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A "different" choice, I suppose

I was walking in to work today, and met up with a colleague from across the floor.  I don't know her very well, but we're all very friendly folks.  So we started to chat a little bit and she tried to strike up a conversation.

"Did you watch the Oscars last night?"

I smiled, "No.  I don't have a TV."

She was a little stunned, and said, "Oh..." and then followed it up with a half-hearted compliment about that being very disciplined of me, and wondering whether I watched TV on the computer.

I smiled and shrugged, "It's not that important to me."

And we parted ways.

I remember as a kid being shocked that my grade 3 deskmate, David, didn't have a TV at home.  I asked my mother about it when I got home and I think she probably said something about different families making different choices, and that his family had chosen not to have TV, but that he does lots of other things, like reads Tin-Tin comics like I do (he introduced me to Tin-Tin comics, actually).  She is good at that.

Let's skip a few years where I would watch so much TV, I would feel sick afterwards.  That's a lot of TV...

When I got to university, my TV watching habits completely shifted.  In first year, I was completely broken of the habit of watching TV every night because I would have had to go down to the one common room in the residence that had a TV, and watch whatever someone else had put on.  So I mainly played video games on my novel T1 connection and experimented in the world of IRC and ICQ and internets.  In second year, the five of us who rented a house together didn't really want to have an additional bill, so we didn't bother with cable.  In third year, I lived with one other girl and she definitely wanted cable, so I split the bill with her, even though I didn't really watch it that much.  I was doing an overload of courses to try to get through my four year subject-of-specialization in three years, since I'd switched into it in second year.  I was coming home from class, having food and immediately sequestering myself in my room to do homework until 2am, at which point I would go to sleep, then wake up at 7am, drag myself into the shower and head back to campus for another day.  In fourth year, I lived alone and again, didn't care to pay a cable bill, so I opted not to watch much TV.  I was busy doing research for my Honours thesis, writing, doing homework and talking with my long distance boyfriend.

I can safely say that undergrad broke me of the TV habit.

When I was back home for that gap year between my undergrad and my Masters, I got hooked on Lost and a couple other shows.  So when I went back to school, I was able to take a small, rabbit-ears TV. I set it up in the living room and I watched my shows, for a while.  I would watch all the Law and Order series, CSI, Grey's Anatomy, but not Lost anymore because it had gone weird (and not in a good way).  But soon, the TV was sitting there unused as I had marking to do, lab teaching to prepare for, papers to write, research to do, and the occasional artistic outburst.  After I graduated and got a job, I sometimes kept the TV on (now in the kitchen where I was able to get reception), mostly watching the 6 o'clock news while making and eating dinner.  I saw some pretty fantastic shows on TVO (Tales from the Green Valley).

And then, the analog shutdown happened.  Only digital signals were being broadcast in my area.  And my little old TV was not up to the challenge, and I was too lazy (let's be honest) to go to the local electronics shop to get myself a digital receiver.  So the little old TV sat, unused again.  I didn't even have a DVD player - I was using my game console to play movies on the *other* TV which was a friend's cast-off (which I paid $100 for).  It was quite a monster itself.

Fast forward to when Subchunker moved in, and my electronics in the TV persuasion were recycled.  We had a lovely flat screen TV, far superior to anything I'd had.  And neither one of us was inclined to pay for cable again.  So we used the game console once more for any TV watching we wished to do.

Now, Subchunker has moved out.  And I am in no hurry to replace the TV and game console (mine died the Red Ring of Death).  I'm enjoying not having that option in my evening activities.  If I want to watch a movie, I can watch it on this machine that I'm blogging on (so far, I haven't).  However, I can also use this machine to blog, to game, to write, to research, to surf social media...

And this results in some fairly awkward TV-related conversations, where I smile blandly and try not to insult the person who is recounting a story to me, because it really *isn't* that important to me what's on the Amazing Race.  I'm busy doing other things.

To be known

In the end, I think a great number of people just want to be known.

This line of thinking was sparked by a confluence of events.  Talking with a friend about online dating, social media overload, reviewing my blogs and wondering about trimming some of the posts on this one, and pondering the ambition of my colleague.

When I think about it, what are the memes that get picked up and run with in the social media sphere?  For those who are not using social media for a specific purpose, you will find that many (myself included) have played on the "filling in a survey" meme.  This is not new, this happened with email in the 1990s, and message boards, and Truth Or Dare, etc.  There have always been the memes that encourage the "revealing" of oneself to an audience.  Facebook is a great example of people putting things out there - myself included.  Sharing inane details of their day, uplifting sayings, interesting news clips, things we find funny or amazing - putting that part of ourselves out there for someone else to see.

This is somewhat along the lines of online dating.  You fill in your profile with what you wish a potential suitor to see.  For some sites, you answer questions (a survey) to identify what you do and don't like, or your opinions, or your self-assessment and that gets compared with what potential suitors also answered.  You want the potential suitor to read your profile and be interested, amazed, attracted to the person and what personal details she's sharing, or hinting at.

Blogging - why do I write?  I did think about this years ago when I dared to start this blog (which apparently was in 2007, if anyone is counting).  Why did I want to put these words out there?  To allow some part of my thinking to be known by others - in this case, potentially by strangers.

And the ambition of my colleague?  He wants to be known and rewarded for being known.  He wants to climb, to get the status and the achievement for being in that higher position, for knowing information, for knowing people.  I don't begrudge him his ambition.  I don't share it. I thought I did at one point, but now, I'm reconsidering.

But what is behind this drive to be known?  Is it a part of our social psychology, to achieve some recognition amongst our tribe?  There are many arguments in sociology and psychology to indicate that one of our main drives is social acceptance and recognition within the tribe, and the desire to be envied.  Or is it ego?  That perennial villain who, according to certain philosophy, we should be attempting to obliterate - the one that derives satisfaction from the envy of others, running on the hamster wheel to always be chasing the biggest and best next thing.  Or is it so that we can see in someone's eyes (or in their "Like" on our survey) that moment of recognition and to assure ourselves that someone, somewhere, has noticed our existence, so if we blink out suddenly, someone noticed we were there?  Is it existential like that?  To know that we will at least be in someone else's memory for a few moments after ours fades.  I remember talking about leaving legacies with an ex-boyfriend years ago, and he wanted to leave a large impression on many people with his music and social commentary.  He was mystified by my wanting to at least impact one person's life with love, if I could.  To not have the ambition to go out and have my name in lights, rather to have a personal connection with a friend, family member or loved one.

Test:  Do you walk through city streets with your head up or down?  Do you make eye contact?  Do you smile?  Do you close yourself off from the tribe walking around you by plugging into your music?  Do you remain aloof to the other peons scrambling this way and that on the sidewalk around you?

Do you then post something to Facebook or Twitter?

In my sociology class in undergrad, my professor asserted that the rise of human interaction occurring through computers was inherently antisocial because it removed an essential part of the human interaction - the mistake making, talk to my face, it won't be perfect and I'll be vulnerable being face to face with you part.  Behind the computer facade, you can make sure your grammar is correct, sentences are well phrased (how many times have I hit the delete button in this one blog post? "No, that's not quite right... how about this phrasing instead?"), pictures are well chosen or insults are particularly well-crafted, so that you present a certain part of yourself.  You control what is known about you, rather than leaving it up to organic chance what impression might get left.  It is protection.  This lends to the Internet Dickwad Theory as well - the anonymity you have hiding behind the computer screen means that you can be as horrid and cruel as you can imagine with no repercussions.  You could make a name for yourself becoming the baddest badass troll, and still be able to go about your life day to day without worry about being recognized and potentially reaping the "rewards" for your behaviour.

But in the end, not everyone makes sure that they have impeccable grammar, or that they even write in full sentences in those surveys.  They share embarrassing details about themselves, ill-advised photos, toady to the boss a bit too obviously.  No one is perfect and it's really your imperfection that makes you who you are, not your perfection.  The suitor from the dating site isn't going to go ga-ga over your appropriately answered questions - he's going to appreciate that lopsided grin you have in that one decent "activity" photo you found, where you're on the horrible orange 1970s carpet with your dog.  Or she'll appreciate the goofy toque you're wearing, with its earflaps flying in the breeze as you walk into the grocery store.  And it isn't so bad to be known for being an accessible, fallible human.

Influenza

As someone who had the opportunity to research the flu pandemic of 1918-1919, it is not really that comforting to be diagnosed with actual influenza.  And prescribed Tamiflu.  Which, on the box, says "For stockpile use only".  Although it does make me kind of feel like I'm trying to be one of the survivors of the apocalyptic pandemic that will result in the crash of civilization.  Glad I've been working on my ninja-survivalist skillz... w00t archery...

Yes, so, influenza.  It is not the stomach flu (which is actually gastroenteritis and not a flu at all).  It is the whole-body-exhaustion, starts like cold, coughing incessantly - even to the point of waking myself up in the middle of the night to clear my lungs so I can breathe, lack of appetite, dizziness, wooziness, aching, useless, probably shouldn't be driving but how the hell am I supposed to get to the doctor or take my dog to the park so that I don't have to waste energy walking there but can use my energy for being there... Anyway, you get the picture.  From a medical standpoint, the symptoms are chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, coughing, weakness and/or fatigue.

It's the coughing that gets me, because then I recall things I researched and that freaks the hell out of me.  Like the accounts of doctors faced with influenza patients who suddenly developed "the most viscious [sic] type of pneumonia that has ever been seen" and later as cyanosis appeared "it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate", where the daily death rate was 25% of their patients and they were powerless to treat them (Starr, 1976; Grist, 1979).

Of course, I know that the flu pandemic happened before we knew about viruses really.  Microbiology was in its infancy and now we have antibiotics and antivirals (in fact, what I'm taking).  And I'm a biologist and can monitor my health and seek help if something is amiss.  I know that the flu can lead to pneumonia, either viral pneumonia or bacterial pneumonia.

But there's something about the rattling cough that is becoming more productive that I would prefer it just remain a really annoying and painful dry cough.  It may be because I also looked into recent research trying to explain the virulence of the 1918 flu - the target population that experienced the highest death rates were apparently healthy young adults between 15 and 40 years old, rather than the expected young children and elderly and immuno-compromised.  In fact, it was Starr (1976) who also noted a distressing level of mortality in pregnant young women.  Recent papers suggest it was due to the healthy immune system going into overdrive and harming the healthy tissues in the process.  A "cytokine storm", so to speak - which is a term that was coined previously and describes actually what your body does when you start to become sick.  The problem being that if this system doesn't turn off, then it can severely damage your own tissues as well.  Unfortunately, however, if the system doesn't keep fighting, you don't fight off the viral infection and you're still in danger.  Anywho...

It's apparently an H3N2 flu strain this time, which means that the H and N proteins are different than those found in H1N1 (which apparently was the 1918 flu).  But the good news is that the flu vaccine that they developed is actually protective this year because they picked the strains correctly.  The bad news is that I didn't take fifteen minutes out of my life to go and actually find a flu vaccine before I got sick.  So now, I'm generating my immunity the old fashioned way.

Go. Get. Your. Frickin'. Flu. Shot.



Grist, N.R. 1979. British Medical Journal. Pandemic influenza 1918 - Copy of an original letter found in Detroit in 1959, from Camp Devens, Mass., 29 September 1918.
Starr, I. 1976. Annals of Internal Medicine. Influenza in 1918: Recollections of the Epidemic in Philadelphia.

What do I want?

Subchunker has pitched me what should be an easy question, but in the end, it is turning out to be quite difficult to answer.

What do I want in life?

I don't know if it's just my current mental state that makes this difficult (feeling like there are too many things in the air) or if it's my natural inclination to try to see multiple possibilities, or if it stems from a long time of not really planning my future, but I am really having a difficult time identifying what I "want".

Maybe I don't "want" anything?  Or maybe I "want" vague ideas that can vanish like so much dream dust once the penetrating light of reality hits them.

I once thought that I wanted to live in a cabin in the woods, painting, raising kids, gardening and trying to make myself self-sufficient.  Don't ask me where I expected to get money to pay for this.  Oops, too late.  *poof*

Recently, I even went so far as to think that I wanted to live in a little war-time bungalow in the area near where I live now.  To try to find a middle ground between city living and some of the country living I thought I wanted.  That didn't work out.

I thought I wanted to be a scientist, but then when I worked in a lab, I found it to be one of the most soul-sucking experiences possible.  I actually had the vision of flinging myself out the window I was standing in front of, washing test tubes, and crashing to the pavement below.  I put down the test tubes and went back to the office to work on some statistics at that point, and shortly signed up to do a Master's degree (in science...)

I thought I wanted a house full of pets, but the reality of having other living organisms in your house who will never communicate on a human level means that you will forever have a non-communicative toddler wondering whether you're coming home this time.  And being anxious enough about it that she will try to self-soothe by eating things in the house.  Like a plastic massage ball.  Or a plunger.  Or a razor.  And that you will always be woken up at inappropriate times and you will never be able to reason with them that 2am is not the proper time to be trying to gain your attention.

And in going through all these thought processes, it makes me fear that I have been wrong my whole life, and that I don't have it in me to make an appropriate choice.  Hell, I just have to look at my dating history to see that.

Add to that, being a perfectionist.  I rationally know that nothing ever can be perfect, and that there will always be trade-offs (a cat purring and snuggling which causes happy emotions is traded off by the inappropriate midnight crazies that awaken one from much needed slumber).  But I cannot accept that I should not be striving for perfection in everything I do.  Food must be healthy and tasty.  Dog must be exercised and given attention.  Self must be living up to self's responsibilities and stimulating self's intellect and not being lazy and...

This reminds me of a couple of meditations I've done where my subconscious tried to give me a bit of a kick in the arse (imagine that being said by Liam Neeson, because I am).  One that said, "It would help if you actually liked yourself."  One that said, "Stop being so hard on yourself."  And more recently, one that said, "Suffering is optional.  Choose not to suffer.  Choose to love and be happy."  It also said, "There are no hard choices.  You choose to make them hard."

Which brings me back to "What do I want?"  I have to want something to make choices.  And I don't think I've let myself want anything in a while.  For the last few years, I've been healing from the loss of my father.  Even now, I can make myself cry if I remember how much I miss him and I wish I could talk to him.  Before that, I was too busy *doing* and filling my time with activities to really "want".  If I try to remember the last time I wanted something so much I could physically feel it, it was not something lofty or honourable.  I wanted to be with the fellow I remembered as my best friend - I wanted to be with an illusion.  I feel like all my life, all I've wanted are illusions.  I don't think I trust myself to want something that's achievable, or realistic.

What do I want?  I want to be happy.  I want Subchunker to be happy.  I want others to be happy doing what they should be doing.  I want my dog to be happy.  I want my cat to be happy.  I want my mother and sister to be happy.  I want to love, and I want that love to mean something.

And I can be happy.  This is like that psychological experiment where they showed that people who won the lottery and people who became paraplegics were back to about their regular level of happiness a year later.  Although I miss my father, I'm still happy.  I'm still living life and doing things, and enjoying what I'm doing.  I've adapted to my new normal of not having my father here.  I've adapted to the new normal of having a dog, whereas before I had more freedom.  But the dog is joyful and lives in the moment and reminds me that I can laugh at simple, silly things and it is still a true laugh.  And I met Subchunker, and it increased my happiness.  Before, I had been content with my life.  I was challenging myself and living.  

And now?  Now we're looking at the "rest of our lives" and I'm paralyzed with choice.  What do I value most?  Do I value escaping the city and living on a piece of land that may or may not have Internet access, where I will be able to grow vegetables and trees, and have a studio in a separate room from the litterbox.  Or do I value living close to amenities (grocery stores, museums, coffee shops, galleries), being able to make it into work without fear of dying in a car accident on an icy/ill-ploughed road, to be able to go out at the drop of a hat and be at a nice restaurant in under ten minutes?  Do I really want to live away from people that much?  Maybe it's just a "First World Problem" to have to decide something like this - I guess I'm so affluent, I get a choice.  I am not compelled to live here or there because I have the means to overcome what restrictions might dictate.  I try to remember back when I did live in the country, but that was a different time - I was a kid.  Different needs, different life styles.  Now my question is, do I want to be homeowner in the country, responsible for maintaining a house, ensuring my well water is potable, my property taxes are paid, and that I have the right tools to be self-sufficient because the store isn't a short two-minute car hop away?

How can I know this?  Or am I trying to hedge?  Am I trying to simulate the situation so that I am sure I'm making the "right" choice?

Let's not even approach the children question right now.

But maybe the crux of this entire post is just that.  There are no right choices.  You make a choice, and try it, and if it doesn't work out, you fix it.  And that's life.

And that there are no hard choices.  That I just choose to make them hard.

Cross-post : On prayer

I was inspired to write a more spirituality oriented post this week, and I've posted it on that blog.  If you're interested, you can go take a look:

On prayer - silvergryph

Thanks!

On the meaning of life

I've been in a very ruminative mood lately.  Lots of things to think about, and it is the time of year to do it.  The increasing dark and cold outside makes us want to curl up in our cozy dens and go inside ourselves.

So in one of my thinking moments, I started to think about the meaning of life.  This is a question that has been bouncing around in my head for about the past four years, ever since my dying father asked me what I thought the purpose of his life was.  It's not something I think most people take the time to think about until that moment, right at the end, when they're taking that tally of themselves and seeing what they missed out on.

Frankly, if you look at life from a scientific point of view, there really isn't any inherent "meaning".

As an organism, from a strictly scientific point of view, you had no choice but to come into being.  You didn't choose to be born - your parents (and the auspicious details of the inherent biology of it all) allowed an embryo to gestate to maturity, and emerge into the world with a minimum of complications.  The answer to "Why am I here?" falls somewhere in the range of "When a man and a woman love each other very much" to "When a man and a woman follow what is socially expected of them" to "When a man and a woman think that having children will save their relationship" to "When a woman thinks that having children with the man will make her stay with him" (or vice versa, to be fair) to "When a man and a woman get very drunk" to "Oops"...  All of these methods, and those in between, have been used for thousands of years to reproduce the human species.  So from that viewpoint, one cannot really derive a meaning to the life (unless it's to be bargaining chip, in which case, that's kind of crappy).

As a person grows up, they learn from those around them what is the "good life".  Like Tyler Durden said in the movie Fight Club, when discussing with his father how he's supposed to be an adult - "What do I do now, Dad?" "I don't know, get an education/a job/get married."  Many people assume that this is the template of how life works.  But if you think about it, it's only one of the many options that exist.  There are other options - the option of joining a spiritual order and remaining celibate and poor for the rest of your life; the option of not having kids; of freelancing and travelling the world; the option of checking out of society completely and becoming a homeless person; the option of becoming addicted to something and spending your time and energy constantly chasing that high.  There are many options to how to live a life - there are certain ones that are more socially acceptable, there are other ones that are socially rejected.  But I would suggest that your choice in how to live your life will be the key to determining the purpose of your life.

I would like to suggest that the purpose of your life is chosen entirely by you.  And can be actively chosen by you, regardless of what you think your fate is.  It just requires a little bit of work.

So, if someone should choose to live their life as a parent, then they are making the purpose of their life the raising of human beings to perpetuate the species.  Or are they?  Are they really making their life about having children?  Or are they making their life about the socially acceptable path of procreating?  So now society sees them as full-blooded adults, caring for young and participating in that culture.  Are they truly choosing to nurture, or are they craving the social acceptance of parenthood?  What about those parents who weren't creating life on the altruistic side of the scale - what if the children were created for some manipulative purpose?  Then that life choice and purpose isn't at all nurturing, the person has now made their life about controlling others.

On the flip side, if someone should choose to live their life without having children, the immediate expectation is that they are making their life about themselves, and that it is somehow selfish (in the negative sense of the term, not the descriptive sense).  But wait, isn't everyone's life about themselves?  If more of the parents described in the range of reasons to get pregnant above had considered this, I think there might be less need for psychotherapy in the world.  By all accounts, thanks to the rise of modern medicine, the human species is not going extinct - we're at 7 billion and change and growing by the second.  So, if someone does not believe that they are good parent material, for whatever reason, and they choose to make their purpose in life something else - whether it be altruistic or not, then that is what they are making their life.

Perhaps this is a very "affluent Westerner" viewpoint, but I think it is equally available to humans across the globe - we all inherently  have a choice about what we make our lives into.  It is this self-determination that sometimes terrifies people and makes them go running back to some easily identifiable template of a life, adopting it so they don't have to think too hard about it, and inevitably ends up leaving them somewhat content but maybe not entirely fulfilled.  Like Tyler Durden, you can't get adequate answers for the kind of life you should lead from other people.  Listen to your own truth inside of you.  You can discuss why others are choosing their life paths, but don't feel fear about the kind of life path that will actually fulfill you as a human being.  In the end, you are the one inside your own head, hearing all your thoughts, having had all your experiences.  You know what will really fulfill you as a human being, as an adult, as a man/woman, as yourself.

I think there's something noble in actively choosing what you want your life's purpose to be, rather than coasting along, participating shallowly in society and wondering if your mark will be left.  And your life's purpose does not have to be something lofty, some great ideal - although in considering the kind of purpose you wish to have in life, you may well gravitate towards that.  If your life's purpose is to support an ideal, as long as that fulfills you, then that's great.  If your life's purpose is to support a group of people, whether they be disadvantaged, seeking spiritual help, or creating music, for example, again - as long it is fulfills *you*, then that's fantastic.  If your life's purpose is to experience as much as you can, then go for it.

But choose.  Choose what you want your life to be.  Choose your purpose.  I don't care if you think it's divinely gifted to you, or if you have analysed all your options and settled on one - or more!  Create your life's purpose and strive for it.  Because at the end, when you look back and try to see what the purpose of your life has been, even if you didn't quite make it, it will be more satisfactory than the realization that you avoided having one all along.

From my perspective, I was able to confidently tell my father that I thought his life had been full of meaning, despite the perceived failures that had cropped up through his history.  And his life's purpose was so inspiring to me, I hope to follow in his footsteps.
A while ago, I wrote about how I checked my symptoms on WebMD one day when I was pretty sure I had a virus, and WebMD tried to tell me I had cancer and the plague... 

Well, they've updated their symptom checker, apparently.  And I'm a wuss.

I entered in some of my fairly nebulous and rather irritating symptoms that I've had over the last while - soreness, joint pain, muscle spasms in my hands, dizziness - and WebMD told me I had a virus.  Or the flu.  Or that I'd exercised.  *sigh*  Eff.  The next one down the list is low blood calcium (and with a smaller set of symptoms it suggested low potassium).  Both of these things I've thought of, and their helpful ways to fix that problem is to eat stuff I already eat all the time.  Jerks.

Oh, or I have PMS.

I didn't before, but I might consider it now.

I really shouldn't ever go see WebMD anymore.  They have *no* bedside manner.


Vignettes un autre fois

A few little things I've seen around in the past little while.

**********************

Doing yoga on the front lawn of Parliament Hill, in the back row with my colleagues, barely able to hear the instructor, and leaning into a lunge or something and looking up over the eastern roof next to the Peace Tower to see a large raptor circling.  As it banks, the sun shines off of the brilliant white head and tail of a bald eagle.  I point it out to my neighbouring colleague who passes the message along.  Amazing.  Only for that moment did the raptor grace us with its presence.

**********************

4:00 am... Pup whines urgently at the door and wakes me from my sleep for the second night in a row, as her meds are making her drink and process water in far greater volumes and with far more frequency than usual.  I look up into the dark sky to see crystalline stars, a planet - maybe Jupiter? - and the almost full moon beaming down on me.

**********************

At a red light with the pup in the back seat, tired from a hot playtime at the off leash park.  Windows rolled down to get the breeze through the car, and I hear a revving from the engine behind me.  I look into my rearview to see the top portion of a red pickup truck hood, the windshield and the grinning, Nascar-fan-esque scruffy sunglasses wearing face of the driver.  No, I'm not playing your game.  I leave the line at the same speed I would have gone without an aggressive driver taunting / bullying me and riding my ass.  I have my dog loose in the backseat, ya jerk.  Once the cars have spaced out in the lane beside me, he tears around and speeds on up to where the two lane becomes a one lane, pulling into the huge line of traffic only about six vehicles ahead of me.  Good riddance.

**********************

At another red light, same day, same situation except this time I didn't see the truck and it illegally flew through the turning lane and cut me off on the other side of the intersection where there IS ONLY ONE LANE ASSHOLE.  Driving, with a couch in the back of his truck.  Seriously, people?  Seriously??!

**********************

Driving back from the other dog park the day before.  I really like that park - it has far more trees and no stinky river to entice pups. Taking the long way home, enjoying the drive, and get past an intersection but hearing the sirens of a fire truck.  Looking left, I notice it motoring down the road towards me so I boot it to get out of the way.  And then it turns onto the street behind me.  I have enough of a head start to be able to choose the spot where I pull off - a nice extra wide section of the street, where I calmly turn on my indicator, pull over, and stop, and watch as the big truck comes up behind me.  An extra patterned horn blast as they go by my car - recognition of the far-in-advance courtesy or warning for me not to pull out? - and my fingers crossed on the steering wheel.  Then empty street and I'm able to continue to my next intersection... when I hear the second truck coming.  Luckily, the intersection is empty and I'm able to complete my turn and get the hell out of the way.  Again - "Good luck, guys" as they drive by.  I have seen a woman cross herself as a fire truck goes by.  I think a lot of people share the same sentiment.  I also wish all those anonymous bundled people on stretchers luck as they're loaded into an ambulance, or as an ambulance flies by.

**********************

Walking in silence with Subchunker and the pup, in the warm, breeze-filled night.  Feeling the rough climbing calluses on his hands, which I find masculine and comforting.  Nose and lungs filling with sweet air, warm, tree-laden, river-scented, humid and thick. High clouds obscuring all but the brightest stars and the partial moon looking rusty.  Why doesn't the dog do this?

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Shadows creeping into the morning light walk-time.  Darker, dimmer - sun rising later.  The world keeps orbiting and we are approaching the dark half of the year.  It has been a very bright light half of the year, with lots of fire and sun and dry and crispiness. 

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Walking in the rain, pup's ears held Yoda-style - out to the side to prevent water from getting into them.  This is the hurricane, dragging southern water into the dry north, moistening our parched soil, washing us with honest rain.  And still people complain that it is raining.  Our society is too out of touch with what our ecosystem actually needs to survive.

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Yoga mat in position.  Timer clicked over post-dinner.  Cat flaked out at the foot of the mat.  Pup at the head, looking partially sleepy, partially confused.  Stand with your feet hip distance apart.  Breathe.  Hands together over the heart centre.  Inhale, raise your arms overhead.  Exhale, hands back together over the heart.  Move into the poses.  Wide leg forward bend - hello kitty, muah.  Brave warrior.  Focus and release - no tension, but tension - balance the movement with the release.  Look at the paintings on the wall with soft eyes.  Don't notice what you might do to fix that one.  Focus on the movement-counter-movement-stillness.  Warrior 1.  Don't trip over the cat, who is helping by making sure you cannot return to mountain pose - the space between my feet the perfect width for her to enjoy her own moment on the very comfortable yoga mat.  Pup's arms make in onto the top of the mat.  Lunge.  Cat crossed under the bridge - hello.  Side stretch - how boring, flicks the cat - humph, says the pup.  And then roll the cat off the foot of the mat for baby cobra. Meh! she says as I touch her.  Turn over for bridge pose.  Vertical shins, feet pressed into the floor lifting the thighs and buttocks off the mat, shoulder blades tucked down, a straight line from shoulder to knee.  Stuffed soccer ball bounces off my face because it's a fun dog toy.  Never turn your head in bridge pose... Knees up, twist.  And while I'm at it, why don't I provide a convenient neck rub for the dog face right beside mine.  Twist sitting up, interesting sensations along the small muscles covering my ribcage.  Perhaps I should breathe more.  Staff pose and seated forward bend.  Apparently my feet are delicious as the pup proceeds to lick them as I try to do a forward bend.  Then relaxation pose.  With a pup crawling under the coffee table, nosing the stuffed soccer ball into my hand, and a cat tail missing my face by millimetres as she contently is happy and about to bite me, again.  Stay in relaxation pose for as long as I want.  Sure... This is pet-assisted yoga.

Pup walk, dog park, rant.

I've been off work, ill, for two days.  Yesterday, Subchunker came with me for my walk of the dog, and it really did exhaust me (as he found me on the floor while making spaghetti sauce a short time later - sitting and trying to rally some more energy to finish chopping celery).

Today, however, I'm feeling better and Subchunker went rock climbing.  So I took the pup for her walk after he left, after a light dinner of a Tofurkey slice sandwich and cut veggies.  I was only going to do an easy path walk, but as we approached the intersection of Island Park and Byron, I decided to go to Hampton Park again.

I say "again" because I have been avoiding the park as of late.  I received a warning from an National Capital Commission (NCC) conservation officer not too long ago for having the dog off leash.  It was when our friends were visiting from Toronto, and we were co-walking as we used to do.  Although my pup and their pup don't play the way they once did - I think my pup may have hurt or scared theirs at some point, so now theirs doesn't want to play like that anymore - wrestling and running and gnawing on each other.

Shortly after our warning, I made the decision to avoid the park for a little while.  That way I wouldn't be tempted to let her run through the trees of the forest, as she loves to do (and I love to do).  Our one friend stayed in Ottawa to do a little contracting work, and kept their dog here, and received a ticket and a year-long ban from the park during another visit.

And this is what I observed happening tonight.  Two conservation officers and two RCMP officers, one middle-aged mother of a ten-year old girl who was sent off with the dog (on leash) (warning everyone she saw to keep their dogs on leash) while the mother dealt with the authority.  Another man, unrelated to her I think, who I met on the other side of the park with his cute slender dog, standing backup with his dog on leash.  Me, standing and observing (and wanting to ask a question but knowing it wasn't the right time) with my dog on leash and lying on the ground, chillin'.  Other dog owners coming through, asking what was going on.  The mother was speaking calmly, but confidently, to the RCMP officer, arguing her case.  The conservation officers had their papers out.  The other RCMP officer was sitting in the stealth car, on the pathway in the park.

I had seen the NCC pickup truck in the Island Park parking lot as I walked up Island Park towards the off leash area.  I wasn't going to let the dog off leash anywhere but there anyway, but this made me a bit more paranoid cautious - trying to make sure she wouldn't accidentally be off leash in an on leash area - playing far back in the off leash field, almost against the 417 embankment, just to be sure.  When I'd decided to keep going, I'd leashed her in the back of the field and walked the perimeter of the forest, far away from the City playground - where I encountered the 10-year old girl who told me stridently (and I think was scared) to keep my dog on the leash because there were conservation officers back there with her mom.

Now, let's be clear here.  We *all* know that there are bylaws in place requiring us to keep our dogs on leash except in clearly marked "off leash" areas.  Conservation officers have the authority to enforce these bylaws.  We *choose* not to keep our dogs on leash. For whatever reason -- because we have assessed that our dogs are "good" and "under control"; that they need exercise they wouldn't otherwise get if just walking beside us; that the likelihood of being levied a fine is low enough to risk having the dog off leash; that everyone else is doing it therefore it must be okay...  It's a choice, not a right.  These bylaws have been agreed upon to keep the balance in society - dog owners, cyclists, joggers, parents with children, walkers, etc.  We all benefit from bylaws keeping our comfort and peace "enforced".

So, as much as I get flustered by the thought of crossing authority, having an authority tell me that I've done a wrong, I still think that, if you are knowingly breaking a law (whether it be speeding, stealing, or anything else), the honourable thing to do is to accept your lumps.  This is the risk you took, these are the consequences.

One other thing - despite the fact that you "don't have to" give your identification to an NCC conservation officer, they are backed up by the RCMP.  They are asking for your identification so they can issue a ticket, so is it really worth your while to argue?  Is it worth it to have the RCMP show up, force you to comply, and then receive your ticket?  Chances are good that the reason this escalates is because of the lack of respect being shown to the conservation officers.  And anyway - do you have a problem giving your ID to a bouncer to get into a bar?  How about to the guy at the LCBO so you can buy your wine?  Or to the guy at the car rental place so you can rent your car?  Or any other person you "don't have to" give your ID to...  The difference?  They are not figures of authority, and I think we all, deep within us, have a tiny problem with authority.

I can't tell you how embarrassed I was the day I watched someone's dog chase a terrified boy around his car, barking, while he was crying and trying desperately to escape.  I have no idea where the dog owner was, and it was at that moment that I wanted to distance myself from the group of self-important dog people who had no idea what it was to be a responsible dog owner.  If that dog had bitten that child, guaranteed that the afternoon dog swim would be cancelled, and the City part of the park would be a "No Dogs" area.  The dog itself would have been put down.  All because someone was too busy having their conversation and not paying attention to what their dog was doing - but surely their dog is "good" and "under control" and that's why they can have their dog off leash.

One of the other owners that goes to the Park is going through the courses to be a dog trainer.  I watch her as she looks so sad and distressed by how some of the people are treating their dogs.  She told me once, when I was having trouble maintaining my dog's attention, that bringing the dog to the park, only to walk around talking to my friends was sort of like inviting my friend to a party and then ignoring her because I was talking to the other party-goers.  It was after that that I tried a different tack to my dog walks - they were about me and the pup, having an outdoor adventure.  She still has to listen to my rules, I'm the one in charge of the walk, but it's the two of us doing it.  I would still do the co-walks with my friends, but I tried to maintain contact with my pup more often.  This has strengthened the bond between my pup and me.  And I benefit from it when I take her to the big off leash parks like Bruce Pit because she's always turning to check where I am, what my commands are, which way we're going and if I have a treat for her.

All that to say, I've gone looking for more easily accessible off leash parks, and I don't know that they exist within a reasonable drive during rush hour at the end of the day.  Unfortunately.  So the pup will just have to make do with the on leash walk and small off leash area runs, and get to do the all-out sprints on the weekend when we can get to Bruce Pit or elsewhere.

Let there be reason...

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." - post made by an old friend to his diocese on Facebook, from facebook.com/StopPlayingChurch

(The sidebar notes "We acknowledge that this is a general statement and that there are not statistics to back up this claim.  However, we hear this a lot from our atheist members.  It is our hope that we can begin to change this perception - or at least begin the conversation. [...]  By Christians Tired of being Misrepresented")

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this afternoon and stumbled upon this post by an old friend.  He was not someone I would have pegged to become a priest, but he did.  He actually gave me one of the most interesting explanations of anyone I've known to the question of "Why did you choose this job?" Although I suppose in his case it's more of a vocation.

Anyway, I read the little picture and thought little about it.  But then I actually did think about it, and it struck me as not a valid logical statement.

I would suggest that very few true atheists are atheist because of one or even many Christians' hypocrisy.  In fact, I suggest that other people have very little to do with someone's loss of a concept of deity in the world.  At least, not in that way.

If anything would happen through the observation of hypocrisy, I think it would be the leaving of a church or community, distancing oneself from that group of people who are silently accepting that hypocrisy and perpetuating it.  I find it difficult to believe that someone would up and say, "Oh, Martha is an embezzling, gambling gossip and unChristian - that's it, I'm giving up on God if He can allow a woman like that not to immediately burn in Hell for her behaviour."  One could consider that kind of a reaction a bit much, and potentially the person wasn't all that attached to their Christianity anyway.  But the real measured response would be to leave that group and seek out a community of more like-minded spiritual folks who one could agree with.

The next step is potentially to become agnostic.  This is far more likely to occur in observing the hypocrisy of religious types resulting in some suffering or racism/sexism/etc., or potentially due to watching the news and seeing all the horrible things going on in the world, or personally suffering some great loss or calamity.  It sparks questioning, soul-searching, anger against the deity in question.  How could a God that is supposed to be all about love allow so much suffering in his children?  How can His plan involve the murder of innocents, of loved ones, of the millions of people who die through disease and famine?  Even the most steadfast in their faith must question when something bad happens.  When, say, a priest is found to have assaulted some children, and the church covers it up.  That's when one could drift not just from the bosom of Mother Church, but from the teachings themselves.  Something doesn't add up, they say.  I believe there must be something, but I don't know that it can be what is described in this book.  Or if they just find an essential schism in the philosophy that develops over time, with experience.  They still retain a vague concept of deity, but they don't identify with the Christian teachings any more (or insert any other religion here - I'm simply using Christian as an example because it was the premise of this discussion).

The final step to true atheism comes from inside a person.  Atheism is no belief in any form of deity.  None.  There is the Earth, revolving around the Sun, in a manner that can be described by astrophysicists.  There is life continuing due to oxygen inhalation, food consumption, blood pumping and neurons firing.  And then, when these processes cease, there is nothing.  Nothing mystical, no continuation of the soul (or ego), no ghosts, no spirits, no angels, no Heaven, no Judgment, no Hell.  This sort of a change in mindset from Christian has to happen because the person themselves loses or divests themselves of the belief in deity.  Somehow they have reached a point where they do not need to believe in a deity, in some guiding force, in order to be able to make sense of the world.  This is kind of a big deal, as far as someone's personal philosophy is concerned.  And to belittle it by saying that it comes about because someone observed Christians being hypocritical?  Give me a break.  

Also, by assuming that someone divests themselves of a concept of deity due to the observation of hypocrisy, one infers that they can regain it by observing good Christian behaviour.  And not just regain their belief in deity, but regain their belief in the "One True God", the Commandments and all that.  And frankly, that's just insulting.  And a little egotistical on the Christians' behalf.  Sure, the atheist could be fantastically impressed by someone living by the Christian virtues vaunted in the Bible.  But I find it hard to believe that a real atheist, not just someone professing a lack of belief in God because they are currently in a fight with God (hint - if they're in a fight with God, they still believe that there's a God to have a fight with), would do anything but applaud someone for being a decent human being and looking out for their fellow human.

So, you know how I would change the statement that began this post?  Like this:

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is people thinking critically about their religious beliefs and finding that they do not measure up to how they observe the world to work.  It's not the hypocrisy, and it's not the community of the church or the management of the church.  It comes from within the people themselves, and they will be hard-pressed to return to an unquestioning or even a questioning belief simply because you're a better Christian.  And frankly, that's a terrible reason for someone to practice their religion better anyway."

And that is what a believer simply finds unbelievable.

(cross-posted to my other blog as well)