May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment
Yesterday the Blue Jays took a five run lead into the 8th, but gave it up almost as soon as Roy Halladay stopped pitching. Later that game, in the 11th inning, they would take a two-run lead into the eleventh inning and still lose 11-10. It was their ninth loss in a row, a quick reversal for a team that spent the first one and half months in first place of the AL East, and looked, despite assertions to the contrary by everyone who thought their team would have been in first place, like a serious contender. In the minds of those who doubted, their dreams have become reality, and reality has fizzled into dreams. For Blue Jay fans, and I’m only being a little bit facetious here, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”
But if the Blue Jays must continue losing, perhaps it’s better that their success has returned to the land of dreams, because, after all, that is where their “winning” can be the most satisfying. Last year, after finishing a disappointing fourth in the AL East, Jays fans consoled themselves with the fact that the Jays were a really good team that just seemed to have terrible luck, and they actually played much better than their record indicated: in fact, they were probably the fourth best team in the American League, not just the American League East. The 2008 team played on in their fan’s imaginations, not only as they actually played, but also in scenarios where they had tremendous luck, not just what they needed to get their “deserved” Pythagorean amount of wins (94), but well above that– and extending into the post-season, where they won the World Series. While it isn’t the same as having actually won it, imaginary wins can be more satisfying because they don’t come with all of the baggage that usually appends reality: questions of whether or not they really deserved it, whether they could do it again in the same circumstances, whether their winning actually ‘means anything’ for those who don’t play professional baseball for a living, etc. Like ballast, these questions drag against reality and, for some, dampen the realisation of the dream. But in an “illusory win” they rarely occur, simply because it never occurs to the dreamer to “realise” them.
One of the greatest examples of these sorts of collective hallucinations is the Montreal Expos’ team of the strike-shortened 1994 season. The Expos had been moderately successful for a while, but in that season they came out nowhere and led the major leagues with a record of 74-40, a tremendous feat they accomplished with veteran starting pitching and surprising young hitting. Could they have sustained that through the rest of the season, into the post-season, and won? It’s hard to say. In ’94 I remember reading a MAD magazine “article” about the strike that suggested the Cleveland Indians would have won that year. The Indians’ season wasn’t spectacular, but they certainly could have won. But few remember their season, or that of any other potential playoff team, because it has been, over time, almost unanimously decided that the Expos really “won”. You have to admit, it makes a great story: the team was broken up shortly after, Montreal never regained its pre-strike levels of attendance (supposedly due to the collective heartbreak of Expos fans), and eventually the team moved to Washington. It was the last chance for the Expos, and the MLB blew it. But the ’94 World Series stands as the only World Series not tainted by anterior questions. The Expos won, and few question it. It’s almost like a fairy tale– and probably one more satisfying than if the Expos had won and the team been moved anyway.
I am not saying that Blue Jays fans should be glad for the current losing streak because it will allow them to dream about what might have happened to the Blue Jays without it. It’s a long season and who knows what storylines will emerge, or how the final standings will look. I say only that the illusory season before the losing streak, the one that caused fans to expect wins every night, and to talk casually about the playoffs, still existed, just as it still exists. A nine, or even eighteen-game losing streak can’t take that away. And in some ways maybe it will end up even sweeter in the mind than the season of whichever team (to its own fans) eventually does win it, because, after all, these are only games, and they have little-or-no bearing on real life. Winning is a let-down, because what do you do after? But in the mind their need not be such questions if the wins were only possibilities to begin with.
May 26, 2009 § Leave a comment
What do you think is the future of humanity?
The consensus seems to be “time travel”. One cannot avoid it. We are the very cusp– or have already attained it, if the Mendecans are to be believed– of one of the greatest scientific revolutions in history, greater even than the “life-serum” of the mid-21st Century… and, I’m sure, equally confined to the wealthy. But to tell you the truth, I don’t buy it.
“Nostalgia for all” will not make a very effective war-cry. That’s in the very best-case scenario, if the technology will really be as accessible as our medial hallucinations seem to suggest. “The power to fix all of your mistakes”, yes, and the power to revisit them too, and to watch them over and over, to relive them… I think people underestimate the necessary attachment we have towards our failures. We tell ourselves we want to fix them, but to do so is to fundamentally alter our brain chemistry so we never learn from our mistakes in the first place. It’s agonising, yes, but also pleasurable to be able to go over, at any moment, a “top 10” list of all the times we’ve put our foot in our mouths, say, or failed to explain our feelings, at a crucial juncture, to someone that we love. Even if the feelings are “bad”, they are still feelings, and it is the bad feelings too that make up our lives. And suppose we go back and we find out that we don’t want to, or we can’t– even if it were physically possible– change our mistakes?
Life would become a kind of play.
Yes, and the most intimate and relevant. It would mean the death of art. “Nostalgia for all”. The slogan implies regression. To that extent, those that seek it are already lost in it– you’ll excuse me if I say they are a lower form of humanity.
Aren’t such distinctions inherently dangerous?
No. I don’t think so. The danger is in enforcing them. A regressive is just as likely to pull himself out of a regression as a non-regressive is to put himself into one. The distinctions are fluid. What I’m really describing is a physical state: today the puddle is frozen, tomorrow it might not be.
So you don’t think that time travel will bring on Armageddon?
Did television? Did the internet? Did virtual reality? The ones who live in those worlds forfeit ours. The math is very simple. You can’t be in two places at once. I know there is some concern that the wealthy will go back in time and re-align historical distributions of wealth… There is that ad-campaign, I can’t remember the name of the organisation, that goes: “Do you want the rich to not only bleed you dry, but Montezuma as well?” And there are the commercials with a destitute Genghis Khan, the Romans, the Pharoahs, etc. I find those spots very clever. And I’m sure that’s what the wealthy would try and do, if given half the opportunity. That being said, I’m not sure the opportunity will ever be granted them. My own readings have suggested that time travel, insofar as we can accomplish it, will be highly personal. There is also that old argument: if something bad was going to happen, why hasn’t it? We are a barrier between the future and the past. One would think that to alter either would mean our own obliteration… and who knows, maybe that’s already happened. I’m comfortable living for ever in an off-shoot Universe that will never come to anything.
So you’ve ruled out the “classic” idea of time travel?
No. I didn’t say that. I’m just not very concerned about it. As I’ve said, it might already have happened: perhaps in a parallel life I was a convict, or a mosquito. I could be a king too, but I can’t complain about the life I have now. I do, however, like the idea that all of history is a constantly shifting illusion. But for practical purposes we can’t treat that as anything other than a thought experiment.
May 17, 2009 § 2 Comments
You can’t win the pennant in May but you can lose it. I lost it early this morning while I was playing on some rocks.
The rocks looked dangerous. “André,” Lisa said, “do you know those rocks are all jagged, sharp, and hard?”
“I know. And there might be snakes.”
“That’s right. Are you coming off?”
“No, because I’ve got my pennant here and–”
At that moment a snake came out of the rocks and took the pennant out of my hands with its mouth. It slithered all over the rockpile and I chased it until I slipped on some moss and fell down on a point, cutting a gash in my arm.
“See? Now you’ve got tetanus!”
“No I don’t,” I said. “That’s only from rust.”
“Well, you’re going to get something. Maybe wood fever? You’re bleeding everywhere.”
“There is no such thing as wood fever,” I said. “You’re thinking of jungle fever and that is a sexual disease. Do you have a band-aid?”
Lisa handed me a band-aid but it was too small to put over the wound.
“Blood is seeping out from behind the band-aid and falling onto the ground.”
“It’s going everywhere.”
“I’m bleeding pretty badly, aren’t I? What do you think that snake is doing right now?”
“Probably just slithering around with the pennant in its mouth.”
“You’re right, that is what it’s probably doing.”
I imagined the snake slithering around with my pennant in its mouth.
“My pennant is going to get really dirty. Snake mouths are filthy. It’s going to be wet and covered in bacteria.”
“Honey, I don’t think you’re going to ever see that pennant again.”
“She’s right,” I thought. “It’s probably gone for ever.”
The sky was getting dark. Someone was pulling a lamp-shade over the forest. It was cold and I sat down on a rock.
“You know, I used to come here when I was kid. This rock here used to be as big as I was.”
“And now what?”
“Now I’m over twice as tall. I’m way bigger.”
“It’s only May and the snake stole my pennant. I already lost it.”
“Do you want to come inside?”
“Yeah, I think so. It’s cold now and blood is coming out of my arm and getting on everything.”
May 10, 2009 § Leave a comment
“I think people are wrong when they say they don’t want the dramatic illusion broken. There’s something about silent film that’s just a little bit closer to the fairy tale, to the bedtime story, than the talkie is. And I’m just more comfortable thinking of everything as more or less fairy tale and then working my way toward a more accurate assessment of a book, a movie, or story someone’s telling me. That’s just my way in. And then once I get my bearings, I might change my mind about exactly what the story really is. I always like seeing the teller. So when I’m telling I don’t mind being seen, or even revealing all my paraphernalia.”
-Guy Maddin in conversation with Michael Ondaatje, May 9th, 2009’s Globe and Mail
Big Fish is a movie with two endings. The first, sudden and revelatory, pulls together the strands of an otherwise tepid and even slightly annoying movie and wraps them into one beautiful, and transcendental, package. Normally I have no qualms about providing “spoilers”, but such is the redemptive power of the first ending that I will not spoil it for you. The second ending, tacked on by Burton, ruins everything accomplished by the first. The former’s transcendental heights are captured and held in irons, and the effect is similar to spotting a particularly beautiful star in a telescope, zooming in, and discovering it is only a moth.
Everything wonderful in Big Fish is whimsical: it is a movie of tall tales, of the power of fiction and metaphors in everyday life. Burton completely misunderstands, which is surprising because the man is whimsical himself. Above Guy Maddin describes the pleasing gulf between allegorical fiction and reality. In Big Fish, Burton takes this gulf and eradicates it. He believes that by doing so he has asserted the reality of the “fictions” to an even higher degree than before.
“It really happened?” we ask.
“Yes! It really happened!” says he.
And yet because it “really happened” Burton is now charged with making it believable. The witch becomes an old spinster, the giant just a tall man. The fictions become dull and lacklustre, and we no longer really care if they happened or not. Why bother? They are possible. So many things are. Burton becomes an unwitting pawn of the “Second Enlightenment”, even as he tries to fight it. Once again, reason triumphs. It destroys everything… the beauty of science, as in all things, is in the imagination– the dinosaurs, electrons on atoms, the beginning of the world– and if we had full transcripts it would not be beautiful at all.
May 8, 2009 § Leave a comment
A heteronym. That is the best way of explaining it. My name, my real name (here somewhere, undoubtedly, in the archives) is itself a heteronym, a multi-faceted glass jewel. Reflecting all of the people I have known and inhabit. None of these people are dangerous (you’ll excuse me for saying), they are all illusory, and some have stronger opinions than others…
I wander back and forth, back and forth. Yorkville is a venus fly trap. It is a spider and it unfolded its long legs, capturing and devouring Lisa’s bike whole. Where did she park it? Yorkville isn’t the spider, I am. I am a cockroach. Who are these fancy people? A bed of pansies watches me like a nest full of angry owls: purple-yellow eyes, deep-creased blue foreheads. One day I’d like to keep pigeons. They coo in front of me, picking through the gravel: from their clawed, red feet, it is easy to see they are dinosaurs…
Today Pessoa makes my eyes wet, though not with tears. I sit at a table in the gravel on the south side of Cumberland, my metal chair tethered to my metal table. Growing out of the gravel is some kind of sparse willow with bark like peeling cedar– a kind of birch, perhaps. The men and women that pass me look over and seem to say “You don’t belong here,” and I look back and they are unashamed to hold my gaze, and I think something unnatural and out of character to these well-dressed people who openly gawk at my appearance (what is so wrong with it? is my pen offensive? my bicycle helmet?). What I think is this: “I could kill you.” I can’t write, which is why I find myself staring at the people who pass me. The shade from the buildings is gloomy and I wish that I was in the sun, across the street on the patio of the restaurant, where they will begrudge serving me and offer repeated, insolent suggestions that I should leave… A man wakes up from sunning himself on a rock and screams something in Polish.
A while later.
There the atmosphere was bad, and so I changed it. I could feel my internal barometre relax as soon as I stepped off the curb on the north side of Bloor, and it relaxed completely when I passed the Gardiner Museum and its packs of school-children, their calm teachers, a little boy in a Dodgers uniform sitting in the freshly cut grass.
And here, in Queen’s Park… I can hear children shout in the distance– I can smell the trees. I remember coming here, five years ago– a child. Now I do have the peace of an adult, even if that peace is only the knowledge that nothing matters and no one is really interested in anything outside themselves… The world can be mean, and coarse, but it can be nice as well. A squirrel, convinced I have some food, comes to my hand and nibbles gently on my middle finger. Years ago, with bread crusts, I could not get the squirrels to come closer than across the table.
I can write about life or I can live it, and the two are opposite sides of the same coin. I shouldn’t be disappointed if I do as Pessoa did, walking in the streets of Lisbon, the first sunny day after a period of storms: he saw the open-air fruit sellers and their resplendent yellow bananas soaking and reflecting all of the sun– he felt greatly cheered by the bananas, but refused to buy one. He didn’t want to spoil the scene by interjecting with the voice he knew the vendors would find funny, or his worries about whether or not the old fruit vendors would properly handle or pack his bananas…
Of course it is better to buy the bananas, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it. It’s all the same, either way.
May 7, 2009 § 2 Comments
This morning a tan sedan nosed out of its parking spot just as I passed it on my bicycle. To my discredit, I don’t know whether it signaled or not. I was lost in thought, though not so much so that I wasn’t able to avoid the collision, scooting my bike into the centre of the road just in time to miss the headlights, the wheels. It’s a war against bicycles.
I wasn’t able to make eye contact with the driver. As I rode away, slowly, looking backwards– confused and awed– I realised that any collision would have been just as much my fault as it was his, because I had a bell and could have signalled if I’d known he was there.
The moments leading up to the near-miss are totally missing. What did I do with them? My head was filled with vanity, errant thoughts about weight-gain and loss, and running speeds at two hundred and fifty pounds.
“Craig didn’t think I would run very fast, but I ran so fast that when he saw me run he stopped and said ‘Wow, I was wrong: you do run fast’.”
Construction on 16 West. They’re repairing the water mains until August. When I bought my bike Dave at the shop told me not to go over too many curbs. “Okay,” I said. I hit a big pot hole in the middle of the road and my chain slipped off. I turned off to the side of the road, flipped my bike over and dug around in the dirt and grease until I got it back on.
I get from there to Shaw, up Shaw, to here. Cars don’t signal anymore. Today I notice this everywhere I go. It’s a war against bicycles. I thought we had an uneasy truce: cyclists don’t want to get smashed up by two-ton trucks, two-ton trucks don’t want a two hundred pound dead weight flying through their front window. Was a week of warm weather enough to erode it? Does it have something to do with the recession? A few weeks of inexperienced cyclists turns even car signaling into passive aggression.
“Why should I? There aren’t any cars on the road, are there? Oh– you turned into me? Well. Look at that.”
Bang, bang, goes the bicycle courier. His fingerless gloves rattle off the fiberglass. His face is red, greasy, puffed. The bike lays sideways in the intersection.
Dinner is frozen dumplings from the Korean grocery. I ride there at 5:45. Without thinking I park in front of the Adult Movie Theatre. On the way back I think “Oh, yeah,” as I fumble with my lock for five minutes. “Hi, I just road my bike to the Adult Movie Theatre. This shopping bag is filled with hardcore pornography. There’s an empty bike stand in front of the grocery store. Feel free to think whatever you want.”
“Honk at the pervert, honey. Look, there he is– right there! The big man who hasn’t shaved in a week.”
When I get home the phone rings twice and hangs up. It is 6:14 and Lisa should be home in two or three minutes. At 6:39 I get another call and it’s Lisa. Someone beat up her bike. They tore the bell in half and slashed or let the air out of the front tire. She has to take out money, take public transit. Men and women waiting for the bus blow smoke in her hair, in her eyes. It’s a war against bicycles.
FAMILY ANNOUNCEMENT ZONE
news you can use and it’s also fun
- If you don’t follow professional sports, you can be forgiven for not understanding their appeal. But if you want to see it in macro, you should read today’s article at FreeDarko.com. If you do follow professional sports, Bethlehem Shoals is now accepting pitches for future Free Darko material– and it doesn’t even necessarily have to be about basketball.
- Tao Lin (a novelist you’ve probably never heard of) pretend sold his myspace account. This isn’t notable. I love you.
- You may have already noticed this. A couple of weeks ago I integrated all of my old blogs (dating back to 2006; including that comic blog) into this one. 90% of those entries are terrible. But it’s here and it’s searchable. That’s some kind of bonus, right? For the most part, the comments survived, though they’re often butchered and out of order.
- Robot and Boy (caution: link ancient) is getting their own website again. Soon. I’m going to try and “do it up daily”.
- I’m also going to try and “do this website up daily”. For the next little while.
- Swine Flu.