Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Honeymoon in Quebec (part ii)

The next day in Quebec city was our exploration day. We had planned to just walk around and see what we could see, which was perfect for my obsessive plaque reading, and for Jenn to scout out the best places to eat.

We decided what better place to aim for than the old town, and so we wandered around the upper town for one of two gates that led down there. In the process we discovered the final resting place of Samuel de Champlain (under a souvenir shop fittingly called Souvenirs Champlain) to the left of this photo. They had build atop an old church, and recently excavated the footings.

We crossed the upper town, past the Postcard famous Chateau Frontenac (a.k.a. the most photographed hotel in the world), and took some pictures so we didn't seem left out. In fact, I can see why it's photographed so much, because wherever you take a picture in the city, that damn hotel is in the background. I looked at the photos later, and in quite a number of them, like an insecure teenager at a family picnic, there it was, fingers in a vee above our heads.

We finally found a park full of cannon, and from there the gate and narrow street that wound down to the old city.

Had we been lazy, we also could have taken the 'Feniculaire', which is a trolley car, and a steal at $1.50 per passenger. It was still windy and brisk, and we had all day to burn, so we walked.

The first stop was the oldest street in North America, Rue du Petit Champlain, which in the 1600's probably housed families of hearty habitants, and the odd craftsperson or barber or baker, but is now row upon row of souvenir shops. Still, we took our time looking at what they had to offer. Most were closed, except for those selling chocolates or maple syrup. I think we were a couple of weeks ahead of their tourist season.

After that, we wandered to Place Royale, where I photographed the bust of Louis the XIV. We discovered that here stood the very first general store in the new world. Now a park stands in the same spot. By this point, we were getting tired, and cold, and the wind was whipping through our light jackets. It was enough to drive us indoors for more coffee and some supper. 

For supper, we returned to St. Jean street to a Restaurant called the Retro, and at first glance we weren't impressed. It was empty, and there didn't seem to be a focus on service. When we sat the server explained to us that they were not open yet, but they had let us in out of the cold anyway. 
The steak, and we both had different steaks, was cooked perfectly, and served with vegetables, and a type of warm coleslaw, with a cream sauce on the side. Brilliant. 

It was the perfect way to round out a cold, and tiring day.

The next day, after our gift basket and coffee, we trudged up to the Citadel to see that and the Plains of Abraham. The citadel was built in the 1820's by the British, nearly fifty years after British General James Wolfe defeated the French Marquis de Montcalme for control of the new world, and was seamlessly integrated into the existing French defenses. Walking up there the only indication that there was a fort was the flags that flew above the earthworks. Everything else is under the ground level until you are upon it. Finding the entrance is near impossible without a map. We walked all the way around the ramparts, admiring their techniques in 'field of fire' and egress, and how it would be near impossible to get inside. Winston Churchill once aptly called it the 'Gibraltar of the North'.

Hey, look! Chateau Frontenac again. Get out of here, you!

Our tour through the Citadel brought us up onto the highest natural point in Quebec, and right into the wind and rain we had been hiding from the day previous. It was a damp day, but it brought us in contact with many other brave early-season tourists. An English man who explained some of the history of the second World War to us, as we went through the museum of the 22ieme Regiment, the Van-Doos. A couple from Kitchener, and another couple from New York State, who were very nice. We were united by our good-natured determination to see something touristy, dammit, and a little weather would not hold us back.

What was more impressive was driving around Rue de Champlain at the base of the cliffs under the Plains of Abraham. I looked up at the nearly 200 ft tall rock, and imagined the 4500 British soldiers who scaled the heights to assault the city. I remember thinking that they must have found an easy way up, a path or existing road, so when we got into the Plains visitor centre, I asked. No, she said, they were supposed to climb up a small riverbed cut into the rock, but instead drifted off course, and so, carrying their packs, guns, and supplies, they scaled near vertical for 175 ft. Holey crap.

All I can say is those British were hearty stock.

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honeymoon in Quebec (part i)

By the time we actually got away from the wedding, it was after four in the afternoon. We had planned on taking as much time as we liked with family and friends, and now that timeline was going to get us in at 10pm. Not a problem. The roads were clear all the way to Montreal. We had blown through the first four hours, where I happily announced we were passing the farthest east I'd ever been (I'm such a nerd).

From here it was all unknown territory, and we were excited. As we left the island of Montreal, we came upon a surreal Blade Runner type landscape, the refineries and fuel storage tanks on the east island, complete with the fire burning on the top of a long stack, bathing everything in an orange glow. A light snow was beginning to fall, and it gave an otherworld quality to the landscape, all warm yellows and reds, and oranges. It felt like a great adventure. It's been so long since I traveled.

We figured on making good time from there. The towns in the St. Lawrence valley were mainly bypassed by the highway, and it seemed to be smooth sailing without much in our way to Quebec city.

We were wrong. Just outside Montreal the snow got heavier. Jenn went for a smoke outside a gas station, and the wind whipped her as the snow turned from rain to slush to snow again. The attendant (if my newly dusted off French was accurate) at the gas station said it would be an hour and a half drive. 11:30pm, not bad for an estimate of 10pm.

The roads worsened, and worsened, and drivers slowed right down. At one point, with the four wheel drive, and traveling at 40Km/h we were passed at high speed by a cube van, who fifteen minutes later was in the ditch. Cars were in the ditches with regularity now, and coming into Trois Rivieres, we needed a break. We accidentally got turned around with snowed over roadsigns, and took the bridge to the south shore, having to wind our way through inches of snow to the onramp for the bridge the other way, and the nice people in the Tim Horton's in Trois Rivieres helped us back on the 40. I was tired.

Another stretch of sleepy, paranoid highway, and we rolled into Quebec city about 3am. There was not much for us but bed, and luckily it was nice and quiet. I slept like a rock.

In the morning we surveyed the hotel, the Hotel de Vieux Quebec on St. Jean street.

The Continental breakfast that hung on a basket on the door in the morning seemed to show off how these types of thing should be done. It was two very fresh croissants (oh, how I love and miss real french pastry), two very fresh chocolate croissants, two little pots of jam, two ripe pears, two yogourt cups, and two orange juice. Jenn wasn't up yet when I started into the pastry and I wanted to eat the whole thing myself.

Internet, sitting area, gorgeous bathroom, and downstairs was a common room with couches, computers, a gas fireplace, and all the wooden beam and limestone charm you'd expect from a nearly 400 year old city. 

We spent the first day walking around and looking at things. I swear, nobody does coffee like they do in Quebec, and the same goes for the pastries. We ate each morning in a little patisserie in the same building as the St. Patrick's pub. The picture is overexposed, but it would be there on the left. In the back was a fireplace built in 1720, and row upon row of fresh melt-in-your-mouth pastry. I came away with the impression that I could live there for the rest of my days.

We didn't catch much of the night life, but there were really only a few reasons we were there, none of which entailed drinking our faces off or dancing. We wanted to have good food, historical things to learn, and spend time together. Quebec was perfect for all three.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Please indulge me a long, romantic post.

Last weekend, Jennifer and I tied the knot in typical Sprung chaotic style. Kids running, people unable to make it, others showing up last minute, few concrete plans...

It was supposed to be a surprise, in as much as a six year relationship, producing two children and raising a third, can be blessed and made official in any way with an element of surprise, but even in that respect we failed. The plan was to have everyone (20 or so people) lured into a surprise birthday party for my fiancee, Jennifer, as she turns 35 this week. We would then turn the tables on the guests, expecting to surprise Jennifer, by showing up dressed as bride and groom with the officiant.

As an aside, our intent was not to make anyone uncomfortable, but to have a nice, relaxed and happy calm wedding. We believed we were innoculated from the drama that is related to weddings by all those 'Say Yes to the Dress' and 'Rich bride Poor bride' shows. You know, where the princess and pretty boy get the perfectly monogrammed napkins, the funny thousand dollar cake and Luis Vuitton dress with $3000 in centre pieces, matching chocolate fountain, and juggling bartenders, mimes, and all that. This was good people, good food, and a ceremony that got back to the basics that my grandparents knew, and their parents, where people celebrated the marriage, not the wedding

We didn't even have a cake.

Instead, we chose our very favorite Italian Restaurant, Paulo's, in Belleville, and they were fantastic with us, reserving a private room upstairs at no charge, and making it intimate, even for the number of people we had. It was set up weeks in advance. All we had to do was make sure everyone showed, and keep it a secret. Right? No problem.

The first crack in the surprise plan was when my Mom happened to be watching the kids at our house while Jennifer and I were at a conference in Oakville. Paulo's called to confirm the room and the number of guests, and confirmed that it was a wedding party. My Mom, thinking still it was a surprise birthday, confronted me, and figured it out. In equally bizarre and unforseeable ways, one by one, it was blown for others. Friends unable to make it to a birthday, nephews wanting to bring friends, having to get Jennifer's Grandmother's ring. My Mom blew it for others, too, by setting the corsage and bouquet in the middle of the room when she was supposed to keep it quiet. On the day of, I think out of 22 people there were four who did not know.

Still, there were equally bizarre events that allowed people to be there, and so we are thankful that chance intervened. For better or worse as they say.

We gathered upstairs, and the kids were already running, so we shoo'ed them into the room and got it rolling by coming in dressed up. There were some shocked faces, but many more who gasped: "I KNEW it!!!"

The ceremony was brief, and we had written the whole text of it ourselves, so it was very personal and real, and many cried. For one, Jennifer's Grandfather, who had put the same ring on his wife Lily's hand 62 years earlier, was in tears. We are not religious people, but he also added a wonderful touch when the officiant (Larry Hurley, who was great!) asked "Do you bless this marriage?" and he replied "I do, and God does too." When Larry asked everyone's blessing, in unison they replied: 'Yes, we do', and not one second later our five year old burst out with a hearty "Yes!!!!!!" It was very cute.

Through the ceremony, Jennifer looked to be close to tears the whole time. Especially when Daisy, our three year old, ran up and was about to cry. It was better than we anticipated.

Then, the food. Paulo's did an excellent job, and our dedicated server, Cathy, was brilliant, a professional and a warm soul, who appreciated what we were trying to do. Not only did she take care of the guests, but she had an eye on the kids as well. Not a glass went unfilled, or a request unanswered. I commend her cool under pressure, as my family was loud, and raucous, having clean fun. Just my kids alone are a handful, and she was great.

Back at home, getting the kids settled in with my Mom for the long three days without Daddy and Mommy. I spoke with my brother, who was my best man, and for whose wedding I stood in as best man nearly 16 years ago. I got to bring down an old picture that we have on our bookshelf of Jennifer's Grampa Ray, and Gramma Lily, from their wedding day 62 years ago. They look absolutely radiant, happy and a little scared, which was how I felt when I first held Jennifer's hand six years ago. I knew that feeling, and now, full circle, the same ring that is in that photo, on Lily's hand, is on Jennifer's. I can only hope that our marriage is blessed with as much love as theirs was, and the rings perhaps rub off a measure of the happiness they had.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Digital Crossroads

I am at a point in my life where I am thinking about my gear.

Not that gear ... my camera and lenses!!!

The switch to digital has been an ordeal since the beginning. After buying a new instant digital camera ten years ago, I packed up the old Minolta XG-1 that had served me for many, many difficult years (treeplanting, travel across the country many times, different jobs) and after twenty years still worked very well. It was out of convenience that I switched, and out of laziness, I admit, and at first the quality of pics didn't matter.

When my nephew expressed an interest in becoming a photographer, at 15 years old, I decided (with great pains) to give the old Minolta to him for a Christmas present. I loaded it with a roll of 200, dropped it into a camera bag, added a whole pile of film and other accessories, and gave it to him. I figured I could start him on the way to learning what it really is to manually take pictures. That way, the digitals, the complex ones that are now the bread-and-butter of professional photographers, would be a piece of cake for him.

Two weeks later I found out that he broke it.

I was devastated. I offered to trade it back for a gift of equal value, or to get it to a camera repair shop, but I think to this day it is sitting in a closet somewhere. *sigh* Months later, when I found a Minolta X-370 in Value Village for $14, I had to buy it. Since then, with some adjustments and cleanings, I have been taking a huge pile of pictures and posting them on flickr and Panoramio.

Photos on Panoramio
Photos on Flickr

The problem is not in the camera now, it's in the developing. I knew a couple of years ago that the writing was on the wall for physical film. It came when Kodak shut down their main film production facility just south of the border. Since then, we've lost our Japan Camera Center out of the local mall, and Blacks is getting out of the physical film processing as well. Wal-Mart, whom I'm loathe to support, still does, but only in colour. I've stopped using black and white film now, because there is now nowhere to take it. Will it be a thing of the past? Who knows. I'm looking for a good digital now, with interchangeable lenses, but it's just not the same.

I think I see a dark room in my future....

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Growing pains.

My eldest son had a really difficult week this week, and I feel bad that we can't do more for him.

He will be nine in June, and goes back and forth between myself and my ex-wife. He's in that stage where adult concepts are just starting to make sense to him, even if he doesn't know what to do with them, and he's unfortunately learning how t deal with many of those things through my ex-wife.

I joke with some of my co-workers that I learned my negotiating techniques from her. She is, to be short and not bore the poor reader, inconsistent, and illogical. I believe she's messed in the head, but for the sake of objectivity I will keep my comments to myself.

Poor Cole was supposed to go with his mother and her boyfriend to Niagara last year, and Florida, and both trips were cancelled. The boyfriend's mother fell ill, and is right now fighting for her life. So they cancelled the trips. It was explained, and nothing came of it. However, three weeks ago, she up and changed the schedule with me, and gave me a couple of extra weeks with him, without much explanation, so she could go to Florida. I take whatever time I can get with him, and assume she explained it on her side.

It turns out Cole wasn't aware it had changed, and in his planner that he takes with him, none of the changes were made. So he believed that he was still going back to her house, and had a rough time with it, and when we talked about it, was furious, especially when he found out she and her boyfriend were in Florida.

She took off, and left us to sort out the mess. We hadn't known it was a problem until he began peeing himself, failing tests at school, and mouthing back. How else is an eight year old to deal with emotions he doesn't know, and can't express. He is just now starting to learn about consistency, and about responsibility, being a big brother, and being honest about things.

This is where I got angry about things. So I did what any shared custody parent would do. I dialled her number for him when he wanted to tell her how he felt.

I was so proud of him, not because he gave her shit, because he didn't. He was afraid. No, I was proud of him because he told her how angry he is, and how sad he is, and he didn't accept her excuses. I know it's not going to change anything, but I was very proud of him. He had a rotten week, and probably for the first time ever we're glad he went back to her house. He just took one painful step toward understanding what it is to be older, and handled it with glitches, tears, and frustration, but handled it nonetheless. Maybe I'm naive in thinking he could come back and everything would be better, but at least now he'll be able to get the excuse from her mouth directly.

Good luck Coley, as much as growing up is no fun, growing up unscarred with a borderline mother can be near impossible.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alliance Good. Coalition Bad. Ugh.

I don't know what's worse, the shenanigans of this Harper Government, or the attitude of the supporters.

I am not surprized when the Conservatives try for a majority. With a stacked Senate, they can dismantle abortion rights, and outlaw gay marriage, and to do this under the guise of stewardship of the economy. They don't have much to tout, since blowing a billions of dollars surplus, creating a defecit by overspending and handing the money to buddies is nowhere near good stewardship. It isn't surprising because it's a pattern followed before, and there will be a turnaround again, and they will soon (if not this election, then next) hand the reigns to someone else to clean up the mess. Then they will blame the tightening of budgets and fiscal mess on their successor. Mulroney did it. Eves and Harris did it in Ontario. It's failed Reaganomics 101. Conservatives have shown they can't be successful for more than six years or so in office because they can't keep the economy healthy that long.

This does not bother me. What bothers me is the 'do or die' attitude of their supporters. Theirs are a certain type of personality, or certain types combined. At risk of offending, I will not single out. There are many older people who support the Conservatives because they always have, and they don't look beneath the veneer to see that this is nowhere near the Conservative party they and their parents supported. I don't want to alienate them, because I know so many, and at the very worst, their hearts are in the right place.

The ones I am afraid of are the ones who are angry and crave that 'protest vote', people who want to be vindicated by their vote, that want their vote is more than just a vote, a statement or a message they want to send to their political parties. They don't just want to be the one in thirty-six million who gets lost in the system of ridings and one vote per person. They think 'take this! Look, I'm voting because I'm mad about the sponsorship scandal!' One, reading all the anti-Harper arguments, wrote simply: "Your anti-Harper vitriol and bias will make victory all the sweeter."

So it's not about the issues, it's about winning. These are the same fifteen percent of the population who vote based on who they think will win, while ignoring the issues. They right now support a party held in contempt of parliament, with a five-time convicted fraudster allowed to advise the PM at the same time as kicking out supporters at a rally for having a picture on their Facebook!

We should all be scared in any democracy about this polarization at all cost, because there is no way to sway these people. They are like the brown shirt supporters of Hitler in the early 1930s. There is no concise argument for them to be won over. For them, it is Conservative or bust, because they've based the last decades of their political rants on several key points that are probably long dead, and they were so vitriolic they believe they'd look like an idiot recanting.

They could not be more wrong. Politics is not static. It changes. It reminds me of the Unionist who talks about the Union gains of the early part of the century under Conservative governments as a justification of voting for them now. It does nothing to add to the debate, and nothing to better the system. It merely adds gum to the system and disallows movement, much like the two party system down south has entrenched itself. The Conservatives in office now could not be more anti-union, and it would only take one majority before they would have us on the same road as Wisconsin, Florida, and New Hampshire, with all our essential services cut to the bone.

The attitude is frustrating. Sometimes I think it's just better to leave Alberta their Conservatives/Reform/Alliance Party, and let them become regional like the Bloc. Perhaps it's better to just let them ride high on their oil money while their Province falls apart, and then come crawling back when the boom is over, like they have before, when they need Ontario's service economy to power them back out of the bust. But then, that wouldn't be Canadian of us, would it?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Yotti Fegway

This post is in desperation.

My (just turned) three year old girl, Daisy, has a language all to her own. We've been pretty good about decoding her speech so far, but now she has us stumped.

Keep in mind, this is not a calm, docile little girl in pig tails, keeping to her own in the corner. When she locked my wife, Jenn, out last week, Jenn had to use the doorbell to get the older brother's attention to come unlock the door. Daisy, naked, jumped up and down in the front hall yelling "Make the Ding-Dong, Mommy! Make the Ding-Dong!"

There is never a dull moment.

We have a Boba Fett mask also that the kids wear around, and she first called it Boo Boo Fett, which has caught on. Now there's even a Lego Boo Boo Fett on the computer.

She came down from her room a few weeks ago complaining about her 'hooter' making noise and getting warm and keeping her awake. We figured that one out when she started talking about her big brother's 'hooter', and, relieved, decoded that she was actually talking about the heater.

Even after we corrected her, she still calls it that.

That brings me to my question: What in hell is a Yotti Fegway?

She's been saying it for weeks, and here are the clues. It is something she wants us to bring to her at night, and sometimes in the morning (so it's portable, I deduced), and it is downstairs, and she can't point directly at it, no matter what room we're in (which she can do with some other things...)

Any input is welcome. For now, we'll just keep saying "We're looking for it baby," and hope she doesn't catch on.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Kiss my Grits

This will be short. (maybe not)

Talking about the next election, I am gobsmacked that there are Union members who want to vote for Harper because they 'don't like' McGuinty's policies, or they don't like how Ignatieff spent some of his time in the states. They seem willing to throw the dice on a Conservative majority.

This is playing with fire with the right's unstated aims of negating collective bargaining, rolling back Union rights, and capping memberships, just as happened in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and elsewhere in the states.

In fact, it's not just within Unionists. There's all sorts of confusion about the choices, and it has left voters unable to recount even the simplest of campaign platforms. Still others want to lodge a 'protest vote' to throw their vote into the abyss of the Rhino party, or the Marijuana party, rather than stand up for the parties that will actually advance their interests. Yet they complain they hate the Conservatives. To that end, without strategic voting they will be governed by the Conservatives ad nauseum.

It's pretty simple.

Every vote for anything other than the Liberals, is a vote for the Conservative government.

How does that work? The Conservatives, riding at 42% in the polls, can't get a majority unless they woo another 9% from the other parties. The other parties, Liberals, NDP, and Greens, hold roughly 55% of the vote. The percent isn't really important at this point for the argument.

What's important here is that, ruling out a coalition, to defeat the Conservatives one other party has to have 43% of the vote. No matter how passionately we cast our ballots, if the left-center can't woo Conservatives into the fold, which is unlikely, and can't form a coalition, we will always be the bridesmaids.

Me, I don't even really care which left party it is. Let's just get it together!

Since when did the left become so fragmented? We have three parties representing our interests making up over 50% of the vote, and no chance of running the country!

What is funny is that when the Reform party split the right, there was no hope of them ever getting in, and it also dragged the Conservatives down with them. Stephen Harper himself in his 'unite the right' campaign toyed with a coalition of the right to defeat the then-unstoppable Liberals. It's no wonder he has to demonize the word 'Coalition'. It's about the only way he'll be defeated.

To this end, we have two options. Unite the left. (hopefully Liberals with a newly woo-ed Jack Layton), or fragment the right. In uniting the left, we have to stop thinking of political parties as choices, and start looking at them as venues for bringing up our own ideas. Do we get more done with the Liberals in power, and the ability to influence the process by our rightful freedom of expression, or the Conservatives? Because lets face it, unless there is a HUGE groundswell change, the NDP are never going to get in. They are tied to the Liberals in some kind of bizarre three legged race while the lean, mean, and united Conservatives keep lapping them, stopping every once in a while to throw a banana peel.

Me, I'm going to start talking people on the right into forming another Reform party. That way we can again trust the 60-40 left right split to maintain our social justice system, our health care system, while at the same time making progress on climate change and education, and funding for families.

If nothing changes, then that 40 is just going to keep telling the other 60 what's good for them, while cutting corporate taxes, and screwing the middle class.

I know where my vote is going.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It's not easy being Sheen

Right now, as I write this, Charlie is taking to the stage in Chicago for another installment of the torpedo of truth. I can predict what will happen (damn the torpedoes ... I've been wrong before!) I think he's going to tank one, maybe two more shows, and then the rest will be unexpectedly refunded and canceled, citing technical difficulties, or an illness, or something.

I've done theatre. There is only so much you can do with poor material. It is even harder if the material is your own.

I know this because I've been there in a one man show for an hour and ten minutes,  squirming before an audience, trying to salvage it, and without the video or guest acts. In 1997 at the Montreal Fringe I had such a bad show once that I forgot a line, didn't know where I was supposed to be in the blocking, and Paul, a brilliant fellow playwright and friend, called out the line from the back to save me. The rest of the show I was going through the motions. I remember sitting on a stool after the show, crying, with four more nights left, thinking about how I had just bilked these poor people out of their $7. I felt like chasing them all down to give it back. And how the hell was I going to get up there the next night?

The next few shows got better, and on closing night I kicked ass. The audience called me out for an ovation. It was the only one I ever got as an actor, and from then on I decided to write novels. I figured it couldn't get any better than that. Later, looking over the script to clean it up for a production with (thankfully) another actor, I couldn't believe I went up there with such a flimsy story.

I doubt Charlie has the same thoughts.

One thing that seems pretty muted in the media, and indeed in the tweets and rants against him, is that this could well be mental illness. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I have dealt with others with mental illness, and some illnesses can't be overcome or medicated. My experience with a partner with borderline personality disorder was so traumatic that for years I looked for the signs in everyone.

In Rome, with the lead they used to process their sweet wines, and with all the dipsomaniac tendencies of Caligula and Tiberius among many many others, they too had their own problems with powerful people going mad. I can't read their history without wondering why these crazy tyrants stayed in power so long. It is personal relationships make it make sense. They had their rational supporters who tried to help, and whose reputations were pinned on success.

It is much like the junkie who keeps 'borrowing' stuff from your apartment. At some point you have to cut all ties and stop them from dragging you down. It's hard not to hate them for what they've done.With people in power, or even just those with money, there's a tendency not to criticise them from within the circle.

Poor Charlie (yes, I actually wrote that), surrounded by people who say that things are fine, that he's a winner, and that the money will keep flowing, thinks the world doesn't understand him. He can only reject the outside criticism for so long. Stadiums of people are telling him otherwise. It is one thing to keep millions titillated on twitter, but entirely another to entertain five thousand of them for ninety odd minutes in person.

The question is, when is the media going to stop feeding into all this crap so he can get some help ... or does he have to hit rock bottom first? He may be winning with everyone's money right now, but those incomes are quickly drying up. Is he going to get help? Does anyone in the circle want to challenge the Warlock?

Family guy.

There are times when I get resentful of my family.

It happens. Take any red blooded, down to earth guy who used to do things for himself, who used to have freedom, and toss him into a suburban home with a mortgage and three children and an exhausted wife, and a job that is stressful and difficult, and it happens.

Life for me sometimes feels like work, even after work, and next morning back to another day of work, until weekend of cleaning kitchens and helping with laundry. Then there's diapers and making meals, and family coming over and then back to another Monday morning.

It's easy to look off wistfully to a decade ago when I used to fish for smiles from cute girls in Montreal coffee shops while writing plays.

I am not complaining. The grass is always greener, right? When I look back I have to fight the tendency to see only the good things.

Back then even though I was doing theater and had lots of time to write and catch movies and go to bars, I couldn't because I was chronically broke. Friends were always scarce because they were busy doing their subsistence jobs also. While acting and writing, I had to clean houses for a living, which was demeaning. I planted trees each summer in Northern Alberta, so mostly I didn't get to enjoy the city in summer when it was most vibrant and exciting.

This is all, in some cosmic sense, okay. Sure, sometimes I have to use a diaper wipe to clean red permanent marker off the home row on the keyboard (as I do now between paragraphs with red fingertips), and sometimes find myself grumbling under my breath, but this is chaos at its best. This is chaos for a reason.

In between the diaper changes and stopping them from running with sharp objects and time-outs, my boys and I cuddled, and we crawled around the living room playing horsey with my girl. I got to watch Owen get his crap in the toilet, and that was a triumph not because it reminded me of all the soiled Darth Maul underpants that brought us to this point, but because he was so disappointed that he couldn't do it before. The look on his face this morning ... the joy, the high-five he gave me, the little five year old grin knowing that he did it (he did it!!!!) and I know, chaos and all, that is where I am meant to be. That is what I live for.

And I would not trade one of those five year old grins for thousands of random smiles from cute strangers.

Friday, April 01, 2011

We never leave ourselves behind.

I have always been gullible.

I am the first to admit that if you were to tell me something, my skepticism needs to be woken, grab a coffee, and read the paper before kicking in. As a kid, it was in a 'look over there steal the cake' kind of way. But lately is has developed into the latest 'Justin Bieber is gay' modern gullibility for a modern man. I think I have just always been open to listen, which is not a bad thing, but April 1st is the day for taking advantage of that.

This year, on this day, I didn't go in to work. It's my first day off in ten, and much deserved, and being that after coffee I saw that it was April fools, I was ready this year. My father has always been a great practical joker, and called to say that he and Mom were selling the house. Friends in Korea announced they were pregnant. Another friend said that she rolled up the rim to win a TV (I call it roll up the rim to please play again). Then Starbucks apparently developed hand delivered coffee by GPS and smartphone order (hey, people laughed at flying a hundred years ago!!)

I had to work at it, but I am proud to say I did not get fooled this year. At least, not on the actual April fool's day. I was pre-fooled. I'll explain.

Last weekend I attended a convention for my work as a Business Representative in the Union. Usually, I am chair of our monthly meetings, and meet with companies to negotiate agreements, I give talks on Pensions, and Benefits to the members, and never choke before a crowd.

This year, the convention got pretty heated in debate. In front of three hundred odd souls, I felt it was my time to stand up and say something. I took to the microphone, had the floor, and proceeded to look at the Business Manager, and froze. I said two words and completely choked, physically, from the throat. A few seconds of sheer terror later, and having forgotten what I was going to say, I stuttered something that had to do with the motion that had already been voted on (which was technically out of order), and then cowered back to my seat.

As a Union official, it was not an example I wanted to make in front of the membership, and may even yet have political dimensions, but I don't worry about that now.

I instead think of how it reminded me of when I was a kid, growing up in a small town and shy as all hell, picked on most of my childhood. It was for this reason I got involved in Unions in the first place. My choking reminded me of those days of having to do speeches in school, once a year, and freezing every time, sweating, heart banging in my chest, and vision crowding, just to stammer out something about dinosaurs or rockets and get the hell back to my seat where I belonged. In high school I was just coming to learn that I had a voice, if only it would work properly, when my family moved to Toronto, and I was thrown into the big wide world. It was theater that finally broke my fear of crowds, and I was relieved to be able to stand and speak my mind.

All this is to say that just like my gullibility, much as I had feared, my tendency to choke before crowds never left. I had only learned to push that twelve year old boy so far down under the layers of life lessons, that he had no chance of breaking out.

Or so I thought until that convention.

I've been wondering since how I could have done it differently, but really, it all doesn't matter in the long run. It's done. Life is too short to dwell on our mistakes, and everyone has them.

I don't feel like a fool any more about the convention. These things may not ever leave us, but they still have a way of receding into the past, and it's small potatoes compared to what could have happened. If I work on that twelve year old, I'm sure he'll go back where he came from, but not until after I thank him for the small victories. Without these reminders, I'd never try to change.

And a small victory is that, at least today, I didn't fall for anything.

Then again, the day's not over yet.