Monthly Archives: August 2012

Don’t worry, be happy. It’s not hard. All it takes is a complete paradigm shift in the way you approach the world

Happiness: the Greek philosophers believed that the goal of human existence was this nebulous thing called ‘happiness’. By happiness they didn’t mean head-over-heels pee-in-your-pants hilarity, they merely meant a basic status of contentment.

Better to listen to the ancient Greeks on this sort of life philosophy than to listen to contemporary Greeks on economic philosophy, I might add.

Now, obligingly, some kind soul posted on Facebook (the place whence I find much of my wisdom) this morning a little screed that listed 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy.

Damn, another one of those sacrifice demands that tend to sap the pleasure from life. You know, give up smoking, give up drinking, give up salt, give up fatty foods,  give up lust and its consequent sexual extracurricularity, give up political assassination. The list goes on and on.

But, I’m an obliging fellow. Added to which, I like the idea of finding complete happiness. So, I shall list the 15 here and see how I would do. You might wish to do likewise.

  1. Give up your need to always be right: But, what if I am right and the other bozos are wrong? What progress would we have made throughout history if we’d granted concessions to the wrong-headed?
  2. Give up your need for control: Never been a control-freak so this one isn’t too difficult. I’ve been wrong too often to fret about this too much. Wonder how many points this gets me.
  3. Give up on blame: Little percentage in this one. My parents are dead so there’s little point in indicting them any longer. My former wives ultimately became people I am quite proud to know. As for the rest of those bastards, they just don’t care.
  4. Give up self- defeating self-talk: But I’m a master at this. Why forsake something that I have honed down to a science? Mine enemy is generally mine-self. Hmm, something wrong here. This might be the sort of thing they’re talking about.
  5. Give up your limiting beliefs: You mean, I can’t be bigoted and prejudiced in my own limiting way?  That cuts down badly on rant potential.
  6. Give up complaining: I only complain when things just aren’t right.
  7. Give up the luxury of criticism: Well, criticism is a luxury and I won’t find it easy to forsake a luxury. I don’t hanker after a Rolex or Astin Martin, but I do hanker after indicting all that is wrong.
  8. Give up your need to impress others: Well, what’s the point of having an ego if it’s not to impress others? Is it worse to be ‘other’ impressed or self-impressed? Weren’t you impressed by that bit of wisdom? I have a need to know.
  9. Give up your resistance to change: “If nothing changes then nothing changes,” said a particular wise-guy. I agree, but it doesn’t mean I won’t resist.
  10. Give up labels: Which labels. Clothing labels? Grocery labels? Automotive labels? OK, I can give up labels and go generic. It’s cheaper, anyway.
  11. Give up on your fears: I don’t know. I’m kind of scared to go in that direction. And fears of being run over by a semi or falling from a great height have a certain survival validity. Now, nameless fears, or fears of failure. That’s a different thing. Don’t do well in that department.
  12. Give up your excuses: My excuses are finely-honed and have involved a lifetime of philosophical effort. I’ll have to find an excuse for giving up my excuses.
  13. Give up the past: Ah, my legacy; my heritage. In fact, I’ll quibble with his one. It is in remembering some of the negatives of my past that I am able to keep positive for the present. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
  14. Give up attachment: Sorry Wendy, it’s been a good trip but it’s time to move on. Is that what they mean? I’m bemused and confused.
  15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations: Well, if I didn’t give a shit this one would not matter. But, because I do, or because there are some rewards in living up to other’s expectations that may improve one’s life, this caveat is a bit whack. I mean, if I hadn’t lived up to my parents’ expectations then I wouldn’t have bothered going to school.

So, how did I do? I think I failed royally. Do I care? No. Why should I live up to the expectations of the people who devised this?

Thanks for all you did, Neil, but I actually preferred the place before it attracted visitors

July 20th, 1969 was, for me, a charged day for a couple of reasons.

The primary one was that it was the 6th anniversary of my first date with the nice lady who became my first wife. We’d been married for two years at that point and we were living in a ‘quaint’ but rather down-at-the-heels cottage on the beach. Life was good back then.

The other memorable aspect of that day was a guy walked on the moon. That was notable, too. But the other was more personal and selfish sod that I am; it was more significant to me.

Actually, I was surprised to learn that Neil – “one small step for man” – Armstrong was 82-years-old at the time of his passing the other day. Somehow, notables from history stay stuck in the mind at the age when they did become notable. In his case, on that day, he took a stroll in a place all the rest of us had only seen from afar. Indeed, a place that all the rest of us will likely only see from afar. I like that because I only want to see it from afar.

I’m a romantic about the moon. You know Moon: spoon: June: Croon etc., not to mention The Man in the Moon, and you can see him. You know you can and you have. I always like the image from that old silent film of the moon with the rocket stuck in its eye.

Neil Armstrong, unwittingly killed a lot of the romance – for me at least. But I’m an incurable romantic. I like mystery. I like flights-of-fancy more than lunar flights that are real.

It was a hot July day that 20th day. We were mostly on the beach, swimming, sunbathing. I was a teacher then, as was my wife so we were both on our – envied by virtually all other callings – on our two month respite from toil.

It was a lovely summer. The fish were running and were so plentiful that I could ask Carol (the wifely person) if she wanted barbecued salmon for dinner. If she replied in the affirmative, I’d take out the little boat and return with a fish within a half hour. This is no exaggeration. Good times.

But, we were the only house on that little stretch of beach that had a TV. The rest were strictly summer joints and nobody else, in those days, bothered getting one. Our place was our permanent residence so we were hooked up with our little black-and-white Sear’s special.

People started milling around. They knew the moon thing was happening and they were avid to see it happen. I’d actually forgotten it was happening. So, our little living room filled with I cannot remember how many people, but there were grownups and kids and Mollie, the neighbors’ lovely old golden retriever and all were transfixed by what was taking place. All except Mollie, who only regarded the moon as being something to bay at periodically. She had the right attitude.

I do remember being slightly pissed at the prominence of the US flag in the shots and thought, “It’s not their moon, damn it, it’s everybody’s moon.” But then, I realized that they had bankrolled the trip so I guess they had a right.

I watched the events in snatches during the time. I knew I should be more transfixed, but somehow I wasn’t getting there.

Still haven’t gotten there.

But RIP, Neil, regardless.

And RIP Mollie, too. You were such a lovely dog. When the summer days got really hot you would wade out and just sit in the water. I could almost hear you saying “Ahhhh!” when you did.

Winston Churchill mainly cat-napped and he did OK, so what am I worried about?

Of all the wishes I have in life – and I have many, just like most folks – my fondest is, please Lord, grant me a decent night’s sleep, because in the last few years I haven’t known what that’s like.

 And that reality infuriates me and even aggravates my insomnia because my mind invariably goes to chronic sleeplessness the moment my head hits the pillow.

 I do the ‘right’ things in order to induce ‘sleepishness’ like watching caffeine intake, having the right temperature in the room. My nighttime routine is as it should be. I turn in at roughly the same hour every night. I read for a while before lights out, and all of those good things.

 Now my problem isn’t getting to sleep. It rarely has been. It’s early morning awakening. I hate it when I awaken early needing to pee. And something about having to pee in the night is that there is no denying the manifestation. A full bladder tends to call attention to itself.

 So, I’ll trundle to the ensuite and try to keep my eyes shut the whole time, thinking that’s going to keep me from becoming ‘really awake’. I vow to restrain myself from looking at the readout on the clock when I return to bed because if I do I know it will induce an early awakening panic in me and then all will be lost. I always fail in my quest to not look. Like the original peeping Tom with Lady Godiva, the temptation gets too great and there it is. The ‘truth’ of what the hour is. And then the sleeplessness panic begins to roil in my gut and I know all is lost.

 So, it’s 4 a.m. and I’m awake. And the more I think about it being 4 a.m. the more awake I become. No point in seeking the balm and soporific effect of early morning nookie. The invitation would not be appreciated by somebody sleeping soundly.

 I hate the thought of arising so early and I try to hang in for as long as I can, but it doesn’t get better and I don’t get more sleepy. Oh, and by the way, counting sheep categorically does not work. I do try to do a meditative thing and clear my mind, but that too is usually fruitless.

 So, ultimately I arise – much to Max’s delight, I might add. He doesn’t worry about insomnia or how many hours he got in – and shuffle down the dark hallway to the kitchen where the coffee, which was pre-prepared the night before is ready to go. And on it is switched.

 Nothing much to do at that time of day. The odd car drives up or down the street. Idiots. What the hell are they doing up at such an ungodly hour, is one thought I have about them. But the other thought is, well the world is still alive and some other people are up this early and that renders it a little less lonely. Because, that is the worst part about awakening early, it feels lonely. Max, meanwhile, pokes his head out between the draperies and grumbles and growls slightly into the darkness at imaginary grizzly bears, bandits, or his detested raccoons. And indeed he really does dislike them as much as I do.

 And then when the first light of day begins to show I calm down a bit. Resign myself that another night didn’t give me anything resembling eight hours, and begin to feel the first twinges of insomnia angst about the forthcoming night.

 I read nonsensical articles in the paper about how insufficient sleep will take me out early, lead to Alzheimer’s, impotence or probably beriberi, or something else ghastly and I almost sardonically chuckle and think, do you science and medical nerds think I sleep badly because I choose to?

 I sleep badly because I sleep badly. That’s my reality.

Anyway, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison and Margaret Thatcher didn’t sleep much and they did OK.

And there is always the allure of a later nap.

You want pitchas? We got lotsa pitchas.

They’re making photography too damned easy. This is not a good thing. With cameras that essentially do everything for the photographer, it renders it nearly impossible to take a bad picture.

This is akin to the misapprehension held a few years ago by too many people that told them if they got their hands on a home computer, they should immediately become professional writers. They missed the point that the computer was merely a tool, just like a pen, and that writing originates in the head and heart, not in the fingertips.

Anyway, the ease with which a photo can be taken now is unwelcome news to many of us, who realize that we won’t only have to look at yet another instalment of Aunt Hattie’s family history, but that these same boring relatives (who we’ve only met once, if ever) will now not only be in focus, they will not have been partially decapitated, and will not be a couple of microdots who looked like they were photographed at the north end of a football field, with the photographer standing at the south end.

Consequently, the Aunt Hatties and others who avail themselves of the new technology, without having to attempt to deduce the vagaries of f-stops and ASA ratings (like the rest of us never succeeded in doing), will suffer under the misapprehension that they are photographers.

I liked it better when photography was a tricky business, making demands on the man or woman behind the camera lens. Those who couldn’t master those demands, gave up and turned to chinchilla-raising or some other hobby. Those with an artistic ‘eye’ stuck with it, and sometimes produced stunning works of photographic art, even with the most antediluvian equipment. Ansel Adams, for example, used pretty basic gear.

My first camera was a turn-of-the-century Eastman-Kodak ‘Brownie.’ A real relic it was, and I wish I still had it, since it would probably be worth something as a collectible. That same old camera, I am sure, if it had been in the hands of somebody other than a twelve-year-old boy, might have taken remarkably effective photos, considering its simplicity.

I graduated from that one to a Brownie ‘Hawkeye’. This was state-of-the-art’ for a fourteen-year-old. Eventually (to make a tiresome personal history refreshingly short) I went into the newspaper business. It was a small-town paper and we were expected to take our own pictures. Since said pictures were to go on public display, I had to learn such rudiments as composition, effective use of flash, which lens would suit a particular situation best, and remembering to put film in the camera.

Over the years I became a (ahem) fairly proficient photographer and learned many things about light and shadow, backlighting, exposures, using ‘flash fill’ even on a sunny day, and also that extremely important rule for the discreet photographer; never take a flash photo of a female in a dark silken or knit garments if you do not want her undies showing through. Of course, if you are a cad, you will make a point of taking such photos since you indeed will want said undies showing through.

One of the reasons I became a bit proficient is because when I started at my newspaper the reporters were expected to shoot their own photos. And I did that for many years and got a few pretty good images when it comes down to it. All we didn’t do was ‘soup’ our own film. Otherwise we illustrated our own stories. I’ve kept a lot of my old black-and-whites and they still hold up well.

And to do all that stuff I had two Minolta SLRs that I loved and have now been relegated to a camera bag limbo along with zoom lens, wide-angle, filters, flashes and other elements of photographic paraphernalia.

So far, I have only addressed ‘still’ photography. Even greater sins have been committed over the years by amateurs who have been seduced by motion. I never did take home movies of the conventional sort. My dad did. In fact, even his dad did. My grandfather produced a phenomenal number of amateur movies, going back to the 1920s. Indeed, he even used color film as early as the mid-1930s. His family may have been hungry during the Depression, but good old Grandpa always managed to keep his hand in the movie business.

As I said, I never did take conventional home movies, but sometime in the early 1990s I got myself a videocam. For the first couple of years I pulled the thing out on regular occasions; family gatherings, vacations, and so forth. The result of my activities were usually outrage and running for shelter out of camera range by my wife and stepdaughter.

Eventually I became more circumspect with its use. But, I do have a couple of highlights on tape, including a whale-watching excursion on Maui, where you not only see the whales up close and personal, as it were, but hear them spewing and snorting. I also took the camera to London with me in 1997. I got some nice shots, complete with all the street noise, and the beautiful music of a small chamber ensemble skilfully playing Pachelbel’s Canon at a street market. Nice stuff.

We once toyed with filming moments of passionate ardour. Considering what happened with that marriage, I’m truly happy we didn’t. Really really happy we didn’t. It might show up as a YouTube. You never know.

Ultimately I mainly put the videocam away. Periodically I stumble across the hulking case that contains it and think, “Oh yeah, I have a videocam. I should use it sometime.” But, it seems that I never do. Why would I?

Especially not since I have a digital camera. Two of them, as a matter of fact. And they’re wonderful. Simple and to the point and you never have to fret about film. And I can do videos with that li’l tiny thing. And I also can with my phone. Well, actually with Wendy’s phone since mine is a slightly older model known as an Appless. Get it? I just made that up.

I can also go on vacation, snap 45 or 45,000 shots, depending on whim and not have to worry about processing costs or taking film through airport scanners.

Oh, brave new world, I welcome you. Well, hardly at all, with some basic exceptions, photographic options – as well as, non-terrifying dentistry and pampering toilet paper.










Lover her or hate her she was a revolutionary in her own right

I was in my feverish adolescence back in the day when the juvenile female population was divided into two broad categories: the girls who ‘did’ (you know); and the girls who unequivocally did ‘not’.

I was generally in the presence of misses of the latter category, AKA ‘good’ girls, as opposed to the wanton sluts of the former group.

It was an era in which premarital (and it was pre ‘marital’ since good girls then did not shack up) coupling was, even though much desired, including by some girls of the ‘good’ category, avoided for the most part.

None of this pristine behavior was necessarily caused by an excess of purity on the part of either sex. No, it was a matter of practicality. To state the case bluntly, if you wanted to get anywhere in life you just darn well didn’t want to knock somebody up, or to be knocked up. Threw everything to hell and good girls had to be sent off to spend some time staying with an obscure ‘aunt’ somewhere for the duration so that the shame wouldn’t have to be admitted.

I knew some girls who went to stay with them old obscure aunts. Never dated any of them, however.

Then, simply, the birth control pill came about and everything changed and sexual purity became a matter of individual choice rather than necessity. Its advent didn’t mean that erstwhile good girls instantly doffed panties and called out “Come and get me, big boy,” it just meant that they finally had the option to do so without having to bear with some grim consequences.

So, the pill was one thing – along with demonic rock and roll and the counterculture and the Beatles and miniskirts that often offered a view of the panties that were to be doffed – and the other was Helen Gurley Brown.

Ms. Gurley Brown died a few days ago at the huge age of 90 and her contributions were very simple and twofold: A book called Sex and the Single Girl; and a mag (she took over and revamped in her own style) called Cosmopolitan.

SATSG was revolutionary in the sense that while it didn’t necessarily advocate junior misses going out and acting like porn queens, it only recognized that ‘deep’ snuggling was gonna happen and young women should recognize that and at the same time retain their integrity, and ideally latch onto somebody worthy and, ideally, rich. Otherwise, it’s pretty tame fodder by contemporary standards, but was certainly revolutionary as hell in its day.

As for Cosmo, I confess I have never read the mag, though the contents, as evinced by the cover blurbs suggest it contains all sorts of spicy stuff that purports to reveal what young ladies are all about. Of course, it’s probably as realistic a portrait of young lady behavior as Maxim is representative of what young dudes are all about. Lotta wannabes in both categories.

But, what matters here is that HGB was infinitely successful and pathologically skinny. She married a successful guy and was married to him for eons and they both were champs in their respective realms. There wasn’t, and not to be unkind, much about her that appealed. Scrawny doesn’t work, though she was reportedly obsessed with it. Quite frankly she never evoked an untoward thought in me.

But that matters not at all. Love her or loathe what she stood for, she was assuredly one of the pioneer icons of contemporary mores.

But, with all things considered in terms of recent demises, I’ll miss Phyllis Diller more.

Truth may be stranger than fiction but it’s a hell of a lot easier to write

I’ve decided to take another crack at writing fiction.

Hmm. I’m already feeling some trepidation about having made that statement. So maybe don’t include my name on your Christmas ‘must’ novels list or be checking out Amazon right away.

OK. I am a writer. Well, mainly a journalist, but that’s ‘kind of’ a writer. What I mean to say is that people have paid me money for what I have written and they have done so since the 1970s. Some people still do. So, what I am saying is I do have some creds tucked under my belt.

But, aside from blogging, most of the writing I do is factual stuff, mainly of a feature nature. Fiction is different, and my attempts in the past have ended up frustrating me no end. I have friends who write fiction. Some of them have even written published fiction and I have the autographed copies of their books to provide me with both proof and envy.

And I have read tons of fiction in my life, so I know how novels and short stories work. In fact, I used to teach this stuff, as you might know. I know all about protagonists and themes and stuff. At one time I read a great deal of fiction. Then I went into a slump and devoted my leisure reading to such things as biography, true crime, travel, adventure and so on. I got out of fiction mode.

Then last year I decided to get back to fiction reading. It went OK, and I found some books I genuinely liked and even wanted to talk about. And recently I decided it was maybe my turn to try again. I mean, if somebody like Agatha Christie can turn out about 10 thousand novels, surely I could manage at least one.

I did try for an earlier novel beginning about five years ago. It was called The Road Taken (catchy, huh?). But, I then got frustrated with the way it was going which was, essentially, nowhere. And it all began to break down and I started harshly criticizing my style and my lead character and then the tale itself. That was after I’d written 20 chapters or so.

I ultimately concluded my protagonist was an asshole and I didn’t like him very much.

Even more dramatically, I concluded my asshole protagonist was essentially me

And that’s one of the areas where fiction always goes to hell for me. I end up wrting a roman a clef in spite of myself. I mean, I guess it’s natural because who do I know best? That’s despite the fact I often think I don’t know myself very well, as certain wives have been quick to observe over the years.

Oh, and sex. That’s difficult to do. No, I don’t mean doing real sex, I mean writing about it. And my sexy stuff in my novel just turned out to be clunky rather than salacious. I mean, I know what I like and I even have some idea about what females I’ve been intimate with like, but getting that onto a page is a different matter.

You might think, cool, writing dirty stuff could be a trip. Not so. What is intended to be steamy and even arousing ends up being either goofy or a bit disgusting. If I’m not turned on by my own sex scenes, you certainly won’t be.

And most sexually oriented writing is very crappily written. Doesn’t mean it won’t sell, but that doesn’t make a book – including that ‘one’ that is immensely popular at the moment, especially women, evidently – anything resembling a good book. I mean, I wouldn’t mind having written it, but I’d rather write a good provocative book.

Or a good ‘any’ book.

I’ll see how it goes.

Back to school junk, with a special emphasis on protractors

Suck it up, kids. It’s back to school time. Well, nearly. Television is now filled with advertising telling moms what is available for this September and while the kids are hanging on to the last vestiges of summer they face an onslaught of what is new and wonderful in ‘supplies’. I feel for the kids because looming Labor Day means that my summer is also coming to an end.

For crissake, summer is the season I live for all year so don’t be reminding me that we will soon be in the grip of grippe, wet gales, days that seem to offer about 40 minutes of light and all the Christmas crap that sneaks up on us much more quickly than summer ever does.

But, the damn school supplies merchandising racket makes it all go to hell. At least I don’t have to buy any of that junk that, of course, must be completely different from the previous year’s junk. Of course, if the junk offered any guarantees that the recipients might come out at the end actually capable of reading, writing and spelling I might be somewhat mollified.

In my day it was simpler. School supplies were pretty basic and fundamental and the same every year so there was little need for the parents to take out a 2nd mortgage to keep Hepsibah and Algernon up to the minute. Not so now.

When I began school — and I will confess I did start a little later than the slate and chalk days of Tom Sawyer. He was a smidgen older – we were required to have a couple of pencils, a ruler (in inches, not this newfangled centimeters crud), an eraser (Pink Pearl pref.), your basic Crayolas with about 8 colors (a lot of the other hues hadn’t been invented yet), maybe some pencil crayons, and after about 3rd grade a ‘straight’ or fountain pen, but none of those blotty ballpoint things. In fact, and I remember this, we were forbidden to use ballpoints. Laszlo Biro’s legacy had not yet made it to the Central Burnaby backwater. Oh, and a pencil box that you would relentlessly deface with words and pictures during the ensuing year.

Oh and so-called ‘library paste’ in a little jar. It had an aroma of peppermint and some of the more suggestible (notice I didn’t say ‘dumb’, which was the term used before ADHD gained panache) kids found it made a decent snack between recess and lunchtime.

Later we were also mandated to get a ‘geometry set’. Remember those?  They were in metal cases and contained a little 6” ruler, a coupe of triangular dealies, a compass (which you’d rarely use for its intended purpose, but speculated on its use as a weapon.) One psycho guy in my math class spent the entire year showing how tough he was by carving a tattoo of two crossed pistols on his forearm, using his compass as a needle. Nobody stopped him. There was something about his ‘eyes’ that made one hesitate. He finished off his tat by rubbing India ink into the wound. I admired it, but had no desire to emulate. 

The other thing in that geometry set was a semicircular chunk of plastic that was gradiated with certain angles. Did you ever use your protractor (which is what it was called?)? Did anyone ever use a protractor? Did Euclid use a protractor? I bet not.

We also, as we grew in our studies had to avail ourselves of ring-binders. They were kind of cool, especially the ones that zipped. And we had to get our own notebooks ultimately, and we could defile the crap out of them by drawing cartoons – usually of warplanes and girls with improbably huge tits – trying out 340 variations of your signature, and writing countless times the names of your crushee with whom you hoped to someday be intimate, thinking if you wrote her name it would bring her closer to you. It never worked.

Finally, near the end of school, for senior math and junk, we were require to get a slide rule – or ‘slipstick’, as popular parlance had it – so we could do big kid math. I did actually learn how to use it, though I wouldn’t have a clue now. I noted to a parental figure that I needed this item. My old man, who had a fair amount of education, said, “I have one. You can use that.” I wasn’t pleased at the idea of using his ‘old’ one. Damnit, I wanted a new one, a modern one.”

When did you last see anyone using a sliderule, by the way? Engineering students at my university would walk around with them stuck in the back pocket of their jeans. They thought it made them look cool. Nothing can make an engineer look cool.

“They don’t change, idiot,” is how he ended that conversation.

Today, of course, kids have to have all sorts of up-to-the-second electronic crap that is very costly and will be out of date part way through the term.

Glad I don’t have to buy that stuff for them, since I don’t even have it for myself.

I don’t suppose they still have to acquire protractors.