24 May, 2013

Prom Memories

Today I learned the average American family expects to spend $1139 on prom this year, and that figure inches ever higher. Interestingly, families with a gross income under $50K a year spend more on high school proms than more affluent families.

Scary.

I haven't mentioned my high school prom once in this Breadbin's history, because the memory of it still stings over two decades after the fact. In a precursor to my university years then on the horizon, I made a series of poor choices which seemed reasonable at the time, but which led to my "big night' being all but ruined--and I won't whine about that, because I actively and totally ruined the night of the girl who was supposed to be my date. I haven't seen or heard from her in the interim. I doubt she's forgiven me. I wouldn't have forgiven me.

Casting back through the mists of time--

1990, OAC year (what used to be called 'grade 13' in Ontario)
Ingersoll District C.I.

Well, this is interesting. I'm kissing a girl. For the first time since third grade. And with considerably more passion than I knew existed in third grade. In fact, any more passion seems likely to produce an embarrassing stain.

I've managed to get most of the way through high school without anything like this happening. Not for lack of dreaming, mind you.. But the problem with fantasies, at least in my experience, is that they stand zero chance of becoming realities, which makes it hard to explain this girl I'm welded at the lips to. And it's even harder to explain how these kissing and make-out sessions keep happening--the music room (naturally), a park, a cemetery (hey, it's peaceful and private), and once, just once, her living room on a shared spare period. That occasion was progressing into something a little more serious than kissing when her dad unexpectedly came home to spoil the party.)

Yes, hard to explain. Very, very hard.

"You make me feel safe", she tells me, and doesn't that make my heart go pitter-pat? Other guys had taken advantage of her before me, and as very. very hard as it was, I wouldn't yield to that temptation. I'm going through a Christian phase and even without the goody-two-shoes facade I wear like a hair shirt, I understand instinctively that any relationship I seek with this woman (and I seek, how I seek) would be much better if I could show some restraint. So I do. Repeatedly.

I ask her to prom with all the jittery stuttery circumlocutions you might expect from a guy who's terrified he might wake up at any moment, and she says "I thought you'd never ask" and the dream continues. Nice dream.

It's coming up on prom night, the tickets have been procured, and the high school grapevine has informed me that Sandy and I have plans. A red flag is raised in my mind because it's not Sandy informing me of these plans, and the flag is joined by a host of alarm bells when I find out what those plans are. After pfom, we're to join another couple (the girl half of which I'll be engaged to in two years, but I couldn't possibly guess that now) for a drive down to Port Dover's beach. And what happens on Port Dover's beach? The grapevine has a number of suggestions. Perhaps in nine months there will be a new "son of a beach" in the world, eh, Ken?

Well, crap on that.

Do I approach Sandy, seeking clarification of these plans made without my knowledge or consent? I do not. Do I approach the other couple? I do not. What I do is withhold Sandy's ticket out a week before the event and then explain to her why I'm doing it.

Which is damned odd because it's 2013 now and I can't explain why I did it.

My parents were quite leery of me going to Port Dover, but they didn't forbid me outright. I did that. I forbade myself. Because I wasn't sure I'd be able to exercise that famed Ken-restraint on a beach in Port Dover, and putting me in this position was clearly Sandy's fault, and damn her to hell or at least to a lonely prom night because I'm at war with myself.

Total dick move, there.

Needless to say, the break-up was swift and spectacular. I'm not sure what Sandy did for her prom night--my self-righteousness extended so far as to not give a fart in a glove. I tried to find myself a date, on insanely short notice, to no avail, and so I went alone, after having dinner with my parents (how romantic is that?)
I managed a couple of dances that night, including one with the girl we were supposed to be double-dating with, the one I'd be engaged to briefly in two years. Still couldn't guess that: give me a month. I hung out with my best friend at the time and his girlfriend, whose name was also Sandy. And after prom I went home, which was undoubtedly where an immature jerk like me belonged.

Sandy, it's not like you'll ever see this, but I'm sorry. What I did has bothered me quite a bit since I grew up enough to realize how much it should. It doesn't make up for destroying your prom, I know. I hope you've overcome the loss of that rite of passage and that it's nothing more than a sad footnote in your past about the jerk who screwed you because he was afraid he might screw you.

I'm sorry.

22 May, 2013

The Week That Was

Six months ago I wrote off Rob Ford's career in the wake of a conflict of interest scandal I was sure would take his career down. It didn't. Now there's a video that purports to show the man Cory Doctorow calls "Toronto's laughable bumblefuck of a Mayor" smoking crack cocaine in the company of known criminals. Whether said video is authentic or not, there is no redeeming quality to this story whatsoever. If it is Rob Ford and if he is indeed smoking crack, I can't see how his mayoralty will survive. Those many of you in Toronto who view the ouster of Rob Ford as redeeming need to consider the age-old question of the means and the ends. You see, you too can help to raise the two hundred large the drug dealers have set as the price to release the video. (As of this writing, we're more than halfway to the goal: please give generously, because drug dealers are people too, and these particular drug dealers are afraid for their livelihood in Toronto and quite possibly their lives.)

Is this what crowdsourcing has come to?

******

Nearly a year ago I bitterly lamented our federal government, which tends to tout its scandalous behaviour as a sign of strength. Harper has weathered every storm by gleefully scaping any goat he can find and either refusing  independent investigations outright or (more likely) eagerly embracing them as a stalling tactic. (Investigations take time, and political memories are short.)

Now the long-simmering Senate expense scandal has come to a furious boil, so far costing two senators their place in caucus and the PMO's chief of staff his job. (Nigel Wright had given generously, cutting a  personal check for ninety large, insisting it was a "gift"; Harper in turn insisted he knew nothing about this, which Thomas Walkom argues is flatly impossible. Harper, meanwhile, is in South America on a trade mission. The stench of corruption is in the air over Ottawa. Justin Trudeau must be salivating.

*******

The weather turned lethal over Moore, OK. Again. The EF4 twister followed an eerily similar path as an F5  in 1999 and an F4 in 2003; five tornadoes have struck this city since 2003. I don't know about you, but I'd be thinking relocation.
As with any natural disaster, tales of miniature tragedies play out alongside  heartwarming tear-jerkers galore.
I was very happy for this woman and her beloved dog, but all the same, I found myself more than a little irked watching the video. NOBODY HELPS HER. She's an elderly lady and her dog is trapped under rubble and NONE of the journalists there lifts a finger until she begs for it.

And then there's the little matter of prayers.

Almost without exception, survivors of this tornado thanked God, said they were blessed, told us they had guardian angels watching over them, told us their prayers were answered. The cognitive dissonance is simply staggering, but it's very common in the wake of disasters natural and man-made. Are you glad to be alive? Undoubtedly. But in your morning prayers, were you *really* beseeching the Almighty for this?


And I can't help but wonder, did this "act of God" -- don't look at me, that's what these things are called -- kill your neighbours and friends because they didn't pray hard enough? My apologies to religious folk offended by the question, but it has bothered me for years. It's a much more graphic example of the competing football teams, each praying for victory. Only one team can win: does God disfavour the other?

******
As you can perhaps tell from the tone of the foregoing, I'm back from vacation and nobody needs a vacation as much as the person who just had one. Yesterday was a lovely twelve hour shift and I'm stiffer than a board this morning, with a mind to match. This is my only day off for a week, and I'm off to try and improve my mood a little...

15 May, 2013

The "I Want" List

Notwithstanding my last post, in which I claimed my materialism has vanished, there remain a few material things I'd like to have at some point in my life.

Number one is probably

A GARAGE

No, I don't drive and never will, at least until we trust the Googlecars. But I do scrape the windshield in the winter, and that's not a task I relish overmuch. Especially after freezing rain.
In all the houses I've lived in--over thirty--I've had a garage once, and it lasted for less than a year before it got treed in a nasty summer storm.  Miraculously, the car inside the garage at the time sustained only minor scratches.
That remains the worst storm I've lived through. There were no tornadoes, just some mighty downbursts producing wind speeds in excess of 160 km/h (100 mph) and toppling trees all over town. Some people in Ingersoll went over a week without power...and we lost our garage. I've been pining for it ever since.

Number two: A FIREPLACE

I know that it's almost indescribably bad for me , that in a sane world, fireplaces would be illegal and their use harshly punished. (Don't believe me? Read that Sam Harris essay.) I know all this, have known it for years. And yet--A house just seems more like a home with a fire burning in it. Witness your dog or cat sitting so close to the flames that you wonder how it doesn't just spontaneously combust and instead it's just luxuriating in the warmth. There's something about a fire. Call me irrational, but there it is.


Number three:  A LAZY-BOY RECLINER

a.k.a. "the Daddy-Chair". I want a chair with heat and massage, the kind of chair that gets all weepy-eyed when you have to leave it. I want a chair that states This is the head of the household.

(Anyone who finds that last bit sexist: paraphrasing My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I may be the head of the household, but Eva is the neck, and the neck turns the head.)

Number four: A GRANDFATHER CLOCK

I don't know where this obsession came from. I've never had one. Truth be told, I love clocks in general, the more unique the better. One of my most prized possessions, destroyed in one move or other, was this:



There is probably no object on this earth I want more than that Arrow ball clock. Eva tried to buy one for me our first Christmas together; the company had just gone out of business.
Barring that exact clock, I'd like a grandfather clock. Its stately, sedate and somehow comforting presence speaks to me of stability and reminds me that this too shall pass.

Number five is related to number four: A VIEW OF WATER

This isn't, of course, a material thing...and yet it is. It is in that a house on the water will cost you easily fifty grand more than the same house that's not. To me, at least, it's fifty grand well spent.

River, lake, ocean, it doesn't matter. I'm not like Eva, who seems to have been a mermaid in a prior life, but I really appreciate the calming effect of water. I love the sound of it, trickling and sloshing. Someday we plan to retire to a place that has a water view. We'll probably have to search long and hard to find such a place that doesn't bankrupt us. But we will search and we will find, because this one's number one on my wife's "I want" list.





Reflections on Happiness

I used to be materialistic to a fault. I spent my twenties revelling in an endless cavalcade of stuff, bought with money that was supposed to be spent on self-improvement. It took an unconscionably long time to notice that desire never stayed dormant: each satisfied whim would attract its brothers and sisters and step-cousins. Once I realized that want begets want (a notion which really ought to be self-evident), I found myself at a loss as to what to do about it all. Stop wanting? That seemed like an over-reaction, not to mention impossible. I'd spent the better part of a decade mistaking ephemeral endorphin highs for happiness, but that goal of simple happiness eluded me. It sure didn't come with a full house, not least because that full house implied an empty wallet. But an empty house and a fall wallet didn't seem to be a fair trade.
It's silly to me now, but I hamster-wheeled in that state of mind for months, just prior to meeting my wife. The overwhelming characteristic of that mental space was despair: not a melodramatic I'm-gonna-off-myself despair, but more of an I've-failed-at-life-and-there-doesn't-seem-to-be-a-makeup-test kind of despair. I had no career goals, no life goals, just a bunch of own-goals and a sense that my life was veering out of control.

The spiritual books I was reading at the time (that's me, always looking to the books for answers) told me I can't have happy (well, duh), and I can't do happy, I can only be happy. The first time I read that I pitched the book across the room, enraged. Fat girl, be skinny. Poor man, be rich.  Oh, if all the world's problems could be solved with magical hocus-pocus incantations. Be happy, indeed.

Then I met Eva and it was like a switch was flipped. It's not that happiness came into my life--a corny sentiment, also a wrong one. It was that I discovered the capacity for happiness than had been in me all along.
What Eva did do was accept me unconditionally. It stabilized my life considerably, more and more as time went on. Now, some fourteen years later, people remark on how even-keeled I am. I'm still prone to little freak-outs when life pitches me a curveball, but they resolve themselves fairly quickly.
I've become a little more socially adept, a bit more self-confident, a lot more empathic. These are gifts my wife has given me, gifts I am eternally grateful for. But beyond the gift of a life shared with her, the biggest gift she has given me is understanding. Among many other things, I now understand the truth behind you can only be happy.

It's a choice. It's all a choice, every thought I think, word I speak, action I perform. That seemed preposterous years ago...it was so much easier to just say shit happens and privately wonder why all the shit seemed to happen to me. The truth, of course, was that I was the cause of my own shit.

And shit flushes.

I still have a ways to go. I need to find within myself the discipline to persist at a task. I also need to overcome a fear of rejection that I have allowed to paralyze me professionally and otherwise for far too long. I sense the answers to these questions -- which have eluded me far longer than that simple happiness I once yearned for and have now found -- are hidden just out of sight, behind a gauzy curtain I can almost reach and sweep open. But that happiness is a core ingredient to any lasting success in life, and it eludes many people just as it once eluded me. Be happy.

It really is that simple. Which is not to say easy. Simple is what life is when you strip away all the complications and complexities. (It's no wonder that the two most consistently happy groups of people are children and the simple-minded.) But we're wedded to our complexities and dramas and simplifying life is not always easy. It is, however, happy-making.




07 May, 2013

Love and Hate

At least the prefix 'ex-' is used here.

It isn't always. On many occasions I've seen headlines like

Man Stabs Girlfriend 37 Times

Wife Sets Husband On Fire

'Lovers' Quarrel' Leads to Murder, Suicide

I read the articles attached to headlines like this and amidst all the gory, sensational details ("penis thrown in trash can!")  I never find the one detail that seems most critical to me: why?

Or maybe how would be the better question. How does love turn to hate?  There are no words to adequately express the depth of my confusion here.

Let's first remove the "lover" and the "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" from stories like this. I think when you even start thinking about destroying somebody, mentally or physically, words like friend and lover can get chucked out the window. And if you "quarrel" with somebody, you don't then kill them, or I'd have a trail of corpses ten miles long by now.

I can state with certainty that I am not capable of murder in cold blood. I'm not sure I'm capable of murder in hot blood. I could kill in self-defence, and in defence of quite a number of people I love dearly--but provoked murder is beyond me.

Further, I don't think I'm actually capable of hatred. Not the kind of hatred that would motivate me to expend untold amounts of energy, as in the linked story above, utterly ruining someone's life. That just seems like such a waste of time and emotional intensity, and no good can come out of it.

Ah, but that's you being rational, Ken. Love is not rational and neither is hate.

I was told that last night by someone I barely know, but who strikes me as very perceptive. I've slept on it and I have to say that I disagree with part of it.

Hate is irrational, for the reason I've given above. It's a waste of time and energy and nothing good ever came of hatred, even (or perhaps especially) for the hater. Yet it persists and remains a potent force in the world, and that to me is the very definition of irrational.

But love? That which "makes the world go round"? The thing that's "all you need"? The thing without which, according to Corinthians, you are "nothing"? I can't accept that something so essential to the human condition--in many spiritual traditions, it is the human condition--can be irrational.

Certainly lust can be irrational. The kind of lust that leads a man to throw away a wife and life in favour of a hundred punps, a tickle and a squirt (with a woman who is, more often than not, a pale imitation of the wife he's betraying)--that's irrational as hell. But lust is not love, as most (not all) teenagers eventually learn.

It may seem like I'm bearing a dead horse -- go back through this Breadbin and I've probably said this half a hundred times -- but love, actual love, is unconditional. That means it's permanent: it doesn't fade, it doesn't sour, it most certainly doesn't eventually turn to hate.

I still think Shakespeare said it best, in Sonnet 116:

...Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. 
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

So what does this mean for relationships that do fade, or go sour? We've all had them, right?

 In the first case, it means that in the interest of love, you've seen fit to dissolve the relationship. This is very common and absolutely nothing to be ashamed or guilty of. It's so common, in fact, that often it's not even a conscious decision. Not every partner or friend is meant to share the entire road with you.  Friends and lovers drift in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, and that's perfectly okay. So long as you've served each other to the best of your ability over the night, or month, or decade you've known each other, you've done your job.
It's not a mistake to marry such a one, either. Yes, in marriage you make a vow, and vows are supposed to be kept. But if both of you agree that your lives are no longer served by your relationship, a vow can become counterproductive. Marriage is not a prison and spouses are neither wardens nor prisoners. If one or both of you feels trapped to that kind of extent, what you're in is not a marriage and should not be treated as one.

Which is not to suggest in any way that bumps in the road should kill a union. Far from it: in many ways they can make a marriage stronger. I'm talking about the kind of existential dread that leads one spouse to wake up one day and say I don't love you and I'm not sure I ever did. And note there the actual disavowal of  love.  In such a case no one's purpose is being served by a continuation of the marriage: not the husband's, not the wife's, definitely not the children's, and not even the deity (if applicable) Who was party to the contract in the first place.

And when relationships go sour? I'd suggest that the driving force in those relationships was not, could never have been, love. Because love is that "ever-fixed" mark, that unconditional emotion that does not judge, does not condemn, does not punish. (To reiterate another point I've made many times, this is why the concepts of "Judgement Day" and "Hell" are wholly incompatible with an omnibenevolent Deity: either the deity or the judgement and hellfire simply can not exist.)

The state most often mistaken for love, in these cases where the "lovers" end up murdering each other or each other's reputations, is simple jealousy. Simple, wrongheaded, awful jealousy, the kind of emotion I'd scrub from the human palette if I had the ability. Jealousy is possibly the most soul-destroying, senseless and disgusting emotion it's possible for a human being to feel. It's monstrously arrogant, for one thing: who are you to feel pain at another's happiness? Who are you to treat your partner as a possession? What gives you the right to exert control over another adult's path in life and love?
It's no coincidence that the few times I've found myself feeling that emotion, I was sick to my stomach. It corrodes everything it touches. It dehumanizes. You get the picture.

But like hatred, it's disconcertingly common in the world, to the point where many people believe it necessary for a healthy marriage! I figure the only way someone can mistake jealousy for love is if he or she has never experienced love. And that thought is, for me, sad beyond contemplation.

I find it very difficult to conceive of a world wherein I felt indifference towards my wife, and flatly impossible to imagine hating the woman. If she were to announce tomorrow that she was leaving me, you can bet I'd put up a fight--but if she made it clear enough that leaving me would best serve her, the fight would go out of me. I'd be deflated, bereft beyond coherence, and I don't want to write about this any more--but hate her? Never. I don't have it in me.


06 May, 2013

Vacation Rambles

has come 'round at last. 
You've heard it all before, and doubtless experienced it yourselves: each vacation is more necessary than the one before; each respite is rehearsal for retirement; and damnitall, they go by so fast.

Recycling a couple of my favourite aphorisms:

"Vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking any longer."
--Anonymous

"A vacation consists of two weeks which are too short after which you are too tired to return and too broke not to." 
--also Anonymous. Prolific and profound, that person.

This particular week-and-a-bit away from the grind was supposed to happen a month ago, in my break between classes. Unfortunately that week coincided with university exams and all our part timers requested and got time off to study, leaving me virtually the only one available and scuttling my plans. Scuttled plans are nothing new to me, but still, this rankled. I was ready for this week off a month ago, and that month took about a year to go by.

One friend of mine is in Berlin, or maybe en route to Prague, today. Another pair of friends are on an anniversary trip that has incorporated Hawai'i and Las Vegas. My vacation plans, alas, are considerably more humble.

I have French class tonight and on Wednesday night I face down the first test I've taken in nearly twenty years. Just a simple vocabulary test, nothing onerous. Truth be told, I wish I had the opportunity to pay, say, half the tuition, sit the final exam, and if I pass it, gain credit for the course. But that's me, always looking for the easy way out. 
On Thursday I'm off to my Dad and Hez's place Up North -- capitalization deliberate -- for a few days in which I hope I can stay awake. This is, as always, a trip I'm looking forward to.  I expect I'll be thoroughly buried in NHL playoffs--my dad's an even bigger fan of the game than I am--and thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs' series-tying win the other night, there'll be a game on Friday night that father and son can sit down and enjoy (or stand up and curse, as the case better not be). 
Other than that, my plans basically involve the square root of frig-all. Maybe I'll try for the cube root this time. If that sounds boring....you're not me.

I was up at 5:15 this morning...meaning I slept in for all of fifteen minutes. I can refuse to set my bedside alarm, but I'm helpless against my inside alarm. No matter, though: I like getting up at that hour.    Once I've showered and dressed, I'll step out into the peaceful crispness to retrieve the newspaper which is invariably somewhere down by the sidewalk. I'll pause, recite a few incantations under my breath, raise my hands to the heavens and summon the dawn. That's right, I'm why the sun came up this morning. It's a heavy responsibility, but somebody's gotta do it.

----------------
I've promised a couple of people blogs. Ally: the topic you've set for me is very important and extremely depressing and I promise I will write on it at some point relatively soon, but quite frankly I'm the farthest thing from in the mood to do it today. Chris, I promised you a reading list. That, too, is forthcoming, sometime this week. If you're desperate for something to read, pick up John Dies At The End by David Wong: I think you'll be glad you did.)
------------------

The year proceeds apace. Big changes are afoot chez Breadbin. The smallest change is probably the portable dishwasher scheduled to land here in the next couple of weeks.
Amongst all the houses I've lived in--well over thirty--very few have had dishwashers. I've been the dishwasher for a goodly chunk of my life, and I'm not a very good one, if you have to ask. Cleaning, cleaning, I hate cleaning things that just end up getting dirty again. I hate any repetitive tasks like that...if it didn't involve so much pain and expense, I'd laser off all my hair so I wouldn't have to deal with it again. I'd be the kind of rich douche that would, in Paul McCartney's words, be breaking dirty dishes up and throwing them away. I haven't made my bed since I lived at home and had to, reason there being that c'mon, who's going to see my bedroom today? Outside of my fantasies, I mean? So this dishwasher will be a welcome addition to the Breadbin, for me because duh and for Eva because the outside of things will be clean.
Then there's the machine Eva's getting:

I understand there's a little game on this thing in which you're a fish dodging sharks. Who says fitness can't be fun?
This will help with Eva's ongoing weight loss/life transformation. She's gone eight months without smoking a cigarette and this time I know it'll stick. She's also lost a fair bit of weight already in the process of losing a great deal more. While her weight doesn't matter to me, her health emphatically does. I couldn't be prouder of her.

Towards the end of this year, I'll be getting braces. Or at least starting the mouth reconstruction I'll probably need in advance of getting braces.
This is more than three decades overdue and it's entirely my fault. I was slated to get braces at roughly the same time I got glasses and I flatly and emphatically refused. My parents relented after a while and thirty-odd years later I can truthfully say I wish they hadn't.
Oh, I had my reasons, and they were a nine-year-old's damn good reasons: Glasses caused me enough grief on the playground as it was. I viewed braces as the icing on the turd.  Try a little irony, Ken: it's good for the blood. As it turned out, without braces my teeth went hideous on me and I might as well be eating a shit-cake every time I open my mouth. I've rooted out many of my insecurities, or Eva's rooted them out for me, but my misshapen, malformed and malodorous teeth are a huge one and it's past time I did something about it. 
I'll be getting the InvisAlign braces that are supposed to be less painful. This is good, of course, as my philosophy on pain is best summed up as "no pain, no...pain!"...but the truth is I owe some pain as penance for my pigheadedness back when I was nine. Once my mouth is fixed, I hope my self-consciousness  (which really has been, and is, crippling) will be fixed too.

If all this wasn't enough, we're also undergoing what will be referred to in the history of our lives as the Great Purge. 
We've tried this before, by means of garage sales. They haven't gone all that well. So this time the decent stuff is going to Value Village and the rest is getting binned. 
There's a lot of "rest". Our home is not something you'd see on Hoarders, far from it, but it is...cluttered. The basement is cluttered in the extreme. We've accumulated almost fifteen years of C.R.A.P. (Cheap Random Assorted Product) and it's gotta go. Too many times we've hesitated on the "maybe someday we'll need this" principle. You know what? If someday hasn't come up by now, then someday is Neverary 22nd. 

I'm riding Eva's bike on account of having blown a tire (leave my personal life out of this, would you?) I've grown to really like the riding stance on this thing. Having never really driven, I can't  say for sure, but I suspect it's similar to the feeling drivers get transitioning from a compact car to an SUV. I feel like I command the road. It's called a 'comfort' bike for good reason.

And that's life in a nutshell. There are other things going on around here, some of which I'll be writing about later on...but for now I'm just going to enjoy my vacation.