Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ah Fuck.

An old band mate of mine is in palliative care. He has four tumors eating his throat and face. From the sounds of it he hasn't much time left and I'm on the other side of the world.

I can't say I was a good friend for I wasn't. He had problems, bad problems with drugs that lead to a life that I could not, and would not, be a part of. I cut him loose and never really looked back. But now I am looking back and I've realized that many of the things that annoyed me the most about him were in fact his way of trying to help me.

Sure, his idea of helping was, for example, to suggest that heroin would be of some benefit to me. I said no for obvious reasons, but the strange thing is that he was right, or at least partly right. I was an insecure, uptight little tosser when we first met. And if there's one thing about heroin, it does mellow a person out.

I'm not being naive here, I know that part of his motivation was to have someone else share his addiction in order make some money to pay for said addiction. I know too that he wanted the people around him to act as he did in order to feel normal about his behavior. But when I put this incident together with all the other times he annoyed me enough to remember it these 20 years later, I realize that at the bottom of every incident there was always an intent, however small, to help.

I regret not noticing that sooner.

For all his faults, for all the damage he did to himself and others, he isn't an evil man. And now he's laying in a fogged stupor not of his own choosing, unlike all the ones that went before. He's laying there waiting for the cancer to cut his carotid artery again, or close off his esophagus, or to cause pain so unbearable that never fully awakening again is the only option.

He does not deserve this, and fuck any self-righteous pricks who dare to suggest that he does. I've heard that there have been a few of those around, even on his medical team. He's human, flawed to be sure, but no less deserving of love and compassion for all of that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Big Empty

So, are you scared? Is the world too big for you, does it overwhelm you with its complexity.Yes? Well then, I suggest you stay far, far away from telescopes and microscopes.

The scale of the universe in which we live, from the outer reaches of observable interstellar space 46.5 billion lights years away to the Plank length infinitesimal minuteness of the subatomic realm is vast almost beyond comprehension. We as a species are not equipped to observe these extremes without resorting to instruments that enhance our senses to superhuman levels. And at the very outer edges of the largest and the smallest we have to rely on math to map and explain what is there. Those edges at present are beyond our ability to detect directly.

How do we cope with this near infinity that surrounds us? One option is to make stuff up, to invent a wise and benevolent entity that not only understands it all but is somehow responsible for it all. Then all one has to do is wrap one's self up in the warm security blanket of revealed wisdom to feel safe. Of course one has to ignore the fact that the blanket no longer stretches to cover lightning, earthquakes, floods and plagues. Or that the parts that used to cover the motions of the stars and planets, the seasons and eclipses are now just frayed holes. "Fine, fine." one could say "Static electricity, plate tectonics, the water cycle and germs are just the ways that our entity does things." But here's the rub, none of these things requires an entity to sustain them. They work just fine all by themselves. As our body of knowledge grows larger and larger the security blanket gets smaller and smaller until one is left twisting and turning, pulling the blanket here and there in a futile attempt to hide from the reality in which we live.

It's a vast, hostile universe in which we live, one that cares nothing for you or me. Less than nothing really, because that phrase "it cares nothing" is misleading. There is nothing there that is capable of caring one way or the other. And therein lies the joy.

You see, we're not alone and we're not helpless. We have each other and that's enough, more than enough. Don't believe me? Take someone you love by the hand, look in their eyes and say "I'm here." How big is the universe at that moment? How scary? Do you need your ragged and fading security blanket to warm you as arms, alive and real, hold you?

We're all together in the big empty and it's going to be alright.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Adventures in the 3 Year Old's Brain

Me: Em, just how did your toes get so big, hmmmm?
Em: I'm getting bigger.
Me: Yup, you are. How big are you going to get?
Em: Bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and Bigger, And Bigger, AND Bigger, AND BIGGER, VERY BIG!
Me: [uncovers ears, starts to say "Not so loud" but is interrupted]
Em: I'm going to be as big as you Daddy!
Me: You might be.
Em: But with hair.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I'm so happy. I just got my first ranting anti-atheist comment, despite not having written much if anything about the subject here. Someone tracked me back from another website where I'd commented and left this incoherent screed. Hilarious.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Adventures in Oz

This morning I had to get up and go deal with our pump yet again. For some reason the power to the shed where it's plugged in died. Might have had something to do with the rain and wind. What a great way to start the day and it only got better.

We had winds gusting to 100km/hr, driving rain and lightning in the afternoon. This in the equivalent of the northern hemisphere's December. It took down trees everywhere, the native vegetation park looked like the trees had been mown. We shut the shop at 2pm because there was no way the power was coming back any time soon. Fortunately, the worker responsible for clearing downed trees off our section of road used his head. He drove the dozer back to town along the rail trail. I'd brought a saw along just in case but I'm pretty sure it would have taken an hour or more to ride home if the trail hadn't been cleared. This on a ride that's normally 15 minutes.

The pub next door lost the roof from a bungalow out back and part of their front veranda. Tin from the bungalow roof ended up across the highway wrapped around a tree 10 meters off the ground. A house a couple of k away lost it's entire roof. We were lucky. All it did to our place is blow the back door open which fortunately is so far under a veranda that no water got in.

I went over to pub to see if they needed any help. Here's what I love about country life: as I talked to the owners maybe half a dozen people pulled up to see if they could help. Everyone was touching base and making sure everyone else was okay. Sure, a lot of these folk are rough as guts but they care about and look after each other.

We dug out some candles and our torches for light. I trudged across the highway to the creek and filled some buckets so we could flush the toilet. Claire made dinner on the barbeque and we ate by candle light. Our pre-bed play with Em consisted entirely of games where she got to sit in my lap.

Me: Emlyn, it's 10 degrees in here, you need warmer clothes.
Em: No, I'm warm.
Me: Yes, put on this jumper...
Em. No, no, No, NO!
Me: Look, if you're not cold why does every game involve you sitting in my lap?
Em: Cuddle me

She did tell me a fabulous story though. She gave me a piece of paper that she'd carefully folded up.

Me: What's this?
Em: It's your ticket.
Me: My ticket for what?
Em: Vesher.
Me: What?
Em: Vesher!
Me: Take that dummy out...
Em: Adventure.
Me: An adventure like with pirates?
Em: Yes we sailed on ship to island and there was a hole and the wormmies got the hole from the wormmy store and they went wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle and got it out for us. *
Me: Breath my love, breath. Got what out for us.
Em: Treasure.
Me: I love this adventure.

The power came back on after 7 and and a half hours. I've got to say that that was pretty quick work and that I'm a little disappointed. As unpleasant as it was to sit around in a cold house it was also kinda fun. A nice, safe adventure to break up the routine. For us at any rate; tomorrow will show just how bad it was for everyone else.

Friday, June 04, 2010


Okay, I can talk about other things really. No seriously I can,, well that said, I've got to get this off my chest:

Meccano has re-issued it's classic metal construction set. When I saw them for sale I bought two for Emlyn despite her being less than a year old. She's just under three now and we're going to wait a bit longer to break it out. I don't really care if she takes to it or not, but she's going to have the opportunity for that kind of constructive play.

Em is an intelligent, curious and energetic human being. You can almost see the potential radiating out from her, like some kind of Van der Graaf generated nimbus. I don't understand how anyone, male or female, could see that potential and want to limit it in any way. It makes me grit my teeth to think of it. Saying to your daughter "I love you." while shoehorning her into a narrowly defined gender role is the very height of destructive ignorance.

I can and will denounce, demean and fucking destroy if necessary, anyone who tries to limit my daughter because she's female.

Photo from

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Birthday... me.

I got woken up by the most beautiful and smart toddler in the whole wide world who gave me the new Gogol Bordello CD and help me unwrap it. An impromptu gypsy-punk pajama dance party ensued in the kitchen. With a start like that how could it not be the best birthday ever?

Saturday, May 15, 2010


If I could name them, my fears would fill whole books. Great dusty tomes smelling of sweaty hands and dry rot. I try not to think about them in quantitative terms lest I be overwhelmed by the shear weight of those volumes. Two years and ten months ago a new set of fears came into my life, almost identical to those old familiar ones. For every fear I have for myself, I have one for Emlyn. Even in those moments where the joy crushes my lungs until all I can do is laugh those fears sit waiting. This too is parenting.

My fears for myself once threatened to bury me. No single one was enough to do it, but the weight of them all together was almost too much. I can't think why I never gave up. Perhaps, deep down, I really am an optimist. Whatever, the why of it doesn't matter anymore.

My fears for Emlyn are fundamentally different. They cannot overwhelm me, because if they did, if I succumbed, Em would be damaged. This is not an irrational fear like so many I have, this is a simple fact. A fact borne out by the damage I got from my father succumbing to his demons.

I can't prevent some of the things I worry about from coming to pass. Em will get her heart broken, it is even healthy that she do so. One can learn so much from such things. But I will be there to wipe her tears and say, "This too shall pass." I will be there to hold her and say "I love you."

I will be there.

Fuck all my fears. They have less worth than the tiniest part of the most insignificant moment in my daughter's life. They're dusty words in dusty books, and even if I can't be rid of them entirely they shall never threaten me again.

This is what joy looks like:

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Stan Rogers, The Beatles and Me

Once upon a time this was a blog about my life in music. These days, not so much. Funny how having a child and owning a business takes up all the time I have. Funny too how such a tiny little person takes up so much of my thoughts. I'm not complaining mind you, for the most part life's pretty good.

The thing I haven't confessed to anyone is that I haven't even been listening to much music for the last couple of years, let alone making it. I don't like having music on in the background, I've never really understood the point of that. Either the music is interesting and deserves my attention or it isn't so why have it on at all? Em and I have impromptu dance parties once in a while but that's a different thing.

Another problem is I like to listen on headphones. Unfortunately I'm not kidding about tinnitus and I'm afraid that headphones make it worse, even when the volume's low.

At work I mostly listen to podcasts. The nice thing about them is that if I have to pause it because someone's come into the shop it doesn't really matter. Unlike music, non-poetic spoken word pieces don't suffer much when repeatedly interrupted.

All of this has resulted in a long hiatus that I've recently broken. Broken to good effect I must say. My ipod hasn't been updated since I left Canada. The songs on it are all old favorites worn thin my repeated plays. This hiatus has refreshed them to a remarkable degree. The song at the end of this post has always been one that really kicked me in my soft, squishy emotions. I listened to it today for the first time in what must be two years. I'm not ashamed to say that I got goosebumps and tears in my eyes. I'm not presenting it here because I feel anyone else will have the same reaction, but it's a damned fine song with a damned fine sentiment regardless.

As to making music, I've finally set up my digital recorder. In a fit of inspiration I wrote and recorded a couple of things. At first it was just a verse structure, pretty simple and straightforward with just bass and guitar. Claire said it sounded like the most optimistic thing I've ever written. There's no lyrics yet but I have an idea of what I want to say and what Claire heard in the music was spot on. But then I thought it needed some kind of slower intro/bridge bit. I took the elements of the riff and played around with it till I got something I liked. Only to find that the intro has become something that can, and probably should, stand on its own.

This happens to me every time I try and write a complete piece. I can write one thing that I really like but when I try and write something contrasting to go with it that bit ends up being something else that no longer fits. Then I end up where I am now, feeling just too tired to try and think up yet another part that'll probably end up not working either. Ah well, at least it's a start.

The other thing I've been thinking about is writing more about music. My latest idea is to go through the Beatles discography from the beginning. You see, I've never really listened to them. Sure I've heard the songs, it's almost impossible to grow up in urban North America without hearing them. But I've never listened to them in detail, nor have I read much about them. Just the occasional short article where the author asserts that they had some profound effect on youth/music/culture etc. Assertions that never seem to have any backing other than that author's opinion.

The Beatles are perfect for such a project. They have a limited output, only 12 or 13 albums depending on how you count Magical Mystery Tour. They're 1/2 dead and never reformed in any way. I won't have to deal with issues like deciding whether The Who minus Keith Moon was actually The Who or did Entwhistle's death mark their final demise. And they have that huge mythology surrounding them.

I wonder if they hold up as anything other than nostalgia. I wonder if they'll speak to someone like me, an adult who grew up in another era on an odd combination of punk and classical. I wonder if their music is still relevant in the 21st century, divorced from cultural movement that is was so much a part of. Ha, I think I might just have talked myself into this. We'll see.

In the meantime please enjoy Stan Rogers' "The Mary Ellen Carter" It's too bad the video has credits running over it. I preferred this one because the only other I could find didn't have footage of Stan singing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lift Your Head

We had guests over for dinner last night, nice folk and gracious too. They were quite understanding of the gong show that is meal time with a toddler. They also knew to beat a hasty retreat before the bedtime meltdown. Despite their social graces they did distract us from a few of our nightly routines.

It was already dark when I realized that the chooks* hadn't been shut away for the night. Its best to do it just on dusk because that's when the foxes come out looking for an easy meal. Em wanted to come with me. She snuggled in on my shoulder with both her pink blankets tucked up around her. She insisted on carrying the torch which made or progress a little slower as the notion that torches are for lighting your way hasn't really sunk in yet. She wished Bart, Barney and Beebee "Good night." and "Sleep well." each in their turn as I pushed the door shut, fastened the chain and blocked the bottom with its brick.

As we were walking back to the house she lifted her head and said "Look. Stars. Pretty." Indeed they were. There's nothing quite like a southern hemisphere night sky seen from outside a city. The crescent moon was up, it's light hiding much of the Milky Way, but there were still uncountable shimmering lights to be seen. We stopped just back of the bungalow where the house lights are hidden and looked to the sky.

I pointed out the moon peeking through the trees. Em insisted that it was a half moon even though it was more like a quarter. Ah well, fractions can come later. I also pointed out what I'm pretty sure was Mars. It was definitely a planet and was obviously red so Mars seemed the logical choice. It took a couple of minutes to explain where it was but once Em got it she was quite taken with how red it was.

We talked about that a while and I explained what planets were, at two and half she didn't get it. That's okay, it's never too soon to start practicing not talking down to your child. We stood and quietly looked at the stars for awhile too. Then she said softly: "That's my moon, my stars."

I had to think about that for a second. In the end I said "Yes Em, they are yours." Of course they're not, at least not in the sense she meant it. But that's a lesson for later.

The light of stars is ancient, it's been traveling for tens, hundreds and even thousands of years before it falls on our eyes. To look to the night sky is to look back in time, this fills me full of wonder and awe.

We know so much about our universe and yet we've barely left our planet. Quasars, pulsars, black holes: no one has ever been anywhere near any of these phenomenon but still we understand a great deal about them and are learning more all the time. Our ability to explore, study and learn the true nature of our ancient and huge universe despite the handicap of the immense distances involved makes me proud to be human.

Ancient and huge, those words don't do justice to the scope of our universe. It's 13.7 billion (billion!) years old. The edge of the observable universe is 46.5 billion light years away and a light year is 10 trillion kilometers. It contains approximately 70 sextillion (7 x 10^22) stars. I'm incapable of understanding just how large these numbers are. Every time I try and grasp them they just slip away and leave me feeling oh so tiny and humble, and yet they also fill me with a profound sense of peace.

With so much room, so many stars and planets and so much time for it to happen in, well, it seems all but inevitable that life would come into existence. That thought when it first occurred to me was profoundly liberating. I never again needed to wonder why I'm here: I just am. And that means I'm free to live my life, cherish my family and friends, and help make our unimaginably tiny little portion of the universe as safe and as joyful as it can be. It means there are no arbitrary cosmic rules that I need to fear breaking by doing so. It means I can be joyful, humble, proud, peaceful, loving, awe-struck and filled with wonder as needed, the universe is more than big enough to accommodate them all.

All of these things, in all of their immensity belong to all of humanity. But explaining that to Em can wait until she's old enough to reason for herself. For now it is enough for her to know that the pretty stars belong to her.

*Chickens. I'm getting to the point where some Aussie terms are becoming second nature to say. It still feels awkward when I write them though. I paused after writing 'chook' and wondered if I should change it to 'chicken'. One thing won't change though: tomato going to be a toe-MAY-toe until I die!