The Subjectivity of Art

At first blush, you wouldn’t think that your local mom & pop pizza joint would have anything in common with Kanye West, but you’d be wrong because they both claim to be the best in the world, and just as you take the flyer that Vito’s Authentic Pizzeria (“The Best Pizza In The World Since 1982”) stuffs in your mailbox week after week with a grain of parmesan, so should you with this quote from Ye.

“I am unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time. It’s not even a question at this point.”

Kanye West, 2019

In both cases about the only claim they can reasonably make is having an exceptional skill at crafting unprovable hyperbole.

I bring this up because musicologist Eric Alper posted the Kanye quote with no additional context and I immediately hopped into the comments to watch the show. Suffice it to say, it was pretty hilarious, so I added a comment of my own:

Top: Kanye West, Bottom: Neil Peart

I should have known better. Kanye is a Donald Trump fan and Kanye’s fans behave, well, a lot like Donald Trump fans. I was called a “Boomer”, which is funny because I’m solidly GenX. Someone else replied that if Neil Peart was alive he’d appreciate Kanye as a musician, which I thought was the funniest thing I’d read all week – until the commenter made it clear that he was serious. Okay… His justification was that artists like Paul McCartney and Lou Reed have all come out publicly and said they like Kanye. As if somehow “I like Kanye’s stuff” from someone with actual musical talent equates to “I hereby bestow upon you the indisputable title of Greatest Artist of All Time.”

Ralph Wiggum, The Simpsons

Kanye doesn’t lead the world in more than a couple of objective categories, let alone all of them. Subjectively, I could name fifty other musicians across time and genres that I think have either had a bigger influence on the world or have honed their craft to a greater degree than Mr. West.

Listen, I don’t give a shit if you love Kanye and think he’s all that and a bag of chips. If his work brings you joy then that’s good. The world needs more joy. But for the love of pizza, blindly parroting a claim that at best is unprovable and at worst, as I already pointed out, is objectively untrue, makes you look infantile.

These days, and especially when Red Hats are involved, it seems that good-faith debate devolves into ad-hominem attacks and trading playful barbs into mudslinging, which is too bad. On other comment threads, there were more damning insults than me being called a “Boomer”, but I won’t repeat them. I will say that for every comment asserting Kanye sucked there was often a counterargument that involved a personal epithet. It seems that there will always be a group of people that have forgotten that it’s all subjective.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subjective

I actually love the “who’s better than who” debates that rage on the internet (and especially out with friends at a pub). It’s passionate people passionately defending something or someone they are passionate about. It can be educational (“Did you know…?”) and it can be a lot of fun, but some folks are hellbent on making it personal, completely ignoring the subjectivity and making it more about “being right”.

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t name a single Kanye song, but I know I’ve heard some of them before. To make sure wasn’t missing something, I listened to a few of his songs on Spotify:

  • Stronger (over 900 million streams)
  • Ni**as In Paris (over 750 millon streams)
  • Heartless (over 400 million streams)

My impression after giving those songs an open-minded listen? Meh. I can see people digging it, but it did nothing for me and I still 100% stand behind my “beats” meme comment.

It goes to show you though, it takes all kinds. It’s just too bad some people are convinced that disagreeing with someone’s musical taste means they can spread insults and hatred like Vito’s secret family recipe pizza sauce on a large thin-crust pie.

Besides, there’s a common cause out there that we should all be focused on:
Making fun of Nickelback.

~ Andrew

Never Read Your Heroes?

I have a hit-and-miss relationship with autobiographies, memoirs, and other nonfiction literature. Mikel Jollett’s memoir, Hollywood Park, was fantastic and gave me insight into the man as well as some of my favourite songs. I was a big fan of Mikel and his band The Airborne Toxic Event before I read the book and an even bigger one after. Amy Schumer’s, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, was terrible. I was a big fan of her standup and general presence before I read the book and she fell completely out of my sphere of “even remotely giving a shit about her” after. I will say that I was a fan of hers on Instagram during her pregnancy, but otherwise, she might as well be invisible. 

Kevin Smith’s, Shooting The Shit With Kevin Smith, didn’t do anything for me either way but I also read it at a time when my fanboi feelings for him were waning so we’ll give him the win for not tipping me off the edge and allowing my man-crush to resurface a few years later. Bob McKenzie and James Duthie, two prominent sportscasters here in Canada, each wrote books, Hockey Dad and The Day I (Almost) Killed Two Gretzkys, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I got to meet both of them before a Stanley Cup playoff game in Philly back in 2010, so that impression no doubt helped when I read their books (they were both friendly, gracious, and generous with their time). 

More recently, I picked up a copy of Tim Cotton’s, The Detective In The Dooryard, a book based on his musings running the marginally famous Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page. I love his writing on Facebook but found the book to be mundane. Each essay on its own was good, but when I read a bunch of them at once it started to turn into mildly humorous white noise. It might make a good bathroom book. 

Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, surprised the heck out of me. It was fantastic. I knew little about the former First Lady other than what I’d seen in the news between 2007 and 2016 and her book opened my eyes to her struggles and sacrifices – particularly the sacrifices. 

After reading Ms. Obama’s account of her life and seeing through the windows she opened into life inside the White House I started reading her husband’s book, Promised Land. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t heard Michelle speak much before and could “hear” her voice when I read the book but with Barack it was different. I don’t know if it was simply a case of having someone’s voice in my head as I read it or if it was something else, but POTUS’s book stood out as being more self-congratulatory than that of FLOTUS. 

It was certainly long enough, clocking in at 700 pages – and doesn’t even cover anything after they got Bin Laden – and while I appreciated the detailed insights on how to get stuff done in Washington, Obama’s writing style played right into the criticisms of his early day debate and Q&A. Sum it the hell up, man. Seriously. Every chapter was this long, meandering journey and despite owing his mistakes and learning, he could have done without patting himself on the back so often. 

He did do an excellent job of highlighting the opposition to his agenda and the struggles he and his administration faced but it amounted to little more than preaching to the choir. Anyone so much as considering voting for a Democrat already knew about the obstruction tactics of Mitch McConnell and the GOP.

After reading Obama’s tome, I can see why the people who don’t like him don’t like him. I think they’re wrong in their assessment, but I do have a deeper understanding of why his detractors are so fervent in their dislike of the man. It speaks to what has become an impassable divide between the Left and the Right in modern-day America. I’m less surprised with the 2016 election results now than I was back then. 

This brings me to my main observation of the work. At its root, Promised Land is little more than a 700-page “up yours” to Donald Trump. Obama goes to great lengths to point out, on almost every page I might add, all the ways in which he was better than his successor. Better orator, better legislator, better debater, better strategizer, better writer, better human. Again, he wasn’t wrong, but it’s nothing new to anyone who agrees with him, and those who don’t couldn’t care less. Having him spell it out page after page after page only serves to widen the chasm between the two sides.  

Was it an informative and at times an entertaining read? Absolutely.

Was it actually written by Barack Obama and not some ghostwriter? For sure (though I can guarantee you the team of editors that worked on it earned every bit of their paychecks).

Will I read Volume 2 when it comes out? Nope. 

One of These Facts is Actually a Lie

I think this is a good time for you to get to know me a little bit. Though instead of doing a Q&A or blather on about myself I thought I’d do something different. Here is a list of strange, interesting, fascinating, or quirky facts about me – except one.

To make it interesting I am asking you to guess which one of these is a complete lie. When I reach 20 guesses, I will reveal the lie and someone will win signed copies of my books Bent But Not Broken and Hard Truth

The rules:
 
  • Follow me on one or more of these platforms:
  • Comment with your guess at the bottom of this post. For your comment simply which statement you think is FALSE but feel free to comment with other words too!
  • You may only guess once HOWEVER if you email subscribe to this blog you get a bonus guess (you’ll only get emails when I post, which isn’t very often). If you’re on a PC or tablet the link is on the right sidebar. If you’re on a phone tap here, or you can scroll way down to find the form.
  • The day following my receipt of the 20th guess:
    • If one person has guessed correctly, I will award them the prize
    • If more than one person guessed correctly:
      • I will award the prize two whoever has followed me on the most platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email subscribed to my blog)
      • If there’s still a tie, I will award the prize by using a random draw for those who are tied
    • If no one has guessed correctly, I will award the prize using a random draw including everyone who has guessed

Those who know me (or who have been paying attention) will know for certain some of the truths. Don’t spoil it for others! Just comment with your guess and see what some other people think.

Without further delay. Here are the facts (and one lie):
 
  1. I have scored a game-winning goal at Maple Leaf Gardens;
  2. I have assisted Penn & Teller on stage with one of their tricks (Mofo the Psychic Gorilla);
  3. I have been paid as a freelance writer to provide original content to a video game;
  4. I have had a 1-minute conversation and spoken five scripted words on a nationally broadcasted television show (US and Canada);
  5. The episode from #4 aired more than once, and at least one complete stranger has recognized me for this appearance;
  6. It was 20 years before I saw the clip from #4;
  7. I have played and won, hockey games on both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic hockey rinks in Lake Placid New York;
  8. I have had a 500-word anecdote selected for inclusion in a Darwin Awards book;
  9. In the first printing (hardcover) of the Darwin Awards Book, they incorrectly spelled my name;
  10. I have stood in the room where Winston Churchill was born;
  11. I drove for half a kilometre the wrong way down a busy one-way street in Belgium;
  12. I have had a 5000-word short story published about the death of a family member. It’s a comedy;
  13. I have appeared as a street fighting homeless person in a rap music video;
  14. I have eaten snake soup;
  15. I stole a divot from Augusta National Golf Course during the Monday practice rounds at The Masters;
  16. I was once qualified to instruct both flatwater canoeing and small vessel sailing;
  17. I once stayed awake for four and a half days;
  18. I once had a non-speaking role in a TV commercial for a financial institution;
  19. I have been a teacher’s assistant for English as a Second Language children (ages 6-10) with behavioural problems;
  20. The teacher’s assistant job was a block away from the most crime-riddled area of Toronto, Ontario, Canada;
  21. I have broken or cracked the following bones: toe beside the big one on the left foot, left foot/ankle/tibia (from the same accident), left arm (radius AND ulna), left pinky and middle fingers (separate breaks), several ribs, right ankle, right wrist, right pinky finger, nose, head (stitches), and brain (multiple concussions);
  22. I have driven my car to the publicized geographic longitudinal center of Canada;
  23. Last year of high school I did not take notes or use anything but a pencil to write assignments or tests in Calculus. I got 88%.  My last year of university I studied more for my Calculus 3 course than any other subject.  I got 51%;
  24. Speaking of scholastic honours, I once wrote an exam for a second-year university course (Electricity & Magnetism 2) and failed so badly I would have received a higher grade had I skipped the exam altogether (if you no-show on an exam they gave you a default mark for averaging purposes. Spoiler alert: it’s well below 50);
  25. In university, we covered in 9 hours what took Sir Isaac Newton over 20 years to uncover and write down about calculus (granted, he had other things going on).

Steakatarian

** Originally Published April 18, 2010 **
** Updated January 18, 2020 **
** Updated December 31, 2020 **

So when my son started eating real food, he was very particular about eating meat, probably because he didn’t have his molars yet and it was challenging for him to chew.  My daughter, on the other hand, has never shared those concerns.  She’ll eat steak any day of the week.  One day we were all sitting at the dinner table eating a steak dinner with steamed broccoli and potatoes and Alexander was being fussy about the meat.  Jodi puts more broccoli on his plate and comments, “Our little vegetarian.”

Upon hearing this, Avery, head buried in her plate and her elbows up and flapping like a Dodo bird looks up with a mouth full of beef and another piece on her fork and says, “Not me.  I’m a steakatarian!”   She routinely eats an 8oz of steak in a sitting and asks for more.  Daddy’s little girl.

This brings us to…

The Top 5 Steaks I’ve Ever Eaten

Steak

Archie MacDonald52 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

It was bloody cold out last night and upon finding the Yuk Yuk’s comedy club not yet ready to welcome us inside (we were going to see a friend I played hockey with back in the day perform. Dave Hemstad. Check him out) we needed something to eat that was nearby. Not wanting pizza, we happened into this hoity-toity place that looked like it had steak. Entirely underdressed and unprepared to spend a mortgage payment on a meal, my date for the night convinced me it would be an adventure. The freight elevator had an oriental rug in it. The meal was fancy. I did not enjoy the amuse-bouche (roe and caviar on a miniature cracker-sized pancake thing with a dollop of some sort of cream ooze). The bleu cheese with apple and fancy lettuce was good, though the cheese was a bit much for me (I tried it though!) I ordered a glass of Malbec (9oz, of course) and then came the steak. Good golly Miss Molly was it good (hence, the update to my Top 5 steaks list). I finished off my meal with a single serving of tarte tatin. The total? One Million dollars, and worth every penny.

Here’s the new list:

  1. The Fifth Grill & Terrace (Toronto, Ontario)
    Both my dining companion and I had the filet on a 3-course prix fixe menu and we both agreed that it was an absolutely fantastic piece of meat. He doesn’t have a Top 5 list, but I do, and this steak jumped right to the top.

     

  2. Merlot (Ottawa, Ontario – now closed)
    Thick and juicy with a subtle onion and cheese crust on top…. absolutely perfect.

     

  3. Charcoal Steakhouse (Kitchener, Ontario)
    Was halfway through it before I realized I was cutting it with the dull side of my butter knife.

     

  4. Le Papillon (Toronto, Ontario)
    Not known for their steak, but cooked perfectly, nice and tender… I licked my plate clean.

     

  5. St. James’ Gate (Dieppe, New Brunswick) *New to the List*
    Great steak. Thick and perfectly cooked.  Wonderful flavour. On its own, this steak was juicy, tender, and tasty, but I added fried mushrooms and onions and was not disappointed with how this married so well with the flavour of the steak. 
 

Americans Welcome

Americans, you may want to sit down for this. Are you sitting? No, please. Sit down. This is serious. Ready? Okay, here it goes: Your country is broken.

“We can fix it!”

No, sorry, you cannot. You’re terribly broken. Gangrene is has set in and it’s bad.

“How can this be?”

Good question. I first noticed it back in 1990 when you bombed the living hell out of Iraq (to depose a dictator the U.S. helped put in power). Five years later it was the Oklahoma City bombing – an act of domestic terrorism I could hardly fathom. Four years after that came Columbine. That one really stood out. Then another war with Iraq (this time over weapons of mass destruction which we now know for certain was just a cover up to finish the job daddy couldn’t do a decade ago). Sandy Hook. Holy crap on a cracker, Sandy Hook. The religious right. Rampant racism, misogyny, class warfare… The list goes on and on (and on and on and on…) Oh, and every single level of government AND your Supreme Court is bought and paid for. It’s also worth mentioning the last four years *gestures at everything*.

“But…”

The overwhelming response to all of this? Absolutely nothing, unless you count pithy memes on the Internet.

“But lots of people care. We want to change. We CAN change.”

Nope. I don’t think you can. If you were capable of change you would have a Congress that looks a lot different than what it looks like today.

All that red has you blue


“There has to be something that can be done. Come on, doc, throw us a bone here.”

Well…

“Yes, please, tell us!”

If gangrene gets too bad there’s only one thing to do.

“Please, tell us, what is it?”

There are two steps involved with this. Step 1: You see those two black squares up in the Senate diagram up there? Those need to turn blue. The good news is there’s a chance to do just that on January 5, 2021. The bad news is it’s going to be an uphill battle, especially if Georgia Republicans do the only thing they can do to prevent that from happening. If the Democrats can take both of those Senate seats then we move on to Step 2, which is to amputate.

There’s some good news, though.

“Well, there’d better be. Has anyone ever told you your bedside manner sucks?”

I’m sorry, That’s very un-Canadian. But onto the good news. Remember 1812? Specifically, the war.

“Yes, we kicked your lily asses.”

Well, there’s some debate on how that ended, and we did torch Washington (which is actually the reason the White House is painted white – to cover up the fact that we burned the heck out of it) but that’s neither here nor there.

The deal with the War of 1812 was this: North America was being colonized at a phenomenal rate and you guys wanted a bunch of “British” land and decided to come take it. We were all like, screw that, and fought back. It’s way more complicated, of course. We can’t ignore the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples made in the name of “progress” (hence, the quotes around “British” land). But, the whitewashed history books will sum it up into a battle for the stuff between the 40th and 54th parallels with the resulting borders ending up looking more or less like they do now.


“So, what’s your point?”

Well, I propose we annex a slice of the northern United States. Literally cut it out and stitch it onto the south end of Canada. Not quite as far down as the 40th parallel, but close enough. Everyone living in those areas would either stick around and live in a country that’s not completely off their rocker or get the hell out of Dodge and head South.

“If a bunch of Americans start migrating south, won’t that crowd up everywhere below the 40th parallel?”

Nope, because we’d open up the new border to accept American refugees from the south too! Call it a citizenship swap. Off your rocker? South of 40. Not off your rocker? North of 40. We’re already bringing in a metric tonne of Syrians and have a pretty good track record with this sort of humanitarian peacekeeping stuff. Okay, we had a really dark period there between 2006 and 2015, but we’ve fixed that problem and we’re just about good as new.

“Would you take whole states or just cut a swath across the top all nice and straight?”

We’ll take whole states and make a straightish line. We’ll assume control of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming (reluctantly), both Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. We’ll also take California off your hands because they’re super cool, the weather is fantastic, and there are already a whole bunch of Canadian folks in showbiz there anyway. Just think, you could have Ryan Reynolds ALL THE TIME!

In tribute to the native peoples who were slaughtered, we’ll immediately rename two states south of Ontario “Lower East Saskatchewan” and “Lower East Saskatchewan South” – maybe New Hampshire and New York but we can sort that out later. We’ll also talk about renaming some of the others once everyone gets settled.

“What about Alaska and Hawaii?”

OMG, I completely forgot about them! We’ll take those too, but only under the condition that Sarah Palin gets out of Alaska and Barack Obama becomes Premier of Hawaii (Canadian version of a State Governor). Also he’ll get to be Prime Minister after Justin Trudeau.

“This could work.”

Don’t worry, this will be epic. Canada will absolutely OWN potatoes, maple syrup (even more than it does now), wheat (tonnes of wheat – so much wheat), marijuana (even more than it does now), entertainment, cheese, and whatever the heck Wyoming is good for.

“You know, this idea is actually kind of good.”

I know!

“One question: why do you keep using the word ‘tonne’? Isn’t it ‘ton’?”

Oh, that. It’s metric. You’ll have to start using a system of measurement that’s used in every country except the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar. It’s actually quite easy to…

“Screw that. No deal. [mumbling] And you think we’re off our rockers? Metric system. Pfft.”

Aw man, this sucks. What am I supposed to do with this flag?

The Only Way Georgia Republicans Can Win The Runoffs

You may have heard by now that on November 3rd there was an election in the United States. It was a hotly contested affair in which Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, won the popular vote by over 7 million and in the count that actually matters when determining the winner, they won the Electoral College by a count of 306 to 232 over the incumbent Donald Trump and his Vice President, Mike Pence. Or did they?

2020 Election Results

In the weeks since the election, President Trump and members of the Republican party have launched more than 50 lawsuits contesting the results of the election. Unfortunately for them, it’s not going very well, with only one of the cases going their way. They allege that the fraud was rampant but concealed so well as to be undetectable. Indeed, one of the lawsuits that was dismissed (with Trump & Co. planning to appeal) alleges that in the state of Georgia voting machines allowed Democratic officials to add votes for Biden.

Now, because of the Electoral College, Georgia’s votes alone won’t overturn the election, but if they can prove there was fraud at the hands of the Democrats and the voting machines they used, it would open up a veritable pandora’s box and potentially change the outcome. On the downside, they’re having a hard time proving their case. On the upside, there’s an opportunity in January for them to blow it wide open. You see, in addition to voting for their President, Americans also voted for members of Congress, including much of the Senate, and two of those races were too close to call and were sent to a runoff election.

Why is this important? It is because if the Democrats win both contests then they will control the Senate (with VP Harris casting the deciding vote). If they lose one or both then Republicans keep control of the Senate and will maintain their grip on power even without someone in the White House. With one lawsuit already filed and ready for appeal regarding the results in Georgia, these two runoff elections provide the perfect chance for Republicans to prove voter fraud.

But how?

This is where it gets interesting. Remember how votes just “appeared” for Biden in Georgia? This was done with an undetectable hack to the voting machines to switch them over from imperial measurement (i.e. American) to metric. The voting machine company has one of their head offices in Canada and Canada uses the metric system. When they send a machine to the U.S., the programmers make a small programmatic change, akin to flipping a switch, so it works properly in America, and someone in Georgia figured out how to flip it back.

Elections are often called races and this nomenclature invokes images of distances, like a running event. Well, in the metric system it takes 1.6 kilometers to make up a mile so when an American voting machine is set to metric, with the right hack it will set one of the two options, Democrat or Republican, to count for 1.6 times more. This is what Georgia Democrats did in the general election and this is what they’re going to do in the runoffs.

So what can Georgia Republicans do?

The answer is: NOT VOTE.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but it’s the only way. Because those voting machines were used in states where Trump won it’s really hard to prove that certain machines were tampered with while others weren’t. If it wasn’t for a record number of Republicans voting in Georgia the fraud would have been as apparent as the nose on your face but the razor-thin margin made it look close. So close that all the fraudulent votes were undetectable.

In order to bring this malfeasance to light, the only way is for Georgia Republicans to stay home and not vote in the runoffs on January 5. This way, when the margin of victory for the Democrats exceeds the total number of votes actually cast, the proof will be irrefutable. When the Supreme Court sees this evidence and calculates the difference to be exactly a factor of 1.6, not only will those two Senate seats go to Republicans, so too will the presidency.

Game, set, and match.

Find The Beginning And Start There

Recently, I did a talk at a local public school for kids in grades 6, 7, and 8. It was about finding and sustaining your passion. I started with the sustaining part because I don’t feel that there’s a formula for finding one. Indeed, I just happened upon mine in an odd sort of mildly terrifying way.

Do you ever wonder how you get superpowers, and say to yourself, “Maybe if I just think about getting them I can get them,” as if you can will it into existence? Deep down, or likely not even that deep down, you know that just thinking it doesn’t actually work. Well, when I’m writing, it does work. If I can think it, dream it up, make it up, play make believe, I can make it real.

I asked the kids a question: Can anyone tell me the difference between a writer and a non-writer?

I spoke to two groups of two classes and in both talks one of the kids got the answer. Writers write. What I shared with them after that seemingly obvious nugget of information was what I felt was the best part. You don’t have to have dreamed about doing it since you were an infant in order to do it. It does not need to be woven into your DNA. It does not need to be your raison d’être. This applies to any endeavour, too.

With respect to writing, there’s an even better than best part. You don’t even need to be any good at it. I didn’t get my first “A” in English until the 12th grade – and that was an 11th grade class. True story. I still can’t tell you much about subordinate clauses, dangling participles, split infinitive, or gerunds. No word of a lie, I had to look that last one up.

What I tried to impart on these young, impressionable minds was that a lot of people don’t know where or when their passion developed because it’s always been there, but I argued that there are more people out there who discovered it quite deliberately, and probably even more still who can tell you the precise moment that sent them off in that direction.

Do you know the story of Andre De Grasse, the Canadian sprinter? He joined the track team on a bet and had to be convinced there would be girls at the meets (aside: I wonder how many people in history have found their passion because they were looking to score a little action?) He ran his first race in basketball shorts and shoes and didn’t use starting blocks. Ten years later he won the silver medal in the 200 m and bronze medals in the 100 m and 4×100 m relay at the Olympics. His best time in the 200 m is a Canadian national record. Had he not made that bet, it’s a good bet he wouldn’t have any of those accomplishements.

I had a similar moment that didn’t involve wagers or basketball shoes or girls but was nonetheless exciting and it was the moment that started this crazy journey I’ve been on ever since.

It started shortly after I lit myself on fire. NOT on purpose! No, no, no, that is a terrible idea. I know, because I happened to do it by accident and it sucked. It sucked on a galactic level. But it happened, and since I managed to get lucky I could laugh about it. So I did.

The next day all these people at work kept asking me what happened and I was tired of telling the story, so I wrote it out and sent a company wide email. Keep in mind this was back when email wasn’t what it was now. It was still relatively new and special. Anyway, this got me in trouble with the C.O.O. at the time for “misusing company resources”. One person who read the mail, though, said I should submit it to the Darwin Awards as a personal account. I did, and promptly forgot about it.

A full two years later i got an email from Darwin herself, Wendy Northcutt, saying that my story was in the top 20 ALL TIME for a personal account and did she have my permission to use it in her next book. I said yes.

When my signed copy came in the mail and I opened it up and saw my story in there it was the greatest feeling in the world. THAT was the moment, even though they spelled my name wrong (that error by the publisher stopped the press, also a true story, but they fixed it for the paperback edition).

The date is also wrong. I gave her permission to use the story August 2002 but the story happened in 2000.

Since then I’ve written so many things for so many reasons and no matter how long writer’s block or a drought lasts, I always end up scribbling something down or making a note in a pad that sits on my desk, because you never know, it might just spark another moment and bring me one stride closer to the literary equivalent of an Olympic medal.

~ Andrew

Remember That Time?

Memories are fascinating. How do they work? In asking myself this question it became clear that I didn’t have the foggiest idea. I thought it was sort of like a hard drive where your brain would accept sensory input and then some sort of fancy synapse thing happened and, voila!, memory. Turns out that while this is a gross oversimplification it’s not actually that far off. There’s a lot that goes into encoding, storing, and retrieving a memory, and the science behind it will blow your mind (multiple times if you can remember it all). One thing the big foreheads in the science labs found out was that for the vast majority of people, their brain decides if it’s important enough to be worthy of remembering and if so it encodes and stores it for future reference.

For those in the memory game, they talk about building a Memory Palace; a visual story around what you want to remember, and the more absurd the better. Absurdity is memorable! This is likely also one of the reasons our memories are extremely fallible. Our brains don’t necessarily pick up on the details that are actually important. That said, there are some aspects of our day-to-day lives that are surefire memory triggers: songs, smells, and foods. I’d be willing to bet that these triggers factor more into whether or not you remember something than how “significant” the event is. Think about all the, “Where were you when…” moments that are supposed to be significant and then analyze what you actually remember about the event. I’m willing to bet that the other sensory details that were happening at the time are what’s driving the memory.

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Songs, smells, and foods.

I know tonnes of people who have memories triggered by music and I am no exception to that. Here are just a few of the hundreds of songs that invoke a strong, specific memory for me:

  • Bootsauce, Everyone’s a Winner:
    • I spent eight hours on a bus with a bunch of teenagers travelling from Toronto to Killington, Vermont for an epic ski trip. This song was played more than any other.
  • Angels and Airwaves, The Adventure:
    • When my wife was pregnant with our second child I worked 45 minutes from home. When I got the call that she was in labour I put the pedal to the metal and hauled ass home. When I was a few minutes out this song started playing. The lyric “Life’s waiting to begin” hung in the air as I pulled into the driveway.
  • U2, any song off the Joshua Tree album:
    • I have lots of memories of this album but one, in particular, comes to mind when I hear any song off this album and that’s the craft hut at my old summer camp. I wandered in one day and the final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two stared I began to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the girls from Cabin 2 started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full-blown singalong. We spent the rest of the hour singing and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple of counsellors, and U2. Thirty years later I had the privilege of taking my daughter to see the band play the album in its entirety.

As someone with a boatload of seasonal allergies who is scent sensitive (you know, “scentsitive”. I’ll see myself out.) I find my olfactory system triggers memory more often than anything else. In fact, I can even think of an instance where someone once described something to me and associated the smell of instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal with it and now I can’t smell brown sugar without that visual coming to mind. A few other notable smellmories:

  • Lilacs
    • At some point in my childhood, my mom planted a lilac bush in the backyard and since we didn’t have air conditioning the windows were often open. In spite of my severe seasonal allergies I never really minded the smell. Lilacs remind me of home.
  • Fresh-baked tea biscuits
    • My father’s mother always struck me as being very proper. She never swore like my mum’s mum and she never let me win at cards or crokinole. Whenever we’d visit she’d make tea and biscuits and then she’d read my tea leaves.
  • Weed
    • My first experience with smelling the Devil’s Lettuce was at the Canadian university football championships, the Vanier Cup, which at the time was played at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. My dad and his friend took my friend and I and we were way up in the bleachers and all the university students around us were smoking it. Not long after I went to my first concert, The Rolling Stones at Skydome in 1989, and while I was not accompanied by any adults, all the adults around me were getting high!
https://static1.puretrend.com/articles/5/50/97/5/@/511189-le-festival-de-woodstock-en-1969-opengraph_1200-4.jpg

And then there are foods. These are often a combination of sight, taste, and smell for me, though if I had to divide it up I’d say that sight ranks lowest, followed by smell, with taste at the top. Maybe it’s because food incorporates so many of the senses (all of them, if you’re fortunate enough to experience them all to begin with), but for me, this one paints the most vivid picture. Off the top of my head:

  • Cilantro
    • This one is funny because it brings me back to the time when there was a salad made, I won’t say by who, and instead of whatever was supposed to be the base for the salad cilantro was used instead. After everyone had a bite it was determined that a grave mistake had been made and the salad was removed from the table.
  • Lasagna
    • I used to work as a busboy for this banquet hall / private club and once a month was Italian Night. Around 400 people would pack the large hall and a dozen old Italian ladies would take over the kitchen. Normally we’d have our own kitchen staff but not on Italian Night. The smell of the lasagnas cooking in the giant 3′ x 3′ metal pans was amazing. All the hall staff would get to eat once we’d served all the guests and it was absolutely scrumptious. Of course, all the busboys had to clean up so it wasn’t 100% enjoyable, but it was definitely worth it.
  • Grapefruit
    • I was going on my first plane ride, alone, to visit my grandparents in Florida and at the airport, I was nervous and nauseous. Back then you could get farther in without a boarding pass and my mum was with me and she went and bought me a grapefruit juice. She said it would calm me down and settle my stomach. Of course, she was just making that up and hoping that the placebo effect would kick in. It did, of course, and now every time I have a grapefruit juice (or an actual grapefruit) I remember that moment and feel a sense of calm.
By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41054604

What about you? What are some of your biggest memory triggers? Keep it positive, if you can, since the world needs more of those memories being shared these days.

Rest in Peace, Professor

Here we are, again. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion of life, we have lost another great musician. The last decade has seen many greats shuffle off this mortal coil and some have hit me harder than others. This one is near the top for me, and I know it’s way up there for many others. What is it about music and musicians that have this effect on us? I think it’s because music breaks down barriers. In a world hell-bent on dividing us, it brings us together. It’s part of our every day. It’s there for the good times and bad. It makes us feel. It transcends. My wife absolutely loves music and everything about it and that’s one of the things I absolutely love about her.

NeilPeart

Back in September or October of 1988, I was sitting in the first-floor hallway of my high school when my friend Jeremy plopped himself down beside me. He had a Walkman and he was air drumming. He said something to the extent of, “You GOTTA listen to this.” He rewound the tape a bit and handed me the headphones. Once I had them on, he pressed play and I heard the opening chords to Limelight. By the ninth measure, the thump-da-thump of Neil Peart’s drums kicked in and I was completely hooked on RUSH not 20 seconds into the first of their songs I’d ever heard. For the next twenty years, they were my #1 band. Even today, thirty years later and a good five since they retired, I’d put them in my top three.

I can remember back in 1993 my friends and I would huddle in front of computers in the math building at the University of Waterloo and connect to The Internet. We’d hit the newsgroups and bulletin boards searching for nuggets of information to sate our fanboy desires. Some of my friends would go to alt.music.nirvana and others to alt.music.pearljam. I went to alt.music.rush and even then the internet consipirators were out in full force.

“Neil Peart has cancer. That’s why he wears that beanie on his head!”

– Early Internet Trolls

Five years later daughter died in a car crash and ten months after that he lost his wife to cancer. Twenty years after that the Early Internet Trolls’ prognostications came true, and as off base as they were back then I can imagine they, like so many of us today, are crushed by the news.

Neil was the soft-spoken one. Neil was the lyricist. The quiet brooder tapping out “YYZ” in Morse code in the studio because he saw the Toronto airport tag on his luggage (“YYZ” is the transmitter code for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport) and liked the beat. That would later become an instrumental of the same title that was nominated for a Grammy (losing to The Police’s “Behind My Camel”).

I haven’t tested the theory yet but I am certain that there is a lyric that he’s written that maps perfectly to every moment in my life. He wrote books as well as lyrics. He made a number of instructional videos. He used his fame and recognition to bring styles of music to the masses that we would have otherwise ignored.

“He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”

Dave Grohl

If you’ve been on social media for the past 18 hours you’ve no doubt seen all the messages, condolences, and tributes come rolling in. There are a lot of them. The most well-known musicians in the world today are talking about it. That’s the type of influence Neil Peart had on not just music, but the music industry. He touched so many, myself included, and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and of course to Geddy and Alex.

There are literally thousands of lyrics to choose from to close out my thoughts but one that was penned by Neil’s bandmates seems most apt. For me, it perfectly sums up what it was like having Neil behind the drum kit and I can imagine Geddy and Alex felt much the same way.

“You can take me for a little while
You can take me
You can make me smile
In the end”

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson

…in bed.

My brother gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago. I stuffed it somewhere “handy” and forgot about it until recently. In an effort to keep words flowing and provide some nifty blog content for my new and improved website, I thought I’d tackle all 642 writing prompts and see what happens.

From the looks of things, there are anywhere from 1 to 5 prompts on each page and the ones on each page are somewhat related. If I were to do one prompt a day we’d be here for almost two years, which is fine by me but also seems a smidgen ambitious. It might also make for some really short posts, which also might not be a bad thing, but I also feel like there needs to be a bit more on the page before I hit publish. So, one page of prompts per post regardless of how many are on the page. I won’t do one every day and I can’t even promise one a week, but I will try to do them with some regularity.

Prompt #1

“Write yesterday’s fortune cookie. It got everything wrong.”

  • Everything will go exactly as planned (in bed)

Prompt #2

“Write last year’s fortune cookie. It got everything right.”

  • You will be in awe of the resiliency and accomplishments of your family and friends and grateful to have them in your life (in bed)
Ksayer1 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]