"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!

Thursday, 27 February 2014


I have a cold. I know this because my muscles and my sinuses ache. I'm getting better, the ache is less intense but I continue my regimen of tea and soup to speed my return to health.  I stand in front of the pot of simmering broth watching the peas bob in the bubbles. At least, I think I'm doing this. Maybe. I will explain:

Earlier in the morning, I am mesmerized by the perfection of one particular tulip among the dozen in the vase on the table.  I notice the flower peering at me over the edge of my computer screen directly after I finish reviewing information from the Kepler Mission's recent discovery of 715 

new planets, and details of ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) being built in France.  

Impressive, but it is the simple tulip that sends me over and triggers an almost surreal and profound desire to know.  I am overwhelmed. The feeling becomes more intense after I stumble onto a talk given by Joshua Knobe, associate professor in the Program in Cognitive Psychology and the Department of Philosophy at Yale.  Knobe's talk is about the true self and the question of identity over time.  In it, he discusses the idea that, over time, you will change.  Molecule by molecule, you will become a different person than you are now. And right now, you are a different person than you were in the past.  

Sure. So there's that.

Then Knobe goes on to try to zero-in on what, exactly, the true self is.  Are we our emotions or our beliefs?

You need to watch the talk yourself:


but now, for me, watching this soup is maddening.  The influence from the Kepler Mission and ITER leads me to consider the soup as nothing but varying masses of atoms vibrating at different rates.  The peas were frozen so their levels are different.  And are they really green?   Colour is nothing more than frequency. I know this (whoever I am).  I take two eggs from the fridge and crack them into a bowl.  The eggs now look like two suns ('Feel my pain yet?).  I take a fork , scramble the eggs, and pour them into the hot broth on the stove.  I see them cook and wind around the bubbling peas. I turn the blue gas flame down and stand there. 


"I am."


Do I have an essential self?  A true self? Or am I a simple mass of synapses and neurons sparking and arcing in reaction to stimuli?  But why does some stimuli affect me so differently than others? The tulip responds to sunlight.  The soup responds to heat.  The sound of your voice can make my heart beat out of its chest.


Who am I?

I know the brain can not know itself.  And I know this is really an unanswerable question. I don't trust anyone who claims to know the answer for sure.  That, I think, is the height of arrogance. Accepting that we are a mass of gunk may work for a while, until you suffer.  Until you crave.  Until you have lost.  Until nothing is familiar and you are afraid.  Until you love so deeply.  And, until the big things (715 more worlds) and the small things (the tulip) threaten to blow your mind.

                           I just want to know.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


I awake to sinuses that feel like they're on fire. My head aches. I have slept poorly but I hop up and check the feeds and find that Canada is ahead in its gold medal game against Sweden. I have a hot shower and come down to begin my efforts against this cold, annoyed that it has ruined my plans to go to a pub this morning to watch the game on a big screen with other fans. I keep tabs. We win! I am excited! I hear honking and whooping in the streets. I love this, and am in a fantastic mood even with all of the kleenexes I am having to use. 

Eventually, I get myself outside on the way to pick up ingredients for chicken soup, some cold remedies and a movie. The city is grey and cold and reminds me of a black and white movie. The sidewalks are have patches of ice. Even the air is hard. I'm walking up the western sidewalk. There is a woman with a big hat walking up the eastern sidewalk. We're both moving at the same cadence which is annoying. You're really not supposed to walk WITH anyone on the street if you don't know them. This is an unspoken rule. I try to slow down, but then realize how silly that is, so I resign to keeping pace with her. It's a gold medal day, after all.  A short way up the street, on Big Hat's side, I notice a woman crying, and I mean really crying. A man has passed her and is looking back. I wonder if they have had an argument. Big Hat slows and asks the man something. I see him shrug his shoulders and take this to mean that he doesn't know her.  He continues on. Big Hat walks slowly toward the woman who is crying full tilt now. I slow.

  I remember, years ago, I was coming out of a subway and passed a woman who was crying like this. In that crowd, no one stopped to see if she was alright, including me. This event still bothers me. I vowed I would never do that again. So, here, I crossed the street over to Big Hat's side. We both nodded to each other, wondering what to do, and reached the woman at the same time. 
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"No." she manages,  "my aunt, who I was living with died and now I have nobody." She is distraught.
I put my hand on her arm. 
"When did your aunt die?" I asked.
"Two weeks ago." she said
Big Hat asks her about friends.
"They don't live around here. They all have kids. They're party friends. They don't want me." she sobs. Her face is covered in tears. I pull out a kleenex and give it to her. She goes on to explain that her parents had died seven years ago. She couldn't cry then for some reason but now, all of the sudden, here on the street, she felt it. The crying had come. I take a risk, step closer and hold her. I feel her lean into me, still crying. Big Hat puts her hand on the woman's arm. After a time, I stand back, and I feel she has lightened. I sense that she has made it out of the trough. Big Hat and I talk with her about struggle and the fact that most of the people passing by on the street are going through something. They just aren't showing it. I acknowledge that she is going through a very tough time. The three of us stand talking, and more importantly, listening, on the sidewalk for some time. She settles down and even laughs when we bring up the this is character building nut. 

Between Big Hat and I, we get her back into the present and feeling much better. She goes on her way, thanking us for stopping.

 Big Hat and I walk up the sidewalk together, completely in step, and talk about what has just happened and what a crazy world this is. We talk about loneliness and how hard life can be sometimes. She thanks me for stopping. And I thank her. She gestures that we have arrived at her house and waves goodbye. I wave and continue on to get my provisions but I feel emotionally full. What was that? What just happened? Well, I made contact I guess.  I am grateful to the crying woman for this. I sincerely hope she is okay. She wasn't the only one to benefit from the interaction. Absolutely not.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Gold Everywhere!

If you can wait. If you can have faith. If you can trust in the gifts of the universe then you will find that there's gold everywhere. 'Never fails. I am in Toronto's famous Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar on an afternoon of apocalyptic weather to interview a man who wasn't there. "He would be in on Tuesday," according to the young, handsome bartender. Rather than waste the trip, I ask for a martini and settle in to wait for the goods. They're out of vermouth but we laugh and I do not protest. The bartender is exactly the right mix of easy-going, and concern. This is an interesting place. More interesting as an entity unto itself during the off hours as I am about to experience. 

There are TV's at the Rex mounted on the walls, today showing events from Sochi and the Olympics. When I arrive, the members of the Canadian Women's hockey team are shown getting their gold medals. Here, there is a group of four men in a corner of the room. I glean from overhearing words here and there, that the two older men might be either policemen or judges as they are discussing various court rooms they like over others with two younger men who I would guess might be lawyers. I'm guessing this because the younger men seemed keen to give the older men full attention, sipping their beer with their backs to the TV's, facing the stucco wall instead.   Further over, there is a table of three; the only hipsters in the place.  Behind me, two men are sitting, nursing their bottles of Blue. One has just checked in to a room for four nights. He has found work in the area and his girlfriend phoned ahead and booked the room for him.  To my left, in the back of the room, there is one older man, a regular, finishing his second beer and chatting on occasion with the bartender and the owner as they tend to their tasks. The owner is dealing with a room issue, but stops to chat with a woman on her way out. He is concerned that everything is okay with her. She is learning English, new in Canada, and "Do you have friends?" he asks. She nods. He is glad, and warns her of the weather. He is sincere.  A young man is cleaning the glass doors. An older woman comes in and sits up to the bar. The bartender offers her a menu. Over in the corner on a low-raised stage, sacred, there are parts of a drum kit stacked next to a shrouded baby grand piano and a pair of monitors. There are framed photographs of musicians scattered on the walls. Behind me and to my left, there is a large painting of a woman in a red dress and a man playing a blue saxophone. I ask the waitress to tell me about the painting.
 "Well," she says, "there's a woman in a red dress. And a man playing a blue saxophone." 
I laugh, explaining that I figured it had something to do with the Sirens of Greek legend or something symbolic. 
"No. Some lady painted it. She comes here every once in a while with a blind date. She sits right in front of her painting," she says and goes back to her work. 
I sip my drink and notice the music. The awards ceremony is over and women's figure skating is two or three contestants in. I hear Ravel's Bolero but instead of watching the skater, I listen to the music and consider the people in the room. The music builds in its slow, steady beat and I notice one of the judges sits down closer to the TV and watches the young skater throw herself up in the air to the music. She has drawn him out. No one bats an eye. This judge, and everyone else in the room, all with their own stories, even the people passing through the sleet out on the sidewalk are beautifully choreographed from where I sit. Those passing have brief roles. A glimpse only as they pass by the doors: shoes or winter boots? Warm coat or not? Umbrella?  Alone? And who's in the taxi? Who's on the streetcar? 

Bolero: graceful. Intense.

With a click, the bartender mutes the TV and Bolero. Music from a jazz radio station takes over the room. The skater finishes and awaits her score. The judge returns to his seat. The regular in the back leaves but not before handing his empty beer bottle to the bartender. The woman orders food. The next skater takes the ice and dances completely out of sync with the Duke Ellington tune we are hearing, possibly April in Paris. The scene is comical, but touching, like something out of a Vonnegut novel. The story is in the contrast: from fluid movement, to struggle. From comfort to endurance. And from loneliness to camaraderie.  Today, the real gold is right here at The Rex, where life is happening in perfect time. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sunday, 2 February 2014


Icing sugar is leaking from the sky,
Sifting through the trees and my snowshoes.
I step through the top deck, then
Crunch into the meringue underneath;
Harder snow dropped days ago, 
Sorted, folded in by winds.
The only sound is my breathing and the fast
Racket of the granules hitting my shoulders -
Like tiny impatient angels tapping their fingers on a desk, demanding-
"So? You! Live, damn it!"