26 February, 2014

Looking Back (I)

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ADMINISTRIVIA: This is the first of a planned series of eleven Breadbin posts commemorating the upcoming tenth anniversary of this blog. Once a week between now and May 12, I will be choosing one post from each year I've been writing, republishing it verbatim, and adding commentary below.
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As published July 25, 2004:

The Monkey on My Back 



Look for a long time at what pleases you, 
and longer still at what pains you...
---COLETTE

I don't know who Colette is or was, whether it's a first name or a last. I ran across this epigram just now on a disembodied page sitting next to our bathroom sink. Live with us for any length of time and you will not find the preceding sentence overly odd...we have books everywhere, and some of the older ones occasionally molt.
In any event, I was 'bathruminating' on something that pains me mightily when my eyes were drawn to Colette's words of wisdom. It occurred to me that this thing should be dragged into the light of day (or at least the weak glow of my monitor) and examined.

Christ, it's heavy. Not that I've noticed the weight before, or not often--We Do Not Speak Of It. But I've carried this burden pretty much my whole life. Not only that, every chance I got I added to it. Proudly, even. By now, though, it's a monkey on my back, a big one, maybe actually a silverback gorilla. It can bite. It does bite. Like today.

This silverback has a name, and its name is IGNORANCE.

Does it strike you, dear reader, as odd that I am 32 years old and have just today used a whippersnipper for the first time? Yeah. Me too. But it's true. Of course, within seconds I had snapped off  part of the cutting spool. I stood there in the middle of the driveway, feeling a not-entirely-phantom pain as that not-entirely-phantom gorilla bit me on the ass.
This morning, I successfully mounted a hook on the back of our bathroom door for my towel. This is a simple job--it would only take your average guy without a gorilla on his shoulder about a minute. It took me ten, and when I finished it, I heard two things in my head: wild cheering, almost immediately drowned out by the sardonic clapping of the gorilla. Good for you, it said. You screwed two screws into the bathroom door and only dropped one twice. Not bad for an idiot. But just wait...later on today you're gonna use a whippersnipper. And then I'm gonna hoot and holler and jump up and down and bite you on the ass and laugh and laugh and LAUGH...
I was setting up my keyboard stand later on and I managed to strip a screw to the point of no return. I could blame this on Mr. Silverback, but he has an accomplice in matters like this, a little macaque named Slanty. Slanty lives deep in my brain and makes me think I'm holding things--like screwdrivers, say--perfectly level when in fact I'm merrily screwing myself crooked. (You'll also see Slanty at work when I'm carrying plates of food. On the list of possible professions for me, "waiter" ranks somewhere below "ballerina".)

On those infrequent occasions when I was forced to acknowledge the gorilla as a child, I'd like as not burst into tears and run away, not caring that it just made him stronger. Now, as an adult, I'm no longer allowed to cry simply because once again, I've fucked things up...but inside there's a little kid screaming.

I have no excuse. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I put this monkey on my back at least 25 years ago and I've been feeding it ever since. When Things Were Getting Done around the house, I'd make myself scarce. If that wasn't an option, I'd gladly be the guy reading the instructions. I could hold the whoozit steady with the best of them. If pressed, I could even hold two whoozits AT THE SAME TIME. On rare occasions, I'd be asked to willywag the whoozit into the bangzapper. That would usually end badly. Luckily, or so I thought at the time, I had a stepfather who could willywag whoozits into bangzappers with both eyes tied behind his back, whistling the theme from Love Story.  And while John was blessed with nearly endless reserves of patience in most things, it didn't extend to teaching willywagging to a kid who most assuredly had no interest in learning.

But now I've got this here house, see, and the sky is raining bangzappers.

I found out really early in my relationship with Eva that she has a deep and abiding love for monkeys. Even the silverback on my shoulders doesn't faze her, often, for which I am profoundly grateful. Better even than that, she has both skill and an ability to teach. Knowing that helps soothe the gorilla bites just a bit. I can't deny, though, that it's days like today when, just for an instant, I wonder if she'll throw me on the discard pile...and whether I actually belong there or not.  

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Ten years on, and still -- sometimes -- I'm not sure of that last. Self-esteem has never been my strong suit: I move through the world convinced on some level that those who like me are mildly crazy. Sometimes (no, let's be honest, often) I'm downright incredulous that anyone would love me, let alone someone as compassionate, caring and competent as Eva is. 

Compassion and caring I can do. Sometimes to a fault. Competence is where I fall flat on my face.  This Breadbin entry--number 37--was the first time I felt comfortable enough to let that little truth about myself out.

I remember my stepdad--the whoozit-willywagger extraordinaire referenced above--asking me on more than one occasion, with more than a touch of exasperation, "why do you have to do everything the hard way?" Eva has asked me the same thing...so have more than a few other people. It's one question I still can't answer: kind of like my attempts to do things, none of my answers come out right. Because there IS no easy way? Because I find your easy way much harder than my hard way? Oh, fuck it all, because I'm useless and stupid and I'll never amount to a fart in a windstorm?

I'm just as physically retarded as I ever was, and never mind that that word isn't politically correct, it's the only one that fits. The receiver at my work spent probably upwards of two hours with me going over and over the (supposedly) simple procedure of making a cardboard bale. This is something I should have learned well over a decade ago and also something most people need shown only once, maybe twice. Guess what? While I actually CAN make bales, and HAVE made bales, I'm still slower than constipated mole-asses at the process and my knots are anything but regulation. They work--they're not quite as tight as they should be, but they work.  And each time I successfully make and tie a bale, in only twice the time it takes the next slowest employee to do it, I hear the clapping and sarcastic cheering of that gorilla. 

If it was just one thing, I could avoid that one thing and live happily ever after. But it's everything, or nearly: any new appliance we get had better be idiot-proof, for a special species of idiot, because I find ways to mess things up that most people can't even imagine. If I had a nickel for every time I heard "how in the hell did you manage to get it like THIS?!"...I'd have a lot of nickels. 

Part of my problem is a critical failure of perception. I'm a bitch to grade on I.Q. tests: I'm off the charts high in some areas and off the charts low in others. The questions I have the most trouble with give me a depiction of a pattern in three dimensions and ask me to imagine it rotated and flipped. I won't say your guess is as good as mine because you don't have to guess, and if you do, it'll be a lot better than mine. Don't ask me to read a blueprint and forget about those IKEA instruction booklets that omit nice precise words in favour of incomprehensible pictures....

My other problem is a lack of eye-hand co-ordination. That's partly a function of faulty eyesight, but, again, if I'd really wanted to excel in the physical world, I could have overcome that  obstacle. I didn't want to. I still don't want to. Excellence in those physical things entails -- for me -- the likelihood of blood, the certainty of sweat, and the surety of a whole lot of tears, whether I actually shed them or not. I know people say "no pain, no gain"...but I say "no pain, no...pain! Duh!"  

I can point at endless examples. My parents once enrolled me, at considerable expense, in a black-belt program of karate. I never got a black belt, needless to say. I never got any colour of belt. I shook the Zen serenity of my Sensei with what he honestly thought was wilful ignorance. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't touch my toes without bending. Couldn't kick higher than my waist. Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't...and if there's some amount of stretching  that could let me do either of those things, it's  too much stretching for me to do. You bendy people, doesn't that hurt?  I try and touch my toes and my legs feel like they're ripping apart. No pain, no pain! Duh!

I don't even walk right. I lurch and limp and *that*, I'm told, dates all the way back to earliest infancy. They didn't do physical therapy on preemies when I was one and the lack messed me up. At this point they'd have to break bones and reset them just for me to walk properly. 

I'm not unleashing this load of self-criticism in search of sympathy. I used to hate the saying "it is what it is"--what else would it be, what it isn't?--but that saying applies here. I just deal, and I'm very thankful I have some small compensating talents and EXTREMELY thankful I have the love of a great wife and great friends to sustain me in the midst of these moments of moodiness. And as always, dear reader, I'm thankful to have you along for the ride.

24 February, 2014

I Am Not A Caterpillar

Eva is doing remarkably well in the wake of her surgery nearly three months ago.

Nothing good my wife accomplishes surprises me anymore, but this has come close. We were told, well before the surgery, that pretty much every patient will experience gastric dumping syndrome--acute nausea, extreme cramping, explosive vomiting, and diarrhea--at least once. This hasn't happened.

Oh, to be sure, it's been touch and go. She *has* puked once, and she is made to understand within two bites if the food she's chosen is acceptable. And for  a while there it was flatly ridiculous what was and what wasn't acceptable. Cold water bad, lukewarm water good. Grape Kool-Aid (sweetened with Splenda) good, grape juice emphatically bad. And so on.

We did have a setback: a bleeding ulcer. Seven percent of gastric bypass patients will get one: Eva's number came up. Left untreated for too long, a bleeding ulcer can be fatal; depending on where it is, more surgery may be required to fix it. This one, apparently, was caught early enough to be treated with medication alone, and she seems to have recovered. A big thanks to the bariatric clinic, which saw her promptly and attended to business.

Her food choices are still quite limited, but she's been given the all-clear to experiment. Red meat is still off the table, as are most sweets and of course alcohol, caffeine and carbonated beverages. But most of that isn't exactly healthy anyway, and Eva had weaned herself off both pop and coffee long before the surgery.

Her weight loss has hit a plateau right now but she continues to lose inches. Her clothing sizes have numbers now instead of Xs and she can buy those clothes just about anywhere. Though we're sticking to the cheap places because she'll have to replace her wardrobe at least once, probably twice. It's nice to have cheap places to get clothes, and lots of them. Her clothes shopping for the past quarter century has been restricted almost entirely to Penningtons, (There are other plus-sized stores in this country, but they're even more expensive.) At least half of Pennington's stock consists of ugly-grandma flowery prints that Don Cherry wouldn't be caught dead in; a further quarter is itchy, scratchy, or would cause my wife to spontaneously combust. (Fashion designers have clearly forgotten that fat is an insulator...)

I'll be posting before and after pics a ways down the road, once Eva's a comparative wisp. For now it suffices to say she is noticeably not the woman you see pictured at the top of this blog.

She got a tattoo to commemorate this occasion. As always, she asked me what I thought she should get, and I suggested either a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, or a phoenix feather aflame. She went with the latter, only because the size made a chrysalis difficult to depict. But the butterfly image is apt, too.



It's her mental state that impresses me most, I think. She's had some down days--who wouldn't, really?-- and some days when she kinda sorta regretted the whole thing. But by and large she's adapted remarkably well to the restrictions. Her diabetes is gone. She has lots more energy than she used to. And most of the time, she's quite happy.

Eva was told, as part of the counselling that presages the surgery, that one in five marriages dissolve in the wake of a gastric bypass. I was incredulous to hear this...I still am. Stereotypically, we're always hearing men bitching about their wives gaining weight...you'd think a dramatic weight loss would go over well with these shallow pricks. I'm still at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Is it that (gasp!) other men might suddenly find her attractive?

So what if they do? I mean, she is. Who am I to get pissed off at other people seeing in her what I've seen in her all along? (I've told her, though I certainly didn't need to, that any guy she knew in her Eva2 days that suddenly treats her much better is not even worthy of her contempt...) Anyone she meets from her on out, though, probably will find her attractive, and again, so what?

Maybe it's that people who have lost half their body mass develop new interests and leave their partners in the dust. Except Eva develops a new interest, on average, about once every sixteen minutes and she's been like that far longer than I've known her. Even if this wasn't true, odds are fair to middling that any new interest she develops is apt to be a healthy one. One that I should maybe develop too. I could stand to lose a bit of weight myself. And if I try rock-climbing or paragliding or whatever it is she gets into and I hate it (let's be honest, that's pretty likely, I'm what you'd call an indoor guy)...once again, so what?

Here's what I promised her on October 14th, 2000:

to be the husband of your days
the companion of your journey
the friend to your life
and the father to our children
to live with you in joy
and to grow with you in love
with these words
and all the words of my heart
I marry you and I bind my life to yours.

Nowhere in there does it say I must share her every interest or be with her every waking moment. I can't think of anything more stifling to a relationship than that, actually.

She's just getting back from a weekend business trip this morning. I haven't seen her since Friday morning and truth be told, I haven't really seen much of her this year...her work has been taking up a great deal of her time. For the first time in a long time, though, she's loving what she's doing, and that makes all the difference.

Eva should know by now that I'm not going anywhere, that I'm hers as long as she'll have me. Bariatric surgery doesn't change that. Eva may end up at half her previous weight...that doesn't mean my love for her will be cut in half, or at all.


19 February, 2014

Why I Write

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."--Walter Winchell, paraphrased

After very nearly ten years and over thirteen hundred posts, it's getting increasingly difficult to find new things to write about. This is especially true since, due to reader demand, the Breadbin has all but discarded the political part of its mandate. My political posts attract less than half the readers my personal posts do. And while I've often said (and meant) that I'd write this blog even if nobody read it, of course it's nice to know people are reading my thoughts.

If you would know me, simply read my output...starting on May 12, 2004. If you can get through several thousand screens without dying of boredom, you'll know damn near everything there is to know about me as a person. I've held a few things back, and will continue to do so; some of my thoughts are too personal to share, as open as I am. But pretty much anything important is in here somewhere...most of it several times.

Starting next week, and for ten weeks thereafter, I'm going to pick my favourite post from each year I've been writing the Breadbin, republish it  verbatim, and then give some commentary on it. Looking back, there are several posts I can't believe I wrote, and a few I'm ashamed to have written.  There are others I wouldn't change a word of. And there are some I just like to relive.

The other day I asked my Facebook friends to give me an open-ended question and I'd blog about it. (Thus do I refute writer's block.) Most of the responses were silly and/or dirty. One good friend asked me 'what's so appealing about writing/blogging/journaling/diaries?'

Several things, for me, really. One is stress release. I think everyone's got a favourite method of stress release: some people play video games, some people go running, some people stalk and kill innocent strangers, then play paint-by-numbers with the arterial spray. Me, I write.
I also play piano...that's for emotions that are too big for me to process. If I am very angry or very sad, my first refuge is (and pretty much always has been) my piano. That kind of anger or sadness is quite rare in my life over the last several years--I try to keep on as even a keel as I can--but it's nice to have that piano to fall back on.
For the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, I write. Not always about what's bothering me...sometimes I write something explicitly to get my mind off what's bothering me--but often enough, I'll write my pain out for the world to see. Shared misery is lessened. I'll also write my joy (because shared joy is increased)...and if I can get away with it I'll write more joy than misery, because (a) nobody likes a sourpuss and (b) the world needs more joy in it.

I can go back and read my stress/joy release posts whenever I need to, for those recurring stresses we all have to cope with. It's very nice, after a particularly bad day, to easily find written evidence that so far, I have a perfect track record of surviving really bad days.

So stress release, joy release...anything else?

Memory aide. Eva is not a date person. Ask her what year something happened and she'll draw a blank nine times out of ten. Several times over the last decade we've had cause to find out when something happened. Even if I didn't write about it, maybe it happened right around the time I wrote about thus-and-such...search thus-and-such and there it is, February of '06, how could we ever have forgotten that?

I write to come to terms with myself. I hold some very unorthodox views on life and love, and I'm forever honing them, shaping them...sometimes changing them entirely when they no longer serve. I find it easier to do this honing and shaping and changing if I spill those views out where I can stare at them until either they, or I, squirm.

And yes, I admit it, I write with a view to how my writings will be read, since I know I have an audience (and yet I keep being surprised at just who is in that audience...you, for instance, I haven't seen you in, like, ever, and yet here you are peering into my mind. It's flattering and a little spooky sometimes...)

I know I've hit paydirt when I write on autopilot. That happens maybe three times a year and it'd be frightening if it wasn't so damned exhilarating. Words just flow on to the screen seemingly without conscious effort; I never have to stop and think about a sentence is taking me, and at the best of times I don't even have to back up and fix a typo. It all just scrolls out. Those tend to be the posts that garner the most praise, and I want to say hey, don't look at me, something wrote that through me.  Chances are at least half the posts I pick to showcase and discuss over the next ten weeks will have been written that way.

Most of my posts, though, require effort. The ones I hate most require RESEARCH. There's another good reason to abandon the political in favour of the personal...if I'm writing about me, there's no Googling to be done there.

I wish more people blogged, really I do. I want to read about you more than I want to write about me. But most people don't find blogging appealing at all. They start up a blog, go great gangbusters on it for a week or a month or maybe even a few years...and then abandon it in favour of Twitter. (Sometimes I amuse myself and calculate how many tweets the blog I'm writing would have to be. It's safe to say I will never tweet more than occasionally, nor will I use the fourteen-character social media app that is destined to supplant Twitter in the coming years as everything and everybody continues to truncate.)

I write for you, and I thank you so much for reading...but I also write for me.

18 February, 2014

Am I A Man?

Once again I am confronted with my lack of manliness.

Oh, in some ways I'm definitely a man. I have the requisite  equipment and even a little of the stereotypical mindset here and there. But while men forever gripe about not being able to understand women, I can't understand much of how men generally think.

Sex is a perfect example. Time and time again I've heard various men extol the virtues of "angry" or "hate" sex. Now, undoubtedly these men are exaggerating, since men (unlike women) keep their *real* sex lives private. Nevertheless, so many people have raved about angry passionate sex that I figure there must be something to it.
But how does that work, exactly? I can't imagine being angry and sexual at the same time. They're polar opposite states! Try coming on to your significant other in the middle of an argument sometime. I'd want an armour-plated jock, myself.

One of my Facebook friends posted 21 Rules That Men Have. It's probably the fifth or sixth time I've seen this gag post. I've never found it funny. In fact, every time I see it I'm more and more offended by it.

Here are "the rules":

1. MEN ARE NOT MIND READERS

Okay, let's get the true one out of the way early. I've spent most of a lifetime trying to puzzle out 'signals' and let's just say that was one wasted most of a lifetime. Who knows how many opportunities I lost back in the day because I couldn't read the signs? More likely, how many 'signs' did I make up? Just tell me what you're thinking. Good or bad. I can deal. Promise.

1. LEARN TO WORK THE TOILET SEAT. YOU'RE A BIG GIRL. IF IT'S UP, PUT IT DOWN. WE NEED IT UP, YOU NEED IT DOWN. YOU DON'T HEAR US COMPLAINING WHEN YOU LEAVE IT DOWN.

(Oh, cute, they're all number 1. Isn't that cute? Men complain about women 'nagging'...how is this little rhetorical flourish different?)

I don't know who wrote this thing originally, but either he's got the world's widest ass or he's never pooped in his life (which would lead, I suppose, to him having the world's widest ass). I poop with the seat down. Most people, male or female, do, I'd suspect. Accordingly, at least some of the time "we need it down". I happen to think it looks better down, too. Regardless, if this or the neighbouring toilet paper roll is any sort of an issue in your home, seek help.

(All further #1s omitted, because they grate on me)

ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. LET US BE CLEAR ON THIS: SUBTLE HINTS DO NOT WORK! STRONG HINTS DO NOT WORK! OBVIOUS HINTS DO NOT WORK! JUST SAY IT!

Already covered in #1 above (the actual first point).

YES AND NO ARE PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE ANSWERS TO ALMOST ANY QUESTION.

No, they're not. Not if 'a relationship with a woman' is something you'd like to have. Words are lubrication; without them your marriage will get rusty and eventually grind to a halt.

COME TO US WITH A PROBLEM ONLY IF YOU NEED HELP SOLVING IT. THAT'S WHAT WE DO. SYMPATHY IS WHAT YOUR GIRLFRIENDS ARE FOR.

I will admit the first bit of this is something I occasionally struggle with. A problem, by definition, needs to be solved for it not to be a problem anymore, and I do sometimes marvel at (some) women's seeming preference to talk about problems *instead* of solving them. Nevertheless, 'sympathy is what your girlfriends are for' is something only a swift-gliding douchecanoe would say.

ANYTHING WE SAID SIX MONTHS AGO IS INADMISSIBLE IN AN ARGUMENT. IN FACT,  ALL COMMENTS BECOME NULL AND VOID AFTER SEVEN DAYS.

This 'rule' is that of a relationship in serious trouble. If you're storing up items to use in future arguments, do your partner a favour, unleash them all at once, and leave, never to return. That said, if you (inadvertently, of course) hurt your partner with your words, it could well take six months -- or much longer -- full of words AND actions to heal the hurt.

IF YOU THINK YOU'RE FAT, YOU PROBABLY ARE. DON'T ASK US.

Or, you know, you *could* try to find out why the woman in your life has body issues, and you *could* make a point of loving her no matter what she looks like. I've said it probably a hundred times now, but I'll keep saying it: think of the best present you ever got in your life. Now describe what it was wrapped in. Don't care, do you? Then why do you care so much about bodies?

IF SOMETHING WE SAID CAN BE INTERPRETED TWO WAYS AND ONE OF THE WAYS MAKES YOU SAD OR ANGRY, WE MEANT THE OTHER ONE.

Or *sigh* you could think about what you're saying before you say it...imagine how you'd feel if you heard it...and  THEN say it, if it must be said. That may not avoid this problem entirely, but it will minimize it.

YOU CAN EITHER ASK US TO DO SOMETHING OR TELL US HOW YOU WANT IT DONE. NOT BOTH. IF YOU ALREADY KNOW BEST HOW TO DO IT, JUST DO IT YOURSELF.

Except at least in my case, I won't know the best way of doing half the stuff I'm asked to. And my wife is much more handy than I am, but that doesn't excuse me and let me sit on my ass all day long contributing no household tasks whatsoever.

WHENEVER POSSIBLE, PLEASE SAY WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DURING COMMERCIALS.

...because I *really* should have married my television.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS DID NOT NEED DIRECTIONS AND NEITHER DO WE.

I love this one. Yeah, actually, ol' Chris really did need direction, because he thought he landed in India and he wasn't even close.
If I'm lost, I ask for directions. I don't care if that makes me gay or something, I'd rather be gay and know where the fuck I am.

ALL MEN SEE ONLY 16 COLOURS, LIKE WINDOWS DEFAULT SETTINGS. PEACH, FOR EXAMPLE, IS A FRUIT, NOT A COLOUR. PUMPKIN IS ALSO A COLOUR. WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT "MAUVE" IS.

Somewhat guilty as charged, here. In my defence, my visual environment has never been that high on my list of priorities. I'd live in a world of nothing but greys so long as I had Eva to colour it up.

IF WE ASK WHAT IS WRONG AND YOU SAY 'NOTHING', WE'LL ACT AS IF NOTHING'S WRONG. WE KNOW YOU'RE LYING, BUT IT ISN'T WORTH THE HASSLE.

This. This one is about seven thousand percent true. It's related again to MEN ARE NOT MIND READERS, with the added bewilderment of why (again, some) women would lie and say nothing's wrong when something obviously is. I'm so glad Eva doesn't do this, or its related female f-word, "FINE".

IF YOU ASK A QUESTION YOU DON'T WANT AN ANSWER TO, EXPECT AN ANSWER YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR.

It's been almost twenty years since I've been in a relationship where this was a problem. I think both the rhetorical question-traps and the deliberate hurtful answers are strong signs of a relationship in trouble. The whole tone of this article suggests a relationship in trouble, really...if people, male or female, actually identify with the majority of this...how sad for them.

WHEN WE HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE, ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING YOU HAVE TO WEAR IS FINE. REALLY.

...and then every once in a while there's something in here that bucks that tone and confuses me. Of course this is true. Eva's a woman grown, she can dress herself just fine, and she looks wonderful in anything she wears.

DON'T ASK US WHAT WE'RE THINKING ABOUT UNLESS YOU'RE PREPARED TO DISCUSS SUCH TOPICS AS FOOTBALL AND MOTOR SPORTS.  

You know what I'm thinking about most of the time? Nothing. Nothing at all. Thoughts are intrusions on this no-thought state. Frequent intrusions, (usually) welcome intrusions...but intrusions. And I've been told I'm very thoughtful. Perhaps, but I need a few words or an image or something to prime the thought-pump. I have no idea if other men are like this or not. I'm a big hockey fan, but I don't think about hockey unless I'm watching it or reading about it. And I'm more than prepared, at any time, to talk about anything at all. Just say the word, any word.

YOU HAVE ENOUGH CLOTHES.

Actually, Eva doesn't. That's because she's shrinking out of every set of clothes we get her. She looks fantastic in the latest set...and in three or four months we'll have to go through it all again. There are three green garbage bags STUFFED with clothes going to Value Village on our next run. Some large woman is going to think she hit the jackpot.

YOU HAVE TOO MANY SHOES.

Again, Eva does not, and that's partly my doing. (I threw out a bunch of her high heels without asking her shortly after I moved in with her, and NOW you're going to go read that, aren't you/)

Actually, reading this over, maybe it's not only that I'm not really a man...maybe I lucked out in my choice of women. Like I needed sexist drivel to tell me that.




13 February, 2014

"Love, this is horrid! You gotta try this!"

The scene: a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese buffet, incongruously called the Boston Café, in Parry Sound, Ontario, many years ago. Ken and Eva, not yet married, are with Ken's dad and soon-to-be stepmom,  Ken and Heather, not yet married -- try to keep up here -- for a little family bonding. The food is fair at best, but it's almost unnoticed through the general hilarity that surrounds Ken Sr. like a cloud of laughing gas.
It's time for desserts. Now, sweets at the end of a meal are far from a fixture in my life. While I have a whole mouthful of sweet teeth...and also a set or two of sweet dentures.... I've never felt the need to have dessert. But at an all-you-can-eat place where I'm not paying extra for the privilege...I believe Oscar Wilde said it best: "Everything in moderation, including moderation."

That prolific penster Anonymous adds: "I have the body of a god. Unfortunately, it's the Buddha."

I have "saved room" for dessert. This is different from having to make room for dessert, which is something I used to do when I was much younger. Immediately post-entrée, which is to say at what would normally be the end of supper were I at home, I would hear Nature calling urgently. Like clockwork, this was, every night. At some point I'm pretty sure Brain said, hey, Bowels, if you do your little cha-cha right after supper, it'll force me to take this body to a little room far away from the dishes. And if we all stay in that little room far away from the dishes, maybe the dishes will be done when we come out.

This stratagem never worked. I never gave up hope that it would work, but it never did.

I should say, in the interest of total embarrassment, if a great deal of room had to be made for dessert, I might engage in some toilet stall calisthenics. Some vigorous jogging in place, a jumping jack or two--you know, perfectly normal pre-dessert warm-up activity. I'd come back to the table flushed and breathing hard, and no doubt my parents were mystified and bewildered. He's much too young to be coming back from a bathroom flushed and breathing hard. So they asked me what happened, and I told them without hesitation. Years later, they were still bringing that up and shaking their heads at me. I dunno why. It worked.

Okay, let's snap out of my childhood and back to the Boston Café.

I have loaded my plate--or more likely plates --down with all manner of fattening deliciousness. Black forest cake, check. Coconut cream pie, check. A couple of miniature chocolate chip cookies and a Nanaimo bar.  Who knows what else...I passed over the little petits-fours that looked as if they'd been on the table for a week or two,  and gingerly made my way back to the table. A sardonic cheer went up in my head as I slipped back into my seat, singularly proud of having made the journey without dropping anything. (Yeah, I live my life with interior sarcastic sound effects. Doesn't everyone?)

Dessert's almost finished and I'm listening to my dad tell another of his side-splitting stories. Eva's sitting next to me, but for the moment I'm not watching her. I am about to learn that this is a mistake.

Eva has bitten in to one of those little petits-fours and found it revolting. Totally unseen by me, she spits the thing out into her hand, palms it, and sneaks it towards my mouth, taking cruel advantage of my nonexistent peripheral vision. When I open my mouth to laugh, PLOP! in it goes.

Surprised by this sudden morsel of what I think is food, I bite down. Mistake number two. This thing hasn't been on the table a week or two. More like a month or two. It's rubbery and dusty and tastes distinctly of used underwear and I have to spit this out RIGHT NOW.

The waitress chooses this moment to appear out of nowhere and whisk away the plate I'm about to use as an underwear spittoon. Horrified, I consider my options. I could excuse myself and go the the bathroom, I suppose, but that would involve having this uninvited guest in my mouth for far too long. I could lean over and spit it directly at my wife's face, but even with provocation that seems terribly impolite somehow. I could -- gulp! -- swallow.

Which is what I do. A tradition is born. Henceforth, any disgusting gustatory item must be shared and shared alike. "Love, this is horrid! You gotta try this!" The clause in our relationship agreement has been invoked over several different soy concoctions -- to think, people actually choose to drink soy milk! Here, have a nice glass of hay-vomit! -- and most memorably over a sweet and sour coconut lemongrass soup I tried at a Thai place; that tasted for all the world like a big bowl of Lysol.

Now Eva has had bariatric surgery and there are many things she simply can not eat. This is, of course, monstrously unfair. So many delicious things have been denied to her...and so many disgusting things have been denied to me to share with her. As consolation, the odds of her trying anything god-awful and attempting to share it with me have likewise gone down. So there's that.

But I'm going to miss the opportunity to watch my beloved wife's face pucker up and heave, let me tell you.

07 February, 2014

Why I'm Not Watching the Sochi Games

I'm a sucker for the Olympics. Especially the Winter edition. Like most of the country, I was glued to the TV four years ago for the Vancouver games...it feels like last month. But I've been watching the Games since '84, and they're something I look forward to every couple of years.

And you'd think the Sochi Games would be a magnet for me. I have long had a fascination for Russian history and culture. I am absolutely enthralled with Russian classical music, which speaks to me on some deep level that makes me wonder if I was a Volga boatman in a previous life. Already I'm regretting missing the Opening Ceremonies.

But I'm not watching this time. I'm sitting this one out.

The much-debated anti-gay stance of Vladimir Putin's Russia is only one reason. It's a big one, but it's far from the only one. I'm also sick to death of the corruption that seems to follow the IOC around like the world's largest. most noxious fart; the stray dog massacre; the bulldozed homes; even the toilet idiocy. I don't recall any of this in Vancouver or Lillehammer or Nagano or Albertville.

Fifty billion dollars. More than all the previous Winter Olympics combined. I'm normally not one to kvetch about expenditure in these things--as far as I am (or used to be) concerned, anyone who does kvetch about this kind of thing is honour-bound to boycott television and movies entirely--but come on. I'd love to see a detailed accounting of where all that money went. We never will, of course. But we know where some of it went--surveillance videos in the hotel showers. (The first time I've chuckled at that stupid meme: "In Russia, bathroom mirror watches you!") Except that's not funny.

I'd like to stress this has nothing to do with our athletes, or any other athletes. At its core, no matter how much glitz and glamour and vzyatochnichestvo  (that's bribery) has grown up around the Olympic movement, it's about citius, altius, fortius...and the athletes come through every time. I'll follow along in the papers--trying to avoid all Olympic coverage is a mug's game--and I wish every athlete well. But I feel that actually watching the Games is my own tacit approval of Vladimir Putin...and that man scares me more than most world leaders. Kim Jong-Un is certifiable but surely realizes his country would be pulverized if he tries anything too rash;  the gaggle of Middle East leaders mostly keep each other in check; but Putin is something else altogether. He is, to put it bluntly, a thug. And not just a thug, but that specially KGB-hardened thug that used to be the bad guy in countless movies, before Russian bad guys became politically incorrect. I don't like him, I don't trust him, and I won't watch his propaganda exercise.

06 February, 2014

The Fault In My Stars

So many things will change in your life over the next 12 months that you may begin to feel that upheaval is quite normal. In a way that’s good because the world is moving faster by the day and not everyone has what it takes to keep up. But you do.
--"If Today Is Your Birthday", February 6th, theglobeandmail.com

Take it upon yourself to enforce personal change. Don't let your emotions or those who try to guilt you have the upper hand. You must follow through with what's best for you. Making choices that lead to greater opportunities will play out in your favor. Look for the truth in everything you do and you will find your way. --'Eugenia's' horoscope, February 6, canoe.ca

Unconditional love and acceptance may be the biggest themes in your life. You want and need both - and sometimes sacrifice your own happiness while in hot pursuit of them. Approval from others can be such a powerful influence that you lose touch with deeper desires. Needing to be needed is a potent drive. You go out of your way to assist, guide, and please. Some of your efforts are well received - but others go unnoticed or are dismissed. Unless people expressly ask for help, you must learn to do things altruistically, instead of expecting recognition or other payback. It is especially important to not paint yourself into a martyr's corner by enabling others. Enabling doesn't help anyone - and may even repel those you're trying to attract. Be scrupulously honest about your motives in business and personal relationships. Don't justify dubious behavior.If you genuinely want to do something nice and expect nothing (not even acknowledgment) in return, fine. But even under those conditions, others may feel uncomfortably obligated by your unasked for good deeds. Learn how others feel about familiarity, boundaries and privacy before turning someone or something into your project du jour. You can be a tireless fundraiser and an effective motivator in politics and community affairs. You may fare better in public arenas than small intimate ones. No matter how brilliantly you interact with the public or how impressive your accomplishments, you always require plenty of study and practice. Even though you make things appear spontaneous and casual, nearly everything you say and do has been choreographed. You don't believe in accidents and need to feel prepared and in control. You also feel you owe yourself and others the very best. Self-critical, you never require outside monitoring.
--Bridgett Walther.com

I don't believe in horoscopes. The idea that the motion of planets has some sort of quotidian, much less life-long, effect on humans on Terra is simply ludicrous. That one twelfth of the population should have a similar forecast for any given day--and further, that each twelfth should have the same forecast--is beyond ludicrous.

My chief problem with natal horological astrology is the same niggling issue I have with anthropogenic climate change: throw any monkey into the gears and there's a nice pat answer. Don't match the prototypical Aquarian in some way? That's your rising sign, or Jupiter playing tricksies in your chart, or...or...or... Are the models not forecasting the climate properly?  Too much, too little, too warm, too cold? That proves climate change is worse than we thought. There's nothing the models can't explain. That's not science, that's dogma.

And yet...

We had this horoscope computer when I was a kid. It was the size of a large coffee table book; you inputted your date of birth, including the hour and minute, and the latitude at which you were born, and it spat out this eerily accurate description of your strengths and weaknesses and faults and foibles. It being a computer, you couldn't exactly accuse it of cold reading.  And it said things about you that you didn't want to hear: you're lazy, you're selfish, you're quick to anger....things like that.

So I discount the daily horoscopes, but I'll check on them as a diversion every January 1st and again on my birthday. I find the more detail there is, the more likely it matches my frame of mind...call it confirmation bias if you want, but sometimes it's rather scary.
The first two horoscopes above are consistent with what both sites (and many others besides) predicted for me on New Year's Day: widespread, sweeping change, mostly for the better...if I let it be. This is also consistent with the general frame of mind I have found myself in for a year now. And a quick read of that link should show my trepidation. I don't handle change well. Not even necessary change. When confronted with the imperative to change, I resist. Fiercely.

It's that third reading I'd like to zero in on, because it honestly gave me chills. As even a cursory reading of this blog will confirm, unconditional love is a major theme for me. I wrestle with conditions every day. I make every effort to be altruistic -- some people would say, to a fault -- and am not always successful at giving that unconditional love. Meaning when it's not acknowledged or returned in any way, I can feel hurt. I've gotten good at recognizing that hurt and stomping on it, but it persists sometimes.
The thought that people may feel "uncomfortably obligated by [my] unasked-for good deeds" horrifies me. "Horrifies" is probably too tame a word here...I can't stress that enough. I certainly don't want to stop showing love and affection to those I care about, and all I can do is insist I require nothing in return. That, and cease and desist if someone tells me to, of course.

There are other things in there that fill me with unease. The choreographing: guilty as charged, guilty a thousand times over. It's a coping strategy for me. I am not a social butterfly in any way and I feel very much out of my element with all but a select few people. So a great deal of thought goes into my choice of words and actions in many different contexts; that way I feel a little more in control.
I used to be much worse. I'd plan out social interactions like chess games, not caring or indeed sometimes even realizing how phoney this made me, how inauthentic. I certainly didn't want to repel people--quite the opposite, in fact--it was all about making me look better (with the sneaking suspicion back then: better than I actually was.)

That has thankfully subsided almost entirely now that I have these wonderful things called friends, not to mention in my life. Not to mention my rock, the woman who keeps me on an even keel.  But the choreographing still comes up whenever I'm acutely uncomfortable...say, at a party. I need to work on this. Probably better to embarrass myself than to try to fake my way through not embarrassing myself, you know?

The perfectionist streak is there too...I just had one of my friends call me a perfectionist last night. I bristled a bit at that at first, because I don't really fit that mould: the house is cluttered bordering on dirty most of the time, and because I am lazy, there are things in life that I think are "good enough". But when it comes to my own performance, especially in public, yes, I do have that perfectionist streak.

I had an attack of stage fright the other night. I've never had such a thing in my life and I hope I never do again. I was singing a song for my French class, a song I had memorized months ago and had probably sang to myself three or four hundred times. Four verses, eight lines each, and the song told a story, so it wasn't hard to get by heart. And yet, I stumbled to the point of needing to be prompted over a word in the very first verse. I got through the rest of the song without a hitch, but I was terrified from that point on. My legs were actually shaking a bit by the last verse. And while the song went over very well, all I felt was shame at actually having to be prompted.

Anyway, as I hit 42, I want to thank my friends and family for...everything. Please be patient with me as the changes in my life -- hell, I don't even know what they are yet, but I sense them gathering just beyond the horizon -- ambush me. I pledge to "keep it real" through whatever may come, and I want you to know I love you all no matter what.

01 February, 2014

Two Weeks To YUCK

I met my wife fifteen years ago right around now. 

Sorry, love, I don't remember the exact date--your arrived in my life just after I stopped keeping even an occasional diary. Not mention I had no way of knowing when I walked into that job interview that 'phone drone' was merely the first in a long line of jobs you'd have for me over the years, jobs that very quickly lost the "bs" of that first one and give me my "y" in life. Joy, in other words. Had I known such unlimited joy was coming down my pike, I would have marked the date years in advance. But I didn't know that. How could I? I didn't even know what joy was, before I met you. Or love, for that matter. I had ideas about love, lots of them, but I'd never really seen it up close until you showed up. Did you ever wonder why that's what I call you? "Love", instead of 'darling', 'honeybear', 'snookums' or 'snugglypoo'? Because that's what you are. Simple like that.

Nevertheless, it was right at the end of January or perhaps the first of February when I was hired on by the woman who would, not two years later, be my wife. When I found out I was hired, I went in to get my schedule. Eva stole a glance at my calendar for the month of February as I was marking it up, and laughed at the single word that was already there. On the 14th. YUCK.

YUCK pretty much sums up my longstanding feeling about Valentine's Day. The word was originally Newfie slang for vomit, and that's not far off what I feel like even now as I contemplate the day.

Does that surprise you? A man as openly loving as I am, with a visceral hatred of the day set aside for love? It shouldn't. It stems from years of ritual humiliation in school. 

It goes without saying I didn't get Valentine's cards from anyone until deep into high school. My first came from a woman I would have cheerfully died for...and it was carefully crafted to be as generic and bland as possible. Even as that card resisted my every effort to read  something other than friendship into it, I cherished it. That was probably my first adult lesson in love: the love of a friend is sometimes--check that, often--worth much more than the love of a...lover. 

You don't come to lessons like that easily, not when you're a lovesick teenager with a heart ten sizes too big and an overwhelming need be something to somebody. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Darlene for being the one to teach me. It's a lesson that has served me very well in adult life.

Before that, though...nothing. I'd hope against hope that THIS year would be the year I'd get a card, a little Hershey's Kiss, anything at all....and nothing. There are worse things than nothing, though. Ever give somebody a Valentine's card only to watch her take the unopened envelope, rip it up into tiny pieces, scatter the pieces, and then wipe her hands on her jeans? Yeah. That happened to me twice, five years apart. That was a microcosm of my school years from grades four to nine. I wasn't just picked last for teams in phys. ed...I often had team captains arguing bitterly over having to take me when I was the only choice left.  You think I'd get used to this sort of thing. I never did. It was just more tears to try not to cry.

High school as popularity contest....a clichéd theme if ever there was one. But on February 14th every year you'd see the cliché come to life. Girls would display the cards they got; boys would downplay them in public only to gloat over them later. And if you didn't get a card, no gloat, only goat. 

I understand that now there's a widespread rule about Valentine's Day in school, to wit: you give everybody a card or nobody. I have to say I love the intention here, but I don't think it changes much of anything for the little losery Kennys coming up through the ranks today. 

First off, I can't imagine how this rule can be enforced. Oh, sure, you can ban the giving of cards in class unless there's one for everyone....but there's recess, and lunch, and before and after school, and even between periods....lots of time for cards to accumulate and hateful, hurtful remarks to be said to the people you'd rather not have given a card to. 
And second, kids aren't stupid. They know which cards are real and which ones are fake. Looking back, as much as I wanted a Valentine's card year after year after year, I wanted a real one, not one given  by a teacher's decree. Worse than that, imagine if I'd got a fake card and tried to treat it like a real one. That wouldn't end well. 

This all comes down to the prevailing attitude in educational circles today, which is that self-esteem is at least as important as academic success. I'm here to tell you that while this is true, the methods by which schools (and many parents) try to instil self-esteem are pure-d bullshit. You don't get someone to feel better about themselves by shielding them from failure...in academics, in sports, in love (even its puppy variety), in anything. You feel better about yourself when you fail and then succeed...the more you fail, the harder you fail, the better the success tastes when it comes. Trust me on this: I failed so hard at so many instances of puppy love--and even at my marginally more adult attempts at the real thing--it'd be embarrassing. It IS embarrassing, if I insist on looking at it in that frame of mind. Except I learned from my failures at love, and again, I owe those people an immense debt of gratitude. Without you, I'd never have found the woman I married; nor would I have the coterie of dear (and mostly female, oddly) friends that so enrich the parts of my life Eva hasn't. I can only hope that those who have dumped me have likewise used me as a stepping stone to much better loves in their lives. 

One other thing I'd like to mention about my experiences with love. For years, I figured the reason I wasn't getting any love was that I wasn't giving enough. And so I'd give, and give, in ever more gaudy and extravagant gestures, and even people who might have loved me--if they existed--were no doubt scared and repulsed. I thought if I could just try harder, ever harder, eventually I'd be rewarded.

It strikes me that many people seem to think that way about prayer...if you don't get what you want, you're not praying hard enough. Whereas, at least according to my own spirituality at least, the only proper prayer is one of gratitude for what you have been given (which is why I always try to remain thankful for even the worst situations I create for myself). 

I think a LOT of people feel this way about various problems and predicaments. If it's not working, do exactly what you were doing, but do it harder. What perverse quirk of human nature put that destructive commandment into our skulls, anyway? 


As for Valentine's Day, I think that's why I still dislike it so much. It tries too hard. It's too shrill, in-your-face, and conditional. Real love, I have found, is best experienced in the quiet moments, totally independent of what day it is. Real love doesn't care if anyone's looking, but neither does it seek an audience...