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I’m sure you’ve met a few in your life. Jerks are everywhere. They’re the ones who leave the empty toner cartridge in the copier for someone else to replace at your workplace. They’re the ones hogging the isle at the grocery store with their overloaded cart. They’re in your neighbourhood, letting their idiot dog bark outside when everyone else is trying to sleep. They’re drinking draft beer down at your local pub by the pitcher and playing all the music you hate on the jukebox. You might even have a few in your own family. No matter where you go there’s probably a jerk or two just lurking around—waiting to make life a bit shittier for everyone. This is unavoidable, as a certain number of subjects within any given cohort will turn out to be jerks. It’s the same with farts. Most will be uneventful and mild, even humorous, but there’s always a chance that the next one will ruin you day by turning out to be more than just innocent gas. Did I just compare people to flatulence? Yes, yes I did.

This is true even in the animal kingdom. For example, the robins that come into my yard to use the birdbath I’ve provided also figure they’re entitled to help themselves to my Saskatoon berry bushes as well. I work hard to maintain those bushes: pruning them, fertilizing them, watering them—all so that I might enjoy the literal fruits of my labour when those juicy, sweet berries ripen. But day after day those feathery little bastards take advantage of my generous nature by stealing my fruit. They don’t even have the decency to wait until they’re ripe. The little creeps seem to revel in taking the most under-developed ones first. Before flying away they often give me a look that says: “Thanks dummy. See you again tomorrow!”

So, how does the non-jerk avoid a true, dyed-in-the-wool jerk, so as not to be affected by their casual assholishness? Well, first it might help to identify exactly what a jerk is. Merriam-Webster defines a jerk as such: “an unlikable person; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded.” That is certainly a succinct description, but it doesn’t encompass all of jerkdom. That’s because some jerks have learned how to cloak their shitty behaviour when it suits them. Outwardly, these non-obvious jerks can seem like decent people at first glance, but behind your back the jerk within is waiting. These are the people who are friendly to your face, but as soon as your back is turned they talk down about you or do other petty things that undermine your ability to go through life jerk-free.

Then there’s the atypical jerks. These are the people who don’t intend any overt harm, but none-the-less can be classified as jerks for all the other ways they manage to annoy those around them. I’m thinking about that friend who goes to the movies with you and then spends the whole time telling you what’s going to happen next because they already saw it the week before. Even though they’re ruining every plot turn for you, they just can’t seem to help themselves. Or how about the person in your household that tightens the lid on the Cheese Wiz so tight that you need the jaws of life to open it again when you want a cheesy snack? Nobody’s impressed with your lame feat of strength, Mr. Jerk.
So, now that we’ve defined what a jerk is and illustrated a few examples, how does one avoid them? Well, if they’re family, you’re pretty much screwed unless you’re willing to move far away from their area of influence. Depending how much of a jerk they are, this may involve a very long distance indeed. I hear Antarctica is rather balmy this time of year, Uncle Jerk.

For non-family jerks—that being the jerks you meet on the street every day— there’s one strategy that works nearly all of the time: Ignore them. Yes I know it’s hard, because exposure to jerkish behaviour often arouses a desire for symmetrical retaliation. Ultimately, though, this will only cause you to become that which you hate. Therefore, it is always good to keep in mind the words that a guy named Fred Nietzsche once said: “He who fights with jerks should look to it that he himself does not become a jerk. And if you gaze long into a jerk-abyss, the jerk-abyss also gazes into you.”

Words to live by…

Yours truly has had a short story, Carrion Dreams, selected for publication by Transmundane Press in their forthcoming anthology titled Transcendent. I’ve been told it will be published sometime in the late fall/early winter in all formats. Below you can see the cover reveal and the official blurb. More info to come as the release date nears.

Transcendent - Amazon Kindle

“A parallel dimension exists below the surface of reality.

Its doors swing open every time we sleep, allowing us passage into the land of DREAMS, a plane rich with exotic fantasy and limitless bliss. Within this wonder world, however, lurk dark corridors and terrible creatures—some unfortunate travelers never escape the NIGHTMARES waiting in the shadows.

Many have tried bridging our worlds. Seekers and wise men have meditated for VISIONS and ingested intoxicants for HALLUCINATIONS in hopes that the veil between our realms will thin, allowing access to all the thrills, joys, and horrors beyond our senses.

TRANSCENDENT is an open gate, a gangway linking our realm to the shimmering sphere where nothing is certain and anything is possible.”

 

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There I was, writing and editing for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. To that regimen I added a thousand word blog article every three or four days. On top of that I like to fiddle with video editing projects for fun. On most days I was skipping breakfast and lunch. Occasionally I missed dinner too. During the months from January to April I hardly went outside. I was beginning to sleep poorly, sometimes only getting three or four hours of rest on any given night. Then, towards the end of April, I hit a brick wall. I woke up and had a scintillating scotoma, otherwise known as a migraine aura, while perusing news articles on my phone.

For those that don’t know what a scintillating scotoma is, it’s a disturbance in the visual field that precedes a migraine in some sufferers. I’ve had them once or twice a year since I was twenty-eight years old. They start as a small blank spot with a sparkling zig-zaggy border near the center of my field of vision that grows over the next twenty to thirty minutes until it passes from view in my peripheral vision. Then it’s gone like nothing ever happened. Some get a classic migraine headache afterwards, but I’m lucky to be one of the ones who don’t (or at least, I didn’t).

This time however, several hours after the first aura, I had two more while writing at the computer. Later that day I developed a bad headache and threw up after dinner when my head began spinning with nausea. The next day I had two more auras again and the day after that another one. I started going for walks, but I had another one and this time it was accompanied by a throbbing headache and a bout of vertigo. Needless to say, I went to my doctor who listened to my symptoms and diagnosed me with migraines. Why they decided to become more severe probably has a lot to do with the way I was treating my body for the last few months.

This prompted some much needed lifestyle changes and a trip to the optometrist. As I write this I have a pair of prescription glasses on order. Turns out my eyes weren’t working very well together either, which certainly wasn’t helping.

It’s been a good lesson for me as I realize now that I was pushing myself a bit too hard. I’m a notoriously stubborn person when I set my mind to something and though I saw the warning signs that I was headed for a cliff health-wise, I ignored them. Not anymore though. Nothing is worth wrecking your health over. A word to the wise then: go have a sandwich and take a walk outside more often. Don’t wait until you’re back is against the wall.

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It’s a fair question, and one that people fail to ask themselves often enough when they look in the mirror. The answer depends on how honest we can stand to be with ourselves. People tend to avoid looking inward for fear of what they might see behind the mask they present to the world. Others have come to see the mask itself as being representative of who they truly are, and refuse to consider there’s something more underneath. Something deep within them that they don’t want to admit.

We are all avatars in some way and the digital world has made it easier than ever to present an idealized version of ourselves. We would like to think that we’re enlightened creatures that have mostly grown beyond petty rivalries, jealously and other human foibles—because those negative qualities hurt other’s opinions of us. Yet we are human and all of us necessarily have these faults and many more. No one is without flaws and to deny them is to deny the possibility of real improvement. To ignore them in favour of projecting a fake image is worse.

The trend these days is to embrace our differences and celebrate our uniqueness. We are encouraged to become the best versions of ourselves that we can be. Follow your heart is a common bit of wisdom that many espouse, along with a zealous admonishment to disregard what anyone else thinks. You do you. Only your truth matters. Be who you want to be. It sounds good on paper, even noble, but how do you know what the best version of you should even look like? There can’t be seven billion distinct truths out there, a little different for each person. Some of them are just bunk. Sorry…it’s true. So how do we figure out if the person we want to be is worth investing the time and effort into becoming?

Socrates is credited with saying that the unexamined life is not worth living. Without self-reflection how can we hope to make any real or lasting improvements? And if the way we see ourselves is only skin deep, how can we say we really know ourselves at all? I’m not saying I have any more immunity than anyone else regarding this tendency to gloss over the unvarnished truth of our lives, and I’m not here to get up on a soapbox and preach. I have noticed from time to time, however, that when I’m truly honest with myself I find that I’m far from the person I project for the world to see.

I’m a collection of contradictions. I hate when people are rude or ignorant, but when things aren’t going well for me I’m not above being an asshole sometimes. I like to think that I’m a good father, but there are times when I know I’m making parenting choices that put my needs first. It’s not that I can’t be kind, generous, and loving—it’s just that I’m not able or willing to be these things all the time. Sometimes I’m selfish and petty.

So how do we learn to see things as they are so that we can begin to improve? Partially by listening to what others say. Therein lies a problem, though. The natural inclination of humans is to take a side and then stick with it no matter how much dissenting opinion is thrown our way. This plays out in countless ways in chats groups, social media circles, and any other virtual spaces where people engage in discussions. We are like islands within ourselves: insular, proud and unwilling to consider that we’re just plain wrong about a great many things. You can spout facts until you’re blue in the face and it won’t make any difference most of the time. That flat-earther is going to go right on believing we live on a Frisbee, not a globe.

Instead of just admitting we’re wrong about things, we resort to justifications and excuses. We’ll do just about anything to protect our fragile egos from being tested. If you steal things from work and justify it by saying that they don’t pay you well enough, that’s a lame a crock of shit and you know it. You fucking know it, if you’re honest with yourself. And what about that person you cut off in traffic this morning because you were in a hurry? All the excuses in the world don’t justify your actions. You might say the person you cut in front of was just too slow or you’re a better driver and should therefore be allowed to drive as you wish. We both know if you’d just left a bit earlier you wouldn’t have had to rush. What if someone got hurt? Would you say it’s their fault for getting in your way?

This is compounded when something bad happens as a result of our poor choices in life. What if someone dies because of our negligence? How many of us could admit that we fucked up and shoulder the blame, whatever the consequences? How many of us would keep our mouths shut and hope the whole thing passes us by so that we could keep on living the way we have been?

It’s hard to look in the mirror and see things for what they really are. It’s hard to admit that we aren’t the best person in the world. It’s hard to not make excuses for fuck ups that we had a direct hand in creating. I’m not saying there aren’t saints out there, living blameless lives. I’m sure there are, just as I’m sure there’s a lot of good people living life the best they know how under difficult circumstances. What I’m saying is that not enough people are willing to admit that they need to work on themselves because facing that cold, hard reality is unpleasant and we only have so much time on this ball of mud.

All I’m asking is that when you go home tonight and look in the mirror: see yourself. Really see yourself. If there’s something you know you should change, work on it. Then work on the next thing. Will you ever be perfect? Nope. But the pursuit of grace and honesty isn’t a waste of time. It’s what separates us from the wild beasts.

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You’ve been there, I know you have. It’s Wednesday evening and the family is screaming for blood. Well, maybe not blood, but they’re definitely hungry. You go online, looking for a recipe that won’t require too much time to prepare. In the back of your head you remember the ground beef you took out of the freezer the other night. It’s still sitting on a plate in the fridge, floating in a pool of watery blood.

So, whatever you make has to include ground beef. Should be simple, you think. Except it isn’t. Though versatile, ground beef tends to put people in a rut. When my wife made beef and rice for the third time in a week once, I had to say something. I got the stink eye, but she eventually conceded that it was getting a little monotonous (before you say anything, I do my fair share of the cooking too, and have fallen victim to the same-old, same-old doldrums more than once).

Nobody wants to eat Hamburger Helper, and if you do you need counselling. Over the years you’ve cooked up tons of meatloafs, burgers, meat sauces, tacos, sloppy Joe’s and countless other old stand-by’s, and you’re sick to death of every one of them. You want easy, but you want novel too. This will require the big guns—a google search. You look up “easy recipes using ground beef” and start looking through the returns.

There’s literally hundreds of pages to peruse, all claiming to have exciting, fast, and nutritious meal ideas with minimal fuss involved. You skip past some of them without hesitation, knowing that your son or daughter will not countenance the spicy ones. Others just sound too bizarre. Who really eats curried hamburger wrapped in dill-infused lettuce leaves anyway?

You keep searching, growing more anxious with each passing minute, until one finally catches your eye. It’s a hash of some sort, with sweet peppers and onions and diced chunks of potato. It looks delicious and there’s only six ingredients, including the ground beef itself. Even better, it requires only one pan and promises to be fast and easy. You’re relieved to find something that will appease the endless whining chorus of: “When is dinner gonna be ready? I’m hungry,” that issues from the living room at regular intervals like a demonic broken record.

You don’t have long before they release the hounds, so you click on the link and hope for the best. It takes you to the page, but immediately something is wrong. The recipe title is there at the top in bold letters, with a sexy food-porn photo front and center, but the recipe itself is nowhere in sight.

You start scrolling down further, reading through the introductory prelude. You keep scrolling and your heart begins to sink as you realize the writer hasn’t written a recipe—they’ve produced an epic tome. Suddenly you’re reading about the time the author rediscovered this particular recipe after recalling some misty water-coloured memory from their youth.

Jesus Harold Christmas, as my father used to say. I don’t want to hear about the summers you spent as a child at your grandmother’s house in Martha’s Vineyard, just tell me how to make the goddamn hash!

There’s photos of the process, interspersed with gouts of verbal diarrhea that goes on and on. Now it’s become a life-affirming lesson of some sort, about the power of family bonds or some crap like that. Really food writer? You’re gonna go there? I got hungry people here ready to eat the cats; I don’t have time for your feel-good shit.

Granted, there’s mention of ingredients and preparation tips among the dross, but it’s like a distraction that the author keeps distancing himself/herself from so they can get back to talking about the time Grampy Bob swamped the boat in front of the lake house. Screw your Grampy! I want food, not platitudes.

Finally, though, the end is in sight. After all that extraneous blather the recipe lies at the bottom of the page, condensed into ten little bullet points. It really couldn’t be easier. By then, however, I’ve had enough. I reach into the cupboard and pull out some Hamburger Helper. I wasted too much time reading to make anything else.