Saturday, December 17, 2011

First World Problems

I am usually a bit behind the times when it comes to new trends and memes on the internet and elsewhere - though I had both an earring and weight-lifting pants the season before they became fashionable, much to my chagrin. So when I recently learned of the new meme "first world problems" I had to ask my wife (who is invariably on top of these things, due to her high interest in pop-culture and her association with younger, much hipper than her and I, folks) what it meant. She was, as she always is, able to explain it. At the time, I thought it somewhat funny, but doubted that I would add the term to my vernacular. Little did I know.

Yesterday, on my daily commute, while avoiding listening to my commuting companions's stories of their daily lives, I could not help but overhear a young man complaining to his friend on the bus that the phone they gave him for a lender sucked in comparison to the one they were fixing for him, "Pshaaw, it doesn't even have any games on it. Worst thing I ever did." That started me thinking.

Then today, while standing in line at my local grocery store, I overheard the tale of a young cashier's "Worst Day of My Life!" Hearing that she had spent the morning in tears, sobbing until her parents finally intervened, I was about to offer some sort of platitude - her grief, even hours later was still palpable. Thinking that she had lost a loved one, or even a pet, I remembered my commitment to connecting with my fellow humans. So I hesitantly asked "May I ask what it was that happened?" There was no one behind me in line, and she obliged.

It seems that the early Christmas present that she received this morning (cue the irony) was a Wii game that she had been waiting "like months" for. When she tried to play it, it turned out that her sister "who she will never talk to again for this" had done something to her Wii and the game wouldn't play on her system. She spent the morning sobbing over this terrible tragedy, her life "totally over" until her parents found out what had happened. When they learned of the atrocity that had been committed against her, they did what all parents who want to instill a sense of proportionality do for their college aged children, they gave her the money to go and buy a new Wii. Wait though, the horror isn't over yet. Then she had to go "like all the way across town" in her car to buy a new Wii, and when she got it home, she still had to "set it up and all that stuff" so she didn't get to play the game she'd been "waiting forever for" until almost noon, and then she had to come to work at 5:00 so she only got "like a couple hours to play this awesome game."

I know, you need to grieve for her. Take some time. Get a tissue. Try some hot tea, I'll wait for you to come back - I've had time to let the horror of this situation settle, and I'll spend the time you are gone developing a plan to start an awareness raising campaign for these situations, maybe we can use ribbons.

Back already? Wow, you acclimatized quickly to that. You, my friend, are made of stern stuff. I applaud your courage and strength.

Wait... Seriously?????? Now, I love hyperbole as much as the next person, heck it may even be something I am too fond of, but there has to be a line. I know what the worst day of my life was, without the shadow of a doubt. If you can't say with certainty what yours was, then I am either very happy for you (because you don't have any real tragedy in your life yet) or very sorry to hear that (because your life has been a challenge that I can only hope I never have to go through) but either way, if the worst day you ever had was where you got both a new game and new game system, and the only bad thing was having to wait four hours (assuming she is an early riser) to play with your new toys, and that was bad enough to reduce you to sobbing tears - then you, young woman, have had too good a life thus far. That must be the longest sentence ever written. But it makes my point.

We, in North America, are some of the luckiest people on the planet. We live in an environment where many people, maybe even most, are able to have "first world problems" and all too often we forget just how lucky we are. Not everyone here has all those advantages of course, and poverty and homelessness are real problems here as well. But of the seventy million people who died of famine in the 20th century, approximately zero were North American. Only our few citizens over 100 years of age remember the last genocides here on North American soil (not that we're peaceful or treat each other with the dignity we're owed all the time) but the parents of this generation in many countries of Africa are still dealing with the consequences of their genocides, hell, some are still ongoing.

My staff are learning a new (to us) way of resolving the cases brought to us, via a Restorative Justice model - one very familiar to the Native people's of North America. One of our trainers is a highly respected international expert on Restorative Justice, one who has helped heal communities which are both victims and perpetrators of genocide. While I applaud the work she has done (and continues to do) it hit home yet another inequality we have, our rights violations are harassment and bullying, not mass murder and systematic rapes. Not that it isn't important to protect the rights of Canadians, but it puts the whole thing in perspective I think.

What's your point dammit, you ask? No, I didn't sit down to write this hoping to make anyone feel guilty - well, okay not only to make you feel guilty. I think it is important for us, as extremely privileged folks living where and how we live (and you are reading this, which means you have both a computer and an internet connection!), to remember when we hear of those in need, to lend a hand. The next time you think you can't help out yet another famine, drought or earthquake, the next time you decide that you don't have a spare ten dollars to donate to a worthy cause, ask yourself, "How many first world problems have I had this month?" If the answer is even one, then look at that bank balance one more time, and weigh the value of that ten dollars to you (a cappuccino and cinnamon bun at Starbucks, or maybe a beer and fries at your favorite pub) versus the value of that ten bucks to someone with no food or water (life instead of death, or maybe children able to play rather than starve).

I know that guilt sucks, and I hate to be the author of any, but if we don't help, who will?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Can We Talk?

The other day, whilst riding that most wonderful of contraptions – the Halifax city bus – I was given yet another opportunity to delve into another person’s life, somewhat against my wishes.  There is nothing like the trapped confines of a large bus crammed with ten too many people, all of whom are chatting away on their cell phones, to hit home the realization that we need to buy a car.  The amount of personal information that people spew forth on their phones never ceases to astonish me.  On this trip in particular, I learned that the young lady behind me was upset at her boyfriend because he wouldn’t… umm… reciprocate her oral attentions (just remembered this blog isn’t flagged for “adult content”), that the older lady beside me was still fighting with her daughter over what to do with their dead cat (it’s body was taking up space in her freezer and she really wanted it gone) and that the young lady across the aisle was fighting with her cell phone company.  Seems she hadn’t paid her bill in three months, but, at least according to her, she shouldn’t have to pay those bills, as they hadn’t sent her the actual bills.  Makes sense, right?

We live in a time when the line between the personal and the private is at, dare I say it, an all-time blurriest. Between Tweets, blogs, Facebook status updates and text messages, I know more about my family and friends than I ever did before – some to the good, some to the bad. I can live with that, I actually like most of them, and knowing what they are up to is usually interesting.

But the constant stream of information that we are bombarded with about the lives of complete strangers is blowing my mind. And obviously I am in the minority – if I weren’t then “reality” shows wouldn’t be as popular as they are. Apparently I am one of only a select few people that is not interested in the deep inner lives of those I share my commutes with – and that got me to thinking about the way our society views itself, and how it has done so in the past.

Perhaps my generation (and we’re not that old yet!) will be the last one to really have any idea of what a “private life” meant.  Maybe we’ll be the last ones to not assume that every action and every statement we make is part of the public domain, that every moment there is a camera on us making a YouTube video, and that every single one of us will at some point appear either on the internet or on some funny video program.

I don’t mean to say that it is de facto a bad thing. I am a firm proponent of free speech, but also of integrity and standing behind what you say.  Anonymous posts on the internet bother the hell out of me – if you are afraid to stand behind what you say, then you shouldn’t be saying it. Sure, there may be times when security requires that you have some sort of shield for your data (I know I don’t want my bank account information on the net, though it is due to my eBay purchases and PayPal account) but if you are saying something, have the courage to stand behind your opinion and be taken to account for it.

Or maybe it isn’t really about knowing that information – maybe the trick to it all is learning not to listen to what is happening around me.  I know that a lot of people have managed this trick, surrounded only by their own data, their own music playing in their earbuds, their own news / books / games streaming on their tablets.  While I am usually not one to promote conversation on the bus (or in any public setting) with a stranger, I do see our cutting off of each other from our lives and our sphere of awareness to be a problem.  The more we tune out, the less connected we are.  I think it is easier for the culture of apathy that I have blogged about to propagate when we disconnect from those around us, and I think that is a Very Bad Thing.

I’m a terrible one for sci-fi analogies lately, but in the graphic novel series Risings Stars, one of the heroes helps to turn entire neighborhoods from crime filled to crime free by getting the residents to do one simple thing – go out on their front porches rather than watching television in their basements.  Seems like that is exactly what I am thinking about today – we are less likely to engage in behavior we know is wrong when there are people watching.  We are more connected as a society when we talk to each other, when we know each other’s names.  When we are more connected, we take responsibility for each other, we know that we are a part of something larger, a community.

So I think it is time to do something about it. This is hell for me – I don’t really like people all that much, so if I can do it, you can too.

Why not reach out to your neighbors today, whether they are your bus mates, the person in line at the Christmas tree shop or the people who live down the hall from your apartment?  Why not stop and say hello to a stranger?  I guarantee you’ll hear some things that don’t impact upon your life, and maybe even some odd things you wish you hadn’t heard.  But maybe, just maybe, you’ll connect with another human being, if only for a moment.  And maybe, if we all make those connections, maybe we can slow this whole thing down.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lessons from the Oddest Places

I've spent a lot of time thinking about being a parent and what that really means to me, and to those like me. I'm a techie, so while I haven't read many of the best sellers on parenting out there, I'm a regular at any number of fatherhood blogs and forums. The advice on them always ranges from the old school "a spanking never hurt anyone's chances in life, and keeps the little buggers on the straight and narrow" to the new age "our children need the freedom to make their own choices and by disciplining them we might stifle their ability to make their choices" and the full gamut in between.

I struggle with making these sorts of decisions myself. With my family background, I am always torn - anger and physical punishment are always my first reaction, and in an effort to not fall prey to those patterns, I sometimes think that I'm not stern enough. But when I do have to unleash "evil dad voice" as I did this morning, I feel guilty all day. Certainly not as guilty as I would presumably feel if I disciplined as my step-father or mother did (you all know that sad tale, so no more details here) but still sick to my stomach with the memory of the reaction my kids have when I resort to yelling.

I recently heard the best parenting advice that I have ever heard - the most non-bullshit thing from the unlikeliest source. While watching an episode of Supernatural (yup, told you it was crazy) one of the main characters said something extremely profound. 'Bobby,' as he lay dying, was having a visit through his oldest and most painful memories. As he faced his alcoholic and abusive father (which resonated with me quite well) his father called him an "ungrateful little bastard" and Bobby replied, "Children aren't supposed to be grateful, they're supposed to eat your food and break your heart." And then he shot his father.

Now, excepting the last part (bullets are too good for abusers, and I won't apologize for that sentiment) I hadn't heard anything that ever summarized what a parent's job is quite so well. Kids love to trot out the "I didn't ask to be born" and they are 100% right. If we, as parents, made a decision to have (or to keep) children, then they don't owe us a damned thing. Some respect would be nice, some gratitude would be fabulous, but at the end of the day, they really didn't ask to be born, they didn't enter into any contract with us, their parents, for anything.

That knowledge, of course, does nothing to help when a six year old is refusing to put on his jacket in the morning, or when a three year old is crying because he doesn't want to go to daycare. It doesn't help when you are at the end of your rope after a long day at work and it sure doesn't do much when you step on a piece of lego at 3 am. But it is something to keep in mind. We owe everything to them, they owe nothing to us.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lessons Learned

So, a month of writing and I have a “book” of 50,000 words.  Technically, 50,168.  And technically I think a book has to have an ending, which mine lacks, but the challenge isn’t a complete book, it is 50,000 words in thirty days – which I did.  Suffice to say I am damned proud of myself.  I was not sure that I could do it, and in fact, about ten days from the end, I was positive that I had messed up and would not be able to complete it.  At that point, I would have to dash out about three thousand words a day, which is a fair accomplishment for any writer, let alone one hack trying to dash out his deathless (haha, get it, deathless, a zombie book… oh come on, that’s comedy gold!) prose in the hours after his kids and wife go to bed.

An odd thing happened on day twenty three though - one of my very best friends, who shall remain nameless but who can’t measure driveways to save his soul, taunted me, in that way that only really good friends can do.  He laughed when I said that I would not be able to finish the goal, and said, to paraphrase “Another writing project you failed.” I’m sure that was in reference to my thirty day challenge I set for myself last January, which I almost managed to pull off.

He did not mean it in a hurtful way or, if it was meant that way, it was that friendly teasing mean that you only get from your very best friends.  Had I not accomplished the goal, and ended up at forty-five thousand, he would still have said “Damned good job” and he would still be asking to read it.  But for that taunt though, I would never have completed it.  I did not complete it to prove him wrong.  I did not complete it to prove that I could do it.  I completed it because I wanted to, because I had made a commitment to myself, and I wanted to be able to look at myself in my iPad reflection and be sure that I had given it my best shot.

That’s one of the three most important things that this book taught me.  First, when you commit to something - no matter what that thing is, you owe it to yourself and to those who are relying on your commitment, to do your best to follow through.  That is a lesson that I am trying to impress upon my kids, it’s one that I try to carry into my work, and it should apply in my writing just as it does everywhere.  We’re a society that has learned / decided that it is okay to give up.  Sometimes it is appropriate to wave the white flag – there is a difference between determination and foolishness after all.  But we live in a world where marriages end when the going gets tough.  Where people change jobs on a whim and drop projects too quickly.  We live in a world where giving up has been perfected into an art, but where hard work, dedication and perseverance are lost ones.  If the generations before us had the work ethics and personal gumption that we have, we’d never have gotten out of the primordial sea – “Nah, evolving sounds too hard, I’ll just stay a single celled protozoa thank you very much.”  When I see my father-in-law working ‘just to stay busy’ I realize just how lazy many of us are.

Now it’s not all of us, and it’s not even most of us all the time. But I know that I am not alone in my sloth and general laziness, and many of us could do a lot better.  I read a great quote, which Google tells me is by H. Jackson Brown, that says:

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.

That’s actually kind of humbling when you think about it.  Yes, we are all busy and yes we all have a thousand things that require our attention. But imagine if you could reduce your sloth and laziness by just ten percent.  If you checked Facebook one less time a day, or watched one less reality show a month, or one less needless trip to the mall, just to kill time, imagine how much time you would have for the things you’ve committed to, for your family, your marriage, your career!  If you are one of those people who never miss a deadline, who are on top of every commitment they have ever made, and who haven’t disappointed anyone by being late or failing to complete something you said you would do, then I applaud you and this whole rant was not for you.  But the remaining 99.999999% of the world, let’s all try just a little bit harder and put more effort into the things that are really important.

Secondly, I learned that writing take two things; time and creativity, and the first one is by far the harder one to find. I started my project wondering how in the world I would ever be able to come up with fifty thousand words.  I had an idea, which I had been considering as a short story for a while, though not a word had ever appeared on my monitor.  That idea was a relatively simple one, basically a “what if” sort of thing.  What if the survivors of a global zombiepocalypse, who had been shut in their safe area for ten years and cut off from the outside world, decided it was time to go out and see what was happening.  Yeah, just my kind of story.  The first night I wrote for three hours, and I hit almost three thousand words.  When my wife asked me if I still felt that I would be unable to hit fifty thousand, I laughed and said I have no idea how to get that much, but I was at three thousand and my view point character had just climbed down from his tree to go get his dinner.  The next night she asked the same question and I grimaced “He hasn’t quite made it to the dining hall yet.”  When she asked how much I’d written, I think anticipating that I’d barely come up with anything, I admitted that I’d added another three thousand words.  She laughed then, probably with me, but I didn’t feel like I was laughing along. 

My horror at not being able to find fifty thousand words was slowly being replaced by a growing realization that my ideas were moving faster than my typing fingers, that my brain wouldn’t stop giving me more information about these characters I had made up.  So the ideas were there, the inspiration was there, but the time was the hard part.  I found it though, or in a few cases made it.  Writing on the bus to and from work (thank you Steve Jobs for my iPad, and rest well), on my lunch break, in coffee shops, at home in the wee hours of the night - you name it, I wrote on it or during it.

The third realization was that I hate outlines. I made three, scrapping each one.  I lamented this decision each time, but I found when I tried to stay to my outline, my characters acted in stilted and unnatural ways.  Their conversations became meaningless and their decisions seemed forced.  When I gave them the reins and just started writing what they were doing, they acted like the people they were – which was the oddest damned thing. They did things, said things and found things that I never even thought of.  The words poured out (on a good night) almost faster than I could type them out.  My spelling was really atrocious in the best parts, as I struggled to keep up with the story my characters were telling me.  It was the oddest thing that I have ever experienced.

My hatred of outlines was bothering me lately, and I purchased a new writing tool, Scrivener, which I love!  It helped me create yet another outline, helped me lay out my ideas, and helped with the editing and compiling of the story.  It gives the writer tremendous control, and I strongly recommend it to anyone doing any writing at all, academic, novel writing, script writing, you name it.  But despite it’s amazing organization abilities, and the snazzy (and damned good!) outline I came up with, I still couldn’t seem to follow it (yes, I am still working on the book, editing at this time, but I have at least another hundred thousand words left before I can wrap it up).  I felt guilty and hopeless  - how could I ever produce a real book, something I could send to a publisher, if I can’t make and stick to a damned outline.

Then I got a call from Stephen King.  Okay, okay, he didn’t call, he’s been really busy lately - though we are still great friends.  The kind that have never met and likely never will, but good friends nonetheless.  I picked up a copy of his “On Writing” and he saved my writing career (amateur or professional) by saying that he never uses outlines either, and that his stories grow with a life of their own, taking him on the journey.  What a revelation!  Say what you like about King, he’s a successful writer, in both the financial sense, which is nice, but also in the way that matters – he writes stories that people want to read.  Which is what I hope to do as well.

So I’m committing to my writing, happy in the knowledge that my way works for me, which is all that really matters.  Not committing as much as I do to my sons (who are going to get more from me as well) nor as much as I do to my wife (our marriage is, despite all the things we disagree about, the best thing that ever happened to me), but a lot more than I am now.  I am building a writing area in the basement, my “man cave” if you will.  It’ll be that cold dark place I go to when I need to remain undistracted and focus on my writing.  It’s the place that I’ll figure out what my characters are doing, where I’ll be surprised by the stuff they say and blown away by their ability to get both in to and out of trouble.  I don’t know if they’ll all survive the journey, and I don’t even really know where they are going to end up. But I am dying to know.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Is going OK.  Not great, not fantastic, but OK.  Not meeting my daily writing goals the last few days, didn't write anything two days in a row, but in my defense, I was in bed sick by 6:30 on Tuesday and by 8:30 yesterday.  Most (all?) of my writing is usually done after the boys go to bed, so....

The story is terrible, in a really bad way.  I went with what I love, zombies.  So yes, it is a post apocalyptic zombie novel, featuring family, love, loss, betrayal and hope.  Above all, hope.  That's what life is about after all, with or without the undead craving human flesh.  A few of you have asked to read it, and the answer remains the same - maybe once it has been edited. 

NaNoWriMo doesn't leave much (any?) time to edit or to cross check things.  Basically its about getting your 1,667 words in a day and leaving it at that.  Most days that hasn't been hard - I find that when I write, I average about 2,000 words, so its more about finding the time (and health, damn you flu bug!) to write.

That's it for now, just a quick update to let you know it was all still running.  Back to the grindstone.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One Hour's Wage

As I write this, I am sipping an iced coffee and charging my iPad off the computer I am typing at.

As I write this, the air conditioning in my office is making me comfortable, and my well-watered houseplants are stretching toward the sunlight streaming in my office.

As I write this, my sons are playing and laughing, stopping occasionally to fight over a toy.  Both are healthy, vibrant little boys, enjoying their childhoods to the fullest.

As I write this, you are probably hard at work, or maybe taking some time to yourself.  You are a good person, all my friends are. 

As I write this, people are starving to death in Somalia.

As I write this, cholera is killing hundreds.  Cholera, which can be treated with basic antibiotics and water.

As I write this, mothers are staggering on bloody feet to refugee camps in the hopes that they will find food to save their children’s’ lives.

As I write this, people, good people, are trying desperately to help.

I’ve organized a fundraiser at my office.  We’re taking shameless advantage of the Canadian government’s promise to match any and all personal donations to aid in the famine relief efforts.  We’ve set up a “Lemon-Aid for Africa” event on Friday, and we’re going to sell baked goods and lemonade to drum up some support and even more awareness for this tragedy.  My office members have already given a little under $400 in personal donations, with more pouring in by the hour.

I have always hated it when people scream out that old cliché “won’t someone think of the children!” but I can’t think of any time when it is more apt than it is in the case of famine.  When I watch the news, when those worthies deign to show any African famine news at all, and see images of children the age of my sons, their legs so thin that you can see the bones, I have to take slow, deep breaths to avoid crying.  These kids are starving to death, dying of the measles (yes, dying of the measles!) and cholera, because of a natural disaster in the nation.

Even more upsetting to me, the comments on various forums and news sites… just when you think your faith in humanity can’t be shaken any further, it gets beaten once more.  Yes, Africa does seem to have these problems regularly.  Yes, we should also look to our own countries.  Yes, some of the money you donate will be used for administration, and yes, some will fall into the hands of regional warlords and militias.  But some, even a pittance, will still go into a pot of rice, so that a child can eat.  Some will buy a basic vaccination package, so that a child won’t die of the measles.  And while Canada is no paradise, few people are starving to death here.  Few people are dying of easily (and cheaply) preventable diseases.  There are no refugee camps.  There are no mass graves.

I’m challenging everyone, that’s everyone I know and everyone you know, and the people they know, to spread the word, and to give just one hour’s wage to this terrible disaster.  One hour’s wage – we can all afford that.  No matter how tight your budget is, you can scrape together one hour’s wage.  For some of us, that’s $10.  For some, it’s $300.  We can all find that bit of decency to make a small difference. 

Because ten thousand small differences can change the world.  And a million small differences can move it.

Be part of making the world a better place.  Take this One Hour’s Wage challenge.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Something Awesome

Tonight I witnessed something truly remarkable.  On the bus on the way home, I watched as a young black man (early twenties and fit) punched an old white man (60+ with a cane) and knocked him down.  He hit him hard enough to split his lip wide open and daze him.  I went up to the front of the bus to help the older man up and get him settled, but didn't know enough to really intervene, so didn't involve myself beyond that at first.  That's not the remarkable part.

Now, turns out the old guy hit the young guy first.  I didn't see that, but those at the front of the bus did, and in the aftermath, shared what they had all seen.  The younger man warned off the older one, clearly and loudly announcing (when the older man stood up and raised his fists) that if he came any closer, he would hit him.  The old man didn't listen, and started to lunge, so the kid threw a single punch.  Quite a doozy actually.   But that's not the remarkable part.

The driver intervened, in a calm and reasoned fashion, and got the parties separated while we all waited for the cops to arrive.  She did this despite the old man yelling racial slurs at her and the kid - did I mention she was black too?  Despite serious provocation from him, she stayed calm and kept the situation from getting any worse.  She also kept the rest of the passengers calm and followed procedure - getting the cops, paramedics and a new bus for the rest of us to get home.  Also, not the remarkable part.

Now, before I get to the remarkable part, I have to preface it with a caveat.  I didn't see the start of the altercation, I have no idea what happened to set either of them off, nor do I know either of their stories or what predicated their decisions.  Now that is out of the way, lets talk about remarkable.

When the old man started making racial slurs toward the young man and the driver, the response of the other passengers (twenty to thirty people from diverse backgrounds) was near universal - condemnation of the old man's comments.  When he started with his "He's fucking black and you're black..." yelling at the driver, he was shouted down by dozens of people.  For a moment it seemed that everyone on the bus, black, white and every shade in between, stood up for a moment against racism.

Comments of disbelief were heard throughout the bus once he was removed, predominantly from the younger riders, "What year does he think this is?" and "I can't believe this is still happening."

One woman in her sixties reached out to touch the young man's arm when he got back on the bus (the police interviewed him and then he was free to leave, it was pretty clearly self defense with dozens of witnesses and a camera running) and asked him if he was OK.  When he shrugged it off with the bravado of youth and said the old man hadn't hit him that hard, she said "No, I saw what happened, I just want to make sure you're all right."  They both knew that she wasn't talking about anything physical, and she connected, for an instant, with him.

It reminded me why the work I do is important, maybe even necessary.  And it gave me hope.  It was one small incident on one bus.  But it reminded me that people are good at heart.  That they care about one another, and that the pain and despair of complete strangers can still move them.  They can stand up for one another and they do come to the aid of those who need them.  Maybe, just maybe, we can keep moving forward.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family 28 / 30

Tonight is the final installment of the thirty days of writing.  I know – the title says its only day twenty-eight of thirty, but owing to the two days I missed, twenty-eight out of thirty is where we ended up.  That’s better than I feared, but not the 100% I was hoping for.  Still, by anyone’s measure, 93.33% is a pretty good mark.  It is an ‘A’ in any class, and good enough to earn you a magna cum laude in university.  If I succeed at 93.33% of the things in life, I’ll be pretty happy.  So I am content with that score, and happy that I found time, nearly every day for a month, to put some words on ‘paper’ and to make the time, if only a half hour a night, to write.  I showed myself that I have the dedication to pull it off, and I’m going to face my current writing projects with the same dedication – I’ll do it every day, but I won’t beat myself up if I miss a night here or there because something more important came up.

The odd thing is, this whole process did show me a couple things about what is important, and one of those is really standing out for me right now… family.

No matter how you define family, and no matter how you feel about family, I don’t think that anyone can deny that family is the most important thing in most people’s lives.  Sure, there are exceptions, and once upon a time I thought I was one, but I think those exceptions are rare.  Our families give us our sense of connection to the community and greater world around us.  They provide the basis for our morality and our ideology – for good or for ill.  In some families, they provide us with the strength and support we need to get us through bad times, and in others they show us how to look inside ourselves to find that strength when it isn’t offered to us.  They hold us up, so that we can reach higher.  When they hold us down, they teach us to strive even harder.  Even the ‘worst’ family in the world still teaches its members a lesson, how to survive hardship.  And I used the quotes around worst for a reason.

Judging another’s family is no business of mine.  Sure, there are times when I wonder about the parenting techniques and skills of my fellow Haligonians.  There are times when I hear stories of family behaviour that makes my skin crawl and makes me long to dial 911 to have someone, somewhere, arrested.  But just because I disagree with the way a family conducts itself, with the manner in which they raise their children, doesn’t make my family any better than theirs.  Sure, there are some absolutes – if you are abusing your children or the other members of your family that must be stopped.  But if you don’t show love to your kids they way I do to mine, that’s no judgment on either of our families.  That’s your family, not mine and at the end of the day, how you live together and love each other is none of my damned business.

My family, on the other hand, is my business and I am proud to relate that it’s doing just great.  We walked for a while today on our way to see Sue, whom the boys thought was pretty darned cool.  Griff made growling noises for hours afterward, and Noah is sad that there are no more dinosaurs and wishes they would come back to life.  But on our walk to the exhibit, Noah was lamenting how long it was taking, and asked if we were really going to see dinosaurs.  I joked (and here’s where you should feel free to judge me for my stupid comment) that we weren’t going to a museum, we were in fact walking off into the wild so that we could leave him in the woods.  He laughed, and hugged me and said “No dad, we can’t do that.  We’re a family.”  I damned near cried.  First, because he knew that I was joking, and that told me a lot about the strength of family that Shannon and I are building, but also because he knew, even as young as he was, just how important family is.

My family has undergone a lot of changes in recent years.  Some for the better (hello to all my Koenig family members!) and some for the worse (would have loved to learn about your wedding when it was happening, rather than a year later little brother!) but all of those changes, the positive and the challenging, are just part and parcel of what makes my family what it is.  And I love it just the way it is.

So whatever you are doing today when you read this, find someone who’s a part of your family.  Maybe they’re family by blood, maybe by marriage.  Maybe they are a friend you have come to love as family.  Maybe they fit into your definition of family in a way that I can’t understand, but you do.  Whoever they are, and whatever they are doing, tell them you care.  Let them know, in some way, that you value them and that your life would be less without them in it.  It will make their day, I guarantee it. 

Thanks for reading.  We’ll talk again soon but I gotta go now, I have two little boys to kiss on the forehead while they sleep.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brick Wall, Meet Forehead 27 / 30

Alright, lets start with the basic proposition that I am an asshole.  I have accepted that, and in fact, embrace it a bit.  From that proposition, lets expand it to also include I am arrogant and automatically assume that I know more about any given topic than the individuals I am discussing said topic with.  (Wow, what a bad sentence, but it captures it nicely.)  Again, no disagreement there.  One further expansion - I am a pretty intelligent guy who actually tries to research his facts prior to defending them and when confronted with evidence to prove, or even suggest that I am wrong, will step back and occasionally admit my error.

I got my knickers in a knot a while back when I discussed how fricking annoying it is when people don’t take the thirty seconds to educate themselves on an issue prior to putting their opinion forward as fact.  That’s fucking annoying.  There, I said it.  I used the words asshole and fucking in the same post.  That ought to say something about the level of frustration that sheer idiocy is causing me.  It has happened three times today alone and twice yesterday.  The last one today was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It isn’t a localized phenomenon, and it impacts every aspect of our lives.  People are wrong all the time.  And that is OK.  I tell people all the time that fear of being wrong will really limit their ability to achieve anything of consequence.  You think Einstein got E=MC2 the first time out?  Doubt it.  There’s a great ad out there, though ad is probably not the right word… aha!  Its right here:

Love that.  And so true.  You have to fail to succeed.  No one gets everything right the first time.  Hell, most of us fail miserably for a really long time before we finally achieve anything even remotely resembling competence.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  Being willing to fail in order to get better at something – a willingness to take risks, is not the same thing as being knowingly wrong and still trying to defend that proposition.

And something about the internet seems to bring that out in people.  Perhaps worse, it brings out people like me who will bash our heads against the monitor to try to explain to these people that a) they are wrong, and b) they should learn from the experience.  But of course, we all know how futile that can be.

I stand by the things I write, and am willing to be challenged on them.  Prove me wrong, and I’ll say thank you.  It might take you a while to get me there, and I’ll fight you like hell, but I’ll still say thank you.

But for the love of all that is decent, check your facts before trying to convince others that you are right.  Because when you aren’t, you just look bad.  And no one wants that.

P.S.  Just realized that the comic didn't have a signature.  Its from and reproduced under the Creative Commons License agreement on their webpage.