This song is very personal. It was written in 2010 as I was struggling with a crumbling marriage, a mother being eroded by dementia and a career that was stalled by overworking and being underappreciated. Concurrently, one of my children was struggling to find herself and the other one was suffering from neglect.

The words came to me as I was wheeling my mum in her wheelchair to a park on a sunny Autumn day in Ottawa. I wrote it as she slept in the sun. 

At the time I felt that I was drowning and any personal serenity was unreachable and unattainable unless I started to swim. At that moment I stopped rationalizing away my situation. I knew my mum would die soon, my marriage needed to be ended and my girls needed more of their father and I needed to stop the hemorrhaging.

Later that day, the arpeggiated chord sequence and the melody just dropped into my brain and fingers making this one of the easiest songs I have ever written (if you don't count the years of overwhelming suffering that went into it).

The album "Too Blue" was written before, but released this year. The songs still ring true, but fortunately my life is no longer in such disarray.


Disappearing  Right before my eyes
A way of life Before I realize

      Something’s gotta give 'cause
      I want to live

Disappearing  Right before my eyes
Running from myself Cut me down to size

      Something’s gotta give I want to live

Disappearing Right before my eyes
Squeeze me out Something to despise

      Something’s gotta give I want to live

Disappearing  Right before my eyes
Running from the truth But all I see are lies

      Something’s gotta give I want to live

Disappearing  Right before my eyes
The change has got me 
Right between the eyes

        Copyright 2010. I.G.H.

Tunnel Vision

I miss maps. 

By now, almost no-one has maps (or gloves, for that matter)in their glove department.

I have had several recent experiences with GPS (and lack of….). 

The first experience I will relate was when I returned my daughter to her new home about an hour north of Manhattan. My daughter was in the car and obviously knew the way, so I followed her instructions and we got there without incident. The return trip back to Canada without her was another matter. Both she and her husband gave me instructions (which differed….) and I set out, confident that I would remember the left turns, the bridge crossing and the route numbers, etc. 

I didn’t. 

I got hopelessly turned around and knew I was going the wrong way when I passed a sign saying “Entering New Jersey”.

When in the US I turn off data and roaming etc. on my cell phone because I am “cheap” that way. One time I didn’t and my bill was stupidly large…. I am from another era and never figured out how to use my phone properly while travelling. My eyes glaze over when someone tries to explain stm cards and dilithium crystals and warp factors etc. 

I found a café and got a coffee and asked how to get to the I87. They said “just check your GPS. I explained that I am from Canada and I did not have GPS (further propagating the myth that we live in igloos). The person then said “I’ll send you the directions by airdrop”. Great, I thought. I got her airdrop and headed out to the car confident I knew what to do. The instructions for the route back had about ten significant turns. The first three I had in my head, so did not refer to the air dropped instructions. When I did turn to them, the file wouldn’t open unless I downloaded some other quackery requiring internet and some password or the other…. So, up Shit Creek without a paddle again.  I decided to proceed anyway. I saw a sign that referred to I 87 and turned. One turn just before I was supposed to….. Misled. There were two choices and I took the “road less travelled” just to spice up the trip…..not.

After several other miscues and inquiries at a doughnut shop (Donut in the US) I got on the highway pointed north and the rest was easy. 

I miss maps

This morning I checked an address on my computer for a celebration of life that is in a rural area of Quebec that is unfamiliar to me. The initial map was a dot on a tiny sea of green. I zoomed out twice to see if I recognized anything (I didn’t) so I scrolled out further and saw the big picture which made sense to me and I have a clearer idea of where it is. 

This got me thinking about tunnel vision which is the absence of peripheral vision. I realized that almost all of us spend a huge amount of time looking at screens and only seeing a focal point. It is like looking through a lens of a camera or a telescope or binoculars. One can see a part of what is there completely, or stated another way one can see completely a part of what is there. 

Standing on top of a mountain, one can see a spectacular panoramic view. Through a lens, the view is limited.

Two weeks ago I went to Varennes to visit dear friends for the first time ever. I checked the route online and it seemed easy and direct. I thought that I had better check Waze on my phone to see which bridge or tunnel to take or avoid because they are always doing renovations to things on weekends. I put the destination in my phone and I took the Champlain bridge and the 138 east towards Varennes. I drove along enjoying the view of the St. Lawrence River from the southern shore. I got to Varennes and the Waze told me there was a railroad crossing ahead, but it didn’t tell me I was ‘there’. I drove about 10 km past Varennes and pulled over at the next town. Surely enough, Waze did not tell me I had overshot my destination. I then put the address into google maps and the annoying female voice that can’t pronounce French names got me to my friend’s home. 

I miss maps.

This week I took the kids in my “Out and About”,(pronounced Oot and Aboot)(to further propagate Canadian tropes for American readers). activity to a small museum. The assistant for one of the children asked if she could drive there as she had to go to another job after the activity. I told her exactly where it was and that I would meet up with her at the statue of strongman Louis Cyr at the intersection of rue Saint-Antoine and rue St. Jacques. We, who had taken two city buses and had walked for another ten minutes, got there before her. She should have been waiting for us. She was relying on GPS instead of looking out the window. The name for Montreal should be “Detour City” because traffic cones and barricades pop up everywhere and  send previously sane drivers into rubber rooms. This girl drove everywhere in further widening circles and had passed the spot we were to meet four times!!! Tunnel vision. Her trajectory reminded me of a Beagle which was once our family dog. Fergie (named after the Duchess of York….my father claimed “our Fergie had a better lineage”….lol) was the worst beagle in existence. She was so stupid (but loveable and loyal) that I saw her catch the scent of a rabbit and tore around ridiculously back and forth and this way and that while the rabbit, as cool as Bugs Bunny, was frozen in plain view. The bunny was camouflaged, but visible. Fergie ran right past the bunny within a metre several times..lol. Soon Fergie gave up without her prey (Royals have little work ethic) and the rabbit lived to see another day. 

When we only rely on only one sense, or one source of information (the assistant with her GPS, the dog and her nose, or me with my memory trials and an app that didn’t do what I wanted it to). We can get lost. 

People smothering their senses of the moment is another form of tunnel vision.

A young man passed me on the sidewalk the other day. He had headphones on. Not earbuds, but “cans” that completely enclosed his ears and he was also staring intently at his phone. I said to my walking companion that I felt sorry for that guy. My walking companion asked why and I told him that the man missed hearing the song sparrow, the blue jay and the chickadee that we had heard in the last 30 seconds, blocked out the jackhammer we had passed by and was unaware of the bicycle traffic he was sharing the path with.. My companion said he hadn’t hear them either. I said that he had heard them, but he was not listening for them. Hearing is passive and listening is active. Headphones dude was actively listening, but importing his own sonic reality and missing out on actual reality.

The more we stare at screens and dull our senses with entertainment, the less we experience the gift of life and the beauty and ugliness that surround us.

Moral of the story? Two choices: Glance at a map, but be here now? or stare at the virtual and be somewhere else? 

I miss maps.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (or so)

‘Hijack a truck” he says. “We’ll drive her across the continent and sell the cargo when we reach the coast. You do know the backroads?” Brothers Eli and Colton had hatched a plan to swap a trucker’s uppers for downers. 

This is how it started. 

At Joe’s Café the truckers would gather, swapping lies and popping the pills they got from Joey (another one, not the owner) to get in another 300 miles or so before pulling over for the night. 

The brothers saw a rig pull in hauling four brand new 1957 Cadillac Fleetwoods. The driver, Mortimer (Morty) Hassock was making his first interstate delivery and as he entered Joe’s Café there were at least four eyes watching his every move. Morty chose an empty booth and ordered from Sarah a middle-aged waitress who looked and acted like she had been a part of this Café for centuries and there was nothing new that she hadn’t already seen. As Sarah retreated into the kitchen to deliver the order, Morty made his way to the John to relieve himself. As he passed Joey’s booth just before he reached the washrooms Joey enquired in a whisper if he might need some “helpers” to help him get to his destination sooner? Morty shook his head, no, but thought some more about this as he was relieving himself and when he emerged after washing and drying his hands he agreed to buy $10 worth of amphetamines so that he and his rig could eat more pavement and he could return home to his fiancé after his delivery in time for the Friday dance.

The tiny paper bag holding the pills was very easy to swap out by Eli who came to Morty’s table and made some small talk. He drew Morty’s attention to a very comely young lady in the parking lot and not only switched the bags, but managed to slip a sleeping pill into Morty’s coffee as well. 

Morty got up after his huge “all day breakfast-$1.29” paid, and left a tip for Sarah and proceeded to the parking lot where he did stretching exercises for his neck and shoulders as he walked to his truck with Eli and Colton stealthily pursuing.

At the wheel, Morty was beginning to feel the endorphins from all those carbs and the sedative was also beginning to take effect. He popped a couple of the treats from his paper bag to counter this, and pulled out onto the blacktop.

Of course the pills had the opposite effect on him and soon Morty found himself nodding at the wheel. He pulled onto a side road and made a pillow from his jacket and spare clothing. He was out cold when the brothers pulled up behind the rig and approached the driver’s side door. Eli had a gun “just in case”, but it wasn’t needed as Morty could not be woken up. They pulled Morty out of the cab and covered him up with his jacket and left him snoozing by the side of the road. 

Colton started the rig and pulled onto the road. The idea was to follow the road to a crossroads or a place wide enough to turn around with Eli following in their car. The road was getting narrower, and there were no intersections, so Colton kept on driving for perhaps thirty miles with the occasional homestead or farm appearing every mile or so. Colton stopped and waited for Eli to catch up and they both conferred on what to do with this “hot” rig. It was decided that turning around might not be safe as Morty may have been discovered by now. It was decided that Eli, who had a map would lead the way and they would take several detours across pretty wild territory until they met with a rural route marked as a county road several miles to the south of where they were. 

There was only one problem with this road, unbeknownst to the brothers. There was a small bridge about 20 miles ahead that a car could easily traverse, but the width and weight limitations meant the truck would not be able to. 

When they reached the bridge, they knew they could progress no further. Not only that, but there was still no place to turn around. Colton backed the truck up gingerly for about 200 yards and noticed a derelict field to his left that, if he was lucky, he could finally turn the truck around. he pulled onto the field and started the wide arc to finally get the truck pointed in the right direction. He was successful, but was about to rejoin the path to the road when his brother frantically signalled him to stop. Eli had heard a car rapidly approaching while he was watching the manoeuvring and had the presence of mind to drive his car out of sight. If they were lucky the passing auto would not notice either of them. The car was a police cruiser and it zoomed past them towards the bridge. Eli knew that the car would be returning soon when the police realize the rig could not have gone that way. Colton realized it too, and backed the rig up into a copse of saplings hidden from view to any road. He parked the truck and he and Eli sat in the sedan waiting for the cruiser to return. 

The police did not see the hidden vehicles and vanished back from whence they came. Eli decided that they had to make a plan B. The truck was an unwieldy burden now and the police would be on the lookout for it. Plan B was to return home and wait a week. return to the truck and take each car singly to a town in the next state where they could be “chopped for parts”. Not the bonanza they had originally planned, but a decent payday nonetheless. 

Eli marked the site on his map and the brothers returned the way they had come. They decided to go into Joe’s Diner and grab burgers and fries before heading home. Nobody raised an eyebrow when they walked in and ordered, so the boys relaxed until they saw Morty get out of a police car in the lot. Colton nudged his brother and they both skedaddled out the back door. Better safe than sorry.

Fearful that they might have been made, Eli pulled out onto the highway and they drove above the speed limit for ten miles. On their left was a long freight train running parallel to the road and Eli decided he wanted to get on the other side of it and raced toward where he knew there was a railroad crossing. Not wanting to be stuck at the alreay flashing crossing, Eli took a chance and gunned the engine, determined to sneak through ahead of the train. The car was going very fast and was about ready to make the left turn and hop the level crossing when the car blew a tire and careened onto the tracks. 

The impact was huge and drastic. The fireball consumed both brothers and their schemes and the map. The truck was only discovered fifty years later.

internet photo that inspired this story.

Why Not A Miracle?

Why not a miracle?
We could use several right about now

There are people that we love
Whose company brings delight
Whose lives have meshed with ours
Who have made our hearts light

Some are ailing now, 
some are failing now
Why not a miracle?

 so very, very hard to face this landscape
Beauty ripped from the earth 
Relentless bulldozer's hungry, greedy  pursuit

We could use a miracle
A restraining order
Cease and desist
We're not ready for any of this

The land won't ever be the same
The land can't ever be the same
The contours of the space We loved
Forever gone, gone forever

Smiles and laughter in the rear view mirror 
As we are dragged without a say
Into this barren unforgiving space
Of undesired decay

This shifting shape of loss
Of waking up to less
Ripeness shrivelling
Certainty wavering
Meaning what was meant
Remodelling intent

Another bloody detour

We need another and another and another daybreak
There's much much more love to make
Another and another and another birthday cake

Where have all the flowers gone?

There are places we have known 
 others waiting to be shown
Plucked from memory
Banned from possibility
Bitter bon bons melting away
No sweetness here
All joy and grief in a blender
Return to sender

We could use a miracle
Why not a miracle?

Birth of a Song/Naissance d’une Chanson

In June of 2017 my attention was drawn to someone who resembled me in some ways…. the photo (which I can’t find) was a doppelgänger for sure. His name is Maxime LeClerc-Gingras. We are both from European ancestry, long haired with salt and pepper beards, (although mine is more salt now five years later). 

He has what I view as an enviable alternative lifestyle. He and his companion Ann-Marie live off grid in the woods in rural Quebec and on his Canine Ranch he takes care of dogs among many other things including hosting retreats, offering dog sledding experiences etc/ You can read about him here. 

He is very open about his spiritual journey recovering from addiction and his musings, reflections and meditations have been a source of inspiration to me and others (I presume) as well. Although I, myself am not an addict, my many years of recovery in Al-Anon from the effects of alcoholism on my life make me feel a kinship or brotherhood with this man who I have not yet met in person. 

His posts are uniformly intelligent, compassionate and insightful. His writing about his wife Ann-Marie who suffers from severe migraine (as I do) and his writing about her strength and beauty despite this affliction gave me strength as well.

A short time ago he  wrote this wonderful poem which I copied and saved. I was inspired this week to set it to music and have included my demo video (warts and all) to bring this lovely work out into the light of day. I hope you enjoy it and share it widely. 

One of the lessons in a successful recovery and indeed for being a better person is “service”. Helping others makes us feel less helpless, less alone. Today with global warming; this awful pandemic; and being seemingly on the brink of what might be another world war, I ask myself “what can I do?” “”How can I help?” 

Comment puis-je aider?

J’ai longtemps cherché,
Cherché qui je suis, 
Cherché le sens de ma vie,

J’ai vagabondé,
Je me suis perdu,
Je me suis noyé,
Pour un jour, m’envolé,

Ç’a été long,
Mais je sais aujourd’hui,
Aujourd’hui, je sais mon destin, 
Je l’ai trouvé au fond de la nuit,

Essayer, tant bien que mal,
Souvent maladroitement, 
Être utile à mon prochain, 
Peut-être, humblement, 
Certainement sincèrement, 

Apporter un soupçon de paix, de réconfort, 
Alléger un peu le bagage,
Marcher quelque temps,
Ensemble sur sentier,
Retirer un caillou de nos souliers,
For those of you who don't understand French, here is a crappy translation of his beautiful words:

How can I help?
I searched for a long time,
Finding out who I am
Searched for the meaning of my life,

I wandered,
I lost myself,
I drowned,
Then one day, I flew away,

It's been a long time
But I know today
Today I know my destiny,
I found it in the depths of the night,

I try, somehow,
Often clumsily,
To be useful to my neighbour,
Perhaps, humbly,
Certainly sincerely,

To bring a hint of peace, comfort,
Lighten the baggage a little,
walk for a while,
Together on the trail,
Remove a pebble from our shoes,

Shout out to my good friend Nathalie who helped and reassured me of my pronunciation of some of the lyric.

Any Questions? Any Answers?

I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately. Many of my friends and relatives including myself are entering the final stretch of life, however long that may be. Some people already have a template for living out their years. I write songs.

I think this song is a bag full of question marks. It may be asking questions you would ask yourself. I had a favourite music professor and mentor who ended each class with “Any questions? Any Answers?”

Although I do wonder about the myriad paths I have taken in life, I am not as immersed in doubt and ambivalence as I used to be. I’m fully engaged with living and making the most of my time and creative energy remaining. I also attempted to put myself in the shoes of someone I love dearly who now has memory issues and sad resignation.

The musical spark was just a simple country feel while fooling around on my beautiful Greenfield guitar. The song came out as a slow groove (I IV and V chords), and the initial lyrical ideas were from a memory of a jingle I heard as a little boy. (“You wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”). I loosely reference the Bacharach/David lyric “what’s it all about, Alfie?” from the 1960’s where many of my fondest memories are from.

My song is six minutes long. Too long for a pop song, so what? I am not popular….. Think of it as an accompaniment to a cup of tea or a quiet time looking out the window. An oasis and rest stop.

I Wonder

I wonder where the wonder went
More miles travelled, they came and went
Our Wonder years already spent
Wondering what anything meant
-Oh-oh-I wonder

I wonder Who I was meant to be
If I’ve seen all that I was meant to see
Or was it all just fantasy
I wonder if I’m really me
-oh-oh-I wonder

I wonder what this is all about
If anybody anywhere could have Bailed me out
If I ever bought in, Or did I drop out
Hey, Alfie, what’s it all about

I wonder when I can feel it again
If I’ll ever be relieved from residual pain 
If I ever figure out what’s been Driving me insane
And Where I’ll get off this runaway train

I wonder where my my serenity went
The worries in my head should be paying me rent
All of my joy has already been spent
I wonder where everybody went
Oh, oh, I wonder

I wonder why things turned out like they did
Some things in the open, some things hid
I wonder Was my offer the winning bid
I wonder if it’ll be the same for my kids

I wonder how I’m going to cope with these things now
If I’m going to have a smile or a furrowed brow
I wonder where I’m going to point my prow
Am I going to take everything that life will allow

I wonder why this all seems so strange
Why all of my targets are out of range
I wonder if I’m Willing to Change
Pretty sure something can be arranged

Be There

Life and death have been on my mind lately. 

I just finished re-reading Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. The story is complex but deals with the annihilation of the human race except for some ragtag castaways on an island in the Galapagos archipelago. Told by a ghost with very cavalier and smug opinions about the importance of life and death. Vonnegut’s world view, of course, shaped by the horrors of war and surviving the carpet bombing destruction of Dresden. 

Twenty two years ago on this date (April 4th) a very good friend of mine hurtled to his death from atop a high rise apartment building on rue Docteur Penfield. He was twenty-seven years old. He’d be forty-seven now. He finally achieved his goal.

My father-in-law is ninety and was recently released from a two week stay in hospital after a big scare because his heart is weak. He is quite adamant about doing all he can to stay alive. 

It got me to reflecting this morning about the contrast between people who choose death and others who choose life and others in between. 

Recently there have been friends who have endured gruelling bouts of chemotherapy and radiation and determined to beat it. Other friends were not as fortunate. Many are in limbo. Several stories of people close to friends (a father of one and the husband of a colleague of my wife) who chose medically assisted death because their suffering was immense. 

I respect people and their highly personal life and death decisions. I guess that makes me pro life although I don’t mean it in the anti abortion sense.

In between are people who seem to go through life just skimming the surface and not delving or seemingly cognizant of the wonderful gift of the world around us. Basic people do not interest me. I don’t respect them. “An unexamined life is not worth living”- Socrates

This morning a few lines of verse came to me. I wrote them down and picked up a guitar and said “B”  and this song just wrote itself. I wrote and recorded it all in about three hours. Not bragging. It just goes to show that being in the moment and being aware are two things I cherish and what could have been just an ordinary day became an extraordinary day by my being free to follow this muse.

I’ve known children who want to be older
older people who dye to be young
people discontent with their lot in life
they can’t "be", they need to become

they hate Mondays… Can’t wait for Fridays…
they hate weekdays…Can’t wait for holidays
what about the in between?
break out of your routine
be there….be aware

some people don’t even know they’re alive
they take this gift for granted
looking at the world with blinders on
they don’t want to understand it

willful ignorance.. ignorance is bliss
willful ignorance I’ll tell you this: 
get off your butts and live
life has so much to give
be there… be aware

I’ve known people who’ve been emptied out
they feel like they’ve been living through hell
they wake up in the dark even though it’s not night
they’re living in a prison cell

if you can call that living… they’ve given up
abandoned dreams …  abandoned hope
I wish this wasn’t so, I want to share what I know
be there… be aware….

I’ve known people desperate to die
life’s menu caused them great pain
every day they’d ask themselves why
why should they do it again?

what can I tell them?….what can I say?
I never walked in their shoes… I’ve never felt that way
one thing I know for sure 
my love for life is pure
be there…. be aware

I’ve also known people who were desperate to live
not ready to give up the ghost
they felt that life had much more to give
and wanted to live it to the utmost

what’s the hurry?… breathe in the air…
why worry? …..just be aware…
be there… be aware…


Being a music teacher, I often get asked if I know anyone that would like a piano. This happens at least a half dozen times a year, and I am not even a pianist (although I do have a piano and I do play it). Usually the request is after the piano itself has been put up for sale and no one bit despite the price eventually being reduced to zero. 

It usually fills me with sadness. Today is no exception. A piano used to be as necessary as a refrigerator in a home. I feel that these objects that used to have and hold value and could be found in most middle class homes are no longer desirable in our hurried and mobile society. Gone the endless etudes and errors, gone the singalongs round the piano. My Uncle Charlie was great at making popular songs of the war era into hilariously lewd songs. When a piano is being used, vibrations fill the house and for those moments everything is safe. Everything is warm. Everything is worthwhile. Music connects us. Many of us get similar feelings from our guitars, but it is not quite the same as having a honking big piece of furniture that demands attention.

I understand. A piano takes up space and is expensive to maintain and/or move. Learning how to play requires a considerable commitment of time and effort.  The children have grown up and no one plays it anymore. It is easier to have an electronic keyboard, etc. which has a headphone Jack for not “disturbing” others.  Downsizing is important for an aging population. 

Artwork by Alex Kaysan

To me, the feeling evoked by an unwanted piano is like the compassion I feel for an old unwanted dog that has been given up for adoption. We have two old dogs already in our home (not to mention three little birds). We also have a piano (and keyboards) so I feel the need to help in the placement, but not at my house. 

What to do with it? I have helped some get into student’s homes. My sister had a great idea and got her piano placed at their local community centre and it will be used for choir rehearsals etc. Most churches often already have two or three pianos scattered around, but churches are closing or congregations merging. More pianos to get rid of. Schools (don’t get me started…) focus less on the arts and pianos can be found in the custodian’s lair gathering dust.

I love it when pianos are placed at random street corners in the city. I have seen and heard (and played) on several. Given our harsh climate though, these oases are merely temporary until the elements reclaim the usefulness of the piano rendering it fit for a landfill.

photo by Sharon Cheema

I wonder at how different the world would be if Oscar Peterson (for example) had not had a piano in his home, or Glenn Gould……….

As musical literacy and proficiency is becoming less important in our society, I can merely hope that the void left by this societal change will be filled in other creative and beautiful ways. 

Last Train Home

My Aunt Betty was my mother’s older sister. My dad had, in fact gone on a few dates with her before he left Ottawa to attend McGill. This is not about that.

Aunt Betty was also my godmother, although my actual mother was more of a believer than Aunt Betty. Golf and curling were the main preoccupations of Aunt Betty and her husband, my Uncle John. Uncle John, too, was my godparent.

Theirs was a successful marriage that paralleled my parents. They had three girls and a boy, and my family was three boys and a girl.

Cancer struck both our families at roughly the same time. The kids were all either independent or in University. My dad’s cancer was treated successfully and he lived another twenty years. Uncle John was not as fortunate. He became bed-ridden and suffered for a drawn out nine years with my Aunt Betty essentially as his nurse/caregiver. Indentured servitude; Duty; Nine Years; Love and suffering; and being housebound were the words that spring to mind from my perspective of Aunt Betty’s life then.

When Uncle John finally succumbed, we were all sad, but relieved as well. Aunt Betty was very pragmatic and rebounded quite quickly. I understand because my mum had a lengthy illness and the mourning came long before her death.

Aunt Betty and Uncle John had many friends, among them a man named Alex and his wife. They would play golf together, bridge, curling, share dinners and vacations. Alex had assumed the same role as Aunt Betty in caring for his spouse as she faded and died around the same time as Uncle John.

Aunt Betty and Alex, who were already friends, leaned on each other and started to date. My cousins were scandalized. My mother horrified. I thought it was great! I had seen The Dead Poet’s Society and learned about Carpe Diem (seize the day). I never could understand cultures where widows wore black for the rest of their lives and just accepted their widowhood as defining them. Way to go Aunt Betty! Choose life! We did not usually talk about anything deep EVER! She loved me, but thought I was a weirdo and did not understand music and the arts at all. She took me aside that day and told me she was grateful for my support on this as “everybody else” was against her moving so quickly. I cherish that bond. Ever so slight.

My first love was a young woman who I fell hopelessly for while home at Christmas vacation while in my senior year. I was usually away at a boarding school that year(Don’t get the wrong impression. It was not posh, but more for boys who were struggling. Run by Religious Brothers. Not club med). She was in her first year of college, and home for the break as well. We saw each other for about a week and then carried on with a furious exchange of letters (hers scented) and in our young minds we really were over the top in love. We managed to see each other every other weekend and each time our attraction and affection grew deeper and deeper. I was 18 and was legal drinking age. We would stay out later and later and I’d drop her off and linger at her house. My girlfriend’s mum was a single mother and worked late as a waitress. Some nights she’d get home and would all sit around the kitchen table and we grew quite fond of each other. I liked this new arrangement. It had started to concern my parents, however. One very late night as I was driving home and unbeknownst to me, my mother called their home.

There was a decided shift in my relationships both with my parents and my girlfriend from that time forward. The “we don’t do that in MY family!” attitude threw a major blanket on our fire. This is the stuff of classic novels of love between people who were not on an even social footing. Romeo? Juliet? We remained friends for a while, planning to rekindle when I got to university, and we both admitted that the timing was not right. Regrets? Yes and no.

When I heard Last Train Home by Pat Metheny I was captivated by the melody, the harmony, everything about it really. I loved the 16th note chugging rhythms of the bass and drums, The track is perfect.

I always wanted to perform it, but slower and jazzier so I wrote lyrics melding the two stories of my Aunt and myself. I imagined that it was me getting together with the first love the way my Aunt was able to retrieve a life without loneliness. I am happily remarried, so my last train home doesn’t fit the story and the song doesn’t really pertain to me anymore, but I think there is a universality to the message of people finding either a soul mate that they didn’t seize in the past or a new mate that they never dreamed existed. All aboard!


Music By: Pat Metheny
Lyrics By: Ian Hanchet

So many years since I saw your face
So many tears since our last embrace
Hidden love, forbidden love
And now I know the time has come
We both know where to go
Take the last train home

So many miles of railroad track
So many years of looking back
A taken love, forsaken love
The time to pay was yesterday
A big mistake, it’s time to take
Take the last train home

Second-hand love was a masquerade
The lives we built were a cheap charade
Those days are dead, now look ahead
The seeds are gone, the birds have flown
Fret no more, regret no more
Take the last train home

What’s In A Name?

When I taught music full time I would greet each group with a hello song. This served several purposes. The first was to refresh my memory of each child’s name. You can imagine that in an elementary school of 200 plus children that it was easy to forget names of children that I saw for a half hour twice a week at most. The second was to gauge the room. to see who was eager and who was laying back. The children were seated on the floor in a circle (campfire style) with me as part of the circle and the song had as many verses as there were people in the room. Hearing or saying your name in a song is important. It is an affirmation that you matter. You exist. You are famous! I would include aides and If there were visitors in the room I would include them as well. It was all very Pete Seeger!

The song I used most of the time was a little ditty I made up called : “J’aime Mon Nom” Which translates to “I Love My Name”. The children would “patsch” (clap thighs and hands on alternating beats) and we’d all sing: “J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom” And then I’d sing and gesture to a child “Je m’appelle….” and the person chosen sang their name. This is a very effective way to read the room and get even the slightest effort and engagement from even the non-engaging students.

in the higher grades I would try and drop this because I already knew their names, and I had lots to stuff into the half hour together, but the children would ask for it, being lovers of routine. It didn’t hurt.

Teachable moments would arise from this according to the situation. On Hallowe’en I’d ask for the name of the character they were disguised as. Several times a child would say that they didn’t like their name so we’d change it to “Je N’aime pas mon nom”. We could use it to access different activities such as: your favourite hockey player’s name, your “girl/boyfriend” (imagine the giggles and/or horror), favourite breakfast, favourite teacher, etc. The opportunities for expression were only limited by the imagination, so, in my case, limitless.

One day, as a grade three class entered, I happened to have a rubber rat on my piano which piqued their curiosity. The reason I own a rubber rat is another short story which I will try to synopsize here.

Before teaching at the School Board I had worked for a decade as a music therapist with children with Autism, PDD, etc. Our Music Therapy room was in a basement of our school in Westmount. We were two therapists who usually worked together with small groups of children and their “shadows” (educators). One day my co-therapist wordlessly gave me the hand sign that she needed to use “the facilities” down the hall and I understood. When she returned, she was stammering and utterly speechless. I eventually made out through her gesturing the words “rat” and “dans la toilette”. She was utterly freaked out! I went down the hall and there was a small rat swimming in the toilet. I flushed, and it disappeared back into the sewers. Bye bye rat. We got some maintenance workers to install mesh and the problem was solved.

Until I saw a Hallowe’en toy at the dollar store…. A life size black rat with red eyes and a squeaker inside. OF COURSE I HAD TO HAVE IT. I bought it and when I got to work, I put it in my co-worker’s desk drawer. I was not in the room when she opened her drawer. I was upstairs, but I still heard her scream…. I got to the room and Marianne was standing outside the room making similar gestures to several days previous. I got the rat and showed her that it was a prank. The horror switched to anger and I was chopped liver for the rest of the day. The next day we were back to normal and she could laugh about her reactions. All was fine until a month later when the rubber rat “appeared” on the piano as Marianne was sitting down to play. This actually went on for months…. I even snuck it into her car!

So, that was the rat story. Back to the story at hand. The rat went into a box and followed me around to several schools and stayed in the box until I put it on my desk with the intention of “naming” it in a song.

I sat in the circle with the kids and said “I have a rat. The poor rat doesn’t have a name. Can we think up a name for a rat that has never been used before?” I sang: ” j’aime mon rat….” I named him something like “zgworrrdndillybop mc wa wa” as an example. I asked the children if they thought that name had ever been used before. As the song (and the rat)went around the circle, names like “Blackie” and “Ratty” were tried. I would ask the class if they thought those names had ever been used before. Most agreed they were not original. As we got further there were many creative examples: “George” , “Matilda”, ” Queen Rat” etc. Not original. Some children tried names in foreign tongues I would poll the class after every try and most agreed that there was a strong possibility that somewhere on earth at some point in time there was a rat that had received this name before. One kid tried “Ratatouille” and another said that was Disney’s imagination which set off even more discussion. It was all very educational and creative and fun. I then had an idea. I asked the class if they had ever heard the story of Rumpelstiltskin? To my amazement (and horror) none of them had!!!!!!!! I said “We are out of time, but I will read it to you next time. As fate would have it, I was reminded by a student that it was a double period that day as I was doing a favour to their teacher who had an appointment and it was a prep period for me. Woo Hoo!

I love stories! I love reading stories aloud to children. I was read to, I read to my own children and my nieces and nephews. I could not believe that by third grade, these children had not been exposed to this wonderful story.

I read it to them off the internet complete with “interjected lies” such as: “then they grabbed a burger at Harvey’s” just to see how attentive they were. I fielded questions throughout and I used all sorts of funny voices for the King, the girl, the imp, etc. The kids were rapt.

Their teacher arrived to take them back to their class and the kids all groaned. They told me that the story was amazing, the best class ever One boy asked where to get that story and told me that I “made the words come alive” and they never realized old stories could be so much fun. I was elated that it went so well, I saw little light bulbs lit.

Almost totally unplanned, yet hugely successful. My elation of having done a good job was tempered by a sadness that many of these kids did not have the same nurturing and opportunity and privilege that I enjoyed growing up.