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Ship of (Writer’s) Foolishness

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Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ‘society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”

Stephen King – The Stand

Stephen King writing

… a paragraph like the one above, written by a mere mortal, a flesh and blood human like you or me.

A few words pounded out in a starry universe of millions upon millions of words, and yet… the purity and fluidity pours like some rare nectar that you want to sip slowly, langourously roll around your tongue, and savour.

When I’m in a reading cloud, I meander and stumble across a sentence in a book or an article somewhere that pierces me like an unexpected arrow. Some books fill the skies with arrows. And I sense a miracle of humanity.

This month marks 5 years since I began tapping out these weekly missives on a flock/pack/den/murder… of topics and ideas and even silliness.

268 blog posts and counting.

Writing 1,000 word weekly posts to an audience that measures in the low 100’s seems penny-ante paltry in comparison to the Twitter folks, or Stephen King author-types, or the writers of New York Times columns where consumers number easily in the millions… Katy Perry counts 100,000,000 Twitter followers all by herself.

I’m simply a pimple on a speck of dust, a Man on the Fringe. My writings may seem an act of foolishness or stubbornness. Maybe.

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But the hugeness of the audience size isn’t the point, at least in my case.

Size doesn’t always matter. One can swim equally well in this ocean regardless of whether the water depth is 1 metre or 400 metres. Minnow or whale, doesn’t matter.

I can conjure up many reasons for personal expression, whether visual art, music performance or composition, blog writing, foreplay.

Money.

Sure, this could be one because I truly enjoy the benefits of $$. But not in this case. I’m a liberal capitalist at heart but I don’t write for financial gain. I know… stupid, right?

Ego.

Like becoming the Master of my Domain, this could stroke my pleasure seeking id, but after 5 years surely my ego desires would be exhausted by now. Maybe not, perhaps I’ll gaze lovingly at myself in the mirror and think on that one a bit more.

Beauty.

New York Times bestselling author Professor (Sir) Ken Robinson says: “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.

Yes. Whether writing or playing music on my guitar, this is the spiritual equivalent of a personal rainbow. A bouquet of deliciously scented flowers blooms when my inner muse lavishes an unexpected burst of transcendental words upon me that I could never have written alone. The arts confer a beauty that makes life’s worries and dangers worthwhile.

Habit.

Yes. Writing each week is a part of my habits and discipline, a train of energy that keeps my wheels on the track. Having you here to check in and occasionally consume my output is the carrot that entices me forward. I feed from your momentum, your expectation to make this happen, to hit PUBLISH every Sunday morning come rain or shine.

Habit matters. It irritates the hell out of me when I train for a running event for many months ahead of time, building my legs to a point where a couple of hours of non-stop use is possible, then discovering after a week of undisciplined, sloven laziness that my muscles have lost their tonal acuity. WTF!

Writing, like going to the gym, is the sweaty exercise of working a muscle consistently to prevent its rapid atrophy with disuse. Habit and discipline keep our muscles toned and healthy.

BONUS: Strong muscles, both physical and mental, are hot and sexy.

brain weights.png

Meaning and Purpose.

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “the main search of mankind is not happiness or pleasure but meaning. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose,”

Yes. Purpose. In my previous work-world life in the medical lab I always felt a sense of purpose in helping those dealing with illness or disease.

These days, in my visits to cut and chop onions, carrots, and my fingers at the soup kitchen, I derive a greater inner benefit than those on the other side of the soup counter because of the little comfort I help provide.

Writing gifts me some purpose too… but even more important is the deep dive into meaning.

Writing is the best way I’ve ever discovered to recognize my own thoughts on the world and its meaning to me. My brain isn’t expansive enough to figure it all out. Never will be. But my ability to know myself has increased exponentially through blog writing.

Words and Writing are a miracle of humanity.

Writing is solitary but the sharing of words is universal.

There is a well of sacred knowledge and thought inside each of us, its nose pressed against the screen door, waiting to be released.

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I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Stephen King – Shawshank Redemption

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SpanFrenPunjablish 2… the UNCUT version…

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(thank you for bearing with my “Premature Publishing” problem of 2 days ago and returning for the rest of the story…)

panda shoots.jpg

I get confused sometimes. OK, often.

Language is a crazy thing, ain’t it?

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.  

– Panda… Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves –          

eats-shoots-and-leaves

In 2003, Lynne Truss wrote a non-fiction bestseller titled… you guessed it… Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at how communication can be thrown in the air like pizza dough, becoming a total gooey mess when simple punctuation marks are either omitted or improperly used in writing and reading.

……………………………..

I love languages like I love music.

Languages are music, they have a rhythm, an accent, a pace that distinguishes each in a similar way to how we distinguish folk music from country music from classical music.

When we hear a non-native person speak in English, most of us recognize their accent as Spanish, or Indian, or Russian. The notes and rhythm are different but unique.

It’s music, plain and simple.

I’m tutoring a handsome, oh-so-polite, young Indian man, we’ll call him Ramesh (no, it’s not his real name) who wants to pass his IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test to stay here in Canada (psst… don’t tell the Trump’ster, he might build another wall).

Unbeknownst to him, he’s teaching me as much as I’m hoping to teach him.

Learning can happen anywhere. I like that.

But Ramesh thinks I’m an English-language God… a golden deity of language.

I don’t want that responsibility on my shoulders.

I’m already sweating bullets, worrying that he may not pass his exams – at a cost of $350 – in January. Ramesh has a business administration certification but currently works at a gas station for $10.50 an hour.

I’ll probably have terrible stressed-out diarrhea the day of his test.

He respectfully calls me “Sir” but in a funny twist of formal vs informal language, he injects the filler word like 2 or 3 times in every sentence, so much like my own teenage kids did 10 years ago.

In a 3 minute speech he recited to me a week ago, I, like, stopped counting at 35 likes. It’s like those potty-mouthed F-Bomb guys at my, like gym, that I spoke about, like last year. They, like, can’t help themselves. (ASIDE: this week, Ramesh only used like 4 times in 3 minutes! That’s, like, commitment and progress…)

I’m pretty good with most grammar issues and … spelling? Well.. spelling is my Herculean strength. I possess rippling Arnold Schwarzenegger spelling muscles.

arnold-schwart

Olympians are often gifted with superior athletic abilities and skills. My Olympic genetic gift is a knack for spelling correctly without having to think or try. It’s a minor endowment, but I always appreciate it like a shiny toy from Santa under the tree.

I used to think I was a fair grammarian as well, but a simple query by Ramesh this week brought me tumbling humbly back to earth.

His question?  “when should I use ‘has been‘ vs ‘have been.

The rules of syntax I thought I owned rose like a helium balloon to the sky as I fumbled for a coherent answer. You probably haven’t hesitated a milli-second in wonder over this one, have you?

According to Quora:

Both “Has been” AND “Have been” mean something began in the past and has lasted into the present time.

  • This meaning is known as present perfect continuous.
  • Use “has” when describing specific persons (not yourself) or a non-person (e.g. an animal or an object).
  • Use “have” when describing yourself or a group (both human and non-human).

I know, blah… that’s boring. I’m with you.

My point here is that I take for granted the knowledge that lies within. Some things just … are.

I discovered a whole lot about the rules of language almost 7 years ago in Cusco, Peru while we were studying Spanish alongside shiny, intelligent, young, Dutch, German, Brazilian and American students.

We were learning Spanish, yes. But we were also uncovering the reasons for language usage that apply in English and other languages at the same time. It was like unearthing buried treasure on a beach while innocently making sand castles.

So here I am today, learning once again.

Ramesh is asking the tough questions that make me sit back and think, “Hell yeah, why is it that when two or more adjectives are used before a noun, they must be used in a specific order.”  

This is something we native English speakers do without thinking because we simply knows what “sounds right.”  

“The large purple cotton bag belongs to her,” is fine.
“The cotton purple large bag belongs to her,” is not.

Right?

Who wouldn’t be confused? Who can explain why this is? It just is.

But I can’t tell Ramesh I don’t know.

Actually, I do do just that (what a silly language where we place two do‘s together and it makes sense!). And then I come home and study the reasons why.

I’m having to put in my 1,000 hours of study and dedicated practice so I can understand and help Ramesh join Canadian society.

He’s a charming and amiable young man.

I want him to enjoy a life in Canada and experience ice skating and fluffy snowflakes made into snowmen.

I want him to idle in a Tim Hortons Drive-Thru and order a double-double.

I want him to learn to say “eh” and cheer for my Hamilton Tiger Cats football team.

Ramesh is helping me get past my own confusion, which is a good thing, because I don’t want him to, like, Eat, Shoot, and Leave this country.

a-woman-without-her-man

SEX? YES Please! … or is that GENDER?

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Yes Please

Sex is bloody wonderful, isn’t it?

Maybe even better than cheesecake and chocolate … I’ll let you decide.

You know, if I truly believed that God exists, I’d suggest to you that this gender-neutral spirit wrapped us up a big box of fun and called it sex.

Sort of like… “OK, it’s Day 7, this is how we rest.

“What… and you tell me it’s used for procreation too?!”  Now that’s a twofer …

Sex is a nice silk-swaddled divine present given to us when we enter puberty and beyond. It’s like a carnal Bar Mitzvah.

It’s right around the time we grow tired of playing in sandboxes but still want to get messy and dirty and fall into a deep slumber at night without imbibing alcohol or zopiclone or warm milk.

Sex is so wonderful that a well-known kids’ entertainer even sang a song all about it:

Having sex is beautiful,
Having sex is fine.
I like sex so much I do it all the time;
Sex before my supper and sex before my lunch;
If I had a hundred sexy orgasms, I’d have them all at once.

I’m a roaming and a rambling
And a wandering all along,
And if you care to listen,
I will sing a happy song.
I will not ask a favor
And I will not ask a fee,
But if you have a sexy moment

Won’t you share it all with me?

See?

OK… he was actually singing about sandwiches but I know for a fact that sandwiches are just a euphemism for sex. Children’s stories and songs have long been filled with symbolism. But children’s performers that sing forthrightly about sex end up on Sexual Predator lists… hence? Sandwiches.

But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about today.

I have a problem. Well, more an issue than a problem. Maybe a pet peeve.

I need help.

I’m challenged by the words “sex” and “gender”.

According to the World Health Organization,Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”

sex gender

These English words sex and gender have specific meanings but I still have difficulty when I hear someone querying, “Their name is Chris? What sex are they?”

OK. I kinda get it. But the word sex has a definite meaning to me.

And that is why I get so confused (and a bit giggly) when I fill out forms and questionnaires and reach the part that says, SEX.

Do I write down M or F? Nope.

I always want to fill the empty blank next door with, “Yes Please“.

Or …”Heterosexual preferred“.

 

In my head, sex is a verb or noun that sweetly describes what 2 (or more!) people do with each other when they rip the other’s clothes off.

Sex is a primal animalistic urge, a delicious mingling of the naughty bits that bursts a fire-hosing gush of oxytocin and prolactin and endorphins that gives you that wondrous runner’s high, or in this case, f****er’s high.

The world is filled with ambiguity and so I suppose I should just accept that the word “sex” can have different meanings depending on its usage.

Lots of other words have multiple meanings so it doesn’t make a slab of sense that I stumble when it comes to sex.

In reality it probably comes down to my sex … er … gender. Dammit… I’m still confused.

I’m a man.

Pretty much every study out there tells us that we men think about sex … oh … 500 times per hour.

I’ve worked hard for years and have brought it down to 300 now thank you very much. (To get real for a minute, an actual scientific-based study carried out at Ohio State University uncovered a more moderate Male sex-thought frequency of 19 times daily compared to about 10 times each day for Females).

So when I encounter the word sex, my testosterone-based malemind immediately dives into the sexual cesspool. I can’t help it. It’s a biological response. It just happens. No VIAGRA required.

So world at large … I’m asking for your help. I’m begging you please.

Going forward, can you save me the hormonal confusion and blood surges to my nether regions when you use the words sex and gender. 

  • Please use the term GENDER on any form or questionnaire or statement that is asking if I have a penis or a vagina. This saves me a childish snicker and also an internal hormonal groin sproing. It’s easy for me to write down M when you ask the proper question.
  • But if you’re gonna ask SEX on the form, well … I just know I’m gonna need to distract myself with thoughts of playful golden lab puppies or a cold shower to make it through to the end.

Your kind assistance will go a long way from keeping me on topic and off any Sexual Predator lists.

Because really?

All I want to do is eat a “sandwich” and get back to my Key Lime Cheesecake and Chocolate.

key lime

 

 

 

 

 

A Prelude To A But …

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so-you-think-you-can-dance-dancer-wallpaper

I was watching an episode of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) the other night.

I love this show filled with crazy-talented young dancers.

How is it possible for JaJa and Virgil and Gaby to master 3 or 4 formidably challenging new dances EVERY week?

I look for inspiration everywhere, ALL the time.

These dancing Olympians are inspiration defined.

As it was, light rain drops pattered against my living room window ledge – occasional quiet thunder rumbles rolled in like bowling balls careening down the lane towards the pins –  and the early evening sun was trying mightily to edge its way through the clouds to brighten the 50 shades of grey.

One of the chickens in the yard was squawking loudly like she was giving birth but all the eggs had already been laid for the day.

I turned my attention back to the TV screen as one of the SYTYCD judges, Jason Derulo, began his critique of a just-finished dance.

Then an unexpected lightning bolt crashed into my head … his words were a PRELUDE TO A BUT.

PRELUDE TO A BUT?

Derulo meandered and danced through his critique – his words filled with “great” this and “dope” that .

But it struck me in a puzzling fashion that just by the tone of his voice, the expression on his face and the usage of his words, it wasn’t going to be all sunshine that he was dishing up, he would be crashing this love party with something negative to add …

At some point in his next few sentences or paragraphs, there would be a big BUT …

Big But

Nope. NOT a big BUTT… A big BUT!

He had signalled a Prelude to a BUT …

But … how did I know that?

I’m gobsmacked that the human mind in its understanding of language and nuance to tone, can feel, sense a change, a foreshadowing of things to come.

We all do it. We watch and wait for the signs with keen intent.

Many years ago, in my teenage or young adult years, I’d hit those rare eclipse-like moments.

The instant where I summoned the knee-knocking courage and found myself meekly asking a sweet young candy-scented maid to a movie or dinner.

Those first few words that slipped from her delicious lips? The hesitation? The smile or dour look on her countenance?

They would tell me if I should begin cheering or shrinking away in embarrassment like a naked man in an icy cold shower.

It didn’t matter if her first words were “NO” because the prelude to the “No” was enough to signal the direction of my exaltation or humiliation.

I’d love to … (oh oh! No, don’t say it…) … BUT … I have a hangnail treatment scheduled that day.

Or better still, “I’d love to because  (yay… no BUT!) I’ve always wanted to sky-dive. Sure, that would be nice.” See? No pause, no prelude to a BUT!

When a doctor enters the cubbyhole office room or slowly saunters into the hospital room where his patient awaits?

We all know from real life experience or vicariously through watching any of a million TV hospital shows just what the “news” is going to be.

The smile or look of reticence on the physician’s face, the slow or optimistic slide of the shoes over the floor, the medical chart held close to the chest or swinging at the doctor’s side, the small corny joke … there are so many tiny nuanced markers that answer the questions that have yet to be asked.

And then the tone of voice, the inflection of the words. Listening for a prelude to a BUT.

“Your lab test results are all fine (oh no, frown on Doc’s face, slowing speech)BUT … the CT scan has a small shadow we need to look into”

Your lab test results are all fine (no hesitation, serene look on Doc’s face)AND … the CT scan looks clear.”

doctors-exam

My ears are buzzing. Did you say I have 2 days or 2 years to live?

Will she go to the movie with me? Did he love my dance performance? Do I have terminal cancer or organ failure?

In most cases we know almost instantaneously because we’ve learned to observe all of the tiny details that speak to us before words ever float through the air.

We know if the dark brown stuff flying towards us is shit or chocolate before we ever get to taste it because we are amazingly attuned to the fine details of spoken language and body language.

The SYTYCD contestants are strong-willed soldiers of positivity and great attitude. The hours and years of dedicated effort and pain and sacrifice that come through in their attempt to impress, mean little in this competition they’ve willingly jumped into.

They smile brightly at the bouquets and the brickbats sent their way. Occasionally a small willful tear escapes and slides down a cheek.

But.

They know in a Santa-flew-down-the-chimney-in-a-flash moment when the judges begin to speak and critique their work.

They know if it is all just a Prelude to a But.

Happy sad eggs

F-Bomb Me …

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fbombs1

People are funny, aren’t they?

Of course I don’t mean YOU … I mean the “other” people … the ones who aren’t us!

Dr. Seuss knew that and made an incredible living making up strange and unusual and funny characters that kids and adults love to laugh at.

Bartholomew Cubbins, Lorax, Sam-I-Am, Cat in the Hat, the Grinch…

Sometimes when I’m around others, I imagine what Dr. Seuss would do and say to describe them… it’s way better than the old nerve-busting adage of pretending that you see people in their underwear.

Mind you, Dr. Seuss could see them in their underwear too and then just carry on from there.

Hey! I just realized that Dr. Seuss doesn’t even put underwear on any of his characters.

Dr Seuss characters

Dr. Seuss would have material for 5 new books if he popped into the gyms I go to.

Not kids’ books. Nope. Adults’ books. Very adult.

I visit the changerooms of 3 different local gyms each week. One is for spin class and boot camp class, another for weight training, one more for swimming. OK, four different gyms … one more for yoga class …

In the changeroom, I’ll encounter other guys preparing to hit the gym and sweat, or returning to shower away the buckets of sweat they’ve just earned.

It’s a manly sort of place with mixed uggg-mmmm scents of armpit BO and Axe body washes, and soggy socks, and Gillette shaving creams. Kind of like a high school gym class rehash.

Work-a-day clothes are shed and shoved into oblong grey metal lockers. Stretchy nylon and lycra and cotton are layered over the muscles and love handles and multi-toned tattoos. Some bodies are tanned, fully-muscled and toned. Other bodies are big and floppy and sallow.

This testosterone set – needing a dose of sweat and muscle-pumping energy – then heads to the weight room, or the CrossFit box, or the spin class.

An hour later, we all return, one by one, soppy, sweat-soaked, and groaning.

Sweaty dude

Then it begins.

Chatter. Conversation. Boy talk.

Often it’s simply a pair of us engaged in conversation as we peel away the salty-wet togs … routine discussions of weather and impending workouts … pleasant words exchanged in polite, amiable tones.

Then one-by-one, others enter the room … and … as the numbers increase the tone of the conversation quickly changes.

Testosterone and machismo levels rise measurably and the group becomes more pack-like, wolves gathering for a meat feast. There is a new dynamic at play.

It becomes more manly and blue-collar. Soon the room is more BLUE with words than it is blue collar.

Whether we’re discussing cars, or sports or work issues… the F-Bomb becomes a required interjection at a minimum of once per sentence.

Often more.

I start to see how the pack feeds off each other as normally calm, straight-laced guys morph into something else and it becomes apparent how gang-bang rape scenarios might unfortunately play out. The inhibitions and control sensors go haywire.

I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t participate. I watch and listen.

It’s almost like the Need More Cowbell sketch from SNL with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken… someone must be saying… “FellasI need more F- bombs”!!

more-cowbell

F-BOMBS are the main item on the conversation slate. Subject matter doesn’t matter. F-Bomb interjection is what is important now.

But. I’m not a good guy for F-Bombs. For me, the word FUCK is a little something that I pull out rarely and in a more romantic, teasing sense than what I’m hearing here in the changeroom. But that’s just me.

F-Bombs sound forced and girly coming from my mouth.

They don’t just roll off my tongue as if I were saying “Hi, how are You?” like they do with these guys. They sound more like, “So, I was having my nails done the other day…”. Yup, girly.

If I said them in this setting, I’m pretty sure the other dudes would pull their towels tightly around their naughty bits and turn around as if Mrs. O’Grady, the stern, ancient French teacher just walked in on them.

F-Bombs are laced with power. Power.

F-Bombs have their place. Place… and time.

And I think the fellas in the changeroom are losing out on something by overusing their weapon.

They might be well advised to holster their F-bomb usage and keep it in their arsenal for full impact. These are weapons that should be used carefully and smartly.

Carpet F-bombing loses its strength and meaning when the listener turns off their hearing and goes underground until the heat is off.

Used judiciously, F-bombs make people snap to attention and know that something important is happening. Something needs to be listened to. Something critical is about to happen.

Years ago, when my Mom – who never ever swore –  said, “Hell’s Bells” after hearing that my sister’s finance had been married previously, you could have heard a pin drop 100 metres away. The world just caught its breath and went silent. Her outburst was that powerful.

So, I’m holding onto my stockpile of F-Bombs. As I pull on my underwear and socks I’ll keep listening in the changeroom.

I’ll still smile at the boys when the words turn blue. But I’m not going to join in.

I know that Dr. Seuss wouldn’t approve of such language. Or would he………

Seuss F-Bombs

This Cool Word Will Improve Your Life …

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Caesura

I learned a new word this week and I love it already.

Yup, CAESURA.

See those two little slashes in the musical graphic above?

THAT is a Caesura and it means creating a momentary pause. It comes in different forms beyond music notation that have meaning in our lives.

A rioting cacophonous sound of bird calls draws me outdoors in early spring. A dark blue-toned Stellar Jay sits in the Ponderosa Pine madly squawking at me; a group of Mountain Chickadees are zooming this way and that around the yard pretending they’re Spitfire fighter planes.

Blossoms are erupting in bountiful numbers and the early morning air is scented and sweet … perhaps the daffodils, tulips, daphne and flowering almond have teamed together to make a rich perfumed blend to share with us early risers.

A few shiny sparkles of sharp-angled sunlight glint off dewy grass blades as I walk across the front lawn area.

When I wander aimlessly through my garden as I am wont to do on spring and summer early mornings, I love the concept of exercising Caesura – creating a momentary pause – as part of my spiritual side.

I take into my lungs a deep breath of clear morning air as if I were in a yoga class with instructor Marsha and absorb all that my senses can digest. Calm elation settles over me.

Some might say, “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day”. And I might respond, “Carpe Caesura” … “Seize the Pause”.

IMG_0194

Caesura plays a role in other areas of my life too.

In music, both in my teenage high-school band years and now when I play guitar and sing my own music I love the caesura … the pause … a moment in a tune when all stands still for a moment and we savour the silence and the power of the musical notes that have brought us to that point.

Years ago, John Denver sang a song (appropriately called Annie’s Song) about his then-wife Annie where he reaches a crescendo near the end:

You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest,
like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain,
like a storm in the desert, (….. caesura for a few seconds) … like a sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses, come fill me again.

The caesura gives us just a second or two to feel the depth of his passion for her, making a delicious human moment of love stand still in time.

conductor pause

In my day-to-day interactions I’ve learned that the CAESURA is probably the most difficult, but most important part of interaction we have with those around us.

INTER-ACTION… the word tells me I must take action.

But, after all these years I know that my actions can have profound effects on not just me, but the other too.

If I take action too soon, too impulsively, and respond without taking a moment or day or week of caesura, I may, and often do, say something that doesn’t truly reflect my inner beliefs.

It’s a reflex, a gut reaction.

We’ve all had that sinking feeling of wishing we had said or done something differently if we hadn’t only responded so impulsively.

I don’t want my inter-actions coming from my gut alone, although times arise when our instinctive reaction is the one we end up choosing anyway.

I need time and thought and reflection to know what I really feel and think. I imagine this is why I enjoy writing blog posts; I can stand over my thoughts and view them from different angles before settling on the most appropriate.

In a 21st century world where the pace of living is faster than it has ever been, I want to live a life filled with the joys of caesura – creating a momentary pause … my morning garden walks, my musical pursuits, my personal interactions.

I like this new-to-me word Caesura, and I like what it means.

Caesura might take me a moment longer – which, for an impatient guy like me is challenging – but the pleasures, the rewards – are worth the wait.

morning garden walk

I’ve Slept With a Hundred Women …

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Probably more … Yup, it’s true …

Boy is this guy sleepy or what?

Is this guy sleepy or what?

… but not as many as former basketball great Wilt Chamberlain … please correct my math if necessary, but isn’t that one woman EVERY night for 55 years? With all that “sleeping”, Wilt must be VERY well rested … maybe lots of sleep makes a fellow tall.

And this is what brings me to one of my anal-side pet peeves.

When you came across and read this blog title, did you have visions of me making my best pouty-lipped Mick Jagger sexy look, bedding down and fornicating with dozens of lovelies? I thought so. Admit it.

NOPE, not the case … it’s just a euphemism:

An agreeable word or expression substituted for one that is potentially offensive, often having to do with bodily functions, sex, or death…”

Why do we use euphemisms to describe and hide what’s really happening?

Alright, I know the answer to my own question.

We often want to soften our words and statements if things appear too blunt in their truer form. I can understand the use of caring euphemisms when we don’t want to hurt someone.

euphemism lady's bathroom

I understand using the softer “passed away” rather than dead when talking to newly aggrieved family members. I understand describing someone as “big-boned” when it comes to sensitive weight issues.

We say these things to protect ourselves or others and their feelings, much like we utter little white lies when our partner says, “Does this make my ass look big?”, or “Was it good for you?“, or “Did you enjoy my new risotto recipe?

But the expression, “to sleep with someone”?? This one bugs me every time. It’s particularly deceptive and misleading.

Who are we protecting when we say “Margaret and John slept together”?

Is it so difficult for us to say that Margaret and John had sex … made love … mated … humped their little hearts out?

I hear “slept together” and I want to know …”Oh, does John snore much?” or  “what colour was Margaret’s flannel nightie?“. We all know there was no snoring (and if there was, I feel badly for them) and Margaret likely wasn’t wearing a flannel nightie at all, am I right?

When I hear someone say they slept with another person … I’m confused.

As a youngster living in a small home, I slept in a bed with my older brother every night until I was about 10 years old, yet to the best of my recollection, we never once “slept” ie. had sex, unless I’m suppressing some unpleasant memories. Please tell me I’m not suppressing any unpleasant memories!

When my kids were little toddlers, they climbed into our big adult bed to escape their fears or to seek comfort for their sickness, snuggled under the covers, and we “slept together”.

I’ve slept with many many others e.g. school groups, relatives, fellow travellers, over the years in tents, cabins, hotel rooms, living room floors, airplanes … but with rare exceptions, while “sleeping” with these women and men and kids, I’ve not had sexual relations of any type. I just : “SLEPT”.

euphemism

Euphemisms in and of themselves are not all bad. They often add colour or texture to our everyday language. Take as an example Meatloaf‘s song Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Now there’s a wonderful illustration of great use of the euphemism.

Some other examples of euphemisms?:

  • Correctional facility instead of jail
  • Departed instead of died
  • Differently-abled instead of handicapped or disabled
  • Ethnic cleansing instead of genocide
  • Turn a trick instead of engage in prostitution
  • Negative patient outcome instead of dead
  • Relocation center instead of prison camp
  • Collateral damage instead of accidental deaths
  • Letting someone go instead of firing someone
  • Put to sleep instead of euthanize
  • Pregnancy termination instead of abortion
  • Adult entertainment instead of pornography
  • Portly instead of heavy or overweight
  • Chronologically-challenged instead of late
  • Break wind instead of pass gas
  • Economical with the truth instead of liar
  • Powder your nose instead of using the toilet
  • The birds and the bees instead of sex
  • Between jobs instead of unemployed
  • Go all the way instead of have sex
  • Domestic engineer instead of maid
  • Sanitation engineer instead of garbage man
  • Vertically-challenged instead of short

Yes, our use of language is filled with sanitized ways of saying what we really mean and sometimes I just want to yell out in frustration.

For me at least, if I’ve made love or had sex with someone, the last thing I would want my lover to pass on to others is that they “slept with Larry“.

Whaddya mean, slept!??“.

Maybe Wilt Chamberlain has laid down beside so many women that the only energy he has left is for sleep. But I’m not that naive.

I prefer to keep a separation of state in the bedroom. Sleeping and making love are two separate activities, just like cooking and eating. They may be related and take place in the same room, but they are definitely not the same thing.

Sure, I’ve slept around, so have you. I love to sleep.

But I have way too much male ego bubbling inside me to have anyone insinuating I’d been so lax in the sexual, intimate arts that we were “sleeping”.

Let’s leave it at that, shall we? …

slept around

I Was Adopted In The Andes…

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With All Thy Getting, Get Understanding.”

                                                                                                Proverbs 4:7

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About 20 died because of the unusually powerful, coursing floods and rainy deluge.

About a week after we touched down in Cusco, Peru, the torrential rains washed adobe-walled houses off the hillside like waves at the summer beach wash away childrens’ sandcastles. The “lucky” Andeans got out and survived to re-build their lives. The unlucky ones died in the rubble of their homes.

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Ubiquitous blue plastic tarps were often the only thing that kept homes from “melting” into the hillsides…

I feel pretty guilty sometimes. I won the lottery in life that set me down into an amazingly rich country at an equally amazingly rich time in the world’s history.

My Peruvian friend Juanita works 6 days each week.

Ten to twelve hours each day.

And for this she earns about 8 dollars a day.

I’m pretty sure that Juanita is essentially illiterate, but she is skilled at hiding this from others. Juanita is a hard-working, intelligent woman who didn’t win the same life lottery as me. She deserves to have all of the material wealth that I have. I suspect that if she was fortunate enough to have been born 40 or 50 years later, she would probably come close, as the Peruvian economy and government evolves. There is little fairness to a world where I work significantly fewer hours for a significantly higher income than her.

When we first arrived in Peru and met Juanita, we couldn’t tell her apart from just about any other Peruvian woman. It’s embarrassing to admit, but they all looked the same to me. Dark, caramel-coloured skin, mid-length black hair, broad face, short of stature. Maybe it was the same for her and white North Americans. I kind of hope so.

Conversely, just a month later on, it was inconceivable to me that I could ever confuse her with another woman. Our eyes adapt to the look of different cultures and skin tones like they adapt to coming into a dark room from bright sunshine.

Juanita and her brother Efrain, both neighbouring onto about 30 years of age, semi-adopted us during our stay in the Andean highlands of Cusco, the jumping-off point to the historic citadel of Machu Picchu. Cusco is a city at a thin-oxygen elevation of 10,500 feet in the Huatanay Valley and populated by about 350,000 people, mostly of Incan heritage. Both Juanita and Efrain worked as caretakers and attendants at the residence building we stayed in during our 14 week stay at a Spanish-language school for foreigners. We studied Spanish each day alongside Dutch, German, Belgian, English, Swiss, American, Brazilian, Australian, Polish and even the occasional Canadian, students.

It was a huge, bold adventure for us …

it was everyday for our Peruvian hosts.

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A day in the Peruvian countryside–Juanita in white slacks…Efrain wears yellow soccer shirt. Even my short wife Maureen got to be “tall” in Peru…

Juanita and Efrain brought us to their home for meals, we joined them at Efrain’s soccer matches (where, afterwards, Efrain would get me drunk on local beer shared from one glass for the whole team – I heartily returned their “Salud“s until I was soused!), we celebrated the Carnivale festival with their family where bulging water balloons are pitched at anyone and everyone (except little old ladies!). We participated in their local fundraisers for families who had lost their homes to collapse.

Juanita took us shopping at some large, local, black markets held under plastic tarps and tin roofs where we could purchase any number of material goods at a fraction of the normal retail price. We went out for meals together at nearby restaurants serving locally-popular barbecued chicken and “Chifa” (Chinese) food. We were even designated as the godparents to a new car purchased by some family members to be used as a taxi to bring more funds into the home…religious ceremony included!

Over the course of our 14 weeks in Cusco, our relationship with Juanita (and many other Peruvians) evolved and deepened. Juanita could speak no English at all. Our Spanish abilities began at a low-low novice level and gradually built up with each passing week of learning in classes. By the end of our time, we were able to converse in Spanish at a still relatively low yet satisfying-to-us degree. Sharing our lives back and forth with Juanita grew easier daily, although sign language continued to play a part when our limited vocabulary let us down. And as everyone knows, if you can’t make your point comprehensible with language, then yelling your words really helps to get the message across more clearly!

With passing days and weeks, we sat together during quiet times at a little wooden table in the kitchen area outside our room, overlooking the majestic city of Cusco, and we parceled out stories and pictures about our countries, our families, our lifestyles. Juanita told us stories of her early years and of leaving school and her family at 8 years of age to work in Lima. She didn’t see her parents again for 15 years until she returned to Cusco once again. She explained to us how to cook the local delicacy of guinea pig properly. She heard us talk about our Canadian winters and snow and ice skating. She asked about our families.

Understanding others comes about through time and intimacy. A week or two would never have allowed for the interchange of our life stories that occurred over 14 weeks.

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Juanita with Efrain’s son…Sunday festival celebrations with “fake” American dollars…

When we think of people in different countries, we are removed and apart from them. They don’t feel like they are in the same neighbourhood where we live. They feel strange and foreign. It’s easy to dislike people we don’t know.

But then when we spend the time and share our stories, the world grows smaller and we begin to feel like we belong to the whole earth, not just a small portion of it we call our home country. Technology and rapid travel is making our world an increasingly more compact globe. Each person travelling to a “foreign” land gains a new perspective and a greater appreciation of what makes us all one family. Sharing your smile or joke with an employee at a Caribbean resort or in a European hotel makes the world just a touch friendlier.

Every interaction each of us has brings us one step closer to a place that makes our world safer…we may never achieve total harmony, just as any slightly dysfunctional family is never totally friction-free…but we move bit by bit closer than we’ve ever been to peaceful co-existence.

It’s been 3 years now since our Peruvian adventure and we continue to have some contact with Juanita and Efrain (thanks Facebook!). It’s challenging with Peru’s poor postal service, expensive internet connections, and busy work lives. But life goes on. Since we left Cusco, I imagine they’ve shared their special activities and milestones with a dozen other foreigners.

Those they “adopt” are very lucky people.

Hands on a globe

Welcome Aboard Virgin Air

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I was seducible.

She seduced me.

End of story…sort of.

She was a cute, long-haired blonde nurse from Alberta, a couple of  years older than myself, and for some unexplicable and unexplainable reason, she wanted ME. So, on that icily frigid Yellowknife-arctic evening there was very little romanticism or long, languid looks involved. Love didn’t play a part for either of us. Lust held the key this night. We were young and friendly and fun. It was dark and chilly in her bedroom when our limbs and externals and internals mingled and tingled together.

In my later teens, I’d been close to the final destination on a number of earlier journeys with other sweet travelers, but never quite finished the trip- by choice. I was now 20 years old and decided the time had come for the train to finally enter the station.

What made me think about this stuff is that I’m currently reading Richard Branson’s autobiography “Losing My Virginity” and his stories of starting the VIRGIN business empire. He’s one bold and flamboyant dude, that Branson. But here and now, we’re talking about a different Virgin version.

Every life and every lifetime is filled with firsts…first tooth, first walk, first grade, first kiss, first job. Firsts can be scary, exhilarating, illuminating, freeing, intimidating, terrifying. I’m choosing to dive into one of the FIRSTS on most of our taboo lists when it comes to sharing with others.

VIRGINITY.

Virginity box

To be more accurate here, we’re talking about the loss of virginity.

The language we use around this is full of negative context and confusion. For many – especially men I guess – virginity loss is more like a gain. And in another bizarre twist we talk about women as being deflowered, defiled, impureWords from a different century. Having crossed the Rubicon makes you a Non-virgin. It’s all loaded in a way that is so generally negative that I find annoying and distasteful. In a world that celebrates BDSM stories like Fifty Shades of Grey, this just doesn’t cut it .

I propose we coin some new terminology on the Virginal vanguard.  How about some bright new positive terms for non-virgins like Bloomer (a pregnant female could be called a “Baby Bloomer“) or Coiticulated, or Post-Nooker or Carnalist or Intercourvet?

I haven’t heard or read any statistics, so I’m only guessing, but it seems pretty clear to me that 90+ % of us will experience this “loss” at some point in our lives. Virginity is one of those areas that is tied in with much of what explains us. The adjectives that describe our personalities can often also define or describe the time and nature of our first sexual intercourse…timid, bold, distant, careless, cautious, energetic, enthusiastic, patient, polite, considerate, cold, adventurous, sensitive.

RELIGION-SEX

Now I’m describing the heterosexual experience here…I don’t know if the term virginity even applies to gay/lesbian relationships. I’d appreciate any guidance you might offer on this front for people like me who are ignorant. Just one more qualification here…I’m a naive old fellow and I tend to think of sex as an equal, reciprocal, and consensual adventure. I can’t conceive of a violent or forced event and won’t address this in this blog. It makes me feel too sick to think about.

Anyway, loss of virginity is all tied up in a maelstrom of religion and social mores and pregnancy and love and alcohol and hormones and insecurities and elation and pain and drugstore condoms and the meaning of relationships and experimentation and modesty. The circle of meaning and importance is HUGE and so most of us agonize or at least contemplate deeply what, where, when and with whom this first will occur.

My early years were bounded within an ideology of family and social mores that dictated marriage prior to consummation. So even though I lost my belief in a god and a heaven just as I was entering my teen years, the belief that intercourse was something we save until marriage was deeply ingrained. Anything less would bring about great guilt, shame, and regret. And probably pregnancy and gonorrhoea to boot. Sex was a pool filled with circling piranhas.

Bunny and pope

There was huge discord between what I was being told in my home, school, and church, and what the movies, TV, books and Playboy were laying out for my hormonal schoolboy absorption. Sex was liberating and fun and blissful in those arenas. Who do I believe and who is right was the fulcrum on which I balanced precariously. The devil had begun to sink his horns into me and I was horny.

But human decency suggested that anything beyond self-stimulation (blindness be damned!) necessitated taking into account the physical and emotional needs of my potential partner…this tango was not an easy dance.

And it shouldn’t be, but not for reasons of religion or moral righteousness. Sex at its best is fun and it’s fantastic and a hundred other orgasmic adjectives. But we’re all complex beings with needs and desires and an assortment of very heavy baggage. Having intercourse has many different meanings (even within the same person), loaded meanings that can change depending on the time of our lives, the time of day, who we’re contemplating doing it with. Paramount, for me, was respect and knowledge of what sex meant to me AND to my lover-to-be. For years, I struggled hard with carrying virginity into marriage until one day… I didn’t. Sometimes, just waiting brings a clear answer in its own time.

 I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

………………………………………….— Mae West

My days spent in the Arctic as a young person threw me into a foreign milieu with lots of attractive, confident, young ladies and attitudes towards sex that I’d never encountered before. This was happening at the same time that I was jettisoning my own internal voices and shackles of religion and guilt.

My virginity wasn’t a holy grail to place on the altar of life to observe and protect at all costs. Sex, whether solely for recreation or serious intent, was one more additional benefit to a full life. It always has risks – swimming and driving have risks too but at the appropriate time we take precautions and dive (or drive) in. Sex doesn’t have to be ALL or NONE, but I was finally released from the NEVER.

Life spent in the teeth-chattering cold and long nights of the north made me sometimes question the wisdom of my decision to take my first professional job in the Arctic. I realized that virginity wasn’t a Boy Scout badge I needed anymore on that frosty Yellowknife night.

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This was one way to stay warm in the Arctic…

love-in-the-arctic

…this was another…

Become a Radical MODERATE!

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MODERATION. I hate the word. In a non-moderate kind of way. It races up my spine like nails scratching down a blackboard.

Someone has said to you, “I like you in moderation“. Huh?

This, like Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence speaking to Romeo, “Love each other in moderation. That is the key to long-lasting love. Too fast is as bad as too slow” is just too confusing for me. What genuine meaning is there in love or anything else in life that corresponds to the word “moderation”?

I spend a lot of time when I speak and write trying to find and use the word that comes closest to expressing the exact point I’m making. English is a huge language vocabularily – and it’s expanding too, I just made up the word vocabularily, and you probably understand its meaning— which means we can say what we want in the clearest, subtlest, and most pinpoint way. I can shoot an arrow metaphorically and hit the bullseye 99% of the time because of this wonderful language. That’s cool because you can’t do that in every language out there!

I hope that people who read what I write understand what I’m saying because I expend a good deal of effort trying to make myself clear (NOTE: to be honest, this IS a work-in-progress). Verbal and written communication aren’t art forms in the sense that the Mona Lisa, or perhaps poetry, is art…it shouldn’t be left up to the receiver to decode and find their own individual interpretation of the words. When we communicate with each other, we shouldn’t have to say, “This what I think he meant to say with this statement”.

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

-Donald Rumsfeld

Obfuscation is not the AIM.

Many people are just damned lazy about their use of language.

Communication is fraught with often innocent people who don’t think in terms of how their words will be heard and construed by others. So often a simple statement in an e-mail comes across as heartless, insensitive, and hurtful, or just plain not understandable. “Did she say she’s vegan or a Brontosaurus burger eater?” A moment or two spent in thinking of how a phrase could possibly be interpreted by another person would go a hugely long way in smoothing our interactions with friends and colleagues.

But occasionally, an ambiguous word pops up that somehow gets into frequent usage, and the sad thing is, it means many different things to many different people.  The word I’m thinking of here, of course, is MODERATION.

If I remove 2 pickles and a slice of cheese, then that’s moderation. Cutting it by 2/3rds seems too extreme, wouldn’t you agree?

In the recent U.S. election, Mitt Romney was described as a “Moderate Republican”. Romney was moderate like a HUMMER is a compact car. Someone who thinks that a)healthcare is a frill for the upper echelon,b) who believes that only heterosexuals are his equals, c)who fancies women bound in binders…well…this stretches moderation as it might be interpreted like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe on a scorching summer day.

When I go to see my doctor I’ll sometimes mention that I’d like to lose 10 pounds so that I can run my marathon races a bit faster. What does she say? “Try eating in moderation”. Ohhh…

SUPER, I think…

Well, right now I eat a large sized bowl of butterscotch ice cream for dessert each evening. Moderation would be scaling that back by about a quarter cup…problem solved; the weight should drop off now.

Not so fast, I discover. My dietitian wife who knows far more about these things tells me that moderation in this case means not only should I have a “small” bowl of ice cream just twice a week, but I should stop eating French fries and potato chips altogether. My brain tells me that this isn’t moderation; this is starvation, a far cry further.

When a 400-pound man is told to exercise by his health professional, the statement often used is “exercise in moderation”. I’m thinking that a 400 lb man got to be 400 pounds by walking to the fridge and telling himself that he’s had his workout for the day. So moderation means a slight uptick of activity, something like walking the long way around the house to the fridge. That should do it, right?

An anorexic teen who eats next to nothing and is told to use moderation in exercise so that they can gain some weight will hear moderation to mean, “only run 10 miles every day instead of the 12 you’ve been doing all along…and maybe only purge once each day instead of twice.” Not helpful.

Moderation is a useless word and does more harm than good. Let’s dump it as a tool for communication and substitute REAL tools with REAL meaning.

Eat 1500 calories, and ice cream just one time each week.

Run only 5 miles 3 times each week.

I love you with all my heart.”

These statements have real meaning and are concrete in their message.

Let’s use the word moderation, not in moderation, but oh, shall we say…NEVER. It doesn’t have a use in our language other than to confuse and perhaps allow us to rationalize the things we know are bad for us. And there are so many ways I can rationalize the bad things I do without going within a city block of the word moderation.

Words are meant to communicate and have meaning.

Moderation…YOU are a sad excuse for a word.