Video and interesting backgrounds

икониMy last video was kind of awful mainly because it was a mash-up stitched together from a webcam, a Canon ZR850 and a Canon PowerShot. The first third probably could have been scrapped. Still, the tip about avoiding “the furtive glance” was valid, I think.

I have another video tip, this time about backgrounds, and it is a bit better though still not where it should probably be. (Still can’t resist mixing and matching source material). The tip is simple: video is visual so think of it and use it in those terms.

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Canada, singular and plural

(Originally published July 1, 2010 on Thoughtwrestling as “The Canadas.”)

Provincial flags, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo - Bill Wren)

Canada is both problem and solution. It’s an ongoing exercise in creativity and problem solving. Sometimes it works out well; sometimes not.

And it’s really, really big!

Its lessons are big too. When it comes to solving problems and being creative, it provides the biggest lesson of all: just when you think you know something, you don’t.

You have to think differently. You have to learn more. You have to toss your way of seeing aside and see in new ways – often, the ways of others.

We are tourists

In any country but our own we are tourists. This has nothing to do with citizenship papers or other formal aspects of citizenry. It is simply that the only country we know with any depth or intimacy is our own. To know a place, you have to live in the place. This means things like buying groceries, paying rent, getting a loan and so on. You have to spend time doing the banal everyday things that keep a life moving along.

Unknown couple, Killarney Lake, New Brunswick. (Photo - Bill Wren)

The thing is, in our own country we think we know it with depth. We think we have an intimate knowledge of it. But we don’t. We can only know parts of it and even then we fall far short of complete knowledge. This is because our countries are so many countries.

And that’s why I refer to my country as “the Canadas.” It’s plural. There are as many Canadas as there are people.

In a sense, we are tourists even in our own countries.

The way a programmer in Nova Scotia experiences Canada is not the same as a nurse in Edmonton. A realtor in Fort St. John in north eastern British Columbia does not have the same Canada as the store owner in Montreal, Quebec.

A Muslim entrepreneur in Vancouver has one Canada; an Inuit politician in Nunavut has another.

And they are not the same from day to day.

Sometimes I see a Canadian’s online profile with a map showing all the places they’ve been to in the world. There might be three, maybe four balloons in Canada, and oodles in Europe, South America, southeast Asia and so on. We catalogue where we have been elsewhere.

Maybe Canadians don’t travel as much in Canada because we know we can never see everything: it’s too damn big!

If Canada was a shirt, it would be extra extra extra large.

I think we feel that living where we do, wherever that is in Canada, we know Canada. It’s just not so.

Problem and solution

Summer skating, West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo - Bill Wren)

Canada is an ongoing project in creativity because it involves so many contradictions and opposites from landscape to weather to people. Southern Alberta, down in the area of Fort MacLeod, is the opposite of southern New Brunswick. It is almost the difference between a desert and a rain forest.

That’s just landscape. People? Oh my!

This is really where the ongoing problem solving exercise happens. We want the collective unity of “Canadians” while at the same time wanting everyone to retain their differences. Sometimes we refer to it as a “cultural mosaic.”

But of course, that means accommodation and that begins with an understanding of how plural we are.


I know many people don’t care about hockey, but stay with me a moment. It’s a good example of Canadians and problem solving and finding solutions – as well as what those solutions mean.

Since time began, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ) has been broadcasting hockey games in Canada. The CBC is a publicly owned company supported by Canadian tax dollars. It has a very specific mandate which, put simply, is this: your content will be Canada.

Unknown girl, City Hall, Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo - Bill Wren)

This means hockey games with Canadian teams, currently Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. (Update: Now we can include Winnipeg again!) The thing is, since teams often play on the same night, which game do you show? How do you keep everyone happy?

Well, you don’t. But you try.

Canadians regularly complain about it. But the CBC does the best it can by putting one game on the national network, the one they hope the most people will want to see, and in specific regions, like Montreal, broadcasting the game of that area’s team.

Since Canada is so big, with six time zones, they can break it up between eastern and western games, the west getting underway usually several hours after those of the east.

The end result is games get shown. Someone is always unhappy. But overall and over time, it works. Not perfectly; but it works. Of course, much of the solution is the result of technology. It has allowed for better and more creative solutions.

Hockey and TV are pretty unimportant compared to larger social issues but to a large extent Canada’s creative problem solving mirrors the CBC’s solution for hockey. Some solutions work better than others, but that’s how it goes. We accommodate as best we can and manage to be one country, singular and plural all at once.

Delight, not pride

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo - Bill Wren)

I don’t recall ever having a feeling of pride about Canada. What I feel most is delight. And I feel comfortable. Canada feels so much a part of me, so much an aspect of who and what I am, feeling pride in it would be like feeling pride in my arm or my leg. I just don’t think or feel that way.

It’s probably true of every country but in the end I see Canada as a work in progress. It’s a place so large, from every perspective, and so perpetually evolving, it can never be fully known. I’m pretty sure about one thing though.

Canada is not a place to be; it is a place to be together.

That, of course, is where the business of creative solutions comes in. And that, in turn, means realizing that what we know is only ever a small part of a larger picture. There is always more to learn, more to see, more people to meet, more to marvel at.

Impractical pursuits and other questions

I have a post on Thoughtwrestling today called Nothing more to say – the secret brain. In it I mention something I call The Impractical Pursuits Project and I’m deliberately vague because I’ve not fully formed the idea in my own head yet.

Part of it, however, is counter-intuitive – which is why I call it impractical pursuits. One of the questions I’ve been mulling over has to do with what we want.

We all generally know what we want. But there are many things we’re unaware of and don’t realize we want them simply because we don’t know about them. It’s a bit related to that Henry Ford quote, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

There is a line of thinking that goes through a lot of marketing and sales that roughly means, people want this; they don’t want that. To be successful, give them this, not that.

What happens when you give them that but present it in a different way? Or, perhaps the better question is, what if that is this? It just doesn’t look like this.

To what degree does the presentation dictate what we want?

There are many things we’re told we don’t want any more, or at least don’t care about anymore. There’s new stuff. The world has moved on. Yet someone looks at the old stuff in a new way and presents it to us in a new way.

Suddenly the thing we didn’t want becomes the thing we want. All we really needed was a new suit of clothes – a makeover, in other words. And that means simply that we all see it differently, both presenter and audience.

My apologies for the vagueness, but that is roughly what I’m puzzling over these days. I love the idea of doing things that are counter-intuitive. I love things that we’re told we don’t want or do anymore when they suddenly become the things we do want and do.

Think of it in these terms: a once popular celebrity we all tire of – an actor, for instance. Their star sets and no one wants them anymore. Then, one day, they become everybody’s go-to guy for movies. They are in different roles because they are older, but they are still doing what they have always done – acting. Mickey Rourke, for instance, might fall into that category.

How important is the makeover? To what degree is what we want determined by the presentation?

That’s what I’m caught up wondering about these days. If the vagueness is driving you crazy (as it would me) let me finally be more specific.

Everybody writes short stories. Nobody reads short stories.

But what if they did?

That is my impractical pursuit; my Don Quixote enterprise. And believe me, there is a great deal more to it than writing short stories. (Or so my secret brain has imagined.)

The Flying Tree

Yesterday I wandered into some old files. It was both entertaining and embarrassing. That is how it goes with old files that contain old writing.

I did find something I always kind of liked, however. It may be a bit silly and not have the serious, furrowed brow of great poetry … mais, c’est la vie.

The Flying Tree

flying02If you and me could only be
alone one day in the flying tree,
we’d whisk our branches through the air
and whisking sweep away somewhere.
We’d fly above the land and sea
and over Dale and Hillary,
over farms and the city
to places that are really pretty.
Oh! If only you and me
could just hold hands in the flying tree!

Together, I think you and me
could get cosy in the tree
that would fly us anywhere –
and every friend we have would stare!
They’d see us sitting on a branch
flying, and they all would blanch
crying, “Trees don’t fly, you know,”
and we’d reply, “Is that so?
Someone ought to tell this tree
because it’s flying easily.”

Then we’d be gone, you and me,
in our leafy flying tree.
We’d go to Africa and then
for directions trade a hen
that would lay them eggs always –
scrambled, poached – and all on trays
with juices, toast and tasty jelly.
Then we’d fly to old New Delhi
where there’s always quite a crowd
of people smiling very loud.

From India we would make haste
to the icy, wintry waste
of Russia’s north, where we’d get cold
and say to them, “May we be bold,
and perhaps a wee bit rude?
You see, like us, our tree has blued,
and so we must leave very fast.
Besides, our flying day flies past
and we’ve still a lot to see
hand in hand in the flying tree.”

And we’d be off, you and me,
flying next to hot Hawaii
and the lulu honey girls
with grassy skirts and lays and curls
of hair that tumble down their backs.
They might give us kissing smacks
on our cheeks, and we would blush,
then fly embarrassed in a rush.
We’d wave goodbye from our tree
and fly once more, you and me.

Our whisking, leafy, flying tree,
with you and me, would fly madly
to a dozen different places:
Athens, Paris, an oasis
somewhere in the Gobi’s sands;
we’d fly to all the many lands
that lay below us from the sky,
though we’d not see them, you and I;
because my eyes would be on you
and you would gaze back at me, too.
The purpose of the tree, you see,
is simply to be you with me
regardless of reality.


1) The phrase “you and me” as occasionally employed in ‘The Flying Tree‘ is not rooted in grammatical soundness. We urge everyone to refrain from similar abuses.

2) We are informed trees cannot fly. ‘The Flying Tree‘ is therefore improbable. Readers are consequently advised not to base travel plans around forestry.

Intersection: I reveal what it is I do

холови гарнитуриYou never know where ideas and help are going to come from or when. Yesterday I paused from working and found two posts that helped me discover something I’d been looking for a long time. What was I looking for? What it is I do.

For me the most painful, almost unbearable kind of writing is biography. I don’t mean a book about me. I mean short bios on blogs, social media, resumes and so on.

A friend of mine on the west coast, Tzaddi, had a post yesterday, Common Threads, and she echoes what always bothers me. We insist on niches. The more specific the better. We’re in a world crazy for modifiers.

It’s not enough to be a writer (or designer, or musician, or fill-in-the-blank). What kind of writer are you?

There are definitely good reasons for asking such questions. The problem, however, is that they are limiting. If I’m an SEO writer, the implication is that I am not a radio copyrighter. If I’m known as WordPress designer, the implication is that I don’t design non-WordPress sites.

Our modifiers box us in and this is what I’ve always resisted. Boxes are boring. And as far as writing goes, I truly believe that if you are a writer you can write anything. You may have to get up to speed on some style aspects, but you can write it.

So what Tzaddi wrote really resonated with me. But her post was about common threads in her work. She discovered her clients, who all seem very different, had something in common and it was there she discovered what Tyler Tervooren talks about on his Advanced Riskology site.

He has a post titled, What’s your secret mission? I read his post and shortly after read Tzaddi’s and later lines of thought intersected and I suddenly knew my secret mission.

When I first read Tyler’s post I didn’t think I had what he refers to as a secret mission. It seemed very much like, “What do you do?” To that I’ve only ever been able to answer, “I write.”

But later I started thinking in terms of common threads. Were there any in the different things I do all day, in my various jobs, my posts … in what I do when I do what I do. I think there is and that is because those two posts I’ve referred to intersected. I realized there is something I’m always trying to do.

My secret mission, which is really not so secret (though I guess it was to me for a long time) is this:

Help people communicate with clarity, integrity, humanity and respect.

It’s that simple. That’s what I do.

(By the way, I also believe that is the way you communicate effectively.)

En vacances? Not really

The other day I came upon some writing I did quite a while ago. By “a while” I mean fifteen to twenty years ago. Amid all that writing I found a series of stories I wrote. I had put them together under a tentative title, Rather Short Stories for Rather Small People. Other than being short, what they had in common was silliness, a quality I absolutely love (in moderation).

I posted one of them on one of my other blogs. It is called The Bluey-Do. You may not like this kind of thing but I really love writing this way. Have a look.

Video boy

On the weekend I was at a friend’s wedding in Saint John. Actually, it was at the couple’s house in South Bay. The view and ceremony were beautiful. Of course, I took about 270 pictures.

So I spent most of Monday and Tuesday (and bits of Wednesday) making a video of them. In other words, I made a video that has no video. I’d love to post the end result here or elsewhere but unfortunately I have no rights to the music I used and the couple that got married prefer not to have their day on the Internet.

Putting the video together reminded me of when I worked on radio ads. Everything is in the editing and I can spend hours and hours tweaking this, adjusting that and so on. There is a funny irony about editing. When it is really good, no one notices it. That’s what good editing is about.

Final note

One last thing about that other blog of mine, Sunday Stories. It’s a kind of test site. I use it to play with design and to rough out story ideas. Some stories are finished; some are starts to ideas that aren’t fully developed.

As you can see if you go there, I’m currently playing with the WordPress TwentyTen theme. I’m quite liking it but haven’t really played with it fully. I’m still mucking about. Thus, the nav chnages, the header changes and on and on.

So … while I haven’t been doing much on Writelife recently, I have been busy elsewhere. I’m also doing a rethink of my blogs. It may be nothing will change; it may be some small changes are coming. There may even be big changes coming. Who knows? I’m still in the “mulling things over” stage.