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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Desperate Housewife?

Last night I saw a middle-aged woman clip and run off with a branch from a spruce bush next to the 7-Eleven a few blocks from my house. When she saw me coming she fled, the branch in one hand, gardening clippers in the other.

...Christmas in the 'burbs.

I saw a lot of strange and funny things during the 12 years I lived downtown, but I never saw anyone steal brush from a mini-mart.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Unexplained Canada

I invite you to watch Unexplained Canada.

This six-part series premieres on Space: The Imagination Station, January 4, 2006. Please follow the above link for info and show times!

I had a great time a researcher/writer on this project. What a blast! Many thanks to all the people who worked with me. My special thanks to producer/director, Sean C. Karow, and our host and senior researcher, John Robert Colombo - Canada's Mr. Mystery.

Please join us as we explore some of Canada's enduring mysteries.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Cusack on Strummer

I was looking at blogs today when discovered an interesting post on the Parkdale Pictures blog.

Nice post, Parkdale.

The post points to a Thanksgiving (U.S.) piece written by John Cusack. Now, I've always been a Cusack fan. Ever since high school. So I was pleased to discover the talented actor's column about Joe Strummer.

Pleased, but not surprised.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

W.O.W. or not

So I rented War of the Worlds. You see, I had to go to the store anyway, to rent a video game. I caved in and rented W.O.W.

Which it didn't. It didn't wow me. Though there are some moments of good acting, the characters are annoying. And while it has some big, fancy effects, the film is like a Spielberg combo plate. At one point there is Jaws music ... just as the alien tripod is about to attack! You almost expect to see the "Land Shark" from S.N.L.

Worst of all, there is no dread. Effects without dread are just not thrilling.

I got halfway through the flick and stopped it. I watched Weeds instead.

I'll just take the DVD back. Oh well. At least the file of the book is still intact in my brain.

Phew, that was close...

Now that's dread!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

War of the Worlds

It's out and I'm conflicted. I'm talking about Spielberg's War of the Worlds, out on DVD this week.

Now, I LOVED the book. As for as I'm concerned, H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds is one of the most engaging and entertaining narratives ever written. Masterful. I have a buddy, a real science fiction lover, who has read it 17 times!

I've heard some of the 1938 radio play. But I've never seen a cinematic interpretation of this story. Twice I've psyched myself up to walk to Blockbuster, only to decide against it at the last minute. Something's holding me back...

Could it be that almost everyone says this movie sucks rocks? Could it be I don't want to see Tom Cruise work out Church of Scientology beliefs on screen? Or maybe it's that Dakota Fanning kid, who annoys me because she's too clever and articulate for a child. Also, she reminds me of another kid I know, a nasty little girl who is mean to my stepson.

Whatever the reason, I can't seem to go and rent it. Do I need the $5.99 so badly?

This is possible. But no, there is something else at work here, though I'm not sure what. The novel is nicely filed in my mind. I can go to it whenever I want, and enter a world in which grim and grimy Victorian London is under attack. Intriguing. Haunting.

Will Spielberg's flick ruin that file? Maybe. Probably. But I haven't seen a BIG movie in a while. I have a craving. Blockbuster is just down the street.

But I know better. I shouldn't go.

I'm still undecided...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Staying Alive on Metro Morning

I've realized something. The little Metro Morning tune on CBC Radio One sounds a little bit like "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. It sounds crazy, but I always find myself singing it during the show. Okay. Get the tune into your head and work with me here: "Deedel deedel deedel dit dit da deedel deedel deedel, staying alive, staying alive...."

Ah? Ah? No? Okay. Maybe it's just my thing.

I know, Andy Barrie's deep voice is very un-Bee Gee. But the contrast helps keep me awake in the morning. Hey, it's a miracle I'm even up in the morning. For years I was a night person. And during those years, my many corporate stints, my long commutes, and the peer pressure of society in general could not turn me into a morning person. Friends and coworkers used to wag their fingers at me and say: "Once you get a routine, you'll become a morning person."

Nope.

I had many routines. None turned me into a morning person. None turned me into anything, really. I was just tired all the time. And then it happened, the only arrangement that can truly change this man and his habits...

A woman. And her child. And the fear and elation that go with that.

So, now I'm a morning person. I'm usually on my computer before 7:30.

Me, Andy, and the Bee Gees.

Shut up. :-)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Children of 1964

Generalizations are seldom acceptable as conclusions, but they are often useful as starting points for discussion. Sometimes, however, I find it hard not to accept a conclusion when my observations point to it so strongly.

My previous post reminded me of a discussion I once had with a friend of mine. We had asked ourselves what may seem a rather odd question: Who the hell are the people born in 1964?

I have many friends who were born that year. My older brother is a 1964 baby. I've worked with a few 1964-ers. And yet they remain somewhat of an enigma.

These people seem to have no pop culture patterns about them whatsoever. Some love the Beatles. Some love punk. Some love both the Beatles and punk. Some love neither. They're elusive. Each does his or her own thing. They don't talk much. Though it doesn't appear they're trying to be mysterious; they simply don't seem to give a damn about generational categorizations, even though for decades now demographers have tagged them on to the tail end of the baby boom (which always struck me as odd and inaccurate).

But maybe there are commonalities.

I will say this about the 1964 people I know. They rarely complain. They don't struggle with their identity. At least not publically. They aren't easily impressed. They reject groupthink. They do their own thing whether you like it or not, and they do it with determination and stealth. They do not and will not buckle or bend over for anyone. Ever. And they don't buy your bullshit. They don't buy my bullshit. They won't buy this post! They don't even buy their own bullshit, if they have any! They are some of the toughest and most independent people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Two quotations: "I've never met a man I was afraid of" and "Go down with nothing less than blood pumping from your ears."

These words were spoken by two different men, both born in 1964. Family men.

Hey, I can only tell you've what I've seen and heard.

Though some big things happened in 1964 -- the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show, the movie Goldfinger was released, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, Lyndon B. Johnson was re-elected, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, the Civil Liberties Act was passed in the U.S., and Muhammed Ali became the heavyweight champion of the world -- we don't hear much about the people who were born that year.

Clive Owen was born in 1964. Need I say more? He didn't want the role of James Bond. How 1964 is that?

See how I invoke the name of a movie star to make my point? Someone born in 1964 wouldn't do that. Wouldn't even consider it. He or she would make their point with steely-eyed clarity, and then move on.

If we are ever attacked, don't send our young adults. Send in the boys and girls of 1964. The enemy won't stand a chance.

Actually, I think the 1964 babies are a little crazy. I mean that in a good way.

So here's to the people of 1964. Wherever you are.

Whoever you are.

P.S. Read this post by Philly Markowitz.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Zip Bam, Boomer

A few days ago, I was standing in the paved courtyard of my stepson's school. This is the area where parents gather, gossip, amble, and wait for the afternoon bell to sound the release of their children from the portables.

I had arrived a little early, so I was alone for a few minutes. As I am wont to do, I started scanning my surroundings, looking for details and patterns, when I spotted a string of bird's nests in the deciduous trees beyond the portables. Having lost their leaves the trees could no longer hide what they had hidden months earlier: the birds' survival instinct and tendency to act in concert.

But there were no birds, only wind. Then, breaking my focus, the Beatles song "Hey Jude" began blaring from a nearby portable, filling my ears.

Now, I like the Beatles. Always have. They had some brilliant stuff. Besides, my taste in music is generation-less.

But I couldn't help but recall hearing that song in class back in the 1970s. Our young boomer teachers, who at that time were fresh out of university, often played rock and folk tunes for our edification. We thought it was kinda cool. Kinda.

However, standing there in the courtyard I thought: "Wait. People my age are the teachers now. Aren't we? Maybe that's a boomer teacher in that portable. Or is my generation so utterly without cultural ownership of any kind that we have to recycle the 1960s stuff for these kids? What about our stuff? Then it occurred to me that a class of children chiming along to "Cars" by Gary Numan would be kinda weird, if not a little funny. The grinding indignation of Skinny Puppy would be unthinkable. Bjork might scare and confuse them. Bauhaus might mess them up. And "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols would hardly be appropriate in a place of childhood education. Especially the line, 'No future for you...'"

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against boomers as individuals. Some of my friends are boomers. My mom is remarried to a boomer (who was even at Woodstock). And boomers have given me breaks in my work life. Conversely, I've been burned by Gen Xers. Unfortunately, there is a full spectrum of assholes out there.

The boomers are just doing what every other generation has done -- holding the levers as long as possible. It's human nature. It's evolutionary. You and your peers strive to create meaning and leave a legacy. Though I'm sure most of us would agree the boomers have made their mark by now. And I do feel a little rare when they break into song and dance, as on one episode of Murphy Brown or in movies like The Big Chill.

Of course, we had to go and dance to The Knack's "My Sharona" in a 7-11 in the movie Reality Bites. That was gay. I felt rare during that scene.

So, what of my generation's cultural contribution? What will be our legacy when we finally get the reins?

Read this piece by Jack Shafer in Slate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Outfront piece has aired

My piece aired last night. I've received some positive comments from people.

However, some of you missed it. If you haven't heard the piece and would like to, simply go here, and listen.

I hope you enjoy it. Thank you.

And thanks again to my producer, Steve Wadhams.

I would also like to thank Deb Greening and her family, at Land of the Loon Resort, Anglin Lake, Saskatchewan, for helping with the logistics of my trip, so that I was free to run around with my minidisc and microphone.

Cheers!

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Machinist and Me

I've always had a good appetite.

As a child I had no trouble finishing all the food on my plate. When I was in high school, I had the appetite of a full crew of construction workers. And today, I still enjoy full meals AND dessert. Very few dishes disgust me; I'll eat almost anything. Just ask my partner, Louise. She'll tell you. The mere smell of food, particularly succulent meat and rich sauces, awakens my reptilian brain, causing me to cast aside all other concerns and rush to the dinner table.

I eat.

And yet at 5' 10" I am only 165 lbs. I think I have an average metabolism. Don't know. I do move quickly. I do walk a lot. And I worry a lot. I guess that's it. Anyway, I'm not fat. If I miss a meal or two, my pants become loose.

Which is why I took me months of psychological preparation before I could watch The Machinst, which stars Christian Bale and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I watched it this past weekend.

Christian Bale's performance is brilliantly, achingly repulsive, and yet sublimely symbolic of self-detruction and torment. Bale's appearance will startle you. He lost 60 pounds for the role. His character, Trevor Reznik, is clearly at the end of his rope. In The Machinist, we see a man so tortured by existential horror that he is barely eating. He is so wracked with guilt and anguish and so captive to his own twisted assumptions of reality, he can't sleep. It's mind vs. the body. Or mind against matter, if you will. And he hurts others around him, making him unwelcome almost everywhere.

Bale does an amazing job at taking us into his character's dark and moribund world. And we start to realize that we all live within our own assumptions, be they liberating or delusional, good or bad. In this way the film does some fascinating, intriguing stuff here.

It's a real head trip.

And yet, for all the film's virtues, for all the thought it provokes, the most powerful reaction I had to the film was a visceral one. I found myself thinking, for God's sake, man, get some sleep, and eat. Eat! Don't die! Stay with us and get some help.

Maybe that's what writer Scott Kosar and director Brad Anderson were trying to accomplish. If so, they did a darn good job.

...Still, I think I'll go and rent Bale's Batman Begins again, just to see him healthy.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Outfront piece airing next week

I just found out my CBC Outfront radio doc will be airing this coming Wednesday (Nov. 16) at 8:43 p.m.

Heading into the day

Just had a head rush.

I haven't had one of these in ages. After checking my email and quickly scanning my New York Times e-paper, I decided to get up and get another coffee. Suddenly, my connection to the world went fuzzy and I had to sit down on the carpet. No matter how many of these things I get, they're always trippy.

I'm okay now...

I used to get head rushes all the time, even years ago, in high school and university, when I was in better shape. (Not that I'm really out of shape now, as I do walk a lot. Vigorously.) I never knew why. I'd always had a good diet. Still do, in fact. If these episodes had happened only after pub nights then I would've considered the mystery solved. But that wasn't the case. Not one to run to the doctor for any old reason, I would just shrug them off and continue on with whatever it was I was doing at the time.

Then, in 1996, something really weird happened.

While looking for one of the highly sought-after parking spaces near Mount Pleasant and Roehampton, so I could grab a much-needed coffee, I drove my secondhand Escort into a brand new Corolla ... after looking both ways, my friend Steve later told me, and looking right at the damn Corolla! I was 30, the other guy 19. After checking to see if Steve was okay (he was), we both got out. Then the other guy got out of his car. As he approached me he cocked his right arm and clenched his first. I stared him in the eye and didn't flinch. This wasn't bravery: I was just dazed and exhausted and in dire need of coffee. And his eyes and body language spoke more of frustration than violence. Just the same, Steve, who is 6' 3" and 235 lbs., stepped forward when he saw the quivering fist. Then the kid dropped his arm and kicked a hydro pole. A much better choice, I thought.

This time I sought medical advice. Two neurologists. Two brain scans. Both turned out negative results. My brain structure was healthy and normal, which surprised the hell out of my friends and family.

Barring a dramatic subluxation of a cervical vertebra, there was only one reason for this accident and my head rushes, the doctor said. Severe sleep deprivation. Which had resulted from my tendency, shared by others in my family, to push myself way too hard. At the time, I had a long commute to Oakville, a stressful corporate job, and was trying to write.

I never had an accident like that one again. Nor have I had many head rushes since 1996. In fact, the only noteworthy thing that remains of my past life is my writing. And my friend Steve.

So what caused this morning's episode? The New York Times? Don't think so. I think I'll end my blog and get that second coffee now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Revisiting The Stone Roses

Yesterday I listened The Stone Roses' 1989 d├ębut CD for the umpteenth time.

This music is nothing less than inspired. The arrangements, the vocal harmonies, and the sheer melodic power of this work set it apart from most of the other music that was out in the late 1980s, when my friends and I were in university. John Squire's guitar playing is absolutely amazing. He deftly selects his notes, at times lifting the listener to the heavens, and at other times charging downward with intense, gritty urgency. And Ian Brown sings his irreverent and uncompromising lyrics with the angry longing of an abandoned angel. The drums and bass serve as a steady thumping jumping-off point for this music that for a brief moment in history managed to soar way above the crowd.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Outfront piece done

Today my CBC radio producer and I finished my Outfront piece!

After all the travelling, gathering, recording, thinking, writing, and editing ... the doc is finally done. Well, it's almost done. A few finishing touches are required. Technical things.

I'll be posting the air date when I know it ... and when I'm at liberty to publicize it.

To everyone at Outfront who had a hand in giving my story the green light, thank you so much.

To my producer, Steve, THANKS! Your skill and experience were tremendously important to me during this project. It was a pleasure working with you.

What a great experience.

Thanks again!