oakwriter

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The ultimate meaning of life is to embrace that which compels you to act in spite of fear.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Halloween portrait(s) of the artist as a young man

I remember the strain of Halloween. First you had to come up with a costume that wasn't too lame. Then you had to get the stuff to wear. Then you had to put in on and go out in the neighbourhood and get into the spooky spirit of things. Sometimes you even had to fight off bands of mauraders from other schools.

Okay, I probably ended up enjoying myself, but not without a lot of fretting beforehand.

Look at this photo taken of me when I was 7 years old:

THE HORROR! THE HORROR!

I appear ill at ease. I was in a new school, living in the suburbs for the first time. I felt rare! And it wasn't as if my costume was bad. I was Dracula, for crying out loud. Tried and true.

Still.

The UNICEF box didn't help matters any. Not that I didn't care about kids around the world, but, well, I was 7. The box was a big drag. And it also made me a target for mauraders!

Woody Allen said comedy is tragedy plus time. What about horror plus time?

Fast forward about twenty years to a Halloween party at my place in the Annex. What was my brilliant costume idea? Phantom of the Outback. Lame. Thrown together a few minutes before the party.

But I didn't care. Look at the picture. I am comfortable. Because horror plus time minus one annoying UNICEF box gives you...

THE BEER! THE BEER!

Fast forward again, about twelve years. I am back in the suburbs (no picture) and I'm a writer...

Man, I could use that UNICEF box right about now... But the horror is gone. Now, there's comedy. Specifically, my stepson, Connor. What a great kid.

And abundantly confident in his role as Dracula:

I don't dress up anymore. But I love Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

L Word turning Japanese?

Now I'm no expert in harmonics, but when I hear the theme song for The L Word during the show's commercials, I can't help but think it would sound really cool mixed with "Turning Japanese," that catchy new wave tune that made a one-hit-wonder out of the band The Vapours back in 1980.

Hm.

Or, it would sound really discordant, uneven and creepy, much like the unsettling tune of an old ice cream truck on a quiet, lonely boulevard just before dusk.

Either way, I would be curious to hear this sonic marriage.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

39 read blog-oons

Sorry for the absence. I've been busy with my TV thing and my column and my life in general.

I'm just saying hello so you don't think I've run off with the circus!

Hey. I have written 39 blog posts since I started blogging. That's one for every year I've been alive! This will never happen again ... unless, of course, I write one post per year for the rest of my life, which would be utterly ridiculous. So this is it.

...Okay, it's not as big as a birthday or an anniversary or a Pulitzer or anything, but it's worth a cookie... Maybe even a Peek Freans cookie. I've already had two tonight.

Yup. Livin' large. Don't even try to stop me.

Thanks for reading.

Later.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fresh perspective? Fresher bagel

Today at lunchtime I went into the cupboard and pulled out the bag of 12-grain bagels. I took off the clip and parted the plastic. Mmm. Fresh, rich, moist bagels. So I grabbed one, thinking I was about to have a typically pleasurable bagel experience.

What?

What was this? Something I'd never seen in my entire life: a bagel sliced on an angle, so that the bottom half was like a wedge, like a doughy doorstop. As weird as this sounds, for a brief moment I wondered about the all hidden dimensions in the universe. Some quantum physicists say that there may be as many as 10 dimensions, but that we can only work with a "surface" of 3 dimensions ... and the 4th dimension of time. The others are kind of ... rolled up, out of view, so to speak. Part of this theory is the belief that the evolution of life on Earth was favoured by this model, that we humans wouldn't be here without it. I guess we can't handle more than a few perceptible dimensions at any one time. Maybe they are right.

Screw it, I said to myself. The risk of jam on my fingers was just too great. So I put away the defective bagel and grabbed another. Easy. Simple.

Long live simplicity! It's really good toasted, too. :-)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fab Vocab

Yesterday my 10-year-old stepson was doing his homework on the kitchen table. My partner called me over to show me a sheet entitled "Vocabulary Development."

Fair enough, I thought. Then I started reading the sheet! The words his school is teaching grade five kids! Jeez. No, that's my word. Which is embarrassing when I think of what these kids are learning. The words I saw on this sheet are words I would expect from ... well, certainly not from kids that age. I know we weren't using or learning such big words back in the 1970s.

Here, I'll use a few of them in sentences:

"Jordan! Give me back that rabbit's foot. It's been my talisman since I was five years old."

"Mom, when I said I did all my homework in class and that the teacher said I was his best student, well, that was an embellishment. I just wanted to play X-Box for an extra hour."

"Dad. Mom. I don't really need the X-Box. Dad, you don't really need that big jeep. Mom, you don't really need those fancy prints on the wall. Really. These are just the stupid accoutrements of upper-middle class living. Really. These accoutrements suck!"

"Stephanie! Give me back my Alexis on Fire T-shit! Mom! Stephanie won't gimme back my Alexis-- Oh come on. I'm going to Jordon's birthday party this afternoon and the Alexis on Fire T-shirt is de rigueur!"

When my friends and I were 10 years old, we were watching Gilligan's Island, playing road hockey, stealing pop bottles, and so on.

Some of our typical words and sentences: "No way, Chris. There's no fucking way that was in the net! Oh yeah? You wanna fight? Well, right now! Come on. Let's go! Ass-wipe!"

It was the 1970s. Our teachers were flower children who sang "Blowin' in the Wind," and tried to instill in us a sense of peace and worldwide friendship. I think we got an A or at least a B+ if we said, "The sun is bright" or "The flowers are nice" or "I like chocolate and kittens."

We were all special. But we weren't being watched, not like kids today.

Which is why we had to resort to atrocious words like "ass-wipe" on and off school property, and stealing pop bottles. Or worse.

Clearly their plan didn't work quite as well as they had hoped. Well, I shouldn't be so harsh. I no longer steal pop bottles. And I do like people, most of the time. But damn, if only they hadn't been such a bunch of antiestablishmentarians, then I wouldn't be writing this today.

Shit.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Major Tom

No, this isn't an attempt at self-aggrandizement. I'm talking about the song "Major Tom" by Peter Schilling. Remember that one? It was a nod to David Bowie. Around 1983 or thereabouts. It was released in English and in German. I liked both versions. They made me think of powdery ski hills and the uber-angst of teenage life - two things I haven't done since the 1980s.

(I'm too lazy to figure out the command for the umlaut, by the way. That's why you got the bargain basement "uber," instead of the more German-looking one. Sorry.)

Well, right now the song is playing on my boombox and it just made me think of blogging. Or, rather, it gave me a place to start this evening's post.

I've been busy writing all weekend. Workin' on a project. I'm a little drained. And this week promises to be just as busy. For one thing, I'll be back in the CBC on Tuesday. Startin' up the radio piece. Looking soooo forward to it. Ahhhh.

When the lockout ended, I asked myself if I'd still have the tension in me to continue blogging now that my career was no longer being thwarted by people I couldn't yell at. I answered this question in about two seconds. Of course I'd have the tension! My neurosis alone would provide enough base material. Besides, it's a big planet with plenty to get tense about. How solipsistic of me!

...The beauty of blogging is that you get to use big, fancy words and no editors will edit them out in the interest of accessibility. This may be a bad thing, actually. Oh well, I did say it's a big planet.

So, with the big planet in mind, I'm going to walk some of it right now... Just my neighbourhood, mind you. My nightly constitutional. Something to clear my head (or find fresh tensions) and work off the lasagna I had for dinner... I don't have lasagna every night, I should point out. I just wanted to be clear on that.

Not much of a blog post, eh? In fact, you might call it bloggerel. Ah? I just made that up. Bloggerel. I rather like that. Though I'm sure someone else has thought of it.

Okay, "Major Tom" is over now. I'm going for a walk. Tomorrow I'll be minor.

Or not.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Empty Glass

I first heard Pete Townshend's brilliant solo d├ębut, Empty Glass, in 1980, when I was 13. Now, over 25 years later, I find this timeless and transcendent music has lost none of its liberating power.

"Thaaat's nice," you're thinking. Okay, so I felt I needed to say something positive and uplifting after the Grizzly Man post (see below).

But make no mistake, Empty Glass is a great album. LP. CD. Whatever the form.

I'm dating myself, but I don't care.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Grizzly Man: a review

Last Friday I went to see the Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man, the story of Timothy Treadwell, the man who spent years filming himself with the grizzly bears of Alaska.

What a strange and compelling story. What a sad case of a man who felt so alienated from the community of humans that he chose to cross the line into the world of bears ... tempting death by camping in a dangerous location just prior to hibernation time, when some bears (often old ones) are hungry and desperate.

Treadwell (1957 - 2003) should've known better, because he had spent 13 summers with the Alaskan grizzlies. As surprising as the above mistake would seem for man apparently experienced with bears, what's even more surprising to me is that he managed to survive with them at all.

Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Treadwell had no experience with these massive ursines prior to his first trip to Alaska in the early 1990s. In fact, he had been, among other things, a struggling actor in Hollywood. When he failed to get the part of "Woody" on Cheers, the young man fell into a deep depression. He clung to rough company and spiralled out on alcohol and drugs. After a near-death overdose, he absolutely needed a new beginning.

Then, redemption offered itself in the form of Alaska. And that's how it began.

Herzog interviews those who knew the man, and uses lots of footage taken by Treadwell during his many expeditions -- missions, as he saw them, to save the bears from some faceless enemy. (The bears he was "protecting" actually lived on public land, which is already protected and, by anyone's standard, breathtakingly beautiful.)

When we see Treadwell speaking passionately to school children, to educate them about the bears, we can see a glimmer of reason and hope in the man's life.

However, as the film progresses it clearly shows us that Treadwell was desperately trying to protect himself from his own excesses and mood swings, for his sobriety was completely tied to his bizarre crusade. He wouldn't survive without this sense of purpose, he tells us, during one of the many unsettling and, at times, comical soliloquies, which he performs in a persona so effeminate that some might wonder if his professed difficulty with women was rooted in problems even deeper than his profound unhappiness.

While he had trouble finding lasting romance, he did manage to convince his girlfriend at the time to return to an area of thick bush after the summer of 2003. Strange bears had come into the area from the interior. Hungry bears, not the ones some claimed he treated as live Disney characters.

Treadwell and his girlfriend were both killed and eaten. Her death may be the greater tragedy, for she was there only to support a man who had deluded himself into believing his deathwish was a noble and spiritual calling.

That said, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Treadwell and the circumstances that drove him to despise what most of us call civilization. And yet he wasn't living according to the rules of the wild either. Not according to one local Inuit scholar, who points out that his people are very careful not to confuse human territory with bear territory.

For those who like to question the deeper aspects of human existence, I would highly recommend this film.

One thing is for sure. When I left the theatre, I wasn't thinking about bears. I could only wonder about us humans, our individual realities, and why one man would put himself in such great peril by behaving so contrary to the rules of two worlds -- the one he hated and the one he loved.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Going back to work


Members of the CMG voted over 88 per cent in favour of ratification of the deal struck by the union and CBC management two Sundays ago. So it's back to work starting tomorrow.

I can't help but wonder how the TBC will feel inside. I'm not just talking about the political environment or working culture, but the inside of the building itself.

You know how when you were a kid and your family went on a road trip for a few weeks during the summer? Or whatever you did that took you away for an extended period of time. Well, remember the return home? Wasn't it strange? The wall colours seemed a little off, your furniture seemed arranged as though part of a stage set, and the air smelled weird. Everything was recognizable, and yet oddly unfamiliar.

Perhaps I'm more likely to experience something like the above, because I wasn't walking the line. For the folks who were on the picket line, I can only imagine what the return to work will feel like. Very strange. Being locked out of a place so vital and central to your existence is, well, just plain unnatural. There are very few, if any, experiences in life to prepare someone for such a thing. Naturally people pictured their desks and wondered what was going on inside.

Now, finally, the time to return has arrived.

To those going back in this week, I hope you find a way to feel at home again. It may take a while. This time, the weird smell won't just be from unfamiliar air, but from the strained and tattered relationships.

So, open some figurative windows and let in some fresh air.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Finkleman on CBC

Read Ken Finkleman's tips and tricks for the CBC in today's Globe and Mail.

The gist of the piece: the CBC shouldn't worry about what sells -- that's a fool's game.

When I read this article, I thought of a job I had years ago (read below).

What sells

One of the most anthropologically interesting jobs I've ever had was the esteemed position of customer service rep in a call centre. Not just any call centre, mind you, but a call centre at the back of a marketing and advertising agency. Woohoo! Right near the action!

I won't try to dissect the ad culture here. Suffice it to say, this bizzare environment was characterized by myriad layers of confusion, fear, and reward -- both real and perceived. Though in advertising the line between these two is often blurred beyond detection.

The passage of time in the call centre also played tricks on the mind. Boredom was the most common experience, particularly when the rate of incoming calls was low. We reps would alleviate this dreariness with snatches of conversation. These exchanges were good time-killers, and oftentimes very revealing. People told me some very personal stuff. (Looking back now, I can see it was a great place to be a writer.)

Occasionally, I even revealed things about myself, though I tried to pick my audiences carefully. I had worked "up front" in the agency, where the air always seemed rank with suspicion and betrayal.

On one particular evening, however, I decided to open up to a pleasant young woman. She seemed nice and harmless enough. Besides, I was single at the time and she was pretty. Let's face it, that's reason enough for most men to do anything.

I told her about my work, about the lonely, anxiety-filled hours spent crafting novels and screenplays, most of which had resulted in nothing more than nibbles, nice comments, and, of course, some rejection letters (some very impressive). I also told her about the option on my first screenplay, which, sadly, never made it to production. There was never enough money here in Canada, I told her.

She nodded sympathetically. She seemed to get it.

Pleased to have shared with a pretty and comprehending woman, I turned back around to face my monitor and await the next caller. Life was okay. I felt good. I'd made a connection.

A moment later, she turned to me, tilted her head, and said, "Well... why don't you just write what people want to read? What sells. Wouldn't that be so much easier on you?"

I stopped sharing my inner self in the call centre.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Transition

Today I enjoyed the sunshine, ate lunch with an old friend, and walked the busy streets of midtown Toronto.

Today marked the beginning of my transition from CBC lockout ambassador-blogger to blogger-at-large.

Today it felt good to be a mere homo sapien moving somewhere between the strain of necessity and joy of invention, looking forward and feeling more hope than worry.

Today I lived without the pain and fear of nagging uncertainty.

And best of all ... tomorrow is FRIDAY! :-)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

This feels weird ... in a good way

I woke up this morning and, for the first time in seven weeks, didn't wonder what the blogs had to say. Sounds cold, I know: use 'em up and toss 'em away. Hardly.

Thanks to Tod and all the bloggers, the people on the line, and the folks who left comments on the blogs, I have felt connected to something amazing - a new and evolving community of storytellers. It's been a honour to share the blogosphere with so many dedicated, intelligent, and talented people. And I don't think I'll ever look at labour disputes the same way again. I know I said I've never been much of a joiner, but I know a good fight when I see it. The bargaining team fought for its people and for the cause of public broadcasting. I respect that.

And to the funny bloggers who made me laugh, especially Matt, a big THANKS! The CBC needs your brilliance! Get in there and help make the country laugh. What would that sound like? Actually, it might be a little startling and disconcerting. But in a good way. :-)

As for my blog, I'm going to continue with it. The lockout introduced me to blogging. I'm glad it did. This can be a great medium. So I'm going to keep on writing here. It'll be a companion to my regular website.

I look forward to seeing where this experience will take all of us.

Thanks everyone.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Wow

So, this may be it! There may be a deal. There are still some things to take care of -- language, back-to-work talk, ratification, etc...

But at least we have two sides agreeing to a move on a document.

Congratulations! Good work, everyone. Impressive fight.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Rain?

With all this tension in the blogosphere tonight, I keep waiting for the first falling frog to crash through the window, just like at the end of Magnolia. Maybe it'll knock me away from my computer.

Maybe we need a frog shower to clear the air?

I'd rather see a deal, but let's keep the frogs ready.

It's late. I'm delirious.

Waiting

Tom Petty was right when he sang, "The waiting is the hardest part."

I'll be killing time in the bathroom. I'll be staring in the mirror, counting the new white whiskers that have appeared in my beard since the lockout began.