Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 391: Exploration

I’m not sure I’d call myself a Libertarian. But I have a growing concern about how much some people, governments in particular want to intrude into our lives.

I watch politicians of all stripes play to their own bases by listing the restrictions they’d like to impose on “those other guys”.

I see religions demanding people behave in ways people are not biologically built to behave.

I observe corporations bullying us into doing things that work better for them than for us.

And because of all this I have developed a theory that the exploration of Space was curtailed not because of cost or tragic accidents.

I believe it was backed off because it would have given too many people an option. The option to be somewhere where they couldn’t be controlled.

The dream of colonizing space was a brilliant one and one worth reviving. If you ask me, it’s the essential DNA of the Human Spirit. You know, to just “boldly go”.

Given what’s going on around the planet at the moment, the time might not be better.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Ryan J Thompson - EXPLORATION from Ryan Thompson on Vimeo.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Buck Up List

As the Canadian election process drags on, I’ve noticed many in my social media circles publishing comments critical of one party or another. All fair game to be sure.

But as the days pass I also notice more insults and name calling as well as people getting downright mean to those who disagree with them.

Meanwhile, in my own life, I got a call from the wife of one of the guys I went to school with, letting me know that he’d passed away. She also forwarded me a copy of something she’d found in his desk.

When it arrived, I recognized it immediately. It was the “Buck Up List”.

The buck up list was born somewhere around Grade 8.

Something had happened at school or in class that got all of us kids quite exercised. Thinking back, I have absolutely no recollection of what it was. But it led to ongoing arguments, a few fights and a lot of name calling.

All of us seemed to go out of our way to be unpleasant with one another. Our teacher did his best to referee, but it was clear nobody was budging.

So one Friday afternoon, he asked us to look around the class and write down one thing –- just one –- that we liked or admired about each of our classmates.

The writing took a long time. And I can remember making eye contact with a couple of those who weren’t on my side of the feud, all of us struggling a little to find something positive to say.

As soon as we were done, our teacher asked us to hand in our comments unsigned and dismissed us for the weekend.

Monday morning he handed back typed lists he had made over the weekend of all the comments that had been made about each of us. He dubbed it our “Buck Up List”.

It was quite a revelation to read an endless page of compliments, discovering people thought you were great at things you yourself didn’t think you were or had admirable personality traits you didn’t know you possessed.

All of us were kinda stunned. I noticed one or two of the girls brushing aside tears. It might’ve been the biggest boost to our self esteem any of us had ever had.

None of us knew who had said the words we most took to heart, for all we knew they may have even come from the person we had decided to hate the most.

Our teacher suggested we put our page somewhere safe and pull it out anytime we were feeling down or defeated or without the tools required to overcome one of Life’s hardships.

I bet we all did. And although I long ago lost mine, my friend had hung onto his. His list also included hand-written guesses as to who he thought (or maybe hoped) had said something nice about him.

I honestly don’t remember if I was the author of the comment he attributed to me. But I noticed that the girl who found him “really cute” had become his wife.

The anonymity of social media and the fact that we don’t see the reactions to our words allows us to be far less restrained in what we put out there. I wonder what would happen if we were as equally unbridled in our praise…

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 390: Wrestling With Shadows

I’ve written much about professional wrestling and my affection for the “sport”. For me, these guys are the last in the theatrical tradition of itinerant performers. Like acrobats and strong men they put their careers on the line every time they step into a ring.

Yes, it’s choreographed entertainment. Yes, like every reality show, it’s been scripted. But don’t call it “fake”.

Fake doesn’t hurt. Fake doesn’t elevate or crush your spirit. Wrestling does. And like all great performers, those who wrestle require stamina, discipline and buckets of physical, creative and cerebral talent.

These are far from muscle-bound dummies or Testosterone driven blow-hards. Most can read and manipulate an audience better than any stand-up comic or Broadway star.

This evening, the world’s premiere wrestling promoter, the WWE will present its 28th “SummerSlam”, a Pay-Per-View event that will draw tens of millions of viewers world-wide.

That audience will see the glitz and the glamor and incredible feats of athleticism. What they won’t see is what the men and women in the ring endured to get there and rise to the pinnacle of their profession.

One of the biggest stars in the history of the WWE and “SummerSlam” was Canadian wrestler, Brett “The Hitman” Hart, to my mind and many others, “The best there was. The best there is. The best there ever will be”.

In 1998, Hart participated in a terrific, award winning documentary written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Paul Jay for High Road Productions and the National Film Board of Canada.

It’s an unflinching look at what goes on outside the squared circle. After watching it, I am certain you too will never connect the terms “wrestling” and “fake” again.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Scooter: Saviour of Squirrels

I share my home with a tiny black cat named Scooter. I’m not really a cat person, but the dog found her abandoned in the park during a snowstorm a few years ago and brought her home.
She was about a week old and the vet told us she probably wouldn’t survive. But I decided to give it a shot and between me and a pooch who mothered her 24/7 she pulled through.
But rather than being gratefully we’d saved her life, Scooter has gone out of her way to make life miserable for both of us, never missing an opportunity to scratch the crap out of me or terrorize the dog.
And while she has remained tiny in stature, she’s a holy terror who doesn’t back down from anybody or anything. This isn’t a cat you take to a blessing of the animals. An exorcism maybe.
She’s tethered when she’s outside these days to curtail the two or three birds she’d dispatch daily, yet still needs to be regularly rescued while confronting Ravens twice her size or threatening to take on an entire murder of crows.
But yesterday, she revealed another side of her nature.
On warm days I work and write outside with Scooter curled up in the sunshine nearby. Mid-afternoon we were interrupted as a broken tree branch shattered to the ground carrying a huge grey squirrel with it.
The animal scampered away apparently unharmed but the yard was soon filled with squirrel screams and cries which I took to be some kind of ongoing squirrel fight. And then I saw Scooter nose to nose with a frightened squirrel baby in the grass.
I knew I couldn’t get to them before she pounced. But she didn’t. Instead she took a protective stance over the fallen baby and didn’t interfere when I arrived to pick it up.
Instead, she hurried to some shrubbery and took up a position over another baby that had fallen there.
Now I had a six or seven week old baby squirrel in each hand and no idea what to do with them.

My neighbor, Will, was working on his garage and has significant backwoods cred so I called him over to help. We determined it was best to place the babes where Mom could find them and put them in the crutch of a tree.
They kept hollering for Mom and she kept screeching back. So we decided to leave the scene and walk the dogs so Mom would feel safe recovering them.
I put Scooter, who was still searching the yard, in the house and we left for about an hour, returning to the babies still where we’d left them, the screaming ongoing and Scooter ripping at the screen door.
Will decided the babies maybe needed to be higher up in the trees and placed on a less precarious perch. So we got a basket, picked up what we’d determined were the remains of the nest, added the two babies and tied the basket as high as our ladder would allow.
By now Scooter was mostly through the screen, so I let her back on her tether. She tore across the yard and immediately uncovered a third baby, which we added to the basket.
By now I’d noticed that the arrival of each new squirrel calmed the others a little, but Mom was still screaming. I gave the cat a little more rope and a minute later she was standing protectively over yet another baby squirrel.
When I added number four to the basket, the babies went immediately calm, forming into a clinging bundle in the nest. It was as if the family they knew had been reunited and nothing was anymore amiss than when Mom normally left them.
I hadn’t been down the ladder more than a minute before Mom had gone silent. A moment later, she too was in the basket.
Scooter sat staring up at the tree for about an hour and then scratched at the shredded screen to be let in.
By then, Mom, the babies and most of the nest were gone.
I’m no expert on wildlife and I’ve seen Scooter chase after enough adult squirrels to know she’d probably love catching one. But somehow she seemed to know these little ones were off-limits.
Last night as she curled up in the window that overlooks the yard, I read an expression on her face I’d call self-satisfaction, maybe even somewhat proud of what she’d done.
It felt a little proud of her too.
And then a few minutes later she was back terrorizing the dog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


This isn’t the first time somebody has died on stage.

Two of recent theatre’s great comedians, Dick Shawn (“The Producers”) and Sid James (Pick any “Carry On…” movie) both did final pratfalls that convulsed their audiences –- until the realization dawned that they were never getting up again.

Genesius, the patron saint of actors, was also murdered on stage by Roman Emperor Diocletian in the third century AD.

He’d been doing a show satirizing Christians when –- so the story goes –- he suddenly converted for real in mid-performance and refused to recant as the final scene required.

Since he was one of Diocletian’s favorites, the Emperor even gave him a second chance to go back to what was scripted.

But he didn’t.

Maybe he had truly seen the light. Or maybe he was just one of those actors who has trouble getting out of character and, in the parlance of the profession, “goes home like that”.

Either way, Genesius also breathed his last on stage.

But this was different.

A few months ago, the ISIS jihadi-genocide army captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, where Emperor Diocletian, ever a patron of the arts, built a magnificent theatre that still stands.

And in May, following the usual crucifixions, infanticide and rape of non-Muslim women, ISIS fighters paraded 25 captives onto Palmyra’s stage where, after a long monologue by the fanatic in charge and with video cameras capturing not only the onstage action but the appreciative audience, they were executed.

Like a lot of ISIS video, this event was presented to both attract new supporters and enrage the civilized world, who surely, as Palmyra is a venerated site protected by the United Nations, would have understood the underlying message of the atrocity.

That message was: ISIS has no use for the arts, human decency or anything known as the humanities. Like the ignorant early Christian priests who knocked the dicks off Greek and Roman statuary because they found them offensive, their intent is to erase every culture but the sick and twisted one they embrace.

Many Summers ago, with barely a year of theatre school under my belt, I walked the stones of an ancient Greek theatre.

It was a profound experience standing where Sophocles first staged “Oedipus” for audiences that wept en masse and to walk where Aristophanes transformed Athenian sadness to laughter with “The Birds”; between them epitomizing the double masks of Tragedy and Comedy that still symbolize theatre today.

In that place, I felt myself part of a long line of artists stretching across thousands of years, reminded of the truism that life is short but Art endures, enriching the lives of those that follow long after the original cast has been forgotten.

It was also an insight into how important to society this theatre thing of ours is and the commitment you must make as an artist to what it brings to those with whom you share the planet.

Theatres like Palmyra are a reminder that Art is made so we can all experience a fuller spectrum of existence and hopefully understand that the human journey encompasses all manner of cultures, creeds and belief systems, all of them of value.

I expected this desecration of a site revered by those of the theatre would arouse strong emotions. And to be fair, a few in my social media circles expressed their disgust or outrage. But only in passing, for most of them and the rest of my fellow artists had more pressing concerns…

Some railed against the Confederate flag demanding this symbol of a 150 year old slave state be removed from public display –- completely ignoring the thousands brutally enslaved daily by ISIS.

Some celebrated the legalization of Gay marriage in the USA, taking little notice that ISIS marked the same occasion by tossing four Gay men off a rooftop in Iraq to clarify where they stood on what’s been a non-issue in Canada for more than a decade.

And in the weeks following, artistic Progressives have lobbed accusations about a “war on women” blind to the fact that ISIS now circulates price lists for sex slaves and summarily executes any young woman who resists being raped by one of their fighters.

It would seem there is passion for skirmishing in the culture wars, but none when it comes to standing up to real evil.

Admittedly, our own Prime Minister hasn’t done a lot to stem the tide of ISIS spilled blood and depravity. But it is odd to see so many arguing that even his minor steps are “scare-mongering” and “dictatorial”.

jihadi boo

For there appears to be even less stomach for fighting these sadistic animals among the politicians most Canadian artists would rather we support.

Last week Thomas Mulcair of the NDP stated clearly that “This is not our fight” perhaps exhibiting by such a surrender to evil that he comes by his French passport honestly.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau has characterized the Canadian jets dispatched to President Obama’s coalition as pointless dick-swinging and prefers the matter be handled by the UN and our forces only deployed in a peace-keeping role.

But the UN has done nothing while the innocent have been slaughtered, raped and enslaved for over a year, putting that strategy on a level with waiting for a budget to balance itself.

One wonders if Trudeau has ever bothered to ask his own Liberal Senator Romeo Delaire how effective our UN Peacekeepers were in Rwanda during a similar genocide that also wasn’t our fight.

The sad reality is that as the politicians supported by most in the artistic community defer and those of that community snipe at American cops, conservatives-in-general and the writer of “True Detective” Palmyra is being erased.

Islamic State group militants have destroyed six archaeological pieces from the historic town of Palmyra.

Its shrines have already been blown up. Its columns are wired with explosives and its cobblestones mined. Any attempt to free the city will destroy it. And in the hands of ISIS its culturally priceless antiquities are being obliterated little by little every day.

In the hours or days to come Palmyra will be gone, soon to be followed by many more links to our shared past in the region.

And with them will go the potential for Art to create thought, introspection and contemplation, which is its purpose. Neither will there be a place to celebrate humanity and the best of what we are.

These will be replaced by a madness that belies everything to which we aspire and a darkness that will smother all hope.

While my fellow artists focus solely on lesser evils, a great evil rolls on unchallenged, putting the lie to everything we claim we hold dear.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 389: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Not really knowing what awaited me one hot Prairie Saturday afternoon in 1963, I bought a ticket to an air-conditioned theatre and went to see the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No”.

A couple of hours later, I was back on the sweltering sidewalk, not wanting to leave, lingering over the poster and lobby cards, trying to reconcile the experience of something so new and unexpected.

Over the next months I read every one of Ian Fleming’s novels, caught up in a world of espionage, high adventure and masculine coolness I’d never imagined existed.

The rest of the planet had gone crazy for the Bond films and spies in general, so it was with great enthusiasm that I tuned in to the first television series of the genre –- “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”. And I wasn’t disappointed.

From the opening notes of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic theme, I was hooked. Doubly hooked by the concept of Western and Soviet spies working in partnership mixed with the Bond formula of girls, gadgets and gallows humor.

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo was sophisticated and cool while David McCallum smoldered with danger as Illya Kuryakin. The series ran 105 episodes and I doubt I missed a single one.

Therefore, it was with some trepidation I attended a screening last week of Guy Ritchie’s reboot of the franchise.

It’s a very different world now. Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon have given us a very different insight into how the intelligence community operates. We know too much about interrogation techniques and the return to a new Cold War with Russia is all too real.

Onscreen, Daniel Craig’s James Bond has become a far more daunting presence than I’m sure even Sean Connery and Ian Fleming imagined he could be.

A return to the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement felt like it might be a nostalgic trip best not taken.

But I was wrong.

The film is a joy from beginning to end, second only to “Mad Max: Fury Road” as my favorite movie of the Summer while being true to the original idea.

The chemistry between the lead actors is downright delightful and the perfect balance of intense action and fun that permeated the TV version is recreated with Ritchie’s trademark imagination and charm.

The film is getting its brains beaten in by “Straight Outta Compton” in its first weekend. But I think time and history will ultimately have Suge Knight and the boys crying U.N.C.L.E.

Do yourself a favor and take in a film that asks nothing of you but a desire to be thoroughly entertained and…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

You Can’t Say That!!!

The truth about censorship is that all it protects you from is reality.

But the reality of our current reality is that we’re surrounded by mobs of people super-sensitive to just about everything. Use a word someone has deemed “offensive” or “inappropriate” and you’re in line to be pilloried in the public square.

Tell a joke “too soon”, inadvertently use a “trigger word” or explore an issue that’s “sensitive” and your life can be made even worse –- all grave concerns for writers in particular.

As a result, you see more and more of us (especially in the television industry) practise self-censorship as we try to stay on the “right side of history” while said history is still figuring out which direction it’s going to go.

Each of us draws our own line in the sand. But how do we deal with a world that keeps drawing lines for us, both conflicting lines and ones that can spell career suicide if we cross them?

Last October, I got to attend Mark Leiren-Young's Southam lecture on “Comedy, Censorship & Sensitivity in the 21st Century” that dealt with all of these issues.

Despite his complete incompetence at predicting the outcome of hockey games, Mark is one of Canada’s funniest writers and winner of the 2009 Leacock medal for Humour. He’s also no stranger to having his work censored and attacked.

In 1991, CBC radio pulled a segment of his series “The Dim Sum Diaries” on the grounds that "it could be perceived to be racist."

Not “was” but “could be” and “perceived to be”. After being roundly condemned as “Canada’s National Censor” in editorials, the network relented and broadcast the episode (although not on the full network). Something it still hasn’t done.

But 25 years later, it appears the mothercorp might be starting to come around. Perhaps by realizing you can’t be both politically correct and relevant.

Tonight at 9:00 pm CBC Radio’s “Ideas” will broadcast Mark’s Southam lecture and an interview with the man himself.

From my perspective this is essential listening for anybody who wants to write. I can guarantee that the content will inform your writing in a timely and important way, while at the same time being repeatedly fall-down funny.

A writer who second guesses his creative instincts might still be a writer but he won’t be a good one. The good ones, like Mark Leiren-Young, combine talent with courage and ultimately speak a truth even the most shuttered mind can’t ignore.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 387: Lookin’ To The Sky To Save Me

I’ve come to call the last day of the week “Satur-dusty” a combination of Saturday and the name of my dog. That’s because after putting up with my chaotic work schedule for a week, I make time for her and we go somewhere to hike or swim or do stuff dogs like to do.

Yesterday we set out for one destination and ended up thirty miles away in another after I’d picked up a couple of hitchhikers. I don’t usually stop for those holding out their thumbs. But these guys had a sign. One whose message I understood because I’d been there.

They were trying to make a nearby music festival. One with big names that don’t usually show up in our neck of the woods.

I grew up in Regina, addicted to Rock ‘n Roll. But we were a small town, well out of the way and the bands I most wanted to hear live never materialized. I can’t count the times I spent an entire day driving or hitching in one direction to Winnipeg or the other to Calgary to see some band.

And too many times I’d arrive, parched and sunburnt, to find a hand lettered “Sold Out” sign in the box office window. It was a long and often hungry trip home, looking to that endless prairie sky for a sign to save me the repeated agony.

But when something matters that much to you, you put up with the pain and the disappointment and pretty much anything else to make it happen.

And sometimes the rewards were so very rewarding. Seeing Janis Joplin play one of her final gigs. Having “The Who” or “The Band” take your head and toss it so far outside the concert venue you knew you’d never be the same if and when you ever found it again.

I used to endlessly strategize ways of getting bands to come to me. I wrote letters, I cajoled local DJ’s, I even tried booking them myself. But finding the money to fund a rock concert was even harder than financing a Canadian film and the bands’ agents had inevitably neither heard of Regina nor knew anybody else in their business who had.

Would I had had the imagination of the 1000 “Foo Fighters” fans in Cesena, Italy who took to Youtube this week to beg Dave Grohl and his band to play a gig in their home town.

What follows is inspired. Enjoy Your Sunday.

…And it worked…

…Coming at you Cesena! Way to go!