Where I Come From

There are reasons I write. It is a comfort. It is an expression of a feeling. It’s a communication from me to you. And from an early age, I knew that being a writer is a thing. You can grow up and become a writer. I found that fascinating.

I started writing creatively around the age of eight, when a school assignment led me to just keep writing. I finished my required writing and then I wrote another story. And another. And then Ms. Doyle, my sixth-grade teacher, gave me a book of poems. It was the first shock to my system. I still have that book. It really made an impression on me.

The first poet who really made an impact on me was e.e. cummings. His work still resonates with me today – his playfulness with the English language, his creativity with the poetic form. Amazing stuff. Here’s a clip of him reading one of his pieces:

Next, I discovered Leonard Cohen. What a find! Such incredible imagery and intensity in his words. And he was a musician, too, which I could relate to. He wrote songs and poems and poems that became songs. I’m still in awe of his body of work. Check out this clip of Leonard reciting “A Thousand Kisses Deep”:

Powerful!

There are so many more – the Beat poets: Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’ve borrowed and stolen from all of them. They taught me and they kept me company through the years. They inspired me then and inspire me now. I traffic in words because words sustain me, even in dark times such as this. There’s light in language. And we always need light. It marks the start of the day, and its absence is a harbinger of night. But words throw sparks, and when I’m lucky, they smoulder upon my page.

When I Miss You

I saw you yesterday, but ask me today
I miss you and the feeling is heavy, like rain
falling on the corrugated plastic
over the back porch
banging away in the summer gloom

I kissed you yesterday, but I'm finding today
that my lips have forgotten their place already
Where did we leave off? Where can we begin?
We'll start at the start and there will be no end
as we gently roll through the evening stillness

You smiled at me yesterday, but today
there is no warmth that can compare
to the glow of your grin, softened by gin
and lofting across the room to me
and honey, I cannot live without it

Will I hear your voice tomorrow? I hope
I will, its lilt and singsong and humming
in the room, like a dustmote waiting
to be carried by the sun
landing gently on the ear and telling all

Dunnville…Almost

This past week, Lovey and I celebrated our first anniversary. A wonderful time for both of us, a time to recall our growing history together. And to plan for a fruitful future with each other. Beautiful.

I arranged a trip to nearby Dunnville, Ontario, home to Richardson’s Farm, a maple syrup maker. Excellent! We’ll make a weekend of it – stay at the local Riverview Motel and hit the farm for some sweet sweet syrup. I planned this several months in advance, and as the date approached, the anticipation grew. We checked websites and got excited at the prospect of enjoying some downtime away from the rat race of Toronto.

Credit: Nadine Primeau

And the day arrived! I packed and headed out to Lovey’s house. The day was a grim one – the news was full of harrowing accounts of the spread of coronavirus. But we were determined to have our weekend away. It’s a small town, distant from big cities, with a small population – surely, we’d be safe there.

Upon arrival at Lovey’s, the news channel was on. We watched silently as the stories unfolded. Things were not going in a good direction. The news grew darker as the day closed in around us. Lovey said it first – we can’t go. It’s just too risky. I hadn’t considered the possibility that our dream weekend would fall apart this way. I was in shock. I was also terrified of the bug.

I agreed – we can’t go. I made arrangements to cancel our motel and our syrup tour at the sugar shack. Then we sat quietly for a time, the TV off now. But after some minutes, we hatched a new plan – we’d have an anniversary weekend, anyway! We’d order in some food and have us a time.

And you know, it was a great weekend. Not quite celebratory, as we checked in on the news regularly and worried after our loved ones. But we got to spend some wonderful quality time together. We reorganized shelves and made meals and talked at length about anything and everything.

Credit: Landon Martin

It’s a scary time to be here – things are moving very quickly and it seems that danger is everywhere. But it’s great if we can find a bit of a safe haven for ourselves, a place where we can push back at the darkness and find light in the corners. We should all be so lucky to have that in our lives. I certainly am. I hope and wish for all of you to find some shelter in your lives. A place for your heart to grow and roam. A place of security and comfort against whatever the world decides to toss your way. We can be stronger together.

Later Love

The sweetest thing

To find a later love

You put in your time

And practised well

Perhaps you expect less

Or maybe more

You are still taken by surprise

When you sit across 

From that special face

That begins to tattoo itself

Into your mind

Projected onto 

The backs of your eyelids

Who is this person

And how did we find each other?

What a stroke of luck

Or was it just a matter of time?

I waited so long for you

Dueling Pianos

Everyone loves a good bar. A local watering hole you can call a second home. Perhaps not even that local. You just want to feel good there. An entire generation of bar-goers was spoiled by “Cheers” on television. We all want to recreate that feeling of belonging.

And sometimes, the bar doesn’t create that feeling alone. It has help along the way. A personality, an event, something that galvanizes the public and has them beating a path to the door.

Welcome to your new favourite bar, the Uptown Social House in Burlington, Ontario.

It’s a very pleasant place to be for a pint and some supper. There’s always a game playing on the many televisions. But Friday and Saturday nights, there’s no game to compete with the Dueling Pianos.

Two piano players upfront on the stage. One or the other doubles on guitar or drums or harmonica. And they play for three hours straight, taking one request after another.

The ringleader of this musical circus is the inimitable Alec Steinwall, a relentless performer and incredible player. All he asks is that you attach a little “funny paper” – fives or tens – to your written request so that he can play it first. He’s a charmer, for sure. On really special nights, he is joined onstage by his son Jackson. The stage levitates!

In truth, I don’t know how good a bar the Uptown is because I’ve only ever been there on piano nights. But the staff is warm and welcoming, the food is tasty and filling and there’s music! Make sure you call ahead for a reservation on piano nights – you don’t want to be turned away.

Lozenges

Like many younger folk who feel themselves impervious to the ravages of time and habit, I was once a smoker. It was a grand thing for me. I enjoyed it more than almost anything else. And what I really liked about it is how pliable a habit it was. I could smoke while doing just about anything else – in fact, I believed my writing was improved by smoking. My guitar playing sharper and more poignant. I drove better. I was a better neighbour. And I was absolutely a better partner and family member with this habit keeping me on my toes.

It was ridiculous.

Also, like many others, I attempted to quit many times. Different methods – patches, pills, cold turkey, gum. My most successful quit was 18 months long and was achieved with lozenges. You tuck a little candy in your cheek and go about your day. Magick!

When it came time to quit again – and for the last time – three years ago, I again sought out lozenges. And they worked really well again. Except this time, it’s for keeps. I have no interest in going back to the habit. (Although, occasionally, I allow myself the reverie when I catch a whiff of someone lighting up a fresh coffin nail.)

What I wasn’t prepared for this time around was the staying power of the candy. I have become addicted to the lozenges. I’ve been using them for three years, six times longer than recommended. And the reason is twofold – they are indeed a great way to stay away from cigarettes. But they are also very good appetite suppressants!

I’m not here to sing the praises of smoking or quitting. Obviously, quitting is healthier, even with the candy addiction. But you do you. You’ll find your own path. Just know this – the candy works really well. And you forget it’s there after a while. And it keeps the munchies at bay, which is really important when you’re worried about the Quitters Twenty.

I Know You

I know you

in a special way.

And I’m sure the sparrow

in the garden

feels the same

about the summer sun

now rising over wet grass

and slumbering cicadas.

I think I will ask you to stay

for as long as you are able

so that I can know you better

so that love can rise over us

warming the greens and blues

into something like August.

I Don’t Know About You, But…

…I’m tired. Holy moly. I am exhausted. Just in the throes of a near-debilitating tiring. It can’t be cured with sleep or coffee. Activity is good medicine, but you need energy for that.

I must add that I’m sleeping terribly. Three hours at a go. That’s not ideal. But I look at the upside – no nightmares! Yup, I’ve cornered the market on short-term high-quality sleep.

Not me.

I used to nap because it felt good. Who doesn’t love good naps? It’s like potato chips – everybody loves them! But now, man oh man, now I nap out of necessity. After my day’s work is done, I slump my way into bed with my books, planning on a flurry of lit ingestion, only to pass out for two hours. I wake up thinking it’s morning, every single time. It’s a complete mindfutz.

Definitely me.

I recently had the good fortune to be exhausted in Fergus, Ontario. You should visit, it’s a great town. It contains an excellent bar, the Goofie Newfie. You won’t find a better bar to be tired in. I was beside myself with sleep deprivation. But you know, I had an amazing time. I slept once I got home and it felt good, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I’m learning that I can still enjoy life as a near-zombie. I don’t have to miss out on life’s pleasures. I just need to schedule a nap in there somewhere. Poppa has to recharge.

Fear of the Haggis

I’ve known many Scottish people throughout my life and they never inspired anything but joy. Good people. Beautiful country and great art. The most revered son of Scotland might well be Robbie Burns. And just recently, I had a chance to celebrate the Bard with his countryfolk.

Lovey’s father is from Scotland. Owing to other family connections, Lovey belongs to an Irish social club and each year they put on the Robbie Burns Dinner. When she suggested to me that we attend this year, I said “Yes, absolutely.” I had heard so much about Robbie Burns through the years and wanted to experience the celebration first-hand. Lovey bought the tickets and advised me of the dress code. “No jeans.” This was slightly disheartening. I’m not a fan of dressing up. But apparently, the no-jeans rule was the only one, so I was able to escape the clutches of a tux.

I gave no thought to dinner until Lovey mentioned haggis.

I’ve seen haggis prepared on cooking shows – oh gawd. It looked uniformly awful, and I imagined the experience of eating it to be one of bravery and game faces.

“I’m sure they’ll have other food available,” I thought hopefully.

Lovey advised me that I’ll probably be stuck with haggis and steak and kidney pie. I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t have civilian food. I’m not a member! I can’t be expected to tread the same path as them! Lovey suggested I calm down and just try it first. How do I know I hate it? I’ve never tried it! But those videos haunted me – I vaguely recalled something about entrails; blood and oatmeal? Could that be right? This was a rare occasion I did not avail myself of Google. It might be worse than I remembered.

The night of the dinner came upon us and we dressed for the event. Lovey was resplendent in blue and white, the Scottish colours. Off we went to the Irish Club.

We found our seats and got some drinks. There were pipers and speeches and poetry. Much Guinness was imbibed. I had a diet Coke. I was ready for anything. Anything but dinner.

When it was our turn to hit the buffet, I followed Lovey, squeezing myself through the throngs of drinkers at the bar. The room suddenly seemed too warm. Our friend Krista was joining us, and the three of us made our way to the food.

I saw the rolls and put one on my plate. I accepted a scoop of neeps and tatties – potatoes and turnips mashed together. Excellent! Things were looking up. But then came the pie – steak and kidney, really? The server placed it on my plate. Then came the peas. The sweet potato mash. And soon I was face to face with the haggis.

I accepted a scoop and moved on my way. It resembled browned ground beef. I couldn’t see any oatmeal or blood or intestinal matter. Maybe…?

We sat and dug in. I cut a piece of the pie first – oh wow. Delicious! I don’t know what I expected kidneys to taste like, but delicious wasn’t it. Lovey smiled at me – I smiled back.

“How’s the pie?” she asked.

“Great!”

“Try the haggis.”

And so I did. And you know, I couldn’t get enough. It was really quite tasty. Those Scots know a thing or two about meal preparation. It was just food, except that it wasn’t. It was a special thing to all assembled – a tradition. Something to be celebrated. A taste of home. My only regret was not having a Guinness to wash it all down.

The band came out shortly thereafter and there was ’60s music all night. I felt a little bit Scottish. And a whole lot sheepish, perhaps appropriately enough.