Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, darlings!


I'll see you in 2006...

The life of the mind

I have noticed that, after reading several hundred pages of theory in one sitting, I develop a mysterious and insatiable need to listen to really dumb rock 'n' roll.

I have also noticed that, after reading several hundred pages of theory in one sitting, I become impossibly distracted by things like this:

Prick

(Hey, I’m being Foucauldian. Didja catch it?)

In other news, I received a package today which contained, among other books, a copy of Richard Klein’s Cigarettes are Sublime. It will be the first thing I read when my synthesis paper is finished.

And yes, I intend to smoke while I read it. Heavily.

Portrait

Thanks, by the way, to Mia for the pics. I’ll be referring to them often in the days ahead.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Immersion

This is how my days are.

I wake in the afternoon. I make a cup of tea and read the day’s news and horoscopes. By the time I have finished my tea, it is already dark. I do my household chores and then I take a long walk, picking up groceries as I need them. Then, I read until dawn, at which point the cycle starts again.

James came over for dinner on Christmas, and we talked all night. Otherwise, I have had no unmediated social contact since last Tuesday. Oddly enough, it’s working for me. I am burning through books at a remarkable pace, jotting down notes occasionally but only occasionally. I can’t bear the thought of slowing down--I need the momentum of the torrent, when each connection comes on the heels of the last.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way.

Tonight, as I read, I caught a glimpse of what my dissertation will look like. There is a moment with ideas when the basic form comes into view, like an ultrasound image: suddenly, you can see the outlines of what the idea will become. There is a spine and veins and stubs of limbs, and with them, the suggestion of a thing.

I think I’ll call it Moe.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The quietest day of the year

The neighbours have all left for their Christmas dinners, and suddenly, there is nothing. No footsteps in the adjacent stairwell, no television murmuring behind the living room wall, no clatter of cupboard doors closing or dishes being washed.

It’s eerie, but not in a bad way.

Earlier, I tried to read as the hipster couple next door listened to their favourite band, Coco Rosie. Their music falls in the higher end of the sound spectrum, and, thus, pierces through thin apartment walls with inescapable clarity.

Because of this, I will never like Coco Rosie. Which is a shame.

I can also hear the hipster couple next door having sex, though not very often because they are, in this regard, morning people, and I most assuredly am not. However, I have occasionally been awoken by them, usually when I am hungover and feeling not at all the écouteuse.

She does have lovely little love cries, though. He, sadly, does not. Grunt, grunt, done. I should devise a rating system for the vocal performances of my neighbours. One knock=Fair. Two knocks=Good. Three knocks=Can I come over?

Yes, this is how life will be for a while. Small.

Friday, December 23, 2005

So, Christmas...

I hear it’s all the rage this year.

The streets are lousy with last-minute shoppers, and with mountains of snow still waiting to be hauled away--and more listlessly falling--they are no longer streets but thin, clogged arteries. As each day passes, the mood of the city becomes steadily more frantic, and there isn’t an Ativan in sight.

I am, I have decided, sitting this one out. I have politely declined to visit my mother, who is, miraculously, still alive, and my brother, who is already going off his meds. My father, for his part, has elected to spend the holiday with his girlfriend’s family in a town I’ve never heard of. I did not ask for, nor did I receive, an invitation to join them.

It occurs to me that this is the first time my family will celebrate Christmas completely apart. I tell myself it is for the best.

Free of family obligations, I plan to spend the holiday season sequestered in my apartment writing my synthesis paper, a scholarly obligation I have avoided for entirely too long. Although hardly festive, I suppose it is one of the more productive things I could do with myself during this slow spasm between years. It is also, for me, akin to leaping off a very large cliff.

As every graduate student with a therapist knows, avoidance is a rational response to stressful situations. For example, when confronted with a cliff, it is perfectly reasonable to think, “Nuh-uh, scary, not gonna do it,” and not to proceed. In fact, you would be quite foolish to do otherwise. It is a cliff, after all, and you, being human, don’t much care for them.

The problem is, you are still standing on the edge of a very large cliff, staring dumbly down into the abyss. You are, ostensibly, safe, but you remain utterly consumed by the abyss. For some reason, you don’t turn back, nor do you avert your gaze. You could, if you really wanted to, but you don’t. Instead, you just stand there, like an idiot, scaring yourself silly as you endlessly ruminate on what lies ahead.

The strange thing is that, in time, you get used to it. You learn to live with the edge and all that it brings: the unsettled stomach and the jaw that aches every morning and the constant, nagging sense of guilt that pervades everything that you do and, if you’re not careful, everything that you are. You learn to live as a coward frozen to the edge of a cliff that wasn’t even really a cliff before you made it into one.

In any case, I think I have finally reached the point where I would rather fall ten thousand feet to the jagged rocks below than spend another minute contemplating the fucking abyss.

Wish me luck...


PS. James—I’ll see you on the way down.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas gifts your single friends will enjoy

1. A date, preferably with someone you yourself would go out with if you were single.

2. A massage—Pass the hat around and buy your friend physical contact with a complete stranger.

3. A blow job—See #2.

4. Hard liquor—Your friend can use it to seduce prospective sexual partners and to drown their sorrows when it doesn’t work out.

5. Cat toys, or, for the newly single, a cat.

6. Porn, or, for pretentious literary types, erotica.

7. A new vibrator from Come As You Are. (Vila’s recommendation: the Hitachi Wand.)

8. A tarot reading—Helpful hint: when the Hermit card comes up, and it will, tell your friend that it means “sexual union” in the Crowley deck.

9. A friend with benefits—The gift that keeps on giving, at least until someone better comes along.

10. All six volumes of In Search of Lost Time—Because solitude is the harbinger of erudition.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Last night, I watched the first English-language debate of the federal political campaign, which wasn’t so much a debate as a heavily moderated Q&A session with a carefully selected group of “regular" Canadians. It was, as you might imagine, a total snooze, except for one strange interlude.

Doris, one of the aforementioned Canadians, asked the candidates what they would do to control the “infighting” that has plagued the House of Commons since the last election. The moderator echoed Doris’ complaint, quoting a certain oft-namedropped “rock star” (I’m looking at you, Bono...) who apparently divulged that “he was appalled and shocked by the behaviour in Question Period.”

After a faintly lacklustre discussion about the importance of civility in Canadian politics, NDP leader Jack Layton pronounced, without a trace of irony, that his party would solve the problem of infighting by electing more women to Parliament. “Mark my words,” he intoned, “The tone of that House would change if we had a lot more women there!”

Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Paul Martin quickly agreed with Layton, adding that the primary reason that women declined to run for federal office was because of the “poisonous” atmosphere of the House. This was, I believe, the only time that the Liberals and the NDP expressed agreement on any subject during the entire two-hour debate.

As Carolyn Ryan remarked on the CBC’s Debate Blog, “Are the female MPs supposed to shush their male counterparts when they get raucous? Should they hold tea parties in the foyer? Will they bring in a "bad-word jar," with MPs having to pay a twoonie every time they heckle? Puh-lease!” The prospect of female politicians suddenly taking up the role of tight-lipped schoolmarms is as demeaning as it is ridiculous, yet the exchange speaks volumes about how little has changed in Canadian political discourse during the last hundred years.

In the early twentieth century, Nellie McClung and her colleagues in the Famous Five fought for, and eventually won, female suffrage in Canada. Given the provisions of the Election Act, which stated that “no woman, idiot, lunatic, or child” could vote, and the views of politicians like Premier Roblin of Manitoba, who blustered, “I don't want a hyena in petticoats talking politics to me—I want a nice gentle woman to bring me my slippers,” this was no small feat.

It bears noting, however, that like their contemporaries in the United States, Canadian suffragists were closely aligned with the Christian Temperance movement, which sought to “civilize” society by imposing prohibition and other social reforms. In the view of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and similar organizations, women were by nature morally superior to men, and were therefore duty-bound to protect the social order from the transgressions of the less spiritually adept half of the human race.

(In fact, the Temperance movement saw women’s suffrage not as an inalienable human right, to be won for its own sake, but as a means to a far more important end: increasing the number of voters who would support their broader program of social reform. The strategy worked: by 1919, the sale of liquor was banned in all nine of Canada’s provinces.)

The admission of women to provincial legislatures, and later to the House of Commons, would likely not have been achieved were it not for the reassuring tenor of Christian Temperance discourse. Even when engaged in the rough-and-tumble sport of politics, it was promised, women would retain their “natural” maternal virtues and bring a more sensitive and feeling influence to statecraft. They would, thus, tame the masculine excesses of the political sphere, from which “the whole race suffered.”

It is hardly surprising that such views continue to hold sway among both Canadian and American conservatives, whose political ideologies are firmly rooted in traditional Protestant values. As columnist and Rush Limbaugh fill-in Walter Williams recently opined:

“Men and women have different psychological make-ups. Women tend to be more nurturing, sensitive and submissive. They demonstrate greater feelings of love and tend to exhibit grief to a greater extent than men. On the other hand, men tend to be more competitive, aggressive and hostile than women. Female characteristics are vital to a well-ordered society, for they exert a civilizing influence. I'd never want to live in a society where women didn't have a major role in the rearing of children and management of the household. However, sensitivity, nurturing and a capacity to exhibit grief are not the best characteristics for political leadership.”

What is rather more surprising, and also deeply disheartening, is that a comparable view was advanced not by Stephen Harper’s Conservative party, but by the leader of Canada’s “progressive” party, the NDP. If not the others, shouldn’t Layton possess the intelligence and, frankly, the balls to challenge commonly held assumptions about gender? Or, is the notion that women are perfectly capable of playing political hardball with their male counterparts—or, at least, that nothing in their “nature” prevents them from doing so—now so dangerously subversive that it is anathema even to progressives?

To be, I suspect, continued...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Winter has arrived

Today, I shovelled snow. Forty-one centimetres of snow.

In case you're wondering, that's a fuck of a lot of snow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

5:03 AM

Why can’t I fucking sleep? I am tired beyond words, but here I lie, writhing and twitching like a hooked trout. A hooked trout that has to be up in four hours.

Caffeine, fuck your god, your goat, and your mother.

Okay, Vila, don’t panic, and do not under any circumstances look at the clock. You are resting, which they say is almost as good as sleeping. Rest, Vila. You remember how to rest, don’t you? Sure you do.

Okay, I’m resting. Actually, it does feel kind of nice. Ah, and here come the cats, who will lie down beside me and purr quietly. Come on, cats, lie down. I said, lie down. No, Ivan, please don’t attack my toes. Ivan, NO! Oh, for fuck’s sake...

Great, I’m not resting any more. I am, however, jonesing for a cigarette. Fine. I’ll get up and have a cigarette. And check my email.

Oh look, it’s an email from James, who isn’t sleeping either. Write back to him while you smoke your cigarette, and be sure to whine. Done. Send. Hey, maybe he’ll write back again? Hmm... (Drumming fingers.) He isn’t writing back. Fuck, you’re asleep, aren’t you, James? Bastard!

Fine. Finish your cigarette and go back to bed, Vila. Maybe it’ll work this time? I know, I’ll fantasize about the cute bartender at the Café. That way, when I drift off to sleep I’ll have fabulous sex dreams. Yes, that is exactly what I should do.

Okay, there he is. Damn, he’s cute. Okay, now get rid of his clothes and give him a couple of tattoos. Perfect. Now, will it be fucking or a leisurely blow job? Hmm. Fucking will tire you out faster... Right, fucking it is, then. Mmm. Okay, so this is where I start drifting off, right? Right?

Nope, still awake. Except now, I’m awake and horny. Shit. Okay, stay where you are, Vila—just reach under the covers and grab your vibrator, which is all plugged in and ready to go...

Um, no it’s not. You put it away when you cleaned the apartment, you dumb bitch. What the fuck did you do that for? Now, you have to get out of bed, turn on the light, walk across the room, open a drawer, retrieve the vibrator, find the extension cord, plug in the vibrator, turn out the light, and get back into bed, by which time you’ll be bolt awake and not even in the ballpark of horny anymore.

Okay, fine. Don’t think about the bartender. In fact, don’t think about anything at all. Just let yourself be tired. Ah. There. Hey, I think I’m resting again. Excellent. Oh yeah, just don't forget to respond to that email before you leave for work. (Blinks.) FUCK!! You thought about something! Stop it!

Ah shit, the sun’s coming up. Don’t look at the clock. I said, DO NOT LOOK AT THE CLOCK...

7:16 AM

(Sighs.) I told you not to look at the clock.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Blog Fantasies

In the world I envision when I really should be doing other things, Nick would be the editor of a magazine. This magazine (as opposed to This Magazine) would be so mind-bogglingly good that it would turn up its nose at both advertising revenue and government grants, and still kick Maisonneuve’s ass. In fact, this magazine would single-handedly revitalize Canada’s moribund publishing industry, thus proving that our scant population and unforgiving geography have nothing whatsoever to do with our true cultural potential.

Alas, since the world is not even remotely as I envision it, we will have to content ourselves with Sightings, the consistently excellent sidebar to Nick’s blog, The Eponym. I recommend starting with the most recent addition, The Semiotics of Smoking, which is a work of genius. Follow this by reading Nick’s post, When Two Dogs Go to War, which is also a work of genius. Then, write Nick a comment encouraging him to post more often, because once a month isn’t nearly enough.

Next in the series: Why I think D. should quit her job and become a postmodern romance novelist.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Julka

My aunt Julka died this week. My father called to tell me last night.

Julka was 78 years old, and lived with my cousin Steva and his wife Mira in an apartment on Mišarska Street, right in the middle of Belgrade. She had worked as a maid for most of her life--“looking after rich people,” as my father puts it--which is how she came to live there.

Before the start of the Second World War, Julka worked for a Jewish man who owned the apartment. When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, reducing great swaths of Belgrade to dust, the man fled, leaving the apartment to his young Serbian maid.

After the war, Julka married my uncle, Žika, and had two children by him, Steva and Jovan. Žika had fought with the Partisans during the war, and, according to my father, he was the never the same since. He drank heavily and flew into violent rages, which Julka was often the target of. His sons grew up watching this and seethed.

When Steva was a teenager, he confronted his father, beating him to within an inch of his life. Steva then ordered Žika to leave the apartment and to never come back. Žika did as he was told. No one in the family has heard from him since.

Steva did a stint in the Yugoslav army, then became a taxi driver. He married Mira soon afterward, and they had a daughter, Jelena. The three generations lived together in the apartment, as did, for brief periods, my father and his sister, Ljiljana. Ljiljana would go on to live in her own apartment in Banovo Brdo, a suburb of Belgrade, while my father made his way to Canada.

Whenever I visit Belgrade, Steva comes to pick me up at the airport, and we drive to the apartment on Mišarska Street. Steva is my favourite relative, with his shock of thick, white hair and armsful of pale blue tattoos. He smokes like a chimney, swears like a sailor, and laughs like a hyena, all proudly and often. His taxi is falling apart but he knows every vein of his city, which he navigates by feel.

Julka would be there when we reached the apartment, tiny and frail but still very much at its helm. Already, Turkish coffee steamed in small, white cups on the kitchen table, beside plates heaped with sausage and cheese and thick slices of bread. As soon as we had finished eating, a crystal ashtray waited for our cigarettes, which instantly filled the tall room with smoke.

I always felt welcome there.

It’s been three and a half years since I was last in Belgrade. Steva is still driving his cab, but Mira lost her job when the state-owned company she worked for was privatised. Julka never received a pension because she worked “privately,” so the family gets by on Steva’s cab fares and the money Jovan sends from his job in Greece. It’s hard for them, my father often says, as it is for so many others there.

To save money, they stopped heating the apartment with electricity, which became prohibitively expensive after Milošević fell. Instead, they use the coal stove that Julka learned to oil and clean before the Second World War. My father says that she was really good at it, a perfectionist. No one else could clean things like she could.

When Julka finished cleaning the stove last week, she opened the door to burn the oily leaves of newspaper she had used. The fire caught her sleeve. When Mira rushed in, Julka was covered in flames, which blackened the ceiling of the apartment. Mira seared both of her arms trying to save her.

Julka died in hospital the next day. My father sent Steva money for her funeral, which the family could not otherwise afford. My father always sends money home for funerals.

I asked my father what will happen to the apartment on Mišarska Street. He said that the Jewish man’s son is still alive, and that it will return to him when Steva and Mira are gone. I wonder how it is for them now, living in the apartment where Julka died. And I can’t help but wonder if they still use the coal stove.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

There are places I remember

I was sitting in the back seat of my father’s car. It was a 1978 Grand Le Mans with an AM/FM radio and speakers in the back. The radio announcer’s voice was shaky and sad when he said that John Lennon was dead, even though it was the next day and my dad was driving me to school. Then the voice stopped and they played “Watching the Wheels,” which sounded even sadder.

Yes, I am a Beatles fan. Hey, I never said I was cool.

My dad gave me a cassette tape of Beatles songs when I was six, which I listened to all the time. I don’t know why he had it—my dad’s more of a fifties guy, if anything—but he gave it to me and I never gave it back. When I was seven, I got a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for my birthday, and by the time I was ten, I had every studio album the band recorded.

I still know the lyrics to all of them off by heart.

In Popular Music in Theory, Keith Negus writes: “(T)here is perhaps a children’s history of The Beatles at the same time as the world-wise counter-culture version.” There absolutely is. The Beatles were as much a part of the dream world of my childhood as The Narnia Chronicles or The Cat in the Hat. They were my best friends and my first boyfriends, the family I wished that I had instead of the one that I got. They were the place I would go when I put on my Radio Shack headphones and made the real world go away. They made me feel happy. They still do.

So, when the radio announcer said that John Lennon was dead I felt shaky and sad too. Someone had murdered one of my friends.

A year later, I wrote a poem about it. Egged on by my mother, I sent the poem to the city paper, which published it in the Sunday children’s section underneath a picture of Lennon. It was a silly little poem, the kind a ten-year old writes when she is trying to be wise, but still, I was terribly proud. I had paid public tribute to my friend, and a lot of other people's as well.

So, this is the poem.

John Lennon

He was a loving, caring person,
He was fun to be with too,
This bright and friendly man,
Who so many people knew.

But he was still a human being,
Not some kind of super-man,
Yet he took heart-breaking tortures,
That not many people can.

But one day this went too far,
And the moment we had to dread,
Had finally come upon us,
He was Officially Pronounced Dead.

A year after this happened,
People are still in a trance,
So please do us a favour,
And Give Peace a Chance.

Hey, I was ten. And I never said I was cool.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Revenge of the nerds


Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you've likely heard about the ongoing efforts of graduate student assistants at New York University to form--and retain--a union. University administrators have fought them every step of the way, and grad students are now in the fourth week of a strike.

You can do your bit to support the strikers by signing this letter, whose authors include Judith Butler, Frederic Jameson, and Slavoj Zizek, among other intellectual luminaries. You can also consult the GSOC website, or, for some quick background on the issues, this handy Village Voice piece.

Up with nerds! Woo!

The day after the Great Purge

  • Go to bank—check
  • Buy toilet paper—check
  • Pick up dry cleaning—check
  • Renew library books—check
  • Catch up on work emails—check
  • Do dishes—check
  • Clean bathroom—check
  • Do laundry—check
  • Clean cat litter—check
  • Take out garbage—check
  • Buy beer—Ah, shit...

If I had remembered to buy beer, I’d be drinking one right now. Damn, when was the last time I had a drink? Thursday, I guess. Wow, I haven’t been out since Thursday. I should go out tomorrow.

Fuck, the apartment looks good, though. Well done, Vila. Shame you don’t have any beer to celebrate your accomplishment with. Hmm, there is that whiskey that James brought over when you were sick... Ah, but I don’t feel like whiskey. I feel like beer.

I wonder how James is? He’s probably hurtling through his dissertation like a complete madman. Or playing internet chess. Hey, I bet he has beer! It’s probably too late too call, though. Yeah, it is.

Oh look, Frank just posted a comment. What the hell is he doing up so late? I quite liked his post about industrial music. I should comment on it. I keep meaning to comment on people’s blogs more, but then I forget and it feels like the moment has passed. The story of my life, that.

Hey, I should go vote for Bob’s blog again. He should so win a Canadian blog award. If he does, it’ll be like one of us winning something. “And the winner is... the smoking, insomniac slacker from Montreal for Best Blog!” Go, Bob!

Next year, I will definitely nominate g-pi. I wonder if we’ll have met by then? We really should all go to a YULblog meeting together. We could be like Bob’s trashy entourage. (Giggles.)

Ohmigod, did K. really ask me tonight if insomnia was contagious? (Laughs.) Man, he’s really gotta lay off the weed. It’s too bad we didn’t get to hook up for coffee today. I’ve been such a flake lately. I hope he understands.

Damn, it’s late. I think I’ll take a bath.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Great Purge

Sometime around late August, I let things get away from me. I can tell this from the detritus I have allowed to accumulate since then: email messages, post-it notes, meeting minutes, bank statements, unpaid bills, grocery receipts, torn-off bits of cigarette packs with phone numbers on them, newspaper clippings, unread magazines, borrowed books, frameless photographs, dust, cat hair, cat litter, cat toys, foul-smelling sweaters, holey socks, unlabelled CD-Rs, IKEA catalogues, election pamphlets, empty prescription bottles, aborted blog posts, dead lighters, itinerant business cards, and still more dust.

So, today, I decided that it was well past time for me to get my shit together. Seventeen hours of sorting, filing, deleting, tossing, recycling, cleaning, rearranging, and otherwise purging later, I think it is safe to say that I have made progress. (Surveys apartment.) Yes, most definitely.

Now, the rest of my life...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Alone time

I’ve been craving alone time in recent weeks, which comes as something of a surprise. I’ve always needed it, to be sure, and I am inclined to become cranky when I don’t get enough of it, but since I’ve been on my own it has rarely been in short supply.

For a while after I moved out of the apartment I shared with Phil, it made me slightly nervous to spend too much time by myself. Knowing this, I tried to arrange my days so that each one would include at least one cup of coffee, one drink, or, if all else failed, one phone call with a friend. On most days I achieved this goal easily, but every now and again I’d have no choice but to resign myself to my nerves.

When you live with someone for a long time--and by this I mean a decade or more--you become physically accustomed to co-presence in much the same way that you become accustomed to smoking. The person, like the cigarette, is always near at hand, and even when they are not, you know that it is only a matter of time.

In the days after Phil left, there were strange, almost hallucinatory moments when I felt his absence as amputees must sense a ghost limb. He was palpably there and not there, a physical habit suddenly broken but not forgotten by the body. It took months for me to learn how to sleep in the centre of the bed, which is to say it took months for me to learn how to live alone.

Yes, I needed to learn this.

Still, it is one thing to learn a lesson, and it is another thing to live as though one has always known it. Today, while walking across a skin of ice to the supermarché, it occurred to me that solitude doesn’t make me nervous anymore. In fact, on a day like today, when the apartment is impenetrably warm and the cats take long turns on my lap, it is a special and entirely necessary pleasure.

Remarkable.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Get out the vote

Okay people, it’s time to stand up and be counted. This year’s Canadian Blog Awards finalists were announced today, and no less than three Montrealers and fellow YULbloggers have made the cut! They are:

Metroblog captain Andre Nantel of Digital Apoptosis for Best Photoblog

Blork of the legendary Blork Blog for Best Blog Post Series

My buddy Bob of waydownhere for Best Culture Blog, Best Progressive Blog, and—wait for it—Best Blog! Yeah!

The polls open on Saturday, December 3rd, and will remain open until Friday, December 9th. You are allowed one vote per day during this period, so use ‘em, folks! Not sure how to vote? Well, just head on over here and start clicking.

Right, now let's kick some fucking ass!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Confounded by love, Vila resorts to astrology

Venus Square Saturn: Perhaps your most significant lessons will be learned in relationships with others.

Venus Square Saturn: You have difficulty expressing your feelings to the people you love, so they may pass through your life without ever knowing how you feel about them.

Moon Trine Venus: Your emotional satisfaction is derived from relationships that are honest and sincere.

Cancer Rising: When you encounter new people, you are friendly enough, but you won't talk about your inner feelings until you get to know them quite well. When you feel hurt, you withdraw into yourself and avoid others.

Moon Square Uranus: Your love relationships will be much freer than usual, because you do not want to be emotionally tied to anyone more than you have to be.

Uranus Square Ascendant: You are not likely to seek a lasting partnership unless it is by agreement rather than by contract.

Mars Trine Uranus: In your romantic affairs, you are impulsive and restless. It goes without saying that you have strong sexual needs.

Mars in the Eighth House: Sexual life is of the utmost importance in your existence.

Neptune in the Fifth House: Your love nature is somewhat restless, impressionable, anxious, and most of the time subjected to dualistic influences. You are not inclined to undergo ordinary love attachments.

Sun Trine Moon: Your sincerity and honesty make you attractive to both sexes.

Moon Square Pluto: You want to enjoy the pleasures of love without having any limitations imposed on you.

Moon Square Pluto: You tend to be a loner, but when you do relate to others you often want to do so intensely.

Jupiter Opposition Saturn: This opposition indicates that you fluctuate between knowing what you are worth to having grave doubts of your value.

Moon Trine Mercury: You are always trying to express your emotions and inner, personal feelings to others, because it is very important to you that people really understand you.

Uranus in Libra: You deal with relationships differently from others.

Mercury in the Third House: You will find it easy to attract a suitable mate to share your life, insisting only that s/he be as eager as you are to grow and develop.

Moon Square Uranus: You have a strong need to have experiences that are very unusual, so you are attracted to anything new and different.

Mars Trine Uranus: You are likely to be very independent, and you need to be given great freedom to determine your own destiny. Other people will like you for your daring, although they may sometimes question your good sense.

Jupiter in the Fifth House: This is one of the best positions of Jupiter as it promises a well-rounded, expansive and gratifying love life.

Moon Opposition Ascendant: You are always looking for emotional support from someone else and, if you are really feeling depressed, protection from the difficulties of the world.

Moon in Capricorn: You are somewhat uncomfortable with your feelings. They almost seem out of place inside you, a source of difficulty instead of pleasure.

Moon Opposition Ascendant: You don't enjoy knowing someone only casually; you want to know everything about the people you are close to.

Moon Trine Venus: Your emotions are rich and beautiful, and you express them to others so that people like you for what you really are.

Moon Trine Mercury: You may have some emotional anxieties, but you are completely aware of them.

Sun Conjunct Mercury: You have a good mind, and you enjoy talking with people. A good conversation means more to you than many other things.

Astrological information provided by Astrodienst

Monday, November 28, 2005

Reminded

Ada ran into my ex yesterday. When she called to tell me about the encounter, I noted that we haven’t spoken in two and a half years, then tried not to think about it.

Later that evening, Ada and I went to a reading at Esperanza. I watched as two exes, now living in different cities, crossed the room to greet each other. Their kiss was polite, but when he touched her arm, gently, I could see that he cared for her, even though it is impossible.

After the reading, Ada and I ran into James at the Café. Ada and James are exes, and I listened as they talked, catching up on birthdays and mutual friends and the fate of the apartment they used to share. They even flirted a little, which is a kind of remembering.

After James went home, I thought about Phil, and how after he left, it was like we had never known each other at all. This is, I realize, the cut that won’t heal: that I loved someone for a long time but left no mark.

Lying in bed, tired but not sleeping, I knew in my bones that I have been afraid of love ever since. Not because it might end--really, it is a small miracle when it doesn’t--but because it might, in retrospect, mean nothing.

Then, I dreamt that I had phenomenally hot sex with someone I hardly know, and felt better.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On the Metroblog

Yes, it is most definitely time...

Other people's stuff

Tonight's theme is Damn Fucking Funny, which all of the following bloggers are.

First up, we have Septima, who's just telling it like it is, honey.

Next, we have Feral Mom, who I think I have to get drunk with someday.

Finally, we have Bob, who just happens to be a Canadian Blog Awards nominee. Vote early, vote often, vote Bob!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A better day

Today, I spent eleven uninterrupted hours sleeping.

(Yawns.)

That's fair, isn't it?

Also, happy birthday to Ada, whose party I am now late for.

Record

Today, I spent eleven uninterrupted hours in meetings.

(Blinks.)

That's all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Moving day

Today, I hired myself some movers for a special assignment. When the two men arrived at my apartment, pumped for heavy lifting, I informed them of their task.

“See that paradigm over there?” I said, pointing toward the living room. “It’s been there forever and, frankly, I’m sick to death of looking at it. Would you please move it someplace else?”

“Uh...” the marginally more handsome of the movers ventured. “So where do you want it, lady?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care,” I replied, more brusquely than I had intended. “Just put it somewhere else!”

Directed thus, the movers picked up the paradigm, groaning with effort, and carried it into the kitchen.

“Uh, is this good?” the less handsome one inquired, wincing slightly.

“Yes,” I said. “That will do just fine.” Instantly, the paradigm dropped to the floor with a loud thud, permanently scuffing the linoleum. Their work done, the men scratched themselves and ambled away.

Inspecting the shifted paradigm, I felt a palpable sense of relief. Nothing else in the apartment had changed, and yet, its contents looked suddenly different. The kitchen table seemed less cluttered, the sofa less worn, the sink less full. In fact, the whole apartment appeared brighter, as though someone had washed all of its windows without my noticing.

“Maybe,” I thought to myself, “it’s okay to hope for things again?”

Smiling, I went to get myself a beer, whereupon I discovered that the paradigm was blocking the refrigerator door. Undeterred, I poured myself a glass of water and started a things-to-do list.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bonne fête!

Happy birthday to Marie-Marcelle, who is, I trust, drinking her first pint of Guinness and unwrapping one of these.

Have a good one, sweetie...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

416

My brother called tonight. When I asked him what was new, he said that he had been in hospital again.

He told me it felt like he was having seizures in his brain, so he admitted himself to St. Joseph’s. Now, he is being treated as an outpatient, and takes medication twice a day.

It is helping. He is calmer, clearer. He doesn’t shout when he speaks, and he responds when spoken to. At moments, he sounds like my brother.

This is how it was after the first break, when Phil and I went home for Christmas. He seemed well, even joking a little, and I thought everything would be okay.

It wasn’t, of course. He stopped taking his medication and was insane for three years. While he was gone, my father left, and then Phil did too. Our family disintegrated as he stalked his city, insensible and alone.

I am afraid to hope for this, or for anything at all.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Build it and they shall come

The hell with academia--I'm going into the stud farm business!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eight things about insomnia

1. It’s extraordinarily quiet.
2. Cats like it.
3. The phone doesn’t ring.
4. It’s better with cable.
5. You find remarkable things on the internet.
6. You always get enough alone time.
7. It is a space to write in.
8. Tomorrow feels a million miles away.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dear Peter Murphy,

Thank you for the wonderful show tonight. Your band was in exceedingly fine form, and, happily, the sound was excellent as well. I was particularly impressed with the condition of your voice, which has become richer with age, and with the skill of your instrumentalists. Surely, you know that Daniel Ash is a breathtakingly innovative guitarist, and that Kevin Haskins and David J comprise the best rhythm section in the post-punk business. Such a grand noise for a modest three-piece! Bravo!

I must also commend you on how well you’re keeping. Certainly, you are all older, and in your case, balder, but these are the ravages of time to which we all must eventually submit. Nevertheless, I applaud Ash for his stubborn trashiness—how lovely to see that he is still a tart after all these years!—and J for his enviable posture and quite impeccable sense of style.

Still, while I enjoyed your set immensely, I am troubled by the lack of showmanship that you in particular demonstrated tonight. Where was the kinetic force of your younger years, which once animated every inch of your frame? Where were the flailing limbs, the defiant stare, the barely-repressed violence? For God’s sake, where was the sex in your performance tonight? You barely lifted a finger, much less anything else!

Perhaps you have become arthritic in your old age, or prone to debilitating back spasms? Or, is it that your testosterone levels are falling, and that you have no sex left in you to display? Alternatively, have you forsaken the sins of the flesh for loftier spiritual concerns, which occasionally intruded into the lyrics of your songs? (It’s “cerebral fix,” dear, not “spiritual fix,” or is your memory failing as well?)

Whatever the reasons for your lacklustre performance, I must express my disappointment. I suppose that, like most singers, you think yourself an artist, but in fact your greatest charm as a frontman was that you always put out, and tonight you may as well have feigned a headache. At $41 a ticket, I expect rather more from you, as does your audience.

With love,
Vila

PS. "Stigmata Martyr" totally rocked!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Show

Tomorrow night, I will see Bauhaus. I bought the ticket as a birthday present to myself, and it has had pride of place on my fridge ever since. Soon, the waiting will be over, and I will, with luck, be close enough to the stage to smell the band’s sweat.

I almost didn’t buy the ticket, being out of the habit of going to see live shows, and thinking this one in particular obscenely expensive. But then, I remembered how much I loved Bauhaus back in the day, and I realized that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t go.

So, I’m going. Whee!

Listening to In the Flat Field tonight, it occurred to me that Bauhaus was never an especially cool band to like. They lacked the “cred” of peers like Joy Division or Pere Ubu, and they weren’t nearly as intellectually aloof as Wire. Still, I couldn’t have cared less, because the band was so brilliantly sexy and campy and fun.

This, I think, is what the music critics missed: that goth was, at least for a little while, camp. More to the point, it was a form of camp that women were allowed to participate in. How better to send up femininity—which is always, infuriatingly, expected—than by dolling up in torn fishnets, corset, and black lipstick, while your date for the evening sports his best waterproof eyeliner and feather boa? As every teenaged vampire knows, goth is equal opportunity drag, which is a rare treat for a girl. Especially one who likes a mean guitar riff.

Speaking of drag, I wonder what I’ll wear tomorrow? Hmm...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Strange

Walking home
the air is as warm
as a fever.

I unbutton my coat
noting
that nothing feels right this season.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Let’s Dance

I had every intention of going home last night, really I did. When I finished work, I planned to walk over to the library, return a couple of books, and continue on to the bus that would take me back to my sofa.

This is not what happened. Instead, I found myself, inexplicably, at the grad pub, where Setare plied me with an absurd number of free drinks before whisking me by taxi to the Jupiter Room.

Thanks, Setare. I owe you a debilitating hangover. On your period.

While at the club, I realized that I never want to hear another eighties song again as long as I live. Not “Tainted Love,” not “I’ll Melt With You,” and certainly not “99 Luftballons.” So sick am I of the eighties that I don’t even want to hear New Order, nor any song recorded by Prince during that decade.

Further, I don’t ever want to see gaggles of fresh-faced twenty-somethings dancing ironically to eighties songs again—or, more accurately, trying to dance to eighties songs, which have all the rhythmic urgency of a leaking faucet. Plop, plop. Shake that thing! Plop.

Therefore, I am declaring an emergency moratorium on eighties music, which will be strictly enforced until we reach the eighth decade of the current century. If, by that time, anyone still feels an insatiable need to dance ironically to INXS, then they will be free to do so. But not a minute before.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Particle theory

I’ve been forgetting lately to make things-to-do lists, which probably accounts for why I've been forgetting nearly everything else. Without lists, I am a soda can lost in the current, a plastic shopping bag blowing in the wind. Without lists, my life is transformed from a manageably interesting adventure to an unstoppable flood of entropy, against which I am as powerless as Kleenex.

The astrologers say: Your life is a constant striving to bring order out of chaos. They neglect to mention that I usually fail. Miserably.

In any case, I made a things-to-do list today. I also started taking my iron pills again, which seem already to be having an effect. It’s strange to think that our relationship to the world can be so strongly influenced by particles in our bloodstream; if the balance is even slightly off, we are suddenly full of fog, or nerves, or fear. The strangest part is that we can’t see the presence or absence of particles: imbalance is invisible, and, in most cases, we will never know that it is there.

At moments, I wonder if this is all we are—an aggregation of levels of things in various states of disequilibrium. I picture one of those thoroughly excessive mixing boards that coke-addled producers used in the 1970s, with their endless rows of knobs and faders. Track 16: serotonin. Track 43: hemoglobin. Track 71: estrogen. Track 27: electrolytes. Track 9: nicotine. How stoned do you have to be (that would be Track 32) to get the mix right?

This would seem to be the implication of much recent brain science, which assumes a causal relationship between particles (e.g. serotonin) and behaviour (e.g. depression). But brain researchers almost never describe the relationship in terms of a mix: they isolate one of the particles and attend to it exclusively, without regard for the others. In a sense, theirs is a binary view: serotonin levels are up or down, on or off, 1 or 0. You get Paxil, or you don’t. Done.

In my case, I have chronic iron anemia. To remedy the problem, I am prescribed iron pills, which ostensibly turn “on” my iron levels. However, iron cannot be properly absorbed without vitamin C, and vitamin C is known to be depleted by nicotine. (Unlike iron, there is no blood test for vitamin C, so it is impossible to know if one is deficient. That is, unless you have scurvy, in which case it’s fairly obvious.)

Nevertheless, all the doctors I have had have been well aware that I smoke, but none have ever suggested that I combine iron with vitamin C supplements to restore my iron levels, as I recently did. In other words, they’re thinking binary, and I’m thinking mix, which are entirely different approaches to the problem of balance.

The ultimate test of the mix hypothesis will be, once my iron levels have been restored, what happens when I stop taking iron supplements but continue to take vitamin C. Will my iron stores remain at normal levels, or will they once again drop precipitously? I’ll report my findings in about three months.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Out

Alas, the Martian Death Flu is fast retreating into the province of memory. A persistent cough is all that remains of the once formidable disease, but even so, I declined to go to work today. Instead, I folded up my fuzzy orange blanket, washed a small mountain of dishes, and went out to meet Atomic and the girls.

Atomic has returned, somewhat unexpectedly, from a long stint in Afghanistan. She will set off for a well-deserved European vacation in a few days time, but tonight, we listened with rapt attention as she told tale of her most recent adventures.

She began by declaring that the country that has been her home for the last six months is, in a word, fucked. “There is no hope for that place,” she said. “None.” This from a woman who has spent time in Bosnia, Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan, and who, even when drunk, is not prone to hyberbole.

She then proceeded to regale us with stories about the kidnapping of World Bank officials, tank battles fought between rival warlords over homosexual courtesans, and the various ways that foreign nationals conspire to circumvent their curfews. She also described smoking the best hashish on earth, which may have been the only thing that kept her sane.

We are, in any case, delighted that she has come back to us, and, no, she doesn’t know where Bin Laden is. I asked.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Civic duties

Today, I reluctantly shed my blue flannel pyjamas to vote in Montreal’s municipal election. I met James en route, and, in true grad student fashion, we arrived at the polling station with not more than five minutes to spare. (Aside to James: Have we become pathologically incapable of doing anything in a punctual manner?)

Afterwards, we had dinner at Le Jardin du Cari, and discussed our likely futile votes over what is indisputably the best lentil soup in the city. James remarked that he had never in his life voted for a successful political candidate; I noted that I had, exactly once. Then I told the story.

On September 6, 1990, just days after my nineteenth birthday, I helped to elect the New Democratic Party to political office in Ontario. It was a complete shock, as the NDP had never before won an election in the province, and no one in their right mind expected them to win that one, much less with a solid majority.

Watching the results come in with the radicals at Kathedral B, I felt like I was in a dream. I would soon be governed by card-carrying socialists, in a province that had been ruled by Conservatives for 42 of the preceding 47 years. It was like winning the lottery, only the money would be equitably distributed to all Ontarians, irrespective of their race, class, or sexual orientation.

We all know what happened next. Ontario suffered its worst economic decline since the Great Depression, and, instead of cutting social programs, Premier Bob Rae implemented the Social Contract, which required most government employees to take ten days off without pay each year. Public sector unions went completely apeshit and withdrew their political support for the NDP, both federally and provincially. Sadly, the party has never been the same since.

I happened to be working for Ontario’s public broadcaster at the time, and I remember well the fury that the “Rae Days” unleashed among my coworkers. Many, I am sure, voted for Mike Harris in the next election, who promptly slashed social programs and laid off thousands of government employees. Several hundred of my colleagues lost their jobs, and I wish I could ask them if they are still kicking themselves. If not, I would gladly do it for them.

In any case, I voted for Projet Montréal today, who are expected to receive approximately 4% of the total electoral vote. Then again, you just never know...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Uncle

Um, I’m better now, thanks. Not physically, mind you, as the Martian Death Flu has regrouped and unleashed a new assault, but I have not cried in public since Thursday, nor have I called anyone an asshole. Well, okay, maybe once, but only in passing.

When, sheepishly, I told Arit about my little scene the other night, she didn’t miss a beat. “So,” she said, “when are you getting your period?” Right. She also reminded me that other people sometimes lose it too, which I found immensely reassuring.

Having said this, I know that it wasn’t just PMS, which merely provided a window of opportunity. PMS is to denial what kryptonite is to Superman: everything you’ve been suppressing, rationalizing, or simply ignoring in the hopes it will go away suddenly pins you to the ground and kicks your sorry ass. And I got my ass kicked, but good.

I will probably return to this theme in future posts, but for the moment I am letting myself be sick, which is the closest I’ve come to playing hooky in a long time. In this sense, my blue flannel pyjamas feel like a rebel uniform, akin to Castro’s military fatigues, except comfier. I only wish that I had a pair of bunny slippers to complete the outfit.

Sincere thanks, by the way, to James, who went grocery shopping for me yesterday and came back with all the fixings for hot toddies. I owe you one.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Head

Today, after approximately seven hours of uninterrupted bullshit, with a cold, broke, and having eaten exactly one slice of lukewarm pizza, I lost it.

Of course I did. I should have been at home and in bed, nursing a pot of chamomile tea and leisurely working on a crossword puzzle. Instead, I spent the day dealing with unrepentant assholes who persist in thinking that I was put on this earth to tend to their overinflated egos.

So, while walking home after a late meeting with Ada, I lost it, right there in the middle of the street. The last thing I remember saying, or possibly shouting, was “I am so fucking sick of dealing with people...” Then I burst into tears.

After I regained my composure, I decided that it was time to call a strike vote. “All in favour?” I asked myself. “Aye,” I replied. Hence, as of midnight tonight, I am legally on strike, and will remain so until the following demands have been met:

  1. A living wage.
  2. Sick pay.
  3. A home-cooked meal.
  4. A massage.
  5. Good TV.
  6. Cabana boys.
  7. Cabana girls.
  8. Vacation time.
  9. A zero-tolerance policy on assholes.
  10. Never, ever having to think about gender difference again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sick

It started coming on late last night: a scratchy throat, a creeping ache, a sniffle or two. Allergies, I thought it was, or just a hint of a cold. Humouring myself, I took a capsule of echinacea and went straight to bed.

This morning—and with a ten-hour day looming ahead of me, it was, unfortunately, morning—I awoke to discover that I had contracted the Martian Death Flu. My symptoms: fever, chills, swollen glands, and a pervasive sense of malaise that is qualitatively different from my usual sense of malaise. Oogier.

As luck would have it, the first thing on my agenda was a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment, which I booked nearly a month ago. Humouring me, the doctor dutifully swabbed my throat and instructed me to rest for a few days. I thanked her for her trouble and pencilled in “rest” for Friday.

Predictably, my illness worsened while I was at work, and I soon realized that the likelihood that I would survive a late student council meeting was slim to non-existent. So, I did something that I almost never do. I bailed.

When I got home, I dove into my favourite pyjamas, retrieved my fuzzy orange blanket, and fired up the TV. For the next three hours, I stared catatonically into its gaping maw, pausing only long enough to order hot lemongrass soup from Chu Chai. (Mmm, Chu Chai...)

In any case, I was starting to feel pretty good for someone who had the Martian Death Flu. Then, I happened upon an MSNBC story, originally reported in The Washington Post, about this: covert CIA prison camps housed in former Soviet detention facilities in Eastern Europe.

These camps are known as “black sites,” which I can only assume is a loose translation of the Russian term, gulag. Although the Post declined to name the specific countries involved, Human Rights Watch alleges that they include Poland and Romania, which are, nominally, democracies.

Suddenly, I'm feeling oogy again. If I were well, I'd rant at great length about the state of the world, and, probably, about the mind-numbing hypocrisy of the Bush administration. But since I am not well, I am going to go lie down.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hallowe’en

If memory serves, I attended a Hallowe’en party at Jacob (aka "the Professor") and Kelly’s place last night. It was a wonderful evening, due in large part to the generosity and good vibes of our hosts, who rock without parallel.

The party was well-stocked with good things to eat, drink, and smoke, which softened the edges of the evening into a pleasant blur. I traded political barbs with Abraham Lincoln; I caught up on the latest gossip with a coven of sultry witches; I took turns peeing in a sumptuous bathroom with a blue-winged fairy. I may even have been tied up by a priest, but I’m not entirely sure.

After a quick nightcap at the local diner, I staggered home to await the onset of a colossal hangover. It came, surely enough, at 9:00 AM, when a sorry excuse for a man decided to idle his motorcycle directly in front of my bedroom window. Suddenly awake, I cursed the man, the motorcycle, and God, whom I imagined was punishing me for engaging in S/M with a man of the cloth. Undeterred, the motorcycle rumbled loudly on.

My temples throbbing, I pulled the covers up over my head to block out the noise and light. The cats took this as an invitation to play cat and mouse with my face, which they proceeded to do with great vigour. In desperation, I slid further under the covers and assumed the fetal position, whereupon I willed myself to lose consciousness, by suffocation if necessary.

After what seemed like an eternity, the man and the motorcycle roared away, and I fell gratefully back to sleep. In my dreams, the motorcycle man was beaten senseless by a blue-winged fairy, and officially pronounced dead by Abe Lincoln. Serves the bastard right...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dream: The Dinner Party

I am sitting at a large dining table in a shabbily opulent room. I am wearing a wispy silk dress and stockings, but no shoes. Seated around me are a group of historical figures, who are talking animatedly amongst themselves. No one seems to notice that I am there.

Leon Trotsky is seated immediately to my right. I am impressed by this, and by the precision of his goatee. I think, “Really, he must be very sharp.” I also think, “I wonder where he got his eyeglasses?”

Frida Kahlo sits at the head of the table, wearing a riot of colour. From all appearances, she has already had several glasses of wine. I try not to stare at her eyebrows or her cleavage, which are both, in my estimation, considerable.

Across the table from me are Sartre and de Beauvoir. She is explaining the etymology of the term “lucide” while he flirts shamelessly with Kahlo. I am struck by his unattractiveness, as is she. “You are an ugly little man!” Kahlo exclaims, thrusting her wine glass in his direction. She then grabs his crotch under the table.

To their right is Marlene Dietrich, who is resplendent in top hat and tails. She is smoking Gitanes, which strikes me as odd. “The war must have ended,” I think. “How else could she have found Gitanes?”

Seated directly to my left is Glenn Gould, who is wearing a rumpled black suit and mumbling to himself. I think I hear him say something about Expo 67. “It’s going to be all the rage,” he opines. He then turns abruptly toward me and offers me a Valium, which I politely decline.

Suddenly, Allen Ginsberg emerges from the kitchen, a bright pink apron tied around his waist. “My friends, dinner is going to be late,” he announces. “Have some more wine!” He produces a bottle of Manischewitz from under his apron and places it on the table, then retreats back into the kitchen.

By this time, Dietrich and de Beauvoir are making out, while Sartre looks on approvingly. Usurped, Kahlo rises from the table and limps petulantly to the bathroom. Gould follows her upstairs, shaking his bottle of Valium like a small maraca.

Gallantly, Trotsky pours me a glass of Manischewitz and places his hand on my knee. “What do you think of the Five Year Plan?” he inquires. I respond, “It isn’t what it used to be.” He nods and slips his hand under my dress, which I take as a gesture of solidarity.

Ginsberg takes Gould’s place at the table and leans in close to me. “You know, it’s true what they say about Trotsky...” he whispers. I say, “Yes, it must be,” although I haven’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about.

Without warning, Emma Goldman bursts into the room and strides boldly toward the dining table. “No talking!” she shouts in a thick Russian accent, “Only dancing!” Dietrich retorts, “Bitch!” and throws a dinner roll at her.

Unfazed, Ginsberg rises to his feet and declares, “The soup is on!” Sartre follows him into the kitchen, and the two men return with a large cauldron of tripe. Sartre garnishes the meal with the ashes from his pipe, and proudly exclaims “Bon appétit!

Then, I wake up.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Low

K. called last night, sensing that I have been out of sorts. We talked for a long time, both of us smoking, and it occurred to me that we are truly friends.

It takes me a long time with people. I hold myself in, which you can see if you’re paying attention. D. would say that it’s my Canadian reserve. Being a Virgo doesn’t help matters.

Arit once told me, in our eighth year of friendship, that she had no idea I was such a romantic. I am, in my way. But you didn’t hear it from me.

In any case, I’ve been out of sorts lately, and I think I may be for a while. I am, I suspect, coming to terms with things. But we’ll just say it’s the weather.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Count to ten, Vila...

One...

Two...

(Inhales deeply...)

Threeeee...

(Eyes closed, fists squeezed into tight little balls...)

Oh god, I just gotta...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!!!!

(Exhales...)

Yes, that's much better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The anarchists have spoken!

This just arrived in my Inbox:

Pour un Québec morbide

Sorry, en français only...

The manifesto and lui: A response to Frank

Dear Frank,

I am, admittedly, less optimistic than you, in large part because I lived through Ontario's "Common Sense Revolution." Many of the same socio-economic changes were enacted by Mike Harris during the 1990s, including the deregulation of Hydro and tuition rates, and they were promoted using eerily similar, if rather less mellifluous language.

The result? The cost of living shot up, without, for most people, an attendant increase in real income. In other words, the majority of Ontarians had to spend a lot more time working just to get by, which led, predictably, to the weakening of provincial overtime legislation. For their part, students suffered enormously because of the changes—I know this from first-hand experience—and the poor were utterly abandoned, which is why the rate of homelessness skyrocketed soon afterward. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Reading the manifesto, I have a disturbing sense of déjà vu, and, frankly, I just can't buy it. I've seen where this kind of change leads, and it isn't nearly as pleasant as Bouchard and his cronies would have us believe. I am willing to concede that they have the best of intentions, but I am also quite certain that they don't understand what life is like for those of us who aren't members of the business elite—that is to say, the vast majority of Quebeckers.

To counter this, I would suggest that they explain, in concrete terms, how someone who makes $10 an hour will benefit from higher electricity rates, higher tuition fees, less "generous" social programs (e.g., health care, subsidized child care) and a more "flexible" work schedule (i.e., unpaid overtime). Until then, you will understand if I remain skeptical.

Please, find out as much as you can about these issues, from as many different perspectives as possible. That way, whatever conclusions you reach, you will know that they are truly lucid ones.

Kind regards,
Vila

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The manifesto and me, Part II

I remain unnerved. Do the labour practices of China and other “Asian Tigers” comprise an acceptable standard for this or any democratic government? Is this what we as a society should aspire to?

Some reasons to be concerned:

Last year [2004], total U.S. trade with China reached $231.4 billion. Of this, $196.7 billion consisted of imports from China. The reality of these imports is that they arrive on the backs of millions of Chinese workers. These workers labor six days per week (seven during peak season), 13 hours per day, for as little as 35 cents per hour. They do not have pensions or Social Security; they do not have unemployment or medical insurance. By the time they reach age 40, they start having difficulty keeping up with the heavy workload. Soon, they are left with nothing. [China Labor Watch]

Over three-quarters of the 12 million people worldwide who are exploited in forced labor conditions are in Asia, according to a comprehensive global report released last week by United Nations social justice and work rights agency the International Labour Organization (I.L.O.). Defining forced labor as “work extracted under threat and against a person’s will,” the report has assessed the Asia and Pacific region as heading the worldwide list with 9.5 million people. Latin America follows with 1.3 million, Sub-Saharan Africa with 660,000 and Europe and the United States with 360,000. [Worldpress.org]

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries--at least 120 million on a full time basis. Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; many children work as domestics; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing and construction. [Human Rights Watch]

These labour practices are not mentioned in Bouchard’s manifesto, which has been roundly praised in Canada’s national newspapers. If they had been, we might ask how it is possible, let alone desirable, to “compete” with workers who earn thirty-five cents per hour? More to the point, we might question why our governments have not made it an urgent priority to improve working conditions in Asia and elsewhere.

The omission may have something to do with the fact that the “total global profits earned from the exploitation of men, women and children have been calculated as being $32 billion,” and that a disproportionate percentage of these profits are realized by Western companies. Without the intervention of governments that are committed to principles of social justice, profit will always take precedence over human rights, an historical fact that Bouchard and his fellows have conveniently overlooked. As labour activist Li Qiang notes:

China's current economic system could not exist in a democratic nation. The kinds of political and economic decisions made in China do not require democratic discussion, and the government of China has put aside all other considerations in order to develop the economy. Only under such authoritarian rule is it possible for the market to be so tightly controlled and for there to be this kind of trade surplus.

So, what is to be done? Some thoughts:

There is an urgent need to rethink current institutions of global economic governance, whose rules and policies are largely shaped by powerful countries and powerful players. The unfairness of key rules of trade and finance reflect a serious "democratic deficit" at the heart of the system. The failure of policies is due to the fact that market-opening measures and financial and economic considerations have consistently predominated over social ones, including measures compatible with the prerogatives of international human rights law and the principles of international solidarity. [World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization]

Globalization demands that we begin anew the task of establishing fair and just rules that make the economy work for all. This challenge is the same as that faced by American workers at the beginning of the 20th century. Unions, minimum wages, and fair labor practices were essential to meeting that challenge, and they are essential again. But such tools are no longer sufficient when applied nationally. They must be applied globally. That means China, India and other industrializing developing countries must agree to, and enforce, core labor standards and worker rights. Trade cannot be free without worker freedom and the right to share in the wealth created. [Thomas Palley, ZNet]

In the meantime, we can refuse to be swayed by calls to increase “productivity,” “flexibility,” or “performance” at the expense of our non-working lives. Leisure time is where the rest of life happens: love, friendship, family, learning, art, and all the other things that we work for. Quebeckers understand this implicitly, and, I hope, won’t give it up without a fight.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The manifesto and me, Part I

With demographic decline and global competition threatening our future, Québec cannot allow itself to be the republic of the status quo.

Gosh, sounds serious. Go on...

What goals should Quebeckers pursue in the decades ahead? The same ones they always have: 1. Québec must continue to develop economically and socially in order to ensure the well-being of its citizens. 2. Québec must remain a distinct society, a beacon of the modern French language and culture in North America.

Sure, that works for me.

Given the new context we are facing, these two objectives will be even harder to attain in the next few decades than they were in the past century. The formulas of the past will no longer be adequate.

I get it. The formulas of the past are like acid-wash jeans. Totally last century.

Social discourse in Québec today is dominated by pressure groups of all kinds, including the big unions, which have monopolized the label “progressive” to better resist any changes imposed by the new order.

Uh-oh...

[Quebeckers] work less than other North Americans; they retire earlier, they benefit from more generous social programs; both individually and collectively, their credit cards are maxed out.

Um, your point being?

This is all only human; we all seek the best life possible.

A failing, admittedly...

But we must also be realistic.

Must we?

Since there will be fewer of us in future, we will have to be more productive.

You’re right. Think of all the time we waste sleeping.

In addition to a high-quality workforce, we will need a workplace environment that encourages performance and innovation.

So, the forty-hour work week is like acid-wash jeans...?

Global competition being what it is, it would be suicidal for us to refuse to eliminate the inflexibility that undermines our competitiveness.

Yes. The leading cause of suicide is inflexibility. Ask anyone.

[T]he Québec government could take action in an area that is essential to a prosperous future: massive investments in education and training.

Phew! For a minute there, I thought you were pushing a corporate agenda. C’mon, high five!

[A] clear-sighted vision and a sense of responsibility will lead to lifting the freeze on tuition fees, a policy that flies in the face of common sense and all studies conducted on the question.

(Sighs.) I had a feeling that’s where you’re were going with this...

Lifting the freeze on tuition fees and should be accompanied by the introduction of a student loan repayment plan that is proportional to income.

Cool, except you left out the part about expanding grants and bursaries, and about the loan repayment program being interest-free.

In the context of the debate we hope to launch, other avenues deserve to be explored, for example, major tax reforms.

You mean increasing taxation of corporations and the wealthy, right?

Countries that invest heavily in social programs generally prefer to tax consumption rather than income. Québec does exactly the opposite. This has the effect of making work less attractive and encourages taxpayers to focus more on their leisure time.

So, leisure time is the problem?! I thought you said it was big unions?

Québec could also consider creating a guaranteed minimum income plan.

(Blinks.) Wait, you don’t actually mean...

This plan would make direct transfers to each citizen and would replace several existing programs for redistributing income, such as low electricity rates and the freeze on tuition fees mentioned above.

...never mind.

Another element that must be eliminated is the unhealthy suspicion of private business that has developed in some sectors.

Funny, I don’t feel sick at all.

For years, people deplored the fact that the Québec economy was run by English-speaking business people; today, French-speaking business people control our economy and they are roundly criticized.

Aww...

We invite all those who realize the urgent need for a transformation to step forward.

The rest of you will be shot. Any questions?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Early

Walking to school
the sun blinds
the street crackles

Flash
(squinting
hands curled in gloves)
I am more than slightly
hungover

Late

Walking home
the sky is clear
the trains sing

Flash
(smiling
hands warm in pockets)
I am not so easily
defeated

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Suck

Water, Khansahib

More rain. It was supposed to be sunny today. It wasn't sunny. It will never be sunny again.

I have, obviously, succumbed to depression, despite my best efforts. I suppose I should at least be clever about it, but I don’t feel like being clever. I feel like curling up in someone’s lap and having my head patted. “There, there,” someone would say. “It’ll be better soon. Here, have a cookie.”

Hmm. I wonder if I have any cookies?

The worst thing about this weather is that there is no catharsis. There’s no thunder to herald change, no crackle of lightning to stand your hair on end, no torrential downpour. There is only the difference between light rain and moderate drizzle, and an interminably gray sky.

I feel cheap, using the weather as a metaphor in this way. I thought I was better than that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Goodie!

Bob's blog is back. Well, not all the way back, but it will be soon. Bob said so, and Bob is a man of his word. Yesiree, Bob.

Yay.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sustenance

I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun. Arit said it pierced through the cement of cloud for all of fifteen minutes yesterday. Having overslept, I missed it.

In a slightly desperate effort to keep complete despair at bay, I invited Arit and James over for dinner last night. I made roast salmon with lemon-cardamom rice, which was, for me, a major accomplishment, as I am not renowned for my cooking. If the moans of delight that greeted the meal were any indication, I didn’t do too badly.

Today, Arit returned the favour by inviting me over for chocolate cake, the precise name of which escapes me but is, I think, German. The cake was expertly baked by John, who has taken up baking as a hobby and thus secured the title best boyfriend in the known universe. So good was this cake that I asked, piggishly, for a second slice, and could easily have eaten a third.

Biking home on the rain-slicked streets, I briefly pondered the relationship between food and love. It’s such a simple enjoyment, to feed someone or be fed by them, and yet it’s one of the most intimate things you can do with another person. In this sense, it is love at its best: kindly, open-hearted, and thoroughly ordinary.

Tonight, with two pieces of German chocolate cake nestled in my belly, I am promising myself that I will cook more often. There is simply no other way to survive this season.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Belgrade: The New Montreal?

For weekend reading, an impressive New York Times piece on my other favourite city.

N.B. I have passed out in at least one of the clubs mentioned.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Blanche, with lemon

Late meeting. Period cramps. Endless rain outside the Café.

The girls talk about their bad boyfriends. I look past them out the streaky window. I have nothing much to say.

The waitress is in good spirits. The cute bartender has the night off, which is a shame.

Ada leaves to meet her bad boyfriend. Marie-Marcelle stays for another round. She is teaching her bad boyfriend patience.

If I had a bad boyfriend, I’d have something to talk about. But then, I’d also have a bad boyfriend.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kernel Theory

The Smoking Section is one year old today. Has it really been that long?

A few weeks after its inception, my friend Esther asked me why I wanted to write “all that stuff.” It was a fair question, although I didn’t have an answer for her at the time. I knew that I had embarked upon a kind of experiment, but I couldn’t begin to explain why or to what end, and certainly not why anyone else should care.

One year, 213 posts, and 8,508 page views later, I’m still not sure what to make of it all. Why do I do this? Why do any of us do this? Are we all exhibitionists? Raconteurs? Assholes? Is blogging a cheap form of therapy, in the worst sense of both words? Or is it, as some commentators have proclaimed, “the new literature”? I’ll be damned if I know.

What I do know is this: my mother wanted to be a writer. Somewhere in the crooked rowhouse I grew up in, there are boxes that are filled to overflowing with the poems and short stories she has written, all in longhand and nearly all in her second language. They were never published, but she’d show them to me sometimes, like they were a part of her she needed me to know.

For a brief time, I wanted to be a writer too. But then, I also wanted to be a musician and a philosopher and a young revolutionary, and somewhere along the way, writing disappeared. Is that how it happened? Or, as I slowly realized that my mother was crazy, did I infer that writing is something that crazy people do, and as such, that it was an activity best avoided?

When my brother had his first schizophrenic break, he began to write obsessively. He had never shown any interest in literature before, but all of a sudden, he was burning through meticulously constructed stories about experiences far removed from his own. As his disease progressed, the stories broke down into repetitive, almost mechanical abstracts of his delusions, which he occasionally sends to me by email.

Psychiatrists refer to this manifestation of schizophrenia and certain other illnesses as hypergraphia: “the unstoppable drive to write.” In one account, the condition is said to “compel someone to keep a voluminous journal, to jot off frequent letters to the editor, to write on toilet paper if nothing else is available, and perhaps even to compile a dictionary.” In other words, hypergraphia bears more than a passing resemblance to blogging.

Which brings me back to Esther’s question, and to what will have to suffice for an answer: it is possible that I write all this stuff simply because I’m not afraid to anymore. It isn’t a slippery slope. Blogging is, admittedly, a strange compulsion, but it is one that feels good and right to me and surprisingly necessary. Besides, it’s a relief to let myself be just a little bit crazy every once in a while.

In any case, thanks for reading, and for writing back. I might start to worry if you didn’t.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Weekend

I went to a Polish Thanksgiving party last night. Vodka was served in lieu of turkey, and no one gave thanks for anything.

I talked to D. today. We agreed that grad school makes people neurotic, and that internet dating only exacerbates the problem. She says her therapy is going well.

My brother called tonight. He asked me if the messages he records at Speaker’s Corner are interfering with my studies. I told him that my cable package doesn’t have CityTV, so it wasn’t a problem.

I spoke with my mother briefly. She has not had surgery for her kidney infection. I wished her a happy Thanksgiving and hung up.

I still haven’t had a massage.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

To the curb

In a fit of self-assertion, I have ditched my old web counter and taken up with a new one. Honestly, I should have done it a long time ago.

I was quite fond of Nedstat, my former counter, and was reasonably content with our year-long relationship. Admittedly, it wasn’t much to look at, nor was it especially bright, but it was always there when I needed it and that was good enough for me.

Several weeks ago, Nedstat started hanging out with a new crowd. Suddenly, it had a different haircut and flashy clothes, and it was even calling itself by a new name: Webstats4U. I was troubled by these changes, but said nothing.

Meanwhile, the situation worsened. Webstats4U began to stay out late without calling; on one or two occasions, it didn’t come home at all. The rumour-mill swirled, and I wondered if I was being taken for a fool.

Then, it happened. The lying son-of-a-bitch came down with a nasty case of pop-up ads and I decided that enough was enough. It was time to move on.

I confess, I had been quietly cruising other counters, and one in particular caught my fancy. I was intrigued, but having been so badly burned, I was reluctant to commit to another counter too quickly. Clearly, I needed time.

Still, a girl can only go so long without stats, and today I took the plunge. After a few nervous preliminaries, I made a move on StatCounter, and it was everything I hoped it would be. No lies, no strings, and, if you’ll permit the indiscretion, the log size is incredible!

So, goodbye Nedstat/Webstats4U, and good riddance. I deserve far better than you.

Kurt Vonnegut on NOW

Vonnegut: After two World Wars and the Holocaust and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and after the Roman games and after the Spanish Inquisition and after burning witches... shouldn't we call it off? I mean, we are a disease and should be ashamed of ourselves.

Interviewer: Mr. Vonnegut, how does a man stay funny when, like you, he thinks the world stinks?

Vonnegut: He smokes. It helps a lot.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mars in retrograde

Yes, that was James. I suspected as much, but received final confirmation last night. As I told him when I saw him, I’ve been itching to yell at someone for weeks, and, grand contrarian that he is, he provided me with an excellent opportunity to do so.

(Incidentally, James is no more a postmodernist than I am a ballerina. I mean, the man still believes in aesthetic value, for chrissake. And you should see the way he dresses...)

In other news, I have decided to treat myself to a massage this week, which is, I suppose, the female version of treating oneself to a prostitute. There is one notable difference, however: I have absolutely no intention of engaging in conversation with my masseuse.

I’ve asked sex trade workers about this phenomenon, and they’ve all said the same thing: the johns always want to talk afterwards. I find this revealing, since it flies in the face of the standard line: i.e., that men want sex and women want intimacy. Such utter nonsense, and yet people persist in believing it, even when presented with clear evidence to the contrary.

Whenever we argue about this, which is surprisingly often, James insists that I am an exceptional case. I have suggested to him that he needs to get out more, and perhaps also to keep better company. Having done neither, he remains unconvinced.

In any case, I will have a massage this week, which will have nothing whatsoever to do with intimacy. I trust that my masseuse will understand.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dear James,

That Emma Goldman should be delcared Queen of the Universe is, I think, self-evident. Nevertheless, I take issue with your argument.

The term leadership is, as you imply, a product of discourse. It is also, therefore, deeply ideological, in that it is bound up with assumptions about liberal democracy, capitalism, and, as I wrote yesterday, gender difference. For these reasons, it merits analysis, critique, and, possibly, deconstruction, and we can thank postmodern theorists for undertaking precisely this task.

However, to propose that we jettison the term entirely, even with great subversive élan, is unproductive and, I believe, hopelessly naive. I say this because, at the end of the day, there is a sphere called politics which trundles on with or without our theoretical approval, and which affects large numbers of human beings in real and vitally important ways.

Take, for example, the case of Katrina. The complete inability of federal, state, and local officials to command themselves and the institutions they preside over led directly to the needless deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people. The "chattering classes" call this a failure of leadership, and, in my view, they are entirely correct to do so.

Whether we consent to being governed by them or not, political officials have access to resources and modes of power that we, as mere citizens, do not. They can declare states of emergency; they can marshal the armed forces or the police; they can approve requests for economic assistance and direct them accordingly. We cannot do these things, and so we have little choice but to rely upon government to make such decisions on our behalf. Perhaps it will be different after the revolution, but I’m not holding my breath.

In the days and weeks after Katrina, the American government failed to meet its most basic responsibilities to its citizens. As Bush and Brownie dithered, people died. Worse, they died knowing that they had been abandoned by their government, which was, it seems, otherwise occupied.

As Bush’s later photo ops demonstrated, the spectacle of leadership is not the same thing as leadership. It is, to be Baudrillardian for just a minute, the signifier wrested away from the signified. This is, I think, what you mean when you call the television images of Giuliani on September 11 meaningless, which, in a certain sense, they were.

However, to give credit to Giuliani--who is, as you well know, a political figure I generally revile--the signifier was not merely a stand-in for the signified. He was, by all accounts, acutely aware of what was happening in his city, and very much involved in the coordination of his administration’s response, not days or weeks after the fact, but immediately. He was, in common parlance, on top of things.

Thus, the photo ops were not just photo ops, but a symbolic representation of Giuliani’s command of the situation. That is why they were ultimately successful, and why Bush’s later efforts were not. In times of crisis, people want to be reassured by their political officials—witness, for example, the footage of Katrina survivors at the Convention Centre screaming at the news cameras, over and over again, “Where is Nagin? Where is Blanco? Where the fuck is the President?” As citizens of a democracy, they have every right to want this.

However, people are not stupid, as some theorists persist in believing, and when push comes to shove they will not meekly accept the signifier in place of the signified. Studies have shown that media strategies are only effective in the absence of lived experience: that is, when there is no other reference point. As Katrina proved, if you are suddenly starving and homeless in a throng of other starving and homeless people, a photo op means nothing at all.

In the case of September 11, New Yorkers were legitimately reassured by Giuliani. Hell, as I braced for World War Three and wondered where the fuck America’s president was, I was reassured by Giuliani. Was I suffering from false consciousness? Do I therefore deserve derision and contempt?

More to the point, how would a postmodern theorist have handled the situation? By sneering at it? By deconstructing it? By writing still another book about the impossibility of politics? As a philosophy professor I admire greatly once said, “philosophers can’t even fix their own toilets”; God help us if it is them to whom we turn when the shit hits the fan.

Worse, the postmodernists have had a hand in relinquishing the sphere of politics to the lawyers and robber-barons that presently comprise the political class, and who should be held criminally responsible for their chronic malfeasance. By thinking ourselves above the political fray and retreating into our own otherworld of floating signifiers, we renege upon our basic responsibility as democratic citizens to police the conduct of those who lead us, and, ultimately, to effect change. As we do, the people we claim to theorize for—minorities, the disabled, the poor—die like dogs in their streets. Bravo. Have another research grant.

In closing, I will concede that leadership is a difficult and potentially dangerous term, but until the revolution comes, I will continue to expect something like it from those who govern me. You are free to do otherwise.

With love,
Vila

On the couch

The temperature being suddenly very low, I am hibernating. On this Friday night, I made myself dinner, brushed the cats, and watched Charlie Rose, which is, incidentally, excellent hibernation television.

Charlie’s guest tonight was Alan Alda, who was talking up his new memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Other Things I’ve Learned. This was quite a treat, because I adore Alan Alda. Adore him. Seriously, just looking at the man makes me happy.

Alda was, I confess, my first love--or, more accurately, Hawkeye was. Mind you, the character I fell in love with wasn’t the Hawkeye of the later M*A*S*H* episodes, who was sensitive and good and almost unbearably earnest. No, the Hawkeye I loved beyond words was the early Hawkeye: the one who drank too much and slept with all the nurses and laughed like a hyena at the slightest provocation. You know, the bad Hawkeye. Hawkeye when he was a still a manwhore.

In any case, I settled in for the interview with a bag of potato chips and listened as Alda told lively stories about growing up in the burlesque houses his father worked for, his early training in improv, and his many years in the theatre, all the while thinking that he’s still quite handsome for a man of almost seventy.

Then, Rose asked him about his mother.

It turns out that Alda’s mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, and that she figures prominently in his memoir. As he spoke about her, I leaned forward on the couch, hanging on his every word. I recognized them all: no one in the family talked about it... she suffered, we all suffered... I didn’t tell my friends for years...

Finally, he said this: “I remember trying to figure out what was reality—real reality—and what was her reality.” I thought, instantly: he knows. I may have even said it out loud. “He knows”. He knows what it’s like to grow up with a crazy mother. Not a little bit crazy, as he put it. As I’ve put it. “Psychotic.”

Hawkeye Pierce knows what it means to tell people that your mother is psychotic.

When the interview ended, I went searching for reviews of Alda’s book online and came across a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle. From the article:

"For many years, frustrated with his mother's delusions and outbursts, Alda avoided contact with her. 'I did try to take care of her as much as I could, and in her later life I really took on that responsibility in a personal way,' he says. He doesn't feel remorse over those distances, because 'I don't think I caused her any pain by that and anyway, that was the only response I could have had.'"

So, it’s okay. I mean, if Alan-fucking-Alda couldn’t figure out how to remain close to his schizophrenic mother, then it must truly be impossible. Right?