29 August, 2014

Kick the (ice) bucket?

My thoughts on the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge"  that has been sweeping social media...they've veered all over the place, but have mostly been negative.
At first, it was because of my usual perplexity with these things. Why are they necessary? If you want to give to ALS or anything else, must you dump a bucket of ice water over your head? What exactly does ice water have to do with ALS, anyway? (Hint: about as much as moustaches have to do with prostate cancer, which is to say, nothing at all.)
It gets exasperating, and if this goes on we're going to be tasked with all sorts of weird associations. Let your toenails grow in March for Muscular Dystrophy! Skinny-dip in August for cancer! Shoot friends with paintballs for diabetes! Where does it end?  It's not quite as banal as the breast cancer awareness game, but it's pretty stupid.

And seeing people get all wet, well, you can imagine how little interest that has for me at the best of times. I don't care about dry bodies...making them wet isn't going to suddenly make a difference.

Also, while it's great to see one disease in the spotlight and reaping millions upon millions of dollars...what about all the rest of them? No, I'm not going to in any way imply one disease is "more worthy" than another to be funded...but the United Way was saying there's been a 50% drop in charitable donations, excepting ALS, across the board. Does that seem right?

I will admit some of these videos, which I have watched for research, have been quite creative. And there is the undeniable fact that this viral campaign has worked, well beyond what anybody imagined it would. They're over a hundred million now and sill going strong.

You can't argue with results.

And then, of course, there's this.

A friend of mine who has no qualms about calling me on my bullshit put this on his timeline today and pointed it at me. Here's somebody living with an ALS patient saying that the ice bucket challenge is fantastic because it's got people talking about a disease that nobody talked about before. I had no idea, really, I didn't. How can you live into adulthood without having heard of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis? I mean, granted, it's not cancer, but it's not one of those boutique diseases that kills one in ten million people. It's responsible for one out of every fifty thousand deaths; it's currently invariably fatal; the best drug we have lengthens life by several months. It's also a particularly hellish way to go, locked in a body that gradually loses the ability to do anything at all, including things like breathe.

Now again, it's not the most common disease on the planet. But it *is* something that kills and kills nastily and the fact is it's been very much underfunded until this ice bucket challenge came along. For those living with it, it seems doubly cruel. Not only are you dying, slowly, but next to nobody cares.

The latest attack against the ALS association claims, rather disingenuously, that only 27% of donations are used for research. That may well be the case, but pure research is a small part of what charities actually do. At least as important are professional and public education (you can be sure that most of the people doing this challenge have, inexplicably, no real idea of what they're doing it for); also patient and community service. It's all well and good to find a cure, but we also have to look after the people who are afflicted...don't we?
According to Charity Navigator (hat tip, Rachel, for this fantastic site!), the ALS association is well within the normal bounds for charities, and it ranks very highly in terms of transparency and accountability. There are certainly more shady charities you could be giving your money to.

So give, already. I don't understand why you have to dump water on yourself to do it, but if it helps...


I'm going to be on a plane, soon. Oh joy, oh bliss.

Flying is, as Mike Warnke notes, an unnatural act. You're getting in a hollow metal tube and you're letting a complete stranger take you to 35.000 feet and travel in excess of five hundred miles an hour.

"If there should be an emergency, please fasten your seat belt."
"What emergency?"
"Well, we could fall out of the sky."
"Oh, yeah, then it'll be a real help to be strapped to the wreckage."

It seems like every comedian has an airplane routine. There's a reason for that: flying is frightening, and comedy is, like so much else, rooted in insecurity.
Personally, my problem is takeoffs. Actually, I'm not sure what my problem is, anymore, since I seem to have developed vertigo in the last five years or so. But takeoffs are just brutal. They wouldn't bother me so much if they didn't always happen at 110-degree angles.  (A few weeks ago I had a dream that I was blasting off in something like a space shuttle and I almost puked. Wouldn't that have been fun to explain to my darling spattered wife. Yes, love, I was somewhere over the Pacfic when my stomach let go...)

I haven't flown much within living memory. There was a trip to Florida in '84, Venezuela in '86, and Vancouver in 2003. That flight out to Vancouver I remember quite well. There was a half-hour delay on our Air Canada flight out of Toronto because the nose wheel had to be changed, which left me picking my nose and calculating angles and terminal velocities.  (Do they have to call airports "terminals"?) When we finally left the ground, a helpful little screen informed me that we were rising at over a hundred meters a second. This was information I did not need. I clutched my seat with white knuckles, as if that would help me in any way when the plummet came. We had just levelled out and seat belt sign had gone off when it came back on, prompting another workout of my sphincter muscles, and we hit the only turbulence of the flight. Which was, in hindsight, minor. In hindsight. (We hit an air pocket somewhere over northern Florida in '86 and I'm pretty sure they heard my scream from the ground. In fact, it might still be echoing around.) Turbulence is just not fair. You can't see it coming and every shake, rattle and roll leaves you wondering if the next one is going to bat you out of the blue and into the black.

(Yeah, my mind refuses to stay where it's put, in that safe, upright position).

We were in row 20, directly over the port wing; Eva had the window seat, which was a-ok by me. She'll get it this time, too: I don't want to have to look. The guy in row 19 had his seat on a yo-yo. That'll come in handy should it happen again: it'll be one more thing to grab. Breakfast was surprisingly delicious: blueberry pancakes and hot oranges.  I'm not sure how wise eating on the plane will be this time. We'll be at the back of the plane, and if my experience on roller coasters is any indication, this means we'll be rising at a 135-degree angle. Everything in my body is going to be shifting downwards and seeking egress at great speed. I think I should undergo colonic cleansing a few days before the flight, what say?

I like to read things like this that claim the survival rate for airplane crashes is 95.7%. Flying is supposedly the safest means of transport there is. (And the back of the plane is the best place to be.) Just goes to show you again, Ken, that the stuff you dream up in your mind's eye almost never comes true. I'd really like to find a way to stop imagining the worst (or in this case, the wurst: I'd be people pâté).

Can I just say I'd like for there to be bullet trains everywhere? It's really not the speed, it's the actual off the ground aspect of flying that bothers me. That may be irrational: I seem to be an irrational being, sometimes. I have two friends who between them have flown to the moon and back a few times, I think. They're still here. I will be too.

I hope.

Fasten your seat belts.

"Just Checkin' In, Thinkin' About You"

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook today and brought me up short, almost gasping for air.

The number of times I have written these exact words...either "'thinkin' about you" (complete with apostrophe, even!), or "just checkin' in"...it's almost daily, I'd say. Couple that with the neediness I've been dissecting (and trying to do away with) over the past two months and it's enough to make me take a few steps back and question myself.

There are three people on Facebook with whom I have daily, or close to it, contact. I don't have to hesitate for an instant to say I love all three of them. A lot. These are people I would move heaven and earth to help if the need arose (and I hope they know that). The thing about Facebook friends is that...I don't see any of these people often enough due to geographical, schedule and other issues. That's where Facebook has been a godsend for me: maintaining the connection, which I do find I need.  (I'm not counting here the first-tier friend of mine, my best man when I married Eva, who has a Facebook account but barely uses it; that friendship is maintained over a couple of thousand miles by weekly telephone calls that have taken place over two decades now.)

There's a second tier of friends, numbering about ten, whom I have less contact with, but for whom I care quite deeply. The boundaries of those friendships have just sort of naturally evolved over time and they largely have to do with how often these people contact me. There's that passivity again, that unwillingness to stick my neck out lest it be chopped off. That said, at this point those relationships seem comfortable all around right where they are.

Then there's the third tier of friends. I think most people on Facebook have at least a few friends that they never, or almost never, have any contact with. Why are they there? I can't say I'm not immune to using them for network purposes--Facebook is, after all, a social network--but I'd do the same for them without question, and I hope they know that. It's really this third category of friends to which I'm wondering if that poster applies. That's bothering me, because it's just so... so crass. 

As one friend just remarked to me, "You will know who are true friends and who aren't. The same goes for your friends. You know who uses you and who doesn't." For sure. There's nothing wrong with being used, on occasion...when that's the sole purpose of the "friendship", mind you, there's something wrong. Especially if there's no reciprocity: any friendship should have a balance of give and take in it. There may not be much give there...but if there's not much take either, is there any harm?

Friends are funny things. As Stephen King memorably said in "The Body", "they drift in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant". It took me a long time to grasp the inherent lesson in this: that the success of a relationship is not necessarily measured in longevity. Even a relationship that fails spectacularly could be deemed a success if it taught you something in the failing.

The thing is, too, that every one of my first-tier friends (including the chief of them all, the offline friend that is the woman I married) was at some point an acquaintance, then someone I was in like with. In a couple of instances the progression was remarkably rapid...but it was there; no steps were skipped.

I have found it especially difficult to keep friends in my life who have transitioned downwards. I admire people who can break up and "stay friends". I can still truthfully say I love the people who once shared my life, even if that love has long curdled...but I don't blame them one bit for not sharing the emotion and wanting to put as much distance between me and them as they possibly can. Sometimes, in the interest of love, either love for each other or self-love, you realize you've reached the end of a road.

If I ever say to you, on Facebook or anywhere else, "just checkin' in, thinkin' about you'"...it's because I am and was. And regardless of where I think you fit or where you think I fit, if you tell me life is sucking and you need an ear...you've got one, okay?

27 August, 2014


I'm a trusting person, until I'm given a reason not to be.

I find that makes interacting with other people much easier than the alternative, distrusting everyone on sight and forcing them to jump through hoops to earn trust. Because people tend to live up or down to the level of trust you place in them.

I've worked in retail for most of my life. Places that had strict policies indicative of a lack of trust in their employees also had a major problem with employee theft. It's easy to say the random bag searches and the distrustful attitude is a result of the theft problem. It's also a cause. People will find a way to steal. Particularly if they're being treated like thieves already.

You should go here and read about how Norway treats its convicted criminals. Even murderers are treated with compassion and offered every opportunity to improve themselves. Contrast the prevailing attitude in our part of the world, that criminals are scum and once they've committed a serious offence--or even committed an "offence" like smoking or selling a plant...they're un-rehabilitatable. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy: recidivism rates bear that out. Granted, the stats in the article linked above are (a) for the UK and (b) eight years old. But UK's re-conviction rate for freed prisoners was more than seventy percent. That prison in Norway that looks like a cross between a resort and a monastery? Sixteen percent.

People live up or down to the level of trust you place in them.

This holds true in relationships, too. Trust is even more important in a marriage or partnership: it's a fundamental part of love. Without trust, love can not exist.

I personally know of two cases where jealous partners, convinced their partners were cheating on them at every turn, eventually were cheated on. It's not all that hard to justify: if you're being tarred with that brush, accused of cheating day in and day out, having your emails and cellphone messages subject to random inspections by your partner for signs of the affair you're having, required to call and check in everywhere you go multiple times a day....sooner or later you're going to decide to reap the benefits. Maybe not with the person your partner suspects, but with somebody.  Even if you don't, relationships in which one or both partners are neurotically insecure are neither healthy or happy.

I have never, not once, been seriously tempted to break the trust my wife has in me. I'm a functional male and fantasies come standard on my make and model. But fantasies need not be acted upon: in fact, most of them shouldn't be. They so rarely live up to themselves. (Surprised to hear that from a self-proclaimed polyamorous person? You shouldn't be. I would say that trust is actually more important in poly relationships simply by virtue of there being more involved parties whose trust can be broken).

"It's not you I don't trust, it's him/her".

Nope, sorry, bzzt. You may not trust some woman you think might have designs on your man... but if you trust your man, you know he won't put himself in a position to be designed.
Now, Eva and I have a difference of opinion on this. She believes that women are devious and have some sort of (never adequately explained) magical power that can transform the most loyal man into mincemeat. I've been on the lookout for this magical power ever since and haven't seen any signs of it. Any man (or woman) that cheats does so quite willingly, is my take on it. It takes two people to betray trust and in my view both are equally guilty when it happens.

In relationships, jealousy is usually the emotion that corrodes trust. In larger contexts, I believe, another form of fear is at cause. If you don't trust your employees,  it may be because they don't trust you.  you know it, and your fear the consequences. That's another thing about trust and distrust: they feed off each other. Niggling suspicion will turn into dead certainty very easily. Certainly our prison systems run on fear. The guards fear the inmates, the inmates are expected to fear the guards, and of course the inmates fear each other. That's not an environment wherein much of anything worthwhile can take place.

I actually really like those seven reasons employees don't trust their leaders and I think those seven reasons can easily be adapted to interpersonal relationships:

1) A lack of courage: you see this when excuses are found to keep a relationship from growing. It clearly exhibits a lack of trust in the relationship.

2) Hidden agendas: the presence of these is easily detected by most, even if the agendas themselves aren't. If you're not privy to your partner's important thoughts about your partnership, it's natural to wonder just what those might be and how they might differ from yours.

3) Self-centered: this is a classic sign of neurotic insecurity. "I don't want to blow my own horn, but I want other people to". "Enough about me...what do you think about me?" At some point you have to wonder if there's any room for another ego in there.

4) Reputation Issues: If you start hearing bad things about your partner from more than one other person you trust...there's usually a good reason for that.

5) Inconsistent behaviour: Are you treated like royalty one day, shunned and ignored the next? Beware.

6) Don't get their hands dirty: Relationships take work. It doesn't feel like work when you're committed to one, but it's work nonetheless. And if you're the only one working,...

7) Lack a generous purpose: As Heinlein famously defined it,  "Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Mutual love is when both parties look out for themselves by looking out for each other. If that fades, trust will inevitably fade with it.

If you are not a trusting person, ask yourself why. It may be that someone has betrayed your trust in the past: lack of trust is then understandable and forgivable (but should still be corrected...just because one person hurt you does not mean that anyone else, let alone everyone else, will.) You may actually have legitimate reason to believe your trust is being, or is about to be, betrayed: in which case you should talk calmly and without accusation (which only tends to put people on the defensive and which may actually plant an idea they didn't have until you accused them of having it).

Those seven relationship flaws up there can all be fixed, though if you feel three or more apply you might consider whether the best way to fix the relationship is to blow it up. In any event, the way to fix a broken relationship is to TALK about it. That can take courage, especially when you suspect there are problems...but you'll save yourself a whole lot of heartache down the road by communicating.

I've only been married fourteen years. I may not be qualified to offer advice on relationships. However, my marriage is exceptionally strong and not being qualified never stopped me before.

26 August, 2014


If countries had national words, I think Canada's would be "sorry".

Not "eh", which is the stereotypical Canadianism. As is usual with stereotypes, "eh" is considerably less common in real life than it is in people's perceptions. "Sorry", however, is everywhere. It has given rise to another stereotype: that Canadians are exceedingly polite.
We are not. Well, not all of us. In Toronto, I can tell you politeness, let alone actual warmth from people, is in short supply. But even there, whenever any two people bump into each other, both will say "sorry", sometimes several times. It's comical...especially if you know both of them are thinking you #%^&ing $#$%%^^, get the @$^*( out of my way!ˆ

I get downvoted on Reddit every time I say this, but I have found that men and women say "sorry" differently, in general. Eva and I refer to it as "girl-sorry" and "boy-sorry". Boy-sorry is "I'm sorry I screwed up"; girl-sorry is "whether or not I had anything to do with why you're feeling bad, I'm sorry you feel that way".

Both of them have their uses. Both are hopelessly overused.

Personally, I tend to lean towards girl-sorry, now, and so I find myself saying that word quite often. There are a lot of people walking around  with a lot of chaos, self-loathing, turmoil and pain in their souls. Hell, I just got finished writing about the recently subsided storm in mine. I feel other people's pain. Even pain from people I don't care about; it shoots up by an order of magnitude when I love someone who's hurting. Depression in particular calls out to me, because it's something I have experienced myself.

Incidentally, I'm not stupid enough to think I've conquered depression: I have the sort of personality that's prone to it,, and as I wrote, depression is sneaky. But I am actively learning its methods, the flaws in my personality that it uses to sabotage my sense of self-worth. The biggest handle it grabs is my need to be needed: whenever that need is thwarted, depression is right there to say how worthless and unwanted and unnecessary I am. Start listening to that voice, and tattoos or not, before I can blink I'll be tossing around in an empty ocean again. I am trying very hard to recognize, whenever I feel rejected, how irrationally that rejection spirals: I can't see you today becomes I don't want to see you today becomes I never want to see you again  becomes I wish you'd never been born. See, I write that out like that it and it looks absolutely absurd. Beyond stupid. Laughable.

I think the pain of others is another handle, another soul-hole that...leaks. Because there really is a lot of pain out there, and taking on the pain of others comes so naturally to me...but it often seems that there's nothing much I can really do about any of it, and healing the entire world is as crazy as extrapolating I wish you'd never been born from I can't see you today. It's easy to feel that whatever I do, it can never be enough, therefore it's all pointless, therefore why bother trying, you're worthless and useless and, ah, go jump in an ocean.

There has to be a balance, and I would like that balance to tip towards empathic and caring without tipping me over. Hardened (a little) I may be, but I am nobody's cold-hearted bastard. Ideally, I'm seeking a way to still feel the pain of others without making that pain my own. I think this one might take a while.

I'm wondering if "sorry" might be a way to start. I mean, that word really is everywhere. And there are times it should go unaccepted, or be accepted provisionally.

When I was a kid, I was boy-sorry all the time. I'm sorry I screwed up. "Sorry" became a talismanic word, a word to automagically erase whatever I'd done. A get-out-of-jail-free card: invest the word with enough emotion and explain in a hundred words or so just how sorry you are and poof! all better. (The secret to success is sincerity! Fake that and you've got it made!)

It obviously doesn't work like that, you can't fake sincerity, because a sincere apology starts with a word and continues with some sort of concrete action.

I used to get a lot of "sorries" after getting kicked and punched and what not on the schoolyard. They were always delivered in that descending minor third taunt--why is that interval universal, I wonder?--that really added insult to injury. These days I don't get kicked and punched anymore because grown-ups don't usually act that way. But adults are very good at emotional assault, and not every rejection I suffer is imaginary. When a blanket rejection is accompanied with a rain of apologies, it sounds to me very much like that "sorrr-eee" chant. Not just insincere, but a kind of anti-apology. I meant to do that. I knew how much it would hurt you, and I did it anyway. 

Related thought: mistakes. A "mistake" is an action you undertake without adequately foreseeing the consequences. Now, sometimes you can't: none of us have crystal balls. But I've seen impaired driving dismissed as a "mistake". No. Impaired driving is always a conscious choice, and its consequences, while not inevitable, are common enough to be easily foreseen: that's why most people don't drink and drive. Most of the things called "mistakes"..aren't. Not in my books, anyway.

So yeah, I have trouble accepting apologies for deliberate actions that are clearly intended to hurt me.

That goes double when I'm the one deliberately hurting myself. Which I do entirely too often...and judging from the oceans of pain locked within so many people I know, I'm far from alone. Why do we do it? Why do we choose pain? Pain hurts. "No pain, no gain"? That's certainly one reason: I wonder if I could have come to what wisdom I have without having suffered pain, first.

Sometimes, pain is deliberately self-inflicted because it's better than numbness. People who do this are broken, and need more help than I think I'm capable of providing. If that describes any of my readers, please, seek that help. There are many states of being besides numbness and insufferable pain...and they're all better.

But most of the time, it's a cycle: we choose pain, we express pain, we get sympathy, sympathy puts fuel in the pain tank. I had a friend years ago who was exceptionally skilled at this: everything was about her (except the choices she made: she was curiously blind to every one of those), the world was out to destroy her, and she'd leech every bit of sympathy she could out of the surrounding crowd and demand more. It got to the point where I could actually close my eyes and see blood-red sympathy dripping from her protruding fangs. Every time I express some sort of pain to the world, I have to watch myself in a mirror, chewing on garlic with a crucifix in my hand, first. We all need sympathy from time to time, but to crave it is to be in some state between life and death. Undead.

In my merry roundabout way, I'm saying that feeling sorry for myself is absolutely wrong. Apology not accepted. Rather than wallow in oceans of self-pity (and trust me, I am intimately acquainted with those oceans), I choose to grab life preservers. I have two: music and writing. You'll have others.

Friends, lovers, family? Very few can pull you out of that ocean themselves. For one thing, they're battling their own monsters; for another, you're likely to pull them in with you (especially if they're anything like me, susceptible to pain.)  But they're there to help you find yourself, to help you discover your strengths. It's up to you to use them. You can lean on me...but I can't make you walk.

So this is my very public apology to those I love, who have been privy to this bout I've had with depression and self-loathing. I believe what I've written shows my sincerity; I believe the work I'm putting in here illustrates it further. Now that I seem to be on dry land, I'm learning how to put one foot in front of the other. And so I can say that I'm not feeling sorry for myself...instead I say "sorry" to myself for feeling that way, and resolve not to feel that way again.

25 August, 2014


It has been a week and a day since I got my tattoos.

I'm so glad I did. I'm not sure I can stress that enough. I also can't believe the effect they have had on me. It's hard to overstate that, as well.

Please pardon this distasteful bit coming up. It needs to be said.

Since mid-July I had been suffering some of the blackest depression I've ever known. (If you can't tell your diary, and this is my diary...who can you tell?) I tried very hard not to burden friends with it, because who needs that? Didn't always succeed.

It felt like an ocean in storm. I'd sputter-crawl through one wave, suddenly find myself lifted high into the air and light as a feather, only to crash again the next day. Or hour. Sometimes I'd lift myself free. More often I'd be lifted by the words or actions of someone close to me. Each time I'd look down on the ocean around me and think I can beat this. I know how. I have all the tools. I'm going to beat this. And I'd mean it. I would even write it out, like lancing a boil, and think I'd drained it.
But depression is a sneaky bastard. It sees you slam a door shut and it skulks around to a basement window. At some point you'd find yourself going down to your mental basement for some turnips or turpentine or something and there to greet you would be Depression, five feet deep and rising fast. Why howdy, stranger! You didn't think you could keep an OCEAN out of your house, did you? 

Losing my job precipitated it, but not in the way you'd think. Many people define themselves by what they do to pay bills and I have never been one of those people. I didn't miss the job as a job. I missed the people tremendously...much more than I would have thought possible.  I'm not the most social person around...a classic introvert, I am...but I seem to need human contact a lot more than I thought I did. I'd keep making plans, they'd keep being killed, often at the last minute. Sometimes the reasons made perfect sense. Sometimes they didn't. It didn't matter. That happens to you a dozen times or so, scattered among any number of people, and it gets hard not to take personally. Especially when your personal bugaboo is rejection. So easy to conjure that feeling forth.

On tattoo day, again feeling about an inch tall (and damned sick of the feeling), I reminded myself what my body art was to represent. On my left shoulder, an infinity heart depicting love without limits. On the right, a blue spruce to represent fears I have conquered. (Being afraid of blue spruces is the most ridiculous phobia I've ever heard of in a lifetime of studying phobias, and it was mine for too many years to admit.) So at any time I could look to my left and see love. which I give and receive in abundance...or look right and see fear transformed into beauty. I figured between those two images, I was adequately armed against pretty much anything life could throw at me. But just to be safe, I'd get a stud in my ear, too: that wouldn't mean anything, and its meaninglessness would be ripe with meaning. With apologies to the late George Carlin:  Why? Because. Just because. I'll going to make an eighth hole in my head and put an ornament in there and people will  have to deal with me. The idea that I could be somebody to be dealt with, that was new. I would have said "accepted"before, "I was somebody to be accepted"--and then felt crushed when I wasn't, or thought I wasn't. Big change.

It's been a week and a day since. Everything has pretty much healed. For a while my blue spruce sported needles of flaky dead skin; now both tats have a tiny bit of scabbing in one corner and the earring is absolutely unnoticeable unless I stop to think about it.

The mental transformation has been interesting to behold.

It wasn't an instant fix. Like I said, depression is a sneaky bastard and for a while it whispered poisonous seductions. You think a tree can stand against an ocean? And that heart's wishful thinking,, too, loving many and much just means you can be shit on by many and much all at once! C'mon, let's go swimming. I want to show you what's down here. 

It all came to a head this past Saturday afternoon.
More plans were hanging in the balance. I was to be going with a friend and her family to the Waterloo Buskers' Festival that evening--something that has been running annually for 26 years, longer than I've actually lived in this city, and I'd inexplicably never attended. Anyway, I was so sure those plans were going to be scuttled that I had convinced myself, with ironclad certainty, that they had been. Upstairs I went, my head pounding, and I laid in bed--never mind that it was quarter to three in the afternoon, I wasn't sure I'd want to get out of bed ever again.  Eva was away for the day, which was good. I'd been in great shape when she kissed me goodbye and  I didn't want her to see me like this. She didn't deserve to, not after the endless love she has shown me over so long...love that of course I wasn't worthy of.

I started to cry. Black thoughts capered, whitecaps frothed, and the wind between my ears commenced to howl. There was nothing for it to carry away. My head was totally empty. I saw nothing but endless ocean around me, felt nothing but the slap and buffet of colossal waves, tasted nothing but salt.

Some scrap of self-preservation hauled me out of bed, almost without cognitive awareness of it, and plopped my ass in front of my keyboard. I gripped it like the life preserver it was and started playing.

It was over an hour before what I was playing actually registered in my ears. Most of the emotion had leached out. What was left was a lovely tune: melancholy, yes, but not viciously so. It sounded frail and fragile, which was probably apt because I felt that way.

I went downstairs and transcribed a few bars of that tune into composition software. And then I looked at my tattoos. The tiny scabs itched a little, but for the most part they had healed.  I had inflicted pain on myself and derived meaning from that pain. That thought bounced around in my head a few times and then started to repeat.

I had inflicted pain on myself and derived meaning from that pain, 

I had inflicted pain on myself

(all pain is self-inflicted, this has been a core belief of yours for almost twenty years now)

...and derived meaning from that pain.

(and that's what life is about.)

I could go alone. So what if my plans didn't involve going alone? Didn't John Lennon tell us that life is what happens when you're busy making other plans? In fact, I WOULD go alone.

The instant I decided that, and I mean the exact instant, I heard a bong from my computer, telling me I had a private message on Facebook. That message was basically "Ken-you ready to go?"

I was. I went, and I had a fantastic time. The acts were all impressive, and one of them--Dream State Circus, was world-class. Being with friends old and new--the whole town turns out for this thing, so I saw several people I knew--was wonderful. Even more wonderful since I realized I could have come alone and enjoyed myself too. Maybe not as much, but certainly enough. 

I moved through the crowd (and it was a huge crowd) like somebody who wasn't afraid of crowds. I actually took the lead a couple of times, which is something I never do. And I felt..assertive.  Like I had every right to be where I was. That, too, was new. I got home, kissed my wife, and told her everything. Well, everything except what these tattoos have done, because I couldn't put that into words until today.

These tattoos have hardened me. It's almost like I have a second skin now: a skin of my own devising that has a power all its own. And it's a pretty potent power.

Yesterday, somebody hurt me. I'm not making this up, or grasping at oceans in a desert: I was very deliberately hurt by someone I care very deeply for. I won't give details as to the situation itself, it's highly personal. But I can say this:  it came out of a clear blue sky, from one of the last people I ever expected to try to hurt me. It came through no fault of my own (I was told by the person hurting me--those are the worst kind of hurts, don't you find? The ones you didn't earn?) And I'll say one other thing: had this happened two weeks ago it would have sunk me, maybe for good.

Not going to say I didn't feel it. I'm a feeler, it's how I process the world, in shades of emotion. But I was not depressed about it. Angry, totally bewildered, a species of dumb amazement that this can't possibly be happening...and then something so utterly alien to my usual mode of feeling that I was even more amazed at it: a gritty acceptance edged with steel. This is how it has to be? Fine. I don't have to like it, but damn it, I deserve much better than this and if you don't care enough to see that, too bad for you.

I'm not kidding: my tattoos actually seemed to throb a little at that, like engines. Surely my imagination--or maybe it was just my mind working at deriving meaning from the pain so quickly that I wasn't even feeling the pain overmuch. I looked at my infinity heart. It seemed to blaze: yes, I still love, always have, always will, whether that love is returned or not. I looked at my tree, it looked back at me, aglow, and I realized I wasn't afraid of rejection.

No matter where it came from.


Persian has, I have read, two expressions: al-fa'il and al-mafa'ul. They translate, roughly, as "the doer" and "the done-to". I have always been al-mafa'ul, content to live life in the passive mode. On some level, of course, I have long been aware this was a problem...but the solving of it was unthinkable. I am not a doer. Doing involves risk; risk involves some kind of break--head, heart, pocketbook (we say "broke", don't we?)

Now I don't think I'm cut out to be one of those leaders the world rallies around. But in my own way, I'm learning that I am capable of being the doer. I'm actually not letting the hurt I experienced yesterday stand in the way of what I'm going to do next week. You'll get the scoop on that, dear Breadbin, when it happens.

In the meantime, once again, I need to thank my friends who have seen me go through this and who didn't run away screaming. You know who you are: hugs and love to each of you. Most importantly, I have to thank Eva, my love, my rock. You have not only seen me through something I never expected, you've given me the emotional and physical tools to cope. You are one reason I love without limits and I can handle my fears.

And I'm another.

22 August, 2014

No Hope for the Leafs

Damnit, Toronto, this is why you can't have nice things.

Longtime readers, or anyone acquainted with a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will wearily recognize the kind of stubborn, pointless hope the fan base exudes every fall like clockwork. Every year, we Leaf fanatics don blue-and-white glasses, examine the team, and proclaim all sorts of Unassailable Reasons Why This Will Be Our Year. Not the year we win a Cup--even the most delusional of us won't trot that out without a brewery full of beer in us--but the Year We Make The Playoffs And Then, You Know, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

It occurs to me that my personality is oddly suited to being a Laffs fan. For way too long I've aspired to mediocrity, and I've got that exaggerated hope/crashing despair thing down to a fine art. The team has managed to outdo me these last two seasons, though. First, two years ago, there was an unexpected playoff appearance (PLAYOFFS OMGWTFBBQ) and they actually pushed tbe eventual Stanley Cup finalists to a seventh game and were up 4-1 with seven minutes to go in that game. I will never forget that. I had French class that night, and I managed to get the score off a classmate at the end of that class..."It's 4-1," she told me..."oops, no, wait, 4-2 now".
"It'll be tied by the time I get home", I prophesied. Sure enough, I arrived home just in time to see the winning goal go in. I was thus spared the meltdown that Leaf fans everywhere had endured.
The following season, something awfully similar happened on a larger scale. The team flew out of the gate, defying everyone in hockey by winning games they had no business winning. They'd be routinely outshot, sometimes 2 to 1, and still win. Rope-a-dope hockey. It was insane. The stats heads kept shaking those stats out of their heads and explaining how this couldn't possibly be sustained...and it kept being sustained. They were at or near the top of their division for a goodly chunk of last season, slipped a bit around the two-thirds mark, but were solidly in playoff position with 68 games gone in an 82 game season. All they needed to do was win half of those last fourteen games, and they'd have been in.

They won two.


What truly amazed me was the Leaf braintrust's bumbling lack of answers for the collapse. Any hockey fan could tell at a glance what was wrong: everything. The team had no defensive system. Literally none. Unlike every other team in the league, they played three lines instead of four, ensuring everyone on those three lines would be thoroughly gassed by the three quarter point of the season. They famously didn't care about opposition shots on net, and thus gave up a historical number of shots against; Jonathan Bernier saw more rubber than a whorde of prostitutes. Players were misused all over the ice, players that never should have been on the ice were (see McLaren, Fraser and Orr, Colton). The result was a slow-motion train wreck that was as predictable as it was mesmerizing.

After watching that, Leaf fans could perhaps be forgiven for burning their jerseys. This summer, though, the entire hockey world stood up and took notice of the doings in Toronto.

They promised a "culture change". That tired phrase has been thrown around entirely too many times in this fan's tenure, and to be quite honest, I put zero stock in it when I saw the same brain-dead coach who presided over last year's mess not only retained, but extended. More empty words, I thought. Sounds just like what Tim Leiweke came in preaching last year. 

Tim Leiweke. He arrived in Toronto with a bang, spouting off about Stanley Cup parade routes (and causing the entire hockey world to convulse in paroxysms of helpless laughter; the running joke for years was that the Leafs and their fans "plan the parade" after every trade and every four game winning streak). He also announced he was going to take all the franchise's memorabilia off the walls of the Air Canada Center. His reasoning--entirely reasonable reasoning, from my vantage point--was that the Leafs rely too much on past (ancient past) glories. The last Stanley Cup winners are in wheelchairs and walkers at this point, but they're all brought out every other game for a pointless ceremony marking the eleventy-fifth season since the Leafs were relevant. But  Leaf Nation reacted to Leiweke's musing as if he were a filthy Hab, and he backed off and turned his attention to the other franchises under MLSE's control.

In here is a pretty good summary of what he's done. The summary of the summary is that thanks to his connections and cachet, two laughingstock teams (Raptors and TFC) either made the playoffs for the first time in a long time or will make them for the first time ever. And neither playoff appearance is of the "one-and-done" variety, but what truly looks like the first taste of a prolonged period of success--possibly championship success.

The Leafs, though. The flagship franchise was floundering, as it had floundered forever and an age, and there had been entirely too many empty calls for "culture change". Last time it was called 'Blue-and-White Disease' and much effort had been made to excise it from the team. It didn't really work, because nobody changed the overall direction of the franchise. For years they've been hockey's version of that crazy uncle you've got who insists at the top of his lungs that he knows best, that the rest of the world is full of shit, even as he screws his life up at every turn.  

Hockey is just starting down baseball's path to statistical overload. Give it twenty years and the announcers will be telling you that Nathan Mackinnon has a 13.5% shooting average from zones five through seven on nights when the moon is a waning crescent. But for now, we're still figuring out what these 'advanced stats' things are good for. Every team's been hopping on the bandwagon, because there's a hard salary cap and any off-ice edge you can possibly get might translate to the ice itself.

Every team except the Toronto Maple Leafs. Stats? We doan NEED no friggin' stats! Look at howwell our team performed for two thirds of a season without them! And that last third, well, we have no answer for that, and we're not going to listen to no smartass accountant types with answers, either, because we KNOW HOCKEY, damnit! We've won more Stanley Cups than almost every other team! 

(Which is true, believe it or not. Only Montréal has won more Cups. Mind you, as every Leaf fan knows because every Leaf hater takes great pains to remind him, the Leafs haven't even competed for the Cup since 1967.)

Lieweke stood back and analyzed this for a while. Then he brought in Brendan Shanahan, a highly respected player-turned-less-respecred-NHL-disciplinarian who had zero experience running an NHL team.  The cynics (count me among them) laughed. They chortled when Randy Carlyle's assistants were fired and Carlyle himself was kept on.
And then the chortles and guffaws and squeals of glee began to dry up in a myriad of throats. True, Toronto hadn't hit any home runs. But they'd managed to swap out their bottom six for players who were, according to those meaningless advanced stats, better and cheaper. For less than the market value of one Dave Bolland, they got three players, one of which is almost certainly going to outpoint Bolland this year. Their bottom six, which was far and away the worst in the league last season, suddenly looks at least defensively competent and even has a little pop in its sticks. This will in turn mean that Carlyle can confidently roll four lines, which means that the first line won't hit a wall at the 60 game mark. And while Carlyle's still there, the two new assistants breathing down his neck are (a) a defensive guru known for his work with the Nashville Predators, one of the NHL's better defensive teams and (b) last year's Marlie coach, who took a team of nobodies well into the playoffs. Should the Leafs falter out of the gate, the money is on Spott or Horachek to be coach by American Thanksgiving.
And one of the new GMs, Shanahan's hire, is Kyle Dubas. I don't know Dubas from a dumbass, but I have enormous respect for how Shanahan said he conducted the search. He surveyed his contacts league wide to find out who the best young mind in the game was, and Dubas's name kept coming up, over and over. So he hired him.

That's the sign of a good boss. He knows what he doesn't know, he looks far and wide for who might know it, and he gets him. Dubas, incidentally, is a huge proponent of the advanced statistics the Leafs had long disdained. And lo and behold, all of a sudden the Leafs have an analytics department, staffed by some real heavy hitters. Sane deal: ask any stathead what the best hockey stats site is, and you'll get TheExtraSkater.com more often than not. Well, you won't anymore, because the Leafs hired its creator, took the website down and made all the information on it proprietary.

The other new GM, named Pridhim, is the team's new "capologist", tasked with finding loopholes in the collective bargaining agreement while keeping the team in compliance with it. His last job? He basically did the same for the NHL as a whole. Doubtless Shanahan knew Pridhim well from his lasy job. Connections. It's all about connections.

That's how you run a hockey team. Even the most ardent Leaf hater has had to admit this off-season has looked good for Toronto.

No, I'm not going to suggest this means the Leafs are a playoff team. They're a bubble team at best, one Phil Kessel torn ligament or Bernier groin pull away from a lottery pick. But at least and at long last, they're on the right road.  So, hope, right?

Not so fast.

Tim Leiweke, the man who set all this in motion and the man to whom anybody on three teams who is anybody owes his job, is leaving.
Not immediately, but soon. June, at the latest.
We may never hear the real reason(s) why Leiweke would desert a five year contract less than halfway through. But we can speculate. The rumours run from his wife hating Toronto winters (they're Los Amglenos and can therefore be forgiven), to bigger and better opportunities beckoning (where?!) to the one I tend to favour: Leiweke's already sick of being a puppet torn between two sets of bosses.

Bell and Rogers, two huge Canadian media conglomerates, own Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The American equivalent would be Comcast and Verizon jointly owning a majority share of  the Yankees, the Knicks, the Rangers and Madison Square Garden, among a bunch of other things. You can imagine how unstable that would be: like old nitroglycerin. How and why it was allowed is a mystery for the ages.  At any rate, anyone caught in the boardroom quakes that must being going on at MLSE would surely long for stable ground somewhere.

Replacing him won't be easy. Actually, replacing him will be impossible, as Cathal Kelly notes in the article linked above. Nobody else in sports or entertainment brings Leiweke's connections or his force of will.  Leaf, Raptor and TFC fans had better hope that everything can run on its own, once Tim is gone.

I, frankly, doubt it.

21 August, 2014

I Like Big...Whats?

...and I can not lie: I've never understood the fascination with fundaments.

I mean, by now everybody knows exactly how little bodies in general mean to me, right? I know that's strange, but(t)...if you have to be attracted to the outermost layer of a person, why on earth would you focus on that specific part?
Both genders do it, so there's got to be some evolutionary reason why asses are where it's at. Me, I look at an ass, and I think that's the part the shit tumbles out of. Hence I don't look at them very often. I'm nobody's coprophiliac.

Name another body part that seems to garner more than its fair share of attention. On women, it's breasts. And while I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like boobs, as a man it has been drilled into me, over and over and over again, that I better not be caught looking at them because that's tantamount to rape. Now, I disagree with this notion quite strongly, but disagreeing with notions like this will get you nowhere.  So I don't look at breasts, either. Not unless and until I'm allowed to, at any rate.

That leaves faces, and that's the one part of the body that tells you something useful about the person underneath. You can tell a lot from a long look at a face. You can get a pretty fair gauge of empathy just from the depth of the eyes. You can tell if someone smiles a lot (even if they're not smiling when you look at them). You can tell how much pain they're in, and sometimes how long they've felt that pain. I seem to be particularly good at noticing pain that's been locked away.Not bad for a guy as supposedly unobservant as I've been told I am..

I'm attracted to faces. You want to get me warm? A warm smile does it every time.

Anyway, back to the behind. As I was saying, the bean-blower has just never held any interest for me. I'm practically alone among male humans in that regard. Popular music is just full of anal referents, from the iconic 'Baby Got Back' on up to this summer's feel-good-about-yourself-and-especially-your-bum song, "All About That Bass." If you're being told to shake something in popular music, it's a pretty safe bet it's your butt.

Body image songs.

I'm still waiting for a really good one. No matter the song or the good intentions behind it, there always seems to be a word or a line that jars, something that lifts me out of the song and says to me this singer doesn't really mean it.

Let's take "Baby Got Back" as an example.. Sir Mix-A-Lot was quoted in 1992:

"The song doesn't just say I like large butts, you know? The song is talking about women who damn near kill themselves to try to look like those beanpole models that you see in Vogue magazine."

Fantastic sentiment, otherwise damn near perfect song, marred in the very first verse. C'mon, we all know it:

"when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face, you get sprung..."

Hang on a second. What's that "itty-bitty waist" doing in there? Tiny waist, big ass, what kind of unnatural shape is that, anyway? Even if that's normal, why exactly does the waist have to be small?

To say nothing of the fact that the butt and the waist are the only two body parts mentioned here. Even for a song focussing only on bodies, that seems kind of narrow.

Then there's Meghan Trainor: "All About That Bass". This one suffers from the opposite problem:

I'm bringin' booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I'm just playin' I know you think you're fat
But I'm here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

Again, lovely sentiment. But did she have to call them skinny women "bitches"? Was that really necessary? Oh, hang on, she said "no, I'm just playin'." Ah. Okay. That excuses that, then.

No it doesn't. I've heard "I'm just playin'" used to justify pretty much every hurtful thing that has never been said to me, and more importantly, to others. It's often said to fat women (always women...) Remember the schoolyard chant? "Fatty, fatty, two-by-four, can't get through the bathroom door"? Did you ever think to ask the person those words were addressed to if she thought the "game" was fun?

No, there's nothing wrong with being fat. Of course there isn't. But there's nothing wrong with being skinny either.Being skinny doesn't make you a "bitch". Being bitchy all the time makes you a bitch, and those come in all shapes and sizes.

There are lots of other body acceptance songs out there -- MIKA's "Big Girl, You are Beautiful" comes to mind. It has its issues too...it comes across as a fetishist's song, kind of creepy in places. That's the inevitable line you walk when you write these songs that focus on the body like it's the only thing that matters.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but these song are always, without exception, about women. Now, believe me, I'm extremely sensitive to the body image plight that nearly every woman wrestles with. But I'm here to tell you us men have body issues, too. In spades. Women aren't quite as shallow as men are (in general): guys without six-packs can still aspire to be friends with women, at least. But we all know what gets your motors revving: biceps, triceps, abs, delts. quads...Where's our body acceptance song, anyway?

19 August, 2014

Black and White

  1. 1. (of a situation or debate) involving clearly defined opposing principles or issues.
    "there is nothing black and white about these matters"

  1. 2. (Informal) a police car.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I have made a point of defending police officers online against mindless tides of derision and worse over the years. There are many "good cops" in my family, and I love them all and respect the often thankless job they do. My father (now thankfully long retired) tops my list. Here's a cop who never fired his service weapon on duty though his entire career (he received a commendation for that). He's known far and wide as a person who serves his community, who genuinely cares. And on any given shift, his job could turn from routine to deadly in an instant. I will never forget riding along with him when he pulled a speeder over. "Now if anything happens, Macaw", he said, "press this button. It'll put you in touch with North Bay [at least two hours away at top speed, probably closer to three]. Give the cruiser number and describe the situation."

Nothing happened.

But it could have,

Now, I know for a fact my father didn't disproportionately pull over or arrest anyone. The Canadian equivalent in terms of racial prejudice would be the First Nations, and reservations dot the area he patrolled. (He didn't often venture on to them: they have their own police forces. One of the few things we got right in our treatment of aboriginals, in my view). But I know my father. Like the majority of police officers, he is a fair and just man, and what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri is not his idea of policing.

Indeed, that police action has more in common with a police action than anything I'd expect of a police service. What does it tell you when the peace officers declare and prosecute a war?

Canada is not immune from police behaving badly. The three incidents that immediately spring to mind are the Robert Dziekanski fiasco in Vancouver, the totally unjustified killing of Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in Toronto, and the utter insanity of the G-20 protests, which put a mob of protestors against a mob of police officers. Like every other G-anything, this didn't go well.

There are doubtless many other rogue cops in Canada, and many cases of police insanity. This should not obscure the fact that most police officers are truly motivated to "serve and protect", to "maintain the right".

You get to wondering if this holds true south of the 49th parallel.

Again, I'm sure that there are countless police officers down there who have their communities' best interests at heart, and who act responsibly at all times. But there are enough bad apples that cynics might feel perfectly justified appending "...as long as you're white" to that sentence.

Black people live in a different world. Whether it's in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, New York, or just about anywhere in between, a black boy learns very early on to distrust, fear, and hate the police. And why is that? Because the police in America routinely target blacks and Latinos, far more than whites. Take a look at these stats for Illinois, for instance. White motorists are 49% more likely to have contraband material in their vehicles than blacks, and 56% more likely than Latinos; yet police search nearly twice as many cars driven by blacks and Latinos. Similar discrepancies hold true across most jurisdictions I have looked at. I don't want to bog you down with stats. Suffice it to say that if you're black or Latino, you're a target.

And why is that? Well, in New York City, at least, it's done to create a culture of fear: to let the black man know at at any time, he can be stopped by police. Keeps him in his place, see? The NYPD has quotas for this. (You almost have to laugh: In 2011, more young black men were stopped by police than there are young black men in New York City. )

 Despite its blatant unconstitutionality, stop-and frisk wasvigorously defended by  the two   previous mayors  and the current police commissioner, who has no intention of  ending the program, saying "you can't police without it".

Don't think for a second this is limited to NYC.. The attitude behind stop-and-frisk: that any young black man is ipso facto suspected of something, and the use of petty peccadillos like jaywalking to stop and detain young black men...that leads us into


Michael Brown.

It is a fact that Michael Brown broke the law. He stole a box of Swisher Sweet cigarillos from a convenience store.  Darren Wilson was unaware of this when he first confronted Brown and his friend: their offence, so far as Wilson was concerned, was "blocking the street".

I will repeat that.

As far as the police were concerned, Michael Brown was guilty of the offence of "blocking the street".

Now, I am an inveterate jaywalker. It drives Eva nuts: I like to diagonalize my way across streets, on as shallow an angle as safety permits. Saves time. Hasn't got me killed yet.  I've been doing this for a very long time and no police officer has ever looked twice at me, let alone stopped his cruiser, backed it up, and told me to "get the fuck off the street". I can't say for certain that this is because I am Canadian and white...but I'm beginning to think that might be why.

Reports from here on out conflict. The police report states that Brown became aggressive and tried to get his hands on Wilson's gun, He was shot several times in the fracas.

That's what the police say. Numerous eyewitnesses say otherwise: the general picture seems to be that
Wilson nearly ran over Brown, opened his cruiser door so violently that it bounced off Brown and ricocheted shut, and that Wilson then reached out and tried to drag Brown through the window. Brown struggled--wouldn't you?--and Wilson, still inside the cruiser, shot him. At that point, again according to numerous eyewitnesses, Brown fled, and Wilson exited his cruiser and shot him several more times. In the final seconds of his life, Brown reportedly turned around to face Wilson...and was shot again.

You're supposed to believe the police officer in cases like this...and the chief of police, who oddly enough waited almost a full week to release Wilson's name (and when he did, he mentioned the robbery for the first time, as if to say "he had it coming!")  Let's just say that given the way the Ferguson PD conducts its business, I'm disinclined to believe a word they put out. Especially given that the autopsy on Brown showed no signs of struggle.

It's worth noting here that that two thirds of Ferguson residents are black...and 94% of its police officers are white. It's also worth noting that this police force has a token two dashboard cameras...and  has never bothered installing them.

The initial incident was reprehensible enough. How the Ferguson PD has behaved since is beyond the pale and it opens up a whole other topic: the police as occupying army.They have arrested and detained journalists for nothing more than recording police activity (which is one hundred percent legal). Two days ago, they threatened to mace and shoot members of the media doing their jobs. They have deployed tear gas (banned in warfare by the protocols of the Geneva Convention, somehow legal for use in quelling riots...or, you know, just firing into crowds for shits and giggles.) The same tear gas used in Ferguson, Mo. was used in the West Bank the week prior by the Israeli Defence Force. Which is interesting, because the police chief of St. Louis County, Mo, spent a week in Israel learning counter-terrorism measures.

Terrorism is such a big problem in St. Louis County, you understand.

Last night they shot two people, used flash grenades on a "peaceful but tense" group of protestors, and once again fired tear gas into the crowd. I have the horrible feeling that events are running ahead of this writing, and that worse will happen tonight.

Did you know it's common procedure in some jurisdictions that SWAT teams are deployed to execute warrants, often with tragic results? Did you know that Tiffin, Ohio (population 17,800) has procured for its police department a nice seven-ton armoured vehicle? They paid a dollar for it: a larger department was upgrading its equipment. That larger department made a buck on the deal, since vehicles and other military materiel is provided free of charge to any police department who asks for it, courtesy the Department of Defence and Homeland Security. I'm amazed a country's populace lets this happen. It just boggles my mind. What's even more incredible, to me, is that these police forces are given all this military excess gratis WITHOUT TRAINING ON HOW TO USE IT..


Four years ago, I wrote about the G20 riot in Toronto, and back then I took the side of the cops. In similar, entirely predictable protests and riots, I will usually take the side of those trying to maintain or restore order. G-anything protests are pointless. They happen every time world leaders get together and they don't accomplish a damned thing. Likewise, when your team wins (or loses) the Stanley Cup--I'm looking at you, Vancouver--there is no reason other than pure idiocy to smash store windows and set cruisers on fire. Further, when force is used against peace officers, they have every justification to use force right back.

Michael Brown is different. Anybody with half a brain and a tenth of a heart can understand exactly why people have chosen to protest this. And when peaceful protests are met with tactics straight out of a war zone, well, that's grounds for a much more violent protest, as far as I'm concerned.

Police are supposed to be peace officers. Not soldiers. But it looks for all the world as if war has been declared on the residents of Ferguson, Mo. And if you are at war, especially through no fault of your own, it's only reasonable that you fight. Not to do so is to accept living in a police state.

16 August, 2014

Inked and Holed

I woke up this morning at least as depressed as I've been over these past two months. Over the same shit, too. It's human contact, I'm not getting enough of it, I'm craving it, and my attempts to procure some of it have been roundly, if silently, rebuffed at every turn. I had officially reached the point of being depressed that I was depressed. Once that takes hold, it's an endless feedback loop that leads ever downward to places I've never been and have no wish to go.

And today was a special day. No day is fit for emotions like those; this day less than most. Today was tattoo and piercing day. This was to be the day I symbolically changed. It wouldn't do to walk into it feeling like I didn't deserve to change.

I got angry with myself. Quit yer whining, I admonished, or I'll have to call you a wahmbulance.

That didn't work. That just added anger to loneliness. Corrosive combination.

So let's try positivity. Let's cast back to grade 13, Rev. McCombe's Classical Civilizations class. There was a handout every day we spent five or ten minutes discussing. Well, actually, if it took the period to discuss it, that's how long it took. Rev. McCombe was that kind of a teacher.

The handout I remembered said

If you have one friend, you're lucky. Two, you're blessed. Three is impossible. 

I remember scoffing at that when I first read it. I was surrounded by people who numbered their friends in the dozens. That was long before Facebook came along to make a mockery of the word 'friend'. Rev. McCombe did his best to redefine 'friend' such that I understood. There are acquaintances, there are friends, and then there are friends. The real friends tended to be as close, or closer than, family: there for you no matter what. It doesn't diminish the importance of those other tiers of friends to know the close ones for who they are.

Well, I have two friends in my life. I married one of them. And what's more, I have at least two people who would have taken that second friend spot (since three is  impossible) had my life unfolded a little differently. Let's re-recognize these people for the treasures they are and stop trying to turn others into something they were never meant to be. As for that human contact: like everything else, it'll come as soon as you stop needing it so damned badly.

Writing that out--and then going up and playing my keyboard for an hour--set me right again. Right and ready to make myself over.

We met our friend Ande at Way Cool Tattoos   Now, Eva had had a tat done here before, and I'd been here once to put down the deposit for today's collection, but I couldn't help but notice a whiff of ancient prejudice. Why do tattoo parlours always have to look like they do, I thought. Way Cool was on the main floor of a converted duplex in a, shall we say, seedy part of town. There were enough crazy posters on the walls to make me either feel like, or wish I was, on acid.  Hip-hop music thumped through the place. And while you should never trust a skinny chef, these tattoo artists were heavily inked. I've come a hell of a long way since I met my wife and learned that body art was just that, art...but apparently I'm still a little leery of people who feel the need to cover every square inch of skin.  I would feel better, I thought, in a clinic: nice nondescript beige walls...a landscape here and there, a standard drop ceiling...

Jesus, Ken, today seems to be your day for shitty thoughts. Zip it. 

After some fiddling with designs, we were ready to go. Ande was up first...these were to be her first tattoos as well: serotonin and dopamine molecules.  But wait, what's this? "Let's get the piercing out of the way first".

Uh, let's not. This was the part of the day I was dreading. As many times as I told myself that five year old girls get their ears pierced, I couldn't stop thinking he's going to drill a hole RIGHT THROUGH YOUR EAR. One slip and he'll puncture your eardrum and you'll be deaf in one ear. RIGHT THROUGH, MAN! Picture a hole right through your arm. Or your foot. They send people home from wars for that. 

Is you a man or is you a mouse?


John explained the process , had me sit up, and handed me a cup to catch the needle in. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the RIGHT THROUGH I knew was coming.

"Okay, bring the cup over, now tilt it a little." *clink*

Huh? Seriously? I've had dust motes hurt me more than that did.

"Not a drop of blood", John said. The stud was in. I was officially studly.

Amazing. I felt a little tingle for the first half hour or so, after that, I couldn't feel the earring at all.

Ande,  meanwhile, was almost done with this:

She looked fantastic, and told me if she could handle the feeling behind her ear, I'd surely be able to handle the feeling on my shoulders.

I was highly impressed with how meticulously Kyle cleaned everything. I mean, you expect as much, but seeing it is reassuring.
A couple of razor strokes, an alcohol rubdown, and then the stencil was applied. Everything looked good. I got up on the table. The infinity heart was first.

Now, these tattoos were supposed to be the easy part. It had variously been explained to me as a scraping, a scratching, and a bunch of bees stinging me. I discarded that last because otherwise I would have ran away screaming. Instead I thought scraping, scratching. You scrape and scratch yourself for sport and never even feel it. I warned Kyle that I'm naturally fidgety, and resolved to sit as still as I can manage.

'Okay, outline first", said Kyle. "This is going to scrape and scratch and sting a little".

The needles were applied.

Scrape, scratch, sting. Yup, that's exactly what that feels like. Not pleasant, but not unbearable.

What I'd neglected to realize is that when I scrape or scratch myself, even without noticing it, I only do it the once. I don't think you know what, I didn't feel that quite enough, so I'm going to do it again and again and again and I'm really gonna WHALE on that area. Nope, never even crossed my mind to do that.

Damnit, this hurts. Some places more than others. Some places that really stung were about a quarter of an inch from other places that didn't. There was no predicting the level of OUCH I was about to feel. Eva's looking at me. I'm allowed to look like I'm hurting in front of Eva. ANDE'S also looking at me, along with a room full of strangers, and I'm not allowed to look like this hurts in front of them.

Damnit, this HURTS.

Halfway through, my favourite Eminem track came on. My eyes must have lit up like a pinball machine: this song was exactly what I needed to hear today.

I guess I had to go through that place to get to this one...

But I think I'm still tryin' to figure this crap out
Thought I had it mapped out but I guess I didn't
This fucking black cloud still follows me around
But it's time to exorcise these demons
These motherfuckers are doing jumpin' jacks now!

Suddenly it didn't hurt quite so badly.

Maybe 45 minutes later:

(The scratch below is where Eva tried to demonstrate to me how much today was going to hurt. "Does this hurt?", she asked, scratching. "No." "Okay, this?" "Not really", "Well, how about--" "okay, now it hurts, stop it!)

A break to move around, and then the blue spruce. This was larger and considerably more detailed: unlike the infinity heart, which is a standard design we'd given Kyle, this tree was Kyle's own creation. The stencil looked good: all systems go.

This hurt more.

I started talking to Kyle to stop myself from thinking RIGHT THROUGH, man, do you have to poke those needles RIGHT THROUGH MY ARM? Actually, he asked me first what kind of music I like to listen to, and I answered truthfully, a little of almost everything....and we were off and running. He is a guitarist in a punk rock band...and a cellist. We were able to mesh musical minds, running from Dream Theater to Queen to the Forgotten Rebels to (yes, Nicole) Tool--he specifically told me the Aenima album was fantastic front to back.

The pain was gone. My mind was thoroughly engaged.

An unknowable, but not very long, time later:

 I love this. I mean, I really love it. It's better than I had any right to imagine it would be.
The roots were Eva's addition; the rest of it is all Kyle...and it's perfect. It actually looks quite a lot like the blue spruce on my front lawn.

Kyle made a point of telling me I sat better than many people who were not tattoo virgins. I was awash in good feelings. A friend of mine called me "brave" last night; I savoured that, it occurred to me that this was maybe the first time I'd ever heard that particular word applied to me. For you people out there with sleeves and giant back pieces, I'm sure these don't seem like such of a much...but they are for me, They mean a lot. Aside from the individual meaning of each piece...well, for a great many years I swore up and down I would never do this, and to join the love of my life in the ranks of the tatted...it feels good.

You know what feels even better? This.

That's right, Eva got a matching infinity heart. Kyle did that one up lickety split after I was off the table.
I love you, love.

Thanks to Kyle and John at Way Cool for making this day...way cool. Thanks to Ande, who kept me honest over the length of that first tattoo (and yours look great!) And thanks again to my darling wife, who has made and is making this possible.

15 August, 2014

Canoe Envy

Friends of mine embark tomorrow on a week long canoe adventure in The Massassauga Provincial Park. (The definite article is presumably there to differentiate this one from the hundreds of other Massassauga Provincial Parks in Ontario...)
The Park stretches from Parry Sound to the Moon River and encompasses 131 km2. I'm told their campsite is four hours by canoe from the park entrance, and a map and compass are needed to get there.

Heaven. Not their first time there, and I doubt it will be their last, either.

I've only been canoeing once in my life. It was in that general area, actually, but it was so many years ago now that I can't remember what lakes we covered. I remember it was a camp; that my cousin Terri was a counsellor or guide or whatever she was called ("boss lady" seems to fit); that, being as I was in a group of kids my own age, bullying surrounded me like a cloud of mosquitoes; that Terri kept most of it at bay without twigging everyone in on the fact we were related.  I loved her for that.

I remember portaging through thick mud, uphill, discovering for the first time in my life that I had some strength in me. I remember sleeping like the dead. But mostly I remember the sounds: the wind on the lake and soughing through the pines on the shore; the pattering of rain; the loons; the utterly relaxing noise of the paddle stroking through the water.  I can't say I had much stress in me at ten years old or however old I was...but whatever stress I did have was leached out of me in short order. Well, the portaging helped, too. Canoes are freakin' heavy. Turn-in time would see me basically fall comatose.

The dark. You don't know dark until you've camped out in an Ontario wilderness on a clear, moonless night. Stars speckle the heavens, each one a tiny firefly impossibly far away; other than that there is nothing. If you're in the forest you can't see the sky for the canopy and if that's the case, you can't see your hand in front of your face, either.  Yet somehow this isn't a frightening dark at all. It's almost...sensual. It thoroughly enwraps you, caresses you, and makes you a part of itself.  Okay, maybe a little frightening. Best shared, at any rate.

Your odds of seeing any significant wildlife are slim, although deer are plentiful and moose can make an appearance that far south. You might see a five-lined skink (Ontario's only lizard). What you really need to watch out for is the Massassauga rattlesnake (which happens to be Ontario's only venomous snake). Now, these friends of mine returned not all that long ago from a sojourn in Australia, so a Massassauga rattler is probably a plaything to them. I mean, in all recorded history the snake has only killed two Ontarians, and it's not an aggressive snake either. But it will deliver a painful bite, and antivenin is hard to come by, especially four hours from nowhere.

I envy the heck out of them. A week cut off from all civilization is something I could really use right about now. Safe trip, you two. Happy paddling.

13 August, 2014

Won't You Be My Neighbour?

Macleans has a very interesting article this month entitled "The End Of Neighbours".

Do you know your neighbours? I don't. Now, granted, for me on both sides those neighbours change every four months with the school term. But the only time I ever think of them is on those rare occasions when the concrete wall that separates our side of the semi from theirs isn't enough to muffle their party. (Why do people turn music up so loud they have to shout over it to be heard? Never understood that.)
I've lived in upwards of twenty different places--whenever I try to count them all, I can't help but think I've missed one or two, but they're a different one or two each time. And I'd have to go back all the way to the first home I ever had to find neighbours we were on close terms with...and then, only on one side. Martha Culver babysat me for a few years and I spent enough time with that family that I still remember...wow, all of them.  John and Lilian, Mark, Martha and Faith. Never noticed until just now how Christian those kids' names are. Not surprising. The Culvers also gave me my first and last experience of Sunday school. Church for them was an unshakeable obligation.
Since I moved from Bramalea in 1980, I've lived in apartment buildings, townhouses, semi-detached homes and bungalows. I've lived in dorms and in the basements and second floors of homes and rarely have I known anything more than the first name of any given neighbour. Usually not even that. A man's home is his castle, the saying goes, and I like mine equipped with moat, thank you.

In this I know I'm not alone. According to this article, fewer than half of people surveyed could pick their neighbours out of a police lineup. I've never even seen mine, on either side. How sad is that? Even sadder that I recognize how sad it is and still don't want to do anything about it. For all I rationalize that they'll be gone by next term, most relationships in life have expiry dates. Some of them last mere seconds. They can still be important.

"No man is an island", wrote John Donne in 1624, but that was 1624. We moderns are ever more insular (insular: Latin from 'insula' - "island") and proud of it. For once the Internet isn't to blame here. The Net is merely the latest coping strategy we've created to sanitize our social lives. This is actually the inevitable byproduct of cheap oil, which is the only reason suburbia exists in the first place...and which, incidentally, will be gone within the lifetime of my younger readers, if not sooner. It's bad enough that most of the skills we're going to need in the centuries ahead were lost with our great-grandparents. Even worse, we certainly don't have their social skill, and that will be even more necessary for survival.

Think of the clubs that used to be an integral part of life in the small towns where most of our distant ancestors lived and died. The Grange, 4-H, the Rotary Club, and so on. At one point in the 1800s there were dozens, even scores, of them. Now think of the churches we've abandoned and their emphasis on community and service. Most of us claim we don't have time for any of that any more in our harried modern lives, even as we sit on our butts and watch screens for hours at a time. We say we don't need those connections because they're all online now--and yet online connections are tenuous and they don't replace actual face to face contact.
As the article linked above notes,  online relationships not buttressed by real-life contact tend to peter out, many of them in as little as a year and a half. (Whereas online relationships that include face-to-face contact grow stronger over time).

I've always liked the Internet because many times it has given me a step up at the beginning of a relationship. People have been forced to look at me without looking at me...in other words, the way I look at them. That's all well and good--it's worked, as I say, several times. But of my closest friends and loves

--I met exactly one of them online
--not a single one of them is strictly an online relationship (although damnit I don't see you people near as often as I'd like)

and of course it's very telling that Eva and I have never had an online component to our relationship at all.

I find it deeply ironic that I, a person who has lived all his life with varying degrees of social anxiety, would be so passionate about preferring to see people in the flesh rather than on a screen. Failing that, I'd like to talk to you and hear your voice--but even that's taboo now: they're still called "smartphones" but the "phone" component is all but forgotten. Seeing you, though...I can talk faster than I can type. We can sit and chat about everything and nothing. We can actually laugh out loud and marvel at the depth of shared feeling that creates, so much deeper than looking at "LOL" on a screen.  We can even be completely silent, if we're that comfortable, and let the silence speak our words for us. And of course, no combination of keystrokes can ever come close to duplicating a human hug.


We now have amorphous social groups, centered primarily online, that span the globe. This is wonderful insofar as it allows for instant, free communication and it can have a powerful positive effect. But it also produces, again as the article notes, a kind of echo chamber. We tend to stay in the "safe" areas even online...places where we know we're unlikely to be disagreed with. There was a time, and it really wasn't that long ago, when we had enough actual social contact with people that invariably some of them would think differently from us. This is called "diversity", and it's now a concept we pay extraordinary amounts of lip service to while making damn sure we don't actually have to interact with it in any meaningful way.

This has polarized the electorate in both Canada and the United States. Neither side understands the other, nor has any wish to: they're all barbarians, stupid, even evil. It's only by meeting people face to face that you can begin to break that barrier down and really appreciate there are different ways of seeing the world and value in each other's perspectives. And we won't meet these people if we stay locked within our four walls thinking our social network can replace a social network.

12 August, 2014

Delete Facebook?

I'm 31, I'm 34. pretty soon I'm 42
Loggin' in and zonin' out, isn't what I'd hoped to do...
The Paperboys, "After the First Time (paraphrased)

I've been entertaining thoughts of deleting my Facebook account.

I probably won't. I'm too much of a coward. Also, it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that isn't Facebook's fault, but mine.

If you tell me I've spent way too much time logged in there over the past two months, I won't argue. It's been a great way to keep in touch with people I no longer see in real life, and also people I do see. How many of those friends are artificial, though? Studies have shown that we talk to somewhere between six and ten percent of our Facebook friends, and even fewer are close friends offline.  I have no real wish to personally test that hypothesis. It's so much easier to live in pretend-friend world.

The other problem with Facebook, of course, is that it's a self-validation echo chamber. Post something: get likes and shares and comments and WOW, PEOPLE NOTICE ME. Don't get those likes and comments and shares and oh shit, what did I do, why does nobody care...You know what that is? It's high school. I couldn't wait to get out of high school...why am I back in it at 42?

I didn't notice this so much when I was working, spending nine hours a day in the company of actual living breathing human beings. I knew where I stood, then. Some of them liked me, most were indifferent, a couple outright hated me. I looked forward to seeing the likers and was indifferent abo0ut the indifferenters and I avoided the haters as best I could, and it was easier. Confined to a digital world, in many ways I find myself thrust back in time, to when I spent even more time a day in front of a screen than I do now, desperate to communicate, wielding words like weapons to hack through the isolation. Back then it was self-imposed. Now it's less so. There's not much of a difference.

Like I say, Facebook isn't a disease for me, it's a symptom. Most people can go days without logging in there; some of them go weeks or even months between posting anything. This is unimaginable to me...and it's only been seven years. What on earth did I do before Facebook came along? I honestly don't recall. Surely I didn't feel like this so often.

But...there are people I care very much about here. All in one place. To cut myself off from them, voluntarily, seems rash and foolhardy, like cutting the ropes on your parachute before you leave the plane.

So here's the deal. I'm going to try to cut back just a little. This is, I recognize, a recurrence of a bitchly horrible addiction I last battled in university. Once I'm employed again, this won't be such of a much, of course...but until then I simply have to lessen my dependance on this place. I've been saying for a bit now that I must divorce how others feel about me from my perception of myself.  Making a point not to notice 'likes' would probably be a good place to start.