Tag Archives: personality

A Eulogy on Character: Andrew Brechin

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Andrew Brechin knew how to be a character and a three-dimensional one at that. Photo: Tanya Kozak

Originally I was going to write about gender stereotypes for the Ink Punks (a local writing group)
but after the unexpected death of a friend last week I have decided to switch. So, in honour of Andrew Brechin who died too young, I dedicate this post to character.

If you saw Andrew on the street you might think, there is a rather stout fellow, or; he is a portly guy. Two ways of saying the same thing but different connotations to them. These statments might give the tone of the time period in which the story is given, or the narrator’s voice and suggest a certain level of education or deportment. They can also indicate a person’s view of another character. We’ll see more about Andrew’s deportment as we go on. In fact, as I play the only partially omniscient narrator of this piece, I will hopefully reveal more about Andrew to make him live in your mind, for that is how we keep all who have moved beyond the veil alive.

If I said that Andrew was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism (or medieval society) you might get a picture in your head of someone who liked history and to dress in costumes. And if I told you his medieval name was Guillermo Portelli, and knowing he was a stout fellow, you might begin to think he made a joke at his expense. And you would be right in both accounts.

He did indeed like to dress up but he saw it more in terms of daily raiment than as a costume. He was known to have once dressed as baby Cthulhu, that tentacled Old One of  H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. A few pictures do exist. There are other pictures of him with black wings and a black peasant shirt, fake Viking helm with plastic horns, wearing striped pants as he stands proudly on a miniature Viking ship, swirls of paint and glitter as he participates as one of the topless wish fairies in the Lantern festival, or wearing a long red robe with hood as a tech wizard, and wearing a purple top hat as he walks down the street, with cloak and a drum over his shoulders. There are many pictures of Andrew in various types of face and body paint.

Yes, Andrew loved to dress up and was known to have a few hats. You see, he didn’t believe that as an adult you had to let go of the child within. He was a staunch agent of joy and the sacred jester. He brought mirth and fun wherever he went, whether he was drumming for bellydancers, playing as part of the festive Carnival Band or just out there enjoying a party.

If I stopped here, you would have a picture of him, of how he looked and some of his attitude, but he was much more than this. Every year for his birthday, he would announce Breklormas, a feastorama at a local Chinese restaurant. The greasier the better, and I’m sorry to say I never made it to one.

He had a cunning mind and frequently formed wild plans for world domination or something with bacon in it, or some other crazy idea that he’d share with friends. One of his last posts before he died was this:

So, on the one hand, I really don’t want the Winter Olympics back. On the other, the idea of taking it back from the Russians and making it the GAYEST FUCKING OLYMPICS EVAR (which is really saying something, since the Classical Greek athletes competed naked except for a coating of olive oil) amuses the heck out of me. We could make a Queer Olympic Flag with seven rainbow rings on it, and I think it would pass copyright law as a parody…

He was always thinking. I wasn’t his closest friend but I saw some of this wizardly wit with his quips on facebook. And yes, Andrew’s, or Breklor as we sometimes called him, wit and whimsy were evident. He had a penchant for shooting pictures of toilets and posting them just because it was rather, well…Andrew.

Stereotypes begin in reality and are only a snapshot of someone. We have a clichéd image of what a jock, a hippy, a power attorney, a rock star, a nerd, a hipster, etc. look like. There is a uniform to both clothing and personality type. But it’s like looking at twenty blueberry pies baked by twenty people. They may all be pies and have blueberries but they will have diverse textures, various flavors and when you really look at them, uniquely different aspects.

When you write, even if you have a stereotype, you need to flesh that character inside and out. Anyone who just saw Andrew walking down the street, in cape and top hat, walking into the Stormcrow, haven for geeky game enthusiasts, would classify him as one of the same ilk. They would be right but what distinguishes one geek or nerd or jock from another is how you portray them. Already, because I’ve described more carefully Andrew’s clothing, he wasn’t just a T-shirt wearing geek. He was always clean and carefully dressed, and while he wore T-shirts from time to time, he also wore other clothing that had far more character.

While he loved to bring in joy and mirth, he wasn’t goofy. He had an innate sense of when to bring in laughter and when to be serious and listen. He loved kids, and while I heard he experienced bullying as a child, he decided to turn it around and put joy in its place. He was a good and intelligent conversationalist with deep insights. The beliefs he held included loving and wholly embracing who he was. Never once would I say he was annoying. He just knew. And he was pervasive, so much so that when the ripples went out last week from the shock of finding out of his untimely passing, various friends were surprised to find that another of their friends had known him as well. He was everywhere and the words most people used to describe him were: wizardly, witty, wise, joyful.

Make you characters come alive so the reader is invested. If you only have a few words, or limited space, choose those words well. Stephen King has done this very well, even if it was particularly annoying to get into a character in just two pages and find that on the third page he died. Instead of giving dry descriptions, it’s best to show character through movement, expression, dialogue and appearance.

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Andrew Brechin was the sacred jester, bringing mirth to many. He would make a great story character. Photo: Tanya Kozak

Andrew knocked at the old church gate, black feathered wings tied to his back and a glint in his eye. He leaned forward expectantly, then looked back at the camera, trying to suppress a smile. Giving up, he turned and stuck his tongue out. With this external view, you get a sense of the character, the surroundings and the attitude. So in a page or less you can define a character and if you’re writing a story, you can drop small pieces of description in as the character moves or talks. A little goes a long way in the reader’s imagination.

As you write characters into your stories, remember this: Even your villains have to live and while they may want world domination, they may also suffer from a runny nose and lumbago, and love kittens and blueberry pies. No one, not even a stereotype is all bad or good. We are made up of shades of grey and of all colors of the rainbow. Andrew was. Not only did he bring light into lonely dark places, he brought rainbows as well.

I plan to use Andrew one day in a story, either as a villain or a good guy. He’d be tickled pink and purple to know that he lives on.

I should also mention that Andrew will move on to become one of the Great Old Ones. He is being cremated in his baby Cthulhu suit.

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Cornucopia List: July 14

I’ve missed doing this list by a couple of weeks due to being far too busy to do much writing. So here is my latest installment of things for which I’m grateful.

  1. Faeries–or fairies, depending on your preference. Sure, they’re not real, but maybe they are, like ghosts and alien abductions. But I’m grateful for fairy art and tales of fairies and the wee folk. They’re winged, they’re small, they’re mysterious and of the other realms. Once upon a time they may have been larger and powerful but as people’s belief in them lessened so did their power over the imagination. I like the worlds they conjure, and places where flowers have tiny magical defenders.
  2. Turkey–Yeah okay, I’ve never actually seen a live one but I appreciate the taste of turkey and its low fat wonderfulness. I’m usually a white meat person when it comes to chicken but with turkey there is something just yummy about a drumstick. So thank you, all you turkeys who have been sacrificed for my plate. Now I’m not talking about two-legged turkeys here.
  3. Free Lunch–Yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch though it’s rare. But it’s a nice gesture when it happens, from a buddy or a worker boss. In some cases it might be a small gesture and not that expensive, but in terms of workplace, it will show you’re appreciated and that’s important. The little things can count. And today, I get a free lunch. 😀
  4. Men–I’ve never been one of those people who paint all of a group with one brush, by race, gender, religion, education or any other rules. However by saying I appreciate men, I’m doing just that, and I do make jokes about some of these weird idiosyncrasies that many (not all) men exhibit. You know the ones: not asking for directions, unable to figure out where something goes, haphazard cleaning that would have hazmat teams shivering. That sort of thing. I mean, I do speak from some experience. But overall, without men, the world might be calmer and tamer and less dangerous, but it would also be less interesting and smaller. Yeah we kinda need them for procreation until we get that cloning thing down, but sex isn’t as much fun without them, for those of us who are heterosexuals or homosexuals. I’m sure the lesbians don’t miss this aspect. Men are different from women and add mix and perspective and I like all of my male friends and appreciate having them in my life.
  5. Sleep–This might be a repeat but I’m allowed. After all, this is my list of five things I appreciate each week, or longer than that, when I hit the busy periods. So sleep, I love and cherish, not only for its renewing abilities on the body but for all the realms it takes my mind to. I love to travel on the ship of sleep, that between stage of waking/sleep where images flit and yet words don’t match this world. I’ve done and said some bizarre things in that realm. I don’t get enough of sleep and studies support that not enough sleep can affect our health in many ways and so I say good night.

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Big Nose, Little Nose, Young Nose, Blue Nose

Noses. Where would we be without them? Well, we would breathe through slits in our faces, and if it was the norm, it wouldn’t look unusual. Otherwise, I’m sure we’d be horrified. Noses are so big a thing to the human face that there are names for the different styles of nose. And Tycho Brahe, the most famous astronomer of his day (16th century) was known to have lost the tip of his nose, from the bridge on, in a duel. To counteract the effects of a gaping hole, he constructed a realistic nose of gold and silver, and copper and wore that till the end of his days.

Cyrano de Bergerac, a 17th century playwright, was made even more famous by Rostand’s play about the character. He had a prodigious nose and was proud of it. In the 1990 movie of the same name starring Gerard Depardieu, the nose is an intriguing blend and of believable proportions. Steve Martin in Roxanne, a modern take on Cyrano, has the beginning bulge of an Arabic style nose, the ski slope dip of a pug nose, and the squared tip of yet another nose. At least, that’s what I remember. But if you look at the pictures, it’s more an exaggerated ski slope.

I found long ago that the men I was attracted to most had one thing in common: large or unusual noses. In my family we have what some have called a perfect nose; straight, not too big or too small, not upturned or knobbed. Perhaps it is the nose with no personality. My brother once proclaimed he wanted a large nose because his glasses kept slipping down his petite nose.

For me, a man who is GQ perfect looks much like every other man and you’re likely to mix them up in a crowd. It’s better to have an unusual or strong feature and I find a large nose seems to add to a personality. Now that might be odd to say considering my perfect nose but I have other features that make me individual. Of course, personality in and of itself will win every time. Still, to me, a nose is a fascinating protuberance.

The most remarkable nose I ever saw was the one I described above on a man I sat beside, flying to the US. It was absolutely amazing and somehow didn’t detract from his looks. So noses are great. One of my friends hates his slightly larger than normal nose but I love it. I think it adds character and I don’t think it makes a person ugly. Perhaps there are a few noses that could be ugly, such as too much of a piggy nose, or the aberration made of Michael Jackson’s skeletal nose from too much plastic surgery, but I think they’re rare. I’ve had friends who had bulbed noses and while one’s father had pretty much a WC Fields’ style nose, it tended to give a friendly and jovial appearance.

We judge by appearances. Always have…at least on first impressions. But if you get to know a person, handsome or ugly, short or tall, slim or fat, big nosed or small, you will learn that it’s all a covering and really it’s what’s inside that counts.

Supposedly our noses and ears are two body parts that continue to grow throughout our lives. If that is so, we’ll all end up with bigger schnozes by the time we’re old. And we’ll end up with more character. Oh, and the blue nose? The Bluenose was the name of a famous racing schooner that won the International Fisherman’s Trophy for seventeen years straight. It graces the Canadian dime to this day.

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Personality: You are Who You Pretend to Be

As a child I was extremely shy and introverted. This doesn’t mean that I was weak or without personality. I was fairly strong willed but I wouldn’t talk or do anything to stand out in the crowd. The argument for nature vs nurture might play in here. My personality was imprinted at birth. My circumstances affected how my personality played out.

Growing up in a home rife with turmoil and many abuses probably made me into the shy and insecure child that I was. I was picked on, teased and remained in the background. I remember my passive aggressive act when one girl was bugging me in school. I didn’t confront her but as I walked home I spit on the sidewalk in front of her house.

In grade 7 I was still fairly shy but starting to flower in personality (as we are all wont to do in teenagerhood). I had a few friends, and was trying to fit in. However, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas (or my birthday) that year and I said a purple dress/shirt/some item of clothing. I received a wardrobe of purple; pants, tops, dresses. Everything was purple. I could not wear purple again for about ten years but today it is a color I wear frequently.

With that geeky stigma of one color, I tended to cringe and become conscious of clothing. I also looked at Margaret Parsons in my class. She was shyer than me, had red ringlets (really gorgeous red hair actually) and wore a school uniform. In retrospect I have a lot of sympathy for Margaret and Morag, who both came from school systems with uniforms. They stuck out like sore thumbs and again, moving into a district wasn’t easy. They were definitely outsiders and looked at strangely. Kids are very cruel, not yet tempered with the social skills on how to stab someone nicely in the back.

Back to Margaret; she was very very shy and quiet and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to be like her, which meant I had to change. It was important for me to fit in. My family was different, with divorced parents, not going to church, fighting. All my friends had more “normal” families. First was the clothing. Jeans and T-shirts were much the norm for teenagers.

By late high school I upped the ante again. My clothing was mostly in shades of blue and brown. I decided that if I wore brighter colors it would make me more outgoing (and had read something to that effect). Basically it became a case of fake it till you make it. I did this again in art college.

Overall it was a long, slow transition, but little by little my clothes got brighter and my personality changed. I started to wear more jewellery (some would say I wear too much) and became a clothes horse, liking fashion and trying to find unique styles. But along the way I consciously challenged my boundaries. And sure enough, I went from being a shy introvert to and outgoing extrovert.

Few of us are 100% of anything. We all have introvert and extrovert in us. I can be quiet, even withdrawn, and sometimes prefer to sit back in the sidelines and watch. But I also enjoy being at a party or around people. Had I not pushed myself I would have probably remained an introvert. Would the switch have happened anyways? I don’t know. But I’m sure it would have taken much longer.

Wearing bright colors was a physical manifestation of how I wanted to change and I think it did work towards bringing me out of my shell. And shell it was, a protective coating from a tumultuous home life and the jibes and jeers of class mates. Interestingly enough, I grew a different shell, with bolder colors that stopped a lot of the teasing once I wore them with confidence. So yes, I think a leopard can change its spots.

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Living in a World of Rejection

Everyone gets some form or rejection at some point in their lives. If you’re fairly well balanced, you can take it in stride, maybe momentarily sad/disappointed/angry but you move on.

However, to reject seems a much harder action for some people to commit. Take the thinner side of relationships–that is, dating. How many times has it happened that someone says, “I’ll call you,” when they have no intention of ever calling? Or the slow disappearance of the person you’re dating, who can’t manage to say, “I’m no longer interested,” but instead becomes distant, talking less, laughing less, making love less or with less passion?

Really, who is being fooled in such relationships? Not the one being dumped slowly, unless they’re in complete denial. And if you haven’t learned by now, a slow dumping is much more wounding and demoralizing than a sudden one. Though that shouldn’t legitimize never calling again but still having the guts to say, “Look, this just isn’t working out,” or “I’m really more into my book than you,” or whatever. It comes down to communication.

However, I believe there’s often ego tied up in this that people don’t realize. “Oh, I couldn’t tell him/her I don’t want to see them anymore. It would crush him/her.” Yeah, I’ve been reduced to ashes every time some guy never called. Give me a break. Ego ego ego. Not needed. People survive, they move on. They continue to live their lives. Someone I’ve dated is not all-important in my life. (A longer live-in relationship could be a different story however; more time is invested.) If you’ve only had a few dates with someone, be decent and say it’s not working. Don’t be a worm wriggling away without the guts to say anything.

Which gets to the real point of this. Writing. I’ve been rejected so many times I cannot count. I used to say I could paper a house with rejections and a bathroom with acceptances. I think I could now paper a good-sized bedroom with acceptances. But the point is, a writer lives with rejection all the time. And it’s not just because personalities don’t mesh (well, maybe sometimes it is), but it’s more personal; it’s one’s writing that gets rejected.

Writing can be the blood and soul of a writer. A good writer can separate enough to take constructive criticism. A writer can also be completely emotionally unstable and think that you’re ripping the arms off their baby any time you say anything against their perfect child. That’s not a good writer, who will never get the perspective to see what is wrong with a story. That’s a crazed writer who might, from time to time, write well, but only if they can take criticism.

Still, no matter how professional you are, how gracious, how open and noble, how thick your skin, it can get to you. The perseverance of most writers is akin to beating your head against a wall with a nail sticking out, knowing it’s causing you to hurt and bleed, but still doing it, hoping you can pound that nail down. What gives first? How prevalent is depression amongst writers? Ask them.

Writing is not for the weak at heart. Over the years and the many workshops/writers groups I’ve been in I’ve seen people freeze up. Some never write again when they find out their perfect child has a flaw to some people. Some are closet writers, writing away, but paralyzed to submit or let anyone view their work.

And there you go; submission. A writer must be submissive. Passively and meekly sending in stories and poetry to the mighty god-editor of doom, awaiting the call or the casting out. You must submit your writing and submit to the will of others.

Now, when you look at the aberrant or colorful personalities of past writers: Dylan Thomas, Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, to name a few, is it any wonder they turned out the way they did? And of course one can ask: does writing attract the unique personalities or does writing create them? Does a writer who has experienced the numerous rejections by editors become more compassionate in rejecting people in a relationship or less? Does the one condition have any correlation to the other or is it strictly one’s personality that dictates the way of rejection?

Whichever it is, the rejector should always reject gently and clearly, whether in a relationship or in writing (there are always exceptions). And anyone considering the life of a writer better be ready to face rejection and realize that nothing is perfect in the world to all people. Something can be rejected a hundred times before it is accepted (even true for relationships but not with the same person–that’s stalking). So here’s to a thick skin, persevering and weathering the rejections.

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You’re So Vain

Vanity. It’s usually said in disparaging ways, that a vain person is a bad thing. And is it? The dictionary says it is conceit, or having an excessively high regard for one’s self, looks, possessions or ability. Arrogance is related with its overbearing pride or self-importance.

The worst case of vanity and arrogance I ever saw was a boyfriend who believed that every time a woman talked to him, even if she was asking him the time, was because she wanted him. He believed everyone loved him and that he knew things no one else knew, had experienced events that no one else had ever experienced. But he was more arrogant than vain though it’s a slim line between the two.

A person who is extremely vain is often a narcissist, stuck in self-love and importance, appearance or abilities. They’re more concerned with how they look and what they do, than the world, people or events around them. They’re given to talking about themselves a lot. Like the joke goes, “Enough about me. What do you think about me?” And Carly Simon’s  song (You’re so Vain) of course frames it well, “You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself go by…”

I once dated a narcissist. Later, “as friends” we got together for coffee. Jon talked about his job, his family, his dog. He paused and there was silence since I had decided to let him be the first to ask how I was. I’d asked him about himself, his job, etc. but never once did he actually ask me anything about what I was doing, not even “how are you?”. After the pause, he talked about his love life, his place, himself. When we left, Jon had not asked me a thing. I could have had kittens and he wouldn’t have known. Not a great person to date.

Narcissists may go farther with their self-importance and date people who look like them. I remember a girl in school who once said, “I only read books where the character has the name Laura.” Guess what her name was? These are the worst aspects of vanity, self-involvement, where perspective centers only on self, believing one is always the best and that no one can compare.

But not all vanity is bad. The opposite end is humility, yet false humility is another form of vanity, where you extol the virtues of being humble in a way that makes you look better than anyone else for sacrificing so much.

Taking care of your appearance beyond simple grooming is caring about how you look and is a vanity. Does a hairstyle or particular color look better on you? Do you wear wrinkled clothes or items in a dirty or slovenly manner? Do you take pride in your appearance? Do you try to stay in shape, not just to feel better, but to look better?

It is not wrong to feel pride or feel good about how you look. In fact, someone who doesn’t care at all may have other emotional problems like low self-esteem or depression. It’s the absence of balance that is always the problem. Talk about how you look but then notice how the other person looks. Talk about what you’ve been doing but give a person fair share in time and show interest. There are people who can’t start conversations because they don’t know how to ask a question about someone else. They expect everyone to ask about them and they can go on.

Sometimes it isn’t so much vanity as the person may lack some social aspects, learning only to talk about what they know, sometimes incessantly. Chatterboxes can put you to sleep because they don’t allow anyone to get an word in or interact. They may be narcissist or vain or just inept on the nuances of conversation.

We all have moments when we want the attention on us. It’s human nature to want to feel special, to shine at some aspect of our lives. But we have to share the limelight. It’s all right to be selfish sometimes and say me first, or it’s about me. I’ve been accused of making things all about me when I tried to stop a friend from physically fighting with another friend who had just slept with someone not his wife. That man accused me of making it all about me when somehow I was trying to help him save his marriage. I said, when we talked afterward, that yes, it was about me in that I was selfish and liked my friends and didn’t want to see them broken up and that I wanted them happy. That’s my selfishness. I have found sometimes that people will accuse someone of vanity at the weirdest times for completely unrelated things. I’m beginning to realize that this can be a misfired plea for some attention.

So if you say, “Wow, look at this poster.” And your friend says, “Oh everything always has to be about you,” then maybe what they’re saying is, “Me, me, look at me.” You may have to say, “What do you think about this poster?” People are weird and vanity tempered with humility is probably the best way to go.

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Internet & Sex & Voice

Has the internet changed since those early DOS days of looking for cheap sex and hot chat? I remember getting on to the great vast abyss of the internet. There I sat before my black screen, the neon green cursor blinking a way. Like shouting into a black tunnel, I would send questions out, hoping for an answer from the unknown universe of the internet, not yet called the world wide web.

There was little in the realm of urls. Locally, there was an ISP called Mindlink. It might have been the only one or one of very few at that point. When I joined up and went online to these groups, Mindlink would show the names of all the people online. Sometimes it was ten, sometimes twenty at a time. I joined a couple of chat groups and found that they often contained pedantic blowhards who shot down anyone talking about a subject. They were so obnoxious in trying to show their stellar intelligence that I left them to join Mindlink’s nonsense group.

When you signed up for thsi group you were asked for an alias. Once given, no one would ever see your real name unless you chose to reveal it. For whatever crazy reason, I chose the moniker Laughing Fist. There were others on the group like Feste and names I no longer remember. And true to the name of the group, we talked nonsense. Sometime puns, sometimes jokes, sometimes mad ramblings, but the group was created to counteract all those “serious” groups of know-it-alls.

Mindlink would hold meets where members could meet in a pub in public. My partner at the time had no interest in computers and internet and I really didn’t feel a need to go to the meet-ups. As I was trying to find information on subjects, mostly for writing, on the internet, I discovered that there were numerous chat rooms. A lot of those early groups had specific topics or the alt.groups. But sure enough, about 90% of them dealt with sex, maybe because 90% of people on the net were men and boys.

Mindlink had instant chat and whenever I signed on to the list, where everyone could see your name, I would get guys messaging me right away. Everyone could post a profile and I made it clear that if you asked me how old I was first, then you weren’t interested in chatting with me but just trying to date me. And then there were the guys who would ask if I was interested in hot chat. Basic talking dirty online. I wasn’t interested, have never really been interested. For one, I had no idea how old the person was or what he was like. For two, I’m a writer. I can write all sorts of stories. It might get them off but I’d only be practising my writing.

I also realized in the nonsense group where everyone had shortened my name to Fisty, that they thought I was a guy. Probably from the name and from the way I wrote. Once I realized that, I said nothing that would give away my gender. It was fairly easy and made me realize how much you can have a different personality on the internet. Unfortunately as internet use expanded, the stalkers and degenerates found it as a way to lure impressionable and gullible teenagers. I did eventually show up at a meet where everyone was surprised to find out Fisty was a girl.

I don’t go searching out the millions of sites on porn, and as search engines have become more sophisticated one is not as likely to stumble on porn, hot chat, or sex sites unless one wants to. So what percentage of the internet is taken up with sex? I’m sure there is someone out there adding up the googling and could tell us…maybe. But I think even looking at WordPress and my blog gives an idea. I write on a range of topics but some of the ones that get the most hits are the ones about sex, genitals, prostitutes.

We think that humans are more advanced or far above our animal brethren but we forget we are run by the same instincts as they are: the need to procreate. Of course, we have gone further in eroticizing many aspects, making some good and wholesome, some naughty, dirty or downright perverse. We have cultural conventions and moires that animals don’t have. So in essence we have complicated sex, but people still think about it a lot. Whether we’re curious, or appalled or turned on, many still want to read about it.

I think the internet may be broader and more far reaching from those early days of hot chat but I’m not sure by how much. And look at how far we’ve come in less than twenty years. We have way more pictures. 🙂

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Weird Pets

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Dutch Rabbit Wiki Commons

The other day we got talking about the weirdness of some pets. I have a friend whose cat will eat any flowers she brings into the house. One of my cats loved bread and would eat a whole loaf if he could. Another friend had a cat that loved fruit. It’s known that cats will eat corn, olives and melon. What appeals to their taste buds, I don’t know. But other animals can have just as many odd habits.

I grew up in a household that had dog, cats, rabbit, budgie and guppies (a turtle at one point too). My particular pet was the rabbits. I had several successive Dutch rabbits. They remain small with (the most common colors of) grey or black hindquarters, white upper torso and black ears with whtie on the face. The paws, including the hind ones will usually be white. Kind of the same as the tuxedo cats.

In Calgary we kept the rabbit in a hutch outside. It had free run of the fenced yard during the day and when weather was really cold, we’d bring it in though it probably would have been find in its hay. Rabbits are easy to train to use the litter box and are fairly calm though if they’re startled the sharp digging claws that they sport can do some damage.

I think I had three rabbits in all but maybe it was only two. I remember Snuffy and then the male. My mother named him after the Minister of Highways because they were both odd. I didn’t know what she meant at the time but now might hazard a guess.

Gordon Taylor was a bit different for a rabbit. Rabbits are naturally timid, but Gordon had to stand up to his own with two cats and a German Shepherd. In the summer I’d see one of the cats chasing the rabbit around the yard and whereas this might give concern to some, we soon learned not to worry because the next few seconds would see Gordon chasing the cat around the yard.

It could be that the cat was running in terror because Gordon, true to his species, was a very amorous bunny. I don’t know if he ever tried to hump the cats but we have pictures of him hanging on the Shepherd’s tail (all that he could reach) and trying to make mad passionate love to it. The dog pretty much rolled its eyes and ignored him.

Gordon’s odd penchants ran to food too. As I teenager I would sometimes eat a raw wiener (why on God’s green earth, I don’t know) and one day I was doing this and holding Gordon. He leaned over and took a giant chomp out of the wiener. I stood looking down at him in shock, saying, You’re not supposed to do that. You’re a vegetarian.  Not only did he swallow that piece but he took another bite.

Gordon also was very fond of chocolate. We had to put him in a kennel once when we went away. I greeted him with a chocolate bar, which he nearly swallowed whole. I didn’t know then that chocolate isn’t good for animals, especially dogs, but if it did Gordon any harm, he never showed it.

Being a cocky little rabbit with a big dog attitude, Gordon also loved to race around the yard. Sometimes he’d kick up his hind feet and squirt. I don’t know what this signified but he did it to me once. I was so mad I picked him up and dunked him in a tub of cold water. He never did it again.

Gordon died mysteriously, his neck broken. We don’t know if a dog got into the yard (ours would have said something) or if he hit the fence. He wasn’t savaged and his skin was unbroken.

I stopped having rabbits for pets after the last one died, a little female, in a way so gruesome I still shudder (and won’t relate here). But after that I said no more. Rabbits rarely died natural deaths and it was too much. Still they were gentle and interesting pets and definitely had their individual personalities and predilections, like Gordon Taylor. He gets to go down in history as one of the quirkiest pets I had.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_rabbit

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Conform or Die

I would say we live in a society of conformity but it may go deeper than that. Perhaps, we as human beings have always been this way. After all, we are social animals. We work and gather in groups, for safety, for economy, for interactions.

As humans formed these groups that became villages and cities, they had to get people to work together, to agree to the same rules and beliefs.We can see in the world today probably moreso even than the world of five thousand years ago, or maybe not, what happens when someone doesn’t agree with the status quo.

It can be as mild as “I don’t agree with you,” to as severe as being put to death or incarcerated for going against the norm. The Taleban kills people for not following their way. The Canadian government sways from Conservative to Liberal if people don’t think their leaders are representing their views. It’s a broad spectrum.

On a purely social level you have the cool kids, those with natural charisma (before they learn to bribe their way to the top) who attract others to them. It is often ephemeral what gives a person this elusive charisma. Sometimes it is physical looks. Who can deny the power of stars and their amazing good looks that give them millions of bucks, not always correlating with their acting ability?

Often charisma rests on personality, which can be a greater tour de force than beauty. Coupled, they can be unstoppable.  The third area that attracts cronies is that of beliefs. Political parties and religions work on this but they often team up with personality. In essence, those are the three bases of charisma: physical beauty, personality, beliefs. You can gain popularity through riches but charisma is slightly different and really the realm of beliefs fall more to popularity but can gain heights with a charismatic leader.

It’s a well-known fact that good looking people get farther and get away with more in the world. As a child I was pudgy and shy, not good combos for charisma. You don’t get shy, charismatic people. I was never one of the cool kids. No one ever flocked to me because of my beliefs, nor my riches. The cruelty of children is untempered by the later skills that we learn of double speak, backstabbing and passive aggressive tolerance. Luckily children are also more resilient to the taunts and ostracization, sort of. Sometimes we bear the scars for life.

I was picked on some, because I was easy pickings. I didn’t fight back. I was vulnerable and like sharks in bloodied waters, everyone knew. So I changed. I grew a tough shell, I made myself more outward going. It wasn’t easy, still isn’t easy. Being one of the cool kids matters less as an adult unless you’re trying to win in politics or take over the world.

We all have our social groups, and probably have some charisma. We are blends or normal people. But we can still suffer the fear of being nonconformist. I never mastered conformity and it’s caused me much grief. Try and act normal, think like everyone else, dress like them. Fit into the crowd and you won’t be singled out. Stand out too much, in the wrong, unpopular way and people won’t talk to you or associate with you. We may not be shot in our social groups for not fitting in but we may die nonetheless.

Today I don’t feel that humans are so great at being civilized. We suck at communication, yet use a variety of forms. Unfortunately, one person’s body language means something different to someone else. The same words can mean many things and silence can mean many more. If you conform, you’ll have less to worry about, until someone decides you offended them or that they dislike you for some other reason. Then you may not even know you should apologize or that you have to watch your back.

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Losing it in India

In1989 I travelled through India for two months. The first month I spent in a tribal state with a friend and the second I travelled through northern India and Nepal. There are many tales from that trip but this one takes place in the last two weeks.

I was in Delhi and sick as a dog with dysentery. I was puking, had diarrhea and generally could not eat. But I tried to see a couple of things and finally dragged myself out one day. I can’t remember but I think I went to the Red Fort. I bargained with a rickshaw driver for a price. This was one of the motorized rickshaws and when we finally agreed on a price, I said to the driver, that’s for both directions, there and back? And he agreed.

So off we went. When we arrived, he asked how long I would be, and I said an hour or two. I had no idea because it was a large site and I was still pretty sick and lethargic. So I wandered around and took pictures and then came out about an hour and a half later. The driver started berating me, standing with about eight other drivers, saying I’d taken too long and that it would cost more, etc. After some arguing, with the other drivers giving their opinions in his support, I couldn’t take it and felt ganged up on so I took out half the money for half the trip and gave it to him and then went and got a bicycle rickshaw.

By this point I was completely distraught and depressed and didn’t even pay attention to anything. I just let the driver take me back to the hostel. Except the hostel was off of Connaught Circle (can you see British influence in that name?), a gigantic traffic circle with radial roads. Far too much traffic zooms through there so bicycle rickshaws must stop at stands at the edge of the circle so as not to interrupt traffic flow.

We arrived at the stop, I paid the rickshaw driver and started to walk when I heard “memseeb, memseeb.” I turned and there was the motorized rickshaw driver with two cops. At that point I completely freaked out. I started crying and shouting at them, holding my wrists together to them saying things like, “Just lock me up. Your country is trying to destroy me. Go ahead and take me away.”

The cops were so flabbergasted I don’t think they said two words to me and in truth I never even tried to argue reasonably. I’d already seen how the baksheesh (bribe) system worked. I continued crying and took all the money from my wallet and threw it at them. Then I went and sat on a wall and bawled my eyes out. I don’t know how long I was there crying but the police made the rickshaw driver give me back any money above what he’d asked (I presume–I never counted it.) He gingerly placed it at my feet when I yelled at him and asked why he didn’t just take everything. Then they went away.

I stayed and cried and cried. I had been ill for three weeks at this point and was in fact my sickest in Delhi and Varanasi. Eventually I noticed about six men standing around me in concern as I cried, asking, “Memsahib, what is wrong?” To which I wailed, “Nothing. Your country is just trying to keep me here.” I wasn’t exactly in my right mind.

I eventually got up and walked disconsolately back to my hostel. At one point a beggar came up to me and touched me. I already knew that in India people don’t touch each other unless they think you don’t know the culture. It’s a sign of disrespect. The beggar touching me was just another injurious straw. At that point I was so distressed with the day that I said, “Oh just go die. It’s easier.” To a beggar. A child. Because I wanted to. It was not one of my more stellar moments.

India was the hardest place I ever travelled to, where nothing ran on time, bribes were expected, and no one would say they didn’t know something so you could end up with six directions to get somewhere and none of them would be right. The culture was different enough and the concept of time was hard to grasp. With trying to fathom these things, on top of trying to find signs, which were few, and if they were there they were in Urdu or Hindu, as well as being severely sick and carrying an overburdened pack, it was too much.

I learned something about myself in India. I found my melting point and my darker side. But I came back from my trip and was forever changed. This of course wasn’t my only adventure in India but it was my hardest.

We wear a lot of masks in our society. There are ones for work, for friends, for dates, for family. Sometimes there are layers and layers of masks. I had them when I went to India but I had way fewer when I came back. India stripped me down to an essential aspect of myself. I truly was just surviving the experience by the end of the trip and was sick for another month after I returned. To this day, I have fewer masks. India made me integrate myself and my different aspects.

Everyone gets much more a blend of me these days. I remember one friend telling me I was more accessible after going to India.The barriers had been stripped away and I built new ones, but not as high nor as thick.

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