Leftovers

Following Christmas and New Years, it is common to find yourself staring into a fridge full of leftovers. Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, perhaps even some half-munched shrimp rings. The debris and detritus left from the festivities that took place.

This year I am taking stock of another form of leftovers. The leftovers of my once profitable freelance writing career.

It has been a few years since I was working full-time as a writer, and in that time much has changed in the media landscape. Ok, that’s putting it mildly. Reconciling the writing market a few years ago with what exists now is like the difference between a chicken and chicken nugget – one is vibrant, full of life, and pecking away at change, while the other is dead, lifeless, devoid of value, and sold for cheap.

Take, for instance, Innovation Canada. Once upon a time this was the online magazine for the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It published long form journalism on top-notch research, which yes was supported by grants from the CFI. It had interviews with leading researchers. And, it was a great place for a science writer. Good editors, interesting articles, and payment that was fair and timely.

Well, it’s gone, and so are the numerous articles I wrote for it. They can still be searched for on the CFI website, but rather than good journalism being front and centre it is now hidden amongst press releases and media briefings.

I can also add the demise of YESMag, a Canadian science magazine for kids; the loss of a reasonable payment scale at Green Living Online and National Geographic News Online. Plus, you look at all the journalists losing jobs and the rising number of journalism graduates from universities, and I have to wonder if there is even enough leftover from my freelance career to make a decent soup. It’s got me quite glum.

I think I’m gonna go see if there is any leftover Christmas cookies.

Christmas Death Wish

This week four years ago my friend died.

I know it is only a few days past Christmas and a few until New Years. All in all this is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year – at least that’s what we are told anyway by advertisers, carol writers, and Christmas cards.

But this is the time of year that has an eternal dark stain for me. I have been through so much in the four years since JD took his life, and I now understand the struggles of bipolarity, depression, pain and suicide so much better than I did before. I know there is nothing I could have done. It was his choice. He chose to do what he did, it was not forced on him and it did not sneak upon him like a flu on an AIDS patient. It was a drastic, horrible choice.

But I still feel the pain every year at this time. I go back into my email inbox and read his last email to me. Just days before he decided to kill himself, he was supposed to come visit me and celebrate New Years with my family in Algonquin Park. Instead he sent an email explaining that he couldn’t come because he was sick.

I had no idea what sickness he was fighting.

I wish I had. And that is what angers me most. Why I have chosen to be so public with my depression and hospitalization. Knowing would probably not have prevented his suicide, but at least I would not have been deceived.

The truth matters, and a lie of omission is still a lie. Sometimes we must bring our deepest darkest fears out into the open to realize that they are in fact not ugly and horrible, but beautiful and common to us all.

Stage Writing

I recently returned to writing after a hiatus taking care of my two beautiful daughters. Now that they are a little older, I can get some time to do interviews and write.

My first published article is for Innovation Canada about Andrew Houston’s soundscapes. He uses recordings of people and ambient sounds to enhance drama productions in unique locations such as old legion hall or mental hospitals.

I also had an article published recently about some results from the 2005 Ontario recreational fishing survey for Ontario Out Of Doors magazine. One of the most interesting (and disheartening) parts of researching the article is how the average age of anglers is aging and yet once people are over 65 they don’t need a license and we have no way of tracking them. Check out the May issue to find my article on page 13.

Best in Canadian Medicine

Canada’s not a very big country, but we’ve done some pretty cool things. Lately I’ve been able to investigate some of the cool medical breakthroughs that Canadian research has made for a series of articles I wrote for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The research is varied, from heart attack treatment to orthopedic knee surgery (a topic very near and dear to my aching knees’ hearts), and you can check out all of the articles on the CIHR/CMAJ website.

Also, since my wife has returned to her Master’s studies I am playing a more pivotal role in my two daughters’ lives as primary caregiver, pony hair comber, and nap giver. Therefore, in the coming months (or years…this is graduate work afterall and there’s a PhD possibly after the Master’s) I will focusing my writing on quality rather than quantity.

Daddy, Gwen, and Lily on a hike in Algonquin Park

Daddy, Gwen, and Lily on a hike in Algonquin Park

Where to start with Ben Stein

About a week ago, I watched the Ben Stein movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. I don’t know if I just misread the short movie description or just misunderstood it, but I went in expecting Ben to do some serious analysis of the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design conflict.

I was disappointed.

Ben focused a lot on the conflict. In fact, he focused so much on the conflict between the two groups that he never actually said what the fight was about. Not once does he describe what evolution is, how Darwin came up with his idea, or vice versa, what intelligent design is, how it works, or who came up with the idea.

After we left the movie, my wife and I spent a couple hours picking apart Ben’s weak arguments in favor of ID. One of Ben’s arguments was that Darwin didn’t explain how life got started on Earth. In fact, he spends quite a bit of time making well-respected scientists look silly because we don’t understand how life started. At one point, he even remarks that how could Darwinian evolution be considered robust when it doesn’t even explain the thing it claims to.

Wrong, Ben. Darwin wrote a book called, “On the Origin of Species” not “On the Origin of Life.” Darwin does an excellent job of explaining species, which is to say, the various divisions from the original ancestor once life has originated. He does not ever attempt to explain how life started, nor does evolution have any role in explaining how life started whatsoever. Evolution is for explaining how life changes, not how it got started.

Add to Stein’s biased Michael Moore-esque documentary where the end goal (“see, Intelligent Design is a science! Evolutionary biologists are so ignorant and close-minded.”) was determined from the very start, the fact that he tried to link evolution with the holocaust, abortion, euthanasia, and immorality. He spent about 20% of the movie visiting Holocaust death camps and talking with other experts about the way that Nazi’s used a perversion of evolution to cause genocide.

I can only respond with one word: absurd.

Perhaps the thing I found most shocking about the movie was why on earth Ben Stein would associate his name intelligent design. Why would such a supposedly smart person make a movie promoting such a bad idea?

Yes, this is my office

My Algonquin OfficeI have moved to my summer office at my in-laws’ lodge, Hay Lake Lodge, in Algonquin Park in northern Ontario, Canada. That means that I wake up to the sound of loons, and can walk out to the front deck on a beautiful lake. The skies are perfectly black at night, ideal for stargazing. And, my daughter gets to play in the wild, complete with animals far more interesting than the neighbor’s dog or cat.

It’s a great place to be. Only problem is it can sometimes be tough to stay inside writing when I have a stunning lake waiting to be swam in.

PI in the Sky

Ever since I watched Pathfinder land on the rust-colored surface of Mars back in 1997, I have been captivated by space, astronomy, and in fact all science.  But, space exploration has always held a soft spot in my heart.

I love the idea of traveling to other worlds, whether through robots or with actual humans.  These days, it seem, the robots are winning. But, during a lecture Wednesday night at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics I learned that private space flight tourists could be the dark horse that change the whole race.

Michael Belfiore, a New York based writer for Popular Science and Wired, gave a talk based on his book “The Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots is Boldly Privatizing Space” and blog “Dispatches from the Final Frontier.”  It’s a great book (I read half of it before his talk, and I am just finishing it up now).

The best part about his talk and the book is the look into the lives of the people daring to do what many felt was impossible:  build a spacecraft in your garage. Remarkably, I think that do it yourself attitude is true to science’s roots, and epitomizes many of the greatest leaps forward in human knowledge (Einstein working in a patent office anyone?).

However, the most exciting aspect (besides the obvious HOLY COW I MIGHT GET TO FLY IN SPACE SOON!!!) was that the winning of the X Prize might be a Kuhnian revolution in scientific thought.   Our entire paradigm of space exploration has been overthrown by these guys with spare time, some nitrous oxide, and a few million bucks.  Kudos to them.