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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 marker...um, are the kids from Stranger Things meeting here at some point? Because, I am absolutely in favour of that. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Forgot

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 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.   

Every day more than 10 Canadians die by suicide. Seven to ten survivors are significantly impacted by the suicide. That's only Canada. 

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

Receipts

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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:

M.
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. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Cradles

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Remember cat's cradle? One pair of hands constructs the string cradle, then someone else gathers it from those original hands and reconstructs it, pulling it together at the end, hoping the cradle reforms, altered, perhaps even transformed; its new composition surprises. Isn't this essentially the relationship between writer and reader? I construct these words and yet you, the reader, reconstruct them based on your thoughts, experiences, and feelings.   

Writer Sarah Manguso said, "the purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair." These words were new to me, and welcome wisdom. Cradles, indeed. 

Despair. It's in everything lately, especially ongoing news about Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. What words could I hope to construct to keep you (& me) from despair? I know a few that dispel despair: trees, sunrises, ice-cream, music, children. Words can seem fleeting though, can't they? Many are not so impermanent though. Which words do you return to when you need them? I think about tattoos featuring words including gratitude, dream, worrier warrior, continue, and so on. 

Anne Frank apparently said, "I have often been downcast, but never in despair." I thought about Anne Frank a lot in 2020 as the pandemic raged on and on; she isolated for 761 days. That's some perspective, isn't it? I continue to think about her legacy: her words continue to resonate, anything but temporary. Think of Anne, friends: be downcast if you need to, but do not despair. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Things that deserve the stink-eye:


Sure AI, proof of humanity is something you know all about. But I get it. In 2022, humanity does indeed need to be verified. Sigh. 

However, if today you seek a fine example of humanity, an example for us all, read about Gabriel Clark

Friday, April 1, 2022

Grateful

 

Before our granddaughter was born, I asked my last Grade 9 class for advice on grandparenting. Their suggestions made me emotional and reminded me again how meaningful grandparents can be. As my granddaughter celebrates her first birthday, I wanted to share two of my favourites. I will say that my former students would be proud of me (except for the clothes...but my wife excelled at that one). Today I am grateful for youth, for my daughter and her husband, and for the opportunity to be Grandpops to one special girl

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Things that deserve the stink-eye:

 

My wife likes to toss her gloves on the desk near the back door. So, what's the problem? Notice that security camera behind them? Sigh. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Let's be Honest

Heather Buchanan, artist
My daughter's fridge-magnet makes me laugh. Let's be honest: we all feel this way periodically whether the stress is motivated by work nonsense, frustrating obligations, social strife, when the cat barfs, and so on.... 

What I find especially clever about this tiny art-piece is its display of chaos in a mundane formall typically overlooked objects like fridge magnets should be so incendiary, pun intended haha. It's just so honest; we all have those moments when too many suppressed annoyances threaten to surface. Anyone who claims to be mostly serene isn't paying attention or lying in service to perfection, or perhaps shallow? Sorry to be judgy but consistently Zen types confuse me. They are unicorns and I am glad for them but I personally don't know anyone with an entirely passive amygdala. This story-in-a-fridge-magnet is a nod to authenticity. It echoes Thoreau's astute conclusion that many "lead lives of quiet desperation." Similar to Prufrock, it asks, "should I disturb the universe?"

My daughter is nearing the end of her first year as a Mom and she and her partner learned to be parents IN A FREAKING PANDEMIC. So among the toys and the diapers and her job and the weighty emotional labour and countless other things, I am glad she can have this devious cathartic moment at the fridge everyday and then carry on. 

Monday, February 28, 2022

No reason for it.

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Ukraine was invaded around the same time I streamed Kenneth Branagh's film Belfast. Conflation tends toward error, but whatever fusion and alchemy I experienced continues to weigh on my heart and linger. Perhaps too, as a Gen Xer, Russian aggression feels a bit triggering, and absolutely deja vu. 

Set in 1969, the autobiographical film emphasizes Branagh's most formative "fork in the road" when his Protestant family grapples with deciding whether to stay in an increasingly dangerous and violent Northern Irelandthe only home they have ever knownor escape to Britain. Told from the perspective of Buddy, a composite of Branagh's childhood perspective, the film is like reexperiencing innocence lost. Pure time-travel, the story plots his early life in childhood fragments and memories and each squeezes the heart. It evoked my own parents and grandparents, young and vibrant againalso my childhood traditions, friends, and first crushes; it illustrated well that childhood confusion we all experience when the people we want to trust most make decisions, or are forced to make decisions, that will reverberate in our lives in expected and unexpected ways, forever. It is a universal story, told and retold. I was rapt. 

Likewise, I was glued to breaking news reports in Eastern Europe; I imagined those children in Ukraine, their slow-motion escape toward the border with Poland, compelled by fear, confusion, anger, disillusionment, many leaving their fathers behind. There is no reason for it. 

History has revealed that Northern Ireland's "troubles" are no longer so troubling. But what will history say about Ukraine and Russia, and the selfish ideology that enabled a conflict currently trending as WW3? No matter what the books written about this someday say, I have to ask again, when will we ever learn from history? Why must we repeat it? And what will our children remember? 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Her Words

I have been waiting for her words. They're here! Ten months old now, my granddaughter says, "Dada" & "Kitty" and perhaps a few other things too.

She also loves to point us toward whatever she is interested in: the artwork above the kitchen table, creatures within the book, her nightlight bunny, the window. Her basic receptive ASL is developing too: all done makes her laugh, and likely this is why she verbalized kitty so early. I think her cat is impressed too. 

Dear friends, before we have words (and after), our hands are voices too. Use them to love. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Things one should never outgrow:

I own a snowmobile now. WHAT?

For ChristmasI'm still flabbergastedmy wife surprised me with a GD snowmobile! I literally bawled. It's a dream come true.

It's used. It's not fancy. It has duct-tape on the seat. It's the skidoo brand, and yellow, but I forget the number, or whatever? My son explained it all but, shrug, unlike him, I can't seem to store vehicle information in my brain. Anyway, it's perfect. 

But this particular dream was moved to storage many years ago. Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, we had old "putt-putt" snowmobiles which my Dad mostly obtained through bartering over unpaid mechanics bills. This coupled with 1970s-style adult supervisionaka absolutely nonemy childhood obsession was born. (Read here for an example of no supervision whatsoever style snowmobiling.) Later, my Dad gave my young son a miniature snowmobile which kickstarted his obsession, and now he has his own. Sure, we borrowed snowmobiles from family members over the years and made some great memories, yet own one? That seemed like a complete luxury; I could never seem to justify spending the money. Admittedly, my vibe is 100% cheap bastard. (My wife's vibe is 100% not.)

Bitterly cold in Alberta this December/January, my son and I finally spent last Saturday zipping along the local river up and down the trails and hills and through the thick spruce trees and swamps. (Insert contented sigh here.) Afterwards, my son and I were talking. 

I asked him, "What does snowmobiling feel like for you?"

"Freedom. Happiness. How would you describe it?"

I had not stopped smiling the entire trip; I thought back to the constant elevation changes, squeezing through narrow tree-lined trails, getting stuck on the side of a hill that felt like about 110 degrees (my son knew what to do), admiring my son's intentional launch stunts, and likewise all my unintentional launches...I replied,

"In the best possible way, it feels like being a ball gently tossed back and forth, but you're not just the ball, you're also the person tossing." 

We laughed, both recognizing the delightful chaos. And although my description was a bit silly, I later checked my iPhone's health app; despite little walking during our trip, my app indicated I had climbed 34 floors.

Friends, I wish for you all a dream come true (and a snowmobile ride here and there), plus, most importantly, a son or daughter or anyone really who loves what you love.

Friday, January 7, 2022

New Tooth

Words. They're everything. Once you know the word, you begin to understand. Take "neo" for example; the standard definition is "new," yet it also means "a new or revived form" of something. There's an interesting space between those two definitions, a space for complexity and deep contemplation.

Consider neophobia (fear of the new) and neophilia (love of the new). A recent NYT article proposed that disgust is at the core of human behavior—we are oriented by what we can and cannot tolerate, what attracts or repulses us. It's not a stretch to see how this is reflected in all aspects of society from eating habits to racism. We can see how neophobia and neophilia become mindsets; we can consider how this impacts progress. In between these two words is an entire philosophy that asks, what would we prefer to embrace and what would we prefer to turn away from? Essentially, what are we afraid of and why? How do we find a way to love what we think we should ignore, dismiss, or worse: actively hate? Pondering this mindset might be a key to open what's locked, shift what's stuck, or heal what's broken. 

My granddaughter has a new tooth, her first oneone might say a "neo-tooth." Ultimately, everything about my granddaughter is both neo and in new or revived form. She evolves each month, and she's an absolute delight and inspiration. My granddaughter embodies neophilia. She's also the human prototype: both the teacher and the lesson. Dear friends: think about that. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Chairs

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I used to write a newspaper column. In late December, an old friend texted a pic of one of my columns; she said it gave her hope for 2022. Although I can't recall when, I remember writing it and hoping it would make a difference to someone, besides me. Post Christmas

It begins with some lines from one of my top three Christmas songs, Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong.



"The lake is frozen over, the trees are white with snow and all around reminders of you are everywhere I go...when silence gets too hard to handle...I daydream and stare." 

If you celebrate it, Christmas and New Years can be like a big bowl of chicken soup. But for some, the warm celebrations are overshadowed by those not present, by those empty, empty chairs at the dining room table. A chair where my Dad once sat. A chair where your Grandfather once enjoyed his coffee with much too much sugar, where your cousin once played his guitar, where your spouse winked at you, where your child giggled, where your sister spread jam on her freshly-baked bread, where your friend lifted a wine glass and said, “Cheers.”  

Many of us are missing someone all the time, but especially during family-time. I wonder about those who feel an even deeper absence though, for those who “daydream and stare,” aching inside for their departed loved ones.     

Whether days or years or decades have passed, a broken heart still aches. Holidays and celebrations may seem like touching a tender bruise. And when the celebrating is over, those chairs may seem especially empty.

If you feel that way, I wish I could do more than just write this for you. It’s a small offering for those who are feeling so deeply blue.  

Please know that you are not alone. Regardless of the scars we have, the weights we carry, we are all invited to approach every day the same way: with hope, if only as much as we can muster. Each sunrise pushing away the darkness is another valuable day no one wants you to waste—especially those you wish still filled the chairs at your table. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Fave Reads 2021

Similar to last year, I read much more digital than print this year. I want to say I didn't read enough, but why focus on regret? Much of what I did read in 2021 was exploratory: explore myself as a a father, a spouse, a grandfather, a teacher, a creative, a human, and whatever else I might become. As I age, I feel privileged to be able to let curiosity lead. Grateful. 

Please be an ally:
listen, read, and learn
from this terrific
writer, speaker & human.



I fell in love with 
reading thanks to 
horror fiction,
especially Stephen
King (also a fan of this
writer). Thanks to this
story, I learned
about progressive horror,
but most importantly,
I met Wen, a truly
unforgettable little girl
and her grasshoppers.  


Hmm...this isn't well written.
Yet, the textbook language
harbours portals to tender
places in all our lives. It
will take you there and
make you examine those
bruises; it also reminds us
to take control of our pain.


Love this guy. He has the
career I covet, a combo of 
writing & art, plus his creations
help me when I'm struggling
creatively. Check out the 
Dunning-Kruger prayer, lol. 


I read this to my granddaughter
many, many times this year
and continue to be impressed
by its rhythm & rhyme and
how it illustrates how much we
ache when our friends aren't
happy. I want my granddaughter
to know that ALL her emotions
are okay and how to be a good
friend. 


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