Swashbuckling Adventures in the US

While relations between Canada and the States have been very strange, or even strained, I opt for taking a non-political view of things. I was rather interested in the swashbuckling adventures and various oddities I may encounter. As a Canadian passing through the Land of Opportunity, I did find many photo opportunities.


I loved all the wacky statues, especially the Cap’n. When you go to Europe, you don’t really get much in the way of wackiness. All statues are very stern or at least respectable. They have some connection to history or politics. Not so on the Washington-Oregon border. The passage was marked by a great liquor store guarded by Captain Morgan himself.


Here’s the famous Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe. They have some historical/mythical significance… Whereas this donut…


does not. Or does it?…


And from monumental kitch to hidden gems… some artwork in an organic cafe tucked away in Trinidad, California. These are painted on real surfboards that had outlived their ocean career. It looks like I’m wearing a surfboard-shaped hat 🙂


I just love the beaches of LA! My favorite incident was these two seagulls trying to loot our bags on Venice beach. These bags contained no food whatsoever, so I assume the seagulls were just having fun and satisfying their curiosity as they exuberantly set about pulling my red bikini and other accoutrements out of the bag. The one on the right looks like it’s smiling!


Overall, I’m still not sure how to describe my American experience. This was only my second trip to California. The first one had inspired my novella Very Much Alive, which was focused on L.A. and its art scene. This second trip was mostly about unsuccessful attempts to surf the untamed beaches of northern Cal, still considered a new surfing frontier.


Here I am on a cool and windy day trying to paddle out while this insane current kept driving me away from my goal. It wasn’t a very successful outing!

Anyways, back to what I was saying about being unable to encompass my west coast US experience. I suppose that’s why I opted for photos instead. I think eventually it will make its way into my writing, with little fragments appearing here and there. The new novel I’m working on already has a healthy dose of surfing content and is partly based in L.A.

I hope these photos have been inspiring or at least amusing. Let me know what you think!


People with Bad Teeth


Queen Elizabeth I of England was notoriously afraid of dentists. Who could blame her?

I’ve come to realize that I belong to a very exclusive and special, though unofficial, club: people with bad teeth.

At first, I was not pleased to hear the news. I’d gone through life thinking my teeth were doing rather well. They are not crooked or deformed and are rather more straight than most people’s. However, a dentist recently informed me that I have not one but two cavities!

At first this caused me much existential angst. Compounded with the news of the demise of Angelina Jolie’s breasts, this drove me to thoughts of the futility of life. With each passing moment, more and more of these parts of our body that make us beautiful tend to fall into disrepair and can only be fixed or replaced by very highly paid professionals.

But soon I tired of this negative thinking, because after all, any of these parts are theoretically replaceable, and even if they’re not, so many people do just fine without. We are still the same individual, and though we may lose teeth or breasts along the way, we never lose what is truly important — I’m talking, of course, about my beautiful hair.

To further cheer myself up I compiled this list of groups and individuals who have been particularly prone to dental issues:

1. Ancient Egyptians

2. Pirates

3. Queen Elizabeth I 

4. Shane McGowan (singer of The Pogues)

5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (breed of dog with a swashbuckling name)

This is just a young McGowan with not-so-bad teeth. The current reality is much, much worse. Look it up if you dare.

This is just a young McGowan with not-so-bad teeth. The current reality is much, much worse. Look it up if you dare.

It would have been nice to include medieval knights, but surprisingly, people living in the Middle Ages didn’t suffer from particularly bad teeth. It seems they ate a healthy diet that didn’t contain any refined sugar.

But even without knights, it’s still a formidable list. Pirates are very cool, as are ancient egyptians. The Cavalier King Charles is a very noble breed. Shane McGowan is an amazing poet and singer. And it turns out, even Queen Elizabeth was known to scribble a verse or two once in a while.

The conclusion is clear: all of us great poets and other noble creatures are much too busy to take care of our teeth when we have better things to do, such as compose immortal verses. This is why I will accept the idea that imperfection is the heart of beauty, that bad teeth are a sign of talent, and I shall wear my cavities as a badge of honour (until one day I find a few moments in my busy life as a talented author to get them fixed).


Here’s to a Funny Valentine’s Day

On the topic of the February blues, personal development guru Martha Beck writes:

I am thinking of training a hamster to predict the weather in Phoenix, where I live. It will not be difficult; I will purchase two buttons – a red one that says “sunny” and a blue one that says “not sunny”. Then I will teach the hamster that the blue button does not exist. We’ll make millions!

For those of you who do not live in Phoenix, please accept my deepest sympathy. The first time I ever sought professional counseling, was during my freshman year in college. I told the psychiatrist at the student health services that I was weepy, despairing, and unwilling to get out of bed. He glanced at his watch and said, in a casual tone, “it’s February.” (see the rest of the post)

What makes it worse for many people is the inexorable approach of Valentine’s Day. Many people are annoyed because they’re not in a relationship so they feel left out. Some are worried about buying the right gift or afraid that they will be required to make some sort of commitment. And maybe just a very few are excited because they’re going to get lucky… unless they sent this card to their Valentine.

This dictator valentine is brought to you courtesy of www.pleated-jeans.com

This dictator valentine is brought to you courtesy of http://www.pleated-jeans.com

I admit to a mixture of all three states of mind. In the past, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to spend Valentine’s Day with a “significant other.” Now that I’m in a relationship, it seems exciting and a little scary, and it also makes me reflect on all those lonely Valentine Days when I was lying on the couch in my wifebeater shirt smelling of booze and surrounded by empty chip packets… or something like that. Although, that wasn’t always the case. Last year, I organized a sort of anti-Valentine get together for friends and members of my writers’ group, and another year I went to the movies with a friend (to see Taken), and those times were much more fun than watching TV and feeling sad. So I guess what I’m trying to say is everything (including V-Day) is better when it’s funny and spent with friends or loved ones.

So whether you’re coupled up or single, whether you’re getting together with your boyfriend/girlfriend or your friends and your trained hamster, I hope you enjoy this day, perhaps by mocking it or in whatever way you can think of. Have a happy Valentine’s Day!


Cuban Trip and Swimming with Dolphins

I’m on a catamaran in the middle of the Carribean, preparing for a dolphin adventure when my brother, who is lounging beside me with a bad case of heat stroke suddenly says, “Did you know that dolphins rape people?”

“Surely that’s nothing but a joke,” I reply.

“No, it’s a fact. I heard it on the radio.”

Fortunately this conversation did not ruin my dolphin experience…

I recently returned from Cuba, where I had many adventures, including wearing this funny hat in the jungle and yes, swimming with dolphins.

Swimming with dolphins had been a dream of mine for a long time, and it’s finally happened! As seen in this photo, dolphins are rather promiscuous. They will snuggle up to random tourists, and  I believe they mostly do it for the free fish. It kind of makes you feel like that guy who thinks the stripper really likes him. But still, I got the feeling that they’re very friendly and warm creatures. Of course, they’re much more complex than we sometimes like to believe.

People have a tendency either to think of dolphins as perfectly angelic or sometimes quite on the contrary, demonic creatures. Jokes going around on the internet about “dolphins raping people” have made some believe that dolphins are completely evil and amoral, or as one commenter stated, “rapey, murderous jerks.” Of course, there are some people to whom this title can equally apply, but that’s no reason to give up on the entire human race. I decided to do a bit of research and found this interesting article, which talks about people’s attitudes towards dolphins and the truth behind the myths:



Writers and their Coffee: a romantic tale

The relationship between a writer and her (or his) coffee is a complex and often tempestutous one, as seen here on my online friend Coco J. Ginger’s blog:

My french press looks awfully smug today. Queenly and defiant (like myself at times), I feel like she’s mocking me for giving into her toxic consumption yet another day. She see’s what’s happening– I haven’t paid her near the amount of attention that she requires in order to keep me happy. I fill her daily with the best smelling organic coffee beans a French Press of any real class could wish for….but the last few days I’ve left the coffee to grow cold and stagnant while I write ferociously unable to recognize real life, real people or my usual object friends that entertain me daily. (Read more of Coco’s blog here)

I think such a passionate relationship with a French Press could be the subject of an opera or at least a short story. Coco’s post was actually more about writing, but it’s interesting that it should begin with coffee, as the two activities are obviously closely linked.

For another romantic look at coffee, my friend and former classmate Rachel Wright reminisces about coffee, writing and good times in Europe:

 I imbibed the juice of the enchanted bean with the fervor of a religious zealot.  And the pages and pages I filled with enthusiastic scrawl while I sat along the canals of Venice, sipping an espresso — those felt to me like a gift from another plane.  I had met the gods, and they were highly caffeinated. All those people shaking in their pews in small, rural churches, the ones bowing down again and again and again at the Wailing Wall, the whirling dervishes spinning around and around and around in their white skirts — I felt something like that. (Read more of Rachel’s blog here)

As for me, I believe my relationship with coffee is less dramatic. It’s more of a working relationship. We work well together. The problem is stopping… Once caffienated, I will write for several hours, and even when I’m long since too tired to write, my brain will chatter away and come up with the most ridiculous ideas. “Hey, I’ve got the best idea!” my brain often says, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make a comic strip entirely about teapots? (my brain forgets that I don’t know how to draw) How about this: there’s this prince of Denmark… no, that’s been written already.” But once in a while, my brain will come up with a good idea like “How about we revise Count Morelli, that novel we wrote? It’s been sitting there waiting, and now we’re ready to get back to it.”

So the brain’s caffeine-fuelled chatter is a small price to pay for great ideas that contribute to the creation of an amazing swashbuckling novel.

One small cup for a writer, one giant novel for mankind!


Historical Book Review: The Elephant’s Journey

I haven’t actually finished The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago, but I couldn’t wait to blog about it because this is the best book I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend it for anyone who is a fan of elephants or historical fiction.

It’s based on a true story of an Indian elephant given by the king of Portugal to the Austrian Archduke Maximilian as a wedding present. The elephant must make the journey from Portugal to Austria, accompanied by Subhro, his trainer (or Mahout) who has been with him since India, an armed guard of 30 people, and an ox cart with provisions. The elephant, however, is the main character, as the narrator specifically points out.

The narrator himself is very interesting. Apparently he detests capitalization and punctuation of any kind, so the entire narrative flows together with minimal friction, and the reader eventually gets used to it. He also has a coy habit of addressing the reader directly at intervals, (which is exactly what I did in my first yet-unpublished novel, and I had been criticized for it many times. Hmph!) As a fellow compulsive reader-addresser, I can’t help but appreciate such lines as:

The wolves appeared the following day. Perhaps they had heard us mention them earlier and finally decided to show up.

The narrator is happy to take frequent breaks and digressions from narrating in order to reflect on the story. There is an incredible amount of funny and quotable phrases, such as the following, which occurs when the king is inspecting the neglected elephant and finds that it’s covered in dirt:

The king muttered some inaudible remark, then said in a clear, firm voice, I want that animal washed, right now. He felt like a king, he was a king, and that feeling is understandable when you consider that never in his entire life as a monarch had he uttered such a sentence.

Overall, the novel gives the impression of someone looking at very distant history through a fuzzy lens, trying to sort out what actually happened. At the same time, the reader also feels very close to the characters, as we’re allowed a glimpse into their thoughts and feelings. It’s a very touching story, maybe because there’s an animal protagonist who is kinder and wiser than the people around him. As I said, I haven’t quite finished reading, so I don’t know whether the elephant survives the difficult journey, but I hope he makes it!


The Dostoevsky Blog?

Image courtesy of Maira Kalman, from her book The Principles of Uncertainty

A while back, I wrote about Dostevsky’s The Idiot, and it still remains my most popular post. Yes, contrary to all expectations, Dostoevsky is more popular than seagulls, Jim Butcher, and Socrates combined… not bad for a dead white guy! I briefly considered renaming this “the Dostoevsky Blog” but that would make it hard to promote my own writing, unless I pretended my name was Dostoevsky.

Without going too extreme, I will see if we can have something of a semi-regular feature on Dostoevsky books. Also, if you have any questions about Dostoevsky or his writings, you can email me or leave a comment, and I’ll post the answers on this blog.