Writing by Author

ALL SAINTS DAY

 


Today is All Saints Day in the Catholic and related traditions. It’s a day to remember those who have preceded our departure from this world. It’s a day to remember the dead.

I recall clearly the first time I came across this event. It was some thirty years ago when I was first in recovery from severe addictions and a life on the streets. Though no doubt I’d been trained as an altar boy to attend the service each November, my youthfulness did not allow me to take in how profound the day really was. A decade or so later it was different.

And by on the streets I don’t mean I was homeless. Far from having no place to live, I had many. In fact, one year I had thirteen addresses. Try getting your taxes done chasing mail at that many places. That may have been the year I stopped filing for a while.

No, on the street wasn’t a reference to no place to live. It just meant a place other than jail.

I was out on my own at age 15. My father suffered burnout at his job and decided there wasn’t room under the same roof for two roosters. Since it was his roof, I was out. What followed was more than a decade and a half of decline, a descent from living in a rooming house and holding a job to eventually living completely off the avails of drug trafficking.

I remember my room on Gilmour Street clearly. Drab and dreary, I had used furniture and a two burner hot plate stove. No fridge, so I put my milk for tea out on the window sill in winter’s cold to keep, subsisting on Clarke’s Stew and Kraft dinner, peanut butter and jam when I could. More than once I had to kick down the door of the communal bathroom in the middle of the night and evict the rubbies holed up there, one curled up drunk in the oversized bathtub, another on the floor in front of the toilet, whilst they protested my disturbing their sleep.

Though that room cost me only $13 per week, I often panhandled in front of the Hitching Post tavern at Bank and Gilmour. Every Wednesday, I’d take the #1 Bank and Heron to my father’s home to report in and get my stipend of ten dollars, my allotment until age 16. I had the wrong clothes and a big chip on my shoulder, drifting from job to job. From making sewer pipes to working jackhammer on a road crew to warehouse work at a cleaning supply place and a swimming pool supplier. I went through many jobs. I lacked structure after dropping out of school and losing touch with all my friends and family.

It was also a time of counter culture, where I overturned my religious roots while the Vietnam War and Nixon’s white house played out on the airwaves. There was a certain nihilism to the times along with the threat of an imminent nuclear attack during the cold war’s prolonged stalemate. I didn’t expect to see age thirty. That was also the consensus among my peers.

After meeting new big brothers out on the street to replace the ones I had left behind, I drifted into drugs. I entered the black market trade just as Canada’s immigration policy opened up its borders to influences from around the world.

 On any given Friday, you could walk down Montreal Road in Vanier (a square mile of crooks we called it) and buy the best of any of drug producing country. Ottawa was “hash capital” we often said, fed primarily through the port of Montreal. The Edgewater and Mapes in Pointe Claire were key points of contact while the influx of immigrants to Ottawa, descendants of Phoenician traders from the Mediterranean, facilitated things so that a full complement of the world’s drug offerings were available.

Branded hashish like Black Pakistani, Green Moroccan, Blonde, Brown and Red Lebanese, water-pressed Kashmiri, and the strongest Afghani from Mazar Sharif could be had from peddlers accosting your walk every few yards along the route. For more, you’d go just off the main drag and down a few steps to the basement tavern La Broue, where you could buy anything in any quantity. There the guys would all lift the table and reach under its center and pull out bags of quarter pounds of everything available.

My rule was if I stuck with hash, I’d never go wrong. I had good intentions. Ten years later I had been carrying a gun for many years and was actively dealing harder chemicals, fully immersed in the criminal element. That’s the problem with this sort of thing. The fistfights and taking sides in informal gangs as a teenage punk soon give way to the serious gun play of adults fighting life and death over turf as an organized crew.

Sure I did some time for shooting people and was shot in return. I’ve been hit with ball bats and hit back. I took knifings and broken bones in stride. I gave as good as I got.

But this one day I sat in a little Anglican church on James Street, not far from where I had started my life on the street a decade and a half earlier. If only I had been able to foresee the future I was about to live, but it doesn’t work that way. I was in church trying a version of the religion I’d been brought up on. It was Christianity and I was prepared to give it another shot.

That day the priest gave a little speech about the dead, about the importance of remembering on this special day reserved for them. We were invited to think of their names, to reflect on their lives and departure to a better place, and to light a candle and say a prayer for their souls. I knew I had lived, survived, where many others had not. This weighed on me deeply.

Daydreaming away in my pew, I began to think of all the people I’d known who were no longer with us. I began to count how many candles I’d have to light, asking myself, should I light one for each of them?

I thought of Tommy, shot in the back a few blocks away escaping police, he dies while jumping the fence in what was coincidentally my sister’s backyard. Tommy and I had peeled potatoes in prison, where he used to sing in a high falsetto, “Big boys, they don’t cry aye aye” and make me piss myself laughing.  Speaking of pissing, he told me once “You know something Chris, a cold beer on a hot summer’s day is like little angels pissing on the end of my tongue.” That’s always stuck with me as the most apt description ever. I’ve thought of Tommy often in summer since.

I thought of Dave who died the day before he got out of prison. He was this handsome dude with Popeye arms who had been my partner for a while. He’d rob banks and I’d drive and we’d deal drugs and he’d do rips. He had a lazy eye and had an amazing insight to how the street worked. It was he who helped me escape after I’d been shot and stumbled out into his Lincoln. He first thought I was over-amping on some really good shit, until I showed him I was plugging a hole in my chest with my finger to prevent the air from hissing out. He apologized as he dropped me off at the Riverside, telling me he was sure I understood he couldn’t stick around. By then all I could do was nod in agreement as each breath filled my lungs with more blood, kneeling on the ground before the emergency doors while he peeled off as attendants rushed out to get me. Dave didn’t live through the getting out party thrown for him by the guys in Collins Bay Pen.

I thought of young Mikey, who died while sitting in a chair in my living room while I slept in the bedroom. He showed up one night with his partner to pay off a drug debt. When I told them no more hash until Monday, they wanted to party. My gal and I and another couple were doing heroin. Mike and his partner were chippers and had done it plenty of times. I told them to help themselves and they did. At one point, I advised Mike’s spoon was too full and took some of the Persian Brown heroin out. He may have added more when I wasn’t looking. While I was in the bedroom nodding off with my gal, the other couple and Mikey’s partner let him die right in front of them. He was cold and blue in the morning. What a waste, he was such a good kid.

I thought of Greg, who was part of the couple there that night. He ended up getting busted for heroin and was facing prison. His girlfriend started dating one of the narcs on the team that investigated him and he spiraled into depression. He had this really nice red Trans-Am he let me drive whenever I wanted. We lost touch after his bust but one day, just before he was to start his sentence, he drove that car into his mother’s garage and left the engine running. She found him, cherry red lips and all, dead and cold.

I thought of Charlie, a good old boy from up the valley in Pembroke, son of a cop. Chuck was handsome and had a winning smile with brown curly hair, an improved Gino Vanelli look to him. He was funny and a brother to me. But he was a wild man: fast cars and fast women, and the drugs and booze that went with it. He died on Conroy Road after hitting a train in the fog in the wee hours. With him in the pickup was a gal who was getting married the next day and another dude, all gone in a fiery death. The debris went up the tracks several hundred yards.

  

My list went on and on. I sat there a long time after mass was over, taking time to think of the dozens of people who had perished from what was really drugs and booze. Sure, some were shot enforcing for others, for revenge, even under contract, but all were related to the drug trade. I’m not sure if making drugs legal back then would have helped any of my friends. All I knew is I had lived where many had not.  Call it survivor guilt if you like.

It’s been several decades since the day I sat in on this Christian tradition we call All Saints. If we believe we are all forgiven our trespasses while here, and eventually make it into the Kingdom of Heaven, then the occasion has even greater meaning.

Something tells me if this were even only partly true, I’d have to spend some time in purgatory first. In fact, I expect I’d see many of my friends there, still doing time, never having been able to rectify things while alive to make it through the Pearly Gates. I’m not opposed to a reunification.

If you call me tomorrow and ask me how I am, it’s likely I’ll tell you the same thing I tell most people when I’m asked. It may sound flippant, or a little woo woo for some, part of that positive thinking personal growth overreach we commonly see lately. But each day, I wake up and find myself breathing I consider it a gift. It’s what I’ll tell you tomorrow: I got to wake up and give it another shot at life. Many didn’t make it overnight.

Though I’ve long abandoned a strict commitment to religion, I still appreciate many of its charms. I respect half of us are probably hard-wired to believe in a power greater than ourselves. Indeed, for a long time I’ve co-opted a Christian prayer, giving it an agnostic twist. I like to say each morning, “This is the day the universe has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I know that alone is probably grounds for a sentence to purgatory. I’ll take my chances.


It is my little invocation, the manner in which I set myself to gratefully take on the challenges of the day.  See, my intentions are still good.

But there is something to be said for the traditions of the church. Its great Cathedrals, its ornate décor, the high ceilings with frescoes of various biblical scenes. The chanting and singing together as a congregation, the rituals of birth, marriage, death and burial. There is that sense of awe, the idea that some things are best left unsaid, or that cannot be expressed with words alone.

This is a calling within us all I think. I feel the same way when I look up to the clear night sky and allow my mind to drift among the stars. Words don’t have the kind of reach to adequately describe what we can contemplate in that instance. All things are possible is the message I get.

And there is reflection, a gentle reminder to think of those whom have passed before us, however their journey ended. We do it to honour not only their memory, but also to reaffirm our own commitment to this existence.

Perhaps then, it’s a day for all souls, the living and the dead.  This is worth remembering. After all, each of us lose cherished ones in our time here. 

Today, I share my soul cake with you.

Christopher K Wallace
©2017 ckwallace.com 

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All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, Feast of All Saints, or Solemnity of All Saints, is a Christian festival celebrated in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. (from Wiki)

Roman Catholicism; Eastern Orthodoxy; Anglicanism; various Protestant denominations;

All Hallows Day, Solemnity/Feast of All Saints

White (Western Christianity); Green (Eastern Christianity)

Church services, praying for the dead, visiting cemeteries, eating soul cakes November 1 

Why Advisor?

When I was first counselling in the late 80s, the term counsellor was intimidating. It spoke of a “there’s something deeply flawed in me and probably no one can fix it” kind of mentality. Going to see a counsellor could be an admission of defeat. It could be shameful.

Unless, of course, your counsellor agreed with you and you could use their expert advice to win an argument.

To make things easier, I’d tell people to simply consider me their coach. This was long before the term “life coach” existed.

After all, pretty much everyone’s had coaches at school, at church, in Little League and what have you. The description seemed less harmful, more approachable if you will.

Coaching has now become a multi-billion dollar industry.

It covers every facet of human endeavour and then some. Despite many who are talented, informed and very effective at what they do—and I know plenty of good coaches—there has been a watering down of the term.  

I found it didn’t fit me anymore in the current context of how I operate. To many, the term may seem to be the new “counsellor” of old. This is probably unfair, a result of its popularity.

Then again, I’m not coaching Little League.

I advise on business and productivity, marriages and relationships, parenting and aging, trauma and addiction, health and other matters of life, death and freedom.

Coaching hardly does what I do justice.

Also, at the least being coached implies I know the “right way”; that I have a system that works and if you follow it, you’ll score the win.

To some extent in shortened contexts this is true. I have a play book like any good teacher does. I know technique from trial and error.  I have seen good and bad.

More often than not though, in the longer game the answers are in my clients. I explore and facilitate things. Sure, I call upon my training and experience and learning, but ultimately, my calling is as trusted advisor.

Having lived a faulted life—especially in my early years—I am incapable of judging others. We don’t need to get into how faulted here. I’ve seen deep shit, life and death, also great triumph.

Over the decades, regularly someone took the time to share some of their hard-earned lessons, often as payment in kind for something I’d done.

Indeed, I usually paid dearly for good advice.

I listened… and I am blessed with memory.

I can recite chapter and verse about various gems learned from books, courses, my father, priests, professors, friends, business people and other learned souls of both genders; moreover, often attributing a time and place for each pearl of wisdom gratefully gained.

Being a learner is my number one strength. I suppose some will say what I have is depth. I think you’d want that in an advisor.

We all get advice from time to time.

Advisor it is.

CKWallace 
©2017

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Father’s Supper

 

I remember my sister-in-law brought her co-worker, a Mexican national, to my house one day. While we chatted, he told me how his father came home everyday to his family back in his village. Tired, hungry, done with the day’s challenges, home was his father’s refuge.

Father would sit at the table while mother would feed the man of the house traditional Mexican food: tortilla, taco, enchilada, etc. While he ate, his children would take turns sitting on their father, so happy were they to see him. Mother would stand dutifully by and see to it he had his fill. If he wanted more, at his signal she would place extra food on his plate.

The man told me his father never objected to his children literally climbing all over him like they did. I think there were at least several of them. He just went about eating his meal, often sharing part of it with the kids. Father never refused one child his attention, acting as if this was how it was supposed to be. He wouldn’t flinch when one of them climbed over his shoulders, onto his head even, put a hand in his face, or hung off his back or neck while he ate.

When he was done, his mother would take away father’s plate and the children would stay to play and talk with their father.

This young man’s name happened to be Angel and what he told me has been my guide at meal-times since. He has no idea how easy it made things: To let go and just allow it, embracing the disorder to find connection underneath.

I’ll never forget that story. It’s now part my own…

ckwallace © 2017 all rights reserved

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DEBATING DOGS

 

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Pets: I’m not for them at all. In fact, I’m completely against dog and cat ownership. I want nothing to do with either. I’ll tell you why.

The thing about pets that we forget is that they die. Oh, I know. You’re not supposed to talk about that bit. But, it’s true. The little critters worm their way into our hearts and lives and then we outlast them. Of course, along the way, all manner of itsy bitsy life lessons can be learned from cats and dogs, and other little creatures, but saying goodbye is always hard.

My father is 87 years old. We never had a dog during the time I lived there as part of a family of eleven, but we had a cat called Brindle Shit Brown. Of course, my father named that one. It was born high up in an apartment building and the mother cat had dropped the baby cats off the balcony one by one, presumably inviting them to live elsewhere other than in those over-crowded conditions. My father continued to have a cat in the house long after I Ieft home.

Dad says that it so crushed him to see his cat pass away a few years ago that he’s not interested in ever getting another. Too hard, he says. His last little pet used to come out mostly when no one else was around and sit on his lap while he read in his big chair. If ma was in the room, then it would sit between my mother and father, keeping an exact space within an inch of the halfway mark of each of them. It was as if it was intentionally reassuring them, showing no favouritism, both having earned its love, or whatever it is that cats offer us.

I’ve had a few pets myself over the years. I used to keep a couple of Afghan Hounds around when I was in my late teens or so. Of course, this was back before municipal laws made it mandatory to pick up your dog shit. Those fenced in school yards in the evenings made for a perfect place to let the hounds out.

Later I learned a pretty neat trick for avoiding responsibility for the care and maintenance of a dog. I’ve had three major relationships in my life. And each of these women wanted to get a “puppy” to fulfill some kind of maternal need. Of course, to a young man, a dog is better than a baby. It’s hands down a better option.

Truth is, it was my experience with the hounds early in my twenties that made me realize a few things about pets in general. They become part of your little “family” and can no more be abandoned than a sibling or child. You have to look after the suckers. That means if you want to go somewhere, they either have to come too, or you are not going. Not everyone appreciates you bringing your oversized semi-guard dog to their homes.

I suppose it’s kind of like a farmer with horses or a milking cow. That horse has to be walked or ridden daily. Twice a day, that darn cow has to be milked come hell or high water. Dogs are a bit like that with the whole walking bit, aren’t they? Only now you have to pick up the dog shit too.

There’s something about being trained by a dog to wait behind it with a little bag until it is done its business, then feeling its soft poop through the thin walls of the plastic as you gather its offering. It stinks too. Fresh excrement is like that. And while you do it, the dog either looks at you puzzled or just goes off to the next bush or clean patch of lawn to repeat itself. I remember feeling taken for granted on the odd occasion where I’ve had to do this. Conformity costs.

Afterwards, you follow the dog home while carrying a bag of shit. Even today, driving down the road, sometimes I spot a big dog with their owner following. The misnamed master carries the required bag and it reminds me of the bull balls ornament you see some guys tie to their trailer hitch on the back of their pick-up trucks. There’s no nice image that justifies this or makes it any better. You’re still carrying a bag of shit while your dog frolics along. The owners never look happy to me. If you look at them too long, they stare back defiantly.

Over the years I learned to give in to the various gals I was with when the puppy call came. I’d first act reluctant, making it was known that I was not interested in pets. They were all the pet I needed, I’d tease. Been there, done that, I might say.
Once my position was clear, predictably we’d move to the next phase.

This is where persuasion comes in. Of course, I’m no match for a determined woman in that circumstance so it was to my advantage to realize that I was arguing a foregone conclusion. If I was losing the battle anyway, getting the best possible terms while the getting was good was my drop back position. It was a pattern oft-repeated during my years with dogs.

Oh, we’d get the dog alright. But not until it was understood and agreed to that I was not its owner, would not walk it, would not feed it, would not bathe it and certainly would not be picking up shit after it like some feminized male walking a poodle for his dame.

Now you might have a poodle, or you might be happy to walk your gal’s poodle and pick up after it on her behalf. I wasn’t. It’s just me, no reflection on you. And it was under this clear understanding that in all three of my major cohabitating relationships, we got dogs. But not big dogs, mind you, small dogs.

I once knew a fella who was a notorious gangster in what’s known as the Irish Mob here in Canada. He had a small dog too. Despite this apparent incongruence in his otherwise outward appearance and reputation as a tough and masculine male, I think it was a Shih Tzu or similar sized dog he preferred. I once asked him, “George, why the small dog?” To which he answered, “Little dogs need protection too.” Of course, in that moment the answer struck me as obvious: a dog wasn’t going to protect George; he was going to protect the dog.

After my experiences with the Afghan Hounds, I realized that large dogs as actual guards have limited value. Once I gave my second dog to a friend who didn’t have one. His place was broken into and the thieves simply piped the dog over the head and proceeded to empty him out. It left him with a large vet bill and a dog with one prominent canine tooth cracked in half and missing. Champion Kanishka of Douglas didn’t look much like a champion after that.

No. A dog around the house as protection is not a sure thing. But a dog’s hearing is so good that if you’re looking for an early warning system to give you advanced notice burglars are stalking your place, a dog is the thing. They’re also good about warning you to people innocently walking by minding their own business. And squirrels, they tell you about squirrels on your property, or scampering across hydro lines in sight of the windows. Dogs watch over their domain, like a sentry standing guard against all interlopers at the top of the castle’s walls.

maggie two

So it was that most of my adult life a dog has lived in my home. One other rule I observed: each new relationship, a new breed of dog. Seems only fair, right? What kind of sick guy would manipulate three gals in succession to all get the same darn dogs? It’s deceitful. It’s the kind of thing that happens when someone has three marriages going in three different cities. Eventually, three different widows show up to the funeral. Sooner or later, you’re found out.

No. It would be a picture in an old album that would give me away; or, more likely social media currently. I knew this so it was important for me to keep things on the straight and narrow by ensuring each one of my great loves get a different breed. Luckily, fate never challenged me to the point where one had a preference another had already. It wasn’t like I could suddenly blurt out, “No. That one’s taken!” and not look like a complete idiot. After all, I wanted nothing to do with the whole thing, right? I have to say, I got lucky.

We went from Pekingese to Lhasa Apso to Havanese. All three breeds are similar and reflected their owners to a great extent. I suppose this also reflected my taste in women. The first two gals were blondes and so were their dogs—blond hair, black mask to be more precise. The last one, the Havanese, was all black. Change was due. I suppose. Read into it whatever you like but they were three small dogs bought from certified breeders at full price.

Well, except for the last one, the Havanese. Maggie May. Mel was so grateful we were getting a dog she let me name it. Somewhere, vaguely inside me, I was troubled by this: had I reached the pinnacle of my manipulation? Or was I just fooling myself? Anyway, Maggie was bought from an alternative breeder (read not Canadian Kennel Club) and I talked the lady down from $1500 to $800. Maybe not full price but not chump-change either. It was the exception.

All of them were superb pets and provided my gals with endless enjoyment, grooming, feeding, walking and cuddling them to great satisfaction. Each of them allowed me to rise to the odd occasion and walk a dog on her behalf. Say on a cold wintry night, minus temperatures and snow swirling about. That’s when I’d step up and do the right thing: joint and lighter tucked into my jacket pocket, and walk her dog for her.

The Pekes, as they are known to their owners, snort and snuffle as their pug faces take in air. They walk around with heavy chest pushed out like a diminutive bulldog. It’s pretty hard to not find them endearing. And just as our Pekes were characters, so was their owner. It takes a special person to find the beauty in the ugly. Pekes have it both. All that breeding to achieve their distinctive look takes a toll on the cardiovascular system. Their hearts give out. They die young. I went through two Pekes in that relationship

The Lhasa Apso is a good breed: Smart and loyal little pooches and not at all demanding. They are highly versatile and when their coats are allowed to grow out, a fantastic looking animal. It takes an owner who can dedicate time and effort to grooming to do the dog justice. Luckily, this breed was suited to my wife at the time because she always looked good. I’m pretty sure we had at least two, maybe even three of these dogs during our long relationship.

The Havanese is a Cuban version of a Bichon Frise. The Bichon Frise is normally white and found in the Mediterranean area of France. But in Cuba, it comes in all colours—much like the Cubans themselves. The Havanese is good for herding chickens I’m told. Of the three breeds, this was easily the smartest. It could roll over and play dead. It fetched a toy and laid it at my feet in seconds the very first time I tossed it. You could pretend to shoot it and it would die… for food.

Here’s a question: What’s with the idea that a dog has to sleep at the end of the bed? Can’t you just say no? I have to be honest here, that’s one drawback to my system. If you sleep with someone and they want their dog at the end of the bed, they will simply say, “It will sleep on MY side.” Of course, I have answers to that. Things like: “The dog wakes me up,” or “It hogs my blankets worse than you do.” In the case of the Peke, “The damn thing snores and I’m a light sleeper.”

In my experience, these are good reasons for not having a dog sleep at the end of the bed. Each of them was accepted with sensitivity by my partner, leaving me feeling validated and heard. But even so, the dogs all slept at the end of the bed, interfering with my sleep for decades. The reason for that was the dog just waited until we were asleep, left its own bed, jumped up onto ours and settled in. I know because it woke me up each time. My gal would offer me sympathy when I complained. But no remedy. It was their conspiracy.

But for all its challenges, having a small dog in the house is a joy compared to what happens when we lose one. It’s heartbreaking. Not so much for me, but I feel for my gal each time. In some dark recess of my selfishness, a dog’s death signals release. A good night’s sleep, accidents, barking and vet bills are all welcome benefits of a pet’s demise. A partner’s sadness is not. So I understand a bit about what my father was speaking about. It’s tough stuff.

Our last dog, the smartest one by far and the one I got to name, cost me ten grand in vet bills. I say that as an aside because the real challenge was when I was tasked with putting her down myself. It was something my wife asked me to do while she was at Ronald McDonald House attending to my boy’s life as he spent his first few months at Sick Kids. There she was up every two hours all day and night feeding or pumping breast milk to give our son enough of his mother’s nourishment to survive. It was the least I could do for her.

It is a funny thing how our dogs are so much like their owners. In turn, in my case, it’s a funny thing is about how our wives are often so much like our mothers.

All during the past three years as Mel has dealt with my boy’s health issues, she’s never complained. All the emergency visits to hospital; being awakened almost nightly to attend to him for one reason or another; his eating difficulties so bad that he vomited up almost everything she tried to give him for two years straight, the odd time all over her; and the uncertainty of not knowing if he’d live or die. She was stalwart. She was like my mother.

My mother had ten pregnancies in twelve years, raised nine children, cooking thirty-three meals a day for decades while keeping a house and every one on task following her marching orders. And as soon as she could she went back to her work full-time, putting her nursing background to use first as a medical secretary and later in government for the hydrographic section of Environment Canada. When cancer claimed her finally at age 86, she died on a Friday afternoon surrounded by her nine adult children and husband of sixty-two years by her side holding her hand. My father told me she apologized to him for dying.

Maggie was bleeding out of her ass and could barely walk ten feet.

A lot like her mistress, my missus, and my mother, Mel’s mother in law, the little dog who could do so many tricks never complained. She just tried to carry on, right to the end. She would look at me through her curly black hair and those dark eyes and wait for my signal, at the ready like a good little soldier. She was so accepting of my authority as her pack mate, her alpha and protector.

I can’t say this delicately: the vets offices I called for help in putting her down were assholes. They were condescending, patronizing, contemptuous of my wife’s decision (which I was tasked with carrying out), and disrespectfully obstructionists. I ended up doing it and burying that little dog myself. I fed her steak before she went.

For the last few dogs, I’ve written eulogies. Each has been moving to me and others, cathartic expressions of a cherished being’s impact on all of us. Dogs really are a man’s best friend. I’m a bigger believer now.

This might seem inconsistent of me given I accept little responsibility for the pet’s existence in the first place. Call it maturity perhaps. Or, call it an abatement of testosterone. Maybe it’s just a greater connection to my environment and allowing the bigger picture to speak to me more directly, or through me.

It’s remarkable how often messages from the universe arrive to me in the form of a woman’s voice. I’m not sure I want to understand how that works, though I do. But watching how pained my loved ones are at the demise of a beloved pet provokes in me whatever semblance of poetic licence I can muster to try my best to do some kind of justice to their cause.

My women all loved their pets and I seek to honour their loyalty—especially as the person responsible for providing the animal in the first place. Pets are like family, and no restricted involvement rules set at the outset protects one from this eventuality. If I was a reluctant owner, the dogs made me their alpha because they recognize a deeper natural order that exists far beyond my self-interest.

Recently I moved to a 200 acre spread a few miles outside town, 20 minutes from my father’s place. Not everyone gets to be near their parents as they fade so I feel very grateful to be here. It’s also a great place to grow kids.

It’s mostly bush, very little land is cleared for agricultural use. That means the forest is steps from our back door. There are plenty of coyotes around, and we’ve seen fishers and foxes. Add to that my wife wants chickens. This is what happens you see: you give a gal a couple of kids and they want chickens. Can you imagine poultry in such circumstances without a dog to stand guard over the flock? Seems to me that is almost obligatory conditions for dog-ownership.

I imagine any day now I’ll be writing to announce how my wife and two kids have a new dog. It could happen.

Meanwhile, next time I’ll tell you how we now have not one, but two cats.

Yeah, you read that right. Not winning here. Not winning at all.

 

charlie and sketch

 

miss molly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©ckwallace September, 2016. all rights reserved.

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Vote Trump: many people will die

handy model

 

First off, blame the bankers. Several hundred years ago one European kingdom went to the banking system to fund a war against a neighbour. Soon, all Europe did the same. It wasn’t long before realms began to accept banker’s paper money as payment for taxes. That changed everything.

Since then, banks have used interest to create scarcity and competition.

It no longer is about growing up amongst your people, living in large and small ways, affecting your culture with whatever legacy your talents allow, knowing your brethren exist in you during your time here just as you existed in them, and that it will always be so down through the ages. No. Now, you are forgotten, lost like a molecule of protein powder blended into a morning smoothie.

What about Hirsi Ali memorizing 900 years of her Somali ancestors? Meaningless: all gone.

What about the idea which brought comfort to our forefathers of a life in the hereafter? It has been obscured by science and the incremental demands imposed by a system hell-bent on using every possible resource to live today in service, or worship, of money.

We don’t pray anymore; instead, we use Emotional Freedom Techniques and… tap.

Will we get ours? Our share? It is THE question, with a person’s success or failure judged by whether they have met some measure of this in a system, coincidentally, gamed to accrue benefit to the top 20%: the elites. It’s rigged you see. Rigged. What, they’ll say, you weren’t an elite? And why not???

Our tribes are lost and scattered. Economies demand a growth rate of two percent per year at a minimum. Each time you make interest money someone else loses the same amount. It’s zero sum, that advantage is borne on the backs of our brothers and sisters… somewhere. Fewer corporations own larger and larger slices of the economy as they gobble up rivals. Barriers to trade are smashed down behind closed doors at the behest of the controlling oligarchs.

And you and I become mere… externalities.

Princeton’s Gilens and Page showed more than a decade ago the average American vote is meaningless unless it happens to coincide with elite desires (read corporations). Imagine that? Get this straight: The only time your vote counts is if it’s coincidental to what the corporations want. Straight up.

Then, Safa Motesharrei’ s HANDY model showed we are doomed in the next few hundred years (estimated at 300-400 years). That’s his graphic up top. There are always those who will take a piece like that and call it faulty science. Of course, the elites pay them. Look around for yourself: Just how IS Mother Earth doing?

Go back to your city of origin after living away for 30 years (as I recently did) and tell me what the trend is; tell me what it looks like now compared to before. I bet it’s growth at all costs: Quaint pastural scenes at the outskirts now filled with urban sprawl.

Scientism is a form of magical thinking. It’s the, “we’ll think of something, science will save us” mentality. Not likely: too many people, not enough resources to sustain growth, too wide a gap between rich and poor, and less power in the ordinary citizen’s hands.

And antipathy: No motivation, not enough pain.

Moving to the stars is not possible. It’s just too great a feat and there are no candidates within fathomable distance. None within range with even 300 years in which to make headway on space travel and all the rest this entails. That’s how far away the rest of the universe is.

Disposable earth? Nope. Not an option.

And the elites, those top 20% will never permit change because that would mean giving up their advantageous positions. Don’t be fooled by Bill Gates donating his fortune one day, or enlisting Buffet to follow suit. Noble gestures to be sure, but no cure for our ailments (no pun intended given the Gates Foundation’s work on diseases across the world).

The real controllers of the world economy will never agree to a redistribution of wealth, a slowing of growth, or the decisions necessary to preserve our environment. It won’t happen.

The way I see it, despite the economists’ fancy calculations and the books in my library about world money and affairs-—replete with lovely glossaries so the jargon is crystal clear—the math they turn away from, in what I can only call hubris…is the simplest addition.

Even 2% per year adds up to a lot of growth over enough time. Say… 350 years.

We’re in a bind. So if I was you, and I sought to be free and happy, I say just make a decision.

Decide to be happy in every moment and fulfilled or unfulfilled in each day. Because all you have is that: dominion over your thinking, feelings and behaviour. It’s all any of us control—and only in part as it is a given that we feel first, and then rationalize. Embrace Nietzsche’s Amor Fati like there is no tomorrow, because there may not be one.

Note: if you’re a determinist, even that modicum of control is illusory.

Then get back on your economic treadmill and start running like a good little hamster. Like a caged hamster, you’ll look like you’re having fun. You’ve seen those right? Happy little suckers aren’t they?

One more thing, a very remote one but a possibility:

Given the current US campaign idiocy, there’s a real chance that Trump is good pals with Bill and Hillary and promised them the presidency at that wedding they all attended a while back. “If I run, you’ll win, I promise you,” is the kind of sinister possibility we’ve unfortunately become inured to in this era. Too crazy to consider? OK, then how about this:

There’s hope in this morass: Help get Trump elected.

He’ll screw things up so badly that surely it will be a CATASTROPHE. Many may die, there’s no two ways about it. They’d be future heroes from where I sit. But it has to happen.

It could just be the catalyst needed to get the kind of numbers of people involved in overthrowing the system. If we hurt bad enough I could see taking this monster we call capitalism and scaling it back, with all its consumerism and deceit to boot. You’ve heard the wisdom: sometimes things need to get worse before they get better. In this case, much worse.

He could be our only hope. Trump could be this generation’s dictator… or something.  We’ve come that far. Unwittingly, he could fall right into Chris Hedges’ hands and deliver a full Wages of Rebellion which might soon spread around the world.

So now that I’ve cheered you up. Carry on.

Make America Great Again…

©ckwallace, 2016 all rights reserved.

Contact me here:https://ckwallace.wufoo.com/forms/zwjcdyn11scnz4/
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  • The HANDY model grapic up top is from: Methodological and Ideological Options Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies Safa Motesharrei a, ⁎, Jorge Rivas b , Eugenia Kalnay
  •  Oligarchy conclusions are from: Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens
    Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page
  • INFIDEL, by Hirsi Ali, Free Press, 2007
  • Banking system comments are based on wide readings but one you’ll be interested in is: Rethinking Money: New currencies turn scarcity into prosperity, by Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Damme, Kindle version
  • Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer prize winning author and reporter who writes for Truthdig. He calls for an overhaul of the system and goes into great depth in his book, Wages of Rebellion, of how the corporate state is running things to the detriment of mankind.

ATOMIC LOVE

wally's engagement poem to Mel

 
It was exactly 3 years ago today that I laid the atomic love on Melissa while she was nine months pregnant. We’ve been connected in atomic love for ten years, but that’s when I wrote her those words.
 
It was in front of 100 family members and friends during a post-double-nuptial reception clan BBQ for two of my brothers at one of Ottawa’s most scenic and historically significant sites.
 
This morning, I asked Mel about it and suggested we plan a wedding.
 
She answered saying it’s no longer the style to get married as people once did. Her sister has no plans to marry despite having a son with her man. Her other sister remains unmarried despite my advertising her virtues to promising suitors over Facebook and elsewhere (don’t worry, she won’t last. The good ones never do)..
 
I noticed while she said what she said this morning, she had also shared my poetic proposal on her wall earlier in the day. Thank goodness for social media. I may be a romantic… but I’m also just a man.
 
Of course, she accepted my proposal at the time because, well, really, who can refuse atomic love?
 
It’s the only kind I know after finally getting this whole love thing in middle age. As I like to say, find it early, find it late, but you must find love.
 
So why not atomic love? The kind that leaves you entwined with one another… as if it’s an impossibility of physics to be apart. This is my kind of love. This is the love I know with my Melissa.
 
Any of you who know me well also realize there is plenty of lust. In fact, I focus mostly on lust, while atomic love just happens.
 
So…what to do? Ha! Knowing what I do about women after all these years, I’ve got this.
 
As her knight in shining armour, as the man who chose her, who made her my woman those ten years ago, I must take her.
 
Even if it means I must double this buxom wench over my shoulder and carry her to an altar to stand before a priest, then it’s what I’ll do.
 
There I’ll declare my intention to continue to lust after her forever, and with physical fervor of and intensity of spirit, provide her with all I’ve got, with atomic love.
 
Little Howie is now eating solid food for the first time in his short life and putting on weight. He’s sleeping soundly after Mel insisted on a sleep study that revealed apnea so severe he was bumped to the top of the list for adenoids and tonsil removal. His Eustachian tubes must have been affected because within a week or so he picked up another fifty words. He can hear now. He’s a boy, a charmer, smart; his father’s son.
 
Charlotte is my delightful daughter, now five. She’s magic and I am hopelessly smitten… just as they warned me would happen. She teaches me something new every day.
 
They will be flower girl and ring bearer.
 
We sold our Cobourg house overlooking Lake Ontario in the early part of the year. Despite the spectacular view and wonderful neighbours, it no longer suited us. Missus said, sell, she wanted a big yard for her children, and for chickens. Seemed like a natural progression to me so we moved.
 
While she was in Toronto with the children attending to medical needs for our boy, I got her two hundred acres just south of Ottawa. It is twenty minutes from my aging father’s place. Not all of us get to be there for our parents in their later years. I’m feeling very grateful.
 
I am among clan and many friends, some of whom go back 40 years. Business is rebuilding nicely. Life is very good and getting better. I think the time is approaching when the missus can relax and make this official.
 
So, stay tuned, there’ll be a wedding in 2017.
 
True and Free!
lowrescoa

© ckwallace, 2016, all rights reserved

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Should men understand women?

 

wildwoman

Come on, this is a fantastic graphic. It’s worth the whole post.

 

As men, should we understand women?

Some trip over themselves to answer yes. It’s plain that women can do pretty much anything a man can do outside biology, why wouldn’t we strive to understand them?

Others will tell you to forget trying the impossible. Perhaps you’ll see that as a challenge. Some will say we are not supposed to understand women.

My dearest father once told me the same thing. He is now 87 years of age, patriarch to a large clan, with nine adult children still around after his wife of 62 years passed in late 2014. He has four daughters, and he was brought up mostly by his mother and three older sisters. Dad might know about women, I thought.

So, it was probably at least three decades or more ago now when I asked my father about this whole understanding women thing. It was a time when I clearly didn’t, my inadequacy tormenting my days with distraction. He answered matter of fact like, as if he was pointing out something obvious: how I had it “all wrong, all along.”

He said: “We’re not supposed to.”

That was it. Nothing more. End of discussion. Subject changed.

Really? Gees, I felt so dumb for a minute.

Then it dawned on me: what a relief that was!

I didn’t have to keep checking myself as if I was learning advanced mathematics with a brain for languages. No. It meant that in those few words I was done with the task. It wasn’t my job. It was something for the heavens, or the universe; it was for Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom.

Since that very moment, I began to notice NOT how my gal and I were the same, rather, how different we were, especially when at odds over something. In those cases, I’d examine my motivations, and guess at hers. I realized I had pretty good intentions most of the time. If I gave her the same latitude, so did she.

Over many years I examined the gender studies for divergences at a time when this was frowned upon by some. Like my own social sciences lab, I also observed the teams I ran–mostly young teenagers and young adults selling for me in various ventures door to door and at kiosks. About half were male, half female. There were clear gender variations that emerged consistently.

And in time, I began to understand women a little more. There were wide variations in individuals of course, but nevertheless, consistent distinctions. It was as if the very notion of letting go of the “should understand” rule allowed room for something else: appreciation.

Now, I think I get it. I admit it might have taken decades and an abatement of testosterone. It is what it is. As much as I can: I now get women… to a point. Not more because it will never be my default way of seeing the world.

It takes a double take, a little effort, some reflection and even more acceptance; indeed, I can bridge the gap if one presents. Starting with the notion way back that I’m not supposed to understand now makes understanding in any amount a bit of a gift.

There’s the challenge.

Want to know the secret to fishing? It’s simple: fish where the fish are.

If they’re hungry, they’ll eventually bite something you throw at them.

When I first began to walk the rivers of British Columbia, rod in hand, I cast a lot of gear into unproductive waters. But when I began to recognize tail outs, structure, currents and pools and the seasons of a species’ life-cycle, I couldn’t keep them off my hook. After all, the fish live beneath the surface, where we can’t see. We must surmise our approach based on their needs. It took a fair bit of fishing to get to that point.

Like looking for clues to game, there are sign. Walk a trail with an experienced hunter and notice the difference between what you see and what they see. Similarly, it is knowledge that enhances a trapper’s success, and that comes with experience.

So it is with women. Subtleties I missed many years ago now present as clear signals. It’s not so much that I reject my father’s advice; it’s just that I’m challenged by it. It’s what sparked my quest, albeit abdicating perfection in the process.

The prize is peace; it is more love perhaps, lust certainly.

There is more. Recognizing that I’m not supposed to understand someone else frees me to reach new levels of tolerance. After all, can we really truly understand anyone completely?  By bridging discrepancy between us with acknowledgement for our differences, it’s my life that is enhanced by friendship and connection. This is generally true for both of us, regardless of gender.

I think that’s what my father was trying to teach me, both by way of his example and his brief counsel.

Acceptance and Appreciation.

Fritz Perls may have been on to something when he wrote his prayer:
I do my thing and you do your thing

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations

And you are not in this world to live up to mine

You are you, and I am I

And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful

If not, it can’t be helped.

 

I believe my father was trying to tell me that by letting go, I would gain.

He was a naval commander at the time and I suppose for him it was no retreat; it was more of a way to regroup. Soldiers learn quickly how to pick their battles. It’s certainly been true since. Using the guiding principles of acceptance and appreciation, his wisdom has been a gift.

It also frees me to say that I’m a man and I won’t apologize for it.

Bet your bottom dollar on that one. 😉

 

©CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.

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Emboldened woman!

 

IMG_20160414_170555_edit

Mel’s in the grocery store, Howie wakes up in his car seat sweating and pissed off.

I do what any good father does: I unbuckle him, put him on my lap and proceed to give him basic steering lessons in my truck.

It’s dusk, foggy, and nary a soul around in this sleepy town. We looped around and around, watching for his ma to come out.

Suddenly, a large woman, shaped like a battle ax my father would say, steps in front of my truck, motioning me to stop. As I lower my window to inquire as to what she wants, she holds her hand up signaling incredulity. With exasperation in her voice she demands: “what do you think you’re doing?”

“Well, I’m teaching my boy to drive,” I answer.

Howie, having done ten or fifteen laps of the parking lot by now, getting better at it each time, looks on with pride. I can’t say for sure, but he might have been expecting a compliment.

“Teaching him to drive? It’s unsafe!” she admonishes.”And that’s illegal!!”

“Oh come on lady. He’s with his father. It’s the safest place in the world for him.”

“You can’t do that!!” was her answer. And, with increasing frustration, she became angry: “It’s against the law!” she shrieked.

I wanted to say something clever. I really wanted to push her over the edge and tell her off. I wished I had the presence of mind to tell her to know her place around a boy and his father. Instead, all I could do was say: “Lady, frig off.”

I guess I’d had a long day too.

Then Howie drove away. Funny how the kid–at two and half–knew how to do that at just the right moment. All we could hear was her loudly repeating my plate number over and over as we pulled away…

So…the cops just left my place.

I responded to a knock on the door and insisted the constable come in. He asked me if I’d had someone accost me in the Metro parking lot. “Indeed I did,” I told him.

“Was your boy on your lap, driving around in your truck? I don’t have to tell you about how potentially unsafe that is, do I?”

“Of course not, you don’t have to tell me that at all, officer,” was my reply. “But here’s what you do: Ask Howie yourself if he was driving”, I said, straight-faced, as I pointed to my little boy watching Bo on the Go nearby.

He asked: “So were you driving?” Howie said nothing. Solid kid.

I said to the cop, “I’m not saying anything like that happened but if a guy happened to be waiting for his missus in the grocery store and one of his kids was crying in the truck because it was past bedtime, wouldn’t it be smart of that father to let his kid practice steering in a practically empty parking lot to keep them distracted? After all, it’s on private property and traffic laws don’t apply right?”

“Just saying,” I added.

“You’re right,” he answered. “Private property, regular road rules don’t apply.” He turns to leave.

“Sorry she got you here, wasting your time,” I said.

“No problem,” he replied with a wave as he walked away, “always nice to see you again Mr Wallace.”

“Goodnight officer.”

©ckwallace, 2016, all rights reserved

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Cobourg-20110902-00187

That’s my Charlotte slapping the cuffs on officer Cindy’s heart a few years the day we moved in…

 

Hi, it’s Caroline calling from Revenue Canada

11254734_10153093738636456_3474854564437169027_n

Hi, it’s Caroline calling from Revenue Canada.

 Great! I’m so glad you called Caroline. It’s really wonderful.
 
Well. Thank you Mr. Wallace, that’s not our usual reaction. 
 
I don’t know why Caroline, I love it when Revenue Canada calls.
 
Well I’m calling about your latest HST returns. 
 
Yes you are! Isn’t it great! I’m all up to date!! 
 
I see you just filed recently; I’m calling about your last quarter 2015. 
 
Yes. Of course you are. I suppose you wouldn’t know this, but my mother’s name was Caroline. I’m in the middle of eleven, four sisters and four brothers. Of her four daughters, my mother’s closest was my younger sister, also named Caroline. She took care of our mother in her last years. Yes. Ma passed a year ago in December. She was surrounded by her nine adult children. Her husband of sixty two years, my father Howard, whispered sweet reassurances to her until her last breath. Lived until age 86 and loved dearly right to the end. By the way, I assume you’re calling because I filed so many returns and put in for a large amount of input tax credits on that last one, right? 
 
Yes, Mr. Wallace, it’s been flagged by our system. 
 
Makes sense, that’s because I sent in several years’ worth of input tax credits on that one return. You’ll notice that the previous ones had none. I’m ready for your audit. I have it all laid out for you. When would you like to stop by? 
 
No. No. Mr. Wallace, we haven’t decided if an audit is necessary yet. 
 
But, Caroline. I insist. And call me Christopher. I love it when you guys come by. It’s always a learning experience for both of us: good conversation and we take care of business. I usually find some things I forgot to claim too. I’ll set aside a whole day. How about next week? Would that do for you? Will you come personally? You sound nice and I’d love to meet another Caroline. 
 
No. No Mr. Wallace, like I said, an audit hasn’t been ordered. 
 
Please, call me Christopher. You know, I almost named my daughter Caroline. I lost that battle I’m afraid. She insisted on Charlotte; that’s a pretty nice name too. It was our first child together. It was the least I could do. Missus was heroic during the pregnancy and 18 hours of labour. There was blood everywhere and she’s so tiny. She deserved to name her. I call my little girl Charlie.
 
Laughing: Yes, that is a nice name, Christopher.
 
Thanks. You never know though, we could have another. Well, actually, we did, only it was a boy. If you come by, she’ll tell you it was a mistake, but, I only believe that so far. In any case, my father had five sons Caroline, and none of us named a boy after him. So when I got this little guy in my life, I named him after my father. Little Howie, we call him. He’s a real delight, now two and a half.
 
That’s great Christopher. 
 
Although, there’s still a chance we could have a Caroline. Don’t give up! You just never know. The missus says no, flat out, no way. In fact, she wants me to go under the knife–if you know what I mean. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. I mean, seems pretty drastic. What do you think? Another Caroline would be great eh? 
 
Laughing: Well yes, I suppose that would be good too, Mr. Wallace. 
 
Then again, we could have a boy, Caroline. Then I’d really be in trouble. I have no plans for another boy’s name. It seems so vain to name him after myself, you know what I mean? 
 
Ha! I’m sure you’ll come up with something if that happens Mr. Wallace. 
 
Yes, I don’t even want to think of the wife’s reaction if I knock her up again. I’m not getting any younger you know. Well, that’s too bad you’re not stopping by, Caroline. I really made sure to have things perfectly in order to make it as easy as possible for you. Are you sure you couldn’t? I have a big conference table and chairs where you can go over three or so years of receipts. I’ll serve coffee too! 
 
No. No. Mr. Wallace. Could you just send us a sample of the expenses, like maybe the five largest ones? 
 
Well, I suppose. I mean, most of my receipts are for pretty small stuff. I have one vehicle that’s dedicated to business. Unfortunately, I was in newspapers sales and creative destruction has killed off my niche so I’m moving on as of this week. 
 
Oh, that’s too bad Mr. Wallace. I know. Newspapers are all on-line now. Print is less in demand. 
 
Yes, that’s right Caroline. It’s the end of an era. To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings about it. I spent 14 years flogging newspapers across Canada. At one time, I had more than a 150 reps working for us, ten managers, a dozen newspaper clients and seven regular account offices. I’m bittersweet about leaving. 
 
It must be terrible Christopher. I hope you find something else that works for you. 
 
I will Caroline. And when I do, I’ll make sure to keep proper records in case you want to come by. When I think of it, there was a couple of transmissions put into that vehicle, those are pretty big bills. Will those do? I mean, what can do to make your job easier today? If you won’t come by for an audit, how can I help you? 
 
Mr. Wallace, how about I send you a letter asking for the five largest expenses and a sample of one of your month’s expenses. Send me that and we should be good. 
 
Caroline, that doesn’t seem like much. Are you sure I can’t do more? 
 
Laughing: No Mr. Wallace, that should be fine. I’ll send out a letter today. 
 
OK. Gees, I was sitting here pen and paper in hand ready to write whatever you said but if you’ll send me a letter I won’t take notes. Darn efficient of you then Caroline. I’ll look for your letter and I’ll make sure to send off whatever you need by the end of the week. And if you need anything else, you just let me know. Is your contact information going to be in the letter? 
 
No. No. Thank you very much Christopher. You don’t need to do anything. Yes, my contact information will be there too. I’ll put it all in the letter and if you can just do that and we should be good. It was nice speaking with you today. 
 
It was super speaking with you too. Please call anytime. I’m more than happy if you do. Goodbye now.
 
Good bye then. If I need anything, I’ll let you know.  

 

 

©CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.

P.S. If you’d like to learn how to build immediate rapport with anyone you meet, let’s talk.

Valentine’s Day card hack

val card

When Mel and I first started going out, I warned her about me. I told her that I wasn’t as sentimental as some people. I was trying to lower her expectations in advance.

I mentioned that I was fine with her being my gal, that’d I’d be good to her, but that she needed to realize that I wasn’t her. I had my own way of thinking and doing that might clash with her understanding of what it means to be in a relationship. I’m not that focused on little picture things, preferring to get the big picture right. Macro over micro, with compromises between.

Specifically, I told her that when it comes to things like birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and the like, I might forget them completely. It wasn’t that I meant to be an asshole about it, it’s just that these things don’t register with me as important. Even if they mean something to her, which I realize and respect, I could still not remember. I set the boundary early: she shouldn’t measure my love for her looking for cards and gifts at “just the right moment” to confirm her worth in my eyes. I’ll do that every day; watch me.

I could care less about my birthday; who needs to be reminded that they’re getting older? To me, birthdays are risky: maybe one year she’ll be happy to be a year older and the next she’ll break down weeping. Who knows? Anniversaries raise troubling questions: do you use the day you met, the first time you did it, the first time exclusivity is discussed? These have the possibility of misunderstanding built into them. Marriage might exist just so there’ll be an exact date us men can focus on; one day per year that we can mark off the calendar to throw a cheeseburger into her and tell her she’s loved (ok, I was conjuring Dice Clay a bit there, not necessary at all).

Anyway, I was a little concerned about letting my gal down. I also wanted to get it right. So after telling her all this, I asked her how she felt about it; was there something we could do?

She thought for a moment, looking pensive in that delightful way she does, eyes averted to one side, looking down a bit, clearly searching her feelings for an answer.

“Ok. I get it,” she told me. You can imagine my relief and surprise at that. Was I off the hook? There had to be more. Then she added:

“Here’s what you’re going to do: go into a card shop. Do it now, today if you can. When you’re there, spend a little time and pick out cards that have some meaning that cover all the important dates: Valentine’s, anniversary, my birthday, and whatever else you think of. Buy a bunch of them; get yourself a whole supply. These, you’ll bring home and you’ll keep somewhere. And when those days arrive, and you realize in the middle of the night, or the morning of, that you’ve forgotten completely something that’s important to me, you will go and retrieve one of your cards, fill it out nicely the way you do, and leave it on the table in the kitchen for me.”

“Will that work?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Sure it will,” she answered. “I know you won’t do it on purpose but those things are important to a girl. If you could make that one little effort, it would mean the world to me. Even though I will know the card came from your stash, I’ll overlook that and feel loved and appreciated in the moment.”

“Really” I asked? “Really,” she answered.

Well… this was amazing, I thought to myself. What a brilliant solution. Here was a way to satisfy her and me at the same time. This was the kind of innovation I was looking for in a relationship!

So that’s what I did. Off I went to the card shop and bought a whole supply of cards. I also realized at the time that I was being hypnotized into a longer term commitment. As I picked out and reviewed card after card for every occasion, with their pithy comments and warm sappy sentiments, I let go of my reservations. I felt much closer to her than before.

I’m not big on searching for love. I think lust is a far better measure of compatibility, especially at the beginning. Lust is what makes us hunger for each other; it’s the private ideal between us that makes for a life together without secrets, a life of acceptance and tolerance.

This card strategy became a representation for what we were capable of as a couple. It was a symbol of our love. It’s also such a sweet encouragement for me as a man that most times I haven’t had to resort to the blank card file I keep in my filing cabinet. I tend to remember these special occasions because they are wrapped emotionally in understanding and empathy for each other. What a gift Melissa has been to my life.

Then I knocked her up. Sure enough, I hadn’t planned on that. I remembered her birthday in early February, and was righteously there for her on Valentines. But with Charlotte arriving in April, life was being lived more on the fly, with new adaptations required beyond my normal scope. I was fine with that, and happy that this motherhood thing was mostly her department.

So it was that I sat there discussing what I should do for my ageing mother on Mother’s Day. Ma was in her eighties by then. She’d raised nine kids to adulthood, after having ten pregnancies in twelve years. Should I send flowers? Visit personally? Get her a card?

Of course, I forgot all about that it was Mel’s first Mother’s Day too. No card for her. Oops!

She was mother of my little girl, whom I’d lived with all through her pregnancy and the miscarriage that preceded it; whom I’d watched deliver our child after an eighteen hour labour that culminated with a heroic and bloody birth. I’d completely left her out. What a jerk.

I suppose you could say I warned her. After all, no one told me that I should go out and get Mother’s Day cards and add those to my stash. Yes, it seems obvious, but… apparently it wasn’t that obvious to me.

She got over it. I somehow made amends, made unnecessary when she realized that you acknowledge your own mother on mother’s day, and less that your gal is a mother. She’d have to wait until her child sent her cards in the years ahead, she reasoned. But I was happy to make sure her future Mother’s Days are significant. You can also bet your bottom dollar that I went out and bought more damn cards and added them to my stash. I’m not taking a chance at getting fooled twice.

So here we are, almost ten years in. We have two kids now: my little girl Charlotte who will turn five this spring, and Howard, our two year old boy whom I named after my father. Things are going great. There are thirty years between us and our love life is as good as it was when we met. If anything, it’s better. Ask me how.

I’ve returned to my counselling/coaching profession over the past few years, something I prefer to do on a limited basis. No more than six or eight clients at a time. I also keep my hand in sales as an energy consultant. Mel and I just sold our house by the lake in the small Ontario town where we live. We are looking for an acreage in the county where we can keep a hobby farm and let our kids roam free in the fresh air. I know: you give a gal a couple of kids and now she wants chickens. It’s OK: I’m fifty-eight; I want to see the stars at night when I go outside.

This weekend, it’s been minus 22 Celsius (-4 F) and so we didn’t leave the house much. Our boy is recovering from a hospital visit Friday night and got pretty sick yesterday and through the night. We are sticking pretty close to home. This morning I got up and realized that I hadn’t got Mel anything for Valentine’s Day.

In the old days, I might have probed by asking if she’d like me to go get her something. Ha! What a bullshit that ploy was! I know better now to believe a woman when they say they don’t need anything on an occasion. No. That’s a trap. Guys generally don’t give a shit about sentimental stuff like Valentine’s and Mother’s Day and birthdays and anniversaries. Most women do; that’s just the reality of the situation. It’s not like it’s some kind of test of love, but in so many ways, it is.

I’m lucky that my gal walked me through this those years ago. Just as I prepared her to accept me, she countered with an offer to accept her. We settled… and I have a file of cards ready.

This morning, I went down into the basement where I currently keep my filing cabinets and searched my stash. I did a quick inventory of what remains and found the perfect card to present to Melissa. I filled it out, writing, “You…and only you,” with such a profound sense of gratitude for the way she’s been in my life. I’m a very lucky man.

And how did I sign it? Love and lust, Christopher.

She loved it.

© CKWallace, 2016. all rights reserved.

P.S. Need more relationship hacks? Contact me here and we’ll talk

 

Mels ultrasound

According to Facebook, here’s a picture of Mel waiting for an ultrasound taken exactly five years ago today, just before Charlotte was born. What a beautiful woman.

My Newspaper Finale

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I’m not sure why it is that the papers in Canada haven’t done more to survive. Clearly, they have things on their minds other than paid circulation—which is where I have worked for the last fourteen years. From a societal viewpoint, it’s already tragic that newspaper ownership has been allowed to concentrate in Canada the way it has, let alone what that means for those who operate as their vendors.

 Very few people will read this, even fewer will care. So many started their working careers selling or delivering newspapers that it’s worth a mention. It’s the passing of an era.

I’ve heard there are partially publicly funded newspapers in some Scandinavian countries. I’m told these seem to be working well enough, with sufficient legislation keeping the government’s nose out of editorial to allow the fundamental role newspapers play in their societies to continue. Unfortunately, Canada is so close to the US in ideology—with its reliance on letting the marketplace decide the viability of a product no matter its importance—which means it’s doubtful that we’d ever consider moving to that kind of model.

A malevolent stew of ingredients has been slow-cooking this part of the information sector for some time. These include the aforementioned ownership issue, in Canada an almost laughable consequence of precedence.

Detractors like to mention hubris, citing things like decisions made in the 90s to sell yesterday’s news. Though I wasn’t yet working as a full time vendor, having read at least one daily most days of my life, I remember at the time this was pivotal. It signaled something almost ungrateful, something that disconnected people emotionally from newspapers. As far as many were concerned, it was seen as breaking a pact with the public; we no longer shared the same-day news value.

It also was part of what left newspapers open to being beat in the marketplace by faster and more efficient assemblers of information. First Craigslist and later Kijiji obliterated their once great stranglehold on the classified ad, and then a plethora of online news products offering free content watered down the once mighty status of newspapers of all stripes.

The tradition of newspaper ownership insisting on using their platform to sway public opinion by backing favoured candidates during elections has also undermined credibility with a public that expects at least a modicum of neutrality on issues. That’s what customers tell me. I know this because my reps have been knocking on doors across Canada for more than a decade, and people tell us what they want or don’t want, but especially what they don’t.

I know. Editorial stance has a long tradition. I’m saying it was a bad one.

The list of gripes goes on. We weren’t swayed. Trust me when I say as vendors we developed a keen answer to every objection over the years. Despite all this, newspapers are still valued by a segment of the population. However, what I read is that when the market is allowed to determine the true value for newspaper products, the natural price falls to zero. That leaves us in a difficult position. At least in Canada, we have an economically worthless product that commands only a tiny fraction of the loyalty required from the general public to survive.

Speaking of which, I’ve been asking about loyalty programs since before 2009. I’ve talked with every circulation manager from Alberta to Ontario, and got a polite audience each time from well-intentioned folks hamstrung by decisions being made under an increasingly centralized chain of command. Any financial inducement to new subscribers by our sales teams has to be built into the price, making it far more than what your average consumer will pay. I’ve asked about using premiums from local advertisers to provide additional value to the print reader. We saw a short-lived sprinkling of green/organic trial coupons tried in Calgary and it worked very well, boosting sales; Edmonton did even less, and the other markets even less than that.

As soon as the Ipad came out, many predicted the newspaper’s days were numbered. Sure enough, half a dozen years later almost half of Canadian households have at least one. The drop in advertising post-2008-9 recession, the severity of of which had not been seen in more than half a century, ensured the print news at least, if not the whole sector, was in deep trouble.

 

The one day per week print paper might still have appeal, or a bundled print/digital product that came at a very low subscription rate. We’d need to get paid a good rate as vendors for both a weekend order and/or digital edition to survive. The Canadian newspapers responded by cutting our deal for one day orders even more. It seemed at the time as if they were petulantly insisting we give them what they want, or nothing, regardless of what the market demanded. I prefer to think it was just that they didn’t believe they had the money.

That first Christmas when tablets appeared, I picked up two of the first generation Ipads–one for the missus and one for my top account manager. I felt a little guilty about reading newspapers this way after being a loyal print reader for four decades. It took a couple more years before I picked up a Blackberry Playbook and began to read the free online edition of the National Post. I kept my daily print paper coming to the house until two years ago. Now I read the odd print paper out of nostalgia, if at all.

Because of the natural transition from print to digital occurring everywhere, newspapers didn’t see the benefit of paying much for digital customers at the door or kiosk. There was already a migrating wave of e-edition subscription enrolment as readers got rid of print. Perhaps that was sufficient to convince our newspaper clients they were doing well enough in that area, since they weren’t making much money from that type of subscriber anyway. These were readers they could deliver to practically for free online.

However, it also meant we were showing up at customer’s doors selling a format the reader had already divorced themselves from mentally. Many were grateful not to have to recycle all those newspapers, and the comments above represent just a sampling of the public’s negativity. We found that our reps had to be trained to such a high level that we’d soon lose them to competing jobs. Sales anywhere are trendy—we realize that. There aren’t many bible salesman around anymore either.

Regardless, if our newspaper client’s brand isn’t in front of the consumer in as many ways possible, both in print and digital, then I suppose the risk is we lose them to Google forever. That seems to be the case.

What was a fairly easy impulse buy at five or ten bucks a month for three months just ten years ago, rose to almost thirty per month for a six month deal and is now a commitment of twenty dollars per month, six months minimum. To ask a Canadian to fork over more than a hundred bucks for news they can get for free doesn’t fly, no matter how you dress it up.

For the past few years, we’ve been pushing our Canadian newspaper clients to adopt some of the practices of the US markets in which we still have decent sales, where there was enough competition to encourage different approaches. Bright spots emerged as a result of that collaboration. Cities where we sell a one day order bundled with digital for a very low monthly rate retain at 50% or better a year or more out. That’s pretty good for our business. Whether it’s good enough for everyone isn’t for me to decide. I note other markets are asking for our services south of the border. People seem to be willing to tolerate a one day paper with digital bundled in, if it’s priced inexpensively at five or ten dollars per month.

Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t seem willing or able to go that route, at least not yet. Of course, we can’t keep sales teams in the field while they decide. Just a few years ago, I had more than 150 reps working for up to ten managers in seven cities for up to a dozen newspaper clients. We were good at it because we looked after our people. The papers supported our efforts, and we felt more or less valued. We did our best to represent our newspaper clients with integrity and honour, proud to be part of its great history. However, over time, we’ve lost every manager and a steadily dwindling turnover of reps to the forces of creative destruction and an apathetic client who seems to be in the game for the ride downhill. I’m the last crew man standing in Canada from our company.

I, for one, would have been happy to spend the rest of my days flogging a product I believe in deeply. My grandfather had been a reporter in his youth, and my father got his writing start in Halifax as a cub reporter. Our family had the Le Droit, the Ottawa Citizen and, when it was still around, the Ottawa Journal, delivered to the house as I was growing up. I was a carrier for all three, and even did a stint for the Globe and Mail, rising at 5 am and delivering papers by bike all over the south end of Ottawa. I got my start doing doors selling subscriptions on Saturdays after finishing my route.

Every Canadian city where we once held flourishing accounts have now closed: Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto, all gone. Smaller communities we’d often go into once or twice a year to boost circulation haven’t had crews or kiosk visits for years. Though there was some grumbling in the last few years about our service, and about me personally not being able to deliver, I hold no hard feelings towards anyone who was in the business, or the few of them who remain. I’m not a miracle worker and I did my best. My experience working with dedicated newspaper folks all over Canada has been positive, and I still hold many of them in high regard.

Some have left the business like rats swimming away from a sinking ship; some have nobly disembarked with heads held high… and some have been forced to walk the plank. My best to each one of them.

It is the wonderful reps and managers I worked with over the years that were by far the best part of the job. I know I’ve had an impact on many of them, just as each of them in their own way was able to teach me something. I was also proud to represent our company, rising through the ranks to the top Canadian job. I learned so much from my experiences and a lot of us will stay in touch. Recently, one of my old Vancouver managers told me about his girlfriend’s sister’s husband who worked for me over a decade ago. I don’t really remember him but the name is familiar. He says he remembers many of my motivational speeches, with one thing in particular that has stuck: happiness is a decision. A fitting thought to end on.

So it’s with some regret and misgiving that I won’t be in the business any longer. I wish the whole industry the best of luck as it finds its new low, or morphs into whatever it needs to become to survive. I’ll be pulling for this important guarantor of democracy and free speech from the sidelines.

Last person to leave turns out the lights.

 P.S. Need help with something? Check me out at ckwallace.com or fill out this form and we’ll talk.

 

Christopher K. Wallace

 Senior Vice President, Canada
Circulation Marketing Inc.
© CKWallace 2016, all rights reserved

Anxiety’s riddle

 

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Anxiety and stress are good things. It means your body and mind is working as it should.

I like to tell people who are anxious that they should be thankful for their anxiety because in days of old, they’d be less likely to be eaten by a bear.

It’s also a signal that you care about something. After all, if you didn’t give a hoot, there’d be no reason to feel anxious. You have no vested interest in feeling fearful about something that you have no feelings for.

Anxiety and stress: caring emotion.

There you have it: both can be a good thing, and it means you care. Something has meaning for you. We are meaning-makers: we search for meaning our whole lives. You’ve found some of it.

I wonder if Olympic athletes are fearful before they compete, or if actors feel anxious on opening night? What about those who have to give a speech in public, folks like politicians, academics, even Tony Robbins?

All of them feel it before they go on.

Top performers in every field you can imagine feel nerves and anxiety when they are challenged. I did my best exams in college when I felt my most anxious. Executives in companies and people in everyday life feel it. We all do. There are people right now all over the world feeling anxiety and stress. You are not alone. It happens to everyone.

When you ask people who have excelled at something, you rarely hear “it was nothing, no big deal,” unless they’re bullshitting, or trying to calm themselves.  No. Usually, you hear how they wondered if they’d pull it off. We hear about their fears, their trepidation. They might downplay something, probably so they don’t get a big head, or just to put things into perspective. But almost always, they use determination and perseverance to stick at something despite how awful it might have felt at times.

Determination and perseverance.

It’s like the sapling growing in the forest: when the wind blows it bends deeply, opening tiny cracks in its bark that quickly fill in with new growth. In this way, it thickens until it becomes as solid as the giant oak it was destined to be.

Anxiety and stress can be our wind, there to make us grow.

Here’s where it gets interesting. When we are pushed, we often find a deeper level of creativity or resourcefulness that we can call upon, and we often do things we never thought possible when under stress.

Everyone has heard the story of someone lifting a car off someone trapped underneath after an accident, or braving flames to rescue someone in the nick of time, acting without thinking out of fear. Being scared shitless can make us push back. As a kid, I ran my fastest getting away from that bully that was going to kick my ass; it made me go like the wind. We all have times we can remember where we rose to challenges in an unforeseen way. While such heroics sometimes make the news, all of us have a hero inside us coming up with new ways to overcome obstacles and burdens–often energized by fear.

You can use that stress and anxiety to search and find answers that you perhaps didn’t have before. The discomfort is there to propel you forward into action, often new action. Not to fear it, but, instead, to use it.

Here’s a suggestion: use three Ds to handle anxious thoughts. First detect a fear producing thought. Then detach from it–making no particular judgment about it–just that it’s there. Then detour around it by leaving it to hang and disappear on its own, realizing that you are not your thoughts. You know how as wee kids we blew bubbles?  Thoughts are like bubbles that hang in the air for a moment and then burst. They just come and go; some are useful, some are useless, some are freaky shit. Detect, detach and detour.

I do something similar with my feelings. Allow yourself to feel them as temporary physical sensations, without allowing them to define you. You are not your feelings either. Instead, look to how you can put your body to good use in that moment, in a way that allows you to live truer. How can you take your emotional energy and use it to live what you value, to pursue a goal, to meet your desires?

What if you find yourself with big anxiety? I’ve had that. It’s a bitch. I’d get a big pain right in my chest, in the sternum. First time it happened, I thought I was having a heart attack. Friends took me in to hospital where I got hooked up to all the machines and had blood work done. Old doc, about seventy, came out and told me my gullet was flipping. To me that meant there was something seriously wrong as I imagined some part of my chest tied in a life-threatening knot. I wondered how the heck I did that, and would I need surgery?

Seeing the dumb look on my face, doc tells me, “You’re having an anxiety attack. You can go home now.”

What the…? Anxiety attack? Me? Isn’t that for girls?

I had a bunch of them until I learned how to get control of my body. Another old guy, this time a psychologist-priest I knew, told me to go for a run next time it happens. He said you can’t feel anxious and run at the same time, you’ll fall down if you do. There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other at any speed that alleviates the tension. The deeper breathing helps too. Sure enough, within a few blocks, the tightness in my solar plexus would dissipate.

It worked like a charm. After a few months, I never got them again. That was thirty years ago.

What’s interesting is looking back at those episodes the same principals apply. I used my high anxiety to get moving, first by running off the tension and then to make huge adjustments in my life. I had just given up a ten year heroin and cocaine habit. I had a three year old son we just brought out of hiding after stashing him with relatives for a few months. A bunch of my friends and “co-workers” had been killed or died recently, and even I’d been shot, stabbed and had an arm broken with a bat over the course of a few months. Now I was in school full time studying behavioural sciences and working as a doorman/bartender at night. So my anxiety meant I cared. My stress was there to push me forward.  So is yours.

Anxiety and stress is just part of your energy, a deep wellspring of power you can harness for good. It’s a signal to find a way to live according to your own version of value-based happiness.

And here’s perhaps its greatest gift: It can put you into the zone. That state of flow that represents your best level of confidence.

Confidence isn’t a feeling,  at least not at first. No. Confidence is an action. Its Latin root is con fidere: with trust. Confidence is an act of trust. It’s acting with the highest degree of trust in you. More often than not, it is fear that puts you there.

Here are three ingredients to getting into your zone. But first, here’s what I mean.

I used to play a lot of pool. Snooker, nine ball, you name it. When I was in the zone, there could have been five hundred people watching, twenty-five people watching, or no one watching, it didn’t matter. I’d prowl around the green baize cloth, my eyes focused so intently that I wouldn’t even notice my surroundings, only what was under the lights. Commanding concentration shrank my world down to the size of the 6 x 12 or 4.5 x 9 foot table. The key to pool is controlling the white ball and I’d feel as if I could put it within a quarter inch of anywhere on the table, as if I had it on a string. If my opponent spoke, I wouldn’t acknowledge or hear them beyond what information they could convey that I needed to control the table. Time would seemingly stand still; I’d feel no hunger. And it was fear that would put me there because before every big money game or tournament match, I’d feel anxious to the point of shaking throughout my body.

The first zone ingredient is to master the fundamentals of whatever it is you are involved with. I’d practice twenty hours per week at my pool game, taking on players all over southern Ontario back in the day. I even got coaching from Canada Fats, Tony Lemay.

Second is to focus one hundred percent on the task at hand. At every college or university I attended, I sat in the front of the class and took the best notes possible, completely absorbed in the lessons of the day. That allowed me to excel.

And third, try the impossible. When you allow fear to put you into the deep trance of your zone, calling upon everything you know and have practiced, creative solutions emerge that you never knew existed. I’ve made impossible shots at the table while in my zone. When pro ball players learned to block Michael Jordan’s jump shot, he came up with the fade-away jumper during a game to compensate, sending the ball over defenders to the net. Somehow, acts of confidence are summoned from within flow, often surprising even yourself.

If you can see fear and stress and anxiety as your body’s way of signaling you have extra energy to devote to living according to what you value, suddenly a force that once held you back is replaced by a power that brings out your best efforts.

Before you know it, fear, stress and anxiety is replaced by action and confidence.

What a gift this thing we call fear.

P.S. Have a fear you need help with? See me at ckwallace.com, or  contact me here and we’ll talk

 

cue

 

© CKWallace 2016, all rights reserved

ckwallace.com

photo credit: ckwallace.com

Top: The Acorn Tree. A large white oak that has been growing near my parents home in Heron Park, Ottawa, since long before me.

Bottom:  combination snooker and pool cue. Four shafts, three extensions fit in the custom case. I traveled to Montreal to meet and be measured by Marcel Jacques himself somewhere around 1990. In his day, Marcel was one of the best custom cue makers in the world.

 

 

Mel’s Birthday Relief

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Melissa Davey and I have been together going on ten years. In fact, we are pretty certain it will be ten years this coming summer. She’s a little younger than I am. I remember how we met and found love.

 

I was newly single and living in two cities. I’d been the account manager for Calgary, Alberta and was handed the Vancouver account as well.  To avoid staying in hotels, I kept a duplex in Calgary and a condo in Vancouver, and flew or drove between the two cities often. I was unattached and focused on work.

 

Mel had been a stellar rep for one of our Calgary managers. The first time I met her while joining up with her manager’s crew and running a combined team one Saturday, she threatened to quit because I’d gotten a little pissed at her for talking non-stop while I was trying to train in the van. We mended fences over the years and she became one of our most reliable Calgary reps. Eventually, her manager went back to Mexico and Mel moved on, though, she stayed in touch with a lot of our team members. When I took over the Vancouver account, she was over visiting our Calgary office manager when I happened to be in town.

 

I needed Vancouver reps. Mel was an adult and I offered her a job. She could stay in her own room at the condo in Vancouver and help me train managers. She thought about it and later agreed.

 

She moved in and did a splendid job. I mostly worked all day and night. I had a shop in Vancouver where I was leaning to fix our trucks, just for the hell of it. I also fished. British Columbia has some of the finest fishing in the world. At the time, I think I must have had thirty rods. That was my life: working, learning rudimentary welding and mechanics at the shop, and exercise and fishing. I often cooked us dinner late at night, usually the same thing: salmon and salad, washed down with cold beer.

 

One day, Mel asked if she could cook dinner. As soon as I said yes, she almost shoved me aside at the kitchen counter. From then on, I was out of a job. She acted as if she’d done it before, though, she kept burning herself on the frying pans. As soon as she healed one burn, she’d somehow burn herself again. Insisting she’d been cooking her whole life as angry red welts an inch long appeared on her hands and forearms. I told her all the great cooks have those. She was good company in the little time I had to spend with her.

 

On occasion, she’d ask a favour: could I go downstairs to the pool so she could swim and soak in the hot tub. She didn’t like going alone. So, I’d do some exercise in the little gym overlooking the aquatic area while she splashed around. Then I’d join her and do laps and sit in the tub with her for a bit. Later, I’d often run up the seventeen flights of stairs returning to the condo, while she took the lift. Usually, I’d be so dehydrated by then that I’d stop a few floors shy of the seventeenth and take the elevator the rest of the way.

 

We got along fairly well and our relationship was completely platonic. She dated here and there, as did I when I had time.

 

One evening, just as we were leaving the hot tub I happened to mention that I usually get so hot from the soak that I don’t run all the way back up the stairs to the apartment. Joking, I told her that maybe if she ran up the stairs ahead of me in her little bikini I’d probably be able to make it all the way to our floor.

 

To my surprise, she immediately said, “I can do that for you.”  What? Did I hear that right? She was straight-faced but I could see something in her eyes before she quickly averted them.

 

Not long after, we decided to go on a trial date. We’ve been together ever since. Well, there was one week a few months later where she became unsure of herself because of our age differences, but she soon got over it. Maybe I’ll tell that story one day, who knows?

 

Anyways, when she did, she accepted us, embracing what we had together. She said to me, “You might be an old man, but you’re my old man.” To me that was one of the sweetest things I’d ever been told. I was smitten.

 

I couldn’t argue the old man bit. I was in my late forties and she was thirty years younger. I’m in decent shape but all I could muster in reply was, “You might be a little young but you’re an old soul.”

 

And she was and is an old soul. She’s already been through a lot in her life; things she’s weathered and come through stronger and wiser for. She’s quite a remarkable lady.

 

It was enough for me that she was a woman. There is plenty differences between us on that basis without worrying about something as silly as age too. Perhaps she was mature for her age and I was immature for mine. Who knows? Who cares? She is a woman and I am a man and we have plenty of love between us.

 

So here we are, ten years later. We’ve seen a few birthdays come and go. Each one is a reminder of our personal mortality but also of our special bond, not unique by any stretch but something quite magical. We now have two children, something I’ll explain later. Mel is a wonderful mother. I knew she would be.

 

But each year I turn a year older in December and it takes until early February for her to catch up and restore the thirty year spread between us. My protectiveness feels it during this time. Those sixty or so days leave me as if I’m pulling away from her, like I’m aging and she is not. So it’s with mild relief that my darling Mel turned twenty-eight this week. It seemed like the temporal boundary of our mutual existence had been restored.

 

I got her socks for her birthday. Beautiful knee-high handcrafted free-trade loomed socks in an explosion of brightly coloured stripes. She has Raynaud’s and gets cold feet. I offer her my best winter socks from the box under my bed at night in winter, so that she’s warmed and comfortable as she sleeps. She also gets up in the night often to tend to our youngest son who has some challenges. This she does without complaint. She’s not high-maintenance; she’s all down to earth heart and soul.

 

Yes, old soul, the best kind.
MockIt_tartan fun
P.S. Want to learn how you too can find love? Get me helping you by contacting me here.

SO HIGH

Close up shot of old soccer ball, basketball, baseball, football, bat, hockey stick, baseball glove and cleats

SO HIGH

 

We often played out in front of our home on Falcon Avenue. My father says there was something like sixty kids living on our stretch of the street, a two block long avenue in Heron Park. We played every kind of game there. The Mackey kids two doors down often had a ball hockey game going, something that went on for most months of the year. You could look up the block’s entire stretch from Brookfield to Heron Road some days and see several of those pick-up games going on at various progressions up the street.

 

Our family members were baseball and football players. Most of us played baseball every summer. I wasn’t very good at it but eventually my sturdy size and quickness allowed me to acquit myself decently in my last year playing Little League baseball for the A&W Cubs. I was an outfielder and could reliably run down a ball about half the time. Not quick minded enough to play in-field, I was happy to become a decent hitter over time. We won our local championship my final year. A win meant coupons to use up at the Bank Street A&W, in an era when gals still rolled out to the cars on roller skates to deliver Teen-burgers and Root Beer on little trays that affixed to the rolled down window of your car. These were innovative times for a kid.

 

Football was a bigger challenge. Eventually I played for the Merkely Bears around age thirteen and wore the most mud stained uniform of anyone’s in our team picture. An embarrassment then that became a badge of pride later. I think my jersey number was 81 or 82. I was never that good at passing the ball and was sent to the line as meat, sacrificed as protective fodder to at least delay the opposing defense’s attack on our quarterback. Out-sized, I resorted to spearing attacking players in the shins with my helmet; often other team’s whole line was too big for me to put up much opposition. I remember gleefully getting my revenge on some of the bigger boys who were trampling me into the mud that way. And acting innocently afterward despite their protestations to the men in stripes.

 

Leading up to those experiences were the many hours of practice spent with my brothers Duncan and Stephen tossing baseball and football back and forth on our front lawn. It was the two of them that were mostly responsible for my being able to ever catch anything at all. There was a manhole cover on the road allowance portion of Grandpa Chenier’s lawn next door that we used as a pitching mound. Duncan could throw pretty hard by my estimation, and Stephen was game to catch anything he could muster, often jibing his Irish Twin over form and strength.

 

It was where we tossed the football about. We had one in our family, a gift from our parents that was part of our communal sports equipment. We always seemed to have the stuff necessary to keep us outside as much as possible. With nine kids, the immediate outside became a necessary house extension, area needed to keep my mother’s sanity.

 

The football is a diabolical shape if you’re a kid trying to predict where it will go at speed once it hits the ground. It rolls with a randomness that befuddles and ridicules. You go left and it goes right; you reach low and it bounces high, as if purposely put there to reveal your awkwardness. Catching a wobbling ball was just as difficult, so it was the spiral that we sought. There was a way to grip the ball in just such a way that it would sail through the air like a missile, nose first and aerodynamically still, spinning with purposeful physics, so that catching it became just a matter of extending one’s arms to receive the ball in the mid-section. There you could tuck and cradle it against the body securely and run for distance.

 

We spent a good deal of time kicking that ball too. My hands weren’t big enough to quite get the kind of grip on the ball that would allow a consistent spiral. I dare say if I ever threw a spiral it was by chance. The wobbling ball wouldn’t go very far when I launched it so I preferred to kick the ball. Most of my kicks were end over end affairs. But every once in a few dozen, I’d kick the ball and stand amazed as it sailed through the air in a perfectly spiraled form, gaining more height and distance as a result. These were cause for encouragement and served to keep me in the kicking game. Still, my best kick probably equaled Duncan or Stephen’s regular throw.

 

One day in particular that I remember, likely around age eight, my father came home just as we were playing outside with the football. I’m pretty sure he was in full naval uniform, the gold brocade and buttons of his dark navy suit and white officer’s hat glistening in the sun. He was quite a sight in those days my father was. He would have disembarked from the Number One Bank and Heron bus near the top of the street on Heron Road and walked casually down our street to his family, passing the assembled kids from home after home, housewives often sitting out on front stoops and steps.

 

By chance, on this day he stopped and chatted with us a bit. I’m sure my brothers were both there. He told us he used to play football back in his younger days. Of course, if you’ve ever seen black and white photos of teams from the earlier part of the last century, you can imagine what kind of uniform my father would have worn. It would have included very little padding, knee high socks and full cleats. He probably wore one of those all leather headgear hats with no mouth protection. As he spoke, I imagined him right there and then as a gridiron god, playing with the men for real.

 

Dad explained that he was once a kicker himself. Said he had a knack for it, especially on the third down punt. That’s when the offensive line protects the kicker who receives a long snap from the center ten yards back and kicks the ball as far into enemy territory as possible. It’s a mighty kick, and a last ditch play to gain field position despite running out of downs. Finally, as if to underline what he meant, he asked if he could give it a try.

 

Surprised, one of my brothers handed him the ball. He became serious. We became hushed, our playful banter silenced in anticipation. He slapped the ball, as if reacquainting himself with its feel, its breadth and weight. He patted and passed it several times between his hands. Everything he did was well above what we’d stumbled upon.

 

For one thing, he held the ball differently–chest high at first. In this routine, he first received the ball with his two hands and then stepped back on one heel, as if to set up his pattern of execution.

 

He began to step forward in a rhythm deeply embedded in his memory. As he did this, he transferred the ball over mainly to his left hand while still guiding it with the fingertips of his right hand as he took a couple of deep and wide strides forward. Finally he dropped his right hand by his right side as the left hand placed the ball as a target directly in front of him waist high. With a turn of his hips his right leg came up swiftly and accurately and struck through the ball and kept going until his leg was almost vertical, right in front of his face, his toes higher than his head at finish and pointing skyward. The ball exploded off his foot and rocketed into the air. It was like watching an Ottawa Rough Rider on our front lawn.

 

Collectively, we kids watched in amazement as the ball rose, in a perfect spiral, higher and higher and further and further. At its apex it seemed to float there for a moment, difficult to see if it was still going up or coming back down, sailing past our property, past the two Chenier houses, and landing several houses up on the street with a loud slam. No one dared try to catch it and when it hit the hard pavement it bounced a dozen or more feet into the air before ambling unpredictably down the street, bouncing to and fro before someone could scramble after it to retrieve it.

 

I stood there in awe. There were several oohs and aahs and other exclamations of wonder from the others. Dad said something about how he had been glad to quit playing because he feared kicking out some rushing player’s teeth in the process of getting his kick off during games. I understood his concern on the spot. What a humanitarian I thought–not thinking of that word specifically but you know what I mean. There was a higher moral purpose to this man beyond being able to kick the living daylights out of a ball for fun. I accepted that.

 

But, holy smokes, I thought to myself, did you see that?

 

With his final comment, he picked up his doffed uniform jacket off the lawn and went into the house for supper. Though, the memory of that kick follows me to this day. Dad was just that kind of guy.

C K Wallace ©2016, all rights reserved

P.S. want me to write a story for you like this one about something in your life? Contact me here.

 

@ckwallace.com

The Gift of Ishaq Ahmed (part two)

To read The Gift of Ishag Ahmed (Part one) click here

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“Can I tell you something?” he asked her. “Of course,” she says.

“When I dream, I dream all kinds of things in full colour. It’s very real to me and I like it. It’s just that when I wake up, the dream ends and there are no more colours. When I open my eyes, everything is black. It kind of scares me.”

Michelle’s cool reserve crumples. She’s been the problem-solving nurturer thus far but this has left her speechless. “Oh, Ishaq,” she says, remaining stoic for his sake. But perhaps she thinks: dammit, he’s going to wake up every day comfortable if I can help it.

 

It is late 2015. I’ve kept in touch with Ishaq through the odd phone call and Facebook (where for a while his handle was Dark Kingdom. What a card).

Mel and I had a Christmas party to attend in Toronto one night recently and we would be staying over at her sister’s place near the airport, since it would have been too far from our place in Cobourg to drive home. With our kids in tow, and before driving back, we went to visit Ishaq on a Sunday afternoon.

 

When we first got to his apartment, there was a pair of Jehovah’s Witness visiting. I teased them about getting extra points for converting a Muslim. I knew Ishaq wasn’t particularly devout. They took my ribbing good-naturedly; indeed, decent guys with seemingly the best of intentions.

They soon excused themselves so we could visit.

It turns out in the intervening years Ishaq had lived in Vancouver for a year while studying as an audio engineer. He continued his interest in percussion and had become good at making his own music electronically.

Then, there was three-month trip to Africa to meet the rest of his family.  His mother and father were long divorced, not on good terms. All by himself, he traveled there and back. After some initial reluctance, his maternal grandmother intervened for her grandson to arrange a visit with his father. He showed up one day at her place in Khartoum with several of Ishaq’s half-siblings. They all knew about their blind brother in Canada; he knew nothing of them.

You can imagine living a life of darkness, knowing these visitors are actual blood relatives would be comforting. They represent a connection between the fading memories of his former life and his present existence. His father and siblings are a kind of mental salve for the yearning to recapture stray hints of his sighted life, glimpses he carries with him every day, precariously fading with time.

It’s just that losing his sight at nine years old means that he has scant few years of sight upon which to base mental reconstructions. If our first recall appears at age three or four, he had five or so years to frame everything that followed. His is a life permanently seen through the eyes of a child.

He remembers his father fondly. Once, dad brought his young son a bike that was much too big for him to ride. It was placed in the back shed behind the house until such time as he might grow big enough. He never did get to do that. Mom sold it after the breakup. The thought, the very impossible possibility of riding that bike someday remains with him still.

He misses his father. Though he loves his mother, he yearns for the company and approval of the man who is half his ancestral link. Together, we blamed his father for his absence; and then, for the memory of how he brought him that bike.

We held him responsible for the kindness and love Ishaq felt during some of his fondest years. Smiling, we put the onus squarely on his father for some of Ishaq’s physical characteristics: his long slender fingers and large hands that are seemingly made for drums and keyboard. We chuckled as we faulted him for the long spindly legs that are a constant reminder to his mother that he is his father’s son. Especially, we blamed his father and the serendipitous universe that gave Ishaq life.

 

Since November, Ishaq is holed up in a little one bedroom at Jane and Sheppard, in a tidy but older building where he lives in the basement. It’s not an ideal place, and it’s not the greatest part of town. When he got here, he moved in temporarily with friends, enrolling in school, taking out loans to attend another radio course at Ryerson College. Eventually, couch surfing wouldn’t do.

 

He had found living at his mother’s in Calgary constricting. To her, he’d always be her tiny boy, helpless and confined. He needed to stand on his own, as a man, independent and willing to take risks. He decided on the challenge pursuing an education in another city might bring. He had put it all on the line moving here.

Though, at times, I’m sure he’s felt as if he may have bitten off more than he can chew in the pursuit of his freedom. He’s not the kind to dwell on his plight anyway.  My friend Ishaq is no victim.

Besides Witness Victor’s gifted table and four folding chairs, Ishaq’s apartment was devoid of furniture. My kids ran around the empty rooms. It was perfect for them– nothing to break.

A former neighbour had foisted an old TV on him as he was moving out, too lazy to dispose of it himself.  It sat decrepit, covered with decades of filth and useless in the living room. Ishaq thought visitors might watch it when he good naturedly accepted his neighbour’s benevolence. It wouldn’t even turn on.

There were no curtains on the windows and Ishaq expressed concern that people could see in at night when he was alone. I resisted mentioning that no one would be able to see in if the lights weren’t on. The timing wasn’t right; it was his security he was worried about.

He has a tiny kitchen, which I thought was perfect for him, but not much food. You could tell he wasn’t eating much of anything. He could reach from the sink to the fridge and stove and each of his five cupboards, all at arm’s length away. He lacked the variety of the kinds of easily prepared foodstuffs he needed to eat consistently and stay healthy. I tossed a head of rotting romaine lettuce into the garbage.

He couldn’t be more than 120 pounds (later I found out he was 109). Though taller than he was when he first worked for me, he was essentially the same Ishaq, but a cooler kid now. No. A young man, and with an extra sophistication that warmed me. It’s always nice to see how one of my charges has grown many years later.

Eventually, we got him to show us his bedroom. “I was so glad to finally get this mattress, oh boy,” he said. You could tell he had slept on the floor at first. Even blind, the relief on his face was easy to see as he mentioned his bed. It was an air mattress, fully inflated, hard, as they get when fully filled. It was Victor who had brought it recently. However, it had no bedding, blankets, or pillows. Again, the window had no curtains, though there was a curtain rod on the sill awaiting installation.

 

In the corner was a set of drums. These were a far cry from the bongo drums I promised to buy him back in the door to door days. He had to write 30 orders in a week to earn them at the time. The last day he was on track and started to fool around, finishing with just 29. I struggled whether to make an exception and get them for him anyway. In the end, I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. No drums for you little buddy. Here he was now, with real drums. A man’s drums.

He’d graduated to full-fledged stand up congas, the kind you see professional musicians play all over Latin America and beyond. I asked him to demonstrate what he’d learned. Still standing wobbly on the air mattress, and not even in front of the unit, he immediately launched into a solo session that had both my kids dancing and wiggling their butts.

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Rhythm hasn’t left him a bit. Only, he’s much better. It almost seems to be as if his fingers have gotten longer, the digits like little hammers on bass drum sticks attached to his hands. He can tap out with one hand what I can’t even manage with two, never mind the speed or timing of his beat. He said he hasn’t practiced much lately, with a resigned sound to his words that I noted.

 

I remember he used to be able to read the Braille writing on our Canadian paper money. I motioned to the missus, the keeper of the purse, to hand me some. Mel hands me a ten. I ask for more. She gives me a twenty. Again, I motion to her. Out comes a hundred. This is uncharacteristic for my gal Mel, though I wasn’t surprised knowing how she felt about Ishaq.

Could he read the Braille on the bill? He’s reluctant so I throw in incentive, so he’ll feel he’s earned it. I tell Ishaq to read that one and I’ll let him keep it. He says it’s a ten. Uh-oh. So I showed him the difference. I pointed out with the benefit of eyesight guiding my expertise, on the hundred the space between the sets of six dots is a couple of inches, on the ten, maybe half an inch.

I stuff it in his pocket anyway, thereby relieving myself of years of guilt over his bongo bonus. I looked at Mel: she didn’t flinch.

 

To change the subject, I announce that we’re going out to eat. I have forty Big Mac coupons and there’s a restaurant down the street. I get them as part of buying gift cards for my newspaper customers to use as inducements. Off we go to McDonalds to feed our friend. I was thinking if he could get to McDonalds, I could leave him the free coupons and at least he wouldn’t starve for a month or so.

Before we go out, I show him how to turn down the heat on his radiator in the living room by closing the valve: must have been a hundred in there. I take his hand and run it along the rad to the tap handle down by the floor on the left so he’ll know where to find it later. The place had been recently painted and the lingering smell was suffocating in the heat. He kept the windows open, shutting them only when going out for security.  He needs an ozone machine in there to kill the overpowering smell molecules, I think.

At McDonalds, they accepted my coupons but told us they’d only do it this one time. Apparently, I had to use them at a specific location or something. He’d be fed for the day at least. Truth is that the McDonalds is a couple of blocks away on the other side of the highway underpass and on the other side of busy Jane Street to boot. Traveling by cane there every day might have been asking too much.

 

Next stop: the grocery store. I decided to get him some essentials he can easily fix for himself. Mel and the kids wait in the car while Ishaq and I hunt for stuff in the store. All the sight gag lines return. “You check your side of the aisle for mayonnaise and I’ll check mine,” he says.  At the till, I get the cashier to break Ishaq’s hundred dollar bill into twenties, just in case.

Here’s a kid who doesn’t know anyone in Toronto, all alone and blind in Canada’s largest metropolis. He can’t just walk anywhere; he has to first spend time memorizing any route. Even so, he takes the bus and trains to school every day. There, he’s an exemplary student and passes everything.

The cataract that was just beginning to appear in his left eye back when he first worked for me has expanded to several. I once asked him about wearing sunglasses, Stevie Wonder style, and he refused. I notice that he wears them now, if only so he doesn’t freak people out. He’ll lose that left eye at some point. He talked about putting in a half glass eye as if we were discussing buying a watch.

 

He needs people. He needs to connect with those in the community who can lend a hand to this proud young man. They say a community is only as good as it takes care of its vulnerable. He’s a sweet and tender soul with the heart of a lion. It was hard to leave him. I could tell he was lonely. I think to myself: no one has Jehovah’s Witnesses into their apartment that easily.

On that Sunday afternoon, I was desperately trying to think of how I could plug him into others, though I live 150 kilometers away. He likely wouldn’t go through all the song and dance of filling out forms, determining eligibility and being put on a waiting list, all to satisfy some helping bureaucracy he’s never relied on before. No. Ishaq would suffer on, rather than go through all that.

Unless he could somehow be discovered by good people who wouldn’t mind visiting, I thought to myself. He needs eyes, the eyes of friendship. Only by creating some kind of network of support would he stand a chance of being able to chase his dreams of living a great adventure in Canada’s largest city.

I wondered if I could find one person to get the ball rolling. I needed someone fast and capable, someone I could trust completely to do right by my friend. I needed someone with empathy, with a heart as big as his. I needed a wonderful giver who has a talent for problem solving.

I called Mel’s sister Michelle on the way home, crossing my fingers.

 

She lives near the airport and is ten minutes away from Ishaq’s if there’s no traffic. Michelle is the gal I keep advertising on my Facebook wall to eligible bachelors, drawing the ire of feminists in the process. I do it to signal how much she’s appreciated, and she gets a real chuckle out of it.  She can cook a meal just as well as she can swing a hammer. Without hesitation, Michelle agreed to visit Ishaq.

I sent her pictures of his empty place. She arrived the next day much to my relief. She brought friends. Michelle is like that, a natural networker. She can nurture people like they were her own. My kids love her. We all love Michelle.

He now has a big comfy chair with attached ottoman, suitable for taking naps, thanks to Michelle and her co-worker. It was the first soft thing he’d sat on in months. She brought him bedding–he’d been sleeping under his amassed clothing.  They’ve become good friends. He confides to her his challenges. She listens and helps.

She suggested brown as a colour for drapes. He told her he’s trying to remember what brown looks like again. She’s taken him to Value Village to get new used clothes. He’s got a coffee maker now. Michelle loves to shop, especially for a deal. They’re perfectly matched. She visits often, texts even more. He’s her little brother now, and under her protection.

 

Michelle took Ishaq to Dundas Square for New Year’s Eve music and celebrations. Instead of her hanging on to the arm of a date, Ishaq held her elbow as she guided him through the crowds. They watched and listened to fireworks explode between the twin buildings of our city hall. They took pictures, and selfies.

At the subway returning home, security held everyone back and ensured they embarked first. The white cane has power.

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Michelle has introduced her new friend to others. They’re curious about this blind kid with the great attitude. One evening she and a friend sat in Ishaq’s apartment talking together into the night. They kept the lights off, immersing themselves in his experience.

This same person mentioned his visit to his friends, one of whom suddenly mentioned he had some “extra money,” insisting it go to Ishaq. That paid off Ishaq’s credit card.

Dumbfounded, Ishaq is a bit embarrassed when Michelle’s friends pick him up. He does his best to flirt with the store staff and make everyone laugh. As he accepts his conditions, being relaxed about being blind, those around him accept their own limitations, not as limitations, but as qualities worth sharing. By simply being Ishaq, he teaches self-acceptance.

I remember hearing Candy Palmater on CBC radio one evening. Candy is a famous Canadian Mi’kMaq native and comedian. She was talking about her nervousness at doing stand-up in front of her peers at the Assembly of First Nations. She told of how native elders had told her that if something is your gift, it’s what you owe.

Not yours to exploit, but what you owe. To me, this meant that our lives exist for others even more than they do for ourselves, and that we are obligated to bring our strengths and talents to our community. Call it a pact with the universe.

Though he may feel a bit awkward about how others are so curious about his blindness, something he’s made normal after more than a decade and a half, he’s there to share his life. For absent this purpose is aimlessness, confusion, existential uncertainty and intolerable loneliness.

Every time someone meets this self-effacing blind man, they are struck by his courage and perseverance. He serves as inspiration. Of course, I don’t tell him that quite in those words. Instead, I suggest he’s performing a public service by being an ambassador for the blind.

He admits it feels good to be useful. Instead of being cooped up in his tiny apartment, he’s sharing, and allowing others to share with him. This opens the door to more sharing.  In my heart I hope he’s ricocheting through an ever expanding network of people in one of the greatest cities on earth. Toronto the good, it’s sometimes called.

Ishaq’s special talent is that he gives permission to those who encounter him to share their gifts. You are compelled to feel an overwhelming gratitude once the magnitude of his challenges is understood. He reminds us of how much we need each other, and how easy it can be to give a helping hand to another.

One single person can make all the difference. One act of kindness by someone like Michelle can reveal a whole new world to a blind kid living alone on the edge of Toronto’s ghetto. Like a web of goodness, that influence has spread beyond and continues to expand, tying its members together in mutual empowerment.

Most of all, Ishaq’s hopefulness has given way to possibility. Without hope, life stops in place. Without hope the idea of confidence becomes an insurmountable obstacle to living a life of possibility. Thoughts remain thoughts, never approaching execution. Hope is contagious. That’s the gift of Ishaq Ahmed.

“Perfumes are my thing,” he says. “I can take a smell and make dreams with it.”

Forever hopeful.

 

 

Ishaq at his table

 

© C K Wallace 2016

@ckwallace.com

 

 

The Gift of Ishaq Ahmed (part one)

 

 

 

If you work with people, especially those striving to become something better, whether purposefully or by default, you can’t help but witness some of the magic of what it is to be human. I’ve been lucky this way. I’m one of the “by default” types, committed to growth for self-preservation reasons, and having come from such faulted beginnings that I marvel at myself and my fellow travelers. I’ve also been around long enough to know that there are some things for which words alone won’t do justice. There are miracles, and there miraculous people.

From 2004 to 2009, I ran a door-to-door sales crew in Calgary Alberta. I’d hire and train an almost continuous number of young reps, usually teens and young adults. Over the years, I went through hundreds of people, never knowing who would work out and who wouldn’t, but willing to give anyone a shot at better than average money, and in some cases, exceptional money.

With every prospect, I went through my usual pitch: the job was getting new subscribers for the Calgary Herald; we pick you up at home and drop you off; it pays decent commission every Saturday and we train you to do door to door on a team of like-minded reps. “You can do that right?” “Yes,” this particular prospect replied compliantly.

So I made arrangements to pick him up, taking his name and address, discussing our shift expectations, dress code, preparation, etc. At the very end, just as we were about to hang up, he says there is “just one thing.”

“I’m blind,” he mentions.

“You’re blind?”

“Yeah. I’m blind.”

“So how do you think you can go door to door in neighbourhoods you’re not familiar with and write orders?”

“I can do it,” he says. “It’s no problem.”

“What? Do you have a cane?” I ask.

“Yup, I’m really good with it. I need a job and I can do this.”

Boom. So… how do I say no to that?  He fits the criteria for my typical rep in every way: lot’s of free time, no extra-curricular activities that will interfere with the job, mom’s OK with him working. Kid needed money: he lived in one of the few low-rent buildings around–subsidized housing they call it–and right along my route.

In fact, I’d hired a young gal out of that same building a year or two before. I ended up giving her a place to stay when her mother couldn’t pay her hydro bill and she complained about having to come home to a pitch-dark apartment every night. Later, I trained her as my office manager, a job she did really well for a number of years.  I couldn’t help thinking: at least with this kid darkness wouldn’t matter. And you can’t put the want in someone’s belly. If it’s there, go with it.

I also realized on the spot that what he wants to hear is that he’s accepted. It’s a bluff, I tell myself:  likely some way for him to gain leverage with his mother. He’ll probably never show up. Or if he does, it’s going to be a novelty effort at best.

After all, I once had a deaf girl work for us. She didn’t work out because her lip reading sucked. She kept thinking others were saying stuff about her and ended up getting physical with other reps. Big girl from the Forest Lawn area, tough as nails.

But a blind kid? How’s he going to smack anyone? The cane maybe?

Anyway, it’s my inclination to call bullshit as I see it. So I act as if it’s no big deal. “I could care less if you’re blind, deaf and dumb as dumb,” I tell him, “as long as you can walk, talk and carry a binder, you’re hired.”  Now I’m curious; I want him to come in.

Next day, we’re outside his building waiting. It takes fifteen minutes for him to get downstairs.  It’s a bit of an ordeal. I’ll get better at it, he says. There are some challenges, namely, he’s got to learn the pitch.  It’s ten-fifteen lines by memory. We rehearse like heck in the van, and finally decide to just get him to invite the customers to read his pitch off his binder.

One of our best ambassadors for the job took him out first night. After a year or two working with me, Matt House doesn’t see difficulty, just solutions. Ishaq couldn’t have had a better guy to show him around. Matt nicknames him Ishdog.

He’s got the pitch printed out in Braille on the second day and he’s memorizing it all the way out to work. I send him out with our best female trainer, Melisa Davey, who trains him and watches a customer fall in love with this blind kid and sign up. He gets her approval. We knew he’d be fine working with someone but how about by himself?

Now it’s time to go out on his own so I explain what his block looks like. I find him one with a sidewalk that has cement walkways that bisect the lawns going up to each house’s entrance. I describe it for him, like a coach giving out a new pattern to his players on the field.

Off he goes, no questions, tapping his cane along the sidewalk and then the lawn and back again. When he double taps cement he knows it’s a walkway. He veers right and taps up the walkway, once on the cement, once on the lawn, moving quickly, doggedly, like any impatient teenager. When he gets to the stairs, he slows, feeling with his cane, and then steps up without hesitation. On the stoop, he moves forward using the cane to sweep the porch widely and find the door. Feeling the doorway, he looks, but with long slender fingers, searching the frame on each side for a doorbell.

I’m parked up the street, watching in amazement at his progress. I want to go door to door myself and say, “Did you see that? There’s a blind kid working your block! Pay attention!”  But, instead, I sit there watching in disbelief.

He went through ten or fifteen houses and suddenly stopped. Turning away from the houses, this time he approached the street and waited there, motionless, his head cocked a bit. Wondering what’s up, I pull up along side him.

He says,”Do you think I don’t know you’re there watching me? I heard you stop and shut off your engine. I know you’re there. It’s making me nervous. I’m not a little kid, and I’ve been blind for a while. I don’t need you to baby me.”

What the…? “Oh really? Ok bud. You’re on your own. Have a customer call me if you need me for anything.” I drove away, with nothing but admiration for his guts.

And that was it. Little guy, just fourteen-fifteen at the time, skinny as a rake, not even a hundred pounds, went about his business learning the new job in a way that was really not much different from any other kid. It took time before he got better; he made the same mistakes as anyone else. He never became my best seller, but he competed against himself everyday.

He also had a sense of humour. When you got in the van, he’d tell you how good you looked. He’d remark on the scenery, picking up the tiniest clue from the conversations around him and joining in by making something up. There were no off-limit jokes, and he answered each new rep’s questions about his blindness matter-of-factly and without self-pity. It was just his life.

With all the good-natured ball busting that goes on in a close-quartered sales team, Ishaq held his own. If he got too mouthy, I’d threaten to put him on blocks with construction sites on them. Those big mounds of excavated dirt were really confusing to tap with a cane. Another time, when he wanted a new cane, he stuck his out as I pulled up to get him on the last drop. The next day, we picked him up from the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) building near his home. He had a brand new model. He gave me the old one, and still bugs me about running over a blind man’s cane.

Or, I’d drop him at the top of a street and drive to the end of the block on the way to drop someone else. I might notice that there was a park on the last two lots, with an asphalt walkway veering off from the sidewalk into the playground. If I didn’t hustle back in time, I’d find Ishaq there in the middle of the park, head cocked, cane swinging to and fro trying to figure out where the darned houses went.

Another time, I circled his block over and over looking for him to no avail. Finally, I realized he might have tapped his way up the back lane where all the garages were. Sure enough, just as I pulled up to the lane to go look for him, out he comes from someone’s backyard from halfway down the block, tapping away furiously towards me to get back to the sidewalk and the other half of the block. Turns out, he tapped up the lane a little confused and heard voices. He ended up pitching a couple of men barbecuing in a backyard and wrote two orders

He had blind-sense too. Remnant cells in his eyes wired to a different, more primitive part of his brain that was left undamaged by his accident. It meant he could sense when there was something in his way. All the kids marveled at how he’d suddenly stop in front of a parked car, and tap around it. Reps who worked with him on occasion would test him, walking down the road or sidewalk beside him and purposefully not telling him of an obstacle approaching. Ishaq would stop and say, “there’s something there, isn’t there?” He became a bit of a legend; mysterious magus who could somehow see in another dimension, though his eyes could not.

We asked him about the stereotype of other senses becoming more enhanced. And they were. He sees with his hands, the subject of many flirtatious comments from the gals in the van. He was also a percussionist in his high school band. Boy, could he hit the drums. He’d tap out a rhythm on anything you put near him. Gifted and getting better, he was devoted to sound. He was also lucky that the digital age was upon us and could more easily pursue music as an important part of his life.

I remember picking up the last few reps on a darkened street corner one evening when suddenly a red mustang convertible swerved in front of my fifteen passenger van, cutting us off and preventing me from driving off. The odd time a rep crossed the line with a customer I’d have to intervene and smooth things over. I prepared for the worst as I got out to meet the person and deal with the situation.

Turns out the guy had been looking for us for 20 minutes. His upset wasn’t from anything we did, but something else entirely. Ishaq had been at his door that evening at a time in his life when the client was facing some big challenges, unsure if he could meet them.

Seeing this young blind kid pitch on a cool night, after dark, and go about gratefully doing his job with earnest enthusiasm, made him stop and think. He was overcome with how ridiculous his problems were when compared to not being able to see. The way Ishaq persevered without any hint of feeling sorry for himself inspired in this customer a deep sense of respect and gratitude. If a young blind kid could go sell newspaper trials door to door, he could do anything. The customers was teary-eyed as he recounted how affected he was, asking if there was something more he could do. “Can I give him money, or contribute to his education?”

One thing about Ishaq is that he’s not inclined to use his blindness to advantage; refusing pity like it’s bad karma. It’s just not in his nature and he won’t ask for help if it can at all be avoided. I finally had to agree to let the customer call the newspaper the next day and tell them how he felt about Ishaq. This kind of thing occurred often once Ishaq became more comfortable at doors, though I’d rarely make a big deal of it.  He was truly amazing (but don’t tell him I said that).

You’d think he’d sell more orders than anyone too, but the truth was many customers didn’t fully realize he was blind. His eyes were still pretty good looking back then–the cataracts were just starting–and he acted deceptively normal once trained. He’d rarely look you in the eye if that’s what you expected. If they spotted the white cane they might think they were being scammed, unless they took the time to talk with him. You know how people are. In a sense, he had to overcome that detriment to his sales.

However, it was the lessons he taught all of us that mattered most. His life was one big display of courage, of determination, of confronting fear, of telling himself he could do anything anyone else could do.  He just never said no to anything. He agreed to do his best and figured out how to make it work later. Also, if outsold by the blind man, you could expect to feel embarrassed on the ride home. It would be Ishaq who did the ribbing.

For a full season, from spring to late fall, until the cold and icy streets forced him indoors, we were inspired by this skinny kid with the big smile who laughed so easily.  He affected all those who came into contact with him, each feeling privileged to be around his indomitable spirit. He was a sweet guy, tender even, and he cared about the people around him. He sees the world through his heart, something more of us wish we could do better.

Born in Libya during the Gaddafi years, he was raised partly in Egypt and partly in Sudan. His father was an Egyptian farmer contracted to open up lands along the Nile River for agriculture near Dongola, Sudan. His family followed. Mom’s Sudanese.

At nine years old, Ishaq had fallen backwards off a simple plastic chair, the flimsy mass-produced kind you might find lying around your own backyard. Hitting the back of his head on a rock, he was hurt. Then, the whites of his eyes turned blood-red within a few days after the fall. Doctors told his mother that he had perhaps a two-week window to get the kind of medical attention he needed.

By the time his family could both afford it and manage the distance to care, it was too late. The swelling damaged his visual cortex. Over the course of the following year, his vision slowly shrank from the periphery in, until the tunnel through which he desperately tried to remember his life with sight, finally went completely dark.

***

For the Gift of Ishaq Ahmed part two click here

to contact me so I can work with you click here

C K Wallace © 2016

@ckwallace.com

To Believe or Not

 

 

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More than once over the years, I’ve read that about half of people are hard-wired to believe in a power greater than them. It’s less to do with ignorance or enlightenment; it’s just how some of us are made. Likely, another quarter in number believe out of cultural or familial loyalty. Most people believe in something, for even non-belief is a belief. 

Confronting lifespan is a task for humans. Facing our own end of life while still living is our existential dilemma. Having a faith brings comfort to people all around the world. Religion is another story. The two are often mixed up as one and the same. They’re not at all. The Bible is widely understood to be a metaphor. We like stories; it’s how we understand things.

I suppose I am what Huxley called an agnostic, preferring to leave things unknown absent knowing for sure. However, I occasionally attend services. I go because ritual is generally good for us. I also like the beautiful architecture of my Catholic church. The priest there, an Argentinian with a heavy accent, is funny as hell to listen to as he promulgates church doctrine to the faithful… and to others like me. Forgive the reference to hell. 

Contemplating the history of my clan and its long allegiance to Rome is something I do often while going through the ancient rites of mass. The people there are like any other, well-intentioned and faulted, and usually dressed decently on Sunday and behaving well. So I like the community. It’s a chance to meet folks I don’t know very well, or sometimes see a familiar face..

And it’s a good place to practice singing if you’re not a very good singer. You can just sort of blend in.

All of us can use some awe in our lives. A sense of wonder is known to alleviate stress and gives an appreciation for life in general. Think of the stars at night, great oceans, and mountains, or your local cathedral.

It’s easy to straddle the psychological divide between belief and non-belief if we let go of the need for a definitive answer. I’m fine with not knowing everything. I also reserve the right to begin believing if I feel up to it, and to discard that belief later if I find it burdensome. Isn’t it great to be out of the Middle Ages?

A good way to get past the God thing is to see the word as an acronym for Good Orderly Direction. It seems a fair compromise to me. It was something my father suggested when my son would not take the oath at cub scouts, on the grounds he was being unfairly indoctrinated at nine years old.  Try as we might to re-frame things for him, he wasn’t having it. He never attended again. I often replace the word God with the word Universe. Semantics. 

I remember asking my father long ago about his church attendance. He told me he simply couldn’t go, but that he thought the practice was good. He also allowed that he may have missed out on a beneficial part of his life by not being a member of a congregation.  Friendships. He saw the value in community, and perhaps longed for it.

My father is 86 years old now. Beyond my memories of singing Latin mass with him when I was very young, he was a non-practicing Catholic during my lifetime. I suspect he is fully a non-believer, but don’t have the heart to pry further. I was an altar boy as a child, christened and baptized like my siblings. On the other hand, my mother attended church faithfully her whole life until she died last year. 

As we kept vigil for her on her final days–her nine adult children and clan members gathered around the hospital bed that had been arranged in her living room–we sang hymns and read from a prayer book we found at the head of her bed in her room. The prayer book contained an entry called Christopher’s Prayer. Its personal suitability is uncanny. The prayer called Mary Stuart could have been written for ma. Coincidentally, her middle name is Mary.

We discovered in her prayer book a powerful St Francis Assisi piece that, when recited, brought solace to the members of my family. Its last few lines include the following:
Make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is discord, union; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is sadness, joy. 
For your mercy and your truth’s sake, Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled, as to console; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born into eternal life 

The Saint Francis Assisi prayer perfectly summed up ma’s life as a person who daily exuded love and acceptance. It’s a pep-talk for good, for an unselfish approach to life and service. It was easy to receive as a final missive from our matriarch. Regardless of a person’s beliefs, replacing the words divine master with the word universe, or editing the text to taste, and it becomes a profound incantation for good. Whatever it takes. It’s the message that counts.

This 12th century prayer also contain more than hints at everlasting life. It’s a moral recipe that transcends time. By living a life of giving we live on in others, for some of us exists in others just as those we hold dear exist in us. Our presence here and now leaves its mark that continues on as an echo in time, reverberating endlessly down through the ages in the people around us, and through them, to those that follow. Is this what eternal life is? I leave ample room for mystery in my life, for the possible.

Our final hymn was Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot, ma’s favourite and coincidentally written by a Choctaw Freedman from the Oklahoma area, first name Wallis. With her husband of 62 years holding her hand, thanking his courageous wife for a lifetime of memories, she passed on a Friday afternoon. The family’s pet dog keened at the very moment of her change. 

Before we condemn those who believe, or faith in general, we might consider my mother. Perhaps emboldened by a lifetime of devotion to her church, it was plain to see that in her final hours she was not afraid.

 

© CKWallace, Nov, 2015 all rights reserved

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P.S. need help understanding your beliefs? Contact me here.

Understanding death at four years old

Ma died last year. I stood vigil for our clan matriarch at her home, singing hymns alongside my eight brothers and sisters, with my father–her husband of sixty-two years–at her side whispering sweet reassurances to her as she left on a Friday afternoon.

 

When we’d visit my parent’s home three hours from here, four year old Charlotte knew since she could walk where ma kept the dried raisins in the kitchen. Grandma was someone she trusted and loved. 

When I returned home from the vigil, my little one was deeply affected upon hearing the news. She protested, earnestly crying out, “Oh no, but I won’t see her again.”

 

In late winter, the first time back to my father’s home she asked where her grandmother was as she entered the living room. The living room was where ma would sit with dad all those years. Charlotte asked for her grandmother only once, as if calling a bluff, her blue eyes locking on mine as she waited for an answer. It was as if she was seeking proof that grandma was no longer with us, in her way holding out hope while testing the permanence of this idea called death. 

 

 

Since then, we’ve had occasion to find the odd dead bird on our property. It’s across the street from one of the great lakes, Lake Ontario, along a migratory flyway. I buried the first one we found this spring in our garden while Charlotte watched. Wounded, she complained, “I’m never going to see it again, daddy.” 

Once the earth was patted down over the avian grave, I asked her, “Do you remember what it looked like?” She said, “Yes, it had black and yellow feathers and it was small.” I told her that the bird was inside her now, in her memory, and that it would always be there. That once something dies it still stays with us, because we remember it. The more we love something, the more it stays with us.

And that she will always be inside me and I will always be inside her, in our hearts, because we love each other. We live a little bit inside each other, I told her. Just like grandma is inside her too, with her always and with me always. The most important thing is that all of us will be together forever, no matter what.

She seemed reassured.

Though, later she complained to her mother that daddy had put grandma and a bird inside of her body and she wasn’t very happy about it.

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P.S. need help with saying goodbye to a loved one? Contact me here.

 

Speech for Jennifer-Ashleigh Children’s Charities 25th Anniversary Dinner Auction

Honoured guests, members of the charity, ladies and gentleman: My name is Christopher Wallace and I speak on behalf of my gal Melissa and our two children, Charlotte and Howard. It’s a privilege to be here this evening in front of you.

I want to begin by saying what an adventure life is. One minute we are sailing along, wind at our back, and in another moment, a storm rises, testing our limits. Although, I’d helped many others during my lifetime; until the Jennifer Ashleigh folks helped my family, I’d never given it much thought.

But I’ve been around
long enough to realize that you just never know what kind of impact you might have on others. It could be a grand gesture or a small act of generosity, or just a heartfelt conversation, any of these can serve as nourishment for someone’s soul in a time of need.

These factors had a big impact on the way I now see the world.

Just after I turned fifty, my missus started to think about us having kids. So I did what any reasonable guy in love would do: I got her a dog. Looking at her reaction at the time, I felt I needed to add that if she did well with the dog, we’d have a child together.

Soon the dog could roll over. Then you could pretend to shoot it and it would play dead. It fetched a toy for me the first time I threw one across the room. In the coolest way, I was being set up. And I loved it.

My father once told me that babies are like little miracles—they’re small so don’t take up much room; somehow, we always find a way to accommodate them into our lives. Mel and I had our first child, Charlotte, and she was as robust as baby’s come. Though we hadn’t planned on having another, when Charlotte was two, along came her little brother.

Mom and dad had five sons and four daughters–plenty of little miracles. However, no grandchildren were named after dad, an honour that then fell to me. (He was a drinker in his early years, so it may just be it took that long for one of his kids to forgive him enough to provide him with a namesake.)

After my dad, our new our baby was called Howard Thomas William Wallace. His second name came from my first Canadian ancestor, Thomas Wallace, who came over to fight for the British Crown in the War of 1812 and later settled in a little place called Oshawa Village.

Baby Howie was born in September of 2013. He was in difficulty from the start, our joy turning to grave concern when he was whisked away from us moments after birth. He had but one kidney, his lungs compressed completely as he fought to suck in air, and his heartbeat was erratic. He couldn’t feed well on his own. What normally would be a few days to make sure mother and child were ready to go home, turned into an indefinite stay. No one prepares for this.

At the time, I worked on commission selling newspaper trials. Although I had accounts all over Canada, income was shrinking fast as readers migrated online. The creative destruction in the print sector caused by the Internet hit hardest just as Howie was born. Immediate family needs meant I couldn’t look for other work.

Mel stayed at the hospital or at Ronald McDonald House, pumping breast milk every three hours around the clock for months. During the week, I’d take my two year old home to Cobourg and give her all my attention during the day, often taking her out on the sales crew in the evenings when I couldn’t find a sitter. Then we’d join Mel on Saturday evening or Sunday at the hospital. Melissa stayed at Howie’s side most hours of the day, lest she miss an opportunity to feed her boy and hold him near. Her only respite was Sunday when I was there, with her breastmilk in hand.

A month after his birth, we were still there. Howie’s trachea was too narrow to breathe or feed so surgery was done to widen his throat.

On occasion, Howie’s heart would go off and a code blue would sound. Mel would be pinned up against the wall of his room as up to twenty-five specialist would address the emergency. Life often hung in the balance as his heart went over 300 beats per minute for over an hour or much more.

On top of the rest of his issues, he was a hard poke—his circulatory system too underdeveloped to get an intravenous line into him to facilitate emergency meds. More than once, Mel watched horrified as they took a common household drill to her screaming baby’s legs to try and put a line into the marrow of his bones—a tactic later abandoned when it was found that the medications took too long to reach the heart that way. The kid was like a pin cushion. Mel was traumatized.

But he had nephrologists, urologists, geneticists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists and occupational therapists because of his feeding tube; plus physiotherapists, ear nose and throat, child development, plenty of nurses and a pediatrician. We were very grateful.

Into months two and three, we soldiered on, our energies taxed but spirits strong, all of our time devoted to assisting in the care of our baby. Our life was on hold and my finances suffered. I had more expenses but couldn’t devote the time I needed to ensure I had a business, especially in the critical fall period where I build my teams to get through winter.

Adding to that list of specialists, were social workers. Two stopped by to see the missus one day, offering to help carefully qualify our situation. It was they who applied to you on our behalf.

It was to be a lean Christmas for us, our priorities elsewhere. But one day in December a substantial cheque came in the mail from your fine charity. It wasn’t going to solve all of our problems, but boy did it help.

And it came at just the right emotional moment. We were trying to get Howie home for Christmas–but it never happened. When he did come home in the New Year, we had to return him a few days later by emergency ambulance. It wouldn’t be the last of our visits.

In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, Mel and Howie spent nine days at Sick Kids, but he’s been stable since. He doesn’t seem to be cognitively impaired and he’s tearing around our house like a normal boy.  In fact, Mother Nature has given him a sunny disposition, perhaps in compensation. It took until that first Christmas for Howie to smile, and he hasn’t stopped since. Of course, Mel is his greatest champion. It’s true what they say: there is no love like a Mother’s love.

But your gift of kindness also made me rethink my life. It’s why I’m here. The fact that perfect strangers reached out to people like us in our time of need with tangible support caught me unawares. The more I looked at it, the more I was influenced.

I’d been trained in the behavioural sciences and worked in the addictions and counselling field for a time back in the 1980’s, but drifted back into sales for the money. Now, with a new family to support and the second half of my life to consider, it came to me that I was not living my highest purpose. That despite looking like a guy who was defying the odds and living fully, my life lacked meaning.

I needed to figure out how to live in a way that serves other people. I still do newspapers, though I’m not sure for how much longer. Since that fall and your gift, I’ve been transitioning to a new role, one that answers in me a truer calling.

How we lose ourselves in service of the greater good is one of the best expressions of human spirit. People say we all have a story to tell, one that is unique and compelling. I recently wrote a book that solves the riddle of substance use. Often, I spend a couple of hours with someone and later find that they moderate or stop completely soon after.

It could be, as philosopher Douglas Hofstadter says, that we are all strange loops, reverberating endlessly back toward each other through time. The creative ways we find to celebrate what it is to be human is our connection to life. We live on in each other, in the legacy of spirit that we leave behind, and in the ways that we touch others emotionally while here.

So I want to thank you not just for the generosity you showed my family. I also want to thank you for something else: for showing me the way. For letting me know that the reward is all in the giving. All the rest is in the hands of the universe.

True and Free.

Bless all of you.

On Chocolate

Is there shame in guilty pleasure?

What a great gift to human kind chocolate is. It’s not heroin, it’s not cocaine, it’s not rock climbing without a rope or driving recklessly at 150 miles per hour. It’s not facing the barrel of a gun.

No. Chocolate is the perfect refuge from the prison we erect around ourselves, trying to live up the expectations we believe others have for us. What a burden that is: Living life as if someone in your environment might hold a key to your worth as a human being.

Our self-concept comes from how we see  ourselves contrasted against how we believe others see us. Mother Nature made us this way to drive us together, to make us beholden to each other, so that survival is assured. At its roots then, she imbued us with a great “need to belong.” And it is this need that is both the very joy of life…but also the bane of our existence.

Let me ask you this: How would you know sweet victory if you did not also taste bitter defeat? It’s only by experiencing one that the other can be appreciated.

All of our expectations for ourselves and for others are rooted in an internal projection. That projection is founded in constructs that we have built since the time of our birth as we assigned meaning to our world through our experiences. These constructs have both biological and environmental beginnings. We inherit some of our traits, others we create from living. Combined, they become memories that form beliefs.

Some of them can be upgraded. We may think deeply and find a root memory at the crux of a belief. Other times we may stumble upon one because life demands we find another way forward. We can often find the “silver lining” in a memory, to enable a new and improved belief to form. In this way, we can be less tyrannized by our past.

But, in the end, if we just remember that all of our expectations are driven by projections that are internal, we may find that we can no longer be so quick to blame ourselves or others. We just accept as it is, working to adjust our beliefs as the situations arises.

Once this core concept is integrated more fully, chocolate becomes a perfect vehicle for change. At first we may reach for chocolate to escape our limitations, seeking a tiny bit of bliss in the maelstrom of our internal dialogue. But just as the sweet taste is revealed for its fat and bitter constituents as it slowly melts on your tongue, you may find the self-talk imprisoning you is also dismantled.

Perhaps not today, or even tomorrow, but soon…maybe the next time you think of a piece of chocolate you will know the thoughts that sustain your discomfort are laid bare, exposed for the simple ingredients they are: Memories, beliefs, constructs and projections that you believe threaten your need to belong.

And just as the chocolate disintegrates in your mouth, becoming not chocolate anymore but rather just sugar, fats, and bitter cocoa, so too will the parts of your projection disappear.

That’s when you will realize chocolate is just chocolate–its victory an illusion. And just as it requires others to put it together to make it what it is, so does your discomfort and self-doubt.

You may find neither holds any real power over you. Pass that dark piece, I just did a workout.

©2015 CKWallace, Author, Drinkers’ Riddle