Archive for the ‘living’ 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.

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.

“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

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.

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)

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.

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.

I wasn’t late.

I never really intend to be late anyway, but normally I am, despite my best efforts to plan ahead of time, for traffic, for getting ready.  Despite the understandable outrage of those who are forever punctual, lateness doesn’t represent a lack of respect on my part, nor does it mean I think my time is more important than theirs.

It’s a function of a brain that works in kaleidoscope, rather than lines, the latter of which has starting points and focused destinations.  Didn’t find that out until the diagnosis I received a few years ago.

But I digress.  This was a rare victory, and I was relieved.

I even had time to relax for a bit.  Sit down and watch the automatic doors as they briefly opened, and burped out a few people before closing again.

I could feel my heart starting to race, and found that I could no longer sit.  So I stood up and watched the doors, until my little girl sauntered out, smiling.

She rolled her suitcases to the end of the ramp where I stood waiting.  Both of us dropped our stuff and we grabbed each other for a huge and tearful hug.

I honestly forgot how long it had been since we last saw each other in person.  We keep in contact all the time via phone (and occasionally by Skype) but hadn’t spent time together since, I’m guessing perhaps two years ago, when we went on a camping/canoeing trip together.  And where I learned the importance of only camping with a trailer that features a Craftmatic adjustable bed.  She on the other hand could camp out on the floor and not be affected.  The brat.

After the hug, she stood back and mapped out my face, checking for imperfections.  To her delight (and to my tolerant amusement) she found one.  There was a single hair growing on my cheek, which it had no business doing.  Mind you, there was like, a million of them growing on my chin and beneath my nose.  But I guess those were okay, as they were only following instructions.  So she plucked that one hair, saying “hold still, Dad.  Take a deep breath”

I didn’t. I pluck hairs all the time from errant locations.  I’m used to it, and the performance no longer brings tears or even flinching.  I smiled.  She plucked and missed.

Horrified, she said “oh I’m sorry. Let me try again. Are you okay?”

I nodded, still smiling.  She plucked again and this time she got it.

Grooming all done, we turned and began walking.  “How are you doing?” I asked. “Are you hungry? Did you get a bite to eat on the plane?”

She thought for a moment. “Well I could use a tea, Dad. Is there a coffee shop nearby?”

There was, and so we went, chattering as if we hadn’t spoken in a year.  (Well, she chattered. I added an observation here and there).

Our relationship has always been like that though.  We can not talk on the phone for weeks at a time, and when we connect, it’s as if we just spoke yesterday.  I never realized how rare that was until encountering some folk who feel rejected if you don’t check in with them in scheduled intervals.

Afterward, and after dumping her suitcases into a limo-SUV (I really don’t know what to call those things: it’s a limo service, but our ride took the form of an SUV), I warned her about my place.

“You’re going to hate it” I said. She looked at me, grinning.  We both knew she would be making some changes, even though she would only be there for a few days.

And change it she did.  Prior to her arrival, I had the perfect bachelor setup: big-ass plasma TV, front and center, Lazy-boy chair right in front of it. Dolby surround-sound speakers placed in such a way as to make the chair the “sweet spot” for….well, for pretty much everything.

man_cave.jpg

Not exactly like this, but you get the idea.

The sofa was to my right, along the wall.

As soon as we walked in the door, I braced myself.  This wouldn’t do.  Not at all.  And she confirmed it fairly quickly.

She also didn’t like my office setup, which was situated in the dining room.  It was too closed off for her liking, and “no one can see the beautiful screensavers – all they can see is the back of the monitors and all of the wiring”.

“No problem” I thought.  “It’s just me looking at the stuff, and I really don’t care.”

“Trust me, dad”, she said. “If you don’t like what I do with it, you can put it all back.”

We spent most of her second day there, going to town.  I was assigned the task of sorting out the bookcase.  I have no idea why I still have a bookcase, actually, since I buy all of my books in e-book format, and have no need of physical books anymore.  Right now the bookcase serves as a drop-off point for stuff that lacks a home. Receipts that I haven’t shredded, the odd flyer, pennies and pens that I pick up off of the floor.

My apartment isn’t nearly as bric-a-brac as I’m making it sound.  It’s just that when I have something in my hand, and no time to figure out where it goes, the bookcase is my instant repository.  I put stuff there, knowing that I’ll get around to sorting it someday.

“Someday” is right.  When I started sorting, I found a lot of outdated stuff that belonged in the trash.  Stuff I hadn’t seen in a couple of years actually. It was a little embarrassing, particularly since I’ve made it my life’s goal to de-clutter.  The protocol is: if you don’t see or use it within a year, you don’t need it.

I had a lot of stuff there that qualified for the green bin.  Still do, actually, since I didn’t make that much of a dent in it.

Daughter however did just fine with her tasks – which was pretty much everything else.  She shoved everything around, made it all tidy, grabbed whatever twist ties she could to make the entertainment center and desk wiring all serene, if not beautiful.  When she ran out of twist ties, I became the scotch tape caddy, doling it out as she needed.

When she was done, my place looked presentable again.  The big chair was kitty-corner to the TV set, with the couch forming the other part of the scene.  The TV itself was in a corner.  And my office space was transformed such that any visitors could clearly see everything I was working on. I don’t plan to have many visitors.

“What do you think, Dad?”

I stood in front of my office desk, looked up at her and gave her a small wave and a smile.

She laughed out loud and went to grab her camera.  So I had to hold that pose for a while. Such jocularity loses its pizzazz when you have to pose for it.  I think we both knew that.

Our time together ended way too soon.  I saw her off the next day, when she left me to go visit her mother for the other two days she would spend in Ontario.  And now she’s off to western Canada, there to provide massage treatments for tired skiers.

I miss her already.

ADHD Drugs.  Tried them.  Worked as advertised but also had some interesting side effects.  I’m not sure I can ever get used to the second head that grew out of my shoulders, but whatever….

I think I went a little nuts when the doctor sat me down, showed me a chart and announced that his findings of my symptoms were almost off of the charts.   “Here’s where normal people are” he said (or words to that effect) as he pointed to a line across a graph.   Then he pointed to a line near the top of the page that went from left to right in a kind of a zigzag pattern “and here’s where you are.”   I was more than pleased; I was ecstatic.

squirrel-dog

There are so many more symptoms to ADHD than just the propensity toward distraction.  Many of us – especially ones with a more severe case of ADHD – become debilitated throughout our lives.  A great many can’t hold a job, a marriage or maintain our health.  Many of us have addiction problems.  I don’t mean just drugs; I mean anything under the sun: sexual addictions, problems with booze, problems with almost anything.  And so many of us hop from one addiction to another.  My dad was an alcoholic, so I was fortunate enough (long before the diagnosis) to recognize that I may have inherited his fascination with booze.  So although I enjoy wine, I was smart enough to occasionally go through dry periods “just to make sure”.   Then I realized that I was beginning to enjoy pot too much (this was years ago, officer), so I stopped taking any of that for a while.  There were a number of other ones – I won’t bother to list them here.

Many of us become adrenaline junkies, often taking horrible chances with our lives while looking for that “high”.   Scratch the skin of a person who gets into way too many car accidents and you may find a person with ADHD.

Socially, we are often just a bunch of misfits.  I never realized it until my daughter and I started comparing notes.  “Dad” she would say “I feel guilty about getting so bored with conversations sometimes”.  I would reply “I KNOW, RIGHT?  It’s like they’re all ‘blah blah my vacation blah blah” and I’m like ‘what time is it? Oh I’ve got to go'”.

Sometimes I even blogged about it.   Like the blog I posted about a guy who was into some of the same types of books I was interested in – only in a kind of steroidal way:  it was all he could talk about, and it bored me to tears.   I eventually realized that the problem wasn’t him, it was me.  (“Sure it was” I hear you say.  “That’s so cliché, man”.  And okay – so it is.  Happens to be true).  Normal people – however “normal” is defined – can carry on linear conversations that have beginning, middle and conclusion points.   I realized that wasn’t the case with me or my daughter:  our conversations were more like exploring birds, hopping from tree branch to tree branch, never landing on the same one twice.   A bouquet of non sequiturs, if you will.   We eventually realized that we were annoying others who wanted to get in on the conversation but felt they couldn’t.   “Can you not stay on the point???” they’d exclaim, exasperated.   “What point?” would be our innocent response.

Our conversations often frustrated ourselves as well, but only for brief moments.  It kind of went like this:  “um, what was I talking about?”  “I dunno” *shrug*   Whatever it was seemed important; it was a point I was trying to get to, only I was too excited by the process of the conversation and so, as usual, the conversational car left the track and flipped end over end into a field of much more interesting thoughts.  Crash and burn.

“Were you aware that there’s an eclipse of the moon tonight?”

“Oh really?  I’d love to see that.  I can’t stay up late though, I have a test in the morning.”

“Well maybe you don’t have to stay up to watch it.  Maybe you could….”

“Oh my God Dad.  I remember the last time I saw the Northern Lights.  They were so beautiful…”

“Was that when you were on that camping trip?”

“With Pete?”

“How is Pete?”

“He’s married now and he’s running his own shoe store.”

(Then I’d think: shoes, running, Nike, “just do it”)

“Hey I’m going to finish the next chapter of my book tonight.”

“Really?  That’s so good, Dad.”

(And she would think “books, Kindle, Amazon”)

“Do you know that Amazon delivers to Canada?”

(And I would think “old news, news, newspaper, columnists, Conrad Black)

“I knew that.  Hey have you ever read any of Conrad Black’s stuff?  The man’s a wordsmith!”

(And she would think “wordsmith, clowns, elephants, circus”)

“No I never have.   That reminds me: Cirque du Soleil is coming to town.  I’ve got tickets!”

And on it would go.  You can just picture other “normal” people saying “okay – just what the FUCK are you guys talking about?”

We’d both look at each other and smile.

I think even my writing gets affected and infected by this type of meandering.  For example: I meant to tell you about my foray into the ADHD drug world.

So the first one was a long-term drug that you have to take every day.  It’s supposed to get into your bloodstream as a constant presence and affect what’s called “executive function” – whereby you retain the ability to not only focus, but keep all of the balls in the air at the same time.  Most people aren’t aware of it: they put their current thought on a shelf – NOT FORGOTTEN, just placed aside for a moment – while they deal with a more pressing thought.  Then when they’re done, they go back to the shelf, bring down the thought and work with it again.  With ADHD folk it’s more like we hoof that thought into the outer stratosphere, completely forgotten and rarely ever seen again.  It’s not deliberate; it’s just the way our minds tend to work and process.   This drug was designed to help patients gain a measure of control.

I have no idea whether it worked or not; I didn’t stay on it long enough.  Just a week.  Just long enough to notice that I was having a very hard time trying to pee (among other things).  It was horrible.  I got worried that maybe my body was going through an unwanted change, until I got onto the net and started reading about the side effects.   So I dropped that drug like it was a flaming bag of dog poop – and I felt better almost immediately.

I went back to the doc who prescribed another ADHD medication that he promised wouldn’t mess me up so badly.  The side effects were minimal and as long as my blood pressure remained under control there wouldn’t be any problem.  I went on it for a few weeks and didn’t notice any change in my ADHD symptoms so went back to him.  He increased the dosage.  I tried it for a few more weeks; still no change.  I went back – and this can get boring so let me just say it took a few more visits until we got the dosage right.   And then, presto!  The required effects kicked in.

I was able to focus; I was able to complete projects; I was able to go places and not leave my iPhone or iPad sitting somewhere for someone to pick up and adopt as their own.  (Can’t tell you how many times I’d done that before).

There were other noticeable effects too.   I started boring the hell out of myself.  Anything I wrote was tedious and long – and complete.   I hated my writing.  My creativity took a noticeable hit.  I figured it was worth the price of being able to be just a little bit linear in thinking again.

Then one day I started having pains in my chest.  Severe pains.  I went to a walk-in clinic and the doctor said my blood pressure was through the roof.  She ordered an EKG (my heart was fine), and then prescribed some nitro.  I quickly realized the culprit:  the high doses of the ADHD drug was affecting my blood pressure.

So I went off it.  Completely.  Cold-turkey.

My blood pressure’s back to normal, and my creativity is back.

In talking with a good friend of mine who is also an MD, we seemed to agree that maybe, just maybe, people are designed to be different from each other, and maybe there’s no real need to alter our behaviour (or as we called it, get into “social engineering”).

I only know I’m enjoying the crap out of life right now, and it’s doubtful that I’ll ever seek help for my ADHD again.  (Never say never though).

Final note:  I hear you saying “dude, your creativity can’t be all that great.  You rarely write a new blog.”   You would be correct:  my blogs are too few and far between and I’m planning to change that.   But – and this is a huge thing – I’m still writing.  I’ve been employed for a few months as a critic for the popular site TVFanatic.com – and I write a weekly review of two shows:  Criminal Minds and NCIS.   Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to interview two of the Criminal Minds stars too:  Matthew Gray Gubler (who plays Dr. Reid) and Joe Mantegna (who plays Agent Rossi).   If you want to check it out – no pressure! – you’ll find the reviews at Criminal Minds and NCIS.  (My name on there is Douglas Wolfe.)

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just keep playing at life and forget about the ADHD meds.  Frankly I’m having too much fun without them.

Ugly

Posted: March 22, 2013 in humor, Life, living
Tags: , , , , , ,

The watery sunlight tried in vain to filter its way through the caked smears of mud on the back window of the bus.  This of course merely increased my sense of tiredness, as I turned away to glance at the woman who was just now paying her fare prior to plumping herself down on the front seat, facing the aisle.

“Ugly”

The word was a sudden, visceral thought, clambering up from the depths of consciousness, without warning or explanation.

Since it’s rare for me to ever make such a judgement about someone merely on the basis of looks, I got curious and wondered about its origin.

True, the woman was no beauty queen, but it was still winter and no one appeared all that graceful beneath layers of puffed polyester and wool.   So why did my inner self judge her so harshly?   I sat quietly and observed her.

She was a portly woman, likely in her late forties, and she wore a dark coat which reached her knees.  When she sat down, the coat raised up, revealing a dark pair of slacks.   Her wiry hair was piled on her head, in a sort of Aunt Bee beehive style (wait!  Is that where “beehive” came from?), and she wore thick glasses. 

Her pale sickly face had a sort of a “don’t mess with me” look about it: intolerant of the world at large.   I wondered if that was her public game face:  the face many Torontonians adopt when scurrying about in the big metropolis;  designed to keep all others at bay, especially those who walk up to us with those cute little stickers that they give us, prior to begging for money “for my kids and I”.

As the bus made several stops more, I watched the woman, who seemed entirely caught up in her own little world.  She must have been, based upon what she did next.

Funny, isn’t it, how we tend to obsess over our personal appearance:  we want our friends to tell us if we have bits of celery in our teeth, or a tag hanging out of the back of our shirt.  I recall a saleslady in a store pulling me aside to remove the size tag from the front of my shirt – for which I was grateful.  And how many times have you been found walking around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe?

Maybe you’ll recall the Jerry Seinfeld episode, where he was stopped at a stoplight, and he had an itch at the side of his nose.   In the scene, his model girlfriend was riding in a cab which pulled up next to him, just as he was scratching the itch.  She saw his nose action and interpreted it as something a little more gross – and the story went downhill from there.

Well that’s exactly what the woman did.  Or so I thought.  She appeared to be scratching just on the inside of her nostril.  

However, all doubt was removed when suddenly she went in, knuckle deep and began to dig.

I felt myself frowning in awed disgust.   It was like a traffic accident – I could not look away.

After she was done digging, she put her hand down to her slacks, and rubbed off the residue on them.  My horrified frown deepened.

“Ugh.  That’s horrible.  At least it can’t get any worse”, I thought.

I thought wrong. 

I watched, fascinated as she used her other hand to enter the opposite nostril, and began to root around like she was looking for spare change.   This time, she pulled something out, and rolled it between her fingers.

I could feel my whole face contracting, almost in pain.

And then…..(I’m not even joking here – I’m a grown man, and don’t participate in juvenile jokes, which this was beginning to resemble)….she ran her gooey hand through her brittle hair.

The penny dropped.  The last straw hit the camel’s back.  My last nerve pinged like a broken guitar string.

I looked out of the dirty window, and nodded.   “Yup”, I thought.  “That’s about right.”

And then – I couldn’t help myself – I burst out laughing.

It was her nose.  That’s the first thing I noticed.

The night was bitterly cold.  I had debated going out into the miserable weather at all.  However, a few weeks prior I had committed to supporting a friend who was doing a comedy taping for a TV show that night.  It was a long way away in the labyrinthine streets of Toronto:  if you were going to get there by public transit, there were a few connections that were necessary to observe: bus, subway and then streetcar.  I hadn’t realized the bitterness of the night until ascending the stairs from the subway to the street.   The snow-covered slippery steps provided the first clue.  The second clue was the wind that bit sharply and suddenly at my nose as I ascended.  Halfway up, I stopped, hesitated.   “Do I really want to do this?”   I could only think of the warmth of my apartment.  So attractive, so inviting.

Guilt and a sense of missing out provoked my feet to continue the ascent.  The wind at the top of the steps made me hesitate again.   I pushed forward.  A year or so ago I had learned the value of “the flinch”:  whenever you observe an obvious moment of flinching, that’s the time you should push through it.  If nothing else, it proves that you are the author of your fate, not discomfort or the unsureness of novelty.   I flinched and pressed forward.

At the corner I found the streetcar shelter, and noticed immediately that it was fully occupied.  The wind picked up and I had to turn my back to it to endure it.  I could feel the cold on my arms, and my teeth began to chatter.   The value of committed friendship began to diminish.  “I won’t be the only to one to miss this” I thought, my brain struggling to rationalize my gnawing decision to turn back home.

Suddenly a couple left the shelter.  Evidently they had decided the streetcar was taking too long.   I quickly jumped into the shelter to take their place, to escape the wind.  It seemed too late though:  a chill had set in and I couldn’t see my way to warmth, not at all.  I had all but decided to head back to the subway when I saw her.

My breath stopped.  It was only a glance.  I turned away from her quickly, the way you do when you see a skittish kitten, hoping it doesn’t notice that you’ve noticed it.  The flashing glance revealed so much:  she was tiny, she had a delicate nose, her hair was blonde, and her blue eyes were wide behind gold-rimmed glasses.  For a brief moment I wanted to truly get away and go home – not because of the cold, but because she represented a challenge that I was sure was beyond me.

There it was again:  the flinch.   I had programmed myself to face the flinch and so my feet remain rooted in that cold streetcar shelter.  I faced the east, the better to keep an eye on any approaching transit vehicle, and coincidentally, to allow me to glance very occasionally in her direction.   I noticed she was be-bopping to music, and it was only then that I noticed she was wearing earphones.   She was holding a pizza box too, and was looking in the same direction for the delayed streetcar.

Another couple tried to make their way into the shelter, so I attempted to oblige them by moving to the back of the shelter, squeezing in next to the girl.   At the last moment, they decided they didn’t want to come in after all, so I stepped forward again with a puzzled shrug.  I glanced back and noticed that the girl smiled at my unconscious reaction.  I returned her smile and turned back to look for the streetcar again.   Strangely, the wind and the cold ceased to exist.

The streetcar eventually arrived, and it was packed with riders.  We all struggled to get on and to find a place.  The girl and I stood next to each other, her with her pizza held up in order to avoid hitting anyone’s head.  She was so tiny, and she had to reach so high to keep the pizza aloft.  I debated asking her if she wanted help.   The city has its own unspoken rules:  strangers tended to send up walls against each other, insulating each of us from the crazies and the creepazoids.  It was self-evident and understood:  you just don’t talk with anyone.

It was stupid too, and I was short-sighted in my unconscious acceptance of this protocol.  My mouth remained shut and I didn’t offer to help her.

A dozen blocks down the road, the streetcar driver blew into his microphone.   “Ladies and gentlemen….blah blah….need to turn at Drew St. If you want to get to….blah blah…you should get off here.”

The girl removed her earphones.  “What did he say?  Did he say something about Osslington?”

He had.  I said so.  “Yeah, we have to get off here and walk if we want to get to Osslington.  That’s where I’m going.  Are you?”

She nodded.   “I hate this system” she said.  “It’s always something isn’t it?  They always want you to get off before your stop and wait for the next subway train or the next bus.”

“Or they expect you to walk several blocks with a cold pizza” I added.   She laughed.

We got off and walked together in a companionable silence.

There was no past.  No future.  Just the present.   We talked.

She was from Cape Breton, on the east coast of Canada.  That explained her ignorance of the Toronto Protocol.  She was friendly and open.  A refreshing and welcome change from the norm.  I learned that she was taking a silversmithing course and that she was artistic.  Like me.

We only walked a few blocks when I reached my destination.  I gave her my name and she gave hers.  I said “I’d ask you for your number but I hardly know you”.  Trying to be cute and funny and achieving neither.

She laughed uncertainly and walked off to wherever she was going (I never learned the destination of that pizza).   I turned the corner, aware of a lost opportunity.

“Oh well”  I thought.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had succumbed to one final flinch.  The flinch that kept me from going back after her and saying “you know what?  I was being a doofus.  If you’re free I’d really like to get to know you better.  As cliché as it sounds – I’d love to have a coffee with you.  What do you think?”

The universe has provided second chances before.  In a city of millions of people, I’ve seen it happen before.  Maybe it will again.

I hope so.

I sat there, in the dark movie theatre, surrounded by hundreds of patrons at a sold-out playing of “Les Miserables”, squirming uncomfortably.

When you’re not used to openly showing emotion, this movie is painful to watch.

If you don’t know the story of “Les Mis” you shouldn’t read further:  spoilers abound.  Many theatre-lovers have seen the stage production at least once.  Many – like me – have seen it multiple times, which is the only reason I feel comfortable using the story to illustrate something.

A while ago, I had a conversation with someone about the story of Christ and his crucifixion.  The question was specific:  why?  Why – if the story is true – did it need to happen?

Years of church-going and catechism knowledge could have provided an easy answer.  But it wouldn’t be logical – it would be rote repetition.  I think this movie brought me a little closer to an understanding.  Perhaps not all of the way though.

In “Les Mis”, Inspector Javert pursues a prisoner who has broken his parole, by the name of Jean Valjean.  The latter serves as the protagonist in the story; a man who was convicted of stealing bread to feed his sister’s children.

Throughout the story (and there are many subplots – this is only one of the main ones), Javert pursues his charge with the ferocity of the truly righteous.  There is no variance with him, no nuance.  Things are either good or evil, black or white.  There is no room for maybe, for grey, or for any other colours.  Javert is immune to the notion of mercy, or of pity.  Those who do wrong are to be despised, without exception.  He labels them confidently as gutter rats and scum.  The only motives for such despicable creatures are entirely selfish, whatever their objection, whatever their explanation.

Later in the story, Jean Valjean saves the inspector’s life.  When revolutionaries want to kill Javert, Valjean intercedes, begging permission to kill him himself.  Instead of doing so, he tells him to flee, and then fires a gun so that the revolutionaries think he’s done the deed.   Incredibly, and still full of his self-righteousness, Javert promises to hunt him down anyway.   Valjean understands and says “we’ll likely meet again”.

Meet again they do, and when Valjean asks for just an hour more, so that he can bring someone to the hospital, Javert points his gun and says “one more step and you’re dead”.  Valjean turns around and walks away with the injured man.  Javert doesn’t fire.  Instead he drops his gun.

He understands that he has shown mercy because he has been shown mercy, yet his righteousness – the thing upon which he has built his life – can’t parse it.  He can’t live with the dichotomy, and so he commits suicide – the ultimate despair.

The author has captured a truth about human nature.   How many of us, having read stories of criminal activities, have stated our heartfelt desire to visit retribution upon the miscreants?  I know I have.  This is perhaps one of the key human characteristics that separates us from the animal kingdom.  We have this keen sense of righteousness – a need to right the wrong, to achieve a balance.  We truly aren’t all that interested in fixing what’s wrong with the criminal.  What we want is payment.

It goes beyond a logical understanding.  It is visceral.  I assure you:  if anyone brought serious intentional harm to anyone I loved, I wouldn’t care what the reason was.  I’d want blood.  I’d want payment – even knowing that no amount of punishment would right the wrong, as if it never happened.  I’m guessing the same is likely true for you too.   It’s universal.  We understand it instinctively.

The thing is:  we also believe it to be true of ourselves.  We are our own harshest critics and judges.  Oprah once said that the thing all of her guests had in common was a belief that they didn’t deserve anything good in life.  Most of us know of women who continually go back to abusive mates:  the core of this is a belief that they somehow deserved the pain of those relationships.  It’s twisted and wrong, but it’s visceral again – and it takes counselling to break free of it.  Stephen Chbosky said “we accept the love we think we deserve”.  I think he’s right.

If there’s a word that describe’s Jesus’ life and teaching – other than life – it would be “freedom”.  He came to set men free (he said).  Free of what?  I think it involves freedom from the internal judge, the one that holds us back.  He said he came so that we could live an abundant life.  For years I thought he meant “after we die” – but he used the present, not future tense.

If there’s a God, and if he truly loves us as unconditionally as we love our own children, and so wants us to live according to our potential, instead of our perceived limitation, then something has to be done.  The crucifixion sort of answers that, to a degree.  Back then especially, there was a severe moral structure in place.   The old and new testaments are filled with Javert-types:  people for whom there are no shades of grey.   It was endemic in religion.

Back then, as now, people wanted to be seen as good, and so they subjected themselves to all kinds of self-inflicted punishments.  Many used whips on their own backs, not satisfied until they drew blood.  This practice still exists in places today.

I can think of no better way to bring a message of universal acceptance, where people could feel they they deserve a good life, then to set up the crucifixion story.  Jesus “paid the price” for all of our sins.  It’s pretty genius really.  If he has paid the price of our wrongs – according to our own human visceral sensibilities, which we ascribe to the universe and ultimately to God – then we don’t have to go around in abject guilt and self-recrimination anymore.

This is not to say we don’t suffer guilt still.  I know that we do.  It’s just that it’s unnecessary.   Again I come back to our kids.  We watch them make mistakes, from the first time they stumble when trying to walk, to getting into fights at school.  We don’t condemn them.  We’re disappointed – but that’s a different thing entirely.  At the end of the day we understand that these are all experiences for growth.

Maybe the message of “Les Mis” is that we need to give ourselves  a break.   One thing I know for sure:  if we are merciful to ourselves (and you know I don’t mean in a narcissistic way), then we are more likely to cut others a break too.

At any rate – Merry Christmas!

Sometimes you just have to speak up.

The oldest social rule is:  “never talk about politics or religion”.

There’s a reason, obviously.  Both topics tend to bring out the ogres in so many of us.

Never has that been more evident than in the recent American election.  Liberals and conservatives were both guilty of demonizing each other.  I don’t mean mild condemnation either.  I mean full-out balls-to-the-wall judgement and condemnation.

The bright spot in all of it was the number of undecideds who adamantly refused to be pigeon-holed into one mindset or the other.

I suppose at one point I was just as prone to demonizing those who disagreed with me as anyone else.  So it’s not like I can claim purity here.

Eventually you get to realize that the world maybe isn’t as black and white as you thought.  Kind of scary, isn’t it?  Undependable.  You want your villains to wear black hats, and your good guys to wear white.   You detest those guys with the multi-coloured hats (what?  You expected grey?  Grey is muddled and muddy and undefined.  Rainbow – besides being indicative of gay – is a little more invigorating and alive)

Recently someone close to me has introduced a thinker named Miguel Ruiz – in a book entitled “The Mastery of Love”.   He talks about the fact that we are subject to a hell of a lot of guilt.  Unnecessary guilt.  It comes from so many sources too.  Religion is a big one:  both Catholic and Jewish children are subject to it.   Fundamentalist Christians (Baptists, some Pentecostalists) believe that we are born depraved and icky and pretty stinking awful and that it’s only through the grace of a benevolent being that we have any worth at all.  And those who don’t believe in that benevolent being are utterly lost and depraved forever.

It doesn’t matter if they hold love in their hearts for others.  Or if they indulge in charity or look out for strangers.   They’re lost and depraved and so very very icky.  Probably beat up their cats too.

The dichotomy of atheists’ loving attitudes and what we were taught about unbelievers always bugged me on a subliminal level.  I learned not to question it though:  my mind decided that a lot of deception was involved and so I likely wasn’t seeing them as they truly were.

My mind was right:  there *was* deception.  It was an innocent one though, and one based upon a lot of wrong assumptions.

Assumption #1:  that any one man or religion has all of the answers.

So not true.  I think the universe, or God or whatever you want to call it, has indeed created a force for curiosity.  It’s how we grow at all.  It’s how we progress in the sciences.  Curiosity – the nemesis of the complacent and rigidly correct intelligentsia.

I think that a true appreciation of reality will result in a humble realization that it’s not possible to know everything.  Such paucity of assuredness fertilizes the ground of curiosity and questing.   When your feet sink deep into the sod of uncertainty there’s a heightened expectation of wonder.  A “what’s next?” that keeps your heart racing.

Assumption #2:  that those who think differently have a devilish agenda.

This assumption is born from a belief – not a fact – that one’s experience is normal, usual.  And so anyone who’s had the same experience as us necessarily must have evolved the same way.  It’s that core.  It seems to be visceral to a great number of people.

What if you met someone who didn’t have any of those preconceptions?  What if you met someone who had joy and not a whit of judgement toward anyone else?  Someone who was excited and joyfully apprehensive, looking for something great to happen?  What if that person infected you with his or her excitement?

You wouldn’t judge him or her.  Neither would I.

In fact, you’ve met such a person.  I’m positive that you have.  I know I have too.  At the time I didn’t know whether to believe she was real.  Maybe there was a screw loose.  Who goes around so happy all the time?   But then I realized she was real.  He was real.  He was curious, so he asked questions.   And he/she invited me to the party.

I remember sitting with such people, late at night, in a condo, with the music playing quietly as we drank and talked.  It’s so clear in my mind:  the moment was magical.  It felt like anything could happen.  There were zero prejudgments about anything.  Judgement wasn’t even on the radar.  We were, in effect:  People of the Moment.

That’s certainly my desired end state, for all time.  I have no tolerance for intolerance.  *grin*

I think it’s a worthy goal.   What do you think?

Misophonia: People who have misophonia are most commonly annoyed, or even enraged, by such ordinary sounds as other people eating, breathing, sniffing, or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds. Intense anxiety and avoidant behavior may develop, which can lead to decreased socialization. Some people may feel the compulsion to mimic what they hear

I had no idea this was a *thing*. Apparently I’ve got it. Somehow I doubt that pushing the guy’s face into his bowl of crunchy cereal (so he can *really* get a good taste of it) is a viable prescription.

(Still, it’s a good thought)

People – too many it seems – are completely unaware of their sounds.   The smack-smack-smacking of lips as folk chow down on their copious amounts of popcorn are just so damned unavoidable.  But that’s okay – I enjoy popcorn too, and find a need to chew carefully when I eat it.  Wouldn’t want to inadvertently be the catalyst for a homicidal episode from an overly annoyed fellow patron.

The occupant one stall over in the cubicle farm is completely ignorant of his sounds.  And he has so VERY VERY many of them, and they all start around 10:00 a.m. every day.  The guy starts out with some sort of crunchy cereal – which he consumes with a metal spoon from a ceramic bowl.  I know because I recognize the sounds clearly: the spoon as well as the damned clanky bowl.

When he’s done he apparently has a problem with some of the foodstuffs that don’t make it down his massive gullet – which seem obvious because he suddenly starts up with the teeth-sucking.  Have you ever heard someone sucking their teeth?  It’s amazingly disgusting.   Pfft! Pffffffffffffft!

Then there’s a myriad of other sounds.  Throat-clearing, heavy breathing, coughing.  (I’m guessing he doesn’t swallow normally either – hence the need to clear all of his passages of errant food stuffs.)

Once done, you’d think that would be it wouldn’t you?

Oh but you’d be so very very wrong.  Because you know he has to phone someone.

Home boy doesn’t have a normal voice.  No, his voice is unnecessarily loud.  I don’t mean normal loud.  I mean vibrantly dramatically loud.   And God help us if he hears a joke because boy oh boy – he’s going to LAUGH.  Not a gentle dignified laugh or chuckle either.  An outright guffaw that would raise the dead and cause sheep and cows to snort in alarm.  It’s not a laugh you share either – it’s a laugh that makes you piss yourself and run in fear.

One morning he was so bad that I honestly felt myself going insane.  I wanted to call my boss and talk with him but he was offline.  I wanted to talk with anyone but there was no one around.  I could visualize myself picking up my laptop and throwing it hard across the room.  Honestly – I’ve never felt that way before.

Someone offered me this advice:  “when he starts up, just take a break and go to the washroom.”

My sincere response: “I’m not allowed to spend six hours in the washroom.”

****

You know – there have been many times I’ve found myself hyper-aware of annoying sounds.  Maybe they’re only annoying to me though.  My dad – back when he was still alive – used to hack and cack in the washroom every morning.  He’d do this long dramatic throat clearing, and it would sound as if he was fixin’ to throw up the contents of his cavernous stomach.  Only he’d get so far and then not actually do it.  It was worse than hearing a cat coughing up a hairball.   “HACK HACK *cough* HACK HAAAAAAACK!!!!!”   – long 20 second count – then: “*spit*”

Used to make me almost offer up a sympathy barf.

(Sorry.   I know that’ s disgusting.  Now you know how I feel.)

Just a guess here but….I’ll just bet that this “misophonia” thing is exasperated if you have ADHD.  In that you’re so easily distracted by anything or everything.   So obviously if certain noises unduly annoy you it’s a fair bet that such noises are naturally going to catch your attention at the most inopportune of times.

For a while I was on ADHD meds and these noises didn’t annoy me nearly so much.  I was aware of them – but I was able to concentrate at the task at hand, so the noises became background white noise.  Time passed and I found a need to stop the meds – and the annoyances came back.

What about you?  Is this topic completely new to you – or do you too suffer from this social noise pollution?

“You know, George Burns smoked all his life and he lived to be 100” she said, as she puffed away on her cigarette., squinting at me through the haze of smoke.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard my mom say that.  She always drew on his example whenever one of us complained that she was shortening her life with her habit.   I don’t think any of us were feeling the need to get all up in her business about it though:  she lived a hard life with a cruel and vicious husband.  So what if she had this one vice?  This was something she clearly enjoyed, so who were we to cause her any angst?

Though she died at a young age (71), I’m still not sure I’d change anything.    She knew the score.  She was an intelligent woman, and she knew full well that George Burns was the exception not the rule.  She knew she was playing a form of Russian Roulette – which she ultimately lost.

I wonder though:  if she had known that 71 was her magic number, would she have changed her mind?   There was so much left that she wanted to do.  She was fascinated by computers and the internet, and never got a chance to have one or get on the other before she died.  She expressed interest and I had promised to get her set up.   It didn’t happen.

Spilt milk.  Barn doors and horses.

The past is done.

Enter the present.

I was on Facebook and the subject was Chris Christie.   He is one of the few die-hard Republican for whom I hold a hearty respect.  (No worries, I’m not here to talk about politics.  You can stay and read on.)

Christie

The group was mostly conservative, though there were a few independents there, including myself.  We all seemed to like him, and a few of us thought that maybe he’d be a good candidate for a future Presidential election.

One guy – we’ll call him “Ace” said:  “well u should like christey cause he will be prez in 2020, and rubio as the vip”

(Naturally my spelling and grammar Nazi hackles went up after reading that.  I stifled those reactions, repression being the healthier choice.  May have sprained something though.)

“Peter” said: “I frankly wouldn’t bet heavily on a 300lb 50 year-old seeing 2020.”

The conversation went back and forth between them.  Ace thought it was unfair to pick on the man because of his weight, and I jumped in with a note that the weight thing wasn’t a political or partisan slam; that it was a real factor.  Quite apart from the politics, being morbidly obese has a number of highly probable consequences.  I felt that his running for office in 2020 would be an exercise in optimism.

Then, “Ace” came back with this erudite observation:  “hell i am obesed and 54 and I am very much alive”

I don’t normally comment on anyone’s health habits, whether it involves weight or smoking.  And I am loathe to comment on anyone’s cerebral faculties:  the written word is not always the best indicator of a person’s mental capacity or resources.  A person might have learning disabilities or a mental condition which precludes accurate and graceful discussion.  This is also why I refrained from commenting on Ace’s spelling and grammar.

However, using one’s own obesity to bolster a point that Chris Christie’s morbid obesity does not pose a health risk struck me as slightly obscene.

I said “well you should be worried too.”

“In addition to heart problems, there are potential health risks to be considered, such as stroke and diabetes”, I added.  “This isn’t a personal shot against you though:  it’s just a reality.”

The man replied “i am not ignoring anything ohave the heart rate of a 20 year old and the b/p of a 20 year old, so yes i plan on being here along time” (sic)

To say I was amazed would be an understatement.  The more I argued with him, the more he denied any potential issues.  It was like talking to an emo teenager.

I said “do you even know what being ‘morbidly obese’ means?  Or for that matter, do you understand the meaning of the word ‘morbid’?”

Eventually though, I gave up.  There wasn’t any point, especially after he bragged about being a smoker too.

It just amazes me that anyone can be so neck-deep in denial as to honestly believe that he can live that way and not suffer consequences.  The hospitals are filled with denial-based consequences.  In fact, doctors will say that most patients aren’t in there for exotic or unusual diseases; most are dying from preventable behaviour-based illnesses.

I would have understood if he had argued the way my Mom did. If he had said “look I know all of the statistics and the dangers, and I’m okay with them – just shut up about it”, it would have been easier to drop the topic.  The fact that he used his own stupidity-based beliefs to justify his stance that Governor Christie has nothing to worry about seemed bizarre beyond belief.

I finally said “You’re insistent upon your march to the grave. Eat as much as you want and smoke as much as you want. It’s not my business, Ace.”

It really isn’t.   I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tolerate obstinate stupidity or wilful ignorance though.   It’s the itch you can’t scratch, or put balm on.   And you can’t take a knife to it, and cut it out of your psyche.  It’s there and you have to pretend it isn’t.   Like foreign matter dangling from the boss’s majestic nose.