Sunday, April 29, 2012

Deeper Meanings: There Should Be A Law

"Nature's first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."

Robert Frost, 1923, Yale Review (earned Frost the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)

I admit there have been times I believed I was immortal like Highlander Connor Macleod of the Clan Macleod. Then along comes a voice from the past that irritatingly reminds me I'm part of the natural order of things, like Frost's Nothing Gold Can Stay

Just how it does this I'm not quite sure, as I'm not one much for analyzing. (I'm more of the superficial sort.) The analytical process itself reminds me of a story of the time a famous poet was visiting a class and the professor took one of his works and spent the better part of an hour dissecting its deeper meanings, interpretations of specific phrases relating to man's inhumanity to man and hidden messages on the value of moral turpitude (and such). At the end of his presentation, in a total sweat, the triumphant professor turns to the writer sweeps his hands out dramatically and asks, "So, what do you think of that?" Whereupon the writer says, "Geez man, I thought it was just a poem." 

But this work causes me great conflict. There's just so much in there in so few words. I find myself finding (shudder) deeper meaning. Almost effortlessly. Why did Frost insist on showing that a compressed work could weave a wealth of imagery and meaning when the majority of his contemporaries were publishing long, detailed explorations in verse? Does it have to do with his own definition of poetry as a "momentary stay against confusion?" Perhaps. But I think he did it just to bother me almost a century later.

Paradoxes (green is gold, leaf's a flower) – reality versus paradise. Gold – both a color and a instrument of wealth. Dawn – the beginning of a new day and metaphor of birth. The beauty of the moment of sunrise, the potential and transitory nature of awareness and change are all nestled in this special time. The presence of change as a constant in life and the ability to see it not as a loss but as part of the natural process. Seeing moments as special. Gifts. 

There should be a law.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Enough With The Surprises Already

Okay, put the shovel down. It's an expression. Like "Knock me down and call me Suzie." And it's used to express surprise.

The post today is dedicated to addressing this phenomena called surprise and to move that we strike the word from the English language forever. Furthermore, the act of surprising another individual should be outlawed under penalty of a life sentence with constant noogies while under physical restraint. You can tell I'm serious about this.

Surprises are stupid. It's sneaking up behind someone and making them shriek. It's secretly putting cayenne powder in a person's coffee. It's mixing real chicken in amongst the meatless chicken (that wasn't me, Pat). Or it's some jerk telling a false story to someone, getting them worked up, almost to the point of apoplexy, and then exclaiming, "Surprise! It was a joke and I got you! Haha! Don't you look stoopid!"

You've heard the expression, "Oh forgive Mildred, she's had quite the nasty surprise." That was first said after the first surprise was pulled back in 331 A.D. Poor Mildred. She was never quite the same after.

Striking the word from the language would also help reduce sensationalism in the media. Gone would be the surprising news that researchers have discovered that snacking on peanut butter five days a week can nearly halve the risk of a heart attack. That's not surprising, for a guy like me who grew up on the stuff, it's simply reassuring. Eradicated forever would be hype announcing the surprising results of a study that reveals the manufacturing a single pair of leather shoes uses a gazillion gallons of water. Ho hum. Nixed would be announcements of surprising research findings that lemmings are not really suicidal and don't jump off cliffs together. Unless you happen to be a lemming, that's just board game trivia. Come on, whatever these reports are they're definitely not surprising. 

Unleash your Inner Bag Lady! Write your editors and representatives. Demand that we remove surprise from our lives forever! 

The husband who decides to surprise his wife is often very much surprised himself." ~ Voltaire

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Tool For Tools With Lots Of Pages

Maybe I'm a tool, but I don't want to make money from a few of the personal projects I do – I just want to share. And while I have fun here on the blog, I can't post multiple page documents here, just single images. Until now if I have a book to share I've been forced to print, advertise, process orders, figure out postage, collect money and truck on down to the post office (barefoot and in five feet of snow) to ship. Worse of all, I've had to charge in order to recoup my costs. So I've been looking around this wonderful online world for a way to share for free.

Last week, bless him, a colleague in England mentioned a site called Issuu. It allows you to take a multiple page PDF, upload, publish and share it. Free. You get one of those flip books like you've probably seen featured for e-readers. And you can download the file. Free.

It's like a tool for tools who want to share lots of pages.

So to test I uploaded. It's called The Thing About Things, a book I published a few years ago. You're welcome to have a look. Just click on the name.

(Note: early feedback reports that these don't appear to work on phones and tablets.)

What do you think?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This Week's Recipe: Chien Chaud Avec Fromage

Wouldn't you just love to offer this remarkable French Canadian Chip Truck epicurean delight to your family tonight? Well you can! Such a treat and the whole family will love you for it! Perfect for the on-the-go playoff hockey lifestyle and full of roadside history – with a twist! And it's as easy as scoring on an empty net!

2 Tube Steaks (all beef preferred)
2 Enriched White Long Buns (Top-Sliced)
2 Slices Medium-Aged Canadian Cheddar Cheese
2 Tbsp. Mustard
2 Tbsp. Ketchup

Remove all items from refrigerator in advance and open all packages. This will save you time in the process later and simplify things when things get hectic and there is a breakaway that you don't want to miss.

Place two tube steaks on a microwave-safe plate (roughly parallel and not touching each other because this will add to flavor and prevent them from sticking together). Place plate into microwave oven (1000 watts) and set timer for 35 seconds (on high). Press "start". You’ll notice that I did not oil the plate prior to cooking. When I first learned this style of preparation I was confused as it went against just about everything I had learned about cooking, but trust me it works (and your wieners won't slip off the plate).

While the plate goes round and round inside the oven, prepare long buns by taking out of the bag and gently separate where sliced. When the microwave beeps remove tube steaks carefully (they're HOT!) and place in gingerly in pre-separated buns, on top of where the tube steaks were originally on the plate. Allowing the juices to soak into the long buns will add to the flavor.

Here comes the cerise sur le gâteau! Place slices of cheddar carefully over the combination, breaking in half and arranging such that, when melted, the cheese will adhere to the meat and run down inside the bun. Replace in microwave and push button called "reheat". Press "start".

This step is crucial to the experience. It will melt the cheese and allow the buns to achieve the steamed bun softness experience that the better kitchens on wheels throughout Canada are so famous for. While this is happening pre-shake mustard and ketchup while still in their bottles (lids closed) to prepare for delivery and open a bag of chips. Check microwave through the window you can't really see through unless you squint. When the cheese is melted, press "cancel".

Remove from microwave and let sit for 3.3 seconds. Garnish with ketchup and mustard and add potato chips (we've substituted popcorn chips just to be a bit risqué). For a truly Canadian experience substitute poutine. M-m-m m-m-m-m!

Et voila! Authentic simulated Chien chaud de fromage just like you'd get from the finest chip trucks! New heights in haute cuisine right in your own kitchen! Gordon Ramsay eat your heart out! Move over Marco Pierre White!

Serves: 1
Time to prepare per serving: 80 seconds

Next week: How to cook eggs in chili just like early Canadian Voyageurs!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ain't Life Grand?

A break in my regular drivel today.

My niece Manda is an Advanced Care Paramedic who volunteered , Nicaragua last week. While there she snapped this shot of a young man named Benjamin.

If the value of a photo lies in the story it tells, I really don't have to say anything more.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hey, I'd Like To Be Outraged Too!

Inner Bag Lady on the march.
Sorry I'm late this week. Had to calm down my Inner Bag Lady. She's a feisty, grumpy and honest part of me who is always ripe for a scrap, especially in support of the marginalized. The incident followed lots of chatter regarding a celebrity who let speculative comments about whether she'd had work done on her face get under her skin (pun intended). The comments had appeared in March from several sources: the general public – i.e. social media, the entertainment chatterboxes and the legitimate news media; from men and women alike. Her article was extremely well written and talked how she felt about people sticking their noses in where her appearance was concerned. I was impressed she spoke out, I was impressed with her logic and her sense of self and I noticed my Inner Bag Lady simmering.

I applauded this celebrity's desire to have a discussion about how people are subject to malicious innuendo and how that made her feel. I could relate. We're all subject to behind-the-back, jealous and negative gossip. Where she lost me (coincidentally just when my Inner Bag Lady began to make up really cool protest signs) was when I noticed that she peppered the term misogynistic assault on women several times through her article, insisting that the issue is a feminist one. Was my Inner Bag Lady disappointed, deflated and suddenly depressed? You bet your sweet bippy. Not only did I have to look up what misogyny meant but her need to classify her personal experience as part of a bigger fight – an example of the systemic oppression of women by men in today's society made me one of the bad guys – a MAN! She managed to take what I would be ready to identify with and add my outrage to and reclassified the tongue-wagging, trailer park quality, gossipy attacks on her as examples of misogyny (a hatred of women) rather than something I could get my teeth into, like misanthropy (hatred of the human race) or better yet: simple ignorance.

I became frustrated, hurt and confused... and yes, victimized. I had to console Inner Bag Lady. I love her, she's sparky, emotional, full of zest and gusto and ready to shout out her outrage for a good cause at the drop of a hat. But she's very sensitive. Taking a perfectly good reason to protest away from her is a crime. Doing so by redefining a fairly clear personal affront as a societal issue seems unfair. I started out totally in the same room and was summarily shown the door. Because while I really wasn't one of the bad guys, I was judged so simply because I have a Y chromosome. Woe is Rand.

Oh wait, I just found something to be outraged about. "Help! Help! I'm being victimized by misandristic oppression!"

Inner Bag Lady, placards please. And flyers. And a big, big banner. And maybe some cool ribbons – they're hot these days. What color isn't taken?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Ghost At The Top Of The Stairs (A Story)

Lots of news coverage from the past this week, including the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the 95th anniversary of taking of Vimy Ridge - ghosts of times past. Conveniently,  I was reminded of a story.

A friend of mine grew up in an old house in the country. Her mother, who I'll call Maddy, was of the hippy persuasion and she harbored a deference for both other schools of thought and clean laundry. So ingrained was her respect for other living, growing things that she would apologize to potatoes before peeling them. Hippies were like that.

When Maddy and her young family first moved in to the house, she told her daughter years later, she thought she felt there was something "different" about the house but she gave it no real thought.

The washing machine in this house was on the second floor, accessed by a back staircase from the kitchen. Every time Maddy went up the staircase with a full basket of laundry she would feel herself being gently pushed back. As it continued day after day she understood there must be a spirit in the house who was just trying to let its presence be known. Maddy was okay with that. She was quite willing to share the house with a spirit. After a while she got used to having to spend a bit of extra energy getting up the back stairs to the washing machine. And life carried on.

Then one day, Maddy was not feeling well. She had been up all night with a sick child and as she began going up the stairs with a load of laundry she felt an especially strong push back, one that threatened to knock her back down the steps. Perhaps it was her tiredness combined with a momentary fear of falling that caused her frustration to boil over and she quite uncharacteristically shouted, "Oh look, bugger off! I'm tired of your trying to push me back whenever I come up these steps, I'm not feeling well, I don't care who you are or what your reasons are but I just don't need this today. So, STOP IT!" (Actual wording changed to allow publication.) She then caught her breath, felt a bit guilty for yelling and continued up the stairs unencumbered, never to feel the push again.

No great moral here, but since I heard this story whenever I have felt something holding me back I remember Maddy's story. And my friends have gotten used to me yelling into thin air.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

This Thing Called You And Me

You. You are a star in the world around you, defined by talents expressed uniquely. You are the beauty of potential, the grace of spring buds. You are youth regardless of age, art of any form, music of any tune and dance of any step. You are possibility: the reason for hope and optimism. You are what tomorrow holds dear.

Me. I am but a tiny, special part of that world around you. I may be one of several. I am lover. I am mentor. I am friend and cheerleader. I may be around for a moment or a lifetime. I am an ear, a word, a hug or a kick in the pants. I am there when you call. Sometimes I don't have to be there at all because you know what I'd say.

You and Me. I help make part of you shine a bit brighter. The part that points up.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In Praise Of Total Lunacy Voodoo

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of the crazy samurai hidden within us all. Warrior of the almighty food fight. Defender of the right to belt out the blues. Champion of the almighty grunt. Let us bow our heads and repeat after me: Little shiny objects. Little shiny objects. Amen. 

Coping with the especially deranged freaky people sometimes calls for guerrilla tactics. Because these especially deranged freaky people seem to be immune to logic and reason. Controlling them, like zombies I suppose, calls for the very thing they hate the most. Total lunacy. Anything especially deranged freaky people can't figure out turns the contents of their innards into chocolate pudding. And not the good kind.

To save the human race from collateral damage, most who employ the ancient art of total lunacy only allow their lunacy to appear subliminally, like a silent Ninja assassin, just close to the surface enough to pinch heads between thumb and forefinger from a distance. Or, if you're paying attention, you may find they will leer at especially deranged freaky people when they're not looking while allowing a bit of drool to drip from the mouth. Very effective. Like voodoo. Occasionally though, in extreme situations, you'll find very overt action techniques employed. One is whipping out a large polish sausage, whirling it over the head of the especially deranged freaky people three times, then slamming it on the table in front of them while shouting "Boogey, boogey, boogey!" We call this technique Instant Chocolate Pudding. Do not be afraid unless you think you may be the intended recipient of this curse.

"How much for the women? We want to buy the women." John Belushi. RIP. (30 years ago last month.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Putting Words In Mouths

For those of you who know me, you'll know I exploit this blog as an outlet to keep my brain from exploding. Lots of stuff goes in during the week and some of it swells into other stuff and I need to let some of it leak out.

For instance, I heard this week that Shari Lewis, (the famous ventriloquist) as a kid fooled her father into thinking her sister was locked in the closet. And that sparked a full spectrum of thoughts. I thought about humor and ventriloquists I have known and I thought about people I know now (who I hate) who are so skilled with words they can shape personalities that have the power to change the world.
A ventriloquist was in a pub doing his act, which included a schtick that included a bunch of blond jokes. A few minutes later, a blonde woman thumped her drink on her table and charged up to the stage, shouting, "As a matter of fact, Blondes ARE NOT stupid!!" The ventriloquist felt a little embarrassed and began to apologize. "I am really sorry, Madam. It's just part of the act," he said. The blonde woman replied, "Keep out of it you, I'm talking to the idiot on your knee!
Edgar Bergen and sidekick Charlie McCarthy were perhaps the most famous of ventriloquist acts in the 20th Century. He began his career at a young age on the vaudeville stage, and made his name through radio and television, making fun of himself and countering jibes from his Charlie. His lips might have moved a bit but what endeared his act to the public was his ability to make the Charlie character believable. The impish Charlie could get away with comments that no adult would be allowed in that time. 
W.C. Fields: "Tell me, Charles, is it true that your father was a gate-leg table?"
Charlie: "If it is, your father was under it."
All has not been an easy ride between ventriloquist and dummy. Comedian Bill Cosby tells the story of the drunk ventriloquist who lived above the Greenwich Village coffeehouse where Cosby got his first comedy job, who had gotten so jealous of his dummy “that he beat it up in front of an audience. People thought it was an act. This guy actually quit the business to keep this thing from getting the laughs.” The art of putting words into people's mouths is a tough row to hoe, indeed. It can get messy. We've all heard of writers who have thrown their typewriters and computers out windows. But when it works, it can be magic.
A ventriloquist walks into a small village and sees a local man sitting on a porch with his dog. He stops and says to the man, "Hello, mind if I talk to your dog?" 
"The dog don't talk," the man responds.
The ventriloquist asks the dog, "Hello Mr. Dog, how's it going?"
"Going okay, thanks," says the dog. The local man jumps in his chair.
"Is this man your owner?" the ventriloquist asks.
"Yep. He sure is," the dog answers. The local man's eyes become the size of saucers.
"How does this man treat you?" the ventriloquist asks the dog.
"Real good. He walks me twice a day, feeds me great food and takes me to the dog park once a week to play."
"And do you mind if I talk to your horse?" says the ventriloquist to the man.

"The horse don't talk," the local man said, shaken.
"How's it going Mr. Horse?" the ventriloquist asks.
"Cool," replies the horse. The local man is now visibly shocked.
"How does he treat you?"
"Pretty good thanks, he rides me regularly, brushes me down often and gives me oats every day."
The local man is now totally beside himself and the ventriloquist turns to him and asks, "Can I speak to your sheep?"
"The sheep's a liar!" the man shouted in a panic.
The art of ventriloquism is one that has been fairly lost to time, church basements and the ghosts of kiddie parties. But the art of writing for other lips is far from dead. Every writer who has ever put pen to paper to build a character is familiar with the challenges. Storytellers, speechwriters, voice actors, brand builders, scriptwriters and animators the world over know that if you can create a character, worlds will follow. It's how you connect with your audience that counts. 

Have a great week everyone! Keep writing, have fun and don't worry about people seeing your lips move a bit.