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A Hopeful Transmission

Merry Christmas everybody!

When we were kids, a tradition on Christmas morning would be to take a brief pause from our gift opening to watch the Queen’s Message broadcast on the CBC. My Dad, being from Northern Ireland and an unrepentant loyalist made sure we never missed it. He remembered tuning in to the Queen’s message (and the King’s before her) on radio when he was a kid. It just dawned on me: he heard “The King’s Speeches” first hand. Pretty cool.

As a child, I always liked the idea that the Queen was taking time to address her loyal subjects directly. I actually liked the idea that we were her loyal subjects and that she was somehow vaguely responsible for us and cared about us in her own way. I know, I’m weird.

We we got older, “The Queen’s Message” became a running joke between my brother and me, and in fact even to this day when we call each other on Christmas, one of the first things we say to each other is, “Did you catch Queenie?” or “Damn, I forgot to watch this year!” or something like that.

I’m writing this post a couple of weeks before Christmas, but I’m going to use the scheduling widget in WordPress to ensure that this goes up at 11 am on Christmas morning, the exact time that The Queen’s Message should go out to the world. Watch out, Queenie: Mountains Beyond Mountains is coming for you! Let’s see if there is a dip in her viewership this year as the faithful fanbase get alerted that there’s a new post.

So come with me on a visioning exercise: Close your eyes, and imagine me in a cardigan, sitting in a rocking chair, next to a roaring fire, perhaps with a steaming warm mug of cocoa in my hands, smiling benevolently out at all of you. I’ll wait……okay……got it? Good.

Now, what do I have to say to all of you on this Christmas morn? I probably should have thought of that a bit before I started writing, but no one’s ever accused this blog of being overly prepared, right?

I used to keep a personal journal or diary for many years. I think I started it in Grade 12 and I’ve kept up with it with fairly regular entries. Most of the time it was just a way to get some thoughts down and help me work through some stuff or to mark special occasions, but it was always meant as a private document for me alone, and as a result it would be totally unedited  and free flowing. I found it quite therapeutic, actually and got into the habit of jotting down one or two lines sometimes, sometimes pages, before going to bed. It was a nice way to wind down after a day and I have about 20 years worth of scribblers, journals, notebooks etc. “Binders full of whining” might be how a certain presidential candidate might put it.

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I have pretty much stopped my personal journaling. I guess this blog fills a similar need for me, with a huge difference being that I’m not the only one reading it. It’s out there on the airwaves. So that means that most of the readers are people I don’t know personally. It’s not an accident that the twitter account to which this blog was linked up until recently defined my location as simply “in the library with the rope”. I wanted it to say “In the Library with the Candlestick” because I thought that was cooler, but I ran out of characters for candlestick, so I had to settle for “rope”. I probably could have squeezed in “dagger”, but I digress. It now says “New York, London, Paris, Munich” and astute U2 fans will get that reference, I hope. The location changes, or like Liam Neeson said in that turrible 1990 film, “I am everyone and no one, everywhere, nowhere”.

But it would be weird if I just jotted these posts down and emailed them out to people, right? I mean, that would be insane. But somehow putting it out there this way is sort of acceptable. People can read them and comment on them if they want, and some people do. (Full disclosure: it doesn’t stop me completely from sending out longish emails to people. I still do. I can’t help it sometimes.)

A side effect of maintaining this blog then, is that my own personal musings and thoughts eventually creep in here too, which I think is okay. I know we’re told good blogs should have defined themes (A blog about scrapbooking! A blog about model railroading! etc), but no one will ever mistake this for a “good blog”, right? I wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed into one type of writing, and if I ever did, I could just start another blog. I’m not even sure how you could define what we do here at Mountains Beyond Mountains. It’s more personal than a subject blog, and yet not nearly as personal as my personal journals once were. I’m intimately at arm’s length, I guess is one way to put it. A paradox.  So this blog ends up being a weird hybrid: part parenting blog, part personal musings, part rants, part lists, part tributes to things and people I have loved and lost, part library talk, and part whatever I feel like writing about. Described that way, I really can’t imagine what kind of weirdo would want to read this, aside from me.

I do realize that this is the queerest Christmas message ever, so I’ll wrap it up.

This is the time of year when people make resolutions. I usually make the same resolution every year, which is to not make any resolutions. Last year was different. My resolution in 2012 was to eat every type of pizza offered at this local pub in town. There were like 12 pizzas on the menu, so I thought a pizza a month was doable. Well, I certainly didn’t factor in the fact that they also have “specials”, so the project became a bit of a lost cause from the beginning. Even if I limited myself to just “regular” menu items, I felt like I was cheating myself. Plus, my wife said, “What kind of person resolves to eat more pizza? It’s crazy”. She’s right. Also, thinking I would actually get out of the house 12 times in a year was overly optimistic. I had a final chance to complete the circuit (I think I maybe had 6 of the pizzas at that point) about a three weeks ago, when a group of us was going to head there. I had the crazy notion that if I could convince everyone to order a different pizza and then have a wee bite of each one I would discharge my obligation to myself. But guess what? The damn place was closed for a “private event” and so my last ditch attempt was bejiggered.

So I’m back to my old, reliable resolution: no resolutions in 2013. I feel better already.

In wrapping up, let me just say, in my fire-side cardigan, that I love all of you, the readers, and especially the ones who comment on the blog, here or through the tweets, and that I wish each and every one of you a Happy Christmas and a Super New Year, and let’s all try to stay healthy and be good and kind to one another because if we don’t, who will?

Over to you, Queenie!

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When you’re feeling low, Eno.

A look at Coldplay’s newest record, Mylo Xyloto, so you don’t have to.

Mylo Xyloto

I know the CD’s been out for almost a month now, but I had to wait until my library copy came in. I’m a Coldplay fan the same way that Annie Wilkes was a Paul Sheldon fan. She’d read everything he’d write, but she’d wait for the paperback to come out. So the disc came in for me a few days ago. I popped it in the car stereo, as I normally do with a new disc. It gives me a chance to listen to it to and from work uninterrupted. I’ve gone through it a couple of times now, and here are some of my impressions.

First off: The title.

What the heck is a Mylo Xyloto anyway? Sounds like nobody knows, not even the band. A couple of made-up names to signify a fresh start, we’re told. By the sounds of the big numbers off the CD, it isn’t so much a fresh start as a continuation of the style and success of their previous effort, Viva la Vida, or Death and All his Friends, released in 2008. Title-meaning rumours abound, my favourite being that Mylo is an Egyptian version of “Miley” and Xyloto references the “Tomb of the Kings” located on the island of Cyprus. i.e. its a shout-out to “Miley Cyrus”. You can’t say music critics don’t have an imagination, can you?

Secondly: The track sequencing.

There’s some weird stuff happening on this album. The first “song”, called Mylo Xyloto, is nothing more than a 40 second soundscape, vintage Brian Eno. It then bleeds seamlessly into the first real song of the album, Track 2, “Hurts like Heaven”. The same thing happens two more times on the album. Track 6 “M.M.I.X.” and track 12 “A hopeful transmission” both precede and segue into “Every teardrop is a waterfall” and “Don’t let it break your heart”, respectively. This is fine if you’re listening to the album front to back “as you should, as you should” as the purists will tell us. But all I know is that this will wreak havoc with my iTunes if I want to do a random shuffle or genius mix or something. No one is going to want to have these little snippets appear on their own. They really don’t make sense out of context. Why wasn’t each song that followed just made 30 or 40 seconds longer? Why not just produce separate radio edits if length is an issue? The Starbucks version of “Hurts like Heaven”, thoughtfully procured for me by the fanbase, splits the difference and includes 20 seconds of Mylo Xylotoleeish sounds before the song kicks in, but its all one track. And it’s even inconsistent throughout the album. “Charlie Brown” begins with about 20 seconds of Enoey business before the song starts in earnest, and yet no separate track here. Curious as to why  some “Eno bits” get their own name and track and others don’t. It would almost be like as if the organ intro for U2’s “Where the Streets have no name” was its own track, with the real song beginning with Edge’s guitar. Why? I’m going to have to play around with my settings when I stop listening to the entire album. I know, first-world problem.

Third: The Songs

Track sequencing aside, “Hurts like Heaven” with the “Mylo Xyloto” prefix is a perfect album opener, and I’d be surprised if they don’t open every concert with this one. Peppy and bittersweet, it’ll have us up and out of our seats in no time.

“Paradise” is the best song off the album. It’s got a little dance-club vibe to it and a very singable chorus. “Para-para-paradise. Woah-ho-ho-ho-ho!”

“Charlie Brown” had the most interesting title off the album, and it’s sounds the most like   the Coldplay we know and love, despite the extra effects.

“Us against the World” falls in the category of “boring, slow Chris Martin  with acoustic guitar” type of songs. I don’t hate it, it’ll just take a few more listens before it really even registers. Nice “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” reference part-way through. Even this one doesn’t escape the Eno, though.

“Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall” is a hot mess, but it’ll be an awesome encore or even the perfect closer for this upcoming tour. They give it their all on this one.

“Major Minus” Another kinda forgettable song. I have the feeling that maybe this was a last minute addition, and as a result seems to have the least amount of Eno tinkering than any other song. Bits of it almost sound U2 “Unforgettable Fire” era, so that’s cool.

“U.F.O.” Another “Chris Martin being all sensitive” kind of song. It’s not gonna replace “Fix You”, but it sure as hell gonna try.

“Princess of China”. Hey Rhianna, did you know one of your songs accidently ended up on Coldplay’s newest CD? Someone’s getting fired. Oh wait, this is supposed to be here? Wait, this is actually a Coldplay song? You’re joking right? Next you’re going to tell me Coldplay’s going to do a song with Jay-Z. What? You’re SHITTING me. When did that happen? Is it any good?

“Up in Flames” I like this song if only because it reminds me of something that mid 1980s  Peter Gabriel may have actually written and recorded. Sort of a “Mercy Street” meets a slowed down “Red Rain”.

“Don’t let it break your heart” We’re back to peppy, up out of your seats, kind of Coldplay. Has a kind of a U2’s”City of Blinding Lights” feel to it. I’m down with that. Eno works real nicely here. It’s just enough Eno. Like Peter Jackson, who uses CGI only when necessary, this song strikes the perfect balance of real guitars and drums with a balding reclusive genius in a glass booth.

“Up with the Birds” Nice little seemless segueway into this song from the previous one. Unfortunately it’s one more look at “sensitive Chris Martin” but this time on piano. The peppy middle section is lovely, but the whole track is slathered with so much Eno, I wish we could get an “Enoless” version of this song and entire album, actually. Let the people decide!

Finally: A Word about Eno

Plop, plop, Fizz Fizz. Oh what a relief it is.

Brian Eno, superstar producer, founding member of Roxy Music, and all-around good guy, has left his fingerprints on virtually every track of this album. It sometimes gets so distracting that I wish I could invent a time-machine, bust into the recording studio last summer when Coldplay was recording and yell “Get your hands off the mixer, muthafucka!”, but of course that’s absurd. Where would I get the stuff for a time-machine? While Eno has no doubt contributed valuable input in the making of classics like David Bowie’s “Heroes” and much of U2’s brilliance over the last 25 years, here there’s almost a feeling that it’s a little too much. You could almost call this album, “The Brian Eno Art Experiment, with special guests Coldplay and Rhianna”. It would make a hell of a better title than “Miley Cyrus”, that’s fo’ sho’.

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Time for a change?

I found this thing in our living room the other day. I initially thought it was a new garbage can from IKEA or something. My wife had to tell me that it was a POTTY.

Seriously, does this look like a potty to you? It does? Okay, nevermind.

Obviously, I don’t remember my own potty training, or even my younger brother’s, but I imagine I was quite good at it. The sight of it alone took me aback. It was one more indication that our little daughter was no longer a baby. I remember the first sign was when I stopped using 4 ounce bottles and moved up to the 8 ounce bottles when Audrey was about 4 or 5 months. I was actually devastated to think that she had grown out of something already. (But we’ve only had these things for like 3-4 months! I have a couple of CDs I’ve owned for over 10 years that I still haven’t taken out of the wrapping.) I realize that part of being a parent is to observe these milestones and know that her life will really just be a series of transitions. I have an uncle and aunt who are in their 80s and have just moved from their house into an apartment. The transitions never end. Where am I going with all this, you may be asking yourself? Well, the sight of the potty means that perhaps the diaper changing era is slowly but surely coming to an end in our house, and to commemorate it I thought I would list the top 5 diaper changes over the last two years.

5. April 28, 2009. Audrey’s (and mine) First Diaper.

She wasn’t more than 15 minutes old when the nurses said it was okay to take her out of the incubator and we could hold her for the first time. This was about 5 am. One of the nurses on duty asked me if I wanted to put on her first diaper. I had never done one before. It was remarkably easy, I thought. You just had to make sure you had it on front to back.

Diaper? Check. Bottle? Check. I've earned this nap in the nurse's lounge!

4. July 3, 2009. At home.

Even though I had a strong talking to from a nurse in the hospital to never ever leave a baby unattended on a change table, I was halfway through a change at home when Coldplay’s “Yellow” came on the radio. I was so overcome by the guitar part that I ran from Audrey’s room to the kitchen playing air guitar like a madman. Something, I must add, that I don’t think I’ve ever done before or since. Marla was not impressed. “Where’s the baby!” Unattended, of course. I ran back, and no harm done. She didn’t even flip over.

"And it was all yellow."

3. August 20, 2009. Moraine Lake, Alberta.

Having finished our picnic lunch in the mountains, Marla noticed that Audrey needed a change. Where else but on the picnic table where we had just finished eating? I stood guard while Marla took care of business. This diaper change makes the list because of its exotic locale. I’ve always been a little leery of picnic tables after this.

The Great Outdoors

2. July 1, 2011. Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site

Partway through our visit to the Fort, Audrey’s diaper seemed to be sagging quite a bit. No modern washrooms in 1850, the year in which this Fort is supposedly frozen. What did our forefathers do? I couldn’t tell you, but we whipped out the change pad and laid Audrey out on the grass next to the governor’s mansion. Our most historic, (and probably public) diaper change.

I'm pretty sure there were no Pampers in 1850. At least not in Rupertsland.

1. August 2, 2009. Leon’s Parking Lot.

This diaper change has become the gold standard for all other “distress” changes we’ve done up til now. Marla and I were shopping for a new washing machine and we had just left Leon’s and got back to our car. We were supposed to head over to the airport to pick up Marla’s brother and his girlfriend who were on their way home living in Denmark for a year. This would be their first chance to meet Audrey. Marla noticed that there was a bit of a smell coming from Audrey’s nethers, and we headed back to Leon’s to make the change. Just as we got to the front doors, the lights went out and the “OPEN” sign shut off. We tried the doors. Locked. We were stuck. “Oh well,” Marla said. “I guess we’ll just have to change her in the back seat”. Out came the change pad, but just then the skies opened up and we were in the middle of a summer downpour. I stood over the back door with an umbrella over most of Marla as she got to work. All I could tell was that this was going to be messy. “Watch the upholstery!” I kept shouting, which didn’t win me any favours. Marla did her best in the adverse conditions, but the little outfit she had picked out for the airport had to be scrapped for a cleaner but much more pedestrian sleeper. When we finally met up with Chris and Alison, Audrey was fast asleep. Chris’s take on it “That poop must have tuckered her out.” Nice first impression of your niece.

"Ho Ho Hold the Poopers til 2012!"

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Death and all his Friends

“Those who are dead, are not dead. They’re just living in my head”. Coldplay

Death's Head Tombstone from Plymouth cemetery, Massachusetts

I was the first in to work a couple of  Wednesdays ago. I crossed the library parking lot and let myself in. A few minutes later my circulation supervisor was in and asked if I saw the car parked in the lot. I told her I didn’t notice anything and was there something wrong. She said there was someone sleeping in the front seat. I asked if she was sure he was sleeping. Maybe he was DEAD. “Oh God, I never thought of that!” she said. “So now sleeping doesn’t seem so bad” I said. As I made that flippant comment, I couldn’t know that I would be visited by death two more times before the day would be done.

Mid-morning I had a call from my children’s programmer who told me that her father died.

In Amritsar, India.

Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

I told her how sorry I was. I didn’t ask any details, although I don’t think he was in poor health or anything. Understandably she wanted to go back for the funeral. Sounded to me like she wanted to go for about 3 weeks. I guess you wouldn’t want to go for less than that if you were going so far. Where I work, you’re granted 4 days bereavement leave for immediate family. She also has five vacation days that she can borrow from next year. The rest of the time would have to be covered by a Leave of Absence, pending approval. As I was trying to figure out the paperwork for her, and realizing that I would need to cover her four weekly children’s programs that were starting the following week, I received an email.

More sad news.

Alanna, who had worked with my wife at another library in the city, and who had been battling cancer on three separate occasions over the last 8 years, finally lost her brave fight Sunday night. I called my wife immediately when I heard this. She had no idea. She hadn’t worked with her since before our daughter was born, two years ago, but my wife had always talked about how great she was, and even though she only knew her for a short time, she instantly liked her. After getting this upsetting news, my wife phoned a few of her former co-workers to see about the funeral, etc. One of her co-workers told my wife “Just put on 92 Citi FM”. She was too upset to say any more.

For the first time in about 3 years, my wife turned the dial away from CBC FM to 92 and she discovered a wonderful thing. Alanna’s husband is a local DJ in town. He has been on the airwaves for probably close to 20 years, and his station was dedicating 24 hours to “Songs for Alanna”. This is how it worked: You make a minimum $50 donation to  CancerCare Manitoba, and you get to request a song. Any song. 92, normally a classic/hard rock format, for 24 hours would play anything you want in honour of Alanna’s memory. In the course of an hour, I heard U2, CCR, Louis Armstrong, John Lennon, AC/DC. Most of the people knew Alanna in some way and each song held a special meaning for either Alanna or to the person requesting. Some people didn’t know Alanna at all, but were making donations in memory of other loved ones. You could also buy a t-shirt in memory of Alanna at the radio-station or at any Mark’s Work Wearhouse in the city. “Eff you, Cancer” was the slogan on the front. My wife made a donation and requested “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. She chose this one, because it was the first concert that we went to after our daughter was born. We actually had tickets to the show before we knew we had been selected for adoption. While most couples have about 9 months to get their heads around decorating the baby room and figuring out finances, not to mention all the emotional issues and stress, we had about 3 and a half weeks!

It was a special concert for other reasons too. Coldplay had originally planned to come through Western Canada the year before, but scheduling conflicts meant they had to drop about 4 cities, including ours. At the time they promised they would be back, but how often can you believe something like that? Well, Coldplay was good to their word, and there they were for the first time in Winnipeg, with the excellent support of Snow Patrol. The full name of  Coldplay’s most recent album was “Viva la Vida, or Death and all his friends”. Alanna was also at this concert. Her cancer was in remission at this time, and was a big fan of the band.

Chris Martin of Coldplay with Butterflies during "Lovers in Japan"

For us, we were celebrating the wonderfully improbable fact that we were new parents. Alanna was celebrating the fact that she was well enough to really enjoy a night out with her husband and friends. The next day, my Mom called to say that Alanna had something for us. (My Mom also works in the library. Don’t get me started.) She came by with a cute little bib for our daughter. It was in the Coldplay colours and simply said “Viva”. “I couldn’t pass it up when I saw it,” she said. “I was thinking of your sweet daughter”. Although Alanna never did have any children of her own, I know she was a wonderful and fun aunt and brought joy to many people. The fact that she thought of my wife and daughter too just shows what kind of person she was.

Viva la Vida. Long live life.

http://www.cancercare.mb.ca/

New life.

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