Friday 31 December 2010

Marriage: Having our lives witnessed

Please bear with me as I lead you through a bit of a necessary introduction to take you to the point of my final blog for 2010.

The 2004 American film Shall We Dance is a remake of a 1996 Japanese film of the same name. The 1996 garnered 91% on Rotten Tomatoes while the 2004 remake only received 46%. I haven't seen the original but must add that 46% shouldn't dissuade you from the remake. It is worth a rental on a Saturday night curled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn.

Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Lopez, the film is about the story of a lawyer who has a charming wife, a loving family and a good job but feels that something is missing. Each evening on his trek home on the train, he sees a woman staring through the window of a dance studio. One night, he impulsively jumps off the train and signs up for ballroom dance lessons in the strange hope of meeting her.

The major part of the movie follows him through various lessons where he, for some inexplicable reason, becomes enamoured with ballroom dancing. No, he does not have some fling with the woman, Jennifer Lopez, but his growing enthusiasm for dance rekindles her own interest in her talent for the art.

It is never really explained why, but Gere's character keeps the lessons secret from everybody including his wife, Susan Sarandon. She eventually becomes suspicious about his absences worried he is having an affair. She hires a private detective to find out what's going on but when she does learn the truth, she stops the investigation supposedly not wanting to invade her husband's privacy.

The rest of the movie involves a dance competition; the time spent practising and the competition itself, etc. with some other plot twists. The important part of the film is the moment of confession between Gere and Sarandon about him keeping things secret, about wanting to find himself and not wanting to hurt his wife if he was unhappy. The climactic scene has him declaring his love for his wife.

Okay, I should have given something of a spoiler alert but I don't think I will have told you too much to have ruined watching the film.

I now arrive at the point of all this. There is a scene in the movie where Susan Sarandon meets the private detective in a bar who investigates her husband.

Beverley: All these promises that we make and we break. Why is it, do you think, that people get married?

Detective: Passion.

Beverley: No.

Detective: Interesting because I would have taken you for a romantic. Why then?

Beverley: Because we need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet. I mean what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it, all the time, everyday. You're saying your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.

Final Word
Who will bear witness to us? Who will bear witness to our lives? What does any one of our lives mean? There are not a billion but close to seven billion people on this planet and yes, we will all go unnoticed for the most part. However "for the most part" is not "all parts"; it is not everything. Hopefully there is still someone who will notice.

The final scene of the movie:

Uploaded on Aug 26, 2010 by cerino68
The Book of Love by Peter Gabriel


Rotten Tomatoes: Shall We Dance? (2004 American film): 46%
The cast is warmly appealing, but with the loss of cultural context and addition of big-name celebrities, this American version loses the nuances of the original.

Wikipedia: Shall We Dance (2004 American film)
Shall We Dance? is a 2004 American film that is a remake of the award-winning 1996 Japanese film of the same title, written and directed by Masayuki Suo.

Rotten Tomatoes: Shall We Dance? (Shall We Dansu?) (1996): 91%

Wikipedia: Shall We Dance? (1996 Japanese film)
Shall We Dance? (Shall we ダンス? Sharu wi Dansu??) is a 1996 Japanese film. Its title refers to the song, "Shall We Dance?" which comes from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

my blog: Peter Gabriel: The Book of Love (lyrics) with video of song


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Macular Degeneration: a problem I can't see

Today I received an email from my cousin in which he announced to various members of the family that he was shutting down his father's Internet and email account. His father, my uncle, is 94 years old and has been suffering from problems with his vision for some time now. The last time I saw him, I asked him specifically what was wrong with his vision and what he described to me was macular degeneration although he didn't use that term and wasn't sure what the term macular degeneration was.

My cousin had told me that his father's vision had been deteriorating to the point where he could no longer read anything never mind a computer screen. If he had anything to do with reading, it was through talking books. Today's message told me that the fight was over; it was time to pack it in.

What is it?
Scientific journals will do a better job than I so I will restrict myself to the basics in layman's terms.

The macula is a yellow spot in the centre of the retina. While the retina is larger and includes your entire field of vision, the macula is centralised and specialised for high acuity vision. A degenerative process progressively damages the macula to the point where it no longer functions. The person still has peripheral vision but is blind in the centre of their field of vision.

My experience
2 years ago now, my optometrist was perplexed during an eye exam and wanted to give me a second going over. He told me of seeing a discoloration on my retina and started asking me questions about my vision. I couldn't tell him that I had experienced any problems but he recommended that I immediately start taking vitamins with added lutein. Up to this moment, I didn't know what he was thinking of but he then went on to assure me he didn't think I had macular degeneration. Thanks for calming my nerves but I don't even know what the heck that is!

He fills in the details and to my question about what this eventually would lead to, he tells me to hold up both of my fists in front of my eyes. "That's what you would see if you have macular degeneration." What? Yes, he explains, the central part of the field of vision stops functioning and you can only see what's on the sides, the periphery.

I must admit that I did not appreciate the magnitude of this condition when first told about it. I have sight; I have always had sight. What would I do if I no longer had sight? Is this condition even more frustrating than total blindness in that you are constantly teased "peripherally" with what you can no longer see?

My optometrist also discussed sunlight with me. Guess what? I have avoided wearing sunglasses just about my entire adult life and I was at this point 56. He explained I must faithfully wear sunglasses at all times when out in the sun. Is it never too late to start? Have I already damaged my eyes?

Lutein and Zeaxanthin
According to the experts, lutein and zeaxanthin are "carotenoids", an organic yellow pigment which is used by our eyes to absorb damaging blue and near-ultraviolet light; it acts as a natural sunblock analogous to sunglasses. Apparently, zeaxanthin is predominates in the macula while lutein predominates elsewhere in the retina.

Supplementing my diet with multiple vitamins with added lutein and zeaxanthin follows the buzz in the medical community that this helps the eyes and possibly staves off macular degeneration. True? False? I think back to the moment where I held my fists up in front of my eyes. I'm not sure I want to wind up like that. I think of my uncle whose computer is gone and now must rely on talking books as he can no longer see well enough to read. Man, life without sight? I shudder to think about that one. I doubt I could live alone under those circumstances.

Final Word
For anybody who has read my ramblings about health, you know my general policy is to be pro-active when it comes to dealing with the old bod. I'm not a hypochondriac but I've realised that sticking my head in the sand doesn't mean I'm going to avoid what ails me or what may eventually ail me. I always have an annual physical. I always discuss with my doctor any issues I may have run across to get his expert medical opinion. I make sure that I regularly have certain tests like my PSA (see my blog My Prostate: something near and dear to me) and although less frequently, I don't forget about my backside (see my blog Where the sun don't shine: my colonoscopy). I know that sooner or later I am going to die (see my blog 58 down, 23 to go) but I would hope that between now and then I can maintain a certain quality of life which means being healthy, being mobile and being lucid. I want to remain independent! Run for your lives! Literally. should be the rallying cry for all of us.


Canadian Ophthalmological Society: Macular Degeneration

Wikipedia: Macular Degeneration

Some frightening pictures
The following web sites have posted pictures which attempt to illustrate what one would see if suffering from this condition.


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Thursday 30 December 2010

Rob Ford drops the bag... er, ball

Newspapers today are reporting that Rob Ford has plans to get rid of the plastic bag fee. This bylaw which came into effect on June 1, 2009, requires all retailers in Toronto to charge a nickel for every single-use plastic retail shopping bag. Toronto was apparently the first Canadian city to pass such a law with the goal of reducing the amount of plastic being sent to landfills.

The original bylaw made no provisions for controlling what was done with the fees collected other than encouraging stores to spend the money on environmental or community initiatives. Nobody has any stats on what becomes of the 5 cents but it is thought to be kept for the most part by retailers. However, the CBC has reported that a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect.

The CBC also reported that impetus for eliminating the bag tax, as per a spokesperson for the mayor, was that people are supposedly "sick of being nickel and dimed to death" and Mr. Ford would like to do something about this.

PlasticNews.Com says that Toronto was the first city in North America to enact such a law. They go on to list various cities which have now followed Toronto's lead to do likewise:

Fourteen U.S. communities, including San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles County, have now passed plastic bans. They include the counties of Kauai and Maui in Hawaii, whose bag bans go into effect Jan. 1.

Westport, Conn.; Edmonds, Wash., and the Alaska towns of Hooper Bay and Bethel have plastic bag bans. The Outer Banks, N.C., counties of Hyde, Dare and Currituck also have a ban on plastic bags, enacted as a single measure for those three counties.

In October, Telluride, Colo., passed a plastic bag ban that goes into effect March 1 and also requires retailers to charge 10 cents for paper bags.

In addition, Washington, D.C., has had a 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags at checkout since Jan. 1. A $1 fee on carryout plastic bags goes into effect on Jan. 5 in Brownsville, Texas, the location of a major paper bag manufacturing plant.

As we arrive at the end of 2010 and the end of a tumultuous last quarter which saw us vote into power Mr. Ford, I see yet another sign that our mayor has an eye out for the little guy. The little guy said waiting in his car behind a stopped streetcar was a pain, so Rob Ford vowed to get rid of streetcars and replace them with buses. The little guy says 5 cents for a plastic bag is a pain so Rob Ford vows to get rid of it.

As for the streetcar issue, I think I covered off how the numbers didn't quite add up in my blog Rob Ford: Day#1, Promise #1? Mr. Ford's comparison between streetcars and buses is flawed and I'm saying this as somebody who lived right smack in the downtown core for years.

As for the plastic bags, I can say from experience that the charge, although only five cents, made me finally get my act together and start doing what I should have been doing for years: carrying my own cloth bag and reusing it instead of getting more and more and more and more plastic bags. That has been admittedly a sin on my part and I am now trying to atone for it. Hail Mary.

Unfortunately if Mr. Ford does listen to the little guy and eliminate the plastic bag tax, he may be putting 5 cents into our pockets but misses the bigger picture. Yes, a better written bylaw would have ensured the 5 cents collected by retailers was not just pocketed but spent on community initiatives. The important point, the really, really important point is what the CBC reported: a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect.

Think about that: a drop of 70 and 80 per cent in plastic bags being handed out to customers. That is enormous! Answers.Com says it may take a thousand years for a plastic bag to biodegrade or disintegrate. At some point we as a society have to consider the greater good, not the little guy's complaint about 5 cents. For him, it is a question of a single plastic bag, for us as a group it's a question of zillions of plastic bags.

I do not think having a cloth bag around to reuse it for carrying purchases is a big deal. And those times when I goof up and forget to have a bag with me, well, I accept my punishment and fork over the 5 cents. Heck, I'm lucky; we're lucky. In the list of other cites doing this from PlasticNews.Com, I see Telluride, Colorado is going to charge 10 cents per bag starting on March 1, 2011 and on January 5, Brownsville, Texas will charge $1 per bag!

Mr. Ford, please. Forget the little guy and "make all of us" do our part in making this a better city. And if Toronto had a nickel for every time I said that...


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Barb Tarbox (and my mother): bigger warnings on cigarettes

Canada's Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced today, Thursday, December 30, 2010 new requirements for warning labels on cigarette packs. Newspapers have reported that the new warnings will be more graphic covering 75 per cent of the pack and include a phone number for a quit-smoking hotline. The current anti-smoking warnings take up 50 per cent of the packaging.

An example of a new warning prominently features a picture of a woman who clearly is in the last throes of cancer. She appears wasted and boney; the disease having ravaged her flesh. It is a frightening image of a not pleasant death and it is an image which makes me want to turn away and look elsewhere. Who is this woman?

Barb Tarbox was just another person like you or me. She was born on April 10, 1961 and notably but unfortunately was a smoker all her life. She died on May 18, 2003 at the age of 42 having succumbed to cancer which had infected both her lungs and her brain. Before her death, she decided to do something noble with the remainder of her life by talking frankly with people about her illness and the circumstances which lead up to her condition. She apparently admitted that even after finding out she had cancer, she still could not quit smoking.

A photojournalist from The Edmonton Journal, Greg Southam was given the assignment of taking pictures of Ms. Tarbox's last days. Some of those photos are published on the web by the Canadian Association of Journalists. As well, David Staples, a reporter for The Edmonton Journal teamed up with Mr. Southam to write a book Barb’s Miracle: How Barb Tarbox Transformed Her Deadly Cancer Into A Lifesaving Crusade. Mr. Staples has recently written an article about his experience talking about Mr. Southam's pictures and his recording of Ms. Tarbox's final days.

According to the reporters, Ms. Tarbox wanted to serve as an example, a warning of the dangers of smoking. She wanted the images of her and of her sickness to be used as anti-smoking publicity in the hopes she could in death dissuade others from smoking when she herself could not. She wanted people to see, to understand and to appreciate that cancer was a possibility and it could happen to anybody.

My mother: a personal story
My mother died in 1996 at the age of 66. She had smoked from the age of 14, a span of 52 years. Her cancer started in her lungs, spread to her brain then ended up in her liver. A vibrant woman in life, she had wasted to a scant 84 pounds (38 kg). She had but 6 months from the first diagnosis to her death.

When she first announced her cancer, it was a family meal in August 1995 out on the patio in the backyard. I remember the announcement as being somewhat surreal. I heard the news; I'm not sure I fully grasped the significance.

Over the next few months, I came from out of town to visit several times a month. I remember one time when I was about to leave to start my 2 hour drive home, I hugged my mother and said, "I'm going to miss you." My mother replied, "I know." We both knew we were not talking about me leaving to go home; we were talking about her dying.

In the final weeks, my mother was so weak, she could no longer walk. My father had set up a bed on the main floor of my parents' home so my mother no longer had to attempt to climb the stairs. The doctor had her taking methadone pills to combat the ever-present pain. My mother didn't seem to be lucid and I didn't know whether this was from the constant pain, the medication or both.

At one point, my mother was moaning and I asked her if she was in pain. She sort of said yes so I decided to give her another one of the methadone tablets. My father was worried that this wasn't following the doctor's prescription and methadone was addictive. I'm smiling about this now but at the time I said to him a little exasperated, "Who cares? She's dying!"

After she died, we held a funeral and the community came out to say good-bye to her and wish the rest of us well. That evening, we had a family dinner where we tried to comfort one another and carry on the tradition of eating together but this time, minus one.

At some point during the evening, I asked my sister, my brother and my sister-in-law outside for a private talk. All three of them smoked. They had done so since their teenage years just like Mom. I told all three of them that yes, it was up to them to continue or not but I wanted to remind all three of them that our mother died from smoking. They graciously accepted my "speech" as the tone of it was that I was just a little ticked of being deprived of my mother by something which was totally preventable.

As I write this, it is 2010, 14 years later. Not one of them has stopped smoking. Now am I one to get on my high horse and berate them? I am an alcoholic and I drank like a fish for about ten years until I had the luck, the good fortune to stop. I will be shortly celebrating 23 years of sobriety but I do remember the merry-go-round and the difficulties of getting off. Addiction isn't fun.

The bunch of us from the family have about another 9 or 10 years until we all reach the age of 66, the age of my mother when she died. What's going to happen? It's inevitable that we are all going to die sooner or later; the question is whether or not we are going to be checking out naturally or thanks to the big C. I have joked over the years that being the non smoker of the family, I have inhaled gawd only knows how much second hand smoke. The irony of it all would be that instead of anybody else I get cancer. Now wouldn't that be a laugh? I would be the very first to look up to the heavens and say, "Good one. You are hilarious!"

Don't think of that as me being morbidly funny. Heather Crowe (1945-2006) was a Canadian who also got involved in an anti-smoking campaign when she contracted lung cancer. However she had never smoked. She claimed this was from the second-hand smoke she encountered in her job as waitress over 40 years.

Speaking about "cosmic jokes", I am reminded of the story of Chuck from high school. He was a heroin addict and I mean the worst kind. A nice enough guy but he took to stealing from everybody including his friends to support his habit. He was completely out of control.

He showed up at a stoner party once and told me he had been up for 8 days straight on drugs. Man, is it possible to stay awake for 8 days without sleeping? Heck!

Finally, Chuck gets himself off the drug; he gets straighten out and puts his life back on track. At the age of thirty, he is holding down a good job with a construction company and being a responsible citizen. One day, he's driving a bulldozer and the machine slips on an incline then rolls over crushing Chuck to death. When I heard the news, I laughed at the cosmic joke. Chuck had been to hell and back because of his addiction to smack and it ends up he gets his life snuffed out early in a freak accident.

Final Word
Life is precious and it is short. Every moment needs to be savoured, treasured and valued beyond gold or diamond. If Barb's picture stops one person from smoking, it will be worth it. I know she's not going to stop my brother, my sister and my sister-in-law: too bad, so sad. My father died two days short of his 80th birthday. I would rate that as a good, long life. My mother died at 66 and I would say she lost out in comparison with my Dad. Hmmm, now that I think about it, I would say that I lost out too. I was deprived of my mother early when I should have had her for another 14 years.

According to reports, Ms. Tarbox's photos have made their way south to the United States and are being considered there for an anti-smoking campaign. Others see the graphic nature of the images of her final days as a hopeful deterrent in the effort to sway a population from the life altering choice of lighting up. I certainly remember the final days of my mother and it is not a pretty sight to watch the human body being consumed alive by a ravenous disease that spares nothing during its unstoppable journey.

If you smoke, I sincerely wish you the best in your efforts to stop. Addiction is not a easy thing to wrestle to the ground. I know; I speak from experience. Remember that an addiction will kill you and just because you didn't die today, doesn't mean that sooner or later that day will not come. It's inevitable.


Wikipedia: Barb Tarbox

Barb's Miracle by Greg Southam, The Edmonton Journal
Photographs of Barb's last days

The story behind Greg Southam's renowned deathbed photograph of anti-smoking crusader Barb Tarbox
By David Staples Wed, Nov 10 2010

Wikipedia: Heather Crowe


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Book Review: The Millionaire Next Door

The authors originally set out to study millionaires in the United States. They visited posh neighbourhoods but discovered those people driving luxury cars and living in expensive homes didn't necessarily have much wealth. They began to discover something odd which went against their preconceived notions of what or who a millionaire was. These people may have had high incomes but they were spending it all.

Thomas Stanley, one of the authors was quoted as saying, "Most people have it all wrong about wealth in America. Wealth isn't the same as income. If you make $1 million a year and spend $1 million, you're not getting wealthier, you're just living high."

They found a group of relatively unknown people in society who were actually wealthy. Now not wealthy in terms we would usually consider, certainly not wealthy like a Donald Trump, but they did have a net worth of one million dollars or more. It just didn't show when you looked at them.

First published in 1996, this book has apparently sold over 2 million copies according to its author, Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D.. While Dr. Stanley has a number of books under his belt, it is certainly this one which has struck a chord with readers and set the foundation for various strategies in dealing with personal finance. Oddly enough, the so-called secrets of these millionaires turn out to not be some sort of fabulous investment plan but just basic common sense. Considering that the majority of people are not among the Donald Trumps of the world or not even among these people making up the rich next door, it would follow that the majority are not missing this fabulous investment plan but are just missing common sense.

The book designates some terms with associated acronyms to categorise people according to their wealth: UAW is an Under Accumulator of Wealth; AAW is an Average Accumulator of Wealth and a PAW is a Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth. It uses a simple formula to determine their net worth and where the individual fits: age times annual income divided by 10. For example, a 50 year old man earning $80,000 per year should have a net worth of 50 times 80,000 divided by 10 or $400,000. An UAW would have less than this amount; a PAW would have more.

Of course, this simplistic formula leaves out many of the refinements a professional financial planner would use in assessing anybody's portfolio but the authors set out to provide an easy guideline for judging one's financial position. In looking at the idea of these quiet, unassuming millionaires next door, they had run into the phenomenon where people, sometimes high earners like doctors were blowing everything they made to maintain a fancy lifestyle. They were saving nothing and consequently actually had a low net worth. It is a bit of shock to find out that your doctor, somebody whom you would consider to be wealthy, turns out to look wealthy but is not.

The "secret" strategy
Common sense. It's an odd phrase when you think that the word common would mean something not out of the ordinary, something everyone would have. However the authors in studying those people who did have a net worth of a million or more, discovered some basic rules we should all live by.

Spend less than you earn
If you have a hundred bucks, don't spend two hundred bucks. That seems pretty obvious but there are other examples where the clarity may be ah, so clear.

Using a credit card sometimes removes us from the process of connecting our expenditures to our income. We arrive at the end of the month when we have to pay off the balance and there may not be enough in the kitty to pay off the whole amount. Our mistake? "No sweat, I've got enough to make the minimum payment." Oh brother, you are toast! The interest rates on outstanding credit card balances are astronomical and I can think of no better way to start your way down the slippery slope to financial ruin.

Avoid Buying Status Objects or Leading a Status Lifestyle
I suppose that we somehow think we have to keep up with the Jones but who actually said that? Is there some unwritten rule we have to keep up with if not undo our neighbours? Who the heck are we trying to impress anyway?

Why buy a Porsche for $80,000 when a Honda Accord for $32,000 will do just fine? (I owned a Honda Accord; good car) Why buy a ten thousand square foot home (929 sq metres) when a fifteen hundred square foot home (139 sq metres) would do just fine? Besides, there is a lot less vacuuming to do.

That's the trick. Don't buy unnecessary "stuff" and when you have to buy "stuff", don't buy the most expensive "stuff". Believe me, I ain't impressed.

Measure your financial success by your net worth
You're standing at the fence talking with your neighbour. He's a doctor. He makes - what? - two hundred grand a year? How to compete with that? Well, don't. Your measurement is net worth not income. Your home is paid off while that doctor still has a mortgage. Your income is going into the bank; his income is going to the bank to pay off the mortgage. Your home, your mortgage-free home is part of your net worth. That is the true measure of wealth.

Financial independence is the target
Imagine it. You live your life; you pay your bills; you go on vacation but... you don't work. Ah, sounds divine; let me check my lottery tickets.

However this isn't an insurmountable obstacle on our journey to the promised land. It is just basic common sense. Spend less than you make. Don't buy status objects or lead a status lifestyle. Invest your unspent money in solid, secure vehicles. What's not to understand? Slow and steady wins the race.

Calculating your net worth
Remember this simple formula: age times annual income divided by 10. The following are two online calculators which can assist you in finding out just where you are financially.

Retire Early
Scroll down to the bottom to find the calculator. This offers a few extras to the simple formula given above.

The wealth calculator
You are required to supply your age, your annual income and your net worth. It then classifies you as an UAW, AAW or PAW tells you what your net worth should be.

Dr. Thomas J. Stanley
The author's web site contains a list of his books, a blog, a biography and stories about various "millionaires". While this book originally appeared in 1996, I see the author has continued to write and his latest book, published in 2009 is called Stop Acting Rich and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire.

Final Word
In my review of the book The Wealthy Barber, I pointed out the same common sense approach to financial planning. The Millionaire Next Door expounds the same principles but describes the real people possibly living next door to us who have succeeded to put these principles into practice. It is inspirational in that it shows the problem is not insurmountable and the goal is not unattainable. I know I'll never be a Donald Trump but maybe the more modest goal of being an AAW would be within my grasp and give me a retirement which could be truly labelled my golden years.


Wikipedia: The Millionaire Next Door

official web site: Thomas J. Stanley


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Alone: My New Year's Resolution

I have an on-going joke about resolving to do something in the New Year.

Somebody: So, what's your resolution for the coming year?

Me: I'm going to quit smoking.

Somebody [frowning with a perplexed look]: Ah... but I thought you didn't smoke?

Me: I don't but I always like to start with something easy then work my way up to the more difficult.

How many times just before the clock strikes midnight have I said to myself under my breath that I promise to do such and such a thing? Has it worked? In reflecting back on these moments, I can't say one way or another whether I've made a promise I've kept or whether I've even made a promise which was as specific as something like quitting to smoke. I think that generally these promises have been of a more vague nature like "be happier", "try harder", or "save more money". Okay, I suppose "save more money" could actually be quantified so if I put together a spreadsheet and start tracking this in the coming year, maybe I can come back at the end of the next year with some perceptible pecuniary proof of my promise being kept. - Sorry, I couldn't think of a "p" version of "being kept" to keep my alliteration going for five P's; I'll have to be content with four.

The other two resolutions, "be happier" and "try harder" are vague, unquantifiable, the type of promise which may be construed as not really being a promise. They are more of the warm and fuzzy type of thing one says to make everybody feel good, a politically correct thing to say in company which at the end of the day, do not necessarily translate into anything concrete. You can't take that one to the bank.

As I look through some articles penned by various journalists, most of them of an amusing slant on the end of the year tradition, I find this comical take by one lady who talks cynically of her own resolutions by saying that most are broken by day three and discarded by day seven. I suppose that if we start with something vague like "be happier", this is very true but what about "save more money"?

The Wealthy Barber
I recently reviewed this book and would remind everybody that one resolution you should make and keep for the New Year would be reading that book and getting your financial house in order. This isn't just for the coming year; this should be for the rest of your life. And one thing which is attractive about this resolution is that it is quantifiable; it is something which you will be able to sum up and at the end of the year you will have a "total" on which you can reflect.

In that article, I talked about creating a spreadsheet for yourself where you could track your finances. For me, I have a simple sheet divided into two sections: my income and my expenses. Of course, the section on income is simple: it is merely my pay check deposited in my bank account every two weeks. However I have the sheet set up in columns with the headings of the columns marked with the date of the event in question. Consequently, I have columns corresponding to the deposit of my pay so I know exactly on what date I get my moo-la.

The bigger section is my expenses and once again I have columns showing the date of an expense. By glancing at the columns, I can easily see the dates of when any expense is due whether it is a mortgage payment or paying off my VISA. The most important aspect of doing this is that I can see what's coming up in the near future. If I have to pay off my VISA this coming Monday and I can see the cost is $400, I know that I should be judicious in what I spend for the rest of the week and the weekend knowing that I have to have $400 next Monday. Without this overview, I'm not sure how I could keep track of my cash flow and how I could respect my obligations.

I ofttimes read in the newspapers about how many can't seem to control their finances and find themselves in debt especially debt on their credit card. Without some sort of means of tracking my finances, I assume I'd have my own situation messed up and I could even find myself borrowing on my credit card. Actually, I'm not sure calling it "borrowing on your credit card" is an accurate description. I believe people just don't have enough at the end of the month to pay off the entire balance and consequently just make the minimum payment. Okay, that sort of gets you into the next month but has anybody who does this checked at the rate of interest? It's astronomical! Avoid that like the plague.

Enough preaching
Okay, I started off wanting to say something amusing about resolutions but then got off on a bit of a tangent about something practical in which I strongly believe. Money may be the root of all evil but it is certainly a nice thing to have on a rainy day or any day for that matter. Ha!

So for you, what else? Go on a diet? Finish that project? Quit smoking? All are laudable resolutions and I wish you the best of luck in getting past day number three. Just don't forget reading The Wealthy Barber. That is a resolution you can take with you to the bank.

Final Word
This year, I'm going to hold a Monty Python New Year, meaning "And now for something completely different." I've decided to ring in the New Year by myself. I've decided to spend this final time of the year by myself to reflect on both the past year and the coming year in some vain attempt of figuring out all the great issues of cosmic importance concerning my place in the universe. - Wow, now is that profound or what? - I'll have my thumbed copy of the Wealthy Barber open for consultation as I work through my spreadsheet playing "What if?" scenarios to try and figure out either how destitute I'll be when I retire or whether I can afford gold leaf on my bathroom fixtures. Either way, I'll keep a window cracked so I can listen for anybody in the neighbourhood yelling "Happy New Year!" out their window at the stroke of midnight.

In returning to my opening and my "easy" resolution, I will leave you with one final question for this end of the year extravaganza:

Anybody got a light?

Some suggested resolutions
A few items of interest from my blog you may want to consider for the coming year's "promises to self".

Death-defying feat: Parachuting: If God had meant me to...
I didn't realise how influential I am. This past October 8, I did a tandem parachute jump and shared my pictures afterwards with my colleagues at work. One of them just told me he has "resolved" to bestow a gift on his daughter for her birthday this spring which will involve the two of them doing a skydive at the same club I visited. Ah, a brave soul indeed!

Exotic Vacation: Egypt
How about a vacation in someplace you've never been before? My wife arranged for us to spend 2 weeks in the land of the pharaohs and I can qualify this as one of the most fabulous trips I've ever taken.

Unusual activity: Sedona: Hot Air Ballooning
You don't have to go all the way to Sedona to do this but believe me, it is a very nice part of the United States to visit. I talk about taking my very first trip in a hot air balloon and it is quite the experience. Check out some of my links; you can do this near to Toronto.

Something for Couples: Ballroom Dancing: A metaphor for men and women?
I talk about my wife and me taking ballroom dance lessons. One, two, three, cha-cha-cha. Yes, how about something for both you and your partner?


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Monday 27 December 2010

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

Who on this planet doesn't know the name Stephen King? Born in 1947, this American author has written and published 49 novels including 5 nonfiction which have sold over 350 million copies. Of course, his fame has spread even further as a number of these books have been turned into successful films: Carrie, The Shining, It and Misery to name but a few.

Consequently, when Mr. King penned a book about his experiences as a writer with his advice on the craft of writing, everyone took notice whether they were writers themselves or just fans of his work.

Apparently King finished this half memoir, half writing advice book in 1999 but was unsure of how to proceed. On June 19, he was struck by a pickup truck and ended up with a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures in his right leg, scalp lacerations and a broken hip. After his stay in hospital, he did return home and did return to the book.

The result is a work in three parts: his early formative years when he first got started in writing, his advice on writing and finally, his accident, its outcome and how the future looks for one Stephen King, author.

The first part in dealing with his early years underlines how success was not something which came to him easily.

By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.

This section also includes the publication of the novel Carrie in 1974 which coupled with the 1976 movie would cement his name in the annals of American popular writers. On a more personal note, he talks about his abuse of both drink and drugs and how his own family had to stage something of an intervention to bring him back to reality.

The second part is King's advice about writing. He gives tips on grammar and points on developing plot and character. Very importantly and very inspirationally for anybody considering writing, he says that "a competent writer can become a good one." - Ah, there is still hope! - He emphasizes how a writer should avoid unnecessary details and thoroughly avoid the use of unnecessary adverbs. His discussions about adverbs struck me as rather personal and I would be curious if somebody ever compares his style to other writers of renown.

Part three returns to the autobiographical in discussing his accident, his serious injuries, his painful recovery and his struggle to start writing again. In the last chapters of the book, King touches on a number of practical subjects, such as research, writing classes (you don’t need them, according to King, but they can be intellectually stimulating and fun), and getting an agent.

His Advice: Write!
In looking at somebody who has proven to be so successful in the area of the popular novel, how could anybody including the author himself "package" his talent so the rest of us would be able to replicate the formula? [chuckles] After all, how many people over the years have sat down in front of a notebook, a typewriter or a computer and suffered from the dreaded blank page syndrome? And it is here, Mr. King probably mentions what sets him apart from the rest of us. His advice? Write. Yes, just that. Write. That novel isn't going to put itself on the page, we have to write it. That short story isn't going to magically appear in our word processor; we have to write it. Of course, there may some tips about grammar, punctuation and setting yourself goals as he says like sitting down to write at least 2,000 words per day and not getting up until he's done. At the end of the day, we have to write.

Writing is a lonely occupation. I've heard this numerous times and as I sit here right now jotting down this article, I realise how true it is and yes, Mr. King has some important advice about this.

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.

When I read that I understood something important about somebody we all perceive as being successful. He isn't successful because he started with the idea of "I want to be a success". He's doing what he's doing because he loves what he's doing and success is something that came afterwards and while rewarding, is not his motivation to do what he's doing. He has passion about his work. That is his true motivation, not success per se. Yes, I understand anybody can deliberately start out with the idea of achieving success and some people may make that work but here, with Stephen King and with writing in general, the true raison d'être is the passion for the process not necessarily success itself. We're not supposed to be trying to get dates and make friends. (see my blog Passion: Can You Live Without It?)

His Advice: Read a lot
So, how to write? Write! But as well as writing one must read.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Hmmm, this does seem self-explanatory. Musicians listen to the music of others, sports athletes watch their competition; what better way to learn about any subject than by studying what others are doing in that field of endeavour. Look at your peers (read) and practise (write).

Amusing enough though, Mr. King comes back to emphasize that by doing, one learns to do. And yes, if you are more interested in getting dates and making friends, maybe writing isn't for you.

What follows is everything I know about how to write good fiction. I’ll be as brief as possible, because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don’t spend actually doing it. I’ll be as encouraging as possible, because it’s my nature and because I love this job. I want you to love it, too. But if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well – settle back into competency and be grateful you have even that much to fall back on.
-On Writing, paperback version, p. 138

His Advice: Cut 10%
King talks about an early rejection letter which clued him into the idea of removing the fluff and getting to the point. 1st draft minus 10% = 2nd draft. King says that we all fall in love with some great idea but in the end, we may have to drop that idea if it detracts from the flow of the story. It's a tough thing to do but a necessary thing to do.

Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggest cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)...I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

His advice: Write a draft then put it away
King feels that we should write out a first draft just about nonstop then put it away. Editing will be necessary; there is that 10% of fluff to remove but in his opinion, we should set our draft aside and come back to it. Part of his reasoning is to get over our initial infatuation with our clever ideas and to come back to the work with a more objective, critical eye. It is then that we will be able to better see and cut what is not necessary.

His Advice: No passive voice
I had to chuckle as King goes on about how he hates the passive voice.

The timid fellow writes The meeting will be held at seven o'clock... Don't be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write The meeting is at seven. There, by God! Don't you feel better?
-On Writing, paperback version, p. 116

He gives other examples which explain his penchant for direct, forceful descriptions. Never "The rope was thrown by the writer" but always "The writer threw the rope".

His advice: The adverb is not your friend
King strongly believes adverbs are overrated, a fallback for the "timid" writer. He recommends we all make use of "said" by itself as opposed to adding adverbs or worse still, choosing other descriptive verbs.

"Put it down!" she shouted.
"Give it back," he pleaded, "It's mine."
"Don't be such a fool, Jekyll," Utterson said.

He then offers

"Put it down!" she shouted menacingly.
"Give it back," he pleaded abjectly, "It's mine."
"Don't be such a fool, Jekyll," Utterson said contemptuously.
-On Writing, paperback version, p. 119

King calls these adverbs "swifties" named after the Tom Swift series of books. The author, one Victor Appleton, apparently tried to avoid using the unadorned word "said". A Wikipedia article gives numerous examples which seem to underline the somewhat absurd side of these verbal constructions. Whether we agree or not, the master Stephen King has made his pronouncement and we should all take heed.

I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one's own pleasure, that fear may be mild - timidity is the word I've used here. If, however, one is working under a deadline - a school paper, a newspaper article, the SAT writing sample - that fear may be intense. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn't need the feather; the magic was within him.
-On Writing, paperback version, p. 121

His advice: Don't care what others think
Interestingly enough, King always judges his work by letting his wife read whatever he's working on. He admits to being a little needy for that initial feedback from her as his way of inspiring himself and of understanding whether or not he's hit his mark.

However he says that you have to write. You have to write what you know; you have to write what you feel is important and you can't spend a lot of time listening to your critics. Writers write and nobody should distract us from that goal.

His advice: Get to the point
This ties into the 10% rule of cutting out the fluff. Yes, we may have a really, really good idea but does it fit with what we're writing? Meandering introductions, long anecdotes, sidebars, whatever may have unto themselves wonderful little kernels of inspiration but may take the reader all over hell's half acre as opposed to leading them in the direction of the story. No babbling; get to the point.

Popular writers are not good writers
King points out that "popular" is ofttimes not considered "good" and in his opinion, this is unfair and untrue. He talks about the "literary establishment", a sort of caste system which amounts to an exclusive old boys' club where popular writers are never admitted. Hmmm, is this one of those cases where the successful can laugh all the way to the bank?

There is a ray of hope
While geniuses are not born every day - well I've know that's left me out for a long time - King does give us the idea that there are possibilities.

I am approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
-On Writing, paperback version, p. 136

Final Word
This book is a must for anybody who is a writer of sorts whether a blogger, a journalist or a delusional, sorry, determined future novelist. Even a King fan would appreciate this read for insights into their fav sometimes horror writer. Seriously, for anybody who is attempting to string a few words together, there are a number of terrific lessons to study about the technique of writing. It's a must. Yes, there are many reference works having to do with the craft of prose but getting some advice from one of the most successful, prolific popular literary greats of these current times.

To sum it all up: "Read a lot; write a lot." And Mr. King does emphasize writing. After all, just what are we talking about? Writing! To quote Richard Branson, "Screw it, let's do it."

I will end with this comment from Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert made back in March 2004: "A lot of people were outraged that he [King] was honored at the National Book Awards, as if a popular writer could not be taken seriously. But after finding that his book On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, I have gotten over my own snobbery."


Wikipedia: On Writing

Wikipedia: Stephen King


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Sunday 26 December 2010

Movie Review: The King's Speech

When I first looked at Rotten Tomatoes, it had this film ranked at 95% but just now, it's ranked at 96%. A film can go up?

This British historical drama centers on King George VI played by Colin Firth and speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who helped the king overcome a stammer. The time is around 1925 to 1939.

The story starts out with the Duke of York making a disastrous speech. He seeks help from Logue who works with the future king to develop his speaking skills. Lionel Logue, uncertified, without a diploma and a bit eccentric with the addition of being a part-time actor, somehow forms a bond with the king.

In 1936, King George V dies leaving Edward as King. Of course, Wallace Simpson comes into the picture and this ends with Edward abdicating making his brother king. With this and with the onset of war, Britain more than ever needs a king who will lead but to do so, he must speak and speak without a stammer. The film ends with King George VI making an important radio address calling upon his people for their courage in this newly declared war. With Logue's help, the King prevails over his disability and rising to the occasion of leading his people.

The end titles of the film state that the king rewarded Logue by inducting him into the Royal Victorian Order. My research shows that he was awarded an M.V.O (member) on 11 May 1937 and was elevated to C.V.O. (commander) in 1944.

Royal Victorian Order
This is an order of knighthood created by Queen Victoria. Unlike other honours which are bestowed on advice from British ministers, this honour is granted by the King or Queen themselves to recognise distinguished personal service to the Sovereign.

Conrad Black
Ah, how one thing leads me to another as a click on the various links in my research articles.

In 1919 in Canada, the Nickle Resolution was adopted which basically set a policy requesting that British Sovereigns do not grant various honours to Canadian citizens. This was originally put forward by William Folger Nickle who felt such honours were not consistent with democratic values. Although the House of Commons adopted the resolution, it was never sent to the King and it was never advanced to the Senate. As such, it is not legally bending for any government but has set a precedent which has been followed to a certain degree.

It was the Nickle Resolution that Prime Minister Jean Chrétian used to prevent Conrad Black from becoming a British Life Peer.

Final Word
This is an excellent film, a great historical drama. Firth and Rush are absolutely stupendous and the supporting cast is wonderful: Helen Bonham Carter as the Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), Guy Pearce as King Edward and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. This is a great piece of entertainment made all that much more fascinating because it is history; it is fact not fiction. Yes, Rotten Tomatoes has this one accurately rated; it well deserves its 96%.


Rotten Tomatoes: The King's Speech: 96%

Wikipedia: The King's Speech

Wikipedia: George VI

Wikipedia: Lionel Logue

Wikipedia: Royal Victorian Order

Wikipedia: Canadian titles debate

official move web site

Official Trailer

68th Golden Globes - January 16, 2011
Best Performance in a Motion Picture - Drama: Colin Firth


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Saturday 25 December 2010

Relationships: Spending Christmas and the holidays alone

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I can't help thinking of Monty Python. In their original television sketch comedy series, they would segway from one bit to another having the narrator say, "And now for something completely different." In looking this up on the Net, I see they put together a film of their best bits from the show and called it the same name.  I discovered a YouTube video for this.

Well now, the point to this abstruse - or is this obtuse? - introduction was to say: And now for something completely different: I am spending Christmas alone. Plus the holidays. I suppose I could have gone out of town, dug up some old friends, visited distant relatives or whatever but decided to stay home, well, in my apartment and treat the day like any other Saturday. That means do some laundry, clean the bathroom and the kitchen, dust around in various places then swab down the floor with Pine Sol for a feeling of being once again in a pristine abode.

I just looked out the window of my basement apartment and realised I'm not the only one treating this as just another Saturday. A moving truck has pulled up right to the door and some young men are setting about unloading what appears to be the contents of an entire apartment. Moving on Christmas? Then again, it's a Christian holiday so for everybody else, it's just Saturday. It's just a weekend like any other weekend. Big deal.

However for us Christians, how does one handle the holidays when being alone?

Ideas for Spending the Christmas Holidays Alone
by embitca
Skip the Pity Invites
If you can't spend your holiday with your own family or significant other, spending it with someone else's family usually sucks. I've done it a couple of times and have always regretted it. You'll spend half your time answering questions about where your family is and why you aren't with them, so it's not exactly a way to make your forget you aren't with them. The rest of the time you'll spend uncomfortably witness other people's holiday dramarama. Skip it!

If you really need to celebrate with other people, there are two options:
Spend it with other people who are also alone for the holiday. Start talking to your friends and find out who isn't going home and then start planning your own celebration. Pass the word around your office and social circle that anyone who is going to be alone is welcome to come to your party -- I suggest making it a potluck or a buffet of some kind. Just make sure it doesn't turn into a couples party. It's fine to invite some couples, but balance the guest list.

Or spend the day volunteering with strangers:
Just keep in mind that homeless shelters and other places that need holiday volunteer help tend to look askance at volunteers who only call them once a year. They have regular volunteers who are committed year round and frequently have all the volunteers they need for the holiday itself from their regular pool. So if you want to go that route, call them in September (or call them NOW!) and start volunteering immediately. Don't wait until the week of Christmas to call. It is too late by then.

Spending Christmas Alone this Year? 5 Tips to Make it Easier
by purpleone
If you're spending Christmas alone this year, you might wonder how you wound up in this situation while everyone else around you appears to have loved ones to spend their time with. However, this may not be the best time to wallow in self-pity and get all philosophical. Instead, take heed of these 5 tips to make your Christmas easier.
  • Work over Christmas.
    Extra cash
  • Decorate anyway.
  • Are you really that alone?
    There is always someone: friends, neighbours.
  • Volunteer.
    Helping others can be therapeutic.
  • Better luck next year!
    Plan early to visit others The bliss of Christmas alone
Caroline Sullivan - December 21, 2010
A Christmas all alone? What's the problem? I've spent Christmas all alone for years, and I can't think of anything better. By "alone", I really mean alone: without family, friends or, usually, neighbours... it's glorious – 24 hours when I don't have to talk to anyone or do anything I don't want to...
I know how it sounds to someone who's never tried it – absolutely pitiful, right? Who deliberately spends Christmas on their own? For most Brits, December 25 is a non-negotiable togetherness day – unless aloneness is forced on us ... Most people expect to spend it with a houseful of relatives, and supermarkets are stuffed with multi-packs. There's no turkey meal for one.

But if you think of it as a day for being incredibly self-indulgent in an unselfish way, you might understand the attraction. Unaccountable to anyone, I can eat, read for hours, go for a walk or, as I did on Christmas Day 2000, strip wallpaper while listening to Radio 1... It's always a day well spent.

It's not that I don't have other options. Most years I get asked to visit friends... It's just that, ever since that first solo Christmas in 2000, when I was newly and unwillingly single, I've grown to love solitude, to the point where I now automatically decline invitations.
...the most important thing is attitude. Being alone is only lonely if you want it to be.

All Alone on Christmas? Don't Despair
By LRobbins
All alone on Christmas? Poor you. No family nearby, no significant other to speak of? Friends are all busy with their own families? Everybody has someone to celebrate Christmas with except for you right? OK, no one is saying that being all alone on Christmas is easy, but to a large degree it depends on the approach you take.  Now that you’ve had your pity party it’s time to get on with things and have a wonderful Christmas alone. First, you are not alone, many people are also all alone on Christmas, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. How many horror stories have you heard from friends about how all they did was fight with their family during the holiday?

As clichéd as it sounds, helping others will make you feel better... volunteer at a local soup kitchen ...a senior’s residence?...  Don’t you feel better already?

Take a Vacation
... Don’t take a vacation where you will have time to sit on the beach and feel sorry for yourself – you can do that at home for a lot cheaper.

Embrace Christmas Traditions That Make You Happy
Just because you’re all alone on Christmas doesn’t mean that you have to forgo your favourite Christmas traditions... Get in your car or walk around your neighbourhood with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the Christmas lights.

Round Up Other Christmas "Orphans"
If you ask around your workplace, or acquaintances, you may be surprised at how many people are spending Christmas alone, chances are they are just not advertising it...  Christmas “Orphans” Dinner, potluck style.

Get Outside and Get Moving
Exercise has been found to have a similar effect as antidepressants on mood and its effects are amplified if it’s done in nature so put on your hiking boots and get walking... make a snow angel. It’s impossible not to have a smile on your face when you’re lying in the snow flapping your arms and legs about.

Indulge Yourself
Think of what it is that you like to do and do lots of it.  Are you a movie fan?...  Love to read?... you finally have some extra time... perfect your painting technique or start that novel that you never seem to have time to write.

Think Yourself Happy
Lastly, believe in the power of positive thinking. If you think that you will have a miserable Christmas you probably will. If you think that you will have a fantastic Christmas, even though you are spending Christmas alone, you also probably will. I’m not saying that spending Christmas alone is easy, it isn’t, but a lot of it depends on your perspective.

Final Word
I spent Christmas eve at the movies watching Barney's Version, a film I really enjoyed. Today, Christmas day I intend on going back to the flicks to see The King's Speech which seems to have been accorded 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. I will review that one for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm cleaning the apartment; working on completing some exercises (sit-ups, push-ups and the like), writing my blog and fiddling with some other literary endeavours. All in all, a busy day. As the various columnists have said, it's a question of attitude, of perspective and of doing something.

I just checked the news:
  • A suicide bomber kills at least 45 people in Pakistan
  • The son of former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin has been arrested after the 24-year-old's friend was run over by a pickup truck in an Ottawa parkade. Jack Tobin has been charged with impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death and driving over the legal limit result in a death.
  • At least 32 people were killed in suspected bomb blasts yesterday in the central Nigerian city of Jos, where violence between Christians and Muslims has left hundreds dead this year, police said.
  • A 42 year old woman is dead after a fire broke out in an apartment in Toronto on Christmas eve.
  • 2 days ago, a 9 year boy drowned in Ottawa after slipping into the Rideau River.

My Christmas isn't so bad after all.


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Movie Review: Barney's Version

An excellent story, wonderful characters, great acting, beautifully filmed. This is a fabulous piece of entertainment which enthrals you and in the end, leaves a tear in your eye. Paul Giamatti in the title role proves himself to be a thespian of renown; you can't take your eyes away.

Based on the book of the same name by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, the film follows Barney Panofsky through his life and his three marriages. However it is the story of wife number three, Miriam, which makes this an unusual story of true love. He meets her at the wedding with wife #2 and begins to pursue her. Not a full spoiler alert but it is both funny and poignant. She is "the one": a solid marriage, raising children, a normal life. Unfortunately, Barney in a capricious spur of the moment fling (see my blog It seemed like a good idea at the time), destroys the trust with the one true love of his life. Ah, those momentary lapses of judgement that one oh so wishes to be able to take back. [sigh] It is a telling moment later on in the story - Miriam is married to somebody else - when the two of them meet and Miriam asks whether they cannot be friends. Barney who is showing the signs of Alzheimer's gets confused still hoping they'll get back together to which she says, "We had a lovely marriage but now it's over." Once what was so beautiful is now gone. It is so sad.

As I said, the story follows Barney through his life and that includes the last scene of his death. I was a little misty eyed bidding a fond farewell to a character very much flawed but who grew on me.

According to reports, it has taken 13 years and 5 writers to end up with this $28 million production. Apparently producer Robert Lantos originally worked with the author Mordecai Richler to try and produce a screenplay from this 1997 book. Richler died in 2001 but Lantos continued working with others until he had a script that captured the essence of the novel.

The film was shot in Montreal, New York, the Laurentians and Rome; all beautifully done and somehow the Montreal scenes are perfectly punctuated by the music of another Montréalais Leonard Cohen.

The director Richard J. Lewis seems unknown but he hails from TV having directed quite a bit of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. This film will represent a good notch on his belt.

Other notables in the film include Dustin Hoffman as Barney's Dad, Minnie Driver as wife number 2 and Rosamund Pike as Miriam, wife #3. If you keep an eye out, you see cameos by David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Paul Gross. I loved Saul Rubinek even though his part was very small.

Barney's version is story of the every man who has his moments of greatness and his moments of great wrong. Miriam's voice over in the trailer sums it up perfectly, "Life's real. It's made up of little things. Minutes, hours, naps. Errands, routine and it has to be enough."

This is a terrific film. It's real. And it is more than enough.


Rotten Tomatoes: Barney's Version: 80%
With a magnificent performance by Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version offers much comedy and insight to the complexities of modern romance.

Wikipedia: Barney's Version (film)
Barney's Version is a 2010 Canadian comedy-drama film directed by Richard J. Lewis, based on the novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler. The film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

official movie web site: Barney's Version

Wikipedia: Barney's Version (novel)
Barney's Version is a novel written by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, published by Knopf Canada in 1997.

68th Golden Globes - January 16, 2011
Best Performance in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Paul Giamatti


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Friday 24 December 2010

Relationships: The power of touch

Recently I ran into an odd story about a man who has an affair and decides to divorce his wife. However his wife has an odd request that in the end; brings her husband back. According to Snopes, this story has been circulating in emails since 2004 and has undergone a number of changes as the story was modified to suit various target audiences. The debunkers classify this as a legend but I myself would be inclined as to label it a work of fiction.

Nevertheless I saw a message in this story which merits some study. Read over the story and we will come back to this issue.

The Story
When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, "I've got something to tell you." She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes.

Suddenly I didn't know how to open my mouth. But I had to let her know what I was thinking. "I want a divorce." I raised the topic calmly.

She didn't seem to be annoyed by my words, instead she asked me softly, "Why?"

I avoided her question. This made her angry. She threw away the chopsticks and shouted at me, "You are not a man!" That night, we didn't talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage. But I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer; she had lost my heart to Jane. I didn't love her anymore. I just pitied her!

With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, our car, and 30% stake of my company.

She glanced at it and then tore it into pieces. The woman who had spent ten years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her wasted time, resources and energy but I could not take back what I had said for I loved Jane so dearly. Finally she cried loudly in front of me, which was what I had expected to see. To me her cry was actually a kind of release. The idea of divorce which had obsessed me for several weeks seemed to be firmer and clearer now.

The next day, I came back home very late and found her writing something at the table. I didn't have supper but went straight to sleep and fell asleep very fast because I was tired after an eventful day with Jane.

When I woke up, she was still there at the table writing. I just did not care so I turned over and was asleep again.

In the morning she presented her divorce conditions: she didn't want anything from me, but needed a month's notice before the divorce. She requested that in that one month we both struggle to live as normal a life as possible. Her reasons were simple: our son had his exams in a month's time and she didn't want to disrupt him with our broken marriage.

This was agreeable to me. But she had something more, she asked me to recall how I had carried her into our bridal room on our wedding day.

She requested that every day for the month's duration I carry her out of our bedroom to the front door ever morning. I thought she was going crazy. Just to make our last days together bearable I accepted her odd request.

I told Jane about my wife's divorce conditions. She laughed loudly and thought it was absurd. No matter what tricks she applies, she has to face the divorce, she said scornfully.

My wife and I hadn't had any body contact since my divorce intention was explicitly expressed. So when I carried her out on the first day, we both appeared clumsy. Our son clapped behind us, "Daddy is holding mommy in his arms." His words brought me a sense of pain. From the bedroom to the sitting room, then to the door, I walked over ten meters with her in my arms. She closed her eyes and said softly; "Don't tell our son about the divorce." I nodded, feeling somewhat upset. I put her down outside the door. She went to wait for the bus to work. I drove alone to the office.

On the second day, both of us acted much more easily. She leaned on my chest. I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I realized that I hadn't looked at this woman carefully for a long time. I realized she was not young any more. There were fine wrinkles on her face, her hair was greying! Our marriage had taken its toll on her. For a minute I wondered what I had done to her.

On the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I felt a sense of intimacy returning. This was the woman who had given ten years of her life to me.

On the fifth and sixth day, I realized that our sense of intimacy was growing again. I didn't tell Jane about this. It became easier to carry her as the month slipped by. Perhaps the everyday workout made me stronger.

She was choosing what to wear one morning. She tried on quite a few dresses but could not find a suitable one. Then she sighed, "All my dresses have grown bigger." I suddenly realized that she had grown so thin, that was the reason why I could carry her more easily.

Suddenly it hit me... she had buried so much pain and bitterness in her heart. Subconsciously I reached out and touched her head.

Our son came in at the moment and said, "Dad, it's time to carry mom out." To him, seeing his father carrying his mother out had become an essential part of his life. My wife gestured to our son to come closer and hugged him tightly. I turned my face away because I was afraid I might change my mind at this last minute. I then held her in my arms, walking from the bedroom, through the sitting room, to the hallway. Her hand surrounded my neck softly and naturally. I held her body tightly; it was just like our wedding day.

But her much lighter weight made me sad. On the last day, when I held her in my arms I could hardly move a step. Our son had gone to school. I held her tightly and said, I hadn't noticed that our life lacked intimacy.

I drove to office.... jumped out of the car swiftly without locking the door. I was afraid any delay would make me change my mind...I walked upstairs. Jane opened the door and I said to her, "Sorry, Jane, I do not want the divorce anymore."

She looked at me, astonished, and then touched my forehead. "Do you have a fever?"she said. I moved her hand off my head. "Sorry, Jane", I said, "I won't divorce. My marriage life was boring probably because she and I didn't value the details of our lives, not because we didn't love each other anymore. Now I realize that since I carried her into my home on our wedding day I am supposed to hold her until death do us apart."

Jane seemed to suddenly wake up. She gave me a loud slap and then slammed the door and burst into tears. I walked downstairs and drove away.

At the floral shop on the way, I ordered a bouquet of flowers for my wife. The salesgirl asked me what to write on the card. I smiled and wrote, "I'll carry you out every morning until death do us apart."

That evening I arrived home, flowers in my hands, a smile on my face, I run up stairs, only to find my wife in the bed - dead. My wife had been fighting CANCER for months and I was so busy with Jane to even notice. She knew that she would die soon and she wanted to save me from the whatever negative reaction from our son, in case we push thru with the divorce - at least, in the eyes of our son - I'm a loving husband...

The small details of your lives are what really matter in a relationship. It is not the mansion, the car, property, the money in the bank. These create an environment conducive for happiness but cannot give happiness in themselves. So find time to be your spouse's friend and do those little things for each other that build intimacy. Do have a real happy marriage!

True or False
Okay, your reaction? Brings tears to your eyes? Hokey? Downright dumb? I've read through numerous comments where I have found this story republished and found the entire gambit of reactions. A Katie Mullaly of the site The Buzz Media critiques the story with let's-go-after-this-with-a-humorous-pickaxe attitude. Barbara Mikkelson of Snopes gives a good history of the story and assessment of its authenticity. Her conclusion is that while they can't say it's false, the content of the story seems a little too farfetched to be 100% true.

But what about the idea
The aspect of the story I found curious was the idea of physically touching. In reflecting on that I thought of my own experiences and how the simple act of touching whether it be holding hands or just sitting shoulder to shoulder in a car can elicit a certain intimacy. Even if the other person is a total stranger, the very simple condition of physical proximity can bring out certain feelings of closeness. Being close can start feeling "close", if you get what I mean.

The Power of Touch by Eric M. Watterson
I was reminded of a past relationship of mine where my girlfriend was upset with me as we sat on the couch. As I tried to talk to her and thru the situation we were facing in our relationship, she took her hand out of mine, lifted slightly up off of the couch and moved away from me so that we were not touching at all. I immediately stopped talking and would not continue the conversation before she moved back towards me and gave me her hand back. Why you ask? Removing physical touch is the first sign of a relationship dying and expresses that a person is closing their spirit and heart to being able to truly hear and understand. When you stop the act of physical touch you close your heart and your mind to the love needed to maintain a relationship.

Relationship Help: Advice for Building Healthy and Exciting Love Relationships
Joanna Saisan, MSW, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. - November 2010
Love relationship help tip 1: Keep physical intimacy alive
Touch is a fundamental part of human existence. Studies on infants have shown the importance of regular, loving touch and holding on brain development. These benefits do not end in childhood. Life without physical contact with others is a lonely life indeed.

Studies have shown that affectionate touch actually boosts the body’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone that influences bonding and attachment. In a committed relationship between two adult partners, physical intercourse is often a cornerstone of the relationship. However, intercourse should not be the only method of physical intimacy in a relationship. Regular, affectionate touch­—holding hands, hugging, or kissing—is equally important.

Be sensitive to what your partner likes. While touch is a key part of a healthy relationship, it’s important to take some time to find out what your partner really likes. Unwanted touching or inappropriate overtures can make the other person tense up and retreat—exactly what you don’t want.

20 signs that you should end your relationship !!!!
All In London - July 2010
4. You’ve stopped having sex
Sex drive can dip for many reasons, including stress or medication. But if you just stop fancying your partner, and sex becomes a chore or stops altogether, listen to your alarm bells.

5. You’ve stopped touching each other
Touching isn’t just about sex, it’s about affection and togetherness. Casual touching, hugging and holding hands are the signs of a healthy relationship with two people who still fancy each other. If you flinch when he or she brushes against you, it really is time to get out.

6. You’ve stopped kissing
Passionate kissing is emotionally more intimate than sex, so it’s often the first thing to go when two people start drifting apart. If you want to kiss each other but just haven’t got round to it for a while, pucker up. If you don't enjoy it, see above.

The Impact of Intimacy by: James P. Krehbiel
Sexual expression will not sustain a relationship that is devoid of intimacy. Intimacy, however, will sustain a relationship that may lack significant sexual involvement. I have worked with many couples who have had erotic sex whose relationships have dissolved. I have never worked with a couple whose relationship was built on intimate behavior that has faltered. If intimacy is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship, understanding its nature is important:
  • A partner must take the risk of disclosing emotions with significant others.
  • A partner must be willing to be honest and upfront in communicating, even at the risk of hurting others.
  • An individual must listen and be non-judgmental in communication.
  • A mate must value and cherish those he loves.
  • The issue of intimacy is comprehensive to all significant relationships.
  • The impact of intimacy is much broader in scope than sexuality.
  • It's the little things that count — remembering birthdays, anniversaries, surprising a partner with gifts, and validating your partner.
  • Demonstrating non-sexual affection, such as holding hands, hugging, messaging, and kissing constitute intimacy.
  • Cultivating intimacy is important when couples are having difficulty with their sexual experience.
  • Conflict resolution is an important aspect of intimacy.
  • Being spiritually and psychologically committed to one's mate constitutes intimacy.
  • Trust and respect are cornerstones of intimacy.
  • Accepting one's mate with all of his flaws is a quality of intimacy.
  • Navigating difficult life events in a relationship is a characteristic of intimacy.
  • Establishing a romantic environment and making one's sexual encounters mutually meaningful constitutes intimacy.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an author, freelance writer, licensed professional counselor, and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Final Word
Can the simple act of physically touching evoke intimacy? Can it keep us together? Argue but hold hands. Debate but keep touching. Fight but remain in contact. Break the physical bond and you risk breaking the emotional bond?

The opening story is fiction. It may unbelievable; it may even be a tad ridiculous but it does raise the question of the importance of the various gestures which make up the physical contact we have with our partner: a kiss, a hug, holding hands when going for a walk, arms around one another when sitting on the couch watching TV. It may all add up to an important component of keeping the channels of communication open. It's easy to remain angry with somebody who's distant, with somebody you are not touching.


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