Monday, January 31, 2022

Current Events

Seriously? What isn't current these days? Everything that is seen or heard or touched or tasted for the first time is happening right now. Over breakfast the wise child sings along to a song on the Bose ("You've paid the tax, he's the queer of the shore"), and her mother corrects her.

"A what?" she says.

"A mondegreen," says the mother. 

A kid in my neighbourhood has discovered the Beatles. She thinks they're the same age as Arijit Singh. Because her ear is a microphone, and her hands are huge and flexible, she can play whatever she hears. 

This is a problem for her mother, who channeled her daughter into expensive piano lessons with a teacher who quit on them because all she wanted to play one day was the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", and when she started to sing along he barked at her and she responded with Rachmaninoff's "Allegro Agitato" and "wiped his ass with it," the father keeps saying, proudly, and the "real reason" why his daughter's teacher quit.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

"Time Has Come Today" (1967)

The rules have changed today

I have no place to stay

Thinking about the subway

Love has flown away

-- "Time Has Come Today," The Chamber Brothers

Time. We trust Time because we know what's coming next. At a time of great uncertainty -- during these unprecedented times -- Time is there to comfort us.

As sure as the sun will rise, Time is there to catch it. Throughout the year, a different number every day. But a number all the same. Like money comes in numbers.

Money is time. Nevermind that it sounds better the other way around, first, and then what I wrote. Nevermind that.

I was five when a visitor came to our house, drank too much and I saw him in the morning, sitting in the living room buttoning up his white shirt, his pale winter feet poking out from the legs of his grey flannel slacks. The sun was coming up and he said, "C'mere, I wanna show you something."

He opened the doors to the patio and took from his pocket a nine ounce gold bar, which he held up high, to where it came alive, as if from the inside.

"You know what this?" he asked me, and I said "Sunshine."

I had no memory of this until my mother told me about it years later, when I was in my thirties. The man had told her the story, and as she told me, I was back in time, recalling details that she corroborated. When I told her the story a couple months ago, she had no recollection of it. "Do you know who this man could have been?" I asked, and without hesitation she said, "He sounds a lot like your father."

Saturday, January 29, 2022


Lisa Moore is a born-and-based Newfoundland writer who emerged in the early 1990s, around the same time as I did. I first knew (of) her as a member of the Burning Rock Collective, whom I hosted at the Malcolm Lowry Room in the mid-1990s. The BRC were a group of younger Newfoundland writers who wrote with a decidedly urban inflection, in contrast to prevailing stereotypes that, despite the best efforts of the CBC, have almost been forgotten. The BRC were touring the country powered by a Canada Council Explorations grant.

In 1998 Moore and I had pieces in Hal Niedzviecki's Concrete Forest: The New Fiction of Urban Canada, which came out with M&S and is prolly no longer in print. I enjoyed Moore's "Purgatory's Wild Kingdom" and vowed to read more -- more Moore -- but my memory being what it is, I can no longer be certain that I did. My memory, yes, but I have read so many books over the years -- great books that I have no recollection of to not-so-great books that continue to haunt me. Indeed, what does that say about me and my maker -- that I am cursed to remember the least of my reading? Is she, my maker, asking me to look deeper into my pain? In an effort to erase it? Refocus its energies? (These are the kinds of questions I have been asking myself of late.)

Yesterday, while returning from coffee with another Newfie (Cornerbrook's Glenn Alteen) I noticed a community book dispensary near the field house at Robson Park, and there inside it was a copy of Lisa Moore's Open (Anansi, 2002). I remember when this book came out, and I thought, yes, I'll read it. But after purchasing it, the book sat on my desk for two years until a house sitter told me she read the Concrete Forest anthology while I was away, and had I ever met Lisa Moore? because she loved "Purgatory's Wild Kingdom" and wanted to read more -- more Moore. As a thank you gift I gave her my unread copy of Open.

Open opens with a story called "Melody" that is dreamy lyrical yet lifelong epic, like the opening of Johnson's 1992 Jesus' Son, and I wonder if the stories that follow are, or will be, related. The story, if I had to present it, is open enough that it requires a decision from the reader, or maybe a blindfold and a pin. You don the blindfold and step forward with the pin until you feel it squeeze into something, and that's what you talk about. For me this pin came to rest in Grief. Not today's told-not-shown, runny nose grief-on-the-sleeve, but something more subtle, furtive. Grief not because the narrator's husband died, but because "I had never initiated anything in my life" (23) -- "Melody acted; I was acted upon." (5)

Friday, January 28, 2022

Invisibility Under Threat of Erasure

On January 22th the Vancouver Sun published (online) a 1500 word Page Four article by John Mackie called "Old Kingsway Versus New". The inspiration for the piece appears to be Heritage Vancouver's recent addition of Kingsway (the entire 8-mile stretch of it, from 7th and Main in Vancouver to the Burnaby/New Westminster border) to its Top 10 endangered heritage sites.

Nice to see the word "heritage" extend beyond the Edwardian to include semi-feudal, post-war immigrant working class racialized neighbourhoods like Kingsway. Not so nice to see Kingsway once again defined by what it is not, as evidenced by Mackie's don't-think-of-a-purple-pony lede: "Kingsway will never be confused with the Champs Elysees in Paris or Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles." Also, what happened to the Sun's fact checkers? It's New Sam Po Meat & BBQ, not New Samo Meat & BBQ.

SFU's Andy Yan is quoted at length throughout the article. He talks of "the invisible manufacturing that goes on" along Kingsway, particularly in the food industry and "in terms of  ... production, distribution and repair elements." And later, how that production is "in danger of being systematically erased," how this "erasure is stemming from its invisibility" (great line!).

Mackie's Strathcona neighbour and Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry concludes the article with his amendment to the recent 1265 Kingsway development proposal that has the new building's retail floor plate sectioned into smaller spaces, as opposed to a single unit. Would that discourage private developers from the common practice of writing off the loss of (deliberately) un-leased premium priced ground level retail spaces for the first three years after the completion of what is largely a market housing project? No. That's another article that is not in any rush to be written, one that begins: "Vancouver will never be mistaken for a city that puts public housing before private profit."

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Fight Club, Tiger Lily?

VOICE #1: This is Sheppard Wong's home.

VOICE #2: He lives in that piece of paper?

Much ado about state officials from the People's Republic of China changing the ending of Fight Club (1999) -- without touching its beginning and middle!

Back in 1965, Woody Allen purchased the rights to a Japanese film, removed the sound and replaced it with a new sound design, score and English language dialogue.

Here is Allen talking about What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), along with its trailer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Turner Creative Artists

Gorgeous Prose is a fictive online musical group of fortysomething incels who were Zooming before the pandemic and are talking about meeting in RL. They are available to novelists and short story writers for passing mentions ($25), dead-end subplots ($100) and activities of your own invention, like the name of a flower shop or a cleaning service ($1000). Those interested in a complete profile, please contact me at this address and you can tell me how much you are willing to spend. All monies raised will go into gardening supplies.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The World's Most Expensive Camera As a Weapon of Mass Creation

There were over 300 things that could have scuttled the "installation" of the $10-billion (USD) James Webb Space Telescope as it unfurled ("like origami," reporters kept saying) in its L2 orbit of the Sun, roughly 1.5 million kms from Earth.

Launched on Christmas Day (Dec. 25), the telescope is now capable of looking back (and more clearly than Hubble) into the history of our 13.8 billon year old universe. All but the first 100, 000 years will be revealed, presumably because these years, like the best lots in La Jolla, have been held back by investors.

To cover themselves, NASA will concoct a conspiracy theory that suggests the People's Republic of China had already discovered these first years, found that they bore a striking resemblance to the pantings of Ferdinand Leeke (1859-1923), and had a scrambling device installed that has turned them into analogue "static".

For those put out, NASA has suggested that if other signs of life exist in our universe, the JWST will provide conclusive proof. Yet another instance of the camera standing in as an arbiter of truth.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Bus Stop Topics

Among the recent bus stop topics: Art isn't very interesting these days, is it? Following that, Covid has made a mess of everything and Is this what happens when you're in your fifties? Topics not of my raising, but offered up like a piñata, sans blindfold. (And no, I don't condone the masklessness above.)

Art is always interesting, isn't it? It is the is it and the isn't it that isn't very interesting, is it? Add-ons turn statements into questions and become conversations unto themselves, that don't require participation -- do they? Yes, art is always interesting, and what is most interesting lately is what we are willing -- and unwilling -- to settle for in an art experience. 

Last November the Vancouver Art Gallery announced an update on its design of the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts mall it is trying to build and one day move into. Gone is the wooden exterior, and in its place, a "copper-coloured metallic weave" arrived at in conjunction with representatives of the Lower Mainland's Coast Salish nations.

But why "copper-coloured" and not real copper, like the (painted-over) copper roof of the Hotel Vancouver? I want the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts to have a real copper exterior, and I want Teck Resources to pay for and maintain it. Mine the roof of the Hotel Vancouver, if you have to. That's what people want these days in an art experience -- they want the truth and they are willing to accept it in recycled form. So truth to materials, I say. Stop pretending something is what it isn't. We are living in a literal era; it is time we start reflecting that. 

As for Covid, have we assigned to it the appropriate metaphors? Just what is it if it is making "a mess of everything"? We are fond of saying Covid has highlighted the contradictions in the structure of our society, but as what? A spotlight? A magnifying glass? A pick axe hammering at fissures? Or is it a scrim that has made shadows of our lives? A restraint? A constraint? Is there a Zen approach to Covid? All religions ask us to take refuge in ourselves, swaddle ourselves in faith. Maybe that's what's inside that piñata.

Those born in my birth year are turning sixty now. Those born after February 5 are Water Tigers, and I am one of those, too. Looking back on my fifties is not something I have done much of, and won't likely do more of until the summer, when I turn sixty. But one thing I will say of that decade is that it is, perhaps even more so than my forties, the decade when I had the clearest idea of my adult life in relation to my parents when they were in their fifties. At least once a day I find myself counting backwards to compare what my parents were up to when they were fifty-nine. I have never felt closer to my parents than I have when in my fifties. Everything, as always, in relation? 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

My Childhood (1913) 2

Here, the young Maxim Gorky sits with his storytelling Uncle Grigory in his grandfather's dyeing workshop:

"I loved listening to those kind words and watching the red and gold fire flickering in the stove and milky white clouds of steam rising over the vats, leaving a dove-coloured crust, like hoar frost, on the sloping rafters of the roof, where jagged chinks let through blue patches of sky. The wind died down, the sun came out, and the whole yard seemed sprinkled with ground glass. The screeching of sleighs came from the street, light blue smoke curled up from the chimneys, and soft shadows glided over the snow as if they too had a story to tell." (56)

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Woke Up It Was Healthy Morning and the First Thing That I Saw

Nice and orange-pink out there. Almost a spring morning, until you step in it. (Brrrrrrrr!)

Spring for what's poking out of the ground (the new snowdrop, crocus and narcissus bulbs I planted late-September), and really spring if you look at the hydrangea, whose buds are leafing early. Will have to trim their branches today, maybe take out some laurel shoots before the hedge (out of frame, to the left) gets ahead of me, like it does every year.

And the birds. The robins and chickadees have started up again. The plastic lid on the lawn chair is where I put their seed.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Have You Driven a Fort Lately?

The building above sits on the east side of Commercial Drive between 7th Avenue and what remains of the North Grandview Highway. It has been around for as long as I can remember, and contains two visible tenants: a provincial social services ministry and, on the Grandview side, a Mediterranean themed restaurant.

The picture was taken looking southeast, with an emphasis on the grand staircase that once linked the building's roof top parking lot with the sidewalk. A nice way to enter Commercial Drive, no? Particularly for Italians and Portuguese who had done well enough to afford homes on the westside, and who come to the Drive once a week for real coffee, real bread, real meats and real cheese, to connect with their community, to show off a little?

Funny how a little chainlink fencing, razor wire and a locked gate can turn what once looked so inviting into a Belfast constabulary or Cold War-era Berlin. That this modified building stands at what is in effect the southern gateway to the fifteen blocks that make up "Commercial Drive" (8th Ave to Venables) gives it its fort-like presence, as if this building was filled with soldiers who could be deployed at any time, for any reason.

The musician-scholar George Lewis once told me a story about growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. In his neighbourhood there was a ground-level, white cube building on one of its corners that had no windows or doors, and had been around for as long as anyone could remember. One day, during a particularly intense week of public protests, vandalism and looting, George was riding his bike by this building when suddenly its front wall lifts up -- and out comes a Sherman tank!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

My Childhood (1913)

A scene near the beginning of the 1938 film adaptation of Maxim Gorky's My Childhood, the first in a literary trilogy that includes My Apprenticeship and My Universities, though I should say that My Apprenticeship is sometimes translated as Among Them and, conversely, On His Own, making this middle book, by virtue of its conflicting titles, the most intriguing. Nevertheless, I am reading My Childhood, and Roland Wilks's translation is helping.

The scene is in the Nizhny home of Gorky's maternal grandparents, where he and his mother have come by river boat (Volga) after the work-related death of Gorky's father. Gorky adores his grandmother, which is evident in his descriptions of her ("She was a clean, smooth, large person, like a horse"), while he "took a particular dislike to his grandfather, immediately sensing he is an enemy." (Nizhny was later renamed Gorky. My babushka was from the nearby city of Saratov.)

Gorky's first impressions of his grandparents' "dirty pink" house is one of chaos:

"From the street it looked very big, but inside its dim little rooms it was very cramped. Angry people rushed about in all directions like passengers about to disembark a ship, ragged children swarmed all over the place like thieving sparrows, and the whole house was filled with a pungent smell."

But it is the mental and physical violence Gorky is about to endure -- in a household "choked by a fog of mutual hostility" -- that returns me to Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), in particular the protagonist's father's Russian bride-to-be, Valentina, and her need to both acquire and debase.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

"U-Pick Touch Fruit Gently"

A neon public art work based on a handmade sign the artist Tiziana La Melia made as a child for her parents' fruit stand. Never mind what you think of it (if you have a problem, tell it to the jury that approved it, not the artist), this is a work born of love and devotion and getting a leg up on the competition.

The work is called Carrotini because a carrot is lounging in a martini glass and carrots are for sale as well. As for that martini glass, it is a long-serving metonym for an urban sophistication certain Kelowna-izers aspired to when they allowed roadside orchards and motels along Harvey Street to be razed and replaced not only with innovative oases like the Capri Hotel complex, but eventually with an endless run of strip malls.

For those curious about the origin of the word "martini", it is believed to be derived from a mid-19th century drink called the Martinez, after a hotel bar in the ferry port town of Martinez, California. Just how its Spanish name became Italianized is unknown. As for the name "Kelowna", it is an Anglicization of the Syilx word kim-ach-touch (meaning "brown bear"), which was said of settler August Gillard by a group of passing Okanagan people as he was climbing out of his underground shelter. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Cloud Atlas (2012)

"To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our mortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds ..."

So says Tilda (Bae Doona), the pretty "fabricant" near the end of the 2012 film adaptation of David Mitchell's sprawling time-space novel Cloud Atlas (2004). Of course we know by then that Tilda is a deity in a future world that looks and sounds like third century Wales, but are her lines taken from Mitchell's book, or were they supplied by the filmmakers (the team that gave us the Matrix)? Or were they improvised, like Rutger Hauer improvised the "replicant" Roy Batty's dying lines in Blade Runner? As for the message in these lines, it too feels synthetic -- a blend of Andy Warhol (35%), Luce Irigaray (10%), the Thomas Theorem (40%) and relational social practice (15%). Not necessarily a bad thing -- if it didn't make us dependent on those othering forces that invariably enslave us. 

Cloud Atlas spans 497 years (1849-2346) and features actors in multiple roles, with Tom Hanks leading the way with five (six if you count an older version of one of his characters). At over two-and-a-half hours, the film amounts to three features and two shorts that cut in and out of each other both visually (a tracking shot of a speeding car in 1973 San Francisco cuts to a mid-19th century African slave racing across a ship's mast) and thematically (slaves on an English ship cut to fabricants serving bubble tea in a futuristic Seoul, Korea). Did I like it? Well, I didn't bail on it.

The film needs to be seen again in order to be fully appreciated. But there's a certain point (after the first hour?) where the filmmakers, content that they had laid the foundation for the film's characters and their stories, ratchet things up a notch. Whether this is to keep their Matrix audience interested is the likely reason. Whether that audience stuck around that long is another question. For this viewer, the hardest thing to sit through was not only its increasingly frenzied, dot-connecting pace but the makeup, which at times looks ghastly, as if the film had dialectically entered self-parody. And I'm not even talking about people of one racialized group playing those of another. Anytime I see actors in prothetic makeup I see them on the talk shows laughing about it.

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Lives of Others (2006)

In the West, corrupt police officials are those who use their job to advance themselves professionally and financially, taking money to turn a blind eye. In the "Communist" era, the truly corrupt official was one who succumbed to conscience, refusing to break souls and apply their remains like decals to a ploughshare.

The Lives of Others is the story of an East German Stasis officer and interrogation expert assigned to monitor the life of an East German playwright and his actor girlfriend. The time is the early 1980s, well before Glasnost and the Wall coming down, and our officer is about to learn that the gridded system of totalitarian rule is no match for the tendrils of love and art.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Shakespeare in Vancouver: 1889-1918 (1971)

There is no greater writer associated with the English language than William Shakespeare. Does that make him my favourite writer? Of course not. But I recognize his influence, his insights into human behaviour (desire, envy, greed, power), historic events (a popular Roman dictator, the rise of capitalism in Venice, the hypocrisies of the British monarchy), and the relevance of those behaviours and events to succeeding generations. 

Shakespeare has been taking a beating of late, with school teachers and their students asking if he should still be considered required reading. In Grade 10 (1977-78) we read Julius Caesar and in Grade 12 it was Macbeth and the Sonnets. In first year university, it was Richard III. Perhaps it is the continuity of Shakespeare that teachers find problematic, the idea that no one person (a cis-gendered white heterosexual male, no less) should dominate the English Literature curriculum. For the most part I agree.

That said, UBC's recent "once-in-eternity" acquisition of Shakespeare's First Folio (rumoured to be in the $10M range), and the Vancouver Art Gallery's sudden accommodation of it, comes at an odd time, and I am surprised more has not been said in protest. Maybe this is the product of a culture so contaminated with "freedoms" that its members have lost their ability to focus, pursue an issue's textures and complexities, moving instead to the next issue, addicted as much to that fresh rush of anger and the friendships it engenders as they are to expanding the conversation in an effort to right wrongs.

Yesterday, while looking through the People's Co-op Bookstore's Townie Bin, I came across a copy of Sheila Roberts's Shakespeare in Vancouver: 1889-1918, a slim, hard cover volume that, among other things, gives us every Shakespeare play mounted in Vancouver between 1881 and 1971 (Hamlet 20 times, Merchant of Venice 18, Macbeth 17, Twelfth Night 16 ...), as well as rare pictures of Vancouver's purpose built opera house the Empress at East Hastings and Gore (demolished in 1969, as part of the proposed freeway?).  

Later that day I mentioned the book to a neighbour, a retired Shakespeare professor, and he said he'd never heard of it, nor (as it turned out) had a younger Shakespearean he was in touch with. My plan was to give the book to the VAG, thinking its curators might add it to their Folio display, but the VAG is no place for a book like this. Best it go to those who know their subject. So I gave it to my neighbour -- and returned with a pound of freshly baked bread!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Winter's Garden

The sky was already showing signs of blueness when the sun came up last Thursday. This is the blue of early winter, and no matter how I try, I will never mistake it for that late-winter shade that fills me with such joy.

Snow from the previous week had broken a couple of branches on the butterfly bush April gave me all those years ago, after my reading on Bowen Island, so I got out my clippers and removed them. With my clippers still in hand, I removed some of the lower branches from the eight-foot hydrangea that my mother gave me for my fortieth birthday, and which I have encouraged to present like a tree, like I did with the mulberry out front -- purchased from the artist Glenn Lewis in 1997, when he had his Flagrant Flora nursery in Roberts Creek's Babyland. 

Speaking of the front yard, I checked on the false cypress I transplanted during the heat dome last summer and found it to be happy enough, the crocuses at its base reaching from the ground like the jointless fingers of some tiny green being. But yes, the heat dome; I'm still haunted by it -- more than the atmospheric rivers. I don't want to go through that again. I feel damaged by it, broken like those branches.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Yesterday's Mail

Lots of mail yesterday. New chapbooks from rob mclennan, Volumes I-IV of Clementine DeLiss's Metronome, No. 12. and my alma mater's alumni magazine, Torch.

rob adores his wife and two daughters and they are everywhere he is and does. One of his daughters likely provided the cover of his Autobiography (Ottawa: above/ // /ground press, 2022). Here are the opening lines of his opening poem "Autobiography of Green":

Each poem, at a particular time. A line of versets,
iambic feet. The children                       ,dither: compass

the backyard. Their summer playhouse, builds.

They wait, they wait.

Their perpendicular step.

rob's Touch the Donkey series features six poets. Issue #32 is comprised of poems by Carrie Hunter, Emily Brandt, Lillian Nećakov, David Buuck, Hugh Thomas and Natte Logan. Here's a stanza from Hunter's opening poem, "The Chorus of Condemnatory Shrieks from the Entourage":

Don't take measurements of the situation, of life,
comparisons. Just look at ewe and prunes; keep using
semi-colons, it never ends, but it sort of does.

Metronome is new to me and its volumes carry a conversation on the concept of the Metabolic Museum-University. Among those gathered are Krista Belle Stewart, a Syilx Nation Citizen Aüslander living in Berlin and the UK writer Tom McCarthy. At one point Stewart tells the story of her land inheritance, how she kept a bucket of that land with her on her travels, often driving around town with it. Shortly after that, McCarthy, a Humean thinker prone to association, recalls Count Dracula's importation of soil from his native Transylvania to his London property, and then reminds us that Dracula's author Bram Stoker was an Irishman living in England, and that "[t[here's a colonial history there too." (Vol. III, p. 12). Hmmm, how will Stewart respond to McCarthy's association? I read to the end of the volume, yet find no sign of Stewart. (With silence, then? But what kind of silence? Operative? Diffident? There are many kinds of silence.) 

Billed as "The Brain Issue", Torch features the usual balance of achievement in the Arts, Sciences and Business, and includes a profile on Dorian Fraser (MA, '13), the curator behind UVic's Legacy Maltwood Gallery's Pop Anthropology exhibition of artist, Western Front co-founder and UVic alum Eric Metcalfe (BFA, '71, Hon DFA '21), the only artist I know of who hangs his degrees on the wall of his home. Dorian is the child of a judge (Peter Fraser), who, as a lawyer in the 1970s, wrote the Western Front's constitution and, as Dorian put it, "played in the Western Front's kazoo band." 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Paris, 1911

Is it art? is not in this instance asked of the object, the gesture, the idea, but offered in response to the command: Name the most popular answer on the topic of what gives people pleasure.

 IS ... is the presence of the object, the gesture, the idea.


IT ... is the subject of what follows (it could be anything).


ART ... is the atmosphere -- the mood, the condition -- that imparts its terms.




The artist steps back from the easel and the sunshine reminds her of how good the Earth is. A day as warm and as light blue as this, the shrubs and flowers nourished from last night’s rain, a breeze descending, cooling our perspiration, pressing it against us.


On the easel a small square of rag paper, and on it a pastel impression of the view before it. From the bluff looking down, the darker blue oval of the bay, with its tan beaches and chalk cliffs, a dozen small white sailboats at its centre, their bows pointing this way and that.




Sometimes after work she stops at a corner café between the bank and her place. Thursday was not as warm as it was on Sunday, and for this reason she had already made up her mind to keep walking.


An arm rises from the crowded tables. Rising again with a familiar face, beckoning her. The excited face of the man she takes her sketches to.


A seat is cleared, she feels everything is moving quickly and by some predetermined force. Her body is gone, and that's fine because all that is required of her is what she thinks, what matters to her, and sometimes why. When she gets up to leave, everyone will agree that it ended well. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Notes from the Overground

Sixty hours now since I last left the house. At 3pm yesterday I opened the door a crack and took a breath. The man sauntering past could have been a prison guard. An example of how our situations produce the pigments that colour our confinement.

I'm still reading Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. A somewhat dented piece of writing, but its cylinders work, and it is horrifically funny. Forgot how Russian, Ukrainian and Slavic people have a penchant for the abject. I read a passage last night that reminded me of Dostoyevski's "A Nasty Story" (1862). 

Five minutes ago I sent my editor my previews for the Feb-March issue of Preview. Seven this time, after the past seven pandemic-era issues had my down from eight to six. Things are looking up! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

On Fraser Street

The Fraser Street mercantile strip between 41st and 49th Avenues is largely South Asian and has been that way for as long as I can remember. A couple months ago I was passing by a pizza shop when I noticed some handwriting on its glass door. Not just writing, as it turns out, but a conversation, one that started in black pen and ended in red.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Traffic (2000)

Traffic is a film about drugs and their importance in the development of plot and character in American film and television. I can't say enough about Traffic, though my interest in drugs, plot and character has waned in recent years. Mood, tone and complicity are among my current interests. That and long walks past the studio lot.

Pictured up top are confiscated boxes taken from the drug kingpin known as the Scorpion. These boxes contain mood and tonal elements that were edited out of the film when it was decided to super-saturate the Mexican scenes to prevent American viewers from confusing Mexico for the U.S., and vice versa. The number on the box is a message to relevant parties that the action to be taken on the World Trade Centre is on schedule.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Two Hour Opening

For the past ten years this retail/residential building at the northwest corner of Kingsway and Glen has been covered in some form of scaffolding, netting, tarpaulin, etc. Not sure what the issue is here. The building is too old to have been made with the California stuccos some developers (one in particular) used and found to be useless in wet climates like Vancouver's. 

When I arrived in London, England in September 1980 many of the city's heritage-designated Victorian and Edwardian buildings were similarly scaffolded, in preparation for the preservations their owners claimed they could not afford to make, despite their obligation to do so. This was the Thatcher era, and many of these buildings were in fact government buildings.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Being John Malkovich (1998)

CRAIG (as JOHN MALKOVICH): You see Maxine -- it isn't just playing with dolls.

MAXINE: Oh my Darling, it's so much more -- it's playing with people!

Craig is a depressed puppeteer who, at his wife's urging, goes looking for a straight job and finds one as a file clerk at a dimly-lit Manhattan doctor's office. There, he falls for Maxine who, in the uptown style, wants nothing to do with him, to the point of insult. When Craig discovers a portal behind an office filing cabinet -- a portal that leads to actor John Malkovich's brain -- he shares it with Maxine and they form a tour business: $200 to be someone else (for fifteen minutes). But it has to be John Malkovich.

I could go on all day describing this film, a film that many of you have seen or are already familiar with, but suffice it to say, Craig's wife Lotte, a pet store operator, gets involved and, after her experience inside John, declares she wants to transition to a man, because that's what inhabiting the body of another has done for her, and because Maxine, whom she has fallen in love with (after being inside John while he was "inside" Maxine), will only be with Lotte if Lotte is inside John. Somehow, at film's end, Craig is inside the child (now seven years old) that Maxine had with John (while Craig the puppeteer was inside John, controlling him for eight months), with the parents of that child being Maxine and Lotte.

Yesterday I reported a feeling of inhabitation ("possession") brought on by what my mother determined was the result of eating spoiled cabbage. Of course I thought about this during those scenes when Craig had taken over John's life -- and especially when, after the eight months he was inside John, Craig leaves John's body and John finds himself in a seedy bar staring at his combed-over head in the reflection of a beer mirror. Happy to be back, regardless of the context.

Being John Malkovich is a cusp film that trades equally in the emergent (and earnest) quirk of its day and a waning ironic detachment that some associate with 1980s and 90s postmodernism. Is "quirk" still with us, or has it cusped with something emergent? We know ethics (over aesthetics) is emergent, and identitarians would likely take issue with the supreme whiteness of this film, not to mention with the horror Craig expresses to Lotte when she tells him she would like to transition (to male). As for the sociopathic tendencies of Maxine and John, maybe I'm alone with that, for a lot of the sociopathic behaviour I am seeing today is going undetected, especially amongst those whose empathy, they believe, goes without saying. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959)

Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a film that was always on TV when I was a kid, but never once had I seen it from start to finish. Now, with the latest technology, you can purchase the film and watch it at your leisure online. For those looking to spend less time online, there are DVDs, like the one I purchased last month at the East Hastings Street Sally Anne.

Pictured above is from the scene when the expedition climbs a dormant volcano in search of the entrance that leads to the Earth's centre. (Sometimes you have to go up to go down.) I like looking at this picture, though its capture had nothing to do with spending more time with it and everything to do with how strangely I felt after eating a portion of the borscht I had made that afternoon. I had simply pressed PAUSE, then stepped outside to get some fresh air.

The closest I can come to describing this feeling is like that of a possession, similar to how I felt the first time I took LSD. Only the transition to LSD's liberation stage showed no signs opening. I was trapped outside myself. Nausea was a welcomed sensation, and I felt better as soon as I vomited. A second, more substantial vomiting had me back at 90%.

Thinking I should tell somebody (in the event I go to bed and not wake up), I phoned my mother, and she asked for a list of the foods I'd eaten that day. When I mentioned cabbage she stopped me. "Was it an old cabbage?" Yes. "Oh god, I went through this with your father once. Carrots and beets are solid foods, and are okay to eat old, but cabbage is more fibrous, a rooms-for-let breeding ground. E. coli, salmonella, etc." 

Anyway, it's behind me now. What's left of the borscht was flushed down the toilet, and the expedition that I was so intent on following now sits atop this post, a reminder of my latest journey to the centre of my self. 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Public Art

A work of interventionist public art. On the traditional exhibition grounds of the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale

To review: in mid-November stormy weather caused a barge to break loose and run aground at Vancouver's Sunset Beach. Efforts to remove the barge failed. By this time the barge had become a meme, and to honour that, Vancouver Park Board employees whipped together one of its official park signs as a "holiday gift," its name -- Barge Chilling Park -- based on the Dude Chilling Park gag played on a Mount Pleasant park some ten years ago, long enough that its original name has been forgotten, much like the pre-contact name that marked the area known as Sunset Beach was erased (and forgotten) by successive generations of settlers.

On January 2nd someone spray painted the Beach's Indigenous name (pronounced ee-ay-ul-shun) over the Park Board's "holiday gift" sign, and immediately after that we heard from Indigenous artists Ronnie Dean Harris and Cease Wyss about how long they have waited to have the Indigenous name of that area displayed on municipal signage. Yesterday, the Park Board scrubbed away that name and, unfortunately, destroyed a perfectly serviceable monument to discourse and critique. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

It Just Snows to Show

Yesterday's snowfalls. All kinds of snow. Beginning in the wee hours and crusty on top by the time I awoke, at six.

The snow was wetter than the snow from three days before. Or it could have melted slightly after it fell and, like a creme brûlée, grown a crust when the temperature dropped. Then there's the afternoon snow, which fell wet and coaster-sized and on top of the old snow, sticking to my shovel like porridge. I have been shovelling snow for over a half-century and never have I known snows like these.

The snows that fall, the snows that land, and what the temperature does to snow while it lies there. But snow is not the issue here, only a symptom. The issue is this unusual shifting within the daily temperature cycle. Too erratic to call it a pattern. We're all going to die.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022


Some flowers die more beautifully than others. Some are unattractive in life and beautiful in death, and vice versa. I should supply some examples -- but like Bartleby, I prefer not. Beauty is subjective, so too is its opposite. The opposite of opposite is beauty, and that can be celebrated as a mathematical equation, a statement of a relationship between variables.

The more propositions I supply, the less interested is the example-seeking reader. That is an example of a proposition: a statement of a relationship between variables. An example of a flower that is unattractive in life and beautiful in death belongs to the reader, and since I don't want to make anything of my own tastes, I'll speak instead of a flower that delights in life and most times never gets a chance at its skeleton because it is dead-headed before it should come to that: the hydrangea.

Pictured up top is a hydrangea taken around noon on December 19th. The sun is at its lowest at that time of year and its light shoots down the south-north easement between my house and the neighbours' like a laser beam, turning the dead blossom into an old silk lampshade. As for the shrub itself, it was given to me for my birthday some twenty years ago, and over the years I have shaped it to stand like a tree -- its leafy floral self its own large flower. This shrub is now over eight-feet high, and even in death it is something to behold. If you look close at its stem, you will see its returning form.

Monday, January 3, 2022

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005)

The title should pique interest. But big house publishing tends to be a conservative enterprise, where titles are often taken literally. To the editorial committee member concerned about a literal-minded consumer, the book is about tractors and is written in Ukrainian.

Concerns like this often come from Sales & Marketing, who have been holding sway in editorial meetings since at least the 1980s (If I can't sell it, why are we publishing it?). Sales & Marketing, like every department in a company that makes things, likes to have a hand in what it's selling, a hand that can be seen in the shape its product takes. I'm all for co-authorship, but ...

An industry produces products, a business produces profits. In big house publishing today, there are no loss-leaders -- every book is on its own and is held accountable. Publishers take their cues from Sales & Marketing, which is why Publishing, like most everything else these days, is not an industry but a business. 

On the cover we have the book's opening sentence and a half. The text is there to orient us, pull us in. What do we learn from it? The narrator's mother died recently. The father is in love with someone 48 years his junior. The love interest "exploded" on the scene, but not literally. Not a real "grenade," but a "fluffy pink" one.

Back in 2002, when Arsenal Pulp Press and I were partnered on an imprint (Advance Editions), we published Neil Wedman's Burlesck, a novel-in-drawings that Wedman re-drew, in his own style, from single panel cartoons, but without the captions. To prepare the reader (or to fool them into thinking the book is a novel-in-words), Wedman supplied an introduction that, borrowing from a style common to the books of his youth, has a portion of its opening text on the cover; in this instance, placed below a drawing of four men in what could be a 1950s editorial meeting. Not the first sentence and a half, but twice that. And these are long sentences. 

The first lines of Marina Lewycka's book -- the ones that pulled me in -- came after the first break in the first chapter -- lines that speak to a condition that is everywhere in our current moment:

"Perhaps it started before the phone call. Perhaps it started two years ago, in this same room where he is sitting now, where my mother lay dying while he paced about the house in an ecstasy of grief." (5)

In an ecstasy of grief. How true. I am almost want to say literally.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Today's Forecast: Clouds, Followed by Widely-Scattered Tweeting

Unsolicited advice. Is it advice or judgement? I'm asking.

Some share their lives online, through social media. A picture develops, as intended. But so too does intolerance. Or is it playground pride?

Inferences cannot be made because it's my life, not yours!

Well, your last tweet made a strong contribution to this ongoing picture of yourself as helpless, and since you asked, "What am I to do?" I took you at your word.

My words are my own! I don't even want you reading them!

Really grandma? Two weeks on Twitter and ... I hardly recognize you anymore.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Betty White (1922-2021)

I was in the Flower Factory yesterday when I heard the news of Betty White's passing. I gasped, then stood incredulous at that gasp. "You were a fan?" I was asked sympathetically, and I had to admit that I was not so much a fan but an interested party curious to see how she would be feted. Much of the news cycle this week had been taken up with her January 17th birthday, when she was scheduled to turn 100. But now that she's passed, how will she be remembered? 

My Betty White, if I can put it that way, was the character she played on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), the host of the station's Happy Homemaker program. Yes, "Sue Ann Nivens" performed the cardboard cut-out homemaker role we inherited from the 1950s, but the "real life" host of this show-within-a-show was an unbridled "sex maniac" who made her male and female colleagues uncomfortable. Even as a kid I saw this ability to make people uncomfortable with what most of them think and feel, but never express, as an example of her power, her feminism.

White's character on The Golden Girls (1985-1992) was almost the complete opposite. Gone was the woman who was upfront with her desires, who knew what she wanted and set out to get it (a role taken up by the cast's Rue "Blanche Devereaux" McClanahan), and in her place, a "simple-minded" and/or "spaced-out" retiree by the name of "Rose Nyland". Was this shift NBC's Reagan-era revenge on CBS's Steinem-era liberated woman? Or was it a case of an actor stretching out, proving that she could perform at varying ends of the human behavioural spectrum? Actors used to think like that, while there are actors today who only take on roles that are closest to who they think they are, as human beings. I am sure Betty White was among those actors who ask, Where is the art in that?