“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken…
Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…
Face your life
Leave no path untaken.”
― Neil Gaiman,
Most people aren’t really sure what they are getting themselves into, when they come talk with someone like me. What we do at that coffee shop, or while walking by the river, has little in common with what happens on television or Netflix. You are not Tony Soprano and I am not that horrible psychiatrist who sucked at counselling and committed ethical violations on an episodal level. You won’t spend the whole time complaining, and I am intrusive when it comes to the nitty gritty details. I get paid to act as a professional and you can go home and talk to your cat for hours about your medical problems or how much that person makes you mad at work. People want ideas and conversation and help, that’s why they make the appointment. Most counsellors are sedentary by nature and I am a screaming ball of ADHD and philosophy and other words that they offer at universities for those who don’t really want to earn much money or get their teeth cleaned on a regular basis.
Most of my clients have tried it their way, and life has a way of humbling the most stubborn of us every once in a while. I have written extensively about this topic and you can read about it here, here, here, or here. Moving forward in your life is usually more complicated in the real world, and we rarely get to live on Saturn or have a robot maid like on The Jetsons. Life is hard and they don’t post the rules on a website, and lets be honest, I usually did things the hard way because I’m naive and idealistic and not as self-aware as I thought at the time. For the love of god, don’t write your treatise in your 20’s. We shouldn’t have to review the reasons, this one is rock solid. I am startled at how dumb I was when I was 25. I’m not telling your story, I’m just speaking to those of us who have had to admit that we didn’t know what the crap we were talking about and some of those opinions we yelled so loudly, back when we knew everything, were utterly moronic.
At the risk of becoming a Hallmark Card, it really is true that most of us don’t live at our potential. I’m not talking about you.
I am working on another project or two with a few friends, and there is this feeling (and if you’ve had it you know what I’m talking about) at the beginning of a new adventure that is cocaine for me. The entire entertainment industry seems designed solely for the purpose of providing adventures which allow us to live lives in ways and places not connected to my grinding job or upset partner. We are neurologically wired for novelty. This has a profound impact on everything from our relationships to our addictions to our sexual satisfaction. I go to movies to be alive, but maybe it’s just me. When I am inside a great audiobook or an old fashioned paperback it triggers parts of my brain which include those yummy juices bouncing around in my neurons. Unlike many, I am blessed with primarily pleasant dreams, and I may be a child inside, but under countless moons I have been a secret agent or kung fu legend or somewhere warm drinking foofy drinks on a beach. I do this for a living and I know what living in a fantastical dream state suggests. The real world blows when it does.
Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…
Face your life
Leave no path untaken.
Here’s to you making that trip to Europe. A good one on those of ya who have decided to go back to school, or go on a road trip, or start to sculpture; just for the joy of getting your hands muddy. It is very easy to learn to play the bass… poorly. My wife just brought a 300 ton piano into our house, and her relentless pursuit of something that hard is inspiring (she doesn’t read my writing so I won’t get credit for that). In The Graveyard Book, Nobody Owens grew up in a graveyard, was adopted by ghosts, and mentored by a vampirish thing and a Hound Of God. With his life in danger, he was forced to spend the majority of his childhood playing with dead people, a witch, several nasty goblins, with only one friend who had a pulse and almost killed him, by accident of course. Those words, face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken, reminded Bod that his life was among the living, not the departed. It was his turn to have experiences and see oceans and taste coffee in faraway lands.
And how’s that working out for you?
That sounds so tiring, he said partly in jest. Life is ridiculously busy, and my freaking phone is becoming an addiction, and I dream of going to Kitts or a Balkan State or a castle in Scotland; but right now I’d settle for another hot day to float in my Canadian Tire pool. Everywhere I look, people complain about the pace of life in the 21st Century and the noise, noise, noise. It’s only 95 days until Christmas. See what I did there?
The good book says, without hope the people perish. Philosophers create theories to describe the meaning of life. Existential Psychoanalysis plays with creating meaning from meaning, or something nerdish like that. As Victor Frankl said, the person who has the why can bear almost any how. That sounds like a cheeseball meme until you find out the dude was in Auschwitz. Having a reason for staying alive another year is a powerful thing. Words like meaning and purpose, dreams, and hope, are powerful aphrodisiacs. Having that why makes this crappy how worth living.
…leave no path untaken.
I like socks. Strange socks. People who don’t know what to get me at Christmas usually land on the weirdest socks they can find at EA Games. So when I found out there was a socks company that donated a pair of socks for every pair purchased, it had my attention. But that’s not even the cool part.
I started listening to some different podcasts today. I downloaded an app and the next thing I knew I was listening to Ear Hustle. It’s a podcast written, produced, and starring longterm inmates at San Quentin Prison. Honourable mention is given to Pelican Bay Supermax. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m interested in a lot of things, and Maximum Security Prisons are on the list. I have attended several prisons in various roles, and the psychology of the experiences that humans are subjected to in places like Pelican Bay is staggering. As a Canadian it is a surreal experience to watch your first documentary about American prisons. Our maximum security prisons are no joke, but what happens in the deep south is beyond most idealistic Canadian’s imagination. I knew a salesman who was sent to Pelican Bay for a very long time, and I imagine there are few humans who have had to endure the level of intensity such an experience would invoke. I have swapped prison stories for years with persons who have real world experience, and have spent an inordinate amount of energy asking questions about the gritty detail. So yes, the first podcast I happened upon was Ear Hustle.
Here’s where the two stories connect. That sock company is called Bombas and they sponsor Ear Hustle. As an entrepreneur I can appreciate the subtle marketing potential of such an enterprise, but that pales in comparison to the good that one company can do if it tries. To date they have also donated 4,000,105 pairs of socks. No wait, 4,000,110. As Bombas points out, “Socks remain the #1 most requested clothing item at homeless shelters. So for every pair of Bombas you purchase, we donate a pair to someone in need. So far, you’ve made over four million small acts of human kindness possible. We can’t thank you enough.”
They aren’t quite weird enough for me, but that’s still very cool.
It really amazing what one company, or one person, can do when they decide to change the world. One of the best parts about my job is that I get to hear stories, thousands of stories, and many of them have a happy ending. I have known people who walked in the door so entirely messed up they were seemingly beyond the pale. They sat on the white couch or in my little office and fundamentally changed who they were, once they decided to step out. There are many ways to deal with your personal issues, and finding a greater purpose or learning about the meaning of your life may sound cliche, but few techniques can take you as far as a reason for living. Hundreds of people I have cared about have told me stories, tales of redemption and loss, staggering failures and unbelievable saves.
You might not think giving a pair of socks to some homeless dude is not your thing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than not giving out 4,000,000 pairs of socks to people who often have not felt the warmth of human kindness in some time. People and organizations that follow their hearts, and not just their wallets, genuinely feel better about their lives. Believing in something bigger than your worst moments is better than living a purely self-indulgent, puerile life that ends in meaninglessness, unless you’re a complete sheep (in which case you would not be reading this in the first place). This, unfortunately, compels me to remind you that no one wants to see another stupid picture of you on social media. We know what you look like, and it’s nothing like that doctored pic of you standing in a pose which is oddly reminiscent of what we imagine you would look like if there was something up your hiney. We’ve even talked about how mildly narcissistic that can become, so turn the camera around and show me a picture of nature, or culture, without your duck lips in the picture.
Liking a post on Facebook may give you warm fuzzies, but it’s the getting off your butt and living your life for something of value that will take you to the next level. Living in the moment is important, yes. So is mindfulness. So is having a reason to get up in the morning.
Get a life.
Growing up, so many years ago, I loved the pounding beat and consuming rhythm of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. The intense drumbeat was stirring; the story behind the song even more so. What follows is my own flawed memory of how the story went:
One day, while playing with a friend beside a river, Phil’s childhood friend got in trouble and began to drown. The young Phil Collins was too small to rescue his drowning companion and begged a passerby to help. The adult simply laughed and walked away. His friend died.
Years later, while on tour with Genesis, Collins anonymously sent this individual tickets to his upcoming concert. As “In The Air Tonight” began to play, Collins belted out those now famous words:
Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, oh Lord
Well I remember, don’t worry. It was the first time, the last time, we ever met.
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight…”
Collins turned to the audience as the lights came up on one seat, one man, and yelled something like (accounts vary) “It was you, you S.O.B.!
Powerful stuff. Revenge.
So what, then, is the moral of this story?
The moral is that this story is not true. I told that story for over 20 years in front of thousands of people and it was complete crap. Fabricated nonsense.
The moral is that we love a great story, that we are prone to believe untruths when they are packaged in such a way as to draw us in. Disinformation. The moral is that it is very tempting to blindly accept anything you read for the sole reason that it is sending a message with which you want to agree. These fairytales are powerful because we all want to believe in words like destiny and fairness and happy–endings. The moral is that you are far more likely to believe something if you already agree with it; and the age of mass media is overwhelming our critical systems. The exploding cacophony of information eventually strips us of unbiased thought, and we were always friends with Eurasia. Big Brother is programming you. See, I just did it again.
Bringing the apocalyptic into my story creates a defining moment which just happens to be bullshit. Calling your opponent Hitler is a convenient way of labelling someone in such a way as to discredit further investigation. Easy labels diminish the truth. Things are rarely as absolute as in the land of stories, and the impact of such things as the rise of bionomics, media, and reductionism, is profoundly beyond what we can imagine. Let that sink in for a moment. Humanity gleefully embraces a future that it does not understand; has not reckoned with an impact we have yet to invent.
Reality cannot be contained in a YouTube video. Your primary belief systems warrant intense scrutiny. The world is filled with loud and profoundly ignorant voices, screaming for your attention.
Phil Collins confirmed it hadn’t happened. Like most of the polls and trends and arguments between the huddled masses, this was the creation of a storyteller whom no one took the time to investigate. One discredited study on autism and a child dies in the prairies because people believe stuff that seems right to them at the time. Some pseudo-scientist creates a Youtube video about the earth being flat and seemingly reasonable people start to think that the sun is 3000 miles above the earth, and the government is spreading mind-altering drugs using airplane contrails. The president of a neighbouring country was actually born in Kenya. Carrying a concealed weapon becomes a must if you want to avoid a terrorist attack. Those Syrian refugees, fleeing unimaginable persecution and a situation you literally know almost nothing about, are all terrorists. Jayden Smith knows the mysteries of the universe. Muslims cheered when the twin towers came down. Donald Trump is the messiah, or the Anti-Christ. The list of the ridiculous is seemingly endless.
This is by no means a confirmed fact, but it is apparent that many of us watch a single YouTube video or read an article and are willing to fundamentally change our belief systems or argue about a belief we know virtually nothing about. I cannot count the numbers of people who are convinced that something is true because they spent 20 minutes online or heard it from a “reliable” source. It is a sure bet that millions of people get their politics or religion or theories about life from a few solitary sources that agree with them anyway. That Zeitgeist movie seems to make sense. Those documentaries on the way they treat chickens, or that conspiracy about how the moon landing was faked, the FACT that the government is covering up contact with aliens, or the opinions of uneducated actors or musicians or some geek with iMovie, appear entirely believable. I have witnessed arguments at parties between individuals who clearly know very little about science or reality but are willing to virtually come to blows over a topic they watched on YouTube or read about in a forum of like-minded and biased idiots like themselves. Few of us take the requisite hours to actually perform real research. We are the media generation, subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous opinions and 5-minute ready to believe theories.
The objective truth is that it takes hundreds, even thousands of hours to understand concepts like philosophy, politics, or basic scientific principles. When Will Smith states publicly that he considers himself a physicist, he speaks in ignorance. The profound insights of actors and amateurs are usually neither profound nor insightful, in any real sense. Becoming an expert in any field requires years of directed study. You cannot become a martial arts practicioner by watching a series of videos and you certainly aren’t qualified to even speak about vaccines if you base your opinions on something you read in a chat room or online.
By now most of us have heard of the Dunning-Krueger Effect. To put it another way, we don’t know what we don’t know. We lack context. It is impossible to assess something you have never seen before. The first warriors on the receiving end of gun powder lacked the capacity to appreciate why they were about to die. American troops in World War Two were flummoxed by the Kamakazi. The thought of a volunteer willingly slamming their plane into an aircraft carrier seemed ludicrous in the extreme. We can only comprehend that which we already know, at least in passing. We cannot understand what we have never even imagined. As Heisenberg so eloquently mused, “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” There is the world as we understand it, the philosopher said, then there is the world as it really is.
We must be careful of our own thinking. When I was younger I knew everything, or so I thought. The older I get the less I seem to know. The essence of wisdom is not intelligence alone. We must experience in order to comprehend. We must, as Covey quipped, seek first to understand, and then to be understood. There must be humility, wonder, and hard work, before we can really know anything of value. Abandon your absolutist opinions and spend a hundred or a thousand hours learning about that thing before you make a fool of yourself in that chat room.
You’ll be glad you did.
In the early 2000’s Ricky Gervais was one of the first to harness the power of the podcast to reach millions of people. Together with one of my favourite deadpan comedians, Stephen Merchant, Gervais hired a location and a production geek and set to work. He and Merchant would host an off-the-cuff radioesque podcast made to seem like it was made up on the spot. Early in Season One Gervais began throwing a few bones to the tech working the show and Internet history was born.
Karl Pilkington seemed to have a normal and successful life. He was married and an Executive Producer at a legit media heavyweight, seemingly a position which would require a good deal of smarts and an exceptional talent for getting ahead in a cutthroat industry. It was apparent from the start, however, that Karl Pilkington was no ordinary media geek, he was comedy gold.
Merchant was actually the meaner of the two. He was fond of telling Pilkington that he was a subhuman ape, a moron or an idiot or one of those amazing British ghetto language terms, thrown out with practiced indifference. If you look up Karl on Wikipedia you will read:
Pilkington was born in Manchester in 1972. He worked as a journalist for the Sun for a period of time  and moved to London from Manchester to work with XFM as a producer, at one point unintentionally causing Gail Porter to leave the station in tears after only one show by criticizing her performance, which Pilkington maintains was an attempt to encourage her to improve. After several years he began work on The Ricky Gervais Show, broadcast on Saturday afternoons. Initially Pilkington was solely the programme’s producer. As Gervais and Merchant began to invite him to make the odd comment, Pilkington’s persona came to light and his popularity increased. Pilkington was eventually included as a main element of the broadcasts, with large amounts of airtime often given over to his thoughts on various subjects, or various childhood stories. In December 2005, Pilkington stood in for two BBC 6 Music shows for Nemone, and co-presented the shows with Russell Brand.
Pilkington was an internet phenomenon. The series was downloaded over 300,000,000 times. People composed music to Karl’s head, his various axioms for life, and his offbeat look at life among pretentious smart people who unrelentingly compared Pilkington’s head to various fruits and extremely round spheroids. I always find it amusing, when rereading his bio, that both Gervais and Merchant felt compelled to defend his persona as real. I read somewhere that Merchant was to have said that Pilkington had to be real because there was no way he would waste such good material on this “poxy” radio station or some such.
It is crucial to listen to the whole series beginning at Season One. The shows were free and this allowed the hosts not to give a crap. Both men are well educated private school boys who portray as hard-line antagonists who paraded their atheism and delight at their own observations, a detached and comedic spin to everything. It was brilliant.
Clearly friends, the shows were both a row and a tug at Pilkington’s seeming endless ignorance of common words or phrases, and an homage to his brilliance and fearless stupidity in the face of endless ridicule. By the end of the first season, 12 brief shows, the podcast was the biggest in the world and everyone loved Karl Pilkington.
Without a clear or present agenda, the men simply talked about Karl’s week, read his diary, listened to his epic blunders in “Monkey News”, and took part in a series of bizarre and often hilarious misadventures and incoherent games and stories and questions about life. Throughout the series Gervais and Merchant refused to admit that Karl Pilkington was a persona because the guy was just too weird to be normal by any definition. Hundreds of questions were asked of him and it became immediately apparent that the next thing out of his mouth was not what you were thinking.
The podcast was turned into a cartoon. Watching the animation it feels like a completely new experience, all over again. It reminds you a bit of the Flintstones, one of Gervais’s favorite analogies when making fun of Pilkington’s lack of understanding of history.
Season Five was different. The team had just come off a break, Gervais and Merchant were international stars and Karl Pilkington had a T-shirt with his round head on it and millions of people wanted to ask him questions. I remember tuning in to Season Five and finding that I had accidentally put on my Counsellor hat and things were pinging everywhere. This was a different Karl Pilkington. His head was still as big “as a fucking orange”, to quote Ricky Gervais.
At first it felt like I could understand him in a different way. The things he said had an air of bizarre legitimacy; and it occurred to my counsellor brain that he knew exactly what he was doing. The entire premise of the show was built around Pilkington’s ignorance and suddenly Karl appeared different, but not necessarily stupid. He had been, after all, a significant player in the entertainment engine. They talked about Karl’s wife like she was a real person and never lobbed a disparaging word in her direction. Karl knew all about Ricky’s house, had been there playing pool the night before. He knew Ricky’s girlfriend, they had spent time together. One begins to understand, as the show progresses, that the seemingly endless ego that is Ricky Gervais’s public persona clearly cares about this Idiot Abroad and it’s hard to imagine that Gervais would spend quality time with someone who appeared to drive him crazy when behind a microphone. There is a bit of a con going on, though you could argue this is a natural by-product of any chaotic show whose sole purpose appears to be making fun of a far lesser intellect.
I will never meet Ricky or Stephen or Karl so I cannot say with absolute certainty what is really going on. What is certain is that Karl Pilkington is more than a big bald head and a vision of reality skewed a little left of mental illness. One could even be offended on his behalf, if it weren’t so apparent that Pilkington is crafting euphemisms on an intentional level. It is easy to fall for the apparent and be swept away by his infectious personality and ludicrous charm. People love Karl Pilkington, he is charming without meaning to be and everyone loves an underdog. Merchant and Gervais are spectacular boors, and even before Season Five you can tell they are smiling as they talk. Merchant loves to feed Ricky’s ego and even Gervais is only screwing with your head some of the time. These people hang out.
In Season 5 it feels like Pilkington is winking while he speaks. Some of his offbeat ideas make actual sense. There is a little too much Hamlet in the ham. Far from witless, you begin to wonder if Pilkington has been playing you, all along.
I can imagine a world where Gervais or Merchant might actually be reading this and laughing their ass off because Karl really is a twot and apparently I am as well. (Un)Fortunately this blog is beyond obscure and there is little danger of that. If he really is that dense than I’m totally fine with that, assuming that I am not laughing at someone with serious mental health issues.
Karl, and you immediately feel like you can call him that, may be different, but not in a wholly bad way. Remembering, for the sake of argument, that this is merely a futile exercise because we are talking about a radio personality, one is left to wonder how brilliant he really is. Pilkington has a staggering openness, a childlike sense of wonder, and a serious wit. He understands how to roll a phrase and speaks profundity in such a way that you laugh at him while you go “hum”. When asked what is the most important thing to him he replied, “learning stuff”. Brilliant.
I have no doubt. The thing is, one never doubts Karl’s sincerity. Things may be more staged than they are made to appear but it is evident that Pilkington looks at the world in a profound and complex way, in spite of the obvious barbs in the other direction. Step out of your belief system and cultural context and really listen to what he is saying. He may understand reality but he does understand something about reality, and in a way which confounds. He is disgusted by old people trying to live forever, his is a pragmatic and supine viewpoint. He is baffled but some of the most basic concepts of reality but occasionally makes observations which are both incredible and beautiful.
Pilkington is an exile. He may live in London and have a wife and hold a job but he is only visiting this reality. Pilkington is a one-in-a-million, a seriously weird dude who is adored by the masses. Most marginal personalities don’t get to co-star in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In An Idiot Abroad this fool was paid to travel to 30 countries and his antics attracted audiences that numbered in the millions. One can only imagine how much filthy lucre was made by someone who appeared to hate travel and managed to be underwhelmed at the Great Wall of China. Pilkington is an internet meme.
But chances are, you aren’t.
*the apparent lack of a feel-good ending is due, at least in part, to the fact that this is part of a larger project.
I went to a boring conference, not so very long ago. The speaker, it progressively became clear, seemed like he was under the influence of something. A conference organizer was heard to say that they had to hire a driver, that Mr. Speaker seemed confused, didn’t know where he was, and seemed to ramble. There was a uncoordinated feeling of aggression, though he was simultaneously quiet, even passive-aggressive – if that was a look. He made a few completely unscientific claims which caused me to mutter an expletive loud enough to be heard two or three rows away. I am way too ADHD for most conferences in general, but this one was particularly memorable. Don’t get me started on the sad fact that most professional speakers in the mental health field simply don’t have the speaking chops to warrant being paid to do this professionally. We have settled for people who write books, or have gone to a special course, or who happen to be the flavour of the month at your local health authority. Most speakers kind of suck. Like I said, don’t get me started.
While it may be true that this speaker was altered in some way, that really wouldn’t surprise or even dismay me anymore. Drugs are almost legal and scores of very smart people become addicted to prescription medications or smoke weed more than they know that they should. The list of professionals who have been walked off the property is probably longer than most people would imagine. But alas, this still isn’t our story.
This speaker, inebriated or no, reminded me that when it comes to early childhood development it is the very first part of the story, from a few months before that child is born until 3 or even 4 or 5, that is the most important. Humans do an incredible amount of growing, especially in the brain, during this initial few years of life. They are defined, in a very literal sense, by the experiences and impressions that imprint them in these first few tender months and years.
Now listen to this part. This part is important.
Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that affection is one of the most important things you can give any child in the first three or four years of their life. We throw around words like “attachment theory” because the first people that love a baby will, in a very real sense, imprint a bazillion things through expressions of love and cuddling and affection and attention. The people that tell you not to spoil your baby are flat-out wrong. Spending time touching that kid, reading them books, giving them hugs, and playing hide-and-go-seek will do more for a young human than any diet or program or trendy stupid crap young parents will believe if they are granola enough. Study after study points out that if a child has at least one adult who will completely love them and help them feel safe than that kid is going to have a much better chance at a complete and happy life. Loving your nieces and nephews and grandkids and those 8 or 10 kids of my friends that I love like an uncle is an incredibly important thing, and the more time you spend with those young ones, especially in those first three or four years, the more they soak in that safety and unconditional love.
That crap sticks.
This is why my kids are so intoxicated with their young children. I must admit to some guilt as well. We are evolutionarily compelled to become fixated on our babies and take way too many pictures, and send me videos every damn day of you life. Sorry, I was projecting. We love our children because that kind of stuff is primal and no one really cares about those pictures of your kid in a raincoat anymore. Family is family; everyone else’s kids are cute for only 5 pictures, 6 tops. Early Childhood Development practitioners would tell you that it is critical that you spend significant time rolling around on the carpet and dancing to those stupid children’s songs sung by neutered hipsters. Watch Baby Jake videos. Embrace the Disney.
Please, spoil your kids and your relative’s kids and be that amazing person in the life of someone you know. Invite your nieces or grandkids or friends kids over for a sleepover and use flashlights. Make tents and do hand-spiders and kiss them over and over and chew on their toes. Read about Attachment Theory.
And don’t forget, some day that beauty is going to be a teenager and tell you off, and you’re going to remember how nice it felt when they were two.
Wisdom comes in many forms. Right now I’m watching The Passionate Eye, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, an excellent expose on an important chapter of American History. I do not, out of interest, spend much time thinking about American History; it bombards Canadian culture 24 hours a day. There is more to the world than one country, and my interests lie closer to Charlemagne or Marcus Aurelius than Lincoln or Kennedy. I love stories of ancient kingdoms and empire building, war and anthropology, Kierkegaard and long-gone cultures. American History is too recent and predictable for my tastes, though I’m not willing to have a Comments battle if you think U.S. history is the bomb.
Like many romantics, I am sucked in by stories of underdogs.
The Black Panthers have been wildly misinterpreted by those too close to the culture to reflect with any measure of detachment. They are often painted as some fascist paramilitary; hell-bent on getting even with the ‘honky pigs’ whom they believed took joy in imparting racist justice. As an integral part of American recent history, the Black Panthers were difficult to separate from the political mania of the 60’s. Racism and guns and Vietnam, assassinations and acid trips and movie stars sleeping with Mafia Dons. It was a decade that stood apart from much of American nationalism and precipitated a revolutionary movement led by African Americans whose grandparents had firsthand knowledge of slavery; and a racism so profound that it labeled an entire race as sub-human. Blacks were beaten and even raped, often for exercise or because of some perceived slight to white arrogance.
The Americans were not alone in this practice, one that now seems so vulgar and wrong. As with any study of history, however, the rule of thumb is that you must not judge historical events only through your liberal 21st Century morality. Fundamental to historical studies is the awareness that people who lived hundreds of years ago were very much like us, but they were also very different. You are a montage of your world. You grew up in a free country with enough food to eat, a television, and without having to worry about having the crap kicked out of you because of the color of your skin; in a culture which does not go out of its way to ruin your life.
People started letting their Afros grow. Imagine an entire people who felt bad about their heritage or skin color or the way they wore their hair, trying to dress more like those who belittled them because of their genetics or country of origin. The Black Panthers came across as arrogant and uppity. Ronald Reagan publicly stated that anyone who acted like these young, black upstarts was out of their mind. He wondered publicly why they couldn’t just use the regular channels, a rigged system which honored rich white males like Ronald Reagan, and literally everyone he ever hung out with.
It is a horrible thing to feel powerless and subject to the whims of the powerful. Anyone who has ever been in an abusive marriage or terrorized by a violent relative can relate, just a little, to the feelings of an African American in the middle sixties. Less educated, unable to pursue their piece of the American Dream, they finally decided that enough was enough. Exercising their Second Amendment rights, a part of the American milieu I will never fully understand, they began carrying rifles and standing in circles around police who were in the process of hassling or arresting their neighbors. What began in Oakland soon spread throughout the states, and eventually the Black Panthers opened an International Office in Europe.
I have not talked about the American election, at the beginning of 2017, though I have been sorely tempted. At one point I realized that I could contribute little to the conversation, although I should have written more about micro-expressions because… holy crap. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Love him or hate him, soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s election is clearly a metaphor for the fight against the status quo. It is not only Americans who feel the sting of elitism. When you are poor and rural, with very few options and a factory that is closing which has employed your clan for generations, you understand the staggering frustration of watching the rich get richer and the pretty people spend thousands on glittery crap when you can’t afford your truck payment. My father was poor and an orphan, and not everyone has that made-for-television story of catching breaks after working really hard. For millions of us, hard work does not automatically translate into media contracts. It wasn’t until Making of A Murderer that some people realized that even white people can feel the sting of prejudice. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be a Palestinian or a Syrian refugee right now.
The Black Panthers have slipped into the annals of Americana, with past members looked upon as folk heroes, or at very least a cool part of history. We no longer can recall the sting of these emotions, and most of us realize that J. Edger Hoover was bat-crap crazy. It was a different time.
There is a part of your story that I will never understand. I may get paid to talk with people about their problems and secrets, but we did not share the same history. In much the same way that we must look at history through a different lens, it is important that we remember everyone is on their own unique, and ofttimes lonely, journey. We all die alone. There is no possible way that I can understand what it is like to be treated like an animal just because of a pigment in my skin. You were right all along, I really do not know how you feel, how could I? You are wired up in a spectacular and bizarre way, too complex and sometimes, and you know what I’m talking about, living your own brand of crazy. There is no synergy strong enough to allow me to fully comprehend what you are going through. I can feel your pain but I cannot ever fully know it.
I don’t want you to tell me, “I know how you feel”. No you don’t. I’m not even always sure I know how I feel, and my brand of cray cray is fed by a thousand or a million facts and experiences and beliefs you know very little about. It sounds funny coming from me, but most people don’t really want a bunch of advice when they tell you how crappy their day is. I have had multiple clients tell me that my job is just to agree with them while they spew out a wellspring of pain or problems or confusion.
And besides, most people shouldn’t give out too much advice. First and foremost, advice is tainted by our experiences. I have spent an inordinate amount of time learning how to step outside the drama, and it is still hard. How can I truly know how to help you if I am trapped in the narrative? And while we are on this topic, I would encourage you to accept advice sparingly. Most people don’t really know what they are talking about when it comes to this complicated crap, and those who have a smattering of knowledge are often emotionally entangled in the show. This also applies to professionals as well. If your psychiatrist diagnosed you after a 20 minute interview than chances are they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. I cannot tell you how many people have carried a label or a diagnosis for decades that was spuriously flung at them by a condescending expert who didn’t have a clue what was really going on. If you were diagnosed as a kid or youth, that goes double. Dozens of people have confessed to me that they were pegged with a mental health issue as a teen, after having lied or exaggerated symptoms to get out of school, or make the old person shut up, or to impress a friend or parent. It takes months to understand what my clients are about, and even then I’m just going on biased information from an emotionally invested one-side of the story.
Chances are, I don’t know how you feel. Not really.
My good friend Lori is a great writer and has started taking virtual vacations. This is a great mindfulness exercise for anyone who needs a break from the rain or the snow or the office. Ever wanted to go to England but don’t have the time or money? Just sit back and let Lori be your tour guide.
For years I have introduced clients to Neil Gaiman’s five-minute and twenty-three second walk through fantasy land called, “Instructions”. A Buddhist may encourage you to listen to a rock grow. Some people go tanning. Many of us have a go-to song for when we are feeling low or pouty. I’ve recently reconnected with my 12-year-old self who likes doing “Dot To Dots”. Some of us go fishing or take a nap or watch that channel with video cameras at places on the planet where people are having way more fun than you are right now. The vehicle doesn’t really matter, it’s the journey and the destination which counts. Continue reading “Mindfulness Exercises: And Now For Your Virtual Vacation”
First blog post from a colleague and friend who is perhaps the best youth counsellor I know. Welcome aboard Dawn!
Youth groups are truly an amazing beast. They tend to take on a life of their own, for good and sometimes not so good. When I am facilitating a youth group I am often in awe at the wisdom that comes to the table and when the mood is just right, we get to hear the most brilliant morsels of teenage insight.
Yesterday I ran 2 youth groups. One group is for youth who are deemed to be relatively stable and without much substance use. I created the course content with two colleagues in my field and we each bring to the table a unique perspective on our training and experiences in working with adolescents. The other group is a drop-in style where we merely open the floor for discussion based on what the youth need to discuss in that given day. Each group has its challenges, and yesterday was…
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My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”
I have three grandchildren. Young kids marrying young kids, marrying young kids. Now that they have spawned, I regularly tell my children they are redundant, sperm donors who no longer serve any other familial purpose. I am a counselor so I’m used to being honest with people for money.
Isaac is two-years-old and a force of nature. He is the one in the beer hat, although we would never do that and I get one first. Isaac and I are joined at the hip and he is definitely my little man. Continue reading “Go To Sleep”
Great insight on everything from mindfulness to Sartre to Isis.
Source: About last week…
The world feels like a terrifying place. People are dying in Paris while at a middle class concert. What if we are next?
Catastrophizing is normal, when we hear stories like this. Suddenly the world feels a little less safe. People in Mission, British Columbia are talking about not attending concerts in Vancouver because ISIS might attack. The world has changed.
The funny thing is, Canada is generally safer than it ever has been. Crime, thanks to DNA and technology and changing societal norms, is actually down in many areas. So why are we so afraid? Continue reading “Why We Care More About Paris”
In a recent conversation with a friend I accidentally referred to anxiety medication as “aspirin for the brain”. I meant it in a good way. Why is taking something for anxiety any different than taking the exact same thing for insomnia?
There is much stigma around medications and it is tempting to believe any number of ridiculous cognitive distortions we all battle, from time to time. As simple as it sounds, people generally push back when a professional prescribes a stupid little pill to cope with the uncopeable. We have been told that people with depression are emotionally weak and need to “snap out of it”. Anxious people seem skittish by nature and those panic attacks might just be a personality flaw. Taking medication for depression or anxiety or (insert name of mental health issue here) means that I have somehow failed or given in or given up. I shouldn’t need to see a counsellor to take an SSRI or go on disability. People who take meds because they cry allot are weaklings. Continue reading “Stupid Little Pill”
One of my best friends, intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to psychological stuff, went to the doctor today. Something serious happened in her family and this has obviously affected her in very real ways. We have talked about her life for years. All I asked was for the doctor to prescribe something for anxiety. She has a history of anxiety. I know her extremely well, we’ve known each other close to 20 years. We talk literally every day. Just give her the damn meds. Continue reading “I’m Sorry I’ve Been Absent So Here’s A Rant”
from our friends at big think.
My wife and I had an argument. It took me some time to realize that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I know I’m a man and that is typically how we define normal, but his was different. I mean, I understood the words, even in proper order, but I couldn’t understand why she was so into this thing. Looking back, Scott was incredibly confused but didn’t know it because, work with me here, I was confused. Continue reading “Empty Space”
I have voices inside my head. Not the kind where you take medications, the other one. The voice we all have, the whisper telling you to go pee right now. That constant inner conversation rattling around inside every head. Well, not all the time, I’m a guy.
There was a time in my life when my inner monologue was much more insane. Anyone who has ever gone off the deep end can tell you, things can get very scary inside that dysfunctional brain of yours. The constant feeling of tension , the weird thoughts, the nattering stressful boredom sometimes makes you nuts. Sorry to get technical there. You may become so engrossed in the internal soap opera it’s virtually impossible to remain objective. Scary thing is, it’s all so… rational.
Only it isn’t.
Did I say it was a monologue? Maybe it is more accurate to describe the experience as a wave mixed with an emotional rush; broken words and feelings all tumbling towards the unknown. I pitched this idea to one of my editors, Lori, and here’s how she responded:
I’m thinking about the movie Constantine. Cynical chain-smoking John Constantine, the weird androgynous Gabriel ~ and how Constantine went down to hell to find that girl who’d committed suicide at the psych ward. That place of monologue or trauma is a lot like hell. Constantine was loosely based on a comic called HellBlazer. I think once we know that ‘place’ we can never unknow it. Kind of like how once we become awake, we can never become asleep again. But knowing it, I think this makes it so we understand the depth of its agony. I think that’s maybe why you counsel and I feel like I need to ‘go there’ with people. I’m drawing some possibly unconnected analogy to the movie, but it makes me feel better about it all. Hell blazers.
That’s why she’s one of my editors.
The quote says it this way, “If there wasn’t a hell we would invent one”.
Here’s Lori again.
I think it’s almost reductionist to call it trauma or cognitive distortion or monologue. It’s a ‘place’. A virtual rendering of hell. In some way if I can look at it as a place, I can leave it as well as revisit it. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality.
Immanuel Kant spoke of dueling alternate realities. There is the world as I perceive it, and the world as it really is. They are different. Right now you may be worrying about something completely irrational. You may even know it’s cray cray but continue to worry, nonetheless. What if that worst-case scenario thingy happened? We all are young enough to believe in the worst. Very bad things can happen to very good people. Maybe that person really doesn’t like you.
There’s the rub, as they say. A lifetime of experiences, often bad ones, disappointment and heartache and pain and unrequited love and low-fat products which went to your hips have convinced most of us that we need to micromanage our internal head space and believe the madness pouring through our defences and threatening to invite us to start cutting or drinking or checking out, one more time. Lori was absolutely right – there are times when we need to be reminded that this is a fantasy and you need to wake up.
She stole my ending. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality. I aspire to be that person, when I am able. Chances are this is something you could also get behind. We all need someone who can take our hand when we lose our way. Thanks Steve.
Perhaps there was a time when people could bear this load alone. I am fascinated by the strength and the sheer badassness of those who served this country in war, often many years ago. The man who could survive the soaked hell-traps in the trenches of The Great War. People long dead who simply would not lie down in front of oppression and hate. Frightened teenagers who cried “We shall overcome, someday”. Children crawling through the jungles in the name of a cause they neither understood nor cared anything about. Countless women in history who were raped and decided to continue living. I am not that person.
I desperately want to be that person.
When you are crazy it doesn’t hurt to have someone in your life who is further along the journey or is in possession of knowledge they need to teach you. I have those people in my life and this is the primary reason I am so passionate about learning. Some of us need to figure this out and if it isn’t me than it sure as hell better be you.
This is going to hurt but you should probably do it anyway. Give someone permission to call you on your crap. Take the time or pay the money or scam a priest if you need to, but just do it. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have walked through the doors I haunt. We have six counselors working today and they are all very busy. It’s trendy to have a shrink so come on, you hipster.
There are periods in our life when we no longer possess enough information to make an informed choice about something very pressing and stressful. It is at these times when some of your friends come to see me, just to punch something that doesn’t punch back. I may as well be air-freshener (and if you know me you have probably heard me refer to myself as exactly that), you just need a place to unpack a lot of poop.
Lose long enough and it becomes impossible to think clearly; when your reality is someone’s definition of purgatory. Most of us just roll with the punches and pray that our Lottery Ticket will hit big.
That may be living but that is not a life.
Talk to someone. Those who are humble enough to be taught will usually find their way.
Lori: I read a good thing, I think it was on Psychology Today. They asked people about their fondest childhood memories, and invariably they were stories about screw ups. The listeners would smile knowingly and they’d all have a good laugh and share war stories afterwards. But people really valued others who would point out where they went off.
In retrospect of course.
“The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs,” he said. “If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”
― Glenn Greenwald,
Edward Snowden changed the world, and like most revolutionaries, the machine is trying to kill him. Believe what you want about Mr. Ed, his revelation was a game-changer. I’m on holidays (because we sometimes call it that in Canada) and right now I’m looking at the lake and watching Terminal F. This is a documentary about the events around the events of Snowden’s recent life. As far as documentaries go, it’s less biased than the mainstream, and less sympathetic than my virtual friends who live in the world of anonymity would appreciate. I study subjects like cultural engineering and the other side of the web and cybersecurity for the same reason I look at most things – everything is so incredibly interesting.
One day nerds will look back on 2013 and have conferences about how the world changed that spring. They will talk about the world of 9/11 and the cultural precursors to what went on; the decline of the nuclear family, the end of religion as a cultural force, the wars and the unrest and Anonymous and the growth and power of the virtual insurgency. After literally the entire history of humanity a fifteen-year-old kid from Nairobi suddenly has a voice and a forum and potentially a gun, if she learns how to use Bitcoin. And everytime she turns on her computer or texts a friend that information is recorded by people who may not have her best interests and freedoms at heart. What are you willing to give up to live in a safe world? Are you willing to give up your freedom? These are very important and complex questions.
No one knows how this is going to shake out, but several intelligent people are fairly adamant that Snowden may have just stopped 1984. It’s entirely possible that a 29-year-old computer geek singlehandedly changed the course of human history and stopped A Brave New World. It’s every cheesy youth dystopian movie you watched in 2014. Phrases like “surveillance state” started popping up on YouTube and on Frontline. The journalists who broke the story did not work for The National Enquirer, they worked at The Guardian, a real voice that wins Pulitzers.
Edward Snowden may just be the most valuable person in the world.
Snowden smells more like a brilliant Gavrilo Princip than a rich politician. He is normal, not beautiful, maybe even an idealist. Like Gavrilo he may have changed the course of human history forever, this time with a few SD cards instead of a gun or sword or bow. Many of us are convinced that there were some very disturbing things going on in cyberspace, and I’m not talking about buying cocaine at Silk Road. We are finding out that people were watching, developing programs and advertising and spyware and it was beginning to look like those conspiracy freaks weren’t as off as we all assumed they were. With Stephen Hawking now prophesying the invasion of our robot overlords, things just got freaking weird. Terminator weird.
Not everyone thinks Edward Snowden is a messiah, however. Many people who wear blue suits and red ties believe he has put us all at risk. It is a scary world, and anyone who has ever stumbled on the Deep Web can attest that there are evil and vindictive people out there, and many of them have a platform. The internet is a potential nightmare and someone needs to stand up for what has been right for so very long. You won’t be a raging liberal after someone rapes your wife in the name of some cause they joined online. Stop screwing around. Spooks in Washington and Ottawa and redneck politicians want this man dead because he has shown all their cards to the bad people and that is bad enough; but now the Proles are waking up. It’s all bizarre and apocalyptic and even the American government freely admits that Snowden’s documents were completely legit. Strange.
Edward Snowden was subcontracted to the NSA, arguably one of the most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence networks in the world. Such agencies have, probably by their own admission, arisen as a necessary evil to combat very dark forces that will, not in theory, hurt people you love for money or power or a radical cause. This does not seem debatable and has been going on since life was mould. One little nerd brought the surveillance state and many gigantic companies to their knees and changed the world forever, for good or evil, depending on which couch you are sitting in. If you are not up to speed on this issue you owe it to yourself to become educated. This is very important stuff.
This young man is now hiding in Russia, which plays beautifully into the political narrative wherein ES has put American interests at risk and he’s working for the enemy, on purpose or not. Regardless of who is right his name will be in history books, hundreds of years from now. How weird is it if you feel just a little bit jealous?
We all want to be significant and that is not a bad thing. In counseling we talk about this all the time, the systematic devastation and crushing anonymity of this culture and it’s toll on every one of us. Many spend their entire lives looking for something that sticks out, only to die with a yearning sense of almost. I will probably never have the opportunity to engage a planet and chances are you may not either. So now to find out what is left.
We are tempted to lie to ourselves and thereby diminish our hopes; with internal conversations about how unrealistic our champagne wishes were anyway. Every time I give up a dream or lose a little more hope for a meaningful life a little piece of my idealism dies.
I know so many bitter older people. I get that. Gone are the pretty parties and the unquenchable adrenaline. Welcome prostate exams and vaginal dryness. Watching your life slip away while still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up really sucks. How many times have you wished for another kick at the can because next time you would somehow know all the lessons it has taken us a lifetime to accumulate? The truth is you will not get another kick at any can and I don’t know about you but I do not want to look back at my life and realize I wasted my one chance.
Call it a rationalization if you want but it is important to realize that you do not have to make the cover of Rolling Stone to live a life that matters. You may never be in a history book but you could write your story any time you wish. While you may never be rich and famous, you could invest in a broken life and bring hope to dozens of people if you wanted to. We all choose to succumb to hopelessness, and if you decide you don’t want to be around that is entirely your choice. If you don’t want to step out on the ice quite yet it’s not too late to turn the ship around. Bitterness is a choice. Choosing to be critical of everyone who doesn’t ascribe to your very particular criteria is a choice. Pettiness and negativity and continually talking about your damn sore elbow that no one really cares about is a choice. Fixating on your problems for fifty years is entirely a choice. The desire to one day wake up with a smile and a new dream is also a choice. So is getting up one more time when you struggle to find meaning right now. So is saying no to our raging self-indulgence.
I’m looking around the table and it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to realize that people tend to end up in one of two camps; the old and beautiful and the old and bitchy. There are a million reasons to end up a smoldering hot pocket but at the end of the day no one is going to give a crap why you are still angry about that guy who ruined you fifty years ago. Please don’t think I am diminishing the incessant grind of stress and hurt and disappointment. What I am suggesting is that it is up to me how this plays out.
I will never be Edward Snowden because every one of us is dealt a different hand and mine doesn’t look like it’s going to end up with a Gucci watch. Ed may wind up in a prison cell, this world loves to crucify its prophets. I for one am grateful that he had the courage to do what was right, and the cojones to pull it off. Many people disagree with me and I for one am glad that you have the freedom to tell me off all you want. I have the freedom to not give a damn.
At the end of the day I desperately do not want to become a petty and whiny old man who spends his life complaining about how the kids of today aren’t like when I was a kid. Someone put me out of my misery first. Please. This life is screaming by, and we are all going to be dust before too long; so for the love of God don’t give up.