28 February, 2013

Phonies?

I'm sorry if you've heard some of this before. Sometimes I feel like I'm writing the same things over and over again in slightly different ways. But the topics that tend to recur in this here Breadbin are important to me. Central to my life, actually. And so one of the first blogs I ever wrote makes a thematic return.


Stumbled across this quote in THE WEEK just now and it made me sad.

We have become a nation of phonies, writes Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. We love everyone. We don't merely like them or respect them or hold them in some esteem. We LOVE them. Performers on the stage shout that they love us. Politicians love us. Acquaintances love us. We lack all formality, all distance. I do not want others to kiss me, which is starting to happen. I say goodbye and they pucker up. No! This is reserved for love and by love I mean real love, not the silly xoxo stuff that clutters the Internet with false, saccharine intimacy and emotion. I want to shake hands. I do not want to be hugged. I want degrees of intimacy, gradations, so I know where I stand and so, for that matter, will you.

Mr. Cohen, speak for yourself.

I recently wrote a blog lamenting the decline of hugging. Obviously I'm moving in the wrong social circles...or I'm just not huggable. And kissing? Is he right? Is this really a thing now?

Not that I'd object. Social kissing is common in many European cultures, after all. If you're uncomfortable with the notion, consider: there are kisses and kisses. I can't imagine someone mistaking a social peck for a percursor to intercourse. Can you?

Maybe I'm strange. (Do you THINK?) But I believe myself perfectly capable of hugging and/or kissing someone without ripping a hole in my Levi's. Then again, I'm also a guy who has slept with women--that's plural, incidentally--before so much as kissing them. And "slept with", to allay your filthy minds, means "got into bed together and went to sleep, got up eight hours later and got out of bed." With one girl I did this three nights running, and got a kiss at the end of the third night. Sex, in case you're wondering, came three months later.

Deconstructing Cohen's screed a little further: Of course performers love us (but only when they're playing); we pay them well, after all. Politicians, same deal, though the love is of course quite self-serving. Acquaintances, though? I have many of them. I don't love them. I like some of them, I tolerate others, and a select few I dislike. I'm sure I'm on all three lists of the various people acquainted with me. That's fine; that's normal.

"We lack all formality, all distance," says Cohen, who must really be a hit at parties. I'm picturing Cohen in his office at the Washington Post, about to punch out for the day, saying goodbye to his boss, who leans in for a smooch...

Really, Mr. Cohen? I can tell you there's plenty of formality in my professional life, at least: if I told anyone at work I love them, let alone "puckered up", I'd probably end up fired for sexual harassment. Hell, on social occasions, there are friends I hug and friends I shake hands with. No friends I kiss.

"silly xoxo stuff that clutters the Internet"

Well, now, here he has a bit of a point. I've noticed the proliferation of kisses and hugs in the form of exes and ohs over the past decade or so, and it is getting more casual. Women who've never kissed me in real life think nothing of littering their Facebook messages with xoxoxo, and I've caught myself wondering does she really mean those despite myself. Then I put it out of my mind, because I'm married. I reserve xoxo for Eva...I could put it in notes to other people, but it'd get misinterpreted, sure as hell.

Cohen's problem is linguistic.

I've written before on the English language's noticeable lack of "love" words. It's maddening that we are all but forced to use the same four letter word to express

  • the affection we have for a lifemate
  • the depth of feeling we have (if we're straight) for our best same-sex friends
  • the emotion we have for various members of our family--all those 'loves' subtly different
  • our strong enjoyment of our favourite foodstuffs
I had to contort myself just describing these things; L-O-V-E is the only customary term that we use in all four situations. And that's without bring S-E-X in. Somehow sex has also become synonymous with love, which is really just silly. (A runner is one who runs. A watcher watches, a hammer hams, a grocer groces. A lover...)

This in turn means that, especially for many males, the word love is off-limits in various situations to which it actually applies. A guy can't tell his best mate he loves him without stepping out of a closet. A guy can't tell his female friend he loves her, even if he does, because she'll probably think the love is really just lust. 

Cohen wants to know where he stands, and that's a fair question to have. But will he ask it? Will he confront the person proffering the unwanted pucker and peck and say just what the hell do you mean by that, politely or otherwise? I doubt it. And that's the saddest part. A grown man, bothered to the point of polemic, but so obviously unable to ask what is, after all, a simple question.









21 February, 2013

Sex vs. Violence

You know, people have been asking for over a generation now about our society's predilection for violence and aversion to sex. George Carlin riffed rather memorably about this the year I was born:



In the middle of this 'Seven Words You Can't Say On Television' routine, Carlin says

"People much wiser than I have said 'I'd rather have my son watch a film with two people making love than two people trying to kill one another'..."

Where are these wise parents, anyway? Forty one years on, they'll still a distinct minority. Or so it seems.

What brought this on? A post by Mark Frauenfelder on BoingBoing.com regarding my favourite television show, Game of Thrones, the third season of which is coming up in a little over a month. Apparently there are multiple censored versions out there for the pirating. One of them has the sex and nudity removed, as well as the "extreme" swearing. No word on whether the occasionally graphic violence has been  nixed as well. Somehow I doubt it.


Fruenfelder says of his nine year old daughter

She begs us to let her watch the show. I wish she could watch it, too, but I don't want her to see the sex and nudity scenes. (I don't really mind her seeing the violent scenes.)

It's the inconsistency here that I don't get. Game of Thrones is inspired by the Wars of the Roses, in the 1400s...not a time you'd want to try and live through. The violence was (and is, in the show, frequent, and often brutal. As for sex, well, we're human beings, right? Sexual creatures. There's this tendency I've noticed: a lot of people seem to believe the Victorian era's prudishness extended back into prehistory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hell, the Victorians themselves were only prudes in public. And sexuality goes back much further. Much, much further. Don't believe me? Check out the
often filthy graffiti from Pompeii, ca. 79 CE; recall that the Kama Sutra was collated into its present form not much later in a different part of the world; going back even further, here's an ancient Egyptian copy of Playboy (ca. ~1150 BCE); hell, you could find sex all over the place in Paleolithic cave art.
We've been sexual creatures for a long, long time. It is, after all, how we make more of us.

I find it odd that any parent would willingly subject their nine year old to graphic violence, yet get all squirmy as soon as the skin comes out. Is it because I'm not a parent myself? If a stork magically dropped a bundle of joy into our house -- and at this point, that's what it would take -- would I suddenly turn into an overprotective prude?

I'd like to think not. I'd like to think that my mindset is based on reason. Reason has shown us over and over again that if you're looking to audition your teen for 16 and Pregnant, the best way to do it is to withhold as much information about sex as you can.

Now, I'm not suggesting I'd load up some hardcore porn site and let my hypothetical nine-year old, girl or boy, run amok on it. Nor would I necessarily want my kid watching something like Game of Thrones alone. There's bound to be questions, and I'd kind of want to be there to provide levelheaded answers. In the case of the porn site, "no, honey, that's not typical" (where "that" is any number of things). As for Game of Thrones, I'd be there to put the violence -- and the sex, for that matter -- in context.


A comment to that BoingBoing post, by "Ethan Holman", is so good I believe I'm going to steal it:

It's like I always say: Only the most disturbed and broken of children will grow up to participate in acts of a sexual nature, but virtually every well adjusted human being will commit multiple gruesome acts of violence over the course of their lives. So it just makes sense that we protect our children from nipples and moaning.

20 February, 2013

Lost In Translation

So I'm taking French.

Over the past ten years or so, there have been an endless series of self-betterment ideas that have bubbled up out of my brain, popped out my mouth...and evaporated. How shall I put this? Discipline, to put it mildly, is not my strong suit. I'm great at spouting off about all the things I should do to make myself a more well-rounded person, but not so great at following through. Given the choice to shit or get off the pot, I'll ask you kindly to refrain from such low language. See, to make that cuss word palatable, you need only drop one letter. Thank you: now let me sit in peace.

I'm not getting any younger, though, (he said, in full recognition that the cliché seems to imply that somewhere in the world, there are people who are getting younger...) The realization of my advancing age has stirred up something of a gastrointestinal festival, and I'm thinking I might be putting this here pot to its intended purpose.

Why French? Pourquoi pas? It was one of the school subjects I most enjoyed; I graduated high school quasi-fluent, certainly proficient enough to hold a conversation. Then, of course, I lost almost all of it.

I'm halfway through the first course, a non-credit course in conversational French just to get my feet wet before I sink into it jusqu'au cou,  and I have to say my first exposure to a classroom in twenty years has been a delight. Though I must confess my high school attitude--to wit, school is not a place to learn, school is a place to show what you've learned--has followed me into my forties. Each week, we start off class with a tongue-twister. The first week's was cloaked in an interesting (to me, at least) history lesson, and it goes

Le mur murant Paris rend Paris murmurant. 
(The wall walling Paris keeps Paris murmuring.)

I've been collecting tongue twisters and otherwise having fun with words forever, so I felt the need to contribute the best tongue twister I know in any language, which goes like this:

La chasseur, sachant chasser, chasse san son chien.
(The hunter, knowing how to hunt, hunts without his dog)--it even makes a kind of sense!

I was interrupted halfway through reciting this and politely shushed: turns out it was on his list to be used seven weeks later.  At the break, I asked if he'd heard  the one about the six saws, and wrote it out for him:

Si ces six scies-ci scient si bien ce cyprès-ci, ces six scies-ci scieront ces six cents cyprès-ci.
(If these six saws saw this here cypress so well, these six saws here will saw these six hundred cypresses.)

I suspect it'll turn up soon...

To make learning French more fun, I bought Stephen King's The Shining en français. The English novel is one I have read so often I've practically memorized it, and so it was an ideal choice to pick up the language quickly. That said, the are some oddities.

The book, en français, is simply called "SHINING", and the mass market paperback I have shows the iconic image of Jack Nicholson being all nutso through half a door. Aside:

In case you're wondering, while I was undeniably creeped out by Kubrick's film, I share Stephen King's disdain for it. Jack Nicholson is horribly miscast, since the horror of King's novel lies in watching a loving, flawed husband and father slowly sink into madness, and Nicholson is insane from the first shot. Oh, and Shelley Duvall is so whiny you almost find yourself cheering for the forces of evil halfway through the bloody movie.

SHINING, so far as I know, is not a word in French. Within the text, Danny Torrance's 'gift' is called just that,  le Don. I was more interested to see how the translator would handle REDRUM.

There's a lovely scene in chapter 17. Danny's been checked out by a psychologist and found sane, if rather imaginative. The doctor draws Jack and Wendy aside and they discuss the child's weird ability to know things he couldn't, as well as his recent nightmares, in which the word REDRUM figures prominently. It seems, says the doctor, to be a reference to Jack's alcoholism, what Danny refers to as doing the Bad Thing. Red rum: it all fits. Nobody thinks to reverse the word, and why would they?

But REDRUM is a null word in French, reversed or otherwise. Behold: TROMAL. Jack hears it as trop mal, "too sick", and so does Dr. Edmonds. Danny is emphatic that it's one word only, and so the doctor decides it must really be trauma. Reversed,  of course, it's LA MORT -- death. Not bad. I wonder how long it took the translator to come up with that.

That said, there are some very strange things about this translation of The Shining. People referred to as Mr. and Mrs. in English are still referred to that way in translation--shouldn't it be M. and Mme.? Odder: Danny tells us some of the signs he can read: STOP, EMERGENCY, PIZZA. The third is the same in French and the second is translated properly, but STOP is still, weirdly, STOP.

Then there's the matter of Mrs. Brant.

Hallorann has just told Danny about his "shine", and the boy asks the chef about Mrs. Brant, whose thought Danny had picked up across the Overlook's lobby. She was thinking about how much she'd like to get into the bellboy's pants. Danny, being five, can't figure this out: she's got pants of her own, after all. Hallorann guffaws and tells Danny he'll know "everything there is to know about the human condition before you make ten".

That episode is completely cut out of my translation. Not a word of it in there. Is it that French doesn't have an idiom like I want to get into your pants? This is not the sort of thing I can ask my French teacher, you understand, but it's bugging me.

The first sentence of the book, in English:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

In French:
Petit con prétentieux, pensa Jack Torrance.

Run that though Google Translate and the 'prick' turns into a 'jerk'. The sentiment's right, but it's missing a certain...je ne sais quoi. It reminds me of the time I saw GHOSTBUSTERS in Venezuela. February 1986, that would have been. The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles. I'd already seen it a couple of times without those subtitles, so again...pretty handy for picking up the language. But I couldn't help noticing the hash they made of this scene:



The subtitles read

¿Es esto cierto? -- Sí, este hombre es un idiota.


Come on, try a little. Maybe Spanish doesn't have an insult like 'dickless...so coin one!

Anyway, the French progresses apace. The tenses are taking the longest to come back to me. It's hard for me to distinguish my future simple from my subjunctive from my pluperfect. The gender of nouns is another thing. Does it end in an e? No? Then it's mascuiline! ...wrong! It's bizarre. Milk, the one liquid you would naturally assume is feminine because how many guys give milk?...is of course masculine. French is just sexist that way...you have a group of girls, you use elles, but as soon as one guy sneaks into that group, it's ils, even if there are still a hundred girls. Chavinism: it's a French word...








13 February, 2013

Apparently I Can't Buy Me Love

...because, quite simply, I can't afford it.

Good thing I'm not shopping for love, eh? Almost forty four grand just to get to the honeymoon? Thank you, Eva, from the bottom of my bank account heart, for not being the sort of woman who believes that the depth of my love is best measured in dollars and cents.

What exactly is the point of articles like this? I gotta say, this one made me feel like a cheap prick. Was that the intention?

For the record, and I've detailed some of this before, our wedding cost something like six grand. That included the honeymoon. Now, that was thirteen years ago; the handy-dandy Bank of Canada inflation calculator informs me we're looking at about $7520 in today's dollars.

Apparently we were supposed to spend almost four times that. None of our guests mentioned this to us; either they were too tactful or that figure's full of shit.

I've only been married thirteen years, as I say. That's not long, by my lights, anyway: my mom's been married for more than thirty years; Eva's parents were married for 43 years and her grandparents were married for 59. All three marriages, so far as I can see or say, were and are one long honeymoon, incidentally. I like to think I've been married long enough to pose a question to anyone contemplating a wedding in their near future, and here it is: are you getting married for a wedding, or for a marriage?

There's a huge difference. What I'd really like to see is a long-term study attempting to correlate the amount spent on a wedding with the likelihood of future divorce. I suspect--can't prove, obviously, but suspect--there's a strong correlation. Because people willing to blow huge sums of money on a single day...well, forgive me, but have they really thought about what comes after?

I know people who spent substantially less than we did on their weddings. One couple's wedding predates ours and they're still going strong; the other wedding was relatively recent, but I believe they've got what it takes to last as well. Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data. But I can't help wondering. Each time I hear about a marriage on the rocks, I want to blurt out "and how much did you waste on pay for the wedding?"

Heaven forbid I insist to the world that my way is The One Right Way To Be. If you have the money for an extravagant wedding, by all means spend it. But please bear in mind a truth, or at least the truth as I see it: just because you may be financially rich now doesn't mean you will be in the future. And love can't be all about money. It just can't be. When your parents told you the best things in life are free, they may not have mentioned love. But it is the best thing...really the only thing in life.

I said all that to say this.

Budget the luxuries first. And do spoil your love. It needn't cost much, amortized over the years of your life together.

Or beyond.


Happy Valentine's Day, Eva. All the money in the world wouldn't change my love for you; nether would losing every dime I have. With you, I'm rich beyond anything I'd have dared to dream before I met you.

10 February, 2013

SNOW SNOW SNOW

Well, everybody, we lived through another kyag. And while you may have kissed your ass goodbye at the repeated urgings of the Weather Network, my ass is still here and only slightly winded.

My Weathereye app first flashed red on Tuesday. The white lightning bolt on red used to mean a warning had been issued; now, like as not, it's a warning that some Weather Network minion has penned a story he or she thinks everybody should read. It might not have anything to do with my area at all.
In this case, it did...sort of. An Alberta clipper was forecast to float by on Thursday into Friday. Now, clippers are rarely such of a much, as the link notes. The real problem for us folks living in the Great Lakes tends to be the aftermath, when colder temperatures bring snowsqualls.

Forecasted accumulations varied wildly between 10 and 40 cm (roughly 4 and 16"). Such variance is typical for this area: the Great Lakes are among the most difficult regions on the planet to forecast accurately. A little quiver in the jet stream can radically change the weather overhead. Basically, I went to bed Thursday night knowing some snow was coming, not how much would fall. Nobody else seemed to know with any certainty, either, but that didn't stop the warnings.

SNOWFALL WARNING. Can anything be more comical, in Canada, in February?

I woke up Friday morning to...okay, that's a reasonable amount of snow. Nothing to get excited about, to be certain, but shovelling's required. That's more than I could say for all of last winter, so I guess it's worthy of notice.
The blade of my shovel, a Canadian Tire ergonomic jobby that has performed adequately for years, separated from the shaft about three strokes into my first go-round on the driveway. This meant I had to push the thing with my capacious gut and then hold the two parts together with every lift. Tedious. Very tedious.
(Or I could have remembered the necessary after the last time this happened, three or four years ago, and ran some scalding water through the shovel  melting the snow that had somehow invaded the innards. But no, better to curse the 'broken' shovel: it imparts needed energy.)

I shovelled three times Friday morning before I left for work, mindful once again of my stepfather's long ago lesson that it's better to shovel four inches three times than a foot once. Each time, I had to hold my 'broken' shovel together with each stroke. Le sigh.

680 News out of Toronto had basically abandoned the news in favour of a thirty minute weather and traffic loop. A hundred and sixty five crashes since midnight, we were informed. (So grateful they have finally dropped the word 'accident' from the lexicon. Most collisions aren't accidental at all: they're the inevitable consequence of too much speed and too little control of your vehicle. You can scoff all you want at the fact I don't drive. It doesn't change basic physics. Ice is slippery. Whodathunkit?)

The walk to work was not pleasant. Not that I had expected it to be. Visibility was down to less than twenty meters as swirling snow-demons capered all around me. But I made it to work, unlike quite a few people at quite a few jobs on Friday.
The teachers had an excuse: they'd (predictably) closed the schools. They almost never did this when I was growing up--I can count the snow days of my scholastic career on the fingers of one hand--but they do it at the drop of a flake nowadays and I can't figure out why. It might have something to do with the fact that children are seemingly not allowed to walk to school any more, but whatever.

There was no excuse, as far as I could see, for other people failing to show for work. But absenteeism was epidemic at every job I surveyed on Friday. Doubtless some of this was due to parents being unable to find child care on short notice--I can't be the only one that reacts with incredulity when they shut the schools down because it's freakin' snowing. Other people probably believed the hype and thought if they went outside on Friday they might die.

All in all, we got 40 cms, which is the first time I can remember us coming out on the upper end of a forecasted snow depth in years. It's a lot of snow to fall at once, but it's nothing to get worked up about. Now, New England...many places got a meter of snow. That's  a snowstorm. Maybe even a kyag...











06 February, 2013

41

"Does it bother you," asked Eva last night, just before bed, "that you're turning 41?"

I thought about it a while. "Yeah, a little," I admitted. "Not for the reason most people would give, though..." and then I stopped dead. "It's hard to articulate," I said. "I'll have to write it out tomorrow."

And now tomorrow is today and I'm seemingly no closer to getting a handle on these alien thoughts.

No worries, folks, I'm not having that midlife crisis.. On the contrary: I'm reasonably happy with most aspects of my life, ecstatically happy with others, and the niggling sense I'm feeling is certainly not overtaking my rational mind.

It's there, though: no denying it.

Oh, the accepted narrative is well known. I'm supposed to be asking myself IS THIS ALL THERE IS?, eventually deciding that no, it isn't/shouldn't be/can't be, and then throwing away all I have in search of some illusion, wrecking my life in the process.

No, thanks.

Even if 'this' isn't 'all there is', I have to say upon reflection that it's the vast majority of all there need be in my life.

"If you have one friend in the world, you're lucky. Two and you're blessed. Three is impossible."
--unknown; one of those Uncle Rog quotes that recurs at intervals

When I first heard those words in grade thirteen, they changed my perception of myself in a profoundly positive way. I've always had trouble making friends. I love people in the abstract, and my history has shown me that I like many people on sight and have grown to love more than a few. But taking that first step to friendship, for me, is fiendishly difficult. It all comes back to that pervasive fear, the one that I have let sabotage my life for far too long in far too many ways: the fear of looking stupid. (Hell, after fourteen years with my wife, I've only recently arrived at the point where my looking stupid in front of her doesn't mortify me. Probably because it happens so bloody often.)

Until I first heard that three friends is impossible, I'd always compared myself to the extroverts who had what seemed like hundreds of friends...and found myself not just wanting, but yearning. With that cranial transplant, I  suddenly understood that I could rejoice in what I had, and let go of what everyone else seemed to have, and that's been at the heart of the hard-won emotional stability I pride myself on.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I'm blessed with friends who make my life a joy. I love one of 'em so much I married her. Best decision I ever made. In that area of my life, I'm not just alright, I'm all  right.

I've been at my job for sixteen months now and for the most part feel about as comfortable as I did at my last job after four or five years. There are people that I willingly hop out of bed to go see. (I'm paid to be in that atmosphere, too: how cool is that?)  No complaints there.

I'm currently enrolled in introductory French, and the language I was almost fluent in after high school is slowly coming back to me. My mind gets a workout every Tuesday and Eva and I are having fun spouting French at each other, and so that's okay, too.

I don't even have the sense of tempus fugit that seems to plague people as they age. I lost that the first time I read the fragment of poetry that gave birth to the phrase:

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.
(But meanwhile it flees: Time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.)
--Virgil, Georgics

Love of detail? That doesn't describe me at all. I'm a simple man to please and I can find myself content in almost any surrounding. If anything, I'm the kind of guy who misses the trees for the forest.  So I don't see the point in lamenting 'lost' time: what matters to me is now.

I have the love of my life; I have my mind; I have gainful employment that also happens to have friends embedded in it; I have a house that doesn't leak (though it could do with a good cleaning, and if you think I'm going to do much of that today, you're nuts). I have three pets who love me unconditionally and I've got music and books and enough of everything else.

Nothing missing. So why the niggling?  To what possible purpose would I--

Hmmm.


IF YOUR BIRTHDAY IS TODAY:
Does your life have a purpose? Yes, of course it does, and what that purpose is will become ever clearer as the new year goes on. Listen to what your inner voice tells you. It's the part of you that knows all the answers.
--horoscope as published in The Globe and Mail, February 6, 2013, I shit you not

I don't believe in daily horoscopes and rationally I can't accept the premise that the gravitational fields of planets affect the quotidien doings of  beings here on Earth. This despite being a prototypical Aquarian in nearly every respect; the deep reading I once got out of a computer after supplying it with my natal date, time and location was...uncanny). I only read horoscopes for fun, that that only at the start of a new year...and on my birthday.

Does my life have a purpose? Maybe. What the hell is it?

The trite answer to this, the one I've read in several spiritual tomes including the closest thing I have to a  bible: it boils down to "life is what you make it"...something we all heard from our parents, I suspect, and another of those things, at least for me, that only took on real meaning as I aged. But what do I want to make of my life, when what I've made of my life so far is wonderful?

Are we gonna go round this here bush again?

Until I get to an answer on that, I suspect I'm going to be right here in this place of contentment. I don't want to give the sense that I'm stalled or stagnant. But...niggle niggle.

Hope today's horoscope is accurate.