Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stop Procrastinating Jeremy

I finish chugging down my third energy drink of the day. It’s only 5 o’clock. I crush the empty can and attempt to bank shot it off a wall into the recycling box. I misjudge the angle just alittle bit and the crumpled can bounces awkwardly off the reduce/reuse/recycle side of the blue box. I get up off my computer chair and walk over to slam dunk the can into the pile of recycling. Going back to my room, I pass by a pizza box with one lonely slice left to coagulate on its own. That pizza slice is the only one of its kind to not serve its intended purpose; it is the only one to not be eaten among its brother and sister slices.

That was a wasted thought Jeremy; keep focused on the book review. The book says that smoking is hierarchically constructed according to race, class, and gen…ewww, fruit flies!

I grab a can of Febreeze and use chemical warfare to put an end to the fruit fly infestation around the old slice of pizza. The Febreeze may not kill all fruit flies, but I coat the area with enough spray that any survivors will drown in artificially scented lavender liquid. I throw the pizza box in the garbage and tie up the bag. I take the former fruit fly paradise outside to the side of the road.

Stop procrastinating Jeremy, book review book review book review.

I walk back into my room and I can’t even see my laptop buried beneath all my school papers. Laundry is piled around my bed, protecting it like castle walls. Every schoolbook and binder I have used this semester is littered across my desk and is spilling on the floor. The remains of several meals, hurriedly eaten while working last minute on one of the three papers I have finished already this week, are stacked on top of my mini-fridge. I start grabbing laundry, separating lights from darks, and begin throwing them into a basket.

You are still procrastinating. This feels like a chore, something that NEEDS to be done. But Jeremy, that is what makes chores such dangerous procrastination tools! Video games, TV, Facebook, those are easy to identify as procrastination, but time spent doing laundry and dishes instead of tackling the mountain of work in front of you is time wasted. Seven papers, four books, and three presentations all due in the next two weeks. You put yourself in this situation. Even the shower you took today was a luxury you can’t afford. You are even wasting time thinking about this right now. Get to work!

I flop into my chair and swing around to face the white glow of my computer monitor. The unexpected brightness of the blank Microsoft word document that is supposed to be my book review causes me to squint. I begin typing whatever comes into my head. I will sort out the good stuff from the bad later on. Right now, I concentrate on darkening my computer screen with black text. My eyes quickly begin to get heavy, so I reach into my mini-fridge and pull an energy drink out of the case.

Shoot Jer, you need to get some more.

I hop out of my chair with the frosty can in my hand. I walk to my closet, pull on my coat and put on my shoes as I crack open the energy drink that acts as nitro fuel for my studies. I step outside and start walking to the corner store, sucking down a dozen different kinds of liquid sugar as I go.

Ok, Jeremy, after you get another case of energy drinks you WILL start working again. And as long as you think about the book review on the walk to the store, it won’t count as procrastination. World War II dramatically changed the way people smoked because…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dealing with "it"

I throw the Kleenex box up in the air and furiously punch it, launching it across the room. Little white pieces of fluff flutter to the ground at my feet. I pick up a pillow and punt it as hard as I can into my closet, causing my dress shirts to slide off their hangers. I throw myself onto my bed, burying my face in my pile of comforters in the corner. I scream at the top of my lungs.

I am muting my primal scream with comforters because I don’t want to give my roommates the impression that this is a cry for help. No, this is just me, dealing with “it”. It doesn’t really matter what “it” is, when you are dealing with “it”, what is important is how you deal with “it”. At this moment, I am dealing with “it” physically, punishing inanimate objects that I have projected my problems onto. That is not the best way of dealing with “it”, but it just seemed appropriate today.

I have many other methods of dealing with “it”, but here are several of my favorite.

1 – Writing music
I pick up Sophie, my acoustic guitar. I throw her strap over my head, grab the pick from its nestled place between her strings, and give my guitar a strum to make sure she’s in tune. Okay, she is. Now, Sophie and I are going to deal with “it”. Depending on what “it” is, I will either proceed to play my heart out and sing at the top of my lungs or finger pick a sad little song to mope along to.

2 – Bottling "it" up
With this method of dealing with “it”, I visualize “it” as a material, physical object in front of me. I slowly, almost sneakily, reach up and snatch "it", holding "it" tightly in my hands. I thrust “it” into my chest, deep into the dark, rarely thought of parts, where my hidden bottle of problems lays. I open it carefully…OH NO! Oh jeez, all my bottled up problems almost escaped. That would have been BAD. I quickly shove “it” in there with the rest of my problems and cork the bottle up. Maybe one day I’ll get to those long sitting issues.

3 – Letting it go
In my opinion, the best way of dealing with “it”. In all my limited clutching and grasping at philosophy, I have found that by accepting and acknowledging “it” as a fact of existence, the inevitable pain that humans must experience, then l can actually let “it” go. This way of dealing with “it” removes “it” completely from myself, sanitizing me, freeing me.

In life, people are constantly dealing with “it”; relationships, bills, jobs, school, all the different varieties of negative human experience. There is no escaping “it”, because “it” can mean so many things. The only thing a person can affect is how we end up dealing with "it". I think next time I’ll take it easier on the Kleenex box and just decide to let “it” go.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"You guys are rocking but...

The feedback from the guitars is deafening. I listen to it, soak it in, waiting for it to start.

Tis, tis tis, tis the high hat goes as Kiel, my drummer, my band mate, counts us into the song. The entire band erupts into a cacophony of noise, the driving rhythm barely containing our energy. Nervous energy, adolescent energy, creative energy, positive, negative, even sugar produced energy is rushing through my veins.

I feel ecstatic.

A smile is being painted goofily across my face, hung just alittle off-center. That kind of smile comes about when my feelings of happiness overflow beyond the capacity of my facial muscles to control it. It is a smile that cannot be ended by any means other than its own pre-destined death. This particular smile did not get to live for long.

Oh no

Travis, the singer of our band, is forgetting the lyrics of the song!

Oh no!

Travis is stopping singing all together!


Travis is apologizing to the audience for forgetting the lyrics of the song!

This is me, playing my first live show in a band. It is now not going well. And now my smile is dead.

I had asked and asked and asked until my family finally gave in and bought one for me. It was an all-black Samick P bass guitar with spilt pick-ups. I loved that bass from the second I saw it. I knew I would never give it away. I know I am going to spend the rest of my life with this guitar. I named her Morgan and together we joined a heavy metal band to become famous.

Let me give you a quick rundown of our group dynamic. The band’s name is Woodrow. The origins of the band name are unknown; it has simply always been Woodrow. The lead singer is a five foot, 235 pound, red-headed bowling ball shaped kid named Travis. He doesn’t even like heavy metal, but loves being in the group regardless. Next is a muscle-bound blond guy named Kiel, who is the drummer and owner of practically everything in the band. Kiel is amazing drummer and he knows it, giving me a 10 minute long drum solo the first time I met him. Josh is the guitarist and self-proclaimed front man of the band, despite his unwillingness to even engage in the simplest of guitar solos. Finally there is 14 year old me, 100 pounds soaking wet with a blond wisp of a mustache that I had carefully cultivated since grade 7.

Woodrow is playing at Christmas in the park. I had only joined the band yesterday. We had a full two hours of practice before they let me know they had a show to play the next day. I was completely onboard of course, because, like I said, I wanted to be famous. And here was my chance.

It being Christmas in the Park, naturally the stage was going to be set up outside, which was experiencing a blizzard here in the middle of winter. The entire band was wrapped up in coats, gloves, and toques to keep warm. The only people in attendance were my faithful grandparents and a small group of teenage girls I didn’t know huddled together. After Travis had consulted the lyrics, we again kicked into the only song we could play together. It was a cover of “My own summer” by the Deftones and like every good band we played it LOUD. The second go through felt like a success, despite my cold-ravaged lungs barely being able to choke out the back-up lyrics.

As we finished our song a middle aged man came from behind the stage, armed with an insincere smile. “Hey, you guys are rocking….but could you turn it down? I own the convenience store across the street and you’re driving away some of my customers. Thanks, keep on rocking boys!” He tells us, before patronizes us with a peace sign.

A peace sign? We are a heavy metal band and we got a peace sign? This will not stand!

The band members all look at each other and we know what to do. We turn our amps up even louder and announce to the “roaring” crowd of eight that we are going to play an encore. Since we only knew one song, we played “My own summer” again. This time the song went even better and I was able to regain my goofy slanted smile; only this one has a longer expiration date.

As we ended the one song show, with the whole band soloing out of sync with each other to a crescendo, there was a polite smattering of applause and my grandparents snapped a picture. When we shut all the amps down, the band jumped off the stage and joined the small group of girls who had watched us. They hated our music, but stayed around anyway to talk with us. As we tried to impress these girls, I could hear my grandparents in the background, snapping more pictures. We were not famous and probably never would become famous. But we rocked for a brief moment in time, in the face of resistance trying to turn us down, even if he was just a store owner. And that felt pretty good too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Nights in the Thunder Bay Scene

The city of Thunder Bay does, contrary to popular belief, have a music scene. However, it is not dominated by one genre of music like many other cities. Punk music was everywhere in Los Angeles during the 80s, Seattle’s grunge music took over the world in the 90s, Nashville seems to have always been a country town, and now Toronto is stealing indie rock from Montreal.

Not Thunder Bay.

No, the Thunder Bay Scene is a melting pot of different music. At any given show in the Scene, old punks will be rubbing arms with young metalheads, indie kids will be drinking with blues and funk fans, and the rap crowd will be hanging out with everyone. I believe that is because despite having 109,140 people, Thunder Bay still seems to have a small town, working-class attitude. That type of mentality, although praiseworthy in certain aspects, does not cultivate the arts, particularly the innovative and experimental ones necessary for the development of a co-ordinated and cutting edge music scene. Because of this, there are very few respectable venues for new bands to play at, so the various sub-cultures all have to exist in very close quarters. A concert on the weekend at one of the few music bars will showcase a punk rock group, a black metal act, a rap crew, and an acoustic hippie jam band to end the night.

I went to two shows recently and was able to marvel at the unique structure of the Scene in T-Bay. The first show, on a Thursday, had some good friends of mine performing. The opening band, the Fat Uglies, was a Jimmy Hendrix-flavoured blues trio. The second band, Party at the Moontower, was an upbeat rock-ska band. It was the third show for the Fat Uglies and the first of the year for Party at the Moontower. Talking to one of my friends beforehand, I could sense his nervousness.

“Eric,” I said as he swore at a knot in his patchcords, “stop being such a snapcase. Grab a beer and chill out.”

“Sorry dude-man-bro, I gotta keep solid for the show, I don’t want to screw up,” Eric replied, before he went back to work on his rig. As the bar slowly filled up to a respectable 40 people, many familiar faces from other concerts I had attended had showed up. There was Beard-o, lead guitarist of Rock Truck, a popular local metal band. He was named Beard-o because he had an impressive fire red beard that covered nearly half of his slight 5’5 frame. In the corner of the bar was the Blonde Mullet Man. A staple on the music scene, his bleached blonde mullet flows gracefully over his old school leather jacket and tight torn blue jeans. Right in front is Thunder Bay’s peculiar version of groupies; a group of girls (and one, either extremely lucky or unlucky, man) who, despite attending many concerts, leave immediately after the shows are done, leaving bands to wonder what happened to all their loudest fans.

Although both bands were nervous, both go on to put on amazing shows. The Fat Uglies win the crowd over with their amazing covers of Jimmy Hendrix, with Eric ripping the solo of Purple Haze behind his head. When Party at the Moontower took the stage, they immediately jumped into the air and kicked into great rock action. During the final medley of Party at the Moontower, I looked around. The entire crowd of dissimilar sub-cultures was moving to the music. They were enjoying the shameless communal bond that concert-goers experience with each other. No one laughs at you when you are singing along at a concert; they join in. After Party at the Moontower finishes its final crescendo, leaving only the sweet hum of feedback, they give shout outs to the various minor celebrities that the Scene has to boast and leave the stage. The audience shouts back its approval, even the groupies quickly say “You guys ROCK!!!” before scurrying out.

I was convinced by Eric later that night to go to the Webster Death CD release show the following day. I said “no” at first, but my rocker heart betrayed me and I consented to go the next day. Webster Death was celebrating ten years in the rap business and was releasing a new CD in commemoration. When we finally arrived, late because of the blasted Thunder Bay Transit bus passed us by the first time, the party was in full gear. A half-dozen rappers were taking turns free-styling on stage, spitting out rhymes with an eloquence that I wish I could steal; or at least borrow for times like these when my brain blindly clutches for an adequate phrase.

I see Webster Death mingling with the crowd. Beside him is Grimace, his faithful zombie butler. I’m not kidding. It is a hilarious gimmick, all due to Grimace’s ability to never break character. He remains always creepy and silent. Eric sees Beard-o and we walk over to chat it up. Barely being heard over the thundering beats, I ask him how a metal head like himself feels like at a rap concert. “F**king great, ain’t nothing better goin’ on” Beard-o replies, making me feel stupid for even asking.
Webster Death strides towards the stage suddenly, with Grimace in toe. Death grabs the mic and states that he loves everyone in the crowd, he is happy to still be making music after ten years, and that he is completely wasted and will try his hardest not to mess up. Webster Death immediately kicks into his set, becoming a larger than life figure, a giant spewing deadly lines of street poetry. During his entire energetic, terrific set, Grimace stares blankly into the crowd, dances melodically, and performs a amazing magic trick. This great performance is made more impressive when I learn later that Webster Death has played 2 sets already and planned to end the night singing for a metal band called Red Devil. So Webster Death shed his rapper fa├žade and unleashed his metal demon, playing another equally energetic and fantastic set. You would have never known he was stinking drunk.

The night ended great, as it usually does when spending it in the Scene. We end up talking alittle bit with the bands, then head home with our fellow fans for an after party. The party ends up reflecting the Thunder Bay Scene, rappers talking with rockers, metalheads talking to blues fans, indie guy making friends with the folk lovers. It’s hard for counter cultures to make it in places like Thunder Bay, so they need to all stick together in order to survive. But it is not really just about surviving, as I begin to hear some acoustic guitars and singing over the party drone, but thriving, trying to create a succession of good times, that culmination of entertaining events that is referred to as a scene.

Party at the Moontower plays their next show on the 29th at Jack’s

Webster Death plays his next show on Halloween at the Hunger

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Poor Man's Olympics

It is possibly the greatest creation ever. It is soft, it is bright orange, it is a giant orange pillow. Not giant as in “oh, that’s a big cushion for that couch”, this captivatingly ugly pillow IS the size of a couch. Taking up an entire corner in my grandparent’s basement, it was the site of many sports throughout my childhood. My two brothers, Darcy and Travis, and I were, and still are last time I checked, insanely competitive. I guess it is the nature of the beast when living in the dog eat dog world of sibling rivalry. People without a brother or sister will simply never understand the intimate intensity of that unique love/hate relationship. And this giant orange pillow in the corner of grandparent’s basement, which looked like it had been built for a God rather than mere mortals, was the battleground over which my brothers and I daily fought.

Our main casus belli was hockey played with mini-sticks. These tiny plastic sticks were our weapon and armor, sword and shield. My brothers and I would hack, slash, cross-check and take slap shots from a foot away in our quest for glory. We would alternate who was the goalie, based on whoever had lost the previous game. Goaltender was not a position you wanted to be in, because the only equipment the goalie had was a mini-stick and one of my grandpa’s old hats, used as makeshift catcher. That is not ample protection when the majority of the slashes, not to mention the patented one foot away slap shot, were aimed at you. The giant orange pillow played the integral part of being both the backstop and the board where you could check your brothers. Check is probably not the appropriate word, I think smash, level, and perhaps even steamroll better explains the nature of our brotherly violence. But the giant orange pillow absorbed all blows, enveloping both checker and checked into its soft embrace.

But mini-stick hockey was only one arena of warfare. My brothers and I, while snooping around my grandfather’s garage, found two pairs of boxing gloves. I’m sure you know where this leads. We immediately raced down to the basement and set up our match by the giant orange pillow. There was a brief pre-fight scuffle deciding who would be the first two to pummel each other. My older brother Darcy, using his four years added life experience over Travis and I, intelligently decided to fight the winner, correctly assuming that whoever won would be so tired and beaten up that they would just be a sitting target. Travis and I strapped on the gloves and went at it. It begins as it always does, with light tapping which becomes harder tapping which becomes stiff jabs. I then crossed the line (someone always crosses the line) and gave a solid punch to my brother’s nose. His eyes swelled up, his face became a snarl, and his head became as red as a fiery red tomato. As any sibling knows, that is not a good sign, but before I could fake an insincere apology, he charged, wrapped his arms around me, lifted me straight off the floor and smashed both of us into the comforting and life-saving giant orange pillow. To survive the onslaught, I had to put him in a crab lock until the colour of his head returned back to normal. All the while Darcy, my brother the ref, was laughing.

But it was not all violence and fighting, although most young boys would enjoy that. We also engaged in a variety of track and field games, to prove our superiority over our brothers in any way possible. We would run lengths of my grandparent’s house, both in just downstairs and all-house heats, with the giant orange pillow always being the finishing line, allowing us to run full speed until the end, when we crashed into it and would bounce several feet backwards. We also had a measuring tape to see who bounced the farthest back, that being a prize itself. Probably the most challenging game was high-jump. We would stack my grandmother’s books four feet high and rested her broom on them, acting as the pole that absolutely could not be hit and allowed to roll off. We would start at the other end of the basement, run as fast as we could, and launch ourselves up and over to land safely on the giant orange pillow.

Once my grandmother enquired into just what that racket was in the basement. My grandpa, a man with decades of working class observational humor at his disposal, responded “the poor man’s Olympics”. My grandma scowled at him for saying it, but it was true. My brothers and I were part of a working class poor family. Both my parents worked as much as they could, did what they could, just to make ends meet. That was the reason we spent all that time in my grandparent’s basement. I was originally writing about these memories as part of a self-righteous rant against the Olympics. I wanted to write about how the Olympics reward the elite, because only they have enough money, resources and spare time to become so great at a leisure activity, and to actually have the government pay for them to do so. The measure of a country is not in gold medals, but how it treats the most vulnerable of its citizens. But I got off track, lost my way in my memories, and when I got out this is what I had…

I realize my brothers and I have a strong family, something that I count myself very lucky for because it has given me the opportunity to do what the vast majority of poor sons and daughters cannot: a chance to improve my lot in life. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference is having a cushion to land upon. I am lucky because of my family, for all its glory and disaster. It seems so neat and tidy, really hackneyed and predictable, but I don’t care. This is what I think, from my brain to this page, a material thought. Do with it what you may. My family is my giant orange couch. It might look unusual, ugly, and clash with everything around it, but I would never want anything else. For all the times my family provided a soft landing, embracing me with your love, this is for you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Creating Something from Nothing

“I’m not sure if I like this either,” I remember telling my loving girlfriend of six years as I looked at the course description for creative nonfiction. I was choosing classes for my upcoming year at Lakehead University and I was having trouble picking because, well, everything I looked at seemed incredibly boring. I read all the courses with my usual cynical approach. “Medieval Scottish Poetry? Food and Writing? Shakespeare? I’m not paying thousands of dollars of my money and spending hundreds of hours of my time learning such narrow and useless subjects.” I remember thinking that I only had limited time on this Earth, not to mention limited money, so I felt the need to invest the two most important things one has into something thought-provoking, something interesting, something important.

And creative nonfiction did not look like that at all. I didn’t even really know what I was looking at. Creative nonfiction seemed to me as the realm of sensational celebrity stories, self-important personal essays, and sappy memoirs of youth. But I took a deep breath, told myself to stop being so judgmental, and I began to actually look deeper into this subject, to find its particular flavor and depth. For most of my life I was grossed out by sushi until I had it, literally, forced down my throat during a reading week in Vancouver. Now I absolutely love sushi. I learned a lesson that that day in the West Coast, so I tried my best to not pre-judge creative nonfiction, as I had sushi, and I began to force feed myself more information about the subject. I looked creative nonfiction up on Wikipedia, but the description was so dry that you could have used it for kindling. I searched for examples of creative nonfiction, but those were also, unfortunately, conforming to my initial concern of dreary coming-of-age stories. After much more disappointment in my investigation, and with classes quickly filling up during the meanwhile, I had to make a decision. So naturally, I asked my girlfriend Kate to make my decision for me.

“Do whatever you want,” she said offhand, busily trying to get her flight home set-up.

Normally that would have been a frustrating response; fundamentally it is the equivalent of saying nothing, because naturally I am going to do whatever I wanted to do. But for me, at that moment, it became something. It became something because it suddenly changed my perspective on creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction was not sentimental stories about being young or celebrities’ secret lives. Those are simply what some writers in creative nonfiction choose to write about. I could choose whatever stories in life that matter to myself; write about who, when, what I want. I could do whatever I wanted. The richness and variety of everyday experience provides an incredible amount of stories that can touch and change one’s soul and perspective, their ideologies and their own personal biases. That single sentence, one that I have heard thousands of times, became important, became something, because of the context that I experienced of it. I was worried that in writing creative nonfiction, I would be writing pieces no one would want to read. But that is not my place as a writer. I cannot give meaning, I create art that people find meaning in. If one person is affected by what I write, then doesn’t that make my writing important? I had decided what I wanted to do in that creative nonfiction class is to tell moments of life in the hopes that someone reading it may experience that shift in being, to maybe learn a lesson, to get something from what might have been nothing. So I decided to sign up for the course and to tell my, and others, stories, in the hopes that I can create something for someone, where once was nothing. My girlfriend's answer allowed me to find out what was important in creative nonfiction.