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99centI know a few people who, for the most part, are good people. They pay their taxes, do benevolent work, give to charity, return the tools they borrow, and teach their children to be responsible citizens, and not to lie or cheat, because it is wrong. You get the idea.

But the thing that irks me, is that they think nothing of stealing music, books and videos online. I have tried to reason with them, but they just don’t understand. They have no problem buying a coffee and paying five dollars for it, but they won’t pay ninety-nine cents for a song. “It’s stealing,” I plead. “If you keep doing that, the musician won’t be able to continue to create music. At best they’ll have to go back to washing dishes or whatever it was they were doing before they created their music. At worst, they’ll starve.”

I get laughs as a response, and a condescending head wag. “It’s only ninety-nine cents.” And then the excuse for everything if you are twelve . . . “Everybody does it.”

“I don’t do it.”

“Then you are a mug.” More laughs.

How can I continue to be friendly with people who advocate that someone else should steal my work?

It is one thing to have the ability to create something, but it is so hard for that artist to try to generate an audience for that art. I am not a musician, I am a writer, so digital copies of my work are not ninety-nine cents, but the point is the same. An artist will work for a year or more on a project, and the most they can dream of, is that someone will read it, listen to it or watch it, and enjoy it. Publishers are helpless to guard against this piracy. Even as the local pirates are closed up, the off-shore websites are popping up weekly. So, it is up to the streaming public to do the right thing . . . yeah right.

It doesn’t seem to be the cost. It is all about getting something for free, feeling like you deserve it, and “Sticking it to the man.” Unfortunately “the man” is some poor, talented idealist with bills to pay, kids to put through school, and food to put on the table, just like you.

“How would you like it if someone took that money away from you,” I ask.

“it’s only ninety-nine cents.”

“it’s their ninety-nine cents.”

More head-wagging from them, but it has turned from condescension to annoyance.

“I have to go,” I say. “I’m going home to buy a Jann Arden song. It’s only ninety-nine cents.”

“A dollar twenty nine.” There is a smirk attached to that last remark.

I feel defeated.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”
I sat in a union hall this morning. There were hundreds of seniors, PSWs (personal support workers) and others, listening. To cut costs, in fifteen days, the Ontario provincial government wants to remove the senior’s on-site support workers from their residences and replace them with an outside agency which will be located at least 15 minutes away. That means, if a senior falls, which is not an uncommon occurrence, or needs assistance with some personal hygiene, they will have to phone, and then wait in a queue until a worker can respond. The new agency does not respond to the Lifeline emergency necklace alerts, so the senior, if they have fallen will have to crawl to the phone. This new agency is not equipped to handle emergencies, either, so they will then have to phone for someone else to assist the person in need once they arrive. That means an ambulance or the fire department.

The provincial politician who was there (an opposition member), waved the party flag, saying it was a damned shame, and a scandal. The union wanted to make sure their members wouldn’t lose their jobs, and the local government official said the local government doesn’t want to pick up the cost because, and I swear he said it, “If we take care of this, what else will the province expect us to pay for.” It was then a woman stood up and said, ” People will die because of this policy. Will the deaths be tracked, and someone be made accountable?” The room went quiet for a bit, because she was the only one that had the guts to voice what others were thinking.

The fact is, people will die because of this. That will be when the finger pointing will begin, but it will be too late. I am going to write to the papers, the politicians and anyone who will listen and pass on the word. We are not talking about a vast amount of money: 3 million dollars. And the cost of 911 calls, ambulance rides, firefighters visiting, hospital stays, and of course the declineing health and increase in premature deaths will far exceed the 3 million. I hope you will pass on the word. One day you, or someone you love, will need this service. The small amount of effort you put out now will ensure it will be available.

Language is evolving. This is nothing new; language began to evolve when the first person grunted and another responded with a grunt. It grew somewhat since then, but I think language peaked some time ago, and is now currently in a decline, and I am going to blame it on technology.

I was sitting next to an eighties-something woman in an office waiting room the other day. She felt she had to break the silence to tell me she disapproved of the fact that all but the two of us in the waiting room were on their phones, texting.

“What has happened to conversation?” she asked. I had no quick answer, but that didn’t matter. She was on a roll. “What will happen to their children?” She waved a hand in everyone’s general direction. “Will they communicate to their children that way?” I though this was rhetorical so I stayed mum. It wasn’t. She stared at me expecting an answer. “Well?”

I mistakenly told her that I, in fact, text my kids on occasion.

“There you go!” She threw up her hands in what I hoped was defeat, and the end of the conversation. That wasn’t the end of it though. She launched into a diatribe on how she had confronted a store clerk the previous day about the correct use of “can” and “may”. The fool had asked her, “Can I help you?” He soon regretted his mistake. She beamed as she told me how she had harangued him.

I thought about is briefly, and decided that English is constantly evolving. What wasn’t acceptable yesterday may be perfectly acceptable today. We have (mostly) progressed beyond the aforementioned grunts, and in the last thousand years wrapped our lips and tongues around the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Lennon and McCartney, and Bob Marley. All of these are worthy wordsmiths and all of them, and others of course, inspired a gradual change of English.

But mass communication has opened up the throttle on the speed of change in our time. As radio and television became universal, words, phrases and idioms began to be adopted in regions where they weren’t native, and regional accents began to flatten and to resemble one another. English is beginning to lose its regional cultural bouquet. The most prominent exceptions, I think, are Australia and Scotland. But the biggest crime I thought, was the text message. Its necessary use of acronyms and almost coded short forms is unprecedented—until I remembered using a TELEX machine back in the seventies. Teachers and university professors frequently slap their foreheads when they tell stories about students who use these text short forms in their research papers. (4 sure U know what I mean. LOL)

We all like to think we are immune to the influence of the media, advertising and technology, just like we all think we are above-average drivers. As I tapped out a message on my new smartphone in that waiting room, my phone prompted me with suggestions for words I might use in my text. It was great fun at first to let my new phone coach me, until I realized that my phone was changing the way I would have worded my note. I had become only the co-author of my message. I was witnessing the evolution of English at my fingertips.

It was then that my companion was called into the office with, “Ma’am, how can I help you?”

“See?” she said to me, “Can I help you, not may I help you . . .”

“How are you?” I asked her.

“Good,” she responded while rising from the chair.

“Not ‘well‘?” I smiled.

She paused, staring at me as only someone will who has been hoist in their own petard. Her lips thinned before she quickly turned and fled into the office.

I had the honour of being presented the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal on December 29, 2012. In a surprise twist, I found myself standing beside another recipient whom I hadn’t seen in almost thirty nine years. The last time we were together was the event that sparked my writing  the book As You Were: The Tragedy at Valcartier. Indeed George was mentioned in the book. To cap it off, the man who pinned the medals on our chest, was Charles GQEDJM_Fostaty_Guttautta, our former company sergeant-major. It was indeed an emotional reunion.

Nothing could have prepared me for the dog hair. Blonde Labrador retriever dog hair. It is everywhere. We had a cat once: a cute, long-haired, nasty, spitting tabby that shed like it was an Olympic sport, but this . . . this is something for the folks at Guinness. Not the beer people— the longest, shortest, fastest and hairiest record keeper people. I knew she would have to be walked, fed and cared for, but the hair! The hair doesn’t just fall off her and lay on the floor either, although some of it does, but just to tease you. It lays there on the floor like the symptom of a disease. The majority of the hair acts like a virus, though, and is carried by the gentlest of household air currents, upward to swirl and orbit, (f)lying somewhat dormant in the host, until you have vacuumed the hallway. Then it strikes, silently, just before the guests arrive in their black pants and black sweaters. Vacuuming was just treating the symptom. I had to go to the source of the trouble.
I bought a brush.
And not the run of the mill brush. I bought a high-tech brush that removes all the hair that’s meant to be removed: the undercoat, the fine hair, the biggest offender. I tried brushing her in the house once. Mistake. I had to immediately change the furnace filter. So, now we go outside. She loves it. She sits on the front step and watches the world go by while I dethatch her. The amount of hair that comes off her is truly satisfying. I bring a plastic bag with me because I find the volume of hair that I harvest is a bit embarrassing. I wasn’t embarrassed at first, but the people that walk by the house while I am engaged in the shearing seem to gawp and stare, and I swear the people walking their shed-proof frankenpooches, like labradoodles, schnoodles, and shih tzus, snigger at us. It doesn’t matter, I am making great headway. She half-closes her eyes as I pull the brush over her, and smiles.
Brushing her is an exercise in futility.
She is a fur factory. As soon as we walk back into the house, I can see the hair begin to accumulate around her on the floor. Then, as if the act of brushing her has caused her some discomfort, she gives herself a good shake, and like Pig Pen in the old Peanuts comic, a cloud of blonde hair is raised and slowly descends to her paws. She smiles up at me again. I’ll vacuum it up later: once it has all settled. Right. Until then, I’ll relax on the couch, maybe close my eyes for a few minutes. As soon as I do, she is up there with me, jostling and fussing, until she has jammed herself into what she feels is a comfortable spot. If you’ve never snoozed on a couch with a Lab, you haven’t lived. And just as I close my eyes again, I realize — I’m wearing my black pants and my black sweater.

I have been travelling around lately, speaking to groups about post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the start of my talks about PTSD to folks, I tell a story about a neighbour, a toad and me.  The story isn’t important. The important thing is that it illustrates that we sometimes make assumptions, when we don’t have all the facts. That’s the way it is with post-traumatic stress disorder. People make all kinds of assumptions about PTSD. It used to be known by many descriptions: shell-shock, battle fatigue, the thousand-yard stare, and of course, cowardice, among others. (Unfortunately, it still is in some circles.) But in the 1980s, some smart people realized that what the sufferers were experiencing wasn’t behavioural, it was neurological. They discovered that you can’t just snap out of it, man up, grow up, or get over it. In the 1980s it became a recognized clinical disorder. Although we most frequently associate PTSD with the military, PTSD can affect anyone. It doesn’t discriminate by gender, age or occupation. It is an equal-opportunity disorder.  There are some occupations that may be more exposed to the stimulus that create a host for PTSD.  The military, emergency first responders like police, firefighters, paramedics, emergency room nurses and doctors are all obvious candidates, but victims of violent accidents, crime, assault, terrorism, abduction, and rape are also at risk.
So what brings it on? Here is my simplified version.
When our minds experience trauma, that is, when we feel that our lives are in danger, or the lives (or well being of those we are responsible for) are in danger, or we feel utter helplessness in a perilous situation, our brains, not surprisingly, become most interested in our survival. The brain triggers a response that immediately has our bodies create a massive amount of adrenaline that floods through us, giving us a rapid and intense burst of energy.  This energy is channelled to our gross motor limbs, our arms and legs, to help us either defend ourselves, or escape the danger. That is commonly called the “fight or flight” response.  Most times brains are able to reset after the trauma is past, but if the trauma is particularly profound, or prolonged, or is repeated, something else occurs. A deep neural pathway is created in the brain. The brain feels that it will need the memory of the trauma again soon, so it hangs on to the info, and it has its hand ready on the adrenaline switch . . . just in case we’ll need to fight or flee again. In most cases, we won’t need that adrenaline again in the short term. But, the brain hangs on to the info.
So what can happen?
The problem is that our brains don’t understand that we don’t need the adrenaline, but it stays at the ready for a long time. In most cases, the brain relaxes and “resets” within thirty days, but in some cases it will hang on to that trauma, even for years. The brain may begin to look for opportunities to pull the switch. Things that are only barely associated with the old trauma, may present the brain with what it thinks are triggers. Sights, sounds and smells are very powerful triggers. When the brain feels that you are in danger again it flips the switch and the body is again flooded with adrenaline to help us escape or defend ourselves. After that happens a few times we begin to see a pattern and try to avoid the things that triggered the adrenaline. Being on guard and being watchful, trying to avoid the triggers is exhausting and can cause sleep disorders. The lack of sleep causes daytime fatigue and irritability, which can make us less able to recognise and avoid a trigger situation, causing another PTSD episode, like nightmares, flashbacks or an outburst of anger, or can lead to depression. This continues as a cycle, spiralling downward.  Once the switch has been pulled a few times as false alarms, the sufferer will become more aware of the triggers and try to keep away from them. Not only does the hyper-vigilance and hyper-awareness exhaust them, they may begin to retreat from what they used to enjoy; friends, family, sports and the other diversions that usually enrich their lives.  For them, however, they present unwelcome opportunities to trigger the PTSD. So the PTSD sufferer begins to withdraw from their former life, shunning their former normal life and further isolating themselves.
So what now?
The difficult thing is for the sufferer to recognise PTSD in themselves.  Many times the symptoms don’t seem to bind together in a way that easily lets them know they are affected. Everyone is different, and PTSD manifests itself in each person differently.  Once they suspect that they may have PTSD, the easiest thing is to let their family doctor know that they would like to be assessed. They’ll most likely be referred to a specialist who understands the disorder, and then will begin a journey toward health. There are treatments for PTSD, and they are effective. The treatments don’t remove the memory of the trauma; it just moves the memory from a place in the brain where it creates urgency and panic, to a place where it becomes benign.  Getting back to making assumptions when not having all the information: If you are suffering with PTSD, sadly it’s not just about you. An important thing to remember about treatment for PTSD, is that the sufferer is not only getting treatment for himself or herself. Their family and friends and co-workers are also affected by their PTSD.  Their family also experiences the effects of the flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, depression, substance abuse and all the other baggage that chains the sufferer to this disorder. PTSD adversely affects the community which surrounds the sufferer. In the same way, treatment also benefits all those around the person suffering from PTSD.  Treatment is important and available.

I don’t care what the calendar says, spring hasn’t officially arrived for me, yet. When I was young, I had milestones that I teased myself with to give myself hope that spring was coming.  March 1st gave me the promise of spring, even though the snow would still be thick on the ground. By March 15th, there was a good chance that the snow would be gone, but I was under strict orders from my friend Jumper that I was not to put away my shovel until that date. For him, putting the shovel away was an invitation for the snow to return in force. If it snowed after that date he would seek me out and bark, “When’d you put away your shovel?” I was always the first of his usual suspects to be rounded up for questioning. Easter was also a good marker, but as an adult, I have come to look to the experts for the announcement of spring. No, not Environment Canada, and it has nothing to do with the calendar; it’s the peepers.

We live backing onto a green space. Well, we call it a green space even though it is white and barren in the winter, and the pond is frozen over. But in the end of March and the beginning of April, green shoots start to pop out of the ground and for a while the fields are covered in a short green fuzz as the wild grasses start to emerge. That is all very pretty, of course, and the air gets warmer too, but the spring hasn’t fully arrived for me until I can hear it. Sometime soon, I should be able to hear the first of the spring peepers. These tiny frogs wake from their winter sleep, poke their heads out of the pond water, and begin to call out to their prospective mates. Only the males peep. At first there will be only a few, and the sound will be easily mistaken for bird calls, but as the spring wears on their numbers will increase. At its peak, their performance can sound like sleigh bells. Then sometime in early July, the sound will change. The peepers will give way to the bullfrogs, with deep voices that sound like the throaty murmur of hushed voices of conspirators. (What can they be planning?)

The snow is now gone, the air is warmer and my shovel has been put away for some time.  It should be any day now — and I can’t wait.

There is much talk this week about the government building and opening a new casino in Toronto. This, the government says, will increase revenues and help to drive down the provincial debt.


There are a few things about this that don’t sit well with me.  First, I am not a gambler. I understand that it is exciting for some folks and I have heard all kinds of pro-casino arguments from people. I know one fellow for instance, who tells me he is not a theatre patron. He rationalizes budgeting $150 at a casino instead of spending a similar amount seeing Cirque du Soleil, Celine Dion, Le Miserables, or (I swear he said this) Cats.  Good for him. He can rationalize all he wants to. I wasn’t judging him. I just mentioned in passing, that gambling was of no interest to me. He leapt on my comment and vigorously defended gaming (that’s what he called it) like a meat eater defending his diet to a vegetarian.  I didn’t mention that the theatre and casinos are not comparable, that you can leave the theatre enriched by the experience, and from a casino with only empty pockets. I just stood there gawping. He, like many, has a good income, is seemingly well balanced, and has self control, although, I wonder if he always keeps to his casino budget. He can easily get into his car and drive to a casino an hour or so away and enjoy his diversion.  The remote nature of most casinos, here, makes it necessary for people to get into cars or go on a long bus ride to gamble. Driving for an hour to get there creates a psychological barrier for some people and a physical barrier for others. You really have to be motivated to go to a casino. But the government wants to build a casino in Toronto. They want to make it easier for people to get there and spend their money — their hard-earned money. Yes that sounds like a cliché. They are trying to remove the physical and psychological barriers that prevent people from going to casinos, by putting them within reach. Who’s reach? People without cars, people with less money, people who are looking for a dream to rescue them from a desperate situation, and young people, the video game generation. Those who feel that they can translate their success on an Xbox, to a slot machine. Have you been to a casino? The people there don’t look anything like the folks in the James Bond movies.

You can bet they will build the casino on a bus line or near a subway station.

All this money that will go to the government to pay down the debt — where will that come from? It will not magically appear in people’s pockets on the way to the casino. There is only a certain amount of money available. The money spent at the casino will be paid out at the expense of food, rent, bus fare, savings, visits to the dentist or any of the other unnecessary frills. Don’t think for a moment that the people in charge haven’t thought about this. This is all part of the business plan.  Put the casino where the heavy users can get to it.

Everyone knows the odds of winning at the lottery or a casino are dismal, but we are all seduced by the dream of winning. There is a story of a conference in Las Vegas where a mathematician was teaching about the odds against winning and how if someone gambled regularly, they would get a far better return if they just deposited that money they would normally spend, in a savings account or a retirement fund. He argued convincingly that even in Vegas where a casino advertised a 98% payback rate on their slot machines, the ever diminishing return meant that eventually you would be left with no coins to put into the slot. The crowd diligently took notes and applauded with vigour at the end of his seminar. They were convinced. Later on that evening, one of the seminar attendees, while walking through the casino to get to the restaurant, spotted the mathematician feeding quarters into a slot machine. He was surprised enough to approach the mathematician, saying, “I was at the seminar today. You convinced me that this was futile, that the odds are in the favour of the casino. That there was only the slightest chance of winning.”

“Right. The odds are against me,” said the mathematician. “But, you never know.” He too was seduced by the dream.

The problem with a dream, however, is that you have to experience it with your eyes closed.

Our brains adapt very quickly to patterns and codes.  That is why it is easy to overlook our own mistakes and typos.
That is the reason I need an editor.  Have a look at this.

7H15 M3554G3 5ERV3S 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5! 1MPR3551V3
7H1NG5! 1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 Wa5 H4RD BUT N0W, 0N 7H15 L1N3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17
4U70M471C4LLY W17H 0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.
B3 PR0UD! 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15. Pl3453 F0RW4RD 1F U C4N R34D 7H15.

I was listening to an interview on CBC one Saturday — it was Writers and Company, I think. There was a novelist being interviewed on her new book.

“How much of this is autobiographical?” asked the interviewer.

“Nothing,” replied the novelist. “But at the same time, it is all true. Although it is fiction, it expresses truth in a way that memoir can’t.  That is the way it is with fiction,” she continued. My ears perked up. She went on to point out that memoir asserts that it is fact, but in reality is more fiction than a novel.  The memoirist stretches the truth and embellishes the facts to paint a nimbus above his or her own head, while placing themselves in a situation far more interesting or perilous than the “actual” truth would describe.

I was livid and found myself yelling vowels at the car radio. I was too angry for consonants; it was vowels only. My first book, a memoir called As You Were, had just been accepted by a publisher, and my warm, rosy glow of self-satisfaction had just been hosed down with cold water on national radio.

How could she say that? I had taken great pains to paint as accurate a picture of the situation as I could, and I had an editor who was insisting that I back up my story by citing my sources and adding, what seemed to be, endless footnotes and a bibliography. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on the radio.

At home, I began looking for additional information on the perception of the memoir and found some startling news.  Although what novelist on CBC said didn’t fit with what I had written, there were scads of people out there writing memoirs and autobiographies that felt it was acceptable to embellish, enhance and invent the truth in their work. I had to give my head a shake.  I had thought the whole idea of the memoir was to expose the truth. But, there is a slippery slope in the memoir genre that some people are very comfortable sliding down.  In fact, some folks advocate tobogganing down that slope.  Although I didn’t change the names in my book, I understand why a writer would want to alter the names of people to keep them from being embarrassed by the writer’s desire to open his or her own kimono, so to speak. But there are writers who not only change names, they advocate creating composite characters, compressing time, inventing situations that never existed, and placing themselves in conversations with manufactured characters or places. When questioned on it, they quote “literary licence” or a desire to keep the pace up and the story interesting. If the story isn’t interesting, don’t bother telling it, or tell the story and call yourself a novelist, I say.

This information was from a series of discussions I found on Amazon in the chat section. I have no idea how many of these folks participating have published their work or if they will ever write and publish.

Thankfully, I don’t have to write another memoir. Mine is done, and I am happy to say I didn’t compromise the truth. I understand, now too, what she meant by truth in fiction.  I have finished my first novel and see in it, and in the process of writing fiction, a different kind of truth.  A legitimacy of thought, a philosophical truth.

So, I reluctantly have to say that the CBC novelist was right, at least sometimes — and I take back all the vowels I hurled at her in the car.