The One I Call

That time you saved my life

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in this world, those with kids and those without. I know that there are plenty of adages in that vein, like specialists and generalists, optimists and pessimists, believers in science and idiots; I don’t know about any of those but I do agree with the first one. Becoming a parent changes everything, it did for me and it did for just about any parent I have ever known. The instant bond formed by parent and new born continues to change as time passes and never really ends. I would put forth my parents as an example, I’m 53 and they are still worried about me. Probably with just cause. I wonder if the first few moments of life are where the strongest connections are? Where a mama bear would just as soon rip you apart as look at you for even thinking about having a negative thought towards their newborn cub. Sounds about right?

Back many, many years ago, 1996 to be specific, we were in the midst of a huge project for the normal non construction type person. A renovation and new addition to a hundred year old home in historic Lunenburg. Sinking, quite literally, everything into the dream of opening a B & B. Learning to swing a hammer and do the business end of things while fretting about this and that. And as if life wasn’t stressy enough, we were expecting our first child. To say we were crazy is an understatement but here we were and there was no turning back.

In late February of that year we had completed the addition to a reasonably livable state for us to move into, so the work on the original building good start in earnest. I’ve never been a project manager but I seemed to be holding up enough balls in the air to keep things moving relatively well. Avoiding catastrophe and trying hard to keep the eye on the prize as March roared in. At this point, this moment in time, is when our first daughter decided to make her appearance. On a brisk Saturday morning Adele wanted to join us in the real world. As new parents to be we rushed off to the hospital with equal amounts of fear and excitement, not knowing what the day ahead would bring but excited to see our first born. It was a long labour that seemed to be progressing very slowly, meaning that we seemed to have reached a plateau and could go no further. The doctor kept reassuring us that all was fine. We had no reason not to believe him. So later in the day when they strapped a heart monitor to keep an eye on the babies heart rate we weren’t worried. We became a little concerned when the heart rate dropped below a certain rate. It would rise back up and occasionally dip down again. Being young and stupid we didn’t think to question further then an enquiry. We should have pushed harder, we should have demanded some answers.

Finally the well meaning doctor conceded that he needed a second opinion. So while a minor snow storm was brewing outside an obstetrician had to make her way in. All day the doctor was saying she would come naturally and we didn’t need the good stuff to ease the pain. She walked in and in what seemed like twelve seconds after her arrical mom was being wheeled into the operating room for an emergency C-section. Adele was breached and having a stressed birth.

Let me stop here and tell you one of the scariest moments in my life. Imagine the joy of glimpsing our new born before she was whisked away to get cleaned up and weighed. Now imagine hearing these words – “come on baby, breathe.” We didn’t know what to say much less think. What was happening?

Well, thankfully everything started working and things seemed good. Our cuteness had arrived, was breathing fine and the stress of the day lifted. Two exhausted parents sighed in relief. The next morning the world crashed around us. Adele was having minor seizures and was being transported to Halifax. The IWK NICU. We were, to put it mildly, freaked. That day or the next I made a call. To my kid sister. You see, my sister is one of those people you want in your corner, whether you know it or not. She gave me her thoughts, calmed me a bit and mostly re-assured me that everything would be OK. And then she called the hospital to contact the head of neuro to come in and check in our little girl. This busy man came to further re-assure us. And you know what? It worked. We had someone to advocate for Adele and we were able to find some calmness in the midst of fear and chaos. That’s my sister; the bringer of calm, the fountain of information, the person with the biggest heart, the one who saved my life. And the smart ass.

That is why my sister is the one I call. Despite our less than idyllic relationship growing up, we have grown into a respectful and somewhat loving brother sister act. Despite moms belief that we act this way to bug her, it simply is our way. And in the midst of all this I have one question that keeps coming up in my addled mind – I wonder if you know?

I wonder if you know how special and important you are to the people around you. How much you have been a rock of support and comfort to people that you have come across in your life. It really is no surprise that you became a doctor. Can you think of no one that isn’t better off with you in their lives? I know a few. And as someone that has leaned on you in tough times I know what I’m talking about. You have been the recipient of my weird texts asking what the hell this or that might be. Like what is this red colouring on my leg? Why am I doubled over in pain trying to poop but I can’t? And my favourite, my eye is shimmering and I have this dark arch over my field of vision. This one turned out to be scary as hell, and your prodding ensured I didn’t end up dead. I fully believe you saved my life.

I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for you and everything you do. I know we have our unique relationship of sarcasm and silliness wrapped up in sibling one-upmanship, which makes the parents a little crazy, but at the end of the day I am so proud to have you as my sister. To go further, and with no amount of hyperbole, I am in complete awe of you. Your passion and compassion, your intelligence and your desire to make better lives for people sets you apart from run of the mill doctors and most humans.

“The purpose of a doctor or any human in general should not be to simply delay the death of the patient, but to increase the person’s quality of life.”

Patch Adams

That’s you. Improving the lives of people around you. In small and big ways. Being the heart of your community of friends and families while being a doctor of superior talent and compassion. Having the biggest heart around.

I didn’t have the anything swirling for an ABBA inspired video for your 50th birthday, like you did for me. But I hope this little pouring out leaves you with an inkling of how we all feel about you. You are loved so much!

Happy Birthday!

My Way

The sun is slipping low in the sky. Chirping birds can be heard a plenty, a small rabbit was nibbling on clover in our yard just a few moments ago. And from down the road, an unfamiliar sound, people gathered in the backyard for a few libations and something off the grill I imagine. The pandemic has made that a rare thing indeed. My day is nearing an end as I sit on the deck in the comfortable warm summer air and take stock, so to speak.

Life can give you fits from time to time. It can throw you a knuckle ball that is almost certain to make you whiff when you least expect it. It can, as well and most thankfully, fill you in ways that are hard to imagine sometimes. Be it finding love in an unlikely pond or watching your kids step gingerly but firmly towards their own destiny. Life can be grand.

And then there is the rest of the time. The in between times if you will. Work and play mingled together with the banality and the uncommonness of the lives we live. We all do it, every single one of us.

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

The Beatles – A Day in the Life

Why am I writing tonight. I was struck by the need to say something so I chose this. Not that I consider myself a writer by any stretch, but I have felt a certain kind of “writers block” for the past year or so. I attribute it to finding balance and hippieness actually. Which is a good thing of course, but I wonder if, in the absence of personal turmoil, I have said what I needed or wanted to say? I have worked on stories of various kinds, and still do, but they are stories without meaning or purpose as of yet. I feel like I am nibbling around the edges of what I wish I could say. Maybe because I don’t “need” to say it. I’m not driven by that desire. I’m not sitting at the typewriter and bleeding on the page as Hemmingway advised. Instead I am replaying themes from yesterday.

I feel like I may need to carve out time on a regular basis to work on the process. Put the time in by writing more, in the belief that the message will become clear so as to be able to put words to it. I know of some people that should be doing more of this kind of thing. Brush to canvass. Lens to the horizon. Pen to paper. I’m one of you.

The wind is picking up, it’s becoming a bit chilly out here. The sun is splayed out across our yard, glinting off of the cobblestones we laid for our little oasis out back. A little slice of Europe to gather friends and family around us in the time honoured ritual of sharing meat cooked over fire.

The ideas will come when they are ready to come, he said with more hope than he actually felt. In the mean time, those fading rays will be back tomorrow for a fresh start. So will I.

Ciao

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

On my drives to work, to look at spreadsheets and trying to imagine what re-opening the university is going to look like, I have taken to listening to podcasts to pass the time and occupy my brain. I listened to Winds of Change by Patrick Radden Keefe, an exploration of whether or not the CIA had a part in writing the song of the same name to help hasten the fall of the Soviet Union. I sometimes listen to Alan Alda in Clear & Vivid. He waxes poetic about the challenges that this thing life can present, and how connecting to our true selves as well as others helps us to overcome and grow past them. And I am now listening to Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman in their excellent podcast called Now and Then. An exploration of American history and how it relates to today. Hence why that quote appears at the beginning of this little post.

In my slightly formative years of high school, I was always a fan of history and social studies classes. I enjoyed the snippets of knowledge that came forth in dribs and drabs. Mr. Burns in grade nine with Canadian history and it’s place in the world, circa 1982. The transplanted American, Mr. Vendrig, teaching, you guessed it, American history. America didn’t lose Vietnam and Jim Morrison will be back in short time. His words, not mine. Mr. Schepis and the happenings of the world through the 1800’s to the Cold War. And my personal favourite, Mr. Raso, the rebel, sounding off on the inequalities around us in the form of oppression in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua et al. What I loved about these classes were the connections that you could make; say how Napoleon stupidly attacked Russia and how Hitler, despite warnings against it, followed suit. I cared not for memorizing dates but for I loved the way some of these teachers brought to life the past. How one could see the very embodiment of what history could and should stand for.

Making a relief map of de Soto’s journey around the Gulf of Mexico in grade five pointed to the allure of exploration but did little to open the eyes to the abuses and exploitation that came with the Spaniard. There was only one side of the story at that age for me. Maybe that’s all we were supposed to know or maybe that’s all that anyone wanted to remember. Regardless, a large part of the story remained untold to the assembled grade five class of Mr. Reid. Whether it was a take on the old adage that history is written by the victors or we simply weren’t yet able to understand that the stories being told had more than one side. You get the feeling that it happens a lot? I know I do. This morning’s episode of Now and Then delved into the current mock debate in America over Critical Race Theory (CRT). In my humble opinion, it is a specious and fallacious bunch of nonsense being spouted off by so called republicans, who really should be calling themselves Kluckers for short.

Kluckers and wannabe Kluckers are claiming that “libtard” liberals want to indoctrinate their children into hating themselves. That white people are all racists. Oh, and by the way, America isn’t racist anyway. It would be funny if it wasn’t dangerous. Funny only because it is hilariously sad that Republicans are coming out and saying that anyone that supports CRT is racist. Pretty rich from a bunch of jackoffs trying to gerrymander districts and restrict voting for people that usually don’t vote for them. Namely people of colour. We have, in our formative years, been fed bullshit stories about the founding of America as much as we were fed the same bullshit about our own founding. Sir John A MacDonald, our visionary cobbler of alliances that through sheer force of will established Canada. Right. The drunk that hung Riel and had a hand in establishing residential schools. Or perhaps we can look at Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of America and it’s third president. We were taught to think of him with reverence, after all, look what he accomplished in his 83 years. Owned over 600 slaves and managed to, at the same time, forge relationships with Native Americans and work to assimilate them and drive them off of their lands. Nice, right?

And CRT is simply an attempt to try and see the whole story and how it may be affecting the institutions that are being used by us all. A scholarly approach to where and how our systems may be limiting some of us. But it has become a dog whistle for the right to distract people from the fact that they don’t actually have any policies past giving tax breaks to the rich. I guess the phony outrage over Mr. Potato head wasn’t cutting it.

The point here is that we are a messy species, we are complicated and often times infuriating, but we shouldn’t let any of that stop us from the continued search for the truth, as uncomfortable as it may be. Both of those men did great things and both of them did horrible things. How you judge them is up to you, but you can’t make any sort of assertation one way or the other without knowing the fuller story. White washing over the ugly parts because it doesn’t fit your idea of what the final story should look like might make for easy reading but it ain’t the truth.

I guess I bring this all up because it is troubling to see what is going on in our world, especially south of the border. Six months ago we witnessed an attempted violent overthrow of an democratically appointed government by a bunch of radicalized terrorists. In a country that has painted a narrative of believing in the rule of the people and peaceful transfer of power, we had gallows set up to lynch Mike Pence. I don’t like Mike Pence. I wouldn’t offer Mike Pence my hand in friendship because it think he both despicable and dangerous, but I wouldn’t want to see him killed. By people purporting to believe in the same things he believes in. In the hours and days after this insurrection you had people like Moscow Mitch and Flip Flopping Lyndsey Graham, in no uncertain terms, lay the blame at Trump’s feet. Six months later? They can’t even bring themselves to agree to talk about the idea of launching an investigation into what happened and why it happened. This is unconscionable pure and simple. And it worries me that the death knell of democracy is growing louder.

Learning from this moment by trying to discover all the facts shouldn’t be about retribution, even though it almost certainly will, the greater objective should be to learn why it happened. So that the underlying causes can be looked at and addressed. Right or wrong, and I think they are very wrong, these MAGA hat cladded people came to this place of behaviour through a combination of frustration with the world and their place in it, a concerted effort to displace facts and science with conspiracy theories and exchange neo liberal ideals with puritanical dogma. All fanned on by grifters and power hungry twits. It is looking like, more and more, that reason and sanity has left the building. Why should we study history? So we can learn from it. Hitler staged a coup attempt that failed. And he came back after prison to launch us into unimagined destruction because of sheer lunacy. Don’t think it can happen again? Think again.

I’ll leave on this note – I loved the movie Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams was sublimely perfect, and his bench speech to Will is a thing of beauty. This particular part of that quasi soliloquy relates to what I have been thinking about.

I look at you; I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and you ripped my fuckin’ life apart. You’re an orphan right? Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?

Sean (Robin Williams)

We can’t look at one thing or two things when trying to understand the nature of what we are looking at. We need to not be afraid of seeing and hearing the whole of what is in front of us. Let it all in, differing views and hard to handle truths. Don’t erase history, learn from it.

Han

Newton’s third law tells us that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. If object A exerts a force on object B, object B also exerts an equal and opposite force on object A. I wonder when our Indigenous people will be able to exert force back on the powers that have, for so long, pushed down on them? When will they be able to stop fighting and start healing? Despite stated policy and sound bites that promise a lot, we see on a daily basis that the truth is something else entirely. We have to stop, it is way past the time to do so.

Late last week came the news that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of a former residential school. We were shocked, but not really. And I’m certain the real owners of this country are not at all shocked, they know all too well the waves of horrors that have come from the relationship with the white man.

There is a Korean word, han, that I think needs an indigenous equivalent to try and encapsulate how so many people must feel. The word, which has no literal English translation, but can be summed up as a deep feeling of regret, sorrow, grief, anger, resentment and sorrow. An internalized feeling that reflects all the pain and suffering that has come before, not only for yourself, but for your people as well. On the show The West Wing this is how President Bartlett described it, “It’s a state of mind… a sadness so deep, no tears will come. And yet still, there’s hope.” I came back to this thought over the weekend while thinking about the tragic news. The deep hurt and resignation that must swallow the joy that people hope for. And I feel shame that there is still resistance to allowing the healing to begin. I hope there is still hope amongst our brothers and sisters.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Inquiry are the latest iterations of official responses to try and get on to the healing road. And I applaud them for being there but I wouldn’t be alone in thinking that not only are they handcuffed by political and legal wrangling they also fall short of bringing everyone to the table. And to be clear, I am looking right at you Catholic Church. It is telling that this church in particular hasn’t yet apologized for the blood on its hands. The Anglican and United Church have apologized for their part, but not the Catholics. For not only being willing participants but co-architects of an attempted genocide. But todays progressive Pope won’t apologize. He won’t bring himself and his church to say we’re sorry. We can guess that it has to do with legal ramifications and the question of money in the form of atonement for the past sins, but is anyone surprised? They are still fighting tooth and nail to protect rapist priests, so what’s this to them?

There is a school named for this piece of work. A street to walk named for him. A leader in the church of the time, he reflected quite clearly, that these people were worth nothing to God. A loving God, a merciful God, the one true God. And if you wanted to meet God you had to go the way pointed by the church of the day. How terrifying it must have been to young children already suffering the trauma of being ripped from their mothers arms to hear some cloak wearing deviant bring down the wrath of God on to their heads. It is no wonder that children as young as nine thought suicide was the better option. I can’t think of a curse worthy of this.

I don’t have answers and I feel more than a little trepidatious for speaking on a subject that I concede, I know too little about. But I feel the more that people are talking about this the better. We need to continue to join the conversation and stand with our brothers and sisters, to demand that everyone comes to the table to work this out.

Nowhere Man

In grade five, at the precocious age of eleven, I was, to put it mildly, a problem child for my teachers. I talked too much, I wandered around too much and I wasn’t afraid to express myself. Often, in jaw dropping embarrassing ways, I would draw the eyes of my classmates and teachers to myself; not because I was an attention junkie, far from it – because behind the veil of pomposity and gregarious displays, I’m actually quite shy, rather I simply felt obliged to share my thoughts. The fact that I didn’t think the rules applied to me didn’t help one bit. At this particular juncture of my life, all my teachers at St. Dorothy’s elementary school were victims of my being me. But in particular, one teacher stood out as a sort of nemesis, his Captain Ahab to my Mobey Dick. Mr. Howell was my homeroom teacher in grade five and six, and from the first day I moseyed into his class, in that portable cluster, we were like oil and water. I had arrived at the tail end of grade four so I was still considered the new kid. The one with the long hair and the funny bounce in his step. I’m certain I heard the words “not living up to my potential” a couple of times and we always seemed to be dragging along the class in our head butting contests. I wouldn’t back down and he, being the Genghis Khan of the class, wouldn’t either. Neither of us yielded an inch. Of course it was my mouth that was the cause of most of the trouble; I never learned to keep my trap shut for the three and half years we lived in the John Garland and Martin Grove area. Like my spirit animal in The Outsiders, Two Bit, I just couldn’t keep my two cents to my self. Variations of this kind of experience played out many times as my parents shuttled us around the north west corner of Toronto.

I bring this up as a tiny illustration of how my parents immigrant experience manifested itself with me. We were always moving when I was growing up. When we first came to Canada we moved a lot, I’m not even sure how many times. And by the time I started grade one we were embarking on a seemingly endless two and half year moving cycle. Just as life was being normalized and solidified we would do the pack up and find better digs to unload into. Understandably, I hated the moving process and I really, really didn’t like leaving the friends I had made. But my parents didn’t ask me my opinion, they just moved us. Of course they did, what parent would ask a child for their opinion on such a monumental change? Pack your shit up, we’re moving.

As an unintended consequence, the constant change basically from the day I was born has inured me to the anxiety around full scale changes that can cause a great deal of stress. So colour me blessed I guess. I was born in France to parents that had met there but came from the former Yugoslavia. We came to Canada when I was 18 months old or so. We lived on a farm. Downtown Toronto. Somewhere else. Back downtown. Somewhere else again. And you get the picture. There may have been another place or two before moving to Jane and Finch for a few years. Than Rexdale. Than Willowridge. Than North Rexdale. And than I moved off to Nova Scotia and did some more moving. Considering I lived in Lunenburg the longest, 12 years by the time I was 40, you get the sense that there was a shit ton of moving boxes in my life.

So, this got me to thinking about how I am really from nowhere. I don’t have the pull of the family home that we all grew up in. I don’t identify as from one place or another because really, I am not from anywhere. I’m proud to call myself Canadian, but I am a naturalized one as opposed to being born here. My hockey dad wasn’t like your hockey dad. I was born in France but that, to me at least, was simply a matter of geography at the time of birth. And while I strongly feel the allure of anything European, I am not Croatian or Serbian or Hungarian like my family. I will never be considered one by the people that can claim that proud lineage. Just like I will never be a Nova Scotian, despite having lived here more than half my life, because of the Come From Away paradox – familiar to anyone from outside of Nova Scotia that now calls it home.

And that is all fine. I don’t feel slighted or disadvantaged in any way. From this constant upheaval I learned two important things that have served me well over the years. A) I learned from the best when it came to packing a truck or car. B) I don’t get phased by change. For me, it simply is the way it is and it probably is the same for a lot of people that have had the immigrant experience. Parents move, looking for a better future for their families. Whether fleeing conflict or economic despair, the opportunity to bring up children in a land where someone isn’t actively trying to erase you must be quite the draw. Imagine that. I think of what my parents have done in the search for better. Came to a country, dragging a young me with them, speaking no English, and starting from scratch they built a decent life for us all. They did it coming from France, not a disadvantaged land by any stretch, but the prospects were still better coming here than staying put. Working hard, learning to fit in and scraping up enough to, bit by bit, move the family into safer neighbourhoods. In my opinion, the unsung heroes of the boomer generation are the ones that worked their way from immigrant poor to middle class existence. They didn’t dream of yearly tropical vacations and a new car every other year. We were tossed into the back of the Chevy Vega for two week stints, staying at motels and driving the highways of Ontario. Because that was what they could afford. Eating mortadella and cheese for lunch at road side picnic grounds. No Disney vacations. No fancy hotels. 1000 Islands one year. Muskoka Village and Fort whatever the next? This was reality. And for all that, we had it good compared to many others. To this day I live in awe of what my parents accomplished by coming here to Canada. If you’re reading mom and papi – that was what I was referencing when I was on that gurney, high on dilaudid with kidney stones. You guys are awesome!

Back in the middle ages of my current existence, I bemoaned the fact that I felt like a fraud. Perhaps it was imposters syndrome – I didn’t deserve to be standing in the same company with some of the people I was with because I felt inadequate. Compared to their upbringing and level of education, I shouldn’t have been in the game with them. Looking back I know that was utter bullshit. And they had said as much. We all bring different gifts to the table and what we manage to do with them is what sets us apart from the next guy over, who happens to have his own gifts to play with. Nowhere Man? Yes, certainly I feel I am that. But the riches I have gleaned from the life I have led can be directly tied back to my folks doing their best to provide for me. I have a lot to be thankful for. The challenges I have faced help to give me a well rounded appreciation of the realities of life and the blessings I cherish offer insight into the lives of my brothers and sisters that walk along the road with me.

This Nowhere Man sends out his deep appreciation for the sacrifices and incredibly difficult things you have done in the name of giving us a chance. My sister, a respected doctor and me, an older but still mouthy kid at heart, wouldn’t be here doing what we do were it not for you. Love you both – Mama i Tata

Dear Bella,

I apologize in advance for any embarrassment I might cause. But I figure after all you have learned about me, from the “why are you still alive?” and the “I don’t think I would have liked you much back in high school” files, coupled with my singing debut last year at our wedding, this will be small potatoes – this public declaration if you will. It isn’t the first time and I am betting it won’t be the last. So, today is the third anniversary of our first date. Can you imagine that? While we may have taken very different roads to get there, it took us no time at all to realize we had found each other. Our collective “ones” to make two. And here we are three years later, married and lovingly ensconced in our oasis.

When reflecting on the above mentioned attempt at serenade, saner people may ask why? I suppose you could call it a maniacal desire to go all in and completely over board with a declaration of our love. I’m funny that way. I spent last spring locked away in my office; recording and re-recording my version of Come Rain Or Come Shine by David Francey. Singing into my phone, to a an instrumental of the song that one of the original musicians in the band had done for me. Putting it all together with a slideshow of moments in time that pointed not only to our past, but to our future as well; trying to get the most perfect imperfect version of it all. Much like we are sweetheart – perfectly imperfect together.

Often it’s hard to pinpoint the moment of inspiration for moving one into doing something as opposed to doing nothing. While I remember vividly what I was doing when I decided to become a Big Brother when I was 21, the road to how I ended up singing on our Zoom wedding was more circuitous. I know only that I never intended to go down that road, but I am glad I did. Maybe it was Epictetus after all – “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” Love can make you stupid, a good stupid. Certainly the song may have planted the seed; as the massage therapist worked me over I got to hear this little gem a number of times and whether by osmosis or by divine intervention, the idea started forming. Originally I was planning on singing this live at the reception, but COVID put the kibosh on all that and somehow I came up with the version of what you and many others had to endure. I’m sorry. But not really. If there is one thing that I know about me and my life as I have lived it, is that “no regrets” will always be central to my being. And I think you might love that about me.

“I love her, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I love that quote. It encapsulated better than I ever could, how I felt about you and about us. Looking back over the past three years, the moments we have shared, I find myself thinking about a song by Big Wreck, and one line in particular – “And all of my favorite stories are about you” In our short time together we have made many memories you and I. And like the pictures that adorn our walls, they tell a story. Woven strands that form our journey, our tapestry. The one we started weaving that windy March 3rd in 2018. We joke and laugh about the foolishness of our interactions, we are playful and silly, as can be confirmed by the rolling eyes we encounter from our family, and we genuinely find comfort and happiness with each other. That is a special thing my love, one that I cherish everyday.

Happy Anniversary Bella. Ja te volim.

Absolom, Absolom

Often I need to hunker down in my office while working on confounded spreadsheets in the pursuit of corporate gobbledygook. And often enough in those times, I have a little music playing in the background to prevent me from gnashing my teeth. Call it musical therapy, call it homicide prevention, either works really. So, a few weeks ago I found myself doing just that, navigating the latest corporate directives while listening to Rush on the one-year anniversary of Neil Peart’s passing. A strange year, by any definition that one would care to use, which also happened to be one day after the riots and attempted insurrection that happened in Washington. Strange days indeed. I got to thinking about the song playing and what, if anything, it could have in relation to what we were living through that day.

It’s funny how we can interpret songs in different ways over the years. Or how music and lyrics don’t always walk in lock step with each other, perhaps tricking you into thinking that the little ditty is about sunshine and roses when it’s really about the end of the world. Case in point, 99 Luftballons by one hit wonder Nena. A somewhat catchy pop tune that maybe, could be, about 99 pretty balloons that have gotten away from a pretty girl, but is really about Cold War brinksmanship during the inspired and visionary leadership by the morons in charge at the time, Reagan and Brezhnev.

Or how the song Distant Early Warning was titularly about the same thing, The DEW line set across our frozen tundra, to guard against the red hoard sneaking up on us. But listening to the lyrics you think maybe the song is really a warning about environmental calamity – too right you can’t sing in the acid rain or swim in the heavy water. Wait, but what the hell is the chorus about?

The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy —
But I worry about you

I know it makes on difference
To what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg —
And I worry about you…

Rush

The ending of the song has Geddy crying out Absalom, Absalom. Back in the day I didn’t know and didn’t much care what was being said when it wasn’t abundantly clear. Just about anyone can understand the simple lyric – “I wanna hold your hand” or “We’re not going to take it” so I stuck to what I thought I knew. But as has often happened as I age, I came back to things to explore them a little deeper. Thanks to Google I now know that Absalom, Absalom was a Faulkner novel set in the south, in the Civil War era. So I am sure it is some happy easy reading. And on to other happy reading, Absalom was a biblical character that was both painfully handsome and a scrapper of some note. He liked to partake in some mayhem from time to time. In fact, in the end, he died fighting his father’s armies – King David of all people. When hearing of his son’s death he supposedly Tweeted out “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Methinks this is where Faulkner got the idea for the title of his book and Neil added to the tapestry of Absalom mythology with his own crying out, so to speak.

I suspect, in the end, that Neil was stringing together a number of visions to paint a picture that spoke not only of coming calamity but of the sometimes close hold personal shit people go through right in front of our eyes. And how those things, in the moment, are as monumental as say a glacier melting.

The allegorical nature of art, in all its forms, allows for multiple interpretations on the part of the masses. This is not a new observance of course but I do think it’s important to note the subjective nature of the audience. Knowing this, we better understand that any number of factors can and will influence the reader, the listener, the viewer. And as they say, knowing is half the battle.

Which brings me to this part of the song –

Left and rights of passage
Black and whites of youth
Who can face the knowledge
That the truth is not the truth?
Obsolete
Absolute

Absalom
Absalom

Still Rush

I feel this speaks greatly to the mess of today that we all face. The pandemic, the disaster known as the tRump presidency, and what has become of the political and economic systems that we have lived with for so long. Conspiracy theories are taken as biblical prophecy or cold hard fact. A system that rewards the few on the backs of the many. People being too young for a wise head is one thing, but the idea that we have purveyors of misinformation coupled with vitriol on all sides is pushing us into dangerous territory. Too many of us are convinced of our own cleverness and righteousness, shutting down and shouting down any and all that dare question what we believe. I think it means we are potentially fucked. Instead of inching closer to each other, we find ourselves increasingly driven apart by lunacy. And in the background, we can hear the wailing – Absalom, Absalom.

Drinks with Richard Schiff

Dreams. Those confounding sleep machinations of the mind. Ones that invoke fears and those that bring tears, you know the ones. What do they mean? Why can’t I read in my dreams? Why is my nightmare dream always about running out of food at work? All I can say, that often after having been awoken by my alarm playing Bach’s Cello Suite No 1, I am left wondering what, if anything, it all meant.

Every once in awhile I will have the most vivid of dreams from the night prior. Once I woke with tears in my eyes because an old high school friend had died; this had disturbed me so much that I went on a quest to find him. And in the time before Google and anything remotely internet search like, I found him the old fashioned way and we reconnected a bit over the phone. This led to a mini reunion of sorts with me flying back to Toronto for a get together of high school chums for an afternoon of “Glory Days” reminiscing. Another time, the most vivid of conversations with someone that I was very close to, again back in high school; I searched her out and we had a phone chat that was both pleasant and promising. That the promise fell short is a footnote in my history, I know I tried. You see, I don’t know if dreams are pre-cursors to anything or simply our minds fucking with us, so when something that vivid comes up I tend to act on it in some way.

Which leaves me with a bit of a conundrum from last night. I had two dreams that kind of stand out from the many that I seemed to have had. In one, Lee Majors, of the Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors, was texting me to let me know that he was going to work for my manuscript to be pushed forward to production, because he thought it had potential. I knew, in my dream, that I had sent him some work and I was quite excited at the prospect. Not sure if that means I should drop everything and start working as a writer or that if I should get a gerbil as a pet. Toss up, who really knows what dreams mean.

The second dream was one of those very vivid dreams though. In it I was spending an evening with Richard Schiff, the actor that played Toby Ziegler in The West Wing. Luckily I was playing the part of a fawning fan that didn’t scare the crap out of him and we ended up moving through landscapes that ranged from his ramshackle study, strewn with books and manuscripts, to a dodgy looking bar sipping whiskey at a Formica table with those crappy black and steel cheap chairs we’ve all sat in at least once. So vivid was this dream that I woke wondering when we had actually done this. Of course I never met the man, but I felt the character he played, written by Aaron Sorkin, would be OK with me as a temporary drinking buddy for a little while. So, in the dream at least, despite my over staying my welcome, we had quite the time together.

We replayed and delved into scenes from The West Wing that I thought were worthy of his own ascension into the upper echelons of acting royalty. Knowing full well that the words he spoke were those of Sorkin, we none the less explored his deliverance of them and how he made them his own. Credit to both of them for speaking a truth that is, too often, hard to hear. His character was the moral superiority complex to Jed Bartlett’s better wishes for himself; where Bartlett would look for common ground in the middle, a true politician, while Toby tried to push everyone to his perception of a higher place of moral purity. I loved his character as much as anything on that show, I am unabashedly a West Wing nerd and, in my dream at least, was not afraid to lean right into my nerdiness.

I don’t know what that part of the dream meant anymore then what I knew others parts meant, but it seemed to set the stage for subsequent scenes running through my addled mind during my slumber. We found ourselves driving the streets, through dilapidated commercial areas and rundown housing complexes, passing by the burnt out remains of a once vibrant downtown core and finally into the suburban mundanities, where we found our bar in a non-descript strip mall. Not the rich dark oak lined walls of an Irish pub, but the aforementioned Formica laded version of hell. At least the whiskey was good. And the conversation excellent.

We spoke of lofty goals and the higher ground of what the world owes to itself. At this point I don’t know if he was Toby or simply Richard, but there was such clarity in the sentiment we were expressing that suddenly it all made sense. The world and my path was clear. Unfortunately, that last part slipped away from my memory as I woke up. Damn it!!! So in the end I am left wondering if I am once again gazing upon an abyss of uncertainty in what I am here to do or choosing between the less uglier of the two gerbils.

Who the hell knows what it is all about, but what I do find myself thinking about is writing. Writing this piece. Writing about other things that have been kicking around upstairs for a little while. Also, about reading. I think I may have broken out of my funk around reading. I used to read a lot but over the past number of years I have been sporadic at best when it came to cracking an actual book. It bothered me but I didn’t know what to do about it as the desire simply wasn’t there. I suppose I had other things on my mind, but it feels like my book purgatory is coming to an end. Currently I am reading Barak Obama’s book A Promised Land. I just re-read Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian and before that Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. On deck I have The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, so maybe my readers block is fading. Goody.

So, what is this post about? Reading and writing I suppose. Not my normal new year proclamations around reflection and hope. Not that these have gone away in any way, quite the contrary in fact, as we need even more so a reaffirmation about what matters in our lives and what we should be cherishing. Simply that I had a dream last night and I decided this was the place to explore that thread a little more. To that end I think I will be revisiting a few half written stories I have hidden away to see if I have anything worthy enough to spruce up and enter the CBC writing contest. Maybe it’s time.

Happy New Year to all you beautiful people.

Ciao

D

The 99 Cent Things

I’ve been gnawing around the edges of a thought lately. Something seems to be missing. Something is amiss and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until yesterday. I thought maybe it was pandemic crap just building up over the past year, and in some ways it is, but it’s not the major calamity hanging there as one would expect. It’s the small things, the little things, the 99 cent things.

I needed to get my self scanned as part of the follow up on my nonsense from a few years back. A yearly greasing up so someone can rub that ultrasound scanner around my abdomen making sure nothing is missing or there that shouldn’t be there. I really dislike the process, but am grateful for the fact that I’m here still, so I guess a little prodding is not so horrible. While lying there counting down the seconds to let my breath out I thought about how different this was just one year ago. Last year there would have been banter of some sort; maybe small talk about the stupid weather or some other topic of non-consequence. That’s disappeared behind a veil of masks, face shields and fear. Stupid COVID.

And that’s what has been missing. The spontaneity of the lives we lived doing the 99 cent things. We have been forced into a form of submission of the better parts of us, reduced to observing and waiting. We can’t, for good reasons, just pop in on someone or plan to meet for a drink. Our bubble is supposed to be socially small now, and despite my somewhat introverted tendencies, I miss that social part of life. Everything has become harder, the simple things take effort that sometimes seems like a waste of energy, and in that time we have, I think, started to forget the importance of still making an effort.

All things being equal, I would much rather be sitting across from a friend sharing a laugh over coffee. Or catching up on the great mystery of life and its happenstances while sharing a meal. Most of us would. Additionally, having random encounters of the positive kind, those that help nurture us when we don’t even know it is happening. So, to that end, after scraping off the goo from my midsection, the technician going about her cleaning and disinfecting ritual, I decided do something about it all. From the requisite six foot distance, I commented on how different her work must be now. You could see she was surprised by the comment. Nodding her head in agreement we chatted briefly about the fatigue of COVID and than I thanked her for her work. How hard it must be to come in under these circumstances day in and day out. Putting yourself and, by extension, your family at risk because that’s your job, and you have to do it because people need you. I sincerely hope I’m not the only person to thank her for her work, but she looked like she hadn’t heard that in a long time. And it looked like tears were welling up. Sometimes all we want, all we need, is someone to see us.

That was a moment to remind me of the everyday miracles around us. The small sacrifices that add up to great bug ones. A reminder that under the masks people are craving for connection. We are social beings of course, and the need to connect on some level is innate in most of us. We may not want to talk about the weather and we roll our eyes at the latest escapade of Rex the wonder dog, but look what happens when those things are ripped from our lives. There is something to be said for the banality of everyday life when it goes missing.

All this being said as the first of the vaccines are being shot into the arms of the people that need it most. Health care workers and the most susceptible to the ravages of this little virus are getting their shots as we speak. A huge thank you must go out to the people that have toiled since the beginning of the pandemic, looking for cures and treatments, taking care of the sick and dying while holding it all together as best they can. Dark days are still ahead of us but I for one am seeing that light at the end of the tunnel as a little brighter today. That’s hope speaking, and hope is a good thing as wiser people than me have said.

Aim High

Today I am revisiting a topic of discussion from a few years back. Maybe I have run out of things to say or maybe I feel like I can do it better, either way, I’m sorry if you feel like I’m retelling stories – but just like a dad, I’m not going to stop.

In what seems like a million years ago, I took a drivers education course in the run up to getting my license. From it I remember just two things; lanes are 11 feet wide and aim high. The first thing is simply inane trivia that has somehow stuck in my brain. The fact that something like that is lodged in there but my own medical history escapes me way too often is simply confounding – WTF. The second piece of information was “aim high.” I have found this to be quite useful, not only for driving purposes but for life in general. The theory is that when you stop looking down at the road in front of your hood ornament, instead looking to the horizon, better drivers we all become. Our peripheral vision picks up on anything around us while the bigger picture is being focused on, giving one a sense of operational overview where potential issues are picked up on before they become actual issues.

Without actually thinking about it, I use that principle in my life everyday. I drive looking as far ahead as I deem prudent and I try to think big picture in the hopes that the little things will be taken care of. Of course it doesn’t always work because; as we know all too well, life has a habit of getting in the way. I say fuck it, deal with it and move on. It works for me, mostly. And maybe that’s not always possible as there is simply just too much coming at you to begin making sense of it all. That’s when we need to slow down and take stock of what the real issue or issues are. If I look back on my life, the times when I felt bogged down and was driving through negative town, it can probably be tied to times that I was looking down at the road in front of my hood, so to speak, and not aiming high. Not seeing the forest for the trees, keeping my eye on the ball – yada, yada, yada. You get the idea I’m sure because you’re smart that way. And to be sure, I feel like I have led a bit of a charmed life, in so much as that I haven’t had the entire world drop on my head at once. Who knows how I would have reacted if say, I got cancer one day, Scott was given his terminal diagnosis the next while my girlfriend at the time decided that we weren’t working anymore and my idiot boss told me that I just lost my job. Aim High? How about grab a bottle instead. God only knows how I would have reacted. Maybe no different than any one of my friends are reacting to the crap that has come down at them.

So I’m left to wonder, either literally or metaphorically, am I able to sit in an empty room with my own thoughts? Can I shut out the noise from the outside world to be able to get to the root of what I need to work on? My best friend died – I can’t change that, so why am I reliving that daily. The issue is not my friend dying but my need to learn how to grieve my loss. I know I have said this a few times now (see above note about Dad’s), but we need to be able to find the joy and the hope in what can seem like hopeless times. We should look for the one thing that really matters in this discussion, perspective. From there we can begin taking those baby steps towards that dim light out there beyond our vision.

Despite the domain of this blog and some of the things I may have written here, I am a pretty calm and reflective kind of guy. I don’t over react, I rarely make large decisions without thinking things through and I almost always look at the bigger picture. That is perspective…working for me. Look for your way of gaming that perspective. It’ll be worth it.

Ciao
D