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

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

(Still, it’s a good thought)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

Used to make me almost offer up a sympathy barf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spilt milk.  Barn doors and horses.

The past is done.

Enter the present.

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

Christie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said “well you should be worried too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert had this to say:

“I believe that people, more often than not, act with the best possible intentions.”

In the current American upheaval and angst present under the flag of politics, it can be disheartening to see all of the potshots flying out, smacking not only into the candidates, but to the followers of those candidates.  Anonymous critics, drawing into open question the intelligence of others, intellect and personality and experience unknown.

The thing that strikes me is that none of it is real.  Not of it has substance.  It’s ashy and dusty noise, cacophony and scratching blackboards, without heft, without significance without meaning and without value.  Chickens, squawking uselessly at each other, pecking the air and shedding feathers of dearly held dogma and baseless opinion.

Yet, in the midst of all of this caterwauling there’s a core of music, a steady thrum of insistent music, composed of questions more than of answers.  Voices of honest childlike curiosity.  You can spot these jewels of oasis easily: they want to know.  They challenge the noise often; and when they do, the noise tends to die down.

“Why do you think that Presidential candidate is a liar?  Why do you think he intends nothing but evil for the country?”

At the end of the day, any logical answers fall short.  The only conclusion anyone can come to is “well I suppose he means well.”

And that’s when the other shoe drops.

A chorus of “buts…” doesn’t negate from that foundational finding.  “Yes, but if he’s voted in, he’ll…”  “Yes but he’s rich and….”  “Yes but he’s not realistic and so…..”

Whatever the argument from there, the foundation remains.   “He means well.”

And by extension, so do his followers.

All of a sudden, it’s not nearly as simple as we originally thought.  The black and white isn’t quite as black or as white as we thought.  Motivation means so much, yet it seems to be the first thing we often judge  – often wrongly – and dismiss.

I suppose over the years, I’ve had to learn that opinions and motivations are more complex than I originally thought.  Now, I feel like I’m at the same point as Colbert.

“Oh you’re pretty good then” they’ll say.  “You don’t like to judge.”

I say “not at all.  Of course I judge.  All the time.”

They say “yeah, but…what you just said???”

And I’ll say “but I find my need for answers kinds of outweighs my impulse to judge.   I need to know.  It’s a selfish thing.”

I’ll add:  “I’m really worried I’ll miss something important.  It’s why there’s such a need to ask questions.  My assumptions have proven wrong one too many times.”

That guy over there – the one who’s frowning at the unassuming family in the row in front of him.  You can read his body language.  It’s like he hates them.  And they’re just sitting there quietly, occasionally whispering with each other.

I want to know what’s going on.  I want to know what motivates him.  What’s his story?  What’s his history?

I see where he is now, but that’s not enough.  How did he get there?

Why is that woman smiling?  I mean, I’m glad she is – that grin is infectious.  What’s the root of it?

There’s a need for clarity.  In the accumulation of clear thinking, there is a kind of shared harmony that is almost musical.  There is freedom too – to experiment, to listen, to smile and to understand what fellowship is about.

If ever you’re interested in a musical representation of all of this, check out any of the multitude of Bobby McFerrin videos on YouTube.   This one in particular caught my imagination:  it’s an hour – a full hour! – of improvised music.   Unlike other musicians, Bobby’s instrument is his voice.  And he uses it to abandon.  He’s like a kid with his voice – going up and down the register, adding beats and breaths and clicks.   After the first seven minutes of solo, he begins to improvise with others:  singers, musicians, even the audience.

There’s a joy inherent in the whole thing, and you get the sense that there really is no limit.  The man’s spirit has been captured in his music, and I am in awe.

Check it out when you have a while.  it’s the equivalent of a musical meditation.  The ironic thing:  he once considered becoming a monk because he values the quiet.  I don’t think that’s changed:  I think the man is all about pure notes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXhz_7v49DU&feature=relmfu

It certainly is a major shift away from the bragging vehemence of emphatic oppositional political noise isn’t it?

I think the human spirit is kind of beautiful like that.

“Spirituality has always confused me.  I see it as people making up whatever they want to believe and then believing that.  Can anyone who considers themselves spiritual shed some light on this?  Is it that you dream something is happening and therefore it is?”

So wrote a curious woman in the comment section of today’s “The Daily” newspaper app.

Of course the question presumes that spiritual people start off as blank slates, and then decide to build their belief system from the ground up.   I don’t think it’s an accurate premise, as none of our beliefs, or behaviour for that matter ever starts from a void.  We are all of us products of our environment, our upbringing.  Our worldview is further enhanced through education, observation and experience.

To suggest that one person who considers himself spiritual can adequately speak for all such “spiritual but not religious” people is equally inaccurate, as each spiritual man has a different set of experiences and observations.  However, this spiritual man can certainly speak for himself.

I think it’s fair to say that, absent an adequate explanation (solar eclipse, aurora borealis, earthquakes, rainbows and the horizon of an ocean), mankind has always allowed his mind space to invent “facts” which have then morphed into religion and beliefs.  I also think that the idea of religion provides for safe boundaries for those who would otherwise become overwhelmed with the seeming arbitrary randomness of life.  Religion provides structure, rules, authority, community….it even provides artificial enemies which in turn serves to strengthen the bonds of community.

In many cases, religion becomes the arbiter and judge for behaviour, thought, processes and direction – both personal and organizationally.

As time goes on, and mankind discovers more actual facts, the basis for religion begins to fail, and so we see the results today, where more and more people are leaving the religious community.    But why is their faith – why is MY faith – intact?  Why do we still believe in God?

One answer would be that we still haven’t arrived at an explanation for what’s behind the curtain.  We certainly have some educated guesses:  our discovery of theoretical physics, which include quantum physics, string theory and the like speaks to some likely probabilities.  Yet, that’s all they do.  Even the Higgs boson (or God particle) experiments, astounding as they are, do not yet account for the supreme engine.  The “why?” of existence.  The notion that everything is random doesn’t adequately explain the bizarre probability factors.  We still see some semblance of design.

Specifically though – in my own life – there is all kinds of evidence of a loving overseer who for some curious reason seems to prefer that I figure out a lot of this stuff on my own.   I can only see in retrospect some patterns which defy randomness.  Paths which only become clear when looked at historically, never future.

While religion and the Bible formed the basis for much of my younger self’s beliefs, I’ve found reason to put them away.   Religion was there when I needed it – particularly when growing up in a violent household – but now I find it limiting.  Religion, you understand, prefers that I don’t think for myself, or that I reach conclusions only in keeping with its constant drone of acceptable dogma.  It wants me to remain within the beehive of religious consciousness, where everything “not bee” is considered an enemy of the hive.  My belief in deity breaks out of that myopic thinking, preferring instead to encompass a world-wide acceptance and appreciation of humanity.

I still believe in God, therefore, because of personal ad hoc observations – something which can’t be qualified by others, as it is entirely subjective.  My belief however does not suffer from the ridicule of others:  it merely sits, content, with no need to defend.  It has no need to proselytize either.

In fact, my belief appreciates those who don’t think as I do.  More than appreciation, there is an active value of them.

Christopher Hitchens was, in my opinion, one of the greatest logical minds ever.  I felt sorrow at his passing, and I found resentment at not being able to attend a debate between himself and Tony Blair in Toronto during the last year of his life.   Christopher didn’t believe anything like I do – but now I find that it wasn’t necessary that he and I agree.  I approached a love of him mostly because of his honest querying and objections.   That’s the thing:  his honest intellectualism.  How can you fault a man for that?   And his intellect was absolutely amazing.

The God I believe in has liberally distributed His DNA to mankind at large.  The result is that He has created thinkers, architects, singers, scientists, Hindus, religious people, atheists, construction workers, mechanics and doctors, each with unique abilities and outlooks.  They are all, in my opinion, different facets of His mosaic.  Different sides to the diamond.   The studious mathematician, who is socially awkward and insistent upon boring details, performs a function that I could never in a million years emulate (or want to emulate).  His value is beyond measure.  As is the concert violinist with his Stradivarius, playing Mozart with enough passion to bring tears to the eyes.

I think the God I believe in loves it all.  The music, the passion, the intense attention to details, the math.  I think all of that is likely an extension of Him, in some way or another.

Someone said “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.   Just so.   For Christians (or any other religious folk) to try and qualify their beliefs through the application of perceived facts is an exercise in futility.   The moment verifiable facts come into play, faith takes an exit.  It must.  The two are as alike as apples and orgasms.

I rang the bell.  They keep the doors locked because of thieving opportunists: on more than one occasion the consultants have all been busy with clients, and someone has walked in, helping himself (or herself) to the contents of purses and shelved products.

I heard the buzzer and, just as I was going to open the door,  a smiling woman wearing a Mary Kay badge opened it and held it for me to enter.  I thanked her and we both sat down, while the receptionist said “your consultant will be with you in a moment.”

“Hi there!” said the Mary Kay lady.  “I’m here to showcase cosmetics to the ladies here.  But we have some products for men as well.”  She paused, smiling.  “Also, we’re giving out free hand treatments to everyone, including men.  Would you like one?”

I grinned.  “No, I don’t think so.  Thanks.”

Her eyes sparkled in amusement.  “Yeah, I know how it is with you guys.  Too tough for that kind of thing.”

I nodded.  “Yup.  Check out the freezer bags over there that this place is selling.  A little too flamboyant for guys.   A little too…..*fabulous* too.

She laughed.

She was delightfully unreadable.  And, as it turns out, married too.  Not so delightful, maybe.  Blue eyes, auburn hair, pretty much perfect.  I figured she was perhaps in her late forties.  An amazingly attractive woman.

“So what do you do?”

I answered and reciprocated the question, which she answered.  And then we got into it.

“I meet a lot of people who don’t work out the details of their financial grind.”  She thought for a second.  “Like, you know how it is when you spend all that money getting back and forth to the office and you spend all that money to make yourself presentable, and by the time you’re done, you’ve actually only made a few hundred dollars clear every month.”

I nodded.  She was speaking my language.

“I know what you mean.  You’re feeding The Machine.” The Machine is my favourite descriptor of the whole process.  “You spend money to buy a car and insurance so that you can get to your job so that you can afford the money to make car payments and insurance and gas so that you can get to the office….”

She agreed.  “It’s okay if you love what you’re doing but….you only go around once.”

“Exactly.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve regretted every moment doing something I have no interest in doing.  I know it’s a cliché but – damn it.  Life is too short.”

We sat in silence for a moment.  Then, I posed the question to her that I’d been asking a number of people.

“I’ve been thinking about starting something up.  It occurs to me that I’ll only do well if I create something of my own, which I control.  I’ve realized I can’t really be happy working for someone else.   It has to be something *I* do.

I want to create a place.  A forum.  Or an in-person group of some sort.  The attraction would be that this would be a place where self-aware people could gather, outside of The Machine.  Don’t know whether to call it ‘Missing Spokes’ or ‘Wayward Wheels’ or what.”

I felt the familiar frustration welling up in trying to explain it.  “I don’t even know what the thing looks like, and am hoping for some ideas here.”

Unexplained, because of lack of time, was the fact that in fact I hate most conversations.  I’m too easily bored.  And so, discussions about gossip or everyday stuff – what cute little thing Sally said today – make my eyes cross.   The easily distracted out there (present company included) are just too easily distracted, if you follow.

There are some conversations though which I find thrilling.  Discussions with people who see a little beyond the immediately apparent – like this Mary Kay woman, or like so many commenters on my blogs.  Folk who truly have a story to tell, or a truth to relate.  Meaty stuff that gets the blood boiling, and the thought processes pinging like pinball machines.    I know there’s an appetite for more of this, and there are people who are starving for this kind of compelling company.

Whenever I think of a vehicle to bring us together though – there’s a blank.  I’ve thought about creating a Facebook group, and I think that would be a good first step.  I don’t imagine it could end there though.  Maybe it could be a compilation of areas, like TheBloggess has:  she’s on Twitter, a number of other key sites, plus her own blog site. (P.S. If you haven’t already checked out her blog, do so. )

I believe there is a groundswell of thinkers and lovers of truth, many of whom have been disgusted by the pigeon-holing and demonization of the party politics in the U.S.  People who refuse to adopt common assumptions, preferring instead to examine each issue on its own.  They often refer to themselves as “independents”, and for good reason:  there is no one party which represents all of their values.

I see the same thing in the Christian religious community too: people who have abandoned settings which encourage traditionally immovable white/black dogma, preferring instead to examine thoughts about God on their own.  Seeking to reconcile what their hearts are saying with what logic tells them, and doing self-examination in an attempt to come to a conclusion that might not be church-sanctioned.

“We’re ready for you, sir.”  My consultant stood there, smiling.  I looked at the Mary Kay lady and smiled sadly, disappointed that we couldn’t finish our conversation.

“Nice to meet you”, I said, shaking her hand before turning to follow.   I meant it.

“What the hell are you all doing?”

The assembly line had stopped, and about seven or eight men were standing around in a circle, watching while another man rolled back and forth in pain on the floor.

Mike spoke up:  “Tan, Jerry here just collapsed and we don’t know why.”

Tanner shook his head in disgust and stomped over to the control switch.   Abruptly, the assembly line jerked and then the products resumed their slow maddening journey.  “GET BACK TO WORK” he barked.

The guys all shook their heads in disbelief and scattered to their work areas, leaving Jerry writhing and alone.

——

I suppose my fascination with Tanner had its roots in the fact that he seemed an awful lot like my dad.  Both had big guts and slick-backed hair; both were angry, abrupt and rude.  They could have been brothers.   The differences were key though:  while dad was constantly drunk, morose and unwilling to engage, Tanner could talk – if you caught him at any other time than when he was doing his job as the assembly line general foreman.  Also, I don’t know if he was an alcoholic.  I doubt it.  If he was, he was a highly functional one.

I didn’t like him.   Tanner, that is.  He exuded a “don’t fuck with me” mien, full of scowling and menace.  His constant angry frown served to provoke diligence in the workplace, which is probably why he stayed in movement.  He knew full well that motivation through brutish fear meant greater productivity.  And the man was all about that.   Once, when we had a plant meeting, he asked “what is the goal of General Foods (*1)?”   I said “to make snacks.”  He shook his head.   “IT’S TO MAKE MONEY” he roared.    I got it.  We all got it.

He brooded over the plant like an angry storm.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason I felt the urge to talk with him whenever he came by my workstation.  At first, his responses (much like my dad’s) took the form of single-syllable grunts.   As the years droned on, they eventually became full sentences.

Then one night, he surprised me by asking for a ride home.  “Don’t have a car right now, and since we’re working overtime, my ride is leaving earlier than me.”    In hindsight, I suppose I was likely the only one there who didn’t fear him as much as the others seemed to.

“Sure” I said.

After the final bell blew at 2:30 a.m. I made my way to his office, and he grunted, turned and locked the door and we left.

Once on the road, Tanner opened up.

“You married?”

At the time I was, and said so.

“I used to be married.”  He stared straight ahead.  I glanced at him, then watched the road ahead of me, as the car zipped through the pools of light cast by the intermittent streetlights.   This was all new, and I had no idea what to say.  Just knew I needed to say something.

“How long ago, Tan?”

“We just split up a few months ago.   I took it pretty hard.  We were close, and I still don’t have any idea why she left.”

“Really?  None at all?”

He glanced over and I was sure he was going to hit me, or yell or something.   His look was one of sadness however.

“No.  None.   I’ve thought about it a lot too.   She was an angel and I adored her.   We used to do everything together.  We used to go out every weekend, dancing, partying, antiquing.  And we laughed a lot too.”

I could not for the life of me picture this guy laughing, ever.   Or going antiquing.  The dichotomous gap between Tanner the inhumane, angry general foreman, and Tanner the loving, laughing broken-hearted guy was too wide for easy comprehension.

“I never never understood it.  I guess maybe I didn’t understand her as much as I thought I did.  I mean, we talked quite a bit about everything.   We discussed our plans for the future, and we talked about politics, and we covered a lot of deep stuff too.”  He shook his head.  “It just doesn’t make sense.”

I cleared my throat.  “Is there any hope at all?  Can you talk to a marriage counsellor or something?  Would she be up for that?”

He shifted in his seat.   “I don’t know if I’ll ever find out.  I’d like to.  After getting over the shock of coming home and not seeing her there, I thought about that.”  He glanced at his watch.  “But I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.  I can’t ask her, because I have no idea where she is.  I don’t even have a phone number for her.”

“Wow” I blurted.

“Yeah.  ‘Wow’.   Unbelievable isn’t it?”

The whole conversation was surreal.  “Yeah, it really is.”

He went quiet.  I wondered:  why was he telling me all of this?  Why was he spilling his thoughts?  I had no idea.

We pulled up beside his apartment building and he got out.  Turned back around and leaned down.   “Listen” he said.   “Thanks a lot for the ride.”

I wanted to tell him how sorry I was. Wanted to say that if he ever wanted to talk again, or get a ride home or whatever, it’d be okay.

“No problem” I said.  “Take care.  See you tomorrow.”

He grunted again and shut the door.

——-

*1 – all names, including that of Tanner and General Foods, have been changed out of respect to him.

Clearing your PVR is an exercise that is at once both satisfying and sad.   Every now and then you spot an upcoming movie or TV show that you just *have* to watch – only, you know you don’t want to dedicate the full 30 minutes or hour doing so, as a good chunk of that time is devoted to commercials.  AMIRITE??

So instead you plan ahead of time and schedule the PVR (Personal Video Recorder) to capture those shows for you, knowing that when it comes time to watch them, you can ultra-fast-forward through the commercials and watch “Breaking Bad” in its allotted 40 minutes of Real Time.  In fact, I can’t recall the last time I watched a TV show in real-time, and had to suffer through the commercials.  (I’m lying of course:  I did watch Breaking Bad last night during real-time only because there was an internet event going on at the same time, where the show’s producers polled its audience on an event within the show that just took place.  Not sure I’ll do it again – though it was fun.)

99% of the time though, it’s true:  I won’t watch a show in real-time.   The PVR has spoiled me.  I have to say, out of all of the peripheral unneeded stuff I’ve purchased, the PVR has more than made up for itself in value.  It’s still not  a need but man oh man is it ever a “nice to have”.

A lot of friends will say “you know, I don’t have a TV set at all.  Haven’t had one since I was married/divorced/the kids moved/I became enlightened.”   There’s usually a disapproving snit in their voices and body expressions which hint at the thought that “anyone who watches TV is an unthinking Neanderthal, content to be a voyeur of life, instead of living it themselves.  Not only that, what they’re watching isn’t real.  They’re voyeurs of *fantasy* life – unless they’re watching ‘reality TV’ which again isn’t representative of true life anyway.”  (You can hear the haughty sniff, right?)

They could be right.   But whenever I catch wind of that snootiness, I like to play it up a bit.   “Yeah, if I didn’t have to work every day, I’d sit there on my lounge chair, wearing nothing but my boxer shorts, with one hand comfortably ensconced in my waistband, and the other hand drowning in a bowl of Cheetos.  Used to do it all the time actually.  Not sure if it was that, or the excessive burping that went on because of all of the beer but the upshot of it all is that my wife and I are divorced.”

Watching the painful polite nod is worth the effort of the lie.

The truth is: I enjoy creativity in the arts.   Hence, I won’t watch reality TV, nor will I watch most mainstream predictable fare either.  On the odd occasion, I’ll watch something I’ve already seen, because it’s that good.  It’s entertaining, and it tickles a part of my own creativity that thirsts for the flight of imagination and thought.

Yesterday, I finally cleared my PVR of all the programs that were on there.   The last one, which I’d recorded and kept for a few weeks, was the classic Meg Ryan movie “You’ve Got Mail.”  I know that if I had posted this on Facebook, there would have been one friend who would’ve sent me a mock-horror cyber punch in the arm:  Tommy Blaze has been known to leave such one-word comments on my Facebook updates.  Usually that word is “homo”.   Once when I revealed my knowledge of bed sheet thread-counts, he flung that word at me.    He and I have always kidded each other about one thing or the other so his fake-disgust is sort of expected.   Also, it’s good for the shock factor – with which professional comedians like him have a long-standing love affair.   That word is – you know – *SO* unpolitically-correct, as everyone knows.  At least he knows enough not to use the “F” word.  (Which *everyone* also knows is “Fabulous”).

Anyway, I don’t know the meaning of the expression “male shame” when it comes to romantic comedies.  I’ll watch them without apology or regret, providing that they’re good.  A great many of them are lame, such that I find my testosterone levels depleting if I watch one for too long.

Anyway, “You’ve Got Mail” is a great film that I’ve seen a number of times.  Partly because I can’t get enough of Meg Ryan, and partly because the message is actually pretty cool.  Nora Ephron – who wrote this one as well as a bunch of others in the same vein – was excellent at communicating some interesting truths, some of which weren’t (in my opinion) true at all.   Her wisdom shows up in the dialogue scenes between the leading actors.

There is one “truth” that came out in one of her films that caught society by surprise.  It showed up in an exchange between  Billy Crystal (who played “Harry”) and Meg Ryan (who played “Sally”) in the movie “When Harry Met Sally”.    It was summed up in his statement to her:  “…..no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.  He always wants to have sex with her.”

Her followup volley and his response to that was nothing short of hilarious:

Sally:  “So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?”

Harry: “No.  You pretty much want to nail ’em too.”

Don’t know what it’s like for those reading this, but in my neck of the woods, the debate continues.   Women were astounded by it, and many asked their mates if indeed that was true.  Guys everywhere shrugged their shoulders in disbelief, just then realizing that the more powerful sex – women – didn’t already know this.   Some of the more frightened weasels among us said “of *course* it’s not true, sugar dumpling.  How could you think that?”

As for me, I think the truth of that statement is a sliding scale.  When I was much younger (14) I was head over heels attracted to a married woman whose husband had moved to the opposite coast to get their new home set up.   She was a 20-something friend who introduced me to alcohol.   She had an infectious and sexy laugh and sparklingly bright teasing dark eyes.   I had zero experience, so figured my attraction was a one way street, only to learn later that it was not.  The fact that I didn’t follow up with her on it is both a blessing and a curse.   Probably more of a blessing than anything.

Today, I’m friends with a few married women to whom I’m attracted.  Now, however, I know that part of what makes them attractive is the fact that they’re happily married.  The minute that changes (say, by cheating) is the minute they change and become different people.   The logic is there:  endangering that marriage is equivalent to chopping down a beautiful tree, just so that you can bring it to your yard and prop it up against the wall to admire.  You’ve changed the tree, and it will start to die, right away.

Also, there’s an important distinction:  I may want to be with them in a carnal sense, but my sense of personal integrity will never allow me to indulge that attraction.  So in that sense, Nora Ephron’s “truth” is not true at all.   One can be friends with someone who isn’t available, only if one’s behaviour is informed by one’s ethics.

The scale of attraction has changed over the years too.   There are a great many physically attractive women out there who I find are anything but beautiful.   The women who truly sparkle have a sense of humility, charm and serenity to them.   The haughty rude and entitled women (and men too, I imagine) are the opposite of attractive, in the most emphatic sense.

Yet, that’s my story – which means it isn’t everyone else’s story.  There are countless examples of attempted friendships between people who are attracted to each other where they’ve ended up in each others’ arms.   Anecdotal evidence – in this case – fails completely.

I’d like to know:  have you had this discussion with anyone?   What do you think about it?   Did you reach a conclusion?  Can guys be friends with women to whom they are attracted?

An older heavy-set woman with a slight moustache stands at the bus stop arguing out loud, with a look of sheer frustration painted on her face.   You notice that there are sweat stains dropping down beneath the open arms of her flowered print dress, clearly visible every time she waves her freckled jiggly arms in the air punctuating every point she helplessly makes.

There are two possibilities that occur to you.  She might be loop-de-loop crazy, and she’s on the losing site of an argument with a ghost in her imagination.   Maybe it’s her mother, who never told her she was smart, or pretty.  Maybe it’s her brother, now dead for fourteen years, and she’s trying to resolve their last argument about her bad money management skills.

So you look a little closer (while maintaining your distance), just to see if you can spot a little flashing blue light near her earlobes, because you’d like to know if she’s safe.  It’s hard to tell, as she’s wearing large hoop earrings, which are just slightly peeking beneath her long hair.  Maybe she’s actually talking to a real person.  Maybe a bill collector, or maybe it’s her mother who is still alive, and still causing her no end of emotional pain.

Finally you decide she’s lost her grasp of reality.  So you wonder how she got there.  How does anyone get from “A” to “coo-coo-coo cocoa puffs”.   What was the insurmountable sorrow that broke the dam of her intelligence and awareness?

Maybe you don’t want to know.   Maybe the information would be too scary.  Maybe….if it happened to her, it could happen to anyone.    Knowing this would destroy your carefully wrought sense of emotional invincibility.   Gone are the days when nothing could hurt you physically.  You now know that a fall could cause a broken bone.  At least you have your sanity.  Right?

If you ever watch little kids playing – or if you remember what it was like when you were a kid – you’ll know that they don’t worry about too much.  They have a narcissistic knowledge that everything’s okay, and that they don’t have to worry about their next meal or the fact that their mom and dad love them.   Not having those burdens gives them a freedom to explore the limits of their imagination with each other.   They play and say the craziest things almost without thought.  

You remember what it was like.  You recall standing under a hot sun on your porch, and making the determination that you – no YOU – would be the captain of the spaceship and your friend would be the alien.  Hours would go by before you finished your scene with him, and when mom said “okay boys, it’s time for dinner.  Say goodbye to your friend”, you shrugged and knocked fists with him, the make-believe game now forgotten as your nostrils inhaled the mouth-watering aroma of roast beef.

As you grow older you realize a few things – in the moment – that excite you.  You notice, as a pre-teen, that lights – physical lights –  seem to draw you out.   City streetlights, the amber glow of the sanctuary candle, as it flickers and creates red shadows which labour to reach the vaulted church ceilings.   Or the neon glow of the computerized gizmos that capture your attention.   You don’t wonder at this fascination, because for you it’s normal.    It doesn’t even occur to you that your interest is not actually usual or the norm.  It just is.

Or you read poetry or hear a song, and you get transported on the resonant notes as they draw you further and further away from the present.  You exult in the ebb and swell of the violins or accordion, completely unaware that your friend has no appreciation for your experience.   At the same time, it never occurs to your autistic friend that his fascination for data, for numbers, for the accumulation and retention of historical knowledge – is in any way unusual.   He thinks everyone is the same.

We all do.

And where we see that we’re different, our instinct tells us we need to conform.   It’s too weird to be *too* different from our peers.   Our minds rationalize the difference, and we work hard at being the same, all the while expounding on our uniqueness, our coolness.

Some of us seek the conformity of a common mindset, in whatever form that takes.   For some, it’s a clique at high school, and we make sure everyone notices that we can drink the same amount of beer as anyone else, and that we can tell dirty jokes, or that we can laugh as we throw toilet paper on the trees at the nerd’s place.

Others of us are the nerds, and we take pleasure in our supposedly superior intellect, and in our ability to play chess and pursue intellectual accomplishments as evidenced by our good grades.   

Still others jump into the conformity of the church pews, secure in our salvation.

That little girl who can’t help thinking about her desire to help the underdog never realizes how unique she is.  How beautiful her heart is.

The little boy never understands that his need to act out is really an extension of his need to entertain and build imaginary characters.  He thinks he’s the same as everyone else.  He has no awareness of the shy kid, the kid who hasn’t yet learned how to fit in with the rest.

And so we get into these clubs and groups and find that we feel safe in them.   We defend them as valid – which for us at the time, they are.

But then there are the other unique groups that are too unusual for us.   Like the old lady with the flabby arms.   Or the group of boys who wear their baseball caps a little weirdly, and talk differently and have different coloured skin.

Or (worse!), those girls who hang out together and hold hands and make out with each other in the alley.  Or the buys who laugh a little too loudly, and have sparkling alive eyes, as they joke with each other with a familiarity that is *too* familiar.

It never occurs to us that the individuals in those groups also grew up, just like we did, thinking that their hopes and dreams and desires were all normal.  They in fact didn’t realize they were ABnormal at all – until someone told them.

But this isn’t about them.  Or about the old woman.  Or the actors or painters or the autistic guy.

It’s about you.  And me.  And the realization that ultimately we don’t fit into a singular mould or group.   We are created to be unique.   Some of the things we experience aren’t “usual”.   We aren’t defined by our love of music, or our unique acting abilities, or our penchant for crunching numbers and finding the myriad ways in which math defines existence.   We – each of us – are comprised of a million different characteristics.

If we could all just *see* each other exactly was we are, we’d know that we aren’t the same.  Maybe we’d appreciate our unique views more.  I don’t know.  Maybe we’d understand that not all fingerprints are exactly the same, or each snowflake.   Maybe we would be aware that total sameness would be boring and dull.  Uninteresting and flat.

Last week when having a heated debate about gays who wanted the right to marry, I thought about those who were opposed.   It startled me how easily I was able to compartmentalize those whose ideologies and religion boxed them into an intolerance of the ideal of treating all people the same.  Though it was so very tempting to dismiss my opponents as intellectual Neanderthals, incapable of original thought, the fact is, I appreciated the need not to lump everyone together but to value and respect each person for their unique take on this and other issues.   The more I read what they had to say, the more it seemed to me that opinions are rarely arrived at in a vacuum.  Some are parroting others’ opinions, while others have given it great thought, perhaps under the influence of religious leaders, or perhaps as a result of a logical internal debate.   Whatever the case, I found I could not paint everyone with the same brush.   Finally, without surrender of my beliefs on the issue, I arrived at the following point:

I don’t like to categorize or dismiss people too easily or often because I don’t want to get ripped off.  Even if I disagree with them and think they’re short-sighted, immature or ignorant, the fact is they might say something that will get me to think differently.  They might offer new wisdom or information to which I was previously unaware.  I don’t want to miss that.

 
Occasionally my first prejudiced judgement of them proves to be in error.  Those are the best surprises.  And sometimes I’m so wrong as to feel embarrassed.  That’s a good thing too because I get to learn.
 
Curiosity is the bane of prejudice.

“What if the truth makes me a bad person?”

A girl said that to a guy on a TV show when he asked her what she was really thinking.

Seems the first thing we think of, doesn’t it?  This need to appear as angels to everyone else, often at the expense of what we really think, or want.

This need to be loved, appreciated by everyone we meet, whether we know them or not, or whether they’re worthy of our regard seems ridiculous.  Illogical.

He says “I’m moving this weekend.  You’ll help me, right?”

I had something else planned for that weekend.  I don’t know – maybe I had an out of town trip planned with my girlfriend.   So I say “no, I can’t”.  And he seems disappointed, and maybe puzzled.  He thought we were friends.  In his opinion, I should have immediately said “yes”, because that’s what he thought friendship meant.  That I would put him first when he had need.

(The truth:  of course I can.  But I choose not to, because I’m prioritizing my relationship with my girlfriend.  That’s my true choice.)

Maybe that’s a bad example, but it’s the one I’m going with.

He doesn’t know that my girlfriend and I have been having some problems lately.  He doesn’t know that this weekend getaway was planned so that we could pay attention to each other and no one else, hoping we could work things out.   He doesn’t know that it’s been stressing both of us, and that we really need this time.

Instead, he assumes that I think he’s just not important enough.  And maybe, because of the unfocused illogical guilt I’m feeling,  and this need to stay on the “good” side of his friends list, I second-guess my answer and say “look – I’ve got something planned but maybe I can get out of it and help you out.”   And he sighs in relief.

Happens all the time, doesn’t it?  We’ll self-sabotage in order to “keep the peace” by which we mean “make sure people love us”.   We’ll even sacrifice people we do love in order to make sure someone else doesn’t feel put out by our selfishness.

Women in particular do it all the time.  I know because they tell me.  Not in so many words, mind you, but it’s there.   Their husbands or boyfriends called them a slut (not in a good way) and yelled at them for not coming home on time.  Or they did worse things.   These women have friends who have successful marriages.  Also, they go to church.  They have children.  Also, he apologized afterward, saying that he was too drunk and didn’t mean it.

Seems better to them to give him another chance (chance number 452 but who’s counting).   ‘I didn’t really have a choice” they say.  “I had to stay for the sake of the kids, and our home, and because people look up to us as Christians.”

Maybe I’m wrong – you can tell me – but it seems to me that there’s nothing the least bit dignified about sacrificing your truth because you think that it makes you a “better person”.  Or a “good person”.    You’re not a hero for holding onto that disrespectful or abusive relationship or that job or acceding to the demand for help just because you don’t want to be seen as a “bad person”.   What you are, bluntly, is a pushover.   You’re not a nice guy or nice girl or dependable or any of that other crap.  You’re an emotional doormat.  Doormats aren’t appreciated.  Not really.   What they are, is used.  People wipe their dirty feet on them, knowing they won’t complain.   People don’t even worry about a doormat’s opinion.   A doormat has no real valid opinion anyway.

I’ve seen what happens – I’m sure you have too.   People eventually stop being doormats.   They have no idea how much resentment was building in them, until one day when they finally explode.  When they demand a divorce or they flip out on their friends – and the person on the receiving end of this is surprised all to pieces.  “He’s lost his marbles” they’ll say – because they’re so confused about the origin of the drama.

So many of us aren’t faithful to our truth.  We’ll take care of our bodies, and we’ll take of our kids, and our bills and our spouses or boss or whatever, but we neglect our truth.  It’s the last thing we think of, and we think we’re saints because of it.  Unless we’re making blind people see, or lame people walk, we aren’t saints or heroes.

Being faithful to your truth means telling the truth.  Sometimes silence can convey truth.

A comment from a co-worker such as”I think that guy is a retard” can be met with silence.  Body language and a refusal to verbally comment is a way of telling your truth.

“You’ll back me up on this, right?” can be met with a stare.   Or you can say “no” (which is better) “I won’t.  I think you’re wrong.”

And here’s what I’ve found:  once you start telling your truth, and being faithful to it, people stop asking you for a blind acknowledgement of their nonsense, of their racism or of their cruelty or even of their guilt-driven demands of you.   You exude truth and aren’t afraid to speak it.  They know this, and they’re afraid to ask, knowing you’ll say exactly what you think.   I was actually quite amazed by this.   There have been so many times when I was waiting for a traditional “hey, back me up on this” statement, ready to speak my truth, only to find that the person wasn’t interested.  They knew what I’d say.

“No, Bob.  I’m not going to help you move.”

Feet square, eyes forward, looking right at him when you (or I) say it.   No apology, no explanation, no “I would but” or “I’d like to but I can’t”.  If Bob decides that this means you’re not really his friend, then his standards aren’t yours anyway.   A friend would have asked “if you’re not doing anything, that is”.   At the very least he’ll understand that you choose to help him when you truly want to.  It’s a deliberate choice when you help him – and all that much more appreciated because of it.  You’re not a doormat in that instance.  You’re a balls-to-the-wall standup guy (or woman) who knows what he wants, doesn’t shy away from it, and makes his own decisions on his own terms.

I have found that the more you practice speaking your truth, the easier it gets.  It’s actually addictive.   You might lose some friends.  (I did.)  Then again:  you begin to attract other lovers of truth – after which you can have some amazingly intelligent and thoughtful discussions.

This is not new for many who read this.  Others though might find it hard to imagine, or they might think they don’t have a problem with truth.  Some homework, if you’re interested:

Every day for a week, ask yourself at least once during the day “how am I not being truthful?”   Write it down somewhere.   A week later, take it out and read it.

I think you’ll be surprised.

I’m going to do this too, by the way – because I think even those who think we’re truth-tellers often find that there’s some way in which we’re not being truthful.

If you’ve already gone down this road, let me know how it’s worked out for you.  I’m all ears.  Eyes.  Whatever.   : )

Robert (not his real name) said: “Any guy who says he’s never had a gay experience is lying.”

I looked at him.  “Really.”

“Every straight guy I’ve ever known has either admitted to it, or he’s come on to me.”

I laughed.   “Tell you what, dude.   Any ‘straight’ guy who comes onto you isn’t straight.”   We agreed to disagree.  He let go of my hand, and I wiped his lipstick off of my face and we went our separate ways.

It got me thinking.   What is it about guys who find other dudes attractive?

That train of thought derailed and wiped out all of the villagers, including the town mayor, which was tragic and sad and we’ll miss them even though they’re just metaphors and whoever would miss a metaphor.   But then I thought: what is it about women that I find so attractive?   Why do I like them?

I liked that train better and decided to hop on.

They smell nice.  

They will tell you that this is because they use all of those special oils, and perfumes and emollients and soaps and cream and…uh…we don’t care.  We just know that when they walk on by, they smell like dreams, and erotic promise and good health and cake.

Also, everyone knows that girls just don’t fart.   In fact, it’s like they don’t even know what the word “fart” means even though they wince whenever guys accidentally slip one out.  The word, that is.   They do a lot more than wince when we actually let one go.  They scrunch up their cute little noses, and with a look of disgust exclaim “CAN’T YOU DO THAT OUTSIDE?”    (Or at least, that’s what I’m told, never having farted in a woman’s presence myself.   That night in Tijuana doesn’t count, as neither one of us were in Canada.  Plus I was drunk.  And so was she.  Also it wasn’t me anyway.  It was the donkey.  Donkeys smell.  Did you know that?   Just. Like. Farts. I digress.)

They’re soft.  

So….soft.   They have always been that way too.  We notice that the first time we see one of them.  All soft and giggly and gentle and soft.  Even after working out and winning the Muscle Beach bodybuilding competition, they’re still soft.  They’ll plow you into next Sunday, some of them, if you suggest they’re anything other than hardcore and brutal.  Better to stay silent.  When they inform you that they’re tough and hard and can break a phonebook in two, you nod, knowing full well deep in your heart that they’re soft.

They’re nurturing.

They get so concerned when we get sick, or cut ourselves.  Or even those times when we look off into the distance, thinking about cooking up a barbecue steak, and they get this little frown in their forehead and they look at you and they say “what’s wrong baby?   Let’s talk about it.  You look like you have something serious on your mind.  Was it a bad day for you at work?  Want me to rub your shoulders?   Maybe take you into the bedroom?”   At which point we forget all about the steak, nod resignedly and say “okay.   But I just don’t want to talk about it.  I’m trying to forget.”   Then, ten minutes later, we’re all sweaty and happy again.

They think we’re helpless.

Except around spiders.  And jars that won’t open.  And cars.  One time I hosted a party, and decided I was going to make a pizza and some hors d’oevres.  I stood at the counter, while the music played, and the guests were talking and drinking and laughing.  Two girls were watching me while I stood at the counter, staring off into space.  My ADD had kicked in and so I was  thinking about a scene from Big Bang Theory; where Sheldon had just expressed a heartfelt emotion, and then turned to Leonard and said “Bazinga”.   One girl looked at the other, sighed and said “Men are all the same.  So helpless.”  As she laughed she made a shooing motion with her hand and said “get out of the way.  We got this.”   I thought about protesting but then gave my virtual self a virtual slap upside the head.   “Sure”  I said, pretending to be relieved.  “Thanks – I appreciate it.”   My virtual self smiled.  I would have felt guilty but I know they did a better job than I would have done.   I mean that pizza was *good*.  Why does food always taste so much better when someone else puts it together?

They have curves.

So many curves.  I could get lost in those curves.  Men don’t have them.  Except some of us have protruding upside-down lightbulb curves. Irrepressibly and obstinately ugly.  In fact, I don’t even want to think about it.   Women and their curves just intrigue the hell out of me.   It just never gets old, you know?   I like how my hand can travel down a woman’s back, following her contour, exploring as if for the first time.  It just…… I digress again.  Never mind.

They’re graceful.

I think they practice this at yoga class or something.   When they stretch, they’re catlike.  Methodical, slow, smooth, and – there’s no other word – graceful.   Men stretch abruptly and belch.  Or we yawn, loudly and forcefully.    Women are much more aware of themselves.  I would guess that each physical movement is choreographed and practiced – except that it seems to be instinctive.   Anyway, I like it.

They fit.

When I hold a woman in my arms, I don’t know how it happens, but we just fit, right there.  Perfect.  Like we were made for each other.  She can be the same height as me, or shorter, and it just seems to work.  Even when they have to get up on tiptoes to make out with us.   We’re like a jigsaw puzzle.   So satisfying.   It’s like the universe just *clicks*.  I haven’t been with a taller woman yet, though I’ve been tempted.  The thought of getting up on a stepladder just to kiss her goodnight is a tiny bit off-putting.  What if someone comes along and kicks the ladder out from under me?   What then?

Might be worth trying, just the same.

When they smile or laugh, we fall apart.

Or I fall apart (can’t truly speak for other guys).   Anyway, they sometimes don’t know that they have a special power when they do that.  We just know that they do, and so we work hard at finding funny stuff to say, just so we can see it again.  So worth it.

I once had a passionate make out time with a girl on a dance floor, and she said to me, breathlessly “I have never kissed a boy like that.”    I struggled and blurted out “me neither.”  I paused, then added  “I’ve never kissed a boy like that either.”   I wasn’t trying to be a smartass.  I just wanted to hear her laugh.   She did.

See how that goes?  Attempt.  Reward.   You women just keep encouraging us.

They have a quality.

I haven’t been able to define it yet.  I might not ever, but it’s fun to think about anyway.   I don’t know if it’s in their eyes, or the fact that I’m always trying to figure out exactly what colour they are.  Or maybe it’s that their cheeks are so inviting.  Or even the fact that they’re angry sometimes and you know you’re treading on quicksand if you even ask why they’re angry, and you do anyway because you know it’s a sin to say nothing and they get mad that you asked.   They puzzle me.  And they excite me.  And I can never figure them out, because even when I think I have, they’ll prove I’m wrong again.

Women are like a fascinating ball of yarn, and I’m the world’s most playful cat.   I have no idea where the string goes, or how long it is – but I’ll play with it until I can’t keep my eyes open.

One thing more:  I’ll never, ever, in a million years figure out why they like us.

A month ago, a friend had challenged me to sit for an hour, just to concentrate – and maybe pray – about where I want to be, what I wanted to.   It was a goal that was fairly open-ended.   

I did.  I sat on the floor, on my yoga mat (shaddap) with a pillow behind my back.   I did this for an hour, at first in mediation, and then thinking/praying.   Just going over stuff.  

I came to a few realizations.

I’m an angry person.  Have been, ever since I was a teenager.   People generally didn’t know this, because it’s not obvious.   I am.  I’m angry.   So….this introspection….this navel-gazing, if you will…. sought to figure that out.  Why was I angry?

Years ago, my therapist suggested that anger is not a bad thing or a good thing.  It just is.  (What do you think?  Do you agree?  I’m really interested in your thoughts on that) .   Anyway – that’s the approach I took today.   I guess that anger, like pain, might be there for a reason.  It’s a messenger, a warning, that all is not right.   There’s an imbalance.  Something that needs correction.

So…..why was I angry?

I couldn’t approach it head-on as there were no answers there.  I just know that sometimes something will trigger me, and I’ll go off on a passionate rant.   Last night I ranted on a friend’s blog.   When I woke up this morning, I found myself ashamed and regretful.   I had told him the truth, but maybe it was overkill.  Maybe I didn’t need to show quite so much passion.   Truth-telling is enhanced by alcohol, in that booze relaxes your inhibitions.  The bad news is that it also inhibits your judgement – and I’m not sure my judgement was where it needed to be last night.   Anyway… spilt milk….water under the bridge.   Regrets are only good as lessons for the future.  They have zero effect on their origins.  You can’t take anything back or undo what you did.

So… Anger.   Anger happens when you find yourself limited from your potential.  Anger happens when you find yourself subject to fear – and once again, inhibited from doing what you know you should do.  

And I have been so very angry.  Sometimes it comes out as a reaction to whatever excuse will serve at the time.  I recognize its deceptiveness by virtue of its overkill – all out of proportion to its catalyst.  

I have dreams that I’ve let slide.   The time of reflection and meditation made that clear.  There’s a need to create.  To indulge some creativity.   To act.  To play music.  To write.   To – and this is kind of the crux of it all – help people.   

It’s tough, being so acutely aware of people who failingly struggle with expectations.   I see people who are bound – hogtied – to rules and restrictions that they thought were imposed on them, by their friends, their church, their friends or their workplace.  The brutal truth is that they’ve chosen to bind themselves.   Whatever the case, the end result is that they’re bound.  And they think they’re alone.  And I *need* to shine some light.

At the same time, I’ve become acutely aware of the fact that I have so many blind spots too.  So I can’t brag about any of this.  I can’t pretend I’m not deceived on occasion too.   Self-deception is the worst, isn’t’ it?  Mostly because you have no idea you’ve done it.   No clue that you’ve lied to yourself.   It doesn’t even cross your mind. 

I find that someone will say something and I’ll realize (hopefully immediately, if I’m lucky) that what they said just bumped me.   Like the universe pinched me hard on the bum.   And I realize, once again, that I’ve been fooling myself.   Damn it – I wish I could be more specific here, so that you had some idea of what I’m talking about.

That hour-long meditation is key:  especially in a world where stuff is happening all of the time, and you have no room to think.   It’s a time that you schedule, just like anything else, where you sit by yourself, quietly.   And listen.  And talk out loud too.

I don’t know how it would work for you but here’s how it worked for me:  I sat on the yoga mat and closed my eyes.   The first thing I did was concentrate on my breathing.  I slowed it down and took deep breaths, which I held for a few seconds before letting out.   As I did this, I noted the rest of my body:  where my limbs were, what they were touching, whether there was any pain or twitches or anything at all.   I didn’t judge any of it or try to make anything better.  I just accepted it.  I also noted the noises from outside of my apartment:  not in an irritated way, but just acknowledging that they were there, and accepting them.   

After a few minutes of that, once there was a rhythm going, I started deliberately thinking about all of the above.  Digging down deep into my motivations.  Figuring out what it was that caused me anger.  I don’t know why anger was the focus, but once again – I didn’t judge.  I accepted it.  It might be different for you though:  you’ll know if you try this.

Then, I decided that since anger was a signal, I needed to pay attention and figure out what it was telling me.   I found a few things:  I wasn’t creating.  I wasn’t playing piano.  I wasn’t writing as much as I needed to do.   I was resentful of my job, which takes up so much of my time.  I need money to live – and my job was the surest way to do that.  I wasn’t physically fit.

There’s an awareness of a need to reach out to people too.  That’s the main thing.  I thought of how many times I’ve been lifted up by music.  Pretty much catapulted out of a threatened depression and dropped into joy – because of music.  I’ve done the same thing when I’ve created and played music too.   The clearest example was at the death of my father:  a man that I truthfully hated for much of my life.  Yet, my emotions were ambivalent.  He wasn’t a total asshole.  He did some things right.  He likely did (as we all do) the best he could with what he had.   He was limited (as we all are) by so many things, some of which were obvious, and others of which were hidden.  At his funeral, some of these truths made themselves apparent.  It wasn’t completely conscious though.   On the eve of his funeral – for some strange reason – I decided to compose a musical eulogy to him.   There were no words – just music.   I remember setting up the electric piano at the Catholic altar of the church, and playing the piece.   It was a bittersweet number:  grounded in pain but interspersed with streaks of joy.   I couldn’t articulate it in words at all.   

The best thing:  it fit, and not just with me.

It was the first time I was conscious of the powerful effects of music.  

I need to do that again.  There’s a need to meet the mark of the joy, the potential, of music.  And of writing.  And of being in the best health possible. And of so much more.

Do you dream?  Are there things you wish you’d done?  Do you find yourself irritated for no apparent reason?  Or apathetic?   

Are you where you want to be?  Are you satisfied?   If so – how did you get there?   Did it come easy, or did you need to do a lot of introspection?  Did you have to make some deliberate choices?  How so?  How did you do it?

If not – have you accepted your “station in life” as inevitable?   If so, why?  Is there fear?  Of what?   

Or are you truly happy with your choices?

There was a time when ….

We were limited to our interactions with just a handful of friends.

When the sum of what we “knew for sure!”  consisted of what our teachers said at school, and what our parents said at home, and what our priests said at church.

We unknowingly carried prejudices, and assumptions.   We were arrogant and obstinate in our ignorance, and we were sure we knew it all.

The fact that our immediate circle of friends and acquaintances shared so many of the same beliefs reinforced our assurance of exhaustive knowledge.   The passion of our parents and teachers put an exclamation point on our dogma.  And we were fine with it.

“Catholics go to heaven.  If they confess before they die.  All others probably go to Purgatory if they’re lucky”

“Eat fish only on Fridays.   Go to Mass every Sunday.   Confess your sins on Saturday.  Take communion on Sunday”.  These were the building blocks for salvation.

There were variations on that theme in other churches, involving the “Four Spiritual Laws” et al.

Not to worry though:  I have no intention of wandering down those paths.  There is no intention to complain about them or brag.   This is all just background.

The internet did not yet exist.   We had no reason to even imagine there was more.  We played outside until it was dark, and our mothers called us in for bed.  We laughed, and played and we felt comfortable.

It’s an amazing thing – how this paucity of awareness seems so real and true.  It was innocent too:   how can you know that you’re missing anything, when you have no point of reference?   When the gas gauge always reads FULL, only because the gauge doesn’t know the capacity of the tank itself?

Then, to coincide with college and university courses,  the internet came along.  We were shocked.  Appalled.  Amazed.

Some of us realized we had a wick, and a limitless well of kerosene that looked suspiciously like curiosity.  And we had a match.

We struck the match – and like THAT – Pandora’s box was opened.   Eve bit deeply into the apple.   New thoughts flooded in – and we discovered we could never go back to our innocent ignorance.

But then, we didn’t want to, did we?

We looked up into the sky of knowledge and found we couldn’t see the end of it.   Just when we thought we saw the boundary  – marked by a flicker of light that we assumed was the northern star – we realized that *just beyond it* was another star.  No, a bunch of stars.

No.

A galaxy.

——–

Like many of you reading this, I really and truly believed that movies and television were mostly there just for entertainment.   I would never in a million years imagine that any TV program or movie would have an element of the spiritual to it.  A meaningfulness that went beyond ratings.   I guess that was part of my prejudice, which was born of cynicism.   TV shows – like major corporations – existed solely to make money.

I remember being in a meeting in a car factory.  I remember when the general foreman – who was probably the biggest bigwig the factory grunts would ever see – stood at the front of the room and asked “why is our company in business?  What’s our purpose?”

Several hands shot up, and one guy proclaimed “to make cars!”

The general foreman shook his head.   Then said “no!  We’re not here to make cars.”

He waited while we looked at each other.   Then he added “we’re here to MAKE MONEY”.  He shouted that last part, just to be sure we got it.

We did.

I have long assumed that was true for the entertainment industry too.

Until one day when I saw a completely irreverent film, by Kevin Smith, called “Dogma”

Up until the film came out, various religious groups campaigned and complained about it.  They thought that he – Kevin Smith – was being sacrilegious and disrespectful.  And they had come to that conclusion long before the film even played in a single theatre.   I went anyway – I was a bit of a film nut.  Plus I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

I *never* expected to get blown away by it.

The film was crass, and it was filled with swearing and adult situations and ……

God was in it.   God had several forms though.  In one scene, God was an old man.  In other, He was Alanis Morissette.

I squirmed, a little uncomfortable with the idea of God as a woman.

But then she – God – noticed a bunch of flowers near a tree.  And She went over and sniffed them.  And then she got down and balanced Herself into a handstand, feet up against a tree.

And I fell apart.  Completely overwhelmed and done in.  I sat in the theatre, tears streaming down.

Kevin Smith (the guy who wrote this film), in my opinion, had been touched by God.  He freaking *knew*.

God is not a construct of dogma (despite the film’s name), nor is He/She limited by what our pastors had to say.  He/She is beyond our imagination.  Yet He/She is right there, mixed up in the little things that make our lives so joyful.   He/She is inextricable from those things that bring us joy.  He/She defines our tears and laughter.

I realized that we don’t have to go to astounding lengths to get His/Her notice.   The things that bring us laughter do the same to Him.

It took me years to figure out that the DNA that comprises our makeup is the same as His/Hers.   “We are wonderfully and fearfully made” goes the verse.   “We are made in His image” goes another.

It takes time, energy and effort to throw off the chains of our ignorant assumptions about Him/Her.   (Let’s just leave it at Him for now, shall we?  It’s easier, and traditional and I don’t want to distract from the thoughts here)

If we throw out everything we thought we knew about God and started with just the basics – that we are made in His image – where does that take us?

When we throw a baseball and our son hits it – or doesn’t – is that Him?   Sure it is.  I think He laughs when we swing and miss.  And I think He sorrows when our beloved cat dies. And I think He sits there with us, when we struggle over a science problem.

And I fucking well KNOW He sits and closes His eyes and drinks in the notes we play when we soulfully strum our guitars or play our piano.   I think He smiles when we dance, all alone in our living room, when an awesome, driving song comes up on the playlist.    I think He covers his ears, laughing, when we hit a wrong note while singing as we drive down the freeway.

He’s not offended when we have sex.  Alone or with someone else.  He’s not shocked.  And He shakes his head ruefully when we tell jokes.  I imagine Him chuckling when we bite our lips to keep from laughing when something awkward happens at a funeral.

That’s the God I know and love.

I think that questions of sexual preference (gay or straight) or politics, or a host of other things doesn’t matter at all to Him.   I think He looks deeply at our souls.   When we decide to live life instead of just enduring it, putting in time until we die, I think He pumps His fist in the air.   He knows we GOT IT.  We freaking well GOT IT.

Attention

When I was a little boy, I used to watch a couple of my dad’s brothers with curiosity.   They were so outgoing and carefree.  And drunk too most of the time.  The beers just enhanced who they were though – something I believe is true for all drunks.

They were huge men and they truly didn’t care about how they appeared to others and didn’t try to hide much of what they thought.  They were irreverent and loud and loved to laugh – unlike my dad who, though he was just as large as them,  was the polar opposite in character:  angry and belligerent and always spoiling for a fight.

As I grew up, I could never picture myself being as free as my uncles.

While riding your bike up and down the street as a child, the idea of inhibiting yourself in any way doesn’t even cross your mind.  You have fights with your friends, you make up, you play “flying saucers” with them (always you get to be the captain, and they are your underlings, if you have any say about it) and together you go through a full range of emotions every day.  And the next day you forget what the previous day was about.  It doesn’t matter.  You are in the now.

Kids don’t seem to have a sense of nostalgia, even for a moment.

Flashes of memory:

Scene:  teenaged me on a stepladder, applying paint to the eavestrough of our house.  I don’t even recall the colour.  Though lost in ADD-addled thought, I was intent on ensuring the paint went where it was supposed to go.  The sun was shining in the west, and my dad was out on the front lawn scowling as he watched me work, an ever-present bottle of beer in his hand.  I was a little unfocused while my brain processed yet another shiny ball piece of inspiration.  He could tell, because he would say something and I would provide one-note replies.  In exasperation he bellowed “you’re always in your head.  You never talk.”  He barked “so what the hell are you thinking about?”

That was a surprise.  I knew he was right but it was the first time I remember being forced to be a little self-aware.  I probably turned red – I didn’t like being in the spotlight.  Not his, anyway.  As I struggled to reply, he huffed again and walked away in disgust.   A more mature me would have been able to analyze it:  I didn’t think I mattered to him.  At least, he didn’t show it, in amongst all of the anger and shouting and drinking and swearing and hitting people.  So why would it would occur to me to talk with him?  I was afraid of him.   I was slowly building a belief in his hatred of me.   Hindsight reveals so much.

Not being mature, I had no sense of all of this at the time though.  I just knew I had somehow angered him, and I was afraid of what that might mean.  I had no idea what the consequences would entail.  Would I be beaten up?  Was he going to use this as an excuse to come at me?   God knew.   I kept painting, fearful and shaking inside.

(Nothing happened)

Scene:  a dark night, my best friend and I were in a camping trailer in his parents’ front yard, talking about something.  This was probably within the same year as the painting scene above.    I thought Joe was a genius: his marks in school were excellent and we both kind of knew he would end up becoming some sort of an academic.   The guy was linear and logical, and we talked about a great many things.  This night, however, it was me doing most of the talking. I remember really enjoying the time, until I realized that he wasn’t saying much at all.

“Joe, what’s wrong?”

He looked at me.  Shrugged.  Put his head down, staring at the floor.  “Nothing”.

Being around a drunk father for most of your life, and being taught how to read him in order to survive, I had developed somewhat of a sense about people, even then.  I landed right on the problem.   “You think I talk too much don’t you?”

He hesitated.  Then nodded.

Shock.  Teenage immature revelation.

I shut up.

And then, like many teens, I made a point of fitting in by keeping quiet, and making sure my image was intact.  There was no way anyone would ever have to become disgruntled about my saying too much ever again.  I had learned my lesson well.

Such behaviour, once learned, becomes hard to unlearn.  It becomes your new “normal”.  You get used to it.  You think this is what you’re supposed to do.  This for you is social conditioning, and though marginally disappointing, you’re happy to have learned it.  Now you can fit in, and not stand out or become the focus of anyone’s attention.  It doesn’t occur to you that “focus of attention” can be a positive thing – you’re only used to seeing it as a negative, ranging from the disdain of your friends to the red-eyed drunken and raging stare of violence.

Scene:  I’m an adult, sitting in the basement of a building in the heart of the downtown Toronto entertainment district.  A bunch of people – maybe fifteen or so, all different ages and backgrounds – are assembled.  All are paying attention to the teacher.  Only, it’s not a lecture.  He’s giving instructions.

“Never say no”.  He starts.  “You may think you have a better idea, and maybe you do.  But if someone gives you an offer, take it, and leave your ‘better idea’ in your back pocket.  You may get a chance to use it later.  It’s more important to follow the lead of the other guy.   Think instead of how you can help build his idea.”  He smiled.  “Or hers”.

It was a comedy improv class.  The objective was to tap into our “inner child” and play pretend with each other.   It was entirely positive, and it involved taking the focus, and becoming the center of attention, if only for a few moments.

It was exhilarating.  I was the guy on a fishing trip with a friend, and we were discussing my getting a job at his company.  And all the while we were sitting in an imaginary boat, casting our lines and winding the reel back in.   He built on my idea by presenting an offer:  if he could have a date with my wife, he’d see that my job application was approved.  My instinct was to immediately say “no” but then I remembered the teacher’s instructions.    “You know – that might work.  I’m going to need more than a job though. ”  I thought for a moment, while casting the line once again.   “Maybe stock options.  And your cool new car.   That would be my price.”  We dickered back and forth, adding conditions and treasures, until we finally ended it by reaching an agreement.

So odd, playing that scene.  We had became oblivious to the fact we were both the center of attention – except for the brief moments when the class laughed.

In another improv exercise, we were learning about adding dimensions to our invisible props; to be aware of them.   The teacher said “very often you’ll see some actors on stage, sitting in a car.  One of them will get out and walk to the other side – RIGHT THROUGH THE IMAGINARY ENGINE.  It irks me every time.  It destroys the scene.  I want you to be aware of your scene, and everything in it, and respect it completely.  Make it real.”   He looked at us, intently.  “If you can make yourself believe everything in your scene is real, your audience will follow you and they’ll believe it too.  Every time.”

To illustrate that point, the teacher chose an imaginary thick heavy door that didn’t open too well.  One by one, classmates went up to the door, used big heavy keys to unlock it, and then struggled to get it open.  Then they would struggle just as hard to pull it closed behind them.  Then they would sit down, or go to an imaginary fridge, grab an invisible drink and open it.   Or read a newspaper.  About four or five of them went up.   Then I had an idea:  I walked up, struggled with that same door, got inside and closed it.   Then, with my back ramrod straight, I looked around at them in disgust.    “One, two, three….” I counted them all.   “All five of you are in here… ”  I raised my voice in anger.  “….and there are 1,500 prisoners out there, all unsupervised.”   Their eyes all widened and they got up in a rush and scrambled to get out the door.

The class laughed.   That did it.  The seed was planted.   Attention.  Positive attention.  Instant addiction.

Scene:  a sports bar in a small town.  Noon hour.   About seven colleagues and I sitting around a table, having lunch.   A TV set was situated on a shelf  that was close to the ceiling, and it was tuned to a music video station.  The theme was 90’s music, and we were enjoying it, and discussing the songs as they came on.

Then the Divinyls’ song “I Touch Myself” came on.   Anyone who’s ever heard it knows the lyrics fairly well.  It features a woman singing to her lover about how she masturbates when she thinks of him.

The conversation around the table stopped abruptly.  Most of us were guys, and we couldn’t even look at each other.   For some reason I found this hilarious.   My improv-enhanced mind whirled with possibility.

I cleared my throat, turned and looked at the guy next to me (who, aware of my gaze, elected to stare with apparent focused and fascinated attention at his plate of fries).   In the deepest voice I could muster I growled “kind of embarrassing isn’t it?”

The table exploded with laughter.

—————–

I didn’t know it then, but I was reprogramming myself.   Detoxing from a lifetime of self-repression.  Learning that embarrassment should be reserved for honest mistakes, not for honest behaviour. Not for speaking out.  Not for truth-telling, no matter how ridiculous or outrageous the truth, or even whether it was couched in humour or bold straight talk.

I brought that dynamic to my workplace, often blurting out wild-eyed stuff to the disbelief and laughter of my friends and co-workers.   Safety doesn’t seem that much of a factor anymore.   And even when there is the possibility of violence – like on a crowded subway or busy mall – it’s better to face it head-on, with truth.   People truly don’t expect that.  They expect fear, and hiding.

I was learning that you get a lot more done, accomplish more, find more satisfaction in throwing off the safety of quiet, and replacing it with risk, and attitude and laughter.

To this day, I still have to coach myself though.   What about you?  Do you find yourself, as I do, having to repeat “what’s the worst that can happen” to yourself?   Do you find what that is, and then say to yourself “to hell with it – I’m doing or saying this, and if they don’t like it, or me, that’s too bad”?

Man cave

“So why aren’t you with someone by now?”

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.”   Her arched eyebrow provoked further explanation.  “Honestly, I really don’t know.”

“You don’t seem worried about it.  Do you care?”

He felt lucky to have her as a friend.  He had a penchant for gravitating to truth-tellers.  People who would say the truth, sometimes harshly but always with affection.   They hadn’t seen each other for a few months, and had chosen the cafeteria at his workplace to catch up.

“Sure I care.  I’d like to share my life with someone.”  Even as he said it, he wondered if it was true.

He had been separated from his wife for twelve years now, and divorced for seven, with only a handful of romances to show for it.   Nothing that stuck.

“Maybe I’m too comfortable” he offered.   She smiled and sat back, looking at him.

“You know, there are some women around here who’ve been talking about you, wondering what your story is.”

That was news.  He sat forward, brown eyes piercing hers.  “Yeah?  What are they saying?”

She grinned.  “Oh you know.  The usual.  Is he gay or something?’

He laughed.   “No worries there.  I’m not.  I checked.”

“You did?”  Her eyes sparkled, teasing.  “Now how would you check something like that?”

“How do you think?  I watch the flag to see which scenery makes it flap in the breeze.”

She laughed.  “Yeah okay.   I’ve got it.   A little too much information though.”

“You asked.”

“So what’s the problem then?”

He frowned.  “Who says there’s a problem?”

“No, no.  That’s not what I meant.  You know what I’m getting at.  Why aren’t you with someone?”

As usual, he was a little uncomfortable with this train of thought.  He couldn’t deny her though – which made it worse.   They’d been friends for years.  He thought about that.  He mostly had married friends – women who were unavailable.  He knew it was a source of comfort, safety.

“I really don’t know.  Every time I think about being with someone I look first for the potential pitfalls.   That turns me off right away.”

“You know you can’t ever expect the perfect mate, right?”

He nodded.  “Of course.  I know that here.”  He pointed to his head.  “There’s a slight problem getting this to pay attention though.”  He pointed to his chest.

“So what is it? ”  She persisted.

He scrambled, knowing that it was likely that the first thing that occurred to him would probably be correct.   “Fear” he blurted.

“Good” she said, ever the pragmatist.  “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“What are you?  My counsellor or something?”  Despite the joking tone, he was serious.   Again, they both knew it.  It was one of the reasons their friendship worked.

“It matters to me.  I don’t know why.   Seems to me you’re a caring person – such a shame to see that potential get lost.”

“Yeah”  he agreed.  “But then, potential isn’t romance is it?”

“No….”  she began.   Then the silence drifted in, pulled up a chair, and sat there, content and peaceful.

“I guess…” he began.  “After years of nothing but shouting and miscommunication… I’m probably a little gun-shy.”

“A little?”

“Okay.  A lot.”   He looked up, thinking.  She waited.

“I’ve had so many years of being by myself.  I like my apartment, and my routine.   I like being selfish.  Staying out till all hours of the night if I want.   Going where I want without having to worry about anyone else.”

“Is that why you haven’t replaced your cat?” she wondered.

“Probably.   I like the freedom.”

“Not everyone is like your ex-wife you know.”   She had been privy to his history.  There wasn’t any need to re-hash any of it.

“I know, I know.”  He said.  “I guess I can’t help thinking that they’re all like her though.”

“You realize how crazy that is right?”

“I do.   Doesn’t change much of anything though.”

She shook her head.  “My God.  You’re damaged aren’t you?”

“I hope not.  If I accepted that diagnosis, doctor, it would suggest it couldn’t be fixed.”

She laughed.  “It wouldn’t suggest any such thing.   But you know – if you start there, maybe you can figure out how to shake things up.”

He smiled again.  “So what’s your prescription?”

There was no hesitation.  “Get out there.   Swim in strange and weird waters.”

“Oh it’s that easy is it?”

“It is.”

“And how would you know this?  You’ve been married for quite a few years now.”

“I just know.  Trust me.”

He did trust her.   But he couldn’t bring himself to trust that it was that easy.

“Seems like…..I can’t explain it.”  He shook his head.

She nudged his foot with hers.   “Try.”

He sipped his coffee, thinking.  Remembering.

——–

They had met a little over two months ago, in the middle of what he thought was the worst time of his life.

One morning he had arrived at work, unaware that this day would be anything but routine.  No sooner had he sat down to his computer and opened up his email than he had seen one marked urgent.  It was from his boss, and she wanted to meet with him as soon as he read it.

There had been talk around the office for the past year.  The company was floundering on the markets, and most of his colleagues had begun to visibly age.  The laughter, the jokes had been replaced with a still, thick and uncertain peace.  A kind of quiet that pushes against the sides of your head, muffling the sounds of the screeching brakes and occasional shouts from the outside traffic.   Occasionally one of his workmates would get The Email, which was followed by The Meeting, both of which were prerequisites for the slow sad Walk To The Door, to the chorus of ambivalent reactions.  Some would shake the person’s hand, while others stood and nodded sympathetically, the pressure of unshed tears mixing with guilty fearful frowns.   It could happen to anyone.   And now, apparently, it was happening to him.

He sighed and stood up, butterflies dancing in his gut.  Maybe, he thought, this is what a pending heart attack feels like.  He knew his face was red, radiating his doom to all who watched him head to the boss’ office.

“Come in” she said, “and shut the door”.   Predictable, really.  This is always how it goes.   He noticed that it wasn’t just him and her in the office.  There was another man in there too – someone he’d around the office many times.

“This is Jeremy Crystal, from Rainbow Associates.   I’ll get to why he’s here in a moment.”

As predicted, he was being let go.  And Mr. Crystal was there to explain his options.  He could go for retraining and certainly he would offer assistance with a job search.  The name “Rainbow” seemed ridiculous.  A cosmic slap in the face.  There was no gold at the end of this particular spectrum of colours – unless a bucket of failure, and a prognosis for a diminished future could be seen as a valued treasure.

Back then, he didn’t know the half of it.   The irony was yet to be revealed.

Dazed and disbelieving, he took his place among his predecessors:  he gathered his belongings, while the two security guards waited by his desk.  As he began The Walk, it occurred to him that he had no thoughts.  Briefly, he thought about the sales orders that he still had to process, then shook his head, remembering that they weren’t his to worry about anymore.  Mental muscle memory, he supposed.  This would happen for a while.  He knew he’d wake up during the night, suddenly recalling yet another piece of unfinished company business, before relaxing back in the knowledge that the concern was for nothing.

As one guard preceded him and opened the door, he thought, for the first time, that maybe this was a good thing.

A week later, he had fallen asleep on the bus trip to the re-employment services building, and had missed his stop.  A sudden screech of the bus brakes had woken him, and he had looked around, not recognizing his neighbourhood.  The bus had narrowly missed hitting a car, and the entire vehicle had rocked to a stop. It was a good thing, or he would have still been asleep.  As it was, he knew he’d have to jump on the other bus and go back at least five, maybe six stops.  Worse, it was now starting to rain.

He covered his head with his jacket and waited until the traffic was clear before making his way across the road.  He nodded to an older gentleman.  “I guess the bus is late, huh?”

The old guy grunted.  “Your first clue was this crowd of people, son?”

He looked down the road, not seeing anything that looked remotely like a bus.  “Yeah.  Mom raised a whole bunch of us rocket scientists.”

The old guy snorted.  “Sorry.  I’ve been standing here for something like a half hour now.   I guess one of the drivers was sick or something.   Or needed to take a break or make a phone call, or get lunch or something.  I’m just a bit pissed.  They raise the rates,  but don’t improve the service.  This happens way too often, son, and I’m tired of it.”  He shook his head.  “And it’s not like I can just go out and buy a car.  It’s ridiculous.”

He shook his head in sympathy, and watched as even more people made their way to the stop.   There were so many people coming and going that there wasn’t room on the sidewalk, so some were walking fairly close to the curb.

One car darted out in front of another and picked up speed, inadvertently getting too close to the curb, where a mini-lake waited.   As luck would have it, the front tire hit the puddle perfectly, creating a wall of water that arced up to consume one unfortunate pedestrian, who let out a high-pitched shriek.

He saw her, standing there stunned and gasping, blonde hair soaked.  Her briefcase had hit the ground, opened up and the papers were making their way down the street, free of their leather prison.  He quickly ran after them and herded them back into some semblance of order, presenting them back to her.

She pulled the hair out of her eyes, and took the papers, mute and looking like she was going to cry.  He said “look, you’re having a bad morning.  Let’s go to that coffee shop over there and get you warmed up a bit.”

She had nodded and they had made their way to the inviting little café.   She had gone into the washroom, to dry off as much as she could, while he ordered them both a coffee.

Eventually, they sat and began talking.

“I…Um, thank you.  For what you did.”

He nodded.  “Not to worry.  Sh—, uh, stuff happens, I guess.”  For some reason, he didn’t want to swear.

“It’s just that…I just don’t like missing appointments.”

“Was it important?”

She sighed.  “Well, it was my entrance meeting.  I’ve just quit my job and am supposed to start up at this new place next week.”

He must have looked alarmed, because she smiled and placed her hand on his arm.  “Oh I’m not worried.  The position’s mine.  I’ve been hired to head up a branch office for them – so this meeting time was my idea, as a way of getting ahead of the stream of stuff I need to know before next week.”

“Well that’s a relief.” He sat back, then sat forward again and placed his hand out.  “By the way, my name’s Grey.”

She sat forward and shook his hand.  “Crystal.”

“Crystal, huh?  That’s different.  With an ‘i’ or ‘y’?”

She laughed.  “‘y’ of course.”

“Well you just can’t tell anymore.  Some people have the weirdest names.”

“Yeah.  The girl I was going to meet is Brandie.   With an ‘ie’.”

“Really?  Wow.  Poor girl.  Speaking of which – I guess you should probably re-schedule your meeting.”

“I already re-scheduled – called them when I was in the washroom just now.”

“Oh” he said.   “Well  that’s courageous.”

“What?”

He grinned.  “The last time someone spoke on the phone when I was in a washroom, I grunted loudly and then flushed the toilet.”

“You did?”  She laughed.  “Why would you do that?”

He shrugged.  “Don’t know.  Just seemed a little incongruous – using a cellphone in there.”

She crooked her head.  “It did?  You really think so?”

“Breaks up the harmony something fierce.   Also – it kind of makes it hard to concentrate.”

She laughed and slapped his arm.   “I wasn’t in the stall when I made the call.”

He shook his head.  “Doesn’t matter.  Maybe someone else was.”  He looked at her, frowning.  “How could you be so cruel?”

She smiled, and shook her head.

After that, they had gone out a few more times, and then he had met her friends and she his.  One of her friends – Gary – was pioneering a new technology, which he had found more than interesting.   The two had gotten together over beers, and their excitement over the sales possibilities had built quickly.  They had decided to go into business together, with Gary handling the engineering and technical aspects, and Grey working on the marketing and sales.  Both knew it would be a while before they saw any kind of profit, but had noticed that anyone they spoke to had shown more than just polite interest, so they were sure they had a winner.

——–

He looked at her, and finally answered her question.  “The best I can explain it is like this:  just when I think everything’s falling apart and nothing good can happen and we’re all alone and on own with everything, I get a glimpse of a number of seemingly coincidental occurrences that just sort of defy probability, you know? It’s like people and circumstances are often a lot more connected than we realize, or can see.”

She looked up at the clouds, as if willing them to spill their secrets.  Then looked at him.  “You know – I’ve often thought the same.”

But Why?

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Life, living, religion
Tags: , , , , ,

Why

Someone once asked me why I believe in God.   There was a slight tone of disbelief and maybe a hint of derision swirling around with the query as it sailed through the air to my ears.   Still, it was a honest curiosity from a guy who, while he didn’t believe in God, certainly believed enough in me to trust that I would answer without giving one of the usual predictable responses one usually receives:

“Because the Bible said so”

“Because none of this reality could exist without God”

I hesitated, trying to find the right imagery and logical links.

“Well I know you can’t prove His existence to anyone”.  I figured we should start out that way – it seemed important to begin where we both agree.   My daughter has taught me about the necessity of context and frankly, a by-product of my ADHD is that I often get excited when relating something, assuming that the hearer has already processed everything that I’ve done.

Anyway, he nodded.

“He has proven His existence to me.   You have to understand that what constitutes evidence to me is not easily transferable to anyone else.   I don’t even try to explain my faith to anyone else – and I certainly don’t feel the need to try and convince anyone.”  The irony of that statement waved its hands in my face, grinning with raised eyebrows, frantically trying to get my attention.  I ignored it.  Some call this obstinate ignorance.

“How so?” he asked.

I love honest questions.   Honest questions make the world go around.  Curiosity begets answers, and answers raise more questions, which feeds curiosity which in turn provokes even more questions.   This is how illumination happens.  This is how people struggle toward discussion, delight and understanding.  This is how wars end, how people eventually agree, how enemies learn to coexist.   This is how marriages are saved.

I told him.

“My sister was very little when she went into a coma.  It was spontaneous and we have no idea how it happened.  I remember my dad carrying her out to the car, limp in his arms.  She was about three years old.”

He listened, and watched as the canvas in my mind slowly brought that memory into focus.

“As the days went by, my parents talked openly about her.   They mentioned that the doctors said there was a few minutes when she had stopped breathing and so therefore she might not come out of it, and that even if she did, there was a high probability that she would have severe brain damage.  She wouldn’t be the same, they said.   I saw my parents’ eyes dim at this news.   Their worry thickened the air.”

I continued.  “I was fourteen and had recently begun attending a small church’s youth group.   My own mind reeling with worry and helplessness, I hopped on my bike and pedaled on down to a night time service.  It was the only thing I knew at the time to do. “

My mind completed the picture.  I recalled the warmth of that little church, with its wooden pews and big windows.   There was something comfortable about the place – enhanced by the handful of hanging light fixtures that sent a warm glow over the twenty or thirty people who were there.   I arrived, a little late as usual and made my way to one of the pews in the middle of the left side, and sat.

“When the spot in the service arrived where requests for prayer were invited, I stood up.   I explained her hopeless situation to them.  Their looks of sympathy almost undid me.   I asked ‘could you please pray for her?’   and the pastor smiled and said ‘let’s pray together’.  And we did.”

“I didn’t feel much different, you understand.   There were no bolts of lightening, no sudden intuition even that God heard us.   But….I did feel a warmth, like I’d done a good thing.”

I stopped, caught up in the memory.    “So what happened?” asked my friend.

“Well, it was about a day later when my parents told us that she woke up from the coma.   The hospital had called them, and so we all scrambled to get ready to head down to the hospital.   They wanted her to stay for observation for a few days.  I went up to see her every day.  We talked and I laughed and I gave her piggy-back rides on my shoulder.   It was good.”

“So….?”  he asked.

“So it turned out that she had no brain damage.   She was fine.   And today she’s holding down an intense job.  She’s one of the brightest people I know.”

He nodded.  “I respect that.  You believe in God because of that.”

I nodded.  “Yeah, but not just that.  That’s just the clearest memory I have – the one that stands out the most.   There have been so many instances in my life where it seemed glaringly evident – to me – that He exists and takes an interest in us.  In me.  One or more too many coincidences, over and over.”

“So what about those who suffer horrifically through life before dying a lonely death?  He doesn’t care for them?”

Another honest question.   “Although I believe in Him and love HIm, I can’t be His apologist.  I have no idea why such people go through such harshness.  Any attempts to offer up any kind of an explanation would be disingenuous.  It would be presumptuous to pretend that I know why He does and doesn’t do the things He does.  I can’t even say that He has His reasons, because once again that would be presuming knowledge that I don’t have.”

He liked that.   He didn’t stop being an atheist that day, and I had no expectation that he would.

But maybe, together, we shed a little light.  I like to think so.

The shimmering electric outline of anticipation becomes achingly apparent when a pall descends – and then you realize how lucky you were.    You have excitedly made a pact with yourself to avoid using the present as a stop-gap, a filler, an incidental nothing, on your way to something else, some grand plan – achievable only after you’ve “put in time”.   When you’ve “paid your dues”.

Your new resolution (“which” you say to your friends, hoping to ensure they understand the clarification “has nothing to do with New Years, or momentary ‘come to Jesus’ fleeting and vague decisions”) is to start each day with one thought in mind.   “How can I make this day the best day I’ve ever had?”

You tell a few people about this, knowing how cheesy it sounds – but you know full well it represents not only a change in lifestyle, but a re-aligning of purpose into the charged design of your DNA.   You know you’ve been inwardly preparing for this for such a long time.  You saw it on the horizon, only vaguely, but rumbling and more present than the bus on the busy street corner that is now ten minutes late.   And you’re aware too that this shift in your paradigm is only the beginning of a major change – and that it is a prerequisite, the tip of the rhino’s horn as it comes around the corner, with hurricane force.  Unstoppable and so very much alive.

There are only a few times in your life when such seemingly overwhelming events announce their imminence, and you wait, unafraid yet knowing that nothing will be the same.  There is piercing awareness that this time is exactly like that.  Unable to articulate it well to anyone else, you know with an understanding as old as rock, that this ….will….happen.   It’s fantastic yet is not fantasy, nor is it wishful thinking.   It is.

A moment arrives where you have perfect clarity, and a decision must be made.   Having purposed to occupy the unending present, there comes a micro-second in your day, and you make your binary choice.  Either direction would serve you well:  one direction allows you to treasure this new clarity, while you remain fully aware that the other direction threatens that clarity for a short time, but allows you to embrace a beautiful chaos.

The writer, in his zeal to be understood must now abandon cryptic description, and change the point of view.

He saw her walking toward him, all smiles and wicked beauty.  He knew she’d been sick and was still contagious.  He knew what she would do.  That she would run up to him.  Kiss him.  Share her illness.

His choice:  to hold his hand up and protect his health, and his clarity.   Or leave his hand down, smile and lean in.

He leaned in.   They kissed.  And one day later, the sniffles and fever arrived, took off their coats and hats, pulled up chairs and sat back, with their feet on his clean kitchen table.  Just as he knew they would.

Clarity gasps, holds its throat in dramatic agony, and falls to the floor of understanding.  Pale, disappointed, unsure.  

Clarity is the hammiest of divas.

He knows she will rise again, to occupy his consciousness.  For now, he must wade through the consequences of his choice.  His boots now muddied with fever and ache and self-pity.   Only the memory of that chaotic meeting elicits a reluctant smile.   It was worth it.

Of late, her rainbow brightness has occupied his thoughts – though he has known her for years.  They’ve been friends.   And he has had such an orderly life, until now.   Hers is the antithesis of his existence:  he has struggled to describe his attraction to her, until this morning.  He finally had it.  She was, is, a beautiful mess.  Flirting, unpredictable, joyful, passionate and, as he has rarely seen, angry.  And, of all of the people in his life – friends, family, work mates – she is the most unreadable.    The more he sees, the greater his attraction.  

It seems odd, this desire to embrace such an ephemeral and wild spirit.   There is no control on the horizon (and he wouldn’t want it anyway – his own wolfish spirit shies from such restriction); there is only the increasing thunder.

Perhaps this will be a new chapter, and the charging rhino will stop long enough for them to mount up and ride.

He has no idea.  He just knows that each opportunity must be embraced.   The war of the germs will be won, his clarity will return and…..something will happen.  She may have something to do with it, or not.   He knows the event horizon of his life – or perhaps theirs – is larger than just relationship.   It will consume him – or them – before there’s a chance to turn away.  There is no intention to turn anyway.  

If anything, he finds himself running toward it.

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.

Whirling and whirling

Posted: January 24, 2012 in ADHD, Life
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

*thinking*  “Shoot, I’m late.  Better call a cab.”

“Wait.  I’m not nearly ready and if I rush I’m going to forget something.  Better get everything together first, then when I’m about five minutes from being ready – THEN call.”

“Good.”  I nodded to myself.  “Smart thinking”

I ignored the brightly coloured fairy lights flitting around in my brain and set to work. 

Lunch?  “Don’t need it – I’m buying a sandwich when meeting with a friend today.  So… check.”

Boots?  “It’s cold out.  Got ’em right here”  *Slips boots on.*

Coat? “Right here”

Gloves? “Check”

Hat?  “Check”

Anything else?  “Wait.  iPad.  Can’t forget the love of my life.”

Laptop for work?  “Got it in the laptop bag.  I’ll put the iPad in with it.”

iPhone?  “Got it.”

Call the cab.  “Ok.  I’ll connect up with my bluetooth earpiece and talk to them while doing a last minute check around the place.”

*Calls cab.*

I go out.  Lock both locks on the door and walk down the hallway to the elevator.  An older woman smiles at me.  I nod back and say “hi there.”

I hear the elevator.  *Ding!*

The door opens.  Something twigs in my brain – so I ignore the elevator and go back to my apartment.   Unlock both locks and walk through the apartment with my boots on.  Grab the new combination lock so I can head to the gym today.  (Lost my last one on my trip to Tofino).

Re-lock the apartment and, as the elevator opens, my phone rings.  I tap the bluetooth earpiece and hear “hi there.  You called for a taxi?”

“Yup.  On my way down now.”

I jump in the cab and,  just as it leaves the on-ramp and hits the highway, I realize that I forgot my security card for work.   So I think “nevermind.   I’ll just have to find a public washroom if I need it, and make sure that I don’t leave the building after 4:30 (unless going home) because I won’t be able to get back in.”   Good.  It sucks, but at least it’s a plan.  I’m not spending the money to tell the cab to go back.

And…just as I get in the door at work I realize that my security card is safe in my laptop back.  I forgot it was there.   “Oh good.” I think.  ” Serendipity.  Thank God for small blessings.”

I get to my desk, plug in the laptop, secure it to the locking cable and turn it on.

I sit back and, after waiting for it to boot up, I finally see the login screen. 

Sort of.  It’s kind of hard to read.

Ah.  I need my glasses.   I reach into my pocket.  Earphones, iPhone….. no glasses.   “I wonder where they are?”   

They’re sitting on the counter at home.  Right where I left them.

I think “what the fuck is WRONG with me?” 

“Why is my brain such a massive blur today?

“Did I take my ADHD meds?”

I did.  It was almost the first thing I did today.

Good thing I have an doctor appointment for tomorrow – because it looks as though they’re not working anymore.

I think “well, I’ll have to buy some reading glasses from the pharmacy across the street.” 

So I do.  Bring them back and sit back down to the computer. 

Uh oh.  There’s a plastic thing securing them – I’ll have to cut it off. 

I get the scissors,  cut the tag and put them on. 

My vision is blurry. 

So I take them off, clean them, put them back on. 

Still blurry. 

Take them off and look at them.  There’s a big scratch across one of the lens.  Apparently when I cut the tag, I was way too impatient.  Pretty much madly assaulted the $35.00 glasses during my haste to use them – and now they’re worth nothing.

Put them back on and decide to use them for the rest of the day.

Later, I meet my friend for lunch.  She says about seven things in the space of a paragraph, and as she says EACH.INDIVIDUAL.THING – my brain captures a relating thought, all of which I want to say to her.  When she stops speaking, I can’t remember a single one of them.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

“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.