Thursday, 17 May 2018

Obligatory Uplifting Summer Bullshit Post

I was informed that I haven't written for quite a while, and some people who think I have a gift for this are annoyed. So... this.

And if you are thinking that I'm starting to write this with no destination or even frankly, any point, you're correct. I'm winging this one.

Summer arrived last week, the day after it snowed. It was gone in a few hours, but it made a shy appearance, and today, the rain has finally stopped, bringing the sun with it. Birds are singing, people are out in droves, leaves are budding, blah blah blah blah summer bullshit. It's nice, it happens every year around this time, and we relish it. I'm already staring at my canoe.

This summer has new focus for me, I'll be in school for the first time in over 25 years by June. I'm getting my AZ licence and getting into a truck. This is a huge career change, I'm a graphic designer, pretty far removed from the open road. But I can't wait, this process has taken five months and a ton of paperwork, but it's now real, and I'm geeked to start. I had other plans this summer, I almost sold my house, so I've been working like a dog on it to get it ready for market, but a new career takes precedence. So I'll stay in my little basement apartment for a while longer yet. My new car also got pushed down the list of things to blow a ton of money on. I'll save the new Camaro for my congrats present to myself once I get a new gig driving somewhere.

Summer brings motivation. We're out of the doldrums of winter, the sun beckons, and renewed vigor and attitude have prevailed. So I'm working out. A lot. It feels great to get moving again as my energy levels have elevated me to a point of wanting more. Winter meant not wanting to do anything that didn't require a pillow and remote control. Now, I don't want to be anywhere but on my bike, on the drums, or in the gym. I turn 50 this year, and I'm not taking that kick in the teeth sitting down, (here we go with metaphors). I'm taking the bull by the horns and knocking that bugger down. As it is, I don't look my age at all, and I love it. Most people guess my age around late 30s. Sometimes I've not corrected them just for my own amusement or self-gratification. Other times I love seeing the looks on their faces when I tell them I've been around for a half century. I smile with the reactions. So why should I act it?

Age is a number, 50 is a bloody big one, and it scares me, so I'm refusing to accept it and go down without a fight. Summer is the key to that, getting outside and getting active is the only way to fight the onslaught of aging. I love seeing older folks out cycling, walking, playing ball in the park. At this point in our lives rebirth and rejuvenation is everything. Last week I went for a walk with my friend, and we passed a playground. She's 53, I'm 49, and it didn't fucking matter. We jumped on the swings, went down the slide a few times, climbed the monkey bars and tried to bump each other off the teeter totter. I'm sure there were kids looking at us like we invaded their space. I'm sure they were thinking 'what's with these old fuckers on OUR playground!' I'm sure they went home and complained to their parents, who in turn, went and played on the swings themselves.

Summer isn't all fun, working outside on a hot day is a bitch. I've got work to do around here and it's been pushed back, fuck it, it's playtime. We've all got a finite time on this pale blue dot, and for many they wasted their time here. Work, work, work. All work and no play makes Keith an asshole. So nope. In another month I'll be spending my summer in a classroom. For now, I spend my nights driving and my days daydreaming under a warm sun. It will have to end soon, so why not take advantage of it. Why not embrace your inner child and just enjoy life. 

I took some hits this past year and I've spent much of my time mired in my own negative thoughts and fears. Nobody is going to fix that for me, and nobody is going to fix your fears. However good it feels to let my hair down and see life's little spontaneous brilliance, I still have to keep grounded in the affairs that have kept me back, and fix them. We all do. But perspective is key. Maintain your negative mindset without creating a path forward is cowardly. Get yourself fixed the best way you can, take time to appreciate the little things and bigger things will follow. I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, same old positive enforcing bullshit. But frankly it's true. 

The rebirth outside has brought a rebirth inside.

In another month or so the summer will be old hat, again. As it does every year. But this year I'm not letting it get old. I'll be out on the water, camping, biking, walking, drinking, playing, enjoying. I'll be with my friends, and making new ones, I'll be spending a terrific day with people I love doing things I shouldn't. Because at some point adulting will happen again, and I'll have to be responsible, I'll have to fix things, pay bills, write tests, and answer for my silliness.

At some point, but not today.

Cheers.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Fear

At a certain point in our lives we become complacent. We become stagnant, and we make a decision to float along the river of life. Not paddling anymore, just riding the current. Our families are established, our careers are winding down the road, and we're just happy to spend the time we have with those we love and do the things that make us happy.

Then opportunity comes knocking. Or, as in my case, you force yourself to find the opportunity. That's where I find myself today. Sitting in my little apartment facing the prospect of my life completely changing at 49 years old. Not really any big deal if you consider my father was 49 when I was born, so his life changed radically at this age as well. I think my issue is that I'm slow to grab the paddle and change the course of the boat.

For the most part I like my life. I have a great degree of freedom, I'm not tied down, I have great friends and family, and I love the fact that I can do pretty much anything I want within reason. (and within my wallet). Don't get me wrong I do have responsibilities, but they don't control me the way they did when I spent 10 hours a day in a cubicle. Working for myself has several advantages and allows me the flexibility I have become accustomed to. But something is missing. Actually, a lot is missing.

I have three phone calls to make today. Phone calls that will change the course of the river and open new possibilities to me. But I'm afraid to make them. The phone sits in front of me as I type this, the numbers written on a small sheet of paper on the table. And I'm afraid to make the calls. Why? Am I too engrossed in this lifestyle I've become accustomed to? Am I afraid of change? Am I just lazy? I don't know. I do know that these three phone calls will each affect me, and the sum of those changes will add up to a completely new life for me if all pans out. 

This isn't the first time in my life I've stared at a phone. I've done many things in my life but at the end of the day there are things that remain constant; things that are a solid foundation of my existence. These phone calls will uproot those very foundations. I shouldn't be afraid of this, I should be exited. I should be eager to jump at new challenges and opportunities. 

The phone is still sitting there.

I know one thing that will come of these decisions is that someone close to me will not like them. Changes in my life will affect others, and of course that bothers me. But at the end of it all, this is my life. Nobody else can dictate to me what I do with it. Unless of course I decide on something ridiculous, then I'd expect the obvious intervention. That isn't the case here. I'm sure those affected will understand. Maybe that's another reason I haven't pulled the trigger? 

I'm not a jealous type. I see people doing what they want in life with lots of money and freedom, to that I say good for them. That being said, It does make me think there's no reason why anyone else can't do that as well, hence the phone calls. The phone calls I haven't made yet. I can do this, I just have to push past the self-imposed barriers and realize that I'm the one who will create this change. I'm the one who will initialize the butterfly affect. I'm the one who matters here.

Fear of the unknown is what keeps us from experiencing life to it's fullest. Many people thrive on this fear and embrace it. For the past few years I've evaded it. I think it's time to try again and just into the unknown waters.

I'm dialing now.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Parallel Epiphany

In the course of the past year and a half in this job I have met many interesting and unique people. Most of whom are just folks going about life in the best way they know, raising families, going to events, going out with friends, yadda yadda, standard issue people. Every once in a while though, someone comes across your path who makes you stop and take notice of life's intricacies and hard lessons. 

Tonight I met someone who was not only experiencing the things that test us in life, but completely paralleled my own experiences. The difference is she is just 45 days into that path, where I have almost six years under my belt. It was eerie to say the least.

I don't often write about this sort of thing but meeting her tonight sparked something in me. Something was strange and surreal about the whole experience. In the course of driving her home I met a younger female version of me. I didn't even get her name, and short of what I'm about to say here, I know nothing about her. I may not ever see her again, but she affected me. The tears she openly displayed let me see a window into her pain. 

She began by asking me questions about myself, as many customers do. Now I should preface this by admitting openly that I maintain pre-prepared lies, as many people ask me very personal questions I don't feel comfortable answering. Rather than 'none of your business', I make shit up. This started randomly enough but over the months I have almost invented a mirror life for the benefit of those who will (for the sake of alcohol) just keep asking anyway.

With this woman I kept the truths up front, as the questions were not unreasonable. What is my day job?  - Graphic Designer. Am I married? -Separated. Why do I do this? - I like meeting new people and I'm doing something positive and helpful. Standard fare. Likewise I always ask my customers standard questions; 'How was your night?' or, 'What kind of trouble were you guys causing this evening?' Most times the answers are positive and innocent, her response was one of pain and distress. Of course that changed the dynamic right there. 

This is when it got weird. In a good way weird. But weird.

She hates her job. She makes damn good money, been at it for 25 years, and hates it. She wants to leave. When she heard me talk about my leaving cubicle world six years ago and starting on my own she was almost jealous, I could hear her tone change, but I, as always remain positive about it. I don't see my departure from the work world as a bad thing, I'm doing what I want, when I want and that makes me happy. No clock, no meeting that should have been memos, no incompetent bosses, no broken down tech to deal with. Just me. Responsible for me and only me. 

This perked her up. 

More questions, about money, happiness, personal life, marriage. The more she inquired the more I could see the gears turning in her head, she wanted what I have, even at the expense of her income. 

"Are you happy with your decision?" I replied most certainly yes.
"No regrets?" I replied a few, but they were easily overcome in time. Of course, what is life without some manor of regret at some point. 
"Kids?" This is where I normally begin to lie. But not tonight. I told her I had two aged 17 and 22. 
"Married?" Separated after 21 years. 

Then she told me 45 days ago her husband left her after 21 years. And that her kids were aged 15 and 20. The more we talked on that short ride the more I could see she saw hope where none manifested before. She saw two things in me; first, our personal lives were almost a mirror, and secondly, I made the choice she is desperate to make. I pulled no punches with her, it wasn't easy, and still isn't. Everyday brings tough choices and decisions, everyday there is a certain degree of regret. Everyday is not like yesterday, that is a double edged sword, some days you don't want it to be, other days you long for the past.

There was a brief silence. She was still crying. She had spent the night at a friend's house trying to find answers to questions she hadn't asked. In the car with me she inadvertently asked all the right ones. When the ride was over and she was home, she got out of the car and grabbed me, insisting on a big hug. Again, I usually don't indulge that in my customers, but sometimes it's just the right thing to do.

I said good night and good luck, gave some obvious words of encouragement like, 'It's going to be tough, but the end result is well worth it', or something along that lines. I got into my partner's car and left. 

As we drove away I began thinking about her more, she said some things that were quite profound, but it was the parallels in our lives that strike me. She in embarking on a journey that I've already taken and I hope she succeeds. It was strange that I felt that way, after all she's just a customer, a first timer, and someone I may not ever encounter again, but her words and predicament resonated with me. I hope she came away from our talk with the same thoughts. 

She seemed genuinely uplifted by my own comments on the trip. On how I made such a drastic work-life change, on my own separation (at the same point I may add). She saw in me someone who had already experienced what she was going through and made it out the other side. I believe it gave her hope for a future, and that life changes, it evolves, and at some point in our lives we will take that road less travelled. The hug said it all. 

I hope I see her again so I can get an update. I'm curious how she fares. Lately I've seen many friends and family experience very difficult circumstances. My nice-guy mode kicks in and I want to help and I know in most cases I can't except to just be there for them to sound off. This woman tonight fits into that category but with one notable exception, I was a complete stranger telling her things that friends would share, and maybe that actually meant more to her. Even though I make a habit of telling my customers white lies, she got a massive dose of truth, and it really was hopeful. 

Many times we meet people in the course of our lives who pass through unnoticed, especially at work. Just people, just customers, just a path to a paycheque. Tonight I met someone who will resonate with me for a long time to come. Someone who made me realize that my own struggles in recent years have not been so unique at all, and that others go through this in their lives as well in their own ways. The similarities to our stories and hopes are striking, at least to me. 

Of all she asked one question stuck out - 'Are you happy'. And yes, I am. Life is worth living and enjoying. Shitty things will happen but we will get past them and in most cases move on. I hope I inspired her to see that. 

I hope I meet her again.

Cheers.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Summer's Swan Song

It's 80 degrees out. I can hear an ice cream truck in the distance, probably surrounded by children while parents dig for cash. People are cycling down the street lazily, just enjoying the sunshine, like I've done so many times this year. It's October 4th, and it's a beautiful summer day. 

It's the Swan Song for Summer 2017, and that makes me a little sad. You see, like any good Canadian, I hate winter. I absolutely abhore it. I hate shoveling snow, I hate getting stuck on unplowed roads, I hate the fact that the wind makes my face hurt. I hate having to put on three layers of clothes to check the mail. I hate everything about winter except for two things: Winter sports are cool, and the wasps are all fucking dead.

Short of that, nope.

It's time to start winterizing. We have to check our tires, put away the summer toys, check the furnace, pack up the hoses, all that crap. We have to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of hibernation. Or maybe that's just me. I'm not coming out til Spring if I can help it, but sadly I work outside, at night. So many of you love the season, enjoy it. I won't. 

This summer started off with grand plans as they usually do. I had a laundry list of things I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to get back into shape, travel, see a couple concerts, see some old friends, finish my house, (or at least make progress on unfinished projects), I wanted to learn more songs on the drums, buy a new bike, and actually ride it, and so much more.

Amazingly enough, I actually did most of these things this year. That's a first.

I bought my bike, and love riding it. I bought a canoe and through it in the water in Manitoulin Island a few times, I worked out more, I learned new songs, I worked on my house. For the first time in years I feel like I improved my life. Then other things happened. I met people, and I reconnected with others I've lost touch with. With all that happened this year, with all my forward motion this simple act of being a human being meant the most.

I had some very unexpected and happy times with some wonderful folks this summer. Funny as how I'd always imagined my mid-life years in complete solitude, like a monk in my basement with a drum kit. I hadn't counted on people bringing me such happiness. Long afternoons in the sunshine, cold drinks on a patio, walking on a beach barefoot, walking through the woods, all things I love but usually quite alone.

Camping happened a few times too. Soul food for me. There's nothing like the peace of a quiet night in the open air with a canopy of stars as my ceiling. When I get to that place all fear and anxiety leaves me. It's almost as if the air itself has cleansed me and fills me with hope, peace and pure happiness. Then of course I get into the beer and it goes fuzzy again.

I was awarded three new neighbours this summer. Three different homes in spitting distance changed hands, so this street was a flurry of moving vans and service trucks. They all seem nice enough people. One even insisted I keep a spare key to his new home. Trusting lad I think. When I heard my next door neighbour's home had been sold sight unseen by a Toronto family I was concerned, but they've turned out to be incredibly nice folks. But paying 1,300 a month in rent wasn't their game anymore.

My hope is that none of these new neighbours turn into the tinfoil hat-wearing lunatic that another neighbour has become. I've known her for half a dozen years now, and suddenly she's nuts. I feel for her, I know in her heart she's a good person, but wow, this was not her summer. I'm now finding myself heading the other direction when I see her coming.

Tragedy struck as well. This summer's flood directly affected one new friend, and it will be many months before she's out of the woods, I cried with her as we waded through the sludge that infested her home. Then she was injured in the midst of all that, she fell on a large scraper and needed many stitches in her butt. Kinda funny now writing it like that, but that night nobody was laughing. To the contrary there was a lot of tears wiped away. Progress has been made however, the wound is healing and the basement smells much better once the contractors were finished with it. 6,000 people in this city went through this mess, but I'm sure there was only one sutured posterior.

Like everyone else, she came through the trauma and I'm very happy I was there to help. The entire incident put a damper on an otherwise wonderful summer, but hey, shit happens. (that joke has been tossed around way too much since that day, sorry!)

When Spring comes we all become like bears emerging from their lairs, we peek outside and see if it's safe to come out. Then we dust off the summer toys, open our pools, pull out sandals and shorts and and put away the snow shovels. As the season winds down we find ourselves reversing the process. I'm trying to find my boots, and that just sucks.

Some love the season for all it brings, but my attitude toward it only get worse the older I get. Fuck winter. (except for Christmas). As I tuck my canoe in for the long cold months ahead I lament over what's to come. Til next year my friend; the water waits.

With all that summer's swan song brings, one thing it cannot take away from us, that's simply the friendships and memories that a wonderful season has created. Nothing takes those from us.

Cheers.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Manitoulin - Part 2

Edit note: Blogger for some reason will not allow me to upload pics to the post today. I may end up creating a photo blog of the trip when they get that fixed.

Travel tip: Always book passage. Up front. Don't be that guy that shows up at the dock and expects to get aboard, you know, like I did. So, now I know.

I was on the standby list to board the Chi Cheemaun, luckily first so I did get aboard. The ship has a set of moving decks that adjust depending on the height of vehicles below it. Basically, the more RVs board, the more the upper decks get squished. Less RVs=more deck height. I got lucky. Once on board I took the time to explore the ship and position myself for some cool photos. The trip across is one hour 45 minutes, the weather was calm and beautiful, the ship was crowded, and it had a bar. Perfect. As you're leaving Tobermory you're being passed by the glass bottom boats and speed boats tours to Flowerpot Island and the many shipwrecks that litter the area. You pass beautiful vistas and lighthouses that make up Fathom Five National Marine Reserve, and head to the open expanse of Lake Huron.

At no time on the crossing are you out of sight of land. The islands that dot the region separating Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay are numerous and quite large. Eventually the ship turns course to centre on the distant cell mast marking South Baymouth; the port of call for Manitoulin. When she docks, one striking fact emerges - the ship is about as long as the freakin' town itself. Welcome to Manitoulin Island, population 12,600.

Into the car in the belly of the ship, and eventually get spit out with the rest of them, I hit the highway north. The first part of the highway to Manitowaning is the same as the Bruce, large farms, lots of rocks, and a winding road. As you move farther into the island subtle differences in landscape become apparent, the hills roll a little more, the trees close in, civilization becomes sparse. Highway 6  has been recently rebuilt so its new blacktop makes you feel like you're anywhere else in Ontario. Then you turn off it.

The town of Manitowaning, (population 900) is my destination, about a 30 minute drive north. The town is cute. Really no other word for it. It has everything you'd expect, a bank, coffee shop, car garage, gun shop, LCBO, museum, book store and more. A couple motels offer refuge. It's located on Lake Manitou, one of the largest lakes on the island, so it also houses the SS Norisle, the previous incarnation of the Island's ferry. Currently under restoration in the harbour, where it has sat since it was taken out of service in 1974. 

Two minutes down the highway is Manitoulin Resort, my camp. Pulled in, checked in, found paradise, again.

I got to my site and began to set up camp, but one thing caught my eye; the sheer amount of rocks there. Everywhere. It was even hard to find a place to park the car without sitting on one that might puncture a tire. A few minutes of that and I had it figured out. My firewood was delivered in an ATV trailer a hour later, complete with kindling and old newspapers to get me started. Firewood delivery, that's classy. I wasn't lucky enough this time to get a waterside site, so my canoe was unloaded down by Lake Manitou, and safely stored against a tree. My city mindset kicked in, I almost locked it to the tree with my bike lock I brought along for just such a purpose, but I quickly realized where I was. Once I set up everything, I set out across the lake.

The water was just as incredible as the Bruce. Crystal clear, rocks visible all the way to the bottom, and masses of small mouth bass lazily floating by. I headed out to a small island in the lake; chosen as a first random target. On the way I took notice of a house on the lakeside, a couple of people sitting in Adirondack chairs on the lawn having an afternoon drink in the sun, in front of the house, lashed up to the dock was a small powerboat and his float plane. Yeah, he had a plane in front of his house. Welcome to Northern Ontario.

I arrived at my chosen target about a half hour later, I was really in no hurry, it was only a click or so away, but meh, I was on vacation, not in any hurry. I pulled the canoe up onto the rocks, sat down and stared out at what was one of the most beautiful vistas I'd ever seen. Peace and tranquility. The rocks were basically granite slabs that rose out of the lake to form this small island. Massive slabs gave way on both sides to small boulders, and on the landside, trees found root. What amazed me up here was that vegetation takes hold wherever it can and flourishes. Trees grow majestically out of what seems like solid rock. On the waterside, the boulders get continuously smaller until the fish take over. Again, they are plentiful and visible.

After a while in the sun it was time to head back. I paddled across leisurely, watching kids jumping off the campsite's diving platform and doing what kids do. One of them wanted me to give him a lift as I sailed by him. Sorry buddy, not today. I pulled the canoe onto shore and checked on a couple teenagers fishing, they reported catching 45 bass in a couple hours, one of which while he was telling me that. They through 41 of them back.

Dinner was steak and potatoes cooked over an open fire, with a beer. A roaring fire topped the day off. I settled back with a book and took advantage of the waning sunlight. Once the sun went down and the camp became quieter I took a walk back to the docks. There's something about a lake at night. I contemplated going out after dark as I did in Cape Croker, but this lake is enormous and unfamiliar. Something about that idea was uneasy to me.

So instead I looked up. 

The stars. Oh my Lord the stars.

The entire Milky Way in all her glory, right there in front of me, within the canopy of stars that you could almost reach out and touch. The sensation of seeing that was overwhelming. I'm a city boy, on a clear night if we see Venus and the Big Dipper it's a good night. Here, I couldn't pick either of those out for the vast expanse of constellations. I even saw a falling star. I laid down on the dock on my back, the water under me constantly moving it lazily. I laid there for a long time, maybe a half hour? Who knows, I wasn't watching a clock. Of all the memories I brought home with me seeing the Milky Way will stay with me longest. Of all the vistas I recorded on film, I wish I could have gotten that. But If you pull out any basic astronomy textbook and look at the Milky Way, you'll have seen what I had the chance to experience.

Back at camp my tent was calling. A long day, a good day. And I've got lots of Manitoulin left to experience before the week is out. Tomorrow it would be parts unknown.

Cheers.