Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Books of 2010

Another specatacular year of reading, but this is not my post. It belongs to one of the members of my old book club that began in my kitchen and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in Italy this summer.

One of the reasons why I love this book club -- even though it continues in a city that I no longer live in -- is that it's comprised of serious readers. Genuine smarty pants.

What follows is the review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom that one of the members submitted when he couldn't attend the regularly scheduled meeting. It's almost as brilliant as the book itself. Careful, there are some spoilers here, but I doubt you'll mind. You'll be too captivated by his prose. This is why words were invented...and why I'll see you in Italy in July.

So begins his review....

Belated Merry Christmas and Holiday wishes to all!

I am sorry I missed the last meeting and discussion, especially so since I've now read Freedom (Chris & Peter, thanks for lending me your copy, I couldn't put it down for a few days!) and was very impressed by most of the novel, all of it in fact except for the last hundred pages or so. So, for those of you who like things short and sweet and want to get back to the egg nog and don't want to read chapter and verse, I've given it a mark of 8.5; for the others, here's why:

Wow! The first 27 pages alone are worthy of being anthologized for the next century at least in yearly collections of 'great short stories' - masterful! Word by word, sentence by sentence, some of the smartest, funniest, most stimulating prose I've read since, well, since Charley retired from the Citizen. What a launch: Franzen had me by the short hairs from the very first pages and I just couldn't put it down -- not for the story, not for the characters, but for the book itself: where was it going and how and why? Fortunately, Franzen knows that too much of a good thing is not so good, especially when you're in it for the long run (and is he ever!). So, after that virtuosic demonstration of skill and bravado in the intro, without departing too radically from the dominant
realism of the conventional novel, he circles back and changes voice, pacing, diction; he alters the lighting, he varies the angles; he distorts the shots with medicinal doses of venomous irony and black humor; he pulls back and builds up his portraits and heightens his landscapes with Swiftian exageration and moral caricature;, he paints clinical and painfully detailed tableaux of biological imperative; presents a bewildering psychological bric-à-brac of pandering, dependency, anal fixation, predatory instinct; assembles a collage of the most absurd rationalisations for social gangterism and cancer-like proliferation; constantly renews his arsenal of effects, his palette, his technique... But -- and this I find even more admirably perverse and subversive -- ever skillful, he stops just (but just) short of coming across as too clever and so avoids pushing this dazzling display beyond the point where any remaining illusion of reality could be compromised for those readers who insist on verisimilitude (the same readers who keep the book on the bestseller lists week after week and will go see the movie).

So, as you may have gathered, I did like this book a lot. It is the only North American work of fiction I've come across in some time that raises so many questions about the great myths of freedom and happiness; and morality; and love; and responsibility and 'goodness'; and about human nature and the predatory nature of this large primate; and about nature itself and and how attempting to 'save' it from ourselves means saving ourselves and how that may simply not be possible because of our place in nature; and about how art relates to all of that; and, and, AND...; and all this simply by describing the mostly mundane actions of its mostly mundane characters, by letting us in on their mostly unremarkable conversations and by gradually revealing their very ordinary, basic, self-preserving motivations. Flawed? Whining? YESSS: at last characters I can identify with! And I love birds and we keep our cats inside.

As I may have mentioned once or twice in the past, I'm no great fan of realism in the arts: I just don't get the point of it, don't really think it's possible anyway, and thought that Warhol had made the ultimate statement (ad absurdum) on the subject when he stood a camera on a tripod in front of a sleeping man and filmed for six hours (no music, no editing, no camera movement, just straight unadorned mechanical representation) (ah! but then, when it was shown, being an artist, he projected it at 16 frames per second rather than the usual twenty-four... of such slow motion stuff dreams were made in the old avant garde...). Thus the conventional novelist would use his art so readers can forget they are dealing with a written artefact and experience the illusion of reality and project themselves into the story and identify with the characters; this, though, more often than not so the reader can be led by the hand and by the nose to a moralizing (happy? well, at the very least: good) ending where the reader is reassured about our shared humanity, our institutions, our (basically good) intentions (goodness is good, isn't it? : sins are atoned for, good deeds are rewarded, villains are punished, heroes are celebrated and get the girl (or the guy), the system is seen to work and (our, but there is no other, is there?) civilisation is saved. Our very own form of socialist realism, I'd say: no model workers in tractor factories, but fairy tales nonetheless. And I still think that the duty of the contemporay novelist is to write books that cannot be made into films, will not let themselves be reduced to just another cretinizing movie!

So I initially liked very much that this novel pretended to be a realist novel and I enjoyed for several hundreds pages what I took to be a subversion of the realistic esthetic's usual moralizing purpose and material goal (sale of movie rights to Hollywood, Oscar, massive DVD sales and downloads) and I was only too happy to be led (by the nose) to what announced itself as a deeply pessimistic, dark and accordingly depressingly satisfying, if disturbingly conservative, conclusion to what appearing to be a great book. Ah! but, that was not to be: cliché came rushing in, right on time to save the cavalry and set up a gated nature reserve: Walter makes his rant, pays the price, gets his prize, pays again and most dearly for his most banal red letter sin, takes back poor (but talented autobiographer) Pattie out of the deep freeze, no less, closes the cottage and moves back to the Big Apple to be with at long last successful and much mellowed friend, quirky in-laws, house-bound pets and middle-class smog, not to mention wayward Republican son who has discovered monotheism, monogamy and shade-grown coffee. Alas! And thus what came very close to being a great and exceptional book, is now reduced to another good novel, granted not a small accomplishment, but in light of what could have been, a somewhat disappointing one. And re-thus, final indignity for a humbled sell-out Franzen, my 8.5 instead of the 9.5 triumph I had initially contemplated.

In my (final) view, Franzen could have preserved the integrity of his book by picking up a chain saw and savagely MTRing his manuscript just before Walter launches on his stereotypically cinematic rant and belated reach for shlocky and pathetic hero satus: this book, to achieve greatness, which it nearly did, absolutely did not need a hero or, for that mater, a villain; the only character that could have been both is Richard (had he remained untamed and unshorn in Jersey) and, ironically, he is the Artist. An also fittingly ironic epilogue, by way of an afterthought on the title, could have been Walter's visit to his drunken, penniless, pratically homeless trailer-park-white-trash brother Mitch, who is probably the most self-aware character in the novel when he famously and slurringly says:

"I finally figured that out. I'm only good at taking care of me."
"You're a free man."
"That I am."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Aging Gracefully

I've long thought that we fail miserably at caring for our elderly in North America.

Having lived and travelled in Asia and Africa, I'm always amazed that, no matter how little a family might have, they consider it their duty to care for their aging parents. The primary care task often falls to the eldest son or, more likely, to the eldest son's wife.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I, an only child, negotiate the road of elder care for my Mother who is in the early stages of dementia. I could use one of those wives about now.

Among other things, moving my Ma was precipitated when the Catholic Church in her northern Ontario town, under the guise of something called the "Diocesan Reorganization Project" decided to close her Church.

Before there was FaceBook, there was face time. My Mother's Church was the foundation of her social life and a gathering place for all the ladies in the community. Closing it was pretty much like pulling the plug on her life force.

For months, every telephone call we had began with, "So you know they're closing our Church."

So she agreed to moved closer to me.

For the past few months, I've been arranging the move.

If you know me, you understand that what I do for a living is pretty all-consuming, so arranging the move during my off hours has been a delicate feat of time management. But the universe has been more than cooperative, and I've been gifted with incredible periods of grace and generosity.

Whatever I've needed has almost magically appeared -- including a coveted spot in a Catholic senior's apartment literally attached to a Church with daily masses.

It's enough to make a believer out of me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I think I need to start writing for myself again. So I'm starting with this teeny tiny post. After this, it might not seem overwhelming.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Summer is a Page Turner

As luck would have it, I've been supplanting my work-filled days with some captivating reading. A few new titles I'd recommend.

Let the Great World Spin
This magical novel from Irish-born Colum McCann, uses the real-life story of French funambulist Phille Petit's tightrope walk between the twin towers as a touchstone between ten intertwined stories. McCann is a poet, with a deft touch and the Irish's gift for story-telling. You will not be disappointed. The last time I can remember anyone doing multiple perspectives this well was Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. A real page turner.

The Imperfectionists
Oh glorious, glorious first novel. Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists is a juicy, beautiful novel that reads like a series of James Joyce short stories, detailing the goings-on at an English language daily in Rome. It is funny and heartbreaking and sad and thoughtful and all those things that make you wish it would never end. Rachman is really someone to watch out for. If you loved Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, you'll love this novel. And speaking of Franzen, his first novel since The Corrections is due out on August 30th, just in time for Labour Day Weekend. Hold all my calls. Franzen is responsible for my not seeing half of Greece because I was engrossed in his brilliant, perfect novel.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
It's almost embarassing to admit that yes, I too read this book. Midway through I thought to myself, "Wow. This is probably all I'll ever know about Sweden." I'll be honest. This isn't my genre, at all, but I'm a little puzzled about why it's captivated the hearts and minds of people everywhere. It's a modestly good story -- a Da Vinci Code kind of thing -- but it's certainly not Moby Dick. Also, it's pretty dark. Anyway, if you're reading it on the subway, you might want to cover it up so you don't look like quite such a lemming.

One Day
Better to forego the above for this little summer reading gem from Brit David Nicolls. This is Bridget Jones meets When Harry Met Sally meets Same Time Next Year. It focuses on the relationship between two friends, Dexter and Emma. They hook up once, on July 15, 1988. Then the story revisits them on July 15th, every year. It's candy, but candy with some nutritional value.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Baby Whisperer

Despite never having children of my own, people love leaving their children with me.

Maybe it's my trustworthy nature. Maybe it's my childbearing hips. More than likely, it's that the parents are so exhausted and desperate for a night out that they'd leave them with anyone who was available.

This is how I found myself caring for a two month old chubster on Saturday night.

Don't you just love babies whose thighs are so big that you could actually park a Smart Car in them?

Baby Max is the kind of baby that everyone wants -- cute, smiley and cuddlesome.

When he cries -- which is usually when he wants something concrete like a diaper change, another meal, or you to sing every verse you can remember of the Solid Gold theme song -- he's usually pretty easy to console.

But sometimes he just cries without reason. An incessant waa, waa waa that is heartbreaking. That's the thing that drives new Moms the craziest.

Here's something I discovered by accident, but which seems to work for Max and other babies his age.

It's Om. The Buddhist Om.

Chant it like the monks chant it. Nice and slow. Om from your diaphragm. Add "Om mani padme hum" if you're comfortable.

It tends to stop babies in their tracks. I think there must be something primordial about it.

When I chanted Om to Max, he stopped crying, looked at me....and smiled.

I know it sounds a little whacky, so I told his Mom.

And she emailed me this morning, "Oh my God, you really are the baby whisperer. The Om worked."

There you go.

My gift to you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jet Lag

You can see why sleep deprivation is a favourite among torturers.

A few day after my return from Vietnam, I find myself continuing to nod off at 6:30 p.m. and wide awake watching Oprah on PVR at 2:30 a.m.

I figure eventually -- like some time in 2011 -- I should return to a regular routine.

Any tips?

Monday, May 24, 2010


I spent a good part of yesterday at an orphanage for children with disabilities in the town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam.

Nearly 1 in every 20 children born to Vietnamese parents has a disability. This disproportionately high percentage is attributed to a number of factors -- most of which are hotly contested by lawyers -- generally the only people anywhere to benefit from any kind of misfortune.

The word on the street is Agent Orange.

This delightful little chemical weapon was sprayed all over this gorgeous country by the US military and, not surprisingly, the sprayers themselves have suffered a disporportionately high number of crazy cancers. And their children -- like the children I met yesterday -- are riddled with defects of one kind or another.

Cerebral palsy is endemic. So is downs syndrome. Children are born with atrophied limbs. There was a tiny baby born without eyes.

Yesterday the orphanage held a birthday party for all the children born in May.

Despite a million reasons for it not to be so -- the caregivers made this a happy birthday. There were little cakes. Some fresh cut watermelon. Juice in big containers. And a small present for each child.

With a little help, most of the children were able to blow out their candles. Those of us in attendance, helped feed the children who couldn't eat. We cradled and soothed the babies.

And then we left. Because we're lucky enough to be able to.

War is hell.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who's the Boss?

My boss is leaving today, after ten years at our company.

Ten years in advertising is like eighty years anywhere else. Really...there should be a parade.

Her departure has me thinking about bosses I have known through the years.

Early in my career I had the good fortune of working for a true sociopath. His field of expertise was international development -- more specifically, complex emergencies.

He was a brilliant economist, a genius at logistics, a masterful historian and someone who should absolutely not have been trusted with the care and feeding of other human beings. We used to take bets about when, not if, he would actually have a heart attack or stroke in the office.

I worked under his leadership -- except for a few stints abroad -- for nearly eight years.

But here's the thing.

While he was a red-faced firecracker, he had the good sense to surround himself with people who had softer skills. People like my mentor, Nancy G.

Nancy honed her diplomatic skills literally at the feet of the creator of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.

She ran the marketing department at the aid agency with the perfect balance of control and autonomy. She didn't demand respect, she earned it. To this day, I seek her counsel. S

he's one of my "slipper" friends -- someone who I see a couple of times a year, and it's as comfortable as slipping into an old pair of shoes.

Because of her, I came to appreciate, respect and even like the executive director.

Who would have thought?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Good House

This morning I reluctantly finished Bonnie Burnard's Giller-winning novel, A Good House. This is, by far, the best novel I've read this year. Perhaps one of the best of the last five years.

I feel like I've said goodbye to good friends.

I'm not ashamed to tell you that I had to close the novel and weep at several points -- not out of sadness necessarily, but because the author has such a painstaking facility with language that she is able to reach out from the novel's pages to touch our hearts.

It really is a work of the finest construction.

Burnard undertakes to tell the story of a large extended family from 1945 through to 1999. We visit them every five or seven years and learn what they've been up to. The characters who start the novel young and full of life grow old along the way, and new members of the family are born and grow up to take their place.

This is life, after all.

That Burnard manages to make us care about each of the characters -- and there are literally dozens of them -- is testament to her genius. It's probably the best use of author omniscient that I've encountered.

It's as moving and haunting as Our Town. Carol Shields calls it, "Perhaps the finest work of fiction produced in this country in some time." She's right.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Giving Back

I've spent a lot of years thinking about what motivates people to give to the causes they choose.

So let me ask you something.

When you prepare your income taxes, are you surprised by how much or how little you gave in the previous calendar year?

I have a theory. I think, for the most part, that there are plenty of people who think they give a lot more than they actually do.

Not so much Baby Boomers. More generation X and Y.

The latter group puts heavier emphasis on volunteerism and product purchase. And may swoop in with a sporadic contribution for a bright and shiny emergency or a pledge when a friend does a bike ride or a walk.

But regular, consistent monthly or several times per year donations to a single cause? Not so much.

I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about giving. What motivates you. What attracts you to it. Is there a moral imperative behind it. And, if you're willing, your age range.

Go ahead, give it to me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Someday this pain will be useful to you

I love the word "spate", particularly when it refers to the number of good books I've been reading recently.

For a time during the winter, I was reading a lot of non-fiction. Some biography and Buddhist philosophy, mostly. But in the last few weeks, I've really ramped up on the fiction.

Fiction massages my brain like Ambien.

It feels good to be transported to another world, especially when the main character is as precocious and compelling as James Sveck, author Peter Cameron's creation for his novel, Someday this pain will be useful to you.

I think it's intended to be a young adult novel -- call me immature -- but I found it merchandised with the GLBT Lit in (possibly) Toronto's best bookstore -- Nicholas Hoare. It looked interesting. They usually don't steer me wrong, so I picked it up.

Someday, someone -- maybe even me -- will write an essay for English class comparing James Sveck to Holden Caulfield.

There are certainly lots of parallels. But this is an older, post 9/11 Holden. More anxiety ridden. More sympathetic.

The LA Times got all gushy about it -- calling it "One of the all-time great New York books, not to mention an archly comic gem."

I couldn't put it down. Bet you won't be able to, either.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Jesus Agency

I interrupt my silence to bring you this.

This Anglican Church that I pass on my way to work every morning has been having some fun with its signboard over the past few weeks.

A few days ago it read: Come in for Happy Hour. Sundays 8:30 and 10:30.

Then: Now open between Easter and Christmas.

It reminds me of an old God campaign. You probably remember it, too.

Can you imagine the price of air if it was brought to you by another supplier?

What do I need to do to get your attention? Take out an ad in the paper>?

How can you possibly be a self-made man? I can specifically recall making you.

Tell the kids I love them.

Let's meet at my house, Sunday before the game.

C'mon over and bring the kids.

What part of "Thou shalt not" don't you understand?

We need to talk.

Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage.

Big bang theory. You've got to be kidding.

You think it's hot here.

Don't make me come down there.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Three Year Old Diet

George Bernard Shaw said it best, "Youth is wasted on the young."

If I could bottle three year old energy, there's no telling what I could accomplish.

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon watching the oddly entertaining Disney Stars on Ice with my adult pals and their extremely enigmatic three year old daughter. For every one of our steps, she took about thirty -- often darting ahead of us because she was impatient with our progress, then returning to encourage us along.

Three year olds have only two speeds -- on and off. If she's not going one hundred miles an hour, she's asleep in her car seat. That's all there is.

Forget French women not getting fat, you need to move like a three year old if you have any hope of being svelte into your forties.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fat Chance

And we wonder why there are so many people vying to be The Biggest Loser. This should be illegal.

Friday, February 26, 2010

No Accidents

I attended a client lunch yesterday with a few of our senior people and a few of theirs. We were invited to hear the President of one of the most respected international development agencies talk about girl power. How investing in girls pretty much guarantees a country's economy will improve.

Just look at Canada's medal count. See how many are won by the ladies. See what I mean? Girls rock.

Anyhow. That's not the point of the story.

So, we listen to the Prez's inspiring message. We eat our delicious lunch. And then we have some casual chit chat with other people at the table. Big table. Maybe 12 of us.

Across the table, one of the guys says to me.

Franny? Franny Glass?


It's me. Insert name of high school boyfriend here.

Oh. my. god.

Everyone at the table stops talking.

Someone who I haven't seen in maybe 25 years, is seated at the same table as me. At an event that he was invited to about 15 minutes before it started.

Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inspiring thought of the day

I haven't posted in a few days. Mostly because I've been pulling a spate of 14 hour days. But this little gem from my Buddhist home boy Jack Kornfield struck me as particularly prescient.

Peace to you, this day.

Praise and blame,
Gain and loss,
Pleasure and sorrow
Come and go like the wind.
To be happy,
Rest like a great tree
In the midst of them all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Communication Week 2010

I have been having more than my share of difficult and awkward conversations recently. The harder I try to avoid conflict or hurt feelings or adding to people's workload, the more miserably I fail.

It feels crappy.

Sure there are plenty of mitigating factors that are influencing the dialogue -- everything from the global economic meltdown to a lean, mean creative-producing machine. But it's sent my "save the world" button into hyper-speed.

I want to hold everything and everyone over my head like the Grinch's sleigh, when his heart grows a billion sizes.

It's not going to happen. And trying actually makes things worse in some cases.

So I give up. Not in a nihilistic way. Not at all. But in a "I trust you, universe" kind of way.

I can't control the pieces. Hell, I don't even understand all the pieces. But I know that my intention is good. So maybe I'll just get out of my own way and let nature take its course.

Hopefully that will make this the end of what I've jokingly referred to as, Communication Week 2010.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Favourite Thing #8 -- Sunshine

I came to a startling revelation at 4:45 p.m. yesterday. The days are getting longer.

Here I was chopping some vegetables for my roasted vegetable hoo-ha and the sun was still shining. Hello Vitamin D.

This morning I can barely see the computer screen because that big glowy orb is reflecting off my screen. I'd rather seer my retina than put down the blinds, so sun-deprived did January make me.

Happy days are here again.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I went to the iDoctor yesterday.

Quite inexplicably, my distance vision has actually improved. Doc says this often happens as we age, which might explain why I'm straining under the stove light to read the directions on the pill bottle but I can spot an ocelot at 500 metres.

So I ordered new glasses. Who knows what the new frames look like? I could barely see myself in the mirror.

Friday, January 29, 2010

People are good

Today I was part of a big office fundraiser for Haiti. We had a pair of hockey tickets to auction off. They went for $300. But that's not the best part of it. We raised another $2,200 throughout the agency. I think people are good, if you give them half a chance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sympathetic Joy

You'll notice that favourite thing #8 isn't a thing at all.

In Buddhism, mudita or sympathetic joy, is one of the Four Sublime States or Brahma Viharas.

It basically means that your joy will increase if you share in the happiness of others.

But before you get all whoa with the Buddhist mumbo jumbo on me, let me put this into everyday terms. It might be easier to grasp sympathetic joy by understanding what it decidedly is not. The opposite of sympathetic joy is jealousy.

Example: a co-worker gets promoted. She deserves it. She's been working hard, putting in some late hours, and really bringing it for months now.

How do you feel about this? Do your thoughts automatically go to, "Good for her. Her work has been recognized. Her promotion is well-deserved."

Or does it go to "Why haven't I been promoted. No one notices anything I do around here. I bet she got a raise. I really should make more money." Is their a tinge of begrudgement?

Let's sit with that today. We'll have 100 opportunities to practice sympathetic joy. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Favourite Things #7 Kraft Dinner

As a former fatty who never met a carb she didn't like and spent roughly 7 hours a day watching sit coms throughout junior high, I know my way around the junk aisle. For me, low fat meant I could have two.

For some time now, I've begun the sentence, "When I'm on death row..." That startling fact aside, I periodically like to toy with what I'd enjoy for my last meal.

For me, it's unequivocally the national dish of Newfoundland -- Kraft Dinner.

I love Kraft Dinner. Love it so much I could marry it. Probably will marry it, since no other offers appear to be forthcoming.

I love it's orange, artificial cheesy goodness, it's gloppy stick to your ribs quality and it's fat-inducing after burn. Kraft Dinner drags me back through time to my muffin-topped expandable waisted self sitting at my TV table in front of Wonderful World of Disney.

An old boss of mine was allergic to dairy. Of the anaphylaxis variety. Even he used to swoon at the smell of Kraft Dinner. There's something in it that feeds your inner child.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Favourite Things #6 - The Dhammapada

Not surprisingly, I have a lot of favourite things that involve words.

This one, in particular, really rocks my world. It's the first in an anthology of 423 verses that makes up the Dhammapada -- a series of teachings of Buddah from the Theravada Pali Canon.

Don't let the Buddhism scare you off if you're not so inclined. Like most things that are true, it'll speak to your heart if you allow it.


We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
"Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.
"Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?
How easily the wind overturns a frail tree.
Seek happiness in the senses,
Indulge in food and sleep,
And you too will be uprooted.
The wind cannot overturn a mountain.
Temptation cannot touch the man
Who is awake, strong and humble,
Who masters himself and minds the dharma.
If a man's thoughts are muddy,
If he is reckless and full of deceit,
How can he wear the yellow robe?
Whoever is master of his own nature,
Bright, clear and true,
He may indeed wear the yellow robe.
Mistaking the false for the true,
And the true for the false,
You overlook the heart
And fill yourself with desire.
See the false as false,
The true as true.
Look into your heart.
Follow your nature.
An unreflecting mind is a poor roof.
Passion, like the rain, floods the house.
But if the roof is strong, there is shelter.
Whoever follows impure thoughts
Suffers in this world and the next.
In both worlds he suffers
And how greatly
When he sees the wrong he has done.
But whoever follows the dharma
Is joyful here and joyful there.
In both worlds he rejoices
And how greatly
When he sees the good he has done.
For great is the harvest in this world,
And greater still in the next.
However many holy words you read,
However many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act upon them?
Are you a shepherd
Who counts another man's sheep,
Never sharing the way?
Read as few words as you like,
And speak fewer.
But act upon the dharma.
Give up the old ways -
Passion, enmity, folly.
Know the truth and find peace.
Share the way.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Favourite Thing #5 -- The Catcher in the Rye

I occasionally meet people who have never read The Catcher in the Rye or read it later in life and didn't get it. This is usually a sign from the universe that we will never hook up.

Fact is the work is such a seminal influence on my literary development that I can't even conceive of my reading life without it. We wouldn't have David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Jonathan Franzen -- hell, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if it weren't for Salinger and Holden Caulfield.

Salinger is the prime mover.

So we come to today's favourite thing.

Everybody's got that one irreplaceable thing they'd save in a fire. Mine is a first book club edition of JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. It's all the more rare because it has Salinger's picture on the dust jacket. I bought it as a gift to myself for surviving my Masters Thesis.

Other gifts I gave myself for surviving my Masters Thesis were sessions on a tanning bed (third degree burns) and purple hair (they said it was a temporary rinse, but they lied).

What can I say. Stress does strange things to a person.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Favourite Thing #4 -- Moisturizer

You may well leap out of bed looking all youthful and dewy but that's because you're either younger than me or sold your soul to the devil when you were 13.

Truth is that, left unattended, I have the chapped, cracked skin and conspicuous capillaries of a perpetual whiskey drinking northern Scot. My complexion stands me in good stead with my peat-moss digging ancestors. Despite drinking a thousand glasses of water a day, my skin contains almost no natural moisture. You could sand drywall with it.

So imagine my delight when I happened upon a moisturizing agent that actually worked. Enter H20 Face Oasis Hydrating Treatment.

First of all it's blue, which leads you to believe that it's otherworldly. The ads tell us it's sea-derived, so I believe, perhaps incorrectly, that it might be a gift from our mermaid friends. A way of saying, thanks for giving up the dolphin hunt. And it goes on like jelly. Blue mermaid jelly. But the best thing of all is that our face just sucks it up. It's like one of those masks they put over burn victims. And the next thing you know...shazam, my raw, rough epidermis is glowing like a Georgia peach.

Of course all this beauty comes at a price. A jar will set you back about $48. I usually go through about two a year. Small price to pay for looking this good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Favourite Things #3

If you like a little alliteration with your onomatopoeia, old Yeats is your guy.

One of the most lyrical examples in the English language is a line from The Lake Isle of Innisfree: "I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore."

I heard a (probably drunk) Irish dude reading it on the CBC the other night. The Irish are second only to the Welsh in making almost everything they read sound musical and a little like poetry. Even the phone bill.

Anyway, I present for you one of my favourite poems in the English language. I've got a framed copy of it on my wall at home -- a reminder that no matter how smart I think I am, I'll never produce anything as close to perfection as this is.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favourite Things #2

While I like to shake up my breakfasts -- one day steel cut oatmeal, the next pumpernickel bread with a generous swab of that laughing cow cheese -- there's usually one constant. A dried fig.

Dried figs are nature's wonder food. They're nutritious, high in potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron, and are a good source of fibre. Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol free.

There's pretty much nothing super fig can't do.

If you don't eat meat -- which I haven't for over ten years now -- you'll appreciate the consistency of the lowly fig. It's tough and chewy, kind of like I remember meat to be, but it rewards you with gooey sweetness inside.

I've stewed figs before -- usually with apricots, dates and apples -- but the dried fig can proudly stand alone.

The Bible is lousy with fig references, too. Everything from Adam and Eve cladding themselves in fig vines to my fave Song of Solomon.

So all hail the fig. Fave thing #2.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Favourite Things #1

I make a point of buying one new item every time I go grocery shopping. It's a way to avoid shopping cart complacency and its a challenge to keep things fresh and new. A couple of years ago, Clover Leaf's brand of spicy thai chili tuna made its way into my grocery cart.

The first thing I noticed was how convenient it was. The pull-top lid makes it easy to get inside. It's the perfect size for a lunch bag.

But the taste. Holy cow.

It's so deliciously spicy and zippy (helped, in part, by a large chili in each can) that as soon as I tried it, I grew worried that it would be pulled from the shelves lest it offend the bland Canadian palate.

The best part is that this tuna can liven up a green salad like nobody's business. You won't even need salad dressing.

Haven't tried it? Now's the perfect time to give it a whirl. Sobey's has it on sale for .88¢. I bought ten cans on the weekend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A catastrophic earthquake hit the already impoverished country of Haiti yesterday.

Gentle men, women and children who were already struggling to find enough to eat, clean water to drink and a way to eke out a living for their families, literally saw their lives crumble around them.

I knew a few CARE folks who worked in Haiti about ten years ago. Food was so scarce that they'd have to order it from Miami and get space on incoming defense department planes. Ordinary Haitians weren't so lucky.

Now this.

If you've never been in an earthquake, I don't wish it on you.

We had regular tremors when I lived in Japan. Sometimes several a day. But there was a 6.0 quake toward the end of my tenure there. I was seated in a train in Akebane station -- on the third storey up -- when the quake hit. Our car rocked back and forth like it was been handled by a giant grumpy kid's hand. No one screamed. There was an eerie silence. Probably one of the most frightening things that ever happened to me.

The Haitian quake was a full point higher.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How important is makeup to you?

Did you know that the average "worth" of a woman's makeup bag is about $400?

According to 2006 PMB data, in a 30 day period the readership of Flare spent $37.5 million in cosmetics.

I've been working on something at work that has makeup at the core and it's led to some fairly lively debate about the importance of makeup in a woman's life. You'd be surprised -- or maybe you wouldn't -- how intimidating most people find it to go au naturale.

So I'm important is makeup to you?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Weapon of Mass Destruction

In the few weeks since a crazy Nigerian dude tried to blow himself up on a transatlantic jetliner, the feds have really stepped up the security screening at airports.

Do you feel any safer?

I bet you don't. I bet you mostly feel irritated that you can't take anything larger than a tampon case through security.

I've been on a bit of a rant lately about the fact that if someone has the intention to do harm, no amount of security clearance will stop them.

In fact, I've mentioned the fact that you could gouge someone's eye out with a plastic spoon so many times that people are actually getting a bit jumpy whenever I linger too long around the cutlery drawer.

Fact is, security is necessary. But I think we're losing our minds a little. Our culture of fear (can you say H1N1) is in overdrive and no one seems willing or capable of saying "the emperor has no clothes".

As for crazy Nigerian dude -- the best part of that story is this. The other passengers stopped him. No retina scan. No full body scanner. Nothing. Just old fashioned football style tackle.If only they'd had plastic spoons...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't Nut

Someone over at Tim Hortons clearly has a direct line to the fact that most people break their New Years resolution to lose weight fairly quickly into the month of January.

What could be better than the low tech Wheel of Donuts. It invites you to spin the arrow and purchase, for the low, low price of 49¢, a little ball of heavenly dough. It's certainly a damn sight better than chasing another brown and soggy lettuce leaf around the plate for another day.

See, they even almost got me. And I'm not even trying to lose weight.

So after hearing the siren song of the new Apple Fritter stuffed with apples and caramel, I took a little trip online to check out the nutritional information of some of these tasty treats.

Word to the wise. If you love something. Truly love it. Can't live without it. Don't bother looking up the nutritional information. It will never be the same to you again.

But if you're prepared to have your world collapse around you, you might be surprised to learn a few things. Like, what has more calories -- an apple fritter or a raisin tea biscuit? Cue Jeopardy music.

I might guess the tea biscuit is the healthier choice but they're nearly identical in calories -- 300 for the fritter and 290 for the tea biscuit. Shocking, especially since I'd be tempted to slather the tea biscuit in strawberry jam and pretend I'm British. But wait for it -- the tea biscuit has 590 mg of sodium. That's not a treat, it's a salt lick.

Tim Bits are slightly better on the gluttony front, providing you exercise a little self control.

A single old-fashioned plain timbit is about 70 calories, while an old-fashioned donut is 260. How many times have you crammed half a dozen timbits into your cake hole when you'd never, ever consider eating a whole donut?

Then there's the chili -- a popular choice among my colleagues. It has 1320 mg of sodium in a bowl. The recommended daily intake of sodium for adults between 9 and 50, is 1500 mg.

Forget The Wheel of Donuts. I think Timmies might be on to something. Wheel of Hypertension! I'll have my marketing people call their marketing people.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Feast for the Soul

Happy new decade, everyone.

According to Rumi, what 9 months does for the embryo, forty early morning will do for your growing awareness.

So I've decided to join thousands of people worldwide in a 40 early day spiritual practice period for world peace.

The project is called Winter Feast for the Soul and the aim is to generate awakening and peace for all sentient being. A little heady perhaps, but it's all about intention.

Participants are asked to commit to a 40 minute practice period every day for 40 days. It starts on January 15th and ends on February 23, 2010.

If you'd like to join in, you can register here .

Last year, over 10,000 people from more than 29 countries joined in.

May all living beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May we all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May we always rejoice in the happiness of others.
May we abide in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

~ The Divine Abodes, or the Four Immeasurables