31 December, 2015

Good Riddance, 2015

It wasn't all that far along into this calendar year that I found myself sitting at this desk, on to which I had spilled a fairly large number of pills. I had grouped them in neat little rows, and I was trying to muster--not so much the courage, but the energy--to pick 'em up and start swallowing.

It had taken a great deal of energy just to live over the preceding eight months or so. Too much, really. And I'd expended a great deal more in a ferocious burst of writing over two weeks: not one note, but seven letters, two of them nearly twenty pages long, explaining and absolving. An awful lot of writing to say "it's not you, it's me".

Staring at those pills, thinking of th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, the pangs of despised love and all the rest, it wasn't fear of 'what dreams may come' that stayed my hand. Not really. I hold to the belief that death, like life, is what we make of it; and if ending my life only left me with the same pile of ingredients and no clue what to do with them...minus anyone who could help me make sense of my senselessness...then what, exactly, was the point?

After an unknowable time spent contemplating the neat little rows, I replaced the pills in their bottle and put the bottle away. There was no relief, no sense of pulling back from a precipice. There wasn't really much of anything. But that wasn't a surprise: there hadn't been much of anything since the end of July. If anything, the pills were to serve to make it formal, is all.

A short time later I found myself taking different pills. Pills that rearranged my mental topography: here filling in a deep chasm of pain, there flattening an impossibly steep mountain, and gradually, ever so gradually, restoring blooms to what had been an arid brain-plain.

It's NOT like I'd awoken from a nightmare. It goes much deeper than that. It's as if I came up out of an emotional coma with a case of affective amnesia. I'd forgotten how to feel, and especially how to properly calibrate my feelings. It's been a surprisingly long process, getting that calibration right: learning, sometimes painfully, who to keep at arm's length, and who must be kept beyond; learning once again not to take everything so gods-damned personally; above all,  learning that each emotion informed all the others and that none were unworthy.

(I had help in that last from a most unexpected source: Pixar's Inside Out. Not only the best movie I saw this year, but easily in the top five best movies I've ever seen.)

Thnk Trintellix I belatedly donned armour, because the year got worse, in many ways, from there.

About three weeks before my unemployment was to run out, I got a full time job. At first, out of long habit, I could only focus on the negatives: massive pay cut, horrid night shift schedule that made "sleeping with my wife" a forgotten luxury and alienated me from all that was good and bright in the world, and wasn't I supposed to be getting the hell out of retail? That had been the intention.

Almost the very day I got hired on at Walmart, Eva began deteriorating. The change in her mental state was terrifying to behold, all the more so since at first we had no idea what was causing it.

We know now. The year has been a tedious exercise in adjusting medications, waiting to see what adjustments the adjustments would make necessary, and repeating. All is not perfect in Eva-world, but she has improved considerably over the lows of the summer. She is going back to work soon, riding a wave of support and love.

As I said a couple of blog posts ago, things got decidedly dicey around here financially, before Eva's disability claim was approved. We were only kept afloat by the generosity of family and friends (and how we both hate being charity cases: you have no idea).We have the basics covered now, but not much else; among other things, we've been robbed of anything approaching the kind of Christmas we love to give to each other, and to our family and friends.

"You keep forgetting. But life is not 'for getting', it is 'for giving'. Neale Donald Walsch, CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK 3

I couldn't care less whether or not I get stuff, but not being in a position to give stings.

Anyway.

To cap it all off, I lost my mom this year. Every year for at least the last five we've been expecting to lose her, and every year she's been surprising us. That said, our relationship was best characterized as "warmly distant" since it reset eight years ago. The distance, coupled with the long illness, made her death both easier to accept and harder to process, if that makes any sense.

I miss my Mom. Not to belabour the point, but I still feel like I haven't even got a handle on how to grieve her properly.

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You adapt, right? You learn to deal with life before life can deal with you. And to do that, you find the good and you're grateful for it...perhaps more grateful than you'd otherwise be. They say it takes true dark to really appreciate the light.

And so, the good: the stars in the night sky that was 2015 for us.

OUR BUDDING POLYCULE.

I met my metamour for the first time in February. It goes without saying that anyone who loves Eva has my respect, admiration and love...but I have grown to appreciate Mark on his own terms. He's a wise and spiritual man, full of profound insight and irreverent humour. I'm glad he is part of my world.

I'm still dealing with people who fixate on the perceived "imbalance" in my relationship, as if love was about keeping score. I think it's fair to say I had a whole hell of a lot of self-work to do before I could even think of searching out new partners. There's no time limit here: it took me 28 years to find Eva, after all. That said, I'm about ready to take a more active role in augmenting the love in my life.

Don't expect the polyamory advocacy to end, either. That's one of the things I have learned, or am learning, to calibrate properly: not too strident, not too minimized. The idea is to show that while polyamory may not be quite 'normal' yet, it is completely natural and nothing to be alarmed or judgmental about.

WALLY WORLD.

Yes, I still hate the shift and I've made it my life's mission in 2016 to get the hell off it and back to some kind of sane sleeping schedule. But.
One thing I never lost track of even in the worst of my depression is that a job is not about the work you do, it's about the people you do it with. And there are some great people here, people I look forward to seeing every night. To Carolyn, Kathleen, Garry, Renée, and all the rest of you fine Walmartians...thank you. Special note of thanks to Glitch (you can take the man out of the Walmart...) I don't make friends easily and I feel like I have several times over.

OUR HEALTH, such as it is...Eva still has some pretty rough days, but they have declined greatly in frequency and somewhat in severity: now it's all about learning to adapt to her new normal. Things could be a great deal worse. An aunt of mine has spent the last six weeks or so in hospital after a routine operation went haywire. A friend of my dad's is awaiting surgery and living with intolerable amounts of pain. To say nothing of the 'normal' run of pain and indignity many of our friends call "living".

Speaking of which:
.
FRIENDS.  Credit Trintellix that I'm no longer amazed anybody's willing to be my friend. But damnit, I'm overjoyed to have kith that may as well be kin. I'd like to single some of you out while I'm feeling this suffusion of love for you:

--CRAIG. For the music; for living with us for three weeks without shooting us; for being a person I hold in the highest regard and esteem. Love you, man.

--JASON, whom we just saw today for the first time in a couple of years. Jason is and always will be my one-word answer to those people who need to validate themselves by listing the successes of their friends. I knew him before he became a wealthy globetrotter, and the strongest compliment I can give the man is that success hasn't changed him.

--LAUREL AND STEVE. I first 'met' Laurel, "the avid horror fan', in 1992, in the USENET newsgroup alt.horror; we bonded over a shared love of Stephen King, even as she was dating and marrying her own Steve. We fell out of contact for a while, but Facebook brought us back in touch...and this past summer, she and her husband met my wife and I for real in Toronto. It was a lovely, too-short time, one I hope to repeat. Just think, Steve: if our dollar keeps tanking, eventually things will be affordable here. *smile*

--SUE. For all you are, for all you do. I'm in awe of you. Thank you for always being there to slap the silly out of my head. Between you and Eva, it's been much easier to do that whole calibration thing than it might otherwise have been.

--SUSANNAH. For being that rarest of treasures: a dear friend who disagrees with me on virtually everything. You enrich my life in so many ways, not least through your stunning art (link to Facebook group). I never had the slightest appreciation for abstract art until I saw yours. Behind behind the beautiful art, there beats a beautiful heart. Thank you for coming to my mom's memorial. It meant so much to me to have an ally in there.

--AMY. Someday I will meet you, Amy, and when I do I will feel as if I have always known you. Thank you for your love and support over the past year. It's returned threefold.

--GORD. Not too many people get to reconnect with their grade five teacher as adults. Fewer still had a grade five teacher half as inspirational and unforgettable.  Thank you for your unending support and your horrid puns, which have NOT mellowed with age.


MY NIECES, Alexa and Lily. Three and one. Both growing like weeds. Both mature for their ages, in profoundly different ways. In Alexa I sense a kindred spirit: I think she's going to grow up to be a nurturer of some kind, and boy will she make an impact on the world. Lilly's going to do the same in some more tactile way. "Uncle Ken" loves you both.

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

SONG OF THE YEAR (because there had to be one, right?)

I can listen -- I have listened -- to this song over and over...it's a chronicle of my 2015, and the chorus activates my  knee-drummer every...single...time.




Who do you love? I love you.

I love you.

Happy 2016, everyone. Onwards and upwards.







11 December, 2015

Lions, Sheep, and The Pink Kink In My Think

"The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep. You become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom." --Osho

With all due respect to the renowned Indian professor of philosophy and source of two of my    favourite quotes on love, I am not a lion. Nor do I have any wish to be. Lions are predators. Man-eaters, even.

People have been telling me for years that I'll know I've truly grown up when I no longer care what others think of me. That's supposedly a hallmark of maturity, of adulthood.

This is one of those sentiments that is so easily misconstrued. And what it often turns into, I've found, is "I don't give a shit what you think, and if I hurt you, that's your problem, not mine." Lions don't generally respect the opinions of sheep, after all.

I cared entirely too much about the opinions of my peers for entirely too long, it's true. I fell into a kind of monkey trap when it came to seeking popularity: the harder I sought it, the more strongly I was rebuffed...which obviously meant I wasn't trying hard enough. It was only when I relaxed and let the goal of popularity go that I found my tribe, within which I am appreciated.

So there is definitely something to be said for not being attached to the opinion of others. Not everyone is going to like you. People who think differently are less likely to appreciate you: rare is the person with whom you can disagree on just about everything important and still respect. I count one such person among my dear friends. I may not understand her very often, but I have learned over time she is just as passionate about her beliefs as I am about mine; that they serve her well; and that if I can't find common ground, it's best to just let it go.

At the same time, though, it doesn't serve me well to discount her opinion, of me or of anything else. If I do that, I'm a very short step away from thinking of her as a sheep and myself as a lion. And I'm sorry -- actually, I'm not -- but that kind of thinking goes against one of my life's core statements:

EVERYBODY IS SPECIAL. BUT NO ONE IS MORE SPECIAL THAN ANYONE ELSE. 

The delusion that someone, or some class of people, is more special than another...that's the wellspring of virtually all the discord in the world. Look at religion: every faith divides the world into the saved and the lost, with strict instructions to do one of three things with the lost: save them, shun them, or kill them. The same holds true to a great extent with our civil religions (this essay, like most of John Michael Greer, is VERY much worth the read).

If you boil away ritual and rhetoric from religion -- no matter which one -- you will find one truth, repeated over and over in every faith the world over: WE ARE ALL ONE. This is why the Golden Rule is ubiquitous: because what you do to another, you do to yourself. 

This teaching is not popular. It has never been popular. We prefer to see ourselves as separate from each other: it makes it so much easier to act out our control dramas and bend others to our will.  But it is, nonetheless, true. This TED talk is extremely interesting: it turns out that our brains react the same way whether we are performing an action or whether we are watching someone else performing the same action. If we are touched, or we watch someone being touched, the same neurones fire. Astonishingly, if we then block the receptors that tell the brain it's not actually us being touched, we will feel the touch we merely watch. Think that through: the only thing separating us is our skin, and like anything else "solid", skin is made up of well over 99% empty space.

Since we are all one, it is quite obviously stupid and counterproductive to view any particular individuation of ourselves with anything less than love. Also, it means (to me, at least) that caring what others think isn't any different from caring what I myself think.

I am a sheep, not a lion. And I'm proud to be a sheep...even my friends laugh at me, 'cause they think
I look ridiculous, funny and pink.


"Pink? Pink? What's wrong with pink? Seems you've got a pink kink in your think....

Sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down
When you find that you're down, well, just look around!
You've still got a body, good legs and fine feet...
Get your head in the right place, and hey, you're complete!

From Pixar's Boundin'


08 December, 2015

Looks Like We Made It

We are not out of the woods, but we are out of the scary part of the woods.

I don't believe in horoscopes: I've said this several times over the years, and it's true. But I do look at them, for entertainment purposes only, twice a year: on New Year's Day, and on my birthday. The New Year's 2015 horoscopes for Eva and I both made reference to persistent money problems this year.
Boy, I'm glad I don't believe in these things, I thought, then. Because this one seems to be telling me I won't be getting a job in 2015.

Little did I know.

I was hired on April Fool's Day and for the first time ever, I find myself working for a company that respects me. I actually have a career path plotted out, and I am confident that path is supported.

Eva, though.

The physical after-effects of her bariatric surgery meshed very unpleasantly with her mental health this year. She has been off work since April and without any sort of an income since August. Given my nine months of unemployment, followed by employment at a drastically reduced wage...can I just say that things got dicey? Scarily so. I could hear the wolf pack in the distance starting in September. My closest friends probably got a little weary of my wolf reports, and my wife has an incredible ability to keep wolves at bay. But trust me, they were closing in.

Eva's work does not offer short-term disability, but it does have long term. Waiting period: six months from her last day of work.  Three months of that was (sort of) covered by sick leave from the government, through EI. After that, we were on our own.

People came to interview Eva on September 24. We had been told she would be eligible for benefits on October 1; we learned in that interview that this was a lie. It would take, we were told, four to six weeks to do whatever bureaucratic voodoo is involved in reading and understanding a simple doctor's note.

About that doctor's note. Our GP sat on it for weeks without sending it in, for reasons never made clear to us. Meanwhile, Eva's one permitted session with the psychiatrist (!) went by. They even made an exception and gave her a second one. That psychiatrist was supposed to send her own paperwork in to the insurance company, which pays her to do so.

She didn't.

She's only in that office three hours a week, and with patients for most of that time, so reaching her was a nontrivial exercise. Last Friday, Eva finally managed to track her down and wonder of wonders, speak to her. "Because I'm not seeing you as a patient," Eva was told, "I'm not helpful to this conversation. I can't give an opinion on your health."

Not the thing to tell someone living with intense anxiety.

Eva managed to convince the psychiatrist that her health very much depended on that paperwork being submitted immediately. For another wonder, she actually followed through on her pledge to submit that paperwork that very day.
  
It was supposed to take a week, minimum, to adjudicate her case once all the paperwork was in. The clock was ticking and the wolves were howling. Eva managed to figure out away to meet obligations by a razor thin margin for this week, but any further delay--

Let alone a denial. Many people have thought they'd be helpful by telling me that nobody ever gets approved on their first try, and that it generally takes a year for them to pay out, and gee, thanks. Those seeds had fully taken root in my mind.

Today we found out that Eva has been approved for long-term disability. "Long-term" in her case is a bit of a misnomer, as she is aiming for a February 1 back to work date.

The relief is in itself almost sickening. Delayed reaction.  We're going to make it. I have every faith in my wife, but together we were losing faith in this process.

I want to thank friends and family for their financial, material and emotional support over the past several months. I am not exaggerating to say we could not have got through this without you. Neither of us was raised to ask for help if we could help ourselves (or even, in many cases, if we couldn't); pride got to be a luxury we could not afford there for a bit. So thank you, all of you, for being there. I hope you know we were, are, and will always be there for you, too. We love you so much.

Thank you, too, to Eva's work for being so supportive. She misses you and is making every effort to come back.

And thank you, love, for keeping it together even after you had fallen apart. You are an amazing woman...I knew it all along, of course, but this takes the cake. I love you more than any words can say.


06 December, 2015

"A time to tear and a time to mend"

*note: this blog has been edited post-publication for clarity*

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who came to my mother's memorial service today. It means a lot to me.

My mom didn't want a memorial service at all. But so many people approached my stepfather in the wake of her passing that he felt obligated. He thought maybe ten people would show up.

There were a lot more than ten. There were probably more than a hundred. My mom touched a lot of lives, directly or indirectly: that was something I was going to say in the eulogy I had prepared.

I didn't want to have to talk about this, especially in the wake (ha-ha) of a day that was supposed to be all about my mother. But circumstances have made it imperative that I address some things. I was asked about that eulogy, which I put a lot of thought and effort into. I showed up late to the memorial and was not part of the receiving line; that also raised some eyebrows. Many of the attendees could be forgiven for not knowing my mother had a son, and that I was that son. The minister mentioned it once, in passing, also mentioning my wife; that felt good. Quite frankly, I was surprised: it's not as if I was mentioned in the obituary. Neither were her brothers or sister, in fact.

No, my mother's memorial service was not about me, and I really don't want to give the impression I expected or wanted it to be. In fact, I was dreading being visible to so many people, the majority of whom I have not seen in fifteen or even thirty or more years. I don't do well in crowds, especially crowds of strangers who shouldn't be strangers. I'm sure I bear more than a full share of fault for that state of affairs, just as I bear a full share of guilt for taking my mom's repeated urgings to stay away  -- some conveyed directly, some through my stepfather -- at face value.

And one more thing: I have NO wish whatsoever to appear insensitive to my stepdad, who is going through a grieving process I can't even imagine. He lost his wife of 34 years, along with their home and virtually everything they owned. Acknowledging this, in the interest of duty and familial harmony, I must swallow most of my feelings.

But not all of them.

The fact is I did prepare a eulogy to pay public tribute to the woman I called Mom. John asked to review it, which I agreed to. He may indeed have read what I wrote, but only after telling me I would not be permitted to present it. I want to make this perfectly clear: I was not asked to change anything, or omit something. I was simply told I would not be making a speech, for lack of time. If I did it, others might want to.

I was only her son. A poor son I may have been at times--that was actually something I addressed, as you'll see--but it didn't mean I loved her any less.

I offered to help with this memorial in any way I could. Repeatedly. I was told, repeatedly, that everything was taken care of. My stepdad is a man who says what he means and means what he says. After repeated offerings, can I be blamed for feeling my help was not welcome?

I was told the ballroom in which the service was to be held would not be available until 1:00 on the dot, and further that there would be no "receiving line" because John detested the custom. ("Receiving line" isn't the right phrase for something funereal, but you can perhaps understand what I'm getting at.)

I was in a bit of a fog when we arrived at quarter to one, but something seemed wrong somehow. I couldn't place it. I was too busy steeling myself against what I knew was coming to bother with unknowns, so I set it aside. It was only well after I got home that the penny dropped: The room was PACKED, and there was a long line of people waiting to greet John....somebody actually asked me why I wasn't with him. How to explain it was so clearly not my place to be?

The slideshow that John's sister Ruth prepared was beautiful. The service, considerably less so. It was long and rambling and seemed much more focused on celebrating Christmas and converting people to the faith than it was on anything about my mother. By all means, read Ecclesiastes 3: it's practically required at services like this. By all means, present prayers. But why did we have to hear most of the Gospel of Luke?

Anyway.

Here's what I meant to say today. What, pardon me, I was supposed to say today.


First off, I would like to thank each and every one of you who have come today to celebrate my mom’s life. It means so much to me to see so many people here and know that she has touched all of you, directly or indirectly. Shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased: it’s a great comfort to find joys through the pain. 

 My mom lived several lifetimes in her 67 years. Not all of them were happy lifetimes. She had a full share of pain, to be sure, but also more than its full share of joy, of love given and received, and that’s what I’d like to talk about for a moment. 

 She was one of those people who tried to leave everyone she met better for having met her, and I think she succeeded at that to an amazing degree. Her life was about devotions: a devotion to her husband, John; an evolving and sustaining devotion to God; a devotion to helping people. She had a great affinity for the elderly and the sick; she also loved animals, sharing her life with cats, dogs, and — realizing a lifelong dream — miniature horses. 

 When I think of her, I think of the passions she instilled in me, Mom was a person who knew the power of the written and spoken word, and she transmitted that power to me from an early age. I never lacked for books, which meant I always had my choice of worlds to escape to. 

 And Mom played with words…not always intentionally. One warm and wet Christmas Eve—I would have been about five or so—she was having zero luck trying to get little Kenny to bed. Little Kenny wanted to see Santa Claus. Mom finally managed to get little Kenny tucked in, but then little Kenny heard noises on the roof. “Mommy, Mommy, what’s that noise?” “Go to sleep!”, she said. “It’s just rain, dear.” 

 Anyone who’s groaned over a pun of mine has my Mom to thank for it. 

 Mom taught me how to print. In grade one, I used to write her letters from school, all of which started the same way: 

 Dear Mommy, how are you? I hope that you are fine. I miss you. 

 She taught me cursive writing in third grade after my teacher had all but given up on it. I remember asking Mom if it was called cursive because of how many times I cursed trying to master it. And then in grade four she granted me access to an ancient Royal typewriter, and finally my fingers had a fighting chance of keeping up with my thoughts. She had me helping her with resumes and cover letters soon after. 

 And music. There was always music around my mother, even in silence. No matter how tight money got, she always ensured there was some set aside for piano lessons for me. There is a little of Mom in every note I play, even today. 

 She could be creative in her parenting. One of my earliest memories that I can date with any precision is of me trying to bargain with my mom over the right to suck my thumb. We agreed that I could do it only until I turned four years old. I did NOT agree to the hot mustard she dabbed on my thumb while I slept to make sure I held up my end of the bargain. 

 Also, when I think of my mom, I think of strength. She shared her joys freely but very much preferred to bear her pains alone. She did everything she could to shield me from those pains, right up until the day she died: I called her that very morning and asked her how she was. “I’m good”, she said, and turned the conversation to how I was. . She wasn’t “good”, by any stretch but that was Mom in a nutshell. Sometimes it made it hard to relate to her, and I will regretfully admit that I often kept my distance rather than upset her. I hope she understands. I hope she has forgiven me. 

 Dear Mom, how are you? I hope that you are fine. I miss you.