Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Meaning of Life, in 542 Words

My son noticed a spider on the wall near his desk.
“Kill it,” I said.
“No, he’s nice, I’ll let him be.”

Ten minutes later, passing by his room, I asked after his new friend.
“I killed it.”
“How come?”
"A second one came by. It was too much. So I killed them both.”

That, a true story, is the closest I’ve ever come to a definition of god.

From the spider’s point of view, he was minding his own business, doing spider things like wall-crawling, when his life suddenly ended for no apparent reason.

As far as we know, spiders don’t have ways of handing down lessons from one generation to the next – except perhaps evolution but that tends to work rather slowly.

People do – hence, superstition, mythology, and religion are born.

People seem to prefer cause-and-effect concepts to live by.
It’s a control thing.
Unfortunately, in all but the simplest of cases, it doesn’t work that way.

We may have control of some of the minutia of daily life, but it is a fragile as the fate of a spider on the wall.

Consider, for example, the tsunami.

One minute you are relaxing on a beach, taking a well-earned vacation in paradise.
The next, if you are lucky enough to survive, nothing.
No more family.
No more hotel.
No more passport, money, belongings.
Just like that.

One minute you have a life, a home, a community.
Schools, shops, friends, a job, a reason to be.
The next, nothing.

Repeat millions of times over half a continent.

Bin Laden in his wildest dreams couldn’t accomplish something on that scale.

There are explanations, scientific ones.
Earthquake. Tectonic plates shifting, deep beneath the ocean, pushing aside the water.
All that energy has to go somewhere.
Why here? Why now? Incomprehensible to us.

It seems odd to contemplate destruction on a global scale while sitting quietly in my safe home in North America.

If I turn off the TV it goes away.
Sort of.

Events like this can’t help but give us some perspective, albeit briefly.
The stories will fade from the news, we will go back to gazing into our own navels and that’s as it should be, because that’s how it IS.
The best that can be hoped is that we learn something, something that will stay with us.

What we learn will depend on what we need to learn.
Ideally, that is.
For the unfortunate few whose minds are snapped completely shut, there is no new insight, for even though it exists all around them they cannot recognize it.
If you think I might be talking about you, you’re probably wrong. The ones I am thinking about have no idea, none.

I have learned (re-learned, really) the obvious: that I am blessed even though some of the details of my life are less than perfect; and that sweating the small stuff is ridiculous.
I am in the process of learning (although it really hasn’t fully sunk in yet) that the only reasonable response to events like this is to try to do better, for myself. To give myself what I need to not only survive, but thrive.
Not to do so would be wasting the gifts I’ve been given.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Dec. 9

So, the Supreme Court of Canada has paved the way for the country to legalize same-sex marriage.
Well, sort of.
We do things backwards here sometimes. We check with the courts BEFORE laws are even enacted.
Pre-emptive jurisprudence?
I don’t understand all the ins and outs but from what I gather, the court declared that to bar same sex marriage would be unconstitutional but fell short of endorsing the concept wholeheartedly.
I have to read up more on this to get a better grasp of it.

In any case, the government will now proceed with legislation and it’s expected to pass.
Not without some debate and carrying on, of course, but that’s fair game.

Within Canada, the strongest opposition will probably come from Alberta which is our answer to Texas, complete with oil, cattle, and cowboy hats.
And the West Edmonton Mall, biggest in the Universe (or something) which is strange considering what a comparatively remote area it’s located in.
Edmonton is a CITY but not even of the scale of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, much less New York or L.A.
I guess the entrepreneurs are bigger, out west.

Still no lights or anything on the contraption in the park, so I guess Christmas tree isn’t it.

Oh here’s some news:

A few weeks ago, Rob quit his band.
It was a difficult decision for him but he said he’d been looking for a way out for awhile now, and having a big argument with the singer provided him the opportunity.
He’s getting more involved with his course work in Commerce and has even signed up for extra credits.
He says he still wants to be involved with music but the idea of having success with this band isn’t appealing to him anymore.
He finds the idea of possibly touring, “depressing”.
I think he means the living conditions which aspiring bands endure (and sometimes thrive on) aren’t for him.
He was always a high-maintenance sort of kid, with regard to creature comforts.

I’m actually quite awed by his maturity. He has more common sense at 20 than I can ever hope to have.
Giving up, or giving up on a dream is one thing, but recognizing that the dream has outlived its usefulness is quite another.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Health news item of the day:

Obesity linked to lack of sleep

It’s a hormone thing (isn’t everything nowadays?)

Too little sleep seems to result in more hungry-hormone, while sufficient sleep stimulates the I'm-full-hormone.

Or else, people who sleep less have more time to stuff their faces.

Or both.

People who sleep less theoretically have more time to exercise too – but we don’t do that!

Another study I read about recently claims that sleep deprivation helps in the treatment of depression.
So we can either be fat and happy – or slim and miserable.

Is there really even a choice?

Offensive TV commercial of the day:

For Dell computers: the one where the “Dellf” comes driving up the street to deliver a prize package consisting of an SUV filled with electronic goodies, and a guy out shoveling his walk mistakenly thinks the prize is coming to his house.
Sadly, it belongs to his neighbour instead, and when that family is happily dancing around, celebrating, all of a sudden they hear a big THUD as a shovel-full of snow hits the SUV.
The camera shifts to the shoveller who has an odd sort of guilty-but-I’m-glad-I-did-it look on his face.

With the standards of behaviour in North American society at an all-time low, I’m discouraged that a major American business sees fit to market its products with a display of petty jealousy, small-mindedness and ill will.
This is a commercial on commercial TV – this is a reflection of life as we’d like it to be, filled with happy, wealthy consumers, who should at least show the generosity of spirit to celebrate the good fortune of others.
Besides, if he played nicely, maybe they’d share.
Or at least not be tempted to poison his dog, which is the least I’d think about doing if my neighbour shoveled snow onto my new SUV.

(No no, I wouldn’t poison a dog. Relax.)

Marketing reflects our values but more than that, it can shape them. These messages are seen over and over, and have to make an impression even if consciously ignored.
While I don’t expect marketers to show social responsibility at the expense of profit, surely the two can work together - if only in the land of Things-As-We’d-Like-Them-To-Be.


I’m starting to realize that sending around the URL for this blog as “writing samples” might not be the best idea as a way of impressing potential editors.

If you are a potential editor, try this one please:

Or any of these:

Sunday, December 05, 2004


It’s winter.

Not officially, not for two more weeks, but if it looks, feels, and smells like winter, it’s winter.
I don’t like winter. For that matter, I don’t like summer either when it’s hot, humid and buggy.
Give me perpetual spring and fall.

I look at winter as just one more thing to put up with in order to live here. I like Canada and I even like Quebec, infuriating as the politics may be at times.
The cost of living is reasonable compared to Toronto and Vancouver.
Montreal is still a major city although it lost its title as largest Canadian city to Toronto some time in the 1970s.
I’m still annoyed about that.

But back to winter.
I think winter is like giving birth.
You forget, from one time to the next.
Otherwise, nobody would have a sibling and nobody would live north of the 40th parallel.
(40th? Make that the 30th.)
If it weren’t for the holiday season, which if nothing else is a major distraction, people would probably feel like slitting their throats about now.
For years we escaped to Florida for the last two weeks of December, but I don’t miss that.
It wasn’t worth the trouble to me (traveling with two small children!) except for the part about seeing my father.
One year (1998) we came home to the famous ice storm.

Another year we had to turn back after a full day of driving because Mark came down with chicken pox.
Ah the joys of kids.

Other than the most dramatic, most of my winter memories are good ones – so good in fact that they’re probably winter fantasies, coloured more by my romantic nature than by reality.
Winter is fun for kids, of course, who don’t have to chisel ice off cars and battle traffic and idiot drivers who are clearly in denial.

The snow piled up higher in those days.
Or maybe I was shorter.
Or maybe the city blew the snow from the street onto the lawns instead of carting it away in trucks as they do now.

Even into my late teens, winter wasn’t so bad. It can be lovely on a college campus when big flakes fall in a windless night and are silhouetted like stars by the street lamps.
Unfortunately that only happens at most once a year.

Many adults rediscover winter when they have their own children.
I never did but luckily their father was into it, and took them sledding and hiking around the large parks in our area.
One of them (the parks) has a barn with a few farm animals and a greenhouse with (what else?) plants which gave them an opportunity to warm up.
It didn’t work for me because I’m allergic to animals (sigh) but after awhile I wasn’t required to go along on those expeditions, giving me some precious ALONE time.
Alone time is very important to hermits like me, although I tend to overdo it at times.
There’s a thin line between solitude and isolation.

One more thing before I wrap up today:
Check this out if you like tawdry government scandals. Those Brits sure know how to do it up right!

Saturday, December 04, 2004


I have nothing to write about!

I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour, surfing news sites for inspiration but it’s not happening.
So you’re being treated to 500 words of drivel.

“Nothing” to write about isn’t exactly true.
Nothing I really care to get into at the moment is more accurate.
Maybe I’m feeling too mellow.
Mellow isn’t good for creativity.
I’m not sleepy – had too much coffee for that – just feeling content.

Had a nice quiet day at home.
Read, surfed, played backgammon, researched some markets, sent out a query letter, ordered in lunch with Rob (we were too lazy to even go out), did minimal housework, and procrastinated writing.

There are a few things I intend to write about soon.
One is the stripper thing.
I can’t get over that the Government of Canada had, until this week, a specific program for importing strippers.
They provide temporary work permits for people with skills that are in shortage in Canada.
Apparently we don’t have enough strippers.
There is so much wrong with this I don’t know where to begin, but not tonight.

Another issue is depression, specifically post partum depression and psychosis.
Another mother made the news this week, this one in Toronto. She is said to have killed her husband, the eldest of her three small children, and herself.
They aren’t saying for sure that depression is the cause but it’s a pretty good bet.
People need to start taking this seriously.

Some other weird happenings: it seems that hundreds of uniforms and badges belonging to airport security staff in various parts of Canada have gone missing.
Just like that.
They’re investigating.

And some company in Europe has had to stop issuing special screensavers that are programmed to spam the spammers. They use the idle processor time to communicate with servers that are known to belong to spammers, in the hope of “slowing them down”.
But it’s not a denial of service attack. N’uh uh.
Vigilante screensavers. Surely there’s a better way.

While reading about that, I came across this:

Cell phone towers in camouflage

I thought he was joking!

Finally, some good news:

Exercise offers few health benefits for some

Good news?
Yes because it lessens the guilt I feel for being a couch potato!

According to the study, exercise doesn’t have the same beneficial effect in all people, and the range is rather large, extending down all the way to practically useless.
Okay those are my words.

I’ve never had the self discipline to stick with an exercise plan. The closest I came was taking aqua fitness in a senior’s class (I was in my 30s at the time) for a few months.
That was okay but for some reason it didn’t last.

We used to have an exercise bike but I found it dreadfully uncomfortable. We have a treadmill but I find it dreadfully boring, even with the TV on in front of it.

So now I can tell myself, it wouldn’t have helped me anyway!

Friday, December 03, 2004

What is it?

There’s a mystery going on in the park across from my house.

I’ve posted photos of the park before, and this is what it looked like several summers ago:

This year they enlarged the sand area (most of the foreground from center to left) a bit and replaced the old climb-slide apparatus – the yellowish-brown thing at the far left.
The green space in the distance is a soccer field; the building in the center is a pool house, behind it is a basketball court and behind the tree on the right is a baseball field.

Pretty cool, except in winter. They used to put in a skating rink or two but haven’t done that in a few years so there’s really nothing going on there between soccer and baseball seasons.

On Tuesday, I noticed some workmen digging holes in the sand – the sand that had only been spread a few weeks previously during extensive rebuilding.
On Wednesday I looked out the window and there was this BIG thing in the middle of the road. I guess it was some sort of crane, and it was high, even higher than the light post.
There was a cable with a big hook at the end of it, and if the operator hadn’t been careful, that hook might have hit my car!

Soon a tall metal pole was in place in the middle of the sandbox, and a bunch of men began working with a huge tangle of red wires and some netting.

First I thought it might be a lamppost and the wires would go underground, but no, they anchored the wires into the sand in various places as if they were tent wires, and strung them up to the pole.

Here’s a photo of the final result; please click on it for a larger version.

We still can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be.

The two obvious suggestions are jungle-gym (climbing thing) and stylized Christmas tree, neither of which makes much sense.

It’s WAY too high to be a climbing thing for small children.
The Housemate declared that there was a big sign on it saying, CLIMB ME AND DIE and indeed, when I arrived home from bowling that day, three teenage boys were happily climbing it.

Christmas tree? That would be nice – but it would be ridiculous for the city to put it in our park because only the local residents would see it, at most a couple of hundred people. Nobody comes through here to get to anywhere else.
Besides, there are no lights or decorations on it (yet?).

My idea is, they will put some kind of tarp over it and make it a quasi-tent so kiddies can play in the sand in shade.

I welcome your suggestions or guesses, both serious and humourous, in the comments section.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Day 6

It’s not BAD news, really.
I heard from the editor again and she said they are now planning to use the story in January because they have some time-sensitive material to use first.
It’s all good, I just have to be patient.
And keep writing and submitting!
If nothing else, now I know I’m capable.

I also thought better of using that photo. This is the best alternative I could find:

But now I guess I have more time to scrape up a new one.

In other news:

Our local paper printed an excerpt from a Chicago Sun Times column by Neil Steinberg:

Neighbor above looks down on us below

Imagine a difficult, unpleasant task. Changing a flat tire on a rainy stretch of road, say. You're outside, drenched, cold, kneeling on gravel, grimacing, putting your weight on the tire iron, trying to crack a lug nut. A car stops. The window rolls down. And a smug voice calls out, "You know, if you rotated those tires regularly, like you're supposed to, they wouldn't wear out so quickly -- and keep a poncho in the trunk. Just a tip." Then the car drives away in a spray of gravel.
That's Canada. Misplaced superiority dipped in a thick coat of contempt. President Bush is there now, trying to slake Canada's endless thirst for American attention.
Fat chance. Does the American gaze that Canada ordinarily craves make it happy? Of course not. Our frosty neighbor to the north is convulsed in protest because the U.S. is actually engaged in trying to address the woes of the world, instead of sitting on its thumbs and complaining.
I've met Canadians, and while they can, with effort, muster periodic bursts of charm, and even express an occasional amazed, who'd-a-thunk-it appreciation of the United States, their general attitude is that of an elderly dutchess who has used tongs to pick up a bug from the Oriental carpet and is examining it through her lorgnette with open, nose-wrinkling disgust as she transports it to the dustbin.

I have trouble believing that a preponderance of Americans think that way.

Actually I believe that many Americans don’t think about Canada at all, and while that used to irritate me, maybe it’s a good thing if this is the alternative.
In any case, he is just dead wrong, and I can support my argument using only two numbers: 9-11.
When planeloads of people, many of them American, were stranded in Canada when North American air space was abruptly shut down, Canadians welcomed strangers into their homes. Some formed relationships that endure to this day.

The CBC recently aired a report on a Canadian family that threw together a wedding for their unexpected house guests, who were on their way to Las Vegas but couldn’t get there on time.
A bug in tongs? Hardly.

We don’t DO superiority. We are probably the most self-effacing nation on earth.
I’m reminded of a Canadian commercial for a hair care product that aired a few years back. The shampoo (or whatever) was touted as “as good as need be”.
That’s the epitome of Canadian-ism.

We don’t gloat, we don’t crow, we don’t throw dirt in anyone’s face. We may disagree, and in the case of US foreign policy it is a measurable fact that we DO disagree. We may protest because it is our right and even our responsibility to do so. That used to be the case in the US too, but protesting seems to have fallen victim to the restraints of political correctness in America, depending of course what colour state you’re in.

As for our “endless thirst for American attention”, it’s like saying a child starving in Africa has an “endless appetite for food”.
A little will do just fine.

President Bush’s visit is four years overdue. Traditionally, a newly elected US president’s first foreign visit has been to Canada; Bush’s was to Mexico. He is also trying to make up for taking our help on 9-11 for granted; Canada was not mentioned among the nations thanked during the speech later in September.

And I don’t believe for a moment that your president traveled to Canada in November merely to humour us. No, he wants us to join in on the missile defense project. We’re not sure about that one, yet, but we won’t be bullied into it.

Frankly, Bush should be glad he didn’t fall victim to the usual Canadian form of self-expression:A nice tasty pie in the face.

Yes, that was a dry run, to see if what I wanted to write about that, would come out. And it did.
The 500 word exercise is having an effect already!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Breaking News!

The entry originally scheduled for today has been preempted by some breaking news:

I SOLD A STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

…to Women’s eNews, an online feminist publication.
It’s the article concerning same-sex marriage that I mentioned in an entry earlier this week.
The magazine editor emailed me this afternoon, saying they are expecting to “run” it next Wednesday and asking me for some revisions and (gulp) a photo.
By Friday.
As soon as I stop shaking, I will frantically rummage through my hard drive.
And Rob’s.

I quickly glanced at the file they sent me and saw several possible publication dates, with Dec. 8 being the earliest.
So I won’t obsess if it doesn’t turn out then.
Okay, I’ll try not to obsess.

I also saw some edits, some of which in my esteemed opinion are not for the better but what the heck.
She (the editor) asked a few questions and made a few suggestions so I have a little more research to do.
As soon as I stop shaking, that is.

A couple of the edits indicate that the editor assumes that I’m a same sex partner.
I’m flattered. It means I really got my point across.
In the interests of accuracy I will re-edit but I hope she’s not disappointed.

Some of my long-suffering readers may remember that I “sold” something about a year ago.
Well, sort of.

Our local paper, the Montreal Gazette, accepted an article and published it –
but they never paid me!

Freakin’ deadbeats.

I still have the e-mail where they offered me $200.
I should have known something was up when they called to confirm details, and I mentioned the fee to the person on the other end.
He replied, “Um, yes, right, $200.00.”

A few weeks later, I emailed them. No reply.
I tried phoning but my calls weren’t returned.

I pretty much gave up, (yes I know but I really didn’t have the energy to pursue it) until, at the workshop given by a local freelance writer, I learned that I was supposed to invoice them.
You’d think my calls and emails would be close enough, sort of an invoice-like event. Even if only to maintain good will.

I also learned that contracts are involved. I never saw a contract from the Gazette.
The writer leading the workshop was surprised by my story. She worked for the paper as a reporter for awhile and found them to be reliable.

I actually did invoice them after that but, predictably, nothing.

I can’t cancel my subscription because it’s the only English daily in Montreal. But I will not grace them with my writing again, at least not until and unless they pay up!

Anyway, back to the present: I can’t find ANY photo that I like except maybe this one:

Dare I?

I’ll have Rob take some new photos tomorrow.

Oh yes, this is the website:

Women's e-News

and my article would be in the “Commentary” section.

I originally found the magazine through the Writer’s Market site, so that really does work.