28 February, 2015

On Vince Li: A High-Wire Act

WARNING: MATERIAL IN THIS BLOG IS GRAPHIC AND MAY OFFEND.


Vince Li, the schizophrenic man who beheaded and partially ate a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in 2008 (and if that doesn't warn you enough, my Breadbin entry is not pleasant reading)--Li has just been granted unsupervised day passes from the psychiatric institution he's been locked in since being found not criminally responsible for the attack. (This link leads you to a 16x9 documentary that is hard to watch, but VERY MUCH worth it).

The reaction is unanimous and harsh, to put it mildly--just as it was when Li was found not criminally responsible instead of guilty. It is glaringly obvious that the Canadian public does not believe in mental illness...or if it does, it makes less than zero allowances for it. "Not criminally responsible" (NCR)  is a verdict that Canadians by and large do not understand and do not accept. This is to be expected since the vast majority of Canadians do not understand and do not accept mental illness.


Such a thorny issue here. My opinion is different from the overwhelming majority's, as usual...but at the same time I have no desire whatsoever to appear heartless and insensitive, least of all to the family of Tim McLean. The words "brutal" and "senseless" don't even begin to capture the ferocity and mindlessness of the sudden attack that killed McLean. Such randomness and depravity is hard to stomach, let alone comprehend.

Such is the nature of mental illness. You'll note I did not say that Li attacked and killed McLean. That's because, according to the doctors who examined Li at trial, in a very real sense he didn't. Something called schizophrenia did. That's why Li was found NCR  instead of guilty, and why he was put in a psychiatric institution instead of a jail, and why, as it turns out, he's now getting an unsupervised day pass and freedom just seven years after McLean was murdered.


NCR is usually called "not guilty by reason of insanity" in lurid Hollywood dramas. Whatever you call it, it feels to many people like a "get out of jail free" card. It actually feels like a repudiation of the crime itself--if it's a patient and not a prisoner, then presumably there wasn't a crime committed. Ho hum, move along, no crime was committed here.  That's the heartset of Carol de Delley, mother of Tim McLean, and it's very understandable heartset to have. It is not a mindset.

You can tell people that psychiatric institutions resemble jails far more than hospitals, but since they're not jails, it's not right.  You can tell them that  sentences for NCR are indefinite and can often exceed the comparable jail term a guilty criminal would serve, and the immediate reaction to that is that the guilty criminal and the mentally ill person must simply serve a longer sentence. Life, preferably. Longer than life, if that can be arranged. God forbid you get into the statistics: 93% of NCR patients do not re-offend once released. (Source: that 16x9 documentary linked above, 5 minutes, 35 seconds). That 7% recidivism rate is considerably lower than that of Canadian prisons (28%) and holy shit lower than that in America (an astounding and terrifying 67.8%). (Jesus. You think CANADA has a revolving-door justice system? Rarely has a statistic knocked me on my ass that hard.)

These are all rational, true statements. But they don't feel true. They feel like copouts. You did the crime, you do the time...isn't that how it goes? How it should go?

People think about punishment, right, and that these people need to be punished. But they don't commit the crime out of ill intent, they commit it out of an ill mind" -- Lori Triano-Antidormi, mother of a two year old stabbed to death by a woman found not criminally responsible

Should it matter? Does that make a difference? A victim, after all, is still dead.

Well, yes, actually, I think it should matter.

It was only a month ago that we were talking, here in the Breadbin, about mental illness. Like everything else that has a hashtag attached to it, it's top of mind for a day or two...a week at the outside...and then it's gone.)
The stigma against mental illness is hard to fathom. At times it minimizes the disorder: depressives are told to "just cheer up". At other times the disorder is blown out of all proportion: every schizophrenic is supposedly a Vince Li in waiting. This is not the case...many diagnosed people, including many schizophrenics, live productive lives and do not commit crimes, much less kill people. But you don't hear about those people. The only schizophrenics you hear of are the high profile ones like Li. The public face of schizophrenia is therefore a mutilated body on a bus...and I will give you ten to one odds you have met a schizophrenic without knowing it.

Vince Li has been a model patient since his committal. He has expressed "as much remorse as you'd hope a person to have" and made a vow to himself to continue taking his medication for life. Is seven years enough time to avenge a snuffed out life? I don't think so. But...what do we do with Li? Putting him in jail won't work for two reasons: one, he can't legally serve a sentence on top of being committed and two, he would almost certainly regress in jail. He probably shouldn't stay in a psychiatric ward, if he is in fact cured. And releasing him feels wrong even to me, in my heart, even though my mind can't come up with a thoroughly rational reason to keep a man who is NOT a danger to society any more locked up.

I see two possible courses of action here that satisfy my head and my heart. Hear me out.

The first is that we release Li and people like him subject to supervision. I think that's a reasonable request for the simple reason that our safety is completely dependant on the medication these people are required to take...and schizophrenia has a nasty way of convincing its sufferer that she's normal and does not need medication at all. This means many more halfway-type houses than we currently have.

The alternative is to let Li fly free as a bird.  But we make the doctor willing to sign her or his name to Li's release papers responsible for anything that goes amiss. If Li -- or Li's schizophrenia, as the case may be -- commits a crime, than the doctor will serve minute for minute. That should at least make him confident of his assertion. Let her put her money where her mouth is.

As of right now, I don't believe this is legal. I think it should be. There are many cases of vicarious responsibility: a  bar owner can be responsible for the actions of a drunk patron, for instance. Employers can be held legally liable for the actions of their employees. This is the same principle.

People like Li are outliers, but they are different only in degree, not in kind, from anyone else with a mental illness. And it seems I just got finished saying that people with mental illnesses are still people. Provided we make every effort to keep the rest of us safe, those deemed cured after a verdict of NCR should be given the same opportunity a released prisoner is given.






"


23 February, 2015

Lock Up Your Kids, It's Sex Ed Time

I'm sorry for recycling, but current events beckon.

I wrote back in 2010 about Ontario's aborted attempt at updating the sexual education curriculum to better reflect reality. A small but determined cohort of parents raised an outcry because s-e-x and the government caved.

Now they have a majority, and there's no caving this time around. Our new curriculum is mandatory: you are not permitted to remove your children from its pernicious influence.

Good.

edit: an update states that parents will have the ability to opt their kids out. If they do that, they should have to opt out of the rest of school, too, as far as I'm concerned...

I will stand by this assertion unto the end of time: any parent who believes he/she is the best, let alone the only, authority to teach a child about sex is in fact the LEAST qualified person to do it. 

I've already heard from one outraged friend who says she'll pull her child from school to keep him from being exposed to this curriculum. I'm afraid to ask what she'd substitute in its place. Nothing, most probably.

One of my favourite columnists, Tabatha Southey, wrote a fantastic piece about sex ed and her weird experience with it. My sex ed was pathetic...I got more information out of the Where Did I Come From?" book my mom gave me at a very young age than I did out of that class.

Which isn't saying much...sex, according to that book, is something that happens when a man wants to get "really close" to a woman (no mention about what the woman might want). It's also, unsurprisingly, something that feels really good for the man (no mention of what it feels like for the woman). We're all made of sperm--there's barely any mention of the egg at all. The author's name? Peter Mayle. I am not making this up.

But class wasn't any better. For one thing, both the class and its content were segregated. God forbid boys should ever learn about girl parts, let alone in the presence of actual girls (you never know, some girl might find that dry-as-chalk-dust lecture arousing and strip in front of us or something). I got a clinical diagram of a penis, another clinical diagram of what purported to be a vagina (next to no detail) and an incredibly clinical breakdown of sexually transmitted diseases and how to guard against them. That part was good, as far as it went...but basically sex itself was presented as a disease.

There was no mention of homosexuality, even though most of us had experimented with someone of the same gender by the time we hit high school and statistically, some of us were, in fact, gay. There was no mention of masturbation, even though babies start masturbating in the womb. And consent? Nary a word about it. That overwhelmingly contributed to a forbidden fruit culture in which both boys and girls were judged by the sex they were or weren't having. Boys are supposed to love, want and desire sex; girls aren't. This do we perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and hangups about what is, after all, a bodily function.


I had to educate myself from other books, and even so, by the time I had sex, just shy of nineteen, I was still completely ignorant of certain truths about it. I believed that it was my sworn duty to give a girl an orgasm, but had no real idea how to do it, and even less of an idea that many women can't orgasm from vaginal stimulation alone. Hey, if you watch porn, women appear to have orgasms from about the third thrust on...no real effort required. Needless to say, actual sex is miles away from porn.
I had a same-sex experience a few years later that went a long way beyond the childhood playing of "doctor" we all do, and was left completely flummoxed by the huge wave of emotional affection I felt versus a total lack of sexual attraction, before, during, or after. Maybe these are lessons we all have to learn ourselves, but it would have been nice to have some sort of framework I could reference. Hell, I'm 43 now and I still don't understand huge and popular sexual arenas, mostly having to do with bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism. I'll freely admit my hatred of Fifty Shades of Grey is at least as much based on my distaste and bewilderment for those modes of sexual expression and their popularity as it is for anything that's actually in the book itself.


----------
Here's a link to the curriculum so you can read it for yourself.
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Let's talk about the objections that have been raised.

First: age-appropriateness. There are lots of parents saying they have no problem with Johnny learning about the parts of the body...and that's covered, starting in first grade. This is something child abuse investigators have been demanding for years. It's also something that will hopefully counteract the incredibly harmful "shame complex" that many parents instil in their kids about their bodies.

Grade four: "Sharing private sexual photos or posting sexual comments online is unacceptable and also illegal.”

Because yes, that happens now, starting at yes, that young an age. It's "you show me yours, I'll show you mine" for the modern age...the difference being that "yours" and "mine" can now be shown everywhere, forever, and is that something you want your kid to have any part of?

In sixth grade, kids learn about vaginal lubrication and wet dreams, as well as masturbation. Which is good--I had my first wet dream two years before that and I thought I broke my dick. I can't speak for little girls, but I'd assume they have experienced vaginal lubrication by sixth grade. And as for masturbation? Babies of both genders do that in the womb.

Parents will rejoice at this: in grade seven, kids will learn all about the choice to abstain from various forms of sexual gratification. They'll also (hip hip hooray!) learn about  consent. The addition of consent to the curriculum was insisted upon not by parents, not by teachers, but by the students themselves...which I think reveals a wider truth.

Kids at that age--grade seven would be 12-13--are not only cognizant of sex, some of them are presumably being pressured to have it.  Obviously this is something we want to forestall. Pretending it's not happening won't do it. Refusing to confront it won't stop it. Kids need to be fully aware not just of the mechanics but also the risks of sex. And yes, the rewards. Children at that age are not stupid. They see a hypersexualized culture all around them and figure there must be something awfully alluring about sex. Ignoring that will leave us all standing naked, so to speak. If there's anything a kid can spot effortlessly, it's an adult being phoney.

In later grades, kids will learn about oral and anal sex. Hopefully before they actually experience either of those things. More than one in five children have engaged in oral sex by ninth grade. There's a widespread belief that oral sex isn't real sex (I think we can thank Bill Clinton for that)--but thanks to the increase in oral sex, the rates of various sexually transmitted infections have been rising of late.

In short, this curriculum is fantastic, but it's still a little bit behind the times.

-------

Next objection: a pedophile created this curriculum.

Uh...no.

It is true that a former deputy minister of education by the name of Ben Levin intends to plead guilty on some of the seven charges related to child pornography that he faces. These are, it goes without saying, disturbing charges: accessing, possessing, writing and distributing child pornography, counselling someone to commit sexual assault, and making an arrangement with a police officer to commit sexual assault. Awful stuff.

But even the Toronto SUN, no friend of this government, has quoted an education ministry spokesperson as saying:

“Ben Levin had no involvement in the development of the content of the curriculum. Curriculum is developed by subject experts and is based on research in addition to consultations with a wide array of people, including teachers, parents, and students.”

(All this while insinuating every chance they get that the ghost of Ben Levin is hard at work corrupting your sons and daughters.) For heaven's sake, teachers can't even hug little kids anymore...I hardly suspect their schools are full of pederasty.

Given that literally thousands of people have had a hand in drafting this thing (some of them, no doubt, with undisclosed dark secrets of their own)...should we abandon it without reading it? Hell, no. That'd be like, oh, I don't know, rejecting the Bible's advice on child-rearing because some priests are kiddy-diddlers.

-----------

"Parents should have the choice on how or whether to teach this information to their kids!"

Nobody is saying you can't teach your kids about sex. Do it properly, and they'll get great marks in the sexual education components of their curricula. Nothing wrong with that. Is there?

Well, yes, according to these parents, there is. And it's the same thing that characterizes their worldview on a host of other issues: Beliefs trump facts. You see this on both sides of the political aisle: sex ed is evil and  perverse, climate change is a hoax,  vaccines cause autism, GMOs are some sort of monolithic world-poisoning machine. You can spout as many facts as you'd like to attempt to counteract any of these delusions and all you're doing is proving yourself to be part of the conspiracy. Would you believe that just today I ran up against "the gay agenda" because homosexuality is part of the curriculum?  I haven't heard that old chestnut in years, but apparently it's alive and well, I'm sorry to report. I asked the gentleman who posted that assertion to source it, and this is what he produced: a story saying that nine (NINE!!!!9!!!!) "openly gay, lesbian or bisexual" persons are seeking jobs as school board trustees in Ontario. That's a record, according to the article.

Nine.

There are 117 school boards in Ontario. I can't seem to locate how many trustees there are, but there are 22 in one Toronto board. Saints preserve us from the gay agenda!

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I really don't have much of a problem with people believing whatever the hell they want to. Go ahead and think dinosaurs are Satan's greatest trick or that the moon landings were faked or that your child never touches himself and would never even dream of having sex with someone else.
I have a real problem when you not only insist on your beliefs in opposition to established facts, but insist on perpetuating them in your offspring.  That, to me, is far more immoral and perverse than anything our schools could ever dream of teaching children.

22 February, 2015

Oscar Musings

So I'm watching the Oscars for some reason.
I'm really not sure why.  I care about the Academy Awards about half a smidgen more than I do about the Super Bowl (which is the only bigger television event of the year.) Seventeen minutes of football and three and a half interminable hours of self-congratulatory tedium, and these are the most popular events on television every year? And people wonder why I hardly watch television?

I've seen exactly one of the movies nominated for Best Picture,  one of the nominated performances in the Best Actor and Best Actress category, and blah blah blah need I go further?
Okay, actually the only real reason I've tuned in is Neil Patrick Harris. I've watched some of his work hosting the Tonys and I'm pretty sure he's going to knock this out of the park. And be invited back.
But as for the movies...don't care.
And I especially don't care about the "red carpet" and the question "who are you wearing?"

I suppose I should be glad to see #askhermore trending on Twitter. That's the latest hashtag  somebody dreamed up to make us think we care.  In this case we "care" about women and how they're never asked anything of substance on the red carpet. That's only a reflection of how few women are celebrated when Oscar time rolls around: only one woman has ever won Best Director, for instance. If they didn't segregate Best Actress and only gave a Best Actor Oscar, you'd see this sexism writ large year after year. Oh, who am I kidding: sexism is writ large, everywhere, and we, by which I mean males, are almost entirely blind to it.

Uck. Clothing. It's bad enough that people obsess over the meaningless outer layer of a person; it's even worse, somehow, that we concoct a whole new, even more meaningless outer layer to obsess over. And it's always women. When's the last time you heard a man asked "who are you wearing"?

Let's review here: we have Hollywood, a world where everything is illusion and persona and performance, where actresses are praised not for how real they are, but for how well-faked they appear. Once a year, these actresses gather to be adored and gifted with gilt. The statues used to be gold-plated solid bronze...only one level of fakery there...and now they're gold-plated tin alloy: a fake of a fake.
But these are REAL women, and we have the opportunity to interact with them and gain some insight into who they are and how they think. Instead we ask them what they're wearing. Or who they're wearing, because we don't even care about that totally meaningless, manufactured outer layer, only who manufactured it. Probably a man.

But hey, there's that Twitter hashtag, which means somebody noticed this year. Noticed enough to type a few characters, anyway. And it's trending, so lots more people care enough to type the same characters. Wow. It's so moving. It's a force for change, I tell you. Because #bringbackourgirls worked so well, and #icantbreathe did too.

You'll pardon my cynicism, I hope. What bothers me most about this whole fiasco is that it doesn't seem to bother other people at all. Even women. Au contraire, they are glued to their televisions tonight, more so than on any night of the year, lapping this vile concoction up and purring like kittens. Why do they not only put up with it, but seem to relish it?

I don't understand. I don't understand!

It's hard to square this sickening spectacle against the real spectacle of what  "moving pictures" can be. Movies can be special. Next to books, there's nothing that can put you into someone's head half so well as film. Indeed, for some people, film works even better than books at this crucial, absolutely critical task. The more heads you can get in, the better you can (hopefully) understand what it is to be human and the better a human you can be.

Sadly, that's not what Hollywood is about, most often, which is why there's a disconnect between the box office and the Academy. Five of the nominees for Best Picture this year together grossed less than a quarter of what Fifty Shades of Rape (speaking of the total and utter repudiation of feminism) made in its opening weekend.

There's a lot of cursing and wringing of hands each and every year about how the Academy Awards are turning into the Independent Spirit Awards. There was a transparently hokey attempt  to change this a few years back by doubling the number of nominees for Best Picture: all this did was lump a bunch more people into saying it's an honour just to be nominated.

I say: let this trend continue. The Prequel to the Sequel to the Reboot of the Remake, Part III is not deserving of anything.  By its very existence, it's a stain on an industry that's SUPPOSED to be about creativity and imagination. I will make a point of watching this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, assuming it isn't The Imitation Game which I have already seen).  It's a fair assumption: everything I read as research for this blog suggested that most of the major awards were "locks"...which is sad and speaks to political agendas I know nothing about and care less than nothing. Even I, an innocent bystander to most things Oscar, know the drill: Meryl Streep will be nominated but won't win; the Academy will have to make sure to duly award the biopic about somebody Hollywood will venerate for a night and promptly forget (probably a black somebody...yep, there's Selma. Somebody will interrupt their thank you speech to make a political point that will be extremely well received (Patricia Arquette, take a bow).   There will be a movie nominated for Best Picture that won't stand a chance of winning (I'll eat an Enigma machine if The Imitation Game actually wins...great movie, but it didn't tick enough of the Academy's boxes). And so on and so forth: I'm sure you have your own predictions, and I'm sure they're right.

Can we transcend political agendas? Can we transcend our differences and celebrate a medium that is supposed to unite us? Can we, above all, transcend the fake and keep it real?




19 February, 2015

Time To Laugh At Ken Again

So my father is turning 70 this year, in late June.

That's a milestone birthday, a day that should be planned for. Something should happen on that day.
Preferably some kind of surprise thing, if that can somehow be arranged. The planning should probably start....now-ish.

Even getting those plans rolling without tipping Dad off is a challenge. I can't just email my stepmom, because they only have the one email address and so far as I know, my dad checks the emails much more often than she does. I can't call for the same reason: if he picks up the phone, as he often does, it's out of character for me to ask to speak to his wife.

Besides, Eva wants in on the planning. Helping to plan things like this is something she just loves to do. But she tasked me with the first step.

Go to contact stepsister. Realize that even though her email address is really simple, I can't recall it. Search mailbox: my father often sends things to both of us, or forwards things that came from her...but he's scrupulous about Bcc'ing and deleting any address on his emails that isn't his.

Contact stepbrother on Facebook (stepsister isn't on there, presumably because she has a life instead). Ask for her address, get it, and lay out situation for her. Ask her to contact her mom.

Get a note back this morning:

Just spoke with my mom- she said Ken turns 69 this year- born 1946. ??

Damn it, not again.

Usually these moments of supreme idiocy happen only around Eva and nobody else has to see them, or deal with them.  This one snuck out into the great white yonder.

See, I knew that. Born 1946--I knew that. Never forgot it for an instant. The problem is that I forgot what year I'm in now.

This happens once a year, early in the year to be sure, but much later than it should. I will get a year ahead of myself. it happened just long enough for me to remember that Dad was born in 1946. For just that moment, it was 2016.

Did you feel it? Did you feel that exact moment when we all shot a year into the future?

And once I'd made the calculation, the year no longer mattered, so it was forgotten. All that mattered was that my dad was turning 70 in a few short months.
 
I shot back an embarrassed reply to my stepsister, and she wrote back:


Lol- it's called 'getting older' & it sucks ass!!! 

Bet Dad knows what ^&*(ing YEAR he's in.


16 February, 2015

I Cried

In case you don't actually know me...I'm what you'd call a sensitive guy.




Not that sensitive. I hope. Please, not that sensitive.

But I can be brought to tears pretty easily for a human being of the male persuasion. Even now, thinking about Georgia-Peach invariably makes me cry. I've loved every dog I've had in my life, but never have I loved an animal the way I loved her.
It doesn't take something that...real...to make my eyes leak, either. Books will make me cry. Stephen King, of all people, has provoked more tears in me than any other author (if you don't cry reading 11/22/63, you are dead and do not know it, and that's to say nothing of The Green Mile, which had me sucking back salty snot-blubber cocktails like I'd fallen off the tear-wagon and was making up for lost time).

Movies can make me bawl. I remember seeing MASK when I was 14 or so...when that movie ended, I went to my room, closed the door, collapsed on my bed, and cried so hard I ran out of tears. The monstrous unfairness at the close of that film took my heart, wrung it out, and proceeded to stomp on it for a while.

But tears are cathartic, right? They cleanse...that's why they sting so much, the best cleaners are abrasive the same way that any medicine worth taking will taste terrible. And so every once in a while, without even really meaning to, I will sit down and watch a tear-jerker.

I haven't seen anywhere near all of them, not even all the most famous ones. I steer clear of anything I know to depict animal suffering, for instance: I can't take that. I know that in and of itself sounds inhuman, oh, look at Ken, he cares more about a dog dying in a gutter than he does about  men, women and babies dying every day. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows how untrue that is: pain in any form, from anyone, hurts me. But depicting human suffering has a purpose...I mean, everyone really should see Schindler's List, for example. It's a very hard film to watch, but it should be watched...lest we forget. A dog dying in a gutter?  That's suffering without meaning. There's no lesson to be drawn from it.

But I have seen a few of the ten-handkerchief movies, and I will continue to see them, especially the ones that come with lessons I need to either learn or be reminded of.  Big Fish caused me to re-evaluate a broken parental relationship. Philadelphia was was one of the things that cured my homophobia (which isn't to say meeting nice, normal people who happened to be gay didn't help a lot more in that regard). And then there's the movie I saw recently...a movie that, although totally different from Schindler's List, is every bit as mandatory as far as I'm concerned.


I had to do a 10-15 minute presentation on a French film this term. I wanted to make it worth my while, so I Googled "best recent French films" and did a quick mental survey of the responses. Amour (2012) seemed to be on an awful lot of lists. Well, now. From the title alone I knew it had something to do with love, so there's a check mark. I read a synopsis, noting the movie concerns itself with an aging musicologist and his music teacher wife (check, check) and then saw it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (as well as the female lead being nominated for Best Actress, which I imagine is exceptionally rare in a foreign language film).

I delved into the reviews, which were uniformly excellent. Every single one of them noted that this was a tear-jerker of the first order; a couple   of them saying things like "the ultimate horror film" and "a horror film for the ages. Interestinger and interestinger. One review said this was not only a phenomenal movie, but the sort of of movie that everybody should see. What tipped me over into buying it with some of my Christmas iTunes movie was that the daughter character was named Eva and the mother was named Anne. Had to be a sign: that's my wife and mother-in-law.

So I watched it.

Wow. 

Emmanuelle Riva gives a transcendent performance as Anne, and the rest of the actors in this relationship drama are not far behind. You honest-to-God forget you are watching an movie and that these are people playing roles.  And the director, Michael Haneke, doesn't flinch one iota. The film is a series of long shots (averaging almost thirty seconds apiece!), forcing the viewer to pay attention. Like many European movies, there is lots of silence and lots said in the silences.

So basically what happens in this movie: After some scenes establishing Anne and Georges'  long, loving relationship, we see Anne freeze at the breakfast table. Her husband doesn't notice at first. When he does, he tries various things to get her attention, to no avail. He wets a dishcloth and dabs at her forehead...nothing. Flustered, he goes to the bedroom to get dressed and go for help, leaving the tap running. We hear the tap turned off. He goes back out to the kitchen and Anne is puttering away as if nothing had happened.
Georges' worry manifests as upset. He thinks his wife is playing a joke on him. She convinces him that she has no recollection whatsoever of what happened, and she allows herself, despite a fear of hospitals and doctors, to go to one and see the other. An operation is performed. It fails.

And from then on we see Anne slowly, ever so slowly, sink. Emanuelle Riva's performance, I repeat, is one for the ages, no pun intended. Her husband, played almost as well by Jean-Louis Trintignant, takes care of her for as long as he can, as well as he can, shielding her decline from the outside world. "Some things don't deserve to be seen", he says to his daughter, whom he tries to bar from viewing the shell that once was her mother and his wife.

He hires nurses. One of them abuses her. He fires her, but then when Anne refuses to drink some water one morning,  he slaps her. At this point she can only communicate with her eyes, and...dear God, your heart.

When the end comes -- which I will not spoil -- let's just say it will stay with you for a long, long time.  The scariest thing about this movie is that this is what's waiting for most of us. At some point we will either be the caregiver or the cared for. The petty indignities--the diapers, the feedings, the breakdown in communication--that's just the beginning of the end. The end is ghastly, unbearable.

Please see this movie. I can't promise you it will be easy: in fact I can assure you it will be extremely difficult. But as much as it hurts, you will not regret it one bit.



12 February, 2015

Am I supposed to be impressed?


...because I'm not. At all.

She's 83 years old. Doesn't look it, does she? The white hair aside, she looks considerably younger. Not a wrinkle on her, at least where somebody might see it. Radiant skin (no doubt helped with a generous amount of makeup). Ho hum.

This is supposedly a big deal, an 83-year old on the cover of a fashion magazine. Whatever. Wake me up with someone dares to put someone who LOOKS 83 on the cover of a fashion magazine.

Our society's obsession with youth continues apace. I'd have thought it would have started to fade by now, as the Baby Boomers hit retirement age. I should have known better. These people will get face transplants so they look younger in their goddamn coffins.

The first point I'd like to make about the "iconic" Carmen Dell'Orefice is that she's probably at least a millionaire, more likely several times over. People who conform precisely to our society's beauty standard tend to be handsomely rewarded. And maintaining this level of artificiality costs. A lot. It's therefore every bit as unrealistic to hope to look like this at 83 as it is to be a 90-pound, size negative-three twig at 33. Unless you're rich or a freak of nature, forget it.

And don't let the forgetting of it bother you in any way. Because how you look, especially at that age, isn't, and shouldn't be, important.

Oh, who am I kidding? How you look is absolutely critical in everything. We've made it that way with a multi-billion dollar make-up industry absolutely bound and determined to make all women everywhere feel less than real if they dare to appear real.
It's starting to spread to men, too.: check out the next cosmetics  section you see. Entire shelves of cheatery-fakery for the male of the species. If this keeps up, a few decades down the road he'll feel just as insecure about his outermost layer as women have been trained to feel for decades now.

It's everywhere. Do you know, when I was a kid, there was no such thing as tooth whiteners. Their history goes back quite a few centuies, but as far as my lifetime goes, they were all but unheard of until the late eighties. You brushed, you flossed, you used breath mints if you had to. Now, stripping the enamel off your teeth is all but imperative: I bet you your toothpaste tube has the word "whitening!" on it somewhere.

That's just one example. From high heeled shoes--which are hell on your body to ties, which serve no discernable purpose besides choking men, the emphasis is on style over substance. Sad.

And of course, it *is* much worse for women, in almost all cases. A new friend of mine remarked "we are not sellable if we're past our due date...so archaic but true."

I'll say it's archaic. Humans haven't been commodities for a long time now and the only "expiry date" on us is the day we die.
Just this morning I ran across someone online who was feeling unattractive and worrying her spouse might leave her for somebody who looked better. I hear things like this all the time...it's so maddening.  I explained my body philosophy for the umpteenth time--found here, if you're new in these parts--to which somebody responded:

This may be how it works for you. But for a lot of people bodies are extremely important. I can not imagine being with a person I'm not sexually attracted to. No matter how wonderful a person she may be.

To which I can't help asking: given your standards, what on earth are you going to do for sex when you're elderly?

No idea. It honestly bothers me. Then again there's always sex for money.

Isn't that depressing?

I find wonderful people attractive. What the hell is wrong with me?

See...in a sane society, we would venerate age. We would revere it. Parents would have the kids at a young age and grandparents, with their lifetime of accumulated wisdom, would take a very active role in raising them. There'd still be a thriving make-up industry, but it would be focused around trying to make people look OLDER and this more experienced and dignified. Grey, silver and white wigs would be common. We would look to the longer-lived to teach the world how to live...because they know. There'd be no such things as "old age homes", at least not the way they exist today, as storage drawers for the unloved and used up.  The idea of wanting to look younger would be seen as childish and mildly crazy.

Where is that world?


11 February, 2015

To All The Girls (and yes, a couple of guys) I've Loved Before

...and still do.

A Musical Journey


That title is, of course, from a song by Willie Nelson and Julio Inglesias. I hate it. Fans of these artists, please forgive me, but Nelson's voice sounds like a robot with a head cold to me and Julio is just so...swishy (and not in a good way).

But the sentiment behind the title is one I can really get behind, of course, since love and music sustain me. In fact, most of the time love and music seem like the same thing to me.




The first love song I ever sang to someone was a waaaay back in grade three. Unsurprisingly given how I turned out (and Laura had more to do with that than she'd have ever guessed), it's something of an unconventional love song: Let It Be by the Beatles. Laura was also the recipient of the first love-gift I ever gave, a little seal keychain with the words "Let It Be" on it.

"Let It Be", come to think of it, pretty much describes my current philosophy on relationships in three words.  They say hindsight is 20/20 (depending on the hind you have sighted), but it's a little scary to me to realize how early my beliefs and values started to cement themselves. In any event, the only people I wish I could dredge up out of my past--simply to thank them--are Catherine, Anna, Sonia and especially Laura. It sounds odd (grade three? seriously?) but my social/"love" life went comatose for many years immediately after that quartet departed from my world...and that "puppy" love turned out to be immensely valuable to me.



Everybody meaningful in my life after that ended up with at least one song, from Denise in grade 10 (oh, man, this one is SO much fun to play on piano!) all the way up to my most recent love...who doesn't even know this is "her" song).

Oh, and you won't either: for reasons of privacy, the songs in this compendium are carefully chosen  not to give any names away...though from here on out,  they'll be in chronological order and you're just going to have to click to see if "your" song is in here. (There people whose loves have burned strongest have two songs...and then, of course, there's Eva's songs, which I will credit.




In some cases, these are songs we've played together...or maybe a song I played while you danced...and then there was the piece I only heard you play, and was blown away...the only time in my life I've ever dared to just wander backstage when I wasn't supposed to be there. You were the only person around and you showed me the music for that crazy piece, so far above my band's ability at the time...Your band won, as I recall...deservedly.

I moved away from Westminster S.S. before my OAC year (grade thirteen, in other words, back when that was a thing). I carried a torch for that school and the people in it...but by the end of that year I had realized there were loveable people in Ingersoll, too, even if I wanted them more than they needed me....
On to university, and music, as always kept me sane. It became a case of you and I against a harsh world. I found love there, too; it burned hot and bright for a couple of years, and then died just as hot and bright, and I call I say to that is don't ever make this song your first dance: it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I saw a bridge and run across, eventually ending up a thousand miles away and on my way to more love still.

Maybe a little too much love, as it turned out, but we gave it the ol' college try, didn't we?  Until I stopped trying and spent several years emotionally dead, bereft of love and having lost the music.

Then I met the greatest love of my life. Right from the very beginning, there was music there...and it took us to some places far, far away....and back again, down and then back up an aisle in an Embro church, our first real steps together in a long, charmed life that wouldn't be a life if I didn't have you in it. And lest you think the songs dried up more than fifteen years ago...there's this one, which is recent; this one, which I proclaim "our" song for this phase of our life together. Because "life is ours, we live it our way". Because "trust I seek and I find in you". And as far as that goes, nothing else matters.

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And that is where, in a "normal" person's blog, I'd have stopped.

But of course I'm not normal, you all know that by now, and stopping isn't in my vocabulary when it comes to love, try as I might sometimes.



There are, of course, other loves, people whose happiness is in some way essential to my own.

Like a beloved enchantress...the sheer depth of that love blindsided me...me, who had and gave so much love already. Like someone who is like a  melody in my head, that I can't keep out.; who brought me so many new melodies.

And always more to come, because, like love, the song never ends.





February's PolyBlog: Metamourically Speaking

TO MY READERS:

The other day, someone called me an "advocate" for polyamory. Which scared me a little, because it sounded like just one step removed from "preacher", which as you know, I have no least desire to be.

However.

Upon reflection, I have decided to embrace the label. Given some of the vicious attacks I have experienced in the past month online, and further given the extremely common misconceptions of what "poly" is and is not, I feel duty-bound to raise my voice. I've also noted that my monthly "poly" blogs are among my most read. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but I'm going to assume that my current pace of one blog a month isn't discomfiting you overmuch. If that is not the case...you are never under any obligation to read.

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I sat on the bed. Neither of us said anything. I wasn't slick and sophisticated enough for this. What do you say to boyfriend A when he finds you naked in the bed of boyfriend B? Especially if boyfriend A turned into a monster the night before and ate someone. I bet Miss Manners didn't cover this at all.”
--Laurell K. Hamilton, The Killing Dance

Like any community, especially those communities that haven't rowed their way into the mainstream just yet, polyamory has its fair share of jargon and bafflegab. Hell, "polyamory" itself is very confusing to many. I think I can help there with five simple words:




Once you've managed to wrap your head around the concept of multiple loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved, you're hit with a wall of terminology that can be a bit overwhelming.

"Poly" describes such a broad swath of relationships that one word can't fit all. And any given relationship structure may have four or five different descriptors, which may or may not mean subtly different things to people outside that structure or even inside it. That's one reason among many that communication is absolutely critical to successful polyamory. You may think you're in a primary relationship that takes priority over others, but unless your partner agrees with that assessment (and all "secondaries" are content with the status that has been inflicted on them), you're headed for trouble.

But there are words in polyamory that simply don't exist outside it, because the concepts they describe are so alien to life outside polyamory as to be almost unthinkable. I've talked about "compersion" before, it's the opposite of jealousy: happiness at your partner's happiness with another. That's a quintessentially "poly" word, even though the emotion it describes (happiness unadulterated by self-interest) is one anyone can experience.

Even more quintessentially poly, though, is the word "metamour".

Your partner may use any number of terms of endearment to describe his/her other partners. (It's bad form in most instances to use the same term of endearment with different people; the idea is to recognize that each relationship is special and unique.) But until recently there's been no single word to describe your relationship with your partner's other partners.

And there needs to be. Because polyamory is all about openness and consent--your partner's other partner isn't somebody who lurks in the shadows behind your back. Your boyfriend isn't "cheating", "f*cking around", "womanizing" or "philandering"--his other partner is a person (maybe not "just") like you, with his or her own needs, desires and shared experiences. I mean, you can say "my partner's other partner"--it's technically correct, if clunky--but that construction seems (at least to me) almost to exude distance and disconnection. And healthy polyamory is about closeness (insofar as is reasonable) and connection. You may be close friends with that person; you may be bare acquaintances; in some distressing cases you may hate each other's guts. Regardless, even though you are not sexually or emotionally intimate, the relationship is important. You share a love, after all.

Enter "metamour" (sometimes spelled metamor or metamore). I must admit I didn't like the word the first time I heard it. But if you break it down, it's actually a pretty nifty coinage. "Amour", of course, is love, the same love that's in "polyamory". "Meta" is a word denoting a higher perspective, in this case a recognition that there are at least three relationships involved: yours and your partner's; your partner's and your metamour's; you and your metamour's.

Metamours are where the rubber meets the road in polyamory. Until one appears, the whole concept is theoretical--not just for monogamous people, but for poly people themselves.

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." --unknown, often misattributed

When poly theory becomes poly reality, there is inevitably an adjustment period. It can be complicated by what poly people call NRE ("New Relationship Energy"), which, if handled improperly, is all but guaranteed to raise up all sorts of insecurities in the pre-existing partner(s)...not just any free-floating little green monsters but jealousies that might be specific to each metamour. Maybe he's a better cook than me. Maybe she's better in bed. Dear God, that guy has muscles in places I don't have places. Oh-oh, she's drop-dead gorgeous and she rock-climbs just like my partner does (and I don't)?

I used to be afraid of heights, but I got over that by hanging out in high spots. Jealousy is just another form of fear, and once I figured out there wasn't anything to be afraid of I just wasn't jealous. There are still times when it creeps back up, but I just remind myself that there is nothing to be jealous of.  --"tulsatechie", posted to r/polyamory yesterday

Polyamory, by virtue of being poly--many--forces us to get past our insecurities about our metamour(s) and recognize them as people with needs, desires, and (yes) insecurities of their own. To do this properly, it's essential to engage with each metamour on some level. As I said, it's not necessary that you be best of friends, but ideally you should be on decent enough terms. For me, it would ring alarm bells if my metamour was an asshole towards me: it would indicate somebody who was not comfortable with polyamory, at best. A "what do you see in this jerk" conversation would ensue in short order.

It's this acknowledgement of our metamours as people and their relationship with our beloved as important that really tends to befuddle the average monogamous person. This is understandable. Remember, in monogamy the mere existence of an "extra" relationship implies both dishonesty/deceit and a threat to your partnership. It's hard enough to convince someone that you don't place limits on your partner's love--the idea that those lovers--your metamours--aren't "rivals" is practically inconceivable.

But they aren't. Not in polyamory, they aren't. He may be an important part of your lover's life--but so are you. He may be an important part of your boyfriend's life....but so are you. She's not going anywhere just because she spends her Saturdays and a night or two a week with her girlfriend; likewise, her girlfriend isn't going anywhere, either. It's not a competition. There may develop a perceived time imbalance (communication required); a perceived experience imbalance (communication required) or any number of other issues (communication required)....ideally, that communication should be among all parties in the larger relationship: you, your partner, and your metamour(s).

This sounds like it should be dramatic. No, it shouldn't, any more than hitches in your monogamous relationship should be dramatic. Presumably, whether there's two, three or seven of you, you're all adults and can act like adults. The key is for everyone to remember that. I would go so far as to suggest that if you can't treat your metamour with a modicum of respect, you're not cut out for polyamory.

Besides, it stands to reason that you're likely to at least get along. If you're monogamous, think of your husband or wife. How many of his/her long-term friends do you absolutely hate?  Few if any, right? Usually people have a set of qualities they look for in friends and intimates, and it doesn't tend to be a really varied set.

It's a balancing act, don't get me wrong, and a challenge. The least thorny issue you're likely to face at some point is your metamour wanting more of your/his partner than either you, or she, is willing to give. The worst (at least I think so) is getting vetoed outright by somebody who can't accept your place in her partner's life. Such vetoes are disturbingly common in so-called polyamorous relationships when somebody wants to retain as many of the trappings of monogamy as possible.

But for all the pitfalls and perils of poly, there is a great joy in it as well, or people wouldn't practice it. That includes the joy of metamours. If you "click" with one, you may end up with a very good friend--such a good friend that your shared partner might be on his own, occasionally. Imagine that, if you can: you're close enough to your partner's partner that your relationship isn't even about him or her, but about you two. Sound ridiculous? In poly, it's actually fairly common....


09 February, 2015

Crossing the Floor

"I can no longer support mean-spirited leadership that divides people instead of bringing them together" --Eve Adams, on her transformation from Conservative to Liberal Member of Parliament

Curious wording, that. Doesn't that mean that she could support mean-spirited leadership up until just now?

Everyone knows by now that I am not a fan of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, which means I'm probably supposed to be cheering that they're down an MP this morning. I'm not, at all.

"Crossing the floor" happens so often in Canadian politics that it's almost as if the chairs have lice or something. Federally, though, it's a little more rare and it's big news when it happens. The tea leaves are read and the auguries augured: what does this mean for the scorned party? Is the adopted party any better off with someone whose very political identity is changeable? (Was (s)he bought?)

I don't agree with crossing the floor. While it's a perfectly natural inclination when you come to realize that "your" party and leader no longer reflect your beliefs and values, it is also a betrayal to that party and especially to its voters, who elected you under what suddenly turn out to be false pretences. A person with integrity, in this situation, would announce that she could no longer sit as a Conservative MP, declare her independence, and then run as a Liberal (if that was her intention) in the next election--which is slated for the fall of this year but could very well come earlier if the Duffy affair threatens to get too dicey.

In Adams' case, my restless mind turns to her home life today. Her fiancé is a former communications director for the Prime Minister (which in and of itself is no great shakes, since Harper's had eight of those over his tenure)...but he was also the Executive Director of the Conservative Party (until he was forced to resign for allegedly trying to interfere in Eve's nomination bid.  Somehow I don't imagine that's a happy little home right now. EDIT: A tweet from Soudas this afternoon confirms he "fully supports" her decision...which means, in effect, that Trudeau just got two for the price of one. Albeit both of them have rather tarnished professional reputations...

The concerns that Eve says pushed her over the edge were income splitting and a woman's right to choose. Again, I find this curious.

Income splitting is classic Harper politics. Like the GST cut before it, it has been vilified by many economists (including, in this case, Harper's late, lamented Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who was one of few Conservatives respected on all sides of the House). Income splitting is inequality by design: its benefits go almost entirely to those making above the median income. It's also boutique politics in that it's aimed at only 15% of the electorate--and whatever your political stripe, remodelling the tax code into something that selectively rewards chosen segments of society -- the ones who just happened to vote for you first and foremost, of course -- is dangerous and shortsighted.

But income splitting is far from the first dangerous and shortsighted policy to come out of the PMO since Harper was elected (and to be fair, Harper only perfected the policies and processes of Jean Chrétien: the two leaders are worlds apart politically but close cousins procedurally). What is it about income splitting that caused Eve Adams to say "enough is enough"?

"A woman's right to choose" is an even more interesting case. Now, it's true that Trudeau has been unequivocal on this matter. He has, in fact, insisted his members to vote pro-choice on any bill that should arise. Dire consequences await someone who does not toe the line--that sounds remarkably like something Harper routinely threatens his party with.  On this issue, I'm perfectly okay with Trudeau's stance because -- and this is something few people seem to grasp -- pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. It is very easy to be pro-choice and  anti-abortion. Just ask my wife, who is both. All it requires is a burning lack of desire to shove your sense of morality down people's collective throats.

(I have my own thoughts on abortion, thoughts I have never seen voiced anywhere else. TL; DR: why doesn't anyone ever imagine the baby might have a say?)

Regardless, it is worth noting that Stephen Harper has done nothing to curtail "a woman's right to choose", despite some pressure to that effect from his backbench and an ironclad certainty from us non-Conservative types that he would ban it somewhere between banning science and elections. (We really do go overboard in our criticisms in this country: the electorate is becoming so polarized that it's almost impossible to find consensus on anything. Sad state of affairs.)

Harper during the last election:

 “As you know, in our party, as in any broadly based party, there are people with a range of views on this issue,” Harper said. “But I think I’ve been very clear as party leader.… As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate.”

Seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.  Evidently not to Eve Adams, mind you.

What does this defection mean going forward? Unless Eve is merely the first of a stampede (which I quite frankly can't even imagine), in practical terms, not a whole hell of a lot. Harper is probably brushing off his hands and saying "good riddance", and it's not as if Trudeau has landed a star Conservative; Adams was only the Parliamentary Secretary for Health. It's dangerous for Trudeau to say too loudly, as he did this morning, that "She wanted to be her community's voice in Ottawa, not the prime minister's voice in her community". Dangerous because Trudeau has already shown an authoritarian streak himself, not just on abortion (as people commonly understand his stance there) but on supposedly "open" nominations. He'll also have to fend off arguments (already being advanced) that there is little difference between his Liberals and Harper's Conservatives. Eve Adams may well end up being more trouble for Trudeau than she's worth.

I would very much like to see it enshrined in law that one may not "cross the floor" at any time outside of an election campaign. Brampton South voted in a Conservative. Not a Liberal. Eve Adams may well feel that her party and its leader betrayed her. One betrayal does not justify another.



08 February, 2015

A Day For The Aged

This one's going to ramble. I will not offer apologies: I'm in too good a mood for that.

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Birthdays used to be a pretty big deal in my house, growing up. Function of being a de facto only child, I think, especially one whose twin died at two days of age and who was touch and go for a while to live himself. I'm also a child of divorce, which meant that birthdays and Christmases were doubled. My mom spoiled me rotten and my dad, who didn't see me all that often, tried to pack a year's worth of affection and trinkets into his limited time with me.

This is very different from the way Eva was raised. She had the parties and such that most of us do, but somewhere in her pre-teen years they kind of petered out: still observed, but not a huge fuss made over them, or her. She was brought up practical and self-reliant and unsentimental. Birthdays, after a time, became childish and unnecessary, and to this day she's very apt to forget them entirely. They just don't hold any importance to her. If she forgets your birthday, it's in no way meant to be a slight on you. After sixteen years with her, she's not entirely clear on exactly when mine is. "Beginning of February, right? Is it the fourth?"
"No, the sixth."
"Oh, right, the sixth."

As in so much else, we have softened each other's stances on birthdays over time. I've come to accept and appreciate that they're really just another day, and she's come to accept and appreciate that it's nice to have a day that's all about you every once in a while, say, once a year or so.

Yesterday Eva, and several other very important people, conspired to give me a day for the aged. Typo very much intended.

My actual birthday was Friday, and it was just another day. I had a job interview I feel very confident about, and the rest of the day I puttered around between the house and online, fuelled by Facebook love. (Say what you will about Facebook--I'll say most of it right along with you--but on your birthday, it's a nice place to be.)

Eva had a sleep study to replace her CPAP machine; hers has worn out to the point where she's been living without it for four months now, and it shows.  Luckily, this study went much better than the ones detailed above, as she was given a functional CPAP that only had to be optimized. She spent a solid uninterrupted hour in deep sleep, which is pretty telling. She had a great sleep on Friday night.

I didn't.

I still don't sleep very well without Eva there. I spent half the night cursing that the only night available for a sleep study was my birthday and half the night fretting whether the house was clean enough or not for the company I knew was coming on Saturday; that half is why I got out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to, among other things,  shovel the driveway.)

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If only one of Saturday's three events had happened, it would have been a great day. The three together made it a day beyond anything I could have dreamed.

First up: a visit from Jim and Ally and Alexa and Lily. This was Alexa's first visit to Uncle Ken's house within her memory. She was absolutely enthralled by everything and everyone here, darting around like a bee at flowers. (Our dog Tux, who we were once told was abused by children, indulged his inner Border Collie and herded Alexa every which way; both he and the cats took a few sniffs of Lily wriggling on the rug and let her be. Such a Very Good Boy is our Tux.
Alexa, meanwhile,  got to play Uncle Ken's keyboard (discovering all on her own that the alphabet song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are in fact the same song). Uncle Ken got to read her a story and watch snippets of Bubble Guppies with her (about ten seconds at a time before something else would catch Alexa's attention...) We had a great time, and this first real visit to Uncle Ken's house for Alexa and Lily both is far from the last. I look forward to seeing my nieces grow up.

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My second visitor was my friend Susannah, and there's a story here.

Susannah started off as a friend of a friend of a friend, and in and of itself is remarkable for me. More remarkable is the woman herself. I met her for the first time in September and let me tell you, she has lived a life. More like ten of them, actually, punctuated by both highs and lows that few people on this earth  get to experience. But she has spent much of her life, the ups and the downs, fighting other people's battles, living other people's days, other people's agendas, other people's dreams.. In doing all this, she has accumulated untold amounts of passion and pain, and seriously, within seconds of meeting her  I could sense it, all of it, ready to pour out. I didn't know what form it would take when it did, but I knew that when it did, it would be a thing to behold.

And so it is.

Susannah picked up a paintbrush for what sounds like the second time in her life in December and within a month she had  produced these. among many others:






The top one -- "Bermuda Sunset" -- was gifted to me yesterday; we had bought the third, "Spring In The Field".  Susannah has already sold ten paintings, to my knowledge, and I for one couldn't be happier for her or more proud of her. There's a wall in this house we hope to grace with several more of her works over the years. I don't even like abstract art as a rule and there's something about hers that just...hits me. The first time I saw "Maelstrom", at the bottom, there, I actually discovered, for the first time in my life, that the old cliché is a truth: your breath can be taken away.

We had a few art supplies laying around from Eva's experimentation with painting. Eva is what you'd call a polymath. (A poly polymath, hah.) She knows quite a bit about many, many things. She'll pick up a hobby not as a relaxing thing to do but as a challenge to herself...and as soon as she's satisfied she can do it, she'll likely never do it again. This used to drive me up a wall--c'mon, woman, figure out your passion and stick to it--until it dawned on me (embarrassingly late) that her passion is learning as much as she can about as many things (and people) as she can. As such, this house is always going to be going through phases. The paint phase having been extinguished, it only seemed right to give this stuff to someone who (a) was going to make use of it and (b) passionate about it.

And so Susannah came up to get these few things, and graciously stayed for lunch with the whole fam-damily in here. It was such a joy to see her, and we look forward to seeing her again.

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Susannah had just pulled out and I had grabbed a coffee and sat down at the computer here when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A familar vehicle had appeared in the driveway and who to my wondering eyes should appear but my friends Craig and Nicole.

This was unexpected, and most welcome. We settled down, watched an episode of Mrs. Brown's Boys,  had supper which deserves a paragraph of its own and therefore is going to interrupt the flow of this sentence--

Eva slow-cooked pulled pork in one crockpot for sandwiches  and this potato concoction that defies description of its deliciousness in the other crockpot....Potato cubes and onion cooked in bacon and mozzarella cheese and ranch dressing  and dear God in Food Network heaven, it was amazing. Its sheer amazingness persisted clear into this morning when it onionated into a weapon of ass destruction with which I was able to literally blind my wife as she showered. And thus is how I return the love I was shown yesterday--

--and we watched Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which was a laugh riot.

Craig, Nicole, you are the embodiment of the saying that friends are family you get to choose.  Thank you so much for everything--the present, the black forest cake (the black forest cake! I believe I'll go have another slice of that) and especially, the chance to see you. Love from both of us to both of you.

Susannah, thank you for the painting(s), both the one we've bought and the one you so kindly gave me. As I say, there will be more to come: this morning we decided on the designated Susannah-wall in our home. Your gift means so much, and so does the gift of your time.

Jim and Ally, Alexa and Lily: thank you for coming and filling this house to overflowing with love and laughter and joy. You are wonderful people raising wonderful people and I'm so glad all of you are in my life.

And Eva, again, thank you so much for co-ordinating this. It's a day I won't soon forget. I love you so very much, there aren't words for it. I'm another year older and another year wiser and I'm fully fortified for the year ahead, which I sense is going to be a great one.

Now if you'll excuse me, leftover pulled pork and potatoes are calling my name. If I time this right, I can Dutch-oven my wife tonight. Oh, the love.

05 February, 2015

An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau

Dear Justin,

Look. you don't know me from Adam's off ox. I emailed to volunteer for you a month ago, and I got a nice welcome letter back with a sentence at the end saying someone would be in touch with me soon.

A month ago.

Now, I'm a nobody. I'm just a  middle aged white male in the vote-rich province of Ontario and I only have one vote, same as anyone else. I was thinking very strongly of not only using it on you, but doing my best to drum up more votes for you.

I read your memoir, COMMON GROUND, and it impressed me. I, too, am a consensus builder, and I'm sick and tired of the current government that thinks consensus is a bad word. (Rhymes with census, that's probably why. Hey, it's no more or less arbitrary than their visceral dislike of other words, such as privacy, constitutionality, and science...) You, on the other hand, are both a wide and deep thinker and you appear to have a genuine knack for connecting with people. In a Canada where the federal government is so disconnected from the majority of its citizens, you seemed to me to be a breath of fresh air. You do not seem to be beholden to any strain of ideology...what matters to you is what works.

Well, Justin, you might want to get working.

In case you haven't noticed, Mr. Harper has been busily frittering away endless tax dollars attacking you. This is nothing new for this PM: he knows no other approach to politics but to slash and burn anyone or anything that opposes him. Doubtless you've heard your voice saying "the budget will balance itself"--in the manner of all political attack ads, the quote was missing the half about commitment to economic growth leading to a budget that balances itself. That's a sentiment most economists, including Mr. Harper, would agree with. But the half-sentence that was used makes you look stupid.

Health Canada has spent seven million dollars trying to scare parents about a plant you want to legalize...a plant that helps millions of Canadians, many of whom are beyond the reach of conventional medicines. The revenue stream from the legalization of this plant would be enormous, and what's more, it would go to government instead of organized crime.

This, of course, is ominously linked to a previous set of attack ads claiming you were going to get all our kids smoking dope. Because it's not as if dope is readily available in every high school in the country as it is. Your plain would make it harder for teens to get dope, right? That's my understanding.

But, see, Justin...I don't see you on my TV or hear you on the radio rebutting any of this. And that bothers me. A lot.

Your party has had two leaders lose to Stephen Harper. The first one, Stephane Dion, was a brilliant man and a terrible politician and his "Green Shift" scheme--which, properly implemented, might have done this country a great deal of good--was vilified and muddied at every turn by Conservative attack ads. Dion didn't bother to defend himself. He bombed. The second leader, Michael Ignatieff, was a brilliant man and terrible politician and he was immediately classed as a foreign egghead by Conservative attack ads. Ignatieff didn't bother to defend himself. He bombed.

Now we have Justin Trudeau. You strike me as a brilliant man and...quite frankly...a terrible politician. Because even with the lessons of Iggy and Dion, both of which should still be stinging Liberal ears and rumps...you're falling into the same, obvious trap. You're letting Harper define you and you're doing NOTHING to define yourself.

You're in a boxing ring, Justin, and this time the opponent isn't some two-bit Senator but a well-seasoned pol who is supremely skilled at attacking people. It's his life.

DEFEND YOURSELF. You don't have to sink to their level and start throwing haymakers -- yet -- but can you at least put your hands up and block some of these incoming punches? Your inaction is starting to hurt you in the polls: I read today that Harper is within striking distance of another damned majority, despite about seventy percent of the country intending to vote for someone else. (Nice political system we have. Wish somebody would do something about that. I know Harper sure as hell won't.)

You can't do it alone...I see that in your Facebook feed quite frequently, and I agree. So why, Justin, why are you ignoring people who want to help you? Like me, for instance. I'd like to think I have some skills I can offer you, writing being just one.  But you have to convince me that (a) you actually want the PMO and (b) you want me to help you get it. I'll work for free...if I feel my work is valued and valuable.

Come on, man. Canada needs you. Canada needs us.

Sincerely,

Ken Breadner