The legacy of Denis McGrath


Reposted from TV, eh?:

So much has and will be posted about the Denis McGrath-sized hole left in the world after his death last night. A small part of his legacy is that without him TV, eh? would likely not exist. In an alternate, Denis-less universe, one we’re struggling to imagine now, I most likely would never have thought about the issues that led me to create it, and even if I had, it would have ended with a whimper not long after its experimental launch.

The origin story of the website is that while covering television and movies online I became fascinated with the way TV is made, with so much control in the hands of the writer rather than the director. I started following TV writer blogs, including Denis’s influential Dead Things on Sticks, to learn more about the process. That lively comments section is where I met the online Canadian TV community and began to realize … there’s an online Canadian TV community?

Obviously I knew Canadian shows existed but from Denis’s posts I realized there were a whole lot I’d never heard of, despite writing about TV. I wrote an article lamenting that fact, wishing for an online resource like a TVTattle or Futon Critic, and an anonymous commenter asked me why I didn’t start such a site myself — a question I immediately dismissed. I had no skin in this game. Just Denis’s voice in my head about the struggles of the Canadian TV industry.

I went to the Banff TV Festival to cover a David Shore (House) master class, among others, and while there I sat in a town hall discussion about how Canadian TV should appeal more to international audiences. I wondered why networks weren’t more concerned with letting me know about these shows first. Through it all Denis was a sounding board and a huge influence in my understanding of the issues at play, and he encouraged my attempts to write about them from the audience perspective.

That was when I quietly put up a bare-bones site and started posting stories and media releases about Canadian shows. I let a few people know, including Denis. I’m grateful to many but his support meant everything. He championed the idea from the first, and through his influence helped make it and me feel part of that Canadian TV online community almost immediately. What started as a whim suddenly felt valuable, because he saw value in it.

Through the years the TV, eh? charity auctions benefited enormously from his contributions, his bids, and his promotion. He harassed industry folks to donate and his followers to bid, helping raise thousands of dollars for Kids Help Phone. He was a tireless promoter of the fundraising campaign that helped relaunch the site after I’d closed it down a couple years ago. I don’t think anyone escaped his haranguing to contribute what they could.

We ranted at the crazy industry together and drove each other crazy at times. But he was always supportive and generous with the site and with me. We dated for a time, years ago, but long after that he continued to offer support and advice. Some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me came from him. He valued some core things about me that others have occasionally tried to make me feel badly about, and I keep his voice in my head at those times. He had a big voice and a bigger heart, and he leaves an enormous legacy.

I wish everyone and every cause could have a champion like Denis McGrath. I wish for his wife, family, friends and colleagues some comfort that a Canadian TV community he helped create is grieving with them.

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Swimming with sharks in the Galapagos

 

There came a point in the trip where I questioned the wisdom of swimming toward the man yelling “shark!” That point came later than you might expect.

I’d only been snorkeling once before, years before, from the beach in Cozumel. I mostly remembered feeling claustrophobic and sunburned, plus marveling at the colourful fish.

In the Galapagos, our group was swimming with the sharks. And the turtles, jellyfish, sea lions, an octopus, a penguin or two, and even more colourful fish. When one of us would see something exciting we’d yell for the group to come see, but usually it was our guide who spotted them first. Including a lot of sharks. And once, toward the end of that outing, the logical part of my brain started overruling the awe-struck part of my brain and I started to hyperventilate, logically.

That’s when I fell in love with snorkeling. I realized the claustrophobia, the struggle to calm my breath, the healthy fear of sharks, had all disappeared until I felt like a privileged guest in this underwater world.

The Galapagos Islands had been near the top of my travel wish-list forever. I knew of Darwin’s evolution epiphanies, the diversity of animals unique to the volcanic islands – blue footed boobies! giant tortoises! marine iguanas! sea lions as far as the eye can see! – and the remoteness which makes traveling there more difficult (and expensive).

I didn’t realize how many people live in the collection of islands, but meeting locals helped me feel like a privileged guest in their world as well. Except in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, whose town centre felt like every port of call, tacky tourist shops and all.

I have an aversion to cruises so when the opportunity came up to finally go to the Galapagos, I landed on the Galapagos Unbound trip from ROW Adventures. For a couple of nights we slept in tents on an isolated beach close to sea lions and hermit crab tracks, and the rest of the time in charming hotels (and charming is not code for dilapidated in this case).

It was my first time with that company and it was a mostly positive experience. It helped that I was one of the last people standing amid the gastroenteritis that blazed through our small group.

In the initial kayaking excursion, my friend and I were champions in our first time paddling together. The second excursion … well, we didn’t capsize or get swept out into the open ocean, but not for want of trying. Because we had seemed to know what we were doing the first time, our guides left us behind to fend for ourselves so we finally arrived at the destination exhausted and cranky.

But then we went snorkeling again, and crankiness couldn’t survive in this volcanic landscape inhabited by otherworldly creatures.

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Cramming in Kauai

 

“Oh shit!”

I heard the words and so never did see the wave that inspired them. When your raft captain yells an expletive, you know to hang tight to the rope and duck your head. You also know the heightened sense of adventure is what you paid for, so no panic necessary.

The Na Pali coast is the most spectacular feature of Kauai, and that’s saying something considering the Hawaiian island is also the home of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon. The Na Pali cliffs, standing up to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), dwarf even the ocean below. And the ocean sure dwarfed the 14-person inflatable raft we were clinging to.

The bumpiness factor was nothing compared to some trips, we were assured, yet we also knew that if ocean conditions are too rough along the Na Pali coast, the rafts are diverted south, or cancelled. Capt. Andy’s offers more sedate catamaran tours, and they are serious about making you consent over and over again to having no medical issues that would be exacerbated by bouncing on the ocean for four hours, but the little inflatable vessels are closer to the water and therefore to the numerous Spinner dolphins and sea turtles we encountered (I may have squealed every time one broke the surface), and rafts can be maneuvered into the caves carved into the cliffs. I have no regrets. After hours of clenching the rope in a death grip, my hands might disagree.

That was just one of the Kauai adventures I crammed into three days. As a travel junkie with not unlimited funds to indulge the habit, I wonder about the wisdom of subscribing to YVR Deals’ email list. (The man behind the deals, Chris Myden, also runs sites for flights originating from several other Canadian cities). How could I resist a $300 flight – including taxes – to Hawaii, even if limited vacation time and budget for such spontaneity meant only three days on the ground? I’m not a beach person, but I have turned into something of a beach-adjacent person.

I went kayaking on the calm Hanalei river, snorkeled and tiptoed around a sleeping seal in Poipu, hiked near the colourful Waimea Canyon, and took a surfing lesson from the Kauai Surf School – which turned out to be more of a boogie boarding lesson, but maybe next time I’ll actually stand up. And then in accidentally perfect timing, just before getting on the big plane home I took a small plane tour over the island with Wings Over Kauai, seeing from the air what I’d just seen from the ground, a new perspective of those stunning cliffs and canyon, of Hanalei Bay, and of Mount Waialeale, one of the rainiest spots on earth (like, even rainier than Vancouver).

Kauai is a small island — fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands and geologically oldest— but from above it was easy to see I had covered a lot of ground in three days – and a fair bit of bumpy ocean.

BTW:

  • No-fuss kayaking: Unlike some rental places, Kayak Hanalei has a private dock leading to the water, meaning you don’t have to strap a boat to your rental car. Reservations aren’t required for rentals, which are for 24 hours; if you rent later in the day (a discount is available after 1 pm) you can come back the following day for more. Stand-up paddle boards are available, and they offer tours as well.
  • A meal to remember: For the most part we grabbed fish tacos and shaved ice on the run, or threw together our own meals, but dinner at Art Cafe Hemingway in Kapaa was a lovely indulgence. My tongue still dreams about the baked pear with blue castello cheese, pine nuts and thyme honey.
  • Mobile massage: After getting buffeted by the ocean in various ways, a lomi lomi massage was the perfect way to end a day. Aloha Massage Kauai will come to you, or they have studios in some of the major centres. You can even book online.
  • Water water everywhere, but where to shower? What to do if your flight home is in the evening, you checked out of your accommodation in the morning, and in between you’ve coated yourself in layers of sunscreen, sand and salt? One option is to savour the sticky/gritty combination on your flight home. But a free option to get all your crevices clean without shocking bystanders is the showers at the Lydgate campground not far from the airport. They offer more privacy than the ubiquitous open-air beach showers, which are more suitable for a quick rinse than a full shampoo and soap job.
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