The first part of this blog is here:  Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean (Part 1)

He enjoyed his solitude.  An existence of peace that he had only experienced as fleeting moments while driving in his car.

Or in the occasional evenings when he pretended to be working on a late-night project.  A fiction he’d told his wife so that he could take advantage of an angst-free and clean hotel room.  An oasis of sanity in a desert of whirling incessant drama.

His journey to self-awareness was a gradual thing.  It began with the helpful doctor-therapist he had been seeing, as she merely reflected his journey back at him.

His life took on a patina of gratefulness, as his mental chaos slowly subsided.

He grew to appreciate his now mostly-permanent peaceful home.  It began to be a place of joy, where he could still his racing heart.

For many years, he grew to enjoy his bachelor existence.  To be sure,  he liked being with people too.  But the prospect of that solitary nest always beckoned him at the end of the day, as a target – one that promised a whisper of studied silence, settledness wrapped in a certainty of cushioned peace.

He still experienced moments of panic.  Often, when he stayed out late he became aware of an unreasoning anxiety.  He hadn’t called anyone to let them know he would be late.

Then he realized: there was no one to call; no one to whom he need be accountable.  He was on his own.  His time was his own.  He found himself laughing out loud at the absurdity of his thoughts.

It would be a number of years before he truly grokked what his freedom entailed.

His life took on an examination of the variables that had put him in a position where he had almost committed suicide.

Religion played one of the largest factors.  Rules and dogmas to which he’d adhered; demands which had enslaved him to a life of torturous upset.  He couldn’t blame the preachers or his friends and companions of the religious fog.  He had walked into the scene, willingly, with his eyes wide open, as he knew many people do.

His ultimate rejection of religion was therefore singular.  He decided that he didn’t want to make it a grand thing. He wasn’t interested in loud proclamations of the futility of following man-made religious laws.  He only knew that he had to make peace with the fact he was walking away from it.

Though not from God.  His belief in the divine was too real.  But it was also much less defined than he had at first thought.

His solitude became routine.  Routine became boredom.  Boredom provoked dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction provoked realization.

Having divested himself of the limits of marriage, and of the laws of religion, he realized that he was bereft of a ton of limits.

Were there any, beyond the limits of the laws?

Not much, he found.

There were the limits of his character, and of his morals, of course.  Those he held as precious necessities.

Beyond those though, there wasn’t much in the way of limits.

He was subject to the whims of others.  His job was his, only as long as his employer required him.

His house and home was subject to the limits of his employment.

His health was subject to his behaviours (which he could change), to his genes as exhibited by his parents and ancestors (over which he had no control), and to the vagaries of fate (he could be hit by a bus at any time).

Ultimately, he realized, there were no guarantees and for all practical purposes, no limits on him.

This understanding was both negative, and positive.   The negative was obvious.

The positive, though.  That was new.

Put simply, there was nothing he could not do.  If he had a mind to do something, and the determination to do so, there really was nothing to stop him.

One day, not so long ago, he realized this.  Not just understood it conceptually.  He knew this.

He could do anything.

The only thing stopping him was…..himself.

He knew what that meant.

Routine, boredom and habits were no longer his friends, crutches on which he could depend.

That enlightenment blew him away.

Suddenly, he could  see the changing horizon, a distant place of shifting colours, full of the promise of possibility, absent of definition and finality.

He was undone.

The realization came so slowly.   Like a particularly vivid LSD trip, the awareness of the truth threatened to overwhelm him.  A visual so all-encompassing he couldn’t see the sides of it.

As a small child, he was aware of his limits.  Though he wasn’t conscious of it,  those limits made him feel safe.  He would always have food, always have a place to sleep.  He had parents who saw to his every need.  He expected them to look after him.  It was his right.  He knew nothing else.  That’s just the way it was.

About ten years later, he began to realize how precarious his existence was.  His mother, filled with fear and foreboding, simply had to tell someone, so she told him.  Their home might be repossessed.  They had received a Sheriff’s letter, stating as much.

In the week dark hours of the late night/early morning, his mother had stared out of their large living room window, frowning.  He had been there to see the worry.  The glowing golden ember at the end of her cigarette provided the only illumination in the living room, as she confessed her fears.

They would lose the house.  Maybe their large family would have to be split up.  She didn’t know where they would get the money, as her husband (his dad) had squandered it all away on booze and the racetrack.

Somehow, a few months later, he learned that they had retreated from their fiscal cliff, somehow.  Maybe an angel had intervened, he didn’t know.

He just knew that somehow, despite his bad credit, his father had secured a second mortgage.  They would have to move, this time to an older house.  The difference in equity would bring a small measure of relief.

A number of years later, the boy had finally grown up.   He found a girl, got engaged, got a job at  a factory, and had finally moved out of his fear-ridden home.

The pursuit of that elusive safety he craved looked like it was coming to an end.  The factory paid well, and he could afford to get a modest apartment with his young bride.

He remembered a hand-drawn sign he had seen during the first week of his job at the factory. It read “ya wanna eat, ya gotta work”.

That thought had stayed with him during his years working at the factory.  Its truth was depressing, mostly because of how he interpreted it:  “you have to live in hell, if you want to live at all.”    At the time, he had no awareness that work could be something about which he could feel passion.  No one gets passionate about working at a factory.  Especially not a factory that was as oppressive, demanding and as soul-killing as this one.

The search for safety took on a different hue.  Years of marriage to someone with whom he could not relate began to poison him.  Toward the end of that relationship, he had begun researching methods for committing suicide.  He didn’t think he could go through with it for the same reason he couldn’t separate from his wife:  his religion forbade it.  He knew that tension would end somewhere: it was impossible to keep pulling at both sides without something popping.

One night, on a dark road, he drove towards his home.  The small highway was empty, with nothing on either side of the road to see except trees.  For just a moment, he had a visual of turning the steering wheel abruptly and crashing into one of them.  Everything would be over.  It could happen so fast, and he’d find relief.  He thought “I could do it.  I could just do it now.”   The thought was so compelling he found himself frightened.  He knew he really could do it.

The next day he saw his doctor and told her about it.  After first checking him to see if the impulse was still there, she referred him to another GP – one who specialized in cognitive therapy.

Talking really helped.  He was always cheerful with his therapy doctor, seemingly bright and unconcerned about anything.  She wasn’t fooled though.  She kept asking leading questions.

One day he arrived at her office, anything but cheerful.  This was the moment she had waited for.  He finally opened up, revealing the torturous angst he had harboured for so long.

“What’s it like when you arrive home from work?” she asked.

“It’s like a living hell” he replied, honestly.

“So” she said, “you realize what you’re doing, right?”

He looked at her.  “What?”

“Every time you go home to that living hell, you’re making a choice to go home to a living hell.”

At first, he was confused, then slightly offended.  Then he realized the truth about what she said.

She was right.  There was no safety at home.  There was only hell.  And no one was holding a gun to his head.  That hell wasn’t being enforced on him.  He was making a choice to go into it, every day.

He turned that truth over in his head, several times.  He looked at all angles of it, tested it for accuracy.  It was deadly accurate, and his ignorance of it had almost killed him.

It took a while but then he decided that he need to start making other, better decisions.

So he did.  They did.  His wife agreed that they shouldn’t be together anymore.

When he picked up the keys to his bachelor apartment, he felt a measure of excitement.   Then, when he opened the door and looked around the small one-bedroom place with the shag carpeting, he breathed in the peace of it.

He was surprised by his own tears.

(end of part 1) (part 2 is here at Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean – Part 2)

The hospital room had low summer lighting.  I think that’s what they call it, anyway.  Summer lighting.  It meant that the lighting wasn’t harsh or hard on the eyes.  “Muted yellow lighting” would have been more descriptive.

Anyway, it was calm.

Much like the patient in the bed.  He was calm, too.  Peaceful. Apologetic.

In the last few months, he had made an effort to talk with everyone.  His kids, his brothers, me.

In each case, he had offered up an offer of peace.  His way of saying he was sorry.  Sorry for the way he had treated us.  Sorry for the angst and anger he had vented on us.  Sorry for the hurt.  Sorry for the pain and the worry and the overwhelming fear he had provoked.

He told each of us that he loved us.  It seemed important to him for some reason.

I vaguely recall the time he told me that too.  I accepted what he said, politely.  That’s what you do, when someone says they love you.  Especially when that someone has been a vision of horror for such a large portion of your life.  You smile and you say “me too”.

Whether you mean it or not is another thing entirely.

I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

I damned well did not love him.

When he breathed his last breath under that summer lighting in that hospital bed, I breathed a sigh of relief.  And I felt marginally guilty for doing so.

melody

I went home that night.  My daughter was in the kitchen, doing something.  I don’t recall exactly what.  Probably doing dishes.

Leaving the lights off, I sat down at the piano, and started to play.  I didn’t have a song in mind, so I created one.  Arpeggios came to mind, and I followed through.  Minor keys, major keys.  A rhythm.  It coalesced into…..something.

It was at once stark, painful and hopeful. It was peaceful, and sad.  I decided to make it a song about my dad.  I called it “Hope of Glory”.

When the time came and we had the Catholic mass for him, I sat at the front of the church and I played that song.

Interspersed with the melody were the vibrations of memory.

My father, drunk and angry.  Wrapping a chain around his fist.  My mother yelling at him.  He had been pulled over by a cop earlier that week and by God he was going to go hunt for the cop and repay him.  My mother threatening to call the police the moment he left the house.

My fingers caressed the keys, plinking away at the foundation of the song.

My dad, drunk once again, looking for a fight.  Hearing me say something at the top of the cellar stairs.  I don’t recall what it was, but I had made the mistake of disagreeing with him.  “ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?”

“But..” I started to say “that’s not what——”   Then I heard him running to the bottom of the stairs.  I turned, opened the door and bolted outside.

His 350 pound lumbering gait was no match for my lithe 140 pound sprint.  I could at least outrun him.   He roared in frustration at the door.  “DON’T COME BACK”

My fingers picked up the melody, to counterbalance the bass line.  The rhythm began.

My dad, raising his voice.  The first sign of a rage that would be repeated each weekend, and eventually every other weekday for years.

A series of thumps and scrambling and grunts.  My mom, crying out.  My grandmother yelling at him to stop.

My fingers played eloquently on the keys, calmly following through on the variation.   The silence of the church.

My dad, now sober, unable to relate to me.  We’re sitting in the living room, a show on TV.  He says something.  I say something in response, politely.  Awkward silence.

The song I play now building in volume and depth.  Searching…searching….

My father, laughing now with his brothers at a picnic.  Relating to them, and to a few of my siblings.  But not to me.  My mother, close-lipped and patient.  Me, just wanting to get away.

The song now slows, and I bring it to an end.  Finally.

—————–

On the night I first play the song, my daughter comes to my side.  Puts her hand around my shoulder.   “What’s that, dad?  It’s beautiful.”

“It’s just a song I made up, sweetheart.  It’s for my dad.”  She squeezes my shoulder.  My head is bowed, and my tears drop quietly.

—————–

He’s been dead for at least a decade now.  A little while ago I had a dream.  It was about him.  We were talking and laughing and I think we played some baseball or something.  I regret not writing it down when I woke up.

The only thing I know is: it was good.  And, apparently after making a concerted effort time and again over the years to forgive him for his drunken violent rages, I’ve finally made peace with him.

Hope of glory.

Bum Doctor

Posted: March 25, 2014 in humor, humour, Life
Tags: , , ,

I felt an inward flinch as I approached what looked like a set of mahogany doors.

I’d been both looking forward to this visit, and dreading it.  Something was wrong with me, but I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was that a Google of my symptoms all concluded with the ominous warning “get thee to a doctor – pronto!” And so I had.  First to my family doc, who then set up a referral to a bum doctor.  Okay, a proctologist.

bumdoc

Feeling squirmy yet?

You can imagine how I felt. I only had to wait a month – which, believe me, was just fine as far as I was concerned.  I didn’t want unwelcome news coming my way.  And the potential varieties of prognosis was just too awful to think about:  it could be cancer, it could be something to do with my prostate.

And then there were the cures to consider: from chemo to radiation to removal of parts.  My imagination – with the kind help of WebMD – had no limits.  So I waited out the month and tried not to think about it.

Which brought me to today, and those dark, dark doors. I walked in to a reception area which was similarly dark.  One might say “rich” in tone.  Dark wood reception desk, muted lighting, and classical music playing on the P.A.

I kind of expected a maître d’ to come out and look me up and down with disapproval. “No, no, no.  This won’t do”

And then he’d hand me a smoking jacket.  “Would you like to try one of our cigars?  And please, have a brandy while you’re at it.”

The frowning receptionist thrust a questionnaire at me and intoned “fill this out.  Front and back.  Sign it and return it to me.”

I sat down.  Looked around.  The guy closest to me was slim, and probably my age.  He wore a denim jacket and jeans, and was watching his iPhone with rapt concentration. The lady sitting across from me looked like a frightened bird.  Her carefully coiffured head turned this way and that.  Looking, I think, for a way out. She knew she was trapped.  Maybe I was projecting my state of mind.

I completed the form and handed it back.  “Have a seat.  Someone will be with your shortly.”

Eventually I was ushered into the doctor’s sanctum sanctorum.  I sat on a little black stool.

Presently he entered. A more genial and welcoming doctor you couldn’t imagine.  This small smiling thin guy looked like he was in his 80′s.  I felt my stress evaporate almost immediately. Still, I kept glancing around, looking around for cattle prods and other instruments of torture.  I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know what goes on in these offices.

My stupid ADD brain of course kept a running commentary of smart remarks, all of which I kept to myself. I mean, that doctor asked me a lot of questions.  So when he asked “are you gay or straight?” and I answered “straight”, my brain added “yup. It’s a steel trap back there doc, so you’re gonna have your work cut out for you trying to invade it.”

I smirked, and hoped he didn’t notice.

After ten minutes of discussion about my medical history, my eating habits, my family history and the current Maple Leaf standings in the NHL, he was able to give me even more relief by saying “I’m pretty sure your problem is one that involves your diet.  Put simply, the food you’re eating is all wrong, and it’s irritating you down there.”

“So…” my brain added “not cancer then?”

“But I’ll need to examine you to see what exactly is going on.”

Oh. I had hoped that just our discussion would be enough.  Guess not. I swallowed.  It was time for the Big Reveal.

In front of us was an examination table.  I looked but couldn’t find the stirrups.  Maybe he was going to have me lie on my side, like my regular doc has me do when I’m getting my annual physical. No such luck.

“I want you to kneel there, and then pull your pants and underwear down.”

“Shit” said my brain.  “Okay” I said aloud.

I kneeled on the kneeler (which I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out) that was attached to the table.  The table was for me to lay face down on. Perfect praying position.

After pulling everything down, a female nurse (or someone, I have no idea what her role was) sauntered into the room, nonchalant and uncaring. My brain said “HEY! DID YOU GET A GOOD LOOK, BITCH??” She wandered over to the sink and got busy….doing dishes I guess.  Seemed this was going to be a community event.

The doctor said “okay you’re going to feel some pressure” I laid there on the table, ass in full flower display, just waiting for the moment.

Then I heard a buzzing sound.   Brain: “WTF???”

He was raising the table up. It was on hydraulics. I nodded to myself.  Made sense.  He’d have had to kneel himself otherwise, if he wanted to get a good look. The buzzing stopped.  Another buzzing sound began.  The table was rotating slightly, so that my ass could be fully pointed in his direction.  Lovely.

Finally it stopped.  And the prodding began.

I could feel something slimy going on back there and realized I was being medically violated. “Okay” said the doc.  “I want you to squeeze my finger”

“Fine” said my brain.  “Just give me your hand and—-oh.  I see what you mean.” I squeezed.  My brain confessed “I know it’s not much, but frankly you can’t blame me – I’ve been slacking on my kegels lately.”

He removed his finger and inserted the scope.  I felt that.  I really really felt that.

“You’re going to feel even more pressure, because I have to get some air in there so I can see better.”  I heard him squeezing a bladder as my insides pushed sideways.

*plop*

“You can pull your pants up now”.  Oh good, it was done.   And the nurse was still over there, washing her dishes.

He took about fifteen minutes to educate me on what I should and shouldn’t eat.  Additionally he wants me to come in for three treatments to correct a few things that are wrong up there.  Nothing major, and the end result *cough* will be very positive.

I walked out of that office with a smile on my face and a relieved spring in my step. I even thought about whistling.  A glance at the frowning receptionist made me reconsider.

Penny

Posted: March 23, 2014 in humor, humour, living, show business
Tags: , , , , , ,

She died a few weeks ago and was laid to rest the following Saturday.

While it’s a shame when any friend or family member passes on, the fact is she left us while she was still young.  She had many more years of sowing oats ahead of her.  I think (but am not sure) that she was in her early thirties at most.

Penny* was a hard nut to crack.  I first saw her in my improv comedy class some years ago. She was a tiny thing who tended not to say much.

I couldn’t get a read on her: maybe she was just naturally introverted; maybe she disliked me; maybe she didn’t like men in general.  I wasn’t sure.  Funny how that works: how quiet people are often misinterpreted as anti-social.  I’d seen that happen a few times before with other shy people, so was loathe to make assumptions about her.  She remained, for me, somewhat of a question mark.

Another friend, Lisa* (who was married at the time), invited me into their small gang.  All of them were in the same improv class as I was, and all of them were hilarious and friendly.  Penny was part of the group too.

Maybe back then I had a natural need to make people warm up to me.  I was usually successful too:  all it took was reading them to find out what makes them tick, and then finding something in common.  Often, humour worked for me.  For some reason, it just never worked with Penny. It bugged me a little bit – but only because I wasn’t sure if she hated me, or just tolerated me or what.  I had to try and stop guessing and stop trying to figure her out.

The main reason I enjoyed being in our little improv gang, actually, was that I couldn’t read any of them.  Not at all.  This usually meant they were self-aware, typically self-confident, and curious as hell about the world.  That described the gang perfectly.

The corporate training man in our group, who had the same name as me – Wolf* – was friendly, gregarious and welcoming.  He could switch on a dime though. I was certain of that.

I remember going with the gang to his huge condo in Toronto after improv class one night. We were joking and having a good time, and, needing to say something I blurted out something about pot.

“Well we have some” someone said.

“What?  Pot?”

“Yeah, maybe we should smoke up.”

I looked around at them, thinking.  Finally:  “I’ve never done it”

Everyone’s eyes widened with disbelief.  Including Penny’s.

Wolf said “you haven’t?  Wow.  Really?  Not once in all your life?”

“Never” I said.  “I grew up as a religious guy all during my teens.  Didn’t even drink back then.”

“Well we need to get you going then.  Do you want to try it?”

I did, and said so.  I could tell they were pleased.

Someone lit up a joint, and we passed it all around.  I coughed.

Lisa said “that’s good.  That means it’s working.”

The only sensation I got was a sore throat.

“It’s not working” I said.  “I feel the same”

Wolf replied “well that often happens with the first toke.”

I nodded.

Penny said “next time you puff, trying holding it in longer”

I nodded, happy that she was talking to me.

Wolf blurted “oh my God!  We have to get you some munchies!”

And with that, he jumped up and opened up his cupboards, looking for some snacks.

“Here.  Try some Doritos”.

I took a chip, obedient to the core.  I wasn’t actually hungry but didn’t want to destroy any illusions.

Penny laughed.  I grinned.

Ever afterward, I joined them after improv class, and we went on some typical late night adventures.

Once, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant at 3:00 in the morning to have some soup. None of the servers seemed to speak English, so we ordered off the menu according to the number assigned to each dish.

Another time, we all went to a strip club.  Wolf bought a VIP lap dance for Lisa.  After she went to the VIP lounge, Wolf said “let’s go watch!”  And so we did.  I can’t recall if Penny was there.  It seems likely that she was.

I recall the bunch of us going up to the roof of Wolf’s condo late one night after improv class, and looking up at the stars. This was the first time that pot had a negative effect.  I looked at the edge of roof and had the sudden thought that they could so easily push me over it, if they wanted.  My paranoid brain thought “why wouldn’t they?  It’d be a perfect crime.  No one knows I’m here.”   I got nervous, and couldn’t wait to go back to his condo apartment.

In later weeks, I only recall Penny and I doing an improv routine together just once.  We were playing a couple of friends who were riding the subway while standing. Subways tend to shake a bit, so we had to shake to create the illusion.  Penny looked at me and said “nice tits”.

This was so unexpected that I broke character.  Near as I could tell, though overweight I had yet to develop man-breasts.  She had triggered my Achilles Heel.  I looked down.  I forget what I said, but just remember that it was lame.  What I should have said was “I just had them done.  You like?”   And then I should have put one of her hands on my chest.  “Here. Feel.”

Penny invited a few of us over to her place after class. I knew I was finally on her approved list when she said to me “listen, I know you commute into Toronto every day. How would you like to room here with us instead?”   I was honestly taken aback and so grateful that she asked.

“Um, thank you!” I said. “I’ll have to think it through, figure it out.  How are you guys with cats?  I have two of them”

“Oh” she said, looking at her roommate. “That might not work.  Jake* is allergic.”

“Well, thanks so much for the offer!” I said.  I was truly grateful and touched that she even asked.

“What are your cats’ names?” she asked.

I smirked.  “Um, well one’s named Princess”.

We all laughed.

“You’re not going to believe the name of the second one” I said, through my tears.

“Tell me!”

“Muffin”

They roared.

Wiping her eyes, Penny asked “so who named them?  Your wife?”

“No……” I began. “Uh.”

“Not you” she said, incredulous.

“Yeah.  Me.”

The laughter increased once again.  I have no idea why it was so funny, even though I smile now, remembering it.

Once, when I moved into my small apartment in Oshawa after separating from my wife, I invited the gang in for a house-warming party.  Wolf brought his girlfriend, and Lisa and Penny came too.

While waiting on the pizza delivery, Penny checked out the books on my bookshelf.  I was a little embarrassed, as some of them were swords and sorcery novels.  I noticed her smiling.

We plowed into the pizza and got some beer going.  All night long we laughed and talked about everything.  I don’t know what it was: there were no egos involved, no holding back on anything.  We were free with each other.   That little group of ours was magic to me.  I’ve never grown quite so close to a group of people as I did to them.

The improv classes ended, and we all drifted apart, as friends sometimes do.

I heard that Penny had changed her name and had gone into standup.

Lisa did some standup too, right before she traipsed on down to California to break into the acting world there.  She eventually came back to Canada and we became Facebook friends.

I was shocked when Lisa messaged me one day a few years later and said “Penny died yesterday”.

It was a death through illness.  And it was a ripoff to the world.

Damn it. It should not have happened.

*all names have been changed, as per usual

In case you missed it, it seems that a large number of folk in France dislike the whole subject of gays and homosexuality.  They would prefer their children not be taught about the differences in people.

Isn’t it amazing how fast news goes around the world?

connected

We’ve come such a long way in just a few short years.  Seems that way anyway. 

After the first plane hit one of the twin towers back in 2001, most of the world tuned in to watch the second one hit, in real time.  Reactions were mixed: most folk were horrified.  Some actually shot their guns off into the air, rejoicing.

No wonder newspapers are having a hard time of it, and struggling to stay afloat.  In an instant-gratification, instant-access world, the fate of the traditional news rag is to stand as an anachronistic beacon; a signpost to another, calmer era.

Who knew that when the internet became available, the thoughts and trends of faraway countries would transmit to those of us in the U.S. and Canada, in the blink of an eye?  Who knew that libraries too would become dusty relics, at a time when Google provided access to all of the information you could possibly need or want?  About anything!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  All of this has been obvious for a while.  I’m just struck by the effects of the increased access to knowledge, to news, and now to culture.

Living in Toronto, I find I’m used to the presence of multiple cultures involving nationalities and sexualities.  Every summer we have food weekends, which celebrate Greece or Italy (and a host of others, I’m sure). 

Like many large cities, we also have Gay Pride week, which also involves at least two parades.

I’m used to a culture of tolerance here.  So it seems surprising when I read about what’s going on in France, and how gay marriage has been enshrined in law, despite the outrage of many of its citizens.

Not so surprising, given Russia’s autocratic supposedly he-man leader (the great, the wonderful, the amazing, the virile and often shirtless Vlad – the Vladimir – Putin) is the anti-gay culture enshrined in that society.  A culture which promotes a passive acknowledgement and appreciation of anti-gay violence, while hypocritically giving lip service to a decidedly tepid tolerance of gays.

Despite Toronto’s enshrined tolerance, there are a few conservative newspapers which (unwittingly? unintentionally?) provide a forum in that same city for those who find gays disgusting.

“I don’t want to hear about what they do with each other’s penises”.  Trust me – no one does.  Just as no one wants to know about how your grandfather services your grandmother.  But then again – that’s a red herring, isn’t it?  Of all of the gay people I know, not one of them has ever expressed any interest in vocalizing any details about their nightly romantic escapades.  (Not that I’ve asked, mind you). But then, I don’t ask my hetero friends about how much hot wax their girlfriends poured on their naughty bits either.

The intolerant in our society are barking about what gays do with each other, but this isn’t information based upon what gay folk are actually saying to straights.  It seems to be mostly based upon what they imagine gays are doing to each other beneath the sheets.

This aversion to the gay culture stems from religious intolerance.  Religion has always had a problem with sexuality in general though. Ask a preacher about masturbation and watch the sparks fly. 

When I was entering adolescence, I didn’t know who to turn to, so I asked my Baptist preacher about it.  You never saw a face turn so quickly turn red.  After mumbling a few words about “the sin of Onan”, he shut the door.  He just couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

Back then, we didn’t have Google or the internet, so I had to search elsewhere to find out what he was talking about.  (You, on the other hand, had full access to Google, so have it. I won’t explain it here.  Search phrase: “sin of Onan” “spilling seed”).

I could lay all of the angst about sexuality at the feet of religion, and I supposed I’d probably be correct in doing so.  The sad fact though is that change and acceptance goes largely unappreciated, as part of the human condition.  It goes beyond mere religion.

We like things to stay the way they are.  We like our values to be static.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.   We cheerfully rejoice when a thief is jailed, and even more so when we learn that someone in a far away land has been hung for his crimes.  Some of us don’t even mind when we hear about a thief having his hand chopped off.  We’re not really interested in the sick child he had at home, or in any of the circumstances which precipitated his crime.

There was a time when it was acceptable to own slaves, or to treat people with different coloured skin differently.  It took a long time to change all of that – and it didn’t happen without a lot of blood being shed first. 

Seems almost crazy to think that there are still evolving cultures out there where people still have to stay in the closet, or hide their nationality.  You’d think that with the advent of the internet, we’d all come together and cast off our prejudices.

The Olympics has given us yet an opportunity to do so.  Putin’s announcements and laws about homosexuality has given him somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, as he has opened the door to discussion, to debate, and to protest.

Cities around the world are raising the gay pride flag, in support of the Olympics and in support of the gays who participate, and in support of the gays who live in fear in Russia.  Those with entrenched hatred of gays are complaining loudly about it.  This includes our Toronto mayor, who is vehemently protesting, and trying to get the Pride flag removed. 

“I’ve done everything I can to ge the Canadian flag back up” he said.  What he didn’t say was that a Canadian flag had not actually been removed.

I have to admit that it’s fun to see genuine hypocrisy hard at work. One has to tweak logic pretty hard on the nose in order to get it to support one’s prejudice.

Someday, the brotherhood of man will be understood and embraced.  Until then, we’ll continue to have mobs, and lynchings and wars. 

Still, there’s a catharsis in knowing that the fight for tolerance is persistent.  No matter how badly folk want people to shut up about it, it’s just not going away.

“You are so cold”

I was thus informed, at the end of a heated discussion.   The topic wasn’t worth remembering, which is why I can’t tell you what it was. 

What she meant though was “you’re not taking my side; you’re not offering me comfort.”

Also: “you’re not willing to spend your time listening to me complain without offering suggestions.  I don’t want your suggestions, I want you to listen.  And I’m quite okay with staying miserable – I’ve been this way for months.  Why can’t you understand that?”

For all of our wealth, it seems our society is filled with pockets of the pity-people: folk who are miserable, and have no intention of doing anything about it.

Part of the problem, for some, comes from their mental illness: there is absolutely zero to be gained by telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up.  It’s like asking a banana to peel itself. 

Or like telling a diver, in mid-dive “please don’t get wet”.

Shit’s gon’ get wet, yo.

I think everyone handles such unfortunate people differently.  My preference – and this is not a perfected process yet – is to mention some ideas they should consider so that they won’t be miserable anymore, and then vacate the area.

I’m not talking about the person who just lost his job, or the woman whose husband just left her.  Offering helpful “next steps” to either – especially immediately after the moment of crisis – borders on insane, not to mention cruel.  I truly think that you need to feel the pain and the hurt before you can carry on.  Before you should carry on, in most cases.

And to be fair, the “I just want you to listen” complaint mentioned above is often fair.   It seems to be a male-female thing.  A lot of women seem to want us guys to listen without offering suggestions.  Many of us guys just see a problem that needs fixing.  This issue isn’t about that.

The bedraggled person I’m talking about has been miserable for months, and seems unable or unwilling to extricate himself from his pain.  My experience – based upon years of trying to help various people - is:  he or she needs professional help.

I’m not equipped.  I haven’t had the training.  Even if I did, I would imagine that being close to such a person (related or friend) would preclude my ability to provide any kind of effective help. 

doctor

If one is a warm, inviting person, one becomes a target for the marginalized and hurting person.  This is acceptable.  What’s not okay is the person who wants to bend one’s ear, for days and weeks on end, about the same topic, and with the same result.  Which is: nothing.  Stasis.

It’s a hard thing, saying “no” to such a person.  I’ve employed a technique similar to the ones used on me, when being rejected as a date companion. 

“I like you, just not in the way you like me.”
“We can certainly meet.  I’ll get back to you when I can figure out a date that’ll work.”
“Sorry.  I’m at work right now. Can we talk later?”
“Listen, it’s been great chatting, but I’m late for an appointment/work/washing my hair.”
“Can I get back to you on that?”

(Just kidding about the first one)

Coming right out and saying “I agree that what happened to you was unfair and wrong, but you need to get help”, might be the right answer, but I’ve never known it to work. The minute you say something like that, you get:

“So…you think I’m crazy!”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.  I—”
“Only crazy people need counselling!”
“Um, I’ve gone for counselling.  Am I crazy?  Also – did I say you were crazy?”

I’m frankly amazed that there’s still such a stigma about mental illness.  Some people are honestly in need of help, and would benefit so greatly from it – whether that helps comes in the form of chemical balancing (drugs) or cognitive therapy. 

Have you noticed – there are still some adults walking around who have no idea who they are.  Some are quite okay and are functioning well in their ignorance.  Some may go their graves that way, and that’s fine. 

Others will experience just one thing going wonky in their carefully constructed utopia, and their world will crash.  They have no idea what happened, or what to do, or why they became such a target for pain.  They just know something isn’t right, and that someone else should pay.  And, not seeing that person/company receive justice, they become embittered and enraged and inconsolable.

And they want to talk about it.  At high volume.

They have no idea they’re broadcasting at such a high volume, and so when you decide you’ve heard enough, and you want to help them, what they see is you coming along, offering a Pollyanna answer, sure that what you’ve told them will bring sunlight and butterflies to their miserable existence.  How dare you. 

In effect, offering such a response means you’ve become their mortal enemy.  Just like the company/person whose offended them, you are against them.

They’ll continue to vent to you (if you let them) but they will watch you with a now jaundiced eye, expecting you to continue offering advice – because it’ll prove to them that you’re still against them.  This time they’re ready, and they will lash out.

You’ve now got a toxic friend.

The only thing left – at least when I face such a person – is to cut him off.  Regretfully.

It’s necessary to do so, I think, if you want to maintain your own sanity. 

I wish I had hope for such people, but I frankly don’t.  I get the sense that many of these folk will go their graves, still toxic.  Their gravestones will read “I died alone, you bastards.”

I still see a lot of people dealing with toxic folk by continuing to be their sounding board, day after day, year after year.  You can see the lines of stress on their face, as they’re sure they’re not doing enough for their friend.  How could they be, since their friend is still miserable?

I wonder at these long-suffering and patient friends.  On occasion I’ve asked them “what’s the point?”

They shrug, resignedly.  There is no point.  Not really.  They’re building after-life credits, I suppose.  They prefer to see themselves as helpful and kind, and are worried that others will see them as cruel if they’re not there for their friend.

What they are not doing, from where I stand, is living.

I could be wrong though.