On my birthday, I often instinctively think: Wow, I'm so lucky, to have the life I have, the friends and family who care about me, the poetry slam scene, the journalism work sustaining me, a healthy body and mind.
But more often than not, I push that pop-up thought out of my head and remember there wasn't much luck involved. I didn't happen upon the spoken word scene, I didn't enjoy journalistic assignments falling into my lap.
It all took work. And long hours. And networking. And time taking on responsibilities that others would stiff-arm.
Like Toronto Poetry Slam. Not everyone has the bandwidth to start an arts series from scratch, later assembling a killer crew of volunteer poets and poetry fans who help run the slam and other shows. There was no luck involved here. We pack the Drake Hotel every two weeks because we all work tirelessly to promote the show, strategizing on how to advertise effectively on Facebook or bridging the gap between our scene and the literary scene. Case in point: In 2017 we partnered with Toronto's International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre, the first partnership of this kind. That wasn't luck.
I'm not where I heard the following line, but I suspect it was in Terminator 2, of all places: There's no fate but what we make ourselves. Was it fate I started Toronto Poetry Slam and now it's become one of the most popular literary events in Canada? Was it fate I decided to become a freelance journalist two years ago and have enjoyed the kind of success I never thought would come to me so soon into the 'lancing world?
No. I focused on my goal and went for it. I put on horse-blinders and didn't sway from my mission, whether it was to get published in The Washington Post or working out more than twice a week (I average 3x/week now) or writing my first solo show (book off May 10, folks!).
So on my birthday, I like to look back at what got me to where I am today. And I'm proud to say there was little luck involved and a whole boatload of blood, sweat and fears I may fail. But I haven't. Which has me on perma-smile right now as I type this post.
For those unawares, I'm debuting my first solo poetry show in May and I'll be launching a new type of poetry format I'm calling "performance journalism." This project involves me interviewing fascinating people and telling their stories via spoken word, using real quotes and extensive research to infuse the poetry with hyper-realism.
Coming to Toronto May 10 to Al Green Theatre, this show features six profilees, and two weeks ago I revealed the first trailblazer, who contributed greatly to Holocaust education and chazzanut in Canada.
Now, the second reveal...JUDY PERLY, owner of Free Times Cafe on College Street in Toronto!
Her story is enthralling, whether you've tasted the glory that is Free Times' Jewish brunch buffet on Sundays. If you want a peek of the food available at that historic buffet, check out the video above.
I don't want to say much more about Judy's story and the Cafe's relationship to Jewish Toronto, so you'll have to come to my show to find out! Contact me for details anytime.
Next week, I'll reveal my next profile subject...Stay tuned!
Let's talk food, peoples. I've been looking hither and yonder for kickass recipes online, and I've amassed an impressive Chrome bookmark folder of 30 recipes I've been enjoying. They range from breakfast smoothies to creative salads to pasta dishes to slow-cooker recipes. Today, I want to share a few of my faves.
I do have some go-to recipes offline, but I'm not a huge fan of writing out cookbook pages. Another time, perhaps.
Below are some delectable recipes that are simple to make and inexpensive too:
Zucchini Noodles n Shrimp with Avocado Pesto: I admit, I don't make the noods from scratch but when I go to farmer's market I might get a bag of zucchini noodles for this recipe. Avocado pesto goes so well with shrimp I'm surprised this is the first time I've had this pairing. The shelled pistachios also bring a freshly nutty flavour to the dish.
Cauliflower Hash: I get bored of breakfast foods easily, even though as a kid I could down bowls of Corn Pops with nary an eye-roll. These days, I like to bring more veggies into my breakfast, which is why this GIF recipe of cauliflower hash is so handy. I fry and egg and lay it atop the cooked cauliflower and feel free to add hot sauce if you're feeling a morning mouth-boost.
Udon Stir-Fry With Coconut Curry Sauce: This recipe came to me thanks to The Toronto Star's Karon Liu and I've done a variation of it before, but this one really packs a lot of punch thanks to the coconut, which I don't often add. If you're on the move a lot and don't have time to prep for lunch or dinner, this recipe should be your new best friend.
Slow Cooker Butter Chicken: I love Indian food and butter chicken is so damn tasty on a cold winter night. Thanks to my slow cooker, I can have my whole spot smelling delicious. Be sure to get basmati rice as a perfect complement to the chicken, but also free to opt for naan if you're not feeling rice.
Honey Mustard Chicken: Also a simple as a dimple chicken recipe, this take on the bird sees a delectable mix of honey mustard and white wine and aromatic spices such as rosemary. I've often paired this with some brussell sprouts or steamed broccoli, and have used leftovers in pitas or sandwiches.
"I wrote a poem about Danny Devito! Have I seen him in any TV shows or movies? No, but I like how his name sounds."
"I've heard about poetry slams. It's mainly angry poetry, right?"
"I want to write a poem about wearing shorts. Cuz pants suck."
"Wait, you can make a living being a poet?! You're joking, right?"
"This class is sooo much better than math."
"Has anyone ever told you that you sound and kinda look like Seth Rogen?"
"Has anyone ever told you should get into radio? You should, you have a voice for it."
"Can I write a poem about how great Trump is?" [Hisses from fellow classmates] "Yeah, guess I will, just to piss off people."
Today is one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar, where we remember the many Jews lost in the Holocaust. This day has meant more to me this year than in others due to learning about the Holocaust from someone who survived a concentration camp and told me his story in person from his Ottawa home in the summer.
I was talking to former cantor Moshe Krause because he is one of my profile subjects in my upcoming solo show debuting May 10 at the Al Green Theatre. What Moshe has been through, the pain he's endured, the family he lost...it's as heavy as heavy gets, and it was difficult to hear him break down in tears telling me what he went through.
My first solo show will profile six Jewish trailblazers in Ontario, who influenced their respective fields immensely, such as Moshe with Holocaust education (and chazzanut, too). In fact, this 91-year-old singer has been dubbed the youngest cantor of all time, when he took the reins of a synagogue in Budapest when he was 16.
I truly can't wait to tell you more about Moshe's story, and the many other pioneers in Ontario Judaism, on May 10. His story greatly affected me and I know the audience will learn more about resiliency, faith and survival through Moshe's fascinating life.
If you want to learn more about my show, feel free to contact me anytime. I'll be revealing more profile subjects for this show throughout the next few weeks.
Today, Toronto learned Raptors PG Kyle Lowry made the 2018 All-Star Game reserves, a couple weeks after we got the good news about Demar DeRozan making the starting lineup. Boom! The one-two punch of the best backcourt in the NBA is getting respect once again.
The Raptors sit comfortably in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, thanks largely to how Lowry and DeRozan have lifted the team with consistent offence and non-stop hustle. To honour these badass athletes, who also are IRL best friends, check out the videos below:
Those were the funnies, but here are the highlights that make Lowry and DeRozan All-Star calibre:
For no apparent reason, here's a throwback pic of these guys when they were just fresh-faced newbies to Toronto:
I read The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass's most well-known novel, when I was 16, and I've read it twice since then. It's an unusual novel to read as a teen, since some of its high-terrain concepts of wartime trauma and fractured relationships might not be the usual fodder for teen reading. But as a book nerd, I was all about experimenting with novels both challenging and intellectually nourishing.
What I always loved about The Tin Drum was its coming-of-age story, tracking the story of young Oskar, born in 1924 in Poland and steadfastly refusing to grow up. With a hint of Peter Pan in the opening passage, Oskar desires to retain his youthful stature so much he flings himself down the basement steps and is stunted in his growth, forever being his prepubescent height as his mind matures. I'm not sure why, but this premise hooked me.
Oskar also had a voice that could shatter glass...literally. Such magic realism, which Salman Rushdie later popularized, was a revelation to me. Wait, you can blend fantasy into an otherwise historical novel?!
Grass's writing is so damn compelling, I always recommend this novel to friends looking for a great read. It's a thick read, sure, but like any worthwhile books, Grass expertly develops Oskar and other characters with such detail and humanity, the writing keeps you engaged til the last page.
I don't want to reveal much more, lest I spoil some of The Tin Drum's best passages, but rest assured this book is worth your time and attention. In fact, I now have an itch to re-read it once again.
You think you're hilarious don't you? Playing hide-and-seek is so 80s, and frankly I'm frustrated by this playfulness that feels more like a malicious attempt to keep my glasses from being streak-free.
When I look for you, it's as if you want to evade all the usual places I often leave you. Were you not happy in my jeans pockets? Too warm and linty? Or did you see a better future for yourself languishing under my bed, between couch cushions, behind that Joan Didion I'm re-reading? Yeah, she's a great writer, I don't blame you.
You're not the only one, buddy. I've bought more of you so I won't have to freak out the next time my glasses need a solid cleaning. Yes, you're replaceable, don't you forget that!
You have one job, Cloth: to give me clarity in the most literal sense. I'm not looking for anything magical here; just a swipe here, a swipe there, and I'm on to tackle my day smudge-free. If you can't get down with that...hell...I don't even know you any more.
So it's up to you how this all ends. You can continue being my pocket companion when the going gets wet and foggy, or you can keep playing keep-away like I'm getting bullied in a John Hughes movie. Either way, I'm on the prowl for you...because Lord knows I won't ever resort to wiping my glasses with your nemesis, Edge of Shirt.
You need to know a few things before you fully accept and sign the contract of bending your will to the Writer Gods that will forever entrap your mind, body and fine spirits.
First, the from-the-heavens call for inspiration may not siren-song its way into your morning every day. You'll face days if not weeks of Damn, when will the muse come a-callin? Sorry to be so blunt, but there's no bloody muse. It's just butt in the seats, it's just hard work. Every day. Seth Godin believes there's no such thing as writer's block; just a fear of work being shit and bad habits. I heartily agree: Don't wait for revelations to strike you and instead pump out that crap first draft.
Second, you needo thustle. You need to be bustling. And another rhyming word, why not?, is muscle. Hustle, bustle, muscle. You need to move quick to find other ways to support yourself while you get down to the busy work of writing creatively. That could mean finding a career in writing, maybe even technical writing, or you could work in a completely unrelated field but one that still gratifies you.
Bustling means not staying static, not staying still. I mean: Write in different places, place yourself in new environments. I always like a change of setting when I write, even though there is comfort in routine. Some writers only like to write at 5am before they go to work, at their desk. Others prefer the same coffee-shop table, every day. I think it's healthier to be open to places that could invigorate your writing brain, such as a new cafe on the other side of town, or a writing retreat so you can focus without the usual distractions.
Muscle is all about exercising that muscle. Every day. Writing every. Single. Day. You don't have to produce exquisite jewels of poetry and prose every sit-down. Look at this exercise as working out: You might not bench-press 200 lbs every time you hit the gym, but instead try more toning reps. Either way, your muscle is flexing and staying active, and so should your writing muscle.
Third, to be a writer you need to love language. That might sound obvious, but I know many writers who aren't devoted to learning more about English, its roots, how to expand their vocabularies, how to find refreshing ways to express themselves. Writers need to love language like musicians need to adore music. Know your tools because you need to know the rules before you break them.
I'm always open to answer anyone's questions about the writing life, so drop me a line here or tweet at me via @SilverbergDave
In what will now be an annual tradition, below are my picks for the past year's greatest series, films, music, podcasts and viral videos.
Here are my recommendations when you're next looking to get your content on (I promise never to write/say that again):
What To Binge
What to Film
What to Music
What to Pod
What to YouTube
Bonus Highlights of '17
About David's Blog
I write about journalism, freelancing, the arts, Toronto, technology, sports and why egg nog is under-rated.