Bless all who would guard us in the name of our cherished freedoms

memorial

It would be acceptable to refer to Oct. 22Nd, 2014 as Canada’s ‘Day of Infamy’, for it surely was that with the ruthless and mindless slaughter of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo by a maniac as he guarded our monument to the Unknown Soldier. This event followed closely on the heels of the equally senseless slaughter of Cpl. Patrice Vincent in the Province of Quebec the previous day.

I join my compatriots in feeling aghast and saddened by those events. I will not, however, join in the clarion cry that protests we ‘lost our innocence’ by those events. Nothing of the sort. Canada has been no stranger to acts of hideousness that defy the reason of those of reasoned minds. Sometimes the motivation has been political, at other times it is merely representative of unbalanced minds with politics used as an excuse for the atrociousness.

So, we lost our ‘innocence’ back in 1970 with the FLQ Crisis, for those old enough to remember. It was a tumultuous time in which my recollection is colored by a remembrance of staying in a Montreal hotel only to be awakened by a powerful explosion in the wee small hours and later to find that the shop down the street had been blown out by a bomb. More serious than damage to real estate, however, was the kidnapping and murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre LaPorte, and also the kidnapping of UK trade commissioner James Cross.

Very frightening times. Times in which then prime minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, a decision that some felt was needed and others thought was wretched excess and grandstanding. I’ll leave that up to you, but it is worthy of noting that Stephen Harper, love him or loathe him, invoked no such thing on the 22nd.

We also lost a goodly lot of innocence in 1989 with the horrifying slaughter of 14 female students and the wounding of 10 others at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique by whack-job Marc Lepine. That was an event that continues to live in infamy.

And to be fair, Canadian soldiers – brave Canadian soldiers like corporals Cirillo and Vincent – lost their lives in the many thousands in two world wars and Korea only to give us the Canada that we not only cherish but that we must continue to fight valiantly to preserve, as did Cirillo, Vincent, and Parliamentary Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers. We should be very proud to share this turf with all three of them and those blessed people who tended to Cpl. Cirillo in his dying throes.

Here’s a toast to all the tough ladies we know and love

matriaarch 2

If it hadn’t been for the tenacity and no-nonsense attitude to life of my maternal grandmother (pictured with my grandfather)  I think her seven kids would have starved to death during the Depression. If matters had been left to my kindly yet less-disciplined grandfather then, as much as I loved his kindness, they indeed would have ended up in the poorhouse.

grannie and granddadI think, possibly, due to my grandmother’s example I have been left with an admiration for strong women with the ultimate in stalwart female mien being found in the matriarch.

Picture Ma Joad in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. She was the glue that held the family unit together in the face of unspeakable hardship and misfortune. As was the case with my grandmother, they wouldn’t have made it if they had relied on the headstrong but not always sensible menfolk.

I love Dr. Grace Foley in the brilliant British drama series Waking the Dead. Brilliantly played by actress Sue Johnston, Dr. Foley, a forensic shrink with ma joadmassive common sense and also kindness keeps the volatile place doing what it should be doing. I decided while watching that series that Dr. Foley would be a wonderful mother to have. She’d have your back but, at the same time, would slap you up the side of the head if you went off in illogical directions.

And I must say that Dr. Foley, and meaning no disrespect here, is the antithesis of my own mother. My mother was not strong. My mother bowed under any pressure that came her way. I am not judging her, for she was who she was and in our household my dad supplied the glue and I am grateful for that despite the fact he was no picnic to live with much of the time.

sueBut, I think it is because of these maternal icons I grew up to find strong women immensely attractive and have never felt threatened by a gutsy broad. No-no-no, it is in the courage and forthrightness that the appeal can be found.

At a broader societal level the paramount role of the matriarch can be found within certain cultural groups. This is especially to be found in groups in which there is a supposed male pre-eminence, but in fact that motivating force in invariably the strong woman. Those who have worked with North American Natives know that the biggest factor in not only survival but also success of a tribe or band can be found with strong female figures. A similar situation can be found in the Black community. The brilliant Richard Pryor didn’t hesitate to attribute much of his success to his strong grandmother. The aforementioned are generalizations, granted but such situations are more common than not.

You can also look to world leaders of note like Churchill or FDR and you will find a very strong woman behind their success; often a strong widowed woman.

And I take my hat off to the strong women I know and love in my life, including my wife.

Feel free to cry yourelf a river but if you do in my earshot I’d rather leave the room

crybaby

I have been crying,” she replied, simply, “and it has done me good. It helps a woman you know, just as swearing helps a man.”
Horace Annesley Vachell, The Romance of Judge Ketchum

I have never been very good at crying. That may sound fatuous but I honestly think that inability has kept me from shedding copious tears. I cried little in childhood. I didn’t even cry when I got the strap in school. My impulse was to deny sadistic teachers any satisfaction that their brutality had impact on me.

I have felt very saddened by such life events as the deaths of family members and friends. I did not cry when my parents died. I think maybe I wanted to but wasn’t certain how to muster the impulse. That isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of this passage in my life – I just didn’t cry.

I don’t know where my dearth of lachrymosity originates. I know it wasn’t appreciated when I was a child – especially by my father, who was of the school that maintained only females and crybabies shed tears. I don’t recall ever seeing my father in tears and it still unnerves me considerably to see a man cry. “Come on, bucko, pull yourself together!”

This is not to suggest I’m immune to tears. It distresses me and upsets me to hear a child past baby stage crying, and I want to console immediately. And the tears of a woman upset me grievously. Even more so when I know I have been the cause of those tears. It happens, and has happened.

Now, by crying I am not talking about getting misty. I mist up and get teary at certain film scenes and definitely at certain pieces of music. At my grandfather’s funeral I almost lost it when the church choir sang his chosen funereal hymn, Abide With Me and that piece henceforth has hit me emotionally when I hear it.

The demise of a pet comes close to releasing my emotional wellspring and the deaths of two of our cats actually made me tearful, and I’m not even a cat person,. Not a cat person, but certainly a pet animal person. I don’t even want to countenance my emotional response when Max’s time should come, as it invariably will.

The last time I remember genuinely crying – and it embarrassed me, if I am to be honest – was about eight months after my 2nd wife and I separated. I was merrily puttering away in my bachelor apartment, putting stuff in place and playing some music to accompany my labors. Then a particular song came up on the CD and – well – I just lost it. All the sad events and losses of my life hit me like a sledgehammer and I felt an overwhelming despair that evoked sobs that were painful and seemingly ceaseless. Whenever I thought I had it under control it would well up again.

Eventually it passed and I felt weary and a bit shattered.

I told a counsellor I was seeing at the time about the event, and he reassured it was what I needed to do.

Maybe.

You want to see fearful? Look at our political options and forget about zombies

zombie

I know my attitudes of the day place me well apart from the contemporary zeitgeist but, like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

What I am saying is that there are certain cultural trends that I cannot bring myself to embrace and indeed I have no interest in attempting to embrace. That’s mainly because I think they are boring and really, for grownup people, pretty puerile and stupid. But that’s just me.

So here are the popular fave-raves that I find to be insufferable pains-in-the-ass and tiresome beyond credulity. Either that or just gratuitously offensive.

Zombies: Let me be (apparently) the first to say that there is no such thing as a zombie. They only exist in the imagination and in certain voodoo mythology. They are no more real than Caspar the Friendly Ghost and most of them are about as scary as Caspar. The only decent zombies in film lore were the ones in Shawn of the Dead which is pee-your-panties funny and should be seen. You see, the filmmakers there poke fun at the genre because it is so silly. And if you think I am overstating this issue, there actually are grown-up, albeit not very smart, adults who believe that zombies exist. Sorry folks, dead is dead.

marvinRobots: By this I am not talking about ‘robotics’ which holds significant promise in so many realms. I mean, I’m not even talking about robotic sex dolls. I could, but that’s a whole other realm again. No, I am talking about the ‘robotic revolution’ in which we have been led to believe that not only will future bots do all of our tasks, but will also be capable of independent cognition like the ones in Blade Runner which you won’t be able to tell from regular flesh, blood, guts and pudendi human beings. Well, frankly, I don’t believe that will ever happen and therefore find exploration of the idea tiresome and unentertaining. In truth, the only robot I have ever had any use for is Marvin, the eternal but chronically depressed robot in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

buffyWerewolves and, God help us, overdone vampires: Like zombies, these are not real entities. So why are our TV networks cluttered with them? Have we all become 12-years-old. And love stories involving real human girls with creepy vampire dudes who, for whatever reason, are considered sexy. The only sexy reference to vampires came with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that was entirely due to Sarah Michelle Gellar and not to anything supernatural. And frankly there have been no sexy vampires since Bela Lugosi with that mellifluous Hungarian accent.

ghostGhosts: I loved the movie Ghost. Play a couple of bars of Unchained Melody and I’m a weepy goner in the only film that ever justified the existence of Demi Moore in the cinematic world. Otherwise, of ghosts, I don’t believe in them so I don’t find them particularly riveting or scary. You want scary ghost tales read Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.

Gratuity: I’m not talking about sex here. There is too much gratuitous sex around – or – depending on your attitude, not enough. No, what I am talking about is gratuitous graphicness. I know that dead people look like corpses, but do I need to embrace them for my viewing pleasure? Ever-popular (even though I haven’t actually watched it in years) CSI series thrive on autopsies wherein the deceased are subject to the indignities of all sorts of pathological indignities in full scrutiny. In the CSI Miami version this is despite the fact we viewers are subjected to (at least the 10 viewers who still watch this one are) the indignity of the ongoing existence of David Caruso. But even my regularly watched and otherwise admirable NCIS is guilty of parading some disemboweled poor stiff who ends up being subject to the rather tasteless wit of the otherwise lovable Ducky who will be munching a sandwich while the hapless and late petty officer lies on the examination table. Sometimes too much is too much.

Come fly with me in the fiendish skies of today

flying machine

There’s not much to do on a long airplane flight, especially when you are traveling in steerage. You know full well that all the Don Drapers in business class are being propositioned by luscious flight attendants, whilst scarfing down lobster thermidor and chugging endless glasses of champagne, but we back in steerage are left to our own devices.

I mean, what can you do to make, say, five hours (or 10 if you’re off to Europe) pass and still have a semblance of sanity left that will keep a body from turning homicidal when the morons download their steamer trunks from the overhead racks and impede your desperate need to depart the much-too-small airborne tube at the end of the flight?

pan amThere was once a time when a fellow could ogle the stewardi and fantasize about a delicious liaison with the delectable creature who was there to tend to all your needs – and in that fantasy that meant ‘all’ your needs. That has changed as flying has deteriorated and the nowadays ‘flight attendants’ are worked off their pretty buns and aren’t, well, quite as charming (even flirtatious) as once they were. I don’t blame them. I think what was once a romantic dream job has to nowadays be a pretty shitty, sweaty gig in which they have to deal with probably more obnoxious and self-indulgent assholes in one long-haul flight than the rest of us have to in a year.

Anyway, you’re sat there in a seat that does not remotely resemble the contours of your bum and you have to fill in the time once airborne. You idly ponder how the gymnastic challenges of joining the ‘mile-high-club’ would be pretty much out of the question back there in econo class where you are position. You resent the fact that the toffs in business probably even have an option to trip the carnal fantastic that is denied to you. And then you look at the exhausted face of your opposite sex traveling companion who has just been through a body scan as part of the airport bullshit and know that even if you had a private bedroom it would be denied to you. Yet the creeps back at the airport got to see all her good bits.

You try to read to while away the time. You pick up your novel and just read your damn fool head off and go through page after page even though reading on a conveyance makes you feel a bit nauseated. Well now then, that must have knocked a bit of time off. You check your watch. It has. Maybe 10 minutes. Only four hours and fifty minutes to go. OK, rent one of those little TV devices and watch a couple of episodes of Big Bang that I haven’t seen more than 30 times at home, just to gaze on Penny with whom I’d like to be exquisitely intimate and have her bear my children. That’s gotta kill more time. Yep, about an hour and I get to use those excruciatingly uncomfortable little bits of earphone crap that never work in stereo.

Now the drinks trolley comes by. Considering the tedium of the flight I’d love to order a quintuple vodka on the rocks, but since I no longer imbibe I settle for something with a vague resemblance to coffee. Actually, on our trip back from Hawaii a couple of months ago I asked for a glass of milk. I was informed that on afternoon flights they don’t serve milk. Why ever not? I haven’t yet figured out that one. So, I settled for tomato juice and gave myself stabbing heartburn for the rest of the journey. Heartburn that was compounded by the appearance of:

Wait for it:

The meal service. Found out that virtually everything that might not have been profoundly vomit-inducing was unavailable. I settled for a crackers, cheese, grape and apple slice combo that vaguely resembled a very poor, indolent, hit-the-skids, alleyway wino junkie’s ploughman’s lunch.

My memory drifted back to the days of the exquisite stewardi and Hy’s Restaurant meals of the wonderful and agonizingly lamented Wardair service when they allowed even economy travelers to feel like they were a little bit special.

By that time my bladder had alerted me it was time to head back to the toilet. Time to head back where the aisleway (very narrow aisleway of a nature that nobody can pass by your seat if you are on the aisle without jostling you) is completely cluttered with (so-called) meal and drinks trolleys.

In my quest for relief I am joined by some others, in a few cases noticeably squirming in extremis. Is it a federal aviation violation to have a pee accident on the floor? Anyway, no such thing happened. I made it to the odd little loo, peed, headed back up the long aisle to my seat only to feel 15 minutes later like I had to pee again.

Fly the fiendish skies indeed.

Learning to follow your bliss is more easily said than done, I find

bliss

Yesterday I was perusing some photos from the Panama Canal cruise we took approximately a year ago. I was attempting to find subject material for a prospective painting and I had an image in mind. It was a shot of the fascinating cathedral in the old town of Cartagena, Colombia.

And then I looked at the rest of the shots I took. Such fascinating destinations and adventures: San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco, Chiapas, Costa Rica (replete with crocodiles), the astonishing canal with a big fresh-water lake in the middle, Cartagena, the Caribbean, Fort Lauderdale. Man oh man. Such a trip.

And then I was a bit saddened by the fact that despite the magnificence of the adventure I didn’t fully appreciate it as thoroughly as I might have if I had been fully ‘there’. I mean, I loved the trip, but I realized that I was oddly picking up more enchantment in retrospect. That kind of sucked for me.

In that I mean I have gone through a lifetime of, I don’t think, being ‘fully there’ in the adventure that is ensuing. My lovely wife is. You can see on her how much ‘there’ she is with any adventure. She is immersed. I feel like I am on the sidelines, and I resent the hell of that little bit of self understanding.

muriA number of years ago we were on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and one day as we were exploring the breathtaking Muri Lagoon I reached the conclusion that it doesn’t get better than this. And then I went to the thought that is was so astonishing that I honestly couldn’t take it all in so I would somehow have to live in the memory of what I thought it should feel like to be fully involved. I kind of resent my reality.

I will confess, and I hope this doesn’t fall into the realm of TMI, that one time in which I feel fully present and in which I do not want the moment to go away is in those too rapidly fleeting microseconds just prior to orgasm. Then I am involved. Utterly and blissfully involved and you don’t need me to elaborate further. But I want such feelings of ecstasy to transpire in other aspects of my life, but I am not quite certain of how to go about that.

I want to know why I have a tendency to emotionally run away from the good elements of my days. And I am blessed enough to have a plethora of good elements. I have traveled widely, I have friends I cherish, I have had lovers I adored, I am intelligent, I am tolerant, I have a good home and marriage. And so on and so on. Yet I too often tend to appreciate those elements in retrospect rather than in the actuality of the moment.

So, I take photographs of them, I paint them, I write about them, rather than live them at exactly the time and place. There is an irony in that the one thing I have never been able to write about successfully is that aforementioned pre-orgasmic moment of intimacy. I mean, truly how can such a thing be conveyed in mere words on a page. The writing of words is an intellectual activity, not one that involves the whole body, central nervous system and, I daresay, the soul.

I would like to make such feelings more universal in my life. I am not sure how to do that.

You’re meant to love your neighbour as yourself; so was it something we said?

sold

No matter how you look at it, life is about changes and those changes are often losses in which the fabric of our beings are rent asunder by events beyond our control.

Throughout our days we have faced the deaths of family members and beloved friends. We have suffered divorces and/or separations. And others with whom we are close have departed for foreign parts and no matter how much you think such a thing will make no difference to your relationship; it will. You know it will.

As the years go by they will make new connections, and so will you and while such people might remain special in the heart, they will not remain the same. They cannot.

And then, at a more minor level, you have the case of neighbors. Neighbors sometimes have a tendency to move. That is distressing. Especially if they are good neighbors.

For a decade now we have had some very fine neighbors in the house next door. And they are in the process of moving. We’re pissed off about that. For the past few weeks they have been gathering up items, goods, and even chattels and putting them in boxes and then putting the boxes into trucks and transporting them away from the hood.

I don’t like that. Neither of us in this household like that. We’re irritated with them and their decision-making processes, none of which involved consulting with us. Bastards.

neighborsIf they had been shitty neighbors we would have welcomed the change, but they were quite the opposite. They were a quiet, considerate professional family not given to wild parties or chucking beer cans over the fence. Husband and wife didn’t have raucous rows in which the police had to be called, and their sons, when they were still living at home weren’t dealing crack out of the basement door.

They were just plain agreeable. We didn’t live out of each other’s pockets and there were lots of things we didn’t know about them, and that they didn’t know about us, and that is as it should be – you know, the old ‘good fences’ adage.

Furthermore, they liked our dog and we liked their dog and those things count for a lot.

So, and I’m serious, we were filled with a certain gloom when the ‘sold’ notice appeared on their real estate sign. Sold! WTF? They were serious about going. Who is going to replace them. We have been very fortunate with our neighbors on all sides. Will this time be different. Will we get a biker gang moving in? Some retro bastards obsessed with heavy metal playing at full volume? Meth cookers? Really, really messy folks? Chronic partiers? A brothel? Who can tell?

Anyway, changes; ch-ch-ch-ch-changes don’t make me a happy resident and I cannot do a damn thing about it.