Monthly Archives: February 2010

Wise or not, they still enchant

Although we live in a relatively urban community, the forest primeval is never very far away. We like that. We take great pleasure in walking in the woods. We also take delight in the fact that forest creatures like deer, rabbits, raccoons, and even bears are found in some abundance in the region. In the case of rabbits, raccoons, and deer, sometimes too much abundance.

But one creature that I happen to know abounds, but Wendy had always expressed frustration that she had never seen one in the wild, is the owl. Over the years I’ve seen a number, and they never fail to enchant me.

Yesterday we took a walk in the woods on a delightful trail that is actually within city limits, and as we strode down a trail I could see something in a fir tree. Hey, I thought, this might earn points or even more. There, sitting in a branch about three-quarters of the way up was a wonderful Great Horned Owl – the Owl of All Owls as far as the species is concerned, in my esteem at least. Of course I pointed it out and Wendy was almost beside herself because she was actually finally gazing on an owl that was wisely observing us from his perch.

Owls are wonderfully cool creatures. I don’t think they are probably necessarily wise, but they were given that reputation long ago. Probably because they look sage-like. They can also turn their heads right around just like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. I don’t think they puke pea-soup, on the other hand.

Writers and artists have always loved owls, even if they are rather vicious predators. There is, of course, Howland Owl of the old and still-lamented Pogo strip. He was wise as all-getout. And there is the Winnie the Pooh owl, the self-proclaimed wisest creature ot the forest. Not only was he wise, he was literate, in a manner of speaking. However, he persisted in spelling his name Wol.  By the way, I am a purist about W the P, and I refer only to the EH Sheperd illustrations not the awful commercial defiling of a childhood icon by Disney. That’s my bias and I’m sticking to it. Finally, there was Ollie Owl, Henery (sic) the Hawk’s friend in the comic books of the same title. I don’t remember much about Ollie, but I think he used to keep Henery, with this biker boy mentality, out of trouble.

Anyway, we saw our ‘Wol’ and we were delighted by him (or her). Truly did make our day. Funny how wild creatures can do that.

It’s Friday so kiss your boss goodbye for the weekend

One of the advantages of working from home is that finally my life has unfolded so that I don’t have a boss. Well, I do have one boss, but that is myself, but he’s an incompetent, procrastinating and undemanding bastard, so he’s not that difficult to deal with.

I’ve been relatively fortunate in my working career in that I’ve only had two bosses that were genuine sons-of-bitches. The first was when I worked in a torrid temperature cardboard box plant once summer when I was in university. He was a controlling and nasty piece of goods. And, even though I was a diligently hard-worker, my contrarian nature balked at his attitude and genuine nastiness. On my last day of work that summer I told him in no uncertain and decidedly Anglo-Saxon terms what I thought of him. He was so taken-aback he could only sputter.

My other ‘bad’ boss was an editor I once worked for. Now, I will not take from his talents at the task; he was an excellent editor and a mighty creative guy and our paper, thanks to him, looked fantastic. The problem was, he was also deceitful, dishonest, mercurial, and adored having his assed kissed by ‘favorites’. I don’t do suckhole well at all. Consequently I knew I would be stuck in a put-upon mid-management role in perpetuity. He granted me my talent, but hated me for it, too.

But, that’s not bad, all things considered in a long working career. I have also been a boss. Mainly at the aforementioned mid-management, soul-destroying level. Once, briefly, I was actual boss. Not ‘boss-of-bosses’, but CEO, if you will, of a rehab. Only problem there was the place was a non-profit. Non-profits are evil by their structure. Therefore, I had to answer to a board of morons and self-seekers. I really, really hated that. Added to which, as boss, one has to deal with employees. That’s lousy. Sometimes you have to reprimand them, which I dislike. And sometimes you have to fire them, and that’s truly agonizing. It was for me, at least, and I’m not a softie. One guy I knew I had to fire was a person I knew elsewhere, and I genuinely liked the man. But, he was a putz at the job and highly unreliable.

Finally the day came. A day I had been dreading. I called him into my office and girded my loins. But, and this made me believe there is a God, or something. He said: “This isn’t really working out, is it.” Thank you, Lord. “No,” I said, “It isn’t.” And then he left, and we’re still friendly.

The negative bosses I mentioned in my diatribe were male. I have also had female bosses. Generally that has worked out OK and I have never had a problem working for a woman in authority. Hell, men are used to women in authority. We all had moms and elementary teachers. It has been said that women often prefer male bosses to female and tend to have more problems with members of their own sex in authority. Being male, I can’t really say. Added to which, if I am honest about this, I like females better than males generally, so I have no problem with a woman being in control at any level in society. No, I am not a masochist, so I don’t want her to be wielding a whip or riding crop.

Anyway, as follows are the elements of a bad boss. Feel free to add some of your own.

  1. Micromanagers: cannot possibly conceive that an underling might have an iota of intelligence or skill and therefore must control each and every move.
  2. Egomaniacs: You must place a big smackeroo on left buttock cheek each time he or she has told you about another remarkable accomplishment by him or her.
  3. Tyrants: Stride the world like self-perceived colossi wreaking abuse and havoc and fear wherever they go. Like Mr. Burns on The Simpsons.
  4. Narcissists: Cannot ever be wrong and will destroy any underling who challenges. Sort of like the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert.
  5. Sexual harassers: Feel that underlings are their chattels and must be groomed whenever the impulse strikes. The victims are rendered miserable. Harassers, by the way, can be found among males and females and also gays in authority. Watching Mad Men, however will give you some idea how this scenario has changed for the better, especially after harassment became a firing-offense in a lot of corporations.
  6. Mercurials: The underling has no idea what mood el bosso is going to be offering on any given day, and he/she can change from Dalai Lama to Genghis Khan in a trice.
  7. Addicts: Cokeheads and alcoholics are impossible to deal with, pure and simple, so don’t even try. They will regularly show all the aforementioned traits and the toll they take in business and industry is utterly staggering. Statistics bear this out.

What we maybe need is a combo of Mr. Dithers and Mr. Fezziwig. You know, firm yet fair. That’s probably the ideal. And I truly like being my own boss because I can be those things with me – or not. Who’s to know? It’s nice, though I sometimes get bored with me at coffee break time.

Damned emotions can stick in your craw and sensitize you

A while ago I wrote about how rarely I read fiction. I thought, since I was an English major and actually a high school English teacher way back in the Dark Ages, that perhaps I was an anomaly.

Not so, it seems. A recent survey conducted in the UK among educated, literate folk indicated that while women devoured novels and works of literature at a notable level, only approximately 20 percent of males ever read fiction. Phew, that was a relief.

Male tastes in reading material tend towards the factual, the pragmatic, and the ‘true’ adventure tale. Romances aren’t very big on the list. Surprisingly, perhaps for some, neither is erotica.

I have, of course, read lots of fiction in the past, both modern ‘classics’ and the traditionals. Lots of Joyce, Lawrence, Scott Fitzgerald, dos Passos, Huxley, Orwell, and so on and so on. I enjoyed them all, and there was a time in my teens and 20s when I devoured a quantum quantity of fiction. But, then, it waned on me.

I think I have figured out why. When your average male is a callow youth, he is still attempting to define himself. He’s not sure of what he thinks, feels, aspires towards or even lusts after, so he seeks the interpretations of others and attempts to define himself accordingly. That’s why many young people are so tiresomely intense. I know, I was.

Later life changes, and the second part of my theory is that older males don’t read fiction because fiction demands that a guy must “get in touch with his feelings.” That’s a scary thought. Indeed, it’s outright intimidating. Some movies can make me weepy, so I sure as hell don’t want that to happen when I’m reading. It blurs my eyes. I also don’t want to be shocked. That was why I quit reading John Irving a few years ago. I don’t care which Irving book you’re talking about, but the characters will go on quite nicely and life will be working out, and then you turn the page and some absolutely awful fucking thing happens. I just hate that. It’s too much like real life, and I don’t need reminders.

In the last year, however, I did read one novel. Well actually, two. I did a re-read of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, and it was well worth the trip reading it from the vantage point of my age and dubious wisdom. But, the other one was new to me, though the author wasn’t. I’d already read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much is True. I like him as a writer and I envied the power of his characterizations of people who while they are as neurotic as the rest of us, aren’t dislikable. In other words, I ‘get’ them. In that they are unlike Irving’s characters, who are so often plain wacky and a little too eccentric to be believable.

So, I read The Hour I First Believed. This isn’t a plug, but I must confess the book gripped me in a manner so many novels don’t. It loosely revolves around the Columbine Massacre, but it’s much more than that. It is human and ultimately very, very sad. Kind of like life can be, more often than we want it to.

It made me get in touch with my feelings. I’m happy it did. Happy it did because I have been finding, the older I get, the less I understand my own feelings and their origins. Maybe I should read more novels and sort some of this stuff out. I do know that Lamb offered a bit of a helping-hand in that regard.

Not really wisdom, but common sense, I hope

For the past few years I have worked, sometimes even diligently to follow the premise of ‘letting go.’ It’s working OK. Not perfectly, but it’s still better for me, and so much more logical. It’s a big and mean world and there is little I can do to fix it. Damn it!

It’s not always easy doing the letting go thing, and to accomplish that I often turn to the simple but significant wisdom of the Serenity Prayer: About 20 times a day when things haven’t been going right. Sometimes it works.

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

The courage to change the things I can.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

If that isn’t sufficient for you, I can give you the same thing in Hawaiian, in case you’re feeling in a certain vacation spirit.

E ke Akua Mana Loa, E ha’awi mai I ka maluhia

E ‘ae m ai I na mea I hiki ‘ole ai ia’u ke ho’ololi,

Ka ikaika e ho’ololi ai I na mea hiki ai,

A me ka na’auao e maopopo ai ka ‘oko’a.

See, that way you can feel better in two languages, an at-home one and a tropical vacation one. Although, during the many times I’ve been in Hawaii, I’ve seen little need for the Serenity Prayer. The place invented serenity.

So, what are the things I cannot change and therefore should not be lying awake, dealing with a zero libido, loss of appetite, plumbing distress, palpitations, prickly heat or diaper rash over? Why, damn near everything. But, specifically?

–         the economy, other than my own sensible regard over my resources. I can’t improve what happens with my investments. I can pray, I suppose, but I suspect God is a bit disapproving of the stock market.

–         international politics. The bastards will do what they want to do regardless of what I might think, and regardless of how senseless and even suicidal their behaviors are. Our own senseless and suicidal behaviors internationally are enough for me to contend with, and I can’t influence those, either.

–         Domestic politics. A plague on them all of all parties. I didn’t become a political anarchist for no reason at all, you know.

–         The plight – deserved or otherwise – of the Big 3 automakers. Quite frankly I don’t really care about their travails except for the fact we’re talking jobs and local economies here, folks. Then I could, if I let myself, get all Michael Moore-ish. On the other hand, they’re all back east. And I know they don’t care about the unemployed forest workers here. So, screw them.

–         The impending demise of the Spotted Owl. Since I’ve never seen one I challenge anyody to tell me I’ve done anything to harm one. I did see an environmental note recently, however, that gave me hope. I’ve long suffered under the impression that we only want to go out and save the terminally cute animals, like baby seals, spotted owls, pandas and so forth, and that butt ugly animals don’t get any public angst from PETA or their ilk. Yet, somebody pointed out that wolverines were under threat. Cool. Not that they’re under threat, but that somebody actually cares about what is arguably the nastiest and fiercest carnivore in the forest. Not only are wolverines vicious, they’re also mean-spirited in that they pee on their kills if they can’t eat it all, so that other animals don’t get any. Some in the business community work in a similar manner.

Now, the courage to change the things I can department. That I can do if I choose to. If any of those elements that follow are causing me distress then it is my call to rectify them. If I don’t, then I have no right to whine and I equally have no mandate to blame anybody else. So, what are those?

–         taking care of my health and making whatever changes might be needed to continue to thrive.

–         Extending gestures of love and affection to those nearest and dearest. And maybe even to perfect strangers if they’re especially cute.

–         Doing what I can to give back to my community which, for all its flaws, has generally treated me well.

–         Letting go of people and practices of my past if there is no reason to continue with either. Sorry, hon’.

–         Coming to realize that just because I wouldn’t do a certain negative thing to another, it doesn’t mean they won’t do those things to me.

         Accepting that.

–         Letting go of guilt.

–         Letting go of things that might invoke guilt, including the fun things. Realistically those fun things are the most guilt-inducing.

         Not internalizing imagined slights from people I might cherish. Could be they’re having a bad day.

         Or, it could be they don’t love me as much as I might fancy I love them.

–         Keeping c’est la vie, que sera, and shit happens in prominent places in my working lexicon.

I plan to have a good day. Hope you all do as well.

Feeling not especially shirty on my birthday

So, here is me feeling ‘shirty’ on my birthday yesterday. Shirty, a good word also that isn’t used much these days. Let’s bring it back and get all uppity and shirty. In reference to upper torsal garments, shirty is one of those expressions that has fallen into too much disuse, just like describing a certain ‘wet’ type of mama’s-boy male as a ‘big girl’s blouse’. I like that one, too. By the way, I wasn’t actually feeling shirty at the time.

Anyway, when I wrote my recent blog on the need for color in our dress, and the splashes that Aloha shirts bring the senses, some of you asked that I offer a photo of myself in my cherished Tori Richard shirt. Here it is. You asked for it. You now may regret your request as you choose. At least the shirt is lovely.

So, as I intimated, yesterday was my birthday. As the years go by I consider the event with a little less rapture, but I guess the fact I am still having them indicates that all must still be OK. The alternative I would rather not consider. Talking to a friend today – she is a wonderful, but almost insufferably upbeat individual – she said she loves birthdays, both her own and those of others because the birthday marks the ultimate celebration of life. The DNA of your parents melded and you became you, with all your goodness and all your foibles. Interesting.

Sometimes, somewhere in the back of my psyche there is an image – an almost Platonic idealized image – of what a birthday should be like. The ‘birthdayness’ of the day should set the tone and then that is what the day should bring. I don’t think mine did. 

“What do you want for your birthday?” Wendy asked a while ago. “Other than to have it, I can’t think of a thing,” I replied, exasperating her as I tend to when gift suggestions are requested. But, it’s true. I don’t really want any ‘thing’. I want feelings; states-of-mind, if you will, but not things. I am not anti-material, it’s just that I basically have what I want. I have enough clothing to last a couple of lifetimes. Books are wonderful, but I have cases of them, any remaining unread thus far. Music? That ground is covered with the collection we jointly own, and most things new aren’t worth much consideration, by me at least.

A trip would be good. Any sort of trip. Trips are experiential and broaden the scope on life. Even a rollicking ‘dirty weekend’ qualifies in that regard. Actually, it qualifies in any regard.

Something I did value getting on my birthday was receiving phone calls from a couple of special people. One was my brother, and the other was from my darling Cristina, who was my ‘best man’ at my wedding to Wendy. She was that because she is my most simpatico friend in the world. Wendy doesn’t mind that because I had already known Cris for over a decade before I met her. The fact that we didn’t actually ‘know’ each other (as strikingly Portuguese as Cris is) rendered it a non-issue. A partner’s friends are never to be pushed away.

Oh, and we went for brunch at a local resort. A resort with a fine restaurant. I like brunch. Neither breakfast nor lunch, but a combo with desert thrown in.

Anyway, I had my birthday, and today is my birthday-plus-one. I still feel pretty much the same.

You won’t hear anything bad about the Olympics from me — no you won’t

Truck hauling snow to denuded Cypress Bowl

I suppose it behooves me to write something or other about the Olympics, if only because the people of British Columbia will be paying for them for at least the next millennium. While I don’t relish the thought of shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon, I think I might have some vague satisfaction on when that ominous day comes, to be able to say to someone younger, “Well, the debt is over to you now – and your children – and their children …” Wait, I shouldn’t be negative about the Olympics, now should I? I vowed I wouldn’t be.

I don’t begrudge the people who seem to be getting over-the-top joy from this. I don’t really understand them, but I don’t begrudge them. Indeed, I am happy that they got the chance to indulge their ‘fan-dom’, I only wish they had been able to do so somewhere other than in my backyard – like maybe in the Dolomite Alps, or somewhere like that. You know, being magnanimous in my well-being wishes, it would have given them a chance to go to Europe. I know there have been countless Olympics gatherings in Europe, but one more wouldn’t have bothered me at all. I like to think my fellow citizens have an excuse to go off a-traveling.

There was a little consternation last week when a bunch of balaclava-wearing morons ran rampant in Vancouver, smashing windows and frightening passers-by all in the name of protesting the games. I am not on their side and I think their behavior was nothing to do with protest, but just a cheap-shit excuse for wimpy little assholes to act like the brain-dead goons they are. Some were busted, I understand. And in the spirit of Canadian ‘justice’ as it exists, they were probably given a darn good talking to. That’ll learn ‘em.

If you’ve checked the reports you might have noticed that the weather hasn’t been exactly cooperative. In other words, it has been Northern California weather rather than Great White North weather. Climatic conditions have certainly put to the lie the widely-held belief south of the border that ‘all’ of Canada lies under a wintertime icecap. Obviously, in bidding for the Olympics, the provincial government suffered under the same misapprehension. Considering their skills at governance, that shouldn’t have surprised me greatly.

There has been a lot of consternation from the outset at the arrogance and excessive bullying of all and sundry by both the IOC and VANOC (the Vancouver Olympics Committee) as they strove to (no, not using police-state tactics – really – OK?) maintain their vision of what ‘our’ Olympics should be. Well, VANOC people, something about shoes fitting.

There was also a certain amount of naysaying about how the Olympics have really only been a boost for Vancouver and Whistler and little for the hinterland or Vancouver Island. Sorry, but there the naysaying has been justifiable. I am yet to hear the Olympics being a leading topic of conversation here in the Comox Valley, and I interact with a lot of people in all walks of life. It mainly doesn’t come up, other than an interest in hockey competition (this is a hockey town), and the often-repeated comment after the Cypress Bowl weather fiasco, “they should have held those events at (our) Mt. Washington.” So they should have. We have tons and tons of snow to spare.

Anyway, as I say, if you are enjoying the games, then good on you. I am happy you are. Really. I, on the other hand, will not be displeased when the place returns to normality. I do hope there are spin-off advantages, and I am as piqued as everyone else at some of the snotty overseas reporting (especially by the UK press weasels. Just wait until the London games in 2012; just you wait). Maybe all the hype will do us some good. I reserve the right to have my doubts.

There, that wasn’t too negative, was it?

Let’s get some color and flair into our lives by smiting the old drabs


adj drabber, drabbest

1. dull; dingy; shabby

2. cheerless; dreary a drab evening

3. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Colours) of the colour drab 

I was sitting in the reception area of our local hospital about a month ago. I wasn’t there for therapeutic reasons, but because I write the hospital foundation’s newsletter, and I was waiting for a meeting with a contact. As I sat I watched. I watched the people coming and going, as one does. What struck me was how drab and dreary they all looked. I know hospitals aren’t fun places, but I am not confining these thoughts just to health facilities. You see the drabs everywhere. At the store, at the movies, at a restaurant, and even at weddings and funerals, for heaven’s sake. Show some respect, folks.

The word “drab” applies in so many cases these days. Dull, dingy and shabby, as the dictionary entry above indicates. Drab, as a noun, can also mean a slatternly woman (now there’s a word you don’t hear much these days. I think we should bring it back. “That Brenda, she was looking really slatternly at work today”) , though I don’t know if any of the women were accredited slatterns. I had no desire to find out. But, what I was faced with on that day was a sea of  dreary old shirts (usually T-shirts or sweatshirts) and jeans that have become sort of a default garb in these parts. Those plus ugly and often dirty shoes.

Granted, it was a dreary and dull winter day. But for me, dullness cries out for color. Why are we so loath to bring color into our lives in this local realm? Why are we so loath to ‘dress up’, even for a trip to the supermarket or to visit a friend in hospital? Part of the problem lies, I know, in the fact this is a smaller community. For that reason I like to go to a larger city sometimes to convince myself that chic hasn’t died. To see women in power suits and fine looking shoes (not down-at-the-heels sneakers that seem to be the default around here) restores my sense of hope that we aren’t all wallowing in a slough of shabbiness and slobbery. To see men in pinstripes and expensive ties, and also good shoes lets me know that my brothers elsewhere haven’t given up.

In my earlier travel days men were inclined to don jacket and tie to ride in an airplane. That’s right, we ‘dressed’ to travel. Take a trip lately? Look at the gear worn by those around you. Of course, as for earlier travels, I am referring to the days when travel was an adventure and passengers were treated with respect not like beleaguered souls being loaded into trucks and freight cars for that last trip to Dachau.

One of the things (among many) that I love about Hawaii, is that people wear color. People of all ages, shapes and sizes are decked out in florals and garishness and, of course, the ubiquitous ‘aloha shirt’ a la Thomas Magnum. I used to have a virtual fetish for aloha shirts. I know some deem them ‘dorky’, but I didn’t care. I loved the colors. The Rolls Royce of aloha shirtdom is the Tori Richard. At about $120 a pop, they’re pure class. I always lusted after getting a Tori, but couldn’t justify the expenditure. But, on my last trip to Kauai in September of 2008 I was actually able to get one. It was on sale! A mere $85. Normally they never go on sale, but markets were slow in tourist areas and they wanted to move product, I guess. So, I got me one. Sheer heaven.

The reason for all the colors in Hawaii is that it is a colorful place. It’s almost garishly colorful with its flowers and blossoms and sunsets and azure seas and green fields, and so forth. Literally almost too rich, which is why most Hawaiian artwork puts me off. It’s too vibrant and you are forgiven for thinking, “It can’t look like that. That is obscene in its lushness.” Problem is, it does look like that. Possibly more so. The good artists therefore actually take pains to tone down a scene so that it doesn’t offend the senses, and they avoid sunset depictions like leprosy on Molokai. They probably don’t sell as much as the garish big color boys and girls, however. Pity, that.

 Anyway, my Tory shirt is muted in tone, like a good painting. And now I just have to find excuses to wear it amongst all the ‘drab’ sweatshirts and jeans of default wear around here.