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Day 37

Has it actually been a month since I last updated? *checks calendar* Yeah, I guess it has. Well, considering I went for a solid year without updating at all, a month seems respectable.

But what a month!

I’ve been trying to keep some semblance of a routine going in my life to help keep perspective and manage all the changes. For example, I’ve been keeping a daily journal ever since public services shut down on March 14. I’ve been adding day numbers to each entry, like a travel adventure (or maybe a prison sentence?) Some days feel like one and some days feel like the other. So, according to that, we are currently working on DAY 37.

Another thing I have been doing is making regular work schedules on the same templates that we use when things are open. (I hesitate to say when things are “normal” as anyone who regular works with the public will know that is a dangerous thing to claim). I’ve had some feedback from staff that they appreciate the bi-weekly check ins as much as I do making them and sending them out.

I may have to alter my approach after this week, as 75% of my staff are to be laid off at the end of the week, losing access to their work email, 3 others have been redeployed to other areas. That leaves me with just one staff person reporting to me, and now she tells me she has put in her paperwork to retire at the end of June! (She would retire sooner but she is required to give 60 days notice). I am a librarian without a library at the moment, and soon to be a supervisor with no staff. I think I’ll still make the schedules, but just keep them for myself. I know that’s weird, but we all have to do what we need to do to get through this nasty business.

 

What kind of routines have you established or maintained so far to mark the time?

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Faraway (So Close!)

We are all adjusting.

It’s been about a week since my library closed to the public, and this whole idea of social distancing and self-isolating became everyone’s focus. I understand the general idea behind it: this COVID-19 virus is extremely contagious, so the best way to make sure you personally don’t catch it is frequent hand washing, and the best way to slow the spread of it through the community is to no be in cough or sneeze distance of one another. If we can slow the rate it spreads, our health-care system won’t get swamped with flu patients and we can collectively save thousands of lives. It’s too early to tell if it’s working, because this virus can be in you for up to 14 days (on average) before you show symptoms, and just seven days ago I was in close contact with the wide swath of society who self identify as “library users”. I feel fine, everyone in the lighthouse with me feels fine. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe have self isolated themselves in one of the outbuildings so now we can do a thorough cleaning, especially this weird mermaid scrimshaw I found in one of the bedrooms.

But enough of all that. As we wait this thing out we are all trying to find ways to stay connected at a distance. This past Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day. All the pubs in town were closed, and my only nod to the day was making bangers and mash for supper. Guinness or Bushmills didn’t feel appropriate considering the circumstances.

After supper, my wife and two pals made a plan to watch “Leap Year” since it is set and filmed mostly in Ireland. Amy Adams, I’m sure we can all agree, is simply the BEST. I don’t even mean the best actor. She is just the best, full stop. The movie was a good pick not only because of the Irish flavour, but it is one we have all seen before, is light and funny, and is available on a streaming service common to all taking part. They chose a time to sync the start, and what made it extra fun was that we all had our devices at the ready and we chatted in real time through messaging. I felt like a little alone time, so I was in my bedroom reading, but I had my device next to me and enjoyed hearing the movie play in the other room while watching the text balloons scroll by, occasionally adding my two cents here and there. It almost felt like we were all together and I recommend it as something to try while we are all keeping our distances.

There are tons of social media platforms that allow this kind of interaction. We happened to be using the direct message side of Instagram, and it worked a treat.

Oh, and as I leave you with this social distancing tip, I found a post from 4 years ago when we had our LAST leap year, and guess what? Amy Adams appears in that one too. Here’s a link for those who are new to MBM.

https://trevorlibrarian.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/leapin-lizards/

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Mountains Beyond Mountains

“Dead Shopping Malls Rise Like Mountains Beyond Mountains” Arcade Fire

 

Hey gang. Miss me?

The last post on here was, prophetically titled “The Last Post” from Dec 2018. That was a messed up year for me, with getting robbed, having my personal journals from high school stolen, my identity stolen and havoc wrecked. Oh yeah, not to mention that I became suicidal and spent a month in the hospital. I won’t even mention that the Red Sox won the world series that year, and PROBABLY CHEATED while doing it.

So, not a banner year for me, and I fell out of my routine. I felt guilty when January passed without a post, since I prided myself on not missing a month since I moved into the lighthouse in Feb 2011. But then the whole hospital stay messed that up and then here I was letting a month slip away again. I DID post on the anniversary of this blog in February when I was away on a holiday in California, but after a couple of days I took that post down, because it felt forced. I knew then I was going to be taking a break from this blog, and so doing an anniversary post seemed a little DISENGENUOUS.

I didn’t think to myself at the time, “Well it will take a global pandemic to get me blogging again”, but guess what? I guess it did.

To my loyal readers from BEFORE, are you still there? If so, HOW ARE YOU?

I’m not entirely sure what these posts will look like going ahead, but then again, why should I be any more organized now than I was then?

WordPress gives you a little dashboard with stats, etc. This is what mine looked like today: (By the way, I had trouble logging in. I thought maybe I had forgotten the password but I just typed it in wrong. For a brief second I thought “Did they change the locks on the lighthouse on me?”

So, those stats aren’t great. WE CAN GET THOSE NUMBERS UP.

So, let’s see if we can. Spread the word. The lighthouse is open for business. (I mean, as long as I can stop Robert Pattison wanking all over the place and Willem Defoe lurking in the corner. I mean, come ON guys. I leave you alone for just over a year and THIS is what happens???)

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The Last Post

“In the relentless storm of information that bombards us every day, libraries are lighthouses.” Winnipeg Free Press, May 31 2018.

We’re almost through 2018, gang. You could say we survived it more than lived it. Or at least that’s how I feel about this past year. Don’t get me wrong: there were a lot of great things that happened this year, I just can’t think of any right now.

Okay, I’ve got one: the library podcast. It’s been really amazing how it has taken off over the last 12 months, and every time the five of us gather to record it, I feel like pinching myself. “Am I really getting to do this as part of my job?” Reader, I am.

It means that I’ve been using the hours of my work days differently, and I haven’t figured out a way to give myself more hours in the day, because I am not a sorcerer OR a dark lord (although I’ve been known to DABBLE) *he mumbled knowingly.

So with every new thing you (and by you I mean me) make room for, you have to give something else up. So for me to give the podcast more of my attention, I’ve asked to be taken out of the rotation for the library blog. Taken myself out of the line up! Like Lou Gehrig after 2130 games. In terms of years, his streak was stretched out over 14 years. Now, mind you, of course the streak was not a continuous one in the sense that it only counted between April and October of each year, and from November to March he could eat snacks and take naps and do whatever baseball players do in the off-season. So, considering that I’ve been part of a regular blog rotation since we started up the library blog in 2011, I’d say 8 years year round beats out 14 “half years”, wouldn’t you say? Take THAT, Lou Gehrig!

Ah well, fans of the library blog, do not despair quite yet. I don’t know exactly when the rotation will be switched up, so even though it feels like my last post was published this week, I could very well have one or two more in me, which makes this post look like it’s written by a REAL BOOB. Whether it’s now or in a few weeks, I’ve had a good run and am looking forward to the break. Who knows? The ol’ champ here might even write the odd guest post. I can’t see myself completely turning my back on the library blog. Besides, if it wasn’t for the library blog, I don’t think Mountains Beyond Mountains would ever have moved into that lighthouse, and JUST THINK OF THE LOSS IF YOU NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO READ SOME OF THESE GEMS OVER THE PAST 8 YEARS???

But it’s common to take stock of things when we get to the end of a calendar year, and I’ve been catching up on some library reading recently. For example, the ALA is struggling with how to word their policies for room rentals and “special interest groups” aka NAZIS and KKK people and the like. What would you do? Would you provide a meeting space for the community without regards to the content of the meeting to be fair to all? Or is there a moral obligation to spot the spread of hate in the community. That old “Freedom of Expression vs. Civil Rights” argument. My rights versus yours. Isn’t there a song about that?

So, that’s one debate in the library world I’ve been following, as it applies directly to public libraries, but the other thing I want to share is this editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press back in June about libraries. I think it’s really well written and captures what it means to be a library in this crazy world. And also a reminder that I consider myself so fortunate to live in a society and a city that sees the value of libraries and is investing in them. That’s all I’ve got for 2018, gang! Let’s see if we survive 2019…

From the May 31st edition of the Winnipeg Free Press:

When you stop to think about what a public library is and the function it serves within a community, it almost seems like a mythical place.

No, really — think about it. A public library is a place in which hundreds upon hundreds of books — containing a universe of ideas, thoughts, stories and characters — are available for anyone to borrow and read, free of charge. It’s a place in which information is made accessible to anyone, also free. It’s a place where one can read newspapers, rent movies and use the internet, as well as access innovative community programming aimed at making us a more compassionate and less ignorant society. Again, all for free.

Public libraries are incredible things. They are the bedrock of literacy and democracy, which is why it’s encouraging that the City of Winnipeg is continuing to invest in ours. This week, the St. Vital Library reopened after undergoing a $2.4-million facelift that included the addition of an elevator, more washrooms and a new roof — all improvements that will boost usage.

The renovations provide, quite literally, a new lease on life for the St. Vital Library. Five years ago, it was slated for demolition. And later, it was slated for amalgamation with Windsor Park.

St. Vital is one of the 10 libraries included in Winnipeg’s 2013 library redevelopment strategy, which acknowledged, quite correctly, that libraries can’t truly be accessible places for all if the spaces themselves are not accessible. The decision to improve rather than shutter these brick-and-mortar community hubs was forward-thinking then and it’s forward-thinking now; in an era of fake news and misinformation, it seems we need libraries more than ever. In the relentless storm of information that bombards us every day, libraries are lighthouses. Their existence ensures that information and knowledge are not just for those who can afford to buy books or pay for a Wi-Fi connection.

Libraries offer more than just access to books. Those who haven’t set foot inside a Winnipeg Public Library location since they got their first library card in elementary school might be surprised at all that’s on offer. Word processing and research courses, book clubs, guest lectures, documentary screenings and even a story time led by drag queens are just some of the programming you’ll find at our libraries. It’s programming such as this that fosters community, connection and learning.

The forthcoming Idea Mill at the Millennium Library, a space that will include 3D printers, sound-recording booths, a crafting area and photography and video equipment, is another example of how our city’s libraries are innovating to fulfil their role in modern society.

And with libraries come librarians, who are resources themselves. They aren’t bespectacled, cardigan-wearing shushers; they are there to educate and empower, whether it’s sourcing research materials or helping someone figure out how to get ebooks on their iPad.

But perhaps most crucially, libraries and librarians help nurture generations of young readers. They remain a critical link between children and reading for pleasure, which is no small thing considering how much our lives are populated by screens. Research has shown that children who read for pleasure perform better in other areas of their lives and are more likely to grow up into adults who read.

To invest in libraries is to invest in the future.

 

 

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The Easy V

I was out at a trivia night recently for a friend’s birthday, and there was a fun component where they played certain songs and left certain words blank and you had to fill in the missing words. The three young men on stage were charming and delightful to watch, and it, along with their “name that tune” segment earlier, were the highlights of the night.

I was humbled at one point, because one of the clues was “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, and I am (or should I was WAS) proud of the fact that about 10 years ago I was able to sing this song at a karaoke night WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCREEN to the admiration and dismay of my friends. I have told this story on occasion over the years and enjoy seeing people’s reactions to it. In fact, I think there may even be a picture on SOCIAL MEDIA that captures my triumphal moment. Let’s see if I can find it…bear with…….

karaoke

“If you want my future, forget my past
If you wanna get with me, better make it fast
Now don’t go wasting my precious time
Get your act together we could be just fine.”

I love the astonishment (I think that’s the expression) on my friends faces and this remains a happy memory for me.

So you can imagine my embarrassment at trivia night when ONE OF THE VERY SONGS we needed to fill the lyrics in for was “Wannabe”. My friends looked at me expectantly and handed over the booklet and pen.

All they gave us was:

“So, here’s a story from A to Z
You wanna get with me, you gotta listen carefully
We got Em in the place who likes it in your face…”

I tried to sing the song in my head over and over and see if anything came back to me. I knew there was some mention of an “MC” in there but could I string the correct words together in order? I could not. I have been having memory issues ever since the spring, and I don’t know if it is because of the medication I’m on, the trauma I went through, or a combination of both, but at a recent doctor’s visit my psychiatrist was a little worried that I wasn’t back to my “baseline” yet. I mean, our memories fade with age anyway, so how much of this is just natural and how much is illness induced? It makes me think of a funny line from one of my favourite writers, Bill Bryson. He says that he’s reached the age where he can no longer be diagnosed with “early onset” anything, and that anything he gets here on in will be right on time. Such as life.

Ah well. If you are at all curious about the next lyrics and can’t be bothered to google them, here the whole phrase for you:

“So, here’s a story from A to Z
You wanna get with me, you gotta listen carefully
We got Em in the place who likes it in your face
You got G like MC who likes it on a
Easy V doesn’t come for free, she’s a real lady
And as for me, ha you’ll see”

Now, to be fair this words don’t make a whole lot of sense so I can possibly be forgiven for not remembering them 10 years on. I’m actually kind of surprised that I knew them then, to be honest.

I think Scary Spice (aka Mel B) is singing here, and it’s her way of introducing the Spice Girls to the world. “Em” is in reference to Emma Bunton (aka Baby Spice) who is “in the place” (i.e. is present) and likes it in YOUR face. I always thought this was “likes it in HER face” and either way it’s a little rude. “G” is clearly in reference to Gerri Halliwell, known as either GINGER SPICE or SEXY SPICE depending on your sexual orientation and is by far the heart, soul, guts, brains and lungs of the Spice Girls, in this blogger’s opinion. Scary Spice is letting us know that “G” along with “MC” which is Mel C, aka “Sporty Spice” both like it on an “easy”. I don’t know what this means at all. Or does the “easy” go with the next line, as a descriptor for “V” aka Victoria Beckham aka Posh Spice. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her referred to as “Easy V” and I implore you to not visit the urban dictionary for this one, trust me. It IS true that Victoria Beckham is a real lady, so I think Scary Spice is being truthful here. She ends it by saying, “And as for me, ha! You’ll see.” which doesn’t really tell us anything about her. A bit of research shows that the music magazine, Top of the Pops was responsible for giving the band their nicknames. Why was “Scary Spice” called “Scary”? What is scary about her? Is it because she is BLACK? That’s a bit racist, isn’t it TOTP?

Well, this has gone on far too long. All’s well that ends well when it comes to Trivia Night, and because of the strength of my teammates (and maybe some generous scoring) our team took first place! (Cue Applause). We won some craft beers and a copy of disease themed game Pandemic.

But the biggest takeaway for me was being reminded of how awesome the video for “Wannabe” actually is. What impressed me then and still impresses me now is that is appears to be filmed in one take. I’m a sucker for one take steadicam shots in movies, tv and music videos, whether they are real or simulated and this one is pretty fun. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The spice girls bust their way into a hotel where a mediocre orgy is underway, as well as a fancy dress supper upstairs and a couple of old men, one of whom is dressed as a vicar, only to have the spice girls exit the hotel at the end and get on a bus. I guess we are not to give it much thought.

Enjoy!

(Next post: some of my favourite steadicam shots in pop culture)

 

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Midterms Anxiety

“A Penny for the Old Guy” T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men

“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Pierre Elliot Trudeau 1968 Speech to the Washington Press Club

I remember feeling anxious around midterm exams at university. They always seemed to come up so quickly. You had just settled into your new schedule, aced getting to the bus on  time, and staked out your favourite seat in the lecture hall when: BOOM! You had to start thinking of regurgitating stuff you barely had time to gurgitate the first time around. Is “gurgitate” a word? I triggered spell check with it, so I’m thinking, “No”. But if “regurgitate” is to bring up again, then wouldn’t “gurgitate” just be a fancy word for taking in the first time? Something to ponder. In any case, I remember taking a spring course (pro tip: spring and summer courses are the BEST. You still get a credit for them, but they often don’t include an exam AND a term paper due to the time restraints) on water resources with one of my favourite professors. The course went every day for 3 hours and it was all over in 3 weeks in June. On the first day of class he said, “The good news is that there is no mid-term in this course because if we were to have one we’d have to have it tomorrow!” (It was a JOKE.)

Speaking of midterms, though: our American cousins to the south are having their midterm elections today, and I’m feeling a different kind of anxiety. Their system is set up so that everyone in the House of Representatives and about 1/3 of the Senate is facing re-election. Normally these mid-term elections are snooze fests, since it doesn’t involve the president and that’s what gets people excited. However, since the House and the Senate are both controlled by the Republican Party, this is America’s chance to change that by voting for Democrats to take either the House or the Senate (or both!). It won’t do a thing about the president, but it WOULD provide some much-needed balance that has been missing in the past two years. Even long-term Republicans are fed up with how the Republican Party has behaved since 2016, so there are stories of traditional Republicans “going the other way” this time. Now, all of this is just talk at this point, so it will be interesting to see how people actually vote today. People sometimes end up doing weird things in the voting booths (not THAT kind of weird, perv), so it’s anyone’s guess how the American political landscape will look tomorrow. If one of the chambers goes Democrat, then maybe we’ll actually see some real movement towards impeachment and a return to some kind of normalcy. Who can say? It’s weird being a Canadian in all this. We have no say in the election, but as Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Justin’s father for you millennials!) once famously used the “elephant and mouse analogy” to describe Canadian and American relations. Although this time it’s as if the elephant has rabies and the zookeepers don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. We are just a mouse in the straw saying, “Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!” [TRANSLATION: EUTHANIZE THIS MOTHERFUCKER, HE’S GOING TO DESTROY US ALL!]

Just yesterday, Great Britain celebrated Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes had this plan to blow up Parliament in 1605 during a special session that would have killed the king, queen, and a bunch of other government officials so he could USHER IN A CATHOLIC GOVERNMENT INSTEAD! (the nerve!). We’ll I’m happy to say (spoilers) that he was caught before it happened, and Great Britain remains Catholic free to this day. (God Save the Queen). I’m pretty sure that’s how it went. In any case, just in case those Catholics get any ideas, every year on November 5 British school children will burn effigies of Guy Fawkes and set off fireworks. They pay for these fireworks by collecting pennies from ADULTS, and the phrase, “A Penny for the old Guy?” is as common on November 5 in Great Britain as “Trick or Treat” is in North America on October 31.

Now, the current president hasn’t tried to actually blow up the government with gunpowder (as far as we know), but he has been trying to blow up everything that has made America a better country over the past little while. He’s enabled, emboldened, and embiggened (I’m pretty sure that’s a word) racists, misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobes (those that are afraid of big words) and just general assholery, and as a result the national conversation has turned ugly, mean and stupid. Today’s the day that every American can take a real and effective step in changing this. Don’t let the rest of us down.

If British school kids are still burning Guy Fawkes in effigy 400 years after trying to kill the government, will American kids be going door to door 400 years from now, asking adults for “A Penny for the Orange Guy”? Stay tuned!

United_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2

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#teamcream

Okay you guys. I have to get the bad taste of that civic election post out of my mouth, so I’m going to talk to you today about creamed corn. I haven’t thought about creamed corn for about 15 years. Is this also the length of time that I have been married? It is. Is that a coincidence? It is NOT. My wife very early into our relationship made it perfectly clear that she DID NOT like creamed corn. Like, not at all. Up to that point, I hadn’t really formed a strong opinion on it. I mean, I think my Dad liked it, because it was a regular staple growing up, along with steamed peas and meatloaf. There’s something comforting about warmed cream corn. It’s warm like soup, but not as smooth. It doesn’t really smell like corn, and where does the cream come from? Also, David Lynch shared my wife’s distaste of it. He even personified sadness and pain in Twin Peaks as creamed corn, and had the man from another place refer to it as garmonbozia. I had to come up with an opinion pretty quickly, and it was this, “I don’t mind creamed corn, but I also don’t care if I ever eat it again.” and that’s how it stood for 15 years.

Until this past Monday night.

I was doing the usual weekly grocery shop after work, and for some reason when I went down the canned fruits and vegetables aisle (giving the Ethnic Juices aisle a wide berth thank you very much) my eyes focused in on a lone can of green giant creamed corn, mis-shelved among the pinto beans. This surely was a sign, wasn’t it? It was time to INTRODUCE MY DAUGHTER TO THE JOYS OF CREAMED CORN.

When I got home, I had to break the news to my wife gently.

“I know you don’t like creamed corn, but look what I bought tonight!” was my opening gambit, and I’ll admit it wasn’t super effective.

Nevertheless, we had cream corn last night, with chicken  thighs and rice, and I’m telling you this: it’s even better than I remember. My daughter was suspicious of the smell. She thought there was chicken in there. She didn’t want to try it at all, but I convinced her to put a little spoonful on her plate. My wife, in the spirit of reconciliation, even took a small amount. My daughter ate all the other food fairly quickly, but she is a master of delay and procrastination, and I could tell she was trying to wait us out without having tried the CC. I was on to her.

“Come on, you have to at least TRY it. It’s corn! You can even make all the Calvin faces you want.” She’s been getting into Calvin and Hobbes recently, and she is particularly good at making those faces that Calvin would make when he didn’t like something on his plate.

So after a tiny bite, and several Calvin faces later, our daughter announced, “I’ve had worse”.

Victory!

And my wife? “It’s still terrible. I could easily go another 15 years without having it again.”

Creamed Corn!

Garmonbozia[1]

GARMONBOZIA!

 

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Civic Doody

It’s civic election time for a lot of communities across the province and country. My home town is no different. It’s a bit weird this year, because looking at the candidates for mayor, I really can’t honestly feel good about voting for any of them. Which is probably not a problem in the scheme of things, but it is SUPER LIKELY that the incumbent will win another turn. The incumbent always does, UNLESS IT IS 1957 AND YOUR NAME IS GEORGE SHARPE AND STEPHEN JUBA IS RUNNING AGAINST YOU. Did you know George Sharpe’s main claim to fame is that he was mayor who got rid of streetcars? I mean, how lame is THAT? Streetcars are cool. Man, I wish I was on a streetcar right now. Where was I? Oh yeah, civic politics. So, I hate to be that guy, but apathy is settling in over my urge to vote. I am seriously considering leaving the ballot blank for mayor and just focus on councillor and school trustees. Oh, and that goofy plebiscite about whether people should be allowed to cross the main intersection downtown. It’s weird that people even have opinions on this, isn’t it? You’d think mowing down an entire forest to make way for a bus route would rank higher on people’s concerns, but that just went ahead with nary a backward glance. Here’s my hot take on the intersection question: IT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA AND WE SHOULD ALLOW IT. I mean, crossing the busiest intersection in town will probably be fatal for many pedestrians, slow down traffic, and probably not do alot for business down there. I mean, what’s actually down there? A couple of banks and a couple of office buildings. There’s nothing down there that would make we want to cross the street, above OR below ground. But here’s the thing: that whole area needs renovations anyway, so if you are going to take the barricades down anyway for repairs, then just leave them down and see what happens for a year. If after a year we have discovered it was a terrible idea and people hate it and it has done nothing to enhance the “downtown experience”, then guess what? Just stick some barriers up again and we say we tried it. Is this overly simplistic?

Rather than leaving my ballot blank in the mayor’s column, I suppose I could just go for one of the more eccentric candidates out there as a protest vote. My daughter, who is currently in grade 4, has been working on a school project where she is supposed to research a candidate and report to the class. This sounds like a great idea, and a great way to engage kids in the democratic process. It has also ignited my own interest in some of the fringe candidates. My daughter blurted out at supper the other night, “My guy was ARRESTED!” My wife was all, “That’s enough, Audrey”, but upon closer inspection she was right! Apparently the candidate in question has a RESTRAINING ORDER against him (for an UNDISCLOSED TRANSGRESSION) and his campaign manager claimed that the candidate POCKET DIALED the person he was forbidden to contact….twice! I can’t remember the last time a mayoral candidate was actually arrested during a campaign. The criminal activity usually only comes to light after they’ve left office.

And there’s another guy who insists on wearing an “Order of Canadians” medal at every public appearance. He claims that it is “one step down” from the Order of Canada, but that turns out to be (are you ready for it?) NOT TRUE. It was a weird novelty brooch given out by some neighbourhood watch group in the north end of the city, and they have spoken up to say that they are embarrassed that their goofy thing is being used in such a way and have asked the candidate to give it back. He won’t. I’ve seen the pin in question and it really sort of DOES look like the Order of Canada, so it’s at the very least misleading and probably intentionally so. I do sort of admire the fact that he knows it means nothing, he’s been asked to return it, and yet there he is, still wearing it at every public appearance.

And how about that guy who really looks like Dr. Octopus? I can’t see myself voting for a supervillan. (And I’m not saying he’s handsome like Alfred Molina. I mean he’s got those square glasses and bowl haircut like the Doctor Octopus from the comic books. No thanks).

Another candidate is a self-styled “film-maker” but I haven’t seen any of his movies. Heck, I take pictures on my iPod but that don’t make me Ansel Adams, amirite? Anyway, this Spielbergian eccentric answers questions like “Which parties do you support?” with answers like, “The ones on Friday and Saturday”. I’m not even sure he’s trying to be funny, and there’s a certain messed up charm to the guy, I have to admit. He is also advocating for a “reverse toll bridge” which will pay cars $10 every time they cross over into the north end, providing that money is spent in the north end. *thinking face emoji. Which bridge, I can hear you wondering to yourselves? I’ve given this some thought, and I think the Slaw Rebchuk bridge makes the most sense. It gets you right into the north end quickly and efficiently from the downtown, and along with those $10 if every car was given complimentary ‘slaw to honour the former long-standing councillor, then that tips this candidate in my favour.

And of course there is the “angry candidate” whose entire platform seems to be written in ALL CAPS and is just a list of complaints without any real solutions or any unique vision for the city. Some could even say no vision at all, but I think that would suggest that any of the candidates had some kind of vision, aside from the reverse toll guy.

At the councillor level it doesn’t get a whole lot better. In my ward, the incumbent is retiring so it’s a bit of a free-for-all. One of the candidates was making a fuss about how some of the other candidates didn’t actually live in the ward they were running in. (Fair point). But then it was discovered that the candidate raising the issue doesn’t even live IN THE SAME CITY. Sure, she’s rented an apartment for the past few months to meet the legal requirements of the election, but her actual home is 40 minutes away. I’m not making any of this up! Still though, I’ve narrowed my choice down to two candidates for councillor. Both seem left-leaning, progressive, and experienced. Unless something horrible comes out about either of them in the next few days, it’s a real toss up. And if past experience teaches us anything, it’s that it is better to vote than not to vote, which is making my choice for mayor so difficult. Am I shirking my democratic right by leaving that part of the ballot blank? Or am I making a mockery of the democratic process by supporting the “reverse toll guy” or “Dr. Octopus”? I guess we’ll see what happens.

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Return to New Zebedee

“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes”. John LeCarré

It’s such a cliché to say that “the book was better than the movie” that I hesitate to even bring it up. But I did. And there it is. In fact, it’s so common that what’s really worth pointing out are those rare movies that actually improve on their source material. Jaws comes to mind; so does The Godfather. You could make the case that The Shawshank Redemption is just as good as Stephen King’s original story, AND THAT’S IT. Those are the exceptions. (Okay, fine. The Wizard of Oz is a sentimental favourite, as is Mary Poppins, but I’ll allow no others).

So it probably comes as no surprise that The House with a Clock in its Walls movie doesn’t quite live up to the novel. The thing is, the movie gets some of it really really right, (and some of it really, really, really, really, head-scratchingly wrong), and it would have been something I think they could have easily fixed.

Needless to say, spoilers follow: Both for the 1973 novel and the 2018 movie.

The things they got right:

When this project was announced last year, I almost couldn’t believe it. John Bellairs, as many who follow this blog will know, is a sentimental childhood favourite of mine. He’s one of those authors that weaves such a perfect mood with his writing that whenever I am feeling down, I can turn to one of his books even now as an adult, and I am swept up in literary comfort food that warms me as it nourishes my soul. I’m sure you can think of that handful of special authors in your own life that fit this bill. If I had read Lucy Maude Montgomery as a kid, I’m sure she’d be on that list too, but I only got to her in the last couple of years.

The fact that John Bellairs died in 1991 and that his books have almost completely disappeared from bookstores and libraries made the movie announcement even more unexpected. If an adaptation was going to be made from one of his works, why didn’t it happen in the ’80s when he was still writing?

When the creative team and cast was announced, I was even more skeptical. Director Eli Roth was known mostly for his hardcore horror like Hostel and Cabin Fever. I knew he could do gore, but was he able to capture that magic (no pun intended) between Uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman and Lewis? Could he re-create the New Zebedee in Capernaum County of my childhood? I am happy to say that he can and he DID.

His success in this area was helped greatly by the cast, obviously. When Jack Black and Cate Blanchett were cast as Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman I thought, “they are too young!” In my head, someone like Brendan Gleason would have been the perfect age and look for Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman? Maggie Smith would have been ideal, but she already did that wizarding thing in Harry Potter (as did Brendan Gleason, come to think of it), so I guess we have Harry Potter to blame for stealing all the best actors for The House with a Clock in its Walls. There will no doubt be comparisons between this movie and the Harry Potter series anyway. I was worried, but needlessly so. From the first time we meet uncle Jonathan (wearing a kimono as he picks up his nephew Lewis Barnavelt at the bus depot), and Mrs. Zimmerman (wearing PURPLE from head to toe (yes!) and coming out of the secret passage between her home and the titular house (the one with the clock in its walls you guys), I knew these characters were in capable hands. The look was mostly there, but more importantly, the chemistry between the two of them was real and perfect. So they were about a decade (at least) younger than they should have been, I was happy they were close enough in age that it made sense that they were buddies. I could have watched twice as much dialogue between the two of them and not gotten tired of it. Perhaps there are deleted scenes with more Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman to look forward to? A quick word about Lewis: he was fine. Sure, he didn’t follow novel’s description of being overweight, but the young actor got across the nerdiness and socially awkwardness of the character while giving off a bit of a steam-punk vibe with those Captain Midnight goggles. I’ll allow those goggles, if only because Lewis wears a Sherlock Holmes hat at the beginning of Figure in the Shadows, so his penchant for cosplaying favourite characters is established in canon.

The set design was gorgeous, and the house looked as close to how I thought it looked in my head from the books as it possibly could. Sure, they added some magical flourishes that weren’t in the novel, but I thought they were done in the spirit of the novel so I was fine with them. The shots of the town and of Lewis at school also rang true, and it was so smart for them to set the story in the 1950s. But the best set-piece of all was the Oakridge cemetery, the setting for the pivotal “raising of the dead” scene. Whoever designed the set must have studied the book closely, as well as visited the real Oakridge cemetery on the outskirts of Marshall, Michigan. It even had the great quotation, “The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised” over the archway as you entered the cemetery.

Things they got WRONG.

But oddly enough, it was in this pivotal cemetery scene where the movie took a left turn from which it never really recovered. I know movie-making is a collaborative art, and when something goes wrong it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. In this case, I think we can look to the screenplay as the culprit; which is maddening since the story is really only one part of the Bellairs experience. The books create a mood and atmosphere that I feel the movie successfully captures in the first 2/3rds, only to squander it in the final act.

One of the things that makes the book so creepy is that Lewis tries to raise someone from the dead to impress the popular, athletic kid at school. Lewis uses some of the charms he finds in his uncle’s library and he does something in the cemetery, but it takes a few chapters until the reader is fully aware of the effects. There’s a wonderfully eerie scene in the novel where Uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman and Lewis are out for a drive in the country, only to have Uncle Jonathan pull the car over when he thinks he hears another car behind them. After razzing him, “You know they DO allow other cars to drive on these roads,” Mrs. Zimmerman shares in Uncle Jonathan’s discomfort and the three of them drive frantically back to town, taking short cuts and detours with the two lights of a following car’s headlights always in their rear view. It’s only when they cross an iron bridge over the river (evil spirits can’t cross running water) that they stop the car and look back. The other car, with whoever or whatever inside, turns around and drives away. It’s one of the most visual scenes in the entire book, tailor-made for the movie, and yet it is curiously missing from the movie. In the novel, we eventually learn that Lewis unwittingly brought Selina Izard back to life. She is the wife of the evil wizard, Isaac Izard, who owned the house before Uncle Jonathan. He was working on a doomsday clock when he was killed. (His wife died mysteriously before him). In the last half of the book, Selina Izard tries to complete her husband’s evil plan, and while the evil wizard is talked about and anticipated, his eventual arrival is thwarted by Lewis destroying the clock (spoiler!) in the climax. The last chapter involves a lot of chocolate chip cookie eating around a bonfire, where exposition and explanations are made, and we are left feeling safe and secure.

Where the movie goes wrong is that it has Lewis raising Isaac Izard himself, not Selina. Clive Barker once said that the horror not seen is much scarier than any seen horror, and this applies in this case too. By showing us the raised Izard, it removes any menace from his potential return. All we get is Kyle McLachlan in prosthetics and makeup. You can say what you want about JK Rowling, but she was smart in not giving us the “full Voldemort” at first. Old “You Know Who”s delayed entrance into the series gave his eventual debut the suspense and menace it deserved.

And while Selina Kyle is a shadowy enough figure in the novel, (one could say she was a Figure in the Shadows, #deepcut), in the movie they explain that Selina never really died in the first place, and was living under a magical disguise across the street from the Barnavelts. While this reveal was a genuine surprise in the movie, it didn’t make any sense to me why they complicated the plot in this way. I wanted to like Renée Elise Goldsbury as Selina, but I found her interpretation cartoony and obvious and not scary at all. Another dumb complication/connection the screenplay makes is the reveal that Uncle Jonathan and Isaac Izard used to be friends and co-magicians before Izard turned evil. YAWN. I mean, come ON. How many times does this old trope have to be brought out? The original novel made no such connection, and it was better for it. Also, I didn’t like the back story they gave Mrs. Zimmerman. They hint that she was a survivor of the holocaust and that experience left her with unreliable magic powers. In the novel, Mrs. Zimmerman is just a kick-ass awesomely powerful witch. Sure, a later novel, The Letter, The Witch and The Ring, involves Mrs. Zimmerman falling ill and losing her powers, but why the heck introduce that subplot now? And okay, I know this is nickpicky, but WHY introduce Rose Rita Pottinger and NOT have her wear a beanie with buttons all over it? It’s such an iconic part of her look and supposedly everyone involved in the movie read the novels, so there’s no excuse why this small detail was left out. [Editor’s Note: A fan online pointed out that in the novels Rose Rita HATES her school uniform and takes it off (and puts her beanie on) as soon as she gets home, so the fact that we only see her at school COULD mean that we can still get a beanied Rose Rita in the sequel.]

And before I stop bashing this movie, I have to talk a little bit about the ending. In the novel, everything is implied and suggested, which again, makes the story so much stronger. Lewis, Mrs. Zimmerman and Uncle Jonathan eventually DO find the clock after following a series of Lewis’s nonsense made up charms. It would have been way better to leave Lewis’s real introduction to magic (not counting the raising the dead bit) happen at this point, rather than have an earlier scene where Lewis asks “Can I learn magic?” and Uncle Jonathan says, “No, it’s too dangerous.” And Lewis says, “Please?” and Uncle Jonathan says, “K, fine” or some nonsense. In the novel, Selina follows the three down to the cellar, holding a hand of glory which freezes Mrs. Z and Uncle J to the spot. Lewis, however, sees Selina’s reflection in the clockface, and he knows from his reading what a hand of glory is, so he doesn’t turn around and is not affected by the magical artifact. Lewis then smashes the clock (which surprisingly looks just like a regular wind up clock), destroying the doomsday spell, killing Selina (again) and preventing the return of Isaac Izard, who only at this point in the novel is about to appear.

Okay, I expected a little “jazzing up” of the ending for Hollywood, but what we get is a total travesty. Isaac Izard and his wife Selina are already down by the clock, no hand of glory in sight, and then the whole thing turns into a weird Indiana Jones style set-piece where the floor gives way and the whole cellar turns into a series of cogs and wheels. (Like a giant clock, which is dumb). And then they try to explain that the clock will turn back time to the point before humans existed, so you get this really awful CGI of Jack Black with the head of an adult and the body of a baby which I guess is supposed to be funny, but no-one in the theatre was laughing, and those of us who knew the novel just sat there, appalled. It was all so stupid, and I didn’t think in the spirit of the books, which always followed the “less is more” philosophy. Previous to this scene, we saw a visually arresting but creatively pointless battle scene between the three heroes and a bunch of animated jack-o-lanterns. It was fine, but seemed unneccessary. I would have much rather have seen the scene with the car chase over the iron bridge then a bunch of CGI pumpkins, but at least those pumpkins were in the creepy spirit of the novel, and it gave Mrs. Zimmerman a chance to kick ass, which was awesome.

The final kick in the nuts that summarizes how I feel about the movie happens during the end credits. Edward Gorey illustrated almost all of John Bellairs’ books. For most of them, he just did the covers and a frontispiece, but for The House With a Clock In Its Walls he did the cover, frontispiece, and several illustrations throughout. Gorey’s distinctive style informed Bellairs’ writing and I can’t really imagine one without the other. In fact, I wore a homemade button to opening night with an Edward Gorey drawing of Uncle Jonathan, and my wife consented to an Edward Gorey Mrs. Zimmerman button affixed to her purse strap. Despite the interconnectedness of Gorey/Bellairs in the minds of their fans, the estate of Edward Gorey did not allow any of his art to be used in the film, so over the end credit we get little pencil drawings of the characters doing various things in an obvious pastiche of Gorey’s style. While some people might be charmed by this “clever” homage, I was just left with the feeling that slowly crept into me during the movie’s entire running time. Close, but no cigar. (Literally. I don’t think I saw Uncle Jonathan smoke a pipe once in the movie).

So that’s really all I have to say about the movie. (I guess after 2000 words I’d better wrap this up). The TLDR takeaway is that I liked but not LOVED the movie for all the reasons mentioned above.

But I’ll tell you this: I’ve been a member of the “John Bellairs Wrote the Best Books” group on Facebook for the past few years. Most of the time, it’s people posting pics of their collections, or the minor buying and selling of hardcover editions (the ones with the coveted Edward Gorey art). Leading up to the movie, however, the group has been excited posting pics of behind-the-scenes set visits, early reviews, posters, interviews, late night talk show appearances, you name it. This quiet sleepy community has been mobilized, and in fact a group of us decided to meet in John Bellairs’ hometown, Marshall, Michigan for the premiere this past weekend. Included among our number is Brad Strickland, a professor of english and writer in his own right who was hired by the Bellairs’ estate to finish off a couple of his novels that were left behind after he died. They were so successful that Strickland wrote a number of original adventures using John Bellairs’ characters, carrying on and expanding the mythology. While some of us, myself included, don’t think these extended series books are the same quality and style as the originals, Brad Strickland seems like a decent dude who is the living surrogate for all us fans. Strickland made the trek up to Marshall too, and was signing books in the local bookstore, meeting with fans, and attending the premiere there. By all accounts, no matter what we thought of the movie itself, this gathering of writers and fans was a weekend to remember. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to go, but it brought back great memories of my own pilgrimmage to Marshall ten years ago. This gathering would never have happened if it wasn’t for this movie. Also, John Bellairs books are back in the pop culture landscape for the moment. The House With A Clock In Its Walls was number #6 on the Amazon bestseller list over the weekend, and our library here has bought a bunch of new copies. There are waiting lists for them. The movie was the number one box office draw this past weekend, and if people keep seeing it, it might mean a SEQUEL. Would I go to a sequel? Absolutely, if only to see if they kept the stuff that worked from the first one and steered away from the stuff that didn’t. So, despite all of its problems, the movie has brought John Bellairs to a new generation of readers who are eagerly asking their parents and school librarians, “Are there more in the series?”, and that, my friends, is the best magic spell this movie could ever weave.

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Broadview Signal Boost

“Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime”. Motto on Broadview’s website

There’s a town in Eastern Saskatchewan called Broadview. Why it’s called that I don’t really know. Truth be told, there is a lot of Saskatchewan (and Manitoba, and Alberta for that matter), that could boast of “broad views” in that there isn’t a whole lot to block a view. What you’re viewing, nobody knows. But the one thing we can all agree on is that it is a broad one.

There’s not really a lot to see from the highway, to be honest, and despite an impressive website for a community of its size, I remember it made the news a few years ago when it came out that bored residents got their entertainment by listening in on passing truckers’ CB radio, and scolding them for using bad language. Of course I can’t find a link to that story now, but you’ll just have to trust my memory that it happened. If you DO take time to visit the Broadview Museum, you may see the stuffed corpse of “Sargent Bill” an honest to goodness Billy Goat who was the town’s mascot in WWI. This goat must have had some kind of winning personality because not only did they decide to stuff him after he died, the Army gave him a medal for war service while he was alive. I didn’t know they had goats over there as mascots or what the hell a goat could do to earn a medal, but if a guy can buy a bear at a train station and take him overseas #winniethepoohref then anything is possible, I guess. What a world.

Anyway, my first experience with Broadview stretches back to more than 20 years ago. My Mom, brother and I were driving home from a family wedding in Alberta and we had been on the road for about 10 hours at this point and quite punchy. My Mom was thinking of getting a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier as a pet, and she wanted to stop in to visit a SCWT breeder in Broadview. She had the address, and Broadview isn’t that big of a place, so it didn’t take very long to find it. It was one of the few times that day we were all out of the car to stretch our legs, and like I said: my brother and I were pretty beat. When my Mom rang the doorbell, we knew we had the right house from the chorus of barking erupting from within. After a minute, there was a woman at the door with two of the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen in your life in her arms. She apologized for the noise. My Mom introduced herself and the woman remembered her from a previous phone conversation.

“Would you like to come around the back and check out my BITCHES??” the woman asked us out of the blue, and that was all it took for my brother and me to just lose it and start laughing hysterically until tears were in our eyes. Yes, I knew that female dogs are called “bitches” and I also sort of knew that breeders use that term all the time and they don’t think anything of it, but it was so unexpected to see this otherwise normal looking lady use that word that my brother and I couldn’t even.

My Mom shot glares at us which meant, “Smarten up. What are you, twelve?” For the record, I was 20. We managed to pull it together for just long enough until one of us looked at the other and then a fresh round of hysterics would explode from us. From that day onward, “Do you want to come check out my BITCHES?” entered our family vocabulary.

Where’s my cute bitches at?

So let’s fast-forward to the present day. My wife has a notoriously tiny bladder. Everyone knows this, and so on road trips you gotta factor in an additional 10% of time for extra washroom stops over and above the NORMAL amount of time for people with NORMAL bladders. It got so bad on this trip that I was forced into a village that had no gas station or any real services. My wife was so grateful that this little café let her use their facilities even though they had a “Washrooms are for Customers Only” sign out front, she bought a jar of Saskatoon Jam, so what I’m saying is that frequent pee stops aren’t always a bad thing.

So we had a pee stop in Broadview on our drive home over the weekend. This CO-OP gas station had what I thought was a door man, but in fact it was just the guy who pumps your gas, and since no one usually stops in Broadview, he was just standing by the door, looking forlornly out at an empty parking lot. Since he wasn’t allowed to check his trucker CB frequency while on the clock, he passed his time at work by opening the door to people like my wife who were only there for the toilets.

I hung out in the parking lot (because I am not even joking when I say that we stopped maybe an hour before in Moose Jaw for gas and pee), and I saw a strange sight. It was a bicycle with a baby chariot attached. That in of itself isn’t all that strange. You see long distance cyclists use them from time to time, if not for actual babies, then for their gear and whatnot. What was odd about this situation was that there was a full-grown (and quite elderly, by the look of her) Golden Retriever curled up in the back. It’s owner must have been in the store getting snacks.

When my wife came out, I saw a peculiar sign on the other side of the gas station that I thought would be fun to take our daughter’s picture with. In the interests of privacy I shall not name that sign nor shall I show that picture, but I WILL show platinum subscribers during the next pledge week. After I took a couple of pictures, the guy with the dog in the baby carrier pedaled up to us and offered to take a picture of all of us together. It’s rare to get a pic of all three of us that isn’t some kind of cramped “selfie” affair, so we took him up on his generous offer.

He seemed to have some kind of signage on his bike that I didn’t notice before, and I asked him what his deal was. It turns out he is pedaling across Canada with his dog, Ginger, to raise awareness of Juvenile PTSD and mental illness. He started in PEI in June and plans to make it to Victoria by October. He gave us his card, told us his dog’s name was Ginger, and we parted ways. There’s something special about someone doing an extraordinary act (like biking across the country) to raise awareness for a cause in which they believe. I didn’t really think of PTSD as something that kids could experience, but why not? Any traumatic event could trigger it, so it’s prevalence is probably grossly under-reported and greatly misunderstood.

His name is Brian Nadon, and he is the Founder and Director of the VATIC foundation. (Value, Achieve, Take Part, Inspire, Community) and he hopes to raise $150,000 this summer for a post-secondary scholarship fund for young people who suffer from PTSD and mental illness. I liked the cut of his jib, and I wish him the very best of the rest of his journey (especially that part where he goes through the Rocky Mountains). It made me reflect on my own experiences with mental illness, which I wrote about once here and also here.  (#shamelessblogpostbuzzmarketing) Brian seemed like a friendly guy, he had a Kansas City Royals ball cap affixed to his bike, which is a surrogate team for me when the Jays are out of it, and anyone raising awareness of mental illness is a kindred. Also, I love a good acronym.

When we got home I googled “Bike Riding for PTSD” and was surprised to see that Brian isn’t the only one riding across Canada this summer for PTSD. There’s another guy who’s doing it on Motorcycle. Michael Terry, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan is riding to raise awareness of PTSD in the military, specifically. Who knew? Is this just like the summer of ’97 where we had to choose between Dante’s Peak and Volcano, or the following summer where we were forced to choose between Deep Impact and Armageddon? Or the constant decision we are forced to make EVEN TO THIS DAY whether we are fans of Josh Whedon or fans of J.J. Abrams? BUT NOT BOTH?! (For the record, I’m a Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak and J.J. Abrams man all the way and shan’t hear it any other way).  But since Brian is doing it on a bicycle with a dog and I met him, I consider him the Terry Fox of PTSD awareness and the Motorcycle guy merely the Steve Fonyo. (Still good though! And gosh, more than I could achieve believe me. I don’t want to badmouth anyone who is following their calling and who has served our country and suffered for it and Lord knows mental health needs as many advocates as possible and I think there’s plenty of room for bikes, motorcycles and even a guy in a borrowed CR-V on the TransCanada this summer).

If you’d like to read more about Brian’s journey,  learn about PTSD, and feel moved to make a donation,  you can check out his webpage at www.vaticfoundation.com

He’s also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @vaticfoundation if you’d like to cheer him on.

Consider this a signal boost from Broadview, the home of bitches and dead goats, where “Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime” sounds like a threat, not a promise.

Brian and Ginger in Broadview, SK

 

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