Thursday, December 30, 2004
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
I have been watching the tsunami coverage on CNN, which has been handed over to the station’s European bureau until morning. According to AP, the earthquake that triggered the massive waves actually disturbed the rotation of the earth. “‘All the planet is vibrating,’ said Enzo Boschi of the Italian National Geophysics Institute.” I wonder if an American scientist would have phrased it in quite the same way?
I feel like I should be making New Year’s resolutions. Some possible contenders:
Clean out Inbox.
Drink less beer, more hard liquor.
Re-read Leaves of Grass.
Download everything ever recorded by the Magnetic Fields.
Use moisturizer daily.
Buy more winter socks.
Go dancing at Club Korova.
Play the lottery.
Or, I could just hibernate until May.
Saturday, December 25, 2004
Merry Christmas to John, who is waiting for Arit to come home.
Merry Christmas to Ada, who is catching her breath in Northern Ontario.
Merry Christmas to Maz, who is having epiphanies in Victoria.
Merry Christmas to Ellen, who is wearing a Santa Claus hat in Philly.
Merry Christmas to Atomic, who is packing suitcases for Tehran.
Merry Christmas to Oblivia, who is cooking up a storm in the Plateau.
Merry Christmas to Setare, who is not cold in Hawaii.
Merry Christmas to Martin, who is under the stars in Saskatoon.
Merry Christmas to Esther, who is watching movies at a loft in Parkdale.
Merry Christmas to Sally, who is awaiting the arrival of her Scottish boyfriend.
Merry Christmas to George, who is visiting from Finland.
Merry Christmas to Madame D., who is eating fudge in California.
Merry Christmas to Matthew, who is being quirky somewhere.
Merry Christmas to my Dad, who is on the Internet.
Merry Christmas to James, who will come to dinner tonight.
Friday, December 24, 2004
I set off for the journey downtown in my heaviest sweater and parka, only to discover that Montreal was immersed in a nearly tropical warm front. In addition to being hideously overdressed for the freakish weather, I found myself wading through slush puddles the size of small lakes to get to the bus stop. As I waited for the Parc bus, it began to lightly rain, which made me curse myself for forgetting an umbrella that I should have had no need of again until spring.
The bus proceeded to crawl down Parc Avenue, which was clogged with lumbering SUVs, and took over twenty minutes to make three stops. Walking briskly, I can travel this same distance on foot in ten. It would be forty minutes before I arrived at St. Catherine Street, which was clogged with lumbering pedestrians so accustomed to driving SUVs that they have completely forgotten how to walk in an urban environment. Even at the best of times, Montreal pedestrians have a tendency to be annoyingly slow; during holidays, they are positively catatonic.
The shops were predictably crowded, and within minutes of entering the Bay I was beaded with a parka-induced sweat. The main floor was festooned with garish Christmas decorations and reeked of a thousand clashing notes of perfume, which, if there was any justice in the world, would be as strictly controlled by municipal authorities as cigarette smoke, if not more so. Gasping for breath, I made my way past a meandering herd of disoriented husbands who stood square in the middle of every aisle, blindly peering into jewellery display cases for some trinket that might inspire their disillusioned wives to give them blow jobs slightly more often, or at least to feign interest in their jobs or professional sports. I circled the accessories department at least three times trying to find the escalators, which finally drew me down into the very bowels of the store—i.e., Men’s Fashions.
Here, I was surrounded by conservative, Canadian hyper-masculinity, all fake oak and thick, shirt-collared necks and almost ascetically formless trousers. Maybe the poor sods’ wives would up the blow-job quota if they would just show the slightest suggestion of ass once in a while, at least on Casual Fridays? As though sensing my thoughts, the aisle I was following led straight to the underwear section, where I briefly fraternized with a small army of Calvin-Klein outfitted mannequins with identical Ken-doll packages straining against their wares. I wondered how many conservative, Canadian men actually wear Calvin Kleins under their tan chinos, and of those, what percentage is gay.
Having secured gift number one, I exited the Bay, whereupon I discovered that the light rain that fell earlier had since become a torrential downpour. By the time I reached HMV I was drenched, which made the experience of shopping at HMV that much worse. It has been quite a while since I shopped at a record store—I’m sorry, multi-media outlet—and having reacquainted myself with the experience I have vowed never to do so again. The mainstream entertainment industry deserves its imminent demise for saddling the consumer with ridiculous prices, lousy selection, and practically brain-dead staff, and as far as I’m concerned it can’t come soon enough. Chapters was as bad as HMV but in a superficially literary way; any bookstore that stocks more self-help books than works of philosophy and literature combined should be rewarded with immediate bankruptcy.
By the time I returned home the temperature had dropped ten degrees, and the lakes of water at every corner had already begun to freeze. Maybe if I try hard enough I can sleep through Christmas and arise, Jesus-like, in the new year?
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
It was an exceptionally good visit. Among the highlights:
Arit explaining the art of photography to my dad.
James and my dad playing to a draw in their first game of chess.
My dad dispensing relationship advice to Ada. (“Maybe you should try a Latin lover? I hear they’re very good.”)
My dad dispensing relationship advice to Atomic. (“Maybe you should marry a big shot at the UN? Then you’d always have work.”)
Telling James and my dad old punk rock band stories, complete with artefacts.
Eating Polish sausage for the first time in seventeen years.
My dad reminding me of all the friends that used to hang out at our house when I was a teenager, and telling me that Mike was his favourite.
Making Serbian onion-noodle soup.
My dad announcing his plans to visit Serbia for an extended period next year, and his entirely remarkable reasons for doing so.
Enjoying living with someone for a little while.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
The broth has virtually no nutritional value, consisting exclusively of onions, paprika, and obscene amounts of salt, which is its only discernible flavouring. Nevertheless, the soup is actually quite tasty and the closest thing to a home-cooked Serbian meal I know how to make. Not having eaten it since he separated from my mother two years ago, my father was very appreciative.
The recipe is as follows:
Fry one small, finely chopped onion
Add one tablespoon of paprika
Add water and salt and bring to a boil
Add egg noodles, cook until tender
Add two dollops of sour cream
Maybe it’s the whisky talking, but I am starting to feel something not unlike Christmas cheer. It's probably the whisky.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Mike had curly brown hair and a nose ring and he smoked Player’s Light cigarettes and wore striped polyester pants. I have an Indian cotton shirt he used to like wearing in a box in my bedroom closet. For a long time, it still smelled like him.
We spent hours talking on the phone at our parents’ houses, me curled around the telephone table in our downstairs hallway and him sprawled out on the carpet in their basement rec room. When we burst out laughing even though we were trying to be quiet our parents would yell at us to go to bed, but we never did.
On Wednesdays, we would drop acid and go out dancing all night. Once, we climbed onto the roof of Toronto City Hall in the middle of a snowstorm and looked out at the muted city, me right at the edge and him three steps behind, and he said that I was beautiful and I actually believed him.
When I broke up with Mark and couldn’t stop crying, he didn’t say anything at all. Instead, he made me lie down on my futon on my stomach and gave me a long, slow massage and kept his hands on me until I felt loved again.
We would talk about going to university and imagined ourselves becoming great intellectuals and seeing our names in footnotes instead of lights. Then we would argue about love because he didn’t believe in it and I did in my way and we’d try to convince each other until we both got bored and talked about books instead.
When I started seeing the Ex I asked Mike what he thought and he said that he liked him and that he thought he was good for me. And I was glad because it could never, ever have worked if Mike didn’t approve.
When he went out hitchhiking he would steal people’s calling cards and call me from truckstops between small American towns and tell me all about where he had been and what he did there. Except for the time he got raped, when he just cried for a long time as the trucks drove past.
By the time he moved to Vancouver, he was a junkie but tried to pretend that he wasn’t. He ODed a couple of times and would laugh about it, like he was just trying to freak everybody out. Then he started stealing stuff from people he knew and it wasn't funny at all.
The last time he called he was so happy that he kept giggling and then he told me he was in love for the first time and that he was gonna get clean and go back to school to study anthropology and that I could come stay with him and his boyfriend at their warehouse and that he would make us both pancakes in the morning. And I giggled too and told him that of course I had been right all along and that I expected to be served my pancakes in bed.
Then he ODed again and was placed on life support and his parents flew out to B.C. and the doctors told them his brain was dead and three days later Allison called and said, “I’m sorry hon, he’s gone.” And his brother asked me to call his friends because I was closer to him than anyone so I called thirty people to tell them and they all cried but I never did not even at the funeral or when everyone got drunk afterward because all I could feel was rage and alone.
Now it’s ten years later and it’s his birthday soon and he would be thirty-five except that he’s been dead for as long as we were friends. But I still love him and miss him and wish he would call, so that at least I could tell him I’m not angry anymore.
Monday, December 13, 2004
I attended my first Christmas party of the season on Saturday night, a girls-only affair that was lavishly hosted by Ellen. Predictably, much of the alcohol-fuelled conversation that transpired there concerned the subject of men, and, as two of our number are presently experiencing relationship difficulties, the tone was distinctly jaundiced. As the usual litany of injustices was recounted – jealousy, infidelity, insecurity, slovenliness, dishonesty – I felt a momentary elation at being single, which I celebrated by drinking until eight ‘o clock in the morning.
Thinking about it again in the deep fog of a hangover, I realize that it is not simply a matter of A or not-A, relationship or not-relationship. The more interesting question is, I think, what kind of relationship? Is it Oprah-relationship? Whitman-relationship? De Beauvoir-relationship? Further, upon what premises is the relationship based? Assuming heterosexuality, are its participants essentially different or fundamentally the same? Is its form predetermined, or does it create itself? Does it inevitably lead to cohabitation? Marriage? Children? Does it assume a dichotomy between reason and passion? Commitment and individuality? The self and the other?
I suspect that the way in which we answer these questions has something to do with the kind of relationships we find ourselves in, or not in, as the case may be. It may also account for the gulfs of misunderstanding that we routinely encounter when we talk about them. I am reminded almost daily that what I mean by relationship is not necessarily what others mean by it, and that in certain conversations, the only commonality that may exist between speakers is the word itself.
Radical nominalist seeks same for relationship of undetermined nature. Likes: drinking, occasional travel, and hot sex. Dislikes: hangovers, winter, and Oprah Winfrey. Smoker preferred.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
I attended a book launch the other night, and in the middle of the reading I was struck almost breathless with wanting the stage. At first, it was just a slight yearning, as when one fondly remembers a good meal or a warm day. Then, it crept into my limbs like an ache, spreading out under the surface of the skin. Then, in an instant, it surged in me like desire surges: the pure, blind need to perform.
I have since realized that everything I write is meant to be voiced. Essays are meant to be lectures. Blog posts are meant to be stories. Emails are meant to be late-night phone conversations, or dialogue in a play. Suddenly, I want this as much as warmth or food or sex, but there is no corporeality in anything I do.
Last night, I dreamt that I was swimming with Spalding Gray. I shudder to think what this means.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
In ten days my father will arrive for his semi-annual visit. He will take the five ‘o clock express train from Toronto and I will be waiting for him at the station at precisely nine. When I meet him he will take my head in his hands and kiss my cheeks three times, then we will sit down to smoke a cigarette and he will tell me all about his journey: who he happened to talk to en route, how loud the train was, whether it slowed down or stopped completely and how often. Only then will it be permissible to hail a taxi and drive past the mountain towards home.
Once, having other commitments to attend to earlier in the evening, I suggested that he come from the train station to my apartment on his own. This obviously hurt him deeply and I’ve never made the suggestion again. As I came to understand, the ritual of greeting a loved one after a journey is terribly important to my father, in part, I suspect, because he remembers when the experience of travel was still something extraordinary.
In the village, the whole extended family and a smattering of neighbours would accompany a traveller to the main road, where buses to and from Belgrade would stop twice a day. Drinks would be proffered and gifts given, and when the time came for the traveller to depart there would be a rush of triple cheek kisses and a crowd of people waving goodbye as the bus pulled away. Though my father has lived in large urban centres for almost fifty years, in this regard he is still a villager and always will be.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Observation: This is the first time I’ve written a blog entry in someone else’s presence.
When I moved out on my own after the break-up, I put a great deal of time and effort into making my apartment a place I liked being in. It’s brightly painted and blessedly quiet and strikes, I think, just the right note of airy coziness. The cats prowl its rooms at a leisurely pace, carefully deliberating which cushioned surface they might like to sleep on next. The light is best at mid-morning and sunset; at night you can just barely feel the trains going by.
I realize that I’ve been cautious about having people over. Ada joins me for dinner occasionally, not often. Arit comes by more frequently, for iced tea or laundry or just to catch up on the week. And James has, over time, become a regular visitor, usually after-hours but sometimes not, though he stays up late with me either way. Otherwise, I’ve guarded this space without really knowing why.
I think I shall have a Christmas party this year.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Sunday, November 28, 2004
When I awoke the next afternoon, and for the first time in four days, I was not in pain. Although not gone, the abscess had decreased significantly in size, as had the extent of the swelling that accompanied it. To my mind, this called for immediate celebration, and more drinking, which transpired at a fair to middling party hosted by two graduate students in English. The high point of the evening occurred when, in an effort to mingle, I ventured into one of the apartment’s two bedrooms and rudely interrupted a reading of W.H. Auden’s poems. Feeling shamefully uncultured, I quickly excused myself and retreated to the kitchen, where I kept company with the other philistines in attendance.
Today, I started taking my prescribed course of antibiotics and am hoping for the best, which in this case may well be a root canal.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
I was first rebuffed by my dentist, whose office has apparently had to downsize so radically that it no longer employs either a receptionist or an answering machine. Can you remember the last time you dialed a phone number that did not eventually redirect you to voice mail? No? Well, let me remind you of what it’s like: the phone just keeps ringing and ringing and ringing, without so much as a hint of explanation. After calling several times over the course of the day – Is she on lunch break? In surgery? High on nitrous oxide? – I fell into despair, having belatedly remembered that my dentist is a New Yorker by birth and has quite probably returned to her native land to celebrate Thanksgiving. Fuck.
I was subsequently turned away from the McGill drop-in clinic on the pretext that I had arrived too late: i.e., one full hour before the posted closing time. I couldn’t help but notice that there was only one other person slouched in the normally crowded waiting room, afflicted, presumably, with some entirely pedestrian ailment like the common cold or genital warts, but this fact was lost on the heartless and logic-deficient receptionist who dismissed me from the clinic with a wave of her hand. I left planning the lawsuit I would posthumously file against my alma mater, the proceeds from which shall be used to start a foundation for poverty-stricken graduate students with abscesses.
My final measure and last resort was to call Info-Santé, the twenty-four hour health services hotline that is one of perhaps three good ideas the Parti Québécois implemented during their last term in office. Of course, this required my spending forty-five minutes on hold, during which time I was free to speculate about the true nature of my condition. What if I’m having an aneurysm? It seems implausible, but these things do happen to people. I mean, look at REM’s drummer. I bet he didn’t think he was having an aneurysm, being a famous rock star and all. But then he had one and they rushed him to hospital and he nearly died and they put pictures of his CAT scan in the band’s tour book. Or maybe a stroke? I have been on the Pill all these years and now I’m paying for all the sex I used to enjoy so freely with a fatal blood clot. Or what if it’s cancer? Ohmigod, that’s it – when I finally see a medical practitioner they will sit me down and tell me I have a sudden-onset brain tumour and have only three weeks to live and that it’s my own damn fault for being a smoker. In exchange for pain medication, they will force me to sign a waiver that allows them to display a colour picture of my disease-ravaged corpse on cigarette packs to be sold throughout the country with a caption that reads “Smoking kills graduate students.” Or...
NURSE: Allô, Info-Santé...
V.H.: I’m dying, aren’t I?
NURSE: What are your symptoms?
V.H.: Cancer. I have cancer.
NURSE: I recommend that you see a dentist tomorrow.
V.H.: I prefer to be cremated.
NURSE: I can give you the number of a dental clinic if you wish.
V.H.: I have to write a will. Do you offer a will-writing service?
NURSE: What is your postal code?
V.H.: At least I won’t have to pay back my student loans. That’s something.
NURSE: Thank you for calling Info-Santé!
V.H.: But what does it all mean? Allô? Allô?
Monday, November 22, 2004
Good grief, what has become of me?
It wasn’t so long ago that I thought of email as an almost magical form of play. I wrote long, drifting electronic letters to friends the world over. I sent missives of absurdist dialogue and dada poetry to people I had never met. I engaged in endless written foreplay with present and potential lovers, luxuriating in the feel of words meant for paper or the dark.
Now, I write memos and schedule meetings and collect calls for papers for conferences I could never possibly attend. I negotiate; I clarify; I follow-up. I thank people in advance for their time and encourage them to contact me at their earliest convenience. I am cyborg in the sense of a mule and its cart, and there is no technological revolution in sight.
It is, without question, Monday.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Attended usual number of long and futile meetings.
Had dinner with Atomic at her place; was regaled with amusing anecdotes about Afghan elections, toxic moonshine, and Iranian morality police.
Stood up to asshole landlord.
Treated Ada to Chinese palm reading for her birthday. Haggled with palm reader for two-for-one deal; learned I will live to be at least 80 despite smoking habit and bear five children.
Discovered that I am a descendant of neo-Protestant evangelicals. (See below.)
Began reading Zuleika Dobson.
Attended Ada’s birthday party. Got blindly drunk, heckled DJ, and had best plate of 4:00 AM poutine I’ve ever eaten.
Consoled equally drunk friend who was reduced to tears by her inability to get a date in eight months. Struggled and failed to find comforting words; offered shoulder to cry on instead.
Woke up with hangover after night of bad dreams. Briefly reconsidered value of existentialist philosophy. Decide to stay in tonight.
Friday, November 19, 2004
According to Aleksov, the Nazarene movement was founded in 1831 by a Swiss pastor named Samuel Frölich. From Switzerland, the movement spread to Alsace, southern Germany, and eventually to the southernmost reaches of the Hapsburg Empire, which at that time included the Serbian province of Vojvodina, the area in which my father’s family later settled. A peasant sect, the Nazarenes bear certain resemblances to both the Russian Dukhobors and central European Mennonites: e.g., they refused to perform military service; they rejected the authority of the state and of state-controlled churches; they refrained from voting, and so on. Aleksov writes:
In both Hungary and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Nazarenes were perceived as a kind of social movement of the oppressed, as their ethical and religious perfectionism prompted them to strongly criticize the prevailing religious and political order. Their national and social origins and the potential for such movements' expansion provoked extremely severe persecution from both the Austro-Hungarian and Serbian and later Yugoslav kingdom. 1.
As peasants, my father’s family left few traces of their history behind. There are a handful of photographs, fewer letters, and no bourgeois tradition of genealogical preservation. For years, my aunt has tried to construct a simple family tree, but despite her best efforts the line extends only as far as my great-grandfather. Even my grandparents’ lives remain somewhat mysterious to my father, who left Yugoslavia when he was eighteen and has only his own and his siblings’ early memories to draw from. These include vague recollections of my grandfather’s refusal to take up arms, even as invading Nazi forces murdered those closest to him; his repeated imprisonment by the post-war Communist regime; and the absence of music on days of religious celebration, a silence my father remembers as being especially stark in comparison to the boisterousness of rural Orthodox revelry. But in the absence of a larger historical narrative, these memories have remained fragments at best, quietly separate from those of their village neighbours and undocumented by Yugoslav scholars.
Having read Aleksov’s short thesis, I suddenly have a frame for the stories I’ve been told, and a far richer sense of two generations of lives that preceded my own. I understand now why my grandfather eventually abandoned his church, and why my father nearly starved in the years after the war, and why my grandmother always wears a black headscarf in the pictures I’ve seen of her. I also understand why my father was raised, for all intents and purposes, as an atheist, and why I was as well. And I know how much it will mean to my father to be able to understand his father just this little bit more, even though he’s been dead for over twenty years and his small, two-room house is falling down and no one lives in it anymore or likely ever will.
1. Aleksov, Bojan. “The Dynamics of Extinction: The Nazarene Religious Community in Yugoslavia After 1945.” MA Thesis, Central European University, 1999. 19 Nov 2004. http://www.c3.hu/~bocs/teza.htm
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Monday, November 15, 2004
Faced with a lengthy wait and that ridiculous moment when the couple finally emerges to make their flushed and awkward exit, I returned to our table and tried not to drink more beer. After a respectable amount of time had passed I headed back to the washroom, where two young Francophone women were now touching up their make-up. They had been present when the couple departed and bitched at some length about their insensitivity to others, as well as the condition in which they had left the facilities. My bladder cramping, I ventured into the functional toilet stall and saw a used condom and three perfect drops of menstrual blood on the floor, which required a near-acrobatic level of dexterity to avoid stepping in. After some careful arranging of wool skirt and tights – both hand-wash only – I managed to take a successful piss, thinking throughout that the worst job in the world is almost certainly that of the bar janitor. Can you ever really get paid enough to deal with the full spectrum of human bodily fluids on a nightly basis?
With this experience now behind me, I have formulated a simple code of etiquette for washroom sex, which I may lobby the city to have posted in all public drinking establishments. The rules are as follows:
1. Do not under any circumstances have washroom sex if there is only one functional toilet stall available.
2. Washroom sex should not exceed five minutes. Anything longer than a quickie is best reserved for the private sphere; tantric sex is expressly forbidden.
3. Do not piss, bleed, come, or female-ejaculate on the toilet seat. Other people have to sit on it when you’re done.
4. Carefully dispose of used condoms, latex gloves and/or dental dams in the feminine hygiene products receptacle that is located behind the toilet.
5. Do not moan, holler, or scream for mercy. It makes single people feel bad.
6. Women should not fake orgasms -- everyone waiting in line will know that you are and will have no choice but to comment.
7. Limit post-coital cuddling or smoking to a bare minimum, or take it outside.
8. Please don’t use up all the toilet paper.
Thank you—the Management.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Because she gets drunk off two beers
Because she’s always curious
Because we talk about art but not as critics
Because she knows how to make gibanica
Because she and her boyfriend had a rough couple of years but still love each other to death
Because she comes over for iced tea late at night
Because she’s the smartest woman I know
Because she’s seen me at my worst and didn’t go away
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Picture it: “Martha, darling, it’s Vila. I’m feeling like a blond tonight – is Jonathan available? No? Oh, but David’s on call? Mmm, no, too sporty... What about Paul? He’s really quite lovely – is he an aspiring filmmaker? Or Tom perhaps – he’s so deliciously boyish. But are you quite sure he isn’t gay? Oh, he’s bi – perfect! Are you still running your two-for-one special? Fabulous, darling, then I’ll take two... and throw in a pack of Du Maurier while you’re at it.”
So why is it that (heterosexual) male prostitution never took off? Restrictive social mores? Lack of disposable income? A dearth of imagination? I would think that in a truly egalitarian society, women would possess the inalienable right to buy sex just as men do. Wouldn’t they?
Sunday, November 07, 2004
1. Have sex with considerably younger men.
Since entering my mid-thirties, I have noticed that I have become suddenly quite popular with the under twenty-five set. During the summer months that now feel so achingly distant, I was practically besieged by men in their early twenties, as well as one strange boy who couldn’t have been a day over nineteen. (*shudder*) My friends tell me that I should find this inter-generational attention flattering, though I’m having trouble feeling anything but mildly disturbed by the earnest come-ons of Gen Y. How can someone who hasn’t been beaten senseless and left for dead by life be even remotely interesting? More to the point, isn’t suffering the font of all sexual passion?
2. Look up old flames.
I recently came into possession of the last known coordinates for Nathaniel, a man I met on an internet mailing list and went on to have a two-year long quasi-affair with. Nathaniel lived in Chicago at the time, and after a lengthy correspondence I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit him, sight unseen. When I arrived at O’Hare airport, I found myself being welcomed to the Windy City by a stunningly beautiful mid-Westerner who was so very generous with his hospitality that he insisted I share his bed, which was really much more comfortable than the sofa. To make a long story short, Nathaniel wound up moving to an intentional community in Virginia – seriously – and soon after that we lost touch. Now, I soberly debate the merits of re-initiating contact with a man who spends his days making hammocks and is probably hand-fasted to a woman named Rainbow anyway.
3. Start dating.
In nineteen years of sexual activity, several of them reasonably promiscuous, I have never once been on a date. I have hung out, chilled, befriended, drank, hooked up, even picked up (once), but not dated. While the concept sets off my authenticity issues in the worst possible way, I am being strongly encouraged by friends and therapist alike to give this particular form of social intercourse a try. I suppose I shouldn’t knock it ‘til I’ve tried it, right? Having said this, I have been closely observing my friends who do date and most of them aren’t getting any either, which is hardly a gushing testimonial. It does seem to make for amusing blog posts, though, which is something.
4. Rediscover my bisexuality.
Well, there is that drawerful of sex toys that have just been gathering dust – and it’s a political statement!
Hmm, maybe it’s time for a poll?
Friday, November 05, 2004
1. The U.S. is divided along religious lines.
2. The U.S. is divided along cultural lines.
3. The U.S. is divided along an urban/non-urban fault line.
I’ll admit to being intrigued by the last explanation, which conjures up ghosts of Weimar Berlin or Milosevic-era Belgrade: the oppressed volk rising up again the decadent cosmopolitans whose cities are fatally infected by promiscuity, homosexuality, and, that old stand-by, Jewry. (Hey, that’s my kind of town!) Though I will decline to extend the analogy further by speculating about the nature of fascism and its applicability to the present case, I am nevertheless amazed that these bogeymen still retain their power, and that they remain, almost a century later, so persistently emblematic of the urban condition.
Of course, the cranky old Marxist in me can’t help but note the omission of class as an axis of division, not in the vague cultural sense that most political commentators employ the term but in the more traditional and distinctly un-sexy sense of lived economics. Allow me to briefly pontificate:
It occurred to me yesterday that the Democratic party once relied on trade unions to reach out to working-class voters who were otherwise beneath the radar of the political elites. For decades, unions provided both the ideological and institutional structures that are required to mobilize large numbers of economically-marginalized citizens, as well as authentication of the Democratic party’s commitment to their issues. The loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs during the last decade and the attendant decline in union membership means that these citizens, whose prospects for economic advancement are now in the hands of Wal-Mart Inc., have been cut adrift from the Democratic party. In the absence of a Plan B on the part of the Democrats, what institution was ready and waiting to step into the void? The Church, maybe?
Which brings us to the fundamental problem. If you’ve ever spent time with factory workers, or army guys, or the generically (as opposed to the bohemian) poor, you have likely noticed that they’re not always the most politically correct lot. They don’t drink mocha lattés. They often smoke. They sometimes make jokes about women and homosexuals that you might find offensive. And they’re not particularly receptive to globalization or to the ethnic communities that represent said globe. There are exceptions, of course, and in many cases it is the exceptions that rise through the ranks of union leadership to become discursive intermediaries between the workers on the shop floor and the latté-drinking politicos. As my father once said to me, “you have to know how to talk to these guys,” and this is, at root, the primary role of the intermediary. In the absence of class politics, however, there is nothing much to talk about, and without a union, there is no organized structure to facilitate the conversation.
Somehow, the Democrats seem not to have noticed that their own economic policies over the last thirty years have decimated their base of support, and they appear genuinely bewildered by the trouncing they have just received at the polls. With any luck, when they are exhausted by the orgy of self-flagellation that has almost certainly already begun, they will roll up their shirtsleeves and get to work on a Plan B. That is, if it’s not already too late.
Okay, I’ll stop with the politics already. In fact, I promise to write about something entertaining like music or movies or sex next time. (Speaking of Weimar Berlin...)
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
I wonder what the world will be like four years from now?
Monday, November 01, 2004
In the weeks and then months following September 11, 2001, I developed the unfortunate habit of keeping CNN on in the background at nearly all times of the day and night. I wouldn’t actually watch it most of the time, choosing instead to adopt a more strategic approach: I’d turn the TV on and go about my day, and as I passed from the kitchen to my office, or from bedroom to bathroom, I’d glance at the screen in case something terrible had happened. If regularly scheduled programs like Crossfire or People in the News were on, or if the station was running a commercial, then everything was quite probably okay and I’d continue with whatever I was doing. If, however, I saw the red “Breaking News” graphic in the corner of the screen, then there was a very real chance that everything was not okay and this therefore required immediate investigation. I kept this up for almost a year; then, like the rest of the world, I moved on.
After the break-up, in the first numb weeks of 2003, the Ex generously arranged to stay at his boss’s place while I looked for another apartment. Alone in the shell of our home, I studiously avoided sleeping in our former bedroom; instead, I’d bring blanket and pillow to the shitty grey sofa we had bought at the Salvation Army and which our cats had instantly torn to shreds, and would endeavour to find sleep in front of the TV. Movies and television serials were too engrossing to rely on for this purpose, so I would set the volume to low and drift off to the quiet drone of CNN. At some point, I came to associate late-night reruns of Moneyline with Lou Dobbs or Newsnight with Aaron Brown with a strange kind of solace: the talking head as constant, murmuring companion. That the head was talking in urgent tones about another war in Iraq or nuclear tests in North Korea or terrorist attacks in Chechnya didn’t particularly matter; by the time the opening motif for Daybreak had sounded, I was fast asleep.
Lately, with coverage of the American election in full, repetitive swing, I have on certain days neglected to turn the television on at all. I’m not missing anything, am I?
Saturday, October 30, 2004
"My daddy killed me with a knife and I'm gone. Can you please send the Army men or the ambulance?"
Oh yeah, and I hear Bin Laden's back. Happy Halloween, everyone.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Monday, October 25, 2004
If I were an American, as quite a few of my friends are, I would vote for Ralph Nader on November 2nd. Yes, I am being serious – and to the Americans among you, please don’t shoot me. However, this was not always the case. Earlier in the electoral year, I was briefly seduced by the “Anyone but Bush” doctrine, which, as I understand it, holds that the current political situation is sufficiently dire that progressive citizens have an ethical obligation to vote Democrat in spite of their misgivings about the party and/or its current leader.
This is, at first glance, a reasonably compelling argument. Bush, or more accurately, the cabal of Rove/Cheney/Wolfowitz/etc. for which he acts as the endearingly oafish figurehead, has managed in four short years to annul the separation of Church and State; to reinstate economic policies that give free reign to the most despicable of his nation’s robber-barons while consigning the majority of its citizens to working poverty; and, in his spare time, to destroy a formerly viable nation-state and thus nudge the Middle East to the brink of regional collapse. Without question, things are every bit as bleak as they appear.
However, I do not believe for a moment that a John Kerrey administration will enact anything but cosmetic change. I wish it would, but having followed this infernally long campaign since day one I am now convinced that Kerrey is more concerned with securing political power than with governing on the basis of political principles. Speak out against the war in Iraq? Nah, too dicey; better to present yourself as a gun-toting, camo-wearing hawk than to risk alienating the dreaded swing states. Reject the growing influence of religious conservatives on social and educational policy? Heaven forbid: it’s far more politically expedient to kiss Catholic ass in full view of a salivating horde of cable-news spin jockeys. Identify the corporate class as the real force behind virtually all political decision-making in your country and, as Halliburton and its anonymous cohorts so aptly demonstrate, in the international sphere? Then where would your so-called liberal, so-called democratic party get its financial support?
No, Nader is absolutely right: America’s two-party system is profoundly, irredeemably corrupt and it has got to go. Now.
Cue voice-over: Hi, I'm Vila H. and I approved this message.
Following from my last post, I was going to write an impassioned screed about the history of the family wage and the post-industrial division of labour and how this applies to a knowledge-based economy but I think I will watch TV instead. Even Marx needed a day off once in a while.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Chain-smoking, insomniac doctoral student of Slavic descent seeks professor’s wife for companionship and reproduction of intellectual labour power. To start immediately.
Responsibilities and qualifications include:
- Shopping, cooking, cleaning, filing, and basic bookkeeping
- Editing and research skills to assist with dissertation
- Exceptional conversational skills in at least three of the following areas: philosophy, politics, music, literature, art, and popular culture
- Prior experience as massage therapist an asset, preferably Shiatsu
- Plumbing, electrical and bicycle repair skills
- Candidate must be computer-literate without being a geek
- Ability to throw fabulous and well-attended parties and perform clean-up
- Encyclopedic knowledge of wine
- High sex drive (mandatory)
- Must make excellent mix CDs
- Fluency in English, French, and Cat
- Familiarity with federal and provincial tax codes
- Demonstrated proficiency at giving blow-jobs at all times of the month
- Proven grant-writing ability
- Smoker preferred
Special consideration will be given to candidates who are independently wealthy, own a cottage, and/or keep a pied-à-terre in New York, Paris, or London. The employer is committed to the principles of affirmative action. Applications and enquiries may be sent to thesmokingsection.blogspot.com.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
My neighbour contested the eviction, and after waiting nervously for three long weeks she has just received the court’s decision: she won! Hooray! I suppose this proves that there is, very occasionally, justice in the world; that good guys sometimes do win; and that quasi-socialist separatist governments are, on balance, a good thing.
On a completely unrelated note, I went to a clown cabaret the other night which I‘m sorry to say wasn’t especially funny. Most of the performers, though thankfully not all, were young hipster types who demonstrated both an appalling lack of the physical skills that are essential to good clowning and a surprising absence of wit, which seemed not to matter very much to an audience that was largely comprised of the performers’ friends. I’ll still take bad clowning over bad theatre (or should I say, “thea-tah”), or worse yet, any performance that is unselfconsciously termed “avant-garde,” but it ain’t no barrel of monkeys.
Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about comedy of late, most recently about how similar comic tastes are to sexual ones. Unlike Art, by which I mean art in its broadest possible sense, both comedy and sex have a discernible, physical effect that is to some extent beyond the participant’s control: i.e. if you can too easily restrain your laughter, it probably wasn’t that funny. Also unlike Art, no amount of theoretical explication will make something that isn’t funny to you funny: using the parallel example, though I’ve read a fair amount on the subject, I still am not nor will I presumably ever be a foot fetishist. Further, a really good laugh, by which I mean the kind that comes up from your guts and brings tears to your eyes and catches you completely off-guard, is about as rare as a really good fuck, which, as before, I mean in its broadest possible sense.
All of which is to say that I would very much like to have sex with Jon Stewart, and even more so now that he’s called Tucker Carlson a dick to his face. Mmm. . .
Monday, October 18, 2004
The party was attended by a small army of youngish gay men, many of whom waited patiently in queue for tarot readings that were expertly given by a certain Madame D. [Yo, D!] I observed the proceedings for a while and noticed that nearly every reading concerned matters of sex or love or, in exceptional cases, both, which is in and of itself hardly surprising. Somewhat more noteworthy was the fact that in spite of the tales of rejection and heartbreak that Madame D’s querents shared with her, one through tears, they remained fiercely optimistic about the possibility of connection with their lovers and friends and about the lives they are just beginning to live. By contrast, my reading concluded with the screamingly chipper Nine of Swords:
Bad dreams or premonitions. Deception, depression and suffering. Violence, scandal and loss. Etc.
Well, I guess scandal could be interesting.
Later in the evening I met one of my former students, a youngish gay man named Nicky who I was quite fond of at the time and with whom I smoked and talked for a while. He is now in his final year of an undergraduate degree in political science and has decided he has had enough of the “horrible system” that is academia. (Ah, the student surpasses the teacher!) He also talked about the very first lecture I gave in our class almost three years ago and the effect it had on him, and although I had the good grace to thank him I was still slightly amazed that he remembered it at all. When I left him I smiled and wished him well, and he smiled back up at me, and in that moment I remembered what it is I love, truly love about teaching.
Bring us home, Bakhtin:
To be means to communicate. Absolute death (nonbeing) is the state of being unheard, unrecognized, unremembered. . .
Hell yeah, and goodnight.
Friday, October 15, 2004
I am worried about my friend Ellen, who I hoped would meet me for coffee today but didn’t answer when I called. Ellen has been in the throes of a dying relationship since I met her several months ago, one that wounds both parties every time they draw close but which neither party has yet found the courage to end. So the relationship continues and wound stacks upon wound and they draw closer still, increasingly desperate for a comfort they cannot give each other. Does it always become cancer in the end?
Now, things have become suddenly more complicated and she is there and not-there and I’m not sure what to do other than to leave gentle and respectfully-spaced invitations to coffee on her answering machine. And to let her know it’s a standing offer.
“So, is this blog well ventilated?”
No, no it is not. This blog is dense with blue-grey smoke that curls up into the light in endless streams. It is smoky in the manner of strip clubs and speakeasies and political backrooms; you will leave reeking of smoke and it will linger in your hair all the next day. There are no government officials here and no children either. No one is producing anything and everyone will stay until dawn. It is a space that is regressing into the province of memory, a thing that is loved and gone; it is a refuge and a funeral at once.
To me, the sexiest smell in the world is the one that comes off a smoker’s leather coat. Will you wear one next time?
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
This post was birthed in my 3½ room apartment in Mile End, an historic and rapidly-gentrifying neighbourhood in north Montreal. Mile End was mythologized in the liner notes of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s f#a#infinity
This is, at root, because Mile End encompasses a statistically disproportionate number of the relationships that are most important to me and, in turn, it is this synthesis of intimacy and proximity that defines my experience of the neighbourhood. By way of illustration: my apartment is situated at the northernmost edge of the neighbourhood, which ends finally and abruptly at the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks. My closest friends all live within five blocks of this radius point, each clinging tenaciously to their cheap and spacious apartments as they anticipate the inevitable arrival of their registered eviction letters. In the meantime, we meet regularly for coffee and drinks at our local café, which is just one of many local cafés but which by virtue of being our café is therefore, for the purposes of this blog, the Café. The Café’s proprietor lives on the other side of my street, as does James, who is as it happens partially responsible for the existence of this blog.
Like myself, James is a doctoral student who, in the language of the post-Martin Canadian university, is “failing to progress.” He is also a writer whose current level of prolificacy is, I suspect, inversely proportional to his talent, but that is quite another story. While drinking at the Café the other night, which James and I do altogether too frequently, we discussed the Blog and its potential uses (e.g. as diary, as political soapbox, as research aid, as writer’s therapy) and by the time we staggered home at our usual late hour we had made a fool’s pact to both start one. Not more than twenty-four hours later James triumphantly posted his first entry, and being a woman of my word, I have somewhat belatedly followed suit.
I’m not at all certain which of the aforementioned categories this blog will fall into, nor do I possess any discernible sense of its utility to anyone other than myself. Having said this, I am at my worst a compulsive story-teller and I imagine this will become readily apparent to any readers who may stumble across these pages. To them I offer a warm welcome and my sincere apologies. And yes, you may smoke here.