September 13, 2018

The Culture of Me

There's a disturbing trend that's seemingly reaching every corner of the globe. A veritable tidal wave of populism, nationalism (particularly of the white variety), and protectionism is crashing down on the United States, the United Kingdom, and yes, even here in Canada.

At the root of the problem seems to be this notion that it's every person for themselves That somehow if only everyone else would just get their shit together that everything would be okay. There are myriad problems with this attitude, but the first thing I notice it is that it does a wonderful job of highlighting a person's privilege. There's this attitude of, I'm okay, so why aren't you okay? I got what I wanted, sorry about your luck, with an implied or sometimes even whisper-spoken "sucker" tacked onto the end.

Is this what we've become?

There's a hole blown in the middle and everyone seems to have been forced to one side or the other, ready and primed to vote for the candidate who promises the loudest and with the most fervor that not only will you get dinner before sex but you'll get a cigarette after as well. One thing is certain, someone is getting screwed and you don't have to be a member of the party "for the people" or a very stable genius to figure out who.

True to my prediction in my last post, Doug Ford (a.k.a. Trump North, Trump Lite) took power in the province of Ontario and true to form he and his supporters have been wreaking havoc and showing their true colours. For the uninitiated, Doug Ford is the equivalent of a state governor (though how he got there is a little different and how the government behaves is a little different as well). Presently, he's invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document in which there is a bevy of rights bestowed to all the citizens of the Great White North. 

By Marc Lostracci [CC BY 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
via Wikimedia Commons

However, in order to get the damn thing ratified back in 1982, there was a notwithstanding clause added. This allows a federal or provincial government to essentially override the Charter for some (but not all) of its guarantees. If invoked, it only applies for five years (during which time there will be an election) but it can be re-invoked after that indefinitely. Québec has invoked it a whack of times, but they were never on board with the Charter in the first place. 

In Ford's case, a judge ruled that he violated a section of the Charter and that his legislation was therefore unconstitutional. He's invoking the notwithstanding clause to get around the ruling he doesn't like for legislation that no one voted on and he never even mentioned once on his campaign. You would think that if a citizen's rights were being stripped it would be over something pretty egregious. You would think it would only be used in extraordinary circumstances. In #DoFo's case, you would be wrong. He wants to reduce the city council in Toronto by almost half - weeks before an election. Say what you want about the judge that ruled that by doing this he is violating a section of the Charter, using the notwithstanding clause to override this decision is akin to using a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack into a sponge. 

In other words, he's being a colossal ass hat. 

On top of that, he has promised to use the clause at every opportunity in the future. The clause shouldn't even be a thing and should never be used. But, since it is and since it does, it should be used in the rarest of occasions. Is the size of Toronto's city counsel extraordinary? Not even close. Do Ford or any of his lackey members of parliament care? Nope. They're getting what they want and t'hell with the rest of you. If you are part of the 60% of those who voted (and the 75% of the total electorate) who didn't want anything to do with them, I have a newsflash. They don't care about you, and they sure as shit don't care about your rights and freedoms.

As everyone knows, down in the U.S. it's worse. You can't even go 48-hours without hearing about how some level of government is abusing their power and giving a large portion of the population the shaft. For cryin' in the sink, the Senate is all set to confirm a Supreme Court judge FOR LIFE who likely perjured himself during the confirmation hearings! For the love of God, I can't figure out how anyone is okay with any of this, let alone millions of people.

Kevin McCoy [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of God, religion always seems to make its way into these conversations at some point, with those using The Good Book as a defense all trigger happy and ready to whip out a selection of examples that "prove" their point. 

Well, I can do that, too:

  • "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Matthew 7:1
  • "So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." John 8:7
  • "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Matthew 7:5
  • "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Galatians 5:14

Funny how you can tell a lot about a person's character by the bible verses they cherry pick. And people wonder why atheism is growing at such a fast rate? When did caring about your neighbours become a bad thing? When did experiencing happiness over another person's success give way to resentment? When did selfishness become the norm? When did we start allowing ourselves to be governed by such ineffectual, petty swindlers?
Shealah Craighead [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
By Andre Forget - Andrew Scheer
[CC0] via Wikimedia Commons
I've recently joined several Facebook groups dedicated to my immediate community. It's a small village of a few thousand that sits within a bigger city of over a hundred thousand that sits within a bigger region of close to half a million people. These groups provide links to garage sales, buy or trade opportunities, local businesses, share success stories of the people that live within a few kilometers of me, give alerts to petty crime and other activities of concern, and are generally used as a forum to connect people who already share a small geographic space.

At first, the only posts I noticed were the ones that made me feel good about the community I choose to call home. After a while, however, it became clear that there will always be those who either don't care, are ignorant (willfully or otherwise), or are generally insensitive and unempathetic toward anyone that doesn't fit their specific definition of a model citizen. The bad news is those people tend to be loud. The good news is they also appear to be in the minority.

So, I'll be doing my part in these groups to hopefully return the notion of being neighbourly to the mainstream consciousness, at least locally, but if you want an example of a community doing this on a larger scale, look no further than the Bangor Maine Police Department on Facebook. They are a shining example of community and compassion and if even a few people from all our neighbourhoods took a page out of their book we'd all be better off.

~ Andrew

May 13, 2018

Trump North Strong and Free

Ontario is having a provincial election on June 7. For my American readers, this is much like a state election where you would vote for your Representatives in the state legislature and Governor―only a little different. We elect Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and the leader of the party with the most MPPs in parliament becomes the province's Premier (we also split our province up into what we call ridings, not districts).

Those who have read my blog around the time of previous election cycles know that I am not shy about voicing my opinion but I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this post. Listen, I am no fan of any of the choices that I have in this election. I'm actually finding it hard to decide on what to do. So, rather than focus on what I don't like about Doug Ford, Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath, or the system in general, I'm going to explain how I think it's going to play out, and why. Are you ready for it? Here goes:

Premier Doug Ford


You best get used to hearing that on the radio, watching it on the news, and reading it in print. The tell-it-like-it-is brother to the disgraced (and now deceased due to a losing battle with cancer) former mayor of Toronto is the leader of the "Progressive" Conservative (PC) party. A party that is poised to take back the reigns of Ontario and ride us into the sunset on a wave of populism, then over a cliff and into an abyss from which it will take decades to escape.

(Okay, fine. I threw in a little editorializing and hyperbole, but I couldn't resist. There's more where that came from, too. So keep reading.)

You heard it here first. Well, maybe not first, but from what I can tell the liberal, #FakeNews media sure aren't raising much of a stink. Not one that's going to matter anyway. That makes me wonder if they've resided to the fact that the Donald Trump of the North is going to win and there's not too much that can be done about it.

"How? Why?" you may ask. Well, it's really the culmination of a few things. A perfect storm, if you will.
  1. Electorate Fatigue and Long Memories
  2. Populism, Wedge Issues, and Donald Trump
  3. An Antiquated (Broken) Electoral System
Let's look at each one in turn.

Electorate Fatigue and Long Memories


Canadian voters are an odd bunch. Because of the way our system is set-up, we can have minority governments. This forces the parties to cooperate and elected officials to actually compromise from time-to-time. As a byproduct of a minority government, the longevity of the government is shortened, and we're usually back at the polls in less than two years. Instead of being excited for the opportunity to actively participate in our democracy, people tend to assume an, "Oh no, another election?" attitude. Voter turnout plummets and we ultimately end up with a false majority government that in no way represents the views of the people they represent.

More specific to this election cycle and why Doug Ford and the "Progressive" Conservatives are going to win, the governing Liberals have been in power, either with a minority or "majority" government for almost fifteen years. That's a long time to be holding the reigns. Even if their track record were pristine, they would have a giant target on their backs, and their track record is FAR from pristine. So far from pristine. Corroded and crumbling is probably a more accurate description.

The leader of the Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne, is almost universally disliked, if not hated. Strong words, indeed, but with approval ratings hovering below 20% and showing no signs of improving anytime soon, to say that she's in trouble would be a gross understatement.

There are a lot of reasons for Ms. Wynne and the Liberals being in this position, most of them self-imposed, but at the root of it is fatigue. If you keep doing what you're doing you'll keep getting what you get, and a lot of folks aren't thrilled with that they're getting.

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”― Mark Twain

An observant person would look at the above and wonder why the scales would tip toward Doug Ford as opposed to Andrea Horwath and the third major party in the race, the New Democratic Party. Well, this is where the long memories of Ontarians come in.

Back in 1990, Bob Rae oversaw one of the most surprising electoral victories in Ontario's history. He led the NDP of that time to a majority government with a whopping 37.6% of the popular vote. The NDP increased their seats in parliament from 19 to 74. It was amazing and no one predicted it and Bob Rae and the NDP cocked it up in a big way.

With a vague economic plan and a bunch of promises that went unfulfilled, Bob & Friends lost the next election to the Mike Harris "Progressive" Conservatives in a landslide, losing all 55 seats they gained five years earlier plus two more. Their popular vote numbers dropped 17%. Even though those days are almost thirty years behind us, still many a person can be heard muttering, "Not again."

Populism, Wedge Issues, and Donald Trump


Ever since Donald Trump ran for and was "elected" president there has been a rise in populism in America. It has spilled over into the Great White North as well but been somewhat tempered by the fact that we have a leader in Justin Trudeau that is pretty much the exact opposite of Trump. Still, the seeds of hate have been sown, partially because they've always been there and partly because Stephen Harper left behind a legacy of divisive politics, anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-equality, anti-democracy supporters that are a little more than pissed that Trudeau unseated the mighty King Steve.

This mentality is more pronounced at the provincial level since the politics are more localized. Those little pockets of deplorable alt-righters are enough to swing a riding. Anyone who doesn't think that's a winning tactic hasn't been paying attention to what happened in the United States. Donald Trump redefined the word "elite" using divisive politics, wedge issues, and "dog whistle" sound bites. In doing so he did one better than convincing the world the Devil didn't exist by convincing them that he came in the form of Hilary Clinton.

Doug Ford already has the Devil we all know in Kathleen Wynne so he's hard at work with the next phase. Lying and misinformation. Doug Ford says things that are verifiably false and his supporters don't care.  As an example, little Douggie likes to claim that parents were not consulted about the new sex ed curriculum that Kathleen Wynne imposed on the province to "push her liberal agenda". The fact is that more than 2,000 parents were consulted. He'll say things like he won't personally open up the abortion debate again but is open to one of his MPs doing it (an argument that's been settled in Canada for a number of years). He makes disparaging comments about people with autism, no doubt playing to the anti-vax, Dr. Google crowd at the heart of the measles outbreak in Toronto a few years ago.

It's all just sound bite after sound bite. Sound bites with no bite, no substance, and nothing relevant or factual to offer. But that's okay because there are people who don't care that it's not factual and those people are going to vote for him just like millions did for Donald Trump. Kathleen Wynne is evil. He is not Kathleen Wynne. Anything to the contrary is #FakeNews. Did I mention he's not Kathleen Wynne? He's not. She is a bad, evil, elitist liberal who will "tax anything that's not nailed down". He won't. No really, he won't. Everything will be perfect under Doug Ford. No one will suffer. No services will be cut. Drain the swamp. Lock her up.

"But her emails!"  Trumpists

Doug Ford has openly supported Donald Trump. He's made excuses for his repugnant behaviour toward women. He even went as far as to suggest that Trump was taking a page out of the Ford NationTM political handbook. You have to pull off some impressive mental gymnastics not to see the similarities. Still, he tries to evade the comparison. He likes the tactics because they are the ticket to the big time, but he knows when push comes to shove, Ontarians don't want a guy like Trump in charge. We may be bigoted, racist, sexist, ableist, and every other kind of "-ist" you can imagine, we just don't want it out on display for the rest of the country to see.

Just like with Donald Trump and the ass-backward Electoral College, Doug Ford knows this isn't a popularity contest. His party's candidates need to just win one more vote than everyone else in half of the ridings plus one. That's 63 ridings if anyone wants to do the math. What's great is he can do it with a tiny fraction more than a third of the popular vote.

Which brings us to the final reason (on my list, anyway) that we're going to be hearing (ad nauseam, no doubt) "Premier Doug Ford" on June 8.

An Antiquated (Broken) Electoral System


This comes up a lot in Canadian elections, both provincial and federal. It was actually a key campaign promise that Justin Trudeau made in 2015 when he defeated Stephen Harper (don't get me started on how pissed I am at JT for breaking that promise).

The first thing supporters of this system usually do is point out the flaws of any other proposed system. My system may have flaws, but yours does too, and since they're both flawed it's best if we just keep the current system because of... reasons or something. Rather than go into all that here I'll just simplify how it currently "works" (Yes, I'm using lots of sarcastic air quotes in this piece. I have no choice.)

First-past-the-post was adopted by a bunch of high-on-themselves white colonist men back in the day. It has received virtually zero updates since then and is quite easy to explain:

  • Split the region of interest, in this case, Ontario, into roughly equally populated parcels or districts. Call each one a "riding".

  • Allow provincial parties to run candidates in the riding. There are rules for this but they're pretty lax, which is why we end up with three for four major parties (PC, Liberal, NDP, and a distant fourth, Green) running alongside the Go Vegan party and the None of the Above Direct Democracy Party.

  • Hold a vote. If you're 18 years of age or older, a Canadian citizen, and a verifiable resident of Ontario you're good to go. 

  • Declare winners in each riding. This one is simple. Count the votes for each person. Whoever gets the most, wins. There are recount rules and blah blah blah, but determining the winner is the same. Get more votes, even by one, than the other people and you're now a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP).

  • Count up the winners of all the ridings for each party. Whichever leader of the party that won the most ridings is asked the question of whether or not they think they can form a government. This is where it gets a little flaky. 

    • IF the party who wins the most ridings wins 50% + 1 of them (=63 in Ontario's case), then that is considered a majority government. Any vote along party lines will result in a pass if the party in charge votes for it. They have 100% of the power for the next four years even though they are usually only mathematically represented by a little more than a third of the popular vote. 

    • HOWEVER, since we have more than two parties, and more than two heavily favoured parties, this creates a situation where oft times the government formed will be a minority government (i.e. fewer than 50% + 1 of the ridings but more than any other party). 

    • When this happens, the party forming government has to weigh whether or not they think they can actually get legislation passed. If after discussions with other party leaders they think they can cobble together enough other party support to get stuff done, then they go ahead and govern. 

    • This usually has a shelf life of about two years before one or more of the opposing parties can't take it anymore and everyone but the party in charge votes against something big (like a budget). This is called a vote of non-confidence and if the ruling party doesn't get 50% + 1 of the votes, then the government is kaput and we head to the polls again.

    • BUT WAIT, what happens if the parties that lose the minority government scenario team up and form a coalition? Well, this has happened in Ontario before and it was a moderate success. There are a couple of ways it can be done, but typically one party (the third place finisher) agrees to provide voting support for another party (the second place finisher). However, if the gap between second and third is reasonably narrow, it's possible that cabinet members from both parties will be chosen (think of this as more of a more "pure" coalition). 

Confused yet? Don't worry, most voters in Ontario are as well. How does this favour Doug Ford? Well, he just needs to game the system to get 63 of the 124 ridings to swing in his favour. Between the ones that "always vote Conservative" and the ones where the Liberals are on the outs (most of the others) all he needs to do is ensure one more person in each of those ridings votes PC instead of someone else. Entirely possible given all the reasons I've explained above.

How Will it Play Out?


If you believe me, as well as literally every poll that's out there, you will see that the chances of a majority government for Doug Ford are amazingly good. It's not quite a statistical certainty, but it's close. So, my first prediction is four years of Doug Ford. After that, the chances of him winning a minority government are virtually guaranteed. This is where it gets fun though, because of the aforementioned coalition government possibility. However, given that the way the Liberals and the NDP have treated each other over the past few years I see that as being a remote likelihood at best.

"Make Ontario great again, eh?"  Ford NationTM

When it's all said and done, whether it's a misread on Mr. Ford, the other candidates, the other party leaders, or the electorate, no one would be more pleased than me if I were to be proven wrong. So, if you've got thoughts on this please don't hesitate to share. Most importantly, if you're an Ontarian who is eligible to vote (or think you are), check your registration status at www.elections.on.ca and get out there on June 7 and mark an "X". If you could help prove my prediction wrong while you're at it that would be fantastic.

~ Andrew

April 30, 2018

This Stinks

In my last post, you got to learn a bit more about me. Well, this week I'm going to take that to another level and get a bit more personal. As with most revelations of this nature, it starts with a confession. I started going to the gym about a year and a half ago and that's when it happened. I got stanky pits. Yes, I know it's hard to believe, but being an active middle-aged male who was looking to firm up a bit of his dad bod had this one glaring drawback.

Source
Since the first day I started applying aerosol deodorant on my pits after gym class to hopping out of the shower thirty years later this has never been a problem. When I was a teenager if I forgot to apply the musky-scented instant female attraction spray my body's response was swift and smelly. But, as I aged I found that I could miss a day and still not be embarrassed by it.

Well, apparently if you all of a sudden start changing the routine and adding regular vigorous exercise to it, things change. Oh, man do they change. I've got hairy man pits so I tend toward the antiperspirant gels. I find it gives me the best coverage. I've got some crazy allergy thing with scents (a story for another day), so whatever I use it has to be scent free. Unscented. It must be unscented.

I was using the Mitchum Advanced antiperspirant & deodorant gel for men. It was pure 48-hour awesomeness... until it wasn't. One day it just stopped working, and I don't mean that it kinda stopped working and after vigorous exercise, you could tell. I mean I was sitting at my desk at work and by lunchtime, I noticed that I stunk. I thought that maybe the one I was using expired. Does deodorant expire? I wasn't sure, but I saw my blessed Mitchum Advanced unscented gel on sale one day and bought half a dozen of them. I figured it was possible that after a couple years on the shelf that maybe they lost their staying power. So, I went out and bought a brand new one. The next day I experienced the same problem.

And so began the quest to find a new deodorant or antiperspirant that worked. There was only one problem with this. Nearly every product out there - for both men and women - had a scent to it. It was either something like Cool Blast or Thundershower Power or Awesome Ice for the men and Spring Sunrise or Waterfall Lilly or Sunsoaked Meadow for the women.

Image courtesy of alex_ugalek at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I started sniffing them one-by-one in the aisle of the grocery store, like some kind of deodorant huffing addict, trying to find one that wasn't offensive to my scent sensitivity. They all smelled. The first unscented one I came across - in the "organics" aisle - I bought. It didn't work. Then, I tried a ladies unscented one. "Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman," eh? We'll see about that. Again, no dice. It wasn't strong enough for this man. Not even close. So, with my tail between my legs and my fingers pinching my nose I had to start trying the scented ones.

I went through quite a lot of them. More than ten alternatives when it was all said and done. Every one either stunk like the perfume aisle at the department store or could barely keep the pit stink at bay for an entire workday. I even kept one in my bag so I could re-up at some point.

For some unknown reason, I took a mug shot of just some of the ones I tried (please note that this is not a complete list):

Who is Keyser Söze?

Turns out the ones that were the least fragrant were the "white powder" type and, while they worked pretty well and didn't stink to high heaven or make my eyes itchy and red, they completely destroyed all my t-shirts. Now I'm faced with having to dish out money for new t-shirts or rip off some crazy DIY solution off of Pinterest and hand-clean the pits of my shirts all afternoon.

At this point you're probably asking, "Andrew, how did you solve this problem? I must know if you came up with a solution!" and it's a perfectly reasonable question. Unfortunately, there is no clear resolution, and certainly not a scent-free one. See the third stick from the left in that lineup photo? It's not white (it's a blue solid stick) so it ruins my t-shirts less and I've trained my body to not reject it and make my eyes water and cause sneezing over several miserable weeks of use. It's the one I'm going with for the foreseeable future until one of these stupid companies comes out with an unscented gel like my good friends at Mitchum have. Sorry, Mitchum, we had a good run but for some reason, my body chemistry changed and you no longer work. It's not you, it's me.

I just want to not stink while trying to not stink and I don't think that's too much to ask.

~ Andrew

April 21, 2018

Enough with the Chit-Chat

I recently read an article about cutting out the small talk at networking events. The author even mentions well-publicised events in which small talk was banned and eventually lead to the foundation of a No Small Talk dinners business in Hong Kong.

The concept is simple: whatever group has gathered for whatever reason can't speak about the usual mundane topics that tend to float around at such things. Sometimes hosts will provide a list of prompts for people to discuss, sometimes the format is more formalized (such as a Jefferson Dinner) but in every case, the basic rule is the same. Cut the chit-chat. Let's have an actual conversation.

This article I read ended with thirteen questions that could be asked in place of the usual, "So, where are you from?" and, "What do you do for a living?" These are more geared to networking events where there might be a lot of people comingling who don't necessarily know each other, but I quite liked them and thought that they might be a good icebreaker for the blog.

With that in mind, since I don't know who you are (beyond what my Google Analytics tells me) and you only get to see of me what I put out into the world to view, here are the thirteen questions along with the most straightforward answers I can provide. For what it's worth, I'm resisting the very powerful urge to be a smart-ass.

These are supposed to be conversation starters, so please don't hesitate to comment if you want to know more. Also, I'd love to read YOUR answers to the above questions. If comments aren't your thing, shoot me an email: potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com

  1. What's your story?

    • It's a pretty good one. I was born in Toronto and moved just a city block north of Toronto proper to the suburb of Thornhill. I played hockey growing up and had a bevy of jobs growing up: paperboy, busboy, video store clerk, summer camp counselor, and food guy in between the 9th and 10th holes at a country club. I graduated high school and made it into the University of Waterloo's Applied Physics cooperative education program where I would meet my future wife. I was not a model student, academically speaking, but I did manage to eek out a General Science degree. Jobs during that portion of my life included a short stint as a plant maintenance guy for a place that painted spoilers for the Chevy Cavalier, night crew at Canadian Tire, statistician at a steering wheel production company (Chrysler, I think), math learning assistant at Mohawk College, Physics Club Treasurer (unpaid), campus safety van driver, and waiter. I graduated and got a gig as a computer programmer and spent a few years doing that before switching companies and getting into software testing. I married my university girlfriend four years after we started dating and six years after we met. We bought a house had a kid and then moved across the province where we had another kid, moved across town, and then eventually back to where we live now (literally 500 meters away from where we were when we left). I started playing around with writing by blogging back in 2005 and even read some screenwriting books and took a screenwriting class. I wrote some content for this home trivia video game system that was a pretty neat gig. After moving back I met a few writers on Twitter and I started taking it more seriously. In 2011 I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - write a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days) and failed miserably. I succeeded in four of the following five years and released my first novel, a non-fiction account of my family's journey with my daughter's scoliosis diagnosis, surgery and recovery, was released in January of this year. I have been with the same day-job company for almost nine years and in a variation of the job I'm currently doing (program manager) for almost six. My first fiction novel releases later this year and the first in a series of five fiction novels should hit stores late in 2019 or early 2020. I like golf, baseball, and NHL playoffs. I am a firm supporter of science, equality, and the Oxford comma.

  2. What's the most expensive thing you've ever stolen?

    • Heh. I'm not sure I'd be asking this question to anyone ever. Thankfully for me, I don't have much of a track record of stealing stuff. That said, I am an imperfect human but I'm also not a fan of self-incrimination so I'm taking a pass on this one.  

  3. What is your present state of mind?

    • Tired. That's pretty much my constant state of mind. I'm also in between novels at the moment. Well, I should be writing the next one but am avoiding it right now, because I can't seem to find my mojo. It's probably close to 90% done, 80% at the worst, and I just can't seem to find the stuff required to finish the damn thing. So that has me frustrated as well as a little depressed. The more I write (or try to) the more I am beginning to understand why Hemingway enjoyed the drink as much as he did. 

  4. What absolutely excites you right now? 

    • Writing. I know I just mentioned how I'm short on mojo and it has me depressed and frustrated, but there are those moments when the muse graces me with her presence and magic happens. Those moments excite me. When the words flow effortlessly everything is better.


  5. What book has influenced you the most?

    • This is a really tough question to answer because it's different depending on the stage of my life I was in when I read it. As a kid, This Can't Be Happening at McDonald Hall by Gordon Korman or Boy at the Leafs Camp by Scott Young were two that influenced me heavily. As a teenager, I read Anthem by Ayn Rand and it really made an impression on me. In University I started reading complex calculus and applied physics textbooks and didn't have the urge to pick up a book for pleasure for quite a while. As a parent, the Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth was a life saver. Not sure how it influenced me but it was the only book that mattered for quite a number of years. Then I finally read Animal Farm by George Orwell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Having not read those books growing up I had no idea what I was missing and both of them have shaped my approach to writing - and life in general in the years since. 

  6. If you could do anything you wanted tonight (anywhere, for any amount of money), what would you do and why?

    • Sleep. LOL. Okay, assuming the question means I actually have to leave the house I would want to go to New York City with my wife. I've never been to NYC and I'd love to go see a show with her and then stop in at the Upright Citizens Brigade for some improv and then wander around Times Square taking pictures and holding hands before retiring for the night at a swanky hotel and waking up to fantastic room service. 

  7. If you had the opportunity to meet one person you haven't met who would it be, why and what would you talk about?

    • My answer to this question has been the same since my first year of physics at the University of Waterloo: Dr. Richard Feynman. If you've never heard of him, you should definitely look him up. He was a brilliant physicist and one of the most interesting people who has ever lived. He wrote a book about all the amazing stories that made up his life. Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman is the title and it's an amazing read. He didn't just have a brilliant mind, he also had an amazing passion for life and an incredible sense of humour.  

  8. What's the most important thing I should know about you?

    • I am an emotional person, both in terms of what I put into everything as well as what I pick up from others. That doesn't mean you have to walk on eggshells around me or suppress your emotions, quite the opposite actually. I'm at my best when the emotions are flowing freely in all directions. It should be noted that even though I'm a very outgoing person, I have my limits when larger groups are involved. It can become a lot to process but I'll let you know well in advance so you know what's going on.  

  9. What do you value more, intelligence or common sense?

    • Common sense. I have little patience for ignorant people, but that's not an accurate representation of intelligence. Neither is education. Though university educated myself, I've never put a lot of stock in it. At the end of the day, all the intelligence in the world isn't worth much if there's no common sense guiding it.

  10. What movie is your favorite guilty pleasure, and why?

    • I don't like the way this is phrased. It assumes I should feel guilty about something I enjoy. With the exception of some reprehensible or criminal behavior, I don't think anyone should have a "guilty" pleasure. That's bullshit thinking. Love what you love and apologize for none of it. That said, I am supposed to limit my chocolate intake but have a hard time doing that. I also sing along to most old-school Madonna songs when they come on my iPod.

  11. You are stuck on a deserted island, and you can only take three things. What would they be?

    • Let's get something straight right off the bat. I'm going to die, and probably rather quickly. I'm allergic to shellfish and I can't start a fire without matches. So, with that in mind, it's a matter of keeping me as comfortable as possible before death come while maximizing my chances for rescue. So, first up are a box of waterproof matches. Life improves with fire and so do rescue chances. This way I won't have to expend precious energy rubbing twigs together to make fire. Next up is something I can use to build stuff with (Shelter, spears, etc,) so that means a knife. I'm thinking something very Rambo like.


      After the knife, I'm going to need something to fish with. Since I can't eat crabs or scallops or any other crustacean on I'm going to need to get protein from eating fish. I could catch fish with a spear, but that seems like a high energy activity. Again, we know I'm going to die, so why make things worth by expending energy where it's not needed? With that in mind, I'm going to need fish hooks. I can use a number of things as a pole, and I can use thread or fashion something worthy of being fishing line, but I can't DIY a decent fish hook. I'm sure it can be done, it's just not a skill I happen to have. So there you have it. Waterproof matches, Rambo knife, fish hooks. If I get to bring a fourth item it would have to be my memory foam mattress topper because I'm certain I'll be taking a lot of naps. 


  12. Where and when were you happiest in your life?

    • Every period has had its ups and downs. That's how life works, isn't it? I am curious how other people would answer this question because I think the tendency would be for people to choose a time from their childhood where the responsibilities were non-existent but the memories still persist. Those were pretty good times for me, for sure, but was I truly happiest then? It seems every milestone in my life was the happiest time, at least if I look at the experiences that surround the milestone as part of the whole. How small of a unit of time are we using to define "when"? I'm interpreting this as an average measurement over several years where more aspects of my life were trending upwards than not. I'm also including the caveat that I had to have majority control over my life. My parents did the lion's share of the heavy lifting for me until well into my teenage years so I'm not including the younger periods when formulating my response. So, what did I come up with? It was easier than I thought: here and now. My wife and I are nicely settled into our 40's and the finances are good. My day job challenges me and more than pays the bills and is really flexible in terms of the ever-important work/life balance. My kids are healthy and happy and already starting to make their place in the world. I drive a stick shift. I joined a golf league. My parents are both still alive and well. Same for the inlaws. My writing career is taking off in the right direction and I have contracts to keep me busy for several years. I have a small but fantastic group of "in person" friends and a larger and just as fantastic group of "online" friends. Is life perfect? Not a chance. Life doesn't give out perfect scores. Is it as close to perfect as it's ever been? It probably is. 



  13. What do you think is the driving force in your life?

    • The desire to contribute something positive. Whether it's imparting wisdom to my children and preparing them to be positive additions, or sitting down at my laptop and creating something to put out into the world for people to enjoy, I approach every day with the goal of putting more in than I take out. For me, it's not about being perfect, it's about being better. Ending the day with more good karma in the bank than I started with keeps me going. 
So there you have it. No small talk. Hope you enjoyed my responses.

~ Andrew


April 14, 2018

Why I'm a Big Fan of Kevin Smith (Again)

It's time I tell you about Kevin Smith. Some of you might be saying, "Who?" but let me assure you that you are probably familiar with at least a small portion of his body of work. I won't go into all of it here, Wikipedia does a fantastic job of covering it, but I will highlight a few key things. 

Kevin's rise in Hollywood started with the low-budget film, Clerks, starring two characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (played by Smith). It was picked up by the Weinstein studio, Miramax, and thus began the View Askew franchise. Kevin would crank out a bunch more flicks with the Weinsteins over the years and that relationship solidified Kevin's place in the movie-making world. 

Kevin before anything else is a writer, and this is where his influence on me comes into play. This very blog and the beginning of my writing career owes it's continued existence, in part, to Kevin Smith. I wrote about it back on November 14, 2010, in a post I titled "Brick Walls, New Beginnings" and it was absolutely the pivotal moment in my journey as a writer. I'd encourage you to go take a look at that post when you're done with this one. 

Aside from jump-starting my butt into gear writing-wise, that was also the beginning of the boost in viewership to my blog (it went from a few people reading it to a few dozen people reading it!) That may not seem like much, but when your blog is essentially only being read by your mom and a few friends and then you have literal random strangers reading it from all over the world, well, that's a big thing. 


Anyway, this is all just the long way of saying that I went from simply enjoying Kevin Smith's work to being a big fan. Sure, we've had our bumps along the road, and I'll fully admit that over the last few years my interest has waned. But, BUT, Kevin has this way of doing something that always pulls me back in. 

At the top of that list is his love and respect for his daughter (and all women, for that matter) which, in my opinion, sets the gold standard, as well as his ability to interact positively with fans, and generally be a good human.

Example 1: Responding to an Instagram Troll Who Cyberbullied Harley

There's a great article on it from Greg Gilman at The Wrap. I'll summarize it as best I can:
  • A troll tries to take a bite out of Harley Quinn Smith.
  • Smith responds not with vitriol or a counterattack, which would not surprise anyone if he were not Kevin Smith, but he is, and he fired back with some sage advice. 
You can view the whole message below, but here's the ending:
"You want attention? Don't make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you're not being useful in this world you're being useless. Don't be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy!"

What it's like to be my daughter: 17 year old @harleyquinnsmith_ received this message simply for the heinous crime of posting a pic of herself on @instagram. I have zero clue what the reference to #TheMatrix is all about but, wow - way to unload on a teen girl because YOU have nothing to do in life. But even though I should be apoplectic about it, my kid thought it was funny. "I'd be mad if I had a tiny dick and anonymous voice too," she said, bemused by the bitterness. But here's a nickel's worth of free advice for folks like this Troll: if you hate me (or my kid) this much, the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. The best revenge is living insanely well - so if you wanna get back at a 17 year old girl for the grievous crime of enjoying her life, the best way to do it is to succeed in your OWN existence. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Because randomly attacking others merely communicates how creatively and emotionally bankrupt you are. You think you have something to offer the world but others are getting all the attention? Don't bitch or punish the world: just create. Create something nobody's ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you. Attacking teen girls on the Internet is the saddest form of masturbation that exists and requires no discernible skill or talent. You want attention? Don't make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you're not being useful in this world you're being useless. Don't be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy! #KevinSmith #HarleyQuinnSmith #YogaHosers
A post shared by Kevin Smith (@thatkevinsmith) on

Example 2: Response to an Uber Driver Who Tried to Abduct Harley

This is a scary story which Stephanie Webber from US Weekly magazine outlines. Again, I'll sum it up: 

  • Shit-for-brains Uber driver tries to abduct Kevin Smith's daughter, Harley.
  • She avoids a really terrifying situation.
  • Kevin sends out an immediate warning tweet to his 3.36 million followers.
  • Gets Harley a big "Sorry Men Suck" cake.


Example 3: Donating His Residuals From Weinstein Movies to Women in Film

A short but good write-up from Joyce Chen at Rolling Stone can be summarized thusly: Smith feels ashamed of his association with Harvey Weinstein and is henceforth donating all the residuals from the movies he made with him to Women in Film, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women working in the screen industries.


Those are just a few big, public examples of Kev doing the right thing. Countless other more subtle examples can be found by listening to one of his many podcasts or going to one of his patented An Evening With Kevin Smith Q&A sessions, or simply following him on Twitter. Hell, when he heard about the elder abuse happening with comic book legend Stan Lee his first instinct was to reach out and offer the 95-year-old Lee a place to live and this was AFTER Kevin himself suffered a near-fatal heart attack just six weeks earlier!

So, for anyone who cares, I'm back on the Kevin Smith fanboy train (again) though I'm not sure I ever fully left. To this day I wonder if he ever hung the photo art I gave him.

In SMOD we trust.

Thank you, sir, for continuing to create, for continuing to inspire others to create, and for making it appear easy to always do the right thing.

~ Andrew


Link List:


April 07, 2018

Writer of the Lost Ark

It started with a simple quote from the writing legend Stephen King (as shared on Facebook by the inimitable Rachel Thompson at BadRedhead Media):

"The scariest moment is always just before you start."

This quote resonates with me. It certainly applies whenever I embark on a public speaking endeavor and is especially true when I'm about to get on stage. I haven't experienced either of those events in a long while though. These days, all my scary moments come at the keyboard. 

The idea that the scariest moments are always just before you start is a concept that I live through every time I sit down to write. It doesn't even have to be a new idea, either. I can be 75,000 words (approximately 300 pages) into a novel and I will still have that moment of fear right as I sit down for the day. 

My hands hover over the keyboard and I wiggle my fingers. You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? The one right before Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones swaps the sandbag for the statue? That's me at my writing desk. I stare at the page, whether it's blank or filled with hundreds of words, and I justlook at it. I know what I need to do. Of that, there is no doubt, and yet there is no typing. I steel myself and take a big breath and consider what's in front of me.

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

Finally, after much deliberation and more than one internal battle with my good friend procrastination, I type the first word. I never like the first word. Like Indiana holding up the bag of sand and visually comparing the weight against the idol on the pedestal, I evaluate that first word more critically than any of the others. Also, like Indy, and even though I just started, I make a last-minute change. Only instead of reaching into the bag of sand, taking out a handful, and spilling it on the floor I go to the thesaurus or more often than not, the backspace key.

Then comes the moment of truth. Remember the look that Indy has on his face right after he makes the swap? That confident smirk mashed up with a touch of surprise that it actually worked? Once I start typing I get that same look on my face. Of course, if you've seen the movie (which, at this point in my post if you haven't I'm wondering how I've managed to keep your attention) you know that it kind of all goes downhill for Dr. Jones after that.

You see, I'm what they call a pantser. Writers can be generally grouped into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters, well, they plot. They outline. They develop their characters well in advance and often in great detail. They create worlds and laws of nature that govern them. I've never done this beyond some simple outline sketches on the back of a cocktail napkin, so I really can't speak to its effectiveness. I have interacted, or are friends with, a few hundred writers of all ages, backgrounds, genres, and experience and I can tell you that based on the data available to me there are probably more pantsers in the group than plottersbut the percentages aren't that far off. I'd wager 60/40, or somewhere close.

https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-psychology-idea-hearts-2062057/

Getting back to the point of all this, plotting works for a lot of people but it's just not my thing. As such, I have found that the rest of my writing journey pretty much goes like Indy's exit from the temple.

First, the temple starts to crumble and I am convinced the sheer weight of the task in front of me will spell the end. However, the reward is too great to ignore so I persist. I put my head down and just keep going. Then, poison darts shoot out from the walls. Sharp and bitter are the words of the critics and naysayers and equally as deadly if they penetrate the skin. Still, I continue. Before I can catch my breath doubt creeps in. If the feeling of inadequacy is the chasm on the floor of the stone tunnel then self-doubt is the guide on the other side, holding the whip that can save my life, if only I hand over the golden idol. It's a negotiation that's entirely one-sided, but necessary. Hand him the idol and he'll save me. Give up on writing this thing and get your life back.

"It'll be worth it. Trust me," he says with a wink and a nod (both just as useful to a blind bat).

A lot of the time, I'll submit to it and just as Indy found out in the movie, it's not worth it. I want it too badly. The wheels are set in motion and there's no stopping them now. I said the negotiation with doubt was necessary because without it I'd never know how much I wanted it until I cast it aside. The rock wall is lowering, so I do the only thing I can do. I jump. The words flow through me and I feel relief. I am making progress and the words on the page must feel like the vine in Harrison Ford's hands as he pulls himself to safety. The feeling is temporary. It will never be good enough. The vine starts to slip. I write and write but don't feel like I'm making any progress. The vine gives and I start to pull. No matter how many times I pull there's always more vine, like a giant plate of spaghetti that you eat but never seems to get any smaller. Still, I keep going. I've made it this far and quitting isn't an option. I'm committed and the story isn't finished.

Persistence pays off as I see my old friend and recent adversary stuck to the wall with metal spikes shot clear through him. The idol lays at his feet. I'm in the home stretch now and confidence is high. Writing the last few chapters happens at breakneck speed. I can taste victory. But what's that noise? Of course, another obstacle.

Finishing a novel as a pantser isn't possible without a last-minute wrinkle in the plan. It could be a gap in the plot, an issue with one of the characters, an unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise engaging story... anything really. But it always happens and I again proceed with the only option available. I keep going. The words hit the page like bullets sprayed from an automatic gun and I make the leap to safety.

"THE END"
[File → Save]
Fire the cupcake cannon (Step 6 of 25)

Only, that's not how it works out for our intrepid hero in the film, does it? Archrival Belloq is waiting at the end to take what Indiana Jones has risked his life for. It's a bitter pill for him to swallow but in the end, his options are limited. The adversary makes a swift gesture and the game is afoot once again. This time he'll be lucky to get away with his life.


The red pen of my editor strikes without mercy. Dozens upon dozens of marks pile up like the arrows and poison darts of the Hovitos in the dense jungle. It's a frenetic dash, but again necessary. It's out of my hands and my only job is to make it to the plane, get airborne, and deal with a large snake. Snakes, much like the editorial red pen of doom, serve a purposebut that doesn't mean I want a thousand of them strewn about hissing at me. The book, after all, is my genius child. My blood, sweat, and tears. My prized possession. 

Me: "It belongs in a museum!"

Editor: *Maniacal laughter*

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

~ Andrew

February 19, 2018

A Rose By Any Other Name

What's in a name?

As humans, most of us are given our name when we are born or within a couple days after. Some are given their name months before birth and some, for one reason or another, change their name later on in life.

My mother has a unique name, Bari-Lynne. I forget the exact story behind it but it stemmed from her parents having one name picked for a boy (Barry) and one picked for a girl (Lynn or Lynne) but when the time came my grandmother called an audible at the line of scrimmage and they hyphenated and tweaked the spelling. When my mother was having her first child, the song Carrie Ann by The Hollies was quite popular and my mom quite liked it. So, taking a page out of her mother's book, she tweaked the spelling and hyphenated and came up with Kari-Anne.

By Imperial Records - Billboard, page 19, 10 July 1965, Public Domain, Link

My wife and I, like many parents I'm sure, antagonized over what to name our first child. With four parents and two grandparents still alive between us, there was no way we were going to be able to honour everyone, especially since our plan at the time was to only have one child. We weren't keen on using a name from a popular song or celebrity personality either. The end result saw us using a combination of our initials and incorporating my wife's maiden name as a second middle name. We felt it was a good system. For our second child, we kept the same system. My last name, wife's maiden name as a second middle name, first name starting with "A" and a middle name starting with "J".

That said, most of the time we refer to them as "Pants" and "Dude", or if we're being formal, "Pantalonies" and "Doodle". You see, their true names evolved over time and ended up being something that fit their personalities and their lives. In my son's case, the name on his birth certificate is the name we use the least. At a very young age, due to the popularity of his name at Gymboree, he became an initialed kid - the first letter of his first name followed by the first letter of his first middle name, so even when we're not calling him "Dude" or "Doodle" we're still not using his given name. So it goes.

I have always had a hard time with names. I wasn't much of a writer for the first thirty years of my life but once I was in university I started tinkering with computers and eventually landed a job where I was responsible for naming a whole whack of them. If naming a child is hard then having to come up with names for a library of computers is downright daunting. I've named groups of computers as impressionist painters, influential scientists, superheroes (Marvel and D.C.), and even musicians.

Once I started writing, though, the name business got right properly serious. Much like the naming of a child, it is the name by which that character will be known to all others. Unlike a real living and breathing person, however, the name chosen would live in perpetuity, forever inked on the page never to be changed.

By David Monniaux007 Tanuki© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar
CC BY-SA 3.0User:ZX95, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Character naming for me tends to start with my friends. A good deal of my characters have a first name of a friend of mine and the last name of another friend. Sometimes a nickname will be similar and sometimes I will leave a placeholder in all caps and do a search and replace after I've written some of the story and the character has a bit more of a personality. Sometimes the names write themselves. A grizzled and aging small-town sheriff was instantly Rusty Ford and his trusty bloodhound was named Bronco.

Since I am always writing or editing at least one book, I'm always in need of good names.With that in mind, here are a couple questions for you:
  1. If you're a writer, how do you come up with your names?
  2. As a reader, to what degree do the names of characters affect your opinion of the book?
  3. Is there a name that makes you strongly dislike?
  4. Is there a name you love?
~ Andrew

January 18, 2018

Goodbye to an American Legend

I met him once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Andrew
.

January 08, 2018

Blood Memories and Synchronicity

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

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



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

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



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

Cue freaky Twilight Zone-like music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



~ Andrew