Thursday, October 30, 2008

1,460 days, give or take


I've kept this blog for almost 4 years. I started it to force myself to write something - anything - assuming that if the text was going out into the universe (or the 8 or so regular readers), I'd at least be compelled to write something coherent.

The jury's out on that one. I've resisted the urge to go back and edit old entries - call it penance. If I read something and cringe at a mistake, I won't make that mistake again.

And the jury's out on that one as well. Let's just say that over 4 years, a few pieces actually managed to do what I wanted them to do. I have no idea if that makes them good, legitimate or worth reading, but they're the ones I remember. More than a few were pounded out at 1am simply to get them out of my head, and there are plenty of cringe-worthy typos and awkward phrases. Not a surprise for anyone who reads this regularly.

So, as part of the very small anniversary celebrations (I am, as we speak, eating a small cinnamon bun to fete the occasion), here are the entries that I think were worth the effort:

- Two brief pieces about dealing with the minefield of Christmas, one after the death of my father (Happening), one dreading the death of my uncle (Epilogue, written in April yet). Hey, I never said these were cheery entries...

- A piece that tried to figure out the motivation behind an allegation of rape (A story and a volume of Auden) from somebody I tried to take care of.

- An multi-part account of being seduced and abandoned (which is rather overstating the case) 8 years or so after a high-school makeout session (High jumping, gold hatted). The duration of the event and the general slow-motion weirdness struck me as an interesting story.

- Laying Down in 2003. Fun and wackiness intering a box of ashes. In the words of my cousin, said with a sweet smile, "It's been a perfectly morbid day."

- My meeting with Gene Simmons or a reasonable facsimile (Knights in Santa's Service), and I really hope it was just a tall guy from the states with a good make-up kit.

- The danger and inevitability of somebody's well-intended or false Promises and Apologies.

- Suicide, a media circus, a few unpleasant personal connections and the accompanying awkwardness (Fallen Away). It was launched by a comment from Kim on the West Coast, talking about a classmate. Tapped into something. Thanks, Kim.

- Food and revenge? At the same time? Why not? Eating.

- And a weird bit of fiction based on an even weirder story heard over a beer (April fifth, two thousand and two)

Even if only for my own peace of mind (and what is a blog, if not self-indulgent), the above entries were worth the time and effort. I think. Comments welcome. Signing it off with Ta, followed by Da.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bravo


From MSNBC.com

Powell...said he was “troubled” by Republican personal attacks on Obama, especially false intimations that Obama was Muslim and Republicans’ recent focus on Obama’s alleged connections to William Ayers, the founder of the radical ’60 Weather Underground.

Stressing that Obama was a lifelong Christian, Powell denounced Republican tactics that he said were insulting not only to to Obama but also to Muslims.

“The really right answer is what if he is?” Powell said, praising the contributions of millions of Muslim citizens to American society.

“I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me,” Powell said. “Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower.”

Good for him. The fallout's going to be incendiary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Posted Unrepentantly

From around 1989 to '99 or so, one of my most prized posessions was a live bootleg CD of Springsteen's Nebraska tour. The sound quality was dreadful. But the arrangements were different enough from the studio album that it felt like a true catch, theme and variation of an underrated mood piece.

This clip is post-Nebraska, but it's more or less the same arrangement and I'd never known there was footage of the song. An acquired taste maybe, but for the faithful, here's the melancholy Man at the Top. Enjoy. Or at least don't complain.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Irrational and in progress


I'm in a west-end Costco on a mission for my company. I detest spending other people's money, especially my employers, and have volunteered a Costco run to buy large boxes of cookies straight from their bakery rather than buying overpriced stale pastries from one of Canada's favourite donut chains. I'm also insane enough to voluntarily do this at noon on a Friday before the kind of holiday that most people require vast amounts of food to enjoy properly. I've done my Thanksgiving duty for the year in a filial, come-to-dinner sense (attended a meal out of town with cousins I've known since we were all assigned to a kiddy table). Any spiritual responsibilities of the count-your-blessings variety are too esoteric to outline in this forum, and I wouldn't know how to address those half-murmured, half-heard voices at the best of times.

The noon-hour rush at Costco is not the best of times. The place is its usual zoo, and since it's never too early to encourage people to drain their disposable income, there are a few shelves stocked with assorted Christmas items and general ephemera. The aisle isn't decorated for the occasion, it's just a reminder that seasons change and if you're going the way of material goods, why not start with a sale? I'm not going that direction myself, but at least the Costco floor plan isn't offering me a few jolly (and compulsory) carols or compelling me to feel warm and fuzzy. It's just a fact of life. We've all got to make a buck, here's our scratching at the matter.

None of this interests me. The 600 cookies for my company doesn't interest me. The rectangular box of oversize Christmas tree ornaments does interest me, only in that I'd be much happier if I hadn't seen it. The ornaments feature a small colour screen and a discreet USB port at the back. It probably runs on triple A's or watch batteries. You can upload JPGs into it and set a duration for the image display. The ghosts of Christmas past will be displayed at whatever rate you want, from wistful meandering to blink and they're gone.

My response to the beast worked out as follows, and I'm not calling it sane, rational, or the mark of a man without issues. I'm just outlining what played out:

1. I looked at the thing and thought 'My mother would like that.' The year my father died, there were ornaments with a voice chip that you could drop sound file onto. My mother asked for one - we could look at some of the old tapes, maybe grab a few words, hear my dad's voice around the tree. It'd never go away.

I didn't bring myself to edit the tracks (or figure out how to do it on short notice) and couldn't figure out what few, scattered words from old videos would be appropriate for an on-the-tree, we-'ll-always-have-him-near gesture. The whole idea just wore me deeper into the all-purpose numb I was feeling at the time, so it never came together.

2. I realized that we could fill this new ornament with family photos.

3. I realized that most of the photos I would hold dear involved the recently deceased and this is a broad term. Let's call 'recently' anything with the last 5 years since that feels, right or wrong, like recent events. I realized that if I found myself gazing into a plastic ornament looking at tiny pixelated renditions of happier times (or at least formative times), that I would probably lose most control and fall to the floor as a mess.

4. Ergo and therefore, the ornaments were trying to ruin my life and remind me of mortality, and had ruined my Christmas. Which is 2 months away. And will, most likely, not take place in a Costco.

5. There's a happy ending to this - I realized that the previous 4 steps amounted to the kind of morbid self attention that DeNiro warned us against in Taxi Driver.

And if I could realize that the nice folks at Costco and whatever South Korean electronics firm developed the cheap ornament were not personally out to make me sad...then I could put on a facade of normality, buy the damn cookies, and get the hell out of Dodge City.

I did.

An odd overreaction to a relatively innocuous item. I have a beautiful, healthy and charming 3yr old son who is far happier to focus on during any holiday season. And Thanksgiving isn't Christmas, isn't even located near to it in the dictionary, there are spiritual, associative, and probably karmic apples and oranges getting re-arranged in short notice in a damn Costco for corn's sake. This is a corporate Amex expedition, not the long tea time of the soul.

And that said, triggers do what they do, without rationale or apology. I left the store. Delivered the cookies to a storeroom. Picked up my wife and son and got away from either things lost or the simple fear of remembering what is no longer with us. It's always odd what comes to the surface, and when.

I had a family friend who was a rare bird, a devout Baptist, social conservative, economic liberal. He wanted to distribute wealth to developing nations, set up micro loans, and compel corporations to put more of their proceeds to charity whether they wanted it or not. He also had a knee-jerk reaction against Hillary Clinton, who was going to steal the presidency and make abortion mandatory in the one-child-only Chinese model or some such.

The thing about this person was that, knee-jerked, he would back away from the more extreme aspects of his argument and provide an engaging debate. He'd listen to your points, find something to agree with, and somehow not come across as potentially frightening as he might appear here.

I did not agree with his politics. But in the wake of the US situation, I would very much like to have been discussing the election with him. I'd like to know what he would have thought about Harper (would probably have appreciated the family angle) and Dion (would have been a green shift fan). It would have been a respectful chat. The last time we spoke was in a restaurant 10 months ago. He'd held a Christmas party for years. Elections and thanksgiving and that damn ornament in a big box store. Triggers. Unrelated. Unrelenting.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Cheap Yin and Yang

I have a grudging respect for Peggy Noonan. I disagree with her politics 9.95 out of 10 times, but there's something fascinating in the way she delivers good news/bad news about her beliefs and her going-down-with-the-ship attitude about the Republicans as a whole. As one who feels herself to be keeper of the Reagan flame, she draws a weird line between boosting her party with a pat on the head or aiming disapproving glares in their direction.


Politics aside, the woman writes very well and makes compelling arguments (which I don't usually buy into, but I appreciate the thought). This doesn't mean that she writes in a consistent, logical, or less than patronizing fashion that's absent of contradictions. If she's trying to maintain a Yin/Yang balance been loving/hating the company she keeps, I guess it works. But it's got all the depth of a Yin/Yang symbol seen on a t-shirt of a novice Karate student in a strip mall Dojo.

When she was still supporting George W.'s ticket (she's since decided that he wasn't such a hot idea as President) she wrote stuff like this, which manages to be patronizing, partisan, exactly what George W. wanted people to think of him and exactly what's wrong about his Presidency and followers:

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He's normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He's not exotic. But if there's a fire on the block, he'll run out and help. He'll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, "Where's Sally?" He's responsible. He's not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world. And then when the fire comes they say, "I warned Joe about that furnace." And, "Does Joe have children?" And "I saw a fire once. It spreads like syrup. No, it spreads like explosive syrup. No, it's formidable and yet fleeting." When the fire comes they talk. Bush ain't that guy. Republicans love the guy who ain't that guy. Americans love the guy who ain't that guy.

Her summation of the Biden/Palin debate flips itself so many times to present the good news (Sarah Palin rocks sort of, maybe in Peg's estimation) and the bad (Sarah's attached to an old, patronizing, divisive lunkhead who's repeating the kind of garbage that George W. got tripped over). "A question is at what point shiny, happy populism becomes cheerful manipulation," asks Ms. Noonan, and she was Reagan's and Bush Sr.'s speechwriter. Think about this for a moment or two. Then, if brave, read Palin the Populist and figure out what she's trying to dance her way out of. Or into.

photo lifted from today's Star, Tom Hanson/Canadian Press

As for the debate that actually influences Canadians, I watched Layton and May have themselves a hootin' good time last night, watched Dion make a plea for fun, Duceppe riff on his usual 'At least I admit I'm not going to be Prime Minister, not like at last 3 of the rest of you' thing, and watched Harper say as little as possible with that Dave Foley-esque grin. Maybe nobody handed him any notes. Which might be a good thing, given the recent reputation of his people.

Nobody walked away particularly proud, but there were enough points made and disputed that the voting public can focus on what they didn't hear and shape their votes accordingly. Hearing the moderator joke about losing audience to Biden/Palin showed a surprising level of candour, or maybe he was just bored. As for me, I'd like a good look at the transcripts. Anybody know where I can find them?

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