This morning has been a strange one for me, and it’s mostly been around a Twitter discussion about a certain video game, and people’s reactions to an individual’s expression of feeling uncomfortable with certain aesthetic aspects of that game. There have been proverbial shots fired from both sides, but the opening commentary is where I found myself the most intrigued; that there’s this game, a pretty well-lauded independent-development thing, that dresses everything up with ‘thinly-veiled Nazis’. Having not played the game, I can’t comment on it in terms of how it plays or whether it’s fun or any of that, but I’ve looked over a bunch of the artwork both within and surrounding the title, and there’s a pretty clear “WWII Germany” vibe to it all. The person I saw initially posed a few questions along with observations to that end, effectively boiling down to, “This makes me uncomfortable, and I’m curious why nobody seems to talk about it.”

From here, of course, The Internet happened, and people from both sides of the argument began to get angry. Insults were hurled, PR-approved quotes were laid out, and so forth — I’m not really here to dissect whether the game is really particularly offensive or if things could have been different or any of that nonsense. My issues, mostly internal, stem from a few crucial points: firstly, that I hold a fundamental belief that people have a right to feel offended or upset by anything that offends or upsets them, and also a fundamental right to express those feelings in whichever medium they choose to do so. I believe that if someone is upset, the relative importance of the thing upsetting them on the global scale is irrelevant to these rights; if we’re only allowed to be upset about things that “really matter”, then all emotions are useless vestiges of some primitive state, and I don’t buy into that at all.

I don’t think it’s a negative thing, either, to say that you’re offended or upset by something. I do think it’s extraordinarily insensitive and unnecessary to tell people that the things they’re upset about are irrelevant to humanity; if we’re supposed to care about humanity, I think the only place we’re capable of displaying that is in the way that we directly interact with other members thereof. How we treat people on an individual basis is the most basic expression of how we feel about humanity on a conceptual level, and I think that a failure to recognize that is incredibly toxic to any sense of community or camaraderie amongst humans. To be told that your emotions don’t matter because they’re not about the right things is to be told that you, as a person, do not matter.

I was called out for negativity because of my ability to sympathise with someone who was upset about a video game. Are video games important to humanity as a whole, and our continued success as a species? No, probably not; our ability to sympathise, however, almost certainly is. Maybe it’s completely useless, but I was deeply hurt by the accusation of negativity, and I don’t even really feel like I can say that without it being a vulnerability, a weakness in myself – after all, the point of the comment was to say that everyone needs to just get over how they feel about trivial things, and ultimately, what someone says to me about my emotions is, on a grand scale, probably even more trivial than any video game. My emotions – my being offended by the comment – are irrelevant, so there’s no point in trying to discuss them.

So, if it’s all so trivial and irrelevant, why am I writing this? Catharsis, probably. I need this out of my head before it festers into something worse, I need to express the importance I place on everyone’s right to both feel and express their emotions. I need to ramble to sort out my own muddled thoughts, and to bleed out the negativity I felt when I was told that we should only be concerned with items of global importance. I need to do something, anything, to get myself right; to keep this in and let it worm around in my mind would be the worst form of insincerity, and I’d really like to think I’ve reached a point where I’m able to be honest with myself, and with those I care about. And, frankly, I need to speak up, because I’m upset, and I don’t care if it’s about something that matters to anyone but me.

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This is another one of those “things bouncing around in my head” rambling posts, probably; it’s some largely-incoherent thoughts that have been echoing in my internal chamber for a while now, kicking into some wild crescendo today. I think it was sparked back up by some recent Twitter conversation by people who mentioned that they were less prone to emotional responses to things as children, and my own experience having been quite the opposite – I was quick to react with pretty extreme displays of emotion when I was young, but in recent years I’ve noticed that my responses are dulled or even completely without external display. It’s not as if I’ve stopped feeling things, but that I’ve mostly stopped putting my feelings ‘out there’ where they’re able to be picked up by the casual observer. Of course, those close to me still know the signs indicating swings in one direction or the other, but that’s mostly due to familiarity more than any direct, obvious cue.

Let’s take some random examples here. Last December, I lost my job. This, of course, was pretty troubling; I still remember, though, sitting in the office with HR and my boss’ boss, being told that I was being laid off as a result of some other business goings-on that effectively mandated that some people needed to be cut in order to right the business. On the inside, what they were saying to me was deeply troubling, and exceptionally scary. I was the primary income-earner for my household; I wasn’t scared for me, but for my wife (who’d only recently begun working) and, especially, my children. My thoughts were reeling, my heart heavy, as I calmly heard the spiel about what was happening to me and why, replying with a cool “Okay” before collecting what few things they handed me and being escorted to a cab outside. I explained to the driver what had just happened and that they’d provided me fare to get home, and sent a couple of matter-of-fact texts to explain the situation to my wife and a good friend still working away inside the building I’d just been removed from. I felt like crying, especially once I got home to sit alone with the thoughts of what would happen, what we’d have to cut back on to keep ends meeting. I felt like it, but it didn’t happen, and that was even in the privacy of my home and secrecy of being the only one there.

I’m not sure I should cite other examples, because some of them are deeply personal, but I’ve got several other moments from the last five or ten years where an outburst would have been appropriate (and probably would have been cathartic), but they didn’t come. When I have allowed the mask to drop, it’s still a very low-key thing; I haven’t had a bout of uncontrollable sobbing since seventh grade, when I found myself being asked if I was okay by some older kid I didn’t know who found me curled up in a ball on the floor of the entryway outside the school cafeteria. Somewhere in there, some kind of disconnect, distancing, or straight-up steeling of myself happened, and it’s probably a direct result of how emotional I was as a kid, and the way that people would react to that. It was always made clear to me then that such displays were frowned upon, and I think that eventually the torrent of “that’s not right” wore me down – but I can’t say for sure exactly where the switch flipped.

The weirdest part about this, I think, is that I often beat myself up over it. I get in these weird moods where I feel like, in some way, I’m not acting appropriate to the situation by being so outwardly collected. As I said, I still feel things tearing me up inside, but rather than bubbling to the surface as an actual display of emotion, they simply simmer underneath and I can’t help but wonder if the failure to manifest is indicative of something wrong with me. Normal people cry, so why don’t I? I feel like something – whether it’s myself, or some brain-chemistry thing – is holding me back from the full ‘emotional experience’. More to the point, and possibly worse, I feel like it’s making me out to be some kind of sociopath who’s simply not affected by the things going on around me, and it’s caused me more than once to question whether I’m even actually feeling the emotions I’m going through in the same way as others around me do.

This isn’t limited to just negative emotion, either, though I think I find the contrast most stark there. I don’t get as amped up for exciting things as I did as a kid; that’s probably natural, but I still see plenty of healthy, relatively-adjusted adults who do, so maybe it’s not. It’s made a lot of things difficult, because people around me assume I’m not as interested or into whatever’s happening, even if I am. It’s hard for me to push it aside and play the part, even when it’s genuine, and it gets exhausting trying to keep up the ‘act’ and really appear to be as excited or happy or whatever-other-emotion. There’s a lot of times I’ll just stop pushing because it’s difficult to force it to the surface, and then I end up looking like I’ve stopped having a good (or bad) time and lapsed into apathy, even though that’s not the case, and that just gets me twisted up since I really get the sense that I’m not even playing to the part that I’m in, regardless of what’s actually going on in my head.

Anyway, I’m not really sure what my point is here, but this has been making me crazy for a while now, and really came back today in the form of the urge to write. I find I can’t really decide which things will start turning in to rambling posts in my mind, and there’s a lot that I ended up cutting here from the initial internal jam-session, but for whatever reason, these were some thoughts that needed out, and now they’re out. Also, if you have any ideas for things you’d like to hear me prattle on about, I’d love the kick-start to my creative gears, since this is the kind of thing I come up to when I’m left to my own devices.

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A Random Assortment of Thoughts

I know I always start these things by saying it’s likely to be disjointed, but in this case I don’t even have a coherent roadmap in my mind at all; I’ve had a lot of things just bouncing back and forth across the confines of my skull over the last few days, and some of them just need to get out and I’ve got no better mechanism than to throw them here. Maybe someone will read it and enjoy it; maybe it’ll be another unread post out in the aether of the internet. Either way, I’m here battering myself over nothingness – and it’s especially burdensome, given that most of the thoughts are a decade old, some more, and they’ve gone largely unsaid and unresolved and- well, here’s things from my mind.

I used to have a lot of acquaintances. Not really friends, not really not-friends; people I knew and spent lots of time with or around and share fun times with. These connections were mimicry of the friendships I’d forged in years past on the internet — much the same, in that I didn’t really connect with these people, despite a lot of serious time investment and even a fair amount of conversation that dealt with serious things. I could never really pin down how I differentiated my close friends from these people; sometimes, a person would drift in and out of those designations, sliding along the path of my life with various levels of personal importance. Whatever the case, I didn’t hold back being who I thought I was, but in many ways, this period of life held me back from learning who I actually was, because I was so caught up in maintaining the identity that I thought belonged to me that I didn’t even notice that it was a mask anymore. I didn’t lie to these people, per se, but neither did I really allow them to experience the truth of myself — or, maybe, they didn’t allow me to experience it.

I remember that we used to hold parties a lot. We’d get a bunch of people together, a bunch of alcohol, and a good time. Music and video games and card games and whatever else; social situations that were the crux of who we were amongst ourselves, and yet, I always felt just a little bit outside of these. Like somehow, everyone had these connecting inner circles that drew the group as a whole together, and which I existed on the periphery of in every case. Sometimes, I’d sit silently in the party and just observe. Stand back in a corner and take in the ebb and flow of the scenes in front of me, drawing imaginary lines between the people around me; intimate relationships, unrequited loves, years-long bonds of friendship; intense, secret lines connecting everyone that wasn’t me.

I live in a small town. Within a certain age-range, everyone knows everyone not by six degrees of separation, but more by two or three perhaps. There’s a single train track running through a part of the city, and during this time, I lived near it; spots near the tracks – and near the college campus – aren’t prime real estate, and the closer to the tracks you get, the lower the rent (and quality of life) tend to become. I was a poor, self-alienating divorcee at a young age, since my first marriage began and ended before my 20th birthday arrived. Maybe this played a part in the self-perception. Maybe it didn’t, and I held on to it for nothing; whatever the case, that was a crucial part of my identity. I was the one who’d been cast aside, who’d seen friendships come and go in the time that people forged these seemingly-unending bonds with each other. I was the outsider in my own existence. I wondered a lot if I was mentally damaged — either because of the relationship I’d been in, or perhaps that went the other way, and my instabilities could be blamed for its failure.

I’d slink off sometimes to test the limits of my ability to do so. I’d get convinced, watching from my corner, that the party wouldn’t noticed my absence. That my participation was so irrelevant to the overall experience that I could vanish, and nobody would be the wiser. I’d wander off, sometimes half-drunk or more, and just get lost in my thoughts and insecurities. I found myself more than once – for a while, it was maybe a couple of times a month – sitting on the rail of the nearby tracks; I think the illusion of some kind of control, that I could simply sit there and be forgotten, possibly erased from existence, gave me a strange comfort. I’d sit and fume about the lack of a search party or the sounds of the music drifting out through an open door. I’d sit and stare at rocks and broken glass at my feet and let my gaze drift until I was staring down the tracks for miles of empty nothingness.

Every time I went, the result was the same. I’d sit and think and wallow in whatever ennui it was; I don’t think I’d say I was feeling honestly suicidal, because it wasn’t so much a fixation on seeing myself removed from life as it was one of wondering if I was connected to it in the first place. Then, starting gently, the rail would begin to hum underneath me. Small rocks would start to hop at my feet, and a distant whistle would echo through the cool night air. I’d allow my eyes to wander off down whichever stretch of tracks the sound seemed to come from, and I’d continue to think and simply drift in and out of whatever I thought I was feeling until, as the vibrations would intensify and the sound draw ever closer, a light would emerge around the bend of the rails.

In these moments, I probably should have felt fear. I was sitting in the path of something unstoppable and undeniably lethal; and yet, what I’d feel was clarity. The doubts in my acquaintances would melt away, and my concern over not being missed at some ultimately-meaningless drunken writhing mass of twentysomething tension would unravel at my feet. The faces of my few true friends, of my family, of the people I knew did care deeply about me, no matter how long I’d wandered astray, would flash through my mind. I’d stand and step back and slide into some bushes so as not to alarm a conductor to my presence; I’d wait for the lead cars to pass and I’d stand, arms outstretched, eyes closed, enveloped in rushing wind and deafening roars and the shaking ground and know that, for all of whatever I’d been musing on to no end, I was alive and experiencing something that was entirely mine.

I’d find my way back home and the party and the faces and the alcohol; people would ask where I’d been, and I’d say “just taking a walk” and the ones who knew me well would give a knowing glance and that was that. I did talk, at times, with certain people, about specific aspects of these wanderings, but never the reasons. Never the boiling thoughts and likely depression, never the way I felt like I was outside whatever it was we all shared. It took me years to open up about the truth of any of this to anyone, and this is the first time that I’ve even really gone into depth about it, and I’m not sure why I’m doing it still, other than to relieve the pressure of these memories that sometimes dance behind my eyes in moments of similar feelings. I don’t feel disconnected from everyone anymore, but I do still feel like I’m on the outside of a lot of things.

I grow distant. I know I do, and I don’t know if I can stop it or if I want to. Even now, with my loving and wonderful wife — with whom, let me be clear, I always feel deeply connected, even when we’re apart — I see myself drift in and out of other casual friendships and I don’t even know if they’re something I care to maintain. I am happy with my life, and with my wife and wonderful sons. I don’t feel a need to really, truly connect beyond that, most of the time. I do find myself wondering what it’s like to do so, what it’s like to be one of those people with scores of good friends with whom to swap stories and share time and simply be human together, but – as I did once before – I supplant the physical human connection of these with internet relationships, though the medium changes over the years. I feel more connected to some folks I’ve never met in person, and may never meet in person. I connect more with written words than spoken, with emoticons than body language.

I sometimes wonder, still, if there’s something wrong with me. If there’s some underlying mental something-or-other — disease, disorder, quirk — that makes me this way, or if it’s simply another piece of the larger human puzzle, that some of us are really, truly introverted to a degree that gets painted as diseased. But, I know that I am happy, and that there are people – more than I can count, probably – that care about me and that I care deeply about, so spinning my gears about it, as inevitable as it is, becomes an exercise that drives nothing. An exercise that doesn’t need to drive anything, because whether some doctor would label this a disease or not, I’ve found a place that I’m happy. And that’s what matters.

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Privilege Beyond Myself

This is probably going to be a bit scattered and possibly a bit of a rant; the subject here is formed of a million thoughts screaming in my mind, hard to articulate but needing the release that I only get by putting words to a page. It’s sparked by some things I read today, like this excellent piece by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, which put some perspective on my own experience, as well as the relative ease with which I, as a biological male, float through the experience of life. It’s worth a read, and upsetting, and sticking with me in a way that’s haunting and resonating and bold.

I read a lot — like, seriously a lot — of feminism on the internet. I interact on social media with some really great, well-spoken women with strong, vocal opinions and multitudinous experiences that have forged them. I’ve come to find a place for myself, but it’s a difficult one, coloured by my own extremely different journey. I read a lot about the trials and tribulations of simply being a woman in our – or any – society; the unique challenges that permeate everyday life of women past and present and, by all indications, future. From disgusting and downright disturbing passes from total strangers to poisonous ‘jokes’ and attitudes from coworkers, friends, lovers; from other women, set on making themselves “one of the guys” for a leg-up in social or professional environments; from depraved, malignant men seeking to enforce their superiority in the world. These women endure things EVERY DAY that boggle my mind, and remind me of my privilege, and remind me that I am, ultimately, an outsider to the very essences of womanhood.

I have, for whatever purpose it serves, done what I can to set my privilege aside. I’ve reminded men around me – even when it’s “just the guys” – that some behaviours and jokes and goings-on are just unacceptable in any company. I’ve screamed in prior blog posts about my own identity as a female, regardless of my appearance and biology. I’ve tried to be a voice for equality, for sanity, for decency; I’ve spread articles to make people think, spoken up when I thought my voice could help, and done anything I find to be within my power and my right to make a difference. Yet, behind all of that, I’m still walking around in the body of a man. I’m not being cat-called on the street or disregarded at my office or leered at in public for the act of being present. I don’t endure these things, and it gives me pause when I’d like to speak up and be more active because, whatever I feel, however I identify, whoever I am, I do not have to go through the same trials and tribulations of other women.

My wife was on the job-hunt and found a local graphics company in need of a secretary; she applied for the position, and interviewed. She had experience and skills not only for that position, but for other positions for which they were seeking new talent; she was ultimately denied, but promised a shot at a job working in the back, doing design work. This faded out over time, amidst promises that “we could use more girls around here, it’s a sausage-fest” and “we’ll find you some work and get you out of that house, mama.” Ultimately, the company chose instead to hire two friends – both male – and filled their needs this way, without ever really telling her anything else. They lost out on a great, hard-working, dedicated employee to their own blind stupidity and sexism. She’s now working as a lead at a great company that appreciates her talents, and moved her to a position of leadership for her knowledge, friendliness, and people skills — within three weeks of hire. That’s the employee that this local rinkadink company passed on, simply because they couldn’t see beyond her gender long enough to seriously consider her (they even tried to offer her part-time work, covering the hours that the guys they’d hired were in class — they’d started out looking for full-timers).

So, I’m hesitant to speak up. I’m hesitant because my privilege is almost crippling; not on its own, but because it’s something that I feel invalidates who I am. I’m not a real woman because, well, my biology brings with it the societal preconceptions of who I am. I don’t feel like I have any place or right to speak as a woman, and this grates on me in unusual ways. When I see a coworker with a fantastic dress or new hairstyle, I keep quiet because I’m not one of the girls; these people, by all rights, have no idea who I am beyond what’s apparent or filed away in the employee directory, and I’m sure as shit not going to be one of those guys making weird, presumptive comments at the office. Even though all I want is to tell someone, “you look amazing today!” I am too aware of the perceptions behind my being the one saying it, and how undesirable it is to hear this kind of thing day in and day out from near-strangers with whom an employer is the only common bond.

I also think that my hesitation, my pulling back and tearing my hair out and feeling awful, is ridiculous and stupid and nowhere near the level of real issues that plague the lives of women around me. It’s such a petty issue in comparison that I feel like I’ve no right to even complain about it — which, I suppose, is why it’s reached the point of this screeching cacophony in my brain, this unavoidable drumbeat of pounding thuds pressing against my mind. I love that skirt, I scream inside, passing someone on the way to the coffee machine with a faint smile, possibly a slight nod. Your hair looks great, did you colour it, echoing behind my downturned eyes as I grab some fruit from the break room. It’s infuriating and defeaning and oh so very mild standing against the regular abuses hurled at my friends and family and, yes, even those same people I wish to compliment, I’m sure.

So I’ve come here. I’m burying my thoughts in a barely-noticed website, simply to carve them out of myself and put them somewhere, ANYWHERE else. I’ll share this and some of these wonderful women will read it and probably offer words of encouragement and support and, hopefully, I feel much better, but ultimately, like my reprimanding my male friends, the change on the real-world level will be minimal or none, and I’ll go on with the same stupid internalized struggles and vaporous emotions and probably continue feeling left out of the better parts of both my biology and my identity. But, at least I’ll have tried to pour some of it somewhere and done something with myself and with all of this. So, there’s my rant, and that’s where I am today. I welcome any thoughts or insights or words that anyone can offer as I continue this weird, twisting journey of being me beneath the veneer presented.

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Brendan Shanahan is a Shining Beacon of Consistency

Today, it was announced that Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks was suspended for three games for his hit on San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl — the same length as Brad Stuart of the Sharks was given for his hit on Rick Nash in the team’s prior game against the New York Rangers.

This is, of course, exactly what any rational hockey fan expected would occur, and is yet another example of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety delivering consistent, clearly explained suspensions that relay a level message and precise, easily-understood penalties for similar player actions. I think I speak for all NHL fans, players, and staff when I say that we’ve really come to appreciate and enjoy the ease with which we can rest on the night after any incident in our teams’ games, knowing full well what will come on the following day as Brendan, along with Rob Blake and the other members of the Department of Player Safety, deliver their clear, concise videos explaining the actions of the players involved and delivering what are, by now, obvious and anticipated fair rulings regarding not only the rules in play, but the lengths of suspensions — or dollar amounts of fines — handed down.

While the prior Department head, Colin Campbell, often left fans, coaches, and players alike scratching their heads, Shanahan has cleared up all sense of mystery and guesswork through tireless devotion to explicit, to-the-letter rules interpretations and detailed examinations of the Department’s final decision. For this, and for his future dedicated to continuing this impeccable track record, I commend Brendan and his colleagues. Again, I believe I speak not only for myself, but for all of those who love the sport of hockey, when I say that June 1, 2011 will be remembered not only as the day that a new era in player safety began, but that it was an era of applaudable consistency and near-perfect clarity that forever changed the game for the better. Thank you, Brendan Shanahan, for all that you bring to us.

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