Keep Telling Their Stories, Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden, author. Also, a far better writer than I ever will be, much better looking, and incredibly full, wavy head of hair. Despite my relative shortcomings, I choose not to character assassinate him, unlike the assholes who did so earlier in the year.


I was angered at the public assault on Joseph Boyden earlier this year, but I couldn’t contain my contempt for his detractors well enough to render a sensible, expletive-free post at the time. It was completely senseless; an out-of-nowhere campaign to tarnish a man’s reputation and douse a career focused on telling the stories of Canada’s indigenous people to the widest audience possible. I hope those responsible were read the riot act by elders in their communities for their slanderous mischief, which invited such negative attention upon the community of indigenous rights advocates.  

For those not familiar with the issue, Joseph Boyden is a highly acclaimed Canadian writer of books whose protagonists are indigenous. His books have won national awards and garnered him a lot of attention as an advocate of indigenous rights in Canada. My favourites among his repertoire are Three Day Road and The Orenda. They are highly recommended reading, whether you care specifically to read books with indigenous protagonists or not. They are stories about people that are phenomenally well-told. 

At the beginning of this year some prominent folks from the indigenous community took issue with Joseph Boyden’s profile as such a fierce advocate for indigenous rights. The problem in their minds, as far as I could tell, is that Boyden isn’t one hundred percent indigenous and, as such, he shouldn’t have been so vocal in his advocacy. I could never really understand the logic behind their grievance with Boyden, but I imagined they were trying to suggest it would have been better if only fully indigenous people were so adamant in their advocacy for indigenous rights; that only fully indigenous people ought to have a public profile as indigenous rights advocates. Or something like that. 

On the same logic I imagine they are fuming that Gord Downie of iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, and as blue-blooded a white guy as it gets, has become such a champion of indigenous rights. I say this reluctantly as a black man (with a white man’s mind), but white folks listen more attentively when a prominent member of their own community speaks to them with an eye to moral persuasion. Certainly, experiential voices are more authentic, but when you are fighting to win over a slice of the finite moral landscape among the white throngs, all voices allied in the fight are helpful. It is quite clear to those not driven by seething rage that Boyden was using his profile to help in these efforts, not to steal a spotlight away from others in the fight. 

Boyden always maintained he was of mostly Celtic blood with indigenous ancestry somewhere in his family tree. In Canada, the English tried to exterminate this country’s indigenous people and for most of our history, folks who could pass for White were not waving flags to show their pride at having mixed ancestry. Boyden’s story of a lost, mixed heritage is a common story in Canada. My heritage is the same (though the lost ancestry in my case is black American). At an early age, when Boyden discovered his own indigenous ancestry, instead of hiding it he embraced it. He’s made a career and become a public figure thanks to that early act of embracing his indigenous heritage. Other than Boyden’s notoriety, this is a fairly pedestrian reality in Canada. I have a fair-skinned, auburn haired friend I’ve know for thirty years who just found out she has Metis in her ancestry. 

It seems for a small faction of resentful figures Boyden’s success and notoriety was a pill too bitter to swallow given their work for the cause. So, they called him a fraud, a poser, accused him of shape-shifting in a head-dress for publicity and cash. The insinuation, although not stated, was that his success came at the cost of a real indigenous person’s success, which is completely absurd. It was this country’s version of the “birther issue.” Except the figure under attack wasn’t a would-be political oppressor vying for the most powerful political office in the land. Boyden is an artist and vocal champion of indigenous rights. Those responsible for stirring this pot seem like a petty lot, more angry that Boyden gets to go to all the good parties than anything else. It was a sad, pointless row; one clearly rooted in professional resentment. 

I am glad Boyden has decided to respond in his own words, and I hope it puts an end to the shenanigans to sandbag him. I also hope the sordid affair has done nothing to discourage Boyden from avidly pursuing his next project, and the other projects delving into the lives of the indigenous subjects he has in store for us down the road. I and countless others anxiously await these for years to come. On that point, I do wish Boyden would stop being such a do-gooder for indigenous causes and stick exclusively to writing his extraordinary books so we wouldn’t have to wait as long between each project. 

It struck me then, and it still does now, that this whole ordeal was a product of professional jealousy. It had very little to do with people trying to air a legitimate grievance of a wrong done to the community. It is beyond reprehensible that the target of the savage attack is an artist and advocate, not some corporate or political cretin throwing their power around to the detriment of the indigenous community. It casts those responsible for the sabotage campaign in such a poor light. I will never read Robert Jago again without thinking about how petty his attempt to sandbag Boyden was, which is tragic because Mr Jago has, in other cases, had things to say which need to be heard and taken seriously. 

Boyden’s books have been responsible, in my own case, for helping to identify with indigenous voices because I just don’t have any other way of doing so. I have no indigenous blood, nor do I have close friends or family who are indigenous. It is difficult for me to obtain more than a superficial glimpse of life through their eyes. Paying attention to the news or media does not allow us to connect in more than a shallow way to an identity we do not share. There is always an agenda and the view is too easily tainted by our own intellectual filter. 

Stories are always a better way to subtly shift the view than is canvassing the news with an eye to empathy. Stories more succinctly hold up a mirror to ourselves; the identification with a marginalized protagonist makes it far more difficult to deny the humanity of those disenfranchised in our real lives, which perpetuates systemic barriers to their progress. 

As a mode of throwing the moral depravity of the oppressors in their face, a story humanises the oppressed and makes it more difficult for the reader to walk away from that encounter and still repudiate their existence. You read a story about a homeless man and it becomes difficult to simply breeze past them as you take a break at work the next day. It is a far more effective way of getting people to recognize the many wrongs we are abetting by our quiet indifference than is the tack of using public admonishments or finger wagging to stir our moral compass into proper alignment. Accusations and blame, even if deserved, rarely provoke the intended effect of opening consciousness among the dominant group because the mode of discourse, that of polemic, is too hard for most egos to bear. The guilt or animosity triggered by the condemnation hardens a mind, puts it on the defensive, and for that reason it is a less effective way to change the view about certain pernicious social realities.  

This is the real power of fiction and other narrative accounts, especially where the subject is the marginalized, forgotten, or disenfranchised in a society. Having readers living the lives of a well-crafted, disenfranchised protagonist allows them to experience the pain and suffering of another human being whose tragic experiences are difficult to imagine. That their marginalized existence is a by-product of structures in our society becomes evident, and is undeniable, as we see them come crashing down upon a novel’s protagonist. 

If done well, and done right, stories are the truest way to identify with those who do not share our own identity. Stories come to us, straight into our hearts, bypassing our intellect, and because of that, the tragedies or injustices in the lives they depict are less apt to be so easily dismissed. They will resonate. Boyden’s stories and characters centre on the issues and lives of this country’s indigenous people, and they have resonated. 

As a colonizer there is no better way for me to know what the indigenous fight is about than to read their stories so I can truly understand on a deep level that it isn’t just a political issue, it is a real battle for a way of life. I have a better sense of what that way of life is because of Boyden’s stories. Yes, there are other voices, other stories, and other storytellers – Boyden never claimed to be the lone voice for the community. Those eager to attack his character made that claim on his behalf; perhaps those among the colonizers appointed him as a spokesperson. That is what we do. We love our caricatures, our reductions. 

The blame for that does not lie with Boyden. If there was concern that Boyden’s profile was monopolizing the dialogue the effort should have instead been aimed at pointing us to other stories and left at that. I would have greatly accepted the gift. When they attacked Boyden, a fierce advocate for indigenous issues, I stopped listening and lost plenty of respect for those who otherwise advocate for a just cause. They need to focus on what they legitimately seek and leave ego-centric personal grievances out of the public domain because it has not served they or the community for whom they advocate well at all. 

American Justice, in Black and White

Racist Rage, Puts Innocent Boy in a Cage

I want white, law-abiding Americans to try and imagine what it must feel like to know there’s a chance that, as you drive home from work, or pop out to the grocery store to buy some milk, you might be pulled over by a police officer for a minor infraction and wind up dead. Imagine.

It is true, all lives matter. White lives, black lives, Latino lives, women’s lives, children’s lives, immigrants’ lives. Gay, lesbian, and transgendered lives matter. Nobody could argue that. Nobody is arguing that.

Except every single day in America nothing is done to the laws, policies, or practices to suggest there is more than tepid support for the idea that all lives matter. So when it is wielded like a brick-bat in response to hearing “black lives matter” it is just another denial of what is to many black folks, a harrowing reality. When it is said “all lives matter” the ones who utter it are simply doing as they’ve always done: negating the genuine concerns of blacks in American society.

The reality is that, in America, some lives are disposable; some lives are chattel to enrich the lives of others; some lives are not worthy of the legislative agenda pursued by politicians. If all lives mattered, the parties in power would not allow social security to be eroded, they would not enact laws that criminalize and incarcerate blacks in alarming numbers, they would ensure not a single citizen went without health care, they would not criminalize sexual orientation, or legislate how women use their bodies. If all lives mattered in America there would be funding for quality education and training of children and youth and nobody would starve on the streets.

No, not all lives matter, apparently. The lives of rich, white, corporate, privileged interests matter. The politicians and the powerful establishment are quick to respond to their needs with decisive action. The criminal deeds of the rich – financial frauds, Ponzi schemes, tax evasion, economic graft and corruption – go relatively unpunished. Their concerns are top of the legislative agenda. The rest of the lives in America are left to fend for themselves. If those among the thrown-away lives happen to be black males, they will spend a lifetime being arbitrarily subjected to random interrogations by police, frisked and detained in front of their children, or imprisoned or murdered for crimes borne of economic desperation.

Why does that happen to black men more than anyone else? Why are there countless videos of police encounters with white people who actually possess guns or knives, who really are poised to use them that end up with the perpetrator coming out of the situation in handcuffs? Why do they get to have their future fate determined by the justice system?

Those who say “all lives matter” are denying all the reasons a person might lay claim to a legitimate grievance in these senseless killings of black men. It is a sweeping dismissal of the legacy of slavery, racism, and intolerance that everybody damn well knows built America and which today still shakes its moral core. The fact serious people are saying “all lives matter” despite the senseless killings that gave life to the “black lives matter” movement is the most clear-cut indicator that America still has not breached the racial divide.

To say black lives matter is to shine the light on how racism continues to tear at the American social fabric. It isn’t to suggest all cops are racist, corrupt, would-be killers. It isn’t an argument that all other lives don’t matter. So stop it. Let blacks, for once, air their grievances without trying to shut them down like a bunch of “uppity negroes.”

I am deeply disturbed by what I see transpiring on America’s streets and outraged by the sheer lack of moral leadership in response to these injustices. I have to confess, my horror is as much existential as it is ethical. These events are a stark reminder that my black-ness, which has intermittently been the object of mild racism here in Canada, could be the undoing of my existence should I choose to visit the United States. Until recently, I’ve been able to live in a state of relative denial about how my black-ness is of any social consequence.

Thanks to what I see in America on a regular basis, I am constantly reminded that my black-ness could get me killed. By a cop. What the fuck, America?

It makes me angry and it makes me frightened. It is an existential threat that no law-abiding white person in America has to fear. So yes, all lives matter, which is true. Except when it comes to black men and the American justice system. If statistics on death by cop, incarceration rates of blacks, and the ubiquity of systemic harassment of blacks by law enforcement are considered, it becomes obvious that black lives don’t matter.

Given this reality, when it is said “black lives matter”, shut the fuck up and listen. Stop acting as if the facts do not clearly show how much more likely are black men to feel the sharpest, most brutal edge of American justice.

I am not anti-cop and I am tired of this dichotomy being thrown at those who express their desire for justice in these instances. Criticism of the thing does not imply a desire to negate the thing. The fact this constantly comes up in American discourse betrays a retrograde, fascist strain of anti-intellectualism that undermines constructive dialogue. The effect of this tactic is to suppress ideas and discourage novel approaches to foster change for the better.

In my career in law enforcement, I have worked with countless police officers in an investigative capacity. I know police officers suit up every day and willingly plunge head first into harm’s way. It is no trivial matter to say that most cops are good. Their choice of career is a noble one. Depending on where they work, they may have one of the most dangerous middle class jobs out there. Those who turn these tragic events into an opportunity to fuel hatred of the police community have no idea the scores of good men and women tarnished by such a broad brush.

But cops are also human. They are not incorruptible. No group of human beings is. Human beings as they are, there is a chance they arrive to the job with a host of biases and attitudes they have learned in their surroundings. Some of these may adversely impact how they perform their jobs in relation to the blacks they encounter.

They don’t recruit white cops from Mars to patrol streets in black neighbourhoods. I grew up in a white family, in an affluent suburb where there were only white people – basically the same kind of environment as most white cops in America. I know that it would be difficult for a white person to have been reared in this environment and come away with positive views of black men. They would have had to rely on culture to fill in the mental gaps left by their lack of actual experiences of who black men are. I know that I didn’t come away with a positive image of what it is to be black from appealing to the culture, and I am a black man.

It is important to say that “black lives matter” in order to displace the thousands upon thousands of images, media, and other cultural and social products that combine to fuel a mental proclivity to believe they don’t. It is to acknowledge the legacy of racism that pervades American culture and society which effectively negates, cheapens, and marginalizes black existence. It is to recognize that police officers are just as likely as anyone else to possess their culture’s predilection for racial bias; to posit that this may affect their judgement. It is to acknowledge the obvious: that, in America’s racially-divisive social context, many white cops are bound to possess racial biases that affect how they engage black men in their jobs.

In my heart I don’t believe racism made these cops kill these innocent black men. No, but racism propelled the cops to engage the black men in the first place. Racism made them perceive the black man’s deeds as non-compliant. Racism may have fueled the officers’ inclination to escalate their tactics in the situation, because racism fueled the idea the black man was displaying a thug’s disrespect for authority.

Ultimately, however, it isn’t racism but fear and recklessness which writes the final chapter of a story where a black man gets killed by a cop in an encounter that was poorly substantiated in the first place. It’s a story whose prologue was written by racism and whose epilogue will feature protagonists with a capacity to do something whose political calculations and moral cowardice will propel them to do nothing. The racist Canon that has tarnished American history for centuries will be left undisturbed. Some time will pass, until the next sordid tragedy in the American debacle is written in a black man’s blood, yet again.

Denial of the social realities that underlie these incidents do the good cops and the citizens they serve no good. The fact there are poor black men peddling on street corners, engaging in petty theft, or who are involved in other “black-market” activities that set the stage for the police encounter that led to their deaths isn’t entirely the fault of police. The whole scenario is predicated on the social ills that come with black poverty and disenfranchisement. It is terrible that police are left in the lurch on the front lines to sweep up what is a much larger social problem in America. If politicians were really pro-cop, they would put an end to this recurring nightmare with legislative, social, and economic programs to eradicate black poverty and stop criminalizing black existence.

I am the first to say most social ills do not easily submit to a casting of the issue in black and white. Except when it comes to the justice system in America. In that case there is one justice system for whites, and another for blacks; one which criminalizes, incarcerates, systemically harasses, and sometimes even murders them. When black and white are treated the same in the US justice system, we will be able to say without a whiff of smugness or disdain that all lives matter.

Until then, since it is black lives which are repeatedly and violently repudiated by the justice system, is it really unreasonable to suggest, in this context, that “black lives matter”? I don’t believe so. To say “all lives matter” in response is to dismiss the legitimate injustices being aggrieved. It perpetuates a legacy of denial about America’s racist underpinnings which, given it is the twenty-first century, is contemptible for its lack of moral growth.

Save

Blackberry Burn Unit

My Precious Blackberry

I work in a place that makes me want to shove everyone’s precious little blackberry up their arse. Scores of articles by business gurus have been written about what an electronic albatross blackberries are in a workplace. It compounds the ill-effects of those with an inability to prioritize and communicate effectively, rendering their blackberry use a veritable Bermuda Triangle for organizational productivity. The relentless, exhausting, and unbalanced work life of the white-collar employee point to a single villain: the blackberry.

One of the big reasons I have resisted calls to advance to the management ranks where I work is my dread for having to carry Satan’s Anvil around after hours. Throughout my career I’ve had various assignments where part of the job was letting my masters affix that mobile noose around my neck. Inevitably, after a couple weeks, usually in the late evening, I would crack. A snide e-mail; a “did you get my message” text or a witless jab would compel me to throw the little buzzing bastard into something – a wall, a couch, a floor, the toilet – hoping its destruction would make the nightmare cease. Kudos to RIM, their blackberries are much more durable than an iPhone

For me, a blackberry is an obvious productivity winner in the right hands. And there’s the rub, isn’t it? The problem with blackberries isn’t the blackberry itself. It’s the way people use it, like they’re a thirteen year old who ate seventeen bowls of smarties. This is especially acute after hours. It should come with an instruction manual to prevent its irresponsible use as a torture device against co-workers. To be truly educational, it would have to be titled something like, “Remember, if Everything is Urgent, Nothing is Urgent.”

Anyone who is an underling in a large, hierarchical organization has had their soul crushed under the stampede of elephantine stupidity that afflicts senior managers with a blackberry in their hands. For example, a Director where I work, let’s call him Stu, takes his blackberry into the bathroom with him Monday evening. There, he gets an e-mail from Joe who says “hey, did you know that such-and-such is on the agenda for the meeting of the Big Cheeses next Monday?”

After a panicked squeeze of his anal sphincter, Stu responds “We’re on it.” He resolutely flushes the toilet, as if he’s about to storm the ramparts on D-Day, and sends a frantic e-mail to my Manager saying, “Get your minion edmund to get me that that thing by Friday, cuz he writes good and knows stuff. Priority.”

I get to the office Tuesday morning, open my e-mail and see the message from my Manager. “Can you do this thing by Friday?”

I roll my eyes when I see the times the e-mail exchanges below hers took place. Relieved, I know I can do the thing by the end of Wednesday without affecting other deadlines. I’ll beat my deadline for this task by miles. Then, I reconsider turning it in early. That’ll only give people extra time to start pushing more Sisyphean boulders up the hill and watching them roll over my soul on the way down. Nope, better to stick to their deadline.

For me, the issue is never whether I can do the work, it’s always how much time my plantation owners have decided to give me to write the report they always believe should be in hand moments after they’ve decided they want it. Most of them, because they’ve spent years pseudo-writing on blackberries, are barely literate. They have forgotten the mental energy and effort that goes into writing coherently.

Like an obedient slave, I say “Yes, Mem’sahib, I’ll get that report done along with the other ten reports that were urgent yesterday.” I get back to my cubicle, poised for hours of frenzied tapping on my keyboard.

It turns out that, amidst the thirty-six conversations Joe was having between dinner, his nightly bowel movement, and Late Night talk shows, he mysteriously got confused about the thing the Big Cheeses were going to talk about. The thing was actually needed sooner than expected. My boss stopped me as I was about to break for breakfast and said that thing wasn’t due Friday, it was due in two hours.

“Say what now massa?” I said, stopping in the middle of joyfully humming gospel tunes as I was loosening the chains on my ankles.

“Stu got confused and Joe needs it by noon. Is that going to be a problem, boy?”

She didn’t say ‘boy’ but she may as well have. Nobody gave a flying fig about whether the request was a problem for me. In a toxic, blackberry-addicted culture everyone’s got problems.

“YES IT IS GOING TO BE A FUCKING PROBLEM! I NEED THE NUMBERS FROM FINANCE BEFORE I CAN START!” I said, among other things that would leave a long-haul trucker beaming with pride. It was a volcanic eruption that singed everyone in the vicinity and burned my boss to a crisp. I dressed her in gauze and sent her to the local burn unit for treatment.

I am usually fairly Zen in the office. I’m the guy who meditates; who does yoga; who doesn’t let work get under his skin. But there isn’t a mantra in the world to restrain my warrior spirit when high-ranking people thoughtlessly stir up panic because they’re in the throes of a wicked blackberry overdose. When they’re tripping out, they mete out unclear, aimless tasks in the heat of the moment, using brusque language and terse tone; passive aggressively instilling urgency among underlings. This, they believe, is how they’ll get what they want, when they want it.

When it hits my inbox it just looks like someone believes my life is at his beck and call. We both know his grasp of the thing he is paid to be in command of is far more shallow than mine, so a part of me desires to go Shaolin Temple on his ego. Nobody owns my black ass, especially when folks higher up need it to cover their flank. The next best thing to giving a beat-down for that kind of disrespect is to unleash scatological invective around the office so everyone, especially Stu and Joe, knows my Zen is being messed with.

Deep-down I hope Stu, Joe, and others like him are not intentionally trying to be assholes. I suspect they honestly believe everyone will attach the same degree of urgency as they do to the random thoughts popping up in their mind when they’re sitting on the porcelain throne. They fail to consider how easily an issue might seem to be “hot button” while in the vulnerable position of having their pants around their ankles and their hides laid bare. They should stop reacting to their fears in haste, and allow the time for wisdom to intervene. Ultimately, issues emerging on a blackberry will come to be synonymous with the other thing that appears when a man is sitting on the toilet, and can be dispensed with in a way befitting of them both: with a flush.

Alas, I am well aware the sub-text of this affected busy-ness. When people aren’t at the office, leering at their blackberry provides a legitimate escape from the perils of domesticity. At home or in the grocery store, big-wigs are just Regular Joes to their friends, family, and disgruntled wage slaves who bag their groceries without an iota of awe for their rank at the office. Without people to boss around or sycophants to kiss their rings, they feel unimportant, taken for granted, and ineffectual. So, out comes the blackberry, and within moments of opening the first e-mail, the feeling of indispensability to their organization is just the fix their ego craved.

I don’t necessarily blame the Stus and Joes of this world for needlessly escalating issues left, right, and centre. I blame blackberry for not writing up that instruction manual. I blame them for failing to install a kill-switch to shut the device off when the tone of discussion crescendoes and the content is below a minimum threshold of relevance. They could have cautioned Managers that abuse of the device has a hallucinogenic effect, causing them to see fire and brimstone between the lines of mundane “FYI” e-mails.

The blackberry can turn a trickle of pithy, pointless, uninformed exchanges into a cascading wave of collective anxiety, and then into a flash flood that destroys all the towns and villages in its path. Each successive e-mail ignited by a passing comment sent to a distribution list fuels the fury. Users become mad, jabbing pins in their eyes with every opened e-mail. The investment of time and ego into the exchanges renders everyone blind as they throw a well-heeled operation into the inferno ignited by the tinder of mediocrity and the spark of thumbs typing unintelligible e-mails.

The ubiquity of this phenomenon suggests there are too many executives incapable of effectively vetting the countless issues hitting their desk. The resort to delegating all those after-hours e-mails without thinking any of them through is a failure to take full responsibility of their role as arbiters of organizational priorities. In the aggregate, such behaviour becomes a budgetary drain. Nobody – taxpayers, shareholders, or stakeholders – should abide this management style because it ignores the mandate to utilize an organization’s finite resources for purposeful ends.

Too many high-ranking folks with blackberries are oblivious to an obvious fact of human nature arising from the asymmetry in pay and level between they and their underlings. They seem to think that, because they tethered themselves to a little computer that delivers them so many problems at inopportune times, those of us below must deal with the consequences. On this point, their emotions get the better of their common sense. No executive should wish to demonstrate how out of their depth they are by delegating to underlings issues they should easily dispense with. In delegating everything downward, it appears as though they are ill-equipped to say “this is a non-issue, and the buck stops here.”

I grant, it takes intestinal fortitude and good judgement to do that. Theoretically, this is why executives are so well-compensated. When reactive, blackberry-induced  issues from on high pile up on my desk for ultimate resolution it sends two messages. First, it suggests that others want me to devote as much time and energy to the organization as they do, because there’s no way I can do all I am asked in regular business hours. It’s a contemptuous proposition considering I am not paid for that level of commitment and purposely remain in a lower-level position to avoid it.

Second, it tells me that executives believe the buck stops with me, not them. If that’s the case, they can hand me the keys to their office, endorse their paycheque and give it to me, and erase their name from the top box of the org chart and write mine in its place. Oh yeah, and I’ll take their blackberry too. I will place it under the wheels of my car and drive over it.

There’s a reason France banned the use of work blackberries after certain hours in the evening. The way people have come to utilize what was supposed to be a time-management and productivity tool has become the epitome of twenty-first century lunacy. If it keeps up, my organization will have to install a burn unit for the infernos created by the urgency-obsession of those whose blackberry use smothers an organization’s most vital resource: the time, energy, and motivation of its skilled employees.

Ho! Ho! Hold Your “Holiday Cups”!

Fuck It Santa Claus

This shit ain’t what it used to be Frosty!

It’s that time of year again. Christmas. I’ve never been keen on the consumerist, golden-calf worship that typifies much of the festivities. At an early age the shallowness and affected spirituality of the season rubbed me the wrong way, and compelled me to discount Christianity as a total sham. Since I was in my teens, the tidal wave of syrupy Christmas carols and the displacement of Jesus as a cultural icon by the likes of Santa Claus and his trademark slogan “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” struck me as cruel, secular perversions of something supposedly Divine.

Despite how I feel about the spectacle, I’ve taken it all in stride, save for one of the more recent hallmarks in the modern Christmas tradition: angry white people ranting about being unable to see, hear, and say “Merry Christmas” wherever they go. They never explicitly identify the object of their derision, but “political correctness” is offered as the culprit. It’s the usual canard for reactionaries who resent forces of moderation encouraging WASPs to be less intolerant, less disparaging than is our knee-jerk custom.

In this instance, the ire is roused by throngs of non-Christian visible minorities whose presence has forced them to keep the volume on their all-night Christmas party at a tolerable level so their beleaguered neighbors of other creeds can get some shut-eye. For the next two spirit-crushing months, not only will I have six hundred different versions of the seven most popular Christmas carols stabbed into my ears wherever I go, but I will also experience a daily barrage of witless protests by nearly every WASP over fifty-five decrying the total ruin of Christmas whenever they see the words “Happy Holidays.”

To mourn the degradation of Christmas, my social media feeds will be littered with videos by irate, aging white guys ranting about how, in the good old days before non-European immigration, folks could rifle off “Merry Christmas” without worrying it would hit the ears of a Hindu and make them feel like a heel. Already, I’ve seen renowned Christian scholar Donald Trump blasting Starbucks for their “Holiday Cups.” It’s only November and my highly-reactive, bleeding-heart-liberal spleen has suffered countless beatings from this nonsense.

Me not caring about what Starbucks puts on cupsIn addition to sermons from Monsignor Trump, I will see loads of internet memes with pictures of Christmas icons like Bing Crosby juxtaposed with lame, racially-tinged quotes wistful at the sad fact Christmas will never be as white as it once was. In the stores and malls I will hear indignant, Baby Boomer whites huffing under their breath when they hear a store cashier say “Season’s Greetings” to the brown customer they’ve just served. There will be much indignant pondering as to why there is no Christmas tree in the lobby at work.

I understand how odd it must feel for those who, for much of their lives, didn’t have to concern themselves with these issues. I admit, it does require a mental shift to accept the new reality of all these non-Christians we knew were “out there” before, but who are now in our stores and workplaces today, forcing us to tone down our carnal urge to break out into spontaneous choruses of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Change, especially when it concerns something cherished, like the birth of your religion’s namesake, can be difficult to fathom.

But that’s not really what we are talking about with this grievance is it? We are talking about guarding the sanctity, not of the words of Christ our Lord, but the slogan of Santa Claus, the pagan idol, second-stringer who’s been quarterbacking the Christmas season in place of Jesus for the last fifty years.

Using “Merry Christmas” sparingly in favour of more neutral language reflects an awareness and sensitivity to the existence of so many people among us raised in different traditions. It is enough that in every facet of their lives outside their home, non-Christians are forced to participate to a degree in a tradition they do not share. They experience Christmas at the store, at work, at the restaurant – virtually everywhere. Why not spare them the experience of shoving our “Merry Christmas” cream pie in their face? Christians should easily concede the slogan has no real connection with genuine Christianity – other than the word Christ. Its cultural significance was stamped in our minds not by its association with Jesus in the Gospels, but by its identification with Santa Claus.

Given this reality, the decline of this slogan in favour of more neutral language is a small, conciliatory gesture of respect to those non-Christians among us. It is a way to acknowledge the existence of other faiths by moderating our conduct, just a tad. Such a minor adjustment does nothing to degrade the Christian faith. That degradation was well underway as Santa Claus, his reindeer, and elves at the North Pole became the true cultural icons at Christmas time. The putrefaction intensified, ironically, as Santa’s “Merry Christmas” slogan became more synonymous with Christmas than anything authentically Christian.

Certainly, those disconsolate about the fact of millions from different cultures and creeds living among us have had plenty of time to adjust to the realities of global migration that stirs their fears. The Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, and others in our communities weren’t dropped off by the millions in an airlift yesterday afternoon. They’ve been coming in waves for decades and have set down roots. It is their home too. Dare I say, maybe it is also time to finally tip our hats to those of the Jewish faith who have gracefully endured our unbridled winter paganism for generations. I think they are due for a break. If anything, those fearful of losing Santa Claus could benefit from the Jewish example about how to sustain true faith and spirituality without having to resort to shallowness and bombast.

How the f*ck am I supposed to know what season it is if they don't plaster

How the heck am I supposed to know what season it is if they don’t plaster “Merry Christmas” all over my coffee cup? Starbucks. Bunch of Jesus-haters.
(PHOTO CREDIT – Starbucks)

I say this with the hope that those publicly airing their grievances about this issue will understand how foolish and, sadly, racist they appear. I do not really think legions of grown adults genuinely believe that, since we began letting in hordes of un-Christian immigrants, everything that held our national spirits together – Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – has gone to pieces. It is something else about the issue that stirs them.

Whether they realize it or not, their anger betrays a variant of racially-motivated nostalgia that is unhealthy in a pluralistic, democratic society. Those who do not keep this emotion in check ignore the destruction the very same sentiments caused in the early 20th century. Every time there is a terrorist attack linked to Islamic extremists, the same people angered about the “Merry Christmas” issue are posting videos or commentaries on my social media feeds deriding Islam, open immigration policies, and everything else that is foreign in the eyes of a WASP. It is disappointing to behold people I otherwise deeply respect sharing media that are profoundly ignorant and intolerant. I know they are good people who are obviously unable to contain their fears about a world that seems in chaos. They need now, more than ever, to work harder to keep perspective; to maintain the goodness I know is in their hearts. I confess, I’d rather not have to engage in such moral reconciliations about friends at Christmas time.

It needs to be said that immigrants didn’t choose our countries to get in on the Christmas festivities. Many of those living among us with different faiths had no choice but to leave their homelands in search of safety and economic security. The newcomers came, not to crowd-out the Christian faith, or spread their own, but so they and their families could survive.

Given the underlying spirit of the season, this reality should encourage us to embrace those whose presence signifies something hopeful and new; something unique and different than existed before. We should each do our part in fostering harmony between the cultures in our community and helping each other to succeed. Our presence here shares a common narrative with those who’ve more recently arrived; that of leaving hardships behind to forge a better life for generations to come. For some of us, our ancestors got here earlier, and look at our good fortune.

It is this universal human story, when juxtaposed against the stridency and the triviality that belies this seasonal protest, which drives me mad. Good people should not be so pissed off at fellow humans whose presence is predicated by the realities of hardship we all share. Those who raise the demise of “Merry Christmas” as a cultural lightning rod are losing their minds to something absolutely inane, and it makes them unable to contain a latent chauvinism that taints their otherwise good-nature. To publicly air such sentiments is contemptuous of the generosity of spirit and boundless love for all creatures Jesus extols, so you should stop. It’s bloody Christmas, after all.

The decline of genuine Christian affinity that is the sub-text of this hysteria long pre-dates the influx of people living among us of other faiths. Christianity won’t be watered-down any more than it already has by a less profligate use of secular slogans on our coffee cups or in our workplaces. Christianity, at least in North America, has long been a gaunt spiritual force in our societies; the nutriments to sustain an authentic faith leeched into the same gutter at the locus of our much stronger affinity to unbounded greed and capitalism.

Those yelling at the top of their lungs imploring the brown masses of other faiths to embrace Santa Claus and exhort “Merry Christmas” with the rest of us pagans, might instead be advised to heed the teachings of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much more rewarding it is to persuade with exemplary actions rather than angry words?

I will let Jesus himself have the final word about the season. The wisdom below is taken from the Bible, which I doubt most have ever read; too exhausted as they are from shopping, drinking, binge-eating, and singing Christmas carols. I know, by din of the racially-motivated invective despoiling the season, many are not heeding its words. The excerpts are from the Gospel of Mark, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which appears in Chapters five through seven.

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all!

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below

Janus-FaceIn my first few years of university I was a business major and had plans to become a wealthy debutante, or something of that ilk. I was academically gifted and came of age in the eighties, when the foundations of the unabashed materialism we take for granted today were first laid out. In my first year of business school, the student council had t-shirts made with “GREED” strewn across the front, in large block letters. On the back of the t-shirt was the remainder of Gordon Gecko’s notorious speech from the movie Wall Street.

We proudly wore our obnoxious t-shirts each day for the first weeks of that semester. We were smug and self-assured for a bunch of twenty year-olds who had achieved nothing in our own right to warrant such bluster. We were cashing-in early on what we expected would be the glory achieved in the years ahead. With youthful zeal we goaded and pissed off social work majors, feminists, sociology professors, and everyone else who had come to university for an education. Eventually the Dean of business got squeamish when news of our antics spread beyond the faculty walls and sparked criticism the school was cultivating a bunch of insensitive money-grubbing jerks. He suggested the shirts be worn at the country club only, and not on campus.

In my second year of business school I decided to take a political science course for my Arts elective. I was exposed to the writings of Rousseau and others of the French Enlightenment. Most importantly, I was introduced to the act of political and philosophical thought. I read Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality in one sitting, from evening until the next morning. I did not fully grasp what I had read, but the concepts I was exposed to resonated with me deeply, despite my intellectually un-curious upbringing. Rousseau’s Discourse still profoundly shapes my thinking on the subject of inequality, an issue more relevant today than it was in 1992 when I first read it.

I had been raised in a fairly secular materialist family of corporate executives and merchants. Politically, people in my family were die-hard conservatives. The political “discussion” – if it can be so-called – was a mix of sermons against the Liberal government of the seventies and included corporate fatwas issued by my CEO grandfather against every union in existence. These were phlegmatic spectacles where cauldrons of vitriol simmered, fuelled by gallons of the left-wing lunacy that seized my working-class town at the time. At no time did the political discourse attain the loftiness of Rousseau’s line “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” The oratory from my grandfather was more of the variety “those goddamned union thugs are gonna be the death of me, Jackie”

Without any thought to the consequences, I transferred out of business school and became a political theory student the following year. I dug into Plato, Aristotle, Burke, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and all the prognosticators of secular, magical thinking we call “ideology” these days. I fancied myself an urbane young gentleman, as all of us philosophical types did. The idea of wealth acquisition seemed a quaint, trivial pursuit and was quickly dismissed for loftier aims.

Deep down, I knew my destiny was that of low-paid, academic vagabond living a nomadic, hand to mouth existence, leaving in my wake flowery philosophical tracts nobody could really understand. But I and other humanities-loving romantics seized our generational rite-of-passage as young-uns with the right prescriptions to save the world from the blight left by the generations before. We strutted  with an air of superiority to the ingrate business and engineering students willing to squander their youth in boredom to acquire marketable skills. What a bunch of Philistine losers for choosing a life of wage-slavery to corporate masters, so it went.

As an earnest political philosophy undergrad oodles of the post-modern jargon cascaded from my mouth. Had I not denounced religion as the opiate of the masses, I’m certain my friends would have thought I’d become a Seventh Day Adventist and was speaking in tongues. But I was enamoured by the prospect of something as simple as a word to encompass such elegant, noble ideas so succinctly. I remembered my pre-Enlightenment years, when I was a “Philistine business student,” how the word “Greed” had been wielded as the blunt instrument to profess ill-will and launch polemic; how it simultaneously asserted a misanthrope’s worldview as it kicked others to the curb.

As a budding philosopher, I was exposed to words brimming with intellectual heft, but which also lent an air of gravitas to the ego uttering them. I grew to love big, conceptually-rich words that left others clueless in their wake. Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, and Merleau-Ponty were masters of pretentious word-porn that got me off again and again. My idelogical zeal was a reflection of my relief to have been liberated from the stultifying prison of early indoctrination at the family dinner table. Those wily Frenchmen had a flair for rhetorical embellishment, and the rest of us passed it off as a systematic philosophy.

Fast forward twenty years later. Life did its thing: it buried my insufferable ego under mounds of humble-pie. I messed up so many of the things that really mattered, despite how clever, loquacious, and learned I thought myself to be. All that learning and education was so bereft of practical wisdom when it came to the real-world problems in my own life, and was totally irrelevant to the lives of others I encountered in my career in law enforcement. It makes me realize I invested much too heavily in the hype – the corporate hype, the left-wing intellectual hype, the ideological hype.

I understand how exposure to ideas can expand a mind – so long as the mind is inclined to remain open through that process. However, what I’ve learned in spiritually unraveling my ego for the past near decade is the peculiar cultural tendency in our mode of discourse to use ideas to close a mind rather than to open it. I grant there are remnants of Nietzsche and the French post-modernists in this observation. However my ideas about this depart from Western critics by the insight that the foundational cultural bias, which posits mind and body as separate spheres of our humanity, is as much responsible for our susceptibility to dogma as our belief in “rationalism.” All our Western critical movements – Marxism, feminism, post-modernism – blossom from minds rooted in the same ego-obsessed gardens as the Canons they criticize.

These inclinations have combined to make us more certain of the truths generated in our rationalizing minds than, say, from our intuition or inherent wisdom about the realities before us; bellwethers which can only be found by looking into our bodies. When it comes time to solve vexing problems, the habit is to foreclose access to these other parts of ourselves to gauge the options we are considering. We look to that so-called rational mind alone, without seeing how ideologically tainted, and emotionally-charged our perception of things has become. Our belief-systems are a balm for deep-seated emotional ailments, which is fine if you’re debating at the dinner table. However, to the extent they render us susceptible to wholesale distortions of reality – which they inevitably must – they can spell disaster. Real-world problems call for a mind that perceives reality with the wide-open lens of wisdom rather than through the blinkers of dogma.

In no arena is this psychic danger more evident than that of politics. There’s an election in my country right now. A man with a graduate degree from one of this country’s leading universities is trying to keep his job as Prime Minister by race-baiting, fear-mongering, and attacking rivals as gutter-mates with disenfranchised segments of our society – drug-addicts and sex workers. He has implied his political rival is a “brothel-operator,” which may score with people whose lives happily avoid that seedy reality, but it does so by directing scorn toward the socially and economically marginalized citizens whose lack of choices  pushes them into sex work. Suggesting a rival isn’t fit to hold office because he’s a “druggie” seems to condemn the millions of people among us struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

No political candidate in a developed nation should affix himself to such tactics in his campaign; no man should vie as leader of a democratic, pluralistic nation who holds such open contempt for such large segments of the citizenry he deigns to govern. I suspect his “rational mind” is incapable of seeing the implications of his tactics in quite these terms, because his mind is locked in its ideological prison. In this, he would be no different than many who engage in politics; who believe stridency is the prime virtue, and dread accusations of “flip-flopping” in their views when realities change, or when their ignorance about an issue decreases. 

I want to flatly condemn the purveyors of such tactics, but I can’t. I lampooned the opposing philosophical extremes of my youth to show how fully I can relate to the lure of ideology and its propensity to stir adherents to polemics. I am aware of how our political affinities endow us with feelings of heightened intelligence and superiority in respect of those with opposing views. Such distortions heighten our sense of self-regard and justify provocative behaviours that de-humanize for political advantage those outside the narrow bounds of our rhetorical interests. Since we are righteous, we can do no wrong, so the thinking goes. One cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And so on, and so on.

I understand how easily hooked a man is to the ideological bait cast in front of him at an age when he’s accomplished nothing in his life and is desperate for the golden egg to make his mark. That is when most of us first put on these ill-fitting ideological clothes to help us through the confusion, doubt, and anxieties about the unknowns that lie ahead. The delusion of certitude ideology provides not only allays our fears but rationalizes whatever ethical shortcuts we deem necessary to achieve our objectives.

The divisive tactics in today’s politics wouldn’t be used if they weren’t so appealing to those impulses. I am not willing to condemn so many fellow citizens for succumbing to those habits and fears, because I have been there myself. Certainly, it is troubling how few political actors seem willing to exercise more self-reflection about their conduct; to make efforts to curb their ideological excesses. I feel compassion and sadness for the genuine fear and insecurity that propels this behaviour, and wish we were less inclined to search out and extol political remedies for crises in the psychological health of the collective mind. 

It is clear to me the people who cross the line of decency in their discourse – oddly, it always seems to be those on the political right – are beset by emotions that compel them to cling to abject, ignorant ideas to alleviate feelings of insecurity. It is heartbreaking to witness successful, highly achieved, and otherwise intelligent adults so caught in the throes of such deep-seated emotional affliction. How else could they see no wrong in lying, in wilfully distorting facts, or in slandering and scapegoating swaths of their fellow citizens to win an election? It is so far beneath the privilege of being elected to serve one’s people.

My advice, having suffered the pitfalls of ardent ideological affliction myself, is to examine the fear that stirs belief in nonsensical, delusional hype. The process of de-programming the mind from its faith in the unqualified truth of such ideas – elegant and soothing as they may seem – is a greater source of wisdom than the straw man of ideology could ever be. Ideology taints the heart and renders the mind, possessed of infinite capacities when we are born, as small as the books and rhetoric that enclose it with fear. It makes us ignorant to the extent of cruelty in the politically-charged words we cavalierly fling in the air, and oblivious to the damage inflicted on others when they land.

So Sick of the Sausage Factory

One big, happy family

One big, happy family

Woe is humanity, suffering the legions of uber-douche bags crushing their spirits. I refer to this potent variety of toxic sludge as a Dick, because that is the source of their inspiration. It’s also one thing I can say about them that makes me laugh. What isn’t funny is the reckless abandon with which they swing their entitled skin-flute machetes, cutting down whomever stands in the way of their quest for Mommy’s love – I mean, power. They lie, cheat, and steal through life, leaving a trail of innocent victims buried under a heap of man-splaining, belittling, hectoring excrement.

It seems futile to waste a shred of energy imploring the Dicks out there to reflect on just how miserable they make the lives of those they touch. I doubt they care, but venting about the pandemic of Dicks plaguing our societies can be both empowering and enlightening. As part of my evolving spiritual journey toward what I hope will be the Dick-less corridors of Nirvana, there are bound to be moments where I am forced to cross the raging rivers of my own bile.

The act of reflecting back on these moments, of having to stay mentally afloat among the torrent of indignant rage to coherently share my thoughts, lends an air of detachment to the sordid splendour of their existence. It makes me feel more like an observer than a victim. Plus, the more I own up to how easily provoked I am by their bullshit, the more I learn about the easily unhinged parts of my mind. It encourages a redoubling of efforts to pro-actively cultivate emotional intelligence.

I see putative, self-styled “Christians” on American television man-splaining to the Pope why he’s a wrong-headed ‘liberal’ for castigating the greed that destroyed America’s soul and poisoned its religion. I see political hacks with educational degrees in History or Phys Ed laughing-off the world’s leading scientists about climate change, imploring us to laugh with them as the polar ice cap melts and more dry land is submerged every day. I see the country-clubber with the charmed life, champagne dribbling from the corner of his self-satisfied grin, earn his keep moonlighting as a thespian. He grabs his balls, dusts off his best redneck accent, and masterfully delivers his line to fellow citizens “Y’all ain’t a-gettin’ the guns God gave me!”

I can’t un-see or un-hear the reams of spirit-crushing nonsense so many grown adults seem to believe, and it really pisses me off. I want to grab my pitchfork and storm the palaces nearby to reclaim the public proceeds and tax loopholes that are rightfully ours. I want to liberate the exploited immigrant slaves from their domestic bondage in plutocrat’s homes, and the exploited white slaves from their below-subsistence jobs at the plutocrat-owned discount outlet stores. I want to punch in the face the next smug, strident Dick who denies any role for white, male privilege in securing his fortunes. I fantasize about a crowd of Dicks outside a Church blowing their dog-whistles loudly at Jesus and his guests for consecrating the nuptials between Adam and Steve, only to learn they’re surrounded by packs of hungry, rabid dogs summoned from miles around. One can dare to dream.

And then it’s the next morning. I do my thing – yoga and meditate – to rid my soul of the wayward heaps of manure that landed there as the zealots aimlessly tossed it about. Instead of indignant fury, my mind is like, ‘Namaste Dick, you misguided asshole, Namaste.’ I still care about the poor and oppressed, and I wish Dick would cut it out. Except it’s not worth being so angry about it that my day, and that of anyone who encounters me, is ruined. There are other ways, besides punching-out well-deserving, smug Dicks, to get relief.

That said, these days the stables are piling up with turd faster than my trusty spirit-shovel can keep up. Lately, Dick has been hard to shake. The pig-barn of election Politics is to blame. In my country, the Dick Head – the Prime Minister – decided to have a three-month election campaign – unheard of in Canadian politics. Add to that the US Presidential nominations, which are shoved down Canadian throats via US cable feeds, and it’s like a tornado picked up my house and dropped it into the middle of a continental sausage factory.

Dicks are flung in my face from all directions, pandering, sloganeering, fear-mongering, scapegoating. Senseless political munchkins are throat-singing their sexist, racist, greedy, jingoistic overtures to their intellectually-stunted political bases over, and over, and over again. “We represent the dick-head guild, the dick-head guild, the dick head guild … ” Where are my red shoes to take me home, Dorothy?

There aren’t just Dicks stumping on television, there’s the run-of-the-mill Dick at the office; the one I’ve lamented in a previous post. He crawls his way to the top shelf on the backs of others, and is the variety of Dick most of us experience in our daily lives. My dear friend, a female co-worker in another city, works in a Division with a legendary misogynist I once worked with. He inspired my rant about the office Dick. With exasperation, she shows me the e-mails he writes to her or others. I remember the tenor of this Dick’s e-mails very well. When I overheard him speak to a woman or read one of his smug Neanderthal messages to them I wanted to accidentally shove him down the stairwell. She asks me if she is over-reacting in shoving her feisty Irish fist up the Dick’s ass. I suspect it’s why he keeps on – he enjoys it. I recommend she aim her pointy boots at his undescended testicle instead.

The Dick at the office is no different than the political Dicks scape-goating the large swaths of society they want to sweep under the rug to serve their selfish aims. The common thread is the entitlement to forcefully steamroll you or I to get what he wants. His beliefs, wants, and needs, no matter how crass or insanely stupid, are yelled in your face. He is entitled to behave like a scumbag and the rest of us are supposed to just take it without kicking up a fuss or punching him in the face. He defends his ethically barren actions with fact-free rationalizations that satisfy his infinitesimal intellect.

Why is he like this? Because Dick was churned out of the sausage factory. He has been gnawing on a meal of nutrient-deprived, idiotic gristle his entire life to keep himself fed. He likes his sausage. Nay, he believes in his sausage.

Like many women out there, I am so sick of the sausage factory. It’s fucking exhausting. I am so done with the slander and lies men wantonly use to justify their degenerate ideas. I am sick of watching men telling women what to believe, where to work, what to wear, and who to fuck. I am livid with men who want to kick the poor and disenfranchised while they’re already down just so they can keep the pocket-change to buy another mansion. I am weary of the deluge of verbal diarrhea from the mouths of chest-beating men whose incessant primal screams are meant not to persuade, but to crush the will of others into ideological submission.

It’s time to get with the new millennium, my fellow sausages.

Yes, I too have a sausage. I was programmed to be a Dick like the others, and I was once pretty good at it. But I realized how damaging that was for my kids and every one else. It hasn’t been easy opting out of the club while keeping my meat intact. I was manufactured on the same assembly line stuffing formless young men with affinities for greed, power, corruption, and cruelty. At the end of the line, we are twisted and churned out as individual sausages, but remain linked together as men; a single chain by which to shackle and subjugate humanity.

I can’t deny it, the first thought that crossed my mind was to ass-kick the guy for making my female friend’s life miserable. It’s not what she wanted or asked for, but it’s what would make me feel good. It’s kind of typical of the way a Dick thinks. ‘There, there, my lady-friend, Dick knows best’, right? So much to be done, Edmund.

I can’t deny it, sometimes when my eyes meet with those of a really attractive woman and there’s a momentary spark, the sausage wants to – well, you know what it wants to do. I was trained to think it is perfectly acceptable to whet my sexual appetites with an objectified woman; to use them for my gratification. Sample any mainstream cultural product from the late seventies and eighties and you will see it isn’t nature that made men this way. We were taught to be this way.

As a young man, I grew up learning the Dicks get the pretty, vapid, one-dimensional girl, as they were all touted to be. Movies and television taught the young me that emotionally-detached, ruthless, shrewd, charming, power-hungry, zealous men get the prize. Pouty-lipped women swoon for the corrupt-hero, fighter-pilot, or conniving-huckster. They wait in the wings as the Dick they love desecrates the world, and eagerly give their bodies to satisfy his carnal desires without demanding genuine respect in return for their affections. For a teen-aged boy with his brain pickled in testosterone, deeply dysfunctional mental ruts are easily formed when such gendered caricatures bombard his grey matter from every direction.

If I continue to harbour the idea that my sausage is a weapon to conquer the world; that a woman is just a sexy bun, I would be a typical Dick, wouldn’t I? If I said to myself “boys will be boys” – conveniently, after I’ve been a total asshole – it would mean the sausage reigns, just as intended when I was churned out of the factory. I need to work harder, figuratively speaking, to sever my link to the shackles that confine our collective imagination of what it is to be a man. We all do, if we want a planet for our children to enjoy happy, peaceful lives.

Edmund K Saunders, Dick-free sausage. I like the sound of that. If only I could hear myself say it over the roar of irate men, feverishly man-splaining to keep their ill-gotten entitlements.

Oh, Sweet Kryptonite

Sometimes in my office people leave containers of home-baked dainties to share with their co-workers. In my particular work-area the goodie drop-zone is a little enclave just a few feet away from my cubicle, which is good and bad. It’s good because I can usually count on first dibs on heaps of free, sugary swag, but bad because I am a weak-willed glutton when it comes to free, sugary swag.

The profound lack of will is especially intense when mind-numbing boredom sets in after several hours of daily imprisonment. My cell is made up of grey, padded dividers, in a fluorescent-lit room with staid carpets, randomly placed filing cabinets, and grimy walls made of a synthetic material that I’ve only ever seen in government offices and never looks clean, even if washed with buckets of sulfuric acid. Some have the audacity to call this travesty a “workplace.”

There are several cures for white-collar office doldrums. Cocaine, nooners in the supply closet with a co-worker, water-cooler office gossip, terrorizing underlings, internet surfing, and eating other people’s lunches in the office fridge seem to be the most popular. For me, chocolate, preferably in a moist, cake-like state is my Shawshank Redemption; my escape from white-collar lock-down. But once I start into it at work, I’m done. It’s like Kryptonite to my self-control, which is why I absolutely never, and I mean ever, pack it in my lunch or have a supply at my desk. If I did, I would be a three-hundred pound zit.

“Now, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bust me outta this here cubicle and eat me some chocolate muffins,” said Morgan Freeman playing me, to Tim Robbins playing my fellow white-collar prison buddy in The Shawshank Redemption.

Instead of chocolate I have stashes of un-consumed herbal tea I’ve been carting around from office-to-office since my first job, along with  granola, and raisins at my desk. I bring a weekly supply of almonds, yogurt and apples in the fridge. I pat myself on my back for being such a well-disciplined, health-conscious guy. That is, until some do-gooder brings a container with two rows of chocolate cupcakes and leaves them on that cabinet just outside my cubicle. Why do people gotta be so fucking nice?

As I walk to the kitchen to get my lunch the delectable scent of sweet cocoa cuts across my face like a sucker punch. Suddenly the nutritious helping of almonds and yogurt I am about to eat mentally mutates into a bunch of cockroaches swimming in a vat of bull jizz. It seems hardly worth the effort to walk all the way to the lunchroom for such a grotesque meal when chocolate muffins are an arm’s reach away.

“No, you shouldn’t have chocolate dainties for lunch. Have your lunch and then have ONE for dessert,” says the asshole adult who weaseled his way into my brain.

He’s been on my case since college, when he honed-in on my predilection for easy stimulation to quell boredom and dread. He knows it left clouds of darkness in my memory that he still fears may lead to a knock on the door from a grown son I didn’t know I had. He only knows how pathetically the story ended, or arrived in the middle to snap the neurotic version of me back to consciousness so he could ruin all the fun. He knows I woke up in a hotel bed fully dressed in my suit, with my shoes still on, with a half-naked woman beside me. Did he make me fall into a deep sleep as she freshened up? Probably. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

He remembers nothing before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1991 when he arrived to find me on the dance floor sharing a champagne bottle, doing the tongue-tango, and dry humping with the ugly-duckling younger sister of a friend who, after I hadn’t seen her for several years, had grown into a beautiful swan and wanted to spread her wings with me. He does not know what magic tricks I must have performed to lure two women into a bedroom at a party and have them start taking my clothes off.

The adult appeared right at the time when the adventures were really about to begin, and said “how the hell did I get here?” His discomfort at having to ask the question compelled me to flee the scene so I could figure it out. Why? Because my consciousness didn’t know how to wield the brush to finish the sublime work of art the uninhibited version of me had so masterfully begun. Once the adult appeared, he returned me to my usual neurotic, dip-shit self; the one who knew no better than to put the paint-brush between his toes and turn a would-be sexual masterpiece into something resembling a finger-painting done by a baby chimpanzee.

That was all when I was young and stupid, when the adult was over-zealous in issuing his warnings. We hadn’t come to a point of trust or agreement on what was in and what was out, ethically-speaking. I immediately amended my moral code to include the following clause: “If – when you are single – for whatever reason, you happen to find yourself in the midst of a threesome, don’t run away.” Of course, I’ve never had another opportunity to put those instructions into practice, but they are waiting on the shelf collecting dust with the library of reports I’ve written for my job, all of them goading me for their total irrelevance.

All that is to spell out why I consider my inner adult a real Cassandra, a spoil-sport who I don’t like, even if he is helpful at times. He makes sure my bills are only a half-month late and intervenes so I only forget about one or two important things in any given week, despite phone, work-email, Outlook, and dozens of sticky notes to remind me. He tells me it’s not okay to let my kids stay up with me until the wee hours watching movies. He locks my jaw shut tightly in those fiery moments when “fuck you!” Is dying to come out of my mouth with disastrous effect. He tells me not to quit my job and become a barista at Starbucks, insisting that reduced-price Cinnamon Dolce lattes aren’t worth losing a regular, upper-middle class paycheque. I wonder.

But he didn’t let me be as young and stupid as I could have been. Now that I am old, I am feeling a little wistful about the good times I could have had. He has kept a veil of fear in front of me, I suspect. He doesn’t seem to trust fun and wanton depravity in small doses. He believes regret is worse than reckless abandon and masterfully intensifies the volume of past regrets to frighten me away from the types of reckless abandon that are actually worth doing.

So when all I want to do is douse my mid-life malaise with a fistful of chocolate muffins, he is there, as usual, to rain on my parade. I am so tired of his logic, his high-minded principles. “Suck it, inner adult! I’m gonna get me some sugar,” I said to myself that day.

I tore the lid off that bin of muffins like a grabby-handed teenager getting the green light to go past second base for the first time. “Why are these bras so hard to unclip?” I thought, with a bizarre look on my face. I grabbed, squeezed, and tugged at the tray of muffins without rhyme or reason. Like Michael Douglas in 1990’s classic Basic Instinct – when it was still considered mainstream and acceptable to depict sexual animus with rapist violence – I lustfully ripped the fancy-pants off those cupcakes exposing their raw, sultry bottoms. Before I knew it, I had three undressed muffins in the palm of my hands, reeling with anticipation. I gritted my teeth and said “I am gonna eat the shit out of you!”

Remember when everyone thought Basic Instinct was so edgy? I always thought it was lame, especially this scene when Douglas tears the clothes off and basically rapes Jeanne Tripplehorn. If Gen-X men have doubts about what everyone means by

Remember when everyone thought Basic Instinct was so edgy? I always thought it was totally lame and douchey, especially this scene when Douglas tears the clothes off and basically rapes Jeanne Tripplehorn. If men have doubts about what everyone means by “rape culture” this movie, and countless like it of the era are a place to start looking. Cultural criticism aside, I do tear into my cupcakes much like Douglas tore off Tripplehorn’s clothes. At least with cupcakes nobody, other than my waistline, gets hurt.

But then a thought emerged. “Who made these?” I wondered if it was the angry lady from the first floor who hates her job so much the plants in the office wilt a little when she trudges past them, smothering them in her misery. She always smokes at the entrance to the building, forcing everyone to pass through her toxic cloud of negativity and death. I doubt she’d bring cupcakes for people, unless it was a revenge-plot and they were laced with hemlock.

I gave my head a shake and took a deep inhale. Neither the container nor the muffins smelled as though they had been sitting in a whiskey bar the night before. Angry lady didn’t make them. Instead, tidal waves of saliva crashed into the back of my teeth. The twinge between my legs blossomed as my palate readied itself for the rapacious muffilingus it would soon perform to satiate my sugary supplications. Every breath I took suspended all worries or cares about anything woeful in my life. I figuratively stroked my axons and dendrites to the scent of the palate-porn in my hands. I felt like Al Pacino staring at a mountain of cocaine in Scarface.

Tony Montana, thinking this pile of cocaine is as good as a tray of chocolate muffins. Well, Tony,

Tony Montana, slouched before the powdery stuff of his undoing. I know how it is mang. They gonna have to kill me too, if they wanna take my muffins away from me.

“Isn’t it customary when treats are left for everyone to take just one, Edmund?” said that cock-blocking adult in my mind.

“Um, who’s that talking? Sorry, wrong number,” I said, feeling clever.

And then I stuffed those babies in my mouth as if I’d been stranded for three weeks by a plane crash in the Alps and my last meal was my seatmate’s thigh. “Oh. Oh. Oh, yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. Uh-huh. Yep. Oh baby, don’t stop going down. Yeah, like that. Let me show you how …”

Okay, so the adult was partly right. The shame didn’t feel great. I began to wonder if there was a hidden camera. Maybe there was a pen-thief in the office and they’d been been installed to catch the culprit pilfering paper clips and purloining post-it notes. I mused about the things I often do when I’m alone in the office without thinking of the possibility I’m being filmed.

Most days I pretend to kung-fu shit-kick the Director who, usually between 9:53 and 11:22 at night blackberries a tasking for a report so “urgent” it’s due by the end of day – despite the other “urgent” thing due at noon; a decision obviously made on the shitter when his mind is at its best; when path-breaking new ideas that will conflict with previous ideas already set in motion flood out of him, unimpeded by the meddling reason and expertise of others more knowledgeable. Other times I’m plucking my unibrow and marveling at the Chia Pet-like growth of my nose hair, or changing into my cycling gear to ride home for the day.

Sometimes when I am naked while changing at my desk I like to jump around a little. As a man, I want to know what it is like to have my balls really free at the workplace, to have my scrotum momentarily liberated from the iron-fists of big-wigs who get off on squeezing it every day with their arbitrary deadlines. It’s a refreshingly transgressive, if slightly sad way to ennoble an anodyne, powerless white-collar existence. If you want to try it, I recommend you confirm that the mousy, introverted co-worker is not at their desk before stripping down.

“You’re a bad man, Edmund. You need to grow up. You probably would smother a litter of kittens after a bad day, wouldn’t you? You steer your car to run over those cute, fluffy bunnies running across the road. You are a gluttinous child,” says the adult, chastising me again.

To quote Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, “Hey adult, are you bustin’ my balls over here?” You know Joe, I think he is bustin’ my balls. Again. I think he thinks I’m a clown. I think I amuse him. Why don’t you, me, and De Niro grab some shovels and lime, line the trunk of the caddy with some plastic, and take the adult for a “little drive” upstate. I work hard to pig out on muffins, and I want to eat them without that fucking wise guy busting my chops about it.