An Open Letter to “Fitness Professionals” from a Fat Guy

So I have a FB friend who today posted about the poor 13 year old girl in Brampton who died with COVID. The young lady who died was overweight, so of course that gives anyone the right to blame her for her predicament.


My friend is a “Fitness Professional”, and she posted that her heart goes out to the people who cannot control their health during these times. But for the people who CAN (ie fat 13 year old girls and people like me) control their health or at least some elements of it, success and getting more of us out of this pandemic healthy is up to us. She looked at a picture of the girl and said that it was easy enough to see that this poor girl was extremely overweight for her age, and this was probably the primary factor in the severity of her body’s response to getting COVID-19.


I like this FB friend of mine. I think the world of her. But I am so fucking livid right now I cannot see straight.


This is one of the most ridiculous and self-serving posts I have seen on FB in the past little while. And that says a lot. As a person that has dealt with the physical and psychological issues behind weight issues for upwards of 50 years, I can tell you that dealing with these challenges is not corrected by simply taking a walk and trying to change your eating habits. Make that 10-fold for a teenage girl. How did she diagnose this as a death contributor? By looking at a picture??? Did she get a detailed family history? Did she talk to her doctor? Of course not. And yet she has no problems getting up on Social Media and giving us her completely unfounded opinion on why this poor girl died.


I am really fucking tired of self-labeled “Fitness Professionals” pretending they are educated in all things weight related and proceed to regale us fatties with how we need to just “buckle down” and “just exercise” or “just eat properly” as if it was something we just completely overlooked. This is a battle, darling – one that has occupied most of our lives and where we have had to endure people like you treating it like a common cold that I can treat. You are providing no useful service to anyone with this. Quite the opposite. This is a shameful, uneducated post from an educated person, and that is the most disappointing element of all.


Let me save other “Fitness Professionals” a bit of time here, by posting some helpful guidelines from the people you think you are helping with these posts.

  1. There is not a person in the first world that is not aware of the health effects of obesity. We get it, believe me. We are not ignoring you. Regularly posting things that everyone knows just makes you look weird.
  2. We have had to live our entire lives with this. Society has its own sort of perception of people like me – we are disgusting, fat, slothful, lazy, incompetent, stupid. By being so visible and taking up so much room, in a strange way we are also quite invisible. People kind of clock you and their eyes slide off you. I feel bullied, slighted and ridiculed. Being judged firstly and continuously by the way we look, as if we all set our minds to being fat, and despite our body’s every effort to stay thin we kept fattening ourselves up because it just looked like so much goddam fun. You telling us that it’s as easy as eating right and exercising conveniently reduces our struggle to a mere oversight on our part. If it was that fucking easy everyone would be thin because believe me, being fat is not the choice you seem to think it is.
  3. Even though it may not look like it to you, we are trying. We have never wished for anything harder. There are any number of physical, genetic, biological and – god help us – psychological elements to obesity that you will never understand, because if you did, you would not be acting the way you are.
  4. Society approved people get the privilege of dignity by default; fat people must earn that dignity, as I once tried to, years ago ― running on the treadmill until my knees ached, swimming, dieting – literally everything – until I said that this circular hell of calories-in, calories-out wasn’t worth risking my safety or my sanity.


I am the luckiest of all fat people. I can make you laugh. I am the jolly fatty. I am a decent musician and can entertain people. And I am grateful for all of that because if I couldn’t do any of those things all people would have ever seen is my fatness.
I am not going to shroud any of this in kindness though I probably should. I am far too angry. I am, however, hoping that the next time a “Fitness Professional” decides to ply their delightful demonization of fat people out in public, that they think about this post and remember that I told them to go fuck themselves.

AAA – AWESOME ALBUM ALERT – LORI MCKENNA’S THE BALLADEER

Fellow lovers of the singer/songwriter genre,


I have know about since Lori McKenna her first record. Had to drive into the city and back today, so I listened to her new one. I think I cried the entire time. An altogether joyous and painful look at how aging changes relationships – be it sibling, spouse, or children – and how it all just goes by in an instant. It seriously floored me. The music is simple, mournful and sweet in the best sense of classic Americana, and the lyrics are devastating. Feedback welcome.

RIP Neil Peart from this broken Rush freak

Forget the fact that 2112 was the first album I purchased (8 years old) or that I saw Rush no less than 35 times in the last 40 years. Neil Peart taught me how to think. I learned about individuality from 2112, being true to yourself from Cinderella Man, the precious and tenuous relationship between the US and Canada from The Trees, the dark side of fame from Limelight – I could go on and on ad infinitum. Everything I learned about writing I learned from Neil and ironically I sit here lost for words.


As a 52 year old male Canadian musician, Rush is nearly genetic. It’s in my blood. I never really got the full-throated weight of that until I read this Dave Bidini article in the Star years ago. He really nailed it – I’m thrilled that I could actually find and post it. It stuck with me for a long time.

The Sweet Rush Of Adolescence by Dave Bidini

I’m feeling broken tonight, as I’m sure many of you are. Cranked up my Rush Spotify playlist on the way home and played YYZ three times in a row. I know I’m gonna be fine. But today I’m remembering Neil and the countless concerts and albums and angst he unknowingly walked me through. I’m thinking of Geddy and Alex and how they must feel like they’ve taken a bullet in the chest. And of course his wife and 10-year old daughter, and the wife and daughter he lost so many years ago. I’m thinking about a lot of things but mostly about the epic drum part in La Villa Strangiato. Good Night Maestro. You are already profoundly missed.

ON TURNING 50

When I turned 36 in 2003, I wrote this brief blog on my family website rismania.com:

“I’m so bald. And fat. I shouldn’t have skipped so many classes in high school. I shouldn’t have listened to my friend Corey when he dared me to jump in that river when I was 18 – my ankle wouldn’t be bothering me so much. I definitely shouldn’t have smoked so much dope and dropped so much acid in college. I should have listened to my mom more. I shouldn’t let the little things get to me so much. I should be much more bothered by the big stuff. If I would have taken a few risks in my life I’d be rich and famous now without a doubt. I’m a coward. I took the easy way out so many times. I come across much more confident than I am. I’m an imposter.
In a little more than an hour I’ll be 36. How the fuck did this happen to me? In a little more than an hour I’ll be 36. How the fuck did this happen to me?
Maybe if I keep talking it will sink in. But I doubt it.
You know what I notice about being 36? You’re smack in the middle of everyone. 20-somethings look at you with pity and foreboding (“DUDE – you are wicked old! Is that your skin falling down your face?”) and those older than you regale you with a patronizing “You think 36 is old? You’re a pup!”. Like these idiots know anything about my life or what has brought me here. Frigging 40ish idiots. I will be you someday.
At 36 you’re at that point that getting out of a chair is starting to elicit small yet audible moans. When you’re 36 and you catch a glimpse of the on-air talent at MTV for a second while channel surfing you’re suddenly overcome with an awful sense of dread and fear of who will be running the country in your old age.
Its 36 years gone. Just like that. At the speed of light. In the next 36 years I will very likely be dead. Just like that. At the speed of light.
Happy Birthday to me.”

I seem to be a little pissed off about 36. I’m not entirely sure why. I know that likely I was just trying to be funny, but there is definitely a subtext to this that has given me a serious WTF moment. As I turn 50 years old tomorrow, I cannot even remotely relate to this anymore.

I wrote this 14 years ago – literally almost to the minute. What has changed? Why was I so tangibly angry about turning 36? I had two amazing children and a wonderful fulfilling life partner. Those things were awesome. What could be wrong?

Fourteen years ago I was working for someone else. I was not happy. Every day was a struggle with very little satisfaction – monetary or emotional. Money had never really been a driving force for me in anything I did, but doing something I enjoyed was critical. I was getting neither.

Come to think of it, in 2003 I had pretty much stopped doing any of the things I enjoyed. I had given up acting years before when I realized I would never be able to put a roof over my head doing it. Likewise with music. I had stopped playing live years before, and had quite literally stopped playing and singing altogether that year – even at home.

At 36 I was caught up in the minutia of raising kids. It’s an exhausting place to be. I wouldn’t change a thing, of course, but that doesn’t take away from how draining it is to be completely and utterly dedicated to meeting the needs of these tiny beings. And when you are down deep in it – in the weeds – it’s hard not to feel regret. You may not want to admit it, but you know it’s true. It’s not valid, or even real. It just is.

It’s kind of like I turned 36 and had one of those stop-and-pause moments that you ask yourself “Am I where I wanted to be?” And I obviously didn’t like the answer.

But the truth is, I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I never did. It was an unanswerable question. I was judging myself based on impossible criteria. Holding myself up to a standard that I would never achieve. Setting myself up for failure.

Sometime very soon after I turned 36 I realized this, and almost immediately everything changed.

You pretty much know how this turns out. I still have the same brilliant and beautiful wife and we raised two incredible humans despite our best efforts to screw them up. I have a spectacular business partner and we own one of the busiest Managed IT Service Providers in the Toronto area, helping small and mid-sized business achieve their business goals through our technology. We do it really well.

I started playing music again. I play it all the time. I can’t believe I ever stopped. Nothing is better than being handed a glass of great scotch and having a piano bench pushed under you by your friends. And after 25 years without theatre, I jumped back in again a few years back. It has been one of the singular joys of my life to be immersed in the local theater community. I have met some unbelievably talented people who are now among my closest friends. I consider myself – quite literally – to be the luckiest guy in the universe.

When I turned 36 I had a realization. This life owes me nothing. I forgave myself for my own failures and moved on. I stopped being a bystander and became a participant. I am not perfect, but man, am I ever grateful and fortunate.

Happy Birthday to me, indeed.

ANTISEMITISM and HOLOCAUST DENIAL – Ready or not, here we go again

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Just found out about this darling nugget of joy – yet another incident of targeted hatred of Jews – this time, in Burlington, Ontario. That happened about 15 minutes after my Facebook feed produced this video on how Holocaust denial is still a thing. STILL A THING.

Of all the human fuckery in this ever-loving world, holocaust denial is about the most fucked up of that fuckery. With all the human testimony, photos, film, physical evidence, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc….. that is easily available today, there is a growing number of feeble minded mud slitherers who are actually buying into this shit.

11149479_10153287507526171_1734370344706042034_nI cannot help but think of my Bubbie and Zaidie, pictured here in a DP camp with my Mom in 1946 or 47. They had both seen almost their entire families wiped out.

My grandmother’s family was rounded up in the Ukraine Massacre of 1941, stripped naked, lined up along a massive ditch and shot by the Einsatzgruppen. After their bodies fell, another group were shot to fall on top of them. This continued until the ditch was full, and for 2 years longer.

My Zaidie’s entire family – including his 12 and 14 year old sisters – died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

These two people overcame enormous hardship to cross an ocean and eke out a new existence away from persecution. Their work is done; their generation all but gone. It is on us now.. On us. This morally lost mess of humanity we swim in every day.

As the level of antisemitism increases worldwide, do we need to prepare to do this again?

WAKING UP THANKFUL

I have never, not in nearly 50 years, been so genuinely appreciative and proud to be living in my country of diversity and inclusiveness. My gay friendly, socially conscious, universal medical care giving, beautiful country. Whatever faults we have, we still are these things. All these things. We are exactly the same as we were yesterday. It’s just our neighbours that aren’t. And it’s very clear that this is what they want.canada-us-tax-services

I will need to keep this in mind constantly as I explain to my 15 year old daughter about the kind of man who America wants as their leader. About the level of misogyny that is obviously acceptable in the highest office of their country. And about the clear cut racism that is about to walk them back 75 years.

So I wake up, and go to work, and am pretty thankful this morning. And I love and respect my American friends as always – I just won’t shed a tear for you. This is what you wanted. But I sincerely hope that you don’t get what you deserve. That would be too horrific to watch.

My Brother Has a Memorial Bench on Philosopher’s Walk

Back in 1996 when my brother Carey died, dozens of his fellow med students at The University of Toronto, as well as countless friends from all through his short life, showed up at the funeral and shiva to honour his existence on this planet.


That is far more than Carey got from the U of T Medical School administration.


He was ignored. Not a phone call. Not a note. Where his struggling colleagues scrounged to donate a small amount in his name to the fund at CAMH that we started, any acknowledgement of his years at the school was visibly absent.


Now back in 1996 there was literally zero support for med students with mental illness challenges. Almost every time he had to undergo a short hospitalization, he was forced to restart the program from the beginning. He was vilified and penalized. Even though he was in the top 3% of his undergrad class, and had ridiculous potential, he was eventually kicked out. A few weeks later he took his own life.


We aren’t under any pretensions that his status as a med student caused his suicide. Mental illness isn’t that cut and dried. But intolerance from his school in the field that he loved did not help.


Their lack of acknowledgement sat with us for years. And then decades. Until my Mom wrote an uncharacteristically blunt and heartbreaking letter to the current administration outlining the poor behaviour of the faculty and the shoddy treatment of the mentally ill students at the school.


I am thrilled to report that the response from the university was immediate. She was invited to meet with the highest level of administration. They listened with sympathy, and perhaps more importantly, embarrassment. They took full accountability for the past, and spent hours outlining to us the many ways that the U of T Medical School has taken a near 180 degree turn on their approach to mental illness among students. Leaves of absences, myriad programs and resources, safe and private places to take shelter – all of these may have changed Carey’s direction 20 years ago had they been available. But this is something. Really something.


A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the current administration that the school had donated a park bench to Carey’s memory. It sits in Philosopher’s Walk by The Queen Alexandra Gateway. It is a profoundly appreciated gesture – regardless of history. If you are down at the school, seek it out and sit for a while. It’s worthwhile.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL – Remembering my brother and Robin Williams

Thrilled that one of our national publications – The Globe and Mail – published my piece on my brother Carey and Robin Williams on the 2nd anniversary of Robin’s passing.

Art Credit: Irma Kniivila

Art Credit: Irma Kniivila

Battling the darkness: Remembering my brother and Robin Williams – The Globe and Mail

DEAR CAREY – A LETTER TO A BROTHER TWO DECADES AFTER HIS DEATH

Every year on this day I try to post or write some kind of remembrance that would do my brother Carey justice, if only to summon the sound of his voice in my head one more time. As I had in previous years, I published it to Facebook as I hadn’t really established my web presence yet. The response was overwhelming – my family and I are grateful and appreciative, and I for one am thrilled that there are many people that are comforted by the fact that they are not the only ones digging through this stuff.

I am happy and humbled to say that the very distinguished magazine The Walrus has picked up and published this story on the website. I am really encouraged by this because any additional eyes on this matter means more understanding and less stigma – which can only be good. Visit the link below to read.

Dear Carey – A letter to a brother two decades after his death

MUSIC IS MY MILESTONE – NOW IT’S SOPHIE’S TOO

Music is my milestone. It has always been this way. My rough-hewn road through this existence is very clearly marked by the music that changed and guided me. Not always straight – not always smooth – but guided nonetheless. You would see many well-worn faces there on the shoulder – from David Crosby to Geddy Lee to Van Morrison to Elvis Costello and Indigo Girls. You would see plenty of them several times over. But if I am to be honest, only two would be truly be necessary to track my trajectory: Elton John, and Billy Joel.

My children have grown up with Billy and Elton in their DNA – much to their perpetual chagrin. They have heard me play and sing their songs endlessly – publicly and privately in every room with a piano, poring over notes and lyrics until I get the nuances right. They were pretty ambivalent, frankly, which I guess is par for the course. But there is this part of my heart that needs them to understand the power and influence this music had over me, and how it had impacted my life choices and ultimate course – and in turn, theirs. This is their history too, and maybe if they understood it, they might understand their Dad a little better as well.

I bought tickets for all of us, but the kids didn’t seem to be too affected. Even on the day of the show, I halfway expected them to try to bail on it. But they didn’t.

So here we are, on March 9 2014, 16th row floors center stage. The room goes black, the spotlight up on Billy as he sways into the opening progression of ‘Miami 2017’. The sound and the view are spectacular, and I am immediately by myself, surrounded by the past 30 years and the dozens of Billy shows I have witnessed. And there he was. Older for sure. Just like me. When I first saw him, he was 31 and I was 13. He moved a little slower – hip replacement does that. But that piano. And the songs. They hadn’t changed. They never sounded so good.

As thrilled as I was to be bowled over by performances like ‘The Entertainer’ early on, I was way more astounded to realize that 12-year-old Sophie was on her feet, singing out loud to Vienna and Allentown, as if driven from some unknown force deep with her. “I don’t know how I know all these songs,” she screams “but I do!!” Well I know why, kid. You grew up surrounded by pianos and a Dad that coped with every challenge he ever faced by planting himself in front of them and playing until the pain dissipated. You and your brother never had a chance.

And so the show went. The mix of deep catalogue and hits thrilled me to no end but did not seem to please the pills around us who consistently cried out for ‘Piano Man’. Nonetheless, we alone stood and screamed during ‘Downeaster Alexa’, and through ‘Sometimes A Fantasy’ shook our butts in the faces sitting around us. It wasn’t until she looked over at me during ‘And So It Goes’ – a solo song about the fragility and vulnerability of the heart – that she saw that I was crying. I think that was when she started to realize that something otherworldly was happening to her dad in this room on this night. Then the strangest thing happened. She started crying too.

‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ roared at an unfathomable energy level past everything before it and landed exhausted on Piano Man to close the set. Me and Sophie were on our feet singing Piano Man word for word as we had countless times before, but now it was led not by her Dad, but by the man who helped create her Dad.

A five song encore of hits like ‘You May Be Right’ had Carey and Sharon dancing in the aisle where they were sitting, and Sophie and I went hoarse during the show closure ‘Only The Good Die Young’. When the lights came up, I was slumped in my chair wet from sweat and completely spent. My 12 year old daughter couldn’t stop laughing and said I looked like I had just been swimming.

The way home was lively in conversation as we all chatted about favourite moments and what albums certain songs came from, or which ex wife they were written for. There was no bickering, or homework talk, whining, or complaining. At least, I thought to myself, these kids had this experience with me, even if it doesn’t have a lasting impact. Even if it doesn’t change their lives, or affect them deeply, maybe it helped them understand the man I am a little more clearly. That would be OK with me.

And then it all changed again. I woke up to this 2AM Facebook post from my daughter:

Honestly, if you guys ever have the chance to see Billy Joel live, please do it. Trust me, it’s the best live performance I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Marianas Trench, and they were amazing. Billy doesn’t know it obviously, but he inspired so many people including my dad. Him and Elton John were the reason my dad started playing piano. My dad learned by ear, and Billy taught him. He’s the reason my dad is so dedicated to music to this day. It’s sad that he doesn’t know it (Billy), but, he’s part of my dad. My father grew up with him. I honestly, have never seen my dad so happy in his entire life tonight. He cried, laughed. danced, and the lady beside us had to switch seats with her husband because she couldn’t handle the amount of swag happening beside her. I’m not saying this because he’s my father, I’m saying it because I haven’t met other people who love him more then he does. If anyone deserves the name “biggest fan” my dad is one of the people who deserves it. I had a lot of fun tonight and I didn’t think I would. Thanks dad!

So my life changed once more last night. And again – as always – Billy Joel was there.

Sophie and Me at Billy Joel