Friday, December 17, 2010

Dream A Little (or Big) Dream!

Aaaaaand we're back!

It occurred to me, after the last post dealing with my weirdo dreams from age 17, that it would be fun to look into and share some of my real-life dreams. I may be an old man of 36, but I still have a lot of dreams I'd like to undertake, things that are more than hobbies, but rather ideal paths for me. That being said, I'm a pretty pragmatic fella, I seriously doubt that any or all of these will come true.

But success to me comes from the attempt, not the achievement. I look to the example of one of my brothers. A few years back, he decided he was sick and tired of the life of a salesman and decided to try his hand at opening a business of his own that dealt with one of his passions, golf (yeah, whatever floats one's boat, I guess...). Long story short, it didn't last much more than a few years and it was strenuous to say the least. I'm not even sure how he feels about it any more, maybe he thinks it was an utter waste of time. I haven't really sat down and talked to him about it. I should do that. But I respect the hell out of him for giving it a shot.

Why? Because Lord knows I'm getting antsy to start exploring my own dreams, specifically professional ones, that are outside the confines of the federal public service. Don't get me wrong, the work's easy, the money's good, and there are always interesting characters to meet.

But is this work that makes me happy? Not really.

What keeps me from feeling like a complete sell-out underachiever is this: the notion that you have to find a job that 'fulfills' you is a steaming load.

Work isn't a calling, it is neither ennobling nor embiggening, and anyone who says it is has been reading too many Knights of Labour pamphlets. Less than 200 years ago, work was a necessary evil, paid or not. The idea of success was to make enough money to pay someone else to do the heavy lifting while you sat back and watched your belly grow. Not much has changed other than the ridiculous economic reality that dictates you have to keep working until you're old; where the idea of having enough income to be able to stop working at, say, 40, is laughable unless you're one of those 5 percent of the population who control 90 percent of the wealth. I am not, nor do I imagine I will ever be. I'd have better luck winning the lottery (which I never play).

And you can bet your arse that if I did win the lottery, I'd quit working 'toot suite' and ski until my knees collapsed.

And then I'd buy cyborg knees.

Am I digressing? Anyway, the point is that I'm getting pretty antsy to explore the idea of making a living outside the confines of an office, doing something other than staring at a computer screen. It is a dream of mine to open some sort of food service. Not really a restaurant proper, because I've been a line cook and I don't care to repeat the experience of running around for hours on-end like a chicken with my head cut off. But maybe a tea room or 10-table bistro. I've been seriously contemplating opening a food truck (not going to say more because I don't want anyone poaching my idea!), as well as some occasional catering work.

But that dream is precluded on the real necessity of having the capital to afford to set things in motion. I do not have anywhere near the resources to do such a thing, and the only real way I imagine I can get the collateral to secure a loan is to buy a house.

And that is another dream of mine: to be a homeowner before I hit 40. But, as the housing market in this town continues to have such ridiculously inflated prices, I'm going to have to keep dreaming it feels like.

Stupid reality getting in the way of dreams n' stuff... *grumblegrumblegrumble*

But yeah, I think we'd all like to live our dreams to the fullest and maybe, just maybe, some of us are clever (or delusional) enough to mold their own selves to the dreams that become attainable as time goes on. So suddenly, what may at one point have been a hobby or a side project can become a 'dream come true'. If humans are as adaptable as all the textbooks say we are, then it stands to reason that when we become convinced of the unattainability of our dreams, we necessarily change them.

That being said, I have dreams that I know are pretty much unattainable, but being a stubborn bastard, I won't abandon them. Mostly because it's a nice way to occupy one's mind, especially when drudging through a Sunday morning shift in media monitoring.

Among those dreams is to work for a year or so in Africa doing some sort of relief work. But that dream is nearly pointless when juxtaposed with the more realistic dream of becoming a father. Not like I can shlep the kids out to Tanzania, at least not any time before they're of school age. Another is to visit half the countries in the world. This is more realistic, but unlikely because of prohibitive costs.

Now, all you super-positivists can cram it if you start railing that I'm being too negative. I've always been this outwardly curmudgeonly and it hasn't stood in the way of me attaining some of my dreams. Luckily, some is good enough for me. I may not dream huge, but I rarely have my illusions shattered to the point of depression. I could die today, satisfied with the sum of my accomplishments.

But, in an effort to make this post both entertaining and cathartic, I'm going to write a passage on my favourite, yet absolutely unattainable, kind of dream: flying. I'm not talking learning to pilot a plane or hang-gliding, I'm talking Superman-styles; throwing off the shackles of gravity and hurtling through the sky with only my will to propel me. I have this dream fairly regularly, possibly as a counterpoint to my acrophobia. Ironic eh? The guy who gets nervous looking over a 3-story balcony dreams of flying. But, I suppose overcoming our worst fears is the most important dream of all...

December 17, 2010

It's late. It's always night time when the impression of possibility overwhelms me. I look out my bedroom window, which is always in my childhood home, yet looks out on any number of possible vistas that I've seen over a lifetime. One moment it's Heron Road, the next it's the Market, and then a placid lake somewhere in Cottage Country I once visited when I was ten.

Next, before I can even fathom why, I'm out on the sidewalk, looking up at the rooftops and thinking I should get up to them somehow. So, I will myself to rise up off the ground. My waking mind, which is always a tiny bit aware, even when in the throes of a dream, screams that this isn't possible, but the power of will is far greater in this environment than in the conscious world.

It's hard to describe a feeling that can't happen in the "real" world, but the memory of it is strong. It's like a vibration starts throughout your whole body. It's not quite a numbness, but it's in the same ballpark. It's sort of halfway between the warmth of a bath and a limb falling asleep, but it surrounds and penetrates every cell. Maybe this is what the womb feels like...

This feeling, fuelled by an intense, passionate, all-encompassing, necessary desire, causes my body to simply float upwards, slowly. The desire is beyond the mind's capacity to put into words, the action is one of pure instinct. But in an instant I realize what I'm doing and the mind kicks in. A mirror of consciousness comes into the scenario and it becomes real. And I now feel control.

With this realization, everything is possible. I shoot off into the air, bounding to the first rooftop. I'm not quite flying, more like leaping. Kind of like the Incredible Hulk, but more restrained. I alight onto a rooftop gracefully, as if gravity itself had become subject to my whims. Then, a smile worthy of the Devil on my lips, I launch myself into the air, completely abandoning notions of up and down having any effect on me. I am free to careen in the sky, to smother myself in the embrace of clouds, to hurtle upwards towards Heaven.

Soon the dream becomes one of impression rather than visualization. I can't see where I'm flying to, it's all a jumble of images, disjointed and confusing. But the sensation of peace in flight steadies me and I revel in it until I awake. And, as I open my eyes, I try to hang on to that moment between sleep and coffee. Somewhere in there, the feeling of flying is still there, hiding beneath the surface of my molecules. It's in that moment, lasting mere seconds, that I realize that, if I could ever find a way to keep that instinct, that magical capacity to shake off gravity, I will fly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Empassioned Frustration and Frustrated by Passion

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
- Yeats, The Second Coming

I've always loved Yeats' Second Coming as it tends to nicely sum up just how screwed up the world is in which we live.

But the line above strikes me on a more philosophical level in that it nicely describes the paradox of mental and psychological well being. It's becoming painfully obvious that the most "well adjusted" among us are usually the least passionate, perhaps even being coldly detached.

Lord knows I find myself trying to detach myself emotionally from the world, because I've had issues with lack of emotional control in the past and it's led to some pretty thorny situations. So, I understand that to lack passion/conviction/ideological dedication serves as an almost necessary armour in this "screw the other guy" world we live in. But I just as strongly recognize that this is an unsustainable way to live and think. Lack of empathy with our fellow human beings has gone on quite long enough.

How many more wars, genocides and enslavement must we witness before we start giving a damn?

Now, caring about the fate of others is all well and good, but on the flip side, being a complete bleeding heart with no emotional restraint only serves to paint a bulls eye on you and you'll suffer until you're completely drained of your compassion.

And to make matters worse, it's common enough that these empassioned humans are the ones in psychotherapy, sucking back Paxil until the drugs suppress that passion. To be an emotionally driven person is a weakness, perhaps even a sickness, according to our social norms of 'wellness'.

So, it's a "damned if you care, damned if you don't" Catch-22. Wellness is simply an illusion and all we can try to do is find our own answers and, I guess, be selective where we choose to open our hearts. But even that is a Herculean task for those individuals who haven't learned to rein in their emotional reactions. I have many people close to me who straddle that nigh-unlivable line. They are passionate, kind, loving souls, which is what draws me to them in the first place, but then the ugly side shows in that they feel all the negatives very strongly, too much so? They cry a lot, they often feel persecuted or let down, and often have difficulty with disappointment. I used to be like that (worse, really), but I had to harden my heart against emotional reactions for my own health, but I think there have been consequences. I suffer from panic attacks on occasion and I can't deny the suspicion that it's because I've repressed a lot of emotions over the course of my life. Is the panic a backlash?

So, what is the true path to wellness both within in how we react, and without, in how we show sympathy without entwining our well being in the well being of others?

In the end though, I think I'd rather interact with the passionate train wrecks than the reliable robots. As long as they don't mind me giving the occasional reminder that bad things are rarely as bad as they feel.

Now, my passage today is an attempt to put the emotional conflict I feel within into words.

November 20, 2010

It's okay, there's nothing to worry about. Don't look over your shoulder at the plotting shadows. They aren't real, only the fear they engender is. (But that fear makes them real!)

No one's out to get you, are they? (I don't know, but better to be suspicious than victimized...)

I can't be a victim of paranoia and I hope you can't either, but I feel it as tangible. There's hot breath on my neck and the Sword of Damocles hangs over the world entire. I know it's all in my head, and yours too. And the frustration over the inability to dispel it is maddening.

Smash out! Hit something! Murder the dread!

If we let everyone in, if everyone is our brother and sister, that might do the trick. You think you can handle that? Me neither. Oh well, at least we're trying...

Just remember this: better to risk being screwed over by everyone than never get close to anyone.

Now stop crying before I start tearing up too.

-Dedicated to anyone who fits the bill-

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Post to Boredom At Work!

I don't why, but I get easily bored at work. Oh wait, I know why: I watch the news for a living and unless there's some kind of disaster or scandal, things are pretty slow. As we like to say in the office: An exciting day for us is bad news for Canadians. So, be glad it's slow.

Anyhoo, usually when I'm bored but not feeling super-creative, I get into lists. Now, with this in mind, I'm going to fire off a list of my favourites/least favourites in the world. Afterwards, I'm going to spin a tale based on a dream I once had about dealing with nightmares. Yes, I had a very memorable dream at around 17-18 about how to ward off nightmares. It's weird, but then again so am I.

November 13

Listing favourites/least favourites


Favourite: Oh man, ummmmm... everything? I guess the one food I can never really have enough of is my dad's BBQd steak. He marinates it in, of all things, Kraft Catalina dressing. I've been known to nibble through over a pound of the stuff.

Least favourite: There really isn't much I don't like eating. I do have an aversion to green peppers, but that's for gastro-intestinal reasons.

I guess I'd have to say baked beans, but I've had some at really high end places like Play and Whalesbone and that has definitely shifted my opinion.


Favourite: As cliché as it sounds, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien has a special place in my heart and would have to be undeniably my favourite book. I don't think it's because it's so well written (it can get pretty draggy, especially the beginning), but rather because of its impact on my life. It was really the first book I read on my own as a kid that wasn't from school. My brother read it to me when I was about 5-6 also.

As for my favourite book for being a great book, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is definitely up there. Honourable mentions to Headhunter by Timothy Findley and Imajica by Clive Barker.

Least favourite: Umm, my Grade 10 math book? There are few books out there that I dislike. I am not a fan of much poetry, so perhaps The Collected Works of Alexander Pope can rot in hell...

Most difficult reads: Ulysses by Joyce, naturally, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, naturally, and Shake Hands with the Devil by Roméo Dallaire (it's his account of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, so yeah, not easy to get through).


Favourite: The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. Hands-down. Best TV show ever made, except the last 40 minutes or so of the finale, which was somewhat cheesy. I recently got my girlfriend hooked on it too! Mwahahahahaha!

Least favourite: I had to sit through about 5 episodes of America's Next Top Model last season (there are drawbacks to dating a fashionista). Pretty much all "Reality TV" makes me wince.


Favourite: Oooooh, now that's a tough one. Let's categorize, shall we?

Overall: Going to have to go with The Empire Strikes Back. It was about as grim as it gets for a 6-year-old. That movie cemented Darth Vader as the best badass of all time. It almost makes one able to forget that there was ever a character named Anakin Skywalker.

Favourite action: Predator. "If it bleeds, we can kill it.". 'nuff said.

Favourite horror: Does Shaun of the Dead count as horror? Let's say it does. Because frankly, I don't like many horror movies. I absolutely ADORE this one.

Favourite comedy: The Big Lebowski. I want to be The Dude. That's my long term goal. I could even stand to have Walter as my best friend!

Favourite animated/kid's movie: Monsters Inc. Most Pixar made films are masterpieces, but there's something about the cleverness of this one that just keeps me coming back for more. "Mike Wazowski!"

Favourite sci-fi: Probably Blade Runner.

Favourite 'drama': Cool Hand Luke. I like it more each time I watch it.

Favourite fantasy: LOTR, natch. Mind you, if they nail Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it might be usurped.

Favourite Super-hero (I LOVE that this is now a viable genre of movie): The Dark Knight. I could go on and on about Heath Ledger's Joker, which is one of the best villainous performances of all time, bar none. Even Orson Welles' Hank Quinlan from Touch of Evil or Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter don't quite equal the brilliance of Ledger's Joker, mostly because you don't really know if it's madness or vision that motivates the character. He's so evil you're not sure he even recognizes it in himself. And certainly he doesn't care.

But what really makes me love the film so much is the pacing, you don't really get any breathers, even though it's over 2.5 hours long.

Least favourite: Can I say "most disappointing"? That, my friends, would be Spider-Man 3. I almost pulled back flips when I heard they were bringing Venom to the big screen. Then I heard they had cast Eric fracking Foreman (Topher Grace) as Eddie Brock. Eep! I maintained my resolve that it could still be good. They could throw in a touch of the Carnage character and literally make a leaner and meaner Venom.

(SPOILER!) But no, after 2 hours of bloated plot and Emo-Spidey, Venom is relegated to about 20 minutes of screen time and is damn near laughable. One of Marvel's best villains and certainly Spidey's true nemesis and he gets smoked by a Pumpkin Bomb? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!?!?!?!



If you've read my September 2 post on "Little bits of musical discovery", a lot of this may seem like a repeat. But hey, why not?

Favourite band(s): I've pretty much had a "top 5 bands" for a while now, but it's gotten a little muddled over the years. But there's two bands that have always stayed at the top, and always will. Those bands are Motorhead and Fishbone. Motorhead because they are still at it, they are immortal, and they are HEAVY! Also, Lemmy is simply cool incarnate. He's ugly, he's scuzzy and he doesn't care. He also happens to be one of the most genuine people in the world. If you get a chance, watch the documentary Ringers (it's about LOTR fans) and be amazed by his spiel on the 60s (Yep, one of Metal's founding fathers was once a dirty hippie).

Fishbone, to me, are one of the hardest working and underrated bands of all time. After their '96 show (documented in a previous post), I was humbled.

So, it's not even the music, really, it's the attitude of both these bands that keep them as my faves.

Others in the "top 5" (in rotation): Tragically Hip, Underworld, Mastodon, Tool, The Who, Rush

Favourite album: Again, it has something to do with the impact on my life at the time, I guess, but for some reason White Zombie's Astro Creep 2000 keep resurfacing as my fave.

Favourite song: Out of all those bands I love and tunes I've listened to over the years, how the heck can I narrow down a favourite song? Well, because it's simply brilliant, while still being a visceral experience. The song in question is Baba O'Reilly by The Who, the first track off of Who's Next. Maybe it's the guitar solos, maybe it's the violin, maybe it's Daltrey's vocals. I don't know, but every time I hear it, I get goosebumps. And the song title is BABA O'REILLY, NOT Teenage Wasteland! Get it right, people!

Least favourite band: Hedley. Why? I'll tell you. It was Ottawa Bluesfest 2007, I had just had my mind and ears blown by Buddy Guy playing a blistering set with the backdrop of the Ottawa River behind the stage. It was just an AWESOME experience. Now, the layout of the festival meant having to go by the main stage where Hedley was playing to exit the premises. So, I had to suffer listening to those pop-rock bubblegum cheese-monkeys and their crap started pushing out the residual musical joy of Mr. Guy's performance. I was irate. I'd never heckled a band publicly before, but was I ever letting them know how much they sucked THAT night! Fracking jerks!

I think that's enough for now on favourites, now for a story from my subconscious.

I'd always had trouble sleeping as a teenager, half because of insomnia, half because of nightmares (a lot of nasties beating me up, killing me, eating me, etc. Not fun). So, somehow my subconscious mind came up with the idea of assembling a team of the most kick butt characters to come into my dreams and watch my back and possibly kick some monster ass.

This "dream team" (groan) was quite an eclectic mix:

First, there was Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Because, really, in a scrape, I'd want Picard at my back more than any other Starfleet captain. Wouldn't you?

Also, this was 1992, so TNG was in its 6th and (maybe) best season.

Next was Wolverine. After all, Wolverine is pretty much the most arse-kicking superhero there is. Think about it, wouldn't you want someone with claws that cut through anything who can't really die taking care of the boogeyman for you?

As an aside, I wonder what would happen if Wolvie took on Superman. Could adamantium claws cut into Superman's skin? Would Supes' heat vision be able to kill Wolverine? Hey Marvel and DC, look into it! That would be one hell of a crossover!

Third member was Lemmy.

Yeah, sure, a Rock God can whoop dream-demons or whatnot. Well, if ANY 'mere mortal' could step up, it'd be Lemmy! Also, in my dream, he used his bass as a weapon and bludgeon monsters with it.

The last addition to the "dream team" was a loverly fellow by the name of Peloquin. The film Nightbreed had been released a couple of years previous with a follow-up comic series and one thing was clear: the most kickass monster to come out of Clive Barker's warped vision was Peloquin. He was ornery and vicious, the explanation for his addition being "might as well use someone worse than the enemy".

The last member was me, of course, armed with a pair of tonfa. Not sure why...

Hope you enjoyed this story of weirdness... BUT there is a lesson to be learned, which is this: If you or a loved one are having persistent nightmares, maybe this form of directed dreaming can help!

Well, that took care of 3 hours on shift...

Back to trying to find news...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I might not know art...

...But I know what I like.

It's the great dilemma of the self-affirmed intellectual: Is it wrong to like low-brow things? Is there something out there that a person can enjoy even if it has little to no artistic or intellectual merit? And then the possible answer comes: "Well, maybe there is art/high ideas to be found even in the low-brow and, in fact, it creators, when confronted, may turn out to be highly intelligent themselves!"

I consider myself something of an intellectual and academic: I have two university degrees, I can understand Joyce's Ulysses (barely), and I can successfully debate just about anything.

But I sure do love me some lowbrow! So today's entry is a discussion of some of my favourite 'non-intellectual' pursuits, and some insight that might reveal why they shouldn't necessarily be thrown in the rubbish bin of cultural examination. Let's say these are so-called 'guilty pleasures' that I feel no guilt about whatsoever.

October 24 2010

1 - Pro Wrestling

Let's start with the guiltiest of all my pleasures: pro wrestling. It was late 1987, I was 13, Hulk Hogan had done the impossible and slammed André the Giant at that year's Wrestlemania and pro wrestling was at the peak of its 'golden age'. Reagan was in the White House and Ah-nuld was going toe-to-toe with the Predator. Not surprisingly, ex-wrestler, current announcer and future Minnesota governor, Jesse 'the Body' Ventura was also featured in said film, spawning two of history's greatest macho one-liners: 1) "This stuff will make you a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus, just like me." and 2) "I ain't got time to bleed.". This was the culture of the day.

Now, everyone and their dog knows about Hulk Hogan and his impact on the zeitgeist. But, personally, my interest in wrestling came in the afterglow of Hogan's peak. I avoided wrestling before then because I thought the main players at the time, Hogan and André the Giant, were kind of slow and boring to watch. But, one afternoon watching the old Maple Leaf Wrestling program on CHRO changed that. Why? Because I got to see Macho Man Randy Savage do his thing. His flying elbow off the top rope was the first of hundreds of "cooooooooooolllll..." moments that wrestling has since provided.

Also, the Ultimate Warrior has just hit the scene and for a comic-book, fantasy crazy pre-teen, he seemed like a real-life Conan the Barbarian, complete with metaphor-laden speeches about tapping into the cosmic energy vortex, or somesuch madness...

So, I started watching 'rasslin' with great relish and fervour every Saturday at noon (much to the chagrin of my sister and mother). Years would go by and Canada finally got coverage of Monday Night Raw in the mid-90s, just in time for the renaissance of its popularity that spanned from 1997 to 2001. Ironically, I had always been a 'out-of-the-closet' wrestling fan, as were my co-workers at the time. People looked at us a bit cock-eyed, but we stood our ground! We even secured tickets to the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal, site of one of the most interesting and pivotal moments in wrestling history:

After '97 and the rise in prominence of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, being a wrestling fan was no longer a taboo. Eventually this second golden age would fade by 2002, but  I was still hooked. I remain so to this day.

Now, the thing about wrestlers and wrestling is that it's not populated by a bunch of blockheads. Just look at Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Here's a smart, funny guy that is, yes, not quite a Shakesperean level thespian, but he's hard not to like. Same with Mick Foley (although Mick is about the polar opposite of the Rock in terms of looks and charm). Not all wrestlers are 'roided-up muscleheads (although a lot of them are). And, certainly, some of the writers can themselves be considered highly intelligent individuals. Paul Heyman is a good example of this.

What really makes wrestling fun for me isn't the promos (basically monologues), it isn't the storylines, it's the actual feats of athleticism performed by those involved. When a 200 pound-plus man takes a flying leap off of a 15 foot ladder, does some kind of somersault and lands on that poor shmuck in the ring, don't tell me you aren't thinking "Holy sh*t!".

If you ever get the chance to suspend your disbelief and watch a match or two purely for the entertainment value, I suggest any or all of the following matches:

- Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind - 1997
- Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart (Submission Match - Wrestlemania 13)- 1997
- Undertaker vs. Jeff Hardy (Ladder Match - Monday Night Raw) - 2002 (not sure exactly when)
- Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels - 2003 (Wrestlemania 19)
- anything from the WCW Cruiserweight division circa 1997-1998
- Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock - 2002 (Wrestlemania 18, which I attended) - I only suggest this one for the crowd dynamic. A fascinating study of how fan loyalty works.

2 - Comic Books

I'm lucky, I'm the youngest of seven children, six of whom are boys. So, I got exposed to a lot of 'boy' central stuff at a very young age. One of these was comic books. When I was 3-4 years old, my older brothers were knee-deep in some of best stuff Marvel's ever issued. Think Chris Claremont/John Byrne's X-Men and Frank Miller's Daredevil (which is often touted as the best comic book run ever produced). The late 70s/early 80s could be considered a peak period in the history of comic books. Somewhere in there their popularity waned as did my interest. By 1987, I started to regain interest after reading an issue of The Avengers at summer camp. Within a matter of months, I was collecting ten or so titles; within a year, dozens. By the time I was 15, I was a full-fledged comic geek.

What really did it for me, what made me realize that the comic book medium speaks truths that other art forms might try to understate or avoid, was a couple of mini-series in the early 90s about a death-obsessed alien pseudo-god named Thanos.

In the Thanos Quest, Thanos decides to prove his loyalty and love to the Marvel Universe's embodiment of Death by seeking objects that will make him all-powerful and fulfill his promise of wiping out half the population of the universe. He finds them and in doing so, becomes more powerful than the object of his affections. In the follow-up series, The Infinity Gauntlet, he acts and with a snap of his fingers, essentially 'unmakes' half the life in the universe. The good guys eventually save the day, but the idea has never left.

This concept made me realize the necessity of a massive die-out if the population of this planet is to remain sustainable. Just think how many of the world's problems would go away if, boom, at random, half the Earth's human and animal population simply vanished?

Anyone who tells you comics are kids' entertainment and not worth taking seriously obviously hasn't been reading. Now, I'm talking PURELY about the superhero comic genre. Obviously titles like 'Maus' are given much more credence than Spider-Man or Green Lantern and are considered high art. And then there's Watchmen, which most critics use as a way of saying "See? We're cool, we think this is ART!". Yeah, that's Alan Moore, he's Odin reincarnated and doesn't count, he wrecks the curve too much.

Seriously, crack open Marvel's Civil War mini-series from 2006-2007, or the Inferno cross-over from the X-Men family of titles from back in 1988. Or anything featuring Venom or the Joker. I challenge anyone to dismiss the value of the superhero comic book completely. You have an argument as to why they aren't worthwhile? I have ten counter-arguments.

I had thousands of comic books at one point, but they've vanished due to my adventures overseas and friends losing track... Luckily, the public library collects a lot of trade paperbacks so I'm kept in the loop. Right now I'm eagerly awaiting last year's Blackest Night series from DC, centering on the Green Lantern characters. Apparently there's a lot of undead supers in it...

Maybe this gripe is outdated. After all, how many top grossing movies of the past 5-6 years are based on comic books?

3 - Cartoons

I've come to an important discovery in the past few years: I really don't like much that's on TV. There's the occasional hockey game (Go Sens GO! Please? For God's sake! FRAKKING GO!), wrestling (see above), the Food Network, Daily Show and Colbert and that's about it (I was addicted to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, but I now have all the DVDs, so I'm kinda set...)

Except for cartoons. And by cartoons, I mean one of two kinds: either the more adult-oriented 'animated series', such as the Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, etc.; OR cartoons featuring super-heroes I grew up with. But even the latter is a once-in-a-while kind of deal.

So, really, I'm mainly talking about the former. Admit it, no matter how snobby you are, you've taken some guilty pleasure in an episode of Family Guy or South Park. The Simpsons is something different and in a category all to itself. Too bad it isn't very funny anymore.

Must-see episodes:

- Simpsons: The one where Homer gets to smoke pot legally. "They call them fingers, but I've never seen them fing. Oh. There they go..."
- South Park: Imaginationland. See it NOW!
- Family Guy: alright, nothing is a 'must-see' from Family Guy, but the 'Bag of Weed' musical number kicks ass!

Recently, a series came out of which I've only seen a couple of episodes, but they were awesome. If you get a chance, check out Ugly Americans.

4 - Zombies

With the TV premiere of "The Walking Dead" coming up on AMC this Sunday at 10 ET and Ottawa's Zombie Walk having just taken place this past Saturday, I might just be in the grips of short-term zombie fever. Add to that the fact that I've fallen for a complete zombophile.

But, in a strange way, no other form of horror staple is as malleable yet simple, straightforward yet allegorical, as our shambling brain-hungry friend, the zombie. But it hasn't been given quite the same reverence as other undead icons. I used to be a HUGE vampire fan, and one could easily consider Dracula a classic novel that anyone should read. It was written in the late 19th Century, but the vampire myth/legend has existed for millenia in numerous cultures (I did a major project on this in high school, so I have some confidence in the topic). Zombies, however, have not been a huge facet of many cultures until the 20th Century (not including cultures that practice voodoo, obviously). That changed with Romero's "...of the Dead" movies and many others (including my favourite, Shaun of the Dead).

But are zombies taken seriously in fiction? Certainly there hasn't been a trend in printed fiction dealing with zombies that rivals the success found in Ann Rice's Vampire Chronicles, or the Twilight series, or the Sookie whatsherface series that inspired True Blood. Curiously though, the comic book genre has taken some fascinating steps with at least two zombie-based series. The first is Marvel Zombies (which I haven't entirely read) and the other is the comic book The Walking Dead upon which the new TV series is based. I've read the first five trade paperbacks and it's BRILLIANCE!

Now, I'm not going to get into the political commentary George Romero was making in Night of the Living Dead or the allegory for mindless subservience that zombies represent. I'm just going to say this to validate them: I'd much rather watch, read or write about people trying to survive hordes of undead corpses trying to eat their brains than see sparkly vampires.

When it comes to monsters, the zombie has come into its own and is the champion of the undead (except liches, but they are barely recognized in pop culture).

5 - Heavy Metal

Is it ironic as I finish discussing zombies that I transition into another form of 'lowbrow' culture where a certain band known as White Zombie might be considered one of the best of their ilk? Interesting... Or maybe I'm just a geek.

I am a die-hard Metalhead, headbanger, horn-throwing hailer of Satan, whatever you wish to call it. And I'm not going to try and bore you with the standard "Oh it's valid music and many of its top performers are classically trained, blah-blah-blah."

The truth is, Metal is music that expresses anger. Punk is as well, but Punk tends to focus on senses of alienation and political issues. Metal touches on these as well, but evokes a nightmarish quality. Metal is about rage. Which is EXACTLY why it's a valid form of music.

Forget about psychotherapy, Prozac, meditation or any 'traditional' panaceas for mental ills, throw on some Slipknot, loosen your neck muscles, and bang your head until it hurts, you'll feel much better. At least it works for me...

There really isn't much I can say about why Metal shouldn't be marginalized that isn't covered in Sam Dunn and Scot MacFadyen's 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. All I can tell you is this: No matter how averse you are to Heavy Metal, listen to Mastodon's Crack the Skye. Trust me.

Here are a few other albums that help cement Metal's awesomeness for me personally:

- Slayer - God Hates Us All
- White Zombie - Astro Creep 2000
- Slipknot - Slipknot
- Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction
- Motorhead - Orgasmatron
- Iron Maiden - Number of the Beast
- Tool - Aenima, Lateralus
- High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine
- Anthrax - Attack of the Killer Bs
- Nailbomb - Point Blank
- Sepultura - Roots
- System of a Down - Toxicity

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Examination of the Qualities that Make One as Good a Person as Possible while Remaining Strong

Two posts in one day? Well, it's kind of linked to what I posted earlier about being thankful. I may be thankful and I may be happy with my life, but I am no means content to sit where I am.

I think we aren't truly content and happy with ourselves until we're comfortable that we've earned our happiness. There's still a part of me that feels a bit confused and incredulous at the luck of almost clumsily stumbling into my current relationship, which has made me happier than I've been in a long time. I feel like someone in an Indiana Jones movie who trips up a secret door, only to have it lead to the lost Aztec City of Gold (or something like that). I hope the metaphor isn't too muddled.

Anyhoo, my point is that it's important to feel like you're working towards being a good person, or at least as good as you can be in order to feel like you truly deserve your happiness. Otherwise, you might not trust it to last.

A few months back I explored the things I thought I needed to 'embiggen' myself, to be the best Nick B. I can be! Upon further examination of these qualities, I realized that these could well apply to a lot of folks out there.

So, consider this a moral PSA. I hope I don't come across as too preachy. Remember: these are mostly for my own consideration and these are qualities I sometimes fear I lack.

October 11 2010

Examination of the Qualities that Make One as Good a Person as Possible while Remaining Strong


- Take a practical approach to Taoist non-action
- Choose to wait for ideal timing rather than rushing
- Learn to want less instant gratification


- Don’t ingest to excess
- Learn to value sensation
- Choose not to overdo it with the good things in life (although occasional lapses are a necessary element of living well) – this includes drink, food, drugs, sex, affection, adrenaline and possessions


- Learn to truly put yourself in another person’s shoes
- Be charitable and give time to the needy and unfortunate, but don’t give money to panhandlers
- Listen to others’ complaints if appropriate
- Dedicate yourself to understanding while respecting privacy
- Learn to tell what’s needed of you in different situations and determine where advice is useful, and when all that’s needed is a hug and a nod of approval


- Learn how know when you need to interject, suggest a course of action, or criticize others – usually it’s NOT a helpful act
- Learn to accept the validity of others’ judgments
- Try to truly be there at the drop of a hat when your loved ones need you
- Learn that your values have little impact on how others resolve their issues
- When your input is needed or sought, always try and express in as loving and positive a way as possible


- Strike while the iron is hot: Don’t hesitate to explore an idea, opportunity or project as soon as you can; procrastination is the enemy of creativity
- Always envision ways to improve
- Try your best even when it hurts
- Look at any dream as being possible to make real
- Kick your own ass and get moving!

Learning/ Brain power

- Never be satisfied with your existing level of knowledge on ANY subject
- Try to know a little bit about everything
- Try to keep your mind busy with crosswords, puzzles, projects, blogs, etc.


- Develop and maintain an interest in all forms of art, especially the effect and value it has for others. This includes art forms that don’t personally interest you (e.g. textile arts)
- Take a chance and dabble with as many different art forms as possible: painting, music, sculpture, sewing, acting, poetry, drawing, cooking, gardening
- Learn more art theory

Courtesy and Manners

- Learn to let go of narcissism and the notion of being a ‘big man’ (but keep your spine!)
- Humility and a gentle nature may not appeal to the masses, but they are still more desirable
- Treat everyone with a base level of respect and try to make that base level as high as possible. Basic respect is freely given, but disrespect can be easily earned.
- Cultivate manners when valuable, don’t follow traditional manners only out of tradition.
- Be as personable and charming as you can.


- Cultivate an active, fitness-friendly lifestyle but do not make it obtrusive to others.
- Fitness is a personal choice in how to live, it isn’t a lifestyle to be advertised or imposed on others.
- Lack of fitness is not cause for lack of respect.


It's Canadian Thanksgiving today and I feel like relating all the things I have to be thankful for in this crazy life I've had the pleasure of living. Since giving thanks, to me, is a very direct and personal exercise, I'm going to be a little more open than usual about specific people and events.

Is it self-indulging? Yeah. Does anyone care what I'm thankful for? Probably not. But we do live in the age of zero privacy, so what the heck...

October 11 2010

Thank you Creator being, for making this utterly wondrous experiment called existence, and occasionally looking over my shoulder and keeping me safe from my own idiocy.

Thanks Mom and Dad for bringing me here despite all good sense.

Thank you Kari/kira_generika/Bean, for being the centre of the sweetest relationship a dunderhead like me was lucky enough to stumble into. You've taught me that being in love need not be a chore and true love is about being happy doing nothing or everything together, as long as you're together. You're my new best friend and your smile is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Thank you JKL, for expanding my horizons in ways I never thought possible. I hope some day you learn as much as you teach.

Thank you Kelly for showing me a bunch of new tricks and letting me show you an old favourite known as skiing!

Thank you Vero/MsHelveticaB for every fun-filled minute we've spent together and for showing me that insecurity is a hurdle that can be overcome through will.

Thank you Julia for being my sounding board on all matters, especially each other!

Thank you Schliep for rescuing our Banff trip from the brink of disaster. Well, unpleasantess.

Thank you Siobhan and Einoch for being my best friends, even after 18 and 15 years, respectively.

Thank you all friends for enduring my silliness. Hail Satan!

Thank you Dominion Tavern for keeping me young.

Thank you Ottawa Public Library for allowing me to reconnect with Green Lantern and Wolverine for free and burn a crapton of tunes onto my computer that I may otherwise not even have noticed.

Thank you Blue Skies for showing me who I can be.

Thank you Food Network for the edible pr0n and making me realize that my future may be in food.

OK, that's about all I have for today.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your feasts!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chipping away at Mount Art

Alright, I will be the first person to admit that I'm a lazy man when it comes to being creative. I fear I burned out too early when I was a kid and had an entire comic book universe on the go, along with a few writing projects.

These days, I have about a dozen writing projects out there that I have yet to complete to my liking. Some of these are 15 years in the making, I kid you not.

So, I'd like to ask all my friends out there to take some time to think about projects they're working on and comment about how they are able to find inspiration. AND COMMENT, PLEASE!!!! I need some help over here!

Right, and now the project list (have some respect and please don't steal my ideas, although the minimal level of detail on each project that I'm providing will probably make that impossible):

September 29 2010

First and foremost are my multiple writing projects:

- Bliss City - A pseudo-apocalyptic noir detective piece based on the idea that if it was announced that the world was going to end in a few months, how many people would get hooked on drugs they might have normally tried? And, what would the aftermath be if the world DIDN'T end?

- Tribal Warfare - This is my take on the Zombie Apocalypse, but much more metaphysical and a lot more magic oriented

- Prayers without Wings - A Miyazaki-style fantasy (at least that's how it always appears in my head) about a city-state where the citizens are granted the ability to fly from enigmatic, monolithic statues that float in the sky.

- Normal Family - A real-life tale that shows just how deeply our upbringing and families can screw us up. The story centers on a young woman's repressed memories of abuse. I hope to show in this just how frail people can be, because of forces within and without. Not a happy tale, but I think it might be publishable.

- High Stakes Poker - The only story I'm satisfied is completed, but needs some major editing and possible re-working to make it more than a short story. Essentially tells the story of a gambler in the afterlife, if Limbo was a casino...

I also just got inspired last week to write a WWII story about Quebecer conscripts (which apparently my Grandfather led a troupe of), but my preliminary research is contradictory.


I've never written a play, but my girl Kari and I got the idea of writing a one- or two-act play involving monsters/aliens/undead engaging in philosophical discussion.

First Act: Zombies vs. Aliens
Second Act: To be determined (maybe a D&D theme? Like a dragon debating the morality of a knight slaying him? I dunno yet)


I used to draw all the time as a kid/teenager and created lots of fantasy beasties, alien races and superheroes. OK, I'm a geek, I admit it. But I think I should try my hand at it again. I used to be pretty good!

I also want to learn to sketch real people. Starting with Kari? Draw a landscape? Paint one?

I do have one painting of sorts under my belt, which was part of an art project from Burning Man 2007. Here's one of the only pics in existence of it. But I wouldn't mind trying my hand at it again.


I have so far written two songs: The Sleepneed Alaska Song and Hail Satan. Um, they need work.

So, what's percolating in your artistic treasure trove? SHARE!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Little Bits of Musical Discovery

I'll be the first person to rail against the notion put forth that the more obscure bands you know about/listen to, the cooler you are. That's kinda stupid. There's a reason why some bands reach super-stardom and legendary status that has nothing to do with album sales or being sellouts.

Think about it, will anyone on this planet dis the Beatles as being sellouts? Please... The Who? Zeppelin? The Stones? You can not like them, but you have to acknowledge that there's a reason they're pillars of modern music. So saying "John Lennon sucks" is just kinda silly. It's like saying DaVinci sucks. Yoko Ono on the other hand... I think we all have our dirty musical secrets, but I think we need to respect each others' tastes, unless they're complete crap (Nickelback fans, I am looking at YOU!) . Hell, I enjoy all of Coldplay's albums (he said as Mastodon's Crack the Skye is blessing his eardrums) and if you don't like that, too bad! P.S.: I'm not gay either.

But all that to say that music, like all art, is about what touches you, not what's most cutting edge. My friend, we'll ID him through twitter as @boogiehowser, argues with me ALL the time about music and the main reason I go along is because he's passionate about his hate, and he's hilarious. So, I'm not saying you're wrong to argue about music. Spirited debate makes us all wiser people. But rather, we'd all benefit from keeping an open mind for both the well-known and the obscure. Who cares how cool it makes you?

So with that in mind, I'm going to offer up a few lesser known (maybe?) musical gems that I've come across over the course of my life that make me happy and tell you a bit about them. And yes, there will be plugging of friends' endeavours.

September 8 2010

Where to begin? Well, start strong I say...

1 - Mastodon

I first heard of Mastodon through my friend and ex-colleague JP (who'll come up later). I grew up with the old school gods of Metal (Metallica, Anthrax, Motorhead, etc.) thanks to my brother Dave. But as time wore on and none of my friends kept their interest, I lost touch with what was new and interesting in Metal.

Enter JP. Drummer, headbanger, and, at the time, music critic. I have no idea how we got started on what we liked in the Realm of Heavy, but when I asked him in late 2006 what I should try on for size, he gleefully recommended I pick up anything by Mastodon. I was skeptical, but how bad could it be? So, Blood Mountain had just been released and I figured "Why not?"

As the opening drum solo ripped my ears a new one, I was impressed; jumping-up-and-down-like-a-school-kid impressed! It was brilliance and a kind of Heavy that I'd rarely heard before. There's a reason these guys are considered the new faces of the genre. So, I made sure I picked up the previous album Leviathan to have that kick my arse as well. But it wasn't till 2009 when I was truly AWED by one of their albums. Crack the Skye is the Dark Side of the Moon of Heavy Metal.

All of Mastodon's albums have been concept albums, but this one was truly evoking an old-school rock opera/grand epic vibe. Think Rush's 2112, Floyd's Animals (as well as Dark Side...), The Who's Tommy. You get the point...

To make it more succinct how much I love this album, let me tell you of the first time God's existence was proven to me: I was shooting down a black diamond run at Sunshine Village in Banff, stoned off my ass, an avalanche partly chasing me, and listening to this album.

I've rarely been more ecstatic. The experience literally cured me of a bout of depression

It was easily one the BEST moments of my life, and Crack the Skye is part of that. Even if you aren't huge into Metal, you owe your ears a listen to this album, if you can take it.

2 - Orgasmatron - Motorhead

Continuing on the Metal train...

Motorhead's been around for 35 years, they are immortal and unstoppable. Now, with that many years under their belts, they're something of a household name. Now, when anyone mentions Motorhead or sees me in their t-shirt, they always start singing Ace of Spades. And I admit it's one hell of a song and album.

But, there's a better Motorhead album out there that maybe isn't as well known by the masses. That is 1986's Orgasmatron. Get it, listen to the opening track, Deaf Forever, and regardless of how stupid you personally might think Heavy Metal is, you'll understand why so many of us like to flail around and actively seek musical whiplash.

To bookend this monument to ruptured ear drums, there's the closing title track, Orgasmatron. This is my favourite song lyrically (I think Baba O'Reilly still wins overall, a title it's held since 1987). It's a song about the evils of the world, plain and simple, and is far more poignant in my opinion than any folk or protest song. Probably because it's so goddamn visceral! What do you think?

I am the one, Orgasmatron, the outstretched grasping hand
My image is of agony, my servants rape the land
Obsequious and arrogant, clandestine and vain
Two thousand years of misery, of torture in my name
Hypocrisy made paramount, paranoia the law
My name is called religion, sadistic, sacred whore.

I twist the truth, I rule the world, my crown is called deceit
I am the emperor of lies, you grovel at my feet
I rob you and I slaughter you, your downfall is my gain
And still you play the sycophant and revel in your pain
And all my promises are lies, all my love is hate
I am the politician, and I decide your fate

I march before a martyred world, an army for the fight
I speak of great heroic days, of victory and might
I hold a banner drenched in blood, I urge you to be brave
I lead you to your destiny, I lead you to your grave
Your bones will build my palaces, your eyes will stud my crown
For I am Mars, the god of war, and I will cut you down.

Now, this is being growled by Lemmy Kilmister (AKA Lord God Almighty!) over a (mostly) single chord riff. It ain't exactly Beethoven, but that's kind of the point.

Also, I got to sing this a cappella at Blue Skies this year. It was a dream come true!

4 - Conquistador - 13 Engines

Now, switching gears, we go back to the mid-90s and 13 Engines' second 'big-time' album. Their first, Perpetual Motion Machine, produced the fairly memorable post-Grunge hit Smoke & Ashes. Conquistador is a better album musically. You may remember the one hit: Beneath My Hand.

Those of you old enough to remember the musical boom of the early 90s may look back nostalgically to that era of awesomeness. Or, you might be one of those people that see the current 'indie' rock trend as the pinnacle of music. Fair enough, that's your opinion. I have to disagree based on the fact that most 'indie' rock sounds a lot like one track or another off Conquistador! Best track on the album: Tailpipe Blues, a kind of rock-twang hybrid that is a nearly perfect song.

5 - Tokyo Sex Whale, Muffler Crunch, The Banditas, 90 Lbs. of Ugly

Alright, maybe grouping all the bands that my friends are in into one category is a bit of a half-assed shoutout, but I don't want to go into too much detail, more like pique your curiosity. All are worth a listen.

Tokyo Sex Whale is a trio made up of the aforementioned JP Sadek on drums and yelling, Ottawa music scene stalwart Paul 'Yogi' Granger on guitar and vocals, and Montreal import Julia Loan on bass and vocals. They're described as Stoner Rock, as good a label as any, I guess... But labels suck, so I'll say they're joyously loud. They were voted best punk/metal/hard rock band of 2009 by the readers of the Ottawa Xpress, but I have no idea if that actually means anything important...

Muffler Crunch is the duo of Luc Lavigne (he plays Ol' Sparky, which is a tricked-out, duct-taped old acoustic guitar that has been Frankensteined into a Distortion Monolith) and Angie 'Barbarian' Neatby (she plays drums like they owed her money and sings like a pissed off Valkyrie). THEY were voted best punk/metal/hard rock band of 2008 in the Ottawa Xpress poll. I guess I know good Metal bands in Ottawa, I guess... Maybe it helps that they and TSW are on the same label... The label that keeps coming up when describing their sound is "sludge", which I guess means a slower, heavier, more deliberate kind of Metal.

90 Lbs. of Ugly is comprised of Patsy Clash (Liz) on vocals, Lefty McRighty (Greg) on guitar and vocals, Stand-up Steve on bass and Ernie Legend on drums. They play a fun kind of rockabilly/country fusion that's always a riot live. The song Batshit Crazy For You Baby always outs a smile on my face. Also, their first album, Richmond Hotel Room #3 won best Country album of 2009 in the Ottawa Xpress poll.

The Banditas, consisting of Liz McDermott on guitars and vocals, Scott Terry on guitar and vocals and Colin (I forgot his last name) on drums. They haven't won anything in any polls recently, maybe because they play one show a year (on average) and released their album 5 years ago? But I think they're my favourite on this list. Probably because Liz is married to one of my oldest, dearest friends and is one of the coolest people I know. They play really loud punk-tinged rock. Liz yells a lot. It's fun!

8 - Fishbone

Now, I'm pretty sure all of you out there have heard of Fishbone, while perhaps not necessarily having heard their music. Fishbone started as a Ska band in the early 80s (remember Party at Ground Zero?), but in 1988 they released Truth and Soul, where they combined layers of funk, punk, ska, Metal, soul and even folk to create one of the best all-time albums. It's simply magnificent.

It was around '89-'90 when my brother Mike introduced me to Fishbone and I was pretty hooked from the get-go. But it was in 1996 that I went from admiring fan to hardcore Fishbone Soldier. Two things happened that year: they put out their first album on an 'indie' label: Chim-Chim's Badass Revenge, and I saw them in concert. It was early September 1996 and they played 2.5 hours at Barrymore's in Ottawa. 2 and a half hours non-stop asskickery! BEST. CONCERT. EVER!!!!!!!!

Highlight: Over the bar on the ground level, a series of paper signs had been put up reading "Please no stage diving or crowd surfing". So, during a long jam segment from Fight for Nuttmeg, Angelo Moore, the impish lead singer/sax player, proceeded to crowd surf his way to the bar, climb up on it, and remove those signs before surfing his way back to finish the song.

The crowd lost their shit.

Suddenly everyone was hitting the air to crowd surf. Security lost control trying to get people down. The best part was watching Eugene Haslam, owner at the time and a tiny man, trying to help security out. You go, Eugene! I still smile thinking of that show.

9 - Fiftymen

Another local bastion of awesome from Ottawa, the Fiftymen are a bunch of ex-punk rockers who reinvented themselves in an Alt-Country vein and are simply a terrific band consisting of J.J. Hardill (vocals), Mark Michaud (guitar), Todd Gibbon (guitar), Jake Bryce (drums), Keith Snider (banjo and fiddle), and Michael Houston Hanlan (bass).

They've got two albums, After Darkfall and Balances & Sums. I can't really say which I like better... See them, now!

Well, that's about it. There are a few more recommendations out there, but I'll save them for another day.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Be grateful!

Hi again amigos! It's been a while!

I've come to believe lately that we, as a society and as individuals, complain WAY too much. I am fortunate enough to have many fascinating, talented, beautiful friends and lovers out there, but FAR too many of them spend more time complaining or fretting, rather than celebrating how awesome they are and how much life kicks ass! You know who you are, my precious drama llamas! I tweeted and facebooked about this over the past couple of days. We all need to stop griping and start being grateful for the blessings we have.

Here’s what you need to remember, every person out there in Interwebsville:

- You are loved
- You aren’t hated by anyone worth knowing. And if they do hate you, they don’t really know you.
- You are far more than the sum of your ailments and stressors.
- Your past need not affect your present or future (thanks, JKL).
- Live in the now as much as possible (thanks, KLV).
- NO ONE is out to get you, so there’s no need for you to worry about the actions of others. Pain is rarely caused on purpose or out of malice.
- The more you fret about how others treat you, the more you’ll attract people to you who prey on insecurity.

Now, enough of me giving the ‘what’s-what’, I want to write about happy stuff!

Today I’m continuing on the descriptive list writing vibe. For your edification, here’s a list of little, simple things that bring joy. Why am I writing such a list? Well, mostly as a reminder to all of us to take the time and appreciate the little things, because they’re what make life tolerable.

August 18 2010

Things that make me (Nick) happy

- The shimmer of leaves on a sunny, windy day. It’s like fish scales or ripples in the water, but completely three-dimensional. It’s probably the most soothing image in the world and it’s a testament to the beauty of chaos as every shimmer is different than the last.

- The look of wonder on the face of a pre-verbal infant when they’re checking out things around them. You could have a super-colorful toy or display, next to a wet paper bag and both would evoke the same wonder form the little one. I imagine the kid thinking “Wow, this is the coolest thing EVER! Oh, wait, THAT is… No, THAT thing is! Ah, my brain’s gonna melt! Oh now I’ve peed myself...”

- The sensation of an icy-cold drink hitting the back of your throat when you’re absolutely wreathed in sweat on a hot muggy day.

- The utter physical surrender of a two-hour power bike ride and the sense of triumph welling inside you as you complete the journey. Your chest heaves, sweat pours off you, and your grin is ear to ear.

- A nice rack… of ribs, of course! (and boobs)

- Being knee deep in powder and way off-piste. It carries an element of danger, obviously, but that’s also part of the joy.

- Getting goose bumps at that perfect moment in a song.

- Seeing an old friend after a long absence and suddenly both of you flashback to some shared moment of sheer hilarity.

- Campfire

I asked my friends Kari and Jes for their input. Jes simply stated “curried split pea soup”. Fair enough!

Here’s what Kari had to contribute:

- staying up all night and watching the sun rise
- watching clouds gather into a storm
- when you're standing there and all of a sudden it hits you... "I am right now." (I have no idea what this means!)
- watching a blizzard from inside a cozy house with something yummy on the stove
- an amazing meal
- baby toes. baby toes make me happy.
- hearing your cats purr in stereo
- being high up somewhere and looking out at the horizon
- watching the stars move across the sky
- a really long hot shower after a week-long camping trip (especially when you catch a whiff of campfire in your hair)
- your own freshly baked bread
- the first leaves in the spring

Monday, July 26, 2010

Happiness is dancing tastebuds!

I love food. More to the point, I love food as a topic, an area of study. When it comes to actually eating, I'm pretty good with whatever's around and not terribly picky. I've been known to survive on cold cuts and granola bars. But the art of preparing food fascinates me. Whether it's some elaborate spectacle of food porn on TV or a group of First Nations people preparing bannock and pemmican over a camp fire (a highlight from the Calgary Stampede a couple of years back), I can't get enough.

As you might know, I also write a cooking blog ( as a hobby mostly, but also with the slim hope I can impart my love of the art of food preparation to someone who might not otherwise have thought about it.

Now, I've come to learn something even more wondrous about the cooking experience: sharing it. I used to feel like I should everything myself and keep everyone out of my kitchen, DAMMIT!!! (a trait acquired from my mother). But, after dating some fellow foodophiles (which are different from foodies, because foodies only eat the BEST, foodophiles will take guilty awesome pleasure from a feast of Chef Boy-ar-dee or other "lowbrow" items) and sharing the experience of cooking with them, I’m starting to change my tune. Add to that my recent ‘promotion’ to the head of the Cook Shack at the Blue Skies music festival, I’m starting to see the value in communal cooking, the joy of sharing ideas and building up to some of the best meals ever.

This, of course, is outside the confines of professional line cooking, which I did for 5 years and, while I learned an invaluable set of skills from that experience, it was more hard, annoying work than anything else. Perhaps I’ve taken such a shine to cooking for fun because it’s at my pace and I get to do it my way, sort of am “after the fact” form of revenge on the oppressive kitchen environment.

Today’s post is a sort of thought and word association exercise of some of my favourite foods and flavours.

August 7 2010

Kalamata olives are a weird fusion of black and purple, gilded in a silken skin that hides a luxurious meat of salty, buttery wonder.

Boiled squid marinated in a tangy mix of oil, vinegar and herbs has a bite that is simultaneously rubbery and flaky. It was the best thing to ever come out of the salad station at the Old Fish Market.

Take the time to break down the flavours of a Thai red curry in your mouth (it might take some time) and revel in the symphony of lemon, lime, coconut milk, chilis, galangal, garlic and so much more…

Have you ever eaten an entire package of salami or capicollo without ever putting it on bread? You know you have!

Childhood can be summed up in a single sandwich: peanut butter and honey.

Nothing in all of existence can top my mom’s crab tartlettes: a crisp pastry shell, surrounding a gooey steaming cheesy mess of crabmeat and sauce.

There’s a naughty pleasure in eating a thic
k, rare/medium-rare steak. It’s when you take a big bite and tuck it into your cheek, sucking out the juice before chewing and swallowing. Yeah, it sound a bit gross in writing, but try it once and you’ll know what I mean.

Do you have a food you have to avoid before it adds 30 pounds to your waistline? Mine’s Heavenly Hash ice cream…

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Age of Narcissism (and the related irony of blogging about it)

It's true, we live in a time of holistic masturbation. The entire self is now a glowing bastion of self-indulgence and amorality and we stroke ourselves on a nearly constant basis for the world to see. Everything goes, it seems, there are no boundaries to taste or modesty. I feel hypocritical writing this, since I'm partially DOING THAT VERY THING! But, I get easily bored at work and feel like a diatribe. Call the hypocrisy police on me if you wish, IF YOU CAN FIND ME!!!! MWAHAHAAHAHAHAH!!!!!! (Side Note: If you recognize your own hypocrisy and identify it as such, is it really hypocrisy? Probably. Dammit...)

A friend once told me that they have a 'public self' they portray on the 'Net for networking and business purposes and a private one that is only seen by those close to them. This makes total sense, but it also raises the fact that this public persona is completely in the author's control. No one gets to see you screw up or lose your temper, so everyone comes across as this utterly magnificent person who is super-awesome. No one gets to see the warts. Now, if you're a fairly conscientious and self-aware human being (and I'd say the friend who told me about it is, so if they're reading this: you know who you are, don't get mad; this is not a diss on you!), this isn't a problem as you'll be able to know the difference. But, alarmingly, I've observed a LOT of people who have taken their online persona and brought it into their real lives, flaunting an unearned smugness because they have more than 200 followers on Twitter, or because they write a bunch of blogs, or because they pwn noobs in WoW. It's brought an entire segment of the population out of its shell, but what good is being able to come out of the glow of your computer lit basement based on confidence imparted through the Internet, if you have no social graces?

Lord knows I've had enough female friends tell me horror stories of men they meet off the 'Net who can talk the talk on a dating site, but when it comes time to meet face to face, they have the charm of an ornery moray eel...

So what's to be done about it? Plug sites like Art of Manliness? Remind people to read their Miss Manners and Martha Stewart posts? Bollocks to that noise! I'm not going to resort to the Internet to help fix the problems it causes.

My advice? Treat strangers in person the way you'd treat your grandparents or nephews/neices, but without the ageism. Think about it. With that point of view, you don't have to put on airs, but you'll show respect, or at least kindness. And remember: NO ONE is out to get you, stiop being so damn defensive! Stop trying to show how cool and hiply aloof you are. And don't get angry if you're not sure how to act, just wing it as best as possible. Better to try and fail than automatically fail by not trying.

So, in that vein, I'm writing about the oddity that is the human exchange.

July 26 2010

Logged off and unplugged. I slammed the laptop lid shut a little too hard, with a sick little twinge of delight at the thought of the whole machine splintering into fragements beneath my hands, finally freeing me of this crazy digitized shadow of a world. But, the twinge passes and I remember the hundreds of dollars poured into this cursed machine and the necessity of it. So, I soften my movements, and gently let the lid close. I stand up relieved, and look out my window to a brilliant summer's day.

My bike's calling my name and there are dozens of kilometres of trails and paths awaiting me.

Two hours later and I'm wreathed in sweat and drunk on endorphins. But I'm also exhausted. I need a little rest before chugging that last 5 k home. There's a small park on the way where groups of children play soccer with parents sitting on the sidelines, encouraging their little ones to get the ball towards the net. Scoring a goal is about 3 years down the line. Not that these people seem to mind.

I figure this is as good a place to sit, drink some water, and catch my breath. I park myself on the grass, some 6 feet away from a mom in her 30s. She's radiating a genial energy and I feel myself drawn to speaking to her.

"Which one's yours?" I ask.

She turns to me with a puzzled expression.


Dammit, from that look, it's obvious, she's asking herself why a single man, obviously not a parent, is relaxing in front of a group of small children. You can almost hear her brain screaming PEDOPHILE!

But I've been fighting the Age of Paranoia my whole life and won't let the fear stop me from being friendly.

"Oh, just making conversation. My nephew plays soccer, but he's eight, so he knows what he's doing a little better."

She smiles and responds. Somehow mentioning Christian (my nephew) always eases tensions.

"Well, I don't really care if Ben ever gets good at it, I'm just glad he can do this and get away from that damn Gameboy."

"They do have that effect on the little ones, eh? My neice is 12 and it's like she can't look up anymore, what with texting, browsing, etc., etc."

"You have to wonder if Bill Gates knew what he was unleashing 15 years ago..."

"Oh man, who knows? I ask myself if half of us would even have jobs if he hadn't..."

"You work in computers?"

"Yeah, Help Desk for Health Canada. It sucks to have a job you hate but be very good at it."

"I completely understand."

"Well, I gotta finish my ride. I hope your boy scores a goal!"

She smiles sheepishly.

"Thanks! Have a good ride."

We lock eyes for a brief moment and there's no attraction or romantic twinge that is summoned, but rather a shared sense of "what kind of a world are we part of where this sort of exchange is exceptional?"

And chances are we will never see each other again, except maybe on a dating site or facebook.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Great Divide

Ask anyone who's known me for a while, and they'll tell you that I sometimes get some pretty far out theories to explain how things work in the world. And I'll admit they're sometimes pretty cockamamie (or downright fantastical), but there's one theory this amateur philosopher/sociologist refuses to give up, because, frankly, it's pretty unoriginal. I just googled it and there are a number of pieces dealing with the topic. Especially in the socio-political context of the post-9/11 world.

My theory is this: Almost all conflicts in this world can be boiled down to two sides: freedom vs. security.

I'd further venture to say that schism, that "Great Divide", applies not just to the political or macro-socio-economic spheres, but also to most human relationships.

Here's my prime example: gender roles and interactions. Men and women generally want different things (and I'm talking hetero for the time being since I will only speak about that which I know, I'm not sure how this debate translates into GLBT relationships). Women, in the context of their biological imperative, want a mate who is a secure provider, who can help her build a home where children will be secure. They want someone who will ensure their security. On the flip side, most men, in the context of their biological imperative, want the freedom to go out and spread our seed to as many fertile recipients as possible. That isn't sexist, it's nature.

But it makes life confusing in the context of figuring out how to have positive, long term relationships. Yeah, I'm polyamorous/non-monogamous, but I'm pretty sure I can't stay that way if I want to raise a family, unless I become a Mormon. So, obviously, my desire to mate for life and raise a family flies in the face the 'freedom' impulse. I'm going to have to pick one.

Unfortunately the story doesn't end there. All too often the freedom impulse comes back, reinforced by Grass is Greener Syndrome (see earlier post), which leads to cheating, divorce, thrown frying pans, pediatric psychotherapy and so on... It hurts my mind to think about how much of a Catch-22 being in a serious one-on-one pairing can be! Espeically when baby makes three...

Another tangent of the Great Divide is professional/financial. Often, 'freedom lovers' will take the most profitable job first and foremost, even if it is a lousy job satisfaction-wise, because of the freedom a good salary can provide. So, in a way, financial security serves the cause of freedom of action. It's pretty hard to enjoy the sense of physical freedom that skiing or sky diving might provide if you're broke! Conversely, I know many people who make very little money at their jobs, but feel comfortable and secure in them and have the freedom to express themselves through their job/business/craft/art, etc...

Now, I've noticed that, in the grand scheme of things, the pendulum has been swinging a bit too far onto the security side and have been selfishly waiting for it to swing back into a forced freedom that would come after some cataclysm. But, the Powers-That-Be keep screwing up the Earth-shattering kaboom!

But, with that in mind, and with the love I have for post-apocalyptic thought, I give you today's entry.

July 19 2010

When the governments fell in on themselves, the people began to panic. They abandoned most forms of law and order and began to loot the cities for whatever they needed to keep their families safe and fed. Within scant months, after millions had died, groups of kin and neighbours banded together and ensconced themselves into forts built of the rubble of the fallen civilization.

The bonds of affection, blood and respect brought them together under an unspoken social contract and no rules or laws were set down. The shelter they built as a community held strong and no one feared for their safety.

Then came the Marauders. They were men and women tempered by the pain of surviving outside the safety of forts. They had learned the hardest lessons of survival, they had broken every social convention, they had regressed to being nearly animalistic. And it had made them strong, had taught them a pack mentality. And they descended like a human swarm onto the forts, stopping at nothing to defile and consume.

Who was free? Who was safe? What did it matter when vultures were picking your bones clean?