I wrote this post 8 years ago, for the French Open. The Federer/Nadal rivalry was already one of the all-time great ones, though Nadal had not yet “run away” with the head to head. That took a little lustre off it as a rivalry in terms of their direct contests (Rafa dominates the H2H 23-11; but in terms of career accomplishments, Roger is far in front). Still, here we are, 6 years from their LAST Grand Slam final (a 2011 French Open win for Rafa), and the two are ready for a kind of tennis Valhalla battle. So, before we do, please take a look at some thoughts from a long time ago, a Nietzschean analysis about what makes this rivalry so enthralling, despite the lopsided H2H in Rafa’s favour: [Read more…]
An exciting week, this, and its only Tuesday. Monday, I connected with the Sunnybrook Foundation to begin a donor-relationship with funds from the sale of Tragically Hip, Twisted, going specifically to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research. The whole idea behind putting the book together was as a tribute to the Hip; to be able to fundraise through the book in this way seems to fit together with that. Aside from these donations being in honour of the band, cancer has been a major actor in my life and my family’s story. I imagine a lot of people would say that, but I feel it acutely. I lost my mother to cancer when I was a child. My father, as a lung surgeon, spent his career fighting cancer, and my brothers and I had the opportunity create a visiting professorship at the Ottawa Hospital in his name, to bring cutting edge research in the field to my father’s old department. In addition, one of my brothers is a neurosurgeon, continuing the idea of cancer as a personal family adversary.
On a lighter note, today, Tragically Hip, Twisted became Amazon’s #1 bestselling Canadian short story collection. Anytime you can lead a list containing Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, David Bezmogis and Lucy Maud Montgomery, you’ll take it. (Bestseller-page image below the Sunnybrook letter).
My newest project, Tragically Hip, Twisted, the illustrated collection of short stories inspired by Tragically Hip songs, has gotten some nice pre-release attention. Much thanks to CTV Ottawa and Lianne Lang, and Ben Bulmer and the legendary LowDown newspaper! The book will be a fundraiser for cancer research.
Here is my interview on CTV Ottawa Morning Live.
Update: I have a web page for my Tragically Hip-inspired ebooks, and my new hardcover illustrated collection, Tragically Hip, Twisted. Check it out here. But if you still want to read this post, by all means, read on…
Over a decade ago I began a hobby that I’ve still not given up, though I get to play at it seldom. I write short stories based on Tragically Hip songs. Not the songs that tell a story – because they already tell a story. But the songs that don’t quite, on their own. I’ve always found the Hip’s music expressionistic and evocative. Their music put stories in my mind, even when the lyrics don’t tell one directly. They tell story snippets. The listener can piece together a multiplicity of possible stories from them.
I just discovered an historic document! A list of all the books I’d read from 2003 to the beginning of 2011. I began keeping the list because I thought it would pressure me to read more. It wound up just being fun, especially looking back and remembering. I’d rated them, too. I don’t really know why, its just one of those OCD-type things I would insist on being strict about. [Read more…]
My new op-ed in the National Post on the much ignored Stabbing Intifada and how it demonstrates the absurdity of using death toll ratios to condemn Israel.
When a society worships death, honours suicide attackers and forces civilians to serve as human shields, they are going to have a high death count.
I’ll be volunteering in support of a medical mission to rural Tanzania in February. The mission is organized by Canada-Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA-ASCCA) , a very grassroots Ottawa NGO that has been doing great work abroad for more than a decade. (For those worrying I’ll do more harm than good, I won’t actually be doing medical work personally.)
If anyone is interested in donating to support the mission, as well as the long term projects in the communities we’re visiting, please go to this web page for more info:
My new op-ed in our excellent local small town paper, The Low Down to Hull and Back News.
This was not meant as a defence specifically of the planned memorial to the victims of communism in Ottawa, but to explain why, more fundamentally, we should respect and understand this theme of 20th century history.
Text below: [Read more…]
I have a new passion, as of yesterday. I’ve been gorging on a very niche form of music: jamming between strangers. I didn’t just discover this yesterday. I’ve been participating in it for over twenty years, but I just discovered the YOUTUBE videos. That’s the thing about random jamming with strangers: they’re unplanned. There’s little recording of this, unless you happen to be, say James Brown, Prince, BB King and Michael Jackson. (OK, they weren’t strangers, but just enjoy the damn video).
So now, with video camera cell phones everywhere, this whole art form, which has existed only in vanishing, isolated moments in space and time, is suddenly recorded, and callable at whim – we can see just how much fun is being had out there.
Check some of these out. This is what music is all about to me: improvisation without a net; sharing; creating as a team; opening minds; breaking down barriers; and pure joy.
So much to love in this! Look at that face on the second sax player as he gets ready, he KNOWS something special is going down. The first guy ALREADY has the train dancing and bouncing. Then in comes the second gun-slinger, and it is ON and everybody knows it. Listen to that clapping! That is a sophisticated audience there. Make sure you wait for Part 2 in the video, it just blows the roof off. And again at 3:40.
Or check this one:
This last is a public piano in Amsterdam. You can Youtube a whole range of stranger-jams at that piano, or any of the other public pianos which have been sprouting up. That’s cool.
Myself, I am a lousy musician across a wide spectrum of instruments. I love playing. I am least bad at harp (harmonica), then probably piano. A step down in bad is my ukulele, and then my sax playing, and then a level below that are vocals and drums. I’ve been known to play bass, but that’s below the range of the chart. -Eleven.
The great thing about a harp is that it travels with you, so wherever I am, if the situation comes up, I am equipped to make music. This has led to some of the greatest memories of my life, these impromptu jams. On a beach, a street corner, a subway stop, or, of course, in a bar or on any other stage, THERE is music. There’s the spark, someone has begun. There’s the opportunity: if one more musician, armed and in-the-mood walks by, there’s the fire, and the magic.
I am in love with this form, and look forward to discovering more gems like these! Be a part of it!
On the river, you hear the danger before you see it . That loud white noise, the sound of a thousand toilets flushing; a buzzing in your brain so similar to the one before the trip, when you wondered if just maybe this was a bad idea.
You come around a bend and see the white froth on the horizon line of the river. Maybe this was a bad idea. You stand in the back of the canoe for a better view, discuss with your partner a route through the long, rocky, droppy, turbulent mess – hidden boulders to avoid, eddies to shelter in, chutes to aim for.
Afterwards, in the first calm water downstream, you’re a bit shaken, a bit wet. One or two more dings on the heavy ABS plastic canoe. The fear drains out and you’re filled with adrenaline and euphoria. This is whitewater canoeing.
The Unabomber wrote about surrogate activities, distractions we concoct for ourselves to take the place of our primal and once-dangerous hunt for food and shelter; to fill that psychological void. I wonder about this: is there a hierarchy of legitimacy to recreational activity? Are some more indicative of a balanced psyche? Is there something unhealthy about using dangerous situations for fun, just to find a way out (alone and remote, in the case of whitewater canoeing)?
My wife and I spent 5 days on the Dumoine. It was our first time on the Dumoine. The river flows more or less north-south from the Canadian Shield highlands to the Ottawa River, dropping 500 feet along the way. The altitude drops make it a whitewater river. The Dumoine has two sister rivers, the Noire and Coulonge, which run over roughly the same terrain. We’d run those two before, but the Dumoine is supposed to be the classic, one of the superstar rivers of Quebec.
We drove to our take out point, where a shuttle took us up river. That way, our car would be waiting at the bottom. Getting to the Dumoine, we got up at 5, drove to Da Swisha, then shuttled up the old logging roads to put in around 60 km of river above the Ottawa by early afternoon. This is how trips start: the driver drops you and your canoe and your gear deep into the bush, somewhere near the river, and disappears down the dirt road. You look up, look around, and go, by fuck, we’re on our own now.
This is one of the special things about wilderness camping. Other vacations, you go to the beach, it takes a few days to wash “home” off you, the office, the home projects, the headaches and nerve-rattles. A weekend is a break, not a vacation, because you can’t forget that quickly. Except wilderness camping. The moment that shuttle is gone, shit is real and you are there, in that moment. It’s another world, and you’re another man in it. Remember that old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon where the kids take a roller coaster, and then it transports them to a fantasy world with unicorns and dragons? Like that.
Our bags and barrel and canoe are lying on this scruffy beach next to the Dumoine, and it’s always a strange feeling seeing that everything you depend on, food, shelter, clothes, camp gear, is going in that canoe.
We quickly packed the canoe, and slid off the beach and out into the current. The Dumoine welcomed us in with an immediate long series of rapids (“Bridge Rapids”), and we were gone as quick as the shuttle.
The river was relentless (how Megan put it). After that long day of road travel, we spent the afternoon running eleven high-class rapids. Eleven times hearing that noise, approaching for a first look, nerves and adrenaline firing, making the decision: do we run it straightaway? Scout more from shore? Skip it and portage? Then, the active intensity of the run. Eleven times. Nine went well. Two were hairy, with significant boulder contact, having to get out a couple times to push off rocks to get unpinned. Always a nervy experience. Lulu Lemon says you should feel fear at least once a day. So we’re good with Lulu.
Each rapid is different; you learn to read the water to understand what’s happening underneath. With low water levels, the Dumoine rapids were predominantly long boulder gardens, with not much margin for error; and challenging river bends through the rapids making them difficult to scout.
We made camp at Little Steel rapids the first night. It was a beautiful, shaded site right in the midst of the rapids, swarming with mosquitoes. There was no spot calm enough to swim or fish around the site, but the views were spectacular.
Here was the juxtaposition that makes whitewater canoeing a rare experience. The wet, splashing excitement, the fury of the river, the intensity of concentration as boulders whizz by. You’re thinking about a plan to work the rapid, at the same time as the paddle and balance technique needed to follow the plan. Your body is fully engaged, all while watching, hyper-alert, for surprises. Then, the serenity of camp, the infinity of the wild. No sign of human contact save a portage trail and fire pit.
These rivers have been run for thousands of years by native peoples before the plastic boats. They would have used the same portage trails, the same campsites, maybe even the same spot for a firepit. When you walk here, you are completely separate from humanity in the moment, yet connected with a thousand years of it.
There is a ying-yang here of human experience. I’d go so far as to bring out the ol’ Apollonian/ Dionysian. I use these terms following Nietzche’s use in Birth of Tragedy, who set them up as distinctive, opposing forces in experience and art.
[I’ve used this schtick before, within the context of the great tennis rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But it’s one of my favourite concepts. So useful in describing so much of human experience.]
The Apollonian is man as a self-conscious individual. He is the man in a fragile craft, holding onto his sanity, ego and identity on a deep ocean of mystery. Paintings and sculpture are Apollonian, individuating arts. They celebrate differentiation and uniqueness of objects.
Dionysian is humanity as One. It is the connection of man to each other, and the universe, the often-ecstatic loss of self as experienced in Dionysian festivals (or drum circles, raves, shamanic ceremonies, religious experience, drug and alcohol use, etc). It is the man outside the craft, in the ocean. Music and dance are Dionysian arts.
Canoeing the rapids is a pretty literal interpretation of the man-in-the-fragile-craft metaphor.
You are as individuated, as focused on your physical being in that moment, as can be. You are fighting to protect that individual. Then all at once, you find yourself in nature, and melt into it. Your individuality is gone, you are swallowed by the wild.
One night, on a quiet stretch of river, I watched the wakes of invisible bugs on the glasslike surface, disturbing for a moment the reflection of the trees, hundreds of yards away. Damn right, it was serene. Nietzsche claimed that it was the bringing together of Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies in Greek tragedy that made it a sublime, ultimate art. There’s no ultimate sport, or pastime, despite the Unabombers’ hierarchy. We all experience and profit from our recreation in different ways. But whitewater canoe camping has unique combination of feelings. The mosquitoes fit in somewhere, metaphorically. I’ll get back to you on that.
We travelled like this four more days. One of those was spent in camp, at Red Pine Rapids, as a play day. I love play day. No campsite tear-down and set-up. No need to go anywhere. Nothing but to enjoy the place, rerunning the same rapid different ways, practicing techniques, fishing, reading, writing. Reclining in the hot sun in a shallow rapid – a glass of white wine, still cold, in hand, the cool river flushing over your bottom half.
Unlike the Coulonge and Noire rivers where paddlers generally take out somewhere along the river itself, the Dumoine has no road access near its mouth, and spills right out into the wide Ottawa. You finish the trip by paddling through the wind and waves of the big river. Your car is waiting on the other side.
You open the car, change into some clean clothes, pack your stuff up and take off. That’s it. No ceremony, no medal, no one waiting to shake your hand or cheer. No one knows or cares. Something magical happened. You’re bursting to talk about it, the experience is too big to keep inside. But you can never capture magic with words. You start the car, get in gear, and that world is shut behind a portal. You will have to find it again next year, that portal. For now, you are back to the mundane world, with a pile of dirty gear.
From Schopenhauer: Just as a sailor sits in a boat trusting to his frail barque in a stormy sea, unbounded in every direction, rising and falling with the howling mountainous waves; so in the midst of a world of sorrows the individual man sits quietly, supported by and trusting to the principium individuationis, or the way in which the individual knows things as phenomena. The boundless world, everywhere full of suffering in the infinite past, in the infinite future, is strange to him, indeed is to him but a fable; his ephemeral person, his extensionless present, his momentary satisfaction, this alone has reality for him; and he does all to maintain this, so long as his eyes are not opened by a better knowledge.
I love whitewater canoeing. Having a chance to contribute to the fantastic Ottawa Outdoors Magazine on my favourite subject was great. Basically, a primer to get readers out onto the plentiful whitewater rivers of our region.
Saturday I had a great opportunity to be at the books table for Wakefield Literary Festival’s discussion with Charlotte Gray and Sean Michaels. I did a post on the event for apt613, Ottawa’s fantastic culture web-zine.