The Struggle is Real, The Effort Worthwhile

It’s summertime up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite the countless joys that arrive with the season, for many of my female friends it is a mixed blessing. Their eagerness to bring out those light, cute, and comfortable outfits ready-made for the warm weather, or to sun bathe in a swimsuit at the beach is tempered by the frequency they are subjected to creepy, unwanted advances from sexually aroused males. The worst of these are the drive-by catcalls from men who can’t help but enthusiastically let a woman know she is the apple of their eye, telling her as much by imploring her to sit on their face or shake her tits.   

This sort of male misbehaviour is rooted in the belief that women are always signalling the degree of sexual attention they want from men. By outwardly, enthusiastically showing their arousal, so it goes, these men are fulfilling their role, which is to flatter the woman for a job well-done. In the not-too-distant past, this “taunt and react” dynamic was touted as a normal, functional way of mediating sexual relations. In reality, it led to legions of women being sexually assaulted and raped by men socialized to believe their entitlement to sex was affirmed by the clothes a woman wore. 

In the eighties, when I came of age, there were cultural memes predicated on packs of guys “cruising” in cars with the top down on a Saturday night howling and jeering as they drove past a throng of gals. For their part, the women would bat their lashes in response to the ape-like affections of the men, which were sought after and desired. Thanks to popular culture, which depicted every encounter between men and women as a spar with a sexual sub-text, there are generations of men conditioned to believe the only reason women wear clothes, or do anything for that matter, is to attract the sexual attentions of a man. At the heart of these outmoded ideas is an obsession with what women wear. The old assumption is that women who wear provocative clothing are revealing something meaningful about their sexual inclinations. It is a sad, lingering relic of a bygone era.

I won’t deny it. Because I am a flesh and blood heterosexual man with a functioning set of eyes, when an attractive woman wearing clothing that flatters her impressive features passes my gaze, there is an instant, biologically-predetermined reaction. It hails from a relatively primitive part of our evolutionary brain – the limbic system. There’s an instinctive part of me that instantly craves to ogle, to leer, or to fuck, urges which I am aware conflict with the ardent feminist I aspire to be. 

That insight arises in the blink of an eye, rousing my pre-frontal cortex, which kicks in and subsumes the urge to beat my chest – or beat something else – beneath the thought, “Ahem, your leering and your thoughts are verging on the ungentlemanly. Cut it out.” Most days this tack works. When it doesn’t instantly kick in, and I catch myself leering maybe a little longer than I consider to be civilized, I say a metaphysical “Sorry ladies,” and implore myself to keep my head in the game. 

Thankfully, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is synthesizing these ethical intentions into a set of guidelines to help me conduct myself in a civilized way. The PFC is the part of our brains that distinguishes humans as the most intelligent beings on the planet, despite certain striking instances to the contrary. In the throes of a carnal response to the physical presence of an attractive woman, the PFC stirs me to behave as if I really believed a woman ought to be treated like a human being, rather than as a living, breathing wank machine. When my limbic system protests against the PFC’s civilizing dictates, the PFC overrules it. 

The important thing to note is the emotional interplay between the two parts of the brain arising from the same sexual impulse. This reality refutes those who posit that men’s sexual behaviour is pre-determined as residing in one part of the brain versus the other. That is false. There is a dynamic between the parts of the brain which males must gain mastery of if they intend to behave in sexually appropriate ways. The lynchpin here is to have the intention to behave appropriately in the first place. 

Assuming the good intention exists, the key to the PFC gaining primacy in this inner conflict is to ensure a conscious effort to impart the lessons about appropriate standards of behaviour towards women routinely occurs. The curriculum to which males appeal to shape their values in these matters is significantly influenced by the culture. Unfortunately, if the culture harbours unhealthy sexual norms, then society teaches, reinforces, and perpetuates sexually unhealthy behaviours among its men. Depending on the culture, the curriculum by which boys are taught to become men may be dreadfully flawed. If a culture lacks the ethical intention to treat women as equals, the motivation to evolve commensurate behaviours is not instilled in individual males.  

We may say we live in an “individualistic” society, but in truth, how men behave towards women is greatly influenced by the culture in which they live. Through sexist media and social structures our culture is constantly modelling for boys and young men a particularly sexist way of relating to girls and women. On the other hand, there is an expectation that men become individuals who behave differently than the culture that reared them in their private sexual interactions with women. It’s a sociological fact that the transmission of feminist cultural ideals must actually be observed in the culture if the aim is to ensure they are adopted and exemplified by a society’s males. A sexist culture creates sexist individuals. It’s an axiom we cannot ignore if we want men to do the right thing in their private encounters with women.  

In some cultures, awareness of the intense inner struggle between primal urges and moral conduct acts as a cautionary tale. A society’s males, seeking to conduct themselves with moral rectitude, become wary of the mere existence of these internal battles, which they sense can go either way. That fear fuels notions about how the struggle itself is the fault of women; it feeds the idea women must take ownership of the sexual animus they trigger in men. These ideas sustain cultural practices – usually in the form of religious codes – that dictate women dress and behave modestly. It’s a cultural sleight-of-hand that shifts the burden away from a society’s men so that women ultimately become responsible for moderating the degree of male sexual arousal in a society. 

This is a puerile resolution to the inner struggle of a society’s males, because it discourages each individual man from learning at an early age how to process and regulate their sexually-charged emotions. Our culture’s mixed signals about what constitutes sexually appropriate behaviour is a serious psycho-social issue that needs to be acknowledged and properly addressed. This will ensure there are fewer victims of sexual crimes by inculcating a culture of men with emotional intelligence, who are capable of exerting a degree self-control that discourages their sexual misconduct. 

In this respect, what does it say to young men that, despite the fact Americans were well aware that candidate Trump grabbed women’s pussies, he was elected US President? For all the young men grappling to control their sexual urges, are they learning from this that it’s as important to behave in sexually appropriate ways as it is to be rich and ambitious? To what ends are young men motivated to channel their cognitive energies: to that of learning how to respect women, or to that of amassing the wealth and power required to treat women however their carnal urges desire?  If we want to see appropriate sexual behaviours in men, we have to exemplify, reward, and teach the lessons consistent with that aim. 

As a man desperately trying to get beneath years of cultural conditioning where women were touted as objects of male gratification, I am aware the struggle to overcome sexual urges is very, very real. I engage in a lot of self reflection about this, certainly not because the predominant norms in my culture have compelled me to do so, but because I am aware that my responsibility to foster healthy sexual behaviours comes in the face of intense, biologically-determined cravings. Men have to acknowledge the presence of these primitive cravings, which exist in the same measure as they would have among our evolutionary forebears, despite how intellectually advanced our societies have otherwise become. It’s a strange paradox, and it requires we expend greater conscious efforts to the task of moderating these impulses so our behaviour is consistent with evolving norms about what it means to be civilized sexual beings. 

As men, we must decide which part of our brain we want to heed: the advanced part that sets us apart as human beings, or the a-moral, pre-evolutionary part we share with reptiles and other less intelligent animals. I choose to be a civilized human being. I have to make a conscious effort to establish in my PFC a benchmark of what it means to be respectful to a woman and act accordingly, despite the primitive urges that arise in her presence; despite the culture which continues to normalize a decidedly misogynist benchmark. The responsibility for regulating these urges when it matters is mine alone, and I wouldn’t put that on a woman. 

It would help if our culture didn’t keep telling young boys and men that women are sex objects and reinforcing unhealthy ideas about women that impede their learning of functional sexual behaviours. We are subjected to an unceasing barrage of images and ideas from mainstream culture that piques and reinforces our consumerist desires by sexualizing and objectifying women. This conflicts with, and undermines, efforts to instil norms of self-control in men. Regulating sexually-charged emotions is a cognitive process that must be learned like any other higher-order human function, because the desired behaviours hail from the pre-frontal cortex. When we expect these behaviours to kick in they are fending off the strong, anti-social impulses of the limbic system. Unfortunately, this part of our brain is constantly being titillated by a sexualized, stimulus-addicted culture, which makes it a formidable force to reckon with. 

That isn’t to make excuses for men, it is to say that it takes effort on our part to do what is right in respect of women. It is also to say that culture has a role to play in normalizing healthy attitudes and behaviours about how men relate to women at the office, at home, and in our bedrooms. The biggest first step however, is for men to recognize the struggle to control impulses within ourselves is real, it is natural, and women are not to blame for its existence. The responsibility for doing what it takes to resolve conflicting feelings and emotions is on us as individuals. 

It means that we cannot sit and wait for the mainstream culture to reflect modern values about gender, because we are ourselves arbiters and transmitters of those values. Young men look to how I and my peers conduct ourselves for their signals about what is and isn’t acceptable. I take that role very seriously and I urge my mid-life male peers to do the same. Our role as cultural agents compels us to pro-actively stir a cognitive shift when we recognize some of our attitudes and behaviours are rooted in sexist dogmas of our upbringing. We are key influencers in the culture to which the next generations of men will appeal for norms about how to behave with respect to women. I will cringe if, in thirty years’ time, a figure like Donald Trump is emblematic of my generation of men and is still winning society’s greatest rewards despite his retrograde, morally decrepit views about women. 

A concerted effort to avoid the ill-effects of misogyny from poisoning the behaviour of men will always be necessary. Nature has seen to that. The reasons to expend those energies – to secure a future where women are treated as equals instead of as objects or as victims – have never been more compelling, and makes the effort absolutely worthwhile. 

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.

Trust Me, You Do Not Want to Know What is Going on In Here

Those four words. Like dogs to a high-pitched whistle and flies to mortally electrifying light, they render the same degree of involuntary response among North American men. We are brought to our knees reeling in pain as those words make ruthless contact between our legs.

They come as we are spooning after making love to our partner. Or while we’re hand-in-hand for a lovely stroll at sunset through botanical gardens; the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air. Or when we’re sipping lattes after a glutinous, ostentatious breakfast sharing the Sunday Times, periodically breaking the comfortable silence to offer musings on the week’s news.

Out of the blue, instead of savouring these serene, emotionally uncontroversial moments of bliss for what they are, for no good reason the four words are unleashed, grazing insensitively at the most tender side of unsuspecting, fully descended testicles.

“What are you thinking?”

Ohhhh gaaawddd *knees buckling*

Where in the living hell did that drop-kick in the pants come from? And for Christ’s sake, why? What does it matter?

Sometimes you wish you'd never asked the question.

Sometimes you wish you’d never asked the question.

We’ve just made love. To make sure my role in the affair extended longer than a commercial break, I may have had to deploy radical counter-measures to fend off premature detonation of missile warheads. This possibly involved tapping into childhood memories of larger mammals mating on Jacques Cousteau or  National Geographic. There could have been thoughts of grannies playing Twister in their over-sized underwear, or naked old men juggling puppies.

You know how long it will take to incinerate those despicable images from my mind? You couldn’t just let us spoon in relative peace. Next time, I’m letting my missile blow wherever and whenever the hell it feels like it.

As we have our breakfast, I am reminded of a YouTube video of a dog at the table wearing a hoodie stuffing his breakfast into his face with human hands. Oh god was that funny! He was eating scrambled eggs just like me – but way funnier! Because he was a dog and had hands! Get it! A DOG! HA HA HA!!

I see yellow daffodils and think of Sponge Bob and Patrick getting drunk on ice cream and coke floats, then trashing his pineapple home; the fact that Squidward’s face looks a lot like a dude’s package.

That is basically what I am thinking. The thoughts don’t diminish my lapping up of the experience.

So, why you gotta ruin a good moment like that?

“Um, what?” is what I actually say instead.

Oh yeah, I heard the question. How could I not? My testicles have been catapulted to my spleen.

But I need to buy some time so I pretend I didn’t hear. I need to clear the cobwebs and muster up something pithy to say, and quick. These moments call for pith, don’t they? Or is it mirth?

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes.  Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes. Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Do you not know how hard it is to come up with good pith and mirth after I’ve been schtupping? Or when I’ve just eaten enough sausages, eggs, pancakes, ham slices, hash browns, and bacon to give an Olympian type-2 diabetes in a single meal?

As we stroll in the garden I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes, who seem to love black guys more than the horses and cows in the nearby farms. It’s as though they’ve learned their favourite drink – Venti African Dark Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my shit together without jumping in the fountain to spare myself the onslaught!

You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. The little bastards know where the good, down-home hooch is. Those little shits are a-comin’ to paaaah-tay on some moonshine from my black ass because they only have one day to live, and they ain’t risking an early death sipping girly wine coolers from your pint-sized body!

On a sunset night in the garden, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s not exactly romantic. It’s not going to make you bat your lashes quite like, ‘I’m thinking of how wonderful it is to be with you’ or ‘I feel lucky,’ or ‘I wish we could walk in the park like this every night.’

Believe me, I think those things. All the time, in fact. Just not at this particular moment. At the moment you ask, the thoughts can be a little, well, romantically underwhelming.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I'd known sooner.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I’d known sooner.

“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”

“Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the moment. Why?”

“No reason. Love you.”

And then you go to sleep/keep walking in the garden/take a sip of coffee. A masterful deflection. Right?

RIGHT !?!?

I bet every dude reading this is agreeing, while every woman is shaking her head. I know, I know. I really want to be better at this shit. I want to find a way to enjoy that graze to my nads. But it’s just so, I don’t know, begging me to lie. I am a terrible liar. I get twitchy and stupid.

Wait. Is this a test of my creativity? Am I supposed to lie really awesome and romantic-like?

One time after the question I said ‘oh nothing, really.’ Oops. Really? No. Not ‘really.’ Nothing. I was thinking nothing at all. Well, nothing I wouldn’t be ashamed of, anyway. After that stupid slip, I was a Taliban captive at Guantanamo, having the hairs on my testicles removed by tugging them off, one-by-one until I coughed up some intelligence about the inner workings of my mind.

Okay, I had a bad week at the office, and yeah, sometimes I do feel kind of insecure in relation to other dudes. Damn! That wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how funny it would be if Sponge Bob and Kermit the Frog were getting fisted by Miss Piggy.

I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies. I just handed crucial intelligence to the infidel. I revealed a way through the posturing, macho facade my brothers and I have masterfully erected to keep our emotional secrets hidden in our man-caves. Now she has a target to launch drone strikes and blow my little emotionally-stunted jihadis out of their repressed hiding places.

I will get revenge against the infidel, my brethren. Do not worry. I will buy some jewellery, a dozen roses, take her to dinner, and let her choose the romantic comedy for movie night. Then I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles that lead her to her pillow, upon which there will be two exquisite chocolates on it – less than the six I started with, because chocolate is my heroin and I had four as I was lighting the candles.

I will not resort to playing Barry White music and offering to dance at the bedside. That much North American romantic cliché in one day will have destroyed what little remains of my soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high.

I will never forget the jeers I received when I opined over beers and golf that The Notebook wasn’t bad, and another time when I described the colour of eggplant as aubergine. Come on guys, it ain’t purple. So, there will be no Barry White. Sorry, Barry White, it’s not you, it’s me.

So, having showered you with campy bribes to weaken your mental defences, I’ll get even by asking the male equivalent of those four words. “So, am I, you know, uh, compared to your past ones, relatively speaking, of course, bigger, average, or, uh, you know, uh, smaller. Down there, I mean? (pointing to my penis)”

On second thought, maybe Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men was right. I’m not sure I want the truth because I really can’t handle the truth.

The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. I have ADD. He’s always running on his wheel up there, especially when he’s content. But when you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random?

Hell breaks loose. He tries to run away the little idiot. But he’s on a wheel, so instead the heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it abruptly ceases spinning upon hard contact with the ground. The fleeing hamster is sent flying into the side of his cage. He is woozy and groggy, wondering what hit him.

That’s what happens when you ask “so, what are you thinking?” You send hammy running for the hills.

That is when my fear you’ll discover the sad, puerile nature of my pet rodent-like mind will scare you off. Yes, the hamster runs in place on his wheel, even when he’s accompanied by a beautiful woman. He can’t help it. He’s a bloody hamster.

He’s on the wheel to stay happy. It will calm his emotions down so his head doesn’t explode. But sometimes a stupid thought pops into his mind that he simply can’t ignore. Like the scene from This is 40 when Melissa McCarthy, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann are in the Principal’s office to clear up a bullying issue with their kids. McCarthy threatens “to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone.” Oh my god, that was so funny.

Because I don’t want you to have proof you’re with a moron, I don’t say what’s really on my mind. My guess is there are few women who would want to hear about hamsters while on a romantic stroll in the garden.

So, erring on the side of caution, I don’t mention Sponge Bob, dogs eating breakfast, Melissa McCarthy shit-kicks, or hamster wheels. I say something else. I want you to be too invested in this relationship before I start revealing the true man-child you’re with.

“This is phenomenal. Good night, mia amore.”

And then I roll over, hoping the hamster will soon go to sleep in his comfy bed of wood shavings and poo pellets. He needs the rest for the marathon to nowhere he’ll be running again tomorrow.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

My Hugh Jackman Man-Crush

So, this is my competition. I'm so f*cked.

So this is the sort of beady-eyed putz women find attractive, eh? He ain’t much.

I’ve got a man-crush on Hugh Jackman. I have palpable feelings of affection for the guy, a kind of celebrity-worship I loathe when I see it reflected in shallow media like People, TMZ, and Us. I shouldn’t have such feelings either way for someone I’ve never met, especially an entertainer who leads a life infinitely more charmed and luxuriant than mine.

But I don’t care. I loves me my Hugh Jackman.

As an entertainer in a highly image-conscious industry, he’s masterfully projected both ends of the masculine-feminine spectrum in his choices as a performer. At the same time he’s maintained his status as a hunky male sex symbol without propagating the macho clichés that poison the minds of young boys with falsehoods about what it is to be a man.

When I see Hugh Jackman on a talk show or awards-show I can feel myself rooting for him, brimming with enjoyment. The torrents of envy and ill-will that erupt out of my ego when George Clooney or Matt Damon flash their powdered-up dimples, proselytizing left-wing politics on Letterman before retiring back to their opulent lives, is nowhere to be found when I see Hugh Jackman talking about cooking on The View or Singing in the Rain at the Oscars. It’s not his pecs or broad shoulders – which I grudgingly admit are pretty special – but the female energy he radiates that is attractive to others.


Pffft. Look how small his nipples are. Is it me, or is his belly button a little higher than normal? Hey Dumbo, what’s with the  big ears! Ha, ha, ha.

All things considered, I should be welling-up with green-eyed, bilious hatred for the dapper Aussie. First of all, he’s white; a stroke of genetic good fortune to spare him a lifetime of racially-motivated indignities throwing a wet blanket over his natural gifts. He’s genuinely charming, has a toothy smile, non-patchy facial growth, and a full head of thick wavy hair. He has a pince-nez, genuine swagger, and an income to free him from financial worries. It’s hard to like a guy with all that going for him; to look at the picture to the right and not feel woefully insignificant by comparison. His fame, notoriety and all-around affability would be far more tolerable if he were chubby and homely.

I was born a black man in a white family, and grew up in a bland prairie town where I looked like nobody else around me. I have a receding hair-line, a naturally slow metabolism, and a space between my teeth you could pass a roll of dimes through. I am barely treading water financially, am divorced, earn a decidedly middle-class salary, and I drive a Hyundai.

I am an emotional eater prone to vicious mood-swings that undermine my heroic efforts to stay lean and looking good. I’ve managed to attain only a four-pack of abs because I can’t stop stuffing my face with chocolate and pizza when I’m in the grip of a moody funk. My self-loathing inspired junk food binges have left me with a muffin-top over my lower two abs that will never recede. In fact, after tapping out this paragraph I will run to the kitchen for a bag of chocolate cookies to dip in my bucket of tears.

Other than the fact we both have a penis, an Adam’s apple, and widespread bodily hair we have nothing in common. Check that; given Hugh’s unmitigated success, it’s obvious we both really, really like Hugh. We should probably become BFFs.

But I don’t hate Hugh, even if it’s obvious he doesn’t reach for a tub of Ben and Jerry’s every time he faces a setback. I am crushing out on Hugh in spite of his apparent perfection. I get a massive male-ego boner because his success did not grow from the same pile of self-aggrandizing excrement that blossoms most male ambition in our culture.

The more Hugh shimmies on stage singing show tunes made famous by Liza Minelli the less self-conscious I become about being hapless with hand tools, not caring about sports, not having money to dress fashionably, or feeling bad about shooting deer and other helpless, cute and furry wild creatures to hang their sad, dead busts over the mantle in my man-cave. Thanks to Hugh, I don’t feel the need for a man-cave, necessarily. I don’t feel the need to demonstrate the scale of my manhood by subjugating everyone and everything in my existence to whatever it is my ego desires in the moment.

If Hugh Jackman hit on me at a party and intimated we take things upstairs, after the blushing subsided I’d give it some serious thought. It’d be hard to shake the idea that a tumble in the sheets with such a well-rounded and successful man might be the wrecking ball of confidence to obliterate the Hoover Dam of neurosis that’s come between the world and I my entire life. In the end, I’d reluctantly have to say ‘no thanks, mate’. I don’t roll that way, but the offer would give me cause to seriously assess the merits of my chosen sexual orientation.

Hugh Jackman is genuine and unrestrained in refreshing contrast to most other heterosexual male sex-symbols. It’s disarming for both sexes, and endears him to his audiences. Watch Hugh Jackman’s opening of the 2009 Oscars and try to dislike him. It was splendid in its simplicity, allowing the talent and spirit inside the performer to glimmer. He nailed the number without degenerating into glibness and cliche. There were no traces of the stiffness, cheek, or embarrassment that most male egos would unleash to sabotage the performance and excoriate the man for presuming to do “girly” things like singing, dancing, and self-deprecating humour.

He relishes opportunities to sing, dance, and carry a tune on stage. The more a really masculine-looking man like Hugh Jackman does it, the more other broad-shouldered Liza Minellis out there will do the same. Just like that, the emotional breadth of man widens. A man becomes more than a wife-beating, knuckle-dragging, money-grubbing, ball-grabbing ape; more than a pouting cacaphony of unresolved emotions posing as a grown adult. Instead, a man learns to be comfortable with his vulnerability, to say ‘I don’t know’ without shame, to cry without embarrassment. A man learns to own and exude his sensitivity as a human being; to express feelings other than hostility, rage, and resentment for not getting what he’s conditioned to believe he’s entitled to.

It seems revolutionary; an emotionally intelligent, well-rounded man who isn’t a flake. ‘Impossible,’ you say? Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce Hugh Jackman. He is everything the Marlboro man, Dirty Harry, every Tom Cruise movie-character in the 80’s, Gordon Gecko and other idealized males in the North American pscyhe are not. He is not the living incarnation of a chastened penis in constant search of validation.

It’s no surprise Jackman is Australian. He didn’t have the posturing-male nonsense shoved down his throat as a boy, so he’s oblivious to the macho stereotypes he mocks by his essence. He is clearly a talented man, but he’s no artistic genius. What is appealing is the fact he’s just doing something really, really unique in projecting himself as a man, which is why people respond so positively to it.

Jackman’s feat goes a long way to driving a wooden stake into the heart of the domineering alpha-male persona to which our culture teaches boys to aspire; that so many women have been conditioned to prefer in a prospective mate. Jackman’s popularity raises the hope that sensitive, expressive, emotionally robust, and artistic are attributes that will someday rival ambitious, wealthy, charming, and aggressive as attributes men are encouraged to cultivate and women are inclined to seek out. I love Hugh for the fact his choices as an artist advance our idea of what it is to be male beyond the evolutionary rut it’s obviously still stuck in; for being living proof men no longer need to act like baboons to be successful winners in life.

Jackman as Wolverine

Wolverine. He’s supposed to be a sorry figure. Funny that. Pity is not what comes to mind when I see Hugh and his pipes here. Insignificant. Envious. Smited by God. Hungry for chocolate cake and other binge-favourites.

Hugh Jackman’s artsy-Adonis image is the foil to the concept of man as primordial conqueror, an ideal that has created scores of tragic male figures whose lives were wasted desecrating history with countless atrocities. It is refreshing and even subversive the way he so effortlessly refrains from suppressing his feminine side in such mass-market venues. It’s one that exists in every man, but is the cause of so much unresolved conflict in our minds; one that too often manifests itself in destructive fashion.

Much of the pathos at the heart of the brutality men have exclusively been responsible for – bellicosity, zealotry, misogyny, genocide, xenophobia – stems from the suppression of such a fundamental essence of our being. It’s a denial that fuels a callous disrespect for the sanctity of life – human, animal, and ecological. The more men embrace their feminine spirit the way Hugh Jackman has, the more well-balanced and less prone to senseless acts of violence men will be.

If only men could find a way to tap into their feminine side to settle their differences. Imagine two men jockeying for the affections of a woman, or in a stalemate over who gets the last buffalo wing, or trying to claim a useless tract of desert as their holy land. As the intensity of the dispute reaches a climax, instead of escalating to lethal violence what if the custom was to break out into “Anything you can do I can do better” and let the chips fall where they may? Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris did just that at the 2011 Tony Awards and it was decisive in dousing their little quibble.

Real men dance ... with each other ... while singing musicals! Bro's before ho's. Word.

Real men dance … with each other … while singing musical numbers! Bro’s before ho’s, y’all.

If men could dance away their disagreements there’d be no need for guns, scud missiles, IEDs, and suicide bombs to get innocent folks killed. If men could tap-dance to the beat of their inner angst there’d be no more acid tossed at girls for seeking an education, no more children killed in indiscriminate gunplay, no more teenaged boys plucked from school and handed AK-47s to deliver their fathers’ mortal enemies to their deaths. The human race is spared the affliction of male-inspired misery and everybody wins because they’re alive and entertained.

Hugh Jackman’s female effervescence in the face of the temptation to be a womanizer undermines the idea that a man’s barrel chest and broad shoulders are crowbars to pry a woman’s panties from her hips. His comportment demonstrates that the penis isn’t a brick-bat to knock the shit out of would-be adversaries or an instrument to hoodwink women into sexual submission. For some men, a penis is just a crippling fact of nature, but it doesn’t have to command gratification of its every whim. It doesn’t have to penetrate and colonize every object its hard-on desires.

It’s essential for men to keep the whimsical aims of our insatiable peckers contained safely in the dungeons of our inner-life without giving it the keys to the castle gates. Without denying its energy and spirit, we must learn to take it for healthy jaunts in the community, keeping it close at hand with an emotionally intelligent leash. The approach is more harmonious with modern Civilization than the alternative: all the mindless, pathological sabre-rattling that has terrorized the earth for millennia. Unfortunately, too many men remain lax keeping their plundering dragon walking in step, and the result is a sad, heart-hardening legacy in the spirits of humanity.

But hope is not lost. Don’t believe me? Look at Hugh kicking like a Rockette. I rest my case. We’re not all douchebags beyond redemption. There are some men who genuinely desire to energize the feminine spirit in their hearts for its life-affirming qualities. Whether we men like it or not, we cannot reach our full potential as human beings without embracing the feminine, either by cultivating it in ourselves or opening our hearts to it in healthy, close, mutually respectful relationships with women.

The new man of the 21st century

Real men wear gold tights and leopard-pattern silk shirts!

Hugh Jackman is the object of my bro-mantic fantasies because he’s channeled his energies into expressing the female as a prominent feature of his male persona; in stark contrast to the denial of this in the idealized hyper-masculine idea prevalent in our culture.  Thanks to you Hugh Jackman, for projecting the kind of man I actually want to emulate; one who is real and whole. I am right behind you as you champion the cause – figuratively speaking, of course.

Now, about that buffed chest, over-sized pipes, and ripped body. I think we need to talk about your little “awesome body” problem over some cookies and ice cream.

Bacon: My Gateway Meat

There’s something about bacon that keeps bringing me back to meat. Throughout my life I’ve had many solid stints of vegetarianism thwarted by the smell and ultimately, the crumbling of my will to the scrumptious virtues of bacon.

I might turn to gnawing off my arm on afternoons when I find myself a little peckish if I were to bathe in this.

I’ve taken to referring to bacon as my ‘gateway meat’. It always seems to happen that, well into a course of vegetarianism, I forget myself and and accept an invitation to dine with friends at a place with a breakfast buffet. There, I am tempted by row upon row of sausages, ham, and bacon. I look despondently at my plate of scrambled eggs, hash browns, and pancakes, as if staring at a photo of orphaned children pining for a family. Then, the seed of my undoing emerges: “a couple of strips of bacon won’t hurt, will it?”

The taste of bacon is the catalyst for a precipitous decline into a pork binge in the days that follow. Pork roasts, pork tenderloins, spare ribs, and pork chops for dinner. Ham sandwiches and smokies with sauerkraut for lunch. Pastas with chorizo, pancetta, prosciutto, or italian sausage, hold the peppers and peas. Breakfast with sausage, ham, and all varieties of bacon: back, peameal, side, maple, and hickory smoked.

In the span of a couple weeks, the goodness in all the legumes, nuts, greens and roots I once called a meal regimen is ruthlessly evicted from my body, pushed out by the invading masses of saturated fat I’ve mindlessly crammed in. With it, my bowels return to a steady-state of semi-constipation, a homeostasis far more at home to me than the constant bloatedness and the endless emptying I experience on a vegetarian diet; that leave me cursing my toilet and nursing my over-worked anus.

You eat veggie patties, I eat pigs. Either way, something’s going to die for our meal, why not wash your guilt down with some bacon grease, no?

With vegetarianism on hiatus, the risk of ‘sharts’ and countless trips to the crapper a day are usually behind me. A moisture, suppleness, and colourful hue return to my hair, skin, and complexion. I don’t have to fight the onset of lethargy and burn out during intense workouts or runs longer than five kilometres. The idea of never staring down another plate of quinoa or bulgur wheat and uttering the lie “wow, looks great!” is liberating and keeps me running to the butcher. Soon enough, I’m eating steak, fish, and chicken for nearly every meal.

But the guilt and shame of my ethical failing quickly returns.

I am filled with anxiety when I look my yoga-enthusiast, buddhist, anti-animal cruelty friends in the eyes. Can their ayurvedic noses catch the whiff of pork-fat oozing from my pores? A one-time slip into savagery could be forgiven. I was raised in a family committed to the Tyrannosaurus Rex diet, where vegetables were a colourful but perfunctory accoutrement to the meat. The habit of tearing the flesh of sentient beings with my incisors is well-honed and hard to break.

But the subsequent heaps of unethically slaughtered, animal flesh that I willingly fill my palate after the lapse; that I crave like air? By my tenth ‘slip’ into eating meat, I’ve usually traded in my rice cooker for a  new set of carving knives. Once I’ve ambled firmly down the carnivore path, paying good money for a meal of exotic vegetables in lieu of the succulent meat offerings on a restaurant menu seems tantamount to asking my doctor for a colonoscopy when a ‘smear-test’ will do.

So I avoid meal-time socializing with my vegetarian friends, at least until I get a good fix and get back on track. In the meantime, invites to barbecues are sheepishly accepted. Following a few words of contrition for any past sanctimony on my part, my hosts are delighted as I share in the main course of burgers, ribs, or steak they’ve prepared.

I don’t leave hungry and agitated because I’ve had to hash together a ‘meal’ out of potato salad, coleslaw, chips, or other side-dishes. I am spared the leathery, freezer-burnt insult of some veggie-oriented meat substitute liberated from several months of living a sad, anonymous existence buried at the bottom of the freezer beneath a constantly changing roster of roasts, ribs, chicken fingers, and ham. Instead, I leave with a good taste in my mouth, a satiated belly, and the contentment of strained friendships set right.

Broccoli? Yeah, like, not even close to being as awesome as bacon. It’s green, like Kermit the Frog and algae, and smells like farts when you cook it. Like farts. ‘Nuff said.

I struggle with the repeated turning away from vegetarianism. There are plenty of genuine reasons to disavow meat: e coli, salmonella, bovine spongiform encephalitis, irradiation, the spread of anti-biotic resistant diseases, colon cancer, enivironmental degradation, and so on. As a wealthy society, there are plenty of affordable options that make the elimination of meat from our diet altogether, or at least a dramatic reduction in our consumption of meat, a reasonable and viable option.

Then there is the ethical argument. We are raising domesticated beings for their ultimate slaughter and consumption.  The slaughter of animals, whether mass produced or “free” range is horrifying and cruel. It couldn’t be otherwise. It would be more fair if we had to hunt our food and kill it with our own hands before we ate it, but we don’t. It’s bad karma to ignore what is involved in getting that steak to your plate, if you believe in that idea, which I do. I desperately want to be a vegetarian for these reasons.

It’s just that, well, meat is so bloody delectable, isn’t it? No vegetable will ever come close to delivering the full bodied bliss of a rib-eye steak done to perfection, or of fresh tuna sashimi. The best, most well-prepared vegetable dish will never rival the crappiest grade of bacon, if such a thing could even be said to exist.

Bacon is one of the simplest, cheapest, and most reckless choices in a carnivorous diet. It is laden with salt, saturated fats, cholesterol, and all the other horrendous byproducts of food produced for mass consumption. It takes only a few strips to approach the intake of calories and fat content of an entire meal.

Except, no lover of bacon eats just a few strips at a sitting, do they? That’d be like having just three kernels of buttery popcorn at the movies, or two Doritos from a bag, or four french fries from a carton. Who has that kind of self-restraint? Not me, that’s who. Every time I eat bacon it’s lots and lots of bacon; so much that I’m forced to eat lettuce and water for the rest of the day, or go for a four-hour workout to avoid racking up three days’ worth of fat and calories in a single day.

That’s not a complaint, by the way. It’s just a fact. The imposition is well worth it.

The irony that bacon is my gateway meat is not lost on me. My vegetarianism has never been thwarted by a tenderloin steak, or a succulent grilled mahi mahi, prime rib, or coq au vin. It’s always been bacon that lures me under the bus of moral turpitude.

It’s a troubling admission because pigs are filthy, grotesque, vile animals who live in mountains of their own dung and devour anything under the sun when hungry. It’s disturbing to think of how enjoyable it is to eat an animal whose bodily waste, if properly harnessed could power a city, but instead is left to poison metric tonnes of groundwater. The idea of eating a majestic horse, or a tropical bird seems more acceptable. Except it isn’t. Pork really does rule the culinary roost (forgive the mixing of metaphors).

There are plenty of religious sects whose adherents disavow eating pigs for these reasons. Assuming you subscribe to the nonsense that moral purity were within our grasp, it seems a reasonable edict that consuming a pig seriously undermines the project. Well, for twenty four hours at least, depending on your constitution. There are really no redeeming qualities of a pig – other than its flavour when grilled to warm, delectable perfection.

But I accept that I am a human possessed of endless avenues for moral depravity, a few genetic twists away from my evolutionary ancestors the caveman and the fish. I don’t steal gum from 7-11. I don’t fill up bags of goodies at the bulk section and eat it all up as I shop at the supermarket. I don’t cheat on my taxes and I never yell at my kids. I don’t honk my horn or flip the bird, even to really, really bad drivers, and I always let people cut into my lane if they need it. I think I’ve earned some kudos on the karmic scale. So I say “pass the ribs, please.” I never set out to be Jesus.

Because here’s the thing: bacon is porn for my palate. My tongue and taste buds moisten at the sight and smell of the stuff. A strip is all it takes to guarantee the ‘money shot’ in my mouth. It’s a difficult analogy for a heterosexual man like me to fathom, but it’s the most fitting in the circumstances. I willingly accept it as true for bacon. Well, also for pork roast, kielbasa, german sausage, and schnitzel. And pork sausages swimming in pools of maple syrup. Money shot, all of them.

And that is why I am still on hiatus from vegetarianism – four years after those fateful morsels of bacon put me on my current carnivorous path. My advice for those whose commitment to vegetarianism rests on a wobbly foundation: just say no to bacon. Unless it’s a vegetarian establishment, don’t even go into a restaurant at breakfast time if you can help it. You will regret it.

The World and All its Plans, Foiled Again by ADD

The other day I was running really late to my kung fu class, which I help instruct, and I hadn’t had a chance to eat after work. So I threw the fixings for dinner in a bag, jumped into the car, and off I went through rush hour traffic making my dinner and eating it on the way. It was a simple meal – ham on rye with mayo, cheese and crackers, yogurt, and an oatmeal bar. It got me through three hours of kung fu without my knees buckling from lack of nutrition. But on the way, I had a pang of guilt. Should I be doing this?

This isn’t something I’m proud of, but experiences like this are fairly common occurrences in my life because I am an adult with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). ADD is real, and I’ve lived with the impediments my entire life. I didn’t realize well into adulthood why I seemed to always be my own worst enemy, until I got the diagnosis. It isn’t a syndrome cooked up by pharmaceuticals, shrinks and parents looking to drug misbehaved pre-pubescent kids into quiet submission.

I am pathologically weak at planning or managing time well enough to accommodate the chaotic life I’ve created for myself. The big things are no problem – work deadlines, major projects – these have sufficient urgency to keep my eye on the ball. It’s the little daily tasks that are the most problematic. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, which means many more meals on the road in my future. I realize this is in the same category of things a person can do to add to the list of hazards while driving, and might rightly be called irresponsible. Maybe, maybe not.

It wouldn’t be the first time a person with ADD had been called irresponsible, by the way. Or lazy. Or “underachieved”. Or insensitive. Whatever. Let me ask you this, if you were a passenger in a plane that lost an engine, or were rolling into hospital emergency having been mangled in a multi-car pileup, or were taking heavy enemy fire while pinned down in a “kill zone” in a theatre of battle, who would you rather have in charge, the one who needs to sit and think things through all the time or the one who is cognitively his best when in the midst of total chaos?

People with ADD have to think straight amidst chaos because that is where we keep putting ourselves – most often sub-consciously. In some cases, it’s what our brains require to think straight. My guess is many people in adrenaline-filled jobs have ADD, whether they know it or not. They are also probably known to sail through traffic driving with their knees while eating a ham sandwich.

I’ve been told many times in my life that planning things out and managing time a little better might make my chaotic life a lot easier, less stressful, and less burdensome for others. People without ADD are often quick to needle those with the condition about some of their habits that drive them crazy: being late for everything, forgetting to do things, getting lost, being unable to follow through on things, committing to too many things, and my favourite, for being disorganized.

There’s an assumption that I like to be late, and to keep other people waiting; that I like being disorganized.  It’s striking that people think they’ve had an epiphany in saying “hey you, Mr. Late Asshole, you should plan better so I don’t have to wait,” as if this was sage advice I hadn’t already thought of.

It isn’t. And I have. But things like time and organization aren’t paramount in my mind, especially when I’m mired in a particular task. I am task oriented to a fault which means awareness of time is the first casualty of a tenuous attention-span. In the past, there were many days where I’d start into a bit of work near the end of the day and get so engrossed that only when the phone rang with my wife saying “where the hell are you!?” would I realize I’d been at it four hours and it was eight o’clock at night.

Planning and organizing are sort of nebulous, airy-fairy concepts that are difficult to grasp, mostly because they require you to construct a distinct picture of a distant future that is nearly impossible for me to fashion in my mind today. Talking about the future in my ADD mind is as abstract and pointless as talking about unicorns and the Easter Bunny, or making sure the house is clean for when Santa Claus pops by.

It is no exaggeration to say that, for me, a meeting in three hours is as abstract a concept as the idea of an asteroid hitting the earth in a million years. It just depends on what I am doing now and what that meeting in three hours happens to be about. This makes it difficult to conceptualize the specific tasks that are required now for the thing later. The thing needs to be really specific to keep my mind from drifting off task because it lacks such specificity.

This is why my blood boils when I hear people say things like “ADD is bullshit.”  Even if I explained to them “sorry being on time is really difficult for me because I have ADD” they would still think I’m a jerk – with ADD. This perception seems to dog many people with disorders of a neurologic nature. According to the legions of armchair neuroscientists out there, depression, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and ADD are all elegantly fabricated canards that conveniently absolve their so-called sufferers from serious behavioural flaws in their character that they have been unable to control.

Except ADD is real and it sometimes makes its sufferers prone to impulsive behaviours without a mind for the consequences. People seem to accept the behavioural side-effects of other neurological diseases: Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, Multiple Sclerosis, obviously because there are physical symptoms associated with them. It’s a raw deal, but one many of us have come to accept.

One of the main side-effects of ADD is a regulatory issue with strong emotions. There’s a disconnect between the two parts of the brain involved: the part of the brain the emotions stem from and the part that allows us to make sense of that and decide on next steps. It makes for extreme difficulties being involved in emotionally-charged situations. I tend to disengage mentally to give my pre-frontal cortex (the “executive” command centre) time to kick in and govern my responses to things.

This is not easy to do when people are goading for an argument. So an argument is what they’ll get, and folks with intelligence and ADD are often good at arguments. It’s the closest thing to a fist fight you can get in civilized society. The problem is, in the heat of things, you can forget yourself and throw all kinds of verbal sucker punches in order to win. Ay, there’s the rub.

In the past I’ve regularly taken to bouts of intense self-flagellation for failing to rein in a few thorny mental traps that I repeatedly fall into. These are the ones that spawn actions that end up being the root cause of others’ anguish because they keep me far busier and more disorganized than I can manage.

There also seems to be no single, unified theme that underlies the many things I end up getting involved in. That is the source of my bitterness about the condition. It has undermined the progression of certain natural talents I have into a career that I am passionate about, because I haven’t been able to channel the limitless energy I possess into a mental focus that remains fixed, even on the things that I love. Instead, these passions fall victim to a mind that craves novelty; that is so infinitely capable of boredom.

The idea of planning is sometimes anathema to how I conceptualize the world. Things need to be concrete, otherwise I lose focus and attention to detail. This has been more of a hindrance to me than it has to all the people inconvenienced by my tardiness, absent-mindedness, or harried existence. In the aggregate it doesn’t mean I’m an insensitive jerk, it just means that, most often, I am excessively well-intentioned, even if aimlessly so.

Instead of planning for a nebulous future, I tend to go with the flow depending on how things feel in the “now”. People above a certain age view this ethos with disdain. It’s cast off as flaky, jejune, and immature to not have plans for the way forward. I wonder about that kind of criticism. Most people’s lives never unfold according to plan, or if they do, their perfectly planned existence ends up making them into dull, boring, one-dimensional human beings.

I’ve always lived in opposition to this way of thinking. It’s pointless to force the world to suit my plans, or to stick to a plan when the world presents circumstances that should compel a change in thinking. It seems either extremely inflexible or woefully delusional to make an ethos out of ignoring what the world is telling you just because it doesn’t appear to suit the idea you have of the future.

Nobody above the age of sixteen should believe the world works that way; that they’re actually capable of definitively shaping the future with specific actions in the present. It cannot ever be this way, which is why it is best to know yourself, to pay attention to each moment and to listen to whatever it is your heart tells you to do.

While unintended, I live my life like the players in a movie without a script who have been given only a general outline of each scene in a story with a simple plot. In every moment the actors must allow their talents, energies and creativity determine how the story unfolds. Some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history were unscripted; made great by people completely possessed of their characters and in tune with the essence of each scene as it played out.

The fondest memories in my life have always emerged from situations born of serendipity. Allowing myself to get lost in the moment was the catalyst for feelings of bliss that resonate in my mind still, many years later. These were times when anxieties about an uncertain future or burdens from emotional demons of the past were set aside; overcome by a total surrender to the fullness of a particular moment in time.

The world can be sublime if you cultivate a mind that welcomes spontaneity. Sometimes, the notion of living life according to a ‘plan’ is a fine rationalization for living life with blinkers; for resisting things simply because they don’t necessarily line up with expectations. No thanks. It’s not how I roll. With age, I’ve come to accept that as part of my DNA. Dare I say, there’s some argument to be made that more of us should live this way.

All of this means that, from time to time I’m driving somewhere while making a ham sandwich, having my bacon and eggs for breakfast, shaving, or finishing getting dressed. And I dine while driving because I’ve run out of time; because I’m overrun by everything I’ve crammed into my life. These things happen because I am a terrible planner, not an insensitive jerk. That said, if I have three things to focus on, the focus I bring to all three is much better than if I only had one tedious, mundane thing to focus on, like driving in rush hour traffic.

Still Smells Like Teen Spirit – Part 1

Spirituality and religion weren’t a big part of my upbringing. Emotionally, the adults in my family didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves or do a lot of group hugging. On the whole we were mostly a content family who were close, but distant. The stiff British upper lip and Protestant work ethic were prominent paradigms in my family’s psychological makeup. We tended to deal with deep, emotional issues by avoiding them with playful distractions or repressing them under pails of gin. We didn’t brood about the world’s ills, and weren’t prone to incurable bouts of melancholy – at least none that a good party and a trip to Florida couldn’t cure – so religion wasn’t much use to us. We may have been as emotionally deep as a wading pool, but we had a zest for life and knew how to be happy. The Bible was a downer.

Passion was most apparent when it came to discussions of business or politics. Cursing union nut-jobs, deploring socialism, and grousing about business seemed to evoke the greatest amount of fervour in my conservative, mercantilist family. Metaphysics were for lazy, floundering intellectuals who were putting off life and had too much time on their hands. In the eyes of my grandfather, a WWII vet, the king of drifters was Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a Westmount lothario born with a silver spoon up his arse who never worked an honest day in his life. The closest thing to religious dogma in my household was the belief that Trudeau was the Devil in a cravat.

My ancestors did have deep religious traditions. My grandfather’s family were among the founding families of New England who fled Britain to pursue their faith free from persecution. Letters written by my great-great grandfathers to their children are loaded with scripture and religious offerings of comfort and solace. There was obviously a time when religion and spirituality were a formative presence in Saunders family life, but their importance fizzled out some time around my grandfather’s generation. The Depression, two World Wars, the Holocaust and family breakdown seem to have provoked the 20th Century loss of faith in the Saunders family.

When I was a kid, golfing, cocktails, and brunching with our fellow indifel WASPs at the country club were done with conviction. We were bon vivants, and didn’t think Jesus was interested in joining the party. On Sundays we took a pass on the body of Christ, noshing instead on belgian waffles, goose liver pate, quiche, crepes Suzette, and breakfast links at the country club buffet. The bar opened at 11 am, prompting tongue in cheek quips like “It’s noon in Toronto, ha ha”. ‘Gin martini, pronto!’ my grandfather would exhort.

It was a surprise when the idea of attending St Luke’s Catholic school for boys was proposed to me. I assumed religion was absent from our lives because the institution was disdained. The desire to see one of the Saunders family’s own immersed in Catholic school seemed a bit unusual, maybe even a little hypocritical. I didn’t put much stake in the term, but I was well aware that, in the eyes of even a nominal Catholic, we were unmitigated heathens headed straight for the fiery gates of hell. I feared repeated dousings in holy water by classmates shielding themselves from biblical plagues and lightning strikes wrought by a vengeful God smiting me for my apostasy.

Through my Italian and Irish friends I acquired a mish-mash of distortions about the infantile nature of Catholic superstition. Their idea of religious allegory was totally fucking ridiculous. I had serious reservations about a religion that went to such terrorizing lengths to get little kids to believe. It shouldn’t have been so difficult. Most kids believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, so the resort to scare tactics was a sure sign that something was a bit dodgy with the doctrine. The Pope reminded me of Yoda, or an eccentric character from The Dark Crystal, a Jim Henson puppet movie. He seemed to embody a number of existing clichés about mysterious, old, oddly-dressed magical wizards with mystical powers of mind-control over large swaths of people. He also dressed in a costume that made him look like a flashy Klansman from Alabama.

My strongest objection to the idea of St Luke’s was pragmatic. The curriculum was academically enriched, and I feared I might have to put in an honest effort to maintain my exceptional grades. I hadn’t had much practice with studying and academic discipline and I wasn’t anxious to pick up the habit. Why would I choose to leave a school where I could party, smoke a lot of weed, engage in the eternal quest for sexual gratification, and get good grades? The argument wasn’t as persuasive as I hoped it would be.

It was 1985. The world was under the cloud of Star Wars, a pissing contest waged by two old, white men – one Soviet, the other American – swinging their thermonuclear, intercontinental ballistic dicks at each other. One of these, US President Reagan, was a slowly dementing, former Hollywood actor who starred in films like Bedtime for Bonzo and The Voice of The Turtle. In my country a big-chinned, chain-smoking, baritoned Irish-Canadian from Baie-Comeau named Brian Mulroney had just delivered Canada to salvation from the Devil’s socialist grasp. He liked nothing better than getting pissed and karaokeing to Irish folk songs with Reagan. It was cringeworthy to see two stodgy conservatives with less soul than a pair of Hush Puppies getting all “folksy” for their peeps. Every time I see these two in their Sonny and Cher love-fest, the surge of projectile vomit is so intense I barely make it to the bathroom in time.

It was at this time I was delivered into the Jesuits at St Luke’s. In public school, the presence of girls to excite erratic hard-ons and engage in heavy petting between periods was like cocaine for my pleasure-seeking brain. The first weeks of St Luke’s I felt discombobulated ; as though I’d been kicked repeatedly in my withering testicles. My world seemed fucking grim. Even the thrill of showboating had lost its lustre – no girls to impress. What was the point of living?

The lack of a perpetually throbbing pecker did have the effect of not robbing my cranium of vital blood supplies needed for higher intellectual functioning. My grades improved, in spite of the far more rigourous curriculum. The extra mental capacity cultivated a well-spring of ideas and plans for serious mischief. It wasn’t as fulfilling as a grope-fest with a female classmate, but it would have to do.

That year I had a computer science teacher named Mr Jones. He had long shoulder length hair parted in the middle, a handlebar moustache, and wore tight-fitting polyester suits in every shade of the pastel colour palette. He was an elfin-like pot bellied man who stood slightly under five feet tall. It should have been next to impossible for a man as short as he to have pantlegs that hovered so far ABOVE his ankles. Jones made it possible. He looked as though he’d been stuffing himself into suits he first bought when he was thirteen. He was being obstinate, like a forty seven year old woman squeezing into her prom dress for the high-school reunion, clinging to the delusion that it looked ‘okay.’ A travesty on the senses.

One of Jones’ most distinguishing characteristics were his ties, which were ridiculously short. On any given day, if his tie hung more than an inch below his breast-bone it would have been considered, for him, a bit long. I imagined he was the victim of a prankster older brother who preyed on his naivete. At Sunday dinner, as Jones cried in his meatloaf over the sorry state of his love life, big brother would transmit odious bits of advice about small ties being an optical illusion that would make him appear taller. Or he’d mention seeing some article in Esquire that suggested tight-fitting pastel dress pants and rumpled shirts were the counter-culture sex appeal craze in the over-sized 80s. A more sensitive brother would have gently suggested the suite in mother’s basement, the game-show-host/porn-star fashion motif, and child molester vibe were off-putting to women.

With his sorry attire he was courting ridicule and scorn. I’d be happy to oblige. Didn’t he realize he was in a private school full of rich, preppy, judgemental kids wearing Polo and Lacoste? I was no fashion maven, but I had the wherewithal to avoid Zellers when choosing my wardrobe. Such incompetence struck me as highly suspect. This boob was going to teach me anything useful? As it would do repeatedly throughout my life, history would, in this case, make a total mockery of such a shallow assessment. Jones’ sorry ensemble was the standard dress code of every dot-com billionaire to later emerge. I should have been trying to bottle that dufus energy, and run with it. I’m convinced the reason I’m about a billion dollars short of being a billionaire is because I wasn’t dweeb enough.

The first time I spied Jones I quipped ‘what’s with this guy’s get-up, does he not own a fucking mirror’? Other kids implored me to leave it alone. Apparently Bilbo Baggins had a temper that was inversely proportional to his stature. Hell hath no fury like a nerd with short-man syndrome. But it wasn’t physical torment the kids dreaded. He was one of those jerk teachers who would punish the entire class if one student was out of line. Everybody wanted to avoid a ‘pop’ quiz, which ended up happening every day because of the statistical impossibility of twenty-three teenaged boys being well-behaved.

Early on in the year, I was singled out by Jones for one of many demonstrations of incompetence at programming. ‘What a total moron Saunders is, hey class! Everybody, look at the loser who can’t even do simple programming! Nyuck nyuck nyuck!’ It was my first experience of the way small, goofy men go about mocking the alleged stupidity of brawny mesomorphs. I didn’t like it. It was bad enough I was the only black kid in the school, but now I was a nerd being lampooned by another nerd. I didn’t need Mickey Rooney adding to my feelings of alienation. The nerd-war was on. It was a battle between an emerging breed of nerd – the computer geek – and the traditional aesthete-nerd, made up of band geeks, theatre divas, and artsy-fartsies like me. Bring it, Amiga-man.

The next day, I shortened my tie and pulled up my pants above my ankles. I made mocking jokes when my schoolmates were ignorant as I quizzed them on a litany of arcane facts, which were locked into my photographic memory after trolling through encyclopedias as a kid. I wondered if anyone would catch on to the parody. They did.

I wasn’t the only idiot who couldn’t program a “welcome” message in BASIC and had been publicly shamed by Jones. It was a small act of subversion but it was sufficient to ignite the wrath of a bunch of pissed off pituitary cases. I was the chunk of coal that stoked the fire of the white boy rebellion. By the end of the day, it seemed half the school suddenly had a case of shrunken ties. Even the senior students took a day off from shit-kicking their underlings in the lower grades to take part in the gag. I had set off a broad new trend.

To be continued …