Friday, March 27, 2009

Something to Shoot For

It's been ten years since we lost my father. Ten years to the day since our family's final goodbyes at the bedside on a warm spring morning. And ten years since his hometown lost a man whose devotion to his community and neighbours was second to none.

And the city of Ottawa loved him, too. Trying to run even the briefest of errands around town with Drew Shouldice always took at least twice as long as one would expect. It seemed impossible for him to turn a corner anywhere in town without running into an old friend.

I have been wanting to write something about my father to mark this anniversary, but have been unsure as to what form it should take. This certainly does not need to be an obituary, and there is already enough written out there by people who lost loved ones at too young an age. I don't need to tell you that life is short and that each day should be lived to its fullest. Instead, I think I'll pass along what remains the most enduring lesson I took from the 18 years I had with him.

Granted, there was a lot that I picked up in observing how my dad lived his life. The importance of shaking a hand over throwing a punch, why we should remember people's birthdays, and how wearing a tie and walking with purpose can get you past almost any security guard on the planet were all tidbits I picked up along the way that have served me well to this point. Still though, there is one lesson that stands out above all others.

I have previously said that my father knew a lot of people, and this is certainly true. He also knew a broad cross section of folks - from cabinet makers to cabinet ministers - and never stopped making friends as he went. However, no matter who he was dealing with, and no matter what the context, my father treated everyone he came into contact with the exact same way. That is to say that his levels of respect and compassion never varied. This is the most enduring lesson I took from my father, and if it doesn't speak to the character of a man then I don't know what does.

Indeed, be it the cable guy, my friends playing road hockey or the mayor of Ottawa, Dad gave everyone the time of day, and was never too good to be friendly or too busy to be kind. If I were to read a transcript of my father's side of any conversation he ever had, I do not know that I would be able to tell you if he was talking to the new kid working at the grocery store or a decorated veteran of the second world war. And yet, he somehow managed to always be genuine as he did this, without talking down to people on the one hand or being too familiar on the other.

If this sounds like no big deal, I would ask you to do the same while you go about your day. The reactions you will get and the connections you will develop as you treat everyone you meet - everyone you meet - with the same respect that you would wish for yourself will show you that it is, in fact, a very big deal. That my father lived this way every day for his short-but-wide 52 years explains to me why there was a line stretching down the block from the funeral home in the days after he died, and why he is still sorely missed.

And so today and everyday I reflect back on this lesson, among others, and the man from whom I continue to learn. The path I have chosen differs from his, to be sure, but the principles remain and for that I am grateful.

Thanks, Dad. Tonight I raise my glass to you.



Monday, March 16, 2009

Hart is Blogging

Ah the Facebook status. My generation's way of letting the world know all those things about ourselves that are too mundane to actually talk about in person...or on the phone...or in an e-mail...or in a Facebook message...or via wall posting. Yes indeed, with the status we have those little mental throwaways that we don't think warrant some form of communication higher on the interpersonal food chain, but are just too important to let slip into the ether. I myself have come to embrace the status update as a means of collecting the minute details of the lives of acquaintances, to be recalled in times of social awkwardness or when preceding a favour request.

It was with some dismay, then, that I witnessed the utter chaos that erupted in status boxes throughout cyberspace this past week as Facebook unveiled yet another new format. The dear old status box which prompted us by starting things off with a friendly "is," has been replaced by a Twitter-esque blank canvas asking "What's on your mind?". With these new developments all hell has broken loose on Facebook pages everywhere. The masses have been left to roam around their own profiles not knowing what form status updates are to take. We are now a lost updating generation, akin to millions of Wal-Mart shoppers trying to find low prices without the benefit a greeter.

In the interest of posterity and to preserve the concept of the Facebook status for future generations, I have decided to compile a list of the 10 most common status updates by category. I will present them here, on A Harty Meal, and also bury them in a time capsule under my Aunt Nancy's porch so that the relevance and art of the Facebook status will never be forgotten. There are some status updates that escape any of the following categorizations, I am aware, but such bold and reckless Facebooking does not warrant blog space and should not be encouraged under any circumstances, lest the terrorists win.

Two administrative details before we proceed:

1. I, myself, have been guilty of almost all of these. I am well aware of this and it means that I can refer to them as a friendly and self-aware co-conspirator and not a cynical outsider. My pointing out my guilt in all of this also means that Peter Loewen cannot do it for me, as I know that he would.

2. While there is inspiration here from real statuses, none are plucked verbatim. As for the names, so as not to arouse suspicion of whose statuses were particularly helpful in compiling this list, all of the names below are culled from the alphabetical list of Members of the Order of Canada, starting with A.

And now, on with the show:

1. The Weekend Update


Irving is glad it's the weekend.

Alan wishes the weekend was longer.

Wayne is wiped. What a weekend!

I think that people who use this one lose sight of the facts that we all just had two days off, we all looked forward to them, and we all wished they were longer. Depending on who you ask, you can either thank the Jewish faith, Communism or Henry Ford for the concept of the 40 hour work week and, thus, the weekend. Any beefs about the length of said weekend should be taken up with one of the aforementioned, so I don't think that filing a grievance in your status will get you very far. The Weekend Update is only acceptable if you can also post an update stating "played an irreverent golf whiz in Caddyshack" or "is tired of being asked about my Sarah Palin impression."

2. The Workout Update


Frances ran 10K and sure is feeling it!

Freda just did squats and pulldowns. Lats tomorrow if my back feels better.

Hey, we all want to keep healthy. Beyond that, we're all psyched that you're at a point in your life now where you spend more time at the gym and less time owning the hidden level on Tony Hawk Pro Skater for the original Play Station. It's just that, you aren't a professional baseball game, so there probably aren't any folks keeping score at home.

3. The Baby Update


Robert just watched (baby's name) do (walk/skate/poop/other milestone) for the first time. So cute!

Irvin is taking (baby's name) out for a (walk/run/poop).

Ubiquitous among new parents, these status updates are often accompanied by the classic and precious "newborn as profile picture" maneuver or an elaborate "mobile uploads" photo album meticulously documenting the ride home from the hospital. Babies seem to have a way of hijacking Facebook profiles, though I have to admit to being a sucker for seeing a little head shielded by a tiny toque when I log in.

4. The Promotional Update


Madeline-Ann is selling tickets to Signal Hill at the Pub Friday night! Ladies free before 10!

Anne-Marie hopes that you all come see her final opera performance of the month on Thursday night.

Hey, you do what you gotta do to get the word out. Your weekly "Ladies Night" status updates are starting to lose their effectiveness at this point, though, and given that I live on the other side of the country, I probably won't be there.

5. The Higher Education Update


Michael is so tired after studying Constitutional Law all night. Who knew it was so complicated.

Anahareo's thesis just is NOT writing itself.

These ones are all well and good, but they lose points in the subtlety department. "Michael is in law school," or "Anahareo is working on a PhD" would have been just as easy and conveyed the point you were trying to make. (Crap, that reminds me, I have some law school work to do tonight.)

6. The Cry for Help Update

A.C. wishes it wasn't so hard.

Doris really doesn't know what to do, and misses him so.

Ever heard of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Sweet, so you are familiar with the concept of phoning a friend, then? We all have hard times, but in the interest of efficiency, let's cut out the middle man, save four of your friends the trouble of having to write "What's wrong dude/hon?" under your status and just ask someone to talk over a cup of coffee.

7. The Wedding Update


Gerald can't believe the wedding is only three weeks away. So much left to do!

Ralph is getting fitted for a gown today. Eeeeeeeee so exciting.

See, I think these ones are a little rough, given that everyone who has been invited already knows about your impending nuptials. You'd be just as well writing "If you're reading this and don't have an invitation yet, we're not as close as you think." Ouch.

8. The Countdown Update


John is eight more days!

Syl can't believe he'll be there in 12 days.

This has always been a popular one, and was one of the most common grammatical violators back when Facebook still forced you to put "is" in your status. People seldom tell you what, specifically, they are counting down to, however empirical evidence suggests that 97% of the time it is either: A) a visit to/from a boy/girlfriend or B) an all-inclusive tropical vacation.

9. The Are You Really Updating Your Status at a Time Like This(?) Update


Violet is watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon.

Raffi is standing at a urinal next to Barack Obama.

Bona is driving a stick shift for the first time!

Here we have people updating their status when they should probably be focusing on the task at hand. Granted, we all have moments that are so significant we just can't wait to share them with our friends, however there is something be said for living in the moment. Using the past tense on updates like these would not have compromised their awesomeness in any way, shape or form and would have meant that you didn't miss the pass of Hailey's Comet because your "U" key was sticky.

10. The Tired Update

Example (there is only one here):

Mira is tired.

Perhaps the most common update ever seen on Facebook. Thanks, Mira. Noted.


So that's the list. Feel free to add others in the "Comments" section below. Good luck with the new Facebook, have a pleasant week, and may your status always start with "is".



Tuesday, March 3, 2009

62 Years Ago Today

73 centimeters of snow fell in Ottawa on March 3, 1947. This remains the single greatest day of snowfall the city has ever recorded. The next morning, the Ottawa Citizen ran three lines of text telling the story of firefighters pulling my grandmother on a toboggan to the front doors of the Civic Hospital. So began a truly wonderful life.

Happy birthday Dad.