Thursday, May 31, 2012

Welcome to www.earljwoods.com

A few days ago I noted that Facebook has started blocking blogspot.ca, preventing me from sharing this blog with my Facebook friends. I tried a variety of solutions - and thanks to all the folks who made suggestions - but in the end the solution was to take Google up on its offer to register a custom domain for me. So now My Name is Earl (J. Woods) is hosted at www.earljwoods.com. To be honest it feels a little grandiose to assign a custom domain to a blog, but I suppose the new URL is, at least, less cumbersome than the old blogspot address. Other blogspot users affected by Facebook's new spam policy should try this solution; it seems to have worked for me, and registering a custom domain through Google costs only US$10 annually.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Monorail to Monument Valley

Last night I dreamed that I was a student at the U of A again, and that some of my classes took place at the new Strathcona University annex, located in Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona. Luckily Edmonton's LRT system extended all the way to Strathcona U. in the world of the dream, and though the trip took many hours, the scenery was spectacular. I arrived at dawn, a spectacular sunrise throwing the stone monoliths into silhouette as the LRT cars glided into the station.

It was an appealing vision, but when I awoke I realized that winding many kilometres of rail through Monument Valley would probably ruin the landscape. Still, progress, always progress!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memories of Slime


If  you jump to the two-minute mark of this video, you'll be treated to a vintage commercial advertising Slime: It's Alive, one of a handful of Slime products marketed by Mattel in the 1970s. "Comes in its own garbage can!"

Slime was a pretty unique toy back in those days - a mysterious oozing green compound sealed in a green garbage can, a perfect toy for little boys obsessed with snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Orange Slime quickly followed, then purple Slime with worms and finally the yellow Slime with eyes featured in the above commercial.

While I never owned any Slime, I had friends who did; it made an excellent trap for our Star Wars and Micronauts action figures.

One year our family travelled to Nipawin, Saskatchewan for Christmas with some cousins. My cousin Lawrence had apparently been begging for Slime with worms for some time, and he was initially gleeful when he unwrapped his gifts to discover the promised plastic purple garbage pail. Unfortunately Lawrence was quite squeamish, and when peeled back the lid to thrust his hand into the worm-infested mauve muck, he promptly vomited.

Slime - wholesome entertainment for the whole family!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Green Earl

While organizing some of the old photos I've been scanning over the last few months, I came across this emerald in the rough - a photo so dominated by green it almost looks contrived. Of course grass is green, and I suppose it makes a kind of sense to choose the colour green for a lawnmower, but even my shirt and shorts are green. Perhaps my underwear was, too; who knows?

I'm not sure why this photo was taken, unless Sean shot it while we were shooting the short film "Mow," in which I mow mom and dad's lawn to the tune of Flight of the Valkyries. It's quite dramatic.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Facebook Blocks Blogspot.ca

Yesterday I discovered that Facebook will no longer allow me to share links to this blog. Naturally I'm disappointed, since much of my readership comes from folks who follow those daily links.

Perhaps I'm paranoid, but I wonder if Facebook has categorized blogspot as "spammy" because blogspot is owned by arch-rival Google. If that's the case, then this seems to be a case of money-motivated censorship.

Many will argue that because Facebook is a business they have the right to censor what they will, but this action certainly seems to fly in the face of their business model, which urges users to share as much detail of their private lives as possible. Besides, if I'm going to be used by Facebook as a source of marketing data, then I think I have the right to complain about Facebook's decisions.

Maybe this is just a glitch, one that Facebook will correct today or the next day. But even if they reverse course, those of us trying to build an audience and a personal brand on the web should remember that we are very much at the mercy of the large corporations that seek to control the web. Blogspot is a wonderful service, but it could disappear tomorrow at the whim of a CEO. All the more reason to save your work offline...


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Goodnight, Awake

Warning: Spoilers for the series finale of Awake follow. 

Alongside Person of Interest, Awake was one of my favourite shows of the year. Unlike Person of Interest, Awake suffered low ratings and its first season is also its last.

Presenting an interesting twist on the police procedural, Awake featured Detective Michael Britten's  struggle to reconcile two worlds: one in which his wife survived a terrible car accident but their son did not, another in which his son survived but his wife did not. Whenever Britten falls asleep, he switches from one world to the next, and clues discovered in one world often help him solve crimes in the other. Each world seems perfectly real to Britten; he can't tell which is reality, and which the dream.

The show was at its best when Britten was forced to consider the possibility that he might very well be experiencing profound mental illness; certainly his therapists - one in each reality - struggle to convince him to accept that his wife/his son are gone, and that he needs to move on. But when you can't tell the difference between the waking world and the dream world, how can you possibly make that choice?

I empathize with Britten because my dreams have always been similarly vivid, often fooling me into thinking I have an array of other lives. But there comes a time when you must face reality and awaken - or so convention would say. Up until the final minutes of the episode, Awake seems ready to bow to convention and say definitively which of Britten's two worlds was real, and which a dream. But the series coda - which clearly sets up a new premise for the aborted season two - makes him question reality all over again. After the series' first dream sequence that actually seems dreamlike, Britten seems to awaken, only to find both wife and son alive and well and acting as if nothing had ever happened.

Some will read the finale as a copout - Britten seems to get everything he wants, the entire season was a dream and so on. I think the creators were more subtle than that; hints dropped in the final minutes suggest some more complex resolution. But even if this was an eleventh-hour tacked-on happy ending, it feels more to me like the one that resolved Grant Morrison's groundbreaking run on the Animal Man comic back in the late 80s: after being put through hell, the titular hero gets his happy ending via writer's fiat, and it doesn't seem like a cheat. It seems like mercy. Compassion.

Happy endings are hard to come by for real people. Maybe we need them once in a while for our imaginary heroes. Maybe that's the stuff that dreams are made of: hope for better, happier worlds than this. 




Friday, May 25, 2012

Interest Peaking

I've written twice before about CBS' Person of Interest, which just wrapped up its inaugural season with a stakes-raising cliffhanger. I speculated - and hoped - that the show might both continue its subversive storytelling and further explore the nature of "the machine," the computer that watches over the world of the show. Those wishes have been granted.

While earlier episodes offered only hints that the machine has some degree of self-awareness, the final seconds of last night's finale made it explicit: with Mr. Finch kidnapped, Reese makes a direct appeal to the machine by speaking to it through a street-corner surveillance camera. We see the machine's point of view, with an ominous "operations compromised" alert. Seconds later a pay phone near Reese rings, and Reese picks it up, presumably about to speak directly to the machine...but then of course the season ends.

Earlier this year I asked if another J.J. Abrams production, Alcatraz, might be the next Lost. That show ended on a cliffhanger and wasn't picked up for another season, but oddly enough I don't mind; Person of Interest is far more - well - interesting. Fortunately Person of Interest has done very well in the ratings this year and will be back for another season. I'll be watching.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Big Fat Geek Wedding Cake

Photo by Yolande Cole
While Sylvia handled most of the preparations for our wedding, I had one very important job: create a fitting cake topper. Since our theme was "My Big Fat Geek Wedding," I needed to create a scene that represented Sylvia and me while staying true to the pop culture iconography we used for the music, decorations and place settings. Putting Captain Kirk on top of the cake was a no-brainer, and I knew that Sylvia had loved her Barbies as a child. But it took weeks of searching before I found a Barbie that was roughly to scale with my Kirk figure. As you can see, however, it all worked out in the end! The cake was delicious, too - a very rich dark chocolate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Day I Watched The Silly Remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still

A couple of days ago I finally got around to watching the 2008 remake of the classic SF thriller The Day the Earth Stood Still. Nearly a complete waste of time from start to finish, the film does have one inventive and chilling conceit: that Klaatu Reeves arrives to save the Earth, and that his definition of "saving the Earth" means saving the planet itself, not its people. In the world of the film life-bearing planets are rare and precious, and since people are killing the planet Klaatu's confederation of worlds decides wiping out humans is the only solution. (Shades of "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it!")

I suppose the re-imagination of Gort deserves some kudos as well. While evocative of the original films' classic robot, the 2008 Gort is composed of millions of nanobots capable of disassembling any matter they choose. In fact, only the scenes with Gort show any life at all; there's a rather chilling vignette in which members of the US military imprison the robot in a holding tank, only to discover that Gort was never a prisoner at all.

Unfortunately one clever moment and a half-decent recreation of an SF icon can't save this limp, fearful remake. Grievous errors in science, leaden performances, by-the-numbers direction and editing and an uninspiring score sink what could have been a worthwhile remake. Stick with the timeless original, and say "Klaatu Barada NIX!" to the 2008 version.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Domain of Earl, May 2012

I've always loved maps, particularly political maps. I also love exploring our world. I thought it might be fun to combine these two geographic obsessions into one amusement: what if I carved an imaginary empire by drawing straight lines between the farthest-flung cities and towns I've visited thus far?

Thus I present the Domain of Earl, a benevolent but unrecognized empire composed of borders drawn between Fairbanks, Alaska; Dawson City, Yukon; Lynn Lake, Manitoba; Timmins, Ontario; Hull, Quebec; London, Ontario; Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; Los Angeles, California; Honolulu, Hawaii; Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; and Tokyo, Japan.

The nice thing about an empire of this nature is that I can vastly increase its size with a simple trip to the Mayan Riviera or the UK. Also, I have no pesky subjects to worry about or wars of conquest to manage. Eat your heart out, Napoleon.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Skyfall Teaser Trailer


After MGM's financial difficulties I was concerned that we might never see Daniel Craig in the James Bond role again. He's looking a little gaunt here, but that may very well be a consequence of the story.

It's hard to glean much from this brief teaser, but it appears as though Bond may be fighting some personal demons. I wonder what Bond would have said during the word association test if the words had been, oh, "martini," "Walther," "eggs," "gold," "Q," "casino," "love," "kill" or "spectre."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

On a whim, Sylvia and I decided we needed to get out of the house.

"Where can we go for a drive?" Sylvia asked.

"How about the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village?" I suggested. I've heard of the place, but never visited, and it turns out their season starts on the May long weekend. So off we went.
This young lady informed me that while there was no train today, there will be service to St. Paul tomorrow and Edmonton the day after.

"Really?" I asked.

"Ta!" she said.
Having never visited a grain elevator before, I was curious about what lay within.
I don't know what any of this stuff does, but it looks important.
Inside the grain elevator. It looks like trucks drive through here.
If I had to guess, I'd say that grain flows down these chutes into some kind of hopper.
A different view of the grain chutes.
We visited the home and office of the local constable.
The holding cell is conveniently located a mere metre or two from the living quarters.
The constable's home features a makeshift tennis court for his two daughters.
Several new exhibits are currently under construction.
The hardware store is my favourite attraction.
A working International truck resides in the hardware store's service bay.
Guns and ammo were sold alongside soda pop, rolling pins and other necessities.
The proprietor informed me that the radio behind him could be had for $15. Too rich for my blood, but perhaps one day Sylvia and I shall have means enough to afford such a luxury.
The lens of history.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fulfilled in the Landfill

Sean is moving to a new condo, so today Dad and I made a trip to the landfill to dispose of Sean's old sectional. I admired the cheerful defiance of the festively orange Home Depot barrels, seeming relaxed and carefree despite their bleak new surroundings. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Memory of Maurice

Yesterday the father of one of my best friends died. I'll say only that I was fond of the man and I'm glad that as a teen I helped out on his first mayoral campaign. Writing with remarkable eloquence on a difficult day, Stephen Fitzpatrick remembers his father.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fit to Be Tied About Missing Boun Thai

As one of my friends recently observed, the only conservative thing about me is my palate. I have a timid tongue, so exotic cuisine that I actually enjoy is a rare treasure. But now my favourite Thai restaurant has gone missing, and I am bereft.

Only recently - thanks to friends at the Official Opposition - did I discover the savoury delights of Boun Thai, formerly located just south of Jasper Avenue on 107 street. John Santos wisely suggested the cashew chicken, spicy beef and lemon pork chop. I loved all three, but I think I could live happily on the cashew chicken nigh unto eternity.

My second-last experience at Boun Thai was on March 10 - a late birthday celebration. Sylvia, my parents and Sean seemed to love it as much as I did. But when I returned for lunch just a couple of weeks before the election, I overheard a waitress explaining that the restaurant would be moving soon. She didn't know where.

Well, Boun Thai is gone now, and my Google-fu has proven inadequate to track it down. I even phoned, but the number yields only "this customer has not activated their voice mail" messages.

I am desperate to feast on cashew chicken once more. If anyone knows the whereabouts of Boun Thai, please deposit clues in the comments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Last Resort

With the cancellation of Awake there's precious little top-notch genre television on the airwaves now, but I'm very intrigued by Last Resort, in which the crew of a US Navy sub goes renegade and founds their own nation. The concept sounds ridiculous, but the trailer - which you can view here - is quite taut and exciting, and the show comes from Angel writer and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan. Combine his writing chops with a cast that includes the T-1000 and Frank from Homicide: Life on the Streets and you have a potential winner, at least creatively. I doubt it will last longer than a half season, unfortunately; the public seems to have little appetite for high-concept dramas, and this looks like it will be pretty expensive to produce.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Justice League: The Movie

Given Marvel's string of successful superhero films culminating in runaway hit The Avengers, I'm sure that Warner Brothers is accelerating plans to apply the Marvel approach to its stable of DC heroes. Unfortunately Warner has already dropped the ball. Once Chris Nolan's superb Batman films and Zack Snyder's (probably far from superb) Man of Steel movie fade from memory, Warner should start from scratch (or nearly so) and get it right. Luckily I have a few half-baked ideas to help them out!

Critical misfire Green Lantern seems to have been an attempt to build a larger DC universe in the world of film, given its inclusion of popular supporting character Amanda Waller and early plans to include a cameo from Superman. But Waller is inexplicably portrayed as an ineffectual scientist rather than the terrifyingly lethal covert problem-solver of the comics, and Superman, of course, never shows up in the film. Still, much as Marvel used Ang Lee's Hulk as loose background for the later The Incredible Hulk, DC could use Green Lantern's cosmic milieu - Oa, the Guardians of the Universe and the Green Lantern Corps itself - to support the notion that Earth lies in a universe of awe-inspiring wonders and super-science.

It would be trivially simple to incorporate this background into a new Superman film. A member of the Green Lantern Corps could arrive at Krypton moments too late to prevent the planet's catastrophic explosion - but not too late to scan the lone survivor's rocket and ensure that the infant Kal-El reaches Earth safely. Krypton's advanced civilization dovetails nicely with that of the Guardians and their Corps, establishing the shared universe as one teeming with alien life, of which Kal-El - Superman - is simply one example.

The Superman film presents a great opportunity to establish a number of important aspects of the DC universe: S.T.A.R. Labs (who could perhaps be responsible for accidentally unleashing Metallo or the Parasite to serve as Superman's antagonist), technologically-advanced and alien-backed criminal organization Intergang, and world-leading newspaper the Daily Planet. Reporters Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane could serve as supporting characters in this and future films, writing stories not only about Superman but the heroes that appear in his wake in succeeding films. And most importantly, Lex Luthor - who will not appear in this film as a villain, but as a boyhood friend of Clark Kent - will begin his journey as the Justice League's ultimate antagonist, building countermeasures to protect humanity from what he sees as the rising threat of super-heroes.

A rebooted Batman film would appear next in the series, one less grounded in reality than the Nolan films and slightly less dark. This Batman would live up to the title of World's Greatest Detective, battling crime not only with his gadgets and martial arts prowess, but his wits and powerful deductive reasoning skills. In his guise as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, he might even cautiously cooperate with Lex Luthor in developing precautionary safeguards against powerful creatures such as Superman, planting the seeds of betrayal and redemption in later films.

To introduce the DC universe's mythical elements, a Wonder Woman movie is the natural next step. During World War II, an American fighter pilot crash-lands on the mysterious Paradise Island, disturbing the peace of an advanced society of matriarchal immortals descended from Olympian gods, gods of super-science rather than magic, much in the spirit of the Asgardians in the Thor movie. Realizing that the war could impact even their isolated island, the Amazons send Princess Diana - Wonder Woman - off to fight Nazis, who in their mad quest for power are pursuing not the Spear of Destiny or the Ark of the Covenant, but the advanced weaponry of the sunken city of Atlantis - future home of Aquaman. Wonder Woman defends Atlantis, sends the Nazis packing, and returns to Paradise Island for the next few decades, "until man's world needs me again."

A second Batman film would widen the scope of the Dark Knight's supporting cast, introducing rival playboy and Batman fan Oliver Queen (the future Green Arrow) and Queen's more grounded on-again-off-again girlfriend, Dinah Lance (the future Black Canary). As an increasing number of madmen and super-villains make Gotham City their home, Batman realizes that he needs allies in his war on crime. He isn't thinking of any kind of official league yet, but after being nearly overwhelmed by a horde of criminals, he'll realize he can't do it all alone. At film's end he even reluctantly accepts Superman's help to repel a brief attempt by Intergang to expand into Gotham.

Ryan Reynolds returns in a quasi-rebooted new Green Lantern film. Already an established hero, Green Lantern faces a series of escalating threats. At first it seems as though the mutants and robots he fights are wreaking random havoc, but he eventually realizes that he's being tested by an unknown agency. Of course, we the audience learn that Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne are behind the tests.

The next film introduces the Flash, a police scientist who, because of a freak accident, gains the ability to run at fantastic speeds. Aided by his friend and confidante Ralph Dibny (the future Elongated Man), Flash battles Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash from the far future who time travels in an effort to prevent the formation of the Justice League. (Of course Flash doesn't know this, but the audience does.)

In Green Arrow, Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance face separate perils. Their yacht boarded by the League of Assassins, Queen is marooned as useless on a desert island while Lance is kidnapped and forcibly inducted into the League, for according to their prophecies she is the heralded Black Canary, master assassin and eventual League leader. As Dinah battles psychic manipulation and endures genetic tampering and martial arts training, Oliver struggles to survive on a diet of birds and fish, using a makeshift bow and arrow to hunt. Queen is eventually rescued to great fanfare, and as a final test the League of Assassins orders Lance to assume the mantle of Black Canary and kill her former lover. Naturally the power of love overcomes the League's brainwashing, and the new Green Arrow joins Black Canary in destroying the assassins - or at least putting a dent in their plans. Luthor and Wayne note the appearance of two new costumed adventurers...

Light comedy Zatanna introduces the Mistress of Magic as the world's first closeted super-hero. While the world sees her as just another stage magician, Zatanna is in fact in tune with the ancient mystic arts of Atlantis and Paradise Island. While she wishes she could just enjoy her career as an illusionist, growing extra-dimensional threats force her to take a more active role in defending civilization from ruin. A brief post-credits scene features a "meet cute" between Zatanna and Bruce Wayne, establishing a possible spark of romance between the bubbly magician and the brooding hero...

Man of Tomorrow, the second Superman film, establishes a growing rift between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. As Kent juggles the responsibilities of his dual identities, Luthor becomes increasingly obsessed with Superman's growing fame and public adulation. While Superman, warned by Green Lantern, battles intergalactic menace Brainiac, Luthor quietly assembles a secret society of super-villains to end what he sees as the meta-human threat once and for all...

In Suicide Squad, we learn that it's not just Luthor who's worried about the free agency of powerful figures such as Superman, Batman and Green Lantern. Amanda Waller assembles Task Force X, a Suicide Squad of mutants and covert operatives who plan the ultimate caper: learn the weaknesses of each hero just in case those heroes ever turn against humanity. But when Waller learns of a larger threat, she's forced to change missions midstream, putting all of her operatives at risk. Will any return from a certain suicide mission...?

Finally, in Justice League of America, Luthor's secret society, guided by future intelligence from Professor Zoom, targets each League member for assassination. But silent partner Bruce Wayne deduces the plan and assembles  the heroes to fight Luthor's society, the League of Assassins, Professor Zoom and Task Force X. Our heroes will have to learn to work together...or die trying.

There you go, Warner Brothers. I'd buy a ticket to each film and even make Sylvia come with me, and I'd even buy the ultimate Blu-Ray special edition box set of all the films. Get cracking!




Sunday, May 13, 2012

An A for Avengers

In the beginning - and only the beginning - super-heroes inhabited their own worlds. Batman struck terror into the criminals of Gotham, Superman brought robber barons to justice in Metropolis, Wonder Woman fought Nazis. But it was only months before Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox decided that their four-colour heroes should meet, and thus, with the publication of All-Star Comics #3 and the Justice Society of America, the concept of a shared superhero universe was born.

Decades later, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby decided that the next wave of super-heroes, Marvel's Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and so on, should also explicitly inhabit a New York teeming with super-heroes. For decades, shared universes of larger-than-life characters have been the norm in comic books.

But a trope taken for granted on paper has proven difficult to translate to film. The Superman movies of the 70s and 80s made no mention of Batman or Green Lantern; the Batman films have referred to Superman only in passing.

That all changed when Marvel Studios began the most ambitious comic book film project ever: introduce a handful of Marvel super-heroes to the big screen one movie at a time (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger), weave over-arching narrative threads and supporting characters through each film, then bring all the heroes together in one spectacular team-up.

That team-up, of course, is Joss Whedon's The Avengers, the story of a small group of people with remarkable gifts and equally potent hang-ups who are recruited to save the world. It's a super-hero story in which the paper-thin plot serves merely as an excuse to play these characters off one another, and frankly that's fine with me.

Even though each of the titular Avengers - Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye and Thor - have already been introduced to movie-going audiences via the preceding films mentioned above, Whedon spends a little time to re-establish each character, mainly to ensure that when they're brought together the various personalities clash in believable and amusing ways. Norse demigod Thor is torn between respect, frustration and amusement for the "little people" he sees as children in need of protection. Captain America, frozen in time since World War II, struggles to adapt to modern mores. Bruce Banner - the Hulk - reigns in his berzerker rage with dark, quiet humour. Tony Stark, the billionaire genius under the Iron Man armour, tosses sarcastic barbs at his comrades to mask his own hopes and fears. And Black Widow's lethal professionalism is tempered with a tiny hint of realistic - not sexist, not pandering - vulnerability. (She alone seems to understand the full danger of recruiting the Hulk.)

While the film is generally serious in tone, its greatest asset is the warmth and humour generated by putting all of these characters (and their fine actors) together in the same milieu. Each of them is given multiple moments to shine, and at the screening I attended these moments were greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience.

Oh, there's a threat, of course; Norse god Loki recruits an alien armada to eke out revenge for his treatment in Thor, but the existential threat hardly matters to the audience; what's fun is seeing how these messed-up characters learn to work together. The last third of the film is a glorious mess, a hyper-kinetic action set-piece that puts each hero through his or her paces and sets the stage for more adventures to come.

The show-stealers this time around are Black Widow and the Hulk, for reasons I can't reveal without spoiling the fun. And as with other Marvel films, be sure to stay all the way through the end credits for not one, but two additional scenes.

The Avengers may not be as complex as Christopher Nolan's recent Batman films, but its greatness is of a different kind. This is comic-book fun of the first order: unselfconscious, brazen, hyperbolic, and most of all, just plain fun.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Good Beginning

Today was the first day of my post-political career. I awoke surprisingly refreshed and eager to look at the world in a new way, and getting some exercise was at the top of my list. I started a brisk morning walk in Terra Losa Park, and just as "Joy" by Apollo 100 started playing through my iPhone headphones I spotted a child-sized soccer ball abandoned in the field. Well, what could I do but accelerate forward and punt the ball around the park for a while? Sometimes life really is like a movie.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Farewell to the Legislature

Earlier today I drove out of the Alberta Legislature's east parkade for the last time, and as my car climbed the exit ramp toward the rising garage door, I felt a sudden absence of weight from my heart. Momentarily startled, I clutched my chest and realized that this was no metaphorical weight lifted from my shoulders; rather, my body had just acknowledged the disappearance of my lanyard and legislature ID cards.
For six and a half years, I'd carried those cards around my neck for eight to twelve hours a day, often forgetting to remove my lanyard in public, much to the amusement of my fellow employees.

Only when their negligible presence vanished did I really begin to believe that my tenure with the Alberta Liberal Caucus, until recently Alberta's Official Opposition, was truly over. As I drove past the Legislature Annex and the legislature itself, Al Stewart's "Time Passages" played over my iPhone. I couldn't help but smile to myself; how apropos. My departure unfolded as I'd somehow always imagined it: on a sunny day, without fanfare, quietly sliding over the horizon, the stony legislature dome receding in my rear view mirror. My arrival was similarly low-key...

I'd been interested in the career of Kevin Taft since reading his first book, Shredding the Public Interest. I'd been interested in politics since grade school and Taft's ascension to Official Opposition Leader prompted me to seriously consider joining his team. But at the time I was performing non-partisan public service, writing speeches for Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole. It wasn't until 2005, after Her Honour's death, that I felt free enough to apply for a job with the Alberta Liberal Caucus.
I originally applied for an outreach position in mid-2005, but that wasn't the right fit for me. Fortunately the Liberals held on to my application and gave me a call later that year, asking if I'd be interested in applying for their new communications coordinator position. I was and I did, and I started my new career in opposition politics in early January, 2006. I was pretty starstruck by Kevin and his caucus of 16 MLAs; here they were, the avatars of democracy, men and women from across Alberta (well, from Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge, anyway) chosen by the people to represent their interests in the legislature. I was just as impressed by my co-workers, young, well-educated, politically savvy up-and-comers who shared a passion for progressive politics and the desire to put an end to years of one-party rule in Alberta.

The day-to-day demands of the job left little room for idealism, however. I wet my feet with a few simple brochures, but soon enough I was writing speeches and private member's statements for all of the Liberal MLAs. I quickly learned to write in sixteen different voices - and even retained my sanity while doing so!

As the years went on my range of responsibilities grew. Soon I was writing press releases, managing the caucus website, producing advertisements and branding collateral, writing, producing, directing and editing videos, editing MLA newsletters, writing copy for handouts and learning graphic design on the fly. I tagged along with our outreach team at a number of town halls and forums, meeting with Albertans and learning about their dreams and concerns.

The job itself was enjoyable enough, and rewarding, too; I really felt as though I was helping hundreds of Albertans have their voices heard. But the true gift of the job has been the dozens of remarkable people I've been privileged to work with. Over the years I've seen dozens of incredible Albertans come and go through the caucus offices; in fact my one regret is that turnover remained very high through my tenure. Opposition politics is a bit of a meat grinder, I'm afraid; I outlasted all but two of my co-workers, and only two Liberal MLAs have been with the caucus longer than me.

It may have been tumultuous, but oh, what a time I had. While with the caucus I met two premiers (Klein and Stelmach), several cabinet ministers, ran for office (losing handily by 10,000 votes to Mr. Stelmach), married Sylvia (with none other than Kevin Taft acting as our officiant), met James Cameron and some of my favourite journalists, including Graham Thomson and Don Braid. I appeared as an accidental party spokesman on the eve of the 2008 election over several television and radio outlets, learned how to work with content management systems and thoroughly embarrassed myself with a truly awful video for the 2006 press gallery Christmas party. (If audience response is anything to go by, I redeemed myself with later videos, thank goodness.) At several points the departure of various media liaisons left me as the main contact for the media, and I'm grateful to Alberta's reporters, editors and news directors for their patience. No matter how many balls I was juggling, you were always classy and professional.

If a week is an eternity in politics, what is six and a half years? Well, probably a little too long, at least for me. Politics thrives on new blood, and I'm happy to step aside for fresh perspectives and new approaches. If my time in opposition has taught me anything, it's that the progressive left has to get its act together if it ever wants real change. The same old same old won't cut it anymore, and if that means saying goodbye to some cherished old brands and favourite colours, well, so be it. Politics isn't sports; it's not about which team "wins." It's about protecting civil rights, managing the economy for the betterment of all, protecting the environment, seeing to the needs of the vulnerable and less fortunate...in other words, building a culture and society that leaves no one behind as it moves forward to a better tomorrow.

As I prepare for the next chapter in my life, I'd like to thank all of my colleagues for their support, guidance, patience and friendship: the Alberta Liberal MLAs and their constituency staff, Alberta Liberal Party staff, volunteers and members, infrastructure, IT, custodial and HR staff of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, and most of all, my fellow staff members in communications, research, administration and the Leader's Office.

I will never forget you. In memory of the many fine people I served with, I'll close with some images of my favourite moments.
Earl's last day. Thanks to Avril McCalla for shooting the photo.
And that's all there is.