December 28, 2015

One Word

One word. 

One word can make all the difference. 

In stark contrast to the more more more approach of National Novel Writing month, I am going to round out December with a post that will focus on summing it the hell up. Here are fifty questions to which I will respond using only one word: 

1. Where is your cell phone? Couch

2. Your significant other? Genius

3. Your hair? Thinning

4. Your mother? Loving

5. Your father? Wise

6. Your favourite? Kids

7. Your dream last night? Obscure

8. Your favourite drink? Grapes

9. Your dream/goal? Retirement

10. What room you are in? Living

11. Your hobby? Lounging

12. Your fear? Drowning

13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Happy

14. Where were you last night? Home

15. Something that you are not? Alone

16. Muffins? Sometimes

17. Wish list item? Sleep

18. Where you grew up? Thornhill

19. Last thing you did? Write

20. What are you wearing? Comfort

21. Your TV? Flat

22. Your pets? Annoying

23. Friends? Plethora

24. Your life? Incomparable

25. Your mood? Introspective

26. Missing someone? Yes

27. First Car? Gutless

28. Something you usually wear but aren't? Watch

29. Your favourite store? Hardware

30. Your favourite colour? Green
31. Best book you've ever read? Mockingbird

32. Your hero? Avery

33. When is the last time you laughed? Recently

34. Last time you cried? October

35. Preferred flavor of gum? Mint

36. One place that you go to over and over? Facebook

37. One person who emails you regularly? Spammers

38. Favourite place to eat (cheap)? Mozy's

39. Favourite place to eat (pricey)? Keg

40. One goal in life? Longevity

41. Favourite movie? Tarantino

42. What is your worst habit? Laziness

43. Desired superpower? Teleportation

44. Your favourite food? Steak

45. Favourite Band/Musician? Watchmen

46. Favourite veggie/fruit? Oranges

47. Your driving style? Bad

48. What is special in your bedroom? Love

49. Own or rent? Own

50. Who will comment on this? Nobody

~ Andrew

December 18, 2015

Twenty-five Things

Twenty-five things about me:

  1. I am quite fond of art
  2. Red wine is my alcoholic beverage of choice (Malbec, Shiraz, Cab - in that order)
  3. I have only fired a pistol on one occasion and will never own a gun of any kind - ever
  4. I believe intelligent life exists (or existed) elsewhere in the Universe
  5. If I don't like a book I won't finish it. Halfway is the tipping point for most
  6. I haven't had cable in two years but still enjoy watching shows (thank god for Netflix)
  7. I played reasonably competitive hockey until I was 16, but was a third or fourth liner at best (I was a great skater though)
  8. It wasn't until 2012 that I started to consider myself a writer
  9. I once provided trivia content for a home video game system
  10. My daughter and I were both baptized by the same Anglican minister, at two different churches, 22 years and 100km apart
  11. I am at peace with the fact that there are some questions that seem like they cannot be answered, and encouraged by the fact that it does not stop many others from trying to answer them
  12. In the tenth grade I received an award for achieving the highest Math mark out of 400 students in my year
  13. I can juggle
  14. I accidentally lit myself on fire and ended up in "The Darwin Awards III, Survival of the Fittest" (a dubious distinction, but a distinction none the less)
  15. I was a teacher's assistant for behavioral English as a Second Language kids between the ages of eight and ten. The teacher spoke seven languages
  16. I used to drive the student safety van at the University of Waterloo
  17. I started smoking in 1987 at age 13, was up to a pack a day by the time I left high school, and quit for good (cold turkey) on March 8th, 1998
  18. For various weddings, I have been a: bus boy, bartender, usher, groomsman, master of ceremonies, and groom
  19. I will not wear a hat when seated at a table for a meal - not even after golf
  20. For three years in school, I played the trumpet (and sucked at it)
  21. I almost failed typing class in high school, but last clocked myself at 80 words per minute
  22. I tend to win a lot of radio contests, with one of the biggest being $500 from best buy and one of the coolest being getting to be "Concert Promoter" for a day and meet Nine Inch Nails and take 7 friends to the show
  23. I enter a lot of hockey pools every year (regular season and playoffs) but have only won money in a few
  24. I received a swimming badge at summer camp - with a full wrist to shoulder cast on my left arm. The duct tape marks (from the garbage bag over-the-cast "solution") on my shoulder took weeks to heal
  25. March 13, May 19, June 14, and November 6 are days that mean a lot to me

~ Andrew

December 08, 2015

Proud Papa

I'm going to take this opportunity to write about how awesome my kids are.

I realize that most parents say this about their kids and many of them are right. All of them should be blogging about it. Kids who are awesome and do awesome things deserve to be praised from the highest mountains. So here's my story about a weekend that my kids turned from ordinary to extraordinary in a span of less than twenty-four hours.

For those who don't know, I have two children with my wife of sixteen years: a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. Through some weird nickname wormhole, these two fine little humans are affectionately referred to as "Pants" and "Dude", which are actually short for "Princess Pants" and "Doodle", which were actually short for "Princess Paloney Baloney" and "Mister Doodle" (he was 10 lb 9 oz when he was born and when you're that big they call you Mister).

Anyhow, they're great kids, but unlike a lot of other kids I know neither of them are crazy interested in competitively doing things. Pants stopped figure skating right before it got really serious (phew!) and Dude had shown only mild interest in such things - until bowling, that is (the funny thing is that we were calling him Dude before he started bowling).

Now we're calling him The Dude.

This is his third year of 5-pin bowling. For the uninitiated, 5-pin bowling is done with a smaller ball (with no holes in it) and there are, appropriately, five pins which are arranged in a wide "V" shape. Unlike 10-bin bowling where each pin is worth one, in 5-pin the head pin is worth 5, the two beside it are each worth 3, and the two end pins are each worth 2. You get to bowl three balls per frame (instead of two), with the same strike and spare rules as in 10-pin (i.e. your strike counts all pins plus the next two balls with your spare counting all pins plus your next ball). A perfect game is 450.

Dude's best score is 221 but his average is sitting around 127, which is pretty good for a 9-year-old playing with kids a year older than he is (Bantam age bracket is 7-10). This past weekend Dude went to his regular bowling league game on Saturday while Pants and I were hanging with a friend of mine (more on that later). Turns out he qualified to compete in the Zone Championships the next day at some lanes one city over (20 minutes or so by car). So, Sunday morning my wife packed him up and got him registered. Before he left he said to me, "I feel like I'm going to have a good day." 

Understatement of the year, kid.

With nine frames done in his first game he was below average by enough that it wasn't looking too good. Then, in the tenth frame he bowled three strikes in a row for his first ever turkey (that's what you call three strikes in a row in bowling) for a 160. His second game was a 171, followed by a 147 and a consistent 148. After four games he was 92 pins up on the next boy but fatigue started to set in and he rounded out his first five-game set with the only one below his average, carding a 124. His average over the five games was 150.

Even with the sub-par last game, his lead held up and he was crowed the Bantam Boys (Singles) Zone Champion earning him a spot at the Provincial Championships on March 6. We couldn't be more thrilled. He keeps asking when he can watch the movie The Big Lebowski. If he wins provincials I just might let him.

"The medal doesn't say first place, but I won, and it's gold, so that's okay." - The Dude

The Dude Abides

Remember how I mentioned Pants and I were hanging with a friend of mine on Saturday while Dude was bowling? Well, this friend is a super rad guy named Jim. Aside from being an all 'round good guy, Jim is also musically inclined. He plays guitar, bass, a little keyboard, and taught himself to play the harmonica the other day - just because. Jim and I played in a little coffee shop trio called Argyle Speedo with our friend Steph a while back. It was fun. I like writing lyrics to stuff Jim creates, though they tend to be on the depressing side, whereas Jim's wheelhouse tends toward happy fun stuff.

Anyway, Jim was taking an art sabbatical and spending all his non-sleeping time at Kwartzlab and wanted me to hang with him and create stuff one day. I asked if Pants could join us because she recently picked up her guitar for the first time in well over a year (with only 8 months of lessons under her belt) and I thought it would be cool for her to experience the creation of art for no other reason than to create art. Jim being Jim thought this was a top shelf idea and on Saturday around 10:30 in the morning Pants and I met him at the lab. He was upstairs shooting footage for a vlog and had an array of recording equipment and instruments lying around.

We just fiddled with instruments for a bit, with Jim and Avery randomly strumming stuff and me trying to figure out the cajon drum box. After a couple hours of playing some John Lennon, Vance Joy, Axis of Awesome and other random stuff we grabbed a sandwich.

After lunch, we got out the trusty "How to Write a Hit Song" cheat sheets and Avery picked a major key and a chord progression and just started strumming, Jim got the harmonica out and started playing his brand new mouth organ, and I started banging on the cajon. A couple minutes later it sounded like a song.

I was mentioning that I only wrote sad lyrics and this song needed words. Avery, rather shyly, mumbled something. I went to write it down and she was hesitant to repeat it. After some coaxing I got her to give me the line.
"I'd walk backwards to the moon if it meant I could see you smile"
I encouraged her to get more out and Jim reminded us that it didn't have to rhyme. We played off the action "walk". What else can you do? Run, jump, leap...
"I'd somersault into outer space if you'd talk to me for a while" 
There was discussion on how to properly spell "somersault", which distracted Jim from the rhyming. And so it went until we had two short verses of four lines each.
I'd walk backward to the moon
If it meant I could see you smile
I'd somersault into outer space
If you'd talk to me for a while
I'd hang upside down from the clouds
To see your sparkling eyes
I'd hold onto you for some amount of time
If we didn't have to say goodbye
Against the music it was starting to sound even more like a song. It was a song! It was a song that needed a chorus, so back to the cheat sheet we went. Once we had chords we liked for it Jim played around with it a bit and we got working on the lyrics for the chorus.

We tried a few things and scratched out most of them, and with Jim singing them out loud while tinkering with strum patterns we landed on the following:
Backwards somersaults upside down
Holding onto you
Wishing time would come around
So I can stay with you 
Ink will fade
But memories last
Memories last
Ink will fade
But memories last
We gave it a run through and decided to play around with the order of things, stitching it together thusly:
Verse 1
Verse 2
Harmonica Solo
Last Half of Chorus
With Avery and I singing, me on the cajone, and Jim on his guitar we gave it a spin and it sounded pretty good. Did I mention that there were other people in the lab working on various things? This made me feel a bit self-conscious and I thought it would make Pants clam up for sure, but it wasn't a problem. She was so focused on this song that the room may as well have been empty.

Jim then did a track just with guitar and then the harmonica solo and then Pants was up for the first vocal track. Jim said it would be weird listening with the headphones and singing into a mic but Pants, who hasn't had a single voice lesson, wasn't properly warmed up, and had only sung the lyrics a few times stepped up and gave it a whirl. A little off key and a little screw up on the second verse, she plowed through and got the job done!

Then, it was my turn. Jim was right about singing with headphones on into a mic. I found it really weird and after one verse immediately needed a do over. Second time through, a little off key and with the same screw up (not on purpose) on the second verse we were done.

Pants gave the second verse another shot and improved it a little, then Jim put the bass line on it (or maybe he did that earlier, I can't remember) and crammed it all into his magic music making app and there was a real life MP3 to show for the day's efforts. Time had run out and Pants and I had to get going, so there wasn't the opportunity to do any of the vocal tracks over again. This concerned Pants at first but Jim and I explained that most songs she listens to have had hours and hours of recording and editing. She spent probably 8 minutes, as a first timer no less, laying this track down.

Jim has a great saying: Perfect is the enemy of done.

We got into the car and Pants looked over at me with a big smile on her face.

"That was the most fun I've ever had. I can't believe I just wrote and recorded a song!"

Jim did a bit of editing on the song and asked if I'd ask Pants if she was okay with the song being put out into the world. She said yes, and I could not have been more proud. I made sure she knew it, too. It takes some serious intestinal fortitude to put anything that you know isn't perfect out into the world, let alone to do that and have all the additional pressures of being a teenage girl and wanting to fit in and be cool. Plus, the internet can be a cruel place.

After she agreed, she looked at me with a smidgen of doubt. I told her that no, it wasn't perfect and we all made mistakes, but it was a first cut of something wonderful and if anyone wants to give her grief over it that she can tell them to stuff it.

Expect a version done by Woot Suit Riot soon, as well as improved vocal tracks from Avery and I at some point, but for now here it is...

Ink Will Fade by Princess Pants, Andrew and Jim:

~ Andrew

December 04, 2015

Americans Welcome

Americans, you may want to sit down for this. Are you sitting? No, please. Sit down. This is serious. Ready? Okay, here it goes: Your country is broken.

"We can fix it!"

No, sorry, you cannot. You're terribly broken. Gangrene is has set in and it's bad.

"How can this be?"

Good question. I first noticed it back in 1990 when you bombed the living hell out of Iraq (to depose a dictator the U.S. helped put in power). Five years later it was the Oklahoma City bombing - an act of domestic terrorism I could hardly fathom. Four years after that came Columbine. That one really stood out. Then another war with Iraq (this time over weapons of mass destruction which we now know for certain was just a cover up to finish the job daddy couldn't do a decade ago). Sandy HookThe religious right. Rampant racism, misogyny, class warfare... The list goes on and on (and on and on and on...) Oh, and every single level of government AND your Supreme Court is bought and paid for.


The overwhelming response to all of this? Absolutely nothing, unless you count pithy memes on the Internet.

"But lots of people care. We want to change. We CAN change."

Nope. I don't think you can. If you were capable of change you would have a Congress that looks a lot different than what it looks like today.

All that red has you blue

"There has to be something that can be done. Come on, doc, throw us a bone here."


"Yes, please, tell us!"

If gangrene gets too bad there's only one thing to do.

"Please, tell us, what is it?"



There's some good news, though.

"Well, there'd better be some good news. Has anyone ever told you your bedside manner sucks?"

I'm sorry, That's very un-Canadian. But onto the good news. Remember 1812? Specifically, the war.

"Yes, we kicked your lily asses."

Well, there's some debate on how that ended, and we did torch Washington (which is actually the reason the White House is painted white - to cover up the fact that we burned the fuck out of it) but that's neither here nor there.

The deal with the War of 1812 was this: North America was being colonized at a phenomenal rate and you guys wanted a bunch of "British" land and decided to come take it. We were all like, screw that, and fought you back. It's way more complicated, of course. We can't ignore the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples made in the name of "progress" (hence, the quotes around "British" land). But, the whitewashed history books will sum it up into a battle for the stuff between the 40th and 54th parallels with the resulting borders ending up looking more or less like they do now.

Size matters and we're way bigger than you are

"So, what's your point?"

Well, I propose we annex a slice of the northern United States. Literally cut it out and stitch it onto the south end of Canada. Not quite as far down as the 40th parallel, but close enough. Everyone living in those areas would either stick around and live in a country that's not batshit crazy or get the hell out of Dodge and head South.

"If a bunch of Americans start migrating south, won't that crowd up everywhere below the 40th parallel?"

Nope, because we'd open up the new border to accept American refugees from the south too! Call it a citizenship swap. Batshit crazy? South of 40. Not Batshit crazy? North of 40. We're already bringing in a metric tonne of Syrians and have a pretty good track record with this sort of humanitarian peacekeeping shit. Okay, we had a really dark period there from 2006 until very recently, but we've fixed that problem and we're just about good as new.

"Would you take whole states or just cut a swath across the top all nice and straight?"

We'll take whole states and make a straightish line. We'll assume control of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming (reluctantly), both Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin (Go Packers!), Michigan, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Now THAT'S a nice looking map

In tribute to the native peoples who were slaughtered, we'll immediately rename two states south of Ontario "Lower East Saskatchewan" and "Lower East Saskatchewan South" - maybe New Hampshire and New York but we can sort that out later. We'll also talk about renaming some of the others once everyone gets settled.
"What about Alaska and Hawaii?"

OMG, I completely forgot about them! We'll take those too, but only under the condition that Sarah Palin gets the hell out of Alaska and Barack Obama becomes Premier of Hawaii (Canadian version). Also, Bernie Sanders gets to be Prime Minister after Justin Trudeau.

"This could work."

Don't worry, this will be epic. Canada will absolutely OWN potatoes, maple syrup (even more than it does now), wheat (tonnes of fucking wheat, so much wheat), marijuana (even more than it does now), cheese, and whatever the hell Wyoming is good for.

"You know, this idea is actually kind of good."

I know!

"One question: why do you keep using the word 'tonne'? Isn't it 'ton'?"

Oh, that. It's metric. You'll have to start using a system of measurement that's used in every country except the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar. It's actually quite easy to...

"Screw that. No deal. [mumbling] And you think we're batshit crazy? Metric system. Pfft."

Aw man, this sucks. What am I supposed to do with this flag?

New Canadian flag

~ Andrew

November 30, 2015

Are You Done Yet? A NaNoWriMo Retrospective

Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone. I didn't "win" this year, but I didn't expect to. As it was I took a few liberties with the rules. First, a little backstory:

As you may or may not know, earlier this year I started writing a serial for the OCH Literary Society. While I had hoped to issue a new instalment every couple of weeks I managed one per month for the first three months and then I got stuck. Call it writer's block, call it poor planning, call it life getting in the way, call it whatever you want. I wasn't writing much of anything and it was starting to suck.

In parallel with this I wasn't sleeping very well either, with most days spent trying to keep my eyes open at work and then coming home and doing family things like cooking dinner and soccer with my son or swimming or whatever activity it was. By eight at night I was too pooped to do anything that required brain activity. I just didn't feel creative.

Long story short, I did something about it and went to my doctor and she got me on some vitamin D drops and put me back on this sleep inducing medication that I used to take when my insomnia was really kicking my ass. Within a month or so I was starting to feel better and I was getting back into the groove, creatively speaking. After putting a few blog posts together (gearing up for the big Canadian election) I sat down with The Book of Good to write instalment four and realized something.

I was still stuck.

That's okay, because NaNoWriMo was just around the corner and I would use the thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon to move the serial forward.

My plan was simple:
Write instalment four, five, six, and seven; completing one every two days. Then, with the thirty-five thousand or so words I had kicking around from NaNo 2013 cobble together another eleven instalments. If I could at least get the bulk of each instalment down so that adding additional plot or character development wouldn't take me weeks on end, then I would have all the heavy lifting done and cranking out an instalment every couple weeks after that should be easy peasy lemon squeezy. 
Fifteen instalments, thirty days. Go!

Well, it's been thirty days, so how'd I do? I am happy to report that I made a lot of progress. Instalments four, five, and six were written with relative ease. Instalment seven will probably need to be split into two (maybe four) with each one expanded, and instalments eight through fourteen need to have my main cop character added, but that was expected. Instalment fifteen is giving me grief at the moment so I think I'll have to come back to it. As for instalments sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, they'll have to wait for another day. On the upside, I cranked out four blog posts from November 24 -28 (I really like this short, short story, The Sandwich Artist) and this will be post #5 in the last seven days AND I even wrote some lyrics for a song my friend Jim put together recently.

So, not an all-out victory, but not a loss either. In fact, I see it as being quite successful to have come out the other end with more than I had when you started. I don't think of it as having failed at writing however many thousands of words, I think of it as having created something before which there was naught. That's progress, baby!

And to answer the question writers get asked more often than any other question, no, I'm not done yet.

~ Andrew

November 29, 2015

The Sound of Music - Part 3

My wife has got a wide range of musical tastes and only occasionally will I hear something playing in her car that I don't enjoy. Certainly, without her extensive pallat of auditory awesomeness  I would not have been exposed to this song by the Magnetic Fields:

Or this cover of a Magnetic Fields song - and one of my favourite covers of all time - by The Airborne Toxic Event (whom we also saw play live in Toronto a few years ago):

Or even this:

So, whenever she and I enter into a discussion about which album from a band is better than one of their others, it's common for me to disagree and then after some listening, acquiesce to my wife's better judgement. Case and point, The Tragically Hip's Up To Here versus Road Apples. I was always on the side of Up To Here and her on the side of Road Apples, but after a couple listens in the car on the way to work I have flipped sides.

Such is not the case for The Watchmen and their first two albums. McLaren Furnace Room is their first album and is Jodi's favourite from the band and for a long time I was in agreement with her on it. It's a killer album and to this day I'm left to wonder why it didn't vault the band into more rarified air. However, after many, many, many listens of McLaren and their second album, In The Trees, I've changed my tune.

Welcome to the third installment of the Sound of Music - My Top Five Albums Of All Time:

In The Trees by The Watchmen

Released 1994
Track Listing:
  1. "34 Dead St." (9/10)
  2. "Boneyard Tree" (8/10)
  3. "Lusitana" (9/10)
  4. "Wiser" (9/10)
  5. "Calm" (9/10)
  6. "All Uncovered" (10/10)
  7. "In My Mind" (9/10)
  8. "Laugher" (8/10)
  9. "The South" (8/10)
  10. "Born Afire" (8/10)
  11. "Vovo Diva" (7/10)
  12. "Middle East" (9/10)
As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:
  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
Looking at my album evaluation criteria seeing this album in my top five shouldn't come as a surprise. I might occasionally skip over Boneyard Tree and Vovo Diva but even as my least favourite songs on the album I'll find myself singing along. When listened to end-to-end I find the arrangement of the album to be just about perfect, from the first chords of the hard and heavy 34 Dead St. to the perfect solo bass note played by Ken Tizzard that echoes in your head to end the album, In The Trees, takes me on a journey I never want to end. 

The memories invoked when I hear any song off this album vary, but all begin in first-year university, where in 1993 my friend Riaz introduced me to the band. Naturally, I have oodles and oodles of memories ranging from listening in Riaz's room to seeing the band play at various clubs and bars around town. Probably the best one, though, is the time Riaz drove me into Toronto to go see them play at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

Legen... wait for it... dary.

If you've never been to The Horseshoe, you're truly missing out on a piece of Toronto history. Renowned for being a bit of a dive, it has been home to some of the most amazing musical talents ever known and their walls are adorned with posters, news articles and ticket stubs from all the acts.

The stage at The Horseshoe all decked out for their 60th-anniversary celebrations

This one particular night Ri and I were there early, he liked to make sure he had a spot right up front by the guitarist, Joey Serlin, but after enjoying a few beverages waiting for the show to start we found ourself in need of relieving ourselves. Downstairs to the basement washroom we went. Now if you've never been to The Horseshoe you're missing out, but if you've never been to the men's room at The Horseshoe you're not missing a thing.

Washroom wall wisdom Probably the nicest part of the washroom

We walked into the john and who would we find zipping up just as we were heading in? Danny. Thinking the pisser wasn't the best place to drum up a conversation we did our business and then wandered out into the hallway, peering into a stairwell on the off chance we could sneak up backstage. Danny was sitting in the stairwell having a smoke. A smoke! (Sorry if I'm exposing a dark secret, Danny). Riaz asked if it was cool if we joined him for a cig, and he said he didn't mind, so we spent the next cigarette's worth of time shooting the shit and just enjoying a subdued moment. Three guys having a smoke in a stairwell.

The stairwell. No Danny this time. 

Butting out and stomping on what remained of his Du Maurier, Danny said, "Sorry guys but I gotta get into the moment here before I head out." Riaz and I nodded and thanked him for the chat and wished him a good show. "Thanks guys. Nice meeting you," he said as Ri and I headed back upstairs to a now packed floor with a couple hundred folks unaware that we had just had the coolest and most surreal experience of our brief music-loving lives.

The emotional impact of this album is probably stronger than any other. I met my wife sitting in Riaz's room back in 1993 and even took voice lessons and put a band together to play a Watchmen tune for her for our anniversary a few years ago. I feel so much joy when I hear one of their songs on my iPod (which is often because I have a TON of WM music). On the other end of the spectum, Riaz introduced me to both my wife and The Watchmen's music and he's gone now, so hearing many of their songs, even the happy ones, makes me sad. If you listen carefully you can hear In My Mind playing in the background at the beginning of my memorial speech and reading.

So there you have it, the third (in no particular order, yet) of my Top Five Albums of All Time along with some of the reasons why. A dozen great tracks invoking myriad emotions and half a lifetime of memories.

You can find The Watchmen music for sale on iTunes here along with some live show downloads here and some FREE tracks / shows for download here.

~ Andrew

November 27, 2015

The Sandwich Artist

I love it when I'm out and about and I see or hear something that kicks off a story in my head. I've decided that I'm going to start writing these down. They happen so frequently I figure that, at a minimum, it will ensure that I'm writing every day; forming good habits and exercising the creative muscles, as it were.

This short tale was inspired by an exchange I witnessed between a customer and an employee of a sub shop where I was getting something for lunch. Enjoy!

The Sandwich Artist

Margaret approached the counter of the sub shop as mild-mannered sandwich artist, Dave, washed his hands and greeted her.

"What can I get for you today?"

Margaret thought today would be a good day for something different.

"Six inch BLT", she said. 

Cutting the bread in half lengthwise and then horizontally Dave kept to his script.

"Would you like that toasted with cheese?" Dave smiled and made waving hand motions toward the stacked dairy slices and the polished chrome industrial toaster oven over his left shoulder.

"No!" Margaret replied using a tone of incredulous disgust she normally reserves for restaurant staff who try to up-sell her gravy for her fries.

Dave continued undeterred.

"It comes with bacon, lettuce, and tomato, obviously." He fanned out both arms. "Can I interest you in any of our other fresh toppings?"

Margaret snapped back in rapid succession, "Pickles. Onions. Black Olives. Spicy mayo. Blue cheese dressing," and shot Dave a look that screamed, 'If I even get the slightest hint that you're judging me right now I'm going to jump over the counter and shove that bottle of salad dressing so far up your ass you'll have to pour it out of your ear.'

Dave, ever the consummate professional continued to smile as he wrapped up the sub, surrounded it with a napkin, and placed it in a plastic bag before walking down to the cash register. Dave knew better than to ask Margaret if she'd like to make it a combo so he went for Plan B.

"Will that be everything for today?" Another pleasant smile. 

Margaret, her supply of negativity running dangerously low, rolled her eyes and forced out a dry, almost British sounding, "I should think not."

Dave rang in the order. "That'll be five twenty please."

Margaret went into her wallet and pulled out a wad of singles and handed them to Dave in a tangled bunch. Then, she dug through her purse and after a few seconds came out with a quarter. She put it down on the counter and slid it in Dave's general direction and held her hand out, palm up, as Dave rung in the order and retrieved her nickel. Placing it in her hand Dave seized the opportunity of a lifetime.

"Everybody loves Nickelback!" he proclaimed to anyone within thirty feet of the counter, which at the time was a good half dozen customers and two staff. 

Margaret only had enough energy for another eye roll before turning on her heels to exit the store. Dave began washing his hands, again, as required by law in between each customer.

"Look at this photograph, every time I do it makes me laugh," he sang into the towel dispenser before approaching the next customer. "What can I get for you today?"

~ Andrew

November 26, 2015

Deal With It

I like poker. I am by no means a fanatic, but I enjoy playing the game, especially with a small group of people, some of whom I know and others I don't. A nice easy-going house game that ends early even if you win is pretty much as good as it gets as far as I'm concerned. I've played in Vegas for a few days a bunch of years ago and that was a great experience, but I found it equally as depressing as I did intriguing and fun.

The thing that most amazed me about Vegas, and any other casino I've played in for that matter, were the dealers. Granted, it's their job to shuffle and deal so it stands to reason they've got a fair amount of practice with it, but it impressed me nonetheless. They are always so graceful with the cards. They mix and wrangle and straighten and shuffle, and the cards obey their every command. It's a lot like watching Disney's Fantasia with Mickey Mouse using his magic to choreograph all the mop buckets.

I, on the other hand, am clumsy. My fingers are all crooked and my knuckles are all swollen most of the time and my use of them is, how do you say, far from graceful. Whenever we play a home game and the cards come around for my turn to deal I get anxious. Even among friends, the fear of ridicule looms over me as I attempt to organize 52 plastic cards, shuffle them, and deal them out to up to eight players. Maybe the fear is greater because I'm among friends, for I know I've dished out a ribbing or two in my day and the return trip for such a thing is not nearly as fun to experience as the delivery.

If someone who has been knocked out is feeling particularly compassionate, they might jump in as a permanent dealer, and for this I am eternally grateful. "Can I get you something else to drink? Maybe top up that plate of nachos?"

So, when my friend David sent me an email saying they were down a dealer at Thursday's KW Poker Chicks event and would I like to come be a dealer (ladies play, dudes deal) I immediately agreed. Another good friend of mine, Sean, once said, "Andrew sometimes lets his love of attention override common sense," and such was the case this time.

I'm not the type to let a lack of experience or skill stop me from doing anything I think might be worthwhile. I like poker. I like people. I like people playing and learning to play poker. I like poker dealers. It sounded like it would be a fun experience. (Spoiler alert: it was!)

David told me there was no dress code and I didn't need to brush up on my jargon but did offer one piece of advice: practice shuffling.

So, when I was done work for the day I grabbed my decks of nice plastic Copag's I sat down on the couch and started shuffling, and shuffling, and shuffling. I didn't bother to count but after about twenty minutes my son looked up from the math game he was playing on his iPad and gave me a look. It was one of these raised eyebrows confused looks like the ones I give him when I see him wandering around the house with only one sock on, a laser pointer in one hand, and some random lego pieces in the other.

"I'm practicing," I said.

"For what?" he asked, looking back down at his math game.

I explained to him the event and how my friend was short a guy and he asked me if I would help out so I said yes, trying to impart the lesson on him that it's good to help out your friends.

"Are you any good?" he asked, making eye contact while his game leveled him up.

"Nope," I said. "That's why I'm practicing."

"When's the event?" His eyes were still on me.

"I have to be there a bit before seven," I said, trying to shuffle without looking at the cards and spraying them all over the couch.

He looked up at the clock on the wall and then back to me wrangling the cards up again, raised his eyebrows, gave a "wowsers" look, shook his head, and returned to his video game. With adults in the room, this would have been the time I heard out of the corner of my ear, "You're an idiot." It's a familiar phrase I've grown accustomed to hearing, usually as I'm applying a bandage to an injury.

The moment of truth came and I met my friend David in the parking lot before the event. Someone let us into the building and was promptly introduced to a few people. There were several small tables pushed together to make bigger tables where someone was putting out chips, two easels with big chart paper at one end of the room, and a table with red and white wine, other beverages, and some snacks that were either purchased or brought in by some of the players.

There were a few people getting tips from the organiser and my friend David gave a quick lesson to a couple beginners about pot odds and pot equity and then the organizer gave a similar lesson to the entire group using the aforementioned chart paper. Then, we got started.

I had been fiddling with the deck the whole time, getting a feel for it and whatnot and the first thing I noticed when I took a couple practice shuffles was that these were not the slippery slidey fancy plastic cards I had at home. They were not plastic. Instead, they were more paper-ish and the really fun part was the room was really warm and humid, and I was nervous so my hands were sweaty. The game had begun though so it was time to get to it.

I introduced myself and explained. like some people at the table I was new to this. Most of the ladies assured me that they would keep the taunting to a minimum. The first shuffle went just fine, though, and so did the second, and the third, and the fourth. I only forgot to move the dealer chip once and everyone got two cards each time! Overconfidence must have set in because on the next deal I totally skipped over a person handing out the first card. No one had looked at their card yet so we just backed the cards up and got it all sorted out. Crisis averted and my first blunder was out of the way.

Play continued for the next 90 minutes and things were moving along just fine. My table was a lot of fun and the women were a good mix of poker experiences. Even though a small amount of money was on the line everyone was still there to just have a good time. The unfamiliar cards mostly cooperated for me, but as the room heated up and the cards accumulated dust, and wine, and hand sweat from everyone pawing at them they got more difficult to handle. Once I lined up a shuffle and thumbed the cards while in the middle of a conversation and looked down and there were still two individual piles sitting in front of me. The shuffling equivalent of an air ball shooting hoops or a whiff at the driving range. Laughs all around. Can't win 'em all, I guess.

Break time came and they were contracting the group down to two tables and one dealer became redundant. David asked if I wanted to stick around, but I decided I'd bow out. Go out on a high, right? As it turned out I had forgotten to bring my medication with me and if I left right then I'd only be a half hour late with it when I got home, so I decided I'd make my exit.

I said goodbye to my table and wished them all luck. Smiles and waves all around. I hope one of them ends up winning.

So my first "real" dealer experience is under my belt and I can say with confidence that I'm not going to be quitting my day job anytime soon to do it professionally. I will, however, go back and deal for the KW Poker Chicks if they're ever short another card slinger.

~ Andrew

November 24, 2015

In Defence of the Dark Arts

Nothing brings out the goodwill and joy like suggesting people keep their Christmas lights off until December 1st. If you want to enrage the neighbours all you have to do is go into the Facebook group someone set up for your neighbourhood and put up a post about it. Granted, I was a bit smarmy, but I have perfectly good and reasonable reasons. None of that matters because apparently I'm a Scrooge McGrinch Level 100 troll who has no right to tell people what to do.

The first response to my post was, "Why?" Well, I didn't want to get all in-your-face and ranty about it, so I gave a watered-down response. There was already enough, especially when you factor in the extreme over-commercialization of the holiday that's happened over the last couple decades. So why not give everyone a break? A bit of a reprieve, if you will.

That just made things worse.

I'm a fan of the December joy, I really am. For the month of December, I always strive to be the jolliest asshole this side of the nuthouse(1). I love the snow and the lights and the whole general idea of giving more and not being a total ass to one another. I think it sets a good tone for the rest of the year.

But seriously, it's getting a bit out of hand.

After Back to School and then Canadian Thanksgiving and then Halloween (stores are even putting up Christmas stuff before Halloween!) and then Remembrance Day (Canada) / Veterans Day (U.S.) and then U.S. Thanksgiving AND THEN December proper and 26 days of Christmas madness we take a (quick) breath and go straight back for more with New Year's and just when you think you're done the Orthodox folks jump in with their Christmas celebration on January 7. Oh, and let's not forget there's a bunch of other non-Christian holidays in there trying to get air time as well (more on that later).

Did you know that there are governments and military prisons that have used the persistent playing of music as a deterrent as well as torture? Well, welcome to certain radio stations and virtually every store in every mall in North America in December. Listen as they crank out Christmas music until you want to stuff an elf backwards into jolly old Santa's milk and cookie piehole.

Starting November 25th!

Here's a pro tip:
There's nothing wrong with not wanting to be bombarded with Christmas 24/7/365. I am not a Scrooge or Grinch or Troll for having a lower tolerance for all things mistletoe. There's the song 12 Days of Christmas and turning on the lights December 1st more than doubles the recommended serving of joy. That's pretty good, no?

I think I brought the craziness to a close on that Facebook thread (at least I haven's seen many comments since) with the following:
"Wow. I never said I wanted to make it a law. Amazing how quickly cheer turns into hate. Want to see people's true colours? Challenge them on the internet." 
Someone on my side (or at least not against me) replied to that with something about not messing with a woman and her Christmas decorations, and I replied with, "WAR ON CHRISTMAS!" It was a joke meant to play on the usage of the phrase, particularly with Tea Party Republicans in the U.S.

I shouldn't have used the phrase because it's not a war. It's not a battle. It's not a confrontation. It's not even a heated argument. Hell, it barely meets the definition of a disagreement. Barely. So, to call it a war would be incredibly disrespectful to those who fight in actual wars. Which brings me to another thing: the November 12th People (N12P).

Now, I don't know what veterans and service people think of the N12P, but I imagine members of the N12P taking in the Veterans Day parade waiting for the float with the replica of the tomb of the unknown soldier pass so they can push a button and have their Christmas lights turn on. That might be an extreme case and I'm certain that's not what goes down for the majority of the N12P, but the simple fact that they wait until the 12th instead of, say, the 15th or 25th or the 2nd Sunday in November does give me the impression that they're just waiting to get November 11 out of the way so they can get on with celebrating. Anyhow, that's just an aside. I'll let you think about it.


One argument I hear in favour of an early lighting is, "My kids get so excited!" Sure, Christmas is a wonderful time for kids. You know what, though? My kids used to get excited about having dessert after dinner. Now, for whatever reason they have it every night, and I couldn't tell you the last time they were over-the-moon excited about 25g of sugar and chocolate.

I'll tell you one thing, if you want to get someone really excited about something, tell them how awesome it is, and then tell them can't have it until a certain date. I'm not suggesting we treat the turning on of the Christmas lights like the new Star Wars movie, but there is something to be said for absence making the heart grow fonder. I say make the kids wait as long as you possibly can and then watch as their heads explode with joy when they finally get to experience it.

(Hmm, I think the 40-year-old virgin may have been onto something.)

As an after December 1st argument, I'd also like to bring up cultural insensitivity. Maybe that's not the right phrase. Cultural Christmaswashing? Think cultural whitewashing but with red and green candy canes and nativity scenes. I don't know what you'd call it, but hasn't the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture machine saturated the West enough over the last few hundred years? Do we really need to be standing on the rooftops for months at a time screaming, "CHRISTMAS! LOOK AT ME, I CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS! WOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOO! CHRISTMAS MOTHER*****ERS!"

I'm no social justice warrior but I have to wonder what all this feels like to the new immigrant or someone trying to celebrate their own holiday - or no holiday at all for that matter. I'd love to see some Diwali lights displayed in my neighbourhood but it's awfully hard to pick them out over all the Christmas stuff. Then again, maybe it just looks like a party's about to break out at any minute and everyone thinks it's just fantastic (judging by the number of "likes" on my comment and the number of other people who are in line with my post-November light turny onie decision I'm guessing not).

Also on my new favourite Facebook thread was the comment that I can't tell people what to do. To be precise:
"You can close your eyes you have no right to tell people when then can and can not [sic] decorate". 
First, I don't recall telling anyone to do anything. I posted a smarmy, "How about...? Mkay, thanks."

But it did get me thinking... What about an individual's rights? I have every right to question your judgement if you put up your Christmas stuff in the middle of August just as you have every right to put it up whenever the hell you want. But unwritten agreements exist all the time and work just fine without being formalised into law. I simply want people to come to an arrangement. A reasonable compromise that takes everything I've just written about into account.

I can imagine the person from the above quote sitting on the porch in their rocking chair with an armful of flashing LEDs, or walking around WalMart with a giant battery in a backpack powering Christmas lights strung all around their shopping cart. When approached and asked about why they're doing what they're doing they reply with:

"The 87th amendment to the Constitution clearly states that 'A well regulated Neighbourhood Community being necessary to the celebration of Christmas, the right of the people to keep and display Christmas lights shall not be infringed'," and then every argument from then on that even remotely appears to contradict the 87th amendment is met with, "CHRISTMAS MOTHER****ER!"

So there you have it. Do with this information what you will. I'll be lighting my house and Christmas tree up like a Christmas tree on December 1st and shutting the lights off when I go to bed on December 31st, happy as a clam the whole time and trying not to be an ass to people the other eleven months of the year after that.

As for peace on earth, goodwill to men? All I have to say to that is it's not gonna happen so long as there is an Internet - and a comments section.

(1) My all-time favourite Christmas movie.

~ Andrew

October 24, 2015

Beneath the Willow Trees and Beside the Hill

October 24, 2015

I am unable to attend the memorial for Riaz out in B.C. (if you knew him, please sign the guest book), so I decided to go back to the spot that inspired the poem and do a reading of it. Afterwards, I nailed the poem along with a picture of Riaz and a quote to the tree, then recorded a little introduction.

"The fields are green and through blue skies I soar." - The Watchmen

You can take a look here:

September 22, 2015

I woke up this morning to find out that the friend for whom this poem was written had passed away. I'm in shock. I hadn't emailed him in a while, but the last contact I had came in the form of a short note asking him if he was doing okay. He didn't reply. The world has lost part of its soul and music will never sound the same. Riaz, I hope you have found peace. Namaste.

I wrote this sometime in the late months of 1994 or the early months of 1995, I'm not quite sure.  I know it was really cold.  It's about a series of times, moments, and memories back in first year University (1993-1994) that I spent with a good friend.

I would just like to say for the record that this has been re-written at least a dozen times, and before publishing this post it was edited again.  The only time I thought it didn't completely suck was in the 15 minutes immediately following the original draft.

Beneath The Willow Trees

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill where two friends go to light a fire and escape the day, if only for a minute. To forget about why and not think twice about standing by the lake and watching the sun set at noon.

Beneath the willow trees and beside the hill mysterious clouds blow in the wind upstream from strangers oblivious to everyone and everything. The clouds fade to become insignificant wisps just as the sounds of nature break the silence to reveal a world which is not ours and never has been.
The ducks on the lake swim near but don’t give us the time of day, because in this world beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, time is overpowered by life, and the clock of life does not keep track of such things as hollow measures of time.

One solitary event may capture your heart in an instant, yet the time with which it passes goes unnoticed forever. Strangers in a not-so-foreign land, beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, contemplate the beauty and essence of the imagination, only to find it is time to rekindle the fire so they can wander through the darkness while the sun is still shining.

Prisoners behind walls of freedom laugh and cry but little do they know there is more to life than those walls have to offer. To be at one with your existence, you must do more than just live. You must inhale life and let it fill your lungs with the beauty that surrounds you beneath the willow trees and beside the hill.

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, where two friends once debated the meaning of life and the meaning of friendship, but ended up rediscovering the illusion of happiness. For them time stood still and reality was forgotten, until they extinguished the fire, closed their eyes and walked away in silence as the moon shone brightly at the crack of dawn.

October 20, 2015

A Letter to Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister,

First, let me congratulate you and welcome you home. Millions of Canadians, myself included, knew you were ready and we are all excited to add this new chapter to the chronicles of our nation.

Since I was old enough to vote, I have always been interested in politics. Almost exactly 22 years ago the political science major I would go on to marry drove me from the University of Waterloo to the polling booth in Thornhill so I could cast my first ballot.

I voted Liberal that fateful day, but that wasn't the beginning of a trend. Certainly the Liberals have seen more votes from me than the other parties, but I've always put a great amount of thought into each one regardless of whose name received the "X". In every election at every level, I have learned a great deal about Canadian politics and my role as a voting Canadian in the process.

It wasn't until last year that I made a political donation. It was to the Liberal Party of Canada and I felt quite good about making it. I knew Canada needed change, tangible change, and knew that my small contribution would make a difference. A short time later I made my second donation. I liked what I saw in you as a leader and I liked the changes I was seeing in the Liberal Party.

In spite of your repeated requests for a third donation, I was hesitant to make one. You see, uncertainty set in. Your stance on the controversial Bill C-51 had me quite flummoxed. I could not reconcile your approach with public opinion, with what I had researched, or with my own common sense. I am happy to hear that you've altered your stance on this issue enough that we now have a clearer picture of your intentions.

Then, came Bill C-24. A stance which had me questioning your commitment given that you're only promising to repeal certain measures. I thought about it, though, and if I were to critique that bill in detail, I mean really scrutinize it, I wonder how much of it would I want to keep and how much would I do away with? With this in mind, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Then came the TPP. Again, vague promises were made. I, along with hundreds of thousands of others, have concerns about what this will do. Not just for trade, but for our digital communications and privacy. Those voices must be heard.  In this regard, the promise of thorough parliamentary evaluation and debate, along with transparent communication to all Canadians is an encouraging sign.

Amidst all of this was the need for change. Real change. It was more than a campaign slogan for millions of Canadians. It was a visceral desire for something better; for a system that worked for us instead of us having to work the system to make the system work. What would our country look like if our electoral system was structured so that every vote mattered? Canadians need a government that represents their demanding needs and diverse interests. We need a government that is elected for reasons other than deep pockets, loud voices, or nice hair.

You made a promise to us, loud and clear, that if the Liberals formed a majority government that this would be the last first-past-the-post election. That was huge. In my mind, the rest of the platform amounted to nitpicking, because without electoral reform there would be no change. Everyone would just keep doing what they are doing and we would just keep getting what we get.

Well, now you've got four years to make that happen. I look forward to donating for a third time when it does.

Make us proud.

Yours Sincerely,

Andrew F. Butters
Kitchener South - Hespeler

Trudeau's Promises:

Electoral Reform:




P.S. Thanks to all the folks who pointed out some minor grammatical errors or typos. It's nice to have another set of eyes looking out for those inevitable flaws.

~ Andrew

October 18, 2015

Democracy's Last Stand

Canada votes tomorrow. Today, I'm avoiding the radio and the television. I'm sick and tired of hearing and seeing the attack ads. I'm sick and tired of the last desperateillegaland immoral attempts to sway public opinion. I'm sick and tired of what our government as become over the last decade.

As you know, I have more thoughts on the matter and I have been trying to articulate them in this space over the past few weeks, but I don't think I could write it any better than the Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, did in his opinion piece to the Globe and Mail.

As mayor of a city that has much to lose, given the state of oil prices and whathaveyou, Naheed doesn't write of economics, or budgets, or trade policy. He writes of what it means to be Canadian. That's the message I've been trying to get through.

Before we start nitpicking about dollars and cents we have to have serious conversations about respect and common sense. Respect for our democracy and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and common sense as well as respect, compassion, and understanding for our neighbours and the millions of disenfranchised souls woven into the fabric of our nation.

Doug Ford, speaking of his brother Rob at a Conservative rally held last night for, and attended by, Stephen Harper had this to say about respect:
"I’ll tell ya, Rob came up with this phrase, but nothing I can remember in a federal election is any more important than respect for taxpayers."

Really, Doug, how exactly is respect being shown? I'll save everyone the Google search and tell you. It's being shown by tax cuts to the very rich and mystery math to the average Canadian that will result in a pennies on the dollar savings - if anything at all.

I am a taxpayer, a big one as it turns out, and I certainly don't feel like I'm being respected. In fact, if feels like quite the opposite, and I don't know about you, but to disrespect me is to disrespect my neighbour. I'm funny like that. I actually give a shit about someone else every now and then.Canadians are tired of the short-sighted, specialized treatment for a select few while the rest of us wander around wondering what has happened to the country we call home. I much prefer the Louis C.K. speech he gave to his daughter:

Louis C.K. gets it, why can't Haper?

It's a telling sign when the former owner of the nation's most conservative newspaper comes out and pens an open letter saying that our Prime Minister has overstayed his welcome. In fact, with the exception of FOX News North (a.k.a Sun Media, a.k.a Quebecor) you will be hard pressed to find a Canadian publication willing to come out in support of Stephen Harper. You know who did, though? Forbes. That they are so far the most vocal supporter speaks volumes, you know, on account of Forbes being somewhat well-known for only giving a shit about money. I am surprised they didn't just come out and say, "If you've got a lot of money and only care about your bottom line then he's your man."

The thing is, something tells me that the 1% will be just fine without him. Just a hunch. I say this because financial success for businesses of all shapes and sizes occurred under previous Liberal rules just as they have under Conservative ones. Plus, both Trudeau and Mulcair are very smart individuals surrounded by other very smart individuals who spend a lot of time figuring this stuff out. To say that either one of them would recklessly march this nation into financial ruin is insulting.

Call this a panicked plea to the masses.
Call this a last stand against the selfish and greedy.
Call this an attempt to appeal to the kind, tolerant, good-natured human we know lives inside of every Canadian.

I don't care what you call it so long as you do the right thing in the end.

And if you do nothing else today, read Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi's words and ask yourself what means the most to you, to your family, and to your neighbour. Then, go out on October 19 and vote accordingly.

~ Andrew

Helpful Links:

October 12, 2015

If You Keep Doing What You're Doing

It has been said that the definition if insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I prefer, "If you keep doing what you're doing you'll keep getting what you get". Even a child understands that in order to get a different result you have to try something different. If you don't like what Mom has to say what do you do? You go and ask your Dad, of course. Can't get your friend to steal you that cookie? Get your little brother to do it. Ask enough of your friends to lick the flagpole in the dead of winter and one of them will most certainly do it. But for some reason, when it comes to elections Canadians seem content to let the same thing happen over and over again and then raise their hands in disbelief when they keep getting the same result.

Canadians want change. Hell, even in the last election almost 60% voted for a party that didn't end up running the country for the next four years. Now, those numbers are even greater with almost 70% of the country ready to vote for a party other than the Conservatives.

But, with our broken first-past-the-post system we've got the Conservatives on one side, and everyone else on the other, with those 70% of the votes split among three main parties: Liberal, NDP, and Green. Well, guess what? An entirely plausible scenario will see the Conservatives win a minority government with their piddly 31or 32% support.

So, people are trying to organize voters into a strategic collective, the biggest being LeadNow / Vote Together, a popular one called Strategic Voting, and my personal favourite, Anyone But Harper. These sites will tell you who to throw your support behind to upset the Conservative candidate and help guarantee a change in government.

I think this is a stand-up idea. The parties aren't cooperating and forming a coalition so let's force their hands. In order to make the system work, you have to work the system.

Many people are on board with this but for those who aren't I am hearing a lot of, "Vote for what you believe in", "Vote with your conscience", or probably the worst one I've heard so far, "Vote with your heart". Ugh. Give me a break.

Whether your beliefs, your conscience, or your heart, if you're voting for any of these reasons you may feel better about it, but in the majority of cases you're not changing anything. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Thanks to the Conservatives your party of choice doesn't even get the $1.25 or $2.50 or whatever it used to be.

This is the principle reason voter turnout has been so low over the past few years. Only that's changing now because people are realizing that if they vote together they can implement change. Sure, it's not ideal, but if you keep doing what you're doing...

Then there's an oft-quoted phrase, "People get the government they deserve." Only we don't deserve this. A clear majority has spoken and yet none of that matters. Why? Because our system is broken. Well, guess what? All three major parties trying to unseat the Conservatives have come forth saying that if they get into power they'll introduce electoral reform. Can you imagine that? Finally, a system where if you cast a vote it will mean something.

Now, my friend Jim wrote a good post on not voting at all and how that should be a viable option for certain individuals or groups. He made great points but I'm going to counter with this, and it's a little more hopeful outlook: incremental change is better than no change at all (or a violent revolution).

Doing nothing helps maintain the status quo. Even if it means voting against your interests I am proposing that you vote for incremental change and take the first step toward freedom. It reminds me of something that my dad said to me one day when I was complaining about some first world problem. He said, "Play by the rules until you're in a position to change them. But when you are, you'd better well change them."

Mary Angelou said something similar: “What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain.”

Too many of us just accept the lot we're handed and too many of us just sit on Facebook and complain about it. Face it, the game is rigged. Millions are disenfranchised and the only thing we know for sure is that if we stay on this course it is not going to get better. Again, short of taking arms and rising up, which I hope not will not be necessary, what options are there?

Boil the frog.

You could just toss the frog in the pot and be done with it (the revolution option). It's messy but sends a statement to all the other frogs. I think it breeds more hatred between frogs and frog boilers that will not abate for generations. Plus, the frog will likely realize what's going on and jump out. Then you've just got one really pissed off frog and a pot of boiling water that he's pissed in (you can't even use it for tea!)

Or, you could put the frog in cold water and turn the dial up, bit-by-bit. It takes longer, but in the end you've still met your objective and you've done it gradually and without any nasty scars and burns. The frog just dies, quietly, peacefully, thinking it's just having a nice warm soak after a hard day's work catching flies and whatnot.

The best way to turn this country around and start the process of change is to make an incremental one right now. We're never going to have a better chance than October 19, so on voting day cast a ballot and turn that dial up a notch. If we have to, in the next election, turn it up again. And so on. It won't take as long as you think. In fact, with as much support as there is for electoral reform, your chances are good that in the election after this one you will get to cast the vote you want and have it count as well. For this election at least, you're going to have to vote with that end goal in mind.

Sacrifice a bit of what you believe in now for a chance to get what you deserve some time soon.

So, sorry Green supporters. Voting Green will make you feel better, but it won't change a damn thing. You're electing one member of parliament. That's it. You have 5% of the vote nationally though, so why not put it to some use? With a ranked ballot or proportional representation, you stand a chance of having way more than one MP next time around. Small price to pay now considering what you have to gain because if you keep doing what you're doing...

For the Liberal or NDP supporters, the math is easy. If the other party is ahead in your riding then vote for them (assuming you're not leading. If that's the case then everyone vote for them anyway just to make it a sure thing). Otherwise, if you keep doing what you're doing...

To all the Conservative voters out there I only have one thing to say. You're telling almost 70% of the country that they don't matter. You're telling us that the status quo is the way to go. At best, you're telling us that you think that because you'll be okay that we'll be okay too. At worst, you're telling us that you don't give a shit if we'll be okay at all. To you, I'm asking you with as much conviction as I can muster, please stop doing what you're doing. Put your social conscience ahead of your tax breaks. Show us that you're true Canadians.

~ Andrew

(Note: the views expressed here are my own and are in no way affiliated with any other individual or organisation)