Friday, March 25, 2011


Last night before sleep I remembered a room. Somewhere in Tokyo. Something to do with a ticket. An Air Canada office, overlooking a lake. Or a body of water at least, of that I am sure. Everything else, vague. Over a decade ago, I suppose. A minor change needed to be made so that I might be able to fly. I’m picturing green. The lobby’s colours. A deep, comforting green. Not the shade that a doctor would wear while excising some cancer. More the tone of some seaweed on an ocean’s wide floor. Exotic, almost. I remember sitting there. I remember that. Ticket in hand. Everything else, a blur. This memory saddened me a great deal, the same way in which one suddenly becomes full of odd grief while reading in passing of a stranger’s quick death. If I can remember its vibe, but not the details in full, then what good does that do me, and to what end is its aim?

At one point in my past that small room had some weight. Decisions would have to be made in between those four sheltered walls; the keys of a computer would go clickety-clack, with such rapid red force, that receptionist’s nails striking letters as a mason hits stone. My life had to be guided in that room. If that air ticket could not have been altered at all by her touch, the set paths of my course would have had to be broken. I don’t remember feeling nervous, but I do recall a sense of proportion being weighted, almost on scales. Is there anything worse than the slow pace of bureaucracy? Have a seat. We’ll be right with you. Won’t take a moment. Read a magazine, if you like. All of these dull remarks in an English that slants. The silence, full. Is there any more noise to be found than in a room lacking sound? The hum of the lights; the steps in the hall just outside the closed door; the soft snap of some gum in an overhead office. All of this, blaring. Everything had consequence.

Last night before sleep I remembered that room. Its function, perfunctory. All of that green, though. Soothing. Even if my purpose was bland, that room had some juice. I could have lived in that room, was what I thought. Not for a year, or even a month, but for a week, why not. Something to do with that dark green. Life so often evolves into gray’s oldest chum. A green such as that could lift me right up.

Drifting off, I realized that it didn’t bother me – that I couldn’t remember precisely my purpose for waiting. So what if the memory’s details had died? How many days as a whole have decided to exit my brain? This one over a decade ago has stayed in some nook of my head that is rarely swept clean. It could be one of those random days of my life that recurs like a fever one gets every year as each spring starts its swoon. Dear reader, do you, too, have memories like this one that linger half-empty? Do you wish you could crawl into their space and remember that self? Perhaps reading this post will prepare you for more – your old locker’s three digit combo, or the smell of the breath of the first person you kissed, or the sweet plume of winter on a crsip Christmas Eve from a stroll in your youth when a sung carol was king. (Do you sometimes wonder about those lips of that soul who you kissed long ago, that first brush with another? Hoping that she or he thinks of you too, during random moments at work, when the meeting drones on?) Memories emerge, don’t they. Ten years from now, or twenty, or if I’m lucky, fifty, I might still recollect that same random green room. It could act as my good-luck charm for sleep, my go-to embrace.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Where have you gone, Billy Joel? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Doesn't it? I do, anyways. Who else can make sense of this world in a way that will linger? That will allow us to sing of our horrors with a melodic fresh vibe? Only the Piano Man, who proclaimed with such verve that the fire in our lives was not lit from his flame.

Is WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE the oddest tune that's been written since all songs have been sung? A collection of names and events, linked only by eras. From the fifties to eighties, a miniature history of much that has come to define how we look at our lives.

Doesn't it? No? Am I the only one out there who wishes that all life and its options could be stripped down to a size that might fit into some song? Joel did it once; he can do it again. Think of it: decades of existence, encapsulated. Right there, in your mouth. You can lip-synch to those words and navigate down through decades. All within three minutes. A few generations' touchstones and highlights, aggressors and heroes. Beneath your tongue. Manageable. Some might argue that I love this small song because it brings back my youth. When life had a limit, three minutes and change. When history could all cram into a chorus, plus verses. When the world was as small as my own fragile hopes.

So, Billy. Please. I need someone like you to arise one more time and make life once again a song we can hum. How is one supposed to make sense of a phrase like 'Operation Odyssey Dawn'? Is that the name of a new album by BOSTON, or a military action designed to inspire a rising new day of sheer hopeful delusion? Who thinks of these slogans that align with our wars? I need Mr.Joel to make all this a ditty.

He left off with 'rock and roll the Cola Wars, I can't take it any more!' Yet he's still around, and has been, for the past two decades; he's taken it, endured, evolved. He needs to rhyme the Internet and September 11th and FACEBOOK and TWITTER; he must us give some sense that life is still just a jingle. Otherwise, I might be left with the notion that some things in our world are too large and opaque to squeeze into a single. And I'm not sure that I want to believe that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

HEART FELT: FOR PAPA (Lyman Roddick 1921-2011)

(Thinking of Uncle Lynn, Mum, Uncle Dale, Ted, Samantha, James, Leigh Ann, Faryn, family. And Nanny, of course.)

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, at my grandparents’ house on the boulevard in Fort Erie, I found a paperback copy of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE in a box of old books in the basement. This wasn’t the plain red edition that we all would read in high school; this was an older version, one that proclaimed on the cover the dangerous contents inside. Having read my fair share of Stephen King and Clive Barker, the odd profanity failed to frighten me much, but something else gave me pause: the book’s pristine condition. It looked like it had just emerged right from the Fifties through some sort of wormhole. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. After all, I had found it right there in my Papa’s small basement; he kept everything, from spare tools to old cans, and they always somehow looked more fresh than the newest of goods.

Once, when I was twenty, when they were living in Brockville, I helped my grandparents move down the road to a smaller new house. Another basement discovery – boxes of TIME magazines dating back to the thirties. Hundreds of them. Having cultivated my own collection of cardboard boxes full of a thousand and more plastic-bagged comics all throughout my childhood, I said to my Papa that his stack was quite cool. He answered: “You’re the only person who’s appreciated why I’ve kept them all these years!”

That wasn’t quite true. Papa was an eccentric, and we all knew it, even though his life at first look seemed so much like the men of his time. After growing up in small-town Ontario, he fought all over Europe during the Second World War, returning to Canada with his young British bride, inadvertently ensuring my own (and my mother, uncles, brother and cousins) very existence on earth. After retirement, instead of kicking back on the couch, he decided to build us all a new cottage; well into his seventies and eighties, he could be found climbing far up a tree that stretched straight into the sky. Even though in his sixties he’d suffered a spill from a ladder while working on the garage, I never worried he’d stumble or fall from the branch of a tree; anyone who would even attempt such a climb at his age must possess some kind of rare grace.

His opinions were many, and he let them be known. Cross-talk with his brother and children over dinnertime meals always reached a decibel higher than comfortable conversation suggested. There were usually all manner of new magazines and old books scattered throughout each room of the house, Canadian history and politics in particular, a favourite lament. Once, crashed out on my bed, I was flipping through the latest issue of Macleans’, ‘Canada’s Newsweekly’, and came across a particularly opinionated letter. When I saw that the writer was ‘Lyman Roddick, Brockville, Ontario,’ I did a genuine spit-take; even far away from the table, his voice could be heard. Indeed, when I first moved to Japan, before the internet slyly invaded our lives in impersonal ways, I used to receive care packages from him -- newspaper stories and clipped-out articles of interest that he thought I might like, some passages underlined in deep red, with a wry comment alongside.

I last saw him on the day before Christmas, in his small room in the Veteran’s Wing of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He sort of knew who I was. Time had taken him away from us. He was never the most demonstrative of men. When I was a child and even well into my teens, we always said hello and good-bye via a hardy handshake. At some point in our lives, a small shift in affection broke down certain walls, and on Christmas Eve I bid him farewell as I had done for a decade, with a short, heartfelt hug.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


In times of great loss, a huge gap must exist between what happens in life and the words that we use to describe these events -- those enormous horrors that rend us alive even as they strip down the small selves we take great pains to build up. All the familiar terms are employed to describe what we think are the wounds that we need to soothe, then embalm: ‘horrible’, ‘tragic’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘shocking’. The TV news anchors, blow-dried and tucked tight, repeat these dark words with a grim kind of relish, morose and dumbfounded, their visage of choice. We mirror their faces. Watch each report with a sigh and head shake. Again, we repeat: ‘terrible’ and ‘so sad’. Onscreen, a town is washed out in a sea of floating white cars, the odd house bobbing in place, a cartoon brought to life. Better, for us, to sigh and then moan; vocabulary tends to diminish such sights. How futile words now become when we’re faced with such truth! A mere linkage of sounds that we utter and mutter; a delusion – that they give adequate form to those feelings that live in our heart’s steady flutters. One might as well belch and then fart and proclaim such gas to be fire. All of it false, these esophogeal attempts at outlining a void.

Not that photos do better, though they certainly try. In TIME magazine, a young woman sits weeping, surrounded by remnants of life itself tossed asunder. All manner of objects, misshapen and bent, encircle her form as her face tells us voyeurs that life offers no hint of a justice for all. One could stare at this picture for days and find nothing that speaks of providential salvation. ‘Humanity’s pain at nature’s indifference’: This could be the bold-printed headline used to sell some more mags, for is nothing more pure than the media’s ravenous need to milk pain for its profit? If it all made us feel better, perhaps I’d be slightly less harsh. Yet we gorge on this display of artistic entrapment, grotesque and well-lit, another’s misery framed for maximum aesthetic pride. Does a secret cheer clap its hands when we witness such pain? I wish it were not so, but I suspect otherwise. Our own empathetic fresh sorrow somehow makes us feel human. We can be in a rut, but feel lifted by pain. Give me more news, shots, glimpses. Guilt that they are not me, that I am safe here, while they are dead there. I can now be aroused.

I retreat to my own sophistries to justify such confusion. Let’s imagine: There is a God up above who watched all this go down. He let it happen, essentially. Thousands are dead, lives dissipated, dissolved. Let’s be specific: A woman has lost her fiancĂ©e for good. Five, six years from now, she will love again. She might even feel again. Out of this union is born a small child. This girl will grow up to become that one gifted doctor who cures cancer for good. Millions will live because of her special gift. Had this tragedy not happened now, in our year of eleven, had her mother’s first love not let go of his life, she would have never been born. Still a notion.

Are twenty thousand lives lost at this moment worth the birth of this child? I wonder. It’s an argument I’ve used twice before in the past: the Holocaust, a necessity; September 11th, mandatory. Ludicrous at its strange core, and blasphemous to boot, but not having much of a faith to consider, I often lay awake in my night and consider a deity’s strange plans.

If we truly can’t know why these events must occur, then we must think of the means to allocate some dimension. Words fail to express anything more than dry comfort food; pictures stir our emotions, activate petty tears. If there must be some lord who looks down on this mess, I prefer to think that a plan is in place, that a baby exists, fifteen years in our future. This child is mere sperm and an egg not yet ripe. A woman has lost all she loves in this world; a nation is torn; nuclear threats hover high. Yet a baby’s fresh spirit is, even now, biding her time in some celestial womb. I can hear her soft confused cries. Not yet, I want to say, to soothe. Not yet. Soon enough you will arrive and destroy that disease that so needs to be gone. The world will rejoice. You will close a circle that began with a sea’s violent rumble.

Silly, I know. A strange kind of gamble, to believe that all this raw horror might give fruit to some joy. I suppose, at root, I can’t process reality. A child’s curse and great gift. An adult must focus on that which is concrete and frail. No time for outlandish odd wishes when life demands more.

And yet.

As a child, walking home from school, from my own certain pine grove, I would grab at the air to catch what we called ‘wishes’, those stray wisps of plant life that first floated, then spun. Do you remember those? Damn, I do. I haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time. Have you? Been even longer since I tried to grab one. Are they still out there? Hovering above all those uneven cracks in the earth? Even there? Especially there? If I should happen to see one of those odd angular shapes drifting through air in the bluest of skies, I will snatch it and hold it and wish, wish, wish.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


You can notice the change in the air when the bus makes its stop. The first stop. This is only ninety minutes or so outside of Baguio, but as you soon as you step down off the bus the air makes its move. Not so much a slap in the face; more of a dunk in the tub, quite sudden and shocking. You aren’t expecting this, even though you’ve been here before. The day always jumps you. Baguio at its best is warm but not hot, the air as fresh and as raw as my Canadian past in the first days of April, spring just being born, still eager and raw. Up there in the mountains, the clouds’ silky wisps kiss the peaks' frozen tips, and the air follows suit, a soft peck on your brow and your neck, refreshing and intimate. The bus is its mirror, a moving chill tomb. Why this has to be so, I always forget, in that roving trek down from the peaks to the valleys. By the time you hit the rest stop, the winding roads are now done, that circuitous descent giving way to flat roads. The air, too, is as smooth and as straight as a line stretching far. Not much character. Hot and thick. The country from here is the tropics in full. Every time I step off that bus to unkink my stiff legs, I’m surprised by the heat. It seems to shout out in its temperate voice: You’re alive, and you can come out of one mood and into another.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Probably my favourite moment in THE HANGOVER arrives when Ed Helms awakens after a night of epic Las Vegas partying and groggily takes note of a chicken wandering around his smooth mammoth suite. Such a small example of incongruous forces at play; there are, after all, few places in life where a live chicken feels right. A cognitive clash starts to ring its small bell at the back of our heads – these worlds should not mix, not the realms of a penthouse and the stride of a fowl. The five second (or so) scene is a harbinger of small sorts; surely what follows will feature even more odd intersections that cross the clear norms of what we hope our boundaries will be. It kind of sets up a buried theme of the flick, which might be: when we forget what we do, what’s done will come back. I don’t think they ever explained where that chicken came from, or how it got to be there in that room, but no matter – its mere presence was enough to ignite endless fires. And I’m here to testify that the film doesn’t lie.

The other day I came back into my room right after my run and had the fright of my life as a gift from some gods. A chicken’s soft cluck was enough to make small sounds with great pitch hurl straight from my lips. One doesn’t ever expect to find a common farm animal announce itself and its presence right there on your bed. Take it from me: THE HANGOVER’s filmmakers knew that a dissonant sight is enough to create a great panic. Chickens will do that.

It must have come through the window, which is always half-open, because I locked the door when I left only ninety minutes before. And it was not a total surprise, an inexplicable event, because there are always chickens wandering around near the house, living out their lives’ tiny span in unknowing dumb cheer. Still: To come into a room that you know is now empty and have a chicken instead as its sole occupant? Well. Obscenities might have been said. (Why the mind must reach and then grasp the worst words that one knows when in fear or great anger I’ll never quite get.) The chicken, too, seemed to blurt out its own kind of swear words. If I was scared, it was petrified; in situations like this, surely chicken-language must have its fall-back profanities. (If I’m wrong, and chickens, in fact, do not speak in grammatical phrases of their own special making, and instead are reduced to those gobbles that are indeed only gibberish, then I feel for them, those future hot wings and afternoon sandwich-bread fillers. What a way to move through life. Enunciating only sounds of pure nonsense that mean not a thing. Unlike us humans. Wait.)

You feel like a fool. An idiot, at best. Here you are, ostensibly an adult, a university graduate, respected pillar of a community (at least in your own mind), and you find yourself navigating the best way to remove from the bed a scared shitless chicken. If I had grown up on a farm, milking cows at first light, branding horses’ large hooves and feeding pigs their gross slop, a task such as this might be a chore and a bore. In my world that I’ve lived, it’s instead an example of life’s absurd turn of tides. One can plan, but existence will, without fail, at one time or the next, deliver a chicken for you to deal with, have a go, best of luck. Should I pick it up by its chest? Will it peck? Do chicken’s beaks draw blood right away? As I made a soft lunge it leaped up to the dresser and then onto the closet. Where it was stuck. Wouldn’t move. Terrified. After a few minutes I heard someone making clucking noises, which perplexed the bird more, and I realized that man was myself, and I thought: Good lord, I’m a knob.

Eventually, order prevailed. A chicken-expert arrived, and the bird was returned to its wild, not five feet from the house. How little it takes to disrupt our weak worlds! To access our dumb fears. I realized once again that life is a game that requires simple rules. Otherwise, some primal part of ourselves starts to whine ‘it’s all rigged!’ How can I contemplate Libya’s near ruin at all when I’m faced with a chicken camped out on my turf?

Certain worlds shouldn’t clash, but they do, all the time. At least we can restore our own orders with effort and time. Even a chicken’s wild flight must come to an end. The sky would not fall. Equilibrium can come to a disordered plane. That’s what I smugly believed as I sat down on my bed. I hadn’t yet noticed the light-pink oval egg perched right on top of my pillow.

Monday, March 07, 2011


Dustin Hoffman looks out through the glass at his Berkley so narrow. Everything that he seeks is contained in that gaze – Elaine, his future, his life as he wants it, framed in that view. As a film, THE GRADUATE is filled with a dozen shots such as this, perfect compositions that place us right there in its action. Each small moment is crafted as if life itself had some style, or a groove, or even simply a point, well-lit and soft-scored by a soundtrack that Simon and Garfunkel saw fit to give voice. At various points while watching this flick, I wanted to somehow physically find myself right there in those rooms, staring at each small window, drifting in that blue pool. Actually go there, I mean. Hunt down those filming locations, the spots where they shot. An odd obsession of mine, unfilled. (My fantasies tend to involve artforms brought to life – my life.)

Is there a medical term for this type of delusion? I have wandered inside the old stone of Japan’s ancient Buddha, and ascended the steps of Cambodia’s temples at Angkor, but I admit that the thrill was soft and quite dull when compared to the joy that I felt while entering the wide mouth of Camp White Pine’s paved parking lot, the filming location of Bill Murray’s MEATBALLS. Not far from a cottage in northern Ontario, where we leaped off the end of short docks and into our lives. A fifteen minute drive, the parents acquiescing to the kids’ whiny pleas. Around the resort, just cottages and tall trees, but there, to the right, the tennis courts where all those crazy hijinks ensued! And this path is the same one that Tripper and Rudy ran down as they trained for the young boy’s final race! Oh, the joy. To have stepped into that world, where film became life. If your own life as a child revolved around screens of wide silver, then ‘life’ as a notion needed celluloid in some form to feel tactile and real. For a few minutes, I felt that Bill Murray, camp counsellor, might somehow still be there, a raucous spirit at play, waiting for us to acknowledge his gags. I was convinced: The sweet joy of that film could be bottled and stored in my mind’s dusty basement, a firefly now trapped in a tight mental jar, if only I stayed long enough in that place, rewinding and playing all those scenes that had been filmed right there under my feet. But the filming had happened a long time ago, thirteen or fourteen years in the past, and I wasn’t the one driving. We had to go. Leaving Camp White Pine was its own small form of death. A quiet, easy exit into a kind of real world. Nothing from the past of the film was there any longer, no cast and no crew, no music or montage, and seeing the camp as it was struck a knife in my spine: I realized: This is all real; it’s the movie that’s fake.

Yet the true cinephile is a persistent strange dork, and understands that the ‘real’ world of our lives, and the ‘fake’ world of each film, must intersect at some point, a collision of collusion. Movies are, after all, made from the stuff of real life – buildings composed of hard concrete, vehicles formed of raw steel. There are remnants. Things left behind. By going to these places, standing where the actors once stood, one can link oneself to each film, insert one’s own soul into cinema. It’s almost a religious quest.

And I know I’m not alone. Scouring the net, one can find an ambitious young Canuck who has spent a day in L.A. visiting various locales from the first BACK TO THE FUTURE. Ah, now there’s a man after my own private heart! If I had my coin, I’d run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, practicing my Rocky Balboa quick jog. I’m convinced that I would find some teenage version of myself still preserved in those places, visible only to me, not hidden, but hiding.

Of course, I need not go that far. Right now, I’m in the Philippines, and weren’t PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW filmed right here in this green? And isn’t a jungle a suitable metaphor for the quest one must take to link life and the cinema? Perhaps someday soon I’ll slip on my backpack, slap some mosquito repellent on the base of my neck, and then wander away through these forests so thick still foreign, searching for my own form of Kurtz, that misunderstood madman whose own logic felt sound. I think he might even be waiting for me.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


A few weeks ago, I picked up copy of Walker Percy’s 1966 novel The Last Gentleman at a used bookshop here in Baguio, and just now, crashed out on the bed, idly reading, lazily turning the page, I came across a subway transfer receipt for Eglinton Station on the Yonge Subway line in Toronto, a line I used almost every weekend for four years while attending York University, a station I wandered through on probably more winter nights than I’d like to remember. (Is there a more lonely, windy, grimy example of life than a Toronto subway station in frost?) How many Canadians are here in this northern Philippines city? A handful, if that. The thousands of other Filipinos or expats who could have picked up this book would have overlooked this same ticket, crumpled it up straight away. Yet for me it’s a crude talisman, a link between worlds. Taking me out to another.

In secret, we think: All space and its sun revolves around us. Alone. As adults, as semi, sort of grown-ups, we tell ourselves that we are mature, reasonable, empathetic humans; we know that there are others, too, who orgasm and excrete at irregular intervals, but most of us believe that we alone are the world. How can we know what the other is thinking? We sneeze, fart, fondle, sigh. I cannot know how these acts feel for you. So we move through this life, estimating. Tangible touches, those approximate links. If I stroke your hair, tweak your nipple, smell your breath, I forget, for a time, my own beating heart. Yet humans are messy. Just give me some kind of memento to hold in my palm. A subway transfer will do.

I should keep them – all of those boarding passes and bus tickets that I find in old books. I should hoard them – these connections between strangers and countries that litter my tomes. That I throw away with indifference. Where is that person who casually stuck this faded white transfer between this book’s brittle pages? Is she taking a bath, or is he yelling at his hyper twin boys who won’t go on up to bed? Are they happy, miserable, content or confused? Did this book at one point give them what they needed so much? I would like a box of these random placeholders from paperback books. They might fill certain spaces.

Or, and this is reaching, but I’ll stretch nonetheless -- perhaps this paper transfer was mine, long ago, in my youth. It’s possible. I don’t remember reading The Last Gentleman at any point before now, but my university days began seventeen long years ago; I read a lot of books in those years, most now forgotten. Perhaps I clutched this book between frigid fingers on a February night in my just-started twenties. It might have kept me company as I rode out from North York to catch a show right downtown. If I’m not mistaken, Eglinton Station, was, for a time, the last subway stop that led to my school; at this final junction, I would have gone up the escalators, danced on two feet to fight away that fierce cold, and then hopped on a bus, fifteen minutes from there to my school and my dorm up the stairs. Casually, I’d have slipped this paper transfer between the book’s middlepages. After reading it, I might have given it away, to a used bookstore or friend. Forgotten about it. (After all, one has a lot to think about at age twenty-one.) Fifteen years later, and half a world in between, it comes back to me hardly touched, almost pristine. I hold it up to my nose. I smell it. I snort it like coke. It smells bland and indifferent. It could be anything. Belong to anyone. I want to weep. Someone before me, if not me, has used this thin strip to mark their place in some world. I hold it and rub it and wait for a genie. None comes, so I am left with its presence, its light weight in my palm.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


The month is now March, heralding the end of the ice, but the calendar insists on a warmth that is rare. Not for here; not for the Philippines. Where I come from, the Canadian winter is slowly deciding to call it a season, but this island I’m on never got with that program. Here in the north, it’s cool in the morning, cool in the night, with the random odd shower to liven the mood, but how cool can it be if t-shirts and shorts are the norm that I need? All the day long; all the year round. Something right out of a TV commercial, where ocean waves and ice tea conspire for my coin. A life where the sun’s yellow rays might be shrouded by clouds or gray skies, but exposed skin won’t freeze up after only two minutes. No silver clouds in small clusters breathed out from one’s lips. A steady stream of snot snorted up and then back, up and then back? Not here. Back home over Christmas I noticed my teeth chatter for what seemed like minutes on end, and this common facet of winter seemed rare, almost nostalgic in nature. Years since I’d felt my mouth go off in that manner. Chalk it up to the shock of the wind and the ice that gave form to my bend, greeting me with good cheer, a blunt form of face-smack. Welcome home, you’ve been missed!

Nature and nurture, indeed. Let the sociologists debate those two rigid poles of self-growth from which our minds might then sprout; a childhood in Canada offers other, more flexible angles of proof. Why don’t the academics consider the sound of a skate on the ice as it stops with a slice? You repeat that, over years, a dozen winters, let’s say, and you have an approach to the world that is clear and quite neat: The balance required to start and then halt on a frozen slick surface says more than enough about a life’s subtle needs. Or consider: the snow’s sudden melt. Spring as a bully, demanding some time. A thick sweater discarded, a thin coat your new sheath. Toques with small pom-poms replaced by a cap. Gloves stashed away in the drawer, your fingers now able to flex in the air. That first hint of warmth, when long pants are an excess. If you want to know how the human mind and its heart might react to life’s sway, a southern Ontario season could be a good start.

Now, I’m not even sure what season it is, which, believe me, is an odd place to be. Right here in my ‘fall’, the rain returned each day around three, for an hour’s shower and cleanse. Every few weeks, a typhoon might stop by for three days or four, cutting power, wreaking wrath. The skies would be dull and ash-dark for a good month or more. No winter to speak of, and now here in March summer starts in a month. I can’t figure it out. My body resists. Add to this confusion seven years in Japan (with bi-annual returns as I write), and two more in Cambodia, each nation chock full of dry and wet seasons and regional quirks that come complete with their own cliques of strong winds and deep deluges in circadian rhythm, and what do you have left? A Canadian, one who wonders, whether or not he can weather all this weather for much longer at all, this annual mishmash of seasons, this timepiece that ticks past each unbearable snowstorm and godawful rainfall, and yet each change of tide, I admit, does tend to wash in oddly shaped conks on the beach, ones that I still, more often than not, even after all of this time, dust off and inspect and hold close to my ear for what I might hear.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


The world as it is often seems too large to know. The endless depths of each ocean; a languid sprawl of rainforests; those arrogant mountain peaks, straining to scrape the sky’s blue-streaked wide bottom – each of these spans is a trap, a dead end’s final wall. Even the length of my room hides untold floorboard wood puzzles. If I can’t even guess how one brick of this house somehow mingles with mortar, what hope can I have to decipher the globe as it is?

Nevertheless, I scheme. I invent alternatives. I concoct scenarios, imaginary escapades whose fruition is doubtful, and so I blame the world as it is for their unlikely rate of success. Put it this way: I envision a day, not long from right now, when I will begin my strange quest to make all Earth my own. If life as it’s lived consists only of footsteps, left turns and backroads, quick strides and slow shuffles, then, given time and its minions, I might trod upon all the streets and byways that lead from this room to out there.

It’s simple, as most complex plans truly are. I leave my front door, knapsack on back, water bottle in hand. One foot lifts itself up, and the other soon follows suit. Repeat. Again. Repeat. Again. You’re with me, I know. It’s nothing alien to our human instincts. All travel consists of one motion, xeroxed. That being true, what remains consists solely of intent and time, in equal good measure. We have a limited number of hours to use; the routes that we choose thus must follow such limits. If we lived all of this life on red Mars or Uranus, or on one of those planets where each day wastes hour upon hour before night finds its groove, our travels would surely consist of less forms of small grief. Here, with the ground that we have, and the daylight that we lack, we must select where we go, to limit our fallout.

Even so, my mad endeavor’s true roots have a core of discernment. How can one decide that this place over here is truly worthy of us? There’s a vanity at play in each interlude of pure wander. We expect the location to give us ourselves in some way, a reflection of hope, some excitement or thrill. Something, at least. It does not exist for itself, but as our natural mirror or twin. “It was a fabulous place!” means it got our rocks off. The earth, by itself, exists for that sly tingle – signaling: some sex might be near. We visit those waterfalls or small towns so that our palate or crotch might find a form of sweet touch.

Yet: What if we sought not fulfillment but presence? Nothing exotic; nothing startling. Just, the planet. Every road and dirt path somehow leads to each other, and I believe, without proof, that one could tread upon all of these paths that exist, if patience became our pure goal. All the paths, ultimately. It would take most of my life, but if I started quite soon, I might just pull it off. Rip the rails right from the ground and have the tracks be my feet.

You see: I want to see every street that exists in each country, the works. I would not linger; I might not even pause for one second’s small span. Only glimpse as I cruised. Time only wields certain weapons, and one must not waste their blunt force. Would I use Google Maps? Not at all. Turn it off. Shut her down. I’d instead ask the locals to tell me where each unpaved road ends and transforms into blacktop. Take a snapshot of each sign, the street names my new buds. Start here in east Asia, and walk my way counter- clockwise.

In fifty years time, I’ll slowly step into the court that holds my true childhood home, not seen since nineteen, and now my last resting place. In my backpack, a hundred notebooks or more will be filled with street names, the world cataloged and contained. Everything will have been seen by myself, underscored and processed. In a way, at that end, the world will at last have become all my own. Of course, I won’t recollect the underfoot of every swamp or quicksand that I dodged in my travels, but when I knock on my old door, I hope to hear that the footsteps approaching from inside have a familiar soft echo.