Category: Essays and Non Fiction

Blog Post #496: Automatic Crap Dispensers

My wife sent me a picture she took while waiting in Edmonton International Airport.

At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I was hit with a wave of nausea…a short story machine? Tales pumped out of a dispenser like junk food?

Dear God.

Sherron, bless her heart, anticipated my reaction and printed up a number of stories to bring home for my examination. Without exception, the offerings were inept, tuneless, unoriginal, poorly executed, childish. There was no professional vetting in terms of quality and it showed. Apparently the company in question, ShortEdition, has over 80,000 stories, of varying genres and length, for potential readers to choose from. Based on the examples I scanned, you’d get more aesthetic satisfaction reading the back of a cereal box or instructions for using a pay toilet.

Awful, awful stuff, printed on thin tape for speedy consumption, as disposable and forgettable as most of the other crap we produce these days.

And the horrible thing is that we’re living in an absolute golden era in terms of the short story format. Geniuses like Jim Shepard and George Saunders are gracing us with tales that can move us deeply, while maintaining the highest literary standards. Daring, innovative prose that shatters preconceptions and offers entirely new perspectives of the world around us.

This ridiculous gadget is yet another example of the dumbing down of society, offering blatant mediocrities and tone-deaf amateurs a platform to exercise their egos. It is junk food for the post-literate, the mental equivalent of fucking Pez.

Anyone who pays for this service is a moron, anyone who enjoys the “writing” needs to stop wearing their hats so tight.

How about spending your money on real authors, men and women who devote an enormous amount of time and effort ensuring their prose is as tight and polished as it can be? Masters of the printed word.

They deserve your support, whereas the ShortEdition wannabes warrant only a snort of derision and a sad shake of the head.

 

March comes capering and leaping in, like a giddy lamb

Yes, there are definite signs of spring in the air. Above zero temperatures, melting snow, slushy streets…and a rare sighting of yer author, out and about, taking tea at Cafe 4 U, our new downtown hot spot.

But hold on, folks, this is Saskatchewan. Winter isn’t done with us quite yet. Don’t put away your parka and Manitoba mukluks just because of a few balmy days. Surely you know this part of the world better than that.

A lot to report since my last post.

I’ve been grinding away on my poetry collection, The Algebra of Inequality, spending long hours going over each poem beat by beat, breath by breath, making sure, as Don Delillo puts it, I’m find not just finding the right word but the right sounding word. That distinction is so vitally important, the difference between good writers and those who merely string sentences together. I’ve trimmed five years’ worth of verse down to a hundred pages. For the first time I’m actually arranging the poems into groupings, rather than merely printing them chronologically. Trying to create a flow of thoughts and images, dramatic highs and lows. It’s been something of a slog but the end is now in sight.

I should have the manuscript of Algebra of Inequality finalized by the end of this month and then I’ll get our longtime designer, Chris Kent, slapping together some ideas for the cover. Hoping for an end-of-April release date and, naturally, there will be more info as we move the process along.

I’m over the moon about this collection. I’m improving as a poet and have an ability to cram the most complex and mind-bending notions into a four or five-line poem.  There’s a concision and sharpness to my verse that’s hard to find elsewhere. I think the brevity of my poems often works against them, folks thinking you have to write something the length of The Wasteland (complete with helpful footnotes) in order to be taken seriously.

I think only two of the poems in Algebra of Inequality were published elsewhere. About a year ago, I subscribed to a service that sends me weekly market updates, letting me know what publications are looking for poetry, fiction, personal essays, whatever. But I noticed many of these markets demand reading fees, even for three or four short poems, and that made me bristle. The point, as someone like Harlan Ellison has been saying for decades, is to pay the writer. Authors shouldn’t have to pony up hard-earned shekels in order to have their work considered for publication. That’s a rip-off and a scam and if we all refuse to have anything to do with it, editors would stop trying to flimflam us.

Some of these places are making quite a score. Charging $3.00 or $5.00 per submission, getting a thousand or more suckers—er, writers—to respond each and every issue. Do the math. And many of these places can’t even claim the expense of a print component, they are purely digital editions, a format which is dirt cheap to maintain.

Editors should be paying writers, not the other way around. Trust me.

What else?

Ah, yes, Hollywood North has come calling. Longtime friends of this blog will know I’ve had less than cheery experiences with people wishing to adapt my work for films. I had a particularly ugly episode with those idiots at—ah, never mind. Time to let bygones be bygones.

Honestly, I have high hopes for the company who picked up the rights to my novella “Living With the Foleys”. My son Sam is a budding film-maker and when he heard who was interested in “Foleys”, he immediately emailed me with the information: “Dad, these guys work with Guy Maddin!”.

Zang!

Well, say no more. We’re big fans of ol’ Guy’s, love the originality and utter madness of his oeuvre. The man’s a certifiable genius—or should that read certifiable and a genius?

So, yes, I signed the contract and now they have a couple of years to see if they can make something out of my novella.

Finally, I’m abashed to note that I recently put more money into the pockets of Tim Cook and the corporate scum at Apple Computer.

I bought an iPad.

I needed a portable device, something I could have with me when I’m away from home, a word processor slash reading device slash music player. And then there are podcasts. It hasn’t taken me long to get addicted to them. “S-Town” was amazing and I’ve been tuning in regularly to “Invisibilia”, “WTF”, “Risk!” and numerous others. Hat’s off to NPR, they seem to produce or collaborate on some of the best stuff out there.

Since picking my iPad up a month ago, we’ve become just about inseparable. It’s constantly playing something—this morning while I was shaving I listened to “The Daily”, a program produced by The New Yorker.

I’m sure the habit will taper off eventually, but between my editing and tooling around on the iPad, the cold days of February zipped past.

Well, it’s much cheaper than flying to Cozumel, catching dysentery and spending a week in intensive care, pinned to an I.V. bag of antibiotics. Less invasive too.

I shall endeavor to update this blog more often. Kind of a weird beginning to the year and it’s taken me awhile to retool and get back on the bicycle (so to speak).

The days are brighter and longer, the chill lifting from my bones.

Better times ahead. New life and new hope just around the corner.

I’ll raise a glass to that…

 

Somber Days

I won’t lie to you: it’s been a grim month here at Casa Burns.

We lost a couple of people very near and dear to our hearts and that’s never easy.

Awhile back, I posted a poem titled “The Grief Path” that did a good job of alluding to the sense of emptiness and pure anguish one experiences with the death of a loved one. It exposes the rawest emotions, the agony reaching right down into your soul, the seat of your faith. Only the passage of time offers a slim promise of solace. There is simply nothing you can do for it except keep putting one foot ahead of the other and wandering up that long, lonely track. Keening your song of sorrow and woe.

And then just when it seemed like the atmosphere was lightening, some of the spiritual and emotional pall lifting…

…the decision in the Colten Boushie case was handed down.

I had the privilege of meeting Debbie Baptiste, Colten’s mother, last summer, within weeks of her son’s senseless death at the hands of Gerald Stanley. I was immediately impressed by her poise and dignity, despite the weight of the incredible burden that poor woman was bearing. I couldn’t help wondering how she felt when she heard that terrible verdict read, realizing that in the eyes of a court of law, a fundamental Canadian institution we have been taught to honor and respect, her boy’s life was deemed worthless.

What can we say to her?

Is it sufficient to remark that sometimes Justice really is blind…and deaf and dumb too? Somehow, I doubt that will cut it. She has been let down at every point of this ordeal and at the end of the day, whatever happens next, she won’t be getting Colten back.

She and her many supporters have every right to demand answers regarding how the RCMP handled the initial investigation and their behavior toward Debbie and her grieving family in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

I’m pleased to hear talk of altering the rules of jury selection, but don’t foresee any speedy or significant changes to a system that has failed, disproportionately, our First Nations people since before Confederation, compounding the misery that everyday, casual racism inflicts on them, the stereotypes they must endure.

The only thing that gives me hope are the on-going efforts we’re making—through education and increasing knowledge of aboriginal history, cultural exposure—to reach out to each other, share our stories, growing together as a nation of nations. I know people intimately involved in this process, men and women who recognize the power we can tap into whenever we collaborate, combining our energy and spirit on meaningful endeavors that celebrate our diversity, the collective strength of the many.

That’s why I grieve, but I do not despair.

I know in my heart the good guys are on our side and the better angels within us will prevail.

It will take time, tremendous effort but we cannot fail, cannot allow the small-minded, the vulture-hearted, to steal the future from us and color it blood red.

We’ll do it for Colten and all the others who die without fulfilling their promise.

We’ll do it for Debbie and the mothers who weep for the children taken from them.

And we’ll do it for ourselves, to prove we are worthy of our roles as stewards of Creation and the children of a wise and loving god.

 

Naming the affliction

I finally have a diagnosis for what ails me.

For years I’ve suffered from a sense of thwarted nostalgia or yearning melancholy. I’ve struggled putting into words exactly what I’ve been experiencing, this unshakeable conviction that I exist outside of time, not belonging to the present day, out of synch with the rest of the world.

The other day I came across a book titled Endangered Words (Simon Hertnon, Skyhorse Publishing) and while paging through it happened upon an entry for saudade.

Never heard of such an animal and when I checked the accompanying definition, the hair on the back of my neck rose with an audible crackle:

saudade (SAH-u-dah-deh)

Of Portuguese origin, saudade refers to “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness”. (A.F.G. Bell)

Silver-skinned rocketships and routine journeys to and from Mars, the outer planets.

A “golden age” of friendly, singing cowboys, camaraderie around the campfire, the home ranch across the next ridge.

I think that’s essentially why I became a writer: from an early age I could see reality wasn’t panning out the way I liked, so it was up to me to create my own private universe.

Come visit me sometime.

Just open one of my books or short stories and say “Hello”…

 

 

Ryan Meili, at the Gog

Sherron and I hosted a fund-raiser for NDP leadership candidate Ryan Meili last night at the Gog.

The atmosphere was terrific, the audience engaged and appreciative of the opportunity to meet and question a man who could well be the premier of our province in 2-3 years.

Ryan, I think it’s safe to say, is on the progressive side of the party and so I felt comfortable in my preamble excoriating the stupidity, cowardice and arrogance displayed by “center-Left” politicians and (gritting his teeth) liberal democrats.

I loathe both vile species, will never forgive them for the betrayals they’ve perpetrated on the people they purport to be serving.

I’ve posted the text of those remarks below and, as always, encourage readers to respond to or debate with any of my points and assumptions.

The evening began with my friend Laird Brittin performing a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”.

Here’s what I said immediately following the song:

 *  *  *  *

Thank you, Laird.

And thank you, thank you, thank you, Woody Guthrie.

Does anyone happen to remember what Woody had printed on the body of his guitar in big, block letters?

“This Machine Kills Fascists.”

Woody wouldn’t have had much tolerance, I’m afraid, for those people who like to refer to themselves the “Alt-Right”. He was well-acquainted with the danger they represent and I have no doubt he would have called them by their real name.

I also think that Woody, if he was alive today, would be disappointed by the state of the political Left, how muzzled and tamed and tepid it is. And how sadly compromised, its program and rhetoric in many instances almost indistinguishable from the Tories and neo-liberals it allegedly opposes. In the name of expediency and electability, the Left has abandoned its most basic principles and lost its historical solidarity with the working class—also known as the “precariate” or “anxious class” among certain contemporary sociologists and commentators.

Our fellow citizens are disillusioned, depressed, indebted, cynical, lacking any kind of hope for a better future, the scantest possibility for improvement. They’re losing faith in notions like “social mobility” and, yes, “democracy”.

Woody could have predicted that. In the midst of the Great Depression, experiencing the horrors of the Dust Bowl firsthand, he witnessed people giving up, the light in their eyes going out as they watched their livelihoods, the very source of their identity, swept away by powers beyond their control. Such men and women are easy prey for demagogues and dictators, anyone who’s quick to supply easy answers to their questions (along with a convenient scapegoat or two).

And so it is today.

Vulnerable workers, people in low-wage jobs with no benefits, men and women one paycheck away from a repossessed car…or a notice of eviction. Folks who look around and don’t see their lives getting any better…and no one addressing their fears and anxieties.

As the saying goes, a drowning man will clutch the point of a sword.

Especially if that’s all they’re being offered.

Clearly, progressives have been doing a poor job of presenting a relevant, well-articulated alternative to the neo-liberal/corporate agenda and we’ve failed to connect with people who are at the end of their rope and desperately in need of some relief from the constant strain and pressure of daily existence.

From their point of view, we’ve abandoned them—and did so once we started spouting the same jargon as the other guys and kept gutlessly tacking to the middle of the road in the hope of making our policies more palatable to international money markets and guys in suits worshipping at the altar of the Chicago School of Economics.

We need to spare struggling citizens our rote sympathy and manufactured outrage and, instead, help them better cope with a fluid, volatile world that, without some kind of outside intervention, will treat them like chattel, while reducing our environment to the equivalent of a smoldering rubbish tip.

Our counterparts on the Right are quick to put forward solutions that promise the electorate the efficiency and rigorous structure of a Toyota factory floor. Conservative ideologues–many of them, not coincidentally, wealthy businessmen—cannot conceive of why every government service can’t either be privatized, down-sized or delivered in a manner that conforms to sound management practices and tried-and-true business methodologies.

But do we really want the profit motive and neo-liberal economics applied to our education and health care systems?

Doesn’t that kind of top-down, austerity-driven model lead, in other spheres, to boom-and-bust cycles, insolvency, mass layoffs, cronyism, corruption…and is that the mindset we want to embed in our hospitals and schools?

Tariq Ali calls it “tooth-and-nails capitalism” and I think he’s bang on.

And since I’m tossing quotes around, I’ll throw in another one, this one from Terence McKenna:

“Gradual change is a luxury of the past.”

Because the future is rushing toward us and it is a future for which we are wholly unprepared. We approach dangerous new frontiers in almost every branch of science and find ourselves confronted with technologies that will alter our conception and definition of humanity. Genetic engineering and the development of artificial intelligence present us with extraordinary ethical dilemmas. And if we prove to be unable or incapable of facing up to our responsibilities, others will be more than happy to make critical decisions on our behalf.

But these are huge issues and so we feel helpless and stupid when we try wrapping our minds around them. How can we manage?

May I remind everyone that we live in the birthplace of the cooperative movement? At one point in time, we were the bellwether as far as the socialist experiment in North America was concerned.

Individually we might feel overwhelmed, but by acting in concert, with a shared vision and a shared sense of urgency, we might have a chance to slow this juggernaut down and introduce some kind of sustainability and human compassion into a world-spanning ideology that is starting to eat itself.

We need people in the vanguard who are willing to defy the status quo and resist the temptations and blandishments offered by the ruling class.

Dr. Meili’s prescription for a healthy society requires that we recognize the role of scarcity and insecurity in undermining wellness in all its guises.

It acknowledges that without a strong social safety net, too many will founder when faced with the innate indifference of market forces and rampant consumerism.

Any government that refuses to protect its citizens from unemployment, social exclusion, inequality and marginalization based on race, class or gender, has abdicated its constitutional responsibilities and is unfit to represent the people who mistakenly elected it.

Tonight, we’re dreaming big.

We’re looking down the road a few years when there will be an opportunity to show the people of Saskatchewan that there is a real alternative, another course to choose.

It will involve innumerable challenges and it will ask each of us to contribute what we can toward forging a brighter future…for us, and generations to come. A participatory, grassroots-oriented democracy that values the ideas and input of one and all, harnessing the tremendous creative and entrepreneurial energies of our people.

A special kind of leader is required for a movement like that—someone who understands the enormous potential that exists when we pool our collective resources, achieving more in concert that we ever could have alone.

Since announcing his candidacy, Ryan Meili has impressed many of us with his composure, his candour, his comprehensive understanding of the vital issues facing us…and the personable, thoughtful manner in which he responds to them.

It’s my pleasure to welcome Ryan to the Gog tonight and invite him to step forward and present his platform to you and, later, take your questions.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce our special guest and featured speaker, Dr. Ryan Meili.

Laird Brittin

Re-Inventing the Left

We’re witnessing a changing of the guard, of sorts, voters on the Left seeking leadership not from traditional, moribund political parties and personalities, but from voices that are usually consigned to the fringes. It’s a clear indication of how disenchanted people have become with mainstream politics when you see parties of the far Left and (more worrying) the far Right polling higher than usual, their gains coming at the expense of liberal and conservative mainstays.

In my home province of Saskatchewan, our Left-ish party, the New Democrats, are embarking on a leadership campaign. There’s a growing discussion among party members as to whether the new leader should be more electable and pragmatic or someone not afraid of showing their ideological roots.

As we see some of the familiar faces on the social-democratic scene either retiring or losing popularity, we must ask ourselves: what would it take to reinvigorate the Canadian Left, what policies could we emphasize that would reflect our socialist roots and values, distinguishing us from the candidates stubbornly hugging the middle of the road?

I recently sat down, wrote up my ideas and circulated the resulting mini-essay among progressive friends and associates. Their responses were encouraging so I’ll reproduce my “manifesto” here—needless to say, I welcome your comments and critiques.

*  *  *  *

In light of the upcoming leadership campaign and the electoral vulnerability of the Sask. Party, the question arises: will New Democrats seize this opportunity and seek to renew the Party, embracing a bold, progressive legislative agenda…or will voices within the existing hierarchy and executive council encourage a safer, more prudent approach?

Will we sharply distinguish ourselves from the Brad Wall regime and their discredited policies or will we water down our platform, putting forward the kind of mild, middle of the road initiatives that British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn derisively dubs “Tory lite”?

Do we, as New Democrats, defend or condone a continuation of the status quo (with a few minor tweaks here and there), are we going to choose electability over idealism, pragmatism over passion? Are we willing to sell our principles down the road for a chance to sit in the Big Chair?

Many commentators speak of a “democratic disconnect”, a loss of belief in democracy among voters in Europe and America, and it’s clear a large portion of the blame rests with the major political parties. They have put in place command and control structures that limit policy debate and minimize the opinions and influence of ordinary party members. They’ve created a bureaucracy more interested in maintaining power, raising money and serving their corporate masters than it is enacting reform or making the system more humane and transparent.

Much has been made of rebuilding from the grassroots…but how is that possible without ceding them some genuine power, a say in Party decision-making? Annual political conventions are fine, it’s a great chance to mingle and meet old friends, but what practical purpose do they serve if none of the resolutions put forward by the membership are binding or carry any kind of clout? Rather, they are perceived by the executive and caucus as helpful suggestions, a chance for members to exercise their conscience on the issues of the day.

Surely any kind of talk for renewal must include allowing the Party general membership more input on direction and focus.

I suspect part of the problem is that the membership is much more progressive and socialistic than the Party poobahs would like. That’s why the Party leadership makes such profound efforts to derail or disallow potentially divisive or controversial motions and ensure that any that do pass have little or no impact on overall policy or strategy. I would love to see thresholds set so that when a motion achieves a certain amount of support from the general membership, it automatically becomes part of our platform—a process that would revitalize the grassroots and help address that democratic deficit I referred to earlier.

The Party hierarchy has made considerable efforts to address gender and racial disparity within the NDP governing councils, but they have yet to extend representation to those who are struggling in the “new economy”, working class men and women who have no benefits, no safety net; low income earners and “wage slaves” condemned to debt peonage, with little chance of improving their circumstances. Their kids won’t be going to college or trade schools. We pay lip service to representing and championing such people—but where are they in evidence within our councils of power?

Instead, we have a situation where a class of well-paid, well-educated professionals set policies and priorities for the Party, individuals who have little grasp of the day-to-day reality facing the working people and precariously employed of this province.

And what is the ideology of these affluent NDPers, a bloc that Marx called “bourgeois socialists”? Would they be willing to enact initiatives that harm their own interests, take coin from their purses? Will they support efforts to democratize the Party and, in so doing, lose power and influence?

I wonder.

For most Canadians, government isn’t the problem—but poor governance or governance that favors the wealthy elite certainly is. Government shouldn’t be perceived as an enemy of the people, but a body created to serve them, reflecting their collective aspirations.

We can address this point through ideology. We show the citizens of this province that an NDP administration would protect their interests and remove some of the anxieties and frustrations they must deal with on a daily basis. We offer the reassurance of cradle-to-grave health care and guarantee the highest possible educational standards and the opportunity for everyone, regardless of means, to improve their minds and enhance their future prospects.

The Sask. Party never shied away from ideology, why should we?

And we know from polling and discussions with our fellow citizens that there is strong support for socialistic policies like state ownership of critical resources and services. When Wall and his cronies floated the idea of dumping some of our Crown corporations, the message they received was loud and unequivocal: hands off.

I believe most people in this province would support progressive taxation—the Tories make much of the notion that the economic burden must be shared equally, but I disagree. Why should we speak of proportionality when some of us are living in the best neighborhoods, enjoying the best services, with all the requisite toys…while the rest of us are told we must pull up our socks, economically speaking? Those who have more, must pay more: in income tax, property tax and “luxury” taxes on their expensive vehicles, cabin cruisers, so-called “McMansions”, as well as the “rustic” cabins they own that are more like vacation homes. A levy applied to profligacy and conspicuous consumption—how many here would argue against that?

Finally, let us take back ownership of the vocabulary of the Left. The word “socialist” is not a bug bear, trotted out to scare the children—but that’s the way it’s treated by our counterparts on the Right and their hired media stooges. Even some of us fall prey to it: “Socialist? Nossir, not me…”

We must reclaim that word and numerous others as well, and do a better job at educating today’s work force about the history and tradition of socialism and the labour movement, the great gains made by courageous women and men who put their lives on the line so that ordinary people might live in freedom, security and dignity.

“For the many, not the few.”

Are we, as a Party, prepared to live up to that ideal?

Do we have the courage to act on our high-sounding moral principles and convictions?

* * * *

NDP Election Platform (2020):

1) Raise minimum wage and enact more legislation to protect worker rights and improve workplace safety.

2) Introduce progressive taxation, whereby those that have more, pay more: a higher proportion of their income and a “luxury tax” on high end goods (expensive cars, McMansions, vacation homes on the lake, cabin cruisers, etc.).

3) Dramatically reduce tuition costs so that post-secondary education is within the means of every resident of the province.

4) Ensure, through legislation or an amendment to our provincial constitution, that our Crown corporations and essential resources (like water) are owned in perpetuity by the people of this province and cannot be privatized.

5) Impose tough environmental standards that deter polluters through legislation, punitive fines and jail terms.

6) Begin the immediate transition out of the thrall of fossil fuels, investing in renewable/alternative energy to the extent that within 8-10 years we are national leaders in that field, our dependence on carbon-based fuels dramatically diminished.

(Phase I: Ban on fracking)

7) Improve relations with First Nations/Metis people through partnerships, shared initiatives; the failure to consult with Aboriginal leadership and treat them as equals devalued and marginalized them and we must make vigorous efforts to win back their trust and participation in the decisions affecting them.

8) Develop more subsidized or low-income housing—build quality homes for those in need…

9) …while pursuing and prosecuting slum landlords, anyone who knowingly provides sub-standard shelter to desperate people.

10) Work in partnership with the federal government to provide a “basic annual income” to every resident of the province/country, investing in our people rather than offering billions in subsidies to multi-national corporations that damage the environment, pay low royalties and taxes, while offering their employees as little as possible in terms of wages, benefits and job security.

June, 2017: Update

Another grey morning outside my office window but that’s not going to wreck my day, nossir.

Because later this afternoon my youngest son and I will be driving in to the City (Saskatoon) in order to see Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” on the big screen. I’ve been a fan of the Tark’s for ages and to have the opportunity to view his work on something other than a 32″ television is a temptation too good to pass up.

A few announcements to get out of the way, some housekeeping to tend to:

This Saturday, June 17th, as part of the W.I.P. Dance Series at the Free Flow Dance Centre in Saskatoon (224 25th St. W.), Jackie Latendresse’s group will be performing several new works-in-progress, utilizing some of my ambient music. Doors open at 7:30 and the performances start at 8:00. Interested in modern, creative dance? Drop in for a look…and a listen. For more info, see here.

If you’d like to experience some of my odd, spacey music, check it out either here or on BandCamp.

Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing recently published a poem of mine (now there’s a rare occurrence). You’ll find “Covenant” on page 67 of their latest issue, read it here.

* * * *

I don’t have a lot of friends.

My social network is pretty limited, the time I can devote to cultivating friendships—phone calls, writing letters and e-mails—almost nonexistent. What can I tell you? I’m a pretty driven fellow and creating things (novels, stories, paintings, short films, music) is the central, defining focus of my life.

Those few pals I do have are acquaintances of long standing, people who have proven they can put up with my temperament and endure my frequent and lengthy silences. If you’re looking for a high maintenance relationship, you’re scratching at the wrong door (my wife will confirm as much).

I got to know Gord Ames in the early 1990s.

I think we were still living in Iqaluit at the time and came back to Regina during the summer to visit family. I’d heard about the new bookstore on 13th Avenue and, of course, the bibliomaniac in me was dying to see it.

I wandered into Buzzword Books, casting a glance at the fellow behind the counter, who gave me a nod. No ebullient welcome, no attempt to strike up a conversation, no friendly banter.

Then I realized why.

The books said it all. The longer I spent in the store, the more I loved it. It wasn’t a big space but the selection was absolutely wondrous. No commercial crap or braindead best-sellers.

Real writers: Alexander Trocchi, Richard Ford, James Crumley, DeLillo, Pynchon, Harry Crews, etc. etc. etc.

Once I’d taken the store’s measure, I approached the counter with two or three books and raved at the bookseller on the quality of his stock. He offered some droll, funny response, and a friendship was born.

Sadly, the bookstore is no more and Gord and his wife Caroline have moved to the West Coast (might as well be Mars, sigh). But they’re still an important presence in my life, two unique spirits and true blue, dyed-in-the-wool characters.

It’s Gord’s birthday today and this morning I want to pay tribute to a man who is a friend, mentor and a valued confidante. The breadth of his knowledge, the sharpness of his wit, never cease surprising and astonishing me. His taste is exceptional, his editorial eye (and ear) peerless. He’s turned me on to so many brilliant authors, musicians, film-makers over the years, drawing my attention to obscure, forgotten talents I would have otherwise overlooked. How would I have managed without him?

That rare combination of intelligence, erudition and caustic, irreverent humor—you just don’t find that in too many people these days. My friend is a pearl of exceeding value and uniqueness; a one-off, a mutant, a genius.

Happy birthday to a man who is a daily reminder that the world is not as foolish, arbitrary and ugly as it seems. There are still men and women whose very existence serves to reassure us: though we may have descendants among lower order animals, we still possess minds and virtues that can defeat our humble origins…and carry us to the stars.

Gord Ames is my friend.

And for that, I will never, ever cease being grateful.

Cheers, buddy.

You’re one in a trillion.

“True friendship resists time, distance and silence.”

Isabel Allende