No Pain, No Pain

I just realized I don’t have any pictures of David.

David McDonald (from St. Eustache) was a high school friend who I stayed in touch with for almost thirty years after we graduated. The last communication I had from him was in January 2004. A postcard from his hotel room telling me he had lost all his e-mail addresses when the Tsunami hit Krabi. He said he was banged up a bit, but survived, and would be home in time for his birthday in February. A few days after the postcard arrived, I got a mysterious phone message from one of his sisters urging me to please contact her. I figured it was about a surprise party for his homecoming/birthday, but the news was dire. David had died  in his hotel bed while reading. Shock and disbelief and questions swirled in my head. 

David loved to travel. He was a consultant for CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and essentially travelled all over to write papers on whether Canada should invest in various projects or not. He was a geographer, and assessed environmental impact of these projects and whether everything was in line with our governmental policies concerning every aspect of investing. He loved his job, fluent in French, English and then Spanish, he was able to travel broadly to nations that spoke those languages.

He even travelled for vacation. Dave was in Thailand after spending nearly a month in Nepal on vacation. These are places with great and readily available drugs. My friend was a connoisseur. David was a “Bon Vivant”. The official story of his death was that he was missing his blood pressure pills and he was banged up. My instinct told me otherwise. 

We were taught by Presentation brothers at a boarding school for “troubled youth” in Montebello, Quebec and all the boys had “house duties”. Ours was to care for Brother Raymond’s plants while he was off in Ireland (he was “Provincial”, which meant he overlooked several schools and several other groups of monks). Dave suggested that we plant some  pot seeds among Brother Raymond’s other plants, so we did. The pot grew well and we were never detected. We replanted some outdoors and there was a photo of him and me grinning through the leaves. At the funeral, his sister said she had that photo and promised to send it to me. Didn’t happen.

Several times a week we all had to “run the U” for exercise. The “U” a 7 km route through picturesque rural Quebec farmland. Picture a hundred boys running along a gravel road that looped back in a “U”. Brother Stafford was driven  up and down the road in a Renault with his portly head poking up through the sun roof and encouraging us to run through his megaphone by saying.    ” remember boys, ‘no pain, no gain!'” 

One hot sunny day in May, David and I were really lagging behind. We were only running half-heartedly, and when Brother Stafford (who we all referred to as ‘Agnes’) had driven past us, David said “follow me” and we peeled off to the left and into a thicket of dense trees.

There was a footpath that led us to a hidden swimming hole at the foot of a tiny waterfall in a creek surrounded by moss and ferns and heather. It was heaven. How David knew about this, I’ll never know. We stripped naked and plunged into the dark pool and frolicked and laughed joyfully in the cool refreshing water. We got out to air dry on the moss and David lit a joint. We laid back and marvelled in the moment at the beauty surrounding us and Dave’s cleverness at not only avoiding the “U”, but at creating a perfect moment, now a perfect memory.

After a while in our reverie we heard the lead boys returning, (the other side of the “U”) the rhythmic pounding of sneakers on gravel and much puffing and snorting. We heard the Renault whizzing back and forth. We got dressed and after the largest body of runners had passed, we bolted out of the woods with our still wet hair and tucked safely in with some exhausted and oblivious Juniors and we pretended to look like we’d run the whole way.

Dave turned to me and said slyly, “No pain, no pain!”

David is on the left. Picture found on the net

Borders

Cars line up to cross into the U.S. at the border on Feb. 25, 2017, in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.

I live in Montreal,Canada, and I stay put most of the time. I have my wanderlust in check. I love it here. Last night, a friend of mine pointed out that I have been travelling a lot lately. I guess I have. I vacationed in North Wales and did side trips to London and Liverpool. I also recently played a gig in our nation’s capitol, and most recently made a trip to New York City.

I travel to the States most often. I have a daughter, friends and extended family who live there. Travelling by automobile, it is reasonably easy to visit adjacent states. There are four states that border on Quebec: NY, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I have visited all of them within the last several years despite my visceral opposition to the American president and the awful imperialistic and militaristic policies of (typically) Republicans.

Even before “T” I found the border a bit intimidating. I don’t like uniforms or guns (not in that order). My car is not pristine and I look like a hippie. I have to put on a mask of obedience and subservience at the border which is ironic as they always ask me to remove my shades, and neither obedience or subservience is prominent in my real character.

My wife simply WON”T go since the election of “T”. She always feels traumatized by the border. She was not born in Canada, she was born in India which always results in further scrutiny from the border police. She has about as much in common with terrorism as a kitten has in common with a python.

In the summer of 2016 (pre-T) I rented a cottage in Vermont for several days. I had to split my vacation between my wife (3 days) and my girls (4 days) due to their conflicting work Schedules. This meant I had to traverse the border several times in either direction with different passengers in the car. I witnessed my wife’s discomfort and we got questioned (not about her nationality) about the two Shih-Tzus travelling with us. They let us pass, but scolded us for not having their papers with them….. After our three days together we returned to Montreal and I piled my girls into the jeep and we returned. BAM! Pulled over, car searched, tomatoes confiscated….the elder daughter was questioned about a student visa she had had to study in Texas. It had been 2 years since she had decided to not pursue the degree and moved away. After a half hour of waiting they let us through and supposedly entered her change of status into the “system”.

At Canadian Thanksgiving that year, my siblings and I rented a house on Lake Champlain just across the border. Lake Champlain is partly in Canada and separates NY from Vt. I was prepared for our weekend. We brought food and I brought my guitar. I thought going through at a small crossing like Beebe Plain at an odd hour would be a breeze…… They rummaged through everything, cut open a sealed package of cookies, didn’t treat anything respectfully. I had to bite my tongue when the guard gestured to my guitar case and asked “what is it?” and then “what’s it for”. I hate having to stifle my sarcasm. He then gestured to my box of CDs and warned “You’d better not be intending to sell those!” I said it was unlikely seeing as my family already had copies of all my CDs and we were going to a cottage. Sharon scolded me afterward for being too “familiar”.

They let us through. Then “T” happened. The world immediately got sick. I vowed to not go south while he was in office. I have since broken that vow because my younger daughter now lives there, and I have to visit her, and due to tie ups with her Visa status etc. It is best she not come up here.

I went down to NYC last week. At the border with my older daughter, we got flagged and told to pull into the customs and immigration building parking lot. We did, and went inside, but not before encountering a surly GI Joe type guy who barked at us to go inside. I thought, “How Rude” and “what an asshole!” Then I saw how he treated the next people who had just pulled up. He screamed at them “What are you parking there for?” and gestured menacingly and inhospitably (is that redundant?) to a stall.

The people behind us were a young family (Mum and Dad with a toddler and infant) who looked like they might be middle eastern (that is to say they were light brown) and as I learned later had “foreign-sounding” names.

We waited and waited to be called. I took advantage of this time to use the facilities. When I got back my daughter leaned in to me and whispered to me that we were the only white people pulled over. I looked around and sure enough that of the 20 or so people, we were the only white people in the waiting area. Ema was indignant. She said she was angry, that this was not right. I said “You’re right, but let’s keep a lid on it til we clear our hurdle.” I also noticed that EVERY officer on duty was white and male and dressed like GI Joe. We were called after a man named Malik who was interrogated VERY thoroughly with stupid questions like: “Are these your children” etc. I witnessed Systemic racism first hand.

I looked at the baseball caps with CBP on them worn by the officers and in my poetic dyslexic way, I started thinking PCB and CBD and CDN….etc. As I write I had to look CBP up to be sure of the actual acronym…..

We had to explain Ema’s non-student status over again, and they had to go into the “system” and verify everything. We got through, and they didn’t search the car which is a good thing because I have a prescription for CBD oil for my migraines, CBD is illegal in the US (which is criminal in itself…), and although I have synthetic CBD (which is allowed in the US) I also had a tablet of chocolate that was made with CBD in my luggage.

About 20 miles into the States there was a huge roadblock on I 87. A dozen or so cop cars in the median and several lines of cars waiting to proceed southward. There was a sniffer dog walking with his/her handler going up and down the line of stopped cars. I felt a bit nervous, because I know how good a dog’s nose is (ironic for a species that eats poop, but I digress). We were waved on as I showed my passport to the cop. I am surmising that they were looking for Americans who bought pot legally in Canada and were headed back with it.

We had a lovely trip. I didn’t need the CBD chocolate after all.

Coming home, we approached the border. The guard for our queue was female and her skin was black. She addressed us in both official languages (English and French) and was courteous and professional. She asked us where we lived, how long we’d been in the US and if we had anything to declare? I did. I had two bottles of “Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan brand Whiskey) and a framed photo that we had shipped to my brother’s place to save on international shipping. She gave me our passports back and said “Have a nice day!”

To quote Paul Simon “Gee, but it’s great to be back home”. If you hear the song as you read that, you’re my kind of person.

“Have A Nice Day” Indeed!

“In my defense, I am Dyslexic”

One of the little things I take pleasure in is giving an alias to the baristas at Starbucks when they ask for my name. I am usually buying a latte for my sweetie. I have used some such as:  “The Emperor”; “Viking Banana”;”Ziggy Stardust”; “The Dude”; etc.

I also like to give the names of famous musicians as well. I have used “Frank Zappa”; “Willie Nelson” and “Bob Dylan”. 

This little game usually puts a smile on the person’s face who took the order and also the person who prepares the coffee. I make a point of asking who it’s for if the barista just hands it out. If the name is really absurd I might ask them to announce it louder. It is a fun game and most of the servers go along with it. They won’t print swearing, which I understand but I find irritating. I wanted to use “corporate prick” and was refused. 

One time I told the Barista I was the “Queen of Sheba” who is a biblical figure of repute. An African Queen who bore gifts of great value to King Solomon. The barista wrote “Queen of Shiva” which is a word likely known to the man who was probably jewish rather than Hindu. In Judaism, shiva is a period of mourning. In Hinduism it is a god of asceticism (deprival)…similar, but not Sheba.

My latest encounter was when I told the person taking my order that I was “Beethoven”. She complied and before I saw it she said it was “probably mis-spelled”. I asked “How can you mis-spell such a famous name?” She said “I am in Science, not music!” I told her I was in music, but I could spell “Einstein” and furthermore I asked her if “for example, you are writing a Master’s thesis on Hydrocarbons, what would happen if you got “Hydrocarbon” wrong? We agreed she would probably fail. She then exclaimed… “in my defense, I am dyslexic!” which to me is not a defense at all, but an excuse because I, too, am dyslexic and have only used that as an excuse for comedic reasons as in “I have sex daily” which is an anagram of “I have dyslexia”. (I’d rather have sex daily for the record.)

When I got the coffee and read the label on the cup I was amazed at how wrong she could have gotten it. I was tempted to ask if she was related to Donald Trump, but that would have been cruel and insulting.

O Canada

When my grandparents arrived in Canada from Great Britain, they brought with them so many of the customs and values of their thoroughly British upbringing. At the time, the Canada they arrived in was a colony of the British Empire, soon to be renamed the Commonwealth. Granted, their adapting to the new world was less drastic than people who need to learn the language, customs and mores of their adopted country. Another major difference is that my grandparents were not refugees. Their immigrating was voluntary and gentle and direct. My grandfather never gave up his Victorian views despite being here in Canada for over sixty years (all of his adult life except the years spent overseas in the Canadian Army in the First World War). My father was born here and espoused Canadian values with a slight tinge of his British heritage showing through. He never missed the Queen’s Christmas message for example. I am fully Canadian and never have visited England (yet). I am fluently bilingual and considerably less dogmatic than my dad.

One can only imagine the culture shock that someone coming from a non-English or French speaking culture must experience. How about coming from a war-torn nation where ideologies shoot at each other and information is either un-trustworthy or non-existent?  Bewildered and amazed, we ask a lot of these people right off the bat. How can they assimilate quickly? Why should they? It may or may not happen.

Several years ago, just before the 2015 Canadian election while I was out for a stroll, I watched three generations of women walking down the street toward me. Grandmother was wearing traditional garb. Very colourful and head fully covered including a scarf over the face. The next generation wore a Hijab that matched her beige western outfit. The third generation was in slacks and a sweater, dressed like my daughter would. It made me happy. I don’t know their story, it is none of my business, but I knew these three women were safe here. They have the benefits of their own culture while enjoying the freedoms inherent in Canadian society.

 That very morning, I heard people being interviewed on CBC about their political choices. Many mentioned the NDP’s support of people who wear the Burqa as a reason for abandoning the party. It saddened me that fear-mongering and intolerance and misunderstanding on an issue that barely affects them on a day-to-day basis overrides the awful truths of the ugly transformations in Canada (under Harper, a polluting, warring country that the obfuscators in power had bullied through with a majority of seats but merely a third of actual support from voting Canadians.  

The Tories (actually Reform party=Northern Republicans) were poised to do the exact same thing they had done the last time. Split the support between the reasonable people who wish to support and protect our Society (Green, Liberal, NDP, Bloc) so that their votes are squandered and the self-congratulatory xenophobic bigots drive triumphantly around the right flank based on empty boasting about Leadership and supposed Fiscal mastery that are easily disproved.

At the time I wrote “Don’t let the country be hijacked again. Vote strategically so that Canada can get back on track.”

We are headed into another federal election with the landscape altered . After several provincial elections and the fiasco in the States have put arrogant, philistine right wing privilege in power with their bigotry in action and on display makes me fear those muslim women I saw are not as safe as I would like them to be. It is not a direction that makes me proud to be Canadian.

The last election was won by a liberal majority who have outshone their predecessors with several key promises made, but have failed miserably on so many key issues (Parliamentary reform for example). I hope that the election results in 2019 bring us a more balanced minority government that focuses on the environment and core values of health, education and equity for all.

With the cyber vomit that will be coming soon, I suspect the wrong things will be done for the wrong reasons and our jewel of a nation will be tarnished and damaged by the populism and partisan hatred like our neighbours to the south. 

Resist!

On Your Image

“On Your Image” is a phrase used in recovery to describe the lifestyle you are projecting to others. We are all on our image whether we like it or not. We are all either: A.) in some sort of recovery from some sort of damage or the other or B.) in denial. I am not talking about formal recovery like rehab or a 12 step program, just the way we traverse the years and deal with adversity and wounds from the past. Face em or bury em.

I woke up two days ago and decided to get my hair cut. This is probably a common occurrence for most people. They get a hair cut weekly? Bi-weekly? monthly? It has been a long time since I had had even a trim. The last trim I remembered was before my wedding over two years ago. Getting my hair cut was a big deal to me.

Most guys my age either don’t have hair, or they do, but it is white. There are also combinations of balding and whiteness/greyness that men my age contend with. This sets me apart from that category “men my age”. Most teachers are relatively clean cut. Hair sets me apart from that group as well. While out walking the dogs several years ago a neighbour introduced himself and said “So, you’re the neighbourhood hippie!” I was relieved that I did not fit in to this setting. I stood out. With long hair I could maintain the delusion of immortality and being an outsider, a counter-culture rebel, a musician. and not “the man”: Teacher, dad, suburban middle-class, middle-aged curmudgeon which is actually closer to the truth.

Image. Ego. Insecurity.

I used to be proud of my “I don’t give a shit what others think” attitude. Turns out I do care more than I thought. I present as someone who doesn’t give a shit, but hidden from view is this insecurity and fear of being normal. being mediocre. being forgettable, being boring….gasp!!!!

As a teenager I had many struggles with my parents over the length of my hair. I liked it long. All my heroes were hippies and yippies and Rock musicians who I wanted to emulate. I even started a petition in High School as to whether I should cut my hair. My favourite comment was from my vice principal who wrote that “Leroy Beals has no concern with what is on the outside of Ian’s head, he is, however deeply concerned with what is on the inside of Ian’s Head”. 

picture of a photocopy of a scan… Me at 16 with harmonica. LRHS
Nicholas Lewin, Ian Hanchet, Jane Brown LRHS
A hero!

My hair was not always long. For the first half of my adult life, I kept it kind of short. Sometimes spikey. Punk. As a young teacher, Music Therapist and dad, short hair and a clean shaven face were how I presented. Short hair does not get pulled when interacting with young children with Autism or my own babies. I never had to shave more than once a week because my “whiskers” were only barely visible. My heroes at the time were Jazz musicians whose hair did not figure into their coolness. 

in my 40’s

Things shifted for me a few years back as my mom was descending into her dementia and my job satisfaction was diminishing and my first marriage was crumbling. I discovered that without the judgement of my mom, I was free to do whatever I wanted. Her voice telling me to “forgive” and to “turn the other cheek” turned into a “NO!” I don’t want to take this anymore from anyone. I started to let my hair grow, and when my mum died I had the freedom to make clear choices without the cloud of her invading my conscience. I switched jobs. switched partners. Switched on my creative juices. My musical output went from “sporadic” to “frequent” to “constant” and my self-esteem and confidence started to blossom. All of this coincided with my growing my hair longer.  

Just before getting it cut, my hair was half way down my back. It got caught in my seat belt and my harmonica holder (not at the same time…). All shoulder straps pulled my hair. My hair blew all over my face on windy days, stuck to my sweaty neck on hot days, got in my mouth sometimes when eating My bird (Johnny Winter) would like to burrow up in there like some divine nest. Getting my hair cut was a big deal for me. My hair kinda defined me.

photo by Sharon Cheema

I went from being  “Jack Nicholson” to “Sting” to “The Dude” through to “Willie Nelson”, “Gandalf”, “ZZ Top” and “biker” or “viking”. Guess who is more “on his image” than the people he sat back and judged? Did you notice that I was projecting an image of “other” that has other people’s names on it? Oh the narcissism, vanity and hubris I am guilty of! 

gift from a parent…..

I was thinking that my hair is where my strength came from. Like Samson, whose hair was the source of his strength and a symbol of God’s power. When his hair had been cut by the trickery of Delilah, he lost everything and he was captured by the Philistines who blinded him by gouging out his eyes. 

The Philistines are the last people you want to contend with as an artist. They are the enemies of freedom and truth and beauty. Unawake people with little or no time or aesthetic sensibility. I hate them, try to ignore them. They are stupid. I certainly don’t want them controlling my life. Guaranteed they vote for pigs.

Well. I am not Samson. My hair is not the source of my strength. Never was. I cut my hair and lo and behold, I am still here. No fear of Philistines. Feeling stronger than ever.

39 upside down. Notice the stained glass halo?

I am free of this burden for the time being. My hair is going to be sewn into a wig for someone whose “image” has changed due to the indignities of trying to save their life through chemotherapy. They are not “on their image”. They are projecting “sick person”. Who the hell wants to project that?! If a small vanity of a wig restores some of their “non-sick person” my hair will have done more good than it ever did on my head.

Mindfulness

My desk is a mess. My workbench is a mess. My closet and drawers are a mess. I do have a system though, and I am pretty sure I know where everything is. I have to pay particular attention because as much as I am a “leave it out in the open” kind of guy, she is a “put it back in a drawer or back in the cupboard” kind of person. It is only a problem if I am cooking and I should leave the kitchen mid preparation. It is like an elf has swept in and made the measuring cup disappear and miraculously put the spices away. My system is that as I bring out all of the spices listed in a recipe and after I add a spice to whatever I am making, I put the ingredient away. This way I can keep track of what needs to be done yet. I have to be strategic and cook while nobody is home or if she is home, to not leave the kitchen unattended lest my hovercraft wife comes in and cleans everything. 

I find that recently I am misplacing things more and more. Not the usual car keys and glasses or phone stuff. That is to be expected. Sometimes I walk into a room with intent and draw a blank to what the intent was. Sometimes forgot where I parked. Nothing serious. 

Before I moved in with Sharon, I had a house filled with a lifetime’s collection of stuff. As the confusion of having possessions here, there and everywhere. at my house, my temporary quarters at my dear friend Danny’s and even more stuff at Sharon’s. I still knew where everything was. 

Even this year with my classroom moved and all the contents now in up to five different places, I am able to locate anything.

Keeping track of my musical stuff is no less daunting. All of my harmonicas are labelled. My pedals are stored in one place. My guitars are almost all under one roof. I keep one at work. I have a drawer for strings, tuners, capos, wire cutters etc. I keep sheet music handy on a shelf and a portable recording device nearby as well. 

Problems can arise when I go to rehearsal or to a gig. The equipment must all be amassed and returned sometimes under adverse conditions. People talk to you during breakdown, distractions mid-job. I try to be methodical. Last night I needed: four guitar cables, two pedals, two AC adapters for the pedals. One amp. One guitar. Spare strings and about a dozen harmonicas. I need an iPad clip and iPad for this gig and I like to use a pedal called an Air-Turn which turns the page hands free so I can follow the setlist and remind me of opening lines to songs etc. 

I was pretty sure I had all of these things together while leaving the house. A shoulder bag with all the electronic crap and a briefcase with my harmonicas and rack and tuner, capo, etc. an amp (Fender Deluxe Reverb). and a guitar. (Fender Telecaster). 

While setting up, however, I noticed the Air-Turn was gone. Not the biggest deal. I coped. I changed the page manually which is just an inconvenience. After the breakdown, I scoured the stage to no avail except to find our bassist’s tuner…lol. No Air-turn. Checked at home to no avail either. I figured it may have fallen out of the bag in the car. I remember a bag tipping when I had to brake quicker than usual. This morning I checked the car. Threw out a bunch of detritus, but no Air-Turn. I re-checked places where I knew it wasn’t and I was getting angry with myself because this  Air-Turn was my second one, and they aren’t cheap. The first had been ruined by a glass of water frying it.

Then as I was searching in my sock drawer for two socks that matched. They are all black, but some feel better than others. No Air-turn, but I thought “Maybe it is in the back of the amp.” I don’t usually throw things in there because the tubes are vulnerable. There was my Air-Turn. I vaguely remember that it had been charging and I went to pack it last after the other bag and briefcase were full. I remember there was no room in the pocket of my gig bag, and there is a shadow of a memory of throwing it in the back of the amp. 

All this to say it is important to be mindful when doing things. 

Getting Along

I teach music to young children ages 5 to about 11 or 12. The children come to my classroom and the youngest classes sit in a circle on the floor and we get started on the day’s activities. The children know that we need a circle that includes every child and if the circle is too small I sing a song I made up which is “if everybody moves back just a little bit, there’s going to be enough place for everyone to sit.”

Yesterday, a child arrived late, and class was already in progress, so she lurked on the fringe of the circle and no-one made room for her. I switched to the above mentioned ditty and the children “scootched” back a bit and there were several gaps that the latecomer could have easily sat in, but an argument erupted between the latecomer and another child who was in the exact geographic location that the latecomer wanted. To my eyes, an arbitrary spot on the floor, but to these two, a fundamental right was being trampled on. My intervention was to point out that; virtually no one spot had an advantage over another, and that a solution was needed so we could continue making music. I said to both of them that if they really wanted to sing, one of them would have to shift their rigidity. The sitting child could cede his place, or the standing child could opt to sit elsewhere. I try not to “decide for them” in cases like this. I let them figure it out for themselves with a bit of guidance. The standing child chose an empty spot and we continued the class. We are all equal, and everyone matters. Simple, right? We made music.

Then on the way home I heard about the awful massacre of Palestinian protesters by the IDF. There was much analysis and people from both sides having their say and virtually the only “common ground” was the ground they both wanted. The highly educated people discussing the situation from either side had legitimate points and both seemed logical and reasonable. The need for a Jewish homeland is important. Especially after the holocaust brought on by the Nazis. The need for Palestinians to have a home is important as well. The British kind of dropped the ball on the Palestinians when Israel was formed after the second world war. (1949). 
They both want the same space and they both desire peace, but there are fanatics on both sides that keep this from happening. The problem is that each side has chosen to not co-exist and believes that they are fundamentally more important than the other. This is not news. I was brought up on the Christian bible, and the stories of wars and slavery and inequity have been going on for ages. I am not being frivolous here, but what don’t these religions get? “Thou shalt not kill” pretty clear commandment from Allah, Yahweh, G*d, God….. 
If you want to make music, you have to learn to get along. There is enough room for everyone, and no-one has to hate. There is no holiness in hatred.

(from May 2016)