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Clockwork Philosophy

A Crisis of (Creative) Faith

My dear and long suffering reader, recently I’ve been experiencing something akin to a “crisis of faith.”

As you may or may not have noticed, the world-wide-inter-web-net of late has been largely lacking in my singular form of linguistic legerdemain. While I’ve wanted to write prodigiously, I’ve been experiencing a real sense of “stuckness” when it comes to getting the ideas to flow.

It’s certainly not fear that stays my hand. Any trepidation to inflict my verba enim on an otherwise innocent and unsuspecting public has long since been disregarded. I honestly believe that the cause of this impasse is the belief that my efforts will bring no value to those unlucky enough to have been intellectually assaulted by my senseless scribbles.

As I said, a crisis of faith.

You see kids, for me, “value” is far more than a buzzword adored by the marketing intelligentsia, Saint Don of Draper and Our Lady of Perpetual Brand Awareness. It’s the reason I do what I do.

The interwebz are replete with exemplars of vacuous drivel, pseudo-intellectual rubbish, long on loquaciousness but short on substance.

Note: It’s not lost on me that some may believe that my work falls into just such a category. Just so. I defer to your worldly judgement on such matters while simultaneously remaining hopeful that such a reality be false. One can dream.

I’ve always attempted to infuse as much value as I possibly can into my work. My language may seem odd, esoteric and even frustratingly impenetrable at times, but I assure you that my point is not to confuse or to annoy. The effusiveness of my language comes from a deep love and – if I may employ a horribly overused term – passion for words.

Language is like a tapestry, and I consider it a crime to not avail oneself of every thread in that tapestry. It may ask a little more of the reader, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. For too long we’ve been fed a diet of vacuous, dumbed down phraseology and irrelevant logorrhea.

To better illustrate my point, allow me to quote from an past essay of mine:

“And therein lies the difference, my dear and long suffering reader, between the way I write and the empty and roundabout twaddle we’re forced to endure on a daily basis: My words, while occasionally obscure, actually mean something. Quite often the vacuous effluvia spewed by politicians or corporate drones is designed to distract or deceive the audience. It’s most often used to make the speaker appear more intelligent, or to “answer” a question without actually answering it.

In my case, some may believe that I use words such as “effluvia” to impress my readers, but I assure you that is not the case. As I’ve already stated, I love words and I believe we do ourselves disservice when we limit our usage to such a small subset, the venerable Strunk and White be damned.

As a marketing copywriter, I often struggle with keeping things “simple” in the interests of efficiency. Indeed, the advertising industry relies on something called the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level to ensure that the language being used is accessible to the largest audience possible. Ideally, the reading level of most marketing materials should score between 80-90 on the measurement scale, which corresponds to a Grade 6 reading level. The lower the score, the more difficult a piece of writing is to read.

In case you’re wondering – and being creatures of curiosity and perspicacity you most assuredly are – this essay scored 51.3 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale, or the equivalent of a Grade 11 reading level.

I’d like to think that readers like yourself, when encountering an unusual word, will be inspired to look it up and thereby educate yourselves, as I often do. I believe that people are much more intelligent than they are given credit for, and that much of the problem with people not wanting to read online is in fact a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Good lord on a tin bicycle I must have been in quite a mood when I wrote that. Well, sententious and preposterously self-important as it may be, the point stands.

What was my point? I’ve strayed somewhat from the gravimen of my text it seems. Ah well, one doesn’t necessarily need a destination to enjoy a journey and all that. However, your time is valuable and I’ve used up enough of it. Let us return to our purpose.

In much the same way that I once wrote an 800-word essay on the reasons I was unable to write an 800-word essay, this lovely ramble through the wilderness of language is a way to try and break through the self-imposed creative block that had resulted in my “crisis of faith.”

Self-imposed? Oh yes dear reader, invariably such barriers are inflicted by one’s own beliefs, not by outside forces. We look outside ourselves for validation and praise to try and bolster our spirits, when in reality the solution can only be found within.

This essay is my way of trying to push past my creative block, of exposing my concerns about providing value to the harsh light of day and allowing it to wither away. Limiting beliefs thrive in the dark after all.

Crisis averted? One can dream dear reader. One can dream.

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Essays

Counting the Cost

Dear reader, recently I was engaging in one of my guilty pleasures – namely watching episodes of The Graham Norton Show, a talk show from the UK, or as they would call it, a “chat show.”

I enjoy Norton’s program because unlike North American talk shows, he brings out all his guests at once on the couch. His manner is fun and playful, and lacks much of the structure you see in other talk shows.

The episode in question (I’m not sure when it originally aired) featured actress Christina Ricci, singer Ed Sheeran and actor Matthew McConaghey. During their chat, Sheeran made a comment whose profundity left me quite floored.

He had been discussing his recent “sabbatical,” where he took a year away from social media (he even got rid of his phone) and all other commitments to focus on himself. As he put it, “I realized one day that I had been to all these different places all over the world, but all I could do was describe to you was the airport, the venue and the dressing room. I saw none of it.”

That alone was a powerful statement on the exigencies of being a performing artist. The life seems glamourous and full of adventure, but the glitz often hides the hard work and loneliness such a career path demands.

It was what he said next that made me pause – literally, I had to pause the playback and really ponder his words:

“I had just come off a five year tour and realized that I had everything to show for it professionally… but nothing to show for it personally.”

That is, as the cool kids would say, a “mic drop.”

While it’s likely that very few of us have come off a five year whirlwind tour of the world, performing our art to countless adoring fans, I’d be willing to wager than many reading these words have experienced the feeling of being professionally fulfilled, but personally empty.

Western society is so hyper-focused on professional success, almost at the cost of all else, it’s not surprising that recently, the World Health Organization has called it a legitimate diagnosis. The WHO classifies burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

So where has it come from, this “chronic workplace stress?” Mainly it comes from the idea we have internalized that we have to be working constantly. Productivity has been raised to something akin to a religion, and the media has been quick to get behind this ongoing trend, reinforcing it in a million different ways.

The underlying narrative is that the most successful (and therefore valuable) of us are always busy and “on the go,” while simultaneously reinforcing the converse idea that those not “always on the go” are somehow lazy or unworthy of success.

It’s easy to see how all of this plays into marketing. In order to be that productive you’re going to need tools right? Phones, GPS units and hyper-connected whiz-bangery of all types.

So we work harder and longer, pleasing the productivity gods to no end. The number-crunchers and bean-counters gaze lovingly at their spreadsheets and continue dreaming up endless ways to squeeze more work out of us.

Ed Sheeran’s seemingly offhand statement is, I think, a clarion call to us all. Not to stop working entirely, but perhaps simply to reevaluate WHY we’re working so hard. And maybe to pursue work that fulfills us both professionally AND personally.

Sadly, there’s no simple way of going about that. There’s no metric, no app for it, nor does it fit on a spreadsheet. It’s a process that must be sought out organically, through experience and listening to our innermost desires.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with working hard and accomplishing great things. But what value does success have if it costs us everything that makes us feel alive?

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Essays

The True North, Flawed and Free

My dear and long suffering reader, July 1 is a special day for many people around the world. In Singapore for example today is Armed Forces Day. Pakistan marks this day as Children’s Day. The country of Burundi celebrates its independence on July 1. In Australia and New Zealand, today marks international Tartan Day, which makes for a colourful holiday to be sure. And of course, we must not forget that July 1 is also Creative Ice Cream Flavours Day, so now’s the time to break out that Zucchini Almond Ripple recipe you’ve been dying to try.

As I myself hail from Canadia-Land, today is also the day when we mark the birthday of this big glorious mess we call home. At 152 years of age, (though truthfully, she doesn’t look a day over 110) this country of mine is as beautiful as ever, from the 49th parallel to the arctic circle, from the Left Coast to the Far East.

You may be forgiven dear reader, for assuming that the remainder of this missive will be a jingoistic cavalcade of everything that makes Canadia-Land the Greatest Country on Earth. Indeed, there is much to be proud of, and I will outline a few of the more interesting ones in a moment. However, I think it’s important to avoid the glossing-over that often occurs on days such as this. In our noble attempts to focus on the positive, we forget that the negative offers a much-needed contrast (not to mention a solid kick in our collective self-approbation and vaingloriousness). Our achievements deserve to be celebrated to be sure, but our flaws must not be ignored. They require attention as well, especially if we truly wish to address them.

The simple truth is, we as a nation have made many mistakes and will likely make many more. We’ve treated our indigenous brothers and sisters shamefully, and struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with the embarrassment of environmental riches with which we’ve been blessed. Racism, sexism and violence are an issue here as they are in many other places in the world. Any temptation to smugness when watching the antics of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-And-Will-Only-Be-Called-President-When-He-Acts-Like-One-Dammit below the 49th parallel must be tempered with the knowledge that we’re equally capable of such behaviour. Stone throwing, glass houses and all that.

Truthfully, the Big Wide Open has far to go to live up to the utopias envisioned by poets and dreamers. That said, this remains my country and my home, and living here means I play an active role in making it a better place in whatever small way I can. From voting and the way I interact with my natural environment, to the way in which I treat my fellow citizens, my actions (and inactions) are an important part of the tapestry that is this True North Strong and Free(zing).

We can see the most glaring issues, and we know what needs to be done to address them. What remains now, is the willingness to do so.

Allow me now to share some interesting (and true) factoids about this amazing country of mine:

  • Canadians consume more macaroni and cheese than any other nation on Earth. There’s a reason the box says, “Kraft Dinner” here and “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese” everywhere else.
  • Canada was invaded by America in 1775 and in 1812. They failed both times. Just saying.
  • In 2015, a Canadian man tied 100 balloons to a garden chair and flew over the city of Calgary. We’ll get our frequent flier points anyway we can.
  • There is a town in the province of Newfoundland called “Dildo,” and it’s not far from a place called, “Spread Eagle.” Yes, really.
  • Canada has a strategic maple syrup reserve in case of emergencies. Priorities kids, priorities.
  • Canadians invented the electric wheelchair, IMAX, Trivial Pursuit, the baseball glove and the Tilley hat. You’re welcome.
  • There is a municipality in the province of Québec called “Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!” Because reasons.
  • Canadian kids can write to Santa at the North Pole (postal code: H0H 0H0) AND GET A REPLY. Deal with it.
  • Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling. Consider them an apology for Justin Bieber.

My carbon-based compadres, our world seems more tumultuous and divisive than ever before. Whatever this day means for you, whether it’s filled with tartan, independence celebrations or weird ice cream flavours, I hope that it points you to a better future.

In the meantime… Happy 152nd birthday! I am Canadian. Je suis Canadien. Loud and proud!

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Uncategorised

The Art of the Apology

Dear reader, as a proud citizen of Canadia-Land – the True North Strong and Free(zing) – I am of course well aware of the near-ubiquitous cliché surrounding our penchant for seeking absolution.

In other words, our tendency to apologize.

You may believe that it is my extensive training as a Canuck that has prompted this particular scribbling on the art of the apology.

If so, then you’ve stepped right into my trap Mr. Bond, because that is NOT my reason for penning this missive!

No, this essay came to me fully formed (as they so often do) while I was in the shower. I had been ruminating on a specific type of behaviour I’ve noticed of late among my fellow human-flavoured humans.

Note: What follows is purely a personal opinion. You may agree or disagree as you see fit, but the accompanying thoughts are, I believe, well considered and I hope, thoughtful. You be the judge.

Let me paint you a scene. A human – we’ll call him “Dave” because “Cardinal Richelieu” is already taken – says or does something that upsets his partner-human, whom we’ll call “Not-Dave.” Dave becomes aware of his partner’s consternation and immediately attempts to show his contrition by saying, “I’m sorry.”

Nothing unusual in that right? A simple interaction where one human inadvertently causes injury to another, and then apologizes.

But what if I told you that Dave did NOT really apologize?

“Now hang on,” I hear you sputter in that endearingly italicized way you have, “What’s ‘I’m sorry’ then if not an apology?”

Steady on dear reader, all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

You see, “I’m sorry” is not an apology. It’s the BEGINNING of an apology to be sure – a preface if you will – but it’s no more a complete apology than “Will you?” is a marriage proposal. Allow me to explain.

True contrition – the desire to make amends for wrongs committed – requires more than a two-word knee-jerk response.

We’re all familiar with the stereotypical scenario of the guy who realizes his girlfriend is upset with him, and then clumsily apologizes without ever really understanding what it is he’s apologizing for. It’s such a commonplace trope in fiction that it’s almost taken on a life of its own.

However, it isn’t only within the realm of fiction that this habit can be found. I see it all the time among my fellow humans. Indeed, I’m embarrassed to admit that in the past, I’ve fallen prey to it as well.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, the primary issue is one of sincerity. If you apologize for something without understanding what you’re apologizing for, can that be labelled as anything other than disingenuous? It becomes a meaningless gesture, a habitual stimulus-response that does nothing to assuage your partner’s injured feelings, much less offer any hope of rebuilding trust.

Every interaction between humans – both positive AND negative – presents opportunities to communicate and learn from one another. When we reduce those interactions to basic stimulus-responses, we forfeit those same opportunities. We learn nothing about each other, and our connection – that beautiful, inexplicable, one-part-chemistry / two-parts-witchcraft linkage we call relationships – weakens.

I have always stood by the idea that one should NEVER apologize unless one knows exactly what they are apologizing for. To do any less is, as already stated, disingenuous and insulting.

Allow me, dear reader, to offer my own humble opinion on how best to handle the situation I outlined at the beginning of this missive:

In our original scenario, “Dave” had inadvertently said or done something that upset his partner, “Not-Dave.” Dave realizes what’s happening and gives it some honest consideration. After a short time, he sits down with his partner and offers the following:

“Look, I realize that you’re upset about [REASON], and I want you to know I’m truly sorry. You have every right to be upset. I [ACTED/SPOKE] without thinking. I’ve thought about this and I want you to know that I understand why it upset you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s likely that [WHY HE BELIEVES HIS PARTNER IS UPSET].”

At this point, Dave sits quietly and listens to his partner’s response, and his/her feelings on the matter. He doesn’t interrupt, he simply LISTENS.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this be used as a script (talk about disingenuous!), nor am I saying that communicating in this way will lead to instant forgiveness. Depending on the severity of the matter, that may be a long time coming – if at all. What I am saying is that when we approach interactions in a thoughtful and respectful way, we do more than just smooth ruffled feathers or avoid an argument.

We begin to truly LEARN about the people in our lives, their feelings, motivations and possibly even their innermost anxieties and fears. That information allows us to be more thoughtful, and builds stronger relationships as a result.

One final note: This particular process is not restricted to romantic relationships, nor is it confined to the Male->Female dynamic. It can be adapted to any kind of relationship, from friends to coworkers, and in any combination of gender identities.

The art of the apology is far more than just a social convention for acknowledging culpability. It’s a vital tool for navigating the strange and beautiful path that connects us all.

We abandon it at our peril.

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Uncategorised

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

It all started with a nosebleed…

Such an innocent thing the humble nosebleed. Nearly every child has had one at some point, most often from an inopportune collision with the environment they’re so anxious to explore.

Like most children, I’ve had my experiences with the ejecta of life-fluids from the proboscis, but, aside from a car accident that I’d rather not discuss, rarely since the gaining on man’s estate.

So it was all the more shocking when, on the way to the grocery store one Sunday, I suddenly began bleeding rather profusely from one side of my nose onto the sidewalk. When I say “rather profusely,” I am in no way exaggerating the point. Without resorting to graphic imagery, my nosebleed was not the usual “slow drip” one is accustomed to. This was a steady flow, as if a major vein or artery had been severed, emptying its contents onto the pavement below.

My initial consternation quickly changed to alarm as I realized that this unexpected evacuation was not slowing down. Despite my best efforts, panic began to creep in as I tried to determine what to do. I couldn’t enter the store to get help, as I was already covered in blood and any movement on my part would simply make a mess everywhere, a situation as unpleasant as it was unsanitary. I realized I was going to have to call 911 – something of an embarrassment as I still considered this a “nosebleed.”

Finally I was able to swallow my growing panic and dig out my cel phone – how ironic that I had only just recently purchased a phone after years of believing I didn’t need one – and called 911. The kind and patient gentleman on the phone helped keep me calm while I waited for the ambulance to come. He appreciated my attempts at humour to keep the fear at bay – not just the fear of bleeding to death on a Sobey’s parking lot, but also a much deeper, unspoken fear – a deep, abject terror of hospitals.

Interestingly, almost the moment I stepped into the ambulance, the bleeding finally stopped. Arriving at the Emergency room of the hospital (ironically just a 10-minute walk from my house) was a study in using humour to counteract fear. The jokes came fast and furious as I was poked, prodded and tested for everything from diabetes to an addiction to love.

It’s a truly terrifying thing not to know if you’ll be able to go home or not, and the wait to find out can be interminable. Your mind begins to race through any number of bizarre scenarios:

“How will I get things from home for my stay?”
“Is there anyone I can call?”
“What about my clients?”
“Will they understand that I may have to delay work?”
“Does staying in hospital for a long time cost money?”
“How much?”
“And how will I pay for it if I can’t work?”
“What if I’m dying?”
“What if I die here, and no one knows?”

These sound like silly questions, but they are all very real, and they ramp up fear to levels beyond those assuaged by humour. Luckily for me, I’ve gotten very good at hiding fear and pain from my face, so that people often think everything is going perfectly well, while inside I’m falling apart. “Fake it til you make it,” I suppose.

Fast forward to today, five days after my initial “bleed-out” on the parking lot of a local supermarket, and I’ve been seen by nearly every department of the hospital except Obstetrics and Psychiatry.

The staff here at the hospital have gone above and beyond, from sitting quietly as I had a complete emotional breakdown at 4 in the morning to offering a patient (pardon the pun) smile and a helping hand whenever it’s been needed, usually before it was ever asked for (I rarely ask).

Staying in hospital is a lonely experience, especially for someone like myself, and simple things like access to the internet goes a LONG way to countering that loneliness.

As of this writing, they’ve determined that I have an issue with my heart, elevated blood pressure (it was a mind boggling 200 over something or other when first admitted) and some kidney abnormalities. Despite the fact that I “don’t fit into a neat box” interms of easy treatment, the medical staff are confident that all these issues can and will be treated – it will just take a little time.

I admit, I’m still scared, it’s hard not to be. Hospitals have been the location (if not necessarily the cause) of much of the loss I’ve experienced in my life, so a little trepidation is understandable.

I’ll also admit that I occasionally wake up at night in tears from that very fear and the memories it brings with it. (Note: For anyone reading this who may scoff and say, “That’s not very manly,” two things: 1. Fuck you, and 2. What makes you think I’m a man?)

The bottom line of course, is that I will get through this as I’ve gotten through everything else – with a great deal of help and with some small degree of tenacity on my part. Depression and fear would take me down the path of least resistance, see these challenges as a sign that I shouldn’t be here, that I have used up (or worse, wasted) my runs around the sun.

Strong though those emotions may be, and as tempting as the end result may seem, I’m just not willing to, as Thomas put it, “go gentle into that good night.”

The truth is, I’m not ready to go yet, not while there’s the tiniest chance I can do something of some value in this life. I’m in no way religious, but I do believe that there’s someone waiting for me when the time comes, but that time is not yet here.

As Russell Crowe says in the movie Gladiator when asked if he believes he will see his dead wife again:

“Yes I will… but not yet.”

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Essays

Waste Not…

My dear and long suffering reader, I’ve been thinking a great deal of late about waste. Ok… it’s not the most salubrious of subjects I grant you, but I think you’ll agree, one that’s on many people’s minds in our modern age.

What I’ve found so intriguing is that “waste” is entirely a human concept. Nowhere else in nature will you find waste as we know it.

“Now hang on,” I hear you exclaim in that exacerbated and vaguely italicized way I find so endearing. “Surely nature has waste. What about, well… you know… that stuff?”

By “that stuff” I assume you are referring to excreta, feces, urine or other such biological debris. I must apologize for being so hopelessly gauche, but it’s as well to be accurate about these things, n’est-ce pas?

To answer your question, technically yes, such material could be considered “waste.” However, I think you’ll find that it does not remain waste for long. It becomes food and fuel for all manner of plants and microorganisms. Everything, from the abandoned shell of a hermit crab to the leaves that fall from trees, is recycled and reused in some form or another.

The concept of garbage dumps, landfills and waste disposal facilities are an entirely mad-made creation, and the increased need for them is an entirely man-made problem.

When you compare our noisy, aggressive and frankly wasteful modern civilization with the perfectly balanced, entirely self-sustaining natural world in which we live, it’s difficult to see our supposed superiority.

It seems that from time to time Nature must show us, her most arrogant of children, exactly where we fit in the “superiority” scale. If you’ve ever seen a tornado, or endured an earthquake, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Nature has no concept of waste, and we human-flavoured humans, for all our technological wiz-bangery and clumsy hubris, will, at some point, be recycled back to the dust from which we came.

Waste not, want not.

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Essays

In So Many Words

#Create365 – March 24, 2019

“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
– Catherine Drinker Bowen

Friends, neighbours and potential future enemies, I was born a writer. Now please note my words here, I did not say I was born to be a writer, I said I was born one. It’s as much a part of the patchwork quilt that is Mackenzie Clench as skin colour or the propensity to cry at the end of The Terminator. What? It’s quite moving.

Anyway, at this point you may be shaking your head at my apparently arrogant and insolent tone. Please dear reader, put down your metaphorical pitchfork. I will attempt to explain.

When meeting new people in social situations, we often encounter a question that can strike fear and trepidation in even the most seasoned veteran of the networking set:

“What do you do?”

The purpose of this inquisition is of course to ascertain your mode of employment, and some would say, determine your position in on unspoken social totem pole. It’s an innocent enough query, but it can cause anxiety in many people when they don’t know how to answer, or worse, fear they will be judged for that answer.

A Working Title

Western society puts a great deal of importance on job titles. Whether we realize it or not, most of us would look at the CEO of a corporation differently than we would a garbage collector. Even if pay scales were not a factor, and despite the relabelling of certain positions – instead of garbage collector, think Sanitation Engineer or my personal favourite from England, the whimsical “Dustman” – we have preconceived notions of the people who perform these jobs. These notions are certainly unfair and almost invariably erroneous, but they appear to be hardwired into our culture.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the arts. Ask any creative whether they consider themselves an artist, and you’ll get a range of reactions almost as varied as the work they produce. Some will cringe at the word, others will reluctantly agree. Some will make clear distinctions between an artist (someone who does creative work for their own amusement and gratification) and an Artist (note the capital A – someone who works as a professional artist and shows in a gallery). These attitudes can also be seen among writers. I’m constantly asked if I’ve been published, as if that single process could validate the moniker I use to describe myself.

I am a writer. It’s not what I do, it’s what I am. I said at the beginning of this essay that I was born a writer. What I meant by that phrase is that the mental processes that go into the creation of written work were present long before I knew what a pencil was, much less understood how it worked. How is this possible? I believe an analogy will be of service here.

The Eyes Have It

Most professional photographers will agree that, “thousands of dollars of kit does not an Annie Leibovitz make.” You’ll just be a schmuck with high-end gear. In order to get full use of the equipment and hopefully create beautiful images, you must first understand how to operate the camera correctly. Seems straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people sell their services as professionals without the slightest understanding of the fundamentals of their profession.

However, I’d take this idea a step further. In order to be a truly great photographer, you must understand concepts such as light, shadow, composition and framing. Interestingly, none of these concepts even involves a camera. A photographer friend of mine once said that the best photography begins before you ever touch any equipment. It begins with your own eyes, and your ability to “see” the image you wish to create. The eyes are the key to the whole endeavour.

The Rhythm Method

Writing is no different. The craft of writing – putting one word in front of another to represent a coherent idea or concept – begins with the mind. The pen (or computer) comes much later. So how do you train the mind to be a writer? By reading voraciously and indiscriminately.

I began reading around age 4 or so. I don’t say that to boast, I’m simply pointing out how my mind worked. The meaning of the words I was reading was unclear, but I was developing an appreciation for the rhythm of words and sentences. All language has a certain cadence or rhythm. When you read an otherwise grammatically correct sentence and think, “That doesn’t sound right somehow,” you’re tapping into that sense of rhythm.

All writers have a rhythm in their work whether they realize it or not. It’s a fundamental part of their unique “voice.” Being able to tap into that rhythm at such a young age made me want to experience it again and again. To do that, I began to read with a rapacious hunger, a hunger that I’m happy to report remains insatiable. I will read everything from the back of the cereal box at the table to any book I can get my hands on. It’s a beautiful addiction indeed.

In Real Time

Despite all this, for years I never considered myself to be a Writer. (Note the capital “W.”) Indeed, I didn’t even attempt professional writing until my late 30’s. Part of the problem was that capital “W” I mentioned. I had created a scenario in my head where the term Writer was reserved for those lucky few who had gotten their work published. To my mind, amateurs like myself (interesting now how I can look back and hear in my mind how distastefully I would spit out the word “amateur”) were simply posers, pretenders who had no right to call themselves REAL writers. As you may suspect, this attitude was both flawed and quite silly.

Someone who’s work has been published can certainly lay claim to the title of “professional writer,” but the idea that they are somehow “real” is pretentious and absurd. You’re a writer if you write. It’s that simple. The term refers to the craft itself, not some societal norm that seeks to apply value to your contribution. Being published is certainly a laudable goal, and we all benefit when you share your carefully considered words with the world, however the idea of being “published” has changed considerably in the last few years thanks to self publishing and the world wide web.

When I finally embraced the craft, it felt like I was acknowledging a fundamental truth – writing isn’t something I do, it’s part of who I am. The words within waited patiently for me to finally get over the fear of judgement, the fear of being asked “Have you been published?” and of course, the fear of failure. It’s entirely possible that I will never be seen as a writer by others. I can live with that possibility, as long as I remain true to who and what I am.

Categories
Essays

Memento Mori

On July 14, 2006 at 3:36AM, my entire world came to an end.

“I’m so sorry… They lost her. She’s gone…”

I was on the phone, staring dumbly at the clock as I was told that Raven, my fiancee, the love of my life and the most beautiful woman I had ever known had passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident two days previously. Her younger sister Rain had called to tell me. She could barely speak through her own anguish, some of which I knew was directed at me because I was unable to be there.

I should explain.

I was living in Newfoundland at the time, working at a KFC, while my fiancee was with her family in Boston, Massachusetts. For the previous 3+ years we had pursued a long distance relationship with me going there as often as I could – not an easy thing when you work in a fast food restaurant. When Raven had her accident I was unable to make it to Boston due to lack of funds, so I could do nothing but wait to hear how she was until I could get enough money together to go see her. I never got the chance. Two days after being hit by a drunk driver, she died from her internal injuries. Rain called me as soon as they found out.

It was 3:36AM. I had to go to work that morning at 10:00AM.

At the moment Rain said the words, my world came crashing down around me. I remember finding it difficult to breathe, and trying to speak several times, only to have the words die in my throat. What could I say? What could I tell this young woman that could assuage the devastation of losing her older sister? My own guilt for not being there hadn’t yet kicked in, and I tried desperately to focus on Rain and her family and the horror they were now going through.

Looking back on it nearly thirteen years later, I can see that my world truly did end, at least, the one I was living in at the time. My focus had to shift to survival, to trying to build a future without her. Thanks to her parents, (whose kindness and love I will never be able to repay) I was able to go to the funeral, and it was at that time that I realized I was being presented with a choice: Keep going somehow, or stop. I was asked to speak at the funeral, and at first I hesitated, believing that no one wanted to hear anything from me. However, Rain convinced me to do so.

At the funeral, I began to speak to those present, but suddenly changed midway through to speak directly to my late fiancee:

“Good night my love, the brightest star in my sky. You will sleep for a time, and when you wake… I’ll be there.”

They were more than just flowery words. They represented a solemn promise. A promise to never stop, never give up and to survive until the day when I would see her again.

It was at this time that Raven’s parents informed me that I was being adopted into the family. I literally could not speak when they told me of this. Not only had I gained parents, I now had a younger sister, Rain. In one of the darkest moments of my life, and an even darker one for them, kindness and love shone through. I never believed I deserved such kindness, and yet it was given freely. There are no words for that.

As you can imagine, this helped greatly in the long healing process that followed. Rain and I acted as a support system for each other, each giving the other whatever was needed: a shoulder to cry on, someone to scream at, or just someone who could listen and understand.

This continued for a about a year and a half, when we (Rain, her parents and I) were involved in a car accident that claimed Rain’s life. Losing my little sister was as devastating as losing Raven, but I buried the guilt and grief for a long time, focusing instead on her parents. Unless you have experienced it (and I honestly pray you never do), there’s no way to truly understand what it’s like for a parent to lose even one child, much less two in such a short time. At the time I felt that their anguish was far worse and more important than my own.

I still do.

As an old song lyric once said, “We are secrets to each other, each one’s life a novel no one else has read.” Our lives are a collection of stories, and each of those stories are broken down into moments. Some are uplifting, some are devastating and others seem rather mundane. However each one of those moments carries with it the opportunity to entirely change the direction of one’s life. Whether that change is positive or negative largely depends how we respond to those moments.

On July 14, 2006 at 3:36AM, a single moment changed the direction of my entire life. It ended one future, blessed me with a new family and a younger sister, and then took them away. I can never regain those moments, and that hurts beyond my capacity to describe. On the other hand, I was blessed enough to have experienced them in the first place, and that’s more than I could have ever asked for.

Who knows what the next moment will bring?

Categories
Essays

“Feminist” is Not a Four-Letter Word

Allow me to pose a query to you groovy and awesome carbon-based lifeforms:

When in the nine hells did “feminist” become a four-letter word?

Not sure what I mean? Walk into any group of people (primarily guy-shaped men of the male gender I’m ashamed to admit), mention the word “feminist” and see what reactions you get. Assuming everyone is being honest, you’ll invariably get some decidedly colourful and often very negative responses, which to me, seems absurd.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure someone can provide examples of “a man-hating, militant feminist who yelled at me for existing,” or some such thing.

However I have several problems with examples like that:

  • They lack context. What was the scenario that led to the altercation? If you take a swing at someone, you can’t really turn around and call them violent because they swung back. Did you say or do anything to provoke such a visceral response?
  • They rely on externally-imposed labels. Concepts like feminist are self-created identifiers, not externally assigned categories. Labels assigned from the outside are, at best, misinformed and at worst, insulting and demeaning. Just ask anyone in the LBGTQ (or to use a more inclusive acronym, LGBTTQQIAP – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual) community. Or a person of colour. Or a woman.
  • The “examples” are usually overblown. It’s easy to label a woman who is willing to stand up to the misogyny that pervades Western culture as a feminist – often in the same tone one would use to say man-hater. The problem is, the complainant is quite often basing this judgement on a single situation, involving one woman. By that logic, every time you get angry at the television because the satellite feed cut out during a game, you could be labelled a “television hater.” When you get angry at your children, you’d be a “child-hater.” As they say, one example is poor statistics.

For a moment, let’s assume everything I’ve just said is blithering nonsense, (not that hard to imagine perhaps) and proceed with the idea that men around the world have suffered at the hands of “man-hating feminists.”

Putting aside how utterly absurd that sounds, it simply doesn’t match reality. Even a cursory look at wage levels, suffrage and basic human rights around the world reveals the iniquities that still exist for roughly half the population.

At this point it would be easy to dismiss those who raise objections about feminism as chauvinists, or men who feel “threatened” by confident women. However, as with most important issues, it’s neither that simple, nor that complicated.

I am a feminist. I don’t really announce the fact, because I don’t need to. Actions and behaviour are louder, and far more profound, than mere words.

We need to stop talking about creating equality. What’s being created is INEQUALITY. Limiting behaviours must change, narrow mindsets abandoned, and young people educated by example, not just words.

Equality between the sexes already exists, whether we choose to see it or not.

Pointing out the iniquities, prejudices and inconsistencies in our modern society is not “complaining,” it’s highlighting truths we don’t want to face, but must.

Feminist does not mean “man-hater,” though considering the way women have been treated throughout history and even now, more than a dozen years into the 21st century, I can’t blame any woman for feeling that way.

Some days I do as well.

Categories
Essays

A Noble Feast

My dearest reader, it’s obvious that you are a true paragon of perspicacity and discernment, a shining example of homo sapiens and a creature of refined taste. Indeed, since you’ve chosen to expend a few precious temporal increments perusing my particular scribbles, we can mark the previous as read.

As a voracious diner at the social buffet, it should come as no surprise that you’ve heard the phrase “farm-to-table” at some point in your travels. However, I find myself wondering if you are fully aware of what this particular hunk of verbiage means.

Fear not true believers, I’m here to help.

Farm-to-table is a phrase that requires some explanation, for the simple reason that it can mean different things to different people. The phrase refers to the direct relationship between a local farm and a local restaurant. Rather than buying through a distributor or food supplier, increasingly restaurants are establishing relationships with farms and purchasing product directly from them, usually within a very small window of time – the idea being to procure ultra-fresh ingredients.

This is a huge benefit to local farmers and producers by providing more profit than their goods could earn at market, as well as giving them the satisfaction of knowing exactly how their food will be prepared and cooked. This process also helps bolster local economies, keeping more money within the community. Beyond the fact that the movement itself has a large popular following, restaurants are motivated to create these direct relationships by the quality and freshness of the food they get from the farms, as well as the ability to get specialty items that not that many people in their area grow.

One of the goals of this movement (at least in its ideal form) is to move people (chefs and eaters alike) away from the over-processed, chemically modified and mutated ingredients mass producers have been promoting for years and back to high-quality, ultra-fresh ingredients. The farm-to-table movement is often associated with organic farming initiatives as well as sustainable and community-supported agriculture. These initiatives are as important to our social health as they are to our economic and physical health.

Interestingly, the farm-to-table movement is actually part of a larger initiative: the Slow Food movement. From their website:

“Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.”

As a human-shaped human with a passion for all things gastronomic, I’m incredibly excited about this initiative. In this time of GMOs (or as I like to call them, genetically mutilated foods) we need this more than ever.

You see my dear reader, I look at food as far more than just fuel. I see it as a celebration.

It’s a celebration of Nature’s bounty and the treasures provided by this big beautiful blue marble on which we live.

It’s a celebration of creativity, from unique and diverse creations of chefs and cooks around the world, to equally unique and diverse cultural traditions based around those foods.

It’s a celebration of community and family, bringing people together over a beautiful meal.

It’s a celebration of flavours, colours, textures, smells and sounds.

As you can see… this is something of a passion, but I fear I’ve strayed slightly from the gravimen of my text.

As with any popular movement, the phrase farm-to-table is not immune to the misuse so many others have endured. So while you can find farm-to-table restaurants in nearly every city, manufactured products in supermarkets are now being labelled as farm-to-table, as marketers scramble to cash in on the popularity of the movement.

While I applaud any food manufacturers who genuinely wish to improve the quality of their products, when it comes to simply slapping a “farm-to-table” sticker on a product, I advise caution. Many of these marketing monikers are not regulated in any way by the government or anyone else, which means… the sticker means nothing.

Indeed, even while researching this essay, I did several searches for “farm-to-table chefs” looking for examples of chefs who have embraced this new movement, and all Google / Skynet could provide were links to magazines listing the “Best Farm to Table Restaurants in [insert city here].” Not only was it decidedly not what I was looking for, many of those restaurants were no more “farm-to-table” than your local Denny’s.

There is also a backlash from those who think the entire idea is simply an aesthetic affectation – another part of the so-called “Hipster” scene. As with many such internet-fuelled misconceptions, this criticism is caused partially by the misuse of the phrase farm-to-table, and partially by a lack of information on the subject.

As the cool kids say, “Educate yo’self before you subjugate yo’self!” Or… something like that.

Farm-to-table is an important movement if for no other reason than it reintroduces people to real food:

  • Meats and poultry that haven’t been fed growth hormones or injected with antibiotics and Julia-Child-only-knows what other chemical cocktails.
  • Fresh, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables purchased from local growers and farms.
  • Simple, time-honoured cooking practices that preserve much of the food’s own flavour, without the need for artificial enhancement.
  • The simple act of slowing down and savouring every bite of a fresh, delicious meal with family and friends.

If you’re interested in trying real food for a change, and not just science-experiment-gone-horribly-wrong designed to look like food, give a farm-to-table restaurant a try. You’ll be supporting local business, local farmers and the economy, all while enjoying a fabulous meal.

Pro tip: When you find a local restaurant that claims to be farm-to-table, ask them which local farms they source their ingredients from. Any establishment who has built genuine relationships with local growers will be proud to talk about it with their customers. If they aren’t? Move that bus on down the road.

Bon appétit!