Being Big In Japan

The other night, I happened upon this clip of Swing Out Sister (SOS) on YouTube.  It dates back to 96 or 97, back when SOS had definitely declined from most North American limelight.  I’ve been a longtime fan of SOS since my first listen in the late 80s (you might remember Breakout and Twilight World); their British sophisti-pop style appealed to my overgrown eclectic appetite for diverse music.

In the clip Andy and Corinne are being interviewed on the Japanese TV show,Music Station, which has been around since 1986 (or so Wikipedia tells me).  Many popular music artists have also been on the show, including… Green Day, Deborah Gibson, Tiffany, Kiss, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Boyz II Men, Lenny Kravitz, Charlotte Church, Alanis Morissette, Enya, Destiny’s Child, Shakira, Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff, The Offspring, Backstreet Boys, Stevie Wonder, James Blunt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fergie, Sarah Brightman, U2, Kanye West, Maroon 5, Flo Rida, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Oasis, Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Carly Rae Jepsen, and many other artists (ones I didn’t know by name).  The show equates to the British Top of the Pops in how it features popular media and rising music stars.

To me, the Youtube clip captures a moderately awkward interview…

My observations:
What kind of host wears sunglasses while conducting an interview?  I love the co-host’s pink pop filter on her microphone–it seems kinda 80s, but in the 90s.  With the translator on the left, there’s a lot communication going on during the interview, but if you listen clearly, you can hear it’s their first time in Japan (Corinne nods).   When the host asks about where they’d been already, Corinne indicates a reference to some record store.  In there place, I would too, mostly because I wouldn’t have a clue how to pronounce anything else.  “I want to buy some workmen’s trousers.”  I didn’t quite get what Corinne was saying about the workmen’s trousers so I had to look them up…worker_trousers

So here’s the stylish Japanese work wear… It looks pretty snazzy when you compare it with the gear at Mark’s Work Warehouse.  I’m not sure how safe those flair bottoms would be, but hey, it’s fashionable.tabi

And these are the funky shoes that Corinne indicates with her bare stocking.  Speaking of shoes, I wonder what happened to her shoes.  Maybe the airline lost her luggage. Who knows?!  And is it just me, or do the groupies sitting behind SOS look like they might be on loan from the Power Rangers?  I love their facial expressions too.  Some of them evidently very board with the whole interview (insert imaginary mother’s voice saying, “And remember, while on TV, don’t fidget! And for heaven’s sake don’t lift your dress.”).

Outside of the expected musical giants, like U2, Madonna, or Michael Jackson, a couple other artists I enjoy also went big in Japan, specifically Sara Bareilles and Cathy Dennis.  Japanese culture is very different from Canada, and it makes me curious about the things that end up big in popular culture over there.  It seems appropriate to wind up my ramblings today with this little tune…

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Thoughts on 40…

…not to be confused with turning 40!

I stumbled upon an article on the site Digital Spy where a poll conducted by LA Fitness asked 2,000 people for their 2013 objectives.  Here’s the top 40 list from the poll, many of which certainly did end up on people’s lists of New Year Resolutions (and my thoughts trailing afterwards).

40

1. Read more books (I’m confused… texting, youtube, and social media has all but eroded everyone’s attention spans.  Why would we want to read more books?  Maybe we subconsciously want our attention spans back?  Wait?!  What was I writing about again?  Dang!)
2. Save more money (Sure, I’d like to save more of my money.  How ’bout finding extra money?  Or armed robbery?)
3. Lose weight (Just like money; think more dollar bills and less change.)
4. Redecorate (… your walls with cereal boxes.  That’ll save more money.)
5. Take better photos (… by using real cameras again.  Or by stop using InstaGram.)
6. Go traveling (… which seems counter to saving more money… unless using a bicycle.)
7. Sell old unwanted stuff on eBay (Agreed.  eBay is cool, but Kijiji is cooler–you actually meet freakish people, when you’re not getting stood up by them!  Jerks!)
8. Buy a tablet (… from the paper isle at Staples.  Kickin’ it old-school!)
9. Organize photos (Start by not taking pictures on every mobile device you own?  Just saying.)
10. Do something for charity (Start by buying the person behind you in line a coffee.  I’m the guy with the plaid shirt.)
11. Spend more time with kids (Can’t quite understand it.  My kids would rather not. Perhaps 2013 wasn’t the year to stop buying deodorant.)
12. Buy a Sunday paper  (Really, with the same money we’re trying to save?  The TV guides online now! And we still have no attention span.)
13. Less TV time (Agreed.  Cut the cable.  Watch more shows online.)
14. Connect my computer to my TV (Sure, right after I buy a new TV in 2014 with all the money I saved in 2013.)
15. Leave work on time more often (Great idea! But I’d rather start by just getting to work on time more often.  Unless we’re trying for a shorter workday?!  Duly noted.)
16. Less time on Facebook (Excellent!  Please help me find more annoying friends to further repulse me from using it.)
17. Totally revamp my wardrobe (Plaid?  Plaid forever!  The rest of you are nuts.)
18. Try a new hairstyle (Sure.  But first I’ll have to transplant some from the lower regions.)
19. Get a six-pack (Okay, But beers not really my thang.)
20. Eat less chocolate (What?  Who are these freaking people!)
21. Socialise more in real life rather than Facebook (Yes.  It’s called a telephone young people. You talk with it.)
22. Drink less alcohol (Agreed. Even better, drink someone else’s alcohol).

starbucks_barrista
23. Buy less coffee from Starbucks (Sure.  That’ll last a week.  When was the last time you tried office coffee? So how do you steal Starbucks coffee anyways?)
24. Start my own business (By now I think we’ve determined I’m trying to save money, and my attention span is limited at best.  Let’s wait til 2014 for this one.)
25. Tell someone I have feelings for them (I’d love to tell my boss about my feelings, but suppressing them helps keep me employed.)
26. Quit smoking (Yes.  Setting things on fire is bad!  I think we covered that in 2012.)
27. Gain a promotion (Again.  That’s why we keep our real feelings to ourselves, right?!)
28. Learn how to use Twitter (Sure. So I can miss use the hash key and further erode my attention span).
29. Run a half or full marathon (Who are these people?!  Ah, right… silly LA Fitness poll.)
30. Call people more than text (That depends… how about good news by phone, and bad news by text?  Seems like a reasonable compromise.)
31. Cut someone out of my life who isn’t good for me (Hey, why are you looking at me that way?!)
32. Meet online contacts in real life (I’m not sure I want any more scary real life people in life, unless you’re buying me coffee in the Starbucks line.)
33. Watch less reality TV (And more YouTube instead?  I don’t think this is helping any of us.)
34. Text people less (Less bad news is a good thing… see my point at number 30.)
35. Try to save relationship (Does that involve you saying, “I think we should just be friends?”  No.  Say it isn’t so!)
36. Try extreme sports (Only if I get a cool free Redbull outfit, a TV special, and a good looking nurse.)
37. Get better at social networking (How about we try complete sentences with capitals and punctuation?)
38. Stop contacting/going back to an ex-partner (That depends.  How much money money did she have?)
39. Have a face-to-face with my boss to find out where I stand (This was covered under the previous “feelings” discussions.)
40. Do a bungee jump (Only as the guest of Reality TV–please come back ABC’s The Mole *sniffle, sniffle*)

Deserted Island

Before I started writing this piece, I thought I was going to write about being stuck on a desert island.  As I began my writing process, it occurred that I might have chosen the wrong word.  Did I actually mean a deserted island?  It wouldn’t be the first time I had chosen a wrong words–nor will it be my last.

I also didn’t want to leave an impression on my wife that I would rather be stuck in a tropical paradise with other people, not including her.  The island I was trying to portray was something more… LOST-like, but without all the crazy stuff (only what I’d heard since I only ever watched the first episode).

Upon Google defining both desert and deserted island, my friends at Wikipedia indicate that both are indeed   “A desert island or uninhabited island is an island that has yet to be (or is not currently) populated by humans.”  This was exactly what I was attempting to describe…  basically stuck in the ocean (kind of like Tom Hanks in Cast Away).  This desert island post stems from a discussion with two great coworkers at my beloved Purple Prison, GaoRong and Coralie.

(In my own experience) Friends seldom become coworkers, and friends that do, typically don’t remain friends after laboring together.  Most coworkers remain coworkers–fused into a “professional” relation by place, position, and situation.  Other coworkers end up as adversaries–too bad for them because life is too short for that kind of conflict.  Occasionally, a few select coworkers gel together and actually become friends in the workplace.  This last group is the ones that often make work enjoyable (and more bearable).

Gel-ing coworkers can often  have goofy conversation about work, popular culture, personal experience, and life in general.  These friendships are typified by a genuine interest in each others’ lives.  Really great friends at work can even discuss politics, religion, and another forbidden topic that I can’t seem to recall (I think it was sex, but since I haven’t anything too interesting to mention about that, we’ll it’s never been an issue).

While wondering about those three forbidden topics, I ended up Googling this article from money.usnews.com:  40 Topics You Can’t Discuss At Work  Wow!  Take away all 40 of these topics and some people might have nothing much to discuss… My own new favorites from their list include…

  • (10)  The progress, or lack thereof, of your therapy   (if I could afford therapy, I think that I would want to talk about it.)
  • (11)   Your blog URL  (this seems obvious, considering my topic today)
  • (29)   The state of your undergarments (never even crossed my mind, that’s a good one.  What about ripping the crouch of my pants at work?  Does that count?  Because “that” actually happened last week!  Breezy!  Too much said?)

The fact someone actually took the time to articulate these 40 things makes me worried about the average worker’s ability to use their discretion *sigh*

I know amongst my friends at work, sometimes the conversation turns to kidding.  Occasionally this kidding involves silly ways we tease each other, and sometimes the teasing can get into cutting or sarcasm.  Sometimes this goes too far, so much so, that  when a person, like me, is trying to give a real compliment, it doesn’t get taken seriously.

In one such conversations, to get my point across and demonstrate I was being genuine,  I suggested that if I had to pick only ten co-workers to be stuck on a deserted island with, both of these coworkers would be in my list of ten.  My point of this statement was to indicate that each coworker was the type of person that I would want with me in that hypothetical circumstance.

And truthfully, both GaoRong and Coralie are the type of co-workers that would make my list of top ten islanders to be stuck with on my imaginary island.  This isn’t to say they’d be perfect island-mates, or that we never experienced a personal spat before, but rather that despite the good and the bad, they are stand-up people, the kind I would prefer to have with me in a rough patch.

So thinking about my hypothetical deserted island, what would you say about your own coworkers?  And what would your coworkers say about you?  What defines the kind of person that each of us would want with us in just such a situation?

Thinking about GaoRong and Coralie …  Why would I want them there with me?

  • Sense of humor (and the ability to laugh at oneself).
  • Transparency (the ability to really be yourself, and to not worry about people seeing the “real you”).
  • Sensitivity (good friends are attune to what’s going on).
  • Empathy (Maybe the grind of our Purple Prison has naturally brought us together).
  • Common Interests (music, popular culture, personal experience).
  • Diversity (different life experience, an interest to learn from each other).
  • Trust (not worrying that anyone will be getting “thrown under the bus”, and heaven forbid it happens, knowing there’s forgiveness afterwards).

Last Friday was a good reminder about why I picked GaoRong and Coralie to be my island mates:  Thanks to both of them for staying late to help me with all 28 international packages despite being finished (and permitted to go home)… you two are the best!

So in the scheme of things, where you work, would your coworkers be stuck on a deserted island with, or without you?  Why do you think that is?

My Friend Dave

I have this friend.  His name, Dave.  He passed away on Valentine’s day at the young age of 39.

If many of us live to be 80, then Dave only lived one half of his earthly life. But despite only making it to 39, friends and family testify that Dave lived a life far fuller than most 80 year-old folks.

I first met Dave at Rockyview Alliance in the early 90s.  Eventually Dave and I became housemates while he attended school at SAIT and I was working (what seemed) a million jobs.  Dave was the kind of housemate that could drive you crazy with all his ski and wind surfing gear piled up in our living room.

Having grown up in BC’s interior, Dave was a pioneer of amateur extreme sports.  He led our friends and me  on adventures we would have never done of our own initiative.  On one  of these outings, about six friends went ice caving with Dave in Kananaskis (with only a couple of flashlights), only to realize we’d all completely missed the safety/hazard instructions and warnings clearly posted in the park’s parking lot.  Thanks be to God that none of us were injured or suffered sever hypothermia.

Another time, Dave took us downhill skiing out-of-bounds in search of virgin waist-deep powder.  In my mind, Dave was the Superman, or maybe better described the SuperDave of skiing.  Usually, Dave would “let” me ski down safely down below the cliff he wanted free fall from, “Just to make sure no objects in his way below.”  Thinking about it years later, I’m pretty sure he knew exactly where he was going and he was just giving me a way out that would be slightly less terrifying.

On a ski trip to Sunshine, I recall riding with Dave in his 1969 Chevy Nova, the kind of car that was in a constant state of repair (almost like my blog). If the car had been art, it would have been a continual work-in-progress, but Dave was mechanically minded enough to keep it running (and getting us from A to B, and back from B to A).  Just outside of Calgary, the muffler disconnected from the engine manifold, so Dave pulled over, disconnected it and put it in the trunk–he would fix it three or four weeks later.   That  weekend I experienced the loudest car-ride I ever recall in my life.

Years later, Dave married his beautiful bride, Katherine.  As couples, Karen and I went to Rosebud Theatre with them–Katherine worked at Rocky Mountain College and had an in for discount tickets.  Katherine complemented Dave perfectly–it was delightful to spend time with them.

Eventually Karen and I moved away from Calgary.  Many years later just before my family moved back to Calgary, I happened upon a birth announcement from Dave and Katherine.  We hadn’t connected in years, so I was curious to locate them on FB.  Sure enough, I we found Katherine, but upon returning to Calgary I was saddened to learned that Dave had been battling cancer of the spine.

For the next three years, it was good to get re-acquainted with Dave, Katherine, and their three kids.  Both our family’s kids were of similar ages and we enjoyed doing things together like tobogganing and going for tea and coffee.  Most interestingly for me was the maturity that had happened in Dave’s life.  He still had is zany sense of humor and passion for life, but God had granted him wisdom and leadership.  Dave was inspiring and a catalyst for me to explore hosting our own home small group.

In many ways, the last three years have been puzzling ones.  It has been painful to watch a friend eventually lose his battle with cancer, only to leave behind his wife and three children.  In the midst of it and because of Dave’s battle, it has ignited a passion for prayer that I never knew before.  And despite praying often and frequently for Dave’s recover, God chose to take him home before he turned 40.

There will always be those hard questions:  Why would God take home a shining light like Dave?  Why would Dave have to suffer and for so long?  And why would God widow a wife and her children, leaving them without their loving Dad?  These are difficult questions to wrestle with, but in the midst of it all, we know and trust God has a plan, mysterious as it might seem at times.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

I will always be thankful for my friend Dave, and for the time we were given as friends here on earth.  I’m convinced this world could use more Daves; A great and loving Dad, and a man after God’s own heart.  He was a guy who challenged me to move out of my comfort zone in both adventure and spiritual pursuits.

Dave’s life serves as a personal reminder; none of us can be sure about what lies ahead.  In his life, Dave inspires us to figure out what’s most important, and to passionately pursue those things wholeheartedly.  In death, Dave’s life reminds us to remain focused on eternity and the things that really matter.

Many thanks, Dave.  You lived a full and admirable life.  Until we meet again, my old friend.

Click Here to Hear Goodbye by Plankeye

The Best Things In Life…

If I started out singing, “The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds an’ bees…”  could you finish the next line of the song?  “I need money, that’s what I want” and it’s one of those songs that came to mind while writing this post.  Before today, I didn’t even know who wrote it let alone originally recorded it.  According to Wikipedia, “Money (That’s What I Want)” is a 1959 hit single by Barrett Strong for the Tamla label, distributed nationally on Anna Records. The song was written by Tamla founder Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, and became the first hit record for Gordy’s Motown enterprise.” Wikipedia: Money (That’s What I Want)

Thanks to GrooveShark.com, you can hear Barrett Strong sing it here…

Barrett Strong might have first recorded it, but I am more familiar with a 1979 cover performed by The Flying Lizards; and before today I didn’t even known the band’s name.  From the rockumentary provided by the YouTube link below, it seems The Flying Lizards’ cover of Money (That’s What I Want) enjoyed popular music success more by experimental accident than by creative brilliance.

Deborah Evans-Stickland, lead singer (or is it speaker) for the Lizards, with her professed public school accent is amongst many popular artists who also covered the song; some of whom include The Beatles and The Doors.

From my own experience, the song writer makes his point when he expresses how love doesn’t pay the bills. Perhaps the irony between love being free and it not paying bills is what most resonates with listeners.  Infatuation, puppy love, love at first sight, a crush, love’s first kiss; these are both free and truly exhilarating in the moment.  Commitment. Now that’s a love that costs.  For us mortals here on Earth, it might even be the most expensive kind of love.

Recently, at a friend’s going away party she was given The Book of Awesome.  The book’s novelty describes everyday experiences in life that are deemed to be awesome.  Included are examples like going to buy something just as a new cashier opens up, almost as it the checkout lane was opened just for you.  When a parking spot nearest the door frees up just as you arrive–that’s more awesomeness.  Snow Days, the kind where you get to stay home from work or school, these too are considered awesome.  Looking through the book, it occurs to me that many of the awesome things mentioned in the come without a price tag, thereby making the awesomeness all the sweeter.

My seven year-old son repeatedly converses with me about, “What if everything in the world was free?”  On other occasions, he suggests how cool it would be if things in stores cost nothing.  I seem to recall having the same crazed idea at his age.  Looking through the Sears catalog, I would imagine having anything printed on the page simply by touching it, and for some unknown reason, that would apparently make me happier–not just to own one or two things, but to have it all.  My son seems to have the same ideas of material happiness when he dreams about his imaginary world full of free-ness.

We as adults dream in similar ways, only we believe it’s more sophisticated.  For only a few dollars, if we so choose to play the lotto, we imagine what all we could buy and how happy we would be if… if only we might win that jackpot.  Or we go to the mall and buy shoes, but not just one pair.  Often we’re enticed to buy one and get another free because regardless of whether we need more than one pair, two pairs for the price of one is just too good to pass up.

The Christmas Season is just winding up. How many gifts this year did you re-gift this year?  Much to my own surprise, I re-gifted more items than ever before.  Many of my re-gifts originated from delightful items given to me by co-workers.  Loved ones received most my re-gifts and I would like to think it was my generous spirit, but honestly, it was more about stretching my dollars.  This year giving re-gifts was amongst the best things in life for me (and my over-stretched pocket book).  After all, I was able to project love and giving without having to pay full price for it.

But do we really appreciate that which costs us nothing?  Things that are given to us freely, do we tend to take them for granted?  I’m sure you know College or University students that squandered their parent’s money while partying it away at school.  You probably also know students that held down part-time jobs while struggling to earning their education.  My assumption is that the student that works for their education has a greater appreciation of her earned degree or diploma.

As a matter of faith, I believe my salvation in Jesus Christ is offered freely  to me and to every person.  But for me to be a practicing disciple of Christ, His follower, the cost is significant.  And if Grace, God’s gift of undeserved favor, didn’t cost the believer like me anything, it certainly cheapens the Grace given.

And some free things in life on the surface appear great, but often come with unexpected consequences.  A friend of mine once worked where the employer provided free cans of soda to its employees.  Initially this sounds like a generous benefit, but my friend attests, drinking an excess of soda caused him significant and unwanted weight gain.  Similarly, my kids think a restaurant buffet that with unlimited free ice cream dessert is heaven on earth.  Hours later, between the sugar downers and the aftermath of their upset stomachs, to me, the parent, unlimited free ice cream seems more like hell than heaven.

For free things to actually be best, it might actually have more to do with the recipient and his attitude surrounding the circumstance. I’m not usually one for New Year resolutions, but in 2011, I’m making an exception. This year, in theme with much of this world’s emphasis on economic austerity, I’m endeavoring to make the most of free, but not just free-ness.  Only the best things in life, not necessarily extravagant or excessive, and both free or otherwise.

My Resolution for 2011 — In my day-to-day routine I endeavor to:

  • Attune my senses to more carefully watch for awesomeness (like in the Book of Awesome).  And when awesomeness is found, not to ignore it, or take it for granted, but to recognize and celebrate it for how I’ve been blessed.
  • Be weary of things marketed to me as free–to flee from things I don’t need to further clutter up my house.  And even if Starbucks promises me another free drink after purchasing 15 drinks, I will resist their perceived urgency to buy more from Starbucks.
  • Develop an attitude of appreciation and to be content whatever the circumstances, free or otherwise.

Craving Solitude

I love the peace that comes after the storm.   Or the quiet in the office after all the day’s hustle and bustle has died down and the only thing to hear is stillness (except for the air conditioner).   If I have a choice, I prefer taking lunch later in the afternoon because all my favorite haunts are nearly crowd-less, and the overwhelming waves of chatter and clatter are reduced subtle roars.  The quiet coffee shop in the wee hours of the morning is another of my favorite places.   What could be better than breathing in freshly brewed beans in the quiet thoughts of reflection?

I love to go on long drives but seldom do because my responsibilities often get in the way.  My soul longs for moments of solitude with on empty roads.  In the lateness of the evening, occasionally, I’ll role down the window and pop the sunroof just to listen to the wind passing by.  It might be brisk, and this time of year it’s downright freezing, but risk of frostbite seems insignificant while I listen to tires coasting across smooth black asphalt.

Bookstores are amongst my favorite places to be alone.  Most times I love taking my kids with me–they enjoy book browsing as much as the old man.  But I also treasure those moments of wandering the shelves alone, like exploring catacombs in pursuit of my own personal discoveries.  It makes me smirk how people often treat bookstores with the same silent reverence given to libraries.  Call me selfish, but I enjoy having the whole aisle to myself.  It’s not that I mind other shoppers, but book wandering is enhanced when I’m not consciously thinking thoughts about being in someone Else’s way.

Expressing my joy about solitude causes me mild concern–am I becoming a hermit?  My concern is fleeting because I love my social interactions way too much.  Still, this recent passion for solitude makes me wonder was it always there and  I just never noticed it before now.  Or is part of me seeking shelter from life’s storms?

I seldom feel like a man caught in the midst of conflict, and there are few days that my soul longs for refuge.  Could it be that as I age and my experiences mount in numbers, it just takes longer for me to mentally process things?  Or was I just less reflective before?  Or worse, is this just part of getting old?  I’m not certain, and whatever the case, I certainly love my interactions with friends and family.  I think part of me has awakened to the simplicity in spending moments alone and with any acquired taste, my taste buds are just waking up to it all.