"Spin" in aviation training: a "stall" or loss of lift, a subsequent nose-down spin, the specific actions required for recovery, and the feeling, after recovery, that you could tackle absolutely anything!

Friday, 24 March 2017

Energy Vampire

This past week I found myself having to spend time with two energy vampires. Fuck me. I'm still tired. Thinking of it a year from now will probably still make me tired.


I'm sure you've all experienced being preyed on by the energy vampire though the term may be new to you. I don't want to get all flakey here. I'm not secretly rounding up memberships for Ed's Chakra Shack. Talking about personal energy is a risk. Not everyone is keen on it but if you've been around one of these vampires you will know what I'm talking about. You feel yourself being deflated, sucked dry of any spark you had. 

It was awful:

  "What the hell is going on?" I asked myself. 

One minute I'm laughing, sharing stories, jokes with a bunch of guys over here, and the next, I'm standing talking to someone else in a hallway feeling like my insides are trying to roll themselves up and go home without me. My self-esteem, confidence and creativity have all called a cab. The person in the hallway? Energy vampire. Damn it. 

There is nothing they say that is terrible. They seem, initially, to be good people. There is nothing about them that overtly suggests that they might be dickheads. I don't think they even realize their vampirousness. I did notice, in both interactions this week (second one happened elsewhere) that neither vampire was comfortable in silence. I like silence; gobs of it. I am a fan of breathing, pondering and, I know it's crazy, but even pausing between sentences. These fuckers both mistook my silence as an invitation for them to talk. I found it necessary to fight the urge for me to scream and pull my lip over my head. It's hard to read the train schedule with your lip over your head so I endured.

It is unlikely I will ever meet these specific vampires again, but it could happen. Plus, in this sea of humanity, there is a good chance that I will run into another one, a new one, in an elevator, on a plane, running from armed republicans, you know, wherever life leads.

                          What do I do? 

How do I prevent them from draining me? Do I cover myself with gravy? Curl into a ball and roll into a corner? Punch a wall and then act like nothing happened? I'm not sure that there is a defence. Energy vampires are sneaky, subtle. Hard to pick one out of a crowd. Other than saying, "Excuse me, I have to leave because you suck," I think I have to consider them part of the landscape of humanity; annoying like highway construction, but not worth becoming a hermit. 

If you do have any ideas, let me know. I want to know, but right now I need a nap.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Weekend in Port Stanley

In all of this floundering, an opportunity to get a breath; a weekend in an old villa with ten people in mid-March: Painters, writers, photographers, two pilots, a communications expert, and two lovely young students.  The gathering, suggested and convened by Liz Kuzinski, a talented landscape and portrait artist. We are all tripping over ourselves to get there, packing, car pooling, navigating through capricious curtains of weather; sun one minute, then snow the next; the asshole wind shoving the van like a bully at recess.

We arrive and peel off our Zeitgeist armour at the door. The villa is comfortable, huge, and inviting like a favourite sweater. Knowing Liz, I am confident that I will be fond of her other invitees  and I am right. There is nobody I am hesitant to sit next to. The conversations throughout the weekend cover the wavering strengths and weaknesses of humanity, interspersed by long, therapeutic courses of laughter. One painter, Robin Grindley, has only to tilt his head and the rest of us are on the floor. On Saturday, we head out like a cartoon cloud with numerous feet sticking out the bottom. We explore the town, lacing our way through the shops despite the cold, arrogant wind coming off of Lake Erie. We run to watch as the lift-bridge raises and lets an ice-covered fishing boat through into the safe harbour.  Back to the house and an evening that fills with more people coming for dinner. I run into old friends of my family, a couple who had started an organic farm(Orchard Hill Farm) decades before it was the in-thing. This blows my mind.

The evening empties out into morning. We rouse, have breakfast, and linger, nobody keen to vacate. Time, the dictator, finally wins. We pack, load our van and leave the villa, but don't head straight home. One of the pilots is a volunteer with the Museum of Naval History in Port Burwell and has promised us a tour of the HMCS Ojibwa. How often do you get such an offer? Carl, our pilot, talks us through the sub, detailing the mechanism, the world scenario when the sub was in use, and the finesse required to live and work in such a rig. Me, I could not get over how little space there was. Hardly enough room to change your mind. I was floored at the engineering that went into this beast; a remarkable display of the ingenuity of man. I was also tremendously sad that all of this effort was sweated in order to fight a war against other humans. 

It should be noted that Carl, well over six feet, hit his head six times during the hour.

The weekend was over. I found it powerful, wonderfully unique in that the winter light and the vastness of the lake out the south window made it seem like the villa did not exist in real time or space. To be in a strange house, meeting people, running into old acquaintances, and then having a tour of a submarine, well, you'd think I was telling you about a dream I had.

Whatever it was, I was grateful for the break. 

Monday, 27 February 2017


As frustrated as I am with life right now, I still take joy in the little scenes that happen when I am out in the world. Today I rose from a fitful, almost combative sleep in time to catch an early train into the city. I was grumpy and chewed my coffee with a certain disdain during the drive to the station. I waited on the platform with Trump amount of people; seemed like a million, might have been fifty, all sleepy, many screen-hobbled. All of us wondering what we were doing at the train when we should be down at the harbour where our ship would come in. The train is full. No seat for many of us. I didn't complain. I'm an adult.

I pretended to be lost in time and space, standing there with my gear on the floor at my feet and my hand on the closest steadying pole. I tried to get fascinated with the safety warnings running along the tops of the windows. I crouched to look out at the lake as we passed. I pretended not to notice the totally ridiculous photos that this one woman, seated near me, was looking at. You would not believe... We arrived at Union and detrained, me frustrated because I was still grumpy. It was as if I hadn't really taken a full breath yet and didn't exist completely. This was all a movie. Then finally...

You can call it fake joy and you can take that to town and wail, but the servers at the Starbucks this morning triggered in me the feeling of a good pulse. Vibrant, attentive, Off-Broadway flamboyant, they teamed up to take my money and give me coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and the trade-marked and, yes I know, fictional feeling of being part of something hip. Play along with me. I felt better. I chose a seat one space away from a slightly older woman. I sat and before I had finished my chow, a gangly kid in a hoody, patinaed in a sorry attempt at rough demeanour, asked me for spare change. Remember, I was feeling better. I was included in hipness. I gave him a buck. The kid thanked me and moaned his plea to the lady. Without hesitation, she summoned the voice of some vile character from perhaps a Stephen King novel and spitted,              

                    "Whadda YOU think?"


I assumed she had the breakfast-vitriol sandwich. I did not make eye contact but feel sure that I caught a glimpse of her head rotating. Our boy made fast steps away.

I finished eating, walked towards the main entrance and stopped to do up my coat. There were three important-looking construction workers wearing white helmets, standing, arms folded, low talking in short sentences out in the middle of the hallway. They seemed to be trying to solve something. I looked down and happened to see an allen key on the floor behind the seat next to the wall. I grabbed it and walked toward them holding the shiny "L" for them to see. 

"Looking for this?"
"What is it?"
"Allen key. You guys looked like you were missing something."

They stood and blinked for one beat, two beats. 

"It was supposed to be a joke. I figured you could finish the whole project now that you had this."

They relaxed, glad that I wasn't a lunatic. They laughed. I laughed. We laughed. There was much laughing. Fella on the end leaned over, 

"You can keep it!" 

"Excellent." I pocketed the key. "The day is mine!"

Three little scenes, all in the space of thirty minutes. Three little connections made, except for angry Marge, that helped me ground and balance.  I realize that I am grateful for this more and more lately. Plus, I'm one allen key richer.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Your Truth

I don't like the word, journey. I know that it's popular when describing life, but it gives me the impression of moving along at a sensible pace with a steamer ticket and a packed lunch. It makes me assume that proper plans were made and that naps were taken, hats worn. Path is too idyllic. I think of grassy hillocks and sheep. Trajectory is close but involves too smooth a curve; careful calculation right from the beginning to avoid wobble. And there's lots of wobble. It dawned on me that the words I was considering were all physical descriptors when what I want is  something to describe internal growth. What I am looking for is a word to describe the Dawning Of the Comprehension Of Self As Crucible For Your Unique and Sacred Truth:

                 DOCOSACFYUST for short.

Yes, I suppose I could use, inner growth, but that makes me picture a middle-aged man wearing a thick woollen turtleneck sitting in a therapist's office. Yawn.

The process is varied for everyone. You are born, and you hit the ground charged with carrying forward the DNA of your ancestors. The environment may, or may not be nurturing. You may, or may not experience the mirroring or attachment that triggers a ravenous appetite for involvement and agency. You may look around one day in the family kitchen and wonder who the fuck these people are and why can't they see that you're doing a brilliant headstand while finishing a sandwich. You somehow thrive but more in spite of your environment. Gradually, in between taking care of everybody, you begin to comprehend your self. This might take twenty years, or it might take forty and you find yourself running to try to catch up to where you feel you should be. This is when someone says to you that,

 God never gives you more than you can handle

and you wonder how long your jail term would be if you reached over and throttled them. Because you want to throttle them. Vigorously. There is something in your DNA that is moving you forward but still forcing you to chew knots. Then, after five decades of bullshit you finally feel that you're close to being a real person when Trump happens. Now as you are, and with this DOCOSACFYUST, you find the hate unleashed by Trump traumatic but you can't look away. There is something in your DNA that is forcing you to engage, to poke the badger. 

Nothing is certain: life, politics, fantastic parking spaces. You wonder what the point of it all is. What is this truth? You're exhausted. You haven't had olympic-level sex in too long. But something keeps you moving ahead towards the next knot: DOCOSACFYUST, or whatever the proper word is, and a deep down desire, a craving for someone to simply acknowledge that you're standing on your fucking head.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Your Character

Years ago, I had a job working for a film director(Ousama Rawi) in Toronto. I was hired as a gopher initially and busied myself completing tasks such as figuring out which door matched each key on a ring of a what seemed like hundreds, or sourcing a missing console radio button on one of the K-cars used for errands. Rawi seemed like a nice enough guy, but demanded deference from his employees. It was rumoured that his secretary had a paint chip that she had to match his coffee to in order to avoid his disappointment. Okay, so perhaps he was a handful, but he was respected in his field and still is as far as I know. There were few remarkable days in his employ except for one: 

On this day, Rawi requested that I drive him and two other staff members somewhere. I met them at the car and pulled my seatbelt on as the three of them climbed into the back seat. I drove the car out of the parking lot and followed his demands, navigating down Spadina and through a largely asian chunk of the city. Rawi and his staff started laughing and making fun of the asian people crossing the street in front of us, or gathered on the busy sidewalks in front of the shops. The comments coming from the back seat were appalling and juvenile. I listened, considered, and then decided not to fold, not to laugh along for the sake of fitting in. I decided to concentrate on driving and avoid any hint of showing approval of their remarks. I looked back at them in the rearview mirror and then ahead to the road. They kept at it for what seemed like a very long time before Rawi asked me to drive back to the studio. I thought it was odd that there seemed to be no destination, no point to the trip. We arrived back where we started and got out of the car. Rawi then, put his arm around me and brought me into the office. He introduced me to everyone and slowly, it dawned on me that the little car ride was a test. He wanted to see what kind of character I had. Would I laugh along at something completely inappropriate and disgraceful simply because someone in power was doling it out? He was curious, and sneaky but he got his answer. Rawi was very kind to me from that moment on and had the studio not closed, I'm sure I would still have a place there. 

I've been thinking of that day lately. Now, more than ever, I feel it's necessary not to fold, not to enable hatred by allowing the terrible sentiment delivered in the package of an offhanded joke. It's time to summon your good character to action. We are all being tested on a global scale.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

That Light

When I was a kid, I was good at stuff: I could run, throw, ski, bike, and climb, and I could sing every  TV ad jingle. It never mattered though. I never once remember my parents marvelling at my speed or arboreal locomotion prowess. I admit that it's been a while and there is a possibility that I could misremember, but I think I would have remembered seeing either of my parents' glowing faces as I crossed a finish line. Instead, what I remember is, 

Come on, it's time to leave for Quaker Meeting.

 Ugh. This sentence, usually hollered up by my father early on Sunday morning would send my brain down into its file room to try come up with an excuse that would relieve me of my having to attend:

I can't come. I've suddenly gone blind.
My legs are both broken.
I have a Journey song stuck in my head.

Quakers, for those of you figuring that I am made of oatmeal, is a religion basically about not being a dick to each other.  The premise is that there is the spirit of God in everyone, or the light as we call it. In consideration of this, Quaker Meeting has no minister. Everyone has a direct line so you can stand and gripe directly. Quakers are pacifists, and are accepting of other religions and races, because, light. The problem was that, for years, I was the only regularly attending kid in our meeting. One kid is not enough for Sunday school so I had to sit with the adults on the pews for the hour and listen to them drone on about Vietnam, El Salvador, or whatever the world had offered up for its violent, oppressive whim at the time. I found it to be excruciating. What exacerbated my frustration exponentially was the imbalanced focus at home. I could not understand why my father never went golfing or fishing like other people. He would come home from the city and help out in the barn or the fields, but he would talk to himself, mutter the whole time. I never saw him spend a whole day goofy and excited. We had an argument, he and I, one day. It was, I think, the only one. He was sotted, and sad about children of war somewhere and I had had enough. I wanted attention, you know, like a member of the family. So we yelled at each other for a few minutes, both standing at opposite ends of the house. It never took. I remember driving into town later that year, and seeing a man, by himself, with a placard, marching for El Salvador. It was my dad. I was horrified. I'm ashamed now to say that I was embarrassed.

Now I totally get it. 

Now with the Trump administration I can hardly function. I fear for the planet and humanity. Time has taken on a surreal feeling, braced to some extent by the women's march. I was grateful to have been one of the 60,000 people marching in Toronto and more around the world. It helped. But my diligent attempt at a balanced life has tipped. Now I am reeling at steps taken in Washington. I feel fiercely moved to reach back and draw forth my Quaker roots, no matter what kind of anger, change and struggle they fed on during my life up to now. They are, I'm glad to say, still solid. 

I am gut-dropped frustrated that in this age, 2017, some think it's okay to behave like a condescending dick towards others. Plus, the very idea of treating the planet as nothing more than an expendable way to make money, to me, heart-wrenching. Unforgivable. Astoundingly arrogant.

The comedian Bill Hicks said in regard to life,
It's just a ride. 

This is as much a perspective for us as it is for the Trump administration. None of the hate and posturing is necessary. Why on earth are they compelled to make the ride so shitty? Why are they so blind, keeping their lights so dim? Why not make the planet a great place for everyone? 

It could be so great!

I can't figure it out. I can hardly breathe. And I would give anything to go back, right now, and sit in meeting with my father again. I would do that in a heartbeat. No Journey songs. No excuses. Because I could use some kind of grounding to help figure out how to navigate this insanity right now and keep my own little flickering light burning.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Going Forward

My favourite word, next to, shenanigans, and maybe obfuscate (which sounds like a sport), is the word gracious. Gracious, is defined as to describe someone who is marked by kindness and courtesy with some tact and delicacy thrown in. It requires a certain presence, an inner stillness and the rare ability to connect, listen and not judge. 

Tall shoes. 

The word came to me this morning, while mulling over this Trumpian dystopia we are all faced with. It seems that the world is losing its mind over him, and justifiably so. I won't go into the details of his petulant need to bully. You already know about that. But I can't think of a better way to anchor our efforts to maintain our integrity going forward than to be gracious in everything we do. Everything. This does not mean abiding, or being the least bit complacent. This does not mean escaping, becoming insular and self-serving. This means catching those throw-away comments, denigrative remarks made in jest and gently hauling them up onto the proverbial carpet. This means getting the conversation going but with grace. 

"What are your thoughts?" "That's an interesting viewpoint. What made you decide that?" 

Through personal experience, I've found that this process, completely non-judgemental and non-confrontational, serves to draw the person into reframing their perspective. Simply by hearing their own words(therapy) they can discover a problem or a struggle that they never realized that they had. You become the facilitator. The easiest scenario to start from is when someone says, 

   Well, there's nothing we can do about it.

That's the insidious anthem of the complacent. Really, it's the easiest opener of all. Start with the sacredness of our human connection and go from there. You've got this. Just be gracious. You can't lose.