Making Time

Well, it’s time for one of those, “Gosh, look how long it’s been since I blogged,” posts.

The last thing I wrote for the Lobster was about going to NYC, which was pretty much a year ago. How strange. Things have changed and stayed the same, and that’s just as it should be.

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NYC is behind me

My wonderful partner and I have moved into an apartment together — one which our cat overlord approves of. There are many bookshelves, lots of natural light at both ends of the house, a baby downstairs that seems to answer the cat’s mewling inquiries with its own tangible cries, and there’s even the novelty of having a separate office for the first time in my renting life.

I can’t really put into words how exciting this new room is to me. All my life, I’ve written in some cramped corner of my home: the small, circular table that was propped up beside the door to my basement bedroom as a kid; in my rented college closet, it was a small side table that sat directly at the foot of my bed, barely wide or long enough to hold both a book and a typewriter; and more recently, whatever spare space was around to throw a desk in. Joseph Campbell mentioned finding yourself through the use of a sacred space, and I’m hoping that  Jess and I can create exactly that kind of mental environment with our office/study area.

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but it’ll get there. And George seems comfy.

 

With a novel draft to weed through and hopefully another novel — or at least a pack of stories — on the way throughout the spring and summer, I’m hoping that this separation of space will help me organize my thoughts. Many people have discussed the merits of having that desk tucked away somewhere studious, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to give this slight level of solitude a try.

The main things I’m hoping to get out of the new writing locale are:

  • a more defined writing regime — some of the writers I’ve spoken to doubt the need for a rigid word count or time-based commitment, but it’s something I’d like to tuck into, now that I can separate non-writing time from creative sweat hours with a physical door
  • a space to enter into a mindset of contemplation or meditation — with the baby downstairs, we’ll see how this one pans out
  • a letter writing space, that allows me to open up my thoughts to what I really want to tell someone on paper, how I want to communicate with them in that very visceral way
  • to slowly litter my desk and the wall that stretches out in front of it with little scraps of paper until I reach Merlin from the Sword in the Stone levels of hoarding craziness

So, I’ll be back, to tell how this experiment in study-use goes. Also, to report on my Goodreads goal of reading 30 books  this year — I set a low goal this time around, not to beat myself up to much. And finally, I’m joining a book club, so there will be things to report on all sorts of paper-related levels. And on that note . . . one final picture from the new apartment and our wonderful bookshelf setup.

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Crossing Whitman’s Ferry

After over twenty years of dreaming, I’m finally heading to New York City. I don’t think there’s ever been a place that has captivated my imagination more than Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs. My father came back from a business trip when we still lived in Brighton, England, clutching a little golden statuette of the Empire State Building. Ever since then, I’ve know that I had to get there one day. That time has finally come: I’m taking a couple of days with my wonderful partner to stroll the long streets of that decadent cosmopolis in June.

Part of the trip will be spent visiting Long Island — amazingly, quite close to the birthplace of Walt Whitman. I cannot stress how exciting this is for me. Since I first set eyes on Whitman’s swirling, democratic verse, I’ve been intoxicated by the mind and spirit of the man. I’ve been to Shakespeare’s supposed birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I anticipate similar chills walking around the American poet’s Long Island home.

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To me, Whitman is New York City in so many ways. Rereading his metropolitan ode, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” I am captivated by his open address to his readers. He invites them to join him in an exploration of the city’s ability to corrupt and also raise up all those that enter into it. Whitman discusses the ominous evils that develop from such close-quartered, metropolitan living — “I am he who knew what it was to be evil, / I too knitted the old knot of contrariety;” as a reporter for the New York newspapers, the poet often covered debilitating stories of anguish and terror, experiences quite different from the otherwise peaceful life he experienced growing up just a short distance away on Long Island. Yet, as is to be expected of Whitman, the message of the poem is a promise of devotion to the subject: “Ah, what can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemm’d Manhattan?”

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The promise of the city is very much like that of the water Whitman’s speaker observes on his crossing of the East River:

Receive the summer sky, you water, and faithfully hold it till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you!
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one’s head, in the sunlit water!

The river holds the sunlight for the sake of downturned, ashamed faces, much like the city invites and contains the best of human achievement, in hope that such a congregation will enthral and lift up mankind. The city is a project of hope, a “necessary film” of comfort and inspiration, that evolves mankind’s sense of self and adventure, even as it exists in dirt and disgrace.

By the time the great majority of Whitman’s readers got their hands on his poem, the Brooklyn Bridge has been built, eliminating the necessity of crossing the East River by ferryboat. A little of the similitude between speaker and reader is lost because of this infrastructural shift, but not much. The city of Manhattan is still a vast realm of possibility, a place of human struggle and redemption. I don’t know how much of that I’ll see in a five-day period, but I’m willing to guess that Whitman’s ghost will be following me around for most of the trip.

If you feel like checking out the whole poem, head on over to the Poetry Foundation website!

Bookish Season, Brooking Reason

I was perusing the wonderful annals of Book Riot today, and I stumbled onto a great way of amping up my reading ambitions for the fall. Playing catch in the park with my good friend Michael yesterday, I was gripped with a desire to undertake the sacred ritual of book list assemblage. But where were my new titles going to come from? The cosy hole of french novels and baseball literature that had filled my summer was a lovely place to relax during the warmer weather, but with storms and snows approaching, I needed a deeper set of tomes to keep me going, page by entrancing page.

Well, I’m very lucky to have found the Goodreads Seasonal Reading Challenge. It pits readers such as myself against a slew of wonderful little book-related tasks, in the hope of bettering our reading palette and clearing our shelves of some untouched, longstanding desirables. Off the top of my head, I’ve got a novel in blank verse and some can lit by Jack Hodgins that could do with some challenging.

The tasks are simply fantastic, ranging from simpler, ten point challenges like “read a book by an author whose abbreviated name matches an element from the periodic table,” to more sophisticated challenges that require the completion of multiple, heavy books. It’s just what the doctor ordered. And while there are certain restrictions — books have to be at least 100 pages to count, and only one graphic novel/ sequential art book can be used per season (I’m saving Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new book, Seconds for that throwaway) — there is such a creative field of play to engage with as you pick the right book for the challenge of choice.

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I’ve read a lot about how Goodreads has fallen after its purchase by Amazon — it’s often framed like the descent of Satan in the cold metal chains of Milton’s hell — but, like all technology, the website seems as good or bad as the people that use it. The folks contributing to the Seasonal challenge have a great, passionate well of good will to tap into, and the boards so far as utterly stimulating. I can’t wait to keep it up.

If you’re interested in giving it a go, don’t feel discouraged that things are already underway: any book you’ve started in December counts towards your total come November’s end. 

Something’s Happening Here

My best intentions have led me to two wonderful places this weekend: the Bloor theatre and the Canzine convention.

After an unsuccessful Saturday cab ride to the Varsity movie dome, where 12 Years a Slave was completely sold out, my friends and I decided to finally give Hot Docs a try. I had seen the beautiful marquee of the venue floating high above the pounding spree of Bloor on many a trek through the city. During TIFF, there was a steady stream of beautifully dressed cinephiles lining up outside the movie house. After last night, I know why: a concession that sells Steamwhistle beer; a schedule that highlights enlightened thinking about art, urban planning, and politics; and a balcony to die for. The film we watched, One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das, left me wanting more; it seems to me that documentary about a revered musician, be they New Agey or no, should deal directly with the form and specific expressive content of the music said subject performs. Oh well, I can’t wait to see more of what Hot Docs has to offer.

Today being Sunday, I went to church. Well, what Alain de Botton refers to as the modern church — the temple of culture. My temple took on the form of the Canzine convention, a collection of rag tag writers, illustrators, and comic enthusiasts that hole up in a large hall and showcase their wares and ideas. It was a phenomenal experience, especially the “One-Two Punch,” a chance for independents to pitch ideas for projects and receive feedback from established individuals from the indie publishing scene (including the founder of Broken Pencil, Hal Niedzviecki.) I can’t wait till next year’s Canzine. I agree with Botton that these comingling moments, times when weirdos and quiet types that adore culture come out of the woodwork to show off their strange, creative passions, are empowering and life-affirming. Seeing the originality and fluent creativity of fellow human beings does a lot to ease the weary mind.

As does this

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I’ve been reading Alain de Botton’s fantastic book The Consolation of Philosophy, a tome that makes that most abstract subject seem a little more practical for day-to-day use.

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I’m growing particularly fond of Seneca the more I read about him. Born during a tyrannical period of Roman history, he saw royal infighting lead to murder, and suffered through several years as Nero’s tutor. That same student would demand Seneca take his own life just a few years later, following a false charge of treason directed at the philosopher. Like Socrates, Seneca’s place in history was secured by his determination and strength of will in the face of his own death — he spoke of the fateful event as a single moment of pity within the much greater sorrow of the whole human life, and therefore, it was of little consequence.

While this might appear overly cynical to some, I find great strength in the scepticism that Seneca would have us endorse, and I believe a great many others feel the same way. Comedians like Louie CK use standup to broadcast ideas about mortality and the things we suffer through on a daily basis. Revered journalists pull away the trappings of falsehood created by governments or corporations so that we can gain a perspective of scepticism as we address these entities in our society.

If we come to grips with the shortcomings of life through entertainment, why is it so hard to face up to it on a daily basis, as a kind of activity?

Seneca believed it was healthy to open your mind to the downturns and disasters that can overtake us. He advocated the use of meditations on the subject. I’ll just provide a small portion of the text found in de Botton’s book:

We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die.

Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth.

Reckon on everything, expect everything.

So, give it a try: the next time you’re looking down at your corn flakes in the morning, remember old Seneca, and keep things in perspective.

Everybody Comes to Flicoteaux’s

A good restaurant can become an institution, especially if the menu caters to the weak of spatula or the hungover, destitute student. Cheap greasy spoons can provide the grub that angels fear to concoct — as the shoddy excuse for a stove back at the basement suite might erupt at the first hint of actual cooking. Affordable, reliable, cosy, the dive restaurant is a necessity for down and outers all over the globe.  

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In my first year out on my own, away from my father’s magnificent bolognese and my mother’s heavenly roast potatoes, I survived on a steady diet of bagels, peanut butter, and jam. Whenever I did go out for a bite to eat, I was grateful that downtown Victoria’s longstanding vegeterian hangout, Green Cuisine, was there for me.   The restaurant’s comfortable location, in the heart of tourist central’s beloved Market Square, would lead many to expect high prices; but one of the delicious daily soups with a piece of housemade cornbread was a steal at $2.50, with a hefty pot of black tea for a buck and a half more. The old bamboo furniture had seen better days and the cash register always looked like it had more dents in it than cash, but these little faults became charm in my eyes. That restaurant was all I needed to entertain a friend out of doors, away from my roommate’s incredible mess and my equally disgusting cooking skills. I can’t begin to count the amount of times I strolled downtown and smiled down at the meager change in my pocket, knowing the simple, and delicious, pleasure that awaited me in that frugal haven.  

Places like Green Cuisine live large in the memory of many; but if anyone is capable of doing due diligence to the sordid bastion of the restaurant-dive, it is Honore de Balzac. The great French writer struggled with crippling debt his entire life — he was an artist of loans and interest, never lacking an exorbitant amount of canvas to work with. He was therefore no stranger to the world of the poor supper.  

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Eating out in restaurants was a social necessity in nineteenth-century France — your presence at the communal cafe in the later hours of the day determined your commitment to a set of ideals, a political party, or whatever peer group you aspired to join. Balzac was intimate with the poor writer’s club, the kind of fraternity that was almost more of a curse than a blessing. In Lost Illusions, one of Balzac’s grandest works, the author paints a masterful portrait of food’s central importance to a burgeoning community of young, poorly-fed minds.

The name of Flicoteaux is engraved on many memories. Few indeed were the students who lived in the Latin Quarter during the last twelve years of the Restoration and did not frequent that temple sacred to hunger and impecuniosity. There a dinner of three courses, with a quarter bottle of wine or a bottle of beer, could be had for eighteen sous; or for twenty-two sous the quarter bottle becomes a bottle. Flicoteaux, that friend of youth, would beyond a doubt have amassed a colossal fortune but for a line on his bill of fare, a line which rival establishments are wont to print in capital letters, thus–BREAD AT DISCRETION, which, being interpreted, should read “indiscretion.”  

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Flicoteaux has been nursing-father to many an illustrious name. Verily, the heart of more than one great man ought to wax warm with innumerable recollections of inexpressible enjoyment at the sight of the small, square window panes that look upon the Place de la Sorbonne, and the Rue Neuve-de-Richelieu. Flicoteaux II. and Flicoteaux III. respected the old exterior, maintaining the dingy hue and general air of a respectable, old-established house, showing thereby the depth of their contempt for the charlatanism of the shop-front, the kind of advertisement which feasts the eyes at the expense of the stomach, to which your modern restaurant almost always has recourse. Here you beheld no piles of straw-stuffed game never destined to make the acquaintance of the spit, no fantastical fish to justify mountebank’s remark, “I saw a fine carp to-day; I expect to buy it this day week.” Instead of the prime vegetables more fittingly described by the word primeval, artfully displayed in the window for the delectation of the military man and his fellow country-woman the nursemaid, honest Flicoteaux exhibited full salad-bowls adorned with many a rivet, or pyramids of stewed prunes to rejoice the sight of the customer, and assure him that the word “dessert,” with which other handbills made too free, was in this case no charter to hoodwink the public. Loaves of six pounds’ weight, cut in four quarters, made good the promise of “bread at discretion.” Such was the plenty of the establishment, that Moliere would have celebrated it if it had been in existence in his day, so comically appropriate is the name.

Flicoteaux still subsists; so long as students are minded to live, Flicoteaux will make a living. You feed there, neither more nor less; and you feed as you work, with morose or cheerful industry, according to the circumstances and the temperament.
-Lost Illusions, Part Two, Chapter Two, 1837

Flicoteaux has finally left the streets of Paris, but all over the world, there are frugal, thoughtful restauranteurs willing to take his place. Thanks goodness.

Post-War Foodie: Passion Over Plenty

B.R. Myers’ article for the March, 2011 issue of the Atlantic, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” carries out a noble inquisition against modern food writers. Pop star blowhards are all around us, Myers warns, and they’re writing about food — or rather, the gluttonous side of that timeless topic. Writers like Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan may be eating free range or organic, but the excessive experience they project onto quality eating is nauseating, says Myers.

I have to agree. In the kitchen, I am my father’s son: born in 1945, my old man is a product of war rationing. Some of his true cooking grit has rubbed off on me — most notably his love for Edouard de Pomiane.

Edouard knows how to keep it simple. A physician (de Pomiane lectured at the Institut Pasteur in Paris) with a hate-on for aristocratic French cooking practices, he became the cook celebre of post-war France: his weekly radio show told people living under rationing and an exhausting work schedule (that included an unprecedented number of new mouths to feed for war-time couples) how to throw a few nourishing ingredients together for the maximum effect. And while Cooking in Ten Minutes certainly restricts itself to recipes of simplicity suitable to the stated time limit — noodles with gravy, minute steak, six pancakes — the prose that layers the recipes and different chapters is of the highest quality. Conversational in tone, de Pomiane hooks you directly, inspiring you to turn your tiny kitchenette into a palatial oasis while you throw a pot of water on the element — you will need it no matter what, the master instructs, and while it heats up, you can pause for a breath.

The language in Cooking in Ten Minutes is very rich indeed, although the food it describes is at times quite plain. Through de Pomiane’s direction, there’s more magic to be seen in the ritual and process of eating, rather than the trumped up qualities and endangered meats (like force-fed songbirds) that Myers’ foodies deal in. Any student or minimum wage earner can learn a lot from de Pomiane.

But the post-war gastronomic fecundity doesn’t end there. Journalist Ann Rogers’ delightful A Cookbook for Poor Poets and Others delves into the art of group meals on the cheap. While de Pomiane focusses on quick bites for variable company, most of Rogers’ fantastic one pots and carb-heavy dishes entail the gathering of the tribe. She describes the unfailing constants of the poor larder: butter, bread, and wine; but the recipes in her book are meant for the exorcism of collective poverty/ scarcity. There’s always the promise of success around the corner in Rogers’ culinary discussions, as if the promise of a meal is the promise of the world (whenever wonderful friends are in tow, that is.)

Finally, the heavyweight Elizabeth David. It sounds strange doesn’t it? David is known for revolutionizing British kitchens with her introduction of French, Italian, and Mediterannean cuisine to the average Briton. Her French Country Cooking is cited by the Guardian as one of the hundred most important English language works written by a woman. But David lived through the post-war years as a writer, not a countess, and her recipes cater to her food stamp fellows. She has written two beautiful essays on de Pomiane and how much can be learned from the man’s wit and wisdom, and her dedication to ten-minute cooking pops up throughout her work. David plays both hands in her books: she glorifies both the high and the low ends of the culinary spectrum; but the option to make much out of little is always there, and I treasure her little recipes that can bring the French countryside or a Greek fishing village to my table for ten dollars or less.

I don’t know what these three writers would say about the current excessive North American food culture. Horror has to factor into it. It does for me. After a long walk, my father always knew how to throw a few simple ingredients together to hit the right notes, no matter how slim the pickings might have been. That is the cooking ritual that I want to embrace as I continue to learn new recipes, evolve my kitchen technique and grow as a cook. It’s too much to ask that elitist gastronomes should abandon their gluttony and pretenses (that was true of de Pomiane’s time, just as it is now); but it is comforting to know that history offers up examples of frugal cooking for those with the spirit, but not the pocket change, to make wonderful food at home.

March Madness Menu

I was sitting in the bunker of CFUV’s fundraising inner sanctum yesterday, trying to keep up with the rapid phone calls and happy visitors that make our yearly Fundrive such a pleasure, when our program director jumped on the air. Johnnie Regalado’s show, Music to Make Dinner By, is always a treat — but yesterday, the sound of “Peaches” by The Stranglers hit me in an off place, causing me to break into a cold sweat. All the food-related songs that interspersed Johnnie’s expert fundraising pitches reminded me that I had yet to sit down and start a new round of blog posts for March.

It’s all about food this month! I was considering pouring some thought into religion. Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists has been a perfect Theology 100 for me, showing off some of the bright sparks in the darkness that is organized religion. But what with the twenty-four hour Pope alert going on the last few weeks, I thought it would be interesting to dedicate some time to something more essential than a lot of cloth and temples. Food is one of the essential elements of a community. What would early Christian meetings have been without bread to break and wine to drink? Feasting is an essential part of bringing people together, wherever you are in the world. I want to celebrate that a little on My Pet Lobster.

At the beginning of March, I attended the Fernwood University lecture on the history of food in Victoria. Dr. Robert Griffin talked about the many twisting trends of gold rush grocers and cannery crazies that have graced the shores of our little island. It struck me as a brilliant way of understanding a community, something I’m sure anthropologists and archaeologists understand perfectly. Victorians have lived in an import-heavy community since the days of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Fort Victoria. The home gardening and local food movements that have cropped up here on the rock reflect a history of self-reliance that I want to touch on a little in the coming weeks. Food is very likely the ultimate reason for young twenty-somethings like myself to develop a level of self-sufficiency.

One precautionary note: I am not a culinary expert. My position in my immediate family is that of the black chef; while my mother, father, and sister all concoct beautiful dishes and deserts, I take my joy from the simple meals of bolognese, rice and beans, and whatever else I can scrounge. I hope some day to look into my larder and realize that I’ve magically bridged the gap between amateur and guru, but for now, I keep things simple. So, the posts to come may seem naive to more initiated cooks — or even veteran Food Network viewers — but I’ll make my humble vision of cuisine enjoyable, if not entirely groundbreaking.

Money, Not Humanoids From the Deep, Is the Root of All Evil

I always wish I could have sat down for a beer with Roger Corman. We’d find some quiet hotel bar in Puerto Vallarta, where all his most recent, shark-related films have been shot, and just talk about work and life. The man has it figured out in a way few other cinematic masters seem capable of reaching.

As a hero, Corman took me by surprise. I’d always thought Frank Capra would be my pinnacle of Hollywood work ethic, along with greater humanist ethic to boot; if you haven’t read anything about Capra’s young life, do yourself a favour and do so, it’s food for thought in this single-mindedly depressed economic twilight. I found Corman through his movies, even though I originally had no idea there was a unifying mind at the helm of his works. Movies like The Bat, The Trip and The Premature Burial were everything I loved about simple, North American storytelling — the art of “let’s follow the main character around” as David Mamet unlovingly described it.  Corman’s simple stories are mutated fairy tales for a new world filled with gruesome political and environmental concerns.

What is overwhelmingly endearing about Corman is his approach to the work of filmmaking. In the recent documentary Corman’s World, we get a glimpse into the chaos of the budget moviemaker’s career. Over the course of one hundred and twenty-five minutes, we see Corman establish his foothold in a world of sky high production value and a lot of backstabbing. After a failed military career, Corman set about making a living for himself in the only industry he had a hair of inspiration to dedicate himself to: the movies. He toiled for the big studios as a manual sortation engineer (read: mail boy), made a break for script reading; and then, following one of the many heartbreaking backstabs that make up Hollywood as seen through the eyes of screenwriters, he packed up and started his own movie production company.

The man is a master of financing — that’s the real talent behind moviemaking, “the paint” as Jack Nicholson puts it in Corman’s World — something I still can’t appreciate to its full extent. What I can appreciate is that Corman sold subversive, critical subtext to generations of drive in movie lovers. He also worked to distribute some of the masterpieces of foreign cinema to North American markets. Corman is a cinematic idealist, someone who unflinchingly declares the nobility of celluloid through his art of production. His exploitation films may be judged as schlocky when viewed next to Lucas’ newest monster or Spielberg’s great endeavours of smoke and mirrors; but according to the vitrues of creative control and sane budgeting, Corman is in a class of his own.

Moviemakers have followed suit since Corman’s heyday in the sixties and seventies. Don’t doubt it for a moment: there would be no Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth without Roger Corman. I don’t know which industry I’m headed towards, or if there will be something as simple as one industry calling my name by the time I’m thirty, but I hope that I have the courage and grace to question the machinations of my career as Corman did. He is a great innovator, a lover of young people, and a charming public speaker; he reflects the image of Mark Twain lecturing on the wonders of travel, or Pierre Berton declaring his hatred for the anti-semitism of Depression-era fraternities; he stands as another individual, cast in a heroic mold. Make sure you check out Humanoids from the Deep, followed by a Frederico Felini film right after; then, after mutant salmon and neorealism have festooned for a little while, thank Roger Corman for bringing both of them into your world.

Pierre, no not that one

I’ve lived in Canada for nineteen years now, but I still don’t feel fully Canadian.  The current government does nothing to ease my doubts: Harper’s vision of a glorious nation, built on the military victories of 1812 and the promise of greater economic victories dug out of the earth make me want to flee the village. Thankfully, my personal hero this week has a kindly habit of patting me on the back, reassuring me that Canadian nationality is not defined by the current administration, but by the works and lives of the many people that call this disparate collection of locales their home.  Pierre Berton is my man of national quality and straight talk.

Berton’s life reads like an atlas of Canada (he comes from a time when people still used atlases to plot out their dreams): his hometown is the capital of the Yukon Gold Rush, Dawson City; the Berton family moved down to the sunny shores of Victoria, BC, where, after a few years at the sapling known as Victoria College, Pierre transferred to the bigger shores of Vancouver — and became the youngest editor of a Canadian daily newspaper; he moved on to become one of the country’s most esteemed journalists in Toronto — he was the editor of Maclean’s, co-edited the Toronto Star, and helped produce some of CBC’s best panel show material; and he chose rural Ontario for his place of retirement.

In an interview for the American blog Big Think, Neil Degrasse Tyson said the following about great individuals in human history: “I think that the greatest of people that have been in society — they were never versions of someone else — they were uniquely themselves.”

I share Tyson’s admiration of the hero/genius or truthful individual. And so does Pierre, it seems: in 2004, at the height of his decorated career, the retiring journalist was featured on the Rick Mercer Report, shocking the nation as he admitted to his own longstanding, recreational use of marajuana. The man must have known the repercussions of such a publicised admission of drug use — he’d been conversing with celebrities who had been caught up in the same kind of scandals for years. I know this probably isn’t the kind of individuality that Tyson had in mind, but I’m proud that a national literary hero could so brazenly disavow conventional perceptions and be “uniquely” himself on national television. I guess he had a lot of practice.

In that shocking visit to the airwaves, Pierre Berton reminded me of William Burroughs’ favorite slogan of the fifties:”Roll your own!” The phrase sums up the DIY ethos before that lifestyle really existed as we know it today. At the heart of Berton’s work, and his life, lies the determination to get out there and make a better, more truthful world. The man worked seventeen hour days in Klondike mining camps and still had time think of story ideas to send to newspapers. The men and women he paid tribute to in his Canadian histories lived similarly robust lives: whether conniving against the incline of the Chilkoot pass or trying to form a union against the implaccable industry leaders of the Depression, the people Berton focussed on in his writings were all hardworking heroes in their own right.  That’s the Canada I want to be a part of, nineteen years in; and I have Berton to thank for that humbled perspective on the country I call home.