All victims, all loved

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Participants observe a minute of silence during a vigil honoring the victims of the Paris attacks at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun. 14NOV15

In the days since the attacks on Paris, I have watched my social media streams explode in two directions.

The one includes demonstrations of support for the victims. Messages of love and commiseration. Prayers for a peaceful future. Shared tears of loss, both physical and spiritual.

But while these messages may represent the majority in my social circle, there are others that I find disturbing. Others that by their tone and content seem all the larger.

I have been surprised and dismayed by the venoms of hate and anger that blots my timelines. Friends and family spewing abhorrent messages against Islam, against innocent refugees, against anyone who does not look or sound like them.

And although I am not the target of these comments—my timeline merely one poster board on which these messages are painted—they cause me pain. They trigger anger and even fear within me.  I want to lash out, to attack.

But I cannot.

These are not discussions of logic that can be ameliorated by a well-considered series of facts. And lashing out would accomplish nothing. Spewing venom on top of venom only makes the world more toxic.

Instead, I must respond with love.

At the same that I extend my arms to embrace my like-minded friends suffering in the aftermath of the insanity, so too must I embrace those who I feel are piling on to the tragedy, exacerbating the fear, the hate, the pain.

They too are uneasy and uncertain about the future. They too are confused and frightened about the prospect of these events unfolding again and closer to home. They too need comforting and a renewed sense of security.

While the words these people write and speak may be abhorrent to me, they themselves are not. And difficult as it may be at times, in the face of my own pain and fear, I must always remember that.

And so, I open my arms to everyone, and will myself take solace in the return embrace.

I truly believe that this is the only way.

Peace and love to you all.

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The Drive (a short story)

grouchy

“Are we there, yet?”

The phrase that irritated me for the thousand times a week it bore into the back of my head now haunts me.

It had taken forever for me to convince the boys to leave their seat belts alone, to keep their hands from compressing the buttons that stood between confinement and filial battle. And more than once, I found myself wishing that rather than cross their laps, the belts crossed their mouths, stilling the staccato tarantella that skipped across my brain.

Silently, I would curse my husband for wanting children so close in age; built-in playmates, he would argue as though siblings were naturally adept at civility and sharing. Never marry someone who was an only child, I would remind myself; too many delusions of a happy peaceful family to dispel.

“Are we there, yet?”

The words and whine a cattle prod to my ear drums, my head involuntarily snapping to one side, threatening to glance off the door frame, the open window insufficient to drown the drone from the back seat.

“Are we—“

“Has the car stopped moving?” I’d shout at the rear-view mirror as though it was the source of my agony rather than simply a reflection of what I’d left behind.

For a second—a glorious second—the car would go silent, but the silence was an illusion, a prelude to crises yet to come. Inquisitive urges not quelled so much as turned aside, as unsatisfied attention-seeking demanded to be slaked.

“Mo-o-om!” came the high-pitched cry.

“I’m not doing anything,” its wounded echo, pre-emptorially defending actions yet unchallenged.

“Enough,” I charged, confronting the miniature offenders with turned head.

The light was green, or at least that’s what the report said, as though the colour protected me from my guilt any better than it protected my car from the panel van approaching from the left; as though an absence of fault even approximates an absence of self-loathing anguish.

The car was a write-off, and after six months of my husband’s words telling me it wasn’t my fault while his eyes told another story, so was my marriage.

And now, sitting here in my wheelchair, all I can think of is “Are we there, yet?”

woman-in-wheelchair

Assumption of malevolence

Good

As I sat at a picnic table near the boardwalk along Lake Ontario, I watched parents pushing children in strollers, local residents walking dogs and chatting, and a squirrel accost me for my choice in sandwiches (seems he preferred nuts over chicken).

It wasn’t long, however, before the gentle peace of wind and waves was broken by an angry tone.

“Hey! Your dog left a package back here!” shouted a woman to people further along the boardwalk.

“Sorry?” came the gentle query.

“And let’s just say it’s a present I wouldn’t want to step in,” the angry woman shouted while mimicking the slide of sneaker on grass.

“He did?” the other woman questioned, turning back down the boardwalk.

“Yeah! You want to get back here and pick up after your dog,” the first woman barked. “It’s over there behind the bench.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see him do it.”

“Of course not! You were too busy talking to your friends,” the woman sniped as she stormed across the park to some other destination.

The dog owner reached the bench, and after a few moments of searching, bagged the offending substance and rejoined her friends.

Poop

I appreciate that dog dirt litters our parks and streets and beaches, and that the angry woman was fed up with this happening in her neighbourhood.

And based on the demeanour and response of the accused (woman, not the dog), I am confident that this was not a typical dump-and-run, but rather an innocent oversight.

Sadly, rather than assume any degree of innocence, the angry women immediately jumped to an assumption of malevolent or at least willful ignorance.

She could have approached dog owner calmly with “Excuse me, but your dog seems to have left something behind that you may not have seen.”

Instead, she attacked with a tone that suggested the dog owner herself left the steaming pile.

At least in North America, there seems to be a growing trend to assume malevolent intentions before acknowledging the possibility of innocent ignorance or unfortunate stupidity.

Are there malevolent self-centred people in the world? Certainly.

But should that be our default assumption about anyone who slights us or causes us discomfort?

If the answer is yes, then I want out of this society. It has become too angry for me and I have no desire to be victimized by it.

I wish both of the women in this story well.

Reading carefully: Tantrum Sex

So, it would appear that I misread the poster at the community center a couple of weeks ago.

Where I thought I was going attend a couples retreat on Eastern philosophies and practices, I had actually signed up for a weekend workshop on:

Introduction to Tantrum Sex

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Itinerary

09:00 – 10:00:             Blow your own stack!

10:15 – 11:15:             Snappy come backs and other hard-to-reach stains

11:15 – 12:30:             Spermicidal foaming at the mouth

12:30 – 02:00:             Lunch (everybody eats out)

02:00 – 03:00:             Tears as a lubricant…for pretty much everything

03:00 – 04:15:             Tearing a strip off while riding a brass pole

04:30 – 05:30:             Fits…and what to do if it doesn’t

 

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission…does that make you angry?)

Brothers by birth

Image

When we were young, my brothers and I were very close. The house was so small, we had little choice.

We moved a lot when we were kids, so we tended to see each other as playmates as much as anything, even though we were 5 and 5 years apart, me being the eldest. My brothers were constants in a sea of change.

At our youngest, spending time together was easy. Scott and I would use Shawn as cannon-fodder for any number of experiments, and he would respond as though it was great fun. The fact that Shawn did not die in childhood or does not suffer the after-effects of brain damage today is a testament to the strength and resiliency of the human skull.

As we got older, though, the strengths and directions of our individual personalities began to interfere with our genetic and social bond. I was the studious, overly verbose nerd. Scott was the quiet and reserved one; the observer. Shawn was the independent freedom fighter.

What were once common goals became more fractious, and as Shawn became older, he began to realize that his lot in life didn’t have to be guinea pig, and with his fiery temper, he in fact became a weapon of filial destruction. Only my decadal seniority kept him from killing Scott, who wasn’t always in my good books.

The genetic link continued to sever as we continued to age and each of us found less reason to spend time with the others. Our interests were different. Our needs were different. And our attitudes about the other two changed.

Around the time that I buggered off to college, Shawn’s rebellious streak took solid hold and he headed across the country to do his own thing. And Scott folded more into his own world.

In one way or another, we had effectively abandoned the family unit, and more important to my mother, the family unity. I can appreciate now how hard this must have been on her, but at the time, it all sounded like mom whining.

Over the next bunch of years, I think I saw Shawn twice…both weddings, one his. I saw Scott more regularly, but a lot of it felt forced as we would often meet at my mother’s place. I can only speak for me, but it felt like we were trying to maintain an illusion of what was.

There were good interactions between us. And I like to think there was still love. But there was no friendship. Genetics just wasn’t enough.

We parted company and lives. If asked, I am confident that any two thought the third was a complete asshole.

Time passes. We evolved and continue to become the men we need to be for ourselves. And from my perspective, something great has come out of that. We have been given a second chance at friendship.

As full-grown men with our own lives, interests and goals, we have chosen to welcome each other into our lives in one way or another. It is not the bond we shared in our youth, but I don’t know that any of us are too worried about that. (Shawn’s still too big and strong to let Scott and I pile drive him into the basement floor.)

The friendship I have with Shawn is different than the one I have with Scott, but both friendships are meetings of equals. One of the only bonds we seem to share as a trio, other than our familial link to our mother, is a neurological link to alcohol (damn, that’s one hell of a pub tab).

Shawn is the successful restaurateur, who is still the independent freedom fighter.

Scott is the dedicated family man, who is still the observer.

I am the raconteur, wit and writer, who is still the sexiest man in town (okay fine, the studious, overly verbose nerd).

But none of these descriptions is sufficient. We are simply the men that we are.

Shawn, Scott and I are brothers by birth, but we’re friends by choice. And that’s the way it should be.

Know when it’s over

Writing a screenplay or novel is a lot like being in a long-term relationship as you largely go through the same steps.

At first, you’re unfailingly passionate about your partner, flush with love for an incredible idea. You dive into her with a zeal you have never felt before and are certain you will never experience again. You embrace every inch of her, her very essence and when finally forced to surface, you just want to show everyone how happy you are.

As time goes on, however, the initial zeal diminishes, if not in scale, at least in monomaniacal focus. You become more comfortable with her. You spend more time contemplating her rather than just diving in. You are caring, loving, nurturing. And even if not everything proceeds as smoothly as it once did, those are just the little maturities that slip into life.

Eventually, you grow into each other. There is love, there is care, but it’s mellower, more set in its ways. She isn’t as all-consuming as she once was, but you’re both okay with that. You might spend time with other couples, sharing common bonds and then making fun of them on your way home. Life is good, it’s right, it’s comfortable.

Now, if you’re fortunate, this goes on for the rest of your time together. You mature with each other. You fulfill her needs until that fateful day when she passes on to the other side. You’re wistful, but satisfied that you had a good life together.

Not every couple is so fortunate, however.

Sometimes little inconsistencies or minor difficulties can inflate in importance. What was once just a tiny tic, becomes this really aggravating feature that just drives you up the wall. Oh, you try to work through it. You try to convince yourself it’s nothing, that you’re just being paranoid, but after a certain point, she just seems to do it all the time and damn it, on purpose.

You soon find yourself coming up with excuses to go out for a little bit to clear your head, but the moment you leave the house, you find your mind wandering off to sexier screenplay ideas. You’re fantasizing and you can’t help it. And damned if, the minute you walk back into the house, there she is, staring right at you like she can read your mind.

“What do you expect?” you scream. “You knew I was an artist when we started.” And she just lay there, letting you stew in your self-incriminating guilt. It’s the silence, the inertness that just gets under your skin.

If you’re lucky enough to calm down, you may decide that you just need a little time apart. Both of you. A little time to remember why you came together in the first place. A month, six months, a year later, maybe those petty little problems won’t be so big. Hell, you might even have found a way around them. But right now, you just need some space.

Time goes by and maybe you do get back together to solve your differences. But maybe you don’t. It’s tough, but you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on.

It’s okay. You’ll live. You can’t beat yourself up over it. You tried and it just didn’t work out.

You may not think it right now, but there’ll be others. You’ll try again and maybe that one will work out differently.

You didn’t fail. You’re not a bad person. It just wasn’t meant to be.

You have to know when it’s over…but nothing says you have to know any sooner than is absolutely necessary.

 

PS If screenplays and novels are long-term relationships, I guess that makes sketch comedy a quickie in the alley. No wonder they’re so much fun, but rarely fulfilling.

The phone call

Warble

Mounting tension, anxiety

Warble

Movement, lifting, listening

Enquiry

Commentary

Fire, pain

Denial

Heat, anger, accusation

Denial, response, anger

Profanity, wrath, threats

Pain, ire, disappointment

Accusation, fire

Denial, frustration

Heat, threat

A slam, a sob

Warble

Exhaustion

A macabre mask captures the anger and pain I overheard in the phone call. (Created by an incredible metal-working artist in Chilliwack, BC)

A macabre mask captures the anger and pain I overheard in the phone call. (Created by an incredible metal-working artist in Chilliwack, BC)