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


Monday, December 18

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

It is not clear to me if visitors to my little corner of the blogosphere have picked up on the themes here at Potato Chip Math but here they are:
  • Views into a (new) writer's world
  • Community
  • Creativity & Inspiration (how people find it, what forms it takes, how to recognize it, what to do when you, the importance of it, etc)
  • Self-Improvement / Growth / Mental & Physical Health
I tend to write a lot about being a writer on this blog. It makes sense given it's a profession that I have been working towards for some time now. However, one of the aspects of being a writer, and the art of writing in general, is that you also have to be a reader. This is one area in which I will always need improvement but it is also one in which I will take great pleasure in improving.

There are literally millions of books published year-over-year though, so how does a person even begin to choose? For me, the preference is given to people I know personally who have written books. I know what goes into bringing a novel into the world and it's the absolute least I can do to buy one from a peer and give it a read. In doing this, I have found that my interests have shifted from some the big names I used to read to some other authors who have books or series that I find much less formulaic and mass produced.

Why is this? Well to put it simply, the stories are better.

I would encourage every reader out there to ask a writer, or a friend, or a librarian, or someone who works at a bookstore (even a big chain bookstore), or a teacher, or even that person in the coffee shop or on the bus/subway/streetcar/train reading a book you've never heard of for a recommendation. Some of them won't work out, but that's okay. Not every book is suitable for everyone. But I guarantee you that you'll find some gems that years from now you'll be wondering why more people don't know about them.

With this in mind, I am going to start a new feature here at Potato Chip Math I have aptly named Have You Read Any... 

The idea is simple. Every now and then I will profile an author from whom I have read at least one book that I particularly enjoyed. Sometimes I will know the writer personally, sometimes not, but in every case, it will be someone who isn't currently a "big name" author (e.g. you won't find me endorsing Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, and the like).

Without further ado, I present the pilot episode of Have You Read Any...

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

A.J. Aalto is a biologist, a student of criminal psychology & behaviour, an axe-throwing belly dancer, a poor Sudoku puzzler, a badge bunny, a PVP gamer, and a goofball. When not studying murder or writing dick jokes, you can find her singing Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at life. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar and has been known to swallow her gum.

In addition to all the aforementioned characteristics, she is the author of one of my favourite series, The Marnie Baranuik Files.

Marnie is a rare dual-talented psychic with a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. Her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart, and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at her remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, she isn’t particularly eager to stick her neck out again, but her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Follow Marnie, Lord Guy Harrick "Harry" Dreppenstedt, Kill Notch, and a host of other characters as they battle ghouls, goblins, ogres, orcs, revenants, zombies, and more.

In order, here are the links:
There are also shorts that tie into but can be read independently from, the series that A.J. calls Marnie Baranuik Between the Files stories.
But that's not all! Yes, that's right, there's more!

One of the principal characters in the Marnie books, Lord Guy Harrick "Harry" Dreppenstedt, a 400-year-old revenant with a propensity for fancy Olde English and some serious skills in the kitchen, has a cookbook.
Finally, A.J. has written one of hopefully many more non-Marnie books. Closet Full of Bones is a gripping psychological thriller that is next up on my reading list.

A.J. creates complex characters that invoke strong feelings in the reader as they weave their way through clever plot lines and a world built with intricate detail. My fifteen-year-old daughter is absolutely hooked on the Marnie books as much as I am and I suggest picking up a copy of Touched and beginning your journey toward Baranuik addiction as soon as you can.

~ Andrew



Are you a writer that wants to be featured on Have You Read Any... Are you a reader with a favourite author you'd like to see featured? Place the book or author link in the comments or send me an email (potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com) and I'll put them on the list of books to pick up and read.

Please note that it is not necessary to provide me free copies of any books in exchange for a Have You Read Any... feature. I prefer printed books anyway so I'll buy them like everyone else. Regardless of whether or not the author gets a spot on my blog, if they aren't published with Oghma Creative Media I will be sure to leave a review.

Monday, December 11

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