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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Behind the Scenes of Web, Radio and TV Production

Apparently we had a great show last night on The Kovacs Perspective. Why do I say 'apparently'? Well, it's because I was only able to watch a portion of it. The program the station uses for streaming the show live to the website only recorded 30 minutes of the show. From what I was told, however, YouTube was working just fine, broadcasting properly to those who were watching from there. We haven't lost any of the show, thankfully. I only saw about five or ten minutes of the first guest, and the last ten or fifteen minutes of the second guest. What I did see was great. Parts were rather hilarious, actually.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the show in its entirety, because there was a lot of laughing and joking going on, including an obviously ongoing joke about people throwing pens. Believe it or not, yes, this show was about dating and sex. The pen-throwing had to do with our second guest expressing an opinion that many of our viewers might not agree with. That's the way it goes in the land of broadcasting, though. You're never going to get everyone to agree on things, and controversy makes for entertaining viewing.

Producing any show you're going to have these little issues from time to time. This show is my only experience as a producer, but I've been on TV a few times, along with a bunch of live performances, so I've seen the drama that evolves from everyone scrambling to get everything ready in time. Sometimes people don't show up who are supposed to be on, which means finding last-minute replacements. At the moment I'm handling a similar situation. I'm waiting to hear back on a guest that was supposed to make an appearance on our next show, but because she's a surgeon and has to perform surgery that day, she might not be able to make the show. If she can't it means I only have a few days to find guests for the next show.

Any time anyone makes an appearance on the show, they have forms that they need to fill out. Release forms to give the station permission to broadcast with them on the air, as well as a form with all the information we'll need for the show itself. We want to know their contact information for getting them on the air, since we'll either have them on Skype or on the phone, so that's obviously some pretty important information. Then we need to know a little bit about what they'll be talking about so that the host, +Steve Kovacs, knows what sorts of questions to ask them.

These forms need to be in quite a while before the air date, because I also have a form to fill out that the station needs at least a week before the show. Without the guest forms I can't fill out the host form. Without the host form, there's no show. Within the host form I provide information on the URLs and pictures that will be shown while the guests are on the air. I don't handle any of the graphics, or do anything while the show is actually on (except watch it). That's all done by the station manager, +Len Azzarone, and his producer. I produce only the one show, but there are other shows that are broadcast through WTOE, so there are a few people working to put each show on the air.

Whenever there's a situation with a deadline, such as a live broadcast, there's going to be some stress involved. There are technical issues to contend with, and then there's the human factor. People are fallible. That would also be the reason for the technical issues. Since people make mistakes there will never be a program or application that works 100% perfectly. Speaking as someone who is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my professional activities, that isn't always easy for me to swallow. I want everything to be ready in advance, and I want it to go off without a hitch. Ha! Since that's never going to happen, I have to content myself with doing my best, along with everyone else doing their best, and hope things turn out well in the end. I make mistakes, too, as much as I try to avoid them, so hopefully people will be understanding when I do.

I really hope the guest we're supposed to have for the next show is able to make it, for three reasons. The first being that she's going to be awesome guest. The second reason is that Steve Kovacs specifically wanted to have her on the show. The third is that it saves me a lot of last-minute scrambling. There are a lot of people who want to be on the show, however, so it's usually not that difficult to come up with great guests. I've got a couple of people in mind already, who have requested to be on the show, and I'm very interested in seeing them come on, so even if the original guest does work out I'll still be inviting them to appear - just on a different date.

One major benefit to producing this show is that I get to talk to all these fascinating people. I mean, if I didn't find them interesting I wouldn't be inviting them to come on. I talk to everyone by way of e-mail, of course, but I also talk to some of the guests on Skype before the show so that I can do an audio and video test. We need to know that their microphones and webcams are working correctly, and that they're set up with headphones to prevent feedback. This means carrying on a conversation with a lot of these great people. It's likely that we'll be having some celebrity guests in the near future, too, so it's a good thing I'm not the type to get starstruck.

I'll be letting everyone know when the vodcast for last night's show is available, so anyone who wasn't able to watch it last night can see what all the fuss was about. I'll also be letting everyone know what's happening with our next show when everything is finalized and it comes time to announce it. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sex & Dating on The Kovacs Perspective Tonight

Tonight we're broadcasting a fun show for everyone on The Kovacs Perspective. +Steve Kovacs will be talking to two guests about two different areas of dating, along with some talk about sex techniques, so be prepared for a very interesting show tonight! We air live at 9 PM eastern time, so I hope you'll be there.

Our first guest tonight is +Van Wallach who will be on to talk about his book, A Kosher Dating Odyssey: One Former Texas Baptist’s Quest for a Naughty & Nice Jewish Girl. Raised a Southern Baptist, Wallach found himself drawn to his parents’ Jewish heritage and the women who embodied it. To meet the special challenges of online dating, he took a marketer’s approach to packaging his unique background into a memorable screen name and profile. His book explores the highs and heartbreaks of dating the “smart, vulnerable and shtetl-lovely” Jewish women he met and adored after he left Texas.

Most of us are out there, looking for someone special to share our lives with. We want someone who accepts us as we are, and who will be a supportive companion to us. Almost all of us would really like to be with someone special, so now matter how difficult previous relationships might have been for us, we keep getting out there and trying again. Some of us go to a lot of trouble to find 'the one'. Hopefully tonight we'll be hearing one man's success story about finding that person.

Our second guest is Steve "The Dean" Williams, who coaches people in a wide variety of dating situations from all over the world. He's got 20 years' experience, and his advice applies globally. He's also going to talk about why men are so bad in bed, and what they can do about that. He's got some tips on out-of-the-box sex techniques for us, which I know is something we're all looking forward to hearing about. His experience encompasses dating in all stages of a relationship, and he runs SBW Coaching, and a couple of other sites along those lines.

For anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, you know I'm pretty open-minded about this kind of thing, which is probably a good thing considering our line-up tonight. The fact is, sex is our most basic and primary motivator in life. It's a biological imperative. Our bodies were designed with one very specific function - to procreate. We can fight it all we want to, and some of us are successful at doing so, but should we have to? Sure, we don't necessarily have to produce a whole passel o' young'uns, but the trying is almost always a good time. If it's not a good time had by all, then you probably want to watch tonight's show.

Tune in tonight at 9 PM eastern. You can go directly to the show at this link here. Hope to see you there. I know I'm looking forward to it, but I bet you already knew that!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Childhood Sexual Abuse - My Story

Trigger Warning: Incest, Rape, Pedophilia, and Suicide - This is the first time I've ever felt the need to issue a trigger warning, and I talk about some pretty harsh things sometimes, so you might want to pay attention to the fact that I'm issuing a warning now. This could get very painful and/or uncomfortable for some people.

I've never spoken online about my childhood traumas in any detail before. It's not because I don't want to talk about it, or have any issue with revealing it; it's because I want to make certain that I reveal it in the way that's right for me. I have mentioned that I'm a survivor, of course, but have never gone into detail about what I've actually survived.

Before I talk about this, I want to emphasize that there are two main points I want to address before I'm done writing the blog posting. The first issue is actually broken down into two parts with regard to forgiveness, and not in the way that is usually meant by the word. The second issue is with regard to recovery, and the way society emphasizes the ruination of a survivor's life.

I don't remember how old I was when it began, but it was subtle at first. Some time around the age of six or seven, I should say. It started with tickling and wrestling, which is a common method from my understanding of the stories of other survivors. Tickling and wrestling became inappropriate touching. Then, at night, it became something else.

When I was four my mother left me with my grandparents, and I lived with them until I was thirteen. My grandmother would go to a 'card party' once a week, much to my relief, because she was not a nice woman. I loved my grandfather. He was a lot of fun, always joking around and playing. He almost never got mad at me, and I don't recall him ever hitting me the way my grandmother used to do, so it wasn't any great surprise that I enjoyed his company far more than I enjoyed my grandmother's.

Apparently my grandfather enjoyed my company as well, but for far different reasons. He liked having the opportunity to be alone with me. The fact that his touch was gentle didn't make it any easier to bear, or any more appropriate. I don't remember every single detail of what he did to me. Nor would I share it if I did, because I have no interest in putting out details that might titillate someone who is searching for child pornography. Mostly I remember the unbearably sick feeling I got from the way he was breathing, the mess he left behind on my skin, and the way he cleaned up the evidence while he apologized and cried.

The abuse continued until I left to live with my mother and step-father. Then my half-brother moved in with us, too. One day he tied me up in the basement and told me he wouldn't untie me until I 'let him'. This part of my life wasn't over until I tried to kill myself. I was still thirteen when I swallowed a bottle of pills, however, so it didn't go on for as long as it seemed at the time. The doctors at the hospital noticed evidence of sexual activity, and it wasn't long before they knew who was doing it.

I woke up in the hospital rather cheerful, cracking jokes. A couple of doctors said I was doing just fine, great in fact, while there was another doctor who had the opposite reaction. There was obviously something seriously wrong with me if I attempted suicide one day, and was making jokes the next. This doctor made it mandatory that my entire family go for group therapy, and that I get individual counseling. I went to a couple of individual sessions, and I think only one or two with my family.

The therapists were all fooled. By me. They talked about how insightful and intelligent I was, how healthy. They said I didn't need therapy, and that I was perfectly fine. For people who are trained to see into a person's psyche, needless to say they weren't doing a very good job of it with me. Being an intelligent person, it was very easy for me to hide all the things that were wrong inside me, like the fact that I had no real feelings left. I had repressed everything. I knew what they were expecting me to feel, and what all the right answers were, so that's what I let them see.

My healing came not from therapy, but from introspection. Nobody could force me to confess or express my deepest emotions, and I didn't want to share them. It wasn't the right path for me at the time. Therapy isn't always right for everyone. I already felt vulnerable and exposed, so why they thought I would willingly expose myself further I just don't know. I had already been raped by two people I was close to and should have been able to trust, so I wasn't about to trust anyone else with my deepest secrets.

I knew there were things that were wrong with me, far better than the therapists ever understood. I knew about the shame I felt. I knew how dirty I felt, and about the sick feeling I got on a fairly frequent basis. I knew about all the times the rage seeped out and I would throw my hairbrush across the room because I couldn't stand looking at myself in the mirror. These were secrets I kept. No one knew about my 'icky' moods. At the time that's how I thought of them. I didn't want to use the terms 'dirty' or 'ashamed' when I felt that way. I left it at 'icky' instead. Using what felt like a more benign label was a way of skirting past my real emotions.

Strong emotions are always frowned upon in the world. Screams of rage and pain would have started fights I couldn't handle. Tears would have made everyone avoid me because of their own discomfort with what had happened in my family. Guilt and blame swirled around me, and no one was very interested in how I was really doing. They just wanted me to get over it. It would lessen their guilt at their own culpability.

Yes, they had reason to feel guilty. My mother was suspicious that something was going on with my grandfather when I was a child, and never did anything about it. She told me I should say 'no' if he touched me. I denied that he was doing anything, which is the common reaction of a child that's being molested, and yet she still told me to say 'no'. That's rape culture for you, though. There I was, being sexually abused by my grandfather from a very young age, and somehow the responsibility fell on my shoulders - somehow I was supposed to let him know he wasn't allowed to touch me, and I was supposed to be able to stop him. The adults weren't required to do anything to help me, and my grandfather wasn't required to stop unless I spoke up for myself and said, "No. You're not supposed to touch me there."

As a teenager, even after my suicide attempt, my brother wasn't kicked out of the house despite the fact that he was eighteen. My mother and step-father wanted it swept under the rug. It wasn't until I wrote an essay at school and revealed what had happened to me to one of my teachers, that social services was called in and the police got involved. Rather than stand by me, my mother was furious with me for opening my mouth. She was worried that she would be in trouble with the police, along with my step-dad, for not reporting a crime. My mother was all about her men and her self-preservation. Never did she go to any effort to protect her children.

The whole experience was humiliating, but I admit it could have been far worse. Both social services and the police handled things as sensitively as possible. A female officer took my statement about both my brother and my grandfather. Thankfully my brother pleaded guilty to the charges, although I don't remember exactly what they were, and went to jail. If he had pleaded innocent I would have had to testify, with my brother watching. During the initial questioning I downplayed what my brother had done, so they couldn't charge him with much. I believe he only served ten months in a remand centre.

My grandfather was a different story. He was never punished for his crime, despite the crime being far more evil than my brother's. At least in my mind it was. I was an actual child, with a child's body, and what he did killed the person I would have been. By the time my brother came along there wasn't much else that could be done to me. His impact was minimal. Basically it was just a lesser degree of the same thing.

The reason my grandfather was never charged is because he lived in a different province. Rape is a federal crime in Canada, from what I remember being told at the time, but it's almost impossible to prosecute anyone in a different province. The accused has to be tried where they are. I lived in Alberta at the time, while he lived in Ontario, so I would have been forced to travel to Ontario to give my statement to the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and then testify in a court in Ontario, assuming he pleaded innocent to the charges.

Being only fourteen years old at this point, I wasn't up for a trek across the country to bring my grandfather to justice. I was already facing the possibility of testifying against my brother in court, with my angry parents there watching, and that was daunting enough. My mother and step-father certainly weren't going to pay for me to do something they so heartily disapproved of in the first place. In my case there were far too many levels of, "Keep it in the family."

Understandably, I was very, very angry. I was angry that my grandfather raped me, and that my grandmother had walked by my bedroom one time and saw him touching me but did nothing about it - he didn't always wait for her card party nights. I was angry that my brother took advantage of my self-loathing, raping me at his convenience because he felt entitled to the young female in the house. I was angry with my step-father, who, even though he was the only one who showed me any support whatsoever, never told my mother she was an idiotic moron and to shut her mouth when she said the things she did. I was absolutely enraged at my mother, even though I wasn't entirely certainly why at the time.

I was also angry with myself, for 'allowing' it to happen. Yes, I believed that. I thought I shared responsibility with a disgusting pervert who thought he was entitled to touch a seven-year-old child. I was angry with my body for attracting men. I was angry whenever I felt sexual feelings of any kind, because they were hurtful to me. I was angry with myself for being soiled and dirty.

Then I stopped feeling anything at all.

Humans have a limited capacity for feeling strong emotions. We can only feel things for a certain period of time before we grow numb to the emotion. Even people who are abducted and filled with terror eventually become numb to the fear. It's a defense mechanism. Our psyche can only handle so much intensity before it shuts off those feelings. This was where my anger disappeared to. I repressed it, and by doing so I became depressed. I never again tried to commit suicide. I had made a promise, to my mother of all people, that I would never try it again, and for the most part I keep my promises.

Breaking away from the numbness was a very long journey. I remember riding on a bus once, thinking about something that should have bothered me, and all I could feel was that I wasn't feeling anything. Some deeply buried sense of self-preservation struggled to the surface to let me know there was something seriously wrong with that. My response was purely instinctive from that point on. I began to analyze what was going on in my life and think about what I should be feeling about it, and then dig around for some minuscule spark of those feelings. At first, forcing the emotions was a lot like faking it. It felt completely fake at the time, actually. It took me a long time to realize that the fake feeling was discomfort rather than falseness. I was uncomfortable with my emotions on an almost visceral level.

Knowing that the survival of my soul - and I don't call it that in any religious sense - depended on me getting back in touch with my emotions, I forged on with my private efforts. No one had any idea the kind of intensive therapy I was giving myself. I never gave myself a break, or any time off from it. Every time anything happened, no matter how small the event, I would analyze it to death. I would pull up every emotion I had about it, and then I would tear those emotions apart to figure out exactly why I felt the way I did. It got to the point where I was doing too much self-analysis, but I reached a point a few years ago where I finally stopped feeling the need to do it all the time. That's when I began to feel like I had healed.

I did read some self-help books about shame and guilt and forgiveness, which helped me along the way. I would share the titles of those books if I could remember what they were, but I don't. Besides, we all have to find the ones that we can relate to personally - the ones that speak to us.

The thing about the rape of a child, any child, is that it causes a break in their life while they are still developing into the person they are meant to become. I was no different. The person I should have been is now gone, killed by my grandfather, cremated by my brother, and the ashes scattered by my mother and step-father. I would never have become the person I am now without those events. I mourned the loss of the person I should have been, but I was done mourning a long time ago. I reached a point where I realized I would choose to go through it all over again, if it meant becoming the person I am now. My need for survival hinges on this person, not the hypothetical person I was originally meant to be.

As for my original point about forgiveness, and the two parts I associate with my experience, one is good, and the other is terrible. I don't believe anyone should be forgiven for their sake. What was done to me was hideous, and does not deserve forgiveness. However, I deserve to live a good life, free of the anger that was about to destroy me. Forgiveness just means letting go of the anger. It doesn't mean you condone something that someone has done, or that they shouldn't be punished or should be allowed to do it again. It simply means you release yourself from your ties to the pain. This type of forgiveness is necessary for anyone who wants to recover.

The terrible part when it came to forgiveness has to do with one detail of my abuse that I shared above. My grandfather used to cry and apologize to me after he was done. It's not a good position to be in as a child. I was violated, and then given the responsibility of comforting the man who violated me. He wanted me to pat him on the arm and say that it was okay. He wanted my forgiveness. He wanted his behaviour to be excused, when all I felt was sick at the thought of giving him that comfort. I think I might have actually told him it was okay, but I don't really remember for sure. I was very young. I still loved my grandfather, and I wouldn't have wanted him to feel bad, no matter how bad he made me feel, so I wouldn't be surprised if I accepted his apology in my limited way. It embedded in my mind as, "It's okay. You couldn't help yourself." This is not the type of forgiveness any rapist deserves, and it's not a good feeling to be forced to give it.

When it comes to people who say that a rape survivor's life is over, I call bullshit. It's not over. You may be changed. (In my case I was changed to the point that I have no idea who I would have been had it not happened.) However, you aren't dead no matter how much you might feel you want to be. Your life was not taken from you. Surviving rape does not have to mean that you will spend the rest of your life living in pain and fear. When it comes to my personal safety, I rarely feel fear.

I know how to defend myself should the need arise, but that's not the only reason I don't feel much fear. It's simply that I've gotten past almost all of what I went through in my life. I'm at a point, and have been for some time, where I only feel fear in situations that warrant it. I'm not talking about the odd personal phobia about non-violent things, by the way - things like spiders or fire. We all have those. I'm talking about fear of being out at night, or someone finding us attractive, and all the other fears that develop as a result of being raped or physically abused in some fashion.

We are capable of getting past the fear and living a contented life. We can get past the shame and anger. We can get past the sexual problems. In my case I was somewhat lucky, I think. I was young when I started having sex voluntarily, but I was lucky in the partners I chose. They were decent human beings, and that made all the difference. At first I would occasionally have that 'icky' feeling when I was with someone. It didn't happen all the time, but when it did I couldn't handle being touched...and I would develop the sudden need to have a shower. I think it's been about ten years since the last time that happened to me, so it's definitely a rarity now.

I didn't go to the extremes of promiscuity, either. I'm not built to be the kind of person who finds it easy to sleep around. I'm not sure how much of that has to do with having been raped, or if it's shyness, or even self-respect. I do know that there isn't much point in it for me, since I don't enjoy being with someone when I can't relax with them, and I'm not able to do that with someone who is a virtual stranger. As open-minded as I am about sex, and as easy as it is for me to talk and write about it (including fictional erotica), I'm simply not capable of having a lot of sexual partners. When I do have one I'm utterly faithful, and I'm with them because I have feelings for them.

I'm far from perfect. I have issues like anyone else, and I have sensitivities to certain triggers. My life, however, is only half over, and it certainly didn't end the first time I was raped. It changed, but it didn't end. I feel there is such a thing as being healed, even when it comes to something as traumatic as rape. It takes a long time, and a lot of effort, but healing is totally possible. According to the most recent statistics I've read, one in five women are raped or sexually abuse, and one in six men have been raped or sexually abused. Nine out of ten rapes that are reported, are reported by women, though, so men are much more reluctant to file a complaint. They deserve to be heard just as much as women deserve to be heard, so I will not discount them. I just want everyone who reads this to know that rape, while a horrific crime, should never be considered the end of your life.

No one should ever get away with rape, and it should make no difference in their punishment what happens with the survivor after the attack. What I mean is, if a survivor manages to pull their life together and recapture their dreams, that does not lessen the rapist's crime in any way. Just because I have managed to become the person I am today does not negate my grandfather's or brother's responsibility. It means that I have done the extra work necessary to get past everything they did to me. I'm the one who deserves the credit for my mental stability, not them. They don't get the free pass.

Before my grandfather died people would tell me my lack of feeling toward him would be a different story when he died. For some reason they thought I would magically start loving him again. I didn't. I never saw him again after the age of fourteen, even though I visited my home town and eventually moved back there. I simply never saw him. I stopped loving him long before he died, and by the time he he was permanently gone I wasn't even angry anymore. I was almost at the point I am now, actually. I am grateful for my life happening the way it did, so I became who I am, but I would certainly never have gone up to him to congratulate him on his part in making that happen.

I'm grateful for whatever genetics I have that played a role in my strength. I'm grateful for the few people I encountered at my most vulnerable times who were non-judgmental about my experiences. I'm grateful for the plethora of knowledge available to those who seek it out. I'm grateful to myself for forging ahead with my life when it seemed like it would involve nothing but pain. I'm grateful to my friends now, who are supportive and understanding, and who do their best to fight in their own way against rape. In fact, there isn't anyone I talk to on a regular basis now that doesn't speak out against rape. These are people that give me hope. Not specifically for me, because most of my personal horror is finished, but for the men and women I still weep for as I know intimately the battle that they face.

If you would like to read the writing of some of my friends who speak out against rape, here are a few suggestions for you:

Why I Call It Rape, by +Marlin Woosley
Rape, Gang Rape, Ology and Criminology by +Steve Kovacs
Do You Think A Woman's Vagina Belongs To Her by +susan thom

I would also suggest going to their individual profile pages and checking out their other articles, because they've all written more than one article about rape. These three writers are people I cherish and admire for everything they contribute to the world, and whether they know it or not they are the average, everyday heroes that this world really needs. They are the ones with voices who speak up when they see the things that are wrong in the world, and it's because of people like them that a great deal of my own damage was healed.

It isn't just the rape itself that can destroy a person, it's the aftermath. It isn't just the people surrounding us who can make the aftermath worse. Sometimes it's the feeling that the world is beyond hope. Sometimes it's feeling like there are no good and decent people left in the world who are willing to use their voice and stand up for those who can't. To my knowledge none of the three writers I mention above have been through exactly what I went through, yet even though it wasn't their personal issue they have chosen to speak anyway. For seeing the things that are wrong in the world, I wanted to say thank you to these wonderful writers who also happen to be wonderful people. So, thank you!

My story is far from unique, and far from the worst case scenario. However, it is what's personal and unique to me. As far as I've come, I'm here because I fought against the rising tides of depression and self-hatred. I'm here because deep down I knew that what happened wasn't fair or just. I knew I had value, and that there was something I could contribute to the world. So many people are not that lucky. So many people give up their pain to a bottle of pills or a razor blade. There is hope in the world. There is love. There is life. If you're reading this, and you're one of the many who have been violated, please don't give up. There is more out there for you than you know, and ten minutes from now every single thing in your life could change. Sometimes it happens that fast. You can recover. You can live your life. Don't let them take any more from you than they already have.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

From Political Parties to Pitcairn - Fascinating!

The world is an unbelievable place, I have to say! The fact that my brain is one of those weird ones that leaps nimbly from topic to topic, however, is what makes me able to see this inherent truth almost constantly. This morning it occurred to me, not for the first time, that I don't have as good of a grasp of the intricacies of the political party system as I would like, so I began to do some research on it. One thing led to another and there I was, researching Pitcairn Islands.

Ah, but how did I make such a bizarre leap? Good question. I'll walk you through it, as the journey is always more fun than just a straight answer. Well, it is for me anyway, and I'm holding you hostage.

My first question of the day was this: What the hell is all this stuff about being a "Registered Democrat" or a "Registered Republican"? Forgive me. I'm Canadian. We just vote for whoever the hell we want to vote for whenever an election comes up. Occasionally that will be a Liberal party candidate, and occasionally that will be for a Conservative candidate. Less occasionally people vote for a New Democrat candidate. We have three main parties. Conservative and Liberal are the two majors, with NDP generally trailing behind.

Well, it wasn't long before my question was answered regarding party affiliation in the U. S., and I have to say it sounds like an idiotic thing to do. Then again, I don't think the political structure in Canada is much better. Here's how I've interpreted the information I was able to dig up, and if I've misinterpreted feel free to correct my misconceptions. (Most of my readers are American, so I'm sure someone will be able to fill in the gaps for me.)

In all states you may register as a republican or a democrat. In most states you have the third option of registering as an independent. In some states registration with a political party occurs along with obtaining your driver's licence (or license as it's spelled down there). I'm not sure why a DL has anything to do with politics, but red tape evolves in mysterious ways. Maybe one day I'll research that, too.

In the primaries, which from my understanding is how the presidential candidates are picked, you are allowed to vote on only your party's options for presidential candidate. In the general elections, when it comes time to actually choose a president (Pick-a-POTUS Day?) you're allowed to vote for whichever candidate you want, regardless of political party affiliation.

From my understanding the ballots are more than a little confusing, too, and that had a lot to do with the debacle in Florida about 13 years ago. I guess, depending on the state, there are a whole slew of issues that get voted on all at once, from dog catcher to sheriff to president. (Dog catcher? Seriously? I hope that's just an old expression or joke!) Apparently there are also issues on the ballots, such as gay marriage, and the issues are also determined by which state you live in.

This voting format supposedly saves a lot of money, but if it leads to the kind of confusion seen in Florida in 2000, I'm not sure how much money that really is. It probably cost them a fortune to investigate all that and get it straightened out, along with going through the legal system to determine whether or not the votes would even be counted. I know a couple of people in Florida, so we'll see if they weigh in on that one to give us a better idea what the hell I'm talking about, because I really don't know.

At least now I understand what people are talking about when they use the term bi-partisan. Bi meaning two, and partisan meaning, well, partisan. I'm a little shocked that they only end up with two people to pick from! I suppose they have an independent candidate in there somewhere, but I never hear about them. We have three main parties, so we'd probably be labeled tri-partisan, except I don't think the system is really comparable. Much to my surprise I've discovered that we actually have nineteen registered political parties in Canada. If you're interested in knowing what they are, there's a list here. This is the official government list.

Yes, we really do have a Marijuana Party. Just in case you wondered about us... Probably explains a few things.

Doing further research I've discovered that the U. S. has five major political parties. The other three are Libertarian, Green and Constitution. However, there are an additional 29 minor parties (given here), not including any regional ones or independents. So, what I don't understand is, how the hell are the republicans and democrats getting all the registrations? Nobody seems happy with either of them. I'm still confused about the whole 'liberal' and 'conservative' thing down there, because previous research I've done tells me that those things switched parties a long time ago. I know for a fact I don't fall into either category there, although I'm sure some would label me a 'bleeding-heart liberal'. In many ways I am, but there are areas where I'm decidedly not a liberal.

In Canada I believe we're allowed to register a political affiliation, but most of the population doesn't bother. Canadians are commitment-phobic I guess, but who could blame us? Who wants to be tied down to a political party? Getting married is bad enough when it involves a person you actually love. Nobody loves politicians.

Apparently only about 10,000 or 20,000 people in Canada have registered with any party. Before I get any smart-ass remarks about that being the total population of Canada, let me snidely inform you that Canada is the 35th most populous nation in the world, thank you very much! Yes, the United States is third on the list. Three cheers for Americans. You're all tremendously accomplished at the art of procreation, despite how uptight y'all seem to be down there. Congratulations on the incongruity. Canadians are apparently known for being perverts in comparison. The following people must be Canadians:

Anyhoo... This is where I was led down a totally different pathway when it came to my morning's research. No, not the pathway of sexual congress, although that's always an entertaining one. I was actually looking up world population statistics to see where Canada fit in the grand scheme of things, because I knew my remark about the 10,000 or 20,000 people was going to provoke the aforementioned smart-ass remarks. In fact, it would be one of my Florida friends (also aforementioned) who would be most likely to comment on our lack of numbers up here, seeing as he has done so before. My friends love to tease me about being Canadian.

The list of populations of countries in the world that is given on Wikipedia includes 242 countries. Now, there are a few more (something like 297), but there are varying definitions regarding what constitutes an actual country. The 242 listed I would have to assume are undisputed in their definition. Can you imagine living in one of those places that isn't really sure what the hell it is? Talk about a lack of self-identity!

Just for the fun of it, I scrolled down to see which country had the smallest population, and how small it really was. I was under the impression that to be a country there would have to have at least enough people to justify a restaurant, but I was wrong. It turns out that Pitcairn Islands is the smallest country in the world, with only 48 people. Sure, they could have a restaurant, but with only 35 people of working age (there are 7 school-age children there, so I assume the other 6 people who don't work are retired) a decent percentage of the population would be needed as employees, and the rest of the town would have to be sitting down to supper.

Now, if you don't know anything about Pitcairn Islands and the history, which I did not, it does actually play a major role in history having to do with the Bounty mutineers. Yes, "Mutiny on the Bounty" is what I'm referring to. Most of the inhabitants are descendants of the mutineers, and the most common last names on the island illustrate that - Christian, Warren, Young and Brown, to be specific. To be honest, I didn't know a damn thing about that part of history, other than having heard the title of the book and films before.

[Note - In case you're wondering why I'm calling it Pitcairn Islands (plural rather than singular) it's because the country consists of more than one island, and that's its official name. Pitcairn is the island that is populated, however. The other islands weren't able to sustain life, I guess. They did at one time, and there was trade between the islands, but the natural resources were used up.]

The actual mutineers were apparently all brought to justice, or died before they could be, but since it took years to travel around in those days they had plenty of time before their arrest to establish families. I guess they must have been fairly prolific, seeing as they created enough offspring to sustain the island of Pitcairn up until today. Busy little buggers!

And we're back to sex... Oh well. Seeing as it's our number one biological imperative, it's not that surprising all roads lead in that direction. Particularly the lanes of a vibrator race!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Why I'm So Nosy About American Political Goings-On

I had someone ask me a few weeks ago why I was bothering to state my opinions on what Americans were doing. I thought it was kind of a funny (and insulting) question, coming from an American, considering the United States keeps a very close eye on the goings-on of every country in the world that has any political or economic power whatsoever. Not only that, but the country does have a tendency to get involved both financially and with its military - usually asking Canada to ride alongside.

It also kind of seemed, well, not to put TOO fine a point on have an American basically tell me I should be minding my own business. The fact of the matter is, even the FBI has electronic fingers in Canada, which isn't something Canadians should be tolerating in any way, shape or form. We're a separate country, technically run by the British Empire. Where the hell does the FBI get off being allowed to use electronic surveillance on us? The "F" stands for "Federal". It is not the IBI, or International Bureau of Investigation. That's apparently what the CIA is supposed to be for.

I won't keep on that little rant at this time, as I'm planning an article on it in the near future, but the fact of the matter is the U. S. is all up in our business, yet someone found it necessary to tell me American goings-on were none of mine.

Okay, well, here's another point on that that I would like to make. The United States is arguably the most powerful nation in the world. Ergo, they hold sway over the rest of the world to at least some extent. Knowing what's going on down there just seems to be something an intelligent Canadian would do.

When Bill Clinton signed the bill that deregulated the financial industry, he arguably started a melt-down of the U. S. economy. It wasn't his intention, and even the top 'experts' in finance are only right half the time, but there's no getting around the fact that the bill was signed. When the American economy went to hell, it wasn't long afterwards that the Canadian economy did the same. They're inextricably intertwined. Americans buy our oil and our timber, and any number of other natural resources that we have. When Americans go broke and the big projects go bankrupt, Canadian products don't get exported. Our unemployment rates went through the roof when the American economy tanked.

When 9/11 happened, suddenly Canadian airports were forced to make major changes in order to appease our neighbours. More passengers were being searched (I was one of them, in fact), more documentation was required to cross the border, more technology was implemented to weed out potential terrorists, and more people had to be hired in customs and border patrol positions - paid for by the Canadian taxpayers, I might add.

When George W. Bush decided it would be a grand idea to invade Iraq to go after some oil for his daddy, Canadians were ostracized because they weren't stupid enough to go along with him, despite the fact that nobody else wanted to go with him either! Apparently we were suddenly best buddies that were supposed to lend a hand while he beat the crap out of some people (from a distance, of course), sort of like a man who holds a guy's arms so his friend can give him a good beating. We didn't believe there were WMDs there, any more than the rest of the world did. We might be considered a 'nice' country, but nice doesn't mean stupid and gullible. In fact, I'll be a complete cynic here and admit/postulate that it might even have had something to do with the fact that Americans buy Canadian oil. If they can't get it from Iraq, our prices presumably go up accordingly. I'm not saying that's true, but it could very well have been a consideration.

Those are just three quick examples of how Canadians are impacted by actions taken by the United States, so I'd say those are pretty good reasons to keep an eye on things down there, and express my opinion as I feel necessary.

Yet another reason I feel obliged to speak up is because there are many people in the U. S. that I care about. I have friends down there, co-workers, as well as colleagues. I'm a staff writer for an American-based magazine. I'm a contributor to an American-based online writing community. I produce a show for an American host who is based in Ohio, that is broadcast from a New Jersey-based station. I have friends that run animal shelters down there that I got to know through my advocacy work. In fact, almost all of the people I know are in the United States. If I didn't care what was happening in their lives, I wouldn't be any kind of a decent human being.

Another reason I stick my nose in is because I feel human rights are at stake. Human rights are not a national concern. They are a global concern. I just posted an article on female genital mutilation, which is a practice that takes place in Africa. Am I African? No. Do I feel it's my business? Abso-f-ing-lutely! Defenseless little girls are being tortured and killed by this barbaric practice. I'm a feminist. You do the math.

What human rights do I feel are being infringed on in the U. S.?? Well, sheesh, let me make a list for you:
  1. 90% of the population said they wanted to expand background check for gun ownership, but the senate decided they didn't care what the population wanted. That's tyranny and fascism in my book. It doesn't matter what your stance on gun control is, your government is supposed to be working for you! If 90% said they didn't want the extended checks, then that would be completely different.
  2. Equal pay for women hasn't happened yet - women make only 77% of what men do. I'm a feminist, so do the math.
  3. Women's reproductive rights are being stripped - nearly 700 new bills were put forth in the first quarter of 2013 to try to restrict women's right regarding these issue. I'm not just talking about abortion here. I'm talking about pharmacists being allowed to deny women birth control pills based on their own personal religious beliefs. Not all bills are being passed, of course, and some are being shut down because they violate the U. S. Constitution, but the damage is being done nonetheless.
  4. Girls are being gang raped and then slut-shamed & victim-blamed so badly that they're committing suicide. Yes, there was a big case in Canada, too, and guess what? Americans got involved! If I'm being nosy, does that make the caring Americans nosy, too?
  5. Marriage is unavailable to lesbians and gays. Religious groups are trying to take over legislation in the U. S., when the country specifically is supposed to have freedom of religion. We legalized it in Canada, federally, 8 years ago. Nothing bad happened. It's time to grow up and realize that everyone should have the same rights as everyone else. Just because you don't like Peppermint Schnapps does not mean you get to tell the rest of your country they can't have it.
  6. 26% of teens who come out as gay or lesbian to their parents are being instantly tossed out into the street. These are children. Their parents are legally and morally obliged to care for these children until they reach the age of majority. These parents are breaking the law. Of course, the punishment for not caring for your children is usually just having the children removed from the home, but having them put into foster care would be a hell of a lot better than where they end up, which is on the streets prostituting themselves just to stay alive. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old kids out there, performing sex acts on adults. That's pedophilia, folks. The 'johns' are pedophiles. Where is the outrage?
Those are just a few of the human rights violations that I see taking place right now in America. I'm not saying that they aren't happening elsewhere, because they are. They're happening in my country, too, and I want them fixed here just as much as I want them fixed in the U. S.

One small reason I have for wanting to know what's going on in America is a slight paranoia or cynicism I suppose. Maybe it's paranoia, and maybe it's not. I don't know. The fact is, I like to keep an eye on any country that's capable of taking over mine. The Canadian government very often falls in line with whatever the American government wants us to do, so I like to know what that might be. On the more extreme end of things, you're supposed keep your friends close and your enemies closer, so I like to be sure which ones are which. People turn on a dime, and so do countries.

The final big reason I'm being nosy is because I like to have a big-picture, world-view outlook. I think of humanity as simply humanity. Just because I don't live in Boston does not mean I don't feel for the bombing victims at the Marathon the other day. Just because I'm not Iraqi does not mean I don't want to know how people are doing over there, and what their culture is like. Being from a different country, and having the benefit of some distance from the internal politics of America, I have a little less bias on things. Sure, I have a personal slant, but I don't necessarily have a personal stake in any of it. Basically, I will have friends who will hopefully be allowed to get married one day, but it doesn't change whether or not I'm able to get married (if I were gay or lesbian, that is). That and the fact that I can't actually impact policy down there anyway. It's not like I can vote on American issues. The most I can do is talk about it with people, share my opinion, and hope that maybe I can help someone who needs it.

Every country in the world is inextricably intertwined. There's no getting around it. Our economies are impacted by everyone else's to at least some extent. Whether or not we go to war is dependent on other countries as well as our own. The world is a giant stage where we are all players, even if the roles are only bit parts. So, is it any of my business what Americans are doing? Damn straight it is! I'm not here on this planet to gossip about who is cheating on their spouse, for crying out loud. I've got more important things to worry about, and so do you!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Preparing for the Angry Mob & Celebrating?

I just wrote a rather inflammatory article on gun control with regards to how it relates to feminism, so I'm expecting a nice batch of trolls to be visiting in the near future. I don't think it gets more inflammatory than that. There are mentions of a couple of other issues thrown into the article for good measure, too, so we're looking at some seriously happy times for people. I look forward to the ensuing brouhaha. That kind of confrontation doesn't really bother me. One-on-one confrontations with people I actually have a personal relationship with of some sort is usually where I have an issue.

The article hasn't been published yet. I have to wait for my editor to look it over, and then the editor-in-chief has to approve it. That usually takes at least a few days with my stuff, but considering the fact that it's a news-related piece it might go up a bit faster. I'll have to wait and see. I find myself very curious what sort of picture they stick on the top of it.

I'm actually really early writing my piece for +Feminspire this week. My deadline is Saturday morning. My last one hasn't even been published yet, assuming that it gets published - not everything makes the cut for one reason or another. I've had three pieces get accepted, and two rejected. Now I have two sitting in draft. One of them has already been looked over by my editor and is awaiting final approval. The gun control and feminism one I just finished a few minutes ago, so no one has looked at it yet. When I put forth the idea on the staff page on Facebook, it was met with enthusiasm, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it posted very quickly.

Just to clarify, before anyone thinks I have a thing against guns. I really don't. I just happen to think criminals and people with psychiatric disorders shouldn't have one. It just makes sense to me, is all.

To be perfectly honest, I like guns, particularly handguns. I would like to own one someday, when I have a thousand dollars or so that I can spare. I want to get my gun licence and learn how to handle it, though. The last thing I'd want in my house is a weapon that I might accidentally shoot myself in the face with. I'm not an idiot, so that would be an unlikely event, seeing as I know enough not to point the thing at my face, or any other living creature I don't intend to kill for that matter. Still, I want to be fully cognizant of all safety measures.

I've learned to be like that with every new thing in my life, though. When I was pregnant with my daughter (about 24 years ago), I read all kinds of books on pregnancy and parenting. I watched a ton of videos, too. When I got Stimpy he was the first ferret I ever had, so before I even went to pick him up I'd already been online doing research on proper ferret care. If I hadn't done that, he'd probably have died the first night I had him. Ferrets can get into fatal trouble very quickly. All it takes is a toilet with the lid up, or a hole in a dryer vent.

The one thing I never researched until it was too late, was proper cat care. I lost one of my cats right after I got Stimpy because I didn't bother to do any research on proper nutrition. I had no idea the grocery store food that I was feeding all three of my cats was one day going to kill one of them. If you have a cat, I suggest you read the article I wrote about cat nutrition a while ago. You can find it here. Cats are obligate carnivores. Corn, rice and potatoes are not something they should be eating, but those are usually highest on the list of ingredients on commercial cat foods. If you Google "How to Avoid Killing Your Cat" all three parts to that article series should come up.

There's a ton of information on protein quantities and fat content in the article. If you don't know some of the stuff I was just talking about, please read the article. Not only might it save the life of your cat, but it might save you thousands of dollars in vet bills, too. It cost me $2100 to try to save my cat, and another $300 to have him put to sleep because his kidneys were destroyed and he was suffering. The one time I assumed I knew everything I needed to know about something, was the time I got kicked in the face for it. My cat got the worst end of that deal, though.

You know, since July I've published 69 articles on +SearchWarp and I've had another 3 published so far on Feminspire, with 2 more possible in the near future. It occurs to me that I'll soon have an anniversary of sorts to celebrate as a writer. I should probably plan something special for my 100th article, I think. To some people it might not be that big of a deal, but to me it really is. I turned 41 before I started taking myself seriously as a writer. I haven't hit 42 yet, and things are going quite well. I've had some truly amazing things happen with my work. I mean, it's a total pat-on-the-back thing for me, because I finally plucked up the courage to really go for it.

I've always wanted to be a writer, and I was working on various things in the privacy of my own home, but I never forced myself to submit anything.  Hell, I started writing fiction when I was twelve. I've had a bit of practice with my writing, I guess you could say. Even with this blog there are close to 150 posts now. This whole blog came as a bit of a surprise to me. When I first started it I had no idea where it was going. Then the place I was living in lost their internet so I went for a couple of months without posting anything at all. I got back to it, though, and then eventually started posting almost every day. The funny thing is, I still have no idea where it's going.

My blog has no purpose, really, other than for me to express whatever is going on in my head at that particular moment. Apparently a certain number of people find the inner workings of my brain enjoyable, and since that seems to work for everyone I'll just keep doing what I've been doing.

Now, when it comes to a celebration for 100 articles being published, I'm going to have think about what I'd really like to do. I think champagne would be a good thing. I remember reading Misery, by Stephen King, and how the main character always had a bottle of Dom Perignon and a single cigarette after the completion of each book. Well, I probably won't spend $100 on bubbly (if that's what a bottle of Dom still costs - I haven't looked in a long time) and a cigarette is out of the question. I quit years ago, and they taste like crap to me now. A single cigarette would make me sick as a dog. Not exactly the kind of celebration I had in mind.

Maybe I'll do something that takes a bit of effort. Long Island iced teas, with plenty of finger foods and some movies about writers, maybe. Just me and my daughter. I'm a real party animal, huh? She might actually drink the Long Islands, so I might be able to get her a little drunk for the first time in her life. That would be entertaining!! It's not like I can have a real party. I know about three people that might actually show up. Most of the people I'm really friends with are living in other parts of the world. Would it make me a total geek to have an online party?? Even if it didn't, it would probably only be fun for about ten minutes and then everyone would be wandering around their homes doing their own thing.

Well, I have quite a few weeks to think about it, depending on whether or not I pick up the pace on my articles again. I've only been doing two per week lately. Granted, I have a couple sitting on my hard drive that I just have to post, so I'll probably do one of those, today. I've got 28 left to publish before I hit that mark, but soon it will only be 25 or 26. Even at 3 pieces per week I'm looking at 9 weeks to come up with something fun. If any of my readers has any ideas, let me know! Leave your comments at the bottom of this post. I read them all, and so far I've published them all, too. Keep in mind I'm practically agoraphobic, and I'm not supposed to be walking, so try to make suggestions that I might actually be able to do. If you've been reading this blog, then you know the kind of person I am, so hopefully I get a few suggestions that I can use!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Coming Back to Life, While Giving Death Customs a Thought

I'm definitely better today. The thing about life is that a lot of it has to do with what you're used to. If you're used to having someone around, you miss them when they're gone, but eventually you get used to their lack of presence. In my case I'm no longer expecting Stimpy to come trotting around the corner to find me, and I don't expect him to be following me around the apartment anymore, so when I don't see him it's not as much of a painful shock. I guess that's part of acceptance. I know now that he's gone, and I'm getting used to it.

I still have all the images in my had of him, and all the tactile memories that go along with having a pet with soft, beautiful fur and a wet nose. The memories don't seem distant, and I don't feel as though I'm forgetting him. They just aren't constantly stabbing me in the heart now, and I'm no longer feeling like the pain is going to drive me crazy enough that I'll start performing rituals to try to resurrect him. I know there will still be serious bouts of pain, of course, but it comes in tolerable waves now, rather than a constant barrage.

I managed to get a bit of work done today, and sent an e-mail to a friend I haven't been talking to as much lately. We usually talk a lot every day and I've missed him, but like I said in yesterday's post, I'm the type to isolate myself when I'm in that much pain. It's how I handle it, because I know I need to feel it. I don't want to be distracted by comfort. I don't want to ignore the pain and pretend that everything is fine. That's the surest path to self-destruction when it comes to grief.

That's the weird thing about funeral customs and rituals, whether it's for humans or animals. The customs we have for letting go of the dead sort of go against healing. Within a couple of days, while we're still in serious shock over the loss, we've already got viewings and social gatherings, where the people who are most profoundly affected are expected to show their faces, grief-ravaged or not. They have to stand there to greet people for hours on end, when all they really want to do is curl up in a ball somewhere and cry their hearts out as loudly and strenuously as possible.

Once the viewing is over, we have the funeral and burial proceedings, whatever those may be - they're different for everyone, depending on their belief system. This usually takes place two to three days after the person's death. You're still in shock at this point, yet you're expected to sit in a room full of people and listen to someone speaking about your dearly departed, sometimes several people speaking. That's another thing I don't quite understand, because there is no way in hell I could give a speech (also known as a eulogy) about someone who has just died, if I cared about them at all, and have it come out sounded the least bit coherent. I'd have tears and snot running down my face, my voice would be all over the place, and I'd likely even be hiccuping. How the hell do people give eulogies?

I know funeral proceedings are meant to give us closure, but I think we're cheating ourselves of real healing by rushing the process. I mean, when I think about men and women who lose a spouse, I can't imagine what it must take for them just to decide on the clothing their loved one will be viewed and buried, or cremated, in. The best thing that people can do for their loved ones, I think, is to have those decisions already made before it happens. Of course, it's not like we know when we're going to die, exactly, but having your arrangements pre-planned seems like a good thing to do.

Admittedly I'm biased against the funeral industry, and our 'civilized' customs as a whole. I've read many, many things about death, and the customs that go along with it, and what we do to the remains of our loved ones strikes me as barbaric. What many of the funeral services do strikes me as unforgivably mercenary. Yes, we need our ceremonies. It's just the way we work as a species. Even neanderthals put flowers in with their dead as part of their burial custom. However, what we do not need is someone trying to sell us a flamboyantly engraved box when we're planning on having someone cremated.

Guilt usually prompts people to pay far too much money for funeral expenses. We can't stand the thought of cremating someone in a cheap cardboard box, so we upgrade to the pine. Despite the fact that we're too grief-stricken to even think about food, we decide we have to make arrangements for a huge buffet for everyone else. We go out and buy an expensive suit, or use an expensive suit the deceased already owned, that the mortician or funeral director will have to cut up the back in order to dress the body in it, even though we know our loved one always wore jeans and a t-shirt.

One of the things I really don't like about our current customs is our habit of using chemicals to preserve the tissue. Now, bodies will decay anyway, no matter what chemical you put through them. Lenin's body, which is on display in Moscow, has to be constantly maintained using all kinds of chemicals. There has been a debate going on for some time with respect to whether or not he should be buried, however, particularly since the government stopped funding the preservation work and it is now supported by private donors.

Suffusing a body with chemicals will slow down decay, and keep a body from smelling during the funeral proceedings, but I question the process because of the environmental impact of those chemicals. They do eventually break down into the ground, so I wonder what the overall effect really is. Cemetery grass may be green, but I'm not sure if it's green like that because of the bodies, or because of the fertilizers used by the groundskeepers.

I haven't decided what I want for myself, actually. I will most likely be cremated, but that's just me being practical. You see, I've listed on both my health card and my driver's licence that I'm a full organ donor, and that my remains can be donated for the purpose of medical research. I would have to say there probably won't be much left of me once they get through with my body. Of course in that case, if my entire body goes to a medical college or something, it will be full of chemicals anyway in order to preserve it for dissection. I need to do more research on the nitty-gritty of the process for all death customs in North America in order to find exactly what happens.

I remember seeing a documentary once on a tribal culture where they carried the body up into the mountains and left it there for the scavengers to feast on. Once the bones were picked clean I believe they buried them, but I could be wrong about that since I don't fully remember everything they said. As terrible as some people might think that is, I think it's a great idea. For anyone who believes we're all a part of each other to some extent, and believes in the whole ideal of our bodies truly returning to the earth, there's nothing more natural than the idea of feeding wild creatures, whether they're birds or wildcats.

However, in North America that particular custom is unrealistic. We have too many laws governing the proper disposal of a body, and we have far too many people dying in confined spaces, for it to be feasible. Another option I find attractive is something that was in the movie Avatar, and isn't far off what we do now. The body was buried in a hole with nothing but flowers and seeds and stuff. No embalming, no fancy box, no lead lining. The body would decompose naturally and nourish the earth. Considering the fact that it was buried with a seed, the custom would mean that a tree that grew from that seed had been nourished by that particular person's remains. It would make a far better marker to leave behind than a marble slab you have to pay thousands of dollars for, plus taxes on top of that for anything that sits above the ground. (Yes, the government has their hand in there, too, at least in Canada - did you really think they didn't?)

Death is very personal. There's no getting around it. So, it's kind of amazing that we've all just followed along with the customs of everyone else without personalizing our ceremonies and final resting places more than we have. There are some who are cremated, and have their ashes scattered in specific places, which is nice. There are some who choose to be cryogenically frozen, hoping a cure is developed one day. There are some who have family plots that they are buried in. For the most part, however, we all do one of two things; we get embalmed and buried, or cremated (sometimes embalmed and then cremated, depending on the situation) with our cremains going into an urn. What is done with the urn is usually the only thing that is varied. You can pay for a niche for displaying the urn at a formal site, you can bring the urn home to be displayed there, or you can scatter the ashes.

I think, if it's possible for it to be done, what I would like is to be buried on my own property with some maple tree seeds. I love maple trees. I love the colour changes in autumn. For all the years I lived out in Alberta, maple trees were one of the things I missed the most about Ontario. In Edmonton there was very little colour variation in autumn. Poplar turns yellow and then the leaves die and fall off. That's about it. Maple leaves turn glorious shades of crimson, orange, pink, yellow, and even purple. Assuming the property would be inherited by my daughter, and passed down to her progeny one day, it would be rather nice to have a maple tree there for them to remember me by.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Doing Better, Reflecting on Other Stuff Now Too

Today hasn't been too bad. I still get teary-eyed, and I will never stop missing Stimpy, but I feel almost human again. My ex got in touch today to ask how I was. He knows better than most people how attached I was (and still am) to my little boy. My relationship with my ex might seem strange to a lot of people, but we're actually good friends now. We've actually been friends now almost as long as we were a couple.

My ex made a sort of joking comment that referred to my attachment to Stimpy being more than my attachment had been to him - it's an old things we banter about every now and then. It had me doing a bit of self-reflection, though, to see where I'm at as a human being these days. It no longer matters what he thinks about me, specifically - at least not when it comes to that sort of thing - but I do ponder my dating desirability every now and again, seeing as I've been single for more than five years now. I'm not in any grand rush to get involved with anyone or anything. In fact, I don't actually need to be in a relationship at all. It would be nice to have that sort of thing in my life, but only if it's right.

The thing is, I'm not easy to be around for long periods of time. Not because I'm clingy, but for the opposite reason. I have this tendency to make men feel unnecessary. Well, I don't want to be in a relationship with someone because I need them anyway. I don't think it's healthy. I want to be with someone because I enjoy being with them, and I actually want to be around them. I'm as independent as they come. I don't think men and women can be generalized as being certain ways, because I'm nothing like what most people consider to be a woman. I've talked about that plenty in past blogs, so suffice it to say I'm more of an undomesticated tomboy than anything else. For the insecure male that's probably emasculating, too, so it doesn't add much to the non-existent line-up outside my door, but that's a good thing. I'm not attracted to that kind of insecurity. Nobody is always secure and self-confident - we're human after all - but a healthy self-esteem is an attractive quality in anyone.

I live a very solitary life. The things I enjoy doing for both work and play are solitary activities, which means I'm very content by myself for long periods of time. This often makes people feel excluded from my life. Grieving over my ferret these last eight days, I've isolated myself during my worst pain. It's how I deal with it. It's very personal and private when I'm grieving. I can communicate my pain to others (such as in my blog), but the actual grieving is done when I'm alone. So, there again I make people feel like they're not necessary to me, and that applies to men, too. In truth, it feels good to know I have people in my life who care about me and worry when I go through hard times like this, and I'd feel worse if I didn't have them in my life. They can't help me through my pain any other way, though. I simply have to feel it, and move through it.

The comment from my ex today didn't change the way I look at anything about myself. It just made me wonder if anything might have changed in my head. Upon reflection I've learned only that I'm still perfectly content with who I am. Well, at least I'm consistent in my ability and willingness to annoy others. I can only hope that no one has misinterpreted my silence lately. My friends ask if I'm okay, and I answer as best I can, but I can't bring myself to reassure anyone. I don't feel 'alright' and I'm not a dishonest person, so I won't lie and say that I am. I'm not a bridge-leaper, though, so there isn't anything for them to worry about in that respect. I've experienced enough pain in my life to know that it does get better.

I'll be honest and say that nothing has ever hurt me as badly as losing Stimpy. Absolutely nothing. I've been through a lot, and losing him was hands-down the worst thing I've ever felt. I lost eleven people in three years, once. It was a terrible time in my life, but even that doesn't compare. You see, that's the thing about loving a pet and having a real connection with them. You can open up your heart completely, knowing they will never 'cheat' on you, or want to divorce you, or find other women prettier or nicer than you. They will love you just as much as you love them, and usually more so. Their loyalty is absolute. Well, in Stimpy's case I returned that love. Not once in the entire time I had him did I ever get mad at him, or even mildly exasperated. It didn't matter what he did. Of course, for the most part he was a total angel, so it was pretty easy for me to feel that way. Even with Pepper, though, my second ferret, I just don't get mad at him. I'm incapable of it.

I suppose I should feel guilty that I couldn't feel that way about my ex, but there isn't much I can do about it. With people the defenses go up until they've shown they can be trusted to treat your heart with care. That's the way I am, at least. I've never gotten to that point with anyone where I ceded them total trust in everything. I've loved, unconditionally, but I also knew who they were and what areas of my heart they could be trusted with. That's the thing with all humans, though. I trust everyone in the areas in which they can be trusted. Everyone has areas where they are not to be trusted. With some people it's silly things like knowing that if they say they're going to be out for an hour, it's more likely they'll be gone for two. With other people you know they can't be trusted with secrets. It's not necessarily because they're bad people. They just are who they are. You either accept them that way and take your own emotional precautions, you remove them from your life, or you suffer the consequences of being let down.

Nobody is perfect in this world. A friend of mine pointed out a couple of his faults recently so I would be sure to not confuse him with heroic perfection. I had to laugh, seeing as I have far too healthy of a self-esteem to put anyone on a pedestal higher than my own. He was joking around with me, but it's something else that made me ponder humanity recently. I see everyone's flaws very clearly, which includes the aforementioned friend's. I just compare their flaws to their great qualities and see where they sit on the scale. In his case, he happens to balance out far more to the good side, that's all. I've had friends in the past that did not, so it's no surprise that I say they were friends in the past. I don't waste my time keeping people in my life whose qualities don't balance out well.

In a sense, though, if I stop to consider my personal definition of a hero, it would be exactly that. I think ordinary, everyday people can be quite heroic in their ordinary, everyday lives. They can do things that seem so small to them, but are in fact enormously helpful to the person they're doing it for. I think anyone who cares about the people in his or her life ends up doing heroic things for them. Sometimes it's just acknowledging someone's pain and treating it like it's important, instead of brushing it off. Sometimes it's taking someone out for coffee when you see that they need to decompress a bit. Sometimes it's just letting them vent in an e-mail.

The flip-side of that, however, is that the person on the receiving end of the treatment should be decent enough to acknowledge, at least in their own minds, that their friend has done something truly meaningful for them. Real friends don't do something for you for the gratitude, but real friends feel gratitude when their friends do things for them. Hope that doesn't sound too redundant, but there it is.

My daughter and I have this weird relationship where we refuse to let each other say please or thank you. We make a point of being casual and rude, because we think it's funny. We call each other names and laugh about it, but if we weren't as close as we are we would not be able to do those thing without hurting each other. Neither of us misinterprets it. It's part of our schtick, if you will. Neither of us misinterprets when the other is truly angry, either, but again that's because we're as close as we are. My daughter's an adult, and we share an apartment (along with the bills), so it's a damn good thing we get along as well as we do. She's been my closest human friend for years now, and I'll be eternally grateful for that. She's been my hero, and I know there have been times she's felt the same toward me.

Stimpy was (and still is) my hero, too. For five years he was steadfast and true, doing whatever he could to bring me joy. I'll never stop grieving for him and missing him, but maybe I'm ready to stop wallowing, mired in my grief. I don't know for certain. I haven't been sleeping much. Yesterday, on the one-week 'anniversary' of his death, I was a disaster, and it had been more than 48 hours since I'd slept. I finally crashed for a couple of hours in the evening, but I've been up since then. My head is more than a little fuzzy - to be expected. I'm used to sleep deprivation, but it does have an impact on my emotions. They swing more widely. I can be numb from feeling like I'm brain-dead, or I can be overly emotional. Having that mix with the grief means I'm not sure where my head is really at. Only time will tell, and time is also the only thing that will help.

In the meantime, life still happens around me. I still have the cold I got a few weeks ago, or at least the cough and rough voice that are left over from it. I don't have the congestion anymore. Lack of sleep isn't helping me get over the cold, but the cough isn't helping the lack of sleep either. There was one day where I'd slept for ten minutes and then woke up hacking. Couldn't fall back to sleep after that. Still spend far too much time coughing until I feel like I'm going to throw up (yes, I've done that before - yes, it bites).

My daughter actually took two days off work because of her cold, and she's normally a very reliable employee - never late, never sick. Then the following week we lost Stimpy, so she called in that day, too, knowing she wasn't going to be able to hold it together. She's only been at this job a couple of months, so it doesn't look good, but what can you do? As I said, life still happens. There are things you just can't control. Cold germs don't care if you're new at your job, and neither does cancer. When they hired her, though, her previous experience was with a place where she'd worked for them for a total of five years, so her work history shows she has a good track record. She left them when she went to college and they hired her back the second she walked in the door and asked if they needed anyone. It wasn't until we moved that she quit and was unemployed for any length of time. Now she's working her butt off at a grocery store.

You can probably tell that I'm proud of my daughter. I'm lucky to be surrounded by great people right now. A great daughter, a great ex-husband who turned into a great friend, great co-workers who are also great friends, great writing colleagues who turned into great friends. I may not be feeling the greatest, but I'm thankful for the ones who have been acting the greatest. Now, before I start sounding like Tony the Tiger with all these 'greats' I'm going to go grab my Pepper and give him a cuddle. He's conked out right now, which is what ferrets do for many hours of their days and nights, so he'll be much easier to hold onto. Once he wakes up he'll be squirming out of my arms, as is his wont, so I'm taking advantage of his sleepiness while I've got the chance!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Pepper is the Spice of My Life!

As you might expect, life is still more than a little difficult for me these days. It's been less than a week since I lost Stimpy, and I find myself breaking down a lot still. This is extremely unusual for me, by the way. I almost never cry from my own emotional (or physical) pain. Stimpy was more than special to me, though, so I'm a mess.

However, every single day I still laugh several times. Why? Because I have Pepper, my second ferret. Pepper is an out-and-out brat! It's just the way he is, and I wouldn't change it for the world. There's so much mischief in him, that I'm in awe that anything so small could be so full of it! When I had to take him to the vet to have him neutered, I was extremely concerned that he would lose some of his personality. I didn't want him to be calm and sedate. I wanted him to be, well, him. The vet reassured me, and said that he might calm down a little bit, but that his personality wouldn't really change.

Well, a funny thing happened with Pepper after his surgery. He became even more of a brat! At first I assumed it was because of the hormonal changes, and the fact that he no longer has his testicles to tell his brain to stop sending out the sex hormones. I thought it would dissipate. Now that I think about it, he has calmed down a little bit, but only to the point where he's almost back to his pre-surgery self. This is a good thing, because it means he's stopped using his teeth quite so much. He was always a lot more aggressive than Stimpy, and we just assumed it was because he was still a kit when we got him, and then when he wasn't a kit and we saw he hadn't been neutered, we figured that was the reason. Nope, I guess he's just full of 'piss and vinegar', as the expression goes.

Now, you might be wondering what on earth is so funny about a ferret that takes the odd nip, and one that I happen to call an out-and-out brat. Well, to start with, there's just something about a ferret that makes them funny to begin with. Every move they make is geared toward comedy. They're either waddling with a butt-swish-type movement, or they're running humpity-backed, or they're back-pedaling so fast you can't see their feet move. Almost everything they do with their bodies is funny. Then they bounce, of course. When they get in a mood, they spring up & down with their backs arched and their heads swaying back and forth with each hop. This is known in the ferret world as the weasel war dance, but there's nothing war-like intended. They do it when they're excited and happy.

Now, Pepper has arguably lost his best friend. He's sleeping a bit more than usual, and he's coming up on the bed to sleep inside the octopus toy that Stimpy used to sleep in. He's poking his nose out more often to have his head rubbed. He gets a bit sad and depressed I guess you'd say, just like I do. When he's really awake, though, he spends his time living his life and getting into trouble, just like a happy ferret is supposed to do.

To give you an idea the kind of trouble he gets into, let me tell you about something that happened this week. You see, I don't use clay-based litter, because it's really bad for cats' lungs (and it's even worse for ferrets' lungs). I shred newspapers and flyers for the litter-box. Newsprint absorbs odor, and the best litter you can buy is the recycled newspaper pellets. I just save myself some money doing it myself. Anyway, it was time to change the litter-box, and Pepper is in the habit of 'helping' me with that little task. Once I bag up the old stuff, and clean the plastic pan ready for the new, I start shredding paper into the box and Pepper starts pouncing around in it, attacking the strips. In a way he does actually help me, because he packs down the loose strips for me so I can fit more in the pan.

On this fine day, which I believe was Tuesday or Wednesday, my one cat decided he simply could not wait until I was finished shredding the paper. He had to go now! So, with the pan still in the hallway, only partially filled, he hopped in to do his business. Well, Pepper thought this was great fun, and hopped in behind him, most likely thinking he would pounce on the cat like he usually does. However, this time the cat got one over on the ferret as he peed all over Pepper's head. Needless to say, I was pretty much doubled over with laughter by this point. Pepper already had me chuckling with just his usual litter-box antics, but this was too much.

Since I wasn't finished with the litter, I had to call my daughter over to give Pepper a bath right away. The last thing we needed was for him to start smelling like cat urine. It has to be one of the worst smells in the world. Now, of course, Pepper was already hyper, but bath-time for a ferret is an invitation to madness. They're not supposed to be bathed more than once every few months, as it's not good for their skin, and it actually makes them smell worse than usual because they start secreting a lot of oil after being bathed. So, ferrets really don't get used to bath-time, or being wet in general, although Stimpy used to just hop right into the shower with me, so he loved the water. Even Stimpy didn't like actual baths, though.

Just holding onto a ferret long enough to get them soaped up and rinsed off is pretty much a miracle. One that was not attained on this day. No, instead Pepper hopped away from my daughter's grasp while still covered in ferret shampoo, and decided that my bed would be the perfect place to dry himself off. I paused in my paper-shredding duties long enough to nab him and hand him back to my daughter, despite being struck with another fit of the giggles. There's nothing like a good household disaster to tickle my funny bone, and Pepper has a tendency to trigger them.

Once he was finally fully rinsed off, attempts were made to hand-dry him in a towel - my personal towel to be specific, so it's a good thing I'm not squeamish about stuff like that. Well, you can only get them so dry that way before you have to let them go (or they squirm out of your grasp). One of the best things to do is to put a folded towel on the floor for them to burrow and wiggle in, which he was more than happy to do, at a speed of about 300 miles an hour, in between laps around the apartment as he attempted the air-drying technique. Granted, at that speed it wasn't long before he was dry.

So, all in all, I'm not doing too badly. Pepper is doing the same thing for me now that Stimpy did for the 5 years that I was lucky enough to have him. He's making me laugh several times a day, and making me see the joy in life at a time when I would normally be feeling nothing but pain. Pepper really is a spicy little meatball!

Friday, 12 April 2013

A Crazy Ferret and Supportive Friends Help

There are times when I don't think I can stand feeling like this, and then there are times when I think I'll be okay. I get triggered both ways. I have some very good friends who have been very helpful to me since Stimpy died (I'm forcing myself to say it that way, rather than simply saying I lost him - I have to accept it). +Steve Kovacs who is the host for The Kovacs Perspective, for which I am the producer, has been a very supportive friend, and he dedicated the last episode of his show to Stimpy. It was something totally unexpected. I knew he loved animals, and understood what I was feeling, but I didn't expect him to do what he did. The station manager +Len Azzarone put together the graphics and put up Stimpy's picture on the show, and posted a comment on my last blog posting to say that he was thinking of me. He, too, is an animal lover, and I very much appreciate the thought and extra work he put into the show for me and for Stimpy.

+susan thom has been checking in on me every day, talking me through it, as well as sending me cheerful pictures of her and her daughter (who is visiting before she's shipped out to Germany). +Marlin Woosley has been very supportive and understanding as well, unknowingly cheering me up with a picture of himself and his granddaughter, as well as talking to me online and letting me know to take my time.

Another friend, +Susie Riddle, has been a friend for a number of years, and she used to call herself Stimpy's aunt. She never met him in person, as she runs the WeezleWings Ferret Sanctuary in Texas, but she loved him anyway. She loves all ferrets. I lost touch with Susie for a couple of years, but about a week before Stimpy died we got in contact again, and having the Weezle group she runs on Facebook has been good for me. I'm getting back in touch with the ferret people again. All of this helps.

Thank you to everyone who has been so understanding, and those who have gone to such extra effort to make this time as easy for me as possible.

My daughter shares my very deep grief for Stimpy. (I don't publish her name for her own good - she wouldn't enjoy the publicity.) Just knowing that someone else is feeling what I'm feeling is helpful, except I don't like the idea of her suffering either. Still, death is a part of life that we all must get used to. I don't consider the death of a pet to be practice for 'the real thing' of human death, because I consider my pets to be as important as humans. I know what it's like to have a child, and I love my pets as much as I love my daughter. They're a vital part of my life, and losing one of them really is like losing a child for me. I don't care what anyone says about that. If they don't have that connection with animals themselves, that's their business, and my connection to animals is my own.

Pepper, my second ferret, is a crazy little bug. He seems to have handled Stimpy's death with his usual aplomb. For the first couple of days he was sleeping a lot, and was somewhat quiet. He seems to have recovered, however, and spends a fair bit of time bouncing around like he used to do. I'm thankful for this, because he makes me laugh, and that's something I badly need right now to break up the extended periods of sorrow. I made sure that Pepper saw Stimpy's body after he died. He laid on top of him for a minute or two, and seemed to understand. He'll poke his head inside the octopus toy every once in a while, so I'm not sure if he's forgetting that Stimpy's not in there anymore, or if he's debating on whether or not to go inside it.

There are things I still need to talk about when it comes to Stimpy's death, so I will continue to share those things on here. There isn't much else on my mind right now. I did manage to get myself into the book series I mentioned a couple of posts ago - the one written by Tess Gerritsen, which means I have something to distract me a bit, since I have several books from the series in paperback form, as well as some in e-book form. I'm not too keen on reading on my computer right now, though. I've actually been shutting it off quite a bit to go lie down with a book.

Getting away from the computer is probably a good thing, but if I know myself at all, I know I'll probably be back in the habit of being on it all the time once I've gotten past the worst of my grief. Right now I'm very, very sad. I won't say I'm depressed, because depression is not sadness. Depression can be the result of repressing your emotions. Or suppressing them if you prefer. Depression can be clinical in the form of brain chemistry imbalances as well. Being sad is not being depressed. If you're depressed you feel pretty much nothing at all. Right now I'm feeling a whole hell of a lot, and as painful as it might be I also know that it's better to feel these things now. I spent a lot of years when I was quite a bit younger, not caring about anything at all, including myself. I had to fight to regain my emotional health.

As much as I've been through in my life, many people would be surprised to know that having Stimpy die is probably the most painful thing I've ever gone through. I allowed myself to form a bond with him that I've never had with an animal before. Having him there during what could have been the worst five years of my life made them the best five years. He turned everything around for me when I might have lost myself otherwise. He made me smile and laugh every single day. I remember all the little things he did, and even now when the loss of him is so painful, those things make me smile still.

Pepper decided to 'pull a Stimpy' yesterday, by digging his way into my sub-woofer. It was something Stimpy did just after I got him. I had to use my drill to break into the speaker box in order to get him out because he was stuck in there. When I reassembled the sub-woofer I made sure I put fabric over the air hole so Stimpy couldn't get into it again. He damn near gave me a heart attack when he did that, but he came out none the worse for wear. The sub-woofer sat there, perfectly safely I thought, until Pepper managed to get the fabric yanked out of the way last night. At least this time the sub-woofer disassembled quite easily, thanks to the holes I drilled into it because of Stimpy. Pepper was already on his way out of it, though.

These kinds of messages amaze me sometimes. This is the first time Pepper has actually managed to get into the sub-woofer in all this time. We actually thought his body was a bit too big for him to get in there, to be honest. Still, he managed it, and it felt a bit like he was channeling Stimpy's spirit, as if to say, "See, I'm okay!" I don't care if I'm fooling myself. The messages help. If I can think of him as being safe and happy somewhere, it eases my pain, and if I feel like he's still communicating with me, so much the better.