Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Death Wish

DW and I were talking about death, the other week, as couples do (what... you don't?), and we were remarking at the fact that we haven't updated our wills since our kids were in diapers. Because DW is still working out her father's estate, wills are foremost on her mind.

Back in the late '60s, DW's parents had the forethought to purchase their own plots at a cemetery, on the outskirts of town, and they purchased extra room for their offspring and any partners, as well. As we laid her dad to rest, next to his wife of more than 60 years, I muttered to DW, "I don't want to be buried here."

It was not meant as a slight against her parents: I loved DW's folks, who had been nothing short of kind and loving towards me, as though I was one of their own. My desire to be placed in the ground in a coffin or urn just didn't have its appeal for me. I didn't need to have a marker, with my name printed on it, to be a constant reminder of where my remains had been stashed. And I didn't want to have a funeral home's hand in my pockets.

DW told me that we'd discuss this matter later, and when we did, I was just as adamant. "I don't want to be buried in that cemetery," I repeated.

"Well, I'm keeping some of your ashes and I'm having them mixed with mine, and at least a bit of you will be with me when my time comes and I'm placed next to my mom and dad."

For years, I've been wondering how I wanted my remains handled. (I know, I'm such a joyful person.) Seriously, in this time when we consider the environment and the sort of world that we want to leave for our children, I think it's time that we give serious thought to how we go out, responsibly.

At times, I've joked, "throw me in a bog and let nature take its course," or, "just put me in the green bin and roll me to the curb on collection day." But now, I'm wondering if that's not such a bad idea (the first one, not the green bin).

I really don't want to give a funeral home any money. I don't need a fancy coffin or an urn. I certainly don't want to be embalmed—one more cocktail for the road?

I don't want any visitations or services. DW understands that when my time comes, I want her to reserve space at whatever bar I would tend to frequent (or perhaps one of my favourite Ottawa breweries?), invite all of my close friends and family, and have a party.

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And what do we do about my body? Well, I've heard that there are some places where you can have a truly green resting place, though I expect you don't rest for very long. Some parcels of land have been allotted for burial grounds where you aren't placed in anything, save maybe a biodegradable sack. Here, you truly let nature take its course.

That's what I want.

DW can quietly bury me in a wooded area. If the kids want to be with her, I'd like that, too. No fuss: no muss. No head stone, no indication that I'm there at all.

The other week, when DW and I talked about our need to update our wills and about our final wishes, I reminded her that I strongly object to being placed in a cemetery.

"Some of your ashes are coming with me."

"I'm not being cremated. I want a green burial." We talked about the area in Prince Edward County: lovely countryside; good breweries and tasty wineries. "Please put me there," I requested.

"Okay, but I'm hacking off a finger. Part of you is coming with me."

"Fair enough," I said, adding, "if you're going to take a part of me, take my schlong. I like the thought of it being forever with you." We laughed, though DW also whispered "Jesus" under her breath.

"But wait," I reconsidered, "what if there really is an afterlife, in which all your desires are fulfilled. I just might still need that."

"You're likely going to Hell," DW said, "where, for torture, you'll be offered such carnal desires but would be without your 'schlong,' like a Ken doll. I might as well keep it." More laughter.

Problem solved.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Photo Friday: First Snow

It was nice to get outdoors during my lunch break, yesterday, to enjoy the fresh, crisp air on the day of the first snow. Though autumn is not done, winter isn't far away.

Happy Friday!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Moving Pictures

It's rough.

There are camera and editing issues. There are sound problems and my voice does not make for good listening.

It's also really, really long, much longer than I intended. The opening scene goes on too long, but in cutting down the song, I really wanted it to fit so that when it ended, a flight attendant can be heard.

The script for the voice-overs is over-read. The unscripted dialog is often nonsensical and contains errors.

But this video really is for me, to keep as a reminder of my solo trip back to Korea, last May.

If you're truly interested, here it is. But get yourself comfortable before you hit Play, because it's an hour and 10 minutes of your life that you're never getting back.

Criticism is welcome, but please be kind. I've never ever done anything like this before. This is the longest video that I've ever put together. I actually call it a movie.

I present to you Back 2 Korea. Enjoy (I hope).


Friday, October 18, 2019

What Drives Me to Write

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Of course, I knew him only as Mr. Lemke, but he had a first name: it was Gurt. When I first entered his English class, in grade 9 (way back in September, 1979), I had no idea that this tall, lean Dutchman would have such a strong influence on me as a writer. In fact, the first time that he and I interacted, we didn't hit it off at all.

The classroom on the second floor at J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School faced south, toward Viewmount Drive. The housing development that would surround the high school was still years away and I could see across the road to the field in which my father and I would have rode our dirt bikes many summers earlier.

Sitting in my desk, which was in the row that was against the windows, I would have had to crane my neck right around to see the intersection of Chesterton Drive and Viewmount, and there really was no reason to look in that direction. Except, on that one morning.

I heard the dull thump as metal hit metal and rubber was scraped. I knew immediately that two vehicles had collided, and I turned to see the damage. It was an OC Transpo bus and a large sedan (weren't they all large in the 70s?). It wasn't a serious accident and I could see that no one was hurt, so I returned my attention to the front of the classroom.

That's when I saw that Mr. Lemke was standing near my desk, patiently waiting for me to rejoin the lesson. Apparently, he had asked me a question, in the time that the back of my head was facing him.

"We can discuss your lack of attention after school, Mr. Brown," he told me.

I didn't think a detention was fair, given that external distractions had caused an involuntary reaction from me. I heard a collision and my reflexes made me look. At the very least, I wanted to know if everyone was safe. And I couldn't have been distracted for more than 10 seconds.

Mr. Lemke wouldn't hear my explanation. "See you after school."

I didn't show up.

The next morning, as I sat in my homeroom, waiting to hear the morning announcements, Mr. Lemke showed up and asked me to step outside. He was disappointed that I had skipped detention.

I explained that I felt my punishment didn't fit the offense, and once again, I tried to tell him what had happened to make me look away. In a calm voice (always a calm voice), he told me that I could explain myself at detention, which was to be at the end of school.

Again, I didn't show up.

And again, Mr. Lemke visited my homeroom class to remind me that we had an appointment. He asked me why I was being so defiant.

I stated that I wouldn't attend a detention because the sound of the collision caused me to see what was the matter. As soon as I discovered what had happened, I was ready to return my attention to him.

"If you had heard a sound from behind you, wouldn't you have looked?" I asked. I told him that I found his demands unjust and that he could continue to expect me to come in, but that I wouldn't. I said that if he wanted to take me to the principal's office, we could go right away, before the announcements. But I was standing firm on my belief that I had done nothing to warrant a detention.

That was the end of the conversation. Mr. Lemke said that he respected my conviction and that, going forward, he hoped to see this same kind of fire from me in his class.

I didn't always succeed, but I tried my best.

Mr. Lemke's passion for poetry and literature was infectious. When he read passages aloud, you felt the emotion of the writer. When he assigned class presentations, he encouraged the students to speak with the same passion. He would often prompt presenters to speak from the heart, rather than from what was written on the pages that would be held.

"Throw away your notes!" he would exclaim. In one presentation that I delivered, I prepared thoroughly but still used my cue cards as a crutch. "Ross, throw away your notes," said Mr. Lemke.

I literally tossed the cue cards over my shoulders and just talked to the class.

That was all his doing.

I had Mr. Lemke as my English teacher in grades 9, 11, and 13. And while it was the class that I looked forward to the most, I wasn't the most attentive student in grade 13, using the class time to work in the student lounge.

One evening, while hanging out at Carlingwood Mall with my friend, Stuart, who also was in my English class, we ran into Mr. Lemke, who said, "Mr. Brown, I seem to run into you everywhere but in class." He smiled, and then continued with his shopping.

I showed up at the next class.

There are only three teachers that come to mind when I think of the people who had the greatest influence on me, who really encouraged me to become a writer. There's my grade 6 teacher, Mr. Townsend, who encouraged me during our creative writing lessons and always called upon me to read my work to the rest of the class.

There's my first-year journalism program teacher, who always praised my work and, when I began work on my first novel (never published), wasn't afraid to tell me when my writing was "trite" and needed improvements.

And then there was Mr. Lemke, whose passion rubbed off on me, who supported me when I felt strongly about something, and showed me how to put myself out there, to throw away my notes.

Gurt Lemke was 87 when he passed away, on October 6.

About a year ago, I was watching a Canadian sci-fi on Netflix, Dark Matter, and saw the name Anthony Lemke in the credits. A Google search showed me that Anthony grew up in Nepean, so I reached out to him, through social media, and asked him if his father taught for the Carleton Board of Education.

Anthony replied, and said that, indeed, his dad was my English teacher. I asked Anthony for a favour, that if he could mention me the next time he spoke to his dad, to thank him for me.

I hope that message was delivered.

Visitation for Mr. Lemke is today, from 2:00 to 4:00, at the Tubman
Funeral Homes, at 3440 Richmond Road. Unlike the first time that he invited me to pay him a visit, I won't let him down.

When I finished high school, in 1984, I asked Mr. Lemke to sign my yearbook. I passed him the book, opened to the page with his photograph. He looked thoughtful, then began to write, a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes.

It was a quote, from one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It was the play upon which my presentation had me throwing away my notes.

"There is a divinity that shapes our ends."

Friday, October 11, 2019

Photo Friday: Up Before the Dawn

I love this time of year.

Generally speaking, I leave the house on my morning drive to work somewhere between 6:10 and 6:20 and am pulling into the parking lot between 30 and 40 minutes later.

I like to get in as early as possible so that I can leave as early as possible.

Autumn is my favourite season, as I've said many times over the years in this blog. I love the cool mornings and how the trees change from green to red, orange, and yellow. As I cruise along my route, at this time of year, my commute is getting darker and darker. Soon, I'll arrive at the office in darkness and leave as the last of the light begins to fade.

But for now, it's my favourite amount of lightness and darkness. Just before the dawn breaks.

With our recent weather, we've had warm days and cool nights. In the morning, driving along the Rideau Canal, patches of mist rise just above the water. The sky, when it's cloudless, is a cool blue; sometimes, with cloud, as we head toward sunrise, we see purple and red.

It's the best light for photographs.

I've made several stops, over the past few weeks, along my commute. The pre-dawn, pre-sunrise landscape is impossible to resist, with the reflections on the canal and light glowing from steel and glass.

I love this time of year.

Happy Friday!