Thursday, November 24, 2011

Writing Songs

In songwriting, there are morning sunrises and night skies. There are rural scenes and city lights. There are winters, falls and summers of. The song is spring. It hails, it rains, it pours, it shines like no tomorrow. Words flow manically happy and sad. On the edge, they create new soundscapes. Stories layer memories with sounds. It scares you at one turn, you burst out laughing next. That lyrical river captures moments freely as they stream by. It takes you on a journey where you never expected to be. Many faces or isolated, you see a person, a crowd or you are alone.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Someone Else's Bucket

When I grow up
I want to be Bob Dylan
I want to be the first President of my kind
I want to play lead in The Godfather

When I grow up
I want to be editor of the New York Times
I want to have a #1 single in America
I want to play in the NHL

When I grow up
I want my name to mean
I can read English
Any name like mine
In someone else's dreams

I am all grown up now
Seeing things I couldn’t do
Wondering if my kid can one day do –
Took 12 years to see someone like her in a movie
Very little had changed

In grade school, I once dreamed of being a janitor
This is true -
My bucket list was empty
I wanted to carry a bucket
To clean someone else's house

Chronicling dreams
Looking without touching
Seeing without doing
Polishing someone else's story
And I wonder what my kid can dream

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Whose purpose was purposeless content
To distract you from being content

Written with bitters
Put into my drink

Two people set their sights
On two different things

Whose self-directed determination
Was only self-minded

We parted ways
Or were kept on guard

Ignorant of what’s here
Ignorant of what’s there

Don’t wanna stand in your shadows
Don’t want you to stand in mine

When the might is only fight
No one knows what’s right

Intellect without courage is stupidity’s muse
Like calling someone stupid without even thinking

Ideas without nerve
They are nervous ideals

Your psychology, my bills
Too heavy to pull away from

Don’t want membership in your club
Don’t want to pay any monthly price

No more green lights on glass screens
No facing the face

When you’re suddenly left
With only the ones you don’t burn.

You only see a mirror
And there are no more turns

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On The Radar

Theses lights that shine on
There's nothing gone

These things that you see
There's nothing to fear

These symbols that show
What was just tomorrow

Is just yesterday
In just one day

These quotable lines
Are what we define

These nights that are long
Are where we belong

These things you make haste
Become a time of waste

There's a darkness on the radar
To lose a star

From a stolen car
To the end of the bar

One day it hits you in the head
One day you can see what's ahead

There's a time that makes haste
There's a time that makes waste

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Story of My Other Life

I hadn’t opened this address book in more than 20 years.

Believe it or not, it had just sat there on a shelf, mostly never moving. All this time.

It was as if not much time had passed – one day at a time.

And one day, it suddenly stayed there long enough to become an antique. Right next to my first Blackberry (a pager without a phone) junked after discontinued use.

* * *

The paper address book has been sitting there since my first email.

It surprises me that contacts inside have been preserved better than data in any digital address book I’ve had ever since. For all its wonder, technology doesn’t save personal things well long term. Technology breaks sooner than later.

Today I open this paper directory and it is like I once lived a totally different life two decades ago. Knowing me today, you would never know that was me.

Nothing in it is really private anymore. Privacy two decades ago has no relevance 20+ years later. Even home addresses have changed.

As if pickled in a time capsule, each name represented something I did 20+ years ago. Much of it for the first-time with people I'd met in places I’d been. I have been to 20+ countries and 100+ cities in my life.

There are many names to whom I’d written letters with only one original copy. You don’t get to see what you’ve “sent” ever again.

* * *

This address book existed once upon a time when the only way to connect long distance was to write a letter.

She sent me this polaroid from a fashion shoot in Tokyo

I sent my last personal letters I think in 1997 – love letters and musings handwritten to my kid’s mom. 1997 was also the year of the last cassette tape car. The last soundtrack time-stamping my life in analog. The internet was taking over. Where it would go, no one knew. No one still knows.

* * *

Recently I saw data visualization guru Nicholas Felton talk about how to digitally track the story of one’s life. He influenced the "new" Facebook Timeline with his methods. He collected his father’s analog sources and compiled data to represent the story of his life. Among sources were date-books chronicling where he went and photos.

Felton posted one photo on Flickr to ask where in Taiwan it was. It turned out I had been to Ali Shan too (in 1978). That was my first dialogue with Nicholas Felton on Twitter.

I then got inspired by Felton to track inspiration in my life using his app Daytum. My stats were very revealing – what I was high on or low on.

* * *

As I looked inside this analog address book, I thought of Felton’s work to trace his father’s past from analog source materials. Receipts told him where his dad went. I was curious to track my first years as an adult represented by this paper address book.

I opened up this pandora’s box when I needed to look up an exact address where I had lived in Colombia in 1988. We have been geo-tagging stories for a site called and I thought it would be neat to geo-tag stories tracking the past. "Who lived here before?" "What were they like?"

The amazing thing about this paper address book, unlike Facebook, is that I have exact addresses written down. Where I met these people is no longer a mystery of the memory.

I'd not remember a town like St. Agatha, Ontario, otherwise.

* * *

I will see if I can decipher the first and last person entered into the book to pinpoint how old this book is. I would estimate this address book takes place in 1986-1992 while living in Windsor ON, Waterloo ON, Barranquilla (Colombia), Toronto ON and Vancouver BC.

* * *

During the historical period of this address book, the Internet barely had a presence on university campuses. The 9600 baud rate modem existed in our college newsroom for national bulletin boards from Canadian University Press (CUP) but there were no browsers. Emails existed on campuses, slowly growing in popularity among journalists and science students. Douglas Coupland had just written Generation X.

* * *

The inside cover has my grandparents names “YJ Huang” and “Peng” written down on two separate occasions (one followed the other within 12 months) – as they were listed in the hospital (“Toronto General”). I marked down their phone numbers and Wellesley subway station. Inside covers were often for urgent situations. 1986-1987 was a very profound time for me seeing what the end of life meant in acute care. I was reading a lot of Samuel Beckett (Endgame).

* * *

The once blank cover page inside also has an urgent notation: “AExpress 881308100.” I had been kidnapped in Barranquilla, Colombia, outside of El Prado Hotel, after being pushed into a taxi at gunpoint. Hours later, I had to negotiate my way out in Spanish with this traveller’s cheque. I tracked the cheque being cashed in Panama.

* * *

On the cover page I also see 439 Sherbourne (I think it's the Toronto home for grandma after the hospital) and 2666 Sasamat, where I first lived in Vancouver for $195 a month. I literally took the train across Canada and found that place the day I arrived homeless. I stayed at the Clarence Hotel for $20 my first night in August, 1988.

* * *

I wrote down “Lee’s Palace”in Toronto on this cover page but I actually don’t remember ever being there in 1986-1992. It also says I saw a keynote speech at 6:00-7:30pm at Oakham House, Ryerson. I can’t recall who I saw, but likely it was a journalist in 1990. I’d worked at the Toronto Star that year as a reporter.

1990 - Wrote story about son of mayor in affluent Richmond Hill living inside a leaky crate above a creek.

* * *

The first page of contacts brings back a lot of memories in many countries. I met Kati (Catherine) Augereau from Trelaze, France, in Barranquilla, Colombia, when she visited Denis Vignolet at Alliance Française (Allianza Cultrual Colombo) on Calle 52.

Denis was a film buff who graduated from La Sorbonne in Paris. He painted his apartment black. He bought a greek column for US$144 as a centrepiece for his apartment hangout. We’d listen to Sisters of Mercy, The Police (Greatest Hits) and Art of Noise sound-tracking and time stamping that time in his apartment. He had either a green light, purple light or other colors lit which you could see from the outside. We had no cell phones back then and these lights symbolized whether or not we could drop in for a visit. I remember thinking, "like Gatsby's green light." Kati moved to “Les Courtineres” 49460 Soulaire et Bourg in France. I remember her writing a letter to me showing a castle and a baby.

* * *

I wanted to chronicle living in the street and lived in the street for a few days, writing under a pseudonym. The above are two incomplete columns to glimpse a slice of street life.

I found my first place in Barranquilla, Colombia, the day I arrived homeless. I walked into Eastern Airlines (now defunct) thinking people there would speak English and someone working there had a room in January, 1988.

That’s how I ended up living on Calle 91, No. 64B-10 Apt 4E for US$150/month room and board. I became good friends with Belinda Diaz Granados who worked for the airline. I still remember celebrating Carnaval in Cartagena dancing with thousands of people in a bull ring and in the streets.

It was good to know airline people. Newspapers sometimes arrived from America so we could get the news. Outside of that, we were totally cut off from news in America. Crazy when you think about CNN today.

* * *

I have an address for Amnesty International in Dublin at 8 Shaw Street and London England at 5 Roberts Place. I was into helping developing nations back then. Live Aid was a big influence. So was U2.

* * *

Michelle Adams from Trinidad and Tobago is the first name listed on the first page. I met her in Windsor, Ontario, where I’d lived for 12 years. There is no order of relevance in an address book or chronology. It is just alphabetical. Random.

* * *

Further in are numbers for my first room-mate Thor Andersen in Vancouver who moved into the Outback of Australia in the late 1990s and kept on sending me post cards for me to come. Thor named his film company Bluetooth Films after the Danish king of communication. Next thing I knew there was soon a new wireless movement called "Bluetooth" surfacing. His friend Leonard and his brothers Eric and Glen also have their numbers nearby. “Adjacencies.” Glen once posed as Jesus in the final piece of his art exhibit at Taf’s Café on Granville Street in Vancouver. They used to say Emily Carr fine arts students were a "little crazy." Glen crucified himself using a tree on Granville Street. A police officer on horse had to bring him down.

* * *

Ted Aussem was our typesetter at our Vancouver college paper The Ubyssey (UBC + The Odyssey) who had a boat moored in New Westminster. In the old days, populations started where boats would go. That's why New Westminster preceded Vancouver. Ted used the first Pagemaker program on Macintosh and taught me a lot of what I know today in graphic design and typography.

* * *

Wow – I have my first lawyer listed – Brad, a law student. Someone owed me money - $1600. A lot for a student back then. I went to court for my first and last time and got it back. It took 2 years.

* * *

David Beattie is like a page in my heart. I met him in Gastown in Vancouver while he was collecting cans on a rainy night. I used to hangout at the Classical Joint - as its youngest regular - where Joni Mitchell and BB King would sometimes sing. Columbia Records would record live. It later closed down, and 20 years later, had a reunion which I missed.

In December, 1988, David told me of his history of being subject to residential school abuse in Kamloops. I went to his apartment at 12-146 East Cordova. As I interviewed him, a rat jumped through the window and went under the bed. Mandel Ngan photographed David. Years later, I visited Mandel in Hongkong. Today Mandel works for Agence France-Press (AFP) at the White House.

TWENTY YEARS LATER, on behalf of Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology for the residential school abuse on June 11, 2008. I don't know if David Beattie was still alive.

* * *

I see a very brief friend named Michelle Bombardier whom I met briefly in Toronto. Spontaneously, we decided to go to Detroit together to see Iggy Pop and the Pretenders. Lead singer Chrissie Hynde was then Mrs. Kerr (written on her guitar strap after Simple Minds lead singer Jim Kerr).

* * *

My high school French teacher is listed (French was my highest grade). I visited him once after graduating. There’s also a Colombian high school listed where I sought employment. I wanted to teach statistics in Spanish.

* * *

I met Joceline Beni on the train across Canada. At Banff, my car filled up with Japanese tourists. Joceline was the only person not Japanese boarding. She sat next to me and became my first Vancouver friend. She was French.

* * *

I see a gang of people listed where I finished university in Vancouver. A guitar player from Halifax. Two student presidents. An engineering student councillor. A writer I mentored who later worked for the Japan Times.

* * *

An old girlfriend is listed. That didn’t work out too well. We didn’t speak again after 1991. You can't unfriend anyone in a paper address book though. What's written down stays. Strangely in 1997, she wanted to show up at my wedding. I bumped into her that day strangely near where I picked up the rings. I married a celebrity. It was a strange day. Lady Diana died that day.

* * *

My best friend from Windsor, Ont, is listed. I’ve known him since 1975. I don’t think I know anyone outside my family longer than that. True story - he flew to Vancouver for my wedding in 1997 and we climbed the Squamish Chief that weekend. He had climbed it before in 1984-86. We recently saw each other at his son’s basketball game in Hamilton, Ontario. Told his son Joshua, I’d never forget the game. He shot so many free throws in a row to win the game.

* * *

Sebastien Castillo Buelbas is listed at Calle 15. No 61-40. He was 10 years old then. He assisted me counting cars passing us in the street by model and make for a statistics project. He invited me into his hood one day where it was dark or candlelit. He taught me Spanish in Barranquilla, Colombia.

He reminded me of Le Petit Prince I told my French friends.

Sometimes Sebastien took my notebook and communicated to me visually.

* * *

Some 1988 Waterloo college friends are listed whom I visited in Sudbury, Winnipeg and Victoria as I traveled across the country by train. Those were days I'd take off and land anywhere. But it brought me to interesting places.

* * *

The first movie director I interviewed for a newspaper is listed. In Vancouver, Janis Cole gave me an address to meet up in Toronto. I think I interviewed her for a film festival. She had chronicled prostitutes in Vancouver in Hookers on Davie. She was now releasing a documentary about the highest-ranked women in Hollywood called Calling The Shots. There were not many women directors or executives back then. Deepa Mehta in 1990 asked me to sit next to her by the director's seat to see the view for a Toronto Star interview. She was directing her first feature film Sam and Me which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Strangely in 1989-90, I also interviewed an alternative animation producer championing an unknown animation short called The Simpsons. Looking back I had a good year in entertainment. I interviewed surrealist director Guy Maddin for his first feature film. I reviewed an unknown documentary film-maker named Michael Moore for Roger & Me. I loved movies (topped my film history class) but was a very marginal entertainment writer - everyone around me had said so and so I quit. But looking back - if I knew what I knew was actually bang on, I probably would have kept on going. I said crazy things like The Simpsons would change the animation game and Michael Moore would radically change documentary film-making. My editor got tired of the over-blown hype. I had no authority to call the shot.

Things happen for a reason I guess. Today I chronicle things that I should have done back then.

* * *

Another Vancouver room-mate is listed in the paper address book. I stayed with her, her twin sister and her mom. She moved to the Yukon to teach aboriginal communities. We’ve since found each other on Facebook. Before this, I'd often hear verbal stories of her legend - the only "white woman" in Old Crow. Anytime I'd meet anyone from the Yukon, I'd ask about her. Her community often was only accessible by canoe, snowshoe or a plane landing on snow.

I last saw my old room-mate on a ferry to/from Vancouver Island in 2002 while I was with Nicole Vienneau traveling along the West Coast. Nicole Vienneau has since gone missing and I search for her with this blog:

* * *

I see an old friend, an entertainment writer Greg Davis. We’ve seen many movies together. I remember hanging out with him in the green room of the Town Pump in Vancouver with singer Stephen Fearing. I photographed Stephen that night for a newspaper review Greg wrote. I hope he finds me again one day. His name is too common to search online. I wouldn't know how to begin.

* * *

I see a photographer listed who photographed one of the Tiananmen Square student leaders in 1989 fainting from exhaustion. I remember trying to refrain from listing Tiananmen Square contacts while I was in China. E-zines were transmitted over the internet to share what happened there. Film canisters were smuggled out. The Cold War was ending, at times, tragically. The Goddess of Democracy statue is still at our college in Vancouver to memorialize the massacre of students in China. We wrote the first tri-lingual editorial in our college's history. I went into China after the massacre of thousands of students after most of the foreign correspondents had fled.

* * *

I see a Windsor high school and college buddy now living near Toronto who had two kids early on in life. I recently found out his wife had passed away from cancer. I didn’t know what that was like until my own brother died from the same cancer.

* * *

A musician Janis Giffen (keyboards) I met in Windsor is listed. I don’t know if she continued on in music. She inspired me to manage a band. Knowing very little, I tried to help book a gig in a major theater. And this is a true story. Years after I failed to book them, this big theater called me, remembering the passion I had, and asked if we would still want to gig. But by then we had disbanded.

* * *

A few friends of ex-girlfriends are listed. Such is the palette of an un-erasable, paper address book.

* * *

A photographer friend who wanted to win the Pulitzer Prize is listed. I did sit across photographer Paul Watson at The Toronto Star in 1990 who would win the Pulitzer in 1994 for his spot news photo in Somalia. I met this other photographer in Vancouver, Kuala Lumpur, Hongkong and Singapore. He works for Reuters now and managed the first photographers going into Afghanistan after 9/11. We used to try and meet as many Magnum photographers as possible, learning from them. Henri-Cartier Bresson, still alive then but no longer taking pictures (just painting), was my biggest influence. I shot with a 50mm lens only. And today I try to catch the "decisive moment" via cell phone.

Written in the 1990s

* * *

The address of my mother’s childhood home in Fanling, Hongkong, is listed. My grandpa – her father – is still alive at 88, and fought for the British in those hills in World War II. He lives near Toronto now, relocated by life. I visited him in Hongkong in 1989 (when I covered the Tiananmen Square aftermath) and in 1993 when I participated in a Canadian elections simulcast.

* * *

For two summers, I also worked in a factory for Bacardi Rum (1987-88). Assembly line friend Anthony Hughes is listed. We probably packed a million bottles of rum.

I can still clutch 4 mickeys fast.

* * *

For more than a decade, I stayed at a family’s house for Christmas in Richmond, British Columbia, which is listed. The siblings there now live in Richmond, San Francisco and Tokyo. I met one sibling in Hongkong in 1993 and this is a true story. We were walking in Repulse Bay and suddenly a woman comes up to kiss me. An old girlfriend from Vancouver whom I'd thought was in Italy!

* * *

I see a Vietnamese friend who travelled to Ghana for Crossroads and wrote about water diseases. Good ol’ Hai Van Le. We used to have Vietnamese noodles in Vancouver Chinatown.

* * *

I see names of people I hung out with on a street corner in Colombia. Octavio sold hot dogs. So did Odulfo. Juan was a street kid. Miguel was a deaf street kid. They helped cars back out into traffic for spare change.

* * *

I see a photographer friend Heather Jenkins who became a Vancouver doctor. Small world, once the doctor for my kid’s mom was away and Heather substituted in. I wasn’t there but I saw Heather's name on the prescription. A long way from a photo credit.

* * *

I see a female University of Waterloo friend listed. That’s rare. There were not a lot of females back then at this school. I think she dated an NHL hockey player once – Shayne Corson. I went to four universities in four years...that is a true story. I just kept on transferring to get to a better spot. I don't know what that got me, but I ended up in Vancouver for 18 years.

* * *

Wow-that’s incredible…I have the mafia pilot I interviewed in Colombia listed in code.

* * *

Another Grade 4 friend is listed. He became business partners with me after college. His dad is my Irish godfather.

* * *

One of the few other Chinese students at my high school is listed. Whether I knew it or not, race factored into what I could do or not and how I did it. I didn't become an actor. Roles are still bad for Asian men two decades later. A recent article in the Toronto Star said anyone with a name like mine would have a 35% lower chance of getting a job of any kind. To test this, they submitted the exact same resumes with different names - English vs non-English.

* * *

In this address book, every name is equal. There are names from many countries. But the world is not like this address book.

* * *

A good friend – we addressed poverty issues together in the press – later became a professor at McGill University. I re-united with her in Montreal in 2005. There are stories I could tell about the things we did to help the impoverished. But I won’t. She was also a 911 operator part-time. We knew the score.

* * *

My mother’s first address in Brampton is listed. She moved two more times. One thing I notice, places I knew off by heart are not listed. But I no longer know those addresses today.

* * *

One day I hope to find Jessica McArthur. Again, her name is too common to search online. She lived in Japan. She studied theater at the University of British Columbia. And she wrote at our college paper. She sent me post cards before from Shizuoka.

Ed. ~ Just now, at 10:58 am, October, 19, 2011, less than 24 hours after posting this piece, I found out what happened to Jessica McArthur. This is after years of searching for her online after Google launched. This post dated September 25, 2011, reports her life ended August 15, 1998, at age 32. I last saw her early on in her struggle with an illness in 1990. She battled it for 8 more years. I am very sad for this loss. She was a big light in my life. RIP JM -

October 12, 1965
London, Ontario, Canada

August 15, 1998
North Vancouver, B C, Canada

Palmer Jr Secondary,Richmond, BC
McNair Sr Secondary, Richmond, BC
Graduated UBC

from her TITAN data sheet
Height: 5' 6 1/2" (168cm)
Shoe Size: 7 1/2"

I wonder why they collected her shoe size - wardrobe? In good times, we'd laugh over this. There's audio of her voice in the link. Though I struggle to say this, knowing her illness, she was one of the most uplifting people I've ever met in life. A sun in your room. I still remember saying my last goodbye to her on West 10th Avenue outside of her Vancouver suite. Somehow I knew from the look in her eyes that she knew this would be the last time. It was just a matter of time with such an illness. I gave her a pleading look, wanting to see her again no matter what the condition. She returned a look of compassion wanting what was best for me. I have never forgotten that look.

These are some inspiring well-written edgy words my dear friend Jessica McArthur left behind. The Butterfly Girl is genius:

* * *

A long-time photographer friend is listed. We’ve been through a lot of adversity and camping. His son was born on the same day as me.

* * *

My first Toronto friend Jeanne Ng is listed. I last saw her in Hongkong in 1985. She sent me a laminated poem called In The Field when I was living in Taiwan. So perhaps this address book goes back to 1985. Or maybe I copied down her info in 1986 to have it.

* * *

A sports reporter is listed. A Windsor professor is listed.

* * *

My good friend Miguel Pascoe who struggled to find the balance between truth and money is listed. I wonder if I can say that today. It seemed like we said it all the time, just not in those words. He was highly valued at Oracle as a technology consultant. But he loved music more. That college debate we had in Waterloo lasted a decade more.

* * *

I haven't coded complex computer programs again since Waterloo where I had my first email address. Life might have changed for me if the internet was prevalent then. This is where I work now.

* * *

A math classmate in Vancouver is listed. There were only 7-10 students in my university honours math class! Two of the students were tops in the school (one year apart). This was a very tough program. Most people don't even know I have a math degree. My name is spelled wrong in the math department graduation photos where I am not photographed.

At graduation, one prof told me I would never be in mathematics after reading my writing. No one's ever asked me for my college degree.

* * *

A grade school Windsor hockey friend is listed. I played hockey nearly every winter day in Windsor. I pushed it into spring and summer.

* * *

All the college editors I worked with in Vancouver are listed. I nick-named my kid K after Katherine Monk, now a national film critic. True story - I have bumped into K at the craziest places. Hemingway's in Toronto during TIFF. At a Vancouver street intersection at a light - both of us in cars. At the Roundhouse before a hockey game. And while she was talking to some director during a filmfest (I think Jane Campion).

* * *

My German high school friend in Windsor is still single, still a lawyer, and still lives in Munich today. We touch base every few years. He once worked at Toronto’s largest law firm and then moved to Germany. We ate at the old Le Sélect Bistro when it was on Queen Street by the Rivoli in Toronto...when bread baskets hung from the ceiling. I house-sat his parents’ house in Windsor one summer and studied their vinyl records (a great collection). They had U2's new vinyl Joshua Tree. How I learned to sing like Bono. I don't recall many vinyl records after that year.

I took care of their dog Poppy.

My last time in Quebec City was visiting this friend staying there one summer.

* * *

I still owe Eldon Sprickerhoff a steak. In college at Waterloo, I said he’d never last with someone. I never found out what happened until 10 years later. I lost the bet big time.

* * *

I see Windsor friend Dave Sobocan listed. He used to climb walls around the time Vancouver's Mountain Co-op started getting big in Ontario. To this day, I've never seen anyone as passionate about one thing as he was about rock climbing. If you wonder why I know some vocabulary there, that's why.

* * *

A Colombian friend Clara Spitz used to hang out with us a lot in Barranquilla.

* * *

Artifacts from 1981 - As kids Pete and I pretended we were spies and owned land. Our spelling was not that good. We locked up our docs in a brief case which I recently opened.

Peter Schaffer (not the hockey player) was my closest friend in grade school (lived on my street). He was part of Canada's elite Canadian Airborne Regiment - 3 Commando. He was easy to track until they disbanded the CAR after another unit had a scandalous incident in Somalia. Not sure where he went since. Bumped into one person who saw him in passing through Toronto once. For such a small town, Windsor actually spreads around the world in funny ways. I bump into Windsorites everywhere I go.

* * *

There's a piano player who used to play for Dave Brubeck in the address book. I spent a Christmas with him in a trailer in the middle of the mountains of British Columbia. Many people in this book, I don't know if they are still alive.

Sometimes I can look them up online - like Michael Ventrella with whom I stayed in Windsor one summer.

Other names are like ships passing in the night in a 20-year timeline. Like Debi Wainwright who worked at CBC and shared her Canadian Literature notes with me.

* * *


The last name in the book is an old girlfriend I dated for four years. She worked for Rupert Murdoch and FedEx after she moved across the ocean. There's a smiley face from her in the address book - the only one. I bumped into her randomly in Vancouver many years ago with her first kid and husband visiting during Christmas. She looked very happy. Small world, in Hongkong, her grandpa, when he was alive, worked with my grandpa (still alive).

* * *

One thing is for sure. This address book said more than anyone knows about me.

I named some people I hope will find me again. If you're not named, "Look me up."

Thursday, October 6, 2011


They both can scream.

She in movies. He calling strikes.

I was very distracted this night.

This is what I saw in front of me.

In their element

I know, how can the dude in the right even compete with actress-model Tammy Gillis who will appear in Maxim, who just appeared in Sharp, and was a lead model for Ginch Gonch. Notably she was also Mary Magdalene in Guy Maddin's surrealist short Heart of the World. Tammy then moved on to co-star in L Word, Battlestar Galactica, Douglas (Generation X) Coupland's jPod and Endgame. Endgame is a show I love about a crime-solving chess master sequestered in a Vancouver hotel like Howard Hughes (who locked himself inside the Bayshore Hotel). Tammy's also in Shattered, Stealing Paradise (Rachael Leigh Cook) and the critically-acclaimed Less Than Kind.

Above us - above the Park Hyatt rooftop lounge - choppers were flying. It was opening gala night for the Toronto Film Festival. Tammy, about to make a celebrity pancake tossing appearance next morning, said they might be scouting Brad Pitt in town for Moneyball. He's stayed in this hotel before. A friend of mine once drove Brad Pitt in a limo from this very hotel. Pitt stayed at a cottage next door to me once.

Coincidentally, the book Moneyball was in my trunk. I didn't even know a movie was made about it!

The dude next to us wasn't Brad Pitt. But coincidentally, he's a deciding factor in Moneyball.

Ron Kulpa works as an umpire in Major League Baseball - and had worked Derek Jeter's magical hit #3000 game in Yankee Stadium.

My ode to Derek Jeter - The Captain of the Yankees - for whom I've seen every superstition in the book work

Jeter hit a home run for #3000 and went 5 for 5 in one of the most magical games ever in baseball. I've always believed baseball games were won on magic more so than statistics or Moneyball. Odds were regularly defied.

* * *

I was running late and these two randomly met. He'd seen Shooter (Mark Wahlberg) five times. She'd co-starred in it. She told him someone would be arriving very soon who loved baseball. I told him, Orioles would be very tired after playing the Yankees. He'd be working the Blue Jays - Orioles series soon.

* * *

There's a coincidence tonight. Superstition is prevalent in the paths of both Tammy Gillis and baseball. Tonight they are intersecting like ley lines at the Cross Roads. Everyone who knows me in sports has seen my superstitions work. They don't mess with it. Nor do I.

Sometimes it is like déjà vu.

I took this picture in July, 2007, at Brooklyn's SoundFix. One month later a song-writer for Feist and Broken Social Scene invited us to meet them at McCarren Park where they would be performing in a Brooklyn swimming pool. Within weeks, Feist's career catapulted into arenas and stadiums. Four years later Jeff Buckley's guitarist Gary Lucas played at my New York haunt Caffe Vivaldi. I went with Danielle De Luca who then got invited to sing Mojo Pin and Grace with Gary Lucas (who co-wrote them) weeks later at Caffe Vivaldi. It wasn't lost on me that the first song I'd ever heard at Caffe Vivaldi was Mojo Pin (sung by Kate Sland). It's why I bought this album in the above photo in the first place.

Realistic probabilities can't back this up. No baseball statistics can track magic. No human logic. Not even belief can back it up.

I don't often have superstitions outside of sports, but I do with Tammy Gillis.

It all started after she had a drought of no cool gigs for a long long time. Can we say long? We know droughts in baseball. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.

So one day for her birthday - coming up this month actually - I made this tryptic to summon cool gigs. It symbolized good things to come "in threes."

She got a cool gig right away. And randomly, after unforeseen events, stuff started happening. Calls were coming in regularly after she starred in Under The Applebox- especially from an elite Hollywood agency. I mean what are the odds that Slumdog Millionaire would win an Oscar for best film and suddenly movies like it were in demand.

I love Latika's Theme

The drought was over.

As a superstition I kept on making conceptual photos of Tammy Gillis to keep this going.

And so did she...this profile photo has stayed the same while the streak continues for Tammy Gillis - who just shot Supernatural in Vancouver and returns to Toronto to work on the set of Lost Girl.

I posted on her wall Sept. 28, 2010, to keep this profile pic after getting a Vancouver TV series gig and a Montreal movie. Good things come "in threes." She then landed a Manitoba gig. She is originally from McCreary, Manitoba (population 800).

* * *
What is a dream? Familiar sounds that resonate. Elements of your life that congregate. Symbols that at first don't make sense.

* * *

When I first met Tammy Gillis in April, 2008, I was meeting actress Justine Warrington randomly where Tammy worked. Small world, they had both auditioned for the same movie with Michael Madsen. Justine got the role. Tammy liked this blog I wrote about Justine on coincidences - or more accurately, the magic that can happen on a path. A dream is just that. The world is connected in funny ways. Months later I would buy Tammy's guitar and donate it. It traveled across the country as Tammy started getting gigs. And one day I knew I'd be writing the same blog about Tammy.

Tried out her guitar in kitchen of place where Tammy worked. Then it got carried across Main Street through the Vancouver rain to where I donated it (lawyer for EMI carried it). Then it traveled from Main Street across Canada to Ottawa where I played it again.

November 19, 2010 ("Smile of The Day") - Actress Rachael Leigh Cook snaps a shot of Tammy across Canada in Montreal. "On top of the Mont Royal. Rachael practically had to push me up the last flight of stairs." In 2011, Tammy returned again to Montreal for another project and Julia Roberts was on the next lot.

* * *

I've been playing around with an iPhone app that makes posters with credits fast....and have been making posters of the same photo shot on this rooftop with each gig Tammy's gotten since. I am calling this the superstition photo. Her first gig was Supernatural. The next gig was Lost Girl. I wonder what the next gig will be. Good things come "in threes."

Accidentally the rooftop staff took Ron's beer away. I was imagining what it'd be like if both Tammy and Ron started to scream for it. I think all of Toronto would hear it.

Ed - I know a lot of people don't believe in superstition, but hey, that's your choice. A "choice" in probability is only one variable affecting an outcome. After we left the Hyatt, I drove Tammy by where I'd see her one day...and say, hey, I know that star and wave from afar. Ron Kulpa - "as in Mea (K)ulpa"- told us how the playoffs work alternating umpires in rotation, series to series...and would later work the MLB playoffs calling strikes in Game 1 of Milwaukee vs Arizona. Hey, I know that pitcher on the mound - former Yankee Ian Kennedy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Magical Sky Garden

The backyard of Penny's Open Mic is a magical garden in the sky. In concrete jungles, sometimes the only way you find a garden is by looking up.

Penny this night is wearing a cool blue jacket left by an East Village artist who hangs things on fences.

* * *

This is a play between what's heard and seen. Between what's up and down, inside out, and round and round. A play between the lights--and dark.

That's how I'd try to describe the feeling of Penny's Open Mic.

A place, New York Magazine writes, where "inventive minds gather."

* * *
When I see a poet like Tim Shea, who makes cheese steaks by day, burn like fire with a desperation in a voice you’ve not heard in a long long while, I think of how we use to dream on a porch in New York and the words just came out like there was no tomorrow.

* * *

True story – I once had this song on repeat for hours (first time I heard it). D never let me play it again. She hid the CD so well it got lost (and was never played again). It was found again years later the day she moved. And suddenly we had this look as soon as we saw it.

* * *

I am late tonight. Anytime I see Penny it is like she is in limelight – even while somewhere in the dark. No wonder American History X director Tony Kaye wants to adapt her play.

I tell her pieces at Penny's Open Mic remind me of Truth or Dare. Then, as if a lightbulb went off, faster than light she says, that’ll be the theme of next night.

Next morning I muse it's actually Truth AND Dare.

And I dream of Penny becoming the Mayor of New York City.

* * *

This would describe a lot of pieces I see at Penny's Open Mic:
"Make a piece of art that burns like whiskey, like lightning, raw tobacco, shrapnel, holy fire. ...And life and love and everything good." ~ Gregory Levine

* * *

Edwin just finished rapping something about pulling over.

Randomly at 2:15am Edwin mentions “Creole” in Ayiti. We whisper words in French. I loosely reference I once wrote in Creole beats, in an Ode to Moriso. Tim Shea says he’ll pay more than the admission fee to hear me read it. I tell him I never take the mic (from someone who's doing it as if life depended on it). I tell him the words are "a bit risqué." How democracy "is more for you than for me." There’s racial tension. I think racial tension drives a lot of Creole poems, blues, Harlem Renaissance and rap.

Tim would be the perfect poet to read it. He once said, we are more tolerant today. “Just at a safe distance.”

This is a race map of New York City. Green dots = 200 "White" people live there. Blue dots = 200 "Black people" live there.

We walk out from the underground at 94 St. Mark’s Place (Under St. Mark’s) on a Tuesday night.

Tim stands on a porch just like Mick Jagger once did. Nearly the same spot.

Next door there’s a woman looking for her last dollar bill as a wounded dog keeps her company. Below where Mick Jagger stood.

How can you forget this? I never will. These are New York minutes.

* * *


Can't seem to leave this style of writing....words that move literally and figuratively in many directions.

Unrelated to this story, friend wrote - Dave Matthews and Eric Lewis (Elew) should join each other. I replied: "They both create musical universes that sound so powerful vast, which keep you in some moment, right here.

Here they are nearby at the Bowery Hotel

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moneyball Variations

The kids were so far away from being who they could become, you could imagine them being anything.

There was a tendency to generalize wildly from personal experience.

"People always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn't."

There was a bias towards what someone just did - which might not be what they could do.

There was a delusion of seeing what you just saw, or thought you had seen.

The mind played tricks to create an illusion of reality.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Download Is A Download

What is a download?

What does it look like?

That's what I asked myself while helping to grow a music download store that sold millions of songs.

What is the physical manifestation of a download when it goes from A to B? What can it be?

One day Steve Jobs said no matter what *it* would be 99 cents.

Suddenly iTunes became a dollar store where people would scoff at $3 or more.

I wondered if this is why music videos could barely sell though offering far more.

I wondered if this is why albums started to die.

One single could readily out-sell one album.

Or was it, the download time?

Digital music also did something else: personal playlists drove sales. Not of one album but of various artists, complementing each other.

Suddenly, you had to fit in - into someone else's music.

* * *

What is a download?

A download is still a download whether it is a song or an app.

There are millions of downloads. It is like walking into a grocery store and seeing a million cereal boxes. It would be hard to make one box worth more than another.

* * *

What is a download?

People do spend less time making them (or packaging them) than their analog rivals. I wondered if this was why vinyl sales grew as downloads flat-lined. People wanted more than just a download.

One thing I never got is why music labels wanted downloads protected. Once your download gadget dies or you buy a new one your download is gone.

So in essence you are paying for a perishable download, lasting maybe 2-3 years. More expensive than the analog record that would've been kept.

There is a tricky way to back up 3000 songs ($3000+ worth of songs) but I have only met one person who actually did it.

In my life I have bought Fleetwood Mac's Dreams so many times.
8-track. Vinyl (45, LP). Cassette. CD. Live. Remixes. Greatest Hits. Video. DVD. Downloads for Windows, iPhone and more. Do I really ever have a licence to own it?

Written in my head while driving in a car.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where Art thou?

These are questions I've always asked:

Where did the Artist's Art go?
When does Art become Entertainment?
When does an Artist sell out?

While writing some things about funding Artists and Art, I also wondered:

Who really owns it, for its original purpose?

"Music is everybody's possession" ~ John Lennon once noted, no one really owns Art.

In every way, it continues in some form or another--from one Artist to another, from one beholder to another.

So if the principle is, Art is owned by everyone, shouldn't everyone fund it (versus say a music label)? This new idea is actually an old idea: Arts Patronage. But it's new in the sense that we're talking about many patrons instead of just one. If a politician or charity can raise funds online from a crowd, why can't an Artist? Aren't Artists the ones who inspire most in life?

Historically, Arts Patronage has been about people who see beauty investing in inspiration or divinity--where you can invest MORE than a dollar for a song. It was never about disposable Entertainment worth 99 cents or less.

In many ways, it was about creating an everlasting legacy. Something truly divine: "Art."

At some point, Art might cross the line, traded for Entertainment, to achieve someone else's idea of success. But Entertainment doesn't always mean the Artist gets paid well. The Artist was never a shrewd deal maker. And ultimately, this means deal makers will exploit that financial disadvantage.

Ultimately, Arts Patronage is needed to help Art stay true to its trajectory. Ultimately, its inspiration attracts people naturally. The truth of it sets Art free. Inspiration doesn't need someone else's idea of success. Never has. And commonly, only the uninspired need diversions of Entertainment. The inspired historically seldom did.

Art inspires at least one person by imparting insight. It can keep one there all night long. By contrast, Entertainment is required to entertain, to give enjoyment to as many people as possible instantly. Now you see it, now you don't. A quick fix. There's nothing wrong with that. But the difference is often confused: Entertainment passes like a drug. Art lingers like a truth.

* * *

In great Art, you might not get a lot of response instantly, but you instantly know you are onto something.

* * *
"Entertainment wants to give you what you want. Art wants to give you what you don't know you want."--David Cronenberg

Googling Art vs Entertainment...i found this excerpt:

"Entertainment is part of an evening -- mini-golf, pizza, a movie, ice cream. Art is the evening -- you generally have to make plans to see an Art movie, and then you find somewhere to sit and discuss it afterward.

Entertainment is terrified of losing you, and is willing to change itself to be more to your taste. Art doesn't give a fuck whether it loses you -- if you're lost, that's your problem.

Entertainment condescends to what it perceives as your level. Art assumes you're at a high level and wants to take you higher -- it conascends.

Entertainment wants to make you think you're thinking, but actually steers you toward its chosen conclusion. Art actually does make you think, and allows you to arrive at your own highly subjective conclusion.

Entertainment generally isn't personal or obsessive or visionary. Art often is.

Good Entertainment often is not artistic. Good Art often is entertaining.

If Entertainment is unappealing, offensive, and hell to sit through, you just wasted your ticket money. If Art is unappealing, offensive, and hell to sit through...maybe you should see it again."

* * *
In The New York Times, a letter to the Editor contained this line: ''Sorry, but there is a line in the sand that has to be drawn here. Entertainment's job is to pass away the hours; Art should make profound, eloquent and affecting statements about the human condition…"

* * *

"In simple terms, to me, Art is a creative expression that stems from the heart and soul and breeds self exploration and self examination, whereas Entertainment is just some shit we enjoy that takes us out of our heads for a moment." --Dave Navarro

* * *

Entertainers get paid (occasionally handsomely) to please the masses, often with sub-par work. Most Entertainers I know can yield way better Artistic output.

So what happens when Artists get paid in a world where only Entertainment pays? What happens to the Art?

When I am paid, typically, I cannot write, take pictures or produce graphical works as well as I could without payment. Inspiration just can't be bought. And when things are bought, sometimes, inspiration just doesn't even arrive in time for someone else's deadline.

With or without payment, I produce creative works, equally prolifically. But with payment, the rules with it change everything. The deal changes the outcome of what you could've produced in a perfect world. The creative muse I once had with me is often lost in the strings attached.

I started off as an amateur (which in Latin means "one who does it for the love of it"--amor), but soon worked at major Media & Entertainment companies. It certainly honed the craft I had. But it destroyed my creativity and inspiration—and even any desire I had to create in my spare time.

In the last 12 years, for income, I've switched over to the business side (finance and marketing) where I can be equally prolific. I get inspired there in a different way. Would I ever choose to marry the creative and business vocations I've had at some Crossroads?

No--if I had a choice.

There's something the about the rules of the Entertainment industry and the politics of payment that just curb inspired works.

As an amateur columnist once, I felt bad writing a scathing critique, something a 20 year old wouldn't be afraid to say, about one paid journalist's coverage of a topic I knew well. What he wrote was just plain awful. One day he sat in front of me at a stadium to cover something I was covering as well, and he actually turned around and looked at me and said, "you know Chung, I've only got five hours in one day to get the story, you have a whole week. I am paid to move on to the next story right away. There's a huge difference. They don't give me the time to analyze, research or think about it even."

There was just something amazingly truthful to what he said, unwritten on any subway wall. After that, I said not one more word about his work. In many ways, what he said defines the nature of how Entertainment is produced. It's a factory method, to produce a piece of work, that an inspired amateur can best. I once questioned why something like that should even be paid; but that's how the system works. And once you're paid, who knows what will come out.

One seasoned journalist said: "It's just fill in the blanks. You just change the names and places."

I've often noted, the best work comes out for free, freely.

Artists, however, are without question related to Entertainment. It's where Artists can most likely make a living. But Art and Entertainment are without question distinctly different. For me, Art is inspired, Entertainment is manufactured. Entertainment seldom changes lives. Art always does somehow. When you look at people who create, that's the key distinction. Are they inspiring? Or are they entertaining desires?

* * *

In simple terms, an Entertainer makes Entertainment for enjoyment and an Artist makes Art to make one actually think about something.

In the finance space, the "Entertainment Sector" includes Movies, Television, Video Games, Music, Gaming (gambling), theme parks, publishing, the Internet and Live Stage performances.

I somewhat define Entertainment as being owned by major movie studios, broadcasters, video game publishers, music labels, casinos and publishers who distribute paperbacks, magazines and newspapers to grocery stores etc. Without question, anything that has the term best seller, top hits, and box office is part of the Entertainment economy. But anything attached to Entertainment jargon, or any jargon for that matter, rarely can be fully inspired, to make Art History.

Entertainment is not Art in essence. It is merely a popular way to make money, by entertaining masses of people.

* * *

"It is the spectator, and not life, that Art really mirrors."
- Oscar Wilde

In our acting class one summer in college, we had a picnic. Each of us were asked to play the role of someone dead, in character, as if they were still alive. We'd all arrive anonymously. You could ask any questions to try and figure out who a person was, and have a conversation to out their true identities. Everyone in pop culture was outed first. The last two people identified– including one played by my acting partner – were the toughest to identify, yet so familiar.

My acting partner played Oscar Wilde. The last one standing, who suspended disbelief the longest, played Jesus.

* * *

The Prime Minister of Canada wants every Canadian to reduce their Arts contributions by $1.35. Ya, he's a bit cheap. I spent an hour once musing over this, writing about it, but didn't post anything because of this question. What is the Art that's meant to be funded?

The plight of the Artist and Art (sometimes two different things) is timeless.

From my interviews and research probing how things i really liked got made, much of the best Art was created from scratch without funding, because an Artist had lived a starving life to see some truth in a better way, that manifested into a beautiful work. The same is true of many great start ups in business.

A love of the Art is truly tested in these times and grows strong, to yield good Art. And sometimes like a shooting star, yields great Art. When something "divine" comes out of you.

When an Artist becomes a Celebrity (or Entertainer), there's more money earned and more politics experienced. It is then I often see a decay in the Art.

I mean imagine throwing money, power and politics at someone who has never had it in abundance – never handled it - what will become of the Art?

But at the same time, the Artist deserves an a person.

And a devoted Artist's only means of living is to make and sell Art, with maybe some casual jobs on the side.

Being an Artist is the hardest living in the country. Imagine if a politician was forced to sell Art for any dollar earned. Only devoted Artists understand that journey. A touring Artist will see more of a nation than any President. The Artist is truly a Citizen, depending exclusively on a community that nurtures, in which the Artist contributes wholly.

But selling Art is an Artist's greatest paradox - independent of what the government thinks.

What's it worth if defined as priceless? It's almost unnatural to sell something supernatural.

Government Arts funding has always been political - a who you know, what can you show on paper, have you been funded before game. That's politics for ya.

Many government-funded projects in fact fail because of that approach.

Politics ~ n. ass-covering manufacturing.

Now i must disclose, I've never received a dime myself in Arts grants and I am more familiar with Internet and movie subsidies than any other kinds of government Arts grants. Non-profit exhibitions, dance troupes, symphonies and operas also get funded by the government. I also do think the writers and painters of Canada, who are now becoming an endangered species, should get more help. Canada's greatest artistic assets are in those genres.

I support the Arts tremendously but feel the wrong system is in place to support it.

Additionally, an Arts education (to learn the craft, the history of it, and the discovery of it) is diminishing in stature and funding along with exhibits or channels to show or distribute Art.

Canada's cultural legacy is continually being exiled to America when looking at where "top" Artists from Canada go. To grow a legacy, a program is needed, one that is about yielding Art that resonates with Artists and Art lovers in this country.

The problem is the people who review grants don't seem to really know what that means. I see bad Art getting funded so frequently, and good Art getting canceled so regularly.

I think the solution is to allow taxpayers to donate online using tax credits or deductions to fund the Art or Artist they love.

This was written over many days with a fever. I've been sick since 4am, fri.

ED--this was originally written in September, 2008, before Kickstarter became well known. It was actually the second half of a two-part blog on the Cross Roads. The first part is about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil to become a famous musician. I re-did it inspired by a documentary trailer about underground Artists in New York City called Somewhere In The Dark.