• Life

    The Unexamined Life

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    I’ve run across variations on certain a meme a few times now. Text only, it goes something like, “I grew up hearing and learning racist, sexist, and homophobic things. Eventually, I learned to think for myself and unlearned it. You were raised that way? Unlearn it. It’s 2020 and there’s no excuse for it.”

    Another variant: “You are not responsible for the programming you received in childhood. But as an adult, you are 100% responsible for fixing it.”

    Or, to borrow from Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    I grew up in the 1970s and 80s. There was plenty of racist, sexist, and homophobic crap in popular culture and daily interactions, even if we didn’t always realize it at the time. I did learn to think for myself as a teenager, but also came to the conclusion that most of the people around me didn’t or couldn’t, so I mostly kept my mouth shut except in close company with certain friends who’d also learned to think for themselves. Not everyone had. That’s still the case.

    And generally speaking, it’s still very much the case. I don’t know if I should be disturbed or alarmed at how polarized so much of our society is becoming, about how easy it is for people to surrender their own thoughts to ideas without merit just because it’s easier. It’s probably something in our basic psychological makeup as a species, but it worries me.

    I’m not sure how old I was when I moved beyond just thinking and reasoning for myself into the territory of questioning what I thought and believed. I do know that I’ve managed to make it a fairly constant cycle that probably pushes its way into overthinking territory now and then, but why should that be unusual in my life?

    How do you actually know if you’re right if you don’t question it and figure out why you think that way? I feel very strongly that if you don’t continually question your own beliefs and thinking then you’ll only grow inside an echo chamber, and it might be one you make for yourself rather than one you’ve found.

    And that’s not growth at all.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    And So It Begins

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    I have, ultimately, made the decision on the basic path I want to follow for the next few years and, as of this afternoon, I’ve had the first phone and email exchanges to explore whether my preferred option is even possible.

    Yes, I know I said I’d take a little time to breathe. I think I also said that there’s a bit of potential time pressure on one path and, well, that’s the path that will give me the most of what I want, that will let me have a shot at the largest number of my dreams. I’m genuinely excited just by the idea of being able to pursue this path and not a little terrified that it might be possible. To the point on both counts where it’s costing me sleep for the last couple of nights.

    I’m also, I’m sorry, not going to say what it is yet. When I have the ducks lined up, when I have the T’s dotted and the I’s crossed (or something like that), I’ll make a big deal out of it, especially if I can make it onto the path I want right now.

    In the meantime, creative work continues. So does house work and getting stuff off the progress list. Just a little slower while I try to change my life.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    What My Life Looks Like Right Now

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    In a word: weird.

    I’ve more or less become a house-husband, which is kind of cool. The cooking, the housework, the maintenance, pretty much all me. And that’s as it should be since my wife is the one working full time and making sure there’s money for food, utilities, and basic necessities.

    In between the housework, cooking, and maintenance, I’m getting a fair bit of writing done, plenty of martial arts training, and a surprising number of odd projects (like last week’s composter made of pallets and the tree/brush removal and cleanup we’ve been putting off for several years). I’m available as needed for my kids (all at home at the moment) and my wife and my dog. The cats like having me around, but I don’t think their lives have really changed much.

    But it’s mid-August now, and how did I wind up in this spot? Well, I work in Gaming, and my industry got killed by COVID. In this jurisdiction, we’re limited to fifty patrons in the building at the moment. I’m still on furlough and no effort has been made to call us back, which matches with my back-of-the-envelope calculation that fifty people at a time isn’t a sufficient patron base to offset turning everything back on. It’s coming, but there’s the question of when.

    Patience is a virtue. These days, it’s an imperative, and that extends to my personal life journey, too.

    I’ve been off since things started at the end of March. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that I’m finally decompressed enough that I don’t feel burnt out and over-stressed all the time, having shed the societal pressure of being the man of the house and bringing home the bacon (or vegetarian substitute, depending on which family member we’re talking about). Honestly, I’d forgotten what that’s like. I’m calm, relaxed, my blood pressure is normal. I feel normal, human.

    And now I have to figure out what that means.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    I’m Actually Not Missing Work At the Moment

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    Meaning, I’m currently at a mental place where I don’t miss work.

    Really.

    Some of the people, certainly. But being out of the house 50-55 hours per week to see those people while I bring home a paycheck, not so much. Oh, I’ve been there during this enforced shutdown of my industry, and I’ll get back there too, but right now I’m good.

    Since I’ve been off, I’ve pounded down the list of household projects to about a quarter of its original length. Of course, there are a couple of big projects (<cough> kitchen <cough>) we can’t afford with me off work, or even very easily if I’m back at work, but in terms of the small stuff and the small-expense stuff, I’m kicking it. Painting, de-cluttering, tree, brush, and stump removal, cleaning out the garage, tuning up our bicycles, small repairs… I’m probably going to be okay until I run out of stuff to do that isn’t just housework.

    Yes, finances are tight. Not precarious, but we have to pay attention to every dollar. There’s no real disposable income anymore (if there ever really was, but now we’re keenly aware of it). The 27% increase in Ontario’s COVID “recovery” hydro rate isn’t going to help that, but we’ll adjust.

    And I’m getting a lot of writing done.

    And I’m going to more marital arts classes, albeit virtually, than I’ve had time for in a really long time.

    And I get to be more politically aware and able to learn and write and comment and express.

    And I’m available for my kids all the time. (Although they’re old enough that they mostly don’t need me.)

    And I’m learning how to not suck at cooking. (Ask me about the sesame mushrooms.)

    And my dog loves having me around. So do the cats, but the dog is more active at expressing it.

    And my wife, who is in a very essential service and so has worked through the whole thing, claims she likes having me around all of the time, although maybe that’s because I’m doing all of the household chores instead of the half of them that I don’t actively dislike.

    I do want a new normal at some point, but it needs to be different than the old normal and I’m in between wanting that right now.

    I actually feel kind of guilty about that.

    So the question becomes, what else should I be doing? Can I do more to make the world a better place while I’m at it? I’m trying, but I don’t know that I’m trying hard enough.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    A Daughter’s Birthday

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    In the ongoing saga of, “When did I get so old?”, today is my oldest daughter’s th birthday. In every way marked by our society, she’s now a legal adult.

    I try not to blog about my kids’ major life events too often, at least partly for privacy concerns, but there are certain milestones that are a big deal, and nineteen is one of them. Strictly speaking, nineteen is absolutely one of them as it takes away the last handful of things that our society puts a legal age minimum on, mainly:

    • Buy/consume alcohol, cigarettes, or cannabis products
    • Buy lottery tickets or go to a casino
    • Adopt a pet from the SPCA

    Things that no longer require parental permission:

    • Get married
    • Get a driver’s licence
    • Join the CAF
    • Leave Home
    • Legal Name Change

    A couple of oddball things:

    • Enter a binding contract
    • Sue or be sued on your own

    So, yes, nineteen is a big deal. I’ve watched this wonderful young woman grow from a newborn through all the trials and tribulations of her own personal childhood and adolescence, working to understand her as much as I can. While I certainly don’t consider my job done, and won’t as long as she feels she needs me, this is when she can truly step away in any direction she feels it right to do so.

    Happy birthday, Little One. I can’t wait to see how you’ll change the world.

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  • Life

    #CovidCooking

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    I’ve been making the occasional big deal out of learning how to cook during the shutdown. Under ordinary circumstances, my wife does most of the cooking while I do most of the dishes and related cleanup. This division suits us both. She’s a much better cook and seems to enjoy the process, and I don’t mind handling the dirty dishes or dealing with spills and wipe downs, though I’m sometimes entertained by just how many dishes can be generated in the preparation of one meal.

    But the truth of the matter, and I suspect it’s true for a lot of people who are in similar boats right now, is that I’m not really learning to cook, at least not directly. I’m learning how to follow a recipe. And here’s the secret: it’s not that hard.

    The cooking part comes out of the learning how to follow a recipe, and it’s just like any other skill that way. You learn something new by following the instructions for things that have already been shown to work. Slowly, you build the body of knowledge to be able to manage the skill on your own, in this case flavour combinations, substitutions, measurements, and so on.

    Almost five weeks into the shutdown (well, when my work was shut down), I have a pretty clear idea of just how much a teaspoon (or half of one), tablespoon, and cup are. I still measure carefully, mostly, but I can tell what looks approximately right.

    I know the proportions to mix my own onion salt (3 parts salt to 1 part onion powder) if I run out. I know that it makes my cooking life a whole lot easier if I prep everything in advance and gather all the ingredients before I start the prep.

    I know that clean up is easier if you can put stuff away as you finish using it (oil back in the cupboard, salt goes there, remaining peppers go back in the fridge, that spoon I’m not going to use again drops in the sink, and so on.)

    I’m learning when to check on things because just because the recipe says X minutes at Y temperature, doesn’t mean it won’t cook a little faster or slower because you’re not in the same kitchen as the person who perfected the recipe.

    I’m learning that I’m less fond of the cleanup when I’m the one who generates most of the mess. This has probably helped me develop a fondness for one-pot dinners.

    And probably dozens of other things. It’s funny the knowledge that builds up inside your head by following instructions from someone who’s skill in something is far more advanced than your own. And it’s funny just how many things work that way.

    I’ll never be a world-class cook, I expect, but I can do a lot better than toast, pizza, and the same stir fry one a week. Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    How Are You Coping?

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    There are as many ways of coping with the current isolation practices and how they’re reshaping our lives and society as there are people coping with it. New hobbies or a return to old ones, learning new things, bursts of creativity, exercise, extra housework or jobs around your living environment, reading, binge watching, social media, and on and on.

    For myself, now on Day 14 of true isolation in the aftermath of my place of work being shut down, I’m doing most of these things. Not because of some drive to make all this extra down time productive, although I’m sure there’s some of that in my psyche somewhere, but because I’m wired to always be doing something and preferably something mentally interactive. Physically interactive is nice, too. I don’t have the 50 or so hours per week of being at or commuting to and from work, so I need to find other things.

    I wish I could just relax, and I can in short bursts, but it’s hard. I need to be doing something, or at the very least on my way to be doing something, all the time.

    So, I’m:

    • still geocaching but with certain restrictions in place to keep me away from other people,
    • ramping up my workouts and martial arts training,
    • writing and editing and creating more,
    • building a daily housework routine,
    • knocking things off the To Do list,
    • reading more and listening to more podcasts,
    • binge watching (by my definition which rarely involves more than one episode of something in a day),
    • cleaning up a lot of online stuff,
    • frequently checking in on social media to make sure folks are keeping busy and taking care of myself,
    • expanding my use of certain online tools to make sure I’m staying in contact with family and close friends,
    • sleeping eight hours per night. Seriously. Actual sleep. It’s weird.

    It’s hard for me to kick back and just relax. So I’m not.

    And maybe I’m also trying to avoid obsessing over the state of the world at the moment, limiting myself to only serious and direct information sources on COVID and how we’re dealing with it.

    How are you coping? With the stress of isolation or the stress of being essential.

    Take care of yourselves and each other.

    And speak up if that’s getting hard.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    18

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    Holy crap, my oldest daughter is 18 years old.

    My little Squeaker, my independent toddler who nonetheless always had know I was watching, my in so very many ways incredible oldest daughter.

    I’m going to forgo the usual sentimental dread where I remember first steps and first teeth, where I’m shocked and amazed at how long it’s been since I held her for the first time and how old she is. She’s 18 today, and that’s huge. She is tremendously politically and socially aware and I’m pretty sure she has a vision of a world that’s far better than the one we live in. Now, a legal adult, according to the norms our society she is legally able to express those views and hopes and dreams in all the ways. She’s intelligent and articulate and passionate, and she has a spark that tells me that maybe, just maybe, she wants to change the world.

    Happy birthday, Little One. Take that intelligence and passion and run with it as far as fast as you can.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    At the Laundromat

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    Sometimes, it’s an interesting cross-section of people you can discover at the laundromat. Sometimes interesting is the wrong word.

    I don’t do laundromats much anymore, because, with three small children, it was one of our earliest goals after we moved to the small town we’re living in to have our own washing machine and dryer again to make sure that we didn’t have to take those three children to the laundromat once a week for several hours. On a weekend, when it’s crowded, and there are other people, too many other people, trying to use the same machines. And, likely as not, there are a couple of other sets of parents in the same boat.

    Our dryer, quite unexpectedly, died recently. Washer still fine, but now we need to wash several loads of laundry and make a trip to the laundromat to occupy a few dryers for half an hour or so. We can bring things home and fold them. Less painful overall, but still not exactly the height of convenience, fiscal efficiency, or human interaction.

    Not that most people want human interaction at the laundromat, and I certainly don’t want to most places I go. Let me do my laundry and peace, let me shop in peace, let me stop at the convenience store in peace, let me pump my gas in peace.

    I will certainly accept that human interaction with the person who’s checking my groceries or ringing up my energy drinks, or whatever, especially if it’s someone I know, or even consider a friend. That changes the equation quite significantly. But social interaction isn’t my primary purpose for any of those things. I went out to get groceries, clothing, do my laundry, get gas, whatever. Going out specifically for social reasons, that’s a whole different ballgame. Yes, there totally needs to be a little bit of conversational lubricant for any transaction, and we all need the ability to make small talk for those, and I get that maybe some people are looking for that social interaction. Generally speaking, I’m not.

    Especially at the laundromat.

    However, I would have chosen that over this morning to the laundromat. If there had been a little old lady section of the laundromat, I would’ve gone sat in the middle of that group, smiled, and engaged in whatever conversation they insisted on havingwith me.

    That section didn’t exist, not today.

    I would have gratefully sat in the middle of the section of screaming kids, because I’ve been there and done that, and I feel the pain, and I could smile and be sympathetic with parents.

    That section didn’t exist today.

    When I got instead was half an hour spent not far enough from an aging dude-bro on his once a month laundry trip to wash everything he owned, taking up some combination of 10 washing machines and 12 dryers simultaneously, while blasting his music, which obviously should be universally admired. I spent my time reflecting on the society that produces those dude-bros and dude-sisters by the tens of thousands, the self-centered piece of each generation that seems to be growing with each generation, who doesn’t particularly care about anyone other themselves. I’m not interested in painting a whole generation with one brush. This particular dude-bro might have been just old enough to technically be Gen-X, and then there’s the Trump factor.

    Sure, dude, sing along. It’s all good.

    An old saying, one I thought was a cliché, but that we’re apparently losing: your freedom ends where my nose begins.

    Of course, I’m too Canadian to have done more than my roll my eyes repeatedly. And too mature, apparently, to have been passive aggressive on my way out the door.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    I’m 48 and Dad Is Still Teaching Me Stuff

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    I don’t know if he realizes that or not, and I’m sure it isn’t his plan, but I think it’s true nonetheless.

    I’ve said for a long time that life is too short to learn from only your own mistakes and decisions, and that’s a piece of it. I’ve also said for a long time that you can’t choose you can’t choose what the universe throws in front of you, only how you react to it, and that’s a piece of things, too.

    The life he’s led has not always been easy one, and in some ways he’s paid the price that physically, and some ways mentally or emotionally. He has made his own choices all the way along. We all do. I expect that the vast majority of those choices were what he thought was right or necessary at the time. Some of those choices have been harder on his body than they needed to be, then he needed to be. Closing in on 75 years old, his health is not everything it could be, and the diagnosis a few years back of COPD did not really make any improvements. I understand difficulty in quitting smoking, and shared it closing on 18 years ago, but not after nearly so long at it, and I had the luxury of growing up in a time when there was always more information available than the day before. That really wasn’t the case in the same way during his formative years.

    But that second piece, the choosing of how you react things, is also in the mix here, and probably a whole lot more. He’s picking the stubborn path, meeting what the universe is throwing at him in terms of his health and bending only as much as he has to so he can continue to live the way he chooses to. An oak tree.

    He’s also choosing to live with regrets, and whether anyone else can see it or not, I can see those in him every time I go to visit. He knows how some of his choices have affected the people he cares deeply about, his family. Rather than trying to address those, reconcile them, and forgive himself, he’s swallowing them, stuffing them down as far as he possibly can and letting everyone be who they are. I’m not sure who all knows just how much he’s not dealing with things. I suspect I only have a small idea. I suspect there’s a lot more to it.

    He’s also showing me potential glimpses into the future. We are a lot alike, although we are not the same person. We did not grow up in the same time, or in the same kind of places, and we did not make the same choices. When he was 48, I was 22, and I didn’t really seem a lot because I was in school. When I saw him, he was still presenting as the strong man that I grew up with. Over the next few years, and through scattered visits over time, I would slowly discover what most sons eventually discover about their fathers. There comes a moment when you realize that you are better, stronger, faster than your father at most things that aren’t a direct result of their specialties. And it is one of the saddest days of your life.

    It’s also a too jarring reminder of the march of time and of your own mortality.
    Make no mistake, there’s still a ridiculous number of things that he knows far more about than I do, but I can recognize some of what age has stolen.

    I was a couple of years older when my son was born than dad was at my birth. But 46 and 48 are not too different. Measured against his father, there was a much larger gap, but dad was the youngest of seven. Pop lived to eighty-four with, a life filled with harder choices, and some of them, to my eyes, almost deliberately destructive. Did dad use that same measuring tape at some point? Does he still?

    I’m not my father, but I certainly have those thoughts very, very often. I don’t need to be remembered by anyone other than my family, really. Beyond that, if I leave some stories behind for people to enjoy, that’s great, but what I really want is to leave enough good memories for my children to carry them through after I’m gone.

    I hope I have inherited my father’s stubbornness, and I know I’ve inherited some of the desire for frequent solitude, but I am my own person, and I make my own choices. I love my father, but I do still find it difficult to talk to him sometimes. I don’t think I should, but that’s my problem. He’s still teaching me things, still setting examples. Sometimes those are examples I want to follow and sometimes they’re not, but there’s one I do like, for sure.

    To steal a line, do not go gently into that good night. He will continue to not go gently for as long as he can, I think, and he does recognize what his eventual departure from life will mean to others. He may or may not recognize anything resembling the full extent of the impact to his children and grandchildren. None of us do, probably, but that too, in a lot of ways, is part of the human experience. Growing up, growing old, losing people, being lost.

    I love you, Dad. I hope someday I’m able to effectively tell you. Whether day that comes or not, I hope I demonstrate it at least a little, and I hope you do know it.

    Be well, everyone.

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