I don’t know even how to put this into words. It seems that so often, people write as if words are free. Yes, they are simple characters meant to represent aspects of reality like thoughts and objects, but throwing out them out haphazardly to form messy strings of sentences, lacking any grammar or tact or wit or forethought, is absurd. And sad.
Were bricks for building houses used with the same carelessness, (stacked and held together at random and without thought or plan), the foundation would surely crumble. We would look at that heap of miscellaneous bricks, and laugh, or mock, or stare at incredulously and think: What a piece of shit.
Words are precious. Words have meaning. And right now it’s difficult to connect them to the complexity of life around me. You see, writing is healing, but not in the sense you would think. It is not an ointment. It is not a bandage. It is the scalpel that carves the infection out of a wound left by grief, or hatred, or abuse, or fear. Blood happens. Pain happens. But eventually, in time, healing happens.
Even from a very early age, I have felt the burden of compassion. The word compassion is from two Latin roots: “cum” and “patior”, literally meaning: “with suffering”. I never understood it at first, that a) my mother’s compassion came through years of suffering and grief, and b) how much it shaped me.
The first incidence happened when I was still a teenager. 13. My papa: dead. The layers of compression from being picked on at school and self-doubt erupted into a geyser of emotion. I tried to burn down all authority in my life: I blamed my parents for my grief, and I mouthed off at my teachers. Many times a day I would flip between wanting to kill myself and laughing in my teachers’ and parents’ faces. I went through months of anger management “consultations”. But I never understood what it all really meant. Who does, at that age?
Forced to confront my inner chaos by my deep introversion, I began to see how deeply my mothers’ qualities imprinted upon me. Her gentleness, her understanding, her empathy. The way people would go to her for support of an open ear and an honest heart. The way she would defend even the weakest and most scorned animals that my father threatened to kill: the baby raccoons, the feral possums, the abandoned cats. I admired that in her. And I began to see it in me. And I loved that.
But as you mature, you realize how different the world is from soft virtues of gentleness, compassion, honesty, empathy. It glorifies brute strength, independence, aggression, manipulation, ambition. I saw it all in everything from tv shows, to high school ball games, to board games, to relationships.
I want to ask you: When the very core of who you are is threatened, what do you do? I could either mask myself from the world and conform to a self that is not you, or stay true to myself and bear the consequences.
And I suppose, I still struggle with addressing that answer. Just because you leave high school doesn’t mean that these superficialities end. They will never end. It comes down to do you have the balls to be you, even if they hate and mock and spit on you for it?
So, in the end, I do not want to be anything other than me. Even if my long hair draws insults or provokes stereotypes, even if I am less successful, even if I die younger, even if I have to bear the suffering of others. Look at MLK. Because of the stresses borne during his lifetime, MLK’s autopsy revealed his 39 year old heart showed the physiological damage of a 65 year old man. Yet he stayed true.
That is what I want to be. Me. A simple idea. Simple yes, but not easy.
Integer - is the Latin word meaning whole or complete.
Dis - a latin suffix meaning apart, asunder, against. Negating the meaning -of attached word.”
Me: “Do you ever felt like you have multiple parts of yourself, like different characters, all vying for control of your actions?”
Friend: “Ummm what do you mean?”
A friend of mine asked how I was doing, genuinely, and so I gave him a genuine answer. “I’m conflicted”. I explained how I felt like who I was as a person was like a cracked window pane, and each shard a different character of myself. The witty, bantering charmer. The bitter, calculating machiavellian. The gentle, peaceful dreamer. The disinterested, anti-conformity rebel. Each shard to me had a labelled emotion or state of mind, and I explained that I didn’t essentially know who I was as an individual.
He nodded, and gently kept asking questions, but I could read the lines across his forehead like words from a book., He doesn’t get it. I’d expected that an honest confession would make me feel better at least, even if he didn’t fully understand. But by the end of the conversation, I felt even more disconnected and distanced from normality. In the same way the old Velveteen rabbit must have looked upon the prancing hares outside, and being aware of his lack of true rabbit essence.
The only thing I know with certainty is that deep down at the very core of my being, is a gentle soul. But each layer from the surface peeled back represents another layer of complexity. Depending on one’s friendship with me, they see these different levels. To a new acquaintance: patient and kind.
My roommate and I fought last week. Over his lateness with chores and his outward appearance of disinterest and self-interest. As he descended the stairs, I held myself like Picard: cool of mind and soft of word. Then within seconds I was Iago, a raging voice, spewing profanities like a sailor. By the time he had left, like Dantes I already had thought how I might plot subtle vengeance upon him, and eventually drifted into Solo’s loose disinterest upon the whole matter, like he was no more than a wet leaf stuck to my steeltoe.
How I can be so volatile in one instant and stable in the very next is beyond me. But I know this now.
That soft-spoken, accomodating, eager to listen slow to judge, and generous man that I was: He can’t exist anymore. Society dictates a man as decisiveness, ego, aggression, action. That gentle, thoughtful soul can’t live in this world and thrive. He will be crushed under the heels of ambitious men, cloaked in the dust of the “newly weds” car with the girl, all the while the dangling tin can laugh at him.
Ever hear of stories where the soft-spoken, patient, humble protagonist got the girl, defeated the villain, slew the dragon? No. Not one.
Society has twisted my character traits from virtuous to villainous: Thoughfulness is labelled as sentiment. Hesitation is labelled as doubt. Niceness is seen as in-ambition. Generosity is seen as social depravity.
In the end, I cling to anger, because it is all I have left. What else can I do? I am not of a confident breed, those waterloo engineers so convinced of their correct assumptions, their calculations, their certain declarations that all problems are black or white, and no middle ground. How foolish they are, yet they succeed the most in life, do they not? Who could ever could one of these types a failure?
But when who you are fundamentally are is insulted and attacked, what are you to do? If you play a part long enough, do you become the part?
On our roadtrip up to ottawa, my eyes, burdened by heavy lids and tempted by sleepy thoughts, comb the tangled mess of the backseat for the resemblance of a soft pillow. They settle upon my ukulele, snuggled in a charcoal case, and my mind, assailed by sentiment, yields to a compromise between my initial claim to comfort and this ancient desire to be with an old friend. With tender affection, I press my cheek to its head.
My fingers threaded together in a knot around the body of my ukulele. who lends that warm comfort, a sweet candy in a bowl of bitter dropjkes. She is one little piece of what I know and feel and smell and call “home”, a piece that has been with me across oceans to far and distant lands.
Like a dampened light on a faulty switch, my eyes click off and flicker on again, yet I awaken in a world far away, on the bus in detroit, drifting off to a slow sleep, uncertain of my place and unfamiliar with this alien setting, yet soothed to a slow sleep by my old friend.
On the rooftop of a Havana city-house, gazing out at the chorus of singing lights, my thoughts turning to my ukulele, softly echoing the liberally used statement “I miss you”.
In this world rank with bickering, ambition, vanity,.. filled with loud voices built upon empty words, and bodies of young dreams suffocated by old vices, I often am overwhelmed and retreat to the calm, still voice that my ukulele sings to me.
Perhaps it is absurd to find friendship in intangible concepts or abstractions like music, or place friendship in inanimate objects. I can entertain that idea. As a child tutored by excessive reading, it is easy to access the perspectives of others. For compulsion drives me to forms these pseudo-relationships, their depth of comfort and wisdom like a cool drink drawn from a wealthy well.
And now at long last weariness does triumph upon the battlements of my mind, and my thoughts retreat past their open fields, drifting away like tufts of sand into the soft winds of dreams. And at my side is my loyal friend, eager to see me off for another adventure.
So I checked out 43 books from the UW library. What?! I like reading.
One of the books I read is about Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. There’s something absolutely captivating about this man’s life. As he went from being a boy of relative obscurity to the most powerful man in the known world.
Octavian was born to a well off family, his father had been governor of Macedonia (Greece), and his mother was niece to the famous politician and general, Julius Caesar. By the age of 16 he donned the toga virilus, (in a Roman coming of age ceremony), trading the red toga of a child for the white one of a Roman man.
The Ides of March
On the Ides of March (15th) in 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, and other senatorial conspirators. At the time Octavian, aged 19, was studying in Illyria (Greece) and travelled back to Italy to find out that he was named heir by Caesar to his name Gaius Julius Caesar, immense legacy and 2/3rds of his personal wealth.
Here’s his dilemma. He’s 19 years old. He has no funds (Marc Antony, the powerful ruler or “consul”, refused to give him his allotted ¾ of Caesar’s funds….. 300 million serstoces!). He has no soldiers, and no political power, and despite being named in Caesar’s will as heir, he had no legal status (again Antony blocked its passing into law). And he’s still a boy in the eyes of Roman leaders.
But did that phase him? Nah. Here’s what Octavian did.
Sheer Force of Will
Octavian seized funds in Parthia, Middle East (part of Julius Caesar’s war fund) so he could buy troops. Emphasizing his status as Caesar’s heir, he won troops (many of them Caesar’s adoring legions) through sheer presence and funds as he travelled through Italy. By June he had 3,000 veteran soldiers. In the political arena, he was supported by Caesar’s sympathizers, seeing Octavian as a lesser evil to Antony and a boy who could be manipulated to their whims. Making a pact with the Optimates (Caesar’s enemies) he won over powerful senator Cicero, who began publicly denouncing Antony. Still with no funds as part of Caesar’s will, he won over Caesarian legions, and even 2 of Antony’s legions. At this point, the former consul Antony fled north in fear, and off to besiege Decimus Brutus (one of Caesar’s assassins) at Mutina.
Here’s where Octavian sees an opportunity, and pounces.
The Senate, having no standing army, agreed to let Octavian step in to relieve Decimus Brutus (a fellow senator and republican). Defended by Cicero to Antony’s slander, Octavian at age 20 was made a Roman senator (unheard of in Roman times) and was granted imperium (aka legalized commanding power), and in partnership with the two new consuls Pansa and Hirtius, he fought in first battle at Mutina and Forum Gallorum. The battle was a victory, and fortune smiled on Octavian. With both consuls killed fighting, Octavian could claim it was his victory alone.
A hint of Badass
Ordered to submit by Senate to Decimus Brutus, he refused to partner with one of Caesar’s assassins, and instead marched on Rome, demanded to be a consul, and was made one with his relative Pedius. (As consul, he’s now at the highest political position a Roman could reach. At age 20!)
Keep your friends close, your enemies closer
In order to defeat Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, necessity dictated that Octavian join forces with his enemy, Antony, and another roman general Lepidus to form the Second Triumvirate. To raise the necessary war funds required ruthless fashion: the three schemed up a proconscription (aka killing off political enemies and rich men in a massive legalized manhunt). This worked in raising funds for the war, and by the age of 21 he was co-ruling Rome and had avenged his adoptive father by destroying Caesar’s assassins. By age of 27 he crushed the last republican Sextus Pompeius, and precipitated a fallout with the powerful general Antony, whom he defeated at Mutina by the age of 33.
By this time he was Rome. Octavian became the first “unofficial” Roman Emperor: a dictator in everything but name. He took the humble princeps civitalis (or “first citizen”) as his title, and was given the cognomen: Augustus, which means “revered one”.
There he was…. 33 years old, with the entire Roman Empire at his feet.
The Augustan legacy
His legacy is just mind-blowing too:
- organized the first state police & fire-fighting forces
- provided underground aquiducts to draw up fresh water
- created an innovative tax system
- developed networks of roads which included the first courier system
- created over 3000 public baths (so each citizen could clean themselves daily, unheard of at the time)
- Annexed Egypt, Hispania (Spain), Dalmatia (Croatia/Serbia) and many more client states
- Negotiated peace personally with the volatile Thracians (old enemies of Rome)
- Established the Pax Romanus, “the roman peace”, which was 200 years of relative peace following Augustus’ reign
And regarding his life accomplishments on his deathbed, Cassio Dio quotes him as saying:
“I found Rome of clay, I leave it to you of marble.”
Today’s an ordinary day. After a lazy breakfast, there I was: sitting at my desk wrapped in a red blanket, ploughing through job apps.I feel an itch midway down my back, reaching back to scratch it. It feels like a tad bigger than a mole, and as I pry with my fingernail, it flips up. My inner wizened sassy self chirps up: Dang, son! That is one big azzz wart! Sighing, I stand up and walk across to the bathroom to look at it in the mirror. I turn sideways to show my right side, and this is what I see:
My mind liquifies in fear. Oh shit! It’s a tick! I start to go into some absurd form of fear-fuelled shock: my mind spins like the burning-hot wheels on an upside down car, my hands start shaking as if I have Parkinson’s. It’s like I’m a 13 year girl at a screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Partially in fear and partially horribly embarrassed at my dismal state, I try to figure what next to do.
No one’s in the house. Shit. Okay um, tweezers, I need tweezers! I fumble with the bathroom-counter drawer, tearing it open, and juggling through various pairs of scissors and other aethetic cutlery. Deciding upon a small, pointed pair of delicate scissors, I set out to remove this thing as fast as I humanly can.
To my dismay, it’s located in such an awkward place on my body (right side, midback) that I may not be able to get its head. I’m wracking my brains to try and remember what I know of ticks. Don’t grab or squeeze the body, get it’s head. Giving new meaning to the words twist and shout, I finally get the position of the scissors under the sucker’s body, and close to its head buried into my purpled skin. It’s now or never!
A dark body falls to the countertop. Victory is mine! I empty my lungs with one emphatic sigh….. until I realize that the head is partially still in the purpled cut! My mind’s inner dialogue turns from euphoria/rain scene in Shawshank Redemption to the swearing scene from The King’s Speech.
In hindsight, I can laugh now. Situations like these give me the chance to see these little bits of myself, these little bits of my character, that otherwise I have not seen much of. I’ve never had a phobia, but I think if I did, it’d be of parasites and other clingy things. Bloodsuckers aside, I can even see my “phobia” of parasitic relationships. People who are afraid of loneliness so much that they cannot even go out somewhere in public without being with someone.
I saw a couple a while back while I was at Conestoga mall looking for a bday gift for a friend. A couple was walking together side by side, the woman paused for a second to look at a store item, while the man took a few steps ahead. Involuntarily she lashed out and latched onto his jacket, and wouldn’t let go. As if a few feet away was too far for her. Tehe, oh people.
But as much as I can laugh at others for this, I have to laugh at myself too. We’re all parasites. All in our own ways. Living at home with parents for free room and board. Mooching off of rich friends.
The key is to getting out of this toxic nature I think is to realize that you need people, but also they need you.
Thoughts on the condition of singleness
“The other thing that I would say is that if we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this. One of my mentors is a celibate monk, and he says we can live without sex but we can’t live without love.”
In the Van
Staring out across the golden sea of wheat on the hazy Indiana plains, I catch snippets of two interweaving threads of conversation. Up front my two cousins, Jordan and Joe, are talking financial aspects of post-marriage deets: merging bank accounts, moving in together. Behind me, the women: Jen (Jordan’s wife) and April (Joe’s fiancé), are gushing about dress shopping and planning details. To my amusement, both parties have been discussing the same subject of marriage for nearly one whole oblivious hour.
And since Joe and April plan to tie the knot summer 2014, they’ve wasted no time in extracting tips “from the pros” and I am left (to my great relief) to roam to the free ranges of my thoughts, something I relish much more than boorish wedding details. April suddenly comes up for air, breaking the surface of her conversation to add: “It’s funny how jen and I are talking wedding stuff, and so is Jordan and Joe, and then….there’s Trev.”
Most of the time when people ask So have you found a girl yet?, I laugh. Most times I find it comical, other times I use humour as a shield. I smirk and say “I have a girlfriend, her name’s school and she takes up all my time.” And such other witty banter about her being a jealous lover yet never talking back to me. But even after I get the laughter, those smiles melt into glances of pity. And it’s those glances that get to me.
It’s a pity
I hate those glances of pity. As if I was a lost little puppy on the roadside. Patronizing comments like “You’ll find someone soon.” I know there’s nothing wrong with me, but if I try to explain myself, then really I’m just admitting to them that there is.
So I make my jokes, I get the laughs, but no matter how high they burn in the sky, they always die down til only the embers of that one question remain. During our meal out at swiss chalet, Jen, as inquisitive as the secret service, Jen furrows her brown under the weight of the real question that’s on her mind. “Okay but really! Any girls that I should know about?”
And so with humour as my shield this time, I flip the conversation elegantly back upon her and Jordan, and young memories of naïvety and how he unloaded his life story to her on their first “date”, and their awkward first kiss. I give very distant and watery answers like “I enjoy the freedom of being single” and “I’m too adventurous” partly because I find it amusing but also because if I really told them, I don’t think they’d understand. Like Bilbo says to his nephew Frodo “Well I can honestly say that I’ve told you the truth, but I may not have told you all of it.”
Painting with fists
It’s like the first time you come back from a third world country. With all the horrible and beautiful fabrics of sights and smells woven together with tangled ribbons of emotion, you try your best to explain your point of view, your experience, with others. And so you throw all these adjectives and adverbs like a child throwing gobs of paint at a canvas to create a “bird” or a “mountain”, and people nod and smile but they really don’t understand it. Or you.
Grace for the Road
Honestly, part of me is not ready. I recently read a blog called Grace for the Road, where she writes:
There are a lot of girls out there who don’t know who God is anymore – the God of their youth group years just isn’t working out. Back then, that God said to wait for sex until they are married, until He brings the right man along for a husband. They signed a card and put it on the altar and pledged to wait.
And wait they did.
And waited and waited and waited.
A man gives and provides. Everything from biology to psychology gives testament to this fact of nature. And to be honest, that is not an easy task to be a real man. A provider, a protector, a source of strength and courage. Girls are expecting a handsome shining knight to come sweep them off their feet, but most of us aren’t even sweeping the dirt off our armour and swords. To rush into a “relationship” without understanding the true nature of love as sacrifice is dangerous, and not in a good way. Part of me withholds from “finding a girl” because I am not a man, and she should not be willing to settle for anything less than that.
The other part of me really finds contentment here. When Paul says in Phil 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to his riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” I literally take that as all my needs. As in: His continuous friendship and love is more than enough for my needs, today and always.
“You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are! I praise the Lord, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. And so I am thankful and glad, and I feel completely secure, because you protect me from the power of death. I have served you faithfully, and you will not abandon me to the world of the dead. You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.”
Outside my window, the rain smotes the roof so hard each drop bursts into a silver crown as it kisses the shingles. For a moment it’s like time herself has even stopped to watch these little beads of water sprout up like daisies from the charcoal shingles. For I moment I stare at the endless sea that is unleashed upon the road, the sidewalk, the cars, the houses. This entrancing polyrhythm of the rain seems to wash away all other sounds; a great ensemble that is made of millions of seemingly insignificant single drops. I wonder to myself: Is this not similar to each of us in this world, little drops in a much bigger symphony?
The steady pulse of the rain soothing like a fistful of sand crystals gently slipping through the fingers. Almost hypnotically, I reach out to feel the cool tears of the sky wash my hand. Down below, I hear the staccato of voices below and the chirping of laughter: its shrillness cracking the shell of my trance like a rooster of the morning, and I gallop down the stairs to see the source of the commotion.
Out upon the front porch are three of my roommates, gazing out at the slicked streets with smiles bursting from their lips. The rain is louder here, perhaps jealous that my attention was stolen away from her for a brief time: the sound upon the thin sheet of metal roofing above like marbles bouncing off the lid of a tin can.
Spencer grins and with a touch of pride adds "We’ve been slow clapping everyone who’s been walking by.” Laughter echoes off the concrete steps, this time my voice joining the frantic song of humour. I get this mad impulse to run out and embrace the rain in a Shawshank Redemption pose, and after a moment of reason returns to my mind, I run back upstairs to grab a swimsuit. But in those brief handful of breaths the rain has ceased, and I’m left with a sense of sadness that I never did seize the chance to dance with her.
The return of the Arrested
On October 2nd, 2011, the cast of Arrested Development announced they were returning to the tv airwaves to resume a 4th season.
While I was late to jump on the bandwagon of this information, when I first read the post, I felt such a bizarre contrast of emotions. I felt this butterfly joy that this original, funny and witty show was returning to teach me and entertain me again, mixed with an unsettled feeling in my gut. When the series was cancelled in 2006, like any “grieving” fan I walked through the 7 wonders of grief (denial, anger, etc) and finally said my farewells and BAM! It was over.
But this announcement curdles in my stomach like chocolate milk and orange slices. And at first, I couldn’t understand why. I asked my friend Phil, a mega, uber obsessed Firefly, Serenity fan: “Would you be down if Firefly got back together to make another season?”. And he actually hesitated, and to my surprise he finally said: “No.”
Change: a love/hate thing
I think deep down within all of us is this unrelenting desire for change. How irony must laugh at me! Because one of the things I hate the most in life is change. While I despise the thought of cutting my golden locks some day, sinking into a desk job, or taming my thirst for adventure….I know that should I go back and return to a part of my adolescent past, eg- the first day of grade 9, I’d be 37 flavours of upset as well.
Because, as I’m starting to learn, change is the lifeblood of this world.
The noun “change” is defined as an act or process through which something becomes different.
One of the most watched tv shows in 2013 is Game of Thrones. One of the most loved characters was played by Jason Momoa was the fierce Khal Drogo. Married to one of the main characters Danaerys or “Dany”, we go from hating to loving this guy, as the arranged marriage slowly changes both of them and develops this deep, rich love for each other. Then, in a blink of an episode, (*Spoiler!) he gets a festering wound defending her honour, and dies. Fan reactions, much like my own, were full of dismay, even Momoa himself lamenting his characters death and wishing he could return to the story somehow.
But as any of the readers will know, huge changes happen to Dany as a character after her husband’s death, and we start to realize that she would never have grown into the capable, strong woman she later becomes had she not gone through that life with Drogo and his death.
Bringing him back into the story wouldn’t help anything. It would kill the story. As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes the end really should mean the end. If I am to become a better person, from a boy to a man, I need to grow and change. Same with you.
Stagnant, repetitive characters make dull stories, and in the same way, boring, stagnant humans lead dull lives.
My friend Rachel and this little country called Zambia.
One of my amazing friends Rachel lost her dad just over a year ago. Her confidante, her best friend, her coffee buddy, her biggest source of warmth and comfort. As the tragedy was still unfolding, Rachel had to make a big life decision: to either stay with her family or go through with her MCC arranged SALT experience in Zambia (for. a. year.)
Here are some words she wrote me: “I think I was skeptical of myself and in my ability to handle a cross cultural experience so soon after my dads death, but I’m realizing how healthy it was for me to take that step to start moving on and experiencing life again, you know?”
And she said that even through moving on, there were still many threads of life that wove in memories of her dad. She even said that at times she was feeling the closest to her dad she’s ever felt.
It’s a Bittersweet Symphony / that’s life
Change walks hand in hand with us; pulling, pushing, imploring us to take those yet yet untrodden steps that our friend “The Future” has left for us. And when we try to look back and call out to our friend “The Past”, he whispers, “Don’t worry, I’m right behind you.” That’s one of the many challenges of life I suppose, having the courage to keep pushing for change even when it hurts or is uncomfortable. It’s that idea that everyone wants to be the sword, but not everyone wants to go through the hammering and pressure that it takes to get there.