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Kevin Somers

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The joy of Zumba

My daughter, Erin, loves Zumba.  A 21 year old engineering student, Erin talks about her fondness for the fitness / dancing phenomenon with unfettered, uncharacteristic enthusiasm.  Erin always returns from Zumba flushed, sweaty, and invigorated.

Every time, it’s the same.  I ask, “How was Zumba?”

“Great,” she says and it warms my heart she enjoys such an enriching, positive experience.

Recently, Erin got her Zumba Instructor certificate, so she can lead classes.  She’s lead 3, so far, and looking forward to more.  Erin is not alone in her affection for Zumba: although it is only 20 years old, it’s estimated more than 14 million people, from 180 countries, participate in Zumba classes, moving and meditating their way to a happier, healthier self.

A high-energy exercise program, Zumba is dance and aerobic movements, put to lively Sambo, Salsa, Mambo, Merengue, and Hip Hop music.  Listening to well-liked music is, of course, an affirming experience, on its own.  Adding dance to music is like putting gravy on fries and Smarties in the ice-cream.  Erin said, of the music and its variety, “I like all the styles used in Zumba, but Reggaeton is my favourite.” 

(I had to look it up.)  Reggaeton is a energetic genre, which started in Puerto Rico in the 1990s.  It is influenced by homegrown sounds, Caribbean music, and hip hop.  With the world at my fingertips, I went to the Internet and listened.  I can hear why Erin likes it. 

Alberto Perez started Zumba classes, in the 1990s, in his hometown of Cali, Columbia.  In pursuit of the American dream, he moved to the US in 1999.  Erin said, “Alberto couldn’t speak English, well, when he came to America, so Zumba only uses visual cues.  Anyone can take a class and follow along, no matter what language they speak.” 

Inclusivity is affirming.  

I believe, wholeheartedly, in, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”  Mindless, mindful, muted locomotion is therapy, beyond words.  Invigorating beats can enhance the experience and benefits of exercise. 

The lack of lyrics in Zumba music allows participants to write their own.  Zumba dancers think and figure life out, without interruption or input, while moving and grooving, to groovy tunes.  Zumba is meditation in motion. 

Zumba provides a nice slice of variety; the spice of life.  Erin said, “It’s fun, because the company (Zumba) is constantly coming out with new music and dances, on the instructor’s website, so it’s rarely the same class twice, for regulars.”

Inactivity is death: we are supposed to move, vigorously, and breathe hard.  According to what I’ve heard, vigorous exercise can restore brain cells.  As well, when the body burns fat, most of it is converted to CO2 and exhaled, so robust exertion is necessary to maintain optimum health.  No guff: huff and puff until buff.  It is important to find an enjoyable fitness program, in order to stick with it.  Dancing is fun.  Vigorous dancing is fun and aerobic. 

Public fitness facilities can be cesspools of judgment, resplendent with withering, derisive looks.  Passively hostile climates put, some, people off exercise, which is tragic: exercise is divine.  Erin said, “Zumba is a supportive, positive environment; there’s no judgment.  We’re all in this together.” 

People are social animals, so prolonged, hearty, heartfelt dancing, with a group of like-minded Zumba enthusiasts, is an enjoyable path to a happier self.   Erin said, “I met a lady, who is in her 60s, and has lost 50 pounds doing Zumba.  Her name is Erin, too.  She’s obsessed, and has been doing it almost every day for 2 years.”  Earned, accurate, and inviting, Zumba’s motto is, “Ditch the workout, join the party!”

A universal, international celebration, there are Zumba classes for seniors, children, beginners, differently abled…  Almost, everybody can Zumba.  Music, movement, meditation, and comradely: Zumba is joy. 

Ode to the shower

For blessings, large and small, I love Canada.  A favourite aspect of my life in the great white north is beginning each workday with a shower; an invigorating, experiential blend of solitude, hot water, and optimism.  I’m grateful every time I stand under the cascade of warm, restorative water, preparing for the day.

The first moments of my shower are spent getting wet, spinning, warming up, and soaking in the sensation of hot water on cold flesh.  Humans groom and the shower is a prime place for preening, primping, and preparing.  Soap and shampoo are obvious accessories, but, to justify extra shower-time, there’s more, which can be done, under the blissful cascade.  

After swishing mouthwash over teeth and gums, I treat myself to flossing, brushing, and a final rinse.  My mouth feels clean, fresh, and ready for close encounters, of any kind.  (I don’t like being afraid of my breath.)  

A shower is made for shaving.  Warm water and steam soften whiskers, so slicing them off is easier, while showering.  A touch up, in the mirror is, usually, required, but, sometimes, the task has been accomplished, perfectly.  I shave my entire face, including nose and forehead, for the same reasons I exfoliate.

Exfoliating is good for your skin.  Exfoliating is good for your soul.  With age, the process of cell regeneration slows down, and dead skin cells can clog pores, cause spots, and leave your epidermis showing dry and rough.  Manually scrubbing away old and dead cells can help you look and feel fresher.

Along with exfoliating, cascading water increases blood-flow to the skin’s surface, so circulation, which is critical to good health, is improved, by a shower.  As well, if you’re congested, phlegm can accumulate in the lungs, overnight.  Hot water and steam work, more, magic.  Phlegm is loosened, coughed up, spat out, and washed down the drain with dead skin cells.  Sayonara.

The mental component of a shower should not be overlooked.  Being alone and unplugged does wonders for well being.  My stream of consciousness flows, like the warm water, so ideas come, plans are made, problems solved, forgiveness given, and delightful reminiscences surface, in the shower.  

Showers have been part of human existence, since cavepeople stood under waterfalls for a rinse and rejuvenation.  There is evidence of showering facilities in early Egyptian and Mesopotamian households, wherein servants would pour water over upper class citizens.   

Many people are mindful of waste and indulgence, but the average shower, of 8 – 9 minutes, uses less water than a bath, and is faster.  Good hygiene is critical to good health, so a shower is a necessary luxury.  As well, if you want to get into Heaven, you have to shower.  In 1778, English cleric, John Wesley aptly recorded, “Cleanliness is, indeed, next to Godliness.” 

More critically, if you want to get a second date, before the first one, shower, for God’s sake.  

All things, good or bad, must come to an end.  A thorough rinse, thoughts of thanks, and my shower is over.  I grab a rough towel and go to it.  Spirited towel drying, from head to toes, is exfoliating and exercise, at once.  Drying thoroughly is critical; moisture leads to aggravating conditions, like athlete’s foot and crotch rot.  

It is difficult to work, play, parent, study, relate… if I am out of sorts.  Looking after myself allows me to be a better person.  Sequestered in a shower stall; cleaning, improving, conversing with thoughts, feeling comfortable and safe, is an ideal way to begin my day.  When I consider the simplicity, facility, rapidity, luxury, and benefits, nothing compares to my morning shower. 

Wash up.

Pay it forward

Pay It Forward, originally published in 1999, is a terrific book.  In 2000, it was made into a feature film.  A young adult version of Pay It Forward was released in 2014, and became a bestseller.  Despite all the commercial and popular success, the greatest feat of Pay It Forward has been encouraging people, all over the world, to be kind.

The concept of the book is simple; rather than payback acts of benevolence, pay it forward; do something good for another.  Ideally, the recipients of your kindness pay it forward, as well, and goodwill spreads, indefinitely, like ripples in a pond.    

Kindness, and all it encompasses, is a critical human quality, integral to well being.  Kindness, fortunately, is everywhere.  Without the kindness of strangers, I’d be dead.

On a cold, cold night, in rural France, 30 years ago, a young mother, with her two children, in the car, picked me up, hitch hiking.  I spent the night at their house and, the next day, her, equally, kind husband took me to a train station.  

I don’t see many hitchhikers, anymore.  When I do, I pick them up, sketchy or otherwise.

On another occasion, a fellow gave me a fistfull of Francs and told me to have a good time, in Paris.  I was getting out of the his car, thanking him for the ride, at the time.  He knew we’d never meet, again, but he gave me money and drove off.  

Since, I haven’t been able to walk past a homeless person, without trying to help.  Years ago, we were running to a church, late for our daughter’s baptism, when I yelled, “Stop.”  I handed off the child, turned around, went back, and gave money to the fellow, sitting on the sidewalk, cap in hand.

My wife said, “I knew you’d do that.”

I said, “Good.”  We walked into the ostentatious, palatial house of God and I forgave them.

The author of Pay It Forward, Catherine Ryan Hyde, explains the genesis for her book.  In the early 1970s, she was a young woman living in LA, with little money and an old car.  One evening, stopped at red light, in a bad part of town, her engine caught fire.  A bad situation, no doubt, Ryan Hyde’s fortunes quickly turned when two strangers, came running to her aid and put the fire out with blankets and bare hands.  

The fire department and police showed up, naturally.  Ryan Hyde spoke to them, and in the confusion and drama, the men, who had put the fire out, left, without a word.  She never saw them, again.  didn’t learned their names, or anything about them. As she explains, had she been able to say, “Thank you,” that would have been the end of  a nice story, not the start of global movement.

However, by fleeing the scene, the two men left Ryan Hyde unable to express her gratitude or pay them back.  With a determination to make things right and return the kindness, Ryan Hyde went about looking for people in need.  She returned their kindness by paying it forward.  Ryan Hyde was startled strangers could be so selflessly kind.

I know where she is coming from.  It was a different time and a generation, but I was told to be leery of strangers; lock your doors, disparage hitchhikers; hoard your money…

When I was young and dumb and hitchhiking, I couldn’t believe how nice people were.  

At first, I experienced an extreme sense of incredulity, when strangers were nice, “You did that for me?  I don’t know you.  I don’t owe you.” It was love at first experience and I’ve been trying to pay it forward, since.  

The book, Pay It Forward, is the story of Trevor McKinney, a twelve year old boy, from a small town in California, who comes from a broken, dysfunctional home.  At school, Trevor’s Social Studies teacher gives the class an assignment: think of something which will change the world.  

Accepting the challenge, Trevor decides to do a good deed for three people.  Rather than  have the recipients return the kindness to him, Trevor asks them to pay it forward to three others.  He hopes kindness will spread.  There are ups and downs, challenges, and frustrations, naturally, but Trevor perseveres and, unbeknownst to himself, makes the world better.  

Like the men, who put out the car fire, Trevor isn’t aware of the butterfly effect his kindness has had, but he carries on, regardless.  An expectation of payback or compensation cheapens a gesture.  Kindness provides its own rewards.

Science and research, often, affirm what is, intrinsically, known: an act of kindness benefits both parties.  The recipient of goodwill, obviously, is better off, after a nice gesture.  However, the doer of a good deed feels better, too.  

Kindness causes the body to release positive chemicals, such as serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, which benefit mental, physical, and spiritual health.  Similar to petting a dog, acts of goodwill make you feel better.  People who volunteer, for example, are inevitably happier than those who don’t. Kind, thoughtful people have happier marriages and better relationships.  

In an effort to make narcissists more palatable and compatible, they are coached to be kind.  This does nothing for the reptilian heart of an egomaniac.  However, teaching a narcissist that kindness will increase their status and popularity motivates them to behave nicely and nice people finish first, (ideally).

Kindness takes courage.  Like all interpersonal skills, I get better with practise.  Kindness, as with charity, begins at home.  More than anyone, I try to be generous, respectful, forgiving, and kind to my girls.

I ask them to pay it forward and the world is better off.

Here’s a fifty-word poem about kindness, called Kindness.  

Kindness




Being kind is easy 

Being kind is free 

Kindly is how we are meant to be




Kindness makes you happy

Kindness makes you smile

Kindness is hip

Kindness has style




Kindness brings joy

Kindness is bliss

Life is a plot

Here is the twist

Kindness is the reason we exist

 

Last Year, This Year, Next Year

We have a calendar, in our kitchen, tacked to the cork-board.  It records special dates, travel schedules, reminders, etc.  A new year, of course, demands a new calendar and the timing is perfect.  The old year, and its calendar, are scrawled upon, dirty, and falling apart; good riddance, to both.

 

The new year, like the new calendar, is a fresh-off-the-press blank slate; glistening with optimism and opportunity.  With a sense of rebirth, the unblemished, pristine calendar gets pinned to the cork-board.  There is no past, so the old calendar goes in the blue bin and last year, if it happened, is dismissed as practise.

 

This year will be better.  Next year, I’ll be perfect.

 

As the new calendar is put up, it’s traditional to make resolutions, which I do.  I don’t know why; I don’t stick to them.  By making resolutions, however, I acknowledge a need, which is a start, and that is good enough.  I should resolve to stop being so generous with myself, but that’s a tall order, so I, usually, resolve to stay the way God made me.

 

Last year, I started intermittent fasting and resolve to stick to it, this year.  It would be embarrassing to quit, because it’s all I talk about.  I hope I’m still at it, next year.

 

Having a garden, even a small one, is a joy.  Last year, we had a good crop of tomatoes and peppers.  The habeneroes were, insanely, hot.  I hope to expand our garden, this year.  I want to try growing corn.  There’s something majestic about tall, impossibly reedy, perfectly erect corn stalks.  Like everything, it is important for a garden to have an appeasing, soothing aesthetic quality.  Food tastes better, when the garden is pretty.

 

Beauty reigns, last year, this year, next year… forever.

 

Last year, rather than green bins and brown bags, at the curb, I turned all leaves into the garden soil, which will help, this year.

 

Last year, I turned 54.  For a long time, I was sold on the premise of “Freedom 55;” the age at which I could retire and enjoy financial security, until death.  Perhaps, I could start enjoying Freedom 55, this year, if I liquidated, disowned my children, and moved into a fridge box, under a bridge.

Sometimes, that sounds worse than working, so I resolve not to quit, this year.

Last year, in September, like every other year, I shaved my head on Terry Fox Day, to honour the great man.  I’m growing my hair and beard for a full year and will have a special friend shave it all off at the Terry Fox event, this year.  It’s months away, but I already look forward to being rid of the motley mess.  No beard, next year.

My favourite sporting event is The World Juniour Hockey Tournament.  It’s great because it runs annually, starting Boxing Day, and it spans from last year into this one.  Canada always has a great team, the players get better, and the competition steeper, every year.  It’s remarkable how skilled and athletic young people are.

Canada lost to an excellent Finnish team, in the quarter final, and were eliminated, early, this year.  The Canadians played hard and deserved a better fate.  Better luck, next year.

Unfortunately, the Canadian team and its captain, especially, were subjected to sickening abuse on anti-social media.  I’d wager this year’s wages and next’s, none of the tweeters would insult Max Comtois, who is 6’ 2”, 210, and has a black belt in Karate, to his face.

The coach of Switzerland, Christian Wohlwend, is the most delightful person in sports, by light years.  Last year, he was raving his club had no chance, against Canada.  This year, he told his team and the world, “When you give, give give love, you always get it back.  That’s a fact.”

Toward the end of last year, Sarah Thomson, the editor and publisher of The Women’s Post, asked me to write an article per week, which I have resolved to do.  It won’t be easy.  In a hockey vernacular, I’m a grinder.

Quality Writing

Think, write, edit, think, write, edit, write, think, edit…

Every word, mark, and symbol is vetted, sweated, and fretted

It is to hard work that a writer is indebted

Talent, I’d say, gets far too much credit

The only way to get better at anything is practise.   I’ve always had great respect for newspaper and magazine writers, who write, well, often; Rex Murphy, for example.  Thanks to the external pressure, I’ve resolved to write every day, this year.   This time, next year, I hope to have 52 articles and a children’s musical comedy under my belt, on the Internet, in the cloud, out in the world…

Our youngest wants to travel, get out in the world, this year.  Yikes.  There were sad stories of young women travelling, at the end of last year, but I try not to think about that.

I read, a lot, but it is mostly the Internet.  I resolve to read more books; real books, this year.  I resolve to consume less garbage, disguised and sold as food, fashion, entertainment, and news.

I Resolve

Another year has roared and died

And my soft spots are more amplified

2019 is, of course, right here

So, it’s time for Resolutions

And their promise of solutions

While bringing in the year

 

I resolve my resolutions won’t be, again, insincere

I resolve things will be different this year

 

I resolve to drop a pound or ten

I’ve resolved this before and will, likely, again

 

I resolve to eat better and exercise

I resolve to order salad instead of fries…

Wait

I take that back

I resolve to tell fewer outrageous lies

 

I resolve to cut back on drinking…

I take that back, too

What was I thinking?

 

I would resolve to be a better husband, but I don’t think I can

She’s a lucky lady and, as Homer Simpson said, “I’m a wonderful man”

 

I had resolved to be a better dad, but now I needn’t bother

Rather, I bought the t-shirt: World’s Greatest Father

 

I resolve to spend more time of the couch, with flicker in my hand

Flicking through the channels

The world at my command

 

With God as my witness

I resolve to put The Trumps out of business

I resolve to make America great

I resolve to titillate




I resolve to slay the beast and bring peace to the middle east

 

I resolve I’ll lower gasoline prices

I resolve to fix the migrant crisis

I resolve I’ll slow Canada’s traffic:

Highways and death traps, where carnage is graphic

 

I resolve to win the lottery

Financial freedom sounds good to me

Especially, when it comes so easily

 

I resolve I will no longer dream

Instead, I resolve to plot, hatch, fantasize, and scheme

 

I resolve to be short and sweet

I resolve to be fast and neat

I resolve to be discrete

 

That is a long list of resolutions and I can’t disavow

There’s much, much more to resolve, somehow

Yet, I’ve resolved to write The End soon

It’s another problem I’ll solve

I resolve

The End. Happy 2019.

 

All I want for Christmas

Christmas is upon us, so I’m making a list of everything I want.  I want everything I want and I want it, now.  That’s what I want.

I want peace; at home and around the world.  Some people love acrimony.  I want to cure that.  Intermittent Fasting helps.  I want everyone to try it.

There’s nothing like exfoliating.  I want a new luffa brush.  Bill O’Reilly, who’s on a long list of Irish-American / Canadian uber-conservative idiots, told an associate-producer he wanted to watch her scrub herself with a “felafel thing.”

I want Bill’s hero, Donald Trump, arrested and sent to prison, in Mexico.  Trump makes George Bush look a stable genius.  I want to ask our good neighbours, “Why did you vote for that foul, awful thing?”

I want a cure for Histiocytosis, a horrible, rare disease, which has afflicted my niece, Julia.  I want to thank and praise the medical community, in Hamilton, for miracles.  Another beautiful, young girl I know is in a fight at McMaster Children’s Hospital, where Julia was.  I want all children to be healthy and happy.

I like to do home renovations, but am leery of electrical jobs.  I want to take a course.  I like my old house.  I want to die in it, then be buried in the garden.  I want to be compost.

I want my daughter to stop bringing home animals.  I love them, too, but I want a break.  Having said that, I want to walk Doug, our great dog.  I want Doug to be happy, all the time.

There’s window, where I sit to write.  Much of the time, however, I watch squirrels.  If there’s reincarnation, I want to join my rodents.

Action Entertainment

Across a thin wire

Then down a tree

One’s in pursuit

One tries to flee

 

They cut to the left

Then to the right

But the aggressor still follows

The one that’s in flight

 

Back up a tree

Across a long fence

This racing rivalry

Is really intense

 

It’s pure entertainment

A wonderful sight;

There’s nothing quite like

A good squirrel fight

 

I want my car to start.  I want my computer and furnace to work.  I want my heart to keep ticking, my legs to keep kicking, and my heels to keep clicking.  I want to watch TV, because I love channel flicking.  I want to rhyme, a lot of the time.

I want to curb some appetites.

Sometimes, I want to save the world.  Most of the time, I want to lie on the couch, in track pants, comfy clothes, leisure wear, or quitters and save myself.

I Want, I Want, I Want

I want to be famous

I want to be rich

I want to be idle

I want perfect pitch




I want a place in the countryside

I want beachfront 2 miles wide

I want to be handsome and hazel eyed

I want to be purified, glorified, and beatified

 

I want servants at beck and call

I want my very own shopping mall

I want to be thin and I want to be tall

I dare say I want it all




I want I want I want

Write this down in your biggest font

Like a spoiled debutante

I want I want I want      

 

I want the beach house and the shore

I want Candy and her store

I want everything, heretofore

I want it all and then some more




I want to be famous, celebrated, cheered

I want to be loved, admired; completely revered

I think I want to be internationally known

But really, I think I want to be left alone




I want I want I want

Write this down in the biggest font

Like a spoiled, rotten debutante

I want I want I want

 

I Want song lyrics:  I want to know what love is.  I want you to show me.  I want to feel what love is.  I want you to know, I want you to know, right now, you’ve been good to me, baby; better than I’ve been to myself.  The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees.  I want money.  That’s what I want.  I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart.  Feliz Navidad. 

Feliz Navidad, indeed.

What more could I want?

The Narcissist Apocalypse

Hollywood has given us numerous scenarios, wherein zombies try to take over the world.  A zombie apocalypse makes for great fiction and comedy.  However, not funny, nor fictional, is the increasing number of people with a narcissistic personality, or who have narcissistic characteristics.

As well as growing in numbers, our culture favours narcissistic qualities, so narcissists are, increasingly, in positions of power.  With an abundance of self-confidence, narcissists make a great first impression and present themselves as capable, obedient workers and natural leaders, ready, willing, and able to run the show.  Donald Trump demonstrates how effectively a self-serving narcissist, even a vile, dumb, unqualified one, slithers up ladders.

Although the Internet is awash with information on the condition, narcissism is not well understood.  There is a lot of misinformation.  I lack professional qualifications, but am a recreational researcher, armchair psychiatrist, amatuer profiler, weekend psychoanalyst, Monday morning quack, and barstool philosopher.  As well, most critically, I’ve had lifelong relationship with a narcissist.

Spotting a zombie is easy: a stumbling gait, stunned, open-mouthed countenance, poor complexion, failing wardrobe, and questionable hygiene make one obvious.  Narcissists are a different entity.  A narcissist looks “normal,” walks, talks, and, to the touch, feels normal.

A narcissist, however, doesn’t feel, like others.  A defining characteristic of a narcissist is a lack of empathy.  Although they have grandiose opinions of themselves, and a need to be recognized, narcissists don’t care about others.

Relationships with a narcissist are, therefore, one-sided and toxic.  Even children are valued, only, for what they can provide the narcissist: respectability, status, cover, bait, income, accessories, props…  Children of narcissists grow up with the challenge of being unloved.

A narcissist can’t be cured or changed, so don’t try.  A relationship with a narcissist doesn’t end well.  There are signs.

If you meet one, run.  You are better off alone.

Contrary to popular belief, narcissists are not putting up fronts to mask insecurities.  Narcissists, truly, believe they’re superior.  An inflated sense of self contributes to a narcissist’s arrogance, dismissiveness, and / or cruelty, as well as their charisma and self-assuredness.  There is never a lack of self-confidence, even in a failing narcissist.

In fact, narcissists are most dangerous when reality doesn’t mesh with their opinion of themselves.  This is termed Narcissistic Injury.  Rather than reflect on their behaviour, a narcissist will blame others and lash out, often, cruelly.  A friend is divorcing a narcissist and his behaviour is dreadfully sadistic.  Despite declaring himself a Christian, he is a cruel (injured) narcissist.

Competitiveness and a drive for recognition push some high achieving narcissists to great work and accomplishments.  However, most narcissists prefer soft targets and gravitate to middle management and public service.

There are different ways to create a narcissist and our society is establishing perfect conditions for their proliferation.  A neglected child can become a cold, reptilian survival-machine, indifferent to anything and anyone, but themselves.  On the other end, children who’re overly-indulged and told, from conception, they are better than everyone, believe it.

Celebrity can trigger, latent, narcissism.

We are all born narcissistic.  As infants, the moment we are uncomfortable, we squawk.  Fortunate babies have their needs catered to, immediately.  Ideally, as time goes by, and we grow up and realize there are others, who have needs and feelings, we become less self-centered and more community minded.

One of the most critical factors in the development of a compassionate, caring citizen is unstructured, unsupervised play.  By playing with others; siblings and friends, children learn to share and care.  A selfish child loses playmates and the joy they bring, quickly.  Throughout history, people have learned to give and take and see things from another’s perspective, by playing.

As family sizes shrink, children have fewer siblings to play with.  Unstructured play, with a group of similarly aged children, is, also, a thing of the past.  Parks, fields, trails, all over Canada, sit empty, while youth stay home and play video games by themselves, for hours.  Even in a group, children play alone.

Media and social media contribute to the narcissism epidemic.  While sitting with friends and family, people stare at their phones.  An obsession with celebrity, likes, and views undermines and overrides a drive to behave well or do good work.

Single occupancy vehicles breed narcissism.  A hyper-competitive culture contributes to unhealthy, self-centered behaviour.  The disintegration of family and community creates individualistic behaviour.  Decades of giving everyone a trophy and declaring losers winners hasn’t helped.  Self-esteem, once earned, is now conferred upon every Tom, Dick, and Narcissist.

Narcissists deserve sympathy.  With insatiable appetites for material goods, recognition, admiration, fame, and prestige, a narcissist can never be content; never be happy.  Their self-centeredness means they will always be alone, even within a relationship.

I worked with a cruel narcissist, who went out of her way to make people miserable.  It seemed her only joy.  When she died, prematurely, I wrote a 50-word poem-obituary.

Karma And The Narcissist

Breaking spirits, cutting throats

Spreading lies, taking notes

Entirely without remorse

Every day, she stayed the course

 

She got her castle and her throne

But sat up there all alone

And when they threw her in the ground

No one came and stood around

To mourn, or cry, or say, Good-bye

 

From climate change and terrorism, to mass migration and poverty, humanity is facing a litany of challenges, many self-made.  The proliferation of narcissists is, to me, another indication our species is driving down a dangerous road, lost.

Eventually, people will have to go back to compact, compassionate communities, or we’ll perish.  As with a zombie apocalypse, flourishing narcissism is inimical to humanity.

 

A recipe for mass murder

With the release, last week, of detailed report on the tragedy, the Sandy Hook shooting is back in the headlines.  On December 20, 2012, 20 year old, Adam Lanza, shot his sleeping mother in the face four times, drove to the elementary school, slaughtered six women and 20 children, aged 6 and 7, then killed himself.

What drives boys and men to monstrosities, massacres, and mass murder?

The inordinately affluent, dysfunctional Lanza’s have been put under a microscope and the whole world should look thorough it.  The Office of The Child Advocate, in Connecticut, said of Adam Lanza, “….  his severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems… combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… (and) access to deadly weapons… proved a recipe for mass murder.”

Millions of parents follow a formula hoping to create the next Mozart, Gretzky, Einstein, Fung…, but few are successful.  Their children, hopefully, have, at least, learned discipline and developed a work ethic.  If you want to make a mass murderer, however, get the Lanza’s cookbook and follow their recipe, to a tee.

Pitiful Adam Lanza was disadvantaged right out of the gate.  Adam was on the autism spectrum, had OCD, anxiety, depression, he was anorexic, germaphobic, ostracized, and obsessed with violence.  Perhaps, however, Adam’s biggest challenge were his parents.

With better circumstances, Adam Lanza, and his victims, may have been saved.

Raising Adam was challenging, no doubt, but his problems were exacerbated by home life.  His father was distant, then absent, and his mother over-indulgent.  Adam’s parents brought him to several specialists, hospitals, and schools.  It seems they were looking for an instant cure, silver bullet, magic potion… to fix their son, which was impossible.  Never did they follow through on therapy, or medication, always giving in to their obstinate, difficult boy.

Overly indulged children are not happy.  They don’t know it, but children want, need, and crave structure, rules, order, and learning.  Children thrive when they are challenged, encouraged, and taught that life is hard, but working harder sets you free.

There is no joy without discipline.

Adam Lanza, who got whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, was miserable.

Adam was born in 1992 and his parents separated in 2001, when he was nine.  His father, Peter, a successful accountant, was living with his second wife in Manhattan, at the time of the massacre.  When he died, Adam had not seen his father or older brother in years.  Peter didn’t talk to his son, just sent money.

Adam lived with his mother, but, by the end, they, mostly, communicated via email.  Adam didn’t go to school or work, he stayed in his basement all day, everyday, playing video games and researching massacres.

Had anyone taken an interest, they would have seen, easily, his dangerous rage.  In school and at home, Adam wrote fantasy stories about murder and violence.  In his bedroom, he spent years creating a 7 X 4 spreadsheet of hundreds of mass murders and the weapons used to commit them.

In the last months of his life, Adam’s only real human connection was going to a shooting range with his gun-loving mother.  Nancy legally, wantonly, gratuitously, gluttonously purchased pistols, rifles, and ammunition; amassing a home arsenal Pablo Escobar would have admired.

Nancy allowed her profoundly disturbed, violent minded, angry, undisciplined child unfettered access to the weapons cache.

Adam was as proficient with real weapons as he was with video ones: in less than five minutes, he fired 156 bullets, in the school.  All his victims, but two, were shot multiple times.

After two years of silence, Peter Lanza, Adam’s father, spoke to the New Yorker, in 2014.

It is easy to pity a man, who is wracked with guilt and shame.  Peter Lanza wishes his son had never been born.  Adam’s suicide tells us he wished likewise.  Adam Lanza was also a well-armed, well- trained killer, dying to lash out.

Twenty sweet, little kids and six brave women, from Sandy Hook Elementary School, are dead.

Whose fault is that?

 

Photo credit: Margaret Weir

 

The Chicken Comes Home to Roost - by Kevin Somers

There was always a roof right over my head

I was well-dressed and sufficiently fed

But, my childhood was not exactly ideal

You brought me up as though I were veal

 

At that time in your history

I wasn’t, at all, a priority

I was displaced by a precious career…

It was power and money you, really, held dear

 

I came unto you at a terrible time

There were palms to grease and ladders to climb

So you bought me a gadget that looked like a gun

And taught me that slaughter is the best form of fun

 

I was left all alone like uncommon litter

With violent video games as my sitter

Tethered to screens, like a calf to a pole

I was dragged right into a dark violent hole

 

Before I was ten, I knew it was best

To put one in the brain after two in the chest

And you wonder why my mind is messed

I must say, dear Parents, I’m not impressed

 

Shooting, slashing, blasting, clashing, cutting, killing…

I learned that murder is awfully thrilling

I spent all my youth with a big blinking screen

It seems, looking back, entirely mean

 

You raised me up in a freaky war zone

I was saving the world, but all on my own

I killed and I killed and I killed some more

It was, I was taught, it was how I keep score

 

Day after night and night after day

I swivelled my thumbs and you called it play

My body went soft and my brain of no use

Quite clearly that was a form of abuse

 

The kids at my school call me a freak

They say I am awkward, useless, and weak

They speak of me often, with so much to say

But, it was you, dear Parents, who made me this way

 

But, hey!

You bought me a pistol, without a trifle

Then another, then a rifle

I’ve fallen in love with the cold, killing steel

No longer virtual, these things are real

 

I’m finally filled with requisite fuel

The rage and the means to shoot up a school

Mother and Father, from bad news to worst:

I am going to kill you two, first

 

Cluck cluck

 

Intermittent Fasting

Dr. Jason Fung is diabetes and obesity expert from Toronto.  His work is transforming people’s  lives; making them healthier and happier.  Dr. Fung is a proponent of intermittent fasting (IF).  I changed my lifestyle and began intermittent fasting the day I watched this video of Dr. Fung explaining his research.

I knew this was what I had been looking for.

I’m fascinated by intermittent fasting and Google it, regularly.  Weight loss is the most obvious, desirous, and prominent result of IF, but temporary caloric abstinence helps everything; body, mind, and soul.

There is a growing body of research discovering how and why IF performs miracles, such as anti-aging and cancer curing.  CNN asks if fasting is the fountain of youth.

The concept is simple: fast for, at least, 16 hours, each day.  Eat.  Stop eating.  Simple.  While your body is in fast mode, great things happen.  When I started IF, weight loss began, immediately.  It was freaky.  I sleep better, breathe better, feel better, and, most importantly, look better.

Inflammation issues have been resolved, as well.  I recently asked my family, “When was the last time I complained about my arthritic hips?”  No one could remember.  There’s plenty to complain about, but my hips have been cured.

In this podcast, George St Pierre, one of Canada’s finest athletes, explains to Joe Rogan, how meeting Dr. Fung and beginning intermittent fasting has changed his life.

As St. Pierre explains, his diabetes and colitis are better, his muscle density has gone up and his body fat is down.  He feels ¨better, sharper, lighter…¨  Like George, I wish I’d known about intermittent fasting, years ago.

Fasting slows the mind and leads to contentment.  It is not just food consumption, being re-evaluated.  Thanks to IF, I have more time, more energy, I’m more productive, and I spend less money.  I feel empty; less bloated and bogged down.  ¨Oh, God, I´m hungry,¨ is now, ¨Oh, good, I´m hungry.¨

I like fasting because it is free.  Almost, anyone can fast.  Fasting is simple.  There is no need to see an expert, buy supplements, record, count, restrict, exclude, follow a plan…. just stop consuming calories, for 16 hours.  Unlike a diet or weight loss plan, the end of a fast is never far away.  Each day, when I break fast, there is a sense of accomplishment; a sense of pride.

Food tastes better and is more satisfying, after a fast.  For years, everything I ate or drink came with a sliver of guilt.  Now, whatever is consumed feels earned and I enjoy eating and drinking, more than ever.  As well, since I only have one or two meals a day, I prepare them better and eat healthier.

The eight hours of consumption is to each his or her own.   I’ve read you shouldn’t eat before bed, but my feeding window is 4 pm to midnight, because I enjoy social time with friends, in the evening.

My new routine is get up, shower, and go to work.  Not having to prepare and eat breakfast, then make a lunch, streamlines mornings and I leave earlier.  I work or exercise during lunch break.  A little water during the day is all I need.  When I get home, in the evening, I enjoy a meal.

My 21 year old daughter, like many people, fasts from 7pm to 11am the next day.  She doesn’t snack after dinner and skips breakfast.  She feels better, has lost weight, and is, especially, happy her skin has cleared up.

Fasting is gaining in popularity, but it can’t be dismissed as a trend, fad, or craze, because it has been part of many cultures and religions for centuries.  According to the infallible Internet, the Buddha said, ¨I, monks, do not eat a meal in the evening.  Not eating a meal in the evening I, monks, am aware of good health and of being without illness and of buoyancy and strength and living in comfort.  Come, do you too, monks, not eat a meal in the evening.  Not eating a meal in the evening you too, monks, will be aware of good health and….. living in comfort.¨

Fasting is simple and effective, but it is not easy.  A friend, who has been trying to lose weight for years, has started IF several times, but can’t see it through.  By his own admission, he lacks the will power.  Curiously, fasting, for all it offers, can’t cure that.

 

What to make of us

Our oldest daughter is about to turn 22; the younger will be 20, soon.  Time flies, certainly, but the rapidity with which my babies became girls, then women, staggers me.

When I was young, I didn’t want children.  I assumed the relationship would be strained, so bringing antagonists into my life made no sense.  However, my older brother had two children and I saw, firsthand, the delight they brought him.

I asked him how he did it.  A man of few words, he said, “Be nice.”  Parenting made simple.

Indeed, life made simple.

Susan, my wife, is a calm, patient, kind person, who wanted children.  I knew she’d be a good mother.  We’re the same age, and got married, when we were 31.  We had Erin a year later, in March, 1997.  Bang.  We were parents.

Claire came along 23 months, later.  Bang.  We were a family.  Susan was a mother.  I was a father.  Bang, indeed.

Having children changed, everything.  For the first time, I felt love; deep, profound compassion, concern, and care for something.  I loved my family, my wife, pets, friends, hockey, travelling, Beer, writing…. but the feelings stirred by my girls were unlike anything.

My only priority was, and is, their well being.  To this day, if they are happy, I am.  However, if one is sad, I’m crushed and agonize how to fix it.  A friend, rightly, said, “You are only as happy as your saddest child.”

Susan and I took delight watching them grow up.  Toddler Claire, obsessively picking the fuzz from between her toes, during “gymnastics,” remains a highlight.  I dislike phones and think distracted parents are as negligent, self-indulgent, and irresponsible as absent ones.  “Look at me, Daddy,” has had to be amended to, “Put down that idiotic rectangle, Daddy, and look at me or I’ll grow up angry and resentful, due to a terrible role model.”   EriKa Christakis writes in The Atlantic “the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz.”

My girls have given me purpose and inspiration.  Each got a Fifty; a poem of 50 words.  Knowing how cruel the world can be, they’re shaped to the tip of a mighty pen, or the mightier sword.

—-

Dear Erin

Be the best you can be

Smell the flowers; hug a tree

Look beyond what you can see

Gaze at the sky; splash in the sea

Remember, the truth will set you free

If necessary: go for an eye, nuts, or knee

I love the girl that you call me

Dear Claire

Be nice; sit-up straight

Go outside; play until late

Don’t be afraid of love or of hate

Turn off the lights; lockup the gate

Shoot real straight and pull your weight

Celebrate, create, date, debate, fascinate, skate…

You, my girl, are amazingly great

It doesn’t take psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, scientists, experts, to know children develop into healthy, happy adults, when they are loved and nurtured, ideally, by both parents, and others.  Male role models, fathers, especially, are critical.

I taught my girlie girls to be rough and tumble, to throw and catch, to get up and hit back.  Where my wife would have indulged, I’d say, “Do it yourself.”   Then, watch, teach, help, and cheer.

I have never held back, or changed, around my girls.  I carry on, whether they are with me, or not.  Over the years, many have felt sufficiently entitled to admonish.  “You shouldn’t do that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t say that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t let your kids call you Kevin.”  (My kids call me Kevin.)

I have, and always have had, a great relationship with my girls.

You shouldn’t tell other people what to do.

Throughout evolution, it took a village to raise a child.  Villages, however, have disappeared.  The onus for raising children, then, falls, squarely, on Mom and Dad.  The number of parents, men, especially, who forsake and abdicate the opportunity and obligation to raise their children is as well documented as the tragic outcome.

Children face another, less discussed, obstacle. There are a growing number of parents, who regret having children. This is a quote from an article in Macleans, “The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

My wife said, “She doesn’t speak for me.”  We agree, nothing could have been more rewarding, fascinating, satisfying, and life affirming, than our girls.

Take my “career,” my house, my money, my stuff… take it all and burn it to the ground.  I don’t care.  If Erin and Claire are fine, I’d still have everything I’ve ever loved.

The western world is richer than ever; abundance abounds.  I don’t know what to make of a privileged society, which neglects, regrets, and resents its own children.

I, really, don’t.

Postcards to my grandmother

I love writing.  Besides having two daughters, nothing has impacted my life more.  I write all the time.  I think-write. While doing everything else, my stream of consciousness writes.  Occasionally, when stars align and time allows, I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, shoulder to grindstone, and there is rapture.

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl, a musical comedy, I wrote, enjoyed success in Hamilton, our hometown, recently.  In his review, Julian Nicholson, a well-regarded theatre veteran said, “There’s not much else I can say about this farrago except that it is the most inventive and enjoyable musical I’ve seen since Spamalot.”   

My writing farrago started with postcards to my grandmother, three decades ago, on a magical journey.  From postcards, to a musical comedy, writing has taken me on another magical journey.  

After finishing university, in 1986, I worked for a while, then hit the road.  With a working-holiday visa, backpack, and $1200, I flew to London, England.  I didn’t have a credit card or clue, and no one had cell phone, back then.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, or where, or what I’d do, but made one commitment: to write my grandmother, who was housebound.

“A few months in Europe” became a six and a half year global odyssey.  Adventures included working in London, hitchhiking through Europe and Southeast Asia, working in Australia, sailing a homemade, cement boat to New Zealand and Tonga, working in Hawaii, sailing a small fishing boat to Alaska, working on a tugboat, staying with a friend in Victoria, living by the beach in Newport, California, teaching English in Japan, and riding a bike from Victoria, B.C., to Hamilton.

Each time I called, or got a letter from home, I was implored to keep writing Granny.  She loved the missives, I was told, and kept them in a box beside her.  She read them, repeatedly, and made guests enjoy /endure the communication, as well.

My grandmother was from Glasgow, originally.  She had a terrific accent and a great sense of humour, despite a hard life.  Janet Lindsey left a Glasgow slum at 17, sailed across the Atlantic, then travelled on trains, for just as long, to meet her older husband, on a dirt poor homestead, in the middle of Saskatchewan.  They had seven kids.  When my father, the second youngest, was seven, their father died. Then, things got bad.

All seven children grew to be honest, hard working, productive citizens.   

I tried to keep the postcards to my grandmother worthy of the high regard in which I held her.  After picking the perfect card, I’d plot for days before committing ink.  When I realized how quickly I’d forget “unforgettable” ideas, I started jotting them down and still do.  Writing, or getting lost in the thought of it, enhanced experiences and assuaged loneliness.  Like most travellers, I loved reading. Reading was one thing; writing another.

The lessons learned writing postcards to my Grandmother still apply: respect your audience; love your audience, be interesting; don’t be vulgar;  rhyme sometime; brevity is wit; levity’s a hit; don’t quit; have fun, son.  Go, girl.

My grandmother died, while I was on the road, and I stopped writing, temporarily.  I didn’t come back to Canada for the funeral, but, the next time I was home, I was given the box of postcards.  

In 1992, I was living in Nagoya, Japan, with a friend, talking about books, when he said, “You should write.”

There were two of us in the room.  I said, “Me?”  (Some people thought I was illiterate.)

“Yes,” he said.  “You see the world in an interesting way and have a funny way of expressing it.”  His comment changed my life.  A switch was turned on and hasn’t gone off, since. I thought of Granny’s postcards and the accompanying bliss.  

A week after my friend’s suggestion, I was cruising, on my beach cruiser, through a narrow Nagoya alley-street, when I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book,” and stood up, on my pedals, to accommodate the epiphany.

I knew one thing about writing: it required a pen and paper, which I bought, at a lush Japanese department store.  That was easy.  The next requirement was an idea, which couldn’t be purchased in the consumer economy.

“Write what you know” is a sound principal.  I was reading spy novels, at the time, but couldn’t write one.  All I knew was growing up, a caucasian male, in the suburbs of Ottawa: a blueprint for dull.

Nevertheless, that’s what my book is about.  It took me 14 years and hundreds of rewrites before I published it.   The first few versions were scrawled, with pens, into notebooks.  At various stages in its development, I’d send out waves of submissions and have received over 200 rejection letters.  

The Internet changed everything, and, in 2006, I self-published I’m Gretzky, You’re Gretzky, which some friends and family like.  Some love.

One of the publishing houses, which rejected my manuscript, was Insomniac Press.  Mike O’Connor, the proprietor, included a nice, personal note, so I called him and asked for advice.  He said, “Get published in newspapers and magazines to establish your name and credibility.”

Later, when the first edition of The Hamilton Examiner arrived at our door, I felt divine intervention.  It was January 1998 and the periodical was monthly.  Terrified, I vowed to write a submission, nevertheless.  In February, of that year, Team Canada was eliminated from the Nagano Olympics, in Japan, and Wayne Gretzky watched the final shootout, from the bench.  

I was crushed.  Such is my reverence for the man, I wanted to call my daughters Wayne and Gretzky.  My wife said, “No,” so I called my book, my other baby, Gretzky.  

After the Nagano loss, I wrote a piece called “Chasing The Dragon No More,” articulating my need to stop having Canadian hockey players determine the quality of my life.  I would find my own happiness, I wrote, through lottery tickets.  I printed the article and hand delivered it to Sarah Thomson (nee Whatmough,) the publisher of The Hamilton Examiner and later the Women’t Post. Sarah liked the submission and published it, which was the start of a long, wonderful relationship.  

Once a month, for the next 12 years, I’d write a 1000 word piece for Sarah.  I wrote about my kids, pets, gardening, traveling, writing…  It was perfect.  I worked hard to produce a piece decent enough to be published. I stumbled and fell, a lot, but there was always a hand to help up.  I started finding a voice and confidence.  

After five years, in 2003, Sarah asked me to write about art; once a month, 1000 words, which was another life changer.  The request came from nowhere: I knew little about art.  For three years, I would immerse myself in millions of words, hundreds of pictures, hours of thought, and countless rewrites to distill an article, worthy of the subject.  It was a surreal education, which honed writing skills, sharpened focus, and taught me about art, artists, fraud, and fraudsters.

Dr. Barry Allen, a guide on my artisan safari, said it best, “Art is an accomplishment.”

I interviewed Fred Eaglesmith, also in 2003, for The Women’s Post and ended up making two fan magazines for him.  Fred had an idea for movie, and he asked if I’d write the screenplay.  I never say, “No,” and tried to put Fred’s vision into a manuscript.  The script, Billy Rocker, about a aging, failing, murderous rockabilly star was well-received, but quickly buried.

The exercise was far from futile, because I discovered a love of writing dialogue, so acute, I wrote a play, Unethical.  When it was finished, I shared Unethical with a friend, who encouraged me to send it “somewhere.”  (Thank you, Pascale.)

I didn’t know what to do with a play, so mailed a copy to Luke Brown, at Theatre Aquarius, in Hamilton.  Expecting another letter for the rejection file, I was, joyously, surprised, when I got an email from Luke, wanting to meet.  Life changer.

In 2012, Luke invited me into the Theatre Aquarius Playwright’s Unit, which has been another surreal education.  The world of theatre is a howling, joyous one.  In 2013, I wrote a comedy, Jack And Jill Beiber Fever, and brought it to the Playwright’s Unit.  It was dissected and vetted beautifully, by Luke and the other playwrights.  

Ryan Sero, a member of the unit, brought the play to The Hamilton Fringe Festival.  Ryan, who directed and starred, assembled a great cast and they put on a terrific show.  Watching was delightful and instructive.  There is a quantum leap from page to stage and seeing actors take words from my script and make them dance and sing, was exhilarating.  

Playwriting is a gas.

In 2005, a friend suggested I write for a Hamilton blog, Raise The Hammer, a website dedicated to making Hamilton a better place.  Free, easy, and limitless, I fell in love with writing on the Internet and have been publishing articles, reviews, poems, short stories… on RTH, since. 

My earliest memory is my mother reading me Dr. Seuss.  I love rhyme and poetry.  In 1996, my oldest daughter was born and I started writing poems, all of which rhyme. 

Along the way, I started a series called 50, which are poems of exactly fifty words.  A play, poem, or article take forever, so when there’s a need to finish something, a 50 is ideal.

Life Write Life

Family, job, pets… sleep, read, write…

And hope that life, somehow, works out

If life didn’t get in the way so such

There’d be much more time to write, no doubt

But, if not for life and all its business

There’d be nothing much to write about

Right, Life?

Right

Combining a love of poetry and playwriting lends itself to musicals, so I wrote one.  I’ve blessed to collaborate with Becky Jackson, who writes beautiful music to accompany the lyrics.  

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl takes the idea of stage parents, who live vicariously through their children, and blows it up.  Eli, who’s been pushed since conception, has lost touch with reality and sees life as a big musical.  Eli sings and dances all the time. Similarly, Pearl lives as if she’s in a Shakespearean drama, and always speaks the Bard’s tongue.  

It was fun to write, but more enjoyable watching the talented cast bring the loveable nuts to life.  Now, I’m writing a children’s musical comedy, Singerella.  It’s Cinderella meets American Idol and it is a pleasure to write.  Becky is writing great music, again.  

Someday, I hope, a large cast of children light it up and Singerella is a smash hit. If it is or isn’t, I’ll keep writing.  I hope to die with a pen in my hand.

The greatest joy I get from writing is sharing the love.  I’ve run a Writers’ Club for children, aged 8 – 13, for the last dozen years.  When we perform, I tell the audience they’re about to see a magic show, because students, using only pens and paper, make art, where there was none and everyone has fun.  My (writer) friend, Peter Gruner, wrote of his experience, watching children craft killer, rhyming poems, on the spot.

 Writing is a wonderful hobby: it’s free, fun, liberating, empowering, fun, therapeutic, fun, challenging, rewarding, disappointing, and fun.  You can do it, anywhere, anytime; think about it.  If you’ve, ever, considered picking up a pen or pecking away on a keyboard, I can’t recommend it enough.  

 

Like a Dr. Seuss character setting off with a backpack and a one-way ticket, you never know the places you’ll go.  If you’re not sure where to begin your writing journey, start with something small, like a postcard to your grandmother.  She’ll love it.  You’ll love it, too, Writer.

Write on.