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Tech Time Machine… You’re On A Rocket…

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Marty McFly… let’s hop into your DMC DeLorean time machine and juice up the flux capacitor.

OK, set the time back by 30 years to 1990 (if this takes you into prenatal times, please please tell me what that looks like, I want to know the answer to that as much as I’d like to see into my post-life times).

I’m thinking about time travel right now for a reason.

Looking back with today’s eyes, 1990 was a “foreign country” for us all.

Thirty years ago this week, I stood in chilly Okanagan Lake waters at 7 am on a Sunday morning with nearly 1,000 others clad in wetsuits.

Supportive family members and friends came from near and far to give me a cheering boost for an event I had trained so hard for in the year leading up to this day.

My heart was pounding in my throat, both in exhilaration and terror (the good news is that in the lake, you can pee your pants and no one knows better other than the swimmer directly behind you. Sorry… TMI?)

We participants were all ready to dive in at the sound of a booming cannon – the cannon that starts the Ironman Canada triathlon race, a 3.8k swim, followed by a 180k bike, finishing with a 42.2k run. Great way to spend a relaxing Sunday.

But today, I’m not only thinking about the gruelling race, but also about the huge changes to our world in these oh-so-short 30 years.

Here are a few other things that cross my mind.

It’s about our world and technology.

I’m thinking about how many folks pulled out their cellphones and snapped photos of their friends and loved ones jumping into the water that August 1990 morning. How many photos got posted online for the world to see within seconds…

Here, let me answer that for you… pull out my calculator… hmmmm, 960 participants multiplied by an average of 4 or 5 relatives and friends watching from behind the barriers…

… and the answer is???? ZERO. None.

Huh? Why not Larry?

Well, a myriad of stuff has changed for you and me in 30 years… call a taxi… right! Wait until next Tuesday to watch your favourite TV show… hardly! Meet your life partner-to-be at a bar… *cue laughter*….

A few more examples…

1990. No smartphones… a few cellphones (owned by 4% of North Americans in 1990) sure, but pretty much no such thing as a smartphone with a camera embedded. The first early versions were still 12 years in the future.

These days, when I enter even the tiniest running or other athletic race (in non-COVID times)… camera phones are everywhere, all the time.

In 1990, there were no smartphones, no text messages… no Tesla’s or other electric cars… no BlueTooth, no Facebook, no YouTube.

In 1990 you paid your utility bills at the bank or by snail mail with a personal cheque.

Watch a movie in 1990? Just run by your local VHS rental store or Blockbuster and make sure your neighbours aren’t there when you sneak into the “ADULT” section in the back.

In 1990, you answered your landline phone (usually corded) because it was someone you knew calling (although no call display told you who), no telemarketers or scams.

In 1990, when you wanted to find a street address or your way through a strange city, you hauled out something called a map and found the location with your fingertips, not your GOOGLE.

In 1990, people read books. I mean books made of paper and glue and hard and soft covers that had pages you turned and needed a flashlight to read under the covers. No eReaders, no Kindles (first released in 2007), no Kobo’s. Bookstores were popular “social media” gathering spots in 1990.

In 1990, did you drive through your local Starbucks for a Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino? Of course not. Starbucks had barely 100 stores in 1990, probably none in your area. Just Mary & Joe’s Cuppa Joe House (or Timmy’s for us Canucks) was on your corner in those prehistoric coffee days. Espresso drinks were something Europeans drank.

In 1990, a blog? Is that something stuck in your toilet?

In 1990, when you listened to recorded music, it was usually from a cassette tape, a big step up from 8-track tapes! Your choices were vinyl or cassette. CD or mp3? Huh??

In 1990, a restaurant meal or a plane trip usually involved breathing in someone else’s secondhand smoke. In my province of B.C., smoking was legally allowed in restaurants until 1996. Smoking on flights within Canada was first banned at the beginning of 1990.

Feel free to tell me some other things I’ve missed.

And finally, in 1990, when I crossed the Ironman finish line (below) as the evening sun set and my muscles cried, my kids were 5, 3 and 1 years old. It’s so long ago that I can barely picture them in my head. They were so cute.

Right McFly, bring me back to 2020.

Those little kids are older and smarter than me now. Yes, that’s right, they are older than me… I was 19 years old in 1990 and today I’m still… 19. (I turned off my time machine long ago. That’s new math for you.)

More importantly though, they were healthy then and they are healthy today.

I’m a lucky man to return to 2020 in my older DeLorean body.

OK Boomer…

Some Hero Sandwiches Just Smell Bad

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I lived a confused life.

  • It might be that I’m getting old.
  • It might be that I’m an entitled white male.
  • It might be that the Trump world we currently inhabit is spinning off provincial and national despots faster than the acceleration in Elon Musk’s Tesla car or  SpaceX rocket.
  • It might be the minute concentrations of toxic chemicals in the water I quaff in quantity during my runs.
  • It might be my boyish enthusiasm simply overwhelms my good sense.
  • It might be that I switched years back from briefs to boxers.

Or…. It might be that through the internet, human understanding and relations are evolving so rapidly that none of us can live with any certainty of what is appropriate for more than 15 minutes.

I seek out and bow before skilled mentors and inspirational folks that guide me forward towards the “better”. Musicians, athletes, politicians, philosophers, mothers.

I possess a pedestal-in-waiting for the human Wonders of the World.

A fairly recent phenomenon has us (mostly appropriately) tearing down the reputations and glories of people and monuments that we’ve held in high repute for eons.

Columbus NOT

I grew up believing (based on my school teachers’ lessons) that Christopher Columbus was a pioneering hero, Lance Armstrong was a cycling god, Bill Cosby was a comedy legend. The names add up: Michael Jackson, Ben Johnson, Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, countless politicians and entertainers of all stripes, and on and on.

All fallen angels (though Tiger’s wings have recovered somewhat lately). We see our world through the eyes of today and the knowledge that informs what is good for all.

This week has added a new demon to the pile: Kate Smith, the singer who famously belted out God Bless America to Philadelphia sports’ fans in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Discovered to have sung songs with racist lyrics decades earlier, Smith’s reputation has posthumously crashed like a Boeing 737 Max airplane. Statues and accolades are melting away like Confederate army memorabilia.

Kate Smith syatue

History viewed in retrospect is a harsh judge.

There are two schools of thought on the concept of hero worship:

1. The personal lives and peccadilloes of high achievers remain separate from the achievements themselves. The greatness of the act supersedes the nasty underbelly of the individual. For most of my life, this has been convenient and I’ve subscribed to this notion.

2. Greatness of achievement and quality of character are inextricably entangled. The eminence of the act must be equally matched by the essence of the person themselves.

Now, because life is complicated and nuanced, a third option has occupied my mind space and is my current default.

Like everything else going, this too could change over time.

Here’s my thinking.

3. There are some inherent evils that are pretty much non-disputable, regardless of where you come along in history and the mores of the time.

If you kill, rape or abuse others… common sense, and every religious text has some pretty clear guidelines that forbid inhumanity to humanity and other life forms.

So, when any achievement is glorified or assisted by the placing of one’s thumb or boot-print on another, how can we praise such an accomplishment?

Crossing an unknown dark ocean despite the fears and the secrets it held was an amazing attainment by Columbus and other explorers… but what they did to the peoples they encountered at landfall was barbarously cruel and inexcusable.

How can I celebrate the performance of any politician who (knowingly) advocated that young Aboriginal children be removed from their parents and families and whisked off to residential schools for years?

While the songs that Kate Smith sang (and honestly, Smith was NOT a great singer) are abhorrent in today’s world, I don’t believe that she was a bad person who wished to hurt others… merely a product of the life into which she was born.

We’ll all be judged tomorrow for our beliefs of today. Heaven help us.

Damn… I started out really wanting this post to be light and humorous. MAJOR FAIL! No monuments for me …

I guess that the intermingling of my confusions and my desire to find appropriate mentors dodged its way past my humerus.

Cosby Evil fingers.jpg

Cosby’s Evil Fingers

A Short Distorted History of You and Me

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blood or beets

Fact or Faked? Urine or Grapefruit Juice? Blood or Beets?

A person’s history is a fuzzy mirror. Maybe it is us in the silvered glass, or maybe it’s someone else.

We think we’re looking into a clear window of understanding as though it’s a genuine window into our soul.

The trees are green-leafed and stately, the lake is crystalline blue and lazy wavy…

… or … maybe …

… is it a tall building with luminescent windows casting a reflection of the sky into our retinas?

Which is it? Fact or Fake?

When I look in the mirror, my face looks cracked, like when I walk on thin lake ice.

The creased and furrowed face of someone who’s lived through some history.

The Personal History Divide

Ask three friends about a shared event in their lives, and they all agree as they smile and recount … (hopefully) agree on the major points, but each tells a different storyline on the nuance and emotion and meaning.

It’s like a Rorschach test … every person comes away with a uniquely different story of the vision they observed so clearly, or so they believed.

rorschact test

What does your dirty mind see here??

We were visiting family last week in Vancouver, sitting in comfortable black leather chairs in the kitchen, sipping white vino, chatting about “old days”. 

The talk and interpretation of the shared experiences from years long gone was loosely the same but the fine points and the personal interpretation of the feelings resulting was starkly, shockingly divergent.

Were we really at the same occasion? How much is spun in webs unrecognizable to the other?

We all carry our own personal history baggage. The password is unique and unshared, unsharable.  

That’s history. History is a mix of fact and fake… ok, not fake, but personal interpretation.

It’s often crazy hard to distinguish fact from opinion and memory. 

So when I read or hear a story of an occurrence from 5,000 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 5 days ago, I find myself looking very carefully at the source and the biases (positive and negative) to the retelling. 

More often, I feel the urge, the need to double check facts from alternate sources just to be sure that I have a reasonably accurate portrayal of events. Of course, living in the Trump world has hugely added to my suspicion of “fact”.

Bottom line, my spidey-sense is not just an occasional visitor now as it once was, it’s become my full-time interpretation detector.  

We all know The Dash of Life – between our Birth and Death Date.

Unless we’re looking at a tombstone, we don’t usually notice or certainly not think about the little line between a person’s birth date and death date. … the gap, the in-between of those two dates that is life – the life of a single person.

Eventually, one day, the life of us.

The Dash of Life is all of our own personal history, all the little facts, all the delights, joys and sorrows, the cornucopia of history that walks the halls and corridors inside us for a desperately short lifetime of emotion and opinion and interpretation. 

Fact or Fake? Um… Yes …

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YEEOWWW

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Sure there’s no crimson blood spurting but it has to hurt.

Huge hurt like fire and brimstone hell… torn and ripped and pink in pain.

A long while back I discussed my depilatory misadventures in MANSCAPING.

The other night my mind was returned to similar thoughts while watching the historic Chick-lit TV production (yeah, I watch chick-TV as well as Chick Flicks) of author Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER.

Amid the 18th century Scot/Brit/French drama and clan fighting and disease, strong female lead Claire Beauchamp visits a fashionable Paris friend Louise de Rohan.

Their womanly chatter carries on as breezily immodest Louise is being wax coif-stripped a la Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin – “bare to there” from tender knee to satiny belly button, driving a clearcut bulldozer pathway right through her golden triangle (are you with me here?).

Comically – and without interrupting her womanly blah blah blah with Claire – she callously slaps the male wax-installer as he scream-inducingly-indelicately jerks away the lady garden sprouting between her spread legs.

The men find it absolutely irresistible,” Louise purrs.

In the following scene, more generally modest Claire returns home and slips into bed beside her Scot hunk-husband Jamie.

Assisting him in exploring her very own nether regions, her girly-giggles rise as he discovers the smooth as a baby’s bottom parts down below.

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His reaction as she leads his hand under her nightgown?: “Claire! What have you done to yourself? Your honeypot is bare!

She invites him to take a closer look.

It’s more complicated than it looks thatched over,” he muses. Oh my!

It was a comically refreshing break from the dangerous intrigue and serious subject matter surrounding them, but, despite its titillating amusements (dismays?), also jarring for me from a historical perspective.

Did these sorts of things really transpire in these times? I don’t think so. Are you pulling my hairy leg Diane Gabaldon?

I’m already shocked when I see historical pieces where characters blurt out the “F**K” word… Were these expletive words and hair removal techniques really in use more than 2 centuries ago?

C’mon… is it factually accurate?

Well, you just know I had to do a bit of digging to service my naughty little man-mind.

Turns out the answer is YES… and… NO…

OK, depilation of woman’s (and men’s) body parts has been going on for centuries, millennia actually, reflecting the particular hair-free custom of the moment.

And if you think about it, you may have even noted yourself the presence of a lot of European art where the deficiency of hair in the feminine pubic area is common.

venus painting

To this point… notoriously, on the wedding night of the celebrated art critic, John Ruskin and Effie Gray in 1848, Ruskin was so repelled by the sight of his bride’s body that he was unable to consummate the marriage.

Effie Gray explained in a letter of five years later “he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person”.

Although we’ll never truly understand the reasons for Ruskin’s reaction, it’s been widely assumed that he was traumatized by Effie’s pubic hair.

Early nude paintings, like today’s internet pornography, have given men (and women) somewhat distorted cut-and-dried versions (visions) of what may or may not be normal.

An authentic version of the hair-away scene in OUTLANDER would more likely have been filmed with the use of a mixture akin to the concoction below.

A 1532 book of secrets gives this version of the recipe:

How to Remove or Lose Hair from Anywhere on the Body

Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. Go to a baths or a hot room and smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.

I admit it. I’m pretty innocent and trusting. Naivety is my middle name.

I rely on serious historical-fiction novels and period-piece TV and movies to give me the true goods on the nuances of the era they chronicle. In my view, the creator’s background research should make my assignment easy and done. It’s all a part of my lifelong learning package.

So as clever, cute, and somewhat titillating the de-fleecing OUTLANDER scene was, I can’t help but feel cheated by the use of modern hair methodology from an otherwise reasonably honest account of a long gone age.

Do I now ruefully disbelieve the actuality of “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s” Jacobite Rebellion and the bloody massacre at the Battle of Culloden? Were the 2,000 Scots killed that 16 April 1746 just a rumour in the chill highland’s wind?

Or… was it all a wee bit o’ a lie, a concoction like a vulvar waxing?

Whoa is me. I grow weary and jaded my friend.

Am I no longer to believe that the last Canadian Prime Minister didn’t truly pose for the portrait painted below?

 

Timmys painting

WTF! WAS it TRUTH or FICTION?

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It’s all a lie.

We lie to ourselves without even trying.

Over the past few years there’s been lots of talk about False Memory Syndrome.

We’re swimming in a raging turbulent river of false memories – both in our personal stories and those that chronicle the entirety of humankind.

I’ve been reminded lately that what we “know” to be totally true from our younger years may just be a fractional truth with a good-sized dollop of “memory muscle on steroids”. False memory syndrome.

Remember the big house you grew up in? The one you visited again years later, and it’s much smaller than you recall?

My old home on Rainbow Drive in Hamilton sure is. How did 6 of us ever live together in that shoebox? How did my Dad ever squeeze an in-ground swimming pool into that tiny city lot?

Or the immensity and majesty of the horse you sat on for that now-yellowing photo taken by Mom, and how over the years the huge stallion where your legs didn’t quite reach the stirrups mysteriously transformed into a small pony.

We have a picture book of stories in our head, but is it reality, or the imaginings of a romantic mind?

mind images

Do you believe memories are real and trustworthy?

The second that a moment slips into our past, it becomes a malleable impression for kneading and manipulating by our inner interpreter.

Sure, obvious facts remain intact – the date and time of our birth, the names of our ancestors – but very quickly the steamy temperature of that humid August day in the Rockies and the whopping length of the fish that got away morph into a slippery new world of fiction.

How can I trust any collective knowledge we have about actual history? We constantly rewrite our own memories, and we constantly rewrite history. We see the past through the lens of our current, very personal, eyes.

When I was a schoolboy, explorer Christopher Columbus was a European hero who “discovered” North America and made my beautiful world possible. HAIL Columbus!

Somehow, while I was boyishly crushing on my pretty blond teacher Miss Taylor as she outlined Columbus’s glories at the front of my Grade 4 classroom, she left out that small part about Native peoples’ annihilations with weaponry and merciless viral diseases brought along in the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Not to mention that Leif Eriksson touched down in Newfoundland almost 500 years earlier.

Why would you lie to me Miss Taylor?

Our memories of events change, evolve, grow, embellish with time.

This all makes me suspicious of ANY history.

History and its stories for the most part are written from the memory banks of human beings, people looking back and recalling the events as they occurred from their own personal perspective. Hatred, love, compassion, heartbreak and ecstasy all change the nuance and colour of the crayon colouring of the picture.

This is the nature of all our lives and the reason that we men have hoisted this “6 inches can be divided four times by the length of a 12 inch ruler” fiction on women. (don’t worry if you missed my point here!)

The-fish-that-got-away.jpgAre we talking fish … or something else??

Sensational stories make for better history and also an improved recollection of the moments of our lives?

Who amongst us wishes to believe our days and life highlights were really just mundane minutes amplified from within.

I think we all want our lives to reflect something bigger, something better than they may have truly been. This is a good thing, because we should all believe we’ve lived a life of meaning and importance, whether a tadpole in a small pond, or a shark in a huge ocean.

My own interior false memory syndrome memory of my hockey prowess is built upon a single game played on soft outdoor ice on a November evening sometime in the mid-1960’s. Under the floodlights on that night I (factually) scored 7 goals for my Parkdale Steelers against the opponent team.

Yet years of inner mind-manipulation have transformed that one glorious event into something akin to how I was “this close” to being the next Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky. I became a bigger “house” than the facts would ever bear out as true. And I’m just fine with that.

When I step down after performing, playing my guitar and singing on a small stage, the inner movie that shines on the walls of my mind is that of a famous rock star, a revisionist story of myself as Elton John.

Am I seeing and remembering reality or just an imagined vision? And … does it matter? What hurt am I inflicting by making myself bigger and better?

Have you noticed at family gatherings when aunts and uncles, or brothers and sisters, chat about events of the past, the stories sound very different to your own even when they are about the same moment in time?

Those moments have all been sifted and recalled through a different filter in each mind present. What was so obviously happiness and joy for Aunt Cathy somehow looked like sadness or rejection from your perspective.

Your reality is different from mine. We each have to interpret our lives in a way that makes sense to us. The books, the music, the movies you love so much will not be exactly the same as those I treasure.

It’s not truly important that our memories and recollections of our own personal histories reflect “facts” and a full reality. Reality is of our own making and choosing – a collage of our own interpretations.

I’m still happily living in my own little “Walter Mitty” world where I depart from my enormous Downton Abbey Castle each morning to score the big game winning touchdown for my Hamilton Tiger-Cats before singing to a SOLD OUT audience that evening in Madison Square Gardens alongside Billy Joel.

It’s my party and I’ll decide which memories are true or false.

WTF! It’s all true. Just ask my “good pal” Martha Stewart, “… and that’s a  good thing!

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