Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fave Reads 2016

I absolutely believe that "if you don't read, you can't lead." However, given a confusing handful of current world leaders (one in particular), I have been proven wrong. Apparently, it isn't a prerequisite for getting elected. Sad!

Nevertheless, this means books are more important than ever. So is the library. So is determining the exact sources that inform what we read. Whatever you read, find what's more important than ever in this particular ever.
This book echoes with
some of the mysteries in
my own life. It reminds us
that life is worth
re-examining because
we might just be our own
unreliable narrators.  
It's never too late for
love. Plus it may take a
lifetime to understand
the truth, and the
surprising reasons
for everything we
thought we understood.
Here, a graphic novel by
Richard McGuire is a page-
turner and returner. Non-
linear, and set entirely in one
room, McGuire takes us on
a passage through time, yet
careful reading reveals how
connected these visual tales
really are. 
Gord Downie's last concert
and his songbook The Secret Path,
moved me to read everything I
could about Chanie Wenjack.
Boyden's brutal use of the
objective point of view, and
Chanie's heartbreaking
humanity broke me. 

During the Holocaust,
when intellectuals "disappeared,"
young Anna is left fatherless,
but she meets the Swallow Man
and begins a journey that feels
part Anne Frank, part Life of Pi.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sound

What’s your favourite sound?

I love sound: honest music, belly laughs, kittens purring, faraway skidoos, loved-one’s voices, rivers flowing, birds singing, ukulele strums, stomach gurgles and soft heartbeats. And more. It’s all great. But my favourite sound? Silence.

Around us everywhere is sound. And we are constantly processing it. We may filter some, but sound is hard to ignore. Worse yet is the chatter. It distracts us, it demands, it chastises, it confuses, it weakens: the radio, the TV, the texts, the constant updates and news flashes, the global cycle of doom, gloom, renewal, and resume. All these sound-waves impact us. They reverberate. We absorb them. Once they’re inside us, we process that discord and it churns. We’re distracted, we’re frustrated, we’re confused, we’re anxious, we’re worried, and we may not even know why. Whatever or whoever the din, we must continually swim in this steady stream of noise.

Therefore I wish you silence. In other words, I wish you peace. What’s more valuable than peace? Think about it. Don’t we all deserve a little peace? Peace of mind? To be peaceful. It soothes. It balms. It bolsters. What’s better than that?

That’s the thing: we can make peace. We can find it. We can choose it. In small ways and big ways. For most of us, it’s not that far away. And for those whose peace is distant, we can make peace for others. There are a million ways. Go offline. Go outside. Be pure of heart. Have good intentions. Apologize. Walk. Pull your sheets out the dryer and crawl inside them. Seek ways to be on good terms with others. Stop comparing yourself to others. Compromise. Forgive. Empower someone else and bask in their happiness. Surrender something. Learn something. Be honest and open and real and vulnerable. Stop trying to solve everything, at least for a while. Accept that determining blame is unproductive. Be humble. Sneak away for a while. Stay in bed an extra hour. Spend time with someone you trust and tell them what’s troubling you. Like cats do, sit in the sun. Give away cookies. Think about what you’ve accomplished instead of what you haven’t. Wander for a while. Slow down. Recharge. Breathe. Make peace with someone and it might hardly make a sound and yet it will be heard in the most important places in the heart. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Things one should never outgrow:

celebration.

A friend taught me that celebrations need not be elaborate nor fancy nor do they even need to be public. (Very soothing words for guilt-ridden public celebration-anxious introverts like me.) He explained that celebrations simply acknowledge gratitude and they mark joyful moments. Together or alone, whatever, whenever.

Whether like today, it's Hanukkah or Christmas (or simply a Saturday) I'm a big fan of seeking joyful moments. And today's joyful moment came thanks to a combination of writing inspiration and Baileys. What am I celebrating? Smart friends. Letters to old friends. Memories. Peacefulness. What's more important to celebrate than that? (And I hope the same for you.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Look both ways?

My son is grown now but I remember prepping him for Kindergarten. Because he seemed like a risk-taker, there was one important question I needed the answer to: “How do you properly cross the street?” He quickly replied, “Run!”

I laughed. I expected “look both ways.”

It’s one of the foremost things we’re all taught in life, isn’t it? Look both ways. Hmm. Is this expression more than pedestrian behaviour? Could it be a life strategy?

Look both ways has obvious safety benefits, but maybe it also correlates to looking back and looking forward. Looking back seems easy: life was simpler then. Less pressure? Fewer responsibilities? More carefree? Yet I don’t long to return to that time; it would mean giving up so much. My life is rounded now, fuller. Looking forward seems easy too: I envision a bright future for my children, for my wife, for myself. I hope to be wiser and more satisfied, for more comfort, for health, for travel, for time. Even more, I hope to see my children achieve success. Yet looking forward, I can’t help but wonder too: how much time is left?

Probably not enough. And that’s why I realize now look both ways wasn't the right answer: what's important is now. I realize my son said it best because there’s something better than looking both ways.

I need to run. Thanks son. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Things one should never outgrow:

the view.

If one looks closely, it changes every day. And it leads somewhere new every time.

Go with it, and grow with it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Facts or Factish?

According to a variety of sources, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are colour-blind. Typically a genetic condition, there are several types of this “blindness.”  Some forms are mild, some severe such as those who see no colours at all, only greys. Most colour-blind people DO see colours although they are not fully able to “see” red, green or blue.

Think about that. Colour-blindness is a fact. And yet don’t we “regular-sighted” people tend to think red is a fact, green is a fact, blue is a fact. Maybe that’s not true? Even though 11/12 men could all point to red and 199/200 women could do the same, maybe colours can be opinions?

Colour-blindness is not considered a severe limitation; “sufferers” learn to adapt by using other cues such as labels, brightness, or location. Red/green colour blindness is the most common. The name is tricky because apparently, this doesn’t mean sufferers mix up red and green; instead, they struggle to distinguish colours which contain some red or green as part of the whole colour. For example, a red/green colour blind person will confuse a blue and a purple because they can’t ‘see’ the red element of the colour purple. One man described it this way: “most people would see 32 differently coloured crayons in a box; I see about 12.”

Think about that too. For some, 1 x 32 = 12 colours. Whoa. Maybe basic math isn’t factual either? 

This leads me to three conclusions:
  1. Some so-called facts are actually fact-ish.
  2. Therefore, it’s important to question "facts" (and their sources).
  3. And it’s especially important to question facts even if you’re absolutely sure you know the facts because those have been the “facts” your entire life.

Here's my point: our judgment, our choices, our decisions, must be based on critical thinking. Sure, confirmation bias is way easier, but emotions aren’t facts. Perceptions aren’t facts. Opinions aren’t facts. Even some facts may only be fact-ish. Determine the truth based on a combination of evidence from several sources through observation, experience, evidence, analysis, reasoning, research, reflection, and so on. Otherwise, we may become colour-blinded people manipulated by those who insist their red is red and their green is green.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wrong.

source
Hands up if you hate being wrong. Go ahead and admit it. We are raised to be right. Trained in fact. And that makes us very productive. Yet it also weakens us, and sometimes it ruins our relationships.

It’s okay to be wrong. It really is. We all know this. We can assure others and we can even assure ourselves, but let’s be honest: we still don’t like it. We all remember those times when our faces burned with embarrassment. We remember feeling too vulnerable, to unsafe, too unstable, too powerless. We remember that sting.

Yet fear of being wrong is a huge problem. It’s why people sometimes double down on stupid ideas. Remember the Titanic? There were not enough lifeboats because it was “unsinkable.” Um, sure it was. Constantly being right is a narrow journey. What’s left to discover? To wonder about? To find?

And be careful because being wrong feels exactly like being right. Think about it: when we don’t know we are wrong; we think we’re right. It’s only when we realize we’re wrong that we feel awkward or ashamed. Couldn’t we avoid some of that if we simply developed a healthy habit called self-examination?  I know, I know. Easier said than done. True. So start right now. Make a list of all the things you’ve been wrong about. Here’s mine:
  1. Bigfoot. (Still waiting.)
  2. Parenting.
  3. Election outcomes.
  4. How to peel a banana. (Start at the bottom, not the top.)
  5. Almost everything I’ve tried to do right.
  6. Decisions.
  7. People.
  8. Life.
  9. Mullets.
  10. I’ve even been wrong about being wrong sometimes.

A friend of mine has this philosophy: today is the last day I’ll be the worst I’ll ever be. I love that. We don’t have to like being wrong nor do we have to question everything. But if we ever want to create the right conditions to get life truly right, we have to admit when we’re wrong, to ourselves and especially to each other.

(I'm 98% sure I'm right about this.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

For realz or just clever marketing?
(I would brand this unsheared oil.)
Hmm. Does my beard stink? Is it not shiny enough? No one's complained. Yet. Honestly though, it didn't occur to me until I discovered beard oil. According to Reddit, beard oil is a good thing. Could be I guess. But then I researched the ingredients. According to the Art of Manliness (also new to me), you can DIY your own beard oil using the following recipe:

-1 tbsp melted coconut oil
-3 drops of peppermint oil

Hmm. Have the same sort sorts of sexist marketing practices that target (and overcharge) women become commonplace for men as well? Totally.

Anyway, I'll let you know how this works out after I finish reading the manly skills section of the Art of Manliness. Lol.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Toast

I have this theory. If someone makes toast for you, pay attention because that someone loves you.

Turns out I’m not so alone in this theory because I watched a documentary about an autistic young man seeking a girlfriend. According to him, the formula for a quality relationship partner is
1.       25% looks
2.       25% personality
3.       50% how well that potential partner treats you.

That stuck with me. I'm not a relationship expert but that seems 100% wise to me. Think about the people most important to you. How do they treat you?

I’ve heard that one’s eyes remain the same over an entire lifetime. According to various health sources, this is not true. Our eyes continue to grow from birth to adulthood, just a few millimeters. Yet, looking at old photographs it’s often the eyes that remain recognizable. It may seem impossible to find the baby in the old man but there’s always something about the eyes. Everything else though? It morphs, sometimes dramatically. Looks fade, sag, decline. And personality evolves too, at least some aspects. Maybe, eventually, treatment is nearly everything in relationships?

For example, outside the realm of romantic relationships where attraction and chemistry may be important, does it really matter what your friend looks like, at all? Maybe the friendship formula is 0% looks, 40% personality and 60% treatment? Whether you’d calculate this slightly differently or not, aren’t we all pretty much in agreement that treatment trumps everything else? Wouldn’t it be shallow to act otherwise?

How they treat you defines them. How you treat others defines you.” Rita Zahara

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Power of Cookies

About 15 pounds ago, I learned how to make cookies. Last month I decided that if I ever wanted cookies again, I would have to learn the ancient secrets of cookie-making. Why? It’s my wife’s fault. She doesn’t bake anymore. Now before you label me sexist, in no way do I think baking is woman’s work. It’s just that she happened to be the one who made exceptional cookies, muffins, and other delicious what-have-you (or in my case “what-have-you-not”) and I miss all that stuff more than my adult(ish) children. Plus, she is into health and fitness and other mythologies that I struggle to accept.

So, after like two years of waiting for cookies to magically appear, I was struck with a novel thought that some might deem common sense, but not me: bake them yourself David. And so it began. My first batch was decent. But my second and third attempts were impressive and THEN NOW? Well, let’s just say there’s enough butter in my incredible soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies that after 13 minutes and 54 seconds in a 350-degree oven, they all melt into ONE GIANT COOKIE called insert-heavenly-music-here. Actually, I named them Cookie-Monster cookies because, ME LIKE COOKIE. Also, while eating them they fall apart in the same signature way that cookies get catapulted all-sorts-and-such when Cookie Monster unsuccessfully snarfs them down them because (SPOILER) Cookie Monster has no throat.

So then I started bragging to people about my cookies. Anyone with basic deductive skills likely knows what followed. PROVE IT they said. And so I did. And then I did again. And again. And then one more time. Finally, I realized they were manipulating me into making cookies. So I stopped. Then began the gentle inquiries attempting to deflect from the way they USED ME. For example, some asked, “Do you make other kinds of cookies?” My response: “What, like raisin? NO. Raisins don’t have the right flavour, and more importantly, vibe. Basically raisins are sad grapes. Cookies don’t need that kind of negativity.”

Whoa. When did I get so bitter? A sudden realization struck me, a cookiepiphany, if you will. Cookies are more than the sum of their ingredients. They bring people together. They could end global conflict. Therefore, I must make more. AND I must share them. AND SO MUST YOU. Right?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Let's be honest.

I'm not smiling on the inside
(because this is bullshit). 
When the neighbour kids make a surprise snowman in your front yard, it's quite heartwarming and adorable. Isn't it?

One problem though: WINTER IS COMING (TOO SOON).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sometimes Time

Sometimes I wish I could freeze time.

No. I want to pause time then replay it when needed so I can relive it and so could everyone else in the memory...but then would it just be a photograph?

Better yet, what if I could stretch time? Or hold an intermission during time? At least a breathing time?

No, I want to amend time. Why pause it? Why not capture it along with a variety of other forming memories and make wine out of it and cork it? Then I could sip it when I need it, when I'm lonely, when I'm missing the ones I love.

No, maybe what I really want to do is mend time. I don't mean fix. I want to sew moments together like a quilt and crawl underneath, grow warm there. If only this were possible.

No...what I want to do is bookmark time. Return to that page. Show it those who need to see it so they can see where I'm coming from, why I have the point of view I do. And to share it too.

If only I could punctuate time. Add a comma to slow it down, a dash to speed it onward, a period to stop, or a semi-colon to wait for a while for the inevitable.

Sometimes I don't know what I want. Sometimes time is cruel.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Things one should never outgrow:

While walking one day, I discovered this home-made "Stonehenge." It reminded me of that maxim
1. Eat.
2. Design.
3. Sleep.

Happening upon this little circle of stones, I felt a kindred spirit. What's the point of life if we don't create something out of it? Whether it's a tool or technology, or a territory, we humans make things. And we hope others will admire these creations. My psychology training tells me it's like self-determination theory: we need to feel in charge of something in the world (autonomy), we strive to succeed at that something (competence), so we can share that something with others (relatedness).

I noticed you kid, I noticed.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Let's be honest:

Hate makes you an asshole.
race is in your head. Racism is not.

1. "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks." ~Harper Lee

2. "You never understand a person until you see things from his point of view." ~Harper Lee

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rear or Year?

You need to have an iron rear to sit upon a cactus, or otherwise, at least a year of very painful practice.” Jack Prelutsky

Agreed, wise poet, agreed. Inevitably, during our lives, we will face many “cactuses” (or “cacti” if you prefer). Some big some small. It might be developing a new skill. Maybe it’s our first year with a new job. Or a complicated relationship. Maybe it’s a matter of health or wealth or something we need to change. Whatever the prickly situation, as a comedian once observed, “cactuses are always sort of flipping us off.” But we must remember this: no one gets stronger and wiser without outsmarting cactuses.

Prelutsky’s poem reveals important perspectives on how to face life’s difficulties. Which is better: the “iron rear” or “the year?” And that, my friend, is the crux. When faced with obstacles and challenges, we must all answer this ourselves. Based on my experience, some tips (pun intended).
  1. Determine if it’s really a cactus. Maybe it’s not as thorny as first imagined? 
  2. Prioritize your cactuses. Which one first and why?
  3. There’s no such thing as an iron rear. Sure, there may be an easy way, maybe cutting corners is possible, but these are often temporary solutions. Remember “no pain, no gain.”
  4. Admit defeat and withdraw. Like a fortune cookie once advised me: “Stop procrastinating starting tomorrow.” This is an understandably popular option because there’s no conflict but there are still consequences plus, by giving up, there’s zero personal growth.
  5. Suck it up and go for the year. It may be the only way. But remember the key word in Prelutsky’s clever poem: practice. Practice is not just repetition. Don’t practice on autopilot, or like a broken record. Instead, make minor changes each time. Problem solve. It’s all about trial-error-adjust-try again and repeat. Strengthen your assets. Trim the problem down into manageable sections. Expect some pain and increase your tolerance. Invest in Band-Aids if necessary but get comfortable with tearing them off. Persevere. Prove the pricks wrong. Grow. And don’t face cactuses alone. Get encouragement and feedback on your process and progress. Finally, no matter the outcome, share your cactus stories; even the unsuccessful attempts may harbor the words someone else needs to hear. And most importantly, help others navigate through their battles. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

This is my hood:

Um, thanks for this important information about...

(Perhaps your ink ran? Or perhaps this is some advertising ploy to force me to return to this pole sign again and again and again like some puppet until you share the info you're playing hard to get with? And if so, how very dastardly of you indeed.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

There's no such thing as a perfect match anyway. Right? 
Oops.

This seems to me like a good reminder that one need not choose the obvious partner because despite their differences, these got me where I needed to go that day.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Just are.

source
Palm readers interpret the lines on our hands: the life line, the fate line, the heart line, the head line, the health line, and probably others too. These lines somehow illustrate the course and journey of our lives. I don’t buy it, but if I did, I think the most important line is missing: the friendship line. 

Imagine your friendship line from the beginning until now. Where exactly did important people show up to do important things? How did those friendships begin? How did they evolve? Who left? Who stayed? Who surprised you and why? Who was there just at the right time for the right amount of time?  Who told you the truth when you didn’t even know you needed it? Who gave you strength? Who made you laugh? Who did you need and perhaps more importantly, who needed you? And what did you learn from all of this?

About friendship, poet Walt Whitman said, “I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don't believe I deserved my friends.” I think there’s some part in each of us that is surprised by friendship. Our brains are hardwired for survival and thus we default to distrust. Depending on the degrees to which we’ve been burned or betrayed or abandoned in our lives, we must sometimes consciously over-ride this impulse. But then we have those friends who are just easy. No judgment. No conflict. Even the rough patches are little more than speed bumps. After separation, things pick up exactly where they left off. We should all have at least one friend like this.

Perhaps it’s a factor of aging but sometimes now when I am amongst friends I will remove myself from the conversation and observe. It can be quite moving to see your friends being friends. Just sitting around after a good meal. Just enjoying each other’s company. Easy laughter. Ideas shared and pondered and sometimes played with like kittens batting around a ball of string. Relaxed body language. Smiling faces. Smiling eyes. Forgetting about the long day. Feeling safe. Escaping a worry or two. Feeling trouble-free. Trust. Not aware of anything other than the warmth and comfort in the room and a casual, leisurely flow of positive energy, synergy even. The conversation satisfies, it even spills over sometimes but you and I dear friend, we float along together.

As the saying goes, “to have a friend you must be one.” Is it really that easy? Probably not, except when it just…is. Today I am grateful for friends who just…are.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Things one should outgrow:

narrow thinking.

With age and life experience, I've noticed my worldview shifting more rapidly than it ever has. I've grown tired of narrow thinking, my own egocentrism and others too. Speaking of perspective, that's why I appreciate the leading lines in this photo I took while out for a walk in rural Saskatchewan. Imagine all the people not visible in this photo: airplane passengers, drivers, walkers, you, experiencing it vicariously, all of us, going somewhere. It seems to me that we are all from somewhere but only going elsewhere provides real perspective. One might decide that there's no place like home, but without travel, without trying to navigate through others' lives, without trying to intentionally understand those lives, how could one possibly know?

Henry Rollins said, "A great way to learn about your country is to leave it." It's also the only way to truly learn about yourself too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Solid

Many years ago my Dad made a miniature Kenworth truck & flat-bed trailer. Like literally cut and welded it all together. Although it’s a toy, it’s heavy and it’s permanent. And in fact, it’s amazing. It will surely survive the zombie apocalypse.

He gave me this toy when I was a young adult. Sadly, I didn’t really understand the gesture then so I wonder now if I thanked him properly. My Dad absolutely loved cars and trucks and vehicles but we didn’t share this enthusiasm much so when he gave me this gift I was confused. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas and he didn’t explain why. But I get it now Dad. I do.

Not long before my Dad died, I re-gifted his toy to my son when he was still a boy, and I know that’s exactly what my Dad wanted. My son played with it many times. But then it was tucked on a shelf in a room for years and so I hadn’t thought about it much but recently, I was able to re-examine it from all angles, and it’s like I’m seeing it again for the first time. The details are impressive. Washers for headlights, tiny mirrors painted silver. Some sort of safety lights on the top of the cab. Cylindrical silver fuel tanks. Steel wheels. A smoke stack. (Why not two stacks, Dad?) Some of the detailing is scratched now but it still lumbers along quite well, yet I wouldn’t want to drop it on my foot.

What I especially notice about this toy this time are all my Dad’s mistakes. I can see his cuts weren’t perfect. The paint doesn’t hide all the welds and some are raised and uneven. His hammer marks are visible. Now, this is the best part. His mistakes tell his story because they illuminate his process, his time, his energy, his focus, his art, his work. My Dad didn’t much care how things looked; he preferred how they functioned. Because I too have aged, I feel like I can guess his thoughts: perfection is fiction.

The act of creating and making and giving and receiving is messy but it’s honestly the only stab we all have at immortality. In this sense, I guess my Dad was making a sort-of time machine. For me. (And for himself too.) He knew I would return to this toy throughout my life. It’s a message from the past about the investment required to be a father. It’s a tangible piece of his respect and appreciation and love. And like him, (and like me) it’s not perfect but it’s solid which, I believe, is his way of saying to me that’s what’s truly important. Thanks Dad. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

Um, ? I discovered this in the basement bathroom of the Rutherford Library at the University of Alberta. And I don't like it. At all. What's it for? Other than perhaps the perfect setting for a Stephen King story, like Sneakers?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Things one should never outgrow:

I need one of these rollers to crush things and then examine them afterward. I also need a wood chipper. Which begs the question: where are the reality shows about these types of machines?

Anyway, this is less about psychology (anger issues or abandonment or entitlement and the like) and more about curiosity. Big machinery is cool; okay, perhaps there is a power dynamic at play: I might want to crush Donald Trump's ego.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

Really? No women? Not even one?

"Feminism isn't about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength." G.D. Anderson

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Along for the Ride

My education transformed and transported me. It's a common story. It's an important story too. As MLK said, "nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Recently, both my children graduated: one from college and one from university. This was my #1 bucket list item. I've been working on this dream for 20 years. Determined, my wife and I made this happen. My children are starting their adult lives debt free. I'm grateful. I'm happy. And I'm looking forward to where it takes them next. Because I am finally going along for the ride.

Friday, June 3, 2016

108% Sure

source
We’ve all had our wars with insects. Whether spiders, mosquitoes, flying ants, and especially spruce beetles, the struggle is real. But honey bees? No problem. Sure they sting. Not pleasant. But more typically, they are busy saving the world, literally. Essential to human survival, not only do our precious bees make honey for our glazed doughnuts, they also make protective wax for those round little cheeses we all like. Oh and they pollinate crops and flowers and trees which is basically everything we rely on for nourishment. Yes, the little bee, like a tiny hairy farmer in black and yellow overalls, is essential to our food production and our food economy. Food’s pretty cool to have, isn’t it? So yup, bees = good.

But what about those other bees? Yes, I’m referring to the bee’s aggressive relative, the ones I’m 108% sure are never invited over to any bee family reunion: wasps and hornets. AKA flying arses. 

Sure, they resemble some sort of super-cool prototype for futuristic flying machines but they have one mode: hair trigger. And one emotional response to everything: WHAT? OH REALLY? MAKE ME! WANNA GO? WANNA GO? We all know at least one wasp or hornet who’s bragged on social media about
  • ruining a BBQ.
  • ruining some kid’s birthday party.
  • ruining an outdoor wedding.
  • ruining the outdoors.
  • flying around the bar set up on the deck trying to steal drinks like, well, bar-flies (on steroids).
  • constructing the only deceptively delicate paper mache art-pieces that (when suddenly encountered) induce terror.
  • snorting bear-spray.
  • killing a lady-bug.
  • kidnapping caterpillars and feeding them to their young, live! (Not even kidding.)
  • generally stealing happiness by causing everything in their path to wither.
But you know what else wasps and hornets do? They make a really sweet sound when you hit them with a badminton racket. There: now you have something I don’t recommend you try at least once this weekend. Wink. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

If only.

I don’t dream enough. Yet, when I do, in my dreams, I’m often on a journey and most times I have a task to do along the way, or an obstacle to overcome. (Thinking about it now, that’s not so different than life when awake, is it?) And the people who populate my dreams are often strangers; I see glimpses of them along the way, somewhat like the people you see and then don’t see on the subway. In my dreams, movement is the norm.

But then, unexpectedly, one of those strangers is suddenly familiar. I’m always caught by surprise and I feel foolish because I should have known all along because that’s when I realize or perhaps recognize the stranger is not a stranger after all: it’s a loved one who’s gone, someone who’s died, someone I’m missing.

Do you have these dreams too? Imagine if we could control our dreams, conjure at will those we long for. If only.

Once I dreamed I was looking out the passenger window of a truck, the window open, the sun shining, green waves of wheat stretching across a field and then I turned to look at the driver. It was my Dad. I hadn’t seen his eyes for years. Once, I stood up from the patio table at a restaurant and saw, at another table, my brother. He nodded and moved his chin in the direction he wanted me to look. Once, I was with someone in an unfamiliar kitchen searching for ice-cream in the freezer. When I found it and closed the door, sitting at the table was my Mom. We smiled at each other. Once, I was nervously walking on a dimly lit sidewalk in the fog when suddenly from across the street stood a friend from long ago. She waved. I waved back. Once, I walked down a gravel road next to a garden with rows of potatoes and gladiolas and then running to meet me was my grandparent’s old dog, Tub.

These sorts of dreams feel heavy and stir emotions but they don’t make me sad because they are gifts. We have very little control in our lives about who comes and who goes and when and why. It’s the same thing with our dreams. We must enjoy who we can when we can in whatever way we can before we can’t. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

14 countries in 1 room with 1 cake

Recently, I had the great privilege of observing my very first citizenship ceremony. Over 20 people became Canadian citizens.

Those in attendance included Christians and Muslims, Blacks, Whites, Asians, English, French and several other languages too. Fathers, sons, mothers, grandparents, a few babies and toddlers. One husband very proud that now nothing could separate him from his wife. Hijab, sari, neckties, high-heels and running shoes. An RCMP officer if full regalia. A framed photograph of our Queen. One flag: Canadian. And why not one big slab of cake too? Cake speaks many languages.

The presiding judge told the candidates they were a “wonderful cozy group of people” and “at this hour, the most important people in Canada.” He explained that’s why everyone showed up: to formally “invest our trust and our hopes in you and your future contributions to this country.”

Every new Canadian received gifts: a Canadian flag, a pin and a cultural access pass which provides free entrance to museums and cultural sites across Canada for one year. Essentially, the gift is an expectation to learn more about this amazing Canada that only some have always called home. I dare say we Canadians could all use one of those passes.

The judge had several tips, recommendations and instructions. He said that “citizenship demands participation, involvement, and commitment.” He requested these new citizens “adopt our symbols, our traditions, our history, and share our values.” He asked them to “become leaders, and respect the sacrifices made in the past by women, by soldiers, by our freedom fighters.” He added that, “just like you, many Canadians originally came from different places, with different beliefs. Like them, learn to be good citizens, obey the law, and defend our country” because “you are now entitled to opportunities many countries only dream of.”

And finally, the judge explained the purpose behind this gift of citizenship: “make Canada a better place.” He noted that “with 14 different countries represented in this room, we could have a meeting after this ceremony and solve all the problems of the world.” Well said sir. Well said. Because we sure can’t do it alone. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Emogeez

Um, by texting this emoji you...
have a shadow?
I hesitate to admit this since it makes me sound 94 years old, but I pretty much don’t do emojis. If people text me a happy face emoji or a thumbs up emoji, I gotcha. And there are a few emojis that I will occasionally use (for obvious reasons) albeit quite rarely:
-ZZZ
-thumbs down
-a gun
-a small fire, and naturally
-a shrimp. 

Ahem. No explanation required for these right? Anyway, text me emojis outside this narrow collection and I have no idea what you’re talking about. Why? Well firstly, emojis are like billboards for ants, but smaller. Secondly, does the poop emoji actually enhance one's productivity/credibility? And thirdly, the real kicker is that emojis are more ambiguous than Donald Trump's foreign policy. Some examples:
  1. The grimacing face emoji: Are you distraught? Or did you smell something bad? Perhaps you just got new braces?
  2. Any heart other than red: Heartburn? Or jaundiced? Or were you just awarded a medal?
  3. The smiley face with money symbols for eyes and a green money tongue: Did you find money on the street? Or is this an epiphany about your shopping addiction? Maybe you swallowed a $20 bill?
  4. The smiley face with one enlarged eye with the tongue hanging out: Stroke? Should I call 911? Or are you winking (and if so I’d recommend that you put your tongue back in your mouth)?
  5. And finally, unless you’ve been abducted, do not text the screaming alien and even then it’s infinitely more productive if you just phone home, ok ET?

One more thing. Honestly, despite the whiff of bitterness in these words, I don’t hate emojis. I love that language is always evolving and I am never against playful usage. The problem is this: clarity. Plus there’s one other problem based on a common argument in defense of emojis: they save time. You know what actually saves your time and mine? C'mon. Say it with me. If we...put...our...phones...away. :)

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

not cool when this arrives close to your birthday.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

When is now.

Smoke. It's everywhere. Even though we're keeping our windows closed, it's the first smell each morning, just a hint, but always there now. And every day this week, it was visible. Despite some rain and relief today, it hangs and it dims, it darkens and it blurs.

I don't live in Fort McMurray. Nor have I ever been there. I've watched the heartbreaking video footage and heard the stories. I know some people who escaped and others still there. This is what I think about when I see its smoke, and the smoke of other fires burning in Northern Alberta, hanging over my community too. It feels like the sky weighs a little more. It's the weight of their trauma too. And it's settled on everything here. So many people need help.

Fires rage every summer now, and ever since the Slave Lake fire five years ago, I feel the foreboding. Despite living several hours away from Slave Lake, I recall standing in my backyard as ash from that fire fell from the sky. I also remember scientists warning: "it's no longer a matter of will you be affected by wildfires, it's when." When is now. For our environment and for us.

My favourite story out of this disaster belongs to an Albertan named Mohammed. He phoned the alberta@noon radio broadcast to share it. At work in Bonnyville watching the first evacuation reports on live TV, Mohammed's phone rang. He did not recognize the number but decided to answer anyway. The caller revealed he was a Fort McMurray evacuee driving south in grid-locked traffic with his wife and young children and he had dialed the wrong number. Moved, Mohammed kept him on the line and after a few moments offered his home to the stranger and his family. The caller thanked him and said he would think about the offer but soon afterward, called back to say yes and could he have the address? They arrived at Mohammed’s home in the middle of the night and moved in.

Walls come down when we realize just how much we need each other and what we can truly do for each other. Hence the incredible support from all over North America, even apparently Russia. Despite this haze hanging in the sky, somehow we see each other more clearly regardless of stereotypes, politics, culture, worldview. That fire burned across our lines.

There will be much to do when the rain finally comes, when the smoke is gone. And good riddance. But I hope not good riddance to this fire's current side-effect: kindness, consideration, and unity.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Just so you know, the answer is no.


Is anything not weird?

No. Anything interesting is weird. Isn't our society finally tired of demonizing so-called weird? Why do we resist embracing the weird? Consider nature for example. Every Spring, Pussy Willows basically grow fur. And then when they flower? Well, it looks like tiny corn cobs exploding in slow motion. And it's awesome.

"I'm one of those regular weird people." Janis Joplin


Friday, April 22, 2016

True story:

So years ago, in our kitchen, we had this plug-in that was upside down. So I decided to just unscrew it and turn it over and put it back. So then there were sparks everywhere. So then I sprinted to the breaker box and flipped the breaker. So I decided the plug itself must be faulty. So I decided to change the plug. So I drove to the store and bought a new plug. So I carefully but confidently removed the old plug noting where all the wires went so I could attach the new plug in exactly the same manner. So as not to be too cocky, I even drew a picture. So I flicked the breaker back on and returned to plug in the coffee maker to test it all the while fighting off my squeamish inner desire to brace for a potential explosion. So nothing. So I tried again. So nothing. So my wife kindly commented that she thought that particular plug-in never worked anyway so I shouldn’t worry about it. So I could have seized her with my muscular arms and kissed her madly but instead I missed her deliberate act of kindness and sarcastically remarked, “That’s the same plug-in we use for the toaster every morning!” So then I began to ruminate. So I mulled for hours the various ways my DIY intentions would indeed cause our house to burn down in the middle of the night killing my wife and children leaving me as the only scarred survivor being interviewed on television as I confessed my stupidity to Oprah. So just before bed I tried to start the dishwasher. So then it wouldn’t work either. So then I decided to burn the house down myself. So instead, I didn’t sleep for a few hours. So in the morning I called a professional and then began worrying about the $8000 it was going to cost me to fix my idiocy. So the pro arrived and he took three seconds to discover the breaker wasn’t completely flipped back on. So um, wow.

So here’s the thing: imagine a line, a continuum, and at the beginning of the line is a dot that represents the past. So in the middle of that line is a dot that represents the present and another dot further ahead near the end of the line that represents the future. So somewhere between the dots that represent the present and the future is a little arrow pointing at the line and next to it is a message: you are not here.

So, my friends, you and I should stop worrying about all those unlikely things that haven’t happened yet.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Everything

I can appreciate the expression "can't see the forest for the trees" but I've always wondered if the other way around is perhaps more profound: can't see the trees for the forest.

It seems to me that our lives are like stories but in the thick of them the plot may be unclear and so it's the details, the particulars, the fine points, that mean everything.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Things one should never outgrow:

Happy birthday Donny. Miss ya.
If you're a Canadian, you know about these. And how they are basically their own food group. Or they should be.

My wife loves them. So did my brother.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Vuja-de

I think most people have experienced deja-vu. Defined as “the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time only,” deja-vu happens randomly without explanation. An odd sensation, it may feel confusing and difficult to describe or defend. And in my experience, it’s fleeting and quickly forgotten. It’s sort of a throwaway experience.

Consider instead vuja-de. There’s nothing throwaway about it and that’s why I love it.

Vuja-de is deja-vu reversed. In other words, it’s knowing the experience has happened many times before and yet it’s seeing that experience in new ways as if it were the “first time” with newly wide-open fresh eyes. Think about that. Think about how it would add value to every single day.

Perhaps it seems that there are few novel experiences in day-to-day life. Most days could quite possibly be described as repetitive and inconsequential. How many days are particularly noteworthy? Vuja-de dispels wearisomeness because it embraces the notion that each day is potential, each day is opportunity, each day is imaginable. Vuja-de is about choosing the better perspective.

Recently, I had the privilege to listen to a holocaust survivor, Dr. Eva Olsson. Her life-experiences are raw and disturbing, yet enlightening and inspiring too. Her message is simple, (yet an enormous task): she aims to banish hate. I’m thankful for her words and even more thankful many young people heard her truth because there’s precious little time left to learn first-person from veterans and survivors. One particular story stood out and it wasn’t one of hers. Instead it was about her. The teacher who introduced her to the crowd described the two of them walking out into the sunshine earlier that day when Dr. Eva, 92-year-old holocaust survivor, stopped and stated, “Oh this sunshine is so beautiful.”

Of course it is. And given her harrowing experiences, of course she would know how precious it is. Yet how many times do we walk into the light each day and notice nothing remarkable about it? That’s why I believe we all need a little vuja-de.
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