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!

Monday, October 7, 2019

In With Both Feet

I'm back... sort of.

I've actually tried writing a couple of posts over the past few months, but would lose my train of thought, become stuck on how to end the post, only to delete it and walk away.

If only I had done that with previous posts that I've published, The Brown Knowser would have come to an end years ago. But I digress.

When I said goodbye to my blog at the end of May, I did so with much regret because I actually loved writing. The problem was that writing The Brown Knowser was becoming stressful as I imposed ridiculous pressure on myself for getting something out, regardless of the content or quality.

Many of you have been kind to me and offered praise for my blog, and I thank you, but I think that praise inadvertently placed more pressure on me to continue the daily writing. But that's not on you, it's on me. The pressure was all on me.

So, after more than a four-month hiatus, I've decided to give this blog thing one more chance. I actually started writing this post almost a month ago, allowing myself time to come back to it, review it, make changes, and most importantly, remove the stress of getting it out in time for the next day.

If this goes well, I may return to blogging, but on a more reasonable timeline. Maybe once a week or every couple of weeks.

I left The Brown Knowser at a time when the biggest issue in my life was my left foot. If you've followed my blog in the past, you know that I had a degenerative condition with the bones in both of my feet, plus severe osteoarthritis, which caused acute pain in both feet and would sometimes restrict my ability to stand for any given length of time. I couldn't run, and if I walked for any distance I would feel the repercussions for days after.

In my 20s I had surgery to correct the degenerative bone condition—Köhler's disease—in my right foot, but the arthritis persisted. I had the same condition in my left foot but surgery at the time seemed less dire, and so I let it go and coped with the arthritis in that foot.

It was a couple of years ago that the Köhler's became a greater issue, to the point that a piece of bone in my left foot broke off while I was cycling from Kingston to Perth in the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. I had to end that ride in Elgin and wasn't able to cycle any distances until this summer.

I had reconstructive surgery last November, when my surgeon removed the bones that gave me problems and fused bone from my pelvis in their place. He also removed the arthritic joints, thereby removing all of the parts of my foot that gave me pain.

On the day of my last blog post, I revisited my surgeon for our six-month check up. At this meeting, he took x-rays of both feet to compare with the first set that he took, long before my surgery. He told me that this operation was his best work and that he was very pleased with the outcome. He had even written up my case in a medical journal and it was now being studied by his students (the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital is a learning centre). My surgeon added that it was a classic case of a rare condition and a complicated procedure to correct it, with a great patient (aww... shucks!).

In early consultations with the surgeon, he told me that the procedure on my right foot (about 30 years ago) had fused and there was nothing more to be done with it. At this appointment, I said, "It's too bad you can't do anything about the arthritis in my right foot."

"Actually, I can," was his answer. He showed me the x-ray of my right foot and pointed out the area in which the arthritis was its worst. He compared that area of my foot with the work he did on my left. "This area was untouched by your previous surgeon. That's also where you receive your injections." (I get steroid injections every six months or so for the arthritis. Before my last surgery, I received the shots in both feet but only get them in my right one, now.) "I can remove those joints. You'd never need to come in for injections again."

I wasn't sure how to react. For the most part, the injections are a lifesaver. Once the steroid kicks in, my pain is gone. In fact, my last injection was in April and I still walk pain-free. But receiving the injections are a bit of a hassle, as they must be done under a live x-ray. Another surgeon performs the procedure, where I receive three shots: the first, to freeze the area; the second, to inject a dye so that the surgeon can locate the most-advantageous crevice in which to insert the third injection, which delivers the steroid. It's a procedure that takes between 15 and 20 minutes, but I'm in the hospital for an hour.

It's not a big deal, but if another surgery means that I wouldn't have to return, and if all the pain was eliminated, perhaps the surgery is worth it.

Because it's my right foot, there are more things to consider. For one, I won't be able to drive for three months, maybe longer. That wasn't an issue when I had the surgery 30 years ago. I didn't own a car at the time and work was a short bus ride away. I was also younger and much more fit.

I didn't seem to have much difficulty getting around while my left foot was recovering. And when I purchased the iWalk hands-free crutch (which I referred to as my peg leg), I had very few problems getting around (though, I fell a couple of times). I have since sold that peg leg, but I'd certainly get one again. It's worth every penny.

I told my surgeon that I'd think about it and let him know when we meet again, at our one-year anniversary of my successful surgery.

I think I'm going to do it.

Knowing what to expect, I can jump in with both feet.