Friday, October 02, 2009

(Un)common Courtesy?

When I was a young man (in fact on the evening of my sixteenth birthday, and yes, its relevant that it was my 16th birthday) I was pulled over by a police officer for a number of violations. You see, I had just raced my brand new car (an '81 Mercury Capri) past this police officer at speeds in excess of 150 kilometers per hour... on a main city street. You don't need to say it, it was dumb. My first night driving my first car, I got into a race with a friend in a Fiero (for what its worth, I blew the doors off that little piece of crap car!). As we roared past the police officer (who was out of his car writing a ticket to someone else), I hollered out an expletive and decided, with my extensive driver training skills, that I could outrun or lose him (a highly trained professional driver) in some way.

So I received tickets for driving unsafely, for failing to stop at a stop sign, for failing to yield, for failing to signal... the list was long. All told, about $400 worth of tickets. First night in a car of my own.

Throughout my lengthy period sitting in the back of his car while he wrote me ticket after ticket, I was quiet and subdued. I'd been busted after all. He was just doing his job. When we finished our business, he shook my hand and told me that I had done my father proud. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me that I had been the politest person he had ever written a ticket for. He laughed and told me that he hadn't been called sir so many times in his life.

I think that, because of this basic courtesy and respect that I showed him, I got off very lightly indeed. He would have been within his legal rights to have my car impounded, and likely could have cost me my licence. Conversely, I did not blame him for the tickets, for stopping me, or for the massive humiliation I was undergoing (my friends were waiting in my car for me to get back) - he was simply doing his job.

So we both won. Me by not losing my car and licence, him by getting a week's worth of tickets in one sitting. And we both treated each other with some basic courtesy and respect.

Why did I relate that? Because it is the last point in my life where I can honestly say that I experienced true courtesy under anything resembling stressful circumstances. It made a very significant impression upon me and all my life I have tried to remember that treating people with basic courtesy, even if you are extremely upset, with basic courtesy can go a long way. Granted, I am not always successful, but its worth a try, isn't it?

Now, what prompted this ramble down memory lane? Lots of things actually. Lately though, more than ever before, I am noticing that certain acts of basic decency are being passed over. Chances to make our fellow humans' lives easier are being skipped. Whether its the young men on the bus who do not stand when the pregnant lady gets on the bus and there are no seats, or the ignorant woman in the gym who moves the fan so that it blows only on here, or the jackasses smoking inside the clearly labelled no-smoking area... people are missing a thousand chances a day to just be decent.

Decent. Compassionate. Friendly. Respectful. Courteous. Good words to live by.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Plea to the universe.

Life sure can be interesting sometimes. Just when you think you have a handle on it, just at that moment where you say to yourself “Hey, I think I finally have it all together, this is pretty decent” WHAM, the universe up and screws with you.

Now its not always in a bad way. In my case, its been a great thing. But it does have a way of shaking up your world and reminding you how crazy life can get.

My biological father and his wife came out to Halifax for a visit. Wasn’t sure what to think or to expect - hell, wasn’t sure what to do. Spent about an hour the night before our first meeting trying to come up with what to do... shake hands? Hug? Stand there like an idiot? So many choices, and no real protocol. (In the end, we hugged.)

The visit went great - they are good people. They took to the boys like fish to water, and Bug is already deeply in love with them. It brought tears to my eyes more than once to see him holding his grandfather’s hand pulling him along on a new adventure. Or exclaiming “Grandpa! Come see the boat!” Bug thought he had died and gone to heaven when his new grandparents took him on the Harbour Hopper (an amphibious vehicle that does a tour of the harbour and the old downtown of Halifax), and never once stopped smiling the whole time.

So, a great week was had by all.

Then, in the space of about four hours on Sunday, I found a four leaf clover and a copper penny (as opposed to those nickel pennies that everyone else finds). My wife asked my what I was going to use all that luck on - and all I could think of was using it to make sure that nothing changed. For the first time in my life, I love where I am, and who I am - and, in true me style, have become paranoid about something messing with that.

Sure, more money would be great. And yes, my career is a bit stale at the moment. But those are incidentals, really unimportant on the cosmic scale of things. My family (my ever increasing family!) is what is really important to me. And its doing just fine. Now I just need to make sure that nothing messes with that.

Fate, if you are listening, please stay the hell away. Just this once, let this slide for a while. I know you like to try and change things up, to help us discover more about ourselves through adversity... and I can appreciate that. Its usually refreshing, and even the bad things do help us become the people we are - but how about you and I make a deal. You stay the hell away from me and my family, just for a while, and I’ll leave out cookies for the raccoons, in a vain effort to have them stay the hell out of my garbage. That’s a win-win, isn’t it? I get something, the racoons get something, and you can spend your valuable time with other families... may I suggest the families of reality TV show stars? They (and their 500 million viewers) welcome your influence and hope you’ll drop by!


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deadly Waters...

What's this human fascination with sharks and the "threat" they purportedly represent? For every show about deadly car crashes, there are 10 about sharks. For every movie about killer lions (and I can only think of one, The Ghost and the Darkness, not a bad flick actually) there are a hundred about sharks. You want a dangerous animal!? Try the hippo. The mosquito (with its hundreds, nay thousand of potential disease spreading superpowers). The box jelly-fish. The common house dog. The vending machine. Seriously. More people died in vending machine accidents in 2008 than to shark attacks. Hell, more people were struck by lightning and wayyy more people won a lottery.

You really want deadly? Human beings. We're killing not only each other, but every other species on the planet. Including the sharks.

Yes, its true, shark attack do, very rarely occur. And some of those attacks are fatal. But so what? You start flailing around in the water, to all perceptions exhibiting "wounded seal" behaviour... guess what, there is a chance you get bit. Now, if you drizzled BBQ sauce all over yourself and made a few small incisions to get the blood flowing, then ran amoung a pride of lions, we wouldn't blame the lions, would we?

Sharks are the apex predator in nearly every system they inhabit. From the depths that the Greenland Shark inhabits to the coastal waters frequented by the Bull Shark - they are the top dog. We keep killing them at the rate we are, we keep messing with the eco-system in this way, we're courting disaster. You take out such a fundamental piece of the puzzle, and the whole thing falls apart.

Are they dangerous? Some species are very dangerous. No question, no argument. I don't want to swim in waters that I know are frequent hunting grounds for Great Whites or Tiger Sharks. Doing so should not get me on the six o'clock news, it should get me an honourable mention in the latest Darwin Awards.

Come on people, give these magnificent creatures a break!

I just found out about a great new initiative - "Shark Free Marina Initiative" which basically aims at keeping the killing of sharks, the bringing in of dead sharks and the like out of such designated marinas. Sounds like a damned fine idea.

But everyone who lives on or near the water, and those that don't as well, needs to recognize the danger we represent, not only to these perfect evolutionary apex predators, but to the ecosystems to which they belong.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I am officially getting old.

Last week, I woke up with a good ole fashioned kink in my neck. Couldn't get rid of it, and just resigned myself to letting it work its way out over a couple days.

But on Thursday, whilst cycling down a very steep hill, and travelling at speeds which are both terrifying and exhilarating, I nearly had an accident. My tires went out from under the bike as I was executing a leaning curve. As this happened, I undertook a very quick risk assessment study - sliding out into traffic would very likely have resulted in death, I had too much speed to simply let the bike crash on spot... I love my wife and kids... don't want to see the brightly lit tunnel... The Assessment Sub-Committee came back with the answer "Slam your foot down and try to not die."

Well, I am typing. So it worked. But from that day on, the entire right side of my body has been protesting, and my neck has gotten progressively worse. I went for a massage on Saturday, hoping that would deal with it. It helped, but this morning its worse than ever before.

So, I bit the bullet and did something I had vowed to never do again. I called a chiropractor. I hope he's nice.

My last experience with a chiropractor was in high school. After a minor football injury pushed a vertebrae out of line, he damned near paralyzed me. Not even an exaggeration - I could not walk for three days after he "fixed" my back.

But I am reliably informed that his doctor is good, well-trained and not a sadist. The last part is the important one here.

Stay tuned!

Friday, June 12, 2009

In Nomine Patris

Last week, I did something that I have been thinking about for about 10 years now. I wrote a letter. Actually, that's not accurate, I wrote the letter about a year ago, and its been sitting on my hard drive since then. Last week I mailed a letter.

Now I mail about 5 letters a day. Most go priority post, and most are to parties to a file I am working on. Thankfully, the government pays the Canada Post bill. :) This letter was different. This letter was to my biological father.

I've never met the man. He and my mother separated when I was about a year old. He's never had any contact with me, never made any effort to see me, call me or get in touch. But, having been on the flip side of that particular equation, I know just how difficult it can be, and how much pain it can cause to dig up old wounds, to talk about long buried or repressed feelings. How hard it can be to love someone without ever knowing that person.

I am not sure what I was expecting. I think I sort of assumed that my letter, which was a fairly impersonal one, asking only if he was interested in corresponding, would be received with a bit of surprise, followed up with a short letter saying either yes or no. I think I was maybe setting myself up to hear the no part... its my particular jaded worldview coming to the fore, as well as a history of bad relations with the majority of my family.

Last night, I got an email. I get lots of them. But this one was from him. In it he told me that he'd been hoping for years that I would contact him. Hoping that those wounds might one day be given a chance to heal. He told me that he'd been crying and shaking since he got my letter, and that the only reason he'd emailed me rather than calling me was because he didn't think he'd be understandable through all the tears. He wrote that there had always been a hole in his life...

Not what I was expecting.

I am so taken aback that I actually have no idea how to respond. I don't know what to think, let alone what to say or do. Here's a man, my biological father, who wants to be in my life in some way. I invited him. And now I don't know if I want to open that door or not. Of course, its too late now... the door is open. But I don't know what happens next. I don't know how to feel about this.

Part of me is excited. Since my family and I rarely talk (I haven't spoken to either brother in years, and my mom and I talk maybe once a year, though not at all in the last 12 months) I don't have much of a model for family communications. My wife's model really doesn't work with me at all... her family is so involved in each other's lives, so close, so open with each other, that its kinda like watching an alien species at times. I really have no framework to understand how they click. They are great people, and her mom and dad are two of the best people I know, but they just confuse the shit out of me at times.

I know how to deal with my family. Its easy. You just pretend they don't exist.

But now this man exists. He is interested in getting to know me. He's family in a way that I am having trouble grasping - he's part of me in a way that I can't recognize.

There really ought to be instruction manuals for human relations.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Journey

The air, redolent with the stench of burned meat, stale smoke and vomit, swirled slightly as the door opened. A harsh ray of sunshine from the doorway slashed across her face, highlighting the bleary redness of her eyes and the bags under them. She feebly tried to hold up one hand to block the light, but before she could react, the door slammed shut and she sighed weakly. She knew that she should stand up from her pallet on the floor, but she’d been drinking quite heavily for hours, and was quite certain that her legs wouldn’t hold her weight, thin though she was. She craned her neck up, trying to see who had come in to her room, but had so much difficulty focusing her eyes that she gave up and let her head fall back down to the sack of rags she was using as a pillow.

“Phaw! What a stench!” She knew that she recognized that voice, but just didn’t care enough to organize her thoughts long enough to pin it down.

“Damn it, this room is going to need to be fumigated and bleached before I can rent it out again. Where’s my farging gold?” Again, the voice cut through the fog of her alcohol induced haze, making her head pound and her stomach churn.

Gold? She’d gotten some this morning. She’d been given 10 gold by that merchant off the ship… he’d said he liked his women skinny. She shivered just thinking about his touch, and the way he had smelled. But his gold was good, and she had rent to pay. Weakly she waved her hand towards her pouch on the rickety table. “Sheesh… yer… rent’s right there.”

She heard the clinking of bottles rattling together as the landlord searched the table, and that’s when she remembered that she had stopped at The Matchstick to get a drink before coming back here to give the landlord the coin. Just one drink, was all she needed, just one to steady her nerves after that merchant, after what she’d done – again.

“Shit bitch, there’s nothing here but a bunch of empty wine bottles. I told you to have my rent today, or you were out. Now, you have ten seconds to give me my 8 gold pieces, or my son’s’ll be tossing your skinny elven arse into the street.”

Her brow furrowed in frustration. She hadn’t spent all the gold on wine… had she?

“Rikell, Ish gots your gold. Its… its… its…” her voice trailed off, as she tried hard to rise to a sitting position.

“That’s what I thought. Darin, Mikel, get in here.” The door opened again, and Rikell’s two hulking sons walked in through the door. One alone would have blocked all the light coming in, between the two of them it may as well have been night in her room. She squinted up at them, trying to formulate a thought, trying to stammer out a plea, but nothing came out but a sickening belch. Before she knew what had happened, each had grabbed one of her arms, and she was being carried out the door, down the stairs and through the front door. She screamed and tried in vain to wrap her arms around her head as they tossed her, like a sack of trash, into the street. Her head cracked against the freezing, rain-slick cobblestones, and her vision filled with stars. She spit, tasting blood, and knew she had bitten her tongue.

One of the huge young men turned back into the inn immediately, but the other stood staring down at her for a while. He muttered something under his breath, she only caught the word “hero” and then he too turned back into the inn, with a look of disgust on his face, and slammed the door behind him.

She tried to stand up, to holler after him, to tell him that there are no heroes, but she slipped on a piece of offal, slamming back to the ground, her skull crashing against the stone, and blacked out.

* * *

“Miss?” A voice. She tried to not listen. She didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant pain. Waking up meant suffering. Sleep was so much better.

“Miss? Are you all right?” A hand touched her hair, dropped down to her shoulder and shook her gently. She whimpered, and tried to wave him away, tried to explain that she didn’t want help, that she just wanted to lay here and sleep, but nothing came out.

“Miss, I am a healer, please, let me help you.” She felt strong hands grab her gently at the shoulders and turn her over, face up to the light. Though she kept her eyes screwed tightly shut, the little bit that leaked through her lids sent stabs of pain into her skull.

“Leitha?!” The voice was unfamiliar, but incredulous. “Leitha? Is it you?”

Hoping to find something to say, anything that would make him just leave her here, leave her to just die, she dared to open one eye and stare up at him. A human, she noted, and not one that she remembered. How he knew her name she had no idea. She tried to think, tried to remember where he might have seen her before, and from there why he was being so helpful. But her thoughts were scattered by the wine, by the blows to her head, and by the fever that she’d been feeling for days now. And then she looked down from his face, to the medallion at his throat.

A low keening sound spilled from her mouth as she turned, and tried with all her strength to scramble away from him. The sight of the simple wooden medallion was like a dagger through her heart. Painted gold, though never made of the material, for gold was too precious to waste on a simple holy symbol. Other priests might squander their wealth on ostentatious displays of their piety, but a wearer of that symbol always put the needs of the poor and unfortunate before their own. The helping hand on the shield, the symbol of The Protector, the God of Small Things… Shavista.

She managed only to drag herself a few inches before her strength ran out, and she collapsed, weeping almost silently back onto the ice cold cobbles. “No… please… no” she managed to whisper, but he obviously didn’t hear her, or chose not to listen. He reached down and scooped her into his arms, cradling her like a child. She tried to fight, tried to leap down and run away, but her body wouldn’t respond to her demands. She tried to scream, tried to call for help, but he lay a calloused hand on her forehead, and murmured a prayer she remembered all too well. Before she could say another word, she slipped once more back into darkness.

* * *

When she awoke, her head was clear. She was warm and dry, laying in a thin but soft and clean pallet, staring at a ceiling that was all too familiar to her. How many times had she slept under this roof, exhausted from healing the wounds and sicknesses of the poor? How many times had she laid down cradling a child as they cried themselves to sleep for a mother or father that was never coming home again?

She sat up slowly, carefully making as little noise as possible, and trying not to wake the others sleeping around her. Treading carefully, and watchful that none of the priests see her and thus try to stop her from leaving, she crept across the room, and down the hall toward the front, and only, exit from the temple. She sighed inwardly as she put one hand on the door to pull it open, relieved to have escaped without drawing any attention.

“They told me you wouldn’t stay.”

She started, and whirled around, one hand going to her belt for a blade that wasn’t there, that hadn’t been there since she sold it for wine. But her quick movements didn’t startle the young priest standing behind her. He must have been light on his feet to have followed her down the hallway without her hearing him. Many things had dulled over the last year, but her sense of hearing wasn’t one of them.

“What do you mean by that?”

He sighed, and leaned against the wall. “When I brought you in. They told me I was the fourth person to bring you in here like that. Poisoned by cheap wine, diseased from selling yourself to the sailors, fevered from being in the streets in the cold. They told me you just want to die. Some of them told me that it broke their hearts, but maybe you had earned the right to die. They told me I was just wasting my time, and that there were others who wanted the help, who needed the help, and who deserved the help more than you. That healing you of the damage you’d done to yourself with wine, and the damage that your sailor ‘friends’ had done to you with their diseases, well, that it was all a waste of time and of Shavista’s blessings.” He reached down to his belt and undid the strings that tied his pouch to it. Tossing the pouch to her, he smiled slightly as she caught it.

“There’s not much in there, but its enough to let you crawl back into a bottle, if that’s really what you want. But if you want to die, there are far faster and more assured ways to do it.” He reached down to his belt again, this time drawing his dagger and tossing it at her feet. She bent down to pick it up, staring at the razor edge he’d honed it to.

“Yeah, I keep it pretty sharp. Sometimes magical healing just isn’t enough, or I am too exhausted to use it. So a sharp knife comes in handy, to excise the infected flesh.” He shrugged. “Either way, it should be sharp enough to open a vein on a skinny arm like yours.”

She stood there staring at him for minutes, her mind struggling to grasp what he’d just done. No priest of Shavista would ever counsel another person to kill themselves, let alone give them the means to do it. He obviously was some sort of charlatan, some sort of madman. But she’d heard him call upon The Protector, had felt the power of his magics…

“What kind of priest are you?” she gaped at last, finding her voice after a few false tries.

“The impatient kind. Now pick one. Either you take the gold and silver in there, give me back my knife and go drink yourself back in to a stupor and, or you give me back the pouch and go slit your wrists somewhere quietly. Though I would like the knife back when you’re done with it, if you don’t mind telling me where you’re going to do it. That’s a damned good knife, and I’d hate to lose it.” When she didn’t answer him immediately, but rather stood there, looking at him like a poleaxed steer, he grinned slightly. “There is a third option you know. You could talk to me.”

“Talk? Talk about what?”

“Well, the other priests here tell me that you used to be a big deal around here. Used to throw yourself into battle all the time, used to be some kind of a hero to all sorts of people. One of them told me that you were once the greatest archer in the realms, and another told me you used to be the second in command of those poor bastages in the Order of Light.” He sneered slightly, his voice dripping with scorn “but the kind of drunken whore that I see before me can’t possibly be the same person,” he shrugged, and his voice resumed its normal, compassionate tone “unless maybe, just maybe, something happened, something went wrong somewhere, and maybe, just maybe, you need to talk about that.”

He straightened from his lean, put one hand on his hip and held out the other to her, palm up. “So, my knife, my gold, or your story. Which one is it going to be?”

Without thinking she tossed the knife and the pouch at his feet, and whirled in place, threw open the door and dashed back out into the street. She rain so fast into the freezing rain that she didn’t hear the words that he called out to her, didn’t see him follow her out for a few yards, didn’t see him standing in the rain, and didn’t care.

* * *

When she finally had to stop running because her legs, unaccustomed to such exercise, would no longer carry her, she collapsed in a heap near a fountain. The steady crashing of the water spilling over the top of the fountain and the seemingly never-ending torrent of the rain falling to the ground upon which she lay, panting, almost drowned out the sounds of her sobs.

How dare he. How dare he presume to judge her. To mock her like that. He had no idea. None at all.

She didn’t realize that she’d spoken out loud until a quiet voice at her shoulder startled her out of her misery. “Miss, it’s my experience, and that’s a lot of experience, that they never know, they never understand, until you tell them.” The speaker was an ancient Halfling, his skin wrinkled like leather, his few remaining hairs white and whispy thin. He was standing up on the tips of his toes to try and get his bucket into the basin of the fountain, and was obviously having difficulty with even its empty weight. Without thinking, she quickly stood up and gently took the bucket from his shriveled hands. Dipping it into the water and drawing it out and setting it at the Halfling’s furred feet. She hadn’t thought about helping anyone in a very long time. In fact, she had spent the last two years trying not to think at all.

He sat down beside it, leaning back against the wall of the fountain with a sigh, letting the rain pour down over him heedlessly. “Ahhh… thank you miss. That blasted thing gets heavier every time I try to lift it up. And the walk gets longer each time to. These legs of mine have always been long enough for me, but these arms seem to be getting weaker and weaker. And such a long walk it is too.” He grinned up at her, his obvious ploy making her grin slightly back.

“Lead on old man. I’ll carry your bucket for you.” Again, her offer surprised her.

“Well then, follow me miss!” With a spry step that belied his claim to weakness, the old man hopped up and quickly hurried off into the rain. She had taken no more than a dozen steps following him when he stopped at a small wooden door, barely twenty yards from the fountain. “Ahhh then. Here we are! Home sweet home.” He winked at her and ducked inside the door, stomping his furred feet and tossing his cloak over a short cloak rack beside the door.

Leitha followed him in, stamping her own feet to dislodge the water and muck from them, then set the bucket down at her side. Before she could say anything else though, the old Halfling was busying himself at the stove top, wrapping a towel around one hand to lift a kettle, and pouring boiling water into a small teapot. He busied himself for a few moments at fixing the tea, then turned back to face her again. “Sit, sit!”

His manner was so officious, and reminded her so much of another short man who had been known to bark orders, that she sat in immediate reflex. The chair was too small, and her knees rode up to her chin, but she felt too calm, too inexplicably content, to stand up, or even to venture an objection. Moments later, she sat, teacup in one hand, and a chocolate biscuit in the other.

“So, he doesn’t understand hmmm? They almost never do.” He nodded sagely and sipped a bit of his tea, grimacing and then quickly adding a dollop of honey from a pot on the table.


“Oh you know. People other than yourself. Never understand what you’re thinking. Hmmph, never even know what you’re thinking. Except maybe those mage types… nasty thing that, magic letting you peer into another person’s mind. Still, even if they can see what you are thinking, doesn’t mean that they can understand how it makes you feel. Hmm?”

She paused to take a sip of tea before answering. As her stomach filled with the honey sweetened tea, it gave a loud growl as if to remind her that it had been ignored for far too long. She bit into the biscuit, letting the chocolate melt on her tongue and savoring the taste like she hadn’t done in a long while. Finally, she spoke “Yes, but sometimes you don’t want to think about it yourself. Sometimes if you think about it, you’ll go mad. And you can’t talk about it without thinking about it, so you have to chose between going mad, or not thinking about anything at all, which is really just another form of going mad.” Her tone, and even her words, surprised her. She couldn’t understand how she was remaining this calm, this steady. She hadn’t said this many words in the last three years combined. And yet there was something about this old Halfling, something that just made her feel calm. And safe. She hadn’t felt safe in years.

“Hmmm yes. That’s true. But what if you have to go mad, in order to be sane?” He grinned up at her and pushed the plate of biscuits across the table toward her, waving away her protests. She quickly devoured the remaining three biscuits while she thought over what he had said.

“Go mad to become sane? There’s something I’ve never heard before. Though it sounds like the sort of thing that your Folk might believe.” She raised a quick hand in supplication “no offence intended, but I have met more than a few of the Folk who fit into the ‘mad’ description.” Her hand reached out toward the biscuit plate, only to discover it was empty.

The old Halfling tut tutted as he hopped down from his stool to walk over to a well stocked shelf and lifted a heavy ceramic jar from one of the shelves, walking carefully back to the table with it. “True, some of you tall people seem to think that the logic of the Folk is odd, but its logic nonetheless. And points to you for getting our name right.” He chuckled then opened the jar and peered within.

“Blasted. No more biscuits. You’ve gone and eaten all my chocolate biscuits. And here I was hoping to have some for my bedtime snack.” He sighed, untied his his belt pouch and tossed it to her. “Well, nothing to be done for it now. Only one place sells these, the baker around the corner. You’ll have to go and get me more. Go right when you leave the door, then right again. Four doors down on your left side. Big building, stands all alone. You can’t miss it.”

Before she could mount any sort of objection, he was bustling her out the door, admonishing her once more “Remember, the place you want is right, then right again, then the fourth door on your right. Trust me, it’s the place you want.”

Chuckling slightly under her breath and turning her cloak hood up against the rain, she held the pouch he had given her tight in her hand as she turned right, then right again. One, two, three…

The Temple of Protection loomed ahead. The fourth door was the entrance to the temple. But she’d ran from this place for what felt like hours, not mere yards. She looked around desperately, trying to figure out how she had come all this way so quickly. Whirling about, she dashed quickly back the way she had come, left, then left again. There was the fountain, and there was…

A solid wall. No door, no entrance into a quiet little home. No old Halfling with sweet tea. Looking down at the pouch of gold in her hand, she saw a symbol marked into the soft leather. A hand, open as if to help, on a shield of gold.

She sat on the edge of the fountain for hours, not even noticing that the sun had set, or that the clouds had finally moved on, leaving the sky clear and bright with a full moon. She stared at the pouch in her hands the entire time. Finally, she levered herself back to her feet, and slowly walked, one halting step at a time, back to the temple. She stood outside it for long minutes, listening to the noises from within, the soothing chanting of the priests, the crying of a baby, the wailing of loss and the laughter of hope. She smelled the carrot and barley stew, and her stomach rumbled. She remembered. She cried.

Maybe the old man was right. Maybe she needed to go mad to get sane. But all that had happened to her, all that she had lost, could she go through that again? Could she live those memories again? The feeling of Balok’s blade, burning insider her. The loss of the Guardians. The death of the soldiers she’d trained. The loss of her family, of her friends. Nalmalas, gone for all time. The loss of every man she thought she’d ever loved. Watching people die and knowing that she couldn’t save them. Knowing that every man and woman she’d cared for, that every soldier who owed her their oath, was dead or a slave.

As she tried to work up the courage to open the door, to plumb those dark depths, she heard a familiar voice behind her. “You are stronger than you think.” She turned slowly to see the young priest, leaning against the wall, watching her. “You are stronger than you will ever know. I know. Trust me.”

“How can you know? How can you know what I can or can not do? Why do you care?”

The priest smiled. “I know because I wouldn’t be alive if not for you. I know because I watched you stand up to numbers far in excess of your own. I know because I saw you take wounds for those they were intended for. I know because I heard you sing to a little girl, to quiet her terrors in the night. I know because I remember when you carried me into that temple years ago. But most of all, I know because He knows.” He gestured to the wooden symbol at his throat.

He stepped away from the wall, and walked past her, stopping at the threshold of the church. “So if you are ready, ready to let His will be worked, ready to take up your task once more, and ready to be who you are supposed to be, then come in. I’ll be waiting. He’ll be waiting. And so will all those who need you. The choice is yours.” With that, he strode through the door and it swung quietly shut behind him.

She stood there for a moment, and then heard the cry of the child inside once more. There were still people who needed her protection, who needed her strength. She had to choose between her own safety, maybe her sanity, and the safety of those who couldn’t be strong on their own. And that, that was no choice at all. Without a glance backwards, she pushed open the door and walked through.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Those days...

A great philosopher of life once said that “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” Granted, this is the same man who also said “You know an odd feeling? Sitting on the toilet eating a chocolate candy bar”, so let's take his advice with a grain of salt... but its true, it really is.

The longer I go on this route in my life, the more my dreams and hopes seem to fall down, and some days it gets harder and harder to lift them back up. Some days you wonder why we bother to get out of bed, and some days you don't want to get out at all. Hwo does this failing of hope happen. How do we become so jaded and bitter about life and about the future???

I know I have made a conscious effort, especially with the births of my children, to see the good in people, to hope for the best, to assume the good in people - but some fucking idiots make it awfully hard to cling to that belief. It seems that not a day goes by that we don't hear about some idiot blowing themselves up for a cause, or killing everyone in a village for no reason other than money and power... what happened to the good in the world? Did it ever really exist? Are dreams of the "good old days" merely that, dreams?

I wanted to start a blog or a website called "The Good News", one that would only point out the godo things that have happened in the world, the positive achievements of the human race, the decency and well-meaning of we, the people of this smoldering ball of rock. Then I found out I had been beated to the punch... dozens, in fact hundreds, of "Good News" sites exist. And you know what? They're all religious in nature!!! How does that make any damned sense? Are religious people the only ones who can see the good in the world anymore? Are they, these same churches responsible for so much pain and suffering, also the only ones keeping sight of the good things that happen in the world? If so, how damned messed up is that!

I often feel a twinge of jealousy for those with religious faith... some people seem to take great comfort in the idea that there is someone, or something, out there that loves them without thought or reservation, that is watching over it all, and maybe, one day, will explain what the fuck it was all about. When J. died, I needed that, like I have needed nothing in my life. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't put my heart into blieveing something like that, something held me back. Wish I knew what it was.

Anyway, life sucks, you moce on, right? That's the way its always been, that's the way it'll always be.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The miles behind us...

My work exposes me to some of the most... interesting specimens of humanity (and I use that word losely sometimes) that you might ever expect to meet. White supremecists, homophobes, skinheads, racists and misogynists... you name it, I deal with them. Sometimes it can be hard to have any hope for the future, or even any hope at all. You do the work though to give people hope, to try and make the world a better place - it sure isn't for the pay check.

One of my colleagues fell into a funk about it the other day. "Why" she asked, "do we even bother? Its not getting better, its never getting better." I had been having a rough day too (see the above noted misogynists) and had to sympathize with her for a bit. But I tried to remember the story of the Chinese Emperor who asked all of the scholars of his kingdom to assemble an encyclopedia of all the knowledge of the world. They first came back with a thousand volumes of knowledge, proud to have completed their work. The Emperor looked at what they had written, shelves and shelves of knowledge, and told them the work was too long. For another ten years they laboured, distilling everything into a shorter version. Finally, they presented him with the completed 50 volumes. He looked over the books, without reading a word, and told them it was still too long. The scholars went back to their libraries, and spent years reducing the work still more. At long last, they presented the Emperor, now an old man, with a single sheet of paper. On that paper, they had written "This too shall pass."

And that really says it all, doesn't it? That one phrase captures the heart and soul of all that has happened, and all that will happen. And hatred and racsim are passing, going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird. Sometimes people like to forget that it was only 1954 (only 55 years ago) when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided. Granted, that is an American case, but let's face it, that's really the starting point for most civil libertarians when discussing the civil rights movement. So in 55 years we have come from seperate schools and washrooms, to shared boardrooms. In 55 years, we have come from a black man not being able to eat in the same restaurant to a black man sitting in the Oval Office. In 55 years, we have made huge inroads into racism, sexism, hatred and disdain... which had been the prevailing mentality and behaviour for a thousand years. That's pretty damned impressive.

Are we done? Not even close. We have so much work to do, so many hatchets to bury and treaties to ratify, so many bigots to expose, so many children to educate that the task seems insurmoutable. But look how far we've come. Look at the miles behind us.

Monday, March 09, 2009

My Dread Dark Master

For the last six months, my wife has been unable to follow her carreer much. With Bear absolutely refusing to take a bottle (believe me, we tried everything) it was pretty much impossible for her to leave him with me or anyone else for longer than an hour or two. Now, this has had an impact upon the family, in addition to the huge stressors that it has put on her. Combine the loss of her income with the new house, the renovations to that house, the increased bills associated with that house, the new baby needs... you get the idea. The recession may not have hit us personally, but we hit our own little financial crises at the ole homestead.

So we did what everyone does (or at least those who don't invent pyramid schemes to become rich) - we tightened our belts. No more lunches out for us. No more renting movies (though we managed to "find" a few on this wacky internet thing), no more dinners, cutting back on cell phone bills and changing the grocery shopping and meal making habits. Its this last one that hit the hardest.

My wife and I love coffee. Love may not be a strong enough term. If I had to chose between a life without sex and one without coffee, I would need a few minutes to think it over. But we are coffee snobs. We grind out own beans. Our coffee maker was partly chosen based on the temperature of water it uses. You get the idea. I even have a supply of green (unroasted) coffee beans so that we can make our own roasts.

But the weather had been too cold to roast the coffee outside, and my wife hates the smell and smoke of doing it inside. So we bought cheap coffee. Usually we get the fantastic Just Us coffee blends. But Superstore's "Arabica" was almost 1/3 the price. We bought a bag.


I've had to add vanilla, cinamon, nutmeg, you name it, just to make this stuff palatable. And to make matters worse, I couldn't rationalize just throwing it out. We suffered. We wept. We drank it all.

But this weekend, a miraculous thing occurred. The sun came out, and the temperature hit the +9 mark. Moments after getting home from work on Friday, I was on the deck, popcorn maker in one hand, bag of organic green beans from Mexico in the other.

Sunday morning was the best morning in a very, very long time. The smell of the fantastic coffee wafted through the air like incence to the gods. The taste - nectar.

Coffee, don't ever leave me again. I'm not sure I can make it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Things My Father Should Have Taught Me...

I am starting to come to terms with the idea that I am not a "man's man". No, nothing to do with my sexuality, though that has been questioned many times (including one rather embarrassing discussion with that aforementioned father of mine). But rather that I appear to have a complete lack of mechanical or technical training, which I have been assured by many of my friends, is something they learned at their father's side. The more I thought about this, the broader the scope of it became. It was soon apparent that it was not limited to the appropriate names for saw blade types, nor how to clean a carbeurator.

Now, my father and I did not have a good relationship. That's an understatement actually. I was hospitalized twice and still have some scars due to our lack of a good relationship. He is my step father, and we never saw eye to eye on pretty much anything. Of course, he's recently divorced my mother, and I learned that he had never formally adopted me, so I suppose calling him my father is no longer accurate, if it ever was.

It seems to me however, that many of my friends are in similar circumstances. Things that we should have been taught by our parents were somehow left out of our childhood educations. I know I am not alone in feeling somehow left out or set aside by my parents, its pretty much a generational thing as I see it. And the more I think about it, the more I think that it is not limited to just mechanical things... its deeper than that.

Our fathers (or step-fathers, or whatever male role model was in our lives during our childhood) were reared at a time when paternal love and interaction with children seems to have been at a low ebb. I have no idea what the actual cause of that was, likely something to do with the wars that preceded them, and the turbulent times of change that resulted. Not saying that to make excuses for them, if they even need those, but to ponder what happened, and why. At any rate, many of those I talk to in my age bracket all report similar experiences. Dad was there, we knew he loved us (well, some of us) but he wasn't really all that involved. He didn't show us his love and affection, he never even used the word love.

Now that I am a father, this is the sort of thing that is praying upon me. Each time I bump into a conundrum of how to interact with my children, or how to dispense wisdom, love, affection or discipline, I don't have a model to work with. I resort to asking "What would Bill Cosby have done?" - on his show, not in real life of course. :) I find it more and more upsetting that I don't have the training and skills that a father should have. That a provider should have.

So... what should my father have taught me?

If you say you are going to do something, then you do it. Don't back down from your responsibilities, both the good ones and the bad.

If you love someone, tell them. Tell them often and loudly. Nothing goes further or deeper than the words "I love you. I need you."

Let your children know that you are proud of them. My son hugs me so hard when I tell him that he's done something well. No matter how small, no matter how mundane, its still a victory, still a step he has taken toward becoming the man that I hope to one day know. And I am so proud of him.

Learn to work with your hands, but keep your mind sharp. Bug loves to help me with his tools, and loves to fix things with me. If I am doing a job, he's there, hardhat on, tool belt full of plastic tools, smiling to raise the sun. And we talk about what we are fixing, and how to fix it, and how it got broken in the first place. We talk about the plans you need. We talk.

Create. Anything at all, but create. Men can never know the feeling of creating life, but we can still be great creators of other things. Art, music, poetry. Piles of snow in the back yard. Houseplants, bookshelves. Families. Love.

Don't be afraid to cry. And never hold back a laugh. Your feelings are valid, you are important and you do matter. How you feel reflects who you are. Its OK to be mad, its normal to be sad sometimes.

Be honest with yourself. Be honest with those who ask your opinion. Truth is powerful, binding and amazing. You never have to worry about getting caught in the truth.

Use the right tool for the right job. If you have to cut down a tree, don't use a hacksaw - get a chainsaw. If you need to level a floor, don't try to do it with a 12" level. When you have a friend who needs you, don't use email - be there. When you feel pain and loss, a shoulder is the right place to let it out.

Be thankful. No matter how hard your life is, no matter how low you sink and no matter what trials you face, there is always something to be thankful for.

Have faith. Not necessarily in God(s)(dess), or even in a higher power at all. Have faith in yourself, your family, your friends. Have faith in humanity, even though it can be hard sometimes. Have faith in a better future, have faith in the power of love. Have faith that you can do it, and you will.

Be yourself. And know that I will be there for you, no matter who you are, because you are my friend, my family, my child. Don't let anyone, not even me, tell you who you are, how you feel, what you should do or what you should wear. You are unique, powerful and wonderful. Never forget that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sleep and the internet

My old friend... where have you gone? When did the idea of closing my eyes at night, snug in my own bed, and warm against my wife become alien to my existence?

Bear sleeps in the bed with us, and his tossing / turning and general noise (we call him Bear for a reason!) wakes me up about every 10 minutes. So I gave up sleeping in that bed. When he moves to the crib (basically as soon as he's normally sleeping through the night) I'll get to go back to the bed. But for now I sleep on the couch, every night.

Now that's not as bad as it sounds, because when we bought the house, we bought new furniture, and my one requirement for the couch, leaving colour, style and material completely to my wife, was that I be able to stretch out on it and it was comfortable for sleeping on.

But despite this, I never seem to be able to get to bed prior to 3 or even 4 am. And the alarm clock goes off (or Bug wakes up with cries of "Dad? Dad? Dad?") at 7:00 sharp. The reason - that damned internet thing!

If its not online gaming, its chatting with friends who live in completely different timezones. If I am not chatting with them, I'm Youtubing (is that a word?) or just generally surfing.

I think I need an intervention. Or at least some kind of therapy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Toot Toot!

For Christmas this year, Santa Claus blessed Bug with a new train set. It's a wooden set, that the big red man picked up at Toys R' Us for $199.00. It was on sale, and came with everything you could ever ask for in a train set... far cheaper than the Thomas sets, though its compatible with those sets. Table (with built in storage), double sided mat for playing on, about 20+ feet of track, mountains, cranes, trains, waterfalls, a helicopter (no train set is really complete without at least one helicopter), the whole nine yards.

The night before Christmas, one of Santa's elves was up until 3:30 putting this thing together... despite several defects in the materials (wrong screws provided, holes drilled in the wrong spot). At the time, Santa's elf swore that he was going to take the damned thing and burn it in the back yard. Thankfully, that did not happen, and all were rewarded on Christmas morning when son's eyes lit up like the sun...

The set is fantastic. It has already provided countless hours of "Choo Choo" and "Ding ding ding" play. It keeps him busy when the baby needs more attention, and provides great stress relief for me when he and I get to play with it. Which is dishearteningly rare, due to having only one hour from the time I get home to the time he goes to bed.

However, I fear I have become addicted to the train set. Last night, moment before bedtime (and that means after bath and stories were both completed), Bug begged to "play trains". I assuaged my "no" guilt by promising that we would make a new train layout tonight - and I have spent all morning (the trip in on the bus, my coffee break and my walk) planning new layouts in my head. I have a million things that should be taking my attention, a hundred plans for the house that need to be sorted out, work on the three short stories I am still trying to complete, plans for my wife and I... but this train set up is taking every available bit of my free time!

Hello, my name is Mr. Passive Aggressive, and I am an addict. I have a train problem.

Friday, January 16, 2009

LOL? WTF? L8R???

Dear gods in heaven above and below, grant me the strength to get through this phase of communication.

When did it become acceptable to not only butcher one's language, but to do so in such a flagrant and widespread fashion? Is the concept of basic grammar and spelling so alien to people that they can no take an extra 1/10 of a second to hit the extra two keys on their keyboard? Is it really that difficult to hold down the "shift" key when you start a sentence? Or god forbid, break your thoughts into paragraphs so that your readers (whom presumably you are trying to actually communicate with) can understand you?

Now, I will be the first to admit that some of the contractions and l33t speak (what a term that is) do make some sense. LOL is much easier to type than "I am laughing out loud". But thx for Thanks? Or l8r for later? Two, maybe three extra presses of keys on that big keyboard right in front of you. Is it so much to ask?

And let me not even get started on the death of the apostrophe. I am not sure when "I am" was defined as pretentious and burdensome, but at least "I'm" showed that you knew you were replacing one letter with one symbol, and required some thought. But now it has all been reduced even further to im guna go, brb, l8r kthnksbye!

This phenomenon does make sense in situations where time is of the essence (online gaming perhaps) or where typing is inconvenient (responding to a text message on your cell phone) but its showing up in letters, emails, forum posts, memos... you name it, you can find it.

Please people, think of what you are putting forward to those you are communicating with. Their impression of your writing, your thoughts expressed and you in general may well be defined by what you have written.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The death of manhood?

I am currently involved in a dispute with my male friends. It all centers around hurt feelings, bruised egos and dice - yup, its a gaming fight.

I seem to recall that men were supposed to be warriors, hunters, gatherers. I seem to remember reading that men did not talk about their feelings, and did not say things like "You really hurt my feelings when you..." What happened to the 'good old days' when you could solve your masculine disputes with a punch in the nose, and a round of beers purchased for the group? When did Oprah take away my right to just be a guy and repress all that silly emotional stuff?

My wife (whom I love dearly) thinks its both hilariously funny, as well as a mark of personal growth on my part that I am now even willing to talk about my feelings. For the overwhelming majority of my life I never talked about my feelings, or pain (other than physical) with anyone. Maybe it was just my upbringing, maybe it was the stuff I dealt with (or rather didn't deal with) growing up - in any event, negative emotions were those things you didn't talk about, you just squashed them down into your stomach until they gave you intestinal challenges, and then you took Pepto. Talking about things, this new hippie-granola-tree hugger-love the world thing... its getting harder and harder to accept.

I am not saying that I want to go back to being, as my lovely wife once put it, an emotional eunuch, but it would be nice to feel like a man again. Quick, someone punch me in the face!


Am I the only human being on the planet who understands the concept of wanting to be alone with your thoughts?

I recently told my wife that I would enjoy taking a weekend (technically I said four days) and just heading out of town, just me in a rented car with no destination in mind, and nothing planned. Sure, I'd take my fishing gear, but not because I would be planning on fishing, but just so that it would be available to me as an option. She told me she didn't understand why I would want to do so, but would certainly be OK with it... as long as the in-laws had moved in so they could help. I get that, I really do.

But everyone I have told about this idea of mine has come up with a thing we could do together. "Yeah, that's great, we'll head up to Cape Breton and do some fly fishing!" or "Fantastic! We'll head down south and get in some great games of golf" or "My brother (who is a pilot) can get us some great rates, let's hit Vegas!"

Which part of "I" is it that people have so much trouble with.... am I alone in wanting to just think thoughts, listen to my own breathing and the sounds of the world around me... without the interruption of conversation? Where the only babbling I want to hear, for days, is the babbling of a brook, or the sound of the wind? Do I really need to find a Buddhist temple somewhere (and there are two great Buddhist retreats here in NS) just to be left alone?

Or maybe it is me. Maybe I am just that odd. Wouldn't be the first time.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Playing shovels

Each day it snows here, and those days are starting to add up, our eldest and I head out into the cold (though its only -4 here) to recreate that greatest of rituals... the shovelling of the driveway. In our case, it is particularly painful, as our home has two driveways, each big enough to park 4 cars on but - wait for it - we don't own a car.

So why, you ask with a raised eyebrow, do you shovel the driveways? I had originally thought it was out of some odd misguided need to keep up with the neighbours, and that may still be a factor. Perhaps it was for the convenience of our guests (we almost never have any) or in fear of a weather change (it will probably rain in a day or two and wash all the snow away), but no. It is because my son loves to "play shovels."

That's right, like many dads, I am out there, in pain from lifting what is likely 1000 pounds of snow, because my son laughs when we throw it at each other. I tried just tossing snow at him without actually shovelling, but that isn't the game he wants to play. To make it even more interesting, his favourite part of the game is where he climbs up on the 3 foot snow bank I've created by clearing the driveway, and pushes large amounts of the snow back onto the fresh scrapped surface.

We built a tunnel, climbed in and he wanted to sleep there over night. He tosses snow down my back, invariably getting it inside the collar of my jacket, and inexplicably through my scarf. He laughs like a maniac when he hits me with a snowball (he's a great shot) and laughs even harder when I get him with one back. His cheeks are bright red, probably frostbitten. His mitts somehow manage to fall off every 4 minutes, and he is happy as a clam.

Its days like these that I love my life. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Into each life...

Its raining again - seems that it is always raining these days. Better that than the heat. Heat pounds the concrete, reflects off all of the steel and glass that make up the walls of our urban jungle. The heat turns normally mild mannered old ladies into angry, cane waving lunatics. It sends waves of shimmering light up from the blacktop, cooking the brains of already angry young men, sending them out to fight and die each day. You really notice it on the freeway. If you don’t have a/c, your car fries, especially if you get caught in traffic. Especially if you are an old man with a bad heart, and a stubborn streak a mile wide, stuck in traffic on the wrong day, in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

But it seems like its always raining.

The coffin is sitting on the racks, ready to be lowered down into the earth. The raindrops have taken that ebony sheen to a mirror polish, and I can make out the faces of my mother and my brothers beside me, faces distorted by the runnels of water. Mom’s being strong, that’s just what she does. I’ve never seen her cry. Not in twenty seven years. I’ve seen her shudder when she consoled our aunts and uncles when grandma and grandpa died in that storm. I’ve seen her wince when she bumped her broken arm against the wall trying to dodge our old cat Scamps. I even saw her take a deep breath and stare off into space when the police asked us to come down to the morgue and identify the body. But I’ve never seen her cry.

David on the other hand is crying like an infant. He may as well not be under the umbrella at all, with the tears and snot running down his face, he’d be soaked even if we were having this ceremony in the Mojave. But that’s just him. He’s always worn his emotions on his sleeve. He’s always the first one to want to talk about feelings, or to share things. I suppose his patients like that. No doubt, when we leave here, we’ll have to share how today has impacted upon all of us, talk about how much we are going to miss him – all that crap.