The holdout

NO PHONE SYMBOL_logoFCPAn acquaintance reacted to news that I don’t own a cell phone with the combination of ridicule and disbelief normally reserved for people who vote for the Green Party.

“You must have a cell phone,” he said.

“No, I honestly don’t,” I replied, and my tone wavered as it always does on this matter between self-righteousness and embarrassment.

“But you work in communications!”

True, but I’m also a big fan of irony.

We were on the telephone. Well, I was on a telephone, one with a chord and solid buttons to push, a telephone whose sole function was to be a telephone. He was on a cell phone and was asking me to text him the coordinates of a third party. That’s when I baffled him with the news that I was stuck in 1995.

“I can email it,” I offered, and when I said it I felt 85 years old. If I had said, “I can send it to you by the emails,” it would have been perfect.

I was once offered a cell phone for work but resisted because then people would be able to find me all the time. And if they found me, they’d ask me to do things. And if I did things, they’d discover I’m not actually very good at those things. And then I’d be fired, at which point they’d take away my cell phone, so really what would be the point?

But now it’s beyond that. Now it’s partly a matter of being overwhelmed by choice. I go to the mall and every second kiosk is selling cell phones or cell phone plans or cell phone condos. Other kiosks are selling cell phone cases. The rest are hawking hats and mittens. Do people really go through so many mittens and hats that it warrants dedicated mall-based mitten-and-hat kiosks? Is there some correlation between cell phones and mittens and hats? Do cell phone buyers think, “Hmmm, I should get some mittens and a hat since I’m going to be standing stock still on the cold sidewalk and blocking pedestrian traffic while I break up with my boyfriend via Snapchat”?

I feel I’m too late for cell phones. We’re already up to iPhone 6 and I haven’t even worked my way through levels 1 through 5. At this point, cell phones are like that co-worker whose name I never learned and, well, there’s no way I can ask now! Instead, I just duck into a bathroom when I see cell phones coming.

But I know I could manage. I navigate through technology all the time and am actually pretty good at troubleshooting. I have my iPad (v.1), my laptop, my 8-year-old 2GB iPod. I survived Windows 8. I tweet. I could easily have a friend recommend a phone and a plan and would have my new phone figured out faster than you can write “Autocorrect slacks.”

But I continue to resist, and not just because I know I’ll get sucked into that world and bump into things.

I think it’s for the same reason I don’t want a GPS in my car telling me where to go. A GPS would be convenient and make driving to points unknown easier. And I wouldn’t get lost nearly as often, and let’s be quite frank, getting lost puts one’s patience and family relations to the test. The day I tried to drive through Calgary and missed it entirely was not a good day, although there’s really no reason now to rehash whether I was right or wasn’t wrong. The point is, getting lost can make you panicky and miserable.

But getting lost is also a reminder that strangeness is the essence of travel. You’re travelling in a foreign place and you must rely on your sense of direction, consult a map, risk wrong turns and near-misses with semi-trucks as you take that exit, take it NOW! Plus, you might find something amazing in that wrong turn, hopefully something amazing that won’t steal your hubcaps.

If ever there was unknown territory, it’s life. Going cell-free, being out of contact, not having every convenience at your fingertips all the time isn’t a bad way to remind yourself of the need for self-reliance. Going without technology reminds us what we need, not simply what we want.

Most of the time I don’t really need to speak, to text, to post photos of focaccia. Few things are that important that I need a cell phone. And if it really is important, I’ll simply keep doing what I’ve been doing all along: borrow someone else’s.

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Spoilers and stars

Abby had a mandatory book to read over the summer before starting Grade 8. There was also a list of optional second books. We ignored them all and decided Abby should read Of Mice and Men because a) it’s a classic and b) it’s short.

But first I re-read it myself so I’d be able to discuss it with Abby. I borrowed a truly handsome copy from the library that I set about reading and spilling coffee on. I then passed it on to Abby to read and hopefully take the blame for the stains.

Short or not, Steinbeck is another world these days, and for a reluctant reader he can still be tricky. So I waited patiently for Abby to reach the ending so we could review it, but did not hesitate to point out that the character of Lennie is the basis for the Abominable Snowman character in Loony Tunes.

Finally, I asked Abby, “Did you finish your book?”

“Yes,” she said.

“So do you understand? What happened? What George had to do?”

“I think so.”

“You know he killed Lennie, right? Like the dog earlier in the book? A mercy killing. To save him from the horrors of the mob. Killing him kindly, with the visions of the rabbit farm the last happy thought he has. Because George loves Lennie.”


The human condition. Wisdom imparted. Mission accomplished.

Later on, her mother asked the same question: “Abby, did you finish your book?”

“I have one chapter left.”

But! But! Why did you…? You said…! I just spoiled the ending. I just ruined Of Mice and Men.

Teaching young people to read is important. Teaching them to listen to the question: ditto.

Speaking of listening, I’m back on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway” every two weeks. Here’s my latest audio column for you star-gazers.

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My heart on paper

This week, I got the results of some heart tests I underwent. The thing is, I underwent them three years ago.

It had occurred to me in the past that I’d never received any results for these tests, but I simply assumed no news was good news. It turns out no news was lost news.

Well, that could have ended badly. Continue reading

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Buying dirty books

The last thing you expect when you go to Old Orchard Beach in Maine on the long Labour Day weekend is to keep your sanity. The second-last thing you expect, among the tourists, souvenir shops, fried-everything stands and carnival rides, is a book store. But there it is, right on the strip. Granted, it’s full of remaindered books, and you have to dodge the caricaturist parked at the entrance, but it’s a little bit of paradise among the bikinis. Incidentally, if you’re looking for something called Paradise Among the Bikinis, you’re in the wrong kind of store.

But I did find a dirty book. Tucked into the row of fiction was a book by one of my favourite authors, Nicholson Baker. His novel, The Mezzanine, is particularly good. It’s set entirely during a ride up an escalator. Baker writes a type of fiction in which not much physical action takes place, which also describes my daily fitness regimen, by the way. Instead, he goes off on anecdotal tangents and random explorations, which also describes some work meetings I’ve sat through, but that’s enough of that. Continue reading

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Labour Day madness

IMG_2829The follow-up questions from U.S. Customs are usually the most stressful: “What kind of fruits and vegetables?” “What exactly were you arrested for?” “Do you really think that joke’s funny, sir?” But when I told the border guard we were travelling to Old Orchard Beach in Maine for the Labour Day weekend, his follow-up question was, “Why would you want to do that?”

I think it was a rhetorical question, but still I answered, “I’m not sure.”

If you don’t know Old Orchard Beach, it’s the closest ocean resort for those of us living in southern Quebec. Closest, loudest, crassest. Each summer, thousands of Quebecers make le pilgramage to la plage, and never more so than on Labour Day, the last weekend of the summer.

Labour Day at the beach is like a New Year’s Eve party: too many people, everyone’s uncomfortable, it’s only truly bearable if you’re drunk, and there’s way too much partial nudity. And yet, it’s something you feel obliged to do. Continue reading

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Quoting depressed comedians


I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of the way blogger pal Bill Pearse writes — maybe it’s our near ages, maybe it’s the way he captures the conflict between the work brain and the art brain, maybe it’s his great taste in music, maybe it’s the beard… His stream of consciousness flows steady and true and I find myself getting caught in the current, happily. Bill took a break for a while, but he’s back and he deserves more readers. I loved his post yesterday about sitting in a meeting with the alpha males — no wait! don’t go! Trust me, this is great stuff that any aspiring writer should read.

Originally posted on Pinklightsabre's Blog:


We start the 9 o’clock meeting some time after 9 o’clock. I book one of the conference rooms on the north side of the building, the ninth floor, picturesque views of downtown bathed in blue: sky blue, water blue, railroad cranes and ferry boats, boxcars, sea gulls, crows…the raw collision of industry and nature, Seattle.

There’s something about meetings when it’s only guys that’s different, especially when they’re older and they’ve all made their careers in construction. There’s this guy thing, one ring out from the job site.

And for whatever reason, triggered by a reference to bird shit on the window, they all start quoting Bill Murray from Caddyshack.

And it goes around from guy to guy like a secret handshake, the comments and quotes, the Bill Murray-way he spoke like a kind of stroke victim, with his mouth slung low. It goes around from guy to guy…

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Bye Bye Beardy

ross no beardI’ve been suffering facial trauma all week, ever since I shaved off my beard. I walk by a mirror and instead of my usual “Hey there, handsome” it’s “Aggh! Who are you?” And then I remember it’s me, only smoother.

It’s as though I were abducted by aliens and they put my brain into a new body, one that’s familiar but not quite right. A little off. A little more off than usual, that is. I mean, if the aliens were going to put me in a new body, the least they could have done was put me in something with more in the way of shoulders and less in the way of George McFly.

Of course, I haven’t been abducted by aliens (although that would explain the tenderness in certain delicate regions). I’ve merely shaved the hair off my face in order to prepare for a play I’m in later this fall. But just like my acting will do to my audience, going barefaced has made me squirm with discomfort. Continue reading

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