Several weeks of being grossly distracted by other things have come and gone. In my absence, new life germinated in some literary world of my own devising I temporarily abandoned. The intricacies of that world were the same ones they were before. They were merely re-experienced with a beginner’s mind. A mind that had just finished unlearning what it had learned.
Well, this has been a craptacular year for me personally. It had a few highlights and memorable moments. Every year usually does. I’ll get to the highlights later on in this post, I promise. But there were a lot of lows too. Some lows a little lower than usual.
It started off with the death of my mother, which most would agree is not the best way to kick off the new year. I spent much of the rest of the year attempting to join the military – a life decision my mother would have been deadset against if she were still with us. Her whole life was defined by fear. Fear was to her worldview what flour is to bread. I think I’ve eaten enough sandwiches made with that kind of bread in my day. We all remember what a certain legendary sage told us a full two decades ago about this very topic. Funny thing is, he wasn’t kidding…
My mother had a very strict happy-clappy evangelical (Baptist) upbringing. Immersed from birth in a profoundly toxic religious doctrine whose very bread and butter is tinfoilhattery, alarmist hysteria and morbidly irrational phobias concerning things that are demonstrably not worth losing sleep over in light of hard statistics and scientific fact. An anti-vaxxer among religions.
True to the sickly subculture in which she was raised, she lived her life in a near-constant state of anxiety. Sober rational thought untainted by emotion or personal passions was for the most part an alien concept to her. I could never engage in any rugged outdoorsy activities such as hiking without being forced to listen to some inane diatribe afterwards about how hiking is so dangerous (“You’ll get eaten by bears!”). During my teenage years, dating anyone who was not of unsullied European extraction was all but forbidden, as was befriending anyone who was Anishinaabe or openly gay. My mother saw people of cultural backgrounds different from her own (non-Christians or cultures with no historical association with Christendom, especially) as nihilistic savages with no reverence for life or any moral compass, and “practicing” homosexuals as sexual predators, without exception. Some big-haired fire-and-damnation preacher on TV who porked hookers and fleeced old ladies out of their life savings said so, and and he was undeniably a Man of God† because he shared my mother’s contempt for heavy metal music, so why would he ever lie? Speaking of heavy metal, my Judas Priest albums were self-righteously thrown in the garbage until I graduated high school and moved out on my own, because my mother gullibly fell for the 1980s Satanic Panic and all that bullshit about subliminal messages. Hook, line and sinker. Never renounced belief in that bullshit even decades after the rest of civilization had long since done so. Like a musical flat-earther. She forbade my brother and I from playing with cap guns as kids, because she actually believed such toys were capable of causing serious injury or death. Who needs evidence or facts when you’ve got Mother’s Instinct?
I always got that feeling that my safety was way more important to my mother than my happiness. As long as I was encaged in several layers of bubble wrap at all times and was never placed in any situation where anything could possibly hurt me, all was right with the world. I was desperately miserable underneath all those layers, but that didn’t matter. I was safe. Nothing could hurt me. Nothing at all. So you can imagine what her reaction would’ve been to the idea of me going off somewhere to be trained in the use of military-grade weapons. She would’ve instantly turned white as a sheet. All her hair would’ve fallen out, her days thenceforth being spent drooling and mumbling incoherently, attempting to sever her own limbs with a rusty old hacksaw.
† For those of you who don’t happen to be fluent in Happyclappese, the term “Man of God” translates to someone who faithfully toes the party line and hates all the right people. Things like empathy or loving thy neighbour or turning the other cheek are not necessary to be a Man of God. In fact, that sort of thing is outright discouraged. Toeing the party line and hating the right people are way more important, by a long shot. If you’re a suithiestic serial rapist who cheated on your third (trophy) wife with a porn star whose silence you subsequently tried to buy, that’s no big whoop. You still get to be a Man of God as long as you’re a stark-raving loutish bigot out to take on the so-called Homosexual Steamroller. Locking kids in cages? Meh. Big deal. That’s perfectly sane social policy as long as it happens under the watch of a Man of God who shares our dearly held respect-worthy conviction passed down from our malnourished disease-ridden Bronze Age forefathers that homosexuals are a lower form of life than termites. Blatant racism and antisemitism? Misogyny, misogyny and more misogyny? Behaviour more appropriate for a three-year-old than a seventy-three-year-old? Glaringly obvious signs of mental disorder? It’s all good. Hell, we’d be perfectly cool with armbands and public beheadings. As long as you’re a Man of God working towards the righteous cause of depriving homosexuals of the right to breathe oxygen, none of that shit is any cause for alarm whatsoever. Nosiree, Bob. If you’re on our side, there’s no possible low you can’t sink to. You could cut open babies and eat their raw entrails on live television and we’d gladly look the other way. But if you’re not on our side and don’t believe homosexuals are the spawn of Satan and happen to favour outlawing at least some forms of discrimination against them, then using a cigar as a sexual prop with a willing (albeit extramarital) participant is cause for unfettered moral outrage. Pathological homophobia is the foundation on which our whole faith is built! Lord have mercy on us if future generations inherit a world where homosexuals are entitled to the same rights as everybody else! Who in their right mind would want to live in a world like that? The horror!
My mother didn’t mellow out with age. In fact, the older she got, the more irrational she became. In her final years, she wore a permanent scowl. A facial expression that said: I hate everything that moves and want the whole world to die!!! Not just saying it, but shouting it high on the mountain with a voice of triumph. Her own grandchildren could see it. They would ask her questions like: “Grandma, why do you always look so sad?” A question that would be brushed under the rug, never to be answered. Probably a good thing, too. The answer had something to do with immigrants.
All that crippling fear didn’t exactly do wonders for my mother’s health. That should go without saying. She ended up predeceasing her own mother by eleven months. Funny how shit that happens to you when you’re young has a way of fucking you up for life.
If there’s a silver lining to all of this, the Universe has granted me Her blessing to live out the rest of my life completely guilt-free and shame-free. A few short years ago, I had a ball and chain on each ankle. But today, I find myself unshackled at long last. Over ninety-nine percent of the guilt and shame that plagued my existence was force-fed to me by a mere two people, both of whom are now worm chow. My mother died exactly a year and two days after the expiration date of the other depressing ball and chain in my life. More on that in a bit. But first, the good stuff.
In that new spirit of fearlessness, I enlisted to join the military. A decision I know I will never have any regrets about for as long as I live. Just the experience of applying was a gas and a half. I paid several personal visits to an Army training facility, at one point spending an entire morning there. The atmosphere of the place was electric. Something about the facility spoke directly to the inner cockles of my heart, saying: Hi, there. We’re the military and we kick ass. Pleased to meet you. In the midst of all that kickassitude, I underwent several aptitude tests. They would test me on my mathematical skills and vocabulary and my ability to spell words correctly. That part of the test was a slam dunk for me, of course. The recruiting sergeant mentioned as much when he debriefed me on the test results. I even did well on the part of the test where they had me lifting sandbags, and those weigh fifty pounds each.
Alas, my aspirations to serve queen and country ultimately didn’t pan out. I received a letter from National Defence a few weeks ago telling me that my application had been rejected, for medical reasons. Ottawa raised concerns of a preexisting condition that could potentially be exacerbated by the rigours of military life. So I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me then. There were a couple of positive takeaways from the experience, though. One, it deepened my respect for the military and what they do. I always did have that respect. You can’t do any work for the NATO Association for any length of time and not have that respect. But the experience of going to that facility and taking those tests bumped up that level of respect a few notches, without a doubt. Secondly, I can now say with absolute certainty that the ghost of my former boss no longer has any business haunting me.
Ellis Kirkland was in many ways the polar opposite of my mother. Urban. Worldly. Articulate. Well-read. Well-educated. Catholic. Extremely adverse to any form of racism or homophobia. Never spoke ill of religions that were not her own (with the possible exception of Scientology), and in fact was romantically involved with a Hindu throughout most of my tenure in her employ. She had a completely different set of fears than my mother did, but most markedly absent was my mother’s fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. The scant traces of hayseed that stuck with me into the early years of my adulthood were beaten out of me with violent gusto when I started working for Ellis, to such an extent that my brain has been completely rewired and I can never really go back to being the guy my parents raised me to be. These days, I find the political discourse at family gatherings repugnant and infuriating. Embarrassing, even. There used to be a time when racist ways of thinking were as much a part of my daily reality as the air I breathe. I didn’t necessarily indulge or agree with such sentiments. But many people I knew were overtly racist, and I oft found myself forgiving and tolerating their racism for the sake of keeping the peace and maintaining good relations. Those days are long gone. Now, racism just makes me violently ill.
In stark contrast to my mother, Ellis had no qualms whatsoever about putting me in harm’s way. I was one of only a handful of members of the staff who had never served in the armed forces of any country. I was therefore a pussy. Ellis would actually call me a pussy to my face. On multiple occasions. Her attitude was that service in the military was some kind of ultimate measure of manhood. If you had never served in the military, you were a boy. Not a man. Even after she died, I could still hear her voice calling me a pussy somewhere in the back alleys of my mind. It would curse at me throughout my one semester at Fanshawe College – a semester of Spinal Tap-like proportions. After Fanshawe I decided to enlist in the military just to shut that voice up. I didn’t get in, but I honestly gave it my best shot. Haven’t heard much from that old ghost since. In the end, that’s what really matters.
While awaiting word from Ottawa, I spent some quality time up north, navigating forest-encrusted waters in this humble vessel…
…and finally finished all that meticulous editing to the first act of SILVER BROWN. Something I’m personally proud of. It’s amazing how far this book has come since I first started working on it.
When I write, I never throw away any of my early drafts. Instead, I let them collect in a special folder squirreled away somewhere on my laptop, so I know where to look if I ever need to resurrect or recycle an excised passage. I dug up one of those early drafts a number of months ago, just for shits and giggles. What I saw was a manuscript so radically different from the project I’m currently working on that it’s barely recognizable as the same book. You can definitely see where I was trying to be George Orwell. Now it’s almost comical how my original vision for this project was that it would be an “important” book. A work of Nobel Prize calibre. Something that would be studied in high school English classes for generations to come as an exemplar of highbrow literature, like John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. That vision would gradually be abandoned when composing such a work proved to be easier said than done. After numerous edits and rewrites, it would evolve into something more lighthearted and satirical. People who have read SILVER BROWN tell me it’s “entertaining”. That’s hardly an adjective I would use to describe the books my teachers made me read in high school. I consider that a win.
Another area where 2019 notably did not suck for me was on the sports pages. One of the few things on TV that’s still worth watching, methinks. I could care less about keeping up with any real housewives and don’t give a rat’s ass who gets the final rose. That bullshit dumbed down the whole culture and paved the way for Emperor Cheeto to enter the White House. If that’s not reason enough to despise it, I don’t know what is. Give me a good hockey game over that nauseating reality TV drivel any day.
Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs were underwhelming as always. As were the Jays. I think I summed up the Jays’ season nicely with this tweet from last week…
…but baseball and hockey aside, there was very little mediocrity to be had. We were treated to a whole trifecta of crowning moments of awesome. First, this happened…
Later on that summer, Bianca Andreescu. Her year ended on a bummer note, what with the whole knee injury and all. But defeating Serena Williams to win that fancy-ass Grand Slam trophy is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Well done, young lady.
A couple of months after that, the year’s biggest crowning moment of awesome yet. At least for me, personally. The Blue Bombers WON THE MOTHERFUCKING GREY CUP!!!
A part of me was hesitant to press the publish button on that last blog post I wrote about one of my characters, because the experience of writing it reminded me of certain cringe-worthy moments of yesteryear, when I would bring my stuffed animals to school for show and tell at the age of five. In the end, I pressed the publish button anyway. The very fact that it is like being back in kindergarten again is precisely the point. It’s all part of the effort to tear down the house that ego built. To unlearn what you have learned, as a certain little green man would put it…
With all the chaos going on in the world today, it’s imperative to have something in your life which facilitates the renewal of your beginner’s mind. I’ve seen up close what happens when you don’t have that something. For twelve years, I worked for a woman who devoted her life to trying to kill her inner child. The quintessential example of a Type-A personality, to put it mildly. In the world according to her, any personal habit, activity or ritual which even remotely resembled a hobby or a daily zazen practice was a complete waste of time, and if it was a waste of your time, then by extension it was automatically a waste of hers.
Granted, she was a leading expert in the field of critical infrastructure. I’ll give her that. She was very good at what she did; I wouldn’t have chosen to work with her for as long as I did if she wasn’t. But in the sixty-two years the Fates allotted her on this earth, she learned absolutely nothing about introspection. She was repulsed by the very concept of introspection; it was her garlic. So pathological was that repulsion that any attempt on anyone’s part to school her anything about introspection was met with unbridled hostility. Anyone at all. I once overheard her, at fifty-four years of age, telling her own mother to “shut the fuck up”.
Tearing down the house that ego built was simply not part of her DNA. She was more the type of person who would move into that house as opposed to tearing it down. Not only that, but she would go the whole hog festooning it with priceless works of art, a marble jacuzzi, a wide moat inhabited by ravenous salties and piranhas, and a resident butler whose legal status within the the country was sketchy and could be threatened with deportation if the lady of the manor was at all unsatisfied with his work. Sometime while she was in the midst of angrily barking orders into a megaphone at the contractors who were given the thankless task of building that house, she turned into this…
This should almost go without saying, but she was never the author of any book. In spite of multiple former colleagues suggesting that she ought to pen and publish her memoirs, she could never be arsed with any of that. It was waste of her precious time. She was too busy ruling the world. Not to mention writing such a tome would involve all that icky introspection stuff on her part. Bleck! Pewey! She didn’t even write her own social media posts, because she was way too good for that. That was something she could hire people to do for her.