Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Christmas Story

Christmas is not my favorite time of the year.  In fact, other than getting all mental about finding perfect gifts, I would be happy to do away with it forever.  But if I look back, and dig through this primates treasure chest of memories, there is one that sticks out.  This is the story of Christmas of 1988.

It was a bitter winter, not a lot of snow, but biting winds, kind of like this year.  I remember it well because I was homeless at the time, so other than escaping into a mall, briefly before security kicked me out, the evil wind was all I knew.

Every one of us criminals and urchins knew every corner that offered respite from the wind, and we jockeyed for place in our hidey spaces.  It was so bad that people fought over alley ways.  No one was mean; it was simply the difference between being cold and dying.  Not one of us felt being in a house was an option.

We were a rag-tag bunch of punk and metal youth, old war veteran winos and the homeless crazy population (made homeless that year by a change in the law).  Everyone had been working overtime panhandling, pulling double shifts in the cold wind, because there are more shoppers out that time of year, and they sometimes feel more inclined to give.

Between the holiday spirit/guilt and our shivering blue fingers, it was a veritable gold rush in the panhandler belt.  Even those of us that possessed excellent theft skills, sometimes came out on the street to reap the wealth of a populace that suddenly felt benevolent to us.  I even remember one guy, who we all feared because he was violent, and even he gave up “rolling” (violent muggings) to come panhandling with us.

It’s lost on understanding today, but we even wrapped presents for each other.  Mostly it was strange stuff that suited someone, or crazy things people believed in.  One of my friends collected 317 bottlecaps and wrapped them for a girl he was in love with.  She thought bottle caps were the only way to save a human soul and cried when she opened his gift.  (As an aside, she never accepted his love).

We weren’t alone.  During the so-called “fatcat” years of government, there were social agencies tasked with helping us out.  Mostly this was silly money pseudo-spent, and scary bureaucrats running the programs.  But there were a couple of people who really felt for the strange addled people of the street.

In December of 1988, budgets were being slashed, people were being fired.  It was completely a duck and cover situation. 

Everyone had an excuse to forget us on the street.

I hate to have memory die, and most of my memories seem to be dying—aging or killed brain cells, who knows?  I am trying to remember back then, the lone social worker who was trying to save us from ourselves that night, and who forsook his own Christmas to be down in the trenches with us.  His name was James Mullen.  He did not take the easy way out.

Its troubling to think of him now.  He was, at the time, in his mid thirties, past troubles with alcohol himself, and totally devoted to trying to make the streets less lethal to us; he was grumpy and impatient and a growly brother to us all.  he was a great bear on the street filled with a spirit i can barely describe.  Now, I am in the same age bracket and wonder what I have accomplished.  James may have very well saved me from myself or the streets.  I’m not sure I have given back.

I don’t know what the streets are like now, they seem cold and vicious with crack, but maybe it only looks that way because I am now a citizen, and just see scary street people.  But back then, we were dropping off like flies: suicide, overdose, car accidents.  James was trying to instill a sense of life into us.  He was trying to save us.

On that wintery 1988 night, boisterous James rallied every one of us: stinking kids, limping drunk vets and even the crazy folk; and we went to the movies.  Yes, having no hearth to go to, James brilliantly came up with the idea of the magic shadows for us.  It was a long pilgrimage down Rideau Street, constantly collecting our fallen.  I stumbled along, and someone put acid in my mouth to keep me going.   The theatre didn’t even want to let us in, and James had to vouch for all of us so we could go.  It was on his ass if we behaved badly—and badly was our specialty.

And we couldn’t quiet ourselves down, couldn’t behave like citizens;  we were just too excited.  We were like a mange of animals, and we laughed and caroused throughout the film. . None of us thanked him, we ran off to the next mania of the night.  But we all stayed alive, and we got to cavort in a togetherness that we should have had but rarely did.  It was Christmas.  And thanks to James, every forgotten soul got to feel good at Christmas that year.  In retrospect, I only feel sad that we abandoned him after, after all, he too was a lonely soul.  I hope he took pleasure in our zoo-like frenetic.

In 1988, James acted as our shepherd, and distracted us from the holocaust of pain that is the alone, demon plagued, homeless person on christmas eve.  And while never being saccharine or paternal, brought us all to a theatre, and made us feel like we were together.  When I try and summon a warm feeling for Christmas, it is back to that year that I remember.  That is my nativity.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cannonball III

Pajiba, the site of Scathing Reviews and Bitchy People, annually commences a marathon of reading—peculiar if you ask me as it distracts from watching movies and television, which is their main source of bread and butter—and it is that time of year:  The Cannonball Read 3.0

Anyone and everyone are encouraged to join in.

The seed idea is to read 52 books over the course of a year and post a review of each book to a blog.   The review doesn’t have to meet London Review standards.  It can be just a few paragraphs about the book and what the reader thought of it.  Pajiba provides links to all the nerdy bookworm’s blogs, and once or twice a week will post a particularly yummy review up on Pajiba.  For every participant who uploads 52 book reviews to a blog, Pajiba makes a donation to the education fund for the child of beloved passed-away member, Alabama Pink who was an inspired reader and eloquent commenter on the site.  By the time that kid grows up, not only will a hoard of strangers get her to college, but said hoard will be less illiterate and more connected too.

Evolving to address the needs of a busy overtaxed populace, the Cannonball Read wants everyone who ever has ink stained fingers to feel welcome and will accommodate those who only feel bold enough to shoot  for a half(26) or quarter(13) cannonball. 

I believe, the idea is that even if you only manage to read and write on 3 books over the course of a year, that’s still pretty cool, literate, and interactive.  Unlike job interviews and dodging traffic, at Cannonball success is inconsequential and effort and enthusiasm are everything.  Completion is just gravy.

When I was only knee-high to a house, I used to read 2-3 books a week, but then other responsibilities kicked in and knocked it back to less than 1 per week.  Recent years of exhaustion have driven me to that ultimate narcotic, the television, and I am lucky if I read a dozen books in a year that are not scholastically related.  So, in a fit of disgust for my cathode ray wallowing  filth (what, I can’t afford a flat screen), I’ve signed on to the good ship Cannonball.  I am one lazy sumbitch so I am holding firm on the enthusiasm clause.

Feel free to follow or join in.  Crack open a book, and like Pandora famously quipped, “What harm can just opening it do?”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bah, The Humbug

I recently shared some email convo with a good friend.  I asked him to come see a theatre showing of It's A Wonderful Life, put on specially for Christmas.  For me, it is a favorite film, loved unconditionally. But I never thought of it from his point of view.  Then he told me how the movie looked to him.    

I now feel sort of embarassed.  This movie is truly about my buddy.  The little guy that keeps working and never took the big dollar or the easier path.  The little guy who makes a difference and gets little recognition.  The little guy who could use an angel to tell him how the shit is.  I watch this every year feeling all goopy inspired and yet I am a shiftless pisspot, while my friend is the hardest working guy I know. 

I'm sure some people might roll their eyes because my bud is vociferous in his complaining about how the world works, but unlike so many other complainers, he actually works in the system and tries to make it better.  So, in my book, he actually has more of a leg to stand on when it comes to being frustrated.

I bawl my eyes every year to It's A Wonderful Life.  I bought my own copy so I wouldn’t have to rely on cable to play it.  I even shed my tears for at least half a dozen other Frank Capra heart grabbers about the enduring little good guy now that dvd makes them available.  Yet, I give little thought to the mythology or other christmas mythologies we get out of our hearth-like light boxes.

I  watched the christmas episode of Warehouse 13, a light actiony sci-fi show.  It was a stand alone Christmas episode independent of it's series run.  It was warm and saccharine and played out a modern myth of the busy wealthy business man who provides for, but isn’t present for his kids.

It’s the opposite of the box-office failure that Wonderful Life was.  This man has a family, but is too busy improving the world(through designing shopping malls) to spend time with them.  In today's mythology, the demands of the evil corporation has robbed the man of his family and values.  He is too busy making money to treasure his family.  Not really a Scrooge, just engulfed in an economic system  Despite his pure motives of earning for his children, they are left behind.  This is the polar opposite of Jimmy Stewart who was focused on making his small town livable, one home at a time, inspired by and shored up by his family. 

Today, I question both myths.  I wonder, thinking of my classic movie and this new tv show, which is suited to reality today?  Are families wealthy beyond reason and lacking their fathers who are slaves to the boardroom?   Are hard working men without recognition out there making the world a better place?  Or are fathers unemployed and sometimes cast out of their homes? Or underpaid humiliated peons to the service industry?  How many dads are still employed in these fantasy jobs envisioned in christmas specials?  How much of the Credit Crisis stems from families stressfully trying to make christmas as bountiful as it looks on tv.

Jimmy Stewart was sweating to bail out poor families back when his company was threatened by a local rich company  The fantasy was that the people actually supported him because of all he had done for them.  Today, big companies reap untold wealth by robbing us of our lives while still we vote for governments that serve them.  They are enriched while our families shatter.  We are left with a sham dream of glitz and wealth and no community to fall back on

I'm always a crank, first to shout foul at the universe.  I've even just curmudgeoned my own holiday favorite.   Ah well, that's me. 

My little Christmas rant goes out warmly to my friend who actually does the work that keeps my world going and always does his best regardless of a mistifyingly indifferent populace.  Hey man, you know who you are, merry tidings!.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Believe. . .

American Thanksgiving is upon us.  I  came across a column suggesting that the things that we are truly thankful for are things we believe in.  It asked readers to respond, not with thanks, but with statements of belief.

In recent years I have felt my beliefs shattered by various tolls my life has collected and it would have been much easier for me to drum up a simple thank you for something inconsequential than find and declare a heartfelt  belief.  This in itself is disturbing on reflection.  So, I struggled with this one, and here is that struggle:

I Believe . . .

I believe in the healing power of cartoons, of childlike glee in stories, in colour, in magic, in possibility.

I believe in the beauty of solitude, the fortitude of good friends and the curative bloom generated by intimacy.  I believe in abiding resilience during the absence of solitude, good friends and intimacy.

I believe milk is not only an excellent source of nutrition but also soul pleasing manna from the gods. Only fools relegate it to children.

I believe Jazz encompasses the neediest depths of subversion and the loftiest cries to the Numen.  I believe Jazz will always speak to me when words have failed.I believe Jazz  holds when my circle is broken.

I believe we, humanity collected, are nigh on either a revolution of cooperative austerity or else a nightmare of violent competition in proportions that history has never imagined.

I believe taking my crap out on others spreads a virulent malaise, and that the slightest gesture I make in compassion or even amiability is a twice as virulent benevolence.  I believe this is important to remember when considering whether to smile in any situation.

I believe Trickster is exquisitely comfortable in the paradox of guiding me to be a better self while at the same time constantly tossing me to the wolves for entertainment's sake. I believe Trickster doesn't hold with karma (just as well in my instance) but does believe in the instructive nature of serendipity, mischief, satire, graveyard humour and the intrinsic value of every pathway. I believe Trickster always has time to either snicker at me or pick me up, or both.  I believe He never gives up and for all his tomfoolery, he never casts judgment.

I believe in endurance. People say fail and fail again at worthy tasks. I say, there is no shame in beckoning off of pain and suffering, yet, if I should happen to keep plodding there is always such curious wonder to experience in failure or success. If through even no fault of my own, I come through a storm, I hold riches to lay before me and carry into the next storm.

I believe that the lowly ant that turns our soil and the lowly plankton that conjures our atmosphere  are far more important than our legends and myths, and infinitely more important than our politics and economics.  I pray we honour them and not snuff them out.

I believe music both relieves me of my emotional turmoil and opens doorways to me when I have cloistered myself from such vital meaning.  Music is the easiest thing I can point to to support a spiritual argument.

I believe, at the greater scale, our policies must be long sighted and sometimes difficult, even unpopular, while at the intimate level we all ought be compassionate and share in both success and grief.  I believe we can neither escape the difficulties of life nor the constraints of space, but we can choose wisely for the people that will call us ancestors, while acknowledging the people who live today.

I believe a plant in my room that I need to water occasionally might mean the difference between my life and death during prolonged periods of depression or isolation. I believe this offers me an instance to think of the power of plants and how they connect to me.  I believe that without plants, my feelings would very quickly be moot.

I believe in dancing;  dancing for love and for frustration and for anger and for God and for sex and for boredom and for exercise, but not for protest or meaningful political discourse.   I believe if you can move, or imagine moving and in your mind you can hear two sticks banging together, then you can dance for a myriad of reasons or none at all. I believe it is a mistake, like fashion or theatre or easy slogans to consider dance as a weapon of social change.  Social change is not a byproduct of my entertainment, but dance might sustain me during ugly times as long as when I am not dancing I attend to matters.

I believe in dogs. They have been our partners in survival for 40 000 years. I believe we need to listen to them even more than we need to love them.

I believe wood grain, shell matrices and stone strata contain more beauty than architecture.

I believe learning to grow food really enriches me, yet frightens me about how lazy and disconnected I am. I believe I might probably never grow food again alone, but it is within my small mind to imagine doing so within a connected group and perhaps that is worth noting for what it tells me.

I believe that when I reach the point in life that I am upon meeting my vision of a maker, I will reflect on a great many things. Whole paradigms will shift. Regrets will be visceral.  In this moment, if I get to really see my entire life before my eyes in candid detail, I might rethink a great many things. Every time I take a few minutes to try and imagine this scenario I will be gifted with the greatest wealth ever, and have the opportunity to rethink my next few actions.

I believe the cult of actualization, esteem and personal satisfaction look really excellent on paper but paper burns away in an instant while service, sharing and bonding are instantaneously immortal.

I believe that calling in sick on a rainy day and snugging into bed with comfort food and a well loved book is quite a bit more meaningful than most of what I usually fill my day with. This tells me that every day I need to think about how to shift the balance, not toward comfort, but toward meaning. I have just my sole voice to rail against my own complacence.  It is worth listening to.

I believe I neglect bounty and wisdom and I forsake truly wondrous opportunities because I allow myself to be consumed by places I wish I hadn’t been, places I think I ought be, and places I think I should one day arrive at.  I redouble the ferocity of these crippling mental maps with fear and shame and only occasionally resist.   I believe my best moments are when I let all that go and respond to the world spontaneously, even though whenever I do so, I feel a bowel loosening fear.  In retrospect, risk has trumped fear every time, in value(for the record).

I believe one day, before I die, the way I feel right  now will be a distant memory that I reflect on with more experience. Will I smile at my journey, or will I have chosen paths that fuel regret?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

300 Years of Fossil Fuel Addiction in 5 Minutes

Here's a short film narrated by Richard Heinberg.  It is the most efficient introduction to industrial/environmental/economic issues ever, but I am mostly posting it to see if i can figure out how to post a video

The video is part of promotions for the Post Carbon Institute's brand new Post Carbon Reader.  Selections from the book are available here if you are curious.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Indigo Vertigo

I have a friend who sometimes unleashes eloquent yet antagonistic micro rants toward the Chapters-Indigo chain of bookstores.   It’s been stuck in my craw of late, mainly because I recently read a bitchy scathing article viciously lambasting Chapters.  Some of the sentiments reminded me of my friend’s ired laments, though the article had none of the pith and persuasiveness my friend comes up with.  It got me thinking. More accurately, it got me defensive, as not only am I overly fond of my bloated book brothel, but i get defensive easily too.

Obviously, the modern parable about the big corporate bully driving the little guy out of the sandbox has some merit. But I never feel that argument in Ottawa—Ottawa is so bleeding rich and full of colleges that there are still a bunch of little independents and used stores.

But I still remember a long time ago, how very exciting it was to travel to Montreal and visit the 3 story tall Coles on St. Catherine Street.  Soooo many books.  Things I desperately hunted for among used shops, thinking of as rare books, sat humbly and affordably on their shelves, in print.  Who knew this stuff was in print?  Not me, there was no internet back in those days when you still had to be wary of raptors.  Ottawa had its little shops and it's proto chains: Smiths, Prospero’s and mini Coles.  They may already have amalgamated, I don’t remember.  The "good" bookstores were fairly limited in shelf-feet and the chains were stocked with bestsellers, self-help books and those ubiquitous treekillers: the coffee table book (motorcycles, dead painters, technicolour recipes).   What I did not have access to were big sections on philosophy, religion, science, geopolitics, sociology.  I didn’t have an ocean of literature; I didn’t have access to any graphic novels.

(Creepy serendipity:  I just turned on my radio and there is an interview with someone about book retailing, the rise of chapters and the fate of the independent.  Update 15 minutes later, now Stuart Mclean is calling up book store owners to chat.  Ahhhh, CBC.  )

One complaint I hear about Chapters is the floor space devoted to “not books”.  They sell fancy candles, teas and soaps as well as other over-priced pretty things.  I see these things --within the parameters of consumerism--as items people buy for nurturing and slowing down their worlds, and things they buy as precious gifts for people they care about.  This strikes me as relatively benign.

Also in the category of “not books”, are untold diversities of notebooks (the premium priced Moleskin, so costly you fear writing something unworthy in it), scrapbooks, and day planners.  Again, I see this as addressing and supporting a market for an active life as creator instead of simply encouraging passive consumption of culture.  I also see this as providing people/customers with viable alternatives to complete cyber enmeshment > screw the  word processor and outlook calendar, here is a paper calendar with photos of jazz artists, and a cozy diary with literary quotes that you can curl up in bed with.

Beyond that they sell a plethora of bizarre and unique board games.  Again, I embrace this as a commodity designed with the function of getting people together in real live social activities. A real plus in a world dominated by "social media".

Chapters also recognizes that a crucial component in a functioning civilization is regular easy access to quality amphetamines.   To meet this requirement every chapters has a Starbucks—another corporation people take potshots at despite their fair trade price purchasing policy and their unionized employees.  Politics of commerce aside, Starbucks brews serious joe.

I remember when Chapters first rolled into town, there was cry of doom.  Service would be poor; the stores would be cold and anonymous.  And once they had their stranglehold and had killed all the shops, all that delirious selection would vanish.  None of that happened in Ottawa.  They hire friendly talkative bookworms.  They provide seating and you can sit there all day and read a book and no one will come bug you that "the books are for purchasing".  Selection is still rich and while they did push a bunch of stores out of the market, many remained.  They just aren’t a Walmart Death Machine.

Two disclaimers:  1. Idleprimate received no bananas from Chapters for writing this piece.  2.  Idleprimate was not practicing assignment avoidance by writing this piece.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Am Ironing A Kitten: Play For That F*ckin' Money

It’s that most wonderful time of the year, the leaves are turned, the jack-o’-lanterns are rotting, Starbucks has redressed itself in festive Christmas red and school is arching into a murderous crescendo.

While I am too educated to ascribe facetious causal explanations, I do find a correlation between my motivation to post to my blog and the intensity of assignment deadlines. I was faced this morning with the choice to either write something for this space or to catch up on email with an out of town dear friend—the reasoning being I had time for neither so had to choose just one. You get it, don’t you? In the time honoured spirit of self-plagiarism, I realized I could borrow portions from my message to generate a post, thereby maximizing the efficiency of my procrastination!

One of my best methods of procrastination is imagining justifiable procrastinations. I briefly entertained a fantasy that friends would rent a car to go to the Montreal Small Press Fair this weekend and call me to come along and I would be forced to abandon my homework for the greater cause of vital socializing and cosmopolitanism. I stared hard at the phone and willed it to happen, the same way I have applied my will to Carleton University’s union to make their negotiations break down so they would make good their threat to strike. The spineless fuckers just keep sitting at the table while getting whittled at.

I just can’t catch a break.

Seriously though, I’m so frazzled. It’s reaching beyond peak frenzy. I have a paper due on Monday in my population class and it has my colon in a knot.

Background: I got the best mark I have ever received, on the midterm in this class, and have week after week engaged the Prof in debate in class and on the class website. Last week, argument started to become a euphemism, during a vigourous discussion(euphemism) on China’s one child policy (I wasn’t defending it or condemning it; I was defending the notion of seeing it from China’s point of view—i.e. having 1.4 billion people and being a nation whose philosophy favours the collective over the individual).

My Prof stormed up and down the aisle blaring about dead baby girls and an empiricist world that wants to solve its problems by telling Africans(?) they can’t have babies. He was mostly being bombastic and playing agent provocateur—and despite my promise to myself to not keep falling for it, I too was sputtering red faced. I was really out of control. My logic and focus was actually a cut above its normal level(at least in my vaseline-lensed perceptions anyway), but I was hollering and interrupting both the Prof and students. I revved up and started yelling directed questions at the class, nearly Socrates style, minus the stylish cool. Seriously all mental. A very uncivilized ape.

At one point, I thought I had gained an ally, but it turned out that we had awakened a nazi-styled element in the class, who chimed in that international institutions should “get in there” to “stop them from having more babies” so china "wouldn’t wreck the planet”.  So thereafter I had to fight my Prof on the one hand, who professes to believe that everyone should have lotza babies and that growth produced human ingenuity will save us, and on the other hand, fight the pseudo nazi sounding fellow behind me who felt some good old fashioned genocide was in order to make the world safe for North Americans. The only thing more antithetical to university dogma than neomalthusianism is colonialism, so I was saved from being the troll, but just barely.

All that to say I feel like I have to produce a ringer of a term paper for this class. Due on Monday and I haven’t written a real word yet. I shouldn’t be writing this. It is stealing energy from my essay.

And my head is broken. I started out with a theme examining the refugee wave of Somalis in Ottawa in 1993 following the Somalian civil war, and accumulated a wealth of data (it seems every Master’s thesis at Carleton from ’95-’97 was on this topic). I started to drown in data, and couldn’t find the right tone—I was thinking about the nightmare of being forced from a rural, subsistence, oral culture to an urban capitalist bureaucratic culture, and I was thinking of the naked piercing hate that was the response of Ottawa’s citizenry.

From there I trekked over to a more general theme, examining the population composition of Ottawa. I collected a cornucopia of demographic data on Ottawa’s immigrants with the thesis that today’s Ottawa immigrants are more successful than immigrants anywhere, anywhen ever(in contrast to the media’s constant bleet that Multiculturism is failing). And then I started to flounder in lack of focus.

In a completely random mind belch I moved on to global food production and arable land.

From there I caffeinated my way to global population and the apocalyptic nature of growth. I couldn’t find any supportive data there. In scholarly circles there is a perceived crisis in the notion that the global population may start retracting sometime in the next century. Of course this is the same scholarly milieu that feels a reduction in global carbon emissions is also a crisis as it would impact food production (via the C02, not a reduction in petro farm inputs). I calm myself with the Jay Hanson quote that “magical thinking is still taught in universities”.

I saw another scholarly article from an economics journal stating that human populations are proportional to information storage and that to be sustainable and accommodate growth, the world needs to focus on information technology. Aaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

At this point, I took a break and wandered aimlessly around the internet. I found this captioned photo that I pasted on the inside of my forehead as relief humour to remedy frustration:

Fortified, I dove back into the fray. I started digging into China’s one child policy and the unintended consequences it is beginning to reap—an aging population and a more aggravated than usual imbalance in gender, both very serious issues that a society can wrangle with if it isn’t busy coping with mass famine and the kind of feral warfare that crashes that sort of party. I found lots of articles furiously furrowing brows at these coming Chinese crises, though little analysis of the benefits of a greatly reduced fertility rate.

So, that’s where I am now. The paper is due at 6pm tomorrow and I have 18 papers on the topic that are ideal sources for a paper criticizing China’s efforts to stem population growth.

And I still feel like an atomic ADHD sketchmonkey.

And I don’t want to write this paper. I don’t want to write anything. I want to go to a cottage on a river and watch the leaves floating by. I want to bring a bunch of books and sprawl on a sofa in front of a pot-bellied stove warm with aromatic wood burning inside.

I’m also halfway thru a paper on the Huron Indians of 17th century Ontario for my anthropology class. My thesis is on the historical evidence for settled agricultural egalitarian societies. I chose the anthropologist I am studying, the late Bruce Trigger from McGill University, based on the weediest intuition that his study demonstrated this idea. It turns out that he was a Marxist with global impact on archaeology and anthropology and was furiously concerned with applied anthropology influencing the “real world”. In popular scholasticism civilization is synonymous with hierarchy and class. Accordingly, settlement and agriculture lead inevitably such “progress”, the same way over-consumption, waste and throughput (instead of cycled) economies are part of progress. Trigger spent his career challenging not just this idea but how we formulate ideas(i.e. theoretical work). Incredibly fascinating stuff. I would like to spend a year studying his work and the work he was influenced by. This paper too is a towering overwhelming nightmare of too much curiosity and not enough precision. I don’t want to keep working on it either. The whole thing is moot: soon this paper will be handed in and I will, circuit training fashion, jog on to the next station. Sigh.

I want to watch 70’s era Saturday morning cartoons and ponder the semiotics of my televised upbringing while slurping ice-cream. I want to spend the day rambling Conroy or Bruce Pitt Park and pet dogs. I pretty much would accept going to the dentist or boning up on tax law over my assignments.

I lost 8 days of work(and much more in data) due to the fact that my computer melted down on Halloween. I attribute this entirely to the trickster gods who mind me. I attempted some magick that day, purposed to jar me from a rut. Coyote laughed his ass off and punctually stomped my computer into oblivion(seriously, within an hour of the ritual), which did indeed have the appropriate, if not desired, effect. Never let it be said that I am above tempting the gods.

Through magicks I was able to replace my existential angst surrounding school with frantic panicked measures to actually get the work done. I also had to reach out, ironically enough, to my neglected personal networks in order to re-descend into the digitally connected world. The cherry on top was that I was unable to sit in the narcotic-like fog of the internet (which for me includes all my television and music habits) and instead read many books and worked on fall yard cleanup(screw you Green Man, I hate leaves!).

For 8 days, I didn’t stay on top of weather updates, ugly world news, or hourly micro reports on the movie industry. For 8 days I didn’t trawl chapters.ca for books I can’t afford, didn’t troll comment areas in right wing publications and didn’t truant school for the almighty click. For 8 days, there were no LOL cats, spam or online gaming site pop-ups.

With this sabbatical to the tangible world I felt wholly renewed and experienced a transcendent moment of an angelic Freddy Mercury singing about new times.

The dangers of real world, real space, real time utopia were eventually overcome and I am comfortably sedated back in cyberspace.

I am putting off finishing this post because then it means I have to go back to schoolwork and I just can’t bear it. I can’t find any way to rationalize not working on my essay, but I am trying really hard.

There have been so many assignments that there is never a full day to sit back, breathe easy and say “I am on schedule and today is a day off”. Matters are aggravated by the idea that I will likely not be given the opportunity to use this degree in a professional capacity. More slowly and more troublingly, I am circling around the idea that I don’t think I want to use this degree in the given professions it is intended for. I can imagine being an environmental activist, or working on a farm in a small town, or even working in a bookstore and writing freelance. But I can’t imagine being a planner in a society that thinks of megacities as inevitable and insists on the nihilistic masturbation that is “sustainable growth”. I can’t imagine working for Stats Can when we can only compile reports that support dominant paradigms, or going on to graduate studies for the same reasons. I think working for Natural Resources would be equally maddening-we control 80% of earth’s mining and just quashed a bill that made gentle non-mandatory gestures toward international social and environmental accountability. Canada—a nation of malevolent dwarves.

I’m putting off ending this post because what I really need is to commune, to ‘hang out’, to span some time with people, with friends. The last thing I need is to continue pouring over articles with a highlighter, composing arguments that I don’t believe but that support the data. I noticed, researching, that when an indexed article doesn’t fit a given dominant paradigm it often hasn’t been uploaded to an online database. Makes you wonder what isn’t even indexed? Maybe I am paranoid, but its spookily common.

More and more often I find, if I use the language and frameworks that I am taught in school, and I use the data sources that are sanctioned, I am unable to say what I want and need to say. Often I can only say the polar opposite of what I mean. Eat your fucking heart out George Orwell. When I am trying to write my papers for the marks, and feeling acid burn in my tummy, I think of a line one of the characters in the TV show Treme was always saying: a horn player, scraping by from gig to gig, rarely playing what he wants to play; he always looks over slyly at a bandmate and says “play for that fuckin’ money”. He doesn’t say it bitterly or ironically, it’s just a bemused rally.

I seem to be running low on energy to play for that fuckin’ money. And I don’t get money, I pay for the privilege.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blessed Be on Samhain!

I’m taking a class in population geography. Because a big part of the class is demographics, the class exists in uncomfortable places. Native issues, multiculturism and the war on terror(which is code for war on Islam) routinely come up and we all get squeamish.

We would sit quietly and squeam like good Canadians, except my professor is really bombastic, and has no shame. He will, if you engage him, call you on everything. He will challenge, poke and dig at you. I started out thinking of him as my nemesis. And I felt he was a nemesis I couldn’t attack, because he is from Ghana and works for the department of Indian affairs. Yes, that fucking untouchable, from a politically correct viewpoint. So, as a good student who cares about my grades and the money I spend, I shut the hell up. Bazinga!

No, this ape never knows when to shut up, and I started arguing with him on line and in class. On the one hand, my voice encouraged the rest of the class to speak their own voices. On the other, that prof got past my neurotic feelings and engaged my brain. It had been sitting in a dusty corner, untouched for some time.

Fast-forward to the present and I am trying to find some way to segue this into a paste up from an online class dialogue. The professor had challenged a student who questioned whether we want to be embracing Islamic culture, and he challenged the idea that there is an Islamic culture. He suggested that Islam is a religion, not a culture. I’m only pasting my response because there is probably some kind of privacy violation otherwise, and really, it’s my blog, I don’t ever have a soapbox outside this space. So, clumsy segue:

“To be fair, Religion is a strong element in culture. I was raised atheist by lapsed catholics, but my parents unconsciously lived beliefs that would be considered catholic. When I listen to a stand-up comedian joke about catholicism, I relate, big time. More so, I was raised in a Christian culture. Christmas and Easter are high holidays in my national culture, but the biggest celebration in my own religion is Samhain. I recited the lords prayer every day in public school though it meant nothing to me, consciously. Of course, we also sang God Save the Queen, which meant even less. my daily bread was far more intrinsically meaningful than the queen. On the odd occasion that i have found myself in court, I was really confused as to why I should swear on a bible, and what did my swear mean if i was not Christian? I'm just lucky i wasn't afraid of the bible.

One quarter of the planets humans are Muslim, and Islamic cultures are nestled among other cultures. i.e nation based cultures, regional cultures, and cultures of immigrants. As a person who belongs to a minority religion, I always find it astonishing that people can so readily draw rigid lines between essentially similar religions. When I studied religion at Concordia University, years ago we referred to Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions as a type. And they aren't just similar; they share the many of the same source materials. Buddhism, Shinto, and Hinduism are far more "different" than Christianity and Islam. Native Indian religions and paganism are also much further away from Christianity than Islam is, and ironically have more history as being Canadian.

While all the "one god" religious cultures have been empirical, I'd have to say that Christianity holds the title for being the most aggressive and defensive. There is a bit in the bible about who should cast the first stone. Christian peoples and Muslim peoples routinely demonize each other despite the similarity of their values. What would the world look like if they joined together and opposed the military culture or the corporate culture?

That said, many Islamic cultures are pastoral and carry much better egalitarianism than our own culture. Perhaps "Islamic Culture" can bring something really meaningful to the table in Canada. One of the wisest men i have ever known ran a convenience store that actually stocked good food and fresh nuts and dates, not just soda pop and chocolate bars. He was from Iran and taught me a great deal about Persian culture and history and he had a gentle kindness that Ghandi would have envied. Unlike university, this education cost me nothing. His store was vandalized after a terrorist bombing in London. Trace the abstract cultural patterns in that.

Didn't mean to end on a bitter note. . . Joyous Samhain! Blessed be! (That is a religious freedom I enjoy in Canada)”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Von Allan, Stargazer Launch and Signing!

A brief but exciting message.

Some of you may recall, a while back I reviewed a truly excellent graphic novel by Ottawa creator, Von Allan, “The Road To God Knows. . .

Well, Mr. Allan has a new book: Stargazer Volume 1: An Original All-Ages Graphic Novel

On Nov 07, from 4:00pm – to 7:00pm, everyone is invited to a launch and signing at Perfect Books, 258A Elgin Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

I haven’t yet read it; I’ll be picking up my copy next Thursday. A brief synopsis of Stargazer can be found here.

If you can’t wait, you can order Stargazer from Chapters, here. It does have wide distribution and you should be able to buy it from any self-respecting comic or book store.

Anywhoo, if you are in the Big O, the primate will see you there.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Revisiting Fat Albert Again

I’m afraid I may have been a bit flippant during my love for Fat Albert, and in crafting my narrative, lost sight of some truths.

Fat Albert began as a one shot special for television in 1969. Its success led to a weekly series in 1972. Both these dates predate the grim depression the US fell under. The show continued off and on production until 1982, so did produce and air during that deep depression. But it took place in an economically depressed world that had nothing to do with global economics and everything to do with institutionalized racism.

But in a very Canadian way, I wrote about it in a colour blind way. Obviously, the Cosby kids were created in an attempt to include black America. It was unheard of in its time for devoting itself to a portrayal of black youth. The show had a heavy handed moralistic message about topics like staying in school, not lying and forgoing crime. Assumedly, in a non racist America, blacks were still more susceptible to the dark side than whites and required this kind of messaging.

That snark aside, the show was groundbreaking for depicting an inner city impoverished black experience. It isn’t simply the cast, when the Fat Albert kids visit the hospital, the staff is all black, when they encounter police, they encounter black police.

And the show took place in the inner city, a setting that was not a part of America’s mythology, outside of Dirty Harry. Its setting is the same space that in 2010 is the playgrounds for retiring baby boomers that buy condos and shuffle around from restaurants to comedy clubs. Today’s inner city is clean, expensive and well-policed.

But back in the seventies, that same boomer power sank all its money and civic policy into suburbs, and the city suffered badly, and a generation of underpaid visible minorities kept cities barely alive, while conveniently tax supporting the Disneyland that so many Americans recognise as their childhood.

Fat Albert took place in alley ways, in a garbage dump, in movie theatres that were tattered, in a poisonous river that was drying up. It featured kids whose clothes were ratty, who sometimes went barefoot. It featured Kids who were hungry. It centred on stories where kids had to be clever and hard working just to find dimes to go to the movies. Kids who rummaged in the garbage for recyclables, kids who built the things they needed from the dump, and kids who imaginatively built a world for themselves out of what they had at hand.

Long before the gas crunch hit America, Fat Albert portrayed a world that had always lived under austerity conditions.

I always like a point Dimitry Orlov makes when thinking about America. He says in America you feel ashamed if you are poor, whereas the reality for most people everywhere, throughout history is to be poor. He feels wealth has often blinded us to the strengths that exist in economic poverty. People are not islands; they exist within communities and rely on one another, they know one another. They learn and practice a great many skills, building things, fixing things, mending clothes, finding fuel, growing food. Stuff the wealthy westerner knows nothing about. When everyone is poor, the last thing on your mind is any notion of being embarrassed about it.

Rewatching Fat Albert, I was loving the time capsule of my own childhood, a childhood where you ran in the wild, where the community of children had to fumble their way through making rules and finding justice among themselves. My own childhood involved scavenging in the garbage for useful things and even profiting from salvaging electronics that could be repaired. My childhood played in ravines and sewage drains, growing its own mythology about places. My childhood treasured trading crumpled comic books, so we could increase the amount of stories we got to read.

But after my reverie, I just felt I’d left a bit unsaid, concerning Bill Cosby’s greatest contribution to culture.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Did your childhood teach you to deal with austerity?

The sun is drifting away and winter is on the horizon. This time of year always makes me nostalgic and frightened. There’s no conflict there: it’s a time of dying and blowing away so we think of things that are gone. And in Canada, it is the harbinger of the long human-lethal season. So naturally my thoughts turn to times gone by simply to avoid thinking about impending winter.

This moment’s nostalgia goes to a Saturday morning animated cartoon called Fat Albert. It was an early seventies creation of Bill Cosby’s back when he was a stand up comedian and long before America became comfortable with the Huxtables.

It’s very alien compared to today’s cartoons (not that I watch cartoons). It exists in a realistic context and that real world is poverty. Just try and sell that to a network, “hey, I’ve got a show about impoverished kids who muck about in a junkyard looking for ways to get by”. Just try and sell that, I dare you. But this show was born in the shadow of the oil embargo that strangled America and left it for dead for many years, you know, the years where America sacrificed its manufacturing industry to save banking profits. I don’t know why I bring that up since today’s children’s shows don’t reflect anything of reality.

You may not remember the day to day adventures of the Cosby kids, but you may remember the specials. There was the Christmas special, where our gang finds a homeless couple having a baby in the dump because they were evicted by their rich landlord. Holy Christian imagery aside, it was a holiday special about the plight of homeless people and detailed the horrific experience of a woman giving birth at a landfill. Then there was the Halloween special. Our gang loves this holiday because they don’t have to feel hungry (they tell us this). After braving a scary house and realising that the old witch is a nice old lady, our gang wanders home sated, feeling jubilant that they got to drink soda pop. So, no ipods, no Xboxes, no extra huge burger king meals, they have reached the pinnacle of childhood excess because they got to drink soda.

Day to day, the fat Albert gang need help in coping with the conundrums they face. Naturally, they get this from a wino who lives in a park, named Mudfoot. He is a recurring character who always helps the kids out. He’s sort of Yoda in ripped clothing with a bottle of wine.

The thing I find most fascinating is that their home base or headquarters is a garbage dump. In the show this is called a junk yard, because, assumedly once upon a time there were junk yards and not just landfills. Most opening shots in the show feature a hollowed out manufacturing city that pans into the dump. Fat Albert and the gang often repurpose the junk they find to facilitate their adventures. In the same fashion they finance several adventures through the activity of collecting bottles, cans and paper to sell to recycling.

In one episode they all want musical instruments. When all their cash gathering attempts fail they create instruments from the garbage they find in the junk yard. They form a band that provides musical interludes throughout the series.

We have to assume their parents have work, though it must pay abysmally considering the state of the kids. Parents are never around. These kids need to navigate the world and learn for themselves. Kinda like the kids in my neighbourhood so long ago. Kids are kids, but kids who are marched from violin class to playdate and back home are not kids Albert or i could relate to.

I think I must be getting old because I get these urges to recount tales of my childhood that seem magical to me and extinct in the modern context. I don’t think my nine year old would relate to Fat Albert the way I do. It’s almost too bad. The world is crumbling fast and I feel like the resourceful imaginative kids from Fat Albert, and Fat Albert’s time might fare better in an uncertain age where wealth dwindles and your violin and videogame skills don’t help you. The Fat Albert kids will cope better with austerity and the economic meltdown that is only just unfolding. hey hey hey.

Friday, October 15, 2010

If only anyone cared about the thoughts of scientists.

I made a strategic error recently that led me to being exposed to The Big Bang Theory. No, not the one that Hawkings popularized but the sitcom.

I made the mistake of leaving my bedroom on the night of the week that my evil yet retarded older sister comes over for dinner and she lectured me incessantly about a sitcom she enjoys. Fair enough, we are all entitled to rant about our passions to anyone who listens. I am the culprit for listening. Being successful in her rants, she deposited three seasons of said sitcom in my lap.

I immediately became stressed. The box clearly identified this tv show as being the responsibility of the same people who destroyed neurons with Two and a Half Men. Normally, like any other person, I respond well to warnings and would have avoided this product. But in this circumstance I still had to report back to a sibling on this unprecedented sharing.

Fast forward many hours, fuelled only by leftover pumpkin pie from thanksgiving(should I have just huffed the nitrous-oxide?). If I had any power in the television industry I would kill the laugh track, but that being said, this sitcom tickled me so much that even Elmo would have logged a sexual harassment complaint.

Currently, my grades are falling in school because I am on season 2 and I have begun to wonder, what is the extreme popularity of this show.

I saw an article in the Globe and Mail, citing Big Bang Theory as the most popular sitcom on Canadian networks ever(are there more nerds per capita in Canada?). For context, it beat Friends and Seinfeld, two shows I managed to miss and perhaps the reason why I still have enough neural power to type.

Thinking again of my possibly mentally disabled sister, I wondered what people actually see, what they laugh at, and why they laugh.

All the main characters are physicists who are obsessed with videogames(so, Doom bred the people who understand the universe?), and film franchise merchandise. I suppose this means the multitude of people who, without any academic ability, also play video games and watch superhero movies can feel related to the people who keep clean water running.

Despite holding most of the collective knowledge of mankind in their heads and being affiliated with prominent universities, the characters are explicitly demonstrated as completely unsuitable mates(take that, Revenge Of The Nerds!) even for their nerdy female counterparts--of which there is only one(despite the majority of university students and grads being women).

So, they are all titillated and concerned with a dippy blond girl who has come to California to make it in movies(wow, that’s a bold and unheard of move). She is employed as a waitress(who expected that twist?). Again, I guess everyone can relate to the breeding prospects in a culture where women revile men for so many reasons no one can keep track of them.

I guess I have answered my own question as to why we can all relate to the plights of ridiculously smart people. I do fear what it says about us as a species though. To recap, we might have resolved climate change issues, except the smartest people in the world can’t get laid and instead obsess over Boba Fett.

I would get around to saying something with semiotic and anthropological profoundness, but I need to watch another episode of BBT. My only other alternative is boning up on population geography for Monday's midterm. I take comfort that even though no one in their right mind would ever listen to a scientist we can all still laugh at them on tv.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Plug: Retribution For A World Lost In Screens

I just need to post a link to the very best and smartest, yet pained rant I have read in a while. I appreciated the fire, yet felt shamed for my own state of wallow. If you go ahead and read it, keep watching Chris Hedges, he writes a lot of thought provoking material:

Retribution For A World Lost In Screens

I came across this via countercurrents, but it originated at:


And my apologies for calling a desperate plea a "rant", but really, where are we but ranting at this point?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mad Max: The Classic and The Apocrypha

The other night my local popcorn house screened one of those holy of holies, 1979’s Mad Max. I live in a town of cinema lovers and a good twelve of us made the pilgrimage through the new climate’s perpetual rain to pay our respects to feverish visions of collapse. It was a glorious night of scratchy popping images and sound that rivals that of those doohickeys you hung off your car door at the drive-in.

Remember drive-ins: we loved our cars so very much we didn’t even want to get out of them when we went to the movies. That sentiment is significant to the version of Mad Max that got off the ground.

Mad Max opens with the cryptic words “A few years from now” printed on the screen as we pan back from the arches of a really dilapidated Halls Of Justice swaying in a drought plagued wind. With that we are introduced to a failing industrial town limping along in the early days of financial collapse. The town population idle about in diners and trailers, pretending the world is normal. It’s not unlike a scenario a “few years from now” where folk drink weak tea and wait patiently for the recession to end.

The film focuses on two kinds of disenfranchised youth. The first are marauding bands of unemployed young men who carouse and ride the roads on stolen gas. They are like ghosts who mime the things they knew from previous life: looping through endless commutes between town centres and distant factory jobs.

Because we have all studied a little sociology, we know things can’t go well from here. A society is in peril when it cannot employ its youth. Men without a function quickly regress into an aggressive antagonistic state, and men without paychecks cannot secure wives and even more quickly regress into leather pants, motorcycles and bizarre homoerotic theatrical rituals. I know it is true because I have seen it in Mad Max.

The other kind of disenfranchised youth, and I will say here, it takes a subtle film goers eye to differentiate them as they also parade about the highway in defiant leather using mayhem as a desperate stopgap to keep the immense despair of civilization’s collapse from pouring down onto them, are the local police. They recall Little Alex’s colleagues from A Clockwork Orange who trade in their gang colours for a civil servant paycheck(or at least a vehicle) in one of those professions that truly blossom when the shit hits the fan. See, if you had spent your vacations in South America, India or Russia instead of some disney resort island, you would already have a template for crumbling societies where the wealthy retract every limb they can and employ as much of the riffraff as possible as security enforcers to keep regular folk away from the canned tuna and the soda pop. Perhaps that is why the lead villain was named Toecutter—he sought to nibble away at the edges of what power remained.

You might be inclined, in these first few minutes, to think that perhaps you are about to watch a film about the last of the heroes holding civil society together and at bay from nefarious barbarous haters of law, order and good hygiene. But again, this is a film of subtlety and nuance—it’s not just guns and macked out cars. The action sequence that opens the film has virtually the entire town’s police force running down a villain until they kill him in a fiery explosion of overkill. We know he is a villain because we witness him . . . speeding. Not only does he speed, but he goes by a pseudonym(as only super villains do), The Night Rider, and he spouts nihilist poetry right into the radio. This is an instructive part of the film. If you are trying to hang tightly to the remnants of society, you don’t invest in schools or civic projects, you hammer down on the citizens who have nothing left to lose, the ones who've gone a little batshit because they were on the edges that fell apart first.

I won’t give away the rest of the film for those who haven’t seen it, but in between the Village People antics of the Last Police and some bizarrely idyllic moments of Max’s family life, we get to bear witness to the final crumblings of civilization, which of course open the doorways to the apocalypse and a spectacular film franchise.

It’s almost sad to note that George Miller had virtually no budget for his fantasy film and had to resort to filming reality. So, the dusty dying towns are real, the boarded up buildings are real, the deserted industrial plants are very real. Inadvertently, Mr. Miller struck a chord in the film goer by basically filming a documentary and punctuating it with exploding cars.

What is less familiar to people is his original script, the one before even his meagre financial backers got their sticky fingers into it.

George Miller was an emergency room doctor, that is to say the sort of person with an enormous will to work long and hard and face ugliness with optimism and determination. Not the sort of man who makes depressing end of the world films. I have it on good authority from the internet that his original script was much more uplifting.

In it, the film opens on the same scenario, only our cast responded differently.

Being the last formal social institution standing, and inspired by the same “the people need a hero” speeches that made it to the final cut, our heroes throw out the rules they knew from the dominant economy. They sell off most of the town’s cars and motorcycles to a nearby city that isn’t yet so badly degraded as the periphery. They cannibalize and sell off great chunks of the various industrial plants too. With the seed money, Max starts a horse ranch. Miller depicts him as the kind of visionary hero who invests for the long haul: Horses, of course are self-fuelling, self-reproducing labour and transportation machines that also manufacture fertilizer. Goose, in an inspired fit of pragmatism, uses his share of the seed money to start an ostrich farm. The hearty plains birds do well in the outback and provide a steady food supply to the town that the world forgot. Yes, in the original, we don’t have to watch vibrant life-affirming Goose get barbecued. Soon everyone is gainfully employed in the busy pursuit of keeping the community alive and well.

Initially, before they retire the last of the cars, they form road crews who, with pickaxes, tear up segments of the highways at intervals, to make their little oasis less inviting to those who would just pillage their way to the end. The recently unemployed chemical engineers from the plant immediately start repurposing the asphalt for more constructive uses.

The mechanical engineers, relieved from the odious and underemployed duty of keeping the cars running set themselves to building windmills and other equipment that can generate electricity from the surrounding environment. With very little formal education, many of the towns people get in on these endevours. It was to be filmed as a montage to BTO's "Taking Care Of Business"

The until now perpetually unemployed post grads from various humanities programs form the ambassador league and build ties with nomadic indigenous tribes who are developing a loose trading web with other towns. There is a glorious scene where, once the cancerous growth economy is abandoned, it becomes clear how easy it is to forge alliances with the aboriginals. Had it been filmed, the audience could have thrilled in the tension of watching tribes who might have essentially taken control of the economy as pedestrian railway barons--overseers of all trade, but instead form mutually beneficial trade schemes, as had been their wont for millennia.

the third act opens a year later and a majority of the biker gangs have come asking to trade labour for food and are accepted into the town and it turns out there was nothing especially villainous about them.

The final scenes, had they been filmed would undoubtedly have earned Mel an Oscar. George’s script was, even in this benevolent version, still called Mad Max. Just for very different reasons. The film was to close many years down the road. An aging Max has become one of the town story tellers. He entertains and educates the children with frightening tales of how things were before. He speaks of poisonous smoke billowing into the sky, of faceless men in the castles called “banks” who decreed when people could work, and whether they were allowed shelter. We, as the audience, can see his stories for what they are, cautionary tales, designed in a “lest we forget” fashion. There is a perversion of these scenes in the third Mad Max movie, so all was not lost.

The great ending warmth that was to bring the audience to tears comes from Max saying these are his tales of the Mad World that came before, and the children laugh merrily at Max, unable to believe any of his stories because they are just too far fetched, and they dub him “Mad Max”.

The screen fades with max looking up into the clear starlit sky with a never-lost relieved look. Wind turbines tilt lazily in the background, and just before the screen goes dark, we see the soft loving look of Max’s wife pushing some grey hair behind her ear as she watches the children cavorting about over top of Max in their glee.

Well, anyway, that version of the script never got made, but we still got a pretty nifty Mad Max Trilogy, revolving around violence and a lust for fuel. Pure fantasy, I know(it's not like the whole world will go to war over gas), but not every movie can be a social drama.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Canada Day

Youtube video of peaceful protest in Toronto.
Link: Peaceful protest of G20 in Toronto

Not that long ago footage like this would have cause outrage and public outcry from regular run of the mill Canadians. Now, we are willing to spend a billion dollars to make it happen. The outcome: no new tax for banks, and cut the fuck out of social spending. They should be so lucky the protesting was as peaceful as it was.

Welcome to the middle ages with cell phones.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things (in no particular order)

A long while back, a fellow blogger sent me an award that came with an entreaty to list fave blogs and fave things. I never got round to that, being busy with school and other favourite things. So fave blogs is still coming some dry day down the pipeline. But, here are a few of my favourite things.

1. 1912 Wilson Upright Piano. I once owned a piano. My at-the-time-wife and I found it in a burnt down house. I was up for just hauling it off, but she felt we were reformed from youthful shenanigans and contacted the realtor and the owners, who said have at it. Sadly, it had belonged to the man of the house who perished in the fire, and his kids didn’t want it. It was undamaged, sitting like an angel in the charred mess, with a bench full of songbooks, and sounded beautiful even before it was tuned. I took piano lessons and mauled the keys until my teacher, retracting his earlier statement that anyone could learn, told me to find a new hobby. I loved plinking it anyway. My infant daughter played at least as well as me. Oddly enough, it was the same year we found a violin in an apt we moved into. Good year for musical discord.

2. Cow’s Milk. We(milk and i) are currently enduring a separation, but my whole life, nothing has brought me the kind of comfort, joy and nutrition as milk has. Chocolate cake is pretty nice, but there isn’t really any reason to have it if you can’t wash it down with milk. Incidentally, I spent many years languishing in illicit substances, and without milk—the only thing I digested in a consistent and satisfactory way--I may well have died from malnutrition. So, without milk, I would have missed out on some of the weirder adventures in my life, as well as some of the more mundane times as well.

3. Jazz. Does anything need to be said? If I can’t have Jazz, I am packing up my toys and leaving the sandbox. And by sandbox, I mean life. When life is great, jazz is a perfect soundtrack to accompany it. When life is so terrible that you want to erase yourself so as not to make others uncomfortable, jazz is a survival tool. Jazz is everything. Too hot in the summer, throw some jazz on. Blue over a girl, throw some jazz on. Ace your finals and celebrating, throw some jazz on. Baby won’t sleep, throw some jazz on. John Coltrane's take on the song Favorite Things is definitely one of my favorite things. There’s a song in Grease, “Grease is the Word”. In highschool, someone told me it was the greatest song ever because you could substitute any word for grease and have a spiritual epiphany about life. Well, jazz is the word(preferably with milk).

4. My Sense Of Smell. I'm a heavy smoker, and by all accounts my nose should just be an ornament in the middle of my face(thank god it isn’t just that, as it is a big lumpy nose). But I have a hyper keen sense of smell. This sucks sometimes, when your passing that hepcat who fell into the vat of Old Spice, but more often, I have enjoyed the complex nuances I get out of life, from the smell of trees, foods, fabrics, papers, people. True, I pray for the death of the automobile which tries to commandeer the entire realm of smell. But, the smell of tomato stems, baby scalp, cumin, grapefruit, or a woman on a hot summer day, make all the grunge worthwhile. Perhaps my nose is even defective. When it rains, I would swear the wet apshault smells like corn husks.

5. Water. I can’t swim to save my life. Seriously, when I took swim lessons, I barely managed the dog paddle and turned treading water into the decathlon. And skinny as I was, I sunk instead of floating. I don’t go anywhere near bodies of water without a lifejacket. And why knock lifejackets, you can float at peace in any lake or ocean with them. But I have spent more time in the bath tub than some people do at work or in their marriages. I'm a music lover, and being in water is like making a song happen in your head. I believe, when I am told, that once, we crawled out of water. That water love is even before thinking of how nothing tastes better than water if your pale Scottish ass has been cooking in the sun, or you are recovering from a night of debauchery, or worse, both.

6. Opera. Some folk are middle of the road, some folk are extreme. Unfortunately, I fall under extreme. My moods are so volatile, I can’t actually keep up or keep track. Luckily I have opera to help out. I put some Verdi, or some Wagner, or some Strauss, or even some Glass on, and lo and behold, it tunes me in. Sometimes I need to cry, or I need to get angry, or I just need to fully grasp the holiness of sunrise, and opera guides me. If you don’t get opera, you are just taking up space in my sandbox.

7. Animation. I don’t know what to say here. Fleischer, Lantz, Disney. Rene Laloux, Ralph Bakshi. Japanime. Cheap Saturday morning animation from the 80’s. Love. Love. Pixar, Dreamworks. Love. Indie flash cartoons on the internet. Love. Much of life is tedious. Much of it is sad, often out of your control, sometimes sad of your own making. Animation is always there to help you on your way. As much as I love film, it is a pale substitute for animation. And I will go out back to share a can of whupp-ass with anyone who disagrees.

8. Curry. I’ve done a lot of mushrooms, and taken a lot of acid, but nothing takes you on a trip like curry. Some of the best dinner parties I either threw or attended were debauched in curry. My best personal recipes grew out of the local Indian food store. Sometimes, in the excesses of youth, my friends and I would boldly combine curry with the music of Klaus Schulze or early Tangerine Dream. We would gorge ourselves and leave orange peels strewn about and then float around the room on fire with the best spices, soundtracked by space music. To this day, when I get a dinner wish, I can’t ever diverge from Saag Paneer. It’s mostly spinach and bland cheese, but again, I'll duel defending it. I once had an exterminator swear to me that it was curry that attracted cockroaches. My only answer was, those little fucks have been around alot longer than us, maybe they are onto something.

9. Beer. Ahh, what needs be said. The great peaks in my life, and some of the dankest most regrettable moments are accompanied by beer. The best treatise on the fermented beverage was written by Jack London, simply titled, “John Barleycorn”. It details the heights and wells of that most Canadian of beverages. For all the ill, have you ever spent a long day in 30 degree temperatures painting a fence and then cracked open a beer in the fading light?

10. Books. Jeeze, that`s pretty vague, isn`t it? children’s books of faerie and myth. Scif-fi escapism. Political analysis. Physics. Biology. 19th century Russian literature, beat lit. Satire. Graphic novels. Psychology. Norwegian pastoral novels. Anthropology. Disdainful French lit. Pagan studies. History. Indulgent Canadian Literature. Philosophy. Grease thought grease was the word, but the word is the word. If it gots words, ahs a in. It really is a toss up for me which I would survive longer, a drought of water, or a drought of books.

11. Dogs. Everyone who doesn’t love dogs to death, raise your hands. OK, good, now get the fuck out of my sandbox. Dogs and humans have been living together and relying on each other for at least 40 000 years. Some people deride them for their slavish devotion to us, but you have to remember how slavishly devoted we are to them also. They protect us, they hear and smell for us. And we feed them and caress them far more than we ever do another human. They will always come and nuzzle you and offer companionship when you have been a complete ass and alienated everyone else from your life. And they understand the important things: food, frolic, fucking, and sleep. We could learn from our dogs: Live large and hard and bury your nose when you have been bad, and when all else fails, nap.

I have other favourite things, things that keep me going, but that is a basic list. Don’t ask me for the blog list, I read too much to narrow down a list.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fuck Those Fucking Fucks – Treme

I get sucked into lots of TV. It is the balm on the curse of a small life. Some of it is really terrible, like Smallville, yet I watch rabidly. Some of it is damned sublime, like the Shakespearean Deadwood. Some shows cut me to the bone: The claustrophobic dread of the Shield, the political knots in Rome. Yes, it’s “just tv”, not a real art form to be commented on like painting or literature. Though, if you step back from snobdom, tv is sort of like literature and painting combined.

I’ve been watching this show called Treme. I never checked it out, due to it’s unfortunate title that looks like a slang for extreme. I thought it was a cross between Fear factor and Jackass(and if you don't know what they are, then good on you for not being a slave to the boob tube). Turns out it is “Treah-May”, a neighbourhood in New Orleans steeped in history, energy and mystique.

At first, I thought of it as an ensemble drama, it does after all have a sprawling cast. I realised soon in that it only has two cast members, and they do such an intricate dance, it’s hard to tell who the lead is. One character is music, and the other is community. I suppose their union creates New Orleans. A ripe and debauched and crippled city of tight communities tied to the music that drives their identity.

Now, I am an obsessive jazz fan—needs to be said at the outset as it biases my view. So, let it be known, that if in between the musical segments all they had were sock puppets telling fart jokes, I would probably love this show. At least half of the show is musical segments, and they are glorious and diverse. Creole, oldie time jazz, bebop, zydeco, honkey-tonk, classical violin, bluegrass, hip-hop, tribal traditional. This show is like moving into the Smithsonian with a live band.

Some of the character seem chosen to remind you of real players. One character, a trombone player, is the absolute spitting image down to the haircut, of Cannonball Adderly(who played sax). Another character, a son who has abandoned new Orleans for greater heights and is torn about capitalizing on his roots, looks a lot like Wynton Marsalis. He has a bandmate on sax who needs to be chosen for the Coltrane biopic(please make one, he was a god and lead a cinematic life). Treme is also rife with real musicians, some of them famous, and some local celebrities, who simply play themselves. One really nice touch is Kermit Ruffins, a trumpeter, who sings with a voice like Miles Davis (and bears a passing resemblance).

While watching this show, I constantly have to pause and look up references to Creole language, bands and musicians as well as locales. learning what "second-line" means was fascinating. No, this not a distraction, but a joyous exploration and it lets me know that the writers did their work and the producers went whole hog with it. you can watch it without the research, but even if you are steeped in lore, you still benefit from research, that is how richly textured this show is.

Now, if all they did was present visually stimulating music, that would be awesome. If all they did was add to that some vignette/slice of life images of the people of New Orleans, that would make it that much richer. But no, they had to set the bar really really fucking high, and do the music so thick you can smell it, and characters so real, you might know them, and then on top of that all, they did in fact include a season reaching plot arc that draws everything together. It is, in fact very intense, if you are willing to watch through it all. It has to be viewed as a ten hour movie, rather than an episodic show. As a guy who cut his teeth on Russian literature, I can totally get down with a ten hour plot arc driven by a huge cast of deeply nuanced characters.

We all laugh at tv whether we watch it or not. We deride it, we complain that we are being spoken down to, we lament the end of culture. And then something like Treme comes along and sets us on our heads.

As I watched, enchanted, I kept thinking: I know this city, I know these people. It was absurd, I’ve never been deeper into the US than the “Canadian” states of Maine and New Hampshire.

There was something about the mood, the tone, the hijinx, the exuberance. Finally it came to me, it was something about the Joie De Vivre.

Of course I knew this city! Deep in culture and music, drowning in poverty and political corruption. It was Montreal during the deep depression that has spanned most of my life.

I was conceived in Montreal, family driven out by politics and circumstance, and I returned as an adult and lived through some of the greatest times anyone could know. Sometimes fate or economics drives a city under its heel, and cities die. Cities like New Orleans or Montreal throw a party, flip you the bird and keep right on thriving.

I feel tempted to bring out my most beautiful ghosts of a Montreal passed, but will save that for another post. This post was for television. Treme is cinema verite, I know this. Even if it wasn’t, it would still be theatre at its best. You smell the mould, and taste the rich cuisine. You can’t sit still, you have to dance, then you have to go out and find some smokey place to dance. You have to dig out your old albums. You have to dig up your old friends. You have to remember what is best about living.

I saw a trailer for what will most likely be a profitable bad movie based on a profitable bad book. It details a character who “used to have a hunger for life, and I want it back”. I understood the trailer, it twanged my rusty heart strings, but it was cheap pablum. Treme is the real thing. It reminds you about important things, passionate things, delightful things. And it doesn’t cheat you while doing it. It doesn’t take advantage of you or make fun of you, or make you a demographic.

It’s just raw fucking power of voice and song and narrative.

I don’t sling tv very often, despite being a junkie, but I will sling this one. I write this sitting under one of my very favourite possessions: a photo of Thelonious Monk sitting on a curb in an alley eating a plate of beans—part of his payment for playing some club somewhere, back in the day. I love Monk more than most anything and that one unassuming picture somehow seems to sum up my love. When I watch Treme, I get the same feeling I get when I look up at that picture.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

just a plug:

here's a post on the gulf oil spill by acclaimed sci-fi author, and marine biologist Peter Watts:


(there's nothing like being so lazy that I let someone else do my ranting for me)

and an even better one, more generally on governments, science and the environment from Peter's old blog:

no moods, ads or cutesy fucking icons

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Honest Junkie.

I will admit, I am a junkie. And I am far gone too, I will do pretty much anything to keep my shit flowing. And I will go major apeshit if anyone tries to stop or slow me down. Luckily, I'm hooked on oil, not smack, so very few people look down on me. It makes it way easier to go far off the deep end with one's habit. It helps too, that it is a common habit—we junkies all rationalize together. I feel bad for folk hooked on things where people think them weak or pathetic. I don’t have this problem.

I require 7 or 8 layers of oil 3 to 6 times a day just for the food I want. Seriously, from manufacturing farming equipment, to fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and then processing and packaging and then trucking, not to mention storage and cooking, and then waste removal, a huge chunk of my habit is just food. That’s just the oil that keeps me alive to enjoy more oil.

There are other things. Half my clothes, most of the crap I buy for my house, lots of the shit that allows me to have a job is made of oil. All of it is made by oil. Fuck, I rarely touch anything that doesn't exist only because of oil. I can’t even shave without it.

Like any other addiction, it’s insidious. it pretends to be a small part of life while taking over your whole life, and i mean everything. I have a little rubber chimpanzee that sits on my dresser and reminds me that I am a primate, just another insignificant, self-preoccupied biologic organism. He’s important to me and my thought process. But he’s not really made of rubber though, like not from a tree. He’s pure mass produced petroleum, shipped lickety-split from china or some other Asian place I know little about. So, he seems like a grounding lodestone to me, but he’s just another rock in my addiction.

Even my words are oil soaked. An unimaginable amount of oil goes into keeping me up to my eyeballs in computers, hard drives, fibre-optics, servers, electricity. It also paid for my schools and the freedom from fields to allow me to learn to read and write in the first place. It makes the books I read. it gave me access to information about oil addiction.

Much of the healthcare and medicine I have required(or desired) in my lifetime simply isn’t possible without oil.

My childhood lunchbox was made out of oil, just like my toddler diapers that sustained me until i made it to petroleum clothes. My first record collection I ever owned and loved as some statement of my identity was made out of oil. My entire 20’s ramblings back and forth across one of the very biggest countries in the world, only possible because oil was so cheap even a degenerate bum could traipse about in ways even royalty couldn’t imagine for most of the last 10000 years of “civilization”. My alarm clock that gets me to my job is made out of oil, my paycheck is all electronic, which is another word for oil, i spend it all on oil and oil soaked products.

I collect all my favourite movies(made possible by copious amounts of oil) and they are stored on hardened oil. I love burning candles, but my candle “wax” is pure oil. I import endless supplies of random shit from all over the globe only because oil feeds my habit. After i have earned my oil, i have to spend it on other forms of oil. That's how it works. If I don't do that, the risk is all the oil will stop, the best of it and the worst.

I’ve had sex thousands of times and only produced one child, all due to oil based freedom.

I don’t think of myself as evil, it’s just all so seductive, and once you have a taste, how can you say no, if it is in front of you, available everywhere, no stigma? Crist, sometimes it is practically free, and when you are down on your luck, there are places everywhere to get free oil benefits. Can I say no thank you, oil makes me and my world sick, and then risk ostracization? Can I say, no, I’ve broken free? Come to think of it, how far would I have to go to break free? Might I get locked up because I broke some junkie supporting law?

Seriously, I am so far gone, I can’t think of a single aspect of my life that isn’t funded by, propped up by, made available by, sustained by, oil. I'm so far gone, I cannot imagine life without all the glory of oil.

That’s the important part of being an oil junkie today. Desperation. Every system I have is hooked in full throttle. Because I cannot imagine anything else, I am a crazed lunatic, a psychopath. If I am to be frank, I will pay any price for the stuff and its wonders. I will make a nation worth of strangers suffer just to get it. I will kill off hundreds of species a year to get it. In a pinch, if things were hard, i might kill you for it. Do you get the picture, I can’t be reasoned with, I can’t think in long term survival strategies. I can’t think of my children’s needs. I just want more oil today, and the thought that I might not get that, makes me desperate and fearful, and aggressive and stupid.

When oil burns for years in Kuwait, my only lament is the loss(oh, I might pay lip service otherwise). When the Valdez spilled its guts, it was the oil loss that freaked me out. I don’t give a flying fuck about the environmental damage. It was far away from me, and the repercussions were going to be delayed and diffused among all us junkies.

When my pushers said it had come to the point that they could only keep supplying me if we were perpetually at war with the suppliers and some of the competition, do you think I suffered a single moral blink? Fuck no! Bring it on, I said.

For years, whiny cry babies have been saying we will soon run short in supply, and some junkies will go hungry, and that all of us will go hungry in my lifetime. I listened patiently(it’s not hard, I'm stoned on oil all the time after all). When they were done ranting with all their scientific talk, and economic and sociological predictions, I answered the only thing a self respecting junkie can. Get the fuck off my lawn! It’s not my problem. I'm sated in oil and I want to be sated in oil as long as I can be. I like being fat and wealthy and satisfying my every whim and urge instantly. And as long as I can keep doing it, that is my right.

This most recent supply disruption, the Mexican Gulf “catastrophe” is a real fucking headache. My pusher says he has to make some cutbacks, and put some temporary pseudo policies in place, or else the junkies who maintain delusions will get uppity. Fine. I get it, I have to pay a little more for my fix, just shut the fuck up and hook me up. Oh I understand that it is a huge biodiversity issue, not to mention a new economic meltdown, I just don’t really care. I want roads, I want fresh produce from Africa every day, I want movie theatres, I want bug spray. It’s summer now, I definitely want air conditioning. So do whatever you have to do, fewest concessions hopefully, and keep my shit flowing.

And climate change, seriously, I wish there was a way to suck back enough oil to drown that noise out. I mean, I'm not deluded, I know it is real, that is here, and that we ain’t seen nothing yet. In that respect, I am in the same camp with all the scientists, politicos and military guys. Not to mention the insurance pimps. Yeah, we all know, and we all get it, we are on a collision course with a major extinction event, all of our own making. And I know we could have done things to avert it, or slow it, or cope with it. it’s only the sappiest rubes who read and argue in the newspapers who don’t get it. It’s moot. We were never going to get clean, dump the oil monkey off our backs. We all knew it. We all pretended otherwise. We even light-heartedly talked about all these ways we could get off and still get some comforts, rather than going cold turkey. But we all looked in each others eyes, eyes glinting with oil addiction and we knew we meant none of it. Underneath, we actually just wished for even more oil and wanted everyone to shut up.

I'd like to say this piece is a bitter satire, but it isn’t. It’s reality stripped of all the false fronts. I'm not “part of the solution”, I'm the source of the problem. I mean, seriously, raise your hands, who isn’t in the same junkie boat that I am? And why in hell should I go into rehab, get stuck with life the way it was before the industrial age if nobody else is going to get with the program? No, I'm just like you, I'm riding this dragon right to the end. I look around me and everything that makes up my life is oil, and oil splendour.

And I can live with that, I can face my maker and say I was foolish, psychopathic, greedy, drunk on excess, a lemming in the pack, hooked, a junkie. And I can say give me my just deserts.

The only thing I would like(because I never have enough) is if we could all be honest. We don’t have to be good, or brave, or self-sacrificing. We don’t have to get clean, don’t have to work toward a solution. I'm just an old fashioned junkie that likes honest junkies. I don’t want to have to read about distraught outcries when gas costs too much, or a spill destroys a major ecosystem. I don’t want to hear academic ethical polemics about unjust wars or oppression. There really is nothing worse than a whiny junkie who can’t take responsibility for their addiction. “ohhh, it is someone else’s fault”, “oh, won’t someone help me”, “aww it is my whole parents generations fault”. Give me a break.

I figure, we got the life we asked for, in full, overflowing. And how many people in the history of human beings can say that? So let’s just be honest and stop fussing over the cost of addiction, we all know the lengths we are willing to go, deep in our festering hearts. Can’t we just take the ball and run for the end zone?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Purdy Gift arrives back home after a long journey

Today, the postal truck drove up to my house and I was very excited to receive a huge hardcover edition of Neil Gaimen’s Sandman. I dashed right out, only to find a flat cardboard package. I knew without looking what it was. I walked slowly and quietly back to the house.

A long time ago I dedicated a picture I drew to Al Purdy, the Canadian poet who had played such an important role in my youth. I handed it over to him, and signed it at his insistence. That strange old man who carried chairs over the crowd, like he was a young buck before reading. I was grateful just to hear his voice. And then he accepted my gift.

I miss those glorious days of youth. During those days, I mixed with many prominent figures of Canadian literature. I arrogantly thought myself in the same boat. Don't you ever miss that youthful sense that you are on your way up. I felt so strongly about the matter that it was not until I had an invitation from Mr. Purdy to visit him at his farm that I paused to question.

And yet I still miss those days. So, today, the brown package that came for me was a sad sad symbol.

I was impressed though. Ms. Baird packed it flat for Ms. Purdy, in sturdy cardboard. My picture came home safe and sound, as pristine as when I handed it over to the great man himself.

I confess, I got all weepy opening it up. I felt wounded, knowing it had come home. No longer did my sweaty attempts at expression live with this hero. And it also seemed like a signpost of an era gone.

Then I looked underneath the charcoaled paper.

I do not know whether it was Eurithe’s idea or Ms. Bairds, but there was a carbon. Yes, a carbon from a typewriter, do you remember those? I do, all my old poems came out that way. There was an old carbon of a three page poem by Mr. Purdy.

I do not like suspense so I will dispense that I have not read it. I glanced through it, glanced through it a second time, glanced through it a third time. I tucked it back in with the picture. It is still sitting on my desk. I don’t even know if it was published or not. I don’t think it was, or at least I do not recognize it. I saw his own scribbling on the page, correcting his writing. I cannot bring myself to read it yet. I need to hold it for a while yet before I can do such a thing. What is important to me, and what Ms. Baird knew, is that these pieces of paper sat in his typer, he looked at them as he thought out his thoughts. He likely cursed them out. But they sat there in his typer.

What I wish to say about this mail, is a profound thank you to the sender.

I touched that paper. I smelled that paper. I rolled around delighting in it. I had been so sad to see this picture come home and then there were these carbons of a poem. A very specific poem.

My youthful dreams of creating art are long gone, and I may never be a colleague of the people I admire, but I have this reminder of the times I have had, and I have this precious paper. It probably doesn't seem like much, but then you haven’t read the poem.

None of this would have happened, except I happened to reminisce in my obscure blog. The whole thing is so unlikely and improbable, that the fact that it did is magical in itself.

So, here's to magic, to the poetry of Al Purdy, and to memories.