Friday, September 29, 2006

I yam what I yam

Ah -- the old Proust Questionnaire. This has been running on the back page of Vanity Fair Magazine for a number of years, and it is also a favorite of bloggers all over. So, I thought today might be my turn. By tomorrow, of course, my responses might be different. And, while I am not about to tag anybody with this, I would love to hear some of the answers of others out there.

Part I

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Isolation

Where would you like to live? Either where I am living now, or on the island Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands

What is your idea of earthly happiness? Being able to express myself at all levels of my being

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? In myself, sloth. In others irreverence

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons; Huckleberry Finn

Who are your favorite characters in history? Winston Churchill; Governor Huey Long of Louisiana (I didn't say I had to like the person)

Who are your favorite heroines in real life? Queen Boudicca of the Icenii of ancient Britain who fought the Roman Legions and nearly beat them; Burmese patriot and ongoing martyr Aung San Suu Kyi

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Nancy in Dickens' Oliver Twist; Ma Joad in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

Your favorite painter? Turner of the English School; Edward Hopper, especially Nighthawks and Summertime 1943. The woman pictured looks like my mother did when I was a little boy

Your favorite musician? Classical: Jacqueline duPre; Jazz: Chet Baker; Rock/Pop: Layla will redeem Eric Clapton all transgressions, including stealing George Harrison's wife (who is the subject of Layla)

The quality you most admire in a man? Courage

The quality you most admire in a woman? Tenacity

Your favorite virtue? Honesty. I haven't always been successful in that regard, and maybe that is why it's my favorite virtue

Your favorite occupation? What I am finally privileged enough to do right now, and that is to write and be able to make a (pathetic as it might be) sort of living from it

Who would you have liked to be? The person I am; warts and all. I can't conceive what it would be like to be another, so I won't try

Part II

Your most marked characteristic? Sense of humor

The quality you most like in a man? Candor

The quality you most like in a woman? Intelligent sexuality

What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty

What is your principal defect? Today: procrastination; In the past: always looking for greener pastures

What is your favorite occupation? Writing and traveling. I regard travel as an occupation because I gain much inspiration from it

What is your dream of happiness? Good health combined with longevity and virility

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? To live in isolated poverty

What would you like to be? The author of an immensely successful and lucrative book

In what country would you like to live? Canada works fine for me in the warm season, but I could easily be a Snowbird when it's chilly and damp

What is your favorite color? Blue

What is your favorite flower? Roses and plumeria (frangipani) blossoms

What is your favorite bird? The homely old American Robin

Who are your favorite prose writers? Shakespeare; Twain; Orwell

Who are your favorite poets? Philip Larkin; Al Purdy

What are your favorite names? I like basic, old fashioned Tom, Dick and Harry names, and it would probably be purdent to suggest that 'Wendy' is my favorite female name. But, you know, I have always had a soft-spot for the name 'Jane'. Must be because of my first grade reader

What is it you most dislike? Bigotry

What historical figures do you most despise? Hitler; Stalin; bin Laden; Pol Pot; and the guy who shot Anwar Sadat. Oh, this list could go on and on, so I shall refrain

What event in military history do you most admire? The Battle of Britain; the Russian victory at Stalingrad

What reform do you most admire? The separation of church and state

What natural gift would you most like to possess? Wisdom

How would you like to die? In my own bed at an advanced age, painlessly and peacefully with no regrets

What is your present state of mind? Apprehensive

What is your motto? Carpe diem

*So that's me in a Proustian nutshell. How about you?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A little learning must be a dangerous thing

I heard something the other day that convinced me that my kid would be sent to a demanding private school with academic standards of the sort that would automatically render its graduates immediate candidates for crème-de-la-crème Ivy League universities of their choice. You know, the sort of place in which Harvard, Yale and McGill would be offering bribes just to get grads from this school into their rosters.

Yes, that would be the case if I actually had a kid who was actually in one of our public schools.

Anyway, what I heard was that one of the local public high schools has availed itself of so-called ‘literacy kits.’ These kits, it has been explained, consist of books with faux covers that make them look exactly like the regular textbooks for a particular course. However, inside the covers, there is a much simpler and easier-to-read version of the standard text.

Let’s say the book is a study of dinosaurs. The regular text might contain such information as: “The Tyrannosaurus Rex was the most voracious predator of the Jurassic Epoch, and reigned terror on lesser reptilians.”

I guess maybe the simpler version might read like: “See Barney. See Barney chase Fred Flintstone. Chase-chase-chase. Oops. Barney has caught Fred. Yum-yum-yum. Poor Fred. Oh-oh-oh!”

The logic behind the literacy kits, as explained by the principal, is to not point the finger at a student who might not be at the same level of literacy as his or her peers by issuing these kids with a text that looks like the real goods. Like no other kid in the class is ever going to look inside that text. As if.

Oh well, I guess it’s a well-meaning idea. A well-meaning idea that, in all honesty, serves nobody particularly well.

You might be excused for wondering why kids who cannot read are sitting in the same class as those who can. I would wonder that, too. But, I know that’s not how things work today. In the name of some sort of egalitarian impulse in our education system, there is no failure. There can be seen to be no academic hierarchy, so all kids advance at the same pace. I know this to be so, because it was even in place when I was teaching.

That means that if there is no failure, then things must be simplified, and then simplified even more to accommodate those who cannot meet the standard. Is such a thing fair – to anyone concerned?

No, because it means that the brighter kids are consistently challenged less-and-less, and the less bright kids are essentially being catered to at a level that, by any logic, they shouldn’t have attained.

Parents (not to mention institutions of higher learning) are distressed because the schools turn out youngsters who cannot attain an even basic standard of literacy – who cannot read or write at even a rudimentary level. Yet, our society lives in a myth that holds we have 90 to 100 percent literacy. The point is, we do not.

I don’t make light of illiteracy here. I think it’s a tragic state for both a society and the individual involved. I think it’s even more of a tragedy when we are told that somebody has completed 12 years of schooling and cannot read or write at the most basic level.

If you doubt my thoughts about this, check out the spelling of younger people on some weblogs and chat rooms. I don’t mean ‘computerized’ argot of the ROTFL sort, I mean the most basic spelling of the sort you and I mastered in third grade.

In the meantime, our best-and-brightest, supposedly, are suffering a woeful lack of scholastic background of the kind that will render them prominent and competitive at international levels.

The ones that will have that level of astuteness will be only those ones from families who can send them to fine private schools. In other words ‘privilege’ will decide who are future leaders are to be, not intelligence. And one of the reasons just might be a misapprehension by our public education system that inclusiveness must be the byword.

A newspaper article recently offered a feature profile of a new young secondary teacher. The article referred to him as being part of the “new breed” of teacher. He was one who professed to be less concerned about academics than he was about the “whole child”, who he or she was, what his or her attitudes were, what he or she thought about various “relevant” issues in the world today.

Quite frankly, I don’t want that guy teaching my kids.

I want the guy or girl who puts academics first and then maybe my son or daughter can offer well-informed opinions about various “relevant” issues in the world today. Maybe my son or daughter, or yours, can then come up with some solutions, since we seem to be doing a pretty piss-poor job of arriving at them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Songs in the Key of Crap

One of the Vancouver newspapers has been running a public poll designed to ascertain what are the most hated hit songs of all time in the eyes (and ears) of their readers. You know, those ditties and performers that offer up such crud that you immediately change radio stations or hit the skip button on the CD player; those items of dreck that often defile a compendium CD; those bits of poop that have almost invariably won Oscars or Emmys, though nobody understands why since the hearing of which is inclined to send people running screaming from the room.

As follows are the ones the newspaper has chosen:

America: A Horse with No Name
Barry Manilow: Mandy
Billy Ray Cyrus: Achy Breaky Heart
Captain and Tenille: Muskrat Love
Celine Dion: (Yuk, personal editorial comment) My Heart Will Go On (and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on ……………….)
Dan Hill: Sometimes When We Touch
Debby Boone: You Light Up My Life
Eddie Murphy: Party All the Time
Helen Reddy: I am Woman
Lionel Ritchie: Hello
Morris Albert: Feelings
Richard Harris: MacArthur Park
Rick Dees: Disco Duck
Rupert Holmes: Escape (the Pina Colada Song)
Terry Jacks: Seasons in the Sun
Tony Orlando and Dawn: Tie a Yellow Ribbon
Wang Chung: Everybody Wang-Chung Tonight
Whitney Houston: I Will Always Love You
Zagar and Evans: In the Year 2525
Ohio Express: Yummy Yummy Yummy

OK, those are theirs. Cannot disagree with one of them, but I will happily add some songs and performers of my own to round out the list. Here are mine:

Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder: Ebony and Ivory (They both should have been so ashamed, especially Mr. Wonder.
Bobby Goldsboro: Honey. (El puko. Honey should have been so glad she died)
Kokomo: The Beach Boys (They should have been even more ashamed. Help me Rhonda, or anybody)
The Beatles: O-bla-di etc. (A throwaway at the height of their popularity with one of the most appalling rhymes ever.
Paul Anka:: She’s Having My Baby (vomit-inducing treacle)
Don McLean: American Pie (Once played was plenty, twice is wretched excess. Even McLean hates it)
The Doors: The End (pretentious and hideous offering by pretentious and hideous Jim Morrison)
Simon and Garfunkle: Bridge Over Troubled Water (So sweet, so sickly sweet, but admittedly less sophomorically patronizing than Sounds of Silence.
ABBA: Virtually everything
Fifth Dimension: Up Up and Away (this is truly a radio-station changer for me)
USA for Africa: We are the World. (self congratulation at its vilest by a bunch of very rich white folks)
Joni Mitchell: Virtually everything
Gordon Lightfoot: Virtually everything with the exception of If You Could Read My Mind
The Tokens: The Lion Sleeps Tonight (it should have been The Lion Eats Tonight, then we would never have been forced to hear it for a second time)
Dion: Abraham, Martin and John (treacly faux liberalism by the guy who once offered us gems like Teenager in Love)
Phil Collins: Anything post-Genesis
Neil Sedaka: Calendar Girl
That horrible instrumental Music Box thing that keeps repeating the same nauseating refrain forever. Blessedly, I can’t remember the exact name of it.
Finally, absolutely everything by the stinking-rich, toad-like Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Now that I am getting on a roll here, I better quit because, like Celine, I could go on and on and on.

So, your turn. Tell me your most loathed songs or music pieces.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Whoopie, we're all gonna die -- so they tell us

Let’s say you got up this morning and you were feeling pretty darn good. The sun was shining, the birds were singing in the trees and that cup of fair-trade coffee (that you recently switched to, just to show your concern for those less fortunate than yourself). All was fine. Your health was decent enough. You’d done the Atkins, South Beach or Weightwatchers thing and knocked the old avoirdupois down last year. You weren’t drinking too much; you’d quit smoking, and were eating nice healthy foodstuffs with no trans-fats contained therein. Oh, maybe the odd donut, but not enough to worry about. Meanwhile, you were happy in your relationship, or equally happy in your chosen single status. The kids were doing well. Staying in school, not pregnant, not on drugs, not in jail. Yep what could be better?

And then you picked up the morning newspaper and it all went to hell. Your pleasant mood flew away as you found that not only was the world suffering from a surfeit of Iraq, Afghanistan and international terrorists but, and maybe more importantly from a personal perspective, you were doomed. You were on your way out. That’s right. Healthwise, according to today’s paper, none of us stands a chance.

Doom-and-gloom is the order-of-the-day in our anal, self-obsessed paranoia that can only be fuelled by yet more items telling us how these ‘good days’ will not be lasting much longer because researchers have found that everything we are doing is wrong, and the papers believe it is their mandate to let us know this.

I include in this screed some 'real' items that I picked up from this morning’s paper. Items that have made me want to take to my bed, pull the duvet up and wait for the ‘end’ – which will no doubt be soon. As a long-time newspaper guy I feel compared to share with you some of these items – all of which are true – just so you can feel as bad as I do. I mean, it’s only fair.

Consider the following threats to your health and well-being and be very, very afraid:

1) Don’t be smug about all the pounds you lost – You may have knocked that tummy down to a pleasing girth – for you. But, it wasn’t enough for Arya Shanna of the Canadian Obesity Network who tells us that three out of four adults are way, way too fat and that coronary is just around the corner. So, if you’re a woman and your waistline exceeds 31.5 inches, or a male and you come out over 35.5 inches at your beltline well you are, in Arya’s view, a big fat slob who is going to die sooner rather than later. Nicole Ritchie, on the other hand, is going to live to be 178. OK, I just made that last part up.

2) If the fat doesn’t get you, then your teeth will – Here you had been fastidious about cutting the crap in your diet, and exchanging Twinkies for nice fruit and vegetables – nice leafy vegetables like spinach. Well, you know how far the spinach thing got you. But, fruit. At least fruit is good; an apple a day, and all that. Nope. Our dentists have told us as a result of one of ‘their’ research surveys, that the acid in fruit knocks the enamel off our teeth faster than a full-blown crystal meth habit. You might think that fizzy soft-drinks would be the culprits in this case, and indeed they are. But, so are apples, oranges and fruit juices. So, screw vitamin C if it means your teeth are at stake, you might be excused for thinking. “Bobby, put that apple down! There are Oreos in the cupboard.”

3) Antacids are worse than heroin – By now you are feeling so stressed that you are feeling in need of a Rolaids or a Tums. Uh-uh. Put that bottle down, unless you are prepared to court ‘C. difficile.’ “What in the fuck is C. difficile?” you might be excused for asking. Don’t ask me. I am just reporting what I read, and what I read was that ‘researchers’ at McGill University have found that widely prescribed antacid drugs may be bringing about the dreaded C. difficile in some patients. I guess the staffer that pulled this story together thought that C. difficile was so commonplace that we all knew what it was, so he didn’t need to tell us.

4) But, maybe you really have that desired waistline – You are an older lady or gentleman and you are finally as trim as you were at 20. You’ve checked it out. You have no life-threatening illness, so everything is cool – right? Well, maybe. It might also be that you are losing your marbles. In this case, a long-term study as reported in the Archives of Neurology reports that if average weight loss doubles over the course of a year, this could be indicative of pending Alzheimer’s.

5) Well, at least there’s sex – Nothing like a good roll in the hay to take one’s mind off the bad stuff, you can be excused for thinking. After all, virtually everybody likes to get laid, right? Wrong again. According to a survey taken in the UK, four out of 10 Britons are so afraid of an early demise that they would eschew sex if a celibate life meant they would live for a century. Well, maybe this one just depends on whom the four of 10 are living with. In this case I’ll happily join the ‘active’ 60 percent and snuff it early.

6) And spare some compassion for the very pretty – You might think that the Angelinas and Brads of the world have far less to worry about than you, what with being gorgeous and all. Not so says researcher Rick Wilson of Rice University. While it is accepted wisdom that the good looking amongst us get better breaks in life just by dint of their esthetics (hardly fair, but what’re you gonna do?), society also expects more of them, and they can suffer emotional stress because they don’t always live up to expectations. So, if you think it’s all just hunky-dory in the world of George Clooney and Gwynneth Paltrow, you might find that they have more sleepless nights than your average shmo or shmo-ette.

So, what was my point in laying all this doom and gloom on you? Was it to make you feel as frightened and threatened as I now do? Well, sure, partially. But really it was to point out how self-obsessed with our mortality and well-being we have become as a society. We are looking for the keys to the immortal kingdom more than possibly any generation since the beginning of time.

That is, we in overprivileged North America and Western Europe are doing that. Go and offer your plaints to the folk of Darfur or Haiti and you just might find their priority list is a little different from our own, as in ‘living through today might be nice,’ rather than obsessing about what will happen to my arteries 20 years from now.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The 'Dog' days of last September

I find it ironic that Duane (Dog the Bounty Hunter) Chapman was recently nailed for having done exactly what he and his wonderfully exotic (as in turning trailer-trash into high art) crew apprehend other bad guys for doing – jumping bail.

When Dog got caught and locked up (for a brief time) my heart went out in a weird way to a guy maybe didn’t quite live up to ‘all’ his responsibilities, but did at least mean well. However, a past that includes a few years’ experience as a convicted felon probably tends to carry its little residuals within a fellow, prompting him to think: “Fuck them! They can’t push Dog around. I’m a folk hero so I can make my own rules.”

But, like you and me, he found out that he couldn’t. He is going to be forced to bite the bullet on a matter that he maybe should have settled a few years ago. Whatever the case, I hope he makes out OK. Personally, I like him. I mean, I am not a big fan of the TV show that runs it seems almost constantly in an everplaying loop on A&E. I like him because I have a bit of a connection with the dude. Not professionally, just by contact.

It all goes back to a point a little over a year ago, when the world was maybe a brighter place, and Dog walked the streets a free man.

"What I want to see in Waikiki," said my wife "is Dog the Bounty Hunter."
She made the comment – a jocular comment, I think -- on a September, 2005 flight from Vancouver to Honolulu.

Since we only had a week to spare in the islands, we had decided to do it in a little bit of style, and had booked our time at the almost cliché Mecca of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort. It was off-season so the room rate was surprisingly reasonable, considering the venue, and the quality of our room. Damn, it was nice. I think of that glorious king-size bed and luxuriant duvet in the manner a lesser man might think of a beautiful and accommodating woman. Well, so would I think that about the woman, too, but you get the idea that the room was real nice.

Once we’d gotten established, and were on our first cocktail hour walk back from the beach, Wendy said, “You know, I think it would really be fun to see Dog. You know, he lives here, and sometime when we’re wandering around, we just might see him.”

I’m not sure how serious she was about this, and the odds were against her. But, for some reason the saga of Duane 'Dog' and Beth Chapman's 'Da Kine' Honolulu-based bail-bond service had piqued her interest. Not that she was a particular fan, but just because it might be fun to see this bizarre guy we’d watched on TV a couple of times. In truth it was just one of those things that cross your mind when you are in such a place. In the old days in Waikiki, it would have been Don Ho. In Vegas, it would be Wayne Newton.

Anyway, I thought her chances actually seeing Dog were pretty remote. Honolulu/Waikiki is a big town; sort of Vancouver or Seattle in the middle of the Pacific. Although, I admit, I once did actually see Don Ho crossing Kalakaua Avenue, so it was possible.

Dog Chapman is a colorful combo of living theatre and driven commitment to justice all rolled up in a kindly, yet gruff, staunchly Christian, ex-biker, ex-felon in a muscle shirt, tattooed-to-the-max, and sporting of the most awesome mullet to be seen this side of Bogalusa, Mississippi. There, that should be adjectives enough.

Dog first became generally known to the world when he and his son, Leland (whom Dad affectionately refers to as 'Young Blood') successfully nailed Max Factor heir Andrew Luster in Mexico, for which feat his business was to share in a million dollar purse. They got Luster -- who had fled bail on assorted murder charges -- but were caught by the Mexican authorities and threatened with about 800 years imprisonment. He and Leland, however, managed to get back to the US side of the border and escaped prosecution.

Until now, that is. For the above case is exactly the one he has been nabbed for, and for which the Mexican authorities want him extradited. But, to continue.

A&E found this colorful ex-rogue an interesting soul, and developed a reality TV series around him. An extremely popular TV series that has earned this ex-con a hell of a lot of money.
Now, as it happened, and quite amazingly, in her desire to 'interface' with this folk hero, Wendy was actually to attain her wish. As follows is how it all came about.

During our stay at the Hawaiian Village, a number of conventions were taking place. I don't know how people who labor in certain fields manage to secure a 'field-trip' to Hawaii, but some obviously do. One such convention happening at our digs was the AAMT's bun fight. For the uninitiated, like we were, the AAMT is the American Association for Medical Transcriptionists.
Don't ask me what they do.

Anyway, one Thursday afternoon about 2:45, I was riding the elevator down from our 17th floor room when I overheard a conversation between two women in the lift. They were talking about the closing session of the AAMT confab, which was destined to take place at 3 p.m. One mentioned to the other who the guest speaker was: "You know that bizarre guy from TV, Dog
the Bounty Hunter."

I needed to hear no more. When I reached the lobby, I pushed the 17th floor button and went back to our room and told Wendy the news. I then suggested that we go down to the huge ballroom whence the session was to be held, and she just might get a chance to see her 'hero' walk into the room. And so we did.

When we arrived at the door to the ballroom we were, to our amazement, pleasantly requested to go inside and have a seat. At that moment we became, I guess, honorary members of the AAMT, since nobody questioned our presence there. In itself an amazing happenstance for America's security-obsessed society, but what the hell. We didn't question it. Eventually, Dog came in, and he spoke -- very articulately I might add, his level of elocution belied by his aged biker-boy costuming -- and we thoroughly enjoyed the interlude.

His presentation also belied his appearance. It was thoughtful and took heed of those who had asked him to speak, noting that he, like they were, was in a “caring” profession. Nabbing bail-jumpers wasn’t a matter of being one tough sonofabitch out to get bad guys, but a matter of giving unfortunate souls a chance in life. By God, the guy is really a big softie, attaining most of his ‘street-creds’ from his intimidating appearance and garb, not to mention true-life experience as a one-time bad guy, but not from abusing those he sets out to apprehend.

The calling is a dangerous one, no doubt. It is also a lucrative one, and if he has become the sort of cause-celebre of bail bondsmen in the islands, much as the fictitious Magnum did for private eyes, it was obvious that Duane Chapman didn’t mind the notability one little bit.

Ultimately it proved to be time entertainingly well spent. But, regardless of that, at the end of the session I was also able to turn to Wendy and say: "This time, you owe me big-time."

Actually I got my special treat a few days later when I just happened to espy the excruciatingly attractive Evangeline Lilly, who plays very bad girl ‘Kate’ on the series Lost, also filmed on Oahu. So, I guess we were kind of even.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hey Ma, I'm all growed up!

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much,I f you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
- Kipling

Bearing in mind that Kipling wrote with a Victorian/Edwardian mindset which deemed that the only element of humanity that was worthy of genuine consideration was the masculine side, one can change the last line of the final stanza of his poem ‘If’ to something (that scans badly) to “you’ll be an ‘Adult,’ my ‘son or daughter.’

This consideration of adulthood came about from a discussion we were having this morning in which I was recounting the tale of an acquaintance with whom I was chatting the other day, and he was telling me his sad tale of his separation from his wife, and how he “hoped they would get back together, etc. etc.” I listened sympathetically -- all the while hoping they didn’t get back together. It would be bad for both of them.

His wife is a wonderful person. Very pretty. Very smart. Very loving. She’s a highly caring registered nurse, and she is also a ‘supermom’. And therein lies the problem. She’s by instinct a nurturer. And her long relationship with her “man behaving badly” husband has been that he has never been forced to grow up. Like a good Mom, regardless of his transgressions with booze, other women, unemployment, and so forth, she has always taken her wayward boy back. She has always given him another chance. About six months ago she decided not to. He was left devastated. He was left devastated because she decided it was time for her to act like an ‘adult’ rather than a ‘parent’. He has been left with the option to also be an adult, rather than a child. He doesn’t like that very much. He’s pouting and fretting. Will he succeed? I doubt it. He'll just find another nurterer and then he can be Peter Pan forever.

So, how many people do you know who would genuinely call adults? By adults, I mean genuinely mature people. Look around you. Consider your friends. While they may be adult in years, are they real grownups? What is the mark of maturity? It isn’t a matter of getting a certain number of years under your belt. I have known mature 14-year-olds, and childish 50-year-olds.

In this regard I was struck by an example from the world of showbiz. I was reading in a scholarly journal – OK, Entertainment Weekly – that young actress Scarlett Johansson has in her film career been paired, as a romantic interest, with men of mature years – Bill Murray, Billy Bob Thornton, and 120-year-old Woody Allen. So, compare Ms. Johansson (who is just a baby chronologically) with bimbettes like Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton. See what I mean. Despite the fact she is the same age as the other two listed, her ambience is that of a grownup. She is like Bacall was to Bogey. Regardless of the fact Lauren Bacall was 24 years younger than her husband, they always seemed to be of the same generation in their fabled romance. The lovely Scarlett I find to be similar, so it didn’t seem that weird to see a mutual attraction between her and Murray in Lost in Translation.

As follows is one of the better descriptions of maturity (taken from the Psychology of a Growing Person, 1968) that I have seen:

1. The mature person should not have to deflect his energies into "refighting" childhood battles or nursing old hurts. Maturity can only be built on sound foundations.
2. When a person can live with his past without being bogged down by it, he remains adaptable, capable of continued change.
3. Another characteristic of maturity is the development of wisdom.
4. An important characteristic of the individual who becomes mature is that he is at home with reality.
5. The mature individual cannot look outer reality in the face unless he is prepared to look himself in the face, too.
6. He or she has to be able to love comfortably with his or her own body, whether it be strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, healthy or failing.
7. The person equipped with the human sensitivities that make for maturity will usually have powerful concern with social problems and ways of alleviating them.
8. For all his social-mindedness, for all his savoring of human relationships, the mature individual is not dependent on always having company.
9. To live realistically (which by no means forbids the conscious exploitation and employment of fantasy) means to live in consciousness of one's own mortality.
10. The mature person knows that he has to go on choosing alternatives, that each alternative costs him something, and there are things he will never be able to do and experience. He also knows that there are things he will never be able to do again, that he can never recapture his youth or relive his first encounters with certain experiences
11. He knows that the only real rewards in life come with continued growth, and that there is no room in the one material life he has for major regrets. This individual who has approached maturity can know that he has loved, had done his work, has made his mark on people and, although he wishes there were more time, that he has made the most of what there was.

So, do I see myself as mature? Depends on the day and what I’m doing, I suspect. But, for the most part, I think I am. I think I became an adult (finally) after the breakup of my second marriage over a decade ago. That was when I decided that no form of codependency would dominate my life, and if I were to ever enter a new relationship, it was to be as a complete and whole individual with no anticipation that anybody would bail me out. Two halves do not make a ‘whole’ in terms of relationships, as I had once believed. Two halves make a quarter of a person.

And, as perverse as it might sound, it helped that my two parents were dead by that point, so I had literally (not figuratively) nobody to run back to if I got into any kind of a jam. I was utterly on my own.

That was a good thing in retrospect. Makes a body grow up real quick.

So, I still have my childish moments, but they are more playful than immature (I hope). And yeah, I can rant and rave and give the bird to an offending driver when I am on the freeway. But, mostly I don’t. And mostly I never envy anybody, or resent anybody, or do anything other than basically mind my own business.

I think I’m mature now. Others might beg to differ. But, you know, I think a mark of maturity is also not really caring very much about what somebody else thinks.

Friday, September 22, 2006

OK -- maybe just a tiny bit of dessert; just a smidge

There once was a time when three a.m. called for a few slices or more of ultra-spiced pepperoni pizza following a festive evening of consuming considerable quantities of beer. Today, that same scary hour of the night is compelling me to rummage in the darkness of the night table in search of the hiding Rolaids bottle because I had dared to have raw onion on my hamburger at the barbecue earlier in the evening.

You all know what wee small hours heartburn feels like -- it feels ominous and maybe lethal. You imagine the all major signs of an impending coronary feel exactly the same. A coronary of the sort that is known as 'the big one'. The one that’s going to take you out, just like the one that killed your colleague Ralph -- who was two years your junior, the previous year -- but, probably it’s just heartburn.

Nevertheless, the heartburn warns that you must learn to be prudent in your eating habits. As everything in your life changes through your middle years, so does your relationship with food. What you put in your mouth may seem like a trivial consideration, but it ‘s not. It's a reality that terrible eating habits kill a bunch of us every year and also contribute to a many chronic health problems, that range from obesity to arteriosclerosis to diabetes. Any refusal to temper the way we nosh is, as with so many elements of aging, yet another form of middle age denial.

Men are more adept at denial than are women, especially when it comes to our relationship with our physiognomies. A woman, no matter what she looks like, thinks she has gone to seed, and is chronically resolving to bring about some changes. You look at your lady and see (with pleasure) a rear and tummy that seem tight, and breasts that would shame females a decade younger. Even if such a Madonna bod is not exactly the case, that’s what you tell her because you still adore having intimate encounters with this person, so no reason to piss her off. Really, though, what you say doesn’t matter. She looks at that same body in the mirror and sees Ma Kettle on a bad day.

A man, on the other hand, a man can scope out his body in the mirror andeven if he's built like a sumo wrestler, he'll nod in approval and utter, "Looking good, dude." What's more, he'll believe it. Yeah, maybe a little extra avoirdupois around the middle, but don't most guys have to buy new belts periodically because they've run out of holes on the old one?

As men's relationship with their bodies is different from women's, so is their relationship with food. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, while not unheard of in males, are much less common than they are in women. Likewise the majority of vegetarians and vegans are female. Sometimes males are forced to go along with such faddism if they live in a household crawling with nutrition-angst-obsessive females, but the general masculine need for sustenance involves something of the meat persuasion.

Males develop their strongest affection with food in adolescence. Many teen boys sport tans throughout the winter due to their tendency to stand and gaze longingly into the refrigerator with the light glaring in their faces while they seek out the voluminous quantities of those fabulous foods that never seem to actually exist in the home icebox. Those foods only live in fast-food emporia, and that’s why adolescent males are so cherished by McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and the like. While girls may frequent these eateries as often as boys, they don't consume the mammoth volume in burgers, shakes, fries, and onion rings that the lads do. Boys are mouth at one end, gut in the middle, and alimentary canal and ejection port down below. Teen girls, already obsessed with looking like Paris Hilton, guzzle diet colas, and then step outside to smoke. Smoking is good for for losing weight, so they believe. Start smoking at age fifteen and continue over the next few decades, and eventually you’ll lose every single bit of your weight much sooner than you’d anticipated.

Back to the boys. Any foodstuff is fair game for the male, and no apparent discomfort seems to ensue regardless of what is tucked away. Heartburn and dyspepsia are long in the future. Also, since the majority of males are still in growth-spurt mode when their appetites are at their greatest, they don't really put on girth of the paunch sort. They build up bulk but generally don't get slobbish.Then it all changes. Very rapidly. The first twinges of heartburn awaken at night. Certain substances begin to have the same effect as a trip to Mexico on a tourist. The middle becomes thicker, and thicker to the degree that maybe even the 'D-word', formerly restricted exclusively to females, enters the consciousness.

An actual diet likely won't be acted upon at this juncture, but it has become a consideration for future reference. It falls into that generalized ‘soon’ category that also applies to: quitting smoking, cutting back on drinking, exercising more, and going for a medical check-up. “Soon, hon’. I promise.”

Another vicious change in a man's relationship with sustenance is that he finally in his middle years learns to appreciate certain gourmet delights. Burgers and fries, or even steak and baked potato aren't the only items to be savored during our passage on earth. There are the ethnic cuisines of Europe and Asia. There are menu items he has only read about, or heard his wife talk about.

Furthermore, as his taste buds diminish in discriminatory powers with thepassage of time our boy wants his food to be spicier. Curries and Cajun become irresistible. But with the curries, for example (the hotter the better, no doubt) comes the other side of the scimitar. There are the calories in the meals; and the distress. Curry, our subject learns, is just as hot coming out as it was going in, leaving the sufferer in some situations with a bad case of 'Bengali Bum' as a result of the brutal passage of assorted blends of cloves, garlic, fenugreek and all the other savory stuff that goes into the mix.

And then there are desserts. They have always been my particular downfall. Skip the entrée stuff and get to the sweet works fine for me. I have delighted in many fantastic concoctions as time has gone by. While some have delightful dreams about sexual encounters, I have them about Pavolova or Crème Brulee. OK, I have the dirty dreams, too, but a good dessert dream can be just about as arousing.

However, I have had to learn to accept the path of moderation. Unlike the recovering alcoholic who must choose abstention, I have found that a little bit of dessert can still delight, and still maintain the waistline. For me my self-discipline in the pudding realm is not so much strength of character as vanity. Do I want to consume the entire bowl of chocolate mousse, or do I want to look dazzling? Well, OK, tolerable at least.

So, can I say that men’s relationship with food gets better as we get older?Yes, probably the relationship does, but the ingesting of it (in all itsramifications) gets worse, far worse.Sorry, I didn't ever suggest that getting older was better --just different.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It is indeed a perilous path

'Fantasy.' is described by The Oxford Dictionary as an "extravagant imagining," or a "fanciful" thought. A fantasy, therefore, is not the world as it is, but the world, as we would 'like' it to be -- maybe. Fantasies can be about wondrous vacations in exotic pots; magnificent automobiles or houses; acquiring vast wealth that would solve all your problems, or about sex. Often about sex.

Of any hundred given fantasies, it would probably be fair to say that at least ninety are erotic in nature. Sexual fantasizing is natural and normal and won't make you blind or insane. I daresay that if it weren't for sexual flights of fancy there would probably be less lovemaking. A good thought-balloon can make up for any jolt of reality. If, on occasion it makes it work better if Evangeline Lilly or Josh Holloway (depending on your own gender and persuasiion) is beneath (or above) you, in your imagination, at least, you don't need to feel ashamed.

For the most part, our fantasies are private matters, and that is as it should be. While some fantasies are sweet and lovely, others are horny and lust-filled, and others are just downright dirty, even disgusting. At least, to another person they might be. As humorist Fran Leibowitz once suggested: “If your sexual fantasies were of the remotest interest to anyone else, they’d no longer be fantasies.”

In this particular consideration of fantasies I'm looking to where I was about a decade ago: a newly-divorced, relatively healthy, relatively attractive male who wasn't yet sure if he wanted to again venture down thatpath of heterosexual relationships. It was an interesting process, as you shall see.

While I am now happily ensconced in a fine relationship, at that point I spent much time pondering the ‘possibilities’ for the future. Fortunately, I lucked out, but sometimes when I think of the perilous path I was trod then, and how I might have fallen by the wayside, I shudder. While this focus is on male in the dating/fantasy realm, I know that women have similar problems in finding an acceptable male past a certain age. Anyway, these are some of the potential linkups that I, blessedly, had the wisdom to eschew:

Like this one:
too young: Your average male past a certain age might develop a certain tightness in the Levis over the little muffin-pants who brings his mid-morning Danish and coffee at the bistro across the street from the office. She's as adorable as a golden retriever puppy, but, should be crossed off any list of possibilities. She's far too youthful, and has youthful matters to attend to; things that aren't ever going to be of the slightest interest to a mature male. She smiles and passes the time of day ever so perkily when she serves the cappuccino. Maybe she even flirts a little bit. But, have you ever gotten involved in any sort of real conversation with her? Of course you haven't. You'd bore her senseless within twenty seconds if you offered opinions on the Iraq War or the state of the economy. Her subjects of interest would be equally preposterous to you. Don't believe it? Listen in when she's chatting to a girlfriend. Ask yourself how soon you would flee from the winsome charms of a cutie-pie who uses the word 'like' at least three times in any given sentence, with not one use of the word involving a comparison. You and she don't linguistically live on the same planet. Add the likelihood she never even heard of the Yardbirds. Need a little more convincing? You are five years older than her Dad.

Others to be scrupulously avoided:

the emotionally needy: These poor souls can be open and receptive to any and all attentions. You may think you're having fun kidding around with her, but she's mapping out a lifetime with you. You also, by the way, possess a few bad habits (in her mind) that she will want to change. There is a reason this person is available. You don't want to know the reason. Once she has you in her clutches, consider your freedom to be at an end. She will seek 'all' of your attention 'all' of the time. She will phone you fifteen times a day at work, and don't you dare consider taking female colleagues to coffee in future, even if it's just dear old Miss Abercrombie in accounting. You must have 'no' females in your life other than her. That includes your mother, your sister, your ex-wife, your daughter and 'all' female friends and acquaintances. In fact, she won't like your male friends much either, and will do her damnedest to break those friendships up. Everyone on the globe is a threat to her.

the predator: This woman is to be feared. If she wants you, she will pull out all stops to get you. Even if you had still been attached, she wouldn't have cared. You've seen Fatal Attraction, so you know what I'm talking about. But now that you're not taken, it's even better for her -- you are there for the bidding. And when she finally has you, you will be hers, all hers. She's a bit crazy, highly mercenary, and dangerous.

the partier: Drinks too much. Drugs too much. Initially will seem like a lot more fun than your ex. You know, uninhibited and a real wild child. She's not. Get with her and eventually you'll go down the drain, too. If you're smart, you will run. Don't let your liver give out before you do.

the weird: On the surface she seems like a pleasant enough person, if a little intense. She's probably kind of striking in a bohemian sort of hairy armpit way, and she is certainly a person with strong political and philosophical views. Views well apart from the mainstream. Views that might have made Stalin a bit uneasy. Perhaps she's a tad unconventional and uninhibited, even kinky sexually, and that's appealing -- for about ten minutes. Yet if you tap a little deeper you find elements that are disturbing.

looking for a Daddy for the kids: She's warm and gracious out in public. She's bouncy and fun. She's cute in a blonde-hair, button-nose, big-boobs, magnificent ass kind of a way. Awfully nice to cuddle with. She takes you home. You meet her three kids. There is 17-year-old Ralph. He's a druggie. You know that he is because you recognize the signs in his pinpoint pupils, shaved head, tattoos and the ass-backward ballcap. There is 15-year-old raging vegan Anthea, who looks like Wednesday Addams, or the Winona Ryder character in Beetle Juice. She's downright scary. Finally there is eight-year-old Travis who provides proof that Ritalin treatment doesn't always work. Watch the dynamic the first time you come to dinner. You will suddenly see your bouncy, boobsie new love interest turn into a raging, screaming troll who makes it very clear why the kids are all fucked-up. And, of course, she doesn't just want to marry you, she wants you to adopt the kids and inject a positive male influence in thehousehold.

the never-married: Why has a heterosexual woman of thirty-five or forty-five never tied that connubial knot, or been in a long-term live-in relationship, or even in any sort of sexual coupling? There may be very good reasons such as: she cherished the freedom her single status gave her; she was career-driven; she had no desire to commit to any one person; she was a psycho who frightened prospective partners away; or maybe, just maybe she was waiting for the right guy to come along, and you might happen to be that 'right guy.' Check this situation out, nevertheless. If you are interested enough in going the full course with her eventually, you have a right to know why she's been so gun-shy. If she's been alone most of her adult life, she's going to be set in her ways, and might not adjust too readily to your leaving the toilet-seat up, your assorted digestive noises, and, of course, the snoring. Maybe she's terrified of sex. You'll find this out pretty quickly.

the multi-multi relationship person: You knew she'd been married and divorced a couple of times, and been in two other long-term relationships. That's OK. Your experience has been pretty much the same,and you have come together on that common ground of knowing what each of you wants, and what each of you doesn't want. This can be a positive situation. But, let's say you're sitting around her sister's place one evening and her sister says, "Remember when you were living with Seymour?" Wait a minute! Who's Seymour? You've never heard of him. And, if there's a Seymour you haven't heard of, is there a Hubert, and an Alfonso, and an Abdul, and a Sebastian, and twenty or thirty other guys who explored her upper thighs over the last fifteen or so years? Was she spreading it around all over town like a carnal charity service? When you told your mechanic who you were seeing, you were a tiny bit disconcerted when he smirked and said, "Oh yeah, I know her. Know her quite well, as a matter of fact, heh-heh."

the culturally very-very different: I'm not ethnocentric in the slightest. One of the things I love about Hawaii, for example, is the racial mix. Everybody is in a relationship with somebody of some other culture, and the kids are rainbow hued. I think it's swell, and exactly the way it should be in this stupidly insular, troubled world. So, I'm not talking about getting involved with somebody of a different race or ethnicity -- go for it, it will broaden your horizons. I'm talking about getting involved with somebody who comes from a culture that is utterly alien in belief to your own. If she is a devout Muslim with a Shiite background and you're a Presbyterian, I think your chances of coming to a meeting of the minds are doubtful. If she is a Dutch South African and still adheres to the mindset that the blacks are truly the children of Cain, and you are a small-L liberal, I can see a lot of room for disputes.

Anyway, those were some of the perils and pitfalls I managed to avoid, as a male of a certain age. How about the women out there? What possible male candidates should be discarded at all costs?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How an 'oops' becomes a devastation

Mark Twain once said that human beings were the only animals that blushed – or had reason to.

Far be it from me to take issue with the wisdom of Mr. Twain, for he is one of my notable literary and intellectual heroes. And, while we often deserve to turn crimson to our toenails, there are times when we are forced to blush through no fault of our own other than by having transgressed some bound of ‘acceptable’ behaviour. Sometimes for reasons beyond our control we can breach the social contract and ‘invite’ the censure of our fellows.

If we don’t exactly receive that censure, we think that we deserve to and we suffer the relentless pangs of utter mortification.

As follows is a case-in-point:

It was a bright and sunny afternoon and my wife and I were riding on a ferry from BC’s mainland to Vancouver Island, where we live. It was warm, the passage was smooth, and the decks were filled with a combination of vacationers, business people (on their ubiquitous cellphones), and others who were making the trip for a host of reasons.

We were seated at a small table enjoying a coffee – BC Ferries may produce lacklustre food, but their coffee is more than passable – and passing the 1 ½ journey quite pleasantly. As I sat I noticed a late middle-aged woman take a seat on a large life-jacket bin across from us. She hoisted herself up against the bulkhead, in the bright sun. Looks like a warm and pleasant place to sit and relax, I thought.

The woman looked troubled, however. Her eyes were teary around the rims and her face was flushed. Something was obviously distressing her. And then I realized what it was. She was wearing a pair of dark blue, Bermuda-length shorts, and she was looking down at them, then up towards the blue sky, and then down again. What was very obvious was that she had obviously wet herself. Somewhere in her passage towards the ferry she had been unable to reach a washroom in time.

Such ‘accidents’ actually happen in ferryboat context more than some might realize. People get caught in a traffic line-up, sometimes for a couple of hours or more, and there are very few options to ‘spend-a-penny’, especially for females. One woman, a businesswoman who regularly made the trip, in a letter to the editor – decrying the paucity of washroom options in the ferry queues – said that after having had two wetting accidents in as many years, she had actually taken to wearing ‘Depends’ just in case.

So, obviously this poor soul had been in a similar position. My God, I thought, how humiliating for her. My heart went out to her. Imagine how traumatizing that must be to have been forced to suffer, in a public place, what society deems to be a ‘childish accident’? Of course, we all know, it is not just a childish accident, and assorted TV ads tell us with much regularity that incontinence is a very real condition for a goodly chunk of the population.

Yet, even though we recognize it as the reality it is, we still refuse to accept it. Hence this poor woman’s dismay. It was written all over her pained face. Somehow I think she (and maybe others of ourselves) would rather have been caught having sex in public scrutiny than just simply wetting her pants. I mean, what could she do? I suppose she could have hidden herself away somewhere. Yet, why should she have to? Why would we think that the rest of society should regard a simple mishap as being anything more than the ‘oops’ it is. Yet, we think that, because what she did was humiliating. I was one of those things that would be right up there with ‘worst fears’ on a par with inadvertently farting when being presented to the Queen, or accidentally spitting in the face of somebody we’re hoping to impress with our sophistication and elegance.

Human dignity and the standards we impose around it (and the standards we accept for ourselves) are major matters in the lives of all cultures. We do not break protocol, whatever that protocol might be. And public peeing for your garments is deemed a breach of preconceived protocol.

Eventually, after an hour or so, the woman made a final scrutiny of her garment and I guess the sun had worked its magic and she was able to leave without calling attention to herself. It must have been the longest boat trip of her life and it will probably take her years to live down the mortification – within herself at least.

I offer no answer for her plight, but I cannot help but wonder why we impose such brutal penalties on ourselves for a very simple thing. And the woman’s face told me she was utterly eaten up inside about the matter.

Poor thing.

All I had to give her was sincere sympathy within myself. Of course, our mores also dictate that I could 'not' go over, pat her on the shoulder and say: “Hey, it’s OK. It could happen to any of us.” But, that would have been utterly unacceptable.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Damn sensitivity -- sneakin' up on me

In middle age many of us are forced to face a life transition that calls forth an element of behavior that would have been anathema to us in our formative years -- sensitivity.

So, for any of you who only recall crying once in your lives -- at the conclusion of Old Yeller -- be prepared in mid-life for the onslaught of hyperactive tear-ducts and a quivering chin.It's OK -- really. You are not about to turn into a wispy, vapid miasma of breast beating and hair-trigger emotions, you are merely going to find during this transition -- one that will take a few years -- or forever -- that you have untapped resources of ‘caring’ you didn’t even know existed within you. And, quite frankly, it’s going to be a bit embarrassing at times.

Sensitivity didn't announce itself until middle age, mainly because you didn't need it. Yet now you are finding your inner Alan Alda. Young alpha males don't need to be sensitive. Excessive emotionality can be counterproductive at a time of life when you are better served by being boorish and self-seeking. Callousness is what rendered you able to be everything from a soldier to a viciously upwardly-mobile young stockbroker.

It's what enabled you to screw anybody in panties like there was no tomorrow -- because when you're twenty, twenty-five or even thirty, there is no tomorrow, and there is no accountability except when you make a dumbfuck decision and mess yourself up and end up in the street after you've been turfed by an irate wife or girlfriend; or fired, or thrown in jail, into hospital, or even on a mortician's slab. And it’s true that such unfortunate situations can be the consequences of the insensitive and unemotional behavior that Young Turks, striving to make their way in a ruthless world can exhibit.

Comes a time, however, when it changes. That's when yourealize if you don't yet have values, you'd start getting some. For one thing, at the most basic level, there are the deficits in continuing to be an egocentric swine past a certain age. There is something irritating if immaturity and crassness continue past a certain point. Ultimately, if you carry on with an paucity of regard towards others as you age, you will enter the realm of the pathetic pariah, with your only worth being relegated to the legion that includes such deserving honorees as Ebenezer Scrooge, Silas Marner, and the late Jean Paul Getty.

Indeed, witness the Paul Gettys, senior and junior, and consider the differencein esteem by which each man is held, and then look at the functionality of each man in terms of self-worth.Multibillionaire Jean Paul Getty left this life a wizened-up sod who was penurious to the degree that he installed a pay-phone in his English manor house so that guests wouldn't be running up bills on 'his' sixpence. Mr. Burns on The Simpsons, I have heard, was based on Getty.

This is a man who would have been unable to spend his largesse in three lifetimes, but who balked at paying the ransom for his kidnapped grandson, because it would set a precedent for other kidnappers. He ultimately capitulated, but only grudgingly. Many times-married, he raised a brood of alienated sons who held the old bastard in no affection, but quaked in terror at his presence, because his pleasure only decided the disbursement of funds.

Paul Getty Jr., on the other hand, was a different breed of cat. While he and his brothers were not raised by their father, the old man's whims were omnipresent in their lives. Paul Jr. was, for some reason, since he was so unlike the paterfamilias, the one favored by the skinflinted old knave. However, Junior didn't turn out exactly like Daddy wanted him to. He took to wearing flower-child caftans, hanging out with rock stars, moving to Morocco and acquiring a heroin habit sufficient to take down a team of horses. He was also the absentee father whose son was kidnapped. Yet, ultimately he changed. He got clean of drugs and, on his father's death, assumed the Getty mantle.In his later life he was primarily known for his overwhelming philanthropy,especially in the world of the arts. He was knighted in England, his adopted country and, at the time of his death, his demise was noted with great sadness and he was genuinely mourned as a good man.In other words, Mr. Getty Jr., somewhere along the way, acquired sensitivity and a soul and concluded there were greater verities than just acquiring every spare scrap of cash on the planet. In that sense, which Getty was truly a wastrel?

When does sensitivity happen?It happens when you least expect it. For many males the first inkling manifests itself when a man finds that he is responding to a situation not out of concern for himself, but out of caring about what is happening with another. What’s that all about? Isn’t life supposed to be about me?You may have gone on for years throwing ill-considered comments at your spouse or underlings at work.

Then, one day, for no apparent reason, you catch that wince in the visage of the recipient of a heedless remark or reprimand, andyou feel bad. That is, if you are normal. If you are Mr. mega alpha male "I am the king of the universe!" you will probably, on the other hand, feel empowered by the wince. OK, so you aren't there yet. Those near and dear to you (if there still are any) will just have to sit around and wait for you to have that humbling moment. At such a time, perhaps, you will undergo a Scrooge-transformation and become a decent guy. Or, it might never happen. For some it doesn't, and they end up like Getty Sr. and go to their graves universally loathed as mean and unrepentant bastards’

The process of becoming sensitive, and carrying on a sensitive life is noteasy for men. Newfound 'softness' goes against the grain of basic instinctsof both self-preservation and protecting one's sanctuary and brood.Men are terrified of appearing soft because it seems like vulnerability, and vulnerability does a poor job of keeping bad guys at bay. A man may be a five-foot-four, ninety-seven pound weakling, but he still sees his job as one of protector of the household. He is the security guard for the serenity and peace of the women and children who dwell therein. While a male at his core, and alone at 3 a.m. (as we all are, even when somebody is beside us) may be a mass of whimpering emotions, he is damned if he is going to let anyone -- especially another male -- know.

This emotional constipation can have sad ramifications. Boys often grow up harboring strong resentments against their fathers, for example. It's sometimes in the nature of two males sharing a household for there to be ill-will between the two. Consequently, a lot of fathers go to their graves with no attempts at amends between the two generations having been made. Neither wanted to go to where they might have to hug or, even worse, declare any sort of love for the other. If there is no love, then that's reality, but if there islove, and it was never expressed, then that's unfortunate.

That’s what happened between my father and me, and I still regret it. I didn’t hate him, and I know that he, in his ‘guy’ way, probably loved me. But, it was never expressed by either of us. Too bad about that.After his death, his sister (a favorite aunt) told me that he hadsaved every column and article I'd ever written during my years ofnewspaper work. She told me he was very proud of me. I'd never had arelationship with my father that amounted to a great deal more than a'Mexican standoff', either in childhood or later in life, so her statementcame as a surprise, and one to which I responded with cynicism.
"He never told me that," I replied, "So, fat lot of good it does me now."
Too bad about that, too.

Yet now, 10 years later, I find there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t miss the old bastard. And I’m happy that I miss him. It just might mean that I’ve grown up a bit. That maybe I now understand a bit about sensitivity. Not such a bad way to go.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hey, kids, it's a cruel and competitive world out there

Somehow I can’t imagine my parents having complained about me being burdened with an excess of homework. It wouldn’t have made much difference, anyway, since my general attitude about homework throughout my schooldays was to avoid it by various means. My feeling was: If teachers can’t get their job done during the day, why should I be penalized?Generally my approach worked – except at report card time. But, even then it worked to a degree since, even with an utter disregard for anything I was called upon to do after hours, I still graduated. Went through university and, get this, even became a teacher. Somehow there was a vindication in all of that, or else it shows that God has a great sense of irony.

Anyway, I have been reading accounts lately of how parents throughout North America are griping about the amount of homework being dumped on Jason and Tabitha. Seems like the kids have no free time whatsoever, and that family life is suffering as a result. Looking at the kids who are hanging out at the park at 10 p.m. on a school night, I find such assertions amazing. I also find amazing, considering those aforementioned kids in the park, that there are still families that have such a thing as a “family life.”

But, I do know that my stepdaughter (an A average student) was perpetually griping about the amount of homework she was forced to do (between phone calls, and accompanied by music at full volume) and how unfair the teachers were in assigning so much. I thought, my God, if she feels that way, how must the dumb kids feel? In all honesty, she did bring a lot of stuff home in a pack larger than the average marine carries at bivouac time. And it was all school-related stuff. And indeed she did work hard enough to maintain a superlative grade point average.

Her argument was always that a history teacher (who had assigned 90 pages of reading as well as an essay) didn’t seem to appreciate that the math teacher had assigned 38 complex calculus problems, and the English teacher had assigned the complete reading of Pride and Prejudice and had called for an essay on social rituals among the upper classes in the early 19th century, never seemed to get together with one another to sort out just how they expected any given kid to get the work done.

Well, maybe she had a point. But, at the same time, she made it through, suffered from no nervous breakdowns and generally seemed to be a pretty well-adjusted kid, her ‘onerous tasks’ notwithstanding. She laughed, she went to parties, to movies, hung out with her friends, and was reasonably civil to her mother and me. At least, as civil as a 15-year-old girl will deign to be with an elder. So, frankly, I didn’t see her homework burden as that great a problem.

And maybe she secretly followed my slacker mantra from schooldays, which was to do ‘just enough’ to be able to sound a bit authoritative in class the next day; do written assignments; and pretend you know how to speed read. I will confess that it wasn’t until my university years that I added one more item to my slacker mantra – which by that time was almost a manifesto – and that was to learn to bullshit really well. It always works, especially if you drop the name of an instructor or professor as a person of authority on the subject in question.

As for the parents who gripe about the kids having too much homework, they might take some solace in that at least they know where their kids are on any given evening.

On the other hand, I suspect the complaints emanate from the fact that parents are being called upon to help with that homework. That tends to violate their personal slacker manifesto, which calls for drink a beer, eat dinner, and nod in front of the TV until bed. That’s the sort of quality time many of us are unprepared to forego.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Maybe there is no balm

Every time there is a dramatic, traumatizing event in society the breastbeaters (amateur and professional) come to the fore to either ascribe blame or to inform us what should have been done to keep a particular even from happening.

The case of the lone gunman at the hideous rampage at Montreal’s Dawson College this past week was no different from Columbine or any one of a number of such ghastly examples of a wacko “going postal” on innocent members of the public, and ultimately slaying some poor blameless soul (or souls) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When we are traumatized or frightened, we try to find reasons for what has happened. We, all relatively sane I must assume, cannot fathom what distress would prompt a guy to go in and shoot up a school. Therefore we, in our relative sanity, must try to deduce why such a thing would happen.

We start with the blame game. In this case people, depending on their philosophical persuasion, have already blame gun laws for either being too lax or too stringent, entirely missing the point that if a ‘bad’ person wants to get his or her hands on a bit of weaponry, then he or she will do that, probably by illegal means, and no bit of officialdom is ever going to keep that from happening.

The shooter, Kimveer Gill, it has also been ascertained, was a subscriber to a number of ‘goth’ websites, and some have said his involvement in that particular lifestyle had a role to play, and therefore such sites should be regulated, or even banned.

While Goth has absolutely no interest for me, I find such a suggestion both fatuous and naïve. Is there really an assumption that that such a passion leads to murder and mayhem? If so, then why aren’t the other 99 percent of subscribers to such sites going out and mowing people down? This is an argument that is on a par with the one that calls for the censorship of pornographic sites because it has been found that ‘Rapist A’ was an avid cruiser of such sites, while ignoring the fact that the majority of people who get their jollies from such (sometimes very offensive) sites use them solely for those jollies, and will not be driven to go out and sexually assault somebody’s daughter, wife or sister.

And then the politicians are brought into the mix, and a frightened, sometimes outraged public demands that they take action, that they not only say something conciliatory, but that they take direct action – of some sort or another. This too is part of the blame-game. Bad things happen because of, oh, I don’t know, social alienation, poverty, poor schooling, bullying (a current cause celebre in youth-gone-wild scenarios), a flawed social system, a flawed legal system, and so on, and so on.

“Do something!” goes the cry.

“Do what?” can be the only answer. Politicians are not to blame for somebody going berserk. It is so easy to blame politicians. Personally, as a longtime journalist, I love blaming politicians for anything and everything. But, sometimes it simply doesn’t wash. Politicians are not to blame for some pathetic obsessive-compulsive sonofabitch wanting to wipe a bunch of people out for no reason that is apparent to anybody else.

Our society is such that we look to officialdom to protect us at all levels. This is impossible. Nobody could have stopped Gill before he did what he did, because nobody knew what he was going to do. Oh, the signs were there, no doubt, just as they were with the Columbine creeps, but signs are not enough to lock somebody up. But, people in a panic want to be protected. They want it to seem like governments are doing something. Are all the excesses of Homeland Security and the ridiculously anal restrictions imposed on airline travellers really making society safer? Of course not, but at least the appearance of something being done is out there, and this renders some people able to sleep more securely in their beds. The truth is, we are not one iota less imperilled than we were before 9/11, but the consolation maybe is we are probably not any more imperilled.

One thing we seem most loath to do, however, is look directly at the perpetrators of such ghastly incidents, whether it be Columbine, Oklahoma City, or Montreal. Why are we so hesitant to blame the creep who does it? Whether he is mad, or just plain evil, he is the person who carried out the crime and, blessedly, did society a favor by blowing his own brains out. Just too bad he didn’t consider the suicide course before slaying an innocent young woman and leaving her classmates in a state of posttraumatic shock that it will take a lifetime for them to get over.

So, you know, I absolutely do not care about his motivations. I just care that he did what he did, and blessedly is no longer sucking the same air as the rest of us. The only suggestion I can make in these cases is to take steps to identify such people earlier in their lives and to thwart them before they take drastic steps. The signs are there early on in so many cases.

The fly in the ointment of that scenario is, however, you cannot apprehend somebody ‘before’ a crime has taken place. Laws are always retroactive, unfortunately. This is the world. The vast majority of people are decent. The anomalies are sinister and dangerous. Always have been. Always will be.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Norman; the saga continues

Thank you for your very positive and thoughtful comments on my piece concerning my uncle, Norman Lidster. I include her a little more of the tale and what happened to this amazing man. A man I would have indeed found astonishing, whether or not I was related to him. As follows, the material in direct quotes is from Norman's own memoir, and the italicized comments are the ones I have put in with the hope of ultimately getting his book republished in an anotated version.

"On the evening of the May Day festival, I attended the Queen's Ball,
little realizing as I walked home the two miles from Queen's Park Arena in the cool of the midnight air under star-studded skies, that this would be the last time I would walk and dance and see normally. I awoke to stabbing
pains in my chest and shoulders, and by daybreak I felt excruciating pain
in my knees and hips. The most painful attack of arthritis yet had begun."

The earlier attack of rheumatoid arthritis had been but a preview of what
was to come this time around. The 20-month hiatus after that attack had
left him almost cruelly assured that the worst was over, and that life and
the future for a young man was still bright and hopeful. This time it was
different, and much more ominous.

"Within a week both eyes were affected and for the next few weeks I lay in
a darkened room, my attention absorbed by the agonizing pain of swollen
joints and the burning inflammation in my eyes."

Norman never really recovered from that May Day assault and remained
basically housebound for a year, while he awaited the better health that
was not destined to come to him. It was a year-long regime of various
injections (which proved futile), massage and physiotherapy, which helped
somewhat when attacks were in remission, but had no lasting impact.
In September of 1937 he returned to school, but found the task often
excruciating since the attacks on his eyes rendered reading and studying
painful. Teachers tried to help as best they could, and he also acquired
glasses, but nothing made much difference. The truth was, though he didn't
fully appreciate it yet, he was going blind.

He soldiered on, but the deterioration continued. By December of that year
bright lights were accompanied by haloes, and his views of certain stationary objects doubled and then quadrupled

"These were the first signs of permanent eye damage, the result of the
smoldering nature of the disease and the many flare-ups I had suffered over
the years. the illness was entering a new and different phase."

In March of 1938, while Hitler's troops annexed Austria, and were poised to
seize Czechoslovakia; Norman was hit with another generalized attack of
arthritis. This time it was different; the pathology had changed and life
became a living nightmare

"It was followed by another and another, like the tolling of a bell, with
each stroke sounding before the previous one had died away. The pain was
torturous. It wrapped itself around my limbs and clung to my back like a
wild animal; I could not get away from it. When I was tuned on my left
side, it came with me and when I was turned back, it followed. So many
joints had become swollen and inflamed that even the jiggling of the bed
when my sisters walk about the room caused me distress."

The nights, he wrote, were as bad as the days for, as he tried to sleep
muscle spasms jerked his pained joints excruciatingly.

"In the morning I faced each day with the hope that the pain would be gone,
but it never was. It stayed with me like a monstrous beast. For months I
lay in a pool of pain, afraid to move, not realizing that my stillness
speeded up the ankylosis of my joints. In this way, by my eighteenth
birthday my frame was completely welded from head to heals and I was unable
to turn myself in bed."

Simultaneously his eyes were deteriorating more radically by the day, and
he tells how the former haloes he had seen around the lights had broadened
into "unkempt doughnuts", and came to dominate his line of vision.

"When I looked at my mother's face, all of it was blotted out except for
her teeth, which showed up clean and white in the sunshine. I could (also)
see the gleam of the central keys of an old organ, standing in the hallway
outside my room, but the rest of it was wrapped in the mist."

The unkempt doughnut circles ultimately filled in, and his eyes were
completely clouded. He tells of weeping one hot July evening when he
glanced at the curtain of red roses clinging to the trellis outside the
bedroom window.

"No longer could I see the intricate tapestry of their intertwining blooms.
Now they appeared as a scarlet blotch before my eyes."

While the stress and the pain wore at his general well-being, causing him
to lose vast amounts of weight, Norman marvelled at the fact he was not more
depressed than he was at the time.

"Dwelling on my terrible present and bleak future could have made me
severely depressed, but the demands of the disease kept me so busy that I
was spared the anguish of brooding."

By now the grim and vicious trick of fate had run its most destructive
course. There was, of course, much more to come, but the devastation had,
at the same time, been completed, and he would never return to the active
life he had cherished. The only blessing to be found, while he was not yet
aware of it, was his intellect. While the body had become a wretched and
wasted thing, of virtually no value other than as a container for what lay
within, it was the intellect, and ultimately the indomitable spirit of the
man that were to carry him through the next nearly 40 years of a life that
was lived with more meaning in some respects than those lives lived by any
dozen physically unafflicted, and unchallenged mortals.

Norman now, on the eve of World War II, was to enter a new phase of his
life -- the long and usually painful path to some sort of stability. Not
rehabilitation, but rather adjustment to his reality was going to be the
key to any sort of success.

What always struck me about Norman at that later stage, when I knew him,
was how well-adjusted he 'seemed' to be to his reality. He did ultimately
become philosophically attuned to the title of his book, 'No Time for Why',
but that was to be an amazing process of both acceptance and compromise.
Such acceptance and compromise did not come about, as he explained it to
me, without ultimately attaining an abiding faith that his misfortune was
some sort of fortune in disguise. It was his spiritual essence that was to
take him from his useless body and eyes, and give him grace, movement, and
an all-encompassing vision. None of this was apparent to him, however, in
the excruciating early stages of his so-called recovery.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

He just got on with his life, and helped others do the same

The following words are from an introductory chapter of a book that I someday hope to finish writing, which will be an anotated update of my Uncle Norman Lidster's autobiography (pictured right). As follows is basically a precis of my introductory chapter, and I was partially inspired to let this see the light of day thanks to some insights offered by blogger friend, Cathy a few days ago. In any case, these are basically my thoughts on a man who was arguably the most remarkable human being I have ever met.

"Do you think Norman was able to have a relationship with a woman?"

Not intending to be vulgar or voyeuristic, I asked the question. Everybody wonders about such things, but nobody comes right out and asks. In my case, the thought came to mind for what I thought was a valid reason.

The person I asked was my father, the older brother of Norman Lidster, who
had died days before. The setting was a reception held following his funeral service at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia.

This homely, neo-Gothic, unfinished-looking edifice was the choice for the service
because it wasn't far from Norman's residence of the prior 30 years, and he had periodically attended services there. It was also held there because Norman was a 'notable' in his own right, and it was believed there would be a goodly gathering for the service.

That belief was correct. The mourners and the curious came from all over to pay last respects to a man who could best be described as 'astonishing'. Even the good sisters of Mount St. Mary's Hospital, where Norman had lived for three decades had to receive Papal dispensation to attend the Anglican service -- a service for a man they had come to know, respect, and no doubt love during his years with them.

Back to the reception. I had asked the seemingly odd question for reasons that will become obvious. My father looked at me curiously. Sex, for a host of reasons, many of them my own, wasn't an area in which he and I ventured with any regularity. He wasn't a puritan, he and I simply didn't have that sort of 'buddy' relationship that lent itself to such discussions.

"Why did you ask?" he queried.

"Because of that woman over there," I said, nodding in the direction of a striking, stylish, affluent-looking redhead, of about 45, who was mingling with the large crowd of sherry-sippers at the reception. A bit bored, I had scoped out the parade. I had caught her eye. She had returned my gaze, smiled, and approached me.

"She came up to me and asked if I was Norman's brother," I told my father. "She asked me because she thought I looked like him. I pointed to you and said you were his brother, and that I was his nephew. She seemed very pleasant."

"And you thought she was good-looking, and wondered what her connection was, and maybe if she was his lover," Dad said, with an edge of sarcasm in his voice.

"Something like that," I replied. "I don't know, she just seemed kind of sad, and kind of devoted to him, so I thought of it. Maybe I'm sick. Maybe I read it all wrong. So, that was why I asked you. I thought maybe you and he had talked about that kind of stuff. You know, being brothers and all."

"No, we never really did. I don't know why. I guess we were just uncomfortable, or maybe I didn't want to know. But, it could be she was someone special. I don't know. He was as entitled to a private life as anybody else. But, if it was physically possible, and it might have been,
well, I guess I hope it was so. Maybe his life was a little more full than any of us knew."

And that was the end of that episode. Nothing more was ever heard from the redhead, so whoever she was to Norman can remain their own private connection. I have wondered about her periodically over the years. She would likely be in her 70s now.

Ultimately, whose business was it? Though, I confess I do like the idea that he was able to get laid on occasion. It makes him a bit more human to me.

I was in my mid-30s when Norman died in 1977. He died in his late 50s, which is not an advanced age in contemporary longevity, but it was a very
long haul for a man as afflicted as he was.

Norman was the 'rigid man.' Smashed to a physical shell by a ghastly course of rheumatoid arthritis that began in his late teens, and which progressed with agonizing brutality for years he was, by his late 20s, utterly immobile (except for limited movement in his jaw and a couple of fingers) and, with insult towelled onto injury, completely blind. He was a fine brain, and I'll suggest a soul -- a very large soul -- trapped inside a useless vessel.

He was also one of the most astonishing men I've ever known. An opinion that is shared with vast numbers of people who came to know Norman over the years. Periodically, in later life, when I was going through some personal difficulties (difficulties that were tiny in comparison with his), I thought of Norman, and speculated that it would be good to talk with him at that moment, to get a kind of reality-check, a metaphorical kick-in-the-ass from him. He was good at that, and he never did it from a "poor me" perspective.

Ultimately, Norman triumphed in his own way over this clinical cruelty, and it was likely his basic rebelliousness, and even waywardness that enabled, at least in part, that to happen. To ultimately be able to spit in the eye of the nefarious spirits that would drag him down, was triumph indeed. It was true courage. It was a victory of the human spirit.

The title of his bio, 'No Time for Why' very succinctly captures his spirit.

"I spent years cursing God," he told me once. "Why? I kept asking him. Why me? Eventually it came to me that I was wasting whatever life I had for something that couldn't be answered. So, I got on with it and found I was so busy that I truly had no time for 'why?' It kept me sane and lifted my depression."

Truly amazing was the guy. In later life, only able to move his pinky-finger, he would have a portable typewriter mounted on his chest, and he would pound out feature pieces for one of the Victoria newspapers. He was also interviewed on radio and television, and was fully current and aware of what was going on around him both in real life, and in terms of the culture of the day.

Once, when he was staying at his sister’s home, he was left alone with his niece (about 18 at the time, and a bit of a counterculture rebel) and her boyfriend. Norman called for her to come over to him.

“I don’t think you and your boyfriend should be smoking pot when you’ve been charged with looking after me,” he said. His niece, my cousin (who is now a respectable middle-aged matron), was shocked.

“How did you know?” she asked incredulously.

“I may be blind,” he said. “But I haven’t lost my sense of smell.”

Over the years I visited Norman many times. Norman would ask me questions about my life, and I would attempt to answer. The only thing that struck me with any impact when I was very young was how much his voice sounded like my father's. But, as I matured, I came to realize what a unique and remarkable man he was. No wonder the Archbishop of Canterbury made a special call on Norman when he visited Victoria, and no wonder the Pope gave that dispensation to the nuns who wanted to attend his funeral.

The thing was, Norman’s life was full. Full enough that if I came to call, he just might be out. He didn't lie around pining for somebody to visit. Indeed, as often as not, he wouldn't even be in his room at Mt. St. Mary's Hospital, he would be off out with one of his "pushers" -- the name that he whimsically gave to the regulars who took him to the park or elsewhere, in his specially designed wheelchair -- and we would have to either patiently wait for his return, or head out in the general direction he was believed to have been going. Secondly, we would usually leave after spending time with Norman, saying, "We really should go to see him more often, because it's such an uplifting thing to do."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Conservatives too are capable of romance

Pete and Condi, sittin’ in a tree.
K-I-S-S-I-N-G …….

I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for romance. I love hearts, and flowers and sweet kisses, and all the little flutterings that go on with a couple in the throes of a delicious new love. Yep, give me a happy ending every time.

So, I guess you know that the international community is all abuzz about Condi and Pete involved in a ‘diplomatic alliance’ that just darn well might be even more ‘diplomatic’ than any of us realize.

American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, normally so serious, even dour as she goes about her demanding task of doing George W’s damage control, among other things, seems to be all smiles today. Especially all smiles when she is in the company of her newfound ‘friend’, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

Don’t tell me there isn’t something more than just diplomatic courtesies happening. I mean, Ms. Rice made a special trip to Nova Scotia, on 9/11 yet, to offer up her thanks for Canada’s assistance on that ghastly day five years ago. OK, fair enough, those would be the diplomatic duties. But then, get this, she made an ‘overnighter’ to Pete’s home riding of Pictou, NS. No, I am not suggesting anything untoward happened in that 24-hours, but usually a girl doesn’t go home to meet the folks unless she feels a bit of affection for the boy.

And, well, as the old song by Mickey and Sylvia goes, ‘Love is Strange:’

Love, love is strange
Lot of people take it for a game
Once you get it You'll never wanna quit (no, no)
After you've had it (yeah, yeah) You're in an awful fix
Many people Don't understand (no, no)
They think loving (yeah, yeah) Is money in the hand
Your sweet loving Is better than a kiss
When you leave me Sweet kisses I miss

In fact, I could see Condi and Pete doing an updated version of the ditty, since they are both pretty decent musicians in their own right. That would be real cute. Two archly conservative politicos in sweet and soulful harmony. I love it.

Then of course, Pete is the guy who was unceremoniously dumped by moderately pretty, excruciatingly rich, and very much a legend-in-her-own-mind, Belinda Stronach a few years ago, when she decided her bread might be more nicely buttered if she allied herself with another political party, and jilted Pete. It wasn’t. His party won. And now Pete is keeping company with a genuinely powerful woman, not just a ‘wannabe’.

Love is indeed strange. So can political bedfellows be. Oh, don’t take that ‘bedfellows’ comment outside of its metaphorical sense – unless you want to. I can’t stop those tongues a-waggin’. And, as a guy who once caused tongues in this smaller community to wag a few years ago, I personally know this can be heady stuff.

But, I think Pete and Condi should just play this one through. A little levity, not to mention romance, is always a nice thing in a troubled world.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

OK -- now it's your turn

Since my friend Moof decided to tag me, and the protocols of the process demand that I pass the tag on, here I am offering my responses and then sending it on. It was difficult to decide whom I wanted to impose this on, so my selection is somewhat arbitrary. Anyone else who wants to play, please do so. I would actually rather it worked that way. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here it is:

1) Are you happy/satisfied with your blog’s content and look?
Generally speaking I think it looks OK. As for content, my impulses vary to some extent. At one level I, as a longtime newspaper columnist, tend to write items that are reminiscent of some of my column style. At other times I feel frivolous and even playful. Then, at moments, I am thoroughly pissed off about some aspect of life in the greater world. I get impulses at moments to write more private thoughts about life, love, sexuality and personal matters, but despite posting a blog, and being a journalist on the side, I’m a rather private person and I don’t know how much I want to reveal of me.

2) Does your family know about your blog?
My wife, Wendy, knows about my blog and reads it fairly regularly, and likes it. She has recently become a blogger herself and is just feeling her way around the process. As for extraneous family, I have mentioned it to a couple of people and have sent the URL, but have never had any response particularly. …

3) Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog? Do you consider it a private thing?
It’s a public blog and I am entirely used to having my thoughts and views out there for public scrutiny, so there is no embarrassment whatsoever.

4) Did blogging cause positive changes in your thoughts?
I have met some terrific people including some that I have become extremely fond of, via this means at least. I have also personally met a couple of blogging friends, and that was kind of cool. Otherwise, I love the feedback so that if I mount an idea I can get a response. Sometimes I will be hit with considerations or arguments I hadn’t arrived at, so it can be enlightening. You know, those “oh, yeah” moments. I also love the international aspect of blogging and realize that whatever place we might be citizens of, our ideas aren’t entirely disparate.

5) Do you only open the blogs of those who comment on your blog or do you love to go and discover more by yourself?
I regularly open the blogs of those who comment on my posts. Aside from the fact I always appreciate comments – the more the better – I like to find out what the posters of the comments are all about if they are new. Often I find somebody I like and I will become a regular with him or her and he or she, often, with me. We find one another, and we discover our compatibilities, or lack thereof. Being human, there are attitudes I like, and attitudes I dislike, but it is rare that I have come up against an individual who irks me. Sometimes I get a bit paranoid and find that if somebody hasn’t commented on mine for a while, if they used to be a regular, I will wonder if I have written something to offend, or have made a comment on an entry of theirs that has offended.

6) What does a visitor counter mean to you? Do you like having one on your blog?
I like having a visitor counter on my blog. I like to know if I am having impact one way or another, so I check it periodically to see how I am faring. Pretty good so far, considering I have only been using this individual blog since March of this year.

7) Did you try to imagine your fellow bloggers and give them real pictures?
I have seen pictures of some, and am always delighted by pictures, since I am a very visual person. By the same token, I will periodically post pictures of myself. If I do not know what the blogger looks like, I will try to imagine. Especially so if they are female. Hey, men are pgs, what can I say? My mind’s pictures, depending on the nature of the blog, may even be of an undraped nature.

8) Admit it. Do you think there is any real benefit in blogging?
I believe there is benefit. Benefit at a personal level in that I am gregarious and like to meet new people in both real time and via this mode. At an intellectual level, I like to exchange ideas and to get fuelled up by some insights others might have. At a creative level, blogging keeps my writing skills honed. This is important to me since writing is what I do. Finally, I love it my writings are picked up by other sites and reprinted because then I know I am having some impact with my ideas and, who knows, there just might be a publisher or agent out there who loves what I write. I have a couple of manuscripts kicking around, after all.

9) Do you think that blogger’s society is isolated from the real world or interaction with events?
Quite the opposite, in fact. I think bloggers are interacting with the real world at a much more intense pace than the average bear who nods out in front of the TV. Blogging is interactive; passive viewing of events is not.

10) Does criticism annoy you or do you feel it’s a normal thing?
I have never been roundly criticized, not that I would entirely mind if it is a constructive suggestion. However, as I cruise blogs I find that if I find somebody going to an area that offends me, I tend to simply avoid going there. Exchanges of ideas shouldn’t be hostile, but should always be reasoned and reasonable. Sometimes I have avoided sharing certain personal convictions because I think they might offend. This isn’t out of cowardice, but more in the area that people are entitled to their own ideas, as I am entitled to mine.

11) Do you fear some political blogs and avoid them?
I have no fear of political blogs, but I usually just don’t go to responding to comments or attitudes that don’t particularly register with the way in which I see the world. One favorite blogger contact of mine has some views that, while not widely divergent from my own, will sometimes express herself in cheapshot (I think) ways. In such cases I just don’t rise to the bait, and instead will make comments on other ideas she has raised. Most of her ideas are great, and she is very bright. I just know it is unlikely she and I would vote in quite the same way.

12) Were you shocked by the arrest of some bloggers?
I wasn’t aware of this but, if it happened in a totalitarian jurisdiction, it wouldn’t surprise me. I had one blogger contact from a certain Middle Eastern nation who offered comments about the government of his nation that surprised me by their candor and openness, and did think he was playing a rather dangerous game.

13) What do you think will happen to your blog after you die?
The thought has never crossed my mind.

14) What song do you like to hear? What song would you like to link to on your blog?
I don’t like blogs with musical intros. To me that is like elevator music, and as much as I love music, I don’t like having somebody impose their taste on me.

15) The next “victims”?
This is cruel and I think I would love all of my blog links and many others I connect with as well to do this, but I might make some suggestions. I mean, after all, I got tagged by my friend Moof, and since I can’t get her I will pass the gauntlet to: