30 March, 2016

Riches and Real People

I don't want to be rich.

There. I said it. Even thinking that thought feels somehow blasphemous in this society where lotteries are commonplace and people's characters are often judged by their bank accounts: "to get a loan, you must first prove you don't need one".  But all I have ever wanted -- at least since I grew up -- is enough. I define "enough" as "sufficient to keep me connected, to let me hold up my end of multiple friendships, with something left over to fund occasional breaks from the world".

I don't play the lottery. To me it's a tax on the innumerate. If I did play, and won, I would give a great deal of my winnings away to people less fortunate than I am. But in all honesty I would dread the exercise. How do you decide at what proximity of relationship the money should be cut off? And how much goes to each person without making everyone else feel as if you shortchanged him or her? How many friends will stick by you after you "only" give them $$$$$ when they were hoping for $$$$$$$? The answer is always surprising, and heartbreaking.

I don't trust charities (with a very few exceptions): most of them seem to be in business to perpetuate themselves. You can't tell me, for example, that if we really put our minds to it we couldn't cure cancer. How many billions of dollars have been swallowed up by cancer? How much of it has had any effect? Likewise the disadvantaged both at home and abroad. If we could solve poverty by throwing money at it, Africa would be the richest continent on the planet and Canada's indigenous population would be living in the lap of luxury.

Canadian author Spider Robinson has, to my mind, the best, most positive idea for getting rid of a great deal of extraneous money quickly, legally and karmically. Go to a law school. Find someone who has just missed out on a scholarship. Offer to pay her way through school, plus living expenses, if she will, in return, promise you and your friends and family free legal representation as and if needed. Go to a trade school and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Amass yourself a group of dedicated professionals in any field you and your loved ones might conceivably have need of for the foreseeable future.

That's something I would do. I would leave myself enough money so that Eva and I would never have to work again unless we chose to: but at our age that's not nearly as much money as you'd think, not when our tastes are as simple and inexpensive as they are.

The truth is I don't easily trust expensive tastes. It's hard enough to accept that the level of quality in products has declined such that you must pay out the nose for simple durability now. Let me give you an example.

My current bike.

It's (to my mind) quite expensive, but in reality it's firmly in the lower end of retail prices on bikes. It was one of the cheapest models available, if not THE cheapest,  at Ziggy's Bicycles in downtown Kitchener: a place I had heard good things about.

The bike came with leaky tubes. Both tires. I had three flats in less than three weeks. These flats, Eva and I were told in no uncertain terms, were my fault: I was supposed to check the air pressure every time I got on the bike.

C'mon. Seriously? I used to go three seasons a year never needing more than (maybe) a single top-up in my bicycle tires. I did that for about a quarter century. Now you're telling me that the merchandise you sold me wasn't in fact defective, that the tires on it are so persnickety that I have to baby the fucking things?

We took the bike where I should have gone in the first place: MacPhail's Cycle and Sports. Got the tires replaced, at considerable expense. They've needed air twice in a full year's riding.

The funny thing is, I detailed this story in a Reddit thread asking for a decent bike store in town. The condescension I got in response was incredible. "Ziggy's is for professionals, people who would never go to them to fix something so mundane as a leaky tube. MacPhail's is for amateurs, they're happy to sell you a BSO." (I had to look that up: Bike Shaped Object.)

It's not often I want to slap strangers, even on the internet. I wanted to dislocate this one's nose so he might be able to look way down here and see me.



The biggest reason I don't want to be rich is that I absolutely can't stand what comes, in so many cases, with excess money: pretension.

I abhor pretension more than anything else in this world, I think.
I despise people who believe they are better than me or anyone else simply because of an accident of birth. The very concept of 'royalty' in this day and age makes me ill. I'm willing to concede there are rich people who have worked hard for their money...but not many. Certainly not as many as say they did, which is pretty much all of them. The average minimum wage worker with a work ethic puts in something called "an honest day's labour." That adjective, "honest", is there for a reason. Can you honestly tell me that the CEO of the company, the man (it's usually a man) who makes Mrs. Peon's annual salary by noon on January 2--really works that much harder?

Even the people who have earned every cent and more of their wealth by my admittedly narrow standards--doctors, for instance--receive as their "just" reward admittance into something called "high society"...which is nothing more than an elaborate and ornate excuse to look down your nose at PSOs (people-shaped objects).. i.e., the rest of us.

Here, let's contrast snootery with pootery. Among my circle of friends, if someone lets forth with a gut-ripping fart that proceeds to put everyone in sharp mind of dead cattle, she'll like as not be met with horrified cheers. Transplant that fart into some elegant gathering and...well, Queen Elizabeth I's courtier, the Earl of Oxford, once freed a mud-duck mid-bow to his Sovereign and put himself in exile for seven years. (Upon returning, he was greeted with "my lord, I had forgot the Fart.")

Everybody farts, you know. Rich people, poor people...even the President farts. He farts oval farts. Because of his orifice.... How can something everybody does be shameful? I'll tell you how. If you pretend you don't fart, you're better than those second-class nobodies who do.

Does anybody really like caviar? Be honest, now. How much of the joy of eating caviar derives from the knowledge that most people can't afford to?
That's one pithy example in what, to me, appears to be an entire ecosystem heavily polluted by pretension. I wouldn't last fifteen minutes in it without choking. Give me comfort food in comfortable surroundings with comfortable people, people who are themselves around me and who allow me to be myself around them. People who don't feel the need to list off the credentials of every acquaintance they mention, every time they mention them. "My friend Robert, the director"..."my pal Sharon, who runs a small country in her spare time"...hell, I actually know somebody who will name-drop to the second degree, as if I'm supposed to be impressed he knows somebody rich and famous who knows somebody even richer and famouser. What is that about, anyway? What kind of fundamental insecurity does that speak to? Are you really so much improved by knowing rich people who know richer people? Am *I* improved by learning you know them?

I'm interested in people as people. I'm only interested in what they've done if it sheds a positive light on who they are. Amassing money, in and of itself, doesn't.  I don't give a tinker's damn what you do to pay your bills, much less what your husband or childhood friend or cousin does to pay the employee who pays their bills. This tends to restrict my choice of friends to people roughly at or below my station in life.

Real people, in other words. Not pretend ones.



27 March, 2016

Easter musings

There's a post going around Facebook -- again -- which looks like this:


I see it every year, shared enthusiastically by rational people who also share an antipathy towards religion.

It's wrong. Wrong several ways, from trifling to fundamental.

The trifling: Ishtar  is pronounced ishtar. MAYBE "eeshtar". Not "Easter".

Ishtar was indeed an Assyrian and Babylonian goddess, a very important one. Her domains were love, sex and war. She and her roles went by different names in different societies in the region over millennia: Inanna, Astarte, and Isis. She makes an appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving great literary work (from which the story of Noah and several other Biblical narratives ultimately derive). Like more than a few gods and goddesses throughout history, she comes off as a real bitch.

Her symbols were the lion, the gate, and a star with eight points. Not rabbits, not eggs. Though both of those things ARE symbols of sex and fertility, celebrated since time out of mind in the spring when the land "resurrects" itself.

The word EASTER, as any dictionary will tell you, comes from Eostre, a Germanic pagan dawn goddess, also known as Ostara. (If you do a survey of different languages' words for Easter, you'll notice that English and German (Ostern) are two anomalies: practically every other European language takes its Easter word from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover) through the Latin Pascha.  This is one of many instances where I feel compelled to remind Christians that Jesus was a Jew. At its roots, Easter was about celebrating Passover.

Constantine didn't have any contact with Germanic pagans and the word Easter would have meant less than nothing to him, since English wouldn't even exist in its absolute earliest form for another two centuries.   So "Easter" wasn't "changed to represent Jesus".

Anyway. It drives me buggy when things are shared on Facebook that look authoritative and are so riddled with errors. That said, the overarching idea behind it should be worth considering, even if it's wrong in almost every particular. Religions beg, borrow, steal and subsume other religions all the time.
______________

Can an atheist be a minister?

This one is. Though maybe not for much longer. The United Church is reviewing her position. According to this, she doesn't have much of a leg to stand on.

Which is really too bad, in a way. Vosper reminds me of Tom Harpur, one of my favourite theologians, who writes in his book, The Pagan Christ:

“Can we say with any authority that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed as a historical person? I have very grave doubts that we can.”... [Jesus is] “in fact a mythical copy of many preceding saviors.”

Another person that springs forcefully to mind considering the case of Gretta Vospar is the Rev. Roger McCombe, or "Uncle Rog", as generations of Ingersoll high schoolers knew him. Now regrettably passed on whatever awaits us all, he and his inclusive, lovingly critical approach to life and learning had a huge impact on me and many, many others.
Rev. McCombe didn't believe in God so much as he believed in gods. And goddesses, and the power of myth. "Myth", he said, echoing Joseph Campbell, is something "that never was, yet always is".  That's my view in a nutshell on religion in general and Christianity in particular, and I think it's more than possible to be an atheist with a healthy respect for the power and uses of myth.  I wonder if Vosper feels the same.

Hmm. I see here a book I should read.

----------

I'm toying once again with joining a church, specifically this one. Whether I will or not is up to several things: work, mostly. Church services don't exactly accommodate night shift workers, and the place is halfway across town. And I'd probably be going alone, which doesn't scare me near as much as it would have as little as a year ago, but does still give me pause.

Why would I do this?  The same reason Vosper values her ministry. Community. I've lived in largely self-imposed exile for quite a while, not considering myself fit for human interaction. That's past, but I'm still searching for connection by any and all means. The only way I'm going to have new experiences is to open myself up to them. At this time of resurrection and rebirth, that's a potent thought to hold.

Happy (hoppy) Easter, everyone.






26 March, 2016

The Last (Poly) Post

There is a widespread belief among straight people -- older males, especially -- that being gay is all well and good as long as they don't have to look at it. "You don't see straight parades", is the common refrain.
You do, of course, see straight parades. Every day. You don't notice them because they go on beneath the radar. We don't feel the need to support straight people, so the crowds that form around these parades are utterly unaware of them: indeed, they become part of them. Any time a boy hugs a girl or a woman kisses a man in public, that's a float in the Straight Pride parade.

But why is there so much nudity in gay pride parades? You don't see butt-naked straight people walking down the street!

First, let's remember that (contrary to widespread straight opinion) you can't tell who's gay just by looking...unless of course they're doing something gay at the time.  (I'm speaking of course of gay men--we all know that women can grope and smooch their best female friends without anyone thinking twice about their sexuality.)

(And spotting the gay guy isn't near as easy as you'd think...)

Given that, there are two schools of thought on the nudity at Pride parades. One school holds that, since you can't tell who's gay and who isn't, the gay people should make it easy by being as flamboyantly shocking as possible:

"Lois, I'm just warning you, if this movie turns me gay, I'm gonna start bringin' gay guys home. And I don't mean the classy "maybe they are, maybe they're not" gay guys, I mean those big "Oh my God, here they come, floatin' around, makin' noise" gay guys, not the fix up your house gay guys."
--Peter Griffin, Family Guy S5E7

Being gay matters a great deal to proponents of this school of thought. They view themselves as part of a Cause, a Cause that people have died for and continue to die for, and they're going to announce it to the  world, as loudly and proudly as possible. Stark naked? Why not? It's not as if there's anything wrong with being naked.

You think there is, don't you? You think that children should be shielded from nudity. What you don't understand is that you can't shield children from nudity: all they have to do is look down to see it. Maybe you think that nudity is shameful. I find many Christians feel this way. These same Christians will tell you that they were made in the image and likeness of God. If they're ashamed of that likeness, I should think that would be a rather grievous sin.

Hey, as I always say, if God had intended for us to walk around naked, we would have been born that way...

No matter, there's nothing wrong with being naked. Or gay. Or naked AND gay. Or gay AND European (sorry, that song's stuck in my head now).

I have a gay friend who is the headmaster of the other school of thought.  He wouldn't be caught dead at a Pride parade. Not because he's in the closet; not because he's ashamed of being gay; not because he can't acknowledge all the pain and anguish that has gone into making any such thing as a Pride parade necessary in the first place.

No, he won't attend a Pride parade because for him, being gay is inconsequential. It no more merits celebration and pride (or censure and shame) than having red hair or green eyes. He sees no need to shock anyone into dealing with his gayness: he takes it as read that it will be dealt with, and reacts as appropriate to those who can't, or won't accept him.

Some gay people from the other school view his behaviour as ignorant, even treasonous. That doesn't faze him, either. Accept me as I am, he says, whether you are gay or straight. He doesn't draw attention to his sexuality any more than straight people draw attention to theirs, and less than most. His contribution to the Cause is to live his life normally.

It's a huge contribution. I admire him for it.

______________

Being poly is at least a little like being gay.

I don't mean to equate the two: I can't be that crass. As I said above, people are still routinely disinherited, beaten, killed for being gay in many parts of the world. Being poly doesn't compare. I know of evictions and firings and many, many Family and Children's Services investigations (only a few of which have found anything amiss: once you explain the "it takes a village" attitude towards parenting and demonstrate your village is stable, they tend to go away and leave you alone).

But there are several similarities, nonetheless.  I was told it was a phase I was going through. (Hell of a long phase.) There is some debate as to whether polyamory is a choice or not (unlike homosexuality: any people who actually believe being gay is a choice should prove it: just go ahead and choose being gay, say for about a year). The general consensus on poly is that there's a spectrum: some people are hardwired polyamorous, some people are hardwired monogamous, and quite a few people are somewhere in between. Sort of like the Kinsey Scale...except...call it...the Parrot Scale. After Polly the Parrot.
Me, I'm hardwired poly: I've been this way as long as I can remember.

Polyamory is still misunderstood, seen as morally wrong (whose morals?), seen as a threat (to what?).  It's dirty (because people can't seem to get past the sex, and sex is APPLIED nudity: REALLY bad!) And because of all this, many poly folks are in the closet about it with some people, most people, all people outside their polycule. Many others are out and very vocal about it.

You actually see poly people marching in pride parades now. This is from Atlanta, 2013:


and this one is from Antwerp, last year:

(love that slogan: "Love multiplies, not divides")

You're probably wondering what school of thought I fall into when it comes to poly pride. Or, given my advocacy here and on Facebook, you probably think you know.

You WON'T find me marching in a Poly parade any time soon. In fact, I don't plan on any more Breadbin posts on the subject. Some of you may be relieved at that, others disappointed. It doesn't matter.

When I came out, it was all I could do not to turn into a poly blowtorch. I got the tattoo. Everything and anything was actually about polyamory. I wanted to explain every last crook and nanny of it even before I'd explored its near horizons. It's always felt both emotionally and logically right to me, "right" in the sense that a poet would use the word, or an engineer. I wanted everyone to think about polyamory vs. monogamy: by all means choose monogamy, if that is your choice, but make it a CONSCIOUS choice. Don't do it by default, as if it's the only option available.

 My positions in the standard poly debates have never wavered:

  • I'm staunchly, VEHEMENTLY, against the one penis policy for the reasons given here: it's sexist as hell and blatantly unfair to boot. 
  • I favour non-hierarchical polyamory (and here's where you can see me generating a nice discussion which clarified my thoughts).
  • I won't interfere in a committed monogamous relationship. Many poly people have no qualms about doing so, on the very shaky grounds that cheating with somebody isn't the same as cheating on somebody. I feel differently. If I drive the getaway car in a bank robbery, well, sure, I didn't rob the bank myself, but...) Holding this moral high ground can be tough, I won't lie. It's yet another gay parallel: how come all the good ones are straight/monogamous? There are times I wish I didn't have these damned ethics. But if I was to go ahead and break my cardinal rule, I couldn't live with myself afterwards. 
None of this has changed. I still feel just as strongly about all of this as I did two years ago, or twenty years ago. That tat? I'm glad it's there.

But I've said about all I can say over the past nearly two years. At some point, like, oh, about now, it's time to stop talking and start walking. To show all the doubters (I know you're still out there) that this can work...and the best way to do that is to...make it work. 

So I'm shifting gears. I won't deny I'm polyamorous, ever. It'll remain as part of my description both here and on Facebook, and the links to More Than Two and Poly In The News will stay right where they are. Aside from that, though, this should be the last post concerning the topic. From this point on, I'm just me. I'm normal.

Well...I wouldn't quite go THAT far.


20 March, 2016

Nice Guys And Misplaced Assumptions

You choose your words
Careful voice
In the end I'm not the first choice 
You say you want someone just like me 
So then why am I your plan 
Why am I your plan 
Why am I your plan B?
--Marianas Trench, "The B Team"

So this caught my eye the other day.

I just love it when people share something that's utterly devoid of context and make up their own context so they can judge it, harshly. 

A man named Matt Collins posted the following on Twitter:

OK ladies, I get it.
You don't want a pleasant evening chat.
You don't want a gentleman to walk you to your car.
You don't want a friendly dude to help carry your groceries...or hold open the door...or crush the life out of other men who would do you harm.

Fine -- fear the good guys. I guess we'll just have to suffer watching you get trampled over and over by the SCUM you think you love. 

But I want you to know it's not easy, and it hurts to see you fall. 

Give the good guys a chance to help you be less afraid of the world.

I read that and I cheered. I could have written that myself. I did write something like that myself, many many moons ago.

Then I read the rejoinder and became very, very confused.


Dear Sir, 

If you’re watching some girl you like getting hurt by another guy STOP WHINING ABOUT IT AND DO SOMETHING. Don’t leave some anonymous note on a dorm wall. If you know someone is being hurt DO. SOME. THING. 
 If you want to play the “good guy” you need to rethink your intentions. If you’re only doing it for gratification, then you aren’t being the good guy. Did Batman give up on Gotham because people weren’t thanking him for saving the city? 
 You know what I really want? I want respect. I want people to respect that I’d rather not walk with a stranger in the middle of the night. I want people to respect that I can defend myself. I want people to respect that WOMEN CAN DO THINGS WITHOUT A GENTLEMAN TO HELP. 
 You want to be a gentlemen and a good guy? Start with changing the way you and other men see women. We aren’t fragile things you need to defend. We’re people. Keep holding doors open, keep being friendly, just don’t expect things in return; you aren’t owed anything by this world. 
 If you want us to be less afraid of the world, then change the world, don’t change us.

It's funny, you know. In one sense I agree, emphatically, with every single thing in this response. How could I not? It's all true.

Just (probably) not in the context of this letter.

What's more, the woman writing this takes the SCUM behaviour Collins referred to and projects it on Collins himself. Try a little irony, Alanis, it's good for your blood.

Let's break it down, shall we?

"STOP WHINING ABOUT IT AND DO SOMETHING".

I have two responses to that.

1) Who's to say he hasn't?
2) What would she have him do?

I am a good guy. I'm almost afraid to admit it, now, because apparently "good guy" is code for "self-entitled creepy asshole". This, needless to say, is a revelation to me. I never even suspected it. I thought a good guy was a good guy. Little did I know. Women have shared this all over the web, and with follow-up replies indicating savage agreement: THIS THIS THIS WHY DOESN'T THE 'NICE GUY' JUST FUCK OFF ALREADY.

I can't speak for what Collins has actually done to support his "good guy" credentials. I suspect he has done most, if not all of the things he mentions, with the likely exception of "crush[ing] the life out of men who would do you harm". Good guys don't tend to do that. Usually it's the scum doing that TO the good guys.

Before we go any further, let's differentiate some more between scum and good guy.

Scum: I'm going to rape you until you like it. Then I'm going to dispose of you like the Kleenex you are.
Good guy: I'm the guy you come to after you've been through that. You cry on my shoulder, your feelings of disgust are thoroughly validated, and you walk away seemingly convinced you deserve better...except then you act as if you don't, and here we go round the mulberry bush again.

Scum: treats you like an object.
Good guy: treats you like a person.

Scum: cares about himself and his needs, and will only satisfy yours if it means his will be satisfied in return. Those needs, of course, are primarily sexual. Distressingly common: so common, in fact, that good guys are assumed to be scum who just hide it well.
Good guy: cares about you and your needs to the total exclusion of his own, if necessary (while privately lamenting that it always seems to be necessary). Those needs do have a sexual component--hey, contrary to popular belief, we are in fact human males with functional libidos--but they are primarily emotional. More common than we're led to believe, mostly because women (and other men) insist on assigning to us all the characteristics of scum.

What do "good guys" do when a woman they care about is being hurt? Usually we don't see it. We only get the aftermath. We comfort, we restore, we offer to intercede on your behalf with the scum and we're invariably told not to. So we don't: we just sit back and wait for the next episode.

"If you want to play the "good guy" you need to rethink your intentions."

What intentions are those, and how do you know what they are?
I'll tell you want they AREN'T: we're not looking for a notch on our bedposts. We want the same things you (say you) do: to cherish and be cherished,  to respect and be respected, to admire and be admired, and to love and be loved. We want to share your uppest ups AND your downest downs. And yes, we want to feel like the kind words you say to us -- "why can't other men be more like you?" actually have some substance behind them.

"You know what I really want? I want respect."

With all due, um, respect, many of you have a funny way of showing it. Guys who so plainly DON'T respect women never seem to lack for women...unless the ugly guys also happen to be ugly. I've never understood that. CONVICTED RAPISTS always seem to have women chasing them.  It makes no sense.

I want people to respect that I can defend myself.

We do. We're not offering to walk you home so that we can beat off the muggers (though we will if it comes to that and we do care enough about you to want to see you safely home). We're offering to walk you home for the company. EVEN IF THE COMPANY ENDS AT YOUR FRONT DOOR.

"WOMEN CAN DO THINGS WITHOUT A GENTLEMAN TO HELP"

Where did this even come from, let alone the savagery behind it? Of course you can do things without gentlemen to help. We can do things without women to help, too. Being alone is fine: being not alone is much better. Wouldn't you agree? If you don't, why are you so often seeking out the wrong type of guy?

Start with changing the way you and other men see women.

I wasn't aware there was a problem with the way I see women. Please elaborate. As for other men: I'm open to suggestions. Although, to be frank, I'm not sure what I can do to change their behaviour. I'm sorta kinda of the opinion that scum behaviour is the fault of the scum, not the nice guy, and that it's up to the scum to change...not the nice guy.

But what do I know? I thought being a good guy was a good thing. Naive of me.



Snapshot: Us

Administrivia: I am sorry for the paucity of posts. This has been a crazy month and there's no letup in sight. The details are boring unless you're me -- a guy with a sudden herniated disc and a need for bifocals (with friends and family considerably worse off), making strides at work while dealing with the traditional pre-Easter craziness, and on the good side, lots of visits to and from loved ones to liven up life.

One detail, though, may be of interest to you, and it can be summed up thusly: DON'T GO ON DISABILITY. And if you do have to go on disability, DON'T GO OFF DISABILITY. In fact, it's probably best to just avoid the entire thing.

What's best is not always what's possible. A thing many people don't know about disability benefits is that mental or physical ailments are not sufficient grounds to access them. No, you must be financially disabled as well. They make certain of it. And then going off disability: well, you need to cultivate the attitude of feeling lucky you have a job to go back to, because Eva makes less money working full time than she did not working at all.

Eva is almost through her graduated return-to-work program, and by all accounts is doing just fine. Her days are hard, but she is persevering through them.  Our finances, though, have taken a hit, and they were none too good to begin with.

So we're taking in a tenant.

A friend, really, and it's a win-win situation for all concerned. We're slowly decluttering in preparation (there's a fast way to declutter, but it provokes anxiety even those not prone to anxiety as it is).

Living with other humans is one of those exceedingly rare things of which I can truthfully say I have much more experience than my wife. I've had great housemates (one of my best friends, twice) and terrible housemates and all manner of in-betweeners.
It's an adjustment, to be sure. A robe has been procured, and the cleaning regimen is slowly stepping up in time with the decluttering. I'm pretty laid-back as housemates go: basically, so long as I have my 'morning' time in peace, I'm golden.

That's life in the house with the Breadbin in it. Actual, albeit sporadic, posting to resume shortly.

07 March, 2016

Core beliefs

"You have no core beliefs?" she asked.
"Sure. A short list, as vague as I can make it, not written down anywhere. Let's see. Kind is better than cruel--I'm sure of that. Loose is better than rigid. Love is better than indifference. So is hate. Laughing is the best. Not laughing will kill you. Alone is okay. Not alone is way better. That's about it...and in my life so far there's not been a single one of them that's always been true."
--Spider Robinson, "Very Bad Deaths"

---------

I used to be strange.

I mean, I still am, but I used to be, too. My strangeness has...evolved somewhat over time, is all. 

Very little of me survives from my teenage years. A few things have come back after disappearing for a while--I was tight-assed with money back then, went through my twenties bleeding money from every pore, and have regained fiscal sanity, for instance--but much of what made me me is irretrievably gone, and good riddance.

Let's see. I used to be a homophobe. I used to be prissy to the point of immediately and greatly distancing myself from people who did drugs, even if they never did drugs around me. Tattoos were for criminals. My politics were conservative, if not always Conservative. And anyone who thought different from me wasn't just suspect, he was obviously and patently guilty. Changing my mind was improbable, nearly impossible.

Now? I'm as committed a straight ally as you'll find. I know and love many people who do drugs, and don't hold it against them any more than they hold my near-total temperance against me. Nothing so much against the drugs themselves, either: it's just that both intoxicants I have tried had the effect of removing my sense of self control. I did not find that sensation pleasurable. Many do, and that's okay.
I have two tattoos and haven't ruled out getting more. My politics are liberal and getting liberaller and liberaller the older I get. And everybody thinks different from me or they'd be me and not them. I'm a husband: I'm therefore habitually wrong and MUST change my mind, frequently.

My stepdad used to level more than a few criticisms at me, most of them entirely justified. The two most common were contradictory, but both true to seven decimal places. I was a rigid black-and-white thinker; I didn't stand for anything.

Confusing? Only until you understand that the one thing I did stand for, absolutely and unequivocally, was non-confrontation. And that, friends and neighbours, hasn't changed.

There are people who seem to relish confrontation. One of them is running for President of the United States as I write this. I distrust such people, even as I understand their fa├žade: for most people, 
bellowing and bullying is simply an attempt to mask insecurity. For a select few--around one percent of the population--this is not the case. Such people are called sociopaths, and they scare the ever-loving shit out of me. 

I hate confrontation. Hate is actually far too gentle a word for how I feel about it. Most anger is so...pointless. It's an ego defence for people who have too much invested in their ego. And it hurts. It hurts a lot. Scream at me and I'll want to clap my hands over my ears, not to block out the noise but to try to block out the pain

It took me a long time before I came to realize that my perception of negative emotions is somewhat unique. Most people, I am given to understand, don't feel other people's negative emotions quite the way I do. 
How to explain it? I float my boat on an ocean of emotion. If that ocean becomes turbulent, I get seasick. The seasickness takes different forms depending on the nature of the storm. Being around intense mental pain makes me want to vomit, while anger and fear (which are closely related) cause diarrhea.  My own emotions contribute--they're akin to my rocking my boat. Which is why I expend a great deal of effort trying to remain calm, and avoiding confrontation if it can be at all avoided. In an argument, I will try my damnedest to simply state my views as calmly as I can, and concede (publicly) to others if that tactic fails (it usually does). 

Now, there is an odd effect to all this. If you absolutely force me into a confrontation I will hate you for it, and that compounded hatred (of you and of the situation) is a more potent force than you'd ever expect to come out of the likes of me. It causes people to back off, fast. It causes me to become violently ill shortly thereafter, but people don't usually see that.

I'm not sure I could ever strike, much less kill, another human being. Only in defence of someone I love would I do such a thing, and yes, the hatred of being put into such a position would compound and explode in predictably unpredictable ways. But I imagine I'm far more likely to die than kill, defending someone I love. I have had many dreams in which that happens: the person I'm dying for is often different. Usually I'm shot; occasionally I'm knifed.

Now you know why I strive so mightily for inner calm. It's entirely selfish: there's enough turbulence around me without my adding to it.

Because of all this, I believe that cruelty begets cruelty, that "war never determines who's right, only who's left".

I believe that it is normal to love many people at once; that loving one person does not diminish love for another. To me this is self-evident, not just from my own experience but from reality I have observed over decades. Most people believe otherwise. I'll never understand why--it's like saying that 2 plus 2 is only 2.2--but so long as they are happy, it's not my place to question them. 

I believe that everyone is the heroine of her own story, and further, that her story is unknowable to most of the world. Nobody sets out to be evil: all the evil in the world can be chalked up to selfishness and shortsightedness and narrow perspectives. Even those sociopaths simply do what pleases them, without a care in the world for anyone else. We've all been guilty of that on occasion; they just do it by inclination.

I believe there's something that persists after death. I have no idea what it might be and I don't believe you do either. 

As far as core beliefs go, that's about it..and in my life so far there's never been a single one of them that's always been true.

Confrontation, as awful as I find it, is sometimes inevitable and even desirable, right on up into war, which should only be engaged in to stop a greater horror. (What is a greater horror? Ah, therein lies the rub.)  Some people really don't understand consequence, not out of malice, but because they haven't been adequately taught about it. Some people certainly act as if their love is limited, and that's okay. There may well be nothing after we die but dust: I can't know that either and (well, sorry) neither can you...at least for now.

There is one thing I don't just believe, I am certain of: my way is not a better way; my way is merely another way. 

06 March, 2016

Living Around Anxiety

I am not qualified to speak on living with anxiety. Although I am something of a worry wort, worrying about things isn't the same as generalized anxiety disorder any more than being down in the dumps is like clinical depression. But I'm well versed at this point in living around anxiety, and I'd like to share with you what I've learned.

I've learned that this is hard. Not near as hard as living WITH the disorder, of course, but hard, nonetheless. It's especially difficult when generalized becomes specific: when YOU'RE stressed, yourself. Just imagine: if you feel like this, HE's feeling ten times worse most of the time, and there's no on/off switch you can toggle.

I've learned some tips. I'll start with the nevers.

Never tell someone having a panic attack to calm down. If she could do that, she would, believe me. Likewise, never ask why he's crying. Odds are pretty good that he doesn't know, and if he does, his answer won't be anything helpful.

Generalized anxiety is just that: generalized. In its mildest form, you're uneasy about, well, everything, or close to everything. Further on up the spectrum, you can be reduced to a quivering ball of rage and fear for no apparent reason. If you are the sort of person who relishes control, especially self-control, the mere fact you seem to have lost that control feeds your anxiety exponentially. If, further, you are the sort of person who was raised to believe weakness is some kind of filthy sin, that's another way for anxiety to feed on itself. 

Never minimize the anxiety. All that does is call attention to how "wrong" she is for feeling panicky. That said, it's not productive to join in the "oh, dear" games, either. Allow anxiety to be felt, but don't feed it yourself, if you can help it. This is a tricky, tricky balancing act that you're bound to get wrong the first few dozen times you try.

Don't withdraw, even if you feel useless (and if you're a man, you will). Your mere presence is a calming agent: take that away, and she'll just be anxious and alone and anxious about being alone.

Don't walk on eggshells. That tells the anxiety sufferer that there is indeed something to be terrified of. Also that you think he's made of rice paper, which is just one more thing to batter at his self-esteem.

_______


DO encourage healthy living, ideally together. Don't nag about it, but do encourage it. Exercise, dietary improvements, cutting out caffeine (that's a big one: it provokes panic attacks)--all those tips for a good life that you know in your head but refuse to take to heart because exercise is painful and there's no such thing as good-for-you food that tastes good...doesn't matter. Do it anyway.

Really work on your own mindfulness. You're going for a Zen state: failing that, at least aim for stoicism for yourself. When the shit hits the fan, try to remember above all else that shit washes off, and get scrubbing. If you still feel anxious, by all means express that--but make it crystal clear you're directing it at the situation, not the sufferer.

Do gentle reminders: it's time to take your medication, it's time to eat, it's time for something else that's part of your daily routine. The anxiety sufferer very easily becomes completely dissociated from time. Five minutes can seem like five hours in the grip of a panic attack, and five hours can seem like five minutes of low-grade toxicity.

Love unconditionally. I'd say just "love", but most people don't understand that conditional love isn't actually love at all.

This won't save you from seeing tears (or maybe even shedding them)...but that's okay. The funny thing is this is all good advice for life without anxiety in it.