Thursday, March 06, 2014

My 12 albums

There’s been a thing going around Facebook where people pick their 12 favourite/most important to them records. And rather than just listing them and that being that, I figured I’d offer up a few thoughts. Oh, and this at this moment. Ask me again in a year’s time, it may be different.
I have nearly 11,000 songs on my iPod, which probably means close to 1,000 records. These are the 12 that stick with me.
In no particular order:
1.       Bruce Springsteen (Live 1975-85) - I listened to Springsteen before this record, or course. You couldn’t grow up in the 80s and escape Born in the USA anymore than you could escape Thriller or Synchronicity. But this is the record that made me a fan. A lot of Springsteen’s music pre-Born in the USA was more “my parents” music. Born to Run came out when I was five. But listening to this, the raw energy of the live performances, the storytelling, it’s what made me a fan. ‘Promised Land’ may be one of the greatest live songs I’ve ever heard.

2.       Bruce Springsteen (Tunnel of Love) - No critic would argue this is his best album, but it’s my favourite. The sheer balls of following up Born in the USA with this is amazing. I remember a lot of people being disappointed and put-off by it. But there’s so much emotion, honesty and beauty in this record in which he struggles with the idea of love and marriage. I liked it when I was a kid, but I think I’ve only grown to appreciate it more as I became an adult and got married.

3.       Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes)-  I used to be entertainment editor of the muse and everyWednesday I had to beg people to take tapes and review them. It was free music, so you wouldn’t figure it would be hard, but the labels bombed us with crap. My friend JaapTuinman took a flyer on this tape, figuring it wouldn’t amount to much.

The next day he came back, grabbed me, dragged me into one of the offices and wouldn’t let me leave until I listened to it. Mind-blowing. Amos has been hit and miss with me ever since. There are times I’m convinced she’s trying to sabotage her career by putting out deliberately weird/bad stuff. But this…man. I’d never heard anything like ‘Me and a Gun.’ And lest you think this is an Important Album it also has the quiet, heartbreaking beauty of ‘China’, the kinky fun of ‘Leather’ and the propulsive ‘Precious Things’. For all the “I put my man in his place” pop divas of today, nothing you can sing will top Amos’s searing “Just because you can make me cum doesn’t make you Jesus.”

4.       Liz Phair (Exile in Guyville) - Another record I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it; at a house party at 3 am with Chris Myrick and Lisa Pretty. Chris whipped the CD out of his bag (he was wont to do that) and insisted on listening to it. Again, wow. I’d never heard anything quite so raw. ‘Fuck and Run’ sounds like it should be shocking, but it’s just quietly sad and still catchy.

Phair has taken crap over the years for going commercial and never trying to follow-up on the potential of this record. Fuck ‘em. She managed to create one of the best records of the 90s. And if her follow-ups were only pretty cool (Whitechocolatespaceegg is actually pretty damn good) instead of awesome, well, that’s not a bad legacy.

5.       Ani DiFranco (Living in Clip) - Pretty sure my friend Mireille Sampson is responsible for this one. She’d been raving over DiFranco for ages and I saw this at a CHMR sale and snapped it up. It’s funny, but her regular albums leave me cold. But this double live set is just so much fun, with tons of energy and bounce. She’s an engaging stage presence and it comes out clearly in the record. I mean, the story about Anne Frank, of all things, still cracks me up 20 years later. 'Gravel' and '32 Flavors' are standouts.

6.       Wonderful Grand Band (Living in a Fog) -  I heard this once, and I’ve never been able to verify it, that the year this record came out, there was only one other record in Atlantic Canada that sold more copies – Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Look, it’s not a great classic of music, but the band and the TV show was beloved by Newfoundlanders. It gave us comedians Tommy Sexton and Greg Malone. It gave us Ron Hynes. And while some of the music is standard 80s rock music, ‘Babylon Mall’ is still a funny historical artifact, as is ‘U.I.C’. The title track is just as funny and weird as it ever was . It also gave us “Sonny’s Dream’ and any list of greatest Newfoundland songs that doesn’t have that in the Top 5 is pretty much invalid.

7.       Figgy Duff (Weather Out The Storm) - The record that got me hooked on celtic music. The title track was virtually impossible to miss in Newfoundland simply because there was a music video! And NTV played that sucker to death. It doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a spectacular song. It also helps that Pamela Morgan has one of the finest voices in Newfoundland music.  But the album also has the dramatic ‘Henry Martin’, the fun ‘Yankee Skipper’ and other great tracks. Surely on the short list of greatest Newfoundland records.

8.       The Chieftains (An Irish Evening: Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast)) - The Chieftain got huge for awhile there in the 90s during the celtic music boom. I remember picking up The Long Black Veil with all the guest musicians, and quite liking it. When at a CD sale at Dalhousie I picked up this live album for $5. I promptly fell so deeply in love with it I bought nearly their entire catalogue, including their really obscure imports that I paid a ridiculous amount of money for on a poor student budget.

Listening to the Chieftains is like listening to a celtic symphony. There are times when I can’t believe what I’m hearing. The interplay and dance with the instruments is mind-blowing. Then to duplicate all of that live, with joy and energy and dragging in guest musicians…it’s an astonishing trick to pull off, and they do it with style. Oh, and they completely steal ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ from The Who on this record.

9.       Spirit of the West (Save This House) - Ah, the sound of the early 90s and being in love. This is that record for me. I mean, Labour Day is close, simply for ‘Political’, but this is the one. I’d actually lost it for years on an iPod crash and downloaded it again recently and it was like being hit by a tidal wave of memories. I mean, I know ‘Home for a Rest’ is almost a cliché at this point, but damn it, it really is a fun song.

10.   The Pursuit of Happiness (Love Junk) -  Ah, the sound of the early 90s and being bitter, depressed and single. It’s the soundtrack of male despair, angst and self-loathing, but done in a phenomenally catchy way. The single ‘I’m an Adult Now’ obviously gets all the attention, which it should. It’s a cult classic. But the rest of the album is great. And it holds up pretty well, even if I thankfully can’t relate to the songs quite as well as I used to.

11.   Neko Case (Furnace Room Lullaby) - The first time I heard Neko Case was on CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera. I liked the song, and back then I was basically impulsive enough that if I heard something I liked, I bought the album (no iTunes to sample back then, kids). The used CDs stores in town did a good business off of me.

When I listened to all of Blacklisted, I thought I made one of my habitual impulsive music mistakes. It was way more twang that I’d expected and I didn’t care for country music. But there was something about it. I kept listening and it finally dawned on me…Case has the best voice in music. The twang has decreased over the years, but the power and elemental beauty of that voice has lost none of its pop. She might have done better since, but this one is still a gem.

12.   Tom Waits (Closing Time) - Tom Waits feels like a grown up moment in your musical development. You’ve been listening to all these musicians and thinking they’re great. Then someone sits you down and goes, “Yes, that’s good and all, but now you’re finally ready for this.” And they put on a Tom Waits record. Maybe it’s Swordfishtrombone, or Heart of a Saturday Night or Nighthawks at the Diner or something else. For me, it was Closing Time. It’s a classic, through and through. My wife hates his voice. To me, the voice has as much character as the people he sings about. That voice has been through the stories he sings about.

In its own way, Waits voice is as beautiful as Case’s for registering emotion (I would kill for a duet between the two). He’s also at the very top of the finest songwriters in music. I think it was Peter Galgay who sat me down and said, “you’re ready for Tom now”. I’ve always owed him one for that.

Honourable Mention
The Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace with God) – ‘Fairytale of New York’ is still the greatest Christmas song ever.
U2 (Achtung Baby) – The record that made me realize that U2 is actually a good band and not a bunch of pretentious  wankers. Some of you will find that sentence ridiculously funny.
Sean Panting (Lotus Land) – Honestly, my favourite Newfoundland musician. Cathy says I have a man crush on Sean. Probably.
Ryan Adams (Gold) – ‘New York, New York’ got a ton of attention because of 9/11. The rest of the album is better than that song.
Robbie Robertson (Storyville) – Pure storytelling and atmosphere.
Matthew Good Band (Beautiful Midnight) – I played ‘Hello Time Bomb’ to death. It’s the record that got me hooked on his music.
Josh Ritter (Hello Starling) – I saw him open for Kathleen Edwards in St. John’s. The first time I saw a musician outright steal a show from the headline act.
Joel Plaskett Emergency (Truthfully Truthfully) – To this day, I do not understand how that album did not explode everywhere and that Plaskett isn’t a household name across North America. His showcase performance in St. John’s for the ECMAs in 2003(?) is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Garbage (Version 2.0) - Come for ‘Push it’, stay for ‘You Look so Fine.’ Fall in love with the idea of Shirley Manson singing it to you.
The Gaslight Anthem (Great Expectations) – The best variation, but not slavish imitation, of Bruce Springsteen out there right now.
Colleen Power (Face and Eyes) – Great lady, fun music. And ‘Newfoundland Weather’ is clever as fuck.
Blue Rodeo (Five Days in July) – The album that made me realize that Blue Rodeo is one of Canada’s greatest bands. I didn’t like them before this record. Clearly I was mad.
The Black Keys (Brothers) – I literally smacked my head, hearing this record for the first time almost a year after it came out and went “how the hell have I not listened to this already?”
Neil Diamond (12 Songs) – Diamond is a cheesy, karokee joke, right? That’s what I thought until I heard this. The fact he didn’t spend his whole career recording more music like this is a tragedy.
The New Pornographers (Mass Romantic) – It’s like a wall of beauty slamming into you with the force of a tidal wave. Some of the greatest pop music Canada has ever produced, neatly condensed into one record.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Re-changing direction

When people complain about the north pretty much the top of the list is the cost of flying here and out. Everything that is expensive about the north – food, building materials, supplies – spring outs from how much it costs to simply move people and things from the south to the north.  If there’s a solution to this problem a great number of smart people have spent a lot of years unsuccessfully trying to figure it out.
That means there’s now an informal social contract between northerners and the airlines. It goes something like this.
1.       We are going to bitch and complain incessantly about how much it costs to fly here and to transport food and be more than a little suspicious that you are somehow finding a way to gouge us silly, although there is ample proof that’s not the case. We’re also probably going to remain loyal to both of you (Canadian North and First Air) even when another airline comes into the market (Hello Air Canada’s doomed attempt a few years ago) for…reasons.
2.       In return, northern airlines will agree to the following.
a.  Offer up seat sales several times a year so that people rarely actually pay the $2,000 return flight to Ottawa, and instead end up paying something closer to $1,300.
b.  Offer up discounts to pretty much every major employer in the city. That includes Government of Nunavut civil servants, teachers, nurses, federal employees, Inuit organizations, etc.
c.  Offer discount fares to beneficiaries.
d.  Give away probably hundreds of plane tickets a year for various charity fundraisers or sports tournaments. I know the curling club routinely gets anywhere from 4-7 tickets per year.
e.  Give us half decent meals on the flights, along with “special coffees”.
f.  Give us 2 pieces of luggage which can hold up to 70 pounds each, so that when we’re coming back north, we can stuff it with extra supplies.
If you break this contract, there will be consequences.
Canadian North decided to test things earlier this year. They broke the social contract and dropped the baggage allowance down to 50 pounds per bag. The reason given is that this brought them more in line with how things are done with other airlines in North America. I believe Canadian also has an agreement with Westjet where you can check your bags straight through to your final destination instead of picking them up in Ottawa and having to check in again. WestJet probably wasn’t enjoying having to deal with these extra heavy bags and not getting some extra money for it.
Let’s say Canadian North’s plan did not fly well. I’m reasonably active on Twitter and to say there were howls of outrage would be an understatement. The other indicator of outrage and frothing-at-the-mouth in Nunavut is Nunatsiaq News comments section. Reaction there was, if anything, even more extreme.
I’m not sure what Canadian North thought would happen with this. That people would hate it, sure. But I guess they must have thought First Air would jump at the chance to lower their baggage allowance and follow suit. The two airlines are practically peas on a pod. When one announces a seat sale, the other matches it…often within minutes.
So when Canadian North lowered baggage allowances, First Air did…nothing. For days, nothing. Then they announced a pretty nice seat sale, just to put the extra screws to Canadian North. So, for a pleasant change of pace, there was actually some competition for customers in the north. I still think most people expected First Air to sweat Canadian for a few weeks and then lower their allowance as well.
But it never happened. I went to the airport to pick up Cathy on Sunday (she was down south for some professional development). Canadian landed first and a trickle of passengers disembarked. First Air landed about 10 minutes later. Easily double, maybe triple, the number of people got off the plane. I imagine that was just a snapshot of what they’d been dealing with since their baggage policy went into effect on February 1.
So on Thursday, in a reversal of policy, Canadian brought back the old baggage limit. I’m always glad to see customers punishing businesses when they do something like this. Pity more people didn’t take this step when US and other Canadian airlines began doing this kind of thing with baggage. Then again, that’s a much more complex issue than what we face here.
The other interesting thing Canadian did yesterday was announce a new weekly flight: Iqaluit-Halifax-St. John’s. There’s a sizeable east coast population in Iqaluit so that news was greeted warmly. Granted, I don’t think it will save much, if any money. But it will save time and be convenient. If it does well, they’ll expand it past its once a week during the summer event. That would be nice. I don’t think you could do it daily, but twice a week, all year round…I think that could be manageable.
I mentioned to friends and family in Newfoundland they can come for a visit now. They pointed out the flight is still over $2,000. So I guess they don't love us quite that much.
People have short memories for this kind of thing, so I imagine Canadian will be forgiven, and offering up the east coast flight will more than soothe some frayed tempers. But it was interesting to watch while it was going on…
Last Five
1. Desire - Ryan Adams
2. So distant - Matt Mays
3. The book I write - Spoon
4. I could say - Lily Allen
5. Up on Cripple Creek - The Band

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Two years later

So, an anniversary of sorts today. Two years ago today I went to the gym for the "first" time. I put the quotes in there because I have been to the gym before in Iqaluit, but it never stuck. Three (months) and out is how it usually went.

But it stuck this time. I'm sure I've written at length and tediousness about my decisions to lose weight and get in better shape, so I won't subject everyone to it again. But it was two years ago that I walked through the doors of the gym and resolved to do the following:

1. Lose 80 pounds.
2. Keep going to the gym at least four times a week.
3. Eat healthier, eat less.

So, how'd I do?

1. Never really came close to losing 80 pounds. At my best I lost 67.2 pounds and I manage to do that in about 10 months. That meant I dropped from 250 pounds down to 182.8. Which is pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself. But most of 2013 was spent holding around 185 and not getting any lower. Then, as much as out of boredom and frustration as anything else, we had a bad few months in the fall, so I bounced up a bit more. I'm currently hovering around 192 pounds. I'm trying to get back down to around 185, which I think is a good weight for me. I am desperately trying to never go above 200 pounds again.

People will tell you that weight doesn't really matter, it's taking care of yourself - exercise and diet - are the important things. And they're right. Trying to get to 170 pounds was a pure arbitrary number that I drew out of a memory of standing on the scales at my (then) girlfriend's house. It's the last time I remember standing on a scale from my time at MUN. So figured that was a good number to shoot for.

Cathy thought it was unrealistic. Cathy, as is the case in most things, was right. I've actually been under 170 pounds twice in my adult life, but as both of those occasions involved me being stupid (soccer injury that earned me 15 stitches in my mouth, unable to figure out food in Korea) I thought it would be best not to aim for those goals.

And really, it was pure bullheaded stubbornness that got that much weight off. I didn't follow a diet plan, I didn't start Weight Watchers, I didn't go in with a tailored exercise regime. Just pure force of will, a little luck, and a lot of stubbornness. What worked for me probably wouldn't work for others. But I'm glad I got away with it.

2. When I went to the gym today, I checked. It said that in the past two years I've been to the gym 368 times. I think that's lowballing slightly and it wouldn't surprise me if there were times they forgot to sign me in. Divide that by 104 weeks and you get a total of 3.54 times a week of going to the gym. And again, there have been many weeks where I simply wasn't in the territory to go to the gym or I was sick (although that seems to happen less these days, which is nice).

So I'm ok with that number. And I go for at least an hour each time. 30 minutes on the elliptical (I can't do the treadmill. It kills my left knee) and 30 minutes or so of lifting weights. The intensity level is also much better. I used to do 15 minutes at level 8 on a wussy elliptical and it would kill me. I could do about 10 sets of lifting 80 pounds and that was it.

Now I can do 30 minutes on Level 20 of the elliptical and burn over 600 calories (hit my personal best of 602 calories today, which made me happy). I can now also do three sets of 10 on the weights at 170 pounds, which also makes me happy. And that's on a few of the things I do there. But you've got to keep pushing these things...

3. I eat better, but still not as good as I could. Cathy and I simply aren't great cooks. I think we could both eat fantastic if someone else would just cook for us. We're both adequate cooks, but the fact that we both try to beat the other to the punch at lunch time by asking the other what they want for supper (the first person asked has to pick. Much swearing normally results).

We're better than what we once were, when we would routinely be eating pizza, nachos and macaroni and cheese (all in one week, mind...), and hell, I eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast, which is nothing short of astonishing. But yeah, I can do better.

But man, there's only so much will power to get you through a day. I really believe that. And I spend so much of it just making sure I keep going to the gym, and keep moving (really need to do that FitBit review one of these days), that the food does suffer a bit.

Still, one of the most important changes is accepting that this is going to be the rest of my life doing this. This is never going to be "well, I did this for two years so I can stop now." Noooooo. My little lapse this past fall shows how quick the weight will fly back on if my diligence slips.

So anyway, I'm pretty happy with my results, two years later. Certainly better than being 250 pounds and on my way to my first heart attack. And given my family history, that's exactly what I was on my way towards.

Last Five
1. Dark angel (live) - Blue Rodeo*
2. The vanishing breed - Robbie Robertson
3. One flight down - Norah Jones
4. My heart is broken - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
5. Come as you are - Nirvana

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


It's a story I've told many times, and probably more than once on this blog, but once upon a time, there was a relatively naive university student who joined the campus student newspaper. He quite liked it, but about six months in, the paper decided to put out their annual Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual supplement right around Valentine's Day.

The lad had only recently met a few out of the closet gay people, who seemed pretty cool and he was evolving nicely from the knee-jerk "huh huh faggots" mindset that way too many Newfoundland high school students had at that time. It's not that he was a bad person, just ignorant. But he'd had his mind changed, in a good way. So why not put out a supplement that might reach other people and change their minds? And along the way provide some information on safe sex that might help some young GLB people be safer?

To say the supplement was not greeted...warmly, would be an understatement. Engineering students threw bundles of papers into the garbage. Students tried to force their way into the campus office to confront staff and shouted profanities. A petition was launched to shut the paper down (it received almost 2,000 signatures). It was one of the lead stories on CBC News that evening. The university's president spoke to the local daily and stated that our actions could result in higher tuition fees for students, which while complete bullshit, certainly made the paper more popular.

And all that, all of that, was just a fraction of the crap that gay people in the province had to endure in Newfoundland and Labrador at that time. That naive lad grew up in a big ass hurry, especially manning the phones, where he was routinely cursed on and told he was an embarrassment to his family (his folks, to their credit, asked if he was all right. He said yup. They said no more about the controversy, but were supportive of staying with the paper and fighting).

That was 23 years ago (Christ I'm getting old) and even the crap that I went through, which was nothing compared to what friends went through, is even less than what GLBQ people have to endure in Russia right now. That's why I was astonished, and pleased as hell, when the City of St. John's took the lead in Canada in flying the Pride Flag the day of the Opening Ceremonies to the Winter Olympics. I never thought I would see the day, but I'm glad I did.

I was also pleased to see other cities across Canada follow St. John's lead. And while I was watching all of this unfold online on Friday, a simple question went out on Twitter to local Iqaluitmuit..."Hey, do you think we could do something similar here in town?"

And so went the cry...and very quickly things happened. A Pride Flag was found (honestly wasn't sure there was one in town) and donated by a very good friend of mine. A city councillor on Twitter said he would be happy to bring to the City Council building and get them to hoist it up the flag pole.

And then, at 2 pm on Monday, this happened...

If you read as much news as I do, there are days you have your faith in humanity shaken quite a bit. I read a story today about a city in Florida banning homeless people from having blankets to keep warm at night. So there's that.

But then you have moments where you get to see the Pride Flag hoisted in Iqaluit and watch a good friend get pretty misty about that happening. People cheered and the world didn't end. In fact, it probably just got a tiny bit better.

Totally worth not being able to have proper sensation in my hands for an hour after taking these photos.

And yes, things suck in Russia for GLBQ people. But 23 years ago I watched a university campus lose its mind over a gay safe sex supplement. So who knows what will happen in Russia in the future. We can only hope that in a few years, hoisting a Pride flag in St. Petersburg gets the same kind of reaction it got in Iqaluit on Monday.

Last Five
1. Anger is beauty - Hawksley Workman*
2. No son of mine - Genesis
3. Here, there and everywhere - The Beatles
4. No future shock - TV on the Radio
5. Constructive summer - The Hold Steady

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Digging out

I try not to write about the weather too much up here because I think blog posts about weather can be a touch boring or whiny if not handled right. Also, I live in the Arctic. Complaining about cold or snow seems more than a little foolish. Even when it snowed every single month in 2013 (and it did, even July and August) I tried hard not to bitch about it. If you were born here, you're used to it. You're probably used to much harsher conditions that this, from what I've heard. If you moved here, well, what else did you expect? Palm trees?

Still, we're off to quite a start when it comes to blizzards in 2014. We had one a few weeks ago that made national headlines. Not so much for the snowfall amount. Even the worst of blizzards in Iqaluit rarely get more than 15 cm of snow. No, this one was noteworthy for the winds. Sustained at 115 kph with gusts hitting 151 kph. Environment Canada issued an alert that at one point described the approaching storm as a "roof-ripper", which while a delightful piece of evocative writing you do not normally associate with an Environment Canada weather alert, sent local social media into a tizzy.

I didn't write much about it because we managed just fine. We lost power for about eight hours on and off, but what else do you expect with winds that high? Others lost their power for longer and some did lose roofs. And siding. Our next door neighbour lost his shed. Blew across the street and down the hill. It's much....thinner...than it used to be.

Yes, there is something disconcerting about a house shaking quite that much. There's always the worry anytime you live in a house on metal stilts that one good stiff breeze is going to launch you to Oz. Or Greenland. But, knock on wood, we have a sturdy house.

So we managed just fine. Even got some bragging points out of it, given how much my friends and family in St. John's were losing their shit about blizzards and power failures over the holidays. When Iqaluit's wobbly power infrastructure holds up better than Newfoundland's, well, that's quite the smack in the face for Nalcor. Or Newfoundland Hydro. Or the provincial government. Or whoever is in charge of power down there these days.

So we had another blizzard roll through starting Monday afternoon and lasting into the night. No big deal, I thought. The winds, while high (apparently gusts hitting 129 kph) were not as bad as the "roof-ripper, so I figured this would be no big deal. I did notice an unusual build up of snow around the doors, but I believed if the wind shifted overnight, it would probably all disappear anyway. Still, we thought we should get up a little early Tuesday morning, just in case.

Yeah, the snow didn't disappear. The only thing it managed to do was solidify into some kind of concrete substance I've never really experience before.

Leave the house was slightly challenging.
Understand, I grew up in Newfoundland. I am used to backbreaking snow. I am used to wet snow. Snow that has a crusty ice layer on top of it. I am used to massive hunks of snow pushed back by a snow plow that weigh about 5 metric tons. I know snow shovelling and hate it with the passion that most Newfoundlanders possess.

Which is one of the nice things about Iqaluit. I rarely shovel. It's awesome. Why?
1. Arctic desert, folks. Our snowfall amounts are much less than most of southern Canada during the winter. Ours lasts longer, but we don't get nearly as much. This is a fact pissing off many local snowmobile fanatics who can't use their machines except out on the sea ice.
Standing on a six foot drift...on the deck.
2. We hired a local company to plow our driveway. I used to feel bad/lazy about this, then I remembered I have money now and I hate shovelling. Plus, it's a big driveway. I like looking out the window, watching the plow go to work. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Mostly because I'm inside wearing a sweater when he does it.

But this was a special storm. I don't think it brought much snow, but what did fall managed to gather up its friends and have a party at our house. Most of our driveway was, in fact, bare. But up next to the house, the two decks and the car, were buried. By this dense, concrete kind of snow that I've never seen anywhere other than in Iqaluit. And for the first time since we bought the house, it was packed around our place.

So, first things first, getting out of the house. That took about 10 minutes and cost us two screen doors. Both are damaged beyond repair and will have to be replaced on the sealift. Then we had to get down from the decks without kill ourselves. The drifts were that high. Then there was the matter of the car. The front half was buried. And it wasn't like we could just shovel out the driver's side door, hop in and blast her in reverse. No, this "stuff" and bonded at a molecular level with the car. It was not giving up the car without a fight.

Next fun thing we learned...this snow laughs at shovels with a plastic blade. The shovel works fine with ordinary snow, but not this stuff. Cathy uses the metal blade shovel to do some damage, while I find a spade, hack away at the snow enough that I can use the plastic blade.

Digging out the car took two hours, with both of us working on it. We barely touched the stairs, because we needed the car to get to work. Two hours to dig the beast out.

Normally touching the satellite dish is something I can't do
quite this easily.
Hansen's show up later in the afternoon to blast most of the rest of the snow out of the driveway (they couldn't have helped with the car), but we still had to dig out a path on one of the decks (no oomph for both) and also dig a path to the water intake pipe. City workers couldn't deliver water to us today because the pipe was buried under the 10+foot snow drift.

Cathy, enjoying her morning immensely, and not at all
So yes, that was fun. Still kind of achy even as I write this. Of course, because we're idiots, we then went to the gym Tuesday evening. Cathy kind of had to because she started a 12-week challenge at the gym this evening. I went to keep her company and to drive home if the weather got worse.

Although on the positive side, we were supposed to get another blizzard Tuesday evening. CBC weather person in Yellowknife put up a satellite photo that scared the crap out of most Iqaluitmuit Twitteratti. But for whatever reason, it stalled, sparing us another dose. Now we're back to cold, clear sunny weather. Which I have no problem with whatsoever.

Give me cold over snow any time of the week.

Last Five
1. Songbird - Oasis
2. Falling for you - Eskimo Joe
3. Romance to the grave - Broken Social Scene
4. Goodbye yellow brick road - Elton John*
5. The Great Salt lake - Band of Horses

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Year 44

I don't really do New Year's Resolutions anymore. They're kind of a waste of time. I enjoy that on my demotivational calendar January 17 is the day when you're supposed to give up on your New Years Resolutions. When I decided to start losing weight nearly two years ago, it was in February, and not on January 1. But I do like the idea of a year in review and and to try and do a few aims. But since my birthday (which is now in its dying hours as I write this) is close enough to the start of the year, I do like the idea of looking back at the last year of my life, seeing how it was, and what plans I should make for the next circle around the sun.

So how was Year 43? Bit of a mixed bag. Not bad, just one significant hiccup that threw things off.

1. The highlight was certainly the trip to Sri Lanka, which I will remember to the end of my days. That was a great trip, I got to see a part of the world I never thought I would and, better still, got to see it with some of my best friends for a great occasion.

2. Got to go to a wedding in Sri Lanka and see the same guy get married again in Canada, but this time with a lot more friends around. I only see some of them every few years, so every occasion is a highlight, even if I tend to be depressed after I say my good-byes for several days.

3. The lowlight was certainly losing my job with a local organization that I though I would be spending years with, a loss that came out of the blue and not because I did anything wrong. I recovered from that, but I was deeply hurt by that action for a lot longer than I thought I would be.

4. But from that came another highlight, which was getting another job almost immediately that is the equal in virtually every way as the old one and better in many ways.

5. The weight loss was kind of a mixed bag. After making great strides in Year 42 and being able to lose 67 pounds, I flatlined for most of the year and then slipped in the fall, putting back on 12 pounds. I'm back at it and I've already lost three of those gained 12 pounds. I knew keeping the weight off was always going to be work, but I think I knew it intellectually. It required a slip to really physically hammer home the point.

And what did I learn?

1. See the above point about the weight loss.

2. I think I learned the value about not burning bridges. I have a former work colleague who had a saying I loved which was "I'll burn that bridge when I get to it." Not when I cross it. No. If that bridge was crossing the River Compromise, he would burn it, bomb it, launch missiles at it...rather than than doing something he disagreed with or dealing with people he didn't like or respect.

I have a certain admiration for the....purity, if not the practicality, of that belief system. Something happened a few years ago that I had every right to be upset by, but I didn't get mad about it, I didn't burn bridges over it because I knew who was to blame, and it wasn't the people giving me the bad news. They were good people having to deliver crap news to someone they liked. Hard to get mad over that. And that attitude paid off this year.

I'm not perfect at it...lord knows I was looking at the price of flamethrowers on the internet a few times and was set to light a few bridges on fire this year, but I tried to remain calm about it. Didn't work all the time, but I also didn't go thermonuclear, which I was certainly within my rights to do. So there's that.

3. I got a reminder of the value in friendship and loyalty. I learned to appreciate people who are willing to go through the wall for you because they think you're worth it. And if they think you're worth it, then perhaps when I'm being hardest on myself, it would be good to remember that others think I'm pretty ok. And really, why I should disagree with them on that, of all things?

3. I learned that I'm probably not going to be a writer. Still not 100% sure about that one, but there is a certain truthy feel to it. I'm quite fond of Tumblr, but more in a lurking sort of way. A lot of writers, both novelists and graphic novelists, that I like and respect, use it. And without fail the question they get the most is "How do I become a writer?"

The answers vary to degrees, but there is one constant...the good ones don't have a choice. They're driven by it, consumed by it. And if you're not, then it's probably not for you. There's no shame in that, but you have to recognize it. As always, Warren Ellis probably said it best. When asked what he does when he feels like giving up:

There is no such goddamn thing.  There is only getting up and doing it all over again, smarter and harder, until something ups and fucking kills you, because that’s the only thing big enough to stop you.This is The Great Work, and all you have to do is choose it, not look back and never fucking stop until you’re in your box, under the dirt and flowers are growing between your teeth.And that is why I’ll never be asked to do motivational speaking.  G’night.

I haven't felt that way in a very long time, if ever. I have a novel that's been 3/4 finished for seven years and simply can't find the will to go back and fix it. I have an excellent idea for a TV show that I simply haven't had the will to sit down and properly research and plot out. I have an idea for a second novel, but just can't find the right structure for it. I have this blog that I used to write for 300 times a year, and now can't be bothered to write a post about something so simple as the huge wind storm that hit us 10 days ago.

If I was a proper writer, I would do these things. But too many shiny things distract me. Plus, I like my comforts. So I don't know. I can write. I have the technical ability. I think when I put my mind to it and seriously work at it I'm not bad at it. But a Writer? Not so sure anymore.

4. Having said that, I increasingly learned the value of zen and trying to remain drama-free. Drama is just so goddamn exhausting and a waste of time. There was a time when I enjoyed a good drama and fight. Now all I can think is "I could be reading or do something useful instead of wasting time and brain power dealing with this foolishness." So here's to even less drama in Year 44.

So what's the plan for Year 44?

1. Better quality vacations. One of the sad realities with the change in job situation is that I no longer have as much time off (Nine weeks. sigh). So instead of long vacations, I think I just have to make sure they're awesome. If that means having to spend a bit more money to make them awesome, well, now that I don't have as much time off I have more money to spend on making them awesome. But yes, back to travelling. There's still so much of the world I want to see with Cathy.

2. Try and figure something out with the writing. As I said, I possess some skill, but so do a hell of a lot of people. I used to think being able to write was special. Everybody is online now and they're writing. Most of them are easily as good as I am, if not better. If I want to do this, what am I prepared to do?

3. Stick with the exercise, eating right and trying to stay healthy.

4. Drama-free. Ish.

5. Work on that whole "being a better husband" thing that Cathy seems to appreciate.

6. Try to be a better friend. I do miss and love those lunatics, even those bastards who call and sing me Happy Birthday like a funeral dirge and say I look great for 51 (ahahahaha, fuck you, Dups). But I hate phones and I suspect this might be the year where Facebook finally forces me to abandon it. So I need to do something.

7. And maybe try to get back into photography. We bought an Apple TV recently, and one of the features is that you can have photos scroll up the TV while music is playing. Seeing my pics that big reminded me that I used to be a pretty good photographer at one point. Just got out of the habit. Also, again, thanks to social media it seems like half the planet is a decent photographer.

8. Which reminds me, I have 10,000+ photos on my hard drive, in barely any kind of organization. I need to get them organized and delete the obviously crap one.

9. Keep building my Geek Room without shame. It is awesome and makes me happy.

10. And, you know, just try to keep being happy overall. It's not a bad life. Certainly not the one I would have predicted 20 years ago when I was gearing up to leave MUN and head to journalism school. But it's still a pretty good one. So when I'm feeling homicidal and frustrated, a deep breath and a mental reminder that I have it pretty good is a useful thing to remember.

Last Five
1. Where do you get off - Ron Hynes
2. Murder in the Southlands - Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens*
3. Honeybear - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
4. Look after you - The Fray
5. Your algebra - The Shins

Sunday, December 22, 2013


We're coming over the hump of the Great Iqaluit Christmas Exodus. It's been a steady stream the past week, but it always peaks on Friday and Saturday, when school closes. Also, some organizations in town close for Christmas break. That makes the airport an absolute gong show. I'm guessing at least 300 people flew from Iqaluit to Ottawa on Friday. I understand that doesn't sound like much, but when you consider the size of the airport, I'm pretty sure there were some fire and safety regulations being studiously ignore yesterday. There's no way it's legal to have as many people in the "holding pen" past security at the airport as they do, yet nothing is ever done about it.

That doesn't include many Inuit taking flight from Iqaluit to head to their home communities for the holidays. That went on Friday, I'm sure. Don't get me wrong, it would be lovely to go somewhere for Christmas, either home or some place warm. It's been close to six months since I was last out of Iqaluit and I'm starting to get a bit itchy to go somewhere. But man, am I ever glad I wasn't dealing with travel hassles the last few days.

And they were all over the place. I heard the second First Air flight that was supposed to arrive around 5 pm went mechanical. Because that meant 100 people would be stranded at one of the busiest times of the year, some scrambling happened to get another plane to fill-in. I also heard the Yellowknife-Rankin-Iqaluit flight bypassed Rankin, which I'm sure caused all kinds of additional chaos. All of this before you even got down south and had to deal with the weather and almost certain delays.


With all of that travel madness going on, Cathy and I are gearing up for a nice, quiet Christmas at home. I suspect on Christmas Day and Boxing Day the only time we will change out of lounge wear is when the dog guilts us into taking him for his three minute walk. There's still prep work that goes into that level of sloth, however.

A couple of days ago we got our turkeys. Now, down south you would probably go to the supermarket, buy a turkey. I heard they were going for 99 cents a kilo, I believe. They were going for around $6/kilo up here (or that might have been a pound. Not sure. Scary number regardless). So we were waiting for the turkey truck, which finally appeared on Wednesday.

The turkey truck is a grand Iqaluit tradition that goes like this. A cube truck filled with frozen turkeys parks in front of either the NorthMart or the gas bar. Turkeys are $25 for a small one, $30 for a large one. Pay the money, walk away with a turkey. And it's a perfectly fine turkey. Maybe not a Butterball or anything, but it'll taste fine on Christmas day.

We've also been finished our Christmas shopping. I think the last of her stuff from me arrived on Tuesday. The last of my stuff for her arrived on Friday. That's not to say there aren't dangers still lurking in town. Iqaluit Sell/Swap and Iqaluit Auction Bids is going to be the death of us one of these days. Cathy spotted a nice sealskin item earlier the week that had us knocking on the door of someone's house at 8:30 in the morning. Today it was going to Matthew Nugingaq's studio, where he was having a sale on his jewelry. One pair of raven earrings for Cathy and an igloo ring for me later...

Did I mention some local artists and photographers are having a sale on Sunday? We're a menace, swear to god...

But the kicker was the post office on Saturday. They've been opening on Saturdays the last month to try and clear out some of the backlog. I've gone a couple of Saturdays and the line has only been a couple of people. I figured the same thing would happen today, especially with so many people leaving town. Oh no. Oh god no. It was the longest line I'd ever seen at the post office. And they only had one poor guy on the counter. I counted 40 people in line once. It took us one hour and 15 minutes to get our package (which was not the one we were waiting for).

But it oddly wasn't too bad. Nobody was grumbling and most people were chatting with their neighbour and were in good spirits. No one was blaming Mathieu (the poor man at the counter) who everyone in town likes and we could see he was going as fast as he could. I went out to get some coffee and, on the spur of the moment, bought a 40 pack of timbits and left them on a bench so people in line. Which seemed to cheer people up.

It's not bad being in Iqaluit over Christmas. There's a nice vibe in the air over the two weeks when a lot of people are gone. It's just friendlier and more relaxed. I'm looking forward to it.

That and we're now past Winter Solstice. It means the days are getting longer again. It's a small thing, but I do enjoy the slow climb back towards the light, rather than the slow drift into the dark that we've been doing the past six months. Here's to more sunlight, no matter how small, at the darkest time of the year...

Last Five
1. Apres moi - Regina Spektor
2. Broken promise land - Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint
3. Set me free - Charli XCX
4. Doesn't anybody stay together anymore? - Phil Collins
5. Girl sailor - The Shins*