26 April, 2016

The Day The Music Died

I got some sad news last night. 
Aunt Lynne sent me a link to an Ingersoll Times obituary with the caption "Ken -- is this someone from your past?"
It is. She was.
Claire Martineau, née Panter, was my music teacher in my OAC year at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute. Only one year. More's the pity.

I had crushes on practically everyone in high school, but never a teacher. Until her.

Part of my crush on Miss Panter stemmed from the minuscule eight year age difference (and she seemed younger than that). Part of it came from her telling me to call her Claire when nobody else was around. And she was undoubtedly, as the obituary states, an old soul: caring and compassionate.

But the biggest reason for that crush was musical. Claire Martineau was a wonderful teacher, competent (at least) on every instrument in the band (virtuosic on clarinet), not to mention being a phenomenal guitarist and damn fine piano player. 

Musicians will understand this: there's a bond that forms very quickly when you play together. At its deepest -- if you like the person you're playing with and you like the music you're playing -- it approaches telepathy. It felt that way, anyway, with Miss Panter on guitar and me playing piano. It's a jam session I've never forgotten: we moved seamlessly from Beatles tunes to my own compositions...which she managed to play backup on despite never having heard before. At one point, at the end of a chorus to a song I'd written, I dropped out and let her vamp for a bit. She improvised a bridge that was pure genius and then brought the verse back in a different key: my turn to anticipate, and somehow I knew what she was doing as she did it. 

Exhilarating doesn't even begin to describe it. Playing music like that is almost sexual. 

I played baritone in high school band. If you haven't heard of a baritone, it's basically a smaller (and thus higher-pitched) tuba, and outside of high schools and British brass bands it's almost unheard of. 

This is a very early example of me backing myself into a corner: I got quite proficient on the baritone. Nowhere near as good on my instrument as my friend Craig was on his -- he's a professional trumpeter now, and as far as I was concerned he was then, too. But I wasn't bad: I was certainly good enough to continue on to university for music. Except neither the baritone nor its close cousin the euphonium were recognized instruments. I would have had to start all over on trombone or French horn, and while I was a fair musician, I certainly couldn't pick up anything and be any good at it. 

Miss Panter called for volunteers to go play at a public school (Zorra Highland, as I recall). Only two people stepped forward: Audrey Graham (trumpet) and myself.  Picture 'When The Saints Go Marching In' as a duet between Audrey and I, belted out while marching all over the gym with Miss Panter playing spoons behind us. So much fun.  

The band at IDCI in 1989-90 was the ugly stepsister to the orchestra. The head of the music department at the time didn't seem to consider you a real musician if you didn't play a stringed instrument. I'm very glad to hear there's a jazz band and a guitar ensemble at IDCI now thanks to Claire Martineau. I have little doubt the entire music department is substantially better from having her head it. 

Fifty-two is much too young to die. And the manner of her death -- she had beat leukemia and elected a stem cell treatment to prevent or forestall its return, only to die of graft vs. host disease. Words fail me. 

Mrs. Martineau -- Miss Panter -- I can't even begin to imagine the music you're playing now. Some day I hope we can repeat that jam session and improve on it.

25 April, 2016

"I Could Never Do That"

It's by far the most common reaction people get when they out themselves as polyamorous: so common, in fact, as to be almost universal. "I could never do that." It's sometimes followed by a quick explanation: "I'm the jealous kind", perhaps, or "I'm a one-woman man". And then that's followed, almost always, by "...but if it works for you, more power to you."
Far be it from me to contradict the almost all of you who say "I could never do that", or to imply to any one of you that your words are not sincere. Having observed this reaction dozens of times, to the point where I silently echo it as it's being spoken, perhaps it merely seems like a reflexive defence mechanism to me.  (Not when YOU say it, I repeat...but just maybe when HE does.)

Many people have suggested my polyamory posts haven't elicited a reaction because the subject is taboo, because of any number of personal feelings on polyamory (it's weird! It's wrong!), because people just don't know what to think. Some of them might even be wrestling with the thought that they could be poly (again, I'm not naming a single name here: I have none to name. But if that is you, or could be...)

I believe the universality of the reaction to coming out as polyamorous is more proof of that taboo. I've had quite a gratifying number of people tell me (privately, and in a few cases even publicly) that my poly posts are interesting, even "fascinating", and simmering just underneath the interest is a "but how does it work?" that people are loath to blurt out.

So. Generally speaking:

Loving more than one person at once is dead simple. We all do it, after all...quick: name four people you love right now.


That wasn't hard, was it?

Letting those people love more than just you is also dead simple. Quick: name four people your partner loves.

Been a while since I posted that. I first read it in second grade, thought "of course", and promptly forgot about it. In high school, I could hardly help but notice how jealousy was held in high regard, as proof of love (?!) , and that poem was twigged in my memory, along with another Shel Silverstein effort I never forgot at all:

Of course, the loves you have for those multiple people you love aren't romantic. Nor are the loves your partner has. There's love, see, and then there's romantic love. The proof of romantic love is exclusivity. This is axiomatic: it's been drilled into us at every turn since we were toddlers. The princess must find her prince: he must be male, he should be dashing and brave, and it goes without saying there must only be one of him.

I have this mental tic: if somebody says "it goes without saying", I immediately ask why. George Carlin taught me that. So did Robert Heinlein; so did several other writers and thinkers I respect and admire.

I've generally found that the world is going right to hell on the road of unexamined assumptions. "The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, that's just the way it is." "They hate us because of our freedom." "She's fat because she's lazy and ignorant." "My God is better than your God."  Oh yeah? Sez who?

This is the polyamory flag, designed by Jim Evans. Blue represents honesty and openness; red, passion; and black, solidarity with those who have had to fight for recognition and equality. The pi in the center has a double meaning: the Greek letter pi is the first letter in 'polyamory' and...at the risk of sounding cheesy:

It is my belief, backed up by most of a lifetime of experience, that love is NOT like money, despite the fact it is very often treated exactly that way. Many of us have a scarcity model of love: any love I give to you is not available to give to someone else. 

"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart/
The very next day, you gave it away/
This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special"...

Ugh, I hate that carol. But look at those lines closely. She gave him (the lyrics elsewhere suggest it's probably a him, though not necessarily) her heart last Christmas. But mysteriously, even though he went and gave it away (the very next day! to whom? How does that even work?) ... she's still got her heart! She's giving it to someone else this year! How did that happen, I thought she gave it away! Hmmm, maybe it's possible to 'give someone your heart' AND STILL HAVE IT to give to someone else.

Funny, the things you find when you really look.

 Love is wonderfully strange in that the more you give away, the more you have to give. Come at life from a perspective of abundant love and you really start to notice how loveable so many people are, how deserving of love. And what I find heart-wrenching: most of the truly loveable people I've met have no idea they are that way. They think, instead, that they are worthless. I so want to hold these people,  for an hour or a night, and get a start on convincing them otherwise. If I can love them -- and I do -- then others can, too.  And you know what makes me happy? When they discover that's true for themselves. Showing someone she's loveable and seeing the light kindle in her eyes...I live for that.

Now, the reason most people give that they could never live like this is that they are too prone to jealousy. I find that very interesting, because I don't really understand it. 

I'm not kidding. I'd really like someone to explain it to me. See, here's how I see it. Let's say your partner works and you don't, or on a day you don't. She goes off to work and leaves you alone for eight or nine or ten hours. Unless you are truly deranged (and I think even the most devoutly monogamous person can agree this would be insane)...you don't get jealous of the time she's spending at work. She might even be friends with other men at work and it might not have even crossed your mind to be jealous. 

Then she comes home, has supper with you -- lovely meal -- and she goes out with some girlfriends. Again, you're not jealous: they're 'just girlfriends'. 

(If she happens to be bisexual, there's a whole lot wrong with your dismissive attitude: who's to say a relationship with another woman can't be a threat to your own? Many males, especially towards the alpha end of the spectrum, never even consider that. There's a whole other post there and I'd trying to make the opposite point about threats to your relationship anyway, so I'll let it go for now.) 

Now. Let's suppose further that this is her routine for weeks on end, and it gets to the point where she's skipping supper with you most nights and truth be told, not even really there when she IS in front of you. Now you're jealous...and you have every right and reason to be. You are being neglected, possibly even being treated as a doormat. Nobody deserves that, least of all you! 

That's jealousy's function. It's an alarm that trips when you're feeling insecure. Sometimes that insecurity is warranted, as in the case above where you're being virtually ignored and taken for granted. Often, though, it isn't. Often you may be feeling insecure and you've got no reason to. She's just at work, making money to support you both, and enjoying her career. She's just out with the girls, having fun.

She's just with another man.

Whoa, whoa, where did that come from, that's no good, why is there a JUST there, holy shit this is the end of the world---

Calm down a second. Have some dip. Remember this is not happening, this is a hypothetical exercise we're running here--

--Jesus Jesus Jesus she doesn't love me I'm not good enough what the almighty fuck--

(30 minutes later)

Okay. Let's look at this rationally. 

If she's with another guy (or girl: I really don't want to be heterosexist here)  and she hasn't told you that this was happening or even a possibility, yep, your freakout is completely justified. This would be cheating. It happens, inexplicably, in poly relationships too. Some people just gotta be arseholes, I guess. 


Suppose your relationship is structured such that this is acceptable provided you know about it and have consented to it (remember: multiple committed relationships with the KNOWLEDGE AND CONSENT of ALL involved).

First off, what does that look like in practice? Depends on the relationship, of course, but in general it's no different than if she's going out with the girls. "I'm seeing Billy-Bob tonight, I think we're doing dinner somewhere and then maybe a movie". Or "remember, honey, tonight's my sleepover night". I am aware of no case in which it's "Eleanor's going to sit on my face for a while  and then I'm going to drill her into next July". We're poly, not cuckolds. Each relationship has its own space....even for those polyfidelitous trios and quads who live under the same roof, each relationship has its own space and those spaces are respected or things get VERY messy, VERY quickly. 

If this is your relationship structure, do you still have a reason to be jealous?

Maybe he's better in bed than I am. Maybe he's a better provider. Maybe he's stronger. Maybe maybe maybe.

Yes, maybe he is. And the funny thing is that he's saying the same about you and he's right, just like you're right. This isn't either/or, this is both/and. There is no better or worse, there is different. Your friends like different things and you do different things with them. Lovers are the same. You cherish each person for who they are while they are with you. 

Maybe he'll decide to leave me.

Yep, maybe he will. He could die in a car crash on the way home from work today and the end effect would be the same as far as you're concerned. He could have decided to leave you at the end of that last argument you had, remember that one? You were both stomping around the house for hours, not speaking to each other. But he didn't leave and neither did you because you both make the choice every day to honour the commitment you made to each other all those years ago. So he has other commitments. So do you. What, you can only have one commitment in life?

I will say this on a personal note. My marriage is not a prison: Eva's free to go at any time and so am I. We both know it: we agreed to it before we got married (and we were, for all intents and purposes, married on our third date). Should that happen (and seventeen years after that third date I'd rate those chances as exceedingly unlikely), of course I'd be sad, angry, quite possibly jealous as hell. But fight to hold someone back when it no longer serves them to be in this relationship as it currently exists? I could never do that to another human being, much less one I love as much as I love my wife. 

But...but....right now she could be sharing an intimate moment. Right NOW, while I'm sitting here alone. Maybe he's fucking her brains out right now and she's in orbit somewhere and I can't get that picture out of my head.

I wish I had written this song. This is my philosophy of love set to  music. Every...single...line of it is pure perfection. The answer to virtually any problem that can come up in a polyamorous relationship can be solved conclusively by the conscientious application of one or another verse in this song.

"You love to hear me sing even if you didn't write the note/
I love to hear you laugh even if I didn't tell the joke"

That's called 'compersion' or 'mudita': joy unadulterated by self-interest. It is the opposite of jealousy and it's something that comes naturally to some polyamorous people and can be learned by others.  Are you happy he's happy? Shared joy, remember, is multiplied. If you're not happy she's happy, you're jealous. Is that jealousy reasonable or not? Probably not.

Which again doesn't mean you should just stopper up your own needs. NOBODY IN ANY RELATIONSHIP, mono or poly, SHOULD EVER FEEL TAKEN FOR GRANTED. That's where that justified jealousy comes in. 
And so, if it gets a bit much (and it will: NRE ("new relationship energy") is a bucking bronco)... you talk. Pssst...hey, sweetie, over here. I'm glad you're enjoying your time with her, but don't forget about me. 
It's a balancing act, no different from work and home life, or making sure each of your children knows he's loved.  Maybe a bit more complicated now and again, but no different. Many poly people are aware of the lonelies and try to schedule their dates at the same time their partners are occupied elsewhere. Many others just appreciate the time to themselves. 

Living in this poly bubble, I easily forget that this is not normal, that other people find it strange and even a bit intimidating. (Sad, that: there shouldn't be anything intimidating about love.) My goal in writing this, as with all my poly blogs, is to get people THINKING about polyamory. There are many people who are hard-wired monogamous and happy being that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there are just as many, possibly more, people, who are monogamous by default: who feel an "extra" attraction and stifle it because it goes without saying that's wrong and it means I love my partner less or don't really love him at all.

Those unexamined assumptions are the source of so much pain in the world...

If a girl asks you to dance-then dance with the girl.
If it feels right, then you should hold hands with the girl. 
'Cause I believe that god is love and love she keeps telling me
to step back, relax and deconstruct your jealousy.
'Cause jealousy is fear--some days I'm scared of losing you:
 but you and I are free to leave if we choose to!
I'm taking down the bricks of this invisible wall,
and when the wind of love blows, now we both can feel it all...

"Can't Help But Fly" (The Poly Song)
Naima Infinity

23 April, 2016

Food and Drink

"'Shall I tell you the saddest words I ever heard?'...
'I always wanted to go there...and do that...but I never did.'
'To go what place, Mordecai? To do what thing?'
But Mordecai said no more. He was dead.
'I am sorry, Mirza Esther.'
'So am I. So was he. Here was a man in the very last flicker of his life, lamenting something that had once piqued his curiosity, but he had neglected to go and see it or do it or have it -- and now he never could.'...
Hoping to make her feel better, I said, 'But if he had seized the chance, you might be sorrier now. I have noticed that sinful temptations abound in these lands. In all lands, I suppose. I myself once had to confess to a priest for having too freely followed where my curiosity led me --'
'Confess it if you must, but do not ever abjure it or ignore it. That is what I am trying to tell you. If a man is to have a fault, it should be a passionate one, like insatiable curiosity. It would be a pity to be damned for something paltry.'
--THE JOURNEYER, Gary Jennings


My faults are anything but passionate. My lack of passion is actually, probably, my biggest fault of all. It's laziness mixed with risk aversion, and its effects are noticeable in my life to anyone with half an eye to look. It even trickles down into my eating and drinking habits.

I like comfort food. I like food and drink that I already know I like (particularly when I have to pay money for it). My palette is bland, boring, meat-and-potatoes:  the essence of old WASP.

I'm not a teetotaller, but you can count my alcohol servings per year on one finger, usually...and sometimes you don't even half to lift that finger. That's because I've been seriously drunk once, and something happened that would never have happened to me sober. That I actually enjoyed it was even more unnerving, because I like to plan my enjoyments and be in control of myself when they happen. What excess alcohol does to me is take my inner risk analyst, bind him head and foot, and shove him in a room deep in my spine, where I can't even hear him screaming.
Before you ask, yes, I can handle my liquor: it took a nontrivial amount of it to subdue Mr. Risk Analyst. I distinctly remember thinking, "um, I should definitely be feeling drunk along about now" and it still being half an hour before I suddenly did. And quite often, when I do venture out of my gustatory comfort zone, I discover I enjoy foods I never thought I'd try. But Mr. Risk Analyst insists on chittering at me that just means you're overdue for something gross and disgusting. Don't try anything else, you might hate it.

Well, you know what? Enough of that. That attitude is so deeply engrained I have no idea if it's fully removable... but it can be subdued. And sometimes it should be.

Eva and Mark and I went to the Waterloo Region Food and Drink Show this evening (not sure how long that link will be live: the show ends tomorrow). It was held at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium -- "The Aud" -- and I figured it would be an excellent time to take some small steps into the odd, at least for me.

This food show wasn't anything to rival the scale of the Good Food Festival that used to take place at the International Center in Mississauga. We went to that one three years running, and each year it declined: more money to get in, less free stuff, until one year it wasn't worth it anymore. I'm not the only one who felt that way, because it seems as if that show no longer exists. The first year, though, you honestly felt like you were scamming the vendors with their eager permission and participation.

But back to the here and now:  there were quite a few local restaurants and purveyors of gourmet food, along with craft beers, wines, and spirits of all sorts.
We figured on going there around suppertime, thinking the crowds might be a little more manageable. If that was indeed the case, I'm glad we didn't go at any other time, because ugh. I used to be a people person, but then people ruined that for me. The noise crashed in on me from all angles, making it impossible for me to discern whatever it was Eva just said to me. And that hubbub was leavened not at all by a squealing saxophone (on one side of the Aud) and a bluesy swagger of a guitarist (on the other). You won't often hear me say this, but the music could have up and gone away and improved the general atmosphere.

But the food. And the drink.

Pulled pork is evidently The Thing this year: it was everywhere. At least seven vendors I saw were offering pulled pork on a bun for a token or two. I like pulled pork, I liked the pulled pork I tried, and...okay, let's move on to something more interesting.

Zoup. I have heard amazing things about this place in uptown Waterloo, but never gone. The soups on offer at the feswere chicken pot pie, tomato basil and lobster bisque.
Everybody, including me, was expecting me to go for the chicken pot pie. That's the epitome of comfort food. There was no risk at all involved in it: I knew I'd love it. Eva and Mark both got some of it, and I opened my mouth and said

"Lobster bisque, please."

Then I hurriedly slapped a gag on Mr. Risk Analyst, who was bleating something about how I'd never tried anything like this, the closest thing I'd ever had to it was clam chowder, what if I hate it, I just wasted my m--"

It was good. It was really good. Creamy, redolent of the sea, a little bit of pepper that actually seemed to enhance the flavour rather than drown it (and that in and of itself was something of a revelation to me: my atttitude towards spice can charitably be called get it the fuck away from me.)

I almost can't wait for winter again just so I have a climactic excuse to go in to Zoup for some hot creamy goodness. (That sounds dirty...what can I say. It's basically a mouthgasm.) I'm not sure hot and sticky weather lends itself to a soup place. Hmmm. Something to think about. I may not be able to wait that long.

Incidentally, I did get to try the chicken pot pie soup (one of the nice benefits of a wife who has gone through weight loss surgery is that even the samples are too big for her and I get a bite or two of anything she tries. It was every bit as good as I expected...which put it on par with the stuff I'd never tried before.

It is not easy for me to haul ass out of bed at the equivalent of three in the morning to go to a place full of babbling crowds and eat food that isn't breakfast. I was trying not to fall asleep. Out of the corner of one drooping eye appeared something called "bulletproof coffee." Sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

Now, I share the world's addiction to go juice...but it has to be heavily adulterated  for me to be able to drink it. Story here if you're sick of this one already. My standard coffee prescription is now three cream, one sugar, and in a pinch I can get by without any sugar at all. But that cream is essential, because black coffee tastes like a giant cup of asshole.

I inquired as to what this bulletproof coffee was, and was told it was high octane beans -- "no mould"...

Mould in my coffee? This put me queasily in stomach of the day I found out what's in  cheap vanilla (DON'T READ THIS IF YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT THAT YOUR STORE-BOUGHT VANILLA ICE CREAM HAS BEAVER TAINT JUICE IN IT).

But she said this bulletproof coffee did NOT have mould in it: just high quality beans and assorted fatty oils. Nobody mentioned the butter, but that would have actually been a nice buttery selling point.

She told me to come back in a few minutes, as the coffee had to steep. And when I returned and exchanged four tokens for a goodish size cup...I didn't see any colouring agents. Or sugar or sweetener, for that matter. There were people pressing in on me like those trash compactor walls in the first Star Wars movie and I had to get some air before I suffocated and well I guess I'm going to try black coffee.

Have you ever taken a tentative sip of something, expecting to spit it across the room, only to find out it tasted absolutely nothing like you expected? For a minute you hate it anyway, and then you get a rush of brains to the head and you think wait a minute, this doesn't taste like hate, this tastes like...good.

Really good. As good or better than my Tim Horton's or McCafé with a whack of cream.
Now...was it the butter? Butter makes everything better, right? Was it the fact I've never had a quality cuppa in my life? Dear God, let me not turn into a coffee snob.

Moving on: let's have some alcohol. The sedative effect will counteract the caffeine stimulant. Here are some vodka coolers...I've had those before, they're good, I'll get one of th--


--e nice big glasses of blueberry wine over there.

Oh, dear, this stuff is intoxicating.  In more than one sense of the word. Surprisingly complex flavour: blueberry is just one part of it. I want more. I want. I want! This stuff is positively lush-ious!

Money isn't such that I can easily afford a wine habit. But I'm going to create one. A small one. Because that was worth it.

I'm kind of proud of myself. These were trivial departures for me, but the journey of a thousand miles does begin with a single bite. Or sip, as it were.

Thank you, Eva and Mark. That was a wonderful evening.

21 April, 2016

Back By Rather Popular Demand


Two people privately messaged me on Facebook in the past two weeks telling me "it's a shame" I wouldn't be posting any more blogs about polyamory.
Everything I said here  is true. I have no least wish to throw my polyamory in people's faces, and there is a great deal to be said for simply living my life quietly and upending assumptions that way.

But also: I got the distinct impression I was making people uncomfortable.

I write primarily for me. But any writer would be a liar if he said he didn't crave feedback. And I've noticed over the last two years that my poly posts have attracted my highest readership numbers...but less than zero reaction.

Now, if I had self-esteem coming out the proverbial wazoo, I would tell myself those posts do such a good job at explaining things and reassuring people I'm not a ravening sex maniac out to sabotage their monogamous relationships that nobody feels the need to comment.
That's not what I tell myself. Instead, I imagine that people don't want to engage on this topic because it disturbs them. And so I thought maybe it's best if I just retire the topic.

Then the aforementioned two people messaged me, and I thought, hmmm. How many others feel the same way?

Last night I read John Michael Greer's latest blog (completely unrelated topic) and saw this:

Straight talk about uncomfortable subjects has been this blog’s bread and butter since I first started posting just shy of ten years ago, so I’ve had some experience with the way that blog readers squirm. Normally, when I touch on a hot-button issue, readers who find that subject too uncomfortable go out of their way to act as though I haven’t mentioned it at all. 

ding ding ding

I'd better check. And so I asked on Facebook.

The response was unequivocal. People do want to read about polyamory. Folks who had never before commented on my timeline told me so.

If you're not one of those people who wants to read about polyamory,  I'm going to say something very un-Ken-like.

Too bad.

And if you are one of those people and you're looking for prurient private details, to you I ALSO say "too bad". I take privacy seriously.



There are any number of assumptions monogamous people make about people like me. I've covered several before that have to do with people ignoring one or more elements of the definition of polyamory: the philosophy and practice of maintaining multiple

  • committed
  • loving
relationships with the
  • knowledge
  • consent
of all involved. 

The commitment is probably the biggest thing that gets missed, but it's also kind of incredible how many people insist that it has to be cheating. 

But there's a whole other class of assumptions I haven't touched on, that have to do with polyamory in general. Here are a couple:


There is no evidence that monogamy is better in terms of relationship longevity, happiness, health, sexual satisfaction, or emotional intimacy. There is also no evidence that polyamory is better. So you may as well go with what feels best to you – and your partner(s).

Everyone seems to know somebody who tried some sort of open relationship and it went kablooey. Everybody also knows of monogamous relationships that did the same thing: most of us have, in fact, lived through more then one of those. But because poly is 'different', it's seen as inherently unstable. It isn't.


Most people imagine that any open relationship must be just chock-full of drama...probably because they can't imagine opening their own without calling down the apocalypse. The reality is that ANY relationship is only as dramatic as the people in it. Drama signals a communication issue, or a respect/trust issue, and that holds true no matter whether you are mono or poly, open or closed.

Polyamory does add some layers of complexity, of course. In a typical mono partnership there are only three relationships:


(Your relationship with yourself is critical to your relationship with others).

Add just one person and you've suddenly got SEVEN relationships:


...and it ramps up from there. Of course, not every relationship there must be as close as every other, but the essence of polyamory is that all relationships are recognized and respected.

It can be a challenge. And that's why it's important  to date within your species. Mono/poly relationships do exist and can work, but they're Ph.D. level for all involved. Much easier if everyone's maybe not on the same page, but at least in the same book.

Dating sites haven't really figured out polyamory yet.

OKCupid, by far the most poly-friendly of the large dating sites, is just as clueless as any other. Here's how OKCupid works: you answer a whole bunch of questions for yourself, and then indicate what answers to the same questions you would accept from a prospective partner.  You select how important the question is to you (a little, somewhat, or very) ... and that's it.

The questions are extremely wide-ranging. Your attitudes on everything from bondage to communism to video games are probed. The site is poly-friendly only because there are questions regarding  jealousy (man, some people think it's a necessary component of love!) and open relationships in general. But the bug (or feature) of polyamory is that any single relationship need not provide everything. Unless you're looking for carbon copies of your existing relationship, it poses a bit of an issue.

 I hate to use the sexual as an example, because damnit there's more to this than sex, but it really is a perfect illustration.

"Are you kinky?

  • Bring it on! Break out those whips and chains!
  • I'm not all that experienced, but I have an open mind.
  • Umm,  I really should be going now."
Now, I know how I'd answer that question for myself: my biggest kink (other than being polyamorous, it seems) is just how vanilla I am. But I happen to know two things: 1) there is a HUGE overlap between the poly and kink communities and 2) most kinky people do appreciate vanilla on occasion. So how do I rate that in terms of answers I'll accept from others? And what level of importance is this, really, given that any prospective partner is perfectly free to go exercise their kinks as needed? The same holds true for more innocent things like adventurous eating, or art exhibition vs. academic panel, or what have you. I might have a preference for myself, but I'm not going to impose my preference on you.

You know what *really* stings? The 95% and 96% matches--there are a couple of them like this--who absolutely will not consider an open relationship. I try not to look too closely at those people, because I'll just be wisted away. So much in common, so much to offer...and off limits. 

(I won't lie. There are people in my life I wish were poly, But they aren't, and I am, so that's that.)

At any rate. This is part of My Poly Life. Part of who I am, part of how I see the world. I'm not an "either/or", person...I'm more of a "both/and". As such, it suddenly occurs to me that I can still write, passionately, about polyamory AND simply live it quietly as proof it can work.

Thank you, folks, for being willing (in some cases, even eager!) to read my poly prattle. 

18 April, 2016

Assisted Suicide

Euthanasia-- from the Greek eu 'well, good' + thanatos 'death'.

I could just end this blog here and you'd fully grasp my opinion on the matter. Because I suffer from logorrhea (more Greek: logos 'word' + rhoia 'flow'), I won't.

I understand why abortion is a difficult topic: on one side you have people who believe everyone has an inalienable right to be born, without regard to the circumstances they're born into, and on the other you've got people talking about women's rights over their own bodies and completely sidestepping the developing body inside. I've staked out a middle ground on that one: personally I'm not highly keen on abortion but I would never, ever seek to make my choice (that's what pro-life is, a choice) the law of the land.

At the other end, though? I draw a blank as to why there's even debate about assisted suicide. It's very, very hard not to characterize one side of this particular debate as a bunch of amoral monsters. The funny thing is, those amoral monsters seem to consider euthanasia itself amoral and monstrous.

I don't get it. It's a full-on mental block.

Damnit, we euthanize pets. You don't walk into work the day after you put your old dog down and face outrage, do you? It's a hard decision, determining exactly when that pet's quality of life has ebbed to the point where they're better off dead--and it hurts like hell to make it, but make it we do. There aren't gangs of rogue vets with needles going around killing off dogs once they hit the age of ten, and I'm unaware of any lobby group suggesting that vets should be going to jail for murdering defenceless animals.

But turn the pet into your grandmother, or your father, or any other human being and all of a sudden these people come out of the woodwork saying no! This person must suffer, and suffer, and suffer long beyond the point when the pain is unbearable! Not matter how they feel about it! Oh, they'll let you know when it's time for them to die! They'll do it by....dying! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! 

Sorry for the evil mastermind chortle, but c'mon. Doesn't that seem like the plot of some kind of torture porn? Saw XIII, perhaps, set in "Mercy" General Hospital?

It's good that our country has finally recognized that our lives are our own (whose else would they be, after all) and this includes our deaths. Long ago I determined that if I'm ever unable to communicate and unable to even recognize my loved ones, I want out. And if I've been rendered incapable of seeing myself out, well, then, somebody's going to have to give me a hand.

The problem is that in this draft legislation, my feelings on my own death are still legally irrelevant. There is no 'advanced consent' written in. To get the right to assisted suicide, I must be a mentally competent adult,  suffering "intolerably", and my death must be "reasonably foreseeable".

So if I develop spinal stenosis, the disease that afflicted the woman behind this legislation in the first place, I'm S.O.L. Stenosis is excruciating...but not fatal. You can live with it for years. You might call it living. Kay Carter didn't. Neither do I.

"Reasonably foreseeable?" Tell you something, friends and neighbours, I'm not sure about your immortality, but for me, my death was "reasonably foreseeable" the instant I was born. (Actually, in my case, well before. I beat some odds just getting into this world.)

So let's talk about those odds, that miraculous cure. They do happen, through mechanisms we don't understand. Prayer (or meditation, which in my belief system is the same thing) may even be one of those mechanisms: the scientific studies of the efficacy of prayer are fatally flawed seventeen different ways. How exactly do you measure the reverence of the praying person? Or the reverence of she who is prayed for?  How do you reliably measure the effort of prayer or meditation, which in religious and philosophical traditions is absolutely critical to its outcome? And what if the soul you're praying for has determined it's time to move on? (I happen to believe this is the case in each and every death: yes, even "accidental" death or "wrongful" death. I have no scientific basis for this belief: I can't. Nevertheless, I believe). Can prayers then be said to be 'immoral'? Do 'immoral' prayers work?

Sorry, a little die-gression there.

Miraculous events do occur. I wouldn't bank on one myself. But that's just it; I'm talking about myself here. MY life. MY death. MY terms. You bloody bet it's selfish: Self-ish, as opposed to "everybody else-ish". You are perfectly free to make your own terms up: if you derive some unknown pleasure from suffering intolerably, who am I to take that away from you? And who are you to say I must share your fate?

Eight in ten Canadians support advanced consent for assisted suicide. (Poll was commissioned by Dying With Dignity, through Ipsos Reid and is available at the link if you want to dispute methodology.) Frankly, this is one of those issues where it wouldn't matter if support were at EIGHT per cent...because, quite simply, the other 92% would never have to worry about it.

People on the other side are acting very much as if the option of euthanasia necessarily means the obligation to undergo it. I've never understood this widespread mental quirk. I saw it with gay marriage: opponent after opponent said gay marriage somehow 'devalued' their 'traditional' marriage (without ever once explaining how). It was as if the push for marriage equality was really a covert attempt to outlaw straight marriage. Ludicrous.

Let me live and  let me die on my own time and terms, and I will permit you the same.

And there's an end to it.

17 April, 2016

Ken's Idea of Maxim Magazine

Parental Advisory: explicit content, etc. 

Back around the time Eva and I married in 2000, I had a subscription to MAXIM magazine. I may have been the only subscriber in their database that never looked closely at the pictures, let alone let the women in those pictures into his fantasy world. (Paper, they all taste like paper...) 
MAXIM, before it declined like most print magazines as the world shifted online en masse, was a treasure trove of interesting articles, ribald jokes, and vicarious living. Even without getting the pictures all sticky, I got a lot out of each issue. 

Now, it's a pale shadow of its former self. The pictures are still there, of course: gods forbid the male of the species be deprived of his visual aids.

Why do you humans--men and women--fantasize about people you stand zero chance of ever meeting? How does that even work? Doesn't your mind short-circuit the fantasy as Kate Winslet says "ah, you must be Ken, I've been just dying to finally meet you!" in that sultry voice of hers...then she drops to her knees, pouts ever so sexily, and THIS CAN NEVER HAPPEN ABSOLUTELY NOT BZZZT BZZZT BZZZT

(And even if it did happen, ha-ha, I don't even *know* her. For all I know she has an utterly repulsive personality. Not only would I never meet her, not only would she never do...anything...if I did, if against every odd that ever was I met her and she wanted me, I wouldn't even be able to summon the requisite upswelling of emotion so necessary for other upswellings to occur. That's three levels of impossibility. I may as well fantasize about sex with the mermaids of Mars.)


There's nothing to MAXIM anymore: it's just another celebrity rag-mag infused with some testosterone. 

The Maxim magazine I'd love to read nowadays would be full of...maxims. I'd do a whole issue on "shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased -- thus do we refute Entropy".  I'd  have articles about maxims from other cultures, and how cultural experience influences pithy sayings and the other way around. On the bottom of each I'd have contronyms, which I find fascinating: words that have opposite meanings. How did "fine" get to mean both "excellent" and just "good enough"? If you say something's "finished", you might mean it's completed...or it's destroyed. A "handicap" is an advantage in golf and a disadvantage everywhere else. There are dozens, scores of these things. "To screen" means to present...or to conceal; to "weather" means to stand up to or to wear away from...somebody slap me...

Anyway, many of my favourite maxims have to do with love and relationships. Here are a few:

"The people in the relationship matter more than the relationship"
--Veaux and Rickert, MORE THAN TWO

This one is counterintuitive at first glance. After all, longevity in relationships is often prized, and this seems to be suggesting that the form of the relationship isn't really all that important.  
I believe this to be true. More: I believe that focusing on people rather than the relationship you're in with them is the surest way to sustain that relationship. If you start viewing the relationship as more important than the person, depending on where you are, you might
  • "settle" for someone who is not right for you
  • take the person for granted
  • hold someone too close, making a prison of your partnership
...none of which are good for you or your partner.

Related: "Relationships are not needs-fulfillment machines" (I THINK that one's original to me, but I can't be sure.

This, too, runs against Mother Culture's wisdom. How many songs have you heard with variants of "you're all I ever need" or "you complete me" in them? The song on the radio may think it's about love, but usually it's about the opposite: competition, obsession, ownership and entitlement. 

YOU ARE A COMPLETE PERSON IN AND OF YOURSELF. SO IS YOUR PARTNER. Don't ever start thinking otherwise: relationships are supposed to be interdependent, not co-dependent.  I think as soon as you start looking to your partner to get your needs met, you're setting your relationship up to fail. 

(This is not to say that you can't complement each other: ideally, you probably should. But nothing kills a relationship faster than expectations.)

"Sex without love is merely healthy exercise"
--Robert A. Heinlein

I could have chosen any number of Heinlein love quotes here: he, perhaps more than anyone else, has shaped my attitudes on love.  Spider Robinson, a disciple of Heinlein's and the source of Callahan's Law above ("shared pain is lessened"), phrased it

 "we weren't making love, we were fucking. Nothing wrong with that...just not enough right with it."

Nobody ever said exercise was bad for you. And sex as exercise is considerably less painful than other varieties. But loveless sex...there's just so much missing there. 

Maybe it's just that I've never had it. I have to at least like somebody a whole lot (or fool myself into doing so)  to even allow a situation where sex could conceivably occur. I picture sex, robbed of love, to be a perfuctory (sorry), rather clinical thing, rather like...porn. Fake. Meaningless. Quite frankly, that may have been where the saying "boring as fuck" came from.  I try not to do anything involving another person from just one level of consciousness, much less the body level: that's for things like elimination and sneezing: two other things I think of when I imagine what sex without love must be like. Oh, wow, a genital sneeze, how...charming.

I submit that I may well be missing out somewhere on this, because sex for the sake of sex is intensely enjoyable for most men and more than a few women. And I would never judge, much less shame, someone for an act I don't even understand. But it's a game I'm not interested in playing. I'm not really a game-player.

And I live by a variant of Dan Savage's Campsite Rule: Leave each person in a better state than you found them. That's sometimes a serious challenge, and I don't always succeed. But I never stop trying. 

08 April, 2016

I hate television

I'm not sure I've ever conveyed just how much I hate television.

I watched my fair share of cartoons and Sesame Street as a small child, but after that 'family time' often meant sitting on the couch watching TV. I'm sure you can relate.

I couldn't. Not when actually, I don't know, talking to my family during the show would get me shushed until the next commercial.

That's at least one improvement: no commercials any more. Amazing that it took so long for people to realize they were paying for their television twice. Three times, actually: once to buy the device, a monthly fee to make it something other than a large brick and then the wasted time sitting through pitches for products you have less than zero interest in.

My attitude has only hardened over time. I remember working Christmas Eve at Green Gables, the variety store my mom ran for a while, two doors from my house in Ingersoll. EVERY movie was rented, the only time that ever even came close to happening. Everything from the kiddie stuff through to the limited selection of hummina-hummina-bow-chicka-bow-bow. That just flabbergasted me, especially the porn. Merry Christmas, sir, enjoy your copy of "Santa Comes Twice" (1984) (yes, it's real and it even stars Ron Jeremy in the title role).

Television as babysitter I get. But, you know, at some point we grow up. Or we're supposed to.

When I say I hate TV, people immediately correct me and tell me that no, I hate what's on TV. They're only barely right, because there have been shows I've liked, even loved. I can think of exactly four series that I had to drop whatever I was doing to watch. In reverse chronological order:
  • Game of Thrones
  • Mrs. Brown's Boys
  • Joan of Arcadia
  • Star Trek: TNG
Four shows. In my entire adult life.

Beyond that there have been a bevy of programs I would pay varying amounts of attention to, from listening just enough to know what's going on (Friends) to actually watching most of a majority of the episodes (Family Guy -- Seth MacFarlane has a direct pipeline into my sense of humour). I liked many episodes of Frasier, but by no means all. And if you told me I could never watch any of this second tier of shows ever again, I'd shrug and say "no problem".

And then there are seemingly hundreds of shows which I actively try to avoid, usually by putting my headphones on or otherwise zoning out.  That happens a lot in this house, because Eva has the TV on  before her eyes open in the morning and it goes off (sometimes) after she shuts them at night. I used to think it was just because she had an abiding hatred for silence. That's true, but it goes beyond that. She's been conditioned since earliest childhood -- like, fetalhood -- to have that TV on at all times.

The things that reliably cause me to zone out are legion. Here are a few:

  • REALLY ANNOYING VOICES. Any sour, nasal whine will do it.  Fran Drescher's in The Nanny is the absolute worst: it cuts right through whatever music I hastily crank up to mask it, and  it makes me want to put icepicks in my ears and run out of the house. Dishonourable mention: the actor who plays Robert in Everybody Loves Raymond (blow your nose already, buddy!)
  • PAIN MASQUERADING AS COMEDY. That rules out most sitcoms right there. The few comedies I can at least tolerate, from The Simpsons to That '70s Show  to The Big Bang Theory, all have an unmistakeable undercurrent of love running through them.  That's missing elsewhere, and watching people hurt each other never seemed funny to me.
  • SELF-EMBARRASSMENT. Frasier is an interesting case study here. It has some of the funniest half hours I've ever sat through...but it also has many episodes I can't stand. Whenever Frasier Crane acts like a complete douchecanoe, which is fairly often, I tune out. 
  • I really hesitate to write this...how shall we put this... okay, fine. SHOWS STARRING CARICATURES OF BLACK PEOPLE. Eva has a real fascination for these things, for some reason. I hate to admit to outright racism, even if everyone's a little bit racist...it's just that the scripts for so many of these shows are replete with Ebonics, which drives me up a wall (let me ax you a question: is it so hard to say "ask"?) Makes me seem petty, I know...so don't get me started on African-American standup comedians. From Eddie Murphy right on down, most of them can't seem to go half a sentence without saying either nigger or motherfucker. I'm not a prude by any means, but swearing for the sake of swearing doesn't impress me at all.
  • Finally, the big one: "REALITY" TV. Thankfully, that virus hasn't invaded this house, not even a little: my wife shares my disdain for shows like Survivor (wanna make that show worth watching? Drop a few grizzlies in there, give me something to cheer for!) or Slut Island or whatever the latest "reality" craze is. The fact that these shows have crowded out actual worthwhile television (can anyone tell me what TLC *used* to stand for?) is just foamy bile in the vomit. 
I'm not a real fan of TV news, either. It's sensationalist, thoroughly contaminated with the 'if it bleeds, it leads' mode of thought so common in trashy tabloid newspapers, and it tends to present only one or at best two sides of a story. 

Fred Kovacs said TV was "called a medium because it's neither rare nor well done." Bill Hicks said "watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye".  I've written more than one essay on the evils of the boob tube over my scholastic career: not to brag, but each one has netted me very high marks, probably because the teacher/professor can sense the passion I have for my topic. 
In one of my essays, I looked at the effects of television on Inuit youth.  TV came late to the Inuit (not until the fall of 1980) and so sociologists were granted the rare opportunity to watch the fallout of a technology they themselves may have taken for granted.
That fallout wasn't pretty. In a very short time, Inuit youth -- previously co-operative, community-minded, comparatively peaceable and without any real concept, let alone experience, of materialism --  became individualistic and hostile towards their elders and each other to the point of violence. Television rapidly subverted out their values, even their language (it wasn't until much later that all the programming wasn't in English!) and made the Inuit aware of the vast difference in standards of living between Northern and Southern Canada. Researchers have called TV "an agent of cultural genocide". 

Now, you can turn around and accuse me of the rankest sort of hypocrisy because I spend hours upon hours online, in front of a screen that's not much different from that of a television (in fact, my monitor was originally the kitchen TV). 

Point taken, except...it's not called "intervision". TV is passive: you sit, you absorb. The most you can do is change the channel. If I see something online that catches my attention, I can go into as much or as little depth as I want researching it. I can also (big plus, this) interact with friends, family, and total strangers online, hopefully getting access to all sorts of points of view. And virtual hugs, can't forget those. They're not real hugs but they're a damn sight better than anything on television.

This is Ken Breadner, signing off (remember when THAT happened on television?)

04 April, 2016

The Truth

If you're a reader, chances are you can think of at least two or three transformational, unforgettable novels you've read at some point in your life... which nobody else has ever heard of. They may be lesser known works by authors who latter attained a level of celebrity (The Grid, by Philip Kerr,  is one such for me); they may be by relative nobodies.
James L Halperin published something in 1996 called The Truth Machine. Free, 100% legal (no lie!) download here. I remember thinking the premise looked interesting: suppose somebody invented at 100% reliable lie detector, something that (eventually) would become as ubiquitous in the novel's world as cellphones are in ours. Posit that it's utterly foolproof.

What would the world look like?

Halperin's writing is pedestrian at best (though he acknowledges this right away using a novel excuse: it's actually an "Intel 22gCP' computer crafting the prose). But the concepts...the possibilities...

I've never forgotten the book. And if you ask me in which fictional world I'd most like to live, I'd...

...well, I'd lie. I'd lie and say the Callahan's Place world of Spider Robinson (a series only slightly better known, more's the pity: it SHOULD be as popular as Harry Potter). The reason I'd lie is simple: nobody would have any frame of reference for the truth. The Truth Machine has only sold 300,000 copies since it was published twenty years ago.

I wish I could live in a world where lying was obsolete.

I don't lie well: I never have. It's because I am (usually) too in touch with my emotions and those emotions (usually) run too close to the surface. That's also why I'm not very comfortable with the idea of taking drugs to alter my mental state...reality is for people who lack the strength of mind to handle drugs, and that's me.
I've never played poker, for the same reason I don't drive: I'd crash and burn in short order, so what's the point? I'm telling you, I can't lie convincingly with a gun to my head. I'm only capable of sustaining a lie if I can convince myself it's the truth, and sometimes that can take weeks. Or I can lie by omission, but even then if you're paying close attention you can tell something is being held back.

The inability to lie puts me at a huge social disadvantage in a world where lying lubricates most interactions, even the ones in which you are penalized for fudging the truth. Hands up, all none of you whose resumes have always described their exact positions and achievements, free of all flattering language. If your sweetheart asks you if she looks fat in that, and she does, do you tell her so? (Eva's learned over time that I'm not the best person to ask that of, because I rarely notice and never care. "Do I look fat in this?" "Only about as fat as you always do, I guess...wait, was that the wrong answer?")

A majority of people can't go ten minutes without lying three times. NINETY PERCENT of people on dating websites lie in their profiles. There's something more than a little off-putting in that almost everybody will still lie even in a situation where they know the truth will eventually out.

Like virtually everyone, I went through a compulsive lying stage as a toddler and then again as a teenager. I was told (it took a while to sink in) that if I lied about something I had done or not done, the penalty for lying would be much worse than the penalty for whatever it was I was lying about. But when the consequences of lying are even scarier than the already scary consequences of telling the truth, you search for a third option in which you avoid reality altogether. That's a recipe for a life lived in neutral.

People say that the innocent 'white' lies shouldn't be called lies at all. That's like suggesting that breaking a window isn't really a crime: create an environment in which the little lies go unnoticed and bigger lies are sure to follow.
Nobody likes being lied to. I especially dislike having to play along with known lies from people who will punish you for drawing attention to their own deceit.  I demand honesty in my relationships, foremost the relationship I have with myself, and I reciprocate to the best of my ability.

I do wish others had the same standard. Until we have a Truth Machine, it would make life a lot more bearable.

03 April, 2016


My first shift at Walmart was on April Fool's Day of last year.
I'm not going to talk about work: the bloom is very much off the rose (though there's at least one rose that works there, and a former cow-orker that has somehow turned into a great friend despite the fact we *never* orked cows  within two hundred feet of each other). Nobody wants to read about me kvetching about my job. Not when there are so many people without one to kvetch about.

As I was, last year.

I'm still on the milder of the two antidepressants I was prescribed...mostly for its heavy sedative effect, which I very much need.  I've weaned myself carefully off the strong one.

I've learned how not to be depressed.

The fact I've been able to do so confirms in my mind that my depression, as nasty as it was, was largely if not completely situational. A big part of it was being unemployed: a big part of it was coming to terms with my station in life; a third big part was learning how to stop devaluing myself. I'm still working on that last: it's hard. But I've come a long, long way. You know what's helped? Learning not to take everything so damned personally.

That's been a habit that's been with me roughly forever, waxing and waning. It got completely out of control during my dark period last year.

I even found myself, to my immense chagrin, getting anxious if a text message of mine wasn't returned immediately. You can bet I kept that private, given how many times I've scoffed at people doing the same thing, but the thing about depression is just how personal it is. Oh, it's different because it's you. Other people are just pitifully insecure and need validation for everything they say, that's why they're sitting there jitterbugging over that last text they sent. You, nobody likes you, and so you're right to be nervous. Any second now they're going to come out and tell you just what a pathetic, ugly creep you are and how they wish you'd never been bo---

Like that. Your mind gets into that loop and it wears ruts in your brain.

Guess what? Everybody else is dealing with their own crap. Some of that crap makes my crap look like an airy fart.  If somebody's abrupt to me, or takes hours to respond to a message I send them, or cancels plans to see me, or...or...or...IT'S NOT BECAUSE I'M A HORRIBLE PERSON.

This seems self-evident to the non-depressed person. To someone in the depths of depression, it takes a ridiculous amount of evidence to prove it's true (and to people stuck in deeper clutches of that disorder than I was, it may not be provable: there gets to be a certain point (and I was very close to it) where it's not paranoia if everybody in the entire world is out to get you.

I met an old colleague for coffee this past week. She said something to me that touched me deeply, that almost made me cry: "I value you highly, you let me be myself around you".  If you ever want to turn all my insides to warm goo, say something like that to me.

I've seen her something like three times in the past year, never for longer than 45 minutes or so at a time.

In 2014-15 I would have spent--I DID spend--a great deal of mental energy on how little time we spent together. In 2016 I choose to focus on what she said to me in that limited time. It makes a world of difference.

Yet another friend...well, she does always return those text messages, but often not in the same hour or on the same day, even if you think you're in the middle of a conversation. Is it because she secretly can't stand talking to me and she wishes I'd go jump in a lake? Of course not. It's because she's insanely busy. That I have any place in her life at all, given how insanely busy it is, that's an honour and a privilege.

And so on and so on down the line. I've come to realize some very important things.

I have more friends than I thought I did. People who could have just faded out of my life have instead asked to keep me in theirs.

Acting as if I'm undeserving of their friendship is a real insult to them.

And "love thyself" isn't just some hokey spiritual claptrap. That, in fact, is advice you can and should take personally.