Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

anxious

CRASH!

The little guy woke with a start. He sat up in bed and looked around, blearily. The clock said 1:30. He had just learned how to tell time so he knew it was too early for breakfast.

He heard another crash, this time with some screams.

Alarmed, he yanked back the blankets and slapped his six year-old feet on the floor and ran to the living room.

Before he got there, he heard his father bellow something in rage. So he stopped just in time and stood just outside the doorway.

He heard everything. The unfocused anger, the faint sound of a fist hitting flesh, his mom’s whimpers and his grandmother’s loud protests. He didn’t know what to do. This was all wrong and he wanted it to stop but he didn’t know how. So he stood there, trembling.

……………

Eventually, this scenario repeated every weekend. Then, almost every night. For so many nights, the little guy listened to his dad bellowing in drunken rage, and his mother trying to stand her ground.

He didn’t hit her every time. But he came close quite often. And every now and then he lashed out. Once he hit her mother too, for trying to stop him.

……………

The little guy was the oldest of two children. After that first drunken blowup, four more children were born, bringing the total to six.

The little guy listened attentively to his mother as she coached him into behaving as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible, so as to not “set your father off.” He interpreted that as her giving him the mantle of keeping everyone safe.

He took that responsibility seriously. And he remained serious from then on, ensuring his sisters and brother behaved properly, so as to not “set dad off.”

Secretly, he wished he could balloon up to 400 pounds so he could eclipse his 350 pound dad and pound the shit out of him until he stopped being so mean to everyone.

But, even in his teen years, he had a very slight build and could not gain weight no matter how hard he tried. And all during that time, he held the responsibility of keeping his family safe. He actually called the police on his father twice, but they turned out to be useless. (In later years, he grew to understand that at the time, police had very little training in the handling of “domestic disputes” as they called it.)

……………

His father eventually got into AA and the abuse stopped. By this time, the little guy was an adult with a marriage and children of his own. His mother had eight abuse-free years after his father’s death before she too passed on.

The man, now grown, found he knew how to mediate very well. He prided himself on being able to see all sides of a dispute, and help the parties come to a mutual understanding. After understanding, he knew an agreement was imminent. Most disputes, he knew, came from one guy not being able to empathize with the other, and vice versa. He saw his role as painting pictures for them both, to allow them to see the issue from all sides.

The problem of course was that the man was mediating disputes all over the place, even in some cases where there was no dispute at all. He was good at it, and he hated conflict, so he worked hard to keep everyone safe.

……………

During one of the final nights of the Panic Disorder therapy group, the man noticed he was carrying some anxiety. He knew it only because he could feel his chest tighten up, and his breathing quicken. As soon as he noticed it, he felt it go down.

This particular group session was all about how to spot triggers for anxiety. The therapist mentioned that triggers can happen long before any anxiety or panic attacks happen.

Meanwhile, he kept noticing his anxiety going up – and then going down as soon as he noticed it. It was puzzling, and he couldn’t think of anything that would warrant the anxiety.

Except….later that night the shoe finally dropped.

During the Panic Group session, there was some unsettling behaviour going on. There were moments where someone was expressing his or her issues and it seemed like there was something unpredictable about it all.

What happened was the man’s now-ingrained response to “make sure everyone’s safe” was kicking in, and the anxiety was ramping up appropriately. Everyone was not safe because not everyone was happy and calm.

……………

This revelation was just as much a surprise as it was obvious – only in retrospect. Of *course* the little guy’s completely understandable anxiety and wish to keep everyone safe would become a habitual response to any uncomfortable or unpredictable situations.

The difference now is: he’s a grown adult, his dad is dead and gone, and no one’s really in danger.

And maybe I don’t have to keep anyone safe anymore except myself.

Have you ever watched the TV series “Homeland”?

I’m binge-watching Season 7 right now. It’s speaking to me in a way I never expected.

I’m not bi-polar like Carrie, the show’s protagonist. Yet her character speaks to me, particularly now, more than ever.

Claire Danes – the gifted and talented actor who portrays Carrie – is doing an outstanding job showing us what it’s like being manic at times. If she isn’t like that in real life, then she’s done her homework, and perhaps has someone well acquainted with the mental illness coaching her.

The thing is, I’ve felt many of the emotions and thoughts she so painfully paints. Particularly the hopelessness and trapped feeling that shakes Carrie to her core.

Up until now, I’ve been an observer. I know people who are bi-polar, and they have described what it’s like not knowing from one day to the next what’s in store. But I haven’t been able to relate to the frustration they feel until now.

You can probably appreciate what it’s like when you’ve made a decision to be more active, to go the gym regularly and to work hard at improving your overall fitness.

Or maybe you’ve been in great shape all of your life, and you regularly participate in sports, just enjoying the good feeling you get from being able to be mobile and flexible; to be able to run up a set of stairs without getting out of breath at the top.

Yet, there comes a day when you make a misstep on those stairs. Or you get hit by a car. Or twist your ankle, or your shoulder starts to act up and you find one or more of your limbs just won’t do what it’s told. And now you can’t do any of those physical activities. Your injury is a speed bump keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Imagine depending upon your intelligence and logic day after day. You take it for granted, and you’ve appreciated how you’ve been able to plan, to work out logistics and problems and you enjoy the good feeling of having surmounted a seemingly impossible task.

Suddenly one day you find you can’t do any of those things. Instead, your thoughts horrify you. Your stomach clenches up without apparent reason, and you find you can’t even leave your house. You sit in front of your computer, prepared to log into your workplace, only to find your whole body rebelling with fear.

So you push yourself away from the keyboard, frustrated that this is the sixteenth day you’ve been unable to log in.

You don’t know where to turn or what to do. You look outside at your balcony, and you wonder how likely it would be that you would die if you jump. Or would you merely be maimed?

Then you realize what you’re thinking, and you resolve yourselves not to even look, knowing that just doing that might endanger you. You’re aware that it’s possible that curiosity might turn into impulse.

You need to work, you need the money. But you can’t work.

You’re in a trap with no way out. And all of your decisions center around resolving this deadly dichotomy. So you make a series of bad choices, all based upon your catastrophic thinking.

As mentioned in my last blog, my meds are working. Yet, these feelings came back, just for a fleeting second this week.

Somehow, watching Carrie go through her nightmares on Homeland feels cathartic somehow. I’m having trouble articulating just why that is. Maybe it’s that this fictional character is a kindred spirit of sorts.

My meds are working but I’m not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

It’s a funny thing. When you hear the words “mental illness” the first image that pops into your head is someone’s head. Yours, or the stranger on the street, gabbing away incessantly to no one.

Yet, when you experience it yourself, the symptoms often don’t occur in your head. (Or in my case, at all)

It hits you like a cold. You don’t go looking to catch a cold, and you sure AF don’t go looking to become mentally ill either, despite all of the innocent phrases that start with “I must be going out of my mind!”

Mine came right out of the blue. My boss had asked me to take over for him for a week – something I’ve done countless times. The work is easy, even though it’s more high profile and you get the big bosses asking you things. It was what I’ve always done, but at a lower level: boss asks you for something, you go looking to your subordinates to provide answers. The people working for you are the real experts, so you learn to depend upon them, and you promote the hell out of them whenever you can, because you know how valuable they are to pretty much everything.

It’s no different when you’re a higher level boss. Like I said, I’ve done it many times before. There just was no reason for this time to be any different. Yet it was.

I made a comment in a Facebook discussion group about how I was having trouble sleeping because I found it hard to breathe.

One guy, a retired doctor, responded “dude, I’m not going to try and diagnose you here or anything but if I were you, I’d check with my doctor.”

I appreciated his concern but didn’t take it seriously until the following afternoon, when I found I was having trouble breathing during my waking moments. The more I thought about it, the worse it seemed, so I hastened down to the emergency department of the hospital. After a day of testing and prodding and poking and ultrasound, the emergency doctor said “Are you feeling anxious about anything?”

I had to wrack my brain. It took me a while to figure out it was the upcoming acting manager gig that triggered the anxiety. Which frankly, I thought was stupid. There really wasn’t anything to worry about. But there we were, and that’s when it all started, last summer.

The last time I wrote about anxiety (Looking for Sunrise), I hadn’t yet started any meds. I went about six weeks suffering multiple panic attacks, as the meds took their time kicking in. The days were so dark, I was afraid of everything. I was housebound, and even within my apartment I refused to open my balcony door. I knew if I did, there was a good chance I would look over the railing, and thought would become action.

There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t know how to handle it. I prayed for death and at times thought about how to do it.

The first med I tried – Zoloft – only made things much worse. The second one was better but it took about six weeks – all of which was spent away from work – before it finally began working.

My team noticed immediately. “Wolf, you’re sounding like you’re back to your regular self. Do you feel better?”  I said “Yeah, I really do.” And I did.

Gone was the darkness. Gone were the suicidal thoughts. I was back to normal, with one important difference: I knew this was because of the meds.

Also, I didn’t realize how resilient I’d considered myself to be, until this all happened. And now that confident sense of resilience is gone. I’m aware of how fragile I am.

So there you have it: my mental illness showed up as an inability to breathe properly and as a very warm hollow feeling in my stomach. There was no cerebral symptoms at all. The mental illness showed up everywhere except in my head. Weird.

There’s a lifetime of valleys and drama and death that I know have contributed to this newfound fragility. I have to address them, which is why I’m now seeing a psychologist. And it’s why I’m now looking hard at retiring as soon as I possibly can.

One other thing. You know how all of those commercials and PSA announcements about mental health involve telling sufferers to reach out to various people, phone lines and the like – all in an effort to avoid suicide?

Yeah, that doesn’t work. People like me who suffer from this stuff have zero ability to reach out to anyone. All we’re looking for is a way to get the darkness to stop as quickly as possible.

The thing that worked for me was that my loved ones reached out to me. They could do that. I couldn’t do the opposite. I couldn’t reach out to them. My brain just wasn’t in a place to allow me to do that.

Instead, all I could do was turn inward and curl up mentally, buffeted by the winds of my nightmare.

fetal

Keeping Zen in an Angry World

Posted: June 19, 2018 in Life, living, politics
Tags: , ,
13
When I was a young boy, I got into a lot of fights. It happens when the gang at school finds something about you they know will push your buttons. Once they find it, they take no end of delight in gleefully pushing it. So they did. And so I lashed out. I got into fights all the time. Most of the time the fights came to a draw or I got beat up. Snivelling and crying because life was so damned unfair.
Mom – bless her dear departed heart – was a rock for all six of us back then. She was the disciplinarian whose job it was to keep us in line, make us laugh, comfort us and bandage our cut up knees. And she taught us all that it was better to keep our mouths closed, to be respectful and to practice kindness.
I grew up, eventually, and that whiny little boy decided Mom’s way was better. (It helped that I got heavily into religion at the time too). We’re now in an age that seems surreal to me. Where cruelty and spite is the norm. Where cowards get to voice their deepest angry and hateful thoughts behind their oh-so-safe keyboards. Life is once again unfair, as the world at large discovers more and more of these buttons that we all possess, and they just *love* pressing them. There is what I would call a “hate movement” going on right now. You can see it all over social media. And it’s happening on all sides of every debate you can think of. If you’re not for me, you’re against me and I won’t listen to you. I will hate you. We’ve lost the art of conversation, and of healthy debate. The minute you put your stake in the ground, you attract sycophants just as you attract hate mongers.
I know this all too well, because I have participated. It’s no secret who I hold hatred for right now. But here’s the thing:
Because I participated, I lost. Because I was so willing to spew my own well reasoned, justified sanctimonious hate, I’ve fallen into the trap of this movement.
One night last week I was on a bus ride home. I forget where I was coming from. It suddenly occurred to me. I was just as complicit in this orgy of hatred as the people (well, more precisely, the person) I hated. He won, because I participated at all.
I made up my mind right then. I wasn’t going to play the game anymore. You can’t lose if you’re not playing, right?
I scrubbed all of my hate-filled tweets from Twitter and resolved to not engage anymore.
You know what though? It’s hard. It’s so very hard when you see parrots repeating that hatred all over the place, coupled with lies and exaggerations and some truly loathsome evil shit. I find I have to sit on my hands and grit my teeth.
Regardless, Mom’s boy will adhere to her training. I will do my best to avoid hatred, and to consider only those things which bring life.
My hatred isn’t gone. Far from it. But if I don’t give it air to breathe, maybe it will die. Maybe I’ll reach a point where I can merely observe, silently and patiently, as the
maelstrom of hatred we’re all seeing will dissipate. Or it won’t. It may get stronger.
Something’s going to give at some point. I’d rather see it from a zen vantage point, rather than dance in its mosh pit.

 

(Trigger warning for anxiety)

mental

My cellphone rang. It was my brother. He rarely calls.

It’s not that we’re estranged or anything. It’s that he has his life and I have mine, and we live far apart. And when we get together, we generally have a good time.

It was good to hear his voice.

“Hey Jamie. How are you doing?”

“Not bad, Wolf. How are you?”

I could never play the polite game with my bro. Plus, I was not a fan of chit chat and making polite noises.

“Honestly – not that good, Jamie. I’ve been having some severe panic attacks. I’ve gone to group therapy for about six weeks, only to find out I was in the wrong group and should have been in the panic disorder group, not the generalized anxiety disorder one.”

Silence. Then: “Man, that must suck.”

“Yeah, it really does.”

Silence again. He was probably trying to figure out what to say.

“I had anxiety  years ago, and it was bad. I didn’t know what was causing it. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and I couldn’t think straight.”

As he listed off his symptoms, my heart began to race. I couldn’t listen to this.

I knew he meant well though, so I let him continue. Silently, I writhed. Listening to him talk about his episode of anxiety was making me feel unsafe and afraid and….I was panicking.

You know, I have to admit: before my panic attacks began, I saw those articles with the words “trigger warning” at the top, and thought it was childish. Who in hell needs to be warned that a story may cause a problem? What are we? Nine years old or something?

As it turns out, I was woefully naive. And as it turns out, very very wrong.

My own brother was making my anxiety worse, and he had no idea. And I was too deep into it to explain it properly, in a way he could understand.

He rambled on and on, describing in vivid detail his brush with anxiety. (And it was indeed a brush, as it only happened to him once, thank God.)

My heart was racing, my head was aching, my stomach was roiling and I was beginning to shake.

I was freaking out.

I stopped my brother in mid-sentence. “Hey Jamie, listen, I’ve got some dinner on the go here, so I think I’ll have to let you go.” There was no dinner.

“Oh okay Wolf. Catch you later then.”

I haven’t been to work in a week.  This shit really messes you up. I look forward to a time when I’ll be able to take my good mental health for granted again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep myself above the ground. It’s hard, but there are lots of places to provide support. My CAMH counselor made sure I knew that in the worst case scenario, I should call 911. And I will. And it may come to that.

I just know I can’t live with this crap. It’s no way to live anyway. It’s enough right now to just survive.

I won’t even go out on my balcony at this point. Because I don’t trust myself or my impulses.

Anxiety sucks.

Pink is Cool

Posted: April 1, 2018 in anxiety, humor, Life, mental health
Tags:
“I want you all to close your eyes. Now. And no peeking.”
 
She waited, as all of us in the anxiety disorder group obeyed her instructions.
 
“Now, for the next 60 seconds I want you all to think of nothing except a pink bunny rabbit.”
 
I knew where this was going. She would shortly tell us to now think of anything *except* a pink bunny rabbit, thereby proving to us that telling anyone to stop thinking about things that make them anxious almost never works.
 
But for now we were in the first part of the exercise, thinking about a pink bunny rabbit.
 
I was bored.
 
So I added some details to my pink bunny rabbit.
 
My pink bunny rabbit was a little bigger than bunny rabbits. Not much, just a little bigger. And it sat there, munching away on something, its nose twitching back and forth (as they do).
pink
Suddenly, a large snake appeared. It slithered toward the pink bunny rabbit, its tongue flickering in and out, testing the air. Smelling the pink bunny rabbit.
 
The pink bunny rabbit appeared to not notice it. It didn’t move, didn’t start in alarm. It just sat there with its nose twitching, always twitching.
 
The snake slithered and stopped. Then it raised up and reared its head back. And just when it was about to shoot forward, the pink bunny rabbit’s jaw opened up, wide, wide WIDE and it lunged at the snake and captured it in its maw, swallowing the entire snake whole.
 
I smiled, pleased and proud at my mind’s juvenile creation.
 
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a difference. The opposite of anxiety, right over here.
 
Happy Easter everyone!

stars

Funny thing about being sick: you tend to think about a lot of stuff, mostly because you’re too miserable to watch TV or run about taking care of business and being busy.

So here’s what’s going on in my brain, while I keep busy scrambling for the Kleenex box to catch all the consequences of my stupid illness.  Maybe you can relate to some of it (my only reason for sharing).

So much of what I do involves consumption. Besides the obvious necessary ones  (food, water, sleep) there are optional areas of consumption. Like, for example,  a new TV, a better computer, a night out at the movies, a meal at a nice restaurant.

There’s nothing wrong with any of it. But the common thing these things share is that there is no contribution going on. There’s no creativity. Just consumption.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide what it is I want to do. Do I want to write, or act, or create musical pieces on my piano? Do I want to sing? Do I want to dance? These questions have been a source of confusion because they all involve effort, time, and dedication to be good at any of them.

I’m already good at a few of them, but they are all equally compelling, so it’s been hard to figure out which one to focus on. So instead, I’ve let my subconscious try (and fail) at figuring it out, while I continue to do what I do best: consume.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to focus on consuming anymore.

My TV is old and out of date. It’s not a smart TV, and the resolution is so dated that no one talks about it anymore. But I don’t actually *need* to do anything about it. Same goes for my 6 year old computer.

Both still work, so why spend time researching replacements? It’s wasted energy.

I want to create. And the realization now is that I don’t have to decide on just one: there’s no reason I can’t do them all.

So that’s my late October resolution. To spend more time creating than I do consuming.

I can tell that this epiphany is already informing some of my decisions. When I sit at the computer and see a political post that rubs me the wrong way, I generally go looking for references to bolster my objection, prior to airing it.  Now when that’s happening and I start to open up another browser tab, the thought occurs: “Wait. This is consumption.” And so I stop.

I mean it’s a start but this can’t just be about stopping, it has to be about creating and moving forward with momentum.

Help me out here.

Have you every thought about how much time you’re using up and how you’re using it? Have you found certain consumptions habits that are hard to break?

How have you achieved focus to let that stuff drop away so you can concentrate on the creative stuff that matters?

 

Bratty Brain

Posted: May 29, 2017 in ADHD, anxiety, Life, mental health
Tags: , , ,

“Well, I can confirm that you have ADHD.”

The feeling of relief was palpable and intense. After all these years, to finally hear a psychiatrist proclaim what I’d long suspected. It was overwhelming.

“Also, the testing you took also shows that you have anxiety disorder.”

Anxiety-cartoon

Wait. What?

Anxiety? Pfft. I’ve managed to deal with stress all of my life. Sure there were times when the stress got to be too much and I had to take measures to lessen it. But it wasn’t a disorder. It was just normal stress. Everyone has stress at one time or another.

I dismissed it. Didn’t give it another thought. That was seven years ago.

And the years went by.

A few weeks ago I found myself tossing and turning in bed. Normally, when I crash, it takes all of two minutes for me to drop into a deep sleep.

Not this time. As I turned over yet again, I realized what was preventing sleep: I was having trouble breathing.

I got up and watched a couple of hours of TV. That made me drowsy enough to finally fall fast asleep.

Unfortunately it meant I only got a couple of hours of shut-eye, and then I had to get up for work.

The next night it was the same. And then, during the following day during my waking  hours I found myself struggling for breath.

“That’s it”, I thought. “Something’s wrong.” And so off to the ER I went.

They triaged me, and decided my symptoms were serious enough to take me right away and run some tests.

Seven hours later, the doctor finally finished doing her final ultrasound test. She said “well your tests all show that you’re okay physically. Are you worried about something? Your symptoms would indicate that you’re suffering from anxiety.”

I frowned. “I don’t think I’m stressed out about anything. Thanks doc. I’ll think about it.”

The only thing that came to mind was the fact I had agreed to act as manager for a week. After acknowledging that, my symptoms seemed to lessen. I was pretty sure that was it. Every time I felt the heaviness in my chest, I just thought about my acting manager job, and the stress seemed to go away. Acknowledgement was the cure.

A few days later I had a conference call with my team. My ADHD was in full effect: I would be talking about a subject, but then these wayward thoughts would find their way to the forefront and interrupt me.

I’ve never had it happen that way before. The thoughts were so strong and insistent that they demanded attention. Picture a toddler screaming at you while you’re on the phone with a friend. That’s how it was with me.

toddler

The thoughts were so strong I had to stop, mid-sentence. “Sorry guys, it’s not that English isn’t my mother tongue; it’s that ADHD is my dominant language right now, and it’s having a field day.

My team laughed in understanding.

I tried again, and it happened again. It was bizarre. I’ve had ADHD symptoms all of my life but this….THIS was out of control, and embarrassing.

A few weeks later I found myself once again having trouble breathing. This time I walked around as much as I could, then sat down near a Starbucks, set a timer for 10 minutes, closed my eyes and attempted to meditate by concentrating on my breathing.

I was a model of meditation actually: I observed the little aches and pains and thoughts, let them wash through me, and kept thinking about my breathing.

meditate

It didn’t work. My thoughts betrayed me, and I kept falling out of meditation time and again. And each time I did, I struggled to get back to just thinking about breathing.

Finally, I called my boss. “Listen, I’m not handling things very well. I think my anxiety is back.”

Honest to God, if you have to work for someone, you couldn’t find a better boss than this guy. He understood immediately, and he talked me down.

We discussed the trigger at my job, and he lifted that burden from me. He honestly didn’t think it belonged with my group anyway. (I won’t go into details, as that would be a blog in itself).

Then he said “what you need to do now is take some time off. Stop thinking about this place. Get some help. Talk with your doctor. And then, come back to work only when you feel better. You’re no good to me, to your team or yourself when you’re not at your optimum.”

He was right. I took his advice.

It’s been years since I had therapy. Tonight’s the night I have my first session with a psychologist.

A Bull in Search of a China Shop

Posted: January 20, 2017 in Life, politics
Tags: , ,

bull_in_a_china_shop

If I had to sum it all up, the word I’d use would be “fear”.

I won’t speak for anyone else, but I come by my fear honestly.

I grew up under the brooding anger of a drunken narcissist.

My father always drank, and he was always angry. And it was always about him.

So, as a tiny youngster, and then as a scrawny adolescent and teen, I learned how to interact with him. I guess, in my innocence, I thought I was “managing” him, by not doing anything to make him angry.

He was a monster, really. A massive, sweaty, angry shirtless man of over 350 pounds who stomped around the house looking for a reason to justify his anger.

He was brutal. He hit my mom in the stomach when she was pregnant. He hit her on her head when she had migraines. He bellowed a lot. Most of his sentences contained one word only. He eschewed the use of adjectives, and sometimes even verbs.

“Would you please pass the salt” came out as an angry one-word demand. “SALT!”

I’ve written about my father before. This is not about him.

There’s another narcissist making the news today. He’s being sworn in as President of the United States.

This narcissist doesn’t drink. Presumably, he doesn’t do any drugs either. Those are strong points in his favour.

However, he is a narcissist with a delicate ego. Already we’re watching as his “enemies” (his word for anyone who doesn’t explicitly support him) are scrambling around trying to get in his good graces. They have to work with him, after all.

And like my father, he holds nothing but contempt for them. I think he holds contempt even for many of his friends.

A lot of my friends are conservative, and they wonder why there is so much fear coming from those who don’t support him. They seem to think it’s all about partisanship. They seem assured that since Trump is not a Democrat, his opposers believe he’s evil.

It’s not that.

It’s that he’s a narcissist and reactionary. It’s not that he can’t control his reactions to perceived slights; it’s that he has no interest in doing so.

When it comes to reporters and celebrities, there’s no real harm in him reacting in anger on Twitter to what they say.

The fear is about how this translates to the political and diplomatic life.

As much as his “enemies” are trying to find ways to placate him, his followers – his “true believers” – have a much harder job. They too have to find ways to manage him so that they don’t set him off. They have to bow to him, and “yes sir” him around the clock. They have to advise him on what to do, without looking like they’re telling him what to do.

They have a difficult job. But….it’s their job. Many of them will end up contradicting him one way or another, and they’ll be fired. It’s what he does. And he does it a lot. We saw him fire advisers during his campaign.

America’s enemies have no such urgent need to keep them sensitive to his sensibilities. They don’t have to “manage” him at all. Neither the Syrian nor Russian presidents will stay awake, tossing and turning as they think about how to placate him. They too are narcissists and are only concerned with maintaining their power over their people.

They’re going to piss him off at some point. And he will react, because that’s what he does. Diplomacy and strategy won’t factor into anything once his dander his up.

So now there’s this sense of impending danger. I know the feeling. I’ve grown up with it.

A thing a therapist once told me about my dad: “you do know, right, that there was nothing you could do to prevent your dad from getting angry. It didn’t matter how careful you thought you were being, he was going to make the choice to be angry.”

I remember being surprised by that.

The American president is the same. A bull in search of a china shop.

Eight Years

Posted: August 15, 2016 in Life
Tags: ,

I wrote this on August 15, 2008.

As today is the anniversary, it seemed appropriate to share it with you. 

—————————————

 

The day I came home to find that the lock on my door had been smashed open, the first thing I did was look for the sisters.

Princess was hiding out beneath my TV set, behind the closed doors of its cabinet.  But where was Muffin?

Stepping over the flotsam of my belongings, the strewn clothing and clothes hangers and paper, I made my way to the bathroom.  And there she was.  She wasn’t trembling or anything – she was a little too much of a cool customer to ever admit to fear – she stared back at me with bright eyes, ears all forward and paying attention.  “Mrowr?” she asked.

I smiled.  “You’re ok then?”

They say that 55% of any communication is done through body language.  With her it was more like 90% – and right now she was communicating at me HARD.

“Pick me up.  Pet me.  Are the bad men gone?  They were scary.  But I’m tough.”

All I heard was “pet me”.  So I did.  She didn’t purr though – it was much too soon for that.

Funny thing about that bathtub: it’s where she goes now whenever there’s a thunderstorm.   I think she thinks she gets to keep her dignity.  I haven’t given her reason to think otherwise.

You could say that we got along well.

We had a routine too.  Muffin would perform a daily function as my furry alarm clock, promptly waking me in time to get up for work each day.  And she came into the bathroom only after she heard the shower shut off, and she would meow, letting me know that I wasn’t paying quite enough attention to her yet.

For my part, I made sure to take the time to scoop her up in my arms (only after drying off of course; we’re not allowed to get her fur wet.  Ever.)  and hold her and pet her for a while.  When she had enough I was supposed to put her down so that she could go back out and get some food.

Funny thing.  She hardly ever let me know she needed food.  Maybe because I made sure the bowl was full all of the time.   When she meowed, it was generally because she wanted up in my lap for a while.  Oh yes – that’s another thing:  we generally watched TV together, with her comfortably ensconced on my lap.  I’d absently pet her until she put her head down and went to sleep.  Often, she’d snuggle her head into my stomach (maybe because it was warmer there, or because she could hear the low grumble when I was hungry, the jury hasn’t decided what it was).

When I pet her, sometimes she would reach out with both paws and grab my hand so she could rub her face up against it properly.   I liked to think she was showing me how to pet her right.

There was never such a thing as an overdose of love when it came to petting her.  We never did find that high water mark, her and I.

Over the past few months I noticed that she had become a little obsessive about her water bowl.  She’d stand next to it and look up at me, meowing.  Though I was a little obtuse with cat communication I eventually got the message:  the water must not be stagnant; it must be fresh.  So I got to keeping a jug of water in the fridge where it could remain cold.  She seemed happy about that, and cheerfully lapped it up when I refreshed her drink.

About three days ago, I saw her walk toward me, and she staggered a bit.  I frowned, a little worried.   Then, when she tried to jump up on my lap, she didn’t quite make it and she slid to the ground.  She recovered nicely, looking like she intended to do that.  I thought to myself “well, she is fifteen years old.  It was bound to happen.”   And so after that I made sure to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to jump – I didn’t want her to hurt herself.

Two days ago she made her way to my chair.  I didn’t see her until she tried to jump up on my lap.  This time when she fell she didn’t recover.  She laid on the floor, splayed out and looking at me.

She loves wet cat food.  Generally I only feed her dry food so when she hears the can opening, she goes nuts for it.  A couple of days ago I opened up a can, and got her attention fast.  She came over to the bowl and looked at it.  Then walked away.

That was it.  I made an appointment with the vet.

She was dehydrated.  Her kidneys had failed.  He wanted to keep her for a few days and try giving her fluids through an I.V. and to run some blood and urine tests.

I agreed, and asked him “so what do you think, doc?”  Unspoken was the real question.  He heard it anyway though.  “Well, if she can perk up with the fluids we’re giving her, we might be able to have you manage her diet at home.  It’ll mean a different food, and perhaps you’ll have to inject water under skin for a while.”  He scratched his head.  “But if she doesn’t do well with the intravenous then it’ll make your decision a little easier.”

We both knew what he meant.

So I waited until they got her hooked up to the I.V. and then pet her a little bit and spoke to her.  “It’s Ok baby.  You just rest, OK?”  She was awake, barely, but was too tired to look at me.  I think she understood though.

Before leaving, the doctor said “well, I’ll call you in the morning to give you an update on her progress.  And you can come visit her if you like.”

I smiled.  “Yes, I’d like to do that.  Talk to you tomorrow, doctor.”

This morning I had just finished breakfast when the phone rang.

“Hi.  Is this Doug?”

I looked at the display.  It was the vet.   “Hi doc.  Yes, it’s me.”  It was his early morning progress report.

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you this but Muffin passed away at 2:00 a.m. ”

I stared at the living room drapes.   My throat closed.

The doctor continued.  “I checked on her at 1:00 a.m. and noticed that even with all of the fluids, she just wasn’t responding well.  And her blood tests showed that she was anaemic as well.”

“I see.”  It was supposed to rain today but I could tell through the window that it was sunny out.  I wondered what that was all about.

“But we had to try. It was worth it to see if she could get better.”

She was kind of my side-kick.  The one who had been there when all of the verbal end-of-marriage sparring was going on.  The one who was the first to come up to my lap when I had a migraine or was otherwise sick.  She seemed to know.    Maybe it’ll rain later on today.

I looked at my watch.  I should make sure and return the rental car.

The doctor had said something.  I responded.  “Thanks for letting me know, doc.  I’ll come by later this morning to settle up and get the cat carrier.”

“At least she went peacefully” he repeated.

“Yes, and I’m glad we tried.  No regrets doctor.”  My voice chose that time to falter, just a bit.

He heard it.  “Yes, I know.  It really sucks.”

The phone had become too much of a burden.  I needed to put it down.

“Well thanks again, doc.  I’ll see you later this morning.”

“Ok.  Talk to you later.”

I know that the pain will diminish.   It will.   Right now it just doesn’t feel like it will.   I know that many of you have lost your dearest friends in a variation of this story.  I know you’ll want to respond so that I can know I’m not alone, and because it’s good to remember our friends.  For that reason, I’ve left the comments turned on.  You’ll understand though that my responses, this one time, will be few.

Rest in peace, little sweetheart.

Muffin 2008.png

It’s late on a Thursday night, and I should have known better. Too late. A generous amount of Ravenswood Chardonnay has completed its magic, and my head is doing that bob-bobbing thing it likes to do, as the bus trundles along on its merry way home.

I allow one foot to precariously follow the other as I weave my half-snapped way to an empty seat. There’s an attractive woman there, and she’s thoughtfully moved closer to the window, all the better to help me avoid having to climb over her to the only vacant spot left.

I plunk myself down in relief and prepare to slumber my way toward the final few miles to my home bus stop.

Only…. My nose twitches. And twitches again. Something is seriously amiss.

I look over at the woman next to me, who at this point is now obstinately staring face-forward. Desperate. Afraid. Anxious.

No. It can’t be.

But it is.

A more heinous ambience can’t be imagined.

This veritable tulip, this rose of the fairer sex has emitted a soulful and delicate silent backfire, no doubt hoping against hope for the gain of anonymity.

Yet it was not to be. For I, the seeker of lost passions and artifacts of renown, have found her out. She is but a ghost to most, but is to me she is as the stop sign to eternity’s perfume.

Still, gallant man that I am, I labour to keep her dread secret, if only to preserve my status as gentleman and appreciator of all that is good and right in the world. My nose has other ideas. My nose is offended.

I open my drunken mouth, and hesitate.

Then, “ew.”

oops_sorry

Cat Whisperer

Posted: June 13, 2016 in Life
Tags:

I last saw the two of them nine years ago. I wondered if they would remember me.

They didn’t. Not at first, anyway.

Niko – the younger but *much longer* black and white cat – hid himself right away. He immediately ran under the couch. And whenever he came into my daughter’s little apartment, he hid as soon as he saw me.

Leo – the gorgeous orange-haired kitty – didn’t hide, because as you know, alphas are fearless. But he didn’t come to me either. He looked my way, acknowledged my presence, and then wandered off to clean himself.

Leo was a cat that Angie and her then boyfriend rescued from the wilderness of a place near Tofino. There was a big parking lot, and behind that was an immense forest. They found him on the edge of the forest on a cold day during a rain and windstorm. The poor little guy was freezing, and his hair was all matted up. So they knew he’d been out there for a while.

Niko was a brother they got for him, just to keep him company – I think this happened just a few months after Leo’s rescue.

Leo’s muted tolerance of me lasted maybe a day. Being an intelligent feline, he must have noticed the loving energy between my daughter and myself, and found it acceptable, because he then adopted me.

Regal Leo

I know this because it didn’t take too much time at all for him to allow me to pet him, and scratch him under the chin (his favourite). I also took to talking to him very quietly. It was constant drone of affection and praise. I’m certain he paid attention.

Both are outdoor cats who *hate* staying inside after about 3:00 in the morning. I know this because every morning around that time, Niko would whine and beg to be let out. He’d give a little meow and then stop, and then just as soon as we fell back to sleep he’d whine again. Angie (my daughter) would sternly tell him “no, Niko! I’m not letting you out now. Go back to bed.”

Strangely enough, he’d listen, and we’d all fall back asleep.

By the way, this happened *every* *single* *night* while I was there. Angela figured it’s because the New Guy (me) was there, and he thought he could con me into letting him out.

My daughter’s place is quite small. Her bed is in a loft above the living space, and she climbs a ladder to get there. I slept on a fold-out couch in her living room. As far as I can tell, neither of us snore, so we didn’t irritate each other. A plus, for sure.

But…Niko remained afraid of me for some reason, so I wondered if he’d ever warm up.

The third night I was there, after Niko shied from me yet again, Leo jumped up on the couch and laid next to me, looking directly at his brother while I commenced petting him.

Niko took notice. There was communication between them, I swear it.

A short while afterward, Niko came close to me and allowed me to pet him. I felt victorious, and Angie was pleased, too.

Splayed Nico

And then, as the days went on, I noticed something else.

Whenever I pet Leo, he would close his eyes and then start purring. This was amazing, particularly for a furry lad who was used to being the dominant alpha in the place. This guy, who usually never lets his guard down, had done so with me.

One night, Niko came down and crawled into bed with me. When I began petting him, he climbed right on top of me. I don’t know how long he stayed there because I fell asleep.

Slowly but surely, both lads wormed their way into my heart. I didn’t realize how much they had done so until it was time for me to leave and come back home to Toronto.

Before we left for our drive to the city, Angie had me give them one of those moist treats they love so much. As I opened the cans and they crowded around me, I felt my throat close. Angie asked me if I was okay. I nodded.

If Angie was the cake to my two week stay with her, Leo and Niko had to be the icing.

“What?”

He looked over at her. She frowned and hugged herself. He reached over and turned up the heater.

Her question filled the silence between them. He watched the streetlights flicker by, separating the moments of darkness. Light, dark, light, dark, light…. Not for the first time he wished he wasn’t driving.

He repeated himself. “I’m looking for magic.”

“Well what do you mean? What magic?” Despite her shivering, she had to know.

They were returning from a group coaching session, the first one he’d ever attended. They had done several group exercises, all designed to help everyone figure out exactly what they wanted out of life. The session had been illuminating, particularly for him. He’d been so restless for such a long time, not knowing why. The coaching exercises had helped.

“I’m not sure I can put it into words,” he began.

“Try.”

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, staring out at the salt-stained roads, thinking.

“Ever have one of those moments when there’s sudden brightness? You can be looking at a light display in a busy downtown section. Or you notice the way the sun hits a particular tree in the spring…..You get this feeling, this sense of a world beyond this world, one where anything’s possible. There’s a mountain of treasure, a kind of…..” He thought hard. “Kind of like a never-ending orgasm, just out of reach.”

She snorted abruptly. “WHAT?”

They both laughed.

“I don’t know” he grinned. “I’m having a hard time trying to explain this…”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“I’m pretty sure that when we were kids, we had a sense of wonder about the world, and about all of the possibilities. Long before we got taught about responsibilities, and our duty to the systems of employment, payments, mortgages, cars, gifts and taxes.”

“As we got older, and we took on all these burdens, that wonder got snuffed out. We forgot what it meant to explore.”

She stared straight ahead. He could tell she was processing.

He waited, silent.

After a while she looked back at him. “So tell me, what do you see when you envision this magic? As an adult, I mean.”

“I-”

“Wait. Is this what you were talking about tonight? California? Being around creative people?”

He smiled. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s part of it. I mean, I know I can get there and do everything I talked about: writing, performing improv comedy and maybe acting. But I know there are people who do that, who don’t connect to the magic. That’s the risk, I guess.”

She shook her head. “I don’t get you. I thought you wanted these things….”

“Oh I do, I do. And I’m going after them. No doubt about it. I just don’t want to fool myself into thinking any of it’s going to bring that elusive magic.”

He was grateful for the mostly empty street. It really was a beautiful night, despite the cold and the wind. The streetlights played over the road in a way that hinted at the sparkling existence of the magic for which he longed.

He had always had a love affair with light. As a kid, he recalled having a plastic game figure that lit up with a soft red glow. He remembered being mesmerized by it, as he played out on the street with it, in the twilight of a summer evening.

Later, he recalled taking his first trip to Toronto from Oshawa, and marvelling at the city skyline, with the thousands of building lights all creating their unique dance. Each one was so different, and each seemed to invite him.

“I’m not sure there’s a single point where I’ll say ‘this is it’. I think this magic requires me to keep moving, keep exploring.” He was onto something, he was sure of it.

“I need to keep creating. Keep experiencing. Whether it’s writing, or acting, or playing piano or whatever it is….I won’t be able to stop. I can’t stop. When I stop, I’m pretty sure the magic will be hidden again.”

She nodded.

“I know how cliché it sounds…”

“Don’t” she said. “Don’t apologize for this. For any of it.” She hesitated. “I mean, I can’t pretend to understand everything you said, but I get that it’s important to you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I haven’t heard you talk like this for a while. It’s definitely a good thing, this whatever it is you’re after. Not sure I’d call it magic but….it’s definitely something. How long have you been thinking about it?”

He scratched his head. Sighed. “For a long long time.” He eased the car to the stoplight. “I think it’s why I haven’t been able to feel settled in my apartment. Or for that matter, my job.”

The light turned green. He gave it some gas. “What’s worse, I could feel myself starting to stagnate. It was starting to feel like hell. Like a living hell.”

“Yeah, I noticed you weren’t laughing as much. You seemed so serious all the time. Even when we went to comedy shows, you sat there just watching the stage, like you were lost in thought.”

He nodded.

“So what changed?”

“Well for one thing, I think I’ve recaptured some momentum. I’m signing up for improv comedy classes again. Just need to get my foot back in the door again, hang around creative types.”

He smiled, mostly to himself. “And then there was the coaching thing tonight. It really helped open my eyes. I was in danger of forgetting so much.”

He didn’t mention that he didn’t think he was out of danger, just yet. It’s one thing to talk about it, but he knew he had to act or would it all go away again.

He would get old. He would lose out to complacency, comfort, and rot.

No way. No fucking way. No.

Blue-City-Skyline-At-Night

The movie Trumbo is a dramatization of the events in the life of a screenwriter named Dalton Trumbo.

trumbo

The man was also famous for being an activist and (here’s where the closed fist meets the face) a Communist.

I don’t know if it was by design or merely coincidence, but this film came out at the most appropriate time ever.

The fight he fought, back in the 40s and 50s, is echoed today. Some of the arguments used against him back then are in force today.

It’s the old “you’re either for me (and my opinions) or against me.” People seem to gravitate to the extremes of the political spectrum, without giving much to nuance, if they bother to consider it at all.

Trumbo fought for the right to have an opinion. That’s it, that’s all. Whether his opinion on Communism was viable or not (I believe it’s not) was immaterial. He wanted to have a voice, have a belief, and not have people castigate him for that belief.

Despite his protest, he was lumped in with all Communists of that time and put on a blacklist. The powers back then sought to keep him from making a living in Hollywood, in his chosen profession. They were so very afraid his intent was to infect the minds of the movie-goer by using stories to persuade Americans of the good of Communism.

They had no proof of this, and they couldn’t point to any one of his many many accomplishments until that time as evidence of this supposed “plan”of his.

Yet they didn’t believe they needed proof. All they needed to know was whether he was a Communist or not. The perfect example of “painting with a wide brush.”

It reminds me vividly of a guy who attended my high school. I knew his father to be a card-carrying political activist and Communist. I remember that both he and his father were ostracized by pretty much everyone. We all knew about his Communist dealings, and we all despised him for it (the son bearing the stigma of his father, of course).

It never occurred to me back then that these were people, and that there was no evidence they were hurting anyone.

If the sentiment was that strong in MY childhood, how much more strong would it have been back right after World War II?

We don’t have to guess, do we? The House Un-American Activities Committee – the group that created the infamous blacklist – went to great pains to underline how avowed Communists, as well as friends and family of Communists, were out to destroy the American way of life.

The parallels to today are painful. If you’re a follower of Obama, you’re probably an unthinking parasite on society. Someone deserving of scorn and ridicule.

On the other hand, if you’re a Republican, or a declared Christian, you’re likely a war-monger who lacks a heart. Someone without compassion who probably resembles Donald Trump.

There’s just no room for reason or honest debate. There’s little room for discussion, or for being so open to evidence and logical persuasion that one can change one’s mind.

Instead, we’re setting up camp on our prized dogmas, secure in our beliefs. Everyone outside the camp is the enemy. Instead of seeking to persuade anyone, we look to find evidence to support our already entrenched positions, to the delight and captive applause of the grinning choir.

Everybody Into the Pool

Posted: August 17, 2015 in Life, living
Tags: , , ,

Most days my apartment mailbox is empty.

There are some days when I’ll look through the tiny window and notice a shadow. Usually that means I’m in for some heartfelt and needy love, usually from Canadian Tire or Sears or IKEA.

Most bills are sent electronically, so it’s rare that any requests for money hit my mailbox, unless it’s a charity – and most of those don’t even know I exist anymore.

So when I opened the box a few months ago, I was surprised to see an official envelope with the provincial government seal on it. My license and health card won’t expire for at least five years. I wondered….could it be….?

I tore open the envelope. It was exactly as I thought: a long overdue notice about jury duty. Only in this case, it was a questionnaire to see if I qualified to serve.

gavel

I answered their questions.  No, I hardly ever exhibit misogynist tendencies and almost always eschew homophobic or bigoted thoughts.  As for criminal records well, they never did catch me, so I was clear there.

Ergo, in the minds of the court, I would do just fine.

Skip to a few months later (last week actually), and the summons to appear for the jury pool showed up in that same mailbox.

I wondered about that. How did they know I’d get it for sure? There was nothing special about the mail – I didn’t have to sign for it. As far as they knew, I could have been away on holiday. Or I could have been on a three-day bender, and was now suffering in a hospital bed, trying to recover.

Anyway, tomorrow I have to show up for the jury pool.

It’s funny: when you’re younger you tend to judge people quickly. If the waitress doesn’t pay enough attention to you, it’s because she’s an out-and-out bitch – and you tip her accordingly. If someone frowns at you it’s because they’re just stupid.

It never occurs to you that most of the seemingly negative behaviours people exhibit rarely have anything to do with you. That waitress could be worried about a sick child at home. The guy who just frowned at you was probably thinking about a phone call from a creditor he’d received that morning. It’s just your bad luck that you were on the receiving end of his thousand-yard stare.

It takes a while – and some maturing – to realize that we’re all in this struggle together, and that some of us are just better than others at handling it.

You learn, eventually, to grant people some space, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. You learn not to take things so personally, and to be graceful when you can.

Instead of insisting on drama, you learn how to relax. You stop yelling at drivers on the road when you’re in your car. You let them scramble to get in front of you, because the place your going is still going to be there, whether you arrive 30 seconds early or late.  (Anyway, they’re all only racing to see who can get to the red light first).

You learn to laugh. Your tendency now is to hear all sides of a story before making a judgement. That alone makes you probably an ideal candidate for jury duty.I’m looking forward to playing my part in whatever trial awaits.

Though I don’t know who the defendant will be or what they’re saying he’s done, I’m pretty sure the dirty rotten bastard did it anyway.

If I enlighten the judge with this important information early, maybe I’ll be home before dinner.

“How can I help you?”

The first thing I noticed were her twinkling blue eyes.  She looked like she’d just finished laughing or was about to laugh.

The next thing I saw was her bright smile.

She was a short little thing, with dark curly hair that puddled down her back.

I had only dropped into the restaurant to do some reading.  The place was known for its hot spiced french fries – which I usually ate without benefit of ketchup or vinegar. Naked fries were the best.

fries

Also, a glass of Chardonnay would complete the experience.  So that’s what I ordered.

She smiled again and took off.

When she brought me a glass of water, I stopped her.  Part of my brain just wanted to go for it, while another part was honestly intrigued.

“Excuse me” I said.  “Do we know each other?  Have you served me before?  I would have come in with a friend from work.”

I know how lame that sounds, but the restaurant had a lot of empty tables for that time of day, and I was sitting in my usual spot.  I’ve been in there a fair amount, as it’s close to my office.

“I don’t know” she said, still smiling.  “I don’t recall you.  My name is Lena”.

What I should have done was respond with my name.  That’s what a romantic guy would do – now that the ice was broken. But my ADHD hyperfocus had kicked in, as I struggled to recall whether I’d heard that name before.

“No, I don’t know that name” I said.  “Guess not, huh?”

“When did you last come in?”

“It would have been about six weeks ago” I replied, still struggling to remember.

“Well then we don’t know each other.  I only started a month ago.”

“Oh”  I was disappointed.  “Oh well.”

She smiled and left.

Each time she came to the table, to bring the food, the wine and to check to see if everything was okay, she had the brightest smile.

Twirling around in the back of my mind were all of these thoughts.

“Someone that gorgeous with such a great smile probably gets hit on all of the time.  Am I going to be another boor, troubling her in her place of work where she can’t get away?”

“I really like my setup at home. I worked hard to achieve the peace of my bachelor domain.  How ready am I to give that up?”

“She seems young enough to still want kids.  I wonder if I’m open to that?”

I really liked her, but …..  I had all of these reasons why I shouldn’t pursue her.  Most of these thoughts were straying outside of the limits of my consciousness, so I wasn’t truly on top of them or even aware.  That’s how it is with most things in a person cursed (or blessed, as the case may be) with ADHD.

So I concentrated on reading my book, and on enjoying the meal.

After the bill was paid, and the tip was administered, I stayed, enjoying the music and the book.  I sipped on my water, totally engrossed in the story.

She came back after that with a pitcher of water, and that ever-present huge smile.  “Would you like some more?”

“Oh that’d be great.  Thank you!” I said.

I finished the water.

It wasn’t until I left the place and began walking to the bus terminal that my brain tapped me on the shoulder.

“Doofus” it said.  “You realize that she didn’t have to come back with the water, right?  She wasn’t smiling for her tip any more – even if that ever was the case.”

I shrugged to myself.  I’ve had a number of missed opportunities before.  This wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last.

Maybe I’ve learned.  Maybe not.  Who knows.

Such A Deal

Posted: August 5, 2014 in dating, humor, humour, Life, romance
Tags: , , , , ,

kirsten-dunst-8

The first thing I noticed was her smile.

It was full, and warm, and it matched the twinkle in her eyes.

I didn’t trust it at all.

She came up to me, and asked me if I ever had a facial.

“Yes, actually I have”.   It had been a Father’s Day gift from my children.

“Well good!  Can I talk to you for a few minutes about our product?”

She was gorgeous, and thin and she was wearing a filmy blouse that hinted of treasure.

I sighed.  My little guy had taken over, while my brain shouted “NOTHING’S HAPPENING THIS IS A WASTE OF TIME WHAT ARE YOU DOING OH GOD OH GOD OKAY”

The sun was beginning to set, and the warmth of the summer night hugged us both as I followed her down the stairs of the little Yorkville shop.

“Is green your favourite colour?  It’s mine.”

“No, actually my favourite colour is blue”.  Why were we talking about colours, I wondered.  She pointed at my green shirt.  Oh.

“Why don’t you sit over there while I try this product on you.”

It wasn’t a question.  I sat.

As she applied something to my arm (I have no idea what it was) she described the product and asked me bright questions while smiling.  Truly I had no idea which end was up, what she was using on me, or where this was going.  (Though I suspected).

“Are you married?” she asked.

I smiled.  “No, not at all.”

“So you’re happy.”

I looked at her.

“You know, either you’re married or you’re happy”

I thought that was rather cynical.  She carried on talking before I could pursue the thought.

I don’t know how we got around to talking about it but suddenly she mentioned tequila.

“I’ve never had tequila” I blurted.

“Really?  Oh we’ll have to go to a bar so you can try it” she said.

The woman didn’t lack for confidence.  I was kind of stunned though.

“We will?  Oh, I mean yeah.  We should definitely do that”

(“We’ll never do that” I thought)

“You’re eyes are hazel” she announced.

“No, my eyes are brown”

“No, my eyes are brown, yours are hazel”

Apparently this was not an argument.  My place was to say yes.  Even though I’ve had brown eyes all of my life.

I had to keep up with her.  I nodded.  She smiled.

She was such a pleasant winner.  A good-looking winner.

Also I was such a pushover.  I wondered how I was going to break the news to my family that I now had hazel eyes.

She turned to get another product.  I noticed through her see-through top that she had a tattoo.  It was comprised of some foreign words.  I wanted to ask her about it, but she started talking again.

This time she was giving me the sales pitch.

“What do you want the most?”

(You, in my arms would be a good start)  “Uh, what do you mean?”

“If you were to change anything about your face, what would it be?”

Oh.  “Well, I suppose it would be the bags under my eyes”

She brightened.  “I have the perfect product for that!”

(I’ll bet you do)

“Try this product”  She rubbed it on my arm, which I’d like to point out was no where near my eye-bags.

“It’s infused with diamonds!” she enthused.

(Diamonds!  That must mean…….uh, it means it’s likely expensive.)

“It’s guaranteed to help.  But you should apply it only at night.  No sense in putting it on at the start of your day.  Gravity would just pull everything down.”

I was getting an education.  I tried paying attention but she was so distracting.

“Okay then.”

She smiled the beautiful and satisfied grin of a predator.  “Shall I package it all up for you?”

“Package what?”

“All of the products!”

I smiled.  “Well, I would need to know how much it costs.”

“Oh” she said. “It’s not that much.  Normally it’s $1,600 for everything.  But…..since it’s you – and don’t tell anyone else about this – I’ll give it to you for only $800.”

I smiled wider.  “No, I don’t think so.”

She cocked her head and looked at me.  “Maybe I can take a bit more off.”  I shook my head. “Maybe I can give it to you for $700.  But you can’t tell ANYONE.”  She put a finger over her lips.

“No.  I’m sorry.  Can’t do it.”

She hesitated.  Then, “well, if you could only have one product what would it be?”

“The eye thing I guess”.

“Oh well I can help you with that!” she was pleased with herself.  “It’s only $400!  Such a great deal.”

“Uh huh” I said.  “Sorry, that’s too much.”  I mentally punched myself.  Why was I giving her these openings?  I wasn’t going to part with a dime.  Just thank her for her time and leave.

“Okay okay” she grimaced.  “How about I give it to you for $160 and you don’t tell anyone?”

I looked at her.  She looked at me.  I thought about her whole spiel, and the time we’d spent together.  I knew she was desperate for this sale.  I also knew I didn’t need any of it, and could easily walk away.

Some stupid idiot inside of my brain said “don’t disappoint her.  Just buy the damned thing and get out.”

I nodded.    “Okay” I said, aloud.

“You’ll take it?”

“I’ll take it”

“Oh good!” she replied.  “Let me ring it up.”

I proceeded to kick myself mentally.  Hard.

“Maybe we can go to the bar sometime next week” she said.

The idiot inside of me said “see?  Totally worth it, dude!”

I mentally replied to the idiot “there’s no way she’s going to a bar with me. It was all about the sale.”  The idiot went into a pout.

“Here, let me get your phone number.  I’ll call you on Monday, and we can get together.  Here’s my number, too.”

The inner idiot smirked.  “See?  And you thought she was faking an interest.  Who’s the idiot now?”

I smiled, took my purchase and left.

——————-

Later that weekend I checked online.  Apparently the product I bought normally went for $400.  So I did get a good deal.

——————-

After not getting her phone call on Monday I called her on Tuesday.  It took her a few moments to remember who I was.

“Oh, I’m at home right now.  How about I call you tomorrow?”

“Okay” I said.

(“I’m at home now”?  What the hell was up with that? )

——————

She never got back to me of course.

If it’s too good to be true……

I used to love computer technology.  Ended up with a dream job working with computers for a living.

One year at Thanksgiving, my boss called her staff into her office (it was a small gang), and we had a Thanksgiving meeting.  She asked each of us to talk about what we were thankful for.  Two of the girls rolled their eyes.

I said “I’m thankful for my job”.  One of the girls barely stifled a snicker as they grinned at each other.

“I’m serious.  You don’t know the kind of hellish job I came from.  For the first time in my working life it’s a treat to get up in the morning.  I actually look forward to coming to work.”

The point was lost.  These girls had it great, and didn’t appear to know it.

It wasn’t the computers so much, I now realize.  It was the fact that I’d found something interesting that made me curious.  This job was all of that.  I got to be the lone computer guy for the office (among other things).  I managed a consultant and soaked in all of the knowledge that I could.

I think maybe it was the shiny buttons and lights that attracted me.  Press a button and something happens.  Press another combination and something else happens.  I loved exploring that world.

shiny

Eventually I moved out of that job and into another one, again involving computers – only more so.  Once again I had an excellent boss, who believed in letting his people stretch the limits of their understanding.  He encouraged us to work with servers.  At first, we spent time learning about them.  Then they became our responsibility.  We spent many long nights in the server room trying to figure out why one or the other server wasn’t working.  Long nights talking long distance with the server manufacturers, jointly troubleshooting problems.  While we had lots of frustration, it was coupled with bouts of joking and laughter.

There was the time that four of us were stuck in a tiny room, working on a server.  There was a guy about my age, and a vendor rep around the same age, a younger woman, and then of course me.

The vendor guy said “I don’t know.  This isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.  Do you know anyone who specializes in this server type?

My older colleague said “Oh I know.  I’ll give Dave a call.  He works with these all the time.  He’ll know just what to do.”  He got his cell out.

“Can I speak with Dave?”

While waiting, the vendor blurted “Dave’s not here”.

Three of us burst out laughing.  The poor younger girl looked confused.  Never had I seen such a clear barrier between one generation and the next.  Someone should make it a rule that as part of their education everyone gets exposed to the material of “The Beatles”, “Cheech and Chong” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.  Make it mandatory.  I guarantee you very few would complain – those are all classics.

For the past number of years, the number of new and innovative applied computer technologies has diminished, as have the opportunities for late night struggles with workmates.  This all mirrors my level of engagement and interest.  If there’s nothing new, there’s little to be curious about.  No new shiny lights and buttons.

Getting up in the morning has become more of a chore than a joy.  In fact, over the past couple of years, there’s been a new interest to take its place during my off-work hours, a new shiny bauble.

Writing – something I used to do as a hobby – has become something a little more.  I now write freelance critiques of a couple of TV shows.  The challenge is to make them interesting and readable. To have an opinion and to articulate it in such a way as to invite comment and conversation.  Luckily, the shows themselves are so well-written that they provoke emotions in our readers.  This helps.

Seems a little ironic that the one subject that bores me is being used to indulge another passion.  The computer, far from being a fascinating innovation, is now serving as a tool to enable the expressing of my ideas in writing.

There are a ton of questions I’ve yet to answer, and a bunch I’ve yet to ask or figure out.  Like, what’s next?  Where can I take this writing thing?  I mean, beyond the obvious (e.g. a novel).  If I’m to escape the “golden shackles” of computer-related employment, how do I leverage this love of writing?

(That’s an open question, by the way.  Any of your ideas would be gratefully received.)

The bottom line is that Dave is most certainly here.  Keep knocking.  He’ll get there eventually.

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)