Often, I wonder how my life might have unfolded without some of the women I’ve been blessed with knowing along my journey. To be sure, the opposite sex and I have had some bumps along the road but overall, my existence has been immensely enriched by their influence.
I could write a book about how, despite myself, the enduring feminine around me has helped me become a better man. That’s an interesting reverie, to imagine for each of them a chapter… about the things I could not see but were then revealed under the canny sorcery of the divine goddess. The problem with that daydream is that the book would be rather lengthy, and it may never end…
It has not ended, nor should it ever. No. Not at all.
It was long ago that I accepted we are not the same, and this has been the secret to my success. For by admitting we are different, the possibility of scorn is eliminated only to be replaced by awe. At least for me. I’m incapable of contempt for the oppositive sex as a group but reserve it for individuals of either gender. Like I said, I’m on a path to betterment… a long and winding road.
I suppose I have my four sisters to thank for that, especially my eldest sibling, my big sister.
Separated by three boys in a row coming after her of the nine charges under my mother’s care, she became Little Mother. This structural survival strategy adapted in aid of my mother’s ten pregnancies in twelve years overwhelm… probably cost sis a good part of a normal childhood.
Yet, unburdened by her mother’s more rigid shoulds, big sister could intuit revelatory answers unfettered by ultimate responsibility. She spoke truths to us as she saw them, her long-established authority clear, and I was often surprised by both her wisdom and her independence.
What she saw was not what I saw. No, not at all.
And so, it has been throughout my adult life as it was in my early years. With a long history of appreciation for the female confidant, it was surprising that one of them suggested I have a daughter so that I might understand women more.
I thought I knew enough about women. Apparently, I was wrong. How odd.
Almost eleven years ago along came Charlotte. I call her Charlie. The use of this diminutive was probably inevitable but the way I remember it a young gal whom I told about her arrival suggested it, saying, “Call her Charlie,” to which I replied, “I will,” and it stuck. I wished that young lady a happy birthday last week and she has grown from gangly teen to mature woman. I wonder if she remembers telling me that?
To be sure, I’ve been surrounded by feminine cheerleaders throughout adult life, most of them encouraging, all of them holding out the promise that I might be more. I’d reclaimed my masculine core by the time Charlie came along but here was this little one telling me in so many words and by her actions that my efforts oft-fell short, that it was still not enough. Oh no. How could this be?
The first really significant time was when I gave her an unopened box holding an extra toilet seat I had laying around the garage from a repair. I sent her off with a “gift” to open with her mother. She was delighted, such a big box in her delicate little hands, excitement on her face and in her step.
That she returned later forlornly to confront me caught me off-guard. “Why did you give me a potty-seat, daddy? I thought you were giving me a nice present and instead it was a potty-seat. No one wants a potty-seat daddy, that’s not a good present for a little girl…”
I was stopped in my tracks. I remember thinking, this must be what Miko had in mind, the audaciously prescient roommate who told me to have a daughter for my own good a few years prior.
In the circumstances that day in the garage, I sat Little Charlie down on the weightlifting bench beside me and apologized for my insensitivity. I told her I was playing a joke but could see how that was completely wrong-headed.
I’m sure I attempted redress with some sort of concessionary promise. Whatever it was I offered to make her whole I remember she accepted it with grace and forgave me.
Whew, dodged a bullet on that one. She was four.
I remember four. It was not like that for me. No. Not at all.
I’ve been a little in awe of her extra powers and have magnified my appreciation for the depth and scope of women even more than I had up to then since. I see it in missus every day too.
If I go somewhere with my woman and encounter other humans and speak of my experiences she will listen. At some point, a version of “Now do you want to know what was really going on?” will ensue, and she will tell me all manner of subtleties that went right by me.
Some of what I missed will no doubt be because I don’t particularly care to know that much about the social undercurrents swirling around me. Even more of what I miss leaves me scratching my head… a little slack-jawed for my ineptitude and limited or non-existent awareness.
Thus, it was that I arrived this week at my front window, mouse in hand.
Charlie has caught mice before. I remember last summer she had one in a cage and would reach in to pet the critter’s furry back. I sat there willing to let her find her own way. That day the mouse had at first let her have her way but then, in a flash was up her arm and with a three-foot spring off her and onto me and then the grass, disappeared. It was Mouse Parkour before our very eyes.
The look on her face held amazement for a moment then gave way to acceptance. I venture to say that she quickly became “philosophical” about that mouse’s tenure in her cage, one that has been host to red squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and a variety of short-term visiting mice.
I do not find it inconvenient to change directions on the lawnmower in summer when I cut a swath and see a mouse low to the ground zig zagging away as if it was being attacked by an enemy arial machine-gunner laying down deadly-fire in a line to the destruction of all below.
I don’t mind aiding and abetting its escape. No. Not at all.
You see mice are plentiful here. There’s no eradication program under way, no campaign to rid ourselves of their existence among us. We will set a few traps in the house come November and catch them at will. I’ve long since boarded up possible entry to my pantry cupboards.
Sometimes I find remnants of oiled sunflower seeds I put outside in feeders for our many flighted visitors, on the steps inside going down into the basement. I marvel how some little critter carried those fifty feet and then negotiated entry and then brought the meal up onto dry wood to feast.
But this one I found running away after a pass with the snowblower over two feet of snow. There it was scurrying to and fro while my son watched. I told him to catch it and he froze. It could have been it was minus 29C at the time, it might have been fear. I went after the little runner and to my surprise, soon had it gripped and well-protected in my big leather mitt.
I knew she was in the living room, so I appeared at her window in surprise. She was enchanted I thought, and so left the mouse on the sill and went back to work.
She later explained to me what happened in response to these pictures her ma took. “The mouse just stayed there, daddy. It was climbing the screen looking for where to go.”
So whilst I was snow blowing the rest of the driveway, she donned boots and jacket and heavy mitts. She pulled that mouse off the window and examined it carefully, petting it for posterity she told me.
“I put it in the cedar tree, daddy,” she told me.
“Oh, right there eh Charlie? I think that’s a good idea,” I answered.
There’s a bit of a well under that wide cedar and the mouse will have access to the ground and maybe some seeds to nibble on. She would have thought of that my little girl. There is no getting around her sensitivities, and these are far more precious than gold in so many ways.
“That little mouse just wants to live, daddy,” she replied with certainty.
“Yes, you are right,” I replied, oblivious to the obvious, taken with this simple truth.
Some little boys may hunt for curiousity or for conquest. Some don’t. My little guy is happy to let wildlife go its way.
My little girl hunts for care giving. She pets bees, you see.
She has a natural curiousity about all living things.
Maybe it was because of the time we walked the two hundred acres and a dragon fly alighted in her hair at the far end, just perfectly, like she was wearing a barrette.
Then, it was happy to hitch a ride with her all the way back home, never moving from the safety of her head until we were in the backyard with the pond in sight. Clearly, a highlight of her short life.
Daughter picks up spiders, you see. Snakes too, almost daily.
Last week, I saw she had my trap out over in the hedges baited with grass and pine cones, trying to catch a rabbit.
But, it’s the squirrels she’s been after most. A three year quest.
A few days ago, her chance finally came. She heard noises in the garage and suspected squirrel. I was summoned.
Women do that with me. If I’m not working for her ma, she’s putting me to work herself. I wonder where she got it?
Red Green said women like a man who is handy. No kidding…
Under daughter’s direction, I put on my welding gloves (in case) and went looking for the critter, confirming her suspicions while she bounced around delighted. “You might be right, Charlie,” I told her, as I removed another box to look inside..
Sure enough, a baby squirrel had fallen out of the insulation in the rafters, through the plastic vapour barrier and into our stored Halloween decorations high up on a shelf.
Illegal alien rules applied; detention was in order, she said. Well, she didn’t actually use those exact words but there was no doubt a version of “finders keepers” was in force.
Soon, I was also affixing a floor to her old beat up cage, and helping her find a way to attach a water supply. Into her fort the captive went, its cell made as luxurious as she could.
She named it Chocolate Chip. How perfect.
She knew about my friend Lynn, who had a rescued squirrel she named Nico, for over a decade. It had dropped out of the trees as she walked by and became her pet, She cried when it died.
After holding her caught squirrel for a few days, Charlie resisted all efforts, by her ma, urging she release the critter. Ma is her hero in many ways, a good mother and great model for love.
Yesterday, I had a chance to focus on the squirrel issue with daughter while I was in the yard doing a bunch of things.
I asked her how she was doing with her pet. She told me all about her adventure. I listened.
Finally, once she told me everything she had to tell me, I asked her, “Do you love that little squirrel Charlie?”
“I sure do, daddy,” she answered.
Over the last few days I’d mentioned that squirrels live in trees, their natural habitat. Squirrels and trees belong together.
We don’t see squirrels in a field. Nope. Always a tree to live in… with other squirrels, I mentioned casually.
So, I continued, “Charlie, if you really love that little squirrel, could you love it enough to let it go live in trees with other squirrels, with its family?”
She said no, not a chance.
I told her about sitting in front of the garden two days ago, in my old wooden seat where I like to sit, and hearing its mother above in the cherry tree, loudly scolding me.
The cherry tree is connected to the pine tree at the back of the garage where the breach into my rafters had obviously occurred.
“It’s up to you Charlie, you do what you think is right. I trust your judgment.” I was determined to say no more.
She looked pensive, and I could see the resistance on her face. Three years, that’s how long it took her to catch a squirrel, no small accomplishment.
I left it at that…
An hour or so later, this:
She brought Chocolate Chip to me. She had the watchful eye and familiarity of a caregiver with her little charge. She let me take her picture.
First, she stroked the little squirrel’s head, like a mom fixing a child’s hair before sending them off on the bus for the first day of school. Then, she confidently strode over to the pine.. and released it. Straining for a moment as she watched the critter scamper home up the trunk.
The dog joined in watching the critter climb high into the branches. Encouragement I told her it was, helping Chocolate Chip go home.
Then I hugged her and told her she did good.
We talked afterwards. She was philosophical, saying to me: “At least I got to know what it feels like to be a mom.”
Indeed, a glimpse of the Hero’s Journey.
Just like her ma.
Little girls: they teach men about love.
Stay powerful, never give up
©CKWallace, June 2020, all rights reserved
Sleep in this morning? Needed it maybe? Not worried? Maybe you will “catch up” later? Good.
Perhaps you are on modern society’s treadmill, a pawn of the bankers and their capitalist soldiers using interest to create scarcity and competition. Like a junkie’s tolerance, their heroin is ever-increasing growth at any cost, never enough, more and more. That’s life, right? Can you keep this up?
Indeed, chances are for you there will be a “personal reckoning” of some kind. You suspect this already. Sleep was your God-given right. It was your blessing from the universe: your dreams a therapist’s couch and an art school within the confines of your head.
That you are not alone in this struggle offers little comfort. “We die together,” might be our valiant stance. How honourable. For what cause was this again?
Best get on it. Why? Think you can scoff at your body like that and get away with it? Modernity is relatively new; Mother Nature is old. “Don’t be obtuse,” said the warden to the prisoner…
“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Fitting Charlotte Brontë’s prophetic wisdom that “a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow,” sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality. (Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (p. 3). Scribner)
Fuck me. Walker takes all the fun out of insomnia. Speaking of which, I suffered this way from about single digits until my 30s. Unluckily, once out my parent’s home at 15 years of age, I gained access to intoxicants to knock me out each night, from hashish to booze to heroin. I say knock me out because although I was unconscious, apparently sleep still evaded me. What did I know?
In my thirties, I temporarily gave up all that shit. Oh my, and insomnia returned. It was like meeting an old bully you thought was left behind years ago and then after transferring into a new school, you find them there, well-established and hanging with those you intend to make your friends.
I learned self-hypnosis and defeated insomnia. Defeated it. Although, I eventually allowed substance use to creep back into my life, I was a more of an intermittent user. Functional, until those last few years that is. Both these things were gifts. I solved that addiction riddle too. Defeated it.
It’s the dreams you see, you can’t escape them. And, for better or worse, we need them. I can sleep in a gas station parking lot with cars going by now. I almost slept through the birth of my second son sitting in a chair ten feet from the missus. “Wally, you’re going to miss it!” was her cry. I awoke to find her and her sister and the nurse giving me the look women give men for being men. Oh, I know that look so well.
“They went painlessly in their sleep,” should be everyone’s hope. To go out that way is to gift wrap the inevitable. Link up years of sleep deficits with how sleep tunes the brain up each night and your chances of facing significant mental decline increase exponentially. It could be the difference between dying horribly and dying healthfully in your sleep, your DNA clock simply having wound down to zero.
Rob yourself of sleep and you may face dark dementia days ahead. With dementia, your brain slowly breaks down, and the horror is you are aware of its every step into madness. The horror, yes. You see and feel yourself slowly getting stupider and there is nothing you can do about it. Stupider, yes.
Your frustration falls on sympathetic but capably deaf ears, speaking of which the voices of those you love become garbled. Garbled, yes. And this might make you mad, so angry you fight back, swinging wildly in self-defence and at other times in righteousness. Whereas most of your life you were occasionally wrong and corrected yourself with humility and an apology, now you are always wrong.
You might take a walk down the hallway of your locked ward, this institution where you now live. You see others and take a seat among them to rest. You put your hand on your cane to steady yourself as you sit. Someone gets up to leave and wants your cane. You refuse to give it up, a struggle ensues. You get the worst of it. You are 89 and both your eyes are blackened. The horror… it was their cane after all.
You just don’t understand…. Anything.
Your speech goes from full sentences down to phrases. You nod a lot at those who visit… if you have visitors at all. For a while, at times you read better than you hear so some take to writing notes for you, you know, so information can enter what’s left of your mind using a different pathway. Soon the letters on the pages might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Eventually, your confidence is so shot you are afraid to even venture a word and instead, stare silently doing your best to convey your mood with your eyes and facial expressions. A smile, a shrug, the odd eye-contact is what you are left with. You may feel like the family dog now, and so you sleep. You can still eat if it’s put in front of you, a lifetime of putting food to mouth not gone yet.
Until you are left staring straight ahead, in the stink from pissing and shitting yourself, great blistering red rashes burning your balls and ass. You scream in pain and lash out at your well-intentioned tormentors, your only salve the drugs you are given to knock you into unconsciousness once more. That’s when you shit yourself again and your torturous cycle of shame and humiliation begins anew.
The pain of your care awakens in you glimpses of injustice. These are triggered deep inside you as if you are being molested while mentally in a coma yet physically capable but weakening more by the day. It’s like you are immobile while being operated on without anesthetic, and your screams go unheard. Powerless, you are outnumbered, and alone.
You realize this is an awful way to go: and you never thought in a million years it would come to this. How can this be? You are awake and it’s as if brain worms are slowly consuming your reason, but you can’t stop them. They are locked inside your head, slithering among your neurons, multiplying in your Glial spaces, swimming in your cerebrospinal fluid, laying eggs, building a hungry army of young consuming your brain whilst you are alive and listening. Oh, the horror.
Get your sleep. How will you make it a priority? How?
Stay powerful, never give up
©CKWallace 2019 all rights reserved
Lt. Commander H C Wallace 1929-2019
Your life counted dad. xo
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
©October, 2019, all rights reserved
Advisor to Men, Mentor at Large
To schedule a free call
BOOK TIME HERE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
©CKWallace, November, 2018, all rights reserved.
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.
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.
See this rabbit? It’s no ordinary rabbit. I’ll tell you why.
Despite coming from a brood of ten bunnies born from our female’s last mating, this one is special: He loves freedom.
In that department, he leaves the other 9 rabbits in his wake. We can’t keep him in the pen. In fact, there are several white bunnies in this last batch and we weren’t sure if it was the same guy escaping all the time so we marked him. Big black magic marker stripe on its forehead. It’s always him.
It’s worn off now so tonight I marked him with blue. That was after I caught him in my garden. He ate half a tomato and devastated a whole cabbage plant, left a stub growing out of the ground. I have lots of cabbage this year so he chose well.
It took all three of us to catch him by cornering him in the garden. Missus lets the chickens in there to control the grasshoppers and had left the wire gate open. He ran full on towards it to escape but Charlie had it closed and was standing guard. He bounced off it like a trampoline and sat there stunned just long enough for missus to grab him.
This little guy will find the one little part of the pen where he can wiggle under or through something and fuck off. None of the other’s follow him. Not a one. And it’s a male, assuredly. Missus confirmed it.
He’s the great escape artist, can’t be jailed. No prison can hold him. He’s like El Chapo in the early years.
We’ve even had to leave him out a few nights on his own.
Couldn’t catch the little sucker. Despite being out there at dusk being eaten alive by mosquitoes and deer flies chasing the little prick with a salmon net, no way. He knows to either head into the culvert near the pond, a bush with several entrances, or get lost in the wood pile on the other side of the male rabbit pen. Finally, missus calls it off and says “leave him to the foxes and owls.”
But next day, we’ll spot him in the middle of the backyard grazing on the delicious green clover overtaking the lawn. Because that’s what he’s doing. He’s escaping to eat the better stuff found on the outside at the height of summer.
Another thing. Sometimes he breaks into the boys pen and hangs out with his dad and older brother. We’ll see him in there just snuggling up with pops, eating their food or munching down on the fresh green weeds I bring every day.
He’ll visit a while and then screw off from there. They have two inch mesh and can’t follow him. He is small enough still so can slip in and out all he likes. To them he’s a ghost, appearing and disappearing at will.
Missus has taken to putting him in his own cage within the wired pen where the mama rabbit and little ones are being reared. Tonight she said, “let’s just butcher this one right now and eat him.” I like when she shows some of that inner cave woman. Always makes me give her a second look.
But I’m not so sure. For one thing, he’s still pretty small. So he wouldn’t make for much of a meal. He’s also not very fat, probably due to all the exercise he gets running away from us.
Mostly, he makes me think of the difference between conformity and dissent. If I keep him to breed, will I have a backyard full of escape artists to contend with? Or will I be selecting for better genes and a more food resourceful animal?
Truth is, I’ve developed a grudging respect for him.
How can I not like a creature who finds a way to live his freedom? Talk about perseverance. No matter what obstacle is before him, this little guy never gives up. Even after a few days being confined to barracks in his special enclosure, he’s right back at it. To tell you an even nuttier truth: I’m more than a bit inspired by the little fella.
Oh sure, call him wascally. But so what? I lived outside the norms for a long time. It’s a wonder I wasn’t stewed myself.
What is true is that this little guy is a dissenter. Contrary to popular opinion, we should invite dissent into our lives and discussions as much as we can. I’m not talking about bullshit ploys like Devil’s Advocate, a faux-exercise in pretend-dissent.
No. We should take positions and run with them because even if we are wrong, everyone’s thinking around us is enriched because of it. Divergent thinking is where the best answers come from, not from group think, nor especiallly from echo chambers of one person’s thoughts.
This little white rabbit with the now blue streaks on his head will teach us how to build better pens at the least. He’ll teach us all about where a rabbit goes if it escapes. He’s still teaching us the best way to catch an errant rabbit. He’s also showing us what he prefers to eat.
Thirteen rabbits in my backyard and it’s this one, the pain in the ass one, from whom we are learning.
What a wonderful lesson for life.
Advisor to Men
“Be great in act, as you have been in thought,” said the original bard. What was William telling us when he wrote this directive, this mini-missive for life? Could be he was urging us to be more confident, because confidence is a big part of what takes thoughts and turns them into actions.
Sometimes fear does this too, but not in the “great” way Shakespeare was referring to when he gave this advice. Greatness, being your best in a moment, is something we all experience, if only in our minds.
The question is how to take those fleeting feelings of greatness and bring them forth into the world.
Acting is one way, a version of the old “fake it until you make it” cliché. And as much as this strategy has become a trite call to be something other than yourself in the internet era, it’s still a pretty good approach. No wonder actors love what they do. They perfect the “becoming something else,” repeatedly, even becoming addicted to it.
This reminds me of when I first learned to shoot pool. Oh, not the very first time, because that was as a 13-year-old when my big brother suddenly turned to me one Saturday and asked me what I was doing. Ten minutes later, Stephen and I were nearby at Centennial Billiards on Bank Street playing on one of the small tables.
I was terrible. I’m sure Stephen was only moderately better. We didn’t play again for several decades. In the interlude, he visited over a hundred countries in service of gov’t, while I did… other things. But little did he know, by way of introduction to this wonderful game, of the seed he’d planted in me.
I played it on and off for another twenty years before I got much better. In my early 30s, in college, I often played at Edgar Lefevbre’s East End Billiards, just up the street from my place in Cornwall. I had a cheap two-piece cue and could count myself as a moderately decent player, enough to hold my own amongst other players there who were the equivalent of duffers in golf.
It was when I moved to Southern Ontario and began to run a sales team during evenings all over Southern Ontario that I stepped it up. Each night, I had three or so hours to kill between dropping off my reps and picking them up again. I drifted into the pool halls of each town to play snooker.
Pool, meaning straight pool, eight ball and nine ball, hadn’t taken off in Canada. These were American games played on smaller tables and Canada was a former British colony. We played on 6’ x 12’ tables and looked down upon the pool shooters to the south, preferring snooker. Later, I came to appreciate these smaller table games just as much. Nine ball is my favourite.
The Canadian, Cliff Thorburn, had been crowned World Snooker Champion in England in 1980. Then he’d blown away the snooker world by scoring a maximum in the Championships in 1983: a perfect game of 15 reds with 15 blacks and then all the colours to score 147. At the time, it was snooker’s equivalent to breaking the 4-minute running barrier record.
When, in 1988, I moved to Hamilton, eventually I started playing at The End Pocket, on Upper James. Marty Olds had bought the place and I’m pretty sure he still owns it. Alain Robidoux, a French-Canadian from Montreal was by then our top player in England, ranked something like number 8. I heard the announcer say he used a hand-made cue built by Marcel Jacques. I later found out Marcel had been a bowling hall carpenter, building those beautifully precise tongue and groove alleys, and made pool cues on the side.
I know this because on a whim one day, I called a pool hall in Montreal, and by luck they could get a message to him. He called me back a day or so later and I found myself agreeing to meet him the following week at one of his local pool room hangouts. He tested my stance and measured my body and arm length, as well deciding on the thickness of the cue’s butt so it would best fit my hand.
$500 bucks and a few weeks later, my cue.
When I bought my cue, I still hadn’t met Marty and the rest of the boys at the End Pocket, but I’d been in to bang the balls around a few times. When I showed up to practice on table #6 at the back of the room with the Marcel cue, Marty noticed right away that I could play well enough. The cue gave me away as a serious player.
From then on, I was welcomed into the loose fraternity of the better players there. Never the best or most talented player, I only won one of his tournaments a couple of years later and got my name printed in the classifieds for it. But it was the endless games of golf and follow played for 25 cents a point that I remember most.
I didn’t like losing very much so I enlisted the help of Canada Fats, Tony Lemay, a gambler in Toronto who made a living at the racetrack and playing cards. In three lessons at $50/hour, Tony helped me find the stance I still use to this day, very much emulating Cliff Thorburn’s frontal approach to the ball.
By this time, I was playing in rooms from Scarborough’s Snooker Canada to places in London or Niagara Falls, and everywhere in between. I’d pop in and find a game, usually for five or ten bucks a rack and the table time.
Occasionally, I got to practice with a much better player. It was a fella in Brantford, Ontario who pointed out my biggest flaw, striking before I’d pinpointed the exact place on the ball down to the size of a pen mark, instead of a circle the size of about half a dime. My eyes were weak.
I think he was also frustrated at me not being a worthy opponent and could see my potential. He did something curious: he stood behind me and wouldn’t let me strike and move on until I’d corrected what it was he was telling me. Instead of allowing me to continue my poor form, he insisted on a correction on the spot by raising his voice and saying “no, no, NO, that’s not it, keep looking for it,” so I’d be forced to stop etching the flaw further upon my style, dismantling and rebuilding the weakness which held me back in the process.
Frustrated at first, by the time he was done with me in that one evening, I was making shots with such precision I ended up beating him. He nodded when I did, knowing he had beat himself through me. The score was just proof of the soundness of his lesson.
I think his name might have been Paul but I’m unsure. All I know is I’m grateful to this stranger for his coaching. I still think of him, still see him nodding his head in approval without saying a word. My game went up from there.
This was my pastime, not my professional pursuit. At one time, I considered buying a pool room but realized it would run my love of the game if I was forced to sit in a room all day hoping customers would spend money. I played for fun, and a little money, but the real fun was in playing well.
Never intending to become a better player, I had simply taken my thoughts about playing and acted them out. I’d faked my way into a level of mastery of the game by first getting a world class cue and then forcing myself to play to its level. Funny how that works.
There are two other enormous excellence lessons I learned while playing pool. One was about visualizations, the other about flow. I’ll report back to you about these in other posts.
In the meantime, I like to believe this era in my life contains valuable lessons, ones’ I still do my best to apply today.
think of ways you can act “as if” and see yourself in a different light. What are some ways you can realize some of those thoughts which surface in your mind, begging to be turned into actions? Often thoughts come and go and are forgotten. What if we acted on some of them instead?
Three hundred years after Shakespeare’s missive, what can we do today to honour his advice?
Sometimes confidence comes from little wins, ordinary victories accumulating over time into a meaningful whole, call it a gestalt of competence if you will.
At other times, it comes from taking risks. Something daring, perhaps done on a whim, and which can open a whole new area of life just because of it’s power as a linchpin to action.
It’s like putting on a good suit. Suddenly, people act differently around you and accord you with more respect and power than when you’re dressed in work clothes. Suddenly you’re standing straighter and taller, speaking clearly and with better manners. More about this later.
Suddenly, when we take risks, people appear along the journey and contribute something to our game. It’s just how things work, beautifully.
Realize the difference between thoughts and actions is often found in a simple leap of faith.
Go with it I say. Do it now, chase a passion.
Advisor to Men.
I recall clearly the first time I came across this event. It was some thirty years ago when I was first in recovery from severe addictions and a life on the streets. Though no doubt I’d been trained as an altar boy to attend the service each November, my youthfulness did not allow me to take in how profound the day really was. A decade or so later it was different.
And by on the streets I don’t mean I was homeless. Far from having no place to live, I had many. In fact, one year I had thirteen addresses. Try getting your taxes done chasing mail at that many places. That may have been the year I stopped filing for a while.
No, on the street wasn’t a reference to no place to live. It just meant a place other than jail.
I was out on my own at age 15. My father suffered burnout at his job and decided there wasn’t room under the same roof for two roosters. Since it was his roof, I was out. What followed was more than a decade and a half of decline, a descent from living in a rooming house and holding a job to eventually living completely off the avails of drug trafficking.
I remember my room on Gilmour Street clearly. Drab and dreary, I had used furniture and a two burner hot plate stove. No fridge, so I put my milk for tea out on the window sill in winter’s cold to keep, subsisting on Clarke’s Stew and Kraft dinner, peanut butter and jam when I could. More than once I had to kick down the door of the communal bathroom in the middle of the night and evict the rubbies holed up there, one curled up drunk in the oversized bathtub, another on the floor in front of the toilet, whilst they protested my disturbing their sleep.
Though that room cost me only $13 per week, I often panhandled in front of the Hitching Post tavern at Bank and Gilmour. Every Wednesday, I’d take the #1 Bank and Heron to my father’s home to report in and get my stipend of ten dollars, my allotment until age 16. I had the wrong clothes and a big chip on my shoulder, drifting from job to job. From making sewer pipes to working jackhammer on a road crew to warehouse work at a cleaning supply place and a swimming pool supplier. I went through many jobs. I lacked structure after dropping out of school and losing touch with all my friends and family.
It was also a time of counter culture, where I overturned my religious roots while the Vietnam War and Nixon’s white house played out on the airwaves. There was a certain nihilism to the times along with the threat of an imminent nuclear attack during the cold war’s prolonged stalemate. I didn’t expect to see age thirty. That was also the consensus among my peers.
After meeting new big brothers out on the street to replace the ones I had left behind, I drifted into drugs. I entered the black market trade just as Canada’s immigration policy opened up its borders to influences from around the world.
On any given Friday, you could walk down Montreal Road in Vanier (a square mile of crooks we called it) and buy the best of any of drug producing country. Ottawa was “hash capital” we often said, fed primarily through the port of Montreal. The Edgewater and Mapes in Pointe Claire were key points of contact while the influx of immigrants to Ottawa, descendants of Phoenician traders from the Mediterranean, facilitated things so that a full complement of the world’s drug offerings were available.
Branded hashish like Black Pakistani, Green Moroccan, Blonde, Brown and Red Lebanese, water-pressed Kashmiri, and the strongest Afghani from Mazar Sharif could be had from peddlers accosting your walk every few yards along the route. For more, you’d go just off the main drag and down a few steps to the basement tavern La Broue, where you could buy anything in any quantity. There the guys would all lift the table and reach under its center and pull out bags of quarter pounds of everything available.
My rule was if I stuck with hash, I’d never go wrong. I had good intentions. Ten years later I had been carrying a gun for many years and was actively dealing harder chemicals, fully immersed in the criminal element. That’s the problem with this sort of thing. The fistfights and taking sides in informal gangs as a teenage punk soon give way to the serious gun play of adults fighting life and death over turf as an organized crew.
Sure I did some time for shooting people and was shot in return. I’ve been hit with ball bats and hit back. I took knifings and broken bones in stride. I gave as good as I got.
But this one day I sat in a little Anglican church on James Street, not far from where I had started my life on the street a decade and a half earlier. If only I had been able to foresee the future I was about to live, but it doesn’t work that way. I was in church trying a version of the religion I’d been brought up on. It was Christianity and I was prepared to give it another shot.
That day the priest gave a little speech about the dead, about the importance of remembering on this special day reserved for them. We were invited to think of their names, to reflect on their lives and departure to a better place, and to light a candle and say a prayer for their souls. I knew I had lived, survived, where many others had not. This weighed on me deeply.
Daydreaming away in my pew, I began to think of all the people I’d known who were no longer with us. I began to count how many candles I’d have to light, asking myself, should I light one for each of them?
I thought of Tommy, shot in the back a few blocks away escaping police, he dies while jumping the fence in what was coincidentally my sister’s backyard. Tommy and I had peeled potatoes in prison, where he used to sing in a high falsetto, “Big boys, they don’t cry aye aye” and make me piss myself laughing. Speaking of pissing, he told me once “You know something Chris, a cold beer on a hot summer’s day is like little angels pissing on the end of my tongue.” That’s always stuck with me as the most apt description ever. I’ve thought of Tommy often in summer since.
I thought of Dave who died the day before he got out of prison. He was this handsome dude with Popeye arms who had been my partner for a while. He’d rob banks and I’d drive and we’d deal drugs and he’d do rips. He had a lazy eye and had an amazing insight to how the street worked. It was he who helped me escape after I’d been shot and stumbled out into his Lincoln. He first thought I was over-amping on some really good shit, until I showed him I was plugging a hole in my chest with my finger to prevent the air from hissing out. He apologized as he dropped me off at the Riverside, telling me he was sure I understood he couldn’t stick around. By then all I could do was nod in agreement as each breath filled my lungs with more blood, kneeling on the ground before the emergency doors while he peeled off as attendants rushed out to get me. Dave didn’t live through the getting out party thrown for him by the guys in Collins Bay Pen.
I thought of young Mikey, who died while sitting in a chair in my living room while I slept in the bedroom. He showed up one night with his partner to pay off a drug debt. When I told them no more hash until Monday, they wanted to party. My gal and I and another couple were doing heroin. Mike and his partner were chippers and had done it plenty of times. I told them to help themselves and they did. At one point, I advised Mike’s spoon was too full and took some of the Persian Brown heroin out. He may have added more when I wasn’t looking. While I was in the bedroom nodding off with my gal, the other couple and Mikey’s partner let him die right in front of them. He was cold and blue in the morning. What a waste, he was such a good kid.
I thought of Greg, who was part of the couple there that night. He ended up getting busted for heroin and was facing prison. His girlfriend started dating one of the narcs on the team that investigated him and he spiraled into depression. He had this really nice red Trans-Am he let me drive whenever I wanted. We lost touch after his bust but one day, just before he was to start his sentence, he drove that car into his mother’s garage and left the engine running. She found him, cherry red lips and all, dead and cold.
I thought of Charlie, a good old boy from up the valley in Pembroke, son of a cop. Chuck was handsome and had a winning smile with brown curly hair, an improved Gino Vanelli look to him. He was funny and a brother to me. But he was a wild man: fast cars and fast women, and the drugs and booze that went with it. He died on Conroy Road after hitting a train in the fog in the wee hours. With him in the pickup was a gal who was getting married the next day and another dude, all gone in a fiery death. The debris went up the tracks several hundred yards.
My list went on and on. I sat there a long time after mass was over, taking time to think of the dozens of people who had perished from what was really drugs and booze. Sure, some were shot enforcing for others, for revenge, even under contract, but all were related to the drug trade. I’m not sure if making drugs legal back then would have helped any of my friends. All I knew is I had lived where many had not. Call it survivor guilt if you like.
It’s been several decades since the day I sat in on this Christian tradition we call All Saints. If we believe we are all forgiven our trespasses while here, and eventually make it into the Kingdom of Heaven, then the occasion has even greater meaning.
Something tells me if this were even only partly true, I’d have to spend some time in purgatory first. In fact, I expect I’d see many of my friends there, still doing time, never having been able to rectify things while alive to make it through the Pearly Gates. I’m not opposed to a reunification.
If you call me tomorrow and ask me how I am, it’s likely I’ll tell you the same thing I tell most people when I’m asked. It may sound flippant, or a little woo woo for some, part of that positive thinking personal growth overreach we commonly see lately. But each day, I wake up and find myself breathing I consider it a gift. It’s what I’ll tell you tomorrow: I got to wake up and give it another shot at life. Many didn’t make it overnight.
Though I’ve long abandoned a strict commitment to religion, I still appreciate many of its charms. I respect half of us are probably hard-wired to believe in a power greater than ourselves. Indeed, for a long time I’ve co-opted a Christian prayer, giving it an agnostic twist. I like to say each morning, “This is the day the universe has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
I know that alone is probably grounds for a sentence to purgatory. I’ll take my chances.
But there is something to be said for the traditions of the church. Its great Cathedrals, its ornate décor, the high ceilings with frescoes of various biblical scenes. The chanting and singing together as a congregation, the rituals of birth, marriage, death and burial. There is that sense of awe, the idea that some things are best left unsaid, or that cannot be expressed with words alone.
This is a calling within us all I think. I feel the same way when I look up to the clear night sky and allow my mind to drift among the stars. Words don’t have the kind of reach to adequately describe what we can contemplate in that instance. All things are possible is the message I get.
And there is reflection, a gentle reminder to think of those whom have passed before us, however their journey ended. We do it to honour not only their memory, but also to reaffirm our own commitment to this existence.
Perhaps then, it’s a day for all souls, the living and the dead. This is worth remembering. After all, each of us lose cherished ones in our time here.
Today, I share my soul cake with you.
Christopher K Wallace
All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, Feast of All Saints, or Solemnity of All Saints, is a Christian festival celebrated in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. (from Wiki)
Roman Catholicism; Eastern Orthodoxy; Anglicanism; various Protestant denominations;
All Hallows Day, Solemnity/Feast of All Saints
White (Western Christianity); Green (Eastern Christianity)
Church services, praying for the dead, visiting cemeteries, eating soul cakes November 1
When I was first counselling in the late 80s, the term counsellor was intimidating. It spoke of a “there’s something deeply flawed in me and probably no one can fix it” kind of mentality. Going to see a counsellor could be an admission of defeat. It could be shameful.
Unless, of course, your counsellor agreed with you and you could use their expert advice to win an argument.
To make things easier, I’d tell people to simply consider me their coach. This was long before the term “life coach” existed.
After all, pretty much everyone’s had coaches at school, at church, in Little League and what have you. The description seemed less harmful, more approachable if you will.
Coaching has now become a multi-billion dollar industry.
It covers every facet of human endeavour and then some. Despite many who are talented, informed and very effective at what they do—and I know plenty of good coaches—there has been a watering down of the term.
I found it didn’t fit me anymore in the current context of how I operate. To many, the term may seem to be the new “counsellor” of old. This is probably unfair, a result of its popularity.
Then again, I’m not coaching Little League.
I advise on business and productivity, marriages and relationships, parenting and aging, trauma and addiction, health and other matters of life, death and freedom.
Coaching hardly does what I do justice.
Also, at the least being coached implies I know the “right way”; that I have a system that works and if you follow it, you’ll score the win.
To some extent in shortened contexts this is true. I have a play book like any good teacher does. I know technique from trial and error. I have seen good and bad.
More often than not though, in the longer game the answers are in my clients. I explore and facilitate things. Sure, I call upon my training and experience and learning, but ultimately, my calling is as trusted advisor.
Having lived a faulted life—especially in my early years—I am incapable of judging others. We don’t need to get into how faulted here. I’ve seen deep shit, life and death, also great triumph.
Over the decades, regularly someone took the time to share some of their hard-earned lessons, often as payment in kind for something I’d done.
Indeed, I usually paid dearly for good advice.
I listened… and I am blessed with memory.
I can recite chapter and verse about various gems learned from books, courses, my father, priests, professors, friends, business people and other learned souls of both genders; moreover, often attributing a time and place for each pearl of wisdom gratefully gained.
Being a learner is my number one strength. I suppose some will say what I have is depth. I think you’d want that in an advisor.
We all get advice from time to time.
Advisor it is.
I remember my sister-in-law brought her co-worker, a Mexican national, to my house one day. While we chatted, he told me how his father came home everyday to his family back in his village. Tired, hungry, done with the day’s challenges, home was his father’s refuge.
Father would sit at the table while mother would feed the man of the house traditional Mexican food: tortilla, taco, enchilada, etc. While he ate, his children would take turns sitting on their father, so happy were they to see him. Mother would stand dutifully by and see to it he had his fill. If he wanted more, at his signal she would place extra food on his plate.
The man told me his father never objected to his children literally climbing all over him like they did. I think there were at least several of them. He just went about eating his meal, often sharing part of it with the kids. Father never refused one child his attention, acting as if this was how it was supposed to be. He wouldn’t flinch when one of them climbed over his shoulders, onto his head even, put a hand in his face, or hung off his back or neck while he ate.
When he was done, his mother would take away father’s plate and the children would stay to play and talk with their father.
This young man’s name happened to be Angel and what he told me has been my guide at meal-times since. He has no idea how easy it made things: To let go and just allow it, embracing the disorder to find connection underneath.
I’ll never forget that story. It’s now part my own…
ckwallace © 2017 all rights reserved
Pets: I’m not for them at all. In fact, I’m completely against dog and cat ownership. I want nothing to do with either. I’ll tell you why.
The thing about pets that we forget is that they die. Oh, I know. You’re not supposed to talk about that bit. But, it’s true. The little critters worm their way into our hearts and lives and then we outlast them. Of course, along the way, all manner of itsy bitsy life lessons can be learned from cats and dogs, and other little creatures, but saying goodbye is always hard.
My father is 87 years old. We never had a dog during the time I lived there as part of a family of eleven, but we had a cat called Brindle Shit Brown. Of course, my father named that one. It was born high up in an apartment building and the mother cat had dropped the baby cats off the balcony one by one, presumably inviting them to live elsewhere other than in those over-crowded conditions. My father continued to have a cat in the house long after I Ieft home.
Dad says that it so crushed him to see his cat pass away a few years ago that he’s not interested in ever getting another. Too hard, he says. His last little pet used to come out mostly when no one else was around and sit on his lap while he read in his big chair. If ma was in the room, then it would sit between my mother and father, keeping an exact space within an inch of the halfway mark of each of them. It was as if it was intentionally reassuring them, showing no favouritism, both having earned its love, or whatever it is that cats offer us.
I’ve had a few pets myself over the years. I used to keep a couple of Afghan Hounds around when I was in my late teens or so. Of course, this was back before municipal laws made it mandatory to pick up your dog shit. Those fenced in school yards in the evenings made for a perfect place to let the hounds out.
Later I learned a pretty neat trick for avoiding responsibility for the care and maintenance of a dog. I’ve had three major relationships in my life. And each of these women wanted to get a “puppy” to fulfill some kind of maternal need. Of course, to a young man, a dog is better than a baby. It’s hands down a better option.
Truth is, it was my experience with the hounds early in my twenties that made me realize a few things about pets in general. They become part of your little “family” and can no more be abandoned than a sibling or child. You have to look after the suckers. That means if you want to go somewhere, they either have to come too, or you are not going. Not everyone appreciates you bringing your oversized semi-guard dog to their homes.
I suppose it’s kind of like a farmer with horses or a milking cow. That horse has to be walked or ridden daily. Twice a day, that darn cow has to be milked come hell or high water. Dogs are a bit like that with the whole walking bit, aren’t they? Only now you have to pick up the dog shit too.
There’s something about being trained by a dog to wait behind it with a little bag until it is done its business, then feeling its soft poop through the thin walls of the plastic as you gather its offering. It stinks too. Fresh excrement is like that. And while you do it, the dog either looks at you puzzled or just goes off to the next bush or clean patch of lawn to repeat itself. I remember feeling taken for granted on the odd occasion where I’ve had to do this. Conformity costs.
Afterwards, you follow the dog home while carrying a bag of shit. Even today, driving down the road, sometimes I spot a big dog with their owner following. The misnamed master carries the required bag and it reminds me of the bull balls ornament you see some guys tie to their trailer hitch on the back of their pick-up trucks. There’s no nice image that justifies this or makes it any better. You’re still carrying a bag of shit while your dog frolics along. The owners never look happy to me. If you look at them too long, they stare back defiantly.
Over the years I learned to give in to the various gals I was with when the puppy call came. I’d first act reluctant, making it was known that I was not interested in pets. They were all the pet I needed, I’d tease. Been there, done that, I might say.
Once my position was clear, predictably we’d move to the next phase.
This is where persuasion comes in. Of course, I’m no match for a determined woman in that circumstance so it was to my advantage to realize that I was arguing a foregone conclusion. If I was losing the battle anyway, getting the best possible terms while the getting was good was my drop back position. It was a pattern oft-repeated during my years with dogs.
Oh, we’d get the dog alright. But not until it was understood and agreed to that I was not its owner, would not walk it, would not feed it, would not bathe it and certainly would not be picking up shit after it like some feminized male walking a poodle for his dame.
Now you might have a poodle, or you might be happy to walk your gal’s poodle and pick up after it on her behalf. I wasn’t. It’s just me, no reflection on you. And it was under this clear understanding that in all three of my major cohabitating relationships, we got dogs. But not big dogs, mind you, small dogs.
I once knew a fella who was a notorious gangster in what’s known as the Irish Mob here in Canada. He had a small dog too. Despite this apparent incongruence in his otherwise outward appearance and reputation as a tough and masculine male, I think it was a Shih Tzu or similar sized dog he preferred. I once asked him, “George, why the small dog?” To which he answered, “Little dogs need protection too.” Of course, in that moment the answer struck me as obvious: a dog wasn’t going to protect George; he was going to protect the dog.
After my experiences with the Afghan Hounds, I realized that large dogs as actual guards have limited value. Once I gave my second dog to a friend who didn’t have one. His place was broken into and the thieves simply piped the dog over the head and proceeded to empty him out. It left him with a large vet bill and a dog with one prominent canine tooth cracked in half and missing. Champion Kanishka of Douglas didn’t look much like a champion after that.
No. A dog around the house as protection is not a sure thing. But a dog’s hearing is so good that if you’re looking for an early warning system to give you advanced notice burglars are stalking your place, a dog is the thing. They’re also good about warning you to people innocently walking by minding their own business. And squirrels, they tell you about squirrels on your property, or scampering across hydro lines in sight of the windows. Dogs watch over their domain, like a sentry standing guard against all interlopers at the top of the castle’s walls.
So it was that most of my adult life a dog has lived in my home. One other rule I observed: each new relationship, a new breed of dog. Seems only fair, right? What kind of sick guy would manipulate three gals in succession to all get the same darn dogs? It’s deceitful. It’s the kind of thing that happens when someone has three marriages going in three different cities. Eventually, three different widows show up to the funeral. Sooner or later, you’re found out.
No. It would be a picture in an old album that would give me away; or, more likely social media currently. I knew this so it was important for me to keep things on the straight and narrow by ensuring each one of my great loves get a different breed. Luckily, fate never challenged me to the point where one had a preference another had already. It wasn’t like I could suddenly blurt out, “No. That one’s taken!” and not look like a complete idiot. After all, I wanted nothing to do with the whole thing, right? I have to say, I got lucky.
We went from Pekingese to Lhasa Apso to Havanese. All three breeds are similar and reflected their owners to a great extent. I suppose this also reflected my taste in women. The first two gals were blondes and so were their dogs—blond hair, black mask to be more precise. The last one, the Havanese, was all black. Change was due. I suppose. Read into it whatever you like but they were three small dogs bought from certified breeders at full price.
Well, except for the last one, the Havanese. Maggie May. Mel was so grateful we were getting a dog she let me name it. Somewhere, vaguely inside me, I was troubled by this: had I reached the pinnacle of my manipulation? Or was I just fooling myself? Anyway, Maggie was bought from an alternative breeder (read not Canadian Kennel Club) and I talked the lady down from $1500 to $800. Maybe not full price but not chump-change either. It was the exception.
All of them were superb pets and provided my gals with endless enjoyment, grooming, feeding, walking and cuddling them to great satisfaction. Each of them allowed me to rise to the odd occasion and walk a dog on her behalf. Say on a cold wintry night, minus temperatures and snow swirling about. That’s when I’d step up and do the right thing: joint and lighter tucked into my jacket pocket, and walk her dog for her.
The Pekes, as they are known to their owners, snort and snuffle as their pug faces take in air. They walk around with heavy chest pushed out like a diminutive bulldog. It’s pretty hard to not find them endearing. And just as our Pekes were characters, so was their owner. It takes a special person to find the beauty in the ugly. Pekes have it both. All that breeding to achieve their distinctive look takes a toll on the cardiovascular system. Their hearts give out. They die young. I went through two Pekes in that relationship
The Lhasa Apso is a good breed: Smart and loyal little pooches and not at all demanding. They are highly versatile and when their coats are allowed to grow out, a fantastic looking animal. It takes an owner who can dedicate time and effort to grooming to do the dog justice. Luckily, this breed was suited to my wife at the time because she always looked good. I’m pretty sure we had at least two, maybe even three of these dogs during our long relationship.
The Havanese is a Cuban version of a Bichon Frise. The Bichon Frise is normally white and found in the Mediterranean area of France. But in Cuba, it comes in all colours—much like the Cubans themselves. The Havanese is good for herding chickens I’m told. Of the three breeds, this was easily the smartest. It could roll over and play dead. It fetched a toy and laid it at my feet in seconds the very first time I tossed it. You could pretend to shoot it and it would die… for food.
Here’s a question: What’s with the idea that a dog has to sleep at the end of the bed? Can’t you just say no? I have to be honest here, that’s one drawback to my system. If you sleep with someone and they want their dog at the end of the bed, they will simply say, “It will sleep on MY side.” Of course, I have answers to that. Things like: “The dog wakes me up,” or “It hogs my blankets worse than you do.” In the case of the Peke, “The damn thing snores and I’m a light sleeper.”
In my experience, these are good reasons for not having a dog sleep at the end of the bed. Each of them was accepted with sensitivity by my partner, leaving me feeling validated and heard. But even so, the dogs all slept at the end of the bed, interfering with my sleep for decades. The reason for that was the dog just waited until we were asleep, left its own bed, jumped up onto ours and settled in. I know because it woke me up each time. My gal would offer me sympathy when I complained. But no remedy. It was their conspiracy.
But for all its challenges, having a small dog in the house is a joy compared to what happens when we lose one. It’s heartbreaking. Not so much for me, but I feel for my gal each time. In some dark recess of my selfishness, a dog’s death signals release. A good night’s sleep, accidents, barking and vet bills are all welcome benefits of a pet’s demise. A partner’s sadness is not. So I understand a bit about what my father was speaking about. It’s tough stuff.
Our last dog, the smartest one by far and the one I got to name, cost me ten grand in vet bills. I say that as an aside because the real challenge was when I was tasked with putting her down myself. It was something my wife asked me to do while she was at Ronald McDonald House attending to my boy’s life as he spent his first few months at Sick Kids. There she was up every two hours all day and night feeding or pumping breast milk to give our son enough of his mother’s nourishment to survive. It was the least I could do for her.
It is a funny thing how our dogs are so much like their owners. In turn, in my case, it’s a funny thing is about how our wives are often so much like our mothers.
All during the past three years as Mel has dealt with my boy’s health issues, she’s never complained. All the emergency visits to hospital; being awakened almost nightly to attend to him for one reason or another; his eating difficulties so bad that he vomited up almost everything she tried to give him for two years straight, the odd time all over her; and the uncertainty of not knowing if he’d live or die. She was stalwart. She was like my mother.
My mother had ten pregnancies in twelve years, raised nine children, cooking thirty-three meals a day for decades while keeping a house and every one on task following her marching orders. And as soon as she could she went back to her work full-time, putting her nursing background to use first as a medical secretary and later in government for the hydrographic section of Environment Canada. When cancer claimed her finally at age 86, she died on a Friday afternoon surrounded by her nine adult children and husband of sixty-two years by her side holding her hand. My father told me she apologized to him for dying.
Maggie was bleeding out of her ass and could barely walk ten feet.
A lot like her mistress, my missus, and my mother, Mel’s mother in law, the little dog who could do so many tricks never complained. She just tried to carry on, right to the end. She would look at me through her curly black hair and those dark eyes and wait for my signal, at the ready like a good little soldier. She was so accepting of my authority as her pack mate, her alpha and protector.
I can’t say this delicately: the vets offices I called for help in putting her down were assholes. They were condescending, patronizing, contemptuous of my wife’s decision (which I was tasked with carrying out), and disrespectfully obstructionists. I ended up doing it and burying that little dog myself. I fed her steak before she went.
For the last few dogs, I’ve written eulogies. Each has been moving to me and others, cathartic expressions of a cherished being’s impact on all of us. Dogs really are a man’s best friend. I’m a bigger believer now.
This might seem inconsistent of me given I accept little responsibility for the pet’s existence in the first place. Call it maturity perhaps. Or, call it an abatement of testosterone. Maybe it’s just a greater connection to my environment and allowing the bigger picture to speak to me more directly, or through me.
It’s remarkable how often messages from the universe arrive to me in the form of a woman’s voice. I’m not sure I want to understand how that works, though I do. But watching how pained my loved ones are at the demise of a beloved pet provokes in me whatever semblance of poetic licence I can muster to try my best to do some kind of justice to their cause.
My women all loved their pets and I seek to honour their loyalty—especially as the person responsible for providing the animal in the first place. Pets are like family, and no restricted involvement rules set at the outset protects one from this eventuality. If I was a reluctant owner, the dogs made me their alpha because they recognize a deeper natural order that exists far beyond my self-interest.
Recently I moved to a 200 acre spread a few miles outside town, 20 minutes from my father’s place. Not everyone gets to be near their parents as they fade so I feel very grateful to be here. It’s also a great place to grow kids.
It’s mostly bush, very little land is cleared for agricultural use. That means the forest is steps from our back door. There are plenty of coyotes around, and we’ve seen fishers and foxes. Add to that my wife wants chickens. This is what happens you see: you give a gal a couple of kids and they want chickens. Can you imagine poultry in such circumstances without a dog to stand guard over the flock? Seems to me that is almost obligatory conditions for dog-ownership.
I imagine any day now I’ll be writing to announce how my wife and two kids have a new dog. It could happen.
Meanwhile, next time I’ll tell you how we now have not one, but two cats.
Yeah, you read that right. Not winning here. Not winning at all.
©ckwallace September, 2016. all rights reserved.
Contact me here: https://ckwallace.wufoo.com/forms/zwjcdyn11scnz4/
© ckwallace, 2016, all rights reserved
Reach me here
Come on, this is a fantastic graphic. It’s worth the whole post.
As men, should we understand women?
Some trip over themselves to answer yes. It’s plain that women can do pretty much anything a man can do outside biology, why wouldn’t we strive to understand them?
Others will tell you to forget trying the impossible. Perhaps you’ll see that as a challenge. Some will say we are not supposed to understand women.
My dearest father once told me the same thing. He is now 87 years of age, patriarch to a large clan, with nine adult children still around after his wife of 62 years passed in late 2014. He has four daughters, and he was brought up mostly by his mother and three older sisters. Dad might know about women, I thought.
So, it was probably at least three decades or more ago now when I asked my father about this whole understanding women thing. It was a time when I clearly didn’t, my inadequacy tormenting my days with distraction. He answered matter of fact like, as if he was pointing out something obvious: how I had it “all wrong, all along.”
He said: “We’re not supposed to.”
That was it. Nothing more. End of discussion. Subject changed.
Really? Gees, I felt so dumb for a minute.
Then it dawned on me: what a relief that was!
I didn’t have to keep checking myself as if I was learning advanced mathematics with a brain for languages. No. It meant that in those few words I was done with the task. It wasn’t my job. It was something for the heavens, or the universe; it was for Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom.
Since that very moment, I began to notice NOT how my gal and I were the same, rather, how different we were, especially when at odds over something. In those cases, I’d examine my motivations, and guess at hers. I realized I had pretty good intentions most of the time. If I gave her the same latitude, so did she.
Over many years I examined the gender studies for divergences at a time when this was frowned upon by some. Like my own social sciences lab, I also observed the teams I ran–mostly young teenagers and young adults selling for me in various ventures door to door and at kiosks. About half were male, half female. There were clear gender variations that emerged consistently.
And in time, I began to understand women a little more. There were wide variations in individuals of course, but nevertheless, consistent distinctions. It was as if the very notion of letting go of the “should understand” rule allowed room for something else: appreciation.
Now, I think I get it. I admit it might have taken decades and an abatement of testosterone. It is what it is. As much as I can: I now get women… to a point. Not more because it will never be my default way of seeing the world.
It takes a double take, a little effort, some reflection and even more acceptance; indeed, I can bridge the gap if one presents. Starting with the notion way back that I’m not supposed to understand now makes understanding in any amount a bit of a gift.
There’s the challenge.
Want to know the secret to fishing? It’s simple: fish where the fish are.
If they’re hungry, they’ll eventually bite something you throw at them.
When I first began to walk the rivers of British Columbia, rod in hand, I cast a lot of gear into unproductive waters. But when I began to recognize tail outs, structure, currents and pools and the seasons of a species’ life-cycle, I couldn’t keep them off my hook. After all, the fish live beneath the surface, where we can’t see. We must surmise our approach based on their needs. It took a fair bit of fishing to get to that point.
Like looking for clues to game, there are sign. Walk a trail with an experienced hunter and notice the difference between what you see and what they see. Similarly, it is knowledge that enhances a trapper’s success, and that comes with experience.
So it is with women. Subtleties I missed many years ago now present as clear signals. It’s not so much that I reject my father’s advice; it’s just that I’m challenged by it. It’s what sparked my quest, albeit abdicating perfection in the process.
The prize is peace; it is more love perhaps, lust certainly.
There is more. Recognizing that I’m not supposed to understand someone else frees me to reach new levels of tolerance. After all, can we really truly understand anyone completely? By bridging discrepancy between us with acknowledgement for our differences, it’s my life that is enhanced by friendship and connection. This is generally true for both of us, regardless of gender.
I think that’s what my father was trying to teach me, both by way of his example and his brief counsel.
Acceptance and Appreciation.
Fritz Perls may have been on to something when he wrote his prayer:
I do my thing and you do your thing
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations
And you are not in this world to live up to mine
You are you, and I am I
And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful
If not, it can’t be helped.
I believe my father was trying to tell me that by letting go, I would gain.
He was a naval commander at the time and I suppose for him it was no retreat; it was more of a way to regroup. Soldiers learn quickly how to pick their battles. It’s certainly been true since. Using the guiding principles of acceptance and appreciation, his wisdom has been a gift.
It also frees me to say that I’m a man and I won’t apologize for it.
Bet your bottom dollar on that one. 😉
©CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.
Mel’s in the grocery store, Howie wakes up in his car seat sweating and pissed off.
I do what any good father does: I unbuckle him, put him on my lap and proceed to give him basic steering lessons in my truck.
It’s dusk, foggy, and nary a soul around in this sleepy town. We looped around and around, watching for his ma to come out.
Suddenly, a large woman, shaped like a battle ax my father would say, steps in front of my truck, motioning me to stop. As I lower my window to inquire as to what she wants, she holds her hand up signaling incredulity. With exasperation in her voice she demands: “what do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, I’m teaching my boy to drive,” I answer.
Howie, having done ten or fifteen laps of the parking lot by now, getting better at it each time, looks on with pride. I can’t say for sure, but he might have been expecting a compliment.
“Teaching him to drive? It’s unsafe!” she admonishes.”And that’s illegal!!”
“Oh come on lady. He’s with his father. It’s the safest place in the world for him.”
“You can’t do that!!” was her answer. And, with increasing frustration, she became angry: “It’s against the law!” she shrieked.
I wanted to say something clever. I really wanted to push her over the edge and tell her off. I wished I had the presence of mind to tell her to know her place around a boy and his father. Instead, all I could do was say: “Lady, frig off.”
I guess I’d had a long day too.
Then Howie drove away. Funny how the kid–at two and half–knew how to do that at just the right moment. All we could hear was her loudly repeating my plate number over and over as we pulled away…
So…the cops just left my place.
I responded to a knock on the door and insisted the constable come in. He asked me if I’d had someone accost me in the Metro parking lot. “Indeed I did,” I told him.
“Was your boy on your lap, driving around in your truck? I don’t have to tell you about how potentially unsafe that is, do I?”
“Of course not, you don’t have to tell me that at all, officer,” was my reply. “But here’s what you do: Ask Howie yourself if he was driving”, I said, straight-faced, as I pointed to my little boy watching Bo on the Go nearby.
He asked: “So were you driving?” Howie said nothing. Solid kid.
I said to the cop, “I’m not saying anything like that happened but if a guy happened to be waiting for his missus in the grocery store and one of his kids was crying in the truck because it was past bedtime, wouldn’t it be smart of that father to let his kid practice steering in a practically empty parking lot to keep them distracted? After all, it’s on private property and traffic laws don’t apply right?”
“Just saying,” I added.
“You’re right,” he answered. “Private property, regular road rules don’t apply.” He turns to leave.
“Sorry she got you here, wasting your time,” I said.
“No problem,” he replied with a wave as he walked away, “always nice to see you again Mr Wallace.”
©ckwallace, 2016, all rights reserved
That’s my Charlotte slapping the cuffs on officer Cindy’s heart a few years the day we moved in…
©CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.
P.S. If you’d like to learn how to build immediate rapport with anyone you meet, let’s talk.
Are you prone to forget her birthday or your anniversary? Maybe this will help…
I’m not sure why it is that the papers in Canada haven’t done more to survive. Clearly, they have things on their minds other than paid circulation—which is where I have worked for the last fourteen years. From a societal viewpoint, it’s already tragic that newspaper ownership has been allowed to concentrate in Canada the way it has, let alone what that means for those who operate as their vendors.
Very few people will read this, even fewer will care. So many started their working careers selling or delivering newspapers that it’s worth a mention. It’s the passing of an era.
I’ve heard there are partially publicly funded newspapers in some Scandinavian countries. I’m told these seem to be working well enough, with sufficient legislation keeping the government’s nose out of editorial to allow the fundamental role newspapers play in their societies to continue. Unfortunately, Canada is so close to the US in ideology—with its reliance on letting the marketplace decide the viability of a product no matter its importance—which means it’s doubtful that we’d ever consider moving to that kind of model.
A malevolent stew of ingredients has been slow-cooking this part of the information sector for some time. These include the aforementioned ownership issue, in Canada an almost laughable consequence of precedence.
Detractors like to mention hubris, citing things like decisions made in the 90s to sell yesterday’s news. Though I wasn’t yet working as a full time vendor, having read at least one daily most days of my life, I remember at the time this was pivotal. It signaled something almost ungrateful, something that disconnected people emotionally from newspapers. As far as many were concerned, it was seen as breaking a pact with the public; we no longer shared the same-day news value.
It also was part of what left newspapers open to being beat in the marketplace by faster and more efficient assemblers of information. First Craigslist and later Kijiji obliterated their once great stranglehold on the classified ad, and then a plethora of online news products offering free content watered down the once mighty status of newspapers of all stripes.
The tradition of newspaper ownership insisting on using their platform to sway public opinion by backing favoured candidates during elections has also undermined credibility with a public that expects at least a modicum of neutrality on issues. That’s what customers tell me. I know this because my reps have been knocking on doors across Canada for more than a decade, and people tell us what they want or don’t want, but especially what they don’t.
I know. Editorial stance has a long tradition. I’m saying it was a bad one.
The list of gripes goes on. We weren’t swayed. Trust me when I say as vendors we developed a keen answer to every objection over the years. Despite all this, newspapers are still valued by a segment of the population. However, what I read is that when the market is allowed to determine the true value for newspaper products, the natural price falls to zero. That leaves us in a difficult position. At least in Canada, we have an economically worthless product that commands only a tiny fraction of the loyalty required from the general public to survive.
Speaking of which, I’ve been asking about loyalty programs since before 2009. I’ve talked with every circulation manager from Alberta to Ontario, and got a polite audience each time from well-intentioned folks hamstrung by decisions being made under an increasingly centralized chain of command. Any financial inducement to new subscribers by our sales teams has to be built into the price, making it far more than what your average consumer will pay. I’ve asked about using premiums from local advertisers to provide additional value to the print reader. We saw a short-lived sprinkling of green/organic trial coupons tried in Calgary and it worked very well, boosting sales; Edmonton did even less, and the other markets even less than that.
As soon as the Ipad came out, many predicted the newspaper’s days were numbered. Sure enough, half a dozen years later almost half of Canadian households have at least one. The drop in advertising post-2008-9 recession, the severity of of which had not been seen in more than half a century, ensured the print news at least, if not the whole sector, was in deep trouble.
The one day per week print paper might still have appeal, or a bundled print/digital product that came at a very low subscription rate. We’d need to get paid a good rate as vendors for both a weekend order and/or digital edition to survive. The Canadian newspapers responded by cutting our deal for one day orders even more. It seemed at the time as if they were petulantly insisting we give them what they want, or nothing, regardless of what the market demanded. I prefer to think it was just that they didn’t believe they had the money.
That first Christmas when tablets appeared, I picked up two of the first generation Ipads–one for the missus and one for my top account manager. I felt a little guilty about reading newspapers this way after being a loyal print reader for four decades. It took a couple more years before I picked up a Blackberry Playbook and began to read the free online edition of the National Post. I kept my daily print paper coming to the house until two years ago. Now I read the odd print paper out of nostalgia, if at all.
Because of the natural transition from print to digital occurring everywhere, newspapers didn’t see the benefit of paying much for digital customers at the door or kiosk. There was already a migrating wave of e-edition subscription enrolment as readers got rid of print. Perhaps that was sufficient to convince our newspaper clients they were doing well enough in that area, since they weren’t making much money from that type of subscriber anyway. These were readers they could deliver to practically for free online.
However, it also meant we were showing up at customer’s doors selling a format the reader had already divorced themselves from mentally. Many were grateful not to have to recycle all those newspapers, and the comments above represent just a sampling of the public’s negativity. We found that our reps had to be trained to such a high level that we’d soon lose them to competing jobs. Sales anywhere are trendy—we realize that. There aren’t many bible salesman around anymore either.
Regardless, if our newspaper client’s brand isn’t in front of the consumer in as many ways possible, both in print and digital, then I suppose the risk is we lose them to Google forever. That seems to be the case.
What was a fairly easy impulse buy at five or ten bucks a month for three months just ten years ago, rose to almost thirty per month for a six month deal and is now a commitment of twenty dollars per month, six months minimum. To ask a Canadian to fork over more than a hundred bucks for news they can get for free doesn’t fly, no matter how you dress it up.
For the past few years, we’ve been pushing our Canadian newspaper clients to adopt some of the practices of the US markets in which we still have decent sales, where there was enough competition to encourage different approaches. Bright spots emerged as a result of that collaboration. Cities where we sell a one day order bundled with digital for a very low monthly rate retain at 50% or better a year or more out. That’s pretty good for our business. Whether it’s good enough for everyone isn’t for me to decide. I note other markets are asking for our services south of the border. People seem to be willing to tolerate a one day paper with digital bundled in, if it’s priced inexpensively at five or ten dollars per month.
Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t seem willing or able to go that route, at least not yet. Of course, we can’t keep sales teams in the field while they decide. Just a few years ago, I had more than 150 reps working for up to ten managers in seven cities for up to a dozen newspaper clients. We were good at it because we looked after our people. The papers supported our efforts, and we felt more or less valued. We did our best to represent our newspaper clients with integrity and honour, proud to be part of its great history. However, over time, we’ve lost every manager and a steadily dwindling turnover of reps to the forces of creative destruction and an apathetic client who seems to be in the game for the ride downhill. I’m the last crew man standing in Canada from our company.
I, for one, would have been happy to spend the rest of my days flogging a product I believe in deeply. My grandfather had been a reporter in his youth, and my father got his writing start in Halifax as a cub reporter. Our family had the Le Droit, the Ottawa Citizen and, when it was still around, the Ottawa Journal, delivered to the house as I was growing up. I was a carrier for all three, and even did a stint for the Globe and Mail, rising at 5 am and delivering papers by bike all over the south end of Ottawa. I got my start doing doors selling subscriptions on Saturdays after finishing my route.
Every Canadian city where we once held flourishing accounts have now closed: Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto, all gone. Smaller communities we’d often go into once or twice a year to boost circulation haven’t had crews or kiosk visits for years. Though there was some grumbling in the last few years about our service, and about me personally not being able to deliver, I hold no hard feelings towards anyone who was in the business, or the few of them who remain. I’m not a miracle worker and I did my best. My experience working with dedicated newspaper folks all over Canada has been positive, and I still hold many of them in high regard.
Some have left the business like rats swimming away from a sinking ship; some have nobly disembarked with heads held high… and some have been forced to walk the plank. My best to each one of them.
It is the wonderful reps and managers I worked with over the years that were by far the best part of the job. I know I’ve had an impact on many of them, just as each of them in their own way was able to teach me something. I was also proud to represent our company, rising through the ranks to the top Canadian job. I learned so much from my experiences and a lot of us will stay in touch. Recently, one of my old Vancouver managers told me about his girlfriend’s sister’s husband who worked for me over a decade ago. I don’t really remember him but the name is familiar. He says he remembers many of my motivational speeches, with one thing in particular that has stuck: happiness is a decision. A fitting thought to end on.
So it’s with some regret and misgiving that I won’t be in the business any longer. I wish the whole industry the best of luck as it finds its new low, or morphs into whatever it needs to become to survive. I’ll be pulling for this important guarantor of democracy and free speech from the sidelines.
Last person to leave turns out the lights.
Christopher K. Wallace