30 June, 2015

The Maple Leaf Forever

I don't think I can write a better Canada-themed essay than I did last year. I just want to say, for all its flaws, and there are many, this is a great country and I'm glad to call it home.

Instead of rehashing the tired, and quintessentially Canadian, theme of "what it means to be Canadian" (I don't see many Spaniards musing on what it means to be Spanish), I'm going to give you a musical compendium: Canadian songs that have had an impact on me.

There've been quite a few. CanCon rules came into effect the year before I was born, so I was fed a steady diet of Canadian music I wouldn't have heard otherwise. In today's globalized culture, we can debate CanCon until the maple leaves fall off the trees,  but there's no denying it was a huge step up for Canadian bands, most of which really did deserve the recognition.

First up would be a song my Mom used to play when I was four and five years old...my first exposure to sad popular music, and the benchmark against which I have judged all sad songs since: Which Way You Goin', Billy?, The Poppy Family (1970). There have been sadder songs since: this one, for instance, sung four years later by Terry Jacks, who at one point was married to the singer of the previous song and whose guitar features in it. Or this one, which is Irish but which is sung here by the transplanted Canadian, John McDermott. I can't get through this one without a tear.

The first song I picked up by ear on the piano: Heart of Gold, by Neil Young...to this day the only Neil Young song I like. (This would be why: I can't hear Neil's voice without hearing Seán Cullen's.) One of the next songs I learned was Music Box Dancer, by Frank Mills...a man I got to meet and duet with, the highlight of my young life. Believe it or not, this instrumental piece went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. For many years, this was the song people thought of first when they thought of me: it's for that reason it was included in my wedding soundtrack.

When my stepdad came along in 1980, he brought his own music with him. He deeply mourned the death of John Lennon in December of that year, legitimizing something I already knew at eight years old: music has a deep and lasting effect far beyond the length of a song.
When John was in a good mood, or needed some energy, he cranked up Oowatonite, by April Wine, or Barracuda by Heart, a band Wikipedia claims is American. Much of Canada would dispute that, considering the band was officially formed here and found its first success here.

I didn't appreciate these two songs at first. You'll laugh, but disco was about the "hardest" thing I'd heard as a small child, and wailing electric guitars set my teeth on edge at first. My life has been characterized by a gradual expansion of musical horizons, such that I can appreciate some fairly heavy metal now. But back then I equated a driving beat and shrill guitars with violence, something I had a pathological aversion to.

The first, and to this day one of the very few, rock concerts I ever attended was Glass Tiger at Fanshawe Park in London. A group called Monkey See opened for them. The notable thing about that concert was that Eva was in the audience too. For all I know, I saw her. Somehow that wouldn't surprise me: we crossed paths a few times before meeting in early '99.

There's one Canadian song that I subconsciously change the lyrics to each time I hear it: Summer of '89 (oops, I did it again) by Britney Spe Bryan Adams. Here's my story...."standin' on your mother's porch/you told me that you'd wait forever/ ah, and when you held my hand/I knew that it was now or never..."
(It turned out to be "never". First romantic regret.)

University brought some new musical obsessions. The quartet of Canadian groups that meant the most to me were Spirit of the West -- this was not one of their hits, but it should have been -- Moxy Früvous, which I'm not going to link in light of their lead singer's alleged actions (and I really don't like having to put 'alleged' in there, either) -- and the Crash Test Dummies (who supplied me with this song I want played 'At My Funeral', not to mention my my first break-up song).  And last but not least, the Barenaked Ladies, whose song What A Good Boy was my anthem for many years.

'I go to school, I write exams
If I pass, if I fail, if I drop out, does anyone give a damn?
And if they do, they'll soon forget
'cause it won't take much for me to show my life ain't over yet...'

My second break-up song--well, that one was played for me, at top volume, on repeat,  from an empty room behind a locked door. Also Canadian. And damnit, this one's vicious. Had to leave the house after the third repeat: it still stings all these years later.

Two more icons of Canadian music I have to acknowledge have shaped my musical life. Here's a lesser-known song from Joni Mitchell, the lyrics of which are so very me apart from the gender. Credit Joni, too, for writing the single most profound, poetic song on life and love that I have ever heard. Joni is not doing well as I write this, and she has been in my thoughts and in heavy rotation in my playlists. She was ranked by Rolling Stone as the 72nd best guitarist in the history of rock. She's the only woman on the list.
The male version of Joni Mitchell -- poet, iconoclast, thinker, dreamer and lover -- is Leonard Cohen. Here's a cut off his latest album, which is also so very me...in so very many ways.

Music has brought us together and it keeps us that way. Happy Canada Day, one and all.





 


28 June, 2015

The Suicide Shop


NOTE TO READERS: I wrote this six months ago, when I was at an absolute nadir. It was never intended for public consumption: you'll see why when you consume it. This is me pulling myself up by my wordstraps, and should I ever sink that low again--I hope to all the gods that ever were that I don't--this life preserver ought to be preserved.

THE SUICIDE SHOP   By Ken Breadner



“It won’t work, you know.”  
“What…?”  
“Killing yourself. It won’t solve any of your problems.”

She didn’t know what to say to that. It took most of her energy to come down to the Suicide Shop today, and the last thing she expected when she got here was somebody telling her that the only way out wasn’t a way out at all.  
  
“But…look, I came down here to buy some pills. Just…just give them to me, okay?”  
“Sure, I can do that. But they won’t work.”

She took out her wallet and upended it over the counter. Wadded-up bills and change spilled out in a flood.  “That should be enough.”

The man took his time unfolding bills and organizing the coins. “Yes, there’s enough here for a lethal dose. That’s what you wanted, right? Enough to kill your body. So that’s the first step taken care of.”

“First step? What else could there be? I take these pills, I’m dead. Then what?”

“Have you written your suicide note? That’s just one of many things we can do for you.”

She was incredulous. “Are you trying to upsell me? On killing myself?  You’re kidding, right?”  

“Not at all. Most people like to leave notes, though, for the people they care about.”

“Not me. I care about people, the problem is they don’t care about me. A note won’t change that.”

“Why not?”

She stared at the man asking all these stupid questions. He looked like a man who had graduated from Nerd School with high honours: short. kind of fat, with thick glasses. Bald head. Nondescript clothes.  Not ugly, exactly, but not…anything else, either. Except the eyes. His eyes were hazel, and they weren’t just looking at her, they were seeing her. Nobody had actually seen her for about a year. She’d flitted through the world like one already dead. Like a ghost.

“Why won’t a note change that?”

How to answer that question? How to explain to him that no matter what she wrote, she couldn’t possibly make them understand?  

“Do I have to answer all these questions? I just want to kill myself.”

“Well, yeah, actually. I’m sorry, but you kind of do. We need to make sure that our clients are of sound mind, that they know what they’re doing. That’s why you had to go through that web interview last week, and why you’re being recorded now. We don’t want to get sued by your estate or anything like that.”

She glared at him “My…estate. I’m pretty much flat broke.”

“Humour me. Why won’t a note work? Most of our clients write something. Some of them write pages and pages and pages, different notes for different people, accusing or absolving—“

“Those are cries for help. I’m beyond help.”

He peered at her again. It should have been creepy, the way he seemed to look right through her, but somehow it wasn’t. They locked eyes. After an unknowable time—

“Nobody’s beyond help.”

He stated that with a flat finality. It came out like a command. 

“I don’t have the energy to argue with you.” 

“So don’t. Just tell me what you’re thinking.”

“You…you know, don’t you?”

“I think I do, yes. But I can’t plant any suggestions in your head. Your estate, remember?”

The noise that came out of her throat felt alien, like a foreign word she hadn’t spoken or heard in years. It took her a second to realize it was a laugh. She drew energy from it, a lot more energy when it turned bitter.

“You don’t have time for this.”

The man moved with uncanny speed. He shot out from around the counter, went to the door that gave on the seedy street outside and locked it, flipping the sign around to say “closed”. He shuttered the windows and turned a dimmer switch. The lights brightened. All of this seemed to be in one fluid motion. He sat down in a leather recliner she hadn’t even noticed and motioned her to a love seat against the side wall.

“All I’ve got is time.” Again, like an order.

She walked over to the love seat and sat down, feeling like she was dreaming. Am I dead already?

She looked around, as if seeing the Suicide Shop for the first time. It didn’t look like a shop at all. It looked more like a doctor’s office: drop ceiling with fluorescent lights that buzzed faintly, a bunch of waiting room chairs, potted plants that looked fake, boring prints on the walls. A reception counter against the back wall. There were a couple of weird anomalies: the love seat and recliner, tucked off in a corner alcove. A huge fireplace that dominated the right wall. And him, the nerdy, bespectacled man who actually saw her.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“I’m Joe. You’re Tara. And you tell me you’re beyond help.”

“Okay, Joe—if I tell you all this, will you promise to give me the pills I came here for?”

He looked at her again. It was unnerving and empowering in equal measure how he seemed to actually look into her head rather than at it. 

“If you still want them after you’re done, sure.” 

His words hung in the air. She searched their tone for a hint of a challenge or a dare and found none, so she invented both.

“You think you’re going to stop me, don’t you? If I had a knife on me, I’d cut my throat right here.”

“But you don’t. I do—a really sharp one, locked up in the back room there, but I’m not giving it to you. We agreed on pills. And not until you tell me your story.”

She sighed. “Okay, Joe, story time. Sit back and listen.”

The mere act of gathering her thoughts exhausted her. She’d been living with just one thought in her head for the last month — I’VE GOT TO KILL MYSELF — and digging up the ground under that thought was hard work. Whole minutes went by and he sat there. calmly, waiting, not saying a word. 

“I’ve been living online for the last three years.” 

He nodded. She took a deep breath and continued.  

“If you can call it living. I don’t, not anymore….
“I used to, you know. Back when I first discovered the Internet, it actually…injected life into me. Or it seemed to.  I was…I was in university back then. It was awful, university. Professors acting like petty gods, you weren’t allowed to think for yourself. I spent thousands of dollars for them to read textbooks to me. Verbatim. And I had to buy the textbooks.
“My degree was English. Stupid choice. I had no idea what it would do for my future and didn’t care. I thought I was living in the moment. 
“Then the Internet came. It was the exact opposite of my classes: I could write my thoughts online and people all over the world would look at them and praise them. Or mock them. It didn’t matter which…at least people were paying attention to me. I felt back then like I had so much to tell the world, if only the world would listen…
“I spent whole days online. I’d forget to eat. I’d get up after twelve hours straight to go to the bathroom and I’d be in there thinking maybe somebody just emailed me. Back I’d go to the lab. It was like crack cocaine.
“And I fell in love on the Internet after I fell in love WITH the Internet. Several times. It was so easy. Nobody had to look at me, this was back when the Internet was all-text. My weight, my mousy hair, my glasses, none of it mattered. My words mattered. I was good with words. 
“The online relationships sometimes moved into real-world relationships and when they did that they petered out. Of course. I wasn’t suited for the real world.
“Eventually the inevitable happened. I dropped out of university. It…it fucked up my life even worse. I lost access to the online world—I didn’t have the money to buy myself a computer back then—and for five years I just…drifted.
“Nothing like how I’ve drifted lately, though….
“And then I met someone, a man. I met him offline—we were married within a year and a half. He didn’t actually fix me, but he showed me how to fix myself, and made me feel like he accepted me no matter what, and so life was good. Life was REAL. Do you understand?”

He nodded. “Yes, I understand.”

“Good, because I don’t.”

The lights buzzed. The traffic droned by outside. 

“Have you got any water?’

“Right in front of you.”

“When did you—?”

“Never mind. You were saying life was good, life was real, but you still don’t understand. What don’t you understand?”

“Why I kept migrating online. I had everything I could ever want in my real world life, but I still went online. All the friggin’ time. It’s addictive, the sense of connection you get online, you know? Hellishly addictive. You know what they call it when you visit a website?”

“A hit.”

“Yeah, a hit. That can’t be a coincidence.
“So many people writing so many pretty words.  For a long time I didn’t notice they were all fake.”

“Fake?” Again his eyes caught her. They were so perceptive: hazel, flecked with green, a piercing gaze that didn’t miss much.

“Yeah, it’s a fake place, online. There’s a reason this is called “the real world”, right?… People say they care, they say lots of nice things. They don’t mean them.”

“Why do you say that? That seems like a blanket condemnation.”

“Oh…I have no doubt they think they care. I don’t blame them, really. It’s the Internet. The fucking Internet. It sucks all the reality out of…everything…and it sucks people into it. It’s a vampire, and I’ve been bitten but good. Maybe pills won’t work. Maybe I need a stake through the heart or something.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Joe got up and starting pacing. “You say the Internet is a vampire and it sucks people’s…good intentions out?”

“Yeah. The Internet is a vampire.”

He looked even more confused.
“Joe, do you know how many times people have told me they love me online?”

“No, of course not.”

“Dozens. I’ve lost count. I’m a hit on Facebook, I’ve got a blog people love to read, I’ve got heaps of Reddit karma. I don’t tweet much, I hate the length restriction on Twitter, but every time I tweet something it gets favorited and retweeted. I’m not famous online, but in my own little circle, it’s like I’m adored.”

He sat down again. “That sounds…that sounds like a good thing.”

“Oh yeah…sure. And I was Problem Central. Got a problem? Go to Tara, she helps. That gave me my purpose in life for many years. I was good at it.  A real problem dumpster. You know why I was good at it, Joe? Because I care, that’s why.”

“That’s great, Tara. You’re obviously good at helping people.”

“Yeah? Now ask me how many of my online “friends” have the slightest interest in seeing me OFFLINE. In the REAL world.”

“Ah. I think I understand now.”

“No, you don’t. For a while I’d try to set up meetings, for coffee or whatever. People would agree to them, enthusiastically, and then when the time came they’d beg off and say they had to stay home and wash the pipes or iron the cat that day. Sometimes they’d actually have reasons, not excuses, but I’d hear the same reasons over and over again…and more importantly, I noticed that I was always the one asking. I thought, maybe I’m too pushy. I’ll relax about this and they’ll come to me. They never did.”

He winced. “That’s hard.”

She continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Each new acquaintance would work the same way. I might meet her offline…once. Then we’d keep in touch online, and it was as if…like…as if all the blood would get sucked right out of the friendship. It became a bunch of pretty words on a screen. And I thought, do they see me like that? Is online me fake, too?

 Joe sat forward in his recliner. “No, Tara, it isn’t. Is it?”

“I don’t know, Joe. I really don’t. What I do know is that I can’t stand the online world, even though I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame, and the real world is so…goddamn…desolate…maybe the next world is better.”

“You’re still married, though, Tara, right?”

“I am. He’s such a good man, he doesn’t deserve to have a hollowed out husk for a wife. And when he’s at work, I think…I think “I’ll go out for a walk, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll get out of the house and feel real sunshine and real wind and see real people. Sometimes I even manage to do it, to escape the pull of the computer for a while. And you know what I find out there as I walk around all alone? People walking around out there all alone too. Alone with their phones. Because the Internet has invaded the outside world, too, now. It’s insatiable. I don’t have a cell phone, Joe. It’s the last vestige of real Tara trying to escape the online world. Part of me wants a phone so bad, just so I can keep pretending.”

“I don’t want to pretend any more.” She stopped, and took another sip of water.

Joe sat and thought for a minute, giving her words real weight.  “Okay, but you still haven’t answered my question. About the note.”

Tara looked at him as if he was an idiot. Maybe his eyes weren’t so perceptive after all. “I can’t write a fucking note, Joe”, she said, wearily. “If I put a note on Facebook it’ll look like I’m trawling for attention.”

“You aren’t?”

“OF COURSE I AM!!” Tara screamed. She jerked herself to her feet, picked her half-full water glass up in her right hand, drew in back over her head, and hurled it with all her strength towards the fireplace. It struck the back wall dead centre and exploded, spraying shards of glass back out into the room. 

Joe had gotten up with her. Mindless of her anger, he stepped towards her, arms stretched, and enfolded her. Tara was thrumming with tension and she didn’t even seem to notice she was being hugged, at first. Gradually, bit by bit, her body relaxed and her arms crept hesitantly around his waist. 

Joe hugged her, hard. It looked intimate—it was intimate—but it wasn’t a sexual hug at all. It was two real human beings sharing a real embrace. A number-one hug, not the letter-A obscenity that passed for a hug nowadays.

Tara was crying, her tears staining Joe’s shirt. He pulled her even closer for a minute, trying to push as much of his life-force into her as he could. The nice thing about doing this, Joe thought for the thousandth time, was that there was an inexhaustible supply of that life-force to draw on. 

Tara’s flow of tears slowed, then stopped. She snuffled snot and reached behind her, towards the table for a Kleenex. Joe sat back down and waited for Tara to compose herself.  

“I..I’m s-sorry.”

“For what?”

“I made a mess with that glass.” She started to get up and Joe put his hand up to stop her. “Never mind, it’s no big deal. I’ll clean it up later.”

Tara regarded Joe carefully. “Thank you.”

Joe laughed a little. “For what this time?”
“For that hug. My husband hugs me at least three times a day and your hug felt like one of his.”

Joe’s gaze sharpened again. “He doesn’t know what you’ve just told me, does he?”

Tara looked around, guiltily. “He…he suspects, I think. But I don’t know how to explain it to him. I’m not sure I’ve explained it properly to you, just now. I think I’m afraid if I tell him he’ll think he’s not enough for me…or something…” she trailed off.

“He’s not?”

“Joe, I—I…all my life, I’ve been looking for connections. I want to feel like I’m part of the world—for a long time when I was a kid I didn’t feel that way at all. It’s like there can’t be enough connections. I want to heal people’s pain and be—not at the center of everything, I’m not that narcissistic, but…I just want to show people how much I care. For real.”
“And I’ve always said that real love didn’t have to be reciprocated, and I meant that—what kind of unconditional love only exists if it’s returned? But I guess I lied.”

He looked at her questioningly. 

“I don’t care if I’m loved or not, but I care DEEPLY if I’m connected. Online is all about connections, right? You can connect to so many people so quickly. But you’re not really connecting to the person, just to the pixels. It’s not real. That’s what I’m telling you.”

My husband, Steve—he is a wonderful, wonderful person, I love him so much, and we connect so well. But most of the time he feels like the only real connection in my life and I know I’m burdening him with that. He doesn’t deserve to be burdened with that.”

Joe stopped her. “That’s where you’re wrong, Tara,” he said.

She sniffled again. “Huh?”

“Of course he deserves that. He signed up for it, and he loves you just as much as you love him. Really. You said in that web interview you’d been married fifteen years?”

“Yes, fifteen.”

“Ever cheated on him?”

“Of course not. Even if I wanted to, nobody else has ever even looked twice at me.”

“But he looks at you at least three times every day, when he hugs you, Tara.”

She brushed Joe’s words aside. “Yes…but…Joe..he’s it. There’s no one else. In all my life I’ve met maybe four people who really cared about me, and sooner or later they don’t any more. It’s me, I’m sure it’s me, but nobody’s honest enough to say what it is about m—“

“Tara.” The command he could put in his voice was amazing.

Joe had reached into a drawer and pulled out a poster. It said:


IF YOU HAVE ONE GOOD FRIEND, YOU ARE LUCKY.

IF YOU HAVE TWO GOOD FRIENDS, YOU ARE BLESSED.

THREE IS IMPOSSIBLE.

She gazed at it, feeling her inner world rearranging itself.

“You’re blessed, Tara. You’re blessed, and you don’t even realize it. You’re blessed with two friends, and you’re blessed with the perception to recognize that the online world isn’t real. Do you know how rare that is? I see people walking around with their phones, too. I go on vacation and wherever I go, there they are—not the people, just the phones. Nobody wants to experience anything any more. You still do. That makes you a pretty smart person, in my books.

The Internet?” Joe continued. “It’s a tool. That’s all it is. A way to keep in touch with information, and yes, people. It’s not meant for relationships and never was. Real friends see each other offline every now and again—as often as they can.”

“Joe, I’m telling you, there’s only St—“

“So, Tara”, he overrode her, “how about next Wednesday? 

“Huh”?

“I can meet you earlier, of course. Tomorrow, even, if you want. Unless I’m with another client, I’m pretty much free.”

She stared at him. “Joe, you’re just saying that.”

“I am”, he said. ‘Saying it, not typing it or texting it.”

“You can’t be real”, said Tara.

“Try me”, said Joe.

and with warm thanks to Spider Robinson

25 June, 2015

Am I Sex-Negative? (Yet another "coming-out...")

WARNING: This one is definitely NSFW. Some people may consider it TMI; they'll want to GTFO now.

As you can imagine, I've learned a lot in the past year. Some lessons have come easily, some much less so. Some have come as a surprise: I *do* feel jealousy, on occasion; I'm not yet the communicator I aspire to be; and apparently, I am "sex-negative".

I've had a lot of insults hurled at me in my life, but none that surprised me quite as much as that one did. "I've never been sex-negative," I thought, "unless, well, there were those periods where my life tested negative for sex."

What I always, and I mean always, have been is questioning of the place sex has in most people's lives, especially most men's lives. It is reflected in our language. The suffix -er denotes "one who": a runner is one who runs, a driver is one who drives, a hammer is one who hams, and a grocer is one who groces. A "lover" is not one who loves, but rather "one who has sex".
I've found that weird since I first noticed it, which was right about the time I was hitting puberty. We have another one that's even weirder: "to sleep with". Buddy, if you're sleeping, I think you're doing it wrong.
French, incidentally, has the verb baiser, which ostensibly means "to kiss" but which, in almost all contexts, really means "to fuck". I can't speak for other languages, but I suspect what Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory insists on calling "coitus" has thoroughly supplanted other, more "innocent" words in many of them. And I find that odd.

I get that sex is a biological imperative. It still shouldn't, in my humble opinion, have the power it does over so many minds. You need to eat: three weeks without food and you'll likely be dead. Three weeks without sex is no hardship at all, in comparison. But many men claim to think about sex at least as often as they think about food. In fact, I've sometimes joked that "sex to you is like food to a starving man, it's all you ever talk about."
That joke doesn't go over well. Implying that someone doesn't get regular sex is--again inexplicably--a grave insult to many. It's no mistake that among the myriad of euphemisms for "penis" is "manhood". Insult a man's virility and you've kicked him in it.

I don't get it. I am more than my penis. All men are: being reduced to a set of genitalia is offensive. Just ask a woman who has been called a twat, let alone a cunt. (Again, it's considered much less offensive to call a man a "dick". Some guys seem to take it as a compliment.)

Let's keep looking at the language, because the words we use reflect our values. Consider the phrase "friends with benefits" (FWBs).

Ugh. That one really bothers me. What it says to me is: there are friends, see, and then there are friends you fuck. Only the latter kind of friend gives you "benefits".

Tell me that's not sickening. (I asked on Facebook if there was a term even more dismissive towards friendship: one friend came back with "fuck buddies". That one, interestingly, doesn't bother me at all. Take the fuck away and you're still buddies. Take the "benefits" away and why be friends if the benefits are gone?

Ken, you're overthinking this.

Am I? Am I really?

Suppose I told you I haven't had sex in the last three years. (Not true, incidentally, but play along with me here, okay?) You know I'm married. Suddenly my marriage is diminished in a critical way. The automatic assumption is that there's something wrong. Seriously wrong. That's ridiculous on the face of it: there is much more to a marriage than sex. But it's taken as read that there's something defective about a man, or a marriage, without regular sex in it.

I'm supposedly "sex-negative" because I dare to think thoughts like this.

No, let's get even more sex-negative. There is an ongoing, insolvable debate in poly circles as to whether or not any ethical non-monogamy qualifies as polyamory. My take on that is an emphatic no: the Latin for love is right in the term. I'd tell you that swinging, for example, is about sex, and there may or may not be love in it. (Almost certainly isn't: many swingers' resources online warn you in giant flaming letters about the dangers of falling in love with a swinging partner. But enough people have angrily told me they love their swinging partners for me to lighten up on that just a tad.)

Whereas poly, to me, is about love, which may or may not include sex. Human nature and sexual obsession being what they are, it often does...but it certainly does not have to.

This lands me firmly into sex-negative territory online if I dare to say it.

My inability to have sex without love strikes many people as, to put it charitably, highly abnormal. I've called sex, absent emotion,  "fifty pumps, a tickle and a squirt" and a "genital sneeze"--wow, you'd think I was a rapist, given the negative reaction to those phrases. But, for me, they are nothing less than the truth.  (I love relatively easily, it's true, but I absolutely need that emotional bond to even be interested in sex.)

I did cross over the line, the line I try so hard not to cross over, thinking that my way was the better way, not just for me, but for others. I'll cop to that: That's sex-negative. It's just: anything in life without love is flat. Neale Donald Walsch: "Whether it's joyless sex or joyless spaghetti and meatballs", an ingredient is missing. Spider Robinson: "We weren't making love, we were fucking. Nothing wrong with that, just not enough right with it."

Others have corrected me, gently and occasionally harshly. Sex, I've been told, is fun, and certainly doesn't need all that pesky emotional baggage tied to it. (That "pesky emotional baggage" is a huge part of who I am, but again, that's just me.) Some have noted that they invest even their random hook-ups with love...as Can't Help But Fly (The Poly Song) puts it, "It's not indiscriminate fucking, it's indiscriminate loving". That made me feel better about it all, but guiltily so: I'd forced something else into my paradigm instead of making a concerted effort to accept a different paradigm.


 It recently came to my attention that there is a term for people like me: demisexuality. (That description fits me to a T: sexual attraction not a necessary component of friendship, but friendship a necessary component of sexual attraction (former part bolded so my friends don't get all skeeved out);  completely boggled by sexual attraction to celebrities, and so on. I'm not repulsed by sex the way two thirds of demisexuals supposedly are. I enjoy it. But it's not the most critical component of a fulfilling relationship, for me.

I don't care so much about the label, certainly not as much as I care about polyamory. But it is nice to know I'm not alone in the world. It often feels like I could be.

24 June, 2015

La dernière classe et mon autre chemin/The Last Class and My Other Way

Tonight is my last French class. After this I will have a Certificate of Fluency from Conestoga College...which means...well, I guess we'll find out what it means. I'm not fluent in my own eyes. I can carry on a limited conversation on a number of topics, and I can read French fairly well and write it passably. But the certificate says otherwise...or does it? Who knows?

That's the thing about credentials. I had a sociology prof in first year, an old man who could get his class snoring in major triads. Word for word, spoken in a quiet, breathless and wheezy voice: "Now...Theory A and Theory B have many similarities. One could in fact say that...Theory A...and Theory B...are the same theory! Isn't this fascinating?"

No. It isn't.

Anyway, his favourite word was "credential". He used it in the singular, in the plural, as a noun, as a verb...he probably said "CREDENTIAL" when he sneezed instead of A-choo or that mouse-squeak well-bred women sneeze with that makes me dodge the nose I'm sure is about to come rocketing off their face. It got so the word meant nothing to me. And really, what does it mean? In university, it means you can read and regurgitate the textbook the professor wrote, look at the puddle of puke you spewed forth, and pronounce it factual puke. Veritable vomit. In computer science, most of what you take is obsolete within months. This "Certificate of Fluency" is a credential...I guess it means what I want it to.

And what is that, exactly? This was supposed to be a bridge into an office job. It may still be. I plan on taking the government test to see where they think I stand.

Regardless, I will be keeping the French up. It's something I really enjoy. It opens up whole other worlds for me.

Not least in music and literature. I've posted a few French songs here with English translations...this will be the last of them. It's definitely the most challenging I've tackled...I only did so because of the subject matter.  As to that subject matter: three guesses and the first two don't count.



This song ROCKS. Musically and lyrically.

English translation by yours truly:


Je l'aime aussi -- I Love Her* Too -- Fredericks, Goldman, Jones (1990)

We shouldn't meet the pretty eyes of beautiful strangers in the streets
Above all we shouldn't hear any more the voices
of these sirens with their outlaw scents.
I didn't kill, deny, or steal--I didn't even manage to have regrets. 
When I'm (laying) against her, it's not(hing) against you.
And when people love, first they don't keep score.
One day you'll forgive every fact of the war.
 But you hardly forget the effects of love.

Chorus: (It's a) common story, abnormal, amoral. 
An unlawful gap between right and wrong.
Beautiful and blasphemous, one and the same.
For one thing I love you, I love you...
But what can I do if I love her too? 
We will never have trains for love.
Never any schedules, no straight tracks in life.
I love her too.
And Rome sermonizes, the bells ring,
even though there are so many (people) who love nobody.

If the Western Man is monogamous.
Do we know that love is too?
Not far from here, some kilometres away,  It is said that "the game is poly"**.
"Jules et Jim", and "Jeux interdits" (French movies with poly content) --
When music in trio is  (so) nice, 
Tell me, who here deserves the exclusivity of a a whole life? (to Chorus)

Bridge: In the low tides of missing love,
Bless the living with a double dose of envy. 
I love her too.
Where and when, to whom, for what,  apologize?
There are so many who hate at will. (to Chorus)

*For a gendered language, French is sometimes surprisingly (and here pleasingly) ambiguous about gender. This song could just as easily be called "I Love Him Too"--you only know for sure it's "her" because of one word in the first verse. Change that single word and it's "him".

**Something I find fascinating about this song is its recording date. 1990 is widely cited to be the year in which the term 'polyamory' was coined. (I first learned the word in early '92 when the alt.polyamory USENET newsgroup was founded...)  Yet here it's casually invoked ("it's said the game is poly") as if it was a common word. Granted, 'poly' is just as translatable in French as it is in English, but still...

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


The last line of this song...that's the thing about polyamory for me. If I had to sum up why I choose this often chaotic and challenging path, it would be with one of two sayings, depending on context. The first would be "too good not to share", which is something I have heard applied to anything fantastic that isn't a romantic relationship. The second would be even simpler...I LOVE. It's what I do, what I strive to embody. "There are so many who hate at will"--to counter that, I love as widely and deeply as I can.

But back to French for a minute. This song proves I'm not fluent. I listened to it three or four times before I even had the chorus (sort of) understood--then when I had a French copy of the lyrics in front of me I puzzled through the rest of it, even having to look up six or seven words. That's not fluent. That's barely out of diapers, as far as I'm concerned.

I've always done things srdawckab-ssa and inside out. Getting this, ahem, credential in adulthood is just the latest example. I should have been in French immersion as a kid: I'd be miles ahead of where I am now. Let me pause for a bit to see just where that is--and then I'll come back and tell you where I'm going from here.








The Little Joys of Working in a Grocery Store

I know there are many people who think there can't possibly be anything enjoyable about working in a grocery store. They're forgetting that all you have to do to make something en-joy-able is to inject joy into it. If you keep that joy close, it's easy to do it with even the most mundane of tasks.

I've been doing the same basic job, with varying levels of responsibility, for almost fifteen years now. Most recently I've been knocked back to the level of pure grunt--but I refuse to act that way, which has raised some eyebrows. I've made a sustained effort to keep in touch with my counterpart on days and also the assistant manager responsible for dairy (which this place inexplicably calls 'fresh') and frozen departments...raising concerns and offering ideas for improvement. I've been dismissed out of hand a couple of times, but I expected that. There's a certain attitude, very prevalent in many managers, that anything coming from a subordinate, particularly one who just made probation, can't possibly be of any use. That's fine: I'll keep politely communicating, and sooner or later she'll listen. The mere fact I'm speaking up puts me miles above most people who just show up, do something that somewhat resembles their job, and go home.

Working dairy and frozen is not rocket surgery. All you do is stock shelves, build displays, and--if your work hours align--help customers in any way you can. That last is an art, and I miss practicing it. My store closes one or two hours before I show up and opens the minute I'm supposed to punch out. I've had precisely zero customer interaction since I came off my two weeks of training shifts. 

But there is a certain joy in making the mindless mindful. After so much experience, I can walk down an aisle at a standard pace and spot one item facing French-side forward. Give me a box of something I carry, and I can tell you what shelf it goes on, in which of 89 doors, and what's on either side. I can also tell you approximately how well it sells, and give you about a 95% accurate prediction as to whether or not all of the units in that box will fit on the shelf.

This is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But it gives my mind something to process over the course of eight hours, and it makes me, if I do say so myself, pretty damn good at what I do. 

My current workplace only allows music if it's playing in your pocket rather than on your head. It's a health and safety issue, as far as they're concerned, and that makes sense when you consider there are sometimes twenty plus people bopping around the store at all hours of the night, one of them on a Zamboni (they don't hire out floor cleaning, like everywhere else I've worked) and many more schlepping pallets from place to place.
 I *really* miss the music. My productivity is fair to good without it--speed is not my strong suit, thoroughness is--but give me a little of this or this (or this or even this) and you'll get more work out of me, and to the same standard.)

Even still, there is a real pride of accomplishment in getting more done than you thought you could do. This is definitely the case now, as my eight hour shift translates to about five and a half hours of actual work time once you take out breaks I never bothered with before, more than two hundred temperature checks I'm obligated to bother with nightly now, two nightly meetings,  an hourly run to the front of the store to turn the damn lights back on (half the lights go out every hour and so help me, I like to see what I'm doing) and all the transport time between cooler/freezer and department--a cool hundred and forty paces each way. Try dragging a skid taller than you and heavier than your car over that kind of distance, multiple times each night, and you'll understand why I can now, once again eat huge portions and maintain my weight. I break a sweat every single night, then have to call Maintenance to clean up the sweat spill in the dairy aisle.

There is something about a well-built display, with good colour segmentation and cross-merchandising. that just makes me feel good. I took one last night that was a dog's breakfast and turned it into something that drew the eye and, I'm quite certain, increased sales.
Even the nuts and bolts of my pedestrian job can be a meaningful, mindful, joyful act. Take a pallet out of the freezer--rejoice that you got it out to the floor without it falling over--marvel at how much of it you managed to stock--reassemble what's left into a nice square stable and ORGANIZED pile that you couldn't knock over even if your name's Ken--and then bring it back and wonder of wonders ELIMINATE IT...you start out with nine skids in your freezer and there's four at the end of the night and how does that NOT feel good?

In the summer, the dairy cooler and freezer are, respectively, a haven and a heaven. On humid nights like last night,  I can't wait to get in there and I don't want to leave.

Dairy and frozen get to call the breaks, on the grounds that we have perishable product on the floor, and I have made it my nightly mission to make at least one creative page. "It's one in the morning. Do you know where your break is?"...or doing the Wal-Mart cheer except spelling out L-U-N-C-H...I award myself points if I can hear somebody laughing. One of the receivers gives herself points if she can spot my reference, so I've really upped my game since she came on board. Matchbox 20--"It's 3AM, it must be lunchtime"; Futurama--"Good news, everyone! It's break time!" She was an English major with a Shakespearean concentration, so I'm working on pages in iambic pentameter...

And of course, home time is always home time, and something to be rejoiced at. I like my job, but there's a limit. And once I've reached that limit--it happens in about, hey, eight hours or so!--it's time to come home to the Love and the Tux and the Mooch and the Bubbles and a nice morning supper and a comfortable bed.

Not everyone shares my attitude towards work, I'll be the first to tell you. There's one man there who seems to specialize in doing as little as possible while making it look like he's busy--those types are everywhere, I had a direct supervisor just like that not all that long ago. He has no idea what to make of me, and treats me with that endearing mix of exasperation, disdain and superiority that I am all too familiar with. But it's a big store and I don't see much of him.

The way I look at it, they're paying me to do a job. Not as much as I'm worth, but they're just learning that, right? And since I'm being paid to get out of bed and go be with friends, it behooves me to put an honest night's effort in. Not to mention something the lazy people don't seem to grasp: the busier you keep yourself and the more work you do, the faster the night goes and the sooner you can go home.

Yeah, it's only a store. You're a hundred percent right, there. My job is not important. I've always been eminently replaceable: proof of that came a little over a year ago when I was unexpectedly laid off.
You know what? I was never cut out to change the world through my employment. The world I want to create doesn't even have employers in it, after all. Any modest world-changing I do will come through my relationships first and my words second. The job? It pays the bills. Make of it what you will.

21 June, 2015

Father's Day

I've been blessed with two fathers.

I don't see much of either of them--geography and circumstance have conspired against it--but not a day goes by that I don't think of both of them. Not a day goes by where I don't apply a lesson I learned from one or the other. And not a day goes by that I don't manifest, well, one of them. The birth one. My dad and I aren't carbon copies, exactly, but we share many traits, both positive and negative.

My mom and dad divorced when I was five. The less said about that the better--suffice it to say both of them have told me I was the only thing worth salvaging out of that relationship. Because my dad had limited access, and because he loved me, I was spoiled rotten, in the manner of children of divorce everywhere. His place very quickly assumed the characteristics of Nirvana and Shangri-La all rolled into one. To this day, "going North" has a talismanic power in my mind. He calls his homestead Rose Point. I call it Sanctuary Much.

Dad, I don't see you near as often as I'd like to...you have no idea how much I'm looking forward to seeing you next month. But I should tell you: just because I don't see you doesn't mean I can't be you...and it's almost scary how often I am. We have gone down different paths in life, but many of our values converge: we both have a very strong sense of social justice and fairness; we both work to see the good in everyone, and to make sure they see it too; we both have, if I may say so, a power to persuade.  And of course we both live our lives according to those values. Integrity matters.

And yeah, we have quite a few of the same foibles. I come by my absentmindedness honestly. Both of us have a knee-jerk reaction to unexpected emotional shock (give us a second or a minute to adjust, and we're fine, but that second or minute might be a tad rocky. And both of us are prone to withdraw and brood rather than force conflict.

I take pride, Dad, in the quirks. The absentmindedness is entertaining as hell to everyone but us, isn't it? Whether it's me trying to burn my house down or you--well, you've tried to do that too, haven't you?--we make life interesting for the ones who love us. That jerk of the knee--you were the one who told me, and I've never, never forgotten it--to "say what you feel, even if it's wrong. That way at least you have something to edit." And contrary to popular belief, good can come out of brooding. Either the problem diminishes with thought, or we change our perspective so it isn't a problem anymore.

My father, in his life as a police officer, volunteer fire captain, Lion, and pillar of his community, has actively done more good, for more human beings, than any ten other people I know put together. I respect, admire, and love the man immensely.

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

My stepdad had a dream sometime in the winter of 1972, when he was 12 years old. In his dream he was marrying an older woman who had a child of her own. I was born in February of 1972...it wouldn't surprise me overmuch to find out he had that dream at 9:06 on the night of the sixth of February.
I met him for the first time in 1980, when I was eight. My first impression of him was that he was a giant. His first impression of me was that I was a polite and well-mannered little boy. Only one of those impressions turned out to be correct. John is only 6'2". but there's something about the way he carries himself that suggests he's taller. And inside, of course, he really is a veritable giant.
I, meanwhile, was--how to put this nicely?--ah, screw it. I was a jerk. Sore loser, chronic liar, pretty much zero social skills with kids my own age, and sheltered as the deepest shade.
John, somehow, took all of that in stride. Trust me when I tell you he must have loved my mother to the moon and back. Most people would have run screaming from me at eight. Or ten. Or fourteen. I know I would have. But not John. With unending patience, superhuman reserves of calm, and an absolutely rock solid conviction, he pulled me through adolescence and into adulthood, modelling his strength, character and wisdom every hour of every day. Again...integrity. It matters.
There really aren't words for the gratitude I feel, nor for the debt I owe John. I respect, admire and love him immensely, too.

Happy Father's Day to both of you, and to all the fathers out there who have done so much for their sons and daughters, never knowing if it would "take" pr not. Current fashion is still, inexplicably, to minimize the role of a father in a child's life. I'm so glad this life has been blessed with two fathers.

20 June, 2015

Rage

I simply do not understand the level of rage it takes to sustain this.

It is my considered opinion that, if you hate somebody enough to saw everything you jointly own in half, you couldn't have possibly ever loved. Her...or yourself.

Many of the commenters agreed with me, but many others found this hysterically funny, noted that "some women deserve this"...and one guy wrote "this is awesome...he's done what every guy's thought of doing at one time or another."

"Not all guys," I wrote back. "Some of us aren't children."

"Some of us aren't liars, either, Ken," he retorted.

Really?

Yes, I've had a couple of messy breakups in my younger years, when everything was messy. Yes, of course emotions ran high--which meant raised voices and tears on both sides. I don't hold with hitting people--it doesn't solve anything. And destroying property--what are you, five?

I'll admit, I've always been really sensitive to destruction in any form. It's one of the things that made me feel so isolated from my peers for such a long period of time, before I decided screw the social consequences, I am right and they are wrong. Boys in general, seem to love destroying things, the more spectacular the explosion, the better. I ask people why they love this and they can't answer beyond "it's so cool!"

Not helpful.

Cool? Huh? If it's somebody else's stuff, do they think it's cool when you destroy it? If it's your own, don't you just have to replace it? And if it doesn't really belong to anyone, if it's just sitting there waiting to be destroyed--isn't "leaving it alone" an option?

I find myself having to explain my way of thinking quite often, because it is so utterly alien to so many. Like them, I can't tell you for sure where it came from: as far as I know, it's always been here. Any violence I saw from earliest childhood, whether it was perpetrated on a person, an animal, or an inanimate object, affected me, often to the point of bawling. This perplexed and worried my parents...I was actually put in therapy for a time because "I couldn't tell the difference between fantasy and reality". Why are you upset, Kenny? That's just television. It's not real. Monster trucks: Those are old junker cars, Kenny. They're not good for anything anymore and it's not as if the metal can feel  pain when the truck's squashing it.

Still destructive. I can feel the rage, even simulated rage on television, and it's that I'm reacting to. And with the monster trucks and demolition derbies and such like, obviously there's no rage there. What offends me in cases like that--and it's a deep offense, I actually have a very strong urge to cover my eyes and scream even now--is the casual nature of the destruction, the sheer GLEE people feel watching it unfold. My first thought when an inanimate object is destroyed in front of me is either "that belongs to somebody" or "somebody made that". That was built for a purpose, damnit, and whatever purpose it had surely didn't involve getting blown up.

For some reason I'm put in mind of an old housemate of mine. Second year university. He drank like a thing that drinks a lot. A lot a lot. Like... a barf a lot. And every time he'd wake up from his blackout in a puddle of his own puke, he'd announce to everyone in a terribly put-upon voice that that was it, he was done with drinking alcohol. One time I think that vow lasted almost an entire week.

Obviously an addiction, right? I could never get it through my thick skull why the ralphtastic results of last week's binge never seemed to seep through his thick skull before he embarked on this week's. I was deep into my thirties when I first read Stephen King's memoir, ON WRITING, in which he discusses his alcoholism. He writes that it used to infuriate him to see people leaving half-full bottles of wine on restaurant tables. "Aren't you going to DRINK that?", he'd rage in his head. When someone asked him how much he drank, King looked at him as if he was an idiot and said, "All of it."

I think our society has a collective addiction to violence that makes alcoholism look like a trifle. And unlike alcoholism, the addiction to violence is fully normalized. It infects popular culture to an insane degree that you have to stand outside to really appreciate. Movies. Television. Music. Videogames. It's everywhere.



And it's normalized. It's expected on some level that if you think somebody has wronged you, you can take it out on his stuff. It's played for laughs in many cases, because rage is funny, apparently. I've heard people defend the violence in, say, videogames by noting it's much better if somebody blows up a virtual city than a real one--and again I'm at a loss to find a motive for blowing up things virtual or real. Free-floating rage. It's gotta be. Where does all that anger come from?

I'll grant you my reaction to being wronged probably isn't much better. I figure I must have deserved it: it feeds that ravenous beast called Insecurity that lives deep in my gut. I've reacted that way all my life and seem helpless to do it any other way...and so I'm working on  being a CREATOR rather than a REACTOR. Those two words are the same word...only the "C" has moved. When you change the way you "C", you can create, rather than react. And creation is, of course, the opposite of destruction. It's fed with love, not hate, and as far as I'm concerned, its fruits taste much better.



18 June, 2015

Flaws in the Design

I can't be sure where I'm headed after death 
To heaven, hell, or beyond to that Great Vast 
But if I can I would like to meet my Maker 
There's one or two things I'd sure like to ask
--"At My Funeral", The Crash Test Dummies

Oftentimes I feel like there are a variety of ongoing cosmic jokes and that I've yet to be let in on any of them.  Many of them are fundamental design flaws.

I'm not talking about human design flaws. I'm not referring, for instance, to the kitchen that contains a heat-maker which spills money on the ceiling and a heat-loser that spills money on the floor; both of them next to each other and not connected in any way. Or the bathroom that contains a bath/shower combo which is not safe to shower in and not comfortable to bathe in (not to mention a toilet that mandates an extremely uncomfortable seating position and wastes both fertilizer and gallons of potable water with every use).
 I'm not talking about whoever designed automobiles so that if your foot slips off the brake pedal it will cause your vehicle to plow into whatever's in front of you--nobody seems to have noticed this, let alone corrected it, in over a century.
No, I'm not even going to ask why we still force, let alone ever forced our children to learn four different alphabets (majuscule and minuscule printing and cursive writing).

It only stands to reason, you know, that our best designers can't even put together a kitchen, a bathroom, a car, or an alphabet that makes sense--and that any who try are ridiculed rather than revered. It's inevitable that we can't design worth shit because we aren't designed worth shit.

Why is sugar, something to which we seem to be irresistibly attracted, a poison? What conceivable purpose do nose and ear hair serve, and why do they grow out to obscene lengths once we hit middle age? Ditto fingernails and toenails and facial hair for that matter. I should be able to select lengths for all these things and have them stay the way they're set.

It's natural that we should be prudent around "the other", but why do people take that fear and magnify it into a defining characteristic of their worldview? Consensus is much more socially rewarding than conflict, so why do so many people seek conflict as a first and only solution to their perceived problems?

What sadist designed the human pain system? For millennia this alarm couldn't be turned off or even dimmed; it often blares totally out of proportion to the problem it's trying to alert us to, and even now we can't do a damned thing about many of the things it shrieks about.

There's enough food to feed everyone on the planet thrice over, yet people are starving, still, and next to nobody cares or even notices. There's enough drinkable water to serve everyone on Earth, and there are still about a sixth of us who have to walk for miles to get water that people living elsewhere wouldn't give their pets. There's enough money to assure everyone a more than comfortable existence, and inequality is rampant and growing by the day. There's enough love to go around--it's one of the few truly renewable resources we have--and far too many people, including people I don't even have to work to find highly loveable,  feel unloved and are thus unloving.

Virtually every large-scale problem we face as a species has been solved on a small scale somewhere. But rather than take note of those solutions and try to scale them up, we decide in advance that it can't be done--or more likely that it would cut into somebody's almighty profit margin. The indifference to human suffering is the most perplexing bug in our system.

Sometimes I don't feel human. Sometimes I wish I wasn't.




13 June, 2015

Reflections on two months of nights with no end in sight

What I'm about to write is going to sound a hell of a lot like whining.

Okay, it is whining.

What kind of whine?  It's not sham pain, I'll say that much. Maybe you'll just think I'm bored-oh, I don't know. I'll just line up my problems in neat little rows, eh, and we'll go from there.

First world problems, right? I have a full time job: millions aren't so lucky. I make only a little over minimum wage: more in one shift than about a billion people make in a month. I like (most of) the people I work with and the fringe benefits where I work are better than those anywhere else I've worked (with the possible exception of McDonald's before they abolished free meals).

And there are lots and lots of other people on this shift. More than fifteen at my store alone (and we're short five full timers at the moment).  Some of them even have families--which would suck, at least until the children are school aged and you could sleep while they were off at school.  The night premium of a buck an hour is most welcome, too. We won't mention how my last job paid almost seven bucks more an hour for essentially the same work and workload (oops, we just did).

I did nights once for the better part of eight years. I've worked Close-Open at McDonald's, and night shifts at three different variety store chains. At 7-Eleven I even had the same schedule I have now: Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.

7-Eleven was a pressure cooker that I firmly believe took years off my life. My current job isn't, at least not yet. If I make manager, it probably will be: the night manager at my store has had one day off in the past month. Her choice, but--well, lacking any other experience, I'm not sure whether it's the same in other environments. You can choose to have your two days off a week, but you are held fully responsible for what goes on during that time, and so what kind of a choice is that, really? That's retail for you. Almost everywhere, once you get above the level of grunt.

As much as you want to leave work at work, when you work nights, every minute is a reminder that you're backwards. Monday night is my Friday and Thursday night is my Monday morning. Supper is at breakfast time and breakfast is after eight p.m. And somehow the 'days' seem shorter when you work graveyards. That's ridiculous: we all have the same 24 hours. But I definitely had more energy to do things after work, when after work was 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Now it's eight a.m and



"DON'T MAKE ME DO STUFF"

I'd get up the energy to do stuff if anyone was around to do it with. They're all working normal hours: by the time I get up it's coming on bedtime for the rest of the city. And on my "days" off? Yeah, Tuesday and Wednesday are primo hangout nights, you know?

(This should be changing once my class is over: actually, I might be going to six days a week for a while, but my day off will move around.)

Bluntly put, I feel disconnected. With myself, with the world, with everything and (almost) everyone.

This is, as I have been told in no uncertain terms by more than one person, nobody's fault but my own. I get it. I come home, eat dinner, and go to bed; get up, have breakfast and go to work. Same as any other working stiff. I'm sure there are whole nations of nine-to-fivers who tell themselves every day that there's got to be more to life than eat, work, eat and sleep. There's just something about night shift that drives it home a little bit harder, is all.

Somebody call whine-one-one and summon the wahmbulance.

The positives, aside from the bunch I've mentioned, are that I can do all the things that use electricity without bankrupting us. I'm not even exaggerating overmuch: the hydro rates in Ontario are insane, and off-peak is the only time they're even close to affordable. I have this mad urge to go around unplugging everything between the hours of eleven a.m. and five p.m.

I get entirely too much pleasure in virtually tucking people in at night on my nights off and virtually wiping the sleep from their eyes in the morning. The off nights are great for filling my head with music. (Can't listen to music at work anymore: it's a safety hazard.)

And people have really gone out of their way to accommodate these weird hours of mine, for which I am very grateful and  because of which I really hesitated before writing this out. I don't want to seem unappreciative: I'm anything but. I just wish I didn't feel like so much of a burden on people. Would I feel this way on days, too? I doubt it. I didn't.

It's almost 8:30 in the morning. Time to make supper.

Please pardon my snivelling. This blog is for sharing myself, warts and pustules and all...

08 June, 2015

"Call Me Caitlyn"

Late to this party, but I have had a lot to sort out.

Whenever I am confronted with something completely outside my experience--and it's both exhilarating and sobering to realize how many things still are--I try to look at how other people are reacting. In high school I did this to try and follow the crowd. Much later, when I pulled my head out of my navel, I noticed the world had become polarized and no matter what the issue, there were always (at least) two crowds pulling with all their might in opposite directions. That struck me as needlessly destructive: the world needs more consensus, or, failing that, at least understanding.

And so now I figure out which crowd I'm in...and then spend some time in the other crowd(s).

This doesn't always work to temper my opinion. On marriage equality for gays and lesbians, for example, you can't move me. But even now I'm still seeking someone from the other side who can articulate their opposition to it in a more coherent, sophisticated way than EWWWW GAYS ARE EVIL.

Transsexuals, transgendered people and their issues are waaaay outside my realm of experience. To my knowledge, I've never even met a transsexual or transgendered person. And so once again I surveyed the field of reaction. It took a week or so before I found somebody sharing my little patch of field. Unsurprisingly, it was Tabatha Southey, who is probably my favourite columnist.

Our patch of field is...no field at all. I've watched in puzzlement as people have either leapt on the Caitlyn bandwagon or tried to ram it off the road, all the while thinking whether you think she's Caitlyn and beautiful or Bruce and a freak, just leave her alone.

One of my closest friends happens to be gay. That's the least remarkable fact about him, something he chooses to minimize in any interaction. Not because he "isn't really gay", not because he's ashamed of himself, but because it doesn't matter.  Tabatha would note that he's also tall...and then engage him as a person.

That's what I think we should be doing with Caitlyn. If we're seeking understanding on what it means to be transgendered, we'll go a long way towards doing that just by talking to her as if -- gasp! -- she's a human being. Doing this will convince us that she is, in fact, a human being.

The haters--I'm not sure where the hate even comes from, to be honest.  I think it's probably a variant of homophobia: I've noticed that just as with gay-hatred, men are much more likely to feel it. I think a man presenting as a woman really fouls up these men's  sense of the world. Pardon the dip into crudity, but their mindset is crude: people are divided into those with holes and those with poles. A hole where a pole once stood is unthinkable to many men whose poles are basically the essence of their being. They're dicks, to be blunt.

This, needless to say, really bothers me.

Like Caitlyn, my wife. Eva, has undergone a fundamental transformation in how she presents to the world. In Eva's case, she lost about two hundred pounds and is still losing. Does that sound trivial by comparison? It shouldn't. Just ask a fat woman about how people look at, and treat her. Just ask a fat woman about how much her weight defines her.

Now every time Eva posts a picture of herself--she is justifiably proud of what she has accomplished--people say she is beautiful. And she is.

SHE ALWAYS WAS.

I actually have this perverse urge to stem the flood of compliments she gets, as richly as she deserves them, because damnit she always was beautiful and it shouldn't take her being thin for people to suddenly see it.

Yes, it took a great deal of courage for Caitlyn to do what she did. But as fundamental as her transformation is, she is only conforming to what she was all along. And what she was all along is a beautiful human being.

Now, it's clearly too much to ask, but what would really make me stand up and take notice of Caitlyn Jenner is if she dared to present not as a woman, but as a 65 YEAR OLD WOMAN. A senior citizen. Which is what she is, by her biological age. You'd never know it from that Vanity Fair cover: she looks to be in her thirties.

She isn't. She's 65. She has wrinkles. Whatever colour her hair is, it isn't the colour it looks in photo shoots.

We're willing to concede that women that old might be beautiful people...so long as they don't look anywhere near that old. Isn't that sad? Whether we're born into the right body or not, we all get old. Where is the acknowledgement--no, the celebration of that fact?


04 June, 2015

For karen: a response.

For the first time in seven or maybe eight years, a comment on my last blog entry has prompted a whole new blog entry.  I LOVE when this happens; I wish it happened more often. While it's true I would write these things even without readers--hell, I think I did for about three years--what I really cherish about this here Breadbin is the exchange of ideas. It gives me a chance to refine and sometimes outright reconsider mine.

Reader karen writes:

The polyamory stuff you post is interesting. The only experience I had of such a thing before I started reading your blog was a young couple I met in our local environmental/political activist community. She was married, he was not but they were together everywhere just as her husband fell quite ill. Fairly soon they were handing out poly information at every kind of rally and meeting. Before the husband recovered she left him to do a solo pilgrimage of sorts and now the woman and the husband are divorced and she and her poly guy are in a monogamous relationship. I wasn't particularly close to either of them, but something felt *off* about it. It was clear there was passion between them, but I had a very strong feeling that the polyamory was a kind of rationalization rather than something they understood and lived. I found it off-putting.

I like the case you make for a kind of web of support - multiple connections for giving and receiving love and nurture, but I don't know if I actually know anyone who could manage it without jealousy.

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Goldmine.


Not knowing the backstory of this couple/triad you mention, I can't say for certain whether they were practicing polyamory or a refinement on cheating. Having read your blog and your excellent, insightful comments on mine, I have reason to trust your intuition that the woman, knowingly or unknowingly, seized on polyamory as a justification for her behaviour. I'd caution that nobody can say for sure, but your words have a good beat: let's dance to them for a bit, shall we?

God knows I come across such off-putting behaviour often enough. People stumble, mentally bruised and bleeding, into various poly forums seemingly every day, in tremendous emotional pain and ready to spread it around.
The story is a cliché: Man with wife -- or just as often woman with husband -- falls in love, or at least lust, with someone he or she isn't "supposed" to--which in monogamous relationships means, well, anyone. Cheating ensues. Cheater then discovers polyamory and thinks oh wow, a get out of cheat free card! "Honey", he or she says, "I slept with somebody else. But don't worry, I'm polyamorous. I love you both." Bereaved party finds a group of online poly folk and accuses each and every one of us of treason, sedition, and complicity in the destruction of a good marriage.

There are several hidden assumptions in the accusation, as understandable as it is. The biggest is probably the characterization of a good marriage as one in which cheating takes place. We all know that's not the case, but it seems to me that when partnerships implode, people look everywhere but within those partnerships to find the reasons.

Right behind it is the notion that polyamory is cheating dressed up in fancy syllables. I hate this statement with a white-hot passion because it is so totally the opposite of what polyamory actually is, and yet it's so beastly hard to knock it and all of its implications out of people's heads. Because of this mischaracterization,  many people believe

  • that poly means less love to go around, especially amongst new or "secondary" partners
  • that poly means coercion, manipulation, and deceit
  • that poly means selfishness
  • that poly means a fear of and a lack of commitment
Whereas 
  • while there certainly may be less time to go around, love is abundant, not scarce, and shared joy is increased, meaning more love is created when love is shown.
  • Poly actually means connection, communication (tons of it) and transparency. Some people practice DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) relationships in which somebody is free to have other relationships so long as the primary partner doesn't know about them. That, I would argue, violates a part of the definition of polyamory: multiple committed loving relationships with the knowledge and consent of all involved. There is no need to overshare: each relationship deserves its privacy, and the need to know everything means insecurity and lots of it.  But you can expect to know your partner has other partners, and to connect with your metamours on some level. 
  • "He's got three girlfriends and I have none, what a selfish jerk." I prefer to put the focus in poly on the partners your partner is encouraged to pursue: it really twists the accusation around. "He's demanding that one woman all to himself, what a selfish jerk." (No, I don't really think this way...unless I see signs of possessiveness in the relationship. Mono or poly, that irks me to no end. 
  • And on commitment: From More Than Two, the definitive guide to polyamory, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert (a link to their website has been in my sidebar for nearly a year now):


Some people imagine that polyamory involves a fear of commitment. The truth is, commitment in polyamory doesn't mean commitment to sexual exclusivity. Instead, it means commitment to a romantic relationship, with everything that goes along with that: commitment to being there when your partners need you, to investing in their happiness, to building a life with them, to creating happy and healthy relationships that meet everyone's needs, and to supporting one another when life gets hard. Unfortunately, society has taught is to view commitment only through the lens of sexual exclusivity; this diminishes all the other important ways that we commit to one another...

No, polyamory is not cheating: the two are mutually incompatible. It *is* possible to move from cheating to polyamory...just barely. I wouldn't advise it. In fact, I get a bad gut feeling whenever I hear so much as "well, there's this girl named Katherine at work that I'm falling for, but I'm happily married to my wife Edith..." I always tell these people they *can* have their Kate and Edith, too, but they'd better hold off on dessert until they've talked...and talked...and talked it over. There's nothing quite so self-serving or threatening as announcing you're poly and pulling a partner out of your hat in the same flourish.

I can't say if this happened in your example, karen. For all I know, the couple spoke about this at great length and agreed to it. The fact that couple is no longer together should be viewed neither as an endorsement nor an indictment of that theory. The further fact she's now monogamous with his "replacement" is also not, in and of itself, damning. Together, though...yeah. Very strong feeling. Could be gas. Very strong feeling.

When I came out, the concern was overwhelming, quite literally. It seems to me that everybody knows of an open relationship that dissolved: it was therefore insisted upon, with great force, that mine would not only dissolve, but was in the very process of dissolving. I keep saying it, but everybody knows monogamous people who divorced: it's odd that nobody ever seems to bring them up.
It took a great deal of explanation on my part to assert that one relationship need not preclude others, and that the decision had been made jointly after many years. To this day I feel like people are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sorry to disappoint you, folks. I'm just as committed to my marriage as you are to yours.

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"...but I don't know if I actually know anyone who could manage it without jealousy."

Neither do I, karen, and I include myself.

I've heard tell of possibly mythical creatures who don't feel jealousy. We'll call them Nessies, because as far as I'm concerned they live deep within a loch somewhere and only surface to breathe when nobody's looking.

I thought I was one of them, once. I used to hate jealousy. I thought of it as pain at another's happiness, as compared to schadenfreude, happiness at another's pain, and I was utterly horrified the first time I recognized it in me.

Of course, the first time I thought I was feeling jealousy, it turned out to be envy. (Envy: wanting what someone else has. Jealousy: wanting what someone else has, *such that they can't have it anymore*.)  And I have since felt judgment that manifested very much like jealousy: righteous indignation, hurt, and bewilderment. That happens when you discover your relationship isn't what you thought it was, or that your partner isn't who you assumed they were...and you blame your partner for your own unquestioned assumptions.

But yes, I have since felt jealousy. Actual, soul-deadening jealousy. And do you know what I found out after I got over the shock and horror of feeling such a hateful thing, and started seriously wondering where it came from?

It came from me. It was my own feeling, my own problem. Always and without fail brought on by some other emotion that *also* came from me and was my own problem.  Reading up on it, I realized that just like envy and judgement (and, for that matter, happiness and contentment),  neither a partner nor a metamour had put it in there...and neither a partner nor a metamour could take it out.

There are a whole bunch of different kinds of jealousy: speak to ten psychiatrists and they'll give you twelve different ways to characterize the emotion. Most of them lump all the jealousies polyamorous people feel under "Romantic Jealousy" and leave it at that. (Then again, most psychiatrists aren't even aware of polyamory in the first place; finding a poly-supportive therapist is a nontrivial task.)

The framework I like posits four different kinds of romantic jealousy, any or all of which can be felt at once.

  • There is the Hollywood kind, the possessive  'IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU NOBODY CAN BANG BANG BANG! jealous rage. People who are prone to this sort of thing would obviously never even consider polyamory. They should instead seek help: no relationship should be forced to exist in such madhouse conditions. I've heard of far too many that do, and none of them are even remotely happy.
  • Less extreme, there's what I call Common Jealousy, which is quite common in monogamy and very easily spills over into polyamory (because scrubbing out the monogamous belief system so deeply engrained in us takes time). It's your basic fear that your partner is about to up and leave you for somebody else. The only way out of that mindset is through it, and even then, there are no guarantees in life. But the way to deal with your fear is to treat each person in each relationship with the respect they deserve, because people tend to live up, or down, to the level of respect and trust you place in them. Yes, you'll get burned by the odd predator. Everything I have seen in my life has convinced me that most humans are fundamentally good, though. Treat them well, you'll be treated well in return.
  • There is "exclusion jealousy", very common in poly relationships when one person has other loves while the other has none. "Why do you get to have all the fun?" The cure for that is to be self-confident enough to attract your own additional partners (recognizing that it takes time--after all, how many years did it take to find your first?) That kind of self-confidence recognizes that having one partner is not a handicap (there are some poly people with no partners at the moment) and it also learns to value compersion (the opposite of jealousy: happiness at your partner's happiness). 
  • There is "competition" jealousy, also very common, where you compare yourself to your metamour and, gee gosh it's funny how this happens, come up short. It's actually amusing that more often than not your metamour is doing the same thing at the same time and coming up just as short in comparison to you. New partners are jealous of the older partner's level of connection; old partners recoil in the face of what poly people call NRE ("new relationship energy").  Both may recognize how silly they're being, but who says jealousy is rational?
Well, there is such a thing as rational jealousy, If you are being treated like a doormat -- if you're being ignored and left to fend for yourself while your partner pursues others; if your agreements are broken and boundaries are forever being pushed and stretched to include things you are not comfortable with--go ahead and blame that on your partner, and take corrective action...which may include abandoning that relationship. Note that this behaviour is not even close to what polyamory is about. 

But most jealousy you're apt to feel is not rational, and you must resist the temptation to pin the blame on this partner or that metamour for your own insecurity. The cure for any jealousy, rational or no, is trifold:  communication, self-awareness, and partner-awareness. 

Poly done well takes a level of trust and respect that can, quite frankly, be difficult to sustain at times. You have to be willing to respect other relationships while simultaneously trusting the others in those relationships to respect yours. If you can achieve this--and many, many people have-- you get that web of support - multiple connections for giving and receiving love and nurture that is the hallmark of love without limits.

Thank you so much, karen, for your comment.