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Guyside: a sad and beautiful world.

Posted by on Nov 26, 2014 in Guyside, men, musings | 0 comments

From my perch in Canada, the decision in Ferguson felt like a tragedy, or perhaps a series of tragedies.

First and foremost among those tragedies is the death of a young man. In a better world, Michael Brown would still be alive.

Next among the tragedies of this case is the loss of yet more faith in the US court system by the African-American community. If people can’t feel that their judicial system will treat them fairly, then eventually some will find extrajudicial means to mete out justice as they see fit. For us, in the relatively wealthy parts of the Western world, that is a tragedy.

I can’t imagine that the town of Ferguson has been anything but riven by this case. It seems that racial divides there have been entrenched, rather than crossed; businesses have been destroyed and damaged, and a cloud of toxic media coverage does much to inflame and little to enlighten.
There’s so much to think about here. Who was right, who was wrong, is at this point difficult to say with certainty. My personal feelings from having watched from afar: I don’t think the grand jury process served the population of Ferguson nearly as well as it served the fraternity of police and prosecutor. I think a different set of circumstances might have seen Michael Brown charged with some minor offences, rather than dead. And I think that a man who should have been charged has gone free. But that’s just my opinion.
I also think that there’s a role for men like me to play here. We need to be serious. What do I mean by that? First, we need to stop being taken in by the parroting of idiotic left-right dichotomies. I remember Jon Stewart going on CNN’s Crossfire several years ago and telling the hosts that they were what was wrong in America. He wasn’t far off. We need to be able to argue with logic and we need to be able to admit when we’re wrong.
Next, we need to step up to the debate. We need to be willing to say what we think — without assuming that we’re right, or that a differing opinion is a personal attack. We need to support people whose views we agree with, and respectfully disagree. What’s happened in Ferguson isn’t a “black issue.” It’s an issue for society. It wasn’t caused by black people; it isn’t going to be solved by them without people of good will helping. Once we’ve say what we think, we have to act as well. It’s not practical for me to just take a drive down to Missouri and take up a protest sign there. But there are symbolic and real actions that I can take in my life to address issues like police violence and racism. Will whatever I do change the world in the blink of an eye? Nope. But if I do nothing, I can be assured that nothing will change.
And finally, we need to be willing to listen to others. There are differing views. There are times when you’re wrong. And except in the case of standup comedy, monologues rarely make things better. Please do what you can to live out the old saying “You were given two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as you speak.”
One of my favorite musicians has a song that I saw him perform last weekend. It’s called “Sad and Beautiful World.” And it is. And we can make it a little less sad and a little more beautiful. Why not do something?

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Guyside: Do you have recovery time covered in your exercise?

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in aging, exercise, Guyside, humour, Inspiration, joint pain, men, yoga | 0 comments

Yoga. How hard can that be, right? Just a bunch women accessorizing and lying around on mats, right?

Yogis practicing Kunalini yoga

Sitting on a mat? How hard could that be?

Uh-uh. As I type this, my large thigh muscles are complaining, and my abdominal muscles are providing harmony vocals. All this after an “ambitious” session of Kundalini yoga on Monday. As in so many instances, my pain is my fault, for two reasons:

  1. I have had a fairly indolent fall, with not nearly the same level of activity — yoga or otherwise — that I might expect normally.
  2. Being reasonably competitive and interested in seeing what others were doing in the class, I wanted to show that I wasn’t some Kundalini newbie. So I pushed myself.

And here I sit, waiting for my muscles to stop being mad at me.

Time was that such foolhardiness on my part wouldn’t have been NEARLY as big a deal. Gluttony, sudden spurts of exercise, alcoholic overindulgence, nights with very little sleep — it all was part of the game, and I (or at least I think) was able to perform quite fine under all sorts of self-imposed constraints. Now, it’s a different story. I can have late nights, but there will be a price to pay. The days of 80-chicken-wing sprees accompanied by pitchers of beer? Gone. And as my yoga experience has shown me (not for the first time), I need to gauge my level of effort when exercising and prepare for recovery time.

And it’s not just me. Science says so. An article in the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science states baldly that “The recommended dose of exercise should do no more than leave the participant pleasantly tired on the following day. Recovery processes proceed slowly, and vigorous training should thus be pursued on alternate days.” And a Harvard Men’s Health Watch article points out (too late for me this time) that it’s best to “Work yourself back into shape gradually after a layoff, particularly after illness or injury.”

This week, I brought my bike in from the garage to set it up for winter training. If I have learned one thing from Monday’s yoga class, it’s that while I can do stuff, I can do stuff better if I do it with an eye to gently bringing myself up to speed, rather than exploding out of the gate.

And the benefits of physical activity are so great and diverse that there’s no argument against moving a bit more. Now, can someone pass the Ben-Gay?

Photo: cc-licenced image from Flickr user Jamie Ramos.

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Guyside: Being a good man without being a dad

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Guyside, men, relationships | 0 comments

I’m not a father. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not a question of “waiting for the right woman” — I found her over 20 years ago, and that’s that — or of some unfortunate biological malfunction. When my partner and I were together a while, we started to talk about children, and we decided together that we would not have any. And quite a number of years ago, we took permanent steps to ensure that we weren’t going to have children.

But there are kids in my life — lots of them. Friends’ children; neighbours’; nieces; nephews. And having been around other people’s kids has made me think a lot over the years about what kind of man I need to be, not just for myself but for them.
Guyside writer Bob LeDrew walking hand-in-hand with his friend "Kate"

Your columnist with “Kate”, from a few years ago. I keep this photo on my desk.

First off, there’s the sensitivities that any man sometimes feels about being around kids. You find yourself, at times, in strange situations. A few years ago, friends — let’s call them Dick and Jane — separated. My partner and I were at Jane’s house for dinner, and their daughter “Kate” asked if we could go to her track meet the next day. I could, so I showed up at a school field the next morning, wandering around looking for Kate or Jane. I saw Kate first, and she ran over to hug me, and as she competed, I took some pictures. Then I realized that I was just a random guy with no “real” ties to this event, taking pictures of children. And I also realized that she needed the support of people there rooting for her, and I was proud to do it.

Second, there’s the changing role that happens when you’re around kids for the long term. I’ve been around some kids since their first or second day on the planet who are now teenagers. And the role of “family friend” changes over that time. There’s less disciplining, more talking. You go from seeing them at dinners before they go to bed to having them ping you on Facebook for a chat; from making pizzas to having a pastry chef friend come over to do a lesson on making macarons. And your relationship with them becomes something less tied to your relationship with their parents. It becomes more complex, as they go from extensions of their parents to independent human beings. For me, part of that learning has been to be as open with them as they are with me, to tell them that if they have something to tell me that is a secret, that it will be kept (unless it is something that will harm them or put them in danger.) Kids today seem to be more open emotionally than I remember being, to hug, to express love. And for me, it’s been a learning process to actually respond in kind. It’s easy to hug a four-year-old and tell them you love them. But when it’s a teenager, it’s a leap on their part and one that deserves a response in kind.
It’s the gift of being shown childhood again. Just because you don’t have kids of your own doesn’t mean you have to be excluded from the things that childhood can show you. Snowballs, diving off floats, baking together, singing together. These are things that are precious and filled with joy. Someone once told me that babies cry so hard when they’re hurt because it’s the first hurt. The first skinned knee, the first burned finger, the first black eye. It’s good to remember those things. It’s good to feel the parallel between their experiences stimulate the memories of your own.
And finally, it’s the gift of being given someone who thinks so highly enough of you that you want to live up to that billing. I’d like to be the kind of man that deserves to be looked up to by kids.
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Guyside: What is it that power does again?

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in emotions, Guyside, Inspiration, men, sexuality | 2 comments

Oh yes. Corrupts.

Up here in Canada, people of  a certain age and persuasion have been bathed in utter sordidness for the last week, as one of the stories I wrote about last week — that of national radio host Jian Ghomeshi — has gotten worse, and worse, and then worse again.

To recap: Ghomeshi was the host of a nationally-broadcast show on CBC Radio (and on 180 or so NPR stations in the US), a regular contributor to the CBC’s national TV newscast, and a host of a number of high-profile cultural events. He was the personification of an organization seeking a younger, hipper demographic. About a week ago, it was suddenly announced that he was taking an indefinite leave. The immediate assumption was that he was taking time to deal with his father’s recent death.

But by Sunday, he’d written a 1600-word Facebook post that said he was fired, and fired because of revelations of his private sexual behaviour (what he described as being “adventurous in the bedroom”) made by a jilted ex-girlfriend. By now, he’s been the subject of allegations of both workplace sexual harassment and of assaultive behaviour with women in his life, some of whom remain anonymous and some of whom have gone public. His career is in tatters, he’s gone to ground, a Toronto police investigation is underway, his former employer has launched a major inquiry, and a national conversation has begun, thanks to the Twitter hashtag #beenrapedneverreported.

So this is about power. If the allegations against Ghomeshi are true, it seems clear that his power as a media personality allowed him to behave in a reprehensible way with little fear of being “called out” for it. In fact, one producer on his radio show who reported harassing behaviour was allegedly told “he’ll never change, so what can you do to make the workplace less toxic?” by the show’s executive producer.

So here’s the thing. If you are a man who is abusive of women, a sexual harasser, not much I will say here will resonate. But I’ll simply say STOP. Stop what you’re doing. But if you’re not, if you’re horrified by the thought that women are dry-humped in the workplace, that a male colleague would whisper in a female colleague’s ear “I want to hate-f*** you,” etc.: then you’re with me. We need to stop tolerating this in our fellow men. We need to be the sunlight that disinfects the places we work and live to ensure that EVERYone can work and live without fear of assault; we need to be willing to make noise.

If there’s something that this whole tawdry story has taught — or can teach — men, it’s that THIS IS NOT JUST A WOMEN’S PROBLEM. And as I edge toward being a “senior” person in contexts, I’ve realized that while whatever power I possess can corrupt, it can also disinfect, if I have the courage to use it. Who’s with me?

 

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Guyside: dispatches from the men’s foxhole

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Guyside, men, Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s been a weird seven days up here in Canada. Last Wednesday, a man appeared at our national war memorial and shot to death one of the ceremonial guards, then made his way to our House of Commons (think Congress), was pinned down by security, then shot and killed by our Sergeant-at-Arms. This happened while essentially all of our elected representatives were having weekly caucus meetings within a few metres of where the shooter was stopped. That attack came on the heels of an incident where two soldiers at a shopping mall were run down in the parking lot. One of those soldiers died of his injuries.

Then on Friday, a very high-profile national radio host (think Terry Gross level) named Jian Ghomeshi announced he was taking a leave from his show Q. By Sunday night, his employer, CBC had announced he was fired, allegations of sexual misbehaviour were flying, he published a 1600-word post on Facebook explaining that yes, he was given to BDSM-type behaviour in the bedroom and that this was all the product of a jilted girlfriend, and he was filing a $55-million lawsuit against his employer. Meanwhile, an utter typhoon of drastically divided opinion swirled.

On Monday, a Member of Parliament wrote another note on Facebook (since removed) alleging that an unnamed prominent political reporter had tried to coerce a Hill staffer into sexual improprieties by blackmailing her with embarrassing information that was released when she didn’t accede to his demands.

And yesterday, a video was released of a woman walking the streets of Manhattan to what seemed to be a neverending stream of catcalls and inappropriate come-ons. When I posted the video on my Facebook profile and asked how it resonated with women I knew, the results were not surprising but utterly disheartening — more than a dozen had stories to tell of truly creepy encounters, starting with “hey baby” and escalating to things that would freak me out if they happened to me.

What’s all this have in common? They all revolve around perceptions and expectations of masculinity.

Parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers was widely hailed as a hero for his sangfroid and dignity during and after the shooting incident. The Ghomeshi and unnamed reporter stories highlighted the perception — and the reality — that men in powerful positions are often able to engage in heinous behaviour with little consequence. And the “catcall video” is a vivid demonstration that reality for women is utterly different than for me.

This stuff isn’t “women’s problems” — it’s OUR problem as men, and beyond being a good man myself, I just don’t know how to make a contribution to fixing these problems.

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