Category Archives: beginnings

Everyone Talk: The Language Blog That Has Everyone Talking

Just over two years ago, I started blogging. I was going to have one blog with three sections: humour, languages, and generally causing trouble (yeah, take that, corporate overlords). But I remembered the adage, “Don’t put all your obsessions in one basket.” So I set languages aside for later. Now is later.

Good Evaning, the blog that is the change I want to see in the world, is a thriving two-year-old, so I now turn to my second born (which we all know is always the best). Everyone Talk, “The Language Blog That Has Everyone Talking”, has been sitting there in cyberspace almost completely ignored for 23 months (as often happens to second children).

International Phonetic Alphabet chart of English sounds

International Phonetic Alphabet

Everyone Talk came out of hibernation in the first hour (in some time zone) of this month and has been up and running like a gazelle ever since. If you are one of those people who communicate through language, please sift through my blog posts on Everyone Talk, leave some comments, questions, suggestions, corrections, or smutty photos, and please don’t consider not subscribing to Everyone Talk.

Why am I doing this and why should you care? It is my profound belief that the vast majority of human unhappiness can be resolved through effective communication, especially listening. And even if not, it’s fun as hell to be able to talk with people from all over the world and read their ideas, news and literature in their beautiful and fascinating languages.

Most often, I will write in English — about English, about other languages, and about all things relating to second-language acquisition and communication in general — but periodically I will write in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese, and I may dip into other languages occasionally. If you can’t read things I’ve written in Korean or Japanese, it is the fault of your computer which can easily be adjusted to make those texts readable. If after that you still can’t read those scripts, what needs to be adjusted is your attitude towards language learning, a problem easily corrected by subscribing to Everyone Talk! language settings for Microsoft

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January the Two-Faced Month Looks Back and Forward

 

Photo: Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Vatican City. photo by Fubar Obfusco.

Janus (sometimes depicted beardless on one side), Vatican Museum. Photo by the charmingly named Fubar Obfusco.

 

As January comes to a close, let us consider that January means “the month of Janus”.

Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings, of gates and transitions. He is the god with two faces (aren’t they all?), one looking back and the other to the future. He represents the transition from youth to adulthood, and from barbaric to civilized.

In ancient times, when Rome was at war the gates of the temple of Janus would be open, in times of peace the gates were closed (the origin of the “status update”; only one side closed meant “it’s complicated”). Ancient Romans held, as one might, that the way things begin bodes how things will continue to unfold, so as the new year began they would wish each other well and give figs and other little gifts.

So this is the end of the beginning of 2013. I am going to endeavour to keep both my Gemini sides less Janus-faced. I am going to try growing up a bit more (in my own Bohemian way), I am going to strive to more closely approximate my definition of civilized, I am going to close the gates on belligerent impulses, wish well to all, and generally give a fig.

 

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Resolution: To Be My Bohemian Self

My New Year’s resolution is to be myself.

Don’t we all, at some point, feel about our life-choices the way George Kostanza felt? “Every decision I have ever made in my entire life has been wrong!”

Generally, I don’t regret my individual choices, even the most reckless ones. In fact, my perpetual hesitation to commit to reckless choices — and follow them through to their zany ends — is the one flawed thread running through the whole pilly jumpsuit that is my life.

Despite accusations to the contrary, I am insufficiently bohemian. All my life, I have imagined myself to be one freaky rebel spirit, but I have always been far too much of a conformist.

Like the vast majority of the world’s population, I grew up privileged and ungrateful, sorted out the non-existence of God at the age of 11, got a black belt and a degree in philosophy, became a baker and playwright, moved to Japan (on a dare), Mexico (on a whim), a reserve in Manitoba (on the make), and back to Mexico (on the rebound), where I went up a mountain in my kilt with a mariachi band and a woman I’d known for a few months, and got married to her in Spanish, by a priest — of all godforsaken things! (And, just to make my status completely quo, got divorced the statistically average number of years later.)

After a couple of decades of doing a wide range of jobs rather badly, I’ve accepted it’s time for me to stop standing in my way. I am genetically predisposed to be a nomad, The Fool on the Hill, watching the wheels go round and round.

No longer will I try to imagine myself living some “normal” life, not even some normal non-conformist, anti-establishment poser life.

I gotta ask myself one question. What would Evan do?

What I was “supposed to do” was work hard in school, and then work hard at some job (40 hours x 50 weeks x 40 years), spend a few years complaining about the ignorance of the younger generation, and then die.

What I did was scrape by in school, and then scrape by in a bunch of temp jobs, and then—as happens when dreams go bad—I woke up.

Finally, I am beginning to understand the freedom of being me. The meaning of your life depends on what you consider “wasted time”. Whatever that is, it’s what you should not be doing.

People have strongly conflicting views about what constitutes wasting time. Taking the train? Waste of time; flying is faster. Taking a bath? Waste of time. A shower is ten times faster. All right then, how about sex? Waste of time. Masturbation is faster.

Taking a long, leisurely bath is one of the best uses to which time can be put. Considerably better would be having sex in the bath, on a train.

For me, the best way to waste time is to work 9 to 5 at a job that I believe should not be done, such as selling things that should not exist (e.g., insipid wooden cats playing tin jazz instruments — I’m a cat and jazz lover; these objets d’art, shipped around the world to collect dust in someone’s tacky home, should not exist), or proofreading documents which should never have been written (one that stands out in my memory was about shareholder dividends earned on the sale of long-range missiles).

Working 9 to 5, “I can feel myself rot.” Whenever I’ve had to “get a real job”, it’s bad for me and it’s bad for the job.

For me, the first step in a healthy, sane life is never to wake to an alarm clock. Why? Because it’s #$@%ing alarming! The clock used to be the first and last thing I would see in a day, tabulating whether I was approximating a healthy number of hours of sleep.

As the new me, the real me, I go to bed when I’m ready for it, and I get up when getting up seems the right thing to do.

What am I “supposed” to be doing with my life? Writing, amongst other things, this dumbass blog. Go ahead, ask why. … Wh–?  I can’t believe y– … Because, apart from generally having a laugh, everything other than juggling words is a waste time. Writing “makes the pain go away.” 

And the fact that I get paid dirt* for writing (slightly earthier dirt for editing), doesn’t distinguish it from working for ‘the Man’, so in terms of employment, this is as real as my life is going to get.

(*Unless it’s pro bono, like this blog.)

Sounds like a privileged life, you say? Damn right! And I know how to appreciate it. My parents have devoted their lives to making my life as headache-free as possible. They’ve done a smashing job, and I’m not going to muck up their tremendous achievement by letting my life dissolve into a litany of anxieties, petty or otherwise.

Kurt Vonnegut, (whom I must read some day), wisely observed,

“We’re here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anyone tell you different.”

Some other famous writer nailed my sentiments spot on when she said,

“Writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Ah, it was Gloria Steinham. (Thank you, internet. You’re so clever.)

As I began this year, embracing my bohemian self, I started my New Year head-shave but the clipper puttered to a stop and I couldn’t find the charger. Nothing left but the not-quite-bald spot on top. I have since found the charger, but I think I’ll keep my new hairstyle (which I call a “nohawk”).

I’ve been told it makes me look insane; I think it suits me.

If they didn’t laugh at it, it wouldn’t be the Way. ~ Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching

Maybe tomorrow I’ll wanna settle down.

Nohawk, Lowhawk or D'oh!hawk?

Lowhawk or D’oh!hawk?

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Sete de Setembro, Brazilian Independence Day, de Novo!

Por alguma razão, de todos os tópicos que eu escrevo sobre neste blog, o post que é lido com mais freqüência é esse (que eu escrevi há um ano) sobre o sete de setembro.

Feliz Dia da Independência, Brasil!

For some reason, of all the things I’ve written about on this blog, the post that gets read the most is this one I posted one year ago about the 7th of September.

Happy Independence Day, Brazil!

Antes de mais, quero agradecer ao gente incrivelmente generosa do Brasil. Em 2007 eu passei um mês visitando em Porto Alegre, São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro, com quase nenhum dinheiro, mas nenhuma falta de alimentar, segurança e boa companhia.

Eu sinto falta de vocês e tenho saudades do Brasil.

Abraços,

Evan

Brazil flag map

Brasil

Sete de Setembro

On September 7th, 1822, Brazil declared independence from Portugal. On this day, Sete de Setembro, Brazil celebrates her Dia da Independência. Here’s how that got started.

When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal in 1807, Portuguese royalty transferred their office from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, which was at that time capital of Colonial Brazil. Suddenly, Brazil was more than just a colony. It was now part of “the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves”.

The royal family went back to Portugal in 1820 and the following year told Brazil she was back to being a colony. Brazil said, “não, obrigado.” Then Portugal started to get all bossy, but Princess Maria Leopoldina, acting as Princess Regent of Brazil, sent a letter telling her husband Prince Pedro to declare Brazil’s independence. He did, thereby ending more than three centuries of Portugal’s control over Brazil. (No hard feelings, right?)

Parabéns, Brasil!

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Finishing a First Draft for Fringe Festival

Brrr! Is there a draft in here? Damn right there is! First draft of my Fringe Festival eFfort. Cool!

The title of this work is yet to be confirmed (but stay tuned!). It is a comedic drama (as in, “if you don’t laugh, you cry”), which must not exceed 60 minutes in length, to be premiered at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival from July 4th to 15th. It will be my* third play to be staged, (and my first not to be workshopped by Theatre New Brunswick with actors from Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal). *Unlike my previous plays, which were entirely my own ideas and developed with no outside contribution prior to rehearsal, this Fringe show is based on the writings of Paul Clement and conceived of as a stage show by Daniel Mackay. It is an adaptation and it is very much a collaborative effort. The three of us have met several times to experiment with different approaches to the material, and we will continue to do so now that this draft is finished.

Playwright Tavern, photo Tim Carter

Playwright Tavern, photo Tim Carter

It’s funny to use the word “finished”, though. Any first draft is more like a foundation to build on than a house to start filling with furniture. But this is even more the case with theatre than with other types of writing. A playwright is more of an architect than a painter. Write a piece of prose and you can get feedback, but no matter how many suggestions you heed, the changes are made by the writer. A script, on the other hand, gets filtered through actors and a director. (The exception would be a monodrama scripted and performed by a single creator. And even then, if such a solo artist engages a director or dramaturge, the work becomes a collaboration.)

So, “finished” is misleading. What is finished is the preparation. This stage is not quite the laying of the foundation but the sketching out of the blueprints. Now our creative triumvirate has something to compare notes on. Up to this point, what we had was a wild stallion of a concept which we corralled into a chicken coop of ideas. Now we have a crude block from which we can hew away the chunks that impair a clear view of a vision we hope to share. (Hmm, could I cram another metaphor into this paragraph?)

The significance of having a completed first draft is that we have something tangible to work on. This would be equally true if I were developing this script all on my own, but it is all the more urgent when there is a creative team waiting to get their hands dirty.

For writers who haven’t yet learned the hard way, take it from one who did: It is counterproductive to discuss a partially written draft. (I spent 12 years getting feedback on a partially written novel which I consequently kept re-inventing. Once I stopped discussing it, I finished the draft in six months.) If your baby is not yet able to stand on her own, you can’t ask her to dance for an audience of even one. If she still needs you to hold her up, the onlooker won’t see her dance but will just see her dangling there. You can discuss an idea, and you can discuss a first draft—which has a thread you can pull on and twist and tie in knots and still follow how one end connects to the other—but you can’t discuss a partial draft because it is as vulnerable as a half-born fetus.

Showing a half-written draft would be like showing a half-finished haircut, so hold off the unveiling until there are no more “and then a miracle happens” gaps that need filling in. Especially in a play, you need to be able to explain why this happens at this point and that happens at that point because, if not, even the most well-intentioned listener can crush your fetal idea by asking what your point is.

The draft has been presented. Will it be tackled by builders or the wrecking ball?

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Lucky 13 and 2012

TGIF the 13th! Wait, skip the G. Friday is Friday, whether the 13th or the 4th or any other -th, -nd or -st.

Being superstitious doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t stop people from being superstitious. I have found myself changing the date on a cover letter when submitting a story or applying for work, changing it from the 13th to the 12th or 14th. And I’ve asked myself, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t believe in that crap!” But I realized that my subconscious was aware that the person reading my submission/application might be superstitious and factor that date into their evaluation of my merits. Nuts.

As a non-superstitious person, I might be inclined to say “luck schmuck”. And yet I do believe in luck, in the sense of, “Ah, what a lucky so and so I am!” Indeed, I would say I am much luckier than most people. What makes me say I’m so lucky? Am I rich, beautiful, powerful? None of those things. But I am lucky enough to be ever mindful of the many ways in which I am, in fact, lucky. Not everyone has that going for them. Understanding how extremely fortunate I am makes my worst days endurable and other days considerably better. I am not one of the billions of people without clean water to drink or good food to eat. I have had health problems that you have probably never had to deal with, but even before and after surgeries I have been acutely conscious of the countless maladies that have not befallen me, and equally appreciative of the fact that not only was I getting the surgery (which more than once saved me from what I’m told would have been a slow and painful death), but that I was getting the best health care anyone could hope for, and without having to pay for it at the door to the operating room. (In other countries, do surgeons expect a tip?)

I had a fantastic holiday. What happened? On the 25th I lost my cell phone at a gas station, on the 30th my computer had an incapacitating stroke, and driving back from New Brunswick a couple of days ago I was co-pilot in a car that went spinning out of control on a dark, snowy highway. Am I joking when I say my holiday was fantastic? Not at all. The day after I lost my phone, someone gave me a better one (for Christmas he had been given an upgrade). My computer is being repaired under warranty. The car got a bruise and I got… another reminder of how lucky I am.

a foot bridge in Calgary

So I start 2012 restored to factory defaults. My cell phone has no extraneous contact numbers stored in it (if I don’t call you, it’s because I left your number in a heap of dirty snow somewhere near Montreal). My computer – when I get it back in a couple of weeks – will have no obsolete files, no unwanted programs, no stroke-inducing viruses. Sure the crap will accumulate again, but the reboot is refreshing, not discouraging.

Earlier today I saw a cloud, and I looked really closely at it. I discovered the reason it wasn’t raining on me was that it was lined with silver. So I smelted off the silver and traded it for a raincoat (because without the lining the cloud leaked, naturally).

Some may say luck is, by definition, beyond your control. I am telling you, good fortune is all around you, if you let yourself see it.

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Consistency, in Moderation

It is good to be consistent, sometimes.

Mixed nuts

Odd nut. (Photo by Evan Andrew Mackay)

Consistently washing your hands is generally commendable. As for the desirability of consistently laughing at my clever remarks, opinions vary.

Consistently driving on the right hand side of the road, in a forward motion, is helpful in some countries, but would likely be problematic in others.

Consistently comforting a crying child might seem a good idea, until (as I learned over the holidays) the child catches on to the potential for manipulation.

What about in my writing? I aim (with limited success) for my writing to be consistently satisfying – consistency of quality – but there is some expectation that a writer should maintain a degree of consistency in quantity, to produce a certain quantity of words within a certain time frame.

Should I write one blog post every week, every second week, or every three days? Or should I write a blog post when I have something I think would be of particular interest to, um, say, you for example?

In defense of the irregularity of my postings I could quote Oscar Wilde, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

If one is too consistent, they get called “extremist” like when Lisa Simpson insists her mother pay for the two grapes she ate at the grocery store – “I need a price check on two grapes. Yeah, you heard me, Phil. Two measly, stinkin’ grapes.” Lisa is just sticking to her principles. As Ayn Rand fairly observes, extremism is merely consistency.

I’m not extremely extreme, myself, but I am consistently inconsistent. So as my New Year’s resolution, by which I mean to say my first New Moon resolution of 2012, I will aim for consistency – in moderation – regarding the regularity of my output. And I mean that in an entirely non-medical way (but stay tuned for my upcoming Fringe show blog).

And now, in the spirit of “Moderation in everything, including moderation”, let’s open another bottle of Amarone.

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Merry Winter Solstice! Here Comes the Sun…

Don’t wait for Sunday; today/tomorrow is the day to celebrate!

While strip malls are swarming with stressed shoppers scrambling to get to the bottom of their lists in time for the big gift switch, the truly monumental moment is happening tonight (or tomorrow, depending where you are). It’s winter solstice – go hug an evergreen!

Algonquin evergreen trees in sun and snow on a winter day

Sun Tree Winter Green

This midwinter festival goes back way more than 2012 years. It goes back into the cold dark pagan past. It goes back to the beginning of human consciousness, when the first naked apes looked up at the winter night sky waiting for a speedier return of the increasingly overdue sun.

With days getting colder and nights getting longer, these people – with no Weather Network, no electricity, no streetlamps (nor streets) – huddled together under precious animal skins and waited for the return of light and warmth.

Must have been a hell of a thing.

But they weren’t stupid; they’d lasted long enough to figure out that things would turn around, that snows would melt and new buds would blossom.

In time, ancient peoples such as Druids and Mayans constructed stone temples that took precise celestial measurements by which they pinpointed the date on which the longest night of the year past. And you know what they did then? They celebrated!

Merry Solstice to all of you, far and near, famous or forgotten, preachy or pagan, squished together or totally solitary – Merry Solstice to every one of you!

And for those of you in the southern hemisphere, enjoy your harvest. And don’t worry, your days won’t get shorter forever.

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You Are Here: Geography Investigations, Inspired by Ishmael Beah

In 2009, I spent a week home in New Brunswick, leaving in Toronto a book I planned to read on my return.

Arriving in NB I saw that the book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was the title chosen by my hometown for their first annual community read, and the author, Ishmael Beah, was coming to speak. I altered my itinerary to attend. I was as compelled by Beah’s speaking* as I soon would be by his writing. (*Beah was more intimate and candid in the crowded school gym than on George Stroumboulopoulos.)

Beah’s closing remark at that community event was that, despite horrors he had known in his native Sierra Leone, he remembers it still as his beloved homeland and as a place of more than just war stories. He challenged us to learn about far-away places without waiting to hear about them only as news stories when there is an uprising or an earthquake.

Finally, now, I will begin a monthly look at some part of the world that is not dominating ephemeral headlines. I begin with a place where I lived and worked for several months as a substitute teacher a dozen years ago. Though in the middle of Canada, it felt in some ways more foreign than Gangneung, Korea or Torreón, Mexico.

You Are Here:

Berens River First Nation, Manitoba

Located on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg and accessible only by boat, tiny planes landing on gravel, or winter road (driving across Lake Winnipeg will keep you awake), Berens River will not be hosting the next Olympics or G20 Summit. The population is something like 1,400 – slightly more than the enrolment at my old high school.

The first language on the reserve is Anishinaabe (a.k.a. Ojibwe, etc.) although I heard locals refer to themselves as Saulteaux (/soto/) which is a dialect of Ojibwe – but everyone speaks English there because, unlike most Canadians, the people of Berens River are fluently bilingual. (Ironically, I didn’t meet any Saulteaux – French for “people of the rapids” – who spoke French.)

Here are some things I remember about Berens River.

You could call it a one-horse town:

  • One hotel (which had the only restaurant and bar)
  • One store (where food was four times as expensive as in urban eastern Canada)
  • One school (K-12)
  • One hockey arena
  • One RCMP officer
  • One road

A typical phone conversation:

         Me:       Hello?

   Voice:       Who’s’is?

         Me:       Evan

   Voice:       Can you teach grade 7 in the afternoon?

         Me:       Yeah, sure.

   Voice:       [ click ]

   That was the vice principal. Friendly and pleasant in person. I thought I’d done something wrong, but I found that was the phone etiquette no matter who called. The phone is a machine. It did its job. Let’s not be so formal with that hello/goodbye stuff.

Although interactions at the school and the store (the only places I went) were always pleasant, I did not mix in the community. The teachers lived in a clump of houses beside the school. Walking the 100 meters to the school was like a commute from the suburbs to the reserve.

Most of what I “learned” when I lived there was in fact only reported to me. Here are some things I heard:

  • I heard of and read about violence and substance abuse being commonplace on some reserves (and gained some appreciation for a few of the reasons why), but never saw any sign of either.
  • I heard school staff saying their houses had been without water for two weeks. (No problems of any sort in the teachers’ ‘suburb’.)
  • I heard that a bright cheerful boy I knew in the grade seven class was quite illiterate, despite being the son of a prominent member of the school staff.
  • I heard many tales of a Black Robe (or whatever they call them now) preaching about sinners, pointing at teachers and telling the students not to believe what they say and not to follow the example they set. A teacher told me that a little girl asked in tears at recess if it was true what the minister said, that on that millennial New Year’s Eve the world would end and she would go to hell. I wish such a minister would practice what he preached.

Having lived there for several months, what do I now know about life on a reserve? Only that I have scarcely any idea what it’s like. And that realization is a hell of a lot more than I knew before.

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Fringe Festival 2012 and the Mayan Calendar

Next year is the last year …of life so far.

This past year, 2011 (in case you need clarification), is the year I leapt from having a dream of writing to having a life of writing. Next year, just as the world is ending (2012, don’t ya know), I will upgrade to having my dream life of writing.

Choosing, after 25 years of dreaming about it, to begin living as a writer, meant I had to adjust from living just below the poverty line to living well below the poverty line. In converting my writing life into my dream life, I aim to earn enough from writing that I can claw my way back up to the poverty line.

Focus and believing – that’s the combination that got me where I am today. And compromise. Writing pseudo journalism, for next to nothing or less, is not what this erstwhile playwright had in mind at the outset, but that’s what has been paying (a third of) my rent.

Back when writing was just a dream, it was about writing plays. And these days the dream is coming back to life. In recent weeks, just as I was planning out which script idea to revive first, my brother the actor came to me with a comprehensive concept for a play – and he had applied for the Toronto Fringe Festival 2012, for which there are so many applicants that acceptance is based on a lottery system. My brother was with me at the lottery several years ago when my application didn’t get drawn. I was with him last night when his application got drawn.

That’s right, we’re in! Preparedness, allow me to introduce Opportunity.

Being in the Toronto Fringe Festival means that, whatever we do, at least some people will see it (more than saw my plays when they were performed in New Brunswick in the 90s). What makes this good news better is that it has come just in time – before the end of the world. What is even better than that, the Mayan calendar – which predates, outperforms and otherwise bamboozles all other calendars (and, being made of chocolate, it even tastes better) – does not “predict the end of the world”. It simply indicates that we are reaching the end of one “Great Cycle” (many thousands of years long*) and beginning another.

The end is nigh – here comes the beginning!

(*Mind you, that is in Mayan years, which are shorter and spicier than the conventional year.)

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