Monday 21 November 2016

Sex, Drugs, Pets and Gardens!

I'm different.

I've been told it, too many times to ignore.

But, by and large, I'm only different deep inside my own head. On the exterior, I'm extremely usual. Boringly so.

On the off chance that you might need to hear some of the things I do not say at work, in elevators, coffee dates, parties—really, anywhere that someone might actually hear them—I boldly present some of my slightly-left-of-center reasoning and observations on Drugs, Sex, Gardening and Pet Ownership, despite the fact that no good has ever come from me sharing what I truly think.


A long time ago, I heard a prominent practitioner of Chinese medicine being interviewed on the radio. When asked to give his best advice, he said, simply, "Don't get sick!" I chuckled, but then the longer I thought about this, the more brilliant it seemed.

Most of my family have been long-lived, but my grandmother was an outstanding example. At 85, she looked 65 and was very active, mostly in her garden, several hours each day. Then she tripped and fell against a glass cabinet and got a shard of glass lodged in her hip. She was in great physical shape, so the operation did not take much out of her—but the recovery, that was a different story. She was instructed to stay off her feet for at least three months; advice she strictly adhered to. But afterwards, to the surprise of us all, she was never really active again! Like Dorian Gray, she aged, seemingly overnight, and spent her final 10 years hobbling from her bed to her chair, within the confines of her house.

"Don't get sick," connects to a concept that I have always believed in, Balance. And the two things I believe about balance are: (1) That it is comprised of both positive and negative, and (2) it is delicate. In terms of medicine: (1) The more effective the cure for one system, the more destructive it will be for another, and (2) once you artificially correct a system, it is difficult to restore the natural balance.

As I age, the proof seems to surround me. Many of my older friends and relatives grew up in an era when western medicine was revered and so they didn't think twice about popping a pill to fight discomfort, let alone actual pain. By the time they were my age, they were on multiple prescription medicines and some of them now have issues with their livers that are most likely linked to the amount of drugs they've consumed. They've lived long lives, but I believe that they would be living their last years in better shape had they been more careful with their drug consumption.

I am a believer in western medicine, but I was never one to take a pill if I could avoid it. I never wanted my body to build any tolerance to, or dependency on, a drug. This way, if I really had to take a pill, I hoped that it's effectiveness would be maximized, and the negative impact on my body minimized.

This is not to say that I strictly practice what I preach.

"Medicine" is just a subcategory of "things we ingest" and I know that I should apply all of this, equally, to soda pop and potato chips, but sadly I find this a struggle. I do believe that junk food is anti-medicine and it causes imbalance in all the ways I avoid by not taking actual medicine, but, for me, there is one outrageously strong argument in favour of junk food: "It's freak'in delicious."

Now that I think about it, most of my larger problems start with my tongue.

Well, we all have to die of something.

I've long believed that laws create more criminals and victims than they eliminate, and the "War on Drugs" is a prime example. I wish all drugs were legal, worldwide. This would instantly delete so much crime and abuse that it could only be a good thing. I see no moral issue with adults "doing drugs," though I've never been a fan of drugs of any kind.

When I was younger I avoided illegal drugs mostly out of fear. I was unjustifiably proud of my brain and didn't want to take "mind-altering" substances precisely because they might alter my mind. It has since been strongly suggested to me that mind-altering would have done me some good.

Be that as it may, drugs held little attraction as I am easily amused and thoroughly satisfied by ordinary life. There have always been more than enough distractions to amuse me and I never really had much of an urge, beyond mild curiosity, to try drugs. And now, what, with Netflix and all...

I'm sure you've heard all the standard arguments against illegal drugs, but here's the one that people don't seem to expect and that instantly careens a rock'in party smack into an awkward pause whenever someone insists that I tell them why I don't do illegal drugs: Purchasing illegal drugs is a bad thing, purely because it's illegal. All of your spending is a form of endorsement. In the case of illegal drugs, you are endorsing the worst elements in our society: very directly contributing to violence and abuse. And for what? A good time.

If everyone stopped purchasing illegal drugs, a large percentage of crime would disappear overnight. Personally, I could never justify putting money into that system, regardless of what I think about the unfairness of the legal system.

Crickets. Everytime.


There are the two major reasons that I do not have pets: I really love animals and want to be a considerate neighbour.

I haven't wanted to visit a zoo since the 1980's when I looked a gorilla in the eyes and immediately recognized that it was intelligent, massively bored and pretty pissed off at being kept in a cage. Sensitized by that experience, I then noticed that the large predators spent their day neurotically pacing, the elephants swaying. I went, once, to Sea World and was immediately struck by the fact that the whales were so large and their tanks so small. Wild Orcas can swim 30 mph and 100 miles per day, yet live their captive lives in Olympic-swimming-pool-sized cages where they develop crippling diseases and sociopathic tendencies. I'm no biologist, but even to me, caging such animals is obvious cruelty. I have not set foot inside a zoo since the early 90's.

When I was young, I was a mini-zoo keeper, blinded by human-centric views and a sense of entitlement to every element on the planet. I had mice, rats, gerbils, rabbits, a ferret, a dog, cats, lizards and fish. I loved all those animals, but the reason I had so many is that they died... often. I tried to take good care of them, but I was too young, the learning curve too gradual, and the animals too small and delicate. My ignorance and carelessness meant a constant turn over. Only the cats and dog survived well because they were more resilient, and largely cared for by my parents.

It took me an especially long time to get over the death of my dog, but I loved every one of my pets.

It's a common notion that every caring person loves animals. They love their innocence, their cuddliness, their unconditional return of affection. They consider pets a member of the family. If you don't have a pet, you are dead inside, and possibly a sociopath.

But the lesson that my pets eventually taught me was: Do not keep animals as pets. My love for my pets was a human-centric, inconsiderate type of love—the same love I see exhibited by many pet owners; especially in the city. Many do not take pet ownership seriously enough, treating animals like emotional toys instead of living beings with an equal right to the best life possible. They spoil them in human-centric ways; buying knitted scarves or gold-plated food dishes. It's as misguided as a husband getting his wife a vacuum cleaner for Valentine's Day, though less dangerous.

"Nope," Pet by Pet...
Dogs: Dogs are the ones I feel most sorry for because they are so guileless, loving and loyal. Dogs need to run. The larger the dog, the larger the run they need. A half-hour walk to the local park and back, once a day, does not come close to satisfying a dog's need to exercise. Also, making them wait half a day to go to the bathroom is unkind; doubly so if they are punished when they fail to hold it. As well, dogs are keenly attached to their pack members, especially the alpha dog—you. When you are not there, they pine. If you are away from home a lot and/or don't live in the wide-open countryside, then a dog is not going to have the life it deserves.

On balance, your love is extremely valuable to a dog. But you are forcing them to exchange some of their own health and happiness for that love.

Cats: From an animal-cruelty point of view, having a cat is not an impractical choice, but you, alone, do not "own" your cat. The entire neighbourhood "owns" your cat because cats wander and yowl and deposit their poop wherever they please. Again, in the countryside, this outside animal can lead a comfortable, healthy life, and you will "own" your cat there because no one else will have to deal with it.

Smaller Rodents: I'm willing to admit that I see little wrong with owning this variety of pet. But, still, I generally observe that the cages are made to maximize viewing and minimize recapture time, and do not provide enough space for the activity levels of these animals.
"But they have a wheel!" you say?
"Imagine spending hours on a treadmill without an iPod," I counter. Even with an iPod, it's no walk in the woods.

Birds: How would you feel if you could fly, but instead, were relegated to a two-foot cage? Think that your pet would choose to stay with you over freedom? What do you think would happen if you didn't clip its wings, put the cage outside and left the cage door open? What does this tell you?

Fish: I think these are the pets that we torture the least because of their size and limited brain power, but they are no less abused. Fish are small and delicate: One second, they seemed to be floating a little off-center and the next, they are floating upside-down. If you think about the massive numbers that a pet shop stocks on any given day of the year, you will realize that it reflects the massive number of fish that die as pets.

Small Reptiles: Maybe. But, like fish, they tend to die easily and like rodents, cages small enough to give us easy access are too small to provide a full life for the animal.

Spiders and Spider-like Creatures: We once had a red-backed jumping spider crawling around the house, for about two weeks. I didn't kill it or remove it because I thought, "even though it's creepy-looking, we can co-exist. What a great life lesson for the kids." Then, one day, it crawled into her bedsheets and savagely bit my daughter on the finger. Her finger went numb and arm ached for three days. I almost died from lack of sleep, checking on her every two hours, during the night. I didn't kill the spider. Instead, I gingerly carried it outside... where I hope the mean-spirited little bastard died! Spiders, you had your chance and you blew it, big time. So, nope!

My daughter took this picture of a common local spider; I think it's a Wolf Spider.
To my mind, they make better neighbours than "family members."

Dangerous Animals: I find it absurd that a person can own an exotic animal that is in any way dangerous to a human being. I mean: Why does one person's impulse to cuddle a python outweigh his neighbour's personal safety? Why?!


I never thought that I would, but I've come to enjoy gardening.

I like the creativity of designing yard-scapes, though I'm not very good at it. Moreover, I like the activity level—just enough to keep my body happy without monopolizing my mind; I get exercise and am still able to contemplate life or that last episode of Breaking Bad. Whatever.

But my quirky mind seems to enjoy spoiling my own fun.

One day, while schlepping wheelbarrows of topsoil, I suddenly realized that, like owning an exotic pet, gardening requires a huge support-industry geared towards making things grow where they otherwise could not. I looked at my little garden filled with rocks blasted out of a distant quarry, soil scraped from some river delta, fertilizer composed of elements from the far reaches of the periodic table and the globe, and seeds cultivated in foreign greenhouses, and it instantly occurred to me that I was assembling a large, exotic terrarium—completely artificial, unsustainable, perpetually out of balance and costly. And because I suck at it: ultimately not worth the effort.

A gardener has a lot in common with Sisyphus.

My meagre attempts at beautifying my world were actually destroying it. All those elements, all that refining and shipping, were gouging chunks of real beauty out of the earth, grinding them down and burning fossil fuels to haul them to my doorstep where I then expended great effort in transforming them into faded echoes of nature.

And, all of this because someone, somewhere, decided to label some plants as "weeds."

I'm still trying to figure out what indigenous plants will grow in my indigenous hard-packed clay and how I can obtain and nurture those plants. Paradoxically, not many native plants can be found in a local nursery. Those "weeds" have been shipped to another land where they are considered "flowers." As well, it is no longer easy to know what is native. Most of the things that spring up on their own are invasive foreigners. I might have to build a wall.

A testament to my gardening prowess:
I planted these Nasturtiums in my garden, in April.
They popped up... in my footpath, in November!

My ultimate garden would be one in which the dandelions grow, but are kept in check by other native plants. I have no idea what that might look like but have a feeling my neighbours would not be on board. They have little to fear. My patch is relatively small and surrounded by exotic terrariums blooming with of non-native plants, so my new dream garden is likely unachievable.

Also, as a gardener, I suck. The only reason my thumb is green at all is because it's envious of other thumbs.


Awkward postcard.

I like to dissect complicated concepts, breaking them into their simplest component parts, if I can. Here's where I'm at with relationships and emotion.

• Ultimately, we are descendants of prey, and we are all still afraid. Thus, ultimately, most of our life choices are spurred by fear.

• Our deepest emotions evolve from comfort zones established in childhood and, later, refined by adult experience. Comfort zones are psychological zones of apparent relative safety, arising as a response to fear.
Emotion exists to disentangle our brains from decision-making equations that we can not balance. Defining "good" and "bad" requires a point of view or an agenda. A point of view/agenda requires a bias. This bias is emotion. It keeps us from decision-paralysis by tipping the scales when there is no "best" answer.

• Love boils down to a feeling of invulnerability and, thus, an exceptional lack of fear. At full force, it is a deep belief in a righteous purpose which fills a person with such satisfaction that it overrides all fear, even that presented by mortal peril. A person thus satisfied in death, is thereby satisfied with life. As a practical example: Many people would gladly take a bullet to save their child. They can do this because love fills them with a clarity of purpose that society unanimously endorses, providing the ultimate validation. The conviction that such a death would have a deep meaning and is clearly the "right" thing to do overrides all fear. In normal life, when death is not imminent, this righteous feeling can fuel and justify many aggressive and risky behaviours. This is why parents will stand up for their children in circumstances where they might never stand up for themselves.

• There is no such thing as a soul mate.
I'm going to say it again: There is no such thing as a soulmate.
I repeated this because the soulmate thing is such a commonly accepted myth that it's almost heresy to speculate otherwise.
But no single person can give you everything you will ever crave. The reason for this is that humans want everything and spend their lives trying to get as much of it as they can. Everyone has to compromise because it's impossible to have everything, if for no other reason than that some things are mutually exclusive: If she's black, she can't also be white; if he's ripped, he can't also be a couch potato.
Moreover, there is no one who can "complete you." And no one wants to. Complete yourself, then you'll be a better catch for the kind of person you want to be with.
Whether or not you think that I'm right about this, take a moment to consider the ways in which the soulmate idea sabotages the average person's love life. When you're dating, the idealized soulmate fiction makes it difficult to settle for a real person. When you are in a relationship, believing that somewhere out there your soulmate is waiting is a distraction and a relationship-sinking thought that will occur every time your expectations are not met. Abandoning the idea of a soulmate better prepares you to meet and maintain a relationship with an actual human being.
Of course, there are people who might inherently be easier to live with, long-term. But it doesn't matter how well you fit at first, that initial connection can only get you so far. Once you're living, day in and day out, in close quarters, it will take seriously hard work to maintain your relationship.
I always think of a relationship as a vehicle, because, as the song says, "Life is a highway." Your relationship might be a 1994 Ford Aerostar but, at first, while you're speeding along fresh asphalt, it's going to drive like a brand new Ferrari. The problem is the more roads you travel, the more likely you'll reach a stretch that's not paved. And sometimes, you're going to have to go off-road. And for that, you're going to need an all-terrain vehicle with snow tires and a winch. The real question is: How hard are you both willing to work to adapt your vehicle? Or to put it another way, "How A-Team are you?"

• Related to the previous point: Coincidence exists. What many refer to as "Fate" is simply a romantic notion built upon the inadequacy of our human minds to properly evaluate statistical chance.

• Sex is a physical mechanism which aids bonding by easily generating instant feelings of validation and intimacy, even where none exists. Obviously, the sex act is essential for reproduction, but the sex drive is essential for genetic diversity by encouraging people to experiment outside of their social spheres.
Sex is an intimate physical act and it is dangerous in many ways to enter into a sexual relationship carelessly, however, it is also dangerous to believe that there is a direct connection between sex and love. A piece of bad advice which is commonly passed from generation to generation is that you should only have sex with people if you are in love, or worse, married. The problem with instilling this belief is that while a youngster is learning to cope with overpowering sexual urges, there is a good chance that they will "fall in love" with the sexiest person they meet, just to morally justify getting laid. Taking the emotion out of the equation will simplify and clarify their choices.

• Romance is a vivid emotional illusion that there is a special bond between people. There are many mechanisms which can create and strengthen this bond and many which can dissolve it. Because it is just a feeling, it can exist even when not appropriate. But it's a great feeling, one worth working to maintain and deepen.
Actively participating in mutually acceptable romantic activities strengthens the emotional bond between two people. It is an artificial thing and cannot exist without the effort of the people involved, but the emotional bond it creates is a comfort zone, useful in maintaining a long-term relationship.

• Intimacy is relative. There is no "right way" to be intimate and what is intimate to one person may be intrusive to another. At one end of the scale is Mr. Spock (representing embarrassment) and, at the other end, a Stalker (representing insecurity). Think about where on this graph your intimacy preferences would fall. Now think about where your partner should appear on the graph. If the gap between you is small, then you are lucky and probably very satisfied with this aspect of your relationship. If the gap is large, it's probably best to learn to accept their nature. There is no good/right or bad/wrong, and there are advantages and disadvantages to every position on the graph—other than the extremes. The real problem is the gap.
One good exercise is to image yourself in a relationship with someone at the extreme end of your side of the graph. If you tend to be reserved with your feelings, then imagine being with an excessively disciplined person who shows no emotion and has taken a vow of silence. If you are the more expressive type, then imagine your partner is a stalker who constantly nags you for every detail of your every thought and action. You will probably feel some degree of embarrassment or insecurity. This should give you some idea what your partner might feel whenever you nudge them to close the intimacy gap.

• The single biggest thing that people want from their relationships is validation. It's why people are attracted to people that they feel might be "out of their league," and why continuing to feel appreciated is such a large thing in a long-term relationship of any kind. It's also why a sudden decrease in a partner's social status adversely affects the relationship. Praise from someone of lower status has lower value.

• Appreciating and feeling appreciated is a huge element in all relationships.
One common trap for people is to expend effort in areas that the other person doesn't consider important. A classic example is always doing the dishes while your partner lets them pile up.
You consider it important and each time you wash them, you think that you're doing a favour for your partner. Rightly or wrongly, your partner considers the dishes a low priority or else they wouldn't let them pile up, or they consider doing dishes a trivial task, otherwise they wouldn't let you do them alone, every time.
Left unaddressed, you will grow resentful that your efforts go unrecognized.
So, who's wrong?
Mostly you.
You are the one in the best position to alter this cycle of under appreciation and resentment because you are definitely aware of it and you are actively contributing to the situation. Expecting your partner to spontaneously appreciate something that is of little value to them is unrealistic. Feeling sorry for yourself is a signal that you are doing something wrong. In order to address your feelings of under appreciation you need to do something, or stop doing something. Either way, it is within your own power.
Playing the martyr is a refusal to acknowledge your own role in the dynamic while setting a trap for your partner to fall into in order to justify your feelings of under appreciation.
"Do, or do not," but don't expect others to appreciate gifts they do not value.
If you've tried everything you can think of to address this issue and the situation persists, your final choice is to rethink your own priorities. If you are unable to change your mindset, then you are free to nurture your inner martyr. But realize that martyrdom is a dull knife to a relationship. The longer it lasts, the deeper the gouge.

• Empathy is an essential ingredient for all long-term relationships. When empathy runs out, the relationship runs aground.

• Relationships are a lot more fragile than people generally believe.

• Love, sex and romance are all good for your physical and mental health. Though falling in love with a serial killer provides only short-term benefits.

And you thought that you were the weird one.

Thank you for hearing me out. And don't worry—I find your nervous glances endearing.

I feel better, having shared this way, mostly because I now realize how much less awkward it is being me, than being the person standing next to me.

Internet dating.


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