Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reality Bites

The 2016 U.S. election is over.  It's two days after, now.  I thought it best to let it sink in a bit before I offered my opinion.

I know there are those that will agree with some of it, some will disagree.  I don't care either way.  How I see it is how I see it.  And I respect most others' opinions.

My views have changed over the years.  Maybe not all that drastically, but they have.  Some would be shocked and disappointed at the tweaking of how I see some things, some would be... "meh".  I'm fine with all of it.  One of those views is on the whole "gay thing".  I used to say, 'I don't agree with the gay lifestyle.'  I think that comment is just idiotic and dumb today.  How do you agree or disagree with a lifestyle?  How someone lives their life is inconsequential to me or anyone else, as long as no one gets hurt.  The only people I see getting hurt are gay people themselves, getting beaten up or denied their human rights by those who oppose them.  So who's wrong here?  Throughout my years, I generally have only seen the most gentle of people within the gay community; who care, in many cases, more than their straight counterparts about the good of all humankind.  When the issue of gay marriage comes up, the real firestorm begins.  Voices are raised, soapboxes erected, bibles come out... and hatred exposed.  The ugliness of humanity is magnified in all its self-righteous glory.  And over time, though I've not bought into the hatred of it all, I was unwittingly a part of it, because I "didn't agree with the gay lifestyle".  But I ask myself the question... if a trio of guys are beating up another guy on a street corner because he's gay, and I'm walking on the other side of the street, do I ignore it and continue on, or take my taekwondo black belt ass over there and protect the innocent man on the ground getting abused?  If I don't, I'm as guilty as those beating him up.  So I would go over and do the right thing, and defend him.  Jesus would be appalled.  Appalled that three guys chose to vent their prejudism through violent behavior against a peaceful individual who shares passionate love differently than they do.  Real Christians defend those who are helpless.

With the civil war going on in Syria, and millions fleeing the country, many are seeking refuge in other parts of the world where they won't get bombed or shot at, like many of their friends or family members already have.  Stop and think, if you will, of your city being under siege from an invading army; many of your friends are dead, much of your family is dead or gone, and maybe you only have a child or two, and if you're lucky, a spouse with you still alive, and you make your escape.  You find a kind foreign force willing to take you in, give you shelter, and prepare you for life somewhere else that you won't have to dodge bullets or landmines.  But you so love your city!  How could you leave where you've lived most of your life, and never come back?  Then you ask yourself, how could you subject what's left of your family to chance by staying?  So you submit to the vetting process by the samaritans, and by some crazy stroke of luck and good fortune, you get whisked off to another country where there's no war.  No bombings.  Just a very different way of life, albeit peaceful and welcoming, that lets you take your religion and harmless belief system with you, after the vetting process, and settle amongst a new group of neighbors in a calm, war-free setting.  You're crazy grateful at the good fortune afforded you to escape the sad, violent war zone, and come to what's comparitively viewed as paradise.  Nearly everyone around you has a different color of skin, but it doesn't seem to matter to them.  They're welcoming you with open arms.  Your faith in humanity is somewhat restored.  You're surrounded by countries that have checkpoints, but no barriers.  No barbed wire or fences to forbid you from where you want to go, provided you have legal documentation to prove who you are.

I've written ad-nauseum about how I have a mental illness.  A disability.  There are pros and cons that you can't visually see it.  Some won't believe I have it, unless they see my medication bottles or know my medical history.  And then, some still won't believe it!  But I'm very fortunate that I don't need physical assistance to come and go.  I need no wheelchair or walker or artificial limbs.  I have no degenerative physical ailment.  One time, when I broke my foot on the job and wound up losing said job because of it, I was down on my luck and went downtown with some friends.  I don't drink a lot, so when my friends threw one down after another, I decided to leave.  The walk was a couple of miles home, and that's a long way when you have a cast on your foot up to your knee.  As I began my lonely trek home and crossed Main Street, a group of ladies nearby pointed, laughed and mocked my limping, while I cried putting one painful step in front of the other.  It was a very lonely, depressing time in my life, and I thought to myself as I soldiered home, "what if this is how it was all the time?"  I experienced only a tiny, microscopic example of what it was like to be a permanently disabled person.  It was horrifyingly lonely.  No one offered to stop and help during the 45 minute journey home, where I'm sure I looked visibly tired and in pain.  I'm grateful this happened, believe it or not.  It gave me a wealth of understanding for those who are far, far worse off.  It gave me eyes that were sharper than they were previously.

All these things helped shape the man that I became today.  I'd say that I'm a fairly decent guy.  Maybe not overly smart, certainly not monetarily rich, and even prone from time to time to a joke about someone less fortunate, though I so try not to find humor or entertainment in such things, because there isn't any!  Perhaps that's a part of growing up.  People have to do that - grow up.  Perhaps maintain their "inner kid" and retain some of that innocence, to prevent you from becoming some stiff, boring old windbag.  My wife and I behave like kids around each other all the time!  We say it keeps us young.  Some people around us call us a cute couple, some might call us immature, which we actually take as a compliment.  Keep your boring-ass 'maturity'.  Go to tea parties or luncheons or meetings or whatever you call entertainment.  We'll keep our movies, gym outings, TV watching in our onesies with our snacks and pop and making supper at home together any day.  I've learned over time how much I value the women in my life.  My Mom is my original hero.  She raised seven of us virtually by herself, and most of us fought back against being raised properly, but we all made it.  We all got married and had families, and were responsible to them.  None of us were in trouble with the law because of the values instilled in us by our mother.  In other words, we all have our family values.  And all of the boys, despite growing up in adversity, maintained respect and love and admiration for our female counterparts, all shapes, sizes, colors and ages.  I would dare say we are all gentlemen.

Something Mom taught us all was to be raised Catholic.  She revered the Popes of the times, brought us to church on Sundays, and reprimanded us if we cursed in the house, or anywhere for that matter, while she was around.  We were to recognize Christmas as Christ's birthday (I know it's really not, that it was really some other time, but whatever), Easter as Christ's resurrection (read between the brackets before the last comma), and observed other events on the Catholic calendar.  There are protestant religions that are more or less the same, with a tweak to the Catholic beliefs here and there, which are all fine by me as long as we worship the same God, peacefully.  Most Christian religions would see the Pope as their leader, I think, some maybe not.  And some popes, they agreed with more than others.  Our current one, Francis, has really emerged as the Pope we need for our times.  He's worked vigorously to bridge the gaps between faiths, heal the wrongs of the Christian past (a very, very tall order, but at least he's trying), and tried to restore faith among those who have lost it.  He's the most Christ-like Pope I've ever known of, welcoming everyone in his presence, championing the poor and the weak, and yes, even offering an olive branch to gays.  We so need him in these times.  When he speaks on the issues of the day, people listen.  He's even warned us not to be too focused on abortion issues, and allowing it to fade out all other important subjects of our modern era.  He continuously warns us about climate change, and tells us to embrace science alongside religion.  Never mind a progressive Pope, this man is a progressive human being altogether, perhaps moreso than any of us.  At least most.

Growing up, I was taught, as most of us were that becoming the nation's leader was the finest thing you could be.  The very finest.  Here in Canada, it's Prime Minister.  In the U.S., it's President.  But I've recognized in the States that young men more aspired to be president than Canadians did prime minister.  It was romanticized in songs, poems, speeches, and kids would pretend to be the nation's leader.  A lot of little boys would study hard in school with hopes of serving in public office, and who knows?  Maybe become president one day!  "Son, if you study hard, work hard, pay your dues, and respect your fellow human beings and do all you can to serve and protect them, you deserve to be the leader of the country."  That kind of thing was spouted all the time in TV shows, which would in turn influence little boys everywhere.  Now, the world has changed.  Girls have a shot at it, too.  Girls are recognized as being at least as smart as boys are, and every bit as capable of doing what boys do.  As time goes on, the competitive spirit between genders is deteriorating, and we are being all seen more as equals as we seek out amongst ourselves who is best to do whatever task is at hand.  As long as the good of humanity is served and our dignity respected and recognized, may the best person lead us to further greatness as a people.

%&^###$ -----"vinyl record scratch"-----&*#$%++%

Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States.

This man has made it a promise to repeal gay marriage.  Has claimed to be Christian while behaving the most un-Christian-like throughout his ENTIRE CAMPAIGN.  He's incited violence at his campaign rallies while pledging to his supporters he would pay for their court costs if they're brought up on battery charges against protesters.  He has openly attacked Muslims and their faith, offering and promising to block them from coming to the U.S. if elected.  He belittled an American Muslim Iraq war hero and his parents.  He marginalized blacks at his rallies, and pleaded ignorance to any knowledge of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy advocates that openly supported his campaign.  He pledged repeatedly to build a fucking WALL between Mexico and the United States to keep Mexicans out, because, he says, they're "rapists, drug dealers and murderers"!  He kicked a baby out of a rally because it was crying, and belittled the child's parents.  He said he would "bomb the shit" out of middle east countries and even possibly use nukes on them.  He's pledged his support to Vladmir Putin and aligned himself with Russia and its atrocities to modern humankind, and even invited them to spy on his rival Democratic Party.  He would stop the flow of refugees to the U.S., which was barely a miniscule trickle to begin with.  He infamously mocked and made fun of a disabled reporter.  He's mocked and made fun of ("Miss Piggy") a Miss Universe pageant winner for gaining weight from depression.  In fact, he's made fun of women just about every goddamned day.  His hatred for Rosie O'Donnell ruled his Twitter account.  When he was discovered as having said he loves to assault women in the infamous "hot mic" debacle ("grab them by the pussy"), HE DIDN"T APOLOGIZE.  Instead he just attributed it to "locker room talk", like that would normalize it.  He repeatedly cheated on his women (three wives and counting) unapologetically, even bragging about it.  HE DENOUNCED THE POPE.  [where, oh where, are you so-called republican Christians to defend your leader???  Oh, wait, it's TRUMP you worship, not Christ] He belittled the poor and uneducated.  He dodged the draft to Vietnam while shaming fellow republican John McCain for being a P.O.W. there.  He's said people who get abortions need to be punished!  He NEVER served in public office in all his 70 years.  He's declared bankruptcy and defaulted on loans more times than anyone could imagine, and as a billionaire did not pay taxes, AND BRAGGED ABOUT IT.  He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act and deprive millions of health care who've not had it before Obama took office.  He accused Hillary of scheming to repeal the second amendment, which 1) is virtually impossible, and 2) SHE actually sought to protect to keep guns out of the hands of the worst people in society......And he said he'd have Hillary Clinton investigated in efforts to have her put in jail if he were elected.  That's right, he said he'd incarcerate his political opponent.

I was going to get into the whole Bernie Sanders would have won in a landslide if only Debbie Wasserman Shultz hadn't rigged the Democratic primaries tirade, but there's no point anymore in getting into what-if's.  Sanders appealed to a wide swath on the right AND left, and was the perfect matchup for Trump to take him down.  Trump was the alternative republican candidate, Sanders was the Dems' alternative.  Instead they chose institution over a more relateable rebel.  But I digress... The fact is, nearly half of eligible Americans decided not to vote at all.  Half of the rest picked Trump to be their leader, and leader of the free world, over a woman who's served in public office for over 30 years, and whose worst mistake during her campaign was calling Trump supporters "a basket of deplorables".  Well guess what... those "deplorables" proved her right.  Repeatedly.

I realize there are a lot of Americans who are shocked and saddened at the outcome of events on November 8, 2016.  My heart goes out to you.  I know some of them.  Some are angry and afraid of what will come in the days and months ahead.  The republicans don't just have a president.  They now control the senate and the house of representatives, and will surely appoint a seventh tie-breaking conservative judge to the Supreme Court.  Gay rights and women's rights will exit the country like the Obama family from the White House, and most of the progress made with the deficit, health care, human rights, environment and the economy will surely be reversed.  It happens with every turn of republicans leading the country.  And that's not even to mention whatever new wars they will invent to spend taxpayers' money on.

But here's the real butthurt... America, you wanted this, and now you've got it.  You think Trump's going to give you jobs?  Reduce your deficit?  Increase your wages?  I won't even offer a rebuttal for that.  I'll let you experience it yourselves over the next four years.  Oh, and since you've elected a reality show host/non-public service candidate for president, congratulations!!  You've just won the distinct opportunity to have a legitimate contender on the next presidential ballot, Kanye West!  What??  No way??  WAY.  Who did you just elect??  Wait and see.  Kanye 2020.  I bet the signs are being made right now.

And I do not subscribe to the whole "we have to work together" shit people are saying right now.  Please re-read this blog and try to say that with a straight face.  You have a racist, elitist, misogynist, homophobic bigot for president.  Overseas, you cheer when you see countries that have riots in the streets with the people trying to take back their country from people just like Trump.  The people who have voted against Trump are only trying their best to put the fire out before it turns into an inferno.

God bless the U.S.A.  And God bless those trying to protect what its founders sought to always guard against.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Getting Back On Track


There's an awful lot of talk these days about renewable energy, isn't there?  It comes down, in many instances, to "tree huggers" vs "oil barons".  But, the massive elephant in the same ring as that battle is a fella called Climate Change.

I'm not going to make this an excruciatingly long post preaching about everything that's wrong with carbon pollution in this day and age, because everyone knows pollution of any kind is outright wrong.  The challenge is embracing the extinguishing of it, namely in the face of greed and profit.  Imagine a world where the energy we need is produced right where you live.  You don't need help from overseas or across any borders, or dealings from unsavoury dictators to get that what you need to sustain yourselves.  That age is upon us right now.  Do you really want it?  A growing, tidal wave of supporters doesn't just want it, they're demanding it.

I'm fresh into my 50's now, and what I see largely is a movement of young people who have become increasingly aware of what their future may look like, should the 'old guard' not loosen its grip on the reigns of the current political realm.  Change has to happen, and it has to happen right now.  Results can not happen overnight, mind you, but plans can be made to assure that we don't veer onto the wrong path.  We need entities in politics that are forward thinking who will grab hold of that elusive brass ring and not let go, and assure not only that our future generations, but indeed humanity, have a chance not just to thrive, but to survive at all.

But here's the thing... the present requires us to make funeral arrangements for big oil, but not push it into the grave just yet, as it's still alive and still sustaining us as a species.  That's the cold, hard reality for Tree Huggers like myself.  Electric cars are fast approaching the horizon, and provide us all with the promise of clean air and deteriorating greenhouse gases to give us hope.  Likewise can be said with cheaper, more efficient means of renewable energy, which is making advancements every day, it seems.  The death of the oil industry is unavoidable and imminent.  Fort McMurray and Hibernia can beat their chests all they want about Canadian home-grown energy, but the fact is, sooner than later, no country will need energy from anyone else.  This means quite potentially that a golden age of peace is possible, where greenhouse gases fade, clean air thrives, and energy is plentiful for everyone everywhere, without the reliance of supply from grossly rich leaders, largely in the middle east.  Imagine a world where we don't have to feed money to those who have a stranglehold on our very sustainability.  We could tell places like Saudi Arabia that, "no, you can't have our armoured vehicles or tanks, because your oil doesn't hold us hostage anymore."

Still, we actually need oil for the short term, don't we?  You and I still have cars and homes that need it to run.  I know some of us have electric cars and heat pumps, but not all of us.  It's not necessarily affordable to everyone.  In fact, it isn't, or I'd have both of those myself right now.  So, I have to bitch and whine about oil and gas while actually needing it.  The goal is to not need it for much longer.

So, there's the tar sands in Fort McMurray.  It's an oil haven, rich with black gold, albeit the dirtiest stuff on planet earth.  What oil barons want is to build several pipelines to move raw bitumen, in its thickest, hottest, dirtiest form, through pipelines across our country and across the United States to refineries to be processed and, head-scratchingly, be moved across the oceans to places that will buy the stuff.  Some of it will be used here.  It doesn't matter, where the finished product winds up is not the point I'm trying to make.

Our federal government, not so loudly, has come to the realisation that the oil beds are on their deathbeds, with a life expectancy of not a lot more than another 15 years.  Consider that for a moment.  Hundreds of kilometres, or miles if that's your thing, of pipelines hogging considerable space on our countries' lands, and bearing down with the inevitable threats to the ecosystem when there are ruptures.  And there will be, make no mistake.  Pipelines this long have never proven to be safe over those lengths of space, and if the pipelines do go forward, they most certainly will be hastily built.  Argue against that all you want.  They will insist, ad nauseum, that they are safe.  And they most certainly are safe.... until they aren't.

"But Mike," you no doubt are saying to me in your heads, "railway accidents with oil trains are happening all the time.  Pipelines are far safer and more efficent".  Really?  Okay.... when those pipelines are obsolete in 15 years, and you and I know that's not a hell of a long time, who's going to disassemble them and clean them all up?  I'll tell you who:  Nobody.  They will be left to deteriorate and ugly-fy the lands they occupy, and pose even more hazards long after the hot, thick black goo has been trying to be flowing through them.  We're left with a huge mess that no one wants and no one is willing to be held accountable for.

So, then, there are no alternatives.  Grin and bear it.  We're not long for this world anyway, right?


Here's what needs to be done, in my own humble opinion:

Why do accident like those in Lac Magentic happen, anyway?  Braking systems on the trains?  Bad railway systems?  Here in Canada, under the Harper Conservatives, deregulations occurred all over the map, making our ecosystems fair prey for those who want to harm them.  Canada's lakes and rivers were left completely vulnerable and unprotected in the name of Big Oil.  Indian reserves were threatened.  Cities and towns were left to watch our leaders roll the dice on our safety, which they didn't give a damn about anyway, as oil freight rolled through our lands without anyone imposing rules and regulations on the trains or the tracks they ran on.  Maybe you see where I'm going, here.

Railway systems are the problem that needs to be addressed, not the creation of pointless pipelines.  Our tracks and many of our trains are in dire need of an upgrade.  The need for them is not going to go away, but in fact, like the sources of the energy that sustains us, they must evolve to be safer, more efficient and better-serving.  When oil goes bust in 15 years, the tracks that are still there are still going to be abundantly useful.  It's a chance to advance the train industry and accelerate the means of transit for people, potentially taking even more cars off the road, whether they're electric or not.

But there are so many tracks!  Well then, you prioritise some tracks in the beginning, like the ones most frequented by oil freight, naturally, and let the rest develop as it will.  This is a win-win scenario.  Oil lives out its final few years in a safer manner, while green energy's tentacles grow throughout the land, while the economy thrives on the jobs that it creates during its transition.  Energy steadily becomes cheaper and cheaper, putting more money in the common person's pockets, and everyone is left happy and thriving.  Before you know it, no one needs oil anymore, and terrorism wanes because the funding for it has dissipated into almost nothing.

Doesn't that sound like a world you want to leave for your kids?  I know it's one that I'd like to see my daughter and (hopefully) my grandkids have.

And I believe it can happen.

I believe.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: "Under the Skin"

Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson, "Laura"

Jonathan Glazer, director

I won't make any bones about it, I LOVE me some ScarJo.  She's a fairly unorthodox actress, exceedingly beautiful, but talented enough to retain the attention of filmgoers beyond her superficial splendor.  Let's face it, there are an abundance of gorgeous actresses who are easy on the eyes, but not so much on the brain when it comes to making a story come to life onscreen.  Of course, the same can be said for actors; probably to a larger degree.

Not every movie Scarlett Johannson has done has made me want to rush to see it, of course.  She stole the show in "Iron Man 2" (to me, anyway, along with Sam Rockwell) and reprised her Black Widow character in more Marvel films, and even made a distinct non-physical presence reverberate in the recent "Her".  I balked at seeing "Lucy" because the premise didn't interest me at all.

And here we have "Under the Skin", a somewhat below-the-radar art house sci-fi/horror human character examination made on the cheap by director Jonathan Glazer.  Anyone who saw "Blade Runner" on its initial release in theatres, where it was viewed as a disappointment at the box office and even critically at the time, now knows that time was indeed very good to that movie.  It's come to be a go-to film for studious and budding moviemakers looking to hone their craft.  This is how I think "Under the Skin" will be looked upon in retrospect in years to come.

Although, "Under the Skin" is not nearly as 'Hollywood' as "Blade Runner" was.  In fact, it seems to go out of its way to avoid that tag, even trying somewhat to play down the beauty of its lead actress with a rather shaggy black wig, faux fur coat and run-of-the-mill street clothes.  Make no mistake, Laura (Johannson's character) is hot, as any man or even woman would agree, but she's normal hot, as opposed to Hollywood hot.

As I watched this movie with my wife, I knew what we were seeing was something weird and probably very polarizing.  When it was over, I didn't know whether I loved it or hated it.  But I knew what I saw meant to challenge me.  Challenge me to interpret the movie on my own, because it wasn't going to make things obvious for me like every other blockbuster does.  There is very little dialogue in "Under the Skin", and it relies on imagery, actions, and subtle suggestions forcing the viewer to try to figure out what they're watching.

This happens right from the get-go.  There's spacey, sphere-like images, scenes resembling eclipses, where light is overtaken by dark.  We learn that Laura is, of course, an alien, with the sole purpose to lure and seduce men back to her dwelling, with the promise of lustful fulfillment.  She has a partner, perhaps partners, in crime; men that traverse the Scottish landscape and city of Glasgow aiding and assisting in her hunt.  As she strips naked and beckons her prey to follow her, they become swallowed up in a pool of black ooze, which processes its victims into food for the alien world Laura is from, and she puts her clothes back on and resumes the pattern.

What's interesting is near the beginning of the film's opening act... the motorcyclist, also an alien assuming human form, collects an unconscious woman from the side of the road in the darkness, and brings her to a white van.  Inside the white van, she is put down, and we see that it's the character we will come to know as Laura - though we don't hear the name audibly.  Yet, the woman that winds up undressing Laura is also Laura.  My assumption is, that they are both aliens, and the laid-out Laura has failed in her own mission for reasons we will never know; however, a tear runs down her face as she watches the other woman assume her identity.  Why would this alien, who assumed a human identity, be brought to tears?  Like I said, nothing is spelled out for anyone.  You watch the rest of the film, and at the end, you get clues as to why she may have arrived in that state.

In the meantime, Laura drives around the streets of Glasgow (note:  not New York, not L.A., not Chicago, Detroit, etc.), scanning the streets for prey, normally lonely or vulnerable men she can convince to come for a ride in her van, and bring them back to her place.  Initially, she's cold.  Her eyes are empty, her actions deliberate, almost machine-like.  But as this alien assumes its human role, it finds out what it's like to be human.  She's cold and calculating, notably in one scene on a beach where a small family is frolicking in the water, at least at first, and she executes her mission with iciness where sexy persuasion fails her.  At this point in the movie, some might stop watching.  When I said this movie is challenging, this is one of the things that I meant.  Things in this movie are meant to make you uncomfortable, to feel.   And in fact, whether she wants to or not, Laura is on a trajectory that will force her to feel, as well.  To be human means to do as much, and she discovers as things progress that it's unavoidable.

In fact, the more she experiences humanity, the more it seems she wants to be human.  She even shows mercy to a victim she traps, a man with elephant man disease, as he's swallowed in the black pool; she sees her reflection in a mirror, spies a fly trapped in a screen, and then we see the man suddenly free and running in a field, naked.  At least for a time.

She slips and falls on the street, and people surround her with concern and offers to help her, and she seems bewildered at their offers.  She winds up on a bus with not much clothing for the weather, and is approached by a man to help her; he brings her to his house, comforts her, feeds her, and gives her the freedom to do as she chooses.  Laura seems taken aback by it all, as if it's a foreign behaviour to her.  But it also seems that she may be adapting, or trying to.  Maybe wanting to.  One by one, she experiences the signatures of what it is to be human:  need, want, desire, empathy, guilt, trust, betrayal, and finally, fear.

By the film's end, we discover why the title is what it is.  And for myself, I flashed back to the movie's opening, the doppleganger in the van being stripped, with a tear in her eye.  I realize that perhaps, Laura #2 encountered the same trappings of humanity that Laura #1 did.

I didn't really get all of this until later, as the movie ran back in my head.  We watched it two nights ago as of this writing, and I'm still coming-to, so to speak, with the message of the film.  Right down to its soundtrack, which is ultra-creepy and haunting, though I hate to say "haunting" because that's an adjective overused for movie scores.  It's just so fitting with this one.  And highly irregular.  As a matter of fact, there are a lot of irregular things going on with this show.  The thick Scottish accents, the lack of high-rise buildings and slick streetscapes, and even several shots where Glazer filmed an incognito Johansson attempting to pick regular-Joe men up on the street, caught on hidden cameras.  (Once footage was attained, these men were told what was going on and were asked permission to have the footage used.)

All said and done, I'd have to recommend you see this show for yourself, but I don't guarantee you'll like it.  At least, not necessarily right away.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Stranger

It's been a weird week, kind of.  It's always a bit strange when there's a statutory holiday in the middle of it, and it splits the work week up, leaving your body to wonder what the heck is happening, especially when you're used to getting up at 4 in the morning on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it switches to Wednesday and Friday.  But it's all good.  Remembrance Day was the occasion for the holiday.  Not particularly a day for celebration as much as... well, remembrance.

I've been thinking about some Billy Joel songs running through my head in the last while.  Remembrance Day kind of makes me think of 'Goodnight Saigon', although it's a song about some American troops in the Vietnam War.  Men still paid a steep price for that conflict, though, and it just helps you remember others who lost their lives in other conflicts, or even survived.  It's kind of a noir-type song, where the character and his comrades in it don't survive the ending.  There's another song of his called 'The Stranger', which we all can relate to, I think.  We all wear masks in life to suit any given situation we're in, masks that portray us in a different light to others.

I haven't really discussed with anybody how tough my mornings have been this week.  In particular Monday and Wednesday mornings.  I'm at a loss to explain why I'm having trouble with the start of my days lately; just that a very dark cloud seems to hover around until mid-afternoon or so.  I choose not to discuss it very much verbally so as not to bring anyone else down with me.  I mean, what's to gain, right?  And besides, if there's one thing I've learned, it seems nobody really likes to hear from a depressed person, unless they're well-paid psychiatrists.

So I put on a brave face.  Not that brave, it's not hard to do.  A lot of us who go through depression issues would know exactly what I'm talking about.  In fact, the majority of people I work with have no idea whatsoever about my disability.  And yes, it is a disability.  No, you can't see it; nor can you detect it for the most part from people like me, unless we tell you.  And why we would want to tell you, at this point with me, escapes me.  I've discovered you lose the people you reach out to.  The one person outside of my wife that I've found really, truly gets it, was a counselor who talked to my family and myself to tell us that my mom was ill with Pick's Disease.  She'd turned to me at the roundtable with a genuine look of concern and asked me, having been living with my mom longer than anyone else, how I was, and how I felt.  How I felt?  I didn't know how to answer that.  And I don't believe I did, as words failed me.

I hear sometimes, "just let it go!"  That's another thing you don't tell a person suffering from mental illness.  You have no idea how much we would just love to "let it go".  No idea.  But our brains are dysfunctional and unable, for most of us anyway, to do this relatively simple task.  For somebody like me, just being around some crowds of people are a massive undertaking.  Or talking on the phone.  It's debilitating... hence, the disability.  Making new friends is harder, because we know nobody really wants to be around folks like us, and we don't want people to expect normal everyday things to be easy sometimes.  So we create distance.

Oddly enough, when I used to perform in a band and do some gigs, the stage was the most comfortable place for me to be.  Maybe because the stage in its own way is kind of isolating and distancing.  When I do readings at church, I feel no nervous apprehension at all.

Recently I read about Jerry Seinfeld, how he wonders if he might be on the autism spectrum because of his own social inability and similar behaviors to mine.  Then I wondered... could I be on the autism spectrum myself?  I actually doubt it, but I do wonder sometimes.  I do exhibit some of the symptoms of it.  Quite a few, really.  Although I'm not dependent like some autism patients are.  Maybe my wife would disagree with that!  She wouldn't outright, maybe.  But, I get a very small idea what these people deal with and go through, on a minuscule level.  I wouldn't necessarily say I 'suffer' from it.  It's depression I deal with, I believe.  But on some days, particularly mornings, that overwhelming feeling of isolationism is stark.

And so, like 'The Stranger' in the song, I wear the mask of a person who's not suffering from anything.  Sometimes people do see behind it, but most times, they don't.  But it's well-worn, and used every day for decades now.

Thanks for going on the journey with me via Ragnar Station, and staying in orbit.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Big City... Big City Nights

It is Sunday morning... 3:11am actually... here I am laying in bed with my lovely wife sleeping beside me, in our favorite room in the house.  Why not!  It's got a nice big TV, a fridge, bathroom's just around the corner, not much could make it better.  It's the first official day of fall for '14, I believe.

Now that summer's done, I can give a brief update on what we've been up to around here.  I look at that last post I entered, and yeah, a few things have actually developed since then.  But first, vacation.  It was fantastic.  Absolutely.  If you're a friend on facebook, you might have seen the well over 100 pictures we snapped while we were away in Boston very recently.  We love that city so much, we've pretty well pledged to go back every year now.  The big draw for us, of course, is our beloved Red Sox.  Last year's world champs, this year, not so much.  No matter, we're faithful Sox fans regardless of the win/loss record.  There's just nothing like seeing a game at Fenway Park.  We took in batting practice this time around and actually got to go on the warning track of the field, something I didn't realize was going to happen, so I was pumped!  It was pretty surreal being so close to the players and being on that sacred piece of real estate.  The game we took in had us wondering if we bring bad luck to our boys.  They lost quite badly actually, and played a sloppy game, par for the course this year really, but they do have a lot of real young guys on the team.  The last quarter or so of the season has basically been a tryout for who'll be with them next year.  Still, the place was packed and everyone was having a great time, especially us, and we're looking forward to doing it again next year.

We got to go on the Duck Boats this time, a vehicle from the older military that's a land/water hybrid, and we toured the city seeing the tons and tons of history.  What an amazing city.   You just don't know until you go there and go on one of the many tours there are there.  The history is astounding.  That might even sound boring or something, but you have no idea unless you've been there how stimulating it is to learn about everything that's gone on in that place.  We could go there every year for the rest of our lives, take two or three tours each year, and still never come close to learning all there is that Boston has to offer.  If you've ever thought about going, just do it!  One tip though, stay in nearby Attleboro or Mansfield; we stayed at the Red Roof Inn at the latter.  It's cheaper, but best probably to get a hotel rather than an inn or motel.  But hotels are real pricey in the city.  And bring a GPS.  Man, if not for that, I think we might still be in the midwestern States somewhere right now, trying to find our way back.  But that's me.  Never been good with the roads thing.

As we were doing stuff one day before the game, we checked out, very briefly, the science center, which Alexandra had absolutely positively no interest in, so we put it on ice till next year.  But what a massive building with tons of fascinating things there.  We shopped in a huge three floor mall, which had a Cheesecake Factory in it, the restaurant Penny on the Big Bang Theory works in (nope, she wan't working... DAMN).  Great food, greater cheesecake.  Ritzy but casual.  The next day, we opted for the far cheaper Jerry Remy's for our now-annual RemDawg, the biggest hot dogs I've ever seen.  You have to eat these things with a fork and knife, they're that big.

We walked the streets a lot there, and it was just nice to take in the atmosphere of the living space.  The people in Boston are ultra-friendly... until you get them behind the wheel, then they turn into rather grumpy, unintentionally hilarious impatient drivers.  "Fawk!  Where'd ya learn how ta drive a cah??!  There ain't no pawking at a green light dumbass!"  Just funny to us.  Those accents are everywhere, and it's really endearing.  To us at least.  Even if they're blowing a gasket driving.

The weather was great the whole time we were there, although driving in was questionable.  We'd never seen such a torrential downpour for such an extended period of time.  I remarked "this is the kind of weather you wind up getting tornadoes with."  Sure enough, we got to our hotel, and the desk clerk told us there were tornado warnings just outside Boston.  Whew!  Too close for comfort.  But it cleared up real quick.  Otherwise, the sun was out, the temperatures were comfortable, and all was fantastic.  We even got to see skywriters in the sky, five or six little planes spitting out plumes spelling 'Go Sox' over the city.

Coming back, we had to make our usual junk stops, get our funky flavors of pop and whatever.  We'd said we wouldn't get a lot, and wound up overfilling the trunk and half the backseat with Alexandra.  We laughed the whole trip though, and just had awesome family time.

So we get settled back in, in the middle of the week, and we spend the last few days at home before going back to work.  I signed on to social media places and saw a lot of drama going on, and thought, you know what?  I'm going to deactivate this stuff for the rest of my vacation, so I did.  With every intention to go back on, which I did.  Except that damn Twitter, which I just don't find interesting, despite giving it a second or third chance.  I find it impersonal and rather insincere, so I turfed it.  If you're among the very few that was my friend there, sorry about that.

There have been developments regarding my health, with regards to that last post I did here on Ragnar.  Turns out I'm not a hypochondriac after all, at least with my knee, as the surgeon I saw told me I do indeed have damage in there, a floating piece of my knee, that could end up getting lodged in the joint and locking up my leg.  Lots of pain involved in that I guess.  So he more or less said, get surgery done, or I'll be back one day at outpatients with doctors trying to unlock my knee, and then it'll just keep happening.  So surgery it is.  I guess the waiting list is very long... something like a year, but I agreed to be on the cancellation call list, so I could go in tomorrow for all I know.  I don't know what the recovery time is, but I'm assuming it's inside of a month?  We'll see when it happens I guess.   I remember my brother Rick getting his knee taken care of, and he wound up with a blood clot that kept him sidelined a lot longer.  Here's hoping I'm not as unlucky as he was.

In the meantime, the knee still hurts, I still limp, and the day before I left for my vacation, my knee actually gave at work, where I took a rather nasty tumble and cracked the back of my head on the hinge of a walk-in freezer door.  That didn't tickle.  I was lying there on the floor for about a minute before I picked myself up and went home, thankfully at the end of my shift.  Tylenol 3 was in order.

Alexandra has now officially graduated from her makeup artistry course, and is going to Fredericton Monday for an examination to get her license.  She'll have to do a few makeup jobs on a volunteer... in this case, her mom... to get her evaluation.  Obviously I'll stay behind.  I asked for the day off from my boss since I won't have the car so they can go.  Next time I pipe in here, I'll say how she did.  I've no doubt she'll do amazing.

Janice is doing good, still faithfully going to the gym, as do I.  She does a lot of extra cardio, though, and it's a struggle, because her multiple illnesses fight back at her battling to lose the extra lb's.  She's still not really fully recovered since the whole Bell's Palsy thing as far as getting the full effectiveness of her arthritic medication, being in considerable pain on a regular basis.  In spite of her illnesses, though, she never misses time at work.  Only when she suffered that bout of BP did she take time off, and she had to be told to.  Make no mistake, though.  Mess with her and she'll drop you like an Acme anvil on Wile E.Coyote.

As for me, I've got an appointment with an ENT in November, finally.  I haven't had a nosebleed since the last massive one last time I posted, thank God.  That doesn't mean things are fine.  I still get wicked sinus headaches, and I can't help but feel like my nose is a time bomb ready to go off any given night.  Still no word on a shrink appointment though, but all's good concerning those issues.

If something's really bothering me these days, that would be a friend of mine who recently got a diagnosis that she has a terminal illness.  We pray for her that something will happen to turn it around, and I don't believe in a no-win scenario when it comes to doctors anyway.  I've heard of way too many who bounce back from a dire prognosis.  But of course, it's heavy on my mind.

Before I sign off, I'd like to give shout-outs to those who I think might be reading....... my great friend Tim, whom I haven't see in a bit; Michelle, my lovely author buddy; another Michelle, going all the way back to '84; bros Rick and Pete, who both check in and see how things are at Ragnar every so often; of course, my lovely wife Janice; my good buddy Darren, whom I reconnected with not all that long ago, a friend since we were still in our single digits; and to everyone else that I don't know of that might be reading, thank you for checking in on me.  Your interest in my goings-on makes me feel quite loved.

Time to fire up the colortinis and watch the pictures as they fly through the air.

Good night.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Random Thoughts 8/4/14

It's been quite a while since I did one of these RT blogs.  It's a lazy last day of vacation, so I thought, why not.  

It's been a good summer.  Hot, humid, and not too wet.  We haven't really gotten away much to do anything, but that's okay.  We knew this would be a 'staycation' kind of a holiday, until we go to Boston in September, at least.  Alexandra took off last week for her 1 Direction show in Toronto and arrived back today safe and sound, Janice and me had a magnificent holiday, Crocky the cat is pretty much back to normal after another health scare, so all is right with the world.  Let's get on with it.

Had vivid dreams last night, and somewhat recurring, about being alone on the street at night lost in a dark city, looking for home.  I had this dream before Alexandra nearly got lost in Toronto Saturday night, so I doubt there's a correlation.  Janice told me I did some strange things in my sleep.  Needed an Atavan to calm me down and actually keep my eyes shut.  I take those maybe once every two months.

The wife and me watched the first season of 'Orange is the New Black' on Netflix over the last few days.  Excellent show, in that you can't really outguess what's going to happen next, which is the only thing that'll keep me watching anything anymore.  'Game of Thrones' is like that.  'Person of Interest' is another show we're discovering that we really like.  I clued into that one when I found out Jonathan Nolan, Chris Nolan's brother, is a producer on the show.  We're getting ready to binge-watch 'Homeland' season 3 next.  On the comedy side, nothing beats 'Big Bang Theory'.  Nothing!  We can watch and re-watch countless times every episode of that program.  It's become this millennium's comfort food.  Of course, the new standard for TV has been set by 'Breaking Bad', arguably the best TV art ever broadcast.  Its sequel, 'Better Call Saul', has a very high bar to jump.  We BB fans have very high hopes.

I still have a review page set up that I just haven't worked on yet, but I really have the itch to lately.  The reviews will be short and to the point, with the occasional essay on films, shows or products I feel especially passionate about.  The Gravy Pot is simmering, and I'll let you know when it's ready to be served.

Elections are coming.  Here in New Brunswick, we have a bright, shiny opportunity to erase the mistake that is/was David Alward's Progressive Conservatives.  They have done absolutely nothing right since taking over from the stumbling Liberals from the last election, and they sure bragged a lot at the time about toppling Shawn Graham's party after only being voted in once.  Turnabout is fair play, though.  To be fair, I'm no fan of the Liberals these days.  No party in Canada is more wishy-washy, federally or provincially, than they are.  I once liked the idea of Justin Trudeau as leader, but I find he's inept, unthoughtful, unwise, and unconvincing.  Stephen Harper, on the other in a category all by himself.  Canada is a shame on the world stage because of him and we have a lot of rebuilding to do when he's gone, not unlike when Dubya was president in the U.S. for eight years.  The most alarming thing about Canada is the lack of attention to our environmental concerns, which require immediate attention, and no party is serious about addressing this issue except the Green Party, who gets my vote provincially, and federally.  Elizabeth May is the smartest person in politics right now, and I think the other parties know it, and will never admit it, perhaps even scoff at the notion.  It would be argued that a vote for the Greens is a wasted vote.  I understand that reasoning, and I counter it.  I realize my vote for the Greens will most likely be a vote for the losing party, in both instances.  But every fledgling party grows from some starting point.  The Greens become more relevant with every year that passes, as environmental issues become worse and worse, with no one taking any serious measures to do anything about it.  I know the Greens will, because they stake their commitment to it in the name of the party itself.  They do not engage in dubious political posturing in the form of attack ads or condescending pulpit preaching like the other parties, and in my eyes, they deserve a chance to try to make things happen.  If the sudden influx of votes results in a few more seats in the House of Commons, even if it means no real leveraging power, it's a beginning.  It means the voice is getting louder, will be heard more, and the truth has a better chance of getting out.  To be blunt, the very existence of our species depends on the voices of people like those who make up the Greens, and if they can influence other parties, then all the better. 

We ventured out to see 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' last week at the theatre in Dieppe.  The bad:  I HATE those theatres.  I hate that they blast your ears into oblivion with outrageous sound levels that completely take me out of the movie and make me uncomfortable to be there.  When we saw 'The Dark Knight Rises' on opening night years ago, it was the same thing.  We went to see it again in Moncton where the sound was reasonable, and the mix was far better, and were amazed how much Dieppe ruins their movies with their irresponsibility at their sound adjustments.  I think we'll be taking an extended break from seeing movies in Dieppe.  The good:  'RotPotA' ought to be a candidate for Best Picture.  Beyond the shadow of a doubt.  This film was so well put together, with so much rich character development - including with the simians - that I'm convinced it can't be ignored by the stuffed shirts come awards time.  Amazing story, amazing acting, stunning visuals, and just a completely rewarding theatre movie experience.  

Ah, my Boston Red Sox are merely existing this year.  In the basement of the standings, that is.  From worst, to first, back to worst again.  I can't explain what happened, other than that they poured their hearts into everything they had after the Boston bombings last year.  The very same team sputtered out of the gate and have been spinning their wheels ever since this season.  But we Boston faithful will stand by and wait for them to power out of the darkness of the cellar once again.  

Janice and me have been doing the gym thing, still, quite faithfully now for months upon months.  Speaking for myself, I'm not a hell of a lot larger or stronger, but I feel good.  I can run a mile and a half on a treadmill in 15 minutes routinely, and get through a strenuous workout twice a week (our current program requires two workouts).  Janice is a machine.  She goes every single day, and on the days with no workouts, she does an hour of cardio and other things like ab stuff and stretching.  She's very determined to whittle herself down.  I encourage her to go every day, even though I myself do not.  I would if she wanted me to, though often headaches after work prevent me from doing a lot.

Speaking of which, I finally have an appointment with an ENT in October to perhaps address my sinus issues.  And another for my knee later this month.  Now it's just to see a phychiatrist, I doubt I'll get in to see one until 2016.  Seriously.  It's how the system is.  

I have an iPod on the way for me next week, which I'm pretty excited about.  Janice bought me one for Christmas last year, a 16G, and as I began to transfer all my CDs to my MacBook, I discovered upon trying to upload them to my new iPod that it isn't near big enough.  Not even close, in fact.  So I offered to give it to Janice, where she doesn't have as much music that she listens to.  She flat out refused that.  Enter Alexandra, who had a 64G iPod, with a broken viewscreen that she doesn't use anymore, especially where we gave her an iPhone for graduating.  She offered to give it to me, where Apple has a policy that if you send in your broken iPod, you can get a new one of the same model for a reduced price, in this case, $200.  Janice jumped at the chance of making that happen to get me this iPod, and it's on its way now.  She will then accept the one she originally bought me so that we all have something.  Everything works out!  I've been excited because now I'll get to have all my music on this iPod and get some good headphones and jam with it on my drums, which I've set up again and got a renewed interest in playing.  Also in teaching Alexandra.  

Ah, music.... there's just nothing new out there that excites me anymore.  I wind up just rediscovering old stuff that I used to listen to that I gave a break, and then get excited for it again.  I'll turn on our rock radio channel here to try to find something new that sounds good, and all I'll really get is the usual Steve Miller, Lynard Skynard, Eagles, Eric Clapton, etc.  You get it.  Sometimes if they play something new, it'll be something heavy with no heart or fun in it at all whatsoever that maybe a handful of people out there like.  It's why rock and roll and hard rock is in the toilet right now.  Nothing with conviction or feeling, or at least nothing that's getting played or getting attention.  There are lots of "pop punk" groups out there, which to me is an oxymoron; and emo crap.  They're in abundance here in Canada.  My rule of thumb with rock is, if you can't attract guys and girls both to your music, you are NOT rock and roll.  Period.  Rock is supposed to bring the masses together to have fun.

Not a whole lot more to write about at the moment right now.  We're sliding through August rather quickly, so savour the moments that we have, because winter's going to come along and screw it all up sooner than we like.  Happy thoughts!

Take care and see you on facebook, or Twitter, or wherever.