Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Secret

The Conversation would usually go something like this:

"So what do you do?"
"I write commercials - at a radio station."
"Oh!  Well, that must be... interesting!"

Or "creative."  "Challenging."  Or "fun."  At that point I'd habitually demur, noting that it was a tremendously stimulating environment to work in.  The "work" itself doesn't necessarily engender inspired repartee.  Writing is, to my mind, somewhat like singing.  Most anyone can do these things a little, or even a lot.  But - can you write all the time?  Perhaps that could drive one crazy, and maybe I am.

I never truly intended to become a writer.  I had other nebulous designs on an advertising career, but my writing seemed to produce the most appealing and immediate results... which naturally made it the easiest way to enter the business.  Only recently have I become fully aware that I do it... all the time.

I have, by nature and somewhat regrettably, a solitary mind.  I'm far too comfortable alone.  For example, I became a relative insomniac in part because I am rather cozy within the idyll of uninterrupted night.  Even when living with my ex, I could be awoken by her snoring at 2 AM, then spend an hour or two puttering contentedly around the apartment... and I still today relish time on my own after my son goes to bed.  I usually don't sleep till long after midnight.  But that's not because things are quiet; it's never quiet.  No matter what I'm doing, unless I'm directly speaking with someone, up in the workshop I'm constantly forming phrases.  Compiling notes.  Charting fragments of ongoing narratives.  No, I don't hear voices... there's no man behind the curtain, or invisible six foot rabbit.  But my mind honestly never stops composing... something.

Thankfully, it's internal.  I think the most outrageous description I've ever heard said of me is that I'm the "quiet" one.  God no, there's a maelstrom going on in here.  I can't let anyone hear all of it; the men with the hypodermics will come running.  "I" am a heavily edited version of me.  And thus, a career of writing for someone else's purposes came rather naturally.  I have this going on already, all you have to do is tell me what you'd like it done for.  The machine is churning anyway, just throw your stuff in and see how it comes out.

Now once you've started, you develop and nurture actual writing skill, of course.  When you give yourself to it, you learn to love it, and to respect it and the conventions of language.  You discover the endorphin release of creative flow.  That's the fun of it, making the notes dance around each other, just like playing music.  You develop your riffs and your voice, and you learn to see those things in the writing of others.  And when you can get together with others who write you eventually get those shop talk moments; someone will start in on pet peeves like misused words or meaningless conventional phrases.  That's how you know you're not the only one imagining this stuff.

But I can't say that this is "how one writes."  Or claim that anyone else who writes may do this too.  Or even claim that anyone else may do it.  I've often wished I knew what it was like to be one of those who lives without inner counsel... free to live a visceral, more animal existence, without trial, angst, or doubt.

No, this is how it works for me.  It rarely stops.  So if you've ever wondered where it comes from, that's it.  Eventually something coalesces, like this navel-gazing rumination on the sound of silence that hopefully doesn't make you think I'm insane.  It's not always challenging or fun, but I guess it might be interesting.

I'm writing.  Even if it's about nothing.

And for the moment, I'm done now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


"You, sir, are a monster."

With those words, Justice Thomas Heeney yesterday sentenced Michael Rafferty to life imprisonment for the rape and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford three years ago.  And the reported evidence presented throughout this two-month-plus trial has indeed led me to reflect on the nature of the monster we find ourselves with.

A recent book was published about the notorious sex criminal and murderer Russell Williams, entitled "A New Kind of Monster".  Appropriately titled, in that Williams was an educated, remarkably accomplished, and widely respected individual, the sort who historically has not proven to indulge in such animal behaviour.  Rafferty has also broken the mold, albeit in a much less noteworthy way.

Given that the basis for the prosecution's case against Rafferty was the testimony of his co-conspirator Terri-Lynne McClintic, the only witness and other participant in the crime itself, the trial seemed to drag on as fact after fact was entered into evidence relating to Rafferty's actions and deeds around and after the crime.  It was seemingly the prosecution's intent to forestall the defence's assertion that Rafferty was an innocent dupe who'd been set up by McClintic... at no time did his behaviour show any rightful concern of being framed.  But while the "character" of this man may have been immaterial to his guilt in the accused offences, we were shown an almost incredibly dull portrait, a remarkably depressing account of a virtually useless member of our society.

Addicted to Oxycontin, but not in an incapacitating way.  Trolling dating websites and hooking up with a large succession of hard-luck women to lie to about jobs he never had.  Even dipping into bad-boy territory as a small-time pimp.  The narrative destroys any idyllic image of small-town Ontario.  Yet obviously the fellow wasn't an idiot, displaying enough tech savvy to download child pornography and to conveniently compile reams of evidence through the use of his Blackberry.  It seems as though he'd have been intelligent enough to embark on a real career if he'd tried.

See the picture of Rafferty now, the undated one which ran with every news story.  Close cropped frosted hair in an overly aggressive cut; moody soul patch; requisite hipster necklace; body-hugging graphic white tee-shirt.  He looks like any other schmuck his age; one of hundreds you see every day... "douchebag" at a bar; bouncer in the club; in line with his baby mama at Wal-Mart; yammering at his cellphone on the bus.  No outdated spectacles, no lisp or twitch, no barely concealed paranoia as in the movies... no, the dreary reality of the monster Michael Rafferty lies in how stunningly below average he is.

He looks like any other guy.  He could have been a hundred guys I've known.  But he deviated into sickness, and while one could say that his evidenced behaviour certainly displays the narcissism requisite of a true sociopath, Rafferty seems to have ventured down such a destructive path for the lack of other things to do.
(And in case you were wondering, I fully concur that his desire to rape a child drove this entire event, as McClintic testified.  The suppressed evidence was the final straw, in my mind.)
He became a piece of society which served no function, and no purpose, and which went cancer on the rest of the body, in the most horrible way... because, it looks like, he had nothing else to do.

That's the most remarkable part of this, for the rest of us.  The two people who killed that little girl could have been the next two people you see walking through the mall.

"Idle hands are the devil's workshop"... and in a society which leaves people along the way with nothing to do, they just might create a monster.

I'm done now.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Man At Work

My father built a boat once.

Actually, more than once.  Growing up in Trinidad in the '40s and '50s as he did, you learned to live on a boat.  But you wouldn't buy one; you'd build your own.  That's just the way things were done, and he knew how to do it well.  So one summer... I think 1972... Dad built a boat in our backyard.

Not a canoe.  Not a rowboat.  This was a full-on fourteen-foot runabout.  A genuine motorized aquatic vehicle!  All-wood, handmade, with a fiberglass-and-resin reinforced hull.  It could handle up to 100 horsepower but Dad outfitted his with a relatively modest 40-horse Mercury outboard... not quite sufficient to tow a skier, but close.  And did I say handmade?  Dad found a book with the blueprints; bought the wood, parts, and fittings from Canadian Tire; and put it all together by himself, in the basement and back yard.  Cutting high density foam and blue sparkle vinyl for the seats.  (Yes, blue sparkle vinyl.  It was the '70s.)  Staining the deck.  And painting the hull in the iconic red, black and white of the Trinidad flag.

With all due respect to my contemporaries, I can't imagine anyone's father building something like that today.  My brother-in-law is remarkable at home renovations... but I don't suspect he's ever considered building a boat.

I was only nine or ten.  We'd take the boat out on the Rideau River, to the cottage... Dad showed it off for the relatives from Trinidad when they came to visit.  I believe he even let me take the wheel once or twice, when he was absolutely sure there was no one around for hundreds of yards.  He taught me how to fish, but I thought fish were kinda gross.  (Still do.)  And I had no idea what my sister and I had been given, man.  I was getting into hockey and football, and probably wondering why I had to take a day away from play to hang around with my dad so we could drag this thing into the water.  I don't think I even liked water back then.  Youth.  It was my dad's way of life, but it wasn't mine, and now I wish I could show it to my son.

This all came back to me recently, on Good Friday.  A day off.  Recently I've had a lot of days off... and I'm almost as mentally loaded down as when I was in the office at the radio station.  These days my smartphone is my office, connecting me to my network.  Back when Dad was building that boat, in the evenings and on the weekends... I don't believe taking time to check e-mail would have fit into the picture.

I suppose the message is... by no means an original thought... that you just might not remember how much you can do for yourself when you step away from the business side of things.  It's unfortunate that I've spent so much time recently putting my personal life in order, yet I can somehow feel "unproductive".  I remind myself that I'm actually gradually building a very small man, and hoping I will figure out how to teach him to care for himself and others.

So go take time for yourself.  And build something - a relationship, a passion, a reason to laugh. 

Maybe even a boat.

I'm done now.