Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Were You Planned? Did It Matter?

Your parents will tell you what you want to hear or tell you what they've convinced themselves to believe.  They might even be reliable witnesses to their own lives and tell you the truth.  By the time you ask, "Was I planned?" they might have even forgotten.

"When I found out you were coming," my mother told me, "I was so happy.  Three children seemed to me to be a real family."  Happy is good, but I can't remember if that's the same as being planned.

Being happy to have me is probably much more important than intending to have me.  I can't say being planned or unplanned mattered one way or the other.  Everyone adjusted.

There are five of us in my family.  I think it went like this:  unplanned, planned, unplanned, planned, unplanned.

These days, except in religious communities, it might be hard to find a family with more than three children (per parent).  The 2011 fertility rate in Canada was 1.61 children per woman; 1.89 in the USA.  Many will likely be planned.  In fact, a US study found that between 1982 and 2010, 63% of babies were intentionally conceived.

My husband was planned.

Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Germany
Almost 75 years ago, on Krystallnacht (November 9), his father, Kurt Baecker was arrested and sent to Dachau.  At that time, the Nazis hadn't yet conceived of the Final Solution, and would deport Jews if they could find a country willing to take them.  Kurt's family managed to find a very distant relative in the USA who was willing to sign an affadavit of support.  Once in America, Kurt and Alice, his wife, desperately tried to get Alice's parents out of Vienna.

December 7, 1941
Japan bombs Pearl Harbour
Kurt and Alice realize that the US will now enter the war, and it will be impossible to get any family members out of Europe.  They decide that night to start their own family.

My husband was born Oct. 7, 1942, exactly 10 months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What Do I Say Next? A Love Story for Shy People

This blog was inspired by my student, Mehdi, who wanted to know what to do about silences.

Location:  a meetup or party
Time:  midnight

"Let's have a conversation," he said.
"About what?" she said.
"About you.  About me."


"In a conversation, I talk, then you talk," he said.
"OK," she said.


"Is talking hard?" he said, trying hard to get it started.
"I never know what to say," she said.
"You have nice eyes," he said.


"Let's keep trying," he said.


"Is it too noisy here?" he said.
"Kinda," she said.
"Do you want to go for a walk?"
"Nearby, maybe a coffee shop or a bar.  Maybe along the waterfront."
"Is it safe?" she said.  "It's late."
"I have a 3rd degree black belt," he said.


"That's your cue," he said.
"Cue for what?"
"To continue the conversation."
"What's a 3rd degree black belt?" she said.
"Excellent!" he said.  "It's what I tell women when they are afraid to go for a walk."


"It's when I pull my belt tight, to the third hole."
"You're funny," she said.
"Have you ever been in danger?" he said.
"I'm always in danger," she said,
"I don't know what to say next," he said.  "I'm thinking one of these things:

a) You should protect yourself.  You should carry pepper spray and a whistle.
b) Considering the way you dress, I'm not surprised.
c) We all are.  These are dangerous times.
d) That's why I learned karate - to protect myself.
e) It's OK.  I'm here.
f) It must affect your life to feel that way.  You must feel anxious about trying new things or meeting new people."

"That last one is good," she said.  "You're right.  That's how I feel."


"Let's go for that walk," she said.
"Really?" he said.
"We can hold hands," she said.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Do You Remember the Moment You Fell in Love?

I'm talking about a moment of realization, a moment when, in the blink of an eye, the person you've been seeing morphs into the love of your life.

No, no, I've said that wrong:  You morph into someone who wants to hang on to this lovely person that is hanging on to you.

Maybe it happens to both of you at the same time.

Hank told me that while in college, he met Melissa in a gaming club. They were both shy, but they both liked video games, particularly Halo 3.  He began going over to her place once a week to play. After a while, it seemed like he was going over every night.  Games can be quite addictive -- but so can girls.  At one point in the middle of a game, Melissa said, "Are we dating?" That was the moment.

My mother told me this story:  A suitor had hoped she would marry him.  He pursued her like a businessman seeking a merger or an amalgamation.  He was eagerly hoping to close the deal.  When she turned him down, he cried.  That was the moment when she fell in love with him.  His human side emerged and she reversed her decision.

"I remember the moment that I knew Jacob was the one."  Hannah told me this at lunch today.  She said, "I remember sitting on Jacob's bed at his mom's house.  I was 17, he was 21.  He was showing me his Buddhism books.  He was open and not self-conscious at all.  It was fun and joyous because we were so present and alive.  He wasn't teaching or lecturing or barraging me with his ideas - he was sharing his deepest state of being with me."

That's all well and good for them with their innocent, unjaded youthful love.  What about people like me?  I've been around the block so many times, the city gave me my own passing lane.  I see the transition from friends to life partners mathematically: 
When the respect (r), gratitude (g), and fun (f) you experience is greater than the frustration (fn) and irritation (i) you experience, you decide that perhaps this one is a keeper:
when r+g+f > fn+i = 
That's the theory.  Here's what actually happened:

I had been seeing him for a while, but I was not worried about where it was going.  We lived in different cities and we had our own lives.  A year into the relationship, I accompanied him to Margate, Florida, to look after some of his mother's issues.  Afterwards, we took a side trip to Key West.  We left cold, snowy Canada for the warm, sunny Keys.  It was fun and kind of amazing being there.  I remember the exact corner where I was standing when I wisely connected those feelings to the fellow who had brought me there.  I remember thinking, "I should take this guy seriously."

I did.  I still do.

What about you?  Was there a moment?

Just to balance the romantic love moment with reality, an equally worthy blog could be on the topic, "Can you remember a moment when you knew it was over?"  Now created by request.  Here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Does It Get Any Easier, Part 2

When I was 29, John, my 19-year-old student was struggling with difficult personal decisions.

Problem 1
He realized that he was no longer in love with his high school girlfriend who was still living in his home town.

Problem 2
He had fallen in love with his best friend's girlfriend who was also in love with him.

I didn't know any of this when he preceded me up the stairs one day after class.  On the landing before opening the door to the fifth floor, he turned towards me and, near tears, said, "Does it get any easier?"

At the time I was struggling with my own dilemmas.  A few years earlier, I had put 3000 miles between myself and an ex, but relationships seemed to get worse and worse.  Now, my boyfriend of two years was becoming jealous and controlling.

I gave my student an off-hand reply.  We became friends though, and over the years, we did what we could to help one another with our problems.  Now we are both much older, so I thought I'd revisit the question.

So John, let me ask you, "Does it get any easier?"

Here's his reply:

I was talking about this with my teenage daughter yesterday, because she is going through a stressful week.
She said:  "I imagine that when I'm an adult I won't have all this worry and stress about school, but then I'll have bills to pay and I'll have to find a place to live so maybe it won't be easier."

 I said:  "You're right, things don't really get easier.  But, that being said, it seems to me that certain times of life in retrospect are very difficult.  In my experience, most people find teenage years very difficult, even if they have fond memories of that time.  Also, the first couple of years after the birth of a child are very difficult."
I wanted to be honest, but affirm her truth:  that she was going through a hard time and that she had a father that understood that.  I would add that moving or finding a new job are also difficult.  Moving, finding a job, and ducking rockets from Hezbollah all at the same time is even more difficult.  So you were right when you told my 19-year-old self that it gets weirder.  However, when we're young we're not so aware of the rhythm of life so everything seems like it will last forever and that makes those intense years difficult.  I'll quote from a magazine article I read:  "I can't say I know more than I did back then, but I have more experience not knowing it."
As a scientist, not as a father, the question makes less sense to me now than it did at 19.  To paraphrase Jaron Lanier (author of You Are Not a Gadget), there is either something weird about time or there is something weird about consciousness.  "Does it get" implies a linear passage of time that might not be scientifically correct, and "easier" implies a consciousness that is having qualitative experience and as scientists we know that we know almost nothing about self-aware consciousness.  Again, your original answer suffices.

 I'm sorry for answering so seriously, without a drop of humour.  As we know, gravity is the weakest force in the universe.
 There's probably a cosmic balance to the easier/harder question:
  1. Having patience gets easier.  Having energy gets harder.
  2. Cooking gets easier.  Matching calories to metabolism gets harder.
  3. Getting money gets easier.  Getting free time gets harder.  Or the reverse.  That's the deal.
  4. Getting laid gets easier.  Getting hard gets harder.
  5. Apologizing gets easier.  Screwing up gets easier, too.
------end of John's reply.

I imagine it's different for everyone.  Experience with difficulty usually helps.  The second time is still hard, but you know you can survive it.

What do you think?  Does it get any easier?

What Does Face-to-Face Mean?

It used to be that a face-to-face meeting meant that I could, potentially, touch your nose with my tongue.

You would "face" me and I would "face" you.  We would both be in the same place at the same time.  
Face to face means something else now, the same way "knowing someone" can mean many things.  
I can "know" someone I've never met face to face, perhaps even know that person better than people I've met face to face.
I was messaging with my internet friend, thenewgreen, aka Steven, and had this exchange:

Me:  I'm in Vancouver and might meet forwardslash.  Do you know forwardslash? 
Steven:  Do I know him? Of course I do.  He is formally on board team-Hubski!  You should absolutely meet up with him.  He is a very nice guy and his wife is really great too.
Me:  I mean "know" him in a face-to-face way?
Steven:  I've never met him face to face, but I talk with him every Monday night on our team calls via G+ chat, so it's kind of face to face.

If I was a brain in a jar, would it matter?
Would you know?  

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Should I Believe? (Part 4)

Subtitle:  Do You Believe in the Supernatural?

I tend to believe that the stars and planets have as much influence on my life as the entrails of goats.  Of course it's fun to imagine that our horoscopic sign, the year we were born, or our Myers-Briggs type can tell us something new and interesting about ourselves.

It's equally fun to do a Tarot reading for a friend.  Based on my knowledge of symbolism, I can suggest a path for my friend to follow, a path that one could say arises from the chosen cards.  In fact, my own desires for the other person's future and my intuition about their current life propel the interpretation as much as the pictures in the cards.  Both the Hanged Man and the Devil speak with one mouth:  mine.

In truth, I abandoned mysticism long ago.  My paranormal experiences continue to wait for a scientific explanation.  I can also live with the absence of explanation.  I don't need to understand everything.  Given the human brain's current capacity, there will always be mysteries.  Maybe the Global Brain can eventually solve them.

Even though I do not believe in horoscopes at all, my newspaper's horoscope column seemed to know that I was fond of questions.  Here's what it had to say about my birthday last August:
"If today is your birthday, the answers you get depend on the questions you choose to ask, so ask only those that are positive and uplifting over the coming year.  How can you change your life for the better?  How can you change the world for the better?  The answers will come."
The answers usually depend on the questions, birthday or not.  "How can I change my life for the better?" will lead your thoughts into a more productive place than "Why am I such a loser?"  The book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, by Merilee Adams discusses how to use questions to improve our lives.  I don't know whether my birthday horoscope came from the stars or from the self-help shelf of a bookstore - maybe both.

Do you believe in invisible or supernatural forces?  Do you need to explain the unexplainable?