No Dress Rehearsal

“I scored a gig as the lead singer with a school band … not necessarily for my singing ability but rather for my sheer memory power. I could memorize huge quantities of lyrics — mostly the Doors.” — Gord Downie

“Come in, come in, come in, come in
From thin and wicked prairie winds come in
It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Here in a time and place not lost on our imagination” Gord Downie The Darkest One

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” Gord Downie The Depression Suite

We all knew this day was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who consider ourselves fans of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip. This blog may be named after an Arcade Fire song, but it could just as easily have been named after one of the dozens of Tragically Hip songs that have made up the soundtrack of my life over the past 30 years or so. “Ahead by a Century” might have been a good one, or maybe I would have called it “Behind by a Century” to poke fun at my late adoptiveness of most things pop cultural. “Little Bones” could describe my little nuggets of insight that I share with you here, less and less frequently it seems these days. All things have a lifespan, as we are reminded of today. Over the course of this blog, a Maritime theme has organically built itself its own organic mythology, so maybe “Nautical Disaster” would also be a good choice. While we might have our heads on the east coast, our bodies firmly remain on the prairies, so “100th Meridian” or “Wheat Kings” would be obvious choices, too. “Springtime in Vienna” has a vaguely John Irvingish feel about it. (Not that I am comparing myself to John Irving, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned bears or SISTER KISSING on here, and I don’t intend to start.)

I guess what I am saying is that like many Canadians today, we are grieving the loss of someone who made a huge impact on many of our lives through his music. I’ve poured out my feelings at least three times already on this blog, so I don’t have much left for today. “Their Music at Work“, “Up to Here” and “Armed with Will and Determination” are all about the Tragically Hip in one way or another. In fact, I feel a weary emptiness that is passing for grief this morning. When I heard the news, I went to put on “The Grand Bounce”, his solo album from 2010 which begins with that great anthem, “The East Wind”. Those opening lines of welcome, “Hello again my friends, I’ve come to see you again…”

After a couple of songs, I switched over to “We are the Same”, an album that is near to my heart. It was released the same month that our daughter was born, and it was on regular rotation that first year of diapers, bottles, sleepless nights and uncertain anxiety. None of the songs from that album ever get played in concert, but that album contains some of my favourites. “Morning Moon”, which evokes that melancholy feeling of being down at a cottage past labour day. “Honey Please” which is so joyous and makes those wonderful references to “all the stars in the county, burning bright” at the end. And the remarkable, “The Depression Suite”, which resonated with me immediately for obvious reasons. I can’t stop quoting that line, “Don’t you want to see how it ends?”

I’m sure I’ll get to the big hits later on this week, probably starting with that awesome live album “Live between Us” recorded in 1996 at the height of their powers. Starting strong with “Grace, Too”, it rolls on right through many of their iconic hits like “Blow at High Dough” “Ahead by a Century” “New Orleans is Sinking” “Fully Completely” and “Scared”. It also features some of Gord Downie’s off beat stage banter, which some people hated but I always kind of enjoyed. If “New Orleans is Sinking” becomes the one song the Tragically Hip are remembered for (and why not? It’s perfect), then “Scared” may be my personal favourite of all of them, if I had to choose just one. (Of course, if I think about their legacy of songs left behind for more than 5 seconds, I am sure to shout out “Wheat Kings!” or “Bobcaygeon!” or “Fireworks!” or even “Poets!” or any other number of songs that are inside me forever. Jesus! “50 Mission Cap!” “38 years old and never kissed a girl!” Don’t make me pick! Lists are tricky. I’ll stick with “Scared” for now, if only because when they played that as one of the encores at their last Kingston concert a year ago, that was the moment when I broke inside).

I’m not saying anything different from what many of us are feeling today, and I am sure we all have our favourite songs, favourite Gord moments that we can conjure. Special nights with friends, road trips, concerts in the ’90s, images of Canadiana supported by a strong beat and bass-line, early mornings alone with just you and your music, moments of melancholy made just a little easier when you heard Gord Downie ask, “Are you? Are you going through something? Are you? Are you going through something? Because, I, I, I, I, I am too.”

Rest peacefully, Gord Downie.

You got to see how it ends. You meant the world to me. Bring on the requisite strangeness.

By Jeff Lemire

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Long Days, Pleasant Nights

“When is a door not a door? When it is AJAR”. Blaine the Mono, Wizard and Glass

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Stephen King

Happy 70th birthday, Stephen King!

I’ll never forget picking up that paperback copy of Pet Sematary 28 years ago in an unusual show of teenage rebellion. My parents were pretty laid back and I was a good kid, but they DID NOT like the idea that I would choose to read one of those books. I read it anyway. The last few weeks of Grade 9.

And I’ve never looked back. That summer, I survived The Stand, got my Shirley Jackson on with ‘Salem’s Lot, and fought through The Shining. And that autumn, my first year of high school, you broke my heart with Carrie. That fall I also tracked down that beautiful trade paperback of The Gunslinger, with all that fantastic Michael Whelan art. Little did I know then, that I wouldn’t know how it would all turn out for another 15 years. None of us would. I’d be married by then. An actual adult! (Sort of).

I guess my Mom realized that there was no stopping me, and as it was clear I was quickly becoming a “Constant Reader” of your stuff, she bought me an early Christmas present: the newly released The Dark Half  in hardcover. This was my introduction to Castle Rock, and all the extended mythology associated with that doomed town.

In ’91 I found some measure of comfort in Needful Things, in which I looked upon Sheriff Alan Pangborn as a bit of a role model in the way that he never really knew what happened the night that his wife and son died, and had to live with that ambiguity. I was, (and maybe still do), live with the ambiguity of what happened to my Dad in his final moments that year. I actually wrote a letter to you, a fan letter, explaining my feelings and how you inadvertently helped me. I never sent it. I would have been too crushed if you had never responded (most likely outcome). But your novel helped me, in its own way, and I think the act of writing a letter to you had its own therapeutic benefits at the time.

I thought you should know.

In ’92, my graduating year from high school, you treated us to two novels. Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, both linked by a solar eclipse. I was thinking of those books last month during the eclipse hysteria BUT FAILED TO INCLUDE THEM IN MY PREVIOUS POST ABOUT THE ECLIPSE, so let’s right that wrong immediately. Also during high school, I made my way back through your back catalogue, including those titles you wrote as Richard Bachman. I even have a hardcover copy of Thinner with the fake author photo on the dustjacket. It’s pretty great. My SECOND most prized book. (More on that later).

In the summer of ’93, my Mom, brother and I went out to the East Coast for a holiday, and I convinced them to make a “side trip” from Montreal down to Bangor, Maine. We totally miscalculated the distance since we forgot to convert the kilometers into miles once we crossed the border, so it took twice as long. I don’t regret it for a second. We took pictures in front of your house. (Sorry, I know. Bit weird) and shopped in Bett’s Bookstore downtown. I bought a beautiful signed and numbered hardcover of Cycle of the Werewolf, with that wonderful Berni Wrightson art. It’s still my most prized book.

We also made a pilgrimage to the L.L. Bean store in Freeport on that trip, and still look forward to the catalogues in the mail. In fact, I rarely think of you and NOT think of L.L. Bean (and the other way around).

That summer was followed with the worst winter. I was hospitalized with Depression for most of it, and many of my memories of that time are foggy. One that does stand out is of my Mom bringing me the new hardcover copy of your Nightmares and Dreamscapes. The nurses questioned whether giving a severely clinically Depressed person a collection of horror stories was the best idea, but my Mom knew me, and knew that I  would appreciate the gesture on some level. I don’t think I ever got around to reading it in the hospital, or ever since, but her thoughtfulness was noted somewhere inside me, like a seed buried beneath a foot of snow.

I may have missed Nightmares and Dreamscapes, but I haven’t missed a book since. Some standouts for me in the years between include the resumption and completion of the Dark Tower series, 11/22/63, and Under the Dome. I read a huge chunk of Under the Dome while I waited 6 hours in line to get stuff signed by Neil Gaiman, and the time flew right by.

In recent years I’ve enjoyed novels by your sons Joe Hill and Owen King. I love how you’ve peppered your stories with little treasures for your constant readers, and I love how Joe Hill’s mythology and your own seem to share a common universe. This gives me a lot of joy. I look forward to every new book, and am especially looking forward to your upcoming joint effort with Owen, Sleeping Beauties.

I won’t keep you much longer. I just wanted to geek out a little bit and wish you a happy birthday and thank you for all the stories over the years. May there be many more to come.

“Remember, Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. And no good thing ever dies.” Stephen King, Different Seasons

 

 

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Staring at the Sun

“They say the sun is sometimes eclipsed by the moon, you know I don’t see you when she walks in the room.” U2 The Fly

Most of North American experienced a solar eclipse earlier this week, and the crew here at the lighthouse didn’t think there was enough social media attention paid to it, so we thought three days AFTER the event would be the best time to catch everyone’s “eclipse fever” and boost our views, visitors, and even followers. Speaking of views, WordPress helpfully tells you when you log in how many viewers or visits you have and where in the world they are visiting from. Today we’ve only had two SO FAR. One from France and one from India, so I guess we are attracting that much sought after “international crowd” here. Finally! It only took 6 years! So, let me say “Salut” and “नमस्कार” to our two foreign friends. (I hope google translate didn’t play a JOKE on me just now).

So anyway, back to this Eclipse business. I first heard about it way back in June, when a customer came into the library asking for “Eclipse Glasses”. In JUNE! We didn’t have them, obviously, and it took a google search to make any sense of what he was talking about. We sent him on his way, and my only thought at the time was that this was a man who liked to get his ducks in a row. A couple of weeks later, we had a friend visiting from the United States for a few days. She lives in Southern Illinois and knew all about the upcoming eclipse because her small town, Carbondale, was in the “Path of Totality”. I guess this means that they happen to live in a part of the world where the moon will completely cover up the sun for a few minutes. No partial eclipses for HER! The local businesses were all getting behind the excitement of this astronomical event and even produced t-shirts and tea towels, because: AMERICA!

tea towel

 

It was going to just be about 70% coverage here at home, so we weren’t expecting much, and as it turned out the local weather was overcast and a little rainy. Also, I had to work all day, and so aside from looking out the window a couple of times and trying to discern whether the darkness outside was eclipse related or just regular cloudiness, it didn’t really affect me.

I couldn’t say the same for my wife. She has a vivid memory of the last great eclipse in our area, which was in February of 1979. Her parents were so worried that she would stare at the sun, they took her out of school and made her spend the day at her grandparents’ place. Her grandfather, a lovely man I am told, but also a bit of a loon, even papered up the windows so there would be no chance of any of the “eclipse rays” to get through. I’m surprised they didn’t make them all wear tinfoil hats, and who’s to say he didn’t? He himself experienced an eclipse when he was a boy, and he claims he damaged his eyesight, which may explain the extra caution he took with his own granddaughter that day.

I’m the first to admit I don’t know much about the science behind eclipses, but I do know this: staring at the sun is bad for your eyes. Most of the time, it’s not an issue because the sun is just too damn bright to look directly at it for more than a split second anyway. But I guess during an eclipse the sun’s rays are diminished enough that your eyes COULD stare at it for longer periods and not realize the potential damage being done, because although the brightness is less, the damaging UV rays are still shooting out of there full blast, not to mention the COSMIC RAYS, which as everyone knows, turned 4 scientists into the Fantastic Four back in 1962.

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The sun is dangerous, you guys. Even Stan Lee and Jack Kirby knew that.

So, this windowless day really stuck with my wife. She was just 6 at the time, but it left an impression. So much so that instead of letting our daughter go to the first day of camp on Monday, she decided to keep her home, for fear of accidental eclipse watching. I suggested maybe taking her somewhere indoors, like a mall, but her response: “Malls have SKYLIGHTS!” and so, life came full circle and she and our daughter spent the day in OUR basement, and although my wife won’t admit it, my daughter told me later that she papered up the basement windows, “just in case”. I am happy to report we are all still sighted and none of us have turned into the Invisible Girl aka the Invisible Woman aka Susan Storm aka Susan Richards, or any of the other three.

This whole eclipse business made me reflect on my own “brushes with astronomical queerness”. I distinctly remember that same eclipse. Unlike my future wife across the river, I went to school that day. I remember our principal had a pair of welder’s glasses and we were FORCED to go outside and look through them at the appointed time. I was in grade 1. I guess this was back in the day when parents didn’t really helicopter in and interfere with school business, because instead of making a stink about it, my Mom just told me that when those goggles go on, I was to keep my eyes closed “NO MATTER WHAT” if I didn’t want to go blind. And so, I have a distinct memory of lining up outside with the rest of my classmates, waiting for my turn, and wondering, “why does my principal even HAVE welder’s glasses?” When it was my turn, I saw that it wasn’t just the glasses, but an entire metal hood that was to go over my head. I felt a little like Darth Vader as the hood came down, and so taken was I with the darkness inside that I initially forgot to close my eyes. I couldn’t see anything anyway, and I don’t even know if I was pointed in the right direction. I remembered when I could hear my principal’s muffled voice ask, “Can you see it, son? Can you?” I immediately closed my eyes to whatever I was supposed to see, and made the (what I thought) appropriate “oohing” and “aahing” sounds appropriate for the occasion, and then my turn was over and I was led back into the school. It was, as my Mom would say, a “royal rip”.

This memory was so strong for me, until I realized this week that it couldn’t have happened.

Or, at least, it wasn’t the great eclipse of February 1979. For one thing, it was warm weather, either in early fall or late spring, and in Feb 1979 I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.

So what was I remembering? Was it a lesser lunar eclipse? Why would the school go all nuts for one of THOSE? Nobody cares about lunars, I don’t think. Was I older than I thought? I must have been, because I remember when my Mom said to not look through the welder’s glasses I distinctly thought of Indiana Jones at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark telling Marion not to look at the Ark as it was being opened, and Raiders came out in 1981, and I saw it in the theatre with my Dad.

My memory is a little clearer for my next eclipse encounter, which happened a few years later. It was the end of the school year, and our grade 4 teacher decided to show us a movie called The Watcher in the Woods. I was just reminded of this movie this week by a Twitter pal. I wasn’t used to seeing “scary” movies, (at least not then), and this movie scared the SHIT out of me, giving me nightmares for a week. It involved an old English mansion, a crazy old lady, and a young girl who saw visions of another young girl in mirrors who wrote her name backwards and, oh yeah: there was some big climax scene that involved an eclipse, but you know what? I was so terrified at that point that I couldn’t even watch the screen and still TO THIS DAY haven’t re-watched it. So I’m not exactly sure what went down at the end of that movie, but it involved the moon and sun doing weird stuff. I guess my parents changed their approach since my “welder’s glasses days” and my Mom marched straight to the school to complain about showing that movie. So I had the double pleasure of not only looking like a boob in front of my classmates DURING the movie, I also had the lasting effects of being the kid who’s Mom went to the school and complained that a DISNEY movie scared her widdle baybee and gave him nightmares. Still, I take some comfort in seeing that I am not the only one scarred by this movie.

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Look at this still and TELL me it’s not as scary as all get out.

Still, eclipses in pop culture continued to appear in some of my favourite things.

In The House with a Clock in its Walls, Uncle Jonathan (A SECRET WIZARD, YOU GUYS) has an evening of magic for his nephew Lewis and one of his friends. One of the “tricks” is to cause a solar eclipse in the backyard. This is one of those stories that will be a part of me for my whole life, and it doesn’t hurt that the illustrations are all done by the incomparable Edward Gorey.

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Uncle Jonathan making it happen, by Edward Gorey

In the Little Shop of Horrors musical, it is during a “total eclipse of the sun” that the man-eating plant, aka the “mean green mother from outer space” aka “Audrey II” appears and is the catalyst for the titual horrors alluded to in the titual title. #tits (As an aside, LSOH has one of my favourite Bill Murray performances. He plays a weirdo who ACTUALLY LIKES GOING TO THE DENTIST because he always got a candy bar afterwards as a kid, and no matter how much pain is inflicted on him by Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist, you can hear Bill Murray take it and shout out, “candy bar! candy bar!” For a kid that hated a dentist, (and as an adult who can barely tolerate it now), I saw Bill Murray’s character as more than just a weirdo. I saw him as a defiant hero who wore down the villain dentist in the end.

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Candy bar!

I couldn’t be talking about eclipses without mention Tintin and how he DUPED the Incan people in Prisoners of the Sun. A little sidebar on Tintin: he is a boy reporter from Belgium who travels the world in search of adventure, often encountering danger and villainy, always in the company of his little white dog, Snowy and often in the company of an alcoholic seaman, Captain Haddock. Some secondary characters include the hard-of-hearing Professor Calculus, the clueless twin detectives, Thomson and Thompson, the internationally famous opera singer Bianca Castifiore, among others. I loved the HELL out of these stories as a kid, borrowing them from my local library, and then saving up my allowance and buying the volumes one by one whenever I could get my parents to take me to “Toad Hall Toys”, the one place in my city that actually carried them then. Now, as an adult, I still carry a deep fondness for them in my heart, but also realize the problematic depictions of certain races, cultures and people throughout the stories. You can say that they are a product of their time, and that in fact Hergé, Tintin’s creator did a great deal of research in bringing different groups and cultures into the stories specifically to ignite kids’ curiousity with the world. It certainly worked on me. As someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, my DNA is rigged to combat censorship, but yet at the same time I know I have a role in shaping collections to make sure we weed outdated and inaccurate information. I walk this line every time I make a decision to add or delete a title in our collection, but when it comes to Tintin, my approach has always been: make it available, but present it in a context that gives it perspective, and by no means let it be the only information you have on a culture, people or area of the world. Plus: it’s fiction.

Anyway, thank you for allowing me that little side-track. Back to Prisoners of the Sun. Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus have been captured by an undiscovered group of surviving Incan people who are about to sacrifice them on account of their intrusion. Luckily, Tinin saw a newspaper report of an upcoming solar eclipse and USED IT TO HIS ADVANTAGE to fool the Incan people into thinking he can control the gods. (Now, I know how bad this looks, and I am pretty sure that the Incan people had great calendars and observed astronomical happenings and probably knew all about solar and lunar eclipses and wouldn’t have been fooled by Tintin’s shenanigans but on the other hand it was a pretty cool plot device and was another time when eclipses played a role in my young life so it stays in).

And I think that’s all I have to say about eclipses, you guys. The next one that hits North America is in another 7 years. Our daughter will be 15 then, and MAYBE LEARNING TO DRIVE A CAR, so we can’t very well keep her in a shuttered basement again, can we? Let’s hope we are all still here to see it, and to quote that optimistic news anchor from way back in 1979, when he signed off after covered that year’s solar eclipse,  “may the shadow of moon fall on a world at peace”

Tintin eclipse

And weren’t we all prisoners of the sun that day? I think we were.

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150

Hey everybody! I’ve been going down a rabbit hole of memories these past few posts, and you’d think that writing that one about my high school reunion would have purged all the brown water ghosts and left the tap available for nice cool clear water musings, BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG because I think I’ve got one more in me.

U2 is wrapping up the first leg of their “Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour” tonight in Cleveland. (And you might think that this blog post would have turned into a little meditation on U2 and The Joshua Tree album and what it meant to me, but I think I’ve talked enough about U2 on here.) I was lucky enough to catch the opening night of this tour in Vancouver over a month ago, and here is my mini-review. It was a bit weird and boring to hear the band play The Joshua Tree album completely in order, and yet it meant hearing songs played live that I’ve never heard played live before, and hey: it’s U2 and I’m delighted to see them in concert no matter what but I am also looking forward to a new album and new tour and this band is always best when it is looking forward, not backwards. There, that’s my review. Also: I couldn’t get a t-shirt so I ordered one online and that turned out to be a terrible idea and maybe a story for another time.

This morning Bono and the Edge will be performing something on Canada’s Parliament Hill. It’s our 150th, you know. I morbidly mentioned at breakfast the other day that we weren’t around for the 100th, and we won’t be around for the 200th, so THIS IS IT. (No pressure). Us Canadians don’t really go in for a lot of patriotic flag waving. We prefer a quiet smugness with the knowledge that we live in the best place on Earth.

But living in a “the best place on Earth” does NOT mean for one second that we live in a “perfect” place. I understand the desire for protests over celebrating this seemingly arbitrary milestone. Our country’s history is filled with stories of our complicated, one-sided and shameful relationship with indigenous people, and that only now are there the beginnings of some awkward and half-assed attempts at reconciliation. I know our “squeaky clean” image on the world’s stage is convenient fiction, an easy stereotype that we are often too readily eager to let stick. I know there’s still much work to be done.

And yet, I love this damn country. I love the fact that could can just keep going north, if you want to, until you reach the north pole, and you could keep on going and end up in Norway. I love the Group of Seven, and the Rocky Mountains, and the prairie sunsets and summer evenings and cold -40 days where you bundle up and get on with life anyway and you feel pretty good about it especially when you come back inside to a slow cooker that’s been simmering that chili all day long and you get to eat it with your friends all rosy-cheeked. I love universal health care, and kindness, and adventure, and The Tragically Hip and SCTV and West Coast rainforests and even Tim Horton’s and Tilley Hats and the Friendly Giant and tobogganing and Bonhomme and Gimli and the way snow squeaks when it gets below -20 and Leonard Cohen and, and…

I’m happy we have a day where we can reflect and celebrate all this.

I wouldn’t say I have a tradition or a pattern to my Canada Days, but we always end up doing something unabashedly summery. To me, Canada Day always marks the offical beginning of summer, the gateway to the easy season. Growing up, we lived within a short walk or bike ride to a huge park that always had fireworks. So, if we were in town we would often default to a BBQ and then a stroll over to the park in the evening for the show. Those quiet, easy good no celebrations always were the most fun. When we were older, we’d ditch the parents and go with our friends. If we weren’t in the city, we were out at my aunt and uncle’s cottage, and getting to spend time with all my cousins was always a highlight among the docks and rocks of the Canadian Shield.

But we weren’t always close to home on Canada Day.

One Canada Day, growing up, my family planned to be in Ottawa. That was pretty great. We attended the Canada Day concerts on Parliament Hill, met our MP, watched the changing of the guard, waved at Jeanne Sauvé, our governor-general and got heat stroke.

Another great Canada Day away was spent in Banff, and we lined the main street for a parade. The lasting memory for me was a fireworks show at night that rumbled and echoed all through and around the mountains. The Park eventually stopped doing those fireworks shows because they “upset the wildlife” but I was glad to have experienced it when I had the chance.

About 10 years ago, I spent a Canada Day exploring Algonquin Park, north of Toronto, and even hanging out on Canoe Lake for a few hours. For a Tom Thomson fan, this was a lifelong thrill. 

More recently, we’ve gone for part of the day up to a historic fort north of the city (free admission!), or attended one of many “street or market festivals” before heading home or to someone’s place for a BBQ. Summer!

I can’t think of Canada Day without thinking of my late uncle’s conviction that it should never have been called Canada Day in the first place. He said that no other nation on earth calls its national holiday the same name as the country it is celebrating. When I would point out to him that Australia’s national day is called “Australia Day”, he sneered and said that was named after the continent. (And then mumbled something about Australia not being a proper country anyway as he stormed off). Canada Day was always called “Dominion Day” from 1867 until an act of parliament changed it to “Canada Day” in 1982. My cousin (my uncle’s son) had a t-shirt made up that said, “It will always be Dominion Day to me” which my uncle proudly wore, not just on Canada Day, but as part of his regular summer wardrobe rotation. One time, he came home from the grocery store beaming that another man had tapped him on the shoulder, say he liked his shirt and agreed with him 100%. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Mental illness doesn’t just run in my family, it practically gallops.

I’ll never forget Canada Day, 2002. My then-girlfriend, now my wife, and I were up at my uncle and aunt’s cottage along with all my cousins. For some reason my Mom didn’t go with us that time.  The cottage was a couple of hours out-of-town, and we planned to stay up there with everyone for 3 or 4 days. Canada Day fell on a Monday that year, and we headed out on the Saturday morning. As hoped and expected, we had a great time doing all the cottagey things we loved to do on the Saturday and Sunday. On the Monday we got up, sang O Canada! on the dock and settled in for another day of lounging, boating, swimming, napping, and eating. Then, late in the afternoon, the phone rang. It was my girlfriend’s Mom calling to say that her Mom, my girlfriend’s grandma Helen, wasn’t doing great and maybe we could come back a little early? Helen not been well for a few months, in and out of the hospital, and in fact was in the hospital when we left for the weekend. My girlfriend’s Mom didn’t sound all that panicky, and we even debated about what we should do. We eventually decided that we should go check on things, but I don’t remember a big rush or panic packing up. My cousins and uncle and aunt sent their best wishes along with us as we headed home. I even remember stopping for ice cream before we made it to the hospital, so that can give you a bit of an idea of how worried we were.

As it turned out, it was the best decision to head in when we did, because when we got to the hospital, my girlfriend’s parents and brother (and oddly enough, my Mom!) were already there, and it became clear that Helen was not going to make it through the night. I felt self-conscious because I was still in my cottage clothes, a lime green swimsuit and a tank top. (For God’s sake, I am attending a death of a sudden. Couldn’t I have at least had the sense to put on a shirt with sleeves??) No one seemed to care what I was wearing though. As the evening wore on, more relatives made their way to the hospital, the space around Helen’s bed became crowded. Who knew we’d be seeing both sides of the family that weekend? An impromptu reunion. My girlfriend’s aunt from Toronto even hopped on a plane that afternoon, and there was much talk about whether she would make it home “in time”. [editor’s note: Aunt Lynn did NOT make it home in time, but she did come straight to the hospital from the airport, and they were all glad to see her when she arrived]

I had never been present at a death before. I felt a strange sense of privilege to be included in this most intimate of life’s milestones. It must be similar to being present at someone’s birth? I kept expecting some distant cousin to ask, “Who’s the doofus in the lime shorts?” but no one ever did. When the time came, it was peaceful. Sad, too. But it was a sense of peace that washed over me first. I stepped out into the hallway shortly after it happened to give the immediate family some privacy and alone time. Then, I heard all kinds of bangs and pops and couldn’t make sense of what was happening. Helen’s hospital was across the street from one of the biggest parks in town, (the same park, truth be told, that we would walk or ride our bikes to on many past Canada Days), and it was the fireworks display going off. Of course! It was still Canada Day. My girlfriend joined me in the hallway and we walked to the end where there were big glass windows overlooking the park. We just stood there, side by side, appreciating the incongruity of sadness and joy, grief and celebration, literally death and life happening all at the same time. “Well, my grandma always loved a party,” my girlfriend sighed, and it all sort of seemed to make a bit of sense at that moment. Not a bad send-off, in the end.

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So, is Canada perfect? No, of course not. Nothing created by humans ever is, but I’ll tell you this: I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. (Well, okay. I could be convinced to spend time in Ireland, England, Norway, Iceland or Sweden. I wouldn’t say “no” to an extended visit to Hawaii either), but YOU GET MY MEANING. I feel blessed and lucky to call myself Canadian, and that’s all I have to say about that. To say anything else wouldn’t be very Canadian, would it?

Happy Canada Day, everyone! (Or Dominion Day, if you prefer).

 

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Finishing Strong

“A long time ago we used to be friends, but I, haven’t thought of you lately at all.” The Dandy Warhols
“Is it too late, tonight, to drag the past out into the light?” U2

I recently attended my 25 year high school reunion. I know. It’s hard to believe the champ here could be old enough to graduate from HIGH SCHOOL all those years ago. You might be thinking I was some kind of savant with a pituitary problem who graduated at age 9 or something like that, and you would be forgiven for thinking such a thing. But in truth I went through the 12 grades like everyone else, no different from George Clooney or Justin Trudeau.

Don’t worry, everyone. I’m not about to write two awkward blog posts in a row. I mean, not INTENTIONALLY. They all have the taint of awkwardness, I guess, whenever I dredge up the past and put it on display like a fish in Pike Place Market. But unlike Pike Place Market, I shan’t grab the past and toss it to my colleague for the amusement of tourists. No, once I’ve caught the past fish, I shall merely gut it, fry it, and serve it to you, my loyal audience of readers and commentators.

So, how did we get to this reunion?

A couple of organized former classmates tried to do something for our 20th anniversary, but I really don’t think anything happened. I mean, something MAY have happened, but I didn’t go. I think at the time I thought myself rather witty when I told people that anyone who I really cared to see from high school I still see, so what’s the point? (and then I pranced off, Oscar Wilde style, to the titters of the room).

Well, five years is a long time, and in that time I have become sentimental and even though I know nostalgia is the most toxic impulse, I also know that Big Macs aren’t good for me but guess what? Sometimes I just wanna eat one of those greasy motherfuckers, and so too did I feel like attending this high school reunion, and reader? I did.

I may have covered this ground before, but bear with.

My high school was made up of three streams. Trois Riverieres, for our francophone friends who are struggling with the google translator. The first stream was the normals. These were the neighbourhood kids who lived close to the school and for whom the school board couldn’t really justify NOT having attend. There wasn’t anything special about this group, by the way, unless you consider proximity special. The next group was the nerds. These kids were enrolled in some kind of advanced internationally recognized academic program, and were bussed in from richer neighbourhoods just because their parents thought our high school had a good reputation. The third group was the French Immersions, or “Frogs” as they came to be known by the normals. (I know: racist, but what did we know then?) They too, were mostly made up of kids “from away”. It was a real S.E. Hinton situation, everyone. (I just made an S.E. Hinton ref you guys, and I’ve never read or seen The Outsiders or Rumble Fish, although I just listened to Sophia Coppola on Marc Maron’s podcast and they spent QUITE SOME TIME talking about Rumble Fish so now I want to watch it and see if my S.E.. Hinton ref here makes any sense at all. Maybe I should stick with what I know). It was a real John Hughes situation you guys. #saveferris

These three groups really kept to themselves, with the exception of things like band, choir, and sports. You OCCASSIONALLY got some kid that was in French immersion, who was also in the smart class, and who lived nearby, but I don’t think they encouraged that kind of engagement. Just like Anita’s advice from West Side Story, we kept to our own kind.

I was in the normals group. I’m pretty sure I was smart enough for the “nerd” group, and I remember my parents having a meeting with the principal before I started high school in which the school was encouraging them to enroll me in the smart program, but they refused. They didn’t think it was normal for a high school kid to be studying all the time, and wanted me to have a more “well-rounded” experience. If by “well-rounded” they meant me reading a lot of comic books, watching movies, buying beer underage, and riding my bike around the neighbourhood a whole lot, then I guess they succeeded.

I didn’t have a bad high school experience, I don’t think. I mean, aside from my Dad dying at the end of Grade 11. That was pretty much the worst thing that could happen. But I mean, aside from that, I had a pretty good time in those three years. I had my small circle of friends, made up mostly of the same small circle of friends I had all the way through from elementary school. I wasn’t particularly popular, but I also wasn’t ever bullied or felt excluded from anything. I just did my thing and was happy to be able to do it.

After high school, I still saw some of my high school friends. They just became my “friends” at that point. I didn’t really make a lot of new friends at university. Sure, I met my future wife at university and that was great, but you know what I mean. I didn’t ditch the old crew for a new crew. We just kept things going. Some moved away, or had kids, or got married, all of which made it more difficult to stay close. By the time my late 20s became my early 30’s, my world had shrunk a bit, socially. I was working full-time with people I liked, but not necessarily with people I would hang out with after work. I filled my days with “grown-up stuff”, like grocery shopping and lawn cutting. Gone were the days of just calling someone up and inviting them over, or spontaneously going over to someone’s place to watch a ball game or rent a movie. I shouldn’t say, “gone” like it never happened, but it certainly happened less frequently than before. I had become an adult against my will!

Between graduation and now, our high school was sold off and torn down to make room for condos, which further removed us from our childhood experience. We would never be able to walk our old hallways, visit our band and choir room, or look for our class photos on the walls. That time of our lives faded into the background of our collective memory, and life chugged along.

It wasn’t really until our daughter was born that we made friends with a whole new group of people connected to our new neighbourhood. I was NOT expecting that to happen. To connect with a whole new group when you are already in your mid-30s was really great, and it just goes to show you never know what’s around the corner. Life moves on, and new relationships form and old ones fade and some continue but others don’t. That’s a bit long for a t-shirt, unless you used a really small font. I hadn’t really thought about high school and the people with whom I went through it in a long time.

And so it was quite a shock to be in the same room with all (or most!) of these people again. I knew that one of our classmates was currently in jail for an assault on a senior citizen, so I knew two things. First: THAT guy wasn’t going to be there, and second: I knew that as confused and mixed-up as my life may seem to me right now, at least I wasn’t in jail.

You hear stories about people attending their high school reunions, and how all of the old cliques and rivalries and grudges disappear and everyone just catches up and has fun. At least that’s what my cousin told me, who recently attended her 40th high school reunion. She was a bit worried about the whole thing, because in high school she was not “out” as a gay person, and wondered how being back with all those old friends and teachers would feel to her. It turned out to be a great experience for her, but the biggest shock for her was seeing people who looked like her old friends’ Moms and Dads, but it actually turned out to be her friends, with 40 years of life experience attached.

That wasn’t really my experience. Our three groups, mentioned at the top of this post, pretty much stuck to their corners for the whole night, which was fine with me. I mean, they didn’t talk to us during the three years of high school, so what would we really have to say to each other now? In a way, there were three mini-reunions happening in the same room that night. The biggest surprise to me was that it wasn’t just a high school reunion. Considering that most of my group went all the way through school together from kindergarten right on up, it was more of a “the first 18 years of your life” reunion, which suddenly became overwhelming to me. These were people who knew me before I really knew who I was. If I were a Broadway show, these people saw me in workshops in regional theatres years before I made it to the bright lights. They saw the worst of me and still loved me. They brought out the best in me, too. I couldn’t fool them if I tried, and I wouldn’t try. It just felt good to be around these people again, to feel that shared energy forged on the mean streets of St. James.

There were albums of old photos. Was I really ever that skinny? I had George Michael hair! Why did I have my pants off in that one pic? Who’s basement was that? There was one picture of me at grad with my then girlfriend beside me and MORE THAN ONE person came up to me to ask who that person was. THIS WAS MY GIRLFRIEND FOR MOST OF GRADE 12 AND TWO YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL and yet nobody seemed to remember her. It probably didn’t help that she was a grade younger than me, but STILL. Erased from people’s memories, just like our high school itself. Did she even exist at all? I caught up briefly with ANOTHER ex-girlfriend, my first “real” girlfriend from my jr high days. (It sounds like I was some kind of PLAYER in school, but I really wasn’t. At least I don’t think I was. Was I?) It was good to see her again, and to hear what she is up to now. She was another piece of the puzzle that I didn’t know was missing until I was reminded.

As I mentioned earlier, my Dad died unexpectedly at the end of grade 11 and that became the dominant narrative of high school for me (and for many of my close friends). That event over-shadowed not only the rest of high school, but also oddly enough cast a dark cloud over the years that came before. It was my personal 9/11. In the years since, what became lost to me were all the little excellent little things that happened on a daily basis that I honestly forgot about. Little anecdotes about our daily life, or other classmates, or teachers, or our friends’ parents that would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for this exercise in group remembering. We all remembered little pieces of our public school experience, and over the course of the evening began to weave a memory mosaic that was mostly warm and comforting, yet flecked with remorse and even some regret.

It all came back to the surface.

Memories of my first real love, of lazy afternoons in the summer with my friends, comic book shop runs, of adventures at house parties, of the thrill of skipping class and having a day out, of goofy pranks, like the time I was called down to the principal’s office to pick up a package and it turned out to be a container filled with bras and panties. (I finally found out that night who was the mastermind of it and it was NOT WHO I EXPECTED), of big ideas and grand failures (we talked a bit about the notorious Pippin production that never was), of broken hearts and stupid grudges and weaving through it all was the real sense that at one time this group of ours was tight-knit and showed up for each other in all the ups and downs that happen between childhood and adulthood.

The reunion started at 7 pm and I didn’t get home until after 2 am, and it felt like I was there for an hour.

We all made assurances that we wouldn’t let another 25 years go by before we gathered again, and even though I’m sure that was what you were supposed to say to be polite, I really really wanted to believe it to be true, and I hope that a group of us can try to connect again before the summer is out. These people were my people. They helped shape who I am today, so you can either credit or blame them, as you see fit.

Every year the annual marathon makes it way past our house on Father’s Day. And every year since my daughter has been around, the two of us have gone out to check it out. The first year she was just a couple of months old and I took her around in her stroller. We did it again this year and a common encouragement that marathoners seem to say to each other is “Finish Strong”. At least this was being shouted by people in the crowd, and the runners seemed to acknowledge it. I liked it. It suggested that no matter what came before, you can still end well, and that maybe the best is yet to come. I took that sentiment to heart in Grade 12, when I realized that it was my last chance to really do the “high school experience” right, so I really came out of my shell and got involved. I was on the student council at the grade 12 rep (which sounded good but really included very few responsibilities), I was on the basketball team (although I’m not sure if I ever was in a game), I was in the high school play (although not the lead as I was supposed to be the year before), I submitted a cartoon to the school yearbook (which was rejected on account of it being “too vulgar”), I was in band and choir (baritone and 2nd clarinet respectively!), which resulted in a European trip at the end of it all, and I think I even encouraged the school to adopt a recycling program as president of the environment club (but was met with red tape). I really Max Fischererd it up. I was happy to be given what felt like a last chance to get things right.

And so too with this reunion business. I was rattled after it, and am probably still processing some of the emotions that were brought to the surface, but the overarching emotion I feel is gratitude. Gratitude that I am actually here, alive, and living a pretty great life, despite all its ambiguity and messiness. Grateful for my wife and daughter who provide daily reminders that life should be fun, first and foremost, but will give me space when it clearly is not. Grateful for the hashtag #onward and for looking to the future. Grateful for that rough-housed pillar of strength that is my Mom who out of sheer will and stubbornness is living her best life and is a constant source of inspiration. Grateful for my wonderful current circle of friends who support, love and encourage me, and for whom I hope they know I do the same for them. Grateful for the memories of a childhood well lived and for those who lived it with me. And grateful that I am not in jail for assaulting a senior citizen.

I guess this is just all to say that despite what’s happened, despite where we are at, we all have the potential to finish strong. Finish Strong. And you can fit THAT on a t-shirt.

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Time after Time

In the late 1960’s, before my Dad met my Mom, he lived in Edmonton for a couple of years, working for some big insurance company. He didn’t know anyone there but he became good friends with one of his coworkers, Jeannette. I’m pretty sure it was all on the “up and up” but it was the 1960’s and I just don’t know, do I? I mean, I’m sure it was fine. I even think Jeannette was already married at that time, and my Dad would hang out on the weekends with Jeannette and her husband and do stuff. Not, “do stuff”, pervs, I mean like, I don’t know, go to movies and restaurants and stuff. Why is this “Mad Men”esque image of my Dad in a natty suit and a thin tie wearing dark aviator shades and holding a cocktail in a lounge not leaving me? He still wore those sunglasses well into the 1980’s.

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My Dad, circa 1968. Edmonton.

Anyway, my Dad and Jeannette remained friends after he moved back home and would be the kinds of friends that would exchange Christmas cards over the years and keep up with each other’s families on an annual basis.

So, when we, as a family, took a vacation out west in 1984, and it included a stop in Edmonton, it only made sense that we would get together for one night with Jeannette and her family.

This is where I come in.

I was 10 that summer and was pretty content to sit in the back of my grandparent’s borrowed van with a stack of G.I. Joe comics and John Bellairs novels and bury my head through the dry prairies until we hit the mountains. A stop in Edmonton seemed to me to just a unessessary delay for the ultimate goal: (Japser!) and I was not at all looking forward to the prospect of spending a boring evening with some old pal of my Dad’s. They’d probably be spending the whole damn night sitting around the dining room table talking about how fun the “old days” were and my brother and I would be stuck making our own fun.

“Oh, I think you’ll have a good time. They have kids you know”, was my Dad’s only response.

I couldn’t have known then, as we passed the world’s biggest easter egg in Vegreville, that the night we’d spend with Jeannette and her family would blow my mind and stay with me for years to come.

Because: Jeannette and her husband had three girls.

Collectively known as “The Heiss Girls”, I’ve long since forgot their individual names, but I do remember that one was slightly older than me (12?) one was like 14 and the eldest was 17. All three were home that night for supper. I think that Jeannette told them that they were having supper with an old friend and his family and that they were all expected to be on hand for it.

Let’s just take a moment and remember that I was 10 years old at the time, and although of course I knew girls from elementary school, I’m not sure I ever really hung out with any outside of school in my spare time. And I certainly wasn’t interested in any of them romantically, not yet anyway. To me, they were just the kids in my grade 4 class that preferred to play with Cabbage Patch Kids instead of Transformers. That was the main difference, as far as I could tell.

So we all ate supper together, two combined families, and then mercifully us kids were excused soon after and were free to do our own things. I do apologize if I’m not accurately and objectively reporting the events of the night, but when I turn my mind back to this evening, it seems as if someone has smeared a little Vaseline on the lens and everything seems a bit perfect.

At this point of the story I should mention that Jeannette’s husband turned out to be rather wealthy. He owned a couple of office buildings so their house seemed like a mansion and they had a large garden and back yard. After supper, the girls took me outside and wanted to do all kinds of outdoorsy crafts with me. I distinctly remember taking a piece of paper and a pencil and finding things with nice texture in the yard to get a rubbing. (Come on now). You know, like leaves and pine cones and that kind of thing. At first I thought they were a bit cuckoo. I mean, looking back at it, was the 17-year-old really into this too? Was she a bit on the simple side? She was around for sure, and so was the 14-year-old and the 12-year-old. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I went along with it. I went along with it, first because it was just me on vacation. I didn’t have to act “cool” around my friends, and secondly, this whole “rubbing yard stuff” meant there was quite a bit of contact between me and the girls. Lots of “here, let me take your pencil and show you how to do it” and “oh wow, that one’s really nice. Look at the one I just did” kind of stuff, and casually finger-touched and arm grazing and shoulder bumping and I think I was pretty smitten by the three of them (but especially the one closest in age to me because she paid the most attention to me). After we tired of the “rubbing game”. (Funfact: I DID NOT get tired of that game EVER), we moved on to actual “flower pressing”, which was not quite as fun as all the rubbing, but it did mean that there was still some casual contact. I’m telling you, that 10 year-old me could have kept finding things to rub all night.

Eventually, it got too late for us to be outside in the garden, so we all came inside and went downstairs into the family room. I don’t know what happened to my brother. I’m sure he was around, but I have no memory of him that night. I only had eyes for the Heiss girls.

They were one of the first families I knew who had a VCR, and the Heiss girls had recorded a bunch of music videos. I think my brother and I were as much a novelty to them as they were to us, and I think they were surprised at our lack of pop culture knowledge. (I’ve alluded to this in the past, and even today my friends will marvel at the huge gaps of knowledge in music, books and movies.)

Amongst the Duran Durans and the George Michaels, the Culture Clubs and the Corey Harts, the Heiss girls couldn’t wait to show us Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Now I knew all about Thriller because the year before our music teacher rolled a TV/VCR cabinet into our music room to show us it. I think she wanted us to see the dance moves or something, but that fucking thing terrified me and I had nightmares for days afterwards and I think my Mom went to the school to complain. I wasn’t willing to show anything but 10-year-old manliness and bravery in front of the Heiss girls, but I knew if we watched it I’d get freaked out again. My brother is three years younger than me and even though he’s probably made of tougher stuff than me, I didn’t think he should be seeing it either. I distinctly remember tossing him a pillow and saying, “this is going to get scary, I’d hide my eyes until it is over if I were you”, and I remember crawling under a blanket.

The youngest Heiss girl joined me. Holy shit. I’m under a blanket with a girl and she’s kinda right up against me and her top and shorts are made out of the softest cotton ever spun and oh my god what’s going to happen here?

I was hyper aware of her presence next to me, and even though the Thriller video is really long (over 13 minutes, according to one youtube clip) the time spun by all too quickly. I survived Thriller! The next few videos were tamer, and I prefaced each one with a “this isn’t going to be gory like Thriller, is it?” and that sort of became my “running joke” of the night. It was the first time I had ever seen Cyndi Lauper, and the Heiss girls had quite a few of her videos in the rotation. Girls just wanna have fun was there, and of course Time After Time.

At one point in the evening, the eldest Heiss girl (who was old enough to drive), needed to get something from the West Edmonton Mall, and we all piled into a car and made our way there. I don’t even remember what that thing was, but I remember whatever it was, it was seriously cutting into my “blanket and music video time” and I couldn’t wait to get back to the house for more.

As it turned out, we stayed at the mall longer than we intended, and by the time we got back to the house, the adults were just about wrapping up their visit. Soon we’d be back to our hotel, and the next day: Jasper! What had started off as a necessary road block to my beloved mountains had surely become the highlight of the trip, and if I was even a little bit older I might have suggested exchanging addressed and keeping in touch with the Heiss girls. Later on in my life, I carried on lengthy “pen pally” style communications with a couple of people (before the internet!), but I just wasn’t on the ball that night. Could it have become a generational thing? Just as my Dad and Jeannette kept in touch over the years, why couldn’t their offspring? But sadly it was not meant to be. We said our goodbyes, and I had a handful of rubbings and pressed flowers to show for it.

I never did see the Heiss girls again, but I never forgot that night.

As it turned out, that Cyndi Lauper album, She’s So Unusual, was the first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money after I received a Walkman for my birthday the following year. That song, Time After Time, ended up being our first dance song at my wedding almost 20 years later, and ten years after that I endured a Cher concert just so I could see Cyndi Lauper perform as the opening act. She killed it and stole the show, in my opinion.

And through it all, each time I hear that song, or really any of her songs for that matter, I think back to that 10-year-old boy on that perfect summer night, in that bucolic garden, lit up during magic hour, following a 12-year-old-girl that he just met around the yard with a paper and a crayon saying, “How about this one? Can we rub it? Or this? Or this? Or this?”

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The Talk

“Does anybody have a map?

Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?

I don’t know if you can tell but this is me just pretending to know”

Dear Evan Hansen

I work with a woman who happens to have a daughter who is the exact same age as my daughter. They are both 8 and in grade 2. Their names even start with the same letter. So, it’s not usual for us to talk about what our kids are up to, and to compare and contrast their schools, teachers, soccer coaches, playtime friends, eating and sleeping habits. You know, the usual stuff.

So, the other day I got a pain in the pit of my stomach when my co-worker showed up at our desk with a stack of “how to make babies” books. It turned out that her daughter had to do one of those “my family tree” reports where they talk about their backgrounds (racist!) and their grandparents and siblings and whatever. Her daughter point-blank asked if her Mom was “done having babies”, to which my co-worker responded with an unqualified “YES”. And then she asked again how do the babies get inside a mommy to begin with. My co-worker was NOT PREPARED to have this kind of talk at that particular moment, and said something like, “Let’s talk about that on the weekend” (this was a Thursday), and so she was trying to cram (no pun intended) all the “appropriate” info she could into her brain so she could have a reasonable, informed and open talk about it.

Yeah, right.

She and I both knew that she would be flying blind on this talk, and that she was NOT looking forward to sitting down with her daughter. AT ALL.

Which got me thinking that AT SOME POINT in the next ten years I am going to have to do the same (our daughter is 8 right now, so as long as we do it before she’s 18 we should be good, right. RIGHT?!) I can feel your eyerolls from here.

I couldn’t help but think back to my own elementary school days and the moment that my parents had “the talk” with me. I remember I was in grade 4, and up to that point I was blissfully unaware of any of it. ANY OF IT. I probably could have gone on for QUITE SOME TIME not knowing or caring about that stuff. How long? Who’s to say? Maybe even today I would be just fine living my life without the smallest bit of curiosity. In fact, I think that the only reason why my parents thought they should talk to me was because my brother (who is three years YOUNGER than me) had all kinds of questions about it. The little twerp was in GRADE ONE, people! He was always more inquisitive than I ever was, questioning Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy much earlier and aggressively than I ever did. Also, I think my parents wanted to get the ‘first crack’ at telling us what’s what, before we heard some inaccurate and disturbing versions of the truth on the playground.

As a contrast, I was never one to read ahead. I remember in grade 2 our teacher would read a bit of Charlotte’s Web”to the class each day, and we were encouraged to follow along with our own copies. We could sort of read at that point, and some kids went ahead and read the rest of the book, and acted all smug about it. Not me. I was happy to just follow along at my teacher’s pace and we all reached the climax and the satisfying conclusion together. (Yes, I realize I just used the words “climax” and “satisfying conclusion” to describe Charlotte’s Web. What of it?)

But back to sex.

My Mom came home with this book called How Babies are Made and literally sat my brother and me down on the living room couch to read it together. Up to this point, remember, I had NO IDEA about 90% of the whole process. Sure, I understood the concept that a baby starts very small inside a lady, and that over the course of few months (9 actually, but I don’t want to be a pedant), that baby will grow and grow and then it will eventually come out, but this whole “sperm and eggs” business was a game changer. I distinctly remember the book had these weird felt board style illustrations, which I guess were meant to be vague enough that they weren’t explicit, but detailed enough to get the point across in a non-threatening way. My brother took in all the info in a detached, almost clinical way, but I could NOT believe what I was hearing. At one point my Dad walked through the living room and I blurted out, “So, did you……” and I trailed off. I just couldn’t come up with the full sentence that would have been something like “So, did you stick your penis in my Mom’s vagina at some point?” and without a verbal word, he closed his eyes, pursed his lips and gave two almost imperceptible nods of his head.

I felt my face flush. Up to this point, I saw my Dad as an affable but ineffective boob who happened to live in the same house as us. He worked all day at a government job, and played with us at night and on the weekends, but to paraphrase DI Hardy, “What was the POINT of him?” I guess it all became pretty clear in an instant and I didn’t really like the picture that was emerging.

cuddles

Hetero-normative cuddles

A few weeks later, my Mom’s CRAZY theory of how babies were made was confirmed somewhat by a special “education session” put on by our gym teacher. Parents had to sign permission slips to let the class hear it, which may have been another reason for the pre-emptive talk.

Instead of a storybook with felt illustrations, we were shown a slide-show with more realistic drawings and were handed out little booklets which were supposed to address any concerns we had about puberty. Boys got different booklets than girls, and I didn’t like the fact that we were being told different information. What were in those girl booklets?? I had gone from blissfully ignorant a few weeks before to an anxious conspiracy theorist!

One memorable part of the slide show were diagrams of different ways you could get pregnant. According to one slide, if the male were to ejaculate OUTSIDE of his lady partner’s vagina, that could even be enough for the sperm to make their way inside to the egg. I distinctly remembering having a round-table discussion with my guy friends on the school yard recess immediately after this presentation. We all decided, and declared, TO A MAN, that when the time came we would all choose the ejaculation “outside the vadge” option. I mean, it just made the most sense, and I’m sure our future wives would prefer it that way too. I felt a little better about the whole thing after that. If I’m going to have to ejaculate somewhere, it’s going to be on my own terms. It’s best for everyone involved.

And don’t even get me started on masturbation. Why were they so super vague about it? Were they worried that they would create an underclass of CONSTANT FIDDLERS if they really were honest about how great it is? I feel like they really glossed over that in the books and the presentations, like it was an afterthought. It was such an afterthought that I didn’t even think about it until fully TWO YEARS LATER towards the final days of grade 6. (maybe I wasn’t ready for it until then), and I was literally self-taught, but man oh man, look out world! Things would never be the same again. Hell, I’ve just done it twice since I’ve started this blog post today! [editor’s note: that was a joke, but STILL].

So let’s fast forward to now. Where does this leave me? My daughter is just in grade 2 (just!), but they say kids are on a faster track now than a generation ago, so is it too early to talk about stuff like that? And where to begin? I mean, she still believes in Santa Claus. Should there be a rule of thumb that if Santa is still in play, let’s hold off on the sperm and eggs? BUT WHAT IF SHE HEARS STUFF FROM SOMEONE ELSE? I mean, Star Wars is already kind of ruined for her because of the DAMN SCHOOLYARD CHAT. She already knows that Vader is Luke’s father (spoiler!) and that Luke and Leia are siblings (spoiler again!), and she even knows what Yoda looks like, so there goes his great reveal on Dagobah.

But I digress.

I’ve heard it said that you should maybe only present info that is “age appropriate” so you don’t spill the beans all at once, and maybe that’s good advice, although we have been trying that with explaining our daughter’s adoption to her. We didn’t ever want it to be one of those things where we sit her down at age 16 and say, “Well, we have something that we think you might as well know…” so we’ve been pretty open about it. Which is all the more surprising that at breakfast the other day our daughter said, “I’m not adopted, right?” and my wife and I looked at each other like “WTF?” How could she have thought she wasn’t? Have we been TOO subtle, like the masturbating chapter in my elementary sex ed course? “Trust me, you’re adopted.” I said to her, and reminded her again of the night she was born and all the wonderful craziness surrounding it, and she just said, “Well, I don’t FEEL adopted.” Huh. My response, “I’m not sure how being adopted is supposed to feel. It’s probably different for every person. It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t WHO you are. You’re you.” And that seemed to be that. For now. Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook…

Which is all to say that if we take the subtle approach to this whole “talk” thing, it may not register with her at all.

Aside of the plain mechanics of it all, which is actually the least interesting part; window dressing, in my opinion; I want my daughter to feel good about herself. I want her to develop a positive sense of her own well being, and to be comfortable in her own skin. I want her to know that she doesn’t necessarily need to have another person in her life to make her life feel complete.  I want her to have the confidence to be the person she is meant to be. Hopefully if this first part is true, then she will be equipped with the tools to make the smart and right choices in her relationships, not just boyfriends (or girlfriends if that turns out to be her persuasian) but even choosing the people in her life, her lifelong friends, who will support and love her and laugh with her and cry with her, and yeah. And humour! Try to find the humour in any situation. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it feels downright impossible, but if you can find the lighter side to ANYTHING (and you can, trust me), you’ll be okay.  I want her to be safe, first and foremost, physically, but also mentally and spiritually tough. To know she doesn’t have to put with any crap from ANYONE. Knowing herself. That’s the key. Knowing what turns her on and knowing that she can do all of that her herself. We are living in a golden age! Maybe I could quote that line from Wonder Woman where Diana is schooling Chris Pine about “lady business” and says that men are needed for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure they are QUITE UNECESSARY? (or something like that! I’m working from memory!) Or maybe I can burst into song? “Look around, Look around at how lucky we are to be ALIVE right now”. Or what about Whitney? “LEARNING to love yourself. It is the greatest LOVE OF ALLLLLLL!” Or perhaps I can do a dramatic reading of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself? I’m sure that would go over great. This is all good in theory, but can you actually see me talking to my daughter about all of this? I just want her to know that it is all okay. Better than okay. It’s healthy and good. It’s great! Will I really need to tell her this? I might need some help.

Maybe I should just put on that Jane Siberry song, You don’t need anybody and tell her, “I think you’ll find all the answers to your questions about sex and relationships in this song.” and leave the room. And if she has any follow-up questions, I can put on Sisters are doing it for themselves by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. I think that probably covers all the bases. I realize I am going to be terrible at this.

I haven’t even touched upon periods, you guys. I know they happen. I’ve seen the evidence. It’s all a bit of mystery, isn’t it? Maybe my daughter will have one of those pituitary problems where she doesn’t get her period until she’s well into her 20’s? I guess I can always dream.

To bring this all back to the start, I asked my coworker about how “the talk” went with her daughter over the weekend, and she said that they were so busy running from soccer to ballet to swimming that the daughter never brought it up again, and that my co-worker sure as heck wasn’t going to be the one bringing it up. She bought herself some time!

And it seems so have I. My daughter’s main concern was getting the spelling of “Dalarna Horse” correct for a presentation she was doing on Sweden today, along with her daily campaign to get a fidget spinner and a pet fish. Maybe she doesn’t feel adopted, and maybe I don’t feel like a Dad who is very soon about to see his world change completely in front of his very eyes.

“So where’s the map?

I need a clue

’cause the scary truth is

I’m flying blind

And I’m making this up as I go”

Dear Evan Hansen

 

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“The owls are not what they seem”

“The night was all you had
You ran into the night from all you had
Found yourself a path upon the ground
You ran into the night you can’t be found”

Laura Palmer, by Bastille

“The owls are not what they seem” The Giant

“Garmonbozia” The Man from Another Place

“How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?” S.A. Cooper’s doppelganger

“I’ll see you in 25 years” Laura Palmer

welcome-to-twin-peaks-1200x628-facebook[1]

Town sign, with Mountains beyond Mountains behind.

I toyed with the idea of just quoting a bunch of Twin Peaks related quotations to mark its return to TV after twenty-five years. The crypticity of that kind of appealed to me, but I feel like I have more to say. Surprise, surprise.

Twin Peaks was always like a half-remembered dream to me, even from the very beginning.

I don’t think Twin Peaks was ever really about the murder of Laura Palmer. I mean, sure, that was the vehicle on which to hang the structure of a show, the elevator pitch that TV executives wanted to hear in the late 1980’s, but I think if you were overly concerned about that mystery, you were missing the point of the show.

I’m one of those people who probably missed the point of the show when it was first on, and I count myself among its fanbase. Growing up, one of my best friends had an older brother, Andy, and we all looked to Andy as the arbiter of what was cool. He was three years older than us, and was into different stuff than us, but it was SETTLED LAW that if Andy was into a thing, it must have been legit. Looking back on it now, Andy was pretty much just this introverted, quiet kid, and I don’t really think he was into anything more cool than anyone else. He liked what he liked, and didn’t really follow trends, but try telling the 12-year-old versions of myself and my friends that in the late ’80s. We wouldn’t have believed you.

So, as it turned out, Andy was a big David Lynch fan, and was excited for this upcoming “detective show” on NETWORK TV (ABC) called Twin Peaks.  David Lynch, up to this point was a movie director who was known for his weird and off-beat imagery, but he had never done TV before. His co-creator, Mark Frost, is a novelist and wrote for TV before teaming up with David Lynch.

Fans of this blog will know that I pride myself on being “behind the curve” on most things, and that I usually only get into something after everyone else has gotten over it. This held true for Twin Peaks, as I never watched that mythical first season when it first aired, despite getting regular reports from Andy’s younger brother (my friend Steve) over the course of the spring. Little things like “You really should watch it. I think you’d like it”. Stuff like that. It wasn’t until the first season ended on a cliffhanger, “Come on, Trev, you gotta watch it“, that I saw my first episode.

My friend Steve had been recording all of them on his parent’s Beta VCR. Beta! It’s hard to imagine a time when all of North America relied on about 12 or 15 TV channels for all our entertainment. A time when there were really only three big American networks. A time when “serious TV shows” were things like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. So when one of those three major networks took a chance on what we’d call today “Prestige TV”, it was a big event. Nowadays, our entertainment stream is so varied and granular we are watching stuff at all hours on dozens of platforms, and all of it seems to be “edgy”. So when Netflix revives a “classic multi-camera sitcom” like it did with the revival of One Day at a Time earlier this year, it actually felt fresh and ground-breaking. “You mean there’s a show that pretty much takes place in a living room about a family and it’s sweet and funny and well written and wholesome? REVOLUTIONARY!”

I think I actually watched the season finale of Season 1 before I watched anything else, (I know: OUT OF ORDER?!). My friend and his older brother were getting geared up for Season 2 to begin that fall, (Grade 11 for us), and were going to do a rewatch. I joined them for most of it. So, even from the beginning, the show had a surreal, disorienting quality to it. I watched season 1 out-of-order, and I am even sure to this day that there are some episodes of season 1 that I’ve just never seen. For example, (SPOILERS!), I think I only know Jacques Renault as a corpse, but I’m pretty sure he was alive and walking around for some of season 1. I just don’t think I’ve seen those episodes. And we are only talking about 8 episodes in total for season 1! How is it possible I haven’t seen all of them? I never really understood who Jacques Renault was, but I sure became familiar with his evil brother, Jean Renault, in season 2. And you know what? Maybe I DID see those Jacques Renault episodes. I just don’t remember. The whole show has a hazy, misty quality to it, and for me it was filtered through my friend’s Beta tapes out of sequence.

Despite having watched Season 1 out-of-order (and possibly missing an episode or two), I immediately fell in love with the mood of the show. I think that is the best way to describe it. The show is all about the mood it creates. The feeling it leaves with you. This is why I encourage people who haven’t seen it to actually seek out the shows themselves, and to not rely solely on Wikipedia summaries. Sure, you might get the gist of the plot that way, but you’d be missing the whole experience of it, which is, as I am arguing here, the whole point of it. The colour palette, the wonderful soundtrack, the hypnotic shots of the falls by the hotel, the very essence of the “Pacific Northwest” distilled into hour-long shots to be taken weekly. I loved the “fish out of water” tropes of an urbane FBI agent “from Philadelphia” discovering all the small town charms of this sleepy yet mysterious town. Even the coffee, donuts and cherry pie in the “Double R Diner” seemed to take on meaning beyond their face values.

If I was late to the game, I didn’t waste any time getting caught up in time for Season 2. In addition to watching as many episodes of season 1 on my friend’s Beta tapes as I could, I got the show’s soundtrack, I collected Twin Peaks trading cards, I picked up a copy of a “Twin Peaks Cook Book” (True story), someone gave me a copy of “Laura Palmer’s Secret Diary”,  I got a copy of “Special Agent Dale Cooper’s Diane Tapes”, an audio CASSETTE that was filled with recordings of actor Kyle McLachlan sending reports back to the mysterious “Diane” back in Philadelphia. We never really find out who Diane is, but she must be associated with the FBI in some way: an admin assistant or some other office staff who is presumably transcribing Cooper’s tapes into official reports, I even got sheet music for the piano for the Twin Peaks theme and Laura’s Theme (the LOVE theme from Twin Peaks), so I could learn to play them. This was years after I actually stopped taking piano lessons, even, but I was able to plunk them out eventually. I still have them.

And then season 2 began, and I didn’t miss a single episode. I even got my brother into it. Was it possible that with my brother being three years younger than ME, that I was the arbiter of cool for HIM? Probably not. More likely it was that we had one TV set and a dozen channels so WHAT ELSE WAS HE GOING TO WATCH? Oprah?

It was one of the weirdest, most uneven, befuddling, disjointed, misfit seasons of TV I’ve ever watched. I know I said at the beginning of this post that the whole point of the show wasn’t solving the mystery of who murdered Laura Palmer. I still believe that, but having said that, once the show reveals to the audience who the murderer is, it really begins to lose its way. The audience finds out in episode 7, but it takes two more episodes for this to become public knowledge in the show. And then, after that: it’s a little like we are all experiencing a lucid dream in this weird town, no longer having the driving force and reason for being there. It feels like the writers are spinning their wheels at this point, and when the writing goes, it doesn’t take long for any “moody good will” to get used up. Once the murder is solved, there really was no reason for Agent Cooper to remain in Twin Peaks, so the writers came up with this meandering plot involving a ex-partner who went crazy, and a run-of-the-mill revenge plot that eroded, rather than enhanced the signature look, feel and mood of the show.

I’ve never watched Lost, but a common complaint I’ve heard about the show from those who did watch it, was that it introduced a bunch of ideas and possibilities, but then never fully capitalized on them. It was as if J.J. Abrams had never heard of Chekhov’s gun. The show kept getting more and more convoluted until it finally came to a messy end where it turned out everyone was in heaven or something (SPOILERS ON A TEN YEAR OLD SHOW, EVERYBODY). I mean, maybe SPOILERS, I  don’t really know.

So it seemed to go in the course of the 18 episodes of season 2 of Twin Peaks. It started so strong, and I stuck with it, but it didn’t help that there was an almost 2 month break between the penultimate episode and the finale on June 10, 1991. During that break, my Dad got really sick with Depression again and was hospitalized. Even though he never watched Twin Peaks (he thought it was weird), he was always interested in what my brother and I were into. And of course that winter and spring, my brother and I were into Twin Peaks. In my all too infrequent visits to him in the hospital, I would sometimes give him story updates. He was a big fan of Kenneth Welsh, a Canadian actor who played Cooper’s ex-partner Windom Earle. I didn’t really go into alot of details about his character. I figured a man suffering from Depression probably didn’t need to hear about a character that went INSANE and escaped from a mental hospital. Still, when you can’t talk about anything else, you can always talk about pop culture, and it was better than silence. At least I thought it was at the time. My Dad never did recover from that last bout of Depression, and he died a week before the finale aired. My life was in shambles already, but I made sure I watched the ending. I had to. I was still a fan. Well, the last episode ended on an extremely nihilistic note, with Special Agent Dale Cooper trapped in the “Black Lodge”, a version of hell in this show’s mythology. He offers himself in exchange for the release and safety of his girlfriend, Annie Blackburn. In the final minutes of the show, we get a scene between Cooper in the lodge and a spirit version of Laura Palmer (or is it her doppelganger?) who says to him, “I’ll see you in 25 years” (is this a dream?).  Change of scene to Cooper waking up in a bed, in the company of the sheriff and the doctor. We are led to believe that things are going to be okay, as he asks about his girlfriend. “How’s Annie?” BUT THINGS ARE NOT GOING TO BE OKAY, because the final scene of the show has Cooper rising from the bed, going into the bathroom, closing the door, looking into the mirror. He squeezes toothpaste all over his brush and sink, and you see by the reflection in the bathroom mirror that he is possessed by the same spirit that murdered Laura Palmer. Cooper’s doppelganger smashes his head into the mirror, turns around, and with a crazy grin on his face, says repeatedly, “How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?”

Roll Credits.

And that’s it! That’s all we got.

I’ve read since then that there was supposed to be a Season 3 where a rescue mission is mounted to get Cooper out of the Black Lodge, but since the show was cancelled after 2 seasons (probably the right call), Cooper has been left in the Black Lodge all this time. Laura Palmer’s prediction that we would see her again in 25 years is coming true in real-time, with the unlikely revival of the series in a third season this past weekend. Now, this isn’t some kind of “fun reunion of the cast” kind of thing. This is a solid 18 EPISODES OF CONTENT, all written by David Lynch and Mark Frost. Most of the cast of the original show is returning too, with a couple of notable exceptions. Michael Ontkean, who played Sheriff Harry S. Truman is “officially retired from acting”. Some of the best scenes on the show were between Truman and Cooper, who developed a kind of “Holmes and Watson” banter and relationship over the two seasons. The revival will be the poorer for it without him. Another exception is Heather Graham, who played Annie, Special Agent Cooper’s love interest and the person for whom Cooper asks about in the last lines of the show. With her not returning, will we ever get an answer to the haunting question, “How’s Annie?” Another notable absence is Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna Hayward in the first two seasons. Her role was famously recast for the Fire Walk with Me prequel that came out a year after the show ended, and depending which Hollywood gossip you want to believe, didn’t appear due to something boring like “scheduling conflicts” or MAYBE IT WAS SOMETHING MORE JUICY LIKE “she had a falling out with David Lynch and her FORMER BOYFRIEND Kyle McLachlan”. When given a choice, I always go for the juice.

A few actors revived their roles, but have died since filming their scenes, so who knows what that will mean for the future of the show, if indeed there will be a life after Season 3? These include Mark Frost’s Dad, Warren Frost, who played Dr. Hayward, Miguel Ferrer, who played the sardonic Agent Rosenfield, and Catherine Coulson, better known as “The Log Lady”. Rest in peace, weirdoes.

In the years between 1991 and now, Twin Peaks has popped up in the wider pop culture. In some ways, it never really left those of us who watched it and loved it. There were references on The Simpsons, where Homer is shown watching the show and calling it “brilliant” and then in the next breath saying that he has no idea what is going on. On Seinfeld, two actors from the show, Warren Frost (Dr. Hayward) and Grace Zabriskie (Laura Palmer’s Mom) played George’s future in-laws in a nod to the show. Northern Exposure devoted a whole episode to a homage to Twin Peaks, and the show Psych did a special “20th anniversary” episode that featured no less than 724 Twin Peaks references! Even Stephen King was a fan of the show, and I remember reading Needful Things and smiling to myself when Norris Ridgewick, the deputy sheriff in Castle Rock, is described as a “Deputy Andy Brennan from Twin Peaks” type. Even my friend Kaj made a Twin Peaks reference in one of this high school history papers. Right in the middle of a report about the siege of Quebec he wrote in all caps THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM, mid-sentence, and carried right on talking about Montcalm and Wolfe. He did it just to see what our teacher’s reaction would be, AND THE TEACHER DIDN’T SAY A THING, which leads me to believe he is either a) a doppelganger from the black lodge, or b) never really read the report to begin with. I’m still not sure. One of my high school pals, Michelle, dressed up as “The Log Lady” for Halloween. We were an odd bunch.

The thing that is tripping me up is this: do I even WANT to see this? After 25 years, do I need more Twin Peaks? It’s easy for me to not watch it. It’s only available on a pay channel here in Canada, or through a mysterious streaming service called Crave TV, apparently. That would involve me signing up for a membership, and I’m not quite ready to take that step. For me to see this third season, it’s going to take work. But then again: it took work for me to see season 1 all those years ago. I had to sit in my friend’s basement and fast-forward through commercials on Beta tapes. The upsetting and unsatisfying end to the series is mirrored by the upsetting and unsatisfying to my childhood in real-life, too. Even doing a bit of research for this blog post has stirred up memories and feelings I haven’t felt since high school. Do I really want to go deep with this? Should I just leave Cooper in the Black Lodge, where’s he’s been since high school for me? David Lynch and Mark Frost are surely different people than they were 25 years ago, and I guess so am I, in some ways. The world is different too. When Twin Peaks first aired, TV was dominated by big networks, and everyone sort of watched the same handful of shows. Now, there are a number of PODCASTS dedicated to that show. I just downloaded the first one of a series called “Twin Peaks Unwrapped” which I guess is a reference to Laura Palmer’s body being wrapped up in plastic. Just try explaining PODCASTS to Agent Cooper. And don’t even start with him about Twitter. Today, you can type #twinpeaks as a hashtag and you’ll get a cool little graphic of red drapes and zig-zaggy carpet after it. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait…………….

Cool, huh? I don’t know what to tell you. There is definitely a part of me that wants to see what happens next. OR DO I?

Okay, so despite stating my opinion that Twin Peaks is all about the journey, not the destination, it’s all about the mood, not the plot, that it’s all about the experience, not the results, I know there are some of you that just want to jump in and watch Season 3 with minimal catch up.

I get it.

I know what that feels like, and maybe that is the biggest difference between the me of 1991 and the me of 2017. I just don’t have the patience for things like I used to. When I hear a new season of a show is available, even a show I’ve enjoyed, I don’t automatically feel joy, I feel dread. Dread that it is ONE MORE DAMN THING for me to get off my already overflowing pop culture plate. And that goes double for “revivals”. Sure, I enjoyed the heck out of the first three seasons of Arrested Development, but like most people, I was pretty disappointed with the Netflix revival. When news broke that yet another season was announced recently, it felt like too much of good thing. Enough, already. You probably wouldn’t order the same pizza from the same pizza place every night for supper, would you? EVEN IF IT WAS GREAT PIZZA? Wouldn’t you like to try new things? Isn’t variety the spice of life? Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am now in my 40’s and every day feel the cold breath of DEATH on the back of my neck and realize I better “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'”, as Morgan Freeman reminded us in The Shawshank Redemption. I think a part of me is just plain scared that I won’t be able to capture that good feeling I had of catching up on this show in my friend’s basement, and watching the new ones with my brother all those years ago. Nothing will bring those days back.

So for those readers who would like a quick primer of what you probably need to know to get into Season 3 of Twin Peaks, (and aren’t afraid of SPOILERS), read on! For the rest of you, you can stop here and eagerly await my inevitable tribute to Roger Moore, who died while I was in the middle of this post. Rest in Peace, Double Oh Seven. We’ll get to you in a bit.

twin peaks

Lynch’s Last Supper?

  • Laura Palmer was murdered by her father, Leland Palmer, who was possessed by an evil spirit known as BOB. Another evil spirit, MIKE, was BOB’s partner in many murders and rapes but at some point before the beginning of the show, MIKE repented, cut off his arm, and is now on the hunt to stop BOB. MIKE is currently possessing a shoe salesman named “Philip Gerard”.
  • Special Agent Dale Cooper had a former partner named Windom Earle, who WENT INSANE, murdered his wife, Caroline, (with whom Cooper was having an AFFAIR: what is this? Broadchurch?) and was locked up in a mental institution. (All of that is back story that comes out in Season 2). A large part of the second half of season 2 was all about Windom Earle escaping the institution and coming to get revenge on Cooper in Twin Peaks.
  • In the show’s mythology, there are two lodges, The White Lodge (good spirits) and The Black Lodge (evil spirits) that exist in another dimension where time and space intermingle. BOB and MIKE are from these lodges, which are connected by a waiting room that has zig-zaggy carpet and red curtains. The lodges also can create doppelgangers, or evil twins of people who sometimes get out into our world. In the show, we’ve seen doppelgangers of Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper, Laura’s Father, The Man from Another Place, and Caroline Earle.
  • In the final episode, Windom Earle kidnaps Annie Blackburn (Cooper’s girlfriend) and takes her into the Black Lodge as revenge. Cooper follows. BOB murders Windom Earle and Cooper strikes a deal with BOB: if he lets Annie go, Cooper will stay in the Black Lodge as prisoner.
  • Agent Cooper’s doppelganger (which appeared to be possessed by BOB) escapes the Black Lodge and is free to roam our world. Annie’s well-being is unknown.
  • The owls are not what they seem.

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Movie Night

I feel like we are getting away with something.

I mean, when our daughter was in preschool, or nursery school, or whatever you want to call it. Preschool? Nursery School? Preschool. Well, whatever you call it, when she was in it, we were fundraising every three months or so. There was the “bag o’ veggies” fundraiser where you encourage your friends and family to buy a bag of veggies. The normal bag came with onions, carrots and….what. Celery? I can’t remember. That can’t be right. Was it a mirepoix mix? Maybe it was potatoes. You could get the deluxe bag that included all of the above plus parsnips and a cabbage, or as it was known, the “fart bundle”.

Then there was the coffee and chocolate fundraiser at Christmas. I actually miss that one. The coffee was locally roasted by a dude in the north end, and it was delicious. And who can argue with chocolate? I mean, you can disagree with chocolate, but can you ever have an actual full-blown argument with a piece of chocolate? I’ve never seen it.

Inevitably in the Spring, there was the “plants and flowers” fundraiser, where our poor friends and family who were just over the tummy trouble from all that cabbage and parsnips, and just back to full night’s sleep after finishing up the Christmas coffee roasted in the back of some guy’s van on Higgins Ave, these same friends and family were then strong armed into buying flats of Johnny Jump Ups and that favourite enemy of the nematode: the marigold.

And so it went. Our daughter’s nursery-preschool (see what I did there?) was a co-op, so that meant without the fundraising and parent support, it wouldn’t exist, and we just assumed that was how it was going to be going forward.

So it was to our delight and astonishment that fundraising seems to have really dropped away at our daughter’s elementary school. I mean, there’s the odd thing that comes up, but nothing mandatory. There aren’t even those “guilt” emails about giving us the option to just pay a certain amount to avoid doing fundraising. Those ransom emails, as I’ve come to think of them. “Pay $40 or we will force you to make your friends and family buy these terrible little chocolates, or even worse: SPICES”.

I mean, I suppose it’s possible that we are just wilfully blind to the whole thing and when our daughter completes grade 6 and moves on to jr high we may be presented with a cumulative bill for the previous 7 years. I mean, I SUPPOSE that might happen, but that’s unlikely. It’s like those stress dreams I have where I get a bill in the mail for something I haven’t ever paid for. Like, “Surprise! You owe 11 years worth of property taxes!”.

All of this is a preamble to movie night, which happened last week. It was a fundraiser for the school. You read that right. A FUNDRAISER for the SCHOOL. This was such a novel idea to us, we were instantly intrigued. The idea was that you’d head to the school for 6:30 pm with your child and you would watch the movie “Moana” together and then go home. Your ticket would include a drink, popcorn and a SNACK. I hadn’t seen “Moana” but I’ve heard good things about it from people whom I trust and share their taste in things. Also, Lin Manuel Miranda did some of the music, and who doesn’t love THAT guy. He’s like musical chocolate. (That is NOT a racist comment, I’ll have you know. I was not referring to Miranda’s Puerto Rican heritage, but was rather simply making a throwback reference to chocolate as being something you couldn’t argue with. Plus, Lin Manuel Miranda’s skin tone is more of a nice coffee colouring, I should think.)

So it was settled. We would go as a family, and RAISE some FUNDS.

It all went wrong the day before the movie, when an email went out to the parents saying “due to copyright issues” the school couldn’t show “Moana” but instead would show “Lego Batman”.

What a blow this was! Not only did we actually already see “Lego Batman” in a theatre a month or so before, we didn’t particular love it. I mean, I enjoyed it enough, and there was some good lines in it, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as the original Chris Pratt Lego movie a couple of years before. And without having this devolve into a movie review, the movie itself seemed to be just a bunch of extended action sequences without much thought put into it, unlike the other Lego movie that had action, sure, but it also created this great world that took full advantage of Lego’s weird licensing where they could throw together all kinds of properties that had no business being together. Like didn’t they have Gandalf and Dumbledore together or something? “Lego Batman” stuck pretty much to using DC characters, and Batman DC characters at that, so it felt a little more limited than the other Lego movie. (Okay, so I know there’s that scene where they go to the phantom zone or whatever, and unleash all those other extra villans, like the Daleks and King Kong and Sauron and whatnot. I’m not talking about those guys.) But to Goldblum it a little bit, it IS billed as a “Lego BATMAN” movie, so you’d expect it to be “Batman dense” in terms of characters and story, and so it was. Side remark: my favourite part in the movie is close to the beginning when that guy is leaving that chemical plant and he says goodnight to the guard at the gate and the guard says to himself once the guy goes through something like, “There goes Bill. I sure like that guy. I hope nothing bad happens to him.” and then it immediately cuts to “Bill” in his car and Bill is singing, “Nothing bad ever happens to me!” and then something bad happens. (SPOILER). I don’t know. I just found it really funny the first time through.

So we briefly discussed the possibility of skipping out, but by that time our daughter had told all her classmates that she would be going, and plus: if I was in grade 2 and they had a movie night at my school, I would have thought it was the greatest thing ever. I only remember watching a movie en masse at elementary school, and it was in the afternoon on school time. It must have been an “end of the year” fun event or something, because we all filed into the gym and there was an HONEST TO GOODNESS PROJECTOR at the back of the gym and the principal showed us “Pete’s Dragon”. The principal actually acted as the projectionist! Now, I don’t know how our school acquired a copy of a Disney movie on actual film. This was the early 1980’s, so anything was possible. But I am sure glad they did, as fans of this blog may know that was the first time I ever saw Helen Reddy and it awakened some solid pre-pubescent feelings, the effects of which linger to this day. It’s no coincidence I live in a lighthouse, you guys.

So we went. It started out okay. We turned in our tickets and were given a bag of popcorn, a choice of about 6 different boxes of “Mike and Ike” candies, and a bottled water. Not bad for $4! Then it got a little weird when were encouraged to take our shoes off. I mean, it wasn’t MANDATORY, but if we WANTED to, we were shown the spot where we could leave them. Our daughter had hers off before we knew anything was happening and was off into the gym in search of her friends. For the record, my wife and I kept our shoes on. I mean, I’m not 12, am I?

When I entered the gym my first thought was, “Where are the chairs?” and then to my horror and disgust I realized that maybe we were supposed to bring our own something to sit on. No one had lawn chairs, but quite a few people had air mattresses, blankets and pillows. Let me remind you that this was 6:30 in the evening. Not exactly BED TIME, but here it was: children and grown adults setting up camp like it was some kind of St. James style Cubs weekend. I turned to my wife, “we were supposed to bring chairs?” and she shrugged her shoulders. She liked “Lego Batman” even less than I did, and the thought of sitting through it again was not a happy prospect. Plus: we were missing choir practice. Some early arrivers plunked themselves down on benches along the back wall of the gym, and I instantly hated them for their punctuality. I’m not a great “floor sitter”. I know some people, even adults, will happily sit on the floor in living rooms and what-have-you, and if there are no seats available I’ll do it, but my feet and legs fall asleep really easily, and the floor here was so hard! Do I lay right out and prop my head up somehow? Do I sit cross-legged? Do I kind of lay on my side? I tried all of these AND MORE and found I couldn’t really settle for more than a few minutes before I got the tingles. I joked to my wife that I was going to ask the kid in front of me if I could stretch out on his air mattress next to him and share his pillow. My wife gave me one of those looks where I wasn’t 100% sure if she knew I was joking, and that made me think that maybe my past behaviour has ruined things for me.

The next problem was the aspect ratio of the screen. I KNOW that to some friends of this blog, this is a major issue. The movie was projected in its original 1.85.1 aspect ratio, but it was projected ONTO A SQUARE SCREEN, thus cutting off the sides and leaving unseemly black bars at the top and bottom. Don’t even get me started on the sound. The sound was terrible. I am so glad this isn’t the first time I saw this movie, all of a sudden. I couldn’t make out much of the dialogue, and if I wasn’t really looking for the “Nothing Bad ever happens to me” guy, I would have missed him. As it turned out, my wife DID miss him, not because of the sound quality, but BECAUSE SHE DECIDED IT WOULD BE MORE INTERESTING TO CHAT OUT LOUD TO ONE OF OUR FRIENDS WHO’S SON ALSO GOES TO THE SCHOOL AND WHO HAD ALSO SEEN THE MOVIE BEFORE AND SO NOW I GUESS ALL RULES OF DECORUM AND MANNERS GO OUT THE WINDOW AT A MOVIE NIGHT AT A SCHOOL. The one silver lining I thought would be that my wife missed a funny section of the movie the first time through because she was out in the washroom, and I thought that at least she could she it this time. (I’m talking about Batman’s visit to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude where that Justice League party was in full swing.) But NO! Guess what? She went out to the washroom AT THE EXACT SAME SPOT and missed the scene again.

Back to the “Nothing bad ever happens to me” guy: when that scene happened, my daughter, who was sitting up front with her friends (and why not? I didn’t expect her to sit back with her parents like a square), turned around and gave me a little thumbs up, which warmed my heart.

At some point of the evening, a bunch of kids starting running back and forth under the screen, and none of their parents seemed to want to go up there and stop it. This was either because the parents were too embarrassed to admit that was their dumb kid (that would have been my reason if it were my daughter: thankfully it wasn’t), or even worse: maybe the parents thought this was acceptable behaviour. It was at this point that I was actually glad I wasn’t seeing “Moana”, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to make any sense of it, and would have ended up hating it. As it is,  I will watch it in the comfort of my living room whenever my library DVD copy comes in, and it will be great.

I must have really either gotten into the movie, or actually drifted off on the hard floor at some point, because before I knew it, the movie was over and the lights came up. My wife was not beside me, and neither was our friend. In fact, our daughter wasn’t up at the front either. Where was everyone I cared about? Well, at some point during the movie, this girl stomped on our daughter’s foot ,and she started crying. My wife went out to the school office and got some ice for it, and they were out in the hallway. How could I have missed all that? Could I really have drifted off? I can’t get more than 3 or 4 hours at sleep in my own bed these days without waking up with the existential dread, so how can a noisy gym with a noisy movie do the trick? Am I into extreme white noise? The other weird thing was that the kid that did the stomping is a tiny little thing, so I couldn’t understand how she could have hurt our daughter’s foot to the point where ice was needed.

“She might be small, but she has size three feet” was all my wife said.

“You mean like a hobbit?”

“She’s all feet, and they are big ones.”

Well, I don’t think that can be possible? Can a child be “all feet”. I know children grow at different rates, and some may have a longish trunk, and others may have gangly limbs, but all feet? I have no way of proving or disproving this. Maybe our daughter should have kept her shoes on after all.

We returned the ice pack to the office, and our daughter knew exactly where it went, which made me think that maybe “going for ice” was a common thing for her at school. Myself, I don’t think I ever put ice on ANYTHING in my childhood. I don’t think my Mom believed in it.

We stepped out into the early evening and walked home. It was still light out, and the air was filled with the warmth of early spring.

“Did you enjoy the movie?” I asked my daughter as we walked.

“Well, I saw it before.”

Yeah. We all did.

Can’t wait for the next one.

 

 

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Torn with many a rift

A few years ago our church put together a collection of “favourite hymns”. I think the idea was that you would pick a hymn and then write up a little story as to why that hymn was important to you. I clearly remember being asked to contribute, but either my story didn’t make the cut, or I just never got around to submitting anything. It’s probably the latter, and I’m not saying that because I think I had a super interesting story, but come on. I sure I would have come up with something. Something passable.

Something like this:

I think I got all my early music influences from my Dad. He sang in choirs, and collected records (almost exclusively classical, choir, and jazz). We had a huge “hi-fi” in our living room. It was a museum piece. A huge cabinet the size of a sideboard, but instead of being filled with china, it was filled with records and a turn table. My Dad would often put a record on during supper, and I would go over to the “hi fi” after I was done eating and put my ear put against the speakers. The speakers were the entire front side of this behemoth piece of outdated stereo equipment, and if the music was loud enough, or if you got close enough to the side of it, you could feel the vibrations of the music come through the side wall. I have many great, comforting memories of me discovering music this way, and when I think back to my earliest memories of listening to music, I associate that sensation with not only the sound of music, but the literal feel of music through the fabric of the speakers.

I’m sure it was on my Dad’s hi-fi, with me lying prone, that I first heard and felt Ralph Vaughan Williams.

My Dad had strong opinions on music. For example, if you could get a choral recording of something recorded by Robert Shaw, then you got the Robert Shaw version or GTFO. He loved Mozart especially, and his record collection reflected this. And if he found a Robert Shaw recording of a Mozart opera? Oh man. Watch out. I suppose I went a little funny that way too, but my composer/conductor of choice was Leonard Bernstein a generation later. A favourite podcast’s creed is “People like what they like”, and I think if my Dad were still alive, he would agree with that sentiment. My Dad had some Leonard Bernstein recordings too, mostly his musicals like On the Town and West Side Story, but we never got to have a proper discussion/debate on our varied musical tastes. (Okay, “varied” might be a bit too generous a term here if we are discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Robert Shaw and Leonard Bernstein, but STILL. I would have loved to have had that conversation).

In addition to Mozart, Dave Brubeck, and anything touched by Robert Shaw, my Dad loved the Irish composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was first time I heard the name “Ralph” pronounced the Southern English way. “Raif”. One of my Dad’s favourite hymns was “I feel the winds of God today”, which features a tune by RVW. The tune even has a name. Kingsfold. I like that some tunes are given names, like old houses in Britain. Sometimes when I am bored at church I’ll flip through the hymn and look at the names of the hymn tunes, and sometimes the authors. You can really find some treasures.

(I can now see why my entry into the church’s “favourite hymns” book was cut, if indeed it was ever submitted: I’m quickly approaching the 600 word mark and only now am I getting to the subject at hand. But you can’t rush these things).

Those that know this hymn already don’t need a refresher, but here are the words anyway:

“I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift,
Though heavy, oft with drenching spray, and torn with many a rift;
If hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at His behest, and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries my vain regretful tears,
Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years;
If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be;
Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget Thy love and how that love was shown,
Lift high the blood red flag above; it bears Thy name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way, Thou wilt not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.”

So obviously I responded well to the nautical theme. I have always been stuck by the romance of the sea, and all of its trappings. Lighthouses, fog, mist, sea captains, cruel partings and overdue reunions, long distance lovers, foreign lands and peoples, chowder, superstition, the mystery and adventure of it all. I don’t know why. Maybe being from the Prairies, it seemed so exotic to me.

I like the idea of a pilgrim waiting for favourable winds to cast off into the unknown. I can also relate to the idea that my sail is heavy, wet and “torn with many a rift”. We aren’t perfect. We never will be. It doesn’t matter. In the second verse, that same wind that calls us to action is also the wind that comforts us in our times of despair, and refreshes us and restores us to our former glory. In a hymn already chock full of romantic imagery, it goes meta and forces the writer to look back on the “purer, brighter years” as inspiration. The third verse doubles down on God’s unconditional and unwavering love, despite those times when “I forget thy love and how that love was shown.” I think of the Gunslinger’s mantra from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series when someone loses their way of them “forgetting the face of their father”. Something about that line always stuck with me, even before forgetting my father’s face became an actual reality for me. Then you get some not-so-veiled references to the Good Friday sacrifice with that Blood Red Flag showing up as a reminder. This line always makes me think of a young Bono, taking flags from the crowd in the early days and incorporating them into the concerts, no doubt during “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

So, in summary. It’s a pretty damn great hymn, and one that we don’t get to sing very often. We sang it a couple of weeks ago, and all of the memories of singing it as a kid in church next to my Mom looking up at my Dad in the choir loft came back to me. Music has a way of doing that. Sometimes you’ll sing this same tune but with different words.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found him in a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water, thirsty one,
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me; your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.

I don’t know. There is nothing objectively WRONG with these words, I guess. They just seem to be a little “samey”, and they don’t feature seas and winds and adventure and chowder. (I realize that this second set of words were actually written first, by the improbably named Horatius Bonar. And before you ask, no he doesn’t.)

That’s all I really have to say about “I feel the winds of God today,” today. But I have a couple more things to say about RVW, if you have the time to stick around for a bit.

Like I said before, RVW was one of my Dad’s favourites, and in Grade 11 our band was set to perform his “English Folk Songs Suite” at our annual concert. My Dad was always interested in what our band was playing and what our choir was singing, and he was particularly excited to know about the RVW piece. We previewed it at the band festival that Spring, and I was glad my Dad was able to skip out of work and come down and hear it. I couldn’t have known at that time that was going to be the last time he heard me perform anything. Depression got a hold of him soon after that, and he was hospitalized for a couple of months for it. He died the morning before our final concert in June, and never did hear the final, polished version. I remember the just the night before he died, reminding him of the concert and wondering if he would be able to get a day pass to come hear it. He got the day pass, but I think he had already made up his mind. I decided to go to the concert that next day, in spite of everything. I didn’t want to let the choir down. (The band wouldn’t have missed me, really, but the choir? That was another thing). So I performed the “English Folk Song Suite” in memory of my Dad, not for my Dad, as originally planned. And I somehow held it all together that whole evening. I think there was a part of me that wanted to show my classmates and my teachers that I was tough, that this little thing that happened yesterday wasn’t going to throw me off too badly. I could fake it for a few days anyway, and that was all that mattered to me then.

I’m not sure if you know RVW’s “English Folk Song Suite”, but it holds a special place in my heart now, obviously. Especially the slower second movement. Even listening to it today takes me right back to that high school gym that Monday evening, June 3, 1991. The three movements taken together form some kind of a cohesive whole, and sound cyclical when you listen to it on repeat. There was a time the following summer when our high school band briefly became a marching band on a tour of Europe, and we did exactly that: we played it cyclically for the better part of an hour as we wound our way through the narrow streets of some small town in Germany. It lends itself to repeated listens quite well. It was one of the first pieces to make it onto my iPod almost 10 years ago and it has never left.

 

About the same time that the “English Folk Song Suite” made it onto my iPod for the first time, I was invited by someone in my church choir to audition for another choir in the city that was looking for additional members for a special upcoming concert with our symphony orchestra. I wasn’t one for auditioning. (I haven’t changed much in that department). And yet I put together a piece and found the courage and went down, laid myself bare, and sung my heart out. I got in! I’ve been singing with that choir every since, and it is one of the highlights of my year to practice and then perform with them.

But I didn’t know that ten years ago. The real reason I tried out was that the piece the choir was performing was “A Sea Symphony” by, you guessed it: Ralph Vaughan Williams. I took it as a good omen that I was feeling the winds of God that day, and I had no choice but to lift my heavy, drenched and torn sail in response. I have too many vain and regretful tears, brought on by the oddest of triggers. Just like the “English Folk Song Suite” life goes in cycles and here at the end of something begins again something new. I wonder what it will be? Only time will tell.

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