Play It Again, Sam

It’s a new year, so I thought it only fitting that I complain about Hollywood remakes. Do they no longer have money to hire writers who can come up with an original script? Does it always have to be a movie based on a 1970s TV show or on a book or on a movie from 20 years ago?

For instance, my daughter loves The Poseidon Adventure  for some reason – the original with a hearty Shelley Winters saving everyone for a little while with her mad underwater swimming skills. We haven’t seen that one on DVD, so she bought the new Poseidon with Kurt (Disney) Russell and Richard (Whackjob) Dreyfuss.  Who knows what she was thinking. Not surprisingly, the whole thing sucked goats from beginning to end.

So, I was very excited to see a cover-free copy of Poseidon Adventure in the discount bin at a local video store the other day. “This is the old version, right? Not the new one?” I asked the helpful sales associate. They assured me it was. They confirmed that the new version sucked goats and was no longer an adventure as it was only called, Poseidon.

I brought it home all excited and XUP Jr. couldn’t wait to watch it. Some of you are already way ahead of me, so you won’t be surprised to learn that the “old” Poseidon Adventure they sold me, was actually another remake starring Adam (The Least Known) Baldwin and Steve (Ye Gods and Fishes) Guttenberg. This time terrorists turn the boat upside down. The whole thing was a mess.

Okay, so they screwed around with Poseidon Adventure a few times. Big deal. Not a great movie to begin with.  However, should they be allowed to screw around with the classics? There’s been a lot of talk over the years of remaking Casablanca, for instance.

Remember that famous final scene where Rick helps Laszlo to escape telling his true love, Ilsa, she cannot stay in Casablanca, but must go to Lisbon with Laszlo? There they are – the three of them on the tarmac while the propellers of a 1930s airplane spin in the distance waiting to take off. Laszlo is already on board and Rick and Ilsa have a heated, last minute discussion about why she must leave. Here’s a short (colourized)excerpt:

The most recent version of Casablanca just doesn’t have that same magic. How could it? Here, for instance is a bit of the script from the remake of that final scene.

Rick is standing in a line at a modern airport along with about 700 other people. Ilsa comes running up, breathless, with a cart full of of luggage. She stands with her face about 1/2 inch from his.

Rick: What the hell are you doing Ilsa? A steamer trunk? You can’t take a steamer trunk on an airplane. Do you know how much that would cost?  Dammit! The taxes and fuel surcharges have already blown your travel budget for the year… sweatheart.

Ilsa: But, Rick.

Rick: But nothing kid. Choose one bag to check and one bag for carry-on.

Ilsa: Oh Rick. No!

Rick: Yes, Ilsa, you must. What have you got in this carry-on anyway? Lipstick? Are you insane? An emery board?  A book in French? Why don’t you just turn yourself in as a terrorist right now? Get rid of all this stuff and now or you’ll regret it. Maybe not while we’re standing in line, but later, much later when we get to security.

Ilsa: Oh Rick.

Rick: And where’s your lunch sweetheart? Do you know how much airplane food costs? Do you know what airplane food is made of? If you eat that crap you’ll regret it. Maybe not right away, but soon and for the rest of your life.  All you should have in this carry-on bag is a plain, white bread sandwich, no pointy condiments like lettuce, no sharp toasted edges. And above all, no beverages! Remember to put the bag in the overhead compartment, Ilsa! For god’s sake don’t hold it in your lap. And get your hands out of your pockets. And take off that hat. You look suspicious.

Ilsa: (weeping a little) Oh Rick, Rick.

Rick: Oh Rick indeed. I’m sorry sweetheart, but this is no vacation you’re on here. This is an Airplane Trip!!! ……HEY! What are you doing with that martini? Get rid of it. Are you crazy? You won’t be able to leave your seat to pee. Lisbon’s a long trip….kid. And we haven’t even gotten to the baggage check yet. It’ll be hours before you even get on the plane by the time you’ve been through the security probes, scans, x-rays, shoe inspections and various levels of interrogation….why your bladder will be bursting.

Ilsa: Yes, Rick. Okay, Rick.

Rick: Okay, good. Now act natural. The CCTVs are looking at you, kid.

Attention Passengers! Flight 359 to Lisbon will be delayed 4 hours due to poor planning. Leaving your place in the corral queue will automatically render your flight ticket invalid. Meanwhile enjoy this airport muzak version of As Time Goes By.

Fast Away the Old Year Passes

New Year’s is the strangest of all the strange days we celebrate. Our system of marking days, weeks, months, years seems so completely random and arbitrary to me. What was that Pope Gregory the 13th thinking anyway?

Other calendars, like the Islamic calendar follow the phases of the moon. The Persian calendar follows the solar cycle. Traditional Chinese and Hindu calendars follow a luni-solar cycle. Those all kind of makes sense.

I don’t know what the Gregorian calendar follows. Nothing, I think. It would make sense to me to have the year end maybe at the end of March because then it’s spring and everything starts anew. Instead our year just starts in the middle of winter – a week after the most hectic insanity of the year.

And if Christmas wasn’t enough of a stressor, New Year’s Eve is the ultimate high pressure event. First of all there are a lot of superstitions around how you ring in the New Year. Superstitions that imply that what you do as the year flips over, sets the scene for the entire next year:

  •  Kissing at midnight —  kiss your loved ones at midnight to ward off relationship disaster in the coming year.
  •  Full cupboards – your home must be well-stocked with food to ensure a year of plenty.
  •  No debts – pay all bills and debts before midnight or you’ll face financial ruin in the new year.
  •  First Footing – the first person to cross your threshold in the new year should, ideally be a dark-haired handsome male. Do not, whatever you do,  let a female cross your doorway first or disaster will follow all year. There are a whole list of other First Footing dos and don’t which you can find here.
  •  Nothing leaves the house – do not allow anything to leave your home until something new is brought in (this includes taking out the garbage)
  •  No washing – don’t do laundry, don’t do the dishes or clean anything on New Year’s or you’ll wash away all your luck. (Ya, this one is going to be tough)
  •  Letting the old year out – fling open all your doors and windows at midnight to let the old year escape and the new year enter.
  •   Wear New Clothes – on New Year’s to ensure lots of good luck – make them red for extra luck.
  •  Dance outside – dancing outside at midnight around a tree will bring love and prosperity throughout the upcoming year.
  • Make noise – Make lots and lots of noise at midnight to scare off all the evil spirits of the past year.

Aside from all these superstitions, there is also the expectation that we MUST do something special on New Year’s Eve or we’re a lame-oh. And,  that something special MUST be done with a date. Not to have a date on NYE is just  sadder than anything. (But not nearly as sad as having a date you don’t really like all that much and being stuck with him for the whole long, long, long night. And, damn if NYE isn’t the longest friggin’ night because you can’t just yawn and go home after dinner — NO, you have to stay until at least 12:01.)

One of my most memorable NYE’s was the year I was editor of my university’s student newspaper. There was a conference of all Canadian university student newspaper editors during the week between Christmas and New Year’s up in North Bay. The snow was over the top of our thighs and the temperatures hovered around minus 50. Around 7:00 pm on NYE, as we were all in our hotel rooms getting ready for dinner, a fire broke out in the hotel.

I helped evacuate people by walking the halls and knocking on doors. Everyone was sent to the golf club house at the extreme rear of the hotel’s property. By the time I’d worked my way through a few hallways, it was time to leave the hotel and I wasn’t allowed back to my room. I had no shoes or coat, so I grabbed a few table cloths from the dining room table and wrapped up in those. I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk all the way to the golf club house in table cloths, so the fire fighters parked me in the front seat of one of the  fire engines in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, all my peers back at the golf club house thought I’d perished in the fire and held a little memorial service for me. Being journalist types they really got into the tragic sensationalism of my untimely loss and kept themselves busy composing fantastic stories for their newspapers in their heads. So, of course they were mega pissed off when the firefighters later brought me to the golf club house completely uncharred — albeit shoeless.

Eventually, I was mostly forgiven for not getting burnt to a crisp and we all celebrated a succession of New Years as it turned midnight in the various time zones represented by the various delegates from across the country.

In the wee hours of the new year we were bussed to the only other hotel in town and ended up sleeping 4 and 5 to a room forcing us to share beds with people we’d only just met that week. (Hi Kevin. Rrrworrrrr!!!)

What was your most memorable New Year’s Eve? Are you planning anything spectacular this year?

All-Consuming Passion

XUP Jr. tells me that being madly in love is out of style; that it’s a Hollywood invention; something that people in the “olden days” bought into; but which today’s youth are too cool for.

I’m talking about that all-consuming passion that teenagers can (could?) do best, but which many adults are also able to fall into. I’m talking about that kind of “in-love’ where you can’t keep your hands off each other; where you want to be together every minute of every day; where you can stare at each other for hours; where all you can talk about is how amazing it is that you found each other and how much in love you are; where you’re only half alive when you’re apart. I’m talking about the kind of in-love that makes your friends sick  to be around you.

I’m talking about the kind of “in love” which is so intense that it can’t possibly sustain itself in the long term and which will either burn itself out or morph into something calmer, more comfortable and enduring. (Or, sometimes it can also turn into something ugly depending on circumstances).

I think it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, don’t you?  

Is it possible for something like that to go out of style? Seems to me it’s been around forever, so why should just this generation suddenly become passionless? Please say it ain’t so.

But, the “relationships” my kid and her friends have all seem to be very …. whatever the opposite of intense is… very casual, passionless, unconsuming.

Maybe that’s a good thing?

Did you have a teenaged-madly-in-love relationship? Are they still around? Have you had an adult-madly-in-love relationship? Are they healthy? Or is a loving, mutually respectful, companionable relationship healthier? Can you have both at the same time? (With the same person?)

Just one of the many things we’re having long, heated discussions about here at the XUP household during our little winter holiday.


Happy Christmas, Hanukah,  Sharaf, Ashura, Tohji-taisai, Yule, Gahambar Maidyarem,  Kwanzaa and Happy Birthday, Mum. And if you’re not commemorating any of these, then there’s no reason why you still can’t have a pleasant day.

Wherever you are, the world has probably pretty much come to a standstill. Everything is shut down. It’s quiet. A lot of people are with friends and family because they want to be or against their will and/or better judgment. If you’re not, you might be imagining everyone else engaged in Rockwellian scenes of love and joy, but that ain’t necessarily so.

I’ve spent Christmases alone. I assembled a pile of movies or a really good book, a few of my favourite edibles and/or drinkables and had a lovely time luxuriating in the opportunity of having nothing to do but indulge myself.

It’s only one day among hundreds of others. Enjoy it for whatever it brings.

Traditional Airing of Grievances

Today, December 23rd, being the sacred day of Festivus, I am obliged by dictates of ritual to take part in the traditional Festivus Airing of Grievances. Orthodoxy states we must” lash out at others and the world about how one has been disappointed in the past year.”

This is going to be difficult because I haven’t really been disappointed by anyone or anything over the past 12 months. In fact, (and I almost don’t want to commit this to paper) I’ve had an exceptionally good year, personally. I will qualify that by saying that I don’t quite know how or why that should be so, since a good percentage of the people I know have had an exceptionally ungood year.

It never feels quite right to be enjoying good fortune or feeling happy when people close to you are suffering in some way. And yet, I know if someone else were writing this on their blog, I’d be the first to comment and tell them to savour the pleasant times because who knows what’s around the corner, carpe diem, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and other platitudinal stuff like that.

It’s interesting that when you’re miserable, people will try to cheer you up by telling you how lucky you are that something even worse didn’t happen to you. “Oh, you’ve been demoted from Managing Director to Mail Room Clerk? Well, you should thank your lucky stars that you still have a job.”


Nobody ever says, “Oh, you got promoted to Managing Director? Don’t be happy, just think how much happier Irwin is – he got promoted to CEO!”

Whatever is happening in your life, has to be the most important thing to you. Wallow in it. Let yourself feel miserable if it’s something crappy and, for this moment, to hell with all the zillions of people in the world who are worse off than you. And if you’re happy, by jiminy make the most of it. You can share your good fortune, which will only make you happier, but don’t pretend it doesn’t exist because that benefits no one.

So all this is totally not in keeping with the spirit of Festivus. And although I’m generally content at the moment, I do have some overall grievances that deserve some airing. I’ve probably mentioned these somewhere along the line before, but for the record, here they are:

  1. Customer Service. Yes, the whole damn concept. I get that work sucks and that working with the public must suck squared, or even cubed, because the public sucks. However, this is where you’ve chosen to work and/or have been obligated to work, so why not make the most of it. It costs you nothing to smile and treat people like human beings and will probably make your day a little better because a few people might smile back. And business owners – why not put a little effort into keeping your staff sweet? Give them some training, a few perks, maybe a livable salary and you’ll be surprised how your profits suddenly and magically increase.
  2. Motor Vehicle Operators who believe they are the center of the universe. Okay, you have a car and pay through the nose for it and for the insurance and maintenance and you think you pay too much for fuel although the rest of the world pays 5 times as much. Unfortunately, all that money you’ve forked out only buys you the vehicle – not the entire world and all those in it. You still have to share the roads with all us lame-assed pedestrians (and cyclists and motorcycles). And we’re going to slow you down and insist on crossing streets and not getting run over. Also, would it kill you to take one minute extra on your commute and not cut us off as we’re trying to negotiate a cross-walk during a blizzard? It means the difference between hypothermia and no hypothermia to us, FYI. Also, could you not park your car in the crosswalk, please? The light won’t get green any faster just because you’ve positioned yourself to bask in its glow. I really hate it when you do that and one day I might walk right across the hood of your car. (Or “bonnet” if I’m in the UK)
  3. Keep Moving People. If you’ve decided to live in and/or visit a city there are a few things you need to know. First, there are a lot of people in a city. When they’re out and about it’s because they need to get places. They haven’t come out to stand and chat on the sidewalk. They haven’t come out to stand and chat in grocery aisles. They haven’t come out to stand in doorways and chat. And they sure as hell have not come out to ride mall elevators. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – they’re stairs, ya’ll. But don’t listen to me. Rick Mercer says it so much better:

 Happy Festivus Every One!

Lies My Mother Never Told Me

Do/did you lie to your kids?

You’re going to say “no” right off the bat, but did you perpetuate the Santa myth? Do you keep bad news from them? Do you shelter them from unpleasantness?

I never believed in Santa as a kid, no matter how hard my parents tried to get me to. They even had our neighbour dress up once to try and ho-ho-ho his way into my heart. I was about four and this is one of my first memories. I distinctly remember feeling like they were trying to pull some kind of trick at my expense because I knew absolutely that it was the neighbour in that costume. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and felt really upset.

I don’t know what was wrong with me as a child that I had no capacity for fantasy. I wasn’t unimaginative, but my imagination didn’t run to princesses, monsters, fairies or wizards. I would never have been interested in Harry Potter or Twilight. I liked stories about real people doing real things.

 XUP Jr., on the other hand, wholeheartedly embraced the entire Santa thing; the tooth fairy thing; dragons, sprites, elves – you name it. I never did anything to encourage it. She picked it up from friends, TV, books, whatever and stubbornly believed, no matter what I said.

“Don’t you believe in Santa, Mummy?”


 “Why not? He’s so good and nice and brings you presents if you believe in him.”

 “I just don’t. But you can if you want to.”

I could never bring myself to be mean enough to flat out tell her she was delusional. So, she believed in Santa until the year she turned 13. Freaked me out.

“Shut UP! You still believe Santa is going to bring you presents?”

“Ya! All my friends say I’m a baby and that Santa isn’t real, but I know he is because he brought me those slippers that I really wanted when I was 7 and I know you’d never get them for me.” (XUP Jr. always had weird things like slippers and pencils and a rocking chair on her Christmas wish list.)

It was my mother who burst that bubble when she told XUP Jr. the story of how she found out that Santa wasn’t real. (Never imagining that a 13-year-old still believed in Santa). XUP Jr. was shattered and ran crying to me beating me on the chest with her fists, wailing that I’d been lying to her for years.

Anyway, the point of the story is that I’ve made it my policy never to lie or hide things from my daughter. If she asks me a question, I’ll always tell her the truth as I see it and in a way I think she’ll best understand it. If someone dies, I don’t tell her they’ve gone to heaven. I tell her some people might believe the dead person has gone to heaven and then I’ll tell her what I believe.

Once, when she was 5, there was a news story on the radio about a man who’d raped a 5-year-old child. Somehow this caught her attention and she asked me what rape was. I told her that the man had touched the child’s “nakie parts” and had really, really hurt her.  She asked why someone would want to do that to a child. I said because the man has something wrong with his brain and thought it was fun. She said, “If a man wants to have fun with a child, he should take her to a playground and push her on the swings or something.”

“Yes indeed,” I said, “But some people are not nice and don’t understand what’s fun and good and what’s wrong and bad.”

I don’t know if that was an appropriate conversation to have with a 5-year-old or not, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. 

Do you shelter your kids from stuff – not including the obvious violent TV/movies/video games. Do you soften reality for them or avoid hard questions? Do you encourage them to believe in fantasy/magic? Why or why not?

The Superhero in You

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but when it comes to superheroes, I still like Superman best. His back-story makes sense. He looks like a regular guy and not like some sort of mutant. And, he has a pretty damn fine collection of superpowers: flying, x-ray vision, he’s indestructible, he can run really fast, he can reverse time, he can burn things up with his eyes, and he can freeze things with his breath.

Wonderwoman is good, too. Great back-story. And she is really strong and can fly and can talk to animals and make them do her bidding. that would be pretty cool.

 Captain Marvel can do a lot of stuff too,  but I don’t really get his back-story. (He was a 12-year-old kid, right? And he’s turn into Captain Marvel by putting on tights or something?)

Batman, on the other hand, is just a regular guy with a lot of cool gadgets. Spiderman is some poor kid who got bit by a spider and can now make big spider webs. Except for the really garish costume,  Flash only has being extra-super-fast at everything;

There are a whole bunch of superheroes who only have one superpower. Some can turn green and gigantic; some are indestructible; some have invisibility powers; some can teleport; some have ESP or telekinesis; some can shoot lasers with their eyes; some are very stretchy or can turn themselves into other things; some are even really, really smart.

Some superheroes are just stupid. Like Aquaman. His superpower is that he can hold his breath underwater for a long time. Are there a lot of underwater villains? That’s a pretty useless superpower. Other useless superpowers include:

  • Being able to see through glass
  • Being able to tell time
  • Being able to set oven mitts on fire
  • Being able to talk to appliances
  • Being able to laugh in the face of Danger, Keep Off signs
  • Being able to sit still without fidgeting
  • Being able to make your forearms bulge by eating spinach
  • Being able to run with scissors
  • Being able to clap-on and-clap off lamps

One good thing that a lot of superheroes have is the power to heal. If they get stabbed their wound disappears in an instant. If someone they know gets sick or injured, they touch them or squint at them with a piercing gaze and make them all better.

If I had to choose one superpower to have, I’d choose the power to heal (without having to go to medical school). I’d wear a sparkly white spandex body suit and a white cape and white patent leather knee-high boots and white latex gloves and and a white eyemask with silver sequins to hide my true identity. Also, I’d have one of those round reflector things on my forehead that old timey doctors used to have, except mine would be really hip and shiny.

I’d travel around healing people with the aid of my magical rectal thermometer. And I’d be called RXup. Or if that’s too hard to pronounce, maybe just “Incredible Doctor Woman”

Of course there would be some big drawbacks to that superpower. Could I heal everybody in the world? Should I? Would that mean no one would ever die? Do I charge people money for healing them or just the Americans?

I think a healing superpower would be a huge responsibility. I’m already feeling pretty stressed just thinking about it. Maybe I’d be better off being able to get animals to do my bidding. I’d get a lot more sleep, for sure.

You’re probably thinking superheroes only exist in comic books and that there’s no need for you to take any of this post seriously, right? Well, ha ha – not true. There are actual people — albeit a few of them with questionable mental faculties — who call themselves superheroes. They have a mission, a superhero name and even a costume. You can find them on the World Super-Hero Registry. Some of them have pretty good missions.

What kind of superhero would you be best suited for?

12 Conversation Topics for Family Holiday Gatherings

One of my co-workers reads this blog and said she especially liked the Guilt post because she thinks  it would make an excellent discussion topic when her gang is over for Christmas. She’s going to feed them all wine and get them to talk about what their ideas/opinions/feelings/experiences are about guilt.

While that certainly sounds like a fun time, I thought it might be prudent to offer up a few other options for discussion in case the guilt thing doesn’t pan out and/or goes horribly awry. And, of course, I welcome your topic ideas, too, because lord knows we’re all going to be grasping for something – anything – to talk about over Christmas dinner so we can avoid that minefield of hot-button topics with which every family gathering is rife.

  1. Go around the table and ask everyone if they had to have sex with a member of the family who it would be. Make note of those who don’t squirm or don’t have to think about their answer.
  2.  Get everyone to stand up and then point out those who have gained the most weight since last Christmas. Tell them what they’re doing wrong and how easy it would be to drop those pounds if only they put their minds to it.
  3.  Ask the gathered clan to imagine that their spouse/partner/girlfriend/boyfriend dies tomorrow — who would they want to marry/date next? It has to be a real person like the neighbour or their boss or their fitness coach or something, not a celebrity or some historical figure.
  4.  If you’re part of a nice Christian family,  a good intellectual discussion topic would be whether or not Jesus was gay. Why wasn’t he married? What was the deal with all those bearded men he hung around with? And what exactly does a “disciple” do for a guy anyway??
  5.  To whet the appetite and keep the hostess on her toes, everyone can recount Christmas dinners they’ve had in the past and the ways in which they were better than this one.
  6.  Someone should nominate themselves as the official announcer of the fat and calories content of everything on the dinner table and instructor on how exactly the turkeys/pigs/etc.,  (that are featured in the main course) lived and died.
  7.  Once everyone has been through a few marriages and divorces it’s fun to play “Remember the Ex. Compare everyone’s current spouse with their Ex, especially if the Ex was really hot or smart or rich or something.
  8.  A family dinner is a good time to tell everyone that you’ve discovered your spouse has been cheating on you and that you’re getting a divorce. Make sure you don’t warn your spouse ahead of time that you’re going to do this. It’s really great if you have photos.
  9.  Women’s rights have gone too far. Discuss.
  10.  Try to help the least financially successful member of the family figure out why he doesn’t measure up to the rest of you and tell him that he had to pull his socks up. (You can similarly converse over the perennially single person in the family or the not-so-newlyweds who show no signs of getting on with childbearing)
  11.  To get a truly wild conversation going, make up something vague but outrageous like,” So, Dad… someone told me they thought they saw you making out with some young guy one night in a bar or something. What was that all about?” You’d be surprised how many times your “made-up” story actually turns out to be true. The ensuing chat is sure to be interesting.
  12.  Invite a random stranger to dinner. Instruct them to pretend not to understand anything anyone says, to speak only gibberish and to display some odd habits and behaviours. Don’t offer any explanation for the stranger’s presence. When someone asks you who they are say you don’t know, you thought they came with Aunt Phyllis. Trust me, this one will spark conversation for years to come.

Okay, so here’s hoping all your Christmas family gatherings are warm, joyous and harmonious occasions. And remember to make sure all family members are kept constantly supplied with booze; because well-lubricated guests ensure the conversation is as lively and free-flowing as raw sewage in the Ottawa River.

The Box

One day early in the autumn of the year I was nine, a padlock appeared on our basement door and we kids were told that until further notice, we couldn’t go down there anymore.

The first reason this was odd was that we only ever went to the basement when we were yelled at repeatedly to go down there and fetch something. There was nothing appealing down there for a child. It was an old farmhouse basement. It was dark and smelly and often featured resident mice and even, on occasion, a rat or two.

The second reason this was odd was that several evenings a week after supper, my father would go into the basement and bolt the door from the inside. And then he’d stay down there until after we went to sleep.

The younger kids were too young and self-absorbed to worry about this new development. I, however, being the eldest and incredibly wise[1] was eaten up with curiosity. First I tried clever ruses to try and trick my mother into telling me what was going on.

“What’s Papa doing in the basement all the time?”

“None of your business.”

“Aw, tell me.”




Drat! She was too clever for me.

So then I tried ever-so-casually to hang around the basement door and listen for clues. My mother, wielding a wooden spoon menacingly, ordered me away from the door.

But, one afternoon my mother told me to go into the basement and get a couple jars of cherries from the cold storage. I was on the verge of peeing my pants with excitement, hopping up and down, waiting for her to unlock the door, when she rememberd I wasn’t allowed down there anymore. So she got the cherries herself. And I had to leave the room so I wouldn’t see where she kept the padlock key. Very frustrating.

But at least I now knew the key was hidden somewhere in the kitchen! Aha!

For a while I was an incredibly helpful child, offering to put away dishes, sweep the floor, organize the pantry. I  frisk my mother under cover of pretending to hug her. I never found the key.

Fall turned into winter and then the Christmas madness started and I was distracted from the mysterious goings on in the padlocked basement – at least during waking hours. But when I went to bed, before I went to sleep and again first thing in the morning, before I had to crawl out of my warm duvet, my little brain feverishly imagined all sorts of outlandish possibilities for what could be going on down there.

And then it was Christmas.

And there under the tree, instead of colourfully wrapped gifts were five wooden boxes; each almost two feet long and one foot wide; each sporting padlocks of their own; each with the name of one of us kids painted on the lid.

There were gifts inside the boxes and the little kids dove right in and went mental over their toys, as kids are wont to do. But I was too overwhelmed at the idea that I now owned a little footlocker.

When you’re a young girl of almost ten, in a house full of unruly little kids, everything you own is up for grabs. Nothing is truly yours because at any moment one of the kids and/or their grubby little friends can get hold of it and mess it up or wreck it. Because that’s what kids do.

With these thoughts tumbling through my brain, I burst into tears.

 “What’s wrong with her now?”

“How should I know?”

“Hey you!” ( What’s the oldest one’s name again?) “Aren’t you going to open your present?”

Would it be too Hallmark hokey to tell you that somewhere around this point I threw myself into my father and wept mucusy thanks all over his shirt? Because while the other kids thought Santa had brought all this great stuff, I, never having been a Santa believer, suddenly realized that this is what my Dad had been doing in the basement all those weeks – making these boxes.[2]

 “Ya, ya,”my dad said and pushed me off him. “Go see what’s in the box.”

I don’t remember what was in the box.

The other kids used their boxes for a few years to store things; or to jump up and down on; or  as race cars — pushing each other around their bedrooms; or as footstools to reach high things. Eventually, their boxes were destroyed because, like I told you, that’s what kids do.

But I treasured mine. I locked away all my special things in there; all my private things. And it travelled with me when I moved away from home and has travelled with me ever since – always keeping my special things safe.

Of all the gifts I wished for Christmas as a kid and all the gifts my mother made herself crazy trying to find for us for Christmas – this is the best gift I ever got.[3]


[1] And by wise, I mean nosey.
[2] It’s triply odd because it’s the first and last time he ever got involved in the whole Christmas thing in any way.
[3] And not even just the box itself, which was and still is amazing, but the weeks of fun puzzling out the mystery of the padlocked basement and the thought that my dad had been down there in that awful place all that time making it.


You know what I don’t understand? Guilt.

I’ve heard the word so much lately.  A lot of people feel guilt this time of year, I guess. It’s appeared on quite a few blogs recently, too.

There are a lot of definitions for guilt relating to the conscience; how it’s a barometer of your personal morals and other such high-falutin’ stuff. I don’t believe it.

An author I’ve never heard of, Isabelle Holland, said “Guilt is the price we pay willingly for doing what we are going to do anyway.

I pretty much agree with that. I don’t think guilt is an authentic emotion. The word is almost used in a “Ooooo, I’m so naughty” kind of way. We do something people generally think is wrong, so we feel some degree of shittyness for doing it. For instance:

  1. I feel so guilty eating this whole chocolate cake by myself in one sitting. But it’s soooooo good.
  2.  I feel guilty for spending so much time at work that I’m going to get the kids amazingly extravagant gifts this Christmas.
  3.  I feel so guilty spending Christmas in St. Tropez with my girlfriend instead of at home in Ottawa with my wife and kids.

What kind of moral compass is that? It’s not. It’s a “people are going to think I’m terrible” sort of compass.

Remorse is an authentic moral compass — when you unthinkingly or unwittingly or even purposely do something which you later bitterly regret. You regret it so much that it eats you up inside and causes you to try anything to make amends.

Guilt  is nothing like that. Guilt, I think,  is all about external judgments, not internal. It’s not you who thinks what you’re doing is wrong, or you wouldn’t be doing it. It’s what you believe other people will think of you doing this thing that makes you feel “guilty”. So you are going outside of yourself to define how to behave rather relying on your internal mechanisms of decision-making.

A good example f this is the phrase to be “guilted into” something. What does that mean? People spend a week with the family over the holidays instead of the 2 hours they’d really like to because they are “guilted into” it. How does this work? I can see two possibilities:

  1. You somehow feel you owe this person something and can’t bring yourself to refuse. If the wife in example #3 asks her husband to spend New Year’s Eve with her when he really wants to go to his hotsie totsie’s house party, he might give in because he figures he owes the little woman a little bit of holiday time with his fun self.  If it’s something like your old mum wanting to spend Christmas with you. You know you’d have more fun without her, but she’s been a good mum and sacrificed a lot for you and has done nothing but love you. And, it would make her happier than anything to see you at Christmas. That’s not being “guilted” into anything, that’s just you, as an unselfish human being, doing something nice for your parent.
  2. If, on the other hand, the parent is a horrible person to whom you owe nothing, but you go anyway, you’re just someone who has a lot of trouble saying “no” and find it convenient to blame your inability to say “no” on the people asking you to do something which you don’t want to do by saying they’re “guilting” you into it. Which means you also have trouble accepting responsibility for your own actions.

So, help me out here. Does guilt mean anything to you? If I’m about to do something I know is wrong, I either don’t do it;  or I do it, but without second-guessing myself or telling myself that “I really shouldn’t be doing this…I feel so guilty.”

Because I don’t think guilt isn’t something you can authentically feel. I think it’s something that you talk yourself into when you start worrying about what other people are going to think about what you’re doing.