Thursday, January 18

Goodbye to an American Legend

I met him once.

It was a warm summer day in Arkansas. Late July. I had just arrived at the Oghma Creative Media writers' retreat. At the time I had a contract for one book with them and I was there to learn a few things and meet the people who had my book in their hands.

He was the big star of Oghma, with dozens of titles under their publishing banner and more than a hundred and fifty novels to his name. When he sat down beside me at the critique table I didn't know what to do. I was nervous as all get-out and for the first critique session, I said nothing. When the second critique session came, however, I had to speak up if I was going to get full value out of the opportunity to pick some of the minds I had the pleasure of spending time with.

I read an excerpt from a book Oghma had not yet committed to publishing. It was the first time I had written fiction in the first person present tense. I spent the hour prior to the critique session rewriting what I had in the third person past tense and I wasn't too happy with how it was turning out, but I read it anyway. When I was done the feedback was nothing short of wonderful, but there he was beside me, arms folded over his chest, cowboy hat upside down on the table beside him, legs outstretched with his feet crossed. I couldn't tell if he was impressed, angry, or confused.He stared straight into my writer's soul, nodded, and said, "I liked it."

I sat down for the rest of the afternoon and started rewriting the rest of the book. After I read the next session his only feedback was to be careful with the "I, I, I" nature of a first-person narrative. I made a note both mentally and in my manuscript.

Near the end of the retreat, everyone was picking up copies of books from the people they had just met. Knowing my dad likes a nice "oaty" Western, I asked Dusty if he would be so kind as to sign one for him. He picked out a book, the first in a series he thought my dad might like and put a nice little inscription on the inside cover. Then, he handed me The Mustanger and the Lady. He said I should read it and that it was being turned into a movie.  The inscription is something nice. I won't tell you what it is, but it is nice and I'm glad I have those words from him.

When we got back to the tables in the meeting room he handed the two books to me. I asked him how he would like me to handle payment. He smiled. It was the first time I had seen him smile in two days. He said, "You can give me a copy of your book when it comes out." He was speaking of Bent But Not Broken, my first book and a collaboration with my wife and daughter. It's a story about my little princess's scoliosis surgery and all of the trials and tribulations our family had to endure throughout that journey.

For the last six months, I have been looking forward to signing a copy and handing it to him at the retreat this summer. My book officially launches in two days on January 20th, but as far as Amazon is concerned it's available for purchase today.

Dusty Richards died this morning. The funeral for his wife, Pat, was just a couple days ago. They were both in a terrible car accident a little while ago and eventually succumbed to their injuries. No one told Dusty that his wife had passed, but I think he knew. You don't get to be his age and live that kind of life with someone by your side for 56 years and not know in your gut when they're gone.

I met him once, and I was really looking forward to meeting him again.

~ Andrew
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Monday, January 8

Blood Memories and Synchronicity

Coincidences are pretty cool. I try to maintain a skeptical and scientific mind whenever possible, but the human brain's ability to find patterns and propensity to seek out connections is at times too strong for me to overlook.

Three years ago today I donated blood to my daughter for her pending scoliosis surgery. It's what Canadian Blood Services calls a directed donation. In the case of parents and children, if their blood is a match, the parent can donate blood to the child. Avery ended up needing 5 liters (more than a gallon) for her surgery so my single donation was literally just a drop in the bucket, but it was an amazing moment for me and Canadian Blood Services worked a good bit of magic to ensure that I was able to do this for my daughter. My wife gave her life, and I got to help save it. I vowed from that day forward to donate as many times as it would take to match the number of donors needed for her surgery, and then keep donating as long as they will allow me to. Avery needed fifteen donors to keep her alive during surgery and today will mark my twelfth donation.



If you'll allow me to stray from the scientific path for a second we're going to get into some wacky numerology stuff.

  • Today is the January 8.
  • It's 12 days until the third anniversary of Avery's surgery (also, in case you haven't heard, the Bent But Not Broken book (One Family's Scoliosis Journey) is coming out in 12 days as well).
  • Today will be my 12th donation.
  • When I showed up at the clinic I had to wait. They gave me a number.



Even weirder is the fact that I was talking with this woman, Kelly after my blood donation and her boyfriend's mother is about to have back/spine surgery. She jotted down the title of the book so she could pick up a copy for her.

Cue freaky Twilight Zone-like music.

Now, if that were the only synchronicity-ish thing to happen today I wouldn't get too excited, but you guessed it, something else happened today that worked out in a rather fortunate way.

I was late getting to work. There was lots of snow and Avery helped me shovel the driveway and it made her late for the bus, which was late anyway but there was no way she was getting to school in time unless I drove her, so I drove her. It's a solid twenty minutes out of my way but I was happy to do it so she wouldn't miss anything. Then, I had to get gas. Then, because of the shitty weather, it took an hour to get to work instead of my usual twenty-five minutes. So far just another snowy day in Canada for people on the go and dependent on cars to get to work.

Because I got to work so late, I ate my breakfast late. Because I ate my breakfast late I ate my snack late (mmm cheese). Because I ate my snack late I ate my lunch late. Because I ate my lunch late I was microwaving it a good half hour later than I would have been on any other day.

Today, it so happens that someone at the coffee machine across from the microwave was a colleague I have not spoken to in a while. So we start catching up on stuff. Naturally, at some point, I start plugging the book and giving her the whole story about how it comes out soon and we're so excited to get it in the hands of other families who have children with scoliosis.

Standing on the other side of the kitchen was a woman in for training. I think she was from New York or maybe Boston. Definitely not from here, and I detected the slightest hint of an accent (I'm not going to guess which one for fear of getting it wrong and inciting some sort of Boston vs. New York riot). Anyway, she overheard our conversation and when I showed Avery's before and after x-rays mentioned that she used to work with a company that specializes in low-dose spine x-rays and still does some talks on the subject. Cool.

THEN, she mentioned that she knows the founder of Curvy Girls (at least I think that was the connection). Curvy Girls is totally safe to Google at work. It's a network of girls and young women who have gone through scoliosis bracing and/or surgery that provide a support system for other girls going through the same thing. This mystery colleague hopes to get me some contact information while she's here this week.

I looked them up on the web and when I asked Avery if she was interested in becoming one of their leaders she said she was and that it would be "epic". So we'll see how that all unfolds. I have to tell you, knowing about Curvy Girls three and a half years ago would have been a godsend, but alas, we seem to have been destined to tell our own story and now with the book coming out and hopefully getting Avery involved with Curvy Girls we are.



~ Andrew

Saturday, December 30

More Music Mastery: Part 2

Day 13 - A song you like from the 70's

This is another category that I could spend days and days deciding on which one to pick. Rush formed in the 70's. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. John Lennon. Jimi Hendrix. Neil Young. The list goes on and on. In the end, "there can be only one", and I'm going to have to go with a band that scored the soundtrack from the movie I pulled that quote from. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (who did the soundtrack for the movie Highlander, for those following along at home). I'm linking to the best cover of this song I've ever heard - and it was done by ONE GUY!



Day 14 - A song you'd love to be played at your wedding

Since I am already married this category makes little sense, so I should go with a song that was actually played at my wedding. I'm not going to, though. Instead, I'm going to go with a song that *could* have been played at my wedding had the organist not done such a masterful job butchering it when she played a few bars for us after we booked her.



Day 15 - A song you like that's a cover by another artist

Back in high school, I was really into the guitar. Not playing it, mind you, but listening to it. I loved listening to Clapton, Beck, Satriani, Vai, and pretty much anyone that could work magic with a six string and an amp. There's one song in particular that I just love listening to and that's Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover. It's an instrumental and it is pure genius. I happen to think it's a really fun song. One day I was just wandering around YouTube listening to covers and I came across these high school kids playing a version of the song for a talent show. I was immediately blown away. Have a watch. These are KIDS for cryin' in the sink.



Day 16 - A song that's a classic favourite

I don't know a single person who doesn't like this song. The sweet dig against Neil Young is kind of fun too.



Day 17 - A song you'd sing a duet with someone on karaoke

I've actually sung this as a duet with someone NOT on karaoke! Jann and Jackson's version is pretty good too.



Day 18 - A song from the year you were born

The #1 song list from my birth year is fantastic. Since I was a wee baby I think this song is appropriate. I just read the lyrics. Maybe not so appropriate. Anyway, this song ended 1974 at #23 in Canada and is written and performed by Canadian singer Andy Kim (Canada's answer to Neil Diamond.)



Day 19 - A song that makes you think about life

Sadly, the lyrics for this song are just as relevant today as they were when they were written back in 1987. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a time in modern history where the lyrics didn't apply. This song makes me thing about how I can be better.



Day 21 - A song you like with a person's name in the title

I was going to pick Angie by the Rolling Stones because I like that song and back at Sparrow Lake Camp we had a staffer by the name of Andy and people would go around singing "An-dy. Aaaaaaainnnn-dy" instead of Angie. Then I remembered that The Killers have a song Andy You're a Star and I thought that was cool. But THEN, I remembered that the Magnetic Fields have this song, and while it's only happened three times that I can remember, it has still happened.



Day 22 - A song that moves you forward

I heard this song for the first time in almost twenty years on my way to the gym one day. It was amazingly motivating.



Day 23 - A song you think everybody should listen to

I came across this song because someone posted a link to another Miley Cyrus song on Facebook (I think it was her covering Crowded House). Miley accompanies Laura from Against Me! and it gave me a new perspective on a few things.



Day 24 - A song by a band you still wish were together

I remember when Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit unseated The Smiths atop The Edge's (102.1 CFNY out of Toronto) most influential alternative music songs of all time list never to return to the penultimate spot. I've since warmed up to the idea that Nirvana was at least as influential as The Smiths with respect to their impact on society (even if Cobain, Grohl, et al. did have considerable assistance in shaping a generation from the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and myriad other "grunge" bands). I'm left wondering what the legacy of both these bands would have been had Johnny Marr not quit and Kurt Cobain not died.



Day 25 - A song you like by an artist no longer living

Ugh. Way too many choices from this category. I was having a hard time picking and then I listened to Ed Sheeran and Anne-Marie do a cover of The Pogues Fairytale of New York and in the suggested videos collage at the end of the song was this one. It too is a cover. A cover as sung by someone who died this year of a song written by a guy who died last year.



Day 26 - A song that makes you want to fall in love

How about a song that made me fall in love? This is off an album that my girlfriend (now wife) and I would play on the CD player before bed back when we were in university. We just saw the Skydiggers play an intimate show not too long ago and they didn't play this one, so here it is now.



Day 27 - A song that breaks your heart

It's impossible to hear this song and not think of the tragedy about which it was written. Shortly after Eric Clapton's son, Conor, fell off a balcony and died he and Will Jennings penned this song in his honour.



Day 28 - A song by an artist whose voice you love

Every show, Daniel (Danny) Greaves sings one cover song a capella. I've heard him do this probably around twenty times over the last twenty-five years and watched countless more renditions on YouTube, his voice hasn't changed, and it's fantastic. I did a cover of a cover he's done on his own as a warm-up to a performance once and I didn't come remotely close to recreating the experience. I haven't seen The Watchmen play for a couple of years now but the last time I did I captured Danny covering a Graham Parker song and it was great, as it always is.



Day 29 - A song you remember from your childhood

Tomorrow from the movie Annie - This was the first movie I ever saw in the theatre. My mom took me and I remember it being the most amazing experience.



Day 30 - A song that reminds you of yourself 

First of all, I'm a big Rush fan. Plus, they're Canadian and I'm Canadian, so that's kind of cool. Also, it seems like my life has been one fateful sequence of events after another, guided only by the hands of fate and helped along by a couple of lucky bounces.

"Why are we here? Because we're here. Why does it happen? Because it happens."



~ Andrew