I’m in a situation at work where how we do things has to change. No one is arguing against that premise. But then, not only is the proposed remedy strike me as bad and unworkable; so is the way it’s being proposed.
Someone with some power to make decisions comes up with a plan. By now, that someone is completely sold to the idea. However, knowing that it’s a big shift in paradigm, that someone decides to “consult” the workers who would be directly affected by it.
Sounds good so far, but there’s a problem. What problem? Read above: “that someone is completely sold to the idea”, and the scare quotes around the verb to consult.
Everyone who’s been “consulted” has expressed doubts about the plan working. However, each argument presented is dismissed by “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea” as merely “negative,” or “showing resistance to change,” or “not demonstrating that the idea would not work.” This does beg the question, “Why consult?” But worse, “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea” thinks this IS consultation, where the alternative would have been — which I’ve been told in so many words — unilateral, overnight imposition of the new paradigm.
Un dialogue de sourds is what we call it in French. A dialogue among the deaf. Talk for talk’s sake. But the decision has already been made. Just like most legislation passed by the federal Conservatives since they gained majority status in 2011. And almost as clueless and detached from the reality of those on the front line.
I, like everyone else, will work toward implementing the stupid idea and, no, I, for one, will not do anything to sabotage the idea. It’s a bad enough idea to sabotage itself on its own lack of merit.
One problem is that those who will bear much of the brunt of the bad idea crashing down in flames will be those who’ll implement it, not “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea.” Another problem is that I truly don’t wish harm to “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea.”
And the insult that’s added to the injury: I compiled stats that demonstrate clearly what brought on the situation requiring the change to how we do things, but they’re being ignored.
Because they prove that a previous decision was also bad. If we had lost only one person instead of two last November, we’d be very busy but we’d be managing.
And now the irony. The pro-union guy that I am knows that the previous bad decision would not have occurred in an unionized environment.
You know… that bad decision that brought us into that bad situation we’re in? Yeah. That one.
With all the horrible things happening in the world lately, it seems terribly shallow not to comment on those events. But who am I to comment on the Boston bombings or the collapse of a garnment factory in Bangladesh? I’ve read some thoughtful analyses and some dreadful statements about those events, and my comments would just add to the cacophony. So, better to stick to topics I know something about…
Three weeks ago tomorrow, a story started hitting the news in Canada and remained at the forefront of the news cycle for a whole week: how my employer was outsourcing 45-50 Toronto-based IT jobs to a company in India. However, the whistleblower’s spark that ignited the media shit storm was his revelation that he and his colleagues were expected to train the very people who would be taking their jobs which would remain in Toronto (i.e., not to go India) for at least a few years. It seemed, on the surface, that my employer was using, perhaps quite legally, the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program to reduce costs which, as we know, is a sacrosanct imperative intended to (always) increase shareholders’ dividends.
Just 24 hours earlier, I blogged about lemons being squeezed. I even wrote, as though to reassure myself, that “I do believe my job security is pretty damn good.” However, while it’s true that my performance record gives me confidence that I’m not about to lose my job overnight, I’d be lying if I said that I’m confident about my current position. I toil within a “cost centre” and big employers like mine aren’t the best at grasping return on investment (ROI) in intangible terms like “goodwill” because it’s nearly impossible to come up with a mathematical formula to express the following: “We spent X on service without charging the clients for it but the clients were so pleased that it generated Y in additional sales over an unspecified amount of time and Z in lower on-going support costs.” That’s just too wishy-washy for an organization whose attention deficit leads it to only understand hard numbers (i.e., cash) over one quarter or one year to the next, especially since there has to be a leap of faith that those desired consequences WILL really occur.
When the news hit, I immediately thought of my father. He was more of a foot soldier at work than I have ever been, and he worked nearly 40 years for the same large company but endured numerous slights because he was francophone and, yes, more of a foot solider. However, when he decided to take his retirement, management decided to technically abolish his position and create a new position that melded his with some other position. Fine… except he had to spend his last work weeks learning that other position in order to train the person who would be replacing him. Apparently that’s one of the only times my father ever spoke out: “You’re bent on grossing people out right to the end, aren’t ya!”
I need to give credit where it’s due: my employer, unlike others of its type, has kept client-facing call centres in Canada. But shortly after I started, our in-house tech support was outsourced to India and we’ve collectively come to call it the “useless desk” rather than the help desk. I learned a useful trick which I’ve share with many of my colleagues: if you need to call our in-house tech support and you understand just enough French to follow a few prompts, start by selecting French as your language and you’ll end up with someone in our call centre in Montréal where they all speak English as well. In other words, lucky for us that the British tried to colonize India and there is currently no emerging economy in a country that was colonized by the French or the Belgians! And it certainly beats having to deal with a dud of an agent who can only read scripts and is forbidden to think for him/herself, let alone truly listen to the caller’s request.
What really got to me about this whole debacle is the disconnect. Whether it’s this or other situations to which I’m privied (but obviously can’t disclose publicly), I can’t count the number of decisions that are taken “higher up” that confirm a kind of tone-deafness. I mean… generally speaking, the public hates banks; therefore, you would think that those with decisional power would bear this fact in mind. I’m not advocating giving away the farm; no business, big or small, can do everything for free. Even I, in my own household, am always trying to find ways of cutting unnecessary costs. Aside from being a responsible, respectful, and law-abiding citizen, I have a personal responsibility to live and hopefully prosper within my means, not to feed an economic machine beyond my means.
I also got a kick out of the public outrage — in a good way and in a bad way. For instance, many declared they would be closing their accounts at the bank. My thoughts on that were mixed: I appreciated the sentiment of taking a stand, but doubted it would translate into concrete action. For one thing, closing a chequing or savings account is easy enough, but not loans, insurance policies or mortgages. What’s more, all banks are guilty to some degree of the practice that produced such outrage, leaving only credit unions as the only alternative.
Coincidentally, I’ve been a client at the bank that eventually became my employer for nearly 30 years. It has made a great deal of money on me over those years given the amount of debt I’ve carried until recently, but I take full responsibility for that debt. It’s not like I would suddenly get a bill for an arbitrary $20K that I had never spent but had no choice but to pay. Plus, whenever something bad happened (like when illegal charges were placed on my credit card in February 2003, or last year when my building’s super deposited two rent cheques on the same day), the bank always fixed things in my favour.
Let’s say I weren’t employed by the bank. For one, I still owe it money. For another, would I really have the strength of character to go through the whole hassle? As laughable as it is, this bank currently offers the best rate on savings than any other bank in Canada. Do I sacrifice this on principle? Do I buy or not buy that lovely and inexpensive shirt manufactured in Bangladesh? I’d like to answer “Yes” without hesitation. Am I morally bankrupt for hesitating, or is it that our whole market economy is stacked in such a way that it’s too hard to take a stand? I mean, it’s easy enough not to buy the cheap shirt from Bangladesh or the fried chicken from the homophobic business, but giving up electronic payments and stuffing cash in my mattress doesn’t strike me as feasible for the sake of taking a stand.
Also, do you think a bank CEO gives a flying fuck if Joe Q. Public closes his measily account? Put it this way: a CEO might only care about those individuals who fall in the one percent and uses the bank’s wealth management services, or those companies that generate huge revenues. Granted, if thousands of Joe Q. Publics close their measily account, the CEO might notice, but what would happen next? The Joe Q. Publics who also work at that bank might lose their job — possibly more Joe Q. Publics than the number of people affected by the decision that caused the initial outrage.
Speaking of whom: The bank did state by the end of the bad-press week that those 45-50 people would be offered jobs elsewhere in the bank. I have no reason to doubt the validity of that statement. However, I do wonder about the whistleblower. I have no way to verify, but I’m more inclined to think he was paid off to leave and shut up forever …but I could be wrong.
Banks are, after all, non-unionized environments. They offer employees work conditions designed to keep unions out. As for those of us who work in a bank: our jobs are not about screwing people over. We’re mere specks standing low within a huge hierarchical bureaucracy.
I sleep at night because I know that I, personally, do no harm in the performance of my job. And that goes for more than 99 percent of us.
Several lemons are being squeezed these days — some by myself and some by others. Optimists might say that this is a great opportunity to make lemonade, but I, while risking lapsing into Clintonesque rhetoric, am thinking these days that it all depends on what one’s definition of “lemonade” IS.
Those Squeezed by Others, Take 1
Ever since one of my colleagues at work was let go suddenly and another was shifted to a new position last November, almost every day at work has been utterly draining. I just don’t understand what “they” (whoever “they” are) were thinking back then, trying to squeeze as much if not a bit more work from four people that used to be done by seven just a year earlier. Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind earning my wage for 7.5 hours per day; in fact, I prefer it over being idle. But there comes a point where there’s just no more juice to be squeezed out of the lemon.
I’m not talking about my own energy level. Rather, I’m referring to how there’s no time left for anything in case of those inevitable emergencies or those numerous secondary but required tasks. Add to this the fact that I’m the only person in the entire organization who can do what I do in French, and I can’t help but find it odd that this could be occurring in a place that otherwise has pretty strong contingency plans. So yeah, I worked last week despite having a massive cold because I felt that pulling myself out of circulation would have caused too much chaos.
Meanwhile, the organization reported record profits in the last quarter…
Those Squeezed by Myself
Ever since I got my budget to work flawlessly last November — coincidentally a week or two before the big changes at work — I’ve figured out ways to be even more aggressive in my debt-elimination plan. Truth be told, I could never do it if I weren’t single. It’s fine to impose austerity on one’s self when it has no effect on anyone else. But only an inconsiderate asshole would impose such draconian restraint on a significant other or dependents.
It’s as though I have a gut-feeling that I must do this because I might not be able to if I procrastinate. I’m not sure why I feel this way, because I do believe my job security is pretty damn good. But it’s also as though I’m getting a rush out of the exercise. It excites me to be able to say to myself, “I will have put 70% of one year’s net wages over only 25 months to reach Debt Zero.” Obviously it helps that the net wage is a comfortable one, but I personally have not known anyone who has been able to make such a claim — acknowledging, mind you, that it’s so un-Canadian to make that kind of claim publicly.
Mykonos suddenly seems closer than ever (if only I could find a travel companion), without getting back into debt…
Those Squeezed by Others, Take 2
The recent banking crisis in Cyprus has somehow brought those two points above to converge in my mind. On the one hand, it’s becoming clear that, if everything else remains equal, I have proven to myself that I have the discipline to reach on my own in about a decade the maximum savings covered by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC), suggesting that I may one day need to rely on more than one bank. On the other hand, who’s to say that Canadian banks, and indeed the CDIC, could withstand an unprecedented economic tsunami should several other major economies fully and finally collapse?
I find it weird to be thinking this way. It’s not in my usual nature. But when the news came out that some Cypriots may lose up to 60 percent of their money in the bank bailout, I couldn’t help imagine how awful that must feel. Many of them, like myself, are not in the league of offshore tax havens; we’re just honest working people socking away so that we have some security until our final curtain call.
Maybe I should have taken up a sugar daddy while I still had the chance…
The Last Drop
I hate money. I hate how it drives everything, how it’s so necessary. I hate how it can cause so many ulcers.
I hate how something that consumes us so much in life will be so utterly meaningless when we’re gone.
I really wish I could, but… I just can’t shake off that odd feeling. And the annoying part is that it’s getting very old and tiresome.
Yeah, the fifth (non-)anniversary thing, I mean. If you feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I apologize. However, imagine how much more irritating it is for me.
It was a very busy day at work yesterday but, every once in a while, I kept remembering how that wasn’t what I was doing five years ago. Just before noon, I called Cleopatrick to ask if he would join me for dinner in the evening — a celebratory “fuck you and the horse you rode on, NowEx” event. He replied he would get back to me on that after asking his BF and, when he did around 6:30, he declined, stating that he was too pooped from his week at work. Not relishing the thought of going out to eat alone (again!), I just drove over to the nearest Amir restaurant to pick up my regular chicken-vegetable coucous, took a sleeping pill around 8:30, and crashed about 2 hours later for nearly 11 hours.
I simply wanted the flow of memories to stop, and knocking myself out to sleep early was the solution I came up with.
Today I’m trying to explain to myself why this is happening to me. I know it’s not regret for divorcing. I also know it’s not envy of others who’ve chosen to get hitched and for whom it worked out well. And most of all, I know it’s not because I would want to speak to NowEx, now or ever again.
I’ve come up with two explanations so far. When I’m in a moment of joking and self-deprecation, I claim post-traumatic stress. But when I’m in a serious and brutally-honest-with-myself moment, I recall the willful suppression of all the “you shouldn’t be doing this” thoughts I had at the time.
It’s the latter, along with the memories of the sting of being systematically yet unfairly put down (before, during and after), that mentally dragged me down two years ago. Today that’s not dragging me down; it’s more like having a mild but annoying toothache for which the dentist can’t find the cause.
This morning when I got up, I took off my ring for the first time and placed it on the night table. I think this act may be more symbolic than anything else. What remains to be seen is if I’ll keep it off or will this be like how I shaved off my goatee in November, only to grow it back in January.
Keeping it on my finger was about how I never would have otherwise spent as much on bling for myself and how it could serve as a reminder if ever I caught myself about to dive into another unwarranted rescue mission. However, because I’ve come not to notice it anymore AND the fact this “odd feeling” has been so intense in the last few weeks, I don’t think I need a physical reminder 24/7 in order not to go overboard. That’s one karmic lesson I’m unlikely to forget.
Recalling this fifth anniversary reminded me that it’ll also be five years next April that I’ve been in Montréal and seven years next month that I’ve been working at the bank. Neither worked out as I expected, yet both turned out being better than I could have anticipated.
It’s a good thing that the idea of moving to Montréal pre-dated that of getting married, as the two are thankfully unrelated. However, although I didn’t let it show to others, I was a nervous wreck when I moved here, not because the place seemed so big and overwhelming but because I had this moody, high-maintenance husband back in Mexico. Today, despite its inevitable downsides, Montréal is such a comfortable and safe place for me. While I don’t take part in as much as I thought I would while living here, I take pride in calling myself un Montréalais.
As for the job, it started off as a one-year contract. It got renewed for six months and, before that time was up, I was made a permanent employee. I still remember how the first six weeks of learning the job was intense and how my first client call was so unspectacular, not to say a total flop. But I quickly evolved to distinguish myself at my job, and that job, in turn, has provided me the kind of financial security I never dared to dream of as a freelancer. What’s more, I thought at first I’d be able to keep the freelancing on the side, but I was never able to — the day job was simply too demanding.
So, is writing this blog entry helping me put a finger on that “odd feeling”?
When I summon up my memories and feelings about Montréal five years ago and those about the job seven years ago, I realize that Montréal and the job exceeded expectations even though they didn’t turn out to be anything like what I imagined they would be like. I knew they would be good, but not this good. But five years ago last night, I knew deep down while denying it that I was getting into something I shouldn’t. So perhaps the odd feeling is a wish for the impossible.
To have the me of today go up to the me of five years ago to slap some sense into the latter in order to avoid the former having this odd feeling today.
In short, it’s an utterly impossible wish: to erase the memories by avoiding their creation in the first place.
It’s not something most people would notice, but February 22 falls on Friday this year as it did five years ago. I only noticed it for two reasons: because I’m already scheduling clients at work that far out, and because it would be my fifth wedding anniversary.
Actually, I was wondering… Now that I’m divorced, does that date remain an anniversary for me or can I simply refer to it again as just another day that happens to be close to the Academy Awards?
I suspect it might be somewhere in between. It will always be the date I wed and, as such, a date I’ll always remember more than any other February day aside from the 13th which is the Queen of Sheba’s birthday. I guess I could continue to observe it, somewhat mockingly, as a date on which I made a big mistake from which I’ve thankfully walked away.
Unsurprisingly, when I noticed that the 22nd falls on a Friday again, I started thinking back to meeting up with NowEx in Montréal, ostensibly to apartment shop, before heading back together to Halifax for the rest of February. This is by far the most time since the weeks following the divorce that I’ve spent thinking about all the sordid tales during that time of my life. And, yes, even though I doubt it and that I know he’s horrible with dates, I can’t help wonder if he’s sharing similar thoughts around this time.
About ten days ago, I received an e-mail from the publicists for Dr. Judith Rabinor who wrote Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids, and Yes, Your Ex, a book, I’m told, that this clinical psychologist wrote “after accepting the losses and realities of her own divorce and becoming good friends with her former husband.” The e-mail wasn’t random; it came addressed specifically to me (aMMusing, Mr. Maurice Michaud, Blogger, Montreal Quebec) and the ask was, “Can we interest you in an interview, feature story or perhaps a review of the new book Befriending Your Ex?” When I mentioned in Facebook that I had received this e-mail, many thought I meant that I had been approached to write a book — a misunderstanding I tried to clarify quickly.
I didn’t reply to the publicists, as I’m clearly not interested. I don’t disagree with the good doctor’s premise in general, but in this case there’s absolutely no desire from either party nor is a rapprochement in any way necessary. No kids were involved and the whole thing didn’t even last long enough to have led to the forming of a real household.
That’s the twist, however. Aside from NowEx, I’ve remained friends with all my significant exes, although moreso with some than others. In some rare cases, the other guy didn’t want to remain friends and, while I found that position unfortunate, I didn’t push the issue. I’ve even expended considerable energy at times keeping apart some of my exes who, for whatever reason, loathed each other.
Some might say that I should have accepted if only to offer a counter-argument, namely that there are some cases when it’s better not to poke a stick in that old piece of shit. Others might say that, whatever approach I would have taken, it might have been helpful to bury the whole episode once and for all, as clearly it’s still coming back in some ways. But I think most of those who have read my July series of postings exposing what led to the divorce would agree not only that I’m not at all on the same wave length as Rabinor in this case, but also that nothing remotely elevating would result from NowEx and I rebecoming friends. Some things are better left to be forgotten as much as possible, and my form of “accepting the losses and realities,” at least in this instance, is that some deeds unfortunately can never be forgiven.
Sounds tough. Maybe even cold-hearted and jaded. But aside from the fact that I still believe there’s something wrong in NowEx’s head, I’ve come to the conclusion that I fundamentally erred in reading his character. I dearly wanted to believe there was something good in him. However, I now believe that even if whatever’s wrong in his head were somehow extracted from him, what would remain is an extremely irascible person with whom no one should ever wish to become friends.
I almost can’t believe this building once existed in Halifax. It stood at the corners of Hollis, Granville, and the now-gone Buckingham Streets.
I stumbled upon the “Vintage Halifax” page on Facebook yesterday and I simply had to go through it all. The experience left me with even more mixed feelings about that city I called home for more than two decades — most of my adult life. It reminded me of something I wrote in a series of postings from June 2007 that was my way of convincing myself that the time had come for me to leave Halifax.
…I can’t deny that when I found myself driving along South Park at Spring Garden the other evening, with the sun shining and the leaves out and the pedestrians everywhere, I think I saw the ghost of the city with which I had fallen in love a quarter century ago. I wondered for an instant if perhaps my eyes had changed with age and thus were preventing me from seeing that the beloved is still here, or if indeed, as I fear, the beloved has withered to a pale shadow of its former, vibrant self.
I do know that my reaching middle age has to be taken into account. But as I kept driving along the city streets on my way home, I concluded that I had, in fact, only seen a pale shadow back there. A lovely shadow in its own right, mind you, but a shadow nonetheless.
A sharp observer on the Vintage Halifax page, noticing that cars were driving on the left-hand side, noted that the shadow of Halifax pictured above likely dates back to before April 1923, after which authorities ordered that people should drive on the right. The shadow I remembered and about which I was wrote in 2007 dated back to July 1982 and the decade or so that followed. The flatiron-style building shown above was long gone by then, but the building in front of it, next to which the car is parked, still exists: it is now the first building to the right as one enters Hollis Street from the Cogswell Interchange.
I really knew nothing about Halifax prior to 1982. Some — although I don’t remember exactly who — had told me it was a rough and dirty port city and a bigger version of Saint John, New Brunswick, which I agreed at the time was an ugly and old industrial port city that reeked due to having a papermill just up-river from downtown. Thus I had no desire to go to Halifax until my longtime friend The Quad had to go consult with occupational therapists at a hospital in Halifax — an appointment that coincidentally came up mere days after BeeGoddessC suggested that I go to Halifax to talk to Danny. Since the Quad and I were inseparable at the time, I went along for the ride to take him to Halifax on a Sunday so that, once in Halifax, I would try to reach Danny to invite myself to stay a few days at his place beginning the following Tuesday.
That Sunday was beautiful and sunny and, when we arrived in Halifax, my jaw practically dropped to the floor. Rather than finding a dirty little port city, I found, as we drove across the Macdonald Bridge, a polished, gleaming seaport with an impressive, modern skyline. Even though I’m no longer fond of Halifax, I can’t take away from the fact that it does have an impressive skyline for a city of its size — one that has densified in the decades since I first set eyes on it. And, coming from little ol’ Moncton, New Brunswick, that had no skyline to speak of, I felt like I was “discovering” a mini-Montréal that existed, without my knowing it, less than 200 miles from my doorstep.
At that time, the Scotia Square / Historic Properties complex had been in existence for at least 10 years. The whole neighbourhood pictured above had been razed in the mid-’60s to make way for it. Looking at pictures yesterday of the dilapidated neighbourhood that used to stand in its place, I can understand why the city had been so bent on “urban renewal.” However, attitudes about development being what they were back in the ’60s, the way the plan was executed earned it much-deserved criticism. It would never happen today unless an epic catastrophe destroyed such a vast area that would then need to be refilled. It radically changed the face of Halifax but, ironically, that face I discovered that day in July 1982 was but one of the components that made me fall so hard for that city.
Less than two years after that first visit, or one year after graduating from high school, I decided to take a second “sabbatical year from school” and lived in Halifax for 16 months. Fate then had me return to live in Halifax in September 1987 when I decided to study public relations at Mount Saint Vincent University, and I managed to find work afterwards that kept me in Halifax until March 2008, which I deem, with hindsight, as about a decade longer than I should have stayed there.
Indeed, I went from finding no wrong with Halifax to finding everything wrong with it. For right or for wrong, I came to see it as a place where mediocrity wasn’t just accepted but celebrated. And, in a further twist of irony, as more and more quaint old buildings were being destroyed and replaced with characterless condos, I could no longer find that city I had loved so much.
This observation strikes me as somewhat odd because I’m not the type of guy who opposes development. I like the look and feel of modern big cities. But perhaps that’s just it: I came to see Halifax as an impostor — a big small town that hadn’t a clue what it wanted to be — and, indeed, that rough and dirty port city about which I had been told when I was a kid.
Looking at all those pictures on Vintage Halifax, I could see why the city had earned that reputation. However, as I looked at those pictures and thought of that city I left nearly five years ago, one thought crossed my mind: “Old wine, new bottle.” Worse still, I almost couldn’t see why I had once fallen so hard for it. Sadly, today, I can enumerate far more areas in Halifax than I can in Montréal where I wouldn’t dare walk alone at night. And that, along with many other factors, leaves me not missing Halifax one bit …except for my friends who still live there.
I’ve been feeling too lazy in the last few days to bother going out much even though I’m on vacation over the Holidays. Granted, the record-breaking 46-centimetres (18-inches) snowfall in only 15 hours over Montréal on the 27th has made going out unappealing, especially since the City expects it will take more than a week to clear up the mess, which means driving and parking around town is a total nightmare.
Still, I’m a bit at a loss to explain why I’ve been putting off going to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal to see an exhibition I really want to see: Il était une fois l’Impressionnisme. After all, this city does have a completely underground subway and I live only two blocks from a station! But the mere thought of having to bundle up to brace the cold and putting on my heavy and uncomfortable winter boots is enough to make me say to myself, “Nawh…”
So what I have been doing instead?
Well, aside from going to my sister’s for two days over Christmas, I’ve done some reading online. I’ve done a few minor but helpful updates on the web application we use at work. (I consider that stuff more of a hobby than actual work.) I’ve watched some TV. I’ve called a few out-of-town friends. But mostly, I’ve rejigged yet again my budget spreadsheet, which is leading me to seriously question my sanity …in the sense of saying to myself, “Maurice, you’re obsessing over this thing!”
But I think my reasons for coming back to it stems from the fascination I hold as I assess what I’ve accomplished thus far.
The October 2011 version of my budget was so opaque in comparison to my November 2012 version that it felt like a runaway train. It seemed to work although I didn’t understand how or why, but then I had to make several corrections when it derailed a little bit. In my newest version, however, the Summary tab matches up to the penny at all times with my actual bank balances, which eliminates all confusion and ambiguities.
According to this August 2012 Globe & Mail article, “the average Canadian’s non-mortgage debt reached $26,221 in the second quarter of 2012, up $192 from the previous quarter,” a level the article calls “a new record high.” I seem to recalll that, when I did my first serious budget in a decade shortly after I started my job in March 2006, my debt was about 125% that figure stated for 2012. Being used to living on very little and not knowing if the job would become permanent, I achieved the remarkable: I brought it down to just 38% by January 1, 2008. Then, however, I did that crazy thing of getting married, so when I picked up the pieces (and myself) and restarted budgeting in October 2011, I was back up — far less deeply than in March 2006, at about 81%. Yet in only 15 months (i.e., in about one week), despite expensive curve balls, failures, and lawyer’s fees for the divorce, I’ll be at 33% and totally in the clear by the end of 2013 (probably much sooner given an important variable I haven’t factored into my calculations and should kick in by early spring).
I keep coming up with creative and flexible ideas not only to accelerate this debt-elimination plan but also to actually build some savings and to find ways of eventually contributing more towards retirement. Basing myself on the principle of “pay yourself first,” I allow myself a lot of wriggle room on every paycheque — so much so, in fact, that during cold winter months when go out even less, I end up not spending all my “allowance.” So, instead of spending it during the next period, I throw whatever excess — even if it’s only 10 bucks — into debt servicing or savings. It’s amazing how quickly a few dollars here and there add up quickly!
I’ve said it before, but this budgeting thing is not a chore but an ultimate act of optimism for me by virtue of looking years into the future. I’m fortunate in that there’s enough coming in, but the discipline budgeting imposes is allowing me to see some fabulous options in front of me.
I should be able to pay for my next car in a few years out-of-pocket, which would also be less expensive since many car dealers give a considerable discount on a cash purchase.
Since I only get three weeks of vacation time (which is not enough) until I reach 10 years of seniority at work but my employer allows me to buy up to five days of vacation time per year, I will soon be able to effortlessly afford such a purchase.
Going forward, I will always have savings to cover vacation expenses “as I go” rather than putting them on credit and worry about paying later, which is what got me into debt in the first place (aside from the fact I had no choice but to live on credit prior to March 2006).
I can also think about making big purchases like air-conditioning and furniture without getting back into debt, or at least not on a long-term basis. That’s how I managed to buy winter tires and a new suit in mid-November and had them paid off by Christmas.
And best of all, I project that in only three years, if nothing goes extraordinarily wrong, I could have from six to nine months of clear salary sitting around, building a bit of interest but being readily available should some personal disaster occur.
The only grey cloud in this sky filled with silver linings is that purchasing a condo in Montréal remains out of my reach. I’d need to make $15K more a year to even scratch the entry level and I sure as hell ain’t going to get myself a(nother) husband just to make a condo happen, so after the extensive number-recrunching I’ve done, I’ve not only stopped even entertaining the thought but also stopped feeling any regret about not being able to achieve that one goal, for really, in all other respects, I’m feeling incredibly empowered and optimistic financially for the second time in my life.
It seems like it’s a common thing to say, but I have to say it anyway: I can’t believe it’s Christmas already! Although tonight it’s freakin’ cold and there’s snow on the ground, it seems like those days and nights when it felt like metal would melt were only two or three weeks ago. Yet here we are, entering a stretch when daytime high temperatures aren’t expected to go above freezing.
As usual, I’m not “feeling” the whole Christmas thing. I realize that’s one persistent bit of inertia in my life as I look back at 10 years of blogging. In fact, it’s a sentiment I expressed in a posting on Day 1 of aMMusing.
This year, however, whether it’s because this blog reached the 10-year mark or because I’ve done a lot of thinking back in the aftermath of the divorce becoming finalized (or because of a whole whack of other, totally unrelated things), I’ve been feeling particularly nostalgic. I don’t mean sappy or sad nostalgia. Just plain ol’ nostalgia. And perhaps a little bit brooding.
Aside from the fact I failed to lose weight or quit smoking this past year, I’m feeling positive and optimistic personally. Life is good! Sure, I need to get out more and stuff like that, but that’s more a function of my persistently (aggressively?) being myself, not of a depressive state. But the past year at work has been so intense and busy that I’ve often been left with little energy to indulge in extra-curricular activities.
No, really, it’s just that I’m thinking back a lot, particularly in the last few weeks. At this time five years ago, I landed in Mexico City for the first time. Indeed, I proposed to NowEx five years ago this weekend. Where would I be tonight if I had listened to my inner voice a week afterwards and rescinded my proposal? I know I would be in Montréal, as I had planned that move beforehand, but what about the rest? Of course I realize it’s impossible to answer those questions, yet they have been surfacing a lot lately.
But there’s a real strand of nostalgia that has been occurring in my mind in the last few months and moreso since I blogged about Danny. And I’m not sure how I feel about it.
My mom turned 84 this year. She was born in 1928. Think about that for a second: 1928! Think about how much the world around her has changed in her lifetime. I mean, she has known of chamber pots and going to an outhouse in the early years of her life! Yet, just last night, this woman had a three-way video-conference call with two of her kids. She remembers getting her first TV and taking a bus, kids in tow, to get the week’s groceries. In fact, she even admitted not knowing what to expect on her wedding night.
Given that I’ve only been around for 47 years, I haven’t witnessed as many changes as she has. But when I thought back about Danny, I realized just how many of the objects I have around the house today didn’t exist 30 years ago, and that freaked me out a bit. At the same time, I recalled how even my mom feels that it seems as if time is flying by faster than it used to, and in a way, it’s no wonder: it’s impossible to be bored these days when even stores are opened on Sunday and there’s no shortage of things to do.
You know what? I have absolutely no idea what I’m trying to express in this posting. None whatsoever! I don’t know if I’m wishing to go back in time, although I can’t imagine why I’d want to do that because the only way that would be any fun is if I could do so with the knowledge acquired thus far, which is a double impossibility. Am I wishing I could rewrite my history? Is it that I would like to go back to do certain things better, or to appreciate more some moments that I feel I didn’t appreciate enough?
I. Don’t. Know. And when I don’t know why some thoughts and ideas keep coming back to me, it drives me crazy. Or, as some might say, crazier.
Ten years ago tonight, after a few months’ hesitation, I turned off the TV, went to my office, downloaded and installed Moveable Type, and started blogging. I didn’t even have a name for my blog when I started the installation, so I guess even the monicker aMMusing is turning 10 tonight. But one thing’s for sure: I didn’t think this blog would still exist 10 years later.
Me: Hi. My name is Maurice and I’m a reluctant blogger.
Chorus: Hi Maurice!
Those were my opening lines on December 17, 2002. Indeed, I had reluctantly decided to become a participant in a phenomenon that had started a few years back in the U.S. but that hadn’t really caught on yet in Canada, let alone in Halifax where I was living at the time. However, as someone who has always enjoyed writing, I knew that blogging would be a natural fit for me, but then, as now, I also worried about whether or not it was such a good idea to post what essentially amounts to an online diary within such a public space. Plus, I wondered if I would run out of things to say or if anyone would actually be interested in what I wanted to say.
Like many new bloggers at the time I started enthusiastically, posting daily and sometimes several times daily. Then, after a few months, I would skip a day or two; eventually, over the decade, I would abandon my blog for months, leading me and others to wonder if aMMusing had come to its “natural end.” But, for whatever reason, I simply could never bring myself to definitely throw in the towel. I simply couldn’t, even though other online phenomena like social networking sites had widely replaced the blogosphere and even though the unique ambiance that existed within the blogosphere disintegrated when marketers decided that companies, not people, should “have a blog.” It was like how the magic in a special neighbourhood disappears once the merchants’ association breaks down and allows Mickey D to open an outlet on the best corner of said neighbourhood.
When I look at what I wrote in aMMusing in the last decade, I marvel at all that has happened and all that has changed. But, at the same time, I find slightly disturbing not just what hasn’t changed but also what themes, ideas and regrets recurred through the decade and even before then. It’s enough to make me wonder if I’m just a hopeless creature of habit or a stubborn soul who keeps refusing to learn his karmic lessons.
Last night I spent several hours rereading some of my postings. I’ve written nearly 1,300 in 10 years, so it would take a long time to read them all …not that I would really want to do that. However, I’m glad they’re all there. A handful has become so trivial that I’m not sure anymore what the posting is about, but most still have some resonance.
I was glad to find the postings leading to and following my father’s passing. Unbelievably, it’ll be nine years already next March since he left us. It was a watermark event to be sure, but my exact thoughts and feelings of the moment would be lost today had I not written them down. Indeed, the memories today would be vague if it weren’t for those records.
But aside from such pivotal events, I’m struck by how often I’ve expressed sentiments of inertia — of wanting to change or lose a habit, for instance, and finding that it’s essentially still there, just like it was in 2002. A decade ago, I struggled just as I do now with my tendency not to want to socialize but feeling that I’m missing out on something. And certainly not due to lack of trying, but I’m still single and, perhaps, even more likely to remain that way — not because I’m feeling that NowEx has burnt me, but because I’m coming to realize that perhaps I don’t have the temperament or the personality to be otherwise.
On the other hand, when I look back at a decade of aMMusing, not all is as bleak. In fact, had it been all bleak, I probably would have abandonned it long ago! On the contrary, for the most part, aMMusing has been a source of pleasure and fun. It has allowed me to get to know some people I otherwise would probably never have met. It has allowed me to vent, to “think out loud,” and to tell little stories about an ordinary guy’s life. It has even helped me make decisions, like finally getting off my duff and moving to Montréal.
So to that — because of the overwhelming good — I say “Cheers to aMMusing!” And who knows: Perhaps I’ll be posting a similar entry on December 17, 2022…
It’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of yet another year. Didn’t this one just get started? Moreover, has it really been that long since the 1990s ended? Yet as I say that, when I go back into my memory vault, I realize just how so much has changed within my relatively short lifetime. I’m sure if the me from 30 years ago had been carried into today, I would be shocked.
Think about it. On the day I was born, homosexual acts were a criminal offense in my country. They stopped being so four years later upon the adoption of the 1969 omnibus bill in defense of which then Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously declared, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” And it was only four years later that the American Psychiatric Association stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Society as a whole, however, didn’t immediately follow in those significant steps forward. In fact, by the time I came out in 1982 at barely 17, it was still a massive deal to do so. Massive! There was a real and warranted fear back then that coming out as gay could have a negative impact on all other aspects of one’s life, from housing to employment, because being gay could be used against someone for blackmail and discrimination. What’s more, gays and lesbians were never portrayed in a positive manner in the media, and the fact a new deadly disease primarily associated (at the time) with gay men surfaced a year or so before didn’t help any.
I remember the ’80s as a decade when “being out” was certainly very relative notion compared to today, not to mention requiring a lot of guts. I remember being extremely cautious in choosing with whom I would associate. To my shame — but remembering how it was back then! — I recall crossing the street if I saw a flamboyant effeminate man** whom I knew walking toward me. I remember how much I agonized each and every time I gave some thought to coming out to a new friend. And I still remember how nervous I would be about being seen going into Halifax’s only (unsigned) gay club. So, if you had taken the me of 1982 into 2012, don’t you think I would be shocked to learn that same-sex couples have had the legal right for seven years to get married, let alone that *I* would have married …and divorced?
** Someone like Jimmy Somerville sparked so many conflicting feelings in me in the ’80s. I totally got “Smalltown Boy,” but his openness made me uneasy. Nearly 30 years later, I feel extreme gratitude toward him if not an outright crush on what he has become today…
Perhaps you’re wondering where this sudden walk down Memory Lane is coming from? Well …I’m glad you asked.
I began my coming out in 1982 with people like BeeGoddessC. In the course of our conversations, she suggested, given that she’s 15 years my senior and a lesbian, that I might benefit from talking with a guy closer to my age. She suggested Danny, who had recently moved to Halifax and whom I had met the year before while participating in a community event called the Moncton Subway Paint-In. (In fact, the theme of the paint-in that year was the “International Year of the Disabled,” and his design won.) I had not yet been to Halifax and I wasn’t aware that it was a few years ahead of Moncton as far as “gay stuff” was concerned, although that might have been relative to Moncton being more backward at the time.
Anyway, without getting into all the details, I did find my way to Halifax a few weeks after BeeGoddessC’s suggestion and spent a few days at Danny’s. I will admit, though, to my shame, that the naïve barely 17-year-old that I was didn’t know what to expect. Because gays were often portrayed as hypersexual freaks, I even wondered if that would be the moment I would, shall we say, “lose my virginity.” I know it was silly to have thought that, thus why I’m a bit ashamed to have wondered about that. But, of course, nothing of the sort happened; he merely did what BeeGoddessC figured he’d do: listen and advise.
It was such a memorable trip that, for many years afterwards, I could describe it in exquisite chronological detail, including the name of his (female!) roommate, where we went out to eat, and our midnight trip to Peggy’s Cove. Being the vulnerable teenager that I was, I developed a massive crush on him as a result of his kindness. In fact, I idolized him, albeit so very privately. The mere mention of his name would send my heart racing. Although he’s only four years my senior, he became in my heart and my mind’s eye the epitome of grace, kindness and sophistication.
But then one evening at BeeGoddessC’s, she casually dropped that apparently Danny had moved to Montréal. I remembered how shattered I felt learning this news. For a year or two I had quietly held a torch for him, but to him, I realized, I was just a younger hometown boy whom he’d hosted and comforted. We weren’t exactly close friends, so there was no reason for him to tell me that he’d moved. What’s more, there was no way he ever could have known how I felt about him, and the paradox is that my attraction to him wasn’t really sexual. It was, as I said, that of a vulnerable guy coming of age.
Obviously the torch I held went out. I went from thinking about him every day, to occasionally, to never. However, if someone in the following years and decades mentioned his name, I’m sure I could never suppress a little smile. And occasionally, as we moved out of the ’80s into the ’90s and HIV/AIDS caused such ravage among gay men in North America, I would think to myself, “Is he okay? Is he still alive?” Granted, I had that thought for many with whom I’d lost touch over the years, but the thought that HE might not be okay or alive would make me sadder than most.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I mentioned at the top how different everything was as far as being gay in the early part of my life. However, had the 17-year-old me been catapulted 30 years ahead, would I not have been just as surprised to see what other stuff changed as well as what didn’t really change that much? I mean, in 2012 we’re not driving flying cars like the Jetsons, and frankly the clothes we wore in the ’80s looked more like something out of Star Trek than what we wear now!
But in 1982, I certainly never thought vinyl records would be relics like 78s were back then, or that our world would become so incredibly small and virtual, thanks to computers and the Internet, that I would be working from home …for a bank, no less! Remember that, in 1982, the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall not only still existed but also didn’t show real signs that they would crumble just seven years later. Pierre Trudeau was still Canada’s prime minister, just as he had been for almost my entire life at that point. If someone made $50K per year, s/he was likely holding a very high position (a federal Member of Parliament in 1981 made about $47K). Cable TV, if one had it, perhaps gave a dozen channels. If someone had a second household TV, it was likely a portable black-and-white, while the main colour TV was a piece of furniture almost as big as a baby elephant. AM radio was for pop and Top 40 music and FM radio for higher audio quality and targeted music. Cash registers in stores were still essentially huge mechanical devices; 1- and 2-dollar bills still existed and losing a 20-dollar felt like a huge loss. (Heck! I still remember the 10-dollar bill I lost one night at the Cosmo around that time, when the hourly minimum wage was about $3.80!) Most phones had a rotary dialer; only a few had numbered buttons. Cell phones didn’t exist, let alone portable phones that doubled as hand-held computers and cameras.
And you certainly didn’t see two guys walking down the street hand-in-hand, even in a major city, unless they were cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
As for actual “cruising,” I never developed a knack for it. But would I have foreseen in 1982 that this artform would essentially have disappeared 30 years later, or at least primarily moved into a virtual realm?
And would I have known that it would be through that virtual realm and this thing called “social networking,” which would have drawn a blank stare from me back then, that I would make contact again with Danny?
Indeed, like a lot of us these days, I’ve found long-lost acquaintances and friends through the infamous Facebook. I found Danny back in June 2009, but you’ll recall that’s around the time NowEx was coming to Montréal for supposedly six months which instead turned into that well-documented two-month finale. Because of that spectacular relationship collapse and my subsequent tailspin, I never replied to Danny even though he did confirm back that, yes, he’s indeed THAT Danny, that he’s still living in Montréal, and that he had “so many nice memories of me.” (Awwww… Maybe I hadn’t been as insignificant to him as I had thought, even though I was just a mixed-up kid at the time…)
He came back to my mind a few weeks ago and I sheepishly sent him another note through Facebook. Since he doesn’t sign onto it very often he took several days to respond, but when he did it was again in a manner just as lovely and gracious, referring this time to how it seems like we met in a completely different lifetime. And he was very keen on the idea of trying to touch base with BeeGoddessC, as he’s heading to Moncton for the holidays and seems to be planning to split his time between the Montréal area and Moncton in the coming years in order to be closer to aging relatives.
This time I only took a day instead of three-and-a-half years to respond to him so that I could give him BeeGoddessC’s coordinates well before he was to head out to Moncton. Moreover, in addition to giving him a very condensed version of what I’ve been up to for the last three decades, I reminded him of my memorable visit with him in Halifax 30 years ago, adding that if I had never told him just how significant that trip had been to me and properly thanked him for it, I was finally doing so now, 30 years later.
The world really has become small, but as well, I’ve come to the realization that life can be like a weird winding path along which we travel sometimes carefully and other times carelessly. When careless, we might take some people for granted until it’s too late, like I fear I did with Raymond. But sometimes, when we’re careful, we can go back along that winding path and, with luck, have the opportunity to thank someone who has made a huge difference on our journey to now.