Organized to a fault

The tyranny of lists.
The tyranny of lists.

They’re everywhere in my life. I have them in my briefcase. I put them by the telephone. They occupy plenty of space on my desktop – my electronic desktop as well as the wooden one. I generate them at the beginning of the day, before I go to bed or whenever I sense I’m losing my way through the day. They give me a sense of security. They often make me anxious – if there are too many of them. And since it’s that time of the week to write my column, the Barris Beat has risen to the top of one.

Lists rule my life.

Musings on a new arrival

The new arrival.
The new arrival.

Last Wednesday began in an ordinary fashion. I rose early – very early – to sit-in on the air for the regional CBC Radio host who was ill. As I often do in that situation, I checked the broadcast wire service to see whose birthday fell on Nov. 21 in years past. For example, it was pioneer broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s date of birth. It was also philosopher Voltaire’s, shipping magnate Cunard’s, musician Dr. John’s and actress Goldie Hawn’s birthday too.

It was also the anniversary of a number of historic events. I noticed it was the occasion of the first hot-air balloon flight in 1783. It was the 130th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. It turned out to be the date – in 1973 – on which authorities first noted the 18 1/2 minute gap in Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. And on Nov. 21, 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Later last Wednesday night, however, all that history dissolved into a darkened waiting room at the Port Perry hospital.

The real meaning behind dead leaves

Politicians live by them. Banks and their customers’ accounts die by them. The military invented them. And writers are most creative because of them. But I didn’t realize how critical they were in my life until this past weekend. I was out walking the dog and passed a neighbour raking leaves on her front yard. (Yes, I know, it is an odd fall to be raking leaves a month before Christmas, but that’s the problem.) Anyway, I commented on her task.

“Got to get them done,” she said. “Pickup deadline is Tuesday.”

Icing the brawlers and maulers

Uxbridge Oilies Oldtimers Hockey Club - Barris front row, far right.
Uxbridge Oilies Oldtimers Hockey Club - Barris front row, far right.

The twelve of us had been at it for about an hour. Half going one way. The other half going the other. It was late. There were only a few minutes until the end. I was there in the middle of it – chasing, racing, working as hard as I could. Now I was in a foot race with one other guy. In the tussle to get there first, he went down. The referee’s arm went up. Blew his whistle.

“Two minutes,” he indicated to the scorekeeper, “tripping.”

Active versus passive Remembrance

I attended an emergency meeting, last Friday. Some of this country’s greatest history thinkers and writers came from all over Canada to attend. Part of the assembly took place at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence; the rest took place at the Carleton University in Ottawa. Presiding over the gathering was indeed the Queen’s representative, Michaelle Jean. She addressed the several hundred delegates present.

“I worry about how little importance our society places on history and how we fail to recognize the past,” she said.

The star in our backyard

Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery "exhibited cultural capital stronger than Margaret Atwood.”

One day last summer, as I passed through Leaskdale, I saw them. About a dozen people had gathered beside the historic plaque in the town. There were just as many cameras present, as all members of the group snapped photographs with the entire entourage standing in front of the manse. The visitors were Asian. I can’t be sure, because I didn’t stop to ask, but they drove a rented van, so I imagine they had come from the United States, some other part of Canada or possibly even Asia itself.

For them, the Lucy Maud Montgomery manse was like Mecca.

Cure for the mid-winter blahs

We’ve finally got it. We’ve had about nine or 10 of them available to us each year – one in January, another two in the spring, a bunch each summer, a feast-oriented one in the fall and a couple around Christmas. But now, as re-elected Premier Dalton McGuinty told us last Thursday morning, we’ve finally got a statutory holiday in the dead of winter.

“This is a small thing, but it’s important,” he said. “I think (Family Day is) a powerful recognition of our priorities.”

Retirement boom and bust

I got a call from a friend recently. He said we ought to get together to catch up. Since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, I agreed. It wasn’t until an afternoon this past week, however, when I called him back to suggest it was time. I had managed to save a few dollars and I wondered if he could advise me what to do. My friend, you see, is also a financial advisor. We got together to talk about the “R” word.

“Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” I protested.

Quotes and political calculations

None of this is a surprise. Few of those involved are people we didn’t expect to be there. Some of the discussion has landed on coffee row or around the water cooler, but not a lot of it. None of the colours, the logos, the slogans or the rhetoric has caught us off guard. We even knew exactly when it was coming from as long as four years ago. Now it’s time for us to digest, assess and join the most important, but least acknowledged activity of our democracy – electing the right politician to represent us.

“Politics (is) the noblest of all callings,” wrote British journalist, Goldwin Smith, “but the meanest of all trades.”

Stats Can and your weekend

So, how was the weekend?

It’s safe to say, most people try catch up on weekends. They try to catch up on sleep or reading or, dare I say it, work? Yes, that’s right, work. And I don’t just mean errands and yard work either. If you noticed that big announcement from Statistics Canada last week, about the changing nature of the Canadian family, one of the other fascinating statistics to emerge from that survey included this fact:

“By 9 o’clock each Saturday morning,” the survey noted, “better than 85 per cent of Canadians are up and out of bed … and working.”