Friday, November 21, 2014

Judge Me Not ... well, maybe just a little

"You are a cold, mean, self-centred, unforgiving ..." she stopped to catch her breath. I thought it best to remain silent. "You told me not to hold back," she said.
"Right. Knock yourself out."
"And condescending, even ugly at times," she continued. I could see that she was still winding up.
And this was coming from a friend. It was going to be a long night.

What is this obsession we have with evaluation? It starts at a very young age and never ends.

"I think we should hold David back a year," the kindergarten teacher told my mother.
"Hold him back? In kindergarten?" My mother wasn't quite sure she had heard right.
"Yes, he spends most of the time by himself and doesn't participate much in our little talks."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Without developing the necessary social skills, well ... he's not going to go very far."
"But ... it's kindergarten."
"Mrs. Lloyd. I can't overestimate the importance of starting out in life on the right foot, no matter  how much time it takes."
I was impervious to all of this at the time. I was simply studying the land in my own time. I had time. I had my whole life still spread out before me.
My mother later met up with another kindergarten mother for coffee.
"How did your daughter do?" my mother asked.
"I'm told that she spends too much time talking with her little friends."
They both sighed. Not easy being parents of children who flunked kindergarten.

I got some of mine back, though, when I became a teacher. Or so I thought. Sitting in the driver's seat at my first teacher/parent meeting, it was now I who could create a stigma that would stay with someone the rest of their life. But I tried to be kind and original in my comments. It went well, at first. The parents felt that I had something to say and were willing to listen. But as the evening wore on, my voice turned into an increasing drone. And worse, I found myself repeating myself. But I knew I had reached rock bottom when I began using the P_Word.

"Your daughter shows potential."
"Your son is not living up to his potential."
"Your daughter has to recognize her potential."

Amazing how many ways the term potential can be used at a teacher's meeting. But the parents weren't fooled. For them, I had turned into another teaching clone. They would discuss me later with others over coffee. But I can say one thing in my defence: I never held a student back.

But if we ever entertained the fantasy that at some time we could eventually escape the need for evaluation, we were gravely mistaken. For it follows us until the end of time.

"You are a good father."
"You are a lousy husband."
"As a lover, you show potential."
"You make a good corpse."

And if you are a man, don't forget the lists. Those ominous lists women make when they gather together for their ritual man-bashing ritual.

"Of all of the men you have dated, who was:
- the best kisser.
- the biggest loser.
- the most clueless in bed.
- the most totally useless in bed and everywhere else.
- the best lover
- the best husband material
- the one who got away.

Of course there is one thing worse than being on one or more of these lists, and that is not being on any list at all. As if you were never really there and they wiped you totally from their consciousness. You might as well be invisible.

And don't get me started on self-evaluation. How many of us are any good at that? We will do anything to avoid coming face to face with our own demons. But denial can only take us so far. It all catches up to us in the end, most often in our dreams.

Had my dream again where I'm making love, and the Olympic judges are watching. I'd nailed the compulsories, so this is it, the finals. I got a 9.8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans, and my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5.6. Must have been the dismount.
~ When Harry Met Sally

Sometimes, after a couple of glasses of whiskey, I try to evaluate myself as a husband, lover, father, son, teacher, innovator, scholar, human being ... and at some point my attention wanders ... until I decide it is time to sit down and write another blog.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


"So, you want to be a writer?"
"Well, yes."
She marked down wannabe.
 "Actually, I already published a book through eBook Publishers," I assured her.
"eBook Publishers?"
"Yes, they just publish eBooks. But this time I want my new book to be published by a more traditional publisher, both in hardcover and eBook."
"Traditional publisher. You will need a literary agent for that," she said.
"Yes, I know."
She marked down delusional.
"New York, London?"
"What?" I asked.
"Your literary agent. Where you want to get published."
"Actually, I thought I'd start with Toronto."
"Toronto? Isn't the Canadian market quite small?" she asked.
"Yes, but I see it as going back to my roots. Coming home."
Sentimental loser, she wrote.
"And I also write a blog."
She looked up, not too pleased with this news. "I hope you are not putting me in your blog."
"No, of course not," I lied.
Actually, I hadn't planned to until I saw that sentimental loser remark. I have been called many things: cold, unemotional, detached, anti-social ... and oh, yes - loser, but never sentimental. That stung.
"What about friends?" she asked.
"What about them?"
"Are any of them writers?".
"I think so. But most won't admit it."
She nodded in empathy. Friendless, she added.
"Okay, that's good for a start," she said.
"When shall we continue?" I asked.
"I'll call you," she said, with a sweet smile.

A friend of mine, who is brave enough to call himself an aspiring writer, asked me over a pint of Guinness a short while ago. "Why do we do this to ourselves?"
"Do what?"
"Torture ourselves as writers. The process of writing is painful enough, in itself, but why put ourselves also through the pain of seeking someone to publish our writing?"
"I'd put it down to the masochistic creative gene. Why does anyone want to create?" I asked. "Painters, musicians ... is it any easier for them?"
"Some of them do quite well," he said. "Big houses in Beverley Hills."
"Is that what you are in it for? The money?"
"Wouldn't hurt. What are you in it for?" he asked.
"The groupies."

So, I have a new book coming out. Well ... I have a new book. The gods will tell whether it comes out or sinks into an abysmal bog. (I hope I didn't offend anyone with that gods remark. My shrink tells me I should stop doing that.) And talking about shrinks, here is another excerpt from my new book (in addition to my last blog posting). Some people may think the main character resembles me. I actually think that I resemble him. He came first.

“Would you consider yourself suicidal?”
The psychologist studied me from behind her thick framed eyeglasses.
“Suicidal? No,” I replied, shaking my head.
 “You have never had suicidal thoughts?”
“No, not really. Except for wanting to jump off a cliff.”
“Jump off a cliff.”
“I heard you. In what way is that not suicidal?”
“I do not want to jump off a cliff,” I said slowly with emphasis. “That is why I am probably still alive. But whenever I approach the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop, I have a powerful urge to jump into the abyss.”
She sat there watching me, as if trying to decipher something in my manner.
“Are you depressed, when this happens?” she asked.
“Depressed about not jumping?”
“You know what I mean.”
“It doesn’t depend on the mood,” I answered. “Or the weather. When I come close to the edge, I want to jump off.”
“What happens then?”
“I move back.”
This was my first visit to the psychologist. Or was she a psychiatrist? I keep getting my terms mixed up. I know, I told you I would never go. So I lied. Or as a psychologist would say: I underestimated my sub-conscious. Actually, it was mostly because of Rachel’s endless nagging. In the end it was easier to go than not.
My psychologist was a woman. I had already viewed life from a male perspective, so I thought it was time to see things from a female point of view.
She was very officious looking, that first meeting. What I suppose you would expect of a psychologist. The room was full of books: books on every side. Somebody once told me that half of the books in a psychologist’s office were just empty boxes made to look like books. I hadn’t given much credit to such reports, although given the first opportunity, I would slip one out and take a good look.
“What do people think about your desire to jump off cliffs?” she asked, catching me drifting.
“Impulse to jump off cliffs. There is really no desire there.”
“Okay,” she said, writing something in her notepad. “What do people think about your impulse to jump off cliffs?”
“They don’t know about it.”
“They don’t know about it? Not even your family and closest friends? What do they say when you are not willing to stand with them by the edge of the cliff?”
“They think I have a fear of heights.”
“And that is all?”
“That is all.”
“Now I can see why it took you so long to come to a psychologist,” she muttered.
“No, scratch that. That was very unprofessional.”