My mom, Norma Grace McGuire, passed away on January 8th 2015. She was 91. Her endless curiosity and intelligence, relentless tenacity, unwavering loyalty and unconditional love were an inspiration to me, her family, and everyone she met. She taught me and my two brothers to dream fearlessly, to question unflinchingly, and to always try to do the right thing - and to fight for that right thing when necessary.
As well as being an inspirational parent, she was an artist, genealogist, author, blogger, craftsperson, seamstress, activist, photographer, computer enthusiast, scrap-booker, knitter, and quilter. Despite those many activities, the majority of her life was devoted to serving and caring for her family. And despite all of her accomplishments, there was nothing she was more proud of than her husband and her three boys and their families. For all of her tenacity, curiosity, and sense of justice there was nothing that motivated her more than love.
I will continue to love her. She has left behind an empty space that can't be filled.
Trying to find a good book to read is annoying me. And, for reasons unknown to me, that annoyance makes me want to write. I can't figure it out. I'm not going to try. But I am writing. Something.
Encapsulating the months that have passed since last I wrote is the impossibility that has impeded me. There is no way. I've considered sneaking up on an account of it from several different directions - maybe a general metaphoric discussion of the over-riding emotional landscape, for instance. Bullshit and who cares. Maybe some short illuminating scenes that might suggest the general story - No. No one thing, or two things or three is the nub of it. It can neither be distilled nor generalized, and too many people I love are prominent characters in the story arc and I have no right to share their parts, and I won't.
And I haven't been unhappy, or sad in a daily way - I've had some great times - a lot of them - but I've been overwhelmed. There's just been too much. There's been too much and it's come too fast and much of it is part of a new paradigm that I haven't had the time or energy to get on top of. I badly want (and need) an attitude that covers this new reality, but all my efforts to engineer one have so far failed. Which is, well, a failure ... and I'm not fond of those.
So rather than chronicle that inability to make peace with the difficult parts of what I just now realize has been the first four years of "my sixties", I've clammed up. And although I tell myself it's the recent subscribers to ramcguire.com - people requesting an alert in the unlikely event that something new happens here - that have embarrassed me into stepping up, the truth is I miss it.
So in the spirit of my original blog, I'll try once again to overcome the inertia of myself while imagining the three or four of you as forgiving and open-minded friends who don't give a shit what I write but are still encouraging me to do so.
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is - everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
~ Steve Jobs
“You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt, and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.
I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything - and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here - and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit but if I can’t figure it out then I go into something else. But I don’t have to know an answer.
I don’t have to … I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things - by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose - which is the way it really is as far as I can tell … possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”
~ Richard Feynman
From an interview with the BBC Horizon program; “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.” 1981
Richard was also a helluva conga drum player.
"I think a lot of the problems we’ve been experiencing come from the fact that no one embraces the miracle and amazement of the present. So many people—steampunks, fundamentalists, hippies, neocons, anti-immigration advocates—feel like there was a better time to live in. They think the present is degraded, faded, and drab. That our world has lost some sort of “spark” or “basic value system” that, if you so much as skim history, you’ll find was never there. Even during the time of the Greeks, there were masses of people lamenting the passing of some sort of “golden age.” But I’d never go back and live in any other time than teetering on tomorrow; this is the greatest time to be alive."
— Patton Oswalt (via The Office of Frank Chimero)
“Being is not a steady state but an occulting one: we are all of us a succession of stillnesses blurring into motion on the wheel of action, and it is in those spaces of black between the pictures that we find the heart of the mystery in which we are never allowed to rest.” ~ Russell Hoban - Fremder
It’s Russell Hoban’s 85th birthday today and I celebrated it by writing this quote on a piece of yellow paper and taping it to the side of the large white rock that my city was named after. All around the world, pieces of yellow paper with quotes from his books were left in other public places - cafe tables, bookshops, park benches, telephone booths, train stations or anywhere the birthday celebrant deemed appropriate. The SA4QE (Slickman A4 Quotation Event) website lists 350 quotes that have been left, on his birthday, in big cities and small towns in 14 countries since 2002. I am still the only Canadian representative listed on their site, but I know at least one other Canadian who leaves the yellow paper anonymously for the simple joy of having done so.
It was a beautiful morning in White Rock and a perfect day to celebrate the “moment under the moment” that Russell Hoban explores and illuminates in his wonderful books. He remains one of the most original writers of the twentieth century and one of my very favourites.
Happy Birthday, Russ!
For a long time now, I’ve kept my camera, my flash drives and my noise-cancelling headphones in my backpack, which resides under my desk here at home, so it’s at hand for road trips. I use it as an auxilliary desk drawer. I also keep doubles of my computer power cables, adapters, USB, ethernet and audio cables in the backpack so I can ready my laptop for the drive to the airport in the time it takes to unplug it and pack it away. Since the camera, drives and headphones are stored in there already, I’m less likely to leave them behind.
Jumping up and leaving town is such an expected part of my everyday reality, this routine seems eminently logical …
Until this morning, in the early days of Trooper’s traditional winter break, when I paused for a confused moment wondering where to put my camera.
My Dad, a brilliant sculptor, used to tell people that he simply carved away everything that didn't look like what he’d set out to create. Watching him work, you'd swear he did just that - uncovering animals and people that had been waiting in the wood for his chisel to free them. I joked with Monty on Saturday night that I was hoping to use Dad’s approach to finish my submission for this year’s Three-Minute Film Festival. My rough cut had timed in at over an hour. I simply needed to carve away all but three minutes of that.
Monty laughed, but I could see the look of concern in his eyes.
Last year my film “Three Random Minutes” was exactly the correct length. As luck would have it – and it was dumb luck – my script had timed out perfectly. Possibly because of my rigid adherence to the festival’s format, I had wrestled the coveted Delores Award from my 3-minute film-making arch-enemy and two-time Delores winner Scott Milligan.
I had no script this year. My bold plan was to film reality unfolding in real-time, in the hopes that I could glean three entertaining edited minutes. The filming resulted in over two hours of uninterrupted and extremely engaging material.
Once I had logged the collected good bits, depression began to settle in. On Twitter, I wrote: “In any creative endeavour, exhilarating hopefulness begins to diminish near the ceiling of imagination and expertise”. I pretended for a day that I wasn’t making a film.
I hacked and slashed all the next day. I prayed that the heart of the film was not lost somewhere in the digital blood covering the virtual cutting room floor. When I reached the twelve minute mark I stopped to brag about it on Twitter. It took another full day to attain the six minute mark. It took another to admit that the film was as short as it could be.
Cindy and Monty’s Three Minute Film Festival is the best party of the year. We dress up, we organize into ‘magazine’ reviewer groups and post our reviews and votes on a big board on the living room wall. If you don’t bring a film you have to bring an appetizer. Most of the films are surprisingly awesome, but some are less than stellar. Sometimes they’re silly or in questionable taste and sometimes … like my film this year … they’re over three minutes long.
I’m sure Cindy and Monty will forgive me.
Here’s a link to my film from last year: “Three Random Minutes”
Here’s a link to the "Cindy & Monty's Three Minute Film Festival" web site. (Please notice that the actual festival is by invitation, and for friends and family only)
I’ll post my new 6 minute film here after it’s had its debut next week.
From the Amy Wallace story:
The rejection of hard-won knowledge is by no means a new phenomenon. In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri Poincaré said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people “know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling.” Decades later, the astronomer Carl Sagan reached a similar conclusion: Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort. “A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society,” Sagan wrote of certain Americans’ embrace of reincarnation, channeling, and extraterrestrials. “There are unsatisfied medical needs, spiritual needs, and needs for communion with the rest of the human community.”
Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard.
UPDATE: FactCheck.org article: "Inoculation Misinformation - Claims that the "swine flu" vaccine is dangerous range from seriously overblown to flat-out false."
I've just received an email warning about the dangers of the H1N1 Vaccine. You may have received it too. That's why I'm writing this. I urge you all to take the time to read this story in the current Wired Magazine called " An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All"
It's a well-reasoned and heavily researched story about vaccines in general and the H1N1 vaccine in particular. Usually I'd say that folks should make their own choices and not care what those choices are - but this story has convinced me that in this case it really can't work that way. If enough people refuse to take the H1N1 vaccine - it will put everyone else in their community at risk.
Here's one of many key quotes from the Wired article:
The frightening implications of this kind of anecdote were illustrated by a 2002 study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. Looking at 3,292 cases of measles in the Netherlands, the study found that the risk of contracting the disease was lower if you were completely unvaccinated and living in a highly vaccinated community than if you were completely vaccinated and living in a relatively unvaccinated community. Why? Because vaccines don’t always take. What does that mean? You can’t minimize your individual risk unless your herd, your friends and neighbors, also buy in.
By contrast, here's the Wiki page on Russell Blaylock, who wrote the H1N1 email that was forwarded to me. And here's an excerpt from that page:
Blaylock has asserted, among other things, that behind the US drug problem was a "nefarious program created in the former Soviet Union that exceeds even the far-reaching imaginations of Hollywood writers". The drug problem, he writes, would weaken the resistance of Western Society to Soviet invasion, undermine religion (which he calls 'the foundation of Western stability and morality'), target schools, harm the work force and work ethic, make the youth "unable to resist collectivism", and create a "totalitarian mindset within the United States government". He implicates Fidel Castro, Nikita Kruschev, Leonid Brezhnev, organized crime syndicates, and their American "leftist accomplices" in the formation of US drug culture.
Blaylock implies that the Soviet program was linked to crack-cocaine, fentanyl, ecstasy and methamphetamine, and that it was responsible for "an epidemic of hepatitis, AIDS, venereal diseases and highly resistant tuberculosis". He accuses the US media and the US government of knowing about the Soviet plot, but failing to expose it. As part of his evidence, he quotes from the "Communist Manual of Instructions of Psychological Warfare", purportedly by Lavrenti Beria. However, many people have doubted the authenticity and authorship of the work, including the FBI.
The Wired story is not as short and exciting as the anti-vaccine email that I received tonight, but it should be required reading for us all.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"
~ Marcello Truzzi
I was just reading about Iran again. I realized that, in response to an email from Dik Silver yesterday, I could almost spell Ahmadinejad and Khamenei without checking Huffington Post, where I still spend an inordinate amount of time. I have said the name “Ahmadinejad” out loud several times and think I pronounce it correctly. I am reading “Infinite Jest”, mostly because John Gruber of Daring Fireball said it was his “favorite novel ever”, and I’m trying to not think about the fact that its author, David Foster Wallace, recently hung himself after suffering from severe depression. The book is 1078 pages long and I’m currently on page 71 - so there will be another 1007 pages of slight discomfort with Wallace’s often black humor. It also trips me up a bit that he says “like” all the time. As in: “He uses the word “like”, like, inappropriately”. He also doesn’t use paragraphs which makes for large, intense, blocks of text. I listened to Merlin Mann’s talk on doing creative work this morning. He’s a funny guy but his only real points were that I should get started and not be afraid to suck. Good advice. I didn’t start then though. First I paid a bill. Fedex charged me a $10.50 “Advancement Fee” for paying $3.38 to Canada Customs for taxes on a $25.00 guitar pick order. That’s what the lady told me when I phoned to ask what the $10.50 was for. And I don’t have the time (or inclination) to write about the US audio/video company that wouldn’t take my Canadian VISA and didn’t like my PayPal and eventually cancelled my headphone amplifier order. Also this morning. I wrote to Paul Tobin thanking him for his CD and called the lady that had called Red Robinson who had called me because the lady knew another lady who wanted to give me a portrait that my Dad had done of me in the seventies. She was very nice and particularly understanding. I also called the roofer who put plywood where my skylights were about a month ago. I called last week and his wife told me she picked them up a week before that. This morning I said something about maybe getting the new, opening, skylights sometime before the end of summer. She agreed that would be a good idea. I forwarded off a couple of pieces of email for clarification after discovering there is, apparently, a new person who seems to be representing us in some manner at our booking agency. I made some notes containing what I know will seem like stupid questions and saved them to my desktop, from where I’ll retrieve them at a later date when seeking further enlightenment. I had to re-calk the sink in our upstairs bathroom this morning because the DAP Kitchen and Bathroom sealant didn’t seal when I did it last week. Today I used a new product that jammed-up in the tube two-thirds of the way around the sink and refused to extrude any further caulk. I probed it with a 2″ finishing nail and forced small blobs onto my finger, which I then applied piecemeal to the seam. I also finished, laying on my stomach on the bathroom floor, the tile caulk replacement job in a spot that I had missed down under the cupboards. My Trooper email didn’t work this morning, but before I could ask about it, our Webmeister had already jumped in and taken care of it. Our lighting Director sent an email about flight scheduling and holiday time that made my eyes glaze over and my head start to ache and I was only slightly relieved that his questions were not directed to me, since I will be asked to weigh in with my opinion at some point. Probably after my holiday is over.
“Geographically, Ireland is a medium-sized rural island that is slowly but steadily being consumed by sheep. It consists mostly of scenic pastures occasionally interrupted by quaint towns with names such as (these are actual Irish town names) Ardfert, Ballybunion, Coole, Culleybackey, Dingle, Dripsey, Emmoo, Feakle, Fishguard, Gweedore, Inch, Knockaderry, Lack, Leap, Lusk, Maam, Meentullynagarn, Muff, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Nutt’s Corner, Oola, Pontoon, Rear Cross, Ringaskiddy, Screeb, Sneem, Spiddle, Spink, Stradbally, Tang and Tempo.
These towns are connected by a modern, state-of-the-art system of medieval roads about the width of a standard bar of hotel soap; the result is that motorists drive as fast as possible in hopes of getting to their destinations before they meet anybody coming the other way. The only thing that prevents everybody from going 120 mph is the nationwide system - probably operated by the Ministry of Traffic Safety - of tractors being driven very slowly by old men wearing caps; you encounter these roughly every two miles, rain or shine, day or night. As an additional safety measure, the roads are also frequented by herds of cows, strolling along and mooing appreciatively at the countryside, reminding you very much of tour groups.
A typical Irish town consists of several buildings, one of which is always a bar, called a “pub.” Next to this there will typically be another pub, which is adjacent to several more pubs. Your larger towns may also have a place that sells food, but this is not critical”
… and have a great 2009!
Tall, tanned, well-groomed and always wearing shorts despite the weather, he strides along the 2.2 kilometer promenade with the air of a man on his way to somewhere important. As the ever-present gulls hover overhead, we say “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” and Ken returns the greeting briskly in a british-tinged accent. Sometimes we just nod. Sometimes we raise a hand in a casual, regular-beachwalker salute.
This morning was cool, grey and threatening rain. Debbie and I wore sweaters, jackets and, in my case, a knit hat. Ken was wearing his shorts, as usual. We never talk, but each time I see him I’m reminded, as I was this morning, of the night the three of us sat, as strangers, in the White Rock city council chambers with a group of concerned and angry citizens.
The council chambers room is not large. It can seat a sell-out crowd of about fifty. Ken sat behind us, against the back wall, as the mayor and council members debated the merits of a cluster of four high-rise towers being proposed for our small seaside community. Many of us were there to speak out against the development and, in an effort to be seen as unquestionably civil, we were waiting, patiently and quietly, for question period.
By this point my passionately penned “Height and Density” letter-to-the-editor had been re-cast as an article, accompanied by my picture, in the local paper. I had been interviewed by the Globe and Mail about small town development and had faced off against White Rock’s mayor on the CBC. At the public meeting unveiling the towers, Debbie and I had asked two city council members what it would take to stop construction, or at least alter the plan. They advised us, solemn-faced, that if we could convince one thousand people to attend a public meeting and oppose the development, council would “have to turn it down”. So, after falling in with some like-minded old-hand White Rock shit-disturbers, a grassroots campaign began.
The council meeting was not going well. White Rock’s then and current mayor often delivers her surprisingly fragile understanding of the facts with the conviction of a bombastic middle-aged cheerleader. Many residents see this as charming, but her enthusiasm is often coupled with a self-servingly short memory. Promises made at one meeting, opportunistically timed to douse criticism, are (infuriatingly, to the promisees) forgotten by the next. As we sat biting our tongues, a strong baritone voice, with a british accent, broke the silence.
“You’re just full of it. Give it a rest.”
A gavel was hammered and the small crowd was admonished to be more respectful. In the intervening years I have forgotten the details of Ken’s continued loud and disrespectful outbursts, but, had I been in a different frame of mind, I’d like to believe I would have found them funny. At the time, though, I was the one who eventually turned, looked Ken in the eye and said:
“Your not helping us here. Could you please be quiet.”
I do remember that he replied, obviously offended:
“And who asked you for your opinion?”
The next day on the beach as Ken approached us, his perfectly combed hair unruffled by the wind, I decided to say hello. He smiled charmingly and returned the greeting. He either didn’t recognize me or had completely forgiven me overnight. I’m still not sure which.
Our group of concerned citizens succeeded in motivating the community to speak out. Over a thousand people spoke against the Bosa development at two public meetings and by emails to city council. Less than two hundred spoke in favour. Months of painstaking work had brought us a hard-fought victory but, despite this clear message to our elected representatives, we ultimately had no impact at all. Council voted in favor of the development. Two of the four towers now stand at the top of the White Rock hill, and, according to my friend Dave, units are selling slowly.
Debbie and I squandered large chunks of our already precious time trying to influence those in power in our little town. Even though only a few of them had earned our respect, we had risked becoming like them. We had begun speaking their language and using some of their tactics in an attempt to persuade them. We ended our involvement with local politics the day after council voted on the towers. Our friends and former comrades seem to understand.
For two weeks I’ve been glued to the computer screen, reading Huffington Post, Politico and CNN - obsessively following the 2008 US Presidential election. This is the first time I’ve shown an interest in national politics. I think the US election might be the most important political decision made in my lifetime and, as a result I have been careening between elation, when Obama moves forward, and a gut-wrenching disgust when his opponents slash again at my new hero.
Seeing Ken on the beach this morning made me smile. Why today’s encounter was different than others is unclear. Maybe because he reminded me that I’m an observer now, not a participant. Maybe it’s simply because Debbie and I are regular beach walkers again. I made a note to think about this today. What I found myself thinking about, maybe for the first time since that city council meeting, was Ken’s heckling. It was funny, and after all I learned during my political adventure, maybe not such an inappropriate response.
“Charlie”, who had sent the photos to a national radio show but wished to remain anonymous, said he just wanted to know what the craft was. He was worried that the humming noise it made - “like” he said, “when you’re near very large power lines” - was detrimental to the health of his wife and their unborn baby. He would only say that he lived in Northern California.
In ten minutes I’d found a perfect CGI video recreation of the craft, moving around on a makeshift background - ostensibly proving that fakery was probable. Five more minutes took me to a website where a collection of disparate photos of the “Dragonfly Drones”, as they were now calling them, had been assembled - all slightly or significantly different from one another and all from supposedly unrelated sources. One set of photos depicted a craft of such confusing complexity that I grinned with delight. Why would anyone, terrestrial or otherwise, create such a byzantine mass of tangled airborne technology and what possible purpose could it serve? I flipped from my browser to check my mail.
Of course, it didn’t need to serve any other purpose than the garnering and sustaining of attention. The whole idea of the dragonfly drones had held mine for over half an hour. I downloaded the mysterious “CARET documents” that appeared to tie-in with the under-body hieroglyphics. They were beautifully drafted and intelligently presented. The diagrams were high-tech art - marred only by two penciled question marks and a few roughly drawn circles and arrows. I opened Photoshop and removed anything that appeared to be of human origin. I printed the five pages and stood them up against the wall at the side of my desk and then wondered what I would do with them.
I’m watching a concert video of Prince from the 2004 musicology tour. I saw him on the New Power Generation tour, in the 90’s. Every vid I see of him he’s changed everything. The guy honestly must never sleep. His talent and energy are beyond belief. I’m simultaneously scoping t-shirt styles. Hmmmm. Hanes versus American Apparel. Spaghetti strap versus wider strap that hides the bra. You can see why I’m also watching the Prince vid.
New t-shirt design negotiated. New MacBook Pro ordered (after weeks of waiting impatiently for the announcement of the Penryn/multitouch upgrade), Time Capsule ordered (ships today, they say). Walking the boardwalk soon. Gentlemen of Leisure meet for lunch @ 1:00. Going into Vancouver with Connor tonight to see Jordan Carrier (Cozy Bones singer) at the Railway Club.
It’s September 4th and I guess the summer is over. I’m sitting at Gate C at the Regina Airport. A couple of weeks ago we did 5 flights in four days. The week before, we did eight flights in five days. We’ve pissed away a lot of the summer in airports. We flew the day they arrested the liquids-and-gels terrorists. Don’t get me started.
There’s been way too much going on this summer. We were supposed to do a CBC TV show with Mark Kelly from the National. He was going to travel with us for a week and document our crazy reality on two TV shows. It was all set up, flights booked and plans made. And I bailed. Too damn much going on.
Debbie’s father died. My Uncle Ray died.
Frankie gave his notice. He could no longer balance his high paying real job with his wild and crazy Trooper gig. We got wind of this when he told us he wouldn’t be able to swing the frighteningly imminent first 20 show of our summer tour. Our old friend Lance Chalmers saved our bacon at the eleventh hour. We began looking for a new drummer. Dave Hampshire finished up his contracted year as our Tour Manager. In a bizarre example of rock and roll irony, he is leaving his position with the band to concentrate on becoming a better drummer. We began looking for a new Tour Manager. Last night, in Regina, was Frankie and Dave’s last night with the band.
At one level (because there are many) it’s been a summer of loss for me. First Alex - who still refuses to return, regaling us with stories of hockey victory - then Uncle Ray, and now, in a significantly less final version of loss - Frankie and Dave. Much of my activity this summer has been in response to losses. We’ve seen more of Debbie’s Mom. I’ve increased the value of my life insurance. We’ve redone our wills. Smitty and I searched, successfully I hope, for a new drummer. We have searched, unsuccessfully so far, for a new Tour Manager. I’ve glazed-over a bit with Trooper business. Too damn much going on.
I’ve fantasized a life that is less concerned with loss, either recently incurred or potentially imminent. i have a quote on my powerbook desktop that reads; “Worry is the misuse of imagination”. I strain, as I drive by, to catch a glimpse of the old tarnished Airstream parked in the brambles behind the house on 16th Avenue. Debbie and I went to Protection Island for two days. We’ve gone to the bank to see how much money we could muster to fund an as yet undefined getaway.
The shows have been beautiful. When I walk onto a stage, there is nothing but the music and the audience, and I have floated euphorically, every night, in the sweet spot between the two. We have broken attendance records at every fair we have played this summer. The crowds have been large and loving. I do love my job.