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I’m A Time Traveller …

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time-travel

You can shoot yourself REGRETTING the things you could have done differently.

Learn and move forward. Just hush the evil inner voices, kiss that fool’s regret goodnight, and go back to sleep.

The only regrets I have are for those things that I have no control over.

For example, I ofttimes regret that I wasn’t ever able to meet, much less know, my grandparents.

Do you ever find your head filled with imagined visions and voices of the people who came before you? If not for them and countless other forebears, you would have never sucked in this absurdly brief breath of time on earth.

It’s a wildly unlikely, miraculous 49 billion to 1 winning lotto ticket that you and I are here.

Occasionally in my daydreams, I transport myself back in time and place. Like a fly on the wall, I find myself in the cozy wood cookstove-heated kitchen of my Mom’s rural childhood farmhouse in the little Ontario town of Hillsburgh.

I see heavy snow drifting onto the outer windowsill above the kitchen sink, split-rail wood fences lining the field in the distance. I listen to the sounds of darned socks excitedly scuffing across wood floors. I feel myself sitting at the oak table fashioned by the hands of my great-grandfather James in the big old barn out back. I inhale some slices of steaming hot bread brought by my Grandma Maggie to the dining room fresh from the oven, slathered with butter. Butter that was hand-churned the day before by my Aunt Mabel in the parlour overlooking the front verandah where the family sits on sultry summer evenings.

Sharing breakfast with my grandmother Maggie, Grandpa Will, my aunts and uncles, and my tomboy Mom-to-be Lila, is magical in this imagined memory.

My grandparents Margaret (Maggie) and William (Will) on their wedding day

My grandparents Margaret (Maggie) and William (Will) on their wedding day June 8, 1898.

For me, it is all imagined because my grandparents were long gone when I arrived on the scene. My grandpa William died unexpectedly after a week long illness in the winter of 1935. In a letter written to my mother 12 days after his death, my grandmother Maggie writes,

Still we can’t help but notice the vacant chair. It seems so quiet.”

Only 8 years later, Maggie was found by my cousin Margie returning from school, resting pale and peaceful on the living room couch, taken by a heart attack.

At that time, I was wandering the streets of Hamilton as a lovelorn sperm and an egg, patiently waiting for a serendipitous meeting years later.

Today, the memories I hold of my grandparents are found only in photographs and in the written letters and stories left behind by my parents and older cousins.

I have questions.

Was my Grandma Maggie able to bake Wellington County’s best apple pie with tart Northern Spy apples growing by the back gate? Did she have a soprano lilt to her voice? Was my Grandpa Will a funny man, a witty story teller, or did he sometimes show a darker side, was he perhaps even a bit curmudgeonly? I don’t think so. His obituary states he:

was held in high esteem by all those with whom he came in contact. His kindly disposition gave him a wide circle of friends and neighbours…”

 

Yes, I’m full of questions that will never be answered, it’s just too late. And this is where I’m going to push you from behind. Before the sun sets on your chance, I want you to capture your dear family memories for your children and children’s children. No regrets, right?

Fourteen years ago, I gathered my clan’s stories into a book for a family reunion.

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My parents 1940 Wedding Photo next to my family stories book …

I collected written memories and stories from my brothers, sisters, and still-living aunts and cousins. Some are humorous, some are bittersweet, some are just fact-based. But they are about real people. Real people that loved others, felt anger, experienced disappointment, people that laughed and cried and worked and played.

Piecing these memories together along with scanned letters, marriage and death certificates, newspaper clippings and photographs, I gave birth to a hardcover book of more than 100 pages.

Inside the front and back covers I lined the pages with what family tree information I had or could find. There’s my Dad’s Green family lineage inside the front cover, my Mom’s Miller family heritage inside the back cover.

The treasure trove of small, personal anecdotes, fond and sorrowful recollections contained between the covers is even more priceless than a Mastercard commercial.

Granted, it took some time to put together. Yet it was worth every minute, especially considering that three key voices – my 96 year-old Aunt Lilian, my sister Marion, and sister-in-law Lois – are now lost forever, their words and memories immortalized.

Their thoughts can be read and shared for generations to come. These are people who will continue to exist because they contributed a few, modest reminiscences of their lives. Look and listen. A misty haze of the ephemeral human soul resides in their words between the covers.

Lacking their tales, their narratives, in a few short years they would remain only as tombstone dates and a photo or two; not real, blood-pumping, personality-rich individuals that meant so much to me and their loved ones and friends.

Genealogy without stories and personality is a pulseless corpse of time passed.

Will your children remember the young lady that was their grandmother when she was out dancing with her girlfriends past curfew and her father drove the streets all night looking for her? Will they know about Uncle John’s miserable night spent in jail after a barfight where he defended your Aunt Judy’s honour?

It’s weirdly fascinating to think that whiffs of my immortal DNA dust will roam the memory halls of the bloodstreams and heads of future generations. We’ll all be someone’s long passed brother, sister, great-aunt or -uncle, grandma or grandpa one day.

Now …

Right now is the time and chance to make your family song immortal, and maybe, just maybe, tell your side of that hilariously misunderstood story before that fateful bus runs, hurtling breathlessly out of control down Main Street like a flash of lightning, sending you into the hallowed halls of history.

No regrets, eh?

Hit by a bus

 

 

 

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Larry & Tims’ Excellent Metaphorical Adventure …

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Tims and Canada

It’s a Beautiful Horror.

Take a well-honed knife and slice deep into the gut of any Canadian and it won’t be ruby-red blood that spurts out making hot, thick puddles on the cold, northern pavement.

NOPE.

The first steamy gush you see will be a caramel-coloured double-double (2 creams, 2 sugars) mix of Tim Hortons’ coffee.

I’m not just saying this because I own shares in Tim Hortons (heartbreakingly, soon to be owned by Burger King). Nab any Maple Leaf flag passport carrier you meet anywhere in the world and ask them if they bleed Tims. I know their answer.

It’s a universal truth.

Tims serves about 70 billion cups of coffee a day in Canada. I’m pretty sure that number is accurate …

Like millions and millions of others who live in this narrow band of rocky, tree-laden land stretched out like a purring cat on the shrugging shoulders of the USA border, I visit Tim Hortons at least once each week (or day) for a morning caffeine cup.

Every province and territory of Canada has a Tim Hortons, the northernmost cafe buried in the frigid Arctic capitol of Nunavut, Iqaluit.

 

Iqaluit Tim Hortons

 

I quaff Tim Hortons coffee. Therefore I am. Canadian. And it’s at Tims (Canadians enjoy a certain intimacy with Tim Hortons … Tims or Timmies will suffice) where our Canuck stories originate.

(BTW: I’m OK with branding myself Canadian, but I don’t wear my citizenship proud and smug as a superiority badge. It’s merely a label, a way of identifying where I’m from but not a whole lot more.

I’m rummaging for ways to bring me closer to the other inhabitants of the world; fiercely calling myself Canadian just creates a separation, a boundary that I want to send tumbling down like the Berlin Wall.)

More important than the coffee or donuts and the Roll Up the Rim contests are the stories that take place. Life is lived large and small in the beige and brown metal chairs and tables.

  • When we gather for weddings and funerals, before we head to the church we congregate at Tims – we hug our relatives, smile in pleasure or jubilation, sometimes weep in remembrance or anguish.
  • When our intimate relationships are melting into a soupy mess, we stare hopefully across from each other at Tims to either mold and press the hot molten wax back into a love candle or blow out the remaining wick’s embers.
  • Tims is the second (or first) business office for many enterprises. I’ll bet that most bank or store robberies are planned on cruller-stained napkins at the local Tims. Yup, big drug deals are negotiated, hit terms agreed upon in hushed whispers between bagel bites, business mergers and buyouts between small businesses thrashed out amid bacon grease.
  • Internet dating first-timers settle down at a Tims’ table to explore and examine their counterpoint under the microscope d’amour, deciding if any possible next drink shared should be wine with white tablecloths and candles.
"You don't look anything like your profile shot..."

“You don’t look anything like your profile shot…”

I’ve written a couple of Tims-related blog posts now – one where I sat next to a murderer, the other a bittersweet reunion between two long- and sadly-separated female lovers. The stories are there for the taking and the cost of admission to the theatre is one small double-double coffee or green tea with lemon.

When I sit down at Tims, I search for the smiles and frowns scattered amongst the tables. I try to tune out the humming buzz of activity at the front counter, the warm yeasty smells, and focus on the resonance of conversation taking place in the small groups of wrinkled old men, middle-aged women in Lululemon ass-enhancing yoga pants, or fresh-faced, young couples.

I glance around at the faces seated at the tables: some head down in their cellphones or tablets, some writing entries into small tan-coloured moleskin notebooks, others chatting and laughing in little grouplets, some young families – the littlest members still in their flannel plaid pajama bottoms, hair toussled as if they just arose from their sleepy slumbers.

The mix of ages, gender, and ethnicity is warmly comforting in its variety and reflection of today’s Canada.

If you want to know the touchstone of Canada and its people, Tims is the place to be.

And in the end, how Canadian is it that when I absorb the stories that float on the donut-scented breeze of this coffee shop, I can’t help but think of Tim Horton the man? After all, he is responsible for sending me a dividend cheque every 3 months to assist in paying my retirement wage.

So I raise my coffee cup to you Tim, the great rough-and-tumble Canadian hockey player who didn’t live long enough to see the mountain of coffee-dom he created and the iconic energy source that pulses through the double-double bloodstream of every Canadian.

 

Tim Horton2

Them’s Writin’ Words … A Heartbeat of Harry Hero Worship

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Photo of Harry CHAPIN

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STATEMENT: Writing blog posts is easy.

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Well, not easy… no, not easy at all. I’ve written 130 posts in the past 2 and a half years, and not one was a simple, mindless endeavour, even if you think my compositions about baginas or castration are mindless!

Dogy Balls

I only write about matters that interest me – if the subject doesn’t catch my intrigue, the words will NOT come –  while at the same time, quarrying a nugget or two in the slag pile that somehow, hopefully, will be meaningful to you in your life.

My ego doesn’t fare well if no one reads a word I publish … yes, I NEED YOU!

But when I compare the mental effort and time it takes to write a blog entry versus piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that makes up a musical song, it just seems easy.

Writing blogs and composing music are comparable to the striking differences in playing guitar and playing piano. If you’ve tried both, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Writing a blog post – like playing guitar – is a singular, one-tracked effort. Putting one word after another is a focussed undertaking where your total concentration goes into moving forward in a single direction.

It’s kind of like becoming a killer kisser. Your entirety is devoted to the touch, taste … all of those sensations that cook up into making one other set of soft, sweet lips happy and well looked after.

But writing a song? Whole different breed of animal.

Songsmithing is a complex of musical melody, harmony and lyrics which is more like combining the left and right hand in piano. Songwriting is a boudoir threesome (like I would know!); there are parts running off in all directions. It’s pleasurable for sure (again, like I would know!), but it makes your head spin.

Sorry Ladies, but I've just GOTTA finish writing this song ... the BIG MALE FAIL

“Sorry Ladies, but I’ve just GOTTA finish writing this song” … the BIG MALE FAIL!

 

There are two independent thoughts running side-by-side inside your head and fingertips. Through exhaustive practice, you learn to separate them sufficiently to then weave them back together in a cohesive whole that makes a deliciously fragrant sonata.

If I want to write songs that are meaningful to me and – just like my blog writing – hopefully contain a snippet of something that has meaning for you too, the formulas that commercialized music depend on just don’t work very well.

Which, happily for you, brings me to the point of today’s sermon … avoiding the cliche in songwriting.

Songwriting cliche threatens to swallow us whole in today’s musical marketplace and it drives me crazy sometimes.

Don’t you – maybe even occasionally – ask yourself when listening to a song on the radio, “Who the hell let that DOG out?”. The music, the lyrics are a dog’s breakfast and still it smuggled itself past a recording studio, a bunch of music-studio talking heads, and a radio station programmer. ARGGGGG!

But there are and always have been exceptions.

One of my lifelong songwriting heroes – I have many musical heroes, but probably none as emotionally resonant – has been Harry Chapin.

Harry perished in an auto accident in the late 1970’s while only 39 years old. You might know Harry for his powerfully evocative song: Cats in the Cradle.

But Cats in the Cradle was just a miniscule sample of Harry’s ability. Harry didn’t write or sing cliches and I loved him for it.

Harry was a husband, father, writer, singer, a supporter of social causes, and most impressively, a funny and talented storyteller.

Today, 33 years after his death, I still think about him from time to time – I miss Harry like a treasured friend or brother who left behind a huge hole in my existence in his wake.

Harry had the ability to find a tiny fragment of the joy or sorrow in the life of a common man (woman) and magnify it into an opus that pierced directly into our hearts.

Over and over, Chapin sketched universal human stories in just a few short verses and choruses.

It’s an amazing skill akin to Ernest Hemingway’s famous brief 6-word story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

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A few examples of Harry’s songs and the stories they told:

  • Mr. Tanner, the drycleaner, who tried opera-style singing at Carnegie Hall, just once, and was cruelly rejected by the reviewers.
  • the lonely midnight watchman in A Better Place to Be who desperately craves the love of someone, and discovers that he isn’t alone in his struggle to be held dear by others.
  • the former lovers who accidentally meet in a Taxi, and sadly realize that their young dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they hoped.
  • the aging FM disc jockey who’s life lies in crumbles from chasing fame and fortune in WOLD
  • the truck driver rushing to get home to his “warm-breathed lover” after a long road trip in 30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

He told us stories, and like Steinbeck or Austen, his yarns entered our hearts and made us weep or smile with the fortunes of the characters he forged in his mind.

Harry Chapin, so long gone now, was a musical and storytelling saint, an inspiration to anyone who longs to tell a story.

Who of us doesn’t love a story from the sweet, innocent nights where we lay in our comfy beds listening to Daddy’s voice reading from a book, to sitting in concert halls where Stuart McLean or Garrison Keillor recite homespun yarns to us?

That was Harry … Master Storyteller. I miss you Harry… and…

I’m gonna write a blog post about you because it’s so much easier than composing a song. But one day …

 

 

 

HarryChapin

Please Don’t Die To Avoid ROUTINE …

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Lethal Routine

ROUTINE …

A neighbour of mine, Hal, died violently this week.

He awoke Wednesday as usual, settled his feet onto the early morning chill floor of his bedroom, and focused his sights on the forthcoming day. But come evening, unlike every other day, he didn’t sink into the comfortable bed that awaited.

Yes, it began a routine day for retired Hal, probably a lot like many other days in his 70 or so years. He kissed his wife, Maica, goodbye as she left for work, put on a routine shirt and pants, and prepared a routine breakfast. He slipped on his routine shoes.

The day’s schedule? Just a bit of routine home maintenance.

A couple of hours later, Dianne, our nearby neighbour, casually strolling past his house, spotted some feet sticking straight up in the air from the outside basement stairs like toothpicks in a jar.

Hal had fallen from a ladder perched inside his back stairs, then smashed his head on a concrete ledge. He laid hanging upside down dripping thick, crimson blood from a gaping wound, eyes open in a fixed, blank stare, until Dianne happened along.

Heart in throat, she called 911 while reassuring and comforting comatose Hal – tall, slender, quiet-spoken, shy, white-haired, sweet-smiled, Salvation Army member, dog-loving, just remarried 3 years ago … Hal.

It was a routine day that began in a similar fashion to the 25,000+ that preceded it.

But 24 hours later, Hal’s routine was no longer. Routine, like Hal, was dead.

New Things

This put me to thinking about the paths we roam … about life’s routines and hidden dangers.

ROUTINE is a word, that for me, is like MODERATION.

It lacks energy and spark. It lacks a clear meaning that paints a picture in our heads. When we use a word, everyone should know the story.

Of course I have routines, sometimes I even embrace and feel comforted by routines. There are routines, but then there are … routines.

The difference?

One type of routine is pursued as a way of becoming great at something that inflames an inner passion.

Example? I try to practice my guitar a minimum of 1/2 hour each day as a way of improving my skill, my ability to make pleasing harmony – something that plunges to my deepest inner core. It is a heady, floating feeling that accompanies improvement.

On the physical side of life, I routinely run a whack of miles each week to maintain my Sidney Crosby level of fitness (cough cough) but also to develop a slightly greater pace than the week previous. I’ve attended my friend Marsha’s yoga class for 7 or 8 years now to stretch my aging muscles so I can keep running for a few years still to come.

There are times when this self-improvement business feels like the other kind of cancerous routine I’ll discuss below, but it’s a necessary evil when we want to work towards mastery.

THIS is GOOD ROUTINE

I encourage you to build a strong base of these types of routines. Put in your 10,000 hours. Become a better pianist, golfer, chef, mathematician, stand-up comic, learn German. Work hard on those routines.

Sweat. Bleed. Cry. Vomit. Improve.

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My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.

Arthur Conan Doyle

EXALTATION! It sounds religious, but it describes the feeling we get when we do something that excites us and we want to become better at.

 

And THEN …

… there’s the other ROUTINE …

People-Wait-Everyday-Health-Quotes-Inspirational-for-Kids

This other kind of routine I try to avoid like hair in my soup, or nails scratching down a blackboard. I don’t want to see or hear it.

No day should be a carbon copy of any other, should it?

Every day should have a little something special to say, as if it were as unique and notable as your birthday.

I struggle with this. I’m plagued by the idea of normalcy and routine. There’s a reason why some people respond to the question, “What’s new?” with “Oh, the same old, same old“. They’ve allowed the cancerous routine to set up shop. Are there sadder words to be spoken? Their eyes take on an appearance of something from The Walking Dead zombies.

Walking Dead Workout

Here’s an inspired way out of that Walking Dead routine of life….

When someone says this to me I want to grip them by the shoulders and shake them. PLEASE … find a path that makes your heart hum along with an enthusiastic beat.

I’ve said this before (maybe it’s a part of MY routine!), but if you don’t wake up on at least one Monday morning each month feeling an inner urge to skip along the sidewalk to work, then there’s a few cancer cells in your routine that might benefit from a dose of treatment.

Last Sunday, I pedalled my bike in the early morning sunshine along Highway 97, up the long, steep hill that leads to my little Okanagan town of Summerland and the Tim Hortons coffee shop perched at the top of the hill. It’s probably the last Sunday to ride a bike up to Tims as the weather grows cool, the day length shorter.

The bike ride to Tims used to be our Sunday “routine”. It needed a change-up.

It was displaced by another routine, a TRX exercise class with Andre, which then was displaced by another routine, a Boot Camp-style exercise class that a friend, Cara leads. It’s like a mixed salad that gets tossed about from time to time. One routine pushed aside by another routine by another routine. They all light a similar fire using a different spark.

Why do I rail against routine as a default style?

Death has a hold on my psyche and it shapes my life. At an early age, I was saddled with the deaths of aunts and uncles and then my parents. I hope you miss(ed) those milestones until much later in your journey.

The Grim Reaper is the fire that burns beneath my feet and reminds me that I have a finite number of days and hours to be – days and hours I can while away in a routine stupor or breathe in with verve and eagerness and fire and spirit.

I have sweet, kind Hal down the street to thank for giving me an unintended, mournful wake-up call this week.

It’s nice to know that even the unkindest chapter of life can contain a message of inspiration.

 

Calvin and Hobbes routine