Spectres of Yore | Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Like most other people, I sometimes catch myself thinking about what life - mine and others - would be like if I had made different decisions. I don't do so with regret or disappointment, but with genuine curiosity. There exists a theory that there are infinite other universes, and that new ones are created every instant with every possible outcome or decision branching out into a new universe or dimension of existence. This intrigues me, because somewhere out there could be multiple versions of me that never decided to get on that plane, never took that class, or never got that job. I would like to meet those alternate "me"s, talk to them, see how they are doing. I wonder whether future versions of myself would want to thank me, yell at me, or warn me. And what would I have to say to past versions of myself? What advice or warnings could I possibly give them without knowing what all the alternatives could be? This, of course, all boils down to the same armchair-philosopher question, the "Would you have done anything differently?" motivational posters that office workers hang in their cubicles. However, it remains a difficult question to answer.

The concept of regret is one I continuously try to distance myself from, as it is arguably the most useless emotion bestowed upon us by whichever cosmic entity you choose to believe - or not - in. Unlike fear, anger or greed, it doesn't motivate us. It doesn't provide the comfort and warmth that love or friendship do, nor can we learn from it the way we learn from pain or pleasure. All that regret can teach us is that we want to avoid it, because the emotional drain it can cause us is amplified by the fact that we cannot change the thing we are regretting - it's in the past. Until time ceases to be linear for us humans, that means that we are stuck regretting something that we can never change. That's an awfully unappealing prospect to most folks, but it's difficult to just flip a switch and decide to stop regretting something, at least it is for me. We use tired expressions like "Hindsight is 20/20" to make up for decisions which, in retrospect, may not have always been in our best interests or that of others. "It was the best I could do with the information I had at the time", we try telling ourselves. We conveniently forget that we are looking at our past selves through rose-colored glasses, and that we could indeed have maybe done things differently. We never call our hindsight 20/20 except when we think we've made a mistake. It's never something we say about the good choices we've made in life.

On 25-year friends | Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Mark Pilgrim on the loss of someone close:

I’ve been active online for 9 years now. With one exception, nothing I’ve done online has brought me closer to making 25-year friends. Life online rewards breadth, not depth. As gratifying as it may be to have 1 million “visitors” read at least one word of my latest online book, chances are none of those visitors will turn into people who turn into friends who turn into 25-year friends.

My condolences.

On abandoning friends | Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Early this morning on my way to work from my sister's apartment, I stopped at the dog park so that Ryu could have a little r&r before a thrilling day of sleeping, chewing on his toys and watching me work on my laptop. When I got to the park at the corner of Notre-Dame and Montgolfier streets in Laval, I saw that there were two dogs inside already playing with each other. Some mornings there are none, and other days there are 4 or 5. There was only one person in there with them, so I assumed he was the owner of both.

I'm not as social as some of the other people at dog parks; I don't go there to 'mingle' with other dog owners or meet people, but simply so that Ryu and I can get some sunshine and exercise while letting him make new friends. I usually let my dog in, find a bench, and watch him chase and be chased by other dogs. When they get too rough for my liking I bark at him to back off, and he does. Once he gets into the park, he usually sprints right away to the nearest dog to greet it. There was this one dog today, though, that was whimpering sadly the whole time Ryu was trying to play with him. He was a good-looking German Shepherd mix, neutered, friendly and docile, in seemingly good health but not very well groomed (his fur was matted and his nails were very long). He also did not have a collar.

I assumed he was the other man's dog, but he asked me first if it was my dog. We quickly assumed that someone had just dumped him here, and after finding a bowl of food and some water in the corner, we sadly realized that that was the case. The man was a very friendly, older Italian gentleman, and mentionned Le Berger Blanc, a rescue service for animals in need. I looked up the coordinates on my phone and called their number, giving a description of the dog and its location. They replied they would send someone in this morning; I couldn't wait around because I had to get to work but the other guy said he's retired and he'll stick around with his dog until someone arrives.

At an earlier point in my life, I might've just taken him home, advertise him in the lost and founds, and probably get him checked out and kept him if no one claimed him. I have the unfortunate "weakness" - instilled in me by my parents - of wanting to help / save everyone and everything I come across, but lately I've learned to let go and accept that things play out the way they do because of the choices we make. Compassion has a dangerous tendency to veer into [liberal] paternalism when it manifests itself for the wrong reasons. Especially in my generation, there is this counterproductive trend to think of oneself as a "fixer", going around and telling people what they're doing wrong and what they should be doing instead, then going back home and sipping on $4 lattes while setting up a Wordpress install. It's the kind of armchair solidarity that diminishes the value of what we perceive as empathy - which is supposed to be a shared emotional experience, and not a top-down pitying of those less fortunate than you.

It's not so much a question of pity or even empathy that would make me want to take in a stray or abandoned dog; but rather a [perhaps skewed] perception of social justice - yes, even for animals. If this dog did something to deserve being left behind - aggression, biting a human, etc - there are different and better ways to deal with that sort of behavior than leaving it alone and scared in a park to fend for itself. Odds are good, however, that the owner(s) simply got bored, tired, or fed up of caring for another living being and gave up on it. This other fellow at the park was reassuring, and nice enough to stay until someone came to pick up the dog. He says that it's not the first time he's seen this sort of thing happen.

Needless to say, I don't think too highly of folks who abandon their friends this way. Caring for a dog is a responsibility, and if it's one you can't handle or afford, then you shouldn't commit to it - or at least bring the animal to a shelter or rescue where they can have a better chance at a new life. Leaving your dog in the park with some food and some water early in the morning is pretty cold by my scale, and goes a long way to defining what kind of person you are. If you drop your dog out of your life like it's nothing, the chances are that you probably aren't that good of a friend to people around you when the chips are down.

Hopefully, the dog has already been picked up by Le Berger Blanc, and will be cleaned up and taken to a rescue, where he'll wait his turn in adoption to find a new home - one where, with any luck, his new owners will show a bit more maturity, love and compassion.

Safe travels, white dog.

Cabane à Sucre - Pied de Cochon | Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Several weeks ago, three friends and I had the opportunity to visit the Cabane a Sucre Au Pied de Cochon. To read the comments on Internet forums you'd think it more likely to come across a spotted unicorn in your dining room than to score reservations to the Cabane. In reality, though, all you need to do is call well in advance. And by well in advance, we're talking about 6 months. So, if you want a table for next year, you'd better be getting your dialing finger ready sometime in the next few months.

And – unlike most things that are hyped up to be something they're not – in this case, it's well worth the wait.

The planets were so well aligned, in fact, that our reservation coincided exactly with my buddy Vahe's birthday, making for an easy, inexpensive and delicious birthday gift. We got into my lemon of a car, and drove the 30 minutes northwest of Laval, past the suburbia of St-Eustache, to the idyllic rural setting of St-Benoit-de-Mirabel. Unlike most “traditional” Cabanes, this one was much more lounge-like, smaller, intimate, and clean – make no mistake; this is a restaurant much more than it is a typical Cabane A Sucre. That doesn't bother me, but for the non-Quebeckers who come from out of town to get a “taste of Quebec”, it needs to be said that this is far from the traditional Cabane A Sucre experience.

Once inside, the hostess looked up our reservation and promptly assigned us to a table; actually, a double-table shared with a group of friendly seniors. The waitress came to our table and explained that there would be three courses, each with several plates of food to share between us. We also had a limitless supply of maple syrup and some of the best crepes I've ever had. We ordered beer – not a wimpy pint, but something larger that a pint, something... precious – and waited not-so-patiently for our food to arrive.

Lo and behold, arrive it did.

Climbing Poetree@Noches de Poesia | Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Wednesday evening Tonight is the season's inaugural Noches de Poesia, and it promises to be nothing short of Epic. Brooklyn's soul sister duet Climbing Poetree - whom I wrote about back in 2007 - has finally made it to Montreal and will be sharing the stage tomorrow alongside some other amazing artists from Toronto and Montreal.

They've shared mics with the likes of Dead Prez, Alicia Keys, and Erykah Badu, and their Hurricane Season tour is continuing to receive wide acclaim.

Somehow, Elizabeth continues to wrangle some of the most talented and versatile performers to share a stage in our humble little venue, invariably with amazing results. The evenings are always intense, intimate, joyful and beautiful, and tonight's installment promises to take it to a whole new level. Be there!

Did I mention that the show is free? ;)

Le Dépanneur Café: 206, rue Bernard Ouest, @ 5:30pm

Kaie Kellough (Spoken Word en anglais)
Abstract Random, en visite depuis Toronto (Spoken Word en anglais)
Fabrice Koffy (poésic en français)
Truth Is (Spoken Word/Slam en anglais)
Jahnice (Soul poésie en français et kreyol)
Andrea Thompson, en visite depuis Toronto (Spoken Word en anglais)
Climbing Poetree, en visite depuis Brooklyn, NYC (Spoken Word en anglais et espagnol)

Full details here:í_2_septembre_2009

Breakfast In America | Friday, August 15th, 2008

I like trains. Well, not the trains themselves, maybe - but the idea of trains. Things on rails don't really ever get lost. And it's not that I'm worried about getting lost; some of my best memories are from places I'd never thought I'd find myself in. Rather, I'm fascinated by the idea of the tracks themselves - they are unidimensional. They have a start and an end, and everything in between is unyielding. Someone long ago decided that "this is where the first station will be, and the last will be over there." Entire nations have been built on this concept, trading posts and villages sprouting up like daisies along where the tracks briefly slide into a train station, only to disappear again into the distance. The rails are a work of art, like a sculpture designed long ago by some artist who would never have guessed that thousands upon thousands of people would one day be sliding back and forth in air-conditioned, web-enabled little cars. In my case, I was sliding towards the Hudson valley, across northern New York State, in this, the first part of a multi-leg trip across the United States.