listening to joni: #8: hejira

Hejira, 1976

Front Cover
Photo by Norman Seeff; Frozen lake by Wisconsin.
Hejira snuck up on me.

I heard it was "wordy," "cold," and "cerebral" and that the music was "abstract". I didn't know what that meant, but it didn't seem good.

On the radio station I listened to as a teenager, one of the last holdouts of independent rock radio, "Song for Sharon" had heavy rotation. That's no surprise, as it's a thoroughly New York City song. I would hear it in the background, when I was driving or doing homework, and catch bits of lyrics: Staten Island, skyline, Bleecker Street, "eighteen bucks went up in smoke".

Then there was a video. No idea how or where I saw that, as MTV was still several years in the future, but the video of "Amelia" caught my imagination. Amelia Earhart is a lifelong fascination of mine; even at that age, I had a crush on her. Now it seemed that Joni, fascination numero uno, was also drawn to Earhart.

And then there was Joni's appearance in The Last Waltz. Both the movie and the music from The Last Waltz are indelibly important to me. At that "farewell" concert, Joni sang "Coyote". I didn't know the song yet, and I was... well, fascinated. (Before the song, Joni greets Robbie Robertson with a kiss... and a certain bell went off in my head. An a-ha moment in my life.)

Over time -- years and years -- I heard more and more from Hejira, and I grew to love it deeply. I have to be in the mood for it, of course. I liken it to Elvis Costello's album Blood and Chocolate -- very dense lyrically, a certain musical sameness to all the songs, incredible songwriting, and quirky. You have to be in the mood for a lot of words.

Image: Curtis Collects Vinyl
Skater: Toller Cranston
The story of how Joni wrote these songs is legendary among Joni fans, and it's difficult to say what really happened and what was embellished. You can read one version here on Wikipedia; another version is on the Joni Mitchell website from Uncut magazine.

More important to me is the deeply personal nature of these songs. We always hear that Blue is so deeply personal, how Joni bared her soul for that album. But the songs on Blue still tell stories that are also universal, or at least relateable for many people. The songs on Hejira are about a life that most listeners have not experienced -- a life on and of the road. In these songs, the road is both sanctuary and addiction. It's a place to hide and a route to self-discovery. If you think of your life as a journey, then the road can serve as metaphor. But for Joni, the road was both metaphor and reality.

As before, musical themes that were present on a previous record become dominant here. I wrote about the lack of instrument melody on Hissing -- that the melody is conveyed only by voice, and the music is rhythm only. On Hejira, Joni's guitar and the fretless bass of Jaco Pastorius form a kind of sprawling background rhythm, which Joni sings over.

This was the first time Joni worked with the legendary Pastorius. They formed a deep musical connection, and were very close friends until Jaco's terrible death in 1987.

I mentioned that I have to be in the mood to listen to Hejira. That is partly because I find the songs almost too sad to bear, especially "Amelia".
People will tell you where they've gone
They'll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia it was just a false alarm

I wish that he was here tonight
It's so hard to obey
His sad request of me to kindly stay away
So this is how I hide the hurt
As the road leads cursed and charmed
I tell Amelia it was just a false alarm
Where some have found their paradise, others just come to harm is sung with such pathos. You can hear regret, and longing, and tremendous sadness, and also acceptance. Now Joni has found what might be a paradise, but it is so cursed and charmed, that the man must beseech her to leave him alone.

And this cursed and charmed relationship hurts so much, it causes Joni to doubt all her past loves, too.
Maybe I've never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia it was just a false alarm
Joni has "a dream to fly", but can only sleep on the "strange pillows of [her] wanderlust". The best songs on Hejira -- "Amelia," "Coyote," "Refuge of the Roads," and "Song for Sharon" --- are all about the love-vs-freedom conflict. This time out, it's a very sad tale.

"Furry Sings the Blues," about the dead remains of Beale Street, is also very good. The remaining songs are good, but second-tier for this album.

Bad critic comment of the album

Hejira received mixed reviews, and has since been called "an underappreciated masterpiece" by more than one writer. It's not surprising, though, that the big places that mattered most in terms of sales all hated it.

There are quite a few bad critic comments to choose from for this one. My picks for worst are tied: either this from the Village Voice --
Despite Joni Mitchell's reputation as a lyricist, the poetic element in her work has been a growing source of embarrassment to many listeners over the years. Less a measure of ignorance than of optimism, Mitchell's verbal pretensions are a product of her innocence -- an innocence that seems unwarranted by the crushed hopes her songs discern in everything from urban blight and stardom to motherhood and love.
-- or Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone, who dismisses the album in less than 150 words.

The album cover

Apparently some people find the photo of Joni on the front cover of Hejira pretentious. To me it's Joni as we find her: smoking, wearing a beret, looking at us with somber directness. The road is literally running through her.

The photo was taken by the South African-born photographer Norman Seeff. The background is a frozen lake in Wisconsin. On the Joni website, there are two articles from Wisconsin sources about this.

Many Joni fans have seen some of the photos of Joni skating in her black-crow garb, that were ultimately not used for the album cover. The skater on the inside cover is Toller Cranston, a Canadian Olympic figure skater.

The story of the album cover is here.

Cacti or stockings?

In "Amelia," Joni drives across the desert, then "pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel to shower off the dust".

In "Song for Sharon," Joni remembers skating, wearing "mama's nylons underneath my cowgirl jeans".

Other musicians on this album

Bass, Max Bennett
Bass, Chuck Domanico
Bass, Jaco Pastorius
Clarinet, Abe Most
Drums, John Guerin
Guitar, Larry Carlton
Harmonica, Neil Young
Horns, Chuck Findley
Horns, Tom Scott
Percussion, Bobbye Hall
Vibes, Victor Feldman

the north island report: alert bay, eagles, and our first ontario visitors (photos to follow)

When we moved to Port Hardy, I was sure that none of our Ontario friends would ever visit. It's so far away, and not an easy place to travel to. I was so happy to be wrong! Two sets of close friends have reason to be in Vancouver this year, and are adding on some Vancouver Island vacation, including staying with us for a few days. This makes me so happy!

Our friends M@ and sM were here this past week. The timing was a bit mad -- our first days with the full pack of five -- but it was also very fortuitous. Having extra hands-on help with the dogs, and extra eyes with dog experience, definitely helped us over a few speed bumps.

San Josef Bay, Holberg, and the Scarlet Ibis pub

We took our friends on a drive/hike to San Josef Bay. As long as visitors want to bother, I'll never get tired of this (although Allan is already tired of it). The road didn't seem quite as long and grueling this time, the hike is brilliant, and the beach is heavenly. If we don't want the hike, we'll try Grant's Bay, reported to be "nice, but not as nice as Sanjo", and just steps from the parking lot.

On the way out to Sanjo, we stopped to stretch our legs in the tiny hamlet of Holberg, which I wrote about here. The Scarlet Ibis Pub -- the only such establishment one sees on the road to Sanjo -- is open for the season, but was closed that day.

The host invited us in to use the washroom -- and to hear a sales pitch. She runs the whole place herself and, after 40 years, is ready to sell and retire. It's a beautiful pub, with a classic home-cooked menu, a view of an inlet, and a small living suite attached. The price is a steal for somebody. But the location... wow. 50 kms on an unpaved logging road to nowhere. According to our host, the pub does a steady business with forestry workers (loggers and replanters), about 80 locals, and the Sanjo beach crowd. But there is nothing else in the area -- no supermarket, no bank, no school.

With our guests, we also spent some time on "our" bay, the lovely paved waterfront walk in Port Hardy. We saw the usual eagles, and sM spotted a sea otter, but it was too far for a good view. Looking for something else local to do, we went to Storey's Beach, a short drive away and a favourite spot for the dogs. These trips were all sans dogs, for several reasons -- and that turned out to be a very good thing.

Eagles -- and more eagles -- on Storey's Beach

We were watching some herons and possibly an osprey, looking at shells, and whatnot, when a bald eagle swooped down to the sand. It was quickly joined by another, then another, and another. The birds were tugging and fighting over some morsel in the mud; other eagles swooping in for a better view and a try at the prize.

At one point, there were eight eagles, some on the sand and others flying low overhead. One flew off with fish guts in his talons, while three others fought over more remains.

It was an incredible sight. We were at most 50 feet away. I was concerned we were standing too close, but the birds were completely unconcerned with us.

After some time, when only one bird remained on the scene, we crept up closer. There were small pools of blood in the sand. I immediately thought of nature red of tooth and claw, from Tennyson, often used as a shorthand for the Victorian-era view of nature -- and M@ said it before I did.*

Allan and I didn't have our camera with us, but lucky for you, our friend sM -- a talented photographer -- did. I'll post a link when I have it.

First Nations experience in Alert Bay

We took the ferry from Port McNeill to Alert Bay, a mostly Indigenous community on Cormorant Island. There's a cute little main street, which I'm sure comes alive in the summer months, some hiking trails, an art gallery, and a few other minor attractions, but the principal reason to visit is the U'mista Cultural Centre.

U'mista is a small treasure trove of First Nations art, beautifully curated and displayed, and especially notable for how it was acquired. All the objects have been reclaimed and repatriated from museums and private collections. From the late 1800s until the 1950s, as part of its genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples, Canada outlawed Potlatch.

Tlingit Potlach
(Image: Sheldon Museum)
Potlatch is a ritual re-distribution of wealth, practiced by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the US. About the Coastal peoples, you will hear it said: the wealthiest family is not the family that acquires the most, but the family that gives the most away. In a celebration of food, song, and storytelling dance that goes on for days, the wealthiest families would give food, clothing, other necessities, and also luxuries, to the rest of the community.

At Potlatch, ritual masks and robes would be worn for dances that told stories. When the ceremonies were outlawed, the Canadian government confiscated all the regalia. Indigenous scholars and activists have spent decades tracking down and attempting to acquire the stolen objects. Over the decades, too, Potlatches were held in secret, and the U'mista Centre honours the courageous individuals who were determined to keep their traditions alive.

The U'mista Centre stands beside the site of St. Michael's, one of the notorious residential schools. When the school -- which closed only in 1974 -- was demolished, survivors and families gathered for a ceremony (good article at that link).

Modern Potlatch
U'mista has information about the residential schools, which I assume many visitors wouldn't know about -- considering up until 15 or so years ago, even most Canadians (from non-Indigenous backgrounds) didn't know about them. It's incredibly painful and incredibly important to learn about. I felt like I did after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC (although the U'mista Centre is quite small).

I have read about the residential schools, and have learned about other similar situations -- for example, in Australia, depicted in the brilliant, heartbreaking film "Rabbit Proof Fence". I thought I knew how horrifying and disgusting both the schools and the policies were. Yet, when I learned more about them in the online course I'm taking, I must say, as bad as I thought it was, it was so much worse. It's painful to contemplate these injustices, but we are obligated to bear witness.

At U'mista, there are also beautiful photographs and displays about Indigenous activists and other community leaders. In the summer, there are cultural tours and sometimes the opportunity to see dances performed. There's also a fantastic gift shop, where everything is made in Canada and Indigenous artists are credited (and, I presume, paid).

The U'mista Cultural Centre is a must-visit if you're on the North Island.

Several restaurants were not yet open for the season, but we had a delicious lunch at the Bayside Grill. Don't let the ragtag coffee-shop appearance put you off. All our food was very good, especially the Indian dishes.

Photos of eagles to follow!

* Please do not tell me that Tennyson did not originate the phrase. 1, we all have Wikipedia. 2, in the world of arts, literature, and culture, this is Tennyson's phrase. Your cooperation is appreciated.


pupdate: that was fast: cookie and kai are best friends

Under a plastic chair: Cookie's safe space

It's tough to get a photo of Kai without a toy in her mouth.

I thought it would be difficult to get Cookie enough exercise...

thank you alex cora and many red sox for doing the right thing

Thank you Alex Cora, Mookie Betts, David Price, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Jackie Bradley Jr., Hector Velázquez, Christian Vázquez, Eduardo Núñez, and Sandy Leon! These nine players and their manager declined to attend the White House visit purporting to honour the 2018 championship team.

The Trump White House could not be bothered to spell the team's name correctly or name the actual sporting event that the team won. The World Series is the oldest professional team sports event in the United States, having been played since 1903. (The Kentucky Derby is older. Hopefully all the horses know that Trump's policies constitute a war on animals, and also boycott the visit.)

Earlier this year, the Golden State Warriors (NBA) expressed doubts about a White House visit, and the invitation was withdrawn. Ditto for the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL) after they won the 2018 Super Bowl. However, this silly headline, implying this is "nothing new", is false. Various individual players did not join their teams on White House visits. Half a team purposely not showing up is indeed new.

I appreciate the players' actions, especially those who explicitly stated why they didn't attend. In the ultra-conservative climate of professional sports, this is especially heartening.


you're not going to believe this... introducing cookie!

I fell in love with Cookie the first time I saw her outside the library. I knew her current people wouldn't keep her. Yada yada yada, today she joined our pack.

Cookie is a tiny slip of a thing, smaller than Kai, and very skinny. She has not had a lick of training. We haven't had a dog starting at square one in a long time! I have no doubt that with patience, consistency, and the example of her packmates, she'll come along very quickly.

We took her home this morning, first stopping at an empty ballfield to do a bit of recall training and bonding, and to burn off some energy. She did great on the recall, until she didn't, happily trotting away to say hello to a group of students. One of the girls grabbed her leash.

Diego was very happy to meet Cookie. Kai was very serious about demonstrating her dominance, but Cookie showed no aggression. We had no idea how Kai would react, so this was nice to see.

Cookie was frightened and cowering while Diego and Kai inspected her. She hid under a chair a few times, tail tucked under her legs. But it wasn't long before she came out to play, first tentatively, and now, just a few hours later, romping around, seemingly carefree.

So... here we are.


we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2018-19 edition

Time to change things up. I've (finally) gotten tired of my silly movie award categories, and need a change.

I decided to go with a conventional one-to-five rating scale. But I wanted to use a good symbol, something other than stars (too common), thumbs-up (too cliched) or a maple leaf (too patriotic). I'm using a symbol that's very meaningful to me. (To be honest, it was between ☮ and this, but I could only get the peace sign to work in Blogger.)

Here are the movies and series I watched between the end of the 2018 World Series and 2019 Opening Day, alphabetically, rated on a scale of five.

45 Years
This drama featured truly great acting, and a certain amount of tension. Ultimately, though, I didn't buy the premise. Would a lifetime marriage really founder on a revelation about feelings that occurred before the couple even met? It strained credulity.

8th Grade
This movie perfectly captured what it feels like to be in 8th grade and an outsider, struggling to somehow be yourself and to fit in at the same time. Sweet, funny, hits all the right notes. Tremendous acting from the young Elsie Fisher. Ranks with "Show Me Love" ("Fucking Amal") as one of my favourite girl coming-of-age movies.

A Most Violent Year
Ponderous, melodramatic, cliched immigrant-struggle/mob movie. Wasn't awful, but you've seen it all before.

Angels in America (2003)
I loved this when it was first released, and it remains one of my favourite films of all-time. From the transcendence of the opening credits to the final scene in Central Park, I was gripped. Writing, acting, and directing -- all stellar. Magical realism at its best.

Beatriz at Dinner
Why do I watch dinner-party movies? This film is an excuse to expose white male privilege and an idealized version of its opposite. Low-hanging fruit. Good politics and Salma Hayek save it from the scrap heap, but couldn't make it worth seeing.

Black Panther
I understand that an Afrocentric superhero movie was a Big Event. But doesn't the movie also have to be good? Or are superhero movies supposed to be collections of bad acting, ridiculously cliched dialogue, and boring, predictable plotlines? Did the whole world give this movie a pass because "we need black superheroes"? Demand more.

Call Me By Your Name
Ditto gay romance. This was too boring and cliched to watch. Good acting and visuals saved it from the bottom.

Christine (2016)
This interesting movie is based on the story of Christine Chubbuck, a newscaster with the tragic distinction of being the first person to commit suicide on live television. The movie doesn't answer the biggest questions about Chubbuck, but it imagines her well, and Rebecca Hall's performance is excellent.

Dawson City Frozen Time
What does a Gold Rush town in the Yukon have to do with the preservation of early film and the 1919 World Series? This is a lovely little documentary about a surprising subject. It didn't live up to the "masterpiece" hype, but it's a solid doc.

Dexter (entire series; currently watching final season)
Despite some horrendous acting from supporting roles and some weak subplots in the early seasons, the voice-over inner life of this series's title character hooked me. Dexter's outsider observations of society, the complicated relationship between good and evil (similar to Buffy and Angel), the nature of love and family, all feel meaningful. When you find yourself rooting against someone trying to expose a serial killer and rooting hard for the killer to get away, you know something effective has taken place. Suspenseful, unpredictable, and full of the very darkest humour.

The Disaster Artist
This movie about the bizarre "director" Tommy Wiseau and the worst film ever made is as hilarious and maddening as it should be. James Franco's portray of Wiseau is amazing. A lot of fun.

Drunk History
We watch this for comic relief after binge-watching heavy series. It's always funny enough to bother.

A funny, warm, open-hearted coming-of-age story, and a story about love and self-acceptance. It's too perfect to be real, but on the other hand, it's a much better fantasy than any standard fairytale. I loved this movie.

Elvis the Searcher
If you think Elvis Presley was just a weird joke -- or you think he only appropriated black music -- see this documentary. Also. if you love rock and roll, see how it was born.

The End of the Fucking World S1
Crime caper, alienated teen edition. Darkly funny, lightly tragic, very perceptive. Where is Season 2??

Ex Libris
Frederick Wiseman, a bit out of control. After one-third of this movie, we get the point; then we get it over and over and over again. But hey, it's Wiseman, and it's the New York Public Library. This means it's worth seeing.

Fargo (series)

I loved the movie, but we absolutely could not stand this show. Doesn't work as a comedy, doesn't work as a crime drama. Just... no.

First Reformed
Paul Schrader's pitch-perfect screenplay and direction, and Ethan Hawke's stellar performance, make this loss-of-faith drama gripping and mesmerizing. No straightforward plot description can do this justice. Truly exceptional. For what it's worth, whoever summarized the plot for Wikipedia did not understand the ending.

The Florida Project
☮☮☮☮☮ or ☮ ?
A raw, funny, tragic look at a family disintegrating in poverty, a child's resilience, and the limits of compassion and empathy in our coldly capitalist world. A brilliant movie -- until the completely inappropriate ending. This is a five-star film marred by a unforgivably zero-star ending.

The Gates (2007)
I absolutely loved The Gates, Christo and Jeanne Claude's installment in Central Park, and was so grateful to still be living in NYC when it took place. I didn't know that Albert Maysles made a film about it! The movie captures the bewildering stupidity of reactions to the project, the artists' persistence in creating it, and the astonishing beauty and power of the work itself.

The Good Place S2
This was... all right. Not nearly as good as S1, and by the end, I knew the show had finished its run. Definitely no interest in S3.

He Won't Get Far On Foot
This biopic of cartoonist John Callahan -- based on his memoirs of the same name (the title itself from a cartoon caption) -- never really rises above the "overcoming adversity" template of disability movies. But Joaquin Phoenix's performance and the wonderful John Callahan himself more than compensates.

How to Die in Oregon
A clear-eyed, open-minded examination of dignity in dying through assisted suicide. A sad, powerful, important film. If you already support this, see it to refine your arguments. If you don't, see it, and ask yourself if your personal beliefs must apply to everyone. Also, we all die. It's not wrong to look at what we might need when it happens.

Jimmy P.
What's good: Benecio del Toro's incredible performance, a non-stereotypical portrayal of a Native American, a hard look at PTSD, an uplifting but credible male friendship. What's not good: the movie is too long and kind of boring. But if you're in the mood, it's worth seeing.

Key & Peele
We also watch this when we need a break from mayhem and murder.

This is a beautiful, brilliant, uplifting documentary about the street cats of Istanbul and the people who love them. It's a nearly perfect film. I deducted one ☮ for the absence of any perspective on humans' responsibility for animal sterilization.

Kills on Wheels
A dark comedy about wheelchair-using assassins, who use the social invisibility of people with disabilities to their advantage. As unsentimental a view of disability as I've ever seen in a movie. Also funny, meaningful, clever, and very well done.

Lady Bird
A lovely teen coming-of-age story. Great performance by Saoirse Ronan and always a pleasure to see Laurie Metcalfe in anything. I didn't think this movie lived up to the hype, but it was very good.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)
This film introduces you to a man whose strength, resiliency, and perseverance seem superhuman, then it leaves you with more questions than answers. Yet another brilliant documentary by Werner Herzog.

Luke Cage S2

I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Luke Cage, and was eagerly awaiting S2. Then I had to force myself to finish two episodes. Wow, was this bad. What a shame.

The Man Who Knew Infinity
Formulaic, but also very interesting.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
An amazing story about the strength and resistance of survivors -- a group of men who were sexually abused while growing up at a Catholic school for deaf children, and how they fought back. It's also a historical perspective on child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church -- which is even older and more horrible than you might imagine. Another stellar documentary from Alex Gibney. See it.

Midsomer Murders
S1-S13: a bland detective, ridiculous endings, everyone is white, and all the murderers are women!
S14-19: some real improvements. A better detective whose wife is a real human being (as opposed to a prop), and a cast somewhat more representative of the UK, and at least some male perps. I don't know why I got so hooked. It isn't that good, but I'll end up watching S20 and beyond.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
An estranged family of dysfunctional adults reunites. Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and (yes) Adam Sandler are all good. Ben Stiller is barely watchable. The story is pretty interesting, plus New York City.

The Night Of (2016)
A deep, searching look at a murder and its aftermath in post-9/11 New York City. Amazing writing, acting, and directing. One of the best mini-series we've seen.

Ray Donovan
Childhood trauma playing out in adult violence, class politics, blind human need, all wrapped up in a dark, suspenseful, Hollywood crime drama. There are some issues -- plot holes, improbable subplots, too many near-death escapes -- but the characters and relationships make it all worthwhile. Jon Voight's performance alone is worth the price of admission. Overall, I found Ray Donovan gripping and addictive.

The Sense of an Ending
Secrets and lies, and how the past never dies. Good movie.

Series Noire S2
This made-in-Quebec series started off a spoof about daytime television writers -- very funny. Halfway through the first season it started deepening, and while still funny, became touching and a little sad. We waited for S2 to be available with English subtitles, then watched the whole thing from the beginning. A crime thriller, goofball comedy, and a poignant drama -- very, very good.

Shetland S1-3
Another bleak northern landscape, another brooding, widower detective. Not as good as Wallander, but better than Hinterland. Includes a solid, realistic portrayal of recovery from sexual assault, and a running theme of how outsiders are treated. Quite good.

The Sopranos (entire series -- currently watching final season)
The show that started it all, and our first time watching it. There are some sour notes -- episodes that are positively cringey -- but overall, the acting and writing are amazing. If it weren't for those clunker episodes, it would be five stars.

James Bond is usually a three-star, occasionally a two. I'm not nuts about Daniel Craig, but his Bond movies have been fun.

Star Trek Discovery (S1)
Very enjoyable Star Trek prequel. Similar to Bond: standard stuff, done well enough.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A dark, funny, poignant redemption tale. Martin McDonagh's writing and directing, and excellent performances (especially from Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson), make this a really strong, compelling movie.

Wild, Wild Country
This documentary started out very strong but ultimately was not satisfying. There are far too many questions left unexplained. Still, it's a strange and interesting bit of history.

* * * * *

In the comedy-before-bed category, I watched these.

Jane the Virgin, half of S1
I watched half of one season of this show. I thought it was funny, cute, and quirky. Then it became the Latina Gilmore Girls, and I ran away.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) (currently on S4)
My current comedy-before-bed. All the old sitcoms that I've re-watched took a while to find their footing -- but not MTM. This show was funny from the first episode, the characters fully formed, the relationships credible. Mary's character is stronger, more feminist than I remembered. And of course it had one of the strongest ensemble sitcom casts of all time. Great show for future-star cameos, too. It's a pleasure to re-watch it.

New Girl (S1-S4)
This was my comedy-before-bed for a while. It was funny, smart, and quirky, if a little girly for me. After four seasons, some marketing genius must have gotten hold of it. It totally changed focus and tanked.

* * * * *

These series sound perfect for me, but I didn't enjoy them. There was something inauthentic or overly obvious or stilted about them. I'm going to try again.

The Knick
Hell on Wheels
Peaky Blinders


pupdate: diego progress report

Diego seems to be doing all right. He's able to hobble around on three legs pretty well. The incision looks good, and so far he's leaving it alone, so we don't have to make him even more uncomfortable by putting a giant cone around his giant head.

I say he seems to be all right because he's so quiet and sad. He can stand on three legs to eat his food, and he hobbles around the yard on-leash, but getting from standing up to lying down is a nightmare. It can take him 30 or 45 minutes to figure out how to lie down, or perhaps to get up the courage to try, because it's clearly painful. When he finally exhausts himself standing, he lies down with obvious difficulty.

He's got two patches of pain meds on one side of his body, and we have extra pain meds along with antiobiotics that we're giving him around the clock. But I'm not sure it's enough.

The vet sent us home with instructions for physio. The program should begin with "1, quit job"! There is no way working people have time to do all of it. It's all good stuff -- cold compresses, massage, passive range of motion exercises, short controlled walks -- but the program is totally unrealistic. We also have to find time to get Kai to the beach or a ball field for some exercise.

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to give Diego this surgery, and I fully recognize my privilege in doing so. But I cannot stand to see one of my dogs in pain. It is the worst thing in the world to me. I don't know how parents of critically ill children do it.

best of wmtc, 2018 edition

The "wmtc's greatest hits" page is now updated to include 2018. Somehow Allan continues to find highlights.


pupdate: good news

The surgery was a success. The vet was very pleased with how the procedure went, said the joint is in good shape outside of this injury, and Diego did well with the anesthesia. He's currently sleeping it off and we're picking him up shortly.


Thank you for your good wishes, my friends.


five things you probably don't know about frederick douglass (and u.s. history)

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, David W. Blight's monumental biography of that greatest of Americans, is a long, challenging, and utterly fascinating read. After waiting for months to borrow it from the library, I ended up returning the library copy and buying it from Amazon.

The book is filled with so many fascinating, inspiring, horrific, and thrilling views on some of the most pivotal moments of United States history,  including the "Second Revolution" -- the Civil War.

Here are a few random factoids.

After winning the battle for Blacks to join the
Union forces, Douglass used the slogan
Men of Color! To Arms! on his long recruiting tours. 
1. The expression "personal of color" is at least 150 years old. Frederick Douglass frequently referred to African Americans as people of color.

2. When Malcolm X said "the ballot or the bullet" and "by any means necessary," he was hearkening back to Frederick Douglass. Douglass wrote that Americans of colour would be freed by the ballot and the bullet -- by law and by war. He also wrote that his people would achieve their freedom "by any means possible".

3. I've long known that President Abraham Lincoln did not support emancipation, and suggested every possible compromise with the Confederate states on the issue of slavery. I did not know that Lincoln was a strong proponent of what was then called "colonization" -- moving African Americans out of the country to various other places, whether Africa, the Caribbean, or Central America. Douglass was fiercely and adamantly opposed to any colonization scheme, whether it come from the racist mainstream or abolitionist circles.

Blight writes that "the President's intentions with colonization have long been the subject of rigorous debate in Lincoln scholarship," then surveys the various historians' positions. He concludes by agreeing with the progressive historian Eric Foner: "[T]here is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Lincoln's ten years of public support for colonization." If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, etc.

4. Frederick Douglass chose his surname in honour of Scotland. Early in his self-education, Douglass had a great romantic attachment to the work of Sir Walter Scott. Later, many Scottish people, chafing at their subservient position relative to England, supported abolition and donated funds to Douglass' newspapers and speaking tours. His chosen name hearkened to the ancient and powerful Clan Douglas; he added the second S for flourish.

5. Many people have heard of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the African American soldiers who fought for their own cause in the U.S. Civil War, and who have been much celebrated in print and film. I did not know -- but of course was not surprised to learn -- that the members of the 54th were paid less than their white counterparts. Union soldiers earned $13 per week. The new Black union soldiers earned $10 per week, out of which $3 was deducted for their uniforms.

This galling inequality, along with the prescription against Black officers, led to the first meeting of an African American leader and a United States president. Douglass was called in to Lincoln's private office, to the chagrin of the many white men who he was ushered past. Many Black soldiers refused all pay in protest of the unequal treatment. Some were court-martialed and executed.


pupdate: our temporary tripod

Diego is walking on three legs, a result of a ruptured knee ligament (ACL). Surgery is scheduled for Friday.

Our first dog, Gypsy, had the same injury. It's not uncommon in large dogs. In those days, surgery was new and experimental; we borrowed a car to see a surgeon in a nearby suburb. Gypsy had a rough recovery, which included a post-operative infection, but she came through and lived another two years. These days, surgery is fairly routine, and the good folks at the North Island Animal Hospital are able to take care of it.

It was so awful to see Diego in pain, barely able to drag himself up and hobble outside. Then after a few days, he seemed to adjust, and is now moving around ably on three legs. Naturally we don't want to push it. The x-rays showed no arthritis or hip dysplasia, and no tumours, so we're looking forward to getting the surgery over with.

Diego and Kai pre-injury. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of this.
Meanwhile, Kai and Diego are having so much fun together. Kai keeps us all entertained. After three separate exercises in fence construction, we think we've managed to contain her in the yard. She doesn't take off when we open the front door -- none of our dogs ever did that -- and when she did get out of the yard, she came right back, sometimes waiting for us to let her back in.

Kai is highly intelligent, endlessly curious, and incredibly affectionate. She seems to love Diego as much as she loves us. Such a little sweetie!

I am hoping, hoping, hoping that the Kai and Diego have a future together. When Gypsy had her knee surgery, I wanted it to bring us two more years of life -- and we got it. It's always too soon to lose them, but if we can keep the Big Boy going happily for another two years, I'll be very grateful.


the north island report: what is going on with the price of gas?

I normally don't complain about prices, and I dislike when other people with privilege do so. But for every rule, there's at least one exception, and this is it. What the hell is going on with the price of gas??

Gas is always expensive in our area, often a good $0.10 more per litre than in Nanaimo or Victoria.

When we left Ontario, gas prices were fluctuating between around $1.15 and $1.25. The highest price I ever saw in southern Ontario was $1.35.

Driving from the GTA to the Island, we were amazed to see less than $1.00/litre in Manitoba.

When we arrived on the Island, gas was $1.43 in Port Hardy, and usually two cents less in Port McNeill. And it stayed that way for months. Suddenly, three weeks ago, it shot up to $1.48... then $1.50... now $1.50 would be a welcome change. When I left Port Hardy yesterday, gas was $1.68/litre. Further down island in Campbell River, it was $1.55. Much better, but still crazy-high.

This story -- Gas prices break records in B.C. for second weekend in a row" -- shows a Vancouver station at 1.72.

People in areas with good transit options, and people with the ability to bike to work, often blame drivers for their dependency on fossil fuel. But not depending on fossil fuel is a privilege. Most people have no choice. In order to work and to live, they must drive. I drive less than five minutes to work, and Allan works from home. But our library customers and co-workers, who work mostly part-time and often in casual arrangements, are spending half a paycheque or more just getting to work and getting home again. People who already spend half their paycheque on rent!

I don't believe this is the result of federal or provincial carbon taxes. Those taxes account for a few cents per litre, not $0.30 per. Even so, this demonstrates the idiocy and injustice of expecting individual consumers to solve climate change. While governments continue to fund planet-killing industries, instead of investing in local economies and requiring corporations to do the same, and requiring them to pay their fair share of taxes, working-class and middle-class people get squeezed.

People need to drive to survive. They don't have the privilege of "making better choices".

BC Premier John Horgan says that the government will monitor prices over the summer, and will consider providing some relief. Not enough. People are hurting. They need help.


in which we discover kai is houdini

A new fence, eh? Not so fast!

One minute the dogs are on their side of the fence, barking at a woman walking her dog past the house. The next minute, Kai is playing with the dog, on the street.

Of course Kai completely ignored our calls. Her training is going really well, but it would be too much expect her to come back in these circumstances -- training too new, distraction too interesting. So we have to run in the back door, grab her leash, and run out the front door. By the time we got outside, some of the excitement had worn off, and she came running back.

We called out apologies and explanation ("We didn't know she could do that!"). The woman had very kindly stopped walking so Kai didn't follow her home.

How did she do it? Over or under? We weren't completely sure.

In one area, the wooden fence -- the original fence already around some of the yard -- doesn't completely reach the ground. The ground is depressed, likely where there were once shrubs or plantings, leaving a gap of about six inches. We made plans to chicken-wire the gap.

This morning, I'm having my first cup of coffee while Kai zooms around the yard. A neighbour walks out with her dog, and before I can even think, Kai shoots under the fence and runs at them like a bullet. This person was afraid, which I totally understand! She called out, "Is she nice?" I yelled, "She's super friendly!" I also yelled, "Kai, come!" but she ignored me.

Ran in the backdoor, grabbed the leash, ran out the front door. By this time Kai may have been wondering where I was. I yelled, "Kai, come!" and she turned and ran towards me at full speed. Training is paying off.

(If this ever happens to you, do not yell at or reprimand your dog when you get her back. That teaches her if she comes back, she gets yelled at -- so you are training her not to come back.)

And now for that chicken wire. She can't be loose in the yard until that gap is closed.

So far she does not seem to be a jumper. So we think if we plug the gap on the bottom of the fence, we can contain her. But if she wanted to jump over the fence, she easily could.


jason kenney and doug ford. how depressing.

The chickens have voted for Colonel Sanders again. It's an old, old story, and we seem farther away than ever from changing the ending.

Doug Ford is destroying Ontario in a way Mike Harris only dreamed of. Healthcare, schools, libraries, parks, public transit -- all programs, all supports, and countless jobs are under the ax.

Jason Kenney will expand the petrostate and destroy whatever gains have been made in renewable resource development, when he's not busy destroying public education and healthcare.

Both men are skillful, deceitful manipulators. Neither are to be trusted.

Yet hundreds of thousands voted for them.

And while it's true that an NDP government will never be as good as advertised, there is a clear distinction between what's on offer from both parties. And more people chose right-wing over left-leaning.

And yes, Alberta has been restored to its more typical conservative government, but last time out, these same voters chose the NDP. And Ontario? Don't say it. Do not utter the words B__ R__.  If that's all you've got -- if the reason Ontario voters chose a sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, anti-democratic, anti-education, anti-transit, anti-public healthcare, liar is because an NDP government supposedly made a mess of things almost 25 years ago -- then there is truly no hope for the future.

And yes, first-past-the-post voting produces skewed results. But it's not winner-take-all of the entire province. The majority of voters in the majority of ridings chose lies, corruption, and fear-mongering over the hope of a brighter future.

And yes, and yes, and yes. I read the analysis, but none of it adequately answers my question.

How does this happen??

Most of the answers are valid to an extent, but none are sufficient to explain this frightening, recurrent scenario: most voters are not the corporate elite, but more people vote for the corporate elite. More Ontarians and Albertans voted for the corporate elite to run their province than not.

There is something else at work here, something larger, systemic, something embedded in our current culture.

Once upon a time, Canada stared down the profit-making medical establishment and instituted healthcare for all. Canada broke with the US on foreign invasions, choosing to fund art, film, and sport rather than a bloated military. Canada crafted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was the most inclusive in the world. This country has made those choices. I know the deficiencies. I know the gaps between ideals and reality (and the giant "except" that is our Indigenous neighbours), but still, the reality was a lot healthier than it is now. Now Canada marches in step with the corporatocracy. Canadians to do so.

The US electoral system is corrupt to its core -- both first-past-the-post by entire state and controlled by the parties themselves. What's Canada's excuse?

How do we prevent this from happening?

Electoral reform is a must -- and seems nearly impossible to achieve.

Ending lying campaign advertising and smear campaigns would go a long way -- but how would we achieve that?

More education at every level of society is needed. Corporate governments and the media that enable them ensure there is less of that than ever.

At the same time my comrades are talking and exhorting about fighting back. Protest is crucial. I'll not say otherwise. But to a large extent, it is also futile. Under the parliamentary system, a majority government -- one without morals, one that doesn't give a fuck about democracy -- is immune to protest.

I keep reading and seeing, "We will mount a huge fightback!" and "We can beat Ford!". And I feel myself saying, "Really? How?" We can and should vent our anger and frustration, we should be in the streets, we should be organizing school strikes and general strikes and calling for their heads. The most severe cutbacks may be pulled back, less extreme. But will that "beat Ford"?

I hate giving in to my cynicism. Cynicism is the enemy of activism, and an enabler of the ruling class. I just can't find it in me to be optimistic about the future right now.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: is your child ready to read?

In our local paper.

At Your Library: Is Your Child Ready to Read?

Kindergarten is a child’s introduction to school – but your children’s education begins long before they ever set foot in a classroom.

At The Library: Is Your Child Ready to Read?

Teachers and librarians talk about something called “reading readiness”. A child who is ready to read begins kindergarten set up for success. A child who doesn’t have reading readiness may begin school already struggling.

Here’s another way to look at it. Children who do well in school have more options, better life chances. How do children do well in school? By being strong readers. How do children become strong readers? By beginning school with reading readiness, then continuing to read throughout their school years. And how do children become ready to read? Through their parents and caregivers.

Helping your child become ready to read is not difficult. You may be already doing it without even realizing it. Here are five ways parents and caregivers can help children become ready to read.

* Talking *
Talking to your children, letting them hear your voice as you go about your daily life, helps children learn language – and language is a key to reading readiness. When your baby babbles to you, talk back!

If you speak more than one language, speak to your child in the language you are most comfortable with, the one in which you have the biggest vocabulary. Hearing lots of different words helps children get ready to read.

* Singing *
Singing and rhyming helps children learn the sound of words. Sing to your baby! Play rhyming games. Sing silly songs, or songs your parents taught you. Your children love to hear your voice.

* Playing *
Kids learn through play. Play helps children understand words and concepts. Children learn more when parents and caregivers join in. So put down your phone and pick up a toy!

* Writing *
When your child scribbles and draws, they are getting ready to read. All you need is a crayon and a piece of paper. Write your child’s name and help them copy it. Write the alphabet and sing it!

* Reading *
I saved the most important one for last. Reading together is the best way to help your child get ready to read.
When you read with your child, they learn what books are, how pages turn, what letters look like. They hear stories and associate those stories with the letters and words on the page.

It’s never too early! Parents and caregivers should even read to babies. Their growing minds soak up language. You can’t see it, but they are becoming ready to read!

I encourage you to read with your child every day. Make it part of your routine together, like brushing your teeth – but more fun.

Many parents struggle with reading. If you find reading difficult, reading with your child will improve your own skills, too. Your child will enjoy the experience just as much.

The staff at your library can help you find books that your child will enjoy. Enjoying reading together will be crucial to your child’s reading readiness.

Just for good measure, I’ll repeat what I said in my previous column. Children whose parents read to them do better in school – and children who do better in school have greater life chances. So when you read to your child, you are setting them up for success, in school and in life.

Next column: what should school-age children read?


in which two humans figure out how to make a yard safe for canines

We did it! We closed the gaps in our partially fenced yard, in a way that looks decent, was within our budget, and within our skill set.

First we researched online, and eliminated many possibilities.

Then we simplified the project by choosing the least number of gaps to close that would still give the dogs a nice-sized area to play in, and by not having a gate.

After investigating local options, we drove five hours round-trip to the Home Depot in Campbell River to buy materials, and visited an off-leash dog park while we were there.

And today, we put up the fencing in about two hours.

We are not at all DIYers, and we are all kinds of pleased with ourselves for doing this. Kai and Diego are even happier! Kai ran in crazy circles before settling down with a toy.

On the other side of the house, we closed off the deck. The deck plus some yard forms an L with the fenced-in area.

This is off the other side of the deck, the short side of the L.

When the replacement parts for our new wood patio furniture arrive, we'll be in business.

the troll that wouldn't die

He lives.

Those of you who go back a long way with wmtc will remember how this blog was the target of trolls, back in the heyday of the blogosphere, before Twitter and Instagram existed, before so many bloggers moved to Facebook. Social media evolved, attention spans got shorter, and the trolls eventually left wmtc. All but one. You know who I'm talking about. The one and only magnolia_2000, a/k/a Mags.

Mags has disappeared for long stretches of time, but he always returns. Allan says that Mags is addicted to me and will never leave -- that no matter how much time passes, we will always hear from him again. I am his obsession.

Recently he's revived his pathetic attempt at bullying. I can't say I understand it. Can he possibly think I care what some random wacko thinks of my life choices?? It is utterly bizarre.

Here are some recent gems from the boy. He doesn't like Port Hardy. He doesn't like Kai. He doesn't like where we shop. He doesn't like our rugs! Oh noes!

Here's a particularly wacky one from 2017. He's referring to earrings I bought on a trip 10 years earlier! Ten years!!!

I last posted about Mags in 2013; the comments on that thread are quite amusing. My long essay about the Harper government's citizenship guide (reprinted in shorter form on several other sites), plus the death of Henry Morgentaler, brought Mags around. Trolls are nothing if not predictable: Morgentaler is a Canadian hero, and Mags is a viscious anti, misogyny being the sine qua non of trolldom.

Nothing seems to set Mags off more than when we travel. The man follows along on wmtc and complains about our trips. Seriously.

At some point, Mags expressed sympathy when we lost one of our dogs! I find that the most bizarre comment of all. I guess obsessions are complicated.

* * * *

I've enjoyed documenting the trolls over the years. The phenomenon fascinates me, and the comment threads are always interesting.

2013: wmtc trolls are alive and as insane as ever

2013: special update for long-time wmtc readers

2012: a trip down memory lane with wmtc (not Mags)

2009: This was published in shorter form at The Mark as "The Trolls Among Us"

2007: open letter to a reader who hates me (also not Mags)

From 2005 to 2007, there are a lot of posts about troll attacks, tagged "wingnuts". Posts such as i am a fascist pig, i am a cowardthe welcoming committee, and begone foul spirit.