30 April, 2015

"Women...What About Men Baffles You the Most?"

Oh, the irony of a guy who has often wondered if he was a human being, let alone a male one, empathizing and relating so deeply to the questions and answers in this thread.

The top voted comment: "That you really can be sitting there thinking about nothing."

That yielded a torrent of anecdotes about men who were in fact thinking of *something*...it was just something utterly inconsequential, highly embarrassing or incriminating, or (most often) both. It wasn't until well on down that subthread I found someone who said he didn't just think about nothing, he could tune his surroundings out for the most part.   I won't belabour the point that this is my default state. I will simply say how comforting it is to know I'm not alone.

But absent a pressing need to think about something, I am in a state of no-thought.

"How can you be so oblivious to subtle (and sometimes not-to-subtle) hints?"

Said "hints" usually have something to do with a woman being attracted to us, and let me tell you, despite all appearances, we're not oblivious to those sorts of hints. We are, rather, completely and utterly terrified of acting upon one of them, just in case we turn out to be wrong. The price of inaction is. at worst, a lifetime's regret. That pales in comparison to the price of action, which could range from being publicly humiliated to, in certain contexts, jail time.  It's Pascal's Wager in miniature....some men would suggest that a woman being attracted to them is in fact proof of the existence of God, but I digress. Like somebody said, "I could have pained "date me" on his forehead"...and somebody else noted "well, then he wouldn't see it there on his forehead, would he?" A third said "until he got home, looked in a mirror, and realized what he missed."

"The way you are just as moody as women, but still complain about women and their emotions."

Because, of course, men are taught to stifle and suppress theirs. Crying is a sign of weakness, right? Actually, it's more likely a sign you've been too strong for too long, but we'll let that go.
This one still trips me up: that women don't want their problems solved, just listened to and empathized with. I'm pretty good at both those things, if I do say so myself, but I still have to stomp on the urge to say something like "but this would all go away if you'd just..."
...but then it would be gone, Ken, and she'd be confronted with the quintessentially male state of thinking about nothing. Can't have that! 
One thing I don't do is complain about emotions. They are the touchstones of the soul and they lubricate most social interactions. Without them we would not be human. But yeah: I often think my feeling this is not the problem, the thing causing me to feel this way is the problem.

"Why do you guys play with yourselves so much?"

Because it feels good. Next question.

No, wait a second. This is one of those things that actually causes no end of friction in many relationships, friction that expresses itself with some variant of he's jerking off and he could be having sex with me.  I'd like to address this, as, ahem, touchy as it is, because it contains a couple of assumptions about men that are just plain wrong.

For sin-stance: We are explicitly rejecting you by masturbating.

Believe it or not, men will often masturbate to orgasm out of sheer boredom. Or because pressure has built up and has to be relieved. Bothering you to do it--which puts performance obligations on us--is not necessarily something we want to do. Not always for selfish reasons, either. We understand that you're tired/Aunt Flo from Red River has come for a week's stay/you have a headache (sex is actually a pretty good analgesic for menstrual cramps and mild to moderate headaches both, but sssshhhh). We can take care of the situation in two minutes flat without making a big production out of it. Doesn't mean we don't want you.
And edging into more controversial territory: ask any man about the visuals he may be using as a prop and if he's articulate enough, he will tell you quite sincerely that he's not fantasizing about the porn star. He's probably fantasizing about you doing  the things the porn star is doing, which may or may not be part of your repertoire, but he's not thinking about being with the woman or women on screen. Many men, faced with the actual opportunity to be with a porn star, would be intensely conflicted. Great sex, to be sure, but she had to practice to get that good. With other men. Umm...

(There's men being silly for you: what's the appeal of a virgin, anyway? Give me somebody who knows what they're doing, she might teach me a thing or six.)

He might be thinking of somebody else while he's ruining his eyesight and growing hair on his palms. He will never admit this, of course, but thinking about sex with somebody is miles away from having sex with somebody. I thought about sex with damn near everybody from the age of eleven on and didn't actually have sex with somebody until I was nineteen: I rest my case. If he's thinking about your sister or your best friend or a co-worker while he's actually there with you, well, that's a real issue. If he always thinks, obsessively, about that sister/friend/co-worker, that's a real issue. Otherwise: it isn't.

Here's the one that really hit me where I live, and I'm going to quote "stitchedlamb" at length:

Why they don't get how sexy they are. Not in the way they usually think (muscles!) but the way they work their hair when they think no one is looking, little half smiles, shirt riding up to show their skin, stuff like that. Dudes doing little things can get a lady wet as hell and it seems like that part of male sexuality is glossed over in our culture. I know you straight guys don't get it, but we love looking at you like you like looking at us. Whenever I explain this to male friends, they look at me like I'm nuts. Why is it so hard to believe?

Loaded question, that last. It's like a hanging curve floating right into my low self-esteem wheelhouse: there's been one woman in the world who ever called me sexy versus probably a dozen who have explicitly called me ugly and countless others who refrained from doing so out of good breeding.  I never once believed the girl who said I was sexy. Didn't stop me from marrying her, though.

It's not just me, though. Guys, even sexy guys, don't generally get called sexy. Or handsome. Or anything.

I've seen it time and time again on Facebook. There's a former colleague of mine at Sobeys who is quite simply stunning. Every two months or so she'll put up a new profile pic, either a selfie or what appear to be professionally done portraits, and they will cause the heart of any functional straight man and probably most of the lesbian hearts to beat just that little bit faster. Nothing remotely sexual about any of these pictures: she is "just" a beautiful, beautiful woman. I'll contribute to the torrent of praise she gets: "wow, ######, you look incredible", all the while thinking boy, I hope she doesn't misinterpret that, especially given I'm old enough to be her dad. Ken, did you just twitch a little bit? You dirty old man, you.

I'm far from alone, although the female compliments outnumber the male ones ten to one.

Men don't put up selfies on Facebook, as a rule. When they do. they'll get a smattering of likes and a few comments--invariably from women, and (in my experience) either tepid or so overblown there's no chance in hell I could misinterpret them. Nothing to what women get.

I find this sad on both sides. For the women, of course, their self-worth seems to be tied entirely to their physical appearance. This, incidentally, is completely untrue, and not just because Ken says it is. I wish I could find the link, I've spent twenty minutes of intensive Googling and nada, but trust me: somebody once ran an experiment where they photoshopped various ugly and misshapen bits into a thoroughly off-putting photograph, paired it up with an entirely fictitious and really scary personality description, and set the creation loose on some dating site. Result: hundreds of replies.

Men very rarely get any responses on dating sites. Just like they rarely get complimented on Facebook selfies. In this case it's a little more nuanced: dress in a suit and tie and it's not that you're handsome, exactly, it's that the suit and tie signify a man of action and accomplishment.  That's sexy. Men doing things. It's another of those fantasy tropes, the one Shrek turned on its head: the woman is there to be rescued. Preferably the slaying of dragons is involved, but the knight in shining armour-slash-prince is of course a fine specimen of manhood: he had to be. Ugly fat guys don't kill dragons.

So, to summarize: men can't compliment women because rapist pervert and women can't compliment men because he'll think I want him. Sad state of affairs.

Even sadder: Men never compliment other men because eww, that's gay, dude!

Actually, not quite true. I have one male friend, straight as an arrow, who is secure enough in every way to say "I love you" to me every once in a while. I'll say the same, because it's true. I do love the guy. Men, you love your best friends, don't you? Of course you do. Wouldn't it be a better world if we could just say it?

It would be nice if we lived in a world where compliments could be freely given without fear or shame. Both genders are afraid to say anything just plain nice to strangers or acquaintances of the other gender lest they be mistaken for sexual advances. How awful is that, really? It's even more of a minefield because women, in particular, are conditioned to crave sexual attention, on account of it being -- supposedly -- the sole measure of a woman's worth. And men are "supposed" to want and desire sex above all else (sigh)...you can perhaps see the conundrum.

As a man, I reiterate: what does make it hard, pun definitely intended, is when you field a compliment from somebody to whom you may actually be intensely attracted. Even an innocent one. We don't get compliments much: we cherish the ones we do get...but at the time, we almost have to ignore it, or at best shrug it off: she probably didn't mean that the way I heard it.

I'd like to live in a world where compliments might lead to hugs, and hugs might lead to cuddles, but none of those things automatically had to lead to sex. I think it would be a better world.

In the meantime, it is perhaps a little bit of a relief to see that men are every bit the puzzle we say women are.

23 April, 2015

Shared Pain

"No fim, tudo dá certo. Se não deu, ainda não chegou ao fim."  
"In the end, everything will be okay. If it's not okay...it's not yet the end."
--Fernando Sabino

Another long one coming, to make up for the hiatus. Trust me, folks, you want to read at least part of this one.

As I am sure you have noticed, the blog posts have dried up around here.  That should be changing -- somewhat -- from here on out, but I will make you no promises and tell you no lies. The state is called "flux", and I'm starting to wonder if "flux" is the original f-word.

Let's start with the good parts.

THE JOB


I have a full time job. I now work for Big Blue. No, not that Big Blue. I mean the retail one. Wally World. The largest retailer on the planet. 2.4 million strong.
Let me tell you this on short notice: they got to be where they are for a reason. I'll tell you this, too: what appears corny and cult-like to outsiders (an employee cheer, seriously?) is both genuine and surprisingly powerful once you've done it a few times.

It's like doing an Om. Have you ever done an Om, in a group? Not the kind of thing people tend to do if they want to keep any semblance of street cred, right? And yet it's the oldest sacred sound we know of, symbolizing All That Is, the original divine vibration. And if you go into it with even the slightest of open minds, you will come out of a group Om with a changed consciousness. Trust me on that. How changed depends on the spiritual energies you and everyone else bring into it.

The Wal-Mart cheer is like that, in a way. It takes individuals and makes of them a team; it then takes that team and charges it with positive energy. That's something I have really internalized about my new workplace. It is exceptionally positive.

I have worked in retail most of  my life. Everywhere I have worked features a backroom in which language that would make a stevedore blush is thrown around carelessly, almost as random syllables.
Not at Wal-Mart. Just one f-bomb can get you written up--even if it's not directed at anyone in particular.  Respect for the individual is one of this company's core values and from what I've seen, unlike many companies, they actually walk their talk. The group I work with on nights is top-notch, and so are my departmental day-mates.

The biggest culture shock has to do with breaks.

I worked for ten years in a place where breaks, like "overtime pay" and "employee recognition",  were pipe-dreams. Oh, yes, you are supposed to take your breaks, but you're also supposed to get your work done, and most times there is more work to be done than there are people to do it. Work or breaks. Shirking one will get you in trouble; shirking the other won't. Which one is which I leave as an exercise for the reader.

I worked for three years at another place that was only slightly less dismissive about rest periods. I grew to loathe sitting down when there was work to be done. I'd rather work right through and get off half an hour early, if that's an option.

At Wal-Mart, it isn't. You will be "coached", written up, and theoretically fired if you don't take your breaks, every least minute of every last one of them. Even more of a challenge for me is that on nights those breaks are supposed to happen promptly at one, three and five a.m. Dairy and Frozen call the breaks, as they're the ones with the perishable product on the floor, but woe be unto us if we're more than, say, three or four minutes late calling "three o'clock lunchtime".

I am not a clockwatcher. I start looking at the time when I sense it's getting on time to go home--several times I've overshot by fifteen minutes or half an hour. Having to force myself not just to look at the time, but plan my night around arbitrary stoppages...let's just say I'm still getting used to it.

They have a computer system that puts everybody else's to utter shame.  When all is going well, not only can a handheld ordering unit tell you what is in the building, it can also tell you exactly how much is exactly where. I mean on which shelf in the back room, cooler, or freezer. And never mind scratching the surface...I'm still hovering over the surface of what the system can do.

When all is going well. As with any computer system, the garbage in, garbage out principle applies. I hope to show my new employer what a dedicated data sanitation engineer I am.

One thing I do know is that the chances for advancement are practically limitless. Two of the four assistant managers who interviewed me were hired on less than four years ago, one of them part-time. Name one other retail company where that kind of progression is not only possible, but almost routine.

It's straight nights, which is not what I would have preferred. Three reasons there:

  •  one, I am a natural lark;
  •  two, generally, Eva's on an opposite schedule;
  •  three, nights tend to harshly compromise a social life.

 But

  • the lark can be subdued over time. I am halfway there now: I have no trouble being up all night. In a week I will be able to sleep during the day, hopefully without the prescription-grade sleeping pills I still need.
  • actually, when Eva works afternoons as she normally does, I see just as much or even more of her when I work nights as opposed to days. I normally go to bed around ten or eleven a.m, which is when she leaves for work, and I am up before she gets home. It means each of us has the bed to ourselves...sometimes sacrifices need to be made.
  • As I seem to keep saying, I have an absolutely astounding group of friends. I've had breakfast dates and evening get-togethers and neither I nor my social life feels compromised at all.


My schedule is Thursday night through Monday night, leaving me off Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I just wrote the final exam for my Tuesday class, which is a nice little segue into

THE CLASSES

I am nine weeks away from a Certificate of Fluency in French from Conestoga College.

This probably doesn't mean what you think it means, and it certainly doesn't mean what I think it should mean. By my definition, were I actually fluent in French, I would be able to rewrite this blog en français without missing a beat.

Not even close. Most of the sentences I have written here would take me a solid chunk of time to translate and I'd need a dictionary and likely a grammar text handy to do it. Take that last sentence, for instance: I'm fine up until "would take me a solid chunk of time". I can say "would take many minutes"...that's not the same thing. "I'd need a grammar text"--that's do-able...."handy"? Not the foggiest. I could say "close to me"--is there a better translation than that? If I were fluent, I would know. 

You get the idea. I'm not fluent. Nowhere near. I can understand most spoken French if it's spoken at a speed that would put actual French people to sleep (the listening exercise on my final last night was on eco-tourism in Lebanon, written by francophones for francophones, and there was easily five minutes worth of information I had to try and glean from a 90-second clip. ) I can read French passably well and I can sort of write it, given world enough and time. Speaking: not so good yet. I have to write it in my head before I can say it. 

Luckily, this last course, French for Business, is really heavy on oral and aural comprehension. It's also much more challenging that I had thought it would be, given that I have taken French V and the prerequisite for this is only French IV. I am learning that just as there is a difference between informal spoken French and textbook French, there is a difference between French spoken in business and French spoken anywhere else. The prof, who is more fluent in French than she is in English, is great in that she speaks at warp speed...but covers the material very slowly, with lots of repetition. C'est parfait. She is also an absolute stickler for translation. I mean, I know Google Translate is almost useless, but she thinks Linguee is bad, and Linguee shows you direct translations of government documents. Ah, well. Just have to learn what she likes, and do that. Isn't that school in a nutshell? Isn't that married life, too?

I adored my last French teacher, Carolyn Cresswell. She was also my teacher for French II. She's a bit scatterbrained every now and again, but she was super-friendly, quick with an anecdote, and we share tastes in music. Sadly, she was stuck with a totally unfair situation for this course: she was asked to teach it on two days' notice, using a horrible textbook she had never seen before...and the class was more than twice as big as it by rights should have been. At first we got lots of real-world French instruction at the expense of essentially having to teach ourselves the textbook grammar. Then time constraints came into play and we lost a lot of the fun by sticking to a textbook that everybody agreed was awful. (They're switching it up for the next class). The evaluation we had to write left no room to explain any of this: most of it was about whether the hallways were clean enough and whether or not we felt discriminated against as a member of whatever little club we had to identify as belonging to.  Ugh.

But Carolyn: I will miss her. 

Having been unemployed for nine months, working full time and taking a class feels as if it is using up all my free time. It isn't, of course, not even anywhere near, but it feels that way. That's one reason I haven't blogged. Another is

THE HOME LIFE


You may know my wife Eva had bariatric surgery in November 2013: story here.  
You may also know that at the one year mark, she was moving along tickety-boo, all systems go. She has been making a very difficult journey look easy.

What very few of you know and the rest of you are about to find out is that she has suffered a setback, a rather serious one. 

The symptoms presented gradually, though they seem sudden in the context of so much relative health and wellness. They have progressed to the point where she can no longer work or drive, and there, for the moment, they seem to be stalled. We think. We hope.


Eva has earned the right to put alphabet soup after her name: if she's feeling particularly snooty, she can legitimately say her name is Eva Breadner, ALMI, ARA,  PCS, AIAA. 
The PCS stands for Professional, Customer Service and I have always tried to model my customer service on hers. She has always been able to anticipate and respond to client needs before they are articulated or often even recognized. This is because like me, she is incredibly empathic...and unlike me, she is gifted with a logician's brain. I probably don't have to tell you how rare it is to find someone who is both profoundly intuitive and supremely analytical. In all my life, I've met exactly one other person who even comes close. Eva told me I'm not supposed to spend too much time praising her here, but what the hell, she is my wife and I love her.

The focus that she has always brought to bear on any least task is pretty much gone, as is a large piece of her short-term memory. That was our first clue that something was badly awry: the diminishment of a prodigious gift. There were other signs and signals: her digestion, which for a bariatric patient had always been exemplary, was suddenly extremely poor, all the time; she began to suffer from chronic fatigue...and so on. Most alarming to me--well, aside from the Eva I know having been stolen and replaced with a pale impostor--is the stutter. It comes and goes, from barely there to moderately severe, and it is terrifying to hear a woman who has never hesitated over a single word suddenly having trouble with single words. 

On Tuesday she had an appointment with her bariatric team of specialists, which includes one of the most respected bariatric surgeons in the country. They examined her and pronounced what we already knew: she is suffering from malabsorption. Her body is not using much of what little she does eat. This is also the case with her pills, both bariatric-related and otherwise. The otherwise is probably compounding some of the issues.
As to the whys and wherefores--the underlying reasons I have always sought, everywhere, and often come up wanting--we got a whole lot of what Danny Torrance in The Shining refers to as the worst words of all: NO ONE KNOWS.

The consensus is that it's not directly related to the surgery. It is most likely a medication issue, we are told. Something is out of balance. Maybe somethings. Exactly what, amongst the many, many pills and supplements that bariatric patients depend on for survival, is a monkey's guess;  any monkey reading this can guess as to what might happen when you go monkeying around with medications.

We had hoped for a roadmap, complete with a little distance table. We got a big white space with the words Here Be Dragons. This is terra incognita, folks, and it's not very nice out here.

It is  not easy to live beside. I can't even imagine what it's like to live with.

I feel guilty and ashamed even admitting the difficulty. This has been going on scarcely a month and in the grand scheme of things it could be ever so much worse, after all. 

This is Eva's road. I don't drive; I am merely a passenger, as I have been since I met her. But as a passenger I have certain sacrosanct duties. I am a navigator; I am the person who keeps driving Eva awake and functional; I am the person who keeps her calm when some asshole cuts her off. I am failing, abysmally, at all three of these duties. We are lost, she is not functional and often not awake, and calmness is something that seems to be in very short supply chez Ken just now.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME, either, and I struggle to articulate any of this lest people think I'm trying to make it All About Me. This is about Eva, and how to make her all better again, and NO ONE KNOWS.

So.

The road is just beginning, it seems. And here I'd like to publicly and profusely thank Mark, without whom it might be completely unnavigable.

Mark is Eva's partner of nine months. They share a deep bond for a relationship of such short duration, but knowing what I know of the man that's no surprise. He has been a rock. Aside from all the quotidian support--he's been ferrying Eva to what seems like daily doctor's appointments, and running any number of other errands that require a car, even dropping me at work on occasion--he has also provided nonpareil spiritual and emotional solace, certainly far beyond what I am capable of right now.

The man radiates calm in a way I deeply admire and wish I could emulate. I'm capable of that level of serenity, provided nothing is spectacularly amiss in my world, but just at present the most spectacular missus in all my worlds is rather amiss. 

If I try for what seems to be Mark's level of calmness--something I am trying desperately to do, as anxiety helps nobody in this situation--I overshoot and go into robot territory. That's me burying my fear, and I do it because I am filled with a sort of impotent rage and the last thing I want is to add to her own. No, the LAST thing I want is Eva thinking it is at any way directed at her. 

But Ken, aren't you jealous?

No.

I will admit to a fierce pang the day that Eva had her consult with the specialists. That was Tuesday. I worked Monday night, and I had that French final exam at 6:30 Tuesday evening. I have to leave shortly after four to get there on time...and Eva's appointments went all day, something she is still recovering from. Mark drove her, of course, and kept her steady all through the day, no mean feat. There is simply no way I could have been there, which in no way lessens the ironclad belief that I should have been there. And no, at this point I don't think it should have been me, not him...I think it should have been he and I together. And if somebody had've had a problem with that, fuck them sideways. Eva needs all the love and support she can get.

But I wasn't there, and it eats at me. I find myself thinking if only I had been there, I'd have asked the magic question that would have yielded the magic answers. Preposterous! Arrogant! There's nothing I could have said that Mark, who has more of a medical background than I do,  couldn't have said better--and answers are not forthcoming anyway. 

As I said on the polyamory subreddit:

The support everyone gets when a family member is ill isn't just multiplied with poly, it's more like squared. Or cubed. Raised to the power of love? Now I'm getting corny. But it's really a godsend to be able to count on both logistical and emotional support when your own emotions are failing you.

Someone responded:

When I was growing up, and imagined life as poly (before I even knew that word) those scenarios were the ones that pushed me to stronger belief that poly is "right" (for me). Years later, when I tell people that logistical and emotional stability is the reason I seek poly relationships, they say "No, but really, it's the sex right?". No, it's not. And this is proof. Thanks for sharing!

I have a dear friend I'm not going to out here, someone I love very much who has been providing me with the same kind of thing over roughly the same period of time,  always there with a listening ear when I'm going to explode, and always with wise counsel and encouragement. Look at that word--it's another of those en-words that people don't stop to examine often enough. Hyphenate it: en-courage-ment. She gives me daily injections of courage I can share with Eva; Mark gives Eva daily courage that she can share with me. Strength lends its strength.

Life is hard just now. But if ever I needed proof that shared pain is lessened, I have it in spades.

11 April, 2015

Blogging Break

Production will be shut down here in the Breadbin for an indeterminate time,

Thank you for reading...

05 April, 2015

Two Parrots (desiring crackers) With One Stone

Or, two poly topics in one blog post. New month, new allotment, and stuff has been bubbling up.

Stuff I HAVEN'T ACTUALLY WRITTEN BEFORE. Yay!


FOR EVA, MY SUN


Just last night I posted this on Facebook: a basic primer on polyamory from one of the most famous "out" poly personages in the world: Laurell K. Hamilton, the best-selling author. She lives in a poly quad, incidentally, and her novels are positively rife with polyamory.  My friend asked,

Okay, here I am exposing my ignorance: why marry? Why enter into a legal covenant with one singular person? If you love and are committed to more than one person, why is the institution of marriage necessary for poly folks in this day and age?

It occurs to me that I have been remiss in not addressing this question much earlier, especially since it was the very first question fired at me when I first came out to the first person I came out to. Fired with the force of a SIG-Sauer P226, it was.

I'll give you the generic answers to this before I get as personal as I'm willing to get.

It's true, many polyamorous people do not get married. Many others have group marriages, handfastings, covenantal ceremonies and the like--why do they do that? The same reason any two monogamous people get married, to demonstrate to the world their unity of purpose and commitment.

But many, perhaps even a majority, of polyamorous relationships incorporate a traditional two-person marriage, or common-law relationship (which in Canada has nearly the same legal ramifications). How does that happen?

Often it happens because one or both of the people in the marriage don't identify as poly at the outset.  Polyamory is negotiated, over time, and added to the marriage when (ideally) both spouses are ready for it.  (Add it in before and...well...the marriage will probably implode. Poly people have a saying: you can't fix a relationship by adding more people.)
I've talked before about some of the reasons why people might go down that road: mismatched sex drives or sexual styles, or just loving natures that don't seek to place restrictions on love. A common scenario: Somebody might find themselves falling in love with another person and rather than cheat, see if that third person can be accepted by the existing partner.

Why established poly people get married--you'd have to ask them, because any marriage is a deeply personal thing between partners and whatever deities they may or may not happen to believe in. Of course, in some countries there are very prosaic reasons to get married, such as health insurance and the like. Sometimes in poly-world, though, it's an assertion to the world of one relationship's primacy, and that all others must be subservient to it.

Any sort of polyamory is challenging. As Laurell Hamilton noted,  any solid relationship is, but as you might imagine,  poly tends to compound things. The 'hierarchical polyamory' detailed above may work for many folks, but it has some ethical red flags. It is a little bit disingenuous to say you are willing to engage in multiple committed relationships simultaneously and then put big wooden fences around those "secondary" relationships to make sure they don't encroach on the primary. How does that third person feel, only getting so much--and "so much" is being dictated from outside your relationship? Worse, primary partners often have "veto" power over budding secondary relationships, and arguably the biggest heartbreaks in poly involve a veto.

At the same time, practicing "non-hierarchical poly" means that the scary encroachment is almost bound to happen at some point, love being what it is. Let love in through a window, and watch it open up every door in the place. It takes a certain mindset to accept that, to recognize that relationships can wax and wane over time, and it's not a common mindset.

I would marry Eva all over again without blinking, even (perhaps especially) knowing what was waiting for us fifteen years down the pike. She is and remains my rock, my rock who never for a second became an anchor. I believe I am the same for her. We've taught each other so much over our time together: my debt to her is incalculable. We have one of the great marriages. I know it, she knows it, and several of our friends have remarked upon it themselves over the years. One dear friend--who happens to be in another great marriage--told me just last night that it's a matter of knowing the relationship is there. No matter how bad the rough patch, the question of "is it worth it to keep on with this marriage?" is always an emphatic YES.

Most importantly, and without getting too personal, our relationship is its own thing. Any other relationships that may exist are also their own things, very much independent of our thing, and have to be taken into account, just as those relationships have to take ours into account. It's a juggling act, to be sure, and it can sometimes result in some hurt toes as the jugglers careen around with their eyes in the air. But as with so much else, open, honest communication is key. Also key is the willingness to set ego aside, which can be easier said than done.

The thing that monogamous people don't readily get is the compersion that comes naturally to some polys and others have to work like a dog at. For those of you who haven't been along for the full cruise, "compersion" is joy at your partner's joys, wherever they may have come from. The Buddhist synonym is mudita, joy unadulterated by self-interest. In short, metamours -- other cherished people --  enrich a life, and an enriched life enriches other lives. That's what a poly community is, at heart: an enrichment tool, a tool by which love can be made not just to grow, but to spread.

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

As far back as I have been aware, I have recognized that I am polyamorous. My loving one person doesn't auto-magically subtract my love from someone else, and people's shrill insistence that it does, it has to, it MUST, I eventually tuned out just as I tuned out most of the other bullshit society insisted on spewing in my face.

If somebody had explained the term "polyamory" to me when I was nine, I know for a fact I would have seized on it. But there are things that happen around poly people that I just don't understand. This shouldn't be a surprise: I am a human being (I think), and other humans have this distinct tendency to act in ways I don't understand. I'm male, and by God I don't get other males at all.

But one of the things I have repeatedly run into--at a remove so far, although sooner or later it'll probably actually happen close to home--is somebody, a "monogamous" somebody, willing to a be a party to cheating, but completely unwilling to be in a polyamorous relationship. Putting it in my own world: somebody who would be willing to date me, so long as Eva didn't know about her. If I was to inform this hypothetical person that Eva would find out about her immediately, she'd run away screaming.

Huh?

Polyamory is a subset of ethical non-monogamy. There are other kinds of ethical non-monogamy--swinging comes to mind. There is some overlap between the swinging and poly communities, but not a great deal of it, because most swingers are terrified of emotions. Whereas polyamory is founded on emotions, to the point where there need not be sex in a poly relationship at all:  just emotional intimacy that goes beyond the bounds of what monogamous couples are generally okay with.

Regardless, though, the key point is that it's ethical: honest, open and transparent. It's not an "excuse to cheat" or "cheating with consent" (now there's a ridiculous contradiction in terns). But it seems as if some people would rather cheat than engage in an open, honest, transparent relationship. This boggles my mind. If you're going to be non-monogamous, wouldn't you want to be ethical about it?

I've both cheated and been cheated on, in my distant past, long before Eva. Both sides of that equation are slimy as hell, and I resolved after having grown up a bit that I would never allow myself to be a party to a dishonest relationship ever again. Obviously there are other people who don't feel the same way. I have seen some poly militants who claim they have no problem being the other man or woman to a person with an oblivious spouse, perverting my assertion above that each relationship is its own thing, independent of other relationships. While that is true...such people are still cheating, as far as I'm concerned, and I have nothing but contempt for that kind of selfish, hurtful behaviour.


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

BONUS: I just discovered this song tonight (lyrics provided on link) and I'm groovin' to it. I'm seeing more and more poly music out there...this is the most explicitly poly song I've run across yet, and one of the happiest.

"I'm a bird who sings in the springtime
She's a girl who smiles like the sunrise
Though I love the days when she's all mine
I don't try to bottle her sunshine..."





29 March, 2015

A Day with the Love

As I think I have conveyed, I'd been floundering in a thickening fog for months now. I don't think I can convey just how deadening that fog has been, or what a struggle it has been for Eva to reach me through it.
I don't lift the veil on our home life often on this blog, and I'm not going to lift it much here. But I do think it's important, now that the fog is lifting, to give you just a glimpse of what my wife has endured. I've spoken in generalities about depression and not being myself. I haven't offered details. They're not flattering.  
  
I'm not sure what has been hardest for Eva to deal with. Over the sixteen or so years we have been together, she has always softened my rough edges, confronted my worst behaviours, and generally allowed me to create the next greatest version of the grandest vision ever I had about who I am, in Neale Donald Walsch's memorable phrasing.   
Rarely has she ever been anything other than gentle. But then until recently, I've never abandoned the process of self-creation and embarked on a slow, passive path of self-destruction.  
I have quite a few unlovely traits, beyond the self-esteem issue, and for nine months I have allowed them free rein. 

I'm not sure which one Eva would deem most frustrating of all. Has it been my absolute insistence on seeing nothing but the worst in every situation, whether it had something directly to do with me or not? Has it been my unwillingness to accept the many, many good things in my world, job or no? 

I think it was probably my retreat into a shadowy no-space, deep in my head and all but out of sight of the real world. I spent days in that dead zone, resenting every attempt to break my walls down. Most instructions were forgotten as soon as they were issued. I'd like to say this wasn't intentional, but on some level I think it was. It got bad enough there that I was just willing the world to go away, most of the time.
The end result of it: while some rough beast gestated in me over the last nine months (thankfully aborted now), Eva probably would have found it easier to deal with her three year old niece Alexa than her forty-three year old husband.   
As the fog lifted, there has been some friction. I've found myself being treated like a three-year-old, something no adult likes to experience, not understanding that I have been acting like a petulant toddler for so long that Eva really didn't have much of a choice. Now that I'm coming back to myself, she can't turn that mode off on a dime. 

I can think of no better way to put this than that I am waking up from the worst nightmare I've ever experienced. It's dawning on me that the scrabbly skeletal fingers trying to drag me down are nothing but sheets I can fling aside. Because I have been asleep and dreaming dark dreams for so long, I am shockingly out of shape, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The dream metaphor really is apt: you know how in your worst nightmares, you retain awareness that you're dreaming, but can't seem to wake up? That's been me. 

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

Yesterday was a celebratory kind of day, to be sure. But it was also the sort of day that has dotted our relationship since its very beginning. Its deepest pleasures probably appear minor and trivial to an outsider, and yet they are the treasures that make up the good marriages. The sheer joy in being together, whatever you might be doing. The free-flowing conversation, something that has been utterly lacking around here as I've withdrawn. Perhaps most reassuring, the knowledge that this is normality.

What did we do? We went shopping at my new store, had a lunch date I'm going to get to in a minute, and then spent the afternoon and evening in companionable proximity. That was maybe the best part.  

Eva and I can and have spent hours in the same room, each of us intent on their own thing, but both of us knowing that at any moment we could have each other's undivided attention. Indeed, that has been the enduring picture of our marriage. But that camaraderie had been slipping somewhat as I was no longer in the living room but out beyond Neptune somewhere and accelerating. I want to emphasize that it was me slipping away and Eva trying desperately to bring me back. To feel the closeness again yesterday was like a curtain being thrown open of a morning after a dark night, admitting sunlight and a soft cleansing breeze. Hell, the Leafs even won a game last night, miracle of miracles. 

That lunch date. Montana's on the Boardwalk. We had a gift certificate that made the meal free, and a waitress named Kristina who made the meal memorable.
  
Eva has been going through some stresses entirely of her own lately, some but not all of them related to her bariatric surgery from November of 2013. Since very shortly after the operation, we were both amazed that she had seemed to escape most of the worst effects that gastric bypass has on the typical digestive system. 

Not so fast, it turns out. My wife, anything but typical, has decided to go about this ass-backwards. Her digestive tract is downright mutinous lately, after so many months of relative contentment. The doctor isn't worried, so I'm trying not to be, but it's disconcerting to see what appears to be regression. 
Of course she hasn't been able to eat much at any given time, but it's down to a few bites at best, and she can never tell what foods or drinks are going to cause problems. Iced coffee is one of the few drinks that is generally safe.   
Most restaurants don't serve iced coffee, so Eva has had to ask for coffee and a glass of ice, then make it herself: something of a messy proposition. Kristina yesterday asked Eva if she'd prefer the ice coffee made for her, or if she'd rather make it herself...then offered to put the coffee in a large teapot to keep it from spilling. Just a little thing. but it's something Eva has long wanted to ask for and never has for fear of putting somebody out. "Now, see, what I'd like is my coffee in a big teapot, and a big glass of ice..." it sounds kind of ridiculous. 
Then Eva apologetically asked for a take-out container as the food arrived, because a standard restaurant meal is AT LEAST three meals for her now (on a good day). I've seen many a server put off by that request, for some reason, but Kristina didn't bat an eye: in fact she brought two large containers. 
From then on out she struck that perfect balance: attentive without being cloying, friendly without being obnoxious. She earned the highest percentage tip we've given since Disney World in 2010. 

The food was wonderful. Due to the insane price of beef lately, I haven't had a good burger it what seems like forever. I splurged today and didn't regret it one bit.  I'm still a bit put off when a lunch costs fifty bucks, but looking at it objectively we got good value. And Kristina was sure to give us a bunch of coupons for future visits. My mouth is watering just thinking of it.  

"Eva-level service", my darling wife said on the way out. "You don't see that much anymore, and it deserves to be recognized." Kristina will likely never see this (though she most assuredly will see the glowing praise I put into a restaurant survey online). And Montana's has earned my business.

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

My only problem is flipping back to days. I went to bed at a perfectly normal 10:30 last night--about three hours earlier than I have been managing of late...only to wake up at 2:40, absolutely wired.  
Today is my last day of unemployment. I'm excited. Stoked, actually. And so very very happy to be coming out the other side with the greatest love of my life. 



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.