Archive for the ‘living’ Category

He took a long slow slip of his Chardonnay.  It was a great night – he couldn’t think of a single thing to make it better.  Well maybe one thing.  A girl he’d been seeing.   He loved her smile, and her unpredictable thoughts.  And her long long legs.  He realized that he missed her.  Missed her laughter, her teasing.  He smiled, realizing that now, after so many years of friendship, he still felt uncertain around her.  Off of his balance.  She still intrigued him.  He wondered if his curiosity about her would ever be sated.   He doubted it.

They’d been friends for years.  She’d commiserated with him when he went through his divorce.  He in turn had been there when she’d gone through her trials.   He shook his head.  Tonight wasn’t about her, or them together.   His buddy was due to arrive shortly at their favourite bar, and he needed to be on target for him.  Darryl was going through a hard time at home, and it looked as though his marriage was in trouble.  For now, he’d have to relegate the girl to the back of his mind, knowing that she’d lurk there, ready to tease him.  God.  Could he just stop thinking about her, for even a few minutes?

A blast of cold winter air blew in, and he looked over, to see his friend standing inside, brushing the snow off of his shoulders.  He raised his glass.  “Darryl!  Over here!”

Darryl looked over.  Nodded.  Made his way through the crowded tables and patrons standing around at the bar.  Plunked himself down on the bar chair. Looked around for the bartender.   Ordered a draft.   Stared sullenly ahead.

“Hey.  What’s going on?”

“It’s over, man.  She told me she got a lawyer today.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He looked at his friend.  “Yeah you do.  You have to get a lawyer too.  You need counsel buddy.”

“I know.  I know.   Look.” He sighed.  “Let’s talk about something else okay?”

He nodded, and took another sip of wine.  “Sure.”

They sat in friendly silence for a moment, watching the light dance off of the parade of bottles at the bar.   The rocky music was loud enough to hear, but not overpowering.  It was one of the reasons he liked the place.  That, and the lighting and the friendly atmosphere.  He looked over at his friend, nudged him with his elbow.

“Look – in about six months this will all be behind you.”

Darryl took a swig of his beer.  “Yeah, so?”

“So….have you thought about what you want to do?”

“What’s to think about?  I’ll just go to work, come home and probably get drunk on a regular basis.   I’m good at that.”  He flourished his bottle with false drama.  “‘s what I do”

He could hear the bitterness in his friend’s voice.

“Yes.  You could do that I guess.”   He looked forward and kept quiet.  Waiting.

Darryl lifted his head up.  “Or what?”

He shrugged.  Said nothing.

“Well what would you do?”  He hesitated.  “What did you do after your split?”

“Lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“Like improv comedy”

Darryl laughed bitterly and turned back to the bar.  “Yeah, right.”

“What?”

“Dude you know me.  I’m too ….backward.  I could never do what you do.”

“Says who?”

“Says me.  I’m not comfortable in front of people.”

“Uh huh.”

Silence again.  Except for the music.  A blues rendition of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” was playing now.

“Say what you’re thinking.  You’re driving me nuts here.  You’re acting like my wife.”  He frowned.   “Ex-wife.”

He looked at him.   “Okay.”

He played with his napkin.  Thinking.

“I think you’re like me.  Quite a bit like me actually.”

“Doubtful”

“Hear me out.”  He paused.   “You like feeling safe don’t you?”

“Well who doesn’t?”

He nodded.  “Not many.” He sat back.  “Most people look for safety.  It’s natural.   We’re all about survival.  We like things to stay the same.  All of us.  Almost all of the time.  It’s why the end of marriage, or of a job, makes us miserable.   It’s change.  It’s not fun.   It’s like…..”  He looked at his wine. “It’s like we’re cats, and we hate having people ruffle our fur the wrong way.  It irritates us, and makes us feel like we’re in danger.”

“Yeah”   Darryl nodded.  Took another gulp of his beer.

“So…who’d be stupid enough to deliberately go and seek change, right?”  He stopped, wanting to think some more.

Darryl frowned.  “Look – are you going to preach all night?  Or are you going to get to the point?”

He grinned.  “I’m getting there.”  He sipped his wine.  “After my marriage ended, I realized there was a lot of stuff I’d never done.   Before we split, someone dared me to go skydiving once, and I remember being so relieved when the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to postpone our jump.   When the same gang decided to try again – and this was after my split – I decided to go for it.”

“Geeze”  Darryl shook his head.  “You’ve got to be crazy to jump out of a perfectly good plane.”

He laughed – it wasn’t the first time he’d heard someone say this.  “Yeah, but….I decided to do it.  I had to.  I’ve always had dreams of flying.  This wouldn’t be the same but at least it would be a step in that direction.  I was as scared as hell, and there were a few times I thought about backing out.   But I went for it anyway.”

“So how was it?”

“Terrifying.  I didn’t like it at all.”

Darryl laughed.   “Yeah.  Sounds about right.”

“But I don’t regret it.  And I’ll do it again.”

Darryl chuckled.  “That’s because you’re nuts.”

“Probably.”  He sat back and looked up at the hockey game on the flat panel TV over the bar.

“So that’s it?  I should go skydiving?”

He shook his head.  “No.  It’s like….”   He struggled for the right words.  “It’s like while I was falling from the plane, I really felt alive.   LIke I was doing something important.  And it was the same with doing improv comedy.  Only for that, it was more gradual, because I got lots of practice before ever getting up in front of an audience.”

“Okay look – I’m not you.  I’m not going to go skydiving and I’m sure as hell not doing improv comedy.  For one thing I don’t have much of a sense of humour.”

He nodded, thinking.   “Darryl, I’m not saying you should do either of those things.   It’s about……it’s about finding something that makes you live.  Maybe for you it’s…I don’t know…doing accounting”

Darryl snorted.

“Or it’s about doing something else.  I don’t know what.  Something.  Anything that gets your blood flowing.”

They said nothing for a bit, listening to Ben E. King singing “Stand by Me”.   The music was compelling.   A woman near the end of the bar was swaying in time with the tune.

Darryl spoke up.  “So what else got your blood flowing?”

“Well there was this actress who kind of got under my skin.   I met her at an actors’ dinner.  She kind of showed up on the scene a little out of the blue.  I never expected to meet her that night.”

Darryl grinned.  “Tell me about her.”

“Well, she was dark-skinned, with long dark hair and she said she was Persian.  And she was younger than me.   She kind of messed me up badly.”

Darryl nodded and grinned.  “Why?  Because you’re such a cracker?”

He laughed.   “No – it’s just…I’ve never had such a strong spark with someone.   I mean, ever.  Not when I met my wife, not when I met any other girlfriend.    And it was almost instant.  We flirted with each other on the dance floor on the night we met, and then we….well, we made out like crazy, there on the dance floor.  We just stopped while everyone else was still dancing around us, and we made out.”

“So this was a one night stand?”

“No.  Oh God no!  It was anything but that.   It was a true attraction on every level.  I’m not a one night stand kind of guy anyway – and she was the furthest from that too.  She told me she split from her last boyfriend a couple of years before then.”

“So?   What happened that night?  You obviously didn’t take her home.”

“No, I didn’t.   We walked all around Toronto for many hours.  Holding hands, and occasionally stopping on the sidewalk to make out.  I know it wasn’t just me who thought it was pretty wild, because at one point she said ‘you know, I’ve never kissed a boy like that before.’   And I said ‘yeah.  Me neither.  I’ve never kissed a boy like that either.'”

Darryl laughed.   “But she’s not with you now.”

“No she’s not.  Last I heard she had moved out west and got married to someone.”

Darryl looked closely at him.  “Yet she left an impression.”

“She left me with an addiction.”

“An addiction?”

“Well maybe she didn’t cause the addiction but she sure as hell contributed to it.”  He paused.  “I’m kind of addicted to taking chances, risks. To anything that makes my heart race.   I can’t tolerate ‘normal’ anymore.  Can’t stand the thought of being stagnant in any way.”

“Really.”  There was a curious note in Darryl’s voice.

“Yup.”   He finished his wine glass.  The bartender came over with the bottle, one eyebrow raised.  He nodded, and the bartender poured.

Darryl held his beer bottle in his hand, looking at it.  Flicked his fingernail at the edge of the label.

“So I kind of made a deal with myself.”

Darryl looked up.

“I’m always going to find a way to capture that excitement, that passion.  In romance, or in what I do for a living, or whatever else.  I have to.  It’s what keeps me alive.”

“I don’t know.- that all sounds good, but maybe a little impractical?”

He nodded.   “Really impractical.”

“So how do you plan to do it?”

“When I’ve gone through really bad times in the past, or when I’ve had to make a hard decision or put myself at risk, I’ve always asked myself ‘what’s the absolute worst that can happen?’   And generally – it’s not that bad.”

“What about when it’s really bad?  Wait…”  Darryl paused.  “What’s the worst you’ve faced?”

“Well, the finances got really bad one time.   I had creditors crawling right up my ass – and it was getting pretty damned crowded up there.”

“What did you do?”

“I worked it out.”  Darryl snorted abruptly at the unintended joke.  But he continued: “Even though it was onerous, I kept thinking ‘in a year’s time, this will be over’.  And you know what else?   I’d go to the movies to escape life for a while.  And when the previews came on, I’d note the date that the movies would show up – which in some cases was six months away or more – and I’d think ‘by the time this movie comes out, I’ll be through this’   It was pretty comforting.”

Darryl looked at him.  “You know, you’ve always struck me as a pretty staid, upstanding guy.  I can’t ever picture you doing anything out of the ordinary.”

He laughed.  “You’ve only seen me at work.   Back when I was doing improv comedy, I got in with a gang of friends and we all sparked off of each other.  Often, we’d stay at someone’s place and drink and talk all night long.  About pretty much everything.  I remember so many mornings, having to work the next day – and leaving someone’s house at  7:00 in the morning and going to work without any sleep at all.   I remember one night staying over, and we all decided to bunk down.  I got the couch.  I remember one girl coming down from her room and rummaging around for something.  I woke up and we talked for a bit – and it seemed like something amazing was going to happen but it didn’t.  But the magic of it was there, the possibility – and for me, having just gone through a divorce, it was enough.”

“You’re smiling”

He grinned.  “Yeah, I guess I am.  Back then I was in the moment, not even thinking about how great an experience it was.  So much of this became a kind of cool thing – after the fact.”

“Have you done anything else out of the ordinary?”

“You mean risky?”

“Yeah.  Risky.”

“Well I don’t know if this counts or not, but that same girl stayed over at my place one night, because we were going to an all-day multi-performer concert the next day in Toronto.”

“Oh so you did sleep with her!”

“No.  We didn’t.  She was just a friend.”

“Oh.   Right.  I forgot.  You’re dependable.”

“No, just recently divorced.   ANYWAY….” he raised his voice, determined to cut off any more jabs.  “We got on the bus to Toronto, but we found it was so packed that we couldn’t sit next to each other.  We were lucky to get seats at all.  She ended up sitting behind me.  So anyway, as the bus got going, I noticed there was an old lady behind me, sitting next to my friend.  So I turned to my friend and said ‘where’s my money, bitch?'”

“What?”

“Yeah.  We were both in improv comedy, and one of the things we’d always talked about was doing a punk-type live performance on an unsuspecting public.”

“Oh.  So what did the old lady do?”

“Well she was certainly listening.   It took my friend a moment to realize what I was doing, but she quickly started playing along.   By the time our impromptu routine was done, it turned out that she was a prostitute/dancer, and I was her boyfriend/pimp, and we had a four year old child that we left at home before waiting for the babysitter to arrive, because we wanted to go this concert so badly.”

Darryl laughed.   “So….the old lady?”

“Totally pissed.  She scrunched up her little face in such a frown.”   And with that, he mimicked the frown, pulling his mouth inward as tightly as he could, with his eyebrows pulled down.

And Darryl laughed even harder, with no trace of the marriage stress in his eyes.

Which was kind of the point.  Or at least, part of it.

—————————————

So let me ask:  is there a risky adventure that you think you’d like to do?  Something that would make your heart race, but you feel you could “never do” – because of unforeseen consequences?   Or is there something you’ve done – where you’ve deliberately thrown caution to the wind?   I’d like to hear about it.

“I DON’T BELIEVE YOU ALVIN!!!”  Teacher barked in clear frustration.  “You’re acting.  Stop it!”

Teacher sat back in his chair, face all red, incensed.   “Bob, sit down.  Let me work with him.”

Bobby quickly made his way to his seat and Teacher stood up at the front of the room and faced Alvin.

“You’re acting”, said Teacher.

“I’m acting” replied Alvin.

“No.  You’re acting.”

“I’m acting” said Alvin, puzzled.

“You need to stop acting”

“I need to stop acting”

Teacher exploded.  “YOU NEED TO STOP ACTING”

Alvin mildly replied “I need to stop acting”

“GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!’  Teacher blasted the words right in his face, spittle flying.

“Get out of my head” replied Alvin, still mild.  Still controlled.

Teacher was anything but controlled.  “GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!!!”

This acting exercise, of repetition back and forth between the two, went on for some time.  The rest of the students watched the two, entirely rapt, tense.

Teacher was getting angrier by the moment.  His fists clenched, the veins in his neck were bulging.   Alvin remained a shining example of control.

“YOU NEED TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY CLASS”

“I need to get the fuck out of your class”

“YES I WANT YOU TO GO, NOW!!” he barked.

‘Yes you want me to go now.” Alvin replied, seemingly obvious to the dangerous rage.

“GET THE FUCK OUT ALVIN!!!”

“I….”  Alvin faltered.

One of the students jumped up, walked over to Alvin.  “Dude, the exercise is over.  You need to leave.”

Alvin finally realized the Teacher was serious.  It was apparent to everyone in the class except Alvin that he was not cut out for this work.  He was somehow blocked, and there was no way around it.  He could not express emotion, which was what the exercise was all about.  Teacher sat back down, face still red, while Alvin got his stuff together and made his way out.

I sat there, a little stunned.  My problem was similar to Alvin’s though not so acute.  I’d been able to express true emotion in this class, except for one:  anger.  Every time I tried, Teacher called me on it.  “Stop.  You’re acting.  Stop acting.  Now, try again.”

The difference between a good actor and a bad one is that the good one is telling the truth.  The bad one is lying, but trying to convince that he’s being sincere.

Truth-telling truth-tellers.

It took me a long time to realize what that means, or to find the label to something I knew to be true.

For the longest time I wondered why I was so irritated with phone calls.  Maybe I was being snobby?   That didn’t ring true.  If anything I was more accommodating than the average guy.  Or the average Canadian for that matter.  (And you KNOW Canadians are pretty damned accommodating, often bending over backward to help you out.  It’s not a wild stereotype when I say that many of us will say “sorry” when you step on our foot.)

Yet, when I received a phone call, I couldn’t wait to put the phone down.  What was that about?  It really bothered me.  Some of the people I loved and respected would call, and almost always I couldn’t wait to get off of the phone.  There have been times when I gave serious thought to getting rid of all of the phones in my life.  There’s a phone at my workplace.  Maybe I could make do with that, or with pay phones.

Yet, this revulsion for phone calls wasn’t universal.  There were maybe two people who would brighten my day when they called.  And I knew I could spend hours on the phone with them without giving thought to ending their call.

Finally I realized what it was.

Truth-telling.

Any guy who’s in a relationship with a woman, will attest to the fact that the lazy practice of apologizing to his woman in order to get back into her good graces (especially when we don’t know what wrong we’ve done) doesn’t work.  Invariable, our women will ask “what are you sorry for, exactly?”    They are looking for specificity.  They want to know that we know exactly what we’ve done wrong, that we recognize it, and will attempt to change our behaviour in the future.

Truth-telling.  They’re interested in our truths, more than our blanket apologies.

Phone calls, or conversations in the office that revolve around trivial stuff might be of interest to some people.  Not to me though.  I could give a rat’s ass about so many trivial things.  I have no interest in polite and pointless discussion.  Pretending interest is the opposite of truth-telling.   For me, it is creative suicide.  Hanging from the patter until dead.

Hence the hated phone calls.  Except for ones received from a few people .   The difference with them?   They delved deep into things.  They were curious, and alive and passionate.  We didn’t talk about the obvious.  Not about the weather (unless it was stormy, and a tree fell down, and an adventure ensued).   Nor about what we ate that day (unless it was monkey brains, and it tasted just like squid, and was delicious, particularly with tartar sauce).

We compared notes on discoveries.  The warp and woof of universal truths.  Things we’d observed – in each other, and in other people.  We were people watchers.  We were empaths.  Anything that threatened to take us down the path of the verbal rut was jettisoned quickly, with relief.

It’s an extension of our takes on life – whether the intent is to grow, to find freedom from expectation, with the ultimate intent of flight.

Truth-telling.

It removes you from social niceties.  It gives you an appearance of danger.  Truth-tellers are generally not that predictable.   They don’t fit into the expected, the norm.  You don’t know what they’re going to say, or do.   Henry Rollins – truth-teller.  Unpredictable, dangerous.   Clint Eastwood.  Another truth-teller.   I think Bono is one too.

My acting teacher – the one I mentioned at the start of this blog.  He was a definite truth-teller.

I remember one bright shining moment of truth-telling at one of his classes.

It was my turn to get to the front of the class.   Whenever it was our turn, Teacher would pair us up with another student.  The only direction was to say something.  Anything.  And the other guy had to repeat and reflect it back.  The intent was to tap into real emotion.  So we never knew where it would go.  It was exhilarating, exciting and just a little bit scary, because it meant being vulnerable.

This time, Teacher paired me up with…..his girlfriend.

I shook my head, startled.  And then I settled in.

The first thing I noticed was that she was beautiful.   It crossed my mind that if I said my truth, Teacher might not like it.   Teacher was unpredictable, and could switch on real emotion at the drop of a hat.   One real scary dude.   Still, I thought, it’s risky but I have to do it.  I have to be real.  I can’t pretend.

So …..I smiled at her.   Teacher’s girlfriend.   She smiled back.

I gulped, because her smile affected me so much.

She started the exercise.   “You gulped.”

“I gulped” I said, nodding.

“You gulped”, she said, teasing.

“Yes, I gulped” Now I was grinning, from ear to ear.

“You’re happy” she said.

“Yes, I’m happy” I said.

Then before she could reply, I inserted a new phrase.  “You make me feel silly.”

“I make you feel silly”

“Yes” I was smiling so hard I could feel a tear of joy starting at my eyes.  It freaked me out a bit, but I had to let it go. “You make me feel silly”

“I make you feel silly” now she was grinning hard.

We went back and forth for a while, venturing a new phrase now and then, as the passion slowly built.  It took a while.

Eventually, I got to:  “you’re so bright”

“I’m so…..bright?” she asked, a slight frown at her forehead.

I corrected myself.  “Your eyes are so bright”   And so help me God – they really were.  Her eyes were shining.  I can still see them, even now.

“My eyes are bright”  she smiled, hearing the truth.

“Your eyes are bright”

She smiled and said nothing.   Teacher jumped in immediately.  “Continue!”

She cocked her head, and, still smiling, said “you’re messed up”.

Wham.  Truth.

“YES.  I’m completely messed up.”

“You’re completely messed up”

I took the next step.  “You’re messing me up”

Her face gained colour.  “I’m messing you up.”

The room was completely quiet.  Every student was leaning forward on their chairs.  I didn’t look at them, but knew exactly what was going on.  Except for Teacher.  I had no idea what he was doing.  I didn’t even want to think about him.

“Yeah, you’re messing me up.”

“Yes I’m messing you up”.  She smiled so sweetly.  (And when she did that – it *completely* messed me up)

“I want to get close to you”

I heard the class gasp.

She repeated it back, a little more quietly.  “You want to get close to me.”

“I really want to get close to you.”

“You—”   Teacher jumped up, interrupting.  “Wait a minute”

I thought “ok this is it.  He’s putting us out of our misery”  Only, he wasn’t.   He grabbed two chairs and brought them to the front of the room, facing them to each other, only a few inches apart.

“Ok” said Teacher.   “Sit there.  And continue.”

We sat.

I looked closely into her eyes.  We weren’t smiling anymore.

“We’re close to each other”

She said “we’re close to each other”

“So close” I almost breathed the words.

“So close” she murmured.

Back and forth, looking deeply into each other’s eyes.  We repeated and repeated.  It was all truth.

Finally, I whispered “I want to kiss you”

She stayed close, looking deeply into my eyes.  “You want to kiss me.”

“I want to kiss you.”

We stayed there, silent.  And we let the silence take over.  The class was silent.  I’ve never felt such stillness.

And then Teacher stood up and walked over to us.   “Well done.”

I heard the class let go of its breath.  And then they applauded.

Truth-telling.

There was an emotional after-glow to that truth exercise.   I could tell she felt it, because I saw it in her quick smiles and glances in my direction.  I could still feel my heart pounding too.   Teacher knew it to be truth, and he knew that’s as far as it went.

Once you dive into the ocean of truth-telling, anything less is a rip-off.  A facile and pointless exercise.   A spiritual hotdog when you’re craving a thick juicy peppercorn steak.

“You need to pay more attention to your Chi.”

I heard those words while sitting in a diner in Tofino, B.C. today. Seemed to resonate soundly, fitting completely with the laid back young atmosphere of this rainy little resort town.

Tofino is a beautiful anomaly. It hardly rarely gets any warmer than 15 degrees during the summer (59 Fahrenheit) or cooler than 8 degrees (43 Fahrenheit) during the day in winter. Since it exists in a rain forest, the predominant weather is….rain. Lots and lots of rain. The cheerful residents wander around town in rain boots and rain coats. You can spot the city folk (raising hand) by the fact that they’re sporting umbrellas.

Yet, for all of that, the place consists of people in their 20’s. They’re attracted to this place. I asked my host why that was.

He said “like attracts like. There are young people here, and that attracts more of the same.”

Seeing my half-accepting nod, he continued. “Plus, there aren’t that many full time jobs here. They’re all seasonal. So it’s rare that families choose to settle here.”

He thought some more. “And they really like the great surfing here too.”

This completed a picture. Yesterday, at the same little diner, I shared a table with a long-time middle-aged resident who mentioned he just bought another property.

“Must be hard getting decent tenants” I offered, drawing upon my extensive knowledge of landlord-tenant dynamics from my home in Toronto.

He sipped his coffee. Nodded. “Yeah, they only seem to want to rent for a short time. There’s a constant turnover of residents.”

The air around this town is thick with the ambience of one word: wellness. The people are fit, alive and above all, friendly. Torontonians are generally left a little pole-axed by the redolent joy of this place. There is no rushing, about anything. You don’t meet anyone while walking and not at least nod at them. What normally would be a five minute trip to the grocery store in the big city turns out to be a fifteen minute joyful experience in Tofino: residents just love to talk and meet new people. Before you walk out with your milk and bread, you’ll know a heck of a lot more about those who work in the store: where they came from, how long they’ve been there, and how cool the surfing is.

There is a surfeit of massage practitioners. Most of them offer a range of therapies including aromatherapy and Reiki. And lots of advice on how to live a healthier lifestyle. There are no fast food places here. It’s all very very healthy. If you don’t feel like visiting one of the little restaurants, you can always purchase some organic foods to bring back to wherever you’re staying.

All of the gorgeous little (and big) resorts outside of town are connected by two things: a small highway for the cars, and a paved walkway for pedestrians and cyclists. Both see lots of use. Certainly the latter is a dog walker’s paradise. All of this is surrounded by greenery, trees.

Bears and cougars have been sighted here from time to time, too. My host mentioned that one time, his guests were pretty much confined to their suite for a while because there was a mother bear and her cub hanging out, just outside their door.

On my last visit to this town, I was playing a board game with my hosts when I spotted movement outside their plate glass dining room window. I looked closer. It was a big lumbering bear, calmly making his way from the front yard to the back yard. My eyes must have been bugging out, because my host laughed. He was used to it, whereas the only dangerous wildlife this Toronto boy had ever encountered before was a slightly gassy beggar asking for change on a dim street corner.

You don’t lock your doors in this town. There’s no point. Everyone knows everyone. It’s just that kind of place. (Plus, bears and cougars don’t have opposable thumbs. So it’s all good.)

Yesterday, we took a long walk down to the ocean and saw this:

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In spite of all of this beauty, there are a few things I miss.

A decent internet connection.
My PVR. (Yeah, I’m addicted to my TV. Sue me.)
The night life of the big city.
A movie theatre on every corner. (Well not quite on every corner. Enough of them though).
Transit. Being able to get from A-B relatively quickly.
Sunshine. That’s a big one.

When I get back to Toronto, there is one major aspect of Tofino that I know I’ll miss.

The amazing and endearing friendliness. You can’t smile and wave at someone in Toronto without them scrambling to press the 911 speed dial on their iPhones.

(This blog is lovingly dedicated with thanks to my hosts: Miche and Angie. The latter is my daughter. The former is not my daughter.) :)

How much electronic pain must be suffered at the delighted hands of masochistic fairy muses, who flit about teasing the writer with half-formed ideas?   All day long this one has been continually dive-bombed by brilliant sparkling thoughts, only to see them fade away as soon as the mental hand reaches out to grasp.

At the heart of the exercise is the certainty that such grasping is not in vain.  The hope stretches beyond wishing, to the point of clarity:  gems are meant to be mined, not left in the walls of rock, forever ignored, forgotten.

The analogy searches beyond the immediate:  while the gem is the goal, it goes beyond just writing, or just ideas.  The gem reflects the natural light of value, inherent in those lights who have perceived it.  The woman whose flashing eyes reveal far more spirit turmoil and joy than most in her company.  Hidden to most, she is accessible to the seeker who somehow just can’t stop perceiving.   Like the ephemeral muse, her quick quirks of dangerous laughter upsets the apple cart of decency and “the norm”.  The writer understands and yet knows that he doesn’t get it all.   His self-awareness understands the depths of his own ignorance, and the intrigue tickles his mental taste buds.  A flavour, filling the mouth with ambiguous fire.

It’s not often this happens – this departure from every day mundane musings, and when it does, it’s certainly welcome.  I was reading “Jitterbug Perfume” (once again, probably for the tenth time, but who knows – and more importantly who’s counting?), when a new pre-ordered book slipped into the e-bookshelf of my iPad Kindle application.   The dangerous world of espionage had always intrigued me, and so I flipped over from “Jitterbug” to read the first chapter.   In normal mundane times, I would start such a book but wouldn’t stop until it was finished.  My appetite for reading has always been like that:  voracious and hungry, and unable to stop until full.  I’ve missed meetings and have been late for doctors’ appointments because of it.  There’s no shame there, really.  I revel in the fact that brilliant ideas, written painstakingly by good authors are so greatly appreciated on this side of the internet.

Yet, this time, I only made it to the first couple of paragraphs before the compulsion to jump back to “Jitterbug” irritated me mercilessly.  I knew why, too.   Robbins’ writing – at least in this work – does not lend itself to distraction.   Literary vortexes are like that.   This one is anyway.  It tends to consume concentration, with the promise of reward.  His dark maelström of lightening beneath bitter clouds floods the consciousness with meaning and soulish rapture.  It instigates and enables so many epiphanic ideas and thoughts.   I suppose it’s why I read the book so many times.   There’s an old commercial about the snack food “Bits and Bites” – where the cartoon narrator reaches into a box and pulls out some content while saying “something different in every handful”.   “Jitterbug Perfume” is just like that, with every reading.

It’s an unceasing drill sergeant too, demanding, obstinate and blunt.   The bright thoughts demand action and reaction, and doesn’t seem to know what “tolerate” means.  I suppose the contrast becomes too apparent:   the world “Machine” wants everyone to take a seat and settle down.  We are cajoled and advised to be content, to watch our favourite TV programs, to eat our fatty foods and be quiet.  To be precise:  the Machine would rather we shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, and don’t stir up any shit.

Following that advise is what gets you old.  It’s an intricate preparation for disease and death.  Many of us are cool with that, and plan accordingly.   When we question that direction, and ask why it is, the only response is “well it’s complicated”.   Truth-speak for “not only wouldn’t you understand – we don’t want you to get it.”

The Machine keeps stepping on my chi, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had enough of it.  The best defence is a good offence, and the best offence is to be offensive.  Challenging my own direction is scary and a little invigorating.  It pleases me to be displeasing to conventional wisdom.

One has to suppose that the grown adult’s self-imposed rut comes from a lifetime of digging and creating a nest.  Even the most creative of us gets used to the idea of comfort wherever we can find it, or create it.  Stability is the goal, and at least for me, stagnation is the result.  So there’s a trade-off isn’t there?   If you want security, be prepared to be bored.   If you want excitement, know that your life won’t be all that stable, and it certainly won’t be predictable.

Deep in historical awareness – the same awareness that exists within our DNA – is the exhilarating knowledge that steps into uncertainty and risk have their own reward.  Joy, excitement, and even a measure of a type of security.  It knows that the plush fruit of its acts will shine attractively to those who don’t yet have it.

Ever wonder about the state of the economy and where it will all end?  I have.   Some things seem certain:  those who invest themselves in artistic directions always have willing buyers.  People who – like me for so long in my life – have become art voyeurs, the Hansel and Gretel of life’s forest, excited by the new trail, but lulled to a certain undignified grave.

The choice becomes simple.  On one hand, we can concentrate on consuming (and become consumed), and on the other we can concentrate on creating, bringing new life and enlarging our perceived horizon, constantly growing and finding room for more growth.

Voyeur or voyager.

If you could write a letter to yourself when you were sixteen, what would you say?

Joseph Galliano, an editor, has compiled a list of letters from people many of us know, and has created a book from that collection, entitled “Dear Me.  A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self”.

So…..

What would I say?

It would go something like this:

—————————–

Hi there.  There’s some stuff you should know.

First off:  trust your instincts.  Remember how troubled you felt when that guy came to pick up your sister for a date?  Remember how normal he seemed, and yet you couldn’t shake off a feeling of danger?  Well, sadly, you were right.  Your sis was OK and everything, but it got pretty dicey for a while there.  The man was dangerous and you were right to be afraid for her.   You have an instinct that borders on ESP.  Don’t worry that it sounds all airy-fairy – just go with it.  Trust yourself.  It doesn’t mean you should quickly judge everyone.  You’ll get older and wiser and soon you’ll be able to differentiate between prejudice and empathy.   You have the empathic spark though – don’t forget it.

Oh, and to help you along:  here’s one indicator of the difference.  Empathic awareness is insistent and relentless and often has no bearing on perceived logic at the time.   Prejudice on the other hand, isn’t nearly as urgent, and it tends to rationalize – usually based upon someone else’s opinion, presented as fact.  It’s almost a form of laziness.  You’ll understand.  It’s just a matter of time and unending curiosity.

Which brings me to another point.  Remember how your dad criticized you for thinking all the time?  Remember how weird that seemed?  Well he was wrong.  This is actually one of your best qualities, and it will serve you well.  Though you’re not great at school (and by the way, forget about trying to memorize names and dates – I’ll tell you why in a minute), your curiosity will take you through life in an amazing way.  You’ll learn so much, just because you thought to question.  And you know what else?   This is a side benefit of your curiosity:  people love to talk.  Especially about themselves.  So ask them, and just enjoy their experience.  It’s sort of what makes you tick.

Which brings me to another point.   If you’re curious enough, and ask the right people, you can probably avoid a lot of years of spinning your wheels in frustration.  Start slowly, but work on it constantly.  Ask questions from people who don’t share your religious beliefs.  Get to know what life is like for people who don’t go to your church. It’s important.  Read some of the great philosophers (if you can – I know how hard it is to get into intricately detailed books.  There’s a reason for that.  More later.).

There is such a great value and such pleasure available to you when you learn to open your mind up a bit.

Oh, and something else:  remember how you sought out the advice of a school counsellor during those times when your father was creating a living hell on earth at home?  Remember how you sat in her office and told her about how he would get so drunk and so angry, and everyone was afraid – and about how you called the cops on him?

Well that was a good starting point for you, but it wasn’t the end.   In between all of that crap you sort of got lost.  You thought your identity was with the church, because people there were really nice, and they welcomed you so gladly.  Their hearts were real, and they really did like you, but you made a tiny little mistake:  you thought you had to be like them.  I mean, exactly like them.  You mimicked them so closely that you really had no idea who you were.  Oh, I know you think you did, but trust me, you didn’t.  You tried so hard to be the social chameleon out of habit:  you knew that in order to survive in that hellish house, you had to figure out what The Beast wanted at any given time, and manoeuvre yourself accordingly.  You learned how to placate and accommodate, as this is what your eight year old self figured out, to survive.  You knew if you did this, maybe The Beast wouldn’t hurt anyone.  You had no idea back then, that what you did didn’t really matter.   He was looking for an excuse to lash out.

I think you should take the time to see a doctor and get yourself sorted out.   You lack one major thing right now – self awareness.  Once you have that, you’ll be on your way.

When you’re talking with the doc, also share with him about how much you hate school projects, and why.  Tell him too about all of your clumsiness and accidents.  It’s important.  Tell him about how you daydream all the time, and forget so many things.  Tell  him about those comments in your report cards, where the teacher says “could do better if he applied himself”.  About how you’re always late, and always always ALWAYS have to run to school every morning to get to band class, because you’re just not able to ever leave on time.   What you’re going through is not normal – and hopefully the doc will pick up on that.

Pay attention to what you like in school, and what you don’t like.  Indulge your love of music and dramatic arts.   It’s part of who you are.  Find ways to get more involved.  Forget about what others tell you that you *should* do, relative to class courses.  Take up the drama class, and join the drama club too.  There’s a brilliant teacher there – get to know him, even though he’s a little frightening, because he’s abrupt and cold, and because he’s really big, like your dad.

Even though your history teacher is amazing – because he brings history to life so well, – you’re going to find yourself hating it in Grade 13.   The new teacher will want the class to memorize names and dates for everything – and you’d rather get into a fight with a school bully than do that.  The daydreaming at this point will be your downfall and you’ll want to give up.  And maybe you should.  But not for long.   Being a kid, you think that you should be able to do everything, or nothing.  You’re kind of black and white like that.  It won’t occur to you (which is why I’m telling you now) that everyone has strengths in certain things, while they suck at others.  You’re never going to be an academic – you’re intelligent enough, but it’s just not who you are.   You won’t work in the trades either.  You don’t know it, but your strength is in people, and in entertainment, and in the arts.  This is not a bad thing.  These are the things that excite you, and get your heart racing.

There are other things to tell you but they should be a surprise.  You’re going to go through some heavy stuff, but if you follow all of the above advice, you’ll at least establish a firm and trustworthy foundation for dealing with them.  Some of the harsh stuff will bring some interesting surprises that you’ll love.

One last thought: some of the best plans never work out.  What is true for you today might not be true tomorrow.    Trust yourself, and trust your instincts.  The one seed for your tree of life never changes:  you must live.  Not just survive, and not just tolerate.  You probably have no idea what I mean by this, so search out a book, called “Jitterbug Perfume”.  Read it one time so that you satisfy your curiosity about the plot.  And when it’s done, read it again.

—————————–

So.  What would you write to yourself?  Better yet – if you feel like it, write a blog, and provide a link to it in the comments here.

You know, when the news first came out about the Occupy Wall Street protests and demonstrations, my cynicism kicked in.

There were no clear demands.  I didn’t know what they wanted.  They had lots of complaints, but little to no information on “what should we do about it?”

In the 60’s, the protesters demanded peace.  They wanted the soldiers to exit from Vietnam.  The recent Arab Spring protests were pretty focused too:  they wanted the dictators to step down or die.  The Tiananmen Square protests were all about basic freedoms.  The freedom to speak.  Those protesters died for their efforts.  Now there was a protest I could get behind.

So what the hell were these Occupy Wall Street protests about?  My jaded perception painted the protesters as seasoned agitators, all talking about “The Man”.   Unionists, and rebel groups with too much time on their hand.

Even now, there are lots of news commenters and bloggers, columnists and commenters saying pretty much the same thing.

These guys just want something for nothing.  They don’t want to work for privileges.  They think rich people are evil.  They want a communist state.  They want the government to come in like Robin Hood:  take from the rich and give to the poor.

Still, I’m old enough to know the value of holding my breath until the information is clear.  The only available information was conjecture.  Opinion.

I’m of the firm belief that no PR firm will ever go broke underestimating the willingness of the masses to accept the simplest and most sensational opinion as fact.   The temptation to put on the mantle of xenophobia is compelling for many of us.  It comes from a distrust and fear of change.  We are at our most comfortable when we can point to a group of people and describe them as “them” and us as “us”.  We value clear distinctions.  It makes us feel better about ourselves.

Lest you are left with the impression that I’m preaching here (making me “me” and you “you guys who are doing all this horrid stuff”) I’m not.  I have my own prejudices, some of which are wrong, and a few that I’m working on.

Here’s the thing though.

Upon looking at some of these crowds, I was a little startled to see many middle-aged folk, and some grandparents – out there with signs.  These weren’t hipsters or hippies (and someday, someone can tell me the difference between the two).  They weren’t radicals, looking for a free ride.

I began listening to their stories.  What they had to say made me uncomfortable.  Mostly because I identified too strongly with them.  I’ve been where some of them are right now.  It’s not fun.

One time I found myself out of work, when I had a wife and kids to support.  It was scary.  I quickly found another place to work but for a while there it looked pretty dicey.

We were the recipients of charity.  While we were grateful for the groceries that were brought to our door, I have to tell you: it was pretty humbling.

I grew up relatively poor, too.  Food was scarce, often consisting of meal after meal of peanut butter sandwiches.   We ate lots of macaroni and cheese too, because it was the cheapest item in the grocery store.  The sheriff came close to kicking us out of our house because my dad missed so many mortgage payments.  I remember staying up late nights, back when I was still a young teenager, because of the burden of that worry.

Many of the Wall Street protesters are in that boat right now.  Many have lost their homes and their jobs.  They don’t know what to do.   Jobs aren’t plentiful.  Some are living in cars.   I heard some advice on a TV drama tonight:  “if the time ever comes and you have enough money to either make a mortgage payment or make a car payment,  make the car payment.  Because you can live in a car, but you can’t drive a house.”

For many people, that’s exactly the point.

So we come full circle:  what do the protesters want?

They want things to go back to normal.  They want to work for a living.  They want their dignity back.  They don’t want handouts.

The problem is:  they don’t know how that can happen.  So they rage, helplessly.  They know how things got to be bad.  They know about the sub-prime mortgage nonsense – which really was an elaborate Ponzi scheme.  Their bankers told them the mortgages they were signing for so little down was all legit.  It never occurred to them to question it.   I recall a conversation here in Canada where someone bragged about how good the States had it with housing, and how property could be obtained for almost a song.  America was the land of golden streets and big luxury cars.  I envied their standard of living.

I’m not envying them anymore.  Not on your life.

I think we need to conclude that the Occupy Wall Street protests aren’t as simple as we’d like them to be.  Participants reflect our own demographics.  People for whom we can say “there but for the grace of God, go I.”    The only separating “them” from “us” is the fact that our employer hasn’t yet decided to close up shop just yet.   Some of us are hanging by a thread though.

CIMG1034

The final campsite looked over the water of the lake to the west.  When we found it initially I was just glad we had found something.  A place to set up our tent.  I had no idea of the beauty we were going to eventually see.  I’m sure Angie did.  Not me though – my focus was on the upper back pain that nine hours’ worth of paddling brought to the experience.

Instead of the horrendous climb we had to take at the initial – and non-legal – campsite, this one involved a gentle grade.  It was in a word, easy.  Easy to get to, easy to secure our canoe, easy to go back and forth to the water.

Angie had thoughtfully decided we needed to bring one of those folding beer chairs on the trip – she wanted to make sure I was comfortable.  Being the ultimate city-boy, I had no problem with that idea whatsoever.  A chair in the wilderness.  How cool was that?  Now if only we could have a microwave.  And maybe some electricity to go with it (*that would be nice!*) it might approach something more close to “normal”.

I had thought ahead too, and having investigated exactly what camping entailed at this wilderness park, knew that, although there would be plenty of trees upon which the men-folk (i.e. me) could do our business, there was also a kind of toilet-type contraption set up at each site, far away from the camping area for the girls, and for “other business”.  It wasn’t an outhouse, exactly.  It was a wooden stool, out in the open. You had to lift up the lid to use it, and your “business” dropped into a large hole.  The perfect composting spot. Knowing this, I decided that the only thing missing was some wet handy-wipes, which we could use to wash our hands afterward.

This was my first canoeing camping trip.  That’s my excuse.  It was not Angie’s.  She was the ultimate safety guide.  Her preparation for the trip included things like little bells we each would wear, in order to let animals (i.e. BEARS) know that we were around.  Think of the term “belling the cat” – the wearing of which allows mice to get away.  My thought was: “well, if we wear these bells, the bears will know where lunch is”.   Angie knew better though, and assured me.   “Dad” she said.  “They don’t want to be around us if they can help it.  Trust me.”

I did.

Oh, and she also brought along some pepper spray, in case….well you know – in case they were outlaw bars and decided that yes, we actually did look quite delicious to them.  And she brought some “bear bangers” as well.  Contrary to the name, these weren’t sticks which one would use to bang on the snout of any miscreant bears.  The “bang” instead referred to a loud noise they could make, should we be so unfortunate enough to come face to face with a bear.

Angie was prepared.

I mean *fully* prepared, right down to her idea of making sure we packed fleece jackets to wear at night (I wore mine both nights, because man was it ever cold!).   And she knew about food too, and had purchased some rope so that we could hang the smelly food high up in the air, away from hungry raccoons and even hungrier bears.   She knew enough to hang this stuff well away from where we were sleeping too.

So when I proudly produced the handy-wipes for our toilet business, she looked at me sort of sideways.  She may have even laughed, I’m not sure.

“Dad” she said.  “We have to put that up with the food.”

“But why?” I asked.   “We need this.  It’s for germs and—”

“Dad.  It smells.  It’s perfumed.  Animals will try to get to this.  You can’t have it lying around.”

I looked at the place where we were going to hang everything.  And then I looked further on down the path, where the wooden stool-toilet thing sat, complacently, as it gazed off into the trees, unconcerned about my toilet-focused dignity.  I honestly couldn’t figure out why bears would want these handy-wipes.  I thought they had sheep for that.   But I caved, helpless in the face of her expertise.

“Ok” I grumbled.  “Here you go.”  And with that, I handed it to her, resigned to a germ-enhanced camping experience.

In fact, I unconsciously shook hands with wilderness dirt and grime and decided they would become my new bosom buddies for the remainder of this exercise.

After we gathered some wood, Angie started up a fire at the stone fire pit while I went off to gather even more wood.  Because you can never have enough, really.   When it gets dark, it’s damned hard to go hunting for firewood.  You would end up just tripping over everything.  Maybe even a slumbering bear.  Slumbering bears don’t like to be disturbed.  Not that I asked any of them.  I just thought it seemed good sense to try and anticipate their annoyance.

As the sun creeped toward the horizon, we heard loons calling to one another.  Probably the loneliest sound in the world, I think.  Plaintive and resonant, that sound pierces your concentration.

I came back to the campsite with the last load of wood, and saw that Angie no where near the fire was beginning to die down.  I noticed that she had put a big pot of water on it, to boil so I put some wood on it, and looked around and found my book.

Finally, after all of the hustling and setting up, there was peace.  Angie was practising yoga I think, while I sat on the wooden bench reading the book and occasionally feeding wood into the crackling flames.   The hornet that had bothered us earlier was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, the light got too dim, and I had to put the book away.  Angie smiled at me.  “Should I fix us some supper dad?”  I nodded, smiling.  “Sounds good sweetheart.  What are we having?”

She said “let’s try the potatoes and beans”.  The potatoes were the instant kind, that come in a pouch.   Anyway it sounded good, and I said so.  I said “that sounds good sweetie”.

While she prepared that, I looked out over the now calm lake and saw the sun waving its last good-bye for the night, near the tree tops of the abutment of shorelines opposite our campsite.  I slumped down, with my back to a large tree and marvelled at it.

“Sweetie, come here for a minute will you?” I said.

“What is it dad? Are you ok?”  (always the little mother, that one)

“I’m ok sweetheart.  Just come sit here and look at this”

She plunked down beside me and for a while, we just sat and watched.   Another loon called, over to the right of us, querying the coming night sky.

She smiled and rested her head against my shoulder.

————————-

That night, after eating and cleaning up and putting our stuff away, we headed to the tent.  It had gotten relatively cold, and I found myself shivering.  So I bundled up in my fleece jacket and many layers and clothing, and even left my shoes on before crawling into the sleeping bag.  Even at that, I found myself shivering at times.  It took a while to fall into slumber……

Only to awaken at 3:00 in the morning because of a couple of things.

For one, the dinner beans had worked their amazing and somewhat startling magic.

For another, I felt like I was going to die from back pain.

I tried to get up without disturbing her, but it was not to be.

After taking a flashlight and doing my business, I decided to stand for a while to see if the pain would go away.   It was persistent and excruciating.  There was no place to get comfortable, sitting or standing.  And there was no way I could lay back down.

I saw the look of sympathy on her face.   “We can’t do another night like this” she said.  “Do you want to go back, dad?”

I nodded painfully, still shivering.

“OK, then that’s what we’ll do.”

I knew it was disappointing for her – she had hoped to stay at least another night.  And, much as I love my little girl to death – this was one time I absolutely had to disappoint her.  I accepted it but didn’t like it, and didn’t see an alternative.  The pain was really that bad.  Hard even to put into words here – and I’m usually quite good at that.

Decision made, Angie at least wanted to see the sunrise.  So she took the canoe out into the lake and paddled away for a bit, until she could situate herself around the bend beyond the campsite, where she knew the sun would come up.  And she took the camera with her to capture some shots (including the one at the top of this blog).

After using the bulk of the morning having breakfast, and then packing up and putting the campsite back into the pristine shape that it was when we arrived (complete with the almost-forgotten hornet, who did a repeat command performance, once more taking over the wooden bench), we shoved off in our canoe, back to our point of origin.

Oddly, about seven hours after paddling and portaging back, we had another occasion similar to when we first set out.

“Do you see that point of land over there Dad?”

“Yup.  That’s where we turn left to paddle down the huge lake you showed me on the map, right?”   I figured we had at least another two hours of paddling left to go.  And of course once again my back was one big gigantic knot.   Back pain: the gift that keeps on kicking you in the teeth.

“No, that’s the take-off point.”

“What?”

“That’s where we’re landing, dad”

I didn’t believe her.  “You mean, that’s our final destination?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. MY. GOD.   REALLY?  THAT’S WHERE WE’RE GOING?”

She started giggling, and then laughing out loud.   “Yeah dad.  That’s it.”

“I thought we had a whole lake to go yet. ” I said.  “Oh man this is AWESOME.”

I didn’t think she’d ever stop laughing.   It was great.  Even now, writing this, it’s all coming back.  The utter utter joy.

We got around the point and suddenly there it was.  The beach.  It was so close to us.  I put on a burst of speed and tried to paddle like crazy.

But then we heard the motor of a boat coming in.  So we had to stop paddling long enough to get turned into the boat’s wake.  We were close, but it wouldn’t do to let the canoe tip over.  There was too much to lose.

After the waves died down, we once again turned back to paddle to shore, but then yet another boat came in.  And so we had to stop and turn into its wake too.

This went on a few times.  It kind of made sense really, because it was getting toward dusk, and probably most if not all of the boats were coming in to land.

We were so close.  And yet we kept getting interrupted.

Finally, we turned and put in a big burst of speed and paddled right up onto the beach.

We were back.

Civilization.

And there was a restaurant nearby, and showers.  But we were too sore and tired to bother trying to hunt through our belongs to get towels and soap out, so we walked into the restaurant as dirty and scrubby as could be.  And we sat down to the best meal of hamburger and fries ever.

And oh man – sitting there at twilight, utterly exhausted, and drinking bottled water and biting into hot food, we laughed ourselves silly.  We talked about so much of what we’d done.  Especially the part about the handy-wipes.

“I’m all done with my business.  Where are the handy-wipes?”
“Oh, about fifteen feet in the air.  How high can you jump?”

It was good to be back.

But, even with the pain, and the bugs, and the hours and hours and hours of paddling…..it was good to have gone, too.

Very good.

I surprised myself too, by talking about what I would do, and what I would take – the next time I go canoeing.

(Gotta do something about the back pain though.  I wonder how much Demerol  would do the trick?)

Have to admit:  since moving in to the new place I find I’m falling more and more in heavy like with it.  Not yet willing to pilot the boat to the end of the Tunnel of “Love” just yet.  Give it time.

Oh there are a few little annoyances.  Like the fact that the laundry room has “hours of operation”.  In the Old Place, there was no time restriction.  In the New Place – well you have to check your watch, and schedule the time properly or you may not be able to grab your freshly dried tightey-whiteys at the end of the dryer cycle.  Which means any old early bird can get in there when it opens in the morning and abscond with them before you can rub the sleep out of your eyes.

Gauchie theft is a growing crime problem, you know.   There are just too many guys out there, in poverty, who’ve never had gauchies of their own.  They’ve looked at the Sears catalogue with longing for so many years, always turning to the men’s underwear section, dreaming of the day they can slip one of these bad boys onto their privates, and smile with contentment, knowing that their junk is finally contained.

But I digress.

Oh P.S.  I don’t use tightey-whiteys.  I’m strictly a boxers adherent.  The reason for the use of the other term:  artistic license.

Seems to me you can say almost anything, as long as you follow up with that all-encompassing justification.

“I think you and your family are descendants of feudal peasants who never washed, because it never occurred to them to do so.  They’ve passed their penchant for soap-avoidance onto their progeny so really it’s not your fault that you smell.  JUST KIDDING.  Artistic license.”

Maybe it wouldn’t work.  The only way to know for sure is to test it.  If you can say the above and then walk away afterward without having to wipe blood from your nose – YOU WIN.

Getting back on topic:  there is much to love about the New Place: I don’t just have air conditioning.  The place has “climate control” – which is about a ton better than air conditioning.  Air conditioning involves a machine that you have to spend hours trying to fit in an abnormal-sized window.  You have to measure it, grab some plywood or plexiglass, and then cut it so that it fits with the air conditioner.  Plus you have to find a way to anchor it in the window so that it doesn’t fall fifteen stories down right on top of that Nightmare Litigator who will sue your ass for everything you’ve got (providing that they live).

No, I have climate control, which means there is venting throughout the apartment.  We each have our own controls, too.  I have *never* enjoyed summer so much, ever.  With climate control, there is no worry about water leaking (in my last place, water leaked onto the floor when I wasn’t home, resulting in the tiles becoming engorged and lifting.  Had to get someone in to re-do the floors), and it pipes the air into all parts of the apartment.  So cool, in both senses of the word.

The water pressure is great too.   In the Old Place, that was a real issue, and was the cause of an unending barrage of swearing in the morning.  Not only did the water dribble out of the shower-head like an old man with a football-sized prostate, but the temperature fluctuated just a little bit too.  Back and forth, from frightened-testicles-hurry-up-and-scurry-back-up-into-your-body-cavity ice cold to immediately-peel-your-skin-off-down-to-the-bone red lava hot.  So a five-minute shower usually took about twenty minutes to a half hour.   I started out hating it, but ended up loathing it with a passion.

And washing dishes was a fall-on-your-face joke.   That tap too trickled like the cutest little babbling brook.   You could get suds only if, after letting the tap water fill the sink (generally about ten to fifteen minutes) and depositing about a half a cup of dish soap, you then swished it around violently with your hand.

Yes, it was definitely time for a change.   Now, I have to really watch how much dish soap I put in, because too much will cause a soap volcano in the sink.   And showers now take five minutes.  Awesome.

What really kind of made this place cool was something I hadn’t expected, in socially cold Toronto:  I have some pretty neat neighbours.

Most of them welcomed me when I moved in.  The general welcome was something like “good luck in your new place.”   I’ve never had that kind of greeting before.   Most of the residents in this building are Jewish, too.  Some are orthodox and many are not.   There’s are three elevators here, one of which is designated as the Sabbath elevator from Friday evening to Saturday evening.   For those who don’t know, the Sabbath elevator allows folk to ride without having to push any buttons.  It stops automatically at every floor.

This morning when I went down to do my laundry, a couple of older women – both Jewish – introduced themselves to me.  We got talking pleasantly about the building, and about life in general.  It was pretty cool, especially since this never happened at my other building.

“So did you just move in?”

“Yes, I did.  In the middle of June.”

“What apartment are you in?”

(I wondered at that question.  But I told her)

“Oh, it’s one of the one-bedrooms then.”

(Evidently they knew the building floor plans.  Interesting.)

“And so are you by yourself then?”

To be honest, I get the feeling the older women here are trying to size me up – since I seem to be getting the same questions.  Maybe I’m a possible candidate as a mate for their daughters.  I can imagine the conversation.

“He’s probably making good money, since he can afford to live here by himself.”

“So pleasant too.  And good-looking.  He might be a professional man.”

“You think so?   Maybe my Marly will catch his eye.”

“Oh you know – Marly catches everyone’s eye.”

“What are you saying?  Are you saying Marly gets around?”

“No, no dear.   I’m just saying she’s good-looking too.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry.  Didn’t mean to get all meshugah on you dear.”

“Ah!  Think nothing of it.   You know, she’s probably too good for him anyway.”

“You think so?”

“I do.  And besides, he’s probably Goy anyway.”

“That’s true.  I didn’t see a yarmulke.  Oy, I’m going to plotz before I find an eligible man for my Marly.”

I love this place.

 

Everywhere you go, you hear complaints about the heat this summer.  You understand.  You’ve walked out into the oven blast usually experienced by workers at pizza shops.   Your shirt soaked with sweat  testifies to the minimal movement required to raise your temperature.  But when the night comes and the summer breeze washes your face….. well isn’t that just something?

You find yourself walking down the street with your headphones jacked to the strains of “Sorrow” by David Bowie –  a dichotomy of lyrical lament set to joyful noise.  While the girls flirt with their long legs,  summer dresses and flip-flops, you breathe deeply and feel the residual stress of the thump thump thump of office deadlines fading into the evening’s cacophony of splattered rays of light.

The mischievous hide-and-seek street lamps peek through tree leaves, highlighting the lush greenery that frames the little shops and cafés.   And you’re lost.  Completely lost in the invitation of it all.

You pass the little jazz club with its wide open doors and flickering candlelight.  If you were dressed in something a little more snooty than cargo shorts and a T you’d know your feet would turn into the place before your brain had anything to say about it.   Inside, you see couples – some deep in conversation, others smiling, their hands flitting back and forth on the table, occasionally touching.  Their eyes betray their hopes.   “Will she let me kiss her? ”   In the far corner, far from the flickering candles, one couple has completed their dance and are now obsessed with discovering the depths of each others’ mouths.

You’re amazed that you caught all of that in the two seconds it took to go past the place.

As you continue down the street, a perfumed note tickles your noise, catapulting you back to an earlier summer, when you flirted with the actress at the party.   You smile as you remember her caress and the way her eyes flashed when you both snuck out and spent the entire night roaming the city streets.  Talking, holding hands, occasionally stopping to kiss.

She’s long gone now, and you’ve heard that she got married, out there far in the west of Canada.   The memory, and the perfume that provoked it, remain.

You can’t help noticing the pace of the summer night.  No one seems to be in any particular hurry.  Not even the lady selling roses.  Or the fortune-teller relaxed by the side of the street, waiting for giggling girls to stop by and pay their money, just to find out about their chances for romance.  Your hunger to capture it all leads you to take dozens of pictures with your point and shoot camera.  It doesn’t matter that only a small few turned out.  The walk itself was the joy.  Some things can only be appreciated in the moment.  And perhaps later on, in a blog.

You wander on, drinking in the night.   And briefly your mind wanders back to the middle of January.

No one sauntered anywhere, then.   They scurried, shivering, from their door to the car, and from the car to the store.   Quickly.  There were no smiles. There were no conversations or necking couples or invitations from the wide open doors of clubs.   The lights on the tiny streets illuminated nothing except the dirty snow, and the wisps of car exhaust.  Anyone unfortunate to walk was so bundled in layers it was almost impossible to determine anyone’s sex.  Fortunately some of them wore pink.  So there was that, you supposed.

Flirting was for fools, the provenance of the desperate and foolish.   Conversations were quick and to the point.

“How are you?”

“Fine.  See you later.”

“Later.”

Everyone got it.    Even the bums looking for spare change got it.   You remember walking past a few of them, as they sat shivering on the corner.   You were aware of the scam, and knew that they made their biggest hauls during the coldest and wettest times of the year.

“Spareanychangemister?  No?  ThankyouandGodbless”   They flung their words at you, hoping that they’d snag at your scarf and reel you in by your guilt.

You shiver suddenly, and just like that your mind returns to the present.  There, in the middle of the sidewalk, on the breezy and cozy and perfumed summer night, you remember how much you truly hate winter.   You vow never to curse the heat.

Your appreciation of summer, and of this night becomes overwhelming.  You kind of wish it would never end.

People here are fascinating.  And not in a “gee, what wonderfully intellectual stimulation” sense.   I mean behaviours are just so far outside of what I consider “the norm” that time chases its own tail trying to keep up.

Toronto is defined from the mix of its people who make their way here from all parts of the world.  Hindus, Moslems and Jews from various continents, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, lots of Filipinos, Ukrainians, Russians and Italians all set up little communities here.  So when unusual behaviour is observed, there’s a strong possibility it can be attributed to the norms of another country.  Maybe.

Back in the small town in which I was raised, when people waited for buses, we were always careful to line up – just like they do at elementary school.  That behaviour was bred into us, and by God anyone who misbehaved received the harshest Canadian punishment possible.  They got the glare of their life.

Here in Toronto,  some of us line up at the bus stops.  And usually people – anxious to follow the crowd – will continue to line up, right up until the bus arrives.  But as soon as the bus doors open, the line breaks out into a mass of chaotic elbows and feet, all desperately dancing around each other in pursuit of a spot on the bus where they can sit down.  Some of the shorter people will barge right in front of you, with your two arms of groceries, and pretend not to see you.  Canadian glares are useless.  Their shortness is the Canadian kryptonite.

Lots of people in Toronto hold conversations with themselves.  Out loud.  I saw one large woman yelling at herself.  It was at a bus stop, late at night.

“Get over here!”

“No you get over here!”

I looked around to see who she was talking to, but there was no one there.  No one I could see anyway.

This wasn’t a cogent argument about politics.  It was one of those types of arguments that we all enjoy, I’m sure.  She was nitpicking.  At herself.

The other day I sat in a richly dark Starbucks, held in place by the arms of a big leather chair.  Total bliss.  I had my iPad and my large bottle of water, and the music was just right.

And then he came in.  He was tall, thin and had blond hair.  The guy was in his late 20’s I think.

Anyway, he plunked himself in the seat next to me, right next to the beautiful young blond girl, who was also reading.  He sat and stared at her.  Her back got rigid and it became apparent that she was re-reading the same passage over and over.   I started watching him, over the top of my iPad.

Five minutes passed.  He stared.  She didn’t turn the next page.   Then I heard him talking, a sing-song string of syllables.  They made no sense.  She didn’t look at him.  He continued talking for a while, conversationally.    The minutes passed, slowly.

Finally he got up and moved past me to get to the door.  The stench hit me, and I felt my eyes starting to water.

The girl looked over at me and smiled, shaking her head.  I nodded and turned back to my iPad.

Sort of.  I could still hear him talking, as he paced back and forth outside the café door.

Dear old dad wouldn’t have known what to make of all this.  He probably would have called the guy’s sexuality into question.

The love of money wasn’t the root of all evil, as far as he was concerned.  It was homosexuality.  And he was there to set everyone straight on that.

So to speak.

Life in Toronto is often like this.  Different scenes, different odd behaviours, every day.

Kind of like an old commercial for “Bits and Bites”:  a different handful in every bite.

Release

Posted: June 24, 2011 in humor, Life, living, writing
Tags: , , , ,

The capricious breeze sauntered carelessly through his stubborn hair, pushing this way and that until the dogged gel that was holding everything together finally sighed, shrugged its shoulders and gave up.  Whereupon, the follicle company, mimicking the primordial warrior dance of the galaxies, began its mad performance.

The hair’s owner, oblivious to the upper level drama, scanned the street carefully, as he watched for a car with a lighted roof extension;  a kind of hands up “here I am!” indicator of a vehicle that would serve to transport anyone almost anywhere, for the right price.

Eventually, a taxi appeared and the tight-lipped guy with the day-old facial stubble raised his hand urgently, eyes flashing a message to stop; and so, duly warned, stop it did.

“Take me to 25 Blaker Drive please”.

The driver, who was sporting a ridiculous porno moustache nodded, as he reached forward and started the meter.

The moustache twitched a little bit; a hairy snake trying to rouse from slumber.   “So.  All done for the day?”

The passenger looked down at his black leather knapsack.  This was no ordinary taxi passenger.  This was a man who deduced things, and did so quickly.  He realized that the cabbie had leapt to a quick conclusion.  There was the knapsack.  Ergo, his passenger was coming home.  It was a little presumptuous, he thought.  He could have easily been wrong.   Maybe he was heading out somewhere.  Maybe he was on his way to a coffee shop, there to write the greatest Canadian novel ever.

But wait.  No, this cabbie obviously was aware of the city.  He knew 25 Blaker Drive was nowhere near a coffee shop.  Further, he likely realized it was an apartment building.  Apartments generally serve the purpose of providing homes for people.  Except for those who use them to grow drugs.  Maybe the knapsack was used to transport drugs, he thought to himself.   But no, the cabbie had likely seen many drugstore afficionados in his day, and so he knew his passenger looked nothing like any of them.

Ergo, the cabbie had guessed correctly and knew his passenger was heading home.

All of this passed through the passenger’s mind in less than 2/10 of a second.  Finally, in grudging acknowledgement of the cabbie’s deductive reasoning, he rewarded him.

He sighed, looked out the window and mumbled “yup”.

Below the hairy snake there suddenly appeared a satisfied smile.  “Well now you have the weekend at least.  Got some big plans for the next few days?”

The passenger shrugged.  “It’s kind of a long weekend for me.  A ten-day weekend actually.”

The moustache twitched, and the yawning maw beneath it opened long enough to suck in a breath before expelling its next particle of thought.   But the passenger preempted it with “and no, I have no real plans.”

With the that, the maw snapped shut.   Other forces were now at work, diligently determining yet another course of discourse.   Wheels within wheels turned and jerked, mixing just the right combination of reasoning and query.

Small talk was no easy endeavour.

Eventually, the only thing it could arrive at came forward.   “Really?  No plans?”   It was a pathetic attempt.  The cabbie, along with his moustache and maw knew this.  All three of them shivered in unified embarrassment, while waiting patiently for the contemptuous reply.

The reply came, but left contempt at the curb.  Contempt would have to find another cab to sit in.  This one was going to have two riders, and no baggage.

“Well I’m glad you asked, actually.”

The moustache began to move upward, just a bit, while the maw clamped down fiercely, determined not to display its sudden joy.

The passenger continued.  “I’m just really happy we’re going to have warm weather, because I want to walk as much as possible.  I’ll play each day by ear, and see what happens.  I might go away, but right now I’m not going to plan for anything in particular.”

The maw opened, which surprised the moustache and the cabbie both, who were not expecting it.  “So is this your only holiday for the year?”

The passenger shook his head.  “No, I have a few more weeks coming to me.  Not sure when I’m going to use them.”

The maw opened again.  It was obviously on a roll.  The moustache and cabbie both decided to sit back and just watch.  “Maybe you’ll use them at the end of the year.  Maybe at Christmas”.  This wasn’t a question, so much as a statement of fact.   One that was rewarded with a nod.

“Yes, I think I want to head out west during the winter.”

The maw was silent, so the moustache churned and rolled over, thinking.  The cabbie cleared his throat, the maw took notice and the moustache went along for the ride.

“Out west?  Oh that’s good.  How far out west?”

“Vancouver Island.  I have some family out there.”

The maw had gotten its second wind.  Before the moustache knew what was happening, it creaked open yet again.  “Are you married?”

The passenger looked at his watch, and then glanced out the window.  They were still a long way from his apartment.  There was time.

“No, divorced.”

The maw barged forward, determined to see this thing to its end.  “I hear you my friend.  I’m still married, but things are not going well.  I’m hoping we’ll end it soon.”   The moustache had no idea whether this was a good thing to admit or not.  The cabbie was sure it wasn’t.

The passenger, oblivious to the conflicted emotions of the cabbie, found himself in ignorant agreement with the moustache.  He felt his face starting to glow.  “Yeah, well.  I wish you good luck with that.”

The maw knew no embarrassment or sense of appropriateness. Moustache and cabbie both were horrified and helpless before the wave of thought.   “Well, for the past seven years I’ve wanted out.  They say seven is the number for release.’

“Um”  said the passenger.

“Oh yes.  I’m really hopeful that we will have The Talk soon.  I’ve had quite enough.  We both have, actually.  Every time either of us opens our mouths, the other rolls their eyes, and I say to myself ‘here we go’.   Was it like that for you, before the end?”

The passenger’s eyes looked up and to the right, pulling down some dusty irritated memories.  Memories who just wanted to be left alone.

“Yes, it was.  I ended up working later than I had to….”

The maw jumped open quickly.  “Yes, yes!  I know exactly what you mean.  So that you don’t have to face another argument when going home.  So you put off the conflict as long as you can.”

The passenger sighed.   “Yes, that’s it exactly.”

“Oh, I hear you my friend.”

The cab turned into the driveway, having arrived at last.

The passenger opened his wallet and took out a twenty, deciding then and there to overtip the cabbie.   Perhaps it was because of an unconscious sympathy.  Or maybe it was because he had enjoyed the scintillating conversation.  Quite possibly it was because he recognized a kindred spirit; he saw himself in the cabbie, only a few years earlier, while still in a tremendous state of despair.

The passenger twisted his mental arm behind his back and finally gave up the truth to himself:  he just wanted to get out of the cab as quickly as possible.

As he stepped out of the door, the moustache turned itself up in a grin, dragging the maw with it.   “Remember:   seven is the number of release!”

The passenger was certain that today, the number was twenty.

There’s a certain senseless joy that comes unexpectedly sometimes.  A sense that everything is ridiculously OK.  Better than OK.  Good.

Better than good – but precise words escape you.

Recently, this happened during what would have been an otherwise stressful time.

Mind you, part of the catalyst for this was planned.

Years ago, when I first moved from my parents place to an apartment for my bride and I, we didn’t deviate from the norm for youngsters who think they’re striking out on their own.  We called our friends, and someone had a truck, and between the lot of us, we moved our junk into the new place.

At that time, we didn’t have much, so it was pretty easy to do.  I remember the cardboard side table.  We didn’t have a coffee table – just this stupid wobbly table that had cardboard tabs that you stuck together.

I remember going down to Bell Canada to get a phone.  We opted for the most ostentatious piece of pretentious telephones in existence.  It was an enclosed within a wooden case.  And we so we brought it home and stuck it on the cardboard side table.  The ridiculous poor man’s placeholder.  A diamond carefully place on a platform of smelly dung.

Fortunately, the irony wasn’t lost on us, and we looked at it, sitting there in all its Miss Piggy glamour, and we laughed.

Years went by and we moved at least two more times.  Each time we prevailed on our friends, and each time they accommodated us, though with less and less fervour.  The last time was a nightmare, as a few who had promised to show up, didn’t.  Maybe the reward wasn’t all that great.  Being ultra-religious, we did not believe in The Drink.  Alcohol was Satan’s elixir, and so we eschewed it, as all Good Christians should.

Too bad.  Some of that elixir might have twisted our friends’ alcoholic arms.

When it came time to divorce, I was a pauper.  Even Gandhi would have shaken his head in horrified sympathy.  Yet, I had learned from history.  So, after weighing the options, between eating a good meal and moving, I chose to leave the steak uneaten.  Instead, the money was spent on movers.

In the midst of that agonizing time, the beauty of having someone paid to haul the junk was a pleasure that was too immoral to miss.  I watched them haul that crap up a long flight of stairs (being poor again meant that there was no elevator in my little apartment above the storefront).   I paid them gladly, and dreamt of peanut butter sandwiches.

A few years later, circumstances changed in my favour, and it came time to move to a proper apartment.  There was no question of calling on friends. I scouted around at a few grocery stores and accumulated a collection of empty boxes.  After filling them, I once again employed some movers to cart it 30 miles to my new place.

It was a wonderfully large, bright airy place.   I paid them gladly.  With thankfulness.

Sadly, the building management elected to relax some rules, and slowly some of the tenants to choose to tax the plumbing system beyond its designed capacity.  They brought in dishwashers and washing machines.  This served to suck the hot water away from my morning shower.  And then shoot it back again.  The evidence was a daily ritual of torture, where a five-minute shower turned into a 20 minute ordeal, with variations of extremely cold water trading places with scalding hot, all within 30 seconds, back and forth.  Entirely unpredictable.  Add to that the variance of the water pressure, from normal to elderly incontinent flows, and you have the seeds of madness.

Every single morning, I tried out new swear words.

Every single morning.

So, despite the beauty and spaciousness of the place (along with several impotent complaints to the uncaring superintendent), I realized it was time once again to move.

Past experience once again provoked some thought.  This time, it seemed a good idea to shoot for the least stress possible.

What would it take?

How about this?  How about – instead of trolling around town for cardboard storage boxes…..someone else was employed to do it?  And instead of just getting boxes, why not get them to also pack it all?  And hey – why not get them to move it all afterward AND unpack it?  How cool would that be?

Several months later, I can tell you, it’s *very* cool.  It fucking rocks, to be frank.

They came, they packed, they moved, they unpacked.

My stress involved watching them do it, and resisting the urge to lift a finger.

They were great.  I tipped them accordingly.

“So” you’re thinking ” this is why you’re joyful?”

That’s part of the picture, for sure.  Not all of it though.

As I was moving in, an elderly lady showed up at my open door, and timidly knocked.

“Hi – hope you don’t mind my being a nosy neighbour, but I thought i’d drop by and introduce myself.  My name is Pearl.”

Pearl.

Oh man.  How awesome is that?

I smiled and quickly crossed the living room.

“Pearl, I’m so glad you dropped by.  So good to meet you.”  And I shook her hand.

After a few pleasantries, the white-haired woman with the stooped shoulders shuffled slowly away.

I looked out the floor to ceiling living room windows at the trees outside, and basked in the climate controlled flow of air, and took a deep breath.

And realized that this – this was good.

So we’ve come through the weekend and no rapture has occurred.  No planes fell out of the sky, pilotless, no suddenly empty chairs at restaurants, no sets of clothes sitting on park benches, no empty operating tables, with nurses and doctors scratching their heads, wondering where the open heart surgery patient went.

For most of us, life goes on.  We never gave much credence to the 89-year old preacher who predicted this weekend would be IT anyway.  We made plans for Saturday and Sunday (today) and for next week, confident we’d see our way to getting them done.

Not so for a great number of other people though.  Many – and a great majority didn’t go to the same church as Rev. Camping – were truly disappointed.  One of my FB friends lamented this way of thinking, noting that many of her friends had offered up, without sarcasm, the sincere wish that the world would have ended this weekend.

I know for a fact that they mean it, because I used to wish the same thing.  If you’re ultra-religious, you dress up that wish in robes of sanctity, by expressing the belief that you just want to “be with Jesus” finally.   You lie to yourself and to others.

What you really mean though is that you’re trapped in a life that offers nothing but a grinding emotional, spiritual and intellectual poverty; a life married to a spouse whom you’re growing to despise, because the Bible says that once married you must stay that way; a life that negates your sexuality – if you enjoy it too much, you’re probably putting your soul in peril; a life in which the only promise of joy is one that is provided after you slip this mortal coil.

If you’re young, and living with a menacing, raging alcoholic father, in a family of six kids with the constant night-time sounds of him trying his best to beat the shit out of her, you’re miserable too.  God hasn’t answered your prayers and killed him, so you kind of wish the rapture would come.  And on a Saturday night when it’s really bad, and all you can hear is the bellowing, and the crying and the sounds of fist hitting flesh, you want the rapture to come now, damn it.

And later on, when you’ve married someone who has the same rage issues as your father (a psychiatrist’s money train condition, if ever there was one), and you’ve realized what you’ve done, you wish in those silent moments of thought, that she would maybe get hit by a car.   You gasp at your own thought, and immediately repent of it.  Then there are times when it’s bad, and you wish YOU were dead.

“Please God – take me home now” becomes a constant prayer.

And then later on, just because you’re morbidly curious, you begin googling ways to kill yourself.  And then there’s that time when you were driving down the road, late at night, and there’s a little voice in your head, suggesting that it wouldn’t take much, at the speed your car is going.   Just a little twitch to the right, and it would be all over.  There’s a whole forest of trees there.  Just need to smash hard into one of them, and you’re home-free.

What really makes me sad is knowing that the above is true for so many people.  Mostly those who’ve never quite matured in their thinking, who don’t know that they can author their own changes.  People who’ve never taken the time to examine themselves, and find out who they are.  People who are *still* wrapped up in the cling-wrap of religious dogma, or in the expectations of others.

People who have never learned what it means to LIVE.

My process started the night I almost ran the car off of the road.  The force of that impulse was so strong, that I realized I was in trouble.  So I sought help.  The family physician – who, though not a psychiatrist, happened to specialize in cognitive therapy – helped me through it.   It took a bit of time to realize that those “little voices” didn’t just get there.  We talk to ourselves all the time.  She told me how to figure out what I was telling myself, to pay attention, and even to write it down.  At first, I was skeptical.

“No way, Doc.  I don’t talk to myself.  I’m troubled but not crazy.”

“We all do” she said.  “Here’s how you figure it out:  the next time you feel a strong emotion – disgust, joy, sadness, anger, whatever – stop and look back to what you were thinking, or feeling just before that emotion arrived.  It’ll take time, because emotions don’t just suddenly happen: they build up over a stretch of thoughts.  Then, write it down.  Do this every time.”

I did it.  And discovered she was right.

Then I realized I’m not a captive victim.  That I have options and choices.

One of those choices was about my marriage, which was clearly on the rocks.   Self-illumination is great, but the slow build-up of confining dogma is a tough trap to crawl out of.  It means re-examining every single thing you’ve ever believed.   I had to start slow.

The particular dogma that kept me captive in a miserable marriage was this one:  God hates divorce.  And the way I finally saw my way around that one had to do with Jesus’ stance on sinning – which He described as an occurrence of the heart, long before the deed.

So I asked myself, honestly:  “when do you think divorce happens, in God’s eyes?  Does it happen when the judge brings the gavel down?”

And I answered myself, with relief:  “it happens in the heart, long before a lawyer learns of your intent.”

My wife and I agreed we needed to separate.   So I went looking for an apartment, knowing full well I couldn’t expect much, since as a result of the separation agreement, much of my income would be gone.

I found a place.  It was a little one-bedroom apartment above a store-front in the downtown section of the city.  I could live there, just existing really. I was worried though, because my credit rating was sucking mud at the time.

I remember the day I got the call and was told the apartment was mine.  I thanked the landlord and then went to a nearby diner to have breakfast.  Before the waitress brought my order, I sat and thought about it all.  And suddenly, in that very public place, I got a lump in my throat.  Nothing worse than being a big macho guy, suddenly realizing you’re going to have some unwanted tears.    But that’s what happened.  I was relieved, elated, joyous.   That vicious weight had resided in my chest for so long, I didn’t realize just how heavy it was until it finally lifted, the day I was told my apartment application was approved.

(I got around the sudden tears by fumbling around and grabbing my wrap-around sunglasses and shoving them quickly on my face)

The other tool of release from dogma came through a book I’ve spoken about many times:  Jitterbug Perfume.   If you want to read a book about *life*, that’s the book to read.  Unstopping full-force throttle with no reverse – that’s the author’s approach to it.   My stance on life was once again taken from a scripture that said that Jesus came so that we could have life, abundantly – and He didn’t mean “but only after the rapture” – He meant here and now.

So, with that scripture, and with “Jitterbug Perfume” in hand, I made a few important decisions.  Starting with “I’m going to fucking well LIVE, damn it.”  And I lost weight, started taking acting classes, and improvisation classes, going up on stage, going to Paris, skydiving.

Still, there are those out there who don’t realize that they have options too.  I meet them all the time.  Their common refrain is “oh I could never do that”.  Or there’s the equally troubling “must be nice to be able to do all that you’re doing.”

There’s the knowledge that they’re often that way because of a lifetime of conditioning.  I don’t know how to shake them out of it, and believe me, I’ve tried.  Many times.  Often, I’ve been exasperated, and in one case, ended up raising my voice a bit.  Not proud of that last one, because all it did to serve was to push that person away.

It’s people like that who say they wish the Rapture had occurred this weekend, and that they’re now disappointed.   Even though I have a life example to give them – my own – for them, it changes nothing.

I guess there’s wisdom sometimes in doing what you can, and then walking away.

Unless I’m missing something?  Anything?  If you have answers, I’d like to hear them, please.  Or just share your own experience.