Posts Tagged ‘awareness’

Have you ever been in a place where you hear every noise, and every one of them bothers you to the point of rage?

No? Just me then? Well okay.

I’m sure many (most) people get irritated by the noise of someone chewing something crunchy with their mouth open. Or the widely acknowledged favourite: the sound of someone drawing their nails down a chalkboard.

I remember a time when I was working at my cubicle at the office. The guy in a nearby cubicle was eating something crunchy. It was housed in a ceramic bowl, and he was using a metal spoon to scoop it up, after which he deposited it into his gaping maw, whereupon he chewed it with his mouth wide open.

This was no gentle scooping; there was an element of frantic panic about it. He clanged that spoon against the sides of the bowl like it owed him money. No way was he going to allow a single Cheerio to escape.

I heard another person talking animatedly on his phone. There was heat to his discussion, a passion that could not be ignored (try as I might). Every time I tried to look at my monitor, he erupted with another valiant point and my thoughts were cockroaches scurrying away.

Yet someone else stood up at his cubicle and laughed about something over the baffle wall with his neighbour.

When I heard that metal spoon begin to scrape the ceramic bowl in its final hunt for the least tiny crumb of errant cereal, my anger reached its zenith. I stood up and looked around….and then noticed these noises were affecting only me. Everyone else could filter all of this out, but I couldn’t.

I wanted to throw my keyboard across the room. Instead, I stood there in helpless and impotent rage, wondering what the heck was wrong with me.


The other day I saw the movie “Age of Adeline”.


I picked the film because of its interesting premise: it’s about a woman who, for some strange reason, stops aging at the age of 29. As the decades flow by, she finds she has to hide herself, move and change her name frequently so that she doesn’t come under scrutiny.

As movies go I have no idea whether it’s great or awful. I mean, I have an opinion about it, but freely acknowledge that it’s skewed by something that may seem inconsequential to others.

Namely, Blake Lively.

I’m not a fan of hers. I’ve seen in her in other films, but was not impressed or depressed by her presence in them.

The thing that stood out in “Adeline” was Blake’s voice. It is the most sweetest, calm and soothing voice I’ve ever heard.

I sat there in the dark, just blissing out on her melodious phrases, couched in the poetic rhythms of speech from elder eras.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so amazed by vocal sounds as much as hers, before the movie or since.

This affected me so much that I plan to see the movie again. It’s like a spa for the ears.

“How can I help you?”

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

The next thing I saw was her bright smile.

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

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


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

She smiled again and took off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When did you last come in?”

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

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

“Oh”  I was disappointed.  “Oh well.”

She smiled and left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I finished the water.

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

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

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


What would I say?

It would go something like this:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: March 14, 2010 in Life
Tags: , , ,

It was late.  I had seen two movies and had decided to drop in to Future Shop to see what was up.

Big mistake.

I started looking at printers, as mine was an inkjet that was continually out of ink.  (Well, specifically, it kept drying up on me before I had a chance to use it).   Didn’t see anything I liked so I wandered around the store a bit.

Finally talked myself into buying a big-ass 27″ monitor and a software package as well.  Actually I had some help from the buzzing salesman whose greedy little eyes kept burning a hole in my ass, right where my wallet was.

Still, it wasn’t his fault.  I own that shit.  It was totally on me.

After they fashioned a handle for me (made of a plastic bag and about three yards of scotch tape), which they attached to the honking big box, I strained myself out of the store and down the escalator to the subway system, there to face about a forty-five minute ride home.

About three stops later, a tall very much overweight man waddled in, and plunked his track-panted ass down on a seat.  I watched him out of the corner of my eye.  You couldn’t help it – he was talking to himself, as so many  Torontonian subway riders tend to do.  I figure they’re just lonely in the big city, and since they don’t have anyone to go home to, they entertain themselves with what must pass for witty banter.  Every so often I pray to God that I never get to that point.  I mean, who knows?  You don’t know what tiny screw has been loosening in your head all of these years, and when it might just come out completely.

The disturbing thing about this man was the look in his eyes.  Like he was up to something mischievous, that only he and one other secret friend (himself) knew about.  As the train screeched along the tracks, I watched him wringing his hands, and grinning as he stared with blue eyes straight ahead through his long bangs and laughingly talked to himself quietly.

A couple of stops later, he got off, and I felt the muscles in my back and shoulders begin to relax.

It was a long ride, and I had an expensive piece of equipment in that large box, so I was disinclined to plug in my iPhone.   Some crackhead may have looked over and realized I had way too much technology in hand for one man to consume alone.   And let’s not even talk about the ebook reader I had stuffed in my upper inside leather coat pocket either.

So I sat there.  We sat there, really – all thirty of us or so, bored and alone, every one of us.   It’s a weird anomaly watching so many people looking at the subway advertisement, or at their feet – anywhere except at each other.  Scientists of the future will view this as the weirdest of social behaviours.   I’m certain of it.

My wandering eyes landed on another very large gentleman, who had his head up against the wall of the train, with his eyes closed.  He seemed to be a twin of the disturbing guy who just left, yet …. he was less disturbing.   Probably because he was asleep.   And he was wearing tan pants, not track pants.   I don’t know why that should make a difference.  Maybe it doesn’t.

Someone at the far end of the training noticed another guy wearing a hockey jersey.   “MATS SUNDIN!!   YO!!!   WOOOO!!!”   The jersey guy pumped his fist in the air and wooo’d back.   The large man opened his eyes and began looking around.

Right away I could tell that he wasn’t what the rest of us would call normal either.   He wasn’t disturbing though.  His face had a childlike innocence about it.   His gaze wandered over to the monitor box at my feet and then he looked at me and gave me the biggest smile.

I looked at him, and nodded in acknowledgement.   Mr. Cool.

Then I looked away, a little disconcerted and uncomfortable.    I paid close attention to some of the subway advertisements and pretended interest in them.   And as the guilt of my ignoring him settled softly on my shoulders, I wondered at my reaction.  Was I too cool, too macho to engage him?  Clearly he was too far away to talk, yet he seemed to be looking for attention.

I snuck a glance at him, and noticed he was looking down.  He seemed forlorn and sad.  The guilt on my shoulders pressed deeper and I realized how stupid I was being.

Still, my attention wandered around the subway car, the guy with the jersey, the hooter chorus, and finally back to him.  He was staring right at me and grinning again.  I held his gaze.  He pointed at the box, lifted his hands in the air, and mimicked someone typing.   I smiled back and nodded.

He continued smiling, and moved his right hand over and mimicked a mouse click.   I grinned and mouthed  “yup.  Computer”.

He kept typing away and clicking on the imaginary mouse, and I couldn’t help smiling.   Other people began looking over at him and then at me, entertained perhaps.  I don’t know.  I didn’t care.   I’ll be honest:  I still felt uncomfortable.  But who cares?

In a city of coldness, it seemed that one childlike man, unaware of the established and accepted social filters, was blithely carrying on, living life as best he knew how.   Made me wonder who really are the ones confined in their heads.

Not him.  That’s for sure.


Posted: March 11, 2010 in Life
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In the hurling, frantic speed of society, there almost seems to be no oasis of sanity, of soberness.  Sometimes you don’t want that.  Occasionally, you need to feel the pounding heartbeat of the edge of the cliff.  In between all of that is the never-ceasing search for identity.  To whom, to what do you belong?

It’s hard to even know the question has been asked.  When you grow up in a fear-soaked household, ever vigilant, ever aware and on guard against any actions or discussion which will set off The Beast, the thought of who you really are never occurs to you.  You’re too busy surviving, hoping against hope that *this* weekend The Beast won’t be drinking again, and won’t hurt members of your family.   So you stay in your room, busy with your comics, your books, with one ear hyper-aware of every noise in your three-story house.

And you’re hungry.  So very hungry.  You had a sandwich at lunch time, but it wasn’t enough.  You’re a teenager, for Pete’s sake.  Teenagers need more than two slices of bread covered in sugar.  You wonder if Mom, who’s doing her best, will score some hotdogs or something.  Something you can *bite*.   You know it’s hard for her to feed six children on the pitiful amount The Beast deigns to give her (the rest of his money going to feed the bookie’s children, and the beer store owners’ families).

Add to that the fact that you’ve just found out that the Sheriff (yes, there really is such a thing, in this day and age) has warned your parents that he intends to kick you out of your house if the mortgage back payments aren’t paid.  And you, with the money from your pitiful part-time library job can’t hope to help out.

Food, a home, and the ever-angry three hundred and fifty pound drunken Beast – the man you just avoid to survive.  You’d fight him if you could, but at a hundred and twenty-eight pounds, you know the most you could bruise would be his fist.  With your face.

It’s too much. 

And yet, you’re resilient.  These survival things you’re learning – they will make you into the man you’ll one day become. 

For one thing:  your hyper-awareness of the Beast has translated into an ability that allows you to be aware of people.  You can tell a lot about them before they say a word to you.  At first, in your youth, you think maybe you’re just prejudging people unfairly.   Except, you slowly build up a history of accuracy after the fact.  You know, when you make an inward judgement which you keep to yourself until their actions simply enforce what you thought.  

You begin to trust that.  That trait becomes part of you, and you accept it.

One day, in your late teens, when The Beast is on one of his usual tirades (and you haven’t gained an ounce of weight since you were thirteen), you take your life in your hands.   He stands there, overly large face as red as it can get, fists clenched, wild black greasy hair standing on end, massive shirtless gut hanging over his dark pants.  And you look at him square in the eye and you tell him “you’ve never been a father to me.”

You can’t believe you said it.  You expect that to be the last thing you ever say in your life.

To your surprise, The Beast halts in his tirade and looks at you.  And he sees you.  Finally.   He says nothing, but …. he turns away, seemingly in self-disgust. 

And this too becomes a part of you.  This ability to speak clarity and truth, regardless of danger, fully appreciative of consequences.

As the years progress and The Beast gives up the bottle and tries, too late, to make amends, you can look back at all this through the fog of time, and realize he had issues that he never told anyone about.  Likely (you think) issues of sexuality.  Maybe it was better not to know.

And so you learn compassion.

One night, you have a dream, perhaps.  A dream of wolves.  You watch them in awe and wonder, as they protect their own.  You see how delightedly they explore, ever curious and in tune with all that is.  They are no man’s slave.  They own their actions, and their progress is enticing and deliberate.  

You see how they love their environment.   They take care of themselves as much as they take care of their pups, their mates.   You learn that they are monogamous.  That’s their choice.

And, despite all the Disney movies to the contrary, you realize that they have one thing you’ve striven your entire life for.  They have a certain joy.

The Wolf resonates in your heart and soul.  You love life.  Those early harsh experiences have shaped you, certainly, not to repeat your environment but to create new environments, where acceptance and laughter reign true.

Finally, one day you look in a mirror.   And looking back at you is a Wolf.

Finding yourself.

Apparently that’s a throwback phrase from the 1960’s.   People used to use it as an excuse for dropping out, leaving their jobs, their spouses, their responsibilities.  Eventually the phrase drew the collective scorn of society, and rightly so.  Seems we’re always looking for reasons to procrastinate, to not take care of business.

Lost in all the scorn was the fact that there are people who truly are unaware of themselves and surely need to find themselves.  Some of them get married way too early, not understanding who they are and what they really want in life.   Sometimes there’s a perfect storm of opportunity, as they marry someone who is equally unaware.    The resulting years of angst, built on a bedrock of ignorance of self and corresponding ignorance of the other guy, is painful to watch.

There’s a bald thin man in my apartment complex who wanders the local neighborhood and building.   About six feet tall, he tends to stoop and peer at you from the tops of his eyes, as if looking at you over a pair of glasses.   His skin is an unhealthy pallor of white and he is usually unshaven.   When he gets on the elevator in his wife-beater shirt, plaid shorts, socks and sandals, he emits a fetid unwashed odour. 

He never smiles, never says “hello”.

This man is God’s gift to the postal girl.   The poor woman comes in every morning to distribute the mail in our lobby mail bins.   And every morning Sallow Man (that’s what we’ll call him) comes down in all his sweaty smelly glory to try to charm her.   It’s fascinating to watch. 

“How are you today?” he’ll say.

“I’m fine.”  Then, with a barely concealed painful expression she’ll offer up the obligatory “and you?”

“Oh I”m fine.  I’m fine.”

He’ll check his watch.  “Bit early today, huh?  Guess it’s too nice out to …uh…..”  And with that he’ll lose his point.

She’ll respond.  “Uh huh.”

“So did you watch the hockey game last night?  Toronto lost again.”

“Um, no.”  She’ll move as fast as she can, dropping the mail in their respective bins.

“I used to play hockey.  Used to play defense.”

“Uh huh.”

“I was never that good though.  They never passed me the puck.”

“Uh huh.”

“Did you ever play hockey?”


“Oh.  That’s too bad.  It’s a great game.”


“So watcha doing after you finish work?”

“Oh I don’t know.  Probably go home to my boyfriend I guess.”

You would think the mention of a boyfriend would kill his efforts.   You would be wrong though.  You see, this routine, with slight variation, repeats itself every day.  

You have to imagine that no one can wander around as he does, without someone saying something at some point.   You don’t get to be his age without having someone telling you what they think of you, in some way or another.   His superior frown is telling:  if at any time anyone complained about him, or told him off, he would take such criticism as a personal attack on his character.  The world doesn’t understand him.  Therefore the world is wrong.

The man has no self-awareness.

He’s not alone though.  He’s just the extreme.  Sallow Man can probably exist like this for the rest of his life, which frankly I find is sad. He may very well be a brilliant person, but we’ll never know. 

There are so many people in my life – friends, family and work mates – who will do what they do because it’s expected of them.  They play the roles society has established for them, and so willingly.  It’s safe; it’s predictable and no one will criticize them.  They’re buying their house and raising a family.  They’ll go to their nine to five jobs and follow a fairly rigid routine.  Safety.  

And then sometimes, something catastrophic will happen.  One of the Stepford spouses will cheat.  They won’t quite be able to tell their spouse why they wandered.  They knew it felt good but have no idea why they did it.  If they’re lucky they’ll get counselling and that will open the door to self-awareness.  The unlucky ones will pretend nothing’s really wrong, and will buckle down harder to go back to that routine.

A little girl will grow up watching her father beat her mother.   Then, when she gets older, she’ll gravitate to abusive men and she won’t be able to tell you or any of her friends why this is so.  What she doesn’t realize or won’t acknowledge is that the abusive boyfriend or husband feels normal to her.  Normal, ironically, equates to safety.

And so there we are again: being safe.  Safety.

I think safety, and normalcy and routine are all over-rated.