The Companion Experience (Part 1)

Last week, I was talking to someone about prostitution.  She was almost a bit reluctant to tell me that she had considered it in the past.  I think she realized pretty quick that I wasn’t going to pass any judgement so she elaborated a bit.  She said something to the effect of “I really like getting to know new people, I really like sex, I feel like it’s something I could probably do.”  I suspect that she wasn’t being entirely serious, but serious enough to explore the idea.  I appreciate that open-mindedness.  She’s someone who I have a great deal of respect for.. and I love it when people unlearn social norms and explore what’s possible.

Prostitution was fairly common where I grew up.  Waiting for the bus in the mornings, you’d usually see a half dozen on any given day.  It wasn’t pretty.  The vast majority of these women were in rough shape and I think it’s safe to say that most were at a desperate time in their life.. perhaps trying to feed an addiction they wish they didn’t have.  Every once in a while one would talk to you but it was usually somewhere between incoherent and unnerving so you learned to ignore them.  For the most part, they looked like zombies that had found their way into a drag queen’s wardrobe.

When I got to university, I remember this girl telling me that she saw her first prostitute.  She had spent most of her life in a small town, so for her, it was like seeing an elusive animal in the wild.  It provided an interesting moment of reflection for me.  For most of my early 20s, I don’t think I held a very strong opinion on prostitution.   I knew I had no interested in paying for sex as a matter of pride, but I really had no motivation to condemn the practice.  I wasn’t down with extortion or putting people in harms way, but they didn’t exactly seem like the same thing.

As I got older, it became easier and easier for me to see that prostitution wasn’t inherently good or bad, and that much of the stigma we had around it was a reflection of how the business of prostitution existed in the present day.  Which begs the question, what would this industry look like if it was approached intelligently?

Years ago, I watched the Firefly series… or rather the one season which probably should’ve been a series.  While there were all kinds of cool ideas and concepts explored on that show, I found their approach to prostitution to be especially enlightening.  Early in the season, the character Inara Serra is introduced.  She ends up renting a shuttle from the Firefly crew and basically hangs out with them as she conducts her business about the galaxy.  Inara is a Companion, a licensed, high-society courtesan, and member of the ‘Guild’.  Or in plain English, she’s a high-end, unionized prostitute in a place where prostitution is legal and regulated.  Her approach to companionship absolutely expanded my mind on this topic.  Here are a few quotes from her character for context:


A companion chooses her own clients, that’s guild law. But physical appearance doesn’t matter so terribly, you look for a compatibility of spirit.

On Sihnon, we started training at twelve, years of discipline and preparation before the physical act of pleasure was even mentioned. Control was the first lesson, and the last.”

“Your father isn’t right, Fess.  It’s not embarrassing to be a virgin.  It’s simply one state of being.  As far as bringing me here, companions choose the people they are to be with very carefully.  For example, if your father had asked me to come here for him, I wouldn’t have.”


Inara Serra paints this picture of companionship rather than prostitution… and I can’t help but think it’s rather genius.  It’s less about sex, and more about filling that void that people try to fill with sex.  There’s a social, physical, and emotional connectedness that our bodies and minds require to be balanced and healthy, and this is about providing that service.  I’m trying to think of similar professions… it’s like the touch of a masseuse, with the listening skills of a therapist, and the wisdom of a spiritual guide.  Genius.

So if that’s what it would mean for the clients, what would it mean for companions?  In my lifetime, I’ve met several women (and probably a few men) who would’ve loved to do something like this.  It’s in times like these that we must remind ourselves that not all of us are wired for monogamy.  Not all of us care for a traditional relationship.  And not all of us have hang-ups around sex.  Some of us are wired for polyamory.  Some of us would prefer to challenge the status quo of what a relationship could be.  And some of us are so confident in our sexuality, that we are guided by our love of sex, rather than our fear of it.  In the present world, these individuals struggle to conform to traditional relationships. or adhere to social norms which were never in their nature.  What would these individuals do with their time if society allowed them to find their best selves?  By no means am I saying that they would all become companions, but I can’t help but think that a few would be very well suited to the role.

Years ago, I had done the math.  If sex was the goal, it was cheaper to hire an escort than it was to wine and dine your way into someone’s bed.  And if sex was your only goal, you wouldn’t have to worry about the aftermath of having stumbled into a almost-relationship.  Hmm.. maybe I should look into it.  So I did.  I started cruising through the different listing sites for my city and analyzing the profiles of these women.   The marketing practices being used there seemed rather telling.  It was like every third profile said something along the lines of “these pictures are actually me!”, suggesting a fair bit of false advertising.  Something that was a bit of a deal breaker for me was that faces were rarely shown.  Plenty of boudoir pictures, but the first place my eyes go on a woman are her eyes and smile.

Eventually, I found a couple profiles that I found quite interesting.  The first was a woman who had her masters and was working on her PhD.  Her profile described someone who was looking to live life to its fullest.  She was a fan of new experiences which seemed to include food, travel, and people.  She seemed like a highly sexual creature who thoroughly enjoyed what she did.  Her profile made it seem like she had curated a roster of high-end clients who appreciated her ability to be a classy date at formal functions, while being able to help you relax and unwind afterwards.  What stood out to me the most was that she took pride in being able to hold a real conversation… I was genuinely interested in meeting this woman and seeing what she was all about.  But there was a part of me that was a little intimidated by what I would be getting myself into.. so I passed.

Not long afterwards, I saw another profile that caught my attention.  She was from my neck of the woods, very cute, and was just starting out.  Her profile said something to the effect of just getting into it and seeing what it’s all about.  I thought jackpot, we can figure this one out together!  The profile said to text her, so I did.  She was bright and bubbly at first, so I told her this is all pretty new to me and I’m a little uneasy about it.  I said that her being new to this was the biggest reason why I texted.  I think she said something to the effect of it’s all good.  Then I suggested going on a date.  I think in my head, the plan was to pay the cost of her time for an evening.. take her out for dinner.. and if we were both feeling it, to go for it.  I think in that industry, as soon as the guy suggests taking you out on a date, it’s a giant red flag.  That conversation died in a hurry and it was the last time I really explored that option.

I’ve arrived at a point now where sex doesn’t interest me unless there’s a connection beyond the physical.  A few years ago, I brought home a girl who had a couple sponsors via Seeking Arrangements.  Blonde, fake tits, gym rat, mini-skrt.. the whole 9 yards.  I actually tried to pretend to be asleep because of how uncomfortable I was with the situation.  Maybe I ended up going through the motions because I thought it would be the least awkward end to the night.  I’d say there’s a very good chance I never do that again.

And this is how I’ve arrived at the companion experience.  I would wager that (at least subconsciously) most who pay for sex, are looking for more than just sex.  I’d also wager that most who are motivated to get into that line of work, (at least subconsciously) would like to provide more than just sex.  Sex is only one element of companionship, and we need to do a better job of honoring the full experience.  If we did, I think we shine a new light on what it means to be human.

Right now, prostitution seems to operate within a category of stigmas.  There are those who sell their bodies for lack of alternative sources of income.  There are those who are forced into the profession.  There are those who start out well-intentioned, but fall victim to their environment.  There are those who have made a career out of it, but who have a strained relationship with friends and family because of it.  And there are those who have truly made it in the industry, with a giant question mark as to what happens when their physical beauty fades.  I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone I cared about.  There has to be a better approach to one of history’s oldest professions.  It needs to not be about power, control, sex or money.  It needs to be about human connectedness.

When I imagine what a week with Inara Serra would be like, I’m imagining a deeply spiritual and balancing experience.  In the show, they start off with a tea ceremony where the companion and client are given an opportunity to connect with one another.  It’s almost like a coffee date where you’re given a chance to get a feel for the other person.  From there, I think it would depend on the context of why you sought out a companion.  For me, I would want to spend time getting to know one another.  I would want to find an intellectual and emotional connection before we explored the physical connection.  As an expert in such connections, I would trust the companion to suggest some activities to fill our time.  When the time was right, I’d also let her take the lead on what the physical element of this would look like.  Who knows, she might pick up on my vibes and instigate something playful in nature.  Or maybe she’ll pick up on my stress levelsand suggest something more relaxing.  Or maybe she’ll suggest something completely non-sexual because she can read my body and knows that’s what I really need.  With all the decisions I’m responsible for in my personal life, it would be nice to arrive somewhere, where I know I’m going to be taken care of by someone who truly knows how to rebalance another human being.  If there was a service like this, I’d probably be a repeat customer.  And therein lies the next level to this..

In the show, it was understood that when a client found a companion they really liked, they would call on the regular.  Not like once a week regular, but once a year or once every couple years kinda regular – almost like a vacation to a favorite destination.  So that would mean that these clients are perpetually single right?  Or they don’t tell their significant others right?  Or they’re in open relationships right?  Or maybe not?

I suppose in a perfect world, your significant other would be your companion.  But our world is imperfect.  In our world, we can struggle to be everything our partner needs.  But we’re encouraged to accept that if it’s not being provided, we don’t need it.  We’re encouraged to settle for what our partners are able to provide.  Some can be accepting of that and live a happy life.  Others find ways to fill those needs, at the expense of the relationship.  And others still, will go through life without those needs filled at all.  I can’t help but think that if we were able get past this all.. we could separate the two.

Imagine being in a healthy, long-term relationship where a weekend with a companion wasn’t seen as infidelity.. but rather an exercise in self-care.  If the role of a companion was to be an expert in human connection and an expert in bringing your body back to a point of equilibrium.. I wonder.








I Read a Book Under A Tree Today

First time for everything right?

I’m now being pillaged by my allergies so perhaps it was a questionable decision.. but this is more about the mind-state that took me there.

Back in my mid-20s, I moved away for work.  It was supposed to be this big step up in my career, while bailing out the company from an unfortunate position.  Within 3 months of arriving in a new town, my dad died, my girlfriend broke up with me, I tore my shoulder, and the company turned its back on me.  That was rough.  It was the first time I realized how fundamental these parts of my life were to me.

This past weekend, I spent a couple hours on the beach with a friend.  First time I had done that in years.  Little silly when you consider there’s about 15 beaches within 30 minutes of here.  My friend asked me if I wanted to know about my spirit animal.  Neither of us took that stuff very seriously, but sure, why not.  Apparently I’m a snow-goose.  I suppose that’s better than a #cobrachicken.  The description was rather interesting.  Some things were rather accurate while some things weren’t.  But the parts which weren’t accurate were reflective of a younger me.  Perplexing how such accurate assumptions can be made of me with no input beyond my birthday.. as if nature nor nurture played a role.  The one that stood out that day was how I won’t look to bring someone into my life until I have things sorted out.

In January of last year, I got tossed out by a investment banking career I had committed my life to.  A month after that, I wrecked my left arm.  A month after that, I broke up with the girl I was dating.  A month after that, I moved back home.  I had some things to sort out.

Fast-forward a year… things are starting to come together.

While not without its challenges, I’m in on the ground floor of a business with tremendous potential.  We’re on the verge of closing our capital raise and once this happens, we can actually afford to pay ourselves a real income.  While a little banged up here and there, I’m still in good enough health to play sports 5 days a week.  Rumor is I’ll get a long-overdue belt promotion at BJJ this weekend.  While not perfect, I’m at a great place with my family.  My grandfather died a few weeks ago and my mom has been going through the motions.  Being there for her has been good for my soul.  While I still see only see my boys a couple days a week at basketball, there are other friendships in my life that have evolved into something I deeply appreciate.  Things are starting to come together.

I suspect that others who take a structured approach to their lives have created similar pillars.  For me, it seems to be friends, family, finance, and fitness… you know, if you wanna stick with the ‘Fs’.  That’s my foundation.. what it takes for me to be a balanced, happy individual.  While that foundation isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction.  And maybe that’s why I’ve been looking to see if there’s room for someone else.

What comes next is going to be a mind-game of 4D chess as I’m about to write about the only two people in my life who know about and read this blog.  But then again, how do I commit to writing honestly about what’s in my head without writing about this?

A few months ago, a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to a self-help seminar.  I was a bit reluctant, but ended up going.  He did the same with another friend.  She and I just happened to meet at the seminar.  There may have been chemistry.  Didn’t matter though, she was already dating someone and they made us promise not to date each other for at least a month after the class.  My buddy who introduced us said not to worry… seems like he saw more of the situation than either of us did.

She was a yoga teacher, and was doing privates for my buddy.  I told him I had been wanting to get into yoga for a while now as part of my shoulder rehab and some injury prevention.  So he extended an invite.  And now we had a chance to hang out for a bit.  And a bit more, and a bit more.  Same chemistry, except it just kept getting more obvious.. for me anyways.

I knew she wasn’t in a good place with the guy she was dating because she would tell us.  I did my best not to pry, but you could tell that figuring this out was important to her.  From what I could understand, he was nice, good looking, a little spiritual… and then it kinda fell off.  It seemed like she was looking for more but wasn’t quite sure what that meant, or if it was justified.  My buddy and I did our best to give advice without leading her in any particular direction… suggesting that it came down to her being honest with herself and her being honest with him.. and being okay with where that took things.  Even so, there were a few times where I had to cut myself off.  Even if I thought I knew what was going on.  Even if I thought I knew what she should be doing, it was more important that I give her the support and space to find her own way through this.

She and my buddy were over last week for dinner and once again, endless conversation, exploring all kinds of cool ideas.  There was a point where she and I were sitting beside each other at my table and you know when your leg accidentally rests against someone else’s and you adjust so that you’re not touching anymore?  Well we didn’t adjust.  It was barely noticeable.. to the point where I question if she even noticed at all.  But that.. plus a few more looks being exchanged.. plus everything else that had been building up.. prompted a different end to that evening.  It got late, it was time to to call it a night, and they took off.  And then my phone rang… it was her.

She asked, “Are you hinting at something?”

I replied, “…. maybe…. what do you think I’m hinting at?”

I was willing to be honest, just wanted to be more sure of what she was asking.

She replied, “Just yes or no, are you hinting at something?”

She was looking for honest and direct communication and I couldn’t have respected that more.  I responded “Yes.  Yes… but respectfully.”

I won’t pretend that I remember the rest of the conversation word for word but I can say that it went well.  Things were optimistic.  We were appreciative of what was happening while trying to be responsible about everything else that was happening around us.  We couldn’t help but see where we were complementary towards one another and it had us both excited about what might be here.  But we reminded ourselves that she was still with someone else, and she needed to figure that out before anything could start between us.  She thanked me for helping her maintain that integrity.  Said something to the effect of let me go figure this out.

I had mentioned the situation to a friend and being the protective individual she was, she was a little skeptical of this person who seemed to be jumping from one relationship to the next.  Truth is.. it doesn’t really phase me.  There are a lot of people out there who will tell you what you should or shouldn’t do in a relationship, but rarely is this advice given after someone’s really taken the time to understand the individuals involved and the dynamic between them.  The way I look at it is that this situation is unique to her and I, and it’s on us to understand it for what it is and what it isn’t, and take the steps that are right for us.

During our yoga session last Sunday, she mentioned that she was headed out of town on Friday.  I remember her mentioning something about that before but had assumed it was something to the effect of a 2 week vacation.  Nope, she was headed to Costa Rica for 5 weeks for a yoga course.  Well then… isn’t that just serendipitous.  As much fun as it might be to jump into this head first, I do really like the idea of her getting a chance to clear her head.  5 weeks of beaches and yoga, far away from me.. can’t help but think that’s a blessing in disguise.  I recognize the risk in her getting swept off her feet by some hunky Costa Rican yoga instructor.  Or maybe she comes back and wants to give the other guy another chance.  Or maybe she comes back and realizes that she doesn’t wanna date at all.  Whatever that decision is, as long as she arrives at it with a clear mind, she’ll have my support.

But yah.. I’m still kinda hoping that when she gets back, we get a chance to see what’s up.

And… this all has me in a really good place.  So I read a book under a tree today.

A Social Crypto

I’ve often wondered what would be the catalyst for the next major recession.  As cryptocurrencies went mainstream, it occurred to me that one way in which we could shift wealth would be through the adoption of a new currency.  How amusing would it be for the 99% to develop a currency to use among themselves, while the top 1% ended up with monopoly money.  As fun as that sounds, it’s not quite that easy.  But something about this crypto.. maybe there’s something here.

Bare with me on this… what if we introduced a cryptocurrency with a built-in distribution algorithm?

Fundamentally, the first things we’d have to decide on is a fundamental stance on how we should distribute resources.  My vote would be for a simple mandate that more resources should be awarded to those who contribute more.  If we can all agree on this (which should be rather easy), then we would just have to decide on how exactly that distribution would play out.  A while back, a Harvard professor asked what people thought was an fair distribution of wealth among Americans.  The top 20% looked to occupy about 35% of the country’s wealthy while the bottom 20% occupied about 10% of the country’s wealth.  The middle 60% occupied about 55%.  Sure, why not.

Or maybe there’s a way to tie the bottom 20% to cost of living?  If you were constantly tracking accurate statistics on cost of living, you could always make sure that the bottom 20% was a certain margin above the cost of living, ensuring that those at the lowest run of society were always afforded an opportunity to get ahead.  From there, perhaps you could let the currency do as it may.

Either way, the idea here is that through poor governance, we’ve found ways to systematically shift wealth from the many to the few.  Beyond the ethics of it, this actually creates a great deal of economic hardship.  Whether it’s going to school, starting a family, buying your own house, or starting a business, it all costs money.  Once upon a time, you could comfortably provide for a family on a single middle-class income.  Where I live, the cost of a middle-class lifestyle is about $300,000 a year.  So people maybe don’t go to school.  People maybe don’t start a family.  People maybe don’t start a business.  And maybe we all take a step backwards.

I can’t help but think that the pursuit of power is a human instinct.  If so, the pursuit of power will always be an element within governance.  If true, government will always be susceptible to corruption because as we all remember, power corrupts.  So if government can’t be trusted to maintain a fair distribution of wealth, how do you address this?  You build it right into the currency.

So how do you go about getting people to adopt a currency like this?  Imagine being the person who brings 10 million dollars to the currency, only to end up with 5 million because half was redistributed to all the people who signed up with way less?  What would keep you from signing up with a single dollar, keeping the rest of your assets elsewhere as you accumulated ‘equality’.  As soon as I thought I was on to a genius idea, I realized this was a rather daunting hurdle.  But not an unsolvable one.

There’s something here… but I’m not quite there.

Business Ideas: Disney’s Streaming Service

A few days ago, Netflix passed Disney in market-cap, suggesting that Netflix is now worth more than Disney.  I’m reminded that the price and value of something are two very different things.

When I heard about the news that Netflix had been priced above Disney, I had to do a double-take on why.  Sure Netflix is the most popular streaming service today and comes with great original content but does that really make them more valuable than Disney?  Let’s not forget that Disney goes well beyond classic original content… they own ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucas Film among others.  If we’re going to compare the ability to create content, Disney wins hands down.  So what gives?

It’s the platform.  Disney puts most of their content through traditional media channels like movie theaters or cable TV.  You’ll see plenty of their content available on places like Netflix as well, but that’s usually well after the content is first released.  The brilliance in Netflix is that they were the first to truly give us the media experience we were looking for.  We wanted to pay a low fee each month, to access a large library of good, commercial-free content.  I would go so far as to say they were the one’s who kicked off this ‘golden era of TV’.  Letting the people choose what they want to watch, when they wanted to watch has really given a voice to the audience.

I cut the cord about 5 years ago.  Between YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and the good ol’ inter-webs, I can watch just about anything I want at any time I want.  I have a pretty decent hardware set up with a 4k TV and a Bose sound system.  Even when it comes to watching movies, I’m coming up with fewer and fewer reasons to leave the house.  Every once in a while something comes out that I want to see on the big screen like Inifinity War or a Star Wars movie, but even those… I’d probably be just as happy to watch at home if I could get a decent copy.  And I can’t help but think that this is where things are headed.

Over the years, movie theaters have been struggling to maintain attendance amidst this transition.  Between parking, food, and a movie ticket, heading to the movies once costs about as much as a monthly subscription to every major streaming service.  The value just isn’t there anymore.  I’ve watched them try to adapt over the years and I can’t help but think that I’m watching a business model die.  And I see a remarkable opportunity for Disney to put a rather large nail in that coffin.

Next may, Avengers 4 will be released.  This is primed to be one of the largest movie events in the history of movies.  The Marvel franchise has been moving towards this milestone for the last 10 years and the world will be watching.  In all likelihood, it will break all major box office records.  Or… maybe Disney could do something genius.

There’s a good chance that the demand to watch Avengers 4 when it first comes out will be higher than any movie ever made.  So why waste all that good mojo on a dying business model?  Why not use this as an opportunity to do something that breaks the mould?  Something special?  Why not use Avengers 4 to launch Disney’s streaming platform?

For anyone in the know, Disney’s been working on this for a while now.  My guess is that it should be ready for next year.  The future is streaming, so use this as an opportunity to launch your platform.  It could be something simple like sign up for Disney’s streaming service in April and receive access to Avenger’s 4 on the day it’s released.  Netflix currently has about 118 million subscribers.  It’s been estimated that about 175 million people saw Black Panther in theaters.  While I can’t find the data for Infinity War, it looks likely to exceed that number.  I’m rather confident they’ll debut Avengers 4 in movie theaters just like they did with Avengers 3, but I can’t help but see a huge missed opportunity.  Why not capture all of that revenue via monthly subscriptions?

Assuming that all Disney content is available on their streaming platform, they’ll have a better library of content than anyone else.  Assuming that they pull their content from Netflix, it won’t even be close.  Based on that comparison, I suspect they could probably charge $20 per month quite comfortably.  While hot movies like Avengers 4 would certainly command more, your average movie sees about 60% of the ticket proceeds back to the studio.  That number is less overseas.  Why give up all that revenue to move your content through a platform that the people are moving away from?  There was a point in time where we would look forward to watching a movie in our living rooms among friends and family.  Why not look to celebrate that once more?

In all seriousness, I think the best move they could make would be to make it available through both channels.  For those who still want to see it on the big screen, make it available to them.  But for everyone else who would rather watch it at home, make it available for them as well.  I think that if you let the people decide, you’ll see an overwhelming demand for streaming.  And is that really so bad?  No more overpriced movie food.  No more overpriced parking lots.  No more bad seats.  No more line ups.  Life just seems to get a lot better.

And how does this Impact Disney?  My guess is that they’d be praised for having made one of the boldest and most intelligent business decisions in the history of movies.  Or maybe that’s just my ego talking lol.  There’s a method to my madness though.

There were 175 million people who saw Black Panther.  Avengers 3 is likely to exceed that, as is Avengers 4.  Let’s put the estimate at 200 million people.  If you gave 200 million people the option of watching it at the movie theater or watching it on Disney’s new streaming service, something tells me half is reasonable.  Especially if it’s promoted in the right way.  To be fair, plenty of those people will be headed to a friends house to watch the movie and never buy the service.  But to be fair, just as many are likely see a best-in-class streaming service and sign up shortly after.

Fully aware of the speculative nature of this exercise, let’s run with it just a bit further.  If half of the 200 million people estimated to watch Avengers 4 opt to watch it via Disney’s new streaming service, and the people who watch it without signing up are equal to those who watch it and then sign up… we’re talking about a 100 million subscribers landed in the first month.  Netflix is at 118 million subscribers. Now imagine what things would look like if Disney committed to releasing all their films on this platform?  Between Avengers 4 and Star Wars 9, you’d probably have a couple hundred million subscribers by the end of the year.  Imagine that.

My guess would be that they double their market cap within that year.  And this is the genius in being bold enough to give the people what they want.

Why Suicide is More Appealing Today than Yesterday

Before anyone worries too much, I’m not considering suicide.  Not today anyways.

This morning was Anthony Bourdain.  Not long before that was Kate Spade.  And between the two, how many others?  I can’t help but think that this is getting worse and not better.  There’s a negative energy that’s growing in our world and it’s impacting us in some profound ways.  I think these are conversations we need to have.

I can’t remember the first time I thought about suicide.  I was probably quite young.  It wasn’t a function of depression as much as it was an exercise in exploring the extremes.  It was probably a fight with my parents, or getting picked on at school.  A moment of woe is me, I bet I would matter more if they thought I had committed suicide.  In grade 12, I fell for a girl and was infatuated to the nth degree.  When she left me, I was convinced that I would never be happy again.  There was probably some consideration of suicide, but where I landed was that I wanted to be a fire fighter or something to that effect.  I figured that if I wasn’t capable of being happy, I could at least dedicate my life towards helping others.  It blew over and I moved on, but the conversation of suicide remained.

In my third year of university, I dated a girl who opened up to me about having tried to commit suicide.  According to her, she wasn’t dealing with a breakup very well and ended up going into the shed at the back of the house and slitting her wrists.  As she tells the story, her brother stumbled in on her and took her to the hospital, saving her life.  I asked to see her wrists, and saw no scars.  I was asked to keep this to myself as nobody else knew besides her brother.  I did my best to be supportive.  When we broke up, she told me that she didn’t think she could handle another breakup like this.  That she might go and do something extreme.  I reached out to her brother and asked him to keep an eye on her.   From what I can tell, she’s doing just fine these days.

It wasn’t something I could relate to.  Even in my darker, more melodramatic moments, I wasn’t interested in taking my own life.  It seemed like giving up.  For better or worse, this mindset of never giving up is hardwired into me.  I’d much rather go out on my shield.  Maybe that’s why I’ve often thought of ways in which I would be willing to sacrifice myself.. the hero’s death.  The idea was that if I was going to die, I wanted there to be as much value in my death as possible.  I either wanted to die of old age among a lifetime of accomplishments, or to die in a proper blaze of glory.  There was almost a mathematical element to it, if my life was worth ‘x’ and an honorable death would yield ‘x’ + 1, I’d take it.

When I started getting in over my head at the banks, I started looking for outs.  I wasn’t willing to throw any more money at the problem.  I wasn’t willing to quit or give up.  I wasn’t willing to compromise my integrity.  And I was running out of time.  Part of my role at the bank included being licensed for life insurance.  I remember reading that a life insurance policy would still pay out if you committed suicide, as long as more than 2 years had passed since you took out the policy and when you took your life.  Hmm…

Last year, I was in a relationship with a girl who had been through a fair bit.  In grade 11, she was in a head on collision with a motorcyclist and the motorcyclist didn’t make it.  She went through some rough patches around that.  Her family was not as supportive as they could’ve been.  I knew this, but I also knew that she had been keeping something from me.  I knew it was something dark, so I told her that I would be ready if she got to a point where she wanted to share.  One night, we were hanging out in my car and the conversation went in that direction.  Feeling like I had an opening, I asked if she spent much time thinking about death.

I told her that I think about it often.  In the last 7 years, I’ve lost parents, friends, and family members… how could I not?  I told her that every once in a while, when life gets to be a bit much, I think about suicide.  What would it be like?  How would I do it?  Would I have the courage or the conviction?  Would I regret it?  She was surprised that I was talking about these things so calmly and openly.  She opened up to me about her experiences and we had a remarkable conversation.

At first, I think she almost expected me to freak out or want to report her to a hotline.  I didn’t, I just listened.  And when she talked about life getting to be too much, I told her I could relate.  I told her that’s when I think about it too.  I told her about the conversations that take place in my head when I reach those dark corners, and then I told her about all the things that bring me back to the light.  I could tell that she had never connected with someone else on this.  It’s easier when you don’t have to face things alone.

After that conversation, I can’t help but think that the contemplation of suicide is a sign of a healthy, curious mind that’s going through some things.  I spent most of my life thinking that people who are ‘suicidal’ are mentally weak, or damaged, or so distraught with life that I could never relate.  I suspect that most people have had a similar perspective.  Perhaps this is why we feel alone rather than connected when we have these kinds of thoughts.  If thoughts of suicide only happened in extreme and rare cases, then perhaps it would be indicative of faulty hardware and perhaps those people should feel scared and alone.  But if thoughts of suicide were had by most individuals in times of extreme duress, isn’t that something we should be aware of?  Something that we should collectively acknowledge?

I’ve seen different ways of communicating what it’s like to have suicidal thoughts, none better than this by the late David Wallace,

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

And yet the final thoughts of almost every person who has survived a jump off the Golden Gate bridge, are thoughts of regret..


‘What have I just done?  I don’t want to die.  God please save me.  Boom.’


There’s something happening here.  We need to talk about this.  Posting the suicide prevention hotline to your social media account isn’t enough.  Thoughts and prayers are not enough.  We need to have real conversations.  We need to acknowledge that suicidal thoughts have a place within a modern society like ours, and we need to do a better job of understanding why.

Unemployment rates are at all-time lows while income inequality is at an all-time high.  There’s no lack of work, just a lack of income for it.  With a lack of income comes a lack of opportunity.. The lack of opportunity to own your own home, or to further your education, or even to start your own family.  How many of us were raised with the idea that the only thing between us and a good life was hard work?  How many of us are at a point now where no matter how hard we work, we can’t seem to make any progress?  And how many of us are getting a sense that these factors are largely out of our control?

That’s hopelessness.

I can’t help but think that this structural shift in equality of wealth is the underlying reason for all this pain and suffering.. it’s the root of what we’re ultimately desperate to escape.  Like J. Cole said, ‘you can’t take it when you die but you can’t live without it.’  When wealth has been shifted from the many to the few, this is how it plays out.  When there isn’t enough to go around, people fall back into their tribes, looking to protect their own.  Rather than looking for a solution to the problem, we’re looking for someone to blame.  People become quick to draw lines in the sand between us and them.  Social discourse becomes hostile.  Where we were connected, we are now divided.  And it all starts to break down.

If we’re looking for an analogy for how this plays out, we don’t have to look far.  It sounds remarkably like climate change to me.  The planet is a large and complex ecosystem which tends to exist within an equilibrium.  Adjusting the average temperature of the planet by a few degrees over a long period of time isn’t something that most people would notice, but that’s not all that’s changing.  With a shift in temperature comes a shift in equilibrium and the path from here to there is filled with chaos.  Heat waves are now keeping planes from taking off.  Blizzards are lasting well into the spring.  Every hurricane that comes along seems to be worse than the one before.

By shifting the distribution of wealth by a few degrees over a long period of time, a lot of people didn’t notice.  But they see the mass shootings.  They see the school shootings.  They see the police brutality.  They see the Charlottesville protests.  They see the government corruption.  They see how little they’re making.  They see how much they owe.  They see what level of health care is available to them.  They see the opiates in the community.  And they see that we’ve lost the ability to talk these things through.  Things are heating up.

When I think about the world we live in right now, it’s not easy.  Then I remind myself that for some, this path is harder than others.  Then I remind myself that not everyone is equipped with the tools to deal with these things.  And that’s when I think no-shit people are struggling, these are hard times.  These are the times where those with nothing to lose and those with everything to lose are choosing to escape rather than endure.  And I can’t help but think that this is a function of hope.




I don’t think Compelled Speech works

I’ve been observing the conversation around compelled speech for the last few years.  I had probably been aware of it to some regard, but it really wasn’t a focal point for me until Jordan Peterson started making a fuss over in Toronto.  He had this idea that language should be allowed to evolve naturally.  That the freedom of speech was fundamental and essential to the free exchange of thoughts and ideas, and that legally requiring people to use certain words or not using others was a line that we should not cross.

The counter argument was that certain words were capable of causing very real harm.  When those words are being used against people who are already generally understood to be from an underprivileged group, it seems to be human nature to want to support them.  For those who believe in compelled speech, changing the language we use is a simple solution to a complex problem.  I appreciate wanting to stand up for those who you don’t think can stand up for themselves, but I don’t think they’ve thought this through.

I grew up using the word fag about as often as anyone else my age.  I’d probably be lying if I said I never used it to describe someone who was acting ‘gay’ or being flamboyant, but I can say I’ve never used used it maliciously.  More often than not, I used the word fag with no homosexual connotations at all.  Mostly, it was a substitute for ‘asshole’ or ‘jerk’.  When I was in my mid-20s a close friend of mine came out as gay.  We loved him all the same.  A little while after he came out, I used the word fag around him.  At this point, it was still part of my vernacular… and I’m pretty sure that it was still part of his not that long ago.  He leaned into me, telling me about how I shouldn’t use the word.  I told him that if I was using it as a homophobic slur, I would agree.  But I wasn’t, so what exactly was the issue?  He told me about how words can hurt people, even without bad intentions.  I pointed out that he still used the word retarded fairly often when describing something that was dumb.  I asked if it was fair to ask him to stop using the word, even if he had never used it as a slur towards a disabled person.  He wasn’t happy that I was changing the direction of the conversation but conceded that he would probably stop using that word for the sake of backing up his argument.  So I challenged him.  I told him that if he wanted to change the language he was using, that was up to him.   But I didn’t think it was productive for him to change the language he was using for the sake of protecting the feelings of those who were more focused on being offended by the language than understanding the message.

Regardless of whether or not I was right, supporting my friend in a transitional time was more important to me.  So I stopped using the word.  There were plenty of words to choose from, and I just couldn’t think of a scenario where that word was necessary.  Since then, I’ve adopted a philosophy around language which challenges me to use the truest and most accurate language available.  As expected, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where the word fag was the truest and most accurate word available.  As language has become a political battlefield, there are a lot of reasons why someone might want you to use one word and not another.  What I’m personally up against right now is someone who believes that changing the language being used is a primary tool in how you remove the stigma around something.  I don’t think she’s thought this one through.

When trying to understand language, the history of words can teach us a great deal.  In this particular context, let’s revisit the word retarded.  The word retarded has been around for hundreds of years, and essentially means to make slow.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that advocates for mental disabilities pushed to adopt the label “retarded”.  From their perspective, terms like imbecile or moron had developed negative connotations.  And there’s where things get interesting, because both moron and imbecile were existing scientific definitions for someone with an intellectual disability.   So ‘advocates’ pushed to change the label to mentally retarded, you know, to remove the stigma.  But the stigma didn’t go away, it simply shifted to the new word.  People started using the word retarded in the same way they would use moron or imbecile.  So the advocates tried again with ‘special’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘disabled’.

The pattern seems pretty obvious…  Scientists discover something and come up with a word for discussing it.  When the word is used to describe a disability, it inherently comes with negative interpretations.  When the word finds its way into mainstream language, it evolves to have multiple definitions.  While it retains the scientific definition, those negative interpretations becomes slang.  When that slang is used often enough, certain individuals or groups become especially sensitive to that word.  Rather than deal with their sensitivities around that word, they push to introduce a new word which doesn’t carry the same stigma.  And repeat.

This isn’t an isolated example either.  The word cripple used to be a medical term before it became more commonly used as slang.  The word neurotic seems close to being overhauled for negatively characterizing neurotic people.  Whatever happened to sticks and stones?

At which point do we accept that we can’t protect people from language by controlling the language that’s being used?  You can try to remove the word that the stigma is attached to, but that doesn’t remove the stigma.  Compelling people to use the word retard instead of moron didn’t change the stigma, it just got people to associate the stigma with the word retard instead of moron.  I can’t help but think that the best thing we can do to protect people from language is to help them understand it.

There’s a good chance I have dyslexia.  I say good chance because after I self-diagnosed during a abnormal psychology class, I never bothered to acknowledge it as a weakness.  To me, it was a difference in how my brain worked.  While it made certain tasks more challenging, there were certain things I was exceptionally good at.  Some of the best computer programmers out there are off the charts autistic.  I’ve seen very cool (and very detailed) art done by someone with OCD.  I’ve yet to meet a group of people as positive and loving as those with down syndrome.  The changing of the stigma doesn’t happen with the changing of the word, it happens when we learn to appreciate the value in one another and recognize that we can all contribute.

If I was a parent to someone who was disabled, I’d care a lot less about the language being used around them and care a lot more about how they were able to navigate that language.  If I had a kid with a disability, I would do everything that I could to help my kid understand that they’re different.  I would want them to know what makes them different and why they are the way that they are.  I would teach them that being different didn’t make them better or worse than anyone else.  I would want them to know that who they became would be a matter of how they applied that difference.  I would want them to know that no matter how much or how little someone has been given, they will always be in a position to bring positivity to the world.

…But I would also want them to know that not everybody understands this.  Some people have grown up in a difficult world where they’ve yet to learn your value.  Some people will think that they can lift themselves up by putting you down.  Some people will tell you about all that you’re unable to do without appreciating all that you can do.  And that’s okay.  Sometimes, these people will call you names.  That’s okay too.  It’s okay because none of what they say will change who you are and how much you matter.  The only person who gets to change that is you.  If anything, they’ve given you an opportunity to show the world just how capable you are.  If you can use that moment to inspire others, you can change how people think.  It’ll be you who removes that stigma.