Toronto Marlies v WBS Penguins

A handful of the better shots from Friday’s game between the #1 (Toronto Marlies) and #2 (WBS Penguins) teams in the American Hockey League standings.

Toronto came back from a 2-0 deficit after two periods to defeat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4-2. (Video highlights)

NeoHuman podcast, starring me

Willis NeoHuman

My friend Agah Bahari is interested in everything, which is one of the things that I love about him.

Not that long ago, he decided to indulge his interests by starting something he calls the NeoHuman podcast (which matches nicely with his NeoHuman blog), inviting many of the interesting people he knows to discuss pretty much anything that comes up.

Well, seems he ran out of interesting people and so he invited me to participate…and we talked about anything: biotechnology, pharma, global healthcare, designer babies, creativity, writing, screenwriting, 9/11, marketing, and the novel he and I are writing about his life.

But my favourite part is the question he asks all his guest, which is roughly:

If you met an intelligent alien life-form, what would you describe as the greatest human accomplishment and as the worst human accomplishment?

Never boring, my friend Agah.

Agah-me

(Photo stolen with love from Kelly Brienz Showker)

Let go(al) and let…just let go

Mountain

Don’t have to climb the mountain to admire its beauty

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a common question at job interviews and often creeps in silently when people reach age or career milestones.

Rephrased more broadly, it is asking: What are your goals?

In most Western societies—the only ones I really know—we are told it is good to have goals; that you need to set your sights on a destination and follow that path to its conclusion. It is how you get ahead. It is how you find happiness, or at least the stuff that brings happiness.

I have spent my life working this way.

Checklist

Life goals complete

I tell you this not to present my resume—you can find that on my LinkedIn pages (yeah, I have two)—but rather to explain the pattern of my life (and probably yours) in contrast to where I am today.

You see, for the first time in my life, I have no goals. And I am finding it incredibly disconcerting.

Sure, like everyone else, I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly obligations.

I need money to pay for rent, food, bills, hockey tickets, beer. I have editorial deadlines and the odd gift to buy. But I have no long-term goals. I am living my life without my next destination in mind.

Five years from now? Hell, I sometimes don’t know where I’ll be five minutes from now.

In some ways, I am as close to living in the moment as you can get without living under a tree or in a cave (basement apartment notwithstanding). And it’s freaking me out.

Having a goal is a hard habit to break after 50+ years.

Butterfly

What if I had missed this moment?

To be clear, I’m not looking for a goal—floating freely has some lovely benefits—but I struggle some days to know what the point of my day is or was.

Simply being is really simple—it requires no preparation or gear—but our society has taught us that it is wasteful; that it is selfish; that even our “free” time must be productive.

Having no goals, I find, is entirely selfish. I can only affect change in myself.

But I’ve come to realize that “selfish” isn’t bad in and of itself; only when it negatively impacts others, which I don’t believe I am.

Still, like a good Pavlovian pound puppy, I sometimes find myself whimpering at the window, waiting for someone to throw the stick of destiny, to give my life meaning and purpose.

Is it okay or desirable to lead a purpose-less life? Is that my purpose? [Never met-a-physics that didn’t hurt my brain.]

But then, it’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. I turn it off and go back to sleep.

Life without goals definitely has its upside.

An-anthem-a: A sporting nation sings

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics

Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

This past weekend, Toronto played host to the NBA All-Star Game and among the dozens of events, Canadian recording artist Nelly Furtado was asked to sing O’ Canada. In keeping with her musical stylings (I believe), Ms Furtado decided to sing an interpretation of the song that was slower in tempo and a bit more soul-searching than its typical performance, which annoyed a few people.

Now, I am a sing-it-straight person. I believe national anthems should be performed as intended (let’s not get into changing the lyrics). Thus, when someone opens up with a bit of musical show-boating, I get annoyed. (Call back to Roseanne Barr singing The Star Spangled Banner.)

But you know, that’s my problem.

The controversy, however, opened up another question for me:

Why do we play the national anthem(s) at sporting events?

I could understand an argument for truly international events like the Olympics (played when the winner is chosen) or World Cup (do they play anthems here?), where nationalistic fervor is part of the equation.

But what, for example, about a hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks is particularly nationalistic?

This question is especially germane when you consider the many of the players that perform for these teams are from countries other than the United States and Canada (including Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, etc.), and play in mixed squads.

We don’t play the anthem(s) before live theatre. We don’t play the anthem(s) before sitting down to a meal.

We don’t play the anthem(s) before our hair or dental appointments. We don’t play the anthem(s) before a meeting of the UN Security Council.

So why do we play them before regional/local sporting events?

hockey-canada-national-anthem

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images)

I love my country. I like my national anthem. I really don’t care if we play it at sporting events.

What I miss most

Iris

Despite being divorced, I will be forever grateful for my amazing marriage and am fortunate to maintain a friendship with my former spouse that will hopefully last a lifetime.

But even with that companionable joy, there are things I miss about sharing my life with another, moments and situations remembered with a smile and an emptiness.

Walking into a room and knowing you were there.

My lap being used as an ottoman while watching TV.

Resting my head on a cushion and smelling your perfume.

Knowing you’ll be completely unconscious 10 minutes into the movie you chose.

Feeling the bed jostle as you roll over in the middle of the night.

Sensing your skin millimeters before actually touching it.

Shared silence.

A bed that is mussed on both sides.

Watching you engrossed in an activity.

Knowing you’ll be home any minute.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all, whether partnered or not.

I have come to bury Hail, Caesar!

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones.

So let it be with Caesar.

—William Shakespeare

hail-caesar-poster

The Coen brothers love the Golden Age of Hollywood, the era when studios ruled, actors did what they were told, writers remained in the background and sound stages were spectacular. To demonstrate their adoration, the brothers wrote, directed and produced a love letter that showed up on theatre screens this week as Hail, Caesar!.

Unfortunately, the love letter they wrote was less a Shakespearean sonnet than the heart-dotted-i gushings of a pre-pubescent girl.

Briefly, Hail, Caesar! is a week-in-the-life story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), an executive for Capitol Pictures (think back to Barton Fink), a classic Hollywood studio. And like any good executive, Eddie spends his days and nights fixing the various issues that crop up around the studio, while trying to keep everything under wraps from the prying eyes of the gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton & Tilda Swinton).

Today, for example, Eddie is dealing with the unplanned pregnancy of twice-divorced swim star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a celebrated cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) unwisely thrown into a high-society role, and the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) during the final days of shooting for the studio’s largest production ever, the titular Hail, Caesar: A Tale of the Christ.

brolin

And as Eddie scurries from location to location, equally supported and thwarted by the Hollywood clichés that surround him, he takes time to repeatedly visit confessional. Oh, and he is also being courted by Lockheed Martin, who want to make his life simpler while giving him buckets of money.

Now, one does not walk into a Coen brothers movie expecting something conventional, whether comedy or drama. You know that in many ways, you’ll experience theatre of the absurd. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t really live up to that standard. It is more theatre of the silly and mildly amusing.

If the main story of Eddie Mannix is the Christmas tree, the various subplots that infect his day are more the individual ornaments that decorate the tree rather than the branches that flesh it out. For the most part, the subplots are self-contained elements that go nowhere. Each one carries certain amusement—the movie does have its laugh-out-loud moments—and provides a fire against which Eddie must test himself, but even here, the fires aren’t particularly threatening and Eddie handles all of them with aplomb (if exhaustion).

clooney

And because the individual subplots—Eddie’s raisons d’etre—are so thin, the main plot is thin. I get that his journey through the events of the week is meant to symbolize Christ’s walk through the desert, and that Lockheed Martin is the Devil offering to make Christ King of the world. But I don’t care.

I really never invested in Eddie, and so the rest of the film is largely eye candy.

Now, as eye candy goes, this is some lavish stuff that leaves you with a high-end sugar rush. The brothers did a wonderful job of capturing the look and feel of those classic Hollywood films, right down to some of the ham-fisted acting and over-emoting for which the era is famed. And full credit on the song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum.

tatum

But like any sugar rush, the dazzle wears off quickly, and I left the theatre a little empty.

I really wanted to like this movie. Like the Coen brothers, I have a rabid affection for the studio era and its stars—don’t get me started on Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Unfortunately, Hail, Caesar! was the equivalent of fine-dining at Costco…it only really whets your appetite for something better.

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.

 

Other reviews:

Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (Danny F Santos)

Hail, Caesar! sees Joel and Ethan Coen trade acid for honey: review (Peter Howell, Toronto Star)

Review: ‘Hail, Caesar!’ a satire that doesn’t come together (Richard Crouse, CTV News)

Back alley art

I love my home town of Toronto, but am more than ready to admit that it can be a little boring…a victim of our Presbyterian legacy, a city of Scottish bankers. In most neighbourhoods, the sidewalks roll up around 9pm and everyone disappears into their homes until morning.

But as remarkably quiet as many neighbourhoods are, there are small pockets of creativity throughout the city…and often, they are found in the back alleys behind stores, homes and even those staid banks.

While coming home from Staples/Business Depot earlier today, I snatched these few pockets of colour in the city’s east end.

Jarus

Wonder if this is Jarus’s self-portrait

Vertical

A sufferer of rosacea

Dragon

Enter the dragon…by the back door

Porky Daffy

Daffy and Porky set a bad example for the kiddies

For other bursts of creativity and colour in Toronto, see also:

Summer in the City

Shapes and colours

Winter (?) in the Beaches

This time last year, the beach near my home in Toronto was buried under several feet of snow and ice (see the photographic evidence here and here), but this year, not so much.

I managed to take the camera out yesterday and was surprised at how Spring-like the area was.

Surprise, but never lie

Roff

I recently saw the following advice from filmmaker and screenwriter Don Roff posted on the Facebook page of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards:

Always mystify, torture, mislead and surprise the audience as much as possible. — Don Roff

Although I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think it is complete (Note: I was unable to locate the source of the quote to learn if Roff said more on the subject). Thus, I offer the following codicil:

Mislead and surprise, but NEVER lie to your audience. Everything must be possible within the context of the universe you have built in your story. If you lose the trust of the audience, you’ve lost them forever.

Pet Park in Peril

 

SONY DSC

Only chicken wire and wood separate the canines from the under-nines

In what is set to be the battle of the ages, dog owners along Toronto’s Beaches boardwalk are up in arms over an invasion that has them frightened for the safety of their four-legged family members.

A new disease-bearing tick?

Someone leaving poisoned treats?

Marauding coyotes looking for a snack?

Nothing so mundane.

Instead, pet parents are angry that the dog park at the foot of Lee Avenue has been invaded by terrors of the bipedal kind as parents throughout the area have literally unleashed their children within the wood beam and chicken wire compound.

“It’s just not fair,” cries local Peke-a-poo owner Jolene Carpenter. “They have a wooden fortress and wading pool right there in Kew Gardens, and full playgrounds at either end of the boardwalk.”

“How would they like it if we turned their sandboxes into litter boxes?” adds Henry Ratsburg, collie-enthusiast and former cat owner.

As though proving their point, the fence bordering the dog park resembles a sand-covered drive-in as strollers of all sizes, colours and designs sit parked along the fence. Meanwhile, their parental owners relax at the nearby ice cream bar and coffee shop, chatting with other parents while their children run amok beyond the gates.

“I really don’t understand the fuss,” chimes Cyndy Jacobson, mother of two. “My kids need a safe place to run around, and this is the only designated off-leash section of the beach.”

baby_boy_on_leash

Docile when leashed but muscles braced for freedom

Ironically, the dog park, which is actually comprised of an open sandy section and a larger shrub-laden section, was established by the City of Toronto several years ago after many parents in the area complained about dogs littering their waterfront fun.

“It was a total mess out there,” remembers long-time Beaches resident Jackson Brink. “At best, people would just bury the dog droppings in the sand, but it doesn’t take long on a hot summer’s day to realize you’ve parked your beach towel on a fermenting pile left by a mastiff or Great Dane.”

Play time

Frolicking in the sand or burying the evidence?

The park’s transition from canine to kiddie has been a slow but inexorable one that started with delayed summer temperatures last year and parents’ worries about letting their children play in the frigid surf. One by one, as stressed parents discovered the relative calm of the dog park, they began to release their children into its confines.

“The first few actually showed up with both kids and dogs in tow, but they didn’t fool us,” says Carpenter. “Within minutes, you’d see them skulk out of the park with their dogs, the kids nowhere to be found.”

Several residents have demanded the City step in, if only to deal with the potential health and safety risks.

“They bite; they scratch; they’re full of germs. I just don’t feel that my babies are safe in there,” complains Ratsburg, anxiously stroking the fur of his tri-colour collies.

Rebel lake

Ratsburg and friend in better days

Nobody from the City of Toronto was willing to go on the record, but one unnamed source suggests there is little the City can do given the way current bylaws are written.

“All we can do is caution people to make sure their little ones have all their shots and don’t get trampled,” the source suggests. “Residents with children might want to do the same.”