The Cities of My Youth: Bytown

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I’ve been ignoring the blogosphere.

My thoughts are often in large knots. I imagine if you could extrapolate the traffic in my brain, into a concrete image, it would look something like a horrible tangle of Mobius Strips. This isn’t conducive to blogging. I typically end up going from one topic to another at such a rapid pace, that I end up with pages of blabber. On top of that, I haven’t seemed to be able to sit still and relax the last little while. I’m really glad I don’t have a large audience, I don’t think I could handle the expectations of regular posting.

Awhile back on my other blog, I did a series of mini-playlists relating to the various places I’ve called home. It was a fun exercise in nostalgia. It made me remember not just moments that I cherish, but the small things I miss about those places. Recently, I’ve been listening a lot to an old, middle-school friend’s album. In one of the songs, there’s a line that goes:

I’d return to the cities of my youth if I knew the youth’d come back

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so for the next few posts, I’m going to reminisce about the things I miss about those cities. Starting with my hometown…

Bytown 

I couldn’t wait to get out of Ottawa growing up. I don’t think that’s an unusual feeling for anyone who has spent a lot of time in a city. Particularly if they haven’t travelled a lot. In my youth, we spent more time exploring what we had in our own backyard, than seeing other cities. It’s not like I missed out, I just felt that by the time I’d reached high school, I needed to do some exploring. It’s been a touch over 10 years since I left, but it will always be my hometown.

I would say Ottawa is an underrated city.

It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of a Montreal. It’s not a big, sprawling metropolis like Toronto. It certainly isn’t the diverse, internationally driven, city that Vancouver is. It’s definitely not a city, when mentioning your hometown, that really packs a flavourful punch. After all, Ottawa is just a quaint, little town, full of blowhard politicians.

I mean, it’s really only the Capital because it sits so perfectly in the centre of the Anglophone and Francophone worlds satisfying both sides’ need for representation…right?

Well that’s one way to look at it.

It’s a very balanced city. By that, I mean you get a little bit of everything, especially as a kid. There is no shortage of museums, galleries, and historical areas. It’s one of the perks of being in the capital, the national galleries and museums are all situated there. Nature, science/tech, civilization/history, art, everything is well represented. It’s probably the part I miss the most. Being able to just wile a day away, absorbing all the information. I’ve visited all the museums more times than I can count, and even though they have changed in some areas, I could still go back a hundred times and not be bored.

Sports are pretty well represented too. While the population isn’t large enough to support a bevy of teams, there’s still lots to go see. I was lucky enough to see the early stages of the Senators’ rebirth. I was also fortunate to be able to enjoy the Lynx, when Ottawa still had Triple-A baseball. CFL football has had ups and downs (more downs sadly), but it’s coming back with a strong ownership group, which is exciting to see. Outside of that, there are so many youth leagues, it’s impossible not to find sports.

Between all those galleries, and the athletics I was surrounded with, I’m surprised I ever had a chance to stop. I didn’t even mention the libraries, plus the great programs that were run out of them. I realize that a lot of this stuff was 20 or so years ago, and it may not be the same. I’d like to think a lot of it is better now, though. Of course, I’m looking at this all through rose-coloured glasses, I’m terribly biased!

Now, I have to talk about the seasons.

Yea, Ottawa actually has them! Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Many of the other cities I’ve lived in/visited don’t have such distinctive seasons. It adds to the charm, because with each passing one you can look forward to new things.

Spring brings the Tulip Festival. While it’s not on the same scale as the one in Amsterdam, it’s still a bright, colourful, wonderful harbinger of Summer. I miss seeing the rows of flowers livening up downtown when May rolls around. I get lots of Dutch customers roll through my store during high-season, and I’m always eager to reminisce. Once that snow melts, it’s heavenly. I think Ottawa Springs are my favourite.

Summer can be muggy and humid, that’s for sure. That’s about the only downside. Festivals! Festivals! Festivals! Ottawa is home to some pretty awesome ones. Bluesfest is probably at the top of the list. It may have strayed far away from being a true Blues festival, but it brings in some pretty big heavyweight acts. For those who don’t have the time/money to see the huge American festivals, this is a satisfactory substitute. Plus, there’s still plenty of great blues/folk acts to appease the purists like myself. Folk Fest is also a big one later in the season. Much like it’s cousin, it has become a bit more diverse than the name suggests. That doesn’t mean the quality is lacking though. Of course this isn’t mentioning walks by the river, questionable beaches, and best of all: PATIO SEASON. Ottawa has fully embraced the microbrew fad, and there is no shortage of suds in the Nation’s Capital come Summer.

Fall in Ottawa is one of the most beautiful seasons I’ve experienced. With all the oak, birch, and maple indigenous to the area, the whole cities is a mosaic of red, yellow, and orange. It’s particular lovely in Gatineau Hills Park. While that’s technically on the other side of the river, it’s easily accessible, so it counts as part of the Ottawa experience. The trails are perfect. They’re low impact enough to enjoy the amazing scenery, while still making you feel you’ve gotten a good workout in. The air is so fresh and crisp, it is my absolute favourite season in Ottawa.

Winter. Oh winter. Anyone who’s lived in, or visited the Ottawa Valley, knows how nasty it can get. The moisture, coupled with high winds, and bone chilling temperatures, who could love Ottawa in the winter?! Well…winter means Winterlude for one. It also means skating on the Ottawa Canal. The world’s largest skating surface, it’s a crime if you’ve ever visited while it was open, and you didn’t experience it. Not only is it a ton of fun to feel the wintery air bite your face as you zip your way from Dow’s Lake to Downtown, but there are plenty of BeaverTails and Hot Chocolate stands to make it an even more worthwhile experience. Besides, the snow is lovely when you’re not shovelling it!

(DISCLAIMER: I do NOT miss winters in Ontario. While I do wish I could get a skate in on the Canal every year, I am quite content with my Pacific Northwest winters. Thankyouverymuch.)

See? Well rounded!

It’s not a perfect city, but it has the right mix of everything for young and old. While I may never call it my permanent home again, I will always think wistfully of my youth in Canada’s Capital.

-DFP-

 

Diamonds Are A Man’s Best Friend

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Baseball regular season kicks off in 8 days.

The only constant love in my life, to which I am not related to by blood, is baseball.

I played for several years growing up. Pretty much anyone who has played organized sports fancies they were “pretty good” in their youth. I’d probably say the same. Not “If I hadn’t gotten injured, I would have been in the pros” good, but for my age, and limited physical attributes, I was pretty good.

I’m a lefty.

In most other sports, it’s just a quirk. In baseball, in can be a blessing, but also a curse. You’re relegated to three basic positions: first-base, outfield, and pitcher. I played all three extensively growing up. First-base has a built in advantage for lefties. The position on the diamond, along with the way it’s played, lends better to southpaws. As far as pitching goes, batters who hit left-handed, tend to be power hitters. A lefty throwing pitcher is awkward to face. The angle and trajectory the ball takes to the plate, is a lot harder to track for them. Therefore, it’s always valuable to stock a couple of lefty pitchers. As for the outfield, there’s no real advantage to a lefty. A lot of us get stuck out there though, because the other positions are extremely difficult/not practical to play.

If you’re not familiar with America’s Game, most positions have gloves that are unique. Catchers have extra padding to cushion blazing fastballs. First-Basemen have one shaped like a scoop, to dig out errant throws better. Shortstops and second-basemen usually use smaller glove, with tighter webbing. This allows for quick mitt-to-hand transfers, as they tend to make a lot of acrobatic plays, and for turning double-plays. Outfielders will have larger gloves, with wider webbing that they can use to track balls, while using the glove as a shield from the sun. I’ve had all kinds of gloves growing up. I had one absolute favourite…

My Dennis Eckersley glove.

It was a Rawlings glove: golden brown, had a index-finger hole, and was small. It was built exactly like a good Shortstop’s mitt. This was a bit bizarre because Eckersley, was one of the most dominant relief pitchers of his time. I loved that glove. I oiled it nice and good until it was perfectly supple, just like butter. It was one of my most treasured possessions; the glove I used the most when I played. My coaches hated it.

As it was more well suited for a Shortstop, they begged me to get rid of it. They were worried I wouldn’t play very well at first, especially at a young age when errant throws are expected, more than they are feared. As an outfielder, it wasn’t the most practical for shagging flies. I wasn’t going to give up on it though. After all, this was the first nice glove my dad ever bought me. It soon turned into a great asset.

I became extremely adept at picking balls out of the dirt. The smaller glove made it more difficult at first, but it didn’t take long before I was even able to snag the rare one barehanded. In the outfield, due to the size, I was able to transfer the ball to my throwing hand more quickly. Being a pitcher, I had a very strong arm. Combined with the speedy transferring, I could double-up runners, or throw them out trying to advance. With pitching, since it had the tight basket-weave webbing, I was able to conceal my pitches more easily. It’s safe to say that my defensive prowess was my best asset. I was quick, but not much of a power hitter. I hit a lot at the top and bottom of the lineup, my job being to get on base.

Eventually my excellent defence  paid off. I got called up several times to play with the age-groups ahead of me. Of course, at that point, players are more entrenched in their positions. When you start off in Little League, you get shifted around a lot. “Fair chances for everyone”. Once you get older, you gravitate to your stronger position, and primarily play there. Since I was the new kid on the block, I got relegated to a utility-man role. Essentially, I had to play wherever they had a need.

This ended up being far more often, at third-base. Third is extremely difficult to play left-handed. It doesn’t allow for a natural throwing motion to the other bases. You essentially end up throwing more with your arm, than with your whole body. This causes weak throws, and a lot of strain on the arm. Teams immediately tried to take advantage. They would bunt to my side frequently. As I said though, years of pitching had built a strong arm. The strategy didn’t work well, and didn’t last long.

I have so many memories of being on the diamond. Most of them start with that glove.

Fresh cut grass, crushed brick, and white chalk, things were simpler…

All you were worried about was smashing a little white ball, or zinging it passed a batter.

-DFP-

Milestone

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It’s funny how our perceptions change.

Two things we perceive differently throughout the stages of our life are: time and love. Particularly, in the manner they relate to each other. Time can make love grow. Love can make time seem like it’s flying by, or in contrast, make it slow to a crawl.

One thing that seems to go without saying, pertains to how time alters the way we love. Most would agree that when we are young, we invest emotionally with foolish hearts. Our naivety betrays us; we haven’t begun to understand its complexities. It isn’t until we grow old, bitter, and experience loss and pain, that we can fully grasp “love”. At least, that’s what a lot of us are taught.

For a long time, I felt like I was chasing after a feeling I couldn’t achieve.

When I was younger, it felt so easy and pure. My thoughts, emotions, my actions, so unequivocally influenced by my notion of what loving another was. There were no complexities, and that was the beauty of it all; it was simple. It felt nice. Of course, these were the ideas of a foolish young boy.

Throughout my high school years, I hopelessly tried to recreate that initial feeling of love. The idea that these attempts were fruitless, were burned in the back of my head, hindering me. I would go as far as saying, that in a dire attempt to prove the critics wrong, I forced my hand a little too hard. Early adulthood would further perpetuate these issues. I invested time, emotions, into relationships that were devoid of that feeling I was chasing so desperately.

I was 7 the first time I felt love.

For six years, that feeling would never waver. It sounds silly and juvenile, but everything poetry and prose taught me about love, I felt for this one person. I was made to be ashamed of feeling that way though. Unless you’re living in a movie, young-love is often a jumping point for mockery in our society. The teasing is relentless, despite being groundless. We don’t call it “young-like”. While time and experience may change the reasons we feel love, the intensity of the feeling never goes away.

It’s been 15 years since our paths diverted, I’m finally catching up with that feeling again.

Awhile back, my roommate Paul and I were joking about relationship milestones. “First argument” was one that got immediately brought up. That’s another aspect of love that seems to be shaped by time: milestones. When we’re younger the smaller mountains we climb, seem so impressive. As we get older, things like “one-month anniversary”, “first kiss”, and other “events” become trivialities.

Today marks 3 months of k and I being together.

I know it doesn’t sound like much. For someone who has struggled for so long to maintain, and be happy in a relationship, a quarter of a year is pretty significant. There won’t be a big kerfuffle about it. No cheesy date night. Just a reminder that for the first time in 15 years, my heart bottoms out every single time I think of someone. That, the day before I know I will see her, is filled with such excitement. Every day feels like a new day.

Simply put, there’s someone in the world, who makes me feel like I’m learning what love is, all over again. No matter how naive that sounds, or how quickly it’s happened, the joy and happiness that it gives me, is enough to drown out any and all doubters.

-DFP-

Beyond the Point of No Return

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I’ve never had a hard time letting go of friendships.

My motives have always varied over the years. Before 2013, I’d say that more often than not, it had to do with shifting social circles. I’ve moved a lot over the course of the last 10 years. Naturally, this leads to a lot of long-distance friendships and acquaintances. It’s pretty telling how strong or valuable a relationship with someone is, by how long it takes to drift in this scenario. Even in this age of technology, where getting a hold of someone is a simple text away, I’ve found it difficult to maintain connections. Whether that has to do with my inability to truly assess a friendship accurately, or just the fact that I don’t make a lot of meaningful bonds, is something I’ve thought a lot about over the years.

2013 was a year of big change.

My social circle, for the most part was completely turned on it’s head. I started deconstructing my relationships, to see where their true value resided. Things were not going particularly well, it took a series of fruitless endeavours to realize I may not be hanging out with the right people. Just because you spend a lot of time with individuals, having “fun”, doesn’t mean they contribute to a healthy, or positive friendship. The monotony of everything was catching up with me fast. There’s only so much personal growth, excitement, and self-worth, you can gain from constantly being drunk around a gaggle of people. This lead to many ties being dissolved.

I was talking to one of my best friends last night. Talking about life, struggles, anxieties; I brought this up. How sometimes, the best change you can make, is being honest with how healthy your friendships are. Which got me to thinking: at one point does that switch flip for me? When does a relationship go from being something I invest time, love, effort in, to being a shell?

I’m guilty of holding on to bad friendships too long in the past. By no means am I trying to make these people out to be villains, they just stopped being beneficial to both parties. The trouble is, often times after making such intense emotional investments in people, I’m blinded to the fact that they are the ones that have moved on. Or at least that ends up being my presumption. I’m not overly confrontational when it comes to my friends, I save that for strangers. I’m not going to sit there and beg you to be my friend. As a result, perhaps I’ve let some friendships disintegrate without giving them a fair chance. Communication after all, is key to maintaining strong bonds.

I’m stubborn though. I often feed my own ego with the idea that, I’m not the one that needs to take that first step. Unless I’ve done something grievous to hurt, or push someone away, I let things fall into disrepair. My own self-righteousness often gets in the way, creating long periods of non-communication, resulting in relationships falling beyond the point of no return.

It’s not that I stopped loving, or caring for these people.

Sometime bonds need to be broken, so that you don’t make the same mistakes in future relationships.

-DFP-

If I Had…

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I don’t think it’s uncommon for people to be caught daydreaming about having better financial resources. I think even people who are well off, wonder what they could do if they had just a little bit more. Isn’t that what drives some of the most successful investors?

If you spent the majority of the 90′s in Canada, you’re probably familiar with the song “If I Had $1,000,000” by The Barenaked Ladies. They lay claim to some pretty outrageous items they would purchase.  I don’t know if they would have had much money left by the end. Even by 1993 standards, that wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of money. If you take into account inflation, you’d be sitting on $1,618,122.98 by 2013.

I suppose that’s still a lot. How far would it get you in all your lofty dreams and desires, though? As impractical as the exercise of daydreaming about money is, I think it’s far more practical to assume that you would win the lottery, or close some big account, to amass these untold riches. So what would I do if I stumbled upon the Cave of Wonders?

Well first off, let’s scratch off all the bluster that most people claim they would do:

  • Invest
  • Donate
  • Pay off Bills
  • Help Family
  • Buy a House
  • Travel

I’m not saying I wouldn’t do these things. I just think they’re pretty obvious. It’s like when you make a list of “The 5 Things You Couldn’t Live Without”.

At very least you’d want to contribute to an RRSP, or even store a big chunk in a GIC, savings bonds, etc. I have an unreasonable amount of student debt, so of course I’m going to give the government a big FU and pay it off in one shot. Helping my folks shouldn’t even be a question. Pay off their house, and let them retire with a little extra. The donation thing is a little trickier. I don’t think I would find a charity. I’d much rather open up a scholarship program with a university, or something of that nature. Travel and purchasing a house…come on. Nothing original there. Though, the house would be interesting. I’d definitely buy a nice piece of land and have it built (but that’s another post).  These things are all givens.

No, this is all about the frivolous spending I would embark upon…

Invest in a microbrewery – I’d want to find one that’s already established, that I like. Pump enough money into them so they could stay sustainable, without worrying about being absorbed by a bigger conglomerate. All I’d ask for in return is to be a minor consultant. Get to test new beers, share a little bit of input, but mostly I’d be hands off. What I love most about microbreweries is their sense of experimentation. Sure, they have flagship product, but they’re always the ones responsible for pushing the envelope when it comes to unique beers. I’m no brewmaster, but it would be fun being at ground zero for some fun new brewing projects.

Pimp out a BBQ set-up – I would build the most obnoxious, enormous, over-the-top, BBQ/Smoke Pit ever. There really isn’t much more to say. I would devote entire smokers, grills, and dehydrators to specific meats. Each area would have all the necessary implements for their designated meat. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Also, a waffle station…right beside the chicken fryer. Mmmmm.

Seasons tickets – This would actually fit in with donating as well. I’d buy seasons tickets to all my favourite teams. Since I would not have any hope of attending all the games, I would donate the tickets I wouldn’t/couldn’t use to various children’s charities. I’d buy at least 4-6 seats too. Sporting events are always best in larger groups, especially when you’re a kid.

Buy a sports team – Come to think of it, I’d just buy my own team. Maybe not some big major league team, just a minor league one. I doubt even the lottery would give me the assets, but let me dream for a second here. This would make season tickets automatic, and I could cordon off an entire section for youth groups.

Studio Apartment – Sure, everyone goes on and on about their dream home. I’ve honestly always wanted to own a studio apartment, and I would treat it as such. I could fly away there on a whim whenever I wanted to get work done. I find it really difficult sometimes to get the creative juices flowing. If I had the money, I could set up my own little space, and control all outside interference. Heck, even this blog post is entering a full hour of being completed.

Fund/Build Museums/Galleries – Again, this fits into the donation category. This is a little bit more precise though. Growing up, some of my best memories were going to museums and galleries with my mum and sissy. I think it’s really important for youth to be exposed to these things growing up. Whether it sticks or not is one thing, they don’t have a chance if it’s not given to them though. There’s something wholly different going with your family/friends versus going on a school trip. I’ve gone back to some of my favourite museums from my youth in my adulthood, they aren’t the same. They’ve been stripped down. You’d think with all the wonderful new discoveries and information we have in this modern age, we’d see the opposite…

Pizza Party – Guiness would have to come…it would be the BIGGEST. I would order from all over and turn it into a huge pizza contest/carnival.

John Merrick’s Remains – All them crazy Elephant Bones!

There’s tons more, that I’m sure if I spent more time, I could come up with. I obviously have friends I would want to share the wealth with. k would certainly get some property somewhere in New York she could travel to.

It’s fun to dream, it reminds me that there are things that I want to accomplish in life. I might not reach them all, but even if I can get part way on them, it’s an accomplishment. It makes the lazy days, where you don’t feel productive a lot easier to deal with.

-DFP-