Tabula Rasa

1
Arvo Pärt at 36,000 ft.
The voices of the strings weave
Through the air, rise and fall, play
Against each other.

Outside, the clouds
Mingle and separate, fall away
Beneath us, behind us.

Just as time
And music fade
Into silence.

2
To live without expectation,
The future as a blank slate,
To engage with what comes
As it comes
In its own time.

Trying to imagine that.
Knowing that we expect the future
To resemble the past.

The batter looking for a fastball
Doesn’t recognize the change up, and swings through it, surprised.

3
The point where the patterns intersect,
The point where the patterns disperse,
Here the mind is free to play.

Fullness and emptiness have the same rules.

Your plans cannot escape these rules, or contain them.
This is the first rule.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t acknowledge the rules.
This is the second rule.

4
I never expect the face in the mirror.
Recognize it, of course. Know it’s mine.
But it surprises me every time
Like a note played off key
Or an off-speed pitch.

5
The difference between knowledge and expectation:
We all know we will die. And yet death arrives unexpected.

The number of times I watched my father’s head
Move through shades of red and purple
As he coughed at the dinner table, then lit a cigarette.

And yet it was years later, and something else entirely.
I watched him slip quietly into Silentium, all the machines switched off.
I was utterly unprepared.

Benefits of competition

Recently, one of my poems was long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. (For those of you not from Canada, CBC is like BBC, only Canadian, and with fewer good shows. Or like PBS, but with ads instead of pleas for donations.) It was one of 33 poems selected from more than 2,400 submissions, which I think is a pretty cool accomplishment. I didn’t get shortlisted, but looking at the competition, I didn’t feel slighted. There were some fine poets in that group.

Not least among them – in fact, the opposite of least – was Alessandra Naccarato, the eventual winner, as announced today. I commend her and her poem to your attention.

2017 CBC Poetry Prize Winner

The best part of being part of the competition – and the longlist – is that it has provided me with some additional motivation to write more. And so I will. And you’ll see that in the coming weeks and months.

My thanks to CBC Books for the experience.

The truth about Shakespeare

I read recently that the grandson of Evelyn Waugh has claimed to have proof that Shakespeare – or rather, the author of the works commonly attributed some guy by that name – was actually Edward de Vere, better known to historians as the 17th Earl of Oxford. This isn’t a new idea. It was famously propagated by J. Thomas Looney, a 19th century Oxford scholar, and is often referred to as The Looney Theory (or sometimes just The Loony Theory).

I haven’t read Waugh’s argument, but I can say with certainty that he’s wrong, whether or not he’s loony. And I can say this because I know who Shakespeare really was. He was, in fact, Queen Elizabeth (the first one, not the one who didn’t like Diana). Or rather, he was the person masquerading as Elizabeth. That person, as I’ll explain, was Christopher Columbus.

Now, some will say, “Hold on, that can’t be true. Columbus died in 1506. Elizabeth wasn’t born until 1533, and Shakespeare wasn’t born until 1564. Also, he kept writing after Elizabeth died in 1603.” They will say that, but they will be wrong. Or mostly wrong. Let me explain.

On Columbus’s second visit to the so-called “New World” (which was actually just as old as the Old World, just not as ruined), Columbus discovered what most of us know as “the fountain of youth.” As we all know, subsequent “explorers” (a nice word for “invaders”) searched high and low for said fountain (mostly low, although some may have been high from the mushrooms they mistakenly put in their salad). Most famous among them was Ponce de Leon, who went on a wild goose chase in Florida.

Columbus never told anyone about his discovery. Why would he? The Spanish hadn’t exactly treated him all that well, even throwing him in prison at one point. Eventually, he decided he needed a change of scenery, so he made his way to England, several barrels of water from the fountain of youth in tow.

The more of it he drank, the younger he became. His exploring days behind him, he began to work in theatre, mainly playing female roles. One of the side effects of the fountain water was that it suppressed the growth of facial hair, and in fact caused male-pattern baldness, from which he’d never suffered previously. With the right wigs, makeup and costumes he was able to portray young heroines, queens, goddesses – really any female role. He moved from theatre company to theatre company, most of them touring the English countryside.

In the fullness of time, as it were, and to make a long story short, he eventually became friends with a young woman whom fate seemed to have doomed to a life of intrigue. Her mother had, for a time, been married to Henry VIII, and she was in line to become Queen of England when her sickly younger brother died. She didn’t want this life. She wanted something simpler.

Christopher sympathized. He had once wanted that himself. But he was tired of the life of a touring actor, which had very few comforts, even by the standards of a world explorer. Together they hatched a plan. Since he was already used to portraying women, and had a great deal of experience dealing with royalty, he would assume her identity, and she would would become lady of a small country estate.

If you are not convinced, consider this: Elizabeth never married; she hated Spain; she encouraged exploration of the New World; she loved the theatre.

And it was this last point that brought him/her to conceive that a triple life would be more fulfilling than a double life. However, the life of a queen doesn’t really allow one to disappear for weeks on end to perform on the stage. And portraying a queen everyday was all the acting Christopher/Elizabeth could manage. Christopher had often thought he should be better known for his writing, and so he set about learning to write plays, studying surreptitiously with Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.

He began to write sonnets, as well as plays; and his style of sonnet has since been dubbed ‘Elizabethan’. His early plays were terrible, and never saw the light of day – or footlights, either – but eventually his craft improved enough to be performed. Some of his early efforts have not survived, but most have. He befriended a local actor, who became the front man for his endeavours.

Interestingly, for a supposed Englishman, many of his plays are set in Italy, owing to Columbus’s Italian heritage. Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, to name a few.

Eventually Christopher tired of playing royalty. He’d already destroyed the Spanish Armada (a final F*** you to Spain), and he’d used up nearly all of his fountain water. So he once again faked his death – or rather Elizabeth’s death, while continuing to write as Shakespeare. He died for real shortly after writing The Tempest (which is why the plays written after that really don’t measure up). The man actually named Shakespeare “gave up writing” shortly afterward, retiring to Stratford, where he eventually died himself, and is still buried to this day.

So, there you have it. At least as convincing as the nonsense that Waugh and other Looneys have propagated, if I do say so myself.

Best laid plans… part 2

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”  – Albert King

This seems to be the year of the failed vacation. 

The first attempt, as I wrote about recently, was a washout as a result of physics. Namely, a puzzling wobble that my friend’s bike developed that has, for the time being, scuttled a road trip we had planned. We’d likely be eating lobster in an east coast pub right now, if things had gone as planned.

To make up for it, my wife and decided to do a miniature road trip of our own – in a car, this time. After balking at paying nearly $500 a night for substandard hotels on the Oregon coast, we decided to pop over to Vancouver Island for a few days, and come home via Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. This time, it wasn’t physics but physical illness that interfered.

The first thing to know is that Adele is almost never sick. She never takes time off work for colds or the flu. The second thing to know is that she rarely takes vacations.

Unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to go, Adele started coming down with something. She was determined, though, that she would fight it off, and we would have a vacation. She drank lots of fluids, took ridiculous amounts of vitamins, all to no avail.

After a couple of brave days in Qualicum Beach – nice little town, by the way – this morning she decided she needed to see if there was something more useful than vitamins she could take. We spent an hour or so in a clinic, and found out she has viral bronchitis & laryngitis. I cancelled the hotel in PR (hopefully they can fill the room so I can get a refund), and we came home after lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll pick up the cat, who has thankfully not been an asshole while staying at my mom’s the past few days. Beyond that, I’m not making any plans for the last few remaining days of my vacation. What would be the point?

Road trip Days 5 & 6 – best laid plans & all that (Calgary to Nelson – 612 km; Nelson to home – 643 km)

The only thing you should ever expect in life is the unexpected. For example, I expected to be in Duluth today. But I am unexpectedly home instead.

We couldn’t find a simple or straightforward answer to the speed wobble in Scott’s front wheel, short of “remove side bags”. But it’s pretty hard to do a two week road trip without luggage, so that was hardly a workable solution. There likely is a way of fixing this – there has to be; I’ve seen lots of KLRs with hard cases – and once discovered it may even be fairly straightforward, but for now it seemed best to cut our losses. I would ride home, while Scott tries to work through the problem. Maybe we’ll try again in a couple months’ time.

Once we reached that decision, the rest of Monday was devoted to resting, recreation (at the Hop & Brew), and getting myself sorted for the early return to the west coast. None of which is worth going into in great detail.

Tuesday morning, I woke early, dressed & finished packing my bags. I had coffee with Scott, then loaded up the bike and set forth. I got about 25 km when I realized I’d left behind the 2 gallon Rotopax gas can I’d borrowed from Colin for the trip. If it were my own gas can, I’d have picked it up next time I was there. Or Scott could bring it out with him. But as it was a loaner, the only option was to go back and fetch it. Luckily the traffic wasn’t too bad heading back into downtown, at least by Vancouver standards. I fetched the Rotopax, said so long to Scott a second time, and headed south again.

I lived in Calgary for nearly 20 years, but the southwest of the city still confuses me, especially the areas that have been added since I left, nearly 25 years ago. Needless to say, I somehow missed the turn I needed to take to get on the 22x, and found myself, after several twists and turns, on Macleod Trail, several miles south of Anderson Road. By this time I’d been on the road for close to an hour, between backing and frothing and wandering around subdivisions meant to defeat navigation with the endless similarity of their street names and housing styles. I was getting hungry, so I stopped and had breakfast at a regrettable corporate diner, which shall remain nameless, mainly to protect my dignity. The best I can say for it is it didn’t make me sick.

It was nearly 11 a.m. by the time I reached the city limits, and I did eventually reach my chosen route, Hwy 22. I stopped for gas in Longview, and hopped back on the bike. To say the route is windy is like saying Donal Trump has positive self esteem. I spent most of the time being buffeted by cross winds and head winds (but never a tail wind) that seemed intent on pushing me off the road. Good thing it wasn’t an exceptionally windy day.

Eventually I reached Hwy 3, and turned the bike west. Into the wind, of course. I stopped to stretch and drink some water in a little town just west of Frank, home of the Hillcrest Mine disaster, in which nearly 200 miners were killed by an explosion that ripped through the mine, as well as the site of deadly landslide, which killed 90 people. If you like mass graves, there are two in the Crowsnest Pass.

I hopped back on the Valkyrie, as I like to call her, and continued my westward journey. A fellow biker passing in the other direction tapped his helmet near the edge of town, and I managed to slow down just in time to see the speed trap I would surely have been caught in without the warning. That was about as eventful as the day would be from there. I rolled into Nelson a little before 6, having booked a room at the Best Western there.

I unpacked my bike, showered and changed, and walked up and down the main street of the sleepy mountain town. Not much happening on a Tuesday night. None of the local restaurants caught my eye, so I opted for the one attached to the hotel. It had had some good reviews, apparently all from staff. I had the worst steak sandwich it is possible to imagine for dinner. The service was very good, though, so there’s that. I walked around a little more after that, then went back to the hotel to watch mindless TV and fall asleep early.

In the morning, I went to a breakfast place that I like in Nelson, called the Vienna Cafe. It’s attached to a very good used bookstore called Packrat Annie’s. The food is simple, but well prepared, and the jam you get with your toast is homemade. It’s also much less expensive than most other breakfasts in town, so if you find yourself needing breakfast in Nelson, you know where to go.

I still had plenty of gas from the day before. After Longview, I’d filled up in Cranbrook, and I’d emptied the Rotopax into the tank when I got to Nelson. I got back on the highway, and rode to Grand Forks before stopping for gas again. There was none of the usual feeling of adventure about this ride. I was just trying to get home as quickly as possible. From Grand Forks, I rode until I got to Princeton, where I had a burger at the DQ, and gassed up again. Then there was a brief stop in Abbotsford, just to get out of traffic for a bit, before completing the journey home.

It wasn’t how I expected or wanted this trip to go. It wasn’t how Scott did, either. But shit happens. Plans change. On the plus side, Adele now has next week off, and we’ll head over to Vancouver Island for a few days to visit my cousin Jan and her husband Chris. And, as I said earlier, maybe we’ll try again in September, if the bike can get sorted, and I can get the time off.

Road trip days 2-4 (Calgary to launch aborted)

I spent the weekend resting in Calgary. Saturday, I hung out with Scott. Sunday, I got together with my sister-in-law Marianne for breakfast, then spent the rest of the day lazing about, until Scott & I went to his ex-wife Kathy’s and her partner Paul’s place to cook sausages over a fire pit. Well, we had sausages, Kathy, et al, had veggie dogs. Incredibly sad looking things – the veggie dogs, that is – but to each their own. Kathy is an excellent person, which you kind of have to be to teach junior high, and Paul is interesting and engaging in the unassuming way that many introverts are. Then we came back to Scott’s place and finished preparing for today’s start to the trip.

This morning we got up, loaded up our bikes, went for coffee and a muffin to break our fast at a local diner, then hit the road. We reached the city limits and accelerated to match the change in the speed limit – a very civilized 110 kmh. We were riding into an east wind. It wasn’t strong, but it was cool. Scott took the lead.

I noticed several times that Scott’s KLR began to wobble when he got it up to speed, and he had to roll off the throttle to correct the situation. We pulled into a rest area not far past Strathmore, and Scott confirmed the wobble, and confessed it was both annoying and worrisome. He assumed it had to do with the hard cases he had installed for the trip. The bike had never wobbled before, but he hadn’t had it out on the highway since installing the bags. He made some minor adjustments and we set off eastward again, but we didn’t get far before pulling over again. A few more adjustments and we gave it another shot. That, too, was short-lived. I googled ‘KLR speed wobble’, which demonstrated a) Scott’s is not the first KLR to encounter this kind of issue, and b) no one online has any useful advice on fixing the problem. We decided the best & safest thing was to head back to Calgary and try to figure things out there.

 A visit to Scott’s mechanic didn’t help a whole lot. They suggested removing the bags and riding on the highway again to make sure that was the problem. We did, and it was. So. Now what? In a little while, after frustration has subsided, Scott will attempt some configuration changes: removing the hard case rack, and using soft bags instead; changing the windshield; etc. If all goes well, we’ll start eastward tomorrow. If not, I’ll take a winding route home, spend the long weekend with Adele, and decide what to do with the rest of my holidays. 

But that’s getting too far ahead. First things first, then we’ll go from there.

Road Trip – Day 1 – Vancouver to Calgary (approx. 1,000 km/600 mi)

The prepping and packing are behind me now. Now the trip is real.
The day began, as always, with my alarm waking me at 5:45. I made coffee, turned on the morning news. I planned to wake Adele at 6:30, as I normally do on her work days, but she got herself up early. I made breakfast and cleaned up the dishes. I got dressed. Did a last check that I had everything I needed. Said goodbye to the cat. Said ‘see you in a couple of weeks’ to Adele.

And then I started off, into the morning sun and the East wind. Dodging traffic until I got to Hope. I made good time most of the way, reaching Kamloops in under four hours, Revelstoke before 2 p.m., Golden by five, and Calgary in under 12 hours total.

I’d be more expansive and poetic, but it’s late and I’m tired. It was an uneventful, almost boring ride, but a slog. More a test of will than anything. I expect I’ll take my usual, more southerly route home, and in the usual two days, rather than one. The Crow is a prettier route, and the roads are more fun. The TransCanada is just meant to get shit from one city to another with as little fuss as possible. Who, on a bike, wants that?


I’ll be in Calgary for another couple of days before day two of the road trip.