Thursday, 22 January 2015

Routine Is Not An Ugly Word

One of the many things that I had hoped to accomplish following my retirement was to dispense with daily schedules. I really wanted to let my life choices dictate the clock and the calendar, rather than allowing the clock and the calendar to dictate my life choices. I certainly didn't have any grand notions of existing within a "Freedom 55"  commercial at the still very youngish age of 52. Me sail away on a schooner? Yah...not with my motion sickness. Instead, I saw the the future as a giant tabula rasa that could only be limited by personal preferences.

Naïveté is a peculiar circumstance.

While it is true that part of my mind knows that there is nothing stopping me from staying in bed until late morning on occasion to luxuriously read the newspaper, another part screams obscenities at me if I laze around for too long. My reason says "Relax. Take your time.", while my body yells "Enough already you lazy arse. Get your shit together and let's get moving." And so it is that I find myself back into an early morning exercise regime. 

While I am comfortably ensconced in The Southern Home, the majority of that activity consists of a lengthy early morning walk, either around the neighbourhood or down on the beach. After all, we have all been told that sitting is the new smoking, and since I have never so much as taken a puff, I figure that I need to get some real value out of my $99.00 FitBit Flex. 

It's funny. Even though my schedule has become much more fluid and flexible, the world around me, both human and natural, obviously still adhere to theirs. During those walks, I have encountered the same school children waiting for their buses, the same landscapers going about their business, the same locals exercising their dogs, and the same customers at Starbucks purchasing their morning caffeine injections. That's normal and to be expected. What was gloriously unexpected was my encountering of the same wildlife, in the same locations, doing exactly the same things every single morning. There is the squirrel in the park who actually responds to my mother's call and expectantly waits for bits to be dropped. (I won't allow her to give in to her better urges simply because he is a squirrel and I consider his northern cousins to be mortal enemies.) There is the large orange iguana who has taken up residence with his family in the mangrove trees abutting the Intracostal near our home. But I am most totally engaged with these White Ibises who cross my path daily.

As you can see, they are unfazed by human involvement and they are just quietly going about their morning routine, which usually consists of breakfast and crossing the street. Note to self: Resist urge to tell Ibis crossing the street joke.

They are awkward looking creatures who are as ubiquitous down here as sparrows are up north, but there is something about their patterns that has me mesmerized. I see them every single morning on my walk, and then miraculously, every single evening at dusk, an entire flock (I'd like to think it is the same birds) flies in perfect formation low in the sky right in front of my balcony. I could swear that they are dipping their wings in a familiar salute to me as they pass. (I have tried on several occasions to grab a photo or video clip, but they simply move too quickly and I am simply not that great a photographer.) I know it seems crazy, but it feels like my own remarkable interspecies moment. I have actually taken to parking myself on the balcony for an hour or so before dusk waiting for my friends to arrive. It is a magical moment that I now joyfully anticipate.

Yesterday as I watched my new friends perform their evening ritual, it struck me that schedules aren't the evil notions that I had made them out to be. Rather, it is how and what we choose to fill them with that truly matters. So far, mine doesn't suck.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Everything is Connected

I am continually amazed by the power of camp. At least the one that I attended. It seems that no matter how far we have all travelled, how diverse our journeys, we all remain interconnected by that cow patch in Indiana. It has been a long time since I was there, and yet events keep popping up that somehow wield a magical force which transports me back to those days of sweltering heat, Shabbat walks, and sugar-laden bug juice. That confluence of happenings is occurring once again this Shabbat in Washington D.C.

This weekend, NFTY-The North American Federation of Temple Youth, is celebrating their 75th anniversary with an alumni concert, featuring my old GUCI buddy Dan Nichols. GUCI's Avodah '82 took it upon themselves to arrange for a reunion using the concert as the centrepiece of their weekend festivities. I was not a part of that Avodah crew. I was a counsellor and songleader that year, but their festivities did get me thinking about that summer, the summer of '82. That was the summer of "Everything is Connected."

Now if any of you have ever been inside of the GUCI gates, have had any connection to GUCI campers or staff, or have even been to a Dan Nichols concert or seminar, you will have heard about "Everything is Connected." It is one of those urban legend-type stories that is hardly believable some thirty plus years later. But, for those of us who were there to witness it, it remains one of the singular defining moments of our camp experience.

It all began with the legendary and remarkably gifted Bonia Shur. Bonia was a great composer and an unbelievable force in Reform Jewish music. His compositions are performed around the world, and he was a deeply respected professor of liturgical arts at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. In the summer of '82, Bonia and his wife Fanchon came to visit GUCI for a Shabbat to act as a sort of scholar/musician in residence. This was long before any of us immature teenagers truly understood what a gift it was having Bonia in our midst. Bonia was brilliant, but eccentric. He had a wild, unkempt look about him, a sort of shlubby-looking Beethoven, and he was so far ahead of his time in trying to convey new age ideas on liturgy and prayer circles, that most of us really didn't know what to make of him. We tended to giggle a lot and we were wholly unimpressed that Fanchon wanted to introduce movement into our prayer experiences. We had no idea what was to come.

After lights-out on Kabbalat Shabbat, the staff was directed to attend a special Oneg. Bonia and Fanchon would be leading the program. He had the entire staff stand in a large circle in the dining hall. Bonia then proceeded to take a long rope and asked everybody to grab hold of it. Fanchon insisted that we move the rope together rhythmically as one community. Now, just picture it. A group of sweaty, awkward teenagers and young staff standing in a circle clutching a rope and moving it forward and backward. There was a lot of laughing and a lot of mocking. But Bonia was undeterred. He just kept it moving. Finally, he asked somebody, anybody, to shout out a phrase as to how this made them feel. I honestly can't recall who said it, but somebody yelled "Everything is connected!" Bonia began to chant a melody. "Everything is connected. Everything is connected." Over and over again. It went on and on and on. We convulsed in giggles. He asked for another phrase. "It will work out!", another person yelled. Bonia began to chant. And he kept chanting. And he kept chanting. "Everything is connected. It will work out!"

Most of us had never heard the phrase 'mantra' before, and even fewer had ever been to a yoga class. But Bonia knew. He just kept chanting and kept the rope moving. It went on for what seemed like an eternity. I don't remember when it happened or even how it happened, but suddenly I realized that I was chanting too. And so was every single person in that room. "Everything is connected. It will work out." The laughter and mocking gave way to spiritual involvement. The discomfort at trying something new melted as we found relaxation in the prayer. There was serenity in the interconnectivity. Later that weekend, Bonia and Fanchon introduced our new GUCI mantra to the entire camp. Everything is Connected became the watchword for the summer.

I don't think that any of us could have foreseen social media and how intertwined we would still be in 2015. That Shabbat evening in Zionsville united us all in a way that can still be talked about, but never truly felt unless you were there to experience it. But, Bonia knew it all those years ago and he insisted that we share it. Interconnectivity is vital to everything that we do in our lives. We all have an impact and an import on those around us; those with whom we live, work, and love. We cannot and should not neglect those relationships, because in the end we are all we have. 

It has been an incredibly challenging start to 2015. Perhaps if we all just take a step back, breathe in and out rhythmically, and chant Bonia's mantra, we might find a bit more peace on this Shabbat. Have fun Avodah '82. Everything is still very much connected.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A Text Conversation from This Evening

This is an actual text conversation between The Husband and me that is still ongoing while I am typing. I will set the scene.

He is headed home this evening on an Air Canada flight, or as I like to call them..."Hell's Airline." Aside from the Fort Lauderdale airport being a nightmare due to increased security, (Paris, anyone?) he has no luggage and no carry-on baggage with the exception of a small computer bag. His seat was already pre-chosen and he is travelling alone. His flight was scheduled to leave at 9:20pm. The first texts arrive at 8:50pm. These texts have not been altered at all.

The Husband: This zone boarding thing doesn't work for Air Canada. Started boarding 20 minutes ago and it's chaos.

Me: That's because they're a moronic company.

The Husband: Massive lines

Me: They are never easy. Have no idea how to run an airline.

The Husband: Pretty funny to stand back and watch this. It will take another hour to board.

Me: You have your seat and no carry-on. Wait until the end. Don't fight.

The Husband: I am. Not in line. But something is definitely not working properly.

(We say goodbye thinking that is the end of it. HAH!)

The Husband: (9:16 pm) In seat. Still boarding. 50 minutes already. Just paged...(A person we know. We share an emoticon laugh.)

Me: Almost on your way.

The Husband: No!

Me: For real?

The Husband: Too many cabin bags.

Me: Assholes! (Directed at Air Canada staff who never ever ever properly police such things.)

The Husband: The overhead bin above me just got busted with people trying to stuff it.

Me: F***

The Husband: Calling maintenance

Me: Assholes. If they would just police it properly.

The Husband: Maybe I will get home Saturday.

Me: I love you!

The Husband: SNL Sketch.

Me: But too late at night to be funny.

The Husband: The still haven't finished boarding plane. Over 50 min so far.

Me: And they only have this one job right now!

The Husband: Airline is a joke. 15 minutes before maintenance gets here. Maybe I'm destined to stay here with you.

Me: There are worse things that could happen.

The Husband: Already 20 minutes late taking off after boarding 50 minutes before the schedule.

Me: Assholes.

The Husband: (9:37pm) No maintenance yet.

Me: Flight Aware has you leaving at 9:51pm

The Husband: Not happening. Ha ha....some hoody wearing "dude" walks on, looks for 10 sec, and says "It's broken. I need to make some calls." It is right above my head.

Me: You should be blogging this. Want my account?

The Husband: Nah...just enjoying the entertainment.

Me: Good attitude. I'd be furious.

The Husband: Dude back. On his phone.

Me: What now?

The Husband: Duct tape!!!

Me: Get out??

The Husband: Kid you not!

Me: You're shitting me?

The Husband: Nope. Hold on...maybe not...not happy with that.

Me: Let me know when they break out the WD40.

The Husband: Little Jewish guy behind me is an engineer and wants to help.

Me: Can I blog this? Too funny.

The Husband: Back with the duct tape.

The Husband: Good job, dude!

Me: Holy!!

The Husband: The engineer approves. Had to get special aviation grade duct tape. They now say 5 minutes because pilot and maintenance needs to complete paperwork. Can't make this shit up!

Me: I'm blogging it. Check when you land.

The Husband: Too late now, but I should have live tweeted it. Love you! Bye.

Me: Thanks for my evening's entertainment.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Let's All Go to The Movies...At Home

It is the end of 2014 and I suppose it's time for some soul searching.

This is the time of year when North Americans are dutifully flocking to movie theatres in order to finally view the "real" films. You know the ones. These are the movies, the serious and contemplative ones, that Hollywood has held back in reserve in order to compete in the pre-award rush leading up to the Oscar nominations due out early in the new year. These nominations can lead to millions more at the box office, in DVD/BluRay rental sales, and can make overnight sensations out of previously languishing and unheard of actors.

This is also the time of year when movie critics whip out their best and worst lists of the year. More often than not when these lists appear, the complaint I hear most often from the average Joe is "I haven't seen or heard of a single one of these films. Why is that?" Well...there are several reasons.

1. Critics are snobs. Yes, they are. There is no getting around that even the most influential critics have personal biases when it comes to movie genres and favourite actors or directors. I imagine that they all try to be fair, but personal preference always tends to creep into any review.

2. Critics see everything, even the stuff the studios only release in limited quantities or stuff that only made it as far as the film festivals, much of which will go directly to streaming services and DVD. Most of those films, while eminently watchable and dripping with brilliance, are simply unmarketable for the big Hollywood studios. There just isn't enough money in it for them. But the critics don't forget and they properly refuse to put a film like another installment of The Hobbit on their best of lists ahead of a small art house or foreign film like The Immigrant, which actually had weight and depth.

3. The studios dictate what we the average public gets to see. That's why The Hobbit is currently playing on three or more screens at your local Cineplex, while something like Mr. Turner is shunted to the independents. If I want to catch any of these smaller films, I probably have to seek them out in small theatres or film festivals, or later catch them on DVD or Netflix. The demand just isn't there, so the supply simply doesn't exist.

So here's where my soul searching comes in.

I love movies, but I hate the movie going experience. Movie theatres have become places that are wholly uncomfortable for anybody who actually wants to watch the movie. Audience members often forget that they are not alone in a theatre. Despite the admonishments, there are still too many who chat, play on their phones, are noisy with their snacks, bring young children when they most clearly shouldn't, kick the seats in front of them, stretch in the middle of the film, and simply just behave selfishly when decorum should prevail. It seems to me that I can have a far more pleasant experience in my own living room.

I love film, but I hate the studios. If you eliminated all of the sequels, superhero flicks, fantasy franchises, comic book stories, remakes of classics, and gross-out comedies, you are probably left with about the twenty percent of original content movies that I actually want to see and would be willing to pay for. Unfortunately, those choices are made for me long before I even get a chance to decide what they might be. The Husband and I went to see Into The Woods last week. It was the first in-theatre experience we had attended since last January. That isn't to say that we have been abstaining, only finding other ways to see the films that interest us. I do realize that I am not part of the audience whom the big studios are targeting, but really? Do they not want my dollars too?

I love actors, but I loathe movie stars. What was the last movie that you saw that starred an actress over the age of fifty not named Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Judy Dench? And I mean starred! Not supporting cast or part of the ensemble. Yeah. Good luck with that. Michael Keaton is back this year with a slick new Oscar-bait film entitled Birdman, and the critics are falling all over themselves to talk about his comeback. Are you telling me that he wasn't available until now? Hollywood has a chew them up and spit them out mentality that cannot seem to transcend the current crop of action flicks and sci-fi fantasy nonsense. Acting seems to have disappeared as special effects have taken over and we are left with the dross of pretty faces and publicity hounds.

I love the art form, but it does exist in languages other than English. Foreign films and their directors have become the ugly bastard children of the North American movie going public. They aren't acknowledged with any force or veracity, and when they are finally allowed to emerge from their hiding places, it is to stump for a lonely foreign film Oscar in March. Netflix does a great job of showcasing these films and I have taken full advantage.

I love the creativity, but I loathe CGI. Don't get me wrong. Special effects have their place and are necessary to so many of today's films, but why do more than half of them look like bad video games? I realize that the purpose is mainly to entertain, but I can't believe that the same experience can't be had in front of an X-Box or Playstation.

I am wistful about this post. I really love movies and the entire art form. I will never forget being dazzled by the genius of Hitchcock or the magnificence of Julie Andrews. I know that it is a subjective business and I can handle the fact that we all have differing opinions on what is good and what isn't, but the modern movie-going experience has simply left me flat and I will have to continue to temper my expectations where film-making is concerned. The gold is out there. It's just buried in layers of pyrite.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Quotes Heard From or About Dawn On This Her Birthday

Yes. Today is my birthday.

Happy Friggin' Birthday to me.

It constantly amazes me how much birthdays seem to lose their impact and importance with each passing year. The only thing that I can honestly say about having yet another one, is that I would rather have them than not. So in that vein, here are some of the gems either uttered by me or by a loved one on this the anniversary of my mother's first labour.

"Hey honey. I just realized that you are finally playing with a full deck."~The Husband as he realized that this was indeed my 52nd birthday.

"It never really feels like my birthday until I get an email card from my optometrist."

"I had to do something productive on my birthday, didn't I?"~Said as I shlepped the linens off the bed and into the washing machine.

"Where's Season 7?"~Said by me as The Husband so very thoughtfully gifted me with the DVDs of Seasons 1-6 of my everlasting obsession, Murdoch Mysteries.

"Every day is somebody's birthday."~Said as The Husband regaled me with the names of celebrities with whom I share this day. Did you know that Mary Tyler Moore is 78 today or that Ted Danson is 67? Whoopdi f***ing do.

"Facebook has an interesting way of making you feel loved and disconnected from family and friends all at the same time on your birthday."~Said by me as my phone began to vibrate with vigour and purpose.

"I think that you should wear your birthday suit all day." The Husband. (He is nothing if not endearingly predictable.)

"Have you ever noticed how long a song 'Happy Birthday' is when you are the one to whom it is being sung?" My brother remarking on his own milestone birthday celebrations yesterday.

"Have you ever notice how much longer it is when it's being sung to you in a restaurant?" Me in response to his remark.

"The Leafs couldn't even manage a win for you on your birthday?"~My Father trying to salve the stinging pain of yet another in person Blue and White collapse.

"Only on my birthday could we manage to lose our car in the garage at the beach. We are showing our age."~Said I to The Husband after a glorious early morning walk on Hollywood Beach. As we wandered aimlessly from level to level, faint calls of "Tabarnac" could be heard from all the French Canadians in cars following us, desperately hoping to snag our soon to be vacated spot. It was so coveted that when we finally did manage to locate our car, a guy got of his, placed himself directly behind us so that we had trouble backing up, and stood in the spot until his buddy circled back. Can you say "Sheldon"?

"Walking down to Walmart is no way to spend your birthday. How old are you again?"~The Husband, whom I suspect was just trying to escape the agony of grocery shopping.

"Starbucks should have free drink day on your birthday."~Said by me as I hoped the barista would overhear and gift me my soy mocha frappucino light. She didn't.

"What kind of schmuck doesn't call his mother on her birthday?"~Older Son

"Do you want to grow old with me bugging you?" The Husband. To which I replied: "I am growing old with you bugging me." That's what marriage banter sounds like after almost thirty years.

Birthday orchid from Other Dad
Gus and Younger Son's Beshert win the Birthday message of the day. They managed to infuse it with just the right amount of cuteness, pathos, and guilt. Well done!! The Husband's JibJab post was just plain disturbing. (I won't even comment on the virtual card he sent that had me wishing I could hard scrub my brain cortex.)

There is still time to add to the list. If somebody says anything remotely amusing in the next 8 1/2 hours, I will amend.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Interview on Christmas

Back in November, The Husband and I were watching as Seth Rogen came on to pitch his new and upcoming movie The Interview on Real Time with Bill Maher. I barely gave it a second thought. I have never been a fan of vapid imbecilic comedies, and I am even less enamoured with James Franco. I knew by watching Mr. Rogen right then and there that I would probably never bother with this inanity. Believe me, there are a myriad of movies on which I would rather spend my time and entertainment dollars.

And then came the Sony hacks.

And out of the hacking scandal emerged the threats from anonymous sources against the movie.

And the bullshit that followed was vaguely reminiscent of the Hollywood blacklists of the McCarthy era. The entertainment industry was crashing in on itself like a house of cards all in a tiredly transparent effort to protect their bottom lines. 

And then came the president's rebuke.

And then came Sony's feeble attempt to feign concern about collective safety.

And then....finally....predictably....came the inevitable release, albeit on limited screens and on a much cheaper digital platform.

I will not give credence to the conspiracy theorists that suggest that Sony used the legitimate horror of the hacking scandal as a way to brilliantly advertise a pathetically weak and asinine film that was destined to flop. (Although, ironically that is what has occurred.) That nonsense would require complicity from both the White House and the FBI, and somehow I cannot imagine that either of those bodies would ever cooperate for the sole purpose of publicizing a mediocre film. I will say, however that the idea that somebody, anybody was telling me that I couldn't see this movie was like catnip. Artists have always been at the forefront of free speech causes, and I felt an almost pathological need to support Rogen and Franco by viewing their film.

So that's the backstory of why The Husband and I decided to download and watch The Interview on this Christmas Day.

The movie?

It's a piece of derivative crap. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd played on this premise much better and for much bigger laughs in Spies Like Us. Franco is as bad as I have ever seen him and Rogen desperately tries to elevate the sophomoric humour with a modicum of talent. It is everything that I expected it to be and worse.

But I sat through it....all of it... mostly because I felt the need to defend even the crappiest of films as an art form. I only wish that Rogen and Franco had heeded the wise words of Soren Kierkegaard.
People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
The Interview is a sad platform on which to defend art and speech, but I honestly didn't expect anything better.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Another November Happy Dance

Today is the final day of both National Blog Posting Month and, more importantly, of the Rob Ford era. Yay!!! Both are occasions for happy dancing. Congratulations to all who made it through both.

First we posted.

Now we dance!!