Author: Christopher K Wallace

THE BODY

Feelings live in the body. Huh? Did I get your attention? It’s kind of an important idea.

Need proof? Well, for one thing we know trauma locks the “freeze” part of fight, flight, freeze and feint into the body. Take that as your “proof.” We can carry trauma in the body for the whole of our lives, can’t we?

I still get a sore back sometimes when I feel powerless in a situation. Hurts like hell, so bad I can sometimes have a hard time standing up. But… no pain, no bliss. Makes me want to ensure powerlessness is not a big part of my life.

Ever tell someone, “you give me a headache” or a version thereof? How about when mom said, “wait until your father gets home” as a little boy or girl? What happens when we anticipate punishment? Do our guts flip? Do our bowels move? Do our hands go cold and clammy?

Let me ask you: what are you doing to take care of that body of yours?

Are you lifting? What? Weights are only for guys? Think again. Humans—both men and women—have lifted heavy objects throughout our history just as a matter of course. Don’t let the last hundred years fool you. We are still the people our collective evolution made. If you are not presently lifting, start there, and never stop. Never.

What about yoga? That’s just for girls? Give your head a shake. Men have been involved in yoga from the beginning, haven’t they?  Look at those swami guys in loincloths bending and twisting. I bet they sleep like babies at night. Fallen out of practice? Restart or continue, and never stop.

Late comedian George Burns did the 11-minute 5BX system every day and lived to 100.

Perhaps you have convinced yourself the body is somehow separate from your mind. That it’s just there to transport you around. Maybe you think it’s sort of the engine room and sewage infrastructure of your being and can somewhat be taken for granted.

After all, the body is beneath you, right? Not a great idea (did I just write that?)

Disconnecting from the body is why we get out of shape, put lousy foods into our mouths, neglect our sleep. We can develop contempt for the body. Where is that from? Maybe from good intentions as we push ourselves physically as children, demanding more and more from our frame and then losing touch with our anatomy as ego takes over and social standing prevails. We go from a narrower internal focus and widen to a more external one as we develop.

Get this: if feelings live in the body, it’s also where your unhappiness resides. Think about that.

Whoa. Unhappiness is something we try to avoid. Is that why we avoid our body? Does this mean if I neglect my body, I am refusing to face my unhappiness? Maybe. You decide.

Let’s talk about those feelings for a moment. How’s that all work anyway?

Feelings are predictive (not reactive) responses based on what is going on in the body (interoception). The vagus nerve complex connects the body and organs to the brain and reports on its condition faster than awareness. Sure, the brain signals the body but when it comes to the vagus—also known as the tenth cranial nerve—more than 80% of its neurons are afferent, meaning they signal towards the brain. That’s a lopsided signalling system for good reason

At any given moment, this basic reporting from below is what the brain uses to predictively meet circumstance and put you in a best-guess emotional state—beneath your awareness—all based on your databank of prior emotional states since birth (what else would it have to go on?). It then corrects after-the-fact according to the social reality before you

Ex. You come home and are snappy at a roommate. Later you eat and realize you were responding to hunger because you had not eaten all day. The body determined your state.

Think about this: A baby has very few feelings, restricted to things like crying when hungry, discomfort when it needs changing, or the need for its caretaker’s gaze and physical attention.  But as its experience grows so does its feelings repertoire. What this means for you and me is this: the only way to create new feelings is to live new experiences.

If you want to shift your state change how you think or what you do. Language and focus are both mental and physical so act as passkeys to unlock the doors of state from either side.

The body is faster. And, more lasting. If someone has an anxiety attack with their gullet flipping and breathing labored and progressively shallower, a painful knot can develop in the sternum area, that center part of the chest where the rib cages meet. Jogging brings relief in minutes.

Feeling a bit tense? Do ten burpees. Can’t do burpees? Why not? Don’t lie to me.

OK. Do ten deep knee bends, or some jumping jacks, or dance for fuck’s sake. Get moving. Even if it’s just to smile at yourself in a mirror. If desperate, bridle a pen across your mouth to force it and feel what happens.

Thoughts reflect what is happening in the body. What heresy is this, you say? How is this possible? The hungry example above explains it. It’s because consciousness is slow. If something comes into your awareness, it has already happened.

What? How can my precious mind not be in charge? Well, it is… and it isn’t.

It takes over once consciousness allows something into your awareness. Not before. That’s where free will starts. The rest of the time you are responding to your body’s needs, and those constitutional signals continue as you think. It’s why the Greek said an unexamined life is not worth living. He was probably a little pissed at realizing how things really worked.

We live emotionally and use our brains to “rationalize” things after. And whose side do you think the brain takes in most of those explanations? You betcha: yours. It’s your inherent bias.

And what is the brain relying on to come up with those handy explanations or rationalizations or excuses? Indeed, messages from the body. Messages whose main function is to keep you safe and which are all based on your prior experience. It’s motherfucking humbling…

I have more bad news. no one else has ever experienced life as you have, and so cannot feel what you feel. I know, I know, some people are em-paths, and maybe you’re not. I call bullshit.

Fact is empathy is always a projection of one person’s feelings onto another person. What we have as human beings is enough shared experiences between us to make it seem as if we really feel what someone else feels. But we don’t really. Some just try a little harder.

And all those times you just can’t seem to relate to someone else? Stop beating yourself up. It’s probably not that you’re an unfeeling psychopath (who are actually very good at what we regard as empathy and use their ability to read emotional states, especially body language and facial expressions, to manipulate people and circumstances for their own benefit).

It’s more like you just don’t have those kinds of experiences being shared and so can’t even fathom what they might be feeling. That is perfectly normal and so, cut yourself some slack.

Here`s something else that is pretty important about the body. Your microbiome. These include the bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and viruses that come along for the ride. You’ve been colonized since coming down the birth canal and out your mother`s vagina, and then you been added to them throughout your lifetime.

Ten times as many non-human cells and human cells inhabit “you,” and these suckers need to eat as they perform necessary functions in one of the greatest symbiotic relationship known. They benefit humans and we can’t survive without them. We are only beginning to get them.

Knock out a bunch of them with antibiotics and your behaviour can change. A researcher from UBC had an assistant whose son was sick many times as a child. Antibiotics brought on autism-like symptoms. After a few years of frustration, she gave him a fecal-transplant, and repopulated his gut with her organisms. Symptoms went away. Now the kid has grown and works in the same lab as where his mom once did, under the same professor.

If you have a skinny sister and a fat sister, and the fat sister can’t seem to keep the weight off despite years of dieting, what would happen if the skinny sister gave the fat sister a fecal transplant? By repopulating her gut with missing microbiota, would she lose weight more easily?

What about mood. Think you crave certain foods in response to some mental process? Well, no, we’ve established that’s not how things work. The body will tell you when it needs glucose, we’ve established that too. But what if what if what you eat really does affect how you feel? What if how you feel is greatly influenced by the quality of your diet? What if how you take on the challenges of your life are largely determined by the foods you eat? We think it might.

Oh my, what if you really are what you eat? What will you do with this information?

You think you live someplace. You might even have an address on a street. Maybe you also have an apartment number, and maybe its got letters in it too. But that’s a construct. It’s artificial. It’s a place you go to when you need to park your stuff and pick up your mail or rest your head.

For where you really live is above a mere house or apartment or hut on the savannah or cabin in the woods. It’s much, much more for it is a place where the forces of all time have gathered.

It is where your ancestors used the methyl groups of your DNA to send you their gathered messages against a backdrop of mankind’s collective unconscious, thus giving you a soul. The soul exists because we sense it is there while the spirit is its calling. One is more past, one is more future; one is more static, the other moves.

The spirit is lifted at a sunrise, while gazing at the stars, at art and nature, often at each other. It’s also what calls to us, often as a stirring. The soul and the spirit form the inner self we subjugate as children developing ego while learning to conform. The masks we wear bury them further.

Yet, if we listen the spirit calls us from somewhere deep inside. Usually we point to our heart or guts or halfway between, somewhere inside the middle of our torso as its source.  It is the blessing of the cosmos in its infinite wisdom, the force behind the sun and the stars, the same one which gave us life and demands we manifest a powerful existence.

It is that part of you which contains all of your potentials and possibilities, all safely residing in the body: the universal address of your existence.

How will you get to know it, take care of it, listen to it and move it?

How about today?

Stay powerful, never give up
cw

Chris Wallace
©October, 2019, all rights reserved

Advisor to Men, Mentor at Large
advisortomen.com
ckwallace.com

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LONG GOODBYE (a poem)

This reminds me sort ofLike when a relative hasA burdensome illness:Many treatments triedAnd recoveries attempted,Sometimes lasting years.And, in the end the familyResigns itself to the lossEventually. Last wishesAre granted, people comeTo say their final farewells.Maybe a place the personWanted to see before theyDie. Like a last Christmas,Birthday, or a christening,Baptism or marriage ofA son or […]

YOU JUST NEVER KNOW (a poem)

YOU JUST NEVER KNOW
I’m watching my father die off slowly. Here he is
in his new home at the Perley-Rideau Veterans Home,
a facility built from the former Rideau Veterans Home.
That was where his father died.

Where he held my grandfather’s hand, right to the end
at age 98, feeling the life in his father leave him hoping
for a sign, of some kind of reconciliation between them.
But no, it never came.

And now, my father will die near where his father died,
the burden between them intact. May it die with him.
I kept making comparisons to how he was,
yesterday, as I sat on his bed beside him.

After finding a sock and squeezing his swollen feet
into his ill-fitting moccasins, he looked at me.
For a minute, I didn’t know if he would hit me,
his face angry so long it easily falls into menace.

I imagined the block I would use to protect myself,
unsure if he knew who I was, though he had patted
my shoulder moments before as I struggled with his feet.
Red, blistered skin flaking in decomposition.

But, suddenly, a twinkle appeared in his eye
and like as a child, I was safe once more.
It’s always been like that with dad.
You just never know.

CKWALLACE
© August, 2019

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KILLING SPIDERS: A Metaphor for Marriage

KILLING SPIDERS: A Metaphor for Marriage
As a boy, I lived with my two brothers in my parent’s basement. Dad had the old man who lived next door put up some walls to divide up some of the space. No ceiling, just open rafters and cement floor. It was full of spiders.

They were everywhere. Of course, mostly you’d see them at night but practically anything left undisturbed for a day or so might hide one. Touch something in the basement and one would scurry off madly. Any corner with a bit of dust in it and chances there was also a cobwebbed hideout holding one of these predators.

I had difficulty sleeping from a young age and often stayed up reading. Out they’d come in the night. It got so I would stare at the page of a book and suddenly get a “sense,” a Spidey-sense call it, where I somehow knew there was one nearby. Like the feeling you get sometimes when someone is staring at you. You look around and, sure enough, some dolt is fixated upon you with bulging eyes as if they’d been at it for some time. It was like that, a little unsettling. A human you can stare back, with a spider, it’s just… a little spooky.

Whenever it came to me in the night, I could lift my eyes from the pages in front of me and in the dim light, see a spider somewhere near, hanging down from its thread of silk, ready to explore my bed. Sometimes it was inches from my head. Right there.

Or, I’d look at one of the walls and let my eyes linger, searching the wood chips in the press board, until I found the crawler which had summoned my attention, hiding there somewhere, in play sight.

Years later, I thought I’d put this all behind me. I was long gone from the basement with its eight-legged denizens and had lived in many places since.

Now, as a married man, for some reason it returned.  Missus had been her family’s eldest, coming as she did from a Northern Ontario mix of French and English parents. She was… outdoorsy, and pretty much fearless.

I’m not sure how it happened first. I suspect she encountered a spider and I demurred somehow. Perhaps, I only hesitated.  It’s my conjectured recollection she may have seized the moment to act. She was competitive that way. Perhaps, I’d already told her of the basement. I don’t remember.

I’m sure I did later or at some point. Likely, I had at a time we were both high, the drugs or booze fueling a prattling on about ancient nonsense. The eeriness of those spider encounters late at night while under the influence of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Herbert and others would have been hard to resist retelling.

My father had gone through a sci-fi stage in the later 1960s and early 1970s. He read a couple hundred of these paperbacks and they were left around for his nine children. It was a time when our family had a bookcase in every room, even the kitchen. I read them all, not exactly an antidote to sleeplessness, but still.

It was much later, after going in during 1981 and spending all 1982 inside, and when I’d been transferred from the penitentiary to the farm camp next door, that dad came by for a visit. He brought his whole sci-fi collection and donated them to the meager library there. It was pure escapism, something the guys were thanking me for to the end of my bit.

So, however it happened, my missus at the time took over spider duty, and looking back, she seemed to relish this power over me. Blinded by self-importance, overlooking my own shortcomings, what at first was an acknowledgement of her courage at breaking stereotypes, well-intentioned but misguided idealism,  experimenting with role reversal after the social movements of the 1970s, it soon became an self-emasculating indulgence of male weakness.

See, I let her kill the spiders. Then, and going forward. All of them.

I could have killed spiders. I knew how. I’d killed many of them, maybe hundreds in my time. But I let her persuade me with false concern. It was, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” and up she’d jump with her winning smile to take care of the critter before I could give it another thought. It seemed harmless.

And, to me it was just a fucking spider, for fuck’s sake. “Look, if you want to kill the spider have at it,” I thought, slightly amused even. But it meant something else to her.

And, the more she was willing to kill spiders, the more I was willing to placate her. I felt obligated to be grateful. I played along. She was doing something for me it seems, and so I should be thankful. I was still essentially a polite Canadian boy.

It was part of my nice-guy syndrome. In those days, I championed people around me but with a covert contract in mind: when I tell you you are great, hopefully you will do the same for me. I’ll feel liked, even loved for it. Nothing for nothing. I faked my appreciation, as if it mattered, for her sake I told myself.

I didn’t have the self-worth to stand my ground. I sensed the con but stuffed it. What was I thinking? The tune goes, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, t’was blind, but now I see.” Hindsight.

For men are not loved for not killing spiders. This was a gambit that was ass-backwards. I’d fallen into a trap. I’d been given just enough rope with which to hang myself. I’d been led down the garden path. Like Tony The Waiter said, “Anyone can be walked, Chris, it’s just a matter of approach.” I was being walked. I was walking myself.

I’d been closed using my own words. For now, she had a weakness she could point to. She could use it as a token, a gambling chit, for leverage. She had constructed an Ace gaff for the Ace lock to my status. She could turn her counterfeit key and empty me at will, like the coinbox on a pay washing machine.

But what did I know at 25 or 30? Not much. I was too busy making sure I wasn’t killed that week, less worried about my image in front of her. I had not yet learned that women cannot abide a weak man, no more than a man can abide a disloyal woman. I needed pain to learn the universal pact between these energies. And, suffer I would.

For a woman can sense weakness in a man from afar. Using all the powers of her practicality, verbal skills, double-hemispheric thinking, and acute intuition, she can sniff it out like a cadaver dog looking for a body. Abuse of empathy is her birthright.

She maneuvers covertly, gathering intelligence,  watching and recording patterns, divulging only as much as needed to serve her pragmatism. Glad-handing, she can draw out her mark like a carney running a midway joint. She can run close interpersonal game as well as a politician can game the public.

And when she confirms weakness, she will sometimes tell you. You have heard me say this kind of woman is exceedingly rare, a unicorn in fact. It’s far more likely she will either rub salt in the wounds of your weakness or hold you in silent contempt.

General truth: Women don’t fuck men who don’t kill spiders for them.

In fact, it gets much worse. Killing spiders is a minor but fair representation of a man’s usefulness to a woman. Part of his power, but also of his expendability. Killing a Black Widow or Brown Recluse is not her risk to take. It’s ours, us men, because better we than she.

Give me a hundred years of feminism, that fact won’t change. Not now, not likely ever. Why would it? Self-interest is paramount.

No one should lament this lopsided arrangement. It is just how things are. She is more precious as the carrier of life. Who am I to question these forces? What hubris do I require to tell the universe it is wrong?

If you were going to bet, should you take odds based on a social movement embraced by a tiny minority for at most a century, more like a few decades? Or, should you go long on your investment based on Mother Nature herself?

I take nature. I wager on the force which says there are a hundred million stars in the Andromeda Galaxy and shut my mouth. You know what else? We lack awe. All of us. It took a long time to get things working as well as they do, why fuck with it? It took forever to train men to be married men, let’s not go off the rails now. We need to see ourselves as smaller in the the grander scheme of things. Awe, more awe.

My first marriage didn’t last. Big picture says that’s predictable, but you never know. Having trouble at home? Who kills the spiders?

My current missus is afraid of spiders. That is, her sister is afraid of spiders and the more she visits over the last 13 years, the more missus has become an arachnophobe. That’s fine with me.

I just don’t want the fear of spiders transferred to my children. So, I teach them about spiders, about all kinds of bugs. Practically every jar or plastic dish in my house has been co-opted as bug carrier. The kids are both fine, they think bugs are cute. Daughter calls them pets. Poor kids, I should get them a dog.

And, when that familiar shriek sounds out at home, I know what’s up. I like being relied upon and I don’t fail her. I have a Pseudo-Scorpion living in my bathroom behind the mirror who preys upon the drain flies which peak in numbers in the summer. It’s too cool to kill.

Other times, I’ve acted more drastically, especially when the cold of fall sends scurrying critters indoors for shelter.  Strolling over leisurely to capture her spider, I have looked at her and crushed it in my bare fist. Then walked away to wash my hand off, ignoring her reaction.

Me and the missus? All I can tell you is things are good at my house. Good indeed.

Stay powerful.

© Christopher K. Wallace, Jan, 2019 all rights reserved
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https://ckwallace.com


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DEPRESSED?

I’ve felt this gloom and I have gone deep with it. In fact, I’m just coming out of a depression which lasted a year. During that time, I didn’t work out as I usually do. I craved carbs and ate sweets more often too. I was slowed down. Sure, I was recovering from injuries which made things worse but I know my sluggishness was more than just from this.

I slept much more, often nine hours per night after being a seven hour per night guy for thirty plus years. And, the bi-phasic sleep I’m accustomed to from a lifetime of waking in the middle of the night and reading for an hour, was often absent. I slept right through it almost half the time and had trouble getting up and facing the day. I soldiered on because that’s what men do. it’s what people do.

Furthermore, after a few months, I knew I was depressed. I didn’t talk about it to missus, nor did I burden anyone else. Men were my confidants, it was to these few I turned as I searched for answers, as I sought to realign my life in response to my body’s signaling. You see, I knew what was going on, lucky to have that kind of awareness. I think most of us do know the answers;  we just need to let them bubble up and spill out. Then, we need to believe.

After finally taking the necessary steps to course-correct over the past two months, Bingo! the depression lifted. And that’s the thing: In my heart of hearts, I knew a year or two ago I needed to make these changes and resisted because of external pressures. I have a family to look after, a wife who needs certainty, children who depend upon me. I was compromising my existence for others. It’s a typically male trap though not exclusive to men. Sound familiar?

First off, you must realize your depression is a normal thing. People sometimes get hung up on the issue of depression and think it means they are broken, that there is something wrong with them, that there is a “normal” out there and by some accident of fate, they don’t fit the bill.

Of course, this is bullshit. And it’s not only bullshit we tell ourselves, it’s often the same bullshit implied by the medical community. It’s a chicken and egg thing: Did my depression cause my chemical imbalance or did my chemical imbalance cause my depression? More like a dog chasing its tail.

Every year, the Mental Health Awareness Week folks remind us that one in five adults will have a MAJOR depressive episode in their lifetime. That’s a lot of people, a big chunk of us. So, if 20% of the population gets a big depression at some point, you can safely bet the rest of the people feel depressed at some level at some time too. I’d take those odds.

This means it’s a normal thing. Clearly, this psychological mechanism has survived tens of thousands of years of evolution for a reason. Traits generally only stick around because they are needed. We wouldn’t all feel it if it didn’t serve an important function. And, it does.

Then there’s grief. People can become depressed after the loss of a loved one. Grief has that effect on you and me, though 97% of people return to a version of normal within a year. A few take heartbreak and refuse to let it go. We must respect this while recognizing the drivers behind it: We exist in each other.

The idea that you are over there, and I am over here, is an inadequate way to describe us. Losing a loved one means that part of us which exists in them is put into doubt. This shatters our trust in the world, our operating paradigm is forever altered. It’s only resolved to a kind of imperfect homeostatic balance by settling for the part of them which echoes endlessly in us. It’s an honourable process, and a big part of what it is to be human. Our need to belong to each other is universal.

Relatedly, depression is your signal to look at your model of the world and give it a tune-up. Something is not working for you, profoundly, and needs your attention. It may need a complete overhaul and rebuild. Something may need to die or be abandoned, or at least be reborn as something else. That’s what depression is, and there is no need to conflate it beyond this powerful simplicity. How you understand your world and operate within it is what’s broken, not you.

So, what does the body do in this case? It slows down, becomes lethargic at times, sleep and eating is affected, and we turn inwards, a great introspection of doubt and questioning occurs. Our thinking slows as well, often looping, like a skipping record, and usually becoming narrower in scope as we fixate on the things which cause us pain. We are so enamored with our suffering we actively turn away from happiness.

No one fixes another’s depression. Just as it’s true we do depression rather than it does us.

We may think positively, telling ourselves we really ought to lighten up, but for all our cognitive steering, the body doesn’t seem to follow. That’s because the body is where your feelings lie. I suspect it is your methyl groups passed down ancestrally added to your lifetime databank of emotional experiences which comprises your soul. The soul is in the body, linking all of your organs but particularly the heart and the belly, connected to the brain by the vagus.

Perhaps it’s trite to say we are all on a journey, but call it what you wish. Depression is the dark night of the soul in your hero’s journey.

  • You’ll remember these ten steps of ancestral myth:
    1. Hero confronted with challenge
    2. Rejects challenge
    3. Accepts challenge
    4. Road of trials
    5. Gathering allies and gaining powers
    6. Confront evil and defeated
    7. Dark night of the soul
    8. The leap of faith
    9. Confront evil and victorious
  • 10  The student becomes a teacher

Number 7 is a tough step. It causes pain. It’s a black cloud of inability and doubt which befalls us. Hopelessness sets in so that the affected being is rubbed painfully and cruelly into the mire. Hard to see it this way but it is purposeful torment.

It’s like when you dive too deeply in water as a child and are running out of air, you look up and see the light at the surface and it’s a race to kick your way to oxygen before you pass out and drown. You give it all your might, every ounce of your body and will combined.

It’s like when the bully has you pinned down and is slapping your face and suddenly, you find the power you did not know you had to buck him off and escape.

It’s sourced from the same stuff as when a person finds the superhuman power to lift a car off a loved one after an accident. It’s an agonizing call to reach deep and pull out all the stops. It’s a silent scream inside us that’s says “NO.”

How many times have you been pushed into danger, into a situation where you felt like your survival was in question, and found somewhere inside you the resources to overcome and live? Pushed to grow, by some means you carried on. We do until called to grow once again; it’s complacency we should curse.

That’s what depression is. It’s the universe tantalizingly telling you to adapt. It’s demanding change. It’s saying you’re coming up short, that the life it bestowed upon you is under threat and it demands your care. It screams at you for adjustments, and lets you know through the whole chain of your being with pain, confusion, darkness and hopelessness. She’s a hard taskmaster our universe. There’s a billion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy I like to remind people. Best not fuck with that kind of force.

Like a child demanding attention, depression is a temper tantrum of the soul. It’s a test of your balls. It’s a doubter, the take-away closer who says, “Maybe this isn’t for you.” It’s a push at your boundaries of tolerance, demanding a greater integration of your parts. It’s nature calling you, provocatively wondering if you have what it takes to stand up for yourself and declare, “THE PAIN STOPS HERE.”

Like confidence, depression can be lifted from one big change or a series of small things which add up to a retooling of your model of the world. Sometimes changing jobs, moving to a new city, or leaving or gaining a relationship allows the light of change to shine in. But that’s rarely enough.

At other times, these are temporary because the internal operating model is what really needed attention. In my case I realized I was compromising my life and whatever gifts I have to satisfy responsibilities to others. Realizing, I do this as a tendency, having done it most of my life. And of course, I could source this to an abandonment fear as a child, to a deep toxic shame inculcated in my early years as broken and not good enough.

This gift meant my method was to become more, so as to convince myself and others around me I was worthwhile. This nice guy strategy works… until it no longer does. I needed to change jobs and set limits, imposing boundaries to keep my sanity, so I did.

Knowing all this, feeling the pain as a signal for change, what’s one tiny step you could take? Just one thing in what you think or what you do. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Our expectations drive all of our disappointments. Change one thing, then another. Soon you will have a direction. You will know if it’s right for you because your body will tell you. Our eyes see out but somehow you will see the fog within begin to lift.

When the way in which we see ourselves measured up against how we believe others see us is lived consistently, we go confidently into the night. We are ready to meet challenges, putting order to chaos, best expressing the gifts given to us by life. Self-concept is destiny.

So ask yourself: what shall I do with my metamorphosis?

What kind of butterfly will emerge when you are done?

This is your act of creation.

Stay powerful,

Christopher K Wallace
©2018 all rights reserved
info@advisortomen.com
info@ckwallace.com

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TOUGH LOVE

Tough Love

I was drying out in the Civic Hospital. It was back in the early 1980s during the AIDS scare, but long before the discovery of Hepatitis C in 1989. I was in an isolation room as a precaution. So much was unknown then.

My liver markers were all off: leucocytes, reticular counts, liver function tests and bilirubin. I was also quite jaundiced and tired. Things were catching up with me.

Lying alone in my single room in the middle of the day, I was surprised when Ma popped in unannounced. I hadn’t seen her for a while so it was a mystery as to how she knew I was there.

She was her usual kind and accepting self, offering encouraging words and faithful support. But I noticed she was rushed, her answers short, a tension just under the surface of her demeanour that I couldn’t quite grasp and put a reason to.

After a few minutes, she told me to take care and that she was leaving, mentioning my father was outside waiting to see me. Of course, she didn’t give me enough time to ask why he hadn’t come in. She said goodbye and hurried out of the room.

As my gaze followed her out, she swung open the heavy door with its tiny porthole window common to the isolation ward. There I could see my father in rumpled suit jacket and tie, purposefully pacing back and forth in the hallway. Before I could say anything, she was gone and in he came.

I tried to say hello but he cut me off. Coming closer, he spoke with just a hint of some ill-defined emotion, the kind you might see when you can’t tell if the person is hurt or angry. He said something like this to me: “Christopher, if you keep living the way you are, surely, you are going to die…and soon. When you do, we will gather together as a family and mourn your passing. It will be our last goodbye. Afterwards, we will bury you and then… we’ll forget you.”

With that, he turned and walked out.

Admittedly, he’d caught me off guard. I was stunned. I was in a hospital after all. What a jerk, I thought. As the door closed behind him, the pressure in me rose. I railed internally with questions, invectives; the cussing in my mind going off like fireworks.

He had left right away, so it wasn’t like I could argue with him, making it even more frustrating. How absolutely unfair of him, I decried to myself.

Outraged, in my mind’s eye I saw myself in my hospital nightgown, following him down the hallway, demanding, what exactly did he mean by that whole “forget you” bit? And who was HE to be speaking for all of MY brothers and sisters? There are eight of them; had he done a poll? Was this all based on their consensus? I wanted to call them and check for myself.

The scene revolved continuously through my mind as I lay there on my bed, him long gone. I must have stayed steaming for quite a while, fuming to myself over the images. Mumbling at times out loud that it was none of his business, damn it, how I chose to live my life. This was my problem, not anyone else’s.

But in time, I calmed down. I couldn’t stay agitated forever. Eventually, my anger subsided enough to return to a kind of normal. My breathing slowed, my thinking became more introspective. The scene was still fresh in my mind. I kept going over its details: the way he’d left me there by myself; the harshness of his judgment and the finality of its imagery. Suddenly, I felt alone, very alone… and saddened by it all.

I thought about my sisters and brothers. Childhood images flashed by, with them as freckle-faced kids on adventures we’d shared. I was so hurt; I felt a clear and justified self-pity. It was cruel to come into someone’s hospital room—a real medical patient with real medical issues—and say stupid stuff. Anyone would sympathize with how wrong it was.

I felt sad, lonely, and sorry for myself, resigned even. It was all so depressing. As if I didn’t have enough problems.

The more I thought about it, I remembered the way my mother acted during her short visit. She was clearly preoccupied. She had gone through the motions of visiting, but betrayed a hidden agenda. It was then I realized my mother had been in on it from the start. It was a damn set up!

The nerve of her to come in here with her “sweet as a lamb” approach and then help him pull off this kind of bullshit. She was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that’s what she was!

Now I was mad again.

I could just imagine the two of them concocting their approach for maximum effect before arriving. “He’s in isolation?” he would have asked. She would have replied, “Yes, that’s what the others are telling me. Here’s the room number.”

Dad would have given marching orders: “You go in first; I’ll wait in the hallway. Don’t stay too long. I don’t want you making him feel any better.” She would have assented — like the devoted wife she was.

What a supreme jerk, I thought, envisioning how the whole scene played out in the car on the way over. The gig was up; I was on to them. That’s it, no more Mr. Nice Guy from me. They’re cut off!

After a while, having made that decision, I calmed down. My mind slowed its racing thoughts. My indignity had peaked and ebbed, like a tide of tension leaving shore for sea.

I felt alone again. Now, I was down. I felt it in my body, tired, sorry and sympathetic. It was sad, you see.

I imagined myself at a funeral, my own, watching all of my siblings mourn as they got ready to bury me. I could see my sisters crying in pain like they had when I’d been punished as a child — or like the time my father tossed me out of the house at age 15. I regretted I wouldn’t see them again, that I would have caused them pain. I was hurt, not for myself, but valiantly I thought, only for them.

That’s when I realized it was my father who was causing this anguish to befall my siblings. It was he who was making them turn their backs on me and to literally leave me in the dirt. It was he who was demanding once again the ultimate ostracism of one of his family members. Once more… what a jerk!

Now I was mad again.

The infinity loop

To be honest, I swung from one side of those emotions to the other for a long time after the incident at the hospital. I had no idea why; I guess I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I lacked the resources to give me a deeper understanding of my father’s intentions. Neither could I see the basis of how I was reacting to his attempt at tough love; as an effort to shock me into seeing my life as it was.

If I tell you a good joke, you will hopefully laugh. After a minute or two, you will stop laughing as your brain normalizes whatever incongruence made you see the funny.

If you watch a sad movie, you may be so moved by its story and characters that you weep. Once your tears are discharged as pent up tension, your body will adjust, return to some kind of equilibrium and crying will stop.

This is the familiar homeostasis at work on your emotions, returning them to a balanced state. Laughing at a joke or crying over a sad scene in a movie are times where we suspend our own personal disbelief to get the full emotion—laughter or tears—of a situation. In our personal lives, it’s less easily managed simply because we have more at stake: our sense of self.

So picture an infinity sign with two opposites of emotion on each of its ends: frustration, blaming, anger, etc., on one side; sadness, self-pity, depression, etc., on the other.

Something happens to trigger us emotionally. Start anywhere in the loop; it depends on the person.

Let say at first we become frustrated, angry, blaming or even fall into a rage. You can’t remain that way forever so in time we return along the eight towards our feelings centre—our internal balance.

However, since whatever triggered us wasn’t resolved, the pain remains… and staying in the centre is temporary. Instead, we might continue on to the other side of the loop, moving from frustration, blaming and anger to experiencing sadness, self-pity, depression, etc.  In turn, we can’t remain like that forever either. So at some point we return towards emotional neutral.

But again, since we weren’t able to resolve whatever it was that got us so upset, we think about it until we are angry again. This can go on for days, weeks, years even, where the cycle repeats over and over to exhaustion. Tony Robbins calls it the crazy 8.

It creates a tension inside us that craves relief, often an escape by whatever means necessary. Some go and get drunk; a way many choose to deal with emotionally charged events when lacking resources to respond in a more empowering way.

But it’s a never-ending loop, darn it. That’s why the infinity symbol is so appropriate: it goes on forever. The trick is to escape the infinity loop at the top, as opposed to exiting out the bottom. Taking the high road is the perfect metaphor, and it starts first with our own re-adjustment of the meaning we give things.

None of us is immune to the emotional swings of the Infinity Loop: attachment, fear, our expectations, shame and guilt, all of these conspire to put us under their emotional control. Where we differ is in how fast we can extricate ourselves from its cycle. That takes courage, honesty, acceptance, a fair bit of humility and forgiveness even; and often it takes space.

It’s all in the meaning

It took time, a few more years in fact, but eventually I resolved things in a way that gave me a deeper appreciation for what the old naval officer had been trying to do.

I realized it was my lifestyle that was causing others pain; but more importantly, I had no right to do that to people who loved me. Up to then, I might have thought it didn’t matter because I couldn’t acknowledge anyone cared. I had such a low opinion of myself that in my shame, I felt I had rights to self-pity, anger, and the dysfunctional life I lived. Perhaps I could let my guard down and see things by the light of a different day.

That minor shift allowed me to reconstruct the episode with more insight; in a way that to my mind gave us both back our dignity. I assigned new meaning to the hospital episode with my father based on a more profound perception of his intentions.

He wasn’t there to hurt me; he was there to protect himself and the others from the hurt I was causing by living so closely to destruction and death. It wasn’t malicious at all. In his clumsy way, it was an act of caring for his family. By extension, it was a desperate attempt to care for me too.

In the ensuing years after the hospital visit, I kept thinking of the old man and the way his lip quivered as he struggled to get the words out quickly so as to not lose the power of what he had to say. I’d overlooked the impact of that image in the aftermath of my reaction. But it was there; embedded in my subconscious as tiny flashes of recall, unavoidably part of the scene. All I had to do was focus on it.

He was in my hospital room, a deeply faulted man but still a naval commander and patriarch to a family of nine children—five of them grown sons—trying his best to be tough when it was obvious by the look on his face his heart was breaking. That’s the image’s meaning that has stayed with me.

His love wasn’t so tough; it was just plain love.

Stay Powerful,

Christopher K Wallace
©2015 all rights reserved

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THE BET (a true story)

Some of the best and worst of humanity can be found at the crux of competition.

In a larger sense, competition over food, over territory, over commerce, occupies the macro, the endless ways in which groups all over the world serve their constituents, be it government for people, or public companies for shareholders..

At the personal level, we compete against each other for jobs and sustenance, for partners, for status within our group, each a micro-level expression of wanting to be worth something, to belong somewhere, to best our rivals. Competition is proving one’s worth.

What often motivates us is death, though not usually directly. No, it’s subtler, beneath the surface. Perhaps we compete to be sure this is not the day we die.

DIFFERENT CONTEST, DIFFERENT FOLKS
Men and women tend to compete differently. As generalizations go, those differences have exceptions, where traits thought masculine are found in a female, and vice versa, depending on the actors. There are plenty of feminine men and masculine women. So, we’re speaking of majority only here.

Thus, if Susan Pinker writes that women tend to maneuver covertly, using mean remarks, social exclusion, and by trying to win over your friends and allies, it’s not a rule set in stone for all women. In fact, these are strategies sometimes used by men. If not used by men, men can learn from them.

Men tend to compete slightly differently. They like to best each other straight up, mano a mano. But not always, for another way men compete is to put each other down. I remember reading in Scientific American some years ago about brain scan studies showing both approaches satisfy the same needs. Competing directly or by put-down lights up identical reward areas of the brain. One approach is social, the other not so.

Because one sure-fire difference between men and women is the level of their boasts. Perhaps this is the opposite of putting someone else down, boosting self instead. Men brag about being able to do something, as if to dare someone around them to challenge them on the spot. And they do. Invariably, they do.

THE RCC

Let me tell you about a guy named Dave and a bet he made.

We were doing time at a Burritt’s Rapids facility, also knows as the Rideau Regional Centre. It was a minimum-security place, a few dozen miles outside of Ottawa where I’d been sent for shooting a guy (which was out of character).

Discharging a firearm with intent to kill they called it, allowing them to sentence much more leniently, but which hardly disguised the original charge of attempted murder. Semantics maybe.

We lived in dorms, I think about twenty or so inmates in each. The dorms faced each other so you could see another dorm across the hallway through heavy wired plexiglass. When I was there, it seemed to be full. On any account, rather than work on the farm during the day, I’d managed to secure a job as a pool porter in a nearby town days (something I wrote about in an essay called Forms of Bliss).

We had some real characters in the place, and nothing anyone had done was all that serious comparatively, which is why they were in minimum security. And the fact it was out in the country meant we got the local crowd of country crooks populating the prison, some of whom were entertaining guys.

In the dorm opposite me there was a gay couple even. Well, that’s what you’d call them now. Back then they were just queers. It was a slight balding guy of about 30 and a younger guy of 17 or 18 or so I remember. The younger fella had the last bed, way at the end of his dorm where these two would sit and flirt with each other all during lights on time. No one much paid them any attention, and I remember they were protective of each other.

When everyone would be off at the gym or elsewhere, they’d sneak physical contact. Everyone knew it but just ignored them.

My father had taught me about homosexuals when I was just a boy of 10 or so. Not a formal lesson mind you, but just one of the half-dozen memories I have of him where he was a stellar parent. Before that, I had the usual homophobia of any young boy my age and of that generation, seeing it as a severe taboo, having a strong enculturated prejudice against it straight from the school yard.

I’d called my sisters lesbians and earned a trip to dad’s room for a talk. This was a time of luck, where a talk with pops was possible, instead of the usual, where violence ruled. During his discovery of me regarding the complaint which brought me before him, we found I had no idea what a lesbian was.

He explained it perfectly, telling me it was women who loved each other, just as men and women loved each other. He added it wasn’t a choice, but rather how they were made. More importantly, he mentioned these were people looking for love like anyone else. I remembered that last bit, it stuck. It was probably 1968-69.

The first pot growers I encountered were in this prison. These were like every pot grower I’d come to know afterwards too: indignant, righteous about their cause, feeling maligned by the state. Of course, they held my sympathies.

These boys had taken the seeds out of their Mexican weed and tossed them into the ground. Lo and behold, a few months later they had pounds and pounds of the stuff, for free! They were pretty hush hush about it all inside, because they didn’t want their “secret” to get out. Since I always had a gal bringing me hash on the inside no matter which joint I was in, I got the inside scoop.

That’s something laughable now but back then, the connection between the highly illegal pot being bought, sold and smoked, and the potential of the seeds that came with it (before seedless pot hit our markets), wasn’t well-known. In fact, growing yourself was a crazy good idea very few followed for many years later.

Another fella there was a short muscular red-head who had to be 30-35 or so, pure farming country good old boy. He was friendly, and always had a laugh to share as a steady ball-buster. That was the thing about prison. I’d been kicked out of the house at 15 when dad broke down and therefore lost access to my four brothers. I found lots of brothers elsewhere.

And what had country boy done? He’d gotten drunk with friends and they all were hungry. So, he went into a field outside Kemptville where beef cattle were kept. There he killed and butchered an animal for its best steaks, leaving the rest of the carcass behind and fucking off with the meat. When word got out the next day, someone remembered seeing his car on the road the night before.

If remember right, while recovering at home, and still shit-faced, buddy woke up to cops looking at all the blood on the seats of his wheels sitting in the driveway.

But back to Dave, for he’s the best example I know of male competitiveness. You see, Dave was a pimp. Or, at least that’s the gist of it.

It was back in the very early days of the escort business, where the Yellow Page folks finally allowed escort ads. It blew open the pimp business as gals and guys lined up to make money. There are always women willing to sell their body for a few bucks, but it can be dangerous work. They use men to set them up and drive to the appointments and make sure they’re protected. Dave did that for a cut.

He was a good-sized kid, maybe late twenties. He wore glasses and was smart enough, verbal. In other circumstances, he would have made a good manager or business owner. He also had a twinkle in his eye and a ballsy determination. Of course, he was in for assault—something about him and another guy beating up some john who had messed with one of his girls. The usual.

Dave always had some broad visiting. Not a good-looking gal mind you, but he got visits. We’d see each other in the visiting room and know I’d soon have shit for sale. His visits didn’t bring him much. He just didn’t have that kind of pull with people. Those who couldn’t smuggle would have relatives visit and leave them $50 bills. We traded goods for that currency. In every joint I’ve been in except county buckets, there was cash to be had for drugs. Dave had neither.

But, Dave was a determined-type, we had a lot in common that way. We weren’t content to do time and wait to get out. We were proactive mother-fuckers.

I’ve been to a few comedy clubs in my time. Especially since the advent of Yuk Yuks and place like that. I’ve busted a gut in a half dozen cities I’m sure.

But I have never laughed as hard as I have while inside. It’s the war-stories. It’s reports from the underground. It’s guys who are living at times, sometimes all the time, right on the fucking edge of sanity and insanity. It gets very funny, in an incredulous way. Oh, the shit people get into.

THE BOAST

And those ball-busting war-story boasting sessions were just the kind of place where one-upmanship can be brought to a whole new level. It was at one of those gatherings of the haves, the ringleaders of the joint, where Dave uttered his infamous line, “I’d just about do anything for a $50 bill.”

Wasn’t long before suggestions were made. The usual, let a cat lick your nuts, diddle your cat, eat the pussy of a 300-pound fat chick, eat shit, etc.

“Wait a minute, did you say you’d eat shit? No way!”

Dave, not one to back down, flatly replied, “I’d eat a whole shit for a $50 bill.”

And wouldn’t you know it, guy pulls one out, red Mounties right there, waving it around while making sure the guards aren’t walking by. “I’ve got to see this. You’re on,” he says, calling Dave’s bluff in front of the boys.

Dave: “I’ll do it, wait until tomorrow when I have to go,” said matter-of-factly.

Get-the-fuck-outa-here!

And so, the next day, I’m thinking this has been called off. Nope. Dave was in my dorm, so I got to witness the plan’s progression. During the day he’d smuggled out a plastic fork and knife and small paper plate out of the dining hall. He showed them to me, asking what I thought of by way of stash.

He signaled to me when he was going in to the toilets to get his stool. “If I’m going to eat shit, I’m eating my own,” he said. Couldn’t argue that at all.

Near after supper, he’d produced a lovely stool, decent consistency, and curling in a half moon on the plate replete with tapered end where his anus had pinched it off as it exited his arsehole.

There he was, slightly acne’d and puffy faced, a little soft but his muscularity from regular workouts now showing through his shirt, and his overall demeanour a curious look of high concentration. It was as if he was treating this as no big deal, indifferent to the challenge, wisely creating a conqueror’s mindset, long before that word ever entered popular psychology’s lexicon.

And I believed him. If anyone could do this, Dave could. He was a lower echelon dweller, from the projects, living among the poor and the profane, places where suburban realities did not exist. He had banged lots of fat girls, maybe even his sister (if he had one). For sure he had his red wings, an honour gained by eating the pussy of a menstruating woman, maybe his sister’s friend or the neighbour.

He was a gladiator of gall, a welfare warrior, and mercenary of mooch. He was a sick-fuck our boy, and we were proud of him.

THE CRUX
Someone kept six at the door but didn’t linger. Instead they’d keep moving and walked across the hall while glancing up towards the offices as one by one, the guys from the night before filtered into the dorm, sitting at different beds pretending to be visiting a person here or there to not attract attention.

When the six-man signaled the guard was off the range and had moved into another one, it meant there might be twenty minutes before another appeared. It was then Dave nipped into the washroom to retrieve his prize.

The shit had congealed into a shiny, waxy state on the paper plate. You could smell it. It smelled just like shit. Only, you weren’t smelling your shit, which I presume you’re at least somewhat used to by now. No. You were smelling Dave’s shit. It was an entirely unpleasant experience. It reeked of bad food from a bad body. A ripple of moans and suffering remarks erupted from the gathered.

I insisted he do it on his bed. No way it was coming near mine. Finally, someone called him on: “You gonna do this or what?”

Dave asked to see the fifty. Then, there was the delicate negotiation of who would “hold” the fifty, you know, in case the bettor reneged. This resulted in more insults and calls for respect. Finally, the group prevailed and the holder of the fifty was persuaded to hand it off to someone he could easily take it back from if necessary.

Dave put the plate on his lap. Gingerly picking up the plastic fork and knife, he began to cut off a piece of shit, like someone cutting into a steak. Only, it didn’t give any resistance, but did cut nicely. He broke away this piece onto his fork, leaving a brown shit stain in its place on the plate.

He lifted the fork up to about chest high as he sat on the edge of that bed. He had water ready in case, or maybe it was a pop. He’d invested in whatever remedy he’d need, for fifty bucks for nothing is a rare thing in prison. That’s the way he looked at it: He was getting money for nothing.

Lifting the fork to his mouth, the collective leans back and away from him in disgust, not able to quite take their eyes from the fork and shit in front of his face. The person sitting directly across from Dave suddenly realized the precariousness of his position and made a bold move out of the way at the last minute… just in case.

Dave put the shit into his mouth. He looked fine. It was in there and his mouth had closed. He began to chew.

It may have been a few chews, but it wasn’t much more. Involuntary seizures hit him as surely as there was something knocking him on the back of the head. He soldiered on and tried to swallow, tears forming in his eyes as his body convulsed, dry heaving, chest rising and falling.

Through tears in his eyes, doubt suddenly appeared on his face. Perhaps it was the difference between what his mind commanded and the way his body responded, but he looked at once tyrannized and confused. He gulped as if to swallow once more and his throat stopped mid-way and reversed course. He began to show just a bit of brown spittle at the corners of his mouth. His lips were glossed in brown, like he’d been eating baked beans, no napkin.

He rose up, the assembled fell back on the beds before him, spreading apart on both sides like a peeled banana. Dave convulsed again, this time raising a hand to his mouth area. For the last time he tried to slide that piece of errant turd down his throat, but it would not go. His mouth remained open, where you could see the mashed shit on his tongue and teeth, like when a rude person who speaks with their mouth full.

He ran towards the bathroom stalls next to us, as people cleared their legs and feet out of his way. There, through the full-length plexiglass windows, we could see him puke up the remaining shit from his mouth, and any other shit in this stomach. Great heaving occurred as he emptied his being of any possibility of shit.

The bettor snatched the fifty from the holder while all of us moaned in sympathy and in awe. Everyone broke protocol and spoke too loudly and too often, describing every second of that scene in minute detail. “Did you see him put it in? Fuck off!” and, “I thought we about to be sprayed with shit, goddamn it!” and “Fuck me, I can’t believe I saw someone put shit in their mouth!” and, “I never thought he’d do it, no way!!” and on and on.

I’ve never fully told the shit story until now. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in passing, that I once saw a guy try to eat shit on dare. No one seemed all that interested in hearing about it. I know why. Surely, no one would believe it. And the other thing is you can’t mention it in mixed company. Bit of a mood-killer maybe.

Dave came back out of that bathroom a dejected man. He was almost apologetic. He kept saying something like, “I thought I could do it, but it just wouldn’t go down no matter how hard I tried.” To him, it was now about failure and the lost opportunity. It was rehashing the technicalities. More importantly, it was about not being able to best the fella who taunted him. He couldn’t command his body to win this one on will alone.

I’m pretty sure the rest of that bit I never let Dave get close enough to me to smell his breath. I know he brushed his teeth, I lived with him. It was just… something.

I wish him well, hoping his experiences in prison exposed his frailty. Maybe it put a convincing damper on his invincibility, and perhaps kept him alive on the outside. I hope he lived to tell this story. After getting out, I never saw him again. Never forgot him either though. How could you?

That’s what happens to men, and to boys. We compete at an entirely different level than do the girls. It’s a big difference between us. It’s unlikely in your lifetime you will ever encounter such an ordure ordeal, such as eating shit for dollars.

And if you do hear of such a thing, you can bet almost anything it won’t involve a woman instead.

Just don’t bet eating shit. Can’t be done.

Ask Dave.

Stay powerful.

cw

©CKWallace, November, 2018, all rights reserved.

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BOARD OF DIRECTORS

THE BET (true story)

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FORMS OF BLISS

I once did time in a provincial reformatory for shooting a guy. It’s a bit of a long story but the gist of it was I was attacked from behind and beaten with nunchucks over a girl. Not any girl, she was runner-up Miss Nude Ottawa and a good friend of mine. I wasn’t even fucking her, then.

To shorten the story, the owner took a dislike to me sitting there with all the strippers at my table drinking and snorting lines with the girls. I ended up a little drunk with a high school buddy who happened to come in looking to see pussy. The owner  waited until the afternoon lull before picking a fight, then siccing the headwaiter on me from behind with nunchucks. I went down but not out and left.

I came back and shot one of them and tried to kill the other one. Fucker kept throwing beer cases at me and hiding behind people as I fired, until I had only one bullet left which I kept to cover my exit.

I got away but turned myself in a few days later once the cops had raided everyone I knew. I was holed up at a gal’s place who was not my girlfriend, being looked after. From there, I arranged arrest on my terms, after a hospital visit with my lawyer to sew up my head 48 hours after I was injured, something rarely done..

I got bail after a few days, thanks to my brothers and sisters stepping up to vouch for me. This despite my having not lived at home for several years. It was also the one time my folks were not in town I found out later. My eldest brother even pledged his motorcycle as surety for bail. I guess you could do that in those days. We used a lot of the “out of character” phrase, a mantra for some time afterwards.

At the preliminary, I was suddenly thrust into a waiting room at #1 Nicholas Avenue with all the people who were going to testify against me. So, I went downstairs with my gal to the coffee shop and bought about 30 coffees and sandwiches to serve my witnesses. While asking if they needed creamers or sugar, I had a chance to give them my side of the story, impressing upon them this was “out of character” and resulted from being attacked first.

Not only that, the guy who had hit me from behind and whom I’d shot, taking out his spleen and leaving a bullet lodged up against his spine, suggested we make a deal. He’d admit he hit me first if I’d testify for him later at a criminal compensation hearing. I agreed.

Whereas my lawyer had told me straight up I’d get at least five years, waving the book with the attempted murder statute under my nose, I ended up with a deuce less. That is two years less a day. Which means I was in a reformatory. No pen time this bit.

As I returned from court and was being re-booked into the county jail’s maximum wing on Innes Road, one of the guards was a little impatient with me as he demanded yet another search at the Max Rotunda. “Turn around, hands against the wall, spread’em,” he said gruffly. I noticed some broad looking at me and stared back her with contempt, thinking she probably liked to see me humiliated in this way.


photo by Wayne Cuddington/ Postmedia

Not an hour went by before I was called out of my cell to speak through the bars at the top of the range to this very lady. Apparently, she was our new classifications officer and wanted to hear my story. Prisons were being staffed by women suddenly in our rush to progress.

Of course, I told her it was all a mistake, that it was an overreaction on my part after being brutally beaten for no reason other than petty jealousy. I did my best to convince her it was “out of character” and told her about my jewelry and furniture businesses.

By the end of the week, I had buddies deliver letters attesting to my businesses and how I was needed outside to keep things afloat. I got out within ten days of being in. The guys on my range—many of whom I knew from the outside—couldn’t believe it. I left them the rest of the hash I’d smuggled in up my ass on the day I was sentenced.

That worked out well for a while. I was in a halfway house out on Riverside, with an apartment on Innes just a few miles down the river. Meanwhile, my buddies had rented a place further out the river for the summer. I bounced between the three places.

Peanut Haven out by Manotick it was called, and I rented half of one of the three cottages with my buddy Flo. Every morning at ten while at the halfway house, I’d dress in a suit and tie, grab my briefcase and go outside to meet my partner. He’d show up in our Cadillac dressed in jeans and a T-Shirt with bulging muscles. He looked like my body guard and we didn’t deny it. Then I’d either go deal dope one place or another, the time away barely causing a ripple in my schedule.

Sometimes, my partner had other shit to do so I’d drive the Caddy around and take care of business myself. It so happened I walked into a buddy’s place to collect some money one evening, just as he was being raided. I’d almost forgot about this until my high school reunion a few months back. Someone there reminded me they were there when it happened.

I knocked on the door and when it opened I saw he was being raided and ran. They caught me on the stairs and found my keys. They searched the block and tried the locks until they found the right one. My partner had left a few ounces of pot tucked into a construction boot in the trunk without me knowing. I was busted.

I remember the ride downtown in the wagon with the other guys. How I had to push my handcuffed arms from behind my back and under me, and how they had helped me get my legs through one at a time, so I was cuffed from in front instead of behind. I remember that.

I was returned to the county bucket and reclassified. I kept telling them it was all a mistake; the pot wasn’t mine and was left there by mistake. It was still, “out of character,” despite how it looked!  I even had someone else claim the pot as theirs. We took a shot at it. The guards started calling me “silk.” My poor classification officer gal listened patiently and told me she’d send me to the easiest place possible. I was shipped out to a minimum-security joint.

No sooner than I arrived at what we called Burritts Rapids, I immediately applied for a half-way house. I remember that interview with the warden. He called me a con-artist and reminded me of the silk nickname which had followed in my classification reports from Ottawa. He denied me outright and told me to do my time. I told him I was happy to re-apply again later.

I worked at it. The thing was, you could be denied and re-apply the next day. So that’s what I did. I was turned down over and over for transfer out to the city. And the food at the Rideau Correctional Facility, as it was known officially, was terrible. By far, the worst food I’ve eaten in prison and where I was introduced to hickory tasting coffee. Horrible, I found punishing.

So I aimed for and won a day-job working at a local developmental hospital in Smith Falls. They had those at the time, since closed. I’d be bused to the hospital every morning and spend the day there working as a pool porter. I’d get a voucher where I could eat cafeteria food which was ten times better tasting than joint food. I’d also get to wear my street clothes and talk to women, good smelling gals. I could also swim in the pool if I wanted, with women lifeguards who worked there, and were nice to me! It was a good go, as they say.

 

 

 

 

 

It was there I saw what they used to do with all the kids no one wanted. There were kids wards and adult wards, male and female. They even had a series of cottage style buildings where some of the more high-functioning kids could live. I never met anyone from those.  Blind, deaf, dumb kids were dumped here by families, encouraged by doctors.

Autistic headbangers occupied whole wards, banging their hockey helmeted heads on the floor all day. Many were in diapers, toddlers who screamed and self-harmed in their self-soothing attempts, but some were older. None of those kids swam that I remember. Or if they did, I was sent to fetch them strapped in a wheelchair and brought them down one at a time.

Several wards held schizophrenics, separated into male and female. Those places were nuts at times, depending on when the meds had been given out. The male wards were tough. I saw attendants dressed in while smacking people in desperation when they were attacked, or someone was stealing an ashtray or a smoke. It was an angry place when meds wore off.

Many Down Syndrome kids and adults lived there. Every developmental issue was represented at the Rideau Regional Centre. If you had never encountered anything like this in your life, the only thing I can reckon it to is the freak shows at the ex. In those days, families gave these kids up to the state, to be institutionalized. The place had to house a thousand, I bet.

Whole wards of alcohol damaged individuals, Korsakoff Syndrome and tardive dyskinesia had a place there. Wards with people in straight jackets for their own protection and the protection of the staff. The developmentally delayed child who lives becomes a developmentally delayed adult in a place like this. Without good stimulation in these warehouse-type institutions of old, it becomes a horror story, far beyond Steinbeck’s, “Of Mice and Men.”

Everyone smoked in the place, and during the day it had clouds of smoke in every hallway and in every dorm, cigarette butts everywhere on the floor. I remember a kid who had really bad brain damage from a car accident. He was one of my first pool-porter patients. Because of him, I learned to walk on the right side of my charges with my left hand on the back of their neck and my right hand folded across my mid-section and holding on to their right forearm. This way I could pivot them one way or another in a hurry.

Big and tall and you could tell, once good-looking, Stephen was pica. And he was addicted to any stimulant, not just tobacco. He once got away from me and ran into a ward and grabbed their instant coffee and started to scoop it into his mouth by the handfuls. The attendants freaked and physically intervened and taught me how to hold on to him.

He’d run through his weekly allotment of smokes in a day or two and nic-fit the rest of the week. He’d gesture to me, two fingers tapping his mouth slowly while saying in a deep and clearly brain-damaged way, “mokee? mokee?  moke?” with a twinkle in his eye. Sometimes I’d oblige him, and become his new best friend. He could answer questions about his accident, but it took a great deal of effort. I’d bust his balls about how all the girls must have liked him.

I’d be walking him down the hall to the pool and I’d sense him looking at me out of the corner of his eye, sizing me up, getting just slightly more anxious. First time it happened he broke free and dove upon a cigarette butt on the floor and gobbled it down before I could stop him. After that, I see him start to twitch a bit and look ahead and spot his target, taking precautions.

In one of the male adult wards lived Birdman. Staff would get him up in the morning and dressed. Soon he would strip naked and sit up on the window sill in a crouch for hours and hours. His whole body, from head to toe, would turn blue from the constricted blood vessels while his tongue would dart in and out like a lizard. His penis would hang down over the side as well,  a vestigial long dong of blue. He was mostly catatonic, staring off into space.

I happened to be there when a kid with cerebral palsy sued the government for the right to make his own decisions about where to live and how to spend his monthly stipend. I can’t remember his name (Mike?) but he won in Ontario court while we were all pulling for him.

He used a Bliss board, and I had several wonderful conversations with him in his wheelchair, a big board of symbols in front of him like a table, and him awkwardly but effectively using Blissymbolics to communicate. He had a goofy smile and an intelligence in eyes that twinkled easily. I gave him my best props and pep talks as he waited his own reclassification. He was an amazing guy, really inspiring.

Perhaps it was these kids and adults who first awakened in me a dormant caring I’d suppressed on the street for many years. They were doing time like I was, society’s refuse, shuffled aside and locked away. I was a prisoner and so were they. We were on the same side, with me at Rideau Correctional Centre, while they were at the Rideau Regional Centre.

In 2013, the Ontario liberals awarded survivors of the Rideau Centre 20.6 million. David McKillop, then 63, placed there when he was just four years old, was the representative plaintiff. “I got beaten up by staff, sexual assault, everything… You couldn’t do anything about it… You couldn’t say anything about it at that time” he told the CBC after the settlement. “I still dream about memories about it… We’re going to get help for that too.  I wanted to make sure the government paid for it, what they did to us.”

Bless your heart my man. Seeing what I saw late 1970s during the day when it was at its busiest, I can only imagine what it was like at night. It’s horrifying to think of now.

It was later while studying behavioural sciences in the late 1980s where I was exposed to the Cornwall project, an initiative to keep developmentally challenged kids with their families with the support of the community. I attended “People First” meetings and became friendly with some of these charming ambassadors living with their families of origin, or in small community-based housing. It was better than what I saw by far.

We’d learned by then the more stimulation challenged kids gets in the first few years, the better their chances later. It was also admitting the best place for a kid is usually at home. At the same time, it was forcing families to take greater responsibility for their offspring, despite the problems, but with support from the state. With that, the stigma of the retarded child began to disappear. I like to believe I witnessed that turning point when my little buddy and his bliss board won his court case.

As for me, I kept applying for release and getting shot down. Each week or two, I’d appear before the warden flanked by two guards and make my case. He’d say no, and compliment me on my improved story, with a smirk on his face. Off I’d go to my dorm.

Then a miracle happened: a prison strike. The Canadian Army were called in to man the security of the province’s prisons. And you guessed it: anyone with an application for early release or transfer to a halfway house in town was automatically approved.

I was out again. Fuck you warden.

A few years later, I encountered the guy I shot at a bar, Billy’s on Somerset where I’d taken my new gal for an afternoon beer. He was still dragging one foot as he walked and thanked me for not killing him. Turns out because he admitted he attacked me first from behind in the preliminary hearing transcripts, the criminal compensation board turned him down for any award. Tough break lad.

Besides the kid with the Bliss board, and Stephen the pica, what haunts me most from those times was pulling up every day at the Rideau Regional Centre in our prison bus and seeing a big black hearse at the back of the place. I don’t remember not seeing one there in the months I was privileged to work outside of prison among these brave souls.

Sometimes the worst places teach you the most. Without contrast, what would we know about bliss?

Stay powerful,

Christopher K Wallace
© 2018, all rights reserved.

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17 OCTOBER, 2018, CANADA LEGALIZES

 

46 YEARS AGO
It has been a long time since the Ledain Commission of 1972. That’s when the Canadian gov’t decided it would reach for its own version of truth despite the bullying coming from our neighbours to the south.

 
Turns out, in typical fashion and a testament to the integrity of Gerald Ledain, commissioners Heinz Lehmann and Peter Stein voted for outright legalization. The lone female commissioner, Marie-Andree Bertrand, recommended gov’t control cannabis like it does alcohol.
 
In any case, to my 15-year-old brain, it was vindication. Furthermore, I expected, as did most of my friends, that legalization was imminent. The idea of respecting laws against cannabis given the learned panel’s findings seemed ludicrous and unlikely.
 
I first bought a nickel of brown Lebanese from the guys who hung around in front of the Heron Park store on Heron Road. Bill Mason ran it then and he tolerated up to 30 punks loitering in front of his corner store cum restaurant.
 
With newspaper money on top of lawn cutting cash, I was rolling in it for a kid of just twelve. And so, probably with Cathy Seward or one of the other gals from my neighbourhood (I don’t remember) I cut tiny pieces of hashish and droPped the chunk on a cigarette, inhaling whatever wafted towards my nose and mouth.

SMOKING CULTURE
I’d had permission to smoke cigarettes since I was eleven. My two older brothers and I were ratted out by one of our friend’s mom from up the street. She made sure to march right down into my living room and confront us with my parent’s cooperation.
 
Most of the heat was on my eldest brother. He was the leader of the brotherly trio at the top half of our family of nine. I missed most of his cross-examination, as well as the accusations against next eldest brother, and the subsequent adult interlocution that came about from this information.
 
All I remember is coming into the living room to see what the fuss was about and there she was in her splendor, Mrs. Gravelle, making sure my parents knew I was in on the outlaw’ing. “Chris was supposedly smoking too,” she said to my folks while eyeing me with one brow cocked. For a woman of good looks, this made her particularly ugly and my impression of her remains so to this day.
 
Of course, by age twelve, in a family like mine, I knew it was best to deny everything to the end no matter the consequences. I’m not sure how it was the wicked woman from up the street finally left, but by the time I met up with my two brothers downstairs, we were in full crisis mitigation.
 
I think one said they found some in his underwear drawer, but the main stash—the carton—was still up high in a tree over past Brookfield Gardens, the next neighbourhood beside us, and a ten-minute walk.
 
So, it was to my surprise a verdict was handed down later. The court (my father) had reserved judgment. Knowing my father better now, I know full well he rendered his surprisingly merciful answer in protest at Mrs. Gravelle’s snooty self-righteousness. As a diplomat, he would have listened and agreed, recognized her virtue as a front for cruelty, and hustled her out the door.
 
Then he gave my brothers permission to smoke, saying, he was allowed a pipe-full of tobacco per week at our age so that was our allotment. My mother was the one who told me the news. I implored her to be included in the decree. She ushered me in front of my father and prompted my request for permission. And I got it. I finagled the equivalency principle, one pipe full of tobacco OR one package of cigarettes bought with my own money. He’d never be able to monitor it.
 
I was headed to grade seven in September with permission. I’d arrive at school with a pack of Export A’s in my t-shirt sleeve. Later, I switched to DuMaurier because they were milder and the girls like them better.
 
The reason I mention this is because this made me a cool kid, sort of. And so, I was invited to do all the bad things first. And a year later, one of those things was trying out this dope smoking thing. And that’s pretty much how I smoked it: pin tokes, hot knives, or a pipe. It wasn’t until I was around 17 that an older guy, Doug, patiently taught me how to roll a joint properly. Of course, I got good at that too.
 
I smoked it pretty much every day for over forty years. When I dealt hash a few years later, I’d smoke it during the day. All through my gangster years smoking hash was normal, perhaps like smoking cigarettes was for someone else.
 
I gave up cigarettes at about age eighteen or so and started again in my late twenties for a few years before quitting again. For decades though, I drop a curtain down on my day each night with a joint.
 
I’d lived through heroin and cocaine addiction. I’d pulled myself off the streets and returned to school. I quit for a couple of years then but eventually drifted back into smoking at the end of the day. It was my nightcap like others might enjoy a glass of wine.

EPIPHANIES
It was my first son who provided me with the epiphany I needed to get off the streets and stay out of prison. And it was my second son who helped me solve the riddle of addiction.
 
When not much is happening in life, times when things are on auto-pilot, you can smoke every day with not much consequence. But let the shit hit the fan a bit and that’s where the rubber hits the road on personal mettle. Those are times when your balls are needed, no ifs, ands or buts. When a man is called upon to serve his family, being stoned cannot be an excuse.
 
It’s then I started to notice more carefully my symptoms. I began to decipher the actual physiological effects and scrutinized the consequences throughout the whole chain of my being. I can explain these another day.
 
I had a boy in Sick Kids, a missus staying at Ronald McDonald House, a three-year-old daughter to look after, and a business to run. It’s how I saw the limitations of my drug use. It was only then I realized it was costing me a decent percentage of my focus and power as a man.
 
Beginning to come out of my fog, I saw I’d been living a compromised life for a long time. Fucking decades. I’d been incrementally getting better but at no where near the rate I could operate at, not by a far margin.
 
I’d been going sideways for most of my life because LeDain and the rest of them said it should be fine. It wasn’t.

CONSEQUENCES  
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s mostly none of the gov’t’s business what we do with plants we grow. I remember an old Indian guy (from India) who grew a few poppies in his backyard. From these, he’d make a little opium and use it in a tea to help his aches and pains. His arrest made the papers. Gave him time if I remember correctly. I’m against that. I think it’s overreach and a tyranny worth resisting.
 
It’s just today it’s legal in Canada, forty-six years after we said it should be, and now we’ll have to learn what I learned. Because, I smoked it most of my life and I know intimately where it takes us.
 
My concern is this: we’re about to see a collective drop in confidence all over the land. More guys going sideways. More kids, more adults, more women and men with a bad case of the tomorrows. Later, they’ll say. Smoke another one.
 
Because smoking dope kills confidence. It does this because it puts the body into a fear state. And it’s the body where feelings reside. You cannot be afraid on any level and be confident. Mutually exclusive things they are. One or the other, not both.
 
Confidence is the stuff that takes thoughts and turns them into actions. Kind of important. In fact, critical.
 
So, I’m glad it’s finally legalized. But rather than reading exclusively about the latest cannabis stock bonanza, or the latest merger, or the news of another billion dollars being invested, I’d like to see some balance. Where’s the other side?
 
Tonight, I read in the National Post about the issue of excise stamps, which must go on every package of cannabis shipped, and how difficult it is these are provided with numbers but no glue on the actual stamps, so the pot manufacturer can more easily affix them to their products. Like, fuck off eh? Doesn’t anyone else realize the insanity of devoting newspaper space to this trivial bullshit?
 
Where is the comparisons to jurisdictions where it is legal? What’s the effect on addiction rates, homelessness, accidents, teenage use, etc. etc. I see news about investment and some news about how the cops are being paid off with new duties, chipping away at liberty with greater powers out on the road.
 
The executive branch and the judicial branch serving big business. That’s what I see. I think it’s shameful and I don’t have a good feeling about this. I’m not against it but this is a steamroller. No one is getting in the way, no one.
 
In the 90s, feeling burned out myself, I learned to grow pot. In no time, I had a bunch of places on the go and learned to make great hashish from my raw product. In fact, I’d make what I called BC Camo, which one French chick would call, “le hash qui assome,” i.e. knockout hash. I still have my screens and hash press.


A couple of years ago, missus said she like to smoke the odd bit with her sister. So, I grew her a couple of plants. She hasn’t smoked any. I keep giving it away since I don’t smoke it either.
 
Two weeks ago, I made some hash for a friend. I tried to smoke some and it’s just too fucking killer. Can’t do it. So, I have this big ball of hash lying around for when guest stay over. That’s how it was back in the day, back when I first used hashish socially while living on my own.
 
If you came to my house in the 70s, often in the 80s or parts of the 90s as well, as you left I’d press a piece of the good shit into your hand so you could smoke it later. There was a nice ritual about it. It was a small act of kindness, or of largesse and pride. I suppose I’d do it again if you come to visit.
 
But what I’d like to see is a rational discussion of some of the other parts of the cannabis story. I knew a kid named Mikey who got so paranoid from drugs, mainly cannabis, that he got early onset schizophrenia or something. He jumped out a seventh-floor window.
 
I hear enough about how it cures everything from the common cold to cancer. Or that CBD oil is the best sleep aid made. What the fuck is wrong with sleeping without any aids? Nature didn’t make it so you needed a cannabis derivative to get to sleep. You know I have an insomnia course right?
 
In any case, it’s the life gone sideways I am concerned about. It’s the confidence we lose from daily dope-smoking that’s risky. There’s plenty of weakness already in the world. There’s lots of things that can turn a man into a docile lamb, so he hangs up his balls and acquiesces to the vagaries of life.
 
Meek and mild is just the way the powers that be like to keep the population. Go visit an old-age home and watch the zombies there. Visit a grade school and the boys are on Ritalin. How many of us can see our doctor and not leave with a script? Now they have legalized low confidence and indecision for everyone. Nice.
 
If ever there was a time to buck the trend, to not follow the crowd, this might be it. Confidence is your juice, don’t compromise it for anything.
 
Don’t let this one get you.
 
Stay powerful.

cw

©2018, ckwallace at ckwallace.com

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TWIGGY

FEMINISM MAGNIFIED PART ONE
TWIGGY: A LOVE STORY

THE GREASE
Recently North America has been held hostage by yet another scandalous media circus about gender. This is the latest in a series of spats pitting the left against the right, elites against populists, and importantly, a small segment of feminists against all men.

I’d like to make a couple of points about this, namely to say the attention is not the reality, sort of the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And secondly, feminism has been magnified in scope from decent beginnings. My expertise is only as a witness to the era.

I was born in 1957. Not a particularly aware child, I began reading newspapers early. By the time I left home in the early 1970s, I wasn’t savvy about survival, but was well-exposed to adult issues.

Government, women, war and nuclear annihilation, jobs and the economy, the civil rights movement and finally, women’s liberation, were generally discussed. As Canada opened, immigration became a hot topic, but by the time that happened I was an adult myself.

I had worked from the age of ten or so, first at newspapers and then at lawns and snow shoveling, then adult jobs, which meant I had older people around sounding off on everything. Being a polite kid, I made for a good listener.

Absorbing the moods and frustrations of the times, I still remember the sense I got from people in those days. It’s not much different from stuff folks talk of today.

At 16, I hung with a group of guys and we all worked and sold dope and partied the rest of the time. My two-bedroom place at one address or another was often overrun with young teenage runaways who would move in and cook and clean for a place to stay.

Almost my whole sixteenth year was spent living with a handful of wenches and my part-time roommate. Mike was his name, and he fought a lot with his dad, so he kept a place with me as refuge but often went home for a week or more.

If you showed the slightest interest in one of those gals during the day, she’d be climbing under your covers that night. The pill had made a big difference by this time; all the girls I knew were on it.

THE DAME
The next time I was tangentially involved in the women’s rights movement was when Twiggy moved in. Only, she was no teenager.

She was a mother of two children and had already hit the wall. That makes her over 30 in my estimation. I lived in a sprawling two-bedroom on Marier Street in Vanier, in those days a predominantly French enclave East of Ottawa’s Lowertown.

Twiggy isn’t her real name. In fact, I don’t even know her name now, despite spending those weeks with her one summer when I was sixteen.

She and her husband were Scientologists, and had a house in Overbrook, the neighbourhood just South of Vanier. It was my friend Mickey who brought her over. Mickey was a wild man. He always had wheels and he drove drunk like everyone else in those days.

THE INTERLUDE
I remember learning the car-chase dodge from Mickey. It was coming back from Hull, which is just over the bridge on the Quebec side and where you could drink until 3 in the morning and buy quarts of beer from corner stores at any age.

Somehow, he got into an imagined beef with a car in front who braked in a fashion Mickey didn’t appreciate on Rideau Street, the main road into Vanier from downtown.

Right near Charlotte Avenue, Mick pulls out and passes these guys and nips in front of them at the lights. Then he’s out of the car in a flash with steel nunchuks from under his seat and is swinging away at the car behind us before any of us can react.

He takes out both their headlights and smashed off their sideview mirror, and then cracks the fuck out of their windshield while the guys inside cower, too afraid to come out and meet this madman. We all got out, but it happened so fast we just watched. Then, Mick jumps back in and we’re off as the light turns green, leaving their car all fucked up.

Problem was a cab driver saw it all and was on our tail with the radio mic in his hand. We speed as he chased us all through an area just over the Montreal Road bridge called Eastview. Mick was having trouble shaking the cab and knew it would only be a matter of time for cops to show up in numbers.

So, he floored it on one block to put a bit of distance between him and the cab driver, turned a left at the top of the block at speed and another left onto the next block without hardly slowing down, and quickly pulled into the second or third driveway and shut off the engine and lights. “Everybody down!” he shouted.

Sitting in the front seat, I leaned back and allowed myself to slink into the leg room area, just catching the cab whizzing by the end of the block a few doors away. Mick rolled his window down and waited until he heard the other car’s engine rev on the next block, then started up and retraced his step, going right and zig zagging out of the area in the opposite direction.

It was like something right out of the movies, but it worked. Eastview and Vanier streets were like a rat’s maze, but we knew them well. In no time, we’d circled wide and had the car parked behind my place.

THE PROBLEM
Anyway, back to Mickey and Twiggy. He knew her somehow, and knew of her situation. He wasn’t fucking her either, they were more friends or neighbours. All I remember is him showing up and asking Mike if she could stay there temporarily. Mike checked with me; we rarely turned down women.

We already had two wonderful gals staying there, Bev and Janet, who had followed us from our last place around the corner on Laval Street. I was temporarily out of work I think, so spent a lot of time at the apartment, sometimes banging both in the same day.

I realize now Mickey called our guest Twiggy for a reason. She was beautiful, with jet black hair cut very short in the style of mom’s have made their children a priority. She was short, maybe 5’3” and curvy enough, good hip to waist ratio. Hence, Mickey was being kind.

I remember her saying something to him, with a slightly embarrassed look on her face and Mickey responding with something like, “Who you kidding? You’re like… Twiggy.” And that’s how he introduced her, and, catching on, that’s what I called her. The real Twiggy was a top model in the 1960, thin and still popular in the 1970s.

I spent at least two weeks with our guest, day and night. Of course, other people came by and bought hash, and we all cooked and cleaned and slept and banged. But most of my attention was on Twiggy.

She had jet-black hair eyes to match, with those endearing crow’s feet women get around the eyes. When she smiled, her lashes and crow’s feet and the glint in her eyes combined to make them shine like diamonds. And her smile, teeth white and wide. I would have followed that smile anywhere and done anything to see it again.

I had a crush on her. And I flirted with her. She laughed at the attention and would explain why it would never work out. I’d counter with an objection answer, selling myself for a song. And she was so sweet to me, and all I wanted to do was make her happy. We talked, a lot. We spoke intimately in a way not possible with the slew of young gals I’d been hanging around with.

She told me her husband had got her into Scientology. I remember reading L. Ron Hubbard’s book back then. There were people handing them out for free. I’d read more than a hundred sci-fi books before leaving home and so this was up my alley. I found it disappointing and wondered how anyone could buy into the premises he proposed.

But not Twiggy and her husband. She said his big thing was becoming “clear,” that is, having divulged every little secret, every little fantasy or sin or bad thought that has ever crossed your mind. Clear is clear. This was the key to the Scientologist’s freedom, to be rid of the tyranny of guilt and distortion, to lose the need for lies. To bare it all.

Only, he didn’t like what she had to say and used it to question their marriage. She protested, and demanded he pull away from Scientology—for the sake of her and their two children, for all them—refusing to continue herself.

That was her downfall. It was his excuse to begin a new relationship with one of the faithful and declare her, for all intents and purposes, and ex-communicated soul. They went to court and used the information told to the flock as proof of her inadequacy as a parent and her failure as a wife. He took her children. She lost them.

It hurts a man to lose contact with his children, I know this now. But I’m 60 and have a lifetime of tales from men to inform me. But to take a woman’s children, from a loving mother who cares and nurtures and is attentive and gave them birth?

At 16, already I knew this to be against the natural order of things. I knew then it was as egregious as it is now.

Her pain was immense. It was all-encompassing. It doubled her over in despair. It took this beautiful, vivacious ray of sunshine and darkened her like a night of clouds. She sought to bear it alone, to not share this burden with anyone else lest it be misunderstood. Lest it compound her shame. I stood by her the best I could but more, it was that I could not help her. I wanted to act. She wouldn’t let me..

But I felt her pain like a man programmed to protect should. I wanted to exact revenge and make her whole. My every cell burned with desire to serve under her in pursuit of justice. I would have made her my main mission and righteously stopped at nothing to restore her peace; anything to prevent her smile and diamond eyes from going dim.

But it was not to be. In those days, adultery could lose a woman access to her children. A man with a stable home and stand-in wife could apparently take a woman’s children with the right lawyer and judge.

The law was unfair. It seemed so to me.

THE CHANGE
When I think back to those times of the women’s movement, I think of Twiggy. We needed laws to recognize greater equality between us. Like most things that are settled by justice, change takes time, but we usually get there. As more women entered the workforce, their influence grew, and change came.

Did we need a full-fledged women’s rights organization to achieve these wholesale changes as we moved to equality? It’s anyone’s guess but I don’t think we did, certainly not past the “women’s liberation” stage of things. But that’s just my impression. I’ll leave the sociologists and journalists to argue the merits of each side better than I can.

Like most social upheavals, you get a pendulum swing that overcompensates for one group at the cost to another. It’s not enough to say the bigger the injustice the greater the swing, because the civil right movement never benefitted blacks this way. Cultures in the west often lurch to and fro but the women’s movement lurched far.

Now we see men being left behind in family court in a way that is not dissimilar to the extreme prejudice found 50 years ago against women in Twiggy’s circumstances. Comeuppance? Come on.

Why, I remember the neighbourhood guys telling me a man was legally allowed to rape his wife when I was a kid. I was probably twelve or so. Couldn’t be charged for it. Rape was only considered an offense outside of marriage after 1983. Legal stuff. Important legal stuff.

I say all this to underline the necessity of change in my lifetime. Like a lot of things which begin with good intentions and do some good, intersectionality is a another example, feminism has morphed into a destructive force. It’s all but destroyed conventional marriage and it’s being exported across the world. Look no further than the hilarious, “Do it for Denmark,” campaign begging men to impregnate women younger and more often lest the population disappear.

THE REALISM
Fact is, even back then, the Twiggy’s were few and far between. Tragic as her case was, and as moved by it as I was and am, it was far from the norm. Most people got along and lived out their lives with the usual ups and downs as successfully or unsuccessfully as they could. Gender norms and the rest of it never had much to do with it.

Men and women have always banded together to find ways to support each other in life, to carve out an existence from the raw materials of culture and environment. It’s important to remember this has not changed. We still have wives and girlfriends and mothers and sisters, and we still consult and cooperate with them as we always have.

We are still likely to pair-bond and create a life with a person of the opposite sex, as we have for tens of thousands of years. It took a long time for women to domesticate men into caring for them and their young, feminism is ruining a good thing for all, especially for mothers of children.

It reminds me of the Lindy effect Nicholas Taleb talks about in one of his books: a book in print for a hundred years will most certainly still be in print in one hundred more. A book in print for just a few years has almost no chance of still being around a century from now.

I’ll bet on Mother Nature. Men and women will keep doing their thing, and for the most part with nothing but the best of intentions on both sides following prescribed paths set down long ago. The shrill minority you hear in the media does not speak for most women.

It might pique some women’s collective interest at times and to a degree. But feminism’s anger is not how women live with men—because men and women don’t live that way and last. It’s unsustainable because it means us versus them, and that’s not living at all. It’s not love.

THE GOODBYE
I realize now Twiggy was waiting for a cheque. She never told me this but I’m sure that’s what held up her departure for she knew she was leaving soon as something was settled. I suppose it took two weeks or so, maybe three on the outside.

I lost the battle to become her new knight in shining armour. Perhaps I was just bullshitting myself, enamored as I was by her intelligence and maturity, and her smile and eyes, and her kindness towards me.

On the morning she left, she pulled me to her. We’d never made love and frankly, it was not a dominant thought of mine that we should.

It was with some surprise that I allowed her to take my hand and bring me to her mattress on the floor, covering us with her sleeping bag. There she was naked and smiling. Her skin was softer and fragile than any woman’s body I had ever touched. She was warm and tender, and insisted I fuck her before she left.

I remember thinking, “You don’t have to do this,” but she went about it as if she was paying me off somehow. I knew to turn her down it might hurt her—the last thing I wanted. I’d never pursued her body, it was her wisdom, her encouragement, and her vulnerability which matched us. It is men who are the romantics after all. And boys.

She was hitchhiking out west on her own. I wanted to come with her, to make sure she was safe. She laughed at me and caressed my cheek, saying she’d get better rides without a boyfriend. I knew she was right. Half the people I knew hitchhiked across the country.

I walked her over to Beechwood Avenue. There I sat on the steps of historic St Charles Church, as she went across to the north side of the street with her giant backpack and sleeping bag rolled up and laced on in traveler’s fashion. She stuck her thumb out and for a few cars, each time a group passed she’d smile at me and wave.

I waited for no more than 10 minutes, tears streaming down my face but too far away for her to see, waving back and forth. Only then could I express the sorrow I felt for her, out of her sight. I was proof where there is one man, albeit not much more than a boy, who would devote himself to her, there would be more.

And then, with one final wave and a dazzling smile I can still see in my mind’s eye, she was gone.

She acts as my fading avatar for women’s rights.

Gone from my life, impossible to forget.

Stay powerful,

Christopher K Wallace

©ckwallace, 2018, all rights reserved

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WHERE MEN EXIST

WHERE MEN EXIST

Sometimes good lessons come from the most mundane experiences. It’s usually moments with few witnesses where little miracles play out in our lives. It’s especially true in matters of the heart. For me, it’s these times where I remember: we find it early or we find it late, but we must find love.

My boy shit his pants today. I know, not exactly something to write home about, but in so many other ways it was. Poor kid. Missus kept him home from school because he’d been a little worn out yesterday. I’ve learned not to question her intuition regarding her boy. She’s usually right.

I heard him first from about 75 feet away, near the double outhouse just past the rabbit pens. It’s on the edge of the cut lawn, if I can call it lawn. It’s also where missus has a couple of nooses tacked up against the overhanging roof of the old double-seater outhouse there, just so she can string up chickens.

As usual, I was killing, she was processing. These were meat birds she’d let live long past their due date as an experiment. She wanted to know if she could turn them into egg layers. She got two or three eggs out of one of the four birds, total.

She’s from the city and all this is new to her. She can take the time and learn on her own in whichever way she wants as far as I’m concerned. If she wants to allow an 8-week meat bird to live to 16 weeks just to see what happens, she can.

Though, I’d been reminding her to whack these fowl for a month, she resisted. Today, she relented, if I do the “coup de grace.” Fine by me, men are used to doing the dirty jobs. We’re handy in that way.

In any case, I’d just strung up the last one and done the deed. The bird was flapping wildly and flinging blood all around. Missus likes me to leave them bled and with the head off. I oblige her, she does the rest.

And today, as that final bird’s head came off, I heard his cry: “Daddy, I pooped my pants!” I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly and since he was a way across the yard, past the rabbits and the pond and the burn barrel and up on the back porch, I got him to repeat it.

“I pooped my pants,” he repeated, along with an explanation about what happened, but I couldn’t make it out from that far away. I just needed him to confirm what I thought he said. He did. He had indeed shat his pants—or had an accident if you prefer. His ma was elbow deep in blood and feathers. It fell to me.

Instructing him to not move, not an inch, I put away my tools and drove the Mule with its now empty cages back over to his side of the grass. I parked and put away the hatchet and utility knife, remembering in my haste to not take the chance of leaving them out lest I forget about them.

I found him impatient and concerned, standing at the top of the steps on the porch, and full of reasons. On mostly a liquid diet because of a collapsing windpipe, he has only recently began to eat fuller meals. I suppose that means his readiness in such a case is still in development.

He’d tried to make it, running from “over there,” pointing to where missus was processing her chickens under the crab apple tree. He’d been hanging around her while she worked and couldn’t get inside on time.

Regardless of his condition, I knew precisely what to do and what to say and I’ll tell you why. I remember shitting my pants as a boy about his age, some 55 years ago.

MY FIRST MEMORY
It was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I was probably 4 but could have been 5. Ma had ten pregnancies in 12 years, so by the time I was 4 or 5 there were lots of us around. She was taxed to the limit. The brother two up from me was bronchial asthmatic, then she lost a girl before me—which she later blamed on painting the stairs with lead paint—and the sister after me was sickly. If I was 5 then there would have been at least a couple more in diapers and likely ma would have been expecting.

As a sensitive kid, I remember toilet training was traumatic under the circumstances. I was a disappointment and took more years to learn than my mother would have liked. Poor ma, she did her best, but I wore her patience out soundly.

But, that day she was nowhere in sight. Who knows where she was, maybe at the doctors, maybe giving birth? Instead, a fearful man was in charge. I’d been warned by ma to be on my best behavior.  I remember getting a pre-scolding about it, a finger-shaking and stern talking to before she left. I was afraid already.

And so, as it was every day, we were fed and put outside. I wasn’t allowed to leave the property, so while my two older brothers and eldest sister were off doing something else, I lingered out front on the sidewalk.

When the urge to go hit me, it was sudden and forceful. From the sidewalk, eyeing the steps up the walk way and the distance to the front door and its porch, I knew I’d never make it. I needed a reschedule.  Desperately, I sat down on a cement step and wedged the sharp edge of its form into the crack of my ass, fully expecting to arrest the forward movement of my stool.

Not a chance. Nature had other plans and out came the inevitable. Only now, it mushroomed inside my underwear and immediately pancaked against both cheeks. I’m sure at some point I realized the futility of my attempt to thwart its progress and probably allowed the rest of the number to proceed disastrously as it intended. I was helpless, all-in on failure. Ma’s warning foretold my misery. Of all the days for this to happen…

I was in a pickle now. Looking back over my shoulder at the door to the house, remembering ma’s seriousness before she left, fearful of the navy man home on leave whom I knew only as a stranger, the idea of him being my father not a concept grasped with any comfort, I was filled with escalating dread.

It was here I realized my options were limited. I could not sit there in my shit, it’s caking and sticking to my bum obvious to anyone walking by from the smell alone. It would only be a matter of time before either a kid from the neighbourhood or my own siblings would find me there. Either way, the man in the house would be alerted and who knows what would happen?

I decided to sneak back in and attempt my own rescue. Up I went, waddling, penguin-like down the cement walkway towards the front door. I didn’t hold much promise of pulling this off, just as I knew sitting out front of the house on the two steps down to the sidewalk with a full load in my pants was not viable.
DUDLEY STREET, HALIFAX, N.S

Approaching the door, carefully, legs spread wide most uncomfortably, with a serious demeanour, I reached for the front handle.

To my surprise, suddenly it opened from inside and there stood my father. He towered over me, handsome I suppose, looking poised in his sleeveless T-shirt and crew-cut hair,  smoking a cigarette I’m pretty sure. Looking me up and down, the paralysis of my body matching the stunned look on my face, he exhaled smoke and enquired something to the effect of, “Had a little accident, son?” How did he know?

He had a neutral look on his face from what I can remember. There was no hint of disgust or disappointment. It was all a matter-of-fact sort of thing. I know I stumbled a weak reply, affirming his suspicion and adding in explanation.

In answer, all he did was toss his finished smoke pass me onto the lawn or driveway and say, “Well, let’s get you inside and cleaned up.”

No lecture. No waggling fingers. No raised voice. No angry story about letting anyone down. No accusation about doing it on purpose. No nothing. Just sanctuary and the promise of cleanliness and fresh clothes.

Whomever this man was, I felt a physical shift I can still remember. He’d earned the right to be called my father at that moment. He was strong, powerful, undeterred by the problems at hand. He was unrushed and purposeful. He was in charge and that was fine by me. No tragedy was too great for him to handle. Unflappable and confident he was. It’s my purest image of masculinity.

It was with great relief I submitted to my father’s care that day. I don’t remember much of how he got me whole again, but I remember a deep respect for him from the experience. He had modeled something I had not seen, and it’s never left me, not in the more than half century since.

BACK TO TODAY
It was not me answering the worried call of my boy’s lament this morning. No. Not at all. It was my father who exists inside of me who today rose to the challenge in the same way he had all those years ago.

It is he who calmly took charge and without judgment got the boy out of his clothes, washed him off with the hose and poured him a warm bath. It was my father who toweled off my boy as he chattered about the experience to me in broken images of how it all came to be. It was my father who listened patiently and joked with the boy so that he smiled and laughed and stayed connected. It was my father. It was all my father you see.

And now, my 89-year old dad is languishing in a memory care ward at an old age home. He was put there by my sisters for his own good, his dementia having progressed too far to live at home any longer. He’s busted both hips, one of them twice, and the falls were becoming too numerous for their care to allow. He’s sometimes incoherent, a travesty for a man who lived surrounded by books.

Of those ten pregnancies, he and my deceased mother raised nine children. My father has five sons, four of whom had sons. Yet, none named a boy after their dad, Howard Carew Wallace. I teased him it was because he was a drinker when a young man and pissed everyone off—so no one thought to ensure his name endured.

To be fair, neither did he encourage it. You see, my father’s father was also named Howard. Howard Vincent Wallace was a WW1 vet and had disowned my father right when he was about the same age as I was that day in Halifax. His first memory was of his father striking his mother and leaving the family destitute and abandoned, and not returning for over 30 years.

My father had attempted to reconcile with his father in the time since his return to live in Ottawa, but it never came to pass. I remember angry arguments between them as a boy growing up. Dad lived his whole life burdened with the self-loathing of the rejected. Named after his father, and his spitting image, he waited for some sign of acknowledgement. His father insisted he was not his.

When my grandfather died aged 98, it was my father who held his frail old hand, still waiting for recognition, for a sign of reconciliation and acceptance. It never came.

It was this understanding which allowed me the kind of awareness I needed to move past this part of my father’s legacy. Despite the odd glimpse of what could have been, his pain was too great and compounded over too many years to allow him to be much of a father himself.

He did his best. It wasn’t good enough but it’s all he had.

As I moved through my own life the effects of the men before me followed like a curse. It was my first son well over thirty years ago which forced me to confront the chaos that had followed us all. It was there I took a stand. If at first just an impulse to survive knowing there had to be a better way, eventually I was forced to go deep and find the wisdom I know my father would have wanted to teach had he been able to.

TAKING A STAND
I can trace five generations of Wallace turmoil through the men before me. It was up to me to stand up and decide as a father and as a man: the pain stops here.

Every so often over the years, as I’d tell dad something about my approach to parenting, he would remark to someone in the room, “Christopher is doing his best to not be like me,” and I would know it was his way of approving without contesting his own deficiencies.

At first I didn’t realize it was that obvious but later saw I was proceeding as a father exactly as he observed, with all my might.

When I got a second gift at parenting, it was finally time to give my father a namesake. Indeed, that little boy who shit his pants this morning is also Howard. Howard Thomas William Wallace.  I dare say, when Little Howie visits with me at Grandpa Howie’s, it’s magic between them.

It wasn’t a burden helping the boy this morning, it wasn’t at all an inconvenience. No. For my father, for us both, for all the Wallace men before me and after me, it was an honour; it was a privilege.

And that’s the way it works among us, isn’t it? It is insufficient to describe we each inhabit ourselves alone. The idea you are you and I am I, that you are over there, and I am over here, is a weak explanation for how we really live. For this is not at all true. We clearly exist in each other.

My father was once a cub reporter for the very Halifax paper which carried the news of his own idolized grandfather’s death. He’d been taking a shortcut with his horse and buggy and was struck by a train in 1919. I found the original article for him a couple of years ago, when he was still lucid and could read. Still searching for an identity all this time after having his own robbed during his lifetime, he thought it was a great find, considering his grandfather a hero.

He spent the better part of three decades in Her Majesty’s Royal Canadian Navy and rose to Lt Commander, visiting over 50 countries. He chaired the group which wrote the English style book for the public service of Canada. He taught me how to write when I was fifty.

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away, said McArthur. My father sleeps 22 hours lately. He has slightly better days and not so good ones. Probably soon, he will stop eating as he winds down like an old clock.

But he’ll not be gone, faded yes, but not gone. Instead, like any of us connected to each other, he’ll echo endlessly down through time in the people he affected along his way. Especially  in those he loved and who loved him.

Today, for a few moments, I was happy to be my father.

Unknowingly, so was my boy and hopefully, my father will appear in my boy’s boy one day too.

For better or worse, fathers exist in their sons.

Stay powerful,

True and Free,

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TO BE OR NOT TO BE

It’s About Words 

Gents, this is not a post about Shakespeare. Though reading the bard gives leaves me feeling a bit dizzy, searching for levels of meaning I missed, I still appreciate him and his talent.

What this post is about is the words we choose. It’s a post about one of the two superpowers of the Chain of Being. Focus and Language transcend the Chain, affecting both physiology and thinking. I want to talk about word choice.

My father was first a newspaper reporter in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He resisted going into advertising, something which would have been a natural fit for him considering it’s what his father and uncles did. Estranged from his dad for most of his life, he challenged himself elsewhere as a wordsmith.

Eventually, he wrote the style manual for the Canadian Armed Forces, and then chaired the group which developed the Public Service of Canada’s reference of the same name. Often, books would arrive at my home asking dad to review them for an author. In retirement, he served as editor and proofreader at a local outfit near his home, the Grunge Press.

Our family grew up surrounded by books. Indeed, I have many of my father’s old volumes, now added to my own collection. It’s interesting to see the differences in writing styles from his era and before, and now to today.

The Right Words

During my childhood, my father would ALWAYS correct me when I spoke, helping me to find the right word to express what it was I was trying to explain. It wasn’t enough for him to rely upon, “You get what I mean.” Nope. The old man insisted on the exact word to best describe your thoughts and to fit what was said.

To that end, most, if not all, of our conversations entailed corrections, rewordings, clarifications and more rewording. When I was young, this was annoying. Often the words he used I did not know, not very well anyway. But those small exactitudes helped me be more precise. The problem was this: his precision often had to do with how I somehow came up short on something.

But overtime, especially as I learned to read more complicated books in my teens, these subtle differences made for deeper understanding. And it helped me explain myself to others better. I’m sure it got me laid.

Language needs precision because of its ability to carry memory. As you know, the Chain of Being starts with Physiology, which creates an Emotional State, upon which the brain predictively derives Feelings based on past experiences and finally, Thoughts, best understood as bodily explanations. All of it is done surreptitiously, beneath awareness, with body, state and feelings lightning fast, thoughts coming up at the rear later, then measured up against reality.

Words with Extra Bullshit

Because of our various histories, words can become loaded, meaning they can carry more meaning than just their dictionary versions. Use a word too many times for the wrong purposes, or in an exaggerated way, and it quickly loses its power. Words like “awesome,” fantastic,” and many others no longer carry the same weight they once did. They become a cliché, part of cultural memes no longer tied to their original meaning. They lose power.

It’s hyperbole. Now there’s a word. I first encountered this one selling magazines door to door when I was sixteen. A customer refused my sales pitch and said, “I’m not taken-in by your hyperbole and my answer is no,” as he shut the door. I had no rebuttal for this one because I had no idea what he’d said. Later, my manager, a college grad, gave me a definition but I had to go look it up myself to get what kind of dismissal it really was.

“Awesome” and “fantabulous” are hyperbole. My customer could have just cut to the chase and used the word, “bullshit.” That one I understand.

Thinking or Feeling?

We also fool ourselves with language in every day speech. When we say, “I feel that…”, we are not telling someone what we feel at all. We are telling them what we think. Only, we are using the “feel” word to manipulate the listener, hopefully so will be more accepting what we say. After all, a feeling is personal, and each person’s feelings are their own. There’s no accounting for them, so hiding behind “I feel that…” is a great way to dishonestly deceive another. It’s loaded.

We are also hard on ourselves when we insist on using the sometimes self-flagellation words “should” or “must” but just as often these are used to demand something from others. “You should…” or “We all should…” have a place in life, especially in the context of suggesting an approach we favour, one that will result in a better world. But we must be careful about allowing should and must to tyrannize our souls with inadequacies, the kind amounting to “I’m not good enough.”

You’ve no doubt heard it said as “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” the triumvirate whips of coming up short. Be on guard for these insidious perversions of language. Know them for what they are, often petulant demands of ourselves and others.

“Have to” is another one. Nobody “has” to do anything. Make sure you are deciding you “have to” and not lamenting you “have to.” Big difference. One is agency and power, the other is self-pity and weakness. Know which is which. Better still, why not just make the commitment and say, “I will?”

Then, there’s “I can’t.” It’s another devious one. I can’t fly. This is partially true. I am certain if I jump off a tall building and start to flap my arms I’m going to hit hard far below. In this case, it’s a statement of fact. But I can certainly fly in an airplane along with another hundred or so passengers and come and visit you.

If I don’t like flying in airplanes, and refuse to do so, a more honest statement is “I won’t fly in a plane.” Now, it’s a decision. Can’t means won’t. It’s tricky, and it’s one of the ways a man allows bullshit to creep into his life.

To Be and E-Prime

What about “to be” verbs? These are a mess of trouble. The ones we need to discuss are as follows: Being, been, be, was, is, am and are. Problems arise when we use these because they describe things as fixed entities.

He was “being” a baby. You’ve “been” fooled. Don’t be mean. It “was” wrong. I “was” better..  He “is” wrong. I “am” OK. You “are” OK. These are all examples of pronouncements, fixed state qualitative judgments. What about “I am not good enough? Where’s the possibility of transformation in that?

Not great for communication, you and I both still use them. Only, now you’ll be aware of their extra power. They don’t easily permit change, or a fluid state of affairs which would allow dialogue and compromise. They suggest a fixed state of being not easily moved forward into something else, something more.

You could try the above these ways: He’s struggling to find his maturity. If you were fooled, what did you learn? Can you be nicer? It wasn’t the best response given circumstances. You excelled today. His answer might not produce the result he’s looking for. Today, I feel good. I think you look OK, are you? Now, you’re introducing the possibility of change, of levels of quality, of fluidity.

Based on E-prime language from a fella named Korzybski’s book from the 1930s, Science and Sanity (available online as a free PDF), Mel Schwartz gives a bunch of examples in his essay, Change a Word, Change a Life. Among the examples he uses are these:

It’s hot.
I don’t feel hot.
Now if I said, it’s not hot, I’m in for an argument. Instead, I’m just reporting from my personal perspective.

I am stupid.
Maybe I’m not so stupid… but have often felt this way. Why?
This opens possibilities.

I am nothing
I feel like nothing
Now, it’s just another feeling to deal with, to examine for origins and why it is being used predictively by the brain in certain situations. To create new feelings, create new experiences. Now, there’s possibilities.

You are so selfish.
You seem self-centered to me.
Why do you see me that way? Now discussion can happen.

I agree with Mel’s advice when it comes to broaching a subject we think might get pushback. We all know times like this. The tendency is to be ballsy and just step and take a swing. But saying, “You’re an idiot,” is unlikely to produce dialogue and compromise. On the contrary, it’s likely to make things worse.

May I, I think, I feel

Better to open with a qualifier, “Do you mind if I give you my two-cents,” can go along way to breaking down at least a bit of people’s natural barrier. Assuming you’ve been given permission (not that you need it but you’re being diplomatic—the art of letting someone else have your way), follow it up with either “I think” or “I feel|” as you give your impressions and how whatever it is impacts you emotionally.

Make sure you take the high road and don’t resort to the “I feel that…” mentioned earlier. If you say I feel, tell them an emotion. If you say I think, tell them your thinking. You don’t do anyone any favours by introducing deceit into discussion.

Try to keep Korzybski’s E-prime advice in mind. Use less “to be” verbs, and more “I think” and “I feel” instead. Catch yourself making pronouncements at your own and other people’s expense.

Watch carefully for the kinds of demand words making it into your speech. Should and Must are the big ones, with “Gotta” not for behind.  It’s one thing to influence, it’s another to close possibilities in communication.

You’ll find by the elimination of an untruth like “I feel that,” you take greater responsibility for your life and impact on others through your words.

Language is a special Chain of Being force affecting your belly and your mind.

Think for a moment about different words, and how they may have been used to hurt you, to punish, to harm or to cause you pain. Now, think of words which have been used to compliment, to boost you and to reward you over time. It’s easy to see there is both a physical effect to words, and a mental one too.

The Better Man is aware of the power in his words. My father may have known the power of his words but not in this way. What my dad lacked was how to discern how restrictive they can be. We didn’t know how words keep us stuck in a cycle of bullshit over time. In the ensuing decades and the advent of word psychology, we know better.

Not worth your time? Can’t be bothered?

That’s fine: just realize can’t means won’t.

Stay powerful,

cw

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FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

Summer vacation is over. Charlotte hits grade two today and the school year is off! Little Howie, aged 5, starts senior kindergarten in two days. Charlie was a little pissed her brother got 2 extra days of summer vacation. The cost of maturity, I suppose.

As a man, and as a father to two young children, I tell you what I’ll be watching for in these next few years. Ideologies which run counter to science. I’ll be careful to scrutinize the curriculum which my kids are exposed to for bullshit.

Especially, I’ll be watchful for how it is boys and girls learn differently. Oh, why is that you suppose? Because, contrary to the well-meant idiocy I read about every day about gender being a social construct, on average I know males and females learn differently.

Why is that? Well, it’s because our brains are wired differently. Hormones do that. Chromosomes do that. DNA does that. Socialization? Very little.

How do you shut the feminists up about male/female differences on the spot? Here’s how: mention women respond to certain medications differently than men.

In fact, in one example from the emergent field of chronomedicine, men with colorectal cancer who took meds at midnight when a certain enzyme level was highest survived longer because the enzyme helped clear the meds and avoided painful side effects. There was no advantage for women.

Hang on here, I thought gender was a social construct?

The same goes for learning. Men’s and women’s brains operate differently. Any guy who has had to contend with their woman’s “logic” knows what I’m talking about. It’s not inferior, but it’s fucking different to say the least.

Consider these facts cited recently by the Gurian Institute:

“Boys, on average, have lower language arts and literacy scores than girls and, on average, use fewer words per day when reading, writing, and speaking are measured in totality (this is true of all industrialized and post-industrial countries).”  For more on this, go to google and check out the OECD PISA studies.

“Girls tend to excel in more fine motor activity tasks, especially in the early years, and boys tend to excel in more gross motor activities in the early years.  To confirm this, open any textbook or other book that deals with early childhood attachment and child growth. To go further into these sorts of differences, check out this Stanford University research:  https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html.

Boys tend to naturally seek out more aggressive, rough-and-tumble, and even physically dangerous play than girls.  This brain fact will also be confirmed in any study, textbook, or book you open on birth to five child development. If the fact were not in that resource—if someone tried to argue differently—the book would not get published or not find any audience, since all of us have confirmed this fact no matter our country or culture.” Michael Gurian

“Girls tend to talk about their feelings more during a given day than boys, i.e. have a higher words-for-feelings ratio; boys do not as easily or quickly access feelings when sitting still, while girls are more able to sit still and immediately access feelings in conversations.” (see The Male Brain and The Female Brain, by neuroscientist Louann Brizendine)

“Girls tend to move toward empathetic relational strategies more quickly than boys, while boys will often show their empathy through aggressive touch (e.g. pushing and prodding another boy to show love).” (see Why Gender Matters, by physician and neurologist Leonard Sax)

“Because males lateralize brain activity more than girls tend to, including moving activity from front to back in one hemisphere of the brain, and girls tend to move more activity between hemispheres, males more quickly apply logic (problem-solving) to emotional issues and girls are more likely to spend more time processing the emotions themselves, before problem-solving.” (see The Essential Difference, by neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen).

Another good resource is Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities by Diane Halpern, which sits on my bookshelf, now in it’s fourth edition.

Susan Pinker’s 2008 superb book, The Sexual Paradox, continues to be a valuable reference I use regularly. It’s a scholarly tome, so well-researched, but written in laymen’s language and replete with identifiable examples.

Then there are the popular titles about our differences which have been hitting the bookshelves since the days of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, first out in 1992. It’s worth noting John Gray is a PhD and continues to contribute to the gender discussion. Recently, he’s co-authors with Warren Farrell (another PhD) of the very well-researched, The Boy Crisis.

Is There Anything Good About Men, by Roy Baumeister, Professor Emeritus at Florida State is an excellent primer on the differences between men and women. Roy told me by email the feminists lambasted him for this book, which made me want to buy it even more.

Me, Myself, and Us, by Brian Little examines the Big 5 personality traits and mentions their differences in men and women. Professor Little works at Carleton University here in Ottawa, and Oxford: a pretty good academic spread.

The corporate training couple, Barbara and Allan Pease wrote a delightfully easy book to read called Why Men don’t Listen and Women can’t Read Maps, out in 2000 and still fun to reference.

I’ve just started on Man & Woman: an inside story by PhD Donald Pfaff. Like Diane Halpern’s Sex Differences series, Pfaff talks about small differences but doesn’t appear to hold back on big differences either. I’m looking forward to the rest of it. It goes deep on chemistry, which means estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin among others.

In reading Halpern’s Sex Differences for the first time, that’s what struck me. How alike we are in so many ways. And so much of the genders are similar. But the differences between us are real too, and often those define the relationship. It’s about our various interests.

Then, there’s my favourite Darwin quote:

Each animal species is a population of unique individuals who vary from one another. No feature or set of features is necessary, sufficient, or even frequent or typical of every individual in the population. Any summary of the population is a statistical fiction that applies to no individual.

Indeed. My wife has put the garbage out all but ten or so times in our 13 years together. I run the snowblower in winter and run the riding-mower in summer. She has cut some of the three acres needing mowing on occasion but hasn’t tackled the snow machine yet. She wants to though.

I change all the toilet paper and Scott towels in the house. I’m not sure why that is. I read to the kids before bed, she makes sure their teeth get brushed. At first she got me to slit the chickens and rabbits throats for slaughter, now she does it herself.

And I think that’s what you’ll find in most relationships. Men and women doing what it takes to survive. Preferences abound in the individual. Many of these are tendencies found in the wider sex. Men and women can pretty much do anything the other can do but they tend to have preferences. Where that’s the case, it ought to be respected without fear of transgressing someone’s errant model of the world.

Here’s another couple of interesting quotes.

“Our genomes are 99.9% identical from one person to the next as long as the two individuals being compared are two men or two women. But if we compare a woman and a man, the genetic differences are 15 times greater than the genetic differences for two males or two females.” David C. Page, M.D., Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different, not only in their internal function but in the ways that they experience illness. To care for them, we must see them for who they are: female and male.” Marianne J. Legato, M.D., in Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine

Any guy who has grappled with understanding a sister, mother or significant other has known how different we are, maybe most of his life. Some close women friends have chided me, even telling me I needed to have a daughter to better learn about and understand women.

I scoffed at the idea at the time. Now I know they were right. Little girls teach men about love.

I swapped out the toilet when I moved to this old acreage and its old farmhouse. Installing the thing, I broke the reservoir reaching for pliers, allowing it to fall over and crack. I went back and explained my situation and got a good deal on another one, 40% off. Guy felt bad I’d bought 2 toilets there in one day.

This left me with 2 toilet seats. They come in their own cardboard box, and the extra was left lying around my garage. One day, while cleaning up, Charlie was tagging along chattering away. I came across the toilet seat box.

“Here you go Charlie, here’s a present to you,” I said, handing her the big box. “For me daddy? A present for me? she replied. “Yes, you take that inside to your mother and open it up, see what’s in it,” was my answer. Off she went.

About an hour later, I’d forgotten all about it when Charlie suddenly appeared before me in the garage. She didn’t look so happy. “Why did you give me a potty-seat, daddy? It’s not a good present. I thought you were giving me something nice and it’s just a potty-seat. That’s not very nice,” she told me.

Well, well, I thought to myself. She’s right. It was careless and not very thoughtful at all of me to raise her expectations and then trick her like that. I felt about two inches tall. There was only one thing to do: apologize.

I sat her down and told her it was a joke. She didn’t buy that one at all. “It’s not a very funny thing daddy. Who wants a potty-seat for a present?” to which I had no countering argument. I had to tell her it was selfish of me and thoughtless and I was sorry for tricking her.

To my surprise, she forgave me after warning me to not do something like that again. I replied I’d do my best but sometimes I make mistakes too. The important thing is to say your sorry and I was happy she forgave me. You could say I was out of the shitter… for now.

What would have happened if I gave that potty-seat to my son? We’ll never know for sure. But I’d be willing to bet he’d think it was cool. Maybe he’d sit it down somewhere and use it. He stands up and pisses wherever he likes out back as it is anyway, we live on 200 acres of bush.

But that potty-seat taught me a valuable lesson. And it confirmed what my gal-pals were telling me all these years. There are big differences, right down to the very beginnings of life. At 3, Charlie emptied her dresser and we caught her laying out all her clothes on the floor, matching up the tops and bottoms. Howie couldn’t care less. Give him a superhero costume and he’s in.

One final example for you. I used to run sales teams for subscription drives for newspapers. I’d put up bonuses to incite production. Depending on the mix of gender in my van on any given night, I could predict which kind of bonus would be the democratic choice.

We could use top seller, winner-take-all bonuses. Or we could use top three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bonuses. Or, we could use a van bonus, where if we hit a certain level of production, the whole van was rewarded somehow.

As soon as the mix was 50% female reps, the van bonus was preferred. It got to be where I’d call it out at the start of the evening, “So folks, what’s it going to be, capitalist or communist this evening?” If lots of females, the commies ruled.

The prediction was 100% accurate, even when there was a particularly aggressive female who could win up against any guy. She’d lay down her preference for the sake of being liked by her sisters in the van.

Today, the start of the school year for many, let the differences between how boys and girls learn influence your parenting.

While we are very much alike, what makes us different from male to female are qualities we should not allow to be snuffed out as if they are something bad. And certainly not to satisfy some ideologue with a personal ax to grind. I’ll be on the lookout for how I can reach each of my children based on their particular personalities, strengths and weaknesses, for each has their own way of operating in the world.

I’ll also be mindful of how their brains are wired differently.

Stay powerful,

cw
© ckwallace, 2018, all rights reserved
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FIRST DATE DECIPHER

Something that comes up often enough is how to approach a woman. That’s not my thing. There are plenty of pick up artists and relationship experts out there who will give you tips on this. Often, it’s advice for free, sometimes for a fee.

No. My thing about dating has always taken a backdoor route. That doesn’t mean I slap some wench on the ass and get lucky. Not now, not ever. However, it means I don’t approach this directly in the conventional sense. It’s just not so full-frontal attack. No way.

Bear with me and I’ll explain what I’ve learned.

I know it is women who do the choosing. And I also know she only chooses when she’s ready. You can waste a lot of time beating your head against the wall wooing some gal who is just not there yet.

Full frontal assault is directly asking for dates. Here, you play the numbers game. I used to ask my guys, “who gets laid more often? The guy who asks one girl on a date or the guy who asks a hundred?”

Obviously, chances are the guys who asks a hundred. His odds go up the less picky he is about who he asks. My friend Harry used say, “if you’re not banging fat chicks, you’re not getting laid.” Less picky, indeed.

That’s the numbers game.

My colleagues in the coaching field give out homework to shy young males, and even older males, relying on numbers alone.

The strategy consists of standing at the bottom of an escalator in a busy mall and each time a gal comes down the stairs towards you, you say the following: “Hi I’m Frank, would you like to go for coffee?”

Maybe you get a guy to do it for five minutes the first day. What you are looking for with this exercise is refusals. We want Frank to be so used to refusals, one more won’t make a difference.

Meanwhile, we’re relying on him to refine his game. Each day, he will naturally practice saying the invitation a bit more confidently, remembering to smile each time. Repetition is the mother of learning.

At first, he’ll smile like a lecherous fool. But after a few days, once he drops all expectations and focuses on collecting his refusal number goal, he’ll settle down and be all business, increasing his time at it.

If you can keep a guy at something like this for a week or two, a couple of things happen. He develops an immunity to refusals. He can see through the “not ready types” and not take it personally.

But something else happens too. He becomes more powerful as he states who he is and what he wants. “Hi, I’m Frank, want to go for coffee?” said with a smile and no possibility of being let down or hurt is an attractive thing by itself.

But like I said, that’s only for extreme cases. But already in its telling, you can surmise the seeds of success in a man’s approach.

In fact, about men’s social skills being lacking is not a new problem and it’s not something going away. I’ll tell you why. We think differently.

That’s right, contrary to the idealogues who insist gender is a social construct, men and women think differently. The social constructionists are full of shit.

Medicines work differently on men and women. Uh-Oh! Now I’ve got their attention. Oops! Exceptions OK, if they are going to die.

The list of ways men and women think differently are too great to list here. Researcher Diane Halpern’s book, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities in one place to start, though there are thousands of studies. The Gurion Institute is another good resource.

But some basic understanding of what appeals to a gal goes a long way in avoiding embarrassment and increasing chances of success.

When a woman hits her mid-teens, she will self-assess up against her peers and rate herself accordingly. Let’s say she uses a 1-10 scale. At this point, she’s not competing for partners; she is competing against the other girls in her group.

This is something she does the rest of her life. As missus once told me, “I want other women to look at us and wish they were me; not look at us and feel sorry for me that I’m with you.” Her game is always wrapped up in her peer group.

No? Get this: have high school girls run against boys. Some girls will record their best times. Have boys run against boys. Some boys will register their best times. Have girls run against girls and what happens? Times slow down. WTF? Yup. They dog it, holding out.

I worked for decades running teams of young sales people, both male and female. The girls all demonstrated better understanding of their position in life, and attributes and detriments.

Most of them knew by age 16 what kind of husband they wanted, how many children they’d have later, and what kind of house they’d live in.

Guys? Not a clue. Not a one had plans at 16 beyond that year, if any.

The thing is, nature makes women more precious. No? Don’t believe you are the expendable sex?

Here’s why 90+% of workplace fatalities are still men, and not women, though women make up 48% of the workforce. We do different jobs. Men and women can pretty do anything each other can do outside biological differences, but they have preferences which hold, largely because of the differences in how they think.

So, it’s not going away anytime soon.

And women can safely deliver children (and it’s still risky) from about age 15 to age 35, after which each year in age brings her greater chance of things going wrong.

Men can father children into their 9th decade. In 2007, a farmer in Rajasthan fathered a healthy little girl with his 4th wife.

So, who is more precious?

Women tend to use both hemispheres when they think. They can read emotion on a man’s face better than we can. They are usually more intuitive, relying on “gut feel” more than guys. They generally have more empathy. In context, they can spot bullshit a mile away.

These are great powers indeed, but they also tend to overthink things at times. “Ont as tous les qualities de nos defauts,” the French like to say. We all have the qualities of our faults and the faults of our qualities. Women’s great powers often get the better of them. It’s also why nature designed us to be complimentary to each other.

And outside of the teen years, where physical attractiveness most counts in courtship, women tend to choose males based on their sense of power. Women need a powerful man who will leave his peer group and come and start a new tribe with her, if so ordained. She needs a man who has her back if she has children. Who can provide and protect.

But it’s more than that. Because she tends to overthink, she needs a powerful man who will stand up to her overthinking and help keep her on track. A man who will step in and say, “Woman, stop it. You’re ok, we’ve got this,” and lead her away from the brink of her own insanity.

All this is the context from within you operate as a man in asking a gal out on a date. You almost wish you could be the sap at the bottom of the escalator by now. A guy who would haplessly just ask and play the numbers, doing it long enough to perhaps get lucky. The numbers.

It’s in the results of the escalator strategy we see the best way forward emerge. As our man gained confidence, his two new mindsets served him well. One, he was immune to refusals, realizing it wasn’t about him, it was about readiness. And two, because he knew this, he was free to focus on his approach, making it better, without being married to outcome.

What he did was gain power. And power is what attracts women.

Neediness is a sure sign of weakness to her, and it must turn her off because of her pact with the universe. She has a short time to find a mate. When she finds one, her overthinking means she will question herself for the next 20 years wondering if she chose right. Knowing this, men can stand up and stay powerful for their women.

Men are attracted to women for looks, that never changes.

OK Cupid studied what people indicate as an age preference on their profile, compared to the ages of people they go and creep, to see if there was a difference.

Women of 20 prefer a man of 23.
Women of 30 prefer a man of 30 (age parity)
Women of 40 like a man a couple of years younger.
Women of 50 like a man about 4 years younger.

Men of 20 prefer a woman of 23
Men of 30 prefer a woman of 23
Men of 40 prefer a woman of 23
Men of 50 prefer a woman of 23

It never fucking changes! There’s nothing wrong with any of us; indeed, it’s how nature made men. So why stay with a woman past age 30?

For loyalty. He may be initially attracted to her for her looks, that certain hip to waist ratio, but he stays with her for loyalty.

Men are adaptable creatures. We can learn to love in almost any circumstance. And in time, a woman’s looks mean less and less, if she is loyal. That means loyalty to their sexual union as well. Damn straight.

Men cannot stand disloyalty. It’s a blow to our sense of being respected. Perhaps it’s a throwback to when tolerating disloyalty around you could mean your life. I’m not sure. But, I do know that loyalty is more important to a man in time than looks.

For a man with a loyal woman by his side, she becomes his standard. When he thinks naked, it’s she he sees. When he imagines a vagina he sees only hers, all others look askance. With a loyal woman by his side, she becomes the wind beneath his wings.

Trick is to avoid her becoming the storm which makes you crash.

But I digress.

With all this background, now you get a bigger picture from which to ask a woman out. It’s no wonder most first dates off social media dating sites involve tentative first steps, like meeting for coffee.

There you go, back to square one. You’re standing at the bottom of the escalator in a big mall, asking random strangers for coffee. Only, with social media dating sites, you’ve had a conversation first, by text or by phone, and know something of each other’s life, likes and dislikes.

The real contest is to ask in such a way as to preserve several of these elementary principles. She must feel safe. She must not be embarrassed in front of peers, yours or hers. She must have an idea of your power as a man to even consider you. And she must be ready.

One more thing. Children. Fawning too much over a niece or nephew and she’ll see right through it. But if she gets the impression you are somehow good with kids or even like kids or can tolerate children, it’s another clue and can sometimes trigger her readiness.

A man who is powerful and confident and likes children is almost like an aphrodisiac to a young woman. And what of later stage women, middle-aged gals who are past the time when they might have kids?

If they are over forty, and have a successful career, you can bet they had to assume a very masculine part of themselves to do this. It’s a man’s world they say. That’s not because we run things, or some stupid notion of patriarchy standing in her way. No. it’s just that to succeed in most careers requires competitiveness, something men score higher in than women.

But if she’s a feminine woman at her core, which 80% of women are, she will still find a powerful man attractive. If he can recognize her special skills and not be intimidated, instead, look past these for the woman underneath who craves a powerful man, you increase your odds.

She is first and foremost a sexual human being. Never forget that.

Now to the question. Use any version of this according to circumstance and your own creativity. “I’m planning to attend such and such (an event, restaurant, museum, show, movie, political rally, fair, concert, etc. etc), on such and such a date, would you like to come along?”

Another version of this is to include other people. If it’s too early—like a first date situation—she will feel safer if there are others coming along too. There’s safety in numbers. “Me and a bunch of friend…” can be intimidating or welcoming, depending on the gal and her readiness. Her confidence counts too.

You could even invite her and a friend if you thought she could use back up on her side but be careful of this. In that case, she is partially delegating her assessment of you and your life to her friend, always risky. You’d have to win over the friend as well.

But if you are inviting her to come watch you race cars and you’re the driver, you don’t want her sitting in the stands alone. That won’t work.

“I’m planning on attending…” tells her you can go alone. It’s the first layer of bread in your invitation sandwich. You don’t need her there, you’re going anyways. Either she jumps on the train and comes with you if she’s ready, or she doesn’t. You’re not outcome bound. The greatest ploy in any negotiation is to be able to walk away.

“… such and such an event…” is the safe, neutral territory. It’s something if she told a girlfriend, would make her look good.

“…would you like to come along?” is the last piece of bread in your invitation sandwich. It reinforces your independence, your power and confidence, but opens a crack in the door for her. You don’t need her but if she likes, you are willing to tolerate her ass in your life for at least a few hours while you go to this “thing” you have planned. Getting to know each other is secondary. No pressure.

What about readiness? When a woman is ready for a partner, she takes her self-assessment and looks around at the available males and chooses one she thinks she can get.

Then, she presents in front of him and smiles, catches his eye, strokes her hair, touches the throat and other parts of her body. She may allow proximity and may even touch you in return. She shows an unmistakable interest men can miss if they are not watchful.

She will laugh at your jokes and if you shut up and let her, tell you all about herself. In no time, it will feel as though you have chosen her.

It’s one of her great skills: diplomacy. The art of letting others see things your way. She’s way ahead of you. She chooses, and lets you think you chose her. You chase her until she catches you.

Because she’s precious, and because she can’t afford to make mistakes at any age, nature stacks the odds in her favour. Make yourself powerful and chances are she will find you.

After all, everyone likes to feel like someone’s chosen.

Stay powerful, never give up

cw

©2018 ckwallace, all rights reserved

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FEELINGS LIVE IN THE BODY

 

Notice there are videos showing up about feelings and the body lately on social media? I must have seen five or six in the past month alone. Let me tell you why I think it’s great.

I say it’s a good thing because finally people might at least start getting on to a whole host of physical issues which have at their crux the feelings they carry each day.

Feelings live in the body has been my assertion for 30 years. How do I know this? My back… and Fritz Perls.

Fritz Perls was this old bearded psychiatrist who with his wife Laura founded Gestalt Therapy back in the beginnings of the great psychological heyday, mid-last century to present.

Never mind the details of his approach, it was this one thing he mentioned which struck truth in me. It was the idea of carrying around a gunnysack of anger. How it would eventually bend you over with its weight.

No kidding Fritz, cause my freaking back was killing me at the time and I was often really pissed off!

That’s when I made the connection. Just as exhilaration is manifested physically with butterflies in the belly, a quickened heartbeat and breath, and a flushed face and wider eyes, so too does negative emotion have an effect in the body.

Only, it’s more than that. It’s not just the frowns and the downturned mouth and focused eyes. And that’s because of the second thing old Fritz taught me: unfinished business.

You know what unfinished business is like, it drives us nuts! You mean to get something done but there it lies halfway done and you have to leave it and hope you remember how to get back into focus when you finally have time.

Start to learn a new platform on your computer at some point. Be it Photoshop, WordPress, or this one: C-Panel.(*!%&!!). Go take on one of those as a complete rookie and then leave them alone for a time and go back. It’s a start over.

Do it halfway through a project that got put on the shelf and it’s likely the frustration factor goes up, WAY UP.

Hell, switch from a PC to a Mac. Don’t use it often and every new thing you try is a whole other learning curve. UGH!

OK, so we agree on unfinished business in general. And what about emotional unfinished business?

See, the problem with us humans is we need each other to get along. In fact, our need to belong drives most of our psychology. So, what happens when we interact, and those connections don’t happen to our liking?

Sometimes, let’s face it, we can come across as assholes. I’ll be the first to admit this. And sometimes other people are assholes. In my experience, they are the last to admit it. But that’s besides the point.

And that is where the gunnysack of anger and unfinished business meet: In the body.

It’s in the body because of the Chain of Being. Your existence is run on Physiology, Emotional States (comfort/discomfort, aroused/relaxed), Predictive Feelings (based on experiences) and Thinking.

The Vagus Nerve Complex connects the brain stem and the organs. Most of the neurons lining the gut and heart and elsewhere signal towards the brain, but some run the other way. When we have unfinished business, the body records it.

It does this protectively, and predictively. It wants to avoid future pain and so, beneath awareness, registers our pain and holds on to it for future reference.

There are two ways to intervene in the Chain of Being. One is through the body, the other is through thinking.

And you could say there is both a fast way and a slow way of impacting the body with feelings and emotional states.

Trauma is one way. When we experienced something significantly scary and are able to fully express our fear physically (crying, running away, being comforted by people) and resolve it with those around us, our sense of safety is restored to some kind of balance.

When we are prevented from doing this, when our natural defensive mechanisms are thwarted because of circumstance, we can become stuck in a defensive position indefinitely, depending on how far along we were in the vagus signaling.

And then, there is the insidious piling on way. That’s when we build up unfinished business over time to where it becomes as burdensome as trauma. It’s quantity over severity. And it can be just as devastating to physiology.

The brain ascertains what’s going on with the body, then predictively creates your emotional state using the databank of your previous emotional experiences before you are even aware. It all happens beneath awareness. Only afterwards is this measured up against social reality and made open to correction.

Carry around that gunnysack of anger and the Chain of Being is polluted with negativity. The body remains tense, emotional states remain aroused, feelings are neutral or negative. And thoughts, which Peter Levine in “In an Unspoken Voice” says are explanations from the body, are similarly influenced.

Now, you’ve got yourself a classic loop. A vicious cycle of negativity and eventually, the possibility of despair.

Hence, my bad back.

Medical science has known for a time some guys with two ruptured disks have pain and others with the exact same condition don’t experience the same level of discomfort, or any at all. How can this be? It’s either broken or it’s not, I thought.

Well, so much for the notion of a separate brain and body. Nope. One system.

Hopefully, you have an address, a place to put all your stuff and collect your mail, a place you call home on some street, in some town or county somewhere. No doubt, you have a number out front so people can find you.

Let me tell you something: the true universal address of your existence is in your body. That’s where you, (insert name here) really exist. It’s like the turtle who carries his home with him. You’re no different. That body of yours is your domain.

Four things main things I learned over the years to fix my back. Oh, there are plenty of subtleties I’ve picked up since then, but these were the broad strokes which saved me from being bent over like an old man every day in pain.

You can intervene on the Chain of Being at two places, physiologically or thinking. You attack it from the ends.

So, when I’m feeling tension build up, I do ten burpees. Nothing releases trauma from the body better than movement. And going at the body is fastest. Engaging the body causes a chain reaction all the way to thoughts at the other end. As my home, as the place where I live, I take care of it.

The second thing was a decision. I learned this under the influence of an old preacher who wrote a book called “The Power of Positive Thinking,” way back. it’d been out for a long time before I got around to it. I’d just left a psychology class in the mid-80s and was walking down the hallway when it hit me: “Happy is a Decision.” I’ve been telling myself this since.

Thirdly was something my psych prof taught me. Anita Roy was a Gestaltist herself and a real fire-cracker of a teacher. She embodied the Gestalt Prayer I’ll include with this essay.

She explained something which changed my life. It was that people always make the best decisions for themselves at the time, If they could have made a better one, they would have.
You can’t fairly apply hindsight to yourself or others, it’s a bullshit ploy. It’s a judgment not available in the moment.

And with that understanding, I learned how to let go. People bring their own histories, locked and loaded into their bodies and predictively being operated by feelings derived from old experiences, and are doing the best they can.

Sure, they come up short. And don’t we all?

It’s here where I was lucky, perhaps more than most. I’d lived such a faulted life to that point, how could I possible judge someone else’s? That’d make me even more full of shit than I already was while accusing someone else of being in the wrong.

No, couldn’t do that. That avenue was closed. Which left only one possibility. Forgiveness. Well, I can’t tell you how annoying it was to come to THAT conclusion. WTF!

You mean, I’d have to let it all go? Because my anger had driven me for many years. There were secondary gains to hanging on to my bullshit, to my complaints, to my judgments and excuses. I’d have to let them go too.

So, I did. I used these four strategies and let all of it the fuck go. Gone, out. Shot to the moon in a rocket. And my back got better. Not cured, but damn it, WAY BETTER!

Which by way, the moon helped too. I’d picture myself up there sitting near the “one filled with cheese” during my first meditative experiences, and picture my life far below, a metaphorical ant climbing around down there somewhere on planet earth with all the other humans as ants too.

Gave me perspective. Powerful perspective.

Take care of that body.

Stay powerful.

cw

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CKWallace
©2018 all rights reserved

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QUALITY RELATIONSHIPS

QUALITY RELATIONSHIPS

It’s true what they say: The quality of your life is measured by the quality of your relationships.

Most of us are lucky if we can count on one hand the people we consider close enough to confide in, to turn to in times of turmoil and trouble. Even, to be able to say “I love you,” to someone, be they man, woman or child.

Or, just to check in and connect, somehow, on some level, to let others know you exist while recognizing they exist too. And I’m not even speaking about only being able to tolerate someone else’s company. Or liking them.

Liking a person is kind of important if you’re going to consider them a friend. You think? I bet we’ve all had friends at some point we didn’t care for, people we really didn’t like.

One of our brothers tonight called to say his dog passed away. It was an honour to take his call.

Thirteen years he watched over his friend. It was a runt from a champion line, but because of a heart murmur, it was going to be put down. My friend rescued the little pooch.

He spent ten grand getting her a heart operation way back in the early days. At six months it was attacked by big mean dog and had to have 18 stitches, undergone without complaint. All her teeth had been removed…

And today, bringing her into the vet to see if there was anything he could do to make her more comfortable, she waited patiently in his arms in a room.

He looked at her, she looked at him, she closed her eyes.

She was gone. Just like that. As if, “thanks boss, but I’m 95 in people years and we’ve had a great life together. Goodbye.”

His daughter is 21 today. Most of her remembered life this little dog was part of it. As her father, this rough-around-the-edges son-of-a-gangster won’t tell her now. Not on her birthday. He’ll wait and tell her later in the week in person. He’s like that now, a man. He wasn’t always.

And that’s the thing about life and love. We may start out with not a lot of it in our heart but if we give it time, if we allow it for ourselves and others, it will find us.

They say there are three levels. One is “what can you give me” type love. It’s Janet Jackson singing “what have you done for me lately” while shaking her ass. Fuck off.

Two is a trading relationship. We trade with others all the time.

You tailor my suit coat for a hundred bucks, saving me from throwing out a perfectly good suit jacket I had made in Hamilton by Bruno the Tailor in ’89, and we’re good. Do it right and I’m happy, you’re happy.

But is that love? I don’t think so. Yet, many of us have only a trading relationship to come home to every day. And that’s the thing, you see: It’s not quality.

It’s why my gruff friend, as hard as any guy, grieved today. Because his little dog gave him nothing but level three: unconditional love. The dog made itself belong to my friend, unquestionably, irrevocably, and loved him even on days where my friend may have been unable to love her back.

It’s part of a man’s DNA to take care of others. If he does it or not is another thing. It’s not enough to call yourself a man because you produce more than you consume, so there’s extra to go around. It’s bigger, much deeper than that.

I once knew a fella whose background was the Irish Mob in Canada. Eastern Canada based, he worked out west. I think it was mostly because all the guys above him had been whacked.

Those Montreal Irish, The West End Gang, purportedly connected to the IRA guys back home, scared the shit out of the bikers and the mob most days. They made Montreal bank robbery capital for many years. Forced the Canadian Bankers’ Association to undertake drastic changes in their procedures.

I noticed he always had a small dog with him. Little thing, probably a Bichon/Poodle mix or something. One day, I asked him, “Hey George, no disrespect or anything (respect is big with goodfellas, like a fucking religion), but why is it I see you with such a small dog all the time?”.

Fucker looks at me quickly, stares me in the eyes. I brace myself just a tiny bit. Suddenly, he softens a fraction and says to me matter-of-factly, “Because little dogs need protection too.” His eyes held mine for a moment and he looked, well, very human. Obviously, I accepted his answer.

In fact, I thought it was the best response ever. Sure shut me up, and no, I didn’t probe further. I knew there was something more to it but it wasn’t the time. What else could I say?

My friend today telling me about his little dog filled in a bit more about what George meant. See, my friend told me he grieved more today for this little dog than for his own mother and father when they passed.

More pain than the death of his mother or the death of his father?? Is that a sin of some kind? Maybe.

It’s just both guys had experienced little in the way of unconditional love in their lifetimes. Yet, their humanity, surrounded by a fortress of protection learned in a lifetime of pain, was there, mostly hidden, but intact.

It just took one little dog to bring it out.

In the quiet moments away from others, the loyal pooch and master found and celebrated what was important.

Not sad at all, I say. More like, hopeful. It’s a reminder to recognize pure love when we see it and know it’s real.

Because there lies the real power in life. If we are not standing up for good, we can’t even call ourselves neutral. Because good is love, and love is what counts. Indeed, it is love which is powerful.

Today, I salute all men and their dogs, big or small. Condolences to all of us who have lost a beloved pet. They are like family, perhaps even more. Man’s best friend is also a bridge to what is best in a man.

Find it early or find it late, we must all find love.

Rest in Peace Trixie. 2005 – 2018

Thank you.

Stay powerful gentleman,

CW

https://www.facebook.com/groups/advisortomen/
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THE CHAIN OF BEING

THE CHAIN OF BEING

Let me tell you how I best understand the fundamental links of being. These four variables together comprise something I call the being chain. It is these four factors which operate mostly unknown, influencing everything, especially how we think and interact with each other and the world.

Contrary to what most people believe, we exist emotionally and then use our brain (usually the left brain in right handed people) to rationalize things later. We tell ourselves a story of why.

Emotions occur faster than the brain can think for good reason: If a threat is present, we don’t have time to weigh the pros and cons of a situation. Instead, we’ll use our fight or flight system to prepare to either escape or resolve the danger immediately. OK, basic enough.

Out and about, we exist in a mild fight or flight state most of the time.

The human brain is a prediction machine. It uses the body’s needs, and prior emotional experience to make sense of the circumstances in the environment. Everything we do, our perceptions, our actions and our learning is based on making and updating expectations.

In fact, all our disappointments are driven by our expectations.

Even sight is based on predictions and expectations.

What you see comes in through the eye and hits the visual cortex at the back of the head. Most of the signaling goes from the eyes to the vision center there.

But, some neurons go the other way, coming and going from higher levels of the brain (the cerebral cortex) down to the visual cortex. These are thought to carry predictions. If you have seen it before, you are likely to see it again. If you can’t identify something, your brain will fill in the blank from memory until you see a more accurate picture. This is helpful remembering a route home, but also allows us to see imgaes in clouds on a summer’s day.

The brain uses interoception to gauge the body. That means it checks what’s going on with you physically through its special sensors. It does this primarily through the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus system, which is connected to the heart, gut and organs.  It uses something called proprioception to gauge where you are in a space, and exteroception, which gives you an awareness of your surroundings and stimuli derived from it like light and sound, etc. We focus mainly on interoception.

For example, 100,000 neurons line your gut, another 40,000 exist in the heart. More than 80% of vagus neurons are afferent, meaning they signal towards the brain. These give the brain a constant update of what is going on physiologically, in the body.

From this, you get two general emotional states: valence and arousal. Valence is simply comfortable or uncomfortable. Arousal is either on or off, alert and agitated or resting.

Feelings are predictive, not reactive. Long before we become aware of feelings we have, they have already taken hold of our body’s system. The brain is constantly trying to predict what will happen next to prepare you for circumstances.

You probably remember overreacting to something on incomplete information. We all do it. It’s a natural part of what it is to be human. It’s only as things unfold can we tell if our reaction was appropriate or not. We are constantly adjusting. The better we understand this, the easier it is.

Feelings are predictive responses to the body’s needs based on prior emotional experience, then tested against the social reality before you after the fact.

We learn emotions first as babies, and they become increasingly complex as we are exposed to new experiences. Contrary to the idea we all possess the same emotions, it is more that we experience many of the same things which produces a similar storehouse of emotional responses.

Every experience you have as a young child onward contributes to your bank of feeling states. These are called upon predictively (and mostly below the surface of awareness), allowing you to face whatever situation is in front of you.

It’s a best-guess system, corrected after the fact.

Even as you read these sentences, you are trying to predict where I’m going with this. In conversations with friends, you are doing the same; that is, trying to guess what they will say next. You’ve caught yourself finishing other people’s sentences more than once. Others have done the same with you.

Prediction is why when you first gaze upon a scene, you may see things you know from memory before seeing what is actually before you. That’s the brains prediction system at work!

In any given moment, your brain is using its vast storehouse of recalled emotional experience to determine the future—and the best emotional state in the moment to keep you safe. You are also using the same basic mechanism to predict and understand the people around you.

We sometimes jump to conclusions based on beneath the surface feelings about something. Other times, we under-react because our experience doesn’t signal the current situation as a threat or familiar.

No two people’s emotions are quite the same, simply because no two persons have lived in the same way. In the case of anxiety or anger, you may now understand how prediction is the real cause of our discontent and pain.

You can imagine all this brings great advantages. Recording old emotions in the body for future use is a handy evolutionary adaptation. Having feelings directly connected to your sympathetic system means fear can safeguard your life.

The sequence is this: Physiology (body) to emotional state (valence and arousal) leading to predictive feelings (based on old experience) and finally, thoughts. This is the chain of being.

Think of thoughts as an “explanation” for what’s going on with the body.

This is why we adjust after-the-fact. The body is way ahead of us, and thoughts come last in the chain of being. Where do we feel fear the most? In the body. Follow me so far?

By understanding feelings as imperfect guesses based on old experiences, we can take responsibility for them by countering their effects and letting them go.

What’s the best way to create new feelings? Create new experiences.

Doing new things gives you new feelings to store away for later. This is also how we break an old fear pattern by implementing new strategies.

Doing this gives you a deeper repertoire of scenes and emotional data points—which your brain will automatically employ and test against the ongoing reality before you. That’s also what maturity is about: Life gets better as we get better at life!

It’s worth repeating: all our disappointments are driven by expectations. Not only is this true, everything else about how your body and mind deals with the world is also driven by expectations. Changing expectations is going to the source of things.

To consciously change your state at any given moment, you can change what you think or change what you do.

DOING AND THINKING

The chain of being: Physiology, emotional state, predictive feelings, thoughts.

That’s your approach to life, factoring in your consciousness. Here’s something else: You can intervene at each end of this chain to tackle anything. You can change the body, thoughts, or both.

Focus and Language: two special forces bridging the chain of being

We simply cannot take in all the information around us and record it. Nor can we mentally attend to but a tiny fraction of the stimuli in our environment. The brain is amazing, but it has its limits.

Imagine looking around you with a large magnifier and only seeing through its lens. You would see some things straight ahead clearly up close, the rest of it at the sides would be blurry and faded. That’s what your brain’s ability to focus is like.

Focus is both mental and physical. You use your eyes to focus, and you turn your body towards what engages you in the environment. And, pictures from what you see engage your mind physically at the visual cortex. The rest of your senses operate on focus as well as you touch, smell, strain your ears to hear or taste something.

What you are telling yourself, your self-talk, your thoughts, are under your free-will ability to control by way of focus. So is your imagination.

It can also be either/or. You can stare at something new and for a moment, register no thoughts. In these instances, you can almost feel your brain trolling through its databanks trying to make sense of the scene. Other times you can stare into the distance and see nothing, while vividly day-dreaming about something unrelated.

Where you decide to focus works at both ends of the being chain. You can use focus to take control of fear by determining what your body will do and thereby, what thoughts come to mind.

Language: a bit of both worlds.

If you were born wild without language, it is thought that you would soon develop one to communicate with those around you. Like focus, language has both thinking and doing aspects to it. It straddles the divide between the two ends of the chain.

You speak a language, in which case it’s a physiological thing. Add to this you can whisper, and you can scream, you can also sing, and you can whistle. There’s a remote village in Italy where some of the old-timers whistle to each other to communicate. Whistling to them is a language on to itself.

You will often think in images, impressions, even feelings, and taken together, you often express these with the use of language in thought. “I told myself…,” we say to others as we explain ourselves. “What I was thinking was…,” is another. And all of our rationalizing, the story we tell ourselves after the fact to explain why we have acted, felt, or thought something, is expressed in language.

While what you do and what you think are the main doors to your chain of being, both focus and language play special roles.

Focus means you cannot remember much of your past. You can only recall a tiny part of your history depending on its significance and emotional intensity. What this tells us is to put full stock in a remembered past is a mistake, necessary, but rather weak grounds for making conclusions about the present.

That’s not to discount or dismiss the past entirely. After all, part of the richness of your life and most important lessons resulted from what you remember. It’s likely there was both pain and pleasure derived from your history, and these experiences added to the fullness of your existence.

But it’s important to realize the remembered past is a faulty record, and therefore accord it the skepticism it deserves. Studies show just talking about our past experiences changes what we remember in an exercise in reconsolidation. It’s said every time we revisit a memory, we put it away just slightly changed. We put a different spin on it as we reconcile the past through today’s eyes.

Again, it’s the power of focus, a great deal of which is not under conscious control as the chain of being rules.

A similar case can be made for language. When I was learning to write, my father used to tell me how important it was to get the wording just right. In fact, this is one of the best challenges of writing, or communication in general. Getting it right when we describe our situation or thoughts to others is far more effective when we find the exact words to express what we are trying to say.

And so, it goes with our thinking. If I tell myself I always get nervous meeting new people, chances are I always will. If I tell myself I can’t, what I am really saying is that I won’t. If I mention I am “outraged” when the word “concerned” would have done just as well, I pay for it physically in higher emotional arousal. Inflammatory words cascade through the chain of being and cost me, exaggerating their physiological effects in the end.

Talk angry and the body is angry too. Speak fearfully and the body cowers from life, afraid, protective, tentative, hesitant and weaker than needed.

The body is the universal address of your existence. Living in the present is the only way to live life effectively. The past is but a distant memory.

Sure, keep an eye on the future but spend most of your energy in the present—where the real action takes place. It’s all any of us can control anyway, right?

Similarly, you can tackle the chain of being at the thinking end to reframe things, thereby providing answers which create better feelings and a more relaxed emotional state.

Letting go of ill-will towards someone or something often results in a noticeable relaxation of the body’s musculature or internal process. It can stop our guts from flipping. It can make a headache go away.

I have two ruptured disks. I’m in pain every day. Yet, medicine knows of others who have two ruptured disks and have very little pain. The differences between the two might be found in my chain of being.

I know if I carry anger towards someone, my back will hurt more than usual. I had to learn this over the years. Now, I’m very careful to not carry ill-will or suffer the consequences. Part of my self-care is to not make things worse by triggering the chain of being with shitty thinking.

Another cool example of the chain if being is smiling. Even better, smile facing a mirror. The brain will sense your smile and release hormones to match the body’s condition. Suddenly, mood elevates. Every time you brush your teeth, smile at yourself in the mirror to finish, hijacking the chain of being in your favour.

I used to bridle my door to door reps’ mouths with a pen. Having a bad day? Sit in the truck with a pen across your mouth, forcing your face into a smile for 10—15 minutes. Sure enough, when I put them back out to work, they’d start selling again. I’ve done this successfully too many times to question its merits as an intervention.

Anyone in a full-blown panic attack can kill the pain of anxiety in ten minutes by going for a jog. There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other while staying upright at speed which negates the future-focused thinking characteristic of anxiety. Soon, the body takes control and releases the tensions held by thought.

I tell you all this because we often forget the body. Instead, because we tend to think in language, or in pictures and music, we focus only on our thoughts and convince ourselves this is where we should put the most stock.

But when you consider the chain of being, it’s plain to see the natural order of things starts at the body and ends with thoughts. When people experience trauma, there is a disconnect in the chain of being. Heart rate variability will lessen and tension may hold physically indefinitely. Unexpressed defensive postures usually employed at the time of trauma may instead by internalized in the body and cause problems later. This is why activities like yoga are so effective in this case, the breathing and body awareness allow for a reconnection of interoception pathways.

The chain of being is why I put the body first when I consider areas of my life. It’s body, spirit, people and work. It all begins with the body. Routine habits like good posture while sitting or walking, or activities like dancing, can elevate your emotional state and provide immediate benefits.

You may think you live at some street or avenue or town somewhere. While this is true as a place where you rest, put your stuff and get your mail, it doesn’t give the real picture about where you live.

The universal address of your existence is in your body.

Go rattle that chain…

Stay powerful.

Christopher K Wallace
Advisor to Men

https://www.facebook.com/groups/advisortomen/

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ONE WORD

ONE WORD

I went to school in grade 3 with a girl, Lise. Poor, from “basse-ville” (lowertown), tiny, greasy hair, glasses, and a big-toothed smile which appeared only when she was still. She was often picked on, ridiculed, especially by the French kids who knew her from her “quartier,” or neighbourhood.

I temporarily appointed myself her protector.

She wore braces, from just above the knees down. They were cumbersome, all steel and leather. The kind of stuff you’d bridle a horse with, maybe even forged and crafted at the same shop. Saddlery braces.

She was left out… of almost everything. Though, I had nothing in common with her, me an Anglo, she “un Franco-Ontarien”, she was like my little sister that year.

Polio. This had felled this little geek. But her spirit? Oh boy. What a privilege it was to take her under my wing.

Of course, I have never forgotten P’tit Lise; moreover, her lessons are with me still. Her smile was sometimes directed towards me. To have a hand in that was reward enough.

I can still see her hobbling along, head down focused on the ground, hair hiding her face, hips moving in an exaggerated way as she brought each steel-laden leg forward into the next step while leaning on her crutches, little cuffs of leather at the forearm holding them to her. She was beautiful.

And later, decades ahead, in a recovery home for the addicted, I met Dale. He’d lost his leg to polio. Once he confided he was one of the rare cases, the one-in-a-million who contracted the disease from being vaccinated.

Unfair? Sure.

Dale was a bit of an asshole sometimes. Headstrong is probably a better word. I couldn’t see it at the time but he had learned his own version of truth, and was adamant about it.

But, what he had was balance. Not physical balance, mind you. No. He used crutches and later a rudimentary prosthetic which annoyed him. And he’d lifted weights and had good upper body strength. He was doing his best with what he had.

Somewhere along the way, after a suitable period rebelling and crying out for fairness, demanding he be treated by the universe differently than his reality, he lost his resentment.

He gave up his anger over losing a limb, replacing it with a kindness of spirit which inspires me to this day. He knew many were saved from the vaccine, and his casualty should be counted in that whole. He realized at some point, it was a numbers game. He shrugged as he told me this. He balanced things.

He looked when telling me this, expectantly, his defensiveness held back, below-surface, looking for signs of contempt. He didn’t trust me but took a chance telling me just the same.

He’d gotten straight before I did, so on the hierarchy of personal development, he could claim higher ground. And he was right. He was far ahead.

What he did so remarkably was this: he no longer asked, “why me?” and, instead, replaced it with, “why not me?”

Seems slight enough. Maybe too easy? When you lose a leg to nothing but the vagaries of life, to the well-intentioned efforts of those who were seeking to prevent the suffering of the Lise’s of the world, you need answers.

Dale found them, in his mind to be sure, but mostly inside his body, and eventually his heart. That one twist, a single reframe, was key.

He ended up marrying Shona, the hottest number to come through Our House in those years. The place was a unique recovery centre on James Street in Ottawa run by a recovered giver named Norm, and abetted by many of his converts.

I went to their wedding held at the Anglican church down the street, the church which had adopted our cause in recovery. We all attended Sundays as we sought to regain our spirits.

Together, Dale and Shona went off to serve the world. As far as I know, they still are.

What a difference one word made. N-O-T. Three letters.

Sometimes the smallest shift brings the greatest results.

__________________

Stay powerful,

cw

BETTER MEN — LIVE TRUE AND FREE

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HASSAN’S FORTUNE

 

The old man sat down on a tiny stool he kept a bit back from the dry cleaner’s counter where he served his customers. He thought for a moment about how many years it had been since he hung up his sign, Quality Cleaners. That was back when the plaza was first built in tiny Manotick, Ontario, a satellite village just south of Ottawa on the banks of the Rideau River.

It had been a small community of horse lovers, and cattle and cash crop farmers, and even had an operating mill well into the 20th century. It was for these people, still now numbering only a few thousand, and a few others who didn’t mind the commute from the inner city for the chance to breathe fresh air in wide open spaces, that the village had survived.

However, in the last decade and a half, like many of the places around larger cities in North America, little Manotick had new subdivisions nipping at its periphery. It even had a gentrified core which made it look a little trendy.

This was good for dry cleaners, he thought. Maybe the extra volume of people will help offset the trend that saw less folks getting their clothing dry cleaned regularly. It had become expensive, no doubt. He liked to say he paid all his bills in dollars but only collected nickels and dimes in return.

At 73 years old, he remembered proudly he will have been married to the same women for 54 of those years on a Sunday soon. This brought a slight smile to his face as he remembered her, then and now. More than half a century and going, praise the heavens, he thought.

A customer pushed open the door. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday and so, he wasn’t very busy. In fact, he hadn’t had anyone in in over an hour. It wasn’t a regular, but he recognized the person as someone who had been there before.

Turns out the man lived a few miles east on acreage and couldn’t find a dry cleaner close enough to his house and so had come here. Happy to get his business, they struck up a conversation.

Soon, each reminisced about how long they’d been coming to Manotick. The man had grown up in the south end of Ottawa when the village was a forgotten outpost except to those who lived there. Comparing notes, each remarked how it had somehow survived and was now being developed.

“The new Vimy Memorial Bridge is a marvel,” said the man. “Yes, they finally got it built,” replied the shopkeeper. “I remember when we used to rent a property with 3 cottages on it just a few yards from where it crosses the river,” said the man, “boy oh boy, has this place changed. When I was a kid, there couldn’t have been but a few hundred souls out this way.”

Soon they were engrossed in comparing notes about what came first, which area developed best, and where it was headed.

He liked this stranger, but then again, he liked all his customers. It’s not just that he wanted them to spend money here, it was just part of his nature. After all, you can’t devote as many years as he had serving a community in dry cleaning, of all things, and not like what you’re doing.

He told the stranger about opening his tiny little shop, mentioning he’d come to Canada as a much younger man from Uganda. “Oh, Uganda, I get it!” said the man. “Idi Amin really left that place a mess.”

Agreeing with him, he counted how long since then. It had been 34 years of service to this small community, and his mind was immediately littered with events and faces as he felt all that time go by.

“I commend your commitment to your town,” said the man. “There is something about serving other people that gives a man’s life meaning,” he said.

“Yes!” said the shopkeeper, “that’s exactly how I feel about it.”

Soon they were exchanging testimony about helping their fellow man. Not at all in a way to stroke egos, no. More in a matter of fact way, as if they were reassuring each other this was how it’s done.

“I will tell you something,” said the shopkeeper after a while to his customer. “You know, last month, I went for a chest scan.”

“Oh really?” said the man, his voice concerned.

“Yes, they told me something was wrong, very wrong. It was a rare case and I was going to need experimental medications costing 25,000 dollars. Can you imagine? I’m not a rich man,” he said.

He remembered how devastating his wife of more than fifty years was at hearing the news. He remembered her face, her pain, her worry, and he winced at the memory.

“OHIP wouldn’t cover it. Too experimental, they said. So, I got on the phone with the pharmaceutical company. They agreed to provide the medications for free through a local pharmacy. Only, there’d be a $912 fee to dispense the medications here in Ottawa. We talked some more and soon, they agreed to waive this fee as well.  I felt very fortunate.”

“Wow, nice going,” said the customer, listening intently. “Let me get this straight: you not only got the pharmaceutical company to cover the cost of the experimental drugs, but you also got them to waive the local dispensing fee. Almost a grand?”

“Yes, that’s what happened,” said the old man. “And then, I got a referral to a top thoracic surgeon in Toronto that same morning. Only, I couldn’t get there with my health. There was a waiting list too. So, we did a teleconference at the medical centre by Billings Bridge. You know where that is?”

“Yes, I do exactly,” said the man, “I’ve had conferences with Toronto doctors myself from those same offices about my liver.”

“You know, then,” said the shopkeeper, “these doctors are busy.”

“Get this,” continued the shopkeeper, “I get on the video conference with the thoracic surgeon in Toronto and he says he knows me. “What do you mean?” I asked him. He says, “I remember having dinner at your home more than 30 years ago and afterwards, doing the dishes.””

Turns out when the shopkeeper was a much younger man, part of his service to his mosque was to mentor young people, especially new immigrants to Canada. He and his wife often hosted a dinner Saturdays at home and counselled arrivals about settling into their new country.

It was a way to help people transition, to provide a like-minded person of faith as a contact in the community, and to impart sound values to the newcomer. The surgeon, then a student, was one of them, and he remembered him well. The shopkeeper told the stranger about how his students at one point wanted to host a dinner for him in thanks and he refused the accolade on principle. He told them it was his natural duty to help them all, and they should focus on doing the same for others in the future.

“You can imagine my surprise,” said the shopkeeper. “I wasn’t sure what this meant but during the call, the doctor told me, “Either your heart is trying to divorce your lungs, or your lungs are trying to divorce your heart. You will need a transplant.”  He would put me on a list, he said.”

“The Toronto surgeon says the transplant will have to happen in Ottawa where it just so happens he has a friend at the Heart Institute, because my health is too frail and makes the trip too risky,” recounts the shopkeeper, “You can imagine how worried my wife was.”

“I can’t even grasp how difficult that must have been for her. How long have you been married?” asked the stranger.

“It will be 54 years next Sunday,” he replied.

“Bless you both my friend. So, what happened next?” enjoined the stranger.

“Right away,” he continued, “The Heart Institute here in Ottawa called me and said I had to be there in one hour to see the doctor. You know where that is?”

“No, but I can imagine we have good people here. I know the first Canadian heart transplant was done at the Civic. Is that where you went?”

“Yes, it’s right beside there now. It was another surprise,” he replied.

“How do you mean?” asked the stranger.

“So, I get to the Heart Institute,” he continued, “and I am by myself. There is a line-up to get into the parking, about six cars ahead of me and time is ticking by. A young guy comes to my window and asked for me by name.  He said the doctor sent him and he took my keys and told me he would take care of my car, and to go in immediately to see the doctor. He went off to park my car and off I went to see the doctor.”

“And so, you went in?” asked the stranger.

“I did go in, and he sees me. First thing he did was sent me off to get another scan in 30 minutes on an emergency basis. Then, he wants me to go home and prepare to be admitted any moment because they had a good candidate with viable lungs dying within the next 24 hours.”

“Wow, all this on the same damn day! It’s no wonder your heart didn’t give out!”

“I’m not finished,” the shopkeeper continued, “you won’t believe what happens next.”

“Uh-oh,” says the stranger.

“I get lost on my way to the MRI room. Can you believe it? I miss my test!” he exclaims.

“Oh no!” says the stranger.

“You know how big and confusing these hospitals are. I get there and I’m about 30 minutes late. The waiting room is full of people, some of them look sick, much sicker than I felt for sure. I went up to the lady at the desk and apologised for being late. Turns out she was a long-time customer of mine here at the dry cleaners. She tells me not to worry and puts me to the head of the line and I get my MRI!”

“Wow again!” remarks the stranger. “I hesitate to call this luck in the circumstances, but so far so good!”

“Yes, I was overwhelmed but I did notice it. You know, I thought this is how one should die. Like going away in a parade, everyone waving at you, but knowing they are being nice because you may be leaving,” he says solemnly.

“But, …,” replied the stranger, lost for words.

The shopkeeper continued, “Off I go home to pack a few things and explain all this to my wife. She is very worried. We’ve faced many challenges together, but this is the biggest.  The mood at home is very sombre, very sad. A little while later, I get a phone call. It’s the first doctor, the one who made the original diagnosis, requiring me to be at his office first thing the next morning at 8:30 am.”

The shopkeeper explains how he spent the night in prayer, reassuring his wife, consoling her fears, and trying to get some rest but knowing at this point, it was out of his hands. Fed up, he determines to leave it up to greater powers than he. God-willing he would be alive the next day. He decides this is a test of his life-long faith… and he must not waiver.

But in his darkness he dared to have a secret wish: it was to make it to a few Sundays from then to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his bride one last time.  He thinks to himself: we should be grateful for our 54 years together, whatever happens tomorrow. He pictures her face in his mind’s eye.

With that, he drifts off to a restless sleep, the anxieties of the day leaving him sapped of physical strength while his mind wished to remain awake and alert.

The next morning, he is at his doctor’s office on time. “You know what happened?” the good doctor asks, “you’re not going to believe me when I tell you.”

“I have no idea,” replied the shopkeeper as his mind raced with possibilities, none of them good.

“The doctor says, “I am very sorry, but I have made a mistake. You were misdiagnosed. I read someone else’s chart who was terminal and thought it was yours. It’s our fault. We have made a grave error, I hope you can forgive me,” his face filled with remorse.

“I was frozen in place, not believing my ears,” says the shopkeeper to the stranger.

“Oh my God,” says the stranger, “a mistake? That’s outrageous! The news alone could have killed you. He’s lucky he didn’t cause you to go into cardiac arrest from fright.”

“You know what I told him?” said the shopkeeper in a sly kind of voice.

“This I got to hear,” said the stranger.

“I said simply, “I forgive you, and thank you.””

“Wow, thank you? really?” replied the stranger, “Now I’m inspired. How did you come to that?”

The shopkeeper went on to say, “The doctor looked at me puzzled, mumbling something about how this was an unforgiveable error on his part and that he was ashamed of his office. He wouldn’t be surprised if I were angry and complained. Again, he said he was sorry.”

“I just smiled and repeated to him the same thing: “I forgive you… and thank you,”” said the shopkeeper, his voice now confident and relaxed, his eyes a little brighter, a beatific smile on his face.

Then, he told the doctor of his journey. “Did you know I was able to suggest the pharmaceutical company waive costs for their experimental medicine for humanitarian reasons and they did? That is an unusual arrangement, you’ll have to agree.”  And the doctor agreed it was unusual. “And then they waved the local dispensing fee of almost one thousand dollars on top of it,” even more unlikely.” The doctor sat still.

“If it were not for you,” I told him, “I probably would never have been thanked for giving those Saturday suppers all those years, and to know one of my students was a top surgeon in Toronto,” explaining now how he knew his surgeon.  “Wasn’t I glad I’d refused any accolades for doing this and thereby set an example to my charges? Look how this returned to me in my time of need,” he continued.

The doctor was fascinated by his good fortune, nodded and stared at him blankly.

“And doctor, how lucky was it that the surgeon in Toronto had a friend in Ottawa?” and, “did you know the Ottawa surgeon sent a parking attendant to park my car and usher me into his offices?”

“Yes, he’s a very well-known doctor, one of the best in the world,” answered the physician.

“And something else doctor, what are the chances, of all the people who work in a hospital imaging lab, one of them would turn out to be a long-time customer of mine. When I got lost and missed my appointment, with a double lung transplant operation a few hours away, it was she who made sure I got in despite others still waiting? Can we still call this luck?”

The stranger could only imagine what must have been a dumbfounded look on the doctor’s face.

“It was because of that appointment we are sitting here this morning, instead of at the hospital preparing for surgery,” the shopkeeper said matter-of-factly to his doctor.

The doctor agreed, adding the donor candidate will die that morning and his lungs will go to someone else who is already waiting for them in that very moment.

“Doctor let me again say, if were not for you, if it were not for your misdiagnosis, I would not have found out about all the wonderful people around me. What is the price of such a thing? Can you tell me? All these various people from different areas came together somehow to show me kindness and respect, and I owe all of this to you.  It is me who needs to thank you now.”

The doctor, tears in his eyes, blinked at the remarkable man before him and thanked him.

“And that was it,” said the shopkeeper.

“That’s quite a story my good man, mind if I write this one up?” asked the stranger.

To which the shopkeeper replied, “Oh sure, please do. Just remember we are all brothers and sisters.”

“You bet, I will never forget today. Do you have any more advice for me?” asked the stranger.

“Yes, I do,” replied the shopkeeper. “I will tell you this: Even the homeless on the street, don’t pass them by. You don’t have to give them money if you don’t want to but you should always look them in the eye and say hello at least.”

And the stranger was not at all surprised by this last bit of wisdom.

“Do you need these shirts by Friday or can you wait until Tuesday?” asked the shopkeeper.

“Tuesday is fine,”replied the stranger.

Christopher K Wallace
Advisor to Men

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Hassan Ismail, shopkeeper

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