Pretty happy people

imageAccording to a recent poll, two-thirds of Canadians are “pretty happy.” This to me is the perfect Canadian answer. When you ask a Canadian “How are you?” nine times out of ten, the answer will be “pretty good.” Not “great,” not “lousy,” not “get off my porch before I call the cops,” but “pretty good.” It’s that kind of contained enthusiasm that has made Canada the mostly all right country it is today.

Canadians’ other choices in the survey were “very happy” and “not too happy,” as if miserable was out of the question. As if some form of happiness, even if it’s only a glimmer, a spark, a soupcon of happiness, is a given if you’re a Canadian, or at least a Canadian answering a survey. Because if you’re answering a survey, chances are you have a phone, and if you have a phone, well, you haven’t quite hit rock bottom yet, have you?

And who’s to say that “not too happy” is a bad thing? Who wants to be “too happy”? Your cheeks hurt from smiling all the time, you can’t sleep, people start thinking you’re on drugs. If you’re too happy, you’re probably not using all that happiness very efficiently. It’s a waste of happy, being too happy. Settle down. Here: read this pamphlet on parliamentary reform.

This news came a week after we learned that Canada has been rated as the second-best country in the world, according to a survey released at the World Economic Forum. The #1 country was Germany, which surpassed Canada in terms of entrepreneurship, but that’s only because we’re pretty happy doing the jobs we’ve always had, thanks. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t let a beaver anywhere near it, those destructive beasts!

And of course there was that New York Times piece that declared Canada “hip.” And an article in GQ India entitled “Canada is making the rest of us look bad.” India, by the way, was ranked #22 in the country survey. Did I mention that Canada was also ranked #1 for seeking out flattering media reports no matter how obscure?

So, we’re pretty happy, we’re hip, we’re #15 for adventure, whatever that means. (Probably we need more pirates.) All in all, Canada’s a pretty good place to be.

But, of course, these are generalizations when you’re talking about a country of nearly 10 million square kilometres and nearly 36 million people and nearly universal access to Wikipedia data. Not everyone is happy and not every place in Canada is good to live in and not every smouldering look I give is going to melt the ladies’ hearts, although that’s not really the issue here, a survey for another time, perhaps.

I’m a happy Canadian, but I’m not happy all the time. Sometimes I’m between “not too happy” and “pretty happy,” a kind of “on the verge of happy.” I’m sort of happy when I get a yogurt out of the fridge, for instance. But when I see that it’s a Greek yogurt, then I’m a little less happy because there’s a fine line between Greek yogurt and window caulking.

I’m happy my children are all safe, well-adjusted young people. But then the other day, one of them took a shower while watching cartoons on an iPad perched on a vanity with the sound blaring through a Bluetooth speaker, letting the water run and run. This made me unhappy for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on other than it seeming really impractical and too loud and steamy. Maybe because it’s been so long since I did anything loud and steamy myself.

Sometimes I get so not too happy that, like a lot of people, I look at my life and think, “I deserve better.” But then I remember that people who think that should really ask themselves, “Do you really?”

Somewhere along the way we’ve come to feel entitled to happiness. If we’re not deliriously happy all the time, we feel cheated or even broken. But, as with this huge country of diverse, strange and (let’s be honest) only sporadically hip people, pure happiness comes and goes.

And that’s okay. When you come right down to it, “pretty happy” is pretty good. Even better if you enjoy taking surveys.

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Comedy for cowards

Humour is a persona. No surprise there. Modern times are full of comics who were miserable people, to the point of killing themselves. Humour becomes an outlet for these sad, sometimes socially awkward people to express themselves, in often painfully funny ways. It’s funny because who from time to time hasn’t felt the discomfort of being alive?

Writing humour is possibly the most cowardly way of dealing with one’s social awkwardness. You tell a few jokes, bare your insecure soul and then release it to the world, never having to deal with the reality of the reader laughing at your work or (that thing you’re trying to avoid) not.

I’ve had occasion when someone has read my work silently to themselves in front of me. It’s uncomfortable. Worse, though, is when someone is with me listening to one of my radio pieces; I have to leave the room. I have to physically remove myself from their reaction/non-reaction.

I don’t do stand-up comedy. I do hide-out comedy.

As I’ve said before, radio gives me the freedom to do things I can’t do in print, including voices, dialogues, even singing. This week, I sing. Not just goofing around singing. I sing for real.

Using GarageBand and its auto-chords and loops, I created some basic melodies and wrote some lyrics for my fake album Ross Murray Sings Songs of Low Self-Esteem. You see? I’ve hedged my bets. I’ve created music that is supposed to be bad, or at least, in the scenario of the bit, I suggest is bad — no one’s going to like it because I have low self-esteem, get it? So if it really does make the listener wince, that’s part of the bit. Or at least I can tell myself that.

It’s a dodge, a cop-out, self-defence for the self-delusional: I can’t sing! But that’s the point. But I hope people like it! Even though the pretext is they won’t. It goes round and round in circles.

Comedy is risk, and risk means vulnerability. But on radio, no one can see you cringe.

Enjoy. I’ll be over there behind the curtains.

This piece originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway,” February 2, 2016.

Posted in Turn that radio on! | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

A bunch of Atholls

I love the Scottish language because it’s almost English. I can understand just enough to get the gist of what’s being said. This is also, by the way, how I’ve lived my life in French Quebec for the last 26 years.

This past Monday was Robbie Burns Day, which is a celebration of the great Scottish poet and pretending to know what he’s on about. But again there’s enough English mixed in with the obviously made up words to allow you to give it a go. One of Burns’ most famous poems, for example, is “Address to a Haggis,” which begins as follows:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

You don’t have to overstrain your sporran to figure it out. As one might do with a haggis, let’s take a stab at it: Continue reading

Posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

All-purpose rock star obituary

The R stands for "rock."

The R stands for “rock.”

Music lovers were A) saddened B) shocked C) not surprised at all today to learn that A) rock legend B) one-hit wonder C) bong aficionado XYZ had died after a courageous battle against A) cancer B) Alzheimer’s C) a small pack of Girl Guides. He was [insert age; probably 69].

Fans learned of XYZ’s death A) through his record label B) via Facebook C) by deciphering clues in the musician’s final game of online Scrabble.

“Today, the world has lost a great A) artist B) humanitarian C) napper,” said his A) wife B) manager C) long-time divorce lawyer in a written statement. “XYZ’s music brought A) joy B) hope C) heartburn to millions of people. He will be deeply A) missed B) buried.” Continue reading

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Talking to your kids about legal drugs

The Canadian government is looking seriously at legalizing marijuana. While legislation is probably a long way off, making pot legal won’t make having conversations with your kids about drugs any easier…

“Sit down, son. I’d like to talk to you about a difficult subject. No, not sex. No, not why all the rock stars are dying off. I want to talk to you about marijuana. Now that it’s legal in Canada, you may be tempted to try it for the first time.

“When you finish chuckling, we’ll continue.

“Now, I have a lot of experience with marijuana. I’m not saying I ever tried it. That would be wrong, because it used to be illegal to possess marijuana. But it’s also wrong to lie, so I’m not saying I haven’t tried marijuana either. There is a possibility that I may or may not have tried marijuana at some point in my life, either on purpose or by accident. Let’s leave it that it is within the realm of possibility that someone may have pushed me mouth-first against some burning marijuana-like substance at some time. Continue reading

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, Turn that radio on! | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Out of my cold, gelled hands

It was painful hearing Barack Obama dance around the issue of gun ownership at his town hall meeting last week. The U.S. president had to come across as anti-gun but not too anti-gun. It was like watching a dad tell the kids he’s super-chill but, hey, rules are cool, yo!

Among Obama’s revelations was that his wife Michelle told him that if she lived in a farmhouse, say in Iowa, far from the sheriff’s office, she would want a shotgun to protect her family.

First of all, I have a hard time picturing Michelle Obama living in a farmhouse anywhere. Secondly, I think the unwritten rule in Iowa is: if a criminal comes to your house, you just give him your chickens and send him on his way. Then you run him down with your tractor.

Mostly, though, as a Canadian living in a region that makes Iowa seem positively cosmopolitan, I can’t think of any circumstances where I would want to own a gun, with or without a long-distance sheriff.

This unfathomability is what sets off that Canadian self-righteousness about gun control and gun violence, when really we shouldn’t be smug about anything; our country was split in half this week because a single bridge was out.

Canadians don’t get the U.S. fixation with firearms because guns are not part of our culture, let alone our constitution. We don’t have the right to bear arms; we have the right to go curling on Friday nights.

What’s needed by Canadians to fully understand this issue is empathy. We need to imagine something in our own culture that we wouldn’t want taken away, something ingrained in who we are. Something like hair gel. Continue reading

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The element in the room

Scientists recently discovered four new chemical elements. It’s unclear to me whether these elements already existed but hadn’t yet been tracked down or whether the scientists created them, God-like, out of thin air by toying with the very fabric of the universe, a sentence that often ends with “…and then things went horribly, horribly wrong.”

So far so good, I guess, because we haven’t been instantly ripped apart by the cataclysmic unravelling of all cosmic matter and anti-matter, which is a helluva way to start the work week.

The new elements were synthesized by scientists in Japan, Russia and the U.S., giving the world elements 113, 115, 117 and 118. Created by bashing nuclei together (which sounds a lot more fun than it probably is), these new elements are highly volatile. They exist for mere fractions of a second before decaying, making them the Hollywood marriages of the periodic table. Continue reading

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