Track 75 — This is the One; Hidden Track — Seasons of Love

I sat down tonight with a mission; a mission to finally complete this post; a post which I had every intention of publishing three weeks ago; three weeks ago, of course, being my forty-first birthday and the intended finale to my 365 day blog; a blog which somehow never reached its conclusion.

Sigh.

Trust me when I say that I tried. I wrote, scratched, typed and deleted so many introductions and ideas that I almost forgot what it was I that I had hoped to say. I struggled so much, in fact, that I felt as though I was playing a game that my brother and I used enjoy as kids. (Actually, it is not so much a game as it is a psychological phenomenon. But I digress.) He and I would repeat ‘giraffe’ over and over again until the word completely lost its meaning. It was somehow amusing for us to disassociate the word ‘giraffe’ from the long necked animal that roams the Savannah. What can I say? We were easily entertained. Now. Not so much. Now. This game of semantic saturation has lost all of its appeal. Now. All I want to do is get to track 76.

Unfortunately, in order to do that that, I must first open the door to track 75. And as I have said, that has not been an easy task. I am not sure why, however, as I had chosen the song about two months before I really began thinking about what I wanted to say. Come to think of it, maybe that was the problem.

The song I had originally chosen was Seasons of Love from Rent. The selection seemed appropriate for the occasion. (To me anyway.) How do I measure a year? From the words I have written over the past 365 days, I hope that the answer is obvious. In love. For my family. My friends. My past. And of course, my future. The answer should be nothing but – love.

The snag came as I tried to relate the song to my life. Rent was the last musical that I saw before coming to Taiwan. My parents purchased four tickets; two for themselves, and two for me and my fiancée at the time. Life worked out, however, that I needed to find another date for the performance. (see track 54 Closer To Fine) Although it might not have seemed true at the time, I know now that I was sitting next to the perfect person as the final number faded and the curtains came down.

As I write this post, it seems to me that Seasons of Love was the perfect choice. The song was a prelude to what became be the next chapter of my life; the chapter which eventually brought me to where I am today. If only the last three weeks had been so easy.

I am not sure why, but any thoughts that I had put down onto the paper or screen in front of me did not seem to fit. Possibly I was trying too hard. Maybe I was looking for a bit of poignancy that was not there. It could be that I was striving for a depth that could not be reached. Or maybe I just did not know what to say. Nevertheless, for whatever the reason, I abandoned Seasons of Love. The post was not going anywhere and I decided that I needed a new song.

When I sat down today, I had no idea what track 75 would be. All I knew was that I had to relax. (The three-finger shot of single malt that sits next to me as I type is my failsafe guarantee to success.) It was not until I started writing that I began to hear the music. I guess that I needed to first understand that this post was neither a conclusion nor a finale. It was just a post; a rambling like any other. Not written to be deep. Not told to be meaningful. Just published as a means to tell my story.

My blog is nothing more than a compilation of musings that give insight into how I lived, what I have done, what I have hoped for and what I strive to achieve. As I tap closer to track 76, I have finally realized that this post was nothing to be planned or forced. It was simply the one.

This is the One, by the Stone Roses, was a song that was introduced to me in university by the same woman who sat next to me at Rent. (See track 71 Faithfully) It is a song that has been with me for all of my adult life. Although I have no idea what the lead singer is singing about, (I assume it’s about a girl, but his accent is just too strong for me!) the chorus sings out to me with every heavy strum of the guitar. This is the one. There is only one. I am in love with it and look forward to every moment of it. I pray for a future filled with the same love and happiness with which I have been blessed. To my family and friends, nothing but love.

Now, let’s hit track 76.

This is the One youtube link

Seasons of Love youtube link

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Track 54 – Closer To Fine

A few months ago, a friend of mine asked the question, “Why Taiwan?” I haven’t avoided her query per se; I have simply been missing the inspiration to tell the tale. As you will soon find out, it is not a grand story by any means. However, I still felt that it needed the proper introduction – a platform from which I could dive into my past. And then one day last week I was thinking about my tattoos. Well, one in particular.

I have four tattoos. Three of them were done with the pulsating sting of a tattooist’s needle. I have a monkey on my lower abdomen, an eye on my right shoulder and seven bats on my left shoulder. My fourth tattoo was received in the streets of Taiwan within the first month of my arrival to the country – no ink necessary. This is the tattoo that got me thinking.

They call it the Taiwan tattoo because of the amount of people on the island who share the mark. Not really a tattoo, it is more of a brand that one gets when they press their lower leg, usually their calf, onto the burning hot exhaust pipe of a motorcycle or scooter.

Limited space on the island and an almost endless number of scooters swarming the roads makes parking and even walking a somewhat dangerous endeavor. People are constantly on the go, zipping to and fro throughout the cities, stopping their scooters in front of shops, restaurants and stalls. It is therefore nearly impossible to know for certain if the bike you are walking by or parking next to has been sitting there for awhile or has just been dismounted. You must always be cautious.

Of course, if you are wearing pants, the most you have to worry about are char marks or melted fabric. (I have ruined at least one pair of slacks this way.) However, during the warmer months of the year when people walk around in shorts and skirts, there is no protection from the scorching metal except vigilance and a thin coat of leg hair. Vigilance of course keeps your skin looking fresh. Leg hair, on the other hand, simply provides a burning stench that might quicken your reaction time.

I unfortunately had only my leg hair to protect me on that warm summer’s day. And, really, it wasn’t much of a defense against the searing heat of my exhaust. I was trying to reposition my motorcycle so it would sit straight in a parking space. Without thinking, I used my leg as leverage to move it. And so, as opposed to just grazing by the metal, I actually pressed my leg into the pipe with the force one might use to iron an excessively wrinkled shirt. Shitty!

The initial twinge pain was minimal. It was more of a shock. But it didn’t take long for the sting to grow from a sharp prick to a constant and inescapable flame that seemed to burn my flesh from the inside out. I rushed to a nearby 7-11 to purchase a bag of ice. I needed to somehow ease the fiery fingers of pain that were clawing at the nerves in my leg. The small patch of skin now melted onto my exhaust pipe had left a red circle, raw and exposed. A flaming ring began to surround my wound and it continued to grow outwards.

Ice pressed against my leg, I hobbled back to my bike and rode home. For the next hour, I kept my wound chilled and did my best to divert my attention away from the biting pain. Slowly it turned into a dull, but manageable throb. I had become used to the ache.

The real torment, however, was experienced in the days to come. Every morning I would cover my wound with a small piece of cloth and go about my day. Unless I hit it, I really didn’t notice that I was injured. However, when I returned home every evening and checked on my burn, I saw that it was oozing with a thick white puss. I would then get into the shower, grind my teeth together and use a Q-tip to scrape the thick layer of infection out of the crater that I had left in my leg. This. Was. Excruciating.

Life went on this way for a couple of weeks. Each night I would scrape out the poison, and each day it would come back. With time though, the amount of puss began to lessen and the hole began to shrink. Within a couple of weeks there was nothing left to clean. My burn had healed and all that remained was a small scar on the back of my calf – a reminder to be a little more careful.

Oddly enough, it also serves as a reminder of the events that actually led me to Taiwan. Well, it’s more of an analogy, I guess. It is funny (in not such a funny way) how clearly the two ordeals mirror each other. The initial twinge of pain as I read the email from my (then) fiancée and realized that she had just broken up with me. Heading into my contracts class, almost numb. Being devoured by a searing pain that seemed to spread outwards from my heart. Thinking I was going to be sick. Rushing out of class, heading to my car and driving home to my parents; needing something or someone to comfort me from the pain. Spending the night talking and crying. Feeling the ache subside to a manageable throb. Returning to Kingston and the small apartment we shared to live with her, day after day, night after night. Leaving home every morning with a mask on my face concealing my anguish. Returning home to somehow try to fix that which was unfixable. This. Was. Excruciating.

And then one night as I sat behind the front desk of McNeill House (I worked the night shift in residences around Queen’s Campus.) consumed with heartache, anger and confusion I cracked. I just couldn’t understand how I could be so lost and alone when I seemed to have been exactly where I wanted to be a few months before. I remember wondering when and why my life had veered so far off course. And that was when I decided to run away to Taiwan. A friend who had been living there (here) for the last year and was getting ready to head back to Canada had offered to set me up with a job and a place to live. I hadn’t really given the proposition much thought until that night. But as I sat alone behind the front desk something inside me clicked. It told me to run. And I did. The next day I emailed my buddy in Taiwan and told him that I would be there at the end of May right after my law school convocation.

At the time, I thought that I was running away from everything and everyone. I felt the need to start fresh. So I did. It wasn’t until my road trip around Canada and the U.S., however, (see track 5 – St. Elmo’s Fire) that I realized I wasn’t running away from anything – I was running towards my life. And, I am happy to say that it has turned out better (and more unexpectedly) than I ever could have imagined. Could it have turned out just as well if I hadn’t moved to the other side of the globe? Quite honestly, I don’t know. Maybe. But then again, who cares? I have a loving wife, a gorgeously precocious child, amazing friends and family and a great career. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Despite the pain that got me here, everything worked out fine.

Closer to Fine, by the Indigo Girls, is a song that brings me back to first year university as well as the events that led me here to Taiwan. It was introduced to me by my university sweetheart and often sung by the woman to whom I had been engaged. I have listened to this song with friends, sung it on countless occasions, and even been serenaded to it in my parents’ bathroom. With all of these memories, good and bad, the melody and lyrics still sing out to my soul and remind me that no matter what my troubles may be, everything is going to work out as it should.

On an aside, I actually branded my wife with a Taiwan tattoo about a year before we got married. She was waiting for me on the back of my idling scooter while I went into a 7-11 to get some water. When I returned, I accidentally pulled on the throttle and sent the bike lurching forwards. Caught off guard, she fell backwards and pressed her bare leg against the exhaust. Fortunately she got over her pain and anger and forgave me. Twelve years later, everything has worked out not as we had planned but as it was meant to be. And now, neither one of us are closer to fine… we are already there.

Closer to Fine youtube link

Track 53 – Right Here Waiting

Thinking about my New Year’s post, I had originally intended to write about our evening out. The night would make for a good story in fact. It was filled with cards, a bit of drama, a brief entanglement with the law, eating pizza off of the street, conversation, dancing, a very early morning meal and a whole lot of bling. This eleven hour extravaganza had it all. But in the end none of it seemed to make the cut. As I sat down to write my post I became interested in something more than the hours that bordered 2012 and 2013. What became much more relevant to me was what I had done in 2012 and what I planned to do in 2013.

What did I do in 2012?

I loved my wife deeply with passion, friendship and desire.
I was loved equally as full.
I watched my little girl grow and accepted the fact that she is no longer a baby.
I was able to make my little girl understand that she will forever be ‘my baby’.
I returned to Canada to visit my family back home.
I came home to Taiwan to be with my family abroad.
I welcomed new friends and tied new bonds.
I said farewell to others, hopeful that absence won’t loosen the bonds already forged.
I rekindled friendships once thought lost to time and distance.
I kept the fires burning in friendships that time and distance couldn’t touch.
I was blessed with the purity of a newborn’s touch.
I twice felt the burn of the same promise denied.
I challenged myself and surpassed my expectations.
I challenged myself and failed to achieve.
I learned to accept my own limitations.
I learned to push past the best that I can do.
I traveled far to go nowhere new.
I traveled a few steps to visit places I had never been.
I ran; I climbed; I played like a child.
I worked for the success that I see in our school.
I basked in the successes that I see in my students.
I laughed from my belly and cried from my soul.
I got drunk with love, happiness anger and fear.
I was pissed off at few people; I pissed off a few more.
I was disappointed on a number of occasions; I was a disappointment a time or two as well.
I lied for what I thought was right; I told the truth even though I knew it was wrong.
I helped when I could and asked for help when it was needed.
I grew as a husband, a father, a friend and a man.

In 2012, what did I do?

The same thing that I plan to do in 2013 – I lived.

Although music followed us everywhere on New Year’s Eve, it wasn’t until I returned home that I heard my song of the night. As I laid on the bed scanning through New Year’s wishes from friends near and far, I was treated to a song and about a million memories. An old friend had posted Richard Marx’s classic song, Right Here Waiting, along with the words, “Music has an amazing power…just a few bars of a song I heard today brought me right back to some really awesome times with some really awesome friends…”

It is true, my friend, music has the power to bring us back. The only way to feed into that power, however, is to continue loving, laughing, and most importantly just living. Here’s to much more of that in 2013.

Right Here Waiting youtube link

Track 50 – The Time Warp

After reading an article in Men’s Health, 15 Turning Points to Celebrate in Life, I was left with the thought that at forty there are very few remaining milestones left in my life. According to the article, of the fifteen turning points in a man’s life the only thing I have yet to achieve is to take advice from my daughter. No. Wait. I listened to her counsel last Sunday night and watched Ice Age 4 for the second time instead of working on the computer. So I don’t even have that to look forward to. Great!

By forty it seems as though I have done, lived through and achieved almost everything that equates to a milestone. Of course, the loss of my teeth and memory are events that will surely be life changing. But I can’t say I am looking forward to either of them. Why is it that my remaining milestones relate more to how old I am getting than anything else?

Now, I understand that I could (and do) chose to put a positive twist on things and look at my future milestones as billboards to the amazing life that I have lived. However, that is just the flip side to the same coin. Quite honestly, that is still a little depressing.

I don’t do depressing.

There must be another coin.

And there is. Who says I have to gauge my life according to Men’s Health. (My diet and work out regime should be enough.) Hell, I just jogged about eight kilometers home from work the other night – in my flip flops. Who’s to say that wasn’t a life changing first? Maybe now I will start jogging home from work more often. Or maybe I will start to wear more sensible shoes to work. Or better yet, I might even start to carry some money in my wallet so that the next time my scooter doesn’t start I can pay for a cab. The point is that whatever lesson I learned that night, it has helped to further define the man that I am. Maybe milestones needn’t be as grand as we make them out to be. Babies have them every other day. Why can’t we?

And so on this, my 50th post, a kind of milestone for me, I will pay homage to some lesser known milestones of my past in hopes that I can and will recognize these life changing moments more frequently in the future.

1.     The first time I realized that my parents sometimes give good advice.

It was a cool wintery morning. My grade one friends and I were wrapping up another enjoyable recess in the school yard when someone dared me to lick the monkey bars. Now, I know for a fact that my mother had warned me on numerous occasions about the dangers of licking metal on a cold winter’s day. Her warnings were given by way of a story – an apparently true story – of her childhood self ripping her tongue away from the frozen railway tracks behind her house to avoid being flattened by an oncoming train. The images of her sprinting home with blood dripping through her fingers as they covered her mouth, and the small sheet of flesh left coating a square inch of the iron tracks behind her still gives me the shivers. Nevertheless they weren’t enough to deter me from playing the school yard idiot. I took the dare and had to wait, tongue frozen to the fireman’s pole, arms flailing and mumbling words of panic until my teacher came with a cupful of warm water to free me from my humiliation. From then on, I started to heed my parents’ advice. With a little more frequency anyways.

2.    The first time I realized that seeing should not always be believing.

It wasn’t until after our family had owned and become quite attached to our pet dog that my parents realized I was allergic to animals. It was therefore with heavy hearts that they decided to give our beloved Freud up for adoption. (Can you guess what kind of doctors my parents are?) So, one hot summer’s afternoon, we all piled into the car and started down the highway to drop Freud off at the dog pound.

About halfway to the pound, I remember, screaming at my parents to stop the car. In reality, screaming doesn’t quite capture the intensity of the moment. Imagine a young child, face beet red, tears literally streaming down his face gasping for air and begging his parents to pull over. That was me.

I would love to say that this outburst was caused by the sadness I felt over losing our dog. However, it wasn’t. Quite honestly, I can’t remember if I was broken up at all. Rather, my ear piercing wails were an echo of shock and terror. As I said before, it was a hot day. The sunlight pounding off of the baking asphalt had created a mirage before us and I was convinced that my father was driving us straight into a lake. I was sure we were going drown on our way to the pound.

I don’t remember how long it took my parents to calm me down. They did, however, and I learned a lesson that there is usually more to a situation than meets the eye.

3.     The first time I came to understood what it meant to ‘never let go’.

Those famous last words of Jack to Rose just before he slipped down into the cold abyss of the Atlantic Ocean were engrained into my skull (quite literally) during a grade ten gym class. The teacher was out of the gymnasium for some reason and a couple of my friends decided to set up the spring board and box-horse close to the basketball net. They wanted to emulate their NBA heroes and pretend to dunk a basketball.

My friends, being the athletes that I most certainly wasn’t, made the process look easy. Watching them dunk their imaginary basketballs with such ease made me want to give it a try. I took a long run at the springboard and actually bounced from it to the box-horse with a little bit of style. The leap from the box-horse to the rim was also accomplished with the grace of a fair skinned Spud Webb. But that is where my success ended.

I guess I wasn’t ready for the force of my body swinging away from the net because a second after my fingers clasped around the orange ring they were ripped away and I found my self falling to the unforgiving floor below.

I am told that the impact of my skull cracking against the wooden floorboards could be heard  from change rooms. I guess my glasses also bounced from my face about three feet into the air. However, I don’t know for sure what happened. Other than a few random memories of me walking through the halls and sitting in the principal’s office I have no recollection of anything that happened for the rest of that day.

The concussion that I received taught me to never let go. This was a lesson that served me well every time I decided to jump on to the roof of a moving vehicle. Who knows? Maybe dribbling my head on the gymnasium floor actually saved my life.

4.     The first time I learned that not everyone can take a joke.

To celebrate the closing night of What About Me (See track 10 – Robin’s Song) the cast, crew and a number of close friends got together at someone’s house for a party. Drinks were flowing, music was playing and everyone was still high from the success of our performance.

The host of the party was lucky enough to have a pool in the backyard. However, nobody had brought swimming attire and the water remained untouched. For a bit anyways.

I had enjoyed a beverage or two before heading to the backyard to admire the pool. When I stepped through the patio doors, however, my attention was not captured by the pool, but rather by the couple that was standing close to its edge deep in conversation.

Once again impulsivity took control (See Track 40 – King of Wishful Thinking) and instead of joining into their conversation I decided that the guy needed to test the temperature of the  water. I can only assume that it was rather frigid because he jumped out of the water about as quickly as he fell in. I only had time to run into the living room before he caught me. He actually leapt over the sofa and rammed me into the wall. The next thing I knew, I was about to pass out. Instead of throwing me into the pool as I figured he would do, that soggy fellow decided to try and choke me to death. He probably would have too, if not for the help of two bigger friends. Lesson learned. Not everyone shares in my wicked sense of humor.

5.     The first time that I learned to go with the flow.

I was in grade nine when my brother and I first went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were visiting our family in New Jersey and my cousin saw that it was playing at a nearby movie theater. Without telling us anything about the movie, he asked my brother and me if we wanted to go. Neither of us had even heard of the movie but we were always up for popcorn and a flic. My pop was also springing for the tickets so how could we refuse?

When we arrived at the theater, my brother and I commented on how run down it was. We were also taken aback by the attire of many moviegoers who were standing in line to buy their tickets. Both my brother and I felt a little intimidated by the whole scene and stood back from the crowd gawking like two children at a sideshow. My cousin must have been aware of our apprehension, but made nary a comment. I’m sure he was enjoying our reactions and therefore didn’t let us in on the type of movie we were about to see.

When we finally entered the theater, my cousin chose three seats somewhere in the center. I was surprised at how rowdy the audience seemed to be but I assumed they would quiet down as soon as the movie started. As you can imagine, I was wrong. Nobody in the theater except for the three of us would shut up. I was appalled when people started responding to the characters. I started to see red when people actually got out of their seats and ran to the front of the theater to interact with the images on the screen. And I was livid when the first grains of rice bounced off of my head. Don’t even get me started on the water and bread. It wasn’t until my cousin got up to dance the Time Warp that I realized what this movie was all about. By then, however, it was too late. The movie was almost over and I had missed a great experience. I realized then how important it is to just go with the flow.

It wasn’t until about a year later that I actually learned how to do the Time Warp. It was taught to me by the same delightfully quirky girl who introduced me to Georgia Satellites. (See Track 25 – Keep Your Hands to Yourself) If nothing else, this song is a reminder that life is as precious as it is short. I would be foolish to accept the notion that there are only fifteen defining moments in my life. I might be forty but I am far from the point where I can say I have done or seen it all. Although I am sure of the man I have become, I don’t think that will ever be fully defined. Every day brings with it the opportunity for growth and change. And so, I will continue to embrace both of these things with the same intensity, joy and verve as I did the very first time I took that jump to the left….

The Time Warp Youtube link

Track 19 -Sweet Home Alabama

It’s funny how the world sometimes seems to be listening to you. Call it coincidence if you like; you may be right. But remember, it is perspective that turns the boredom of a rainy day into the pitter patter of tiny drums calling you out to splash and play. (Dr. Seuss?) To me, this morning, the world was listening.   

Usually I take the scooter to work. It’s quicker and a heck of a lot more fun. However, Rachel had a doctor’s appointment and asked if I could take the car. (Downtown parking is a bitch!) No problem. So, I jumped in the car and started out for work.

I turned on the radio and was greeted by Honky Tonk Woman, by the Rolling Stones. It was a beautiful morning and the twang of country rock fit well with the mood I was in. Nevertheless, I remember thinking to myself how much better Sweet Home Alabama, by Lynyrd Skynyrd, would be. (I know. I know. Never satisfied with what I have.) But, as there was nothing I could do to change the music, (other than make a mental request) I decided to just sit back and enjoy my morning ride.  

I was blessed with the welcoming glow of green most of the way through the city. Eventually, however, my luck ran out and I was stopped by a ninety second red. The Stones had finished their song and the DJs had turned to today’s celebrity birthdays. Uninterested in the radio banter and facing a minute and a half wait, I did what any cell phone addict would do. I checked my email.

I noticed a message from my mother and began to read. It was about track 17. As I read her words of comfort I was ambushed by a wave of sadness. My early morning glow had suddenly been replaced with a gray gloom. And that was when the drums started pounding. The light turned green and the DJ revealed that last of today’s celebrity birthdays — Rick Springfield. And they began to play — yep, Jessie’s Girl. (See track 11)Volume up. Voice in overdrive. Sadness gone. It was a glorious coincidence. Or was it? Because the next song cued up to finish that morning set was — yep,Sweet Home Alabama. Volume maxed. Voice unintelligible. Smile from ear to ear. Coincidence? Hell, no! That was the world speaking to me!

I don’t have a particular memory attached to Sweet Home Alabama. I have about a million. Its uplifting beat has followed me throughout much of my life. It is one of those songs to which I should really know every word but I always end up mumbling my way through the lyrics. Then again, my affinity to it has nothing to do with the lyrics. It’s all about the emotion, intensity and freaking good time that I have every time I hear it.

Coincidence or something more. You decide. As for me, I choose the latter.

Sweet Home Alabama youtube link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cyokaj3BJU