Monday, September 29, 2008

Choosing Serenity

As Dr. Phil says, "Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right all the time."

I've become acutely aware of how capable I am of creating more trouble for myself, so I've instituted a simple little procedure that seems to be working for me.

Whenever I'm faced with a choice or difficult situation, small or large, I ask myself, "What decision can I take that will lead to serenity."

It's remarkable how this clears the way.

Friday, September 26, 2008

You don't know Jack

I live in Jack Layton's riding.

Andrew Lang, the Liberal candidate in the riding, is a first time candidate. He worked for many years in Bill Graham's office. Graham was popular and enough to stay out of the fray in the last Liberal convention.

I have a feeling that Andrew Lang might be taking it for the team in this election.

Jack's a popular candidate, and my riding -- Home of the Big Carrot -- is full of lefties. Rich lefties, but lefties nonetheless.

I think Jack'll win pretty handley.

I had a great and frank discussion with a Liberal canvasser the other night.

This guy practically admitted the Party had made a mistake with Dion. Suggested that Ignatieff was waiting in the wings to take up leadership after this election.

This is the blah-est election in history.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Consumer Confidence

My Dad would have loved this economic free fall.

He predicted the next Great Depression for as long as I can remember. He didn't just react to bad economic news, he went searching for it. It justified his fear.

The lesson was: if you're feeling good now, don't get used to it. The end is nigh.

I've been thinking a lot about my Dad these past few weeks because the anniversary of his death is coming up, and the pathetic fallacy of the Wall Street turmoil seems an apt vigil.

As for me, I tend to stay away from the news these days.

Maybe it's a little denial, but I really believe in that thing called "consumer confidence". If people think everything is okay, it'll be okay.

That doesn't mean you should buy a $500,000 home with 50 cents down and no money in the bank. It just means that you need to move beyond the immobilizing force of fear.

Attitude is everything: in life and in economics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Songs for a Desert Island

Periodically while on long car trips or biding time in airport departure lounges, I'll turn to my traveling companion (who is hopefully someone I know) and ask him or her what songs they would take to a Desert Island if they only had a few choices.

I like to limit the choices to five, but I'll push it to six if the other person appears to be experiencing undue duress in narrowing down the songs.

We generally don't discus the reason for banishment to a Desert Island, although this topic in itself would be an interesting enough way to pass the time.

I've played this game with a lot of people over the years, and heard some really interesting choice.

One of my choices is always Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, based on the novel of the same name. She wrote it and recorded it at only 19 years old. When this rose to #1, Kate Bush became the first female in the UK to top the charts with a self-composed song.

Every time I listen to this song, I hear something different. Some nuance that I missed the first time. Truth is I'd rather listen to it than watch it. Kate Bush is marvelously enigmatic, but is a bit witchy poo to watch for very long.

If you don't believe me, check out the awkward Don't Give Up video with Peter Gabriel.

Wondering what your songs would be?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Frolicking with Dinosaurs

I recently finished Carol Shields' first novel, Small Ceremonies.

It's a little gem of a book. A great, tightly woven story.

At the heart of the book is Judith Gill, a noted biographer, who is desperate to write fiction. In her failed attempt at creativity, she plagiarizes an idea.

Later, feeling remorse, she opts not to use it...only to discover that the only person who read her work in draft form -- a successful author (Furlong Eberhardt) suffering from writer's block -- has ripped off the idea that she's stolen.

Judith is incredibly affronted by the theft of her second-hand idea. So much so that she turns her analytical biographer's eye on the successful author, attempting to turn up some bit of dirt with which to publically humiliate him.

Now this is where the novel feels rooted in another era, even though it was only published in 1995.

Where does Judith go to dig up dirt on Furlong? The library.

That's right. It's 1995 PG. Pre-Google.

It struck me, as I was reading, how long it has been since I've actually sifted through real books to find information.

When I need information for my job -- oh, about 300 times a day -- I just open my browser and go.

I can find pretty much everything I need in a couple of clicks.

Back when I was working on my thesis and sifting through the uncollected short stories of JD Salinger, I knew the librarians by their first names.

We had to send away for the stories I needed. It often took weeks -- particularly since Salinger tried to block me from receiving them. (Claim to fame.)

They'd arrive either on micofiche or still in the magazine in which they were printed, and I'd pore over them while sitting at a desk in the library.

It really was another era.

There's a lyric in Jim Stafford's country classic, "I don't like spiders and snakes." It goes:

I think of that girl from time to time,
I call her up when I got a dime.

After hearing the song, my friend Catherine said, "You know, there's a whole generation of people alive today who've never experienced the ten cent phone call."

Yup. Cause they all have cell phones.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Winter Watch 2008

I saw a gaggle of Canada Geese flying in formation over the Bloor Viaduct this morning. Someone else in the office saw a few leaves turning brights shades of red and yellow.

It would seem, despite my fervent prayers to the contrary, that summer may well be over.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


"After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer. It is bacon."

~ Perfume expert Tanya Sanchez answers the query, "What scent drives men wild?"

Friday, September 19, 2008

House and Garden Thai V

These days, when I'm not trying to sell people things they don't want or need, I'm planning an upcoming trip to Thailand.

My BFF and I have been planning this trip for awhile. We started talking about it a couple of years ago, and we booked our seats easily eight months ago in order to take advantage of reward mile redemption.

It's a landmark trip for us. A celebration of sorts.

But somewhere toward the beginning of September, there was a shake-up in the first democratically elected Government in Thailand since the military coup in 2006. Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravey was forced to step down.

The reason: he appeared as a celebrity chef on a cooking show.

The court decided that the PM's appearance on the show breached a conflict of interest law that forbids moonlighting.

The ongoing political crisis has seen a state of emergency imposed and then lifted, key airports shut down for short periods, and some half-hearted demonstrations that have been reported as "carnival-like".

It's hit the economy, and the tourist industry in particular, quite hard.

My BFF and I are so far undeterred.

Our friends in Bangkok assure us that it's business as usual in the capitol, and our own experience living and travelling in Africa (both through the Somali and Rwandan refugee crises) has refined our Spidey senses for danger.

We tend to avoid huge crowds of demonstrators anywhere.

I think everything's going to be okay. Maybe it's just denial.

Anyway, in case you're wondering what the Prime Minister made on the cooking show, here's one of his recipes:

Pigs' legs in Coca-Cola

Ingredients (serves five):
Five pig legs
Four bottles of Coca-Cola
Three tablespoons salt
Fish sauce
Garlic, chopped
See-uan (a sweet, dark sauce)
Four to five cinnamon sticks
Coriander root
Ground pepper
Five tablespoons "pongpalo" powder
Shitake mushrooms

Place the pig legs in a large pot. Pour over the Coca-Cola and bring to the boil. Add the coriander root, garlic, pepper, salt, fish sauce, "pongpalo" and cinnamon sticks.
Add sufficient water to cover. Cut the stalks off the Shitake mushrooms and add hot water to soften. Then add to the main pot. Bring to boil and simmer or at least three hours. Make sweet sauce with see-uan. Serve chilli and vinegar sauce.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

St. Patrick

Have you ever met someone with whom you had an immediate spiritual connection? An unexplainable understanding? Someone with whom you just fit.

I am fortunate to have a few of these people in my life.

One is a guy I've known for nearly 18 years. I see him on average about once every couple of years. He often turns up during periods of change in my or his life.

Sometimes we see each other weekly during that period.

We get together and have completely intense, open, honest, frank and funny conversations. Then we go off to live our lives until next we meet.

He's someone I could call at 3 a.m. and I know he'd come running. He's got my heart's back.

The last time I saw him was at the airport. I was coming back from the east coast. My father was dying. He was heading to the east coast. His father-in-law was dying.

These parallels in our lives no longer surprise me. I just know, whenever I see him, that there's a reason. Something's up...and we need to talk about it together.

He contacted me again a couple of weeks ago and we had breakfast this morning.

We always go to the same place, and pretty much always order the same thing. He has the big, greasy eggs and sausage special and I have a warm-from-the-oven bran muffin.

We usually barely touch our food, because we can't stop talking.

Today was no different.

Anyway, here's to the agents of grace who exist for all of us...and to one of mine. Thanks for breakfast.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Well then do it your own damn self, then

In my personal life, I've made considerable progress in staying out of people's business. Not interfering when someone could and should be doing something for themselves.

It wasn't always that way.

Used to be that every bird with a broken wing was target for saving. Just a glimmer of helplessness or whiff of struggle and I was at your doorstep ready to help -- well, take over and do it for you.

It wasn't very helpful. Not helpful for the little bird and definitely not helpful for me.

The little birds never learned how to fly. How could they, with Mama Bird hovering so menacingly overhead shouting instructions? And Mama Bird (that be me if, if you're following the metaphor) just grew more resentful that all this well-meant assistance wasn't followed to the letter.

Well I told you how to do it and you didn't listen to me...what's wrong with you?

Sound insane? It was. And it is, periodically.

You see, while I've made considerable progress in my personal life, I sometimes struggle with this same phenomenon in my work life.

I have an entire department of little birds to manage. Some are more frequent flyers than others. Some are nursing a broken wing or a an ingrown claw.

In the dance I do between being a worker bee and a manager, I sometimes need to be directive about what needs to be done. I need to give flying instructions.

It's my least favourite part of the job, because it triggers my saving instinct.

If I see a little bird about to fall out of the nest and take the rest of us with him, I need to say something.

It's not always possible to let someone learn for themselves on the job.

So I ponder this question: When the little bird is chirping "helpless" but doesn't take the assistance that's given...what do you do then?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Confessions on a dance floor

Anonymous, I'm afraid you'll call the wedding off once you discover the #1 most played song on my iPOD.

To discover the rocket in my pocket that pretty much halves my walk home, click here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Easy Prey

The film festival is over for another year.

When it comes to the act of film-going, savvy marketers seemed to have taken a lesson from the homeless and cottoned on to the fact that they have a captive audience in line.

You can't go you're easy prey.

At various times while standing in line I received: Lindt chocolates, a can of sugary fruit juice, an invitation to trial a new Bell cell phone, and a DVD of the first episode of HBO's new series, True Blood.

My BFF and I watched the show on Saturday night. It's pretty good.

It's from Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under. The premise involves the introduction of a new synthetic type of blood -- marketed as True Blood -- that allows vampires to come out of the coffin and live among us.

In the first episode, Anna Paquin -- who is a human waitress in a roadside truck stop and cursed with the ability to read minds -- falls for a 173-year-old hottie vampire named Bill.

Every woman in my office (myself included, I hasten to add) has read at least one of those foul Twilight books. They've blown the lid off the vampire romance genre.

But what's with society's current preoccupation with the undead?

Is it just me, or do there seem to be more vampires living among us than ever before?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Strike up the band

I had dinner with a wonderful old friend of mine last night.

When P's not running the Centre for Foreign Policy and Trade, he relaxes by attending Band Camp.

Once a year, guys just like him -- professionals, doctors and lawyers -- pull out their baritones, saxes and clarinets, and head north to Band Camp.

For four glorious, uninhibited days, they take classes together, jam together and then perform in front of an audience of their peers. P. plays the piano...and he's awfully good at it.

For guys like him, who spend their days negotiating the finer points of government trade policy, it's a chance to do something gloriously free again.

It makes him happy.

Knowing what makes you happy is so important that we often ignore it completely.

P. told me about one of his instructors at Band Camp -- a happy guy in his own right.

Seems this guy was enlisted by a Rosedale matron to surprise her husband on his 80th birthday.

She wanted to make him happy.

She asked the musician if he couldn't help surprise her husband by allowing him to fulfill his dream -- leading a marching band.

"Serious?" he asked.

"It's his biggest dream," she assured him. "Something he's always wanted to do."

So the musician went about getting together about a dozen of his friend. Sadly, it's not that difficult to find unemployed musicians in this town.

The musician told them about the birthday boy's wish and thought they should set up a little scenario.

They'd march into his party as a group, then wander aimlessly around the party while playing woefully badly until they spotted the guest of honour.

The leader would point to the group and say, "We need a leader. Does anyone know anyone who can lead a marching band?"

The unemployed musicians he'd enlisted looked at him and looked at each other with one of those "you've got to be kidding" looks. They were sceptical. But they couldn't pass up the 200 bucks.

"Whatever," they said, "and don't forget the baton."

On party day, they pulled up in front of the house. It was a mansion. There was valet parking. Guests were heading in dressed in black tie.

They took a deep breath and made their way to the backyard, launching into the scenario they'd practiced.

When the lead musician stepped forward and said, "Does anyone here know how to lead a marching band?," the eighty year old birthday boy sprung forward with a look of unbridled pleasure on his face.

"I DO!," he said. He was breathless. His face flushed.

When the musician proffered the baton, the birthday boy said, "That's okay. I have my own," and he virtually skipped into the house to get his mace -- the huge baton that the drum major carries.

Then he proceeded to lead his marching band of rag-tag musicians around his well-manicured backyard.

I love this story.

What's your marching band?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Love is everything

A couple of years ago, on the day after Boxing Day, I spent an evening at the Cameron House. Jane Siberry was sitting at the next table.

Siberry is one our brightest stars.

She wrote this beautiful, sad and lovely song. Do yourself a favour and listen to it this fine Thursday morning. No one does it more beautifully than kd. It's for everyone looking for lessons in lost love.

love is everything

maybe it was to learn how to love
maybe it was to learn how to leave
maybe it was for the games we played
maybe it was to learn how to choose
maybe it was to learn how to lose
maybe it was for the love we made

love is everything they said it would be
love made sweet and sad the same
but love forgot to make me too blind to see
you`re chickening out aren`t you?
you`re bangin` on the beach like an old tin drum
I cant wait `til you make
the whole kingdom come
so I`m leaving

maybe it was to learn how to fight
maybe it was for the lesson in pride
maybe it was the cowboys` ways
maybe it was to learn not to lie
maybe it was to learn how to cry
maybe it was for the love we made

love is everything they said it would be
love did not hold back the reins
but love forgot to make me too blind to see
you`re chickening out aren`t you?
you`re bangin` on the beach like an old tin drum
I cant wait `til you make
the whole kingdom come
so I`m leaving

first he turns to you
then he turns to her
so you try to hurt him back
but it breaks your body down
so you try to love bigger
bigger still
but`s too late

so take a lesson from the strangeness you feel
and know you`ll never be the same
and find it in your heart to kneel down and say
I gave my love didn`t I?
and I gave it big...sometimes
and I gave it in my own sweet time
I`m just leaving

love is everything...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


You need one thing to be an actor in this town. A hoodie.

Well that and torn blue jeans and a man purse.

This look is particularly relevant if you came to the Festival by way of Sundance or Telluride.

I saw Lymelife last night, at the past-my-bedtime time of 9:15 p.m. It stars those crazy Culkin brothers -- Rory and Kieran.

Macaulay was home alone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Electicle Dysfunction

In case you haven't noticed, we're having an election on this side of the border, too.

At the risk of setting off a firestorm that can be abated only by a return to less contentious topics -- like, say, Boot Camp -- I thought I'd discuss the relative merits of each of the Party leaders.

I'm sorry. I really can't decide. Choosing a candidate in this year's election is a little like picking over the vegetables in the priced-for-quick-sale section of the grocery store.

Stephen Harper for the Conservatives
Is it just me, or do you sometimes forget the name of our Prime Minister? But here's the thing, I kind of equate Harper's lack of personality with our strong economy. Maybe he's not razzling and dazzling us because he's busy balancing the books behind closed doors. Still, can I really re-elect someone who gets his hair cut at Top Cuts?

Stephane Dion for the Liberals
Dion is the leader of the Liberal Party by default. I watched the Liberal Leadership Convention in its entirety -- refer to previous post about geekiness -- and watching him rise to the top after Bob Rae ad-libbed and flubbed his speech, and everyone decided that Michael Ignatieff was too old boy and elitist to carry the crown. I'd vote for Stephane Dion to help me with my homework, but I'm not sure he'd make a good Prime Minister.

Jack Layton for the NDP
Back in the day, my BFF and I played a lot of SIM City. His cities thrived and his people revered him. But my cities, upon which I'd bestowed countless social programs and environmentally responsible practices, went broke in short order, while the population revolted. Don't get me wrong. I love the NDP. They're my heart's party. But I think the NDP are better acting as the country's conscience then its brain.

Doug Henning for the Natural Law Party
Doug Henning, may he rest in peace, was by and large my favourite political leader of all time. Henning ran in the 1983 federal election for the now-defunct Natural Law party. A magician by trade, and a life-long TM-er, Henning proposed yogic flying as a solution to many of our country's problems. Where's Doug Henning when you need him?

Who's rocking your vote?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Double Happiness

Two incredibly magical experiences to report from the Toronto International Film Festival.

The first was seeing the premiere of the film Youssou N'Dour: I bring what I love..and sitting two rows behind its star!

The film reflects back on his career -- unless you work in international development, you might remember him from his tours with Peter Gabriel or his hit single "7 Seconds" with Neneh Cherry -- but explores the backlash he received after releasing an album of intensely personal religious music during Ramadan.

The album is called "Egypt" and it's hypnotic. Youssou not only addressed the crowd after the film, he sang to us.

I don't need to tell you that I cried.

My new best friend from the line-up, Ryan, wrote a great review of the movie on his well as giving me a shout-out. Check it out here.

Ryan's one of those guys who goes in for the cornea-burning Festival experience. I think he told me he's seeing 35 movies.

He told me that he's getting married next September, and they've already had the discussion that they probably won't be able to attend as many movies as they'd like next year. He's a bit of a savant when it comes to entertainment trivia.

The second bit of magic, which I also saw with Ryan -- go figure -- is Slumdog Millionaire.

It's the sweeping story of a slum kid in Mumbai -- a lowly tea walla -- who makes it on to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

It's brilliant, sad, funny and sweet.

When it was finished, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation. This is why movies are made! It's directed by Roddy Boyle (Trainspotting) and stars a cast of people you've never heard of...which is probably why it's worth your while to see it.

Hoping for more movie magic tonight.

Friday, September 5, 2008


At my last agency, I did some pro bono work for Child Find Ontario, an organization that assists in the recovery of missing children.

One of the things I learned while working on that account is that stranger abduction is exceedingly rare. The vast majority of missing children are the result of parental abduction.

Yet the thought of an innocent child going missing is perhaps one of the worst things you could consider.

Barbara Gowdy's novel, Helpless, takes us into the dark reaches of stranger abduction. It's told from multiple points of view -- including the child, her mother, the abductor and his girlfriend.

Gowdy has said, "I was thinking, what’s the worst thing that can happen to a person? For me—and I don’t even have children—a child’s disappearance would be the worst possible hell."

She explores this hell with chilling precision.

The novel is a page-turner. One of those books you're thinking about reading when you're not reading it. So compelling that I turned off the season premiere of 90210 to keep reading!

What makes it even more interesting is that the novel is set in my old hood -- Cabbagetown. In fact, when I lived there, I'd often see Gowdy walking her dog at Riverdale Farm.

Writers, when you see them, never quite look like what you'd imagine. Her talent is so great, you'd almost expect her to be, well, larger than life.

Pick it up. Guaranteed good read.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Office Provocative

I was in Montreal on business yesterday. I might as well have been in your basement, for all I saw of this beautiful, vibrant city.

The limo picked me up at 4:30 a.m. and we pulled into the offices in Old Montreal at 9 a.m. We flew out of their offices at 5 p.m., and out of the city at 7 p.m. It was a helluva commute.

The day was comprised of one Power Point presentation after another. I thought I might have to write my own prescription for ritalin at some point.

Each presenter appeared to vie to make their font slightly smaller than the previous presenter's. Lunch -- which was delicious -- was eaten while watching yet another Power Point presentation. My GM actually fell asleep at one point.

If they ever make me Queen, it is my solemn vow to you that I will abolish Power Point forever. There will also be regular ceremonial burnings of all Blackberrys.

Anyway, perhaps because it was Montreal -- think style, think attitude, think Celine Dion -- or perhaps because they were simply waging their own private protest against Power Point, a number of the French women in the meeting were incredibly, scantily attired.

I'm not kidding.

We're talking summer dresses with teeny tiny little spaghetti straps. Plunging necklines. Short skirts and bikini style tops.

Their style was equal parts boudoir and village wet nurse.

Sure it was 31C outside...but inside, we have this bold new thing called air conditioning.

It's all we could talk about in the cab ride to the airport.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, we were not meeting with WonderBra.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Last Lecture

You've probably heard of the Carnegie Mellon Professor who delivered something that is apparently fairly common in academic circles. It's called the last lecture.

Professors are asked to consider their demise, and then ruminate about what matters most to them. For a lot of them, this often involves the exploration of the use of semi-colons in the fourth folio of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I. Mind-numbing stuff.

But when Randy Pausch delivered his lecture on September 17, 2007, he had something else in mind. He delivered his last lecture with the knowledge that he was, at just 47 years old, dying of pancreatic cancer.

Doctors had given him 3 to 6 months to live.

So the topic he chose was: "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams."

Here are some of the lessons that he shared.

1. Don’t get upset when people are criticizing you. When you are screwing up and no one is saying anything to you, it means that everyone has given up on you.

2. Brick walls are there to give us a chance to show us how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want it badly enough.

3. It’s very important to know when you are in a pissing match and to get out quickly.

4. Decide if you are a Tigger or an Eyore.

5. Loyalty is a two-way street.

6. Don’t complain. Jackie Robinson signed a contract that said he wasn’t allowed to complain, even when people spit on him.

7. Have something to bring to the table.

8. Do something young enough and train for it, then it becomes a part of you. This includes success.

9. Wait long enough, sometimes a very long time, and people will surprise and impress you.

10. Be of service to others.

You can click on the link above to watch the lecture on YouTube (it lasts slightly over an hour) and you can pick up the book as a chaser.

Over the weekend, I did both.

You'll be captivated by him. What is so riveting about watching him, is how he is living, rather than dying. He's engaged, funny, smart and thoughtful. He was born to teach.

Pausch lost his battle with cancer on July 25th of this year.