Monday, 29 May 2017

Moments of Me

A friend of mine who is currently recovering from knee-replacement surgery and dealing with rehabilitation therapy posted a wonderfully positive status on Facebook. With her permission, I share it here.

"This morning my husband asked me how I was feeling. I said I was feeling great. Actually feeling like me. I qualified it by saying that I have been having "Moments of Me".

In her world, those "Moments of Me" are how she is defining progress in her recovery. The pain, the struggle, the limitations, the loss of her independence, the boredom, and how very small her world has become recently, is very much outside the comfort zone for this strong, self-reliant, and wonderfully robust woman. Every moment of normality and every moment that she can point to as regular is a step forward in her recuperation and convalescence. As her friend, I was thrilled to hear that she is experiencing more and more of these moments and that she is seeing a small light at the end of a very painful tunnel.

As an addendum to her Facebook post, my friend threw down the gauntlet to her friends to try and define the term "Moments of Me" in personally creative ways. I realize that she is extraordinarily bored and is hoping that we will provide her with some much-needed entertainment. How could I deny her that? And so....friend....challenge accepted.

As I have gotten older, I have become aware of the little bits of me out there in the universe that I wish I could retrieve. Toxic bits. Unkind scraps. Moments that I wish I could have back. How would I have handled myself if I had the chance at a mulligan? Would I have better control over my temper or my tongue? Would I have been less dismissive and more compassionate? Would I have stressed less and enjoyed more? Would I have spent more time on the floor playing and less time worrying about keeping it clean? Would I have stopped more often to appreciate and record just how fleeting it all is? All of those times that I worried over narashkeit (nonsense...the small stuff) served only to diminish my strength and my power over my own world. I'm not for a minute reaching for unattainable self-perfection but rather a better understanding of my faults and foibles and how I can learn from them.

These are indeed "Moments of Me". They are certainly moments that I am embarrassed by and ashamed of, but they are a still part of me. They have been teachable moments and moments of growth and maturation. But they are only useful if they have been instructive. So how do I re-gather these negative "Moments of Me" from the ether of the universe and celebrate the "me" I would rather be?

I sing and I dance. I plug in my headphones and jam, loudly. Last week The Husband posted a rather unflattering video of me belting out "Hello, Dolly" and doing the soft-shoe in the kitchen while preparing brunch. This singing and dancing routine wasn't an isolated incident. I tend to do this a lot but in the privacy of my own space. I was blissfully unaware of his prying eyes and his gentle humour in posting the offending film until the comments came pouring in. I was slightly horrified by my image; hair pulled back, sweatpants, sweatshirt, no makeup, and singing and dancing to music only I could hear. My mortification was all-encompassing. This past weekend, my dear cousin pulled me aside and told me how much he loved the post. He told me that it was a pure Dawn moment. "It was so you", he said without a trace of mocking or irony. Only then did I stop plotting my excruciatingly painful revenge on The Husband and realize that he recorded that image not out of ridicule or malice, but rather out of love and he wanted to share that love he has for me with everybody he knew. He saw what I didn't.

I allow myself public emotional release. I squeal with childish glee at the magnificent sight of dolphins in the bay or an eagle taking flight. I shake with sustained anger at those who would excuse and allow continued poverty or injustice from their perch of privilege. I still weep at the end of Marley and Me and I have read it several times and seen the movie even more than that. I scream and cheer passionately for my favourite sports teams even when they kind of suck. (I live in Toronto. It's what we do.) I vituperate at the f***ing squirrels for all of their sins against me. I sit in stunned silence at great moments of artistic genius and appreciate godliness in them. I still laugh out loud at Danny Kaye movies and I still cry when I hear Idina Menzel hit the highest bridge notes in Defying Gravity. I swear like a sailor when I encounter profound stupidity and I am calmed by the brilliance of words. Through every single one of those things, I like to think that I am bringing balance back into my world.

I dispense with the bullshit. The Husband had a wonderful grandfather whom I absolutely adored. As he aged into his nineties, it became obvious to all who knew him that he just didn't have time any longer for pretense or bullshit. He said what he wanted to say when he wanted to say it. His lack of filter did get us into some trouble on occasion, like the time he wondered aloud at my son's elementary school why all the teachers were "so ugly". His often inappropriate musings were excused as the rantings of an aged man with no fucks left to give, but I have to admit that there existed a tremendous freedom in his demeanour. While I hope to God that I haven't yet descended to publicly insulting people, I am no longer distracted by bullshit. New-aged diets, beauty routines, must-have shit, phony celebrities, flat-earthers, science deniers, climate change rejection, paternalism, misogyny, quacks, religious fundamentalism...I'm done with all of it. All of it. I cannot and will not pretend that any of this is anything other than grade A, high-level bullshit and I will continue to call it such whenever it rears its ugly head. There is tremendous honesty in living as Zaidy did with zero fucks left to give about any of it.

There are other times when I feel me come to the surface. The contentment I feel when I sit quietly and watch The Husband solve a complex problem. The pride I experience when I see the independent adults my sons have become. The pleasure I get listening to children sing. The awe that comes with the viewing of a sunset or the ephemeral emotion contained in a rainbow. These are touchstones, markers that remind me of who I am at my core. No labels, no monikers. Just me.

I know that I can't go back and undo the bad stuff. I'm not sure that I'd even want to. I just want to come to a place, like my friend has, whereby I experience more of this authenticity. It is in those truths we find those fleeting "Moments of Me".

Monday, 22 May 2017

Another Short Tikkun Olam Story From The Streets of Toronto

Another short post about the Tikkun Olam happening every day on the streets close to my home.

This past weekend we were privileged to celebrate with good friends on the occasion of a milestone birthday. As a kibbitz, the hostess gifted us all with scratch-off lottery tickets that we played together at the dinner table. It should be noted that I am not a regular lottery ticket buyer and I have never before played a scratch-off. After some discussion as to the methodology so as not to accidentally void a possible winner, we all began scraping at our tickets with coins. A friend across the table was elated when he won $10.00, but my highlight came on the final rub of my ticket when I was stunned to find a $50.00 winner. After ascertaining from everybody at the table that I had indeed been a fortunate soul, I began to plot and plan what to do with my free money. I mean, really? How often does something like that occur?

The Husband had been talking for a couple of weeks about going to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Coincidentally, the cost of the tickets was exactly $50.00. We decided that since today is a holiday, we would make our way over to the AGO to view the work of one of my all-time favourite artists. 

But as it happens, my plans were slightly waylaid by a story I saw on last evening's newscast. It seems that there is a good soul of a local chef named Jagger Gordon who has set up a soup and sandwich bar in a retrofitted shipping container in a nearby neighbourhood.  It is a pay-what-you-can enterprise that is an outgrowth of his Feed It Forward program designed to collect discounted food from local sources and feed it to those less fortunate. Chef Gordon is passionate about food waste and he is even more so about making sure nobody goes hungry. I was enthralled by the story and said to The Husband that I really wanted to stop in to check out his work on our way to the AGO this morning.

Jagger is an extremely affable man. He carefully explained his project to us and when The Husband offered him some cash to offset his costs, he told us that our small donation would feed about eight other people. He made sure that we added our poker chips to the jar so that those eight would eventually have their soup and sandwiches. 

I certainly am not trying to tout our altruism. That is not at all the point of this piece. Yes, it is true that some of my free money went to support this project, but I simply want to highlight the good work going on in our neighbourhoods, sometimes right under our noses. We hear so much shit about people today that every so often it is really wonderful to remember the decency and morality of humankind. If you happen to be in the Dundas/Bathurst Street area of downtown Toronto over the next couple of months, I urge you to stop in and chat with Chef Jagger Gordon and contribute to his little bit of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of our little corner of the world. 

And...The Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the AGO is absolutely worth the price of admission. A lovely way to spend a holiday Monday.

Monday, 15 May 2017

My Weekend on Broadway

Last December, The Husband gifted me with Hamilton on Broadway tickets for my birthday. As he knows his wife is a very public and self-proclaimed Broadway musical savant/nerd, his gift couldn't have been more on point or more personal. The date finally arrived this past Friday and while I have been sitting and marinating my emotions for the several intervening days from then until now, there is no question that witnessing that show was one of the most profound and emotional experiences I have ever had in the audience over decades of watching musical theatre. I don't really want to rehash what dozens of critics and theatre-goers have already written about this brilliant musical. That would truly be an unworthy exercise in mental masturbation, but I will give a few answers to some very basic queries some of you have asked about the evening.

Yes. The Husband did pay an ungodly sum for our tickets. I won't embarrass either one of us by publishing the actual number, but I do know that he felt his largesse was truly vindicated by the performance. This was the first time in over thirty years of dragging him to musicals whereby he said that he really wants to see this one again because he feels that he hasn't fully processed it. I have to admit that he stunned me with that admission.

Yes. The cast we saw was excellent. Were they as good as the original? I can't answer that because I never had the good fortune to see that award-winning group, but this cast of actors was off the charts brilliant and incredibly talented. Their voices were strong and the acting impressive as hell. This young ensemble made my Hamilton experience singular and I was engrossed from note one.

Yes. I was terribly concerned that the hype was overplayed and that I would be disappointed. The Husband kept asking me if I was excited and I kept downplaying my emotions. It seemed impossible that anything could live up to the reviews and massive media reports. I won't say that it surpassed the hype, ( could it?) but it was certainly a unique and singularly impressive theatre experience.

Yes. I believe that this show is one of those rare experiences that moves the needle for the Broadway musical. Every so often, a show comes along that changes the definition of the artform. It started way back with Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1927. Show Boat was a radical departure from the trivial burlesque and "follies" that had preceded it as it married musical spectacle with serious drama. Those watershed Broadway musicals moments are few but important. Porgy and Bess gave us the first American operetta. Oklahoma! gifted us with the book musical and fully integrated choreography into the storytelling. West Side Story allowed it's lead characters to die and not have a happy ending. Hair integrated modern themes and explored rock and roll for the first time within the confines of the musical theatre stage. Cats demonstrated that a series of independent stories strung together could act in cohesive harmony. Rent allowed for the exploration of modern alienation. And finally, Hamilton has continued the work Mr. Miranda began in In the Heights where he married the beats and rhymes of hip-hop with the elegance of jazz, r&b, and traditional Broadway belting. The simplicity of the choreography belies the complexity of the source material. The historicity he imparts to the audience is poetic and he takes great care to present his subject matter without fear or favour. Hamilton is a watershed moment in the history of Broadway musical theatre and I do believe it carries a mark of brilliance.

Yes. I do want to see it again. Like The Husband said, it is impossible to digest it all in just one sitting.

No. Hearing and memorizing the soundtrack isn't nearly enough to get the full picture of the true brilliance of this particular piece. I have had the music playing almost non-stop for close to two years and I still wasn't prepared for what I saw.

Yes. You should pony up for whatever it costs when this show comes to your city. Even if you think it isn't in your musical "wheelhouse", you should see it anyway. I do believe it is that important a work of art. It is kind of like saying that you won't see a Picasso exhibit because blue isn't your favourite colour.

***As a quick footnote to our weekend on Broadway, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other two plays we saw. Sweat is a brilliant and difficult dissertation on working class alienation. It is the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is nominated for several Tony awards. And of course...there was the Divine Miss M. Never before has a role so perfectly suited an actress. Bette Midler was born to play Dolly Levi. She is "of age" and frankly her voice is showing some wear and tear, but it really worked in the part and she happily moved about the stage with the flamboyance that the role dictates. David Hyde-Pierce is her perfect foil as Horace and was every bit her equal. Hello Dolly! is an old-fashioned, rip-roaring, over-the-top Broadway crowd-pleaser and it succeeds on every level.

Broadway is my happy place but it is even more so when I get to witness history.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

My Oven Was Trying to Kill Me

Today I made hard-boiled eggs in the microwave.

I never even knew it was possible to make hard-boiled eggs in the microwave. I mean....why on earth would anybody, anywhere willingly choose to make hard-boiled eggs in a microwave? For me, the microwave has always been a glorified double boiler/butter melter/pizza re-heater. I simply don't cook in a microwave.

Maybe it's because of the less than appetizing food that seems to come out the microwave. Perhaps it's an unnatural fear of radiation poisoning our meals. Perhaps it's just the reality that a microwave is a cooking tool rather than a full-fledged cooking device. Whatever the reason, today, out of sheer necessity, I made hard-boiled eggs in the microwave.


Because our full-fledged cooking device has been thankfully euthanized. Our stove, which hasn't functioned properly since we moved in here, is about to become a matte-finished heap of useless scrap metal. May it forever rot into whatever hell stoves/ovens descend.

We knew when we bought this place that the oven was less than optimal. The gas burners didn't properly ignite and the gas stove, which I will admit to being fearful of and less than enthusiastic about, cooked unevenly and overheated on a regular basis. The previous owners needed to get the oven into working order and to their credit, they did just that. It was our own fault that we didn't include a "please do not incinerate our food" clause into the real estate offer. The oven consistently ran about seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit hotter than any set temperature, so it wasn't unusual for cookies to come out charred or roasted cauliflower to become a meal fit for Satan.

Repairing a seventeen-year-old oven seemed silly. We knew that a replacement would need to be found, but we also knew that we would be spending the winter south so procrastination was definitely in order. I started doing the research on new ovens while in the Southern Home and while I often hyperventilated over the cost of even the most basic of said devices, I knew that a functioning oven wasn't a luxury.

Our timeline was accelerated during my cooking preparations for Passover. When a batch of my chocolate macaroons came out flambéd after only 8 minutes at 270 degrees, we knew that we were at the end. Not only that, we started smelling gas on a regular basis. I was getting paranoid. Was our oven trying to slowly poison us or maybe a grand explosion was in the cards? When The Husband lit a Yahrzeit candle for his father on the last evening of Pesach, I hurriedly moved it to a different area of the condo for fear of us both winding up on top of the dome. Whatever the issue, we knew we were done. The Husband (thanks to the Divine Spirit for a handy husband) found the gas shut-off and we have been without a functioning stove or oven for almost a week now.

We are limited in our options. Due to the configuration of our condo kitchen, we need to have a downdraft. A hood and a fan aren't really options in an open concept design with twelve-foot ceilings. The stove would have to fit neatly into a previously designed spot which meant a 31-inch slide-in model. I really wanted to keep the gas burners but was adamant that we have an electric oven, which meant dual-fuel. When all the research was completed, we realized that we only had a choice between two models. Ruling out the Jenn-Aire was a no-brainer. We haven't had good experiences with this company in the past, and thus we were left with Kitchen-Aid. The reviews on it are positive so we ordered it.

The appliance store insisted that their installer must come out to take a look at the situation before they would even allow us to make the purchase. Sam showed up on the day of the second seder. He pulled and prodded. He hemmed and hawed and then said haltingly, "I'm not sure that it's possible."

What. The. Fuck???

Sam (who for some reason insists that we call him Mac) told us that the downdraft from the old oven is in the wrong place and he is pretty sure that the new oven won't fit. I asked him what the solution might be and he said without any trace of irony or amusement, "You might have to do a full kitchen remodel."

What. The. Absolute. Fuck????

I remained calm in the face of stupidity. "Sam/Mac," said I. "We are not remodeling the kitchen unless you are offering to do the work gratis. Obviously, we need a stove. You are basically telling us that there isn't a SINGLE model on the market today that will work? Your job is to make it work. MAKE. IT. WORK!"

Sam/Mac got back down on his hands and knees, hemmed, hawed, huffed, and puffed and lo and behold came up with a solution. A Pesach miracle. He tells us that the installation experience (?) takes three days. One day to uninstall the old piece of shit that wants to send us into the world beyond. A second day to deliver the new model and remove the old piece of shit that wants to send us into the world beyond. And finally, a third day for Sam/Mac to install my heavenly new piece of nirvana.

Day one was today.

Hopefully, we are on tap for delivery of the new machine tomorrow and we can kick this piece of crap into the gutter.

But until Sam/Mac returns on Friday, reconnects the new stove, and gives us a gas feed that isn't going to launch us into orbit when we ignite the burners, I will continue to make hard-boiled eggs in the microwave. Our very safe, possibly radioactive microwave.

I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to take a Silkwood shower.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Another Vignette of Tikkun Olam

Another quick and really nice story from the streets of urban Toronto.

I know, I know. 

I am in danger of losing my official membership card to the "Curmudgeonly Gadfly" club, but my psyche has been in desperate need of good news stories. Trust me. When baseball is no longer an escape but instead it has a compounding effect on my acid-reflux, you know that I am on a precarious perch. So when I see deeds of loving kindness up close and personal, I feel an overwhelming need to share.

Yesterday, The Husband and I had an appointment in the east end of the city that required a ride on the Queen streetcar. While waiting at the stop, we noticed a gentleman who had obviously spent the frigid night before sleeping in the bus shelter. He was amiably chatting with some other familiar locals and just trying to keep the crisp April morning air at bay.

While we continued to wait, I noticed that the Tim Horton's directly behind us was doing its usual brisk early morning business. Easter Monday is a school holiday here so the place was filled with young families as well as young urbanites who were languidly enjoying the slower pace of the day. Just before our streetcar arrived, two young women exited the shop with several orders of coffee. They approached the gentleman and explained that they had been given a free coffee and were wondering if he would like to have it. He very politely declined their offer and thanked them for their thoughtfulness but he explained that he really didn't care for coffee. However, if they were willing, he would really love to have a chocolate donut. He hoped that they weren't offended by his request. Quite the contrary, they told him that it was not a problem at all and they would be more than happy to get him his treat. They then proceeded back into Timmie's to purchase it.

After seeing so much incivility in the news lately and being constantly led by world and business leaders to believe that being an asshole gets one further in this world, these small and random acts of kindness that I have witnessed lately are helping to fuel my yetzer ha-tov, my better inclination. It certainly doesn't mean that I have lost my cynicism or that I am going to start farting rainbows and unicorns but these episodes do serve to remind me that so many people are inherently decent.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam
She-natan lanu hizdamnut l'takein et ha-olam

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world. 

**With thanks to Dan Nichols and Rabbi Ron Klotz

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Small Act of Tikkun Olam

How about a quick but really nice story?

I spent a great deal of my morning today running pre-Pesach errands up and down Bathurst Street in torrential rains. I swear that I saw raccoons and squirrels marching two by two in midtown in search of an ark, that's how bad the weather was. Drivers were in no mood to slow down and believe me, I saw more than one poor pedestrian get soaked by discourteous cars and buses. It was an all-around icky early morning.

And then I witnessed the best of this city.

As I approached Bathurst and St. Clair, I saw a cab (yes a cab!) pull over to the side of the road in order to disembark its passenger. Drivers, angry at the lane blockage, honked and gesticulated in nasty ways. The cabbie ignored it all and adamantly refused to allow his senior-citizen female passenger to open her own door. Instead, he got out of his driver's seat in the teeming rain, ran around to the curbside, opened the back passenger-side door for the woman, and walked her to her destination with an umbrella. It was a small but very distinct act of goodwill and kindness.

There are so much misery and nastiness these days that sometimes I forget that so many are just decent people at heart. We often forget that we are all responsible for each other and at times a little reminder of how acts of love and kindness can truly repair the world is really in order.

This morning, in the rains and windswept streets of Toronto, I witnessed a small gesture of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of the world. I won't soon forget it.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Dimming of the Day

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד

Va-yikra Elohim La-or yom v'la-chodesh kara laila, Va-y'hi erev va-y'hi boker yom echad.

And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen 1:5)

I have recently become rather enamoured with sunsets.

I can't really explain this new-found infatuation other than to say that residency here in the Southern Home does afford the opportunity for me to gaze upon some of the most vivid and spectacular twilights. It would be easy to become complacent about the majesty, but so far I have not.

And these are just from my balcony using little to no filter. (The iPhone 7 has an amazing camera.)

Watching the sun do its daily disappearing act to the other side of the world has raised a myriad of existential questions for me, but rather than bore you all with my mid-life panic attacks and angst, I thought I might focus on just one.

Why is watching a sunset so captivating?

So, as is my habit, I turned first to my religious roots.

The highlighted verse above from Genesis is commonly used to explain why we Jews view our days as beginning at sunset rather than at sunrise.

There was evening and there was morning...

Evening comes first.

Some rabbinic scholars have used this text as a metaphor for life itself. We begin our days within the darkness of the womb and burst forward into the light. (A bit too cheesy and grade school for my liking, but what's a good religion without a few heavy-handed metaphors?)

But what if rather than secularly thinking of sunrise as the beginning of our day, we paused to consider that dusk could actually be that point in time when things renew. Perhaps my infatuation with the sunset is less about reflections on the day that has passed and rather it is a rumination on what lies ahead in the coming of the light

As I began to post some of my photos on social media, a friend shared her thoughts with me.

"I finally figured out in part what my fascination is. It has to do with seeing the beauty in transition. We are often fearful of transition in our lives but the shots remind me of just how beautiful it can be."

And then she sent me this....
Photo: Elaine P
I know...right???

I think that there is merit in her idea. We all seem to struggle with change, but the setting sun seems to reassure us that there is beauty in the struggle and excitement in the coming darkness. The new day is always filled with the possibilities.

I would also like to think that there is a modicum of hope splashing around in there somewhere. These are trying times. Each day lately seems to bring new fears, new anguish, new-found anger, new divisions, new misery. The glow of the sky in the early evening seems to suggest to me that things can get better. Even at my most pessimistic (and believe me when I say that the last few months have seen me at the depths of my cynicism) the renewal of the sunset hints at a confidence and an optimism.

I can't end this rambling without a nod to my own name. Dawn literally means beginning and it is synonymous with the first light of day. I'm am not discounting the optimism that could very surely lay in the rising of the sun nor am I dismissing the beauty of a sunrise, but I do think that both I and the time of day my name is borne from are slightly less mesmerizing than dusk. 

I will leave you all with several photos from my travels. These are all originals and were taken by either The Husband or myself. I ask that if you share them, please give due credit.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, oseh ma-aseh v'reisheet.

We praise you Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the work of creation.

Key West

Sydney Australia
Ketchikan Alaska
Vancouver British Columbia
Key West

Send me your best sunset photos. I would love to see them. 

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Holy Work on Shabbat

I am spending Shabbat morning watching this scene from my balcony.

Why you may ask?

Well before I answer that question, a bit of backstory is in order.

This is the pool in our building in the Southern Home. Several months ago, the city found several problems with the now almost thirty-year-old structure and insisted on repairs. The condo association tried to put off the fixes for as long as possible (read: until the snowbird season was concluded) but the city would have none of it. If the repairs weren't done in a timely manner, fines would be imposed. So last week, the pool was drained and work began on the removal of tile, the reparation of cracks, lighting replacement, and various other smaller issues. We were told that the project could take several weeks and as such, those who used the pool on a regular basis would need to make alternate arrangements. Yes, there was plenty of bitching and moaning from people in the building, but sometimes there just isn't a choice. 

Given the location of the pool with respect to our condo, the Husband and I have had a front-row seat to the action. And it has been surprisingly and hypnotically entertaining. 

At times it felt as though the job would never get started let alone completed. We saw a lot of standing around by workers. While there were at least four guys here on any given day, it was rare to see more than one work at a time. Granted, we are not pool repair people and are ignorant to the craft, but it did seem that more than a few dramatic domestic issues were being played out on phone calls than actual pool repair. (Yes...we can hear conversations clearly and I really hope that whoever was on the other end of one particularly vile string of expletives was smart enough to leave the SOB.) 

That said, while the work did seem to progress at the pace of a snail racing a sponge, it did progress.  I noticed that I was starting to recognize the various craftspeople and to understand what each particular contribution was to the project as a whole. There were the tile master and the concrete pourer. There were the electrician and the apprentice. There was the one guy who was here for one day and fired the next. (We know he was fired because they talked about it...loudly.) I noticed the particular dynamics of their work environment, how it actually functioned like a well-choreographed dance. I observed how some of the guys had an obvious report and how they might ignore or playfully haze the newcomers. But mostly, I was enthralled by their music.

In the early days, we were treated to the dulcet tones of Luther Vandross and Anita Baker. R&B wafted up to our apartment and it soothed. And the men....they sang along. They sang with passion and they sang with warmth. They sang without even knowing they were singing. It came from their souls. One gentleman, in particular, has a voice that any cantor would kill for and the echoing of his deep baritone off of the empty pool walls cascaded upward like a gift from the gods.

A few days ago, their music choices inexplicably changed to gospel. There were affirmations and holy exclamations. We were witness to a revival and a collective baptism in a pool without water. They were renewed. They were cleansed. Those craftsmen brought God to this place.

This morning, on Shabbat morning, sixteen men came to work. (They are trying to speed up the project and hopefully will finish early next week.) And they came to sing. And, oh how they sing.  These men are most definitely experiencing the presence of the Divine Spirit as they inch towards the completion of their task. These men have found a measure of holiness in their labour, a sense of Kadosh, and they are sharing it with me. I can't imagine a more precious gift.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man.” God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” 

Thank you to these generous souls who gave me a glimpse of The Divine Spirit on this Shabbat.

Friday, 10 February 2017

My Genius Teacher

For those reading who only know The Husband as a kick-ass business-person/artisan distiller, he was, in a former life, one of the best and most sought after workflow developers anywhere. He was doing geek when being geeky was as far removed from Big Bang Theory-cool as one could get and Mark Zuckerberg was still a wandering thought in his parent's minds. His off-the-charts, brilliant geekiness was always one of the things that most attracted me to him but for years when people asked me what he did for a living, I'd simply smile and say "He's in computers." I was ignorantly incapable of accurately describing it any other way.

This morning, in a fit of heightened frustration during what can only charitably be described as our most recent coding lesson, I asked The Husband to describe how his own thought process works when he is in development mode. As he again attempted to educate this intellectual potato on the inner workings of JavaScript and its interfacing capabilities with HTML, (I actually sound like I know what I'm talking about, don't I?) he explained to me that he tends to see things more unconventionally than do most programmers. 

Why am I not surprised? Geniuses in any field tend to work differently and in manners that can only be understood by themselves. If we all could comprehend the creative process utilized by the gifted, we'd all be able to compose symphonies like Beethoven, paint like Picasso, or understand mathematics like Einstein. 

The Husband told me that rather than sketch out his ideas with pen and paper first, he tends to view his computer screen the way that my potter friend sees a lump of clay. She might have the notion that she is making a bowl, but only until that bowl starts to take shape on her wheel does she really see the edges, details, and movement of the piece. His programs develop in much the same ways. He has the basic kernel of an idea and moves outward from there, using trial and error in his coding until he gets what he wants on his screen. But (there's always a but isn't there) there does exist a logical progression to his lines of code that can only be seen in his mind's eye.

This methodology could also explain why he is such a poor teacher. How is he supposed to explain something so radical and new to others when it is only obvious to him? The only logical way forward is to show them the tangible results, the finished product. Did Beethoven ever teach beginners the piano or did Pablo ever mix colours for an introductory painting course?

And....therein lies my basic problem with this entire exercise. I actually do understand the creative process and how trial and error factors into it, much like my self-editing of these pieces as I write them. My major issues come from the thinking logically part of it. It is what used to trip me up in math classes. I could memorize formulae like they were badass irregular verb conjugations, but I could never apply them to the word problems when they were presented to me. I couldn't figure out which numbers to plug into which sides of the equations. That genetic material that seems to be so necessary for seeing numbers and symbols and translating them into language, is not only dormant in me, it is non-existent. Just like those who might be colour-blind or tone-deaf, I have a disability. I am numerically challenged.

In a conversation yesterday with my mathematically-inclined mother she actually said this:

"You know, honey. Not everybody is able to do this. Maybe you just don't have it in you." 

Gee thanks, Mom. I guess that maternal nurturing button disappears from your repertoire after your offspring turns 50?

In some fairness to her, this is the same brilliant woman who persevered through dyslexia to become a nurse at a time when special education simply did not exist. There is no doubt in my mind that had she been at school during a different generation, she would have been an outstanding doctor. (She is going to kill me for writing that, but it is high-time she knows what all who love her know.)  This is also the same woman who spent the entire summer before I entered grade four drilling me on multiplication tables. She does speak from hard experience and prior knowledge of her subject. Let's just say she has scars.

No, Mom. I'm not yet ready to quit but I will admit that I am close. I do think that I have come to the conclusion that the only reason for these lessons is to accumulate blog material and maybe that's not such a terrible reason to continue. I keep hearing Nora Ephron's oft-repeated line of her mother's that "everything is copy" constantly riffing in my head. So, here's today's copy.

The Husband decided that it was necessary to teach me some basic JavaScript programming before we ventured any further into the morass that is my new web page. To that end, we worked today on creating loops. I'm still not certain of the entirety of why loops are necessary for a blog that is basically about nothing. Who the hell wants to read the same thing over and over? But there we were creating JavaScript loops. 

I was inundated with new jargon like statements and variables and learned that there are three different types of variables...numeric, string, and boolean.

A gold star to anybody outside the computer world who knows what boolean means. Honestly, when I first heard the word I thought we would be making soup. It actually means something that is either true or false. Who knew?

Following the lesson, The Husband went back to work and I attempted to re-create and modify some of the loops. I actually had some success doing it but it all seems so very futile. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I work at this shit, and even if I do manage to someday move up the coding food chain from unqualified idiot to moronic dumbass, why bother? Beethoven's brother Kasper was a financier and Picasso's sisters didn't delve too deeply into art. They stuck to what they knew rather than treading upon the sanctity of brilliance. Maybe I should just let my resident genius do what he does best....and get him to design my new website. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Computer Coding is a Foreign Language and I am Hopelessly Unilingual.

Welcome to today's installment of "Self-Flagellation" or "How Computer Coding has Turned Me Into a Sado/Masochist Who Could Grind Christian Grey Into Chalk Dust". 

It has been a stress-free ten days since my learned tutor and I sat down for a lesson. Various other pursuits have kept us from our appointed task and I must admit that there is a certain measure of satisfaction that comes with procrastination, especially when the task one is delaying has the ability to send one shaking and screaming from night terrors and awakening at 3:00 am in a pool of one's own sweat and drool. The only problem with such an ardent pursuit of postponement and deferment is that my middle-aged, swiss-cheesed gray matter can't retain any amount of information longer than the time it takes to watch the average beer commercial. So when I innocently asked about moving some elements around the page on my dummy (yes... I am well aware of the irony of that term) page,  The Husband looked me square in the eye this morning and said in astounding seriousness that "You already know how to do that". I gazed back at him with an expression that I am certain imitated the face of a gorilla on Prozac. Square we come.

This morning, this article was on page one of the Miami Herald, right beneath the article of the Super Bowl defeat from hell. Seriously. Is there anybody outside of New England who doesn't believe that Tom Brady has sold his soul to the devil and will be languishing in the bowels of Hades alongside Donald Trump for eternity? But once again, I procrastinate and digress.

So...this article...on page one.

I will not debate the merits or inherent stupidity of this proposal, (other than saying that it is incredibly Floridian and that both skills are necessary for students in the 21st century) but I will say that after enduring a mere four lessons in coding, it is fundamentally apparent to this moronic student that coding is most definitely a foreign language and the ability to master it lies in continual and constant practice. You simply cannot become fluent in any language if all you manage to utter are hello, goodbye, and peace. Great thanks to the Divine Spirit for making Hebrew simple enough to use a single word for all three. Coding is very different, very comprehensive, very complicated, and very very very confusing.

I asked The Husband for his opinion on how he thought my web page should look. I very much value his opinion on design and I was kind of silently hoping that he might just take pity on me and simply redesign the whole fucking thing himself without the stress of imparting this coding bullshit to me. I asked him at one point, how he managed to learn all of these different computer languages that he so effortlessly uses, and he replied without a hint of glibness that  "I just woke up one morning and they were all there." The really crazy part of that statement is that I believe both of us think it is actually possible. 

I decided that I would like for the front page of the site to be the most recent blog posts so that when you all open up the URL for Dawn Ponders, the posts are the first things you see. After determining that we actually couldn't accomplish such a thing using HTML alone, The Husband very gently explained to me that we would now be diverting our attention to "real" programming as if what we had been doing before was a kind of an ersatz mess. He had this look in his eye that said "Don't worry, honey. You won't feel a thing as I push you out of the plane. It's the landing that's the real bitch."

(By the way....there is a nauseated churning that occurs within the pit of your stomach when your teacher takes your computer, spends ten minutes surfing Javascript sites to figure out why he can't solve a basic problem that he wants to convey to you, swears vociferously that it doesn't work and he doesn't know why, and then says...let's try this instead. That feeling of security is EVERYTHING!)

And so we are now in the world of JavaScript working in less than perfect synchronization with HTML. It's kind of like asking "Where's the bathroom" in Spanish and being directed to the bank in Italian. 

Here's what we managed to do.

And here are the results of over an hour's worth of laborious coding. 

See the little "Hello Dawn" under the Home tab? 


That's it. Aren't you all so very proud of me?

At this rate, I might have a new site online in time for the celebration of Canada 175...if we both manage to live that long. 

One last note. Take an expanded look at the coding photograph.

Go on.

Blow it up.

I'll wait.

Are you there? 

Now, look at the very bottom of the screen in the extreme right-hand corner. Do you see that tiny blue icon?


They have invaded every part of my life and are determined to haunt me until the end of days.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Something Frivolous Because We Need It

I went for a walk this morning along the boardwalk at Miami Beach. It is really one of my absolute favourite ways to celebrate Shabbat. There is an ease about the place that makes me feel a bit closer to The Almighty. The smell of the ocean, the gentle breeze, the palm trees swaying...the homeless people sleeping on the sand. I am so often struck by the dichotomy of a place that is obviously dripping with beauty and wealth and yet is the landing spot for so many in need.  But...I digress.

There is also a strange intersection that occurs on the beach on Shabbat. The eruv (an urban area enclosed by a wire boundary that symbolically extends the private domain of Jewish households into public areas, permitting activities within it that are normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath.) which is visible from the boardwalk serves to protect the more observant and fully clothed Shomeir-Shabbas Jews from the partially naked sunbathers and tanned exercisers who run, walk, cycle, or generally just shpatzir (saunter) their way to and from South Beach. I usually chuckle at the absurdity of the situation and this morning was no exception. About the exact same time that I was considering the goofiness of naked women on the beach abutted right up against Orthodox women practicing tzniut, (modesty) it struck me that something interesting occurs as one briefly passes by others. Only a small segment of conversations are audible and they happen so quickly in that momentary interaction, that trying to glean the true meaning of any dialogue is an impossibility. I decided to record some of those fragments I overheard this morning and put them together into one continuous chat. I have separated out the individual fragments into lines. Each line is a different conversation.

They were at a bonfire.

In California, you've got to do this crazy outdoor stuff.

One of these things I got for Christmas you had to spit in it.

Porque no?

Porque los necesito para las niñas.

I tell you this straight from the heart, not the head, the heart.

But it's amortized over five years.

I can't stand to be around him.

But we be jammin, yes?

Down boy! 

I only had a light lunch. I need more.

Oh la la. 

Do you really want to see THIS fucking flop around on the beach?

You look hot.

I'm heaving it's so humid.

Water, water.

We're gonna do it. Keep going.

 Can I go lower?

I swear that I didn't expect it to come out so 50-Shades/porn-like. I really thought that this would be an exercise in observing humanity rather than the verbal construction of a sex act. While my faith in humanity is somewhat restored (notice that not one of these snippets uses the words Trump, president, or fucking lunatic) and my Spanish is definitely improving, I am either really really bad at this eavesdropping thing or my mind is truly in the gutter. In any case, I'm pretty sure that this is how all those Harlequin romance authors got their starts.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Teaching a Monkey Mozart

It has been more than a week since I gave you all an update on my ever-increasing computer prowess. Perhaps prowess is too ambitious a word. Let's call it computer incapability or maybe numerical ineptitude? However we term it, I'm still here and I'm still plugging away, a stranger in a strange land, but I did require a short sabbatical this week from the infernal machine in order to regain my ballast.

But before we made our way out of town, The Husband once again sat me down to inundate me with technobabble involving hrefs, hyperlinks, attributes, command/shifts, and divs. I am like the only Earthling amongst a gaggle of Martians. I yearn for easy language and reasonings for why items are defined the way they are, but so far all I seem to get in response is "that's just the way it is." Years of evolving as an advanced society has brought us to "that's just the way it is." An entire world dependant on the functionality of machines has led us to the remarkable conclusion of "that's just the way it is." I am feeling so less safe knowing that my entire history and financial future is being housed and handled by people who live by the motto "that's just the way it is." 

We (meaning me) decided that we would continue the probably futile work of constructing a new website for Dawn Ponders. I say futile because I am starting to realize that by the time this project reaches fruition, all independent thought locations on the web will probably be shut down in the new world order, and fancy pull down tabs, pretty charts, and new hyperlink addresses will be seen as ridiculous endeavours. But, in the name of education and science, I persevered.

I decided that I really didn't like the spacing of the title, so I asked The Husband to show me how to move it to the left of the page. He eyeballed me with a side glance and sat as mute and stoic as a teetotaller at a frat party. After I ascertained that he wasn't suffering from some form of aphasia brought on by a stroke, I asked him again. He said, "How do you expect to learn if I tell you everything?"

Seriously!! He said this.

Years ago, I had a swimming teacher who would throw kids into the deep end of the pool and expect them to start paddling furiously without the benefit of a single lesson. Most of his students sank and required rescuing. What did they learn? More often than not, they learned to fear the water. I refused to be one of those living in fear, so I paddled furiously instead. Here was my very loud and very vigorous paddled-response to The Husband.

"How the f*** do you expect me to learn anything if you sit there like f***ing Marcel Marceau?"

While I may not have been entirely genteel in my language, my goal was achieved. There seems to be a need to continually remind The Husband that this little project was his brainchild and, for better or worse, (mostly worse) he has committed himself to being my tutor. I vociferously explained to him it is impossible to learn something new without a thorough lesson. I also ranted that some children (me) require endless reiteration of previously taught facts they find difficult to absorb. Not everybody is a fucking computer genius who was building his own machines at the dawn of the fucking ice age. I tried  to give him a lesson in teaching and I explained to him in my patient, B'nai Mitzvah-tutor inside voice that all students aren't as smart as their teachers.

Not surprisingly, my little tirade brought him back to my reality and we were able to create the following. It only took us 2 hours, but hey...progress is progress.

Once again, don't get too excited. The entire code page is only 51 lines long. This creation all happened last week, and I can't for the life of me remember how we did it. (I actually had to ask him to remind me of what some of the commands were called in order to write this post.) Kids take note. That is what happens without constant repetition and refusal to do one's homework. 

I do realize that The Husband is doing his level best. I know it's like trying to get a monkey to play Mozart on a washing machine, but teaching is often more difficult than learning. I guess this process has something for both of us.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Kevin O'Leary is a Squirrel

For those of you tuning in to read the latest chapter from my computer lessons, I apologize. There was a gap in my education yesterday. I won't explicitly blame The Husband for his procrastination but...

No. In all seriousness, I do have a life away from this miserable machine and yesterday it blissfully interfered. I haven't given stayed glued to this space for updates on the continuing saga.

In the interim, I thought that I might share a quickie story. This tale is definitely for a Canadian audience, but I hope that my American readers can find something worthy.

Yesterday in a bit of a political non-story, only because he has been teasing it for so very long, Kevin O'Leary entered the race to be the next Conservative Party leader. For those unfamiliar with the man himself, he is the brash, boorish entrepreneur and Trump wannabe who helped make Dragon's Den on CBC and later Shark Tank on ABC reality show rating juggernauts. I confess that I can't stand either incarnation of the program. I don't enjoy any reality programming, but I am especially averse to the kind where some pseudo-successful "panelist" sets himself up to judge or worse yet bait, insult, and cast aspersions on people either seeking validation or advice. If that's your cuppa then have at it. I prefer other sources of entertainment.

Mr. O'Leary, according to his credentials, is a successful businessman and venture capitalist. I will not impugn his reputation in this regard except to suggest that forays into politics have a nasty habit of exculpating the dirt, so I hope he has buried the bodies well. He has many weaknesses entering the race, not the least of which is he doesn't speak French and that alone should be disqualifying in our bilingual country, but here he is and as such it is our duty as citizens to vet him carefully. That said, before this circus flies too far off its tent posts, I want to share my fleeting personal encounter with Kevin O'Leary.

Last year down here in the winter home, my parents and I decided to head down to Costco for a brief half day of self-flagellation and self-loathing. As we flashed our membership cards at the entrance, we spied a large display hocking some new wine which was directly in front of us. It was almost impossible to enter the warehouse without passing by this table. Standing behind the table, decked out in his finest suit and silk tie (the temperature was probably in the mid-80s) and proudly wearing a sommelier's necklace and key, was Kevin O'Leary. The pretentiousness of the necklace and key was inescapable at a big box store where the majority of shoppers were clothed in stretch pants, tank tops, and flip-flops while trying to maximize their grocery budgets by purchasing peanut butter and mayonnaise by the gross. The ridiculousness of this self-proclaimed but very well-known multi-billionaire standing behind a fold-up table pushing discount wine at Costco was the stuff about which memes are created.

After acknowledging that we did indeed recognize Mr. O'Leary, we quietly attempted to slink past the display unnoticed. He called us out and tried desperately to get us to come over and taste his wine. We politely (we are Canadians after all) declined and as we did he screamed (really...he screamed!) after us "Just like Canadians. They never want to drink and they never know what's good."

How he knew we were Canadian I will never know. I wasn't wearing my sign and my maple leaf tattoo had been removed that morning. His rudeness was beyond what I would ever consider acceptable behaviour from a child let alone a man trying to woo me with wine. In true Canadian fashion, we chose to ignore this boor rather than engage him and instead we went about our regularly scheduled miserable Costco day. the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Conservative and I cannot imagine ever voting for the party in any election, but I will say that there were others around me who do vacillate between parties and were totally turned off by Mr. O'Leary on that particular day. There are fourteen other candidates in the running for the leadership of the party. Some of them, not named Kellie Leitch, are decent, intelligent, qualified people who have some interesting ideas that should attract decent, intelligent, qualified Canadians to their party. I am hoping beyond hope that both Conservative voters and the Canadian media don't get too distracted by the squirrels that are Kevin O'Leary and Kellie Leitch. Canada can do better.

It was American playwright and entrepreneur Wilson Mizner who said, "Be nice to people on your way up because you'll meet them on your way down." Without even caring or knowing much about Kevin O'Leary before, he messed with a group of Canadians in an incredibly brief moment that will certainly have repercussions for him down the road, and I am certain that we were only the tip of the iceberg of those he has insulted, bullied, or denigrated on his climb to fame and fortune. Karma can really be a bitch, sir.

This interview of one O'Leary's  former Dragon's Den costars Arlene Dickinson came from CBC News yesterday. It is a bit long but very telling. 

***UPDATE*** Arlene Dickinson has just published this op-ed on CBC. So worth reading. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

HTML Has Turned Me Into a Baboon

Day 2 of the great experiment is now in the books or as I have taken to calling it "How to Make Dawn Feel Like a  Knuckle-Dragging Cretin in 10 Easy Steps."

I had forgotten how humiliating it was to lack comprehension at a glance. I had totally blocked those feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, timidity, and vulnerability I used to have when even though my concentration level was at its peak, my understanding was at its valley. That, in a nutshell, is how I define my progress on Day 2 of this ridiculous experiment The Husband has laid out for me.

In any relationship, there is a division of duties that seem to fall naturally to one partner or the other. In ours, for example, The Husband has easily fallen into the role of money manager and tech-geek, while it has usually fallen to me to be the teacher. The exception to this rule was the aforementioned "teaching of our children to drive experience" in which I refused to partake for two simple reasons. One...I am a self-proclaimed coward behind the wheel and I knew that my anxiety (and my constant blood-curdling screams of potential death) would be detrimental to the learning process and two...I was totally convinced that I would put a gaping hole in the passenger-side floor boards from continually pressing on the imaginary brake that I so wanted to be there. (The Husband, still to this day, describes the experience as the only teachable moment in a child's life you can literally die while doing.) Taking on The Husband as my tutor for this endeavour required a great leap of faith on my part. I needed him to fully understand that I needed a logical progression in our lessons and I also required a project that made sense. I told him from the outset that he needed to explain things as if he were teaching a baboon because that's kind of how I feel when I am venturing out of my comfort zone; a clumsy and completely moronic being that without proper and careful training might end up using the computer as a cutting board. He said he understood, promised he wouldn't call me stupid,(although we have already skirted the edges of this vow) and then tried to pep-talk me with platitudes like I am one of the smartest people he knew and that I could learn anything. Does anybody else think that this is the strangest mating dance, EVER??

We decided that we would use these lessons to complete an assignment. Together we would attempt to design a new website for DawnPonders. Of course, I have visions of Ferraris and Lamborghinis dancing off of my fully interactive and elegantly designed screen, while The Husband is instead trying to show me how to build a Lada and drive standard with the hope that we manage to spell DawnPonders correctly, but I will take my successes wherever I can get them.

And so we began.

Today's lesson consisted mainly of me trying to create a header. I was ready to simply type the title of the page into our programming box and be done with it but of course, nothing in computers is that easy. We have now taken to communicating with each other through jargon. That's the techy word for bullshit. He uses words like bits, bytes, hexadecimal, and binary. He had me talking tags and attributes and modifiers. Is anybody else out there suffering from the vapours? Are you hot yet? He kept side-glancing me to make sure that I wasn't upset and when he saw that my eyes were crossed and my skin had considerably paled, he asked me if I was about to have a meltdown. Meltdown?? I was so evaporated my shoe size had shrunk. Forty-five minutes into the process we had created this.
Looks impressive, doesn't it?

But in reality, all we really managed to get accomplished was this.
I hope you like the colours because those fuckers took me forever to understand.

We had a chat with Younger Son and His B'shert last night after all of this was done. My beautiful boy is a computer whiz just like his dad and has taken it on as his calling and as his profession. Many a day has passed where both my daughter-in-law and I have exchanged glazed over expressions as our men devolve into Java-spouting cyborgs, lost in a conversation that has no discernible meaning on this planet unless you too happen to be a Java-spouting cyborg. After assuring my son that if this experiment with The Husband should fail that I wouldn't be calling on him to rescue me from this soul-sucking experience, he proceeded to tell me that this wasn't really programming but rather it was merely design work and that the real labour was still in the offing. Thanks, Son. With your positive encouragement skills I know you'll make a great dad someday.

At around midnight last night, I roused The Husband from his early REM cycle to ask him to explain the hexadecimal system to me again. (This actually does matter in the context of our programming because of a discussion we had involving colour choices using HTML.) We had previously engaged in this conversation last year while watching the movie The Martian. Remember the scene when Matt Damon is trying to converse with NASA and he needs a system that works better than simple yes/no? Of course, my fifty-something brain can't retain shit like this any longer, so I needed a refresher and for some reason, I needed it at midnight last night. He mumbled something about finding me serious medical treatment before he drifted back off to sleep. This morning, he re-engaged this baboon like it was her first time with computations. He asked me what I remembered from third grade. I can't even recall who my teacher was in third grade, let alone math from that mesozoic era. He used house diagrams (remember those?) to demonstrate to me the difference between base ten and base sixteen. Is there such a thing as a dyslexic in math. He had me multiplying 10x1 vs 16x1. Seriously. He did. I swear the baboon would have mastered it faster. And then I watched him calculate and convert an RGB (red, green, blue) number into his head!! Me? I'm still back on 10x1.

In the words of that great sage Scarlett O'Hara..."Tomorrow is another day."

Monday, 16 January 2017

A Day of Distractions

My day started as uneventfully as any other. I was sitting on the couch, pushing the refresh button on the Blue Jays homepage every two minutes or so hoping for updates on the supposed and still unconfirmed Jose Bautista signing, while alternately blocking asshole misogynist anti-Semites from my Twitter feed, when I suddenly realized that I was circling back to the same information on every news site known to the internet. I looked at The Husband and I whined:

"It's finally happened. I've hit the end of the internet."

The Husband, ever the understanding and so very patient problem solver, expressed his deep-seated and heartfelt sentiment to my plight. 

He burst into gales of laughter.

As he wiped the tears of mocking from his eyes, he actually gave me a look that elegantly crossed grave sincerity with pity and said:

"You need a new project. I think that you should learn how to program."

As I started to protest that TV network jobs were probably not going to fall out of the sky for a middle-aged Canadian woman who is a few years past the shelf life of the 18-49-year-old target demographic, it suddenly dawned on me that he actually meant computer programming.

As is my habit, I immediately grabbed my laptop, began Youtubing "How To" videos, and read everything I could find about Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak. That's right. I said Wozniak, not Jobs. We computer geeks just somehow know these things. 

Seriously?? You poor gullible bastards. Have you learned nothing about me from reading this space?

After I collected my jaw from its resting place on my boobs, I began to sort through my mental index file of why this idea ranked somewhere between skydiving and spending six months at sea working on a tuna boat on my bucket list.
  1. I have never ever ever ever taken a single computer class. Not in high school. Not in university. Not online. Not in continuing education. Not at the Apple Genius Bar. Nada. The sum total of my experience with the dreaded machines is akin to my experience with a car. I know how to turn it on and how to drive it, but I have never had any desire to repair it or understand how it runs.
  2. I still get the night sweats from any and all recollections of any course that I may have taken over my academic career that even vaguely included math and numbers. That long directory includes calculus, algebra, economics, physics, chemistry, and if I go back really deep into my history, multiplication tables.
  3. I would require a teacher. A good teacher. I adamantly refuse to sit in front of some idiotic internet vids produced by some asshole Big Bang Theory wannabe, who spends his days on Reddit, and works out of his parents' basement in outer Scarborough. In order for me to learn, I need to be able to ask questions without being made to feel like an idiot. I expressed this concern to The Husband and he immediately volunteered. Which leads me to....
  4. He kind of sucks as a teacher. Just ask my boys about their student driving experiences. He is brilliant and capable and accomplished. He also lacks patience and would often rather do himself that which he considers easy. He has absolutely no tolerance for stupid. If he was going to teach me, he would have to let me bombard him with asinine queries like "What's a server?" (Yes. I actually asked this.) I gently reminded him of the time his grandmother tried to teach me to knit. I badgered her for months with dropped stitch problems, casting on issues, and ripped purls. The poor woman actually died before I finished my sweater. I just tossed that shit into the trash before our move this past summer. I honestly couldn't imagine a scenario whereby his teaching me would work and we could still happily celebrate our thirty-second wedding anniversary in June.
  5. Do I still have any ability to retain knowledge? I have been re-learning Spanish for about a year now and while my comprehension is markedly better and my conversational skills have improved exponentially, (I am a whiz at ESPN Desportes. My high school Spanish teacher Señora Lee would be so proud if she too weren't deceased.) I have noticed that retention is a bitch. This tends to happen at a certain age. I can't even remember where I put my fucking glasses, how am I to recall computer commands?
And this is just the short list.

The Husband assured me that I could learn and learn it quickly. I asked him why he thought this was a good idea and he replied, "Because it's creative, it's fun, and you could help me with a project I'm working on." 

Really! He actually said that. This shit was all about free labour.

He asked me to give him about fifteen minutes and then we could get to work.

Three hours later....

I was still waiting. I mercilessly mocked his commitment to this project and he looked as though he should never have suggested the whole endeavour. But...we were now like a snowball running downhill and I wouldn't be waylaid.

It took him about a half an hour to figure out my computer. Yeah...I know. I couldn't believe it either. 

Once he finally had whatever downloads required, we commenced with lesson 1.

I will be beginning my education with something called HTML. Apparently, it is the language of web-design. Here's what we managed to accomplish in about 45 minutes. Are we impressed yet? If anybody out there is laughing, I curse you all and may a thousand squirrels invade your attics.

The Husband is concerned that the only reason I have consented to do this is for blog material. He is only partially correct in that assertion, although my inability to master this might prove more comical than cat videos. I have also consented because frankly, I need a diversion from the news and this project and trying to recall Spanish past tenses is helping enormously in that regard. 

May God have mercy on both of our souls and may Los Azulejos firman a José Bautista ya!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

When History Calls

When history calls, what will be your answer?

When bigotry and injustice come for your friends and your neighbours, will you cower in your basement grateful it isn't you or will you stand bravely beside them, marching arm in arm?

When misogyny and hate attack your daughters, will you berate their actions and choices or will you teach both them and your sons to beat back the tide of inequality and suppression?

When religious intolerance masks itself in political opportunism, will you echo the enmity or remember the love of The Divine Spirit?

When poverty, pain, and suffering afflict those who are least able to help themselves, will you turn a blind eye and a deaf ear or will you offer sanctuary, warmth, healing, and nurturing?

When ignorance infects our schools and our public discourse, will you perpetuate the falsehoods or will you rise in the name of truth?

When corporate interests assault and lay false claim to our natural resources, will you invest in their plunder or will you work to protect our planet?

When false prophets arise, will you blindly follow or will you refuse to revel in the dishonesty?

When demagoguery is normalized, will you protect your own self-interests, or will you bravely face down the tyrant?

History is calling. 

What say you?

"Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself. It is a silent justification affording evil acceptability in society."~Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Calm After the Storm

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend last week about a new project in which she is engaging. While it is still in its infancy and certainly not mine to discuss, it did open up a dialogue as to how we view art and more specifically, the artist in our very fractured world.

Since that dialogue, I have been extraordinarily fascinated not only by the process of artistic inspiration and creation but also by the role the audience plays in the methodology. What obligation does the artist owe her audience and by extension, what obligation does she owe herself?

Three separate experiences this week have tweaked my consciousness in this regard.

This past weekend The Husband and I embarked on our annual pilgrimage to The Las Olas Art Show. Small in stature compared to others we attend, this exposition tends to involve a more local artist colony with a few notable exceptions. Because of its size, there is a more intimate feel to the displays, the artists are less inundated with crowds, and they are far more interested in chatting with interested onlookers. It isn't at all unusual for us to see repeat vendors, some of which we have been fortunate enough to patronize before and to now check out their latest pieces. Sometimes, we are simply excited to reacquaint ourselves with artisans to whom we have given long looks in the past, but for some reason or other hadn't yet added to our collection. Such was the case on Sunday.

We had seen Daniel Lai's work before at previous shows. His use of recycled books and soft paper materials that he elegantly transforms into quiet and almost zen-like three-dimensional sculptures was an immediate magnet for me. There is quiet beauty in his work and I can almost imagine myself in his head as he transforms his journal thoughts into physical iterations. As we made our way through his small booth, we were fortunate enough to have an extended conversation with him. He was as soft-spoken as his work conveys, but there exists a powerful and obvious fierceness within him as he passionately described his pieces to us. His artist statement is telling.
I often write my experiences in a journal but find it inadequate to convey how I truly feel. As a result, I translate these paragraphs to a visual form that is three-dimensional, simplistic, and often relatable to many. My sculpture series is a three-dimensional journal that conveys snippets of my emotions and feelings toward life; the themes of this series often touch upon knowledge and contemplation. I call these sculptures "three-dimensional hieroglyphs of my experiences." Often times, the true meaning of text and words are just beneath that thin layer of their lexical meaning. In other words, we live in a metaphorical world. Three-dimensional representation of my experience transcends the boundary of words.
He had me at hello.

We purchased a small piece from his Reader series. and I am not exaggerating when I say that I have spent hours since just gazing and losing myself in its grace and peacefulness.

A small final anecdote about Daniel the artist. As we were finalizing our purchase, he asked us some very pointed questions about how we intended to transport the piece. Was it being shipped? Would we be taking it on an airplane? Where would it be in our car and how would we mount it? I promised him that I would take special care with it and then he said...and I will never forget the determination in his eyes as he said it..."Thank you. These are my babies, you know." While it was incredibly important for Daniel to share his work with a wider audience, he made it known to us that while we would be providing a new forever home for his work, it was still his and it was merely on loan to us. I suppose that is the true measure of art. We can enjoy it, revel in it, even purchase it...but we can never truly own it. That is the exclusive purvey of the artist.

So what does the artist owe her audience? Well, over the past ten days I have been privileged to join with a few thousand others in a new private group on Facebook called Harmony in Unison devoted to sharing live Jewish music concerts by the musician/songwriters themselves. The brainchild of Beth Schafer and Stacy Beyer, the idea is to provide a virtual stage for these musicians and to share songs, stories, and experiences across the magical platform of Facebook Live. While there have been a few initial glitches with copyrights and technical issues, the early evening interactive serenades have been nothing short of soul-reviving. The generosity of these artists to freely offer their time and their music to a most willing audience has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. These are people who make their living doing this work, and for them to provide it free of charge is a gift for which every single member of the audience is grateful. Their music has been a tonic for me in these tumultuous times. Over the past few years, I have distanced myself from much of it, but this music is a part of my soul and I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with it and with the community. These Jewish music artists inherently understand that their songs carry a spirit that can only be properly served by the continual sharing of it with a welcoming and participating audience. We are the necessary reflection of their prayers and we are the echoes of their soulful voices. If you are interested in joining Harmony in Unison, please add yourself to the group. I am happy to approve your request. You will be glad you did.

Finally, there is the debate about Meryl Streep. I will admit that I didn't see her speech live as I am averse to award shows in general and openly hostile to the Golden Globes in particular. (Subject for a different post.) That said, it was difficult to avoid the viral sensation that Ms. Streep became the following day (I caught her remarks in their entirety on YouTube) and the debate that she has re-ignited as to whether or not performers, sports stars, and other artists have a right to espouse contentious beliefs from their very public platforms.

I was impressed (as I usually am by Meryl Streep) with her poise, dignity, and passion. She never once mentioned the new president by name but she also never once hid her intentions. She was simply espousing a common belief that perhaps bullying and anger were not traits that the people needed nor wanted in their leaders and perhaps the country would be better served if these foibles were controlled. To suggest that the greatest actor of her generation, with more awards to her name than she probably has space to display them, is overrated is a fallacy at worst and folly at best. It's kind of like saying that Picasso designed colouring books. But, that really isn't the issue. Does the actress Meryl Streep pretend that the person Meryl Streep doesn't exist for the sake of the paying audience? Was it correct to yell at the Dixie Chicks to simply "Shut up and Sing" when they had the audacity, in the minds of some, to criticize George W. Bush?

There is no question that the performing artist takes a risk by speaking her mind publicly on contentious issues. Some people can and will look at her with a different lens and it will probably cost her a few fans. (Just ask the Chicks about their falling album sales and aborted concert tours. And fair or unfair, to this day, I can't watch any Mel Gibson movie.) I happen to think Ms. Streep was brave. She is the best of the best and she spoke her mind with a grace and passion that I believe is sorely lacking today. If the artist can't be true to herself, she cannot be true to her audience. She owes her audience her performance on the stage or the screen. She owes the truth of her convictions to herself.

Since the horrors of last Friday and the misery I have found myself surrounded by down here since the election, I have cocooned within the passion and beauty of these magnificent artists. My friend and I discussed the idea of spirals in her work as opposed to circles. I said to her that we tend to think of spirals as a downward trend but what if instead, we were to examine spirals as moving out from something rather than into the depths. Each one of the artistic experiences I had this week has made me believe that we can find joy in the misery and comfort in the tumult. There is hope somewhere in those spirals.