26 March, 2015

The Light At The End

THIS ONE WILL GO LONG. Kind of like the last forever and an age for me. Some of this you will have heard before. That, too, is intentional. I have been on a mental treadmill for the better part of a year, and for a while there it looked as if it was a treadmill to nowhere. I am happy to report that is not the case.
************************

There is nothing more demoralizing than losing a job. Unless it's trying to find another.


Very few people make it through their lives with only one employer anymore, so it's fair to say that my readers have lived this experience. If you're good and lucky, or lucky and good, your unemployment period is measured in days: headhunters employ job nets and honcho harpoons to snag you from one job into another. Eva still gets inquiries from headhunters, more than thirty months after she left a toxic (but high-powered) environment for a very good one.

If you are unlucky, or ungood...

The day before I was laid off -- ask my wife, this is true -- I told her that I was afraid something was coming down the pike and that my job was in danger. I had no reason to think this: my direct boss had announced, days before, that my focus was about to shift from dairy and frozen to dry grocery, and we had discussed the ramifications for myself and for the team. The store manager was on holidays, so I couldn't have picked up any vibes from him. Nevertheless, that Sunday I had one of those shifts we all have from time to time that temporarily put a damper on your enthusiasm for the job, let's put it that way. Except this went a little beyond that. Something didn't feel right and I couldn't say what or why.
Monday morning I attended two managerial meetings--not usually my purview. The first was the standard morning huddle to discuss store conditions and priorities for the day, and review results for the week the manager had missed. The second was a snap meeting to let us know that one store in our district was flipping to our discount banner and another was shutting outright.
I've been through store closings before...what tends to happen is anything that can't sell gets distributed to all the other stores in the district, and it's a right royal pain to deal with: if it couldn't sell in one store, it's unlikely to suddenly sell in another store with a smaller back room. So, like an idiot, I asked if there was a plan in place to cope with incoming stock.

What I should have asked was if there was a plan in place to cope with incoming staff. Scarcely an hour later, I was called to the manager's office yet again. I'd been interrupted constantly all morning, the way you are every morning in any retail operation, but I do recall muttering under my breath that this skid of dairy product wasn't going to work itself.
I opened the door to be confronted with the store manager and a representative from Human Resources. The previous day's premonition shot back into my head as I regarded THE ENVELOPE with my name on it.

A business decision, was all I was told. This is not personal.
"With all due respect, sir," I said to the manager, "this affects me personally. It IS a personal decision, whatever you may choose to call it."
Whereupon my performance and dedication to the job was summarily and eloquently praised by both of them. It put me yet again in mind of the ten or fifteen minutes Tom from Family and Children's Services spent praising Eva and I to the high heavens before telling us "your house doesn't feel like a house with a child in it" and therefore we would not be allowed to adopt children. "You care so much for your customers...You're very intelligent and calm under pressure...Your work ethic is outstanding...Your openness and willingness to go the extra mile in the adoption process has been a breath of fresh air...you are a real asset to the store and your presence here is a breath of fresh air..."

I needed a breath of fresh air at this point.

If ever you get to wondering why it's so hard for me to take a compliment, there be your clues. All my life I've had praise bestowed upon me, followed all too often by something awful.  Is it any wonder I doubt people's sincerity sometimes?

I shook the hands of the manager and HR man, reflecting bitterly (and not for the first time) that Human Resources is never about the humans, only about the company...and I was walked out by the same longtime colleague who had told me about this job three years before. I had to walk right past a dear friend and let her know we wouldn't be meeting for lunch in 90 minutes because I'd been let go. I think that was about when the tears came.

Forty two years old and you're crying! IN PUBLIC! I felt like slapping myself. Actually, that's a lie. I didn't feel like anything. I had to go to two places to retrieve my belongings, and then realized I forgot something back at the first place...and then I was home, with no real recollection of how I got there. Rode home on autopilot, I guess. Brain-fog. Lucky I wasn't ran over. Or maybe I should have been.

The job wouldn't let go. On the way out, I was telling that produce manager that there was a skid of product in the dairy aisle that really needed to be worked, and who was going to do that, and I'd planned on writing and sending all the orders for tomorrow and Wednesday since I was scheduled off until Thursday and who was going to write those orders and there's a special shipment of stock coming in for a customer and so many things left to do in my d--

and then I was home. Still asking questions. Getting no answers except "it's a business decision."

I was the least senior person in the store being paid top rate. If you're staring at a balance sheet, purely objectively, it makes sense. I'd have chopped me too...provided I didn't know me, of course. But my premonitions aside, I do believe I wasn't the only one caught flat-footed that day.

Then came ten weeks of salary continuance. It was explained to me this way: I was still employed, just not scheduled for any shifts. This was actually a favour they did me--it kept the ravening hordes of tax zombies mostly at bay.They have an especial appetite for severance pay in one lump sum, so called because buddy, Revenue Canada's going to give you some lumps.

I took the summer off. In hindsight, that was a terrible mistake.


I needed a break, I thought. I needed to recover from the career crash. While that was true, what I didn't need was an extended period away from work friends. Even the cranky customers evoked nostalgia after a while. The summer was...bad. It was as if Life, in its infinite multitude, regarded me, said to Itself, "Look, he's down! Let's kick him! No, wait! Let's get his hopes up, over and over, so we can we can kick him back down, again and again and again! Hahahahaha!"

The mask came on after the worst of it.

I'm not one for masks, normally. I can't breathe with them on, and I'd rather be true to myself and let the tears fall where they may. At the same time, nobody needs a gloomy Gus galumphing around.

 I haven't worn that mask since grade 9, so it's no surprise it didn't fit very well. People undoubtedly could see through my protestations that it was fine, I was fine, all manner of things were fine. Worse, sometimes I'd pull the mask off entirely, draw in a great gulping breath of air...and start bawling. Yeah, like that's helpful. It pierced the fog, I guess. For a while. But I was getting more and more fragile, and as time went on, everything and everyone reinforced that fragility. Job searches are not for the weak.

My resume was about fifteen years out of date in terms of its appeal to employers. I didn't know this at first, of course. I've been writing effective resumes since grade five. I have to admit that I took the news that past resume accomplishments were irrelevant with less than good grace. But a career coach at Employment Ontario had me gut it and rebuild it from scratch, and practically the instant that got done I landed another interview.  Which didn't go well: my skills didn't seem to transfer to that job as well as I had thought they would. One step forward, one step back.

It didn't help that my previous employer would not give me a reference.

For those of you who have been fortunate enough not to need a reference from your employer lately, be advised an increasing number of them don't give references at all, for anyone, ever. It's a legal thing: supposedly if they give a good reference and you turn out to be a shitty employee, your new employer can sue your old one. Crazy, ain't it?  This wouldn't be an issue except many new employers still require references, and I am loth to manufacture one out of white cloth. I asked my old manager for a personal reference, promising not to link him to the company, and he looked me in the face and said he'd have one for me in a couple of days. "You were good to me when you were here," he said.

So of course I called in a couple of days and was told there would be no reference forthcoming. Nothing personal, you understand. Just a business decision.

I wanted to scream.

I'd had a trickle of interviews. Some of them I walked out of thinking I'd nailed the job, and nothing. Damned insincerity. Don't praise me to my face, all the while thinking you never want to see it again. I had no fewer than SEVEN opportunities fall through because I do not drive, and the interview and initial placement would take place somewhere I couldn't get to. Normally, my inability to drive is just a fact to build into my life, the way that parents with kids build certain facts into their lives: anything involving travel will take between three and five times as long for me as for others. No big deal.  Except it becomes a big deal when it bites me in the ass, repeatedly: just more proof of my inferiority.

After entirely too long of this, what little confidence I'd had was utterly destroyed, and the lack probably shone through in interviews. But c'mon, seriously. As I said a few posts back, my customer service and merchandising have been nationally recognized. My team has won two provincial sales contests. I've been specially selected as an in-store trainer and facilitator. Retail chops: I got 'em. Why don't people see that?  My God, I've spent a lifetime doing retail and not only did I get "business-decisioned" out the door, they obviously made the right  decision...

Then a part time night crew job came up, I walked into the interview and was essentially hired on the spot. Quelle ironie: it really wasn't a job I wanted. Night shift, minimum wage (with bonuses last year I made twice that). Eighteen or 27 hours a week, NONE of them guaranteed, and because of the commute times I'd be out of the house for more than twelve hours on work days.


But a job is a job and any job is better than no job.


As soon as that thought took root in my head, all of a sudden three serious opportunities showed up.

I had a solid interview for the first one, only to price myself out of the running when the salary expectation came up. Not for the first time, I positioned myself to take a huge pay cut, only to find a supervisory position pays barely over minimum wage. What a world we live in.  At least the person who interviewed me was forthright about her pay scale.

One thing I have noticed through my ordeal is that the level of respect between employers and potential employees is often lacking...on both ends. We all know the employer end:

  • Posting jobs when the position has already been filled internally: it may be policy, but it's a colossal waste of EVERYBODY'S time
  • Leaving the same job posted for months. What's with that?
  • Requiring four careers' worth of experience and/or multiple degrees and certifications  for entry-level positions that pay crap wages
  • NOT CONTACTING APPLICANTS AFTER INTERVIEWS. This is completely unacceptable rudeness, as far as I am concerned.  Tell me I'm unspeakably ugly, that I have no job skills, that you're quite frankly surprised I bothered applying. I can take it. There is nothing you can say to me that's any worse than what my mind will conjure forth out of your silence.
Or here's one:

The second interview also seemed to go well. The interviewer repeatedly thanked me for doing some research on required job knowledge before meeting with him, and I walked out really wanting this job and hoping I had it: for the price of 50 hour work weeks from May to October, I would have 25-hour work weeks the rest of the year, paid at the same reasonable salary. Only a day after I'd been informed I'd find out one way or the other, I got this email:

Hi Ken, 
Thank you for coming in Tuesday for an interview. You possessed so many of the skills we were looking [sic], however, we have offered the position to another candidate. We were fortunate enough to have many great candidates apply which made it a very difficult decision.
Once again thank you for your time and we wish you the best in your future endeavors [sic].
Regards,
I. M. Al-Eyer

He actually signed it with the name he was using when I met him. How do I know this is his real name? Because he is still seeking candidates for the position. In fact, he re-posted it on a different job board about 45 minutes after the last interview was scheduled. Did he seriously think I wouldn't notice that?

So let's review: I possessed "so many" skills, but not only was I no better than the other two people he interviewed, I would automatically be worse than a whole pool of unknowns yet to even apply. Thanks so much, sir,  that's just what I needed to hear in my present state of mind.

------

To be fair, applicants are rude, too. Throughout my job search I have heard tell of, and sometimes seen, the evidence: 
  • Not showing up for interviews. I'm told this is a pandemic in retail: one store manager informed me that of the twenty (!) people she booked for interviews, three showed up, and only one of the other seventeen bothered to even call with regrets, saying she had obtained another job.
  • Showing up for an interview in blue jeans. Seriously? Even if you're applying at Levi's, I think that's just wrong. 
  • Walking out of a group interview ten minutes in without a word. I watched this happen.
  • Not showing up for your first shift.  
  • Pulling out a joint and offering the interviewer a toke (just, like, wow, dude)  
The third opportunity came up while I was applying for the first. I had a feeling, at the end of the screening phone interview...the exact antithesis of the premonition I'd had the day before I was laid off. As ridiculous as it sounds, by the time she finished saying

 "the next step in the process is a group interview, if we want you, and we really want you..."

--by the time she finished saying that I actually found myself thinking I was laid off as long as I was precisely because this position wasn't ready for me yet.

The group interview also went well (although one person didn't show up for it, and as I said above, another person walked out without a word). Outwardly, I was the picture of concern; inwardly, I was thinking, yay, more jobs for me. It was probably the easiest interview process I've had yet: each question or scenario felt like it was lobbed at me and I could hit if off a tee. It's funny what just a little confidence can do.

That said, until it was official, I was wondering what crazy scenario might yank this job away from me. I got all the paperwork and was told that subject to a background and reference check, I was hired: all I had to do was wait for the confirmation.

I don't wait well. Not when I know I'm waiting. I worked two excruciating overnight shifts. The pain was entirely my fault: I let myself get out of shape. Last night, in particular, I was thrown to the wolves. I accomplished what would have been considered a solid night's work ten months ago...and when I got home this morning I was a Norse god. Mighty Thor, I mean. I got to bed at 10:30 this morning, after having worked 9:30-7 last night...and was up again barely two hours later, feeling an adrenaline dump that threatened to make me puke.

I am proud to announce that I am once again gainfully employed, full time, starting Monday. 

Doing exactly what I have done all along, only this time for the largest retailer in the world. Although it's a huge pay cut, the opportunities for advancement, I'm told, are limitless. All I have to do is reach out and seize one. Which I will do with alacrity. The flip side to someone like me who has been given more than enough reason to doubt people's sincerity over the years: prove that sincerity with actions, not words--professionally, for instance, by, say, hiring me, or personally by demonstrating your kind words aren't empty--and you will find me to be fiercely loyal. I will work my tail off, not just for me, but for the people who demonstrate faith in me.


There are some thank you's to be doled out here.

ELEANOR GIVEN, my career coach at Conestoga College. I would urge any one who is out of work to seek a career coach. As I said above, Eleanor worked with me to make my resume into something that actually showcases my skills and accomplishments. Aside from that, there were several times I went into her office putting up the bravest front I could muster, and each time she managed to make me actually feel the positively I was only projecting. That's a rare, rare skill and it deserves recognition.

LONG-LOST COUSIN MICHAEL, who provided me with information and support through the last part of this agonizing process, despite not having seen me for many, many years. Thank you.

The last nine months have tested some friendships, deepened some others, and created still others. I'm blessed beyond belief to have such a garden of friends, each and every one of whom has helped to keep me afloat. I'm sure many of you became sick of me after a while. I certainly did. Nevertheless, no matter how many times I fell, there was always somebody there to pick me up, dust me off, and give me a push.

If I could just mention a few of you--

CRAIG--If it seems like I am always thanking you, that's because I am. You are a man who has my respect, admiration, and love; I only hope I can be half the friend to you that you have been to me.

NICOLE: Your piano always seemed to be there when I really needed it...and so were you. Thank you for being such a caring and understanding friend.

SUE: For incredible emotional support; for always seeming to know the right words to say and just how to say them; for wisdom, clarity, and selflessness; for being you. Thank you.

SUSANNAH: I am privileged to have watched your art burst out of you and brighten so many places and lives. Privileged and not a bit surprised; such quality only mirrors your own. Thank you for your friendship.

JO-ANNE: "Shared pain is lessened"...your strength has bolstered mine and I appreciate so much all that you have done for me. Illegitimis non carborundorum!

And finally, of course, EVA. Fifteen years ago this October, as I prepared myself to walk down a church aisle, I reflected that I didn't deserve such a love in my life. Yet you're still here. I could spend ten screens extolling your virtues and only get the ones on top. I know I have been a real pain to put up with lately, and I am very sorry for that. Thank you, from the depth of my soul, for the depth of yours. Thank you for being with me before, now, and always. I love you so very much.

22 March, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Where To Put A Brothel Ad In Your Stadium

Sometimes I feel like an idiot.

Well, most of the time, I feel like an idiot, actually. But sometimes it's actually painful. 

Anyone who knows me knows my eyes don't work very well. My depth perception is crap, and it gets worse with fatigue. Throw something at me that I'm not expecting and I will  miss it, to great comic effect...because there is a disconnect between how the world appears to me and how it actually is. If I don't think fast and correct for visual distortion, the set of keys jing-jing-jangling their way across the space from you to me are apt to hit me in the head or sail on by. Where the more athletic of you will snatch something out of the air, I favour clumsy basket catches. 

It's something that originated from being born premature, and spending a goodish chunk of time in an incubator. I should have stopped off at the Glasses Emporium on the way out of the womb, but instead I did untold more damage to my eyes until I was forced to get glasses going into grade four. I never looked back from there. Or to the side. Hell, I hardly ever looked straight ahead.  By that point, my visual habits had been deeply ingrained. 

I'm not blaming everything on what is, all things considered, a trifling disability. Had I chosen to, I could have gone outside to avoid the tumult that was my childhood. I could have learned to play with other kids much, much earlier than I did, instead of burying my head in books. My eyes would have learned a different set of behaviours,  and my life would be entirely different today...while I might not be a professional athlete, it's a good bet I would at least have a driver's license. I might be able to read a blueprint. Hell, I suppose it's possible my attractiveness standards might rest on someone's physical appearance.

At any rate, I'd imagine I'd be able to spot the joke in the above picture pretty much instantly.

But no, I live in this world, and I try to get by, and sometimes I fail, to great comic effect.  

Like here. If I told you how long I stared at this picture, uncomprehendingly, you probably wouldn't believe me. I don't know German beyond a few words, so I couldn't translate that white-on-red ad above the players' bench, although "Play Für Landshut" conjured some lewd images I won't bother elucidating.  I couldn't figure out how so many Redditors could translate what was obviously bawdy German into bawdy English. I clicked back into the text thread for an explanation of the joke, which was not forthcoming. A horrible suspicion began to dawn on me: that the joke was visual, not textual, and I might have to stare at the damned picture all night before I "got" it.   
  
Okay, let's look for more clues. Wait! There's some English there! "The World could be so Sexy". That sounds like a brothel ad. That's not funny, though, not really. Let's keep looking, even though this is getting tiring. Scan down  bench,  past all the nude legs, and there's the same logo on the other side. Okay, I've definitely found what appears to be a brothel ad,  so apparently there's something funny in the ad itsel--

Ah. 

*****************

This is par for the course for me. It has been all my life. I never read comic books as a kid because there were never enough words to make the pictures make sense, and so I missed on on entire pantheons of deities and lack the cultural connections that so many others with properly functional visual cortexes have forged. I don't watch much television, either: again, not enough words. For some reason I can stare at words indefinitely and they don't take much mental effort to decode, but give me pictures instead and I get very lost, very quickly.  Eva's got the TV on most of the time and I very rarely look at it. 

Movies without dialogue: forget it. Just don't bother...there's no way I'll be able to figure out what's going on, even if what's going on is blatantly obvious. Unless I have specifically seen somebody doing the thing being depicted, chances are at least fair I won't know what she's doing. My having done it is irrelevant: different perspective. 
  
Since the world is made up of far more pictures than words, I have had to devise coping mechanisms.  My mother used to be very leery of sending me out on my own, particularly on busses, because of my absent-mindedness and almost total disregard for my physical surroundings. I can't really blame her, although I did master a bunch of techniques to make it look like I was paying more attention than I was. To this day, I can devote fierce amounts of attention to something directly in front of me (and thus completely miss something even a little to either side), or I can pay enough attention to navigate myself through any environment (but don't ask me to count yellow and red widgets while I'm doing it)...or I can be in my default state, which is almost impossible to explain. The closest I can get is "dim". That's an epithet, sure, but it's also a cold hard fact. All my senses are turned down, almost to the point of being off. I can lapse into this state for three seconds, three minutes, or (rarely) three hours. I try to only let myself do this in safe environments, which in my life means I'm either alone at home or anywhere with Eva. Talk to me when I'm deeply in this state and I won't hear you: you may have to snap your fingers or wave frantically to get my attention and even then it will take a second to filter through my consciousness. You can perhaps appreciate this is not a state of mind conducive to operating an automobile.

I thought everybody was like this. For years, I thought all of you just shut down when your mental efforts weren't required, and I admired those all of you who could muster the mental stamina to drive a vehicle for HOURS--to me, that's basically an exam where each question is timed, some of them have to be answered in less than a tenth of a second, and one wrong answer will kill you. Finding someone like Eva, whose attention to detail even in her most relaxed state is simply nonpareil, was even more of a revelation to me. Though I've done her at least a little good: she is ever-so-slowly learning how to power down and even off for brief periods.


I can function reasonably well in known environments, such that you probably can't tell I have a problem. But introduce something completely unexpected into that world and I'll either not notice it or, noticing it, not immediately comprehend it. The time I damned near burned my house down is an excellent example of this. I'm looking at a fire. It doesn't belong on my stove. Pretty fire. I know fire is bad, very bad, but now that I have seen it I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do next. Get it out. Or get out. Which one? Bring it out with me? Where is "out"? All of that and more shot through my brain in the space of maybe five seconds, but it felt like five hours. 

 I've made the joke before that a parade of naked women could sashay by me without drawing any attention from me. It's not really a joke. If I'm walking down the street and a bunch of naked women walk by without looking at me or saying a word to me...well, I'd like to hopeI would notice them, but I certainly wouldn't pay them more than a glancing glance. None of my business, just part of the passing scenery. As a man I've been taught not to stare at that kind of scenery and as a non-shallow human being, I wouldn't do it anyway. This assertion has caused me more online grief than (almost) any other one I've made. Most people think I'm lying through my teeth. "Even if what you're saying is hypothetically true", one person told me, "that means you're actually blind. Or a fag. Or just the most beta male in the history of pussy beta males." Well, blind I ain't, and if you substitute naked men for naked women you'll get precisely the same reaction from me. Unless one of them (man or woman) addresses me in some way, I have no reason to interact with her or him, and so I won't. As for "beta", well, by my understanding an "alpha" male is supposed to select the choicest morsel from the womanly parade,  rape her until she likes it, and then throw her away. Even typing that makes me physically ill. I'll be the proud beta male, thank you.

I do wonder how much my traitorous eyes have to do with my inside-out philosophy of love. I'm honestly not sure. My eyes do cause me to disregard physical attractiveness, but there is no denying that someone's physical beauty grows in direct proportion to how emotionally attracted I am. Trying to explain that, particularly to someone to whom I am attracted, is a nontrivial exercise, even harder than saying "I love you" and then having to explain just what THAT means.

Look at that picture above again. Are those legs pretty? Presumably they're supposed to be. I don't know, though. I couldn't tell you what a "pretty" leg looks like...in fact, the concept is kind of alien to me. How can a leg be pretty by itself? A leg is pretty if it's attached to a pretty person.
There are such things as pretty faces...those would be the ones which are genuinely smiling. You can tell a genuine smile because it reaches the eyes.   
But what's really important is a pretty disposition, which is something I can feel more than see. You can't turn those off if you've got one: you might be angry or in pain, and you'll still be beautiful to me. Beauty isn't something I see with my eyes, it's something I feel in my soul.

I keep practicing, hoping that one day I will be able to watch, say, a short film without textual clues and interpret it properly. I maintain hope that one day, I will be able to do this reliably. Until then, if you want to laugh at me, ask me to find the brothel ad in a picture like this.



18 March, 2015

Testing Relationship Strength: Ken's COSMO Quiz

Note to readers: I promised to refrain from more than one "poly" post a month. This post, while it does have poly content, is primarily about relationships in general. If you would like to skip the poly stuff, just look for the break and start reading there. --Ken


The Aztecs had a goddess named Tlazolteotl who was, quite literally, a shit-eater. Figuratively, what she swallowed was sin, often but not always sexual. Each man and woman would appeal to Tlazolteotl, often on their deathbed, and thus be ritualistically purified as his or her lifetime's worth of sin was swallowed.

I think of myself as a stress-eater. Friends and loved ones have been coming to me for a quarter of a century now with all manner of problems: personal, professional, you name it. I can't always solve them, but I do try to leave everybody just a bit better than I found them...and my capacity for the stress of others seems to be virtually unlimited. I appreciate beyond words the faith and trust that so many place in me.  
Lately, it's as if I have hung out a virtual shingle, because total strangers have chosen to confide in me and seek my advice. Often, this is in the context of polyamory.  
  
There's a saying in the poly community that "there is no right way to do poly". This is owing to the huge variety of relationship configurations under the poly umbrella, and a niche community's sincere resentment of being told by the majority that they are deviant and evil.  But while there is no one right way to 'do' poly, there are definitely wrong ways.





This song is by Bone Poets Orchestra (formerly called Gaia Consort), a group that has at least two other very poly-friendly songs. The video, 'Perils of Poly', is done in a joking manner, but it's a perfect example of poly done wrong.  (The speed is a bit much for some. I won't clutter up the blog with the lyrics: they're here if you can't make them out or if you'd rather read than listen.) The last line is the one that really grates on me: what's got us terrified is that we'll really fall in love. Argh, that's what poly IS!

One of the common questions I get asked is some variant of "we're thinking of trying poly, should we?"

I have trouble with this question, partly because I feel like Yoda whenever I hear it ("do or do not, there is no try"), and partly because I am very hesitant to say anybody "should" do anything. But when people are exploring the concept and wondering if it's something that can work for them, well...I'll give it a go.

 I just had that question tonight, and the person who asked it stipulated several things that made me think "yes, possibly": a mutual desire not to restrict each other's happiness chief among them. He said that jealousy was a problem for them both, but something that he felt could be worked through: another check mark in their favour.  I gave him some pieces of advice, centering on a great deal of prior communication--poly is not something to jump into without looking VERY carefully--and then finished off with "Polyamory can strengthen a solid relationship, but it will shatter a weak one. Chris de Burgh wrote a masterful song called Much More Than This, the chorus of which perfectly encapsulates the idea here:

It would take much more than this
To break a love so long in the making
It would take much more than talk or dreams 
To shake so strong a foundation
More than this...

*************************************************************

So he thanked me for the advice, which he said was very helpful, but then he said something that brought me up short: "I don't know how to measure the strength of my relationship now. Do you have any pointers?"

Pointers? Moi?

It took me a second, really. Strength in a relationship is one of those things that's hard to put into words, but like the judge said about hard-core pornography, "I know it when I see it". I see an awful lot of relationships that aren't strong, and I know them when I see them, too. But how to define it?

I've only been married fifteen years. Not a long time.Am I qualified to answer the question? Maybe not, but certain kinds of bears lack the koalafications to be called bears, and yet we call them bears anyway. So here I go.

The temptation is simply to describe my relationship with Eva, since I know that it is strong. But that would be self-serving, and besides, strong relationships come in different flavours. I need to think in generalities, for the most part, here. I got it: COSMO!

COSMOPOLITAN magazine is a source of endless amusement to me. They use italics even more often than I do (which is really scary); they have some unwritten (or written, for all I know) rule that the word "SEX" MUST appear on the cover in at least three places; and the sex tips are just plain insane. "Want to spice up his life? Rub some capsaicin into his frenulum." NONONONONONO DON'T DO THIS DON'T EVEN THINK IT OWOWOWOWOW.
And yet women read this by the millions, seemingly and somehow unaware that every issue is the same. Occasionally they foist on us men the quizzes therein....quizzes something like this:



Any 'nos/falses' may point to a problem in your relationship that needs addressing. 

You are comfortable talking about anything to each other.
Couples who do not communicate, who hold major secrets from each other that would hurt if disclosed, or who keep their feelings hidden from each other...I'd call those couples "doomed".

You can disagree with each other without becoming exasperated.

It is vitally important to maintain your individuality in a close relationship (except on certain issues, the public face of which should be agreed upon ahead of time: child discipline being a big one).

You respect each other.

It surprises and saddens me how many people badmouth their partners--and not in a joking way, either. If you find yourself thinking disrespectful thoughts about your partner, chances are excellent your life goals do not match up...and that's a giant waving red flag. A bull will see that flag and rampage into the china shop that is your relationship presently.

If I say "friend", your partner is the first person, or very close to the first person, that comes to mind.

It's not the only requirement for a strong relationship, but friendship is a big one.


If you do have a disagreement/argument/fight, is it a new one every time? 

Storing up grievances like nuts is never a sign of a healthy relationship. Care enough about each other to solve the problem, then care enough about each other to keep it solved.

True or false: Even in the height of anger, you don't think 'life would be better without this person in it'. 

Once that thought takes hold, the break-up is only a matter of time.


You communicate your love for each other in ways and at a frequency that satisfies you both.

This one runs the gamut. It includes sex or physical affection (there are asexuals who are repulsed by the thought of sex and demisexuals for whom sex isn't all that important, but they still want to love and be loved). It includes displays of affection like love notes and token gifts. It includes saying "I love you"--something we all long to hear. And it includes letting others know you are a couple, in subtle but profound ways.

Outside stresses have little or no impact on the closeness of your relationship with each other.

We all have them: the shitty day at work, the overbearing relative, a host of others. Your first person to turn to in the presence of stressors like that is your partner, and if they're affecting both of you, they foster an "us against the world" mentality instead of discord in your partnership.

You make each other laugh. 

Very important, this. Laughter really does heal, and it gives an endorphin rush that bonds at the level of about half a hug.

When you are with each other, neither of you is fantasizing about being with someone else.

That's another clue that you're on the rocks. (Yes, even for poly people). When you are with your partner, you are with him or her, wholeheartedly. If you're with someone else in your mind...uh-oh.

13 March, 2015

The Illusion of Security and the Security of Illusion

All my life I have striven for security.

We all do, of course: rare is the human being who truly thrives in an uncertain world. That's a big reason why, I believe, politics has become so polarized...because our world is becoming more and more uncertain by the day and we seek refuge in our in-groups and hurl scorn and opprobrium on all who dare oppose us. It's comfortable, being accepted in a shared reality. Dangerous--no matter what that shared reality may be--but comfortable all the same. It's much easier to reject others' beliefs rather than question our own. If you're not secure in your beliefs, well...what's left?

We all strive for security. But I'm a little more neurotic about it than most.

Every life event has only reinforced this insatiable appetite for stability, dating back before memory. My fragility at birth (second born of twins; my brother died almost immediately, and I was touch-and-go for a while); my parents divorcing when I was five; constant childhood uprootings (between the ages of eight and eighteen, I moved eight times); and of course perpetual ostracism and worse...all of it made me deeply, deeply insecure.

My dog, Tux, has had a behavioural problem ever since we got him. He was a pound rescue--we were, in fact, his last hope. We know nothing of his life before, but suspect much. He, too, is deeply insecure, even after nearly ten years of the best life we could give him.
If Tux is stressed or excited, he will offer you his paw. Enthusiastically. In all this time we've never figured out what to do with the paw-- take it, and  he'll pull it back and then try to offer it to you again; do anything that suggests you're unhappy with the "give-a-paw" routine, and he will only get more agitated. You can see him thinking I know I'm not supposed to do this ... the paw will twitch, uncertainly, and his efforts will become more and more halfhearted, and he will look more and more downtrodden. But the efforts to give you his paw never quite cease. I know I'm anthropomorphizing the hell out of my dog...but it really does seem as if Tux is doing his best imitation of me as a kid.

I  thought of myself as a dog for quite some time: a dog who could play all the latest hits on piano, how interesting. I'd offer my paw to anyone who would take it: people would swat it away, since the paw was quite obviously coated in dog shit imperceivable to my senses but rankly offensive to everyone else. Scrub and scrub and extend and swat. Each swat didn't stop the give-a-paw routine, only made it look more and more pathetic. There's nothing worse than an outsider trying to come in.

Along about grade nine I figured out that many people, mostly girls, were walking around almost as insecure as I was, and a faithful canine companion could do wonders for them. It wouldn't get me anywhere in the hormonal hell of high school--it wasn't until three months before graduation that I was suddenly human and attractive to somebody--but beggars can't be choosers. right? And so I was the go-to guy for what seemed like every girl I ever had a crush on (namely, all of them) every time they were having boyfriend trouble, which was often. I love him, why doesn't he love me?! (No idea, you're loveable!) I'm not good enough for him, how can I make myself more attractive? (You can't, not to me, at any rate.) Oh, Ken, why can't more guys be like you? (Woof! Woof! Wagging tail, etc.) It feels so good to hear it. If only you actually meant it...I'm right here, after all.

That whole song and dance was repeated more times than you'd ever believe. I loved and hated it in equal measure. The emotional intimacy was intoxicating, but...after a while it's hard to hear that question, why can't other guys be more like you? How do you answer that, especially when you've heard it so many times before?  It only contributed to my insecurity and reinforced the perception that I was hideously ugly. A Shar-Pei, perhaps. Or maybe a dog crossed with a duckbilled platypus. Who knows?

I got to be quite good, if I do say so myself, at picking through well-constructed personas and finding, and healing, the insecurities underneath. I have a gift for it. Most people don't know, or care, that I exercise my gift as a way of coping with my own problems: giving any sort of affection, even if it's just a kind word, has a way of rebounding on me, making me feel better about myself for a while. Kenny's a good boy, yes he is, isn't he? Shake-a-paw!

It turns out that almost everybody feels insecure. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I've met in my life who are truly at peace with themselves--and I freely concede it may be that their masks are so perfect I can't see behind them. Time after time, though, I've gently swept a curtain aside and found pain and suffering behind it. I've made it a mission in life to heal that hurt where I find it, using whatever measure of love and affection is deemed acceptable. Whatever my flaws, my supply of love and affection is inexhaustible. Perhaps that's a flaw, too.

Sometimes I run across a level of insecurity that makes my own look trifling. I set to work on those hurts with a will. Why is it that the most loveable people always seem to hate themselves? Maybe because the least  loveable people always seem to love themselves, I'm not sure.  But I'm necessarily limited in what I can do, especially from a distance, and every effort I put forth seems to fall into a black hole. never to be seen again. Why won't this person get it? It becomes an existential puzzle after a while. Am I here? Does my love exist? Does it have a point?  When will they ever learn?

I had an epiphany of sorts last night concerning this, and that was how many times have people thought that about me?

Especially lately, in the last nine months or so, ever since I lost what I'd thought, up until the moment I lost it, was the most secure job imaginable. I've always said I am not my job  and I thought I meant it. It was kind of hard to come to terms with the realization that I was very much my job--without it, I felt useless, and that uselessness had a way of spreading, unbidden, into areas of my life it had no business spreading into. My job search was leading nowhere for far too long, compounding the misery, and time and time again I'd think I was finally making some headway, only to be hit with a sudden tidal wave of nobody likes you, everybody hates you, go to your crate. Bad boy.

I'm very cognizant of the fact nobody wants to hear about any of this. If you ask me how I'm doing, I'll say "fine", the way you're supposed to, and I'll crack jokes on Facebook and make everyone laugh, and reach out and connect with people...both those last things in direct proportion to how miserable I am feeling at that moment. But I won't tell you unless you ask, because who needs that? Especially when it doesn't seem to go away, or stay away for very long.

I really want to apologize to those--many--of you who have put forward your own affection, only to have me swat it away, or worse, pretend it's not there at all. I know better, truly I do. There is some light at the end of this unemployment tunnel, which I will talk about just as soon as I'm sure it's not a train.


Meanwhile I'd like to meditate some on security and illusions.

We live in a world where illusions of security are absolutely vital. The unemployment rate in the United States is cited as being 5.5 percent,  As John Michael Greer notes here, that's a fiction which anybody with two open eyes can see through: the actual rate is closer to 37%, but that will never be reported.

Greer goes on--as always, he's worth reading--to talk about how we have masked economic externalities to maintain the illusion of cost-free progress. In other words, people in Third World countries now manufacture everything for us at hideous personal and environmental costs that don't even register on our collective consciousness because we don't see them doing it.
He also mentions, in passing, how it's now illegal in Florida to say the words 'climate change'...even as Florida is increasingly beset by the effects of that unmentionable phrase. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Some of us still believe that. Safer that way. Others have seen through the spin and outright lies--the more of them you see through, the shakier your sense of global well-being tends to get. Like Greer, I believe that our global world is well along--about a century along, in fact--into a process of slow collapse. I won't be around to see the end of it, and neither will you or your children, but it's happening, all the same, and the media pablum that tells us we're doing fine and nuclear fusion or some other such magic trick is only ten years away from saving us all is just that: pablum.  (They've been saying of nuclear fusion that for thirty years at least. and you'll hear it increasingly shrilly said of a variety of technologies in the years to come: meanwhile, things will slowly deteriorate, with brief spikes of prosperity and sudden shocks and upheavals becoming more and more of a global pattern as the years wear on.

Security is an illusion on a personal level, too, even for those few of us who truly feel it. You could die at any moment. I've long accepted that of myself--death is just another life experience, something we're all fated to go through, and being afraid of it makes about as much sense as being afraid of eating, or shitting. But it's something that most people have a great deal of trouble with. If security is an illusion, then fine, we'll feel secure in our illusion.

I need, very much, to learn how to cope with insecurity a little better than I do, or can, at present. Because it is a reality, and I'll have mastered this game called Life when I can actually embrace the insecurity and see the perfection in imperfection. I can do it easily with other people--I love you all because your imperfections make you perfect--but I'm not good at all in believing that of myself and I am piss poor at seeing it in events. It took me nine months to recognize the reason behind the reason I lost my job: precisely because I had to come to terms with the growing up I have yet to do, and I couldn't do that in the illusion of job security. The storms may blow and the boat may rock, but I have faith I will not sink..and the only way to avoid the storms is to stay in port.

One thing you can be assured of: if you have my friendship, it is a secure thing. I've fumbled away a couple of important friendships in the past ten years, and count myself lucky to have been accepted back, undeservingly, in one case and asked back, even more undeservingly, in another. A heartfelt thank you to both those people, as well as the rest of of you who sustain me, who let me know every now and again that I'm secure in their lives, too. It helps. It helps a LOT.

08 March, 2015

Open Hearts, Relationship Escalators, and Refuting Entropy


all credit Kimchi Cuddles 


I feel like writing another of these blogs, and it occurred to me that I never really explained why I am this way, what essential quality it is I have that makes me poly. I've talked about how I acted poly as far back as grade three, but never...why.


Kimchi Cuddles, above, explains it for me. I have an open heart. I always have had, and at this point I can state with near-certainty that I always will. Listening, feeling, and loving come natural to me, as natural as breathing.  It's my own relationship escalator, in that I can't take the first step (listening) for very long without being carried through the second (feeling) and into the third (loving). I have to be very, very careful with this. As inevitable as it is, for me, it's not inevitable for very many people. They have their own, much more heavily travelled, relationship escalator.

"Relationship escalator" is one of those cultural impositions  most people live through, and next-to-nobody stops to examine overmuch. It's a template for how relationships are "supposed" to go. There are a few minor variations on the theme--in particular, the "HAVE SEX" platform can come three steps higher on the escalator--but generally the idea is something like

MEET-->DATE--->HAVE SEX--->MOVE IN TOGETHER-->GET MARRIED-->
HAVE KIDS-->OWN HOME

Like I say, you can move the individual steps around (a little) to suit your morals, finances, or some other factor...but the fact of the escalator itself is very real, and something even strictly monogamous people can struggle with. If anybody has ever asked you if your relationship was "going anywhere"or criticized you for taking things too fast, or asked when when you were planning on having children...that's the relationship escalator at work. It's hard to overstate just how fundamental this is, and insidious. It starts right at that first step. If you're looking for a relationship, every person of the appropriate gender that you meet is run through the checklist to see if another step is in order. A single date is characterized as a "failure" if it doesn't lead to a second date, and a series of dates is a "failure" if the relationship doesn't develop further.

To some people, a committed relationship that is not a marriage is frowned upon. So is a marriage, like ours, that has produced no children. And there are actually people shallow enough to criticize you because you don't own your home.

There are two  unspoken corollaries. One, you're supposed to be happier at each step, and supremely happy at the top step, because that's what life is all about. That happiness is not defined by you, but by society: if you are happy, then you are working "forwards" and taking the next step; and if you're not doing that then by definition you must be unhappy.

Two, if you're not on the escalator at all--or if you're somehow violating the laws of socially-established relationship physics and appearing at two or more places on the escalator at once--well, let's not be ridiculous here. There's something seriously wrong with you...or you're being impossible.



I have observed that while many people are perfectly content to ride the escalator, there are also many who are not. Not just people like me: people whose core raison d'être is their studies, or their vocation, or their art, and who don't have time for a relationship that insists upon more and more life space; people who are engaged in long-distance relationships; people in BDSM or kink relationships (which may have no sexual component whatsoever) involving someone other than the "escalator" partner...doubtless you can think of other examples. All of these people and many others are subject to interrogation and consequences for their "deviant" behaviour which may be mild, in the case of--for instance--not having kids...or anything but mild, if you deviate too far from the expected path. Just to use one example: the U.S. military has no room in its codes for polyamory. If it's discovered, it WILL cost you your security clearance and it very well COULD end your military career. I have heard of people who have been kicked out of their homes by offended landlords and there are many cases of people being disinherited.

(That's the "poly = cheating" equation at work, and it's remarkably pervasive and persistent. At best, somebody's been coerced into "letting" their partner cheat. That's not how poly works at all, but since the only known example of "more than two" in polite society involves cheating, that's almost invariably the lens people first focus on poly through.)

I'm near the top of the escalator--no kids here, but I've made every other step. Some of it happened remarkably quickly for Eva and I...I'll bet you don't know too many couples who bought a bed together on their second date, or who moved in together on the third. I am very happy to be up here after a little over sixteen years,  with the love of my life... and no matter what I say now, I'm pretty sure everyone is going to hear a giant "but..."

...which isn't there. Because we chose our relationship, and continue to choose it. Its resemblance to the traditional relationship escalator is purely coincidental. At every step, we did what felt right to us.

Eva and I are outside the box thinkers, Eva more so even than I am. For her, in fact, there is no box to be outside of at all. She can argue any side of any issue with impassioned clarity and sincerity. I'll never forget the first time I misinterpreted her zeal in debate for conviction. "Oh, I don't believe this myself at all", she said to me, "but how can I argue what I do believe without thoroughly understanding the other sides?"

Changed my life, that question. How, indeed? And sides, she used the plural. How many people automatically look beyond the "right" way and the "wrong" way?  How I love this woman.

Being outside the box people, we're also, despite being at (or near) the top of the escalator, not escalator people either. Our relationship is where it is. It is its own, (very) special, unique thing.

So are other relationships.

Each relationship is its own special, unique thing not because of the form of the relationship, but because of the people in it. Poly people can fall victim to "escalator" thinking just as easily as anyone else, and start defining the success or failure of their relationships by their longevity and conformity...and I think that's where things can break down. Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert,  whose book More Than Two is a goldmine for anyone in any relationship, monogamous or not, have as one of their core values "The people in the relationship are more important that the relationship". 

That's dsrawkcab-ssa thinking according to the society that brought you the relationship escalator. Of course the relationship is more important...the idea is to start shallow and deepen with time and the longer and deeper your relationship goes, the more "valid" it is.

Maybe that construction works for you. It doesn't for me. Relationships are what they are: you can have a deep, life-changing relationship that lasts all of an hour or two, and longevity of a connection is no guarantor of happiness: just ask someone trapped in a loveless marriage.

No, I think what matters isn't the relationship but the person. How can I best love the loves in my life at any given moment? I have this open heart. It beats. And it insists that each person is special and worthy of as much love as he or she can accept, respecting any other relationships that may exist.

And that's what comes naturally to me, what has come naturally to me since before I knew what a relationship was. I have always been drawn to material that echoed these sentiments: they resonate very deeply with me.

Keeping that open heart is a challenge, sometimes, in spite of myself. Sometimes, in the interests of love, you have to pull away, and that's anything but easy. Sometimes, my heart wants to close of its own accord; I'm not immune to jealousy, nor misplaced expectations, much as I hate how those buggers insidiously creep in.  Poly people do feel jealousy, by the way, almost all of us. We just recognize that its source and remedy both  lie within ourselves.

I have found that for me, the rewards of an open heart are worth the risks ten--no, a hundred--times over.

"Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased -- thus do we refute entropy."  

--Callahan's Law as expressed in The Callahan Chronicals, Spider Robinson

06 March, 2015

Living In Fear

From the Conservative Party of Canada's Facebook timeline:

Text at bottom: "Jihadi terrorists are threatening Canada -- we need to give our police and security forces the tools they need to protect us from the threat of terrorism. Add your name if you agree"

I didn't add my name. I don't agree.

This Facebook stunt was so egregious that even several Conservative MPs have spoken out against it. They still have their jobs, for now, but they better watch it. Dear Leader doesn't take too kindly to criticism.

cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon

When reporters asked MP Peter Mackay what the government's working definition of "terrorism" was, he told them to look it up.

Here's the bill itself.  Outside of the title, The Anti-Terrorism Act, the word "terrorism" DOES NOT APPEAR in this bill.  That seems rather odd to me...but then again, this is the same government that reduced the number of environmentally protected waterways in Canada from 2.4 million to 162...in a budget bill. There's just no telling what might or might not be in anything the government sees fit to introduce.

But back to terrorism, since, you know, that's what this is supposed to be about. Off to the Criminal Code of Canada I go. Section 83.01 defines "terrorism" as a act committed


"in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause" with the intention of intimidating the public "…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act."

Hmmm. An act committed for a political purpose with the intention of intimidating the public. I'd say that Facebook post qualifies, wouldn't you?

Hey, don't my word for it!

To be clear, Somali extremist group al-Shabab did, in fact, issue a threat directed at West Edmonton Mall. And Mall of America. And the Westfield Centres in the UK, and the obligatory tacked on "Jewish-owned stores"...it always seems to be open season on Jews.
Al-Shabab has indeed carried out some of its threats in the past...in Somalia and a few neighbouring countries. And--oh-oh--Canadians and Americans have been dribbling overseas to join or aid the organization. They've been out-glamoured by jihadi-come-lately ISIS, but they're still drawing a few radicalized individuals.
We know who they are(pdf).

Using the tools we've already got.

Those tools we've already got have thwarted several terrorist plots. In fact, only two people have been killed by terrorists on Canadian soil in twenty years...and that's dubiously counting as a terrorist the Parliament Hill shooter, who begged police to arrest him before he committed his crime. Terrorists don't generally do that sort of thing.

So why are we madly rushing to fix something that ain't broken?

Because we're all terrorists now, that's why.

Here are six easy ways to break the government's anti-terrorism law. (NOTE: the site I linked to is clearly biased; however, the article itself is impeccably sourced with 29 links.)

Protestors can be considered terrorists in this bill if they "disrupt economic activity" or are "unlawful". Incidentally, to be unlawful, a protest need not be violent. It may be a peaceful protest that incorporates a blockade. It may be a wildcat strike. It may be simply voicing support for a foreign rebel group. WE DON'T KNOW. The Harper government is keeping its options open.

This bill opens the door to mass surveillance on a truly Orwellian scale. It gives seventeen different governmental agencies nearly limitless powers to collect data on anyone at any time for any reason that might be deemed "relevant" to national security. "Relevant". What's relevant? WE DON'T KNOW. Anything might be relevant. Hell, how you VOTE might be relevant. There's a pernicious thing going around Facebook that Justin Trudeau is a terrorist sympathizer because he has -- gasp -- met with Muslims. I can't say for sure, but I'd imagine 'meeting with Muslims" trips the alarm at one or more of those seventeen government agencies.
For those of you thinking Ken's gone off his rocker again and what the hell's the big deal, I've got nothing to hide...go read this and get back to me.

I don't trust this government. I was naive enough to do so at the beginning of its first term in office, but I have watched them cripple their own ability to gather meaningful data, hide completely unrelated bombshells in omnibus bill after omnibus bill, muzzle anyone or anything who dares to speak out against them, and repeatedly, intentionally ignore the Supreme Court of Canada--whose rulings they can't even dismiss as "activist" since Harper himself appointed nearly every judge in it!

Thank the Great Maple Tree for that Supreme Court, because it's likely going to find Bill C-51 every bit as unconstitutional as it has found everything else the Harper regime has tried to get past it. (You gotta admire the chutzpah: tasked with creating a bill to either legalize or decriminalize prostitution or at least make its prohibition constitutional, the government made it even more unconstitutional instead. Now they're asking for longer than the year the court has allotted them to draft legislation making euthanasia legal, not because they need the time, but because people dying with dignity offends their moral sensibilities.

I hope they won't get that yeart. I hope they're gone before the end of this  year.

I want my country back.



05 March, 2015

Why Are People So Disgusting?


WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS BATHROOM HUMOUR. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ ABOUT THIS TOPIC, YOU BEST, UH, SCAT.

This morning, on my daily Reddit-crawl, I came across this hypothetical question:

"What would happen if we no longer segregated our public bathrooms by gender?"

It brought back a slew of memories. Some of those memories made off with my appetite.

The men's -- no, ladies'-- restroom at MacGuire's Irish Pub, Destin, FL


I actually have a little bit of experience with non-segregated public bathrooms. An old girlfriend went to Humber College, and some of their dorm floors were co-ed. There was one bathroom with attached shower room per floor, and men were instructed to hang a "MALE PRESENT" hall-pass type-thing on the shower room door as necessary. The girls took great pleasure in drawing elaborate genitalia, bringing a whole new meaning to "stick-figure".
This was 1990. I'm pleasantly surprised to find they have the same system today. I was naive enough back then to never even consider how easily a male might abuse that system...but evidently there hasn't been much of that. That's only as it should be and I certainly shouldn't be applauding civil behaviour...and yet I almost feel I have to.

That was my first exposure to the forbidden female zone. It was illuminating. For instance, I finally learned what it was women do  in bathrooms, and why it requires so many of them to do it.

They have parties.

No, seriously, men, I know this is impossible to believe, but they actually talk to each other in there. I've heard it from my concealed place behind the stall door. It's a regular convention. They talk about men, they talk about women, they talk about anything, and they laugh with and at each other, as if they're not in a public bathroom at all.

This is so radically different from anything a man might do in a bathroom that it actually boggled my mind. Still does, on some level. You see, women and men approach public restrooms from precisely opposite angles.
For a man, the public toilet is a place to get into, do your business in, and get out of. This is to be done without saying a word to anyone, and ideally without looking at anyone. There is a complicated code of conduct at urinals --everybody, especially women, go try this. I got all six questions right without hesitation, and nobody ever actually told me how this works. It's just something that even the most unobservant man in the world (me) picks up on by osmosis.
So yes: get in, do what you came to do, and get the hell out. But because you are a man, by all means take pleasure in what you came to do. Your vocal cords must not emit a noise, but any other noise is fair game. If you can urinate so as to actually carve porcelain, by all means, do it. If you produce a sound, mid-evacuation, that has everyone in the room ducking and running for cover, you can step out of that stall and that bathroom with your head held high. And if your noxious cloud actually causes people to choke, congratulations, you have won the washroom that day.

(This is, in fact, one of the few times you can break the code. I have cheered and been cheered at, been slow-clapped,  and called across four stalls,  JESUS, BUDDY, DID IT SMELL LIKE THAT WHEN YOU ATE IT?!")

Another note: if you produce something with fartistic appeal--if your stool resembles an actual stool, or a felled tree--you may leave it there for posteriority. This is Alpha Male behaviour: I DID THAT. ME. NEVER MIND THAT YOU DON'T KNOW WHO I AM, LOOK UPON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND I BET YOU CAN'T TOP THIS!
(Being unapologetically beta, you'll be happy to know I do not engage in this behaviour myself.)

Women, by contrast, would prefer to forget there are toilets in that room at all. If they must be used--and I know more than one woman would prefer to soil herself--the bathroom must be empty. Better yet, the building must be empty, so that nobody can come in and be able to tie a face to the ass that released that stench. This is incompatible with the bathroom party, of course: the only plausible explanation is that such parties are, by unspoken consent, urination events only. (I do not know this for certain. Further research is impossible at this time.)

Even given an empty bathroom, a woman in an emergency situation has mastered seventy-eight different ways to suppress the body noises she makes. A man would never think to do this: he's in a shitter, he's shitting, this is a natural state. But women have been taught from earliest childhood to be delicate and genteel, and so they are completely bewildered and nonplussed when, upon releasing the Kraken, said Kraken chances to grunt, growl, roar, or even splash. No, a woman must cut the water like an Olympic diver or employ noise-cancelling countermeasures to suit.

Going to the bathroom is a complicated ritual for most women, involving multiple layers of T.P. wrapping the toilet seat with more care than I wrap Christmas presents. You need your hand sanitizer and some sort of air spray and heaven only knows what else...I'd never get it done in time. You women must have sphincters like steel traps. That said, I understand why it's such an ordeal. Oh, you bet, I understand.

I worked Close-Open at McDonald's for a year, not two miles from where I'm currently sitting. Close-Open is an overnight janitorial shift, and it was the same routine each night. I normally started with the public restrooms, so as to make sure nobody was left in there at closing, and ended at open with the staff restrooms as the sun came up. And so I got an up-close and personal look at something I'd only suspected, something women will not admit on pain of torture, to wit:

Women are much, MUCH filthier, on average, than men can even imagine being.

You read that right. The same woman who chastises her husband for leaving his socks balled up at the foot of the bed or letting the dirty dishes pile up for a day has probably, at some point in her life, perpetrated a horror in a public bathroom that some sad sack like me has had to clean up.

It's incredible. With certain memorable exceptions, the worst you'll find in a men's room is a puddle of urine on the floor. I will now explain to the women--since I have broken the secret of their bathroom behaviour to men--just why it is that your man has such trouble shooting where he's pointing.

I ask you to conduct an experiment. For this experiment you need chalk and a working garden hose.

METHOD:

Go outside to within reach of the garden hose faucet.

Draw a chalk circle on the ground, the diameter of which should be no bigger than that of your toilet.

Take the hose and grasp it at waist level, twelve inches...no, eight inches....okay, damnit, FIVE inches (sigh) from the aperture where the water will be shooting out.

Turn on the tap, being sure to aim the hose at your chalk toilet circle.

Ten bucks says the first spurt will miss your circle entirely. Even if it doesn't, see what happens if you wriggle the hose to simulate the fabled 'piss-shiver"...or if you place a finger over the stream to imitate the mysterious "split-piss", when you can be shooting urine out in three directions at once. I *defy* you to hit that chalk hole.

And that's why men miss.

But that pales into insignificance compared to what goes on next door.

Women are disgusting. Rare is the stall that doesn't have toilet paper all over the floor, often suspiciously wet and discoloured. Toilet paper, big deal. I also found all manner of feminine un-hygiene products scattered hither and yon, not to mention an astonishing amount of fecal matter.

Seriously, men. They criticize you for missing when you pee. They miss when they poop. Infinitely worse.

I think I've figured this out. I think that this happens when women don't have time to ritualistically wrap, when their evacuation is well underway as they enter the room. They've been taught to on no account touch the raw abattoir of the toilet seat--and so they...hover.

Repeat garden hose experiment, only with beef stew instead of water.

Ugh.

Incidentally, men touch the toilet seat. We don't care. We won't go into a recently vacated stall lest we feel the last person's butt-warmth--some things are too gross even for us--but touching the toilet seat? No problem. This explains why women generally outlive men.

Even outside the stalls, the dirtiness continues. I'd get to the staff bathroom in the morning and again, the worst I'd find in the mens' would be a puddle of water on the counter. Women--they were in the habit of blotting their lipstick on the mirror. Do you know how hard it is to get lipstick off glass?
There'd be other bits of female flotsam and jetsam everywhere. No idea why this should be: there were garbage cans in these bathrooms. But there you have it.

IF YOU'VE STUCK WITH ME THIS FAR, THIS IS WHERE YOU WANT TO CONSIDER BUGGING OUT, OR AT LEAST SKIPPING DOWN TO THE NEXT JUMP AFTER THIS ONE.

DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU. WHAT I'M ABOUT TO RELATE WON ME THE COVETED "GROSS-OUT OF THE MONTH" AWARD IN THE ALT.GROSS USENET NEWSGROUP IN 1992.

LAST CHANCE.

**************

The worst thing I ever had to deal with in a bathroom happened three times. All at McDonald's, on regular lot and lobby shifts. All in -- surprise! -- men's restrooms.

A manager would come up to me and say, "hey, Ken!" in this jocular tone that put me instantly on alert.
"Yeah?"
"You wanna clean the men's head? There's a free meal in it for you."
(This was back before the McGold card for employees, when you were entitled to one free meal and no more per shift. I worked at McD's for years and never got sick of the food, so a free meal was a temptation.  Still, they didn't hand out free meals for just anything.)
"Uh, sure, okay." Dear God, what have I gotten myself into? 

I'd have a premonition of what I was about to see as the door opened, and sure enough, there it would be: somebody had taken a shit (or rather, left a shit) in the urinal.

An ancient Merle Travis song would start up in my head as I regarded the snake regarding me. A smell almost, but not entirely unlike warm, freshly baked bread would tickle my nostrils and I would back away slowly, then run. I was not equipped for this.

I had to go get equipped for this. That meant salad gloves. Transparent salad gloves. VERY THIN transparent salad gloves.

Thus equipped, I would steel myself and return to the scene of the crime, thinking I should have held out for two free meals for this.

I could still feel residual heat baking through the gloves as I grasped the slinky, faintly steaming  stool and commenced to wrestle it into a garbage bag. It would, inevitably, split and splat to the floor, narrowly missing my shoes and forcing me into a momentary Riverdance impression...and then I'd have to bend down and do it all over again. Make that three free meals.

My mind would retreat into itself as I worked, trying desperately to ignore the aroma. I'd replay the words of that bastard manager in my head, suddenly spotting the ambiguity in them:

Want to clean the men's head? There's a free meal in it for you...

...and from that moment on it was a wrestling match with my gorge. Which I would win by sheer force of will, coupled with the realization that if I puked, I'd just have to clean that up, too.

***********
OKAY, THAT'S OVER, YOU CAN BREATHE AGAIN.

I hate to quote Heinlein again so quickly, but this one is apropos. Signs of the decline of civilization, according to Heinlein in To Sail Beyond The Sunset (1988) include:

"too many lawyers, family decay, high taxes, decline in rational thinking, entertainers and high-paid athletes mistaken for important leaders of public opinion, strikes by public officials, peer-group promotion in public schools, declining literacy, and, last but not least, dirty public restrooms (a sign of declining courtesy and polite consideration for others)."

Declining courtesy and polite consideration for others. I see it everywhere, not just in restrooms. People feel entitled to be filthy: "it's not my job" to clean things up. I'm pacifist by nature and I have to refrain from throat-punching these people.  Rudeness and self-centeredness are just more proof I'm living through Heinlein's Crazy Years. Only by now I'm supposed to have some means of migrating off-planet and getting away from them. Even a mind as brilliant as his could never have conceived that, having gone to the Moon and built an orbiting space station, the human race would abruptly lose interest.

It's a cultural thing. Did you know that in Japan, most of the schools do not employ custodial staff? The students take care of all that. And they do it without thinking about it, and certainly without grumbling about it--cleaning detail is an excuse to be out of the classroom, so it's actually a good time.

Can you imagine what would happen here without janitors in the schools? Not to mention everywhere else?

It comes down to a lack of empathy. I'm sorry to say it -- because I say it so often --  but a giant infusion of empathy would solve so much. Nobody seems to stop to think that anything they dirty or destroy has to be cleaned or fixed...and if they do think that, they certainly don't put themselves into the shoes or heads of the people who do the cleaning and fixing. I don't know why this value of empathy is not part of the core curriculum in schools: it's easily the most important socialization tool we have.

If you make a mess, people...clean it up. That's something we were supposedly taught in KINDERGARTEN.