Posts Tagged With: Jann Arden

A Bespoke Christmas

Once upon a time, all my kid sister wanted for Christmas was “world peace.” (I’m sure this is still true.) However, she was also quite thrilled to get a Cabbage Patch Doll and the latest Babysitter Club books for her collection, in addition to world peace.

Our family has definitely shifted to the “experiential gifts” because we are truly want for nothing. That is, except for the circa 1860 Stockdale Feed Mill on Cold Creek in Frankford that just came on the real estate market today. We wouldn’t mind the keys to that place for Christmas. And some world peace. And a dozen of my mom’s butter-bomb shortbread.


Photo credit:

Admittedly, I do love looking at the extreme and unnecessary like the excess of the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Line or Nordstrom’s Dream Big Gift Guide suggestions. I love the Williams-Sonoma catalogs even more. But when I look at the Kitchen Aid Copper stand mixer for $959.00 I think of Africa and rationalize that I barely mix anything beyond cocktails anyway.

I think back to childhood, when we used to make stuff for gifts from “found objects.” It’s funny that it’s ‘trending’ now—this movement of ‘repurposing’ and ‘reloving’ when we really did it all along, especially way back when. As a kid with $9.82 in the piggy bank (or reasonable facsimile) shopping wasn’t a consideration. You could SAVE that $9.82 and make things out of teasels and dry milkweed pods and pinecones. Add silver sparkles, googly eyes and voila. (As I look at a few walnuts that the squirrels have yet to warehouse in our backyard I consider the Pinterest crafting possibilities by default. Hmm, grown- up craft: pressing some black walnut oil as used in a fancy cocktail with bourbon in a swishy place our friend Heidi took us to in Nashville). Maybe next year. I’m sure there’s a youtube video on it.

Or, I could just buy into the online “Orphan Barrel Project” that Neiman Marcus has on offer. For a paltry $125,000 “You and five bourbon-curious friends will visit the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, to go barrel hunting, taste recently discovered bourbons, and create two completely unique Orphan Barrel variants to be hand-bottled with labels designed exclusively for you. You’ll then receive 24 bottles each of the remaining stocks of eight different Orphan Barrel bourbons—including the variants created by you—along with a bespoke whiskey cabinet crafted in Kentucky to house the collection, barware, and a leather-bound book about your whiskey.”

Luckily we still have some Maker’s Mark in the cupboard.

Kim and I aren’t even exchanging gifts (well, we deemed our equatorial plane tickets to Las Terranas and Las Galleras in the Samana peninsula for the first two weeks of January “Christmas”).

If we really had to buy stuff (and we don’t because we both naturally avoid eye contact when “Secret Santa” is brought up in the workplace), we wouldn’t have to look too far. Our circle of friends are oozing talent and make stuff that’s awesome, and there’s a different kind of peace felt when you are contributing to an artist and making their life and creative path a little less overgrown.

Here are five sure-fire ways to light up a room though, from Iceland to a night in a frontier tent to adopting a donkey.

A Ticket to Iceland, With Two Precocious Cats


Our family friend (a friend of my sister first, but, we all liked her instantly and took shares), Jocey Asnong, recently published another children’s book called Nuptse and Lhotse Go to Iceland. When I first met Jocey, her Banff apartment was a spider web of clotheslines and clothes pegs—the humble beginnings of her first book’s illustrations, all hanging in sequence. Everything was colourful in her home, right down to the painted furniture that she also sold. It was like standing inside a kaleidoscope. By day, Jocey indulges her bookworm matrix at Café Books in Canmore, Alberta—but at night, her cat characters Nuptse and Lhotse take flight. They’ve already travelled around Nepal, and Iceland just made sense. Jocey seems to fly there whenever a seat sale is on, or when the glaciers move just so. Visit the land of ice and fire and see how a landscape can consume an artist and writer so innocently. If you have munchkins in your life or Iceland devotees, this gift just makes sense.

A blurb: “While digging in their garden, Nuptse and Lhotse uncover an ancient Viking helmet. Excited by their discovery, the two cats make their way to Iceland to find out more about the Vikings. Throughout their epic journey, the cats learn all sorts of new things related to Iceland: longboats, sweaters, horses, volcanoes, geysers, even local cuisine!  Nuptse & Lhotse Go to Iceland is a colourful, illustrated story for adventurers of all ages who long to travel to faraway places.”

Be Bound by the Beauty

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I met Alistair MacLellan on assignment. I had read about his new biz venture in the Waterloo Record and was instantly intrigued. I pitched a storyline to the editor of Grand magazine and she bit. Alistair was making hand-bound, hand-sewn books in his garage. Well, his parents’ garage—but, nonetheless, the journalism grad was kicking it old school and making money, making stuff. I liked the simplicity and possibility of his product. Like Steamwhistle—they make just one product, and they make it well. Alistair even sold his beloved (but never running) 1977 Honda CB550 motorcycle to help finance his business (temporarily setting his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ambitions aside). His story was not unlike Olympian Clara Hughes–she sold her crappy car (a Pinto I think) for $700 to buy her first pair of speed skates.

Alistair is all passion, the kind of guy who would try to roast his own coffee beans, learn the art of beekeeping and/or soap making, and make his own jeans if he had time. He’s the real deal and his books are nifty. At MacLellan & Baetz Publishing House, “Making notebooks in a garage in Waterloo, Ontario is our life’s work. You can fill them with yours.”

Tune up Their iTunes With Madison Violet

madison violet

Madison Violet has been the soundtrack of our love life—and they could be yours too. We became groupies early on (in the late 1990s even, back when they were Mad Violet and playing at bookstores in the likes of Dunnville, Ontario). Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are a Juno-nominated powerhouse duo that have moved smooth as pudding from folk and fiddle to Euro pop and a distinct David Byrne meets Kate Bush meets Duran Duran electro feel. Not to be superficial, but, it also helps that they are foxy and girl-next-door-ish.

We routinely recruit cult members to their sound and concerts—some of which we’ve carried their precious cargo (guitars!) back from (i.e. Grenada to YYZ). I check out their tour schedule and send demanding emails to friends in Prince Edward Island and Tennessee and Vancouver Island to make the pilgrimage. We love them so much we flew to Le Petit Phare Bleu in Grenada to see them perform on a barge with dozens of fan-loaded dinghies lashed together at 12 degrees north latitude. Don’t miss them this April back in the Spice Island. Until then, check out their latest CD release, These Ships.

Intelligent Camping for the Lumbersexuals in Your Life


One of our favourite sleeps this year was at the Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery in Prince Edward County. The founders, Jens and Inge, are like shook-up champagne. They’re all energy, vision and the kind of people who convince you to chase down your own dreams and make them real. Their passport stamps are enviable, and it was the Four Rivers Floating Lodge in Koh Kong, Cambodia that really put the spell on them. They knew they could create something gobsmacking too—and they chose the County and a return to the frontier life.

Before you bark about the price, how much would you pay for solitude? What’s your price tag for an original experience, frying just-laid eggs in a cast iron pan, tending to the embers of a fire that unleashed so much conversation that life had been just too busy to share? Did I mention the intensely hot open-sky shower and King bed? If you’ve grown tired of the stiff back and soggy sleeping bags of traditional camping—this is the intelligent upgrade. Jens and Inge have also planted a massive garden where you are welcome to pluck some cilantro, red leaf lettuce, veg, dill—whatever is at the ready. North Beach Provincial Park is an easy stroll away if you dare leave the fairy-tale woods. In the very near future, the hops Jens has planted will be the source of the on-site brewery the couple has planned. Be part of the dream early-on. Just pack your marshmallows and daydreams and romance 101 is waiting for you. If you want to give a true “experience” gift, this is it. A night in the woods at Fronterra.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a donkey?


Nothing says I love you like a donkey. Since 1992, the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada has been a refuge for neglected and abandoned donkeys, mules and hinnies. To visit the 100 acre sanctuary is like putting your heart in a fondue pot. Which donkey you fall in love with is personal—you can read their profiles on line (each a heart crunching story) or actually visit the Guelph location and give them a good groom and nuzzle before deciding. For $50 you can become a guardian for a year. You can donate money towards specific needed products like fly masks, herbal supplements or pitchforks. Kim and I had a crush on Peter (his bangs!) and Sadie and became guardians. My mom swooned for Trooper and adopted him in a heartbeat. Which donkey will you give some festive love to? Find your donkey sweetheart now!

Make your gift-giving thoughtful, intelligent, creative and supportive this year.


If all else fails blend a dozen egg yolks, a carton of cream and a cup of sugar in your non-$959.00, non-copper, non-Kitchen Aid mixer. Add Mount Gay rum as family drama or (hopefully) merriment requires. Play A Jann Arden Christmas. Repeat both.

Best prescription: Watch Love Actually. Love the one you’re with.

Falalalala, heehaw, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa to you and yours and theirs.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adventures in Self-Publishing: How “Forget Me Not” Almost Wasn’t

A few days ago I was ready to launch my laptop into the river behind our house. Though, given my track record as a soccer player, and track runner, this would have been a dangerous outburst. Ask Kim. She’s witnessed my walnut-chucking skills. I think I used to be able to throw a baseball—but, somehow over the years I’ve forgotten about that all-too-important release time. I am now famous for my inadvertent backwards throws (No! Not the 150-year-old windows!) or, completely sideways tosses (cover your teeth!). Besides, there’s a six foot flood wall back there and I imagined the laptop simply bouncing off the wall and knocking me or my teeth out.

A few weeks ago there was a general rumbling underfoot. I felt the need to be proactive about a story I wrote back in 2009. I had just let it sit. It’s sat at four different addresses now, in the same box. Once upon a time it was even easily found on the desktop of my computer. However, that desktop is still in Abbotsford, BC and I was ready to throw that desktop into the ravine behind the house there, way back when.

An unspecified ex-girlfriend of mine, not yet exed, had randomly decided to download/upload/shitload our desktop with a new program called Open Office because she loathed Microsoft Word.  An IT-savvy co-worker came home with her after work one unsuspecting day and installed Open Office. It corrupted every single Word file I had saved to the desktop. Which, included the manuscript for “Forget Me Not.”

What’s the big deal, right? I had everything backed up on a jump or disc, right? Of course I did. But, the Open Office didn’t recognize Word anymore. The memory stick that I had trusted my manuscript to suddenly had a malware worm, or something to that effect.

Of course I had the story printed a la hard copy, and, in the end, I re-typed all of it, just like the olden days to the .odt files which are a nightmare to format.

Oh, yeah, and all the formatting was corrupted.

So, flash forward to present day. In fact, Monday of this very week. I sat down to the self-publishing software as I have been on my recent days off. I was hopped up on Nicaraguan coffee from Monigram’s and my attention span was unswervable. Except for the odd distraction of cueing up an Alison Moyet or Pet Shop Boys song.

The laptop, circa 2008, froze. The blurb program and my story appeared a hundred times on the screen, like a terrible kaleidoscope of what was to come. I couldn’t close or open anything, not even with the Ctrl+Alt+Delete trick that I have grown to love.

I swore a few times at Rogers cable—surely they are to blame. We pay an extra $8 for a wi-fi modem that is no-fi most of the time. Rogers blamed the stone walls of our house. Surely, in a world of infrastructure, bricks and mortar, steel and skylines, a stone wall can’t be to blame.

Before this total freeze event I had been dealing with intermittent wi-fi. I was having African flashbacks. The connection was better in Uganda for crying out loud.

In the Congo, blogging with a sleeping chimp on my lap. How often does one get to say that?

In the Congo, blogging with a sleeping chimp on my lap. How often does one get to say that?

I had three more severe screen freezes while working on the blurb site, painstakingly transferring chapters the ol’ cut n’ paste way. Without disc, memory stick or the actual hard drive with the (*%%#$ Open Office files on it, I had to rely on Facebook.

Back in 2009, I took a schmaltzy workshop for $40 I think—it was a one-day “How to Write a Book in 40 Days” scheme. It sounded like a neat and tidy approach to novel-writing and the price was right. I had met an engaging woman (it was platonic, people) at a recent workshop led by the University of Fraser Valley writer-in-residence, Richard Van Camp. I think that one was about writing for children. Whether I was writing for 40 days or about 40 children, I needed some writerly inspiration and like-minded souls to commiserate with.

Johanne was the perfect candidate, and though the details are now sketchy, somehow we signed up for the 40 Day Novel Writing dealio.

The instructor had a sleazy car salesman vibe about him—how could he not? The likes of this workshop would make Margaret Atwood’s curls fall limp. I took the goods at face value and recognized that really, the workshop was just about commitment and setting a goal. Duh.

So, I did. And, I decided over a panzerotti (fettucini for Johanne) at some quasi-Italian joint in Abbotsford that I would do it. Johanne was keen on it to, when time permitted, and, certainly it wasn’t going to transpire the next day.

For me, I had to get going the next day. I figured 2,000 words a day would be a solid approach. I would post each daily installment to Facebook to keep my public commitment. I had no plot burbling in my head. I had no characters that had previously conversed in my mind. I had nothing but red-hot ambition.

Jann's book Falling Backwards is essential reading, in case you missed the memo.

Jann’s book Falling Backwards is essential reading, in case you missed the memo.


Somehow Jann Arden became involved. She wanted me to include God and a flask in the story. She figured that would be enough for a plot. In the end, it was. As I sat down to the computer the screechy kids next door started in on their incessant dolphin-like shrieks. They were new neighbours—and my god, the woman was operating a daycare. My total nightmare—and, the fuel for Forget Me Not.

I couldn’t believe my magnetic pull into the story and continuing with the 40 day stint. I didn’t waver—in fact, I could hardly stand being at my true work—then, at the Wild Orange Spa, massaging people all day. I must admit, there were several occasions where my right hand would leave a client’s body to jot down a plot idea before I lost it. Sometimes I wrote with my left hand, if need be.

I became quite obsessed with the story, totally unaware of where it was heading each day. I surprised myself and became so involved that I kept calling Mila, our white lab, “Millie,” who was one of my characters.

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I cranked the story out in less than 40 days. I did it in 29 because I was flying to Banff to visit my sister and my bro, Dax, was hooking up with us from Toronto. Writing 2,000 words in their company and downing martinis at the Saltlik after a day of snowshoeing Boom Lake wasn’t realistic.

And then the story sat. And sat. I’m not sure what I was waiting for—probably a knock on my door from an agent or a publisher, wondering if I had a manuscript to share.

The knock didn’t come so I had to make my own opportunity knocking moment. I warmed to the idea of self-publishing for the instant gratification it could bring. Two years ago I had pursued a similar venture—but only to create a gift for my parents. They had printed every single one of my blogs and had a stack of blog posts that threatened to fall through the wooden floors from the second level. I thought a book, with all those posts would be so much more manageable. The neat thing about the blurb Booksmart software is that you can upload your entire blog even without any techy smarts. But, all the pictures come with it. Which meant the book had to be printed in colour, ideally. Which meant that the book was glossy and a glossy price. $97 for the image wrap hardcover. $91.71 for the hardcover with the dustjacket. $83.71 for the softcover. These were just the base prices—no mark-up! I earned $0 profit, but it wasn’t about profit anyway.

Like I said, it was a one-off gift for my parents. Though I know my dear pal Heidi purchased one too. And, I have a copy for posterity as well.

So, esteemed blog readers, I persevered to make Forget Me Not more than a neglected story in a box. Even when, on this very Monday, my laptop froze again and, when I powered it down (my only choice), the computer actually let out a little scream. Really. And I held my breath for two minutes until the sucker re-started.

And then I swore a whole lot more because apparently, somewhere along the way, I downloaded a Disappearing Ink app. I lost over 12 chapters of the book to the internet ether.  Back to the cut and paste drawing board and re-loading all that was lost.

The font kept flipping from Georgia 9 (which I never used) to JohnHandy LET 22. Oh to have my favourite librarians, Dee and Linda, flanking me, as I did when I took that technical writing course at Douglas College in New Westminster back in 2007. Oh, to have any memory at all of style guides and how to set them.

Some of the text was clipped with the shuffle and blurb likes to format in grids, which means some dialogue gets pushed against the last. Many of the periods and other punctuation disappeared. And, editor’s apologies here—despite what I hope to be a thorough edit, I may have missed a few periods between glasses of wine–and hopefully you can overlook these minor blunders in my bolder attempt—to publish this book despite all technological odds.

The book has been uploaded and is now available on blurb for a paltry $20US. I think you’ll fall in love with Millie and Sheldon. I did.

Forget Me Not by Jules Torti

forget me not

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Your Summer Homework: 5 Must-Reads

Summer. Ahhhhhh + sigh x 10,000. It’s a collectively sacred time of unruly humidex, an inflated drinks-on-the-patio expense account and mass recreational reading under the sensational sun. There’s less guilt in slacking off, and wonderfully, everything smells like coconuts and burgers on the grill.

If you are dangerously “without book” (gasp), here are five titles that are still lingering in the recesses of my mind. They pair best with beach access and flip flops, cottage docks or, if all else fails, sticky TTC rides and midday coffee shop escapes.

Falling Backwards by Jann Arden

The thrill of a memoir is that it’s like tiptoeing into your kid sister’s bedroom and rifling through the greatest bits of her diary except, you’re allowed in on the open conversation! Eavesdropping on Jann Arden’s coming-of-age expose, you’ll find quintessential Jann—just as your heart feels too heavy for your rib cage, she will have you reading passages about bloated wieners in thermoses out loud between snorts to whoever is nearby. Her raw and unfiltered portrayal of the lonely and turbulent (but rewarding) road to rocker fame illuminates all that those in the spotlight sacrifice in pursuit of “making it.” Her Prairie childhood, at times idyllic under the great Albertan skies, is revisited with the sage wisdom of an evolved Jann. At fifty, her pithy insights on life, health and family ties are gently framed in her gratitude, humour and vulnerability.

My total dissection of Falling Backwards can be read here.

This Is How by Augusten Burroughs

If you read (or cheated and watched the movie) Running With Scissors, you will have a solid grasp on the quirky kaleidoscope vision Burroughs has when examining life. This is How is the anti-self-help book that will undoubtedly leave you with highlighter in hand, dog-earing chapters for affected friends. You will find familiarity in every page—either in yourself, a loved one or a friend.  Burroughs reflects on his own addictions and tragic periods of mourning dying partners with a clarity that is encouraging and realistic. He refuses to paint any situation pretty, and takes a cannonball into the deep end of the pool. His survival techniques will find naysayers, but he is quick to point out that he is not a maxima cum laude therapist. Burroughs has become an unfortunate expert due to a series of debilitating circumstances compounded by self-doubt, suicidal tendencies and profound loss. His matter-of-fact bar stool philosopher approach wins. You will find yourself nodding your head in agreement, and blush at recognition of yourself and your actions. This is How is a gritty tell-all: this is how to be thin, fat, say goodbye to a lover, ride an elevator and stop drinking. His simplicity and rare analysis of the human condition is outstanding.

More? Here’s the rave review I did for the sun on his sassy, brassy, no-guff, shut-up and listen solutions for life.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I thought it sounded so schmaltzy. I was standing in the New Releases section of Indigo at Bay & Bloor, scoffing at the Disney-fied idea of reading a book narrated by a dog. I skimmed the back cover and thought I’d read the first few pages. There was a dull roar about this book, and I hate to miss out on the dull roars. By paragraph five, I couldn’t even read the text because the tears in my eyes were at the threshold of doing the cheek-roll in public. I took a few deep breaths in the Travel section and proceeded to buy the book to read in the privacy of my own home. And oh, how I cried. Right from the get-go. Anyone who has loved a dog will feel a resounding connection with Enzo. There is no spoiler here, it’s clear that Enzo is dying. He says so, right at the beginning (cue tears). However, due to his extensive TV-watching, Enzo had learned via a National Geographic documentary that in Mongolia, when a dog dies, their reincarnated soul can return as a human. Enzo has been studiously observing human dialogue for this very moment. As a member of the Swift family, he has been painstakingly diligent in learning as much as he can about human communication and interaction for his next life. He is okay with dying because he can return as a human, which is his dream.  Enzo’s observations showcase the absurd and inexplicable life of humans. It’s a weeper. You’ll move from moments of rage to bottomless sadness for Enzo’s eagerness to be the best dog he can be for his beloved owner. Note: Definitely read at home. If you lost it during Marley & Me, this is the equivalent.

Why be happy when you can be normal? By Jeanette Winterson

I borrowed this book from my friend Keph, and had to do a pressure-read before she went to the UK. But, this was easy enough to accomplish, unlike The Winter Vault and Love in the Time of Cholera which I had to force-feed myself in the Congo. Winterson’s memoir unexpectedly made me drink more wine and seemed to drag me into a grey skies field of clotted thinking. Which, is powerful for a writer to do. What impressed me the most was that she survived! Winterson digs into a childhood that is not all lollipops and sunshine. If you read Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle you will draw a similar comparison in survival. What propelled Winterson to bother go on living at all under such oppression and fatiguing family misery is a mystery. Her writing is smooth and punchy with dialogue that pokes that “just-one-more-page” obsession.  Adopted by over-the-top Pentecostal parents in a non-descript industrial American town, Winterson’s attempt to be happy, and maybe normal, but very gay, is harrowing and nearly defeating under the disapproving gaze of the fiercely damaging Mrs. Winterson. The eventual search for her birth mother is an emotional quagmire. In the end, Jeanette Winterson’s writing is her stronghold, and we are lucky as readers to be privy to that.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Yes, this is an oldie (2002), but, I resisted reading it for a decade apparently. The initial pages are a nightmare. Growing up in southwestern Ontario when Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy went missing, stories of kidnappings make me uncomfortable to the point of being ill. In grade 12 I remember playing soccer in St. Catharines, Ontario, and the home team gathering in a circle to say a prayer for Kristen before the game. The Lovely Bones begins with 14-year-old Susie Salmon being violently raped and murdered. It’s horrific and disturbing, but Sebold’s writing is powerful enough to engage us in the complex afterlife she has designed for Susie. Choosing Susie as the narrator we are shown the flipside of mourning and her disjointed loss. We are comforted when Susie meets Frannie, her spiritual guide and then moved to extreme rage when George Harvey, her murderer, is overlooked as a suspect, again. Sebold tackles an upsetting plot with a surreal and gentle touch that outlines how precious life is, and how an ordinary day can split the matrix of a family forever.

Up next?

I’m reading Marnie McBean’s The Power of More which I’ll be reviewing pre-Olympic fever for The Vancouver Sun in August. Stay tuned! Sneak preview: It’s like verbal Red Bull. If you’re feeling lacklustre in your job, relationship, sport and/or life, an instant energy infusion can be found here.

Other summer reads on my list:

Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller (I’m a sucker for anything Africa, especially a memoir. Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go To the Dog’s Tonight was a stand-out).

The Red House by Mark Haddon (loved A Spot of Bother AND The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in equal amounts): A week in the English countryside with an estranged sister, a willful stepdaughter, remarriage and what I can only imagine to be an impressive display of family fireworks!

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: The hook? The book jacket talks about Lawson’s zany father, a taxidermist, and how she grew up with a freezer full of dead animals. I felt immediately connected. My mother had similar aspirations. How many times did my sister open the plastic tub of what was once rocky road ice cream only to find a very dead cardinal? This one’s going to be good.

And you? What are you reading? What’s on your summer hit list?

Categories: On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jann Arden and the Dog Whistle Blower

photo credit: Sue Sortino

photo credit: Sue Sortino

On Sunday, every Canadian news source was belching out the story of Jann Arden getting sidetracked by VIA Rail for inadvertently boarding a train in Toronto with her ever-present Morkie in tow. Midi, her darling four pound dog became a weighty issue when noticed by a policy watchdog VIA employee en route to Ottawa. After several sightings by other staff members, Arden was told by Mr. Dog Whistle Blower that commute-savvy Midi could be caged and ride the remainder of the trip in the baggage car, or, the illegal duo would have to disembark at the next station, Oshawa (commonly referred to as the ‘middle of nowhere’ by those who live somewhere. And, blog editor’s note: When you live in downtown Toronto, anything east or north of The Pie Shack on Queen East in The Beaches is outer space).

Clearly, VIA Rail has a pet peeve. If dogs were baggage, would they not come with handles already fastened on their backs for easier carrying? This is their policy (from

Only cats, dogs and small rodents are allowed aboard VIA trains. They must be carried in a rigid cage large enough for them to stand in and you must provide a padlock to keep it shut. Please be aware that baggage cars are often heated, but not air-conditioned, and so your pet may be exposed to high temperatures.

The GO Train is entirely on track and encouragingly progressive with their online policy:

We allow animals on board our trains and buses when they are in enclosed, secure containers that do not inconvenience other passengers. Containers are not needed for seeing-eye, hearing-ear, or special-needs dogs required by passengers for independent travel.

A passenger with disabilities needing a companion and/or a specially trained dog for assistance may bring either or both along free of charge. If you are bringing a companion for assistance, your GO ticket seller can endorse your single-ride or day pass as a “party ticket.” It will be marked so two people can ride with one ticket or pass.

And the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)?

Leashed pets or pets secured in an enclosed container are welcome to travel on the TTC during weekday off-peak periods – that is before 6:30 am; 10:00 am to 3:30 pm; after 7:00 pm. A Service Animal may accompany a passenger at any time.

We are living in an increasingly dog-centric world (hurray!), and the Fairmont Hotel chain knew they were barking up the right tree when they introduced their Very Important Pooch program and brought dog ambassadors on staff in 2009. The canine hotel residents are available for traveling dog-owners needing a fur and slobber fix, or for those wanting some extra security as they walk about an unfamiliar city. Check out Gracie, Mavis and their Fairmont colleagues–proud pooches who take up regal addresses in Vancouver, Tremblant, Kenya and Scotland.

If you are toting your own dog along in your travels, the Fairmont caters to your pal by providing gourmet dog treats prepped by the Executive Chef, pet-friendly walking maps of the city and a 5% donation from your room rate to local animal rescue teams. Go Fairmont!

Isn’t this how it should be? All of this pro-pet endorsement makes Sunday’s fiasco so trivial.

But ‘all of this’ is not really the point. It was the reaction and sour uproar that ensued on Twitter and Facebook by Jann Arden followers. The feed took on a vicious momentum with cross-armed Oshawa ambassadors cranky about Arden’s “middle of nowhere” tweet to all those allergic to dogs crying “shame!” to a very vocal camp who praised any dog’s company over the presence of crying, bratty children on trains. A bitter VIA rail Service Sucks coalition emerged alongside rattled VIA staff and a mysterious mass who decided this was all a narcissistic, fabricated publicity stunt for Jann Arden’s tour. Really?

Unfortunately, social media has become an easily accessed platform for destructive mouthing off and bullying. The virtual combat inertia continued when Arden wrote a genuine explanatory piece to the Ottawa Citizen titled “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” and posted it on her Jann Arden Official Facebook page. Last check? There were 262 comments, 84 shares and 464 likes. The thread read like a ping pong game between the parties jockeying for the last word.

Apparently Facebook and Twitter have become the hotbed venue for failed high school debating team dreams. Fans rallied with steely support while naysayers lashed out, demonstrating black belts in criticism. It was like a congregation of vultures, scavenging and nit-picking near skeletal remains. Etch-a-sketch minds with one-way thinking. One comment would shake them up and they’d start all over again, right back to the beginning.

Because Jann Arden said Oshawa was the ‘middle of nowhere.’

Because she accidentally took her dog on the train, unaware of VIA Rail’s ‘no pets in the passenger car’ policy.

Because she was human and upset to be left in an desolate parking lot with a looming performance in Ottawa that very night.

What has happened to us as a society? We have become such sorry suckers for celebrity fodder, our brains have become cotton candy. Remember the media storm over Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s haircut? Is the world really concerned that her “boyish” and “deviant” haircut is going to make her a lesbian? Better yet: Angelina’s secret plan is to turn Shiloh into a boy! Say it isn’t so!

The celebrity attack is embarrassing: leaked casket photos from Whitney Houston’s funeral, Lindsay Lohan’s hit and run details, audio of Demi Moore’s 911 call, did Ashely Judd have surgery? Dennis Quaid’s divorce details, and reports that Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds can’t stop cuddling and kissing on flight to L.A.


And it continues. In yesterday’s Toronto Star there was a cheeky Ode to Oshawa by Katie Daubs: “Mayor Henry’s 10 reasons to visit Jann Arden’s ‘middle of nowhere.’”

Who knew that Oshawa had so many ambassadors? I hope they all run for city council and proudly volunteer in their community. The Twitter and Facebook feed was rampant with rabid Oshawa fans, more concerned about their tarnished city reputation than by Midi taking a joyride on the train.

Reason #8 to visit Oshawa cited the University of Ontario Institute of Technology campus (who knew we even had a University of Ontario?), which is home to the world’s largest climatic wind tunnel. How have I not seen this?

And, apparently Mayor John Henry hands out Oh Henry! Bars as business cards. If only his last name were Crunchie or Bounty. Or whiskey.

I’m disappointed in our province and the corrosive commentary of the Twitter army. And that Jann didn’t get an invite for a wind tunnel tour or an Oh Henry! Bar.

But now, because of all this, we know that caged rodents are also permitted on VIA rail in the baggage area. And that Oshawa has “Tank Saturdays” where you can see live demonstrations of the largest collection of working antique military vehicles in the country.

Anyone want to take their rodent for a train ride to Oshawa this weekend?

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar, Things with Fur and Feathers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jann’s Frank Diary: A Review of Falling Backwards

Only Jann Arden can get away with repeatedly mentioning “vagina” and “retarded.”  Her just released memoir, Falling Backwards, is quintessentially Jann in 3D. Like her songs, it’s not all sunshine and cotton candy. Her book will seat readers on a see-saw that dips up and down between hyena-like laughter and the insidious penetration of bone-deep melancholy.

Red Smith said, “Writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed.” This is precisely what Arden has done, and it’s also what fans have come to expect from her brooding lyrics, pensive Facebook posts and pithy radio show commentary.

It appears as though God gifted her with humour as a coping mechanism for the turbulence she has endured in life’s landscape. Falling Backwards doesn’t gloss over the anxiousness of a child with a father on the periphery of alcoholism. Her brother Duray’s tangled teenage years with the police and eventual incarceration for murder are also openly dissected. Always the observer, Arden has culled all her triumphs and battles into an engaging read, always questioning her surroundings and how they’ve shaped her. Her memoir doesn’t swerve away from the uncomfortable, gritty bits. No, instead we are led headlong into the emotional quagmire to see that this is also a story of survival, ambition and forgiveness.

Her writing is like that of a celebrity nose-to-tail chef’s cooking style. Beyond all the choice cuts, the carcass is appropriately used too. Arden pulls in all our senses with her wit-licked descriptions of Brussels sprouts “tasting like dog farts and copper pennies.” She laments on Wagon Wheels: “they tasted like used sport socks.” The amusing account of her botched home perm was instantly communicated in the perm solution that “smelled like someone had thrown a cat on a fire.” And a visit to the pig barn down the road? “(Pigs) sound like babies being thrown down a well.”

Her bull’s eye description of a perfectly executed silent treatment? When you are able “to hear heartbeats and mice walking on snow.” When she is in elementary school, trying to hold an HB pencil “with walnut-sized hands” readers are immediately transported back to that relatable childhood, “through panes of glass, sunlit and clear.”

This is where Arden shines like a just-buffed hardwood floor. She brings together universal elements that any human can tangibly identify. Like sitting on heat vents on brisk winter mornings (okay, maybe only Canadians can identify with that). Or that kid in school who could turn their eyelids inside out (there’s always a token one!). Whether she’s looking for ditch strawberries, playing Yahtzee with Grandma Richards or stealing ‘good wood’ from her dad, it’s all familiar.

Her recollection of school lunches and discovering a bloated wiener in her Thermos has been the part I’ve read out loud to numerous friends. My mother tried the exact same trick, but shoved the bun in there too. The bun absorbed all the moisture and was like wet dough around a lukewarm wiener by noon. I won’t spoil Jann’s experience that involves a pencil (insert laugh reel here).

As a songwriter, Arden is skilled at trusting the economy of words. Songwriters can weave decade-long stories in three minutes, and her memoir achieves the same, moving at an escalating pace to just before she turns 30. In Falling Backwards, we trail behind her as she evolves from an accidental contortionist to a small-time arson. Should I mention her attempt to put gophers on Canada’s extinction list? I’m sure a few PETA supporters will be cross-armed and huffy reading this section, forgetting the innocence of kids and the great thrill of an archery set. That’s what you do as a snotty-nosed child. You kill things smaller than you, you poke out fish eyes with sticks, and you ride around on your bike on the hottest day of the year with a small turtle in your pocket. This is all normal and familiar kid fare.

There are bum worms removed with Scotch tape blended with saccharine tales of riding Snoopy the horse down to the river, and into the river. Or, in Jann-speak, when the horse is nowhere to be found, “following Snoopy’s nuggets, like Hansel and Gretel, but much more disgusting.”

Between “youth and its boundless, heartless atrocities” and the “horrible things that stick to the inside of your eyeballs,” we learn about her not-so-glamorous road to fame that forks and dead ends and U-turns when one least expects it. From babysitting for free beer  to salmon fishing for much needed cash and clarity, to siphoning gas from her mom’s car so  she can get her Pinto into town to make her first demo tape, there is great vulnerability and innocence in her path. When she gets slugged in the face while busking on a soggy day in Gastown, the punch is palpable.  How she found the drive to persevere is admirable.

Her pilgrimage to Vancouver, scratching out an existence in a crappy apartment (that was so hot “it could double as a Bikram yoga studio”) and boozing too much while trying to decipher life and its inertia becomes a career catalyst. All the hours spent surreptitiously playing her mom’s guitar, squirreled away in the basement, suddenly gain momentum.  She’s gonna make it.

Falling Backwards is not a how-I-became-a-rock-star memoir. It’s a beautiful glimpse into a Prairie childhood and emergence, viewed by anecdotal snapshots that begin with sitting on the toilet with the Readers’ Digest Expanding Your Word Power. With a mom who keeps the toilets so clean you could make Jell-o in them.

Falling Backwards is a memoir that genuinely showcases the heart, guts and bones of a remarkable woman with a contagious, inspiring spirit. What might normally be a fireside or barstool confession, is plainly spilled out into her pages. It’s not sensationalism. It’s raw human emotion. It’s about an era. It’s about a ‘job’ not defining your being. She introduces us to a family that could have easily unravelled, but held fast, and knit themselves closer together. It’s about awkward youth, mistakes and acceptance. Her words provide solace and gratitude for life’s journey.

And it’s bloody funny. It’s Jann as we expect her.

For more Jann:

Categories: On My Bookshelf | Tags: , | 3 Comments

It’s Not That Complicated

It’s not that complicated at all, actually.

I could guess with a 97% accuracy rate that the woman who was openly sobbing behind me in the dark theatre midway through It’s Complicated was/is clearly heartbroken. Probably teetering on a divorce, or longing for yesteryear and the ex that used to be the oh! But she was crying so hard (the kind where you can’t catch your breath without a gasp, like you’ve dove into a pool, skimmed the bottom and can’t make it to the surface fast enough). I was worried about her vulnerable state until I realized that we all came to see the movie for the same reason. To feel. Whatever the feeling might be, this is our universal connectedness.

I realized that the Sobbing Woman may have come to the movie seeking hope. Maybe she came to let herself cry in an acceptable place (even though she was crying in unacceptable parts of the movie).  We are conditioned to pull ourselves together and be pillars of the Earth, but perhaps Sobbing Woman has it right. Just cry your bloody eyes out so hard that eating popcorn feels like you’re swallowing gravel.

Yesterday, musician Staci Frenes posted this statement on Facebook: “Frost said poems start with a lump in the throat. I think songs do to—the ones worth writing, anyway.”

And bless the musicians that make the music allows us to feel and wallow in a swamp of satisfyingly depressing lyrics, guaranteed to pull out every tear.  And it’s so much easier to cry digitally now. Before, like in the 80s, you had to rewind that stupid Wham!  song and put your tears on hold as you fidgeted with the cassette player that would always rewind too far into the last song. And that last song would be an uppity Bananarama tune, which would totally kill the sad buzz.

When you think about it though, Frost and Frenes are both bang-on. The best memories of your life?  I bet they induce a lump in your throat. Poems, songs, pancake batter—they all need lumps to be memorable.  When I look back at 2009, it’s the lumps that dictate the best stories for me. And by best, I mean the moments that truly engaged my senses. The sensations, feelings, tastes, sounds and sights of 2009 that I remember with the most clarity are largely the lump-makers. Not because of sadness, but because they slammed my senses in an electrical way that can’t be rewired. And here they are, in no particular order:

The Best Feeling of 2009

When you meet a chimp for the first time, they are skeptical. It’s not like picking up a Cabbage Patch Kid. The chimps are sizing you up, and they have to warm to you before they reach a tentative hand in your direction. Even with the lure of warm milk and honey, whole bananas and strawberry yogurt—there’s a courting process to endure. Mikai was already latched to Chantal like Velcro, and the morning Chantal said I could go wake Mikai up, I was unsure if she would allow me to hold her. I folded the blanket back from her cage and as the sunlight filtered in, Mikai stirred. Her bright eyes opened, and as I unlocked the cage, she stood and reached for me. Her arms were outstretched and she pulled herself close to me, her arms tight around my neck. She yawned and inspected me (mostly my nostrils). When I smiled she ran her finger along my teeth and sighed. I had been accepted. I smoothed her upright hair and tugged her tiny t-shirt down as the mornings were so cold below the equator.  Mikai shivered a little and snuggled in closer. I stood there, stunned. I was in the Congo and holding an orphaned chimpanzee in my arms. Her diaper was full and wet and running down my clean t-shirt but I couldn’t care less. It was the best feeling of 2009, and possibly my life.

Best Sensation of 2009

I had always wondered about reflexology and thought the concept of all the body’s organs being mapped out on the bottom of our feet intriguing.  And so, I wandered along Dundas west, to Chinatown, sucking on a taro root bubble tea (because they’re good for the senses too). A client of mine had recommended a nameless place that was close to a bakery and a dim sum place. Which describes about three full blocks of Dundas west. I was to look for flourescent green footprints on the stairs, on the south side, east of Spadina. I found it almost immediately and bounded up the footprinted stairs.  I was served boiling hot tea that tasted like hamster shavings and told to place my feet in the wooden barrel with floating rose petals. I soaked, unaware of the pulverization that awaited me. Lisa had fingers like knives that perforated my bladder and gonads. But, despite the bouts of sheer agony, an overwhelming feeling of euphoria came with each pressure point. I let my copy of Toronto Life slide to the floor and examined the reflexology map on the wall. She pinpointed my sinuses and I could actually feel a nasal drip. When she touched on my right hip via my foot, I went to the moon. My bladder hot-spot made me think that I needed to schedule a tuck, the very next day. And then I fell asleep. I could feel Lisa’s hands and pressure points, but I was knocked out in a very bizarre reflexology coma. She shook me at the end of the treatment and asked if I had trouble sleeping. No, apparently I didn’t. Or maybe I wasn’t really sleeping when I thought I was. I walked out with new feet. They hummed and vibrated and my calves felt oxygenated. Definitely the best sensation of 2009.

Best Feeling of Elation of 2009

I’ve run seven or nine half-marathons. Maybe more. I lost track. I run six days a week, even when the cold threatens to crack my femurs, and the rain feels like needles against my exposed skin. I run against the wind chill that bites at my face, when there are heat advisories in effect, when there are smog alerts and when I have a head full of leftover champagne still bubbling inside. Like the Melissa Etheridge song (I Run For Life)—“I run for hope, I run to feel, I run for the truth, for all that is real.” (And also to keep myself from getting fat from my late-night steak and eggs habit.) Regardless of how many races I’ve run, I can easily intimidate myself into thinking that I will cramp up and collapse after the first mile. I register for a half-marathon and fret from that moment until the race is over.  This year I entered the Run For Water in Abbotsford, BC, just to see if I could still wing it. I do have intentions of running a full marathon (maybe that Great Wall of China one), and I have to periodically confirm that I still have the guts, gumption and cartilage to pull off 13 miles.

It was the hottest May 31st that Abbotsford had ever seen. I was saturated by the third mile, my iPod earphones were squeaking in my ears that were full of sweat. My shorts were already chafing my low back and I wondered why the hell I had subjected myself to such torture, again.  The route was scenic, but I had chills and probably should have been hooked up to an intravenous, but I carried on, buoyed by the likes of Pink, Jann Arden, Carole Pope, Anne Murray, The Killers and even Willie Nelson.

Elation comes in the last mile, when sweat is stinging your eyes like lemon juice and your lungs feel like they’re bleeding. When the heat off the pavement makes you want to throw up and your muscles are so spent they cramp as soon as you stop the running motion.  I reminded myself not to be so selfish, because I was running in support of a project that would provide clean drinking water to a village in Ethiopia. Surely I could run 13 miles for such a noble cause. I had just dumped 10  gallons of clean drinking water over my head—and there were humans who had never seen or tasted something so simple as clean water.

Elation. Finishing the race in 1:45:47. About 10 minutes off my personal best, set when I was much more svelte and regimented, but it wasn’t a race. It was for a greater cause than a personal best.

Greatest Heartbreaks of 2009

I watched a chimp die in the Congo. Ikia became the victim of a corrupt government that sloppily handled the extreme emergency of her situation. Officials hesitated on signing release documents and let critical decisions wait until Monday morning in hopes of finishing early on a Friday. Ikia arrived at the Lumbumbashi Airport, already in dire condition, dehydrated and malnourished, with no fight left in her. Poached from the wild jungles of Kalemi, she was sold for $200 US. She died less than 12 hours later at the J.A.C.K. sanctuary, unresponsive to the medical care she was given.

When I returned from the Congo, I was faced with an even greater heartbreak. Mila, my darling lab retriever was rapidly declining in health. She had been diagnosed with a cancer so invasive that it had enveloped her organs to the extent that surgery couldn’t be performed. Thoughts of lying with Mila in the grass, her stomach shaved and full of staples, still makes me ache. She was disoriented from painkillers, panting and anxious. The dog that I knew and loved, so full of life and puppy-like ways, was dying. I stroked her velvety ears and hoped she would just go quietly in her sleep.

I had already flown back to Toronto and learned through an email that Mila had to be put down. She had stopped eating. I had tears running down my neck. I still do when I think of her. But she comes to visit me in my dreams, and that reassures me that she is in a better place, full of ocean waves, pig’s ears and fat squirrels to chase.

Best Sounds of 2009

It will come as no surprise when I say Jann Arden’s Free was my repeat CD of 2009. When I moved back to Toronto, feeling like I was all bones, sinew and raw nerves, her songs did for me what It’s Complicated did for the Sobbing Woman.  I was feeling so much that I actually ran my Riverdale route one day with my earphones in and didn’t realize until I stopped running that I hadn’t turned my iPod on. That’s when you know your head is busy with white noise.

Sass Jordan released Dusk ‘til Dawn and “Awake” became my national anthem for October. And I’ll plug Carole Pope here too, even though Transcend was released in 2007, because her CD found a lot of airtime in 2009 too. “Edible Flower” is seductive, dangerous and makes me want to smoke cigarettes in bed.

The other best sound? The ferocious thunderstorms in Uganda that shook all of Entebbe in a frightening way. Lightning split Lake Victoria in such violent spikes in January. The thunder that followed made me feel like I was six all over again. But I had three dogs to shiver with—all of them piled on my single bed under the mosquito net.

The Best Things I Ate/Drank in 2009

Frog legs. Meatloaf sandwiches at Ted’s BBQ in Nashville. Heidi’s old-fashioned whiskey potion with Maker’s Mark, muddled cherries, oranges and brown sugar. Dolfin pink peppercorn dark chocolate. Le Gourmand chocolate chip walnut cookies every Saturday morning, chips still melted and gooey as I walk to the spa. Body Blitz Vitamin D shakes with banana and a bang of nutmeg. Bacon and cheese pancakes in Amsterdam after a month in the Congo.  Moules Frites at Spinnakers. Lamb burgers with Roquefort at the Rectory on Toronto Island. My mom’s Chex Mix. Ted Reader’s pulled pork and slaw cones. Mill Street Coffee Porter.  You know this list has no end, so I’ll stop here.

There are a lot of best feelings for 2009. And I didn’t even get to the books that moved me (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — Jonathan Foer, Still Alice— Lisa Genova, Holding Still For As Long As Possible—Zoe Whittall, The Glass Castle—Jeannette Walls, Then We Came to the End—Joshua Ferris). Or the movies (The Strength of Water, Hannah Free, Snowcake, 500 Days of Summer).

As 2010 opens before us like a broad wingspan, the best we can do is feel. Every day, feel something.  Expose your senses to something wonderful. “Let life happen to you. Life is in the right, always.” –Rilke

To read Ikia’s story–

My tribute to Mila–

Review of Jann Arden’s Free

Running Halfway–

Why the Congo?

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

Dog Whistles and Other Requirements

“A girl that can dog whistle.”

“One that can do crosswords.”

“Can sing harmony.”

Must play guitar.”

A random Friday night fireside chat in Nashville proved to be incredibly illuminating. What each of us found alluring in a partner was a fascinating glimpse into our customized concepts and unique demands of true love. Our answers came instantaneously, but I’ve never read a personals ad that blatantly asked for such skills.

MUST love dogs

 It’s a dirty pleasure, like licking Oreo cookie icing from the biscuit and leafing through the smudged copies of In Touch and Hello! at the grocery store. I love to read personals ads. Often, I am shocked at how cookie-cutter love-seekers are.  “I love candlelight dinners.” Well, duh. Who doesn’t? Maybe someone who worked a graveyard shift at a candle factory, or somebody allergic to paraffin wax, but, c’mon!

“I love nature and long walks on the beach.” Again, who doesn’t? Maybe an agoraphobic or an albino. And really, you are only looking for someone with brown eyes between the ages of 31-53? That’s your criteria? My friend Kelly Whittet says she’s just happy to find someone with two eyes.

Canada’s best comic, Elvira Kurt, did a bang-on sketch a few years ago about dating and love. She remarked that we spend more time looking for sunglasses than we do for our partners. If someone expresses interest in us, we are sucked in by an insurmountable magnetic force. The force convinces us that maybe this is the very last person on earth who will ever want us again.  Weeks later, the neat and tidy little Ikea life is set-up once again and yet another relationship is kick-started with cutesy pet-names and voluntary foot rubs.

But how do we keep the home fires burning when “psychologists report that the dizzying feeling of intense romantic love lasts only about 18 months to—at best—three years” (“How to Make Romance Last” by Helen Fisher, Oprah Magazine, December 2009).  Should we just commit to a three-year term, or narrow the window to 18 months to guarantee mutual happiness? Would that be so wrong? If everyone could agree to a condensed timeline, the honeymoon would never end.

In the same article, psychologist Marcel Zenter, PhD (University of Geneva), “found no particular combination of personality traits that leads to a sustained romance—with one exception: the ability to sustain your positive allusions.” So, if you maintain that your partner is sex-on-legs, clever, handy, brainy, funny and ideal for you in every way, extended bliss is yours.

Helen Fischer has seen this phenomenon, better known as “love blindness.” She watched a couple she knew from college days morph into bigger, lazier versions of their fit and fab college identities. But, to each other, they haven’t changed at all. Fischer thinks of this form of “self-deception” as a “gift from nature, enabling us to triumph over the rough spots and the changes in our relationships.”

So, love is blind and dumb?

In August I had lattes with my pal Kim. I told her that I had once read that the thing you love most about someone initially, is the quirk you end up loathing the most in the end. I’ve left a few people sleepless over this comment. But, I know from analyzing myself and my relationships, that by god, it’s true! Try it, you’ll be alarmed.

Kim wondered if we should become more or less tolerant of what we want in a partner with age. Should we refine our Must Possess lists to a very tight and impractical checklist—or open up the strict guidelines to welcome new possibilities? I knew a Serbian who loved a Croatian, so certainly a vegan could love a butcher? And do I really need a girlfriend who spells well? Why have two in the family? There’s always spellchecker, or me.

Dax would like a guy that reads, with an accent, who preferably owns a Great Dane. Is this too much to ask for? And, if I find a girl who can’t dog whistle and cringes at the thought of sleeping with lions while on safari in Botswana, should I give her the brush off? If she doesn’t love dogs in general, yes. My theory is that if you don’t like dogs, there has to be a serious underlying human defect that I don’t want to be associated with.

I want someone who will stop and pick earthworms off the sidewalk so they don’t get stepped on. A girl who will take that long walk on the beach and throw washed-up starfish back into the tide.  And I want a reader too—not just someone who can read my mind. Although that would be okay too. Someone who could read my mind perfectly would never, ever, under any circumstance, ask me to dance in public or sing karaoke.

When I was 16 I imagined I would be a hermit on a mountainside with a German pointer, a small garden with plum tomatoes, chives, elephant garlic—and an ocean view. (This is the year my mom gave me a dog-eared copy of How To Live On Nothing by Joan R. Shortney). I wanted, quite desperately, to be a three day paddle from civilization. I have similar fantasies now and again, but after reading Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer), the obvious message was “Happiness is best shared.”

The trouble with liking yourself as much as I do, is that you feel complete already. The Jerry Maguire compulsion to find someone to complete me somewhat vanished a few needier years ago. I am complete. But maybe I need a really funny and smart accessory who likes baked brie and chimpanzees as much as I do.

In Stratford this past fall, my mom elbowed me as we listened to our charming server describe the nose and legs of the chardonnay we ordered. When she stepped away from our table my mother suggested I needed someone like our server, “Someone nerdy and bookish.”

But do I want to date myself?

My problem is that I fall in love with people’s stories. Beyond dog whistles and somebody that can do a loon call with cupped hands, I am a sucker for a good bildungsroman. (Wiktionary definition: A coming-of-age tale tracing the spiritual, moral and psychological growth of a character from childhood to maturity.)

I wish all my friends would write autobiographies, but then I’d be in love with a lot of people at the same time. I guess it’s the vulnerability that I’m drawn to. The whispered secrets. The same rescuer in me that likes to save baby birds and abandoned dogs, likes to rescue stray girls too, the ones who haven’t been loved as they should be.

Jann Arden’s song “Everybody’s Broken,” would be the soundtrack for the movie of my life. On her website she writes: “We are all flawed. We are all broken. It’s hard to remember that we all have a story, that we all have a past, a present and an uncertain future. We all belong to each other. We are all in this mess together.”

I’m sure if I posted Jann’s song description as a personals ad, I’d have a line-up of heart-broken saps, the runts of the litter, the black sheep and the misunderstood—all wanting some unconditional love. But I’m thinking more along the lines of a gal with a few fractures—who had one “that got away,” but survived. A gal who isn’t jaded or bitter about love and thinks Love In the Time of Cholera could happen in this era too. (Just to prove those pesky psychologists who believe in three year bliss terms wrong). I need someone hopeful and happy with their lives, who still wishes on birthday candles, chicken wishbones and falling stars.

Rona Maynard blogged that “what passes for harmony in marriage, two hearts and mind in lockstep, is my notion of a snooze. Let’s hear it for the allure of difference!” In her post “How We Stayed Married For 39 Years,” she mentions a pair who have been together for 40 years—she  a Catholic who enjoys speaking to the dead, and he an “atheist with no truck for the other side.”

So, here’s your chance to weigh in. Should we ask for more than brown eyes and an age group? Do we marry our soulmate or look for a Catholic/Atheist– Butcher/Vegan-type union? Do we side with the psychologists and take on a lifetime of honeymooning?

Or do we let love sneak up on us as it usually does and just hold on to its promise for as long as we can?


“How We Stayed Married For 39 Years” by Rona Maynard—

For more of Jann Arden’s personal examination of Free and the intimate stories behind the lyrics–

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Please Do Not Disturb

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 310Where The Wild Things Are has given me emotional indigestion. The movie trailer indicated that “Inside all of us is hope,” but the movie left me feeling the weight of the world on my heart and tear ducts, not just my shoulders. Like midnight Chinese food and the electric headache that drinking a vanilla milkshake too fast can elicit, I felt an unusual distress in every part of me after seeing the film.

“I’m sooo sad!” Was the best I could come up when Dax and I walked out of the theatre equally stunned. We tried to pinpoint what stabbed us in the heart so accurately, but we were at a loss for words (compounded by a complete loss of appetite for post-movie martinis).

The opening scene with socially awkward 9-year-old Max Records sobbing after escaping his crushed igloo (collapsed by his older sister’s jerk-friends)was like swallowing an SOS pad. I had packed an illegal movie picnic for Dax and I as we had both hurried over to the Varsity after work. The gouda with fine herbs that I loved the night before felt like a choking hazard in my clenched throat. The sesame seed sticks were like shards of glass. The Boylan’s root beer set fire to everything else.

I can still see my primary school librarian, Mrs. Kuyvenhoven, in a pilly mauve cardigan and polyester pleated pants with eyes as big as eggs, reading Where The Wild Things Are to us as we sat, fidgeting on the carpeted floor of Mt. Pleasant school library. The moody front cover of the book is more of a standout in my memory than the plot, but the movie trailer and the whimsical similarity to The Neverending Story put it on my coveted must-see-at-the-theater list.  

Apparently the ‘monsters’ depicted in Maurice Sendak’s book were based on his Polish immigrant relatives who congregated in his childhood home for weekly dinners. Their choppy English and quirky mannerisms made them very monster-like to his younger self (Which I can relate to. We thought my grandmother was from Mars because she had such green and wormy varicose veins). Not so surprisingly, Sendak’s bibliography lists dozens of illustration credits as he spent his earlier years working as a children’s book artist before finding his niche in the writing world.

Director and screenwriter Spike Jonze, producer Tom Hanks  and co-scriptwriter Dave Eggers (What is the What, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) have been sculpting and breathing Where The Wild Things Are for six years. Filmed in Australia, the surreal escape into Max’s troubled headspace is a magnificent success in that it is so disturbing. Maybe it makes me think too much about all the rejected Max’s of the world.  How we repeatedly fail to acknowledge those who are craving mere snippets of attention and acceptance.

The on-screen ‘monsters’ are easily recognized as lonely, broken depictions of humans. They are misunderstood and as uncomfortable as pimply teenagers.  They want a king who will lead them away their sadness and simultaneously Max finds a place where he is wanted and needed. He finds solace in Carol (James Gandolfini) and discovers his voice and assertiveness as he is challenged by KW, Ira, Douglas and Alexander (the Wild Things). The monsters, despite their behemoth size, fangs, horns and affection for eating children, are as sensitive as an albino’s bare arms in the July sun.

As an outsider, Max is finally able to see and recognize his own family, and how they are no different from the Wild Things. The gloomy forest and vast sand dunes of Max’s domain are forever changed as he infiltrates the Wild Things and learns the dynamics and heartbreak that have internally collapsed his friend, Carol. The movie is like an illumination of Jann Arden’s lyrics to “Everybody’s Broken.” Whether “everybody hates Billy Wolfe ‘cause he doesn’t look the way they do”  or Clara Marie who’s eighty-five years old when she’s taken from her home. “To her little white room with a cup and a spoon and the dress that she had on/Nobody came they’ve forgotten her name it’s like she disappeared.”

Everybody is broken and wants to be thought of in that irreplaceable way, and the Wild Things that Max befriends were as familiar to me as they will be to you. It’s like we keep meeting the same people  over and over again in our lives. The Painfully Awkward one, the Funny one, the Quiet and Brooding one, the Overcompensating one, the Annoying one, the Hurting one. And what do we learn? Our heartbreaks are the same. Our tears, strife and struggle are all the same. Billy Wolfe, Clara Marie, Carol, Max—we know them by different names, maybe we have even been them.

But I still walked away from the movie with a boomerang in my throat. And this is the finest example of brilliance by a director. When a film can penetrate and disturb us, lingering for days, weeks and months, like a lover’s embrace—it has fulfilled its purpose. Songs often do this to us, but when there is a powerful visual, like the pained expression of Carol when he learns that the sun might be dying in the sky, it sticks and stains us.


Ten day old cub at the Lubumbashi Zoo, Congo.

Think of the image that is instantly conjured up with the YouTube link for “Christian the Lion” and his reunion with John Rendall and Ace Berg. (In 1969 they bought the lion cub from Harrod’s and the local vicar allowed Christian to exercise on the church grounds. When he became too big for their flat, it was decided that Christian should be reintroduced to Africa.) By now, you are already picturing the lion approaching Rendall and Berg with undeniable recognition on his face–and the footage of Christian bear-hugging the two men in the remarkable hello that follows. This is how Where the Wild Things Are will attach itself to you. Carol running across the dunes towards Max in the boat, whimpering and sobbing, is the Christian the lion reunion all over again.

 The lion reunion hits the same susceptible nerves and leaves me with tears racing down my neck all the way to my collarbone. It alarms me a bit that the same footage can make me so blithery and marshmallow-like each and every time.  What does it all mean? I guess that we want to be remembered, and needed. Even when we have to let go and leave behind the kingdoms that we have built to find our feet again when it seems like only quicksand surrounds us.

When you see the final (sob-alert) scene of the Wild Things on the beach, you will understand. And maybe you will stop to ask Billy Wolfe or Clara Marie if they’re doing okay.  No one should be lonely in this world, and I think it took a few monsters to remind me of that.

Tell me what you think.

Where The Wild Things Are (trailer, soundtrack and other cool things)–

The guaranteed-to-make-you-cry lion reunion on The View—

There are probably wild things here.

Categories: Flicks and Muzak | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jann Arden Attacks the Architecture of the Human Heart

I like things that are reliable, like the threadbare comfort of my Sevens jeans, Starbucks skim lattes and a dog’s love. Meryl Streep movies come with an unspoken guarantee too—it’s gonna be gripping and as raw as ceviche.

And when Jann Arden releases a new CD, I expect it’s going to be high-wattage. The lyrics are going to have an injection of unbearable sadness and resonate in my waking hours and sleep. I know that I will fall under the spell that is her voice because her haunting words are a demolition team that attack the fragile architecture of the human heart.

We know her talent is ethereal and that her vocal cords mimic yoga positions. But her true gift is the ability to write songs that everyone can identify with and sob over. Genderless, ageless, timeless—her songs become national anthems for break-ups and the soundtracks for our memories.

Jann’s new CD, Free, captures the sense of wonder that unexpectedly smacks us when we see doves take to the sky, when shooting stars spike through the dark of night and when freefall divers split gravity in two. Free. The freedom is palpable and instantly captured in the imagery of having “one last hurrah on the old tire swing,” in “Daughter Down.”

Jann Arden bleeds beauty. “All The Days” is the track that hits me like baseball bat in the ribs every time. “And all the days will wrap around our fingers /They’ll hang around our hearts like bits of stars/ And all the tears we counted all the memories that we thought would linger disappear/ oh, they disappear.” I’ve decided, at the end of my days, I want “All The Days.” (And no silly flowers, just generous donations to my chimps and all the cats and dogs waiting for their forever homes).

“All The Days” instantly hit number one on my “Crying Tears Down My Neck” list. “Wind Beneath My Wings” was kicked to the curb with “When You Say Nothing At All” (Allison Krauss) and the Indigo Girls “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” See ya later “Your Song,” that one can’t even make me sniffle anymore.

It will come as no surprise that I love well-crafted stories and song lyrics that are as layered as Jennifer Aniston’s hair. I read the liner notes of Free before I even listened to the CD.  I loved “Everybody’s Broken” before I heard it because of Clara-Marie. “Eighty-five years she’s been living right here when they took her from her home/To her little white room with a cup and a spoon and the dress that she had on/Nobody came they’ve forgotten her name it’s like she disappeared.”

Those words don’t even need to be sung. There is no need for violas, guitars, bonjirs or mandolas. They are powerful in tandem with Jann’s  voice, but I am already moved by the fragility of Billy Wolfe and Clara-Marie, and her mother making pink lemonade.

The tracks “You Are Everything,” “Away” and “Yeah You” are the love letters that we all hope to receive. Letters that would be re-read until memorized and re-folded until the ink blurred and the paper deteriorated. Letters that are hidden in secret places to be rediscovered later as the treasures that they are.

You’re the galaxy/A better part of me/And there is nothing that is bigger than the two of us.” Who doesn’t want to hear that? No thanks to the pretty blue Tiffany box, no to the Godiva chocolate and any other foolish romantic notions—but words like that? You’re the galaxy? And to think Renee Zwelleger had Tom Cruise at “hello” in Jerry Maguire. I have higher expectations than “hello.” I want “you are everything that’s good about the universe.” Or better yet—“you are everything you dream of when you’re nine years old.”

Wow. Why buy Hallmark cards anymore? Just send a few lines from “You Are Everything,” and the wooing will be done and the wedding dress bought online in the same night.

Free is versatile–suitable for a big breakdown cry when your eyes are as pink as cotton candy and you’re so dehydrated you can’t even make tears anymore. Free illustrates what love should be –flying kites and shooting stars. It demonstrates the invincible bulletproof quality of true love that conquers geography, worry, naysayers and the world. Free reminds us of those we may have forgotten in our own selfish pursuits—like Clara-Marie and Billy Wolfe. We all know them.

Today Free played a part of our daily lives: intimate moments, lonely hours, crossed arms, shared glasses of wine, comfortable silences, foot massages, first kisses, cold pizza, camembert tarte tatin, braised short ribs with porcini mushroom stew, corn chips, gridlock on the 401, a slow dance in front of the fire, proposals, sweaty work-outs, yelling neighbours, purring cats, barking dogs, daydreaming, uncertainty, tears. Already the songs on Free have infiltrated our lives and will continue to weave their way into many faces, loves, celebrations and devastations over the years, just as Jann’s other songs reliably have.

I’ve run with Jann everywhere. Sloppy trails in BC and Banff, in half-marathons with cramping quads, behind runners supporting Terry Fox and those who survived cancer, along the dusty roads of Uganda, Panama, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Amsterdam…she’s followed  me all over the world.

Like the wind and the sun, we have Jann Arden’s music at our backs as well. Her songs are the best told stories, with words that stabilize our memories like quick-set cement.

Thank you, Jann, for the grace and essence that is you. And for sharing that Titanic talent with us.

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Wild Women | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Crazy for SHeDAISY


Once upon a time, I thought country music was what they played to lab mice to see if they would eat each other due to the anxiety and aggression the music caused. Close friends often tried to put me in a country music coma with the likes of Terri Clark, Vince Gill and other cowboy-hatted folk. I slightly warmed to the Dixie Chicks after much resistance, appreciating the honky more than the tonk in honky tonk.

Then along came SHeDAISY, three intimidatingly beautiful sisters who know how to purr. If you were impressed by Shaye (Damhnait Doyle, Kim Stockwood, Tara MacLean), SHeDAISY kicks it up a few belt notches with beauty, verve and vocals that drip like sap from the maple trees in March.

In the last week, SHeDAISY posted tracks from A Story To Tell, the brand new album they are preparing to slam the world with, on MySpace. The samples have since been pulled, but the Nancy Drew sleuth in me says they might be offering more sneak peaks in the weeks to come. An amuse-bouche if you will– to lure you into to buying that story that they have to tell. It’s their first album of original tunes in four years, so it promises a fiery vitality.

Sharing the limelight is Jann Arden who finds time to be SHeDAISY’s producer and co-writer while riding the wave that is about to crest when her own new album is released this fall. Like the rare ambidextrous who are equally adept using their right or left appendages, Arden’s explosive talent allows her to slide from artistry in the form of painted works to shaping lyrics, to writing songs and books.

Both albums are going to be knock-out powerhouses. SHeDAISY is the perfect fuel for a roadtrip, with a sassy Thelma & Louise assertiveness behind their work and contagious lyrics. Arden’s album will reliably leave us ready to overdose and weep in public with her trademark haunting lyrics, but there is equilibrium in there. Buy both and visit all the chicks on Facebook, MySpace, and by god, they even twitter when bored!

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Wild Women | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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