A Change of Life, Just Not That One

I’ll admit that I had become completely cynical about my chances of finding the right person to share my life with. I was considering getting back into the dating world, but I was also planning to wait until after the third book in my trilogy was published. After all, I didn’t feel like I had the time to spend on vetting all the candidates one tends to find on online dating sites. So, I hadn’t bothered to create a profile anywhere.

Funnily enough it turned out that I’d already met the man of my dreams, and it was more than a year ago now. We had political interests in common, so we were both members of a certain Facebook group. We’re also both actual members of the Green Party, so that was a weird kind of synchronicity, among other things. With all our commonalities, however, we were more than a little surprised to find out we not only lived in the same city, but we were only a few blocks apart. Go figure.

Just when you think life isn’t going to give you the one thing you’ve always looked really hard for, it can suddenly seem like it’s throwing you a surprise party with all the perfect gifts.

When I was awake and aware I never felt lonely, but I knew that some part of me was. I used to have these dreams where I would be held by a specific man, who made me feel truly loved. I’d wake up feeling so ridiculously content, and I would close my eyes at different points throughout the day to hold onto that feeling, picturing it in my mind. Nearly four months ago I finally discovered what that felt like in real life. All previous relationships paled in comparison, and I realized that if I’d truly know what this felt like, I would never have settled for what I had before. I would have known the real deal.

Nobody is perfect, but sometimes you find someone who is absolutely perfect for who you are. They fit with you somehow. All the things that you’re insecure about, and that you’ve been told are fatal flaws, suddenly they’re things that are cherished by another person. Don’t get me wrong – we weren’t all sunshine and roses about who we were, pretending to be something different. We were both almost brutally honest about ourselves. I was pretty enthusiastic about telling him I swore like a drunken sailor, cracked every joint in my body, and the only thing domestic about my habits is the fact that I’m potty-trained.

For his part, when we started private messaging, he bluntly asked me if I was single, and said he needed to know because he was certainly happy to be friends with me, but he would be sitting there wondering the whole time if I was available. It made me smile, I can tell ya. And it was a first for me. After all, we met on Facebook rather than a dating site. On a dating site you’re assuming the person you’re talking to is single (though there are plenty who are trolling for a side piece, too). I’d never had a guy have the courage to be so blunt about his interest in me on there. Of course, he was pretty blunt about a lot of other things, too, like wanting to talk to me, see me, kiss me, you name it. And he had the confidence and courage to follow through on it. He still does, and it’s something I find endlessly fascinating and attractive about him. Especially since a lot of guys seem pretty intimidated by me.

Of course, explosive chemistry helps. I’m not giving details, but I will say that time stands still when he kisses me. There’s a Zen-like calm that comes over me when we’re together. I’ve only been truly mad at him once, and from what I can tell I was being stupid. However, all he had to do was touch me and I was lost (as was the anger, though I tried to fight that). There’s a magic in it, and I’ve never felt it before. Any time in the past when I’ve been mad at a guy, they’ve been mad at me, too, and so the last thing they were interested in was making me feel better. Yet, my boyfriend has got to be the most selfless person I’ve ever known. He can (and does) feel empathy even toward a person who should be his most bitter enemy. I’ve seen examples of it time and time again. Honestly, we need more people like him in the world. He just truly cares about people. He talks to them on the street, homeless or otherwise, he buys strange kids a meal, he stops to help people who have been involved in car accidents, he’s politically involved, and he stands up for women online when men start acting like misogynistic jerks.

He’s also the best father I’ve ever seen. He’s been involved in his child’s life from the moment of birth, and even against adversity he’s made sure he remained a major part of his child’s life. It makes me wish I was ten years younger so I could easily have a couple of kids with him. Not that it’s impossible even now, of course, but the odds are against it.

We’ve both had our share of bad luck and bad choices when it came to past relationships, so you would think we’d be a lot more leery of moving forward with things, but we were pretty much living together within a week or two of starting to date. People thought we didn’t know each other, even though we did. In truth I’ve never known anyone so well in my life. My own experiences kept my eyes open, and not just for suspicious behaviour, but also for the evidence that backed up everything I was being told. Fate stepped in, over and over, to show me that he was everything he said he was. My one instance of anger with him was all the more stupid because I’ve been given constant proof of his character. Yeah, I felt like an idiot…and well I should.

Have we talked about taking things to the next level? Well, in an oblique sort of way. Neither of us are against the idea of getting married. I just have one caveat there. It’s gotta be a ‘hell, yeah’ kind of thing on his part. I mean, it would definitely be a ‘hell, yeah’ for me, but I won’t do it if he doesn’t feel like that, too. After all, I was told in a previous relationship that I’d dragged the guy into it (despite him being the one to propose). It was a month after the wedding, and that was the end of our marriage in that very moment. For me, anyway. I never felt the same way after that, even though I tried to keep going. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I couldn’t even bring myself to care enough to fight with him after that. I became rigidly logical and cold-hearted whenever he tried to fight with me. It was painful enough for me then, but if I had to go through that with my current guy I don’t know if I’d survive that kind of heartbreak. He isn’t the kind of guy who would say something like that, but without the ‘hell, yeah’ part of the deal, he might as well be feeling it.

Still, he feels more like a husband to me than any man from my past, with or without the marriage certificate. When I talk about him, or even think about him, I have to actively stop myself from calling him that. I’d have to say it’s because we work so well together in everything we do. You know those things you try to do with someone that usually lead to fighting? Like hanging wallpaper, fixing things, etc. Well, we can do those things and just be happy to be together. We have fun with it, because we always have fun together, and we genuinely like each other. We enjoy talking about pretty much anything – though he’s admittedly a bit attention-deficit, so I find myself repeating things, but then I have to ask people to do the same with my hearing being so crappy.

Probably the funniest part of all of this is how we started out being so logical about love. We both agreed that it took about two years to really get to know someone, and until then you couldn’t truly say you loved them. Then I told him on our first date that he was going to fall madly in love with me. Go figure. Of course, my barometer for knowing if I love someone is a pretty morbid one. I try to imagine how I would feel if they died, and whether or not it would devastate me. Within the week I told him he’d smashed my barometer. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

So, you see, there’s a reason I’ve gotten so far behind on blog posts and other writing projects. I don’t blame him, of course. He’s perfectly willing to give me the space I need to get my writing done. I just haven’t been able to tear myself away from him. A first for me. I’ve always managed to work and do what was necessary before. Thankfully I’d already published book two of my trilogy when we started getting all crazy in love. I had a bit of breathing space. Or should I be calling it ‘breathless’ space, because that’s how he leaves me.

It took me until I was 44 years old to find the man that was right for me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past, and not just with my choices. I’ve also made mistakes with my behaviour within those choices. I know very well that I had my share of the blame to shoulder, and I needed to learn from all that in order to be where I am right now. It’s tempting to wish we could have met ten or twenty years ago, where we could have saved ourselves the heartache we’ve both been through, but that might have been a disaster for us. We needed to be who we are right now, in order for things to work as well as they do. I needed a certain maturation. Our experiences form us, and there’s no regretting those experiences when they brought us to this point. We each have offspring we might never have had, and we would never have wanted to miss out on them.

I guess the point is this. No matter how crappy things can seem, they can change in a heartbeat. I learned that lesson a long time ago, and it’s something I keep trying to share with people who are going through hard times. I almost gave up on finding someone I could be happy with. I’d thought about dating, but I had no faith I’d find anyone who would put up with my foibles, much less someone I was willing to tolerate. And I certainly held no hope I’d find the exact person who was everything I ever needed and wanted. He feels the same. I can only hope he keeps feeling that way, and hope is no longer in short supply for me. Of course, it helped that my ferrets were all over him like he was wearing a meat suit, and he likes doing dishes.

The best part? I feel more free with him than I ever felt when I was single.

It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

The Only Rights We Have Are the Ones We Fight For

Oftentimes in life, just showing up to a fight is enough to end it. Thus was the case with my most recent battle a couple of days ago. My landlord attempted to take me to court to get me to pay for renovations they were doing. Yes, that is totally unfair, as well as completely illegal, but if I hadn’t gone to court I’d have been charged more than $2,600 in absentia. They tried to lie and say we’d damaged a floor that had been in the building since it had been built. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will say that the guy who did our walk-through when we were looking at the place said they would fix the floor before we moved in. They didn’t, but that tells you the damage was pre-existing.

The end result was that as soon as they saw we had shown up to court (they saw our names on the sign-in sheet) they decided they would be willing to go through a mediator rather than the adjudicator. Fancy that! We presented numerous pictures showing the water damage in the apartment that could only be pre-existing, and entirely out of the realm of our control. The roof had leaked for a long time, there’s a wall in which there’s a leaking pipe, and there is so much mold and mildew that I can no longer use my bedroom. By strange coincidence they were no longer interested in pursuing damages. Happily this mediation gave us the opportunity to bring up their numerous illegal activities without actually reporting them, but they took them a little more seriously at least. It also gave us the opportunity to let them know we’d happily be vacating the premises at the end of March. Yay!

Things became remarkably friendly during these proceedings, considering how nasty they tried to be. They talked about what great tenants we were, because we were quiet and always paid our rent. I guess they figured we were so nice that we would happily roll over and pay for them to replace the floor in our apartment. Right. The funny thing is, they truly have no clue how absolutely nasty I could have been. I could have forced them into bankruptcy had I chosen to make my complaints known with the appropriate legal parties. If I had chosen to be vindictive, the city would have come in and shut the place down. They would have been charged many thousands of dollars just to be able to continue as landlords.

Instead, I simply stopped them from screwing me over. If they had chosen to keep on with their case, I would have pulled out all the stops, of course, if for no other reason than to show the true state of their general character. Their blatant dishonesty would have been more than enough to have my case thrown out. As it is, that’s what the end result was here, and they were forced to swallow the application fee of $170 for filing against us. They’ve also told us they’re going to provide us with a good reference, etc. I don’t care if they’re doing it to placate us, as long as they don’t screw up our reputation as tenants. Here they tend to keep a record, and it becomes really difficult to find a place to live if you’ve been a bad tenant – similar to having a bad credit rating.

It just goes to show, though, how far some people will go to get you to pay their bills for them, and how little you sometimes have to do to stand up for yourself. Just because there are laws that exist to protect us, does not mean we won’t be taken unfair advantage of. Every time we do not force people in power to abide by the laws, the more likely they are to run roughshod over us. Landlords seem to be some of the worst, because so many of them are owner-operators, basically, uneducated in the terms under which they are allowed to continue said operations. They seem to think that because they buy a piece of property they automatically have the right to rent it out in any manner they choose. They don’t, and the courts can remove their privileges as landlords. They can also be heavily fined and find themselves stripped of their property if it turns out to be unfit for residential use.

There are people in this world who have a gigantic sense of entitlement. They’ve somehow come to believe themselves above the law, or simply better than others around them. They feel like they deserve better treatment than that which they afford others. You find it a lot in wealthier people, who have never had to live through difficult times. People who inherit their wealth in particular, such as the Walton family brats who now run the Walmart empire, and the Koch brothers who now run Koch Industries. They didn’t build their businesses themselves. They just suck every last ounce of profits out of them with no consideration for what they’re doing to others. They simply do not care, and the government lets them get away with it.

Things aren’t a whole lot better in Canada, but all companies are forced to comply with much higher minimum wages, and there’s a lot more protection for employees up here. Yet, somehow, Canada has been listed as the number one country to do business in. A less complicated tax code helps. We have very little local interference in business, too, so businesses generally only have to deal with provincial and federal legislation, and they do not contradict each other in any case I’ve ever seen, because the contradictions have already been dealt with very simply. If the business runs across provincial lines, such as transportation, it’s governed federally. If not, it’s usually governed provincially.

Very few of our laws are municipal or regional. Sometimes they’re managed by regional departments, but the laws are still provincial. I had American friends be confused about how little concern I showed for the mayor of Toronto being a crack-head, but truthfully there is almost no power in being the mayor of a city here. He could have done something stupid like have a garbage truck dumped onto someone’s car, maybe, or change parking legislation, but that’s about it. It wasn’t until it came out that (allegedly) he was abusive to his wife, I even looked twice at him. As far as I (and most other Canadians) are concerned, scandals aren’t really something we pay much attention to in politics. Drugs aren’t legal here, but a lot of people think they should be, so people think nothing of offering to share a joint with their neighbours. My own mother smokes a fair bit of the stuff, which I find funny because I can’t stand it. I don’t mean that I judge anyone who does it. I just mean I don’t like what it does to me, so I don’t smoke it myself.

Over the last few decades, sadly, many people in North America have given up on the idea of fighting for their own rights. We had a big lull where we thought things weren’t perfect, but it wasn’t worth getting worked up about, but now we’re seeing the harsh reality that crept up on us during our political slumber. In Canada our environment is being destroyed. The entire province of Alberta is a disgusting mess. Yes, people still live there, particularly since there are a ton of high-paying jobs, but it really isn’t a healthy place. There are so many toxic spills in Canada, that they’re almost uncountable. Close to 2,000 per year for the last 37 years. About 6 per day.

In the US, there are so many problems that may be unresolvable. The education system was attacked and dismantled a long time ago, so it becomes a struggle just to make people understand that there is a problem, much less what to do about it. George Carlin did a far better job of explaining it than I can here, but it boils down to a system of government wanting a population that is easily controlled. I’m hoping the people in both our countries wake up to the reality, and that we can come up with a solution before it’s too late. However, so many just shrug their shoulders and say, “What’s the point? There isn’t anything we can do about it anyway.”

Of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think. And by “they” I mean the giant corporations that are profiting off our ignorance and inertia. The government itself wouldn’t be a problem if big businesses weren’t there to hand over the cash. In the US it’s even legal to bribe your senators and congressional members. It’s called lobbying. They have to be a lot more circumspect in Canada, but they still manage to a lesser degree. If people are led to believe that nothing they do will make a difference, they simply won’t try. If they don’t try, it just makes it easier for their rights to be stripped, even if those rights are protected by law.

Every time we allow someone to step on us, we contribute to the larger issue. In fact, there’s a butterfly effect. I’ll use my own example to illustrate what I mean. Let’s say I hadn’t fought my landlord on this, and they got my money to pay for their renovations. There’s no way they would have stopped with me. They would have found it a very easy way to renovate the whole building, and would be encouraged to try it with everyone, knowing that it was unlikely anyone would try to stop them. Every single person in this building (about 30 apartments) would most likely have been taught that they’re just going to be screwed over for the rest of their lives. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. The people who live here are mostly uneducated, and they’re all poor. Nobody would live in this building if they were bringing in a decent income. In my case my daughter makes minimum wage, and I’m on disability. Even still, we’re moving on to better things. I’ve never lived in a place this disgusting in my life, and I don’t intend to stick around.

Back to my point, however. So, you have a building with 30 families, all being taught that they have no power and no rights, because none of them here will likely have read the Residential Tenancies Act. In fact, most tenants never read even excerpts from it. I’m an exception, apparently. I like to learn new things, and I like to know what my rights are. My landlord is far from unique when it comes to bending and breaking the law. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a landlord that wasn’t breaking the law in some fashion or other. Most of them violate entry laws, most violate anti-smoking legislation, most don’t pay interest on deposits, and most do not maintain their buildings mechanically or health-wise in accordance with the law. When tenants don’t fight back against them, they simply continue doing business in the way that brings them as much profit as possible.

Our homes are the places where we spend most of our lives, usually. At the very least we usually sleep in them. To have our rights taken from us in our own homes is very meaningful. This mentality invades all other parts of our lives. When you stop to think about the fact that most employers also violate the rights of their employees, there are very few ways in which citizens are not being stepped on. It becomes a constant, daily thing. Again, so few actually read about employment legislation, so they don’t even know that their employers are supposed to provide them with a copy of the Employment Standards Act in order to educate them on their rights. When employees don’t know that, they don’t ask. They don’t know where to go to get the information, because they aren’t researchers by nature.

Even thinking about the ways we’re always being taken advantage of is exhausting. There are just so many battles to be fought. I haven’t worked for anyone other than myself for a long time, and even then I worked in payroll and human resources, so I was the one making sure the employees were not having their rights stripped. My employers weren’t thrilled, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be a party to it. These were people that were paying themselves a million-dollar bonus at Christmas, but they didn’t want to pay two hours of overtime to an employee. This attitude is typical, and I’ve never worked for an employer who wasn’t like that. I’m sure there are some nice employers and landlords out there, but like most people I haven’t been lucky enough to run into them. In many cases landlords and employers don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong, but it’s their legal obligation to know these things, so I feel no sympathy for their plight. If you’re going to hire people, or rent property to people, then do your due diligence.

At work and at home we’re getting screwed over constantly, and then there are all the other things that are coming down on us. Our lands are being stripped and destroyed, the environment is becoming toxic, and in twenty years there’s a good chance we’re not even going to have breathable air unless something is done immediately. There will be continuous changes to what we can do in our leisure time, simply because there will be places we’ll no longer be able to go. People are discriminated against for their gender, race (theirs or their spouse’s), religion, and sexual orientation.

This is why every single one of us has to stop in their tracks and say, “Enough already!” We have to stop this on a daily basis. We have to fight against it. We have to share information with one another about what can be done. We stand to lose every one of our rights without a single battle being fought, simply because we don’t want to deal with confrontation. I’m well aware that confrontation sucks. I absolutely hate confrontations. I hate drama and fighting. I don’t watch reality TV, and that’s one of the biggest reasons. I don’t mind sports like UFC and boxing, because there are rules and they’re not based on personal issues. It’s about technique and skill in the ring.

When it comes to fighting ‘city hall’ as they say, it’s different. The results matter. They have an impact on your life, so it’s scary to fight against someone. I guarantee, however, that if you don’t fight, the results will be far worse than if you do. If I hadn’t shown up in court the other day, they would have ruled that I owed the money, and I would have been charged for the filing fee as well. I would have been stuck owing almost $3,000 for something that wasn’t even my debt. Not showing up for a fight is basically considered tacit consent. Courts will almost always rule against the party that isn’t there. You simply must refute the claims of those that would take advantage of you. If you don’t, your neighbour is going to be the next one footing the bill.

If it’s your boss taking advantage of you, your co-workers are likely getting the same treatment. I actually had a friend go to work for a company that had screwed me over in the past, and they did even worse to her. I helped her fight it, and she won, but she would likely have never been put in that position if I’d fought them when I had the chance years earlier. An employer that’s forcibly reminded by the courts that what they’re doing is illegal, will think twice about doing it again. An employer that is never challenged will keep doing the same things, and will likely get progressively worse. In some cases they never learn, but as long as people keep fighting, then there’s a good chance the company will end up getting shut down and the employees will be awarded what they’re owed.

It’s always worse in lean times when there are few jobs and few places to live. People are afraid of losing their jobs and apartments, because they know it’s going to be tough to find another one. That fear is what keeps us all down. We fight when we know we’ve got the upper hand, or we fight when we know things can’t get any worse. The common person rarely has the upper hand, though, and if we’re in a position where we know things can’t get worse, that’s a terrible place to be. It’s easier to give up then.

I’m of two minds when it comes to unions. I know they’ve served a purpose, but I also know the unions aren’t exactly the benevolent organizations they pretend to be. In some cases they simply clog up the works and take hard-earned money from their members for doing absolutely nothing. Their existence, however, is a benefit in that they’re a constant threat to the employer. I’m well aware that it was union efforts that organized the workers and they were responsible for getting us our shorter work weeks (and many other benefits), so we certainly need to show our gratitude there. However, I’ve also worked for a company where I have been harmed by their presence. It’s a sort of catch-22. All in all, though, I do think they’re needed, if for no other reason than the silent threat factor. Any company that has a union in place is well aware that they’re being constantly and closely monitored, and not just by a single individual. They aren’t faced with only one employee that knows their rights, but every employee that has an ironclad contract. That can make a big difference with a crappy employer.

Organized protest is always what leads any social change. A single person can be responsible for a great deal, and usually that’s because they’ve managed to gather together a group of like-minded individuals. The shouts of a group become loud enough that the governing bodies can’t tune them out. The public starts hearing their voices, and they often add their own then. Social change happens because the majority of people want it, and they force the legislators to acknowledge that it’s what the public wants. Government is supposed to work for the people, but it doesn’t unless the people force it to. Government simply goes on doing whatever it’s doing, often being bought and paid for by big business, unless the citizens put their collective feet down.

The other part of understanding social change, is that we have to realize it starts small, and it starts locally. If we want change, we start with our neighbourhood, because it’s really not that hard to get a few hundred people together. Then we can move on to our city. Once we have our cities back, we can deal with state or provincial government. After all, if every major city has changed, the province or state no longer has a choice, really. Once each state or province has changed, that changes the whole country. It’s not that hard to remove the corrupt government officials if we band together and decide we don’t want them. We hired them, and we can fire them.

All of this begins with showing up. Until we show up for the fight, we will be walked on. Once we show up, we can plead our case. Enough people together, fighting for the same rights, and you’ve got big change. It may not be changes to the law, because the laws might already be on the books. They just have to be enforced, and if you don’t fight for your own rights, then who do you think is supposed to do it for you?

Size Matters – 8 Ways to Make Truly Successful Resolutions

You’ve probably heard the Latin expression, carpe diem, or ‘seize the day’ as we say it in English, and the movies would have us convinced that we should go big or go home. It seems we’ve rather forgotten the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare. The fact of the matter is, people cannot sustain huge energy bursts. We burn out. And this is what happens to the big resolutions we make every year when the calendar flips from one number to another. We decide we’re going to work out five times a week, for an hour, compared with approximately zero hours, zero times a week. We’re going to quit smoking, cold turkey. We’re going to stop drinking. We’re going to go back to school. We make this huge list of all the things that made us hate parts of ourselves in the past year (or more likely the last ten years, because of the likelihood we’ve made these resolutions before), and most of the time we can’t even cross off one item at the end of the year – for that matter I don’t think I ever even found my list from the previous year.

Go big or go home is alright for a two-hour movie in which we can feel all of these life-affirming emotions in one sitting, but have you ever imagined – really thought about – what it means to sustain the level of work and energy required to accomplish what is shown in these movies? The Lord of the Rings is a good example, and only comes to mind because I’m re-reading the series at the moment, and this topic comes up repeatedly in my thoughts while I’m reading. Many people these days have a hard time sitting through even one of the movies, let alone reading the book that it’s supposed to be about. Now, think of the time frame that those books cover. I’ll make it even easier. The Hobbit, the precursor to the series, was a story about a quest that took a year. That’s right. A year. Bilbo didn’t return to Bag-End for a year after he left. For a large portion of that time he was walking around or riding a pony (being too small to comfortably sit a horse).

As for The Lord of the Rings (or TLOTR for those who can’t be bothered to even spell out the whole title, let alone go on their own quest – which is pretty much everyone), they were traversing some serious terrain. Anyone who has done any hiking in the mountains (which I have actually done – the Rockies in Alberta, if you’re wondering) can tell you that doing anything like that for months is not bloody likely. Not even for the sorts of people who are in love with extreme sports. It’s downright exhausting to go for a weekend, let alone months. As I read through these books again, and try to imagine myself doing anything like that, I know very well I’d last about a week. I would never have gotten the ring to Mordor, and would end up being partly responsible for the destruction of Middle Earth by Sauron.

Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m anti-resolution or anything. As a species I do feel humans are naturally geared toward doing things with anniversary dates in mind. We’re a sentimental group, in general, or we wouldn’t be celebrating holidays of any sort. Perhaps we wouldn’t even have created a calendar. Not everyone is sentimental in that way, of course, but most of us have a soft spot for certain days of the year, be it our own birthdays, our kids’ birthdays, religious occasions, or wedding anniversaries. Some of us merely look forward to a day off work.

No, what I’m trying to stress is the difference between a quest and a purpose. It’s a difference in sustainability, for one thing. A quest is exhausting, and it’s what we tend to set ourselves up for every year. A purpose is permanent. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that human beings should always try to better themselves. We should strive to be more than what we are. We just shouldn’t be striving to be everything we aren’t in a single year. Most of us aren’t trying to be healthier in general. Most of us are trying not to be fat, or not to be lazy, when we attempt our insane new exercise regime – a regime that’s probably both dangerous and counterproductive, especially if you aren’t already an athlete. Unlike Frodo, the fate of Middle Earth is not riding on our shoulders, so it matters little in the grand scheme of things if we lose twenty pounds, and usually the only person we disappoint is ourselves.

I know, I know. So what do I suggest? It’s all well and good to say something won’t work, and talk about all the obstacles, rather than talk about what will work. I’ll never have all the answers, but I have learned what works for me, and for most people who have managed to make real changes in their lives. To start, here’s a list of suggestion (I’ll try to avoid turning it into a lengthy quest of its own):

  1. Congratulate yourself on everything you accomplished in the current year.

    This is a step almost everyone forgets to take in their lives. People focus on everything that’s wrong with them and their lives, and forget about all the good things they’ve managed to do. Did you donate to your favourite charity? Did you take a class in a subject you have an interest in? Did you learn to do something you didn’t know how to do before? Are there any goals and dreams that you fulfilled, and that you’re forgetting to pat yourself on the back for?

    For anyone who is a parent, there are so many things that you’ve likely done throughout the year that no one is giving you credit for – least of all yourself. If you kept your kids in school, out of jail, off drugs, got them into college, or at the very least kept them at home instead of turning tricks on the street, then I would bet there are plenty of things you’re doing right. (Just don’t get big-headed about them, because complacency is the nemesis of any parent.)

    I suppose this is similar to a gratitude journal, which seems to be all the rage these days, but a gratitude journal appears to be mostly about external things, rather than personal accomplishments, and at a time many are beating themselves up about their choices for the previous year, I think it’s necessary that we stop and look at our high points.

  2. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll be able to sustain for the rest of your life.

    If quitting smoking is your goal, you certainly don’t want to quit for a year and go back to it. If losing weight is your goal, short-term diets do not work and neither do excessive exercise regimes when they cause injury or you burn out in a week. What behaviour can you modify to help you toward your permanent goal, and what are the steps that follow after that first one, in order to lead you there? Can you cut down on one of your daily cigarettes every week? If you can, then you might start out at a pack a day, and you’ll be down to none in less than half a year.

    Can you walk for 10 minutes every day, or perhaps 20 minutes three times a week? Can you get rid of the sugar-filled drinks in your diet? Either of those two things can make a huge impact on both your health and your weight (one does not necessarily impact the other, by the way). If you lost a pound every two weeks, rather than the 5 or 10 pounds a week so many fad diets promote, you will have lost 26 pounds in a year, and it will be weight that stays off – fat that will continue to come off next year and the year after, until you’re at a more svelte size. Getting rid of the refined sugar in your diet will have an amazing impact on your health and any future possibility of diabetes as well.

  3. Make actual plans, not lists.

    If your goal is to travel more, book the bloody vacation already. If you can’t afford it, find out exactly how much it’s going to cost you to get there and do what you want when you’re there, decide when you want to take your trip, divide up the amount you need by the number of months you have until then – or, conversely, figure out how much you can save every month and divide that into your total cost, to see when it is you’ll realistically be able to go.

    I already gave examples for quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting healthier. I can’t list every possibility, but you get the idea. Decide what you really want out of life. Find out exactly what it will take to get there. Then make a plan to make it happen. The thing is, if you’re not willing to go through with your plans, then chances are good that these things are nowhere near as important to your life as you seem to think they are, which leads me to my next point.

  4. Make sure you really know what you want.

    You need to be certain that the things you’re putting on your list are truly things you want, and not just things you’re throwing on there because you think you should want them. Are you actually unhealthy? Do you truly need to lose weight, or do you feel you should because one jerk told you that you’d be really pretty if you lost a little bit of weight? Are you happy and comfortable with your current furniture, or have you decided you need to replace it because of what people might think when they walk in the door?

    This is one of the few things I think Dr. Phil is spot-on about, when it comes to the reason many people have such a hard time changing – usually there’s a payoff when you can’t force yourself to change. There’s some reason, deep down, that makes you resist that change. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a fear of change, and the comfort we have in a life that’s like an old pair of slippers.

    Sometimes, though, there’s a damn good reason you’re sabotaging your own efforts – maybe some part of you knows that you will not be happy with the new & improved life you’re trying to force yourself into. Maybe you’ve been told all your life that you’re talented at something, and that you should really do something with it, but deep down you know you would never be happy turning your hobby into a job. I was like that with my artwork. I was on the verge of signing a contract to show at a gallery in Edmonton, and I walked away from it. Partially because I knew it would keep me in a city I wasn’t happy living in, and partially because I knew I would end up hating doing the artwork itself. It wasn’t my passion.

  5. Learn to be happy with everything you already have.

    Now, that may sound a lot like settling, but it’s not quite the same thing. The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. So many of us live our lives chasing after things, and even as we’re grasping them we’ve got our eyes on something else. Yes, it’s wonderful to have goals, and achieving a worthwhile goal is an amazing feeling. Once we have, however, we’re often left with a feeling of emptiness if we can’t immediately come up with a new goal. Granted, most of us have more than one dream in our lives, so we’re always chasing after one thing or another, which means we’re unlikely to feel empty for very long – it’s mostly the rich kids that end up with the permanent sense of emptiness that comes with having no purpose in life.

    Some of us may never reach an ‘important’ milestone in our lives, or we’ll have occasional disappointments or unattainable dreams. Sometimes we set the bar so high we never even start working towards our dreams. Yet, if we are content with our everyday life, disappointments can be cushioned a great deal. Being happy with the life we’re currently living can also help us to separate out the things we really want, from what we think we should want. That means focusing on the things that are working, and that we enjoy. That will mean different things for different people, but we should all stop to appreciate what we have that is already worthwhile.

  6. Don’t put off your happiness until you’ve reached your goals.

    I don’t agree with the notion of living as if you were going to die tomorrow, because I think it leads to the idea that we have to cram everything into a short period of time, and we’re right back where we started – new year’s resolutions that don’t work because they’re basically insane. If you’ve spent the last 20 years living a certain way, that isn’t going to change in a single year. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. However, I also don’t think we should be punishing ourselves, and living less of a life just because we ‘should’ have done a certain thing by now.

    I don’t care how fat you think you are – buy yourself some decent clothes. Believe me when I tell you that you’re going to feel a whole lot better about yourself if you’re wearing something that’s comfortable, and that you know makes you look your best (assuming outward appearances matter at all to you – a weird thing for me to talk about, since I rarely change out of my pajamas). Even if you haven’t quit smoking, that doesn’t mean you can’t start lifting weights, if that’s what you want to do.

    I know my advice goes against the advice of many so-called experts (usually the authors of trendy books, based on new fads), who tell you to reward yourself for achieving your goals, but achieving a goal is hugely satisfactory in and of itself. If it’s not, then why were you chasing that ‘dream’ in the first place? If you refuse to allow yourself any happiness whatsoever, because you haven’t (so far) followed through on your own aspirations, you’re going to be feeling very miserable pretty much constantly – a state of mind that is not the least bit conducive to achieving goals. We have to feel positive if we’re going to push ourselves to keep moving toward a dream. Negative reinforcement is not the way to go. The happier you feel, the more energy you’ll have to put toward whatever dreams you’ve chosen to fulfill.

  7. It’s okay to fall off the wagon. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for the work you’ve already done!

    Almost everyone falls off the wagon on their trip toward fulfilling a dream. Almost everyone who falls off gives up the first time, and falls right back into their old patterns. They completely throw away everything they’ve done for one little mistake. I’ve seen it with alcoholics, drug and nicotine addicts, people trying to lose weight, you name it.

    Let’s say you’ve been working out according to your plan, and then one day you don’t. Think about it logically. Will that single day matter ten years from now when you’ve turned exercise into a lifelong habit? No. It will only matter if you use it as an excuse to forget the whole thing. I know a little about that myself. It’s very easy to talk yourself into letting it go, because it’s easier not to exercise than it is to push yourself into doing it consistently. In part we get down on ourselves for our failure to be perfect, and in part we take the easy road.

    Try to remember that there were x number of days where you did do what you were supposed to do, and forgive yourself right away for any slip-ups. Otherwise you’ll be too mad at yourself to get back to doing whatever it is you want to do.

  8. Prioritize.

    You can’t fix everything all at once, even when you’re doing it slowly. If there’s one way that an annual resolution can help out, it’s that you can tack on one additional item you’d like to work on. What do you really want to improve this year? Make a decision, and work on that. Pretend there’s nothing else on your list. An added benefit is that it provides you with a massive amount of energy and focus – all on one thing.

    Trust me, you do not want to be quitting smoking, removing sugar from your diet, suddenly starting to eat a lot of vegetables and less meat, exercising every day, moving to a new apartment, working on a novel, and quitting your job all in the first week of January. (Especially if you have debt left over from Christmas – a topic for another blog post.) Actually, the amount of stress that each one of those things can put on you is something that needs to be spaced out over a period of years in most cases.

    I’ve seen the lists that people make. Not only are they planning to make those changes in a single year, but they often want to make them starting on January first. It can’t be done. It’s not just that it shouldn’t be done, but that it can’t be. Any change in diet can cause a major reaction in your body. You do not want to hear about my efforts to become vegan – let’s just say my body reacts badly to large amounts of vegetables. Sudden cessation of smoking causes major stress in the body. Most of the changes that people want to make will have an impact on body chemistry. All of them at once are actually dangerous.

    If you’re worried about ‘explaining’ things to other people, here’s a tip: Just say, “This year I’m really concentrating on ____.” If you say something is your priority or focus, it gives the correct impression that you’re not wasting energy on anything that isn’t a priority. It might be enough to shut up a busybody, though I very much doubt it. It’s not really any of their business anyway.

How do I know these suggestions work? They worked for me on a wide variety of things. I had some pretty strong addictions at different times of my life, trying and failing to quit them, and finally being successful at doing so. I still feel a lot of temptation to force big lists on myself at the last minute, whenever the end of the year rolls around, and this blog post has been a reminder of sorts to myself. In fact, it goes right back to the first point. I actually accomplished more than I intended to this year, without putting insane levels of pressure on myself. The biggest was that I went back to school, which was a huge deal for me. Not only did I start, but I finished my course with great marks! It meant that I had to let other things in my life go a little bit, but that’s okay with me. I’d rather have the education.

The truly remarkable thing I’ve discovered about dreams and goals, is that they often come true when we’re not forcing them to happen. I was not actually planning to go back to school this year, though I’ve wanted to for a long time. I just sort of fell into it when the time was right. When I quit smoking a number of years ago, I had been cutting back for a long time. I was down to one cigarette a day, possibly two. I ran out of money and couldn’t buy another pack for a couple of days, but then when I could go buy them I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Why bother?” I like to tell people I quit out of sheer laziness. I walked away from a variety of drugs throughout my life, usually because I was content to move on. All of our dreams and goals will start happening for us when we’re ready to make them happen, and not a minute sooner. Otherwise something inside us will always keep it from happening. This is why change can only come from within. No one can force another person to make permanent changes. We can’t quit smoking because it’s what our spouse wants. It has to be what we want for ourselves. Deep inside I think we all know what will make us happy, and until something is a key to our happiness we have no reason to change it.

That being said, I wish all of you a great new year. Do whatever makes you happy, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. My love and best wishes to all of you!