Wednesday, January 31, 2007

We want to go back, but we cannot

When he wasn’t obsessing in a fetishistic and creepy manner about his wife, Nora, or writing the virtually incomprehensible Ulysses, Irish writer James Joyce invented a literary device known as epiphany. That was very clever of him, because it is a device that transfers profoundly to real life.

Epiphany comes first and foremost as a Christian reference in that the day of the calendar is the day that Christ’s divinity was revealed to those at the time who might have been hankering for such a thing. In a literary sense it means, in barest essence, an incident or a time in which after a momentous change has taken place, we can never go back to what life was like before.

In that sense it certainly applies to the Christ connection, but it also applies to some of those events that have transformed you and the world – not always in a good way, I might add.

In a recent poll taken in Britain it was found that the three most traumatizing events in the modern era were, in descending order; 9/11, the death of Princess Diana, and the assassination of John Kennedy. Those were the kinds of events in which those who lived through them will not only remember the events with huge clarity; they will also remember the circumstances around first hearing the news. That is, if a person first became aware of the 9/11 horrors shortly after breakfast time, they also would be inclined to remember what they had at breakfast that day, and maybe even what they were wearing.

It’s understandable, by the way, that the Kennedy assassination should be at third place, mainly because to have been aware of its actuality, a person would now have to be in his or her late 40s to have had comprehension of the magnitude of Nov. 22, 1963.

As for Diana, I remember I got a late night phone call from a lady friend in Toronto who told me the news.

Of the Trade Center incident I can recall exactly what transpired. Wendy and I were in the Cook Islands and we’d gone in early in the morning to a little shop in Avarua, Rarotonga, to order some custom-embroidered sweatshirts. We gave our order, and the guy (an Australian) told us to come back in an hour to pick them up. When we returned, he ushered us into the cluttered back office of the shop. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to the computer screen. I couldn’t make it out at first, and was wondering why he wanted to show us a picture of an airplane crashing into a skyscraper. Then he explained what had happened. To say we were aghast would be to state the case mildly.

And, as we all know, from that day on, the world changed, not just a little bit, but monumentally. And, which is most important in the case of epiphany, ‘we can never go back!’ All about us has changed, and we as individuals have been transfigured and transformed. It’s a natural impulse to long for a return to normality. It will never transpire. We suffer from posttraumatic shock, and then we go through the stages-of-grief, and then we realize we will always be slightly diminished by that moment of epiphany.

Of course we, as human beings, have our personal moments of epiphany, and they aren’t ‘lesser’ events than the big cataclysmic ones, but possibly greater, because they shatter us within our own domains.

I can remember after my abrupt separation from my second wife, awakening in a state of shock and unreality for weeks afterwards, filled with denial about what had happened, and obsessively yearning to go back to just minutes before her uttering the words: “This isn’t working for me any more, so I want you to leave.” This utterance came virtually without warning that anything was amiss, by the way. So, you can imagine the profundity of that epiphany. And it was over. And I never went back. The blessing ultimately was that I was glad I never went back.

But, we have also suffered deaths of parents, sometimes spouses or partners, siblings and friends. We can’t have them return, but we are never the same as a result.

If we are strong enough, we grow from such experiences and we alter our perceptions, hopefully for the better.

Anyway, I would love your comments on your epiphanies (by the way, there can be very good epiphanies, too, such as meeting somebody and knowing virtually in an instant you love that person desperately – yes, I do believe in love at first sight – and that your life will ever after be altered) and what they meant to you. If Dr. Serani is around, I would love her insights here, too.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

So -- I was tagged and now it's your turn

So, I seem to have been tagged by Heiresschild, and as an upstanding blogger, I supposed I have to play along, including returning the ‘compliment’ to six other goodly folk. Have fun, folks.

THE RULES: Each player of this game starts with 6 weird things about him/herself. People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things, as well as state this rule clearly for the next tagged people. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged, and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment on their blog that says, "You are tagged," and "tell them to read your blog."

1. The only reasonable use for holiday turkey is cold, in a sandwich made of the crappiest and softest commercial white bread (like Wonder, or an equivalent) with stuffing and Miracle Whip. I’d rather have that than chateaubriand.

2. I detest riding on buses and always, even if I haven’t consumed a drop of coffee, develop an overwhelming urge to pee the minute I get on. The longer the journey the more the bladder pressure. I think this is my internal mechanism’s comment on my detestation of buses.

3. Even though I am a Canadian I have an almost visceral hatred of ice hockey. I don’t know why, since it’s only a stupid sport, and other sports don’t impact me like that. I think football is boring, but I don’t hate it. And, I love ice-skating. But, I loathe hockey and to have to watch a game would be my idea of torture. Maybe I hate it because I’m supposed to like it.

4. I develop a personal antagonism for comedians I don’t find funny, and I resent any successes they have in life. It repels me that obnoxious Howie Mandel has a hit TV program, and the fact that somebody finances sophomoric Adam Sandler (arguably the unfunniest human being who ever lived) to make movies is beyond my comprehension. Needless to say, Jerry Lewis was never very high in my pantheon of funny people.

5. While we’re on this track of negativity, I must say that clowns make my skin crawl. I found them frightening when I was a child, and as an adult I find them obtrusive and rude, especially when they dare to get into my space or face. “FO!” is the only expression that leaps to mind at such times. I do make an exception for good old Krusty on the Simpsons, however. I like his decadent candor.

6. I have probably unwittingly (or even wittingly) broken a few laws during the course of my lifetime, but I have never, ever stolen anything. I mean, ‘anything’, even an apple from somebody’s tree. I don’t know why that is so, other than that I’ve never thought it was my right to take something that didn’t belong to me. Consequently, I have zero-tolerance for theft and any time I’ve been ripped off has felt like a personal violation.

OK, as much as I hate doing this, I tag: Aliemalie, Tai, Geewits, DJN, Le Nightowl, and Jazz. It was difficult to narrow this down, so anybody else who wants to play along, please do so.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

So -- who has the real goods on this climate-change thing?

I see that all the politicians are getting on the global-warming grandstand. That means we won’t be inundated with doom-and-gloom warnings just from scientists, pseudoscientists, activist groups, backyard pundits and just plain flakes about how “We’re all going to die!” just after the polar bears succumb, but now we will have to bear with sloganeering from every goddamn political weasel in every party in the Western World ad nauseam.

Well, at least we won’t have to bear with political action, just sloganeering. Politicians are good at offering lists of intentions that they have absolutely no impulse to act upon. They just want to say it before their adversaries do so that they can’t be accused of ignoring a phenomenon – if it is a phenomenon rather than just natural meteorological course-of-events – and giving ammo to their enemies.

Five years ago climate change got a minuscule amount of ink in the press, and virtually zero discussion in the electronic media. Now you can’t open a paper without some bozo or bozette waxing philosophical about the fact that even those of us in more northerly climes are going to shortly be dealing with tse-tse flies and jungle-rot – that is if we haven’t drowned in the ever-rising oceans. Oh dear. It might even happen in the lifetimes of some of us.

But, I’m not about to ignore the matter. I’ll take my cues from George W. (hah!), Tony Blair (double hah! – the second hah! is for his wife Cherie who makes my skin crawl), and stodgy old Stephen Harper here in Canada. And I say, the moment those folks stop flying in airplanes and being squired around in huge vehicles, I’ll do likewise. I’ll say the moment our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan give up their Hummers and switch over to little underpowered hybrids, make room for me on that old bandwagon – provided it’s a hydrogen-fueled bandwagon.

Anyway, I do my part. I drive a little four-banger, I used 60-watt bulbs (unless I actually want to see to read), and I’d use those curly fluorescent bulbs that the Greenies of the world push us to use if only they’d sell them for the price of a regular bulb, rather than a rip-off price of about 95 times as expensive. And you know I will start to do even more than that the day that China indicates it actually does give a rat’s-ass about what all the rest of us seem to be obsessing about. However, it hasn’t done that yet. It hasn’t even given lip-service to the fact that its trains are all coal-fired and much of its electricity is generated in coal-burning plants. And with a population of 70 trillion or some such, you can probably deduce that China contributes just a little more to global warming than does, say, Canada, with a population the size of a Chinese small town.

Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. Global warming just ‘may’ be as serious as we think it is, and human activity just ‘may’ be responsible for some of it, but I am yet to see any genuinely serious approaches to it other than Gore’s politically-motivated grandstanding (as he is squired to speaking engagements in a limo; and I’m not making that up), a lot of scientists of various descriptions giving vent to their opinions. Scientists like Canada’s eco-warrior ‘darling’ (to some) David Suzuki who waxes prophetic about everything, including global warming, even though he’s a biologist and, to my knowledge, doesn’t have the designation meteorologist attached to his creds.

On the other hand, there are other qualified scientists who think it’s all bushwa, and just a natural course-of-events – the planet has warmed and cooled in cycles since the beginning of time.

So, I don’t know who’s right. Do you? Really?

I like to be on the side of the gods, but I’m still uncertain as to which side the gods adhere, and I don’t think George Bush is in a position to tell me, despite his newfound climate sensitivity.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hey -- You -- Git offa my cloud!

Sigmund Freud postulated that the primary motivating force behind humankind was sex. Many who followed him in the realms of theoretical 'shrinkdom,' disagreed. Except for those that agreed.

I (though not a psychoanalytical theorist) would like to agree with Freud. His idea makes life seem more raffish, more fun and frolicsome. But, I’m afraid I have to cast my lot with those who think otherwise.

I believe territory is considerably more significant to human beings than sex, much as I hate to admit it. Indeed, territory rules for virtually every creature that walks, runs, flies or swims.

An example of the power of territory (Robert Ardrey explained the whole territorial imperative thing better than I can) or the negative impact on human nature by lack of turf can be found, I think, in the decline and fall of communism worldwide – except in the cases of a couple of badly functioning enclaves. Communism was, in fact, doomed from the moment Karl Marx arrived at the theory, because he chose not to factor in territory. His dialectic deemed we would move beyond that stage under communism. His dialectic was, in that context (and many others), bullshit.

What Marx failed to take into account was the fact we humans don’t really want to ‘share.’ We, rich and poor alike, want our own, and we don’t want anybody else feeling entitled to get their hands on that which is ours.

If you are doubtful about whether human beings take territory seriously, I think warfare probably answers that question. We pay lip-service about wars being fought over philosophies, creeds and even wealth, or lack thereof, but mainly they are fought over territory. We want what you have. Oh yes, the natural resources will help us, too, but mainly we want to encroach on your place.

Ethnic bigotry is based on territory. Those people don’t look like us, act like us, eat like us, worship like us, even screw like us, therefore they are bad, and we don’t want them in our bailiwick. Why are they on my turf? Why are they in my neighborhood? Deservedly disdained ‘racial profiling’, a cheap-shot excuse for bigotry in a stressful time in history, is all about territory. The bottom line is, we don’t want “them Ay-rabs here.”

Territorialism is a visceral thing. If your home has been broken into, it goes straight to the guts. You feel you have been physically kicked, violated. If one of your nearest-and-dearest has been in any way assaulted, your impulse in the direction of homicide is understandable. Indeed, an opposite response would be questionable, so strong is your territorial imperative. “You have been in my home, you bastards! I want to kill you for that.” None of this has anything to do with the fact that your DVD or laptop has been lifted; it is the realization that somebody uninvited has been in your home – your bastion of safety. When I was in my teens, my father’s car was stolen from his place of work in Vancouver. A few weeks later they caught the little creep and his teenaged girlfriend in Las Vegas, and found the car. Dusty and dirty, but not too much the worse for wear. However, the car had also been the love-nest for the horny young runaways. When he got it back, the old man had it thoroughly detailed, and got it back spotless – literally and figuratively – but my mother was never again comfortable riding in what had been my dad’s first brand-new car. You see, somebody had used mother’s territory, uninvited in a manner that was to her despicable.

Indeed, the hideousness of rape lies not so much in the brutality of the act – which indeed is unspeakable – but primarily in the ultimate violation of territory. The body is the victim’s ultimate and absolute territory. What could we claim as more of our own than our very being?

Territory can be violated in other, less dramatic ways, but the end result can be distressing nevertheless. In my case that sense came about when I last visited my childhood community a few years ago. I mention that it was “a few years ago”, because I have never really had a desire to back. That’s because ‘they’ took it away from me. They wiped a chunk of my legacy territory from the map – metaphorically, at least.

I grew up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. The Burnaby of my recall, in my little corner of that world, was a rural enclave, a refreshing haven from the larger centres. In the area around Deer Lake there were still small farms, wildlife in the manner of raccoons, deer, and even the odd bear. Roads were gravel; mucky in the winter, and dusty in the summer. Access to Vancouver in terms of transit, was limited.

Burnaby today is an urban jungle, to my way of thinking. I do not recognize it and, at some inner level of despair, resent the fact that it has been changed so radically. Territoriality is violated when that which was cherished is taken indirectly away.

The last time I spent any time there, about a decade ago, as I was waiting in a mass of traffic at an intersection that was once bordered by forest rather than high-rises, I fumed xenophobically: Who the hell are these people all around me? I don’t know any of them. They didn’t live here when I did. Why are they here? Where did they come from? This is ‘my’ town, not theirs. They are interlopers. I want my Burnaby back. My old school, Douglas Road Elementary is still there, but the neighborhood is from an alien planet and was plunked down when I was away.

But then, I thought, I probably look a little different, too. But, the point lingered in my mind. I once had a conversation with a friend who in middle age had visited the small Ontario town in which he grew up. He was delighted in the fact it was virtually unchanged. I resented him for that. Why should he have his childhood turf intact, while mine has all gone away?

Back to Freud, in conclusion. Yes, sex is mighty important, thank God. But, in its essence, even sex is territorial. That is why we have the emotion of jealousy, and why adultery causes fits of consternation in most circles. Not so much because it’s sinful (the sinful nature is a matter for individual beliefs), but because it means somebody else is rooting around in another’s turf.

Anyway, it might have been well to have asked old Sigmund after he fled Austria to escape the Nazi boots tromping through Vienna following the Anschluss, whether he was thinking more about sex, or territory. Knowing him, it was probably sex.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Now, you have to promise me you won't tell a soul!

I found during my stint at addictions counselling that the rehab business is filled with cute – sometimes trite, sometimes clichéd and sometimes relatively wise – slogans, sayings and aphorisms.

“You’re only as sick as your secrets,” is a prominent one of those. And, in that, there is a certain wisdom. The wisdom involves denial, and if you are denying to yourself and others a behaviour, then you will not get well until you face your reality. Are you knocking off two quarts a day? Have you sold the family farm to finance a crack addiction? Are you screwing whoever has a pulse even though you are married or in a relationship? Well then, pal, you have some pretty heavy-duty secrets to address.

But, hey, we all have secrets. Life revolves around secrets. Gossip mags would do no business if they weren’t revealing so-called secrets; politicians would be in unemployment lines if they revealed all that they know; newspaper people know stuff about prominent individuals that, for fear of libel suits, they could never reveal (believe me in this. I know of cases like, for example, the British Columbia politician from years past who was known to the hookers he frequented as ‘Golden Shower Bob’); and far more marriages would head to the divorce courts if all husbands and wives revealed to their spouses all of their thoughts and monkey-business.

Of course then there is the matter of keeping secrets. Somebody reveals an item to you “in confidence.” Well, of course, it is not going to stay in confidence. It is going to be passed on at the earliest possible instant. In fact, if you’re a normal human being, you probably can’t wait to reveal it to “somebody you trust won’t tell a soul,” which they will do as soon as they get the chance. Why not? I mean, the first person to break the code of secrecy was the one who told you in the first place.

We like knowing ‘secrets’. To know a secret is to be empowered. You know something somebody else doesn’t and it’s at your discretion to reveal it – or not. But, you will in all likelihood.

Indeed even our legal codes revolve around secrets. Somebody might confess to their doctor, lawyer, therapist or priest a particular thing that might not bode well for them in a court of law. As we know from L&O reruns, it’s pretty difficult for prosecutors to get their hands on such information. They can if the confession involves a crime, but access is still very difficult. Meanwhile, doctors and shrinks are bound by professional codes of confidentiality. Mighty good thing. Can you imagine the stuff these people know? If they weren’t so bound, nobody would ever tell them anything.

Our secrets fall into various categories in terms of seriousness. They include:

Harmless secrets: Nothing spectacular here. Sort of guilty pleasures. Maybe you take some kind of kinky pleasure in the lingerie ads of the Sears catalogue, or maybe you secretly listen to hip-hop when the kids are at school.

Secrets that you will only share with the privileged: Your spouse knows many things about you that you would not like revealed to the general public unless you’re some sort of a sleaze. This is where doctors and therapists can come into the picture, too. In such cases, you may hold certain items back from you spouse that you might tell a shrink. TMI situations come into this, too. People will glibly reveal some bit of esoterica about themselves (especially if they have been tippling a little too extensively), and then utterly regret what they told another.

Secrets you don’t want revealed: These include such items as childhood sexual abuse, infidelity, breaches of the law, substance abuse, spousal abuse, incidents of driving while intoxicated, inappropriate sexual overtures to others. The ‘elephant in the room’ sort of secret falls into this category.

Secrets you have difficulty admitting to yourself and would be mortified if somebody else were to ever find out: Surprisingly enough, or maybe not surprisingly, we all have these. These are found in our innermost thoughts (and agonies). Such secrets are highly guilt-inducing and will sometimes prompt expressions of disgust or even behaviors in which others are assailed for beliefs that the assailant actually holds. Here you get gay-bashing by the closet gay-in-denial, anti-pornography crusades by the porno-addicted; and racist or sexist jokes (“Hey, it was only meant to be funny; I don’t really believe that”) by people who ‘really do believe that.’ Such secrets can also involve sexual feelings or attitudes that might be anathema to others, so those who hold on to such secrets are often in a deep moral struggle.

And, you know what? I have lots of personal secrets that I am not prepared to share. Bet you do, too. But, I’m not about to ask, even though I’m dying to know.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

An acrylic return visit to Annecy

This isn't really a moment of vainglory, I just mainly wanted to see what this painting looked like when posted. It's a view of a canal scene in the exquisite town of Annecy, France (about which I wrote in a blog while I was in France).

So, I'm not certain if the painting is completely finished to my liking, but I am also wary of that old 'one last tap' thing, in which the sculptor after laboring for years on a statue of either the Virgin Mary or Britney Spears, is tempted by that one more tap, only to have the entire thing split right down the middle. So, I'll live with it for a few days before I decide about the 'tap'.

Anyway, I am quite pleased with it as is, and I hope it will be the first in a serious I want to do pertaining to our European sojourn in October and November last year. I am especially thrilled with the canal and the reflections in the water. I hadn't dared to do reflections in earlier paintings, and my technique just came from the top of my head and -- behold -- it actually worked; to my satisfaction, at least.

What was fun in doing this painting was that it took me right back to Annecy, with its hodgepodge of medieval and renaissance buildings, quirky little streets and alleyways, and the ubiquitous and crystaline canals circling through the old town part of the large city. Hey, I even though about our lunch of lapin et polenta in a tiny restaurant down one of those aforementioned narrow streets. It was a worthy revisitation.

The next project I want to tackle is the baroque marvel of the Grand Place in Brussels. The smooth buildings of Annecy will be a cinch compared to the intricacies and fussiness of the baroque.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mainly I just paint what I paint

A couple of weeks ago I started painting again. Painting pictures, that is, not rooms – though, God knows, some rooms could stand a bit of a touch up, too.

As it was, I had been away from my easel for about six months, so I decided it was high time to grab the brushes and acrylics, and get to work. I do that with painting. I paint – and I love it – and then I stop painting (for no apparent reason), and leave it alone for varying periods of time. The longest I went without picking up a brush was about nine years. I could say I was seeking inspiration during that time, but the truth was, life intervened and ‘real life’ antithetical to a painters work, mainly because he or she is only working in representations of life, not the real thing. When Van Gogh cut off his ear, I believe it was a matter of confusing the two. You know, you might think that cutting off your ear would bring your ladylove into your arms, but to actually act on the impulse is really excessive. Also, such silly acts rarely attract babes, and you’re going to be stuck with wearing lopsided glasses for the rest of your life.

I also think that this confusion between art and life is what led Picasso to mainly paint, drink coffee in bistros, and screw. Real people leading real lives don’t get much time to do such things. So, Picasso was confusing art and life, too. But, after he was famous, nobody had the balls to tell him.

Anyway, I don’t think I am a particularly marvellous painter. I do it because I enjoy it immensely, and it satisfies another part of any creative impulse I might have. Writing is what I ‘do’. I mean, I write such things as this blog for creative pleasure and to exercise whatever skills I posses, but mainly writing is my job. Not necessarily a lucrative job, but it is one that has come to me and it’s not as messy or claustrophobic as working down in a mine.

No, I am probably not a fine painter, and never will be. But, what is freeing for me is that I don’t care. In my writing, I care. But, with painting I am just happy to mix up paints, seek some inspiration from a photo I’ve taken, or from some other source, and go to it. It allows me to play God momentarily in that the end result of my efforts is what I want it to be. I’m not totally without vanity in this. I love to get compliments, but that is not my objective.

I’ve never taken an art lesson in my life. I’ve thought about it, and I even did make an inquiry of a local artist whose work I admire. He declined and said that he hated teaching, so wouldn’t do it. I was relieved. The reason I’ve never taken any lessons is because I fear finding out that everything I’m doing is wrong. Part of that is being male and males hate taking advice from anyone, and part of it is that if I find out what I am doing is wrong, then it will remove the pleasure. I’ll become self-conscious and will eventually give it up. I don’t want to give it up, and that’s why I don’t want to take any lessons.

It was like when my ex (and late) father-in-law decided he was going to teach me the finer points of golf. I had puttered around on golf courses for a couple of years; doing badly, but quite enjoying the exercise and fresh air in an otherwise perfectly pointless and silly recreational endeavor – in my esteem, sorry golfers. Anyway, my FIL was an avid golfer. He was also an asshole, but that is another matter entirely. I once asked his brother-in-law if FIL was actually any good. “No,” was his terse reply, “But he thinks he is.”

Anyway, right at the first tee, FIL told me that everything was wrong, from my stance, to my swing, to probably the shirt I was wearing. He then proceeded to ‘guide’ me. From there my lousy game went to absolute shit. He also took so much pleasure from what I was doing that our few hours on the links were miserable, and the displeasure wasn’t even eased by a couple of cool ones at the 19th Hole. After that day, I never golfed again.

And that’s why I don’t take art lessons. I’m afraid I might never paint again.

Note: I think I might have run my painting of this 13th Century Norfolk, England church once before. If so, I apologize for being redundant.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Sally cared. Should I?

For about 20 years I wrote a weekly newspaper column. It was popular, often funny (I hoped) and offered (I also hoped) some insights into the peculiarities of life in what was then the last quarter of the 20th Century.

I liked writing my column because it helped my thought processes. I also liked it because it was popular. It won a few newspaper awards, and people would stop me in the street to tell me how much it meant to them. A public declaration that immediately made me like the people who said such things to me. Nobody writes who doesn’t have an ego. In that I (and probably the rest of us who blog here or write elsewhere) must be honest.

I once mentioned here an incident in which a reader asked me why I didn’t declare myself politically in my column. I replied that I didn’t want to alienate half my readership by so doing. I meant it at the time, but what I maybe didn’t ‘get’ was that some of my motivation in writing the column was ‘people pleasing.’ I didn’t want to come out and declare myself because I wanted my readers to ‘like’ me. I was like Sally Field when she won her Oscar – “You like me! You really, really like me!” Nothing wrong with that. It’s better to be liked than disliked in a world gone mad. There are pressures enough all around us, surely. But, at the same time, if I find myself refraining from stating what I truly believe for the sake of placating readers, then I am compromising my integrity.

And, no, I’m not going to declare my politics, because they change day-by-day, depending on whom I’m pissed off with. I’m like WC Fields in that I always vote ‘against.’

But, speaking of pissing off, I am put in mind of a bit of wisdom offered by octogenarian (and still going strong) author, Norman Mailer. He recently offered the following insight into the writer’s craft – and obligation:

“…most writers who are timid are afraid of pissing people off because they feel they’ll lose part of their audience. My feeling has always been that one mustn’t be afraid of that. It’s much better to write with the notion that if you’re good enough, you can change people’s lives. That’s one of the powerful motives of writing, to feel that you’ve enlarged other people’s consciousness…”

In essence, I agree with Mailer. And maybe when I’m 83 I’ll have the self-confidence to have completely shucked all manifestations of people pleasing. I don’t think I’m necessarily a timid writer, but sometimes I believe I don’t have the ‘right’ to ram my opinions down the throats of others. Yet, at the same time, I have always loved inflammatory writers. I enjoy people (in literature and in life) who say exactly what they think, even if what they think is (in my esteem) bullshit. Such people may not be popular, but they possibly don’t care all that much.

Just some thoughts on this Monday morning. Gee, I hope you ‘liked’ it and then, by default, ‘liked’ me.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Not to mention things that go bump in the night

“Do you ever see ghosts in this house?” Wendy asked, out of the blue, a while ago.

“Yeah,” I replied, not really looking up from my newspaper.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me that?” she asked, a patina of alarm in her voice.

“For two reasons,” I said. “The first, and most important one is, I don’t really believe in ghosts. The second one is, even if there are ghosts, I have never heard of a ghost hurting anybody.”

You see, Wendy thinks our house is haunted, and my positive response to her initial question left her feeling more disquieted than she was before. She immediately wanted to know what I had seen or felt.

I said it was just something in my peripheral vision. Out of the proverbial “corner of my eye,” as it were. I can be sitting on the living room sofa in my usual spot, reading or watching television. From my vantage point I have a good view of the hallway that leads to the bedrooms at the far end. Sometimes – just sometimes – a sort of movement will catch the outer limits of my vision. Nothing tangible, nothing that can be described; just a sort of fleeting motion. It doesn’t upset me, but I’ll admit it catches my attention in a slightly startling manner.

Yet, I am still skeptical. Why should our house be haunted? Who would be those restless spirits who hang out at the end of the hall? What are they doing down there, anyway? I mean, all that’s down there is the bedrooms (and I’ve never had visitations at night), the laundry room, and the entrance to the garage. I mean, if they are going to hang out down there, why don’t they sort some laundry? Or, hey, do some ironing. That would be a help.

You see, our house isn’t terribly old – about 15 years max, and we’ve been in it for nearly 10. It only had one other resident; the lady who had it built. Doreen was her name. She was a widow who took ill within a year of moving in. And, alas, she died within two years. But, she died of natural causes, so why should Doreen be back to distress my wife? I mean, we are taking good care of her house. We love it, as a matter of fact. And, I might add, we don’t go around chain-smoking and burning holes in the wall-to-wall, or hammering in 10-penny nails just to hang a simple picture, like a previous inhabitant was wont to do.

If she is pissed, it’s probably about the wallpaper. You see, when we did our first viewing of the house we were almost jarred to incontinence by the astonishingly frightening wall coverings in virtually every room. Doreen obviously liked color. At the same time, the concept of having colors – not to mention patterns – complimenting one another was apparently alien to her. So, one of our first tasks, after we had made the purchase, was to strip the awfulness from the walls. Subtle pastels made it more livable for us. But, maybe that was an affront to Doreen. If so, I apologize. At the same time, I would suggest to her, since you have all of eternity to brood about this, maybe it’s time you let it go.

All in all, I think the ghost thing is rather silly. I think it’s even sillier as a source of human fear, even in the most sentient human beings. At the same time, I have had my ethereal encounters, and I probably have had them off and on throughout my life.

My first was at about age 5 when I saw a ghostly face in the woods near my home. At first I thought it might be my Aunt Vivian out for a walk, but then I realized the face was even paler than Vivian’s was, even on a bad day. I don’t remember being terribly upset, but I went home and told my mother I’d seen a ghost. She was unnerved by it, even though I was just a child and children have fertile imaginations. But, Mom truly believed I’d seen an apparition. It frightened her.

Maybe women are more frightened by ghosts than males are, though I am not prepared to make such an assertion. Females of my acquaintance, however, seem more inclined to believe in them.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t believe in them, even if I do run into them once in a while.

Do you have any ghostly encounters you would like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The long-ago Riot in Cellblock #5

As follows is an excerpt from a book manuscript I am currently toiling over. It's a history of Burnaby, the community in which I grew up and spent the first 24 years of my life. The excerpt below concerns a particular incident during my lacklustre high school years. By the way, the mention of Michael J. Fox in the accompanying photo refers to the fact that Michael and I both went to Burnaby Central, at slightly different periods in history. Anyway, the excerpt concerns only one moment in my education, but it is one that sticks in my mind with much poignancy.

Somewhere in their pop opus the Beachboys crooned a ditty entitled ‘Be True to Your School.’ I never got that sentiment. Maybe their school was very different from my school, but I never had any thoughts about Burnaby Central High School that didn’t include a scenario of seeing it erupt in flames, taking the administrator (though not the vice-principal) with it, as well as probably half the faculty. In other words, my retrospective view of BCHS is not one of bittersweet nostalgia, but one of deep antipathy and anger that can still prevail if I think about it enough. Fortunately, I don’t think about it enough, because it’s not worthy of such rumination.

The one thing that wasn’t strange, however, was our principal. To my horror the boss of the place was to be the same cold fish I’d had at elementary school lo those many years before. ‘Those many years,’ by the way, was a grand total of three years, but time is a relative thing when one is young, and three years prior seems like the distant past.

I suppose the insult implied in his placement in the position was – aside from the fact he was a man so square he would have made Richard Nixon seem like a hip hellraiser in comparison – that he was an elementary school principal. An elementary school principal who brought with him, tucked in his little briefcase, elementary school principal values and attitudes as to what student behavior should look like. What it should look like, in his esteem, was ongoing and utter deference. It didn’t work for him, and it most certainly didn’t work for the students.

Back to the subject at hand. Everything considered, it might be seen that any woes I faced at Central were largely ones of my own making. But, that’s not entirely so. Central was a bit like a prison cellblock in the sense that the coldness of the principal’s personality filtered through the place. He ran a tight ship and any violation of the rules only meant the imposition of further rules, and the loss of more freedoms. The man was a fool and had obviously missed the message of The Caine Mutiny, if he had ever seen it. While rendering the lives of the students less-and-less salutary, he decried the lack of school spirit – the sort of spirit to be found at the other two high schools in the municipality. He would pound this message to us at our Monday assembles, which were held first period each and every Monday, and in which further rules would regularly be thrown at a student body growing increasingly restless and unhappy. What he didn’t recognize was that there were rumblings of discontent. Growing rumblings of displeasure by a group of young people who finally came to realize that they did not need to accept his unfair and punitive decrees. “Kill our shore-leave and Saturday night movies, will ya?” That’s right, ultimately, in my twelfth-grade year, the boss was to have his “Captain Queeg moment.” I wonder if he ever fully recovered from it?

It was at just one of those aforementioned Monday assemblies that his fan became dung-splattered and the repercussions were huge. It was in the late spring, as I recall. We had been guilty (we were always guilty in the man’s little mind) of some sort of new malfeasance, and therefore we were to lose yet another privilege. The audience greeted his decree with silence. And then somebody – I have no idea who – began to stamp his feet on the gymnasium floor. And then somebody else picked up on it. The stamping grew louder and louder until, or so it seemed, the entire gym was stamping in unison. He raised his hands and cried for our silence; he uttered threats; he told us our conduct was disgraceful and that we would pay for it; he even threatened to call the police if we didn’t cease the behavior. His face blanched as students began rising up from their folding chairs and began approaching the stage. The man retreated, and his place was taken centre-stage by the vice-principal who appealed to us to calm down. We did, sort of, out of a certain respect for the veep. He appealed to us to go back to our homerooms. We shuffled back, taking as long as we chose to get to those destinations.

Back in the homeroom the teacher lit into us. Known (not affectionately) as “The Guillotine”, this guy, who ruined senior history for me with his Marxist and stridently anti-American spin on virtually every topic, was a big man with flaming red hair and a temperament to match his fiery curls. He was a sonofabitch who terrorized his students into complacency. It seems it had worked for him for years. This time it didn’t. We ignored his fulminations as he told us what a disgrace we were and how we were going to pay for this transgression. Nobody was intimidated any longer. The moment of tyranny had passed and no terrorism by officialdom was going to bring it back. The commander had lost control so his underlings were rendered impotent. We had won!

What we had witnessed was the decline and fall of a man who was a victim of the Peter Principle in action. As an ironic aside, the then-wife of Lawrence Peter, who created that principle, was my math teacher at Central. Maybe she should have warned her boss what was coming.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Nooooo! Say it can't be so!

Do you ever have those moments in which you imagine a worst-possible-scenario pertaining to a situation you are dealing with and think, wouldn’t it be awful if …? Do you ever have those moments in which you do that, and then the WPS actually comes true? I had one of those yesterday.

Wendy’s car hadn’t been used in over a week. It was sitting outside and during that time of idleness it had suffered an onslaught of snow and chill and the general inclemency that has been our fate in this nastiest of winters this season. As she headed off to work (she walks), she suggested I might get the car going and take it for a drive since it had been sitting for so long. Not a problem. I had to get some groceries before I got to my writing, so I wanted the car in any case. I mean, I could have used my own, but hers needed a run.

It was still well below freezing when I went outside to approach the car. When I got there, the door lock on the driver’s side was utterly frozen. I did the old trick of warming the key with a cigarette lighter, but it was to no avail. Still feeling positive and without a care, I went to the passenger side. Aha! The door opened. I crawled within and fired the car up and put the heater and defroster on full blast. I thought I would then hang around and wait until some of the encrusted ice melted and windshield scraping would be facilitated. So, I exited the vehicle, thinking I should make sure I don’t shut the passenger door tightly just in case it should inadvertently lock on me, and there I would be stuck with the car running and no means of entry. Wouldn’t that be awful? So, I shut the door to the first click and stood around with my hands in my pockets for a few minutes.

After a quarter of an hour I noticed that the ice was melting nicely on the windshield, so I went to enter the car. The door was locked! No, I thought, it can’t be locked. Please dear God, don’t let it be locked. But, I looked at the button. It was down. Absofuckinglutely the car was locked! It was utterly and consummately locked. It was locked tighter than Rosie O’Donnell’s knees would be if Donald Trump were to walk into the room. Then I remembered. The master lock is in the driver’s door. If that door is locked, all others (as a child minder, if nothing else) lock automatically the moment they are closed – even if they are closed only to the first click.

At first I couldn’t believe what had happened. Secondly, I thought, don’t panic. There must be a simple solution to this. I racked my brain. I could come up with no simple solutions. I was starting to panic. A neighbor strolled by. He pondered the situation I was in, and told me of the one time he had done that. Everybody has a tale about when they locked their keys in the car, it seems. He went and got a coathanger. It was to no avail, try as we might. Meanwhile the car kept contentedly chugging away while chunks of snow and ice fell off the windshield and to the ground. At least it was thawing out.

He gave up finally and suggested I call the Automobile Association, if I was a member. Blessedly, I am. I had my cellphone with me. I called – and I called –and I called. All I got over a period to 20 minutes was a busy signal. This was no good. Meanwhile the car was sitting there, idling away and adding to the GDP of assorted emirates.

I finally decided I had no choice but to call for a cab. A cab that would take me to Wendy’s workplace, where I could get her keys and then come back to open the car. The idea of explaining what a putz I had been wasn’t comforting, no matter how understanding she might be. I was still feeling mortified by my stupidity. Anyway, the cab came; I went to her office; the cab waited for me; I then went back to the car.

“At least she’ll be warmed up for you now,” said the cabbie, with a smirk, when we got back.

You might be wise to keep your smartass comments to yourself since I haven’t given you a tip yet, I thought. But, I did tip him. And then I thought that aside from burning up gallons of gasoline, I also had to fork out $15 for cab fare, plus a tip, and all for the sake of my stupidity.

Some days it’s better just to stay in bed.

That was the second time in my life I’ve done that. I won’t tell you about the first. I’ve been humiliated enough in the past 24-hours.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Get a grip! Sometimes it''s just a cigar.

I stole this puppy from Aliemalie mainly because I felt lazy this morning and it was kind of fun to do a bit of superficial personality profiling. Feel free to indulge yourselves with it. Since it’s already pilfered property, it won’t bother me at all. But, if you are seeking in-depth psychoanalytical stuff here, or lots of symbolism, you are bound to be disappointed. This is just me on Monday morning, January 15th, 2007.

A = Available ~ Nope
B = Best Friend ~ Two of my best friends died prematurely, but they still fall into the ‘best’ category. One lives in Australia, and another across the country in Toronto. See, no fuss, no muss. Otherwise, my wife, Wendy.
C = Cake or pie ~ French petits fours and mousses. It was good I walked a lot when I was in France or I would have ballooned.
D = Drink of choice ~ Good strong coffee, café au lait (preferably in a French sidewalk café, and back when I drank alcohol, Bisquit Cognac, or single malt scotch.
E = Essential item you use everyday ~ Shampoo, and especially Prell if I have it.
F = Favorite color ~ Blue, orange. Orange is my comfort color.
G = Neither, if truth be known. Not much of a candy consumer.
H = Hometown ~ Vancouver originally, and in recent years Comox on Vancouver Island.
I = Indulgences Travel, and especially Kauai, my spiritual home.
J = January or February ~ February. It’s shorter, which means that spring will soon be coming.
K = Kids and Names ~ I’ve always liked Jane for girls, and Michael for boys.
L = Life is incomplete without? ~ Travel (I agree with Alie on this one), but I would also add that love (given and received) is the true frosting.
M = Marriage date ~ Which one?
N = Number of siblings ~ Two younger brothers.
O = Oranges or apples ~ Oranges. Especially mandarins.
P = Phobias or Fears ~ Heights. I cannot even watch film footage of high steel workers. On the other hand, flying doesn’t bother me at all. I guess that’s because one is so detached from the firmament 30,000 feet below.
Q = Favorite Quote ~ “Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song/a medley of extemporanea/love is a thing that can never go wrong/and I am Marie of Romania,” Dorothy Parker.
R = Reason to smile ~ Even though the current cold numbs my soul, the sun is shining, and I took a train trip yesterday. Rail travel always makes me smile.
S = Season ~ Spring. The buds swell and burst into glorious blossom and that makes me believe that life will go on in its glorious cycle and “God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.”
T = Tag 3 or 4 people ~ Zilch.
U = Unknown fact about me ~ I’d like to say my life is an open book. But, parts are closed and I’ll leave them between covers, thank you very much. But, I did kiss Kim Cattral once and she wasn’t at all like Samantha about it. Or, maybe it was something about me? Hmm.
V = Vegetable you don't like ~ Zucchini or parsnips.
W = Worst habit ~ Making a comment to another before thinking the comment through and how it might be construed. This can result in either insulting and offending the person, or enticing them more than I intended.
X = X-rays ~ Mainly dental.
Y = Your favorite food ~ Crunchy Vietnamese spring rolls, roast prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, Swedish meatballs, steak and kidney pie, my own homemade potato salad, French Canadian split pea soup with lots of chunks of ham, Norfolk dumplings, dim sum, etc. etc. etc. etc.
Z = Zodiac Sign ~ Pisces. Good thing I’m on the Aquarius cusp, however, or I’d really have gone to hell with depravity and sloth. But, I do get the advantages of the Piscean sensuality, creativity, sensitivity, and certain psychic instincts.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

We can't help it. It's a guy thing.

A little gem of self-generated wisdom for a Saturday: All men are guys, but not all guys are men. Male yes, but not necessarily men in the sense of being industrious, responsible, respectable, courageous, reverent and gentlemanly human beings. You get my drift. Joe Sixpack is assuredly a guy, but only rarely a ‘man.’ The obverse of this is, however, that all men, probably even the Pope or the Dalai Lama lapse into being ‘guys’ if the circumstances are right.

Get the Swiss Guard and the faithful retainers out of this chambers and the Pope doffs the garb and dons Levis and a sweatshirt with the motto: “I am the Boss of You!” He maybe then cracks a cool one (Rome gets mighty warm in the summer) and flicks on his favorite reality show: Born to Go to Hell, in which assorted sinners (adulterers, murderers, sodomites, thieves, etc.) vie to show their sins in action. The panel then decides whose sins are the most revolting, and relegates failed participants to Purgatory rather than actual Hell. The winner will be the one sentence to eternal damnation, or two weeks with Celine Dion in Vegas at the end of the season.

A similar thing happens to me when I am outside scrutiny. No, I don’t really go to Hell (well, I used to, but that’s a story for another time), but I do revert to being a guy nearly the moment my wife’s car is out of the driveway.

I don’t mean to suggest I’m a slob or uncaring, because I don’t think I am. In fact, back in my ‘inter-marriage’ days I was known for keeping a pretty neat and inviting bachelor pad. I even used to buy flowers for a dining table vase. There were no piles of newspapers lying around, and my dishes were always neatly stacked in the dishwasher – where they’d sit dirty for a week until I had enough of a load to justify turning it on, or if I ran out of dishes.

All looked quite lovely – as long as nobody looked in the crud room, which was the second bedroom. That was a cluttered mess of stuff I had never quite found a place for. The cat liked sleeping in there because he could obscure himself under boxes, piles of clothes, and so forth. It was like an adventure park for him. But, the crud room was OK because nobody, and especially a female houseguest, was ever invited to enter its portals.

Anyway, Wendy was just away for two weeks working in another town, and I felt the house looked pretty darn good pending her return. Dishes were washed and no newspapers were strewn about. Yet, when she arrived back yesterday she wasn’t in the house for five minutes before she’d picked up a dishrag and began wiping down counters, muttering, “this is dirty,” under her breath. Hmm, I thought I had wiped it down, but I guess I had missed that spot. Otherwise, though, nothing much was amiss. Beds were made, and a modicum of dusting had been attempted.

You see, what happens when a man is alone is that he can revert to a wonderful world of no restrictions. Consequently meals are consumed in front of the TV, the cat’s dish gets encrusted with dried food – he doesn’t care because he’s a guy cat – and his litter box gets a trifle pungent. Oh yeah, the litter box. Well, that’s not so much of a problem since it usually announces its entirely-too-fragrant state all by itself. Otherwise, dishes can be left to soak for hours and hours in the sink until the water grows cold and then the sink can merely be drained and new hot water can be run. By that time they’ve virtually washed themselves and virtually or literally no scrubbing is demanded. Following that, the dishes can be piled on the sideboard to air dry while I go back to catch Jeopardy.

The ‘guy’ nature of guys, Wendy says is that they don’t notice things that women instinctively do. They were trained by their mothers to be fastidious and, in most cases, that impulse never leaves. My ex-wife (who was a neat-freak of the most anal sort) told me once that she always felt her mother breathing down her neck if anything was askew in the house. Consequently, nothing was ever askew. I once suggested to her that nobody has ever lain on their deathbed worrying if their house was untidy.

“I would,” she replied.

I believed her.

However, I got the residual from that relationship in that when I was living on my own, I invariably felt my ex breathing down my neck when I was being too ‘guy-like’ in my housekeeping. But, I guess that has started to wane a bit with the passage of time. However, I think any backsliding on my part can be attributed to Wendy for not being strident enough in the realm of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” So, if I’m reverting, she can only blame herself.

I can’t help it. I’m just a guy.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Those old flannel-shirt wearing weather blues!

It’s flannel shirt weather.

I hate that!

I hate it for two reasons. The first reason is that flannel shirts never make a fashion statement – they always look dorky and functional. The second is that flannel shirt weather means it’s not aloha shirt weather. In other words, it’s too cold to be acceptable.

I have a grand total of three flannel shirts hanging in my closet. I detest it when conditions are such that I have to say, post-shower: “Well, I guess I’ll have to put on a (profane adjective indicating sexual intercourse) flannel shirt. I put it on and immediately I feel like Bob and Doug Mackenzie, or Red Green. That’s because flannel shirts prototypically Canadian.

So, that’s another reason I don’t like flannel shirts – they are so Canadian. Not that I am troubled about being Canadian. As North American nations go, it’s a reasonably decent place in which to reside. In fact, I believe it was George W. Bush who once stated: “Now that I know where Canada is, I am comfortable in stating that Canada is America’s favorite northern neighbor.” High praise indeed.

What I don’t like about being Canadian is that we tend to have winter. We on the west coast don’t have ‘winter’ like the weird hinterland parts of the country, but this year it has been very winterish. Right now temperatures are well below freezing and, even though the sun is shining, it’s still demanding of garment insulation.

My antipathy to flannel shirts goes back to junior high. About the end of eighth grade I announced to my mother that I world no longer wear flannel shirts. Checked flannel shirts were only worn by dorks. Dorks who button them right to the top and tuck them into their dorky corduroy pants and then pull their pants up to a point immediately south of the ribcage. No, I wasn’t that kind of a kid. I was no dork! I was no Beaver Cleaver (I aspired to be Wally-like) as in the illustration where you can see the collar of his, yep, flannel shirt. No, Beaver was not Canadian, but I think he may have been an honorary Canadian. Therefore, I could only be decked out in non-dork garments. Garments that made a statement about my coolness – such as a light cotton shirt, open to the belly-button and then tucked into Levis that rested around my hips. Oh, and the shirt collar was required to be turned up at the back. Incredibly cool was I.

In fact, I was as dorkish (actually, I’m not sure that such terms as dork, dweeb, nerd or any of the other current pejoratives were around at that time, but you get my drift) as everybody else, and maybe just a little more facile, which was why costuming seemed to be important.

I outgrew any obsessive need to appear cool, but I have been left with a residual antipathy to flannel shirts. Truly, what could be more dorky-looking than an aloha shirt – unless you happen to be in Hawaii and are Tom Selleck – on an otherwise normally well-dressed man? I have no answer for that.
But, I still hate flannel shirts, and that’s why on this chilly day I am wearing a turtle-neck tee under a pullover sweater. How Jack Kerouac.

On the other hand, Kerouac died a drunken bum at an early, whereas Bill Gates (who definitely looks like a flannel shirt wearer) is just rolling in bucks.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

At least Endymion stayed cute

“Countin’ flowers on the wall,
that don’t bother me at all.”

Except that we don’t have any flowers on the wall, just a comforting, rose-hued paint. So, I can’t buck insomnia that way any more than I can do it by “playin’ solitaire till dawn with a pack of 51.”

I’ve always been a lousy sleeper. I’ve worked at eradicating it, but I still get visitations from the evil 'Anti-Morpheus' (AKA the God of Wakefulness) on an irregular basis, at least.

Right now Wendy is working away from home, so I’m alone here. That’s when my sleeping patterns are really disrupted. I have no trouble falling asleep, but comes 3 AM or 3:30 I awaken. Usually a call of nature wrests me from my slumber, but by the time I totter back to bed, it’s usually game-over in terms of slumberland. Wives or female partners are often irked by a male’s tendency to pee in the dark, and sometimes missing the mark. Well, the reason is simple. If one switches on the light any chance of returning to sleep is destroyed. So, we rely on sound. Anyway, women are at an unfair advantage in this regard. All they need to do is plant their cute bums on the commode and let go. That can be accomplished in the dark. Why should males be different in terms of letting there be light? But, I digress. Back to sleeplessness.

When Wendy is away the house seems terribly empty at 3 in the morning. That’s normally a nice time to turn on my side and cuddle. Yes, just cuddle – usually. Well, I’m only human. Anyway, cuddling with a pillow is a paltry substitute. Doing anything else with a pillow is highly questionable behavior and not to be considered here. It’s nothing to do with being lonely. I am not lonely. We have a wonderful relationship so I rarely feel the pangs of “oh, lonesome me.” No, I just feel kind of isolated.

So, I lie there. I try to clear my mind in Zen-like fashion. In terms of getting to sleep I’m actually quite adept at clearing my mind, but not at 3 a.m. What to do? The more I fret, the less chance there is of slumbering again. Winter’s not so bad in terms of early awakening. Summer is terrible because the light (and the birds) arrive so early. It’s not that I have a desire to be Endymion. I don’t want to sleep forever, I just want to get something resembling, say, seven hours. Eight has been out of the question for years.

And, of course, the longer I lie there, the more I think about things. I don’t just think about ordinary things like whether it’s going to snow or the prettiness of the girl who served me at the supermarket that day, but I think about ‘life’ things, verities. I think about whether I have done the right things career-wise; former relationships and marriages; whether or not I am ‘happy’; should I have really tried to tell my father I loved him before he died; how long I have left on this planet; how I’d like to die (not at all springs to mind); what happens after one is dead; what does infinity look like – and so forth.

“Tossin’ and turnin’
Turnin’ and tossin’
Tossin’ and turnin’
All night.”

As I said, I used to have a very hard time falling asleep. Life wasn’t good when I had bedtime insomnia. My marriage(s) were bad; work pressure was huge; I was fiercely ambitious and wasn’t really getting to where I wanted to be; I was madly in love with assorted people whom I wasn’t supposed to be madly in love with, etc. Morpheus really never visited in those days. Back then I would try to combat insomnia in not very effective ways – usually involving booze. A couple of stiff drinks would do the trick, I believed (wrongly). Sometimes it would knock me out, but then I’d awaken within a couple of hours, feeling like crap. And sometimes back then I’d literally lie awake all night.

It’s nothing like that now. Now I generally fall asleep, but now suffer (periodically) at the other end of the night. Since I no longer drink, that’s not an option. I’ll sometimes do the warm milk thing (not all that effective); sometimes I’ll read, but then I get engrossed in the book and even more awake; and sometimes I’ll simply say to hell with it and get up, consoling myself that Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison were both insomniacs and they lived to ripe old ages.

And, since I work from home, I can always nap. Nap and disrupt the next night’s sleep. Aye, there’s the rub.


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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

To hell with waiting for the Muse -- Just send the money!

Publish or perish be damned. There are times I’d rather perish than wait, and wait and wait, only to be rejected at the end of the process.

I only mention this because yesterday, after much breast-beating, procrastination, being filled with a profound sense of unworthiness and all the other facets of writer angst, I finally finished a freelance travel article and sent it off to a newspaper that regularly prints – though sometimes rejects – my stuff. So now I’m waiting.

Writing is a loathsome business. Dorothy Parker once told a journalism class at some college or other that she detested writing. What she liked was “having written.” The process of putting thoughts into words is messy and dissatisfying. The thought exists clearly and profoundly, but then the words just don’t work. The best analogy I can make is to sexual performance anxiety. You are feeling “that way.” Scenarios play out in the head. Wonderful scenarios. The chance for an encounter presents itself and since there has been so much anticipation of what it will play out like – nothing works. Too much scene playing has led to a sterility of action. Too much conjecture about how a bit of writing will read means that the piece will never come together.

In that regard, writing to a newspaper’s deadline was better. You simply don’t have time to speculate. The old credo of “get the fucking thing down before deadline” means that you don’t think, you just write. And sometimes it actually comes out not looking bad. The flow is natural and the story is told and the phones don’t light up with the calls of irate readers, or story subjects threatening to sue.

So, as I said, right now I’m waiting. Waiting in this high-tech age is less onerous than it once was. There was a time when the article had to be bundled up in a brown manila envelope, replete with photos and cover letter, and then the package was mailed. The waiting game then was long and nasty. Only the naïve and inexperienced, by the way, ever included a SASE. To throw in that stamped and self-addressed envelope meant that the temptation was too great for the publisher or editor to immediately reject the copy and send it back. After I’d been in the game for a while I made sure that everything I sent was expendable.

Now it’s different, and sometimes more intimidating. You merely finish the piece to your liking. Hopefully somebody edits it – somebody relatively objective and knowledgeable (no writer should ever edit his or her own stuff) – and then you send it off, complete with digital photos. And that’s all there is to it. But, despite the process, the waiting time can still be lengthy.

What I try to do once I’ve hit the ‘send’ key is to then completely forget about it and go out for a coffee. I rarely succeed with the forgetting about it part.

Of course, then if the piece is rejected, the agony begins – the breast-beating, the self-flagellation. “I’m no good. Why in the hell did I ever choose this as a calling? What made me think I could write for a living? I think I’m a writer and then I look at the works of other people and I am so ashamed, etc. etc. etc.”

On the other hand, it might be accepted! Am I, the writer, then filled with jubilation? Not really. I’ll scrutinize closely the finished and printed piece and my phraseology will seem awkward and amateurish to me. I’ll find it embarrassing and maybe even feel like a fraud that was only dealing with a crappy editor who didn’t find all the dreadful flaws in my work.

On the other hand, I know payment will be forthcoming. And, as Dorothy Parker (again) said: “The tree sweetest words in the English language are: Check in mail.”

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Where the boys are, don't count on me

I was thinking of going all gratuitous again with this blog and ponder the question of thongs and the women who either wear them or refuse, for a number of reasons, to wear them. Then I caught myself and decided that the world was a serious place, so there was no room for naughty innuendo and suggestion when there are so many serious matters to be considered.

Therefore, I decided to write about men who hang out with men, instead. I was sitting solo in a favorite coffee joint of Wendy’s and mine this morning, sipping my Starbucks Tall Cardio Challenge Blend and pondering the verities of life – like thongs, for example – when a group of middle aged guys strolled in, chatting amiably with one another.

I had seen the group together at other times and had sometimes wondered about the reason for the gathering. I knew a couple of them slightly, though not all, and I knew they were heterosexual males in various professional callings, like teachers, academics, and so forth. I guess the point that perplexes me is to see a group of guys who prefer the company of men sufficiently to meet up on a regular basis. In other words, to ‘hang out.’

To hang out with no particular purpose other than whatever bond they had. They aren’t members of a team of some sort. That would make sense – you know, post touch-football or golf. They aren’t all in the same sort of business, so it wasn’t a conference situation. No, it seems they’re just buddies. I guess that’s kind of nice, in a way. Nice, but I don’t understand it.

Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. I have no objections to my own sex. I have a few good male friends whom I cherish deeply. Periodically I’ll go for lunch or coffee with another guy. It’s just that I have very little desire to buddy-up in a group any longer. In fact, I haven’t much wanted to since I was about 18.

At an earlier stage in life when girls are still something of an alien species – beautiful and tempting, but real scary – guys hang out. They take comfort in their maleness and they do male things like play sports, ride around in cars, talk about cars, talk about sports, and generally eat, burp and fart a lot. It’s part of the process of growing up. It’s healthy. But, past a certain age, it becomes boring and tiresome.

But then there comes a day when girls are not only less scary, but that their company is infinitely more desirable for not just the obvious reason, but because they smell nice, look great, and open the male up to realms he hadn’t really considered in the past. It’s great.

After I had made those discoveries, I no longer wanted to hang with a group of guys. My good friends stayed good friends, but the rest of the gang went their separate ways and I’ve never really missed them. Since adulthood I’ve always preferred the company of females. Some of my best friends are female, and I generally trust their counsel. The females in my life have been good to me. Even my ex wives, despite our domestic problems, were and are good people, and they generally (with a few notable behavioural exceptions – yikes!) treated me with more kindness and compassion than most males are capable of doing. My wife of today is truly my best friend, and I would always prefer to be in her company than in any male’s. There are things that I would tell my wife, or a female friend, that I would never tell another guy. Another guy just wouldn’t understand, even if he’d been through the same thing himself. And if he had, he wouldn’t admit it.

“So, Frank, I just have to share this with you. My wife and I are having problems communicating and I’m feeling in a lot of pain and I need some comfort from somebody I’m close to. I need to unload my innermost anxieties and give vent to my deeper feelings of angst and fear that she is going to leave me.”

“Gee, Ralph. That’s tough. How about them Yanks, huh?”

See what I mean. A woman, on the other hand, if Ralph were to come to her with the same scenario, would be all sympathy and caring, even if she didn’t know Ralph very well. In fact, with two males, under ordinary circumstances, the situation wouldn’t have even occurred. Ralph would have been afraid of appearing weak.

So, that’s why I like girls. Also because they smell nice. And because some of them wear thongs.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sometimes it's time to move on

I've had three distinct careers during my working stay on the planet. I've been a secondary school teacher; I've been a newspaper guy (columnist,reporter, editor); and I've been an addictions counselor. In between I'vebeen a millhand, toiled in a welding shop, and struggled as a freelance writer. For my generation, I'm a bit of an anomaly in that I didn't stay put in my original professional calling -- teaching.

Actually, teaching wasn't my first career choice, it was merely a possible option. In truth, I wasn't focused in the way that some dedicated souls are; those who know they really really want to be a surgeon, lawyer or mob enforcer, and thusly begin to work towards that goal from an early age. So, with no particular work place to go to, I shilly-shallied through university; got grades sufficient to carry me through to the next year, and loved campus life in all it's facets from the classroom, to the beer-blasts, to making out in the back seat of a car. I toyed with the law as a possibility for a while before I got my degree, but wondered if I had sufficient arrogance to let myself become certifiably insufferable.

I also had some romantic notions of being a career academic, all tweedy, drinking too much to mask my 'pain', whatever it might be – you know, like the character that Michael Caine played in the film Educating Rita -- and seducing comely and romantic coeds all over the place. I kept the thought of academic graduate work in mind, but concluded after getting my degree that it would be satisfying to get out and earn a few dollars for two or three years, and then go back. So, I became a public school teacher.

I knew even then that I had no intention of regarding the schoolmaster's trade as anything more than an interim episode between stages of my 'real life'. The pay was terrible when I began teaching, but it was a secure job, and would enable me to 'settle down', and also to have a couple of months off each and every summer. I'll be honest, those big long vacations were alluring. Teachers lie about the never-ending vacations not being a motivator in career choice. It’s a huge one.

Oh well, maybe it was just me, and perhaps it was this lack of passion that ultimately drove me away from the trade. Anyway, after a few years of listening to contemporaries get into staff lounge discussions of such esoterica as "how much pension will I get when Iretire" when they were still in their twenties. I decided I didn't want my life mapped out in that way.

There was also the politics of a job that seemed toreward the mediocre and eschewed advancement for the genuinely creative, either teacher or student. Public education by its nature has to be an encouragement of mediocrity and of learning to play the game always by the rules. In that it's an effective preparation for the continuation of the North American dream, alas.

I know those are sweeping generalizations, but what I soon realized was that, as a teacher I was undergoing the same emotional stresses that put me off school when I was a student -- I was bored silly, and frustrated by the pettiness of the process.

"Think our team will take the basketball tournament this weekend?"

"Gee, Ralph, to have an opinion on that would mean I'd actually have togive a shit."

Didn't give a shit when I was seventeen, and still didn't give a shit at twenty-seven. In other words, the system and I weren't a good fit. I liked the education part of the equation, and was stimulated by the process of purveying knowledge. I liked my students, and cared about their well-being and their futures, but I was at a personal impasse. I just didn't want to be in that racket any more by the time I left my twenties, because I knew instinctively that I didn't have the power to make it a good fit for me. I wasn't getting out of it what I wanted to get out of a calling. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I wanted to get, but I knew it had little connection with chalk-dust. So, I parted ways with the pretty and perky girls, and the gawky but often amusingly charming boys, and ultimately (after a hiatus in which I flailed around in blind panic) found myself in the sleazily seductive world of newspapering.

A business that was (and is), of all occupations, held in even lower public esteem than the law was the one that drew me in after my teaching sojourn. It drew me because at many levels it worked much better than teaching for me. I was too irreverent for conventional pedagogy. I realized quickly that I felt more at home with a crew that felt like my kinda people: crude, lewd and rude, but also intelligent, inventive, cynically witty and creative as hell in some cases -- and certifiably wacky in others.

Newspaper work became a life calling of sorts, and is the occupation I labored at longer than others in my go-around. And, of course I still freelance and even earn a few bucks.

"It gets in your blood," is how the cliché goes, and that is fair enough. I am still connected enough that I can rage at a badly handled story, and I never visit another city or town without buying the local rag shortly after my arrival. If nothing else, I love the gossip that is the essential nature of the calling.

Then in a moment of something or other a few years ago I decided to leave the daily grind at a newspaper and to become certified as an addictions counselor and began working in a rehab for adult males. The impulse grew out of a series I had written about the drug and alcohol problems in the community. I decided, on somewhat of a whim to maybe become part of the solution, rather than just writing about it.

It was challenging work, and frustrating work, but it taught me a great deal about a certain highly-charged aspect of life. I learned a lot. I learned, for one thing, that I was blessed by my life choices, and came to cherish the fact that I had never gone in the direction of illicit hard-drugs and hadn't embraced that particular ongoing nightmare of a wasted life. I wasted life in my own way, thank-you.

So, all-in-all my life has been, even if inadvertently, about 'learning' -- especially the nastiest lessons.

What have I learned? For one thing, I have found I'm not in life for the ride. I want to give, and I assuredly want to 'get'. Such a philosophy may not work for some, but for me it is the only one that works. As for the 'getting' part, there are frustrations that hit us when we're in a career that is not a good fit.

Blessed is the person who devotes his or her life to doing what he or she loves, for such is the stuff of joy. For most of us, however, we waver between accepting a certain amount of tedious drudgery for what always seems like too little money, and sometimes wanting to take the advice of the late Johnny Paycheck and thus act accordingly.

What happens is that our motivations around work change past a certain age. When we're starting out, we are guided by two driving forces around the job: money, and ambition. When we're young we can do any kind of crud job as long as the bucks are right, or the opportunities are there. So, we take the abuse and the inconvenience, and the tedium, because we believe we will ultimately prevail and move into a blessed realm. But, once we reach a certain age we start to balk at work that isn't an ideal fit, and we wonder about the chances we 'didn't' take to make it better.

We can take that chance if we have the will to do so. Such a chance changes the scenery backdrop and sometimes, if we've made the right decision, it makes it all seem a bit better, and not just different.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

The non-erotic adventures of a typing student

It was the beginning of my 11th grade year in school and when I was filling in the blanks in my timetable I realized I had one block of time that was unfilled after I had inserted all my required academic courses like English, history, biology, French (yuck), PE (double yuck) and math (yuck with festering sores all over it).

What to do? I had to choose from a list of ‘electives’, as they were called. I didn’t want to take woodshop, or metalwork, and in those days boys didn’t take home ec unless they wanted their sexual orientation seriously questioned. I wasn’t tough enough to go there despite the allure of cooking, for example, because I still had to walk to and from school.

So, I opted for typing. That was the best course decision I ever made in my life, despite the reams of academic courses I took in high school and university. I can fully say I wouldn’t have had the career that ultimately evolved if I hadn’t learned how to touch type.

My motivation at the time wasn’t necessarily to learn how to type. It was just a matter of filling in that block of time combined with the sure knowledge that a great number of females took typing. Females of the future secretary sort took typing. Females that were rumoured to be excessively easy about access to their nubile charms took typing. Females who dyed their hair and wore short, tight skirts and boob-emphasizing mohair sweaters took typing. Females none of whom looked remotely like the young lady pictured, I might mention. So, I guess you could say the illustration is gratuitous if you were so inclined.

What is true is that majority of those members of the Future Secretaries Club were more reminiscent of Mrs. Wiggins, the gum-snapping moronic steno on the old Carol Burnett Show, than anyone else. There were some exceptions. Exceptions that didn't bother looking at me since I didn't possess the sort of car and bankrolls their hoodlumish boyfriends could boast of. I was out of the running in my sexual conquest designs.

I registered in the class and there was just one other guy. I don’t remember his name but I recall he devoted much of his time to munching sunflower seeds and spitting the shells all over the place. He was also a big, slobbish, kind of dumb guy, so he was not going to be any competition in attracting the attentions of any libido-charging females who might deign to give me a glance.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I struck out royally with the budding secretarial students of the female persuasion, and I also kept flunking my speed and accuracy tests. Then, one day it dawned on me that I didn’t have to set any speed records; I didn’t even have to pass the course. It was an elective and wouldn’t be added to my aggregate grades.

So, I mainly coasted and grimaced as the dude next to me spat another sunflower seed towards the front of the class to show his contempt for the rather shrill female martinet (martinette?) who ran the class.

At the end of it all, however, I did learn how to type, and the skill has never left me. I could type in my sleep. I can do ‘air’ keyboard. And that skill carried me through university because I never had to pay anybody to type out my term papers or be forced to do the old one-finger or two-finger scramble.

Ultimately, as a reporter and columnist it served me quite brilliantly. I became with practice an efficient, fast and accurate typist to the degree that I could take down a story on the telephone and not even glance at the paper (in the old days) or the screen, and I would know most of it would be right.

So, I say to any young person who is looking for a course to take in school, I would almost insist that he or she learn how to type. Furthermore, if the young person is male, he might just have better luck with the females in the class than I did. But, if he does, I don’t want to hear about it.

Did anyone out there take any particular course that served them better and offered more unexpected benefits than all the others did?

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Periodically I get distressed

Magazines all too frequently lead to books and should be regarded as the heavy petting of literature.
- Fran Lebowitz

I am a product of the golden age of magazines, and I rue what has become of a formerly noble adjunct to book reading. I scan the mag section at supermarkets and am not piqued by the offerings. My first wife used to justifiably chastise me for spending what seemed like the GDP of an emirate on my weekly and monthly intake of journals of all kinds. My current wife needs have no such fiscal fears. There is nothing to buy.

There are titles with which I’m largely unfamiliar, but that seem to be geared towards testosterone-driven young males (or testosterone-driven wannabes because if they really were such, what in hell do they need magazines for?) and devoted to extreme sports, sex, booze, scantily-clad nonentities, sex, and more sex. Nothing wrong with their subject material per se, it’s just that the mags are so brain-dead and boring.

In that aforementioned golden age I used to avail myself of such titles as Rolling Stone, Playboy, Penthouse (before it tastelessly declined into a gynecological primer – “I’m waiting for the intrauterine photos,” my brother once said.) and especially the once wonderful National Lampoon.

I haven’t looked at a Rolling Stone in years. Eventually an almost august journal that boasted such writers as Hunter S. Thompson, and carried out hard-hitting and sometimes even groundbreaking interviews with assorted notables, and not notables solely confined to the world of rock-and-roll, although even the rockers of the day were interesting enough. Eventually the magazine came to dwell more and more on such tedium as drug-legalization advocacy (and wasn’t above bold-faced lying to push its point, as it once was convicted of). But, look up egomania in the dictionary, and there will be a photo of the RS’s Jann Wenner. Anyway, eventually I lost interest in the current crop of so-called musicians, and I decided that I had no interest in wasting my time with a magazine that had become directed towards 19-somethings.

Playboy! Hey, I grew up with Playboy. However, unlike Hugh Hefner, I also actually grew up, rather than just old. PB used to be a mighty fine magazine in terms of both reading materials and cartoons that were second only to the New Yorker in their wit and capacity to amuse. The interviews were often brilliant, and the humorous pieces were superlative. Christmas Story, with Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun that we all watch every year, first appeared in PB, as did other offerings from the fine pen of the late Gene Shepherd, and that was where I first came across it. Oh sure, there were the naked girls. Very sedate, grain-fed naked girls that rarely succeeded with me in raising – oh well, what they were intended to raise. They were too wholesome, somehow. Once a girl I went to high school with was pictured in PB. Yes, I had sometimes wondered what she looked like under her well-filled sweaters. And then I found out. And, it was kind of weird, if truth be known. What did Uncle Marvin say when he came for Thanksgiving dinner, one wonders? Anyway, eventually PB became more and more tiresome, and less and less relevant (much like Hefner himself) and it now must be 20 years since I actually looked through a PB.

Lampoon in its glory years, with scribes like Doug Kenny and PJ O’Rourke, was a satirical gem of gems. It really was the best, especially in its first couple of years of publication. It was bright and original and devastatingly funny and irreverent to an extreme. I waited avidly for the new issue of Lampoon to appear each month and, I am proud to say, I still own the entire first year, including the very first issue – known as ‘The Sexy Cover Issue.’ Like all good things, and even all good people, Lampoon eventually declined and became silly and childish and crude. The good people left and moved on to other more notable ventures. Well, except for poor Doug Kenny who decided, for reasons best known to him, to take a long dive off a Kauai cliff one afternoon. Well, at least he didn’t have to see the deterioration and ultimate fall of his beloved magazine.

I mentioned New Yorker. The cartoons are still good, but the magazine has become tedious enough, and unoriginal enough, that I don’t bother much. Esquire is still there, but it’s merely a vestige of its original self. Even the 'Dubious Achievement Awards' have withered away in both wit and quantity. Vanity Fair is till readable, depending on the writer, but it has become (like so many other of the mags) pop-tart and Brangelina obsessed. I mean really, who past the age of 17 actually really cares about these people? And, if you do, then pick up People or Us and leave a bit of reading for grown ups who don’t actually move their lips when they peruse an article.

Time and Newsweek were once august journals boasting a lot of analysis and insight. Now they are also pop obsessed, fad obsessed, and childishly written and edited. They are also both a fraction of the size they once were.

Maybe I am flogging a dead horse. Maybe we are all so connected in other ways, such as via the Internet, blogs and our assorted electronic devices, that we no longer really need magazines.

However, as a reader I, as Fran Lebowitze suggests, sometimes have need of that bit of foreplay before I get to the real stuff. Call me hypersensitive, but I mess the courting stage.