Friday, April 27, 2012

The Great Canadian Hockey Crisis

Greetings Friends,

As of last night, there are no Canadian teams in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. After the Vancouver Canucks lost a shocking 5 game series to the Los Angeles Kings, and the New York Rangers dispatched the Ottawa Senators in a seven game nail-biter, there is no hope for a Canadian team hoisting the Cup for yet one more year. In fact, no Canadian team has lifted Lord Stanley's hardware for 19 years. The Montreal Canadiens were the last to do it on June 9, 1993 when they beat Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.

There are many theories as to why there has been such a long drought of Cup victories north of the 49th parallel. Logic dictates that the likelihood of a Canadian team winning is less because there are many more American teams. Emotion dictates that hockey is Canada's game and a 19-year drought is inexcusable. I'd rather swallow a hockey puck whole than debate either scenario with anyone, particularly a Canadian hockey fan. When it comes to sports, there is no logic or reason; nobody, I don't care how talented a prognosticator, is capable of coming up with a cogent explanation why 19 years have passed without a Canadian team achieving glory.

The longer I live in Canada, the more I come to realize how different this country is from the United States. On the surface, Canadian life looks almost identical to American life, but when you start digging, you uncover many differences - some subtle, some not so subtle - about what makes Canadians Canadian, and Americans American.

One of those not-so-subtle differences is the Canadian attitude toward professional sports. Sure, Canadians love their football, basketball and baseball. They even follow the European soccer leagues more closely than your average American. But, those all fall by the wayside when it comes to hockey. Canadians are obsessed with it; not just the NHL, but hockey at every level. They live it, breathe it, wear it, celebrate it in every way possible; the only American pastime that comes close to the way Canadians feel about hockey is how a large segment of the American population feels about football. Even with that comparison, there is something even more profound about the Canadian love of hockey. People aren't generally born sports fans; Canadians, however, seem to have hockey woven into their DNA at the moment of conception. That's an extreme take on it, I admit, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it's true.

With Canada now bereft of a rooting interest for the remainder of this year's playoffs, there's a strange stillness in the air and a sense of loss permeating the collective psyche of the population. People seem a tad snappier today than they normally would be on your average Friday, and the only reason I can think of is that, as winter turns to spring, visions of hoisting the Cup on Canadian soil have once more been dashed. As the saying goes, there's always next year.

For those Canadians still intent on watching playoff hockey, you can consult this handy guide to see if you can stomach choosing (gasp!) an American team to cheer for.

Have a great weekend.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Emotions in Motion

Greetings Friends,

I can't believe it's going to be 30 years in July since Billy Squier released his album "Emotions in Motion." I was a huge fan of Billy's back in those days, mostly because I liked his music, but also because the guy was pretty damn cute. Feel free to snort your coffee, guffaw or just outright giggle at me. I stand by my choice - it was as close to hair band-lust as I ever got in the 80s. Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Dokken, Poison, etc. just never blew up my skirt.

I chose to title today's post "Emotions in Motion" for a completely different reason, however. This past Saturday, I had an emotional outburst on Facebook that so shames me, I feel the need to spill my guts. Here's why:

Everyone I know (and likely millions of people I don't) has an infuriating story or two about their dealings with their cable TV/satellite/Internet/phone provider. I had my share when I lived in New York, and sadly, those experiences have crossed the border with me. My service provider here in Toronto is Rogers Communications, which, unfortunately, is even more of an evil empire than my former favourite target: Cablevision. 

I had a horrific run-in with Rogers over a billing/payment SNAFU that was clearly not my fault, and despite "the customer's always right" edict you would expect to get from a company raking in billions (yeah, right), I received zero satisfaction. Said SNAFU ended up costing me a good bit of time, plus extra money this month to straighten out the incompetence of a Rogers' employee, which is not how I expected the situation to resolve itself. In my high emotional state, I took to my Facebook page and wrote a short diatribe about how if I had access to automatic weaponry, I would have "gone postal" in my local Rogers store, where the SNAFU occurred. I left the post up on my page for about 10 minutes before I re-read it and promptly deleted it. In this world of electronic instant gratification, not to mention the fact that you never know who or what is watching your every move online, I felt such a degree of mortification at what I did, I still can't get past it more than 48 hours later. Yeah, I didn't post naked pictures of myself or anything equally as compromising, but implying that I wanted to "go postal" in a public place is not exactly a smart move, either.

At the beginning of the month I posted about drowning in ineptitude. I had a sense of humour about it on that particular day, but on Saturday, my sense of humour took the day off. I was incensed; infuriated; angry as a hornet that just got kicked out of the nest. It makes no sense to me why what we have come to rely upon as basic services, have to be so difficult to procure and maintain. Using a mobile phone, and having cable television and Internet access are things we rely upon in our daily lives; unless of course we want to engage in Neo-Luddism and pitch every electronic device we own. Unfortunately, my livelihood prohibits such a move, unless I decide I want to join a Mennonite colony and become a full-time quilter. I should mention I'm not very proficient with a needle and thread with the exception of having to sew on the occasional button. So, I have no choice but to put up with the abuse from an entity like Rogers Communications, which could give a toss about how it treats its customers, and laughs all the way to the bank. And that pisses me off.

Still, regardless of my degree of "pissed-offitiude" I have to suck it up and endure the shitty treatment. The only other choice would be Bell Canada, and the services I need are not available where I live. So, in effect, Rogers is not only the evil empire, they are the only game in town for me. And that gets my emotions in motion.

The lesson I learned from this is to keep my emotions to myself. The last thing I need is for anyone to think I am truly capable of such a heinous act. The only thing I can do is hope that the bastards get what they deserve. And that goes for many more outfits than just Rogers.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Two Years of Blogging: A Few Thoughts From the Writer

Greetings Friends,

On April 6, the Ink & Paint Creative Writing Services blog turned two years old. Most blogs fall by the wayside long before they hit this particular milestone; many others become such vainglorious sources of drivel that you'd sooner stick needles in your eyes rather than read what the scribe has to say; still more are just middling wastes of bandwidth. Which category does this one fall into? I'd like to think that those who read my "etchings" appreciate my candour, sense of humour, and interpretations of the subjects I choose to write about. If not, there's always the "Next Blog" key you can click on at the top of the page. The choice is yours. The words are mine.

Here are some thoughts about what I've learned from working as a freelance writer for the past two-and-a-half years. Be forewarned: some of it ain't too pretty.

It Is Possible to Hate Your Job: The writer who tells you they love their job 24/7 is as full of shit as those "you've won the British lottery" e-mails that clog your Spam file. Just because we get to make our own hours and dress in the"Freelance Writers' Union" uniform (the rattiest t-shirt and sweatpants you would never want to be seen wearing in public), doesn't mean we're happy and peppy and bursting with joy all the time. Sometimes, we become burned out; we want to smash our laptops against the wall; we want to stare mindlessly at the television watching hours of the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" until our brains turn into oatmeal.

I Miss the Luxury of Getting Regular Paycheques: You never realize how nice it is to get that paycheque every other week until you don't get it. Doing your own billing is tedious; having to hustle to do as much work as possible before the end of every month turns something you love to do into a giant albatross around your neck. Still, I'd rather do this than attempt to co-exist with an office full of inept sociopaths.

Yes, This Is a Real Job: Contrary to popular belief, being a freelance writer is a "real" job. Many people tend to think that unless you have a publishing deal that pays you six figure advances and allows you to doodle from your Eames chair in your well-appointed wood-paneled study, you don't actually work for a living. News flash, folks: this is as real a job as any I've ever had. If you don't believe me, read my blog.

The Internet is a Blessing and a Curse: If it weren't for the Internet, I would likely be working either as an English teacher wishing I could indulge in corporal punishment, or as a lackey in one of those aforementioned offices full of inept sociopaths. Alas, the Internet allows me to do what I do and get paid for it. The flip side, however, is that I have to endure  proving my worth to clients who believe that cut-rate Web site content written by computers located in the Philippines and India is much more cost-effective than my services. 

Google is My Rabbi: And, like any 12 year-old soon-to-be-Bar Mitzvah boy, I am subject to a thorough metaphorical ass-kicking at every possible turn.

Despite all of the above...

I Wouldn't Trade This for Anything: So what if I don't have J.K. Rowling or Stephen King bucks in the bank? I have skill, integrity, and heartburn that could bring down a rhino. It's all good.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Drowning in Ineptitude

Greetings Friends,

I couldn't decide whether to ape Andy Rooney or Gilda Radner for this post, so I chose both. You're getting the picture of Gilda as "Emily Litella," her Saturday Night Live character famous for her d'oh-brained commentary. You're also getting the curmudgeonly vitriol of Andy, because I'm just about ready to bust an artery or two over how much ineptitude I've been dealing with lately. Please, buckle your safety belt and keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.

Have you ever noticed how some people manage to breeze effortlessly through life while their ineptitude manages to drive the rest of us borderline insane? They flit through their days wreaking havoc on those around them - blowing off their tasks, damaging property, exhibiting a degree of cluelessness that for most of us would have dire consequences - yet, they somehow get away with it. The rest of us ("us" is sadly becoming a smaller and smaller group) possess varying degrees of conscientiousness with which we go through our days, performing our jobs to the best of our abilities and ensuring that we stay as far under the radar as possible. We go home to our families, pay our bills, love our loved ones and try to stay on the straight and narrow as best we can. Sadly, it's always the "good" people who are victimized by the inept ones, even if we never grouse about it; mostly giving those individuals a well-intentioned pass, even if they are as daft as kitchen sponges. Why do we let them get away with it? I'll be totally honest with you: I have no idea.

For the past week or so, I've been wondering what would happen to all these daft, inept people if they were called on the carpet for their ineptitude and made to suffer the consequences. Right now, there are so many decent, qualified people out there across North America who have been victimized by tough economic times and are enduring considerable suffering. They lost jobs, pensions, homes, savings, their shirts; you name it, they've lost it over the past several years. Yet, there are millions of metaphorical feathers floating on a perpetual breeze, seemingly placed in our paths to drive us crazy. I'm not talking about the lackey at McDonalds who forgot to include the Big Mac in your drive-thru order, or the ditzoid college student who didn't give you that third squirt of vanilla syrup in your latte. I'm talking about people who have to use their brains a few hundred times a day, who outright refuse to. What's up with that? Again, I have no idea.

What I do know is that I've always been one of those people who busts her ass and tries to do the right thing - at least most of the time. I'm not perfect and I never try to be. One of my most glaring imperfections is that I let inept people get under my skin. It's not the only one, but it's one that is giving me the most agita right now. I could swallow a barrel of Tums and it wouldn't go away. Yet, the ones who are causing me this grief have no idea just how much it is getting to me. If they did, I'm sure they would giggle like idiots because they couldn't possibly fathom just how much I want to smash their empty heads against the sidewalk. Of course, decorum, and the law, prevent me from indulging in such violent behaviour.

While Andy Rooney and Gilda Radner both rest peacefully in the afterlife (I'm assuming), I will continue to grit my teeth and tread water in this sea of ineptitude I'm presently swimming in. I know I'm not the only one; but seriously folks, I'm about ready to go under.

Alas, tomorrow is another day. In the words of Gilda as Emily, "Nevermind."