The good

I spoke with a friend the weekend before last. The first question she asked was whether or not we had recovered Bruno. She had read the post about our daughter being hit by a drunk driver on Xmas and the dog running away but I never followed up the story. Mea culpa.

Bruno was returned to us the very next day. He had been found by a woman who has seen us go by on our morning walks and kept him overnight before calling Dorval security who in turn called us. A story which ended well.

She and I were talking because her husband (who is also a friend) has stage four pancreatic cancer. I only just found out about it and wanted to talk to him as soon as I had heard. I’m not going to write about his cancer or prognosis the first sentence of this paragraph says it all. That is their story not mine.

My story is about when I first started GeekStreet in nineteen ninety-nine. The first real customer I had was a print jobber company. They were having network issues and it took a couple of visits to sort it all out as whomever had been there before me was a less than stellar tech.

One of the things which struck me was the way that everyone talked to each other. From years working at Frame-In-Place in the Snowdon district of Montreal my ear was attenuated to Yiddish expressions and kibitzing but not quite at the intensity that happened between the secretary and the boss: that was something on a whole new level.

The dynamic in the office was a new experience for me. Every visit was like a new episode of The Bickersons and frequently just as funny. It took a few visits to suss out that the secretary and the boss were married and the whirling dervish of a man who hired me in the first place was their son. The relentless sound of them talking was something outside of my experience. It was like there was no detail to small to go over and discuss or argue about but in the end a decision was made and things were done. There was no small amount of love in those exchanges they only sounded angry the first time I heard them and had I never listened deeper perhaps they would have always sounded that way.

The only measure of a person that counts for anything is how they make others feel. In that respect this family and the patriarch who now has pancreatic cancer are giants.

During the entire time GeekStreet was a going concern with a myriad of one time customers and small businesses in the print industry hiring me for short contracts one company stayed with me the whole way. I tried to grow the business but there were always things getting in the way but one moment which stands out for me was after a service call at their old place when he took me to one side and told me ‘Listen, you’re doing something wrong. The guy we used to have was in here every week because something was going wrong. You come in fix the problem and then we don’t see you for eight months. That’s not the way to do business.’ Of course he was joking but it was his way of letting me know that I was doing good by him and he recognized that fact.

When I finally closed GeekStreet and took a job at the school board I kept one client and I still have them. The only reason I still have them is because you don’t stop working for people who have become like family. They’ve seen the kids grow up. They were there when Lynn was diagnosed and when she died. You can’t teach goodness, not really. We recognize it in people who have the real thing and are suspicious of those who put it on from time to time. I’m happy to say I have friends who posses the real thing.

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So I did it

After receiving some edits from Donna, one of which was brilliant, I formatted The Ultimate Great Basin Relay and submitted it to Tin House. In truth I believe my chances of being accepted are nil. It may seem odd but I’m fine with that because part of me just doesn’t care anymore. I’m going to write what I want to write the way I want to write it. Simple writing, simple stories from a simple man. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

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Writer at work

Writer at work

I’m taking down my writing blog because, well, I don’t use it. This blog is my writing blog. Everything I do or experience can end up in a story and if it ever gets to the point that people read and review what I write they’re welcome to pick apart my life based on what I have written here – it has to be better than picking it apart based on hearsay and theory.

The progress on Black Dog has been slow – I have the beginning and the ending but marrying the two had been hard despite it being a simple story. All my stories are simple so that may have been redundant. I might put it to the side and work on two other stories. There’s nothing wrong with putting stuff to one side. I did that with Concrete Memories and it worked out okay so we’ll see what happens.

The Ultimate Great Basin Relay is, I think, finished finished (as opposed to being completed) and ready for publication. The question is do I submit it to Tin House which is where I would like it to be published or self publish. The disadvantage of submitting to the foremost literary magazine in North America is that the chance of publication is infinitesimal. The advantage is that if you get through you’ve done something special. It’s the writer’s conundrum: believing you’re good is one thing, expecting others to believe it is something else.

Submitting to a literary magazine is a proposition which requires patience. It can be three months before they respond if they respond at all. With the Internet and email submissions magazines are flooded with submissions and often the rejection slip takes the form of “wait three months if you don’t hear from us we don’t want it”. On the other hand the self publishing avenue is always there regardless of how long I wait. It might be best to gather together a half dozen or so stories before I go that route again though.

I will submit to Tin House because I want that “Aye” or “Nay” from a literary source. Yes I write for me but there are few who write with the intention of going unread.

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I get by with a little help from my friends

There’s a theory called “The Self Attribution Fallacy” which states that people give themselves too much credit for where they are and what they’ve accomplished. We are all the product of both our own work and the work of others who have direct or indirect influence on what we can achieve. As Donne so aptly put it in one of his Devotions “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”.

This past week things have really been coming together for the leave of absence from work to do the steam lab at NAIT.

Donna, the wonderful woman to whom I am moving, used points from one of those loyalty programs to cover the entire return trip airfare for the trip. The whole thing! That’s huge because the airfare to Edmonton is more than the airfare to Europe. The amount of faith in me that she shows with such a gesture is touching.

At work the HR department got into the act too by allowing me to juggle vacation days to offset some of the expense of taking twenty seven days off of work to go back to school. Everything was by the book but the woman who helped me spent a lot of time finding every way that was allowable so I could take the smallest financial hit possible. I’ll still be losing a little over a weeks salary and the insurance premiums for the period won’t change but money will be coming in which is a good thing.

My mother-in-law has agreed to move back in for the time that I will be gone to see to my daughter. No matter how mature she be I’m not going to leave a 17 year old by herself for six weeks: she could give Ichabod Crane a run for his money so I’m not sure shed’d even make it to class if someone wasn’t here.

ABSA has allowed that while I am in Edmonton attending NAIT I am a resident of Alberta and can, time permitting and scheduling possible, take an ABSA certification exam. They also reassured me that I don’t have to rush anyway. The course work is valid for a seven year period and the lab time is valid for life.

NAIT has allowed that I could take a morning or perhaps two to write ABSA exams provided they could be scheduled and provided that there is the spare time. The scheduling on intensive steam sessions is tight so it many not be possible but if it is I can do it.

Some day I will say to someone “When I got my Power Engineering ticket…” I won’t mean to leave out all the people who helped me get there and I will remember that I did not get there by myself. I’ve never gotten anywhere by myself, few of us have.

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Stay brown.

Russell Peters - Outsourced

Russell Peters – Outsourced

In the summer of 2007 my son and daughter suddenly thought I was cool. It was a complete fluke and they were soon disabused of the notion but for one shining moment on Berri Street in downtown Montreal I was the coolest father in the world.

On that summer’s day on the east side of Berri Street coming up from Boulevard Rene Levesque came Russell Peters. Russell Peters was my favourite comedian at the time – and still ranks as one of the best. I had interviewed Russell the previous September when he was touring Outsourced. On that tour he spent hours after the performance greeting press and fans and giving to each person he met a real meeting, a real exchange and of course a photo op. So when my son recognized him I confidently walked the kids across the street through the moving traffic (it’s a Montreal thing) and called out to Russell by saying “Hey, Russell” as if we were long time friends. I offered my hand and remember mentioning The Serious Comedy Site which he may or may not have recognized. For about sixty seconds we had his complete and undivided attention, of course he remembered me, this is your son wonderful, this is your daughter, wonderful, they love my stuff, great, it was great seeing you again, stay brown.

That was it and no doubt a moment completely forgotten by Peters who must meet thousands of people every month but for us it was special and he made us feel special. That connection, however brief, has stayed with all of us and we all follow his career and look forward to seeing him in Montreal again.

Small gestures can be big sometimes.

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Balls off of a brass monkey

The trouble with winter is that it outstays its welcome. A little snow around Xmas and then cool temperatures through until March would be nice. Alas, living in Canada, this is not a possibility. We’ve been having a cold snap of late. Not frightfully cold but -20 has been kicking around with wind chills dropping as low as -43. When the weather forecast calls for -14 and that’s a warming trend then the cold has been around too long. We get a small break tomorrow with the temperature climbing to -9 by mid afternoon but then it’s back to -15 overnight.

The ski hills have been able to produce a lot of snow during this time which is a good thing as the high school ski trip is coming up. Our daughter is about as physically active as the average sloth, I mean no disrespect to sloths, so her engagement in the occasional skiing foray is not to be taken lightly. Anything which involves getting out into fresh air is encouraged.

You can rent skis, boots and polls but not pants. This weekend we are going to have to find her some ski pants. I don’t know if second hand clothing stores sell ski pants but I’m going to find out. The weekend after that she will be off on the slopes of Mont Ste. Anne forgetting to take pictures.

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Adding insult

I am in the process of leaving the 30 year plus relationship with TD Canada Trust for the Royal Bank of Canada and if I had any doubts about that action they were removed with this month’s credit card statement. The last time I talked to TD they said they were going to reverse the charge they levied for giving me back my own money (I had overpaid my credit card bill) but as it turns out they seem to have had a change of heart.

January Visa Statement.

January Visa Statement.

Is it any wonder I am changing banks? I’m certain I can be serviced in a way I prefer (and yes I mean that in farming terms) by another institution.

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Black Dog

I read a review of a collection of short stories today and must confess that I have no idea what the reviewer was talking about. It seems there is a whole style of short story and story telling out there which critics expect, or don’t want, I wasn’t clear which. I find it funny and scary at the same time that I’ve finally given up on caring what anyone wants to read to write what I want to write to find that I am obsolete before getting out of the gate. No matter really, I’m still going to write what I want to. Here is the beginning of the new story entitled Black Dog.

The bedroom wall shuddered as the door closed. The hard sound penetrated his sleep. He always felt the door close. It was an oak door painted burgundy and marked with boot scuffs and furniture knocks scarring the once smooth surface. The door had an octagonal window high up in the center of it. The window was coated with heavy frost most of the winter. The weather stripping on the door frame had worn to non existence and offered no cushioning when the door was close with determination. Harmon lay still in his bed, his eyes closed, ears sharp to the heavy footsteps which came after the door closed. His father was home.

His father being home put him on guard. Which father would be home? Angry father? Playful father? Happy father? Spiteful father? The father who wanted to talk? The one father wanted silence? He listened to hear anything his mother or father might say for a clue.

“Oh, no. You didn’t Barn.” His mother’s voice wasn’t quite upset and it wasn’t quite happy. Harmon tried to imagine what his father had done.

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Crisis? What crisis?

Oil has played a strange roll in my life and in the life of many people born between 1960 and 1965. A thin sliver of end days Baby Boomers and first year GenXers. Oil has been the bane of our existence in many ways but hit us first and hardest in 1980. All of us were graduating from high school into one of the biggest recessions of our lives. Back in the day the emphasis on hiring was on experience and unemployment in Quebec remained in double digits for the next twenty years sometimes going as high as 14%. That was general unemployment not youth unemployment which traditionally is about twice the rate of general unemployment.

Other than my friend Richard, who is a teacher, I know no one who ever worked in their chosen field. When we got out of school you scrambled to take what you could get to put food on the table and the wages sucked. By the time things started to turn around another tectonic shift had taken place in the job market, namely computers, and employers were turning more to inexperienced but tech savvy grads to fill new positions.

Every generation has to deal with something and I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with bullets or bombs but that doesn’t mean what I have was handed to me on a silver platter either.

These days oil continues to have an affect on my life. About a year ago I enrolled in a teach yourself Power Engineering program at NAIT. I chose NAIT because the program was in Alberta which meant that eventually I could write a certification exam in Alberta. Having Power Engineering certification in the oil patch isn’t a guarantee of a job but it makes finding work much easier than having a B.A. in English Lit and twenty years of computer tech experience does. All this effort to move to Alberta centers on one person: Donna. She is there which means my future is there. It is that simple and that complicated.

The price of oil in the middle of the summer was brutal and the price at the gas pumps was as well. The one upside I would think about while filling the tank was that as long as the price is high then the oil sands will be producing and there will be work when I get there. That’s how a blue collar man thinks. Life is always a trade off of some kind. Then Saudi Arabia decided to make a grab for a larger share of the Asian market and the price of oil started to fall and it kept falling. Husky pulled 3.5 billion out of Alberta, Suncor is pulling out 2 billion and laying off 1000 employees, BP is relocating 300 employees and the Conference Board of Canada has made it clear Alberta is headed for a major recession which will hit by the end of this year. For a working man the word recession means one thing: there are more workers than there are jobs. For employers that survive the pool of available talent will grow and those in the pool will be willing to take less money. For the working class who are just now starting to recover from the banking debacle that threw so many out of work in 2009 it means going back to treading water instead of getting out onto shore.


For me? I have no idea. I’ve been following the Alberta jobs market for the last year. Edmonton is a little better insulated from the coming crunch than Calgary and Fort McMurray but no one is immune.

I am moving to Donna, not to a career or a job per se but the idea of not being able to find work is scary. No one wants to be unemployed.

The trouble with choices is that you have to make them, they are never easy and you never know if you are making the right one.

The good thing about choices is that regardless of the ones you make they almost always work out in the long run.

I’m still moving to Donna, I’m just a little more nervous about it than I was before.

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Moving day

Our son is moving today which naturally means he put absolutely no prep into getting stuff ready to move. He’s only moving to downtown Montreal so there isn’t that much effort that is needed but there does seem to be a disconnect between the idea of “moving out” and the actual “moving out”. At twenty it is not too early to move out though it is a bit rare these days. Our house will probably be a backstop for him while we still own it but it is good that he is getting out now. Learning how to live on your own, or with a roommate, is a process. In his case he will be living with a roommate and only about half a kilometer from school. He’ll have our house to return to if things go south for another eighteen months or so (maybe longer if the economy really tanks).

Anyone who remembers getting out on their own remembers that there wasn’t much fear but there wasn’t much forethought either. Toilet paper, toothpaste, detergent and a myriad of other things taken for granted at home could throw a spanner in the works at any moment. Counting change to figure out what to buy for supper, if supper were possible at all. Ah, memories.

Student life at university is meant to be an education and education can’t only be about what happens in the classroom. Our son has a good head on his shoulders most of the time so with luck this will go well. Either way it will be a learning experience.

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