Sometimes I think I should kill myself while people still think I’m a good and kind and loving person.  At such times it feels like it is only a matter of time (and probably not a lot of time) before my life falls apart entirely and I let down all of those who are closest to me (my children, my partner, others who love me or rely on me) in utterly devastating ways.  Thus, the voice I sometimes hear in my head – the one that has long been enamoured with the idea of my own death – says to me, “It is better that you die now while people love you, while they will remember you fondly, while you will be remembered as a positive influence in their lives rather than being the harmful, selfish, broken failure you are about to become.”

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Posted by: Dan | March 11, 2018

He Worked

He worked five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 8:30AM until 4:30PM.  He arose at 6:00AM so that he would have sufficient time to groom and dress and commute.  He was out the door at 7:55AM, always on foot in summer or winter, spring or fall, and he was back in at 5:05PM.  Because he arose at 6:00AM, he went to bed at 9:35PM.  This gave him 4.5 hours of free time in the evening, Monday to Friday, when he would buy groceries, cook dinner, eat, wash the dishes, and then sit quietly, for the last hour or two, reading a book, or watching a movie, or listening to a record.  Sometimes he did nothing at all and just sat.  Work was hard and he was expected to do a lot in exchange for a very little.  He didn’t have much energy left in the evening.  It didn’t take him long to fall asleep when he went to bed.  He awoke briefly every morning at 4:00AM to pee.

They call that a forty hour work week but work dominated his days and nights.  It’s just that he was only paid for forty of those hours.

At the end of each month he paid his bills.  His rent, his internet, his phone, his hydro.  Most months, he had a little bit left over.  Sometimes he bought books or records.  Sometimes he put a little away.  That little bit never accumulated for very long.  There were always new medical or dental bills to pay as his body aged and his benefits were slowly clawed back (“our bargaining unit is just too small to compete for a better offer,” the HR Manager dutifully reported at the beginning of each fiscal year).  Poverty wasn’t a thing that bothered him although every now and again he went online and looked at pictures of faraway places and found a recording on youtube of a thunderstorm in the Amazon or of whales singing in the Caribbean or of water falling in Iceland or of waves on a beach in Fiji and he closed his eyes and imagined himself gone.

He used to tilt his head back and let the water wash over his face when he walked to work in the rain but he stopped doing this after his Supervisor reprimanded him because of his appearance.  Now, when it rains, he carries an umbrella.  It has been years since he last went out to jump in puddles.  His feet and knees and hamstrings ache at the end of the day.  He knows he should stretch more and use the instructions and colour-coded rubber bands provided by his physiotherapist but, when he finishes the dishes and  sits down to rest (“just for a minute,” he tells himself), he finds it hard to get back up again and the remaining minutes pass and then it’s time for bed.

Every quarter, he received a letter from the financial corporation handling his pension.  “If you remain on this trajectory and retire at the age of 65, you will have an annual income of $12,500.”  Most of his mail isn’t really for him.  He receives a letter every month from a furniture store telling him about a sale, all because he bought a couch there years ago and he must have accidentally checked the box that said he would like to receive offers in the mail.  Or perhaps he forgot to ask them to uncheck that box.  He isn’t sure.  Every few weeks, he receives mail from competing phone and internet providers.  He has a sign that says “NO JUNK MAIL OR FLYERS PLEASE” on his mailbox but all of these offers are addressed to him personally.

Sometimes he tries to dance his feelings.  His joys and sorrows, his little loves and little losses – although, for him, they had been plenty big enough.  If he could do it all again, he would be a dancer.  Or, at least, he tells himself he would try to be a dancer.  Because, for most of his life, there was often a gap between what he wanted to be and what he was.  He was never very good at being what he wanted to be.  For a few years here and there, perhaps, he felt that the gap had narrowed.  Mostly, though, he worked and paid his bills and sat down for a few minutes and then went to bed. And at 6:00AM he was up and off again.  But when he first heard Ólafur Arnalds’ “Living Room Songs,” he closed his eyes and drew arches in the air with his hands and lines on the floor with his toes.  He swayed and spun and bowed, and he imagined himself young and supple again.  He felt graceful and grateful and sad.  When he went to bed that night he remembered the space she used to occupy and how he would smell the skin between her shoulder blades and wrap his arms around her as the waking world faded and the world of dreams awoke.

Sometimes, in the grocery store, a woman would pass who was wearing her scent.  For a long time this was difficult.  The first time it happened, he pulled up his hood and quietly cried in the canned fruits and vegetables aisle.  Eventually, he came to appreciate it.

He stopped making plans for his weekends once he realized he was almost always too tired to fulfill them.  Old friends were always so busy.  Activities that were affordable when he was young became expensive as he aged and the price of everything went up except the price paid for the labour of those who work a forty hour work week.  He learned to enjoy sitting or strolling by the river in the day.  He knew the places along its banks where people who had nowhere else to go would congregate to share a few drinks and feel a sense of belonging.  He imagined he might join them when he retires.  On weekend nights when the moon was full, he would lie in the grass of the closest park and try to discern the stars and planets and satellites.  He was never really fully sure about what he saw or which was what although, once upon a time, she was his sun and he was her moon and, for a while, she gave him daylight and he showed her the way in the dark. He stopped going to the park after a local homeowner called the police to report a man loitering there (“I don’t know if he’s high or if he’s prowling for kids or teenagers that might come by but he looks like a total creep” the concerned citizen said to the 911 operator).  The officers who responded to the call were friendly but firm and he was never one to overstay his welcome.  Quite the opposite, in fact, because he was never sure when or where or for how long he was welcome.

He learned contentment was one of the perks of resignation.  He learned loneliness, like sobriety, can be dealt with one day at a time.  In his dreams, he heard music – classical orchestral compositions that he did not recognize and could not recall when he awoke at 6:00AM the following day. He contentedly faded away.  His death went relatively unnoticed.  Only the folks by the river the following summer paused and wondered at his absence.  One or two poured a little out for him, half serious, half in jest.  His position at work was posted and filled within a two week period.  His replacement worked five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 8:30AM until 4:30PM.

Posted by: Dan | March 1, 2018

The Road We Make By Walking

In the afternoon, when I go to pick up my children from school, the wind is almost always blowing from the West.  It has always been that way this time of year, for as long as I have been here.  During the Winter, it is the East wind in the morning, the West wind in the afternoon.  If things shift and the wind blows from the South for a day or two and then flips around and starts coming in fast from the North, prepare yourself for an especially nasty storm.  I think it was the winter of 2013-2014 when I first became aware of these patterns.  That winter, and the one after, were very, very cold – I remember a period of nine days in a row when it was -40 degrees (Celsius and Farenheit) when I set out in the morning, the kids bundled in snowsuits and wrapped in blankets as I carried them in my arms.  I remember noticing the direction of the wind because it meant the wind was always in my face – when I walked to work after dropping the kids off in the morning, it was in my face, and when I walked back after work to pick the kids up, it was in my face.  But I was grateful for this.  Because it meant that when I was actually walking with the kids – from home to the school and from the school to home, the wind was always at our backs.  Hard walks for me (although not so hard when I began to bundle up properly in balaclavas and, in the week of forty below, ski goggles).  Easier walks for them.  Fair enough.

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Posted by: Dan | February 28, 2018

February Reviews

In which I ramble in relation to the following: 5 Books (Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back; The Songs of Trees; Bookshops; A Separation; and Selfish); 5 Movies (Phantom Thread; Sambizanga; On Body and Soul; Graduation; and We Need to Talk About Kevin); 1 Documentary (Tokyo Idols).

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Posted by: Dan | January 31, 2018

January Reviews

Inadequately discussed in this post: 5 Books (Responding to Human Trafficking; High Price; Angry White Men; Anger; and The Complete Stories); 5 Movies (Lady Bird; Call Me By Your Name; After the Storm; The Shape of Water; and The White Ribbon); 4 Documentaries (Angry Inuk; Chasing Coral; Burn, Motherfucker, Burn; and LA 92).

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Thanks to my brother, Jude, for this picture!

Dear Charlie,

On the morning of your ninth birthday party, I looked in the mirror and saw my father.  This happens to me sometimes when I glimpse my reflection out of the corner of my eye, especially when I am bearded, as I am now, because it is winter and, as you know, I am a lifelong pedestrian.  In the past, I often tried to deny any resemblance but, it is true that sometimes, from certain angles, even if only briefly, I look like my father.

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Posted by: Dan | January 2, 2018

Twenty Years from Homelessness

Part One

White Stones, Queens, 1974.
Fathers talking shit,
Motherfucker slam the door.
Hit the streets running, cannot take it anymore.
In the reins of the train, I cuddle on the floor.

On the park bench, door, and sleeping here for free
Little kids sitting in the shooting gallery
Set yourself up
From innocence to misery
Oh, this is what you wanted,
Not the way, what the fuck you say?

~ Rancid, “1998

Between January 4th and January 10th, 1998, a series of large storms dumped 80-130mm (~3-5 inches) of precipitation on Eastern Ontario and Quebec. What began as rain rapidly turned to ice and the ice accumulated and as it accumulated it devastated trees and infrastructure, forests and cities. Kilometre after kilometre of hydro towers fell like dominoes. Millions of people lost power, some for several weeks in subzero temperatures, and at least thirty-five people died. This became known as The Ice Storm of 1998. It was at this time that I became homeless and, one quiet winter evening, carried all my worldly possessions – in a backpack, a duffel bag, and a number of garbage bags, down a frozen suburban street into a future I could not foresee.

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Posted by: Dan | December 27, 2017

2017: Reviews in Review

In 2017, I read 77 books, watched 49 movies, as well as another 44 documentaries.  Good to know that I am doing something with my life.  The full list is provided below but, first, a few comments about my favourites.

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Posted by: Dan | December 27, 2017

December Reviews

Discussed in this post: 9 Books (The Influence of Cooperative Bacteria on Animal Host Biology; Beyond Words; Down Girl; Survival in Auschwitz; Desperate Characters; The Book of Sand; The Ruba’iyat; Classic Hasidic Tales; and Bone); 5 Movies (The Killing of a Sacred Deer; A Ghost Story; Song to Song; Loveless; and Star Wars Episode VIII); and 1 rant about David Attenborough.

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Along with many others, I was struck by the literary brilliance and emotional impact of Kristen Roupenian’s short story, “Cat Person” (read it here).  However, and once again along with many others, I was both appalled and disheartened by the ways in which many men were responding to the story.  I ended up having a rather lengthy conversation about the story with some of these fellows on a friend’s facebook page and I have decided to take what I wrote there and make it into a blog post here.  My intention in doing so isn’t so much to further engage those whom I have termed “the bros” (and will refer to as Bro1 and Bro2 throughout) as it is to offer an alternative reading to those who are unsettled by what the bros have said but who aren’t sure how to refute their arguments.

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