feature image Photo Credit: James McCullough

Writings

October 20, 2014

Bury Yourself Day Four


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project.

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

— Cicero

Talking with the dead is much a fantasy for me as time travel. The number of people I would love the opportunity to talk with are endless and could go in many different directions. Do I speak with my ancestors to learn about family history? Favourite authors of mine to learn more about their processes and inspirations? Or I do reach further back into history to talk with people I only know through the history books?

Talking with ancestors would likely be more emotional than informative if I pick up on character traits of family members I know now. As much as I would like to talk with my grandpa, it would be painful to say goodbye when that meeting was over. With other historical influencers, my problem would be language. How do I communicate with Leonardo da Vinci? Molière? Marcus Aurelius?

I recently finished The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, a documentary series by Ken Burns, profiling the Roosevelts: Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin. I have been quite interested in FDR and his rise to power for quite a while, but watching the series made me more drawn to Teddy. His adventures stretched from the wild west to Cuba, Africa, and the Amazon. To hear stories about his life in the wild parts of the world would be incredible.

Even more important to me would be to learn about how he overcame his great losses in life. The death of his mother and his first wife happened within twelve hours of each other, in the same house. This happened when he was only 26 years old. He went on to become a large rancher in the west, lead the Rough Riders in Cuba, and became the youngest President at that time. His determination to overcome huge losses and set backs is incredible.

I would love to participate in a seance and have him join us for a lively discussion. I would imagine it could be quite violent and frightening, depending on which direction the conversation led. A scene out of Penny Dreadful, perhaps.

Regardless of whether it was peaceful or not, it will be one unforgettable experience.

October 18, 2014

Bury Yourself Day Three


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

-- Marcus Aurelius

No one wants to think about what happens when they die.

How will it feel? What happens to you? What will the people around you feel? The questions are endless if you allow yourself to think a lot about death.

The strange thing about living life is that you never truly think about death until you watch another person be born. You bring them into the world, marvel at how magical life is, and wonder about how much of their life you will be around for. Death is the one topic you want to avoid talking to them about as they grow older. My daughter is not even five yet, and I have had already had to help explain it to her with the death of a family dog and a baby (a distant relative) who died within their first six months.

It’s never easy, regardless of how old someone is.

Talking to her about death makes me start to think more about my own mortality and what happens when I will die.

I have no control over how people will cope, especially my daughter. The only thing I can really prepare them for is to describe what I want done with my possesions, my material wealth, and, a real First World Problem, my digital goods.

After hearing about the process of deciding what to do with what when my grandfather passed away and then when my grandmother decided to move into a condo, made me appreciate what happens after death. Living in a house for around 30 years, they had quite a collection. Not junk, either. They were worldly travellers, living in southeast Asia for a good portion, travelling throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and so forth. There was precious Chinese artwork purchased during the Cultural Revolution, shadow puppets from Indonesia, furniture from their parents or grandparents, and, of course, books. Lots and lots of books.

I am not a minimalist. I would describe myself as a non-materialist. I do own stuff, but I don’t stress about how much stuff I have and what would happen if I lost it. I make a conscious effort not to have an attachment to said stuff. My condo could burn down tonight, I would be upset, but I would not be heartbroken over losing x, y, and z.

My most valuable possessions are all digital: my writing, my photos, and home videos. As hard drive space has exploded and online storage has become more accessible, I am creating more and more digital stuff. Over 12 gigabytes of photos and home videos, over 300 digital pieces on my blog, previous University papers, and digital eBooks. When I look through all that stuff, I start to think about how long of a process this would be. It will only be worse if I end up living another 40-50 some years and digital media is as prevalent as it is now.

I question whether anyone else will look at it, know what is valuable, what has personal meaning, and what is worthless. My immediate family would be able to piece a good portion of it together, with assistance from Facebook commentary.

The remainder will then get stored onto an USB flash drive (or the equivalent in the future), and carried around for as long as the data is readable.

Which is how I would like it. Let my body perish into the sands of the world, but allow my digital life to carry on for another hundred years or longer past my mortal life.

October 17, 2014

Bury Yourself Day Two


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project

35 years is both a long time to live and a short amount of time. It is relative those surrounding you. Whether I am looking at my daughter (nearly 5 years old) or my grandma (90) who lives in Kelowna, I think about how much that has happened or will happen for me. I consider myself lucky enough to be able to say those words. Death is always a possibility these days, robbing life way too young or prolonging it for an excoriating amount of time.

And here I am. Alive, healthy, with many years to go if genetic history can be counted on.

Being alive is one thing; encountering death and surviving is quite another. I have yet to really face death head on or put myself into a position where death was a very likely thing to occur. I am not a big risk taker and never put myself into those questionable positions. I have never been deeply depressed and suicidal. I have never faced any serious health concerns that hospitalized me. I have lived a rather boring life to some, but hopefully a long life if things go to plan.

The one time where death was a strong possibility occurred when I was fresh out of high school. 18 years old, working for a production company setting up stages for performances in various venues across Whitehorse. For the majority of it, I was working on the ground or on small ladders, nothing to be scared of. The worst that could happen is maybe some broken bones and bruises from a short fall or equipment falling into you.

A haunting memory for me happened towards the end of that summer of work. It was an outdoor venue, a large circus tent in a half-shell. Inside the tent, at the back, was the stage. The crowd was half inside, half outside, with a gazebo acting as the command central for the sound and lighting operators. With the huge amount of people crowding around the stage, having cables run on the ground towards the stage was unfeasible. The solution: run the cables to the top of the tent from the top of the gazebo and down towards the stage.


Simple enough in an environment that owned a Genie lift to get up to that height safely. In this outdoor location, however, no such lift existed. The only way up to that height was to climb up the sides of the tent along the supports. At its peak height, the tent was roughly 40’ above the ground.

The height was something I never considered until I was at the top. I also didn’t factor in how much the tent would be swaying in the wind while working at the top.

The climb upwards started off fine, following a coworkers’ lead. The way to climb up was to grip onto an extra flap of canvas from the tent, being careful to step on the rungs of the tent and not put your foot through a hole. Once at the top, you felt a little safer laying across the supports at the top and not feeling the wind striking your body. Of course, laying across the tent meant I could feel the swaying of the tent in the wind even more than when I was climbing up.

It is at those moments when you make the mistake of looking down. You calculate in your head roughly how high up you are and the potential damage you could receive. One wrong move could send you into the hospital. Or worse.

I learned rather quickly to work as fast as I possibly could, and always verify whether I could return to the ground. The last thing you wanted was to have to make that climb more than you needed to.

I stupidly made that climb up and down several times during that summer. Reaching the top, I always questioned what I was doing up this high without any safety gear. Each time, I finished the job, and climbed back down.

I held my breath.

Waiting for that next order to go back up and face my potential death.

October 16, 2014

Bury Yourself Day One


Part of the Bury Yourself writing project

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

Revelation 14:13

Death has not been a common experience for me through my lifetime. There have been many family pets that have passed on. There has also been people in the community that I was aware of that have died, but none of them I knew personally. Unlike most people I have crossed paths with in my 30-some years, I have known only one person to pass away: my grandfather, Karl Stange.

The day I was notified of his death, I was in Grade 11. I remember that night, I was to perform in a production of Grease. I can also remember being more distraught over my mom missing that opening night performance than I was over the death of my grandfather. A very selfish reaction when I look back at it now. Merely a 17 year-old kid, instead of a man approaching 35.

His death, ultimately, wasn’t much of a surprise. My grandfather had survived a heart attack in his 40s, heart complications later on, and a bunch of dramatic surgical procedures in the final years of his life. Death was inevitable.

At the time, I was rather unemotional about it. I had believed that moving on from hardships quickly was better than letting thoughts linger in the mind. I still believe this now. You do need to allow some period of mourning to release the built up tensions and axieties inside, but the important thing is keeping that period short.

I really never mourned over his passing. I regret it to this day. This project is both inspired by and devoted to my grandfather.

His death never really sunk in for me until just over a year after his passing. I had moved in with my recently widowed grandmother, acting as a father-figure in the house for two years. Through conversations with my grandma, the many other family friends, or relatives who visited, I learned a great deal about his life and personality. I spent a lot of time learning even more by looking through the numerous books in his office, in the basement, in boxes in storage, not to mention all the albums of photographs.

Surrounded by his history brought back my own memories of him, more than any personal meditation could. This had a profound effect on me, without fully realizing it until later.

Now, as I sit here writing, I am aware of what I am leaving my daughter (possibly grandchildren 20+ years away.) I have thought of this since I entered University. Do good work for future generations to discover.

My grandfather left a lasting legacy through his work in life. Working with the Y.M.C.A in southeast Asia, a minister of a small church, and as a professor at the University of Regina. The majority of his writing can be found in the archives of the Y.M.C.A or at the University of Regina. A collection of his sermons given in southeast Asia are still in the family’s possession. This is all accessible for our family members and any who may be interested in learning more about this man in the future. He laid the foundations for other projects in the cities he lived in, as well as, a foundation within the people he connected with to foster spiritual or academic growth.

His death and the rediscovery of his life, taught me how valuable the human existence truly is. Life may be finite, and we may believe that history only belongs to well-known authors and celebrities, but that is wrong. Our existence extends well beyond our mortal life and can touch people we will never meet.

It is only a matter of doing the work, leaving something behind for others to discover, or leaving a piece of your experience with others directly. Death is not the end of life. It can and should be the beginning of a whole new life, the birth of a legacy of who we were to the people we touched.

My grandfather has been the best example of this in my personal life. His legacy began on that solemn day in June, nearly 18 years ago.

October 15, 2014

Being Mortal Atul Gawande


The two unfixables in life are: aging and dying. You can’t fix those.

— Atul Gawande

The day before I start publishing the Bury Yourself project, PBS Frontline has released the trailer for a new episode airing in the new year. It’s based upon the book by Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Atul Gawande is a practicing doctor, which makes the book and the Frontline episode that much more appealing to me. Here is the book blurb and the trailer for the episode below:

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

October 13, 2014

Bury Yourself Writing Project


We’re coming up on the end of the year. The Earth gives us an opportunity to wake up earlier and go to sleep earlier. The Earth isn’t getting an operating system upgrade; it’s doing what it has always done. It’s preparing itself for a new year by shaking off the old one.

-- Gwen Bell

Writing has always been a therapeutic experience for me since I started scribbling in journals during University. Sitting down in front of a blank screen or empty journal page can be frightening for me when I don't know exactly what will pour out from my mind. Several years ago, I was much more in tune with that flow from my mind onto the digital page than I am now, and I wish to correct it.

My weekly walks to explore different trails or lakefront have the dual purpose of getting exercise and relaxing my mind to help me get more in tune with myself. While the exercise has been great for me, having my mind flow into my writing has not been as productive as I would like. My paid work has been satisfactory; the personal, meaningful work has not.

As the leaves change colour and fall to the ground, I received an email from Gwen Bell announcing a new project. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Needless to say, I'm jumping into:

When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.

-- Shunryu Suzuki

This past year has been full of challenges and great rewards. Working on this project over the next 31 days will help me focus more on my writing and develop a routine of daily writing again. There are different options in how to participate in this, so I invite you to join in my journey along with many others: Bury Yourself

Ulysses

By pure coincidence, there is also a 30 day trial for Ulyesses, a powerful writing app for Mac. I have heard about how great it is for the past year (mainly from Ben Brooks ), and now I have the opportunity to give it a strong go.

There are too many features to cover here, so I suggest heading over to their site to take a look around. Including in the trial is a free eBook by David Hewson that helps you get your project setup. You can use it to write a book, write all your blog posts and keep them organized, and more. I'm looking forward to giving it a good go for the next month, putting my preferred editor Byword to the side for now.

Read more about the free trial: Try Ulysses for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month is in November.)

October 03, 2014

What Does David Fincher Not Do


People will say, "There are a million ways to shoot a scene", but I don't think so. I think there're two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.

-- David Fincher

Another example of an artist working within restraints to create something magical and memorable. Fincher has directed some of my favourite films over the years: Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and several more excellent films. Watching the short film below gives you a better appreciation for the artistic work he has been doing with his films over the past 20 years or so.

It reminded me of the video Apple showed last year about there are a thousand no's for every yes.

David Fincher - And the Other Way is Wrong from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

September 26, 2014

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes - Thom Yorke


Thom Yorke, of RadioHead, has released a new album via BitTorrent. There are four tracks for download that are free, the remainder cost $6.00 to purchase. It's a creative way to distribute an album and has been downloading nearly 50,000 times already. Likely a better way to get the album out after the debacle that occured with U2's album release via iTunes.

RadioHead was one of my favourite bands as a teenager. Youth around the world related to their song Creep and requested it so much that they had to pull it from their set lists while on tour. Tomorrow's Modern Boxes is definitely not the like the sounds from the album Pablo Honey, where Creep came from. It has some dance elements to it, on a very chill level, not up tempo at all.

Listen to the first song before purchasing below.

September 25, 2014

You Have to F*cking Eat - Adam Mansbach


The next children's book to follow the best-seller, Go the Fuck to Sleep, is coming out this November. The first one was absolutely hilarious and every parents could relate to it (especially new parents going through that stage.) Definitely check out the audio recording of the book done by none other than Samuel L Jackson.

BoingBoing had a preview page posted, and if the rest of the book is anything like this one page, I think it's a definite purchase for me.

September 20, 2014

Blue Bottle Coffee Review


Blue-Bottle-Coffee


I have been subscribing to Tonx Coffee for several years now. Earlier in 2014, it was announced that Tonx would be joining Blue Bottle Coffee. The fortunate thing is the coffee subscription service wasn't going to be changing that much, only the branding.

The changes that are happening are going to make things even better. Below is more information about the subscription service, and a list of the coffees I am receiving to give you an idea of the flavours to be expected when signing up. The original list of coffees delivered by Tonx will remain on my site, as Blue Bottle Coffee is still continuing on their tradition of delivering coffees from around the world.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee is an independent operation based out of California. They have both coffee shops there, but also coffee subscription services that sends the best coffee or espresso from their roasters to your door for a low price. With the addition of the Tonx team, Blue Bottle Coffee truly the best damn coffee out there.

I live in southern British Columbia in Canada, which besides a lot of wineries and orchards, has several coffee roasters here. I have tried almost all of the various blends, on top of the national chains (Starbucks, Blenz, Second Cup, etc.) and have been unable to find something that really appealed to me day in, day out. I may find one blend I enjoy, but then end up sticking to it all the time. There was no variety.

Until I subscribed to Blue Bottle Coffee.

Blue Bottle Coffee gives you that variety if you desire it, or a certain bean type on a regular basis with consisten flavours.

Here are some links to learn more about the company:

Subscription Options

With Tonx, you only had two choices: a small bag of coffee, or a larger one. With Blue Bottle Coffee, you have endless possibilities.

  • Origins Subscription: A delicious new single origin offering from Latin America, East Africa, or the Pacific Islands.
  • Blend Subscription: A changing selection of our blends, each one with its own origin story and profile.
  • Espresso Subscription: A melange of our espresso offerings, including blends and single origins that we serve in our cafes.
  • a choice of 7 other coffee roasts on a regular basis.

With each subscription, you will eventually get to choose the frequency (every week, every other week, once a month, etc.) And like Tonx, you will get a few size options as well.

  • 6 oz is $13 for Origins Subscription ($12 for others)
  • 12 oz is $21 for Origins Subscription ($19 for others)

Once you have the option to have shipments arrive once a month, the 12 oz bag is going to clealry be the best option.

The Coffees

The other options available:

  • Hayes Valley Espresso: Cocoa, orange zest, smoky finish.
  • Decaf Noir: Nutty, chocolaty, dense.
  • Bella Donovan: Heavy, comforting, deeply fruited.
  • Three Africans: Fruity, radiant, creamy.
  • Giant Steps: Viscous, fudgy, substantial.
  • 17ft Ceiling: Effulgent, caramelly, enveloping, nutty.
  • Roman Espresso: Jammy, malted, medium-bodied

Subscription Coffees Received

To be updated as subscriptions are received


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