The Ghosts that Love Me
They drift at will,
floating in and out of my walls,
quick to vanish when I stare too long.
I’m not sure when my dead friends started swaying
over my shoulder
but the dust swirled that first time
when Zac hovers above my bed,
a joint winking on his lips.
I almost crackle with laughter.
I almost reach out for a clap-hug.
Then he passes me the joint,
And my hand passes through his.
Marsha catches me in a snowstorm,
lobs transparent snowballs at my back,
all the while, she dances,
(god, she could move as smooth as seaweed in lakes)
she also cries,
still shimmying to no music,
and I’m reminded of how depression
flicked its embers on her hair,
lighting a fire she never wanted.
I dance with her, but I don’t cry.
She always loved my smile.
Wane and wax,
the moon lanterns my walk home from the Jays game.
Hovering above me, Marli is frowning,
track marks dotting her neck.
I want to ask her if she’s OK now,
but such a cliché question ferments in my gut.
I just want her close.
I’m tempted to call Jason,
let him know his sister is here,
a mile away from where they grew up,
as the moon languishes behind brewing clouds.
Marli meanders into a park. Looking back at me.
I don’t follow her.
*To buy my new book, visit here for various links.
If you're in Toronto, my book launch is May 8 at Handlebar (159 Augusta) at 7:30pm. Details here.
At 18, I wrote an article for a national newspaper and got published for the first time in The Toronto Star. The byline in high school came to me via a group called Young People’s Press. In the late 90s, This now-defunct organization worked with the Star on a section every Wednesday called Young Street (har har) where they gave teen writers a chance to share their opinions and hard journalism. This section was truly groundbreaking because there were few opportunities for Canadian youth to get published, beyond OWL! Magazine and library contests.
I started nosing around journalism in high school and decided to give YPP a try. I pitched an idea about the lack of faith within Jewish youth, a trend I started noticing in grade 9 among my buddies. We were being raised to respect Judaism, to go to synagogue, sure, but did many of us want to continue following anything our parents told us after we left home?
Within a week, YPP green-lit the story and I freaked out for a solid 24 hours, both out of joy and stress. Oh wait, now I actually have to interview my friends and rabbis and oh wow this is happening!
Fast-forward three weeks and the article went live on the site and in print. The confidence bursting felt euphoric. I felt like I could start freelancing for Wired and Toronto Life. I was all smiled at my high school, getting high-fives from friends and appreciate sentiments from teachers. But what came after my first byline was even more fulfilling than this landmark gig.
I'm at Ryerson journalism school in 2002, my final year there, when Chris at YPP called me to propose to me something I never thought I’d ever do.
“Dave, you want to be an advice columnist for a new project we’re launching?” He went on to explain they wanted to publish a syndicated advice column called Confidentially Yours, where a male and female advice columnist would answer questions from teens around Canada. The topics would range from relationships to family drama to school challenges to drug use to bullying.
“Yes, I’m in!” I answered Chris, my shocked face shifting into an expression that could only be the facial equivalent of double fist-pumps to the sky.
I worked with Jewel Kats on Confidentially Yours for three years, where I fielded questions weekly, save for the summer months. It’s a strange feeling to be an advice columnist at 22, 23, dishing tips to teens not much younger than you. I guess a part of me thought an advice columnist had to be wizened like Dr. Ruth or planning to major in social work. After all, as Dan Savage once said, an advice columnist doesn’t need any particular qualification beyond being asked to give advice.
I took this job very seriously, more than any job I had, the most recent being a three-monther at Blinds To Go that revealed to me how unsuited I was for retail. So when writing a column – and this wasn't for school, for marks! – came into my life, something sparked in me. I knew what it was after a year or so: I loved writing AND helping people. To do both at once, it just seemed too good to be truly my life.
What was wild about Confidentially Yours is how it was syndicated across Canada and the U.S. The scope of people I've hopefully helped blew me away. The column ran in newspapers, in their own youth sections, repping cities such as Halifax, Victoria, Calgary, Austin, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Des Moines, New York and Albany.
I remember answering a few questions about bullying, and they broke my heart. I thankfully didn’t face that kind of violence in school, but I remember not doing anything about it when I saw such intimidation happen in front of me. That guilt wound its way into a reply to one of the teens asking about bullying, and that was a CY column I won’t ever forget. It not only let me be vulnerable and honest in a way I never was before, but it also encouraged me to find another way to express myself. One of my most well-known spoken word poems focuses on that shame I felt when I saw bullies push around my classmates and I didn’t step in to help them.
When YPP folded three years into my CY column, a chapter from my early writing career came to a sighing close. I wasn’t disappointed the column was over. It had a good run, and it ended on a nice parting note, with Jewel and I saying goodbye in a final column. We both knew we did our part to help some kids who were unsure how to navigate into adult mode.
And well…did I? I was sorting it out myself too. Maybe that’s why CY appealed to some youth. They were getting advice from someone who freshly experienced what they might have gone through, even if the context of my situations may have been different from theirs. One teen asked me about trying marijuana, and and I remember refraining from joining any joint circles at the age of the teen. I knew about the peer pressure, even just the internal stress put on oneself about being part of your social crew by taking part in the latest thing. And hopefully my answer made him feel less alone.
When you look back at your past jobs, what do you see? A ladder taking you to where you are now, or maybe a playground slide that encouraged you to step outside your comfort zone, even if it weren’t something you’d be doing over and over, forever more? Or maybe you see a funhouse mirror, where you can spot different angles of yourself suddenly presented in a new light, but you aren’t exactly sure which reflection is truly the you’est of you?
My years as an advice columnist propelled me into seeing writing as a full-time career, while also spinning me around so I can see an emerging side of myself, the empathetic boy who would soon be a more giving man, as I decided to sacrifice an enormous amount of time to bring spoken word to the suburbs.
But that’s for another day, for another blog post.
Swing batta batta batta swing! Who's on deck?! Mine mine, I got it! Let's play ball!
These are the sounds of spring, of baseball's annual ritual finding its way into my ears and burrowing into a part of me that instinctually embraces those exclamations of a team sport I fell in love with as a kid.
Today is Opening Day for MLB and our beloved Toronto Blue Jays, and while I don't watch baseball with the same enthusiasm of my teen years, it still holds a warm place in my heart. I grew up playing the game with my brother, when "wall ball" was a thing and going outside for some stripped-down baseball on our street became a weekly ritual.
I also joined softball and hardball leagues, taking the position of pitcher for a couple reasons: It was the most action you got in a game where outfielders often languished on the grass, fielding few plays if opponents struggled to hit past the infield; and my brother was a pitcher and taught me how to throw all the tricky pitches you need in your repertoire. I still know how to grip the seams to throw a nasty slider.
I loved pitching. The smell of the grass spiced with the faint rubber odour of the mound, all eyes trained on you, the game in your hands, literally. A chess match was afoot with each batter, as he tried to figure out what I'd do next, while I was thinking a few pitches ahead, seeing how I could get him "in the hole" with a favourable count.
I'm not going to rewrite history and claim I was a star pitcher. My arm strength wasn't as impressive as others on my team, while my offspeed pitches served me better than heaters. What being on a baseball gave me was my first dance with a sport that would remain in my blood for years, thanks to the Jays' improbable World Series run in the early 90s. What an era to be a baseball fan in Toronto!
There's something pure about "America's game" that made it feel like Canada's game too. A all-star player, no matter how talented, couldn't carry a team to a championship; this was truly a team sport. I saw that with my hardball league teams each game, whether the camaraderie strengthened during our dugout hangs or after the high-fives when someone laid down a critical sacrifice bunt. We didn't just applaud the home runs but the little things that mattered.
I love the Babe Ruth quote, "Never let the fear of striking out get in your way." If that isn't a life lesson beyond the batter's box I don't know what is. Baseball gave me many things, like a closer relationship to my brother, exercise this pudgy teen sorely needed, friends I'd feel closer to than some school buddies. But baseball also instilled in me a determination to get up and strive to be great, even if the last at-bat got me down n' out.
Today I'll be watching the Jays battle the Tigers with a smile on my face, remembering how baseball empowered me to always be better than I was yesterday, to always step up to the plate no matter how many times I struck out the day before.
I am excited to launch my next project, which is geared towards freelance journalists of any level.
Pitch Like a Pro: A Workshop on Getting Published in Print and Online is a comprehensive guide on how freelance writers can get their queries noticed by editors in print and online. Pitching story ideas can be difficult work for journalists, especially if they're new to freelance, and in this workshop I'll help writers learn how to craft the perfect pitch.
This is an in-person seminar and workshop taking place on two dates, since I wanted to offer options to interested folks. You can select the Thursday March 28 session at 720 Bathurst, 2nd floor, taking place at 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m, or the Sunday April 14 workshop running from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., also at 720 Bathurst. The same content will be covered in each session so there's no need to attend both.
The venue is fully accessible thanks to elevators in the building, which is the Centre for Social Innovation, otherwise known as CSI Annex.
The cost for each session is $30 and can be paid via PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via e-transfer to the same email address of email@example.com
A cheque can also be mailed to me so please contact me for those details. Please note you will only be refunded the session fees until 24 hours before the workshop begins.
Also, email me once you have sent payment so I'm clear on which date you are registered for.
Note I will cap each session at 10 participants, and will offer a waiting list for March 28 and April 14. Refreshments will be provided.
There won't be any live-tweeting or live-video filming taking place, although that will be considered for summer sessions of Pitch Like a Pro.
What you'll learn in the workshop will be advice and tips I've never shared with anyone before, revealing the process I go through from idea generation to research to pitch, offering real examples of queries that editors accepted. Questions to be answered will include: "What makes a strong pitch? How long should it be? What kind of publications would be perfect for this or that idea? Should I submit simultaneous queries? What common mistakes should I avoid?"
Attendees can also expect to write their own pitches based on ideas I will share with the class, but if you have your own pitches (that haven't been accepted by publishers) please bring them along.
Attendees should also bring pen, paper, laptops, etc for that writing portion of the workshop.
What are my qualifications to run this workshop? I've been freelance writing for more than 15 years, and I've gone full-time as a freelance in the past three years. I've been published in The Washington Post, BBC News, The Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Buzzfeed, Ars Technica, Vice, NOW Magazine, Canadian Jewish News, Canadian Business, Rue Morgue, Princeton Alumni Magazine, Ryerson Alumni Magazine and many more.
Between 2016 and today, I've published more than 250 articles in various print and online outlets. I also worked as an editor, who fielded dozens of pitches weekly, when I helped run the online news network Digital Journal.
Interested in Pitch Like a Pro? Register today via e-transfer, preferably, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or let me know if you have questions via the Contact form on this site.
While the sketched illustrations might have you considering this book as one for kids, rest assured that Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell is for everyone and anyone. And not just for artists and creators but also for those who are bookcore for life and adore reading, and those who want something positive to filter into their life amid the bitter winter months.
I picked up this book from the library last week on a lark, remembering how I always enjoy Gaiman's books and tweets and especially his invigorating commencement speeches. This guy knows how to engage an audience, no matter the medium, and he really absorbed me right from jump in this battle cry for creating great art in this slim 112-pager.
He waxes poetic on the allure books held for him, especially libraries, before delving into his main thesis: no matter how ugly and evil the world may seem, we can find some light in the books we read and the art we create.
Gaiman drops delectable gems of wisdom in the book, which may sound obvious to those of in the trenches of creating art, but nevertheless still deserves to be bullhorned: "When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick-skinned, to learn that not every project will survive."
Also, Gaiman recounts how success, once you're lucky enough to find it, can be intoxicating and a whirling dervish of an experience, so much so you might let it all fly by too quickly: "The hardest lesson for me, I think, was to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places."
I could keep going but this book is too good to spoil all of its tips and insight, so I'll finally urge you to pick up this book, or maybe gift it to a teen who's just embarking on their book-loving or art-creating ways. No matter the age of the reader, they'll undoubtedly feel that spark of inspiration begin to brighten in their belly as they read Art Matters.
We live in a mirrorworld, so much so it's not readily apparent to us at first blush. Some of you experienced this new reality via innovative tech such as Pokemon Go and Google Earth, where a virtual world parallels our own streets and parks and stores. And I think this is revolutionary in a way we haven't yet fully grasped.
Why? Because augmented reality and its cousin virtual reality hasn't slipped into the mainstream as easily as other mobile tech. AR/VR can be clunky, niche and come with the baggage of "Why should I care? I don't play Pokemon." But this new platform could radically overhaul how we view physical spaces, like the above photo. Hold up a phone or tablet to a street and you can see the Yelp ratings of restaurants and retailers.
In the mirrorworld, everything could have a paired twin. That random lamppost, even, could hold a wealth of data about its history, the material used to make it, famous folks who might have taken a photo next to it. And don't think we mortal humans will be the only ones to take advantage of this AR-enabled tech. As Kevin Kelly writes in Wired magazine, "Robots will see this world. Indeed this is already the perspective from which self-driving cars and robots see the world today, that of reality fused with a virtual shadow. When a robot is finally able to walk down a busy city street, the view it will have in its silicon eyes and mind will be the mirrorworld version of that street."
In 2016, when I wrote about AR used in design and architecture, I thought this would be the Next Big Thing, coming to a design firm near you. But it's been slow going, perhaps due to the price of AR or the cold shoulder some old heads have given such a new untested tech. Still, I think AR will be a monumental movement within the tech space that will touch every aspect of our lives, at some point, whether in health-care or retail or gaming.
Many people are anxious about AR dragging us into cyberspace. But, as Kelly writes in Wired, "The great paradox is that the only way to understand how AR works is to build AR and test ourselves in it. It's weirdly recursive: The technology itself is the microscope needed to inspect the effects of the technology."
This melded mirrorworld will come with hitches, like any new tech, but I'm enthralled by the many directions it can be spun, even if AR doesn't end up as a personal touchpoint for me. I'm not in the design scene, or building auto-parts via AR-enabled tablet, but I'll still be watching this complex and weird landscape evolve, as I'm sure it will.
As a freelance journalist who doesn't need to take root at any office, except my work-sharing space whenever I'm in the mood, I don't need to get at any particular time. I always try to be awake by 8:30 a.m. so I can take advantage of my morning. But last week, and from now, getting up at 7 a.m. has been my go-to wakeup time.
It started randomly on Tuesday when I couldn't fall back asleep, and a part of me thought: Damn, now I'm going to hit that fatigue wall at 1 p.m. But isn't anxiety all just fear about being afraid of something that hasn't happened? Thankfully, no wall was hit, let alone lightly flicked, and my energy levels kept surging way past 5 p.m. and even at sundown I wasn't feeling the expected grogginess I'd always associated with an unusually early wakeup.
Maybe this is me getting all adulty, or my body's sleep rhythm requiring fewer hours with shuteye. So I decided to repeat the 7 a.m. wakeup on Wednesday ,then Thursday, and each day I got more done with my journalistic assignments and poetry work. That dip rarely happened, and when it did the eyelids might have drooped but never to the point where I needed to nap. P.S. Not a napper, never have been. It feels like such a sleep-tease.
I remember listening to Tim Ferriss podcasts in which he interviews successful entrepreneurs about their morning habits, and so many of them got up before 8 a.m. I practically felt embarrassed recounting my startup days and stretching awake at the luxurious hour of 8:45 a.m. (my work day started at 10 a.m.). In lieu of that shame, I'm now feeling empowered to wake up at 7 a.m. on weekdays from now on, in order to chomp on more hours during my day and go to bed at a reasonable hour.
If you told Teenage Dave he'd willingly wake up at 7 a.m. without requiring such an ungodly disturbance to my inevitably thrilling dreams, he would've flipped ya the bird or something equally '90s. And I wonder if that dude could've swallowed his instinct to sleep in til 10 a.m. and try an early-morning regimen, even if it was simply an experiment for the sake of science.
Yeah, I agree. No way he would've done that back then.
I feel like I've been to - and produced - dozens of hand-wringing panel talks on the future of journalism. It's a juicy topic to dig into, despite the obvious frustration hovering every chin-stroking insight lobbed by a media pro: We truly don't know what's going to happen to journalism.
But some of us, some journalists with deep roots in history writing and thoughtful analysis, can at least present what kind of diagnosis that is sickening the world's magazines, newspapers and online outlets. And most recently, that rarity belongs to author Jill Lepore, who just wrote a vital longread on U.S. journalism's many challenges.
The New Yorker feature, in the Jan 28 print edition, takes us back to ye ol' glory days of newspaper competition and one-upmanship (and it was always 'man' back then), but we don't get rocked in a cradle of complacency in Lepore's piece. Instead, we are quickly bombarded with the heady challenges outlined in Lepore's reading of The Merchant of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.
What I appreciate about Lepore's criticism is how she doesn't let Abramson off the hook, such as when reporters at new media outlets like Vice are seen as "impossibly hip, with interesting hair." Lepore says hold up, holster the snarky sidearm, and recognize what's happening when online publishers begin to even scoop legacy papers: "...there is a changing of the guard worth noting, and it’s not incidental: it’s critical."
Even if you know the story of Jonah Peretti founding BuzzFeed, it's worth poring through Lepore's recounting of the site's rise and pivot, and then pivot again. We've all been reading about BuzzFeed News recently and how Mueller has called out their most recent report on Russia-Trump ties, so Lepore's look back at a Silicon Valley gambit is a lesson for many new media publishers out there.
I care about the future of news reporting, because this industry is too essential to a healthy democracy to see it get crippled at the knees. Layoffs, heady competition from Google/Facebook, mismanagement and partisan politics plague today's journalism space, and Lepore is quick to point out how a future solution can't be read in the tea leaves. Instead, we can learn a quick lesson or two from The Guardian funding itself via philanthropy, for example.
Or take this topsy-turvy fliparoo you might have noticed: "BuzzFeed News became more like the Times, and the Times became more like BuzzFeed, because readers, as Chartbeat announced on its endlessly flickering dashboards, wanted lists, and luxury porn, and people to hate."
Some longreads are well worth the investment in your time, so if you're concerned or at the very least curious about the state of journalism today, Lepore's overview will catch you up...if not freak you out.
...have a soft spot for KD Mac n' Cheese with tuna and parmesan cheese à la first-year university?
...still use their Hotmail email for contest sign-ups and T-shirt giveaways at NBA games?
...scowl at people who cut their nails on the subway but don't say anything to them cuz you're Canadian?
...wonder what happened to the band Arrested Development? Tennessee was my jam.
...have a bad feeling about Space Jam 2?
...bond more with their left-leaning parents now that they're also exasperated by Trump and Ford and the alt-right?
...still have a tough time spelling "rhythm"?
...secretly want to learn how to beatbox?
...rewatch old X-Files episodes, but only the standalone monster-of-the-week ones, not the alien-storyline episodes?
...really hate when people overuse #hashtags on #Twitter, because it makes a #tweet look like it got bad #acne?
...think "Syphilis" would be a beautiful name for someone if it didn't mean what it means?
...feel kind of guilty for fast-forwarding the sponsored ads on a beloved podcast?
...have nightmares about being ransomware-hacked because you've been watching too much Mr. Robot?
...air-guitar to the killer Slash solo in November Rain?
What a year for 5-star films, in both fiction and documentary! I'm talking the beautiful Robin Williams doc, the thought-provoking Annihilation, the oh-so-fun Black Panther, the kickass-heavy Upgrade, the return of the Coen Brothers magic in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the-
OK. Let me just get to the list in a penultimate post in my Best-of-2018 series. After, check out my top longreads, podcasts and books of 2018.
As always, in no particular order...
Available on Netflix, this documentary on the life and legacy of producer Quincy Jones was truly one of the more engrossing music docs I've seen in a minute. It's inspiring to remember how Jones has been so influential in shaping the careers of Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra even Will Smith during the Fresh Prince era. I got a feeling I'll be rewatching this doc, especially with friends who might not be acquainted with the glory that is a Quincy Jones album.
If you know me, you know I have great admiration for Natalie Portman's acting talent (and yes, maybe I got a bit of a crush too, shhhhh) and with Annihilation she's able to broaden her acting range in an intelligent movie I wouldn't want to spoil by spilling too many details about its plot. What you get with this sci-f beaut are stunning visuals, original ideas standing apart from cliche Hollywood tropes and a freaky scene that could be the most horrific three minutes in 2018 cinema.
Thanks to a listicle I saw on the The Ringer, I gave this sci-film a whirl and wow, was it ever fun and unique and thrilling! Taking place in a future where AI exoskeletons and cyberweapons are the norm, Upgrade is part Robocop part Bourne Trilogy but acts as more of an homage to those films without borrowing from each of them too liberally. I have to hand it to lead actor Logan Marshall-Green aka Discount Tom Hardy for one heckuva performance.
Sorry To Bother You
Laketh Stanfield made this film a hoot but it was Boots Riley's vision, complete with absurd twists and crackling dialogue, that made Sorry To Bother You a standout flick in '18. I can't get over some of the scenes in this film, so much so I'm biding my time for a second watching when memories of the first screening fade further into the recesses of my brain. The soundtrack is this year's best IMO.
You've read all the glowing reviews, you probably revelled in the Wakandan majesty of it all, and you've heard Ryan Coogler's praises sung as high as possible. But take a step back and really dig into the main feat Black Panther pulled off in an era of superhero movies getting it wrong: the villain was actually layered. What BP gave us in Killmonger is motivation and rounded character arc, unlike one-dimensional antagonists in Spider-Man 3 (Sandman? Utterly forgettable) and Batman v Superman (Jesse Eisenberg couldn't convince me to believe his Lex Luthor).
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
If you ever saw the Heath Ledger and Chris Farley docs, you're not what you're in for with this Robin Williams retrospective, with some truly heart-breaking quotes from Williams' friends such as Billy Crystal. You'll be choking up between laughs in this remarkable portrait of a young artist caught up in drugs and booze and depression and feeling alienated even amid the parties and sexcapades. He was sad and lonely, as some of are when we put on a brave mask to face the world. I'm surprised this didn't make the Oscars shortlist for their top docs of the year, because you can't look away from how the filmmakers told Williams' story.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I always come into a Coen brothers film with high expectations, because I've rarely been disappointed by any of their work, although I have yet to see the tepidly-reviewed Hail, Caesar! With this Netflix release, The Ballad adopts an anthology model by releasing 25-minute stories only linked by the era they live in - The Wild West. Star turns from Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits and Brendan Gleeson polish this gem of a film even brighter. Some of the stories end with a faint whimper of a sigh, others with a sharp gun blast, and they each display a vision of humanity so wonderfully wrapped in a tight bow, no fat on these short films.
Three Identical Strangers
Up there for doc of the year, Three Identical Strangers takes us back to 1980s New York when three identical twins shook up America with their unusual story: they found each other separately, never having grown up with each other. Why that is forms the backbone to a self-discovery tale chock full of humour and pathos. I particularly liked the endings, but, well, liked is too tender of a word, because it aggravated to see how these mensches were wrapped up in bureaucracy beyond their control. Let's just say this is a doc you want to see all the way through aka don't put this on at 1 a.m. on a Monday.
You Were Never Really Here
I can't remember anything interesting coming from Joaquin Phoenix since The Master but this blood-drenched thriller has renewed my respect for Phoenix's smouldering emotions he brings to his characters. He plays a grizzled veteran who saves girls from sex traffickers but gets in deep with a more complex mission when a rising politician hires him to track down his kidnapped girl. The violence can be a turn-off for some, but it all fits into the narrative and never goes gory for the sake of it.
Birds of Passage
Thanks to the Toronto International Film Festival, I caught this film because I had a feeling it was going to be a winner AND not enjoy a theatrical release. I was right on both guesses, and I couldn't recommend this poetic film enough. Filmmakers will especially marvel at some of the cinematography soaking this Colombian film with colour palettes perfectly mirroring the drama taking place. A cautionary tale of how the War on Drugs shattered so many lives in South America, Birds of Passage has deservedly been nominated for an Oscar and I predict it'll take home the trophy and give director Ciro Guerra his first golden trophy.
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