Category Archives: Bits and Bobs

Random ramblings that don’t fit as neatly into any of the other categories.

Around the world in 80 clicks

50 Shades of Orange and Red.
50 Shades of Orange and Red.

The “views by country” application on WordPress holds endless fascination for me.  As I’ve said before it’s a reminder of how small the world has become in the digital age and how one does not need a multi-million-dollar book deal or internationally syndicated column to have a reach that spans the globe.  Since my last update, we’ve now filled in the entire north coast of Africa, all of South America save Guyana and French Guinea, Belarus finally got on board to complete the Eastern European bloc and the U.S. has regained the all-time lead from Canada following last June’s spike (thanks neighborinos!)

I wonder about some of the countries where the total number of views is in the low single digits.  What were they looking for, did they find me by happenstance, and did they at least enjoy what they stumbled upon?  I wonder about those nations where the Internet is guarded tightly by the government and who seem to be, at least for now, the Holy Grail in terms of getting a blog hit – places like China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea.  (Don’t know what Greenland’s excuse is.)  We know that in those countries, a privileged few do indeed enjoy unrestricted Internet access so the possibility exists.  There was an interesting article released last week about Jimmy Dushku, a 25-year-old American who for whatever reason is one of three accounts being followed by North Korea’s official Twitter account.  Though considering what goes on in that despotic mess of a country, I can’t say I’m that eager to fill my map in.

What’s the scoop, fellow WordPressers – anybody out there get a hit from somewhere completely unexpected?

Woohoo! 2012 in review!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; etcetera, etcetera.  Thanks to the WordPress helper monkeys for providing this handy little summary.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 28,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who stopped by to read my ramblings, whether you came here accidentally in search of naked pictures of Carice van Houten (a very popular search engine hit, and sorry to disappoint – although you should follow her on Twitter, she’s funny), you decided to browse further because of my contributions to The Huffington Post, or you’re a personal acquaintance and you feel obligated out of guilt to click that link that shows up in your Facebook news feed.  A special thank you to Justin Trudeau and Emilie-Claire Barlow for using their celebrity clout to send more than a few readers my way.  A very special thank you to the Fabulous Five (you wonderful folks know who you are) and three in particular for proving that friendship in the digital age doesn’t require face-to-face meetings, although some day it sure would be nice to shake your hand and buy you a drink.  Who knows, maybe 2013 will offer up that chance.  An extra special thank you to my father-in-law, whose comments have done much to bolster my confidence, and who’s unfortunately spending New Year’s Eve in the ER.  Faigh go maith go luath, Dave.  Copious thanks to his daughter, my better half, without whom this wild and unpredictable enterprise never would have begun.

As I look to “lucky” 2013, I look forward to a year of chances taken, opportunities seized, fortunes made, friendships solidified and most importantly, words written.  Hope everyone out there has a very happy New Year.  As one of my favorite singers, Richard Ashcroft, once opined, see you in the next one, have a good time.

We get letters

“This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again, how sheep’s bladders may be employed to prevent nonsensical blog comments.”

Spam, as the old Monty Python song reminds us, is ubiquitous – you get it whether you like it or not.  We’re all familiar with the Viagra ads and the dubious promises of freaky sexual encounters that show up in our email inboxes.  The spam you get on blogs is a bit different; I’ve yet to be assured that I can expand my manhood by several inches in only 30 days, or that Prince Nbeke Mbala desperately needs my help in extracting his oil fortune from Lagos, Nigeria, if only I can send him my bank account details and exclusive rights to my firstborn.  Really, the spam you get in the comments is quite dull.  No one is trying to sell me anything, or asking me to click on a weird link.  What if these are genuine comments from lonely people just looking for a connection, cruelly barred from my site by the unfeeling, unsympathetic Akismet?  What if all they want is an answer?  Well, let it never be said that I don’t consider the needs of my fans.  Here we go:

“Omar” writes:

I thought your video was very intgihsful. I’ve been blogging for about a year & just like Missmikela I’ve yet to make any real money. How did you join Glam, were you referred & also who do you recommend for text links.

Hi, Omar, glad you found the video full of intgihs.  I’m pretty sure she told me she was eighteen, but I wasn’t sure what the stuffed elephant was for.  Anyway, I’ve been to Missmikela’s site and quite frankly, with the questionable theories she puts forth about French deconstructionist literature and its relationship to early Marxist writings, I’m not surprised she hasn’t picked up any spare coin.  My work with Glam kind of began the old-fashioned way – I was enjoying a malted in the soda shop when the agent walked in, handed me a card and asked if I’d done any modeling.  The shabby furniture in the office should have been my first clue, but sometimes it’s just nice to be noticed.  Besides, you can barely tell it’s me in the pictures.  Thanks for writing!

“Gabriela” says:

So much good stuff! Can’t wait for these. I love the new extra weapons some of them come with. I was gttieng tired of the previous ones, so many already and all the same ones. These have more of a mix of weapons.Aside from that, so many great figures, even the repacks. Don’t care much for the game though.

Hey there Gabriela, I know, I was just saying the other day that when I really need to kill something it’s good to be able to choose between the rocket-propelled Semtex grenades and the super-high-velocity repeating bolt action rifles.  A week ago some guy in the mall was looking at me funny and I thought to myself, “if only I had my depleted uranium shell crossbow, I’d show him a thing or two.”  I agree, I much preferred the first version of the game where the princess was in the other castle and there were only twenty-six mushrooms to jump on while avoiding the giant monkey.  Appreciate your thoughts!

“Edinaldo” opines:

First, I’ll give you an example for me. I have a nomarl blood sugar reading of 72 and the nomarl should be 80 120. Sometimes, our bodies can get use to something and that can be our nomarl. As for your situation 90/47 is a very low blood pressure. The bottom is low and the top isn’t to bad. However, you do not want them running close to each other because of risk of stroke or pass out. The nomarl reading for blood pressure is 120/80. So, if you take that into account your blood pressure is moderately low but your body could be use to it.There is no reason for concern.

Wow!  Thanks for the reassurance, Doctor Edinaldo.  Are you the guy from that weirdly compelling telenovela?  I was a little worried after eating that triple cheeseburger with the fried chicken bun and the barbeque sauce when I started feeling palpitations in my thigh.  The weird thing was I was running a half-marathon at the time.  But as long as I increase my daily ice cream intake and follow it with a few good shots of straight vodka at bedtime, I should be able to get this rash under control.  The twitching and night sweats should stop shortly thereafter.  Have a great day!

And finally, from the very cranky “Vasile”:

Well What do you think? It’s not rocket siccnee. I was complimenting you. Where in that sentence did I say, It sucked and was a bad movie ? I said that I remember the good old days using Intel Play and that it couldn’t have been any better with the amount of technology Intel Play provides. Now this I don’t get: Are you a kid or a teenager or what?

I understand where you’re coming from, my friend.  There were script problems from day one and honestly, when you’re dealing with a diva like Marjoe Gortner it’s tough to keep the big picture in perspective.  I’ve never been a fan of Intel Play – I thought their first album showed potential but their misguided foray into Turkish hip-hop was a load of pretentious tripe, and what the hell was with that eighteen-minute timpani solo on “Who Loves a Sailor Then”?  I dig a good set of kettle drums as much as the next guy, but come one, even artistically speaking a little goes a long way.  In answer to your next question, yes, I may come off sounding like a guy in his thirties but I am in fact just on the high side of seven, and I am mocked on the playground constantly for my references to Proust and Aeschylus, but then again, at least I don’t wipe my nose with my sleeve very much anymore.  All the best!

Hat tip to East Bay Writer who publishes her blog spam as a regular (and hilarious) feature.

Tanned, rested and ready

Feels awful. And it works.

As my better half has pointed out to me on many occasions, men are the ultimate wusses when it comes to getting sick.  Even a mild cold – as it was my oh-so-grave misfortune to suffer over the past few days – is the tribulations of the damned.  What’s more ironic is that it has been ages since I’ve been struck down with a truly dreadful case of sniffles.  I’ve always had a pretty strong immunity; never have I been one to spend a week confined to bed, my head oozing snot from every orifice.  The occasional illness, every six months or so, is overcome within a matter of one or two days, if not hours.  The problem is that when one is accustomed to more or less perfect health, one loses the capacity to endure discomfort of any sort.  Hence the infrequent stuffy nose turning into a harbinger of the apocalypse.  In any case, I think I’ve hit upon a pretty reliable recipe for licking that pesky rhinovirus (at least, it works for me; this should IN NO WAY be misconstrued as any form of medical advice, as I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on television):  copious amounts of Vitamin C, orange juice and oregano tablets (bring on the spaghetti burps), washing the nasal cavity frequently with a neti pot and the kicker, the “cook it out” method:  basically, wrap yourself in as many sweaters and blankets as you can endure, dope yourself with NyQuil and go to bed, and let yourself sweat.  If you can stand it, the heat basically fries the virus out of your body and dramatically shortens your recuperation time.  The bad news is you have to go back to work that much sooner.  Anyway, I’m back and I’m ready to kick April’s cruel arse into May.

Nirvana at last.

As one of my many forays into the digital world, I’m on Foursquare, the social media platform where you earn points and virtual badges by “checking in” at different locations throughout the world (an expensive hobby if you travel frequently and don’t have a good roaming plan on your mobile).  One of my Foursquare contacts lives in San Francisco, another in Washington, and speaking of illnesses, I’m always struck with “square envy” when the cool places they’re visiting pop up on my notification board.  When friends are crisscrossing the continent checking in at places like embassies, monuments and concert halls, your long-held mayorship of the local grocery store doesn’t feel that impressive.  Call it a social media variant on the old “grass is always greener” saw; one of the drawbacks of this new phenomenon of ambient awareness, where everything everyone is posting as their status update seems a lot more profound than what’s going on in your ordinary life.  Then again, it’s all relative – something that seems unique to the first world is our ability to be dissatisfied with abundance, to see existential emptiness within the horn of plenty and to always crave more, or at the least, to crave the idea of not appearing boring to the others around us.  The Buddha was probably on to something with the whole concept of suffering being related to unfulfilled desire.  (Now how is that for a train of thought – from Foursquare to Buddhism in less than 200 words.  If that doesn’t qualify me for the “Downward Facing Dog” badge, I don’t know what does.)

One final random note for today – finally saw the Season 2 premiere of Game of Thrones and had forgotten that all the Men of the North and the Night’s Watch sound like they should be playing bass in 60’s Merseybeat bands.  I gather that since Sean Bean was cast first as patriarch Ned Stark, they needed to find actors with a similar Sheffield patois in their speech to reflect the idea that they are all from the same family.  Yet it’s interesting how the British accent (and its many regional and even neighborhood variations) seems ideally suited to the fantasy genre (the Lord of the Rings series being another prime example), and how actors speaking about kingdoms and dragons in American midwestern dialects yanks you out of the story faster than you can say “You betcha!”  Indeed, there is a conceit that any period piece, no matter where it is set, seems more genuine when the actors sound like they just graduated from RADA.  It was such an unusual choice of director Milos Forman, when making Amadeus, to allow the actors to speak in American accents, when the safer, more traditional bet would have been to go with the Queen’s.  The movie is set in Austria so British accents would be no more logical for the setting than say, Spanish ones, but still, something still feels a bit off in how people are speaking (then again, you couldn’t exactly have the genuine Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mozart).  Of course, the champion of mishmashed dialects still has to be one of my personal favorite movies, The Hunt for Red October, where you have a crew of Soviet submariners captained by a Scot (whose character is actually supposed to be Lithuanian) and made up of Englishmen, New Zealanders, Germans, Swedes, Italians and Frenchmen, with one token Russian-born actor providing a lonely hint of verisimilitude – not that he has any lines in Russian, of course.  I guess what matters most is internal consistency, so if the entire cast of Game of Thrones was Icelandic it would make just as much sense as having them all hail from working-class Northern England.  Wonder if one of the Starks will have to warn the others that “one on’t crossbeams gone owt askew on treadle”?

In which we pause for some shameless self-promotion

I’ve got some exciting news to share.  This is an excerpt from the list of The Huffington Post’s alphabetical list of bloggers.  I have highlighted a particular name.

Further up the list is another name, just added today.

Yep, that’s me!  How cool is that?  Just goes to show you, never be discouraged – if you believe you can do it, you can make it happen.  Wonder if I can convince Mr. Sorkin to collaborate on something?

Monday morning madness

One ring to marry them all.

A dear writer friend who passed away a few years ago used to send out regular emails every Monday morning with this title.  They’d consist of a few witty observations on life, stuff that happened on the weekend, what her cats were up to and would often close with a cheesy joke.  Her initials were M.E.S. so she’d sign off with “Jst a Mes.”  In my first writing critique group, she was the first of us to be published – sadly, only posthumously, but she remains an inspiration.  She was one of the guests at my wedding almost five years ago, and it occurred to me that since that day, three of the 64 guests in attendance at our celebration have since departed our company, my dear grandfather among them.  Although, there have been at least three, if not more, babies born to that same group of people as well since that day, so, as the Stranger opines at the end of The Big Lebowski, “I guess that’s how the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuating itself.”

Speaking of my wedding, my better half noticed online the other day that the first house we lived in together was up for sale, and had an open viewing this past weekend.  We had only lived there for one year – we were renting, and while we weren’t asked to go we did get the sense that our landlady was keen to sell, and we were fine to find something a little more affordable.  And, although relatively unspoken at the time, there were some troubled memories associated with the house that we were anxious to leave behind.  We had moved in as boyfriend and girlfriend, run the proverbial emotional gauntlet but emerged triumphant as husband and wife.  Anyway, we had to drop by and see how the old gal was getting on.  What struck us most was how small it felt – not that where we live now is a McMansion, but we were boxed in by a peculiar sense of confinement and constriction as we wandered through the rooms.  Perhaps it was an appropriate metaphor for what we were going through at the time, a concentration of emotion and event into limited space from which a stronger bond is eventually forged.  It had been renovated substantially since we lived there, the ubiquitous pink carpet that neither of us cared for replaced with hardwood.  But I still felt a bit of a chill as I stood in the exact spot that five years ago Valentine’s Day, I knelt, opened my hand to reveal a cheap Lord of the Rings replica One Ring – all I could afford at the time – and asked her to marry me.  She has a much nicer one now, and we have a home that feels very open and free, where we can relax and just be – or at the least, plenty of rooms to run and hide in when we (i.e. me) forget to take the chicken out to defrost for dinner.

I’ve talked about this before, in the context of Twitter, but one of the wonderful things about modern communication is the reduction in distance and increase in intimacy between the artist and the audience, and not, at least when it is used responsibly, in a scary stalker kind of way.  Emilie-Claire Barlow was kind enough to retweet my review of her show to her followers.  Very cool – and just reinforces my point about how awesome she is.  Thanks, Ms. Barlow!  Hmm… Emilie-Claire Barlow, Rob Lowe I’m sensing a rhyming pattern here.  I should write something about Gwyneth Paltrow and see what happens.

On a completely different note, I think it’s time to do away with Daylight Savings Time.  A few years ago, it was decided to advance it a month in the calendar, the end result being that as soon as you feel like you’re turning the corner of having to wake up and go to work in the darkness every morning, you get slapped back into it for another month and a half of exhaustion and caffeine injections.  As I understand it, DST was invented to assist farmers in making the most of their daylight hours – given that we are no longer as agrarian a society, perhaps this tradition too can go the way of the telegraph and the wax cylinder recording.  I always feel more tired during the eight-odd months of DST hours than I do on Standard Time – my body really misses that extra hour and never quite adjusts to it.  I guess I probably wouldn’t do very well living in Maine or New Brunswick.

On a final, hopefully amusing note before we embark on this week’s adventures, a few more of the wacky search engine terms people are finding me with.  Again, not that I mind the site traffic – far from it.  The more the merrier; I just imagine, as U2 would put it, that you still haven’t found what you’re looking for.

  • apollo crackers – Not quite sure what these are, perhaps crunchy space food eaten by Armstrong and Aldrin, or a very ironic euphemism for white people who enjoy Harlem jazz.
  • long psychedelic jams – Groovy, baby!  “They call ’em fingers, but I’ve never seen ’em fing… oh, there they go.”
  • render anime boy – I don’t even know what to say about this one.  It strikes me as vaguely creepy.

Have a great day, fellow crusaders.

In like a lamb

A perfect metaphor for March 1st, 2012.

Elmore Leonard’s first rule of writing advice is, never open your book with weather.  So with apologies to Mr. Leonard and his learned wisdom, I’m starting off March with a few comments about the state of the climate.  It was not that long ago that I recall temperatures plunging to the minus twenties in the middle of February, jagged sheets of ice coating my apartment windows and blocking the view of the mountains of white beyond.  I’m not going to complain about a more modest than usual February heating bill, but this is ridiculous.  I’ve had to shovel the driveway exactly twice this entire winter.  I missed doing it so much I actually shovelled both my neighbours’ driveways just to get in the extra few minutes of cardio.  My better half’s allergies have been in overdrive all season as it never got cold enough to kill off the mould and spores of autumn rot.  And we did double-takes this morning when birds started chirping outside.  The geese have figured it out – they never flew anywhere this winter.  Think there could possibly be a relation to, well, I don’t know, um, global CO2 emissions being higher than ever before?  Nah, it’s sunspots.  We’re actually in a cooling phase.   It’s just Al Gore, Solyndra and the Islamofascisocialists trying to sell you solar panels.  Think I’ll fill my Hummer with Super-Hi-Grade and then run over a spotted owl.  Suck it, Mother Nature.  FREEDOM!!!

Yep, it’s gonna be one of those days.

I love the Search Engine terms tracker on the WordPress dashboard.  It is genuinely amusing to see how people find me, and I can’t help imagining the tremendous disappointment that must occasionally result.  I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits from people who saw The Grey and are looking for references to the “Live and die on this day” quote – that at least relates to something of substance.  I get a few from people searching for My Little Pony, The Verve, Coldplay, other search terms that happen to coincide with some of my random word strings, like “grahams wall of sound”.  But some of these other search engine terms are just plain bizarre.  The one that really made me laugh was “kesha good looking”.  Someone on the hunt for images of Kesha for what I’m certain are nothing less than the purest of purposes ended up here?  Granted some of what I write can hopefully be very thought-provoking, but those are definitely not the thoughts I’m trying to provoke.  Eeeww.  We won’t have none of that ‘ere, mate.  Keep calm and carry on.  Besides, silly rabbit, you should know that “Kesha” and “good looking” are not terms that relate.  Ooh, how catty of me.  Thanks, try the veal.

I wonder what it must feel like to have a voice that other people love to impersonate.  Do they ever listen to themselves and think, “good God, do I really sound like that?”  My own voice is quite unremarkable, so I enjoy dressing it up with different accents whenever the opportunity arises.  The other day I was watching a YouTube clip of Michael Caine doing an impression of himself, or more accurately, Michael Caine doing Peter Sellers doing Michael Caine.  It was all in good fun, of course, but how frustrating must it be that almost everyone you meet will be some wag who thinks he can “do you”?   As I’m certain even ordinary lads from Glasgow or Belfast must roll their eyes at attempts by continentals to affect their unique, history-nurtured tones.  One of the cardinal rules on whatever film set he happened to be working was that no one was allowed to impersonate Sean Connery, which I’m sure didn’t stop them from trying to slur “Missh Moneypenny” behind his back.  That is the problem, naturally – everyone thinks they can mimic Sean Connery and almost no one can pull it off.  The same goes for John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson and most of Rich Little’s repertoire.  Voice actors, I’m told, often start from a celebrity impersonation when they’re working up a new character.  The scratchy warbles of The Simpsons’ Moe the bartender began from what his performer Hank Azaria called a bad Al Pacino impression.  Somehow I doubt anyone will ever be accused of doing a bad Graham Milne impression – except maybe myself.

So what are my goals for this month?  Thirty-one days of possibility lie ahead, full of opportunity for both triumph and tragedy.  Gonna try to keep blogging as close to daily as I can, have a new screenplay to start working on, and, because I find that putting it out there publicly is a good way to motivate myself, I’m going to begin sending out my long-gestating novel to agents and publishers.  Hopefully the response will be as promising as that which has greeted my musings here.  If all goes well, maybe, by the 31st, I will, like the lion, have a good reason to roar.  Stay tuned!

Valentine’s Day, massacred

It’s probably not a good thing to read “Happy VD” in a friend’s status update and think, based on their general tone, that they’re referring to venereal disease (which can be many things, the least of which I suspect is happy).  Valentine’s Day is one of those concepts that provokes divides akin to red state/blue state – yer either fer it or agin it.  People in love use it to shower their special somebody with gifts and affection.  Single people decry it as a Hallmark holiday and bemoan the cringe-inducing cheese of cutesy heart-clutching teddy bears and diabetic chocolate overdoses.  No matter your take on February 14th, we can probably all agree that in a world whose history has been defined largely by how much we hate each other’s guts – and finding new and inventive ways to take out that frustration via ever more powerful killing tools – it’s nice that we can still devote one day out of the 365 (or in this year’s case, 366) to celebrating the idea of love.  On February 15th we can go back to pissing all over the douchebags – just give it a rest for twenty-four hours, please.  And yet it still seems that the majority of what you’ll read about Valentine’s Day is penned by misanthropes who feel especially entitled on this day of all days to vent their contempt about ex-partners, abysmal dates or the fact that they have no partner at all.  They’ll portray it as a vast conspiracy of impatient family members, bachelors/bachelorettes, the greeting card industry, chocolate makers, Kenyan Islamofascisocialists, Republicans and the military/industrial complex (because those guys are always behind everything) directed specifically at making their lives miserable.  In the ultimate of ironies, snark flows more freely today than love.  Not exactly what the secret cabal of Illuminati, Bilderbergers and Commie-Nazis who came up with Valentine’s Day in the first place had in mind when they forced this nonsense upon us.

Look, I’ve been there.  I was Forever Alone Guy.  And yes, it sucks being the only single person at the table.  You can argue that it’s is an artificial holiday, the date picked to ameliorate a slow retail season between Christmas and Easter; well, it’s not like nature notices the difference and remembers to create an especially beautiful day, she was planning on doing that (or not) anyway.  You can carp about the in-your-face syrupy public demonstrations of affection, the dreadful Sarah Jessica Parker “comedies” Hollywood rolls out during this season and the abundance of red and pink heart-shaped paper cutouts stuck all over your supermarket cashier’s kiosk that are not, truly, shaped like actual human hearts.  What puzzles me is how the purveyors of such cynicism think they’re unique, that they’re the very first to vent such incisive wit for the world’s bemusement.  How soon we forget that we heard all of this last year, and the year before.  I very well might have been the one making those points in the late 1990’s.  But I can admit that I was wrong, and that I shouldn’t have let my gloom about a lack of successful romantic escapades rain over the proverbial parade of those souls lucky enough to manage to connect amidst the random permutations of the universe.

For many of us, Valentine’s Day is actually special.  Not because society told us it should be.  Because like Captain Picard, we made it so.  VD wasn’t anything remarkable for me either, until I decided to make it the day I proposed to the wonderful lady who became my wife.  Had she said no, I might have had a new reason to hate it – as it turns out, I was one of the lucky ones.  And that is sort of the point – what else is a holiday, at its core, other than a celebration of one’s fortune?  Even the single are fortunate – they are alive, healthy and free, and many are clearly very gifted with words.

My suggestion is this:  let’s have an anti-Valentine’s Day too.  We could stick it in the middle of August, say on the 23rd, when it’s hot and sticky, the Back to School sales are in full vigor, the political conventions are happening and love is the furthest from anyone’s mind.  Hallmark can stock “To My Scumbag Ex” and “Never Liked Your Rihanna-Loving Ass Anyway” cards, frowny-faced teddy bears and Cupids with their heart arrows shoved where the sun don’t shine.  It can be a day when we let our dogs befoul our loud neighbour’s lawns and cut each other off on the highway with no road rage reprisals – an occasion to let the finest examples of man’s contempt for his fellow man shine forth like so much radioactive waste.  And all the eternally single bloggers and columnists can use it to spew forth their laments for their failed attempts at romance to their heart’s discontent.  But please, for the love of love, leave Valentine’s Day alone.

The future ain’t what it used to be

It’s 2012 – wondering where the flying cars are?  The way some people drive, maybe it’s not a bad thing Ford hasn’t rolled them off the production line yet.  But as a fan of science fiction from a young age, a passionate supporter of space exploration from around the same time and a gazer at the stars from long before that, I kind of expected the future to be, well, a little more futuristic.  I’d hate to think that all those classic movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey lied to me, and yet, as 2001 came and went we weren’t boldly voyaging to Jupiter and beyond, we were mired in terrestrial disputes, our feet welded to the ground by political infighting, war, terrorism and relentless media-induced fear.  The words of Robert F. Kennedy come to mind:  “Some men look at things the way they are and say why; I dream of things that never were and say why not?”  Somewhere along the line we, collectively, stopped dreaming of things that never were and became coddled by advances in technology that heighten only the convenience of life, not its quality.  Probably the greatest step forward in the last ten years has been anything produced by Apple, and yet, really, a portable Justin Bieber catalogue isn’t exactly the sort of thing Jules Verne would have envisioned as a quantum leap.  We still get from place to place, basically, on 19th Century engines – they are faster and sleeker but the principle is the same one that propelled your great-grandfather’s old jalopy down Main Street when it was a dirt road with horse hitching posts along the sidewalks.  As Leo McGarry opined on The West Wing, “where’s my jetpack?”  Forget that – I want my damn Back to the Future Part II Mattel hoverboard.

I laud the advances we’ve achieved in communication, this forum being one of them.  What concerns me is that we are moving towards a point in our existence where we may have very little of substance to communicate about.  Human beings are needy creatures – we are forever craving stimulation to make us productive.  From adversity comes advancement.  But what happens when life is so easy, so crammed with distraction, that challenge is all but forgotten?  Look at the difference in a little over half a century – after Pearl Harbor, Americans banded together to enlist, volunteer, ration, buy bonds, collect scrap metal, anything that could be done to assist in the war effort.  Contrast that to the post-9/11 era where the President told his people that the best thing they could do to help their country was to go shopping.  Rosie the Riveter?  Nope, Penny the Power Purchaser.  And why?  Because it’s easier.  It’s yet another distraction, an erosion of altruism for self-interest über alles.  Surrounded by distractions, we do not think.  We forget about the whole and focus on the pleasure of the one.  These mass-produced trinkets are fun, but they fill the one empty space that should be uniquely our own – our imagination.  They saturate it so completely that we don’t think we are lacking for anything anymore, and thus, we are no longer compelled to create.

I am a victim of this myself.  When I was first living on my own, I had only an old computer with no Internet capability, let alone access.  I wrote constantly, generating screenplay after screenplay, thousands of pages of would-be novels.  Without distraction, I could focus on creation.  Then one day I decided to buy a Nintendo 64.  And who wanted to stare at a blank screen and flashing cursor anymore when there were so many goombas for Mario to jump on and so many princesses to save from castle dungeons?  My imagination took a huge hit and I don’t think it has ever completely recovered.  To this day I prefer surfing through a few favourite sites and catching up on the latest show business news over writing something of my own nine times out of ten.  I’ve been prolific here lately because I’m really forcing myself.  But it’s not easy.  The lethargic soul is a persistent enemy forever at the gates.  And he seems tragically immortal.

Primitive computers with barely the memory of today’s pocket calculator helped land men on the moon and return them safely to Earth.  That was in 1969.  2001: A Space Odyssey came out a year earlier, and given the pace at which things were happening then, it seemed a reasonable prediction – barring the unforeseen bankruptcy of Pan Am – of what our lives could be like as the 21st Century dawned.  Instead, HAL 9000 is the iPhone 4S, and the moon seems further away than ever.  But goshdarnit all, I’ve got 100,000 songs in a little gizmo a third the size of my wallet.  Is this what RFK had in mind when he was dreaming of things that never were?  Is this what Stanley Kubrick expected?  Is this what Aristotle, Copernicus, Leonardo or Galileo would have wanted?  Full seasons of Fear Factor streaming to my HDTV on Netflix?  Snooki with a million Twitter followers?

The capacity of what humanity can do with imagination and hard work is limitless.  But we have to force ourselves to look up from the screen and back at the stars again.  Because although they’ll be there forever, we won’t be, and I’d rather not see the ability to download Jackass 3-D at lightspeed as our civilization’s greatest lasting legacy.

Guest post: The Cat’s Meow

My better half is very critical of her writing skills.  I’m not entirely sure why.  She has a natural, friendly style that is earnest and highly readable, and she can get her message across without sounding as long-winded as another unmentioned member of her immediate family (blush).  I try to be as encouraging as I can, but my compliments don’t seem to be sticking.  So today I’m going behind her back a little bit and offering a sample of her prose for your enjoyment.  From the end of this paragraph, all remaining words in this post are hers.  Hope you like it – I know I do.

When a person is speaking of something that they think is really great, they sometimes refer to it as “the cat’s meow.”  So I took it upon myself to do a bit of research to see if I could discover where exactly this phrase comes from.  Most sources seem to indicate that it originated in the 1920′s when flappers and other hipsters used “cat” to refer to ideas that were too cool for words.  In addition to “the cat’s meow” there was the “cool cat” or “hep cat” and “the cat’s pajamas” (although this one I will never understand since I have yet to see a cat lying around in a flannel nightie).  But I must say that lately, I do not consider my cat’s meow to be anything other than highly annoying.

It was a little over 8 years ago, when I innocently went to the Humane Society one day with my sister so she could pick up an application to volunteer.  I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for her to collect the proper paperwork, so I ventured into the “Cat Room.”  The walls were lined with cages containing cats of many colours, shapes and sizes.  Some of them paced back and forth as I walked by meowing loudly, saying, “Look at me, I am stunning.  You will not find a more beautiful cat than me”  Others slept in curled up balls and simply opened one eye as they heard me pass, deciding I was not worth waking up for.  And then, as I shuffled past one cage in the middle of the room, this pretty little gray creature slowly walked up to the front of the cage and tilted her head, looking at me as if she thought she knew me from somewhere.  She moved a little closer and stretched up on her hind legs, inviting me to bring my face a little closer to hers.  As I did so, she reached her two front paws out through the bars of the cage and gently touched my cheeks.  That was it, I was a goner.  I immediately surrendered to Muffins, a dilute tortoiseshell of about 11 years old at the time, and we headed off to start our new life together.

Now, by all accounts, Muffins is a great cat.  She’s clean, well-behaved and she loves to make new friends, as long as they are of the two-legged kind (other cats and dogs just will not do).  And she is affectionate – well, that is to say she loves attention.  In fact, she demands it on a regular basis.  And it used to be that she would simply rub up against us or park herself on my lap whenever I sat down, expecting some petting or face and ear scratching or even a brushing.  But lately, she has taken to meowing whenever she wants attention.  And I’m not talking about a cute little meow that says “Yoohoo, do you see me?  I’d like a bit of  love if you can spare a couple of minutes.”  No.  I’m talking about a loud, annoying meow that goes on incessantly and says “Hey you, yeah you, it’s been at least 5 minutes since you paid attention to me.  How many times do I have to remind you that your job is to give me all the love and affection I desire, no matter what you may be doing.”  And did I mention that Muffins is an early riser?  Her usual wake up call is around 5:15 am but sometimes she’s had enough beauty rest by 3:00 am and it doesn’t matter to her one bit that my husband and I are trying to sleep.  Oh yes, and she doesn’t believe in weekends!

Perhaps, like humans as we enter our senior years, she is having trouble sleeping through the night.  We’ve tried being understanding and waking up briefly to appease her with a few quick pets. But that was not enough for her.  Then we tried ignoring her which only led to her amping up her performance by taking it from just pacing the floor of our bedroom, to jumping up on the bed and pacing across our bodies. So it was time for tough love.  When the meowing started, out of the bedroom she went and the door was closed behind her.  End of discussion.

But neither one of us wanted to be the bad guy.  After all, she’s part of the family.  How can we banish her from the room when she loves us so much and just wants to be close to us?  What if she’s lonely when she’s put out in the hall?  She is getting older, so who knows how much time we have left with her.

So, what next?  Well, after a great deal of thought, I realize that the answer is simple.  I mean, who are we kidding?  Do we really think we can put our foot down now after years of giving in to her every whim.  It is us, after all, that created this mess.  We’ve taught her that all she has to do is turn on the cute a little bit and she can have whatever she wants.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  This will all be resolved if we just accept who is really in charge in our house.

Meow.