myke’s 2012 lyfe in a nutshell…

Leave it up to Zen Master DB to sum up my life better than I could ever!

Myke’s year hasn’t been yin/yang… it has been YIN!/YANG!  DH‘s survival was not a given but his recovery has been far better and faster than even dreamed of.  Not that he’s out of the woods completely with all the chemo ahead of him.  Myke is so disgusted with his job in Hamilton that he is actively searching for anything else even in Toronto.  3 hours a day commuting?  He must really be at the end of his rope.  He is also having to save money for  follow-up surgery for himself to take care of the leftover skin that used to hold 250 extra pounds in.

And, of course, NOW is when he is being discovered, and being incredibly creative, and being mentored by some heavy duty US and Canadian musicians who not only want to work with him but help him get his personal stuff recorded.  And NOW is when the church choir he was with has upped his salary even more to be the backup organist and the regular soloist.  And NOW is when they start a Hamilton Gay Men’s Chorus and Myke is a cornerstone of that.  And of course NOW is when we actually get our asses into the studio to record Balderdash & Humbug’s new CD  The 55 Days Of Christmas.  It’s recorded and mostly mixed, but Myke has one more song to complete and get mixed and then get it all mastered and ready for production.  I tell Myke not to worry, the best thing about Christmas albums is that they renew every year.

Sumbitch, he pretty much nailed it!

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so what am i doing for my city? myke and #hamont boosterism – the final chapter.

So after my past two rants, I’ve been asked by several people what I do for my city to effect positive change.  The answer is a fair amount in my opinion – I just choose not to turn my efforts into self-promotion tools because I do these things because they are the right thing to do as I have been blessed with a good career and the ability to do so.

  • I work for an organization that assists injured people by providing wage protection and access to health care.  In cases where injuries are permanent and life changing, we assist in retraining and upskilling where necessary.  I have done this for well over twelve years after working in the tech industry.
  • Through my employer I, of course, donate to the local United Way with my funds dedicated to assisting organizations within the local community.  That’s the easy part there.
  • I work for and at an inner city church which recently won a Hamilton Urban Core award for providing support to the city’s poor and disenfranchised, through donation of food and household goods, providing support for recent immigrants to practice their spoken English language skills in a casual, relaxed and friendly environment and providing budgeting, food management and cooking skills to families.
  • I volunteer my time, energy and funds for various organizations involved with providing food and household necessities for the city’s poor.  This includes helping stock and distribute holiday food hampers, supporting local organizations financially whenever possible and volunteering.
  • With DH and a number of other Santa’s helpers, I have founded a charitable organization aimed at ensuring families of children with terminal illnesses have “one last Christmas” no matter what time of year.
  • I have served and continue to serve on the organizing committee and board of directors of the Hamilton Gay Men’s Chorus in the hopes of forming a group that aims to bring men of all levels of musical experience together with the common goal of creating vocal music in a safe, supportive, and fun atmosphere and to reach out to the LGBTQ community and beyond, to encourage, challenge, and instruct through our performances.
  • I provide counselling and support for people with weight and eating issues both on an individual basis and through a monthly support meeting.  This is done in conjunction with nutritional, medical, and psychological support through a local hospital.
  • Wherever possible, I try to support local small businesses over national chains and online providers.  This includes purchasing goods, dining and supporting services.  The past three years, I have made my holiday gift giving a local affair, purchasing directly from local artists, artisans or independent retailers.
  • I support local artists and musicians through providing financial support, offering my time and energy and support through purchasing their output, attending their events, commissioning specific items and recommending their services to friends both in the Hamilton community and to people outside the community.
  • I host house concerts, bringing national and international artists to our city to perform music in a relaxed environment where people interested in experiencing new and different music can be exposed to artists they may not have heard of before.  These concerts also allow artists, who might have bypassed our city for Toronto, to experience what Hamilton has to offer.
  • I support my neighbourhood by participating in events such as street sales, neighbourhood cleanups, helping neighbours with yard and house work, inviting folks to house concerts I arrange, supporting the efforts to spay and neuter and provide vaccinations for the feral cat colony in the area, and performing short acoustic musical sets on my front porches to “toast” evenings with beautiful sun sets.

So that’s what I do for my city.  I do these because I believe in this city and that it has a lot to offer folks.  I have done this since I have lived here and will continue to do this as long as I remain in Hamilton, which I expect to be for a good long time.

i love my city…no really!

Yesterday’s posting seems to have garnered a lot of conversation.  A lot of it positive and a fair amount of it talking about my negativity about my home town and that I am a mean-spirited, nasty troll.

You can’t please everyone I guess.  I am who I am and once again, I’m not forcing anybody to read my blatherings here or elsewhere online (although there are a few people I’d seriously like to place in “Clockwork Orange” style eyegear)

  • I love the natural beauty of the city, including the harbour, Cootes’ Paradise, the escarpment and its many waterfalls, the hiking and biking trails that (almost) connect the whole length of the city, Gage Park, the mountain brow and the Beach Strip.
  • I love that the city has not turned its back on its industrial past, with the exception of the existing brownfield sites desparately needing environmental remediation, rehabilitation and redevelopment and Randall Reef, which is still an environmental embarassment.
  • I love the beautiful architecture of the city’s heritage structures, like the Pigott Building, The Hamilton Go Centre and St. Paul’s Presbyterian church.  And that buildings such as Hotel Hamilton and The Lister Block can find new lives, either through investment and restoration by enterprising businessmen with a healthy respect for history or after much outcry by the public to avoid a treasure being demolished.
  • I love that the city is willing to allow developers to seek alternative uses of heritage structures, such as turning them into parking lots after demolition by neglect and that things such as marble cladding of city structures makes a beautiful lining of drainage ditches in Ancaster.
  • I love that my city accepts people of all demographics and welcomes newcomers to the area.  The citizenry of Hamilton is a colourful mosaic of people from all cultures and economic levels.
  • I love the feeling of walking the downtown core on the last three days of the month, knowing full well that I will be asked for change, a cigarette or to pay for sexual favours.  Or counting the fact that I was only mugged for my bus pass once so far this year is a good thing.
  • I love the new businesses that are springing up throughout the city, showing the diversity of opportunity in the city.
  • I love that I have an incredible choice between which Tim Hortons, Money Mart or Payday Loan stores I can choose from on King St. between Wellington and Queen St.
  • I love the vibrant young business people that have brought fresh ideas and excitement to the economic base of our city.  Many of these businesses I support with my business and recommendations.
  • I love that while trying to engage some of these young entrepreneurs with my business as a potential client, once we got through the initial meetings and discussions, I heard nothing further from them.  This happening by a number of businesses reminded me to reinforce my committment to professionalism and follow through in addition to novelty and whimsy.
  • I love that these young entrepreneurs are supportive of each other and sometimes remind themselves that there are businesses and organizations that were here before them, laying the groundwork for their continued success and quietly working hard to continually improve their city through civic engagement and hard work.  I, too support these older businesses with my business and recommendations.
  • I love the vibrant and burgeoning online community that has grown in this city, creating a collective and ongoing conversation of what makes this city a wonderful place to live in.
  • I love that dissenting opinions are (sometimes) welcomed in this community and discussion is lively and (mostly) adult and constructive.
  • I love that this online community is being harvested by a publicly funded crown-corporation and serving up a small sampling of what is going on in the city, including what amount to advertorials for select companies.
  • I love that some of the coolest, most humble, intelligent and most supportive people I know, I’ve met through this online community.
  • I love that I can choose to walk, ride my bike or take public transit from my home to work and that at most my commute is 40 minutes (that’s usually using public transit too).
  • I love that one can predict how a bus will smell based on which route one chooses to take home.
  • I love that I know my neighbours by first names, we actually talk and have complete conversations when we meet on the street or elsewhere and that I could rely on them should the need arise.
  • I love that within a five minute walk from my home there are no less than five Tim Hortons’, including the first one ever!
  • I love that we exchange baking trays and baskets with our neighbours during the Christmas Holidays to sample each others’ baking and cooking.
  • I love that since the new landlord took over, the police are only at the apartment building at the end of my street once or twice a week, instead of multiple times a day.
  • I love that on beautiful evenings with gorgeous sunsets, I can play my acoustic guitar on my front porch and actually gather a crowd of people who will listen to my playing.
  • I love that we have the option to loan or rent our driveway or front lawns for people needing to park on Tiger Cat game days.
  • I love that I no longer have to worry about people parking in my driveway illegally and only have to hang outside my house on the Labour Day Classic to ensure drunks don’t use the side of my home as a urinal.

But most of all, I love that the city has welcomed me as a resident and that I have been able to eke out a niche for myself as a professional and artist.  I have much to thank the City of Hamilton for and, while it is not perfect, it is my home.  However there is a lot that still needs to change for it to be perfect and I aim to work with and support everyone who wants to get it there through actions and deeds beyond catchy slogans and t-shirts.

#HamOnt – paradise of boosterism?

“The booster’s enthusiasm is the motive force which builds up our American cities. Granted. But the hated knocker’s jibes are the check necessary to guide that force. In summary then, we do not wish to knock the booster, but we certainly do wish to boost the knocker.” –Sinclair Lewis

Boosterism is the act of “boosting” (or promoting) a town, city, or organization, with the goal of improving public perception of it.

I have been watching the various social media outlets with a smirk on my face today as there has been quite a shitstorm of discussion of boosterism in my home town.

This discussion is of interest to me due to several of my comments on social networks and blog postings in the past about my perceptions of Hamilton, Ontario, its businesses and citizenry.  I love my city and promote it regularly as a hub of business, thought, community and yes, indeed, art to folks outside of its borders.

I do however also lament its rampant petty crime, high unemployment, devastated and empty stretches of the downtown core and the constant and consistent evidence of the local level of government’s entrenchment in old thought patterns and their seemingly ignoring the change that is occurring right under their fucking noses despite themselves.

It isn’t a perfect place to live, but its up to its residents to want to effect change in it.

As a recent (12 year) resident of this city and even more recent (7 year) full time employee within this city, I also find it great to see the influx of new businesses and young entrepreneurs to this city, bringing their visions of a future for Hamilton, Ontario.  I find their energies and ideas refreshing, however they also need to realize that folks HAVE been working and investing in this city for years before they even moved here or, perhaps were even born.

Ironic that a group whose blood boils over historic buildings being torn down has failed to even attempt to make inroads with the people who came before them and assisted in laying the foundations for their businesses within the city.

Keep in mind, I’m not aiming to knock the young’uns down here, merely ask them to think critically before they open their mouths publically and online.  Especially if someone questions your message or else GASP disagrees with you!

And if you think I’m being mean, keep in mind that I am one of the ones supporting your businesses by voting with my participation in your events, supporting you economically and – even in the case of a business that has banned me for a negative online review – I am sending customers your way!

Recent attempts at promoting Hamilton as a city to invest and do business in have left me feeling cynical, jaded and with a rather saccharine taste in my mouth – strangely enough, both of them involve a boosterish slogan message about this city, one currently heavily marketed on a t-shirt and one in a video. 

My main issue with both these attempts is that these slogans oversimplify the support of our city to where it seems hollow and turned into a commodity.  Yes the accentuate the positive, however it comes off as simplistic in my opinion.  I will happily explain further to anyone who asks me in person, however we also need to face up to the facts that this city is not perfect, nor are our attempts to improve it.

We need our dissidents, our naysayers, a sober second thought and a kick in the ass some times folks.  Anyone who says they don’t is either lying or outright delusional.

While we live in a city that has a bright and growing community of young entrepreneurs in arts, technology, medicine, business and other fields, we also have a large group of unemployed, underemployed and disenfranchised people living within the same borders.  These t-shirts and videos must ring hollow for someone struggling with supporting their family while on social assistance and visiting the various food banks.

I just worry that condensing things to a t-shirt or video slogan is overly simplistic and leans a little towards boosterism. We all know what our city means to us – we need to focus on communicating about and promoting it to people and businesses outside its borders without becoming jingoistic.

Posting these items and ideas online will indeed stoke a conversation from people, many of whom have been working in this city for years – just not the one the original posters apparently wanted.  However all the comments made on various sites, aside from personal attacks, are equally valid as the ones made by the folks producing the slogans. You may not like them or agree with them but they DO represent those folks’ experience as business owners in this city as well as the people in the video.

#MyHamilton unfortunately cannot be summed up with a glib marketing slogan.

people i am thankful for

Once again, with the the recent holiday weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving weekend), I reflected on the things I am thankful for and the people with whom I am eternally grateful for their assistance, caring and friendship over the past year, particularly the past few months.  In this posting I will actually name names beyond initials and perhaps the more astute readers will figure out who these people reflect in prior postings.  I will also reflect in alphabetical order by last name, so as not to cause a hierarchy as each person is an equally important aspect of my (and by extension, DH’s) life.

David Bartlett – the Balderdash to my Humbug, erstwhile musical collaborator and eternally patient with me as I struggle to finish off the recent Balderdash and Humbug Christmas recording, despite all the tumult in my life.  He is a good listener, able to put things in perspective and has provided invaluable guidance throughout the struggles DH and I have been through since the beginning.  I am forever indebted to him .

Bob Boyter – aka Santa Bob.  A fellow Santa and friend of DH‘s who has always been “there” when needed.  He’s just been good support for DH and I and is always available for a friendly word, a conversation or to lend a DVD DH has wanted to see!

Jeff Cabot Sutton and Leslie Cabot Armstrong – this incredible couple have been particularly DH’s and also my spiritual guides and caregivers throughout the recent cancer battles.  Their support, friendship, energies and guidance have kept both DH and I going throughout the past few months.  Anybody who erroneously and ignorantly brands Pagans and Wiccans as “evil” just need to look upon this couple and see what TRUE human kindness, compassion, love and value looks like.

Cannon Coffee Co – Cindy and Anne have always made DH and I feel at home in their beautiful establishment and when we got the diagnosis, the first place he wanted to go to in order to relax was the Cannon.  It was also the first stop on our final pre-surgery weekend together.  Cindy’s support and hug for DH on that day made me tear up incredibly.  It was also the first place we went to after he came home from surgery.  Cindy, Anne and staff have become friends in addition to a wonderful local business to support. 

Mari Evans and Dave Beer – Mari is a former co-worker and good friend who has always been there for me.  It’s funny that we have actually grown closer and know each other far better now, than when we saw each other every day.  She and her husband Dave have kept me on the straight and narrow and kept me honest with myself and my feelings to prevent my old negativities from creeping in.  She’s not afraid to call me on my own bullshit and I have long needed someone like her in my life!

Chris Godwaldt – friend, good listener, barista extraordinaire!  Chris always has time to chat and listen and offer his perspective.  I’m looking forward to the time when his business (Café Oranje) is running and I can have another home in the City of Hamilton!

Hal Grant – A good friend, sounding board and great support.  He has more than ample going on in his life, yet always seems to make room for others.  I have learned more from his example than I can ever give back, so all I can do is share what I’ve learned from him with others.

Doug and Tara Jones – Doug is perhaps my oldest friend and knows when to help and (even more importantly) knows when to leave me alone.  He also isn’t afraid to call me on my bullshit and will tell me the truth, even when he knows it will hurt me.  For that I value and cherish our friendship.

Chris and Suzanne Kirkwood – Chris and Suzanne are an awesome couple who run an awesome business (Crash Landing Music) in Hamilton, they have been incredibly supportive of DH and I throughout the years and kept my spirits up over the past few months.

David Milmine – David is a Promise Keeper who lives up to his word and has kept his promise.  I cherish and value his friendship and caring spirit.   A true man of honour that EVERYONE can learn from. 

Alistair and Nicolle Morton – Wow!  What can I say?  The Mortons have helped in so many ways.  Getting both DH and I out of the house for dinner, social gatherings or just chatting about life, the universe and anything.  Truly a gold standard in the awesome neighbour hall of fame!

Nancy Shier – my neighbour in the orifice.  Between her patient and understanding nature and quiet sanity (not to mention the coffee gift card from her and Jim), Nance has been instrumental in holding me together, when it seems that the workplace is trying to do everything but!

Diana Soucie – my Italian mama, Thursday coffee buddy and mother confessor.  Not enough can be said about Diana, aside from a truly grateful loving thanks!

Mara Veronesi – My “big sister” in Massachusetts, friend, social worker, psychologist and reiki master.  She knows when to listen and when to talk (I guess she’s trained for that <GRIN>) she also knows when “nothing” really means a whole lot of something and “I’m okay” means I REALLY need help!  She’s that friendly voice on the other end of the phone and the sober second thought when one is needed.

Jeff and Michelle Wilson – we truly lucked out when Jeff and Michelle moved in across the street from us, we couldn’t ask for better neighbours.  Another gold standard in the neighbour hall of fame!  Our neighbourhood truly rocks.

so yeah, i’ve been quiet…

…because I’ve been really busy!

Those who may have been following either my twitter or facebook feeds are pretty up to date with the news.  However I will give a full “Reader’s Digest” version here.

On September 19th, DH went into the hospital to have a cancerous tumour which was strangling the bile duct between his liver and pancreas removed.  As he is the recipient of a transplant, has significantly altered anatomy and is in a state of chronic immunosuppression to prevent rejection of the transplant organ, the surgery was quite serious.

The surgery that DH had is known as a “Whipple Procedure” and involves removal of the affected bile duct, part of the stomach, part of the pancreas and part of his intestine.  He was expected to remain in the hospital for 10-14 days and then recuperate at home for another two weeks prior to starting a projected six months of chemotherapy.

We went into the hospital at 6am on the morning of September 19th and began the pre-operative procedures.  DH was brought into the operating room at 8am and I and LCA got a chance to talk to the surgeon, who was rather anxiously pacing as he knew and understood the serious nature of this procedure.  We discussed how the surgery would go and, knowing that it would be 9 to 11 hours long, LCA drove me home.

The surgeon made NO bones about the fact that the scans showed the tumour and a lot of other material which could have been scar tissue from the transplant or further cancer.  If it was the latter, he was simply going to stitch DH back up and determine how he could be made comfortable.  As this was the case, I wasn’t able to relax until a good four hours into the surgery, when I finally crashed at home at around noon.

The phone rang at 3:30pm and it was the surgeon, who sounded relieved and confident that it was going well and confirmed that if I could get back into the hospital by 5:30pm, he would chat with me.  Needless to say, I did.

The surgeon came out at around 6pm and confirmed that they got the tumour, that the rest of the findings on the scans were indeed scar tissue and that he took the bulk of that out as well.  He also performed the Whipple Procedure as routinely as possible and that DH did not require any blood transfusions.  I then had about two hours to kill until DH was stabilized and settled in the intensive care unit.

I proceeded to walk the streets of Toronto, calling the appropriate family members and sharing the news.  I also managed to settle my stomach enough to choke down a part of a small Hero Burger for dinner after a long day of eating nothing beyond coffee.  When I made it up to the ICU, DH was awake and waiting for me.  The first words out of his mouth were:  “Did they get it?”

I replied that the surgeon had gotten all of it and he responded with: “Good, I’m going to fight this with all my might now.”

I broke down in tears as I was already fighting this by engaging our friends and family in sending him thoughts, energy, prayers and support.  I was overjoyed and I was also exhausted after a long day.  I went home and sat with the dogs on the back deck under the moonlight, crying tears of joy.

The next day, I visited DH in the ICU and he was already bored and frustrated.  He was still groggy from the anaesthesia, however he needed something to keep him occupied.   Thankfully I had brought his slippers, his iPod, some reading material and some word search books to keep him busy.  As he was still in the ICU, I couldn’t hook up the phone or the TV (as there was neither to be had). 

Due to the nature of the surgery, they had concerns regarding blood pooling in his legs and blood clots forming, so they had him in compression stockings and inflatable “moon boots” that would massage and compress his legs regularly to help the blood flow.  He complained about being uncomfortable and asked what he could do to get out of those boots.  Looking at the nurse, I winked and told him he would have to get up and walk around; the nurse beamed at me for telling him that and went to get the upright walker (a chest high walker that DH could rest his arms on and walk upright with).  After a few tentative steps, we got him in his slippers and down to the end of the nursing station and back.

As I left the ICU that day, the nurse thanked me and asked if I was going to help with DH’s rehabilitation, which I confirmed to the best of my abilities, however noted that I would need a day off here and there to ensure I’m not run down.  She understood and agreed.

The next day, I had a few meetings around home and also wanted to go and thank my support team personally (not to mention it was the Sew Hungry Food Truck Rally on Ottawa Street!), so I held off and went into Toronto that afternoon.  By the way, to my support team and you know who you are – Y’ALL TOTALLY ROCK MY WORLD!  I will give particular mentions in a later posting.

I got to the hospital that afternoon and was notified that DH had been moved to the post-transplant ward for further care.  I got down to his room and saw him ensconced in bed, looking thoroughly bored.  I immediately got the phone and TV set up and showed him how to plug his headset in – he was ecstatic about that.  Later that afternoon, I had DH up and walking again and we went further than the prior day.  The nursing staff was happy with me being there, however the nurse confirmed that I looked tired and would need some rest the next day.  I agreed whole-heartedly!

Thankfully, the Parental Units had agreed to visit DH that Saturday, while I could catch up on chores around home, some sleep and rest as well as go to the farmer’s market with DM2.

On Sunday, JCS and LCA had wanted to visit DH in the hospital, so they drove me in after I finished singing church.  It was particularly nice to have some company en route to and from the hospital.  It was also nice not to have to take the GO Bus in and also be able to bring in DH’s suitcase for him without having to worry about marching it up University Avenue or use the subway!  I always value JCA and LCA’s companionship and their guidance both emotionally and spiritually.  They are a remarkable couple and have also been a great support to DH as they are of the same faith as he.

We had a lovely visit and chat with DH and then went to the World’s Biggest Bookstore to browse and purchase some reading material.  That evening, it was mentioned that as DH was continuing to heal and progress, that he could be released as soon as that upcoming Thursday.  I noted that unless he could climb two flights of stairs this would not be a possibility as it is two flights up from the main floor to get to our bedroom and bath.

The next day I had returned back to work and went into Toronto after my day was through.  DH was excited to show me his latest gain in that we walked an entire lap of the whole seventh floor of the hospital.  He had also done a flight of stairs up and down but tired easily, however understood baby steps and small gains.  He was thankful for the phone and TV as his new roommate was rather high maintenance and he was getting quite frustrated.

DH had been seen by the surgeon that day and the grumblings about him being released in three days’ time were confirmed.  I booked that Thursday off work.

The last few days of DH’s hospitalization were rather unremarkable other than his determination to climb two flights of stairs up and down, which he ended up doing with me with great glee.  The last night, he was informed that they needed his bed on the transplant ward and he would be spending his final evening on the general surgery floor in a ward.  He was not happy with that, however it was only one night I reminded him.

LCA and I drove into Toronto to pick DH up on September 27th and brought him home to two very happy and concerned dogs.  We were given discharge instructions to arrange a follow up with the family doctor in one week’s time and a follow up with the surgeon in two weeks’ time.  We were also instructed to come into the hospital the following Monday for his staple removal.  We spent a quiet weekend together, reacquainting ourselves with each other.

42 staples and a hell of a lot of steri-strip tape later, DH is at home and recovering, experiencing the usual post-surgery problems of discomfort, compounded with his pre-existing low-back issues and having a stomach that is recovering from having a section removed.  He continues to lose weight and, despite being a professional Santa, is not feeling very jolly these days.

The dogs continue to watch over him and alert me if there are any issues at night and I continue to fret myself silly about his condition.  We will reach our 12 year anniversary on October 26th and I love and cherish ALL the time I have with him.  As long as he is willing to fight, I will be beside him for love, support and whatever strength I can provide him.

To me, this is what love, honour and respect mean.  So yeah, I’ve been quiet here, but I figure the current circumstances explain the reasoning quite well.  Peace folks and give the ones you love a hug and remind them that you love them.  You never know when they could be taken from you.