Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The First Face of Summer

The Faces of Summer

©Johnny Domawa
All Rights Reserved

Ever wonder what the future looks like? Face it, we all want to know what the future holds. We want to take a peek, no matter how small right now to see if the decisions we make would be for the best. Life doesn’t work that way, however, as we all know.

But it doesn’t keep us from imagining…

The First Face of Summer: PAIN

It was unintentional. That much at least, he knew. Like another cruel joke of Fate, he just found himself here. Or is it coincidence? Or is it a mere random act of life?

Those questions are no longer relevant. He was only aware of the dull ache that embraced his heart as he watched them from afar.

Even from the distance, he could recognize her. She might have grown a few sizes from the time he last saw her but her figure was unmistakable. He will always recognize her, no matter where she was. Even when he could only see her back, even when his eyes were blurred from the pain of his memories.

That was how much she meant to him. How deeply embedded her memory is in his mind and as the tightness in his chest reminded him, his heart.

She had her back to him, which he was thankful for. If she turned, she’d probably see him rooted to the floor staring at her. That would be awkward…

She was in front of the playpen, a small boy fidgeting at her side.

Her son… he mused with a twinge of envy. He closed his eyes and banished the images that came into his mind’s eye. The ache of his heart became much more pronounced and it took a lot of strength for him to reopen them.

She was focused in the group of kids milling about the slides. He followed her gaze and immediately picked out the object of her attention from among the giggling throng. The silvery eyes were unmistakable in the sea of black and blue.

Those eyes planted a thousand daggers in his heart. He tore his eyes away blinking away dry tears and stifling a gurgle in his throat. He wondered about that dream – daughter he once imagined. Would she have had the same eyes? That image felt like a caricature now… He never had a chance, that much at least, he knew.

Yet still, he often wondered about that daughter he never had…


“Hey…” The voice suddenly intruded into his thoughts jolting him awake. The voice was hesitant, he belatedly realized. His vision was mushy and he discerned a haze in front of him. He blinked clearing it and promptly found his breath catch in his throat.

She had turned and she was looking straight at him, a shy hesitant smile on her lips. For a moment, he wondered if he was imagining things. He smiled and managed a hesitant wave.

“Is that you…” Her voice trailed. He couldn’t remember the last time he heard that voice.

He nodded and slowly approached them, a smile plastered in his face. He hoped that it didn’t betray the pain inside of him.

“Just visiting some friends…” he gingerly extended an arm, instantly regretting it. She took it and the sudden jolt of electricity that raced in his body as she touched him was the same from many years ago. It took all his strength to keep from falling.

He avoided her eyes and settled instead on her son, who looked up at him quizzically.

“Your eldest?” He asked.

She nodded, a sense of pride in her demeanor. Did he see a hint of pain there? Maybe not…

“He looks like his dad.” He laughed and crumpled the little boy’s hair. He knew of course who her husband is.

“With his stubborn nature” She joined his laughter.

“Hi mom, who’s he?” he turned to see the blonde girl with the silvery eyes walk up to them. He smiled. Save for the color of her hair, she looked just like her mom.

“A friend of your mom, dear…”

He didn’t hear the rest of her introduction. The little girl had extended a hand and he shook it, smiling through his sadness. She was not his daughter but a greater part of him wished it… and once again, he remembered his past and cursed himself for the tragedy of his never ever trying.

The Second Face of Summer: JOY

The Games we Play 2

Ain’t life crazy?

It has a crazy sense of humor, for one… Just when you thought that you are set for one direction in life, it throws you a bread crumb and once more, you are caught in the chaotic spiral of its grasp. I couldn’t help but smile with this realization… It denies you and then just at the last minute when you feel down like you’re just at the point of surrendering, it finds a way to draw you back.

And it doesn’t fail to surprise you.

I feel like that horse with the proverbial carrot dangling in front of him – so tantalizingly close yet so frustratingly far…

You know how we all have our dream persons?

You know, that person that we meet in life who makes us pause… Not in the heart stopping effect of mad love or the fleeting spike of pulses of a powerful physical attraction – but rather in the almost random surprising but rather painful thump of the heart when you see someone who you’re immediately attracted to but who is, in the same breadth, someone you can never hope to have…

Just like that. You realize that you are probably in love but your instinct tells you that you will never have a chance… So you keep away and go on with your life knowing that you both are meant for different paths that will never meet.

And when we daydream, sometimes that memory comes unbidden and one smiles inwardly wondering whatever happened to her (or him, if you are a girl)…

You accept the fact, of course, that she is better off with someone else that’s not you. It is a love that will remain unuttered, kept in the recesses of your heart, hidden from even the person that will ultimately capture your ring finger. This fact is accepted when you first lay eyes on this dream person. You are satisfied to know only that at least in a brief instant and in your dreams at least, you could imagine a future that included her.

But life is crazy, sometimes…

I’d venture to say that life is mad…

Inexplicably, the paths that were never supposed to meet somehow find a point where they cross each other. And everything that you once held only as images in a dream, suddenly come cascading down to clash with reality. Your carefully ordered life becomes a riotous mess – in a good way and life tempts you with the impossibility of a dream coming true.

That sucks to say the least…

Like the feeling you get when this situation comes up: As a child, you dream of being a pilot, a dream that might be unreachable due to your station in life but as a child, you allow yourself to revel in that innocent dream. When you grow up and realize that it is unreachable, you bury it with your childhood memories and you become something else. Then when you see a plane, you smile inwardly as you remember that dream. What’s cruel is when suddenly out of the blue just when you are settled with your life, the opportunity to be a pilot suddenly drops on your lap. And suddenly your mind is in chaos – that’s how it’s like…

Life is crazy…

So what do you do?

I myself ask that question…

And honestly I have no answers –

You still have the feeling of being undeserving, that someone else is meant to be that person to the one you dream of… but it wars with the nagging voice in your head that exhorts you to try…

And life seems to toy with you. Like that carrot in front of that horse…

And I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of it all…

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chasing Dragons

A Twitter Poem  (follow me http://twitter.com/#!/@elstupe)

I stand...
Immobile against the cold morning -
My heart hammers in dull thuds
For a moment, I wonder, standing here

The soft and gentle breeze
Carries whispers of comfort...
I shake my head
Like a dark cloud that blots out a perfect sky...
I feel it -

A blossoming feeling whose cold tendrils slowly but surely...
Creep up to strangle -
All notions of a life imagined
The fragments -
Slip away from me...
I could not raise my eyes to follow their passing

There is only the cold embrace of sadness...
Of dull persistence...

With heavy steps born of despair, I turn away -
Ahead lies the long and dreary road of thorns -
I am alone...
Haha (without the last ha)
I am chasing dragons yet again

Monday, August 22, 2011


Poets are broken people who wallow in the sadness of self-imposed tragedies...

Painters see into the souls of people but remain mute witnesses to life...

Writers are people who hide their words in writing while screaming inside wishing to be understood...

Pianists and classical artists are much better except that they are always crying inside...

Sculptors are the sensual ones who hide their insecurities in carnal conquests...

Rockstars and singers hide behind their songs and the facade of drugs and the spotlight...

Potters are odd, but they make the best lovers...

Dancers hide in the intricacies of their choreography, lost to their own world...

Thespians are trapped in the boundary of reel and real, never knowing where they are...

...sad people, all of them... what many fail to realize is that in order to be great in their art, they have to be damaged souls... a writer or a poet or a songwriter must experience pain to create. And all must carry a gaping hole in their psyche to be magnificent....

...such is the cruel heavy price of art....

Lost Thingy

I used to remember the moments when I thought that I had the power to do anything. One of the good things I ever had in my life was the clarity of mind that made me realize the importance of certain milestones that formed the basis of human existence.

People seem to think that I have the ability and the strength to do anything in life. Just a few days ago, someone tried to give me advice about life and a friend told that person off that I didn’t need any. They seem to have this wrong idea that I am capable of being independent, that I can do anything.

It is the farthest thing from the truth, however.

At certain periods in my life, perhaps, I had the confidence to be anything but those moments have come and gone like the seasons. Although I display an outward fa├žade of strength, I am or rather I was never that strong to begin with.

I just hide my weaknesses better and maybe I am luckier than most.

I belong to the middle class. There is no shame in that. My mom almost raised us three siblings single handedly. She came from a poor family with a dysfunctional father figure who had the means to better their lot but chose instead to be selfish. But she persevered enough to overcome rough patches to educate herself and to raise us all. We did just fine, with a few debts that didn’t pile up. We had access to a good education and though I might never be at the receiving end of a ‘mana’ in the future, what she gave was much more precious.

You might say that I didn’t suffer any substantial financial burden. We toiled in a garden when we were young but it was not something that was absolutely necessary. I had good clothes and had access to a few luxuries in life.

After school, I got a pretty decent job that gave me access to gourmet dinners at good restaurants. I went to plays and chorale recitations and although I only have a modicum of fiscal prudence, I was able to make do. Life was and continues to be good to me.

But the sad fact remains that people of my background are probably the most insecure of all people. Combined with a mind that continually weighs everything against the coldness of logic and a laid back personality that borders upon over-cautiousness… one has me –

I thought I could do anything.

But events in the past weeks made me realize that I couldn’t.

I realized that I am no more than a pretender – and a pretty good one at that. I don’t have the strength I thought I had to see things through. I am a slave to fear, it seems…


You start without any emotional baggage – the feeling that you are prepared to be anything. That you can be a husband or looking ahead, a father.

And you start with that premise. That you are prepared to be that person and the only thing that is left over is to find that someone that you would commit yourself to. And then that search nears an end and then just when you want to reach out to initiate it – it suddenly hits you.

A gut wrenching cold feeling that pours cold water over your elation – that’s the closest thing to describe the feeling I guess.

For one, you suddenly realize that you are inadequate – and woefully so. You start to doubt yourself: your ability to provide for one, your emotional preparedness to tackle the inevitable clash of personalities – but mostly it’s about self-doubt about your ability to make another person happy.

And that is the primary reason that stops you cold on your tracks that makes you realize that you are not qualified to fulfill that role – when you realize that you might not have the ability to make someone happy.

And that’s when you realize that you’ve lost something – and that thing that’s lost is the confidence to be someone in somebody’s life.

When you realize that you don’t have that ability, that’s when it hits you –

Life sucks…

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One Hundredth Blog Post

This is actually my 100th blog post. After a lot of thought with regards to the topic that I want to post, I settled on something that’s not mine but from someone I admire much.

In case you’re wondering about who this person is…..it’s Winnie the Pooh Bear. And no, Pooh is actually one of the best ever characters ever made… and he is not just for children but for everyone whoever looked at life and loved it.

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered. 
"Yes, Piglet?" 
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you." 

"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you."

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you."

"We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet. 
Even longer,' Pooh answered." 

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." 

"Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart." 

"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?"

"You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes." 

"Promise me you'll never forget me because if I thought you would, I'd never leave." 

"Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. 
--Christopher Robin to Pooh" 

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them." 

"One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries." 

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?" 
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?" 
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet. 
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said." 

"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?" 

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear."

"I used to believe in forever, but forever's too good to be true" 

"I'm not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost."

"The things that make me different are the things that make me." 

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. 
"So it is." 
"And freezing." 
"Is it?" 
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately." 
"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." 

"What day is it?" 
It's today," squeaked Piglet. 
My favorite day," said Pooh." 

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called." 

"Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo." 

"People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day." 

"To the uneducated an A is just three sticks." 

"Friendship," said Christopher Robin, "is a very comforting thing to have."

"When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it." 

"Hallo, Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?” 
"Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens." 

"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit. 
"No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way." 

"You can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count." 

"Pooh," said Rabbit kindly, "you haven't any brain." 
"I know," said Pooh humbly." 
"For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me." 

"It's not much of a tail, but I'm sort of attached to it." 

"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully. 
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever." 
"And he has Brain." 
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain." 
There was a long silence. 
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."

"Good morning, Eeyore," said Pooh. 
"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning, which I doubt," said he. 
"Why, what's the matter?" 
"Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it." 
"Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose. 
"Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush." 

"Halfway down the stairs, is a stair, where I sit. There isn't any, other stair, quite like, it. I'm not at the bottom, I'm not at the top; So this is the stair, where, I always, stop. Halfway up the stairs, isn't up, and isn't down. It isn't in the nursery, it isn't in the town. And all sorts of funny thoughts, run round my head: It isn't really anywhere! It's somewhere else instead!" 

"But it isn't easy,' said Pooh. 'Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you."

"But Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two."

"The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about." 

"One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. We can't criticize it, because it is criticizing us. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don't know, But it is you who are on trial." 

"If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart. I'll stay there forever." 

"We'll be friends until forever, just you wait and see" 

Monday, August 15, 2011


I’ve just been to a photoshoot for a couple contemplating upon marriage or rather a couple about to get married and I am waiting for the pictures to upload into my laptop and I am struck once more with the sinking feeling that I’ve just lost something.

Not something material, mind you but something much, much more. Like the time when you realize that you’ve lost your innocence when you realize that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. Or the moment, you lose your idealism when you find out that the world is mad and full of selfish, closeted people.

I was distracted for one. For a lot of reasons. My mom is going under the knife in a few days with the result up for anything is the foremost concern. She’s assured me it would go fine but there is no such thing as one hundred percent certainty in this world. A slip of a surgical blade…or a dire lab analysis is as much a possibility as a successful operation.

And then there was the sinking feeling that my life is still in chaos. That I am still grasping at straws without any specific purpose still in mind or a future goal in sight. I am standing on a shaky foundation to say the least and I can either find a sure footing or I can crash into the abyss far below me.

The day was a jumble of images. Church found me barely able to focus on the songs of praise and for the first time, I was rather critical of the logical lapses that Pastora had in her sermon. And I wondered whether my relationship with God bordered on hypocrisy knowing that I willfully turned my back on the possibility of becoming a man of cloth a few years back. I still had my doubts and my resentment towards the wolves that inhabit the church and indirectly to God, Himself.

And then there was that drive to Southwest for a welcome party for a visiting doctor. The drive at least gave me a few distractions – a few jokes shared about Toronto and Vancouver and a few jibes as to the rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary and about our newly wed driver and his month old married status.

And then it was back to the patio with tired men talking about jobs and where the higher pays are. A few laughs shared and a few frustrations from husbands and fathers trying to make sense of the busy life that dominates the Canadian experience. You can see it in their eyes, really, the cost of stress about family finances, lack of time to socialize and the pressures of work. Some could not hide a longing for simpler times – lower incomes perhaps but a much better time at a place that can no longer be called home.

Others showed insecurity and a hint of envy as they try to establish themselves. Like how and when one can afford a mortgage, or how one can finally say that one has made it. Those were the concerns hidden just underneath the playful banter and jokes. We are men, see…that’s how we do it.

And as usual, I was singled out at times, some exhorting me to enjoy to the fullest my bachelorhood and to do the things they could have done but now they couldn’t. Some exhorted me to marry but not for logical reasons but rather offering only the vague notion ‘that marriage is a fact of life’. Because the painful truth is that marriage is not as it is glorified to be. We singles place it high on a pedestal because we want it to be the answer to everything. That somehow marriage would make our lives better and that order will suddenly fall into place and that we have the ‘happily ever after ending’ that we dream of.


That’s the risk everyone takes in marriage. No one is spared.

Looking at the pics of the couple I photographed made me wistfully aware of the privilege that youth has – the idealism that still burns in the hearts of the young. Granted that they were sometimes self conscious (who wouldn’t be, lol with two photographers hovering around them snapping pics – and I a new acquaintance… hehe) But looking through the lens, I can see that sparkle that passes between them at times – those brief glances that hold a lot of feelings that words and pictures could never capture.

I ached for my lost youth and the uncertainty of the future. The words I had in my mind were stifled mostly and I couldn’t help but be embarrassed at my presence there. I felt like I was a stranger that have stumbled accidentally in a field of roses that I am no part of.

Life is rather cruel. I watched in silence as the unfolding tableau unrolled before me. I was mostly vaguely aware of my presence at times as thoughts raced along and my voice was silenced. The strains of a violin player and a guitarist, the playful gyrations of a bridge that for a moment had me believe I was about to faint – and the faint clicks of a camera taking pictures…

The gulf widens, it seems even when it appears to be coming closer. The idea that I held in my head is slipping away with the moments. I could feel that aspiration drift away and I am beset with the sinking feeling that I am powerless to stop it. That distance… that divide… I am left with only brief instances of stolen glances at a future that was never mine. And the silence is numbing.

I am a drifter in life. That much at least I am certain. The realization that I am going to be spending my life in constant transition like a vagabond guitar player living off a single suitcase relying on the vagaries of fate is sobering and rather sad. To have a never-ending supply of friends was no consolation to the greater possibility of a solitary journey ahead of me.

My aunts ganged up on me when I made the excuse to leave them for the photoshoot. They wanted me to take someone out to dinner for the purposes of marriage. I was rather surprised – shocked was the better word, I guess. The woman they had in mind was someone I respected as an older sister. I had no issues of age, mind you but there is something rather taboo with any kind relationship that resembled the nature of siblings. Like how a brother cannot breach the unseen walls of a sister even when there is no blood relationship there.

So I lied to my aunts and told them I had a girlfriend.

The day ended in a daze. I walked the length of Elbow Drive to the 24 hour store for a slurpee and plodded on the meandering backroads of Canyon Meadows to try and make sense of the rush of thoughts that engulfed me. I hoped for my mom to survive her operation and for me to sort myself out of this gray limbo that threatens to drown me. I prayed for clarity for a path that I can finally follow. I prayed for friends to find their happiness in life. I prayed for the happiness of the couple I took pictures of….for everyone’s smiles to happen

That friends were waiting for me at home to take me and my uncle fishing was another irony. We went to Glenmore and cast our lines in the gathering dusk. I watched them reel in their lines across the windswept lake. The cold wind nipped at me as I expended the last of my camera memory to take pictures.

I walked at the lake shore, lost once more in the limbo of uncertainty.

A few gulls flew low… the guttural horns of a barge hooted a few times…

The irony is that I am crossing out a bucket list and I realize that I have lost something. And maybe I really am meant to be a lone traveler in life. Or maybe I am just too overwhelmed that I could not see what’s in front of me anymore… and maybe that feeling of loss is the beginning of a realization that a dream is slowly slipping away... and I pray to God in earnest that I won't lose it...

Dennis Rodman

I liked Dennis Rodman, the basketball player. It was a love-hate relationship however, with respect to his outrageous personality. I hated his hedonistic lifestyle and his loose morals to be honest but beyond that of course, I couldn’t help but have a grudging respect for his truthfulness to himself.

Because whatever it is that might have defined him as a bad boy that has continually made him the poster boy of moral degeneracy, he at least had the courage and the will to assert his vision of himself in his life. For the most part, he has been true to himself.

That is what I admire in him.

Because, frankly, I can never be like that.

Like everyone else, I have certain social norms that hold me back. I am restricted by societal roles that I must fulfill. My shoes as an adult has been made for me, chosen by a lot of factors that have molded me to become what I am today.

Like I cannot say the f-word because doing so would violate the personality that people have thought of me. I cannot be weak-minded because people see me as a strong independent spirit. I cannot be wasted because frankly, if I did get wasted, I would no longer be the JD that people knew. I’m supposed to be dependable and responsible. To go against that would be a sacrilege that would be hard to get over with.

But Dennis, he defied it. He went against the brand that society has imposed on the individual and despite hurting the people he loved and getting the scorn of most people who thought his antics to be over the top, he at least had a small measure of satisfaction that he was true to himself.

The price he paid and will pay however, is quite staggering. He wasn’t a good father, he had admitted. He is lucky his wife is a strong woman and she has raised their kids with a lot of love and strength. And if heaven exists, he would literally have to walk through the eye of a needle to get through.

He is selfish. He is a hedonist. He is in the eyes of a fundamental Christian, quite immoral. Human freedom with its extremes – not exactly a role model.

But I would be remiss also to ignore that he has some good qualities – truthfulness to himself (even when its self-destructive) for one.

I won’t ever have Dennis’s courage, however. And neither will majority of people. The real us remains hidden inside the personalities we show outwardly to the world surfacing only when we are alone in the shower with nobody within earshot.

And I do say the f-word at times. And I am no saint – I’m a sinner like everyone else…

Shall I rent or shall I own?

On Thursday August 11, 2011, 10:00 am EDT

Donnie Wahlberg may have been a New Kid on The Block, but his cutie-boy brother Mark Wahlberg, (Marky Mark to those who remember the 90s) has become a new kid on a block in Toronto…in the form of a $12 million penthouse condo. The posh bachelor pad is close to Wahlberg's usual digs at The Hazelton Hotel, where rooms run between $500 to $2400 a night. Given that the star of Boogie NightsThe Fighter and former leader of hip-hop group The Funky Bunch spends an increasing amount of time filming movies in the city and hanging out at the Toronto International Film Festival, it seems he's decided to quit forking over money in hotel room rentals and instead buy his own place.
Wahlberg probably has the advantage of owning his new condo outright, giving him full equity ownership. For the rest of us mortgage-carrying mortals, however, now is not an ideal time to be investing in a condo in Toronto. According to Ben Rabidoux, financial adviser, real estate expert and author of the website The Economic Analyst (www.TheEconomicAnalyst.com), in most Canadian cities right now (but certainly not all), the house price versus rent ratio and the house price versus income ratio are at or near their all-time highs. This suggests that, overwhelmingly, it makes better financial sense to rent in these markets and invest your equity elsewhere.
There is no free equity
Building equity is undeniably a wise financial move. The mistake many people make is equating equity with a mortgage. A mortgage doesn't give you equity; equity is only as much as you pay. A down payment is equity. Anything you pay toward the principle of your mortgage is equity. Paying interest to the bank is as useful to your financial situation as paying rent to your landlord.
If you start out with a very small down payment and arrange for a long future of low monthly payments, your ability to build equity before selling your home becomes seriously limited. With less than 15 per cent equity, you may end up merely trading one mortgage for another. If there is a drop in the housing market, the value of your home could fall to the point that if you were to sell it, you would owe more on your mortgage than the actual selling price of the house. Once it's sold, you'd have to write the bank a cheque to make up for the difference. This is called a 'negative equity' situation and while it's a worst case, it happens more often than you might realize.
Renting space or renting money?
Most likely, everyone from your father to your banker has drilled the idea into your head that renting is a waste of money and buying a home is the only prudent way to build equity. According to Rabidoux, this is not always the case, especially in markets that are currently overvalued and highly vulnerable to a real estate crash, such as Vancouver, Victoria and the Toronto condo market.
"There is a very unfortunate stigma attached to renting," Rabidoux says. "This is dangerous and damaging to many people's finances. The reality is that the majority of new home 'owners' are still renters; they've just gone from renting space to renting money." With rents in large cities exceptionally cheap compared to owning, home ownership becomes a very steep tax on those unwilling to crunch the numbers or who give into the societal pressure to buy. Don't be that girl!
Comparing the costs
Rabidoux suggests wannabe-homeowners start by figuring out the monthly costs of owning a home.  Calculate the mortgage principal and interest, taxes, insurance and any additional monthly payments such as condo fees. Also add the often ignored but very necessary maintenance costs — two per cent of the cost of the house per year is a good rule of thumb — then divide by 12 to get a monthly cost.
Next, figure out what it would cost you to rent a similar property in the area. Kijiji and online classifieds are a good place to start. Realtors can also help with rent statistics. Remember that rent is often negotiable, particularly if you don't have pets or kids, if you do have a stable job, are a non-smoker and have good references.  Landlords often give steep discounts to 'good tenants' they believe will care for their property.
Most importantly, consider the lost opportunity cost of your down payment: what you could be earning by investing your equity in something other than real estate. With stocks or bonds, for example, you can earn a minimum of three to four per cent with a very conservative, low-risk investment. If you have a $20,000 down payment, that means you are foregoing at least $600-$800 a year that this money could be earning you.
You may be tempted to think that you can easily earn that kind of return on the value of a home, as house prices climb to teetering levels and buyers engage in wild bidding wars for the luxury of overleveraging themselves to buy their dream home. Yet, the definition of a housing 'bubble' is an unreal, overly inflated market where people expect prices to rise forever. Depending on the market where you live, you must consider the risk of when the bubble may burst and how you might safely build equity elsewhere. This needs to be factored into the 'true' cost of ownership.
Save the difference
If you find a substantial cost difference between owning and renting and choose to rent, you have a great opportunity to have the best of both worlds — rent the place you want and bank the difference. Of course, there is no financial benefit if you end up using the cost savings to splash out every month on Frette linens, Fall & Barrow paint and a fabulous home theatre system. The wise renter is disciplined enough to invest her monthly cost savings and therefore build that equity that everyone has told you can only come from home ownership.
The long-term view
If you plan to buy a home and live in it for many years or even decades, you will likely ride out numerous market fluctuations, will be more likely to sell at a profit and less likely to find yourself in a negative equity situation. As for Marky Mark, he's probably not in it for the profit; he has his movies for that. We do hope, however, that his foray into Canadian real estate means that he and his "Good Vibrations" will be here for a very long time.

GoldenGirlFinance.ca is a free personal finance and education site for women.
Nothing contained herein is intended to provide personalized financial, legal or tax advice. Before implementing any financial strategy, you should obtain information and advice from your financial, legal and/or tax advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.

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