Tag Archives: Orange Karen

The 30-Day Song Challenge – Days 4-10

June 6 – Day 4 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me sad

Ugh. I’m a very emotional guy (hello, Pisces!) and I feel things quite deeply. There are TV commercials that make me cry, retelling the story of my daughter’s successful spinal surgery makes me cry, and yes, when I hear certain songs an overwhelming sense of melancholy comes over me. Some songs are simply sad. Some have sad events associated with them. Others just happened to be playing when I was sad about something completely unrelated. This song, however, always seems to make me sad when I hear it. It’s a song about loss and how you can avoid the pain of it but only at the cost of not experiencing what you loved in the first place.

“Our lives
Are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss
The dance”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpwdwbO1uvM]

June 7 – Day 5 of the  30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of someone

The piss from the cow struck the windshield of the convertible and shot up, hitting Vern square in the face. The fact that he was in the middle of belting out “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” at the time made it all the more unbelievable. Nonetheless, it happened, and that cow could not have picked a better target; not because he deserved to get a face full of cow urine, but because of the way Vern handled it. He managed to keep his dad’s blue Miata on the road and he laughed about it afterwards. Heck, he laughed out loud and proud every time he told the story.

That’s the opening paragraph to the short story “Losing Vern”, my first publication and part of the Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior anthology. Vern, in this exaggerated and creative non-fiction piece is actually by brother-in-law, Ryan, and the opening paragraph is true. The rest of the story goes on to explain the unfortunate and bizarre events that followed his unexpected and tragic death.

I can’t hear John Denver without thinking about him and I especially can’t hear “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” without breaking out in a smile and shedding a tear at the same time. I miss you, Ryan. We all do.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRuCPS_-_IA]

June 8 – Day 6 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of somewhere

I could probably name a hundred songs that remind me of somewhere. There is one that takes me back to two somewheres and I didn’t even know it had this power until I heard it played by the person I was with where these somewheres were. Thinking back, I suppose it could have been any number of tunes that took me back to those spots but this song is familiar to me and it has always been a favourite of mine, from the first time I heard it in the John Hughes flick The Breakfast Club.

Yup, it’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds and the man playing it is none other than my dearly departed friend, Riaz. Ri played a cover of this tune sometime in 2012, I think, and his friend posted it to YouTube. When I first heard him playing it I was immediately transported back to my first-year university residence in 1993 and Riaz’s basement of the house he shared with some mutual friends in 1994 and 1995. These are places for which my memories are vivid and fond and they involve Riaz with his guitar and me sitting in awe of what he could do with the instrument and me sloppily singing along and undoubtedly fucking up the words to every song he played, including this one, I’m sure.

Whenever I hear the song now, I hear Riaz’s cover and I’m right back in residence in 1993 with a pack of Du Maurier Lights, long blonde bangs, my future wife on one side of me and Riaz on the other, smiling and in love with whatever music he decided to bring to life in that moment.
Don’t worry, Ri, we don’t forget about you.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHds-D9N688]

June 9 – Day 7 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of an event

As with most of these song challenge categories there are quite a few songs for each one that I could pick. A song that reminds me of an event, for me, has dozens upon dozens to choose from. I figure that since I’ve spent ¼ of the first 8 days talking about death that I would take this opportunity to reminisce in the other direction.

It was May 19, 2006, and it was the Friday of the Victoria Day long weekend. Jodi and I had our friends Trevor & Iza and their two kids over for the weekend and Jodi was ten days from her due date. I was working on the other side of the city and a good 45 minute drive from home.

Sometime around 10 am Jodi called me. “I need you to get home now,” she said. I hopped in my car and began the drive home. Fortunately any rush hour traffic had abated and I was able to treat the speed limit as more of a guideline. As I came within 5 minutes of my house the song “The Adventure” by Angels and Airwaves came on the radio. 

The chorus starts like this: “Hey oh, here I am, and here we go, life’s waiting to begin.”

Indeed it was.

I drove my wife to the hospital where I got the paperwork done around 11:30 am. Less than fifteen minutes later our second child was born, all ten pounds nine ounces of him. We were home by 2:30 pm (and that was only because I installed the car seat wrong and then got stuck behind someone who couldn’t work the paid parking machine). We had pizza for dinner and Trevor and Iza spent the weekend with us and our bouncing baby sumo wrestler of a newborn.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMl8cQjBfqk]

June 10 – Day 8 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I know all the words to

This one is kind of funny because I am TERRIBLE at knowing the words to stuff. I live inside the melody and can tell you how they go for hundreds and hundreds of songs but remembering words has never been my strong suit, which is ironic because I was in a little coffee shop band for a bit and was responsible for, you know, actually singing the words.

So I’m going to take a song out of our repertoire and use that for this category, because I know all the words and enjoy the song 🙂  This also happens to be a song by a band that my “big” sister, Kari, introduced me to way back in the 80’s. She always had good taste in music and even accompanied me to a Rush concert back in the early 90’s. I am pretty sure she was the one girl in the audience.

Anyway, back to the song. Crowded House singing “Better Be Home Soon” (their version, not the Argyle Speedo one).
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQOlwMKpmvQ]

June 11 – Day 9 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I can dance to

So here’s the thing: I don’t dance. It’s not something I, what’s the word? Do. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. I have danced before, and on every occasion it hasn’t been pretty. It’s barely been observable as actual dancing. My go-to move is The Sprinkler. That pretty much says it all. Oh, I also almost broke a leg trying to “thread the needle”. Look it up on YouTube and imagine a six foot two inch gangling string bean of a white dude trying to pull that one off in front of the TV watching music videos.

All of that said, there is a song that when played I just have to groove to it. It’s the beat that I love and I can’t stop my toes from tapping whenever I hear it. The original, with its rapey lyrics, pisses me off to no end and I feel super guilty about “grooving to it” so I am glad “Weird Al” Yankovic did a parody with a  set of lyrics that speaks to me and denizens of my friends.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc]

June 12 – Day 10 of the 30-Day Song Challenge 

A song that makes me fall asleep

When I was in university I used to put on music before bed to help me fall asleep. University residence was very loud and I’ve never been the best sleeper and sometimes when you close your eyes and relax a little Pink Floyd is just what the moment calls for. When I started sharing a bed regularly with Jodi, whether it was in one of our apartments or in our bedroom when we first moved in together, we would always have music on to go to bed. There was LOTS of Sarah McLachlan and Counting Crows. So much Counting Crows. It was a lot of Counting Crows. I don’t think I can understate how much Counting Crows we listened to.

When it was just me in bed though, I would often look to something a little more instrumental, a little more transcendental, and a little less Counting Crowsy. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D was always a good one, as was anything from Orbital or the aforementioned Pink Floyd, but one of the first albums I used to listen to at bedtime was the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I’m sure I would still fall asleep in an instant if I lay down and listened to it today.

Here’s the Piano Guys playing the title track originally written by John Williams.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pvci1hwAx8]

~ Andrew

The Real Black Friday

Being born on the thirteenth of a month (in North America at least) can be fun. It means that throughout your life you’ll have a Friday the 13th birthday. My first was in 1981 (7 years old). I honestly don’t remember it. The next one was in 1987 when I turned thirteen on Friday the 13th. That day was awesome; everyone was so nice to me. For one day I was the coolest kid in school.

The next one was just as memorable: in 1992 I turned 18, my birthday present was sex for the first time, and even though I was all grown up I still couldn’t watch the Friday the 13th movies (too scary!) My 24th birthday in 1998 was uneventful unless you count the fact that it was around then that I quit smoking (haven’t smoked since!)

Then began a nice stretch of more than a decade without a birthday on a Friday. That stretch ended in 2009 at the age of 35. It also marks the loss of my wife’s brother and will forever be remembered as the worst. birthday. ever.

Every birthday since has been bitter sweet. On one hand I am reminded of all the truly wonderful people that I have in my life. I’m also still having birthdays, and that’s a good thing. On the other hand it’s tough because Ryan meant so much to everyone, and that day is just one more reminder that he’s gone.

This year marks the first Friday the 13th since that fateful day six years ago. My wife and I are taking our daughter for a follow-up with her surgeon and the family will go out for dinner that night. We’ll celebrate my life for a few minutes and remember Ryan’s as well. Last year the cat died on my birthday so this year we’re hoping either the frog or the hamster will take one for the team.

My next Friday the 13th birthday won’t be until 2020 (when I turn, wait for it… 46). After that I can look forward to that special birthday in ’26, 37, ’43, ’48, ’54, ’65, ’71, and ’76 (where I’ll be a ripe old 102). I hope to make it that far and beyond, remembering Ryan on every Friday the 13th birthday, every other birthday, and each and every day in between.

Live. Laugh. Love.

~ Andrew

Based on a True Story

Being a writer, especially one without decades of experience under his belt, is always an interesting experience. Every time I sit down at the keyboard to write, edit, or research I come across something new that either challenges me, alters my perspective, or sends me scrambling to the corner in tears. Lately, I’ve come across something that touched on all three: 

Non-fiction. Thankfully they were tears of joy and not fear or agony. 

Now, I have written non-fiction before. It was actually creative non-fiction in the form of a short story titled Losing Vern that was published in the Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior anthology. It’s a great anthology with all royalties going to another writer, Karen DeLabar, to assist her with some pretty hefty medical bills. You can read all about it here. My contribution was an embellished version of the story of the death of my wife’s brother and the few strange days that followed. As I mentioned, it was more creative non-fiction than anything else. 

The piece of non-fiction that has me excited to be a writer this week is more of a documentary than anything else. There are no embellishments or creative licenses taken to sensationalize otherwise mundane events. It is not a “how to” or instructional. It’s just a story. A true story about real people sharing their true emotions and real experiences. It also happens to be the story of my daughter and how she, my wife, and I navigated through the scary waters of an 11 hour scoliosis surgery as well as the months of agonizing waiting before and agonizing recovery after. 

One thing I discovered was that this type of story was much easier to outline. I’m smiling as I type that because the outline was pretty much already written. With over 60 blog posts over at our family scoliosis blog over the past 5 months or so all the major plot points are laid out quite nicely. 

Another thing I discovered was that there will be a lot less dialogue. This frightens me slightly as everything I’ve written to this point (blog posts excluded) has been quite dialogue heavy. If I were to evaluate my skills as a writer (not comparing them with anyone else) I’d say that near the top of my list would be my ability to write dialogue. In fact, it’s the most frequent compliment I get from people who have read Losing Vern (which includes my father the English major, retired educator, and voracious reader who is not known to throw around literary compliments all willy nilly). This story will rely on the power of narrative to keep the reader engaged, which isn’t my strong suit. With my fiction novels I sometimes embark on the familiar “show don’t tell” struggle, so this will be a good exercise for me. That being said, I open this latest book with dialogue (in some circles this is an egregious no-no). 

The last thing I discovered is that this book will not be finished for another 11 months. To be fair to myself most of it will be written before the middle of this year, but I wanted to follow the story from diagnosis (March 31, 2014) through to a full year post surgery (January 20, 2016). That leaves quite a bit of story left to tell, but trust me, it’s compelling stuff. Any story that contains a war wound like the one my daughter is sporting is worth telling, and worth waiting for. 

At this point I think I’ll do something I haven’t done on the blog before – share an excerpt. Without further ado, here’s the opening to my latest work in progress:

Bent But Not Broken

One Family’s Journey from Scoliosis Diagnosis to Surgery and Beyond

Andrew F. Butters (Dad)

With Contributions From:
Jodi Wilks-Butters (Mom) Avery Butters (Patient)

“Daddy, so Avery has screws and rods now.”
“Yes. Two titanium rods and 27 screws.”
“Are they on the outside or the inside?”
“They’re on the inside.”
“And they had to cut her open to get them in there?”
“Yes, they did.”
“They sewed her back up though, right?”
Ah, to be able to see the world through the eyes of an 8 year old boy. That was a conversation I had with my son, AJ, two days after his 12 year old sister, Avery, awoke from an 11 hour surgery to correct her scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine. When viewed from behind, the spine looks like an “S”, but the actual deformity is much more complex. It occurs in three dimensions. Avery’s spine was bent and twisted like a helix. Left uncorrected the condition would have impacted her internal organs, squeezing them into places they were not meant to be. Digestion would have been impacted and breathing would have become difficult. Her spine would become increasingly deformed, squishing her torso like an accordion. There would have been pain; a whole lot of pain.
What caused it? We don’t know. No one knows, not even the doctors. “Idiopathic”, they said. Which is just a fancy medical term for, “we don’t know”.
  • How did we find out?
  • How long did you have to wait for surgery?
  • Was she scared?
  • Were you scared?
  • What exactly did they do to fix it?
  • How long does it take to heal?
  • Will she be able to do everything she did before?
  • Will she beep when she goes through airport security?

Those are just a sampling of the questions my wife and I have been asked since we decided to go public with this diagnosis (with Avery’s permission, of course). I suggested that my daughter start a journal to capture her experiences and thoughts in an effort to help her process everything. Her mother and my wife, Jodi, immediately went looking on the internet for other people’s experiences and didn’t quite come up with anything she found particularly useful. There was a lot of medical information, most of it from the United States, and a whack of case studies, but very little in terms of what we as a family or Avery as a patient would be experiencing. So, she stared a blog where we could all contribute and share our perspectives on this life changing event.

To answer the first question, “How did we find out?” we, naturally, have to start at the beginning: with a suspicious mole on our son’s neck.

One Night Only: Chuck Wendig’s Beard

As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, particularly those that revolve around NaNoWriMo, I am a pantser. Even the idea of planning out something before I write it gives me the heebie-jeebies. The problem with this is I am slightly (i.e. very) compulsive about certain things and in order for me to make decent progress I have to plan.

The same goes for any self improvement activity, whether it’s a new hobby or honing the skills of a particular craft like photography or writing. I got a new camera, a shiny new Nikon D90 a few years ago and read a couple things online and started snapping pictures. I had taken a photography course at the local community college a decade ago and figured I would just wing it. The results were better than average, but they weren’t great, so I took a couple more classes specifically geared toward the camera I owned and then started taking tonnes of pictures. The result? I wouldn’t classify them as “great”, but they are certainly better than anything I’ve ever done and I’m quite pleased.

When it comes to writing I’ve done a lot of reading, but not as much reading about how to write as I have much as I have for research and pleasure. This is not a bad thing, but just as reading about rocket science isn’t going to actually make me a rocket scientist, reading books isn’t going to make me an author. I’ve also done some writing, though not nearly as much as I should. I haven’t even amassed half a million words yet, in spite of finishing a first draft of a novel, having written 50,000 words towards a second novel, 20,000 words toward a third, and 52,000 words on my blog in the last 16 months.

So, when my friend and Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior publisher Christina Esdon sent me a message on Facebook a few months ago asking if I wanted to go to an all day writer’s workshop given by none other than Chuck Wendig I didn’t even have to check the calendar twice. I bought a ticket within minutes and yesterday morning she met me at my house and we carpooled into Toronto to go learn how to “art harder”, as chuck is wont to say from time to time (usually with a well place expletive at the end).

I own (but have not yet read) all of Chuck’s books on the writing craft and get every one of his blog posts over at Terrible Minds but didn’t have any idea what to expect. If you want the executive summary now here’s all you need to know: it was worth every penny ($90) and I’d do it again in the beat of a heart.

The room we set up very formally, with a podium at the front and rows of tables that each sat three people. After some background from Chuck on how he came to be a full time professional writer we got right down to business. We covered a wide range of topics and he had us do exercises for each one where we got to share with the class, get feedback from him and the others, and even participate in crowd-sourced story creation. It ended with a Q&A session on writing and storytelling and then a book signing / photo op.

Some of the stuff we covered:

  • Log lines
  • Themes
  • Characters
    • Problems
    • Solutions
    • Limitations
    • Complications
    • Strengths
    • Boons
    • Character Log lines

I’m not normally much of a note taker and even mentioned to Christina that I wasn’t sure I would take any notes, but I did have this wonderful pen my brother bought me for Christmas and a notepad just in case. By the end of the all day session I had taken six pages of notes (including stuff written for the exercises). In addition to that, I came up with one new idea for a series and several improvements for the novel that I’m editing.

On top of all that, I got to eat lunch with Chuck and spend some time having normal conversations. Well as normal as they could be given the fact that he’s this hugely successful writer on his first trip to Canada and I’m a newbie writer Chuck Wendig fanboy who grew up 15 minutes from where we were sitting noshing on some tasty Pickle Barrel sandwiches.

I scribbled down a little humorous line in my notebook while Chuck was talking with Christina and at a break in the conversation asked him if he’d do me the pleasure of signing it. He went one better and added a line of his own before penning his name to the bottom. Day = made. In addition to being a great writer and knowing his shit when it comes to the craft I can honestly say that he’s also one of the most genuine dudes I’ve ever met as well as beyond patient when it comes to his fans and fellow writers (especially considering how creepy I was being).

Hopefully this won’t cause Chuck any problems at the border

Finally, as if all of the above wasn’t enough he’s also got that awesome beard, which would come in really handy if I were in need of a good name for a punk band or thoroughbred racehorse.

Chuck Wending’s Beard

~ Andrew

Anyone Can Write a Book

So this quote came across my Facebook wall a week or so ago:

“After I had written this book I told several friends. Their response was polite and mild. Later I was able to tell them the book was going to be published. Almost to a man they used the words ‘I am proud of you.’ They were proud of the result but not of the action.” – Hugh Prather

Attached to that post was some additional commentary from the person who posted the quote. He was proud of all his friends for their actions, not the end results. In that moment, I felt very fortunate to know this person and I felt even more fortunate that he was just one of many people in my life who echoed that sentiment. 

You see I have written a short story that was published in an anthology. When I got the email saying that I had made it into the book my wife came up to me and said, “Congratulations, you’re a published author!” On the surface would appear that this was praise attached to the result. That would be true as becoming published is a big deal, however, if we go back not a month earlier I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

NaNo, as it is affectionately known, is a challenge to write a novel in 30 days (a novel being defined as at least 50,000 words). I tried in 2011 and failed miserably, barely squeaking out 21,000 words. In 2012 I also squeaked out a number – 50,000 in 29 days (I took the last day off to celebrate AND grew a moustache for Movember the whole time). As soon as I crossed the 50,000 word plateau I paused and took a moment to soak it all in. My wife wrapped her arms around my neck, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Congratulations, you’re a novelist!” 

The support and the support of those around me as I muddle my way through this whole book writing thing is absolutely outstanding. To them, and certainly to me, the journey toward becoming a novelist is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Fast forward to one of the first comments on that Facebook post I started this article with. It read: 

“Anyone can write a book. The trick is writing something good enough to convince a publisher that enough people will find it interesting enough to buy.”

Sitting on my couch reading that comment over and over I went right properly ballistic.

After settling down a bit I re-read it and I guess there’s a certain amount of truth to the statement. In one month, technically, I wrote a book, but his over simplification of the task and his assertion that for your book to be “good” you need to “convince a publisher that enough people will find it interesting enough to buy”, are well… *cough cough* bullshit *cough cough* 

First of all, I suspect that there’s only so much convincing that you (or your agent) can do. At the end of the day content is king. It does need to be interesting, but the idea that if you can’t convince a publisher it will sell that you have nothing to be proud of, or that your book isn’t good,  is completely absurd. Quite frankly, those sound like the words of someone who is never going to write a book.

The first thought that went through my head was actually, Sure anyone can write a book. In the same way that anyone can become an astronaut. This was echoed by my writer friend Gareth Young when I mentioned this Facebook post to him and he replied:

“It’s a little like saying you just have to study and train hard, be a genius level polymath and Olympic level athlete to be an astronaut. Sounds pretty straightforward when you put it like that. Although now anyone can be an astronaut too. All you need is plenty of money and the Russians will strap you into one of their rockets and shoot you into space.”

If we take it a step further, these days anyone can get a book published too. Self publishing is a rapidly growing business and many writers are having a pretty good go with it. So, Mr. Facebook Guy, does this mean that if you self-publish you have nothing to be proud of? Is your book not “good enough”?

Now, because (surprisingly) not everyone has read everything I have ever written on this blog you may not know that back on February 9th I wrote this:

Good ideas are even harder to come by. Those are like the crystal clear double rainbow you see after a short summer rain where you can imagine giant pots of gold at each end and a bevy of leprechauns dancing a jig around them. Oh, and let’s not forget that all this has to be interesting enough for people to read. That’s like trying to describe your rainbow scene in such a way that someone would rather read about it from you than see the photograph of it taken by someone else.

My excerpt was in the context of being a writer – as in, anyone can write but not everyone can write something readable. On the surface you’d think my comment and the Facebook Guy’s were just variations of each other, but there’s a solid distinction to be made. Gareth (this guy is good with words – I mean really good) also had this to say:

“Anyone can write a book but not everyone can be a writer. Writers are a whole different animal from people who just write books.”

Indeed. Anyone can blather 50,000 words onto a page and say “I wrote a book”. I did it, and I’m a giant lazy turd with a day job and a family and more procrastination techniques than anyone I’ve ever met. But that’s not all there is to writing a book – at least not if you want to be a writer. Blathering gibberish onto a page is making a book, not writing a book.

Properly writing a book means a whole lot of research, hard work, patience, and dedication. When you’re done and you’ve got your fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred thousand words down on the page; with all your characters developed, your plot points covered, your beginning, middle, and end all tucked away between the title page at the front and the final punctuation mark at the end you take a break, and then you edit it. You edit the living hell out of it. Then you edit it again, and possibly again. Then, you let someone else read it. Maybe it’s some beta readers, maybe it’s a professional editor, maybe it’s your husband, your wife, your best friend, or your mom. You take this thing that you’ve just invested countless hours on, put your heart and soul into, devoted those precious few free waking moments to, and you hand it to someone – and you wait. You wait and you wait and you wait. You wait for them to tell you… that it’s not good enough.

Then, you suppress your anger, you hide your tears and bite your lip, and you take the comments, one by one, and you learn from them. You make changes and you re-write and you re-work and you polish. You push through the pain and the heartache, and you keep writing. You just keep writing.

Just keep writing.

After you have spent more time editing and re-writing (and crying) than you did writing it in the first place, you finish. Done. You write your acknowledgements and you celebrate, for you have accomplished something great.

It is said that a first novel can take someone years to write. If you still think anyone can do it I dare you to try – just once – give it a try. I’ll check back with you in 2015 and see how you’re making out.

~ Andrew


If you follow my tweets, have me as a friend on Facebook, are part of the super secret society private group for crazy people writers on Facebook, or read this blog, then you are aware that I wrote a short story a while back based on the loss of someone close to me and submitted it for publication in an anthology that was being put together to help out a writer friend. The proceeds of this book are going to “Orange” Karen DeLabar and you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and the Internets.

This week, on April 11th to be exact, the anthology finally made its first public appearance and the response has been amazing. So many people, and not just friends and family either, have picked up the book – in some cases several copies. Readers Digest’s Most Trustworthy writer, Margaret Atwood, even re-tweeted a link!

It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to be a part of something like this (but that won’t stop me from trying).

The Orange Karen Anthology represents my first publication, and that’s a really big deal. Seeing my name on the back cover of a book is a amazing feeling and one that’s completely surreal. The story I wrote was one that was really close to me (write what you know, right?) and over the last couple weeks I have re-read it numerous times, read some of it out loud for R.B. Woods’ “Word Count” podcast, and shared my story and the link to the book with hundreds of people: friends, family, co-workers, random strangers in the Twitterverse and Facebook, and the lady whose kid takes piano lessons at the same time as my kids’ guitar lessons.

Suffice it to say I’m a little emotional.

One thing I have going for me is I know I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. Many of the other people involved have expressed how overwhelmingly emotional it is to be a part of this. Back in January I posted an open letter to writers. The catalyst for that post was largely due to personal experiences some of my writer friends were having at the time and the key takeaway was that to be a writer one of the things you need is a good support group. Based on what I’ve seen in the past few days it’s clear that the people who put the anthology together, the contributing authors, and Karen herself have one of the most amazing support networks you could ever ask for.

It’s moments like these that convince me that there may be hope for humanity after all.

This is the most round about, disjointed, gushy, thank you post you can imagine, but as I mentioned a minute ago I’m a little emotional, so cut me some slack. Knowing that Ryan’s story is helping Karen have a happier ending to her story is what this is about, and I wanted to let as many people as possible know how much I appreciate it.

I’m reading the anthology in its entirety now and I have to say there are some pretty amazing stories in there (mine is titled “Losing Vern”). If you haven’t picked up a copy already I would highly recommend you do.

~ Andrew

*As a note, if you pick of a paper copy from the link above it results in the best royalty payment (that goes straight to Karen’s medical bills). This is not a hard sell, just an FYI. If you pick up the eBook you still qualify for the group hug from the organizers and contributing authors.

^ If you own a Kobo and need the book for that format please contact me for a solution.

Losing Vern

Birthdays have been tough since 2009 as it seems every one is a reminder of losing Ryan. Truth be told, very few days go by where one of us doesn’t remember him in some way, so it’s not so much the actual day as it is just one more reminder. I take solace in the fact that there were so many wonderful things to remember. 

So, another year passes. Loss helps me keep perspective: as long as I keep having birthdays things can’t be all that bad. As the saying goes – every day on this side of the grass is a good one! Thank you, Ryan, for showing so many of us how to appreciate living, how to love with all our hearts, and how to laugh as often as possible (especially at ourselves).

Remembering Legends

Last week Canada lost a legend of music in Stompin’ Tom Connors. Best known in this country for his slap shot hit, “The Hockey Song”, Stompin’ Tom’s music was enjoyed coast to coast by just about every Canadian stereotype you can think of. He died a member of the Order of Canada, with flags flying at half mast at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Everyone loved Stompin’ Tom. When he met Queen Elizabeth II at a dinner he outright refused to remove his trademark black Stetson and Buckingham palace came to his defence by likening it to a religious headdress so as to not cause a scene. So what was it about Stompin’ Tom that made him so gosh darn lovable?

He smoked 3 or 4 packs of cigarettes a day and drank just as much, but that didn’t matter. He wrote songs that spoke to Canadians of every age and of every background. He sang about things that people could relate to. Based on their titles alone you can get a sense of what his songs were like.

  • “Bud the Spud”
  • “Ketchup Song”
  • “Snowmobile Song”
  • “Tillsonburg”
  • “Moon-Man Newfie”
  • “Fire in the Mine”
  • “Canada Day, Up Canada Way

My personal favourite, “Margo’s Cargo”, is a song written about what can happen when you take a piece of cow shit and turn it into a wall clock:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0dzMeDm8AU?rel=0]

His nickname may have been Stompin’ Tom but I prefer to refer to him as The Canadian Legion’s Dr. Seuss.

They say you’re supposed to write about what you know; that if people can associate with something they are more likely to appreciate it. My friend Jim Tigwell wrote a song that exemplifies this concept really well. Taking ideas from Twitter, Facebook, and his own brain, he wrote a song about all the things you could do with a simple cardboard box. Everyone can relate to the unmitigated joy experienced by playing with a brand new, kick-ass cardboard box. Have a listen – the song starts at 2:29.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNXJDiZhJFY?rel=0]

Andy Warhol’s art defined a genre, if not an entire generation. His most iconic image is that of a simple can of Campbell’s tomato soup. One of the Barenaked Ladies’ most popular songs answers the question “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” with answers of Kraft Dinner, faux fur coats, “K” cars, and Dijon ketchup.

All of this got me thinking: What do I know? I am writing a novel, the topic for which I am certainly familiar, but I wouldn’t say that I “know” any of the concepts any more than anyone else with access to Google. Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time with some of it. I am doing more research than I thought I would have to and that’s hampering progress. I think it will great for the finished product, but it’s certainly not doing much for my word count!

This is the time of year where I remember a dear friend and family member who passed away on my birthday in 2009 and one story I do know, and know all too well, is the story of what happened in the days following his death. From March 13th to 17th a unique series of events transpired that, in looking back at it, has me shaking my head and laughing. If you subscribe to any sort of afterlife theory you can imagine Ryan following us all around and laughing his ass off at what was going on. Last December I wrote about it and submitted it to the Orange Karen Anthology – and it was accepted.

Maybe there’s something to be said for writing about things with which we are familiar. Maybe “they” were right after all.

Today we say goodbye to two legends: Canadian music icon Stompin’ Tom Connors; and my brother-in-law Ryan. Two souls forever linked together in a blog post and by the fact that the memorial service for one will be taking place on the day we lost the other.

We remember Stompin’ Tom’s lyrics, his black Stetson, and all the toe tapping, hand clapping enjoyment he brought into our lives. We remember Ryan; who had the heart of a giant, the compassion of a child, the soul of an angel, and laughter so honest and pure you you’d swear it was the best music you’ve ever heard.

We remember them, and all the other people who have shared their lives with us, even if it was just a small part. We thank them for opening up and letting us in and for giving us all something worthwhile to write about.

~ Andrew

A Day Just Like Any Other? Not Really.

My birthday is almost here again, and while I’m happy to be celebrating another one, for some reason I feel old. I haven’t felt like this since I turned 30, and this one isn’t even another major milestone. On March 13 I’ll be 38 years old, but unlike that guy from the Tragically Hip song, I have in fact kissed a girl. That’s not old by any measure, unless you live in biblical times, or you’re talking to one of my kids, or the babysitter. So what is it? It’s a day just like any other… right?

Well, there is the whole anniversary of Ryan’s death. That was understandably the shittiest birthday in the history of birthdays, and the two that have passed since have been varying degrees of happy and sad. Happy because I have so many wonderful people in my life that wish me well and with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time, and sad because my birthday is now an annual reminder of what’s missing.

The thing is, it would be a rare occurrence if more than two days went by where I wasn’t reminded of him, and what a big void that exists now that he’s gone. That wasn’t a fat joke Ryan, not completely at least. My birthday is a day just like any other… right?

Last week I was cleaning out the file cabinet and I came across our will. We still haven’t changed it. Ryan was to look after the kids should something terrible happen to both my wife and I. That day wasn’t my birthday. What about when I came across my snazzy new orange shoes (orange was Ryan’s favourite colour)? My first thought was that he’d thoroughly approve of the choice, but be surprised if I actually bought them. That day wasn’t my birthday either. None of the other couple hundred days in the year where something like that happens were. So why does this one day have to be different from all the others? It’s a day just like any other… right?

You’d think if anything it would be better, what with all the birthday wishes on Facebook and Twitter, the cards, the phone calls, and the now annual steak dinner out with friends. In that sense it is better. At a minimum I appreciate everything and everyone I have around me more and more every year, but it’s not a “better” day, it’s different, and it’s not just like all the others. It’s one that’s frozen in time and it stands out, not just for me but for the hundreds of people that knew him.

Honestly though, with as many reminders as I get all year, having one that’s not just like any other is fine with me. Ryan wasn’t just like anyone else and our memories of him shouldn’t be like any others either.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSVM7Ho1Je0?hl=en&fs=1]

Bitter Sweet Symphony

Today marks the 37th anniversary of being brought into this world – kicking and screaming – and looking more yellow than some Bananas in Pyjamas due to a solid case of Jaundice. Overall, I’d say that 36 of them have been varying degrees of great, with the one exception being about as bad as it gets and dragging down the average considerably.
Today also marks the 2nd anniversary of the worst day in my short life to this point.  With my 6 year old daughter in the Dominican with my wife, I got a phone call at home expecting it was a birthday wish, but instead was my father-in-law calling to tell me that my wife’s younger brother had passed away. The rest of my day was trying to get in touch with her to deliver the news – a phone call that still rings in my ears almost every waking minute – and find a way to get them back home as quickly as possible.
Last year was not so shit-hot as it re-opened the pretty deep wound from a year before, but it was encouraging as so many people wished me a Happy Birthday which brought to the surface the fact that I am truly fortunate to have so many friends, and to have a big loving family within such a short distance of where I now call home.
So here’s to remembering one of the greatest friends and family members a person could ask for, on a day when I get reminded dozens of times just how lucky I am to have completed another lap around the Sun, even if it is a 939,845,775 kilometre road trip that’s not nearly as fun without him.