What you can and cannot choose (Hard Truth and a Big Hug)


When the misses picks your safety gear (top photo)

My incredible wife has been through the wringer lately – after years of stoically facing down chronic health problems, she had a frightening acute crisis a few months ago – and things for us won’t ever be the same again. No one would choose to need oxygen therapy, or to make the common cold a life-threatening challenge – but we can choose how we take it, what we learn from it, and which part of ourselves leads the fight.

So far, we’ve expanded our ideas about kindness, generosity and gratitude, thanks to some truly extraordinary nurses. Catherine also ended up with a whole head-full of writing inspiration, thanks to the combination of boredom, good ears, and a somewhat surreal state of consciousness.

This mask, which Catherine got for me (and I have been wearing when out, ever since), is another example of a hard limit with curious new possibilities. Walking around masked like a bandit used to strike me as a vaguely anti-social habit (except where medical, where I applaud it fully) – thankfully, I’ve had a very different reception, since I began my public life as a giant teddy bear. I haven’t had this many spontaneous conversations with strangers since I was a teenager with silly hair, makeup and elaborate clubbing-costumery back in the 80s. Something about walking around in an overtly silly mode makes you far more approachable to strangers, and since I enjoy talking to new people, this has allowed for a lot of unexpected uplift, which neither of us had the energy to add to the mix ourselves.

It’s no surprise kids get a kick out of the giant teddy-bear – small eyes go very wide, and mom’s sleeves are tugged, insistently. Far more curiously, I’ve also had young women talking to me as if I could be presumed attractive and non-creepy, even with my face almost completely hidden, throughout our interchange. I find it extremely reassuring that a guy being silly and unashamed of it, is taken as such a mark of good character, by so many (whimsy isn’t trivial at all, but very precious stuff, to those who understand the value of a heart-balanced life). I even got invited to join a band one morning, while riding the subway down to see Catherine in the hospital, by an exceedingly hip fellow of about my age (already a vanishingly rare phenomenon), who enjoyed my asking (and then also knowing) about his unusual guitar, and my far-out ideas about music and the world. Instant simpatico – a lovely affirmation.

The main thing I now have to do, is look after Catherine and our household in general, in an intense and constant way. Being available for that, means working every freelance stream I can, selling every book I can assemble, modelling and writing, and also finding a few more chores that bring in the dosh.

When I had surgery several years ago, I left a large part of my body-shame behind forever, (strangers swabbing your nuts for weeks, will do that). I even got a direct benefit from the pain – because it helped me scale-down sciatica’s fearful constant pain, a couple of years later. This crisis in our home has made me feel less inhibited about speaking publicly than ever, hopefully permanently. I am a little tempted to take every bit of knowledge and insight I have gathered and use it cynically, as I step up to the metaphorical microphone. Targetted fulminations are so popular. But for very good reasons, I just can’t.

The most popular independent information media products of our time seem to be keyed into one universal human factor, most of all – even when their creators go to great lengths to say they don’t intend this. They make one group of people feel their anger is justified, their opponents are deliberately hateful and sub-human, and they are owed redress by society and life in general. There is even a deliberate attempt to distort the message for very intense but narrow appeal for these smaller groups, thanks to the dominance of the marketing concept “demographics.” To be clear – there are plenty of people who have reason for anger, have been ripped off, and are owed redress – one could even say the majority of the population of the earth can make some variation of this assertion, on reasonable grounds. Thing is, Catharsis is at best, an entertainment product, satisfying our emotional needs – and when we confuse it with debate and discussion, or worse, use it instead of them, we damage these important social tools.

I do have plenty of challenging things to say, and I’m not afraid to say them – but I’m not trying to make anyone or group feel like the righteous ‘good guys’ – too much hard evidence contradicts such assertions, in any case – nor am I out to demonize any large and sloppily defined group – I just insist on speaking up for ALL of the positions so easily silenced and excluded by those with situational power and influence. The realities that don’t ever make it into the sponsor-sanitized version.  Things repressed don’t go away – they gain the power of righteous indignation.  Way better to discuss EVERYTHING.

However, even given strange new freedom from fear, thanks to crisis, I find myself still bound by a limit which my heart has set, long ago. It has to be about love – even the angry parts (and those have to be clear, useful, and specific). Which explains how I’ve finally decided on the tone and approach for my podcast – and also the basic spirit of my upcoming story, Stymie and Toffel. I’m not interested in a narrative that doesn’t respect the kids coming up, facing unprecedented challenges, and instead glorifies those who created the mind-boggling problems that they must now face. I want to say things that help everyone find more real hope and common purpose – not fake smiles – rational hope.  It will probably sound harder, to those who are in greatest denial.

“The Magic Trick” the first episode of my podcast – Hard Truth and a Big Hug – has already appeared as a video – but since it was a discussion many appreciated, I thought it a good way to open up the channel. Tons more wide-ranging smart, funny and original content coming soon – stay tuned. (my long-pondered outlines collection runs into the hundreds, and grows far faster than I could ever hope to record)


Hello friends!The long lost first episode of “Hard Truth and a Big Hug” is now live once again, on my new (and also free) Substack page – you can find it here:


Stand-up politics? Wacky sociology? Forbidden history? For plenty of all of these and more – stay tuned to “Hard Truth and a Big Hug”

I have also just posted a bonus on my podcast channel (Hard Truth and a Big Hug) which is part one of my upcoming story – Stymie and Toffel – a work of fiction. I explain these two wacky kids in the intro, and still better in the story itself, but briefly, I’m trying to write some uplifting things about life after our mass-consumerism party ends – an historical change which, much like my wife’s illness, most young people recognize is beyond their ability to change or avoid – the real question is, how do we deal?

My answer? With all the best things that we already have inside and are now – only a much keener awareness of the value of humane connection, and way less interest in the mere pursuit of stuff. A bit starker, harder contrast, but hopeful and warm, despite a host of new and unpredictable challenges.

Jacobson’s store – where Stymie and Toffel meet – Illustration by Andrew (Rewfoe) Foerster



The opening forty-nine minutes of “Stymie and Toffel” read aloud, can now be found at the foot of the main post on Substack:


Pyjamas, cocoa (or equivalent comfort libation) your favourite blankets and lights down low.  Story Time!

I hope you enjoy the tale, and the wacky kids at its centre, in particular. And yes, for those paying close attention, Francesca is already demanding her very own book in this same very familiar and yet always surprising universe – no doubt soon to follow (Though Stymie and Toffel also have much more to tell me).

Thanks for all of your wonderful stimulus and inspiration, folks. Stay tuned for more challenging thoughts, unexpected laughs and big big hugs.

  • Paul

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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