Not Quite a Shaggy Dog Story

border_collie_liver_portraitHello everyone,

I have reason to believe there is going to be a spike in traffic to this blog in the next few days. I will have more to say about about that after it happens, no doubt. In the meantime, I have not done much with this blog in some time. Now I have a very good excuse: I’ve written the first draft of another book since my last post, so how much time should I have put into this blog instead of that project? Still, I want to do a few posts between now and the arrival of a wave of first-time visitors.

I thought I would open with a joke, but for my own amusement it will be a long and rambling one that walks the edge of being a shaggy dog story. I saw a version of this on Reddit a few months back, and I enjoyed horrifying friends and family with my own rendition over the Christmas holidays. I encourage anyone who makes it all the way to the end to make this their own joke to torture people with: Put your own spin on it –make it longer or shorter as needed. This is a storyteller’s joke, so don’t be afraid to put some mustard on it.

Here goes:

There once was a farmer –well, a shepherd really. He was good at what he did, and he was fortunate as well. Over the years he managed to build up his flock from about forty sheep in the beginning to seven hundred and ninety-three sheep by his middle years through hard work, an abiding understanding of the fundamentals of animal husbandry, a local vet, and a faithful sheepdog. The shepherd and his sheepdog were damned near inseparable, and the shepherd gave the sheepdog equal credit in their shared success over the years.

Still, sheepdogs do not live forever, and when the old dog started becoming truly an old dog, the shepherd started thinking about how he was going to make do with seven hundred and ninety-three sheep and no sheepdog. To be honest with you, even one dog even in the peak of physical fitness really had its paws full running all over hill and dale all day every day gathering up all those sheep. The shepherd starts wondering if maybe he has to buy a whole litter of sheepdogs to replace his current sheepdog when the time comes. It sounds expensive and exhausting. If only there was a way he could make do with one new dog, but it seemed impossible.

One day the shepherd is talking about his problem with that local vet I mentioned earlier. “I mean, when I started, one dog and forty sheep made perfect sense. But how is one new dog supposed to round up seven hundred and ninety-three sheep?”

“It can be done,” the vet says.


“Oh, yes. You’d be amazed what the latest breeders are training their dogs to do. You wouldn’t even have to bring this new dog up to speed. It’ll cost a little more, but I can definitely recommend someone with a dog that will suit your needs.”

Continue reading “Not Quite a Shaggy Dog Story”


Chasing Atlantis: Something You Should All Know About

Hello again, everyone,

I’m going to start with an apology: Once upon a time I resolved to write on this blog regularly, making a point to have at least one entry a month, come what may. That was a pretty easy thing to commit to when I had a couple hundred readers a day –many of them personal acquaintances– but my most recent post from three months ago now has had 168,597 readers to date, and I found myself paralyzed by a feeling of inadequacy. I’ve been retweeted and reblogged and followed on Facebook to the point where I know what I write next will be read by a thousand people expecting at least a few minutes of entertainment and possibly something worth thinking upon deeply and making their own. I’ve found myself gun shy: What can I possibly say next to all of those people who are going to read this blog one more time? What would hold your attention and give you value for your visit?

And then I remembered what my friend Matt Cimone has been up to lately.

As a rule, I don’t mention my friends by name on this blog. I do so now after careful deliberation. Let me back up for a moment and give some context to what I hope is going to be a worthwhile read: I have had the great good fortune to know a man for the last twelve years who I believe will one day make a positive mark on the collective human experience. I look forward to the day when I can say with pride I knew him in his youth. After my late grandfather, I strongly suspect Matt Cimone is the finest man I’ve ever known. When I find myself confronted with an ethical or moral dilemma, I ask myself, “What would Matt Cimone do?” I rarely follow that course, but it’s an interesting question to pose for the sake of finding one’s bearings.

I could give any number of examples of why I’m fortunate to know this man, but for the sake of brevity I’ll say he was a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in his mid-20s; he’s founded his own charitable organization that uses the micro-credit model to empower entrepreneurs in third world countries, and he’s dedicated his life to being the change he wants to see in the world, a humanitarian who speaks openly and often about how we can all contribute in our own small way to a better future.

A year and a half ago, Matt Cimone asked me to go on a road trip with him to see the very last space shuttle launch. With deep reluctance I had to decline: I’d just quit my job, and I had to commit all my efforts to finding my next step. I watched Matt pile into a car with several friends and drive to Florida to join a million spectators as Atlantis hurled itself towards the heavens. In his usual above and beyond approach, he decided to create a short documentary about his experience on a hand-held digital camcorder. But that initial vision has since grown.

“There are a hundred films about the shuttle technology, but we are more interested in the people inspired by human space flight; those like us who always stood in wonder of the night sky.” Matt told me. “It began as a simple video about our trip. I thought we could put it online. Thankfully one of the five who came with us was my friend Paul Muzzin, founder of Riptide Studios. Paul is a filmmaker, and his expertise breathed new life into the film.”

“I’ve known Matt for almost 2 decades and I saw his passion for this trip,” Paul said. “His story is compelling, and I believe will resonate with an audience. While something shot on a handicamDigital SLR and put on YouTube would have still been from the heart, I believe that with some work this documentary could have a place in festivals and theatrical exhibition. I have also been a fan of the space program and always wanted to see a launch myself. In a sense, between directing this film and seeing the shuttle, I was fulfilling two dreams.”

Space exploration has always fascinated Matt, and witnessing the last shuttle launch was a catalyst for him. Human spaceflight brings out the dreams and aspirations of people from every walk of life, and so both he and Paul started interviewing people: Witnesses of the last launch, NASA spokespeople, fans of science fiction –both Matt and Paul are huge Trekkies, and Wil Wheaton even agreed to do an interview—even the astronauts themselves. The duo asked them what they thought, what they dreamed about.

Matt calls the story Chasing Atlantis, and from the humble beginnings of a road trip video of five friends to see the shuttle launch, it is evolving into a professionally shot, edited, and scored feature-length documentary about space exploration, ambition, and the freedom to imagine a future where the best that we hope we can be is given voice.

“Initially I only dared to think we’d make it this far.” Matt said. “When we combined the initial concept with what Paul envisioned we could accomplish with his production company behind us, doors started to open. We asked if we could conduct interviews, and people said yes. Suddenly we were doing something bigger and better. I would have never thought I’d be sitting across from future ISS commander Chris Hadfield or cast members from Star Trek when we first started planning all of this…well…I hoped, but I thought it would be a long shot.”

The common thread through all those interviewed is that the end of the shuttle program is just the turning of a page in the story of human ambition, of human discovery, of human aspiration and that regardless of if your dream is to go to space, or make a film, we all must chase the “Atlantis” in our own lives.

Here’s the current trailer:

Continue reading “Chasing Atlantis: Something You Should All Know About”

Feeling My Age, Loving The Beatles

One great hat.

Last weekend I went to a family barbeque, and I wore a hat. That is not a rare occurence for me. As I mentioned in my essay on the male barbershop experience, I have a pretty thick head of hair –I’ve never had a barber who didn’t make a sheep-shearing joke at some point in our relationship– and so hats come naturally to me: It saves me having to bother with a comb or hair gel, or all those other tools that I lack the vanity to make use of on anything more than a special occasion basis.

Anyway, I mention the family barbeque and the hat because, upon doffing my cap for one reason or another, my sister exclaimed, “Are those grey hairs I see?”

I have been aware for some time of a single silver thread somewhere about half an inch behind my hairline, roughly on the centre of my head. I admitted as much, but my sister was on her feet, craning over my crown to examine places I can’t see in my mirror as I brush my teeth. “No, there’s… Seven of them there! Seven!”

I have my father’s hair. Everyone says so. My father didn’t have a grey hair until well into his fifties, so that his lifelong friends muttered among themselves that he must use hair dye to hide the ravages of age. He didn’t, and a few stray shots of salt are now working their way through his mane to prove it. I laughed off my sister with the thought that perhaps I will not follow my father’s hair-based footsteps after all. She changed the subject, suspecting she had embarrassed me. Actually, I’m rather pleased.

From my early teens until my early twenties I was easily mistaken for a fourteen year old. Aside from bars and liquor stores, this has also been an impediment to a great many social interactions, and so I’m quite happy to be leaving that part of my life safely behind me. I have no fear of looking my age, and the idea of having a few silver strands at twenty-seven doesn’t trouble me at all.

My whole life I’ve wanted to be about five years older than I am, and I must admit the prospect of actually aging strikes me as something to look forward to. It holds fewer terrors for men than women, and even less for me, as from my perspective my peers all have several years’ head start on me to begin with.

My mind has since turned to the last time I remember vividly feeling older than my years –proud of my seniority, and ridiculously pleased with myself for something that really isn’t easy to explain– and as it’s an amusing story that literally dozens of you will enjoy in the months to come (my personal anecdotes remain the least visited portion of my blog), I thought I’d share it. It was the night I told off a young whippersnapper who tried to tell me I wasn’t a real Beatles fan.
Continue reading “Feeling My Age, Loving The Beatles”

I felt the whole world tremble today. I’m adding it to my list of unlikely experiences.

Today I felt the whole world tremble.

I never thought I would experience an earthquake. I know for many people it is something that is viewed as the cost of doing business, but I live in Toronto, which doesn’t see a lot of seismic activity. What little we do get –the ‘pop back’ from the ground rising up after being depressed by glaciers that disappeared ten thousand years ago– only occurs once every decade or two, and it generally goes unnoticed except by the sensitive equipment of scientists who monitor such things. That wasn’t the case today, though. For fifteen or twenty seconds, everything noticeably trembled.

( map from the CBC )

The 5.0-magnitude earthquake’s epicentre was hundreds of kilometers away, and nineteen kilometers under ground, but I felt it as a distinct and unsettling vibration, a tremor that I first mistook for some piece of heavy machinery at one of the three different condo building sites that surrounds my office just north of Bay and Bloor. It didn’t make sense, though: No truck could sustain that kind of building-wide vibration. I rose from my desk and made eye contact with the woman across the way from me.

“Did you feel that?” She asked.

“Yes,” I said, elaborating on my theory. Someone else on the floor said it was an earthquake, but I didn’t believe that was possible. Not in Toronto. Not for that long. Not that noticable. No way.

People started walking from window to window, checking to see if there was unusual activity at one of the building sites around us, but nothing explained it. My stomach continued to tremble long after my feet told me the vibrations were gone. The thought that the world could be made to shake –the power that it takes to shake the whole world– just seemed so unlikely, so beyond my ken.

I jumped onto my computer, and within two minutes, the Globe & Mail had a bulletin up on their website: It was definitely an earthquake. It had been stronger in Ottawa, and the paper’s newsroom there had been evacuated. Information flowed in via twitter: People had felt it in Montreal, in Windsor, in Ohio. What a thought! I could lay my palm flat on a map of North America, and everything under my palm had been vibrating just moments ago.

One of my co-workers muttered, “I can’t die here…” then at length she returned to work.

I sat at my desk for a long time, consciously aware of my heart beating, trying to wrap my head around what had just happened. I admit, I got very little done over the next couple of hours.

It’s something new to add to my list of strange, unique experiences, and I spent the rest of the day, on and off, quietly contemplating some of the other unlikely events I have witnessed in my life.
Continue reading “I felt the whole world tremble today. I’m adding it to my list of unlikely experiences.”

The worst phone call of my life (or, how I earned $50 for not caring if I got fired)

It’s time again for another one of my long and rambling annecdotes. Today’s story from my not-so-ill-spent youth: The worst phone call of my life (or, how I earned $50 for not caring if I got fired).

When I was seventeen I came back from England and got a job working for a Sprint Canada call centre while I waited for the next semester of high school to let in. For the first three months I was a telemarketer in first the residential and then the business streams, but it would be too dull for me to say that the worst phone conversation of my life was spent telemarketing. I can do much better than that, I promise.
Continue reading “The worst phone call of my life (or, how I earned $50 for not caring if I got fired)”

Meditations from the Barber’s Chair

A couple of days ago, I got a haircut. Haircuts are one of those peculiar male rituals that huge swathes of the population don’t understand without even understanding there is something deep and weighty there that has escaped their notice.

The rules of a man’s haircut are handed down from father to son and through osmosis in the presence of other men. If you have not been exposed to these influences, you are completely in the dark. As I sat in the chair I meditated on what I know, and what I think. Here’s what I cam up with:
Continue reading “Meditations from the Barber’s Chair”