That’s A Paddlin’

In the middle of the Columbia River, about six hours south of Revelstoke by canoe, we paddled by a half-submerged stump.
Is ‘time by canoe’ an acceptable metric of distance? You get the idea.
I could use farthings or leagues and completely lose your interest.
Not that the sentence ‘there was a stump in a river’ is really an attention grabbing phrase, is it?
Not without Hemingway’s name preluding it.

I could attempt to emulate his style to but don’t expect too much from me.
“The house was set back from the street and in the front yard a cherry tree blossom had begun to whiten and become vibrant in much the same way the bitumen wasn’t.” 
Yeah, that dude and passive voice hey. I can’t compete.
But back to that half-submerged stump and the time I paddled past it.
Of course, the Columbia River is typically about 40 per cent fallen trees and parts thereof, so the occurance in itself was not exactly cause for a blog post.
And during a summer which followed such a snowy winter, the river’s swift growth and fierce inundation of the valley, this number is probably even higher.
Though not actually as high as my hyperbolic exaggeration. Again, you get the idea.
We came to this particular stump (you know the one) just south of Mt Cartier where the river was wider than I had previously seen.
And, as the water was higher than many previous summers, I would wager it was wider than many had previously seen.
And so it flowed slowly, or barely at all.
Certainly, with a headwind, it appeared to not assist the downriver travel of hungover and sunburnt paddlers in any capacity.
And it seemed our stumpy hero decided this particular point in the mighty Columbia was as good as any for snagging itself and letting the days continue to pass it by.
Anthropomorphising a stump! My university professor would shit if he read this.
But snag itself it did, whether consciously or not, it’s not my place to say. Though I did.
And not surprisingly, either, as his collection of gnarled and twisting roots had impressively remained intact and pointed skywards through a full 180 degree rotation above the water as if they still searched for the most nutrient rich and sturdy ground.
Had our stump (I’m bringing you into this, now) not been cut from his trunk by the ever-enthusiastic logging contractors which have carved their presence into the banks of the Columbia over decades, the trunk may have pointed south for 40 or 50 metres.
But now he was just a stump, separated at death from being a whole tree, his heavy head sank towards the river floor and his roots searched the skies from east to west.
But life was not wholly gone from this wayward stump, as it carried a curious passenger on its sundrenched bow.
A small snake had stretched itself out across the dry and raised section of stump and was presumably hoping to ride along the river until dry ground was closer than the current current allowed.
I assume, given the frigid waters of the Columbia and my lack of knowledge surrounding Canadian snakes swimming prowess, this particular wriggle stick had been on board since the last time our stump had gone ashore.
Either way this danger noodle must have had misgivings about its situation, with either another long and cold swim across the Columbia or the prospect of attempting to find food on a stump which itself was completely out of its depth.
It is all speculation though isn’t it?
I am not at all aware of the travelling nature or strategy of Canadian reptilia so my concern for the scaly sausage might have been wildly misplaced.
Perhaps she had brought with her a veritable bouquet of snakey snacks and was wholly comfortable sailing her makeshift ship as far as the current, or her life, would take her.
She may actually be entirely capable of swimming the 500 metres of icy water to shore and was just enjoying a spot in the sun while she had the chance.
Or perhaps her life was already at its end and being an astute creature she, as is her want, was content to end it there, on her throne of cedar and decay.
Given my thing was also just making my way down river at my own pace, any curiosity of the snake’s mortality was somewhat ironic.
I should just observe, offer guidance, take my photographs, and move on.
Oh, look! I found a moral to the story.
This started out as a sarcastic ramble and true to form it has pretty much remained so throughout with absolutely nothing worth reading.
Unless nonsense is your jam and you’ve time to kill.
Which I know you do.
You came here from Facebook, after all.
I have used Modest Mouse lyrics in my writing before and I will again, but Isaac Brock has a particularly pertinent line from one of his most famous songs and I’m going to throw it in here.

And we’ll all float on
alright already we’ll all float on alright
Don’t worry even if things end up a bit too heavy
we’ll all float on alright.

I was going to throw in the line about the fake jamaican and his scam, though that might not have brought home the same point.
These lyrics are a vague and generalised way to look at life and the way you live yours and the way the people around you live theirs, but in our own way we’re all just trying to keep our heads above water.
And as long as you aren’t trying to pull anyone under while keeping yourself up, you’re okay by me. 
So I guess I should hope just to continue on this river, sometimes paddling, sometimes floating, and maybe to find some good company to join me along the way.

Paddlin

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what?

 

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My Grandfather’s Dive in the Port Hacking River

“Oh, it’s Nancy!”
My grandfather’s eyes are suddenly alight at the sight of a woman standing with her back to us in the kitchen of the Cartwright wing.
To his credit, whoever the woman was, at a distance she did resemble his wife.
But he had been told three times Nancy won’t be visiting today.
“Nan was here yesterday, Dad,” my Mum says absently as she files back the nail on his index finger.
“She’ll be back tomorrow,” she says.
“Oh. Oh of course. Would you like some iced coffee? I can get some iced coffee for us.”
This was the first thing he asked when we arrived, surprised at the sudden appearance of guests and making an attempt at hospitality.
He repeats it as an automatic response which failed to mask his confusion as to who I was, and whether or not he had seen his daughter today.
But his confusion did not lead to anxiety or anger, which is the response I would have expected when I last saw him three years ago.
A concoction of medications dulls his character, and the golden retriever licking at his free hand placates him.
“This is a nice hospital, isn’t it?” he says without emotion.
The use of the word hospital, instead of something less specific, catches me off guard.
He seems aware of the world and his place in it.
He is aware of the lack of control he has over his situation, and maybe even of his degrading mental state.

Despite his easy confusion he was amicable and animated so we asked the nurse if we could take him to town for a coffee.
The nurse said it was fine and Grandad agreed, though I don’t know if he knew what he was agreeing to.
He hummed and muttered as we walked out to the car.
It was a tick he apparently recently developed, and which reminds me of an idling outboard motor.
It annoys my Mum but doesn’t seem to signify any distress or discomfort.
He sits in the front passenger seat of the Subaru Forester which he drove across the country only a few years prior, but which now seems unfamiliar to him.
He mentions the beauty of the eucalyptus forest across the road as we pull out of the Carramar driveway, but otherwise stays silent as we drive towards town.
I am more cautious of his movements than I need to be as we walk through the crowds of the Noosa Harbour’s Sunday markets.
He walks slowly, intrigued by the couples dancing to the live music being played at the wine bar and by the young boy riding his scooter along the docks between the boats.
We make our way into the cafe next door to the fish and chip shop I worked in as a teenager, and Grandad attempts to clear the plates of patrons sitting out the front.
I apologise unnecessarily and usher him inside for the long-promised iced coffee and half a chocolate chip muffin.

Sitting next to my Mum with a spoonful of ice cream in his hand, he looks up with a smile as I ask him about a nickname friends knew him by as a young man.
He’s wearing the Shark hat which I can remember him wearing anytime he left the house during my life, and reminds me of how he used to be known as the Great White Hunter.
A keen fisher and freediver for much of his life, he used to sit my brother and I down in front of the same spearfishing film any time we visited as children.
He hasn’t been in the ocean in over a decade, but at the mention of his old nickname he launches into a story about diving in Sydney’s Port Hacking River.
Suddenly coherent and alert, he regales us with the time a humpback whale mother and calf appeared in the harbour waters in front of him as he dove with friends as a teenager in the 1950s.
It’s a story my mother and I have heard ad nauseam over the years, and we are able to fill in the blanks when the dementia steals the words from him.
But I smile as I listen, because selfishly I feel it is a personal victory that I can elicit some excitement in a man who has forgotten how to do it for himself.

He is not a perfect man, and there were times in recent memory when he was not even a decent man.
Since I was young he battled depression, self medicated with alcohol and refused treatment.
I left Australia in 2014 and afterwards he made a quick slide into the throes of dementia, and has lived in supervised care since October last year.
His mental state had been on the decline for years, so from the other side of the world I gave little thought to his changing circumstance.
But he was there on my 10th birthday when all I wanted was to play golf with my grandparents.
He always made sure there was a bag of Minties in the old Land Cruiser’s glove box to sneak my brother and I when he would take us for a drive around the Cooroy ranch.
He always had a story to share of his travels and a photo to go with it, and that inspired me.
He still has the stories, and the memories.
His words may fail him now and new memories won’t last, but when we returned him to Carramar he bid me farewell with a handshake and a grin.
“It was great to see you, after all these years!”
The moment of recognition was a shock to me, and perhaps to him, and I stumbled out of the hospital barely containing tears I hadn’t expected to come.

porthacking

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Fuck Trump; Make Noise

A few weeks ago I got up at an open mic night to play a few songs on guitar and have a bit of a sing.
I have been playing guitar for about 16 years and began writing songs and singing covers about ten years ago.
I can play guitar, but I’m a tone deaf motherfucker so I’m a truly average singer.
And that’s not just self-deprecation; for my 21st birthday a couple of friends bought me a harmonica and my Mum’s first words when she heard were “Oh, good. That’ll stop him singing.”
Not that it did stop me, the open mic I sang at recently was one of several instances across British Columbia I’ve forced audiences to endure my wailing.
A cover of Damien Rice’s Coconut Skins in Revelstoke; an original about Australia’s deep-seeded racism at Big White Ski Resort; my poor man’s version of an instrumental akin to John Butler’s Ocean I should probably call Puddle at Jacks’ Pub in Tofino.
Even though I know my performances are sub par, and the strength of it in parts in no way makes up for the many weaknesses, I can’t get over the feeling of the microphone against my mouth.
It is narcissistic self-indulgence, and I love it.
I’ll close my eyes as I attempt to croon through the second verse of We Used to Vacation.
And when I open them again, and there are a few in the crowd actually paying attention to what I’m doing, as my lips drag over the cross-stitch metal of the microphone head, vocals wildly off-key, my sense of self-confidence and importance is renewed.

I think that might be what Donald Trump is currently feeling.
He’s the one on stage making noise and appearing to be at the helm of whatever clusterfuck is currently being blasted over the PA.
And sure, there are a few people with vested interests paying attention and feeding off the reflective limelight, but off stage, in the shadows, there is an entire audience of people much more qualified to be making noise.
And they are starting to make an enormous goddamn racket.
They are the park rangers defying gag orders and spreading information about the very real and damaging effects of climate change.
They are the lawyers working pro-bono from airport fast food restaurants to ensure people who pose a much lesser threat to the USA than Donald Trump have their legal right to enter the country granted.
They are the US veterans who have seen the worst of their country’s involvement in Iraq and choose instead to attempt to humanise their situation.

There is a menacing hatred brewing across the world and it is being spurred on by The Donald’s newfound ability to act upon the rhetoric that sewed such fear among America’s uneducated masses.
But if Trump’s vision for America is a 21st century arms race, then maybe the revolution will be one of education and intellectualism.
George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 has been selling in record numbers while people laugh uneasily about the phrase ‘alternative facts’ being said in earnest on an international news broadcast.
The concept of ‘fake news’ has begun to be regarded a real and serious threat to an informed public, and in my own personal social feeds I’ve seen a dramatic drop in the amount of bullshit being unthinkingly shared.

The idea that a well informed public is a danger to fascism is not new.
Nor is the much quoted Winston Churchill quip about the best argument against democracy being a conversation with the average voter.
But if a Trump presidency could lead to the average voter being a danger to his maniacal power hold, then maybe the precipice we currently peer over is one to willingly jump from.

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None Of You Are Going To Heaven

I have lacked a little direction in recent months.
I have bored myself with introspection on my own sadness because nothing came of it.
It hasn’t been an inspired sadness; a heartbreak of which some great art or music or any other bullshit was coming from.
It was just a sadness to get drunk to, and one to bore my friends with stories of how I used to be funny.
And then it was a sadness to realise getting drunk to wasn’t such a great idea.
The stories were no longer funny.
Sadness is too easy to document.
Happiness is boring to write about.
It’s the hilarity in between I find hardest to capture in some sort of creative form.
I am envious of comedians who are able to find a punchline in one of their worldly truths.

“What if life on earth could be heaven, doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth a try?” is a line in comedian Bo Burnham’s song From God’s Perspective. 
It’s also features the line “I don’t think masturbation is obscene, it is absolutely natural and the weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”
Which, given my loneliness and proclivity of trying to satiate desire through jerking off to the girls in Reddit’s voyeuristic forums, has probably made for some pretty weird shit for God to see in recent weeks.
There’s No Aphrodisiac like loneliness, after all.
But then, apparently the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
If that’s true the image of me with my dick in hand, post-euphoria eyes wide and staring at the wall could be the poster for the sequel to Asylum.

But on that bedroom wall, I’m staring at the words of the poem which has inspired my writing for the last ten years.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

It is one of Edward Fitzgerald’s translations of the work of 10th century Persian poet and astronomer Omar Khayyam. 
It captures my feelings as an aspiring writer who is ultimately a pretentious fuck, but one trying damned hard to be funny through attempts at sincere emotion and relatable human experience.
I’m fortunate (or arrogant) enough to be able to recognise my own talents, and while my recent sadness may add value to my character, I can be sure as shit it won’t define it.
Ultimately, my experience is one I’m willing to broadcast or publish for the enjoyment of others.
As long as that experience doesn’t lead me to posting nudes on the internet for the satisfaction of creeps like me, I feel like it’s one worth sharing, or oversharing.

“If you want love then the love has gotta come from you,” is the final line in
From God’s Perspective, and it follows jokes about jerking off, rape and how God doesn’t give a fuck about whether or not you eat pork.
But it gets me out of a rut I’ve fallen into too often; thinking I’m not being included in the lives of those I love, when in reality it’s too long since I’ve done anything but work and sleep to include anyone in my life either.
The love has gotta come from me.
The stories have to come from me.
The joy, the sadness and the hilarity in between have gotta come from me, if I want you to be comfortable sharing yours.
Life on earth could be heaven, even just the thought of it makes it worth a try. 

And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to it for help,
For it as impotently moves as you or I.

-Also from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

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My View From the Cheap Seats

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Eyes down, keep walking.
You have somewhere to be.
Eyes down, no talking.
You have to get there on time.
Keep your smile for the ones you know deserve it.
Keep your smile for the ones who have earned it.

I am a people watcher, but it rarely does me any good.
I tell myself I do it to stop being such a judgemental tool; to attempt to see people as people and not stereotypes.
But when I’m browsing in a bike shop and a homeless guy comes in with a $500 bike he’s trying to sell to the store, it’s fucking difficult to see anything but a dude who has stolen a bike to get his next fix.

But I still tried to give him the benefit of the doubt; while he was clearly having a rough time at the moment maybe he was selling some of his last possessions to… ah fuck, who am I kidding?
I could have offered him $10, thrown the bike on social media and probably had it back to the owner and been sitting here drowning in good karma pussy instead of bemoaning the state of my conscience.
C’est la vie.

Eyes down, keep walking.
None of this is worth watching.
Eyes down, no talking.
Nothing ever happens.
If these people were worth knowing you would know them by now.
If there’s anything to learn you will learn it someday.

The hostel I’m staying in has a guitar for guests to use on the rooftop patio.
In typical hostel form it started life as a classical nylon string, but has been retrofitted with steel strings so the neck is so warped it now more closely resembles an inverted cello.
It can’t hold tune, and the action is so high you need the finger strength of a genetically modified Bruce Lee to hold a chord to the frets.
So I spent an hour in a music store downtown pretending I was willing to throw around a few grand just so I could have a bash on something worth playing on a rainy Toronto day.
The salesman had to be coerced into helping me with the guitars on display, only initially sticking his head in to tell me to take my jacket off before I picked up any guitars, as the zip would scratch the timber.
He eventually became excited when talking about the series of Guild guitars, one of which was second hand and had belonged to Ray LaMontagne and so had only appreciated in value.
We saw each other at face value, and probably read each other pretty well, because he disappeared for lunch before I could start talking travel-sized guitars and whether they would throw in a hard case with the nice little Washburn parlour I had my eye on.
The problem is I am now inspired with the full weight of emotion a Regina Spektor show will impart in someone, and the purchase of a new guitar feels like it might give me the drive I need to spend a winter getting vocal lessons and properly recording the ten years worth of shit I’ve dribbled on various bits of paper.
Nah, maybe next year.

Eyes down, keep walking.
There is safety in familiarity.
Eyes down, no talking.
Nothing new will happen today.
All of these people feel the same.
All of these people fear the same.

Last week, Kyle Thunderblanket, a poorly-named supervillain and alleged murderer stole a car and shot a police officer, shutting down the Trans Canada highway overnight as a manhunt commenced around Revelstoke.
He was found dead and an investigation is currently underway regarding police involvement with his death.
On Wednesday night at around 2am I put my friend in an Uber in downtown Toronto and made my way back to my hostel via a pizza joint being marauded by a group of 19 year-old girls.
I grabbed a couple slices of some vegan failure of a pizza and overshot the hostel, ending up in a quiet bar near the Kensington Marketplace.
There was a small crowd locked into their own vibe in front of the taps and a middle aged dude in a trench coat being refused further service by the tiny asian girl behind the bar.
He became argumentative and abusive as I ordered a beer, and a guy from the other side of the bar and I began to talk him down from whatever rooftop he rode his high horse. 
I recognised the guy who jumped into help, and he was clearly much more practiced at dealing with fools.
He was a cop from Revelstoke who had been on the front line in the manhunt the previous week, and was visiting his hometown during a week of administrative leave.
He’s as regular as a cop in a small town can be at the bar I work in in Revelstoke; but off duty in his hometown on the other side of the country he was more than willing to shout shots of tequila when we realised our small-world connection.
“You’re in my bar now,” he laughed, ordering a second round of Don Julio shots.

I people watch, and it rarely does me any good.
But occasionally my conscientious observer status gives way to foolhardy involvement, and yields results.
I consider myself a traveller, despite having just been on my first flight in two years two days ago.
I hold myself above them when I smile at someone in the street and they look away, and then I pick up the rubbish they just dropped to affirm my opinion.
But I try not to be too judgemental? Ha, that’s a lie.
I just try to be right in how I judge them, those people also watching from the cheap seats.

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Binge

The golf clubs have been replaced with ski poles in the Revelstoke thrift store rack.
I’ve noticed the leaves changing on the trees, I’ve felt the cold night air and dressed appropriately.
I’ve re-attached the mudguards on my bike so I don’t turn up to work looking like the earthy inspiration for a Jackson Pollock painting, and I bought slippers to wear from my bedroom to the bathroom in the mornings.
My toes went numb with cold halfway up Dusty Beaver yesterday and I wasn’t drenched in sweat after another hour of climbing those winding single track trails.
But today, there are second hand ski poles where last week there was second hand golf clubs, and to me this is the most stark indication of the changing Canadian seasons.

I tried to leave town early this morning, but the highway was closed and I went back to bed instead.
They’re blasting the cliffs that line the highways as early avalanche control measures, and they’re closing the main road into town for a couple of hours every day.
In my hungover state and my excitement for getting on the road for a few hours to renew my Canadian working VISA with a flagpole run to the US, I forgot the road would be closed.
I guess it’s somewhat ironic that I was unable to leave Revelstoke to do the one thing that will allow me to stay in Revelstoke for the coming winter.
So I went back to bed and rewarded my attempt at productivity with the first few episodes of the new Netflix show Easy; which is basically softcore porn with well written characters.
Or it’s a black comedy with well written sex scenes.
And as the mercury failed to climb above 15ºC I was more than content use my morning to plough through the first half of the series.

Give me excess of it.
I’ve been gifted it, had privileged encounters with it and worked hard for it.
I’ll make my excuses or justifications and have another drink.
I’ll use any previous productivity or personal success and stay in bed another hour.
I’m coming up on 27 and rationalising a life spent in search of basic pleasure without guilt.
21st Century gluttony and a first world aversion to self awareness is what I seek.
I’ll take it all.
Give me craft beer, $5 lattes and cheeses with names I can’t pronounce.
Give me access to a lifestyle many would call a holiday and let me take it for granted, because I can’t surfeit on any of this; I don’t know how.

It’s all a binge, so much so that it’s becoming a marketing device for media mobs like Netflix.
It’s instant gratification, and it never runs out.
It’s a cold swim on a hot day.
A hot chocolate on a powder day.
It’s everything you ever wanted, and it’s available to you right now for the low low price of taking pleasure in doing whatever the fuck you want.

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creature/comfort

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Photo by Jakub Barcik

Ten years ago in the departure lounge of Brisbane International Airport, Mum gave me some advice.
As I prepared to board a plane on my first solo international trip she told me to always say yes to new experiences, and that I could figure out the details later.
While this came with the obvious caveats associated with parental advice to a seventeen-year-old (don’t do condoms and always use drugs etc), I took it to heart.
I have lived my life since attempting to find a balance between taking her advice too literally and finding myself in situations some foresight could have prevented or being over cautious and missing out on once-in-a-lifetime events.
I have just barely avoided being mugged in New York City because the new friends I had just met had disappeared between bars and I was walking around drunk and alone at 3am, and I’m sure there’s a handful of experiences I’ve missed or was unaware I could have been a part of.
But what good is it to live life remembering the lives others have lived?

Two days ago I was standing next to a lake on the Illecillewaet Glacier in central British Columbia.
I was naked and waiting for the clouds to part and the sun to shine to give some brief comfort from intense discomfort I was about to endure.
The water was about three degrees celsius and I’m pretty sure every inch (lol) of my body was aware of that.
It’s not that I’m a masochist, seeking pain for pleasure, but maybe I take the sight of every inanimate body of water as a challenge – just to see if I can.
And that’s not such an unusual aspect of the life of someone who might call themselves a traveller.
For me, as a tourist and as someone who loves a good story, if I can look at something and see something which sure as shit won’t be pleasurable, but will make for a good tale in the future you can be sure I’ll be getting involved.
Why else would we do these things if not for the fact we can share them?
And while jumping into that glacial lake, I’ll admit, was an attempt to live up to Mum’s advice of a decade ago, it was also to satiate the very 21st-Century need to share every piece of my life for online gratification.

As I write this I’m sitting alone in a bar as if I’m waiting for someone, but I’m not.
I’m alone and comfortable with that because as far as you know I could be waiting for a friend, a lover.
I’m scrawling on a notepad as I could be waiting on an interviewee; a subject of a career on indefinite hiatus.
And these hypothetical options bring me comfort amongst questions no one is asking.
And with that anxiety comes the physical awareness that, yes, I am sitting at a bar alone and what do I do with my feet they don’t reach the floor from this stool and is my arse hanging out and goddamn I don’t have enough hair to be out in public without a hat on.
Stupid vanity, always ruining my thoughtful introspection.

Herein lies social media’s saving grace; I can justify my existence simply by making every aspect available to engage and make envious anyone with working thumbs.
I can spew some inspirational bullshit accompanying a photo of myself atop a mountain like I was the first to summit it; and with each Instagram ‘like’ I’ll give myself another hour in bed the next day.
Maybe if I had a nicer arse leaving it to hang out on a webcam and posting it in a NSFW subreddit would validate me.
Maybe if I was prettier each of my followers would send me abusive messages and I could live my life by schadenfreude.
But on each hike, on each day mountain biking or canoeing or snowboarding or just getting the fuck outside to continue actually experiencing this online fodder I can still get lost in it.
Thanks Mum, I’m still figuring out the details.

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