Friday, September 30, 2005

Leading questions

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately, in large part because of the breathtaking dearth of the quality that has become painfully evident post-Katrina. Leadership. It is one of those quaint, modern words, like “character” or “truth,” ones that possess little currency in a post-modern age.

Thinking about it, I envision a world in which men wear fedoras and women brandish silver cigarette holders, one that is fondly remembered but very much gone. Saying it out loud, I find myself sounding uncannily like Jimmy Stewart. Still, although we don’t actually believe in it, we do seem to notice it when it isn’t there. It may be that leadership is best defined antonymically: i.e., it is that which is not cowardice, irresponsibility, or blatant self-interest. It may also be that it is akin to pornography: i.e., you know it when you see it.

It is, in any case, a deeply gendered term. Men demonstrate, or, more often, fail to demonstrate, leadership. Women... well, women do other things. They serve. They inspire. They manage. Most commonly, they endure. But somehow, they don’t quite lead, at least, not in this language. This is, perhaps, because leadership is not unrelated to heroism, both being character traits that lie dormant until they are occasioned by circumstance, and it is not terribly often that circumstances favour women in this way.

Think of the difference between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Clinton is, it is generally agreed, a competent politician, a capable senator, and a reasonably skilled orator. However, Giuliani is—or, rather, he became—a leader. Both occupied important political positions on September 11, 2001, but Clinton did not emerge from that surreal day a national hero. Giuliani did. Why?

This is, of course, a largely rhetorical question. Nevertheless, I will suggest that women in the political sphere are caught between two contradictory imperatives: the personal imperative to prove oneself as a leader, and the political imperative to preserve one’s femininity at all costs. Would Clinton’s handlers have allowed her to set off for Ground Zero, without her make-up properly applied and her hair expertly coiffed, while debris still rained down from the Twin Towers? What if she came off as pushy? What if she got hurt? What if she looked haggard in front of the TV cameras?

Lest you think that this is a uniquely American phenomenon, I ask you to consider the Canadian case. Can you think of a single female Canadian politician who could roll up her shirtsleeves at a disaster site and not appear completely ridiculous? Kim Campbell? Nope. Belinda Stronach? Not a chance. Audrey McLaughlin? Who?

My point is not that women aren’t capable of leadership (plainly, they are) or that men are, as a group, intrinsically better leaders (plainly, they are not), but that the kind of leadership that is considered acceptable for a woman of the political class to publicly demonstrate is distinctly unheroic. Which is unfortunate, ‘cause we could sure use a few heroines right about now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

519

My father called last night. We hadn’t spoken in over three weeks, which would have been unthinkable before he moved to Sarnia. As it turns out, he didn’t call to say hello, or to ask how I was, or to shoot the shit about politics. He called to tell me that he had just talked to my brother.

It was, he said, a largely nonsensical conversation, except for two shards of information. The first is that my brother has received his first disability benefits cheque, which suggests that he has had contact with a medical professional during the last month. The second is that my mother has apparently had surgery for her kidney infection since I spoke with her last, possibly at Toronto General.

If true, it is certainly good news. And yet, I don't feel different than I did before.

My father asked me to confirm the information when I next talk to my mother; I responded, politely, by saying that I wasn’t sure when that would be. I am still shaken by everything that has happened, and I don’t know how I will deal with my family from here on in. He seems not to understand this, even though he should understand better than anyone.

Years ago, my father told me that I was the glue that held our family together, that the only reason they ever talked to each other was because of me. I realise now that I need to stop being the intermediary. It is time that we were unbound.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Contrition

I have neglected many things during the last weeks: my schoolwork, my health, my cats, and my friends. But I have virtually abandoned the Montreal Metroblog, which has lately suffered from a lack of contributions, and contributors.

So, finally, a post for the Metroblog—and, to the bloggers among you, a call to serve. C’mon, you know you want to...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Becalmed

It was a delightfully sedate weekend. I slept. I took a bath. I played with my cats. I even cooked a proper meal. None of these are particularly noteworthy activities, I know, but I enjoyed them just the same.

Last night, James joined me for a night in at the movies, which turned out to be something of a mixed bag. First, we tried to watch a positively atrocious film called Maximum Overdrive, but aborted mission after about twenty minutes. The movie, which stars a painfully young Emilio Estevez, has the distinction of being the only Stephen King film that was also directed by Stephen King. It also features a soundtrack that is exclusively comprised of songs by AC/DC. Enough said.

Undaunted, we turned our attention to Larry Clark’s Bully, which was a considerably better choice, although far from pleasant viewing. Inspired, no doubt, by Estevez’s earlier appearance, I found myself wondering if any of the characters in The Breakfast Club ever gave or received an extra-diegetic blowjob. My money’s on Claire.

Finally, as a tribute to the recently departed news anchor, we watched an old episode of Peter Jennings Reporting about the DEA’s crackdown on Ecstasy. According to Jennings, both of the government-funded studies that “proved” that the drug had serious health risks were based on fatally flawed data and have since been retracted by the journals in which they originally appeared. Damn, I miss him.

Next time, I will have to subject James to Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance, or, if it’s out, Frank Perry’s The Swimmer. Then, we’ll be even.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Day off

I slept for eleven hours last night, a deep, stubborn sleep that lasted well into the afternoon. I stayed in bed for quite some time after I woke up, luxuriating in the tangle of sheets, blankets, and cats that surrounded my defiantly horizontal frame.

Happily, I had absolutely nowhere to be today. My only tasks were to take out the garbage and buy toilet paper, which I did in as leisurely a fashion as possible. Work did intrude for a short time late in the day, but was quickly banished with a few terse emails. If it’s not on fire, I have decided, it can wait until next week.

The union held its fall general meeting yesterday, which was the last of a series of events that ran us all ragged for weeks. Afterwards, I attended Setare’s birthday party at Korova, and although I was much too tired to dance or flirt, I still enjoyed myself immensely. If the giggling, grateful hug she gave me when I left was any indication, I suspect that she did too.

Setare’s birthday is actually on Friday, which makes her a Libra-Virgo cusp. In lieu of a proper birthday present, I offer this brief astrological explanation:

You are a Libra with Virgo tendencies. You are people-oriented and possess a talent for making others like you. You are also industrious and have a keen eye for detail but sometimes take on more than you can handle. It is important to you to be admired. You are aware of your public image and always strive to make the best impression. You would like to keep your emotions on an even keel, but you tend to be either enthusiastically happy or else dejected over some little thing going wrong. Love makes you feel fulfilled, and you are probably flirtatious.

That’s about right, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mix Tape

Cocteau Twins, Aikea Guinea

Lying on Netta’s bed, listening to her talk to her mother in Tel Aviv.

The Velvet Underground, All Tomorrow’s Parties

Smoking joints with Mike and imagining how we’d be old together someday.

Wire, Sand in My Joints

Chainsmoking cigarettes with Lorraine in our pyjamas and mining each other to the core.

The Sugarcubes, Birthday

Hugging Christine all over.

Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart

Sitting cross-legged in Neil’s shirt as the streetcars went by on College Street.

Brian Eno, Everything Merges With the Night

Feeling the grass prickle under my neck with Craig on mushrooms.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Weeping Song

Wanting to kiss Allison again but not kissing her.

The Beatles, Two of Us

Feeling safe in Phil’s arms and thinking they would always feel that way.

Sundays, Can’t Be Sure

Working the Sunday shift with Eric, who had a crush on me and made me mix tapes.

Except I didn’t know he had a crush on me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Revelation

I am, apparently, destined never to have a day off again. (Sighs.) I really tried this time, too.

Which reminds me, I need a manwhore. That’s right: a manwhore. Not a boyfriend, not a partner, not a spouse or a beau. Nope, there’s no time for that. Gotta have the manwhore.

What exactly is a manwhore, you ask? I refer you to an expert:

The manwhore has no shame or scruples, he’s not consumed by romantic ideals of quality which frequently lead to long painful conversations and frustrated desires, with frequent marthon discussions about the meaning of life, of work, of the world. No, the manwhore is concerned with quantity. Does he care that he loses some? Does he go into despair and listen to Bright Eyes? No. He goes out and has fun. And you have fun too. Many aspire to be the manwhore, but it is the Zen state of being: for instance, the serial monogamist is a not quite actualized manwhore--on a lower rung are men who cheat on their girlfriends but can't bear to be alone for more than a few days.

Ah, yes: the manwhore. You know him, don’t you? Sure you do. He’s the one who didn’t overstay his welcome, or borrow money from you, or make you feel guilty for liking sex as much as he does. He didn’t come with a script, or a five-year plan. He made you feel good, even after he was gone.

Hear this: the manwhore will be at the vanguard of the next sexual revolution, which will free us from the shackles of serial monogamy and lead us giddily toward a Reichian utopia of unrestrained carnality.

If you see him, tell him I’m waiting for him at the union office.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Damage

I am a shell of a woman. I have worked eight out of the last eight days. I am averaging five hours of sleep per night. I have run out of post-it notes. And I am on my period.

If memory serves, the Union hosted a dance at the graduate student pub on Thursday night. I had a few beers and was holding up quite well—that is, until the first round of shooters arrived.

Shooters, I have decided, are evil. They usually contain liquids you would never otherwise drink, and which you would politely decline if it was socially acceptable to do so. It is not. You can no more say no to a shooter than to a gun-toting rapist, and a shooter cannot be stopped with mace. Worse, shooters beget shooters, in a vicious cycle that only ends when no one is left standing.

Without thinking, I imbibed three shots of unadulterated evil, on an empty stomach no less, and suddenly there I was: dancing like a madwoman to Men Without Hats; flirting with my delegates and random law students; and spilling sticky things on my freshly laundered dress.

I was, in other words, having fun. Loads of it.

I most assuredly did not have fun the next day, however, when I crawled out of bed after four fitful hours of sleep and realized that I was still drunk. And, dimly, that I had a speech to give to my faculty’s annual orientation meeting in an hour and a half’s time, by which point I would be retchingly hungover.

I did manage to give the speech, which may possibly have been coherent despite having been written in the back of a speeding cab. Immediately afterwards, I took the bus home and collapsed in a heap on my sofa, where I solemnly vowed never to drink shooters again.

I mean it this time.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Today's horoscope

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22) Aggressive line-cutting at lunch today inspires you to be more assertive. There are many things to do this week, and you will be able to swiftly plow through them all if you abandon all pretense of being nice, courteous and giving two fucks about the feelings of others. For the next few days, permit yourself to become that pushy jerk off who elbows through the crowd on the subway platform in order to nab the first available seat. For once, dirty looks become the sign of a job well done.

Keeping it together

I keep forgetting to breathe. Fuck, I’m doing it again. Inhale, exhale. See, it feels good, doesn’t it?

Today, it was another meeting, more phone calls, a ream of post-it notes and always the wretched, pointless follow-up. There was no chance for a bike ride or the ogling of boys; there wasn’t even a daydream on the bus home. And now, there is not a single beer in the fridge.

Note to self: buy beer.

Still, some good things happened today, some very good things indeed. You know who you are. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Boy

I am, I realize, developing a small crush on one of the bartenders at the Café. He is very young, very French, and by any measure, adorable. I don’t know his name, but he has the loveliest smile.

Watching him tonight, I found myself admiring the cat in him. There is something leonine about the way he moves—lazily, languorously, with excessive grace. He moves as though he is slowly coming awake in the midday sun.

He’s a bastard, I’m sure, but it hardly matters.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Back to school

It being September, the university is veritably twitching with activity. After a deep summer slumber, every faculty, department, student organization, and activist group on campus is hosting some form of meeting, all of which apparently require my direct personal involvement.

Today, I spent nine hours planning, preparing, reviewing, responding, calling, emailing, or otherwise communicating about said meetings. Since today was my day off, I am displeased. Correction: I am downright cranky, and in dire need of a personal assistant. Or a wife.

In other news, I have dreamt of nothing but stress sex for the last two weeks. This is not the fleeting, distracted sex that so often occurs in dreams, but a vivid, almost palpable otherworld of escapist eroticism, unsullied by symbolic non-sequiturs and deaf to intruding alarm clocks.

There are no meetings in my dreams, nor emails neither.

Tonight, after the last phone call, I got on my bike and rode for a long time. I will not miss this last breath of summer, September be damned.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Cold

It was almost 9:00 PM when I left work today. The rain had stopped but it was cold like fall, which lurks everywhere now. I thought it would be warm and dressed as though it was. I am not ready to accept another season.

Everyone on the bus had that musty smell and looked a little sad. I stood for a while then found a seat, and arranged myself for the ride home. It was unusually quiet, and I noticed that this was because no one on the bus was talking on a cell phone, which almost never happens anymore.

When I got home, I retreated into my pyjamas and watched the news. The coverage is settling now, after days of rupture and chaos. Reporters have regained their composure and are on the outside of the story again. Soon, too soon, it will be business as usual.

I am trying not to think about my mother, but I still brace for long-distance rings. For the time being, I have decided not to answer them. One came last week, and without thinking, I picked up. I shouldn’t have.

It was awful to hear her, so full was she of fear and anger and bile. Listening to her rave, I felt like I was drowning in floodwater, and I realised that I don’t have it in me anymore. She is already gone.

Since then, everything has been muted and strange. I go to work. I watch the news. I have coffee with friends. I do these things even though, in another city, my mother is crazy and dying.

I feel like a ghost in my skin.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Beautiful

Dear America,

I suppose we should introduce ourselves: We're South Louisiana.

More...

On a cheerier note

Yes, you can still get a drink in New Orleans.

Aftermath

Today, in an interview with CNN, a New Orleans police officer stated that some hurricane victims were initially reluctant to board the helicopters that had come to rescue them because they were worried that the service would cost too much money.

Think about it for a minute. You have been stranded on your roof without food or water for a week. You have not slept. You are surrounded by floodwater, and you legitimately fear that you may die before anyone finds you. Possibly, some members of your family already have.

Then, finally, miraculously, a rescue helicopter arrives to take you to safety. What is the first thing you feel? Is it elation at having been saved? Anticipation of your first meal in days? Hope that you will be reunited with your loved ones?

No, the first thing you feel is worry. You worry that you cannot afford to be saved.

You worry about this because you have spent every day of your life worrying that you cannot afford things. You worry that you cannot afford to get sick. You worry that you cannot afford your rent. You worry that you cannot afford groceries, or clothes, or busfare. You worry that one small emergency—an impacted wisdom tooth, or a broken appliance—will bring the house of cards that is your life crashing down.

You don’t worry about hurricanes because you can’t even conceive of what a big emergency would do.

Meanwhile, neo-conservatives are placing blame for Katrina’s devastation on the welfare state, which has usurped the “normal” and “decent” values of radical individualism. Referring to the trapped residents of New Orleans, one writes:

But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.

This piece appears in The Intellectual Activist, a magazine published by the followers of Ayn Rand, and was linked from a comment posted to the New Orleans Metroblog. On a purely philosophical level, its contents can be effortlessly dismissed as belligerent tripe, as can Rand’s so-called literary works and with them the entire project of objectivism.

However, it is worth noting that the policies of the current American administration are steeped in such tripe, and that its most influential member, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, is a former protégé of Rand’s. This is not a matter of conspiracy theory, but of ideological framing: how does a Randian view the victims of Hurricane Katrina? As human beings deserving of government assistance? Or as “parasites” on the body of American capitalism?

As a closing note, it turns out that Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown had virtually no professional experience in emergency management prior to his appointment to FEMA in 2001. He was, however, a lawyer and a commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, which apparently made him a perfect candidate for the position. Strangely, the editorial staff of the Louisiana Times-Picayune disagrees.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Things to do when you’re stressed

I cleaned out my bedroom closet today. Before starting, I commanded myself to show no mercy: if it doesn’t fit, it goes; if it has holes in it, it goes; if it hasn’t been worn at least once during the last six months, it goes.

Among the items that went:

* A sweater I wore when I was going out with my first boyfriend.

* A tie-dyed Indian cotton shirt from my brief but still unfortunate hippie phase.

* Two ankle-length black skirts from my somewhat lengthier goth phase.

* A pair of silk boxer shorts the Ex gave me for christmas.

* Three bras from the 38B era.

* Eight oversized black t-shirts.

* Four oversized suit jackets.

* Three pairs of jeans with holes in the knees, crotch, and/or ass.

* The miniskirt I wore when I went dancing at the Twilight Zone.

* Two pairs of ratty fishnets—one black, one purple.

* A souvenir t-shirt from New York City.

* A pair of Op-Art tights purchased at an open-air market in Belgrade.

* A thoroughly ridiculous coat I bought at Le Chateau when I was sixteen and have carted around with me ever since.

There are, I confess, several items I talked myself into keeping:

* A pair of long silk gloves. (Hey, you never know...)

* A lace garter belt. (See above.)

* A “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” t-shirt that is as thin as rice paper and still has black nail polish on it.

* A souvenir t-shirt from the 1989 Anarchist Unconvention in San Francisco.

* The leather coat my dad wore in the 1960s.

Tomorrow, I will carry four garbage bags of clothes down to the curb for pick-up and I won’t look back. I won’t, will I?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Break

It caught up with me last night.

I was watching the news when it started, a few tears brought on by the misery of it all: the wailing children and their desperate parents and the frightened elderly and the people slumped over in their wheelchairs and the body bags lined up behind them.

Then, suddenly, it was everything I’ve been fighting back since that first phone call. I guess it had to come sometime.

Today, sorrow gave way to rage. Thousands of people remain stranded at the Ernest Morial Convention Centre. Busloads of refugees from the Superdome were turned away in Houston. Impossibly bloated bodies float in the contaminated rivers that are New Orleans’ streets.

Meanwhile, some refer to looters as “animals” and demand a shoot-on-sight policy, while others blame those who did not have the wherewithal to leave for their own misfortune.

Tonight, CNN reported that 200 critically ill patients remain stranded at the Charity Hospital without food, electricity, or adequate plumbing. The day before, non-essential staff at the neighbouring Tulane Hospital were evacuated by helicopter as Charity’s doctors and patients watched helplessly from their roof. The helicopters did not return for them.

Is it a coincidence that Charity is, as its name suggests, a public hospital, which treats the indigent and those without medical coverage, and that Tulane is a fully private facility? How could it possibly be?

The events of the last several days have exposed the fault lines that we in North America prefer to ignore. Race and class undergird every aspect of this crisis, not in a blandly theoretical sense—there’s nothing theoretical about this—but in a suddenly visible and visceral way. We are seeing the ones who were in every sense forgotten, when the hurricane came and for a long time before.

Listen to Mayor Ray Nagin’s interview. Listen to the frustration in his voice, and the incredulity, as he talks about what has happened. Listen to the way he breaks down at the end of the interview. This man was elected to serve his city, and no one is listening to him.

Please listen to him.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thanks

I had a lovely little birthday party last night, in spite of everything. I was still shaking when I arrived at the Copa, but after a couple of beers I felt better.

After several more, I felt good.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and to those who left birthday wishes here and elsewhere. You made my day.