Dream (?)

One of the few rewards of being a terrible sleeper is that I dream a lot. Twenty years ago I was even featured in Janet Sonenberg’s book Dreamwork for Actors, but mostly I experience hours of wandering NYC or some tropical paradise and can’t find a way to the subway/airport. Every once in a while, though, something breaks that mold.

A few weeks ago I met Robin Williams. He showed up in the middle of the night in my unconscious and lectured me. Not Good Will Hunting Robin Williams or Dead Poets’ Robin Williams but dead, ghost-ish Robin Williams. I have realized in the weeks that followed that it was recently his seventieth birthday (and soon, the anniversary of his death) from which I can infer that a Twitter comment may have stuck in my craw. Day residue, we can call it, or not.

The crux was this, paraphrased or reconstituted, or whatever.

“Most people,” said Robin. “Live life looking over their shoulder. They’re constantly turning back, watching for Death sneaking up on them. Don’t do that.”

“Run toward Death. It’s where you’re headed anyway. Don’t try to avoid it, live in fear of it, cower and shuffle away from it. Accept it and sprint whatever distance you get.” Do it consciously, he seemed to be saying, as hard and as fast and as intentionally as you can. Do not live recklessly, do not hasten the end, but don’t let fear ruin the race.

Other stuff happened. I think Michael Douglas showed up and gave a rendition of his Greed is Good speech from Wall Street. By that time Robin was gone back whence he came.

I awoke with that idea seared into my brain: Run toward Death.

There are generally two interpretations. The scientific side that accepts this as a projective narrative on neuronal impulses firing in some yet-to-be-fully-understood manner, or that my sleeping brain channelled wisdom from beyond the grave.

This time, I don’t know that it matters. From wherever the direction originated, it seems I have some running to do.


Middles get a bum rap. Sometimes they’re not so bad. Middles are usually things in progress, at neither extreme of beginning (incompetence) or ending (mastery). The pandemic has been difficult because it’s been one long middle, with only glimpses of an end. Unlike the pandemic though, the middle of an enjoyable process is a pretty okay place to be.

I just past the mid-point of my first term in my Master’s program. It’s going smashingly. I’m kicking myself that I waited this long. There is a qualitative difference in my growth that is difficult to capture. Having spent so many years reading craft books and reading and writing, there is nothing mind-blowingly new, no extra-secret secret I’ve been let in on (yet). The difference is the expectation I have on myself, the permission and expectation to grow and develop. It’s like I’m out of the “who would publish this?” mindset and into a “what’s the best you can do with this story?” Learning more and more about this wacky imagination of mine, and my advisor, Bret Lott, has been supportive and encouraging and has given me a yearlong reading list of “my people”.

As I prepare my next packet’s story (about student housing haunted by a ghost who loves David Hasselhoff), I am thinking a lot about work versus the work. Artists use that phrase a lot, but it’s a very different thing than work elsewhere. It’s not assigned, not driven by external expectations, yet no less real.

On another note, I’ve been a fan of crosswords for many years. Probably took hold in medical school and got me through all the immunology lectures. My NYT streak has been going well:

But I got to try my hand at the real stuff this past weekend at the ACPT. I was registered to go last year, but got to try the virtual format, and have a much better idea of just how high the bar gets. How’d I do? About a thousand contestants in the individuals bracket.

509th. Pretty much the middlest middle I could hope for!

The New Normal

November. November? November!

Grueling, inspiring, humbling, horrifying. 2020–the year words fail to capture.

It had to be lived to be believed.

My work hasn’t changed considerably this year. As an emergency psychiatrist, mental health crises have continued and so I’ve just had to use my hands a lot more to communicate through PPE. Okay, there’s been a little more to it, but I’ve still been able to meet (!) new people every day of work, and feel valued and valuable. That isn’t true of many people, so I do consider myself fortunate.

I left NYC nine years ago now. Is it weird that most of my dreams still occur in my old apartments, elevators, or street corners there? Oddly, I never dream in Canadian. But one of the loose ends I left there was improv training at the Upright Citizens Brigade. As a weird quirk of the pandemic, however, they are now teaching improv online. Who would have predicted that a virus would allow me to re-connect with the Harold? It’s felt good though, to complete what I’d started ten years ago. I feel grateful for that.

And, speaking of improv, not only have I been able to do bi-weekly shows online with Oakville Improv, but I’ve been able to perform with people all over the world (India, LA, Hawaii), and even did a Maestro show with the Hideout Theatre in Austin, TX. Opportunities that I could not have imagined in 2019. Texas? Pretty cool.

But there is a restless, angsty anhedonia that has gripped me the last few months. I have found myself picking up and putting down books, wearing my carpet thin with pacing, endlessly googling things like “what should I do” as if Google is the Oracle at Delphi. But after some soul searching and staring at way too many eBay “research” purchases, I’ve decided to commit to writing the book that’s been haunting me for the last five years. And to do that, I’ve enrolled in a MFA program. Between extended deadlines and remote residencies, it’s an opportunity that I can (hopefully) make work. Surprising!

So, in these admittedly challenging times, I’m reminded that there is some awesomeness to be had.

Bosphoros Hat Trick, Zoomprov

My globe-trotting cousin Ryan Pyle and I had another conversation this weekend on Instagram Live. It will be up on YouTube in a few weeks. Trying to stay sane in the world of data and information was the general topic. Conditions that I don’t think our monkey brains were ever meant to tackle. To my mind, just as the novel coronavirus is an infectious agent that prays upon our unprepared biological vulnerabilities I kinda think that media/information is equally preying on our vulnerabilities.

Ryan’s aiming for a full hundred of these calls and has interviewed a wide range of eclectic individuals, so they’re worth checking out (as are his adventures in general).

And in these devastating times that are potentially devastating to live theater, I’ve been regularly playing with the team at Oakville Improv Theater Company semi-regularly. I know they have lots of things planned from fundraisers to classes to shows. I kind of hope we can find a way to bring live green-screening into the improv world, but I’d settle for just hearing laughter at the moment.

The Stranded Nomad

My cousin Ryan Pyle, happens to be one of those intrepid explorer-types. His work has been all over the place (New York Times, Discovery Channel, BBC, etc.), but little of it makes its way onto Canadian broadcasting.

When the whole Covid-19 situation hit, he found himself trapped in Istanbul–one of three guests in a 500-room hotel. Obviously an adventure unto itself.

He hosted an Instagram Live chat last Sunday where we chatted Istanbul’s veterinary practices, quarantine fever, and mental health. Good conversation with an interesting guy, we may do another one soon depending on how well sanity prevails in this current crisis.

He released the video on his YouTube channel, it’s worth checking out his stuff, especially if you’re stir crazy in your own four walls. I’m partial to his Extreme Treks series, which is streaming on Amazon Prime if you’ve got it.



Back in 2011, while we were expecting our second child, an idea took hold that I was really excited about. The first 20,000 words came out without any difficulty, then trickled, then stopped.

I became so stuck on the accuracy of one issue, that it shut me down for a few years. I researched the hell out of coin-flip probability. In my mind, a reader would scoff at my character’s poor study design and deem the whole thing unbelievable. The fact that it is a novel about fictional science was irrelevant. What kind of neuroscientist would run such a small n

And so the premise lay dormant for a few years, but I couldn’t quite forget it. So instead, I enrolled at UCLA’s Extension School and tried to use the idea as the plot for a movie. Science! Research ethics! Morality! Well, I couldn’t quite get it to work. So back it went.

Until last year, when I showed the opening to a friend who demanded an ending. Like the Neil Gaiman advice:

“How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write.”

And so, I dug it out. And combined drafts. And outlined and index carded and ruminated on the whole thing.

And finished.

75k. A draft, but a draft nevertheless of something quite unique that only I can tell.

The Grey Line (or terminator, or twilight zone) divides day and night. It is the point where dark and light meet. It is only visible to outside observation.



Opinion fatigue

I’m sick of opinions. It seems the bane of modern existence that we are drowning in them. And so, any negligence of this bloggy venture can be interpreted as ennui of opinionation (opinion nation?), my own included.

So, in lieu of opinion, an update?

I spent a quick two days in Venice this September doing research for my ever-expanding, ever-in-progress, magnum opus. I’ve been to Venice before, but in the off season, and alas, Sigmund Freud’s visit of 1895 occurred at the end of August, so I had to brave the city in the bright glare of late summer.

Sucks, huh?

This is my first go at a historical speculative project, and it was helpful to swim in the Adriatic and sip coffee at the Caffe Quadri the way Freud did. It was also good to see a few of the palazzi and landmarks that will be featured.

When I was a kid, I had a map of Maine on my wall. I’d never been to Maine, but being the Stephen King fan that I was, I’d drawn out and pinned many of the sites for his books and short stories. Maine was a fictitious fantasy world for me in those days, filled with clowns and demons and vampires. This trip to Venice had a deja vu quality as my brain tried to reconcile a fantasy and the real world.

Early in the book, there’s a scene in which Einstein nearly drowns. As it turned out, my hotel was minutes away, and I ended up walking past the location I’d written about, over a dozen times, each time imagining a teenaged Einstein going overboard, floundering in the lagoon below.

The problem with a grandiose premise is that it demands a grandiose finale. I think that it’s slowly coming into focus, but may need to make a return trip at Carnevale.

Sucks, huh?

My Post-Ninja Life

It has been some time since I updated anything, so I figured that it was time to say something, if only to prove I’m still breathing…ish.

And so, a story.

Upon reaching middle age, I took it upon myself to try to get in shape, recognizing that if it hadn’t happened by now, when exactly would it? I have never been a runner, still don’t like running, but with some support and commitment made it through a 5K last December.

So impressed with myself was I that I decided to become a triathlete. I bought a bike, and started swimming again (including briefly in Lake Ontario). I did an indoor triathlon in the winter, and then two sprint-distances (750m/30+km/5+km) this summer. Was I good? Nope, still a terrible runner! But I survived. And in surviving, I had the refreshing realization that competition, something generally absent in day-to-day adult life, is fun.

As a newly-minted competitive athlete, none were more impressed my prowess than my daughters who, for Father’s Day, took me to a local climbing gym that advertised a Ninja Warrior-style course. The hallmark being, to any Ninja Warrior fan out there, the dreaded Warped Wall.

I did the ten-foot version with ease. Then, one step into the twelve-footer, I completely ruptured my right Achilles’ tendon. Based on the response I get daily, this is the middle-aged man’s equivalent of giving birth. Everyone grimaces, then asks me just how painful it was. My answer is that shock goes a long way for dealing with pain, as I proceeded to drive myself with an impotent foot the twenty minutes to the nearest hospital. Not good judgment, don’t recommend.

The Canadian approach is generally non-operative and based on the notion that if you don’t move your foot for a few months, the tendon will reattach. I am currently on week ten and can only hope that my body is complying. Time will tell.

Along the way, the experience has sucked in ways I couldn’t have imagined beforehand. Crutches wreak havoc on one’s back, but so do fancy scooters, and one-legged showers. In cast or boot, I haven’t slept decently in months, and developed an aspirin sensitivity making my skin peel off.

And to kick me while down on the floor (I’ve developed an aversion to stairs), my laptop decided to implode and I lost a good six months of writing and revision.

I am prone to belief in silver-linings, the value of trials, or karma, but this has been a lesson nonetheless. When taken as a year, I have had the most difficult physical challenges of my life–some voluntarily and some involuntarily. And if something that has come from this, I hope it’s this:

Life is not relaxing. Life has no status quo. It is not a plateau that is reached and maintained. Life is growing or it is dying, but it is not respite in between.

There are days I long for routine again, but there’s danger there. Routine is the assumption that each day progresses like the day before. That is both incredibly fortunate and quite boring.

Once I’m done healing, I hope to be back to growing, improving, creating. And driving. Oh, how I miss driving.