Saturday, April 15, 2023


Odd, but among all the ASL I've taught myself since my granddaughter was born, I just learned the sign for "sorry." (I could legit lose my Canadian card for this oversight.) 

Always impressed by ASL's iconicity, this circle over my heart says so much more than the casual throwaway "sorry" we all tend to use. In one gesture, it encapsulates the essence of an apology much more eloquently than the hearing version. 

Whether a painting or a poem, a film or a farce, I'm always energized by analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating textall genres and mediums. It's a classic English teacher flex. I love to poke around in story: inciting incidents, character motivations, internal forces, flaws, and consequences. 

It's like dissecting a frog. One of my favourite essays highlights the serendipitous yet ultimately meaningful nature of the scientific process. Entomologist Samuel H. Scudder's professor advised him repeatedly to "look at your fish" (c) 1874. Scudder wondered, for what, exactly? Like Scudder, I am rarely certain what I'm looking for but I know when my nervous system reacts, there's something to be found. Whether a frog, a fish, or text, I must examine how tiny organs connect, otherwise how would I find the life within them? And that's the most important part in understanding anything: the looking. 

ASL inspires me to look at text anew: it's a window into language I stopped gazing at. ASL's "sorry" wisely connotes both the act and the outcome of a long-churning heart. In other words, without examining the churning that prompted it, "sorry" may be rote, or empty, or even unnecessary.  

Poet Mary Oliver famously said, "you do not have to be good, you do not have to walk on your knees, for a hundred miles through the desert repenting." 100% agree. I am tired of people claiming to be the arbiters of good. (I've made that mistake many times too.) At this stage in my life, I am more interested in being real than good. "Good" by whose definition? Black and white notions of good and evil may make things simple, but life has taught me that if I truly hope to understand myself and others, I should look for the spectrums where I once saw categories. 

In my ongoing quest to avoid the atrophy I call "becoming a grumpy, old man" (old yes, grumpy no) I aim to embrace evolution and that requires applying a little Socrates-inspired self-examination; to "know thyself" means I must do the hard work: dissect my churning heart. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Fave Reads 2022

Happy Hogmanay. I'll be honest: the last several years, my reading criteria has narrowed. Is it under 250 pages? Did someone I love recommend it? Life is too short to finish an underwhelming book. None of these underwhelmed me for one second. In no order (three are Canadian), I loved these books and these authors made me miss books, again. and I'm grateful for their lessons. 

It will gut you. Like
its comedian-actor-author,
this memoir is painfully
& proudly honest as well
as ferociously funny.
This is grief dialed up
and it will heal people.

In less than 250 pages,
Toews thoughtfully
presents us with a 
group of vulnerable
Mennonite women & one
 man as they dissect the
violence and ideology
that minimizes and
marginalizes them.
In other words, it's a
thoroughly modern
and on-going story.

Come for the truth &
the reconciliation; stay
for these characters' 
resilience, hope, and

These Canadian children
and those who love them
will break your heart.
This Canadian novel
should be the 
first read in a social
work degree. 

I saw the film first. 
Cinematography at its
finest. Written in 1967(!)
For readers who love
complex and broken
characters in pain,
and for those forced to live
with their bullies or endure
imagined bullies.  

Friday, October 7, 2022

In the Field

A farmer friend turned 50 last week and to minimize interrupting his ongoing harvesting, we and some friends surprised him and joined his family to have supper in the field. We sat in lawn chairs next to a folding table situated among the razed straw and chaff at our feet. Nearby the combine waited, its hopper overflowing with grain, a bountiful yield this year. On one side of our "dining room" the yellow straw stubble twisted around curves snaking up along the tree-lined field into the horizon, and behind us stretched a wide valley filled with poplars, their yellow and orange leaves falling silently. Scented like ripened barley, the air smelled as pleasing as our friend's chocolate birthday pie. 

The experience conjured some long-ago memories of my brothers, my parents, and my grandparentsall farmersduring those early years on fields I haven't visited for decades, among people long gone. As the youngest child, I had few duties on those busy and oftentimes chaotic Fall days and evenings, yet (like always) I observed and I listened and learned the meaning of physical labour, the satisfaction of hard-earned accomplishment, the patient ache of waiting for the weather to change, and how to put my needs second. While we ate in those fields of my youth (my father's one eye on the sunset), it often felt like something I did not know how to name then: appreciation. 

Friends, if you can, thank a farmer. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

Uh this signal is, indeed, unknown. 

While walking to work the other day, I noticed this random, are the kids from Stranger Things meeting here at some point? Because, I am absolutely in favour of that. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


I first met JoAnne when her sister started dating my brother. We were both around 14. She visited our house for supper one night and my anxiety spiked. Her family seemed rich, educated, proper, not at all how I perceived my own family. What would she think of us? 

My Dad liked her right away. It was obvious to me because he teased her and he liked that she could tease in return. 

For dessert that night my Mom served fresh buns with butter and raspberry jam; during the table conversation I glanced over and noticed her scrutinizing her bun. There was a dark spot on it. I looked more closely. What IS that? Then, with horror, I recognized the black smear: a fly! A dead fly in her jam! Mortified, I went mute. Eventually, she lifted it up with her spoon, a confused look on her face and said, "Is this...?" My eyes lowered, I could not imagine what would happen next. Finally JoAnne said, "Oh my God. IT'S A FLY."

I looked at my Mom. I looked around the table. Eventually, I made eye contact with JoAnne and then she laughed. And so did we, until our eyes watered. Finally, wiping away tears, she removed the fly, picked up her bun, shrugged her shoulders and took another bite. I sort of fell in love with her. Not a teen boy crush thing but something else, something better, something genuine when so much of our teen days were about bullshitting each other to elevate ourselves on some imaginary cool scale. It was the beginning of an unforgettable friendship. 

JoAnne was determined to become a doctor. Close to six feet tall, she had blue eyes and short brown hair. Small scars dotted her arms where she scratched her childhood mosquito bites. She had long fingers, beautiful, womanly hands. She was heavy and thick-waisted and loved bright clothing. She liked to cook and eat chips and dip and read romance novels and dogear the sex scenes; she liked to dance and swim and play pranks and was known to flash her boobs unexpectedly. She liked men more than anything, the kind of men that did not seem to pay attention to her. She liked to get her hair done and wear dresses and do her nails, yet she wasn't at all precious. She loved to dance and sing along, loudly. She owned a cap that said, "I'm fat but you're ugly and I can diet." She loved movies, especially scary ones but she herself was a comedy. She laughed. All. The. Time. And everyone laughed with her. JoAnne could quickly make others laugh, feel at ease, feel appreciated, feel included. Over the next seven years, I discovered that she struggled to feel that herself. 

JoAnne died the night of her 21st birthday. She was so young. I've lived more than twice her life now. One could say she barely lived at all, but the truth is that she grabbed life by the shirt most days. 

On a bitterly cold February night, we picked her up at her little apartment and drove to an all-you-can-eat restaurant we frequented due to our ever-depleted bank accounts. It was at least -40, the powdered snow squeaked beneath our boots. Christmas had gone well. She was in therapy. She said she felt less stress, that she had more energy. Unlike us, she was taking fewer university classes. We knew she was somehow more fragile now, yet that night felt like old times. We ate heaps of ice cream. Someone snuck a giant block of cheese from the buffet into her purse. We laughed. We enjoyed each other. We brought her to our apartment to play cards, and watch videos, and laugh some more. We forgot. 

We were so young. 

It was late, and terribly cold that night. Jo-Anne wanted to go home. Some of us had early classes the next day. None of us wanted to drive, so I asked if she could take a cab? She stared at the floor, nodded and then put on her long grey coat. I should have driven her home; this decision will always be my weightiest regret, its gravity always pulls. I forgot. 

I stood with her at the back door while she waited for the cab. Her purple toque, her dark blue mitts, she stared out the window. (I am standing with her now.) I think there were tears in her eyes; I didn't understand why. We had so much fun that night. We looked at each other one last time and I said, "See you later." 

As the saying goes, "we are all just walking each other home." 

Why didn't she stay overnight? I felt guilty and I didn't want to feel that so I felt angry instead. I forgot. 

That night she took all her anti-depressants. Why was she given so many? Had she been hoarding them? Later we learned that she regretted taking the pills, and called her parents. They lived three hours away so she drove herself to the hospital. She brought her prescription bottle with her. I bet she explained to the admitting staff what she had done in the medical terms she was learning in university. And then somehow, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and she was dead before sunrise.

Sometimes we don't understand until we do understand, and it's too late.   

I miss her.   

I forgot. Almost two decades later, I heard The Fray's song How to Save a Life for the first time and wept like I was still 21 riding a greyhound bus home after a funeral: "I would have stayed up with you all night had I known how to save a life." 

JoAnne's death was preventable. Even she wanted to save it. But we forgot. We were so young. I have learned the adage, "I didn't cause it, I can't control it, I can't cure it," yet I will continue to carry it and wonder. 

Check in with the young people in your lives, anyone really. Talk. Listen. Above all: remember. And if you are the one hurting, reach out for help. JoAnne taught me that when there's a fly in the jam we might think the whole jar is wasted, but it's not. Like me, I think she forgot. 

Sunday, August 7, 2022



My favourite childhood babysitter was the TV, and like many Gen X kids, it was also my only babysitter. Alone a lot, TV/film characters became family. One of those characters was Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the film that made her a star: Halloween. In a strange way, she watched me every Halloween that film was telecast. Even after that first viewing, I wondered and worried about Laurie Strode, and it made me a life-long fan of Jamie Lee Curtis. So when she popped up in my favourite film so far this yearthe fascinating and chaotic Everything Everywhere all at OnceI was even more riveted. 

In an early scene in that film, her character, IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra, says this to her client, the film's lead, about the financial information before her: "Now you may only see a pile of boring forms and numbers, but I see a story." I believe this is the core of the film, a story waiting to be uncovered in the shoe box of loose receipts that is our current lives.  

It's hard work to sort through those receipts, isn't it? And yet, if we don some "googly eyes" we might just gain some perspective and clarity about the dominant forcesthose "everything bagels" in our lives. We've been experiencing intensified disorder for a decade now. We are inundated with negative voices vying for our clicks and likes. People weaponize flags and honk to breed skepticism, to destabilize, to divide. Cynicism is like a new religion. This film reminds me to put my energy into who and what matters in life, to tear down less and create more.

Sure, I'm just one guy, so what can I do? Even the film acknowledges, "we are all small and stupid." Yet is also proposes that "seeing the good side of things" is "strategic, and necessary." Check those receipts, my friendslike this innovative film, maybe there's another story, a better one. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

Things one should never outgrow:

As we are reminded, it's important to stop and smell the roses, or in the case of my granddaughter, the Dianthus pinks. Note that she has no qualms about being delicate about this. Get right in there, friends, butt in the air as needed. 

Poet Mary Oliver advised in her instructions for living a life to "pay attention, be astonished, tell about it." Exactly. What may have inspired Oliver's poem? The object could have been so many things, but for me right now, it's M. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

thumbs up
What's the saying? Man invents wheel; wheel runs over man. Ha. Truth. Our tools can be our greatest strengths and our undoing. Despite my inexperience and some fear, this jackhammer worked exactly how I hoped it would. It DESTROYED my old cement footings and elevated my dopamine levels dramatically. This is why people love power tools, isn't it? It's right there in the name: power. 

This beaut of a jackhammer got me thinking. Typically, my most often-used power tools enable me to create. Good stuff. Yet this tool allowed me to dismantle, and it felt powerful. Did the conquer-and-destroy aspect boost my brain's mental state more than say, a palm-sander, or a chop saw? 100%! That seems like a good reminder to use tools responsibly, and like most people, I do. Yet my brain wanted more: what else could I destroy with this jackhammer? Wait. Can dopamine override people's better judgment? 

Dear friends: dopamine. It's no joke. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Let's be honest...

babies like wheels! Also, pancakes, and kitties, and Mom's water bottle, and the piano, and hanging upside-down (thanks Dad), and pulling things out of cupboards, and bubbles, and climbing the stairs and peek-a-boo, and stuffed bunnies that light up, and swinging, and picking tiny things off the floor, and bath time, and going outside, but let's be honest, not socks. 

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