Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to Replace Your Aortic Valve 

As Janet Joplin sang, “take another little piece of my heart now, baby

“You know you've got it, if it makes you feel good…”
I’m a big believer in the adage that the more you know about a surgery or medical condition, the less fearsome it is. I think we’ve all experienced enough shit by now to know whether or not we want more details or less. Now that my mother's surgery has been scheduled, I thought I would investigate it, to fill in what various phone conversations could not.

To that end, if you do not want to know how the aortic valve is replaced, read no further. If you do want to know how the Aortic valve replacement is performed - read on: Read more »


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Landscapes and Escapes 

New Bedford Harbour, Rockwell Kent. Plattsburgh State Art Museum

This year, for the first time in many years, I made a resolution. I set a goal for myself to read more. For years, I made this resolution with little or no effect. This year however, I set a reasonable goal. Twelve books. A book a month. This, in all honesty is about how long it takes me to read a book. To have something to read over the Christmas break, I queued up a couple of books I’d been meaning to read for ages. The Big Why by Michael Winter and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. I didn’t really even know the title of Michael Winter’s book, I just knew someone had written a fictionalized account of the American artist, Rockwell Kent, and the year or so he lived in Newfoundland (in high school I was fascinated by Kent’s woodcuts and only later discovered he had lived in Newfoundland briefly). I’d read an excerpt of The Art of Travel in a magazine and it piqued my interest, especially as I was confounded by my own desire to travel mixed with my complete laziness to do so. Another book on my longtime list of things I should get to was the story of Longitude about how the development of accurate time keeping lead to more accurate mapping of the seas.

I had no idea how connected thematically these books would be. Read more »


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Tribe Called Bourgeois 

From the Gap's Dress Normal campaign

It has come to my attention that I have become that guy no one wants to be. Following several public announcements of snobbish snark, it was obvious. I am that guy. Even a guy using the phrase “snobbish snark” sounds snobbishly snarky, no? It’s like that paradox of sounding pretentious the moment you say, “That’s so pretentious!” which also rings heavily with condescension. How did I get here and more importantly how can I get back?

I’d like to blame the City of Toronto. I'd like to blame society at large. Why not? Reality television comes in only two flavours: humiliation and aspirational. We either hope the best for the competitors or enjoy mocking them from our couches. That can't be it though. I don't watch much reality TV. But I'm sitting here in a doctor's waiting room trying to decide what's worse, the magazines or the pop music. See? Condescending again.
“I pretty much dress in …clothing from Gap … which I consider the closest we've yet come to an invisibility cloak”
Lately I've been verbally accosted in my new 'hood by what is best referred to as Badger & Skinny Pete*. Why was I so wrongfully reproached? As a friend put it, they could tell from a mile off that I was, to paraphrase, a bourgeois prat. The sort of upper-middle class, affluent dandy Conservatives love to hate. Fair enough, but how did the two strung out string bean junkies know I was a bourgeois prat? I hadn't even opened my mouth so it wasn't my accent or grammar. I pretty much dress in the normalcy of clothing from Gap (see their Dress Normal campaign) which I consider the closest we've yet come to an invisibility cloak so I doubt it was my attire. Most likely, it wasn’t because I was riding a bicycle. A lot of people ride bicycles. I will guess it was the combination of all these things – that I was riding a bicycle while wearing a helmet, clothed in the “norm-core” of basic attire while donning thick-rimmed glasses. There is something in the way I looked and acted that set me apart as “different”. I assume it’s down to body language. That thing we intuitively learned just after descending from the trees. That monkey is walking or standing funny, therefore injured/sick/not of our tribe. Like that monkey, I don’t fit in this neighbourhood because I don’t walk or move with a street-affected swagger, I wear clothing that looks recent and laundered, and I clearly look like I’m on my way to a casual-dress office job.

These are the subtleties of class warfare. Read more »


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day 

from Fellini's “i Vitelloni”, a quiet walk home alone after the party has ended.

All is Quiet on New Year's Day

Another year, another New Year's Day. Unsurprisingly, I showered this morning with the U2 song, New Year's Day, in my head. Yet, as I sang to the tiles and rush of hot water, I was hearing a sort of Las Vegas version. Think Wayne Newton or Robert Goulet crooning, “All is quiet, on New Year's Day” like Mel Tormé’s Christmas Song but more melancholic; “Nothing changes on New Year's Day”. It ocurred to me that New Year's is really an odd, brief, and extreme holiday. So much emphasis is placed on partying with friends on New Year's Eve and especially that 10 second countdown, it really rubs salt in the wounds of the Lonely.

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day

Since my separation and divorce, my typical holiday has been to travel to St. John's on or near Christmas Eve and depart for Toronto on New Year's Eve. The reason is two-fold. First, the flights are cheaper and easier to get and second, travelling on the "Eve" of something, gives you a second try at travelling on the day of something if weather intervenes on your first attempt. The only real downside has been, I never have any plans on New Year's Eve. This has suited me fine as I've always found it the most hyperbolic night of the year. There is so much expectation put on the count down but nothing really happens at zero. A band strikes up that Scottish ditty, Auld Lang Syne with its sad lyrics about old friends and forgotten loves, and raising a glass for old times sake. I suppose I'm misconstruing it somehow. Perhaps it's really more about raising a glass to purposefully reflect on the past. That sort of somber nostalgia is a bit of a downer to me. Every New Year's Party ends the same way. After a couple of more songs, the lights come on and people wade drunkenly through fallen confetti and discarded bottles and shuffle for a cab or a bus ride home. The next day they awaken to a town so quiet it feels like everyone has died in their sleep. This moment is expertly captured in Fellini's I Vitelloni when at the end of the film the party goers stagger off in all directions except for the one character who has made up his mind to leave the small town to seek his purpose on the first train out in the morning.

It's been my new tradition of spending New Year's alone. This year was a little different. I had originally planned on spending the entire holiday alone and rather than sulk about it, I planned every movie opening and art show I was going to see, what video games I would conquer, what elaborate recipe I would try and what long art film to watch. Then at the last minute, I went home anyway. Once home the pattern of chocolates and biscuits and cocktails and naps and more naps took over.

This New Year's I did have a plan. I had tickets to a World Juniors Hockey Game at the Air Canada Centre (Czech Republic defeated Russia 4-1) and went with a friend who afterwards went to meet visiting family and in-laws for the rest of the night. I was content to get home and grab something to eat and settle in for the night. My first choice of take-out was closed (show some entrepreneurial spirit maybe), so I went to a nearby Thai place. It's popular so I was surprised I only had to wait 10 minutes. Just as I ordered, a women came in behind me and asked for a table. When asked, "How many?" she replied, "Just me." then she promptly ordered an item from memory, just as I had. Later, I thought about this for quite a bit as I ate alone in my kitchen. Should I have invited myself to join her? That's just what would happen in a movie. Should I have at least started a conversation like I know a friend of mine would have? Would such interventions got me arrested or not? For all I know, she had just escaped a large group of unruly friends or a terrible date and was happy to catch some time alone. Or maybe she was open for any stranger to ask to join her. More than any of that I asked myself why I so often retreat like a snail into its shell.

I Will Begin Again

This morning, after my karoke shower, I made a massive pile of pancakes (another long standing New Year's Day tradition) and a large milky coffee and puttered around cleaning the house and doing the laundry. I started a stew that takes hours to make and I'll probably head out to see an early movie. All of this in my own monk-like solitude.

I'm not one for resolutions in the New Year like losing weight or quitting some vice (name one), but this Christmas I did buy a couple of books with the thought that I have to read more. I always think this but never follow through. Maybe it seems too open-ended, “Read More”, but certainly reading a book a month is a modest enough goal that even I could keep. This is a perfect example of what I do every year. I don't really make new resolutions but I  just repeat a promise to meet the same goals every year. They are more like resets, than resolutions. I use New Year's as a reset. You're out of lives, “Start again?” Yes. I think I will begin again.