Monday, December 11, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

There is a lot of sadness, corruption, and hate in the world. Nations are committing genocide, North Korea has nukes and might actually be disturbed enough to use them, over a hundred First Nations communities in Canada don't have clean drinking water, Flint Michigan, a city in the wealthiest country in the world, doesn't have clean drinking water--and hasn't for years--and the leader of that country is a complete and total dipshit. Terrible human, just terrible. Sad!

Fear not, my friends, for there is more to this than doom and gloom. There are good people everywhere. They may not solve the world's problems, and they likely won't do it on a newsworthy scale, but they will do good things and those good things will not go unnoticed. Those good things will mean the world to somebody. Somebody who needed something good to happen. Something to pick them up because they are down. Something to help them survive one more day. Something to remind them that the world is not all bad. Something that will make them smile. 

I witness, hear, or read about these occurrences on a regular basis, and occasionally I get to experience them. Two such deeds happened to bring smiles of pure joy to my children and I feel they are both worth sharing. One was planned and one was totally random, but both helped show my family that the community in which we live has some genuinely good people in it. They were small things in the grand scheme of things, but they were also big things because they showed my children that there are random good people everywhere. In both cases, I am certain these small deeds will help my children grow to be good people themselves. Better than they are now (which is pretty darned amazing.)

First up, Linda from the Temple Baptist Church. 

When my daughter started ninth grade I started driving her to a bus stop that was a little closer to her school to reduce her travel time roughly in half. Every day would take this one corner and pass the Temple Baptist Church and their sign on the corner. Every Monday the sign had a new message and over the course of the year, it became a "thing" for us. It was just a little father/daughter bonding moment that would not have seen like much to anyone else, but for us, it was a few seconds that we got to share.

As we approached her fifteenth birthday I got the idea to ask the church if they would change the sign and extend birthday greetings as a surprise to her. So, roughly a week before her birthday I found the church's website and sent them an email.

In my message, I explained that we were not religious but every day we pass their sign and it often sparked discussion for the remainder of the drive and if they would be so kind as to change it for one day so that I could surprise my daughter for her birthday.

Linda replied to me in short order and said, of course, they would change the sign. Just like that. No questions asked (other than her name and what the message would be). I offered to make a donation to their church to thank them for their kindness and this was the response I received:
"No payment is expected. We care about you and Avery very much even though we have never met! Pleased to do this for you."
Linda even sent me a warning email the afternoon before telling me that they had to change the sign that afternoon because the person who performs that task wasn't going to be around early enough the next morning (we drive past it a few minutes after seven o'clock). So, I drove home from work and made up an excuse to pick up my daughter from school and I drove her home a different route instead of the route the bus would have taken, which would have seen her stopping on the corner right by the sign.

The next morning, I made up another excuse (so many lies!) about why I was recording video in the car so I could capture her reaction. Watch for yourself.



I think it all went about as well as it could have (except my voice in the video. In my defense, I was a little verklempt).



Next up, Mark, a music lover in Cambridge.

One week at my son's drum lesson I asked his teacher, Vic, how far he should get in his book before I buy him a new snare. His existing one was a little worse for wear and was held together with duct tape, but I wanted him to have to work for it. Vic told me there was one for sale in the store, used, for something like $60 and was a great deal in his opinion. 

Well, I got mired in a financial snafu with my bank and didn't get the chance to buy the drum (figuring I would eventually spring it on Dude at the appropriate time). The next week we get to class and Vic calls me in, which is weird because I never get called in. 

He sits us down and says that word got out to the guy who bought the drum that Dude was in the market to replace his duct tape special and this guy refurbished the snare (according to Vic he must have put over $100 into it) and asked Vic to give it to Dude. All he wanted in return was a picture of Dude with the drum. 

The generous music lover's name is Mark Parnell (possibly spelled differently) and after I texted him this photo and thanked him I asked him if he was on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter so I could give him a proper shout-out. He wrote back that he was not and that the smile on Dude's face was all the thanks he needed. 

Thank you, Mark. You made our day, and while Dude is no Neal Peartyethe's going to practice with that snare and enjoy it a lot more than the old one. 





BONUS GOOD DEED!

My across-the-street neighbour, Mohammed. 

One morning, I awoke to the smell of gas in the house, so I got everyone outside and called the fire department. They came and shut the gas off and aired the house out and called the gas company. My wife took the kids to get McDonald's breakfast and I waited outside across the street.

It was early morning in October and I was standing across the street on the sidewalk in my pajamas and bare feet freezing my little piggies off and my neighbour came out of his house. Now, Mohammed and I had spoken exactly two words to each other in the six years I had lived across the street from him (we've said "hello" twice). He's quiet and keeps to himself. He has a nice lawn. He knows when it's yard waste day. I'm not very sociable with the neighbours, which at the time was partially due to the fact I had the crappiest lawn on the block and was self-conscious that my neighbours were all annoyed by it.

Anyway, Mohammed walked over to me and asked me what was going on. I explained the situation and told him that we'd be allowed back in the house soon. Nothing to worry about, etc, etc. Then, he looked down at my feet and asked, "Do you want me to get you some shoes?" No one had ever offered me shoes before. I didn't even get a chance to respond and he pointed to my feet. "You must be cold. Let me get you some shoes."

It turns out I didn't need the shoes as we were let back into our house shortly thereafter, but the gesture stuck with me.



So there you have it. Three small deeds or gestures that, at a minimum, show there are at least three people where I live that are ready to do some good anytime they feel it's needed. I, for one, couldn't be happier because I know that in my city and the region that surrounds it, there are over half a million people and the good ones far outnumber any others.

Start looking for people performing good deeds and random acts of kindness in the places where you live, work, and play. I bet you dollars to doughnuts it won't take you long to find them. When you do, tell me about it down in the comments so everyone can see that the good news can travel just as fast as the bad.

~ Andrew

Monday, November 27, 2017

More Music Mastery

Another one of those post-a-song-a-day things is circulating on Facebook and I thought I'd give it a go. This time the list of "challenges" looks like this:


I've tried to do a little write-up for each one but some days are better than others. Here are the first twelve days:

Day 1 - A song you like with a colour in the title
There are lots of songs with the colour red in them and I wanted something a little darker. Well, black is as dark as it gets! Plus, Led Zeppelin.




Day 2 - A song you like with a number in the title
21 Guns by Green Day - I like Green Day.




Day 3 - A song that reminds you of summertime
I considered this song for the upcoming Day 8 (A song about drugs or alcohol) but this song makes me think more about summer than it does about drugs. I'm not sure if it's the imagery painted by Victoria's lyrics or what, but this song makes me think about dry, dusty fields and hanging out on sweltering hot days with some friends




Day 4 - A song that reminds you of someone you'd rather forget 
I wrote a blog post (http://www.potatochipmath.com/2012/10/an-untitled-post-about-bullying.html) about some of the memories that got kicked up when I went a did a favour for an old high school acquaintance by playing a fighting street person for this video. Thankfully, I'm not a big follower of hip hop & rap (though do enjoy it on occasion) and I don't come across this song too often




Day 5 - A song that needs to be played loud 
Oh my god, so many choices. I don't know where to begin. Obviously, AC/DC came to mind, then Van Halen and Metallica, and Guns N' Roses... and we have a winner. I cannot listen to Paradise City by Guns N' Roses without having to crank the sound to eleven.




Day 6 - A song that makes you want to dance
I am not known to be a dancer. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. That said, there's one song that makes me groove every time (in as much as I am capable of grooving). The thing is, I hate the lyrics to the original and have little respect for the original artist as a musician or even a human. Fortunately for me, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody with much better lyrics but with the same musical groove. Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic. Music by that dipshit Robin Thicke




Day 7 - A song to drive to
Are you kidding me?
"My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about. He says it used to be a farm, before the Motor Law." 
This is a song about driving a well preserved red Barchetta sports car. It's a fantastic song and perfect for driving fast on winding country roads.I love driving to this tune.
"Well-weathered leather / Hot metal and oil / The scented country air / Sunlight on chrome / The blur of the landscape / Every nerve aware" 




Day 8 - A song about drugs or alcohol 
Hmmm. Let's see... which one of the 37 million songs about drugs or alcohol should I choose? I'm going to go with Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. Come on, this just comes right out and says it clear as day, 
"Everybody must get stoned." 
It could not be more fitting that there's a video of this song being sung by Bob Dylan playing with the Grateful Dead.




Day 9 - A song that makes you happy 
Say what you want about Ed Sheeran, but I love this song. I can't help but turn it up and sing along and smile. I like the album version better overall but watching Ed do this one with just an acoustic guitar and a loop machine is pretty damn cool. Plus, seeing a bunch of kids sing this at the KW Glee boot camp this summer was awesome too 




Day 10 - A song that makes you sad
There was a stretch where every time I found out about someone dying this song would play on the radio shortly thereafter. Plus, it's a sad song. Even though it's a song about hope and hanging on and knowing you're not alone in your struggles, the fact is there are still so many struggling that there is, at best, one degree of separation between yourself and someone to whom this song applies. This song makes me sad, but I'll be okay. If this song applies to you and you need someone to hold onto or just be present, give me a call. Send me a text or an email. 
"Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts." 




Day 11 - A song you never get tired of
I don't know what it is about this song that sticks with me, but something does. I think it's probably my favourite U2 song out of their whole catalog, and for a band that's probably one of my all-time favourties with as many songs as they have that I like that's saying something. The fact they played it on their recent Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour this summer is even better. Like it or don't like it, whatever your preference one thing you can say for sure it's that it's not a bad song #dadjoke #groan 




Day 12 - A song from your preteen years 
In 1985 I was eleven years old. That qualifies as preteen, yes? Well holy shit, would you take a look at the number one songs from that year?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_1985
The list is insanely good. Easily a dozen of those songs popped into my head when I first read the category. How did I pick just one? Easy. I went with the love song from the movie that had Demi Moore in it, of course! I love the intro to this dong and even tried playing it at the piano at summer camp. I never did learn how to, but it's a fun memory regardless. 



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cover Reveal and More

As some of you may know, when my daughter and our family were going through her scoliosis journey we blogged about it. Over the course of sixteen months or so, my wife, our daughter, and I chronicled our experiences and told the story in our own words as seen through our eyes.

The blog was wildly successful and more than accomplished its goal of making this experience more visible to families out there under similar circumstances.

Once our daughter's story was done, roughly one year post-surgery, I decided that this would make a fantastic book, so I added a bunch of backstory and some insight into what was going on in between blog posts, compiled all the posts into the book, and added a lessons learned and some Q&A and Bent But Not Broken: One Family's Scoliosis Journey was born.

Having secured a publisher and gone through the requisite editing stages, I am pleased to announce that we have a release date for the book as well as an absolutely fantastic cover!

When does it come out? 
January 20, 2018

Where can I see the cover?
RIGHT HERE

You can also see it over at http://bentbutnotbroken.net

Other things happening

Writers often get a lot of questions about our work. It's a good thing, and we love it when people show an interest in what we create. Some of the most common questions asked are:
  • Where can I get your book?
  • When will your book be out?
  • Are you working on another book?

I could go on, but really it's just those three questions with the "When will your book be out?" one being asked more often than any other. It's with this in mind I've created a couple pages here on my website.

The first is simply titled "Books". On it you can find all the books I've written or anthologies I've been a part of and clicking the links will take you to a page that lists all the places those titles are available, whether it's in print, ebook, or audiobook.

The second page is "WIP" which is pretty much a standard acronym in a number of industries that stands for "work in progress". On it you will find all my upcoming projects with a bit of information about the work, what stage it's at, and what the plan is for it. If there's a cover for the book, you'll also be able to see it here before it shows up anywhere else.

Follow me via email, RSS feed, or through Google at the handy links down the right side to make sure you don't miss out!

Books

WIP

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lest We Forget

I normally post on Mondays. I start writing the post on Saturday and then I tweak and revise and post it on Monday morning. This is partly because I like to have that New Post Smell for the MondayBlogs hashtag, but also because my writing schedule lends itself to this type of arrangement. Today, however, I'm both writing and posting on Saturday. Why? Because today is Remembrance Day. Americans call it Veterans Day. Serbia and Belgium call it Armistice Day. 

Belgium, as some of you may know (as all of you should know) was where Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote his famous poem In Flanders Fields

Poem on Display at the Canadian Vimy Ridge Museum
Belgium is also home to the head office of the company I work for and I traveled there a few weeks ago with three of my coworkers. Our plane landed at 7:00 A.M. and we wouldn't be able to check into our hotel until much later that afternoon so we decided we would drive to France and visit Vimy Ridge. One member of our party was American, and one a Brit that has spent most of his life in Canada and the other fellow and myself Canadian. 

The battle at Vimy Ridge was a watershed moment for the Canadian armed forces and for Canada as a nation. We were barely a country unto ourselves, having taken the title of Dominion of Canada a little more than 50 years earlier, and Vimy marked the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought as a cohesive unit. The battle, which began on April 9, 1917, and ended on April 12, 1917, was won by the allied forces and has come to symbolize the moment that Canada stepped out of adolescence and into adulthood.   

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial was unveiled by King Edward VIII on July 26, 1936, and sits on the highest point of a 250-acre preserved battlefield park. Standing at the foot of this colossal monument you get a real sense of perspective about the battle that occurred there a hundred years ago. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the raged battle cries, the thundering booms of heavy artillery, and the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. 



To say that visiting the monument and touring the nearby museum was an emotional moment would be a gross understatement and oversimplification of what it felt like to be there. I have lived my entire existence at a distance from the atrocities of war. There have always been at least one or two degrees of separation between myself and the places I don't have the courage to go and the acts I don't have the emotional strength to carry out. 

Standing there, surrounded by the ghosts of both good and evil, running my hand across the cold Seget limestone and letting my fingers follow the carved lines of the names of the heroic dead brought with it the stark realization that hundreds of millions of people owed their livelihoods, if not their lives, to millions of complete strangers who were as committed as they were brave. 

One of those grateful lives is my own, of course, and one of those committed strangers, a little more than a year after The Battle of Vimy Ridge and a ninety-minute drive to the south, made the ultimate sacrifice. He was my father's mother's father, my great-grandfather, and his name was Edwin Byard Hill. He was a private in the 43rd Batallion of the Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment) and was killed in action on August 8, 1918. 

My grandmother was just a little girl when her father left for the war and she spent almost eight decades without him. That fact alone boggles my mind as I have been fortunate enough to have both my parents with me for every minute of my forty-three years here on earth. I had all four of my great-grandparents in my life for at least sixteen of them with the last one passing when I was well into my thirties, so to have lost a parent at such a young age must have filled her heart with more anguish than a child should ever have to bear. 

After our visit to the Vimy memorial, my colleagues agreed to make the pilgrimage to the burial site of my great-grandfather at the Mézières Communal Cemetary Extension in the Somme region of France. To the knowledge of my immediate relatives, I was the first person in the family to visit the war grave. 

Thank you, Great-Grandpa Hill.
Two of my colleagues accompanied me into the cemetery and, after we found my great-grandfather in Extension 4, Plot I, Row B, Grave 16, they let me have as much time alone as I needed. I took a bunch of photographs and stood, and then kneeled, and had a good long chat with him. There were tears, and even as I type this I am welling up with profound sadness for he is just one of millions that gave everything so that others could have something. 

Great-grandpa Hill, everyone who served alongside him, everyone who served before him, and everyone who has served since are owed our gratitude not just on this national day of remembrance, but every single day we wake up, check our phones, create or enjoy art, work, play, eat, live, breathe, and exist under the warmth of the sun and within the almost limitless boundaries of freedom.

To you, we owe our lives, and for this, you have our eternal thanks. May peace reign over your heart and protect your soul. 

~ Andrew


If you'd like to take a look at more of my pictures from my trip I have made the Facebook album public. 



Link List: 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Connections

I am a writer. As such, I have a lot of friends who are writers. I have even more acquaintances who are writers. On social media (mostly Facebook but also Instagram and Twitter) I would wager that my interactions with writers outnumber interactions with everyone else combined. I have a short list of non-family members that I put into the category of close friends. There are two from my university days and another three that I didn't even know existed until I started writing, and more specifically, started participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as well like to call it, or if we're being particularly lazy, "NaNo".

NaNo is a challenge to writers everywhere to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In other words, write a novel in thirty days. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day, for an entire month. It's a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it's a lot. Trust me, I know. I participated in this challenge six years in a row from 2011 to 2016 and was only successful four out of those six years.



For a number of reasons, I'm not doing NaNo this year. A friend asked me if it felt weird and I said that it did. Other than the fact I've done it for six years in a row now I couldn't put my finger on why that was. I thought a bit about it a bit more and came to the conclusion that it felt weird because NaNoWriMo is a big reason that I am a writer at all.

In early 2010 I started dabbling with some writing. Not simply jotting stuff down and blogging every now and then, but writing with plot and character in mind. Well, sort of. I was blogging somewhat regularly and I had every intention of starting a big screenwriting project, at some point, some time, you know, later. But by some sheer twist of fate, it was the month of November that all that changed.

If anyone out there is a fan of the James Burke show Connections (and Connections 2 and Connections 3) you'll see that my "path to success" goes WAY back and isn't exactly a straight line.

That's Why I'm on This Oil Rig a Writer

  • In 1993 I worked as a clerk at a video store before heading off to university.
  • It was that first year at university that I would have a little girlfriend trouble.
  • While that was going on, Kevin Smith was writing the movie Clerks. It is a movie about a couple dudes working as, well, clerks. One in a video store and one at a convenience store. One of the clerks has girlfriend trouble. 
  • That movie came out in 1994 and I saw it when it hit video stores in 1995. The movie changed the way I looked at films and my whole creative process and I was an immediate fan. 
  • Later that year I got back together with one of my girlfriends from back in 1993. We would get married on November 6, 1999.  
  • Fast forward to 2010. Kevin Smith had made ten movies and was a huge success and doing his Q&A sessions and multiple podcasts. My wife looks out her office window one day and sees a billboard advertising Kevin Smith coming to town just a few days before our anniversary.
  • We attend the show and have a great time and it sparked something in me. Afterwards, I came across this blogger and writer by the name of Robert Chazz Chute who wrote about his experience at the same show. In his post, he mentioned this weird thing called NaNoWriMo. I, in turn, wrote a blog post about getting off my ass and actually writing something. It was going to be a screenplay. 
  • In 2011 I started writing the screenplay and I was having a conversation with one of those close friends I mentioned earlier in the post. I was lamenting that I was having a hard time getting my story to fit into the framework of a film. He said that he didn't want to see an Andrew Butters movie. He'd rather read an Andrew Butters book. So, I switched gears and started to write it as a novel. 
  • In November 2011, I attempted my first NaNoWriMo. I was there alongside Robert cranking out words and having a great time. It was on Twitter during NaNo that I met a writer by the name of Jennifer Gracen.
  • Jennifer was a NaNo cheerleader and she introduced me to a whole number of other writers and eventually she invited me into a writer's group on Facebook. One of these individuals is now one of my other close friends, Gordon Bonnet. We joke that we are brothers from different mothers. Twins separated at birth and by more than a decade and several strands of DNA. 
  • One of the Twitter NaNo folks Jennifer introduced me to almost died due to a medical complication and there was an anthology being put together to raise money to help pay her medical bills. I wrote a piece of creative non-fiction about the unexpected death of my wife's brother and Jennifer edited that piece for me. It was eventually accepted into the anthology and just like that, I had my first published piece. 
  • Shortly thereafter I had a photographer friend, Christine Reid, do some headshots for me. If I was going to write books I was going to need pictures for back covers, right?
  • Then, in 2014 my daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was going to require spinal fusion surgery. Since there was little information out on the web from girls and families that have gone through this, my genius wife decided that we should keep a family blog to chronicle the journey. 
  • A year post-surgery the blog was done and I decided that if I could add a bit more context to the blog posts that it would make a pretty powerful book. In October 2016 I finished Bent But Not Broken: One Family's Scoliosis Journey
  • In January of 2017, I was talking to another writer, one to whom I was introduced at the same time as my brudder from another mudder. She suggested I talk to him about Bent. So, I did. He was beta reading the manuscript and unbeknownst to me had given it to the Editorial Board at his publisher, Oghma Creative Media. A few weeks later I had my first writing contract.
  • A couple months later, the Oghma founder was asking me for a headshot for an announcement on their Facebook page about my signing. I pointed him to the folder of headshots that my friend Christine did for me.
  • He asked me if I did any acting when inquiring about why I had headshots taken. I told him I had them done so I'd have something for a book cover one day. He said, "Oh, you've written other stuff?" and I told him I had a few pieces of almost completed fiction plus bits and bobs of incomplete stuff that will take shape at some point. He invited me to the publisher's writing retreat in the summer and said we would talk.
  • I returned home in August of 2017 from my publisher's writing retreat with two book contracts: one for a standalone psychological thriller (short novel) and one for an open-ended suspense series called The "No" Conspiracies (which will be at least five books at this point). 
  • Bent But Not Broken comes out on the third anniversary of my daughter's surgery on January 20, 2018. 
  • Hard Truth (the short novel) comes out in September of 2018.
  • No Fixed Address: The "No" Conspiracies Book #1 comes out in March 2019.
  • No Known Cure: The "No" Conspiracies Book #2 comes out in September 2019, which currently sits at about 25,000 words. 
    • To bring this all full circle, it's worth noting that this was the movie I started writing back in 2010 and ended up being the book I started writing during my very first NaNoWriMo back in 2011. 
    • In fact, of the seven books I have either written or have committed to writing, four of them have been NaNo projects.
As you can see, there are a whole lot of connections that brought me from A to B on this writing journey of mine. I look at the long list of events above and if you remove any one of them the chain collapses. I see all those events as the kindling and the fuel for my fire. If that's true, then learning about NaNoWriMo was the spark. The annual challenge for writers around the globe that I found out about at just the right time because the impact that a single Kevin Smith show had on a guy named Robert which prompted him to write a blog post that I happened to read. 

Here are tonight's three stars of the game: 
  • Kevin Smith. For writing Clerks, deciding to do a show in Kitchener of all places in 2010, and inspiring writers and filmmakers in ways that only you can do.

  • Robert Chazz Chute. For sharing your fanboiness of Kevin Smith and writing and introducing me to the world of writing (also, for that drive into Toronto to go see Kev's movie Red State when I was suffering from post-concussion syndrome).

  • My wife. For taking a minute out of her day to look out the window and suggest that a Kevin Smith show would be a good anniversary present, and for being the bond that has held together so many of the links in my chain for nearly a quarter of a century. You're why I'm on this oil rig, baby. Happy Anniversary!
~ Andrew

Monday, September 4, 2017

Picture Perfect

I have a friend that is a fan of doing things. If I really think about it, in reality, he's a fan of learning things. If there is a thing he wants to and he doesn't know how to do it, he learns it, and then he does the thing. Then he does this thing that is interesting. He stops. If he wants to get better at the thing he obviously doesn't stop. He picks another harder or more challenging level for that thing and he keeps learning. But for his original purposes, once the thing is done he stops.

You see, my friend uses this expression that speaks to a philosophy that I have found useful when trying to be more productive:

Perfect is the enemy of done.

It's a wonderful little sentence when you think about it. It has but six words. You could write it with four (perfect is done's enemy), you could write it with five and fancy up some of the words (perfection runs contrary to completion), or you could bloat it out with a bunch of unnecessary stuff to make it sound more profound than it actually is (when you seek perfection you are competing against your interest of finishing the task at hand). As it is, it takes its own advice. It does its job and it is finished. It's not perfect, but it is done.

Take note that this is a different philosophy than rushing through and doing something half-assed. That's just being lazy and in some cases irresponsible. This expression at its core is about getting the job done but not fretting over minutiae that won't impact the result in any appreciable way.

I often struggle with this in much of what I do creatively, in particular, my writing. When I write I have the tendency to edit as I go in an effort to have it read as I want it to read when it's done. I am compelled to make it perfect the first time, or at least in as many iterations right then as it takes to get it just right. The end result is nice, but it takes a looooooooong time to get it there.

For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I just write. I start at word count = 0 and I write with reckless abandon until word count = 50,000. I get to the finish line in near record time (for me) but the end result is far from noteworthy. I recently opened up a short manuscript (~51,000 words) that took me less than thirty days to write. It's actually due to my publisher by the end of October. Aside from the fact that I wrote it three years ago, there was so much wrong with it that I was too embarrassed to let it see the light of day. This example makes a bit of a mockery of the "perfect is the enemy of done" expression.

There needs to be a balance. 

I take great pride in my work and never want something to go out into the world that doesn't meet my standards, but there is a limit to what is practical. For blog posts, I often employ the "good enough" philosophy. By and large, I think they tend to be decent and occasionally pretty good so I think my approach for these is working. For novels, especially since I've just landed a publisher, I need to start trusting the process. I need to get the manuscripts done and stop chasing perfection. The editing team will do their jobs and won't let it out into the world if it's subpar and I have to trust them.

The catalyst for this post came during and immediately after the latest solar eclipse. I was on a strict timeline to get set up. I had to prepare the telescope in terms of position and focus and get my camera setup and attached to the telescope. I wanted to do a time-lapse composite image that required shots every 15-20 minutes. My goal was a sequence of 8-10 pictures that spanned the range of full sun to maximum eclipse for my geographic location (~80% coverage).

Nature, being what she is, would not wait and I hadn't taken the day off work to do this so I had limited time to get set up in between replying to emails and whathaveyou. I would have to settle for "good enough" and cross my fingers. Better planning would have helped a lot. Some observations:

  • I did some test shots the day before so I'd know approximately where to have the focus knop on the telescope and what kind of exposure I needed, at least for a full sun. 
  • I didn't charge my battery (oops!) 
  • I did have a backup filter I could use if I ran into problems. 
  • I didn't factor in the angle of the sun and realized that I'd need to be lying on the ground to set up each shot. 
  • I did realize that I could set my rig up on a table to help with this. 
  • I didn't realize the table shook every time I so much as breathed on it. 
  • The clouds did cooperate (somewhat miraculously) and I managed to get shots every 15 minutes or so throughout the whole 2+ hour event

When I got home I opened up the images and found that I got quite a few good ones. I really wanted to get the pictures up on the internet quickly before the hype died down so I opened up the basic image editor for Windows 10 and did an "auto enhance" on each one, cropped it square and then jacked up the warmth to give them a more sun-like colour. However, the exposure wasn't identical for each of the pictures and the "auto enhance" feature only did so much to equalize them.

I started to muck with them in Windows 10 and then looked at the clock. I was running out of time and didn't want to be up all night, so I cut bait on that idea and I put them all into GIMP (basically a free PhotoShop). I was pretty sure that most people would do the standing line of images with totality in the middle. I didn't have a pic of totality so I was thinking of using either the maximum eclipse or full sun as the focal point. I mucked about with the layout for a bit and tried to come up with something different.

Before too long, inspiration struck and I had my layout. The colours were still off, though and I wasn't completely okay with how it was looking. A quick time check told me I had precious few moments left so I saved what I had and stepped away from it. A few minutes later, I came back and took a look with fresh eyes, and do you know what? I liked it. I really liked it. The imbalance in the colour worked. It looked real. It looked organic.

It wasn't perfect but it was done.

I have been using the expression, "Be better, not perfect," as my personal life motto for a while now and it was at this moment in front of my eclipse photo creation I came to the realization that art and people have at least one thing in common.

Sometimes beauty lies within the imperfections.

"La Fleur d'Eclipse" (c) 2017 Andrew Butters

~ Andrew

Monday, July 10, 2017

The 30-Day Song Challenge - Days 25-30

June 27 - Day 25 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me laugh

I wouldn’t say that there’s any one song that makes me laugh out loud. There are a lot of songs that have parts I’m fond of in a funny sort of way though. A lot of those songs are by the Barenaked Ladies. Certainly, anything by They Might Be Giants should be given consideration. There’s this one song by The Lowest of the Low, The Taming of Carolyn, that has a line, “Her mother’s worst fears were confirmed. She’s taken up with a musician. Holy shit!” and the “holy shit” spoken by a different voice than the singer makes it funny – to me, at least.

For my song challenge choice, however, I’m going with another Lowest of the Low song, Rosy and Grey. It is not a particularly funny song, but it has this line that’s always made me chuckle:

“I’ve kissed you in France and I’ve kissed you in Spain.
And I’ve kissed you in places I’d better not name.
And I’ve seen the sun go down on Sacré-Cœur.
But I like it much better goin’ down on you.
Ah, you know that’s true.”



June 28 - Day 26 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I can play on an instrument

My instrument is my voice and even then I’m not a terribly proficient singer. I learned a little piano a dozen years ago but not much ever came of it. I can’t even work a tambourine reliably. But back in Grades 7, 8, and 9, I played the trumpet and I didn’t totally suck. I wasn’t anywhere near good, but I wasn’t terrible and I somewhat enjoyed playing it. For my Grade 9 music final, I had to play the “Turkish March”. Well, a REALLY stripped down version of it. Have you heard this thing played on a trumpet before? It’s crazy. The arrangement I played didn’t have half the notes that it’s supposed to, I’m sure. Anyway, I think with a little bit of practice I could probably play it again and not scare away small woodland creatures.

Here’s Richard House playing the proper version of Rondo alla Turca (Piano Sonata No. 11. KV 331) “Turkish March” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on the trumpet WAY better than I ever could:



And just for fun, here’s a six-year-old playing it on the piano:



June 29 - Day 27 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I wish I could play

All of them? I’m sure this changes on a day-to-day basis and it’s also likely dependent on what instrument I wish I could play as well. For this exercise, I’m going with the guitar. While it would be awesome to shred the ax playing some fancy ass diddly-diddly stuff, I’m actually thinking of going with something that has more of an acoustic feel to it.

I’ve always been a fan of Pink Floyd and this one has been a favourite of mine around the campfire since high school. As far as I can tell it’s not a terribly difficult song to play, or at least there appear to be ways to play it that make it look not very hard to play.
The song also sums up how I feel a lot of the time when something good is happening because no matter who I’m surrounded by in that moment there’s always someone missing that I wish was there.



June 30 - Day 28 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me feel guilty

I have a thing for Dana Delaney. I think she was legitimately my first actress crush. I can remember watching her on China Beach, unblinking with my jaw agape. She has done many a movie in her amazing career and plays the part of Josephine Marcus in the 1993 movie Tombstone. In this film, Delaney sings a bit of Red River Valley, oft credited to James Kerrigan though its origins are up for debate. The song has been widely covered including versions by such greats as Woody Guthrie, Jo Stafford, and Bing Crosby.

It makes me feel guilty because my friend, Sean, lent me his VHS copy of that movie at some point and I completely forgot about it. Of course, when he came looking for it I adamantly denied having it. Naturally, it turned up in a box 20 years later during one of my house moves. Sorry, Sean.

Here’s Dana Delaney singing it.



July 1 - Day 29 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song from my childhood

Day 29 fell on the 150th birthday of this great nation I was born into. So, it’s only fitting that for this song choice I pick a Canadian artist to represent. Due to the CRTC’s requirements for “Canadian Content” on the radio, I grew up familiar with a good number of Canadian artists. The Box, Gowan, The Guess Who, Neil Young (and oh, how it pains me to list The Box and Gowan with the latter two), Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen (RIP), Gordon Lightfoot (who once passed out in my grandpa’s bathtub after my dad threw a party when my grandparents were out of town)… the list goes on.

For this one, though, I’m making an unlikely choice. Back in my elementary school days, I had a crush on the younger sister of a kid in my class. I didn’t dare mention it to anyone out of fear that he would have pummelled me. Anyway, this girl loved two things: The Montreal Canadiens and Corey Hart. Her list of loves is a bit longer today, but seeing as we’re Facebook friends I can assure you that those two are still on it.

Here’s one for Canada’s 150th birthday and my German Mills Public School crush, Laurie :-)



July 2 - Day 30 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

My favourite song at this time last year

For me, the last day of this challenge was July 2nd. A year ago I really couldn’t tell you what my favourite song was. Of all-time, maybe, but for *that moment* I don’t think I would have had a clue. I don’t listen to the radio much and most of what is played on it is crap anyway. There was a song that got a bit more airtime on my iPod though and that was Little Red Corvette by Prince.

I used to have my brother-in-law’s old red Pontiac Vibe, which I traded my minivan for to his sister after he died. I then gave it to his mother after I bought myself a brand new red Mazda3 Sport. It’s not much of a mid-life crisis, but hey, it’s what I could afford. Then, in June of 2016 I was in a fairly serious accident and my little red car was totaled. Fortunately, I escaped with only minor injuries (and one doozy of a panic attack).

At the end of June I bought myself another little Mazda3 Sport, only by the time I test drove it to the time I bought one the red one was gone and I needed a new car so I had to settle for the black one. I would put on Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” to remind me of the good times I had in my own version of the classic sports car.

Now, Prince (and now Prince’s estate) was a bit wiggy about his stuff appearing on YouTube so I can’t find any videos of him singing this song. Apparently he had a bug up his butt about it. Anyway, here’s a solid cover.




~ Andrew

Monday, June 26, 2017

The 30-Day Song Challenge - Days 18-24

June 20 - Day 18 of the 30-Day Song Challenge 

A song that I wish I heard on the radio

Back in 1991 I had some wicked seats for the Van Halen show in Toronto. Those were the Sammy Hagar days, but whatever. My friend Jon and I were something like ninth row center and it was at the then named Skydome (now the Rogers Centre). We got to the show early and settled into our seats and the opening act came on. It was Alice in Chains. By the end of the set the crowd was, shall we say, not exactly interested. The lead singer, Lane Stanley, was not pleased with the tepid reception his soon-to-be superstar alternative rock band had received and he yelled into the mic, “thank you Toronto for being the worst fucking crowd we've ever played to,” and he dropped the mic (not in a cool mic drop way like people do now) and they walked off stage, never to be heard from again. 

Well, not exactly. They ended up becoming a bit of a big deal and are the unofficial fourth band in the grunge axis of awesome along with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. Lane was a troubled soul and succumbed to his addition in 2002 but left behind a musical legacy that helped shape a generation. 

This is a song I don’t recall hearing on the radio but wish they would play. Don’t Follow, by Alice in Chains.

 



June 21 - Day 19 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song from my favourite album

The opening track, "Where the Streets Have No Name" is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of U2's movie Rattle and Hum based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.

I was lucky enough to see the album played live in its entirety this past Friday night with my fifteen-year-old daughter and it was everything I had hoped for and more. Hearing any song on that album invokes the best memories.


I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team back then and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes as mail out promos for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).


I also remember at summer camp there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.


Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It's the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn't happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.


One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn't feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn't exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn't say a word.


The final riff from The Edge's guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing-along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can't recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I'm sure there must have been some, but it sure didn't feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.


For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.





June 22 - Day 20 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I listen to when I’m angry

I, like many other young punks of the time, used to jump into the mosh pit when a Nine Inch Nails song came on and throw my body around with reckless abandon letting out some rage and aggression. Sometimes mosh pits would get a little bit rough and tumble and a good old fashioned donnybrook would break out, but most of my experiences with it were pretty tame. I break easily so I never really got right in the middle of it.

One day I was down at a club in Toronto with a friend of mine and we were wandering around and Head Like a Hole came on and he and I jumped into the pit. It didn’t take too long before bodies were being tossed left and right and limbs were flailing this way and that. There was this one particular dude who seemed to be having more of a seizure than he was moshing and, in a terrible sequence of events, he ended up accidentally elbowing me square in the face.


It was a knockout blow if there ever was one and down I started to go. That was, until my friend reached out and grabbed me by the front of my baggy flannel shirt, yanked me to my feet, moved me out of the pit, and held me up until my eyes uncrossed and my head stopped spinning.


That was the second time this particular friend saved my ass (or my head, as it were) from a mosh pit/crowd surfing debacle (I think I bought him a round but if I didn’t then I owe you one, Kirb).





June 23 - Day 21 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I listen to when I’m happy

There are a few songs that are impossible to not be happy when hearing them and Spirit of the West has a few in this category. Born from the West Coast Canadian music scene, this band has a distinctly East Coast sound with lots of fiddle, foot stomping, and that hand drum thingy you whack with a small stick as you twist your wrist to and fro really quickly.

The song that I’ll put on when I’m in a good mood is one that was the anthem of many a university dorm room, particularly “The Zoo” at the University of Western Ontario, which in its day had earned a five-star reputation for being the partyingest dorm in Canada. It’s also my go-to song for when my house is in such a state of disrepair that there doesn’t appear to be any hope of salvaging it.


“The furniture’s on fire, this house is a disgrace, someone change the locks before we trash this place! Save this house!”





June 24 - Day 22 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I listen to when I’m sad

There was a time in my life when I found out someone died or was sick or was seriously ill or just plain stricken with grief and the same song would come on the radio. For a two-year period in the early ‘90’s, without fail, this would happen. Every time I would hear it I would get this impending sense of doom and I would spend the next several hours flinching whenever the phone rang.

Thankfully, the disturbing trend didn’t continue, but if I’m feeling low sometimes I’ll throw this song on just let myself wallow for a bit, because everybody hurts, sometimes.





June 25 - Day 23 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I want to play at my wedding

Seeing as I was married in 1999 to my beautiful wife, Jodi, there should be songs from our wedding. We didn’t have a “typical” reception, though, and there was no dancing. We had an early dinner at a restaurant and then went back to a friend’s house for some drinks and socializing. We did, however, have some music being played for the processional, recessional, and during the signing of the registry.

When Jodi and I met the organist she sat down and played some snippets of songs asking us if whatever she was playing were the types of thing we were looking for. When she started into “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles her operatic voice and emphatic mashing of the piano had both Jodi and me stifling laughter and anytime we hear that song we both do a reasonable impression.


We ended up not using that song, or maybe it was in with the other songs while we were signing the registry, I can't quite remember what we used in there. Instead, we went for something a little more traditional with Pachelbel’s Canon in D as our processional and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring for the recessional. I love both those songs and decided that for our fifth anniversary I would secretly learn to play it on the piano and surprise Jodi with a performance.


For this, I also needed to learn how to play the piano.


So off I went and I sort of learned to play it and sort of performed for her on our anniversary. I ended up only being able to play just the right hand and not even all the way through, but it was a fun experience nonetheless.


For our 10th anniversary, I ended up getting the first few bars of it tattooed on my right arm (the right-hand part only, of course), which later became the base for a pretty wicked tree tattoo.


Here’s a fantastic 80’s rock/metal cover of the classic Bach tune:





June 26 - Day 24 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I want played at my funeral

I haven’t really put much thought into my funeral, to be honest. I’ll be dead so there’s little I can say about it and I guess what happens after I cease to live is out of my control. I think I’d like a low-key service with my family and some close friends. I don’t want any big long-winded speeches where the officiant drones on and on about loss and grieving, and I certainly don’t want there to be any religion. Ideally, people would convene at the beach beside a small fire and everyone would have a beverage of their choosing in hand and everyone would get a chance to share a story about a time when I made them laugh. Around the circle, I want them to go, remembering one thing that made them chuckle or otherwise brought a smile to their face.

After everyone has a turn I’d like to have this song played, because if not for the presence of all those people in my life, I would never have been able to enjoy mine as much as I have, and that deserves a thank you.




~ Andrew

x

Monday, June 19, 2017

The 30-Day Song Challenge - Days 11-17

June 13 - Day 11 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song from my favourite band

Ah! What to do? There are three bands that jump immediately to mind when someone asks me who my favourite band or artist is: Rush, U2, and The Watchmen. I listed them in the reverse order of preference  :-) Rush was my first fanboy experience, U2 was there throughout some of my most enjoyable and memorable experiences as a teenager, and The Watchmen has been my fave from 1993 onward. Ken is one of the finest folks you'll ever meet (and one hell of a musician) and I have a truckload of good memories from their shows.

They don’t have a lot of stuff online and my friend Alex loves the band but hasn't seen them play live in decades. I couldn't possibly pick a favourite so I'll pick a song that is his favourite. You can get a feel for how awesome it is to see these guys perform in this video. They don’t play often, but if you can see them I’d recommend going.

“The second night without you is no better than the first. I hope the third one won’t be worse.”



June 14 - Day 12 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song from a band I hate

It really pains me to do this. Even writing their name makes me cringe and all I can think of is the picture of the lead singer standing with his arm around Stephen Harper (coincidentally enough the Canadian Prime Minister I hate the most). Chad Kroeger from Nickelback shares a birthday with a tattoo artist that has done a lot of work on my wife and I. We were getting work done one say and this fact came out and he went on a classic rant about Chad and Nickelback, most of which can’t be repeated.

“And what the fuck is on Joey’s head? Fuck you, you asshole! It’s a fucking yarmulke! He’s Jewish!” – Wayne



June 15 - Day 13 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that is a guilty pleasure

Okay, so here's the thing. My formidable years were in the 80's. Big hair, fantastically ugly gym shorts with matching tube socks, and lots of synthesizers and electronic drums. Did I mention the big hair? During that time I had what could only be described as a "diverse" taste in music. The first cassettes I ever bought were The Box (self-titled, 1984) followed by Fleetwood Mac (Rumors, 1977), and Pink Floyd (The Wall, 1982).

The height of hysteria came in the form of Michael Jackson and I was a huge fan and got Thriller on vinyl. I wasn't alone in this craze, however. Nor was I alone in my appreciation for Culture Club, Cindy Lauper, Corey Hart, Gino Vannelli, Gowan, U2, The Who, Bryan Adams, or the American Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen ;-) and of course, Madonna!

To this day, I know at least the chorus to more Madonna songs than any of the other acts I've mentioned with the possible exception of Pink Floyd and U2. A personal favourite of mine happens to be Material Girl and you'll find me singing out loud (chorus only – see a previous post on me not knowing the lyrics to anything)  in my car and then looking around to make sure nobody heard me  with that look on my face that kind of resembles a cat that just fell off the couch while licking its butt and is now strutting across the floor all, "Yeah, totes did that on purpose."



June 16 - Day 14 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that no one would expect me to love

I don’t know what people would not expect me to love. There are some that stand out that are obvious choices for songs I *do* love but I tend to like a wide variety of music with the exception of gangsta rap and a good amount of country. Jodi is the true music lover and I end up liking quite a bit of what she downloads. I fill my iPod with what I like and then tell it to fill the free space with random stuff from the library.

A few years back we went to see Jason Mraz (we had pretty good seats too) and as is customary with Jodi she had all the music from artists we were going to see in concert loaded into a playlist. So, on the way down to the show (about an hour’s drive) we were listening to Jason Mraz as well as the opening act for the tour, Christina Perri.

Jason Mraz was okay. He certainly did nothing to turn me into a fan, though the guys he had playing the brass instruments were fantastic. Christina Perri, on the other hand, absolutely wowed me. She put on a great show and sounded equally as great. When her songs come on the iPod when I’m driving the volume goes up every time. Avery and I sing this one together if I’m driving her to the bus. It’s my favourite Christina Perri tune and a song I think no one would expect me to love.



June 17 - Day 15 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that describes me

Me in a nutshell:
  • I am fiercely and proudly Canadian
  • I love hockey and I married a woman who doesn’t give a fuck about it (and I never saw someone say that before)
  • In grade school, I was a pro at the flexed arm hang
  • My temperament is like a firework. There’s a short fuse that burns too quickly and then there’s an explosion. 

June 18 - Day 16 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I used to love but now hate


I don’t like this category. I’d prefer if it was a song that I used to hate but now love, but rules are rules so I’ll take a crack at it.

I had a hard time coming up with anything that I used to love but now hate. I have found that if I like a song I like a song and that doesn’t change much over time. There are some songs that have lost a bit of luster and a bunch of these songs are Counting Crows songs. Remember how I mentioned that we’d put the Counting Crows on at bedtime? Since there were only so many low key CDs out there the Counting Crows were played a lot. So much Counting Crows.

I guess after so many years their music has just lost a bit of its allure. This song was big when I was in university and I “danced” to it. I’m sure I had a jolly ole time singing along, but now if it comes on I turn it off.


June 19 - Day 17 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I hear often on the radio

In the morning when I’m shaving and in the shower, we will listen to Magic 106.1 out of Guelph, Ontario. Their website says they play “Today’s Best Mix”. At dinner time and other meals spent eating as a family we listen to 96.7 CHYM FM who proclaims to bring us “Today’s Best Music”. If I’m to believe their slogans both of these stations will be playing me the best of music currently being put out by artists, however, he genres are fairly narrow. I think for the most part they can be considered “Top 40” with a few less current tunes thrown in every now and then.

I picked a song that I seem to hear on the radio a lot, but couldn’t pick which station I think I hear it playing on most often. So, I went to the respective websites and looked at their recent songs and lo and behold in the hour before I wrote this post (Sunday afternoon) the song had been played on BOTH stations (48 and 50 minutes respectively). Aside from Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” I don’t think there’s a song I hear more often, and since I like this one better it’s the one I’m picking.


~ Andrew

Monday, June 12, 2017

The 30-Day Song Challenge - Days 4-10

June 6 - Day 4 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me sad

Ugh. I’m a very emotional guy (hello, Pisces!) and I feel things quite deeply. There are TV commercials that make me cry, retelling the story of my daughter’s successful spinal surgery makes me cry, and yes, when I hear certain songs an overwhelming sense of melancholy comes over me. Some songs are simply sad. Some have sad events associated with them. Others just happened to be playing when I was sad about something completely unrelated. This song, however, always seems to make me sad when I hear it. It’s a song about loss and how you can avoid the pain of it but only at the cost of not experiencing what you loved in the first place.

“Our lives
Are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss
The dance”


June 7 - Day 5 of the  30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of someone

The piss from the cow struck the windshield of the convertible and shot up, hitting Vern square in the face. The fact that he was in the middle of belting out “Thank God I'm a Country Boy” at the time made it all the more unbelievable. Nonetheless, it happened, and that cow could not have picked a better target; not because he deserved to get a face full of cow urine, but because of the way Vern handled it. He managed to keep his dad’s blue Miata on the road and he laughed about it afterwards. Heck, he laughed out loud and proud every time he told the story.

That’s the opening paragraph to the short story “Losing Vern”, my first publication and part of the Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior anthology. Vern, in this exaggerated and creative non-fiction piece is actually by brother-in-law, Ryan, and the opening paragraph is true. The rest of the story goes on to explain the unfortunate and bizarre events that followed his unexpected and tragic death.


I can’t hear John Denver without thinking about him and I especially can’t hear “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” without breaking out in a smile and shedding a tear at the same time. I miss you, Ryan. We all do.



June 8 - Day 6 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of somewhere

I could probably name a hundred songs that remind me of somewhere. There is one that takes me back to two somewheres and I didn’t even know it had this power until I heard it played by the person I was with where these somewheres were. Thinking back, I suppose it could have been any number of tunes that took me back to those spots but this song is familiar to me and it has always been a favourite of mine, from the first time I heard it in the John Hughes flick The Breakfast Club.

Yup, it’s "Don’t You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds and the man playing it is none other than my dearly departed friend, Riaz. Ri played a cover of this tune sometime in 2012, I think, and his friend posted it to YouTube. When I first heard him playing it I was immediately transported back to my first-year university residence in 1993 and Riaz’s basement of the house he shared with some mutual friends in 1994 and 1995. These are places for which my memories are vivid and fond and they involve Riaz with his guitar and me sitting in awe of what he could do with the instrument and me sloppily singing along and undoubtedly fucking up the words to every song he played, including this one, I’m sure.

Whenever I hear the song now, I hear Riaz’s cover and I’m right back in residence in 1993 with a pack of Du Maurier Lights, long blonde bangs, my future wife on one side of me and Riaz on the other, smiling and in love with whatever music he decided to bring to life in that moment.
Don’t worry, Ri, we don’t forget about you.


June 9 - Day 7 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of an event

As with most of these song challenge categories there are quite a few songs for each one that I could pick. A song that reminds me of an event, for me, has dozens upon dozens to choose from. I figure that since I’ve spent ¼ of the first 8 days talking about death that I would take this opportunity to reminisce in the other direction.

It was May 19, 2006, and it was the Friday of the Victoria Day long weekend. Jodi and I had our friends Trevor & Iza and their two kids over for the weekend and Jodi was ten days from her due date. I was working on the other side of the city and a good 45 minute drive from home.

Sometime around 10 am Jodi called me. “I need you to get home now,” she said. I hopped in my car and began the drive home. Fortunately any rush hour traffic had abated and I was able to treat the speed limit as more of a guideline. As I came within 5 minutes of my house the song “The Adventure” by Angels and Airwaves came on the radio. 

The chorus starts like this: “Hey oh, here I am, and here we go, life's waiting to begin.”

Indeed it was.

I drove my wife to the hospital where I got the paperwork done around 11:30 am. Less than fifteen minutes later our second child was born, all ten pounds nine ounces of him. We were home by 2:30 pm (and that was only because I installed the car seat wrong and then got stuck behind someone who couldn’t work the paid parking machine). We had pizza for dinner and Trevor and Iza spent the weekend with us and our bouncing baby sumo wrestler of a newborn.


June 10 - Day 8 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I know all the words to

This one is kind of funny because I am TERRIBLE at knowing the words to stuff. I live inside the melody and can tell you how they go for hundreds and hundreds of songs but remembering words has never been my strong suit, which is ironic because I was in a little coffee shop band for a bit and was responsible for, you know, actually singing the words.

So I’m going to take a song out of our repertoire and use that for this category, because I know all the words and enjoy the song :-)  This also happens to be a song by a band that my “big” sister, Kari, introduced me to way back in the 80’s. She always had good taste in music and even accompanied me to a Rush concert back in the early 90’s. I am pretty sure she was the one girl in the audience.

Anyway, back to the song. Crowded House singing “Better Be Home Soon” (their version, not the Argyle Speedo one).
 


June 11 - Day 9 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I can dance to

So here’s the thing: I don’t dance. It’s not something I, what’s the word? Do. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. I have danced before, and on every occasion it hasn’t been pretty. It’s barely been observable as actual dancing. My go-to move is The Sprinkler. That pretty much says it all. Oh, I also almost broke a leg trying to “thread the needle”. Look it up on YouTube and imagine a six foot two inch gangling string bean of a white dude trying to pull that one off in front of the TV watching music videos.

All of that said, there is a song that when played I just have to groove to it. It’s the beat that I love and I can’t stop my toes from tapping whenever I hear it. The original, with its rapey lyrics, pisses me off to no end and I feel super guilty about “grooving to it” so I am glad “Weird Al” Yankovic did a parody with a  set of lyrics that speaks to me and denizens of my friends.


June 12 - Day 10 of the 30-Day Song Challenge 

A song that makes me fall asleep

When I was in university I used to put on music before bed to help me fall asleep. University residence was very loud and I’ve never been the best sleeper and sometimes when you close your eyes and relax a little Pink Floyd is just what the moment calls for. When I started sharing a bed regularly with Jodi, whether it was in one of our apartments or in our bedroom when we first moved in together, we would always have music on to go to bed. There was LOTS of Sarah McLachlan and Counting Crows. So much Counting Crows. It was a lot of Counting Crows. I don’t think I can understate how much Counting Crows we listened to.

When it was just me in bed though, I would often look to something a little more instrumental, a little more transcendental, and a little less Counting Crowsy. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D was always a good one, as was anything from Orbital or the aforementioned Pink Floyd, but one of the first albums I used to listen to at bedtime was the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I’m sure I would still fall asleep in an instant if I lay down and listened to it today.

Here’s the Piano Guys playing the title track originally written by John Williams.



~ Andrew