18 December, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Thank you to the lovely and talented Amy Stuart for linking me into this chain. It’s always fun to answer questions on stuff you’re writing… a good way to pretend it exists outside of your own head/computer.

1. What is the working title of your book?

How to grow your heart.

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

It's a weird sort of fictional memoir, I guess. Trying to capture how memory and understanding work through imagination, projection. How this is both magical and terribly lonely. The work involved in knowing anyone ends up being mostly trust and faith, exactly as hard as maintaining certain kinds of religious beliefs - like transubstantiation, the existence of GOD - that are, these beliefs, impossibly real.

All of that's a long way of saying the idea for the book grew out of my experience living with someone who turned out to have a serious eating disorder. Trying to figure out how to empathize, help, understand, cope, deal, maintain basic sanity while watching someone trying to kill themselves, slowly, still.

3. What genre does it fall under?

Fictional memoir? Is there such a thing?

4. Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie version?

Amanda - Keira Knightly from the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (about orphans raised to have their organs harvested)

Brother - Tom Waits, when he was younger.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of the book?

A young girl lives with anorexia through the eyes of her bewildered, floundering brother.

6. Will the book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Out of my hands.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Still in progress. Parts of an earlier, long-ish thing were salvaged, all that was fruitful from a year of work. Taking a break at the moment, gathering strength, resolve, purpose, motivational calories.

8. What other books would you compare yours to?

No idea. I just borrowed Rick Moody's memoir, from the library, thinking it may be a good template. I'm hoping to do something incredibly sad that doesn't read like a funeral dirge. Suggestions welcome.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My life.

10. What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

I've never read anything about what anorexia looks like, what it's like to live with someone who's self-denying. Only what it's like to be the person s.-d.-ing, which first-person accounts seem to have legitimacy that other-person accounts lack. That's my gut reaction, anyway, like who am I to write about this other person's suffering. This raises anxiety about experience appropriation, how pain and suffering are objective and subjective - respectively - and what that means for having any kind of meaningful relationship with anyone, ever.

Now, go read:

10 December, 2012

Vows to my prostate.

My doctor says you’re shaped like a walnut but I think you’re shaped like a heart.

I’ve loved you since we first met, eighth grade, I was straddling a fence in the schoolyard, balanced on my perineum and the pressure suddenly exquisite. You made my whole body sigh, including the muscles in my pelvic floor that control bladder release. I wore proudly your love’s yellow stain.

My beloved prostate, from the Greek prostates, literally “one who stands before”, “protector”, “guardian”. Divine exocrine gland, male G-spot, the second-most sensitive part of my body.

In our teenage years we were precocious. Too excited for our own good, the girls who called us “Quick draw”. Ours was the shotgun approach to intercourse, one pump and it’s ready to fire but lo how we’ve grown together. Practiced patience, resolve, thousands of Kegel exercises. Now we can run coital marathons, 90 euphoric seconds.

I love you because you’re the gateway to my urethra.

I love you because your secretions account for 50-70 percent of my seminal volume; also 100 percent of its colour, that lustrous Mother of Pearl or sometimes Corn Silk, like white with a tinge of summer.

I love you because your secretions help make my sperm more alkaline, to neutralize acidity in the vaginal tract.

I love you because you’ve never once complained there’s no acidity in a fucking condom.

I love you because when it gets cold you stay the same size, and because no one cares how big or small you are, especially how small.

My dearest prostate, no amount of facial hair could ever express my love for you, my deep and abiding affection. For you alone I would consider the “other” kind of threesome.

As for these unworthy vows: amare et sapere vix deo conceditur. (“Even a god struggles to love and be wise at the same time.”)

26 November, 2012

22 November, 2012

Final exam.

This story takes the form of a law school examination question. First I will read you the fact scenario, followed by a series of questions designed to test your understanding of the legal issues at play.

Please listen carefully. There will be no repetition.

Here we go:

There is a doctor. One day this huge woman comes into his surgery. A spewing volcano of skin, stomach and ass, and she’s got this problem with… you guessed it her ass. Which is just catastrophically big. So she bends over the table and the doctor takes a look and she’s got this sort of fungus or pus going on down there. Like around her anus. Which apparently is pretty common because the doctor right away knows what it is, it’s ass gonorrhoea. So the doctor gets out this little gardening tool thing used for specimens (the technical term for which is speculum - it’s sort of a pair of blunted flattened scissors that you hold like a gun and it separates things and takes a sample at the same time) and he pushes apart her ass cheeks and uses the speculum to take a sample of the ass gonorrhoea. Standard procedure. 

So now he’s got this gardening tool implement with about an inch of pale yellow pustular… well not shit but you know, discharge, the ass gonorrhoea, and he’s turning around to put the specimen in the little plastic bag they send to the lab when his hand slips off the woman’s tectonic ass and he pitches forward and braces his hand against the examination table, which causes his other arm to hit the nearby instrument table, with his elbow, which knocks the hand that’s holding the speculum backwards towards his face, and because he’s simultaneously pitching forward the sample end of the speculum goes right into his mouth.

Now the doctor plays it cool and just takes it out of his mouth and throws it away and goes to brush his teeth and take another sample. Remember the patient’s facing the wall and so has no idea what’s happened. But the nurse helping the doctor is so disgusted that she starts to vomit into the garbage can by the examination room’s door. Braces her hands on either side of the can’s rim and heaves up the Big Spit. And because the can is pretty low to the ground the nurse doesn’t have her head all the way in the can but rather a foot or so above and you can see everything she’s bringing up like untreated sewage - which basically that’s what it is, when you think about it - and the patient of course sees and not to mention smells this and freaks out and unfortunately happens to have chronic stomach problems, on account of being so hideously obese, plus she’s bent awkwardly over the examination table in a kind of snowman jack-knife thing that’s putting all kinds of pressure on her intestines large and small, and her ass is there giving a whole new meaning to the phrase moon shot, and she lets out a belch that makes the fillings in the doctor’s teeth rattle. Then she herself starts vomiting all over the wall and the examination table and all of this just makes the doctor even more desirous of being able to go brush his teeth. His wife refuses to kiss him for like a month afterwards.

Question one: Can the patient sue the doctor for physical and emotional distress? In the course of your answer pay particular attention to the issue of causation; specifically, can the doctor argue that it was not his own malpractice that caused the patient’s distress - i.e., his accidentally taking a mouthful of ass gonorrhoea - but rather the nurse’s reaction to his malpractice, and that but for the nurse’s vomiting the patient would not have suffered any harm? Alternatively, can the doctor argue that the patient’s pre-existing conditions - her morbid obesity and chronic stomach problems - were the real cause of her adverse reaction, and he can’t be responsible for illnesses he doesn’t cause?

Question two: Can the nurse sue the doctor for physical and emotional distress? In the course of your answer please specifically consider whether the nurse’s status qua nurse requires her to be especially desensitized to medical grotesquery, which would make her reaction to the doctor’s venereal mishap unreasonable and so prevent her winning any lawsuit.

Question three: Can the doctor sue the nurse and patient for the damage done to his surgery by their respective vomiting? In the course of your answer be sure to address your analysis of multiparty causation in question one - e.g., if you argued that the patient could not sue the doctor because the nurse’s vomiting supervened the doctor’s eating ass gonorrhoea as the cause of the patient’s injury, does that mean the doctor is similarly prevented from suing the patient? - as well as your analysis of the nurse’s professional capacity in question two - e.g., if the nurse can sue the doctor for emotional and physical distress, can the doctor nevertheless sue the nurse for the property damage caused thereby?

Question four: Assuming the doctor can sue the nurse and patient for the damage to his surgery, can he also sue for loss of consortium? [NB. Loss of consortium derives from the Latin phrase per quod servitium et consortium amisit, which translates as “in consequence of which he lost her society and services.” In this case, the doctor’s loss of consortium is the monetary value of his wife refusing romantic attention for a month after he ate his patient’s clap.] In your answer be sure to discuss any defenses available to the nurse and patient, including whether they should be responsible if the doctor goes home and blabs every detail of his day to his wife, or for his wife’s hypersensitivity to the few particles of Neisseria gonorrhoeae that plausibly remained in the doctor’s mouth after multiple tooth brushings.

You have 60 minutes to complete your answer. Good luck.

21 November, 2012

20 November, 2012

Project day-maker: flowers.

Buy a corner store bouquet and give away the flowers to people you pass on the way to school or work.

28 October, 2012

Craft fair.

Arts and crafts and money.

When “small batch” equals big dollars and one-person companies are supported by corporate-size websites, is “hand-made” what we think it is? A report from North America’s largest consumer craft fair, where the competition for puppet dollars is intense.

The Morning News, 10 May 2012.


Volcano boarding.

Diary of a post-adrenaline junky.

Some decisions are best made heedlessly, based on the chance for an epic story—and some people think like that all the time. A report on what it’s like to slide down a volcano on a piece of sheet metal at 55 mph.

The Morning News, 16 February 2012.


Orchestra conducting.

When the crescendo is the least of your problems.

After practicing with his iPod—and feeling pretty good, actually—a novice discovers the extreme fear of conducting a professional orchestra.

The Morning News, 8 February, 2011.


Lewis H. Lapham

Nothing is off the record, because I'm not coming back.

After 26 years writing Harper’s Notebook, Lewis Lapham talks about history, essays, and modern journalists.

The Morning News, 30 November, 2010.

Click here.

Image: Jason Polan.

15 October, 2012

Letter to the Editor


The Walrus,
19 Duncan Street, Suite 101,
Toronto, Ontario, M5H 3H1.

17 August 2012

RE: John MacFarlane’s Editor’s Note, September 2012 Issue.

Dear Editors,

Buried deep in the back of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, endnote 269, is a character sketch of pro football punter Orin Incandenza by his former roommate, the reclusive hypochondriac Marlon Bain. Bain describes Orin as a near-pathological liar, a serial seducer of mothers with young children that he (=O.) contrives to fall madly in love with him, to the point where they (=the mothers w/ children) forget all about their brood; much the same way that O. feels his own mother serially philanders and apportions her attention. Orin goes so far as to deploy a series of numbered seduction strategies, selling each married woman a different version of himself, which Bain says demonstrates how “there can be such a thing as sincerity with a motive.” Then there’s a long and kind of funny anecdote before Bain recapitulates as follows: “It is not that Orin Incandenza is a liar, but that I think he has come to regard the truth as constructed instead of reported.”

This same distinction underwrites John MacFarlane’s Editor’s Note in the September issue of The Walrus magazine. Mr MacFarlane writes about the difference between advertisers and journalists, which cohabit a magazine’s pages but for very different reasons: advertisers have something to sell, while journalists have something to say. Mr MacFarlane puts it thusly:

“Journalists, including me, often feel conflicted about advertising: grateful because it helps pay the bills (including salaries), and because financial sustainability is an editor’s best friend; when a magazine is solvent, its owners tend to leave its editors alone. Grateful, then, but wary, because advertising is always self-interested, which is what distinguishes it from journalism. [Emphasis added.] This is also why journalists sometimes dismiss it as irrelevant or, worse, dishonest. Yet what could be more honest than the shoemaker’s desire to have people buy his or her shoes? Seen in this way, the marketing of products is a natural consequence of the making of them, and in a consumer society it’s hardly irrelevant, and only dishonest when it’s, well, dishonest — that is, when it makes false claims.”

I submit to you that the prenominate gloss is not only wrong but insidious and bad, and just plain hard to believe given Mr MacFarlane’s editorial mantle. The fact is that journalists sell stories: writers ‘pitch’ stories to editors, editors pick the most interesting of these, and then work with the writer to get the story into print. Along the way there are hundreds of ‘editorial decisions’, arguments over usage and pitch and tone and angle and what to quote and what to cut. The overriding aim is to tell the story in a way that interests readers. To get more readers to turn more pages, some of which pages, of course, carry advertising.

For Mr MacFarlane to suggest that journalists are not self-interested, and that this is what distinguishes them from advertisers - people who sell things - is literally ridiculous: silly to the point of being surreal, reckless, cavalier, wilfully blind, and then almost unbelievable when he ends his Editor’s Note with The Walrus’s own sales pitch:

“Like the shoemaker, we at The Walrus want to sell what we make to as many people as possible, and so we advertise the magazine’s virtues wherever and whenever we can. Is this self-interested? Yes. Irrelevant? Not if it puts the magazine into the hands of more readers. Dishonest? Our ads claim The Walrus is fearless, witty, thoughtful, and Canadian. You tell me.”

Mr MacFarlane’s argument is the same as Marlon Bain’s: that some people regard the truth as something to construct, while others regard the truth as something to report. Mr MacFarlane puts advertisers in the constructed camp and journalists - at least journalists at The Walrus - in the reported camp. (This is what makes advertisements for The Walrus different from advertisements in The Walrus.) The problem is that the distinction is completely false; it’s a non-distinction, mistaking a difference in degree for a difference in kind. So-called ‘reported’ truth is every bit as constructed as plain old advertising: a journalist can only talk to so many people, put the camera in so many places, run down so many leads, ask so many questions. The process is even more constrained by word counts and page limits: subtle distinctions that require lots of space to develop and explain rarely win out over points that are more straightforward, pithy, exciting, salacious, surprising.  

A more intuitive way to make the foregoing points is maybe this: the reason there are many different magazines and newspapers is that there are many, many different ways to tell the same story. In fact, there are as many ways as there are storytellers, and each journalist can be only one of these. To suggest that even some journalists tell better stories than others - do more reporting than constructing - is to mistake journalists for prophets.

There will always be more to say than pages on which to print; the map is not the territory, and my world, at least, does not unfold in neat, clear, narrative arcs. The most obvious things are often the easiest to overlook but also, in many cases, the most important: in this case, that without readers there would be no writers, even at The Walrus. For Mr MacFarlane to suggest otherwise is, with great respect, simply false advertising.


As ever,

12 September, 2012

Tonight, Raconteurs, 7.30pm.

Hyacinth will be there! And yours truly, and others, telling stories. 
No One Writes To The Colonel, 7.30pm.

10 July, 2012

Diary of a serial onanist.

Your FB profile; pretty girls you're FB friends with; weight loss ads (the After images); the Sears catalog; music videos; covers of Harlequin romance novels; ads for gym memberships; yearbooks (mine and my younger sister's); aerobics shows; a picture of my mother when she was in university, one time, while drunk.

01 June, 2012

Look homeward angels, west of Bathurst, and fall in love with me.

Gossamer blouses, threadbare cotton, all the body’s shade. Cut-off shorts, lacquered and frayed, trailing white and bias, twin smiles. Breasts tan and untethered, shaped like kinds of fruit. Languid bodies,  imagined easy love. Breeze tickles hems, flutters hearts, quivers knees. Oblique, close, poignant, deep and silly and sadly unalone.

25 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part final.)


‘Evening Karp, evening Mitch.’

‘Evening Tate, nice to see you.’

‘Tate always a pleasure.’

‘Thank you kind sirs very much indeed. I couldn’t help overhearing what y’all were saying just this past while, from where I was sitting over by the pinball machine – which machine is broken again Mitch, by the way, and just ate three of my best quarters.’

‘Which quarters I’ll be more than happy to refund Tate, thanks for letting me know about the machine.’

‘I would be most grateful for that Mitch, thank you. But so as I couldn’t help but overhear what y’all were saying, and seeing as I’m the only one of us three here so far as I know who’s an actual father, well I thought you might welcome the benefit of my experience being brought to bear on some of the questions y’all are considering here this evening.’

‘That would be fine Tate, am I right Karp?’

‘Indeed Tate, bear away with the first hand experience.’

‘Well now Karp let me say that I have a huge amount of appreciation and respect for the anxieties you’re expressing here re potentially starting a family, primarily because they are very similar to, albeit unpacked much more thoroughly than, the anxieties I was feeling at about this juncture in my own life, that is to say in my own pre-parental thought process. In other words I can tell you straight shooting that what you’re feeling is perfectly normal and healthy, but of course not for those reasons banal or trite, because even though just about every thinking man’s going to have similar thoughts when he’s trying to decide whether to try to conceive, that doesn’t mean that the individual instances of those thoughts and feelings are any less poignant or real or at all easy to bear.’

‘That’s well said Tate and much appreciated.’

‘Thank you Karp, thank you very much.’

‘Tate I’m just going to ibid Karp on this one, pretty much.’

‘To which I will ibid myself Mitch, mutatis mutandis.’


‘Right so Karp as I was saying, I know precisely where you’re coming from, but let me tell you where you’re going. It’s hard to explain, but once you have a child and see that little person smiling up at you despite his or her perfect vulnerability and dependence – which BTW [sic] Karp if you think you’re taking a risk feelings-wise by having a child, try imagining your baby trusting you with their survival without even knowing what ‘trust’ or ‘survival’ even means, i.e. [sic] without even knowing what they (your child) don’t know…’


‘…but so you’re standing there holding something in your arms that is of you and by you and my goodness gracious Karp it’s a whole new world. Your capacity for love and understanding and patience and regard for the goodness in all others - not just your baby - increases enormously, exponentially, in fact basically almost immediately you’re looking around for the nearest logarithmic function in order to express on a more manageable scale the rate of increase in your capacity to love all things. It’s literally the best feeling you could possibly imagine having.’


‘That does sound pretty good Karp, I have to say.’

‘I hear you Mitch, it certainly does sound that way.’

‘And another thing Karp, that I definitely didn’t see coming, was about all those things I thought I wanted to do in my life before the baby, which until I held the little guy in my arms the thought of him struck me as not so much a line in the sand but a crevasse into which my future was sure to fall, forever, but it hasn’t turned out that way. I just don’t think about myself first and foremost anymore Karp. One of the most important things my child has taught me – it’s worth hearing that again, that my child has taught me – just by being his own little perfect and adorable self, is that the key to happiness in the world is not necessarily fulfilling every one of my own personal desires. The work of a father is it’s own reward, Karp, and your child will be there every day to remind you of that blessed and beautiful fact.’

‘Tate that was exquisitely shared brother. Standing-O.’

‘Thank you Mitch, but I’m going to have to give most of the credit here to young Brackett, who in a very real way has taught me most of what I know that’s worth knowing, I now know.’



‘Well now Tate let me first acknowledge just how beautiful and appreciated your sharing was, truly, notwithstanding what anyone here might think of it in terms of its effect on the sentiments and conclusions heretofore expressed and elaborated. That was just wonderful openness you demonstrated and I am truly grateful for everything you’ve said here this evening.’

‘Karp you’ve got to be kidding me if you’re going to come back here with a rebuttal, although I certainly do respect and acknowledge whatever feelings you may have to express in that regard.’

‘Mitch you have not misinterpreted the gist of my prefatory remarks there.’



‘Because see now Tate while I have no doubt as to the veracity and verisimilitude of your description of your feelings about the mental and emotional revelations and even paradigm shifts Brought To You By Young Brackett, it occurs to me that you have no reason to tell us, or more importantly yourself, any different.’

‘Karp I hear you brother and I’m respecting your difference of opinion here, fully and truly, but I am also having a bit of difficulty understanding just what is the content of that different opinion. Would you mind terribly elaborating there upon?’

‘Not at all Tate and thank you for your acknowledgment. When you said before that one of the keys to happiness turns out not to be fulfilling every one of your desires, I think what you really meant to say, or at least all you really could say, is that what you desire changes after you have a child. In other words, once you’re a father you don’t have any reason to dwell on all the things that might have been, or that you could have accomplished, with the time and resources you’re now committed to devoting to young Brackett. It’s just undeniable that the opportunity cost of having a child is stupendous…’

‘Well I hear you there Karp and I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to say that’s the sort of thing only a person who’s never had a child would say, because you really can’t appreciate how the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ just doesn’t apply when you’re a parent; that’s how beautiful and amazing it is to hold your own child in your arms. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. Everything else pales in comparison.’

‘Well see now actually Tate you’re kind of making my point for me, by which I mean the intensity of your feelings just there, and your earlier use of phrases like ‘a whole new world’ and ‘happier than you could ever imagine being’, basically describing something like a state of rapture w/r/t [sic] how it feels to become a father, well Tate I hate to say this but that’s just what you’d expect from a guy who just said toodle-oo to the next fifteen or twenty years of his life. I mean you’ve got to be terrified you made the wrong decision, and even more terrified that that first-order terror is going to undermine or in some way sabotage your obligations to young Brackett, and thus guarantee what it is you were terrified of in the first place. Because remember, no matter how you slice it, young Brackett never asked you to bring him into the world, but you did, and now he’s here and it’s your responsibility to give him the best chance at life you can.’

‘Well you’re right about that at least Karp, that any such slicing would be to no avail.’

‘I’m afraid that no avail applies to more than just the slicing, Tate, because as Mitch and I’ve just been discussing, as a father you inevitably encounter a disheartening set of circumstances: whether to (1) raise a child with near-perfect emotional acuity and practice, in which case say goodbye to any hope of genuine or meaningful recognition or reciprocation of affection from your own child, or (2) you can let your child decide for themselves whether to (a) go for honesty and respect vis a vis their own and other’s emotional needs and expressions of same, or (b) some version of the opposite course, all versions of which are to varying degrees hideous and morally ablated, which means you risk unleashing some horrible emotional terror onto everyone else in the world, an outcome that seems almost certain in the absence of a strict and medieval-type course of childhood training and development (in which case see (1)) given how just about everyone in the world seems to operate on some emotionally degraded level.’



‘Well you know Karp I must say I’ve never thought of it quite like that, and while your schematic description was both creative and helpful I could still use a bit of an upshot, if you don’t mind terribly.’ 


‘That’s kind of you to say Tate and it would be my pleasure. The upshot here is that having a child puts you as a parent in the horrible situation of being, as it were, stuck between a rock and a hard place whilst precariously balanced atop a sharp steel spike (i.e. [sic] emotional automaton vs. potential guerrilla narcissist, whilst trying not to let your now-realized fear of just this kind of hideous predicament cause you to bear any kind of grudge or resentment towards the at least in this case wholly innocent young Brackett), in which case it’s only natural to close your eyes and hope for all you’re worth – or more likely just decide – that children really are a paradigm shift, and there’s no better feeling in the world than what you’re about to experience, and so no matter what you think you’ve given up or lost it just pales in comparison to What Dreams May Surely Come, which dreams most certainly do not include rocks or hard places or pointy implements of hardened alloy.’

‘Well now…’


‘And plus further, don’t be surprised that all the other parents you meet at day care or first grade lemonade sales or neo-natal yoga or whatever all tell you the same story, and you trade superlatives in describing how special you feel to Be A Parent, no matter how difficult some days or weeks might be, because obviously Tate all those people have the same skewed incentives that you do, are facing the same terrible certainty that only gets more terrible and more certain the more they think about it, and don’t kid yourself about the tacit but very real pressure to conform in the collective myopia, and the Antarctic wilderness that’s waiting for anyone who breaks with the tribe’s folklore and suggests having a child is not ultimately if sometimes irregularly Bliss on Tap.’



‘So basically Tate what I’m saying, and really with all due respect and appreciation for your sharing of your feelings and your earnest and sincere desire to contribute to our collective understanding here this evening, is that the only chance to really think clearly about what it might be like to have a child, and whether it’s actually the worst or at least something far from the best decision a person could ever make, is sometime before conception, [FN9]
because after that, well, there’s nothing else for it, I guess.’ 


[FN9] Just not even going there. 


24 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part three.)



‘Well Karp I certainly can see why you’re worrying about this so much, it’s a veritable swamp of emotional despond.’

‘A very bleak midwinter indeed Mitch, parenting-wise, and actually hold on to your hat because it gets even worse, I think. Because if you really think about how a particularly well-behaved and emotionally adept child got to be that way (and so far as I can figure most people don’t really think about this, unless you count vague and annoying bromides like You’re mother must be very proud), then you realize all that child's doing is practicing what’s been drilled into them for years, in which case to the extent a person on the receiving end of so much kind and generous attention appears to feel appreciated and respected and cared for – like even including the kid’s parents and extended family members – in fact, those good feelings are just going to be so many people’s projections of their own desires for affection and understanding onto the well-behaved child, which child, unbeknownst to the world (not to mention the child), thinks about other peoples’ feelings in the same way he or she thinks about trying to duck out of the way of a snowball, which is to say not with the kind of significance we usually think could make us feel good and respected and appreciated.’


‘And so of course just think about the repercussions if everyone raised their children to be perfect emotional angels, rigorously trained to be effusive and caring and attentive to the emotional needs of others, or for that matter the extent to which all forms of socialized politeness are really nothing more than husks in the emotional cornfield, insofar as people are just doing the done thing, and so even if someone was expressing genuine recognition and appreciation you could never really know. That is, if you thought about it, which instead people seem almost universally and unthinkingly to treat this sort of behaviour as a mirror in which to reflect their own deeply poignant and still unmet emotional desires.’



‘Everything OK Mitch?’

‘Yup sure thing Karp, just taking a few moments for reflection.’

‘I sure do appreciate Mitch the respect and care you’re communicating through your careful attention to and reflection on what I’m trying my best here to honestly communicate re my child-having anxieties.’

‘Definitely hear you there Karp, and appreciate it, but have to say it’s difficult to simultaneously reflect and receive acknowledgement for same.’

‘The beauty of the emotional irony.’



‘Actually sorry Mitch, I just thought of an example: it’s kind of like giving myself a birthday present but putting my child’s name on the card, which lots of parents seem to do, and then take perverse and so far as I can tell patently unwarranted pleasure in the receiving of, like even going so far as thanking their kid for the gift. Which I suppose you might say is just a way of including the child in the festivities, but clearly there’s some pretty emphatic socialization going on here, and in any event parents really do seem tickled that their young child 'got them a present', or maybe it’s just the thought of their young child getting them a present that tickles them, which if that’s not a blatant exercise in treating your child like an emotional mirror I don’t know what is.’ [FN7]



‘OK Karp, while I appreciate everything you’ve been suggesting here and sharing and exemplifying and doing so if I may say with exquisite care and aplomb, it does seem to me you’re beating-up on a bit of a straw man here.’

‘I appreciate your appreciation Mitch, and I’m sending you a receipt therefore.’

‘Receipt of receipt acknowledged Karp. But now despite all that’s been so eloquently articulated thus far, surely it matters that as part of your child’s emotional education – which I have to say, it’s hard to think of two parents better equipped to deliver that particular lesson plan than you and the Ellester – surely part of the curriculum is going to be a review of the reasons why this way of treating people is better than some other ways.’


‘That is to say, Karp, that clearly you’re going to make it clear to your child just how horrible and demeaning and emotionally disfiguring it can be when someone declines to acknowledge and respect your attention and other more poignant modes of emotional expression, and so give your child a perfect understanding of why your way of being in the world is better than other ways, so that your child can choose your way over those other ways, or perhaps more accurately choose to retain that way of being, which she’s been raised to think is the right one; not to mention after she goes to school for all of half a day and discovers first hand the wrath of the emotionally occluded, which pre-teens and teens especially tend to be, and rabidly so.’

‘And what you’re saying Mitch is that by virtue of this understanding and choice my child will in fact be able to show genuine respect and appreciation for others’ feelings and the sharing of same, rather than a completely illusory or as it were reflexive and so meaningless version of that respect and appreciation?’

‘That’s what I’m saying Karp.’



‘Mitch once again I appreciate and acknowledge your contribution here, and your sharing with me some thoughts that definitely bear the imprimatur of honest reflection and thinking about the subject matter at hand.’

‘My pleasure Karp, although I have to say I’m starting to see a pattern here developing.’

‘That may well be Mitch but just remember, Step Four in our From Fights to Feelings Weekend Intensive Workshop last year, which step was to always remember that Your side does not a conversation make.



‘You’re right Karp, you’re right. I just need to Trust and abide to turn the feelings tide.

‘I’m here to support you Mitch, if you want to take some time out here to clear out some negative energy that’s manifesting as frustration, which frustration is perfectly normal and appropriate and even healthy, so long as we give it the proper space and release.’

‘I appreciate your offer Karp, but I think I’ll be OK. It’s enough just to pause and acknowledge my perfectly natural capacity for generating negative energy, to honour that part of me, which even though productive of negative energy is still beautiful and perfect and elegant, just like the rest of me, and to set those feelings aside for later but not forever and release them safely into my Feelings Journal before going to bed this evening.’

‘That sounds like a good plan to me Mitch, a very good plan indeed.’

‘Thank you Karp, and how about another of your usual?’

‘That’s fine Mitch, thanks very much. But so as I was saying earlier, there’s a fly in the ointment you’re dispensing about my child being presented with the full spectrum of alternatives re ways of treating other people, and then choosing to continue to behave towards those others in the way that the Ellester and I will have suggested and instructed and demonstrated.’

‘Go on Karp, I appreciate the little précis there to catch us back up to speed after my little detour down the unpaved roads of negative energy.’

‘Not at all Mitch, but so the problem is that there is just no way that any child of mine is going to have anything like a real choice between treating people as emotional equals and honouring and respecting those others’ attempts to share feelings and be emotionally open, on the one hand, and treating people in some other less-beautiful way, on the other. I mean, are you kidding me? When I know first hand how terrible and shattering and ablated it feels to have someone’s hiking boot tread embedded in the heart of your deepest and most authentic and fragile desires and self-conceptions? And to be the foot in that boot? And realize it’s your foot and what you’ve stepped in? I mean there’s just no way.’


‘I mean really Mitch what parent do you know would give their young child that kind of choice? What parent knowingly let’s their child disrespect and demean other people, not to mention themselves as parents? [FN8]
Because it’s only real freedom to make these kinds of choices that's going to give a parent and really any other thinking person any confidence in the genuineness of the emotional sentiments expressed by children and, depending on the circumstances, many young adults.’ 

‘It’s probably fair to say that few parents are looking to give their children this sort of freedom Karp.’

‘Right - so in reality, even if my child does venture out into this cruel and inadequately parented world and discovers just how awful and destructive one person can be to another, and how easy it is to be this way, and how most people are this way all the time, especially to the people to whom they are closest, and just take everything for granted, well he or she isn’t really going to have a choice so far as I’m concerned, to be this other way.’ 


‘In other words Karp, if your child treats you or anyone else with respect and care, basically as the child’s emotional and moral equal, and that also happens to be precisely what you’ve taught your child to do and how to be and further intimated and perhaps on some occasions demonstrated through some of the toughest love you could really imagine that other ways of treating people are just Not On, including especially how the child treats you, her parents, then in fact you and everyone else really with whom your child interacts will never be sure what they’re receiving is genuine emotional feeling, or just some significant-looking but ultimately vapid gesture they’ve learned to deploy in circumstances like these.’

‘Mitch I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody likes a simulacrum.’



[FN7] When K was very young his parents enacted precisely this drama, including with presents like booze, which no word of a lie K’s mother told him once that’s what she and his father used to do, i.e. give each other booze and put K’s name on the card until he was like six years old, and then whenever K’s parents’ friends came over to watch the game or something K’s parents would always say Who wants some of the booze that Karpy gave us for our birthday? and expect K to clap or smile or something, and all the friends would think that was just great and play along, and it’s just too depressing for K to even think about the level of irony that may or may not have been deployed at the time. 

[FN8] In other words, the choice of being like pre-E K, q.v. in and around note three, supra.  

23 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part two.)


‘Well but see Mitch it’s not the time and effort that I’m worried about, strictly speaking. It’s the T&E [sic] combined with the fact that young children and especially infants have no idea the exorbitant mental and emotional and even physical toll they’re taking by means of their constant need for assistance and attention, which need is I submit perfectly selfish, because infants and young children have no idea they are not the centre of the universe; that people might be interested in other things besides themselves, or just plain get tired of responding to their need for food or comfort or attention or something to play with or whatever. Mitch it seems to me pretty plain that infants and young children are big giant doughnuts in the consideration for others department, which makes their bottomless pit of dependence just exponentially more difficult to bear.’

‘Well just a second there Karp…’

‘Not quite Mitch because as we’ve talked about and work-shopped about many times before, I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life treating people in precisely this way. As in I’ve been a big time emotional infant. I’ve just sucked the life right out of all the people closest to me that were, by definition of which closeness, willing to be emotionally open and vulnerable with me by giving me all kinds of attention and seemingly unconditional affection, which I never once reciprocated or even acknowledged, at least not intentionally. And Mitch these people, especially GFs, even told me that was OK, my being almost flawlessly self-involved, because nevertheless they knew I loved them but just expressed it in my own special way, which of course no one else but them could see or understand an explanation of because no one else knew me and loved me like they did. [FN3]


‘Mitch what I’m saying is I’ve seen first hand the kind of nuclear winter that is living with an emotional infant, who just takes and takes and takes and offers nothing in return, not even the acknowledgment of their taking, and does this so naturally and unthinkingly that the person from whom they are taking eventually begins to feel guilty even for wanting some basic or entry-level recognition for the more-than-generous attention and consideration they’ve always given the taker, because the taker sure isn’t acting like anything’s at all out of the ordinary, behaviour-wise. And so the giver starts to feel like some kind of monster, like that to desire or even just feel good about being recognized for one’s giving is the worst kind of selfishness, potentially obliterating the very possibility of charitable or non-self-interested behaviour, and thus triggering one heck of a cyclone of bitter self-loathing mixed with slow burning resentment.’ [FN4]


‘And Mitch I just don’t want to be on the receiving end of that particular forecast, even though karma-wise it’d be a pretty fair balancing of the old life scales.’


‘Everything OK Mitch?’

‘Just letting all of that sink-in Karp, which BTW [sic] was beautifully shared and articulated.’

‘Many thanks for that acknowledgment Mitch. If you’d just excuse me for a second.’





‘Mitch you’d better put that ‘Out of Order’ sign up on the gents door for a few minutes, ‘cause I just napalmed your toilet.’

‘No problem at all Karp, thanks for letting me know and I’m sorry to hear you’re stomach’s giving you difficulties.’



‘I appreciate your acknowledgment and your concern Mitch, thanks very much.’

‘Don’t mention it Karp. But so response-wise to what you were just saying there a minute ago. I think the problem here is simple and in reality you’ve got nothing to worry about, by which I certainly do not mean to imply any correlation whatsoever between the simplicity of the solution I think I’m seeing and the seriousness of your perceived predicament and the awful anxiety I can imagine that perception might entail, and I definitely want to thank you for sharing something so personal and poignant and obviously disconcerting and which sharing was done with as abovementioned beautiful perfect eloquence.’

‘Thank you Mitch, I’m grateful for your saying that and for receiving what I’m sharing so gracefully, as is your inimitable way.’[FN5]

‘My pleasure Karp. Now it seems to me there is a crucial and exculpatory difference between your young child’s apparent indifference to your offering and demonstrating basically unconditional love and affection by indefatigably responding to their needs for physical and emotional sustenance, and your own grown-up version of that same horrific indifference. To wit: a young child and especially an infant doesn’t really know what emotions and feelings are, or what the consideration of same even means, in which case they (an infant or very young child) are basically incapable of disregarding your feelings and emotional needs in the same way that I or another adult could, i.e. [sic] in a way that should make you feel demeaned or slighted.’

‘I think I need an In other words here Mitch.’

‘Coming right up Karp In other words, before you can feel badly when your child fails to recognize and/or reciprocate your attention and affection in the same way you so heartlessly did to so many previous friends and especially GFs, you first have to teach your child what it means to pay attention and be affectionate and why and how those are emotionally significant gestures and how and when it’s appropriate to make those gestures and so on, which knowledge you and I and other grown-ups have, this being one of the main reasons we are called grown-ups.’

‘OK so Mitch what you’re saying is I can’t really feel badly when my young son or daughter presents me with what under normal circumstances would be considered the retort churlish, when I haven’t yet taught them about feelings and empathy and the whole beautiful and delicate fugue of human interaction. In other words when they don’t know any better.’

‘Precisely Karp. You might say it’s a matter of mens rea not just actus reus.’



‘Well now Mitch straight up no gloss I think if that’s the way it goes with raising children then we’re going to encounter some problems, although I’m not at all suggesting that you’re avenue of approach here is not well-lit with good intentions or lacking the guard rails of reason, and I definitely appreciate you sharing with me your thoughts so candidly.’

‘Thank you Karp, you know I like to go hard or go home, honesty-wise.’

‘No disagreement here Mitch but now nevertheless let’s just think for a moment about what all you’re suggesting. Because let’s assume that I raise my child in a home environment that’s a veritable surfeit of love and affection and just choc-a-bloc with beautiful respect for and attention to emotional openness of all kinds, basically the kind of home environment that breeds emotional acuity like so much Midwestern corn, producing like steroidic growth of the emotional awareness capacity to something almost grotesquely distended by present-day standards…’


‘…and so even if we assume I’m able to raise some kind of emotional avatar, which BTW [sic] this outcome seems to be the Prime Directive of all the parental literature currently occupying the centre of the stage on the Ellester’s nightstand, it seems to me that all of my child’s attention to and respect for the emotional lives of others, and especially his or her expressions of love and affection and even just respect for me and the Ellester, well Mitch none of that’s really going to mean anything. Because my ur-loving child's just going to be doing what me and the Ellester have taught he or she to do in various familial and social situations, or what they’ve learned from watching us in same, and internalized through countless demonstrations and instructions and admonitions until eventually (and unconsciously) the right sort of behaviour just sort of inheres in the child, as they gradually figure out that the easiest way to get on in the household – and so also life, or that’s the idea anyway – is to be polite and respectful and caring, and in other words just demonstrate the highest possible level of emotional awareness possible.’

‘Not sure I’m following you there Karp, though I am paying close attention.’

‘I know you are Mitch, and it’s appreciated.’

‘Karp I noticed your appreciation as part of my paying close attention.’

‘One hand washing the other.’

‘It’s the Virtuous Circle.’

‘Initial caps ours.’

‘Carry on brother.’

‘I guess what I’m saying Mitch is that there is really no difference between my infant child having no understanding or comprehension of feelings or emotions and thus being unable to express real or indeed anything other than accidentally what looks like respect or recognition of these in others, and my non-infant child having been brought up in textbook fashion to be basically just the most emotionally dexterous child any two parents could hope to raise, because such a perfectly raised child will only ever be doing what he or she’s been taught to do, because how else do they know what to do except what they’ve been made to practice over and over again to the point where they Just Do It.' [FN6]

‘What you’re saying then Karp is that when you acknowledge my sharing and emotional daring-do, and express gratefulness for same, that’s significant to me because I know that in a previous life you wouldn't have done so and indeed were a perfect class A jerk in the whole feelings of others department, or as it were a drop-out from the Caring About the Feelings of Others and Being Comfortable With Your Own Desires Collegiate Institute, and so when you do the beautiful things that you now do, feelings-wise, I know it’s a conscious choice and that’s what makes it significant. You recognize there are a range of mostly hideous ways to treat people and your choice to respect and care for and acknowledge me as someone deserving and desiring of the same respect and attention as yourself conveys something important to me about how you feel about me, which something important is not conveyed by someone who does exactly the same thing but only because that’s what they’ve been told to do.’

-I-N-G-O Mitch, come on down to the prize table because that’s a BINGO.’


[FN3] Up until K met E and indeed for a short while thereafter K was an absolute D-bag to just about every person he ever met. His few male friends were all massively insecure, even more so than K, and were more than happy to agree with and endorse whatever K said he wanted to do no matter how ridiculous or illegal or even semi-harmful to their own persons, out of (perversely) sheer gratitude for K’s sticking his chin out and making decisions. It’s true, if you ask the little guys who follow around bullies or otherwise boorish brutes, the followers will admit they're fearful of their leader but not just because of his physical strength or malignant temper. It’s also because they see him as a kind of hero, blessed with the courage and fortitude to do the things they themselves are terrified to do, even if those things are pretty garden variety (like any kind of talking to females, for starters), because, and as already mentioned K’s crew was no exception, these pathetic cabals tend to be electrical storms of personal insecurity. This is why the followers in these groups tend to say of their leader, ‘That guy’s got balls.’

And if you think K’s male friends must have been one seriously dysfunctional set, just imagine K’s GFs, who were female versions of his male friends, basically. In which case you can further imagine what kind of catastrophe was K’s love life pre-E, and also how miraculous it is that K has not confronted the child issue inadvertently at some earlier time(s), which he has not. 

But so what happened when K met E is sort of hard to say, because if we knew how to reform (or, as will become very pertinent in the main text later on, to retrain) a guy like K don’t think we’d be giving that kind of gold-plated wisdom away for nothing. The best explanation we can offer is that K was so determined to conquest E that he was initially willing to play-along with all E’s the importance of feelings crap and reciprocate with his own sharing, awkwardly at first (which made E laugh affectionately but in response to which laughing K was surprised to find he didn’t feel slighted or dissed and so need to re-establish his admittedly meager self-conception, physically if necessary), but because he was so intent on and subsequently beguiled by E his guard came down long enough to really try what she was saying and practicing about and with her emotions, which if you’ve ever really given emotional openness a fair shot you know it feels ecstatically good and liberating and empowering, especially compared to the garish and ablating self-doubt to which K was previously accustomed and to which he was in no hurry to return. QED.

4] The E’s influence should now be obvious.

[FN5] M doesn’t really have a back story; just an ineffable understanding of the ways of the world, the kind that bartenders seem always to have from sources unknown.

[FN6] In particular here K has in mind the previous Saturday morning, when his neighbor down the street came around with the neighbour’s six year old son, which son was selling apples to raise money for his Grade One class’s charity drive. K bought a half-dozen apples for five dollars, handing the kid a ten dollar bill and smiling and saying ‘Keep the change’, which philanthropic largesse was received with a good four or five seconds of Dead Air before the kid’s father said ‘And what do we say when someone makes a donation?’ Which was followed by a further four or five seconds of D.A. before the father put his hand on the kid’s shoulder and said ‘Kyle?’ Which seemed to indicate young Kyle didn’t understand what ‘donation’ meant but certainly did understand what ‘Kyle?’ meant because then Kyle said ‘Thank you!’