making any sense whatsoever. Always a danger when you believe you're with someone considerably more intelligent than you are yourself.

She managed to make me feel much better about the 'flight/fight/freeze' reflex that seems permanent frozen on 'freeze' with me. Witness the morning I tried to burn my house down.  I note in there I went tharn. I became a "useless block of uselessness". 

Shock, she said. That's shock.

I thought, that can't be. The fire was out, the danger had passed.

That's when it happens, she told me, and went on to explain all the physiological effects. Your body becomes concerned with keeping the heart beating and the liver functioning; everything else is superfluous. Certainly brain function is too much to ask. 

And then she went on to give a theory she had, that people are physiologically/biologically predetermined to fall most naturally into one response or another, and that those who freeze have an important place. If everyone jumped to confront a danger, the result would be chaos; if everyone fled, we'd be extinct. Some of us have to freeze. 


I'm always trying to do that with people: to reframe their negative thoughts about themselves into something positive. I'm good at it. To have it done TO me... incredibly lightening feeling.

And if what I do produces in people anything like that effect...maybe, just maybe, there is something to my brightness.

08 October, 2016

An Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving Day in Canada has been the second Monday in October only since 1957. Before that, it moved all over the place; occasionally it even jibed with American Thanksgiving. Not many Canadians know that. 

This day has always felt like a second New Year's Day to me...a day to look back over the year that was in search of things to be grateful for, and to fix those things firmly in my mind in anticipation of more of the same in the year to come.   

I've never had to search very hard, at least not since 2000, when I married Eva five days after Thanksgiving. When we started planning the wedding -- on the third date, which is also when I moved in with her -- October suggested itself quite naturally. I still remember telling her that having our anniversary so close to Thanksgiving (the latest Thanksgiving can fall, in fact, is on our anniversary) couldn't be more apt. 

It remains so. It is even more so with each passing year, in fact. My wife has always been a woman of many talents and facets, not to mention uncommon depth--depth of understanding, depth of compassion, depth of soul--and I am eternally thankful we found each other. 

Which doesn't lessen our gratitude for the others who have found us, who share our life and love, in any way or measure. 

This past year has been utterly unprecedented not just in my experience, but in my imagination. I never dreamed that I could summon the courage and determination to put myself out into the world the way I have this past year. Nor could I have envisioned the bounty of the harvest that has resulted, with the possibility, the promise, of more to come. 

You're undoubtedly thinking prurient thoughts, here, noting my cryptic and vague phrasing and imagining all sorts of things. This is not something I would encourage, not least because almost all of what you're imagining is wrong. 

One thing I've learned over the past year about living poly--and I can finally say  that yes, I am living a poly life--is that people make assumptions. It has forced me to draw a curtain of absolute privacy over the life I share not just with my loves, but with my friends as well, lest the latter be mistaken for the former. 

I make a point of thanking my loves often, for loving me and accepting my love. I'd like to here and now thank my friends, who know -- in some cases have experienced -- what being seen with me spawns in the mouths of near-strangers, and who still choose to be seen with me. Believe me, that means...a lot. 

And I have found both love and friendship in copious, undreamt-of quantity over the last twelve months. I must have done something amazing to deserve you. For the life of me, I can't think what it is. But I am filled to overflowing with gratitude for...all of you.

 Life has...stabilized, somewhat, over the past year. I've received a promotion, of a sort, at work (although I've never heard of a promotion that came with a substantial pay cut before). There are growing pains. I struggle some days. This past week has been a struggle, in fact. I am both mentally and physically quite tired. 

The day schedule has its pros and cons, but overall is better for my health and peace of mind. The shift structure itself I really like, because my lunch comes somewhere between 11 and noon (I'm off at 3 pm), making for a short afternoon. Oddly for me, though, I find myself wishing the day didn't start so damned early. Eva doesn't get home until almost 9pm and I'm going to bed almost as soon as she gets in the door. 

 Who knows what the winter's going to bring. There are almost certainly going to be days I'm going to have to walk to work for 6:30 a.m. It's a fifty minute walk on bare and dry pavement. I've never walked it through knee-deep snowdrifts....and if I have to shovel the driveway fir--
Yeah, I'm not going to think about that.

I've been to Grand River Unitarian a few times now, and will be making it a habit. I don't plan on going every Sunday--sometimes the sermon topics bore me into the ground--but most of them, yes. Really like the Reverend there, Jessica Purple Rodela (what a cool middle name...) It really is nice to find a church where nobody cares what you believe or don't believe. It's still bloody far away...but that's less of a problem now that I'm not working Saturday night. In fact, I can stay and socialize now if I want to without people thinking my yawning maw is going to swallow them up. 

I'm thankful that community exists. I'm not yet a member of it...but I will be. 

I'm thankful I am healthy. That vertigo I experienced last month is entirely gone, which is a very good thing. I've never been off work sick longer than three consecutive days in my life until that. 

I'm thankful for our pets--Tux is still alive and kicking, and occasionally even acts like a puppy, even though his eyes are very milky and he can't bound quite like he used to (I'm thankful for that, too). Then there's Mooch the cuddle-slut and Bubbles the Trailer Park Cat, both of them adding to the love in this house. 

And finally, dear reader, I'm thankful for you. Without you this Breadbin wuld have closed up shop years ago. Thanks for reading my crazy musings, and talking to me about them. I relish that. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. 

02 October, 2016

A Lot of Night Music (II)

If you ask me what my favourite classical music piece is, I will first hem and haw and tell you there are far too many favourites to state just one. If, however, you then put a piano over my head and threaten to drop it on me if I don't pin myself down, I'll tell you it's Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto.

His Second is arguably more famous. You've probably heard themes from it, most notably Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" or, later, Muse's "Space Dementia". But his Third is, to me, on a different level entirely. Wikipedia states that it's "respected, even feared" among many pianists; the man to whom Rachmaninov dedicated the work never publicly performed it, stating it "wasn't for him" (which is how you said "WTF, man?!" in 1909).
It's one of the most challenging concertos in the piano repertoire, replete with both astonishingly intricate passagework and, in many places, the very definition of power chords...interspersed with heart-stopping melodies. Metalheads would really appreciate the first and third movements. 

I own--had to check--four different recordings, plus Cory Band's stunning brass transcription of the Finale. I've heard probably ten others. And I've never seen it live...never thought I'd live to see it live.

Every year we get a pamphlet in the mail detailing the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony's season, and every year I salivate over it and wish that money was. If money was, I would probably have season's tickets. 
This year, I looked at the pamphlet and the very first event of the season read, in part,

Natasha Paremski -- Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #3

...whereupon I shamelessly turned to Eva and begged. I hadn't heard of Paremski, but...well, you have to be pretty damned good to perform that piece and ohmygodohmygodohmygod do I want to see this.

And Eva said -- "October 1...that can be your anniversary present from me. I'll get tickets when they come available."

I was, shall we say, overcome. 

I had to laugh at what else was on the program: Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. This was amusing because our last orchestral concert involved Tchaikovsky's Fifth performed by the world-famous Mariinsky Orchestra under the direction of Valery Gergiev...and Eva had said, beforehand, that she wasn't a huge fan of Tchaikovsky, but he had won her over a bit. (Incidentally, the program that night before we went to that concert at Roy Thomson Hall--the one I had wanted to attend, but couldn't--included, you guessed it, Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto.) More Tchaikovsky. And something by Mason Bates called "Mothership" that I YouTubed and immediately realized it was something I'd be better off going into blind.

It looked, for a while, like Eva wasn't going to be able to make it last night: she was scheduled to work until 8:00 p.m, which is when the concert started, and it was proving difficult to get that shift switched.  This wouldn't have been the first time she gave up a ticket she'd bought and paid for--she gave my friend Jason a ticket to see George Carlin with me that had originally been meant for her, and did something similar with The Book of Mormon a couple of years ago. I didn't even want to think about seeing this with anyone else...this was supposed to be an anniversary present, after all.

One of her workmates let her know a week ago that she'd switch shifts. And then the countdown began in earnest.

Last night finally arrived, after a hellish day at work for me. Our seats were excellent...seventh row, even closer than I'd thought:

The lights dimmed, the director, Edwin Outwater, came out, and it was on with the show.

Mothership was written for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra--the first online collaborative orchestra, admission by audition and worldwide vote. Two members of the K-W Symphony have actually performed with it, which I found impressive. You tend to forget, or at least I tend to forget, that local symphony orchestras house some serious talent. My friend Craig has an enclyclopedic knowledge of anyone who is anyone with a trumpet, and he states that Larry Larson, the Principal Trumpet of the K-W Symphony, iis one of the best in Canada.

You really should hear this piece. Highly rhythmic and dramatic, it's only nine minutes long, and quite unique. It features improvised solos--no performance has the exact same instrumentation. Last night the soloists were kLox (modulated tabla and electronically processed violin) and, later in the song, Bob Egan, formerly of Blue Rodeo, on pedal steel guitar.
This is the LSO's take: the improvisers are more traditional here. But even so...what a fun piece.

Once the final echoes died away, Eva turned to me and said, "I loved that."

 A Steinway grand was rolled out and Natasha Paremski followed it.

Now, I want to make a point of what she was wearing. I hasten to tell you I'm not being sexist here. People normally are when they comment on a woman's choice of clothing, because you never see "the male pianist strode on stage, dressed in a charcoal grey business suit"....
It's just that female pianists always seem to have different versions of the same dress on. I don't know who wrote it into concert hall law that glittery sparkles must be worn, but it's evidently a law with a harsh penalty for noncompliance, because they all conform. It's odd.

Paremski has performed Rach 3 here before; she's described in the program as a favourite.  She's got three albums to her credit and it quickly became apparent there will be many more.

My favourite recording of Rach 3 is Martha Argerich with the Berlin SO. Nobody I've heard quite matches the pure FURY Argerich brings to the piece.

Nobody I've heard, that is, until last night.

Paremski's first movement was just one metronome notch slower than Argerich's, and her articulation was simply breathtaking. She was able to bring out melodic fragments amongst all the speedy arpeggios that I'd never noticed. Her hands were an absolute blur, but she played with poise and precision.

And then she launched into the cadenza...the original cadenza, the more challenging of the two Rachmaninov wrote for the piece, and the less-often recorded.  How Paremski was able to execute such leaps, at such speed, which such power, is a mystery. The Steinway grand rocked...not for the last time.

The second, slow movement was performed beautifully and flawlessly, with ripples of pianistic brilliance. My eyes fell shut and I drifted over the music...and then snapped to attention as she flew into the finale

That finale is attaca, meaning there's no pause before it begins, but in this case it also means just what it sounds like. Paremski attacked her piano, taking that movement as fast as I've ever heard it. Almost too fast...the orchestra kept up with her, but it was a bit of a strain. Again at the end, the piano rocked back and forth as she beat the almighty crap out of it. Paremski's website notes that explicit comparisons have been made between her and...Martha Argerich. So I'm not the first one.

Standing ovations used to be reserved for the best of the the best; now it seems as if every performer is entitled to one after every performance. Natasha earned hers.

There is, as yet, no recording of Paremski playing Rach 3. A pity, because I would have bought one and had it autographed. There is, however, a video of her playing Rach 3 with the Bergen Philharmonic. I don't expect any of my readers to actually spare the time to listen to this: I doubt any of you have my passion for this piece. But just in case you want to hear what I heard and see what I saw--she actually played parts of this faster last night...

Eva, meanwhile, has decided (sadly) that it's actually Rachmaninov she doesn't like. While acknowledging Paremski's prodigious abilities, she just didn't like the music that much. It's too scattered and chaotic for her taste: just when she was starting to really appreciate a melody, it up and pissed right off on her.

After intermission, we heard Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. I had heard the first and last movements of this work before, but never the whole thing.

I warned Eva that parts of this might be bitter and depressing; while nothing matches the pathos of Tchaikovsky's Sixth, he did write the Fourth after he separated from a disastrously short-lived  marriage to a student of his. She refused to grant him a divorce, and he was afraid she would try to blackmail him because of his admitted homosexuality. The motif that starts the symphony and echoes throughout it represents 'Fate', and 'Fate' to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was 'the fatal power which prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness..."

(The depressive parts of my personality are perfectly in tune with many of the Russian Romantics.)

The musicianship of the K-W symphony was impeccable throughout. And I really the first, second, and fourth movements, especially the latter, marked Allegro con fuoco ("very fast and fiery"). The volume that came out of the orchestra at times was huge.

That said, the third movement was my turn to dislike some music while appreciating the talent with which it was performed. The entire thing is pizzicato strings and....yecch. I just detest that sound: schmaltzy and Lawrence Welk-ish; I almost expected a bubble machine to start up. But, hey, you can't like everything, and it sure wasn't the orchestra's fault I didn't like this.

Eva loved it. Of course.

I'm glad, very glad, that I wasn't afflicted with the gutrot I'd dealt with (somehow) last time around. The worst I had to contend with was a mild leg cramp at one point and a maddening urge to cough that seems to afflict everybody who attends a symphony...

All in all, it was a truly spectacular evening. I'm so thankful to Eva for getting those tickets...and for coming with me. Seeing Rach 3 performed, especially that well,  is a bucket list item checked off.

Happy (early) anniversary, love. And now we know: you DO like Tchaikovsky.