June 26, 2009 § 2 Comments
This morning I dream of having a long brown moustache the ends of which collect in greasy tufts that probe the air like underwater tentacles. My fingernails are long and their undersides are filled with dirt. I’m ashamed, but I’m not sure who I’m ashamed to. It might be Lisa. At this point the dream is unclear.
“I don’t know– I don’t know how I let it get like this… I didn’t mean for– I thought I trimmed my moustache yesterday!”
When I rode back from University Settlement, on a Wednesday, the roads were so empty and pleasant– too empty and pleasant, and the air too fresh– that I wonder whether I’d died. If I have, and this is death, then death is nothing to be afraid of, and at least I don’t have to worry about traffic tickets…
At Beverly and College the light lingers too long after the change. A rider behind me comes up a few feet and then stops alongside. She’s short, mousy, and her hair is tangled in knots. She could be a student mathematician or an engineer.
“I hate these advance greens,” she says. I smile and don’t really say anything. But did I even smile? As I pedal onto St. George, I wonder if I’m too indifferent to be human. Too tenuous and reckless, in some ways, too naive in others.
I think of the mouse. Did we go to the same high-school together? It’s clear now, that we might have. For months in the very early going I might have shared a table with her in the library, with some others, and we did quiet homework in a kind of personal hell.
That’s what one expects, when he dies. To have zombies dredged up and paraded in front of you. A shambling, rotting string of half-censured pasts you barely remember… When I first saw “Waking Life” I heard the figure: seven years until all of the cells in our current body are replaced by new ones. Something like that. I did the math: seven years from here, seven years from here, seven years from now. It’s been seven years since the mouse in the library. That body is in the grave. The milestone passed, as such milestones are supposed to, unnoticed.
On the way out again, I see another face, half-a-decade old. I pass her on my bicycle and it’s her, the spitting image… but I don’t stop, don’t say anything, so who really knows? Curiosity gets the better of me. The face was too similar, even with my blurred vision. We go to Facebook, but that branch has been deleted.
The things I wonder are dangerously egotistical. They involve a failed romance. An aborted romance, of the sort you know would not have been final, but that choked off in the early going, before it could exhaust itself: “Maybe it was too painful for her, logging on and seeing certain reminders…” and “Did I hurt her? I must have hurt her. And, in a way, I hurt myself.” Of course everything I think is preposterous. The roots of a deleted Facebook account aren’t sown five years earlier. It’s only that the seventeen-year-old who knew her is still alive, in some sense, and he doesn’t have the same benefit of perspective that I have. But it won’t be long before he too, dies, and his existence becomes merely wallpaper.
June 19, 2009 § 2 Comments
[The first few paragraphs are nearly unreadable, but from the words that survive, here and there, one gets an idea of the tone: cynical, and disaffected. What’s left is hardly worth reproducing. It’s sufficient that you keep in mind the low opinion this particular critic (the name is lost; some say it’s Aubin, others Mandelstein, still others an unknown critic) must have held of The Author.]
Once Upon a Time in the West
[–] a haunting score, the harmonica especially is evocative, the notes float out of Charles Bronson like a row of white sheets twisting in the wind […] The long cuts, Sergio Leone’s signature, are his longest. The movie unfolds in geologic time; it feels as if one has sat down to watch weeds grow in the hot Arizona sun. No doubt The Author kept this movie in his collection because he wanted to think of himself as a contemplative man, though most contemporary sources discredit that notion (all the more reason to cultivate it!) […] Finally, we cannot forget the tuberculosis-ridden railway director (by far the most important figure in our understanding of The Author), who dreams of reaching (with his railroad) the Pacific Ocean, even as he lays dying. In many ways the railway director is The Author, who was always focused on “The Water! The Water!”, though he must have known that his life would end crawling pathetically to a puddle (for all his delusions, his moments of clarity were remarkably prescient).
[–] indicative of his obsession with dreams. The original title of the novel the movie is based on, remember, is “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, but that isn’t [–] the synth of the music score evokes an android paradise [–] fascination with Brutalist architecture: a form that simultaneously reminds the viewer that he is human (by dwarfing him) and implies his kind has a higher calling (by paying him no attention).
[–] It is interesting that The Author’s generation was one of the first that could, beginning in their early adulthood, constantly relive seminal or affecting moments from their collective pasts: through old television shows on YouTube and other video-sharing websites, DVD collections, and, in the case of video games, through abandonware and repackaging. This is by no means an original observation: in his book “The Nostalgia [?Princes]”, Cromwell suggests that it is this easy availability of juvenile experience (coupled with an almost total lack of responsibility) [–] widespread, catastrophic food crises of the 20’s and 30’s and the [–] a globally recognised dominance and opulence that might never be seen again. [–] fundamentally different than returning to childhood books, because our understanding of books is fluid, carrying the assumption that we have intellectually grown in the interim (i.e. increased comprehension, increased focus, increased vocabulary, etc) [–] how does one need to grow to enjoy Super Mario? Or a television program or movie that he has always had on DVD or videocassette? [–] a transference of adolescence, from the video (or the video game) to the viewer.
Citizen Kane, Hamlet, Killer of Sheep
The lugubrious “classics”: how can one who thinks himself an intellectual avoid them? Whether or not he has ever seen or enjoyed these movies is anyone’s guess. Reading through his diaries and his journals, one doesn’t find them. They are, therefore, insignificant, except as wallpaper.
I find it disappointing, and perhaps even grotesque, that one who has so much reverence for dreams should have this movie. [Here the page is torn. It’s uncertain whether what follows is part of the discourse on the above movie, a different one, or a part of another related, but lost, manuscript.] a snail on the lid of a compost bin after a night of solid rain. The Author sees the snail and marvels at it: “What an ugly thing a snail is!” he thinks, “But how much compassion I seem to have for it… what is it that makes one enjoy snails but not other, similar creatures, such as earwigs or cockroaches? Why does the snail give me pleasure and the cockroach remove it, when it’s clear, really, that they’re both the same thing?” [–] but really the thought is of an order as low as possible, and simultaneously thought by everyone, all at the same time.
June 17, 2009 § Leave a comment
“Hey! Get off!”
The cat slinks under the couch, knowing that he is in trouble. Belly low to the ground, his aspect is similar to that of a lizard, or perhaps a lumbering hog. He’s fat, and that makes the image even more pathetic.
Outside, it’s raining. Damp and endless, it is the sort of rain that makes it difficult to do anything: only thirty minutes ago I vowed to never open my eyes again, then, deciding that I probably would have to anyway at some point, opened them. I closed them and opened them in this binary pattern for another fifteen minutes, after which I called my wife at work.
“Should I go?” I asked.
“No. Probably not a lot of people will go, because of the weather.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And if you stay home I will be home also, and I’ll make you a nice dinner.”
I could go, or I could not go. I can see both. If I don’t go, then I have declared I am more loyal to myself, which is something I am accustomed to. But if I do go, I will grant my loyalty to the institution, which I am similarly accustomed to. If I don’t go, I never have to step out into the rain, I don’t even have to put on pants, and I can stay under the covers and complete at my leisure another two stories by Don Barthelme (the latter third of Paraguay; On Angels). But at the University Settlement, the Chinese women I taught the pronouns “cardigan”, “pantyhose”, and “panties” the week previous will have to find another instructor. To do so is not really difficult. Though some of them specifically asked whether I would be back this week, and I said yes, I have been asked similar things in the past, come back the following week, and found myself tutoring four new students.
If I do go, the mood in the basement of University Settlement will be subdued, and perhaps only one of the two interconnected rooms will really be filled (or they might be “filled” equally, but sparsely, with so few people they could have fit in only one room, had they desired to). J. (the head of the program) will be happy to see me, as she is happy to see everyone. Those present will share an understanding that we are all loyal to one another, and so in that sense, the mood will be heightened, and the experience will doubtless be more satisfying. But on the negative side, I will not be able to finish the two stories by Barthelme in comfort, instead sitting between two strangers on a sweaty, damp train; before then I will have to root around for coins to purchase my trip on the subway, as we are out of tokens, and later that night, I will be very late for dinner.
June 17, 2009 § Leave a comment
I need to make a new blog where I talk about “real things”. I think it will be “green”. It will look intimate. In it I will try to narrate events consistently. My thoughts will be presented “matter of factly”. More on this new blog later.
June 15, 2009 § 2 Comments
I haven’t posted here very often, I guess, but I feel like I’m talking too much.
“What is the point of anything?”
Finished the first draft of something long last week. Brief high. I left it out and wanted to touch it all day. Printed it size fourteen (aids “readibility” and “fun”). Spent one/two days leafing through it, but didn’t let myself read more than paragraphs/sentences at a time. Could barely contain myself. Wanted to read the whole thing in one go. Resisted. Looked through it once today. Only bits, but I hated everything.
“It’s too boring,” I thought.
“Seems like I’m leafing through the same scenes over and over again.”
“Might have to cut 5000-6000 words.”
“What will it look like afterwards?”
“Seems like it won’t be any good.”
Waiting a month or something. Thinking about another project but I don’t want to start yet? For some reason. Should have started 2 days ago. This weekend I’ve felt so untethered and out of it. It isn’t a good feeling. I don’t feel good when I’m not working on something.
It would be nice to have an editor. Some kind of trustworthy feedback loop. It is so hard to know anything. “Who is telling the truth?” e.g.: “Lisa loves me, she has to tell me she likes the things I’ve written. Her knowledge of me is also blinding. Need someone objective who likes the same things I like. Not afraid to put me down.”
What does that mean? Don’t know who that person would be. In Coming Soon!!! tragedy galvanised Hop Johnson and made him into a good writer. Do I need tragedy? That’s too terrible. If I’m a happy person, or reasonably happy, will my writing only be “barely adequate”, or, at best “technically okay, but seriously lacking”? Mordecai Richler says that writers who don’t leave Canada become middle-aged too quickly. Do I need to leave Canada? Am I middle-aged already? Can I call myself a writer, even hypothetically? Farley Mowat fought in a war. The Italian campaign. It was terrible. He hated it.
Unsure of too many things.
*UPDATE* Took a shower. About to go to bed. Feel pretty good. Running tomorrow.
June 12, 2009 § Leave a comment
Currently Downloading: Building Excellent Sentences. Part of The Excellent Lectures series, informed of via the catalogue they sent my way because of that Harper’s Magazine subscription. Might as well. Suppose I’m downloading in bad faith, but it might also be bad faith to send me so many targeted ads, and this one is in American prices, with multiple pages on multiple lecture series devoted to the “American Civil War” or “The American Revolution”, but with a cover that proclaims it is the “Canadian Edition” of their catalogue, underneath a great big Maple Leaf. Not that those subjects aren’t interesting, but Boy Do They Know Us: we’ll take whatever, and we’ll enjoy it, just tell us it’s just for us, even if it isn’t
I feel guilty talking about this on the internet, but it’ll work out in their favour, anyway: in forty years (or four) when I’m an old man in a Gilligan-cap, khaki shorts, and a maroon polo, I’ll probably buy one of their series, to enjoy in my home (if I have one) or my car (ditto, that)
Why did I bring it up? Because the first lecture is called: “A Sequence of Words”, which, though I’ve no-doubt is interesting, is a bit underwhelming on first, second, and third glance
I just finished reading Coming Soon!!!, by John Barth. It’s a “Post-modern” (emphasis on Po and Mo) novel about a competition between an aspiring novelist (the young Johns Hopkins Johnson) versus an accomplished novelist meant to be John Barth himself. Perspective switches back and forth between “aspirant” and “emeritus” which is how they are, for the most part, referred. Who really wrote the novel? Aspirant, Emeritus, or a mysterious a-gendered third character, Ditsy? Allusions and metaphors abound, to the Bible, to One Thousand and One Nights, to Barth’s first novel The Floating Opera, and to showboats and Showboat, inspiration for that first novel. For long sections of Coming Soon!!! it feels like you are picking your way through a weed-tangled, inter-textual, marsh (which may have been the point), but it’s too long on weeds and short on scene to provide any real pleasure
What makes the book even drier is that two of the three voices are so caught-up in their own vernaculars and syntax that at many points I considered putting the book down without finishing. (The young characters speak with a “Gerbil! Exclamation-marked! Urgency!” a sixty-nine year old man might find amusing, but to everyone else reads difficult/annoying, while the Ditsy character speaks with a South-something twang that requires re-reading after re-reading, for those not familiar with it). But CS!!! settles into “Barth’s” voice somewhere before the midpoint, and, so settled, finds a rhythm, and sticks to it. The story develops, and it concludes in a way that is satisfying, but maybe not worth the two-hundred and fifty marsh-cramped pages in the middle. It drains you in a way that only much larger books can. There must be a way to make it shorter and more compelling, without so much endless re-treading of the same material…
I could say a lot about the book. I liked it, but conditionally. Read it if it’s your “Thing” (the best of Douglas Coupland mixed with the worst of Dave Eggers, spiced with the clock-ticking comprehensiveness of Midnight’s Children) or you’re curious, but otherwise stay away. It’s hard to regret a book, any book, but I haven’t felt this drained after finishing one since Water for Elephants; at least Coming Soon!!! is more aware of itself and provides lots to talk about. I’d want you to read it for that reason, but I don’t want the responsibility of being the reason for your reading it, understand? It’s the kind of book I’d suggest for a book group, only suggesting it would be sadistic and/or masochistic. It makes me want to read more Barth, because now that I’m aware of him, his other books sound more coherent and more interesting (The Sot-Weed Factor and The Floating Opera are up there on my list somewhere, now), and I think I might enjoy them in a way that I didn’t Coming Soon!!!
If CS!!! was overlong and overwrought, Klee Wyck, by Emily Carr, is the exact opposite. The book is written in a spare prose that is elegant, poetic, and unpretentious. Carr, known more as a painter, was not well-read, but she applied herself to reducing her words in the same way she reduced her famous paintings, paring down the elements until only the essentials remained. I read Klee Wyck in about two days, and her haunting stories about abandoned Haida villages and their totems sustained and nourished me for the latter half of Coming Soon!!! If you think either Canadian literature or Emily Carr is boring (I thought both once, the latter most recently), you should probably read Klee Wyck.
Obviously, I think more reviews should end with Reading Rainbow-style reccomendations.
June 9, 2009 § Leave a comment
Since this blog is now a weird amalgamation of the last four years of my internet “presence”, I thought I would do a weekly recap of some of my more “worthwhile” or notable entries, going back right to the beginning. When the recaps are only a year behind I’ll switch to a monthly schedule, because there’s no use recapping things as they happen.
You might have noticed that there’s a large gap between the start of the archives and the next month there are any. I think that’s because I was still updating my old (totally lost) blog, painsauce, and that while I still kept up with crapjournal, somewhere between now and then a large portion of my entries in the latter journal were deleted. What remains from that time are the raw concept entries, which are mainly copied and pasted text from around livejournal and other places, meant to simulate crapjournal’s birth. The posts are mainly gimmicks. What’s interesting now, however, is that when I imported my old livejournals into this blog, all of the comments were mixed up. So on the inaugural post there is a comment from Lisa suggesting that she found the entry “funny”, though she posted the comment a year after the post was made and it’s unlikely she was actually referring to that post. On the next post, more gibberish, and an allusion to Frankenstein/Prometheus (AWAKE, INTERNET / ARISE)… followed by comments which make no sense given the current context, came a year later, and seem to belong to a “Frank and Earl the Astronauts” comic post. In the schizophrenic, disjointed comments, I’m accused of wearing an apron and looking like an astronaut in a spaceship (?). The final post in February is just as schizophrenic, but the less said about it, the better.