Thanks a Lot Mom, I’m Chubby Again

Mansaf

Mansaf, Jordan’s signature dish. Stewed lamb, topped with jameed, a tangy sauce, served over rice and garnished with toasted almonds. Too delicious not to eat the whole thing.

My partner would be the first to admit she’s no fan of the gym. Luckily this isn’t a problem for her because she’s so petite and perfectly proportioned despite her, um, lack of enthusiasm for exercise. She’s also Sicilian, and is running in her sleep apparently, because her lack of exercise during waking hours hasn’t taken the ‘bella’ out of her ‘figura’.

I am glad to avoid having the awkward conversation when she asks “do I look fat in this?” If she were, my penchant for brutal honesty combined with the lack of a functioning mouth filtration system would not catch the words “a little actually, since you asked” before they had already passed foolishly from my lips, as so often happened in my failed marriage. Instead, I can honestly say “No, and I loathe you a little. Mia amore.”

It’s not fair. I could eat nothing besides lentils and celery for weeks but if I didn’t exercise like a hamster to burn off the calories I’d be husky, pudgy, hefty, have a great personality or any of the other euphemisms for “fat.”

My partner doesn’t exercise in the mornings before work because she’s not a morning person. I am the morning person. I am incredulous there are people in the world who aren’t, and I use The Force (of Annoying Persuasion) to win more people over from the Dark Side. Who wouldn’t respond favourably to morning musicals performed in their bedroom? Who doesn’t want their toast and coffee with a side of jazz hands, juggling poodles, and flaming sword-swallowing? Her, that’s who. “Lasciami in pace!” and a flicking of her hand from under her chin is all the response I get.

Zaatar

Za’atar Manakeesh. Za’atar is a combination of crushed oregano, thyme, marjoram, and toasted sesame seeds. You mix with olive oil and spread over the flatbread (manakeesh). I don’t know how I lived so long without it.

My morning enthusiasm is fuelled more by neurosis than genuine fervour. It’s hard to accept my partner hates me in the morning, that I will be doing yoga and meditation alone again, so I intensify the zeal to turn her frowns upside down, hoping she’ll at least leap out of bed at five thirty to kick me in the crotch. At least she’d be out of bed. Then, just then, maybe she’d work out with me. Alas, the gimmicks in my tickle trunk – which are legion – fall flat. Tough crowd, those Sicilians. It isn’t personal, she tells me, but I’m pretty certain “sta ‘zitto buffone” is not the nicest way to say “Please stop, dear.”

She works for a large multi-billion dollar profit-making bank by day. You’d think that she’d have a cushy life and drive Lambourghinis. Think again. She works the retail side. All the back office staff were cut because a few billion in net after-tax profits was underwhelming to the greedy bastards who run the place. She’s essentially a white-collar slave who works countless hours a day to get paid slightly more than a Wal-Mart greeter. So she’s almost dead when she comes home, which is why she can’t work out then either.

But you know what sucks most of all? She’s not fat, despite the nothing she does to burn off all the pasta, pannetoni, prosciutto, provolone, and other fattening foods beginning with the letter ‘p’ she routinely consumes. I mean, she’s not even a little chubby. Sure, in the winter months a barely noticeable undulation collects on her mid-section, what she and her mom call a “panza.” Pfft. You call that a belly. This, is a belly (lifting up my shirt).

At last, spring has finally descended upon the Arctic wasteland in the mid-western Canadian city my stupid ancestors set down roots to curse the following generations for their easier lives. This week, my petite, Sicilian girlfriend who burns calories in her sleep and hates me in the morning has been walking to and from work. Way to go, eh? Not really. I mean, she only lives about one kilometre away from her office. Because her legs aren’t much longer than the members of the Lollipop Guild it takes her about twenty-five minutes to walk that distance.

It seems to her like she’s doing a lot of walking, but she’s really not. She likes to meander and ogle other people’s gardens and landscaping to get ideas for her own house along the way. After walking a whole eight kilometres this week you know what happened to the little panza? Arrivederci. Addio. Ciao. That’s what. It was gone, as quickly as a tray of fresh cannoli in an Italian cucina.

It ain’t fair. The oxford shirts that hung breezily over my relatively firm, somewhat mildly-toned body last summer cling to me like spandex. The buttons struggling to hold my shirts closed are poised to take out an eye when they finally bust loose. When I button up my pants, the mini-muffin tops I had before have turned into sacks of dough big enough to make ciabatta bread for all fifty of my partner’s cousins. My hairy “gulo” springs out of my pants like a moron whenever I bend over – usually to pick up one of the poodles I’ve been juggling to impress mia amore in the mornings. Ah, there’s a smile, at my hairy, fat ass. I am learning she uses Sicilian words when she’s laughing at me.

The Hulk - My Clothes Don't Fit

Damn it, my clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I put on my favourite black blazer, once the centrepiece of my “If this doesn’t make one in twenty ladies take a second look, nothing will” outfit, it looks like I put it on just before I became The Incredible Hulk. ‘Don’t run ladies, I’m not angry, I’m just heftier than I once was. I swear, I’ll fit my clothes again by the end of summer.’

Damn, I did it again. I emotionally-ate my way through the winter. Frankly, I don’t know why people choose heroin or alcohol when you can just eat a whole extra large seven-meat pizza and be totally fine, at least until Type II diabetes spoils the party. Until then, you get to douse your existential pain in buckets of saturated fats, salt, and sugar.

I had a good excuse this winter; I did work stints in Jordan and Lebanon where I gorged on delicious, rich, restaurant-made middle eastern cuisine nearly every day because it was absolutely necessary. The word ‘no’ in Arabic was too counter-intuitive to really learn (‘Laa’), while the word for ‘yes’ (Na’am) sounded eerily similar to the noises oozing from my soul as I inhaled the delicious food. “Do I want the mega-shawarma platter for six? Nom, nom, nom.”

Kanafeh

Kanafeh. Nabulsi cheese swimming in syrupy water, topped with light coat of pastry, and sprinkles of pistacchio. One JD at a little stall in the gold souk in Amman. Delicious.

This winter my self-discipline and I took a flying leap into the Dead Sea, which made me grateful on many fronts. First of all, it was a remarkable experience. Second, my skin was really, really soft for days after. Third, and most importantly, when I was in the water I didn’t sink like a lead weight despite the fact I had gained fifteen pounds. Even though I looked fatter in front of my colleagues than I would had we done this months earlier, I splashed like a joyful gimp as I bobbed on the surface, wincing in pain as the salt-water instantly desiccated my eyeballs and began to singe my skin after twenty-five minutes. I didn’t sink. How fat could I really be?

Obviously, I was a little more sad than I had anticipated, which fueled my appetite. I was away at Christmas. I’ve never been away from my kids for the season. I missed them; I missed my partner. I heard countless tragic stories from the Syrian refugees I was meeting every day. The kids were so joyful and resilient, totally unaware of the gravity of their situation, what terrible fate they had barely averted. Their fathers were crestfallen for having to leave their home, a place where they toiled and made a good life for their families until it was stolen by war. As a man and a father it broke my heart to personally meet thousands of people uprooted by calamities I’d spent a lifetime watching on television. I was overwhelmed by the unexpected flurry of emotions.

So I ate. And ate. Then, I ate some more to keep the scary emotions at bay.

Shwarma, halloumi, and za’atar oh my.
Mansaf, and mezze, and zarb oh my.
Kanafeh, baklava, harissa, oh my.  
Fattoush, and falafel, and fwal, oh my.
Taouk, and tabbouleh, and toum, oh my.
Hommous, and hommous, and hommous, OH MY!

Shawarma

Shawarma. Instant ecstasy.

Masha’Allah they shun pork in the Middle East, otherwise I would have had to buy two seats on the plane to get me home to Canada. Who knew chick peas could taste so good? They probably use Dead Sea salt in that too. I smoked shisha because the fruity, spice-infused tobacco was more breathable than Amman’s exhaust-filled air, more pleasant than the putrefying garbage dotting Beirut streets since the country had been without a waste disposal contract since last August. Take note, Donald Trump, the Lebanese have discovered Beirut’s garbage makes an outstanding wall along the Syrian border, giving refugees pause before they hold their nose and flee into Lebanon, if a little more fastidiously these days than prior to last August.

This may come as a surprise, but eating in restaurants every single night, finishing off bags of Al Rifai™ crunchy-coated peanuts when dinner is postponed an hour because you’re stuck in Beirut traffic, drinking three beers with every meal because you’re on an expense account, and sleeping cat hours are not recommended for those in their forties interested in maintaining a decent body. That is, unless you’re my Sicilian girlfriend, in which case, carry on as you were. You’ll only need to do ten minutes of exercise to burn it off.

Almaza - better than tap water

Almaza. Lebanese beer. Since I didn’t trust the tap water in Beirut, I drank this instead, hydrating liberally with every meal.

Since I got back, I have resumed my regular routine. I do at least an hour of exercise every day, except for those mornings after I drink too much, stay up reading a good book, or watch entire seasons of something on Netflix. Other than those mornings, I do Ashtanga yoga. I go for long hikes with my kids. I walk home from work, which isn’t one kilometre but four. I go up and down the stairs instead of using the elevator at work. In other words, I work my gulo off to get back in shape, but it’s still there, leering out of my pants.

So now my partner gets to sleep in without any guilt because she exercised for a whole frickin’ week and her winter weight is gone. Meanwhile, I feel like a sausage all the time and am filled with self-consciousness whenever I bend over to tie my shoes. It may put a smile on my partner’s face, but it’s a pyrrhic victory.

It’s all my fault. I didn’t have to eat each and every heaping plate of Middle Eastern cuisine to the last bite, but I did because it was so bloody good and there are people starving in Africa. Hey. Wait a minute. That’s what my mother used to say when I was a kid so I wouldn’t waste food. That’s why I always feel such an intense need to lick my plate clean. She needed me to be chubby so she wouldn’t feel like a bad mother who starved her children. Dang it mom, look what you made me do again. I hope you’re happy.

Bu-Bye Harper, From a Beleaguered Civil Servant

(Written in November 2015)

Lord Harper, er Vader, and PMO minions

Ousted PM Harper and a couple of big-headed, small-minded minions from the PMO trailing behind.

Canadians from all corners of this vast country voted last fall to oust Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and gave the Liberal Party of Canada and Justin Trudeau a clear mandate to govern. The election results included a large swath of votes that went to the New Democratic Party and Green parties, and clearly signaled a widespread desire for government to play an active role in bettering the lives of Canadians. For many years we watched Harper and his clowns publicly engage in projectile vomiting toward the bureaucracy; we saw him toss a steady-stream of scapegoats under the bus to titillate the spectators of their three-ring circus who came with a blood-lust.

There isn’t much room for interpretation of those fall election results. It is a clear repudiation of the angry, divisive style and tone of the former Prime Minister. It was a rejection of his empty platform – if banning burqas and rallies with Rob Ford are rightly called parts of a ‘platform.’ Canadians demanded a plan that was more specific than “tax cuts” which, in Harper’s final term of office, seemed to fuel the belief he had a free hand to do anything he pleased so long as he cut a per cent off the GST – proroguing parliament three times, introducing bills amending twenty-six pieces of legislation without study by committee, passing unconstitutional laws, firing scientists from the bureaucracy for discussing science, and so on, and so on. Maybe Canadians want to pay less tax, but they also want a government to outline its agenda and be transparent in its actions; they want to be given something by which an informed decision about whether to give them a mandate can be made.

I say that not as a partisan, but as a civil servant who, like the vast majority of my public-sector peers, have made a career implementing the laws, plans, and priorities of government, hopefully for the betterment of the lives of Canadians. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear a public servant suggest that, under the tutelage of the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the last several years were totally demoralizing. It wasn’t just the cuts to thousands of colleagues, it was vitriolic way by which the public service as a whole was slandered to justify the deed; a mode of attack sustained well after the slashing had been done. It revealed the Harper Conservatives not as good governors or earnest policy-makers but as petty, vindictive human beings.

PM Trudeau - aka The Count of Monte Cristo

The man who saved the citizens of Canada from the evil reign of Lord Vader, the Count of Monte Cristo, er, I mean Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau

The relationship between the elected government of the day and the Canadian public service is grounded in the Westminster system of government inherited from our great- great- grandparents in the United Kingdom. In this model, there is a clear separation from the Prime Minister and Cabinet on one side, and the non-partisan government Ministries that administer the laws, regulations, policies, and plans attached to each of the portfolios of the Cabinet on the other.

The Cabinet Minister with portfolio is politically accountable for the activities of his Ministry. However, the person responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Ministry is the Deputy Minister. The relationship is much like that of a Chief Executive Officer and a Chief Operating Officer in a large, publicly-traded company. The former is accountable to outside stakeholders, the latter is responsible to run the place and keep the CEO informed.

Under this arrangement, Cabinet ministers are not expected to be expert in their portfolios. As avatars of the will of the people they are there to provide clear mandates to the Deputy Ministers (DM) who must implement the plans of government. As elected officials, it is the Minister’s job to engage stakeholder citizens to canvass their issues and incorporate them into directives their DMs must achieve in operating the department. It is also the role of the elected Minister to remain abreast of the progress of his Ministry in effecting the agenda, and to communicate progress to the stakeholders.

The role of the Deputy Minister and the bureaucracy is to take what can be very broad, vague instructions of their Minister and, as experts in the area, find effective ways to implement these plans with the resources provided to do so. Sometimes that means recommending new laws or policy to ensure that plans are undertaken in a fair and procedurally transparent fashion. Determining the best way to execute an idea or plan is a process, but relies on the expertise and resources of the public service to carry those plans through effectively.

On paper, it seems so simple. Except, imagine how hard it must be for a newly-elected Minister who was a pig farmer by vocation to suddenly find himself politically responsible for the day-to-day operations of a department like Foreign Affairs. The urge to interfere and micromanage to allay anxieties about being politically accountable for something way beyond your grasp is understandably strong. The new Minister doesn’t know his DM, the Ministry, or the Public Service from a hole in the side of his barn.

This is why the bonds of trust and respect between the elected government of the day and the Public Service is essential right at the outset. For the Prime Minister and Cabinet, this is where Deputy Ministers (and the Privy Council Office) make their bread. They are accustomed to working with people who do not know their portfolios in depth and they have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of public servants in their Ministries to do the necessary work in rolling out plans, monitoring progress, and reporting on accountabilities.

There is a reason Canada is a relatively centrist, middling country whose progress tends to be slow but steady. The day-to-day functioning of government Ministries is mandated by the laws of Parliament and as such cannot be subjected to political whimsy or interference. If that happens, then laws become meaningless paeans to corruption. At the same time, ideas that express the desires of the people, even if whimsical for their lack of specificity, cannot be flatly dismissed by stolid bureaucracies. That is why there needs to be mutual respect, discussion, and trust between the sides. They may start at opposite ends of how ideas translate into programs and policy and must, from there, arrive at a measure of what can feasibly be accomplished.

This is why the public service must not be partisan. It is expected to give the best advice possible no matter who is in power. Certainly, public servants have political views – they are citizens – however they take their cues from the will of democracy as exemplified in the elected government and focus their efforts on gaining expertise in the machinery of government. This allows Deputy Ministers to provide the most candid advice without taint of political machinations.

It is clear, the former government of Prime Minister Harper did very little to respect the Westminster model of government – either on the political side where he prorogued Parliament, introduced omnibus bills and the like – or in respect of the bureaucracy, which he politicized to a degree unprecedented in recent Canadian history. He took the premise of prioritizing government austerity and transformed it into a campaign to discredit and impugn the integrity of the public service in the eyes of the Canadian public. In dismissing the competence of the public service outright and attempting to reach far into the day-to-day functions of the Ministries he also undermined the very essence of a functioning government which relies on a partnership of elected ministers and a non-partisan bureaucracy.

For the most part, I dismissed Harper’s electioneering as the necessary bluster of politics. It was meant to give the public something of putative substance to spice up the most unimaginative political platform for a nation imaginable: “tax relief.” In my mind, that was a clever evasion; a bit of mental laziness for failing to outline one’s policy choices. It still shocks me that Canadians or any citizen of a democracy falls for such nonsense, but such is the tenor of the times. If Canadians wanted to believe that public servants are demons, fair enough, but no rational group of elected officials given a mandate to actually govern could possibly have believed that nonsense, I reasoned. How truly wrong I was.

In the beginning, Harper slashed and razed publicly funded programs like the Court Challenges Program on strident, ideological grounds and justified it by saying the electorate had given him carte blanche to cut as he saw fit. Toward the end of PM Harper’s reign, the PMO went rogue all over the public service, truly believing their own fabulist tales about how bureaucrats were devoid of competence or irrelevant to running a government. The Globe and Mail story about how the PMO requested refugee files of fleeing Syrian migrants to do their own audit of the immigration department’s file management was the most insidious reflection of this. What expertise lay in the PMO that would have outflanked that of seasoned bureaucrats whose careers had been spent assessing immigration and refugee applications? What kind of audit could a non-experienced political staffer have done that would have been qualitatively better than, say, one done by a senior executive within the immigration department?

I have to confess in the end, I took much of this very personally as a public servant because of the systematic attacks we were all subjected to for so many years. To this day, the mere utterance of the name Tony Clement makes me want to drive my fist into the nearest wall imagining his smug, self-satisfied, corrupt face as a target. But then I was heartened to have such strange bedfellows in my career woes: Harper’s most prominent Cabinet ministers began to drop off like flies before the last election. Backbench MPs were kicked out of caucus, senior Cabinet members were muzzled, party discipline turned grown adults into cheerleaders for Harper’s cynical agenda. I barely knew the names of a vast majority of Conservative MPs or Cabinet ministers until the press releases announced their departures. ‘Ah, so that’s who the so-and-so Minister was. Good to know,’ I found myself saying repeatedly.

Tony Clement his PMO minion and bureaucrat

Tony (Jabba the Hutt) Clement, his little minion/lackey, and a hapless bureaucrat enslaved for calling in sick one too many times for Jabba’s liking.

It became clear, the former PM believed he needed neither a public service nor an effective Cabinet and party caucus to govern this country. In retrospect, it is harrowing to think that the Conservative Party was so totally emasculated that it could do nothing to protest such iron-fisted rule, or rein in unilateral decisions that everyone in caucus must have known would be wildly unpopular with the electorate. It makes me shudder for Canadian democracy to think how close we were to having elected a dictator.

In any case, from the perspective of a public servant, Harper’s reign is so tragically peculiar. It is unbecoming of a man of Stephen Harper’s obvious intelligence and genuine desire to serve the public interest to have harboured such clear delusions about what could be achieved all on his own; to think he didn’t need a civil service to implement his plans. Not only is it idiotic but it is petty to the extreme. I think there are lessons in this for any party leader. His legacy is the cautionary tale of what happens when over-wrought ego and hubris combine not only to rob a party of its moral tether but to deprive a nation of a well-functioning government.

I make these points not in the interests of supporting a particular party, so much as to offer a lone voice from the public service to counter the repeated sermons demonizing civil servants Canadians heard from the bully pulpit of the previous government. I am also speaking out as just one of the thousands of public servants who get up every day and try their hardest to do their jobs to the best of their ability with the tools – and the orders – given them. Imagine going to work at your company and everyday seeing your boss on television or in the papers disparaging you, suggesting you’re over paid, under-worked, incompetent, undeserving, entitled, expendable, and mostly unnecessary. And then imagine that boss coming to you every day with a new plan, priority, or mandate and castigating you publicly for being unable to steer a teetering ship in seventeen different directions. Imagine.

In the end, Canadians were able to see through the vitriol and to the character and integrity of a man so easily capable of lobbing such relentless invective at the very people he needs to help him govern. I am glad collective wisdom prevailed. Not only has it maintained my faith in my fellow citizens, but so too has it restored my faith in democracy and re-invigorated my desire to serve the public.

Despite the number of Canadians who voted against the message of negativity in our Canadian election, there is still a sizeable element of the Canadian public who still lack faith in the integrity of the public service, who seem to doubt on a fundamental level the utility in spending a dime on public services. The former PM and a few of his ministers focused much of their effort on painting a picture of federal public servants as abusers of certain entitlements such as sick pay. They felt so strongly about the issue they fed the Canadian public misinformation about the cost and nature of sick leave in the public service. They passed legislation to impose a new sick-leave regime which violates the collective bargaining rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would ask, what are citizens supposed to take away about their rights as employees across all sectors if its own federal public servants and their employer, the Government of Canada, are flouting the constitutional foundations of Canada’s labour laws?

Trudeau-Brazeau

Then-MP Trudeau rightly pointing out the douchey speedo worn by the Conservative Senator. The skinny guy won the boxing match, the speedo can never be un-seen, regrettably.

At some point this type of dialogue simply marks those who utter it as stupid, ignorant assholes. I don’t know why, but it is conservative ideologues in Canada and the US that seem to monopolize these ranks. To be blunt, this isn’t conservatism at all; it is libertarianism, the right side of a continuum that ends in anarchism on the left. David Hume, Edmund Burke or Michael Oakeshott would recognize nothing in the movements passing themselves off as conservatism these days. The political discourse their proponents tout resembles a bowel movement, rather than a legitimate body of political thought.

In any case, many so-called conservatives tout specific policy priorities that only governments can implement, which makes their avowed desire to see the death of government through tax starvation really peculiar. For example, conservatives typically view military intervention as the preferred stand-in for real diplomacy in foreign relations. Person for person, the military is the most expensive of government operations a nation undertakes – each soldier comes with a huge price-tag in training and equipment that consumes tax revenue far more rapidly than other programs. To the degree right-wing ideology informs an over-reliance on military solutions, it posits a far more profligate use of the public purse than any number of items on a typical socialist agenda.

After the 2008 housing and financial sector crash, what would the US economy look like today if there were no government to intervene? That bailout was tax money, in case anyone was wondering. It’s interesting, when the government expenditures benefit corporate interests the reliance on such schemes upon buckets of tax revenue, or their deprivation of the public purse with preferential tax policies, which is effectively a tax subsidy, are completely downplayed. Make no mistake, these rely upon a government that collects taxes; in some cases lots of taxes.

Suffice it to say there will never be a state of affairs where a government collects little or no taxes and is then able to respond to the needs of its citizens with effective policies; yes, even if “conservatives” are elected. So, this line of rhetoric about zero taxes and the perfunctory role of government should no longer gain any traction politically. Taken to the extreme it benefits only those who would see our democratic nations turned into Corporations which are, by virtue of their purely economic nature, primarily fascist organizations. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Pinochet are what happens when oligarch industrialists, teeming with ennui at the mere monopolization of a nation’s wealth, aspire to monopolize the political power as well; their zeal for propagating  disenfranchisement as they fatten their wallets knows no bounds.

Given that reality, Canadians are best served by parties offering something other than business priorities or tax policy; who do not tout cynical notions that undermine democracy and care little for social goods like education or health care. Citizens are best served by plugging their ears to demagogues who spew old albatrosses about “evil government” and “lazy public servants” as institutions that aren’t worth sustaining with tax revenue. It’s a great song and dance, but if taxes are cut the services and the government go with them. I shouldn’t have to spell that out, but there are throngs of people who support perpetual tax cuts without thinking about what will step in to deliver public goods – Corporations. It is a clever, elegant delusion which, if it continues to be believed, will destroy the foundation that makes Canada a global economic and political leader – an educated, healthy, and well-governed society.

I take the 2015 federal election as a clear sign Canadians want to get back to reality. We can’t deny the nation-building role of government – hospitals, schools, universities – these were planned, built, and continue to be operated by government. Those who say they don’t want to pay taxes are essentially saying they are in favour of letting the schools, hospitals, police detachments, and universities crumble. Any party that pretends to offer “savings” by gutting the ability of a government to deliver on its mandate, and slanders their key partners in governing – the public service – should be chased off the political stage as the disingenuous frauds and hucksters they are. They are selling snake oil to gain power.

I say that as a citizen foremost, and as a public servant eager for a government who proceeds with a vision and a plan to make Canadian lives better. I am glad last fall most Canadians put their votes toward parties that decided to run on actual policy issues. In order for the Westminster model to work as intended, it needs elected officials with a clear mandate who are eager to work with their mandarins to implement their priorities. The Westminster model needs elected officials who believe the reason they stood for office is to actually govern the nation.

Trudeau and Pandas

Let’s get some pandas, some bamboo, some civil servants and do this governing thing gangsta-style.

To Prime Minister Trudeau I say my colleagues and I are here with knowledge, experience, and eagerness to work as partners with the government of the day to implement its plans. I say the same to the next Prime Minister, be it yourself or another. We are here to serve our fellow citizens because that is what we do – we work for Canadians. True enough, we are less able to massage hollow partisan agendas into workable laws and real policy because, in their contempt for reality, they don’t translate into feasible, measurable results. We have dedicated our careers to advising elected officials in how to turn lofty political ideas into practical, executable plans. Now that the politicking is over, let’s rise above the platitudes to rouse a political base, dispense with scape-goating the public sector to feed the knuckle-draggers, and collaborate to effect real, meaningful changes to better the lives of Canadians. That is why we both sought to be where we are, after all.

 

In Search of Time For Proust

Looking beyond timeFor a long time, I went to bed late, and woke up early in the morning. I subsisted on five to six hours of sleep a night, and it was grand. My Attention Deficit Disorder allowed for a boundless supply of energy despite so little sleep. So long as I wasn’t trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube or fill out tax forms, I could accomplish the work of several people in a day.

I can feel my need for sleep increasing ever so slightly, year by year. It’s another facet of aging that intensifies the state of time urgency and restlessness tormenting me since I was in my mother’s womb. Prenatally afflicted by the existential disease, I leaped out of my mother’s vagina five weeks early, poised to get a head start on life. It was the first and last time I was ever early for anything.

Lately, I am like a zombie when I get less than seven hours a night. I’ve been going to bed earlier to avoid walking into walls and stumbling into traffic. I have less time for everything, forcing me to be less profligate with my energies, which I pour like buckets into enterprises that rouse my passions. In the past, I said ‘yes’ to them all, as if there was infinite time. I never asked ‘if this, then what gives?’ assuming I’d enjoy the longevity of an Okinawan woman and die at the ripe young age of 117. It’s a half-baked modus operandus given much of my youth involved sitting, drowning neuroses with binges of shitty food, and leisure activities where the main attraction was kegs of beer.

Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare's Dionysian clown. The better part of valour is discretion, eh old boy? Except when it comes to ale and twinkies. And meat pies and roast beef, and ...

Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s Dionysian clown. The better part of valour is discretion, eh old boy? Except when it comes to ale and twinkies, it seems. Well, that and meat pies, KFC, and roast beef, and …

I have no regrets, to a degree. All that gluttony and aimlessness made me a well-rounded guy, figuratively and, for a time, literally. I had fun. I took courses in everything. I partied with legions of people in college before I got a job and got serious. If it was the nineteen hundreds I’d have been called a Renaissance Man; Falstaff in Elizabethan times. Now, the term de rigeur is man-child, which bespeaks our decline as a civilization; we once celebrated aesthetes and curious types. Would anyone call Benjamin Franklin or Henry David Thoreau a man-child? I think not.

The habit of keeping my plate so full has spilled over into mid-life, where it’s not as feasible as it was when I had no responsibilities, lived in my mother’s basement, and had the energy of a squirrel on four hours’ sleep. Now, it’s kept me perpetually short on time. With adult obligations and eight to ten extra hours a week drooling on my pillow, I am running out of ‘laters’ to count on. There are some things I will never have the time to do, not because I have thirty nine items on my ‘to do’ list, but because I’ll be dead. It’s a bummer.

If I am lucky, my death will mirror my life: arriving extremely late and brimming with serendipity. I envision myself harried and anxious, late for something, darting across the street without looking, and a speeding bus. It’s all so tragic and undignified, yet reassuring; it will be the first time I have a legitimate excuse for being late. The bus-riders traumatized from seeing me smeared on the pavement will come through therapy much better if they are assured I had a damn good life before its inglorious end.

“Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha” I wonder why THEY’RE laughing, Nancy, I thought Star Wars was a great movie. Hey, this room looks mysteriously like the Oval Office? Who are these strange people pulling my strings, Geppetto?

As long as I could, I set my alarm for six hours of sleep. Many mornings I’d leap out of bed before it rang ready to conquer the world. That is, until it became a delusional habit and left me dragging my knuckles through the day. I would saunter in a haze, barely cognizant of events in which I was an instrumental player; like Ronald Reagan in his second term, but without a team of fabulists nudging me awake when the cameras roll, hiding the fact I’m mostly sleeping under my desk, inches away from somnambulously pushing the button leading to world annihilation.

Many nights I get into bed with my partner and go to sleep. There is no boom boom in the night – other than from my snoring. I didn’t always snore in the past. When I did, my girlfriends would say it was endearing, like a kitten. Some nights my partner flees the air-raid bombardment beside her, whispering choice Italian curses as she seeks shelter in the guest bed. There is  definitely no boom-boom in the morning, and I have to bring paint-thinningly strong espresso and buckets of biscotti the next morning as a peace offering.

Nothing about me will be as cute as a cat meme, at least until I am ninety-six, when twenty-something girls will think it sweet when I hit on them and flirt with me, the harmless, pervy old man. Hair is springing like bamboo from my ears, nose, and eyebrows, which makes me feel mothballed an un-sexy. My efforts to cling to a semblance of youth are as false as the hips and the pretense of  cool at a Rolling Stones concert, but without the years of rock n’ roll glory to dignify the shabby facade. Like Mick Jagger’s face, my penis, a once pulsating tube of dilithium crystals, has turned into a shrinking violet from weariness. My nineteen year old self wants to punch me in the throat for the analogy.

“Oy Mick, is that your colostomy bag nudging me leg, mate?”
“No love, that’s Ronnie’s cane.”
“Charlie, are me teeth in?”
“Yes Ronnie, for the tenth time.”
“Mick, are me teeth in?”
“YES!” yell the Rolling Stones, Ron having forgotten his hearing aid again.

Facts can’t be denied: I can hardly think straight because I’m tired, not because I have to suppress a constant barrage of pornographic sexual fantasies energizing my brain at the slightest provocation. I needed that pent-up sexual angst to keep my Starship Enterprise at warp speed as I set a course for one aimless mission after another.

Where did the time go that I became this way? There were so many things I meant to do before I began to shrivel up. Learn to fly an airplane. Speak Mandarin. Get a doctorate. Travel more. Take a course at the Cordon Bleu. Build something with my very own hands. A bird-house is the closest I’ve come, and I still make a Bearnaise sauce from a package.

Worse, I still haven’t finished Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I’ve barely delved into it. I read the first volume in college and never got to the others. Every once in a while I borrow the next couple volumes from the library, but grow tired of paying fines on the falsehood they are soon to be read. The first volume was a taste of exceptional literary foie gras and I’ve been waiting twenty years to treat myself to a second helping. It doesn’t seem decadent, in spite of the obligations I’ll have to shirk to see it through.

Except I can’t seem to unravel from the entanglements I’m ensnared in to free up time for more worthwhile things like reading Proust novels or building houses for the poor. I work as little as I can afford, but feel in my heart the balance still isn’t right. I want more time parenting, less time at the office. I grow resentful of work as I age, realizing more clearly how abjectly it monopolizes my time. There is nothing else I do to the same degree in a week, which makes me wistful because there are so many other things I’d rather be doing. We are fortunate to live in such wealthy, technologically advanced societies; why are we working more? It is senseless.

The value I once accorded career and accomplishments diminishes in inverse proportion to that of my outside passions the older I get. It’s supposed to be the opposite. I am far less practical now than I used to be. I don’t suffer fools as well as I used to, while I endure other challenges – relationships, children, family – much more gladly. In the past, I’d throw my hands up to the emotional undulations in my personal life and delve deeper into work and other shallow distractions.

There are other things: traffic, douchebags, political zealots bent on cruelty; unavoidable side effects of venturing out of the cave. I cringe at so much of what I see, no matter how much yoga and meditation I do to scrub the grime from my soul. I can’t un-hear, un-see, or un-smell the mean-spirits tearing at our social fabric. Opting in to all that seems like time so utterly misspent.

To quell disillusionment I troll bookstores and buy books by the truckload – ones that are shorter than Proust, of course. But there is a strong desire for escape in my fiction cravings these days. Anyone who has read ISLT will know it is many things, but it is not escapist. For the crime of being too clever and high-minded it is sentenced to a term of nimble-minded neglect.

“Oooh, it’s about time I read Love in the Time of Cholera,” I say to myself. “It’s less than five hundred pages. I can do that.”

I giddily read the first chapter in the store and resolve to set about finishing the Nobel Prize winner as soon as I get home, without delay. Good intentions give way to paying the bills and other obligations. I settle into bed at ten thirty, recently purchased book in hand, and a wilting motivation to stay awake. Within moments, my eyelids are heavy like anvils.

Soon I’m blubbering with a smile as I drift toward near REM-sleep. My dreams swirl with visions of riding ponies shirtless, with six-pack abs, a head of non-thinning hair tilting back to guzzle red wine from the cask, my belly filled with slices of all-meat pizza plucked from nearby trees in my Tuscan vineyard. The next morning, the dog-eared book, moistened by my perfunctory warm balls, is stuck to my inner thigh; cheapened after I spent a measly two paragraphs with it.

Within moments of opening my book in bed, I find myself here. Even in my dreams I am hapless with horses, even if my belly is conspicuously spare-tire free.

Here I am after a couple pages. Even in my dreams I am hapless with horses, but my belly is conspicuously spare-tire free in spite of all the pizza and wine I’ve shoved in there.

Weeks later Gabriel Garcia Marquez settles into my bookshelf with Proust, Pynchon, Dostoyevsky and other ignored long-winded scribes in the literary pantheon. I give myself credit: I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and Ulysses. They were weighty tomes, but I got them finished. It was so unmistakeably worth the time and effort. They made me pine for the others, which I buy because of my unbridled optimism, curiosity, and foolhardiness.

They are mostly paragons of high-minded intentions mocked by the vagaries of life. After a long day, the well-meaning, urbane spirit trying to enforce discipline by cancelling the cable subscription is over-ruled by the Homer Simpson in my mind. He wants to watch television shows by the season on Netflix and treat the wounds of his wage-slave malaise with a salve of liquor and witless distractions.

Proust might do a body good after a day filled with office politics, but Simpson and his easily suggestible mind prefers something a little more titillating; a little less mentally taxing. Boobies, explosions, and people making fart jokes will jerk his chain and get him off with so little effort. You have to read fifty pages of Bellow or Neruda to get even close to the mental masturbatory bliss Breaking Bad can promise on-demand countless times in forty minutes. The show plots toward dramatic heights to effortlessly reach a climax again, and again, and again without fail, reminding me of my nineteen year old self.

I’m a flesh and blood male, conditioned since birth to crave gratuitous sex, stylized killing and maiming, cruelty, and blowing shit up. But I don’t want to go out like that; to die with one orange-stained hand deep into bag of Doritos and the other wanking to the action-porn of Fast and Furious 17. If I had those one hundred seventeen years, perhaps, but there are gadflies screaming into my fur-filled ears “death is nigh!”

Here we go, running away from time again I am thankful for the zest for life my ADD turbo-charged mind has given me, but it has gotten out of hand. I’ve gone too long without learning to assess the relative merits of one passionate indulgence versus the next. There’s no longer time for that; I have to work and I need more sleep.

Running from one thing to the next obscures the true nature of what we’re really involved in. It fuels the sense of time as a blur, as disappearing with the blink of an eye. Deep down, we all know better than that, but running is a hard habit to break. Well, there’s a bus with my name on it, so it’s best I sit myself down until those seven volumes are done.

Homer will protest vehemently; he will doze off, he will want chips, he will crave porn. He will yearn for the countless distractions he’s conditioned to believe, owing to the sheer act of seeking them out, add something of value to his life. They merely suppress his discerning mind beneath a scripted reality and make him daft. I will tie him to a chair and gag him with pages of Proust to shut him up if I have to.

The experience of time is altered when engaged in meaningful endeavours; it passes without regret. Instead of an existence premised on frenetic activity, the choice to immerse oneself in the sublime and beautiful changes the perception of what transpires. In the mind’s eye, nothing is lost, despite the passing of time, because so much is gained from the effort; something more closely resembling wisdom and truth.

So, ‘What do you do’, to Improve This Conversation?

Oh, Sweet Jesus don't let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus don’t let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

It’s the time of year where obligation drags us to parties we could easily have blown off in April. It’s not in my introverted nature to enjoy the Christmas party ritual, but I’m philosophical about the phenomenon. They indicate you or your loved one has a job worth cultivating by your presence, a relatively positive thing to force your hand.

So we go along like good eggs and hope for the best. If you’re a skilled introvert you can survive this extroverted predicament by planting yourself strategically in a dead-zone to make yourself inconspicuous. You tuck in behind a tall plant without appearing as though you’re hiding, situate yourself directly opposite the bar and food table, or stand on the peripheries of a group engaged in conversation, nodding your head pointlessly from time-to-time to sustain the ruse you’re an active participant. There, you’ll sip your wine hoping to avoid being enveloped by the dull, dreary blanket of small-talk and ponder the book you’re in the middle of. You’ll daydream about the passion you’re forgoing to be among a swath of virtual strangers who won’t be seen again until next year’s party.

Without warning Fred, whose wife works with your partner, recognizes you from last year’s Christmas party as he piles fruit cake, seven-layer dip, and chicken wings on his plate. He turns to head in your direction, his sweater blinking intermittently to light his path. This year, he’s pulled out all the stops to win the tacky sweater contest, and by golly he’s gonna break the ice with you.

“So tell me, Edmund, what do you do?”

Smited by God, yet again, for my failure to believe in her. A vengeful shrew she is, to say the least.

I Love My Job Oh Yes I do, Now Let me Tell You of My PooI’m not ashamed of my job, but it’s like any other white-collar gig. I’m paid for a cognitive skill I honed with higher education and spend most of my workday putting my shiny-trained mind to the tasks at hand. I’m pretty good at what I do, according to those who sign my paycheque. It’s all pretty un-spectacular and fraught with disillusionment for falling short of the ideal, like much else in adult life.

It’s slightly embarrassing that a place consuming so much of our time is so banal in the description, but that is usually the case. Among close friends, the mundane oppressiveness of working life is dignified with cynical, witty tirades about the pettiness of office politics; with creative embellishments of professional achievements to justify the continued effort. Friends will empathize with the seething emotion beneath the affectation; they’ll see through the bravado and cheek, and will be supportive and entertained without attaching judgment to betray confidences.

Among relative strangers, political imperatives dictate the safe path be maintained in discussing work, which sucks. If I can’t sarcastically mock the shortcomings of my workplace or vie for your sympathy in outlining the abjectness of my career plight I’d rather avoid the subject entirely. I’m not getting paid for this shit, after all, and I need to have some enjoyment in my personal time.

Since I’m fortunate to not be bogged down in an hourly-wage job, I have spare time to do things I like that are, dare I say, maybe a little sexy. I do yoga. I read books on all kinds of subjects and can sing arias in Italian, French, and German. I cry when I hear beautiful songs, like Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ or ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimi’ in La Boheme. I am a Buddhist and nearly have a black belt in Kung Fu. I lament my kids will soon be teenagers; I despised teenagers when I was one and worry the days of loving my children unconditionally will face serious challenges. I jot down fleeting, quaint musings about life in a blog.

Tuna Sandwich Named KevinWe should be talking about these things, not work. In the aggregate they say something far more interesting about me than my work could ever do. My work indicates to the world I have a job and an income. Maybe it says I’m ambitious and hard-working; that I know how to do stuff. Yawn.

Chances are there are similarly more interesting, unusual, or telling things about you than your job. The difference is in the details. That’s what would make this conversation interesting. Odds are, if you stop dithering about work we can weather this party without needing to get wasted and twerk on the tables in our thong underwear to feel as though it was all worthwhile.

Actually, I should qualify. If you came back from helping African countries fight the spread of Ebola, or spent last week snapping photos of earth from the International Space Station, I’d like to hear about that. If you build schools in Bolivia for the poor, or are working on a cure for cancer, I’d probably be interested in that too.

Having said all that, I need to be brutally honest. As much as I don’t want to talk about my job I really, really don’t give a shit about your job. I beg you not to talk about it unless it’s objectively amazing, which you know it isn’t. It sucks just like mine. If you had an amazing job I’d probably know about it and you wouldn’t be so intent on winning the “Christmas Sweater for Morons” contest, or whatever it’s called in your zany workplace.

I also don’t care if you make oodles of money being good at your job, or are high up in the pecking order where you work. The hierarchies that poison white-collar corporate environments are contemptible, but I understand why anyone would be proud to be a big-shot. That said, it doesn’t interest me. In fact, because I have a rebellious anti-authority bias, if one of the first things you tell me about yourself is that you’re a big-shot, I will probably passive aggressively cut-down whatever smug, mean-spirited, or inane thing you might say thereafter. Remember, I am not your friend, and I am trying to have fun here. To avoid all that, it’s best to steer clear of boring work talk and discuss opera, birding, salsa dancing or anything that will not risk glorifying what either of us believes is an exalted life.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don't get a life outside work.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don’t get a life.

For most adults, working life is kind of sad, pointless, and dull. It’s in the realm of necessity, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating. If you’re socially adept, you don’t talk about your bowel movements or what you had for dinner last night, so I don’t see why you’re talking about your work, even if you really enjoy it. I had an enjoyable bowel movement last night, but I doubt you’re interested. What’s interesting and telling about a person are the things they do when liberated from necessity and are free to choose how they spend their time.

Nobody’s really dying to hear about another person’s job. The topic is raised as a feeble attempt to break the ice, make idle conversation, or pass the time. The desire to forge a bond is honourable in intention, but in the realm of small talk, a desperate appeal to banality to quell anxieties about our alleged separateness. It’s as deceptive and false as shopping and watching television in instilling the notion we’re engaged in a fulfilling use of our precious little time on this earth.

It is also sometimes a lame attempt to add a dash of ego primping to garnish a boring conversation. If we are resigned to the dullness of this experience we may as well stoke feelings of superiority. The question is asked, ‘what do you do?’ and when it’s our turn, we can describe in boring detail the facets of our more important job to others. At least our ego gets off this evening.

When a highly accomplished person asks a stranger point-blank ‘what do you do?’ it betrays an obvious lack of modesty. It is an ego-trip that may ultimately prove insensitive. To witness an unemployed person cobble together a face-saving response in a group of strangers is almost as horrifying as witnessing a woman whose precipitous weight-gain has elicited well-wishes on being pregnant with a child she is not expecting.

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days?

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days? Okay … I … um … can’t actually see who’s raising their hands. But if you are, I KNOW, right?

A person’s work situation may be temporary. They lost a job and were forced to take something quickly to keep ahead of the mortgage. The stranger’s wife may be a Doctor and the choice of who would be the stay-at-home parent was a no-brainer, but it still rouses feelings of discomfort because our society devalues child-rearing as a noble pursuit.

Maybe the stranger is slowly pursuing their passion on evenings and weekends. They work merely to cultivate their dream. Or, maybe their ambitions and energies are placed elsewhere because they don’t care about career pursuits. When so many marriages are destroyed, children neglected, and stress-related illnesses are suffered because of our culture’s work-obsession a focus on other things is a sensible life-choice.

All this is to say there are pitfalls with the question that need to be considered before it is put out there. The risk is a person you don’t know may find a question you’ve put to them extremely alienating. Until there is a real relationship, one not brokered with small-talk, it’s none of your business and shouldn’t be broached so directly.

The question also furthers the belief that career pursuits are the most definitive aspect of a human being. That is some self-serving logic for those who’ve forgone their youth to earn professional credentials and expend their time reaping the economic rewards by working. It is presumptuous to carry on as if the amassing of career achievements was a universally-shared priority. Nearly all North Americans are guilty of this conceit, which merely validates their choice to focus all their energies to the singular pursuit of wealth and status-acquisition to the detriment of all other aims in life. It sets us apart in the world as profoundly one-dimensional, uninteresting, and collectively ignorant human beings.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is so boring and dull, like when too much of it is spent at the office that pissing around in others' lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is boring and dull; when so much of it is spent at the office that messing around in others’ lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Modernity was forged to spare humanity the perils of so much time spent in toil. Those lucky to have been born in wealthy societies but choose to devote the vast majority of their time engaged in work seem to me either foolish or pathological. Either way, the time consumed by work, beyond a certain level, may actively invalidate a life given the luxury of other choices. Life is more important than work; a truth those who have been too career-focused realize only when the end of the precious life they squandered is imminent.

A buddhadharma teacher once said ‘do not speak unless it improves the silence.’ This holiday season, do so with a funny anecdote, or the sharing of a genuine passion. Speak as if your humanity was more vast than the changes in the weather, the ups-and-downs of the local sports team, or the trivial things you do to pay the bills.

Tell me something to improve the silence between us; something real about yourself. If work is all you have to talk about, you’ve got other, more self-enriching work to do in the new year. Get on with it. Get a life before it’s too late. At next year’s Christmas party, I’d love to hear all about it.

Let’s Dress It Up Clean, For a Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween BannerTo be fair, I was only a teenager when I went to a Halloween party in black face. What did I know about it? All I knew of black face were grainy clips of a white guy in dark makeup crooning “Mammy” and “Toot Toot Tootsie” with sparkling, white-gloved ‘jazz-hands.’ I didn’t know what to make of the minstrel show clips I saw as a child, but I observed everyone having a good ‘ole time. All the banjos and slap-happy dancing folks didn’t seem oppressed to my childish eyes.

I could have chosen to caricature a multitude of races and creeds for my Halloween enjoyment. In the late 70s and early 80s when I was trick-or-treating, Mexicans, Arabs, Chinamen, and Indian Chiefs were neighbourhood favourites. A costume choice to lampoon any of these other groups would have been far less utterly self-disparaging.

At this point, it’s probably relevant to mention that I am black. A black kid in black face. Sadly, I was not dressed as an “ironic” Al Jolson. At the time, my understanding of irony was as ill-formed as the lyrics of an Alanis Morrisette song.

Not to defend such self-abnegating ignorance, but I did grow up in one of the WASP-iest white families on earth. All of my best friends were white, my local television celebrities were white, everyone at the country club was white. The Beatles best album was white. Cripes, even the food I ate was white – potatoes, cauliflower, butter and crumpets, turnips, cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese and the unsightly brown crusts cut off. With the exception of the inconvenient fact of the skin-colour thing, I was a white dude, inside and out.

I saw other ethnic groups and creeds with the eyes of any other teenaged white kid at the time: in narrow racist terms. The various peoples of the world offered a buffet of stereotypes and parodies to nourish my insatiable appetite for small-minded, xenophobic amusement. It was the culturally insensitive prerogative we white folks thrive on.

Life is Too ShortI don’t want to be a party pooper about this stuff. Hey, I’m pointing the finger as much at yours truly as anyone else. The skin on that finger may be slightly dark-ish, but the bones inside are as white as Tommy Hilfiger and the people he makes clothes for; which fill my own closet.

Halloween is all about the fun; about kids dressing up, trick-or-treating and running like banshees on a sugar-rush. Adults young and old will head off to Halloween parties and engage in the ritual of binge-drinking, serial groping, dry humping, and projectile vomiting. The combination of alcohol and anonymity afforded by costumes will embolden party-goers in their quest to end the evening screwing like the werewolves and trolls they purport to be. Let’s hope the legions who slither out of their mystery date’s bed for the “walk of shame” the next morning will have done nothing more than picked up an easily treatable itch and a fleeting tinge of regret; that all will have been done in good, clean fun.

But amidst all the good-natured Halloween shenanigans is a shadowy side that brings out of the woodwork the latent racism, intolerance, and insensitivity lingering in our midst. It’s time the knuckle-dragging apparition was chased away from the festivities, once and for all. Here’s how: peel yourself away from the social media feed before you head out, look in the mirror, and think.

Thinking. That shit is hard, I know. It’ll only take a few seconds, I promise.

There. Now you can put that stuffy, dusty intellect back in the attic with the other relics of humanity’s evolutionary pre-eminence and get back to being the best debauching troglodyte you can be!

Who can forget, just a few years ago, Prince Harry going to a Halloween party dressed as Hitler? On his way, the Prince would have breezed past dozens of people at Buckingham Palace camped out in his SS regalia. The flurry of panic as Her Majesty’s Royal PR machine scurried across Westminster Abbey’s marble floors in damage-control could have been avoided if only those at Court had seen fit to point out the oversight, “Pray Hal, good chap, do forgive the presumption, but wouldn’t Napoleon be a trifle more a propos as choice of amusing rogue than the mad man who exterminated Jews, reduced the world to bedlam, and nearly demolished your family’s kingdom for kicks?” Loyal establishment friends are dreadfully hard to find.

Since 9-11 the profound dearth of creativity and imagination in our culture inevitably spawns countless variations on a theme of Osama bin Laden at Halloween. Scores of frat boys wield toy AK-47s, brandish any garment on their head as a turban, flub crappy hindu accents, and pretend to extol jihad. Apparently, they are dressed up as “terrorists,” a parody which, in their mind, shouldn’t warrant outrage from anyone.

Except, the bong-soaked performances of “the terrorist” are robbed of their poignancy by the sheer magnitude of ignorance and stupidity these morons bring to bear upon it. They end up mocking whatever they think passes for an Arab or Muslim – typically a South Asian – and half-heartedly parrot the lie they’re being a “terrorist.” In reality they’re projecting the pea-brained idea that every Muslim is either a terrorist or a sleeper-cell supporter.

It’s rare to see anyone idiotic enough to dress up as an “Indian” for Halloween. But it still happens, especially among little kids whose parents obviously need sensitivity training. In Canada, where I live, the plan to obliterate aboriginals was executed by stealing children away from their families and placing them in residential schools where they were abused by servants of God in the hopes of making good white folks out of them. Acts and policies were promulgated to passive aggressively deny and paper-over their existence in the nicest, typically ineffectual Canadian way possible. The US was more honest in its approach, setting about the task of obliterating American Indians as Americans do best: with armed possies and a shitload of guns.

Given this sordid history, it’s more than politically incorrect for the would-be exterminators to misrepresent a cute “Indian” simply because a few US professional sports franchises and their millions of oblivious, adoring fans can’t imagine something less offensive as a moniker. Imagine if some rich douchebag called his baseball team the “Atlanta Honkies” and fashioned as the team mascot a bland dip-shit with a mullet, who eats Spam sandwiches on white Wonder Bread, dances like a moron with a sparkling, toothy overbite, and berates fans with racial epithets.

Well, maybe that would be funny. Can someone, anyone, come up with a slur that actually offends a white person? In any case, being an “Indian” for Halloween is offensive and lame.

Well, unless you’re trying to be a “sexy Indian”, that is, at least if this flyer in my newspaper today is to be believed. Okay, so if the costume is basically two strips of faux-leather cotton just large enough to cover the nipples and girly parts down below, you have a headband with one feather in the back, and your hair in pigtails, then you’re a “sexy Indian,” which is apparently fine because it is more slutty than racist.

But not really. The point of this costume is to brag about your body by revealing as much of it as possible without being arrested for indecency. The costume will be a testament to just how little food and how much time at the gym the person wearing it has indulged in lately.Slutty Halloween Card

We should applaud a woman who is confident, proud of her body, and uninhibited enough to go virtually naked in public. She should not be concerned that men will interpret the costume as an invitation, or fear that when drunk, they will feel entitled to act on the alleged invite. Those men will have to impart a little more civilization into their rape-acculturated minds so they don’t assume a woman’s titillating choice of attire is a substitute for consent. But hey, svelte ladies, if you want to strut your stuff on Halloween, do so as cat-woman, wonder woman, or Pebbles instead of Pocahontas or Sacajaweah. Deal?

The slutty genre of Halloween costume should be off the table for young girls. Girls should not be encouraged to objectify and sexualize themselves until they’re old enough to be that self-effacing. It’s appalling how many parents seem willing to tout the alleged sex appeal of their young daughters. Only the pedophiles out there appreciate the effort. Parents who send their little girls into the world looking like pole dancers and pin-up girls ought to be ashamed for the deviant sexual appetites they whet.

So here’s a challenge, avid Halloweeners: choose something fictional, tasteful, and age-appropriate as a costume. Be creative. Be a Muppet, a pirate, a character from Dr Who. Be a superhero, a gorilla, or a rooster. Just don’t be a Zulu tribesman, a Sherpa, a Geisha, a prostitute, or a slutty version of any specific creed of human being.

If your costume depicts another group of existing people you are not among, refrain. If you’re a knucklehead like me, it’s not okay to mock your own kind. It’s like extending a hall pass to bigots, who’ll feel uninhibited as they roam the cultural landscape freely airing their racist views, thanks to your active hand in reinforcing them.

Bad taste may not be illegal, but it is not in the realm of exercising your right to free speech if you choose to be a racist dip-shit in your Halloween costume. It’s actually closer to hate speech, depending on how you play it. The everyday look of people in other parts of the world isn’t the makings of a Halloween costume; it’s their clothes. The differences we exaggerate for our entertainment are rooted in traditions, cultures, and religious beliefs whose nature we can’t fully understand. These are facets of human beings not rightly lampooned just because they appear foreign, exotic, or silly to us.

A little thought will go a long way to making sure you’re not being an insensitive jackass in your choice of attire for Halloween festivities. Your presence will add to the fun and enjoyment of others this year and increase the odds the little kids watching you won’t become Archie Bunker adults, like me and my white homies of generations past.

So get out there and dress up for a brighter future!

Happy Haunting End Banner

Ambling Mind, Meet Full Moon

Full Moon ManThis morning I was sitting in quiet meditation as I do most mornings. Well, I was sort of sitting. More like squirming. And cursing under my breath, having another heated argument with myself.

Okay, I wasn’t really squirming as much as bouncing and jerking around as if I’d jumped on the back of an unbroken mustang and it was way pissed I was there. He would not relent, that testosterone-laden young buck, and I could not find that place of stillness despite all my efforts to hang on.

“What the fuck is going on?” I angrily mused. Another one of the Six Perfections I am nowhere near perfecting – Patience.

This is not really the best tone for one’s inner voice when practicing shamatha-bhavana – cultivating calm abiding – when thoughts arrive to invade the mind. If anything the angry reaction just compounds the disruption of a relatively minor thought.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Should I be ashamed that I still have a “beginner’s mind” after almost eight years of meditation? Sigh.

Yeah, yeah. I ain’t Suzuki.

This morning thoughts raced in my consciousness like a meteor hurtling to earth, displacing the still, glass-like waters of my peaceful lake at dawn as it left a massive crater on impact with the ground. A giant cloud of ash and soot sent waves of discomfort throughout my body and mind, leaving them tense, twitchy, and agitated as hell.

You’re supposed to return to the breath when thoughts arrive to draw your focus away. You’re not supposed to suppress the thoughts as they come. It’s okay to notice them, to acknowledge them passing your view. You can even say ‘hello’ as they pass by, as you would in passing sweet elderly people at the park.

What you don’t do is entertain the passing thoughts. You don’t change direction and start walking wherever it is they’re going. You don’t yell at them indignantly as you do at speeding cars racing down your quiet side-street. You don’t say “what the fuck is going on,” that’s for sure.

I know this, dang it. I’ve been doing this stuff for years. Geez.

Mr. Zafu – my meditation cushion. Somedays it’s my saddle, and instead of meditating, I go for a ride on the mustang that is my ADD-infected mind.

But some days it can be really, really difficult. I have ADD. It’s a miracle I can sit at all, let alone abide my breath.

Sometimes, it is calm, exactly what you’d expect when meditating. It feels as though I am sitting at the beach watching my children swimming, on a beautiful summer afternoon. I am reading a favourite book, sitting under the shade of my umbrella, listening to leaves humming as they are grazed by a gentle breeze. Seagulls heckle each other, hovering joyously above the landscape, waiting for a six year old to trip and spill her bucket of French fries in the sand, scavenging an easy meal as she mourns her lunch.

Ahhhhhh. Shamatha-bhavana, indeed. This ain’t so bad.

Suddenly, a bunch of obnoxious hooligans arrives on scene to mess with my bliss. I hear the unmistakable buzzing sound and two-stroke insanity of small watercraft. It’s like twenty-one gun salute of buckshot, instantly killing the chorus of seagulls; a raiding party of lumberjacks cranking up their chainsaws to fell the trees and silence their beautiful hum. The morons, incapable of handling machines they’ve been cavalierly allowed to use in a public swim area, narrowly avoid colliding into children who swim oblivious to the danger lurking in their midst.

Then I secretly wish there were Great White Sharks in the fresh lakes where I live. Those runts wouldn’t be so happily endangering the lives of small children then, would they?

They say I’m not to be so easily pissed off by the douche-bags possessing my thoughts. I have to return to the breath. Just like that. It was such an awesome day at the beach. I have a right to be mad at those jerks on jet-skis, those meteors, those wild, untamed mustangs I deign to ride.

Usually, in spite of myself I am able to do just that. To remain relatively unmoved by the arising thoughts. To re-direct back to the breath. I get a clear mind for about a minute or two, maybe forty-five seconds. That’s the longest spell of peace my ADD-addled mind allows before it gets restless and invites a jungle of macaques promising a year’s supply of bananas to come and throw their shit in my mind.

This morning, the monkeys arrived a little more randy than usual. Their all night binge slapped me in the back of my head, punched me in the gut, and shoved bunches of bananas up my ass. They left me with taut shoulders, a wincing stomach, and clenched hips and butt-cheeks. To add insult to injury, they also dragged their elephant friend along, and he sat on my chest, leaving me nearly breathless.

I was pitching and rolling on my meditation cushion, as if sitting on a white-water raft about to plunge over Niagara Falls. My arse was nominally in contact with my cushion, my ischial tuberosities afraid to fully acquaint themselves with Mr Zafu.

All my tricks to fend off the worst house-guests in history were futile. I tried several Pranayama breaths, as I do hundreds of times in a single Mysore practice. Nope.

Samavritti breathing – equal counts inhale and exhale. To a count of twelve! If I don’t pass out first, it’s bound to get me back on track.

Ha Ha, it is to laugh, little Buddha. Mantras. Nope. Count the damn breaths. Nope, not quite. Tickle the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue. ‘Gawd dang, that feeels weird!’ I’m just wincing, now.

Time to bring out the big guns. Kapalabhati breath. Suck it, rogue-like, ambling mind. You’re going down!

Vanquished again. But my sinuses were clearer than they’ve been in days. You know, the smell of defeat isn’t all that bad.

Then my timer goes off. What?! It’s been twenty-five minutes already?! No way. Let me check that iPhone’s not wonky.

Ischial Tuberosities, also known as "sit bones." These are the bones that one is theoretically supposed to make contact with the ground when sitting. In my case, I'm usually too taut in my shoulders and hips, so I sit on my hamstrings instead.

Ischial Tuberosities, also known as “sit bones.” These are the bones that are theoretically supposed to make contact with the ground when sitting. I’m usually too taut in my shoulders and hips to do that, so I sit on my hamstrings instead.

Usually, this tango with my mind goes on for about ten minutes before I can settle in to a relatively steady routine of calm meditation and violent distraction. Today, distraction landed a Mike Tyson hook square in my meditation’s temple, thirty-eight seconds into the fight. I remained in the ring only because I lay in unconsciousness for the remaining twenty-four minutes, twenty-two seconds.

What the fuck?!

I went through the items on my post-meditation checklist. I am not stressed about work. Things with my partner are awesome. I am not displaying any symptoms that may be distant early warning signs of cancer, this week. I slept okay, I think. I had some off the wall dreams, actually. I was naked with an erection, the opening scene in my fantasy was looking good. Until I looked around in my dream and realized I was boning in a public place, again, which made the whole thing pervy. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re constantly having a dream that makes you want to turn yourself into to the cops when you wake up. So I just repress it, which usually works.

Wait.

What day is it?

Cripes, it’s a Full Moon.

That’s why I wasn’t rushing off to go to my Mysore class today. Those weirdo Ashtangis don’t practice on full moons, for some arcane reason. I assume the meat-loving schlubs like myself who do Mysore yoga are the only ones totally unaware of why this is.

When people ask about it, I just say something to stem the implied ridicule in the question like, “hey, the tides react with extremes on a full moon, and we ARE, like, ninety per cent water, so …” Usually they shake their head in agreement with something in that statement. It saves me having to give a real answer, which I don’t know.

This is the mantra I typically do. It's the mantra named after Amitabha the bodhisattva of compassion which is what I need when I am cursing myself during a lousy meditation session.

This is the mantra I typically do. It’s the mantra named after Amitabha, the bodhisattva of compassion, which is what I need when I am cursing myself during a lousy meditation session.

Now, I think maybe there’s something to this whole business of a Full Moon not being good for practice. I sit in meditation nearly every day, so I notice when a session is particularly shitty. Today was a side-show, as was my frenetic morning routine.

At one point this morning, I got confused about what to do first – make the coffee, get dressed, or have breakfast. So I did them all at the same time. I almost got into three accidents on my way to work. I had coffee grounds and jam in my underwear, which I didn’t discover until much later on.

Then, instead of immediately getting to work once I sat down at my cubicle, I started writing this blog post. Aha! A Full Moon makes me too frazzled to get my work done. But I procrastinate on a quarter, half and seven-eighths moon. Maybe it’s the moon just being there. I wonder if I could get a doctor’s note for this work-disrupting disease related to the moon’s existence.

This is going nowhere.

I asked my cubicle neighbor if she slept well last night. After shaking off her puzzlement at the question, she did mention her sleep wasn’t great. She then said she was snappy at her son, and extra bitchy in her e-mails this morning. She started talking about her drive to work before I cut her off and said, “I think I’ve got enough, thanks.”

Three people called in sick – on a Wednesday. A Wednesday! It’s cloudy outside, too. Could it be they are really sick? Were they barking at the moon a little well into the wee hours? Hmmm.

Another office colleague returned from her morning coffee having gone on a buying binge, grabbing one of every on-sale “food” item at a drug store chain. She generously shared her bags of sodium, sugar, preservatives and other nominally edible toxins with her appreciative colleagues. There was an explosion of excitement as we stood around stuffing our faces with carcinogens, significantly shortening our life spans. What a care-free breakfast gathering it was!

"You wanna marinate, b*tch?" "No, Mr Tyson - Meditate"  "Marinate on this - " As his left hook smashes into the temple of my meditation session.

“You wanna marinate, b*tch?”
“No, Mr Tyson – Meditate”
“Marinate on this – “
As his left hook smashes into the temple of my meditation session.

So, it may be there is something to this “Full Moon” business, after all. Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws to find a suitable excuse for another crappy meditation session. The idea there’s no reason at all for my ineptitude, besides the fact my mind is like a six year old tripping out after a gummy-bear binge, sucks. That just leaves me with trepidation at the thought of many more unexpected rides on the mustang when all I want is to sit on Mr Zafu for a pleasant ride in a canoe on a serene lake at dawn. Full moon it is.

Ambling mind, I’d like you to meet full moon. Full moon, meet my mind. Something tells me you two know each other.

Remember These Open Arms As You Grow Old, My Sons

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other morning when I was swept away by the blissful energy of a woman and her four-year old girl as they breezed past. The girl danced circles around her mother’s legs, clutching two teddy bears that outsized her tiny arms. The sweetness of her pink rubber boots and twee voice doused the shop of bleary-eyed, earnest suits with candy-coating.

I watched enviously as she lapped up her mother’s words “whaddya want kiddo?” I jumped earnestly along with her as she screamed ‘muffins, juice, cake pops, banana bread!’ My temporary refuge from e-mails and five-alarm fires at the office seemed a sad existence in relation to the unrestrained joy of mother and young child.

The thought was bittersweet. Momentarily I was transported in time when my boys had their first taste of apple pie and ice cream, making humming noises ‘mmm,mmm,mmm’ as they stuffed their faces. I remembered falling asleep with them on my chest; each of us drifting off to the sound of the other’s heart beating.

I sat in stillness with my coffee half-raised to my mouth as I tried to siphon whatever droplets of glee I could from the mother-daughter exchange. It occurred to me my eyes were welling up.

L-O-V-EMy kids were young like that once, they hung off me like a jungle gym. They danced around my legs, clamouring for nothing more than my undivided attention. For the most part they got it, but now I wish I’d been less annoyed by the constancy of it at times. Back then I couldn’t imagine how emotional I would feel as I do today, seeing this mother and her child.

I could never have known how insufficient memories are as a surrogate for the experience. I wish I’d made more efforts to soak it up, especially now that their mother and I are divorced; the time I have to amass more wonderful glimpses of their childhood before they grow old, halved.

My kids are twelve this year. In no time their mother and I will lose the honour of having exclusive reign over their heartstrings. What an honour it’s been. I know I shouldn’t cling to the idea of their childhood; they’re still my children, no matter how old they get.

But I can’t help it. They’re not little children anymore. They don’t dance around my feet. It’ll never be the same. A part of me wishes that phase could have lasted forever, but the deepening voices, soaring heights and hair in places only adults possess it mocks my selfish fantasies.

As teenagers they will look to the outside world in friends, achievements, and experiences for feelings of efficacy, security, and validation. It fills me with trepidation for them as I recall how often in my teenage years I wanted to curl up in a ball to avoid the tyranny of days overflowing with lessons in humility. I also remember feeling a strong urge to look away from the tether of parents and family to figure out on my own how to keep my chin up, even with egg all over my face and my fly undone.

The view of that arduous journey into their own lives is heart-wrenching from where I stand as a parent. I want to be their biggest booster as they run into the murky world to carve out their niche. It feels somewhat forced.

Yay. Yaaay! YAAAAAY!

They’ll be teenagers soon!

Meh.

I feel like the head cheerleader rooting on a band of thugs shaving off my arms with a pocket-knife to steal my watch. I don’t really want teenagers. No offense, but I am no fool. I know they’re just not going to be ‘into me’ – their parent.

Well, metal has nearly hit bone. The glistening, unconditional twinkle of my little boys is already sometimes tinged with traces of skepticism. They’ve found things to interest them that have nothing to do with me. On days I drop them at school my kids turn and run at the sight of my lower lip quivering. ‘Rotten, good-for-nothing zit-faced friends drawing them in,’ I think to myself. ‘Who needs friends? Friends are unreliable,’ I quip, half-heartedly under my breath.

When did my kids become such turncoats? What a couple of ungrateful jerks! Then I catch myself being a childish ass, punching air, kicking dirt in a futile bout of frustration. My twenty-three year-old self mocks me for having become a soccer mom, and a wallowing idiot.

I have my reasons for being disconsolate at times: when it’s not my weekend with them and I can’t tuck them into bed for another five days. I can’t laugh them to sleep with armpit farts or tummy zurrberts. They barely fit in my arms any more – and soon I will fit better in theirs. They don’t get jazzed about movie night like they used to.

Just today I said “HEY KIDS WANT ICE CREAM!” and they both said, ‘nah, it’s too early.’ Too early?! It was noon! Three years ago I’d have had to hire a cowboy to lasso my kids so they wouldn’t run in front of semi-trailers and city buses to get to the ice cream store.

Now, there’s things on YouTube they’d rather watch. Alone. In their room. Without dad around. I’ll bet they’ve already discovered porn, probably by accident. But still. Girls. A formidable foe who lurks, who will steal the affections of my homies away from the one who matters most. Me.

My babies' not-so-little feet.

My babies’ not-so-little feet.

The sparkle in their eyes as they looked up to me has, at times, turned to an exasperated roll of the eyes. They don’t have to look up, either. Part of me wonders if their respect for me wanes as they watch me struggle with their drift away from childhood. Then I realize, I don’t care, and continue crying because I know I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

I wish it wasn’t necessary to just let them frolic into the world of adolescent throngs who crudely mimic the craven, selfish, conformist habits of the adults around them. I worry about their emotional well-being among peers who lack ethical scruples; who can’t temper the cruel excesses of the individualists’ creed rammed down their throats by our culture. It’s in my bones as a parent to believe their emotions will be safeguarded only when shrouded in my arms.

And yet, I am also aware that, for all my good intentions, I may have already left deeper scars than a bully or an unrequited love could ever leave. I didn’t mean it, unlike those rotten kids out there. I was winging the parent thing, for the first while at least, until I realized I needed to educate myself.
I think I’ve come around now. I hope their memories betray them, because there are truckloads of mistakes to hold against me, to tar me as a hypocrite, should I forget myself and over-react to something they’ve done that’s out of line.

The little girl in the coffee shop makes me aware that my children are still on the fringes of a blissful world of childhood innocence, but on the cusp of stepping with both feet into the jungle that kicked the shit out of me. I want to spare them the perils in that journey. I want to keep my lovely limbs right where they are: safe and happy.

Yet I realize they can’t broaden their perspective of the world if their father is clutching them tightly to prevent them stepping in with both feet. They can’t fully savour the wealth of experiences the world has to offer if I’m still taunting them back toward their childhood with ice cream and Sponge Bob re-runs.

My mind is defiant as I am confronted with the reality I have no choice but to let them go a little. The age-old rift between parents and teenagers crystallizes as I consider this. I resent the fact they’ll seek influences elsewhere and won’t automatically see my opinions, tastes or ideas as necessarily authoritative.

They’ll have tastes and preferences that won’t mirror my own. Already my son loves Katy Perry. How did that happen? Doesn’t he know his father hates pop music because it sucks? Then I remember: he’s twelve. Katy Perry to a twelve year old boy is more than just about music, isn’t she?

My children are going to make mistakes and feel chastened by the consequences as they try on various identities to learn what works best for them. As I watch them struggle to succeed or blissfully jump into abject failure it will be hard to stop myself from stepping in and taking over. I’m like any parent, I’d rather avoid seeing them fail, but this sentiment too easily transforms into me trying too hard to manufacture their success. I’ve already had to stop myself doing tough homework assignments and science projects for them. Man, I hate seeing them struggle. 

It is hard to watch from the sidelines as my child slips on easily-spotted banana peels, but I know from my own upbringing in a family of nascent critics how profoundly the hand-wringing undermines a child’s feelings of autonomy. It doesn’t matter that the advice, constructive criticism, or other moral support is well-intended.

They begin to internalize too much interference as implied criticism. The risk is they’ll come to second-guess themselves. They will lay blame for planting the seeds of doubt about their own instincts squarely on the over-bearing parent. That could come back to haunt me, so I need to learn a little hands off.

A few years ago my son came home from school intimating he was having an issue with a bully at his school. In seconds my mind was filled with ideas of kicking the shit out of the kid, shoving my fist in his father’s face, and enrolling him the next day in the Kung Fu class I taught. The wisdom of non-violence from my Buddhist practice was easily brushed aside by the vision of my child suffering at the hands of another.

The one thing I didn’t do was simply ask him how he felt about the situation and what he wanted to do to resolve it. Thanks to my son, that would-be bully is, five years later, now in his circle of friends, while I still look at the kid with a hairy eyeball.

The experience was the first time I realized the volatility of my emotions where my children were concerned. It gave me extreme insight about how empty the parental invocation of “doing what is best” can be tainted by projections of my own childhood angst onto them.

It’s startling how old wounds you thought had healed burst open as you find yourself reliving some torrid chapter of your childhood through something happening in your child’s life. Next thing you know, you’re reacting as your thirteen year old self in the same situation, not as the parent of a child who may see things totally differently. 

I’ve got to keep my eye on that raging bull. I had a lot of emotional wounds that took a long time to heal. I had a lot of well-deserved “fuck you’s” left unsaid. I don’t want to be the roll of quarters in my child’s fist swinging at MY old ghosts. I don’t want to use my children to become masters of my own failed aspirations.

I also have to assume my children will experience hardships of the nature I faced differently than I did. They aren’t miniature versions of me, after all. I think I’ve done a bit better than was done to me in establishing the foundations for a more balanced emotional reaction to life’s undulations.

I’ve been a warm father. I tell my sons I love them every day. I think it’s etched in their mind. I think they’ll deal better than I did when shit hits fans along whatever path they’re on. It’s quite possible they won’t even see some of the things I perceived as horrible in quite the same terms. I was a bit of a brooding child. My kids aren’t. I hope I had something to do with cultivating that lightness. We will have to wait and see; and hope.

It’s disturbing to me to have to fathom these issues. The first time I can’t fix their mental anguish with a Slurpee or a night of popcorn and Kung Fu Panda my heart will die a little. There have already been some hurts for which there is nothing I can do but listen and lean in with a hug. Things like the divorce of their mother and father, the tearing to pieces of what they understood as a ‘family.’

This is when I am awash in the desire to stop time. To somehow keep them like that little girl in the coffee shop; to see to it they stay forever small enough to remain in my arms where I can protect them. I want to be the ultimate fixer for their problems, which is relatively easy when a child’s biggest problem is that they misplaced their teddy bear.

There are bigger problems ahead, and it scares the living shit out of me. I’ve got to be brave. I’ve caught myself already inadvertently seeding their relatively blue skies with storm clouds of negativity that stem from my childhood, not theirs. I’ve got to buck up.

But I never want them to go so far into the grown up abyss that they no longer feel the warmth of my unconditional love for who they are breathing them forward. I don’t want them to be seduced by ideas about the world being indifferent, harsh, and cruel.

I never want them to be far away from the promise of a parent’s non-judgmental presence when it is needed most. I want them to know there is no place better than my open arms to take refuge, should the need arise. Little children can’t even imagine another place aside from their parents for solace, but as they grow older, the urge to resist that impulse grows out of the need to cultivate independence.  

Shadow Monsters

This idea – independence. The lie our increasingly Social Darwinist culture breeds in young adults; especially young boys like my two sons. We are inter-dependent. Those who are ‘self-made’, who believe they are independent don’t realize how much their self-reliance came on the backs of others. I don’t want those others to be my innocent children.

The rest of us take the idea of independence too literally, trying to deal with life as if we really believed it necessary to do so alone. It’s bollocks.

Everybody needs someone else. That is the beauty and the bane of humanity.

I hope to instill in my sons the innate wisdom of the little child in this regard; to keep them habituated to looking in the right places for warmth and love to ward off life’s rougher edges. It doesn’t have to be me, although I hope it is. It just needs to be someone who genuinely has their best interests at heart.

Children have no qualms about seeking out mommy and daddy when they’re in despair. Adults need that kind of presence in their lives. I want to be that presence in my boys’ adult lives. 

Some parents joke about when their kids will leave the nest. It’s no laughing matter for me. I want my sons to always know there’s a place for them with me, no questions asked.

I don’t want them to forget the feel of my arms around them as they grow old and fly away. So I will go now, and hug them, hoping to make it impossible to forget.