The Chase in life shouldn’t be about glittery trinkets

If we are to chase anything in life, it must be to become a better person than our former self. That is something all of us should seek. To become a better person than your former self is a noble quest.

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By patti dawn swansson

Many of us get caught up in what I call The Chase, because we are a needy bunch.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

We need a new car. We need a larger house. We need a better paying job. We need a vacation. We need a hobby. We need a partner. We need a new bedroom suite. We need the latest flatscreen, hi-def TV and 500 channels from which to choose. We need a new wardrobe. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But what do we really require in terms of material possessions? Food, shelter and clothing. That’s it.

Unfortunately, we too easily become the puppets of capitalism. Many of us are not minimalists. We want to dine on filet mignon when a serving of beans and wieners (on toast, of course) or a bowl of rice will sustain us. We want a mansion on a hill when a modest bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac will shelter us from the storm. We want designer clothing when there are wonderful treasures to be discovered in thrift stores and consignment shops.

We pursue the finer things in life because we believe they grant us status and make us think we are happy. The more toys we collect, the happier we think we are. The more money in our bank account, the happier we think we are. The more prestigious our job, the more important we think we are.

I point out these realities not as a means to discredit those who are engaged in The Chase. They are not evil-doers. It is not unlawful to seek a better lifestyle. To get ahead in the world, as they say. And, indeed, many of the planet’s wealthiest people (see Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg/Priscilla Chan, Paul Allen, Michael R. Bloomberg et al) follow the path laid down by the noted philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who famously stated, “He who dies with wealth, dies with shame.” They share the wealth. That is to be admired.

Alas, very, very few of us can relate to a world that includes a bulging bank account of billions of dollars. But being a billionaire isn’t a prerequisite to joining The Chase.

Once upon a time, I was a willing participant in The Chase. I was chasing a career, chasing fortune, chasing pies in the sky. I got there, too. Oh, yes, I managed to fool enough people into thinking I would make a dandy sports editor and/or sports columnist for a variety of newspapers in Canada. I climbed the corporate ladder from the lowest rung, starting as a go-fer in the business department, moving upstairs to the newsroom as a copy person, being hired as a sports writer, then a major beat writer, then a columnist and, finally, a sports editor. Made good money, too.

At one point, I owned a 15-acre hobby farm. I had four horses and boarded one for a relative. I had a convertible, a pickup truck, a riding mower…all the trinkets.

Then I had an interesting exchange with a friend while shooting a game of pool at my favorite watering hole in Winnipeg. The moment he walked into the room, he wanted to talk about hockey. That’s when it dawned that no one wished to discuss anything with me other than sports. Robert wanted to talk about hockey. Des wanted to talk about curling, soccer or baseball. Lloyd wanted to talk about football. It was always sports.

When people looked at me, they saw a sports writer, not a person with something to offer other than an analysis of the previous night’s hockey game.

Initially, I was quite offended. How dare they think me to be a one-trick pony. I soon realized, however, that, much to my horror, I had become my job and that was no one’s fault but my own. If that was how others perceived me, the seed of that recognition had been planted in the things I had said or done while chasing all those pies in the sky and gathering glittery gewgaw. I had lost the plot in life. Everything I had achieved was just window dressing. The reflection looking back at me from the stream was a stranger.

What a depressingly blunt reality.

That was in 1999, the year I embarked on another chase. This one isn’t about collecting toys or vast fortunes or climbing a virtual ladder to nowhere. This one is about becoming a better person than my former self and finding my true self and presenting my true self to the world. Our job, after all, is not who we are. Our job is to be who we are.

We are much like a Christmas tree. When we take our children to choose a Christmas tree, it is naked. It is a trunk with branches that are often bound by twine and laid against a wooden fence. Yet, the child already recognizes it as a Christmas tree. So do we adults, for that matter. The Christmas tree does not need shiny tinsel to be the Christmas tree. It already is a Christmas tree. We do not need shiny tinsel to be our true selves.

Today, I live well below the poverty line, I live in subsidized housing and I’ve gone from that 15-acre hobby farm to a 345-square-foot apartment. Mine is a tinsel-free life. But ask me if I want for anything. The answer is no.

If we are to chase anything in life, it must be to become a better person than our former self. That is something all of us should seek. To become a better person than your former self is a noble quest because, if we can say that, the entire community benefits in unlimited ways. That should be The Chase.

A rose is a rose is a person

Acknowledging the impermanence of life is not a negative thought. It is a positive thought that produces positive and loving emotion and action.

By patti dawn swansson

When we are given a rose, or when we purchase a rose, we regard its beauty. We comment on the lovely color. We place it beneath our nose so we might delight in its sweet scent. We handle it with extreme care as we snip the bottom of the stem, then put it in a vase filled with water. Finally, we place it on a table or ledge, we stand back, and we admire the beautiful rose.

This rose has brought joy into our life.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

Similarly, when a child is born, we regard her beauty. We gather the dear one in our arms and softly stroke her smooth, fine hair or run a finger along her chubby cheeks and bow down in order to kiss her on the forehead. We coo and speak softly and soothingly. We welcome her into the world. We tell her we love her. All our actions and movements are performed with loving care, as if the child is as delicate as the finest piece of crystal.

This child has brought joy into our life.

There is, however, a difference between the joy of the rose and the joy of the child—we acknowledge the impermanence of the rose immediately, but not that of the child.

We know the joy of the rose will be very limited. We hope it is with us for a week or more, but we realize that it might only be a few days before it is in wither and we must put it on the compost heap. We know our time together is very limited, so we enjoy it as much as we can in those few days.

“I wish you would live longer, but I know you will leave me in a short while,” we say.

With a child, on the other hand, we don’t consider impermanence at the moment of birth or in the days to come. We assume she will be with us for many, many years. We will have plenty of time to enjoy her.

This is wrong-thinking.

We are on borrowed time from the moment we squeeze our way out of our mother’s womb. The child is a rose. We must acknowledge her impermanence every day of her life so we can fully appreciate and fully love her at all times throughout her years. We must not take the presence of the child/rose for granted. We know the dear one will leave us one day, but we should not posit that the day will be five, 15, 50 or 85 years down the road.

That does not mean we should live in constant fear that the child/rose will be gone any second. It means we should value her existence in our life every second of our life.

The same can be said of all our dear ones. Appreciate that they are here. Now. Let them know it. Tell them you know they are a beautiful rose and that they will be leaving you one day, so your time together is very special. It is too late to say such things at their memorial service.

I have heard it said many times that “I never got a chance to tell her how much she meant to me.” Or, “The last thing I said to her wasn’t very nice.”

That’s because we refuse to acknowledge impermanence.

It often isn’t until a dear one arrives at a certain age, or when disease or an accident intrudes, that we begin to contemplate the brevity and frailty of life. We our told that mother has cancer, for example, so we automatically draw closer to her because we know the end is near. The rose is wilting. We learn that a loved one has been wounded in an auto mishap and she is in a coma, so we scurry to the hospital. The rose is wilting.

Acknowledging the impermanence of life is not a negative thought. It is a positive thought that produces positive and loving emotion and action.

For example, I know of a rose who had been wilting. Her name is Doris. She’s the lovely lady who sells me many of the cosmetics I purchase at Shoppers Drug Mart. I hadn’t seen her for quite some time and none of her fellow workers would enlighten me as to her whereabouts and/or well-being. It turns out she had breast cancer. Upon her return from a five-month retreat for radiation treatment, rest and other medical matters, we shared meaningful hugs and kind words, and the reality of impermanence visited us both. I now think of Doris with a heightened fondness, because I recognize she won’t be here forever.

As much as we wish for our physical life to linger, we know it isn’t possible. Each of us is a rose. Each of us will wilt and move on to an afterlife. That’s why we must appreciate our dear ones now. Today.

Oh worry, worry…worry is the day

Worrying is an extremely exhausting mental exercise. Five minutes of worry can siphon more energy from you than five days of chopping wood.

By patti dawn swansson

Many years ago, the managing editor at my newspaper du jour presented me with an assignment that appeared to be too daunting a task to take on.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

“We want you to put together an eight-page supplement on the World Curling Championships every day until it’s over,” he instructed me.

“Eight pages?” I gasped. “Every day? For seven days?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Lyle, that’s going to be a problem because I have to put out two curling pages in the main sports section, so if you toss another eight pages at me I’ll be laying out 10 pages every night. That’s a big problem.”

He looked at me with a sly smile.

“There are no problems,” he said as he turned and walked away, “just challenges.”

I’ve never forgotten that brief exchange with Lyle Sinkewicz, because he was absolutely correct. When we view something as a problem, it carries the negative vibe of worry. We fear failure. If, on the other hand, we look at it as a challenge, we adopt a positive mind-set. We convince ourselves that we can succeed. We are, as they say, up for the challenge and attack it with gusto.

We all know that life is a challenge. We also know that none of us gets out alive (in our present form). So why worry? Enjoy the ride.

Unfortunately, we don’t always allow ourselves daily joy because we’re forever worrying. The issue could be our job, our home, our children, our mortgage, our health, our weight, our vacation, our retirement, an addiction, etc. Some of us worry about what others think and say about us. Whatever the case, we spend an inordinate amount of time in a fretsome posture over things that don’t exist, except in our imagination.

This is how Mark Twain put it: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”

It’s true.

For example, I have a friend who once wounded his ribs in a baseball game. He and an outfielder met in a nasty collision while chasing a fly ball and, following the game, breathing became a burden while he and his mates were enjoying a post-game pint. He thought he might have punctured a lung.  So, rather than go directly home, he went to the hospital for x-rays. It turned out he had cracked and bruised ribs. That, in itself, caused him no worry. What the doctor said next did, though.

“What do I see here?” he wondered aloud as he held an x-ray up to a light. “There are spots here on your lungs. What can this be? I’ll have to have someone else look at these, so you’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

My friend, who had never smoked a cigarette in his life, went home, convinced he had lung cancer. He spent a sleepless night, cursing his father, who smoked, his two brothers, both of whom smoked, a sister, who smoked, and a wife, who smoked.

“If I have lung cancer from second-hand smoke,” he vowed, “someone’s going to pay.”

Well, those “spots” weren’t on his lungs at all. There was a defect on the x-ray sheet. So, my friend agonized for an entire night and a large portion of the following day over something that didn’t exist.

We’re all guilty of this.

We worry about what might be. And we usually fear the worst. Think about it. If you’ve ever been out of work, for example, you’re in a constant state of worry. You scour the ads on Craigslist and Kijiji and apply for one job. Then another. Then another. You finally get an interview and you worry about that. After the interview, you worry about how you presented yourself and your answers. You scour the want ads some more and begin to worry about the bills and rent that are due or past due. You worry about living off your credit card. You look into a kitchen cupboard and worry about your next meal. Friends, meanwhile, tell you not to worry because “something will come up.” But you’ve now been unemployed for six months, so it’s just lip service. Basically, you are sick with worry. Eventually, of course, something does come along and it is often better than your previous job. So what did you gain by all the worry, other than perhaps an ulcer?

Parenting is perhaps the most worrisome aspect of our lives. Parents are in a non-stop state of worry and the tides of concern are constantly in ebb and flow. The 10-year-old daughter isn’t even in a training bra, yet the father is already worried about the boy she will bring home one day. When the family is invited over to a friends’ home for dinner, the mother worries that she’ll be looked upon as a poor parent if little Johnny raises hell or refuses to eat his vegetables. Therefore, she sits on pins and needles the entire evening and cannot enjoy the experience of sharing quality time with dear ones.

We know there are trials and tribulations laying in wait on the road ahead, some of them serious, but why get bent out of shape before we arrive there? Why are we so anxious to arrive at tomorrow ahead of schedule? We cannot arrive at tomorrow ahead of schedule. None of us can. So why sweat it?

Worrying is an extremely exhausting mental exercise. Five minutes of worry can siphon more energy from you than five days of chopping wood.

When we find ourselves in a non-worry space, we’ll find something new to worry about. It’s as if we invent things to worry about. Then we begin to worry about worrying too much.

Many of us worry about our health, especially those of us of a certain vintage. I have kidney disease. When it was first diagnosed four years ago, it was a most worrisome bit of business. It dominated my thought process. I contemplated little else and did much research on the matter. You can only imagine what wild notions bubbled to the surface when I discovered there is no cure for kidney disease. My concern definitely intensified. My mortality moved to the forefront. Today, however, I seldom contemplate my kidney disease. I only think about it when I’m required to go for my regularly scheduled blood tests. But it no longer bums me out, because I realize worrying will not give me healthy kidneys. It is what it is.

You have, no doubt, heard the expression “it is what it is” many times. People often say it when they are dealing with a thorny issue and, rather than allow it to swallow them whole like Jonah and the great fish, they choose to accept what is directly in front of them and soldier on. That is living in the present, which is what we must do in order to lessen our worry.

All of us have experienced a past. All of us hope to experience a future. All of us are challenged by life’s many twists, turns and detours. All of us, at times, scream “Stop the world, I want to get off!” But we don’t truly wish to get off the ride that is life. It’s too enjoyable, even more so when we don’t see the boogeyman hiding around every corner.

Yesterday is gone and you can’t fix today what might not happen tomorrow. We have no control over the future, thus we must centre our being in the present. All we truly have is this very moment. So don’t worry. Live in the moment and live the moment.

Finding emptiness and liberation on the boardwalk and in the sun

Finding one’s true self and presenting that person to the world is the ultimate form of liberation. It’s not something you find at the bottom of a Crackerjack box or in the words of a sage, although that helps. You find it within.

By patti dawn swansson

I remember the boardwalk. It wasn’t very wide, the slabs of gnarled and nailed hardened wood perhaps two feet across, and it was L-shaped, stretching the short distance from a cluttered tool shed that I avoided to the back door of a house that, at the time, seemed to carry the grandeur of a castle but later revealed itself to be quite humble.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

I used to watch my father, with my younger brother at his right hip, walk along the boardwalk toward the tool shed and disappear inside to tinker with metal gadgets that were either blunt or featured sharp, jagged edges. I always found those instruments to be devoid of charm, much like my father, so I embraced neither them nor him and chose not to share whatever magic was to be discovered within the walls of that small, box-like structure.

The boardwalk, however, was a different matter.

To the naked eye, it was nothing more than a weather-weary, unsplendid collaboration of wood, nails and human toil. To me, however, that boardwalk was so much more than a means of conveyance from the house to the tool shed and/or back lane so we didn’t form a beaten path on the lawn.

I would have been five, maybe six years old. You wouldn’t think so, but kids that age can be weighed down by the heft of life as much as adults and, for me, there were two issues of dire discomfort: 1) school; 2) a father who was of a notion that a leather belt was not meant to be used to hold up a pair of trousers but, rather, as a tool for corporal punishment.

My first day of school at St. Alphonsus, for example, I felt abandoned and betrayed by parents who were pawning me off on a gaggle of mean-spirited nuns wielding knuckle-rapping rulers and thick, rubber straps. The emotion of abandonment rendered me shy and introverted. I was afraid to raise my hand in class for fear I would say something stupid and the other students would have a rather good giggle at my expense. My father constantly confirmed that I was stupid, so I didn’t need anyone outside the family knowing it. That, at least, was the thought-process of my five-year-old brain. Mind you, residue from the trauma of my early schooling remains because, although I carved out a fruitful career in journalism and have written several books, I still consider myself to be of average to sub-average intelligence.

As for the parental beatings, when I now hear of a child being abused, it serves as a haunting reminder of hiding out in a closet to escape the lash.

That’s why the boardwalk came to be such a vital organ in my formative years. Quite by accident, I discovered that it possessed mystical potency.

I still recall the first time I sat in solitude on the low stoop of the boardwalk. The sun was offering the special warmth that confirmed winter had finally surrendered to springtime. It drew me near, in a tender, motherly manner. I closed my eyes and, scant seconds later, I was gone. Totally gone. It wasn’t meditation as I know it today. Then again, perhaps it was. I just know that I drifted off to oneness. There were no thoughts or notions or concepts to contemplate. And this was not a one-off. It happened each time I sat on the boardwalk stoop in the springtime sun until our family moved to a house of true grandeur a few blocks away.

At such a tender age, of course, I didn’t possess the cognitive capacity to process and provide some level of clarity to those experiences. That would come many years later, and I’m now convinced that those mystical moments on the boardwalk brought me as close to perfect bliss as I’ve ever been.

I had been transported to nowhere and to everywhere. Nothing existed and everything existed. I didn’t know who I was or where I was. I wasn’t even certain if I was at all. There was nothing but emptiness. No life or death. No suffering. No I, no me, no us, no we. Just the splendid emptiness of non-self and the inter-are of the universe. I wasn’t thinking, I was just being.

I have often given pause to ponder my time on the stoop. Is what I experienced at age 5 reality or has the mumbo, jumbo of everyday life in the ensuing 58 years been reality? I like to think it’s the former rather than the latter. I’m convinced that I arrived at a state of complete emptiness on each of my solitary sojourns on the boardwalk stoop. It surely was liberating.

Most of us have experienced liberation, which can visit us in many forms. For example, when, after 30 years, I removed myself from journalism, my companion was a powerful sense of liberation. I no longer felt shackled to a paycheque and the pursuit of “things.” I went from a $65,000-a-year job to making $12,000 the following year. But I was free. Eventually, of course, the reality that I still needed to pay rent, put food on the table and address other financial responsibilities presented itself, so I required gainful employment. That didn’t make me feel any less untethered, though. I had liberated myself from a great source of suffering.

Relief from an aching tooth is a form of liberation. Graduation from high school or college is a form of liberation. Divorce is a form of liberation (I speak from experience). Same-sex marriage is a form of liberation. Finding self is liberation

It’s unfortunate that most of us go from cradle to crypt consumed by the pursuit of “things” when all we really need and what we truly are is already within us.

Finding one’s true self and presenting that person to the world is the ultimate form of liberation. It’s not something you find at the bottom of a Crackerjack box or in the words of a sage, although that helps. You find it within. It’s the shortest journey you’ll ever take, and it is the longest journey you’ll ever take, full of self-imposed pot holes and detours. If you believe in the kingdom of heaven, that’s where you’ll find it. Within. Finding one’s self, to me, is nirvana. You say, “Hello, world, here I am after all these years. How do you like me now?”

This is something a gay or transgender person can fully understand. They have been closeted all their lives, hiding from the ridicule, condemnation and contempt of a society that still can be intolerant of difference and stigmatize specific sectors of the community. They live in the fear of exposure. Of abandonment. Of ostracism. They are buried alive. Many of those bold enough to announce themselves immediately discover that it wasn’t such a big deal after all. That they squandered considerable time in the constraints of their secret. Friends and family do not forsake them but, rather, embrace them and prepare the fatted calf. The relief is immense for these people.

It’s a shame that the universe doesn’t always unfold so happily for others in the gay collective. They have found their true selves in both the physical and emotional realm, but their dear ones reject that true self. There is no ceasefire of life’s conflicting emotions. No liberation. Just amplified suffering.

These people need their own boardwalk and the soothing, generous warmth of the springtime sun.

The sameness of gay-straight

The more we emphasize the sameness of gay-straight, the more blurred the line between the two becomes. Acceptance becomes attainable.

By patti dawn swansson

I have often heard it said that so-and-so “looks gay,” as if it’s a bad thing. As if it’s something you best not touch.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

I have also heard it said—in gasping astonishment— that so-and-so “doesn’t look gay,” as if a man who looks as hot as, oh, let’s say Brad Pitt or George Clooney, can’t possibly be gay.

I have also heard it said (by straight men gazing upon a lovely lass with all the right body parts in all the right places) “She’s gay? You’re kidding, right?” That remark, naturally, is always companioned by the wistful afterthought, “What a waste.”

Men, of course, never say such things when someone as visually unappealing (to them) as Rosie O’Donnell walks by, because she apparently “looks gay.” No shock value there, right? Les hommes also give no consideration to the notion that some girls wouldn’t consider an attractive lesbian a “waste” at all. I’m quite certain, for example, that most lesbians wouldn’t require a road map to show them where to go and what to do if someone who looks like Portia De Rossi offered to buy them a drink in the cocktail lounge and passed them a note with a hotel room number on it.

But I digress.

I’m uncertain what gay is supposed to look like. Is gay supposed to look like Elton John or Rupert Everett? Is gay supposed to look like Portia De Rossi or Rosie O’Donnell? Is gay supposed to look like Boy George or Anderson Cooper?

Does it “look gay” if a guy has a lap dog? If he wears Gucci shoes? If he walks with a tra-la-la-la-la gait? If he talks with a high-pitch lisp. If he attends the opera or ballet? If he’d rather watch To Sir with Love than Rambo?

I know gay men who walk and talk like they play middle linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Matter of fact, I have a gay friend who knows more about football than many of the lumps who sit on bar stools and pretend they know everything about football. I know gay men who would only eat quiche under the threat of tossing their collection of Barbra Streisand albums into a dumpster. I know gay men who’d rather get greasy and gucky working on their car engine than shop for shoes.

I also know straight men who’d shop for shoes rather than stick their heads under the hood of a car.

In other words, what “looks gay” also looks straight. Gay is straight and straight is gay. We cannot have one without the other. Like all things, they inter-are.

When next you hear someone say “he looks gay,” you should ask that person exactly what he means. If he tells you it’s because of the way the person walks, tell him you have straight aquaintances who have the same strut. I he tells you it’s because of the clothing on the person’s back, tell him you have straight friends with the same garments in their wardrobe. If he says it’s because his hair is long and dyed, tell him your straight brother also colors his long hair. Then tell him that when shopping for clothing, there is not a gay section and a straight section in the men’s wear department. There is one section. Period.

This is disarming to those who denounce gay people. It tells them that gays are not so much different than straights. This also threatens them. Society has trained them to think that gays walk, talk and act a certain way and straight people walk, talk and act another way. A normal way, if you will. Well, other than their choice of partners in the boudoir, that simply isn’t true. Everything gay people do, straight people do. They dance, they laugh, they cry, they go to school, they work, they pray, they raise families, they have pets, they drive automobiles, they go to the theatre, they get married, they pay taxes, they watch the news on TV, they go online. Any difference between the two is conceptual.

Some straights wish not to hear any of this. For a straight person, mainly men, the notion that they are similar in any form to a gay man can be an indigestible suggestion. It makes them very uncomfortable, if not confrontational.

But the more we emphasize the sameness of gay-straight, the more blurred the line between the two becomes. Acceptance becomes attainable.

If you believe in God, then you believe God is in the flowers, the clouds, the moon, the sun and the stars. Then you must also believe that your God is in all people, gay or straight.

If you do not believe in God, that changes nothing. The sameness of gay-straight remains real. There are no similarities between gay-straight. There is only sameness.

All we are saying, is give peace a chance

The residue of a quarrel or a serious wrong-doing can carry a very bitter taste. It can linger and cling to the very core of your being like barnacles on a ship’s hull, and it knows no time frame. It can leave us without the necessary traction to move forward with our lives. Much like the wheels of a car spinning feverishly on a patch of frozen snow and going nowhere, we can be stuck.

By patti dawn swansson

When an olive branch is extended our way, we don’t always accept it.

Perhaps the wounds of a conflict are too fresh. Perhaps the scars of a betrayal run too deep. Perhaps you believe the damage is irreparable.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

This happens often when a marriage falters then disintegrates into divorce. The husband has cheated on his faithful, doting wife with her best friend and she simply cannot forgive him. Ever. He might reach out in the acknowledgement that he has committed a grievous foul and he presents a peace offering as a gesture to arrive at a ceasefire, or even an attempt at reconciliation. But it’s not doable. She can’t trust him. Nor can she trust her former best friend. So she rejects the ex-husband’s overture and, by extension, the former friend’s attempts as well. She dismisses them and allows the olive branch to fall to the ground.

This might be healthy for her in her quest to move forward. Then, again, it might be unhealthy.

All of us have been maligned. I’d say it’s an unavoidable reality. You might have been the target of insulting, injurious words. You might have been physically assailed. One of your dear ones might have been accosted either verbally or physically. Whatever the case, it’s our reaction that’s important. We can say, “I’ll never talk to that person again. He’s out of my life.” Or, “It’ll take some time for me to get over what he did to me.” Or, “I’m sure he didn’t really mean what he said. We’re okay.”

The residue of a quarrel or a serious wrong-doing can carry a very bitter taste. It can linger and cling to the very core of your being like barnacles on a ship’s hull, and it knows no time frame. It can leave us without the necessary traction to move forward with our lives. Much like the wheels of a car spinning feverishly on a patch of frozen snow and going nowhere, we can be stuck.

Therefore, it’s all about second chances. After all, even the hardened criminal is freed from jail once he serves his time.

How do we get to the point of offering a second chance, though? Well, we must look deeply into another’s suffering. It is because of their suffering that they say and do nasty things about us and to us. Once we determine the root of their suffering, we are then positioned to offer the olive branch.

For example, I have a friend who discovered that his sister had accused him of molesting his daughter. There wasn’t a shred of evidence to support her charge, but she spread this nasty rumor, nonetheless. She called my friend one day just to say hello, so he challenged her on this matter. The sister denied saying any such thing, but, at the same time, she swore she would have my friend “thrown in jail” is she ever uncovered proof to prop up her allegation. That statement was a strong indicator that she had, indeed, spoken these mistruths about my friend. So, she was now plopping lies upon lies. She never did, of course, discover information to implicate my friend, who never would violate his daughter. He later discovered that his sister had also accused him and/or another brother of molesting her when they were children. She did this in front of a room full of strangers. But, apparently, she couldn’t remember which of the two had molested her.

“How can she say such mean things about you?” I asked him one day.

“I don’t have a clue,” he answered. “When I asked her why she was telling those disgusting lies about me, she lied again by denying it. I haven’t spoken to her since. That was more than 10 years ago.”

So, you see, because my friend was unable to dig to the root of his sister’s suffering, their relationship could not move forward. The wheels on their car were spinning. They were stuck and still are stuck.

On the other hand, I know a couple who operate a mom-and-pop business back home in Winnipeg. They have been ripped off by patrons and staff to the tune of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in money and/or product. They have barred some of the patrons and released a handful of employees. Yet, they almost always lift the bans and they’ve actually welcomed a couple of the dismissed employees back into the fold. That’s because they sought the reason behind the wrong-doing. Mom and Pop looked deep enough and discovered the root of the wrongful actions. These people are not stuck. They are moving forward.

In terms of second chances, I believe we can all learn from children. Observe the children. They engage in spats all the time. Little Johnny tosses sand into little Billy‘s face and they fight. But they’re usually back to being best buddies in an hour or so.

We have a tendency to look at children’s spats as trivial. While we adults battle over fidelity, mortgages, employment, social tolerance and such, the only thing at stake in a child’s quarrel is a friendship or a toy. But that is wrong thinking. To the child, his dispute can be every bit as crippling as those of adults. A child needs friends, does he not? To lose one could be quite traumatic. Although the child’s reasoning skills have not developed sufficiently to analyse—to look deep—the children still manage to handle such matters much better than many adults. They quickly forget about being mistreated and move on to the next adventure.

It was John Lennon who wrote the song Give Peace a Chance, which speaks to this issue, whether it be in reference to the battlefields, a domestic dispute or racial insensitivity.

If we’ve been granted a second chance at some point in life, do we not owe it to another to give peace a chance?

Paparazzi Nightclub continues to buck the gay bar trend

Paparazzi been bucking the trend for 6 1/2 years and owners Attila Bassett and Terry Bex have given no indication that the “Pap” will be following The Ledge, The Castle, The Q, The Copper Club and the Paisley Upstairs to the British Columbia capital’s gay bar graveyard.

By patti dawn swansson

In case you hadn’t noticed, the gay bar is an endangered species. Worldwide.

Go ahead and Google “gay bars closing” and you’ll discover it’s an epidemic. They’re shutting down faster than you can say “Elton John writes songs about dead blondes.”

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

Consider these alarming facts:

  • According to June Thomas of the online magazine Slate, her research of the Gayellow Pages in the United States revealed that the number of gay bars in San Francisco declined from 118 in 1973 to just 33 in 2011. Manhattan went from a peak of 86 in 1974 to 44 in 2011.
  • Between 2005 and 2011, the number of gay and lesbian bars and clubs in gay-travel-guide publisher Damron’s database decreased by 12.5 per cent, from 1,605 to 1,405.
  • The number of gay bars in Calgary went from 11 to 4 in less than a decade.
  • Four gay bars in Wolverhapton, England, went belly up this summer.
  • Famed gay bar Splash bolted the doors after 22 years in the Chelsea area of New York City.

Why is this happening? Social media. The economy. The shifting of societal tides, whereby younger gays feel comfortable in mainstream venues.

“I think the days of actual gay bars are dying out,” Sean Mullen, owner of the gay bar Dignity in Waterford, Ireland, told the Sunday Times in the U.K. “Things are not the way they were 10 or 20 years ago, when gay people didn’t feel they could be affectionate with each other in regular bars. Now I think you can do that. The gay community does come in but I couldn’t survive in business with just them.”

That is a repeating theme from other owners/managers of now-defunct gay bars.

“I think things are changing,” said Jenny Gillingham, co-owner of the extinct Pump Nightclub in Saint John, N.B., “but I think there still needs to be some sort of a bar — maybe not to label it as anything — just have a bar and make it that it’s gay friendly and make those people very comfortable in that bar but it doesn’t necessarily have to be called a gay bar.”

“The younger crowd has it a bit easier than the older crowd does, feeling comfortable at a different venue,” agreed her Pump partner, Troy Morehouse. “The younger crowd today has it a little bit easier because people tend to be more accepting.”

When Gio’s shut down in Winnipeg this year, Barry Karlenzig was singing from the same page in the songbook.

“Ten years ago you couldn’t go to a straight bar with your partner without the fear of being hurt or beat up,” said Karlenzig, treasurer of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Society, Inc., a non-profit group that had been propping up Gio’s. “Now, Winnipeg is one of the most socially acceptable (cities). We’re about the fourth or fifth gay bar that closed in Canada within the past six months and it’s all because of the same things.”

All of which brings me to one of my favorite topics—Paparazzi Show/Nightclub in Victoria. It’s been bucking the trend for 6 1/2 years and owners Attila Bassett and Terry Bex have given no indication that the “Pap” will be following The Ledge, The Castle, The Q, The Copper Club and the Paisley Upstairs to the British Columbia capital’s gay bar graveyard.

“That’s certainly not our intention,” Bex told me last week. “We aren’t going anywhere.”

That’s the good news in the wake of The Ledge’s closure two weeks ago.

Paparazzi, it should be pointed out, is not a gay bar in the purest sense of the term. Bassett and Bex welcome people of all stripes, both as patrons and employees. Their hiring practices are beyond reproach. They have had gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, female and male  transgender people and, yes, straights on staff. As for their patrons, ditto. And it’s not merely for legal reasons. Their open-arms welcome is genuine. It’s also very good business sense. You say you want to operate a gay-only venue? Well, you’d be appealing to just four per cent of the population and telling the other 96 per cent that you don’t want their money. Good luck with that.

Bassett and Bex kept the Paparazzi pulse pumping when it was about to stop. Their expertise was in areas other than running a gay bar/nightclub, so they, along with CEO Helina Kinnersley, had to learn on the fly. Heck, they’re still learning. They’ll be the first to tell you that. But they’ve persevered and continue to defy the odds. They remain convinced that Victoria needs a gay safe space, so they keep the doors open. At considerable personal expense, I might add. Both financially and, at times, emotionally.

I mentioned last week that it’s a mystery how those two boys and Helina manage to buck the trend of vanishing gay venues, but, in fact, it’s not a mystery at all—they care deeply and they’re stubborn enough that they refuse to surrender. They try to stay ahead of the curve, if not the competition, with innovative theme shows and lively, creative competitions.

They were there when Victoria’s LGBT collective needed them 6 1/2 years ago and they’re still here when the LGBT collective needs them now.

I’d say they’ve come a long way, baby.