On Reading Poetry Well

I don’t get poetry.

Sometimes I can’t even spot a rhyming scheme.

But it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what I read. The words can make me laugh, feel uncomfortable, question the nature of my existence, etc.

I usually get something out of poetry that is different from what the writer intended. But if a reader is moved, isn’t that worth something?

I cried when I saw A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute of Chicago. I had heart palpitations and tears poured over my pink, chubby cheeks as I stared at the enormous canvas.

It wasn’t the little girl’s face, or the running dog, or the plump Victorian profiles. Something else moved me to tears—something inexplicable.

There are many names for this phenomenon, but I like “Stendhal Syndrome” best (perhaps due to my affinity for pen names).

In the presence of great works of art or splendid beauty, some people react with a visceral response—a rare few even experiencing hallucinations.

I was not contemplating aristocratic Victorian society or dissecting the juxtaposition of movement and stillness in the famous work of art. Instead, my heart swelled at the explosion of tiny pin pricks of colour carefully splattered over the canvas.

I later researched the meaning of the piece. I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the piece but the intellectual dissection couldn’t compare to the raw emotion of my experience.

The same goes for my experience with poetry.

I wrote two tests on selected writings from a literary magazine. I did great on the first test. And then came the poetry test.

I must have read each poem three times.

I failed the test, including the question asking which one used a rhyming scheme.

(To be fair, only a portion of the piece was written in rhyme. To be honest, even after I was told the answer I had to sing the piece to notice the rhymes.)

I’m still going to read poetry. I’m not going to “get it” but it will excite me like an explosion of tiny pin pricks of colour splattered over a canvas.

Time as Waste

A common goal in life is to be settled—to be set in life. It’s movement. It’s not just us moving forward—it’s us moving forward with time.

You spend all this time building your family, your friendships and your career.

Then it ends. You lose your job. You lose a loved one.

It’s a natural thing. It doesn’t feel that way, but it is.

One of the hardest things about losing someone is the loss of hope. Hope can be endless. If we didn’t have hope, there wouldn’t be a point to moving forward.

Hope is the reason we’re so distraught. We hope that we’ll live forever. I don’t want to live forever. But I want you to live forever. I don’t ever want to live in a place where you aren’t.

Let’s look at geese. If their partner dies, they wander about endlessly alone until they die. Does that make them smarter? More romantic?

To us, it’s not logical.

There’s nothing logical about hope but hope is what drives us.

This is what makes it so wonderful and so awful.

Grief is a losing game. It is with us for a lifetime. You can get to a point where you laugh at the little things but that knot in your shoulder, or in your neck, is carried through the rest of your life.

Tears wait for a memory to sneak up and pour a waterfall of visceral heaving that knots another point of tissue until you walk different, you sit different, you look different and there is nothing you can do to shed the difference.

But we all feel it.

It should be what connects us. But we all have the same canned sentiments of “my deepest condolences” or “I know how you feel”.

The thing is, these conventions aren’t the proverbial pat on the back that we need, and it isn’t what we mean to say.

We mean to say we see the sinkhole that has appeared in your life. We mean to say, “How the hell are you going to get your car out of the sinkhole that just appeared?” We mean, “I’m here if you need me.”

What the grieving heart needs is time. Time going forward.

Time is precious.

It shouldn’t be wasted.

If it is, that’s garbage.

Litter: A photo essay

Disclaimer: I do not condone littering.

Other disclaimer: if you litter in front of me, I might take a picture of it before showing you to a trash receptacle.

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Booze-making waste

The last time I was in Collingwood, Ontario, I toured the Collingwood Brewery. I was in awe that this tourist town of about 21,000 people had several breweries and at least one distillery. (And I hear the number has grown since I’ve been out that way.)

I wondered where all the waste created during the beer-making process went because I think of things like that. I don’t know why. I just do.

As it turns out, the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) have a commitment to sustainability. According to their website, about 92 per cent of spent grains (the by-products of brewing and distilling) are sent to companies that convert them into fertilizer or livestock feed.

Instead of sending the by-products down the drain or to a landfill, they are dried and converted into a useable product.

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Beer makers aren’t the only ones thinking green about their brown by-products.

As early as 1837, the Gooderham & Worts Distillery (formerly one of Toronto’s prominent whisky distilleries) was turning their by-products into animal feed.

In some cases, whisky distillers actually take their by-products into consideration when choosing grains.

Geosmin, an organic compound with a distinct earthy flavour, can alter the taste of your favourite brown spirit. But the flavour is still present in the spent grains.

Animals typically reject feed with the geosmin flavour, so distilleries are careful to reject grains with the dirt-smelling compound.

The next time you reach for your favourite Canadian beer or whisky, know the production of your bevvie might have fed the chicken that provided the wings you’re feasting on.

Sources:

http://www.beeretseq.com/this-is-how-we-make-whisky-in-canada/

http://www.ontariocraftbrewers.com/EarthDay2016.php

https://maps.library.utoronto.ca/dvhmp/gooderham-dis.html

A drive through “A Deadly Wandering” by Matt Richtel

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with my blog theme.

When I first opened the pages of A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel, I expected it to be in the style of a courtroom whodunnit.

There’s no whodunnit—no mystery—here. There’s no unanswered questions, either. There’s probably no stone left unturned in this story.

This is a story about distracted driving and just about every person involved in changing laws and perception around texting and driving in America. A story about Reggie Shaw, his phone, his attention, his car, his religion, his revelation and his commitment to the eradication of texting while driving.

Richtel does an unbelievable job of investigating, as far as I could tell, every possible angle. The downside to this incredible amount of information is it convolutes the story.

For example, on page 49 the reader is introduced to Terryl. We learn she grew up in Downey, California and her past is dark and filled with abuse.

“‘Get in here!’ Terryl remembers her father yelling as she fought to get her bearings. She could see the .357 Magnum in his hand,” Richtel writes.

Her story is gripping and emotional. Richtel manages to dig deep enough to find the severity of Terryl’s childhood memories differs from that of her brother, Michael’s.

As a reader, I struggled with identifying the need for Terryl’s chapters. It isn’t until the story is coming to an end that it becomes explicitly clear what Terryl has to do with the story.

Now, I see that as a story crafter (as opposed to a story teller) Richtel was on to something. He bombards the reader with information as he jumps from story to story. He writes from the perspectives of neuroscientists, to family members and law makers to law enforcers. He looks at the implications of growing up in a Mormon town to the effects of addictions.

All this information was difficult for me to keep track of. I guess you could say it was distracting—the brilliance of the crafting of the story. As far as information-retention goes, I’m sure I’d notice “new” information every time I read it over.

As I thumb through pages in reflection, I realize just how distracted I was by the numbers of stories and characters.

At roughly the middle of the book, the reader is introduced to Carl Wimmer. His presence lasts a mere half a page. He drives in and out of the story only to point out the idea that imposing laws like the texting and driving ban infringes on people’s freedom and liberty to do as they please.

On page 191, Richtel describes Wimmer as a member of a committee that serves as a gateway for safety legislations. The topic of interest was requiring booster seats for children up to age eight.

“Wimmer felt for them, to the point that he at one point put up $1,000 of his own money to buy booster seats and give them away to any family who wanted one . But he wouldn’t vote for such a law, arguing that it was just another example of the government sticking its nose into people’s business,” Richtel writes.

As a “journalism textbook”, this book is great. I learned that as a budding journallist I don’t ask enough questions. I don’t spend enough time with my interviewees. I need to remember to get contact info for follow-up questions.

As an entertaining book, well, let’s just say I got too distracted.

Local non-profit picking up what the city’s left behind

Even though the City of Winnipeg won’t be moving forward on curbside compost pick-up any time soon, there is a local organization that will pick up your green waste

Compost Winnipeg is a social enterprise of Green Action Centre.  They are a non-governmental non-profit that takes a practical approach to reducing waste in Winnipeg.

Compost pick-up launched on Earth Day last year (2016). They offer commercial, residential and special event compost pick-up.

Compost Winnipeg is working on getting their own compost site, but in the mean time they work with a commercial composter that uses the windrow composting technique.

Essentially, green material (what they pick up) is mixed with brown material (straw and woodchips) and placed in long rows. This method is suited to producing large volumes of compost.

Kelly Kuryk, Project Manager for Compost Winnipeg, says they provide commercial service to approximately 30 clients.

“First of all, what I do is try to figure out what the needs are,” she says.

In the case of cafes and restaurants, they swap the full bins with a fresh, clean one to reduce any potential for smells or flies. For offices, they take care of the maintenance, collection and clean-up of in-office compost bins.

Currently residential pick-up is only available in some neighbourhoods.

“I have had interest from all over the city so we’re working on growing and building our capacity to handle more,” Kuryk says.

If you live in the West End, Wolseley, River Heights, South Osborne, Osborne Village and some parts of St.Vital, you can get your compost picked up.

In late summer and fall, Compost Winnipeg experimented with a custom-built bike trailer for residential compost pick-up. This Earth Day (April 22, 2017), Compost Winnipeg will be launching their bicycle pick-up for residential clients.

“It’s kind of an eye-catching trailer,” she says.

Keep an eye out for the compost pick-up bicycles this spring/summer.

Fools + Horses and their commitment to reducing waste

Amidst the sun-kissed walls and the shadow drenched floor of Fools + Horses coffee house on Broadway lies a progressive approach to waste management.

Co-owner, James Magnus-Johnston, 34, says the business has had compost materials collected by Compost Winnipeg since it opened a couple of years ago.

“In the 21st century we can’t feel good about doing business unless we can get waste down to a minimum, if not zero,” says Magnus-Johnston.

Their compost gets picked up by Compost Winnipeg. If you’re concerned about the ecological impact of trucks picking up compost, Magnus-Johnston says Compost Winnipeg uses bicycle pick-up wherever possible.

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The customer waste receptacles—playfully labelled compost, recycling and last resort—highlight their environmental bottom line.

Magnus-Johnston says that since most people read left to right, whatever is placed on the left will likely get read first, and hopefully considered first.

“We put compost on the left side because that’s the one we want people to use most often,” Magnus-Johnston says.

A study conducted by Fools + Horses asked staff to weigh bags of garbage (to be sent to a landfill), recycling (to be sent for, well, recycling) and compost (to be picked up by Compost Winnipeg).

Magnus-Johnston says the unpublished study, which was conducted last summer, reported that approximately 85 per cent of waste created by their business is compost and only five per cent ends up in a landfill (by weight).

It costs a little more to adhere to the goal of minimizing waste, but as Magnus-Johnston says, the reduction in environmental impact is worth the money.

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Morden Manitoba vs. a man’s literal litter ritual

The last time I walked downtown in Toronto, I remember polka dots of blackened gum and cyclones of paper litter swirling in the wind.

In Winnipeg, it’s common to stumble upon overflowing public-use waste bins, squished paper coffee cups and the occasional pigeon carcass.

Downtown Morden is another story.

I stood outside Thornview Grocery—a local hub with “Sushi Fridays” and a gas station—looking for a place to pitch my cigarette butt. I noticed a trash bin with a built in ashtray and a clean storefront.

I figured Steven Friesen, the store’s owner, ran a tight ship when it came to cleanliness. Although he cites customer service as a priority, his storefront wasn’t the only litter-free spot in the small town.

Up Thornhill Street and down Stephen Street, across Nelson Street and over 1st Street– not a stitch of litter.

(To be fair, there was a cigarette graveyard in front of the local legion and at least one of the bars, but still.)

Back in Winnipeg, I got out of the Dodge Grand Caravan that hauled me to & from the town of just over 8,000 people and walked toward my apartment door.

A guy walked passed me opening a fresh pack of cigarettes. He twisted the easy-open strip and pulled the plastic from the cardboard pack. He released it from his fingers and before it hit the ground, the pack was open and the foil cigarette cover was already feeling the pull of gravity toward the sidewalk.

I came home from a town where people care about where they place their litter right into the middle of a man’s literal litter ritual.

Polka dots look good on a dress or a bow tie, but not on the street. Can we think about the cyclone of trash we’re creating the next time we’re carrying a cup o’ Joe or opening a pack of smokes?

Garbage eaters: cockroaches

From pests to pets to powerful plant-feeding poop producers, cockroaches serve many functions and are even necessary for some ecosystems.

Bear with me.

Now I know for most, even the word “cockroach” is enough to send shivers down your spine. The idea of this fast-crawling army lurking in the cracks of your home waiting for the cover of darkness to crawl into your loaf of bread or sneak onto your pillow while you sleep can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight on end.

But they’re not all bad.

There are roughly 4500 species of cockroaches. And, yes, some are disease-carrying pests worthy of a visit from an exterminator. But some play a vital role in the nitrogen cycle and some (apparently) make great pets.

Still not convinced? Watch this charming video of a cockroach drinking drops of water from its owner’s finger. It’s eerily adorable.

The handful of species kept as pets can actually help reduce waste in your home. The creepy-crawly insects need to eat some protein (the experts at Keeping Insects suggest softened dry cat food) but they also need fruit and veggies. Let’s face it, a pet cockroach is still an insect. You don’t need to feed them the best of the crop. You can feed them carrot peels, celery ends or even apple cores.

While I’m not suggesting you set up a tea party for you and your hemimetabolous friends (I mean, I guess you could) but sneaking some of those fruit and veggie scraps into their escape-proof terrarium instead of your trash bin makes for a win-win situation.

Cockroaches are also scavengers. In nature, they feed on decaying matter. In an article for Live Science, cockroach expert Srini Kambhampati says decaying matter can trap nitrogen. Once the roaches eat the decaying matter—rotting wood, for instance—and poop it out, he says, the nitrogen is released into the soil and begins to feed the surrounding plants.

Any species found unexpectedly in your home, though, are considered pests and should be dealt with. They can carry all sorts of bacteria and fungi. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says cockroaches can also trigger asthma attacks.

There you have it. Those creepy-crawly, shudder-inducing, sometimes hissing insects have a purpose. Rest easy, friends. Unless you have cockroaches creeping around your home, that is.

What’s in your garbage?

If you went through your garbage, what do you think you’d find? Something that should have gone in the recycling? Something that shouldn’t go to a landfill? A quarter?

Alicia Brown, 38, let me go through her main household garbage and ask questions about what I found.

Brown lives with her partner Paul Lawrence, 48, and their kitten Pearl.

Amidst the food scraps, Styrofoam meat containers and cigarette butts, I found some objects of interest.

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On the far right is a home-made cat toy, and the puck in the middle is espresso grounds. other than the two macaroni noodles, I think the rest is self-explanatory.

Brown says she is unsure of what to do with some items like the bag frozen lima beans come in, or a plastic shopping bag. She knows they can’t be recycled.

“It’s a problem going to the recycling factories, but then again I’m just sending them to the landfill,” she says.

I point out the broken glass and ask why it isn’t in the recycling. She says it’s a vintage cocktail glass circa 1950 and isn’t sure if vintage glass should go in the recycling.

As for the cat food tin, she says she didn’t put it in the trash.

“That is Paul’s mistake. I always recycle the tin,” Brown says with a chuckle.

The cigarette pack is another cause for confusion. She says the cardboard has plastic attached to it so like to-go coffee cups, she doesn’t think they can be recycled.

[Insert Pearl the kitten trying to come and play in the garbage. This is what happens when you lay trash on the floor with a kitten lurking nearby.]

After shooing the cat away, Brown opened one of her kitchen drawers and showed me this:

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Brown says she knows batteries and light bulbs shouldn’t go to a landfill, but she still doesn’t know where to take them. She thinks this is a common query and says she has seen fluorescent light tubes in garbage bins.

“People just throw them in dumpsters. That’s what happens right now,” she says.

The City of Winnipeg has a search bar called “What goes where?” It’s a great resource if you don’t know what to do with thing like dead batteries.