Looking back on 2013


Rodin's ThinkerIt’s been quite a year, both personally and politically. The best of times, the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens.

Looking back on 2103, it was a busy, eventful, successful, and yet often challenging year. I accomplished many things on different levels – personal and professional – and, I believe, overcame some of the challenges I faced.

A lot happened locally, too, much of which development I take pride in having been a party to. Collingwood Council has been very productive, pro-active and progressive this term; more so than any council I’ve ever participated in or reported on when in the media. It’s also been a generally cohesive, well-behaved and respectful group that has worked together for common goals and the greater good.

Most of us, anyway. Some strong bonds of friendship and cooperation have formed this term among several of us. Friendships born from mutual respect and trust.

We don’t always agree, we don’t always vote the same way, but we respect one another’s views. We discuss options, compromise and solutions without rancour or anger. We communicate, we share ideas, we argue in a friendly manner, and we are open and accepting. That’s what good government is all about.

Of course, there was also the bad: the unfounded allegations, gossip, rumour and even outright lies about council that emerged this spring. Some people only see the mote in another’s eye, not the beam in their own.

The incessant (and continuing) ad hominem attacks from local bloggers, political opponents, and, sadly a former, once-respected and admired friend, hurt and disappointed me personally, but the rest hurt the whole community.

Our community’s once-bright reputation, our image and our honour were indelibly tarnished by unjustified allegations and accusations. Every resident of Collingwood; every parent, every child, every senior was hurt by the actions of a few angry people in 2013.

How did it benefit anyone? Cui bono? as a lawyer might ask. Certainly not the town, nor its residents. How did it make our community a better, more livable, more progressive place? How did it make our future politics better? Who will want to run for council and risk ridicule and scorn, to expose him- or herself and family to such public flagellation, just for the entertainment of those who conduct the whipping?

What happened to our Canadian sense of justice and fairness? Of not judging others without proof?

Gord Hume wrote in 2011:

“Explosive internet columns, blogs, and opinion pieces that do not seem to be overly-burdened with concerns about facts or accuracy are now being added to the traditional media mix, and have further aroused this toxic brew.”
Gordon Hume: Take Back Our Cities, Municipal World

I have to say thanks to the support I and other members of council have received from many residents who have talked to us, emailed or called. It’s good to know that not everyone listens to or is swayed by the vitriol.

You cannot live your life beaten down by negativity. You cannot carry the burden of other people’s anger, jealousy and fear all the time. You have to carry on, rise above it, move on to the positive things, to creative and engaging things.

Because council did so many good things this year, it would be a shame not to celebrate our accomplishments and our strengths.

Just look at our fabulous new recreational facilities – built in record time, without having to increase our debt or raise taxes to do so. And paying down the very high debt we inherited at the start of the term by $9 million, again without raising taxes. Keeping taxes low for three years. Purchasing a much-needed new works building and property for less than the appraised price. Building a new fire hall with state-of-the-art technology and equipment. New docks in the harbour. New parks opened. An integrity commissioner hired. A strategy for our economic development moving ahead with community partners for cooperative effort. A CAO hired to carry on from the interim executive management team. Reserve money committed to upgrade Hume Street, starting in 2014. A communications officer hired. A bus link to Blue Mountain.

These are but a few positive things from this term, many in 2013. These are what we should be celebrating, not dwelling on the negative. This is a wonderful, beautiful place to live and we should be shouting that to the rooftops.*

On a personal level, my biggest accomplishment was writing my latest, longest book for Municipal World. It is currently at the printer’s and should be available within the next few weeks. Brands, Buzz and Going Viral is the third book I have had published by them, and it’s a real honour to be among their stable of authors.

I have also had  several articles published in the MW magazine this term, again a great honour because my articles are among those written by many experts in municipal law, politics, operations  and affairs.

Municipal World is highly respected among Canadian politicians and municipal staff, and their monthly magazine is the bible of municipal governance in Canada. MW publications are read Canada-wide by politicians, staff, lawyers, consultants, planners and more. My books and articles help give prominence to Collingwood among our municipal counterparts.

I have a fourth book on contract for MW, currently about half-finished. I hope to complete it in early 2014, and see it published next year. It reaches more than my previous books, covers broader territory, and is more challenging to write, but I’m enjoying the research.

I have been working on other writing projects; personal things, mostly attempts at fiction. I have two somewhat humorous novels in the works, in stages of incompletedness. I got sidetracked by other events this spring, but will get back to both in the new year.

Early this winter, I resurrected a fantasy work I wrote in the late 1980s, which weighed in at about 135,000 words and 61 chapters (one of several novels I wrote in the 80s, now relegated to boxes in the basement).

I recently began reading it again, and it’s not bad for that genre, although it could benefit from some lessons I’ve learned about writing, since then. I no longer have the original text files, so I scanned it through OCR. I plan to work on a rewrite in 2014. Even if it never gets published, I find the act of writing and editing fulfilling.

Doing such creative work, even if it doesn’t amount to a commercial success, is very fulfilling to me.

Somewhat disappointingly, I was unable to interest a publisher in my Municipal Machiavelli book. Given 2013 is the 500th anniversary since Machiavelli first penned his masterpiece (although it was not published until after his death), I would have thought there was greater interest. However, my website with the book online has garnered more than 12,000 visitors over the past year.

I continue to read about and learn from Machiavelli’s ideas and theories, his times and the Renaissance in general. Sometimes in 2014, I’ll finish assembling it into an e-book for sale on iTunes or Amazon.

I’ve obviously been blogging a lot: just over 300 posts on this blog since I started it; 188 published this year alone, plus 17 written in 2013 but still in draft mode. More than 350,00 words written here in 2013 (not including pages and comments; 482,000 written on this blog since January 2012). A low of 15,000 words in April to a high of 60,000 written in October. Highest word count for a single post this year: more than 8,700. Of course, that includes quotes from other sites and sources, so I can’t take credit for writing them all.

French bread ready to bakeAlso on a personal note, I re-discovered breadmaking, a minor hobby I had in the 80s after I took a course in cooking at the Toronto Culinary Academy.

Breadmaking has been the topic of several posts here, and many Facebook comments on photos I’ve posted there, so I won’t belabour it, except to say it’s a very fulfilling, satisfying thing to do. Almost all by hand so far, not bread machines (although I ended up buying one, I have baked a mere three loaves in it, preferring the results from the handmade, artisan methods). Mostly, I’ve been buying bread books…

Like writing and making music, making bread satisfies some part of me that craves the creative act. It’s immensely satisfying to do something creative with your hands, something positive; to focus one’s energy and attention on it. Plus, it’s fun to experiment and try new ideas and recipes. A bit of science in the kitchen.

(Which said, I need to break away from writing soon, to start a poolish for a buttermilk-whole wheat bread I plan for this week… I’m only making breads, not baking the whole range of pastries, cakes and other goods… should I wish any of them, I can simply go to the Heavenly Sweets shop on Pine Street and buy their wondrous, sweet goods…)

Which segues neatly into the ukulele, another source of creativity. I finally got a local ukulele group started. We’ve had a single meeting, but 16 enthusiastic, keen people showed up, had fun playing together, and we’re booked to meet monthly at the Collingwood Library. I’ve wanted to do this for a couple of years, but never quite got around to it. We meet again in January, 2014. I have to spend a few days preparing.

As for learning music this year, I wasn’t as active in learning new tunes as I have been in the past, but managed to work out a nice arrangement of Ukulele Swing, which I’ll probably post online soon. First I need to work out a bass line I can layer into the song after recording the main line. Might even try adding a harmonica part.

Bella and SophieWe got a second dog this summer. Taking on a terrier-cross (part Jack Russell, part-Chihuahua we were told, although she looks more like a Mini-Pin cross) that clearly had little training and no experience with household cats, was a small challenge of a different sort. She’s turned out well and a wonderful addition to the family. She’s fun, mischievous, affectionate, smart, energetic and sometimes gets fixated like terriers do, but we love her.

We dropped cable TV this summer. That might seem like a non-event, but TV is ubiquitous in our culture and seeps into our daily lives. We had to learn to live without the 500 or so channels (of which we watched perhaps eight, maybe 10 at most). That meant a change in habits: more reading (always welcome) and internet, more time together.

We’ve never been true TV addicts – only ever had one set; no TV in the bedroom or kitchen, and it only went on at dinner, never mornings. Susan did like her HGTV. We both liked the classic TCM movies and BBC World (although we agreed that BBC Canada was an abysmally bad embarrassment and very un-British). We never watched sports, sitcoms, children’s, music, religious, or the fake “reality” shows. We stopped watching Discovery and History channels because they became lame and vapid, replete with crap programming. Sometimes we looked at the local Rogers channel, PBS, TVO, Weather and CBC News. So we weren’t losing a lot.

Once Rogers took BBC World out of our package and wanted more money for it, we decided we were paying too much for the remaining few.

Had we been able to reduce our channels (and our costs) to the very few eight or 10 we actually watched, we might have kept it. But that’s not an option: package deals or nothing. We chose nothing.

It was a bit of a change not to be able to turn on the TV and watch something in the evening. Old habits die hard. We have instead been watching more DVDs, more movies and some series, and, as I said, reading more. Which meant buying more books (a bad habit I have).

I started swimming again, something I haven’t done since our last Mexican vacation, several years back. Good exercise and a great pool to swim in (especially when I can play my Vivaldi… when swimming becomes a contemplative act too…). Our newly covered Centennial Pool is a great place for swimming. I have missed a few days over the holidays, but will get back to a more regular schedule in 2014.

Some things have lagged. My chess, for one, which has slipped into the mediocre. I can barely remember any of the Spanish I studied and practiced for years. I picked up an old textbook last week and looked through it without much comprehension. Verb declensions? Forgotten, buried in the detritus. Doesn’t bode well for my goal of re-learning Latin in 2014…

I haven’t played many computer games of late, either. I still enjoy some games, although not with the same gusto of the past. My history with computer games goes back to the mid-1970s when I started playing them on U of T engineering dept. computers on a student friend’s access. In the late 1970s I bought my first PC – a TRS 80 – and learned to program. I worked on several simulation packages and early games. In the early 1980s I wrote one of the first regular computer game review columns for magazines and continued to write about them for publication until about five years ago (when my weekly newspaper column was canned in a cost-saving move).

It is, I believe, 30 years since I first penned my computer games review column. Next year will mark 40 years since I first sat down at a printer-console in the U of T and played its Star Trek game. And, if memory serves, it will mark 45 years since the publication in print of my first newspaper article (not game-related, however). How times flies.

Maybe in 2014 I’ll go back to playing a little Civ V. Or Guild Wars 2. Maybe Borderlands 2. Something entertaining to replace the TV times of the past. You’re never too old to play games, I say. They keep you young, keep your brain active and flexible.

2013 marked the birth of my second grandchild, too, and the 94th birthday of my mother. Susan and I celebrated our 31st year together, with wine and dinner at a local restaurant. This year marked 30 years since my first book, Mapping the Atari, was published. It’s also 30 years since my first trip to Mexico.

I sit in that precarious age in my life where mortality comes to mind rather too often, where I wonder about legacies, about future generations and reflect on the passing of old friends. About friends in general: what that means; how precious friendship and family are; how important it is that we cultivate and maintain those relationships, not just let the anger of the moment overwhelm us and destroy forever the bonds built over years.

Whether age has brought wisdom, I can’t say. It certainly has brought reflection.

And with that, enough of these personal reminiscences.

As I said, it was an interesting, challenging, but fulfilling year for me. And with that, I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous, positive, creative and fulfilling 2014.


* A list of our accomplishments was presented by staff at our rescent strategic planning session, and will be brought to the public at our first council meeting in 2014.

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