Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This may be a hint of what I'm really like -- or not

Being in the Tuesday doldrums of sparse creativity, I stole this from Me. It's kind of enjoyable in it's own way. I'm not going to tag anybody, but if you'd like to give it a try it asks for an interesting bit of introspection.

If you could change one thing about your past, without it changing every other aspect of your life, what would it be? I would have gotten married at a later age. I was 24 the first time. Too young.

Are you happy with where you are in life, at this time? Generally speaking, yes. Ideally I’d love to be in a place where I had no financial worries whatsoever, but otherwise I’m in a happy relationship, have a nice home, can indulge whatever talents I might have, and my health seems to be OK. Of course, being rivetingly handsome helps, too. Ha.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, without cost being a deciding factor, where would you go? There are so many places I’d scarcely know where to begin. Ideally (let’s say I’ve won a major lottery) I’d book passage on a luxurious (but smaller, I hate those mammoth barges) cruise liner and book a full year to travel. It would be one of those deals where we could get off and back on as we chose. I’d start with Hawaii, and then back to the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, Singapore, the Malay Peninsula, South Africa, Egypt, the Greek Isles, Italy, France, Belgium, England and Ireland, and then down the Eastern Seaboard from Newfoundland to Florida, New Orleans, Austin, San Antonio, then across the Caribbean to Brazil (with assorted island stops), up the Amazon, onward to Argentina, over to Chile, a stop at the Galapagos, on up the coast to Costa Rica, a brief stop at Cabo (just to see if it’s changed much from when I was there in 1993), San Diego, San Francisco, and then home. I’m not greedy, and anyway, it said cost wasn’t a deciding factor. Of course, the foregoing doesn’t cover ‘all’ the places I’d still like to visit.

Do you get along better with the same sex, or the opposite sex? I have some cherished male friends, but generally my closest friends have almost always been female. I like the company of women (not for tacky reasons – oh, sometimes those, too) for reasons I’ve outlined before. Women I generally find are more honest and more sympathetic, and the esthetic works for me, too.

Are you the type of person who prefers one or two close friends, or lots of acquaintances? I have both and they serve different purposes in my life. Close friends, however, are to be cherished and valued and even if one hasn’t been with them for a long time, they are omnipresent in life.

Are you still friends with anyone you went to school with? My friend John, in Australia, have been friends since age 12. Karen, who lives about 50 miles away, has been a friend since kindergarten.

Are you a homebody, or a social butterfly? Essentially I’m a homebody, though I’m not a recluse.

What do you enjoy doing on the weekends? I won’t outline ‘everything’ here, but mainly I like hanging with Wendy; taking a daytrip maybe, working in the garden, going for coffee or lunch. Nothing very dramatic.

If you and one friend were asked to be on a reality TV show, who would you take with you? I loathe reality shows, so I’d pass on this one.

Beer, wine or liquor? Nowadays, none of the above.

What is your relationship status? Married.

Are you happy with your current relationship (or lack thereof)? Utterly. I just hate the fact we have to be apart during the workweek.

What's your idea of the perfect romantic getaway? The two of us on the island of Kauai. Always romantic in every sense of the word.

If you could have a date with any celebrity, who would it be and what would you do? Since the likelihood of having a date with a celebrity is remote for many reasons, I’ll say someone who is dead; the late, brilliant, screamingly funny Judy Holliday. For more basic reasons, the wonderfully beautiful, sexy and equally late, Lee Remick.

Do you think you can love someone, without trusting them? No.

Do you believe it is possible to be in love with someone you've never actually spent time with? No

Do you believe in soul mates? In a way, yes. But, the true definition of ‘soul mate’ is not what we are inclined to think it is – that is someone with whom we are almost universally simpatico. In fact, you can detest a soulmate.

If you do believe in soul mates, have you found yours? Once I did, yes. I will say no more than that.

Which is more intimate, in your opinion... Cuddling or Intercourse? Depends entirely on the mood and needs at the time.

Are you happy with your current career/job? Yes.

Which is more important, your career, or your family (assuming you are married with children)? I have no children, but my wife definitely.

If you answered family to the above question, would your family agree that they are most important? I’d say yes. A job is just a job, for heaven’s sake.

How many hours a week do you work, on average? I work freelance and on contract, so it varies hugely.

Did you choose your current career path for money or enjoyment? Enjoyment.

If you could have ANY job, what would your top three career choices be? I’ve already been there, and currently I like what I’m doing.

What's your biggest strength, when it comes to your job? Intelligence and imagination, combined with a good sense of humor.

Your biggest weakness, or flaw? Lack of self-confidence (sometimes).

Do you take pride in your work, or just hurry through it as quickly as you can? Huge pride. I’m probably too perfectionistic. Consequently, I am also a procrastinator.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Finally, a true Homerian epic

I was asked the other day if I was going to see the movie version of The Simpsons. I don’t think so, but that is not a criticism of the film version of a TV series that is better than 99 percent of all TV comedies (the other one percent I’ll give to The Office, if for sweet Pam if nothing else)

It’s just that, for reasons I’ve outlined here before, I don’t ‘do’ movies in movie houses. The last time I went to the movies was either Saving Private Ryan (that otherwise engaging if horrific Spielberg epic that seemed to indicate there were no ‘Allies’ at D-Day, such as Brits or Canadians, and that the US had handled the whole thing all by themselves), or Titanic. I was told we had to see Titanic on the big screen because the effects were tremendous. They were. It was very impressive cinematically. The plotline and most of the acting absolutely sucked (with the exception of Kate Winslet, whom I’d watch reading the telephone book), and it also made me hope somebody might someday put out a contract on Celine Dion, but that’s neither here nor there.

As for The Simpsons, well since I’m used to watching it on TV anyway, I’ll wait for the DVD. I am also wary about any half-hour vehicle being expanded to motion picture length. It never really works. But, according to critics, The Simpsons continues to ‘work’ until about three-quarters of the way through, so that ain’t bad.

I suggested at the beginning that I am a fan of The Simpsons. Indeed I am. I think it is often brilliant, and when it’s not brilliant, it is still pretty good. I wish somebody would encourage Jim Belushi to watch and then say: “Jim, this is what ‘funny’ looks like. Obviously an alien concept to you.”

The Simpsons have been almost consistently funny, irreverent, satirical, buffoonish, sometimes touching (but never enough to get treacly), and an all out blast that is the first thing that has been consistently hilarious since Get Smart went off the air. I say this, and I’m not even really an animation buff. But, all the elements of the finest anarchic comedy are there. The Simpsons are the Marx Brothers in cartoon format, but the difference even there being (and I am a big Marx fan) that the Simpsons are almost always funny. The Marxes sometimes, quite frankly, weren’t consistently amusing. They could actually get a bit tiresome. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and even Maggie, along with that cast of 'thousands', never get tiresome.

The series was always good, though I’m not so enamored of the early episodes. They were a bit like the early forays into sex most of us had – a bit awkward, cumbersome and ill-defined. They hadn’t yet established their groove. The change came when the focus of the series was removed from Bart and transferred to Homer – that universal schmuck that almost every male (and female who lives with one) can relate to at times. We’ve all had our Homeresque moments. The only difference between Homer and the rest of us is that he feels only a fleeting shame, the rest of us continue to live in agony with our gaffes and awful misjudgements.

So, I raise a glass and toast all the good residents of Springfield (wherever it might be, everlasting tire-fire and all), and all the gang at Moe’s and Kwikee-Mart, may you long prosper. Society needs the likes of you to inject a bit of ‘sanity’ into a genuinely insane world.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Looking at the 'other' Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is a curious place (in many respects). About 750,000 people (including me) live along a fringe on the island's east coast. However that east coast fringe of population only runs up about half the length of the 300 miles of that coast. Elsewhere it is a virtual wilderness, interspersed with tiny communities, logging operations, remote native villages and trees, and more trees.
Running up the centre of the island from a pleasant coastal plain containing cities, towns and farms is the Beaufort range of mountains. They are what separates the eastern fringe from everything else. In that context I, like most others who live here, tend to disregard the rest of the place, even though it is really quite close-at-hand. For example, I have only been to the northern reaches just once, and only to the west side a handful of times. Yesterday I added a finger to that handful.
We had friends visiting from out of the province, so we decided to take them on a day trip. We were going to take them to the village of Bamfield right out on the west coast. We'd never made the trip ourselves, though we'd always meant to. We now had the excuse.
Arising at an unspeakable hour we left the Comox Valley (our home) and drove to the mill town of Port Alberni -- about the only community of substance in the island's interior. There we boarded the MV Frances Barkley (a little coastal freighter) and took the long ride down the Alberni Inlet to head out to Bamfield. It was a nice trip. It was an overcast day, but didn't rain, and the big diesel engine of the boat chugged along at a leisurely 10-knots. Passengers on such boats are gravy in their revenue, they are mainly designed to service the remote communities that have no other access than boats or seaplanes. This is Vancouver Island in the raw, and it is amazing to think that a metropolis of over 2 million people is only a scant hundred miles from where we were.
The stops the Barkley made were intriguing -- little cabins in the wilderness on the sides of mountains, floating communities, including one that consisted of a number of cottages, and at which the two dogs that were travelling with us got off to link up with the rest of the dogs that stayed behind. The reunion (pictured) was an ecstatic one for all canines concerned.
After about 4 1/2 hours we made it to Bamfield. Bamfield (whose erstwhile claim to fame was that it was the western terminus of the first trans-Pacific telegraph cable between Canada and Asia) isn't really up to much. A handful of houses, a boardwalk along the front, a couple of shops and B&Bs, a bar (of course) a coast guard station and a collection of inhabitants that included vacationers and residents. The residents were the usual collection of relatively regular folk, along with aged hippies, expatriates, potheads and drunks, and motley dogs that seemed to belong to nobody in particular. I have no desire to live there, OK? Just in case you might have been wondering. Just a little to remote for a guy who was raised as a city kid, and still lives with all the amenities and prefers them to kerosene lamps or whining generators, not to mention outhouses. Never much cared for outhouses. Funny, that.
The nicest part of the trip truly was the wee ship. Captain and crew were friendly. The food in the galley was inexpensive and surprisingly good, despite a limited menu, and the trip itself was only $50 per person. Not bad for an excursion that takes an entire day.
On the way home we amused ourselves, as we always do, by creating dramas around some of the passengers. They included:
1. The 'interesting' family group. Mid 60s dad, early 30s son (you could tell he was junior because he was the spit of his old man), and rather decent looking maybe 40 years old stepmom. Son looked like he had lived, what with terminal tattoos and the fact we saw him buying a pint of vodka at the store in Bamfield. So, we decided (quite uncalled for) that there was a 'thing' between stepmom and junior and he was planning to ply her with strong drink that evening so that when the old man fell asleep in front of the TV, as he always does, Stepmom and junior could get up to all sorts of no-good.
2. Know-it-all backwoods experienced guy with his also much younger female partner (he spent some time on the trip sticking his tongue down her throat in front of everybody, so you got the idea they were an item), but he also devoted the rest of his time regaling city slickers with his knowledge of the backwoods. If those city slickers happened to be city-slickerettes of a comely nature, he devoted even more time to apprising them of his deep and souldful wisdom, meanwhile leaving his squeeze entirely on her own. Her own seemed to mainly consist of chainsmoking and looking rather sullen.
3. Retro women (one older and one younger) wearing excruciatingly unappealing earth mother garments and hairstyles, and one in-between age Tour de France horrible cycling tog wearing male person who I decided were definitely vegans, or possibly raw-food munchers. They were such because they had those supercilioius expressions on their faces that told them that everybody else on the ship was impure shit but they would have to bear with their presence.
There were other folk, too, but by that point our attention was diverted by the fact that we saw (on three occasions within a few minutes) black bears padding along the beach. That was worth the price of admission. We weren't certain if the bears were coming from their Saturday 'picnic' (Because Saturday is, after all, the 'day the teddy bears have their picnic.' or if, since it was a trio they were the actual 'Three Bears.'
Anyway, now I have had my Vancouver Island experience for this year, I can only recommend it to others, since it is good for our tourism revenues. I promise you you'll see bears.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

No, this is more serious than just 'kids at play'

Somebody with more cynicism, not to mention ill-spirit than I can muster has already suggested we mount an Internet ‘death watch’ for Lindsay Lohan (pictured here in yesterday's mugshot) and set a date for her terminal burnout. A sad thought, but not beyond comprehension considering the recent misbehaviors of the young, and purportedly ‘talented’ girl. Such a waste, such a waste.

Anyway, if you have been away from the planet you may have missed the news that Ms. Lohan, a few days after departing ‘rehab’ (again) was busted (again) for DUI and possession of blow (again). Hmm. Something doesn’t seem to be working for a person who is much more to be pitied than condemned.

Oh, she must be condemned for driving while pissed and putting others at risk. Such an act is inexcusable no matter what the mitigating factors. And, in this case, there didn’t seem to be any mitigating factors other than the fact that – gasp! – dare I say it? She is an addict! That’s not a judgment call, it’s a statement of the facts based on her behavior.

Her enabling supporters – like her mother – may deny until they give themselves a hernia, but young Ms Lohan is absolutely no different from a run-of-the-mill street junkie, except she has more money and more well-meaning but hopeless people to run interference for her.

If such people really want to save Lindsay’s life (not to mention career) they should reappraise their behaviors.

OK – so in this I am going to put on my addictions counselor hat – yep, it still fits. And state a few realities based on what I observed during my time toiling in the field.

Addicts, who can be very charming people, are the following things:

Liars: They lie about anything and everything. The cliché in the rehab business suggests that any addict is lying as long as his or her lips are moving. A former colleague took it a step further and used to say: “I know you’re lying even if your lips aren’t moving. Your body language and eyes give it away.” They will even lie when they’re caught in the act.

Disloyal: They will turn on anybody or anything if it serves to fuel their addiction. I had clients who stole from their parents. I had clients who stole from their spouses. I even had older clients who stole from their children. That is, they ripped off the people who only desired to help them. The fact that they stole from the rehab I ran goes without saying. And don't expect any gratitude from people who are still using. You won't get it.

Very sad: Despite the bullshit from those who maintain their wild lifestyle is part of an image and they’re having fun, I’ve never met an addict who wasn’t deeply depressed, guilt-ridden, shame-ridden and potentially suicidal. Not 'all' overdoses are accidental. It’s a horrible carousel (with no apparent destination) for any person to be on.

Filled with denial: All addicts (including alcoholics) downplay the extent of their involvement with their substance of choice. Astute doctors, when asking a person how much alcohol he or she consumes on a daily basis, know to take the figure (which is always low) – “Oh, I dunno One or two drinks, I guess.” – and multiply that figure by three, at least. Drug abusers will attest that “Yeah, I only snort (or smoke) but never use a needle. Those people are real addicts.”

So, if I were in charge of the life of Lindsay Lohan, here is what I would advise as a means of dealing with her. And for her family -- if they don’t want her to be a tragic member of the club that includes Joplin, Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Anna Nicole Smith and ever so many others -- they must get real and consider the following:

1. A ‘real’ intervention: Not one of those pissy-assed little interventions they’ve already mounted against Lindsay, but a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners intervention as in “You do this or you are entirely on your own!” The A&E series Intervention (which is actually quite realistic) captures the sort of intervention I mean.

2. Get her into a genuine treatment facility: Not one of those bullshit Hollywood Hills spas, but the real goods, where she will get proper treatment and nobody, but nobody will cater to her “Hollywoodness”. The Hazelden Institute in Minnesota is world standard and it has done well by many of its clients. There are others just as worthy. As horror novelist Stephen King wrote in a recent article on the so-called rehabs checked into by, oh I don’t know, Lindsay, or Paris, or Britney, that he (he makes no bones about being a recovering alcoholic) went to one that was essentially furnished in early Dachau. I don’t remember if those were his exact words, but you get the drift.

3. Get her into a genuine 12-step program and link her with such worthies in recovery as Anthony Hopkins, Robert Downey Jr. or Eric Clapton – no, not Nick Nolte, as much as I love him as an actor.

4. Stop buying her bullshit and stop protecting her: Let her face the judgment of the courts and tell her to eat her punishment. She has earned it. Then – just maybe – she might actually make some progress. The key to success for any addict is to embrace humility. She has shown no sign of that at all.

There are few guarantees in this life except this: Any person who persists with an addiction will either end up in hospital, end up in jail, die -- or get well. The last option is up to the addict. I hope Ms. Lohan chooses the latter course. It works.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

'Nuther cuppa joe fer me, Dot'

George Carlin has an absolutely hilarious sketch in which he heatedly explains how he hates guys named Todd, not to mention Scott, Jason, Justin and all the other new-fangled names. He wonders whatever happened to guys with ‘real’ names, like Eddie. You know, like Fast Eddie, the poolshark Paul Newman played in The Hustler.

Now, all you Todds and Scotts, don’t get pissed off with me about this, George said it, not I. But, the real point of the issue is, how names, male and female have changed so profoundly over the years as they slip in and out of fashion.

Male babies born in Edwardian times and for decades after as often as not were stuck with the name Edward, consequently we get Carlin’s Eddies. My dad’s first name was George and, of course, the King at the time of his birth (1916) was George V. Georgie-Porgie Bush got his ‘George’ from his father, who quite possibly was named in deference to either the King of England or George Washington, who was probably named after George I or II of England.

Where the hell Ian came from, I have no idea. I hated my name when I was little because I didn’t know any other Ians. Then, when I was about 10 another Ian moved to the neighborhood, and that made it seem more acceptable since he was a pretty neat kid.

But, I don’t want to dwell so much on male names as I do on female. Female names today are profoundly different from when I was a kid. When I was in elementary school we just had a whole slew of Lindas, Carols, Judys, Trudys, Susans, Annes, Wendys, Dianes, Karens, Sheilas, Shirleys and a bunch of others. Like you could always recognize a ’55 Chevy, you could also recognize a female born around that time because she probably sports on of the aforementioned names.

The female names I like best, however, are the ones you just never hear anymore. Those were the names sported by friends of your mother or grandmother, depending on your age.

Like, when did you last run into a female born since 1920 who was named ‘Madge?’ The last Madge of my recall was the manicurist who soaked her clients’ fingers in Palmolive liquid. She not only was named Madge, she looked like a Madge. She could never have been a Chelsea, for example.

Those great old names had associations that were either fair or unfair, but all you had to do was hear the name of a woman you’d never met, and you formed a visual image of her. I’ll list a few of them. If one of them happens to be your name, please don’t take umbrage. You might, for example, be an absolutely wonderful Gladys (Wendy’s late Mom’s name, so I can get away with this example.)

Dot: Dot is a waitress in a diner. She has a pencil stuck behind her ear and she licks the tip of it before she takes your order on her pad. She has a heart-of-gold and always makes sure the truckers have their coffee topped up. The truckers love Dot.

Bertha: There’s no way around this. Berthas are big and fat. The name sounds big and fat. The Allies name the huge German cannon ‘Big Bertha’ for understandable reasons.

Lola: Lolas are a bit on the slutty side, but in a kind of sensual way. They are peroxide blondes who smoke heavily and like their martinis just a little too much. "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets."

Wanda: Wandas, on the other hand, are also a bit slutty, but in a more basic manner. Wendy has a perfectly respectable friend named ‘Wanda’ but I always have to bite my lip slightly when she mentions her name, just to refrain from making a lewd comment.

Myrtle: Now, there’s an old-fashioned name with which to conjure. You hardly ever run into Myrtles these days. Myrtles worked in the same small-town bank for 40 years; they were maiden ladies (as they were called in those days), but were quite jolly sorts, and pillars at serving at the church’s annual strawberry tea.

Daisy: My mother-in-law had a friend named Daisy whose last name, before she married was – wait for it – ‘Duck’. This is absolutely true. When the cartoon character came out she opted for using her second name, Margaret.

Mabel: Mabels worked in the local five-and-dime. They were salt-of-the-earth and if you had a question about any of the merchandise you always went to Mabel because she had been working there since Lincoln was president and she knew everything about everything within its walls. A different Mabel was a bar waitress, if you remember the old beer slogan: “Hey, Mabel. Black Label!”

Blanche: Blanche was the head nurse at the local hospital. Blanche RN, if you prefer. Severe but probably attractive in her day. She was rumored to have once had a torrid affair with a married surgeon, who then left her in his wake when he ran off with a comely young LPN named Marcia. Marcias were inclined to be on the cute and on the flirtatious side, in my experience.

Anyway, I could go on and on with this, but will refrain. But, please, think kind thoughts about all the Hortenses and Millicents you might have known in your life – you might never see their names pass this way again.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I want to be a paperback writer

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. You know, a piece of fiction with dialogue, plot, action, theme, torrid sexual encounters, love, adventure, humor, fantasy, stark terror, violence, suspense, and all the other elements that make up for a smashing good read.

The manuscript I’ve mentioned here before, the one that (I think, hope, pray) has been completed, except for the final edit (for now), is a work of non-fiction (oh yeah, there is a certain amount of hyperbole and aggrandizement of situations, let alone false-memory syndrome), and is actually more of reminiscence. It doesn’t have a plot, let alone violence, suspense, sex (well, a little bit), and all the things I just mentioned in context of novels.

But, I’m thinking I’d like to turn my hand to fiction. As I said before, despite the fact I was an English major and taught senior high school English for a number of years, and have read most of the so-called ‘classics’ of fiction – a state of grace is having reached an age when one never has to read Moby Dick again – I currently read very little fiction, and haven’t for many years.

Primarily, in my recreational reading I do true crime, travel (I worship at the respective shrines of Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux), biography – somewhat ironically I just picked up a bio of Patricia Highsmith, who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, among others. In other words, I’ll read about Ms Highsmith's strange (real) life but am yet to read any of her novels (loved the movie, though). I also read true adventure, spirituality, and much more. But, rarely fiction.

My problem with fiction is that it’s not (in the purest sense) true. It’s the product of somebody’s imagination. Yet, so was Hamlet, and I cherish every word Shakespeare ever penned, and so were Huckleberry Finn, and David Copperfield, and Twain and Dickens are also to be worshipped and the world would be a much poorer place without such aforementioned writers of fiction.

So, going back to my original premise, I want to write a work of fiction. I want to get over my hurdle that has resulted in many aborted manuscripts of novels and short stories over the years.

I’ve worked out some great plot lines and general themes, and I think they would fly if handled by a John Irving, Wally Lamb or Jonathan Franzen, but not so much by me.

Where I lose my groove is when it comes to dialogue. My dialogue looks dorky, stilted and false. It doesn’t look like real people sound. I don’t know why that is. I’m relatively eloquent in real life, and cherish good conversation. But, I have great difficulty reproducing it. My characters end up terminally inarticulate like loveable boob Joey on Friends: “So, how’s it goin’?” being the calibre of my reproduced verbal exchanges.

"So, Martha, how's it goin'?"
"Good, Ralph. And you?"
"Just great. Wanna have sex?"
"Oh -- er -- OK. Why not?"

When the dialogue factor becomes crucial is when I attempt to create a verbal situation around either love or sex. I mean, I have had such conversations at such times – and some of them are gems in my memory bank, easily recalled. Yet, if I put them down on a computer screen they come out either gratuitously dirty, childish, or really, really embarrassingly awkward and seem to say more about me than I necessarily want to share with somebody else.

“Your character wanted to do what?? Ooh, ick.”

“OK – forget you read that. I’m sorry. I don’t really think that way. Really I don’t.”

Anyway, I recently started my 2,367th fiction manuscript and I have managed to work out 12 pages of it – I’m actually starting my second chapter. The dorkiness factor hasn’t yet come to dominate (demanding abandonment), but I’ve also been avoiding dialogue like the plague.

And, it is based on a real-life semi-autobiographical element of the writer's life. Maybe that'll work better. I'll keep you posted, but don't reserve space on your bookshelves just yet.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Sometimes a body just can't get away from everybody else

It has been said that if one were to stand in Piccadilly Circus long enough, eventually one would see everybody one has known in one’s lifetime. I don’t know if anybody has ever tested the theory, or just exactly how long is ‘long enough’ to see all of those people, but it’s an intriguing six degrees of separation premise that might be worth exploring as, oh, maybe a worthy ‘project’ for Paris Hilton, just so she can test out the new-found, post-slammer enlightenment she mentioned to Larry King.

I once sat in an outside café in my hometown, drinking a coffee and waiting for Wendy who was on some sort of an errand, so I had a half-hour or so to kill. In that 30-minute period both of my former wives (who still live in the same town) happened by and stopped to chat. I began to feel like my entire life was passing by me. The proprietor, who is a friend, noticed the passing parade and came over and said: “Hey, Ian, maybe if you sit here long enough, you’ll run into all the girls you dated in high school.”

Yesterday, after Wendy and I had conversed over breakfast about the interconnectedness of people we know – when we were first seeing each other, we found out that we had all sorts of people in common, even at a friendship level, even though we worked and traveled in entirely different realms – and then moved into that six degrees of separation stuff. We thought that even with our personal connections we should create an interconnectedness line chart and just keep expanding it. Eventually we'd have hundreds of people, no doubt. So would anybody else.

A couple of hours later yestereday we were sitting outside at Starbucks in one of those neat little shopping villages that abound in Victoria, when I looked up and saw a woman that I knew I knew. I grasped at a name, and said: “It’s Margot, right?” She looked at me, and said: “Yes, it is. And I know you. Where do I know you from?” Anyway, the long and short of it was, that she is a performer and I had interviewed her for a story many years ago. But then, another woman joined her. And, in this case, Wendy said: “I know you, (to the newcomer). You work in government office downtown and we’ve connected over some documents.” They agreed they had. But wait, there’s more. The newcomer woman looked at me, and we both agreed that we too knew each other. It turned out that she was one of my English students way back at the dawn of time when I taught high school. So, there you had it. Interconnections all over the place just from a random incident on a Sunday morning.

When I was on Rarotonga in the South Pacific a few years ago I got to know a Maori guy who was a local bus driver. We chatted one day about this and that. He said he’d never really been anywhere other than New Zealand, and he was interested that I was from Canada. “My brother lives in Canada, in a town called Chilliwack. I’m going to visit him next year. He has a Harley, and I’m going to rent one when I go to see him and we’re going to tour the Rocky Mountains.” Cool, but as it happens, my brother too lives in Chilliwack. When I returned him I mentioned that to my kid brother, who is a parts manager at a Chrysler dealership. “I know a Maori guy,” my brother said. “He brings his car in for servicing. He has a Harley.” Same guy? What are the odds?
Pretty damn good, it seems. Evidently the ‘math’ of six degrees of separation works out worldwide. Aside from the fact that I have run into people from ‘home’ in far-flung areas of the world, I’ve also established connections via other people, in which we have found out that we knew people in common.

So, here would be an interesting test. We all have people on our bloglists. People from all over the continent, and indeed all over the world. I would suggest that if you pried enough you would find that you and some of your blogger friends actually have some real-time friends or acquaintances or business associates in common. It would take a long time to work that out, but it would be an interesting experience. Don’t choose somebody in your town, or even in your province or state, but go farther afield and see where your connections are.

Should you try this, and actually make a connection, let the rest of us know about it. It would make a great blog.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why, it's more exciting than the Second Coming

In all innocence yesterday I strolled into a noted Victoria bookstore yesterday and was met by not only a mass of juvenile attendees at a place that is normally populated by adult sorts of browsers, but also of staffers dressed in witches’ hats, and make-up of indiscernible (by me) origin, and various types of regalia and wondered, if only for seconds, what was going on, since Halloween had long-since passed and the next one wasn’t on the immediate horizon. It was the 21st of July, for heaven’s sake.

Well, silly me for being so out of the loop. It was, of course, the massively engineered and uber-hyped launch of the latest Harry Potter tome. Yet, judging by the crowds and their enthusiasm, you would have thought that Madonna had agreed to strip in the town square for all of those who might still actually care if she did doff bra and knickers.

This HP extravaganza was engineered, obviously, to create more mass ecstasy than Christ’s last foray into Jerusalem. It never ceases to amaze me how the ‘machine’ of crass and venal publicity can sway once it sets out to perform its wonders.

As I have written before, I have read none of the J.K. Rowling opus. Not out of any particular bias other than seeing the series as a series for children. Yet, I fully accept that adults sometimes like a foray into fantasy, and that is good. Indeed, I might even read one someday, out of curiosity as much as anything else. In other words, I think it is fine that a writer has been successful in creating and oeuvre that appeals, even at a mass level. HP is fashionable and, like all fashions, it will ultimately become passé for a time. But, if it is truly worthy, it will then assume a respectable place in the literary pantheon, as have the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Hemingway, and Steinbeck. Cool.

A virtue almost constantly trumpeted about HP is that it is “getting children to read.” Don’t be decrying “getting children to read” in this post-literate era. That’s akin to peeing on the tomb of Princess Diana, or daring to suggest that maybe Global Warming is something trumped up by the manufacturers of fluorescent overpriced lightbulbs and hybrid cars.

But, of the “getting children to read” argument, ‘Newfie Bullet’ columnist, Rex Murphy, writing in Saturday’s Globe and Mail about the HP onslaught and -- soothing to my ego -- sharing some of the opinions I had voiced to Wendy yesterday, stated that the problem with the ‘reading’ argument if indeed HP is actually “getting children to read,” is that the humongous HP hype takes reading away from what it is designed to be – a solitary act of entertainment, enlightenment, or relaxation. Reading is something carried out in bed at night if nothing more enchanting is happening, in front of a roaring fire, or to kill time on the train, or at an airport. It is not a group endeavor. Never has been.

My primary fear in that context is that HP ‘overkill’ will ultimately destroy whatever goodness has come from the HP phenom. It will be relegated to faddism, flavor of this moment in 2007, a literary (albeit far less hideous) Victoria Beckham, and then it will crash and burn, and children who might have actually gotten a bit interested in reading will turn away from the practice because the ‘machine’ no longer deems it current. HP stands in jeopardy, in other words, of “jumping the shark” or bouncing around on Oprah’s couch like Tom-Terrific did (and whose creds have never really recovered from that bit of misjudgment), and passing out of favor due to overkill.

When that happens the hypemeister boys and girls of marketing will move onto something else, and what could have been a ‘good’ moment in literary history, even an ‘enlightened’ one, will be discarded like yesterday’s, oh, Globe and Mail.

That would actually be sad. But, maybe that will be when I’ll pick up a copy in the remaindered bin and give old Harry a go. I might actually like it when finally nobody is telling me that I must.


Friday, July 20, 2007

'And that's fer damshur'

While I still earn a penny as a freelancer, I toiled in the regular newspaper trade for a great number of years as a staff reporter, columnist, editor, etc., and during those few decades I managed to earn a few awards for writing. I don’t mention this out of vainglory, but as a statement of fact. Albeit a fact I am rather proud of.

In some respects, the award that gives me the greatest pride is one called: “The ‘Ma Murray’ Community Service Award,” that I received in 1998. When I heard my name in connection with the award I sort of wanted to think that maybe old ‘Ma’ herself would have approved of my being the recipient. But, since she died in 1982 at the grand age of 94, her approval didn’t come into the equation.

Now, I am not about to go into the details of Ma Murray, but I will suggest that I felt honoured to get the award because she was a hugely colourful BC figure that I’d heard about since I was a kid. I’d heard about her because I was always a newspaper buff. And Margaret ‘Ma’ Murray had a rather amazing career that she persevered with until she was in her mid 80s. Most of all, she had guts. And even more than that, she was, as Sinatra once called certain women who had cojones, a ‘great broad.’

Born into an impoverished Catholic family in rural Kansas in 1888, Margaret Murray (who left school at 13) decided, when she was in her teens, to head ‘west’ to meet some real cowboys. Ultimately, arriving in Vancouver, via Seattle, she applied for a bookkeeping job at a small newspaper that was run by a guy named George Murray. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rarely has there been such an unlikely coupling. George was quiet, reserved, well educated, almost scholarly, and a devout Protestant. Margaret was fiery, a bit profane, ill schooled, and staunchly Catholic. Yet, this oil-and-water blend worked amazingly well. And, of course, there was one thing they shared – intelligence. George thoroughly respected Margaret, and that was all it took.

As I said, colourful. Once, with a group of dignitaries in Victoria in the 1940s, when George was running for the provincial Legislature, the two found themselves at a stuffy reception. At the time George and Margaret were running The Alaska Highway News, out of Fort St. John, in BC’s Peace River district. Truly the back-and-beyond in those days. It was suggested by somebody present that maybe the Murrays were, in effect, just a little too big for their britches. At which point, Margaret leapt to her feet, thrust her 44-Ds out in front of her, and noted “They grow them big in our part of the country.” Poor George slumped in mortification. At another, similar meeting, Margaret once opined that people in the hinterland are strong and resolute because “Under every man there is a good woman.”

Anyway, her career continued for many years, and her editorial columns served to tweak the sensibilities of politicians and other knaves, cant spewers and poltroons, because she never censored her thoughts. Nor used a dictionary, much to the chagrin of George, it might be added, since he had to ‘proof’ her rantings.

And, every column she ever offered always closed with this salutation: “And that’s fer damshur.”

So, thanks Ma, and that's fer damshur, too.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

A little more than a mere face in the crowd

A guy I know died last weekend. He was only 58. According to the tale he was utterly riddled with cancer, and had no idea he was so ill. Maybe that was better. Who knows? We can't ask him about it.

I was somewhat shocked when I heard about his unanticipated death. That wasn’t because he was a close friend; he was more of a business acquaintance than anything else. But, he was a guy I’d known in the community for many years.

A few years ago he got involved in some behavior that was questionable (I’ll elaborate no more than that), and due to the ensuing scandal he was forced to resign in disgrace from assorted high-profile positions he held. None of what he did was really criminal, per se. Just stupid.

Anyway, he thoroughly cleaned up his act and in so doing was able to redeem his stature in the community. Good for him. I admire that a lot. He didn’t whine or bleat that he’d been treated unfairly. He was merely of the opinion “I fucked up. I guess it’s up to me to make it right.” And he did.

And then he died -- much too young.

That hardly seems fair.

Death is an odd thing, and we all deal with it differently. I read a good insight on somebody’s blog this morning, in which the writer said, referring to the death of her brother many years ago: “Time does not heal all wounds.”

It’s true. It doesn’t.

I also recall my late mother-in-law once saying after one of her siblings had died: “Every death of somebody close diminishes us just a little bit.” That’s true, too.

The people in our lives are part of us. We cannot help but be struck by the passing of somebody close. The lives of those who survive will never be quite the same after a major loss. And, as in the case I write about today, we are even diminished a little bit by lesser losses. Needless to say, any death of somebody we know also reminds us that such is our destiny, too.

When I was 38 one of my best friends from university died tragically in an accident. He was a terrific person; funny, smart, caring, devoted husband and father, a great guy to crack a beer with or go fishing with (both of which we did quite regularly), and all those virtues. And then he died. Took me a long time to get over that one, and I probably never truly have. I still think about him.

Yet, I think good thoughts, amusing thoughts and am grateful that he added something to the mosaic of my life. I’m grateful that his piece of the mosaic is fully intact still, even if he isn’t. Others I have known and who have now gone did the same. So, while my MIL’s thought that death diminishes us may be true, the lives of 'our' people increases us, so it’s all part of the balance.

Anyway, such are my thoughts this Thursday morning on “birth, death and the whole damn thing.”

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The ultimate Lounge Lizard

Wendy and I often have these deep philosophical discussions about belief systems, tastes, where the world is going, global warming vs nuclear winter, you know that kind of stuff. The other day as we were driving in the car, I asked her:

“So, which one do you prefer as a vocalist on the John Lennon song, Jealous Guy, Lennon himself, or Bryan Ferry?”

She thought long and hard about this, as it was a question of much import.

“Ferry, I think,” she said. “There’s pain and pathos in his voice. Lennon’s is too unemotional for that particular song.”

I couldn’t help but agree.

Bryan Ferry was never a huge hit this side of the Atlantic, but I think I was always kind of a fan for that reason. There was nothing flavor of the moment about the guy who was once dumped by Jerry Hall, who decided she really fancied Mick Jagger more.

But, I remember Ferry way back in his Roxy Music days, and loved songs like Do the Strand and other relatively obscure ditties.

His rendering of the old 1930s chestnut, These Foolish Things (remind me of you) is perfectly stylized because he actually ‘talks’ the piece rather than sings it – and it works beautifully, and you can feel the pain of love lost. See the video if you get that chance, because his consummate ‘lounge lizard’ persona really makes it come alive.

The song Avalon from a few years ago was probably his biggest hit over here, but actually I find that one a bit boring. That was when Ferry was in his ‘Arthurian’ romantic mode.

I once saw him interviewed on Parkinson in England, and I must confess I found him remarkably boring, but then he redeemed himself by singing.

Nothing much more to say. Just felt an impulse to pay a little homage to Bryan Ferry.

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Geezers Rule on Vancouver Island

Just what I’d always suspected: Geezers rule on Vancouver Island.

Recent national demographic information noted that there is a larger quotient of 60-plus people in this chunk of land off the coast of British Columbia than anywhere else in the country.

In a couple of communities the median age now is, I believe, 107. I meet them. They clutter up the aisles of supermarkets with their walkers and scooters on pension day.

The reason they’re here, it is suggested, is the climate. As the years encroach, most sensible people seek pleasant, wafting breezes rather than pounding blizzards.

I understand that. I understand that to the degree that I don’t find this island to be warm enough, and seek my balm in Hawaii or Palm Springs in the chilly months. But, as far as the rest of Canada (a vast and frigid wasteland, I like to think) is concerned the Island is pretty benevolent. I have a good-sized palm tree in my front yard that I do not need to winterize, and there are so many palms in Victoria that they are no longer even a slight curiosity. Yeah, it’s a pretty nice place, and that’s why the old farts come here.

But, I don’t really want them to. I mean, I’m entitled because I’m a west coast boy. But people from Timmins, Ontario or Cold Lake Alberta, I think should stay in the place they were spawned at. Sorry if it’s too cold, but them’s the breaks.

I don’t want them to come here for a number of reasons:

1. I don’t believe the statistics about 60-plus, for I think the majority of the newly-arrived oldsters are 80 or 90 plus, and they ‘all’ take to the highway, driving huge RVs at times when I have to do my fairly regular commute between Comox and Victoria (about 140 miles – I use the old measurement for distance for the sake of my US and UK readers, and also because I’m bloody-minded and hate metric because it’s too logical and too French) and impede the traffic flow for the entire distance by driving 20 mph below the posted speed in both slow and fast lanes.

2. They bring with them ‘furrin’ ideas, like the ones that suggest that we should vote for political parties that are popular in establishment Ontario, rather than ones that are ‘populist’ (hence anti-Ontario establishment) in coastal BC. What’s worse is that such are their numbers; they sometimes end up electing the bastards, and then the rest of us are stuck with them.

3. They drive up the prices of real estate inordinately. Well, I don’t really mind that so much since it means I can sell my house for hundreds of thousands more than I paid for it, but it does kind of shaft younger people – the actually ‘productive’ elements of any society.

4. They demand all sorts of infrastructure niceties: The concept of ‘frontier’ doesn’t appeal to them, and they want to sort of health care, for example, that they had back in Guelph, ON. And, since their numbers are so huge, that puts a demand on me, the homegrown taxpayer.

So, in light of all the above, my ‘modest proposal’ is this: We can welcome dotage outsiders on one condition. The condition is based on the fact that Vancouver Island is very large – nearly 300 miles long and 50 miles wide (it’s by far the largest island on the west coast of North America), but all the population virtually is stuck on the lower half (my half). There is a whole half of the Island north of Campbell River that is just crying out for population. Towns like Port Hardy and Port McNeill have lost population in recent years.

So, I suggest that all new arrivees should have to go up north if they want to come here. I mean, really, they’d love it. It’s very beautiful and wonderfully unspoiled (if you ignore the logging clearcuts and mining operations); offers recreational opportunities galore, and the roads are hardly traveled by anybody. You can drive at 45 and nobody will really give a damn, or succumb to road rage.

If you think this all makes me sound curmudgeonly, so be it. I’m entitled. I’m getting older, too.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

I got an award, I did -- I did

I got this award from my friend csl. I was quite touched, especially because it came from her. I have found her to be, since I discovered her a while ago, a fascinatingly articulate, witty and I am fully prepared to say ‘tough’ woman who has battled through some domestic adversity and I think provides a wonderful role model for others, especially women, who find themselves dealing with some life-challenges. But, what she says, both personally, and indeed professionally, applies to men who have undergone similar trials (like me, for example) and have managed to get out to the other side unbowed. And, she’s funny, too, an excellent photographer, inspiring Mom, and finally, a fine cook if the dishes she photographs bear testament.

So, needless to say, I was very flattered when she offered this award to me. I was also touched by what she said about me and my blog:

Ian, who writes on a wide range of interesting topics and seems to gather up interesting folks around him. I’ve found my way to several blogs I’ve stuck with through him. And I always enjoy reading the thoughts of this kindred spirit.

Shucks, she finds me a kindred spirit, and I say the same about her, so that works nicely.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a ‘schmoozer’ as such. I consider myself friendly and outgoing (though inwardly more shy than I let on) and I can say that I genuinely like ‘most’ (though assuredly not all) people. I think I am also very ‘democratic’ when dealing with people from all walks of life and can relate to them at their various levels without ever sounding (or feeling) patronizing. This was invaluable help when I worked as a reporter, and also working in a drug and alcohol rehab. So, if that qualifies as an ability to schmooze, then so be it.

Now comes the difficult part – the tagging. Again, this must be narrowed to a mere five people, which I find virtually impossible to do, because I like my blogger friends (all of them, or they wouldn’t be on my list) very much. So, I am going to stick with the schmoozing aspects of their blogs and think of individuals whom I’d love to sit down and have a coffee with in a sidewalk café and sort out all the woes of the world, but also to have a good laugh about the ludicrous traits and habits of the mass of humanity, ourselves included. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t also like to share a coffee with all the others, and also some who aren’t on my list.

So, here are my schmoozing award choices:

Heartsinsanfrancisco is a west-coaster like I am, and we seem to have sensibilities which mesh nicely, and she has a delicious sense-of-humor combined with a big chunk of intelligence and is just a lot of fun to visit on a daily basis. I like Big Brother (even though he’s never told me what happened with the ‘Holding Company’) because I was once a teacher, and he still is, and he’s also a trivia aficionado like I am. And, I can’t mention him in this context without looking at his baby sister, Jazz, whom, if you haven’t found her yet, you should. She’s funny, irreverent, has a wonderfully dirty mind just like mine, and so she’s up for a café au lait and a schmoozing award. Voyager of Spindrift and Dreams is also very intelligent, very funny, wonderfully irreverent and lives in my hometown and shares lots of wonderful journeys I’ve also taken in years past. Finally, I am going to mention somebody with whom I actually have shared a coffee and real-time conversation, and want to do so again, and that is Tai. She is very much in real life like her blogs, and her blogs are varied and consistently diverting.

So, there you have it. And, those tagged, if they will, have to grant the award to five good people of their own choosing.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Hey -- I've gone snorkeling at that beach

I pilfered this from my friend Geewits, and felt it was an ideal Friday blog. It’s not too challenging, a bit thought-provoking and also leaves me the time to do the things I have to do, the places I have to go and the people I have to see. It's just some categories with which to fill in the blanks. So, this is how I feel, this Friday the 13th of July in the Year of Our Lord 2007:

5 Things I wish to do before I die

1. Go back to the South Pacific
2. Go back to Europe
3. Visit my oldest friend, John, and his lovely wife, Joy in Australia
4. Have a book published
5. Be utterly at peace with myself and my circumstances

5 Things I can do

1. Make the best potato salad you ever had
2. Make somebody I love laugh
3. Express my need for creativity in a number of realms
4. Help people in times of crisis or distress
5. Flirt in a non-sleazy way

5 Things I cannot do

1. The splits
2. Climb mountains (acrophobia)
3. Surf (and I’d love to be able to)
4. Scuba (see surf)
5. Tolerate cruelty to either people or animals

5 Things that attract me to the opposite sex

1. Sense of humor
2. A naughty mind and mouth
3. Intelligence
4. Irreverence
5. A great ass. Sorry, but I had to have at least one smutty item

5 Celebrity crushes
(I am much more inclined to get crushes on real people, who shall remain always nameless, but the category calls for celebrity crushes. It doesn’t specify living or dead.):

1. Kathryn Erbe (of L&O Criminal Intent)
2. Mary Louise Parker
3. Deborah Harry of Blondie
4. Lisa Kudrow
5. The late and eternally ravishing Lee Remick (I wanted to work Bewitched’s Liz Montgomery into the mix, too, but ran out of slots)

Anyway, that is me in a tiny way. Feel free to do your own. It's not only fun, but you'll find it challenging to narrow down

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sometimes a guy just has to say 'no!'

Last evening I turned down a freelance offer. I hated to do that, primarily because I like money (and the offer would have paid quite admirably), and because any boost to a person’s credibility in the highly competitive media world can only be a good thing.

But, I said, “No, thank you,” and I said it without a moment’s hesitation. What clinched it for me when this nice lady from a Toronto media company – and she was a nice lady, and I enjoyed chatting with her – ran the concept past me and then offered the sentiment, “I don’t think it should be dangerous.” Which, of course, means it could be very fucking dangerous. Which, of course, means that I don’t want to do “dangerous” just for some ego or back account-driven impulse. I am very happy this morning that I declined her offer last night.

What the gig involved was a sort of ambush journalism in which I ferret out certain scumbags, hoods and societal trash to set them up for interviews by the film company concerning their friend (or relative, as the case may be) who is shortly to be paroled from a federal prison. The guy in question just finished doing a ‘dime’ (sorry, but I’m a L&O fan, and love the jargon) for a vicious and unprovoked attack on a young guy. An attack that left his victim brain-dead and comatose for however long the poor lad might live.

Again, no thanks. These are bad people. I dealt with enough bad people when I ran a rehab, so I think I’ve walked sufficiently on the sleazy side for this lifetime.

I must confess, however, that for a fleeting second I was slightly enticed. Life, to be complete, should have elements of adventure about it. And, I have had lots of adventures – good and bad – in my life. I regret none of them. Well, not entirely true. I regret some of them specifically because at the time they were quite horrible. But, I don’t regret them generally because they add to the mosaic of my life. A life that has been, at least, interesting because I chose to not run away from situations that in truth turned my bowels to water and made me want to hide in my bedroom.

But, in this case, as my Toronto friend told me about the projected plan, I only thought that if I were a young buck, recently in the news-garnering business, I would be up for it. It’s a job for a young guy. She agreed. And when she contacted me she had no idea what my age was.

I have a nice home (two nice homes, as a matter of fact, though I only own one of them), a loving wife, whom I also love dearly, relatively good health, I think, and a fairly positive view of the world. I think I have finally earned the right to pick and choose what I want to do.

And, this was a further walk on the wild side I just didn’t want to take. There is no fool like an old fool, they say. But, there is such a thing as being a damn fool. I don’t choose to be.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'm pickin' up good vibrations

I have been tagged by Heartsinsanfrancsico to list five ways in which I raise my vibrations. Oh, there are probably more ways than five, and some of them might not even be suitable for my (recently) PG Rated blog, but I am up for the challenge, and here I go:

1. Writing: Aside from the fact I write to earn my bread-and-butter, I also write compulsively and feel a certain sense of exultation at a well-turned-phrase – or in receiving a sum of money from someone who happened to like that old well-turned-phrase. Honestly, if I don’t write for any extended period of time, I even go through a withdrawal of sorts.

2. Painting: This is my other creative outlet. I don’t know if I am a good, bad, or indifferent painter, and the quality of my artistry is of no consequence to me. Unlike my fellow blogger, Andrea – at whose artistic shrine I worship – I paint because it takes me away from my writing, and sometimes I need that. It allows me to drift off into a world of my own making. I like that.

3. Snorkelling: As a Piscean, I love anything to do with water, be it swimming, boating, water-skiing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking or cruising. Most of all, I love snorkelling. About 20 years ago I was in Hawaii, and was feeling stressed with overwork and other things – go figure, I was in Hawaii, but was feeling stressed. My wife and I decided to go up to the north shore on Oahu and find a place suitable for snorkelling. And so we did, and after just a few moments of immersion with the fishes and other creatures, my depression completely slipped away. Since that time I have snorkelled many more times in Hawaii, and also in the South Pacific, and even around here in the North Pacific. This is an activity that assuredly raises my vibrations.

4. Reading: From the moment I could read, by about age five, I have never looked back. I can read anything, and indeed I must in order to feel centred. I hate being trapped using somebody’s bathroom and finding there is nothing to read. How can somebody have ‘nothing’ to read in his or her potty? So, I will read shampoo bottles, tampon boxes, and foot powder containers. You can learn a lot in somebody’s can. But, seriously, I cannot fall asleep without reading, and can’t really enjoy ‘down’ time without having something to read.

5. Being in love: I absolutely love being in love. It is the most positive and life-affirming emotion we can have. I’m not talking about making love – which is pretty darn nice, too – but feeling that sense of rapture, almost unworldliness that comes from being smitten with somebody, and then watching that initial rapture of ecstasy evolve into a genuine and mature love. Fortunately, I love my wife dearly, and that makes life much better. But, in years past I have been in love with many females, and I cherish each and every memory of those bits of bliss.

By the way, I couldn’t squeeze travel into that list, but that is more than just a matter of good vibrations, but has always been a way-of-life for me ever since I became an adult. Therefore, it’s kind of a norm.

Now, according to the rules, I have to choose five bloggers to tag. This is the hard part. Not because I can’t think of five, but because there are many more than five. Anyway, if you are not chosen, I’ll catch you next time. My five are as follows:

1. Andrea: I love her blog, her wisdom and her artistry. We think in similar realms, but I don’t choose her because she massages my ego in that regard, but because I always like what she has to say. And sometimes she doesn’t ‘say’ but just presents an example of her work. If you haven’t been there, go and look. You won’t be disappointed.

2. Jazz: My soul-sister and Evil Twin, as she puts it. The times we evolve to the same conclusions, about damn near anything, are so commonplace it’s almost uncanny. And she’s funny – funny tempered with a lot of intelligence. A lethal combination.

3. Voyager of Spindrift and Dreams: If you haven’t been there, go. Again, wisdom and wit – delicious and irreverent wit, which is the best kind. I found Voyager a few months ago and I never miss a shot of her.

4. csl: Travels into realms geographic, domestic, and psychological and takes her readers with her. She’s also a fantastic photographer and obviously a gourmet cook. A very multi-faceted person whom I also enjoy visiting on a regular basis.

5. Janice Thompson: A poet par excellence. There are few poets around these days, which I think speaks ill of our society. And no, in my biased view, rap-music is not poetry in the true sense of versification. I like visiting Janice’s blog because so many of her bits of brief verse make me think, and ponder, and reach conclusions that maybe she never even intended. That’s exactly what true poetry should do.

So, if you didn’t get included in the list, it’s only because I had to limit myself to five, and could easily have added five more, and five more after that. Cheers.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An attitude to warm the cockles of Mr. Burns' heart

So, here’s the thing: We Canadians are inclined to be smug bastards, and given to thinking that most everything that happens north of the 49th Parallel (i.e. the border with the US) is more honorable and upstanding, and always done with the best of intentions and prompted by no petty venal interests.


Here is my case-in-point in decrying certain national traits of infinite politeness that haven’t prompted my fellow citizens to rise up in outrage at the outrageous rip-offs we’re undergoing, and in decrying a national government that is doing sweet-bugger-all to address this nonsense.

So, now here is that old aforementioned case-in-point: On Saturday I visited a well-known Victoria, BC bookstore. I picked up a particular volume thinking I might be interested in reading it. On the back the price was listed: $14.95 US/$22.95 CAN. Huh? What was that all about? It obviously hasn’t come to the booksellers’ attention that the Canadian dollar is sitting at around 95-cents on the Greenback. That’s a dinky little five percent. Yet, those bozos were expecting me to pay an extra 65 percent for the privilege of buying that book. I’m going to be going to the US in September. I shall buy it there, thank you very much. I’ll also buy whatever other items I can get my hands on rather than offering my trade to self-seeking and gouging Canadian merchants who are still selling at the prices they charged when the balance was abut 70-cents on the US dollar a few years ago.

Books are outrageous enough, but there are absolute horror tales from people buying electronic hardware, or even stuff as simple as DVDs and other items. And cars! Hey, Canadian dealers, surprise-surprise, folk are going across the border to buy vehicles that are selling for 10-grand or more cheaper than in Canada. If you can get an Accord for $25,000 in Washington State, why the hell would you pay $35,000 in Canada?

This is damn foolishness on the part of Canadian businesses (the illustration above is designed to represent Caadian business and its attitude in this matter), and remarkably shortsighted. They decry the fact that Canadians are inveterate cross-border shoppers (even when the exchange rate is lousy), and then they do their level-best to encourage that cross-border shipping.

Anyway, that is my rant this morning, and I encourage my fellow Canadians to write to or email their MPs to demand that businesses be taken to task. I won’t hold my breath, by the way, awaiting that change.

Oh, and I didn’t buy that book. And, I shall buy no further books from that business until they demand that their suppliers lower list prices.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

I'm sorry, I just don't get it

I see that, with all the appropriate fanfare, that the last ever Harry Potter book has been released.

About time.

I’m sorry for taking such a seemingly negative stance, since I’ve never actually read any of the volumes in a series that seems to have been going on for entirely too long. I mean, I just don't get it.

I haven’t read any of them because they are kids’ books, and I actually gave up reading kids’ books back when I – oh -- was a ‘kid,’ for want of a better word. When I stopped being a kid I began to read grown-up books that revolved around the lives of grown-up people doing grown-up things.

But, it’s not fair for me to judge this Harry Potter realm because, as I said. I never read any of them, nor do I intend to read any of them. I mean, I know who Harry Potter is – sort of. He’s a dorky-looking English schoolboy in John Lennon How I Won the War specs, and has a couple of little playmates and there is magic afoot, I understand. I liked that sort of stuff when I was about nine. Sort of before I discovered Mickey Spillane and my fantasy world moved into a different realm.

Oh, and I’ve also heard that Harry Potter dies in this one. Maybe that’s not true, but I heard that. Hope so. Kind of a Gotterdammerung is apt for a series that seems to have gripped a society and has become a multi-gazillion dollar industry. Weird thing when I think of all the amazingly talented writers who struggle daily to keep off the welfare rolls.

Anyway, I have no quarrel with kids becoming Harry Potter obsessed. I hope they’re actually reading the books, and not just watching the movies. Reading is a good thing. I read many fine books when I was a kid. Such things as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden, the Jungle Books, King Arthur and others enchanted me. If I were a kid, I would probably read Harry Potter, too.

But, as I said, I am not a kid. I can be childish, but that’s somewhat different. So, what I don’t get is adults being obsessed with this stuff. It may be well-crafted, though I’m in no position to say, but it’s still just a series of damn books that have captured some sort of popular imagination, and are also hyped in an almost nauseating fashion, so that the arrival of a new volume becomes not a literary event, but a media circus. Somehow I find that profane. But, that’s just me, I guess.

And, why does the author, this J.K. Rowling person, always look so taciturn? She should be grinning from ear-to-ear and having to change her wet undies three times a day just from the excitement of being such a staggering success in an otherwise ruthless business. Yet she looks like either she has stepped in something, or worse, like that scrawny Spice Girl Beckham woman whose face would crack if ever she dared to even smirk. I mean, Ms Rowling has more money than France, all thanks to Harry Potter. The odd “nyah” and cartwheel would be in order, and I would understand.

By the way, there has been outrage in the UK because supermarkets are selling the new Harry Potter for half the price of conventional bookstores. That is apropos of nothing other than to nod in the direction of what an industry this thing has become.

Good on you, Harry. Now shut-up and go away.


Friday, July 06, 2007

"This morning I looked out at the world and found it wanting, so I went back to sleep until it improved'

At various periods in my life I have kept a journal. They say it’s good for a body to keep an account of his thoughts, wants, needs, desires, and (tough for a guy) ‘feelings.’

For the past eleven years I have been fairly consistent with my journaling, and rarely go as long as a week without giving at least a summary of what is going on. I was advised to start the venture by a counselor I was seeing, and who was helping me to get rid of some of the angst and self-loathing that the breakup of my marriage had evoked. It was good advice.

“Be absolutely candid,” she said. “Write whatever you’re wrestling with and be totally honest. Don’t censor yourself at all.”

Great, that meant I could write dirty stuff, too.

What I found, however, was that dirty stuff was easy (isn’t it always?), but feelings were really difficult. I almost felt like I was intruding on myself be putting down assorted items of ‘honesty.’ But, the advice was well founded. I found myself exploring areas of ‘me’ that I’d never truly looked into. Why did I do that? Why did I think that? Eventually it became like a jigsaw puzzle in which you start out with a mass of meaningless bits but then, as you persevere, a picture begins to form and take genuine shape. That was what began to happen with me via my journal. It was like home-brewed psychotherapy and ultimately produced a number of ‘aha’ and ‘of course’ moments.

Now, I periodically look back at earlier entries from eight or nine years ago and can either feel good because I have moved on, or feel like shit because I seem to be stuck in a particular area.

I keep my journal on disks, but I also print it out. In theory anybody could go into the home office and pull it out, read it, and come to the conclusion that I am maybe beyond hope. So be it. That is what a journal is all about. After all, Samuel Pepys was pretty candid about his desire to bonk their pretty li’l French maid, so if Pepys wasn’t shy, why should I be.

Would I want somebody to read my journals? Absolutely not. To me it would be like being intruded upon in the can; just not a situation open to public purview. We all have our private selves.

Is a journal the same thing as a diary? Probably. It’s just that diary (Pepys notwithstanding) sounds kind of 11-year-old girl, sort of Little Lulu – you know, one of those little pink tomes with a lock and key and in which each entry starts: “Dear Diary …”

When I was about 17 I actually started to keep a ‘diary’. I still have it. Once in a while I’ll look at it, and it’s a bit like exploring an alien universe, on the one hand. But, on the other, there are entries that are chillingly reminiscent of much more recent journal entries.

“Today, when I went to my locker, Susie Schwartz smiled at me and said hi. I didn’t think she knew I existed. I think I’m in love with her.”

An entry from today might be: “Went to the supermarket and that delicious Melanie was working my till. Made a point of going through hers. Such a nice young woman. Must dispel such thoughts.”

See, other than the grown-up word ‘dispel’ it’s not all that different. By the way, that wasn’t a ‘real’ entry, but it wasn’t all that far removed from reflections of the odd weak moment.

On a final note, I have found my journal can be helpful in some of my other writing, especially in my odd foray into fiction where I want to set mood and explore emotions. I think it's a good thing to do and will likely keep doing it. "The unexamined life is not worth living," said Socrates. I think maybe he was right.

So, do you keep a journal? Does it work for you?

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Geographic bigotry -- or the curse of the suburbs

The following is excerpted from the manuscript for a book I have just completed writing and am coming close to throwing caution to the winds (as soon as Wendy finishes editing, that is) and sending off to prospective publishers so that I can get some more rejection slips to stuff in an already overflowing drawer of the damn things. Anyway, ‘I’ am pleased with what I’ve done with it. The book concerns growing up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, and what happened when I first encountered geographic bias.

When I arrived on the University of BC campus, I was a bit of a rube, as much befitted a yokel from Burnaby. Candide-like, I would innocently tell fellow students of my provenance. They would regard me at first with some confusion, offer semi-polite nods, or assume a look reminiscent of the expression the Queen might sport if she had just stepped in Corgi leavings or had been forced, due to protocol, to take tea with Camilla.

Realization about the perceived shabbiness of my geographic origins finally struck me when I mastered the courage to invite a comely coed from one of my classes to coffee one fine October morning. As we sat in Brock Hall, which was the student union in those days, sipping coffee-like tar but savoring the world famous cinnamon buns, she enquired after my origins. Thinking nothing much about the question, and instead fantasizing about what she would look like devoid of that soft red angora sweater (my imagination told me she’d look splendid), I told her.

“Burnaby,” said I, all the while attempting to look suave, sophisticated and worldly. I rather wished at that moment I smoked a pipe and wore tweeds since, in the world of that day, I believed that both would have been effective panty-removers.

“Light that pipe, Big Boy, and off they come.”

But, at my mention of Burnaby, her eyes opened even wider than in their natural state (and they were quite large and beautiful eyes) and she appeared flustered and maybe a bit sweaty. She then began to gather her books to her exquisite and ample bosom and muttered something about having a class, before quickly exiting Brock. “Thanks for coffee,” she said over her shoulder, “We’ll do it again real soon.” I never saw her socially after that.

What had my gaffe been? I was young. I was callow. I didn’t have an experiential file with which to judge her odd behavior. But then, it came to me. It was after I had mentioned Burnaby that she paled and turned away from my company. I had put her in an untenable position. I had forced her to be seen being chatted up by somebody from Burnaby. She was, of course, from Kerrisdale – or Shaughnessy – or Southwest Marine – or British Properties. I was the bloke from Shepherd’s Bush trying to score with a Mayfair Miss. To score with such a person was unlikely, despite the myth of society being classless in North American context. Periodically there are high-end girls who like a bit of 'rough' but since I didn't have tattoos, I couldn't even qualify for that.

Of course the foregoing is full of hyperbole, and her disparaging tones weren’t quite as elaborate as I indicate, but the fact remained that a Burnaby origin offered very little cachet in the eyes of those who regarded themselves as among the Brahmins of the social order of the Lower Mainland. It is a ‘to the manor born’ bearing that those who emanate from certain neighbourhoods never lose. I have a very dear friend whom I’ve known for decades, and love dearly, but she has never wavered from her ‘Full Shaughnessy’ demeanor. In her case, it’s part of her charm.

Eventually I learned and I adjusted. The time came that whenever I was asked where I came from, I would point vaguely eastward, hoping they would think I originated somewhere in the vicinity of 41st and Dunbar – not the top end, but still a pretty decent address.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

'She would never do that! Would she?'

Wendy can spot a fraud on a crowded subway platform or from 100 yards away across a smoke-filled room. That is provided the fraud is a woman. She admits she wasn’t always quite as astute with the opposite sex, which goes to explain her second husband. On the other hand, she has, since that experience, become pretty wily and instinctive about men, too. That’s good since that means I must pass muster.

With women, however, she absolutely ‘knows’ and she’s always right. She knows the signs. She’s not paranoid about the matter, and if the woman is the real goods, then she has a friend for life.

A few years ago I lent a female friend $1,000. She was having a hard time and was behind a bit of an eight-ball. I felt this female friend was an honorable person and, after all, that’s what friends are for. This was early in Wendy’s and my relationship and we were just at the dating stage, so what I did with my money was my choice.

“You what?” she said, when I told her. “Well, I guess you can kiss that money goodbye because you’ll never see it again.”

I protested she was wrong, and since she didn’t know the person very well and I (thought I) did, I felt she was being unfair. Anyway, I was being a gentleman, just like I was raised to be. But, as it was, even though she'd only met her briefly, Wendy got the goods on her. She saw her as a parasite. A user.

Long story short, of course Wendy was right. I actually did finally get my money back, about three years later, and that was after I had threatened legal action on my erstwhile friend. By the way, everything Wendy ever felt about this woman turned out to be absolutely true. Yet, she seemed so nice. And honest.

Where Wendy’s homing instinct is absolutely infallible is if a woman has ‘designs’, namely on me. Being male, I rarely recognize this and will only regard certain behaviors as being ‘friendly.’ I like women, and when it seems that a woman likes me, I am both flattered and feel nice and warm inside. At the same time, I am thoroughly faithful, so nobody is a threat to the sanctity of what we have and cherish deeply.

So, if I extol the virtues of a female friend, I will elicit this response: “Watch out for her.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, knowing exactly what she means, but confounded as to why she has come to such a conclusion. Yet, I know she is in all likelihood right.

“Just watch out for her,” she will repeat.

Wendy, despite having close female friends, and despite the fact that I have a number of cherished female friends (who, like the one I mentioned in my last blog, Wendy trusts completely), believes in the Kiplingesque comment “The female is deadlier than the male.”

“I know how women work,” she will say. “Men, poor and trusting saps that they are, rarely do. They idealize women. Women rarely do. And, there is a certain type of woman who must never be trusted.”

On the other hand, she does concede that I have gotten a bit wiser about gender interplay.

“About time,” she says.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sometimes you just get a feeling

This morning I had a sad conversation with a cherished friend. This is a woman with whom I work periodically (she’s a filmmaker) and she is somebody I’ve known since she was just past being a slip-of-a-girl in the later 1980s. We worked next door to each other (I at a newspaper, and she at a TV studio), and we ended up becoming friends. Not ‘that’ sort of friend; though I confess the idea did cross my mind a few times. Nothing happened in that regard, but we remained pretty steadfast in our friendship.

Later, when she moved away, and after our respective marriages had dissolved, we would visit each other and stay at each other’s places – in an entirely respectable manner. It was one of those opposite sex friendships in which no boundaries can be pushed, just so the friendship can remain intact.

Anyway, as my life was a little fractured on the domestic front for a number of years, it was less so than hers. By the time she was 30 she had two failed marriages behind her, and two children from each of the marriages. Then, as years passed, she met somebody else and embarked on a third marriage, and had another child. I was happy for her this time around, because he seemed like a great guy and also appeared comfortable in taking on the two children, who came as a package with the pretty mommy.

Anyway, this morning I phoned her because I am back in my ‘alternate’ community, which is where she lives. She told me she had some good news for me, and that is that a film-project in which I am to be involved with her, has been accepted by the principals in the story, so that will throw some fairly lucrative work my way.

And then she told me that she had some “bad news” and that was that she and husband Number Three had split over the weekend! I was quite flabbergasted by her news and, of course, felt immediate sympathy for her after having received a message I wasn’t anticipating.

Or was I?

There was something. Women are supposed to have intuition about such matters, but theoretically men do not. Yet, for some reason, right from the time I first met her husband – one of those guys who falls easily into that “prince of a fellow” category, whom I liked immediately – there was, as I say, ‘something.’

As I say, I’ve known her for a long time and we were always quite ‘non-intimate’ close – probably a bit more like simpatico siblings than anything else – so maybe I have instincts I didn’t realize I had. I said to Wendy when I told her (and she was almost more flabbergasted than I) that I’d always had the uneasy feeling about the marriage that it would eventually be a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ it would come to an end.

She’d never told me there were problems, other than the normal stuff. But I somehow read that the ‘problems’ were deeper than anybody was verbally letting on.

So, there she is, this bright, creative, striking, witty female who just turned 40 with three kids from her three marriages, adrift once more. That part I don’t understand. And my instincts about my dear friend don’t tell me for a second why her relationships don’t work. To me she'd be a prize at all levels.

Maybe they’ll work it out. My gut tells me they won’t. Sometimes you just get a feeling.