31 July, 2014

Some Ways I'm Making My Life Harder Than it Has To Be

A former colleague shared this article on Facebook today and a bell went off: this'll be my final blog entry for the month.

These are very common errors in perception, often misdiagnosed as character flaws.. Some of them I'm immune to, and always have been. Some of them are things I've overcome in my life. Some of them are very much still with me, and I'm trying to fight them.

Behold, TEN WAYS YOU ARE (or might be...) MAKING LIFE MORE DIFFICULT THAN IT HAS TO BE

1) YOU ASCRIBE INTENT...."Happy people do not do this. They don't ascribe intent to the unintentional actions of others."

This one plagued me through my teenage years. I was absolutely certain that every little slight (and I was very good at manufacturing slights) was not just intentional but pointedly aimed and fired at me. I don't do this anymore. It's exhausting, and I realized long ago that most people are just intent on living their own lives. It's also emotionally liberating to shrug bad things off, intentional or otherwise. Pain is real; suffering is optional.

2) YOU ARE THE STAR OF YOUR OWN MOVIE.
Uh, no I'm not. I kind of like to fade into the background. I can do stuff right up front if it's required, and I'm trying hard to summon the self-confidence to be a leader, even if only in my own life...but I've never been vain enough to think the world revolves around me.

3) YOU FAST FORWARD TO APOCALYPSE.

Guilty. I'm terrible for this. I'll start worrying and worrying and things will go wronger and wronger and wronger in my head until everything's gone completely to shit...and then I'll feel sheepish when my fevered imaginings prove to be so much chaff in the wind. And yet for some reason it doesn't stop me from doing it again next time. Every slight medical symptom in anyone *except me* is a sign of imminent death. A strange sound from the car is a sign it's going to blow up in less than three minutes.
If repeated apocalypses amount to less than a hill of beans, why do I keep doing this?

4) YOU HAVE UNREALISTIC/UNMET EXPECTATIONS.

Nope.. I don't have any. Not one. How many times have I said...if I say I love you, you don't have to say it back? If I write you, you don't have to write back, let alone immediately. That's not to say I don't care if I'm ignored: of course I do. But as I wrote in that blog, "a relationship based on needs will always fail."

5) YOU ARE WAITING FOR A SIGN.

It probably looks for all the world like that's what I've been doing, as stagnant as I was for a couple of years, there. But no: I don't believe in signs. Or rather, I believe we make our own signs. I do think that we create our own experiences, so if I tell the universe that I want something, that's exactly the experience that'll get thrown at me...wanting something. For a long time my contentness at the stability in my life was at war with my desire to change and grow. I'm learning those two things aren't mutually exclusive, and I'm overcoming my fear of rejection, and that's a sign.

6) YOU DON'T TAKE RISKS.
No, I don't, because they're risky, and according to #3 they'll blow up in my face spectacularly. Oh, wait a second, I'm supposed to take risks...oh, yeah. *slap*

7) YOU CONSTANTLY COMPARE YOUR LIFE TO OTHERS'.

As much as I'd like to say, pshaw, I don't do this...I do. It's mostly outward appearance. It drives Eva nuts that I have such a hangup on my own outward appearance, and that in turn bothers me because...

...well, look. I'm just not telegenic. Not physically attractive. Please don't think I'm fishing for you to say of course you are, because I don't need you to lie to make me feel better about myself. I AM NOT PUTTING MYSELF DOWN. I  know I have more than enough qualities to compensate for my physical issues But people have to look below the skin to see them, and, and many, perhaps most people don't. I'm not talking (just) about love. Physically handsome/beautiful people do better in professional life, too.
Now, I've fixed the most glaring issue, my teeth, and getting these tattoos will help me walk a little taller. But Hugh Jackman I ain't, Nor am I Johnny Depp, or whoever your paragon of male attractiveness is. Not even close.

As far as comparing life paths, though, one poem I read in my OAC (grade 13) put that to rest permanently.

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked; 
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread; 
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head. 

--EDWARD ARLINGTON ROBINSON

(Interesting, I've always focused on the rich, admirably schooled part of that and ignored most of two stanzas about his appearance. Maybe beautiful people have problems of their own. Maybe I have one more big insecurity to root out.)

8. YOU LET OTHER PEOPLE STEAL (TIME) FROM YOU.

Not any more, I don't..

9. YOU CAN'T/WON'T LET GO.

I think this is related  to #4. I don't have expectations in my life, but that doesn't mean there aren't consequences for emotional abuse or neglect. I probably cut more slack than I should, at times, but I can let go with the best of them. Friends can be in your life for any amount of time and serve their purpose. Some I would choose to keep indefinitely, but if that isn't their choice as well, in the name of love the best thing to do is to let them go.

10) YOU DON'T GIVE BACK.

Not enough. I try, on a personal level, with as many people as I can reach. But (confession) I have never volunteered my time anywhere. Until fairly recently I haven't felt bad about that: I always told myself that work and sleep and life in general took up all the time I had--but that's clearly bullshit, since people much busier than I was still found time to give time. No, it's even uglier than that. Volunteering is a job...a job that doesn't pay anything. They make companies pay people money to do jobs, but now there's an expectation that people do other jobs for free?
Ugly, ugly mindset. I need to work on this...





30 July, 2014

Cats and Dogs

"Georgia, quit humping the cat."
This is a sentence we find ourselves saying all too often around here, and quite frankly it's a sentence I never thought I'd find myself thinking, let alone expressing. Georgia is (was) a female dog. Mooch is (was) a male cat. But Mooch presents, and Georgia obligingly tries to mount him. Shake, rattle and roll, baby.

I don't get this. I'm not sure if Georgia think she's a he-cat or Mooch thinks he's a she-dog, but it's endlessly entertaining.

Our cats in general are endlessly entertaining. Life is all fun and games to them. Let's see, there's

"Rolly-Cat" (this always brings the Tux running to restore order because he's afraid they're fighting)

"King of the Cat Tree" (almost always Bubbles)

"What's  That That Dropped" (played by both cats to great effect; Bubbles, again, usually wins)

"Lick Daddy's Eyeball" (Daddy does not like this game because the tool used to score goals is a piece of extremely coarse sandpaper that somehow got surgically implanted in the middle of Mooch's mouth, and he goes for the touchdown by waiting until Daddy's almost sleeping)

"Dog Taunting" with its sub-games "Get That Tail", "Head Butt From Nowhere" and "Flying Gang Tackle Of Creature Five Times My Size".

"Mommy-Daddy Tree" (this one is a Mooch speciality: he runs up to you full tilt, extends his paws as far as he can upwards, and wraps himself firmly around your leg; extra points if he can shimmy his way up, since he doesn't have front claws"

"Bubble Bounce" I watched the inaugural game of this yesterday. I was chatting on the phone (yeah, I still do that, I love to hear people's voices) when what should appear out of the corner of my eye but a Bubble-cat, pogo-ing up and down in front of our patio door, trying to get the bug that's trundling along nearly two meters off the ground.  Boing...boing...boing... The height was incredible. So was the hang time. I don't think he got the bug, though.

The dogs, now, they have their own games. Tux's game-playing days are drawing down, although he still enjoys a good rousing round of Silly Buggers (yes, he does still grunt like a mushroom). He also goes to say hi to the squirrel, checking dutifully each morning at the squirrel's house (our shed), though he doesn't run as fast as he once did to "get the squirrel".

Tux's favourite game, and he'll be playing it until he levels up, is "How Close Can I Get To The Mommy". Mommy won't let him win this game.

Georgia, when she's not humping the cat or licking the couch, has a--God, I hesitate to even think it, let alone type it. You know those flat disc-shaped things you float through the air--they're called 'flying discs' because the word I'm trying to avoid is trademarked and also because if Georgia figures out what I'm wri

FRISBEE! FRISBEE! FRISBEE! FRISBEE! FRISBEE!

*sigh*

Okay, I'm back now. I found one made out of the same almost indestructible material as the previous center of the Peachworld, Georgia-Ball. It was being discontinued and I got it for half price. Eva figured due to the thinness of the frisbee, Georgia would om nom nom her way through it in no time. Hasn't happened. But she adores Frisbee to the point she'll take it to bed with her, and she'll only play Georgia-Ball if Daddy insists that's what he wants to play. I would have never imagined anything could possibly supplant Georgia-Ball in our Peach's wee little head. But Frisbee has. She's gotten pretty adept at catching it, too. (She used to catch Georgia-Ball or Red-Ball on occasion--she chipped a tooth that way without even noticing.

The nice thing, the thing we weren't really sure about, was that the dogs have accepted the cats as part of the pack. There were a few instances where Georgia went after Mooch, which had us really worried, but that hasn't happened in quite a while now. They all try to eat each other's food (no territorial problems there, either); everybody drinks out of the same water dish, and just like B.B. and Streak before them, Mooch and Bubbles line up for the Cheese in the morning right next to the Tux.

We live in a happy home, and our cats and dogs are undoubtedly part of why it is that way.




I Could Teach The World...

Think of the best present you ever got in your life. Something so nice it almost made you cry. Got a picture of that thing in your head? Good. Now...
What was it wrapped in?  
Don't care, do you? Don't even remember?
That's how I feel about bodies. 

I'll just pin that there so everyone can stare at it. Because that's what people do. I've been repeating that, in person and online, for twenty years or longer now, and the reactions (still) speak volumes, 
Strangers, particularly male strangers, think it's bullshit. In the manner of online strangers everywhere, they're not afraid to tell me so, using words that you'd never say to a stranger face-to-face. I've been told I "must be a turd-burglar" (funny how they can't just say I must be gay, they have to go for the insult). Last month I got "that is soooooo beta". And just last night I managed the highest number of "downvotes" I've ever received on a single Reddit post in six years of Redditing, just for putting that up there. Many people really seem to hate that concept. I have no idea why. I don't think I come off as holier than thou for saying it. I certainly don't mean to. 

A small class of charitable strangers says, "well, that's nice, but you don't really believe that". I suspect that reaction holds true for many of my acquaintances and friends as well.  I'm not sure how to  prove I do. I could maybe post pictures of all the people I love, from the morbidly obese to the willowy to the pixie to everything in between--but besides violating their privacy, I'd run out of space to post photos and run smack dab into the other huge misunderstanding about me, which has to do with the number of people I love...

If you're really close to me, you might tell me that I might believe I really feel that way. Hell, it isn't really all that long ago I finally stopped having this exchange with my beloved wife of fifteen years:

Me--"You know I love you, right?"
Eva-"I know you believe you love me..."

...as if loving someone, let alone someone as loveable as her, is impossible and I've been deluded all these years.  (That's gone, at long last: Eva finally believes she's loveable, which happifies me in so many ways...)

And in all my life, smaller still is the class of person who reads those words, grasps their meaning and sincerity right off, and agrees with them. 

I asked my Facebook friends last night, in the middle of my Reddit downvote barrage, to tell me what's so controversial about thinking that maybe, just maybe, it'd be a good idea to love people from the inside out. A few people hastened to advise me not to listen to the madding crowd. Rest assured, neither derision nor downvotes will get me to change my mind on this. I know I've got a hell of a lot wrong, still, but on this point I'm convinced I've got it right.

One friend asked:

Could this possibly be related to people have a hard time with keeping their own company? Not bodies, but they don't like how, or where, their thoughts go when they are not entertained or distracted by something outside of themselves?

I had a flash of that makes a lot of sense and than promptly lost the strings of thought that connected the two ideas. Jason, permit me to flail about here.

It's certainly a true insight into people nowadays. I just read about a study in which people from various ages and backgrounds were asked to spend fifteen minutes alone with their thoughts. Their only external stimulation was a button that delivered a painful shock. Two thirds of the male participants showed they'd rather hurt themselves than quietly think to themselves. The women did better: only one quarter of them pressed the button. Still, I was amazed at those findings. I'd have thought only a few people would have trouble being in their own company for fifteen minutes.

(Fifteen minutes? Pshaw. I've meditated for an hour or two without noticing time passing, and I regularly zone out--in private--and retreat into myself to recharge.)

I find it telling that men, in particular, have so much more trouble without something to keep their eyes occupied. All my life I've heard people tell me how men are more dependant on visual stimulation...another one of the encyclopedia of things that made me question my manhood from an early age. If I've got to look at anything, I'd rather look at words than pictures. I can't even decipher pictures half the time if they're complicated, which leads to some very odd interpretations of movies, TV shows and commercials. (I considered whether this might have something to do with my (very) poor vision...but that vision has been corrected to at least a semi-acceptable standard for nearly 35 years.)
It's common knowledge that this is why men watch porn while women read erotic literature. (Like most common knowledge, this is wrong: at any given time, one in three porn consumers is female.) But it does seem as if men prefer visual stimulation.

Which brings us around to the context in which my philosophy was most recently mocked. The question was "does everyone else constantly assess members of the opposite sex to determine if you'd have sex with them?" Top voted reply was "this is the most normal thing I can think of".

Which makes me pretty abnormal.

I tried to explain that without knowing the person, I had insufficient data to make a proper assessment. You sure can't tell the answer to a question like that from looks alone, even if you're not me. Ever heard of 'don't judge a book by its cover?' Or how about 'don't stick your dick in crazy'? The craziest woman I've ever met is a stunning blonde that regularly trails a string of dejected, rejected men behind her like a contrail.
This was all brushed aside and further downvoted, and I couldn't think why. Surely people aren't that shallow? Do they not notice how many gorgeous men are complete and utter pricks? Or how many beautiful women are nasty as soon as you get to know them?

By all means, there are people of both genders who are all around beautiful, and there are ugly people who are ugly inside, too. I'm just saying that you can't tell much about the actual person from a quick survey of their outermost layer.

A parade of naked women could sashay past me and...well, yeah, I'd notice them...but not beyond the fact they're naked. It's just skin, we all have it--and that's yet another of my oft-repeated sayings that cause people to look at me askance. How does the saying go? If God had intended us to walk around naked, we would have been born that way"?

It seems to me that many people are very concerned with what they can see and touch, something "outside of themselves". I just don't care about that, myself.  I try as hard as I can to touch people inside. That's how and why I love the way I do; also why I don't believe love should, or even can, be restricted to one person alone. There are too many people with dark insides, waiting for someone to flick a switch and show them how loveable they are, and there's no reason I can see why I shouldn't be the one to at least try to flick that switch, when and where I can.  The third piece of Ken that seems perfectly natural to me, but which is an enigma to most people I know:

What I would do (and I could, too!)
is teach the world to love.
Because few know (there’s less who show)
abundancy thereof.

The planet teems with those (it seems)
who know not love but hate;
That can be healed, with love repealed,
I know it’s not too late.

That’s a good start. I should impart
There’s so much more to do.
For there is more to love, ‘tis sure
Than what we ever knew.

Love has no end. Kindred, foe, friend,
or stranger, I don’t care.
To love them all, that is the call
I feel compelled to share.

That means to me that love, you see
Can’t be contained or caught.
To love just one, all the rest shun
Is how to love for naught.

If I hold her (even bolder:
if you hold him too),
if three or four or five or more
I love you just as true.

“That isn’t right!” you say in fright,
“That’s not how love should feel!
For if I split love bit by bit 
And dole it out piecemeal--”

--you’ll find, and soon, that love’s immune
from being cut that way...
The more you take, the more you make,
is what I mean to say.

I love you truer, to be sure
When I don’t seek to cage
Your heart, your soul, your love, your whole
And keep in on one page.

So be the light, take your delight
In all that love can reach
I’ll do the same, and so exclaim
The lesson I must teach.


28 July, 2014

Moving Forward

Before I met Eva, and I mean the week before, I wrote up a questionnaire to present to a potential partner. On the surface, there's no reason I should have even considered doing such a thing. I'd been celibate for over two years at the time. There were no sexual/romantic prospects anywhere on my horizon.
But for the first time ever, that didn't bother me in the slightest. I felt truly comfortable being by myself. That doesn't mean I had grown up...far from it...the previous blog should make that clear. But I knew, for the first time, that I had all the ingredients necessary to do it. I wasn't looking for someone to complete me. I was looking for someone to help me 'complete' myself. And along came Eva. Almost as if she had been summoned.

That questionnaire is a little embarrassing to look at. (Of course it's in here...the blog entry that contains that  is worth reading at if anyone needs a reminder of just why we married: it all holds true today).
 A couple of questions I'd still say were pretty perceptive, though. I particularly like "name three things you admire(d) about your mother"--with the intent that her answer would age her thirty years. Eva's mom is, of course, a wonderful person, a woman who balances enormous strength, intelligence and compassion. All three qualities she passed on to her daughter. Of course.

I did a lot of writing that winter. A lot of soul searching, over a period of a couple of months. I had time to do it because that was--not coincidentally--the last time I was unemployed. After that spate of introspection, money running out. feeling the strangest mix of damnit I need a job and serenity that whatever will be, will be, I walked into a job interview and met my wife.

That job lasted just long enough to cement Eva and I together. She was, in fact, both reasons I quit. (Reason 1: I couldn't date the boss. Reason 2: I couldn't do the job). I went directly from that market research company into a variety store job, which led to another, which led to Price Chopper in an inexorable procession that, looking back, seems preordained. Price Chopper was a long stint, over a decade, that netted me one very important friend and a wealth of experience.

There came a point when  it was no longer good enough for me. I needed benefits, which were three times denied me, and I was beginning to be treated like a doormat. But because of my time there, I was able to do two things I'd never done. First, I was able to network for a new job. When I learned of an opportunity,  I was able to summon the professional self-confidence to walk into an interview and essentially demand to be hired...and it worked.

Now I'm unemployed again. That's the least of the changes that this year has thrown at me. Actually, chuck that construction. I have created the conditions for change, both personal and professional, and they have profound implications for my life moving forward.

You won't believe this, but it's true (ask Eva): the day before I was laid off, I had one of those days we all get from time to time, the kind of work day that makes you wish you could just quit. (I won't give specifics because (a) they're not important and (b) I'm technically still on payroll there and thus bound by extremely strict disclosure rules.) Suffice it to say I came home and asked Eva if she could look into whether I might be able to work with her. (Her company is awesome: just the kind of family culture that makes you feel like you belong). "I have an odd feeling something's coming down", I said.

It came down, all right. The next day.

I have spent the last couple of months coming to terms with myself again, taking a huge personal leap forward, assessing and addressing. That's ongoing, There have been little steps (baking things for the first time ever, all of which have turned out wonderfully) and big steps (fixing my smile, getting tattoos and a piercing), The last two months have demanded a stem-to-stern emotional inventory and a totally honest life review I'm most of the way through. These two most recent blog entries are just another step in that process.

Basically, what I've determined probably should have been obvious, considering how similar it is to what I determined fifteen years ago. I'm a complete person. I have all the skills I need to move on, to leave the "accidental career" in retail behind. That's not to say I won't learn new skills, or refine the skills I have: of course I will, that's what life is. But I'm more than a retail drone.

Working retail has a way of convincing you otherwise. It's a career in which your essential worthlessness is drilled into you on a daily basis, by customers and management alike. It's the kind of job in which nothing is ever done, nothing can ever be done to a high enough standard, and  you are ultimately completely interchangeable and unnecessary no matter how long you've been doing the job or how well you do it. The purpose of retail--customer service--is something I excel at, because my life's philosophy is to leave every person who meets me a little better off for having met me. But that's a life purpose, applicable in any career and everywhere else in life as well, and I've had that philosophy roughly forever.  In other words, while retail has taught me a lot, and will help in untold ways in my next career, it is also part of what has been holding me back, psychologically, in ways that are impossible to fully articulate or understand unless you've worked it. It's soul-crushing. Factory work is probably preferable: at least in a factory you have something tangible at the end of a shift, something you create that goes out into the world with the purpose you give it.

I could get a job relatively easily with the competition. Their warehouse is hiring, night shifts--granted it's in south Cambridge, but I'm sure I could get in there if I wanted to. The Walton empire is always hiring. There are doubtless other jobs out there.

I'm done with retail. I'm on to bigger and better things.

What things? Not sure yet. But before I met Eva, I wasn't sure either.

I'll say this: I've been taking French for reasons that have nothing to do with the job I just lost. There are two very intensive courses left for a certificate of fluency, plus a Business French course I'd like to take. But even after the next course I should be able to pass a basic fluency test.

I have heard from many of my readers that I should consider a career in writing. This is very flattering and I thank each and every one of you who say that. I have exactly one friend who may have inside information on how to turn this love of mine into money: otherwise I'm clueless, and worse, have no idea where to find reliable clues. You should know that the number of people making a living off their own words is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of the number of people who consider themselves writers. I'm not among that elite. That's not me putting myself down. It's just a fact. Confidence will only get you so far.

However...I have no intention of shutting this Breadbin down any time soon, and I have other writing on the side, intensely personal,  that might coalesce into something. I'm not going to put demands on myself because I've tried that before, and it doesn't work. The personal stuff seems to draw the most interest, but I can't figure out if that's just because my readers are my friends, or I'm just that weird. (Good weird, good weird...) I'm working on it, okay?

What I really deserve is a job where I feel like I'm making a difference. Eva has a job like that now for maybe the first time in her life and it has energized her and lightened her heart. I don't mind so-called drudgery if it accomplishes something, if it improves lives in some measurable way.

Does my writing do that? I'd love to think so, but I don't think I've accumulated enough wisdom yet to make such a claim.

At any rate, I sensed very strongly at the beginning of this year that it would be a pivot point for me. So it has proven to be. I'm looking to come out of the pivot on my feet and moving in a brand new direction. I want to thank my amazing support network, headed of course by my amazing wife, for being there to help me through this upheaval, more often that not with a smile on my face (especially now that I'm not ashamed of my smile.) Speaking of which, there will be a new picture heading this Breadbin by the end of the week.)

23 July, 2014

Rejecting Rejection

"You teach what you most need to learn"--Richard Bach

I like to think I'm pretty good at helping people.

That's mostly empathy--I've got a tonne of it. I hate to see people in pain and I will do whatever I can to alleviate it, even if only a little.
Eva had a saying posted over her cubicle at work, once, and that saying has seeped into my consciousness: "no shame, no blame, FIX THE PROBLEM." In today's vernacular, "it is what it is, now let's make it better".  That lesson has served me well professionally, especially coupled with immediate ownership of my mistakes. "Yes, I screwed up. HOW DO I MAKE THIS RIGHT? Can I make it better than right?" Or if it's somebody else's screw-up, I ignore that entirely: this is the situation, let's resolve it." It's amazing and a little depressing to see people so caught up in who did what and how badly. Never mind. FIX THE PROBLEM.

Many things can't  be fixed, directly: that's a lesson that, as a man, I sometimes still struggle with. I try to listen three times as much as I talk, now, because often it seems like what people really need is a sounding board to bounce their problems off of. Articulate the problem--say it wrong if you have to, then you have something to edit--and sometimes just knowing you're not alone with that problem makes it easier to bear. And if you have a decision to make, just a few well placed questions sometimes brings to light that you've already made it.

After too many years of fears and tears, I'm finally starting to make inroads on helping myself. Because I'm a people too.

I'm not sure what my biggest flaw is, I got a million of 'em. But certainly one of the bigger ones is an almost total lack of self-confidence. That has a deep, deep root that is also pretty wide.

I was actually a pretty confident kid up until the end of third grade. I had reason to be. Kids don't turn on you that young for academic success. I had no problem doing anything in front of a class: piano, singing, storytelling...and not to blow my own horn, toot-toot, but I'm not half bad at any of that. Everything I touched in that third grade seemed to turn to gold. I made a pile of money (for values of "pile" suitably impressive to an eight-year-old in 1980) by designing and selling books of mazes. Most of my fellow students seemed to like me, and those that didn't  (mostly) kept themselves to themselves.

I always tell people that moving and getting glasses between grades three and four derailed my life. Either one of them I could have overcome. Both together were impossible. The culture shock that hit me when I got to London was just...overwhelming--it took years to recover from, and in some ways I haven't quite recovered yet.

But the truth is that I could have seen it coming, and even when it was running me over, I did nothing to get out of the way and in many cases just made it worse.

First, of course, it was my attitude towards getting glasses that hurt me, not the glasses themselves. Granted, my attitude -- "glasses equals nerd" was extremely common in the early eighties, reinforced everywhere I looked, and when you're eight years old you're not quite ready to tell the world to take their attitude and shove it.  But I took it way too far..."if glasses make me a nerd, well, then, I'm going to be the nerdiest nerd in Nerddom." It became a vicious cycle: I just retreated deeper into my books with every passing insult, wedgie, swirlie, or occasional kick to the groin.

Also, the bullying showed up before the glasses did. That's something I'd like to forget. It's not convenient to the way I tell my life's story. But as popular as I was at Georges Vanier school, towards the tail end of grade three I was occasionally targeted, usually by people in higher grades but sometimes by people who just wished they were. Once it was a kid who I'd thought was a friend, or at least friendly. He came up behind me on the playground one day, reached between my legs, and squeezed my balls. If Ian had had an adult's grip strength they'd have popped like balloons. As it was they just sent pure bolts of agony throughout my lower body and left me writhing on the ground, unable to even form the victim's eternal plaintive wail, "WHY?"

Because I felt like it, asshole! Numbnuts! (Well, that one was at least accurate.) Shit-for-brains! Four-eyes! Nerd, dork, spazz, quad, homo faggot dickbrain turdface fairy crybabymoronretardmongoidiotweenie! Wait, they're all accurate. Every last one of them. I didn't know how to block this out. They don't teach you that.

I had one real friend in all those years, starting in fifth grade, and I have no idea how that happened. Nor can I tell you exactly why the bullying petered out, by slow degrees; by grade eleven it was gone entirely, but I still had the social skills of that confident third grader. Didn't serve me well, especially among the ladyfolk. That side of rejection took a few more years to fade, and it left its own scars that throb and ache to this day. Being told how unbelievably ugly and repulsive you are, repeatedly--that takes a toll on a person. On some level you can't help but believe they must be right: I mean, it's not one girl saying things like that, it's pretty much all of them.  There comes a point when one girl dares to care about you and you think "she's crazy, obviously".
-
It really wasn't until Eva came into my life that I really began to feel understood, let alone loved. Even then, it was (and is, sometimes) a struggle. I really have to give mad props to my wife: over all the time I've known her, she's never once nagged me or tried to change me. Instead, she merely worked tirelessly to create an environment for me in which I wouldn't be afraid to change myself.

For all I'm about to say, I've come a long way. When I first met and married Eva, she was almost the only person alive I felt truly comfortable being around--and even then, only at home, where nobody else could see me. Out socially, I'd  babble inanely until a criticism real or imagined, at which point I'd shut myself into a silent shell, albeit one riddled with nervous tics. And for gawd's sake, don't take a picture of me, that image will burn out your camera.

Most of that is mostly gone now. It sometimes recurs, but not often. What I find frustrating (and no doubt Eva does, too) is that the underlying feelings that spawned all that crap didn't go away, they simply went underground.

It's all still there: the fear that at any moment, I'm going to be rejected. I can pretend it's gone. Weeks go by without me feeling that old self-loathing and I can even convince myself it's gone. And then I'll say "I'm going to try thus-and-such, remodel my life in this way, write that, make friends with her, take that next step. And worthless Ken will pop out and say "you'll fail, you can't remodel shit, people tell you they like your writing to your face but they mostly like laughing at you, she'll hate you because you're unbelievably ugly and repulsive, and hahahahaha, you can't take the next step because you're paralyzed. But that's okay, right? Paralyzed is safe! Isn't that what you've always wanted? To be safe?"

FUCK OFF.

Sorry for the vulgarity...well, actually, no, I'm not. It's not strong enough to express just how much that voice can go to hell. I'm letting an imaginary voice hold me back in so many ways. I'm never going to be cocky, for the simple reason that I believe nobody is any more special than anyone else...but I'm going to claim my own share of special, damnit.

I got half my mouth remodelled yesterday. Seven composite fillings that evened out the teeth on that side; the other side is happening Monday. Eva told me last night, with admiration and a touch of pride, that it had changed my entire face. Just having this done is making it so I don't feel self-conscious smiling at people. That's huge, for me. All by itself, it puts a little spring in my step, makes me feel a little bit better about myself and my prospects.

You want to know why I'm getting tattoos and an earring? I'll tell you. The tattoos are, as tattoos should be, extremely personal and deeply meaningful. One of them symbolizes love without limits, the other denotes fears conquered. I want both those things permanently etched on my body, so that I can look at whichever one needs to be looked at in a given moment and remember: THIS IS WHO I AM.

The earring? It's because then I'll be a man with an earring. It doesn't mean anything...and that's kind of the point. Make of it what you will, I don't care. It's going to get me a little attention...which I am not afraid of. Picked carefully and appropriately, it's going to give my profile just a little bit of interest...because I am an interesting person.

Like I say, I have no intention or desire to turn into some kind of vain prick. I don't think I could if I wanted to, anyway. But I'm sick and tired of feeling paralyzed, of letting myself feel paralyzed, and so screw it: I'm doing several things to show I won't be paralyzed any more.

And I'll still get rejected. Of course I will, we all do from time to time. The difference is that now I'm finally taking to heart what I have so often told others: rejection only puts you where you are, it doesn't knock you on your ass.  The answer to EVERY question is no...until you ask the question. Rejection doesn't hurt! It just means you have to try harder. Or take another path.

You teach what you most need to learn.


20 July, 2014

Gazing into Gaza

Sorry, this is going to be one of those political entries.

I'm generally pretty pacifist. Not as hard-core pacifist as some of my friends: there are causes and people I'd fight for, even die for if it came to that (and my friends are firmly in that category). If a war broke out--and if I would somehow be found fit to fight (wouldn't happen)--I'd have to think long and hard about whether I'd choose to enlist; or, in the case of conscription, if I'd willingly be drafted or choose to dodge it. Give me clear-cut evil on the enemy side, like a Hitler, and truth be told I still might not throw myself into a meat grinder. Because while Hitler and his cadre were undeniably evil, the vast majority of German soldiers fighting under him were no different than you or I. And if you can kill people just like me, especially after reading this...well, then, you're not just like me.

(And people forget that Hitler thought he was doing good. That in no way excuses his actions, of course, or their motivation. It's absolutely critical, though, that we recognize no villain is a villain in his own mind. The purpose of the Holocaust was to get the world to stand as one and condemn it in the harshest terms; the real horror of it was that it took so long to achieve that purpose).

If "my" side is committing atrocities as well, that just muddies the waters further. I would not choose to associate myself with evil being perpetrated in "my" name if I could possibly help it. I would fight to defend those I love, and don't corner me, I'll surprise you--but otherwise I'm most likely to sit out.

Which brings me to the hell that is Gaza.

Look, this is complicated. Which is partly my lazy-ass way of saying I DON'T WANNA RESEARCH THIS but mostly the truth. It's what militaries refer to as a Charlie Foxtrot situation, and I immediately distrust anyone who dismisses one side of this conflict out of hand.

Which means, alas, I must dismiss pretty much everything the mainstream media  and  the alternative media is pumping out.
Most of the press I read is absolutely, unequivocally on Israel's side: if Israel does something bad, it's because Palestinians did something worse...and if you try to advance an argument that is even slightly balanced, you're accused of the rankest sort of anti-Semitism and told you reject Israel's right to exist.

Online, where things skew young and left, it's different. Told that Hamas uses human shields, the rapid response is that no, it doesn't: so many Palestinians have been crowded into such a small area that they have no choice but to hide missiles in schools and hospitals and what have you. Told that Israel drops leaflets and broadcasts warnings about imminent strikes while Hamas tells Palestinians to ignore those warnings--well, they don't have anything to say to that.

Here is a fairly evenhanded primer for people who don't know the whys and wherefores. And even it comes down rather unfairly pro-Palestine when it comes to the body count, noting that many, many more Palestinians have died over the years than have Israelis. That's certainly true, as far as it goes. But only because Israel has much, much better weaponry, both offensive and defensive. If Israel chose to, it could turn Gaza and the West Bank both into glass in about three minutes. However, Israel is far, far, FAR from blameless and lilly-white.

PEELING AN ONION


Propaganda is so thick on the ground for both sides that you have to dig for the truth as if were buried under rubble from a rocket or a bomb. Consider the Gaza greenhouses. If you listen to Charles Krauthammer, Israel handed the Gaza Strip over to Palestinian control, even giving them three thousand greenhouses as a gesture of goodwill, and the Palestinians promptly destroyed them. That's despicable, isn't it? Not least because those greenhouses could be helping to feed an impoverished populace.
Except that's not quite what happened. Yes, Israel did cede control of that territory and those greenhouses...and more than half of them were destroyed by departing settlers. Indeed some were looted by Palestinians, afterwards. Looting tends to happen in poor populations where authority is lacking; this looting was not a collective action. In fact, the Palestinian Authority sent soldiers to protect the remaining greenhouses...just not enough soldiers.

When you're talking about Palestine, you have to acknowledge Hamas. It's a terrorist organization, plain and simple: there's probably nothing more clear in this quagmire we call the Middle East. Here's their charter; parts of it read chillingly like Final Solution redux. Their entire purpose for existing is the elimination of the state of Israel and the murder of all Jews. And this organization was democratically elected to represent Palestinians in 2006, which means Palestinians are simply the next generation of Obersturmführers, right?

Not so fast.

The current round of violence was supposedly precipitated by the Palestinian kidnapping of three Israelis. This happened in an area under Israeli control. It therefore should have been a routine police matter, of the sort that sadly happens all the time in the West. Instead, Israel launched dozens of airstrikes and then a full-scale ground invasion. Does that seem proportional to you? Especially since those three kidnappings were preceded by this?

And this is what happens if you express any support for Palestine in Israel. A free society? You tell me.

(Doesn't this sound like a couple of five-year-olds squabbling over who started what? Isn't it disgusting that this is what statecraft is, today?)

(Isn't it disgusting that Palestine's version of Mickey Mouse, aimed at five-year-olds, taught them terror and hatred of Jews until the world took note, at which point they simply had him eliminated by Israeli agents?)

While it can certainly be argued that Israel is showing restraint--with the firepower it has, it could incinerate the Gaza strip in short order if it really wanted to--the fact is that Israel is playing into Hamas's hands. Each airstrike tilts world opinion just a little bit more against Israel, which is, of course, why Hamas has no qualms about leaving women and children in the line of fire: it makes for really good PR.  Israel should know better. It's true that no country would put up with thousands of rockets being launched willy-nilly into its territory...how are so many rockets, or so much materiel, getting through to a supposedly blockaded population? Why would Zeev Maoz, the former head of a prestigious graduate school in Tel Aviv,  write this on page 35 of his book Defending The Holy Land:

Most of the wars in which Israel was involved were the result of deliberate Israeli aggressive design . None of these wars – with the possible exception of the 1948 War of independence – was what Israel refers to as Milhemet Ein Berah (war of necessity).They were all wars of choice . ”


Here are some quotes from Palestinians living under Israeli control. Here's a Jewish voice for peace. Here is a Q&A from an IDF soldier, the very existence of which is highly illegal, and the views expressed in it are probably considered treasonous. Here's one from the other side: same deal.

Whatever their politics, whatever their religion, whatever their nationality or ethnicity, we are all human beings. It's a pity this is so often forgotten. There are atrocities on both sides and this seems never-ending...often it seems almost as if both sides like it that way.

The primer above suggests three possible outcomes for this conflict. One is the total elimination of one side--given the huge imbalance of firepower, barring the catastrophic intervention of a third actor, that would be the Palestinians. The second is a one state solution that would never work because of demographics: Palestinians would very shortly outnumber Jews. The third, most difficult but also most preferable, is a two-state solution that I believe quite frankly is just as doomed: endless quibbling over borders, especially since one party in Palestine doesn't believe in an entity called Israel at all, would kill that before it got off the ground.

Behold Ken's way out, because Ken's solution to the Gordian knot is to just hack the damned thing apart.

No-state solution: put the entire area under world control. No Israel, no Palestine, not until both sides learn to play nice. Jerusalem is the center of three major religions. Give all three equal access. And then commit to fighting terrorism with OVERWHELMING FORCE, far beyond anything the region has yet seen...wherever it comes from.

Too naïve? Too idealistic? Probably. Also probably impossible until we actually have a world government with some teeth. and that won't happen because for some reason, one-world government is seen as a threat by a large number of people.

But this conflict will continue until something like this intervenes. I weep. I weep for the world.






18 July, 2014

About Masturbation

If that title didn't make it clear enough, this entry is NSFW.

It shouldn't be, but it is.

I just found out about Matthew Burdette, the 14-year-old who committed suicide last November after he was secretly videotaped masturbating in a bathroom stall at his public school. The video went viral, of course, and Matthew was relentlessly bullied, of course, and he killed himself because he "had no friends".

 Of course.

The kid who took that video (who incidentally needs to be charged with something that carries enough of a sentence that he'll know what he did was wrong)? I guarantee he masturbates. The kids who watched that video, and shared it, and taunted Matthew until he took his own life? I guarantee every last one of them masturbates. I'll further guarantee that at least one of them has locked himself in a bathroom stall somewhere and masturbated. I'm sure people are uncomfortable with that thought: at school? Seriously? They've forgotten (or maybe never knew) what it was to be a 14-year-old boy, replete with hormones, suffering unwanted, unreasonable, often painful erections that demand to be dealt with. Matthew did so, and he did it responsibly, in a bathroom stall where he had every expectation of privacy.

I was pretty lucky growing up: I didn't get the full-on "this is going to rot your soul and send you to Hell" sermon that still gets laid on little boys (and girls) when they're discovering their bodies. But I did pick up, by cultural osmosis, that masturbation is wrong, sinful, and that it would have dire (if unexplained) consequences. You could go blind. (As some comedian notes, no problem, I can still find it.) You could grow hair on your palms. (Wouldn't that just make it feel better?) That was almost forty years ago. Not much has changed. Perform the standard zeitgeist test and type "masturbation" into Google to see what it autocompletes. You get one result, and only one result: "...is a sin".

Really? Playing with the body God gave you is a sin? The Catholic Church considers masturbation to be a "grave moral disorder", an "intrinsically and seriously disordered act"--although there is nothing in the Christian Bible on masturbation. Not a word. (The sin of Onan, which is commonly taken to be 'self-abuse', was actually coitus interruptus and the refusal to fulfil his Levirate obligation.) St. Thomas Aquinas actually put masturbation on a par with things like bestiality and pederasty. It's ludicrous, when you think about it: only one seed is needed for fertilization, which means every single ejaculation contains a "wastage" of nearly four hundred million potential lives. And they picket abortion clinics? Go figure.
(I won't even consider how many lives get snuffed out by menstruation--which is a natural and therefore supposedly God-given process that is considered unclean in the Bible. comically so.)

The (mostly unspoken, sometimes very much spoken)  masturbation taboo convinces most kids that their bodies are dirty, bad, even evil. Don't think for a second this doesn't translate into adulthood and manifest in various sexual hangups, causing untold misery. Though to be fair, most of that misery gets visited upon women, not men.  To this day the way most sex education is taught is profoundly misogynist: there is rarely any mention of sexual pleasure for women at all, almost as if women aren't supposed to feel good. So you get women in their thirties and forties who have never even tried to have an orgasm. I find that heartbreaking.

 Then there are women who actually believe male masturbation is akin to cheating. I'll let you in on a secret: often times, for men, masturbation isn't the slightest bit sexual. It's a release valve for pressure that builds up; the release just happens to feel good. Ever have to sneeze for about half an hour, and for some reason you just can't, and then you do? Same principle, only more so. How is that cheating? It's a bodily function.

Am I suggesting that people should just whip it out and play with it any ol' time? Of course not, don't be absurd. There's nothing shameful about masturbation, but that doesn't mean it should be for public consumption. Is going to the bathroom shameful? Do you do that in public? I rest my case. Matthew Burdette masturbated in what he thought was private. He did nothing wrong. The person who recorded it, and everyone who shared it and laughed at it, each one of them has his blood on their hands.

In a sane society, nobody would have laughed at that video, much less shared it. Our society is not sane. That's something I've been harping on for ten years now. It's getting better, yes, but there is still such a long way to go.

While repeating that the sin of Onan was not, in fact, masturbation, I will close with the following poem

Amour Propre by "Solomon Solomon"

Mrs. Dorothy Parker, whom I recommend you read,
Called her budgie Onan,  for he always spilled his seed.
And ever since his namesake in the Bible soiled the ground,
Finger-wagging strictures in the scriptures have been found
Counselling against such spillage in the noonday sun.
Pay them not the slightest mind, lads! Masturbation's fun!

Now, there are folks with outlooks that are puritan and bleak,
Folks who call it self-abuse and say it makes you weak,
Folks who say the practice is a ticking, potent bomb,
Sure to make you addled and grow hair upon your palms,
Folks who say your hand should never venture near your lap,
Say you must conserve each drop of nature's precious sap.

Lend an ear to Solomon and he will set you right,
Put to rest the bleatings of the clinically uptight.
If you look me over, I can guarantee you'll find
My palms are smooth and blameless and I haven't yet gone blind.
The proof is in the pudding, and I'm very pleased to say
I practise what I'm preaching, and I practise every day.

Listen not, good fellows, to that tight-lipped, touch-not spiel!
Have they ever tried it? Don't they know how good it feels?
Would God up in His heaven have installed within our loins
All those tickly sensors if he meant us to enjoin
Against their stimulation? Sure as weasels root for grubs,
I feel quite sure he wouldn't! Aye, and therein lies the rub!

So if the spirit moves you -- and I rather think it might --
If you want, at noontime, or when you're at bed at night,
Or first thing in the morning, or when you get home from school,
Or when you're back from swimming in the teeming public pool,
Do not stop or hesitate! Go on, strike up the band!
And strum your ukelele with a warm and open hand!
--Bill Richardson, Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast Pillow Book


16 July, 2014

Candy Crushed

I'm not a snob. Really, I'm not. In fact, most of the time I'm the exact opposite of a snob: happy in dirt and clutter; unfailingly choosing comfort food over frou-frou nouvelle cuisine; insisting to all the world that while I may be special, I'm no more special than anyone else, and certainly no more special than you are...

*points nose in the air*

"oh, you listen to/watch/play that? Really? How...interestingly boring of you."

I don't necessarily shun popular stuff outright, but the really massive cultural phenomena, like Harry Potter and most of what's on TV and today's blog topic, I'd rather ignore it for a while...I don't like to be seen doing something just because the rest of the world is doing it too. The "stand out/fit in" battle I've been waging all my life shows no signs of abating any time soon.
And so Harry Potter wasn't embarked upon until the third or fourth book came out, at which point Eva brought home the first instalment (I couldn't see it, my nose was too high in the air) and started reading it, remarking after every chapter about how good a read it was. Eventually I consented to dip my toe into Potter's waters, ready to jump back if the twin stains of stain of popularity and ugh, kids' book took hold.
Both did, of course. There's a reason that series was so popular.

This happens over and over again in various media. I ignore the popular thing in hopes it will go away and leave me alone; eventually somebody breaks down my resistance; I love the popular thing to pieces; the rest of the world has moved on and I'm yesterday's man.  Sigh.

TV: with one Iron-Throne shaped exception, I don't watch it. I like my entertainment more interactive, more interesting, more...internetty.  Now, I recognize that TV has improved beyond measure in the last few years, and I'm certainly not suggesting I'm any better than a common couch spud just because I'm using my iThing to access Faceplace instead of gluing my eyeballs to a boob-tube. It's just a preference: I've never watched much television, not even when I was a child. It's gotta be something pretty special to demand all of my attention for a whole hour, you know?
(Yes, I watch Game of Thrones, the most popular show in HBO's history. In my defence: I read the books first. Also, Eva loves the show too--that our television tastes should overlap anywhere is something of a miracle.)

 People are always and forever bringing up TV series I Simply Have To Watch and I'm sorry folks, even watching Thrones, much as I enjoy it, feels like dead time to me: I'm not learning anything. I really don't want more dead time in my life.

And videogames? There's a whole world--or rather, a galaxy stuffed to the brim and overflowing with worlds--of games I've never played. I hear about them from gaming friends and I occasionally see a commercial for one that I invariably mistake for a movie trailer. Those games amaze me and I'd like to keep them well beyond arm's length in case one of them sucks me in. I've read far too many accounts of people losing their lives to video games: if not literally, then at least the part of their lives that matter. No thanks: the Internet is addictive enough as it is.

There are a quartet of other reasons I don't play those games besides the admittedly unlikely scenario of one taking my life completely over. First of all, I'm not good at them. I don't mind being not good at things in private, or in the company of my wife and a select few others who won't laugh themselves into a hemorrhage, but I'm not into public humiliation, even if the public is virtual. Second, these games seem purposefully designed to make it impossible for me to get good at them. From the controllers, which require more eye-hand co-ordination than I'm ever going to have, to the intricate gameplay ferreted out from 400+ page manuals...ugh. Too much like work. Third: competition. I used to be a very sore loser when I was a kid. I'm no longer sore about it, because usually, nowadays, I choose not to compete. There. You win. Be happy.
And fourth: violence. Can't stand it in real life, can't stand depictions of it, don't understand why people have this deep-seated urge to kill things.  I don't share that urge; I hope to Christ I never do.

Along came Candy Crush Saga.

If you haven't played it, your resistance to Things Popular is admirable and I wish I were able to match it.  I held out for a while--really, I did!--but eventually the sheer number of Facebook friends I had playing the game overwhelmed me. Many of them were completely sensible and rational people who had lives. Until they didn't, and they had to ask me for one.

Fine, I'll check it out. But only for a bit.

Well over a year and 319 levels later (barely halfway, for now: they keep adding more)...

In case you're completely removed from the world of Candy Crush the way I am from, say, World of Warcraft: it's a simple match 3 game like Bejewelled or any one of a dozen older variants. You match candies, fulfill game objectives, score points, and that's it. But unlike Bejewelled and most older games in this genre, every level is different. Between the wildly varying board layouts and the different obstacles the game throws in your path, the levels sometimes seem infinite.

I don't play this game as obsessively as some. One good friend has completed the game, and keeps completing the new levels they add, as well as completing a bunch of knockoff match-three games as well just for shits and giggles. Usually he uses his iPod rather than a reasonable sized screen. I downloaded Candy Crush for my iPod, played one attempt at one level, and have never played it since. Honestly, people, how you can prefer pin pads to keyboards and itsy bitsy three inch screens to a monitor....it baffles me.

But I play a fair bit. I usually burn through five lives a day. That may or may not win me a level, at this point: some of the levels I've been stuck on have taken fifty or even a hundred attempts to beat I'm told there's one level up in the 400s somewhere that will make every bitch-level I've been stuck on so far look like...candy.

That's the fresh hell of this game: the levels DON'T get progressively more difficult. The overall trend is certainly towards the more challenging, but level 317 is not necessarily any more difficult than 316: it might be considerably easier. You'll whip off three or four levels without losing a life only to come up against some real bastard level that saps your will to live. You try and you try and you try and every once in a while the game mocks with you a "Fun-O-Meter" for you to report back as to how much fun you're not having. I've tried everything with this. I've slid the dial to "this sucks hairy rotting moose balls" thinking the game might give me some mercy (nope) and I've slid the dial all the way over to "this game is fulfilling fantasies I never knew I had"  in the hopes that blatant kiss-assing might work (nope).

Back when I was more heavily addicted, I used to dream the sound of chocolate forming. It's a kind of squishy schlapuck noise that puts you in mind of popping zits (or popping your monitor one, if the chocolate just ate up something important). The game gets under your skin if you let it.

Several times I've almost given up. Once I left the game for a week (and came back and knocked off ten levels in half an hour). Now I've dialled it back to those five lives a day--if I go up a level or two, great, if not, great.

Why do I love this game so much? Because by the standards of videogames today it's an anti-game. It's supposedly competitive in that your friends' scores are shown for each level, but I don't pay attention to scores in this game unless I need a certain score to beat a level. I'm not competing against anything except the machine (and myself if I choose to replay a level, though why I'd do that I have no clue. The nasty levels, once they're gone, I never want to see them again as long as I live.)
There's no violence, beyond, well, crushing candies. The gameplay itself is as easy-to-learn as it gets: no need to go take a university-level course in what button does what and that's a Class IIIG goober, you can't move him that way.
I'm still not very good at it, though.  Ultimately it doesn't matter: Candy Crush requires just as much luck as skill: some levels are 176% pure shit luck.

I have not spent a penny on "in-app" purchases to speed my progression through the levels: the day I start spending money on virtual world things is the day they wind me in my shroud. Given how much money King is raking in off this game ($633,000 a day from one platform alone as of December 2013), I'm something of a rarity.

 But I have spent a great many hours of time I should have spent doing something, anything else. All for the price of an Internet connection, which I was paying anyway, so...free. Pretty good value, I'd say.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a brand new sequel called Candy Crush SODA Saga...





15 July, 2014

CAN-fessions

That last post may have seemed a little negative.  Here are some things I *can* do.

I can play piano.  I'm not the best at reading music, though with guitar tabs supplied I can fake pretty well. Until last month I hadn't played an actual piano for years beyond counting. (Thank you so much, Nicole!)  There's a huge difference between the keyboards I have had (including the very good one I have) and a piano. The biggest thing is the range. Most synthesizers don't have a full 88 keys and you'd be surprised how often you need an extra octave or two, particularly on the bass end. The "feel" is completely different, too: a piano requires more strength to play. I still have the strength in my hands gained from years of pounding keys...my grip is impressive, if I do say so myself. I've been the go-to guy for every jammed jam jar and fickle pickle bottle for most of my life.

I've determined I can still play by ear--useful skill, that--and I'm writing original compositions for the first time since 9/11. I hope to get a piano of my own within the next year or so. When that happens this Breadbin will go stagnant again for a while, but...well, I'd like to put a few songs up on YouTube, if I can figure out how to do it.

I can write a little. Actually, lately I can write a lot. My output over the past month or so has matched that of the two years previous (by no means has all of it been posted to the Breadbin).  I've done some fictional stuff, a whole other journal, some very long letters, even a little poetry. Writing's a nice habit to get back into. If anything's going to get me noticed, either now or after I'm dust, it'll be the stuff I've written. I'm told my best writing is personal and I've taken that to heart (you'll note the political posts that once comprised more than half this Breadbin's content have become few and far between). I like writing about myself because "the unexamined life is not worth living".

I can read. In the last two weeks I've read three novels and three works of nonfiction. It's been a long time since I've read that much, too. I used to be good for two or three books a week, once. Screen time, not to mention adult responsibilities, dramatically cut into that, Yet another nice habit to take up again.

I can think. I'm not a Great Thinker: my wife would probably class me a Great Stinker instead. But I like to think. I like to find out I'm wrong about things: I like to change my mind after receiving new evidence. There is very little I have faith in (I'm just starting to learn to have faith in myself, at this late date) and the faith I do have is not blind.  But thoughts are fun. Thought experiments are fun. I like to think around corners, to whiten blacks and blacken whites and always, always try treat people as if they've put as much thought into their thoughts as I have into mine.

I can laugh, and I can make others laugh. Again, I'm no comedian, and like most of my skills, I'm better at making merry if I'm not trying. When I try, I tend to elicit groans instead of guffaws. Always going for the pun. It's like those two guys who showed up at my door the other day. One of them  did all the talking, and explained they were looking for a room to let. He pointed at his companion, who hadn't said a word the whole time, and asked, "Buddy, can you lair a mime?"
I said, "as long as he's not a German mime. You know, a Hun is the lowest form of roomer."

Groan, groan, I'll shut up now.

And I can love. That, above all.

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

Lesser talents: For years, I couldn't whistle. Then one day I suddenly could, and for about three years year thereafter, you couldn't shut me up. I can do a pretty good Elizabethan Serenade and at least a passable Mexican Whistler (if you haven't heard Roger Whittaker whistle that last, do yourself a favour. Limber up your jaw, first, because it's a-gonna drop.)

I used to have pretty good breath control. With a brass instrument to play again, I'd get that back, I'm sure. As mentioned in the last post, I have a very high tolerance for heat (my showers are kind of scary)--and yet given the choice I'd much rather be cold. My pain tolerance is likewise high...but only for certain kinds of pain. Pinch me and I will shriek; punch me and I'll shrug; puncture me and chances are I won't even notice.

I can sleep. I'm about to do that now.


Confessions:

A. STUFF I HAVE DONE

When I went to Wilfrid Laurier University twenty years ago, there was a fairly extensive network of underground tunnels connecting campus buildings. Much of that network has since been closed off. But back then, there was this one light switch. It controlled the lights for a vast section of tunnel, spanning probably fifty or sixty meters, including around a 90-degree angle. You could flick that switch and cause people you couldn't even see or hear to be plunged into pitch blackness. I used to derive great glee in pulling this prank until my roommate/best friend explained to me (a lot more politely than I deserved, but that was Jason for you) that this behaviour was really assholish. It never occurred to me that I might be putting people in actual danger with that stunt (naïve doesn't even begin to describe my teenage self).

I was never a thief--stealing my mother's Valentine's Day chocolates when I was 8, and punishment for same, permanently cured me of that sin--but I certainly wasn't above...exploiting systemic vulnerabilities. Laurier was full of 'em. There was a phone in the basement of my residence, outside the campus Housing Department....an honest-to-goodness rotary-dial phone. It was supposed to be used by students looking for LOCAL housing...except I discovered one night that you could make long distance calls on it. My phone bill was running me $300+ a month at the time...I never realized how many friends I had until they scattered to the four winds, and calling the four winds with the phone in my dorm room  was seriously expensive. So I started using that 'free' phone. Not often, but often enough. One friend of mine was attending school in Winnipeg, which was ideal: that city being an hour behind meant I could call an hour later, when the area was most likely to be deserted...
Surprisingly, that glitch wasn't fixed for three or four months.
There used to be a per-page charge to use the computer lab's printer. I thought this was ridiculous--I was already paying seventeen hundred bucks a year for professors to read textbooks to me, and I had to buy the textbooks, at hideously inflated prices--so I devoted myself to finding a way around it. Found it, too: a little hack in whatever ancient version of WordPerfect I was using that told the printer to let my document pass unnoticed. I probably saved myself close to a hundred dollars with that bit of detective work.
Long after I dropped out (which has a confessional post all to itself), I successfully posed as a student to get at the one thing I actually still valued out of that place: a high-speed Internet connection. I spent many hours learning enough Unix Korn shell programming to graft a second, mostly hidden layer onto my girlfriend's account. The program I wrote topped out at over six thousand lines of code, was activated by pressing K at startup, and was only detectable if you went looking for it. (Cathy knew about it, of course). In hindsight I probably should have taken computer science instead of that silly English degree. I mean, sure, I can say "would you like fries with that?" twenty-seven different ways, but I can't honestly tell you I dropped out of university with any skill I didn't have going in. I'd read a little more widely, is all. A huge waste of money and time and...myself.

I once dumped a girl I cared about a few nights before prom. Not because she wouldn't "put out"...because I was afraid she might.

I've hurt other people, too, in ways too personal to write and too humiliating to recall. I was not a good person in my teens and twenties. Life was all about me. I may have swung a little too far the other way nowadays--it's all about you, now--but I consider that a just penance. Especially since making other people happy is the best, most lasting way I have found to make myself happy. Selfish altruism, it's a gas.

B. STUFF I CAN NOT DO

Well, let's get the big one out of the way first: I can't drive. This is probably the only thing on this cherry-picked list of Ken-deficiencies that I have absolutely no intention of ever correcting. Never mind the phobia, I could maybe overcome that. There seems little point to, though, what with Google driverless cars already on the streets. I've come this far without a license. It impacts my life in countless ways, not all of them bad--for one thing, life in the bike lane is considerably less stressing than life in a traffic jam seems to be.

There is a nearly endless list of machinery I have no experience with--I won't bother with that, it's too embarrassing.

I can't blow bubbles. It doesn't matter how many times people try to show me what to do with my tongue. I can do lots of things with my tongue...but I can't blow bubbles.

I can't dance. I'm the male version of Kate Miller Heidke, here:



My problem here is stiffness: I have no flexibility, and that's an unavoidable consequence of my having been born very premature in 1972. Musically, I'm fine...I've been composing stuff since I was four years old and I have a very good sense of rhythm. I can break down any beat into whatever grouping you want. I can, if I don't think about it, drum out polyrhythms. But if I try to translate that into whole-body movements, I become a slave to that beat, and I look like a rusty robot.
Alcohol cleans that right up. Unfortunately, alcohol has other side effects like removing every inhibition I have, including ones I really kinda need.

I recently discovered I CAN bake simple stuff. This makes me very happy, because I had convinced myself I couldn't.
 There are so many things I can't do simply because I haven't tried. I'm working through some of them lately, at a slow pace because every little accomplishment is really a big one for me. I take it easy because I don't like making it hard. But with each accomplishment my life gets a little richer.

C THINGS I HAVE THOUGHT

I'm told that most people have imagined killing another human being at some point. Not me. Not once. Not ever. There have been people I've viscerally disliked, don't get me wrong. My preferred solution for those people is to avoid them, and if that's not possible, to erect mental walls around myself and avoid them that way.

I have thought about killing myself...but then, I think everybody has had that thought flit through their head  at some point.  It's been about sixteen years since I had that particular thought. When I was a teenager it was a much more powerful thought. I never attempted suicide, though: in my worst depression, I was convinced nobody would notice or care, so there was no point.

(I feel the polar opposite of that now. I have more to live for than I've ever had, and each day brings me such joy...even the bad days have plenty of redeeming qualities to them).

I used to be racist. I still am, at little, but I think everyone's a little bit racist. It was once a pretty pervasive mindset: if you didn't look at least a little like me and didn't talk at least a little like me, then your thoughts were probably different from my thoughts, and that made me uneasy, as if aliens were all around  me. I still feel irrational distaste when people speak in languages I'm not fluent in while looking at me. Is that racist? Maybe a little.

I was once a homophobe, and that's been completely eradicated, so much so that I can't even remember why I felt that way. I can't justify it, I can't even get in the head of someone who is homophobic anymore. It doesn't compute.

I have thought, and often still think, that charities exist mostly to bilk money out of people and there is no real intent to cure cancer, for instance. There's no money in it. I think Big Pharma would be ever so much happier if they could find a way to manage cancer, to keep it just in check but only if you take this here very expensive pill three times a day. Sometimes I'm pretty sure that's what they're really trying to do, that there might even be a cure for cancer already found and what they're doing now is finding a way to make it work only a little bit...
I don't generally believe in conspiracy theories, but I've seen far too many examples of people's basic humanity being shot out the window when vast sums of money show up to discount that one.











12 July, 2014

My Ears Are Ringing

Eva thinks I should get an earring.

She's mentioned this casually several times over the years, and every time she does, I recoil with a mix of horror and utter bewilderment.

Tattoos are one thing. I used to be dead-set against them too, before Eva opened my mind on them. Tats, I thought, were restricted to two classes of people: criminals, and dumb-as-a-stump teens. Meeting Eva and discovering the meaning behind her tattoos, and actually getting to suggest and help design the ones she's had inked since, I've realized that tattoos have a very personal, very pertinent message, sometimes aimed at the world and sometimes aimed at the self. Every single one of Eva's tattoos--she has more than ten, at this point--is important.

When my mom and stepdad both got inked, I decided I would too.

But what? I struggled to find something meaningful enough. The more I thought about it, the more nothing seemed to suffice.  I toyed with some combination of a book, a Canadian flag, and a paw print (symbolizing our shared love of animals)--it just didn't gel.

Then Eva suggested a blue spruce. Perfect. Something like this

would be just right. Backstory buried in here. TL;DR: I had a phobia of blue spruce from the age of three until about fifteen (and if that doesn't get you reading, I give up). I now consider blue spruces to be the most beautiful trees in existence. The blue spruce represents fears met and conquered...something that continues to define my life.
I've actually since found another tattoo idea that speaks just as strongly to me: more on that when it happens. I expect I'll stop at two, one on each shoulder...but you never know. That spruce is going on sometime between now and September, and I'm excited about it.

But an earring, now...

My first real exposure to the thought came from George Carlin:



This is from the '84 album, Playin' With Your Head, and I still have it memorized. There's an awful lot of dwelling on the pain of drilling holes through your flesh, and that really stuck with me. I mean, I get that five year olds get their ears pierced...still, something about drilling a hole RIGHT! THROUGH! MY! EAR! gives me the screaming meemies.

And for what? What meaning do earrings have? You can't very well be having a beer when you look in a mirror and you notice your ear and it's suddenly clear what your life's purpose is.

('No', says Eva, 'they're just sexy'.)

Say what?

The only time I even notice earrings is when they're those giant hoops that clank off your shoulder, look ugly as hell, and make me think how if I had one of those I'd forever be getting it caught on things. Now, granted, I seem to be very good at not noticing things. I can miss giant things standing right in front of me. So I'll stipulate that other people obviously notice. them. (Why? What on earth is so fascinating about somebody's ear? Oh, hell, I never notice shoes for the same reason and study after study proves that they're the first things actual humans notice on other humans. I get it, I'm strange, okay?)

I admit a giant blind spot here, so I'm going to turn it over to my readership. Two questions, One, what's sexy about an earring on a guy? And two, should I be a guy with an earring?



11 July, 2014

The Nice, Nice Niece


This is Alexa, age 2. My niece. Chatterbox. Tank. Budding musical prodigy. And a whole lot more besides.

I haven't had a great deal of exposure to children in my life. It's supposedly the only reason Family and Children's Services decided we weren't fit to adopt them. And while it's true that babies befuddle the hell out of me, from about Alexa's age on kids and I get on just fine. It helps that for some reason they all love me
Alexa does, too. I can't see how a kid her age could possibly remember me:  before this past weekend, I last saw her over a quarter of her life ago. (Then again, if any kid could, it'd be her: the stuff this girl knew how to do before she turned two had me slack-jawed with amazement. She was speaking actual words. Quite a few of them, and she knew exactly what they meant. More: she knew several ASL signs, and the English equivalents. At her age I was--

My mom compiled scrapbooks covering my life from birth to age 6 or so. They are exhaustive: the first rock I ever picked up is taped to one page; a lock of hair from my first haircut is taped to another; my first straw is in there, every birthday and Christmas card I got in those years is in there...it's all in there. Such a treasure, and I only bring it up to assure you I have a primary source to back up what I'm about to tell you. 

At 21 months I had next to no vocabulary. "See Teddy"--except that almost always came out without the 'Ted' syllable, my first teddy bear was "E". I counted to five...we lived in a backsplit semi and there were five steps between the main floor and the second, and I'd only recently managed to get up and down those steps on my own. (I actually remember counting them when I was three. It was a ritual.) My big achievement in locution was "nice, nice", accompanied by a vigorous hand-rub of whatever was "nice, nice". A rug. E. Mommy's face....

Assorted other words, very few of them in real English, Hell, I was barely beginning to understand concepts like bedtime and car ride. Tux is quite possibly smarter than I was at that age. Alexa's a freakin' genius in comparison.

She's also indestructible...just like her dad. She got her first black eye yesterday when a playground swing nailed her. Her dad, Eva's brother, beat that by about nine months. I bet beyond the first blat, neither of them noticed or cared overmuch. Actually, her mom tells me that despite being told to stop playing, little Alexa decided one black eye was nothing, and it wasn't until she'd bopped herself on the other cheek with a teeter-totter swing that she'd had enough. For one day. The teeter-totter apparently bopped her a pretty good one...and barely scratched her. That whole family is made out of Timex watches (link for my younger readers, who, it just occurred to me, might not know the Timex slogan).  If the rest of her clan is any indication, she's going to grow up into someone you won't want to pick a fight with.

But she's also loving. Very much so. As I say, there's probably no way she could have known "uncle Ken" from a hole in the ground last weekend, but after my presence was declared,  she announced to the house at large, "Come see Uncle Ken!" The heart just melts. And I got to play with all her toys. I drew on her little etch-a-sketchy type thing (probably no better than anything she could have produced) and she actually pretended to study it for a while before erasing it and handing it to me to try again. Utterly adorable.

And musical. Her mom put a video up on Facebook of her playing her toy piano. She's a regular Jerry Lee Lewis: at first she's playing with her feet. Then she settles down and starts pounding out power chords with both hands. I can't wait to get her on a real piano and teach her to play. Something tells me she'll be like a sponge. 

She's got a sister on the way, named Lilly-Anne Elizabeth. Alexa knows who that is and where she is: "in belly", pointing at her Mommy. Incredible. Jim, Ally, just wait until her and Lilly-Anne start playing off each other. Your life will be a laugh riot. Or sometimes just a riot. You've got quite the little girl there. I'm looking forward to being part of her life.