Monday, December 29, 2008

I Rather Like Christmas

Simplicity is in, according to the Style section of the Globe and Mail. Frugality is all the rage. Gone is conspicuous consumption. It’s no longer de rigueur. In these days of economic uncertainty we all must make sacrifices, even the Ferragamo wearing set.

I’m sure folks on the street who call heating grates home are nonplussed to know they’re trendsetters.

I have never, never understood women who like to shop, who need to buy shit to feel good about themselves. I don’t understand the covetousness over shoes and purses. I think any woman who likes to shop is devoid of imagination. I am being a bit hypocritical here because I enjoy reading about fashion and I appreciate well designed do-dads. I just don’t need to possess any of it.

I find the idea of a magazine called Real Simple preposterous.

You know what I got for Christmas this year? Army surplus wool blankets! I’m thrilled. They have that scratchy feel that takes me back to childhood. They’re the next best thing to hair shirts, I tell you.

We’ve blown our wad folks. We just don’t need anymore shit. No more purses and cars and big screen tvs and radish presses and cappuccino machines and play stations and cell phones … okay, people still want cell phones. Not me. I was given a cell phone in July. I have yet to turn it on.

I rather like Christmas — not for the goods and services, but for the cold wintry weather. And something about divinity born among us. That’s kinda cool.

Viva la downturn economique.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Hate Halloween

I Hate Halloween.

There was a time I liked Halloween. Not anymore. It’s a commercial wankfest as big as Christmas. From two hundred dollar princess costumes to plastic glowing skulls to coffee shops charging five dollars for admission to, get this, their “coffee shop Halloween party” (yes, I just came back from a local fair trade coffee palace advertising this), Halloween is a money sucking faux holiday.

Now I have gone to my fair share of Halloween parties, in various states of consciousness. I have dressed as Elizabeth I, Julie Andrews, a knight and, when the imagination started failing, a nurse. But in the last ten years the marketing of Halloween has made participating seem obligatory. I don’t want to walk into my bank and see it festooned with tombstones and ghosts. I don’t need the reminder that I’ll be dead before I see my money again. Just give me my rapidly dwindling resources and feck off.

I don’t think I’ve ever given candies away to kids on Halloween. I always make sure I’m out at a movie or something. When you’re single and you live alone, giving candies to children, well, I dunno …I feel suspect. I don’t have much to do with children all year — why start now?

I once liked Halloween. “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” with its moody backgrounds, pumpkin patch worship and Vince Guaraldi bass and piano riffs captured the essence of a once otherworldly night, a night where the veil between the here and hereafter slipped just a bit.

Now Halloween and all its crappy, soulless merchandise is just another amateur night.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gliding High

“Straight ahead is Kitchener. Guelph’s at 2 o’clock. Can you hear me?”
I breathed slowly and deeply to fend off panic. It didn’t do a god damn thing. Every inch of my body shook. Good thing I was sitting down.
“Do you want to take the controls?” yelled Steve.
I brought my right hand over to rest on the joystick. I couldn’t stop the trembling in my hand, let alone steer the plane.
“We’re hitting a thermal,” he said.
Nauseated, about to pass out, I clenched my teeth. What if the wind tore us apart? What if my instructor had a seizure or a heart attack? Who would land the plane? Terror squeezed the oxygen from my lungs as I braced for a wild ascent.

This was one of the best days of my life.

Life had been dull as of late. Being conscious seemed an insensible slog. Life had lost its newness; sobriety had lost its novelty. The voices in my head grew louder. You can have a drink. You can smoke a joint. Where had the edge gone? Where were the highs? My life was a windowless, airless, florescent-lit room stacked with reports no one ever read. On the subway, on the street, in meetings and shops, I felt the creeping approach of decay and irrelevance. I prayed not to do anything stupid.

Then a letter came in the mail.

“One Free Introductory Gliding Lesson” read the gift certificate. On the card, a pilot wearing shades sat in the cockpit of a glider, vertical toward the stratosphere. My boyfriend purchased the lesson for me, in a not so subtle attempt to shake me out of my doldrums. The Southern Ontario Soaring Association (SOSA) Gliding Club invited me to quit whining and fly.
Gliding as a sport started more or less because of the Treaty of Versailles. After World War I Germany was restricted from manufacturing or using powered aircraft. Aviators, jonesing for the sky, developed, designed and flew motorless planes. They discovered how to surf the natural forces in the atmosphere to fly farther and faster. By the time World War II came around, the Germans had a supply of pilots ready to be trained in warplane operation.

Some of the old guys who run SOSA look like they could have flown in World War II. There are some hard core aviators at SOSA, retirees who live to fly. My guy Steve had been flying for thirty years. You are in good hands at SOSA.

The most frightening part of the lesson was being dragged to 3000 feet by the tow plane.

Every lurch, bump and dip felt extreme. Imagine turbulence. Now imagine being able to see turbulance infront of you, in the bobbing and weaving of the tow plane. There’s no in-flight entertainment system to distract you, no episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm to watch. This is flight — heady, exhilerating, weird.

At 3000 feet the rope connecting the tow plane and glider released (yeah, it’s only a rope that keeps you fastened). Then off we went into the wild blue yonder; soaring, dipping, rising.

I began to relax half way into the flight. The terror of surrendering to natural forces eased into wide-eyed awe. Stretched below, verdant, bucolic, Southern Ontario: the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Hamilton, shiny grey clusters. Above, cumulus clouds, white wisps and patches of condensed air, the friend of gliders everywhere. By the time we sailed down to land on SOSA’s grass airstrip, I wanted to grab the control stick and head skyward again. Sheer bare-headed bloody freedom.

SOSA offers intro gliding flights on the weekend until the end of October. They also offer introductory aerobatic flights. To top it off, it’s across the way from African Lion Safari. But doing both in one day — that might be too much excitement to handle.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What Do I Know?

One of my university professors was a genius. That word gets bandied around a lot, but the man possessed an exceptionally subtle mind. John Buell taught Communications Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. He had a PH.D in English Literature from the Universite de Montreal and was also a playwright and author. Several of his books were adapted for the big screen. I remember him well; gesticulating, guffawing and delighting at his own logic, animating heady material for dopey kids barely out of their teen years. We had to read McLuhan and Innis. We studied the history of the alphabet. We dutifully avoided the language of marketing. He had compassion too. Feeling lost and fragile, I once hung back after class and asked him if irony was an emotion. He looked at me, put a hand on my shoulder (yes, you could do that back in the mid-eighties) gently smiled and said, “It’s hard being young.”

The one thing that has stuck with me all this time is something he insisted on — that we distinguish between information and knowledge. To this day when I offer an opinion, I weigh it and try to figure out if I’m just parroting something I gleaned, or if I feel it to be true.

In the July/August issue of Atlantic Monthly, the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid” has had commentators ruminating. Margaret Wente at the Globe confessed that she didn’t have time to read anymore and that Google ate her brain. Indeed, several people interviewed for Nicholas Carr’s excellent article admitted to having their mental habits altered because of the internet. The author laments the demise of his attention span eloquently:
“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

I feel his pain.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Try to get through this paragraph without hitting one of the hyperlinks. Try to stay focused on what I’m writing. Now imagine if it were dense, like a very technical policy report or a 19th century novel luxuriating in detail and description. Do you feel like Steven Page after his drug bust, all twitchy and sweaty? Do you feel ready to skim over these words? Do your eyes jump ahead?

Do you feel like you’re missing out on something? Do you wish you were somewhere else?

Altering our brains is nothing new (hey — I’m firmly in my Carlsberg years myself). I’m just acutely, uncomfortably aware that media is changing my thought process.

I don’t know what I know sometimes. And it scares me.

Carr refers to a U.K. study that found people using sites hopped from once source to another, rarely returning to the site they were first reading. The conclusion is “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

Does this mean we’re all ADD? Is Novartis in cahoots with Google?

It’s easier to skim a website, more convenient to consume bits of info.

But really, do I know anything as a result? What do I retain?

Thorough reading involves a kind of dialogue with what’s being read. This requires concentration and contemplation — grappling with meaning. Above all, reading in the traditional sense sharpens a person’s critical and analytical skills. Not so easy to question a source when a person has five different sites going at once.

I read novels. I force myself to read because I’m a writer. I want to appreciate how other writers use metaphor, how they beat out rhythm, how they paint a picture with words. I want to do the work of imagining myself.

I wonder about my nieces and nephews and how they think. Can they read Dickens? Do they know how? It’s not their fault if they can’t.

I blame Al Gore. He invented the internet. I read that somewhere.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Odds and Sods

Forgive me dear reader, for not updating this blog since April. I thought I was clinically dead for awhile, but it was just a false alarm. I've been on another government contract, which feels like I'm close to death on certain days. Only another 40 years or so to go until retirement to the big waiting room in the sky. I hope the magazines are good.

Everywhere I go, people want to know what I think about CBC losing the rights to the Hockey Song ... Okay, that's a lie. Two people have asked for my opinion.

CBC has misplayed this one. In its rush to modernize and reinvent itself, I think it's gone too far. Plus the old bag who wrote the theme is shrewd. Now the Ceeb is holding a contest to find the next great Hockey Night in Canada Theme Song. The Corpse is going to pay the lucky winner $100,000.

A measly $100 grand.

That's rights and all, I imagine.

As someone who has sold the rights away to a few of my own projects, I know what a lousy deal this is. I found out that some of my old comedy bits are airing on AOL radio. How the hell did this happen? Some sap in Kentucky or New Hampshire is listening to a 12 year old bit of mine and chuckling, if not guffawing - all without me receiving a cent. Oh well -- maybe my bit about being raised Catholic is helping some tortured soul somewhere put down the razor blades.

Whoever wins the Hockey Night in Canada Theme Song contest is cursed from the get-go.

The comparisons to the old theme will be plentiful and unkind.

Even the best theme will jar audiences for at least a few seasons.

The compensation is an insult. If CBC owns it in perpetuity, the compensation is criminal.



Because I am lazy and weary from writing all day, I am posting some deleted material from my first novel. Hopefully this will whet your appetite for the published version. Or it could disappoint you terribly. I am willing to gamble.


Suzanne Foley's ruminations over her death and burial:

Plus, she hoped her tombstone would be forgotten over time. Cracked, covered in mold, overrun with weeds and neglect, her grave would inspire conjecture. When she lived in Toronto, she’d cut through Mount Pleasant cemetery from Yonge Street to go to a retail job. The only thing that made catering to impeccable North Toronto matrons bearable was the twenty minute walk through rows and rows of graves. The buried disquieted her, the tombstones and tombs mostly decades old. One crypt in particular disturbed her, the tomb of George Lehr, a man important enough to have a crypt, yet not important enough to have a larger maintained crypt. She would tense as she passed George Lehr’s final place of repose; crumbling, the entrance chained, a window yellowed and cracked, pillars slanted from erosion. Who was George Lehr, she’d wonder, pausing to absorb more of the fright. Was he loved? Generous with his time and money? Or was he some would-be robber baron disgraced by a scrubwoman who bled to death aborting the baby she claimed was his? Even when the sun shone, the crypt remained gloomy. She remembered visiting Sir John A. MacDonald’s grave in Kingston and being shocked at its ordinariness. The first Prime Minister of Canada’s resting place forsaken, across the street a Tim Horton’s attracting more honour and respect. At least the Americans knew how to bury people. They went to town.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I saw something on the TTC the other day that made this veteran of public transportation do a double take. An earnest looking father getting off at College Park stood poised to disembark. His young son, who I figured to be one and a half, sat silently in a stroller. So far, so good. I peered down at the yearling to make a face. He would have none of that. Instead, he balanced an iPod in his tiny hand and stared at the screen. He had earphones on and was watching Shrek.

Now I would figure being on a moving train surrounded by big people would be fascinating enough for a tot. Apparently not. The sight was so incongruous, I chortled (yes, I chortle in public on occasion). Now I ask myself – is this incongruous? Was this a case of a tired father wanting to sedate his son by mesmerizing him with a magic box, or of a techno-savvy dad wanting his little child to be electronically literate?The debate rages.

It rages between, say, those who applaud the changes to come at CBC Radio 2, and those who voice their protest on Facebook or the blog standonguardforcbcradio.It rages between, say, proponents of fast food and those who embrace the slow food movement.Technological change is inevitable. The way we communicate is changing. What we communicate hopefully endures. Television didn’t replace radio. People still listen to vinyl. Beethoven isn’t going anywhere (except on Radio 2, where he's GOING TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET). By the way, I think there should be more protests outside the CBC building. When was the last time CBC fans protested the demise of a favourite show? NEVER -- that's when.

If I have to hear anymore promos on Radio 2, I'll take a flute and shove it up a CBC executive's cakehole...but I digress...

Hey – I’m typing this blog on a computer, the greatest invention since the printing press. I like technology. I'm just not enamoured with it the way some web 2.0 idols are. It's just another tool.

The more technological the world becomes, the more I enjoy birds.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Let it Snow

I am a fan of winter. I love the cold, I love the snow, I love the silence. Give me a wind chill over a humidex reading any day. There is very little smog when it’s minus 10. My evening walk is made blissful by the absence of people on the street. It’s just me and the deep, dark sky. Everything is in sharper focus – the stars, the moon, animals. Winter makes me forget I live in Toronto, something I’m always grateful for.

The latest snow storm in Toronto has left citizens pleading for mercy. It’s just getting funny now. I have never seen Toronto laden with this much snow. It depresses people. Why? If only they understood the mystery of winter... Hmmm. "The Mystery of Winter". I LOVE IT. I think I'll pitch it.

In a few weeks all this quiet beauty will be gone. No more Nordic skiing. No more skating at night in the park. No more looking up at the winter sky and feeling like I’m eight again.

Winter is an eternity for some people.

For me, it is Eternity.

I will miss the winter of 2008.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


It’s not often that I deal directly with the government. Sure, I’m aware that certain entities rule society, but in my daily life I try to avoid these entities. Governance, like charity, begins at home. If I get up when the alarm rings in the morning, I consider the day a success. So it was with extreme trepidation that I recently applied for E.I. The only government service I use on an occasional basis is our health care system. Yes, we pay for it through taxes, but seeing a doctor without physically shelling out a nickel never ceases to amaze me. I had an organ removed two years ago. This required major surgery and a hospital stay. I didn’t have to put so much as a deposit on a credit card. Three squares a day, drugs administered by caring staff – it felt like a vacation. But E.I, that feels like doing hard time.

The last time I sullied a government office with my presence was when E.I was U.I. Remember those cards you had to fill out? Are you ready, willing and able to work? No, no and yes. As a self-employed artist I haven’t been eligible for E.I in twenty years. My last contract, ironically enough for a government ministry, deducted money at source, including E.I. contributions. First time I’ve had taxes off a pay cheque in many years. Why not investigate the world of government programs? How frustrating could it be?

I applied for E.I. online. The process has been streamlined for easy access. You can have your cheque deposited directly into your bank account. Sweet! Unfortunately, there comes a lot of hassle with it, in the form of reporting your activity to The Man every two weeks. That hasn’t changed. They want to know the dates worked in a week, the gross amount earned, the name and address of the employer, monies received other than salary and dates and reasons if not working. As a freelancer, I balk at the intrusion. I am self-directed, thank you very much. In Toronto, with our unemployment rate at 6.6 per cent, a person has to work 665 hours to be able to claim E.I. If the unemployment rate is 13 per cent and over, only 420 hours of toil is needed. There’s regular, maternity and parental, sickness, compassionate care, fishing, out of country and family supplement benefits, all out of the same kitty. For once in my life I was deemed “regular”.

My local Service Canada location is at the Dufferin Mall. In my ten years of living in the west end, I have never set foot in the place. People are invariably stunned when I tell them this. “Do you live under a rock?” is the usual response. Yes, a big, heavy, comfy rock that keeps me from going to places like malls. I broke out into a sweat the minute I entered the consumer terminal.

After a half an hour of panicked searching, I finally found the Service Canada office in the basement. Surprisingly, there was no lineup. I queued anyway, out of habit, until the woman behind the desk waved me over. I handed her my crumpled Record of Employment (something you’ll need if you ever apply) and hyperventilated. I still needed a couple of other ROEs from CBC, which is like getting blood from a stone. I flashbacked to the time I was ushered out of line and frisked at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Why? Maybe I shouldn’t have worn army pants and a t-shirt that said “Kill the Rich and Eat the Poor”. As I stood trembling in front of the Service Canada clerk, I regretted ever going on their website and hitting the “send” button. I collect my self-employment receipts in a shoebox. How would I ever keep track of my whereabouts? Although E.I. is every working person’s right, it still feels like a quagmire.

I have to wait the obligatory two weeks before I know if my claim is going to go through. In the meantime I’m hustling for more work. Just don’t tell Service Canada. It’s time for The Man to pay it back.