A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 204: Talking to (and about) Animals

E and Bunsen

Photo by Elias Kok

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” – A.A. Milne

I live in an animal-loving household. We have given love and care to dogs, cats, rats, mice, bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, a cockatiel and a canary called Atticus Finch. We have rescued squirrel babies and cared for injured birds. My home is alive with much more than human activity and because of that I truly believe the people who live here have a tremendous capacity for compassion.

Just yesterday we had a tragedy in our animal kingdom as my son’s beloved rat, Bunsen, died. I did not realize until I got to know Bunsen just how smart and loving rats truly can be. She was a sweetheart who was thoroughly in love with my son. We all mourned with him as she meant so much to him but also to all of us.

For those who have never given love to an animal, or allowed an animal to love them, these sentiments may sound ridiculous. But I have come to realize over the years that the truly ridiculous thing is a human being without the capacity to hold an animal close to their heart. Clearly, we were created for that connection. Clearly, there is more to the purpose of animal life on this planet than to serve our selfish needs.  Our ability to feel and give compassion is directly related to our openness to animals. Of this I am absolutely certain.

But don’t just take my word for it. Normally on Sundays in this blog I have published God Quotes. Today, instead, are quotes about animals and human kind, together from the beginning of the “In the beginning” of the Bible. In Scripture it seems we are inseparable. We should all take note of that and realize that perhaps God is attempting to speak to us all through animals. Maybe we would listen better if we accepted that truth.

“Animals are not property or “things” but rather living organisms, subjects of a life, who are worthy of our compassion, respect, friendship, and support.” – Marc Bekoff, Minding Animals

“If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected.” – Chief Seattle, Suwamish Tribe, in a letter to President Franklin Pierce

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

“Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness.” – Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church

“Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us. Animals are so easily overlooked, their interests so easily brushed aside. Whenever we humans enter their world, from our farms to the local animal shelter to the African savanna, we enter as lords of the earth bearing strange powers of terror and mercy alike.” – Matthew Scully, Dominion

“Only animals were not expelled from Paradise.” – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” – George Eliot. Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story

“I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals” (so called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me.” – Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

“God gave unto the Animals
A wisdom past our power to see:
Each knows innately how to live,
Which we must learn laboriously.” – Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” – Martin Buber, I and Thou

“If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.” – Leo Tolstoy, The First Step

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained. I stand and look at them long and long.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 203 – Saturday Life Quote – Linkin Park


“Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do”

I cannot claim to be a Linkin Park fan but my 20-year old son, Elias, certainly can. He has the CD and T-shirt collection to prove it. But more importantly, the music of Linkin Park has meant a great deal to him. He has battled through anxiety and depression and found solace and expression through the band’s lyrics and sound.  Over the years I’ve come to appreciate Linkin Park because I love my son, and I very much understand how something like a rock band can help you through some dark times. That is why, in my household, the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide hit very hard. In a touching Facebook post, Elias included lyrics from one of Linkin Park’s songs called “One More Light”. The words are extremely poignant, even more so now in the wake of Chester’s death. I decided to share them today for the Saturday Life Quote.

This is just more proof that you never really know who’s struggling. Even though someone may seem fine, there may be something in their mind that pushes them over the edge. Hold on to those you love, and hold on to them so they can’t be pulled away from you by the cruelness of this world.” – Elias

One More Light

Should’ve stayed, were there signs, I ignored?
Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?
We saw brilliance, when the world, was asleep
There are things that we can have, but can’t keep

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

The reminders pull the floor from your feet
In the kitchen, one more chair than you need oh
And you’re angry, and you should be, it’s not fair
Just ’cause you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it, isn’t there

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

Well I do

Written by Brad Delson, Chester Charles Bennington, Dave Farrell, Francis White, Joseph Hahn, Mike Shinoda, Robert G. Bourdon • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 202: Ballet Shoes

Ballet Shoes

This week was Edgar Degas’ birthday. When I thought of Degas I thought of his iconic paintings of ballerinas. When I thought of those paintings I was reminded that I had used a ballerina as a subject once myself. So for Friday I share a simple post: “Ballet Shoes”, done with chalk pastels from a photo of my co-worker’s daughter at her ballet recital.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 201: The True Colours of Coeur de Pirate


Coeur de Pirate (Pirate’s Heart) is the stage name of Montreal’s Beatrice Martin. She is a diminutive singer with enormous talent and an unforgettable and distinctive voice. Her following is strong in Quebec and across the pond in France as most of her recordings have been in French. However, she recently released an album made up of mostly songs in English and has released many wonderful cover songs.

The ability of Coeur de Pirate to take another artist’s song and make it unique, to create something newly powerful from something familiar, is just part of her talent. Today I want to introduce you to Beatrice with a video for her cover of “True Colors”. We naturally associate the song with Cyndi Lauper, who made it famous in her signature plaintive style. But in the turn Coeur de Pirate gives it, it somehow becomes more vulnerable and intimate and truly comforting. Enjoy:

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 200: Union of Song and Soul


The Strumbellas and I are not finished with each other yet.

Over three years ago I wrote a blog post about my love affair with the Canadian band the Strumbellas. Just last weekend I was able to see them live at the Hope Vollyball Summerfest in Ottawa. It is the second time I’ve seen them live (the article was written before I had a chance to do that) and both times have been unforgettable experiences: Fun, life-affirming and joyful amidst songs about life challenges, mortality and mental anguish. That is the Strumbellas in a nutshell.

I decided to re-post the article today as part of my Year of Creating Dangerously. This band has meant a lot to my own creative journey; they’ve helped me embrace the darkness in myself in order to make the light that much brighter.

And if they ever come to your town, I highly recommend you spend some time with them, too.

The Union of Song and Soul 

There is a soundtrack to my life. It hasn’t been composed by Hans Zimmer or John Williams.  There is no unifying theme, no brass section for the exciting bits or strings for the romantic stuff.  Minor chords do not sound in the background when I’m in danger. My soundtrack doesn’t follow all the expected formulas for scoring a movie. But, then again, my life is not a movie. Good thing, too, as my life would probably be a slow-pace, independent film with lots of actors you’ve never heard of and no budget for any CGI or special effects of any kind. Likely straight to video, too.

But at least there would be a soundtrack. And a kick-ass soundtrack, if I do say so myself.

There’s a scene in the movie “High Fidelity” where the main character reveals that his record collection is sorted chronologically, according to his own life story. To find out what album he’s looking for, he has to remember certain events in his life or past relationships. It’s as if his life and his love of music are lived simultaneously, blending and weaving with each other, influencing each other, crafting, if you will, a soundtrack to his life.

I am a major music lover or, as my wife calls me, a “music snob”. If I didn’t have a family to provide for I would probably be living in some dingy basement apartment surrounded by vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes I can’t part with and perhaps even some eight-tracks just for the retro-weirdness of it. I would’ve been a less interesting and less medicated Lester Bangs.

As the years roll by I have discovered how much the music of my life rolls along too. I am not a nostalgic music listener. In fact, I kind of despise nostalgic music listening – that is, when middle-aged folks like me listen almost exclusively to the things they cranked on their boomboxes in high-school. These are 40-somethings who talk about how totally awesome Bon Jovi/Journey/Loverboy/(insert hackneyed ’80’s band here) is and how music today has gone down hill from when they were younger and blah, blah, blah-blah blaaaaaaaah…

Wow. My wife is right; I am a music snob.

Of course, there are times I listen to music for purely nostalgic reasons, to summon feelings from past times in my life. But I find more and more that I view music as a continually unfolding composition in my life; a soundtrack that is uniquely my own. I don’t dwell exclusively on the songs of the past, no matter how wonderful they may be, because there are new songs in my life. There is an ever-expanding playlist with room for more and more tunes to come.

I was considering this because I have recently been smitten by a roots/pop-folk band called the Strumbellas. I get smitten every now and again. My family knows when said smiting has happened because they get to hear me playing that artist or group over and over and over.  They have a lot of patience with my musical crushes. The Strumbellas are a six-member group in the vibe of the Lumineers or Mumford and Sons. The main obstacle to their success is that they happen to be Canadian, which is, of course, their own damn fault. Other than that, their music is great, evidently causing a lot of spontaneous dancing to erupt wherever they play. I have not been able to see them live yet. If you happen to see them or have seen them, let me now about the spontaneous booty shaking, okay?

While driving to church one Sunday morning, I heard my first Strumbellas’ song: “In This Life”. After a pleasingly simple guitar riff and very catchy handclap intro came these lyrics: “I know the seasons ain’t been changing and everyday looks like rain/ But I’m still hoping for that sun/ The streets are filled with demons, lord, that’s never gonna change/ But I still want to be with everyone/ I know there’s something for you out there in this life/ I know there’s something for you out there in this life.”

There is someone I love who desperately wants to live an abundant life but struggles with her own demons. When I heard that song I started to get teary eyed; it was as if I was singing it to her, as if the Strumbellas had written and recorded a song for what was on my mind and on my heart in my life right then and there. Before the song was done I was smitten! And I experienced once again the power of life and music blending together and becoming part of my soundtrack; part of me.

After my Strumbellas CD arrived and I listened to it over and over and over, I ordered another one and listened to that one over and over and over. My family endured my crush and, once again, music and life came together. I discovered that so many of their songs deal with death and losing a loved one. The lead singer/songwriter of the group, Simon Ward , lost his Dad when he was only 16; I lost my Mom a little over a year ago. In their songs I was hearing incredibly life-affirming, danceable music supporting lyrics dealing with the subject of death. Here was a group seeing the spectre of death as a great motivator for life; the reality of the grave making your chance to dance so much sweeter.

I love music. Music can be so many things. It can remind us of good times, bad times, ugly times. It can make us jig and it can make us bawl. But perhaps its greatest aspect is the mystical union of song and soul. I don’t know where my life is going, what scenes will play out, but I know there will always be an ever-unfolding soundtrack and that makes me feel a deep sense of joy.

Here’s a link a Strumbellas video for “In This Life” – Enjoy!  http://youtu.be/SjxdvGJDYm8

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 199: 500 Years in the Face of a Woman

An incredible feat of animation, this video gives us 500 years in the history of art via the portraits of women, each blending seamlessly into the next. It reminds me of the ways art and artists are always connected, always standing on the shoulders of the ones before them, always creating in an unbroken line. It also reminds me that our art history has been very Caucasian: This is most definitely a look at Northern European/North American art. As such, it is only a small slice of those 500 years. Nevertheless, a beautiful video well worth the watching…

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 198: Until Death It is All Life

Until Death It Is All Life.JPG

Until Death It Is All Life, Ronald Kok, Craft foam mosaic, 2017

“Hasta la muerta es toda la vida.” These words are spoken by Sancho Panza, faithful squire to the noble knight Don Quixote.

Miquel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote the incomparable and influential The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha (or more commonly know as Don Quixote) in the early part of the 17th century. It was published in two parts between 1605 and 1615. The tale is equal parts comedy and tragedy, full of madness and imagination, and making commentary on so many things that the book is constantly reinterpreted with each passing age. It is the Great Spanish novel and has gained a well deserved place as one of the best works of fiction in the world.

I’m not sure how Don Quixote took center stage in my latest mosaic. There is something so mysterious about that inspiration that befits the tale of the nobleman who imagines himself a knight, tilting at windmills that he believes are squatting giants all over the Spanish countryside. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Quixote was supposed to be about my age when he lost his grip on reality. Perhaps it has to do with that fine line between realism and imagination in the story that is so often my own fine line. Perhaps it is the influence Spain has had on me, having spent four months there at the formative age of 21.  Perhaps it is the specter of mortality that has been following me like my own shadow, daring me to embrace life. Or perhaps it is none of these at all.

Whatever it was that first gave me the push to create this artwork, I know that there were also some very straightforward choices on my part: First, I chose to include a reference to the Spanish flag in this work (the red, yellow, red of the background); Second, I chose to reference the brilliantly organic and colorful mosaics of Antonio Gaudi, the great Spanish artist; and Third, I chose to include the quote as an affirmation of life in the face of inevitable death.

So there you have it.

This artwork took much effort in both conceptualization of the idea and in execution of it (i.e., a helluva lot of hours cutting up craft foam and gluing it on). I started with what I call “WalMart Art”, a factory-produced piece of art bought at a second-hand store which I painted black; then I sketched out the idea, started with the figure of Don Quixote on Rocinante and built the artwork from there.

“Until death it is all life” – May this inspire you to embrace your life and live it out brightly and colorfully.

Below are some photos of the process.


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 197: Sunday God Quote – L’Engle

MadeleineL'Engle by valerie suter

Madeleine L’Engle by Valerie Suter

“I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.” – Madeleine L’Engle

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 196: Saturday Life Quotes – L’Engle


“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Madeleine L’Engle is an award-winning American writer, the author of many brilliant works of fiction for young adults. Her classic novel A Wrinkle in Time is set to be released as a movie in March of 2018. She provides this Saturday’s Life Quotes.

“If we commit ourselves to one person for life, this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather, it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation.”

“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”

“The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.”

“Just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.”

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

“Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”

“When we lose our myths we lose our place in the universe.”

“It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”



A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 195: Little Big Painting

Little big painting 2

“Size matters not. Judge me by my size do you?” To get your point across, Yoda you quote.

My wife Monique is a wonderful artist. She is an inspiration to me and the perfect partner to turn to when you need a suggestion to help your own artwork work. I can’t tell you how many times she’s given me advice on a piece I’m working on and it is exactly what that piece needed. Her artistic sensibility is just one of the many, many reasons I am a very blessed man.

We have a few of her artworks around our house. Someday I’ll get to sharing more of those, but for today I share one of my favorites. It is one of her “Little Big Paintings” as I’ve come to call them. In a beautifully impressionistic style, she has done a few landscapes on a small scale. The one I share today is a scene across the lake from our friends’ cottage in Quebec. If you’ve spent anytime at a cottage in Ontario or Quebec, the image in this painting will instantly bring you back there. I love it because I love that place and I love her, too.

So my simple post for today is Monique’s ability to translate something big into something small yet retain all the beauty and grandeur of that scene. To me, it is a sign of an exceptional painter who doesn’t need to wow you with an gigantic canvas to draw you in and transport you somewhere else.

I’ve encouraged her to do more of these! Here’s hoping she does.

Little big painting