Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Friday, December 22, 2006


Don't think I'm going to have time to post anything closer to Christmas than now. So ....

Whether it's Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or Christmas, whatever you celebrate, I hope you do so with gusto tempered by common sense. I hope you have family and/or friends with whom you can spend some time and share some laughs. I hope there are multiple hugs in your future, that you are favoured by the smiles of children and that there's an elderly person or three in your life from whom you can learn.

I wish you the richness of maturity and the energy of youth. I wish you insight and time. I wish you the peace of mind that invites restful sleep.

I wish you a fulfilling and safe holiday season.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

T'is the season...

...for a lot of things, especially procrastination and overeating. The former is no darn good when it comes to Christmas shopping and the latter is no darn good when one is already wrestling with one's jeans every morning.

I'll write more some other time but right now I'm hungry.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Pre-Shopping

Thought I'd try something new this year. Instead of actually shopping, I went pre-shopping today. I strolled around a giant mall with absolutely no intention of buying anything. It was liberating.

Rather than burdening myself with parcels and bags and jostling with sharp-elbowed shoppers, I ambled from store to store, making mental notes: "Oh, that fluffy steering wheel cover would be great for Son #1 if he ever gets a car. Ha! That lipstick shaped like a penis would be terrific for all the women on my list! Well, maybe not Sister Marcella at Our Lady of Peace. But if she drives she'd probably appreciate a fluffy steering wheel cover."

My mental notes included the whereabouts of each store of course. Luckily, most of the ones with spiffy stuff were on the basement floor, in a kind of darkened part of the mall, near the back loading doors. Rents were probably cheaper. Which would explain how that nifty lipstick could be sold for only 6 bucks. The stores should be pretty easy to find when I actually do decide to shop. Which will be pretty soon. I've learned my lesson. No more Dec.23rd frenzies. I'll probably conduct one more pre-shop, downtown this time, on Monday. Let's see, that would be the 18th.

Then, on the 19th, if the pre-shop hasn't taken too much out of me, I'll do all my shopping in one swell foop. If I am too pooped after the pre-shop, I'll take the 19th off to rest and tackle the stores on the 20th.

It makes sense you know. Getting the lay of the land. Saving time and energy when the crunch comes.

I'll let you know how it all works out.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Van Morrison

I've been a huge Van fan since the early 60s when he was the lead singer and front man for the band Them. I don't know of another singer with the talent to not only write terrific songs but to interpret others' so wonderfully. To listen to his music over the decades is to explore popular music itself - from R&B to pure blues, to jazz, to soul to country. Van can take a song and make it his own while still remaining faithful to the spirit of the original.

For 30-some years now my answer to the question, "What one record would you take with you if stranded on a desert island?" has remained the same: Van's 1974 double-live album It's Too Late To Stop Now.

If you've never heard it you're in for a treat. Go buy it. Right now. I'll wait.


When you have a quiet couple of hours to yourself, pour your favourite belly-warmer and put on the first side. Listen to them in order. You'll hear familiar songs that you've never heard before.

And the previous sentence will make sense.

What brought this particular musing to the fore was my recent discovery of a blog devoted to Van and his music. The blogger, John Gilligan, has dug up news, information and best of all, video clips, of Van over the years. I was sorry to read some of the stories that indicate Van can be a rather unpleasant person. Over the years I'd learned he could be a difficult interview, prickly and unwilling to open up but wanted to believe that he was just shy. Apparently there's more to it than that.

What matters to me though, and his many fans, is the music. Van has always been about the music.

Go visit Mr. Gilligan's blog and see/hear for yourself.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remembering Nat

Readers of my column will recall Nat, 11-year-old nephew of Times of London writer James Doran. We were asked, through James, to keep Nat in our thoughts and prayers as he battled Osteosarcoma, a particularly nasty cancer. Sadly, Nat didn't win the war. Below is the mail I received from James, posted with his permission. (Thanks to Hilary for sharpening and resizing the photos.)

Hi Frank,

I enjoyed reading your column about charity today. A lovely little vignette. But I write with sad news. Nat died a couple of months back. I have almost written to tell you a few times, but each time I procrastinated. It's a hard letter to write, I'm sure you understand.

Osteosarcoma is a tough one to beat. The doctors and the collective consciousness of Nat, the family, and the thousands of friends we all made through him, beat the cancer in his leg. It was too much for his little lungs though.

I wanted to thank you and your many readers who gave Nat encouragement and good wishes during his fight. You all taught him and me a very important lesson. Kindness and love are the most powerful forces in the universe. Only through them can life have meaning. Nat learned this important fact in his short life because of the kindness and love of so many people. Because of you, and the many others like you, he looked upon the world and everyone he encountered in it with equal amounts of both.

On behalf of Nat, thank you all for such a generous gift.

We held a wonderful service at the Demelza House Hospice, which is in a beautiful Kentish village called Sittingbourne. You can read about Demelza and make a donation here.

Teachers, school friends, hospital chums, aunts, uncles, mums and dads got up to speak. For a boy of 11 there were so many hilarious stories to tell. It was a joyous memorial.

I wrote a short eulogy and a poem, which I read with the help of my wife Alida – we got married just last month. If you would like to share them, and this letter, with your readers please feel free. I'm a reporter and no kind of poet, but thought it might give those who have read about Nat in your columns a glimpse of him they might otherwise not have seen.

I have also attached a couple of photos I took of Nat in his last weeks at home. His lovely red hair grew back all curly once he stopped the chemo. It was straight before! My favourite picture shows him doing what he liked to do best – simultaneously sorting his YuGiOh cards and playing Nintendo on the couch. The pics look very grainy because I have not yet mastered the use of my scanner. Feel free to post them too.

All the best Frank,


I was pushing Nat on the swings down at Rye one afternoon a few years ago and for some reason I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Grown ups can ask the most boring questions sometimes. He didn't think so, though, and replied in a flash: "A professor".

He was only three years old.

A year or so later Nat was in the back of the car as we drove up to Dad's in the Lake District and he proudly informed me that numbers not only go up for ever and ever from nought, but that they also go down for ever and ever from nought as well. Out of the blue. He had just discovered negative numbers all by himself at the age of 5.

So with that unique and often hilarious aspect of Nat's life in mind, I wrote a poem, which I will first explain.

In the Universe there are stars that burn with such intensity that they cannot be contained. An Indian mathematician and astrophysicist named Chandrasekhar worked out that when a star burned at a certain rate much greater than our Sun it would lose containment and fold in upon itself leaving behind a pinpoint of light so immensely bright that it seems to us on earth visible for eternity.

This poem is about that phenomenon, and it is dedicated to Nat, who, like Chandrasekhar was an inspired mathematician.

For us there should be always just one more turn around the floor.
If only you would fall back into these arms my love,
You wished to the stars.
For a moment as a lash touched your cheek,
A star pulsed its brightest
Last light that will be for eternity.

A life does not expand to fill the time it should be allowed.
Instead it folds back on itself, restricted from flight,
Like a paper crane.
It is not diminished by this lack,
But becomes a singular beauty
One that it and nothing else can become.

Physicists call this cruelty the Chandrasekhar limit.
When a star burns 1.4 times brighter than the sun,
It must find a new form
And we must look for its light
In the farthest reaches of the Universe.

James Doran

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Nat and his dad, Chris.

God bless Nat. There's no greater pain than losing a child. May Mom, Dad, family and friends find the strength and faith they need to bear this burden.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I was working on a story and mentioned within it an uncle who wasn't really an uncle. He was unrelated to the family but was a close friend of my father's. We referred to him as "Uncle" and his wife as "Aunt." We also had within our family some distant cousins, 2nd or 3rd or even further removed, whom we referred to as Aunt or Uncle.

I was wondering if bestowing familial honorifics was a common practice within many other cultures. I come from an Eastern European (Ukrainian) background. I know that in some Asian cultures it is (or at least was) polite to refer to elders, even strangers, as "Uncle" or "Grandmother."

My own sons refer to my best friend and his wife as Uncle Mike and Aunt Virginia. I like the idea of conferring honourary uncleships and auntships to special friends. It carries the respect of a "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Sir" but with a special, affectionate component.

Any honourary aunts, uncles or grandparents in your family?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Five (5) Things

Amy tagged me to write five things most people don't know about me. This won't be easy because much of my writing the last few years has been about my life. I spill my guts at the drop of a memory! But I'll try.

1 - I threw up nearly every day of high school. It was caused by anxiety that I might be called upon to read aloud to the class. What was a mild phobia for most of us was a major one for me. I might have enjoyed school otherwise. Or become a politician or actor instead of a writer. Life's weird. Plus you pay taxes, then you die.

2 - I pick up every earthworm or caterpillar I see crossing a road or sidewalk and carry it across lest it fall victim to a car tire or carelessly-placed shoe.

3 - I make faces at babies and very young children in stores, especially grocery stores. I love engaging them in a rousing, smile-inducing session of Peek-A-Boo. Usually their Moms don't mind.

4 - I hate fishing.

5 - I usually lie at least once when drafted to do a list-type meme thing. See if you can spot today's.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Michael Richards Thing

The media's all atwitter about Richards' epithet-filled diatribe directed at a black heckler at a comedy club. Condemnation has been pretty universal from what I've seen and heard so far. Can't argue with that. His language matched his mood. It was ugly.

I'm not going focus on dancing on the grave of his career though. What interests me about this whole thing is how technology has turned what once would have been a fart in a windstorm into a nuclear mushroom cloud.

15 years ago - heck, make that 10 - it's highly unlikely that Richards' verbal venom would have been caught on tape. Even if it had, it wouldn't have gotten national airplay except as a series of bleeps. Most likely, some few folks from the audience would have complained to the proprietor of the club and maybe fired off a letter or two to a newspaper.

The ripple effect would have been indiscernible.

Instead, a video camera, now as ubiquitous as a pack of cigarettes used to be, captures the event and within hours it's available for world-wide viewing via the internet. As a result, Richards is obliged to appear on national tv and apologize. And apologize. And apologize.

Nobody and nothing is private anymore.

I find that to be a lot scarier than a closet racist outing himself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Blogger (read "Google" since they own it now) wants me to switch over to the "new, improved" format/thingy. At this point it's voluntary. They're trying to induce me by saying it's got spiffier features and it's more reliable. If I continue to resist those blandishments, they'll up the ante.

It won't be long before they sadly inform me that I'm among the 4% of "blosers" who stubbornly resist changing over. They'll do their best to make me feel like that gawky, pimply kid watching all the other kids dance and have a great time.

I don't care. So I resist change? Big whoop. For every leading edge there's gotta be a blunt backside. That's me. Let other people blaze trails. Some of us like well-trodden paths. That way we're more likely to see what's lurking around the bend, hoping to ambush us. Like glitches. I hate glitches. And I didn't just tumble off the techno-turnip truck yesterday: new versions are chockful of glitches.

So, I'm gonna stick with the old version of Blogger until Google won't support it anymore. I figger that won't happen for at least another six months, maybe longer. By then they'll be touting Version 3.02 or something and I'll ease my way into Version 2. Most of the glitches should be fixed by then and there still might be a cute girl or two around that I can ask to dance.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Chicken Soup

I have a head cold. I do not like having a head cold. I mostly haven't liked having a head cold since I became an adult. You know, since Mom wasn't around to make chicken soup and fuss over me and I could take a day or two off school. Wives and girlfriends, God bless 'em, bring a lot to the table but I've not found one who fusses like a Mom.

I also haven't found one who makes good chicken soup so I had to learn by myself. My first few attempts weren't so hot. Possibly because I refused to look up a recipe or ask anyone how they made theirs. As my great-grandmother used to say, when she read my cards or tea leaves, "you're too hendy-dependy." She meant "independent" of course. Some might say "mule-headed." One or two might shorten that last one.

Anyway, I'm gonna make a pot of chicken soup today as well as take extra garlic and vitamin C tablets. In two or three days I'll be cured. Or desperately looking for a mother substitute.

Here's how I make my soup:

Put a whole chicken or chicken parts (usually leg quarters or thighs) in a large pot and fill the pot three-quarters full with cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to simmer for a while - usually about an hour. Remove chicken and put on a plate to cool. Chop up an onion and a few cloves of garlic and add it to the de-chickened water. Also add some veggies like bits of carrots. (Do NOT add celery as celery is God's revenge on us for everything bad we have ever done.) You may add some peas. I usually dump in some frozen ones. Canned ones are too mushy. Frozen corn is also okay as are green beans but not too many of those because I don't like them all that much.

Add several tablespoons of the powdered chicken broth/soup fixings or several cubes if you prefer them. I like the powdered stuff. It dissolves quickly and you can taste as you go until it gets that good chickeny flavour.

Now peel off all the skin from your chicken and separate the meat from the bones. It should just about tumble off because of the previous simmering. Break the chicken meat into bits and plop them back into the pot. Nibble on some as you go. It's okay. Nobody is watching.

Now you've just got to add some egg noodles. I usually dump them right into the pot and let them cook via simmering along with everything else. However, I recently received one complaint that my soup was too starchy. I may, or may not, cook the next batch of noodles in a separate pot and then add them to the soup. Depends on whose turn it is to do the dishes. (HAHAHAHA! That might have been a joke!)

I've started adding dumplings to my last few batches of soup too. I like the meal-ish quality they add. Plus they taste good. My sister Theresa told me how to make them. I was not too hendy-dependy to ask. Just add a little water to salted and peppered flour and stir it around until it's thick and gloppy. Then, using a spoon, dribble the glop bit by bit into the simmering soup. The blobs cook through in a few minutes.

Now it's just a matter of adding salt and pepper and maybe a bit more of the powdered stuff and waiting a decent interval for everything to cook through and the flavours to marry - maybe another hour or so.

Soon, you can enjoy, in a miserable, head-coldish kind of a way, a delicious bowl of hearty chicken soup.

Almost as good as Mom used to make.

Now if only someone would bring me a bowl of it, murmur "poor darling" while placing a cool hand against my forehead and pick up my discarded kleenexes, life would be fairly bearable.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I think he's got it backwards....

It's municipal elections time here in Ontario. (Oh crap - 74% of you have nodded off already!) These are the elections that nobody bothers to vote in. Okay, that I don't bother to vote in.

They are the eyesore elections. What with councillors and mayors and trustees and alderpersons on the ballot, every swatch of green space in the town is covered with signs. Anywhere and everywhere that a car might pause, let alone come to a complete stop, is awash in garish pleas to vote for so n' so. Most signs are professional-looking but it's pretty obvious that some were hatched in someone's garage or basement.

One such is a hand-lettered, black on white beauty protected from the elements by being wrapped in a clear plastic garbage bag. On it, it says (paraphrased): "I've earned your vote. Vote ____ for mayor and let me earn your respect."

Hmmm...Shouldn't we respect him before we vote for him? I mean, in theory.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But then again, not much about politics does.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Betwixt & Between

It's that awkward time of year for me. Summer fishing, primarily for walleye, bass, muskie and pike, is over. Chinook and coho salmon are clogging up the streams near me right now.

"Clogging!?" you gasp.

Yeah, clogging. I don't like fishing for them when they're on their doomed spawning runs. Their bodies are breaking down, they're no good for the table, they aren't actively feeding and I don't like the idea of provoking them into a strike.

So I'm waiting. Waiting for the salmon run to be over. Waiting for the first couple of hard frosts that rid the trees of those colourful leaves you can see in the post below. Waiting for the grey days of November and its cold, wind-driven rains to call my lovely steelhead from Lake Ontario to my local streams.

I'll be there, sipping on a thermos of tea and stomping my feet to keep warm, waiting to greet them.

Oh, how happy we'll be to see each other! They'll dance and cartwheel across the top of the water. My heart, despite its daily dose of slow-down medication, will pound. After our wild fandango, as we rest alongside the bank, I'll admire the sleek, silver beauty with the rose blush along her side. Then, with a quick caress and a murmurred "thank you," I'll watch her slip back into the depths. And hope we'll meet again one day.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Autumn Leaves

The first song I ever learned in school (kindergarten) went like this:

Autumn leaves are now falling,
Red and yellow and brown.
Autumn leaves are now falling,
See them tumbling down.

There followed a lot of la-la-ing that won't translate well in type but if we ever meet in person, or talk on the phone, and you ask nicely, I'll sing it for you.

One of the reasons I love living where I do (southern Ontario) is the fact that we enjoy four distinct seasons here. All have their merits and drawbacks. All have identifiers that set them apart from each other.

Autumn, the season we're entering now, is noted for its lovely days, cool nights and riotous colours.

Here's a few pics to show you what I mean:

Eat your hearts out all you folks living in sunny California, balmy Brazil or awesome Australia.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Toronto, Coining A New Word & An Internet Phenomenon

I'm going to post some pics to illustrate a current column about a recent trip my sons and I took to Toronto.

Here's the lads sitting outside someplace semi-famous. I forget what it is though.

Here they are on a street corner. Colourful eh?

This is a citified pond. There are no fish in it.

Toronto's new City Hall.

Some guys working on sidewalk *artvertising.

Son #1 posing as if the CN Tower is growing out of his head! Pretty nifty eh? I bet everybody will start doing clever stuff like this with photos of other famous objects, like the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa etc. It'll be an internet phenomenon! But remember where you saw it first!

*Dibbs on the new word!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cottage Night

I used to be a photography buff and in the early 80s was a partner in a photographic restoration business. Our primary source of income was retouching old or damaged photos and doing black and white developing. We also did custom developing for artists who didn't want the push-button, cookie-cutter developing being offered by most photo shops. So I spent a lot of time in a darkroom inhaling and playing with chemicals.

Oh stop with the knowing nods already!

The business went kaput after a year or two. A couple of years later, my beloved Konica and nearly-beloved Canon developed problems I was too poor to get fixed. My interest in photography ebbed.

When I was shooting a lot, I focused on nightime photography. I loved the ambience provided by streetlights and car headlights. Add gently falling snow, people walking and kids skating, and you end up with some nifty pics reflecting my preferred reality: blurred around the edges.

Like most of you, I bought a digital camera a couple of years ago but never used it for more than snapshots. I disliked the lag when the shutter was depressed. I wasn't thrilled that the flash came on whenever it felt like and I missed not having that B- setting which left the lens open as long as I wished.

A couple of weeks ago while at the cottage I decided to try some night shots with the digital. I didn't expect much good to come of it, given the limitations I expressed above.

When I got home and uploaded the images I was thrilled! Somehow, that wonky flash and hesitating shutter combined to produce some interesting pics - pics with an impressionistic quality, adding colours and dots that my eyes missed.

Reality, blurred around the edges.

Although the photos lose much of their pixelated charm when downsized I invite you to take a peek anyway.

Come. Visit my cottage with me:

Here's the entrance to the driveway.

Here's the view from the left as you go down the driveway. Or is it the right? Yeah, the view is the same pretty much wherever you look. We're back in the bush.

Getting dark. Might be a nice night for a fire.

Brother-in-law Ches selects a worthy hunk of wood.

Nephew Zach avoids chopping off his left hand while cleverly making his right disappear.

Meanwhile, two Samurai spar in the gathering gloom.

It'll soon be hot dog and marshmallow-worthy.

An overturned aluminum boat and nose-planted wheelbarrow frame a poplar.

Nephew Eli cuts down on the glare while toasting his mallow.

An iron goose points permanently north and watches a night fisherman.

Sister Lisa bidding adieu to the day from the dock. The red nose is not a result of chugging that wine. It's a vagary of the light and the camera. Probably.

She's also relieved that I didn't post the picture of her butt.

Oh, what the heck.

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's summertime...

and the livin' is laaaaaaaazy.

I bet I'm not the only blogger whose output has diminished in the last month or so. Okay, I hope I'm not the only blogger whose...etc. I've been too darn lazy to look at other blogs to test my theory.

I wrote in my last column about the heatwave affecting much of the northern hemisphere. That's gotta be a factor too. Any and all effort has a consequence -- sweat. One must be judicious in selecting one's actions to ensure they be sweat-worthy. There have been times in the last couple of weeks when the only effort I wanted to expend was tipping a cool beverage in the general vicinity of my face. I even confessed to not fishing during the hours of 9-5 when I was (briefly) up at my cottage.

My Australian friends, (who are weather weinies, allatime bitching about how hot it is Down Under) have been crowing about their pleasant temperatures while I roast. My Brazilian buddy, who shall remain nameless (Oh hi Van!) bragged recently about the single-digit (Celsius) temperatures he experienced there.

My comfort lies in history of course. I know that this too, shall pass. In a month, this searing heat will be a distant memory and another cool, lovely Canadian autumn will be underway.

Hmmm...what excuse will I use to explain my sporadic musings then?

Oh well, I have a month to come up with something. Right now it's too darn hot.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

PETA - What Word Doesn't Belong In That Acronym?

If you said "ethical" - go to the head of the class.

I addressed PETA's concerns about fishing in my book. I was respectful and polite. I acknowledged their concerns while disagreeing with some of them.

Recently I came upon their anti-fishing comic book. (You'll need Adobe to see it.)

How can I put this politely? Hmmm...I know!

It's bullshit. It packages half-truths with lies and mixes in some heavy-handed, sickening, emotional child abuse. (I especially like the line about kittens and puppies being "next" on Daddy's hit list.)

What it is not is "ethical."

I've lost the remaining vestiges of respect I once had for that organization and will, from this day forward, work actively against it.

Gee, I feel a slight chill. I think I'll club a baby seal and make a new tuque. Oh nevermind. There's a kitten.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Bye-Bye Stevie Y

22 years in the NHL, all with the same team - the Detroit Red Wings. 20 of those years as its captain. He was a scorer when his team needed goals and a checker when they needed defense.

He won three Stanley cups and an Olympic Gold medal with the Canadian team in 2002. He won without gloating and lost without being defeated. He played hurt. He played hard. He showed up every night.

At 41 his heart wanted to go on but he could no longer will his battered body to do what his mind envisaged doing. So yesterday Steve Yzerman hung up his skates.

The record books will show a guy who left as the NHL's sixth leading scorer all-time. He'll be a no-brainer, first ballot inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I'll remember him as one of the greats, a credit to the game he loved.

Thanks Stevie.

Monday, June 19, 2006

When Stephen Hawking Talks....

I've always been a bit of a smartass. My school teachers throughout the years would attest to that, as would my reddened palms from all the times I got the strap. Part of my problem was learning at a fairly early age that teachers weren't infallible, that indeed, they were sometimes wrong. The rest of the problem was telling them so, sometimes obliquely, like laughing when they made some serious point.

Over time though, I got a few teachers I respected very much. What I liked about them was the fact they were intelligent and they listened. When they disagreed, they did so respectfully. They didn't laugh at me when I said something dumb. I learned from them, not just about English, or Latin, but about life and relating to people. I felt shame when recalling some of those earlier teachers I'd laughed at.

As I aged, I learned I had a lot to be humble about. I wasn't nearly as bright as I'd once thought. My wattage was as a candle to some folks' high beams. And then there's the halogen brilliance of Stephen Hawking....

I spend very little time thinking about what he posits because it's way beyond my ken. Most of my thinking is admiration for his tenacity in staying alive despite struggling with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a fatal wasting disease. I don't know the record for the length of time staying alive after diagnosis but he's got to be approaching it.

Anyway. I rely on other smart people who purport to understand what Hawking theorizes about to attest to his smartness. I concede it.

So when he says something that I can understand, I listen and I think about it.

Last week, in a news conference in Hong Kong, Hawking warned that the human race's survival as a species was dependent upon it seeking out other worlds to colonize. He believes the chances are that mankind will wipe itself out on earth within a hundred years.

He believes we could have a permanent colony on the moon within 20 years and on Mars within 40 - and that we should.

I think we gotta listen to the guy. I believe the US, Canada, Britain, France, Australia and other interested countries should get together, pool their resources, both scientific and monetary, and start making this happen.

Even if Hawking is wrong about earth's and mankind's demise, it's still the right thing to do. The pursuit of knowledge and exploration into the unknown brings out the best in us - it's at the heart of who we are.

Hawking is wheelchair-bound. He speaks with the help of a computer. His disease renders him totally immobile. Nobody is more earthbound than he.

Yet his mind and imagination are not tethered by the law of gravity. They are not encased by dimensional walls. I honestly believe that in a very real way, Stephen Hawking already lives "out there" and is beckoning the rest of us to follow.

I hope there's a few smartasses out there listening, nodding and preparing to do just that.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Oh Crap. Writer's Block.

Okay. Two weeks and a day but who's counting?

I'm sleeping a little better but can't seem to concentrate long enough to write a lick. You know, although sympathetic, I've never truly related to other writers who complained about being blocked. I'd be temporarily stuck, like, for as long as it took for me to wander into the garage and have a couple of puffs of my pipe, then get right back to writing.

I never understood how someone could just NOT be able to write for an extended period of time.

Until now.

Brain betrayal. Muse mutiny.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Still Not Smoking

Okay, it's been a week. No patch. No gum. No homocides. Yet.

The physical aspects of withdrawal have been easier to deal with than I'd expected: no case of the shakes or screaming meemies. My sunny disposition remains intact and if you don't believe me you can just stop reading, go outside, close your eyes and run around until you get by a truck and see if I care. Loser.

I have two semi-major issues: I can't seem to sleep for more than four hours at a stretch and I'm having trouble focusing for extended periods (such as might be required if a person was to, oh, I don't know, write something longer than one sentence.)

Otherwise, things are just peachy. Really.

Go away now.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Barbara Bauer Ph.D - Pretend (and profane) Agent

Once upon a time - actually, for the last 20 years, right up until today - there was a pretend literary agent named Barbara Bauer Ph.D. Now, in the book publishing world, real agents make their money by selling real books written by real writers to real publishers. They then take a percentage of what the writer is paid as their fee. It’s a system that has worked well for a long time.

We know that Barbara Bauer Ph.D. was and is a pretend agent because, well, she didn’t sell any of her client’s books. She did, however, charge them fees - sometimes reading fees, sometimes marketing fees and sometimes representation fees.

One day, Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss, real writers who advocate on behalf of other real writers, assembled a list of the 20 Worst Agents. These agents are commonly known as “scam” agents. They’re not interested in earning money by selling books to publishers. They’re interested in “pretending” to sell books but in reality, make their money by charging fees.

Well, Barbara Bauer Ph.D. (who, by the way, seems extraordinarily proud of those letters after her name - you can tell because the only pictures of her on her website are of her graduation - be-capped and be-gowned, by golly) was very annoyed to see that her agency was listed as one of the 20 Worst. She became ultra-annoyed when other websites picked on the list and republished it.

She huffed and she puffed and she threatened to blow their houses down! And she did so profanely! (Maybe the Ph.D. stands for “profane huffer doc.”)

But everyone’s house stayed up.

Until one day she saw her listing on a bulletin board called the AbsoluteWrite forums. Those forums were created by a writer named Jenna Glatzer as a place for other writers to gather and learn from each other. Over 7,000 of them did so. It was a happy and educational place for all writers, from hobbyists to professionals.

Barbara Bauer Ph.D. knew profane huffing wouldn’t work on Jenna, so she huffed and she puffed at the hosts of that forum (JC-Hosting - TotalWeb International Net Consulting) and guess what?

They closed the forums! And over 7,000 formerly-happy writers had no place to gather!

Barbara Bauer Ph.D. and JC-Hosting had made very many writers very angry. Angry writers are a fearsome lot. They dip their keyboards in acid and wield words as daggers.

Guess who’s bleeding now?

Links: Making Light - NVNC ID VIDES, NVNC NE VIDES - Miss Snark - Writer Beware - - More blogs about Barbara Bauer.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gonna Quit Smoking

I wrote in my column last week that I intend to quit smoking on May 30th, my 55th birthday. That only leaves me six more days of smoking but who's counting?

As of now, I plan to go cold turkey: no gum or patches or hypnosis or acupuncture - just crying and tantrums. I'm not anal about aids though. (Wicked wits could have fun with that sentence but I'm not that kind of a guy.) If it turns out I'm having a horrible go of it, I'll try whatever I need to in order to stay away from my beloved pipes.

I received a lot of wonderful mail after that column, chockful of stories and tips and cautionary tales from readers who've been there and done that. They were inspiring and I'm very grateful to those folks for taking the time to tell of their experiences.

I'm pretty sure I won't turn into one of "those" reformed smokers; you know, the ones who cough ostentatiously when within 100 yards of someone puffing. They bug me. I plan on exercising more to burn off some of those extra calories I'll probably be ingesting in place of nicotine and to exorcise the heebie jeebies of withdrawal. I just want to feel healthier and look good in a Speedo again. Is that so wrong?

Anyway, I'll be whining about my progress here semi-regularly.

You've been warned.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Making A Difference

When the last page is turned in your life’s book and the reviews start to come in, what do you want them to say?

Good parent? Fine son? Great worker? Pillar of society? Excellent writer? Told great jokes?

Worthy accolades, all. But rendered down, I believe the essence of a life well-lived is knowing you made a difference - that the ripples of your passage affected others in a positive way.

Never pass up an opportunity to comfort someone in pain. Keep compliments handy and don’t be shy about doling them out. Layer a slice of honesty with the icing of tact. Gift the lonely with your presence. Listen.

Risk opening your heart - the potential gain is worth the possibility of pain. Keep your mind open too - something good might build a nest in there and the crap will eventually find its way out.

Pay attention to children and the elderly - the former know what you’ve forgotten and the latter know what you’ve yet to learn.

Help someone feel better about themself today. Repeat every day.

That’s all that really matters.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Psychic Stuff

Call it spring fever. Call it laziness. But I'm going to plagiarize myself and reproduce one of my columns: Baron It All Issue #72. All rights reserved etc.

Read an interesting article the other day about a Toronto-area woman who helps police all over North America solve crimes via her psychic ability. We’ve all read similar stories. This one was neither more, nor less credible than others I’ve read. I have a pretty open mind. Some might even say its doors are permanently ajar. They can hear the wind blowing.

Hahaha. I made a self-deprecating joke.

What was kind of neat about this particular woman, aside from the obvious, was her husband. He met her when she was called in on one of her earliest cases, some 20-odd years ago. He was a Homicide cop assigned to the case and highly skeptical of her abilities. Guess she convinced him. And then some.

The story got me thinking about psychic or paranormal stuff. I’ve mentioned in an earlier column about my great-grandmother, Big Baba, being a card and tea-leaf reader. During my teens I was fascinated by all things paranormal; devouring books by Hans Holzer (the ghost hunter), Edgar Cayce, Ruth Montgomery and others. I exhausted the local library’s store of books about astrology, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, telekinesis, telepathy, psychometry and spiritualism.

My then-future-ex-wife and I had our charts done by an astrologer. We got his phone number from an ad. The only information he wanted was our place and times of birth. No names or other identifying info. He gave us an appointment about a week later. Each of us received a long, detailed reading. I recall being amazed when he recounted a near-drowning experience I had when I was 10. At that time, only about three people on the planet knew about it. I hadn’t even told my parents.

I began to read books by Herman Hesse, Kahlil Gibran and Carlos Castaneda. Along about this time I was also experimenting with mind-altering compounds. (Hay! It was the late 60s - early 70s.) Finally, one nasty night I learned that thinking about paranormal stuff while under the influence of certain substances was a Very Bad Thing.

So I pretty much stopped doing both, or either, for a very long time.

In the intervening decades I’ve had the occasional, outside-the-norm experience. I expect many of you have as well. Here’s a couple that, although not overly dramatic, stand out:

1 - I was in my early 20s and a recent university graduate, living in London, Ontario. I was (and still am) an inveterate people-watcher. It’s part of the writer-thing to observe and speculate; to mentally file quirks and tidbits of conversation, tone of voice and mannerisms.

I was sitting at the back of a bus (from where one can see everybody), on my way downtown. At a stop a girl of about six or seven, a woman, and a man got on board. I glanced at each in turn and almost physically recoiled when I saw the man. I felt the blood drain from my face. I felt sick.

There was nothing obviously loathsome about his features necessarily. He was of medium height, dark-haired and had a sallow, slightly waxy complexion. I realized that I just very, very strongly felt evil emanating from him. That’s not a word I use a lot but it was the only one that fit.

The woman and girl sat in one seat, the man opposite them. None of them exchanged a word. They got off one stop before me and I was struck by how passive the little girl was, as was the woman I assumed to be her mother. Both walked, eyes lowered, to the exit. I glanced away as the man neared, not wanting to make eye contact, however briefly, with him.

I’ve never felt such a strong, negative visceral reaction before or since and hope I never do. I’ve often wondered about that woman and girl.

2 - For several years my ex and I lived in an old house built in the early 1900s. We lived on the main floor and basement, another couple on the two upper floors.

The basement had cold spots; well-known to ghost story readers. The temperature could change dramatically one step away from wherever you were. The spots were not constant and they existed all four seasons of the year. I grew used to them for the most part, although every now and then, when alone down there at 2:00 a.m. watching a late show, I would get creeped out. Once or twice, I actually ran upstairs when I felt a cold spot starting to surround my chair.

Our main floor kitchen had a door added to separate it from the front entrance, used by the upstairs couple. We were friends and visited often. When in the kitchen, we could hear them come downstairs, or enter their front door from outside. Practically every day we’d hear their footsteps approach that kitchen door as they visited.

Late one night, three or four of us were sitting around our kitchen table talking when three very loud knocks suddenly rattled that door. We all started because nobody had heard approaching footsteps, either from the neighbour’s stairs or front door.

I took three steps and opened the door. Nobody there. Nobody going upstairs. Nobody going outside from the front door. We hadn’t been playing music, just quietly talking. It was late and we would most certainly have heard someone approaching and leaving that door.

As the wise sage Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

But you can’t always explain what you observe.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Serendipity: Part Deux

Last week in my column I wrote about serendipitous stuff that has happened to me over the years. I then related my fortuitous online meeting with a pro tarpon fisherman and budding writer named Dino Ramaciere. I urged everyone to check out the latest (April) issue of Field & Stream magazine, wherein they could find Dino’s first published story - Beauty and the Tarpon.

One of my readers, who I think lives in Australia, wrote to ask if any of Dino’s writing appeared online as he had no access to the magazine. I knew Dino hadn’t posted or published anything except for his F&S story, so I wrote back saying I’d ask Dino’s permission to send the draft of the story that he had sent me some months before.

Dino did me one better and sent me the galley from the magazine which included one of the spiffy illustrations used to accompany the piece. I forwarded the galley and made a note to offer to do so in my next column to anyone who had problems finding the mag.

Now a bit of back story:

About a month ago I came across a reference to Google Alerts on the Absolute Write boards. Many of you probably know about it but for those of you who don’t - it’s a service provided by Google wherein you input keywords and they’ll email you any search results containing those keywords. I thought it might be a fun way to track my book so I entered “what fish don’t want you to know” (without the quotation marks).

Every 24 hours I received an email from Google Alerts which contained links using my keywords. Unfortunately, probably because I didn’t use quotation marks, I got mostly inappropriate results - stuff like:

Trout season tips to live by Trout are safe, healthy meal Rules ...
Scranton Times-Tribune - PA, USA
... have broken or unusable straps, or that don’t fit are ... Also, if you catch fish, like perch or sunfish, that have no minimum size and you want to clean ...

The first line would be a clickable link. The second was the source. The rest was a snippet from the linked page highlighting the “appropriate” keywords.

Usually among the 10-15 results there would be one or two that actually related to my book’s listing on Barnes & Noble, or Amazon or elsewhere but most weren’t at all germane. I tended to delete the mail after a five-second scan and each time would make a mental note to alter the listing to include quotation marks to winnow out the inappropriate links. But as we all know, mental notes aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on and I kept putting it off.


This morning, the first listing in my Google Alerts was:

Beauty and the Tarpon
Field and Stream - USA
... I went fishing one morning with my wife and my sister. Initially, my sister didn’t want to make the trip. ... You know I don’t like to fish....

Yep. Dino’s story is online. Now you don’t have to shell out bucks or visit your library to read a fine story by a fine writer. Go read it right now. You won't be sorry. I'll wait.

I suppose sooner or later Dino, or someone, would have tripped over the online listing and let me know. But it was a hoot to come across it this way.

Might even call it serendipitous.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pamela Anderson (both of her) and a nice story

Unique seems to have taken on the task of being my Muse. She's hinted rather broadly that it's past time for another entry. So blame this one on her.

I read a nice story in the newspaper this morning. A young woman from New Jersey, Lindsay Scharzwaelder, (you can't make those up) was vacationing in Ontario in January. She and her boyfriend were returning from a ski trip when they lost control of their car on a very snowy road. The car rolled over and ended up in a ditch. Luckily, both Lindsay and her boyfriend were unhurt and walked away.

Later, she discovered that two rings she'd removed while skiiing and placed in the car door's armrest were gone. They'd must have fallen out into the snow when they opened the door after the accident.

Lindsay was distraught at the loss of the rings and tried to call the 1-800 number the attending police officer had given her. But it didn't work from the States so she wrote a letter to the Ontario Provincial Police, asking if it would be possible for an officer to look for the rings after the snow melted.

Last Sunday, OPP Constable Russell Elliott walked along the ditch near where the accident had occurred months before. He didn't have much hope of finding the rings but figured he'd give it a shot. He shone a flashlight around the muddy area and something gleamed.

Uh-huh. It was one of the rings. He dug around in the mud nearby and found the other one too.

They are now back where they belong, on Lindsay's fingers in New Jersey. She's happy. Constable Elliott is happy. I'm happy I read it.

Also last Sunday, I watched the Juno Awards, Canada's equivalent to the Grammys. The show was hosted by two of Canada's most famous expatriates, Pamela Anderson.


I hadn't watched the Junos in decades, since back in the days when Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfooot, Count Basie and the Guess Who copped all the hardware. The show was boring and predictable. (Those words should be synonyms.)

But I was drawn to it this year because the Canadian music industry is booming, with lots of individuals and bands worth a listen. Michael Buble, a crooner in the Tony Bennett tradition, was the big winner, with several awards. But The Arcade Fire, Bedouin Sound Clash and Nickelback didn't go home empty handed. Bryan Adams was deservedly elected to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. (I forgive him his recent obsession with power ballads because Summer of 69 is one of the great rock anthems.)

Coldplay and the Black Eyed Peas also performed and help present awards. All in all, it was an enjoyable show and Pamela and Pamela had nothing to do with it. Hardly anything. Much.

You know, if some of you would like to read more of my stuff you're allowed to subscribe to my (mostly) weekly, (mostly) humourous, free, emailed column/newsletter. (Hello? Unique!?) The column is BCC-d. Nobody will get your address (except me - and I keep it safe in my underwear drawer). Just drop me a line at baronitall(at)rogers.com. You know what to do with that (at).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gone Fishing

It had been much too long since the last time I’d gone fishing. My spirits were as bedraggled as a soaked kitten’s.

The fact there was a bunch of cars parked at the bridge didn’t really faze me. I knew most of the guys would be fishing north of it - where most of the fish were. I was headed several hundred yards downstream, towards the lake. I’d druther fish where there weren’t many fish as long as I had some space to myself.

Only one guy was working “my” spot when I got there. I set up a respectful 50 or so yards away and proceeded to get my first professional overrun (“backlash” or “tangled line” for you fin-impaired folks) on my 2nd cast.

Five minutes of cursing and working out the tangles later, I made my 3rd cast, and this time there was no unravelling that mass of monofilament spaghetti. I cut the line, sat on the bank, dug out some new line and started refilling my reel. And promised never to use line more than six months old, ever again.

While I was in the midst of that little chore, the other guy packed up and started walking back towards the bridge. As he passed, I asked if he’d had any luck. He replied in the negative, saying it had been dead for the three hours he was there.

Fuelled by my usual mixture of faith and foolishness, I was undaunted. I moved to his vacated spot and began drifting a small worm under a float.

The sun was warm - though the wind found gaps in my clothes and reminded me it was very early spring. The worm wasn’t working so I switched to an artificial grub. Nothing doing there either. Time to use the tried-and-true roe bag.

An hour and a half meandered by without a sign of a fish. My shoulders and arm began to hurt - in that good, fishing-caused way. The water looked perfect - high and slightly dingy. There had to be a fish or two around. They couldn’t all have moved up to the off-limits spawning areas yet.

I was watching two gulls squabble over something when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my float slip under the surface. I belatedly, but not too belatedly, set the hook and was overjoyed to feel throbbing resistance. My 11 ½' rod (it’s not the size - it’s the tricks you can do with it) bent into that oh-so-lovely C-shape.

After a 2 or 3-minute spirited tussle, I eased a 4lb. steelhead to the bank.

Usually I like to release my first decent fish of the year but I was pretty sure it would be the only one I’d catch today. As I dispatched it, I mentally promised to release the next one, whenever it might come along.

It came along about an hour later. This time a 5-6 pounder, a fine male already sporting his spawning colours.

A fishless hour after that, I packed up and trudged back to my car. My hip waders had somehow gained 10 pounds each. My back had joined my shoulders and arm in the pain department.

And my spirit soared. I felt renewed - as happy as I’ve been in months.

Tomorrow I’m gonna do it again.

The above post was written for the layperson, the non-anglerphile. For those of you who consider fish slime to be a cologne and who feel naked without at least a couple of scales clinging to your clothes - read on....

I use two rods: a 9' light-action for bottom-fishing and for casting the occasional piece of hardware, and an 11 ½' noodle rod for drifting under a float. Water clarity was only about 16" so I decided not to bother with a lighter leader and just fished straight 8lb. with each outfit. (Trilene XL, by the way - still my favourite all-round line after all these years.)

The first fish hit a drifted roe bag, tied with white mesh, tipped with a bit of a teaser - a single Berkley Power Egg in fluorescent orange.

The second came during a lull in the current flow when I used the 9-footer to lob out a small, air-injected worm weighted only with a couple of BB shot about 14" above the hook.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

This is not a new entry

It's more like a promise of one to come. I'm going to get my line wet tomorrow for the first time in ages and will likely yak about that.

Be still your beating hearts!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Odds n' Ends

Canada has 2100 personnel in Afghanistan, most of them soldiers. The allied forces there are now headed by Canadian General Rick Hillier. Our troops’ role has been expanded to include hunting down Taliban insurgents. As a result, some of our people have been injured and killed recently.

Leader of the New Democrat Party Jack Layton thinks Parliament should debate whether or not we should be there at all. Some Liberals (the folks who sent our men and women there in the first place) agree. Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded by staging an ultra-secret visit to Afghanistan to visit with our troops. He slept on a cot in their encampment. He lined up with the soldiers to eat at the canteen. He told them how important the job they’re doing is and how proud he is of them.

Finally! A leader who does more than grin and mouth empty rhetoric while picking the taxpayer’s pocket.

“But we’re a nation of peacekeepers, not soldiers,” some hand-wringing left-libs cry.

Policemen are charged with keeping the peace too. That means more than helping little old ladies across the street, directing traffic and manning a radar gun. Sometimes it means protecting us from bad guys. Sometimes it means acting instead of reacting. Sometimes it means doing scary, dangerous work far from home.

I’ve done it before and sworn I wouldn’t again but I have. And will.

I’m reading the first book in a series and the next won’t be out ‘til godknowswhen. It’s Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch and it’s terrific. I only have about 50 pages to go and I’m trying to read them very, very s-l-o-w-l-y. My lips aren’t even tired.

Hurry up Tad! Get Shadowplay on the shelves tomorrow!

We just had an enjoyable, albeit brief, flirtation with Spring here in southern Ontario. For a couple of days we had sweater/light jacket weather. Today the temperature is hovering around freezing again and gale-force winds make it feel much colder.

It’s depressing. Like eyeing a pretty girl for a moment, wiping the crumbs off your shirt while rehearsing what you’ll say to her, then watching her climb into some rich dude’s sports car and drive away.

Late breaking news! The Trailer Park Boys are coming to a theatre near you! Watch the teaser and get a glimpse of the most intelligentest and more smarter tv show that probably could ever be! (Thanks to Adam on the AW board for the heads-up.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Opinin' on the Oscars

I sort of watched the Oscars last night for the first time since Dave ("Uma-Oprah") Letterman hosted. I was semi-interested this time in seeing how Jon Stewart would do in that role. I haven't been a regular Oscars watcher in over 20 years. Maybe 30. The production numbers annoyed me. The insincerity of the glitterati and their exaggerated sense of importance rankled. I also pretty much stopped going out to movies during that time, content to wait until they were released on video. Hence I often hadn't seen any nominated movies until well after the Oscars were presented.

What I tended to do over the last couple of decades was tune in to see the host's opening bits and then let my attention drift. Thinking back, Johnny Carson was pretty good. Steve Martin - ditto. Whoopi Goldberg - not so much. Billy Crystal was probably my favourite. Being part of the Hollywood crowd, he knew how and where to insert a playful needle.

I figured Stewart would be well-received by the audience in the theatre, being as they largely shared his left-leaning politics. His early jokes got a lukewarm response though. I got the impression the crowd was nervous. They seemed to come around when he delivered the Cheney-shot-Bjork joke.

If there was a production number this year I must have dozed off and missed it. I confess to picking up my newspaper now and again and I was on the phone for a while too. Ben Stiller's bit was funny. I liked how genuinely gobsmacked the large cast of Crash appeared when they learned it had won Best Picture. I guess Brokeback Mountain was considered the fave.

Despite the fact one woman in the crowd's breasts kept threatening to escape the confines of her dress as she bounced with delight when her movie won something, it was a ho-hum affair. Perhaps if they had managed to escape I'd feel differently.

Letterman's stint as host was largely panned by the critics. I have a hunch they won't be too kind to Stewart either. Both men have a cool, dry, cerebral wit that serves them well in a smaller, more intimate setting. A great Oscar host needs that wit but also needs to be part clown. And it would help if s/he knew, truly knew, the intimate workings of the movie business.

In other words - I vote to bring back Billy Crystal and tell him the job is his as long as he wants it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stephen Colbert

Do I write about the Man? Or the Legend?


They are as one.

Stephen Colbert is the host of The Colbert Report ("report" is pronounced "reh-pore" - as if en francais) seen Monday-Thursday on the Comedy Channel at 11:30 pm, EST, following Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

Stephen reports (pronounced "re-ports") on the day's events (primarily USA-based) from a hard right perspective.


But it doesn't take too-too much reading between the lines to see where his sympathies lie.

His, (or rather, his character's) ego is as big as all outdoors, vaguely reminiscent of Peter Seller's Inspector Clouseau. There's no indignity of his hero, George Bush's, that he, Colbert, can't rise above.

The show is wickedly funny. Kudos to the writers and kudos to Colbert for pulling it off in the first place, and sustaining it night after night.

And kudos to Son #1 for getting me to watch it in the first place.

Here's a link to a site devoted to Colbert. Watch some clips if you want a chuckle.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hail And Farewell

Hail Canada's women! More accurately: Hail Canada's female Olympians! Their strength, courage and determination helped ease the pain of our men's hockey team failing to even qualify for the medal round.

16 of Canada's 24 medals were won by female athletes, led by the wondrous speed skater Cindy Klassen who won five (count'em, 5!) medals all by her lonesome.

A few of my favourite Olympic moments: Clara Hughes collapsing at the finish line after giving her all in winning gold in the women's 5,000 metre speed skating: Chandra Crawford, totally unheralded, winning gold in cross-country skiing, suprising and delighting herself and a nation: Brad Gushue, skip of Canada's men's gold medal-winning curling team, turning to the camera with his cell phone to his ear saying "Pick up the phone Mom!": The same Gushue, minutes later, losing control of his emotions and crying while being interviewed, calling himself a "big soock."

A special Good Sportsmanship medal should be awarded to the Norwegian coach who chased Canadian Sara Renner during a cross country race in order to hand her a replacement ski pole after she broke her own. She and partner Becky Scott were able to win a silver as a result. His unselfishness cost his own team a medal. The Norwegians finished fourth.

All in all (except for that horrible hockey result) it was a wonderful games. They'll be tough to top in 2010 in Vancouver but I have faith our guys and gals will do just that.

Farewell to Don Knotts. The bug-eyed comic actor was one of my all time favourites, especially as Deputy Barney Fife in the Andy Griffith/Mayberry show. After accidentally shooting himself in the foot, Barney was only allowed one bullet for his gun and he had to keep it in his shirt pocket. A small, very thin man, nobody did "nervous," "timid," and "outraged" like Barney. His ultra-macho sniff as he hitched up his gun belt was as funny a recurring bit as I've ever seen on tv.

Farewell to Darren McGavin. A veteran character actor who appeared in dozens of films and tv series, he was best known to me for two roles. First as the title character in the tv series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, an investigative reporter who happened to stumble across more than his fair share of werewolves, vampires, ghosts and space aliens. And he'll be immortalized forever as the curmudgeonly father in the classic holiday movie The Christmas Story.

Don Knotts was 81. Darren McGavin was 83. Howcum it was only a couple of years ago that they were young men?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ideas, Words, & Themes

One of the bonuses of writing for a heck of a long time is you get to have themes. I remember as a youngster being darned impressed by reading critics who’d say something like: “Mr. Throckbottom returned to his theme of atavistic behaviour in love-struck retired railroad workers....”

I wanted a theme or three that I could return to in order to prompt sage nods from discerning critics.

Well, I’ve done it.

Someone mentioned a couple of days ago that I hadn’t posted on my blog in a week. He said, “What’s the matter, no ideas?”

Ha! As if a Seasoned Professional Writer needed ideas in order to write something! We don’t need no steenkin’ ideas! We just rain down a blizzard of words, toss in some metaphors, mix thoroughly, and let the readers sort them out.

Newbies to the writing game are often stymied by the notion that they actually have to have something to say when they write. I have to laugh. Writing is so simple. It’s just filling in the space between periods with words.

People don’t like spaces. Somebody smart once said that nature, of which people are a part, abhors a vacuum. I hated it too when I was a kid. It was loud and scary. My Mom kept ours in a closet and when I’d see her heading towards that closet I’d holler “Pocky-keener no-no!”

“Pocky-keener” was how I pronounced “vacuum cleaner.” I was cute when I was a kid. And I still pretty much hate them even though they’re not as noisy now unless they suck up a ball bearing or some nails and they clank around in there until they clog something and then the vacuum changes pitch and starts howling like a disembowelled dog - not that I’ve ever heard one of those but I imagine it would be a terrible sound.

I wrote about this before in a column and at the Absolute Write site. I used different words but I was basically talking about the same thing which, if you’ve been following along, makes it a theme. A recurring one even.

Take that Mr. Throckbottom.

And all you sages out there can just start nodding.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder.

Joanne and Unique tagged me for this meme.

The Rules: The first player of this game starts with the topic “five weird habits” and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You have been tagged” (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.

Okay, first a couple of apologies and a disclaimer.

Sorry, but I’m gonna break one of the rules and not tag someone(s). I think this one has been making the blog rounds with lightning speed and A- I dunno who-all’s been tagged and B- I really don’t know all that many bloggers yet. So I propose a compromise. If anyone reads my list and wants to compile their own, leave me a note to that effect with your blog addy and I’ll edit my post to add it.

And I apologize to my faithful column readers who may find a couple of familiar topics in my list.

Disclaimer: I’m the most normal person I know. The only way I can come up with five (5!) weird habits is if I use stuff that others have told me is weird.

1- I prefer to start each day by taking a large mug of tea, a newspaper and my pipe up to the bathroom and read for a half-hour or so while listening to my transistor radio. I prefer not to speak with anyone or engage in any other sort of social discourse until I’m done, um...reading.

2- I like to rub people’s bums for luck.

3- I make things up all the time. (See #2.) Well, it’s not exactly true that I totally make things up. I like the elastic properties of reality. So every now and then I bend, twist, and/or stretch it. But sometimes I do indeed completely make stuff up. (Did you already see #2?)

4- When cashiers ask me how I am I like to offer answers other than “Fine.” So, depending on my mood, I may reply “I’m not sure. How do I look?” or “Practically perfect!” or “Buffeted by the raging storms of my inner angst. You?” Sometimes they’re so rattled they give me back too much change. I always return the extra.

5- Even though I’ve spent a goodly portion of my life trying to establish myself as a professional writer (and succeeding on a small level), I still give away my (mostly) weekly, (sometimes) hilarious (okay, amusing) emailed newsletter/column. At first my motives were crassly commercial. I figured it would help me sell an extra few books. Now I do it because enough people have told me how much they look forward to it that I don’t want to disappoint them. Plus it’s still fun. Plus, sooner or later I’m going to publish more books and they’ll feel obligated to buy them. Bwahahahaaaaa!

Bonus weirdness!

6- If I feel out of sync with the universe I’ll do something different in order to plug back into its rhythm. I might walk backwards for a while or put my jeans on before my socks or maybe bend a meme rule or two. What can I say? I’m a rebel without a pause. Or maybe without applause. Whatever....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Simple Math vs Reverend Fred Phelps

I saw a disturbing picture in yesterday’s newspaper. A couple of young, attractive, smiling women were snapped in mid-dance while holding placards. They were dancing on the American flag and the placards read, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God For 9/11.”

They were followers of someone named Reverend Fred Phelps, a minister from Kansas. The story (by Thane Burnett of the Toronto Sun) accompanying the photograph was equally disturbing. Apparently Mr. Phelps is waging war against sinners and gays top the list. He encourages his acolytes to stage demonstrations at any event which he perceives as being remotely pro-gay, including, but not limited to, the funerals of American soldiers.

His “reasoning” is that the U.S. allows gays into the military which is a Very Bad Thing. Therefore all soldiers, gay or not, are Very Bad. So, in what passes for his mind, the funeral of a young person killed in Iran or Afghanistan is deemed an appropriate place for his followers to demonstrate the “truth” about how God feels.

Apparently God also allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps even nudged it along, because he wanted to punish the sodomites.

I read that Mr. Phelps came to Canada in 2004 to protest the Supreme Court ruling that amended laws to include same-sex couples. Perhaps not coincidentally, shortly after his visit, inciting hatred on the basis of sexual orientation was added to our list of crimes.

The guy is more than a bit of a twit. ( For the foreigners among you, “bit of a twit” is Canadian for “loathsome lunatic.”) I debated writing anything at all about him. Adding even a minute bit of attention to his and his followers hateful practices could be seen as elevating his profile and some might interpret it as aiding the legitimacy of his cause. But then again, you have to shine the light on cockroaches now and again if you hope to squash them, or at least make them skedaddle.

I don’t want to get into a biblical or theological debate here. But Frank’s Simple Math Theory says that if you believe in God and that God made all things in his image, and he made gays as well as straights, then you have to figure he’s at least bi-curious.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hope it's not a Stupor Bowl

I don't watch much football, particularly of the American variety. I'm more of a hockey, baseball and (more recently) basketball kind of a guy.

I've watched a few Super Bowl games, starting way back in the Joe Namath/New York Jets days. Many of them were terrible, either blowouts or low-scoring yawners - but some were pretty good.

I haven't been to a Super Bowl party in 15 or 20 years. It's mostly been a non-event in my house.

But today I'm gonna watch. Son #1 was hoping to spend the day and night at his cousin's to watch the game but the weather is wreaking havoc driving-wise. So, to assuage his disappointment, I've decided we'll have our own party here.

We just got back from shopping for staples: shrimp, garlic bread, chicken wings, potato chips and dip. All major food groups present and accounted for.

Let the game begin!

Post Script

Well, it wasn't a Stupor Bowl but it wasn't a classic either. The Steelers won. To be precise - the Steeler's defence won. Seattle had a couple of tough calls go against them and it may have rattled them. They seemed confused a couple of times.

But more importantly: How the heck does Mick Jagger still have the energy to strut like a man a third his age?

I want what he's having.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Erection Dejection

Wouldn't that make a nifty title for a story about a crane that couldn't lift things? Sort of a parody of the Little Engine That Could. Or maybe it could be called The Little Crane That Couldn't.

Why? What did you think this was gonna be about?

Ha! Sometimes I crack me up.

I was away for a couple of days and came back to the usual 125 or so emails, about 90 of which were junk. As I deleted the junk, most of which seemed to involve suggestions for the improvement of my manly bits, the phrase I used in the subject line leaped into my brain. I had to do something with it.

I've decided that blogging is a Very Good Thing. It's re-awakened a love that's lain dormant within me for decades - writing just for the plain fun of it. I think most writers start that way. But somewhere along the path towards, and beyond publication, the sheer love of playing with words begins to dissipate. We become consumed with the mechanics - crafting and polishing and rewriting and submitting and dealing with rejection and re-submitting.

Then, one day, we "make it!" We sell stuff and editors want more of the same and we're happy to provide it and then, somehow, someway - it becomes work.

Even my column, (Free! - Contact me for details!) which grants me lots of leeway, comes with constraints. Admittedly, they're self-imposed but they're constraints nonetheless. Folks have come to expect a certain tone, a certain length, a certain feel.

It's been ages since I wrote because I dang-well felt like it.

I think I might get used to it.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The good guys won

We have a minority Conservative government today. That'll do. Now Prime Minister Harper has a couple of years to prove he doesn't have cloven hooves.

Oh, a word to the Toronto Star: Nyah-nyah!

Okay. A compound word. Whatever.

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's election day! Okay - who yawned?

I'll be voting in a couple of hours to help choose a governing party here in the Great White North. The polls close at 9:30 EST and I'll spend the evening glued to the tube to watch the results come in.

I'm pretty excited because I think, for the first time in 13 years, the Conservatives have a chance to form the next government.

I can hear the gasps from my American friends, who equate the C-word with everything Bushy. Relax folks, that's not the case here. The Canadian Conservative party platform wouldn't raise too many eyebrows if it was presented by the Democrats in the US of A. There are no cuts to existing social services. Canucks will still get "free" cradle-to-grave health care. Guys will still be able to marry other guys and women will still be able to marry other women. (It's remotely possible though, that they'll change "marriage" to "civil union" - but I'm betting that won't happen either.) The death penalty will stay off the books. A cabal of right-wing religious zealots will not be pulling Prime Minister Stephen Harper's strings.

What I expect from a Conservative government is honesty and delivering what they promised in their platform - a rare and welcome change from the decade-plus-long reign of the "Fiberal" party.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Memed. (Can it be used as a verb?)

September Skies tagged/memed/ me.

Last live music show seen: Bar bands don't count I guess eh? It's been a while. It was either Van Morrison at the (then) O'Keefe Centre or Rod Stewart at Maple Leaf Gardens, both in Toronto and both around 1980-ish. Both were excellent. I'm a huge Morrison fan, particularly of his early-middle stuff and this was Stewart when he sang more than postured.

Last CD purchased:Green Day's American Idiot. I bought it for one of my nephews for Christmas but love many of the tunes.

Last thing cooked: Does toast count? No? Umm, how about heating a frozen, prepared dinner? No? Boiling frozen perogies? No way eh? FINE! I guess it was a pork roast I did last week. I made rice with it too. It was a complete meal.

Last new thing eaten: Focaccia. It's sort of a cross between pizza and bruschetta (sp?). It was okay I suppose. Better when I added some Garlic Plus to it. Who's up for kisses?

Last thing bought: Groceries. Exciting eh? Well, it was! I included some Miss Vickie's Honey & Roasted Garlic potato chips in my cart. Who's up for kisses?

Last gift received: A copy of Jenna Glatzer's excellent the Street Smart Writer. Her publisher sent it to me. Probably hoping for a mention somewhere. Ha! As if! Like I can be bought!

Last piece of clothing bought or received as a gift: Some sweaters from Old Navy. They had a great post-Christmas sale and I went a bit nuts. Which is strange for me because I'm usually the very model of restraint. I never buy anything unless I'm in a store that sells things.

Last embarrassing experience: Nuh-uh. This is a PG-rated blog.

Last totally new experience: This morning when I opened my eyes. (Every day is brand, spanking new.)

Last foreign country visited, if any: Paradise Island, Bahamas. It was a looong time ago. I'm not sure if I'm allowed into foreign countries anymore.

Last big achievement: A couple of months ago I backed into a parking spot even though there was another car on one side. I usually only try it when there's a space open on each side. Gotta tell you, when I was done, and there was no sound of grinding metal, I got out of the car and I strutted into the mall.

For this meme I'll tag: My dear friend and new blogger mogie. She'll thank me. She's a good woman.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Plumbing The Writer's Psyche

I've been helping an aspiring writer with her book for the last few months. We've done a fair bit of tweaking and were several chapters into it when I realized something: The beginning would be much stronger if it opened with the 3rd chapter and the first two unfolded afterwards as a flashback.

I hesitated to tell her what I thought because she'd done so much work to this point and in a way, it meant (almost) starting over. I did though, and she agreed, and trooper that she is, she rewrote it.

Now the story opens with the protagonist, a 15-year-old girl, treading water in the Atlantic ocean during a raging thunderstorm. When I read the new opening, I felt the writer needed to communicate the girl's emotions more vividly. I used a phrase she's probably sick of hearing by now: We need to get inside the character's head.

It can be a tough thing to do when you put your character into a position you've not experienced yourself. If the experience is traumatic, it can be a tough thing to do if you have experienced it.

I had a near-drowning incident when I was about 10 or 11. It indisputably was the most defining moment of my life. (But that's a topic for another day.) I vividly recall, even four+ decades later, the whooshing sounds and the frustrating sight of blessed, air-containing sky through the window of water above me. (Another aside. It just now struck me that that may very well be part of the reason I selected the cover I did for my book. The perspective is very much like the one I experienced while drowning. You can see my cover here.)

Anyway. There's times when writers are forced to either exercise their imagination to the utmost or plumb the depths of their psyche in order to accurately convey an emotion. And, depending on your subject matter, it can be a very unpleasant, even painful exercise.

But if you want your words to wrap your reader in the experience, there's no getting around it. You have to boldly go where you might not want to go.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

2005 In Music and Words

Yes, I make lists. Sort of. What of it?

(Too bad this is a smiley-free zone.)


2005 was a good year for music. I discovered some older artists who were new to me and found I liked plenty of the new kids on the block too. (No, not them!)

I always liked the blues but tended to focus more on blues-influenced rockers like the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, George Thorogood, Wet Willie, the Allman Brothers and Led Zep. I'd listen to some B.B. King and Albert King and Johnny Winter now and then but it wasn't until last year that I spent time going to the source. This year I discovered Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Bobby Blue Bland and a host of others.

The simplicity and emotion of the blues speaks to me. It's just pure storytelling, set to music.

As for the current crop of folks, I like a lot of them: Green Day, Coldplay, The Killers, KT Tunstall, 3 Doors Down, Martha Wainwright, Low Millions and a bunch more I forget.

Song of the year is a tough call. Leading contenders are The Arcade Fire's Rebellion (Lies), KT Tunstall's Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, Green Day's Holiday and the Goo Goo Dolls' Better Days.

But (fusses with envelope) the winner is:

The Killers' All These Things That I Have Done!

This is a multi-layered song that risks a lot - it plays fast and loose with traditional structure while somehow maintaining a toe-tapping (okay, headbanging) beat. It's hynoptic but not in the way trance music is. It's simply a terrific song by a band that I think has a good shot of become one of the all time greats.

Up and coming band: The Arcade Fire (and not because they're Canucks). These folks are good.


A shortish list because I didn't read tons this year.

I enjoyed Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Robin Hobb's Fool's Fate was a satisfying conclusion to her Tawny Man trilogy. Victoria Strauss' The Burning Land was excellent - truly engrossing. It was runner up to my favourite book this year...(drum roll)....

Reading Dan Simmons' Ilium was a pure pleasure. It's a wild blend of history, fantasy and SF that defies a capsule description. You'll just have to pick it up if you like an entertaining writer whose talent is as boundless as his imagination. (And who doesn't?)

Other Stuff

I didn't see a single movie in 2005. Nope, not a one. Not in the theatre. Not on tv. Not via a rental.

HAY! I never claimed to be normal. Oh wait. Yes I have. Often.

Okay. I was fibbing.

I don't watch much tv either, except for Six Feet Under (season #4 up here now), Monk and the Trailer Park Boys.

The latter is hands-down the funniest, most bent, most offensive show I've ever seen. It was bumped from American cable tv. A bit too raw for their tastes I guess. Although there's no nudity or sexual content (beyond innuendo), there is drug (pot) use and a distinct disdain for most societal mores. If it doesn't play where you live, and a near constant stream of expletives isn't going to give you the vapours, try renting a few episodes. They're on DVD now.

There's my cultural highlights of 2005. I'd love to hear about a few of yours.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Here's to Mario and Debbie

For the first time in eons (okay, since the early-ish 90s) I went to a New Year's Eve party.

There were about a dozen of us in the host's cozy, wood-stove-heated sun room he'd built himself.

During the course of the evening we feasted on lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp, bbq-d steak, salad and a host of hors d'ouevres. There were beverages of course. Since I am the Poster Child of moderation I stuck to Scotch, Irish Mist and Courvoisier. I may possibly have had a sip or three of some other stuff as it made the rounds. Oh yeah, there were those Jello vodka shooter thingys too. They were good.

It was a wonderful evening chockfull of fine food shared with fine people.

Thanks Mario. Thanks Debbie. I hope we can do it again next year.

Pretty sure I'll have recovered by then.