29 June, 2017

Sabbatical

The school across the street from me let out today for the last time until September. This makes me a happy man because our driveway is finally our own.

I'm going to take a summer vacation.

Not the vacation I want to take -- leave that for other people, this year. No, I'm taking a vacation from this Breadbin.

Do I want to do this? Honestly, not really. But I should. For several reasons.

Life has gotten a bit intense around here of late -- nothing that need alarm my readers, but also nothing I am at liberty to talk about. Matters domestic are going to require a little more attention than they have in some time.

It's not like I won't have ANY time to blog. But...

Look, I've been writing here for more than 13 years, now. And for at least that long, I've thought of myself as a writer.

I'm not a writer. Not yet. I'm a scribbler. A word-dabbler. I have yet to earn so much as a nickel for anything I've written. My most viewed posts have been seen by a couple of thousand people and most of them average fewer than a hundred views.

Now, don't get me wrong. Readers: I love you. Each and every one of you. I thank you for reading my words. I hope they've made you think...and feel. Whether you've been with me since the beginning (all three of you) or whether you're new here, I'm glad you have taken the time.

If I'm EVER going to make something of myself, it'll be my words that do it for me.  I'm really, really late to the party: Gods alone know what I could have been by now had I done this right. I'm not conceited enough to think I OUGHT to be among that fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of people who write who can make a living at it. But I think I should try.

And I gotta start somewhere. I've written literally millions of words here over time. I'm not proud of every blog...some of them, to be honest, stink, and more than a few are mediocre. But every once in a while the words pour out of their own accord, almost as if I'm being directed, and that's when I know I've hit a vein. The blogs that result from that feeling I am proud of. More: I think when that happens, what comes out is worth something tangible.

What, I don't know. They don't teach you any of this stuff, and it's so much easier when I have a thought to type it out here, hit publish, and not worry about it being rejected. Over and over and over again.

But I want to find out. Because I think...I THINK...I can deal with rejection now.

Intellectually, I've always known a rejection slip is not a setback. It just means you're standing still. But emotionally...

People have been praising my writing since second grade. I used to write painfully derivative horror stories then nevertheless managed to scare the pants off my classmates, and rare has been the teacher who has dared to give me anything less than an A on anything I've ever written down.

The one who did -- a Mr. Cliff  "Stoneface" Martin --  gave me a C-on some composition or other. I FREAKED. Embarrassingly. In front of all my fellow OAC classmates. He took me aside after class and deconstructed my essay, explaining exactly why I had EARNED that C minus. By my standards, my writing was, well, crappy. I'd tossed it off, and you could tell. He certainly could.

"Really, Ken, you can do better. You're a very good writer when you try," he said.

"But that's just it, Mr. Martin," I replied. "I don't really try. I just write."

Whereupon he said something to me that I've never, ever forgotten.

"No, Ken. You try. You just try faster, that's all. Oh, you don't have to try to get words out, unlike many people in this class. But EVERY writer tries to get the right words out. Or at least, they should."

Somewhere along the way, I stopped trying as hard as I could have. Because the allure of that "publish" button is too great. I get the right words in one blog out of every ten or twelve, and maybe once every thirty or forty I transcend "right" and get power.

I want to see if that power can get out there out of cyberspace and into the real world. I want to see if people like my words enough to give back for them. And that wanting is...I hope..finally strong enough to overcome the fear that I'm wrong.

This is Step One...and I'm here to tell you that I could sweat blood between here and Step Two (hell, I'm not even sure in which direction I'm going to step yet)...but the difference between one and two is NOTHING compared to the distance between zero and one.

I have two people to thank for getting me here (and you may laugh, I'm nowhere yet, but nowhere is actually "now, here"). The first is of course Eva, who has never pressed this on me and only allowed me to evolve to it, however painfully slowly (thank you, love).  She has always had confidence and faith in me.

And while I love Eva immensely, I've always felt this niggling finger of she's crazy to think like that. Until someone else came along and gave me her own faith and confidence. One is coincidence; two is a pattern. Thank you, Kathy.

School's out. It's time to work.

Let's do this. Let's take steps. And see where they go.

See you in September.

--Ken

25 June, 2017

Mark is Home




...and we couldn't be happier.

In case you missed it, this happened to him.

I will spare you the details of his three-times-longer-than-expected hospital stay; his privacy, if not dignity, are worn as thin as a nearly transparent hospital johnny as it is. There were ups, there were downs, there were anticipated discharges and unanticipated setbacks, and...
...and stage one is over now. Mark is home.

The house hasn't felt the same with him not in it. Our cats have moped around, seemingly just Mark-ing time until he returned. A little solitude is a nice thing now and again, but too much of it is wearying.

He looks good. In some ways better than he has since I have known him, which sounds ridiculous until you consider his heart is getting its full supply of oxygen for the first time in who knows how long.

Now begin the changes. All of them much needed.

CHANGE 1: DIET.

Diet is important for someone coming out of heart surgery. Lean meats, low sodium, lots of fruits and vegetables...all things I have never had to think about overmuch (it's a good thing I like chicken, mind). Now I do. Because we're undertaking the same diet he is.  We are doing this for four reasons.

1) It's convenient. Nobody should ever have to cook more than one supper, as far as I'm concerned: parents who willingly do that for their kids are masochists.

2) It's cheaper to buy one diet in bulk than to buy for two separate ones.

3) It's not as if Mark's diet is unhealthy for US.

4) What kind of monsters would we be to bring home pulled pork poutine (which just happens to be one of our favourite things in the world) and smack our lips over something Mark can't have? Who would be that fucking cruel?

This dietary thing also involves portion control and a radical (for me) adjustment in how and when I eat. See, up until now, I have skipped breakfast most days. I have done this because quite frankly I am usually still full from supper. I go to work, I have a moderate sized lunch, I come home, and I could eat the asshole out of a dead camel. My suppers raise eyebrows. And paunches. Hello Mr. Buddha-belly.

So I just had a delicious chicken pot pie, prepared with fresh veggies instead of frozen, and I ate about three quarters as much as I would have normally. Scaling down in stages. It helped that I didn't work today.

Tomorrow, I essay some kind of breakfast.

CHANGE 2: EXERCISE

I've vowed this before, and followed through sometimes for as long as an entire fortnight. Truth is, I do get a fair bit of exercise at work (the only thing from keeping my gut from expanding into the next postal code) But with Mark mandated  to get exercise, again, we may as well join him. It isn't as if it will hurt Eva or myself. Walks t at first, eventually bike rides. I can categorically state I will never be like my marathoner friends Rachael and Nick...but I will have every excuse to walk, not just for Mark but also for

CHANGE 3: PUPPY

A Golden Boxer will be landing in our home next month. This is a fair bit ahead of our most ambitious schedule for -- I hesitate to say "replacing" the Tux and the Peach....no dog could replace either -- but I think you know what I mean. At any rate, just like you can never tell when a love of your life is going to come along or from where, you can never tell when a pet is going to announce itself to you. Our cats, Mooch and Bubbles, showed up in much the same unexpected way, and they're both of them the best cats I have ever had.
Eva saw a picture of the new puppy

and fell in love. So did we. She's got a little bit of Peach-face in her (though Peach was a brindle) and we just adore the freckles. Name unknown yet -- she's going by 'Freckleface" around here. Apparently she's a tomboy, she beats up her brothers daily.

Having a puppy means lots of exercise. It also means we get to train it right. Tux in particular was a very smart and well-behaved dog, but he had behavioural tics we couldn't get out of him on account of his coming into our lives too late.

Also having a puppy will mean keeping this house cleaner, which we have already started doing for Mark's sake. I'm trying to get back into the ritual of doing dishes after dinner each night, as opposed to -- never you mind. I've rediscovered something I once knew...that keeping a house clean is much easier than getting it clean.


There are still more, unrelated, changes coming, which will be detailed in my next blog entry. In the meantime, Mark is home, and we couldn't be happier.

Canada 150

There are memes going around Facebook trying to shame people for celebrating Canada's upcoming 150th birthday. Not just shame them, actually single them out and brand them monsters.

"Canada 150 is a celebration of indigenous genocide", reads one, which provokes in my mind an odd juxtaposition of raucous fireworks outside the gates of Auschwitz.

Several of my Facebook friends have shared these and I can't resist rebutting them. What's hard to resist is the urge to lash out as I do so..that's how politics works, now, right? If you disagree with someone's thought process, that person is ignorant...evil...stupid...or some combination of the three.

No.

Drawing back a little, I will concede memes like this have a point. Canada was founded on brutal and callous treatment of its aboriginal population, and such treatment continues today hardly unchecked. The last residential school closed in 1996. As of 2013, First Nations made up 4% of the overall population, but 22.3% of the population behind bars.
Certain law-and-order types of my acquaintances would dismiss this breezily as suggesting that natives commit almost six times as much crime as the rest of us, Q.E.D.  Well, they're certainly victims of crime far more often than their numbers would suggest they should be: fully a quarter of Canada's murder victims are indigenous persons, for example.

Police tend to treat indigenous people differently, especially in cities, in many cases mirroring the way American police officers treat people of colour. Petty offences like jaywalking go not just unpunished but unnoticed if you're white (I know this, I've deliberately jaywalked in front of cruisers countless times without incident)...but try jaywalking as an indigenous person and odds are excellent you'll be detained and quite likely arrested.

And yes, there are more crimes committed. Crimes borne of a host of extremely negative, interrelated socioeconomic factors: the effects of the residential school system, which echo down the generations; the effects of your family being forcibly uprooted and its possessions stolen; the effects of crushing, almost inescapable poverty; barriers to education; a loss of spiritual/self identity; rampant substance abuse; mental illness.

There's a certain breed of person for whom all this reads like a litany of poor excuses. I know this too: I used to be one of them. "That's an insult to the vast majority of poor people who are law-abiding", I would say, conveniently forgetting even the poorest white person has scads of privilege compared to First Nations folk.

Don't believe me? Go and live on a reservation for a few years. Notice that you have to boil your water to drink it safely, and so did your parents, and so did theirs, and that's how much your government thinks of you.  Notice that jobs are almost impossible to come by. Remember that by law, you can't own your home, depriving you of the single largest contributor to wealth and intergenerational upward mobility so taken for granted elsewhere. Health care is an afterthought when it's thought of at all. Domestic violence fuelled by substance abuse and, let's face it, boredom, is everywhere. And us white people JOKE about it.

What do you call a beer bottle in the woods? A Native artifact.
What do you call a HALF-FULL beer bottle in the woods? A RARE Native artifact.

A Native man goes to the unemployment office and says "I want a job. I have a strong work ethic, I'm punctual, meticulous, and can work well both without supervision and as part of a team." The man behind the desk says, "have I got a job for you. There's this White family looking for a live-in bookkeeper. Side benefits include sex with the mom and all the beer you can drink. Starting pay is $150,000/year."  
"You've got to be joking!" says the Native.  
"Oh, I am," the white man says. "But you started it."

 Soak up that atmosphere for a while, marinate in it, and add the absolute conviction that you can never leave this behind, no matter where you go. If you tell me this wouldn't affect your propensity to commit crimes...you're not being honest with yourself.

Every few years a White Saviour comes along to tell you that all your problems will be solved if you would only abandon your heathen lifestyle, leave the reservation, go into Canadian cities and integrate into our "great society". Yeah, they said that to grandma, you think, they took her away to a "school" where they taught her how to be beaten and gang-raped and now she can only say one word, NO, that's all she says, day and night, sometimes a whisper and sometimes a scream. And now you, you white man, you want to take me off the land and bring me to a city where your cops will hound me every day of my life for things I never did and things I might do? Fuck you very much.
____________

We have a serious, systemic, societal problem with the way we treat First Nations people. It's a problem with no easy solution: actually getting even drinkable water (which is a universal human right) to remote indigenous communities is a nontrivial undertaking. But the current governmental strategy of "don't just do something, stand there and make pretty noises!" doesn't seem to be working very well.  It may well be that relocation of some communities is the only way to bring them into the fold of society. But let's not even think of doing that until we make the fold a place they'd actually want to come to. That means paradigm changes galore, education galore, and a shit-ton of empathy...if we can find any of that. It seems to be rather thin on the ground just lately.

I said all that to say this.

Canada is more than its treatment of indigenous persons, as deplorable as that is. Canada stands as a beacon of hope to immigrants and (yes) refugees the world over, and in many ways we do have it pretty right here: we still have a collective sense of we're in this together. (The United States is losing theirs: I truly believe they are on the road to another civil war).

We're not exactly known for much in the world, but I'd argue obscurity is better than infamy. Mostly what we do is let people come here and by and large be themselves...while still respecting them. Our government is by no means perfect, but at least it's trying to drag a petroleum economy into a renewable century. Yes, the way forward with Natives is a major concern and will be for many years to come...but we're not ignoring that anymore, either.

Canada is not an ideal country. But it's a country worth celebrating.

18 June, 2017

Days Like Today

...are hard for me.

Family oriented days. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother's Day...

Especially Father's Day.

Partly because I never got a chance to have a family (i.e. kids) of my own. And partly because I never felt like I was a real part of any family I did have.

I didn't always want to be a dad. Then for awhile I really did; when the option was removed from us, I tried to revert to not-wanting and was mostly successful. Mostly. At times I'm hit with a wave of longing so intense that it can bring me near to tears. Such pangs are mercifully brief. At other times, when I see a kid acting out, I am fiercely glad I didn't become a father, because how do parents put up with that crap? The dominant parenting style today really irritates the hell out of me: the kids run the house, backtalk their parents, and actions no longer seem to have consequences. I think I would have been the kind of dad a kid loved, then hated for awhile, then grew to love again. But I'm not sure. It's a life not lived.

I've had to pick and choose things to take out of my childhood, and things to leave behind. In some ways I am an eerie echo of the figures who raised me; in some ways I've deliberately taken a radically different path. But even running as far as I can in the opposite direction hasn't saved me from some of the blight.

My family is made up of really wonderful people...the ones I know, at any rate. I don't know many of them, and I seem somehow --

I've never been good at the ties that bind. I seem to be much better forging new connections and maintaining those than I am keeping faith with the pre-existing, familial relationships.

I'm not sure why that should be. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that new people grow to understand me, while I'm not sure the closest ones from childhood ever really did.

I had no siblings, so sibling relationships are beyond strange to me: I love you, yes, but I hate you, too. Beyond that, I always felt subtly unwelcome in the homes of my stepfamily--my mother was Not Good Enough for my stepfather and that was expressed in a variety of ways that redounded on me. Another step-parent outright hated me (and all children, for that matter). My in-laws never seemed to know what to make of me, nor I them, and while I respect and love them in the abstract, day-to-day relations are virtually nonexistent. That's the same with...pretty much everybody who is family outside this house.

It's not what I intended, even though to look at the ways I've contributed to this state of affairs you could hardly be blamed for thinking so.

I look at close-knit families with a bewildering mix of emotions from cool disdain (that's gotta be fake, they must be presenting, surely there are the familiar cracks and fractures and they're just hidden for appearance sake?) to wistfulness tinged with a species of intense envy (I want that for myself and I have no idea how to even begin to get it). I see people effortlessly fitting into families on days like today and I just feel so lost, so alone. I want to feel like I'm accepted. I've always wanted that feeling, and it comes so much more easily from friends than it ever did from any of my family. Reaching out doesn't work: I feel as if I am not allowed to be me. That's a stifling, choking, suffocating feeling I don't get from my friends, who unquestioningly accept me.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what not to do.

I don't know.




14 June, 2017

Sacrifice, Compromise, Collaborate

Source material for this entry

There are so many attitudes that sabotage relationships. Many of them come pre-installed long before the relationship sparks. Many of them, in fact, come from faulty advice given to us by well-meaning people (including, as it turns out, me).

I've heard all my life that relationships are hard work, for example. That love is a verb, that partnership is a challenge. It's all good advice on its surface, designed to let us know that abandoning a relationship at the first sign of trouble is not necessarily your highest course of action.

But in my experience, relationships are not hard work at all. They call for occasional bouts of heavy lifting, to be sure, but if you find yourself emotionally tired on the regular from being in a partnership, I believe you are not suited to each other and should diverge.

Aside: "Diverge" is a word I prefer to use in place of inflammatory language like 'split/break up'. For me, relationships do not end, and any transition in form is accomplished as gently as possible, out of continuing love and respect. That said, two people can mutually decide (key word: mutual) to embark on different paths in life. This should not invalidate their relationship in anyone's eyes, least of all their own.

But oh, you do get the advice. And along with the 'relationships are hard work' line, you're apt to hear one of two things: they involve sacrifice and/or compromise.

These two words positively infest relationship how-to books. And it starts right at the very beginning, in that we're told we're never going to find the perfect person for us, we're going to have to 'settle' (read: sacrifice and compromise). "There is no settling down without some settling for", says Dan Savage in a link I've shared before about "The Price Of Admission".

It's a great talk, with a whole lot of wisdom in it, and of course he's right in one sense: nobody's perfect. You're never going to find a single person who ticks every box, nor are you that person for others. That's a hellish expectation to place on someone or to try to live up to.

But listen to what Dan is actually saying just after talking about "settling for".

There is no long term relationship without not just "putting up with" your partner's flaws, but accepting them...and then pretending they aren't there". 

Once you fall in love -- real love, not the ersatz possessiveness and needs-fulfillment dance that most people call "love" -- there is no pretence.

That isn't to say that you regard your partner as perfect. Of course not. It's to say you recognize the perfection in their imperfections.

Often, those imperfections of theirs complement your own: he needs to need and I need to feel needed; she is a calm, cool pool of inner peace and I don't quite know what that is but I sure do have passion and energy; he's structured and disciplined and I'm anything but. You teach each other, you learn together, and your bond strengthens over time.

I contend that if you are sacrificing something, especially some part of yourself, to a relationship... you have a problem. A sacrifice is, by definition, "You win and I lose".  Is losing really how you want to experience a growing-closer?

Compromise isn't much better. Compromise is we both lose. Maybe not much, but we both lose something. Sometimes that's the best you can do, but the linked article above is right: it should NEVER be the starting point of a negotiation, let alone the end GOAL of one.

So if not sacrifice and not compromise, what's left?

Collaboration.

Collaboration is we both WIN. Collaboration is working together to build something: something enduring, something miraculous, something called love, expressed. Collaboration, not to sound too corny, is how you save the world.

Collaboration does sometimes involve both sacrifice (ideally collective, not individual) and compromise. And when it does, it's that larger collaborative picture that should be focused on: any thoughts of sacrifice or compromise should be immediately reframed. "Yes, we are living on a tight budget now so that we can take that vacation we both want next year."

That said, if you find that you're  rowing in two different directions, you're never going to get anywhere further. AND THAT'S OKAY.

Society says that's awful. Society says that shouldn't happen: you should share the same dreams and desires and when you don't, one of you has to forget yours for the sake of the relationship.

NO.

The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. --Franklin Veaux

The solution in such a case is to diverge. Which means, to recognize, cherish, celebrate, all that you have built together to this point AND TO SUPPORT EACH OTHER AS BEST YOU CAN AS YOU GO ON TO BUILD ANEW. You made a commitment to a person. Keep it. 

(You thought you made a commitment to a marriage, didn't you? Look closely at your vows and note you made them to each other. THE PERSON IN THE RELATIONSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RELATIONSHIP.)

I'd hazard a guess people find this particular thought of mine to be even odder than my polyamory. Given the way 'divergence' USUALLY plays out, they'd be right. I've seen it time and time and time again. Hatred where love once was and still should be. Complete withdrawal of self from a relationship. Collateral damage to children, friends, other family. Court battles. NONE OF THIS SHOULD BE NECESSARY.

Now, I should hasten to tell you that nobody ought to go into a relationship thinking about divergence. Prenuptial agreements disturb me: I'm sure the people signing them think they're being pragmatic, but what they are really doing is putting the divorce before the marriage. How that's healthy I have no idea. No. You've got something to build. Build it. Together. Just remember you're not building a jail.




12 June, 2017

Heart Attack? Hearts Defend

When I came home and didn't hear any gunshots or screaming, I knew there had to be something wrong.

I worked 7-3:30 on Friday. Rode home. As I came up my street, I noted the presence of... is that an ambulance? parked on the road somewhere disquietingly close to where my house is. As I came a little closer, I briefly wondered if it was actually one of those large tow trucks.  Then I got close enough to definitely identify the ambulance and also realize it was  parked one house past me. I abruptly lost...most of...my interest. Not all, but most.

That may sound odd to you. It sure seems like most people are drawn to any emergency vehicle that shows up. I've never understood that. Let the people do their jobs, and what exactly are you looking for? Blood? Dead bodies? Is that it?

The remaining bit of interest was there because, well, there were no cars in the driveway next door. I had nothing more concrete to suggest that the ambulance was in fact connected to my house, but I didn't need concrete to feel vaguely uncomfortable.

I stashed my bike in the shed, unlocked the side door and came in.

Silence.

Silence is not completely unheard of at 4:00 in the afternoon on a weekday--sometimes Mark takes naps--but it's unusual. Normally he's sitting on the couch watching television at that hour, and Mark's taste tends towards action movies, of which I am admittedly not a fan. The TV also suffers from that extremely annoying lack of balance that makes dialogue almost inaudible while any and all music and every single gunshot is rendered well beyond top volume.

So the silence was relatively intense. Coupled with the ambulance outside, just a touch suggestive.

I went upstairs -- I'll admit I was moving a little faster than I might normally -- and checked his room, calling his name. No Mark. Down to the basement, where there's another TV and a recliner he sometimes likes to luxuriate in. No Mark there, either. Back to the main floor. Now I'm frightened. You have to understand: Thanks to Eva having hit two deer in three months, we have one vehicle now -- his truck -- and Eva had it at her work. Mark doesn't leave the house often. I was suddenly sure he just had. And was in the ambulance, which -- steal glance outside -- is still there.

Still, I'm not sure. Maybe he's out on the back deck. He sometimes goes out there, right? Out I went.

No Mark.

Run to the gate that separates our backyard and driveway. The fright is gone. It's been replaced by sheer panic. Forget that the gate opens into the back yard (even though I had both opened it and closed it maybe ninety seconds earlier) and push it the other way instead. Dimly hear cracking wood. I have ripped the gate from its supports.  And the ambulance is sedately driving away, no lights, no siren. I refuse to allow that thought -- no lights and no siren means he's d -- any purchase in my mind. I am, after all, still not CERTAIN.

Run in, text and email Eva at work, the same message: "Love I just got home and ambulance was parked next door and was just pulling away. Mark is not here".

Her return message was pure Eva-in-crisis-mode. "Ok thanks love".

I settled down to do the thing I hate doing more than anything: waiting for news. Give me any news you have, goddamnit: I don't care how bad it is, I'd rather know it so I can start processing it. I've been like that as long as I can remember and it carries over to every facet of my life. In some respects I have nearly unlimited patience, but when it comes to information, I want it all and I want it now.

The only thing that makes waiting even remotely...acceptable...is the thing that makes anything unpalatable better. Sharing it. And so I messaged my other partner, who immediately offered (twice) to come and be with me and take me down to the hospital, which is on the other side of the city and more than an hour away. Eva had already said my presence wasn't needed yet, which is understandable, and so I said it was okay. It wasn't, of course.

In hindsight, Eva got back to me astonishingly fast. Couldn't have been more than ten minutes and probably less. "Possible heart attack".

In this context, I loved that word possible. Possible meant they weren't sure; not being sure of something as bad as a heart attack could only be a good thing, right? Or that's how my mind spun it.

Then I get a text from Mark. That almost gave me a possible heart attack. We had just been talking, yet again, the night before about how HE. DOES. NOT. TEXT. We're of the same mind on this, he and I; since the world collectively developed a phobia of using its voice, the two of us have felt more and more out of place. His text read "Hi Ken, don't worry. I am ok. Going for tests. Cu later".

It turns out Eva had been able to call Mark right away; he answered from the ambulance, which surprised me. My mind was set much at ease: Mark was probably at least semi-okay, first and foremost. Eva was on her way, which would make both of them feel better. I wished I had someone here, too, and regretted not accepting the earlier offer.

As I write this,  Mark is still in hospital and will be for a least another day (he has an angiogram today, as well as a possible stent to go in).  It was a heart attack, at the back of his heart, and it's a good thing he heeded it. He feels good, and wants to come home, but they won't let him, which means he's not out of the woods yet.

It's also a good thing (again, only in hindsight) that I got home when I did. Without that ambulance there, I'd have come in, noted Mark's absence, and assumed he had stepped out. Or was upstairs sleeping, and why would I bother him? Of course, he would have texted or called Eva anyway, and I would have found out at the same time I did, but still...I'm glad that I got the ball rolling from this end.

There has been virtual radio silence from here as this unfolded...Eva told me not to tell anyone ("except Kathy, of course") out of respect for Mark, his privacy, and our unconventional living arrangement, which keeps finding ways to come up. Eva told the nurse yesterday that when Mark is discharged, "my husband will be at home for him, but Ken doesn't drive" (this after already having identified herself as his girlfriend; to raised eyebrows).

It brings up something for a later post: these kinds of close-knit relationships and alternate living arrangements need to be legally respected, with all that entails. Without extraordinary measures, Eva would have no standing to even ask about Mark in a medical context. And god forbid if he were to die.

Eva actually apologized to me at one point Friday night. When I asked her why, she said, "you didn't sign up for this aspect of the relationship". I goggled at that. I don't sign up for things and then add asterisks and conditions. We are very much looking forward to having him home and healthy, because Mark is family.

So is Kathy. Thank you, hon, for keeping me company, even if only virtually, as I waited for news, and thank you for your unwavering support for all three of us.

Will update as required.


03 June, 2017

Minimum Wage Earners Are Scum

Forgive the length of this. I'm passionate about it.

So Ontario's minimum wage is going to be $15/hr in 2019, barring the Regressive Conservatives winning the next provincial election.

The horror! The sky is falling! The economy will implode! We're all doomed! etc. etc. etc.

It's been, what, a week? since this was announced, and already I am sick to death of the constant slurs on minimum wage workers and their "McJobs".

And yes, indeed that is because I have a McJob. I don't make minimum wage, but $15/hr represents a substantial raise for me.

And many of my friends are in the same boat. Which is not exactly seaworthy. What REALLY puzzles and infuriates me is that so many people in the boat are busily sawing holes in the keel, and anyone appearing with a baling bucket or patches is told in no uncertain terms to fuck off and thrown overboard if they persist.

Since the announcement, I have heard people argue the following:
  • that at $15 an hour, small businesses are going to close by the thousands
  • that people will be automated out of jobs because the minimum wage is unsupportable
  • that the cost of everything is just going to go up and negate the increase anyway
  • that "starter jobs" are worth the current minimum wage either because they're unskilled or because other jobs don't make much more and are skilled
  • that clearly, I have a massive case of wealth envy
Let's tackle these one at a time. 

The minimum wage in Canada came into effect in 1965, and has obviously increased over time (albeit barely keeping up with inflation). If there have been waves of small business closings with each rise in the minimum wage, I missed them and can't find any evidence for them. In fact, it seems like raising the minimum wage encourages hiring and lowers the unemployment rate. (American article dating back to 1938, but the same conditions apply here). 

Oh, yes, if you own a small business -- or any business -- your payroll expense is going to jump. But that's only one side of the equation...and it's more than offset by the other side. For that other side, let's turn to Jay Mason-Grant. In a post he shared on Facebook, he had this to say:

So Ontario is raising the minimum wage to $15. But what will all the small businesses do?! Well I own a small business, so let me tell you how I feel about it: It's excellent. 

"But Jay, this is going to be just one extra expense, it could crush you!"
No, it won't. Because this is being rolled out over the next two years. I have time to plan, I have to ready myself. 

Make no mistake, payroll is about to jump significantly for me. It's also going to come with a much higher share of taxes from me (because I pay as much in payroll tax for my employees as they do). Also, I am not just swimming in profits right now. I pay myself no more per hour than I do my staff, so this isn't just delaying a swimming pool or fat cat CEO bonus. This will hurt.

For a moment.

But let's not forget what money in the pockets of those with the lowest income does: it goes right back out there. I'm about to own a small business in a city where everyone is making $15 an hour! I can't WAIT to see where the newly disposable income of that high-school kid goes, or what that single mother is able to treat her kids to that she couldn't before. The disposable income available for my business to bid on in this city is about to go through the roof! So I will take the growing pains, gladly. I will take the stress that comes with my business suddenly being forced to treat my employees better. They deserve it! I'm grateful of the forceful hand of the government making me do right by them!

"But Jay, you could have paid them better before this!" Absolutely I could have, and probably should have. But there is a difference between asking a small sometimes struggling business to go out of pocket more just because it's the right thing, and mandating it: when you mandate it my business benefits immediately from the boost in pay of all the people around me. The difference is the opportunity I gain from having every single person in my city making a living wage. 

So how does this small businessman feel about this brutal, politically motivated, government overreach? 

 I am thrilled!

Both this man's points could not be more valid. Suddenly more people can afford to frequent your establishment, and everybody is on the same playing field...it's not as if he has to pay $15/hr while everyone else can pay $11.40 if they wish.


________

Let's face it: some jobs are doomed. Truck drivers (who make more than minimum wage) are among the first on the chopping block as their vehicles get automated out from under them (though I'd like to see an automated truck handle a Canadian winter...)
Yes, there may be some companies that decide a machine is better than a decently-paid, and therefore presumably motivated and productive employee. I can tell you Costco experimented with self-serve checkouts more than five years ago. They found that employees were considerably more efficient, so they scrapped the self-serve checkouts. Maybe that has to do with Costco paying its staff between 1.5-2 times the industry standard. (Yes, I've tried to get in there. You need a driver's license to work for that company, for reasons not clear.)

I'm sure automation will proceed apace where it makes economic sense. Actually divide the increase per unit of work, whatever that may be, though, and suddenly the minimum wage increase doesn't look quite so frightening. Say I'm a minimum wage piece of pond scum stocking shelves: 80 cases an hour was the standard at the last place I worked. Let's assume an average of 9 units per case. A little kitchen table arithmetic tells us at the current minimum wage, each unit carries an associated payroll expense of about a cent and a half to stock. Whereas come 2019, it'll be...two cents. Holy shit, it's the end of the world.

Yes, I know, there are more than stockers in stores. But still. Get a grip.

___________

Just as with automation, inflation will happen. It used to cost a quarter to put air in your tires; it now costs a dollar; I rest my case, inflation is a thing. Does a spike in minimum wage drive inflation?

Not in Seattle, it doesn't. (As an aside, I got into a rather heated debate with someone who claimed to live in Seattle and who cited me all sorts of evidence of price increases, without seeming to realize that prices have increased everywhere. He then denigrated myself and people like me who don't do "real work", by which he meant the trades, and I abandoned any attempt at persuasion at that point.)

_______________

Let's talk about the intrinsic worth of jobs here for a minute, okay?

I don't have scientific data here. What I've got is a whole lot of platitudes I've heard all my life. Things like "our associates are the face of our business." Things like "every employee is a valued member of our team". You know, like that.

Some places actually walk that walk. Most don't, though. They underinvest in their employees and then wonder why their turnover is so high and the employees they do attract tend to be substandard.

There once was a time when "an honest day's work" got you "an honest day's pay". I assure you, having worked a slew of them, that most "McJobs" do in fact involve hard work and more than their fair share of indignities. I've had my glasses repeatedly fall off my face from sweating in a kitchen; many a day I've come home aching and tired and ready to eat the asshole out of a dead camel; I've had a man hose me down with gasoline because I told him he had to turn his engine off to pump fuel (and if you're wondering how he managed to pump fuel all over me, the story is here). In fact, I have an entire book full of assorted and sundry bullshit I've suffered working for minimum wage or close to it.

IF YOU HAVE THE GUMPTION TO WORK FULL TIME, YOU SHOULD NOT BE POOR.

At least 90% of you, in this time of extremes, read that preceding sentence and have concluded that Ken thinks anyone working full time should be rich. I DID NOT SAY THAT. I said NOT POOR.

"But...but...how dare they raise the minimum wage? I make $10/hour more than that and I'M struggling". Yeah, buddy, that's what we need, more people struggling, not less.

If your job doesn't pay you enough, no matter what that job is, what other people make is irrelevant. This goes for CEOs, incidentally, too. Yes, their wages are obscene, you'll get no argument out of me on that. No, nobody on the planet NEEDS that kind of money. Most CEOs are so far out of touch with the day to day realities of their lowest paid employees that they have no least idea what those employees even do. Remember that show "Undercover Boss"? Time after time the company president couldn't even perform the most menial task properly, and he (it was almost always a he) would come away from the shoot with a newfound appreciation of, well, what hard work really is.

______________

Which brings me to wealth envy.

I have been accused of this every single time I argue the poor deserve a better lot. I find it tiresome and really, quite telling that I'll hear "wealth envy" even if I don't utter a word about wealthy people.

I do not want to be rich. Honestly, I don't. I have rich friends. They go out at least once a week somewhere swank to eat and the number of concerts and sporting events they attend is staggering. I DO envy them some of these experiences. By no means all, or even most.

I used to be rich--or at least richer than the vast majority of people my age. When I entered university, I had ten thousand dollars in my bank account AFTER ALL scholastic and living expenses for the year were paid for. I remember eating almost every single meal out and buying whatever struck my fancy. There was a hole where my soul should have been and I tried to fill it with stuff.

I am NOT saying my friends have holes in their souls. Not even close. But what works for them would be overload for me. Give me one special event every few months. For me, I find that more than sufficient.

There is a nuance here. The minimum wage has barely kept pace with inflation for the last forty some odd years. Meanwhile, compensation for the richest among us has increased by an almost unfathomable percentage. I'm not begrudging the super-rich one penny, but do tell: how is it their jobs have become so, so, SO much MORE valuable, percentage-wise, while mine and those of others like me are valued the same in real dollars as they were a half century ago?  By all means let them have their millions. But why is it a zero-sum game? Why must the poor stay poor?

The answer, I'm convinced, is the title of this blog. And isn't that sad?

28 May, 2017

My Bike and I

It's a beautiful day here today: 21 and sunny, with a refreshing breeze. Mark and I just went for a little bike ride.
Not for long; he's out of practice. Truth be told, I am, too.

I ride my bike to work most days. That's not far, about sixteen minutes if I don't haul ass; I've done it in nine, once, and wouldn't want to have to do that again. (Forgot my bag one morning containing my lunch, my name tag/punch card, and all my work paraphernalia....didn't clue into that until I was halfway there. There was a time I woke up fully functional each morning. Not sure when that went away, but that time is long gone).

Seven years ago, I was riding 40 minutes one-way to work, and thirty years ago 40 minutes would barely have been worth pulling out of my driveway for. I used to ride for hours. Of course, that was in London, where there were these things called bike trails everywhere. We have a few here, but the only ones convenient to me are piddly-ass internal neighbourhood park trails. If somebody knows otherwise, PLEASE, speak up.)

I haven't ridden anywhere aimlessly in years. Decades, quite possibly.

Concerns have been expressed about my commute, even as short as it is. Mornings, there are three very low-traffic residential streets, about 300m of major artery with a bike lane, and then an exhilarating rush down two grades on industrial service roads. Coming home, there's about 500m on one service road, a very short stretch of Northfield Drive (again, a bike lane), an admittedly hairy left turn at Parkside--getting into the left turn lane across two lanes of Northfield is often impossible and I'm forced to turn right on Parkside instead, pull a U-turn and go through that way--and then a bike lane all the way to my street.

They say most collisions happen within minutes of home. It was on my street on Friday where a rather harrowing incident occurred less than thirty seconds away from my driveway.

I'm fine, we'll get that out of the way first. I was riding up my street, on which there is a breast-shaped hill with a gentle curve where the nipple would be. Grand River Transit, in its infinite wisdom, decided the top of that hill, right on the curve, would be a good place to put bus stops on either side of the road. There was a bus stopped opposite me as I rode by. It was just starting to move.

Not fast enough for the pickup truck behind it, evidently. He swung out to pass. Now he's in my lane. I'm still safe--I'm only a bike, and I'm riding where I'm supposed to be, no more than eighteen inches out from the curb.
But there's a car behind me. And there's no room for the bus, the pickup and the car to pass each other. I'd bet money on it.

I ding my bell furiously, scoot off the road using the nearest driveway, and violate my own ironclad rule that sidewalks aren't to be ridden on just long enough to get clear of the crunch I know I'm going to hear.

No crunch. Three horns that made a E minor chord, the bus horn providing the root. (Funny where my mind goes). I snapped a glance back and watch as the three vehicles somehow slip past each other with what looks like no space to spare.  of space to spare. If I had been three or four seconds behind, I would have had to ditch.

But I'm fine. A little extra cardio that day, is all.

Winter fazes me. Any snow on the ground, or any temperature below about -5, and I'm bussing. Also grabbing a bus if it's pissing down rain the morning: afternoon monsoons I can stand, but getting thoroughly soaked on my way to work in freezers and coolers all day is not optimal. Sure, I could pack a change of clothes, but for a variety of picayune reasons, why bother?

I have ridden in all manner of weather, from tornado-warned supercells (that was fun, let me tell you) to -15, windchill -24 (no problem, if you're dressed properly and it's bare and dry) to six inches or more of slush (never, ever again). Now, at the age of 45, I would prefer my riding climate at least somewhat clement. Call me a wimp if you wish, I can take it. Much easier than I can take six inches of slush.

The bike I'm riding now is the best bike I have owned by a pretty fair margin. It's still very much low end as bikes go -- but it was the cheapest bicycle on offer at a high-end bicycle shop you couldn't pay me to go into again. Eva and I were both treated like absolute shit because I refused to accept that bikes nowadays come with tires that have to be checked every time you so much as think about riding. (We had those tires replaced...at the store we should have bought the bike from in the first place...and I've had to put air in them four times in the two years since.

One other modification: a seat. Did you know that bikes don't come with seats anymore? In place of seats, you get this thing the width of a gnat's pubic hair that would give me a vasectomy if I hadn't already had one. How in the hell do people sit on those? I can't. It would wedge so far up my asshole I'd look like my bike sported saddlebags.

I should also mention that my bike has fenders. These are almost as rare on bicycles now as manual transmissions are on cars, for reasons that utterly escape me. Fenders are vital, damnit. Without them, you get a muddy stripe up your back and if you're going fast enough, you get to drink the dirty road-water that shoots up off your front tire. Apparently, these are features, now. People are weird.

My bike represents the same thing for me that cars do for you normal people: freedom. There are, in fact, arguments to be made that a bike gives you so much more freedom than a car. Yes, you can go so much further and (most of the time) faster in an automobile -- something I have had renewed reason to lament of late...and, right, neither -24 windchills nor six inches of slush present much of an obstacle to a car.

But you can go so many places on a bicycle that a car won't get you to. It's almost infinitely cheaper to operate a bike, even if you have been rated to have a minus-87.5 mechanical aptitude like me. It really is good exercise. It doesn't pollute at all. If I could drive, I would still choose to ride the short distances whenever possible.

Mark says he'd like to ride more often, and work our way up to longer rides. I'm all for that.