23 October, 2014

Georgia-Peach

This is one of the more difficult blog entries I've had to write. It's hard to type through tears.

We had to put Georgia--known as Georgia-Peach, Peach, or Peaches--down today. I've been through this before, but never with a dog in the prime of life and physically healthy. Unfortunately, not all diseases are physical. Or treatable.

I didn't want to do this. I didn't want to have to do this.

In a life full of dogs, I've never loved a dog the same way I loved this one.  She was the runt of her litter, and it was apparent right away that she had some issues. She was terrified of--well, anything. Any change upset her. A leaf could blow in, and she'd eye it warily...if she'd even dare to look at it. Every once in a while she would yip and yowl at nothing, tuck herself into a little ball, and hide, shaking. You just wanted to  hold her close and love her fear away.



She loved me from day one. I tucked her in my jacket the first time we saw her--she wasn't even the size of an actual peach then--and from that moment on she only had eyes for me. She was supremely in touch with  my every mood and action. I'd like to think it was more than the fact that I was the Designated Thrower of Things such as Georgia-Balls and Frisbees. I was also the Designated Georgia Body-Pillow at night...she would burrow under my covers ("Under, Peach")  and glom herself against me, and then go off to slumberland, chasing dream-Frisbees and sucking on stale bedfarts.

When she first came home she couldn't make it up the steps. She grew into a sleek, streamlined and hellishly strong dog. Her jaws made short work of almost everything they came in contact with, and she made it a point to sample things besides her dog food. Like...our bed.  Like...twenty seven of Eva's Nintendo DS games, and the console itself. Like...countless pieces of clothing, sheets, shoes...all told she's cost us a little over fourteen grand in stuff she has destroyed.
All of this is no big deal. We called such things "peached" and we laughed about it--oops, there goes yet another pair of Ken's slippers or Eva's lacy underthings, damn it, peached again. You learned--at least you were supposed to learn--to keep stuff out of the reach of the Peach. It's a hell of a cure for any lingering materialism.
And seriously, not one of the things she destroyed ever made us think even fleetingly of putting her down. We considered her culinary adventures to be part of her mental illness and just something to be worked around, and the love she showed to and for us every day made things very insignificant.

She could sit for an hour without moving, watching my hands type a blog out, waiting for that telltale motion towards the monitor's on-off switch that signalled I was about to get up and--play Frisbee, I mean what else would I do? If she was really anxious to play Frisbee--such as, for instance, when Mommy came home--she would coo. It would sound eerily like a baby alligator crying, and she wouldn't have to do it long to get Daddy off his ass and playing Frisbee like he was supposed to.




Other than Frisbee, there was 'the bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-on-the-Peach"...scratch it and she'd twerk for you. When she was really happy, which was any time attention was paid to her, she'd snort and sneeze. (Tux yawns when he's happy; Georgia blew snot every which way).

Peach was most emphatically Daddy's Peach, that's for sure. But whenever she got into one of her scaredy phases, she would invariably cower behind the Mommy. We would turn to her and say "who scareded the Peach?" and she'd sheepishly wag her tail thump thump thump and gaze back at us as if to say everything scareded the Peach, the Peach is a scaredy Peach thump thump thump.

Probably the most endearing thing I ever saw her do was give her Georgia-Ball to Eva's mom's dog, who was visiting us and who was a really scared dog. Georgia noted the dog shivering on the couch, went and grabbed her Georgia-Ball, and dropped it right in front of her guest. I couldn't help but hear her saying "this is my Georgia-Ball and it makes me feel good. Maybe my Georgia-Ball will make you feel good, too."

Everybody who met her loved her. She felt a little threatened by strangers, particularly if they were standing, but she restrained herself to barking at them for a while before settling down.

There was, unfortunately, more to the story of our Peach--a side of her that other humans didn't see. When she wasn't scared pitless, our Peach tried to assert dominance, and as she grew older, aggression became a real issue. Not something you could predict, or even see very often, but when she got it in mind there wasn't room for anything else.
Still, we tried to work around it. One of the triggers, for whatever reason, was going outside. If Tux went first, Georgia would run after him and grab him. If Georgia went first, she would wait for Tux and then grab him. It always seemed like it was just one small step beyond play for Peach--and her 'brother' would stoically endure it...until one day she wasn't playing at all and he was yowling and howling so much I thought he was being murdered out there. I ran out and tried to separate the two of them--resorting, I admit, to a kick to Georgia's hind quarters when nothing else seemed to work. Eventually Eva managed to get them apart. Tux was minus some tufts of fur and had a small cut--it was a lot better than it sounded, believe you me.
That was concerning.
After that, I took great pains to make sure Georgia always had Frisbee or Georgia-Ball if not in mouth then firmly in mind as she went out. That solved the problem.

Until the cats came.

Again, it wasn't something that developed immediately. But Georgia would on occasion hump Mooch--obviously a dominance play--and Mooch, who is the most submissive cat I've ever known, would simply roll around and take it. Bubbles, on the other hand, had a zero-fucks-given attitude that would occasionally elicit growls and lunges out of Georgia. One of us was always there to stop her, but again...concerning.

Yesterday morning, Georgia tried to kill Bubbles.

I had had class the night before: I don't get home until 11:15 or so and I'm ravenous when I do get back, so bedtime was a long time coming, and I was asleep when Eva got up. The dogs accompanied Eva down the stairs. Peach caught sight of Bubbles in the top of his cat tree and the switch flipped. Eva had two seconds warning or so, and she tried to stop Georgia. It didn't work. Georgia climbed the cat tree, dragged Bubbles down and started shaking him in the death grip.
Eva tried to separate them, couldn't, and grabbed the baby gate, which is something in this house that strikes the fear of God into Georgia. Eva whacked her six or seven times with that gate before Georgia was even aware she was being hit. Then it dawned on her, and she released Bubbles and ran and hid under my computer desk.

I slept through the whole attack. By the time I got up and stumbled downstairs, Georgia was docile and she stayed that way all through the next two days while we debated what to do.

OPTION 1: KEEP HER, ISOLATE CATS ON THEIR OWN FLOOR, BE VIGILANT against future attacks the way I have been with Tux going outside.
--not fair to the cats who have had the run of the house; what happens when Alexa and Lily come?

OPTION 2: SELL/GIVE HER AWAY. Screen carefully: she needs to be the only pet in a home with no kids.
Still too risky. No other owner would be willing to put up with the other behavioural issues, and who knows what might trigger her next. Could be a month, could be a year from now, could be tomorrow. I don't want that on my conscience.

OPTION 3: GET RID OF CATS.
Not happening.

OPTION 4: PUT GEORGIA DOWN.

We were leaning towards option 4 but really wanted somebody to talk us out of it. Unfortunately the vet told us that Georgia's aggression would get worse as she aged, and that there was no treatment for it.
He was really good--I was worried he would make us feel bad for not adequately training her or something--he has certainly given that vibe in the past. But I think now he understands what it is we have been dealing with. The fact is, in most families Georgia would not have lasted this long--the fate of her litter-mates proves it.

Still, it hurts. It hurts for more than just the obvious--almost eight years of Peach-love. This sounds really stupid, and I know it sounds stupid, but I can't help feeling it. She's mentally ill. She's not aware of what she's doing and she's not doing it on purpose. It feels wrong to kill something that is mentally ill. If a child was prone to biting and temper tantrums, you wouldn't kill it.

I get it...she's a dog. She's not a child, and I'm as guilty as the next person of turning my pets into little human beings that they aren't and can't be. It still doesn't feel right. It feels, quite honestly, like a cop-out.

And I'm worried about Tux. He was our only dog for over a year before we got Miss Peach...but it's been almost eight years and as far as Tux is concerned, Georgia is part of the pack. I'm sure Tux is going to act out over the coming days--his only consolation will be that we can now keep the bedroom door open and Tux can lay on the bed to his heart's content...all day every day, if he wants to, and he'll want to. (Before, the bedroom door had to be kept closed when we weren't at home to guard against the Peach destroying another bed...)

---------

I did everything I could to make Georgia's last day...not extraordinary, but extra-ordinary. No change from any other day. Why? Because Tux is exquisitely attuned to the emotional tenor of this house and Georgia took her cues from him (and from me). There was some discussion about me staying home when Georgia made her last trip to the vet's--partly for Tux, partly because I was breaking down at the mere thought of accompanying her on her last car-ride.  I needed to see this through, though. Partly for Eva, partly for Georgia, partly for me.

I've held it together today. Mostly. Occasional quick bursts of tears as I think about how we'll never see her drag herself off the couch, front legs on the floor, back legs splayed against the back of the couch. About how you'd never expect a dog with jaws as powerful as hers to daintily take treats the way she unfailingly did: cheese went into her mouth exactly the way debit cards go into bank machines...zzzut! About how even though Georgia antagonized and baited Tux, he absolutely loved her. That one time when we took Tux for a  car-ride (Georgia could take or leave a car-ride, whereas they were some of Tux's favourite things in the world) and he saw a dog who looked just like Georgia, he barked fit to split. About Georgia's single-minded love of Frisbee, and before that, Georgia-Ball. Oh, who am I kidding, I've been fighting tears most of the day.




We decided, in the end, to bring Frisbee along--it was Georgia's security blanket, and she usually had it in sight when she went to sleep at night. It only seemed fitting that she have it to go to sleep this one last time.

Georgia-Peach...come...it's bedtime...go bedtime, Peach.

Good girl.

RIP GEORGIA "PEACH" BREADNER November 2006-October 2014

21 October, 2014

Of Circuses and Monkeys

I like to collect sayings from other cultures. They're often amusing, and they can say something telling about the place they came from. There's something you say in Finnish to a misbehaving child, for instance: "you'll either do it, or cry and do it." I wonder how well that would go over with a Child and Family Services busybody here in Canada.
The French expression that translates "to go nowhere" is "to pedal in the sauerkraut".  (???) Likewise, a pretentious person "farts higher than his ass"--Serbs like that "rip clouds with their noses". And a Russian a man talking nonsense is "hanging noodles from his ears".

There are two Scandinavian sayings that really should catch on here: "all talk and no hockey" (Swedish) and "there is no bad weather, only bad clothes (Danish)."

 In Farsi, for some reason, "popcorn" is "elephant farts". (Buttery?) Norwegian: "taste is like the butt. It's divided." German: "not all asses have four legs". The grossly inefficient in Finland "climb up the tree ass-first". That would describe me to a T.

These idioms are  so much fun, especially the bawdy ones. French, again: to urinate is to "make the monster cry"--you might have to do that after "sodomizing fleas", which means nit-picking.  In Australia, an idiot could "fall into a barrel of tits and come out sucking his thumb".  I have no idea how this came to pass, but if you "have noodles framing your asshole", in French that means you're lucky. Seriously. What is that I don't even.

The expressions for a menstruating woman are priceless...the Danes say "the communists are in the brothel" and Frenchmen say "the English are in town". I have to wonder if this is because the British have such a habit of calling each other "bloody cunt"...  (Sorry, sorry.)

Maybe not so fun:  The German way to say "shit just got real" is "then Poland is open!"--students of history may get a wee chill out of that. Or here's one--in Greek, "the Gypsy village is on fire!" means "who gives a shit?" Nice. In Somalia, if somebody tells you he's going to "make you comfortable", you had better run, because he's about to knock you unconscious.

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

The saying I can't get away from lately, though, is originally Polish and can now be found all over the internet:



In other words--leave people to their own dramas, they're not your problem.

This is one lesson I'm really, really struggling with. I mean, I wrestle with this one at least twice a day, pretty much every day. There's a fine, fine line I try to straddle between caring too little and caring too much. If you've ever sat on a fine, fine line that's stretched taut, you've noticed how deeply it can cut.

It's not so much fixing the problem--though as a man I have that inclination to stifle every time a problem is presented to me. That's not usually what people want when they come to me, hurting--which is good, because I'm not very well-suited to the 'fixer' role I keep wanting to play. I'm much better at support--the listening ear, the shoulder to cry on. I've found that people usually come to me with a solution to their hurt already in mind, and just bounce it off my belly flab. Hey, it works. And it makes a really cool sproing! noise.

My problem is I can get a little too emotionally invested. I tend to think that friendship gives certain privileges, among them free tickets to the circus. And love carries with it certain obligations, such as the need to shovel monkey shit every once in a while. Which I will do, gladly...if asked.

Much of the time I feel like I just can't do enough--again, I don't mean fixing the problem, although that can enter into it. I mean emotional support. I want to leap through the intertubes and give a hug--a comforting hug, sustaining, strength-giving. Hugs do that, you know. If you're one of those sad people who are touch-averse, I'm sorry to say you are missing out on at least half of what it means to be human.
I want to say just the right thing, the thing that maybe doesn't solve the problem, but that makes it bearable. And above all I want people to know that I'm here for them (with one exception). Two reasons for that, one altruistic and one anything but. I love to love, quite simply, and if I can't cuddle you, I can at least cuddle your problem. I'll keep saying it and saying it: shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased.
The selfish and stupid reason involves one of the biggest monkeys in my circus: the need to be needed.

Seriously, that's one big-ass monkey in my life. Not long into this blog's existence, I wrote about the alpha of my monkey menagerie, a silverback gorilla named IGNORANCE. (I also mentioned little Slanty the macaque: he's still around, too). The matriarch of my monkey clan, though, has got to be NEEDEE.

Here's the thought process: if I'm not needed, then it goes without saying I'm not wanted. And if I'm not wanted, why am I even alive.

And that's why I write this stuff out. So I can say to myself in Hindi that I'm the son of a ripped condom.

There are two separate emotional traps there and like a hapless idiot, I fall right into both of them. One, not being needed does not mean not being wanted. Two, not being wanted is no big deal. Parents are supposed to teach their children not to need, right? And dependance on another's words or actions for your own happiness is...dangerous. And not being wanted? I can't please everybody and it's a waste of time and energy trying.

That self-esteem deficit shows up in every destructive thought pattern I ever have. And I really should know better. For all the times I've told others that the key to a happy existence is to let go of need and expectation (and for all the times I've insisted my grip on both is tenuous at best)--the truth is I cling to need far, far too tightly--as if I'm on a tightrope over a circus ring, perchance. The hypocrisy has to stop.

That's my circus. Yours? We've all got 'em, don't we? Some of us just have little travelling mud shows and others have grand three-ring extravaganzas complete with ringmasters and men on flying trapezes. Those are the circuses I've excepted up there, the people I can't be there for are the people who have so much invested in their circus that they drag everyone they know into it--hey, you there! You're a lion tamer! And you two clowns? Can you do the Lupino Mirror?

Some people need drama in their lives, is all. Some people act as if they want emotional turmoil--as if life is just too boring without it. Those are the people I've cut right out, and not a minute too soon. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

As for the rest of you--I'll try to leave your circus alone, okay? But if I care about you, and you ever need help with the monkey shit...you know where I am.


19 October, 2014

Celebrity

When I'm riding in my limo
I won't look out the window--
Might make me homesick for humanity
--Barenaked Ladies, "Celebrity"

"There's something on TMZ.com that is pissing me off", my wife told me this morning.

Now, the mere existence of TMZ pisses me off, but I'm smart enough not to say that out loud around here. I know Eva doesn't give two shits for celebrity culture, but she checks that site every day anyway. I think she might do it for the same reason I regularly tour the right-wing blogosphere: just to make sure the lunatics are still in their cages and the locks are secure. She doesn't often bring up anything she finds on TMZ.com because she knows she'll get the same reaction I do I when I start spouting off about hockey. Married people, you know it, right? "That's nice, dear"?

I just went there for the first time in my life, and it confirmed every worst suspicion I had. It combines two hatreds of mine: Celebrity culture and Cosmopolitan magazine. Ever looked at a Cosmo cover? It's like the word "sex" must appear on it at least twice; the tone is breathless, as if the fate of the world depends on what lies within (and what lies within is more iterations of celebrity culture mixed with the strangest sex tips you've ever read. "Next time you give your man oral pleasure, spice it up with some jalapeño salsa!" Don't do this, ladies. For the love of God and scrotum, don't do this.  Friggin' Cosmo.

Anyway.

This is the story that has her knickers atwist: "We may never know exactly what killed JOAN RIVERS". it  begins (complete with capitals just so you know what's really important here), and at that point Eva stopped reading and announced her annoyance.

"Is there some reason why we have to know what killed JOAN RIVERS?" I replied. "See, this is why I love you, we think alike", she said.

High praise. Any time I'm told I think like Eva, that's high praise.

But it's true. I know what killed Joan Rivers: lack of oxygen to the brain, the same thing that kills everybody. In her case, it was the end result of complications from surgery, which is the risk you run any time you're on an operating table, especially if you happen to be, say, 81 years of age.

Why is more detail necessary?  Duh. We must know every last detail of a celebrity's life, and that of course includes her death, right? Odd there aren't cameras in the crematorium. But as to cause of death--the complication was "predictable", says TMZ, "which could mean preventable", which could mean that somebody screwed up.

Or it could just mean that an 81-year-old regrettably died in the aftermath of surgery due to a complication which could happen to anyone and that's not a provocative story so we'd better manufacture some vague accusation.

Ugh.

Let's just for a minute say that TMZ's right and somebody fucked up. Until that's proven, it's not news. Even if and once it is, it's only news because it's somebody famous. If that happened to Joseph Blow from Kokomo, chances are excellent it'd never be reported. And why is that? Because famous people are more important than you or I.

Screw that. Screw that until you strip the damn screw.

Have you ever noticed that the sexiest man/woman alive, as voted by Vapid Magazine, ALWAYS happen to be BOTH Hollywood celebs? What are the odds of that, anyway? Out of all the denizens of this planet, the epitome of male and female perfection just happen to be people who work in California?  Sorry, I don't believe that. In fact, I don't think they even looked anywhere else.

Yes, I will carry this disregard of celebrity cult to what many consider obscene lengths. "Elvis Presley blew his nose into this handkerchief! Reserve bid fourteen squillion dollars!" And somebody will buy the damn thing, too. Fossilized nose-drippings from the King, I must have this. I do not believe for one minute that a celebrity having owned something should make that thing any more valuable than it would otherwise have been. How much would you pay for one of my used snot-rags? My snot has exactly the same consistency, b(u)y the way. Also, you just breathed in a few atoms of what used to be Elvis Presley. They're mixing uneasily with the atoms of Michael Jackson, Adolf Hitler, Julius Caesar and your great-great grandmother. Bottle that breath, it's priceless.

This is another of those things that makes me very strange. I often wonder what kind of partner I'd make to a celebrity, whether she'd find me refreshing because I'd treat her like a human being or exasperating because I wouldn't exalt her based on her fame alone. Probably a little of both.  It tends to be the reaction I'm most confronted with: I'm refreshingly exasperating.

Meanwhile, we have TMZ.com trying its best to make something huge out of the death of a comedienne. I think she'd have some choice words for that circus, don't you?

Flattery Gets You Nowhere

"The secret to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made." --proverb, attributed to George Burns

That's twice in three French classes that we've taken something which stuck in my craw.
The first time, in the Love and Friendship unit, this quote came up:

L'amour, sans la jealousie, n'est pas l'amour.--Paul Léataud
Love without jealousy isn't love.

Needless to say, I disagreed with this one quite vociferously...and made a point of rebutting it in my first essay. I got the highest mark on that essay that I've ever received on an essay, so I guess I made my point.

(No, rest easy, this isn't going to be another anti-jealousy screed.)

Two weeks later, we're studying Le Corbeau et le Renard, and again...stuck in my craw. Or maybe my caw. Here's an English rendition:

 A MASTER crow, perched on a tree one day,
      Was holding in his beak a piece of cheese.
  A master fox, by th’ odor drawn that way,
      Spake unto him in words like these:
    “Good-morning, my Lord Crow!        5
    How well you look, how handsome you do grow!
      Upon my honor, if your note
      Bears a resemblance to your coat,
You are the phœnix of the dwellers in these woods.”
  At these words does the crow exceedingly rejoice;        10
  And, to display his beauteous voice,
He opens a wide beak, lets fall his stolen goods.
    The fox seized on’t, and said, “My dear good sir,
    Learn you that every flatterer
  Lives at the expense of him who hears him out.        15
  This lesson is well worth some cheese, no doubt.”
The crow, ashamed, and much in pain,
Swore, but a little late, they’d not catch him again.
The French version is by Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695), and as you may recognize, it's much older than that: it's one of Aesop's fables. Aesop lived from 620-564 BCE--which makes this the second oldest thing I've studied in school after Antigone.
Before I get to the fable itself, can I express a bit of awe at just how old it is? It's hard to fathom. Here's something that was written down over two and a half millennia ago, and we can still read it. I consider that to be one of life's little miracles.

That this little fable is so ancient suggests its moral--flatterers thrive on fools' credulity--is a great truth of human nature...just as jealousy is assumed to be.

Actually, upon looking up flattery, I discover that insincerity is part of its very definition. Which is all well and good, and  which makes the moral tautologically true: a flatterer is insincere because, well, a flatterer is insincere.

But how do you distinguish flattery from sincere praise? Especially in light of the fact you have to give to get--and everyone likes to get?

I'm not sure I have an actual answer to this. I only know that my "flattery" is truth. I never look for a reply to it (beyond, I'll admit, acknowledgement--it hurts to put some praise out there which is ignored). It feels good to make other people feel good about themselves. There are an awful lot of people out there who feel bad about themselves, after all--almost as many people as there are people.

I find it quite maddening that people don't know how to take a compliment. It bothers me immensely that something designed to give comfort instead makes someone uncomfortable. I mean, I get that somebody might question my motives in giving that compliment. Take something like "you're beautiful", spoken to a woman who is, in fact, beautiful. How many women actually believe they are beautiful? Damned few of them. And so any assertion that way must have ulterior motives attached to it, right?

Well, yes.

My ulterior motive is this: I want you to believe you're beautiful. Because you are.

That's it.

"I don't know if you've noticed," one woman said to me recently, "but I never take pictures of myself." The few photos of her that make it on to Facebook elicit a whole lot of attention, and not just from me: she's lovely. All the way through, too.  It might sound cheesy...but I'm not saying it to get cheese.

Aesop's Fox and the Crow derives from a Buddhist fable much older--at least a millennium older. I like the Buddhist version much better. In it, the crow is perched on its branch with some fruit. A jackal flatters the crow, as in Aesop--but the crow replies that it requires nobility to see the same in others, and shakes down some fruit for the jackal to share.

That, to me, is how things should be.



17 October, 2014

Superiority Complex




Judgment. Dislike. Scorn. Pity.

All too common. All unworthy emotions. All of them necessary to people's illusions of their own superiority.

I touched a bit on judgment last post. I'd like to examine it a little more closely here, in the wake of having been judged myself and found wanting. Pardon me for a moment while I draw on some teachings from my (ack!) Christian days.

'Judge not that ye be not judged" is one of the most quoted passages in the Christian Bible. It's also one of the more misunderstood (in a Bible that is absolutely replete with misunderstood passages). If you run variations of 'judge' through a Bible search you will find that much of the Scriptures actually concern themselves with different sorts of judgment.  It's hard to square 1 Cor 2:15--"But he that is spiritual judgeth all things" with that exhortation not to judge...until you realize that once again, English is somewhat lacking when it comes to nuance. (Or such is my judgment.)
Of course judgments must be made--a world without judgment would be total anarchy; bad behaviour of any kind would go unpunished and good behaviour unrewarded, and that's just for starters.  But Christians are called to judge with discernment--to properly apply Christian 'best practices' to every judgment they make. It is here, in my view, that most of us--not just Christians--fall well short of the mark.

One of the things that drove me out of the church was the incessant superiority complex I found therein. I have since met a very few Christians who do not share it, but they are as rare as albino unicorn tears, in my experience. The man called Jesus forgave those who were murdering him, and that, again in my view, was as perfect an expression of love as ever you'll find. It's certainly not the prevailing mindset I have found in churches, where people are endlessly gossiped over, judged, and found wanting. Their shrill insistence that God did just this sort of thing was the final straw for me. I wanted no part of their God. I preferred the God I read about...the one who loves unconditionally.

Far be it from me to suggest this is a Christian trait. This is a human trait. (Though it did convince me that most Christians created their God in the image and likeness of Man.)  Only the most spiritually advanced people have learned to exempt themselves from it--and part of that exemption entails perfect understanding that the rest of us are--to switch religious gears here--not inferior, but only asleep.  The last time I saw that thought expressed, it went like this:

DO NOT BLAME THE ACORN FOR ITS NOT BEING AN OAK

I am still trying to remove all traces of judgment from my saying something or someone is 'immature'. It's hard to do for me because I often see such blatant disrespect for other people and other people's things. I always felt that respect of others and their things was very important, and so of course that made me superior--until I realized how little respect I had for myself , disrespect so total that it often included disrespect for those who cared about me. You want immaturity? I still wrestle with it.

None of us is perfect. Nor should we be. It is in the imperfections that we learn how to be human.

But everywhere I look, I see people striving not for self-betterment, but for perfection--perfection at the expense of others. While it's true that I see religious people dismissing us heathens because can't possibly be good without God, at least as frequently I see atheists and those of other bents (and I do not exclude myself, here) criticizing Christians for believing in what are so obviously fairy tales.

Guess what, folks...even those of us who fancy ourselves rational tend to have civil religions that shape our lives. One common one is the Faith of Eternal Progress. Another is Nationalism, most notably American Exceptionalism, which is in decline right now, though its decline is hard-fought. Environmentalism is another civil religion with many sects and schisms. If you don't see these as religions at all, you'd do well to read the essay I just linked.

We need to make sense of our world somehow. Different aspects of that world lend themselves to different sorts of examination.  When it comes to the people in the world, well, I have this to say:


How do we "use" people? One of the most pernicious ways is as tools to elevate our perception of ourselves. By heaping judgment, dislike, pity and scorn on other people, we take our minds off self-betterment in search of a perfection that can never be achieved, at least this side of death (if you're wont to believe that way). To truly love a person is to freely allow that person to hate you.

I have two rules I try to live by.

1) EVERYONE IS SPECIAL

Insofar as I can, I seek to make everyone who interacts with me feel just a little bit better for having done it. I fail at this, and often; when I fail, I try again unless my efforts are clearly unwelcome.

2) NOBODY IS ANY MORE SPECIAL THAN ANYONE ELSE.

This is a rule that feels almost unique to me, and yet I find it serves me well. You are no more or less deserving of love than I am; I am no more or less deserving of love than he is; he is no more or less deserving of love than she is. This can be very difficult to accept when you, or he, or she is serving up a heaping helping of hatred--and yet it's critical if you want to break the cycle of hatred that so easily can arise. Oh, and of course it must be seized upon and rigorously enforced when the person falling short of the ideal is me. I am special, yes--but no more special than anyone else.

Some words on pity. Like judgment vs. discernment, pity vs. compassion is a battle I fight every day. I think judgment and pity are self-focused whereas discernment and compassion are other-focused, and if you know me at all, you know which why I try to lean. I'm usually pretty good for erring on the side of compassion with others...but I am prone to self-pity, which is an ugly emotion indeed. It combines all the worst qualities of judgment (without discernment), ignorance and disrespect of self. (And if you can't respect yourself, you are incapable of respecting another).  It is important to respond to all of life's personal setbacks with compassion...but without pity. In other words: pick yourself up and try again. Try harder.  But if "harder" doesn't work...try different.

15 October, 2014

Four Words on a Piano



One of the supplementary activities I'm using to augment my French: listening to reams and reams of French music of several different genres. Win-win as far as I'm concerned: I'm learning French and  discovering whole worlds of music that are new to me. 

At first, because my French was somewhat rudimentary, I was stuck with the French equivalent of bubblegum pop; as things have progressed, I've been able to--for the most part--understand more sophisticated pop, rock, and even a bit of hip-hop. (Stromae is awesome: unlike several English artists of similar bent, this guy enunciates.) I'm not going to suggest for one second that I can understand all of this on first listening, but I'm getting better the more I listen. And I think that's kind of the point.

Me being the man I am, I'm drawn to love songs, particularly those that examine love from unconventional angles. A few months ago I stumbled across the video above--and I haven't been able to get the song out of my head since. I find this melody hauntingly beautiful, the words almost soul-crushingly sad--and also very thought-provoking. The language is no barrier to gleaning the gist of the story here. This is my attempt at a translation of the lyrics:


Man 1: Four words on a piano, the ones she left
Four, that’s too many, I know how to count
Four winds  of (a) past, my vanished dreams
What would the other have that I don’t have?
Will I ever understand it?

(This is a) very common case, clichéd, (with a) fatal ending
Three minus two who go away, that leaves me who stays
Caresses, considerations, kisses, I didn't know how to do it
“Share her”, the devil whispered to me
Since then, I have dreamt of hell

Man 2: I would have done anything for her, for a simple word
What does the other give her that I didn’t offer?
She was my wind, my wings, my more beautiful life
Was she too beautiful, or am I too stupid?
Do we ever love enough?

Man 1: Four beautiful years to cry (about),  (a) poor summary
Cards are played but the queen has hidden herself
Four million silences, dancing regrets
Questions, sighs and adages
I preferred their absence

Man 2: I’d have done so much for her, to be her world (literally,"to drink of her water")
What does the other give her that I didn’t offer?
She was my wind, my wings, my more beautiful life
Man 1: But was she too beautiful or were we really that stupid?
Do we ever love enough?

Woman: “You two were my life, night and day
You two tied and wove my perfect love
One morning you condemned me to choose
I love only you both 
I’m leaving you, goodbye
To choose would be to betray us”

(Instrumental)

Man 1: But what would the other have that I don't have?
Will I ever understand it?
"Share her", the devil whispered to me
Since then, I dream of hell


The "four words" she left on the piano were either "Je vous laisse, adieu"--"I'm leaving you (both),  goodbye"...or more likely, "Choisir serait nous trahir"--"to choose would be to betray us". 

------------------
Jealousy.

It's central to this song, and in interesting ways. Here are two men who shared a woman--or to be less sexist, here's a woman with two live-in boyfriends. Everybody seems to get along just fine for FOUR YEARS. But unknown to the girl, resentment and jealousy is building up until it finally explodes. The jealous boyfriends demand she choose between them. She refuses, on the grounds that to choose only one would be to betray the other two parts of the trio.  And she leaves both men wondering what happened.

Me, too.

Both men repeatedly ask variations of the same question: "what would the other have that I don't have? What does the other give her that I didn't offer?"  That's not the sort of question that people who align themselves in relationships like this generally ask. It's taken as read that one person can't possibly fulfill every last role imaginable, and further that no one should be required to. But both these men are wracked with delusions of inadequacy. Why am I not enough?

I find it interesting--and more than a little heartbreaking--that these two guys are asking themselves that question, and not her.  Why wouldn't you ask her?

"Questions, sighs, and adages
I preferred their absence"

Because you're afraid of the answer, that's why. Jealousy is always, always, ALWAYS rooted in fear.

"Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy - in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”--Robert A. Heinlein

I used to think I was immune to jealousy. I'm not. I've just learned to look past it to find the fear it's masking. There are lots of different fears that jealousy can spring out of. Fear of inadequacy, as above, is a very common one. But there might also be fear of being discarded/replaced; fear of a loss of social standing (that's professional jealousy); fear of the unknown, fear of change, and fear of losing control or power. All of these fears can be dealt with--most of them rather easily, once you've identified them.

The illusion of inadequacy is very difficult to get over unless and until you stop comparing yourself to other people. The tendency, first of all, is compare your blooper reel with their highlight reel, and of course you'll come up short there. But more important is the realization that no matter who you are--and no matter who they are, each of you has his unique strengths--and weaknesses. Sure, you're worse than he is in some ways. But then he's worse than you in others, and why are we keeping score anyway? The idea is to be the best YOU that you can be. There's no reference to anyone else in there.

In reflecting on that illusion--which I held as real for a very long time, despite so many things happening in my life to try to convince me otherwise--I remember Yvette. She was a girl in my grade 10 music class, and she played piano like a hot-rodding angel. I was flabbergasted the first time I heard her play-she sight read a Bach fugue, flawlessly and at tempo--and thereafter I begged her to play for me every chance I got. Every lunch hour, that music room was my cafeteria.
One day she told me she wanted to hear me play instead.
"Yvette, no. Really, I can't. You'll laugh at me--I'm terrible. That Bach fugue? Took me like eight hours to get the first eight bars of that thing down. "
"Yeah, but I've heard that you compose. Really well, too."
"Nothing like Bach!"
"Just play, Ken. Forget I'm here."
Yeah, right.
I could play for an auditorium full of strangers--I've done it many times. No problem there: I could tell myself that very few if any in that audience played piano really really well, so my noodlings would sound just fine to them. But Yvette? Scary good. I couldn't outplay her even if I had four hands. In fact, it usually seemed like she had four hands. I'd sound like a three year old banging on random notes.
I gathered myself, closed my eyes, and poured my soul onto the keys. Sounds cascaded up in turn. Consciously, I scarcely knew which ones they were, but way down in the sweatshops somebody had pressed record...and so now, more than 25 years later, I can still play that "piece".
Yvette was--I feel uncomfortable writing this--in awe.
"You just wrote that?"
"Well, I haven't written it down. I just played it."
"But what IS it?"
"Nothing, just some music."
She refused to believe me. "Okay, play something in...B minor...in 6/8 time."
That sounded weird...like a sad Irish jig.
"D major, waltz." Don't play 'The Blue Danube', I thought, even as my hands turned traitor and started playing just that. So I flipped it around in the next measure and then went off sailing down some whole other river.
"You're incredible. How do you DO that?"
"Yvette, please, I've been playing like this since I was four and it's nothing to what you play! There's more black than white on your pages, fer Chrissake!"
"Ken, I can't compose...anything. I can't even play by ear. I've tried."
We both stared at each other, completely out of words. Thereafter we took turns amazing each other, and you'd think I would have learned then and there that different people are good at different things. I mean, intellectually you know it, of course...but it takes a long time to trickle down to your heart, sometimes.

Sorry, caught up in the memory riptide there for a bit.

The fear of being discarded or replaced grows out of that illusion of inadequacy--if he's so much better, she'll leave me for him. Note both men in "4 Words On A Piano" are feeling that. What does that tell you? It tells me that both are placing each other on  unrealistic pedestals. Funny how we do that, isn't it?

All the other fears are central to love and life lived any which way. There's a word for people who do not change: that word is "dead".  (Actually, not true: even dead people change.) It's silly to fear change and the unknown when you confront both every day just getting out of bed. There are risks--in life and in love. Sometimes things blow up. You can usually keep that from happening by using these neat things called "words"--seriously, it never fails to amaze me how piss-poor the communication is in so many relationships. That trio in the song being a prime example.

And power and control are illusory, too. I could die before I finish this blog--there's precious little in this world I can control and seeking to control people--that's called slavery. As for power, pshaw. I'll take power with instead of power over any day.

There are other emotions besides fear that can be mistaken for jealousy. Envy, the paler green-eyed monster, can feel like jealousy when it hits you. So can judgment.

Envy, unlike jealousy, is a perfectly natural, clean emotion. It's an impetus for growth: it makes you want to be able to do what your big sister can do. Envy is wanting something that someone else has. Jealousy goes one step further: wanting something that  someone else has, such that they can't have it any more. This is particularly stupid and damaging when it comes to love--how exactly do you turn love off? I've never managed the trick in myself, let alone in someone else. I suppose it makes sense to people who are wedded to the scarcity model of love--that out of seven billion plus people, there is only one possible "soul mate" for you. Given that model, you live in perpetual fear that your mate might find someone (gasp!) better, because really...what are the odds you're the absolute best person for him? With an abundance model of love, you know that at any time your mate might find somebody better--but you also know that his doing so will not exclude you, because there's more than enough love to go around. When you have a second child, you don't stop loving the first, after all--and nor is the first OR the second intrinsically better or more loveable! It's funny (to me) how easily people grasp that with children--but turn the children into adults and change the quality of the love and suddenly it's nope, nope, can only be one, only one,  forever and ever.

(Sorry--I don't mean to sound like I'm proselytizing. I genuinely don't understand, have never understood, the scarcity model of love that our society seems to take for granted.)

Judgment masquerading as jealousy is actually our old foe inadequacy in another form. You convince yourself that you're better by making her worse. This is every bit as damaging and unhealthy an emotion, and it is not conducive to love, especially the sort of unconditional love we're supposed to strive for,  You seize on some perceived poor quality of the other, and make it a defining quality, and then judge both her for it and your partner for accepting it. Meanwhile, of course, you're just full of poor qualities yourself that you refuse to acknowledge in this mindset.

Love withers under constraint; 
Its very essence is liberty.
It is compatible neither with
Obedience, jealousy, nor fear: 
It is there most pure, perfect and unlimited
Where its votaries live
In confidence, equality, and unreserve.
--Percy Bysshe Shelley

There is so much more I could write about the types of jealousy, and how to deal with it when it arises. Because it usually does...people who say they're immune to jealousy are almost always simply labelling it correctly.  There's only one sort of jealousy that is beyond help or hope--and oddly enough, it's the one our society has long accepted and held as natural: possessive jealousy. ("You are MINE, no one else's, and heaven help you if I ever find you with somebody else!")

Did you know that within my lifetime,  a man who found his wife in bed with a lover, and who killed them both, was not guilty of murder in the state of Texas? (No word on whether a woman could get away with it...somehow, I doubt it). At most you'd get manslaughter, and good luck making it stick: there was (and is) a widespread feeling, not just in Texas but almost everywhere, that any reasonable man in that situation would and should resort to acts of violence.

Crazy.

This is quite obviously a vestige of .woman-as-property: this man is stealing her, therefore I am within my right to defend what is mine. (I'm willing to withdraw that if someone can find a case where a woman got away with murdering her partner and his partner--I've spent a while looking and I've had no luck.)  It also wildly conflates the value of sex. I may be incapable of sex without love (or at least strong like)--but I'm me and not many others are like me. What's more threatening to a relationship? Love of someone else, sex with someone else, both? (I have my own answer to that--hello? none of the above need be--but never mind me, try and think logically.) I think for most people love is a lot more threatening. It's why I am so exceptionally careful to couch my love in ironclad respect for other relationships.

Look, though, for that possessive jealousy in culture. It's everywhere. Books, movies, TV--it's an ever-recurring plot point. I get that it's really dramatic and all that--who wants to watch a man dialogue his fears and insecurities out instead of going BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG? (Well, again, me...) But the point is it's accepted. It seems completely natural, when in reality it's highly unnatural and deeply disturbing.

Possessive jealousy is rooted in a deep, deep misunderstanding of what love is. The other jealousies--which are, remember, fears--are rooted much more shallowly in a misunderstanding of how love works. They're conquerable, just like any fear is conquerable.  And conquering one's insecurities is a good thing no matter whether you're in one relationship, three relationships, or none at all.




13 October, 2014

Happy Anniversary, Eva

In light of what I just wrote, expressing much thanks to and for my wife Eva, this post may sound as if it's coming from the Department of Redundancy Department, Pointless Duplication and Repetitive Repetition Division.
I don't care.
Tomorrow, October 14th, is our 14th anniversary. Though it's worth reiterating we considered ourselves married on the third date, when I moved in with her. The first place we shared was the second floor of an old hulking house east of Kitchener's downtown core--not a good area, but not a bad one either. We've made a couple of steps up in residence, although the home we're in is quite modest. That was by design--I remembered the chaos of the '80s, when interest rates shot well above 20%, and deliberately selected not the nicest house we could afford, but the cheapest home we felt comfortable in. And although we have repeatedly discussed uprooting--including very recently--we have repeatedly decided to stay where we are: the relatively cheap carrying cost of this home allows for life experiences we couldn't have otherwise. Like last month's cruise. Like taking Alexa and Lilyanne--who finally made her appearance two days ago--to Disney once they're of age to appreciate it. Like--well, who knows. Possibilities. Heady things.

Among the many reasons I love Eva so much, though, is that those life experiences include talks in the kitchen or the bathroom, grocery shopping excursions, drives to and from anywhere...the kind of quotidian boredoms that are anything but boring when they are shared with someone so special.

I've written several   anniversary   paeans   over the years, usually coinciding with Thanksgiving. I give thanks to and for Eva every day, of course. Reading through those old posts, I have the weirdest sense that I've said everything I can say about Eva while only getting the words on top.

That's the thing about my wife: even as she has shed  countless layers over the past year--nearly 150 pounds and still losing--she has retained her inner layers, of which there are a multitude. I had that sense upon first meeting her, which was one of the things that bound my heart to hers. The depth; the intuitive understanding of love without limit, the empathy that's backed up with tough love when I need it; the way Eva positively affects every life she touches; the fierce intelligence, the fact she just can't help laughing when someone farts, even when that someone is me and you can't even breathe in the room any more--all these things and a myriad more ensured a bond that continues to endure.

Eva has allowed me to continually imagine and then create the next greatest version of the grandest vision I ever had about who I am. In times of emotional turmoil, she's my rock. She has taught, and continues to teach me, so much about what it means to live life well.
For my part, I've tried my best to reciprocate in kind, given that Eva is an older soul than I am. I think I've been of some benefit in quieting her mind...she can now do two things at once without feeling the overwhelming need to do eight more, and she's learned the pleasures and necessities behind relaxing. (Here's a woman who would once have been offended by the very word: "In telling me to re-lax, are you implying I was lax, once?!")

She's gifted me with worlds of words. James Axler's DEATHLANDS series was the first literary boding experience. She had most of the lengthy series: it was one of her most prized possessions. She lent me the first novel, while impressing upon me that this was not something she would normally do--and I was hooked enough to read some twenty more. She's also responsible for my love of the late Gary Jennings, easily the best historical novelist I've come across. In turn, I introduced her to Spider Robinson and later, Robert Heinlein, both of whom have had a profound effect on her, me, and the two of us.

We've done a lot of living. There have been, and doubtless will be, deliriously happy times floated through and soul-crushingly sad times crawled through. Eva has been my wings through the former and my lifeline through the latter and I hope I've been the same for her, and I emphatically choose her, again and again and again, day after day after day.

We are, after fourteen years, traversing new roads with new horizons and I couldn't have a better travelling companion. I love you, love. More than you know, even now.

Happy Anniversary.

10 October, 2014

I DID Want To Write This!

I have more than usual to be thankful for this year.

The first thing that jumps to mind is that I AM SO VERY THANKFUL I AM NOT WORKING RETAIL ANY MORE. ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW.
Thanksgiving is one of the more challenging periods of the retail year, after Easter (by far the worst) and Christmas (which would be the worst were it not for the fact that it starts in four days and runs until New Year's Eve). For reasons unknown, they always seem to schedule a grocery inventory the week leading up to Thanksgiving, too, which just compounds the misery. I made a point of en-joy-ing my job ("en-joy"--"to inject joy into something")...but sometimes it would take several shots a day, especially around this time of year.
I'm not sure what the next epoch of my life will hold...but it won't be retail. And that's a good thing. It's not called the accidental career for nothing--you stumble into it, and it's beastly hard to get out of its mindset. (That's why I am taking French: I will be fluent, I hope, a year from now--a real selling point to my next boss, or so I hope.)
I should actually thank Sobeys for my time there. It was a job I basically walked in and demanded, and from that point to the last day there was more good than bad in it. Yes, I had my share of bad days--who doesn't? But with a very few exceptions, the people at my store were worth getting out of bed each day (or night) for. Some of them have even remained friends. I miss you guys. I really do.

I'm to the point now where I can thank Sobeys for letting me go, too. It only came a year to eighteen months earlier than I was planning to leave myself, but beyond that, I had a lot of growing to do, and my dismissal gave me time to devote to it. That may sound odd, a 42 year old guy admitting he had a lot of growing to do. Guess what? I still do. But these past few months have meant nothing less than a redefinition of self. Those are always painful...and always necessary.

In no order whatsoever...

My cats certainly don't understand "thank you" and I only kid myself into thinking my dogs (well, Tux) does...but I'm thankful for each of them. Usually. Bubbles has vampire teeth and Mooch has a sandpaper tongue; Tux is grabby and Peach is *sigh* Frisbee-fixated....but all in all they're each of them a net contributor to the joy that is in this house. You people without pets--how do you do it?

Alexa: As I write this, your sister is still Lilygagging around, delaying her zeroth birthday party as long as she possibly can, it seems. But for right now this is about you: you're special, you're adorable as all get-out and I'm so thankful to have such a worldly niece (at all of two and a half).  Can't wait to get you on a piano. Won't be long now--I was only a few months older than you when I started, and I can tell you've got music pouring out of your soul.

Yes, I'm about to thank a bunch of completely inanimate objects. I have read several stunning books this past year, among the very best of them S.M. Stirling's Dies The Fire. I'm currently reading the second novel in the Saga of Recluce and enjoying it as well.

I'm thankful hockey's back. I can now count among my friends and loves a Habs fan, a Sens fan, an Isles fan, a Devils fan, and (whew) a couple of Leafy freaks like me. It's going to make for an interesting year as crow is served to somebody each and every week.

Other friends and loves, old and new--one of them old and new. You know who you are. I am blessed beyond my capacity to express (in fact, usually beyond my capacity to believe) to have each of you in my life. You have seen me through some exceptionally difficult times and I'm stronger for it. I love you all. Thank you. So very much.
I'm going to single a couple of you out here for special recognition (sorry, sorry)--Nicole, thank you. For granting me occasional access to an actual piano, something I haven't had for many years and which was, unexpectedly, a real need there for a while. For the loan of the Recluce books already mentioned. And for being such an all-around wonderful person. Take a bow, would you?
And Craig--thank you for the music (as always), the support (as always) and the feeling like a quarter century of lost contact never even happened. You, too, are a great person. Greater than you know. Yes, take a bow...and then blow a fanfare. For an UNcommon man.

Thank you to my readers, who keep me writing--1409 posts and counting!--and who keep me centered. My very personal blog entries haven't deterred any of you--in fact, they seem to be my most popular. I'm very grateful to each and every one of you.

And finally--last but the furthest from least--to Eva. I have watched this past year as your body has shrunk--dramatically--and your heart has grown--just as dramatically. You have shepherded me through some rough patches this year, without hesitation and with your trademark compassion.  I could not be prouder of you; I could not wish for a better, more understanding or accepting wife, because I don't think she exists. I love you more with each passing year.

Thank you, one and all. Happy Thanksgiving.