31 December, 2013

The Turning of Another Page

Well, folks, it's been a year.

Personally, it's been a busy one, as expected. Two French courses under my belt with a third to start in a couple of weeks. I have rediscovered a love for the classroom, long dormant and thought to be dead.  After a couple more of these courses I am going to join my local French association, which will get me much needed practice actually communicating. I don't want to join just yet, because I'm still a rank beginner and I have a horror of looking foolish. But I will.

The highlight of the year was of course Eva's surgery, which has so far been an unqualified success. She drank some water too quickly yesterday and bitterly regretted it...yes, even water can cause problems now...but overall I have to say she's done exceptionally well making one hell of an adjustment. I can't imagine having my diet so radically restricted, but she's done it almost without complaint. She has lost almost a quarter of her body mass, her diabetes is cured, and she has a good deal more energy than she used to. There's still a long way to go, but I couldn't be prouder of her.

Work for me has improved beyond measure. Going on nights, surprisingly, was part of the improvement, but even coming back to days I have been made to feel like I'm a valuable member of the team, and there are team-mates I bound out of bed in the morning happy that I'm going to see.

My niece, Alexa, has grown so much in a year that it's hard to believe she's the same person. Here's a girl, not yet two years old, who knows and correctly uses several gestures of sign language; who can pair most of them with the correct English words, and who is, to boot, one of the best-behaved toddlers I've ever met. If I could have been guaranteed a baby like her, I wouldn't have had *any* hesitation. about having one.

I've reconnected with a long-lost friend this year, and hope to do the same with a couple more in 2014. I continue to be eternally grateful for my friends, including of course the one I married.  Every one of you enriches my life more than you probably know.

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We've engaged maids here in the Breadbin. This was a decision not lightly made -- it costs -- but everyone we've talked to has told us that once you insert this particular item into the budget, you find money to keep it there. And everyone's right. Given the level of clutter around here and the fact that I can't bring myself to care about cleaning things that refuse to stay clean, yes, I have to say everyone's right.

Of course, this past week they only managed to get the main floor of this place up to spec, but such is life when you try to burn the house down. Yes, 2013 will go down in history as the Year Ken Summoned The Firetrucks.

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The wider world has seen its share of scandals; every level of government I look at seems beset with them. I haven't written about them near as often as I used to, partly because my readers have expressed a preference for the personal side of this blog and partly because it's all just noise. Politicians are dirty, right? I can't bring myself to care to write about things that refuse to stay clean.

I still believe the economy to be a LOT more wobbly than our minders in Ottawa and Washington are letting on. I won't out-and-out predict a crash...let's just say I wouldn't be surprised.

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Pop culture. The best movie I saw this year, and one of the best movies have have ever seen or will ever see, was GRAVITY. And I am not a Sandra Bullock fan. But she had better get an Oscar for this, and if Cuaron doesn't land at least two, you know the Academy was bought off.
Music:  I'll give you my two favourite songs of the year, one in English, and the other en français.
Novels: The best book I discovered this year was Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles.  I am currently reading NOS4A2 by Joe Hill which was actually published this year, and if it sustains this level of horror it'll be right up there.

I want to wish everyone reading this a happy, healthy 2014 full of love. Here's some to start you off.







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24 December, 2013

Merry Christmas, One and All

I think -- I hope -- Stressember is over. This year was probably the hardest lead-up to Christmas I've had in a decade. I can't talk about the issues I have faced and (mostly) faced down. Oh, the things I'd say if I could. I am Oh-eff-eff OFF for three whole days now, although I do have to go in briefly on Friday.
It still doesn't really feel like Christmas. (I'm sorry, I can't write that without thinking of my dad's local (by which I mean 45 minutes south) radio station, which used to be called CKLP-FM. Every Christmas, amidst all the cheesy carols, you'd suddenly hear a glorious upswelling choral announcement: "IT FEEEEEEELS LIKE CHRISTMAS!"...and immediately a DJ would echo the sentiment in the kind of husky voice designed to peel clothes off women. I couldn't hear that without laughing like a loon...it became one of eleventy dozen catchphrases that have kept our marriage fed and watered over the years.

But it really doesn't. Feel like Christmas, I mean. Maybe it's that I'm no longer sure what Christmas is supposed to feel like. I mostly tune out the carols--I can't help wanting to poke my ears with a screwdriver whenever "Last Christmas" comes on, which is ALL THE FREAKING TIME, seriously, woman, how DO you have your heart back to give to somebody special when somebody else gave it away last Boxing Day? And I've given up on the whole 'war against Christmas' thing at this point: seriously, if you're offended by people who do or do not celebrate this holiday, take an icicle pill. (Holiday--comes directly from Old English meaning 'holy day', so if you hate holy things that much, enjoy working every day of the year, okay?)

Part of it is definitely that the routine has been altered. I won't see two thirds of my family until some time in the New Year--between Eva's surgery, downtime,  and subsequent appointments, it was just pointless to even try to match schedules with anyone. (Family reading this blog: please know I'm missing you and can't wait to see you.)

Christmas, and especially New Year's, around here has always been a time to release the inner glutton. That won't be the case this year, again because of Eva's surgery. I still feel bad eating anything at all around her, much less yummy tasty delicioso bad for you crap. This is a good thing, really...it will keep my pants from exploding and my stomach from doing the turkey-lurkey all over the place. Unrequited love isn't just for people, you know....there are various foodstuffs, like m(mmmm)ozzarella sticks, which I love with devotion, but which persist in hating my ass. I know this because they HURT my ass mere hours after consummation. Oops, I mean consumption. Christmas Eve dinner was a toss-up between burgers and Kraft Dinner. Burgers won.

It IS Christmas, no matter what it feels like, and I hope your Christmas makes you feel like a child again. Those are the best kinds of Christmases, after all. May you keep the Santa myth alive for another year. And if you don't believe in Santa, consider the mythologist Joseph Campbell's definition of "myth": "something which never was, but always is."

Merry Christmas, one and all.

21 December, 2013

Fire in the Breadbin

It was a typical morning until the crackling noise.

Maybe a little more rushed than some, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Breakfast had been gulped down, Georgia-Ball had been played, and it was 7:30...just about time to go to work. Eva was going to head out on my heels and run some errands, and so, following the routine to the letter, I put the kitchen garbage can on the stove, out of reach of Mr. Tux.

Don't get ahead of me, now.

So, as I was saying, I put the plastic garbage can on the stove, the way I have done literally thousands of times before. I came out to sit with Eva for a couple of minutes--7:40 is my cut-off time if I want to get to work for 8, and every minute with Eva counts, you know? We're sitting there talking about something or other to do with the upcoming day, when we heard a riffling, ruffling crackle coming from the kitchen. It sounded like a fireplace, except fireplaces are nice soothing things. When a fire is in a place that is not a fire's place, it doesn't sound soothing at all. It sounds ominous.

Out I go to the kitchen to discover -- surprise! -- a fire. The garbage can was surrounded by flames, and the smoke! The amount of smoke was...

Have you ever read Watership Down? Wonderful book, highly, highly recommended. Richard Adams creates a whole rabbit-world, and makes you care about the rabbits in it. He gives them a language, and one of the words in the rabbit language is tharn. A rabbit goes tharn when a predator approaches, whether that predator be a cat, a dog, or a car. In fright there are supposed to be two responses: fight or flight. Then there's the response of rabbits and Kens: paralyzed, frozen. Tharn.

Eva does not go tharn. Ever. I announced 'it's a fire' and proceeded to turn into a  useless block of uselessness. Wait, that's not redundant enough. My uselessness was so useless that when Eva told me to open the doors and the windows, at first I couldn't. You open doors by punching holes in them, right? Or do you lift them, twist them, stare at them and think about fires? I couldn't seem to remember. Eva, meanwhile, remembered the fire extinguisher next to the stove, and moreover, she remembered how to use it. How she even managed to find the goddamned thing through the thick, billowing smoke is beyond me. But then, at that point, everything was beyond me. Without a wasted movement or moment, Eva has found the fire extinguisher.  Fwwooosh.

Mid-fwwooosh, the smoke detector finally goes off. It's probably been thirty seconds since I was seated on the couch talking to my wife about mundane quotidian things that did not involve smoke or fire trucks or anything of that nature. It feels like thirty forevers. We have Direct Detect, which means when our smoke detector goes off, the fire department is notified automatically. By the time they called  to ask if it was a false alarm, the fire was out. We went outside because the air was completely unbreathable on the main floor of our house, and visibility was next to nil. Eva told the fire department that it was not a false alarm, but that the fire was out.

Didn't matter.

What is the collective noun for a group of firetrucks? Oh, yeah, that's it...an embarrassment of firetrucks  parades down our street and sets up the shame-shop all around our house. This is a particularly large embarrassment of firetrucks...I count five. No sirens, thank goodness for small mercies, but enough lights to thoroughly illuminate the guy who put the plastic garbage can directly on the stove element and wedged it good and tight, somehow (he notes in his weak, weak defence)  for the first time EVER managing to jiggle the element on in the process.

Tux and Peach are in the car with me, because the firemen have set up shop in our house with giant fans and are blowing the smoke out. We do not know if Mooch and Bubbles have blown out with the smoke. We do not know when we will be able to get in to our house again, because the carbon monoxide and cyanide gas readings are too high. I know two things: one, I am late for work, and two, everyone's going to laugh at me when I get there. Deservedly, of course, but there's a part of me that will beat myself up about this for who knows how long to come.  Once again I owe my wife for pulling my ass out of the fire, this time literally.

Several blasts of mega-fan later, we're given the all clear.

I find Mooch before I go to work. Perhaps fittingly, he's downstairs, in the fireplace. Bubbles appears a little later in the day from somewhere, and so we're all present and accounted for, unhurt and with very little damage--just a hell of a mess from fire extinguisher goop and an unusable element on our stove.

We are very, very lucky. I have learned some things from this experience. Besides the obvious (don't put plastic garbage cans on stoves) I have learned that a very small amount of flammable material can produce a hellacious amount of smoke. About half of one side of the garbage can burned away. That was enough to fill the house with smoke to the point that you almost couldn't see. I can now just begin to appreciate how in a REAL fire, people lose their sense of direction and crawl deeper into the house in an effort to escape.
We have also learned the value of a fire extinguisher. In all seriousness, dear reader, if you don't have one in your kitchen...get one. Nobody plans to set their kitchen on fire...as I say, I have put that garbage can on that stove countless times without incident. You may never need to use it, but if you ever do you'll be bloody glad you have it to use.


19 December, 2013

Drive, He Said

According to the most recent forecasts, my area will be hit this weekend by some sort of storm. I say 'some sort' because the temperature is supposed to be somewhere right around zero, and the exact track of the storm is impossible to predict even a day out.
Aside: So many people bitch about how the weather forecasters can't ever get anything right...anyone who knows weather at all marvels at how often they nail the forecast, especially around here. The Great Lakes region is among the most difficult on the entire planet to forecast accurately. The jet stream rides right through here much of the time: one little bubble or dip causes drastically different weather. What's more, there are a myriad of microcurrents off the lakes that cause all manner of weather havoc. My father lives almost within sight of a weather radar tower that was placed where it is because his weather is decidedly crazy. Storms either split north and south of him, leaving him dry, or they actually hit him, then seem to circle back and hit him again.
Anyway, back to this impending storm. It could be rain, snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, or any combination thereof. The odds are very good, we're told, that there will be a significant period of freezing rain causing ice accretions of 20-30mm. That's only a fraction of what came down in 1998...but it'd be enough to ensure widespread chaos. 

Our Weather Network, which in recent years has been treating anything worse than a passing cloud as a MAJOR WEATHER EVENT and which actually issues 'snowfall warnings' when white stuff is going to fall from the sky in Canada in winter, has yet to issue any official warnings about this coming storm. This, quite frankly, shocks me. Southern Ontario is under s special weather statement as I write this, but I've yet to see the WeatherEye icon on my desktop flashing doom at me. 

Come Monday, we may be without power, living in the middle of a vast skating rink. Or we could be buried under 30+ cms (a foot or more) of snow, with the snowsqualls that always set up in the wake of systems like this adding to our misery. In that case, I will understand if people stay home.

But I read something in this morning's Globe and Mail that really rubbed me the wrong way. It's in the Drive section--for a guy with no license, I really do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about cars--and it's one of those fluff pieces about good, bad and ugly winter drivers.

Here's what it has to say about the good drivers:

"There are some great drivers because they know better. They're at home, watching news reports and while wondering if it's a case of a forecaster crying wolf, they're glancing at their schedule and removing anything that doesn't involve delivering meals to shut-ins or performing a life-saving transplant. The Good stay home.  The chances of being involved in a collision are greatly reduced if you don't leave your driveway."

Do you see how this works? Good winter drivers don't drive in the winter. Remarkable. Most skills require you to practice them for you to become proficient. Here's someone telling you if you want to become a really great winter driver, you should throw your keys in the first November snowbank you find and then retrieve them when that snowbank melts in April.

Some of us don't have the option of telecommuting. If we don't show up at work, we don't get paid; we may even face disciplinary action. Since 'staying home' is not a feasible option, perhaps we should concentrate on something more constructive, such as actually teaching people how to drive in the winter and making that driving proficiency a requirement to get and keep a licence.

Yes, I said 'keep'. I think licenses should expire every 52 or 64 months--every four and a third or five and a third years. To renew, you'd have to take a road test. And the odd timing ensures that sooner or later you'll have to take that test on ice. As it stands right now, you can actually CANCEL your test without penalty in cases of snow or freezing rain. Tell me how that makes sense. 

Now, I don't drive. But I am a keen observer of drivers, over decades, and I can tell you the paranoia about winter driving is a relatively recent phenomenon. They never used to pull the school busses off the roads unless things were really dire; on multiple occasions over the past five years I've seen entire schools, including colleges and universities, SHUT DOWN without any precipitation of any kind having fallen, simply because somebody said it might.
Once upon a time, when you found yourself in a ditch, it was clearly your own fault. Today the entire concept of 'fault' is foreign to many people, especially many young people who have been raised without fault or consequence. 
I can tell you this push for mandatory snow tires is also fairly new. I'm not going to tell you that snow tires are unnecessary. Fact is, given the quality of drivers on today's roads, they're more necessary than they should be. And while they really do help you control your vehicle in winter conditions, if people actually drove according to those conditions, all-season radials would be sufficient for all but the worst winter could throw at you (in which case, yes, you should actually stay home anyway). 

This reminds me of the way hockey has (d)evolved over the last thirty years. Helmets are mandatory, all manner of padding is mandatory, and there are more injuries today than there ever were. I think it's at least partly because of all the protective equipment. People think they're invincible on ice.But ice remains slippery, and if you play hockey, or drive, on it without respect for the people you're sharing the ice surface with, sooner or later it's going to come back to bite you in the ass.

17 December, 2013

Crying

There's a thread on Reddit right now: "Men, what have you cried about?"

I can't read that question without reading a subtext into it: and why did you cry about that, you pussy?

That probably comes from my childhood. Did anyone else ever get 'quit crying or I'll give you something to cry about'?  Yeah. I'm what you'd call a sensitive soul. Can't watch people being hurt without feeling hurt myself, to say nothing of animals. Friends of mine insist on posting horrific stories of animal abuse where I can see them, "to raise awareness". I applaud the sentiment, but I don't need my awareness raised any further, thank you.

I've cried over movies (this one reduced me to a blubbering blob for over an hour), more books than I can count (most recently at the end of The Lions of al-Rassan, which bothered me a little since it's probably my fourth or fifth time through the damn book and it gets me every time; life situations, either mine or those of friends and family...I cry fairly often, and I'm not ashamed of it.

I bawled at the end of Les Misérables, play and movie both, and I defy anyone to watch that and remain dry-eyed. The woman I saw the play with somehow did--I think hers were the only dry eyes in the Pantages Theatre that afternoon--that alone should have convinced me we weren't right for each other.
But you know, some people seem completely unaffected by fiction no matter how intense it is. If something isn't "real", they're completely isolated from its emotions.  Even hypothetical 'real' situations don't seem to do it. I'm not like that. Call it a vivid imagination, call it an overdeveloped empathy gland, hell, call it insanity if you must...but my emotions are easily manipulated and easily expressed. My heart is on my sleeve. Occasionally it flutters away like a butterfly, only to return when I don't expect it.

The gender stereotype that tears are somehow unmanly is pure bullshit. There are two unmanly emotions--jealousy and schadenfreude--and both of them are also unwomanly, which is to say they are inhuman. I will stand by that characterization of happiness at another's pain (monstrous!) and pain at another's happiness (also monstrous!) no matter how much society tries to tell me both emotions are part and parcel of being a healthy human. But sadness? It's universal, it's necessary if you ever want to experience its opposite, and expressing it is absolutely essential. Have you ever cried hot tears, the kind that burn lava tracks down your cheeks? Imagine what those do, suppressed.

Sometimes I'll even cry for no reason I can readily discern. I woke up one morning recently in tears. If a dream prompted them, I couldn't recall it at all.

Sensitive. That's me. There is, of course, such a thing as taking sensitive too far. See if you can watch this without cringing.



Amusing movie, incidentally.

Funerals. There's another instance where I don't know how people *don't* cry. It's not so much the death, at least for me...I consider death to be part of life and I also believe in something beyond this life (paraphrasing Jodie Foster in Contact, if this is all there is, it's an awful waste of time). But the grief of others is overwhelming. Free floating pain is very hard for me to process, even when it's not the pain of someone I care about...add in emotional closeness, and I'm a basket case in short order.

I cry internally sometimes, Yeah, I'll admit it, even though it gives you mean people power over me. There's a part of me, buried very deep, that assumes anything ambiguous you say about me was intended to wound me..and it does. You'll never know that from my reaction, of course. It took a long time for me to learn that some tears are better not shed where people can see them, else they breed more tears...but I've learned that lesson well...




16 December, 2013

Facebook Friends

are real friends, at least in my case.
I met up with a former co-worker last weekend. Hadn't seen her in either 21 or 22 years, I'm not sure which.
When I worked with her, I couldn't exactly call her a friend. A friendly face, sure--her free McSmile was genuine, all-the-way-through. I didn't know much about her back then, but I sensed plenty, all of it good.

She hasn't changed. She's lived a few lifetimes in the last two decades (haven't we all?) but she still greets life with a smile that's almost unshakeable.

I would never have met up with her if it weren't for Facebook.

I can rhyme off any number of other people, some of whom I haven't met yet but sincerely hope to, who have enriched my life thanks to Facebook. Among them:


  • the woman I first 'met' in alt.horror in '91. I lost contact with her for much of the time between, but found her again a couple of years ago (and thank you, all you folks who include your maiden names in your Facebook monikers!)
  • her husband, who I heard about even back then, but with whom I never had any contact until, again, a couple of years ago. I would say they are worthy of each other, and that means both of them are great people
  • the high school friend who I inexplicably lost contact with after grade 13. We've renewed the friendship and though I don't see him (or his wife, also a high school friend) anywhere even near enough, I am very happy he's part of my life again
  • another former co-worker of much more recent vintage whom I fear I might have lost were it not for Mark Zuckerberg's site. She spent the better part of a year on the other side of the planet recently and I was still able to chat with her almost daily, for no more money than I was paying anyway. This was a Good Thing (tm). I would have paid. I missed her. 
  • The girl who graduated high school a year ahead of me--I worked with her, too, at a store my mom ran for a little while--and who remains the only person I've met who can outpun me
  • The woman I first met through a friend's blog; she became first a reader of mine, and then, over time, a dear friend. She's everything I look for in a friend: intelligent, compassionate, and funny, and that's just three qualities among many. Unlike too many others, I've actually met her. More than once. And I wanna meet up again. Soon.
...There are more. Come wade with me through the thicket of friends and parentheses. The cousin I-don't-know-how-many-times-removed who, let's be honest, I would probably walk past in the street (but then, don't feel bad, C, I've done that to Eva...) If you were to pssst me and say 'hey, Ken, it's me!--and chances are you would, I seem to be insanely easy to recognize by people I can't recognize myself--we'd then spend a day yakking at each other (and probably listening to heavy metal). Another high school friend (who knew I had so many?  I didn't, not until my OAC year) who I have just started to reconnect with. A friend from all the way back in third grade. A person I first noticed playing clarinet in a rival band (gorgeously), whom I have since discovered is a prodigiously talented, insanely talented person at any craft you can name...it goes on. I don't know how many of my Facebook friends read the Breadbin...writing this blog has never been about readers for me, though I'm very happy to have you...but if I haven't mentioned you above, please don't think that means I don't care about and for you.
I'm just amazed at how easy it has been to rediscover people from various parts of my life, even parts lost to memory (or at least mine: there's a woman I went to school with in grade five who remembers more about my grade five year than I do...) Seeing what these friends are up to morning and night enriches my life. The woman I just mentioned, for instance, has a pair of precocious kids who really should have their own Twitter feed, series of novels and probably movie by now.She's on my 'close friends' list for two reasons: one, I care a whole hell of a lot for her, considering I haven't seen her in so many forevers, and two, I want to know the instant one of her kids says or does something remarkable, which is several times a day.

Several times a day is how often I get on that damned site. Between the bevy of friends, the news updates that beat traditional media sometimes by hours, endless revolving Scrabble games, and that damned Candy Crush Saga, which isn't a game so much as it is a #%&*ing obsession--Facebook is one of exactly two sites on the Web I'd be willing to pay for. But Facebook friends...they're priceless.


01 December, 2013

Why Don't Special People Realize How Special They Are?

I decided long ago--back in high school, actually--that one of my purposes in life, insofar as I could be said to have any, was to remind people how wonderful they are.

I hope I can be forgiven for focussing on women. I have what I feel are good reasons for this.

 Men have absolutely no idea what to do with that kind of information. The saddest thing is that there are more than a few men out there with no self-esteem and no confidence and if you try to nurture either, you're likely to be told off in no uncertain terms. Then there are men out there who know how wonderful they are. Most of them, contrary to whatever their inflated egos may tell them...are anything but.
And then there are the men who really are wonderful. I count a couple of them among my friends, and both of them have a kind of quiet, easygoing confidence that needs no nurturing, or at least none from me. That said, I love them. You're not supposed to say that about your male friends, for fear of free-floating gay cooties or something, and I say: whatever. If you're my friend, I love you. Simple like that.

But women, now. Even women with conventional beauty and brains to burn are all too often paralyzed by self-doubt and intimations of worthlessness. Think how the average woman feels, and then imagine the woman who is overweight, hirsute, riddled with acne, or otherwise falls short on some mythical physical beauty standard that is sadly the only way too many men know how to gauge a woman.

I think it's fair to say I can count on the fingers of one elbow the number of women I have met in my life who are fully at home and at ease within their brains, their souls, and especially their bodies. This is, as far as I'm concerned, a tragedy and a travesty both.

(travesty: a fake, absurd, or distorted representation of something. An often misused word, that.)

Now, going around uncovering angels is all well and good. But it's rather fraught. First of all, there is a high likelihood my feelings themselves will be misconstrued. Sometimes even by me. It has been hard to come to terms with my own loving nature, believe it or not. I used to fall head over heels at something as innocuous as a fleeting smile, and God knows I used to chafe against societal restrictions on that love's expression. Most of that has abated today: being married to a woman as multifaceted and fantastic as Eva is tends to have that effect. But I still count a number of women among my close friends, and yes, I love them too. (Love: that condition where another's happiness is essential to your own, in Heinlein's definition.) Not for the first or last time will I lament we have one word in this bloody language for such a nuanced and complicated set of emotions.

If I'm not the one misconstruing my feelings, she might, That's because (he said, humbly) there don't seem to be too many people out there like me. There are men who will flirt, and I'm not above a little healthy flirtation now and again provided everyone involved knows the boundaries of it--but the kind of things I'm apt to say to the people I care about are a little deeper than casual flirting, and I think sometimes I unwittingly scare some people. Dear god, please don't let him feel THAT way about me.

Rest assured, folks, for the most part I don't. (F-f-for the m-most p-p-art?!) Well, yeah, for all the times I think I'm from some alien planet, I am a human male and I do have occasional crushes, occasional rogue and roguish thoughts. You'll never know about those, though, because I keep them locked in my cranium...the only person who gets to hear about those is Eva, and that, folks, is one working definition of a happy marriage. We have about thirty others that apply to us.

But to this day I often must restrain myself from giving hugs, for example...not everyone wants a hug, no matter how much they need one. I just hate to see people in pain, and you know? there's an awful lot of pain being carried around by an awful lot of people, many, perhaps most of them women who deserve none of it.

Never mind a hug, take the next best thing, a word-hug. I specialize in these things. I think I'm able to get across, most often, that I care immensely about someone without scaring them too much, but then you run into a bigger brick wall, which is that so many people have trouble with compliments.

One of my friends--and I haven't actually seen this one in, get this, thirty years, and it doesn't matter--said last night that "it's funny...you always hear 'you have to learn to handle criticism' but never 'you have to learn to take a compliment'". I started thinking about other things you 'take'. Punches, for instance. It almost seems as if compliments are punches instead of verbal caresses. The reaction is kind of similar, most often: a bit of a flinch and a 'what'd you say that for?!' Because I FELT like it, that's why!
There are some women who, I think, discount my compliments and words of encouragement because I seem to offer them so freely: he can't really mean that, I heard him say something similar to somebody else once. If they do that, I wish they wouldn't. My love is free in that I give it without expectation of anything in return, but I hope it's worth something anyway. And love is one of those things that defies the laws of mathematics: the only way to get it is to give it away.

But all too often it just seems like I'm not getting through.   Another dear friend suggested that until you change your perception of yourself, nobody else can do it for you. That brought me up short...in fact, it's not too much to say it provoked a mini-existential crisis. Because she is, of course, right: only you can change you. I can give you all the words of help and hope I know, and if you're not willing to believe any of them, there's not a whole hell of a lot else I can do.  So what am I doing then? Is it pointless?

I choose to think not. I choose to think that even if my words go unrecognized and unheeded, I must keep sending them. Partly because it feels so good, partly because I'm not one to keep silent when I feel something needs to be said, and partly because love really isn't love unless it's expressed.
It's true that love can be expressed in comfortable silences.....after thirteen years of marriage, Eva and I can go hours without a word between us; I call this the warm shoulder.  But that's Eva, and she is, for obvious reasons, the first of my loves. She needs no reminder, though she gets many daily. Other loves need to be reminded how loveable I find them, so they'll know. Loveable means you can be loved. There's nothing else required, if love is what you're looking for...

29 November, 2013

Hospital Daze

From Eva's Facebook timeline, posted between 3 and 4:00 this morning:

Trying to sleep in a hospital bed is rather like trying to sleep in a subway station and the heat is on full blast!

There is much more frustration behind this comment than you can probably discern. You see, it was at that time -11C (12F) in Guelph where Eva is. No wind chill. Eva's sole concession to a temperature like that, normally, is to turn one of the four fans in our bedroom from high to medium.  Oh, and she'll probably don one (1) thin blanket to go with her sheet. (In case you're wondering, if there's a temperature at which the bedroom window gets closed and the fans get turned off, we have never experienced it.)
Also, we have a Sleep Number bed, which is the most comfortable bed anyone has ever slept on by definition because you get to make it that way. In hospital beds, the number is permanently set at 666. Eva actually slept for four hours last night, which is about five hours more sleep than I thought she'd get. (I, meanwhile, damned near slept the clock around. The night before Eva's surgery, she slept just fine. I got three hours, and then from 11:42 on, I was up. Partly that was me stressing, partly it was the fact I'd just worked seven straight night shifts, but by the time I got home yesterday I was almost asleep on my feet.)

Nobody likes hospitals, right? It has nothing to do with the doctors and nurses (usually)...the ones I interacted with yesterday before and after my wife's surgery were all of them professional, courteous and kind. It's the atmosphere. Everyone's combined sickness percolates in the air and gives you a low-grade case of the yuck. Everywhere you look, you're confronted with the realization that you are not at home. Even when they try to go out of their way to make things look comforting, the same green that in your living room reminds you of a grassy dell just looks like snot; the soft brown you earth-toned your bedroom with last autumn is, you suddenly realize, a very unappealing shade of shit.

Eva was whisked away from me at about twenty after seven yesterday morning. I'd been told the surgery would start at 8 and take two hours. I was, of course, skeptical. Hospital time is elastic, and estimates like "two hours" often don't include things like the pre-op incantation sweat lodge ceremony, the post-op cooling down period, the middle-of-the-op round of golf...
So I have to admit I was a little surprised when. at just 10:30, Dr. Reid came out and assured me all was well. The operation had gone smoothly, and my wife was resting comfortably.  By this point the waiting room had developed a loose camaraderie, and the whole room would share in the relief each time a doctor came out to tell a loved one that things were fine. You kind of half-expected applause and bows from the triumphant doctor.  At any rate, Eva was in recovery and would rest there for 60 to 90 minutes...then I could see her.
I immediately set about my task of texting everyone in our world. Well, not immediately....I'd already gleaned from my waiting room relief buddies that Bell cellphones were useless inside the hospital walls, so out into the parking lot I went, armed with my wife's iPhone and ready to do battle with its tiny on-screen keyboard.
One simple text took me more than five minutes to compose. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate texting? I have? Yeah. I hate texting. My fingers are not the size of pins.
The ensuing wait for Eva to get out of Recovery and into whatever they call the rest of the hospital --not "Relax", not "Relapse", hell, I don't know--dragged on. At 12:30 I was informed there wasn't a bed for Eva yet, and I'd be told when there was. I bit back what immediately came to mind -- so what, she's standing somewhere? sitting somewhere? -- and focussed on calming thoughts. Like how the last minute took 43 minutes to pass. Like how much I really wanted to see Eva with my own eyes. Like how the hell could there not be a bed available for her when they presumably knew how many surgical operations they had today, count 'em up one two three thirteen twenty seven we need twenty seven beds go get 'em count make sure yes twenty seven there we go. Like how I'm 99% certain she's in a bed RIGHT NOW and had been ever since she left me five hours ago for her two hour operation. You know, nice calming thoughts like that.
At 1:30 I steeled myself and approached the day surgery inquiries desk. "I'm sorry to be a bother", I said with all the calmness I had manufactured over the last seven point three eternities, "but I'm just inquiring about Eva Breadner. I was told she'd be in recovery for sixty to ninety minutes and that was three hours ago." They told me they were waiting on a clean bed, and then told me they'd make an exception and allow me back to see her....where she was, of course, resting in a (hopefully) clean bed.
She looked a little pale, a LOT tired, and more than a little like somebody had just ripped her open and rearranged her insides. She said her pain level was "medium", which for her means "I'm really in a great deal of pain but I'm not going to tell you how much". Post surgery she was given six shot glasses of water. Each one, she was told, represented an hour's water intake. I really am going to have to get used to this living on nothing that is her new normal.

Today she looked a lot better: just tired, and homesick. She should be out tomorrow morning and back home where she belongs, which will be a colossal relief.

Incidentally, the fact I do not drive doesn't usually bother me. Over the last two days it's bothered me plenty. Guelph General Hospital is 32 km (20 miles) from our house, one city over. It takes about forty minutes to drive there, door to door. Unless you're on a bus. I left here this morning at 9:50 and got home at 6:30...and thanks to the vagaries of two city transit systems, I saw my wife for all of an hour. Plus we've had to rely on the kindness of family (thank you, Jim) to get Eva to and from hospital in the first place.

Thank you, everyone, for your love and support. It has meant a great deal to both of us.

27 November, 2013

A Very Important Weighpoint

My wife is undergoing bariatric surgery tomorrow.

I have kept mum about this surgery to all but close family and a very few trusted friends. This has been, obviously, out of respect for my wife's privacy, especially given the very personal and sensitive nature of the surgery. Since Eva has broken  her own silence on Facebook, I have, with her permission and review, written this in hopes people will understand what's entailed here, and most of all that this procedure is not an end but a means; not a cure but a tool; not the destination but really a waypoint (a weighpoint?)  on the journey towards a prolonged healthy life for her.

I'm sure you, dear reader, are not so crass as to suggest to Eva or myself that this surgery represents anything like "the easy way out". Though you might be thinking it, which is  forgivable because bariatric surgery is not well understood and rarely discussed at any length. So perhaps I can give you some snapshots of my wife's journey thus far, and describe in some detail  what is yet to come for her.

To begin with, you can't just walk in to a hospital and demand bariatric surgery. You need a doctor's express permission to even apply for the program, and doctors don't recommend it idly. Being fat won't cut it...there have to be underlying conditions making it impossible, or at least extraordinarily difficult, for you to lose weight.

Permission granted, you are invited to a seminar on what surgery  entails and what it means for your future life, especially as regards food and drink. I can tell you from having attended that seminar with Eva that most people who thought they were interested in surgery decide then and there that they aren't and never will be, for reasons I'll get to shortly.

But suppose you decide you still want the surgery, as Eva did. Then the real grilling begins: it reminded me of nothing so much as our failed adoption process. Her complete state is scrutinized: a complete physical, as well as a few sessions with a social worker to assess her mental, emotional and spiritual fitness, as well as the strength of her support network. She was put on a diet and closely monitored to see if she could stick to it, because post surgery, sticking to a diet is absolutely critical.And I'm only touching on some of the steps here.  At any time, you can be told 'sorry' and booted out of the program.

Should you clear every hurdle--I got the distinct sense they try very hard to trip you up--you're put on a strict liquid diet for a minimum of two weeks pre-surgery. This is not something you can buy in a store. It's called Optifast and at that seminar, I watched people's eyes light up like pinball machines when they found out they could drink nothing but this for two weeks or a month and skip the surgery entirely. I can confidently suggest that many people took that option...and very few of them will maintain their weight loss. If it was that easy to keep weight off, Optifast would be outselling food in grocery stores. Nevertheless, the stuff does work. If I told you how much weight my wife has lost in the past fortnight you wouldn't believe me. Nine hundred calories a day will have that effect.

So then we arrive at the surgery.

The operation is called a Roux-en-y gastric bypass. In normal digestion, what you eat passes through your stomach into your small intestine, where most of the nutrients and calories are absorbed, and what's left goes through your colon and gets excreted. This surgery creates an egg-sized pouch to serve as your new stomach, and then bypasses the upper part of the small intestine. This has several consequences. The obvious one is that Eva will not be able to eat very much at any one time. In fact, her meals are to be no more than half a cup total. That half a cup is to take her half an hour to eat: her intestine will not be able to aid her digestion, which means she'll basically have to liquefy the food before it gets there. If she eats too much, or eats too quickly, this happens to her. Apparently everybody who undergoes this surgery experiences gastric dumping syndrome once and vows "never again". In researching this to better understand Eva's position, I read vivid testimonials wherein people earnestly wished they were dead.

Nausea and vomiting may become Eva's constant companions for a while even if she follows every instruction to the letter. There is a very delicate balance in play here: the surgery and reduced diet lowers the absorbance rate of food, which increases the amount of stomach acid. Eva will be put on something to lower that acid content, but if it goes too low...you guessed it...nausea and vomiting.

The not-so-obvious consequences to this surgery involve things Eva may not, or definitely will not, be able to eat ever again. In the 'may not' category are red meat, milk, and pasta, none of which digests particularly easily and in her case may not digest at all. The things to avoid are caffeine, alcohol, and especially carbonated beverages like pop or mineral water. That last is an absolute no-no: it can actually be lethal. At the very least it will rapidly expand her new stomach, provoking that dumping syndrome. Too much will rip things that aren't supposed to be ripped, with repercussions I'd rather not imagine.

Because meals are so small, inadequate nutrition is a real concern. Accordingly, Eva must be on several supplements for the rest of her life.  Protein is her first concern: much of what she eats will be protein


For the first week or two post-op, Eva will be eating applesauce and broth and she's looking forward to the applesauce on the grounds she can at least pretend to chew it. It has been two weeks since she has chewed anything at all and she dearly misses food. I have tried to be as considerate as I can short of going on this Optifast with her.  (I did try a sip: the chocolate kind tastes like chrome-flavoured chocolate milk. This is not something you would choose to drink, believe me.)  I eat hot stuff in another room and my recent diet consists (mostly) of food she has never liked: pea soup, clam chowder, salmon sandwiches...occasionally I've had something she finds a little more palatable, like Kraft Dinner. I have been informed that Kraft Dinner smells good when it's cooking. I was unaware KD had a smell.

We'll gradually be reintroducing solid food: after a year, with the restrictions noted above, her diet looks almost normal, albeit those portion sizes I find ridiculous. I'll grant you my sense of portion size is not at all appropriate--that Kraft Dinner is one box, one serving as far as I'm concerned--but half a cup meals unto eternity, no pop, no booze, no sweets, and people think this is the EASY way out?

The damnedest thing is your weight loss isn't even guaranteed. If you are bound and determined you can gradually, over years, stretch your stomach back to its pre-op girth and beyond. Gastric bypass is not a cure for obesity. It is merely a tool. And as I've been saying, it has some very sharp edges.

Now let's talk physical appearance. By the time all is said and done, Eva will have cut her weight roughly in half. While this is obviously an unalloyed Good Thing (tm), it might not look as good as she'd like it to. The fat will be gone, but the skin that wrapped it will remain. I have joked with her that I'll be able to take her for walks by yanking on her 'leash' and I fully intend to start calling her my little caramel bonbon...she knows I love her no matter what, but she's understandably worried about her appearance.
 There are operations she can undergo to tighten things up. Unlike the bariatric surgery itself, they are not covered and they are not cheap.  But we'll be doing whatever is necessary because Eva's mental health and self-esteem are a least as important as her physical health.

So with all of this awful stuff detailed, you're probably wondering what the benefit is to this surgery...besides the weight loss, which as I said isn't even a sure thing. So here we go.  The surgery will not likely prolong Eva's life any, but it will DEFINITELY prolong her healthy life. Up to ninety percent of patients see their type-2 diabetes cured, sometimes within days. Her energy level will dramatically increase. She's always been the fittest fat person I know, but in a year I suspect she'll be able to outrun me. Her hormones will stabilize somewhat, the pain she lives with will be markedly decreased if not eliminated, and most importantly? She'll have slain the last of her demons. This will allow her to get her final tattoo, something she has not felt worthy of even though she really is: Durga, the multifaceted, supremely powerful woman I know Eva to be.

--------

One more thing. This is not trivial surgery. The rate of complication is not quite Russian roulette level, but it's definitely not minuscule either. Any positive thoughts you can send our way are more than welcome, they are greatly appreciated.

16 November, 2013

Love of Music and Music of Love

Music was his life, it was not his livelihood
And it made him feel so happy, it made him feel so good
And he sang from his heart, and he sang from his soul
He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole
--Harry Chapin, "Mr. Tanner"

I can thank my parents for my love of music. I grew up in a home where music was a constant. I can still remember many of the songs I used to dance around to when I was a wee lad...everything from Knock Three Times to Nightflight to Venus to Stayin' Alive...it's safe to say my Mom's musical tastes didn't stray too far from the Top 40 of the time, but 70s Top 40 was richer and more varied, it seems to me, than it has been since, and much richer than it tends to be today. There are undoubtedly gems scattered throughout today's music, but they don't tend to chart...or at least chart as high as they should. 

From my Dad I got an appreciation of music you don't normally associate with children. On one of the last days of grade three, just before the moving for the first time in my life, I got up in front of the class and sang all three verses of this:


I still have this memorized.  It really is kind of frightening how much of my mental storage capacity is taken up with song lyrics. 
Roger Whittaker was my first concert. I haven't been to many in my life. This may sound strange, but it's hard to appreciate music in a crowd, or at least I find it hard. Depending on the artist or group, there's too much screaming and/or singing along (and few in the audience can lift the damned tune, much less carry it). 
Concerts I have been to, aside from that Roger Whittaker:

Glass Tiger (London, sometime in the mid-eighties, a concert my wife also attended, and for all I know we saw each other. Our paths have crossed more than once, long before we actually met

Chicago (Canada's Wonderland, late eighties) 

Roxette (Maple Leaf Gardens, 1991)--my first and probably last large arena concert, this was at the height of Roxette's popularity and sometimes it was hard to hear Marie and Per over the screams of countless girls and not a few boys

The Proclaimers at Lulu's here in town, twice...yeah, I loved 'em that much

Prozzak in London--I went with a friend and her sister, having barely heard of the group, and came away something of a fan

and finally John McDermott at Center in the Square, twice, with Eva. John McDermott is another musical gift from my father, a Scottish-Canadian troubadour with an angelic voice. I'd listen to this guy sing his grocery list. He's one of exactly two Toronto Maple Leaf anthem singers I don't rush to mute.

I tend to go through phases, musically, that last a year or two, from which I pluck a few artists and songs out for my 'eternal playlist' before moving on. One year I listened to a whole hell of a lot of new country. I don't listen to much now, but when I do it's usually Brad Paisley.  Then there was my Celtic phase -- I actually toyed with learning Scots Gaelic at one point before realizing just how insanely difficult that language is to pick up -- and I still listen to Capercaillie (and of course John McDermott) out of that. 

I actually appreciate Eminem, and to those who say rap is crap, I suggest you watch 8 Mile with a mind as open as you can make it. Done the way that man does it, rap is an art. It's hyperkinetic wordplay, and I'm a wordsmith at heart. Is it crude and occasionally obscene? Yeah. So is life. Also, Eminem is a persona, occasionally a persona of  a persona, and some people don't seem to understand that. 

He's penned a number of empowering, uplifting songs, too. Perhaps my favourite is this one, which perks me up at the end of a shitty day like few other songs can.  
And if Eminem is too dirty for you and you still think rap has nothing to recommend it, try this Canadian contribution...and I defy you to get through this without growing a grin on your face.

My latest musical loves, at least in English,  are Janelle Monae (her Dace Apocalyptic is the catchiest tune I've heard in about five years) and The Heavy Blinkers, a group that crafts orchestral soundscapes as far from pap as pop is apt to get. 
Of course, that's pop. I'm still in a classical piano phase by and large, enjoying everything from the heavyweights (Liszt, Chopin) to the unjustifiably unknowns (did Cat Stevens steal 'Morning Has Broken' from this female composer?)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the songs that I've actually learned from over the years, and two of those in particular. The songs that have something to teach me tend to be about love. I have some rather unorthodox views on that subject, and sometimes I need a little musical kick in the chops and swift excursion back to reality. The first is an old Moxy Früvous tune called "Horseshoes". The sound quality of the various YouTube videos is uniformly terrible, so I'm just going to type out the lyrics here...

My sister Sue and I were doing stunts with electric trains
She said she'd do my dishes, so I handed her the reins
And she engineered a collision steered by a hand-eye protegée
Before my train set started burning, I heard my sister say

 (Chorus) Look straight at the coming disaster
Realize what you've lost
You keep handing out horseshoes
Horseshoes have gotta be tossed

I dreamed I went to heaven 'cause I told my lover lies
When I woke up I went to her and looked her in the eyes
I said, "help me cry 'cause I can't deny this union's feelin' wrong"
Then I flashed back to the dream, and angels singing songs... (chorus)

Don't push the river, if you love it, set it free
I said 'Go on and see him, you can still come home to me"
I was satisfied, God was on our side, 'cause we're freer than the birds...
she wrote me a letter, I didn't read it, I already knew the words (chorus)

That third verse...I lived by that, once, and it bit me. I still think love isn't a prison, and of course I realized that 'he' was better for her than I could ever be...but there's still a bit of bitter truth in 'horseshoes have gotta be tossed'. 

I am, as I may have mentioned before, a reformed cheater. Back in my young-and-stupid days, I didn't really care for anyone more than I did for myself. I don't harbour many regrets in my life, but I do so regret my behaviour in those years. One of the things I learned from those experiences is that some mistakes can't be fixed and regret means little to nothing no matter how sincerely it's expressed. Another is neatly and heartbreakingly encapsulated in 'Reste avec elle' (Stay With Her) by Québécois artist Lynda Lemay:




I'm still not able to translate this line for line -- I'm getting closer, but the language is quite poetic in places, which makes it much harder -- the general gist is this: it's sung by a mistress who spends three verses and half of a bridge praising her lover's wife, telling him over and over to stay with her. That bridge I can translate, though, and I find it emotionally devastating:

She, who you have chosen
She, who is your safe harbour
She, who is your country
She, who you adore
She, who also you forget
when your eyes linger on my body
when you look at me a little too strong
when you leave her in a time of madness
when you leave her in a time of thrills
Go, right now, rejoin her, I beg you
Go, right now, rejoin her, otherwise

Stay with me...

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

My first reaction, hearing and understanding this, was to really question if 'she' was all that to him if he'd cheat on her after a single lingering look. Then I thought of course he would, it's just sex.

Except it usually isn't. In affairs of the heart (and despite the proliferation of so-called 'hookup culture', most of them turn into affairs of the heart even if it's the last thing either party wants), the emotions run hot and they can burn everyone they touch.

The lover has emotional needs too, however poorly their object has been chosen, and this is something that tends to blindside men in particular. You think you can keep an affair secret from your wife? Good luck with that. You might be the best actor on the face of the earth and you'll find yourself completely helpless when your mistress gets upset with you for any reason at all and suddenly blurts out that she's about to call up your partner and reveal her existence.

The most mindblowing sex you've ever had isn't worth what'll ensue then, folks. Don't cheat. Just don't.

It's worth noting, I think, that in that final verse of the song that begins 'Stay with me', the lover lists out just a few reasons why she thinks she should. Only one of them has to do with anything she'll do for him as opposed to her own aching need for him...and that one (I'll give you hugs that never stop) is word-for-word something she'd earlier praised/accused his wife of doing for him. I find that more than a little telling, and it jives with my ancient experience. Usually -- not always, but usually -- the person you're cheating with is a pale imitation of the person you're cheating on.

There's even more emotional depth in this song, having to do with love in general, and I may come back to it at some point.  In the meantime, if you know any songs with deep lyrics that really speak to you, I'd be curious to hear them.








  

10 November, 2013

Harris Rosen and a Real Helping Hand

I had never heard of Harris Rosen until a few minutes ago. Thanks to Reddit, I've heard of him now...and I think everybody should hear about him. He's a self-made millionaire in the hospitality industry, and his story is inspirational on so many levels, it practically left me breathless reading it.

Here's a man raised in Hell's Kitchen in the 1940s and 1950s--an aptly named stinkhole of poverty and disease--who was launched into the hospitality industry by a chance encounter with Marilyn Monroe...and propelled after launch by his mom, who told him the ticket out of Hell's Kitchen was education.
After spending some time chafing under Disney, Inc. -- he developed the Polynesian, Contemporary, and Fort Wilderness resorts, but never felt entirely comfortable -- Rosen took all the money in his savings account and put a downpayment on a Quality Inn. From there, his empire blossomed: it now includes 3500 employees overseeing 6300 rooms, not to mention the premier hospitality college in the United States.

Oh, yes, and Tangelo Park.

Tangelo Park...it sounds like another Florida hotel. It isn't. It's an isolated Orlando neighbourhood, and until Rosen adopted it, not a nice one. Much like the Hell's Kitchen of Rosen's youth, Tangelo Park was riddled with poverty and crime. Over ninety percent of the population is African-American and more than half of the people in the neighbourhood are either families headed by single mothers, or not families at all.

Rosen "fell in love" -- his words -- with this place, and set out to do something about improving it. Here's what he did. He offered free daycare all children between 2 and 4, free parenting classes, free vocational training...and free, all-inclusive scholarships for any neighbourhood child that graduates high school.

Needless to say (or at least it should be), the elementary school in Tangelo Park became a model school very quickly;  the high school graduation rate has dramatically increased; and three quarters of Rosen scholarshiip recipients graduated with post-secondary credentials...the highest rate among an ethnic group in the U.S. The students who have been through the program stand to collectively earn over a million dollars more (pdf) through their lifetimes than they would have without the program. And that's not even accounting for the dramatic decrease in the crime rate that has seen fewer people incarcerated.

All because one man gave about nine million dollars...a lot for one person, no doubt, but pocket change for a nation, even a nation as indebted as the United States undoubtedly is.

A MATTER OF PRIORITIES

There is this mentality running rampant in both our countries that just giving people money is counterproductive, even evil. What have they done to deserve it? People wedded to this attitude can find plenty of justification for it...how many billions of dollars have been spent on Africa over the decades? How much money does Canada spend per Aboriginal? And most of the Native reservations resemble deepest darkest Africa, still, in their poverty and despair. (Though it bears mentioning that many people living in Africa, particularly, have been unaffected by the affluenza virus that has swept the Western world and thus remain happier than many of us would, or even can, imagine). Still, it is my contention that every least one of us deserves, by virtue of being born, access to the basics. Those include nutritious food, clean drinking water, shelter against the elements, reasonable health care, and an education. Those five things are fundamental to success. They don't guarantee success for every individual, but they give everyone a fighting chance. To me, access to these things should be guaranteed in any Constitution worthy of the name...especially one from a country which takes as its motto "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". 

Dauphin, Manitoba tried a Mincome program between 1974 and 1979.  Dauphin, at the time, was a town of ten thousand: every family in town and in the surrounding rural municipality was included.
Strangely, despite some positive outcomes, the program was scrapped after four years and much of its data was either destroyed or never collected properly in the first place. The reason was political: both the provincial and federal government shifted rightward in the face of an economic recession and helping poor people suddenly became less of a priority.
There were some grave administrative faults behind this program. Perhaps the biggest was that, although the benefit was (quite properly) indexed to inflation (which was becoming a real issue in the late 70s), the actual budget for the program was not. The cost overruns were then cited as a good reason to kill Mincome entirely. The oversight here is so glaring that the cynic in me suggests it was intentional.

But both testimonials and academic analysis show that MINCOME had a positive effect in many areas, some of which may not seem obvious. For instance, hospitalization rates in Dauphin decreased by eight percent over the MINCOME experiment. This is attributed in part to a decrease in domestic violence, better mental health, and a decline in workplace-related injury (which tends to occur when people continue to work in dangerous situations when ill or fatigued).
The most interesting thing, to me, is that the employment rate actually increased. This finding runs counter to everything we're told about welfare: give people money and they'll sit on their asses and thumb their nose at doing anything productive, right?

Wrong.

Two groups of people did tend to stay home: new mothers (who suddenly could) and adolescents, who no longer needed a job and could devote more time to their studies. The rest of the population kept their jobs, or acquired new ones. That's what having the basics provided for will do: oddly enough, most people aren't satisfied with just the basics...not only that, but they think it's fair to work for anything beyond those basics if those basics are provided for. But when a large part of the money you make goes to food and shelter, with little left over, it stands to reason you will be stressed...and probably resentful, too.

It seems to me that our current civilization--I use that word guardedly, since we often don't seem very civilized--places a higher priority on maintaining wealth than it does on eliminating poverty. What's more, the definition of wealth is exceedingly narrow. To me, wealth, like anything else, only truly exists when it is shared. That's something Harris Rosen obviously understands, and it's something the rest of us could stand to learn.

Whenever I have ventured into enemy territory and brought this thesis forward, it has been seen as an attack. Fair enough: it is. But it's not a personal attack. I try very hard not to do that, because (a) it hurts and (b) it never works. I do believe it's possible to attack attitudes rather than people, though, and the attitude that 'what's mine is mine and you can fuck right off' is one that should be vanquished if our society is ever to evolve.

 I'm not naive enough to believe that communism will ever work on anything other than a very limited scale (although its precept, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', is possibly the most beautiful guiding sentiment penned by man since 'love thy neighbour as thyself'.) I would suggest, though, that the raw capitalism favoured by certain elites nowadays is every bit as corrosive to society as unalloyed communism has proven to be. There is always a happy medium, and whether it comes from benevolent wealthy people with society's best interests in mind (there are damned few of those, it seems)...or governments that are supposed to have society's best interests in mind...well...that happy medium is the place to be.




04 November, 2013

Put That In Your Pipe And...

So it goes without saying that Rob Ford has been kicked off Eva-world. It shames me to think I was once a card-carrying member of Ford Nation, even though I've never been eligible to vote for the guy. Even after his mayoralty sprouted its own sideshow, I blogged: "I like Rob Ford and I can't say why".
I can say why now, now that the like has curdled. I liked Rob Ford not just because he imposed some much needed fiscal sanity on his city, and not just because he seemed exactly like the sort of brook-no-bullshit type I wish I was myself.  (One of my life's great balancing acts: knowing when to call bullshit and when to keep my mouth shut. Sadly, I usually find myself doing the latter, out of what I think is self-preservation. But bullshit is corrosive. It burns internally).
I also liked Rob Ford because the media hated him from day one. The Toronto Star, a paper so politically correct it squeaks, has used words describing Ford that it won't even use to describe Stephen Harper; the normally staid Globe and Mail published an article that mentioned Ford's weight seventeen times. You know me: start harping on somebody's physical appearance, particularly their weight, and I'm going to leap to their defence.

But Ford sure hasn't done me any favours over the years. While there are politicians everywhere who let their private lives tun into a circus act which eventually overwhelms their political lives, I can't say I've ever run across one quite so brazen as this man is. It can't be a coincidence that Brazen 2 is the name of the police investigation that targeted, among many others, Ford's friend and sometime driver Sandro Lisi, and by extension Ford himself. Personally, I would have named the investigation Project Edsel. That might have provoked an even more apoplectic fit from Ford's lawyer.

It seems everyone everywhere now knows that the police have in their possession a video which purports to show His Worship smoking crack cocaine. In the absence of any other evidence, unfortunately that video doesn't prove anything, not to a legal standard, at any rate. Even if the video clearly shows Ford smoking a crack pipe, you can only infer it's crack he's smoking, not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

I don't want to sound in any way shape or form like I'm defending Ford. I find it well-nigh incredible how many people still do that. And by gar, they do. With a will.. When the story first broke in May, quite a large number of people scoffed at the existence of the video--just like Ford did himself, actually. It never crossed my mind that the video might not be real...the story was first broken by Gawker.com, an American website the majority of whose readers (justifiably) don't care about Toronto or its mayor one iota. It just didn't seem plausible that they, of all people, would make this up. And now that the police have announced they have the video -- well, it's obviously a fake. And never you mind that faking such a video is impossible.  These Ford supporters are not the sort to let facts like that intrude on their delusions of persecution.
And even if it is true that Ford smoked crack...so what? It's only a highly illegal hallucinogenic drug. It's not as if he's ever done anything, you know, wrong....he has? Whatever. He's kept taxes low and that's why we voted for h--

He's raised taxes?

...

...Well, not as much as that libtard leftist pinko commie egghead David Miller did, sonny boy. Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it.

I swear, if we ever find out that Rob Ford murdered somebody, there will be people right there saying he obviously needed killing.

And Ford himself has vowed he's staying on. He's admitted to "mistakes", and even detailed two of them--two separate public events where he was intoxicated, or "hammered",  "a little out of control", in his phrasing. The words "crack" or "cocaine" did not leave the mayor's lips; he did, however, urge the police chief to release the video so the people of Toronto can "judge for themselves".
Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Ford. Brass balls you have, I'll give you that, but you really don't want this video circulating any more than it already has.

Here's the thing I don't get, though. I really wish somebody could explain it to me. Why is there a video at all? So the Mayor allegedly decided to smoke some crack. Why let himself be recorded? For posterity? I mean, what the hell?  I'm sorry, the question has to be asked. IS HE ON CRACK?

It's naive enough to think you can delete a video like that simply by deleting it.. Actually taking it in the first place is...there aren't words for how stupid that is.

It goes way beyond Ford: it's astonishingly common these days. Bounce around YouTube for any length of time and sooner or later you will see somebody doing something illegal. Often they don't even bother to hide their faces. Or the felon commits a crime, seems to get away with it, and then brags about it on Facebook. There are dumb criminals, I get that, but the level of stupidity you have to have to pull something like that is off the charts. I can't help but wonder what kind of reaction the killer has when the cops turn up. "You saw that on Facebook? I didn't send that to no cops!"

*sigh*

This is a strange new world we find ourselves in, folks. Where a man with Rob Ford's admitted 'mistakes' and a whole lot of unadmitted crap under investigation can still garner such support; where even crimes just gotta be shared. At some point this stuff goes beyond entertaining into sad and scary. I think that point is right about...now.

19 October, 2013

His Name Was Danny

His name was Danny.
He was one of the last of a string of bullies I encountered...that far along the rope, in grade ten, I was remarkably nonchalant about being teased, taunted and trodden upon, and so I didn't know--or care to know--anything about him besides his name, face and general whereabouts at any given time so I could avoid him. I only shared two classes with him and so that latter was pretty easy.

It turned out there was a lot to know about Danny, and come February of that school year, we'd all know it.

If everyone who claims to have been there the day Danny's locker was opened and puked into had actually been there, the hallway would have been packed six deep. You'll have to trust me: I was actually there.  I was gallivanting off to the bathroom, as it happens, when I couldn't help but notice the janitor striding purposefully down the corridor. I couldn't help but notice the janitor because he was dragging Danny by the ear.

I can hear you 2013 students calling bullshit right along about now.Any janitor doing such a thing would be promptly fired and charged with assault. No bullshit: this was the eighties, and times were different.

Nevertheless, a janitor dragging Danny by the ear was sufficiently out of the ordinary to arouse my curiosity. I slowed my stride, turned around and walked slowly backwards. The janitor arrived in front of what was presumably Danny's locker, released his hold on Danny's ear, and told him to open it up. Danny worked the combination. I'd come to a stop at this point, probably about twenty feet away, and I watched as the lock clicked, the door swung open, a flash of green appeared and the janitor promptly bent over and vomited profusely right into the locker.

My curiosity went from moderate to extreme in a heartbeat, but prudence won out: I figured Danny'd be in even more trouble than he'd evidently been in already, and I didn't want to stand around in case his trouble was contagious. I  went to the bathroom. By the time I'd attended to business, the principal and one of the teachers had joined the custodian and Danny. Danny was crying. Well, no...actually he was wailing. I sidled past the locker, huddled against the opposite wall. A wave of stench like nothing I've smelled before or since almost knocked me over, but it was none of my business and I didn't want anyone thinking it was. Back to class I went.

I never saw Danny again.

But I heard his story, circulated piecemeal around with that relativistic speed that gossip attains only in high schools and small towns, and it was tragic (and disgusting) enough that I sought and got confirmation from that teacher I'd seen at Danny's locker.

Danny had lost his mother and father in separate car accidents back in September. Within two weeks of each other. Can you imagine? It really put his bullying into a whole new perspective for me, and it's a big reason why today I don't hate bullies the way someone with my history would be expected to. It's really true: all too often, the bullies are victims themselves. You just never know of what.

Anyway, Danny had gone off to live with an aunt, or a grandma, or somebody--I once knew what relation, but have forgotten that detail. Aunt Grandma had packed Danny his school lunch, every school day from whenever he'd first gone to live with her until he was kicked out of school and into what I imagine was some desperately needed psychiatric care, in mid-February. Aunt Grandma gave Danny egg salad sandwiches. Danny didn't like egg salad sandwiches, and so he deposited them in his locker. Every school day. Until mid-February, when that locker was opened and puked into.

Yes, you could smell it. For a distance on either side of that locker, you could smell it. But you couldn't be expected to guess what it was, and furthermore the smell was so pervasive it was impossible to pin down. It's like how if you take a lobster, say, and unscrew the pillar of somebody's office chair and plop it in. After a while the entire office will reek to high heaven and you won't have the slightest clue where the stink is coming from. (Don't ask me how I know this and I will tell you no lies.)  High school being high school, though, somebody had eventually discovered what Danny was growing in his locker and snitched on him.

Why am I telling  you this story, besides explaining my absolute hatred of egg salad sandwiches and my unsuspected sympathy for bullies? Because I just learned via an e-friend's tweets last night that...well, I'll let him tell it:

 Fucking boomerang lunches. School has hotdog day, so for a fee child gets one hotdog, a juice box and a cookie. Not allowed to throw garbage at school. Must bring it home. So son comes home with hotdog and cookie packaging, leaking juice box, and opened condiment packs So now his back-pack has food garbage all smeared inside it. THANKS WATERLOO REGION SCHOOLBOARD!!!!!”

Some other Facebook friends of mine, equipped with children attending other Waterloo Region school board schools, informed me this policy is in place to encourage reusable containers; also to show parents what their kids are or are not eating.  Good intentions, to be sure, but both overbearing and hopelessly naïve. Overbearing because my God, is the Three-R Police Force going to arrest me if I send my kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich in waxed paper, the way I went to school for years? (Don't answer that...hell, these days a peanut butter sandwich would get me and my kid thrown in jail for murder...) And naïve because kids aren't stupid. They'll find ways to get around eating what you pack for them so long as one of their friends has something more tempting. And that food you send with them will get discarded....but since their aren't acceptable receptacles for the purpose, they'll make their own.

They might even use lockers.


13 October, 2013

Thank You, Eva

I just can't believe
the way I feel about you girl
We'll look back someday
At this moment that we're in
And I'll look at you and say
'--and I thought I loved you then'...
--Brad Paisley, "Then"

Thanksgiving happens to fall on our thirteenth wedding anniversary this year. This could not be more apt.
I'm thankful for everyone and everything in my life. But most of all I'm thankful for Eva, the woman I married. Some days I wonder how I ever found a woman willing to share life with me, and every day I wonder what I ever did to deserve this woman, whose intelligence, competence, and compassion truly know no bounds.
We've done a lot of living in thirteen years. There have been no ups and downs in our relationship--it is the ever-fixed mark--but in that many years there are bound to be tears. And fears, and fears, and leers, and -- in our case -- whole careers. No jeers, though, and nary a peer has my Eva. We have truly lived Spider Robinson's maxim: "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased." 

It isn't the life we expected. There were supposed to be kids, kids who would be either approaching or well into the tempestuous teens by now. If you had told Eva ten years ago that she'd be working where she is now,  I doubt she'd have believed you. For that matter, I swore up and down I'd never work more than the occasional night shift again, and here I am working straight nights and (for the most part) loving the hell out of it.
But like Douglas Adams said, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be". Life is a very neat combination of purposeful (busy purposeful, this year) and damned idyllic. Thirteen years on, I can't imagine what my life would be like without Eva in it...and don't want to.

Thank you, love, for all that you are. Happy lucky 13th.

Your loving husband

Ken

09 October, 2013

I've Noticed Something:

Hat tip to Catelli's cogent deconstruction of Rosie Dimanno that jump-started my mind.

I've noticed something. The older I get, the stupider the world seems.

It's not that I'm smarter; hell, no. I'm just as dense as anyone else, just in (usually) different ways. And people are free to remark on just how dumb I can be. My wife does so on occasion (always with love in her voice, and she's always right, damn it all). But the specific mode of stupidity I'd like to talk about here is a weird strain of exclusionary thinking that seems to permeate brains, driving out logic and reason.

I'll take a couple of hot-button issues to explain what I mean: same sex marriage and euthanasia. As I believe I've made clear in previous entries, I am unreservedly in favour of both, and for much the same reason: your life and your marriage are your own. (If they aren't, whose, exactly, are they?) I should be able to end my life whenever I choose; with certain exceptions due to consanguinity, and provided there is no coercion, I should be able to marry whomever I choose. I see no logical reason why Eva shouldn't have two or three husbands, for that matter.

Every time I encounter someone against same-sex marriage (which is distressingly often, even now), I ask them -- with as much politeness as I can muster -- why. The answers I get, when they don't cite Scripture, tend to be along the lines of "it's against nature". Which I find amusing, since marriage itself is against nature; relatively few species are monogamous, and to my (admittedly limited) knowledge, no other species has anything akin to a marriage ceremony. (I freely admit I could be wrong here: our understanding of animal societies is rudimentary at best, but at least in the case of certain species, the more we learn, the more we wonder just how intelligent and 'civilized', after their fashion, they are.)

At any rate, if I'm allowed to press the matter, I'll ask how same-sex marriage affects the person I'm talking to. It doesn't, beyond offending their sense of morality, but I've yet to coax that admission out of anyone. And one day it occurred to me to say "you know, just because same-sex marriage is legal, doesn't mean opposite-sex marriage has been outlawed!"

But that's how many opponents of gay marriage act: as if their marriages are null and void (or at least endangered somehow) if Jack and Gil down the road tie the knot.  I pride myself on being able to get inside heads...this attitude is like a giant padlock and a sign saying  BEWARE OF ATTACK DOGS.

Likewise with euthanasia. There  seems to be this pervasive attitude, among those against assisted suicide, that if it's made legal it'll be open season on the elderly and handicapped...that anyone wanting to live will have their wishes ignored. The choice to live, against whatever odds and contending with whatever amount of pain, is as equally valid a choice as the reverse, and just as much to be respected.

No euthanasia advocate I've ever read has suggested that people should be killed without their express permission. Where euthanasia is already legal there is a required process of varying complexity to go through ensuring that people are of sound mind and that they understand precisely what they are demanding. But no, make mercy killing legal and anyone waiting too long for their inheritance can simply take matters into their own hands.  I just don't get it.







02 October, 2013

Sex: Let's Get With the Program

ADULT CONTENT, PRUDES KEEP OUT

Kids are gonna screw.

Most of 'em, anyway.

So why do so many parents pretend this isn't so, can't be so, and force schools into teaching that it mustn't be so? I mean, everybody knows the best way to keep a teenager from doing something is to tell her not to.

Sex education is seriously deficient even in 'progressive' curriculums. For the most part, it's a glorified anatomy class. Maybe the idea is to bore kids to death with sex. Stripped -- or rather, not "stripped", that's too raunchy--detached from all its emotional and psychological cues, a teacher can turn sex into a clinical, dry lecture almost devoid of really useful content.

Parents are probably going to cringe at this. I'm suggesting that, at least by high school, sex ed should actually cover pornography. That means viewing it. In school. I'm not kidding.

By the time kids are in high school, they've looked at porn. I absolutely guarantee it. Some of them have looked at a lot of porn. I know that parents want to make this didn't happen, but let's get real here. What they're really doing is ensuring that their children's first exposure to sex is unsupervised, unregulated, and almost certainly staged to ensure they see all the worst aspects of sex. Does this make sense to anybody?

I'm really not kidding about porn in class. There are so many important things we can glean from porn and how it differs, or ought to differ, from actual sex. We can talk about the objectification of women. We can talk about the objectification of men (and if you think that doesn't happen in porn, watch a steady diet of it and compare the number of times you see a dick to the number of times you see an unobstructed view of a male face.) We can talk about orgasms, how many women simply can't orgasm from penetrative sex alone. We can talk about the emotional content of sex, which is vastly different from the emotional content of porn. We can talk about different forms of sex, foreplay (Groucho Marx, leering: "and the aftplay was pretty good, too!").   We can talk about different sexualities in a frank, no-nonsense manner.

Tell you what I'd put on the board the first class:

"We weren't making love; we were fucking. Nothing wrong with that, just not enough right with it."--Spider Robinson


I was bushwhacked by sex, my first time. I was almost nineteen--much older than the usual, for guys--but emotionally immature. I recall thinking, afterwards, is this all there is? Trying to adopt that swagger that says "I just became a man" and failing, because all I'd done was have sex. Worse, I'm pretty sure my partner felt the same way. But I didn't think to talk to her about it, and our sex life after that was perfunctory. She actually apologized to me, months into our relationship, about leaving my 'needs' unsatisfied. That's how she viewed sex...or at least sex with me. I'm pretty sure she later found a better sex life with someone else. I hope so, anyway. I sure did.
That 'needs' comment affected me, too. Hearing it, I allowed myself to feel, for years that I did in fact need sex. A couple of years of celibacy before I met Eva cured me of that affliction, but before that it led to some poor life choices, let's just leave it at that. With a proper sex education, I might have been better able to put sex in context sooner. (I'm not blaming anyone but myself for those poor life choices, though: they were mine and mine alone.)

Sex, as it stands in high schools right now, is a badge of honour for the guys and a badge of shame for the girls. This does nobody any good. Your entire value as a human being revolves around the sex you engage in or don't engage in. It leads guys into cajoling sex out of girls who are not exactly willing to give it. It leads girls into acute anxiety...what if we do "it"? what if I LIKE it? And it leaves both boys and girls unprepared for the emotional bond that sex creates. It has at least made inroads in addressing homosexuality and bisexuality, but there remain many  misconceptions about both of those -alities.  Given that up to one in ten students is gay or bi and that probably closer to nine in ten have at least experimented with someone of the same sex, this is something that needs to be talked about at some length. Of course you have to work out your sexuality on your own, but it helps to have a clearly defined framework to do it with. In the aftermath of my same-sex experience, I had to reconcile the fact I enjoyed it with the reality that I had never looked at any man, including that one, and thought "I gotta have that". Oddly enough, it was that experience more than any other that drove home to me just how emotional sex is. The emotional content was staggering....never have I so clearly felt both halves of "I love this person, but not in that way". I had to build a framework to hold both sides of that, and I had to build it pretty much from scratch.

There are many people who are acutely uncomfortable with the idea of sex being taught in schools, by adults, to 'children'. There's this undercurrent of pedophilia and pederasty about it. This really needs to go away. There's a vast difference between talking about sex and having sex, and many scientific studies have shown what many parents simply fail to grasp: the more you talk to kids about sex, the less likely they are to actually  have sex. And when they do, it's overwhelmingly with protection. The United States, with its abstinence-only sex programs in many states, leads the world in teen pregnancies and abortion. Enact an abstinence-only program and STI rates actually go up.


So let's talk about sex. Let's really get into the nuts and bolts of it. Not to do so is a disservice to teens wrestling with adult issues for the first time in their lives.


Who Wants To Live Forever?

Not me, that's for sure.

I remember this topic coming up in (of all places) grade eleven English class. I might not have been the only person in the class opposed to the notion of immortality, but I was certainly the only person who dared voice opposition.
Let's define parameters here, because like the Gods we might become, the word 'immortality' is often taken as read and not examined thoroughly. Presumably 'immortality' means we have shut the aging process off, since death of old age is still death. What age do we select for? I'd bet most men would want to live forever at their physical (not to mention sexual) peak, somewhere around 18-21. Not being a woman, I can't answer for the fairer sex, but given the absurd (and obscene) value placed on youth in this society, I'd expect many of them would also choose to remain in that general age bracket unto eternity.

Unintended consequence: the incidence of rape skyrockets. Women don't hit their sexual peak until their thirties, after all. You've got most of the men wandering around with tents inside their pants and most of the women looking askance at them: in short, your average high school, everywhere.
Unless we've somehow coded for mental, emotional and spiritual maturity inside those 18-year-old bodies (and how exactly we'd go about doing that when much of that maturity is the function, maybe the very purpose, of the aging mechanism we've callously shut down...)

Can you be injured, if you're immortal? I'd sure hope not: Chronic pain is bad enough in this life...in a life without possibility of death it would be the worst hell I could imagine. But being invincible has its own set of issues, besides violating most of the laws of physics.. If you can't wound someone physically, you redouble your efforts to wound him emotionally. For every lord and lady of all creation, I envision someone whose mind has been  systematically shattered beyond repair. That wouldn't be an immortality I'd sign up for!

So then you end up stipulating that an immortal being can't be hurt in any way. Immediately you've removed the impetus behind much of our great art, not to mention almost all of our comedy. Eternal life without art or comedy is utterly pointless.

And that brings up the final crashing argument against immortality: boredom. I get bored enough as it is. I can't imagine how I'd feel after a few millennia.

I'm not fixing to die any time soon, but I am fixing to die at some point. I don't like the alternative.

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

If you could live without sleep, or with drastically reduced amounts of sleep, would you?

Most people I know couldn't say HELL YES fast enough to that one. We live in a world where "I'll sleep when I'm dead" is a  saying; where sleep is almost universally viewed as a weakness...a regrettable weakness we all share.

Even as a child, I was an outlier here: you never heard me complain about bedtime. Falling asleep is one of life's great unsung pleasures; so is waking up when you know you don't have to get up. But if there was, say, a pill available that dramatically reduced your need for sleep or heaven forbid eliminated it entirely, you'd never feel that pleasure again. If just one person takes that pill, everybody else who works with him or her will have to take it too, on pain of losing their job. Remove fatigue from the equation and why should your employer ever let you go home?

You think I'm being cynical? If anything, I'm understating the case. Remember the blissful utopias predicted when computers first arrived on the scene? We were supposed to be working twenty hours a week by now. Those very same computers that were supposed to liberate us have enslaved us instead: already there are legions of people who willingly allow themselves to be tethered to their job even when they're at home, even when they're on vacation. No thank you. Now remove sleep--the only truly alone time most of us have--out and those tethers become very weighty chains indeed.

---------

If you could take a pill daily and satisfy your every nutritional need, would you?

Now here we have something that gives me pause. Oh, I would never want to give up the joys of eating: there are just too many foods out there that taste wonderful. But I could see myself eating like a pig on the weekends and pill-popping my way through the week...