Back to Adolescence. Again!

I’ve been a Substitute Creature for the last couple of days at a local high school. I do it all: French, Drama, History, Geography, English (of all things!)… I did demure this morning when a Tech class was in the range of Mr. Flexibility choices, although I WILL remind you that I won the grade 9 Industrial Arts Award at Caledonia High School, lo, those many years ago, where I made the most absurd and sickly book shelf in the history of design but aced all the tests.

Given my stupendously modest earnings as a writer this past year, I’m courting the don’t give up your day job Day Job, and I’m looking in the direction of education — where I spent the bulk of my professional career — rather than writing for government contract or speech-makers. I’m convinced that my own stuff would wither away if I was writing for other people from nine to five, though I can imagine writing after the classroom fog lifts and I’ve scrubbed the chalk off my fingers (sleeves, thighs, forehead). I’ll be off to make the Art of the Theatre sparkle and inspire young minds in half an hour. (I sense a movie coming on…)

I am finally getting to my long-overdue notes on my Guitarzan odyssey, that ODY-ous quest (the “Old Dog Year”) to become a guitar player a decade or three after my teens. (The first 150 days or so are already posted in the “On Second Thought” section of the site. You should Write Me! if there aren’t a couple more posts up by the weekend.) And the new quote for the week, a day late, is up in the “He Said/She Said” box. So much for the mind, so few photos. Speaking of photos, remind me to offer a link to our Guadeloupe travels; I should also be getting to writing about this cool trip before the memories fade.

‘Nuff Waitin’. Let’s Try BLOGGER.

The frustration with the technical glitches of this site have FINALLY impelled me to what now seems like a fairly obvious (even if temporary) solution. I now have a site on Blogger, where I have posted the complete and correct version of the Nash/Klassen article, and where I will this weekend be posting the overdue “ODY Guitarzan” diary (weeks 18/19) and the 2006 “Year of the Howden in Review” (or whatever this look back at a few of my pieces is called).

James Howden Too is the name of the Substitute Creature, and it can be found here.


Sheldon Kennedy

I admit up front: this is product placement. It’s really just an attempt to point you toward the “It’s All About Sports!” section of this site. (It’s just over there to your right.) I wrote about Sheldon Kennedy’s new book and a radio interview I heard this week. It’s one of those athletics-related topics that’s really not all about sports. Kennedy’s quite heroic in a way we can’t seem to get enough of. (And in this case, I approve.) And don’t worry: the word “puck” does not even appear in my article.

And hey, have I told you (recently) about the exciting series of my ruminations on music and the perils of mid-life learning? It’s to the right and down below, in the “On Second Thought” section. Be the first on your block to read about ODY! The story began in August…

ODY: 33/365

Oh, what a practice tonight! I have so many new things to fiddle about with, and almost no time for brainless drumming. (Almost.) The G and C chords are new and awkward, but they came along fairly well. A was already familiar, and I had a remote acquaintance with D. The picking sequence that I learned two nights ago started to feel do-able. Tomorrow, I may try to do both at the same time. Maybe. A full hour of mostly happy exploration, ending with the usual deformed and painful claw at the end of my left wrist.

ODY: Day 14

Two full weeks of the Old Dog Year are done. It is a perfect time to sit back and evaluate. How am I doing? What components of this self-indulgent midlife quest, this pale adventure, are effective and what parts need re-tooling?

Well, screw that. No nerdy analyses for me, at least not today. (I’m a natural at rumination.) I’m playing every day even when I’m lost. I make up stuff. I pretend. I turn off my critical ear and just make noises. Last night (yes, I’m cheating today: my after-midnight guitar churning was possible with eyes closed and a burnt brain, but I sure as hell couldn’t write), I tried to get a little smoother on the tunes I’m picking and the chords my fingers are trying to find.

Son Dave the TVPI has left town, and I may be forced to pay for lessons now. (He’ll still be a Teen Punk-rock Intellectual, perhaps the only one of his kind in Canada’s Nunavut territory, but a Vegan in the Arctic? Don’t think so. Pass the raw fish, please. And how would you like your caribou this morning?) Before we took him to the airport, the T(V)PI tuned the Dégas and pointed out that the E-major and A-minor chords that I’ve been practising are rather similar – the same fingering pattern, just one string higher – so that is a chord transition that I can learn to make. (Can a three-chord rock anthem be far behind?)

And since Dave was leaving, his brother Will had convinced a good buddy to drive him up for a visit: seven hours through the tail-end drowning of Hurricane Ernesto’s sorrows. Big Man Will (the only BMW I’ll ever have) and Little Jason are a Mutt and Jeff pair (see, I looked it up for you), an odd but loyal funship, a couple of guys who can yack and laugh without end. Jay was one of the funniest kids I ever tried to teach, funny/quirky and funny/ha-ha and an apparently hopeless student. He bobbed and floated like a drunken butterfly through a couple of my English classes, writing and reading what he had to. He showed up and passed ‘em, but somehow managed to flunk guitar class miserably.

And somewhere in the four years since, Little Jay Forbes picked up the guitar again, along with a pencil, some chords and a million burning ideas. He walks through malls and hears riffs and runs for his guitar. He writes like a mad thing at 4 a.m., sings in local restaurants and Legion halls and just had a professional pressing of his first CD of original songs. He sang for his spaghetti last night in my basement, a tune too new for the album, and it was full of clear-voiced feeling and melody and solid guitar playing. It makes no sense at all, this development in his life, which is why I love it. Jay Forbes, the six-string dropout and English class lounge act, made interesting music come out of my broke-neck guitar. If I can’t find inspiration there, I ain’t lookin’ for it.   

Old-Dog Year: Day 2

Put in an excruciating 35 minutes. The Teen Vegan Punk-Rock Intellectual commanded me to hold the pick a certain way, and it seemed to help my strumming a bit. Just having a pick probably helped make it sound a little more authoritative, if utterly muddy and tuneless. The pain wasn’t only emotional. My fret fingers feel chubby and arthritic, though they are neither. (And the tips hurt. Waah!) Picking slowly down the strings, each note of the A and G chords could be made to sound somewhat clear, but the strumming was horrible. Then I realized I’d been reading the TVPI’s handwritten chord diagram upside down.

After that, there were a few moments when I might’ve been actually playing the G major and minor chords, albeit badly. The A still sounds like I’m strumming on a leaf rake. Patience, Old Dog.