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The Small Heart of an Altruist That Grew Three Sizes …

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begging

I was out on the streets begging last night.

Yup. It’s true.

I stood on a cold and breezy Summerland street corner – occasional light snowflakes dancing in the air – with a little cardboard box to collect coins and bills from curious passersby and gawkers. I didn’t sing or play my guitar for the money, I just stood there. And stood there. And stood there.

Oh alright … now for the rest of the story.

I was dressed as MR. GRINCH for the Annual Summerland Christmas Light-Up Celebration.

A pillowy blend of stars and cloud and a gold-hued half moon painted the sky overhead as I stood on a raised pedestal as a silent, unmoving Grinch statue. When someone put a coin or bill in my donation box, I’d shift positions – very slowly –  then wink, shake hands or give a high five to the donor before settling back into my solid, stolid statue pose.

It’s pretty much the most fun you can have with clothes on; listening to people talk around and about you as if you weren’t there. Talk about being a proverbial fly on the wall.

Wee little “Cindy Lou Who” tykes touched and poked me, teenagers waved their gloved hands and steaming, fragrant mini-donuts in front of my green Grinch nose, and the now ubiquitous iPhone camera was hauled out over and over and over so photos could be taken with the Grinch.

For a mean, smelly guy with termites in his teeth, I was amazingly popular!

And the really good news is that all of that money dropped in the donation box will now be split and go to the local soup kitchen and the SPCA.

IMG_5231

The second part of this story is that I also spent two mornings this week helping at the Soupateria, a local soup kitchen for those in need of a hot meal.

I chopped carrots and onions and cabbage for Beef Barley soup. I mixed egg salad for sandwiches. I cut and plated blueberry and apple pie. I cleared and washed tables as the polite folks finished their lunches.

And that makes this week very unusual for me because I gave more – more time, more energy, more help – of myself than I normally do.

And in the end, like a true Grinch, I found myself with a larger heart and a warm, fuzzy feeling that tells me pretty clearly who really got the better end of the stick in all of this.

This probably sounds like I’m bragging, and OK, perhaps I am, but really, the message I want you to hear is that I’m not normally a very giving person. I know I have a fine quality or two, but I don’t believe that selfless is one that would be written on my epitaph.

Handsome, yes. Charming, yes. Scintillating sense of humour, yes. Selfless, NO.

When it comes to the act of giving, most of my compassionate contributions have come through cash donations… a regular monthly withdrawal from my bank account to PLAN Canada and UNICEF, and the occasional dollar or two dropped into plump, red Salvation Army kettles and Air Cadet Poppy boxes near Remembrance Day.

Don’t stone me for it, ’cause this isn’t bad at all.

But it is easy.

For me this week, truly easy was out. There was a modicum of forfeiture involved. I was a little chilled doing my statue gig, and I used some precious time that could have been joyously expended on a massage table, pouring over annual reports, or playing a casino slot machine, but really, this cost me next to nothing.

I wish I was more altruistic … you know, a giving person who is always there to help … that guy who helps old ladies cross the street, picks up every chilled hitchhiker huddling at the side of a highway, or makes hot casseroles to pass along to a family struggling with health concerns.

Altruism

I know others who are always there give a hand no matter the situation or time, or the sacrifice it takes for them to assist. True Mother Theresa types.

Because I’ve won the lottery of being born to a 20th century middle-class family in a very wealthy part of the world, I have to continually remind myself of the fabulous stuff that has just dropped in my lap.

I’ve been given a huge head start on millions of others who have to scrabble and scrape just to get to the white start line of the race where I’ve been given an enormous 800-metre advantage. The starter pistol fires and I’ve practically won the race already.

But most times, I have to consciously recognize my good fortune and health and direct some of my time and energy towards making more of an effort to be a good human being, even if I don’t personally feel the motivating push of a greater power in order to do that.

I think of it as just plain common sense. The same common sense that says I can stop at a red light in the middle of the night, and seeing no cars (especially the kind with flashing lights on the top) in any direction, hit the accelerator – sans squealing tires – and be on my merry way.

I suspect you probably figured out this whole altruism thing years before I ever came to the realization.

As Father Time marches along, I suspect I’ll never become Mother Theresa.

I doubt I’m re-writing my epitaph.

But maybe I can carve out a few moments now and again to hanging out on a chilly street corner “begging” so that others might not have to.

I’m liking this slightly-more-altruistic side of myself.

Oh The Whomanity!! I feel less GRINCH-y already.

Who-Manity

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What Doesn’t Kill You ….

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Unbeing dead

Did you die this week?

I’ll take that as a NO.

OK then … Are you happy this week? Are you feeling warm and contented? Do you feel an inner excitement, a zeal for getting out of bed?

I know that I only feel all of these things if I’m feeling the challenge: working on a beloved project, starting out on something new, learning a new skill or creating something fresh like a blog post or a song, and it’s always enhanced if the sun is shining.

Anyway, it gets easy to feel down about yourself sometimes, and maybe more so in the winter when days are shorter and gloomier. Nothing substantive has changed, but everything just feels less bright when there’s less light. Or maybe I just have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Damn, one more set of initialized credentials to add to my ADHD!

The cure? Become an adrenaline junkie … an AJ.

A little story for you:

When I was 10 years old I was called out of my classroom at Glen Brae School to go and visit the Principal’s office. I was a “good boy” and so I shook violently in my shoes all the way down the halls until I arrived at the Principal’s door. Inside sat two very official-looking guys in uniforms sitting across the desk from Principal Russell.

They invited me in and introduced themselves as officers from the Hamilton Police Department. My sordid life of crime was officially beginning. Soon, I’d be someone’s bitch.

Hamilton cops

Don’t let those smiles fool you … they haunted my 10 year old dreams for weeks …

 

I sat down, shaking, no doubt beet-red faced, a great tsunami of cortisol-driven-nervous urine trying to force its way out.

I don’t remember the expressions on the cops’ mugs at the time, but I’ll bet they were gobsmacked when they saw this short-for-his-age 10 year-old cherubic lad that they were preparing to grill about car theft.

Son, where were you last Tuesday at 12 noon?”

“Ummmmmm.”

So this – I must have been telling myself inside – is what an anxiety attack feels like. I had no idea what a panic attack was. Actually, I didn’t know what it was called then, I just knew I was terrified.

“A car was stolen from in front of one of the apartment buildings that you deliver newspapers to and a reliable witness tells us it was you they saw breaking in and taking the vehicle… so … again … where were you last Tuesday at 12 o’clock?”

“Ummmmmm.”

I probably couldn’t have told them my name at that moment.

I squeaked out that I couldn’t remember, so they asked me to go sit in the library across the hall and think about it for a bit. When I was able to remember, I could return and fill them in on my whereabouts at the time of the heinous crime.

Eventually I recalled the details that exonerated me and the cops moved on to my older brother Gord next door at the high school as the next most likely culprit.

Neither of us ended up in criminal court – we were innocent – so the Green family integrity was happily preserved and my poor Mom’s nervous heart was no doubt robbed of at least a year or two’s worth of lifetime beats.

It was a traumatic experience, but I felt so alive afterwards from the nervous excitement.

I was attacked and I survived.

Survive a Zombie Attack

Granted, this may not be a great or even appropriate example of the things we should pursue in our days to make them more full of life. I’m really not trying to suggest you steal cars to boost your inner zeal.

I’m just using this as an example to show how the inner feeling of fear and then the resulting exalted relief and cathartic buzz of knowing we are truly alive is magnificent.

For me, the best highs seem to come about after I’ve taken on a great personal fear in the form of a challenge – in years past this would most likely have been public speaking or performing a song on my guitar in front of a gathering. Right now I think it would be performing one of my own songs publically.

For you it might be taking off white-knuckled in an airplane, learning to swim, going sky-diving, or encountering a snake in the middle of your path. There are a million things to fear.

Some things we fear are outside of our influence to control. Some fears are reasonable and are there for good reason. I SHOULD be fearful of dark, dangerous alleys and avoid them. Confronting that fear is just plain stupid.

It’s the fears I can do something about that I’m trying to stand up to now and face head on, knowing that the end result will be worth it. My sense of shame and embarrassment have slowly dwindled through the years and I can allow myself to look foolish. And, might I add, to my adult kids’ chagrin, I do this so well.

The adrenaline levels skyrocket, my heart pounds, my breath grows short, my brain totally fuzzy.

It becomes a total fear, total fight-or-flight scenario. The first 30 seconds seem like hours and then … as if by voodoo magic, the flood levels of hormones begin to dwindle, breathing settles a bit, and my mind engages and starts to concentrate.

Stand up to your fears...

Stand up to your fears…

We only have one life (unless we’re Buddhist… yes, I really must become a Buddhist).

We need variety. A job will eventually get boring. Daily routines will grow stale. It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job or move to a different city or country.

But always look for new things to learn.

Always look for new ways to surprise.

Always look for new ways to break out of your comfort zone.

I’ll love you even more if you show me how silly or ridiculous you can be if you’re doing something that you’ve always wanted to try but were too afraid.

Unless it’s stealing a car, then I don’t know you.

Dance like no one is watching

 

 

Are There Ghosts Living In Your DNA? … Song For A Winter’s Night …

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winter night2

It was a rapturous moment … sitting in the just-darkened theatre.

The din of voices dimmed in harmony with the overhead lights.

As the light melted away, the honey-mellow sound of soft acoustic guitars rose like the swoosh of a hot air balloon lifting, and I felt that strange simultaneous mix of warmth and chill in those first melodic moments as I always do when I attend a concert.

Is there anything more soul-stirring than the first 30 seconds at the opening of a musical performance, whether rock, country, folk or classical?

It’s a mild, late fall evening on the western side of this rocky Canadian country and I’m listening – live for my first time ever – to the well-worn Canadian singer-songwriting icon named Gordon Lightfoot.

His voice is a wispy shadow of its original timbre – at least he sings on key, otherwise I’d go crazy – but the brilliance is buried inside his tones.

Lightfoot was a huge international phenomenon in the 1960’s and ’70’s with his lengthy song list that included The Canadian Railway Trilogy, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Sundown, Daylight Katy … and … Song For a Winter’s Night.

Song For A Winter’s Night is a metaphorical wonder of wintry snow and cold, and warm romance. True Canadiana.

There’s a lyrical beauty in it whether sung by Lightfoot himself or magically covered by another iconic Canadian, Sarah McLachlan.

I’m watching the stage, mesmerized, and as the song begins I silently ponder if the two versions could be pixie-dust consummated into a single duet akin to Natalie singing Unforgettable alongside her long-dead father Nat King Cole.

Gordon then

Gordie then…

 

SONG FOR A WINTER’S NIGHT

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
 
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
 
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me
 
If I could know within my heart,
that you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
 
The fire is dying now,
my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are drifting
 
If I could only have you near,
to breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with you
On this winter night with you
 
GordonLightfoot now

The same Gordie now …

Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

The guitars return it home to a hazy finish of sleigh bells and I find my head in fluffy clouds of musical thought.

It’s here where a part of our existence dwells in a log cabin in the backwoods of northern Ontario or standing on a breathless wintry Saskatchewan lake frozen over with rabbit and deer tracks criss-crossing the barren snow-covered distance.

We close our eyes, our minds drifting like smoke from a moonlit chimney with curlicues of wonder and memory.

Often, a song carries us to an emotion-laden time and place where we experience our senses overflowing, telling us of the smells and sounds of euphoric good times or maybe, the heartbreakingly not-so-good.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a song takes us on a journey into a story of our inner heritage and even though we may have never felt the soothing warmth of a fire crackling to comfort us, we know inside ourselves what it means. It’s as if a mystical seed has been planted in our brains, a historic reminder of where we originated, who we are.

Each and every one of us is a product of countless generations that lived and loved and struggled, so it only makes sense that tiny fragments of those lives reside inside our makeup.

We tend to think of ourselves as an amalgam of our Ma and Pa, and maybe sometimes we see our grandparents contributing to our mix.

Child-JigsawPuzzle

 

But in reality, we are a huge jigsaw puzzle constructed of genetic pieces going back centuries. A corner piece that is the unexpected curl in your hair may originate in Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Elizabeth’s DNA, a pun-filled sense of humour the little piece that was your G-G-Granddad’s mischievous demeanour.

Don’t ask me how listening to a musical tune brings these thoughts floating to the surface. Is it possible that the past is reaching out to me? Is there something in the words and tune that reflects something existing deeper within the chasms of my core structure?

Perhaps Song For A Winter’s Night has unearthed a wistful story of the lives of a man and a woman in my distant DNA.

Each impatiently yearns for the time when they can once again find solace and warmth in the other’s arms after a lengthy separation because of war, religious differences, or difficult times. It’s a story that somehow developed without the modern interruptions and connections of motorized vehicles, cellphones, or eHarmony.

Gordon Lightfoot won’t be with us for a whole lot longer – yet his lyrical memory will wander the musical stage for generations.

But the dimensions and associations that originate in his words, his melodies, like so many other gifted artists, linger on in our DNA to be shared the next time you sit in a theatre and sweet notes float over you, caressing you like a gentle river.

Goodbye

Get Paid. Get Laid. Lose Weight.

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Larry SuperHero

I’ve got to be very careful because sometimes I feel like I am a SuperHero.

It suggests power that needs to be respected and restrained.

………………….

You know how when you become a Mom or a Dad and you lose your identity? It’s like you’ve had your name de-listed from the human registry and now you’re just “Erin’s Dad”. Wherever you go in your world, people refer to you by your relationship to your children.

After blogging here for close to 2 and a half years, my given name Lawrence aka Larry is transforming into Man on the Fringe or That Blog Guy, or as my friend Pam mocks me, Man with the Frills.

When I started out in the blogosphere, I had maybe 5 or 10 visits to my site daily. Bit by bit, the numbers crept up and by the end of last year, my daily average was about 25 visits.

Now it’s usually in the range of 60-100 each day which is tiny by blog-world standards, but for me, it’s pretty significant. I really appreciate you and everyone else who sets aside a few minutes to read my stuff.

I myself pass by acres of articles and e-mails every day, so I know that it isn’t easy to attract eyeballs in today’s multimedia, ultra-connected world.  Dreaming up titles, searching for evocative photos, and using colourful language are eyeball-eliciting elements that I put to work.

My first blog post ...

My first blog post attempt …

By now, most of the people I encounter who remotely know me, are aware that I write a blog.

Some of those same people I’ve mentioned in my posts because they’ve impressed me with their extraordinary skills or talents in areas such as creativity or persistence, or their ability to inspire me to invest wisely or to stretch and keep fit. I’m always on the lookout for everyday SuperHeroes.

Anyway, I’m just beginning to stumble onto the realization that I have a power.

It’s the power of the pen, er, keyboard. Frankly, I’m not convinced that it’s truly mightier than the sword ’cause I know I don’t want to encounter some swarthy tattoo-laden hood with a sword in a dark alley and my only weapons are some hard-edged words.

That’s just scary. I don’t want to see my smelly bowels unravelled like a lengthy snake on the pavement in front of me.

However, I know from life’s experience that words do have an impact on people and their lives.

I recognize that I’m connecting with you occasionally when I run into you on the street or we’re chatting on the phone and you say, “Hey Larry, I read your post about “Paid Sex Workers for the Handicapped (this is gonna be a future post!) … it made me think of my poor friend Peter trapped in a wheelchair who’s yearning for an intimate encounter. By the way, I think you should write a blog about …insert your pet peeve or best-loved idea here… “.

I think this is the finest compliment you can give a blogger. It’s a beautiful gift that you’ve wrapped up and given to me. I honestly glow when this happens.

Blogger-gift

It tells me  you believe my words are worthy and strong enough that I’ll put my superpower to use and tell a story or represent something that you feel passionate about.

I have to be honest here. Most times I don’t use your main idea because it just doesn’t speak to me somehow. But I always try to find some hook in what you’ve said to build a story that works for me. And, of course, after writing 130+ blog posts on a weekly basis, finding a story idea that interests me can sometimes be a challenge.

I’ve been told that if you want to build an audience, powerful Blogging SuperHeroes expound on one of these three sure-fire topics that seduce and charm readersThere are a lot of approaches I can use to build a story that revolve around these 3 gems:

GET PAID, GET LAID, LOSE WEIGHT

  • GET PAID: A few of my blog posts have figured on how I go about investing my modest savings.

I have a keen interest in investing money and attempting to build a mini-fortune. Because I’ve not been hugely career driven – translate this to say I’ve never earned a huge income – my issues with money have revolved around taking the modest $$ that I have and saving at least 10% (just like The Wealthy Barber told me)… and more importantly, investing the dollars so that I can enjoy the freedom to pursue all of my ADHD interests. I usually spend about an hour each day reading and researching possible investments, normally in the area of high quality companies found on the Toronto or New York exchanges. Tim Hortons and Disney keep my financial wheels spinning … I’ll hit on this topic again, trust me!

  • GET LAID: I began this blog site with the notion that I would write about the similarities and differences between men and women. I’ve spent an entire career surrounded by a moat filled with bright women. I figure I have an insight or two that Joe Blow the Plumber lacks – of course, plumbing is no longer a man’s domain any more than cooking dinner is a woman’s.

The whole veiled background that bobs to the surface over and over when peering at issues about men and women comes down to getting laid. I usually just refer to it as plain old sex, but the underlay, the true bottom line, is where, when and how we end up between the sheets.

Human nature is deeply … I said deeply … imbedded in the intimate connection between our brains and our naughty bits. We hear about it in our political, entertainment and sports stories every single day.

And so you may have noted that I hit on this area with some frequency in my writing. Well, you can probably lay a few dollars down on the Vegas gambling tables that I’ll be expounding about this again sometime in the near future. I’m a man, and gender laws have proven that we males think about this stuff multiple times each minute. Who am I to break the law?

  • LOSE WEIGHT: Hmmm, just how many of us are totally contented when we step on the weigh scales? If you always have a serene and satisfied smile on your face during your regular weigh-ins, please feel free to ditch out here and move onto someone else’s post, I have nothing further to say to you.

I’ve lived my life on the knife’s edge of muffin tops (do we call men’s swollen bellies muffin tops?). The struggle of enjoying the sweet bliss of delicious, mouthwatering foods while keeping their caloric tonnage from remaining with me on a longer-term basis is as perennial as the moon waxing and waning, the sun rising and setting, Lindsay Lohan entering and exiting rehab.

I admit I am a weak person when food is within my grasp. I love See-Food. So, by default, my writings in this area have largely revolved around exercise. Self-control and initiative for me are mostly limited to battling calorie excess with running and swimming and biking and TRX’ing and weight-training and yoga’ing and tennis’ing and boot camping and spinning …….

Most days each week, you’ll find me involved in some sort of physical combat against calorie creep and so I write about this theme while inhaling my 3,000 calorie snacks.

……………………………..

 

By now, you can see I’m just an average everyday blogging SuperHero.

Thanks for helping me keep my cape pressed and intact by telling me that, like Sally Field on Oscar night, you sometimes like me and what I have to say.

I’m gonna try to keep this knowledge from hungrily consuming my humility, once I figure how to unleash my word power to get out of this damned phone booth.

Gibraltar -- Stuck in a British Phone Booth

Put On Your Kinky Boots Jian Ghomeshi

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Who are you doing this week Jian?

Watch where you put those hands Jian!

 

I’m not surprised often, but that morning I was pretty shocked.

And it wasn’t just that my left sock was black, the right navy blue.

Years ago I worked in a mid-sized medical lab at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox, on Vancouver Island. I went to my job one day, and returned home a little less naive at the end of my shift.

Entering the lab, I had to pass through the front waiting-room area. Chairs stood in rows where patients sat before being called into one of the smaller back rooms to have their blood taken or electrocardiogram leads laid out in a curving river across their chest.

A long narrow hallway led into the back of the lab past an open washup and sterilization area on the right, followed by the tiny pathologist’s office in the far right corner.

Each morning, I veered left at the pathologist’s office into my Microbiology department. It opened out with its warm incubators and cold fridges and counters layered high with multi-coloured petri dishes sprouting bacteria of all makes and models.

There was a familiar – almost sweet – but not totally unpleasant bacterial scent in the air. You probably know you’ve worked in a lab for a (too) long time when the putrid scents begin to develop an appeal…

Microbiology

.

But really, it was the pathology office that held a magnetic lure.

.

On many, if not most mornings, protruding from the IN-BOX screwed to the wall just outside the door there would be a long paper sheet or two loosely jutting up from the upper opening.

It was an invitation begging to be looked at.

These long sheets were dropped off by the local coroner from the previous night’s usually routine, or sometimes macabre adventures that resulted in a chilled body stretched out in the morgue downstairs.

The page was a request to the pathologist to carry out an autopsy on someone who had expired and where some explanation was needed. Tidy block writing described all of the important details of the poor wretch’s demise. The factual commentary outlined the circumstances of the death and the reason an autopsy was needed.

Most were straightforward and vanilla: suspected heart attacks, strokes, tumbles down stairs, drownings.

But one day … this day … a story unfolded in the coroner’s script that still stands out in my mind all of these years later. It was a sad little tale of sexual kink that ended tragically for one poor fellow.

morgue body

So why am I thinking about this now? I blame it on you Jian…

Well … Jian Ghomeshi, Canada’s premier radio show host, it’s thanks to you and your 50 Shades of Grey proclivities and adventures. The stories are popping up all over like a Whack-a-Mole board about your BDSM lifestyle and sexual recreations with choking and other maybe-not-so-fun stuff.

I’m no prude. What happens behind closed doors is all fun and good with me.

Most of the time.

I’m trying really hard not to judge you Jian so early on without more background detail. And it’s hard because I’ve always admired you and your considerable abilities to carry out wonderful interviews with both the famous and the common folk.

You are the epitome of cool, you have a great radio voice, a charming smile, and your questions are insightful and respectful, even if Billy Bob Thornton thought you were an asshole when really he was just looking at himself in the mirror.

Hearing the stories about Jian from increasingly numerous young women of beatings and forced chokings in a sexual context carried me back to the moments years earlier as I stood outside that pathologist office in Comox reading the coroner’s notes graphically detailing a young man’s death.

I had never heard the term before:

Autoerotic Asphyxiation

Wikipedia describes it as:

When you rob your brain of oxygen (asphyxia), you experience a high — euphoria, dizziness, and lowered inhibition — before you lose consciousness. To make their sexual experience more thrilling, autoerotic asphyxiators masturbate while strangling themselves with cords, ropes, scarves, and ties, or they suffocate by sealing their heads in plastic bags.

The vast majority don’t mean to kill themselves. They usually devise some kind of rescue mechanism to stop the asphyxiation once they’ve climaxed. But the fail-safe often fails. For example, they may tie a slip-knot or hang themselves from something that’s shorter than they are, so they can simply stand up to stop the strangulation. But they may get so weak and disoriented from lack of oxygen that they can’t pull out the knot or stand up, and they pass out and die.

The Wikipedia description almost perfectly outlines the coroner’s notes of the young man in the morgue fridge downstairs.

He was found hanging, a knotted rope circling his neck, porn magazines scattered open on the floor around him, a carrot protruding from his rectum. While standing on a small stepstool in order to get some tension around his neck, somehow the stool had slid away and out of his reach. He was found a couple of hours later – too late – by his wife when she returned from work.

North American statistics suggest this is a occurrence that repeats itself over 1,000 times each year.

My little naive mind was shaken and disturbed. It was an uncomfortable and sad feeling that stayed with me and lingered. It even still resides like a dormant virus in a tiny corner of my mind.

And so this week when I listened to the (alleged) stories arising about Jian, I felt that same sense of unsettled discomfort. It’s a lifestyle choice that is far beyond even my own internal kinky fantasy life.

50 Shades of Grey, like a good horror movie, transports many of us into a world of supposed make-believe that has some shock appeal perhaps solely because it is pretend. Fantasy and imagination can be a wonderful enriching part of our existences.

I’m just not sure I’m ready or want to disassemble my naivety and enter a place where “normal” people like Jian Ghomeshi (supposedly) roughly take their personal narcissistic enjoyment.

I’m still in recovery from one day in the Comox laboratory all those years back.

Are those your Kinky Boots Jian??

Are those your Kinky Boots Jian??