Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cusp

The night before New Year’s Eve. I feel no impulse to make resolutions, nor desire to herald change. There hardly seems any point, there’s been so much of it this year. Transformation has become ether.

Looking back, it's all a bit of a blur. I remember the things I’ve written about, but I can’t recall feeling them, not really. There was never time for anything to seep in, except in dreams lost moments before waking.

I suppose that’s what this interregnum is for: to provide a space for review, and for release.

Some bands are playing in Griffintown tomorrow. I think I’ll go.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

What he said

Saddam's heinous crimes against humanity can never be diminished, but he was our ally while he was doing it. Saddam as a war trophy only deepens the catastrophe to which we are indelibly linked.
--Rev. Jesse Jackson

Friday, December 29, 2006

Enter hangman

Late last night, reports surfaced that Saddam Hussein had been handed over to the Iraqi government for execution.

This morning, US officials denied that the handover had taken place, stating that Hussein would not be executed until sometime in January.

Since both parties have agreed to keep Hussein's execution secret until after the fact, this can only mean one thing: Saddam Hussein is already dead.

Just thought you should know.


Postscript: Okay, so I was off by a couple of hours. I still scooped the Beeb.

New Orleans, meet Baghdad

From today's New York Times:

Along with its many other desperate problems, Iraq is in the midst of a housing crisis that is worsening by the day.

It began right after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, when many landlords took advantage of the removal of his economic controls and raised rents substantially, forcing out thousands of families who took shelter in abandoned government buildings and military bases. As the chaos in Iraq grew and the ranks of the jobless swelled, even more Iraqis migrated to squalid squatter encampments. Still others constructed crude shantytowns on empty plots where conditions were even worse.

With many families in such encampments or worse, and many others doubled or tripled up in friends’ or relatives’ homes, the deputy housing minister, Istabraq al-Shouk, puts the shortage at two million dwellings across Iraq.

(Sighs.) See below.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

For Rent: New Orleans-style lofts

Every now and then, I like to stop in and read a few posts on Metroblogging New Orleans, just to see how the city is doing. Today, I discovered this rant about a Craigslist ad for a pricey apartment that has gone unrented for quite some time. From the post:

This place just illustrates the total lunacy in our rental market right now. People are fixing up flooded property, taking their insurance money and spending it on luxuries like granite countertops, jacuzzi tubs, and stainless steel appliances with the expectation that they will attract rich tenants who will pay absurd rents to live there. Are you insane?!?!

What people are looking for right now is affordable housing. Nobody gives a shit about granite countertops and bamboo floors. Rich people are not moving to New Orleans right now. When they do, go ahead and install that heated marble floor and charge Manhattan prices for rent, but I wouldn't hold your breath if I were you.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on a movement of New Orleans citizens who are demanding that federal authorities reopen the city’s public housing projects, several of which are slated for demolition and redevelopment. The authorities insist that new “mixed-income” communities will eventually be built in their place, but in the interim, thousands of poor and working-class evacuees remain homeless.

The sticking point appears to be the philosophy of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which adopted new urbanist planning principles in the mid-1990s and will employ them in the reconstruction of New Orleans’ public housing. The DUD's stated goal is to “deconcentrate” urban poverty, as it did in the city's St. Thomas project in 2000, but the article suggests that the results have been less than successful.

The pleasant streets of pastel-colored houses that replaced the grim St. Thomas buildings have put life back into a Lower Garden District neighborhood that for years was fearful and moribund.

On the other hand, the new development has accommodated less than one in five of the old St. Thomas families, though the developer says expansion will add more. And those that are there feel threatened by tenant rules designed to make the neighborhood’s market-rate inhabitants comfortable, including occupancy restrictions. [Emphasis mine.]

Historian Mike Davis calls the gentrification process that is unfolding in New Orleans “ethnic cleansing,” and he points to the collusion of new urbanists and neo-conservatives in the expulsion of the city’s minority population. The term sounds rhetorically harsh until you read the thoughts of one French Quarter landowner, who opines, “The hurricane drove poor people and criminals out of the city and we hope they don’t come back. The party’s finally over for these people and now they’re going to have to find someplace else to live in the United States.”

Somewhere in all of this, it starts to become clear that real estate has become the battleground upon which a war of human rights is being waged, and, more often than not, lost. Think about it: does one cease to be a New Orleanian because one has suddenly been priced out of its housing market? If so, what does this mean for those of us who think of our cities as our home, but who have no legal title to them?

As a parting thought, it bears remembering that prior to 1856, American voting rights were restricted to white male landowners, or about 10% of the population. In Canada, property ownership requirements were not fully lifted until 1948. Just something to chew on.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Noel

Christmas Eve with John and Arit; Christmas Day alone. Just a faint hangover from all the grappa we drank, which scorched the backs of our throats as it went down.

I steeled myself and made calls to my family today. My father is depressed and didn’t feel like talking. My brother was in hospital for a week and is still waiting to receive his disability benefits. My mother was trembling and confused, having taken suddenly ill.

With each one, I fought back a surge of feeling. When I quietly counseled my mother to see a doctor, she shrieked that she intended to die at home, exactly as she did two summers ago. This time I left her to her suffering, knowing that there is nothing I can do for any of them, even on this day.

Instead, I will listen to James Brown’s first single over and over again as I wait for the snow to come.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked the funk a lot...

But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Who-ville,
Did NOT!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The day after Global Orgasm Day

Okay, so it didn’t stop any wars. But Global Orgasm Day did feel kinda sexy, didn’t it?

The event even caught the attention of my favourite astrologer, who wrote this piece on its potential merits. An excerpt:

Orgasm transcends differences of gender, sexual orientation, social identity, language, nationality, house or trance, rock or disco. It can be a profound moment of inner freedom that (if you're paying attention) is really a deep cosmic joining. It seems plausible enough to try focusing this on world peace -- and at the very worst, it's hot that a whole bunch of people around the world are planning to get off at the same time, thinking about one another doing it.

[ . . . ]

Given the choice, I would rather live and work among sexually expressive people; in a house where people are affectionate with one another; where there is freedom to speak freely about pleasure and desire, and where different strokes are not the subject of judgment, but rather encouraged and explored. I would rather live in a community where people feel safe to feel and express themselves. I would rather live in a country where the culture is tolerant and where people strive for equality, which can only come through communication.

Oh, and he also does horoscopes. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Global Orgasm Day

As I nursed my first cup of coffee this morning, an email arrived in my inbox inviting me to take part in the first annual Synchronized Global Orgasm for Peace Day. Seriously.

Inspired by the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University, the event organizers hope that “a huge influx of physical, mental and spiritual energy with conscious peaceful intent will not only show up on Princeton’s Random Event Generators, but will have profound positive effects that will change the violent state of the human world.”

To which I say: Why the fuck not? I am on vacation, after all.

For anyone who cares to join in the experiment, details are below. And, if you need a little, er, guidance, just watch this demonstration video.

WHO? All Men and Women, you and everyone you know.

WHERE? Everywhere in the world, but especially in countries with weapons of mass destruction.

WHEN? Winter Solstice Day - Friday, December 22nd, at the time of your choosing, in the place of your choosing and with as much privacy as you choose.

WHY? To effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy a Synchronized Global Orgasm. There are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti-submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran, so the time to change Earth’s energy is NOW!


Good luck!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Done

Hello. You’ve reached KARL, our automated message system. The revolutionary is out of the office until January 3rd. If you require an emergency insurrection, please dial 911.

Beeep.

Thank fucking god. I’ve been hanging on to each day by my fingernails and have felt myself slipping. As I told Mimi, it’s like all my adrenaline ran out at once.

After the fever, I realized I had to stop and I will, in the new year. Until then, a taste of what it will be like when my days have no union in them.

It’s been three and a half years since my days have had no union in them.

Tomorrow, I’ll make a pot of coffee and write down all of the things I’ve been thinking about but haven’t had the energy to lock into place. Then, I’ll look through the books I picked up at the library today. And then maybe I’ll do the dishes.

I said, maybe.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mull

A sleepy and hungover day. I drank entirely too much at the department party last night, and may or may not have danced to New Order before one of my colleagues took pity on me and drove me home.

Between pints, I learned of two break-ups that occurred this fall. The first was as bad as they come: sudden, evasive, and painfully revisionist. When she told me that it was as if he had never loved her at all, I nodded in sombre recognition.

The second was different. Together, they set a date that would mark their transition from being lovers to close companions, which has since passed. He called it their new anniversary, which affirms the bond they still share. I recognized something in that too.

I’ve never believed that relationships have to come to a full stop, and I like being reminded that sometimes they don’t. These feel to me like truer loves than the other kind, which seem fickle by comparison, and unnecessarily cruel.

When I think of it this way, I realize that my longest relationship was not with Phil, but with C. And that, in the end, it was the better one.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bigger, longer, and…

Okay, this one’s really quite extraordinary.

Several years ago, world health practicioners observed that men who resided in African communities in which circumcision is commonly practiced had dramatically lower rates of HIV infection.

Preliminary research studies were conducted in South Africa and India that appeared to support the correlation, but scientists reserved judgement until the results of two much larger studies were in.

Their findings? That circumcision reduces the rate of HIV infection in heterosexual men by half.

You can read more about the studies on the BBC website, and in today’s New York Times. When you do, be sure to note the surname of the WHO director quoted therein.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Unintended consequences

Example A: Mass demonstrations by Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon.

Example B: A Taliban mini-state in Pakistan.

Example C: Saudi threats to back Sunni factions in Iraq.

Example D: Suicide bombings, sectarian death squads, etc.

Example E: Jon Stewart calling the outgoing Secretary of Defense a cocksucker on national television.

Seriously...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Random notes

Gentrification is the leading cause of hyperaesthesia.

Lou Dobbs seriously needs to read some Marx.

Can IKEA really build a better flophouse?

Iraq is a mistake that only stupid neo-liberals could make.

Is the new guy on The Daily Show kinda cute, or is it just me?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Company

A night in with Setare and Oblivia. Drinks, of course, and conversation, the kind that makes sense of the world and then giggles.

Atomic will be back in Montreal soon, which makes me realize just how long she has been away. There is something about these women, and infinitely more when they’re together.

Walking home, I noticed that the Café had closed early. It wouldn’t have if we had been there.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In the cards

I learned about the Tarot from my mother. She learned about it from the cigani, or Gypsies, which is what they were called then.

They didn’t have Tarot decks in the villages my parents grew up in, just well worn packs of playing cards which served the same purpose. My mother’s cards sat beside the fruit bowl on the kitchen table, waiting for my torrent of questions. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Does he? Doesn’t he? Will we? Won’t we? I never said the questions out loud, but she always knew.

Once, my mother surveyed the cards and drew in a long, grave breath. “He loves you,’ she said, and three weeks later, he did.

Sometimes, people ask me if I believe in these things. I try to explain that habits aren’t a matter of belief. They’re just what you’re used to.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday meme

Are you at a crossroads? Unsure of your direction in life? Having a full fledged identity crisis? Well, look no further--the Tarot will reveal all!

Okay, peeps, this is my card. What's yours?





You are The High Priestess




Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.




The High Priestess is the card of knowledge, instinctual, supernatural, secret knowledge. She holds scrolls of arcane information that she might, or might not reveal to you. The moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see, reveal the secrets you need to know. The High Priestess is also associated with the moon however and can also indicate change or fluxuation, particularily when it comes to your moods.




What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.


[Link courtesy of Me: The Sequel]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On the Metroblog

Over at the Metroblog, we’ve received orders from head office to expound on our city’s greatest gifts to the world. Feeling mischievous, I decided that my contribution would focus on Montreal’s penchant for drinking, which is, incidentally, how Arit and I whiled away the hours during yesterday’s ice storm. Providing that your power has been restored, you can find the piece here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Gone beta

Hmm... what do you think? Is it me?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Resolve

A tease? No, April, not really. I always put out eventually.

There’s a lot I haven’t been writing about here, events and anxieties that have called for discretion, every one of which underscores a two year-long argument I’ve been having with myself and have lately been losing.

In one way or another, they have all had to do with the question of calling, and, coincidentally, with the fact that I never learned how to trust what I feel.

I assure you, there is no one on earth who can agonize over a decision as much as I do, counting pros and cons like prayer beads until the surfaces of both are worn smooth. There is also no one else on this earth who can doubt her own perceptions with such fixed determination, or who is so deeply certain that she is always and irrefutably wrong.

So which one is it going to be, Vila? Writer? Musician? Revolutionary? Philosopher Queen? Jesus goddamn Christ, already, account for yourself—who the fuck are you?

Ack. No. Enough.

Today, I decided that I’m tired of the question, which misses the point entirely. It’s not who I am, it’s what I want. Desire, Vila, remember? That’s all it has ever been.

Tomorrow, I will go to the financial aid office to pick up my student loan. Everything else will follow.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fever

I’ve spent the last five days at home with the flu, from which I am slowly recovering.

On the second day, I curled under a blanket and let the fever take me. Hours passed as I dreamt warm, distracted dreams, which came in irregular waves. It reminded me of certain reckless highs I won’t experience again.

If I told you some of the things I’ve done in my life, you wouldn’t believe me. Which is probably just as well.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

After hours

A quick one at a bar I go to sometimes. Weeknight, it’s slow, a few tables straggle. The busboy announces last call, even though it’s early, then bends toward us. Whispered, “Not you.”

The stragglers leave; the busboy locks the door and turns out all the lights except one. We follow the pale glow to the bar. The bartender pours a round of drinks, which threaten to spill over the sides but don’t. We toast.

I taste my drink and watch for the signal. It is given. The pulse of conversation quickens as smoke rises to the ceiling. We begin to lose ourselves in the near-dark.

The stories come one on top of the other, jokes edge toward the ribald. It’s a relief to laugh out loud. Then, a perfect line of shots appears on the bar. We search for another toast; I seize one. “To bar culture.” It is agreed. “To bar culture.”

I stay longer than I should and relish every moment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Observation

You know those word verification boxes you have to fill out when you post a comment on someone's blog?

They're much harder to do when you're drunk.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I don’t like Mondays

This morning, I read that half of all Canadians fear that they are only one paycheque away from poverty.

This afternoon, I witnessed an altercation between a street kid and the jaywalking police.

This evening, I learned that the Quebec Superior Court will not suspend the smoking ban.

I can't wait to see what Tuesday will bring.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Trivia

In case anyone was wondering what the "H" stands for...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Editorial

I thought this one was fit for the Metroblog, so you can read it there.

More soon...

Monday, November 13, 2006

This just in...

From today's Montreal Gazette:

With cigarettes in hand, hundreds of bar owners from across the province marched outside the Montreal court house Monday morning, claiming a smoking ban is destroying their business.

Editorial to follow...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The best and brightest

Once again, it is the season of that strange ritual known as the Canadian Blog Awards.

Last year, I nominated the erstwhile way down here in three categories. As you may recall, Bob’s little blog that could made it to the top five in every one of them. He’s now in rehab, poor thing, so be sure to send him your well wishes.

This year, I thought I’d nominate several of my favourite blogs across a range of categories. The list excludes many worthy non-Canadians, as well as blogs that have already secured nominations from others. Nevertheless, these are among the blogs I most look forward to reading each day. You might too.

And so, the nominations are:

Best Cultural Blog: Bits and Bytes from Elsewhere

He doesn’t post nearly as often as he should, but Iso_G still manages to provide a feast for the senses. It’s also nice to hear from a friend who couldn’t be farther away.

Best Local Blog: Super Bon!

The Professor’s blog, which touches on music, politics, academe, and more, always and incisively from the perspective of a new Montrealer.

Best Blog Post: “Smell This Law

Without question, this award belongs to The Eponym. And yes, I still desperately wish that I had written it.

Best Photo/Art Blog: husk/essem

I could lose myself in his photographs, and at certain moments I do.

Best Personal Blog: It’s all grey to me

A relatively recent addition to my Bloglines roster, this is one of the most exquisitely written blogs I have yet come across. Her last post, particularly, deserves both mention and a read.

Voting begins on Wednesday, November 15th. Please do.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Time change

I

The office is as dry as sand
I still my hands
and keep working

II

Five ‘o clock
The window is pitch black
as if the world has ended

III

Parc bus
Imagine the dark a blanket
Reach for his hands
underneath

IV

grasp

curl

draw in

V

Walk north
boots on leaves
Soon
they will print snow

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Judgment

Behind me, CNN breathlessly awaits the verdict in Saddam Hussein’s war crimes trial, which was, by any standard, a farce. Meanwhile, Baghdad is under strict curfew, and the Iraqi government has cancelled all army leaves. Whatever the verdict, murder will follow.

It is a cruel irony that Iraqi civilians are less safe today than they were under Hussein’s regime. According to the British medical journal The Lancet, over 650,000 Iraqis have been killed since their country was invaded in 2003. This is as much an atrocity as any that Hussein committed during his reign.

In three days time U.S. voters will go to the polls, and it is widely expected that the Republican Party will lose control of both the House and Senate. Though good news, it isn't nearly good enough. It isn’t justice.

In my view, every single politician, Republican or Democrat, who voted to support the war in Iraq should be thrown out of office. Then, the whole sorry lot of them should be charged with aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, for that is precisely what they have done.

For my American readers, the roll call of votes by members of the House of Representatives is recorded here. The roll call of votes by members of the Senate is recorded here. Now please vote.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reunion

I did go to a party the other night, to celebrate the birthday of one of the waitresses at the Café. The party was held at another neighbourhood bar, and was teeming with people I haven’t seen in a while.

When I arrived, I took a seat at the bar and ordered a cocktail, which is not what I usually drink. I usually drink beer, but I wasn’t planning on staying long. I don't linger much these days. Moments later, I was approached by one of the Café’s bartenders, who smiled broadly and kissed both my cheeks.

“Vila, we don’t see you anymore…” he lamented in charmingly accented English, as he let his hand rest gently on the small of my back. I sighed and lifted an invisible cigarette into the air, confessing, “I don’t go out like I used to.” I refrained from confessing that I found him unspeakably attractive.

His hand remained where it was, but his smile faded. “It’s really hit us hard, the smoking ban. It’s hit everybody hard.” I nodded and touched his arm sympathetically. Yes, sympathetically. Then, I thought of all the times I walked past the Café this summer and saw that it was empty, even on Friday and Saturday nights. It occurred to me that I missed him.

Of course I do. I miss everyone at the Café.

Before I left the party, I had the presence of mind to ask the bartender what nights he works, and promised to come see him soon. When I do, I will sit at the bar and order a cocktail. If he flirts with me, I’ll go outside for a smoke, and then order a second. But only if he flirts with me.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Musical interlude


I was supposed to go to a Hallowe’en party tonight. Two, actually. I had every intention of going, despite the rain, and had even assembled my outfit for the evening.

Instead, I got lost in a documentary about Glenn Gould.

It wasn’t an especially good film, but I’m a sucker for interviews with people I find interesting. Better yet, it featured Gould’s rendition of one of my favourite pieces of music: Bach’s Art of the Fugue, the composer’s last work.

It must have been the combination of hearing the piece, listening to Gould rhapsodize about music, and seeing the beautifully faded shots of Toronto in the 1970s that inspired my nostalgia. In any case, I was seized with the desire to play, which has been absent for quite some time.

Long enough, in fact, that I haven’t played a note of music since I moved into my current apartment. Truth be told, I haven’t played any classical music since I moved into my first apartment.

After the film ended, I opened my hall closet and found the keyboard I used for live shows, stashed in the farthest corner underneath the third floor stairs. A few minutes later, I had it set up on the coffee table with the operating system and my best piano sample loaded.

I let my fingers rest on the keys without depressing them and paused. Instantly, there was fear. What if it was gone? What if I had lost the ability to play?

To reassure myself, I started with a few scales. Okay, I still know my scales. Then, some chords. I remember the inversions, good. Then, noodling, I tried to recall an actual piece of music.

For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any.

Worried, I noodled my way to G minor, which felt nice. I’ve always liked G minor. Then, the interval that brought it back: a perfect fourth. With just those two notes, D to G, my hands remembered a short piece by Tchaikovsky, which I played in its entirety.

I’m sure it had been twenty years since I last played it.

Mind, I didn’t play the piece especially well. The phrasing was off, and the sixteenth notes were timid at best. But my physical memory of the piece was intact, which astonished me. It was all in the hands, this memory, and, I suppose, in the ear. If I thought consciously about what I was playing, I fucked it up.

There’s a lesson in that.

Emboldened, I found some books of sheet music and opened one of them to a random page. This was harder than playing from memory, but slowly, I found the notes, and through them, the general contours of the piece. Yes, with a little practice, I could read music again. I was elated.

Before I knew it, two full hours had passed. I decided to skip the parties.

I’m reasonably certain that I won’t take up classical music again. To be good, truly good, you have to be obsessively, even fanatically committed to it, as Gould was. In this sense, it’s not unlike ballet, or gymnastics, or chess: it’s a singular commitment, which is why I stopped doing it.

Still, I like that my hands remember.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cleaning up

The hurricanes have ended. I emerge, cautiously, and inspect my apartment for damage.

There is a thick layer of dust on all surfaces. Underneath that, an even thicker layer of cat hair. Underneath that, mountainous drifts of paper, frosted with gray cigarette ash.

I haven’t the faintest idea where I put the hydro bill, which is almost certainly past due, or my health card. It may take an archaeological dig to find them. Also, I wonder when the kitchen faucet started leaking?

Yes, there are repairs to be done, but the basic structure is sound.

I’ll start with a garbage bag and a dustpan, then set to writing the dissertation I’m meant to write. The one that, in some sense, I’ve been writing all along. The one about the quiet city.

I can do this. I will do this.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Parc petition

An online petition is cicrculating to reverse the city's decision to rename Avenue du Parc, which was made with no public consultation. Of course you should sign it, if only to encourage municipal politicians to do more worthwhile things with their time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The stench of romance

Patti Smith said of the closing of CBGB:

It’s a symptom of the empty new prosperity of our city.

Of course she’s right, and at the same time she’s not.

One could argue that CBGB has been a museum piece for at least twenty years. That Hilly Kristal plans to move the club, toilets and all, to Las Vegas only bolsters the argument.

Still, Smith perfectly captures the meaning we want the event to have. We want it to be a funeral for a city we loved, or, better, for an idea of a city we loved.

Admittedly, it’s hard to love this new city, the prosperous city, which is, really, all cities. You can’t quite shake the feeling that they’re out of your league.

Fifty bucks says they’ll turn the place into condos.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wake

For the first time in years, I’ve been having nightmares. Last night, I dreamt about my brother, who lay bloated and dying in a hospital bed. I stood at a distance, watching him suffer, and was consoled by another version of the same brother, who was well. This brother told me it was diabetes, which had progressed too far. All the while, a machine dispensed pain medication in steady, beeping doses.

I had a similar dream in Vancouver, in which I was present at my brother’s funeral. Again, I was at a distance, this time because I was the funeral director. I wanted desperately to approach the casket, to see him and to say goodbye, but I couldn’t leave my post at the back of the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother, who once worked as a cleaning lady, sweeping the floors. My father was absent.

It hasn’t been an easy autumn. I can feel myself churning, but not like I usually do. This ferment goes right to the core, to those rancid depths that are such an awful cliché. Still, the questions circle like gulls: What’s good? What’s necessary? What is possible? Then, inevitably, the worst of them: How fucked up am I?

Needing someone, I called my father tonight. We talked about the weather and the price of cigarettes, then he felt compelled to tell me that he didn’t think I would ever finish my PhD. Instantly, I hated him, for this and for every wound before it. For the Christmas presents he refused to open, year after year, as my brother and I waited expectantly. For the report cards he ignored, drawling, “So what? You always get As.” For not taking my brother to the hospital when he asked to be taken there, and for abandoning him when he was too sick to go. For not leaving my mother until it was far too late.

I realize that I’m tired of forgiving him for everything he could have done differently, but chose not to. He didn’t have to say it out loud.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last things

I noticed today that there are different qualities of sunlight.

Some have the feel of beginnings; they blush the skin with the promise of summer, warming the body through to the bones. Others presage winter and endings, affirming that which is already gone.

The warmth of this day was as fleeting and sad as a last kiss.

Knowing this, I rode my bike to the park with the waterfall, where I watched a hive of children celebrating the third day of Sukkot. They played fiercely, losing caps and shoes as they raced across a bright carpet of leaves. Ignoring them, their mothers talked easily amongst themselves.

I stayed at the park until sunset, then, cold, biked quickly home.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Outlaws

Today, my cab driver let me smoke in his cab. “Just don’t let anybody see you,” he said. “It’s a $300 dollar fine.” I cupped my cigarette in my hand and nodded gravely.

Meanwhile, in France, the unthinkable. Says Jean-Pierre Balligand of his country’s proposed smoking ban:

“I’ll end my life where I started it — in the men’s room.”

Indeed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sick

Hoarse. Warm. Ache. The body rebels. It always does.

Last week, during a particularly stressful meeting, I excused myself to go the bathroom. The door locked, I steadied myself against the sink for a few minutes, looking away from the mirror. Then, I lifted up the toilet seat, sank to my knees, and vomited.

I have a notoriously strong stomach, so I know what this means. It means that I have reached my limit.

Tonight, I draw a bath and promise myself that I won’t get out until my skin prunes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Counsel

Tonight, I told my dad that I had a lousy week. His response:

I know all about life that turn sour, work 45 years and look what it got me, alone in one bedroom apartment, and life being short, wonder sometimes where all the years have gone by...

Money are there just to keep me alive, problem is when brain start wondering and wont let you sleep or relax and just keep going on.

Ya, times come in life when you have to make desission for better or worst and you'll have to live by it but dont blame no one, it wont help any.

I think he was trying to cheer me up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vila's Second Coming

And today, in my sixth of twelve consecutive hours of work, on five hours of sleep, two and a half cups of coffee, and exactly one carrot muffin ‘cause that was the only kind they had left, I threw the most spectacular hissy fit. Seriously, Yeats would have cowered before my passionate intensity, and all the jackboots in Europe wouldn’t have saved him from it.

God damn it, who do I have to blow to get a dissertation grant?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Monday

When I am reduced to quoting Yeats, you know I’ve had a bad day.

We wouldn’t have gotten along, Bill and me. A champion of the aristocracy and an ardent nationalist, he was the worst kind of romantic: spoiled, unthinking, and politically confused. Like many other artists of his time, he publicly professed his admiration for Mussolini, the Italian purveyor of fascism for aesthetes. So long as it matches the sofa.

Still, today, I find myself mulling over two dislocated lines, which I exscript from both their original context and intent:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Somehow, they say everything about my day.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fall

There are, I have noticed, seasons of dissolution
Despite best efforts
Bonds thin and break
The centre refuses to hold

This season
I watch from a distance
And am grateful of having nothing to lose

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

For your amusement ('cause we all could use some)

Today, while in a meeting with a Very Important Person, I reached into a small, zippered pocket inside my purse to produce my business card. Yes, I have a business card. I know. Ridiculous.

In any case, just as I was about to hand the card to the VIP, I realized that a condom I had completely forgotten about had somehow become attached to the underside of said card. An unused condom, I should add. Fuck, what did you think? Eww. Still, my hand, which was by this time almost fully extended, froze in mid-air.

“Shit, Vila,” I thought, with some desperation. “What the fuck are you going to do about this, you pathetic slut?”

Time slowed to a crawl as I curled my outermost fingers underneath the card, shielding the wayward sheath from the VIP’s view. The item thus cupped, I tried to gently pry it away from the surface of the card with my pinky. The condom package crinkled audibly.

“Fucking hell. I must be the only person on earth that this has ever happened to.”

An eternity and much crinkling later, I managed to dislodge the condom from the card, which then fell lightly into the palm of my hand. Brilliant, except now I had a Lifestyles Ultra Sensitive (I try to be thoughtful) nestled in the hand that was still awkwardly offering a business card to a VIP.

“Fuck, fuck, FUCK! Okay, Vila, whatever you do, just don’t break eye contact with her.”

Slowly, I closed my three outermost fingers around the condom as I continued talking to the VIP. I simultaneously tightened my thumb and index finger around the card and rotated my hand counter-clockwise, extending it further in the VIP’s direction. I made a point of smiling as I did so.

“Okay, take it, god damn it! Take the fucking card, already!!”

Smiling, she took it, oblivious to the shame that lay hidden in the folds of my now sweating palm. I, for my part, nearly fainted with relief.

The moral of the story: there is nothing you can’t pretend you’re not doing so long as you maintain eye contact with people. Oh, and always keep your business cards and prophylactics in separate purse pockets. Slut.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sympathies

I received an email from my brother yesterday. He told me that he has been classified as having a major disability, and will receive government benefits. It is good news, and, at the same time, it isn't.

I’ve thought a lot about my brother since Wednesday. It’s been hard not to.

The latest reports indicate that Kimveer Gill, the Dawson shooter, had psychological problems and had sought help for them at least once. A police source adds that Gill had “deteriorated” in the weeks before the shootings, a word that cannot do justice to the process it attempts to describe.

My brother deteriorated six years ago. He was the same age as Gill.

We will probably never know if Gill suffered from a recognized psychiatric condition, and if so, which one. These things don’t show up on autopsy reports. But chances are that he did. Most of them do.

Several years ago, I watched a Frontline documentary about Kip Kinkel, the teenager who shot his parents and twenty-seven of his classmates at an Oregon high school. At fifteen, Kinkel had already received psychiatric care and been placed on Prozac. The note he left at his dead parents’ house reveals that he struggled with far worse than depression:

I have just killed my parents! I don't know what is happening. I love my mom and dad so much. I just got two felonies on my record. My parents can't take that! It would destroy them. The embarrassment would be too much for them. They couldn't live with themselves. I'm so sorry. I am a horrible son. I wish I had been aborted. I destroy everything I touch. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I didn't deserve them. They were wonderful people. It's not their fault or the fault of any person, organization, or television show. My head just doesn't work right. God damn these VOICES inside my head. I want to die. I want to be gone. But I have to kill people. I don't know why. I am so sorry! Why did God do this to me. I have never been happy. I wish I was happy. I wish I made my mother proud. I am nothing! I tried so hard to find happiness. But you know me I hate everything. I have no other choice. What have I become? I am so sorry.

I have noticed that people become angry when you suggest that mental illness is often a factor in events like the Dawson shootings. The perception is that it is somehow an excuse, a way to let the perpetrator off the moral hook for his actions. At the same time, journalists and bloggers alike have devoted countless pages to the presumed role of popular culture, as though any rock song or video game has the power to transform an otherwise stable person into a mass murderer. As though it’s that easy.

I confess, there are moments when I am infuriated by the discussion. More often, it saddens me, especially when I try to imagine what these days have been like for Gill’s family.

Statistics show that the majority of people who suffer from mental illness are not violent, and will never become so. Still, I can’t shake the fear that one day, when he has gone off his meds and the voices have overcome him, my brother could hurt someone. Then, people would say that he was a monster, or a freak, or a loser; that it was his parents’ fault, or mine; that he was, intrinsically, something less than human.

And then they would look at his CD collection, not realizing that he listens to music to drown out the voices in his head.

My heart goes out to Anastasia de Sousa’s family, and to every family whose child was wounded last Wednesday. But it also goes out to Gill’s family, and to Gill. The tragedy was big enough to encompass them all.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

haiku

quiet night
remembering
listen to rem

Friday, September 15, 2006

Rogues and scoundrels

After twenty minutes of hand-wringing about the evils of goth culture and the Internet, the good people at CTV tonight alerted us to another menace to society:


Penn


Whoa, stop the presses--it’s a smoking actor! (Gasps.)

Worse, it’s a smoking actor who hates George Bush and is against the war in Iraq. Oh, and he used to be married to Madonna, but that was a long time ago.

Public health officials assure us that an investigation is underway, which will no doubt result in the immediate purging of all actors who possess an ounce of chutzpah from the screens of our vulnerable communities.

I feel safer already.

On a related note, my favourite professor of public health has recently authored a post that links the tobacco control movement, scientific partisanship, and Foucault’s concept of truth regimes. Seriously.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled hand-wringing…

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The banality of evil

Of course he had a blog...

Waiting

It’s so quiet tonight.

The rain and the chill have emptied the streets; the stragglers speak in hushed tones. All the shops have the radio on, and in the absence of customers the shopgirls listen glumly.

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, as it has been, but it wasn’t good either. A young woman died today and is mourned. A young man died today and will not be mourned. It’s so much like that other time, when the whole country froze and listened. Except then it was inconceivably worse than it could have been.

There’s a point when tragedies run out of news. There is nothing more to know, but it feels disrespectful to think of other things. So, we keep listening, until the eyewitness accounts become a flat drone. The autopsies will explain nothing when they come.

A few more hours and it will be tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dawson College shootings

Over at Metroblogging Montreal, we are doing our best to post up-to-the-minute information on the shootings at Dawson College. Check there regularly for updates.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five years

Five years, and 43 per cent of Americans remain unshaken in their belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Little wonder, when their president still insists, “the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.” Or, when the release of the bipartisan Senate report that conclusively proves otherwise is buried on a Friday afternoon. Or, when their vice-president admits without apology or shame that any reason to go to war against Iraq would have sufficed.

Lying sons of bitches.

Tonight, I watched Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, a minor American cable news channel with negligible ratings. Olbermann, a former sportscaster, has lately taken to delivering political commentary in the style of his mentor, Edward R. Murrow. Tonight, just moments before he introduced the presidential address, he looked directly into the camera and said:

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of [the country’s] unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero, so too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

You can read the full transcript of his remarks here. Do.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Between the eclipses

Despite my best efforts, my trip to Vancouver is already memory. The life I've returned to is more or less exactly as I left it: a blur of meetings and reports and emails, punctuated by quick drinks at the grad pub and late night phone calls from my mother.

What is different now than before is the threat of change, which seems to be lurking everywhere. It is in g_pi’s last post, and in this one too. It was in the conversation I had last night with Arit, which pre-empted the movie we had planned to watch and continued long after the wine was gone. And, apparently, it is in the stars.

The day after my birthday, I read a horoscope that knocked me flat on my ass. This is how it began:

There is nobody who has experienced several outer planet transits who is not in some important ways profoundly different than you were before they happened.

From there:

The quality of the charts is like someone has dropped a focusing lens in front of your life. The New Moon is a joining of the internal and external natures; a reminder that you are evolving and aligning within yourself; and that whatever halves of yourself you feared were not talking are getting themselves Together.

Continuing:

Saturn in Leo has been pushing you deep into yourself to call forth your identity, which can be lonely work. Neptune in Aquarius has represented a drive to find your true service, your true expression of dharma in the world. It is the strategic search for the right work (Virgo-Capricorn theme), which invariably means work that taps into your creative talents rather than sidelining them.

And this is how it ended:

Because so much of the astrology of the past three years has involved intense confrontations, upheavals, losses and instability, the sequence of events associated with your solar return (New Moon the day of the Virgo ingress; Saturn opposite Neptune in your solar return chart; and Mercury conjunct the Sun), the image is one of collecting all that you've gained, consolidating all you've learned, and finally being able to encounter those powerful, creative others as someone who has something to offer, and is willing to play.

I realize that I am navel-gazing in the most ridiculous way, but every word of it rings true. I am different, and by this time next year, everything else will be too. I can feel it in my bones.

Fuck, yeah. Bring it on.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Return

Except for a spot of air turbulence, my flight home was thoroughly uneventful. At least, it was until the plane landed and its weary passengers began trundling toward the baggage claim area. As I stepped onto the escalator, I noticed that the man standing immediately before me was wearing a white spacesuit. With sequins. And a topknot. Distracted as I was by nicotine withdrawal, it took me a minute to realize who it was…

Rael.

For the non-Quebeckers among you, Rael is the self-proclaimed leader of the Raelians, the UFO movement-cum-sex cult that made international headlines when they claimed to have successfully impregnated a woman with a cloned embryo. The result of the experiment, a baby named Eve, has since faded into obscurity, but the group remains a potent symbol of the loopier side of my adopted province.

As I watched Rael collect his disappointingly ordinary suitcases from the baggage carousel, I became convinced that his presence on my flight was a sign. But of what? Here, I was stumped, and honestly, I still am. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that flying with Rael meant something, and, whatever it was, that it gave me the perfect ending to my trip. Fuck, I’ll take Rael over an existential crisis any day. Wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mimi

On the beach waiting for the E to hit. It was well after midnight, and Mimi and I went to sit on the rocks at the water’s edge. The ocean was nothing but dark and sound: enormous pulses of waves, circled by huge tenor gulls. Waiting, we talked, our voices close against the wind, and I marvelled at the difference in their scale. If you stood three feet away, you wouldn’t have heard us.

I wanted to kiss Mimi that night, but didn’t.

There’s so much in a person to know; until then, you notice things. The millwright father, mentioned in passing. The work ethic. How many books she’s read. How much Eriq loves her. As you’re noticing, you sense that she is careful, that knowing her takes time. You want to tell her that you don’t mind.

There wasn’t nearly enough time. Mimi is a social worker; she would stay up with us as late as she could, then wake up early the next morning to go to work. She never talked about her days when she came home, which made me wonder where she puts it all. That kind of work has to go somewhere, even in the strong ones.

I admire that she helps people for a living, and that she isn’t afraid of being alone.

I kissed her two days later.

She kissed me back.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Eriq

James calls Eriq the mad scientist. In some ways, he is.

Eriq is insatiably curious about the world, and he does seem always to have an experiment or two in progress. During my brief stay in Vancouver, these included several dinners, a batch of blackberry wine, a watercolour painting, code for an online encyclopedia, and the third chapter of the novel he is writing. All this while working a full-time job.

Eriq spent years studying philosophy and linguistics before finally deciding not to pursue an academic career. He described going through a difficult transition period, in which he realized that he had lost his self-identity as a scholar and had none to replace it with. Instead, he resolved to devote his considerable energies to working on his character, a word he uttered without a trace of either pretension or irony.

How could I not sleep with the man?

As some of you well know, it’s been rather a long time. There have been a few dalliances, none of which bear mentioning, but no one who could accurately be termed a lover. By this existentially conflicted summer, I had resigned myself to being what the always adroit contrary-wise calls “a head on a stick,” a state I once presumed to be equivalent to death. In a certain sense, it is.

For me, celibacy is the corporeal equivalent of writer’s block: that is, of having a thousand things you urgently want to say but not being able to say them. I’ve missed using my body as a means of expression, and the reprieve that it offers from words. This is also what I like about making music: you can mean something even when words fail.

The first night with Eriq, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. When I opened my eyes, he was smiling too.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Interlude: The party

Eleven bottles of wine.
Three cases of beer.
One mickey of white rum.
Half a bottle of pastis.
Twenty-four samosas.
Two pounds of pakoras.
One joint.
Seven packs of cigarettes.
One broken wine glass.

Oh, and a hell of a hangover.

It was good to be among friends. The last left at seven in the morning, dazed and squinting against the light of dawn. Moments later, I fell into a deep, warm sleep. I dreamt well.

Thanks for all your birthday wishes, and for the endearing confessions that accompanied them. And, as an aside to A.: patience…

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Something Hannah said

During the conference, I stayed with Hannah, a colleague and now friend I came to know while she was studying in Montreal. I liked her the instant I met her, which had everything to do with her energy: there’s something mischievous about her, an up-for-anything air that is both charming and contagious. I suspect she’s the kind of girl who does crazy things when she’s drunk, a character trait I strongly approve of.

On my last night at her place, we paused on Hannah's front stoop to smoke cigarettes after a distinctly unpleasant altercation with a cab driver who tried to rip us off. As we smoked, she said to me, matter-of-factly: “You’ve got spunk. That’s why I like hanging out with you.”

Her comment surprised me. I don’t think of myself as someone who has spunk. I think of myself as the person I was when I was five years old: quiet, almost painfully shy, and deathly afraid of other people. Not spunky in the least.

Is this what trips us up in the end? Are we all, still, our five-year old selves, dwarfed by a world whose scale is incomprehensible to us? Do we all think we’re infinitely smaller than we actually are?

Today, I am thirty years older than five. I think I’ll throw myself a party.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The scholar and the fisherman

The conference that brought me to Vancouver was a meeting of contingent academic workers from across North America. The majority of the attendees were part-time university instructors, which is to say, the underclass of the professoriate, and therefore the thing that every graduate student with scholarly ambitions secretly fears becoming.

The event began with the customary opening address. The invited speaker, whose name I will refrain from dropping, began his working life in the fishing industry, rising through his union’s ranks to become one of Canada’s top labour leaders. As he approached the podium, I wondered what he would have to say to a crowd of overeducated if underpaid university professors.

Cheerily acknowledging the occupational difference between himself and his audience, the speaker proceeded to deliver a firebrand speech on the effects of neo-liberal economic policies on post-secondary education. He then effortlessly shifted his focus to Canada’s growing class divide, noting that social inequities have sprouted like weeds wherever government has abdicated its interventionist role. He concluded by reminding the audience of the obstacles that are faced by the children of working-class Canadians in their pursuit of higher education, and warned of a future in which only the wealthy will have a place in the university.

I was completely floored by the speech. More to the point, I was moved by it, not because it told me anything I didn’t already know, but because it felt like someone was standing up for me.

People don’t talk much about class in graduate school, but it’s always there, just under the surface of the other things people talk about. Parents who are lawyers, architects, or professors. Artistic aunts and brothers who fly airplanes. Passing mentions of family vacations spent at ski resorts, or discovering the treasures of the Hermitage. Recollections of private school escapades and summer experience programs at MIT. Cottages. Country houses. Maids.

Since starting my M.A., I have met exactly two people whose parents were blue-collar labourers. One of them, upon learning that my father was a steelworker, practically flew across a crowded party to talk to me. “Wow!” she exclaimed, a little drunkenly. “It’s so good to meet another one!” At the time, I didn’t fully understand why my father’s occupation should provoke such excitement. I have a much keener sense of this now.

For all the intellectual camaraderie that is shared at the university, and for all the talk of social diversity, it’s hard not to feel isolated as a student from a low-income family. Your loved ones don’t always understand what it is you are trying to do with your life, which can leave you feeling uncomfortably like a traitor. Your colleagues, for their part, don’t always understand the life experiences that preceded your entry into the university, which can leave you feeling as though you don’t quite belong. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be able to talk about my studies with someone I’m related to, to ask for their advice or for financial help. I’ve also wondered what the university would look like if the average dean had worked her way through school, and for some years before.

In any case, these were the things I was thinking about as I exited the lecture hall.

Soon afterward, I noticed the speaker sitting on a bench in the hallway, talking to someone on his cell phone. For a split-second, I considered approaching him to offer a word of thanks, but I decided this was a ridiculous idea and went to get a cup of coffee instead. When I returned, he was still sitting on the bench, but he wasn’t on his cell phone anymore. I couldn’t talk my feet out of walking toward him.

“Hi,” I heard myself say. “I’m a working-class student. Thanks for giving a shit.” He smiled and asked me to join him on the bench. From there, we talked for almost half an hour.

In retrospect, I realize that I’ve desperately needed to say those words out loud to someone, and to hear a sense of kinship in their response. I also realize that politics, at least as I understand it, is about precisely this form of connection. At least, it should be.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Travelogue

Well, it was quite the vacation. Now, where to begin?

As you’ll recall, I was having a bit of an existential crisis before I left. The most concise explanation I can offer is that I had started to feel like a jigsaw puzzle that wasn’t going particularly well. None of the pieces seemed to fit together properly, and I had lost sight of the picture on the box. I was stuck, and none too happy about it.

The most I hoped for from my trip to Vancouver was to get the fuck away from the puzzle for a little while. I did not expect catharsis, or to find a footpath toward integration. I certainly did not expect to become lovers with two remarkable people. And yet, in the span of a fortnight, all of these things happened.

I suspect that I'll write about some of these experiences in the days ahead, but likely not in a straight line. Sometimes, circles are better.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Postcard: Vila goes to the beach

footprints

Photo by James

legs

Photo by Vila

beach

Photo by James

Monday, August 14, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Parting thoughts

Virgo Horoscope for week of August 10, 2006

Of all the times in your life when you have been in captivity, this has to be one of the least arduous and frustrating ever. I'll go so far as to say that I have rarely seen a more beautiful prisoner than you; for a drudge in bondage, you're ravishing. As hard as it may be to contemplate, however, it's almost time to escape. Your dark though sexy night of the soul will soon come to an end. Don't you dare linger any longer than you have to.

Expect a postcard or two...

Bon voyage, Vila

Oh, for fuck's sake.

By the time my flight is scheduled to leave this afternoon, the entire international aviation system will be in complete gridlock. And, apparently, I'm not allowed to carry anything in a liquid form onto the plane.

Whee.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How I plan to avoid becoming a detestable yuppie

Over at Chicagoan in Montreal, Frank, Mrne and I have been having an interesting conversation about Frank’s most recent post. In it, he writes honestly and elegantly about crossing the yuppie threshold, which has led to some soul-searching on his part, and to a fair bit of commenting on mine.

Our exchange has inspired me to think about how, should I ever manage to finish my degree, land an academic job, and pay off my student loans, I might avoid becoming a detestable yuppie. This is what I’ve come up with so far, in convenient list form.

The Top Twenty

1. First of all, I will never, ever, whine about paying taxes. I mean, ever. I will, however, expect wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share.

2. I will only vote for politicians who promise to invest my tax dollars in social programs, education funding, and universally accessible health care.

3. I’ll vote twice for politicians who will support the arts, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and/or increase payments to welfare recipients.

4. I will not judge homeless people on the basis of whether they drink, smoke, or take drugs, because that is not my right. I will give them cigarettes if they ask for them, and they almost always do.

5. I will not bitch about “blue collar” workers, or about how they've ruined my day because their picket line added an extra ten minutes to my commute.

6. I will not be offended by construction workers who take off their shirts while working in 30+ degree heat.

7. I will ask prospective landlords if they illegally evicted their previous tenants from the apartment/condo/loft I am viewing in order to jack up the rent, and if they have, I will decline to take the apartment/condo/loft and then report them to the Régie du logement.

8. I will continue to patronize dive bars, greasy spoons, and neighbourhood cafés because they are signs of an economically diverse neighbourhood community. Truck drivers don’t go to sushi bars.

9. I will continue to enjoy a variety of cuisines, but I will not buy any foodstuff that is marketed as artisanal.

10. I will think that there is something deeply wrong with a real estate market that puts a basic family home out of the financial reach of anyone who makes less than $35,000 per year.

11. I will persist in the belief that student loan debtors should have the same legal rights as business owners, financial speculators, and compulsive gamblers.

12. I will never tell a student who misses class because of work commitments that they don’t take their studies seriously enough.

13. I will ask my political representatives to explain why someone who has just attempted suicide has to wait for three months to see a psychiatrist who works in the public health system.

14. I will not buy into the argument that “illegal” immigrants are taking away “our” jobs, but I will make an effort to understand why people who have lost well-paying manufacturing jobs think that they are.

15. I will remember that the vast majority of our country’s military personnel are people from low-income families, and I will wonder what this says about our democracy.

16. I will seriously consider the role that extreme poverty plays in civil, religious, and ethnic conflict.

17. I will question why nurses, social workers, and day care attendants don’t make as much money as lawyers, and also why any job that is described a “helping profession” is guaranteed to burn people out within five years.

18. I will not assume that someone who is struggling in life does so because they are stupid, lazy, or doomed to failure. I will at least consider the fact that it takes a near-Herculean effort to overcome the class divide, and that not everyone has it in them to do so.

19. I will care as much about poverty issues as I do about animals and the environment, and I will make a sincere effort to understand why poor people seem to worry less about global warming than I do.

20. I will not assume that everyone has a house, a car, an iPod, or a blog. In other words, I will not assume that everyone is just like me.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Great Escape

So, this vacation thing. I think maybe I’ll try it.

As luck would have it, there’s a big academic labour conference in Vancouver next weekend, which the union is flying me out for. After the conference has ended, I will remain in the city for ten whole days, during which time I intend to do nothing that even faintly resembles work.

I wonder what that will be like?

Already, James and his friends are conspiring to whisk me away from the conference site to the nearest dive bar, which is, conveniently, only a few blocks away. From there, I have been promised an itinerary that will include excursions to the mountains, the beach, sushi restaurants, dance clubs, and possibly even a fetish party. Now, where did I put my fishnets?

It all sounds marvellous, if slightly unreal. Vancouver is three thousand miles away, which means that, in a few days time, I’ll be three thousand miles away.

Cool.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

No shit

Today, I held Ivan down as a veterinarian manually extracted five days of impacted stool from his colon. He’s so getting treats tomorrow.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Fear

Ivan isn’t feeling well. I’m trying not to think about how it was with Simone, but I keep remembering. It wasn’t that long ago.

He’s drinking water now. That’s good.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lost blog

After returning home from tonight's yulblog soirée, I discovered that the entire contents of my sidebar and all but the last six and a half of my posts have gone missing. If any of you should find them wandering aimlessly through the blogosphere, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Power out

For more than an hour tonight, I sat in the dark and watched lightning as I’ve never seen it before. Not flashes but a barrage, the strikes coming every two or three seconds. Machine gun lightning.

Sitting in that dark, which stilled all the sounds of the city except for rain, I realized how desperately I need to get away for a while. Most people take vacations, or at least stop working for short periods of time. I haven’t done this in over four years.

It’s starting to show, isn’t it?

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hot off the press

In its apparently desperate search for readers, Le Devoir has elected to publish the stranger sexual escapades of Montreal's bloggerati. Shameless, really.

Incidentally, I had a much better story to tell, but I was implored not to blog about it. Which brings me to my question: is there a statute of limitations for sex posts?

Friday, July 28, 2006

And speaking of existential crises...

From uberfrau's blistering screed on California's proposed cigarette tax:

I should thank them for giving me an opportunity for spritual growth as well. Not only is smoking killing me, irritating innocent bystanders, and hitting my bank account that much harder, but this tax, at last, proves to me that I am an awful and amoral person who clearly sees the universe as a giant ashtray for my existential angst. If this tax goes through, I will have the state of California to thank for giving me a means of penance for my manifold sins, or really, if you will, a way to balance that karmatic wheel of life. Given all of the great things that this tax would do for me and god and the children, how could I quit?

Also, she didn't care for An Inconvenient Truth.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Things to do to distract yourself from your existential crisis

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Things to do when you’re having an existential crisis

  • Take a test to confirm your condition.
  • Feel crushed by the weight of your own despair.
  • Take another test.
  • Resign yourself to your actuality.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Falsely deny freedom; reject professional help.
  • Study the philosophical underpinnings of your condition.
  • Fight waves of nausea.
  • Blog.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Changes Six

Tomorrow, my parents will arrive at the Ontario Superior Courthouse for their preliminary court date. It will be the first time they’ve been in the same room in almost three years.

My father received the papers from my mother’s lawyer last month. He is anxious, and, at moments, infuriatingly morose. He insists that everything in his life has failed him, including me. I am trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore him.

The best case scenario is that the judge will order an equitable division of their assets, which is to say, the house. Our house. Or, as the neighbours have taken to calling it, the crazy house. I suspect that we won’t be missed.

My mother just called. I didn’t pick up.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pause

I had to turn off the TV today. I suspect the war will still be there when I decide to turn it back on.

In the meantime, I am thinking about my friend Netta. An Israeli-Canadian Jew, she married a Palestinian man several years ago, and last I heard from her she was pregnant with their first child. Netta always believed that the situation in Israel was unjust, and she has devoted her life to working as a peace activist. I wonder if she is still living in Palestine, and how life is for her now.

Having lost touch, I decided to look for her online. I found pictures of her digging up army roadblocks and speaking to the governor of Nablus. I found dozens of articles from when she went to Ramallah in 2002, and interviews she gave inside Arafat’s compound. I read about how, under fire, she had helped to retrieve the bodies of two Palestinians who had been killed by Israeli forces, and what she said to a frightened colleague:

It's so good that you can feel the fear, and then not let it stop you from doing what you think is right.

I can hear her saying it.

Once, she told me about a children’s book she wanted to write. A little stick girl would walk from page to page, and on each one she would encounter a different monster. When she did, she would look the monster right in the eye and say, simply, “No!” and the monster would disappear. When all the monsters were gone, she would stand by herself in the middle of a blank page, squeeze her eyes shut and proclaim one last “No!” And then the little stick girl would vanish too.

I deeply admire that Netta is still saying “No!’ I wonder when I stopped?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Life during wartime

I hate to say it, but I told you so.

The war in Lebanon has entered its second week, and, as all the war correspondents keep saying, there is no end in sight. According to the BBC, 230 Lebanese and 25 Israelis have been killed to date, the vast majority of them civilians.

Leaving aside the reasons for the conflict, I am amazed by the refusal of the international community to demand an immediate ceasefire. It is becoming increasingly clear that the United States tacitly supports the Israeli army’s stated goal of “neutralizing” Hezbollah, and that it is willing to risk the destabilization of the Lebanese government, as well as the lives of countless civilians, to achieve it.

I’m far from an expert on the Middle East, but this strategy strikes me as being dangerously naive. Even if Israel succeeds in routing Hezbollah--which, by all accounts, is unlikely--this will only displace the problem it is attempting to solve. The anger and resentment that fuels Hezbollah will inevitably find another agent, and the cycle of violence will continue.

Setare just sent me a link to this Guardian piece, which neatly summarizes the problem:

[T]here is nothing in the history of the region to suggest that Israel's destruction of mass popular movements such as Hamas or Hizbullah (even if this were possible) would drive their successors closer to western-style democracy, and every reason to believe the opposite. Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 did away with the PLO and produced Hizbullah instead, the incarceration and elimination of Arafat only served to strengthen Hamas, and the wars in Afghanistan, the Gulf and Iraq gave birth to Bin Ladenist terrorism and extended its reach and appeal. And we should not be surprised if the summer of 2006 produces more of the same.

What the author describes is a series of actions that have had unintended but entirely predictable consequences, all of which have taken Israel farther away from its goal of securing peace for its citizens—which, I should add, no sane person would suggest that they do not deserve. The average person in Haifa has had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of Israel, with the displacement of the Palestinians, or with the invasion of Lebanon. The average person in Haifa, like the average person in Beirut, is simply trying to live amidst forces over which she has absolutely no control.

That being said, what the Israeli government and its Western allies consistently fail to understand is that few human beings will respond to being attacked by embracing their attacker. When confronted with soldiers, or snipers, or missiles, most of us will feel fear above all else, and fear inexorably drives us to seek protection for ourselves and our loved ones. If the only protection that is available comes from a terrorist organization, then we will gladly take it, regardless of our political inclinations, because it gives us a chance to live.

Moreover, what those of us who have never experienced mass killing cannot possibly comprehend is that identity becomes profoundly essentialized in war. The desire for physical survival leaves little room for discussion about our political or philosophical views, or the precise degree of our empathy for the other side. In conflicts that are based on ethnic and/or religious affiliation, the attacker confronts you as one of them, which is to say, not one of us, and in the milliseconds before violence occurs, it is infinitely more sensible to run for cover than to protest.

Even more dangerous than fear, though, is grief, which is as much a factor in armed conflict as political ideology. For every person who is killed, there is a larger community of family and friends who are wounded by loss. For them, the conflict ceases to be an abstract argument about rights or land or power, and instead becomes a violation of their deepest personal bonds.

What does it do to a person to collect the scraps of flesh of their child from a bomb crater? What is politics then? At best, the experience will radicalize them; at worst, it will destroy them. Either way, the experience will haunt them for life, and often for the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren as well. This historical memory may fade as the conflict fades, but it remains sequestered in the DNA of the family, ready to reemerge when violence next erupts. Governments and terrorist groups understand this, and both are all too willing to turn grief to their advantage. They know that it is the lifeblood of power.

This, in essence, is why I am a pacifist, even when great injustice has been committed. It is also why I am not optimistic about the outcome of current events in the Middle East, even if a ceasefire is reached tomorrow. It still wouldn’t be over.

Postscript: According to this UN report, over 3000 people were killed in Iraq during the month of June alone. See above.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On the Metroblog

On the bus

PS. When this post was conceived, it was 42 degrees with the humidex. Great White North my ass...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Quote of the day

From a recent post on Louisiana’s new smoking ban:

Health issues aside, I've always loved a ceiling-high haze and I've always thought cigarette smoke on a woman is sexy as nine kinds of hell. It's like posting a sign (on the wall or around her neck) saying, "If you can't handle it, go back to your sandbox, junior." Kinda like hearing Howlin' Wolf on a jukebox -- you know Real Adults are involved.

Amen.

On the Metroblog

Ride

(For R.H.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bitch slap

From yesterday’s G-8 press conference:

George Bush: "I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion. I told [Putin] a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing.”

Vladimir Putin: “I'll be honest with you: we, of course, would not want to have a democracy like in Iraq.”

Ouch.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Accidents will happen

Maybe it’s because I’m tired, but is it starting to seem to anyone else like the world is completely losing its shit?

Let’s review, shall we? North Korean missiles in the Sea of Japan. Train bombs in Mumbai. Sectarian rampages in Iraq. Air strikes in Gaza.

And, as of tonight, Israeli troops in Lebanon.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired, but I keep thinking about the way history works. Tensions build, alliances form, diplomats shuttle back and forth. It’s the daily grind of global politics, the constant, droning hum that we learn to ignore. Just business as usual, we assume, and we’re usually right.

But then, someone hauls off and shoots the Archduke, and the hum is transmuted into gasoline.

I am remembering that World War One was essentially a war of mismanagement, fought by inept political actors who were suddenly overwhelmed by forces they did not fully understand. If this is the hum before war, then it's that kind of hum.

Already, CNN has a graphic: "On the brink." Not good.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Phone call

“Hello?”

“Hi. It’s me.”

“Hi, James.” He sounds strange. “How are you?”

“I’m okay. How are you?”

“I’m trying to write a stupid fucking union report. I’ve been at it for hours…”

“Oh, sorry. Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay.”

“Excuse me?” I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

“I just wanted you to know I’m okay.”

He’s speaking much too quickly. “Sorry, but I don’t know what you mean.”

“I was in a car crash, but I’m okay.”

My heart stops. “What? When were you in a car crash?”

“Just now. S. and I were driving to the mountain, and this other car ran a red light and drove right into us. It was going really fast.”

“Ohmigod.” I wonder if he’s in shock. He sounds like he’s in shock. “Is everyone okay? Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. That’s why I called. To tell you I’m okay. The cars are gone, though. Both cars are gone.”

I think about the word gone. “What do you mean?”

“They’re totalled. The airbags were completely fucking useless. Mine was like a flaccid penis. I was just staring at this flaccid penis, and then S. said, ‘get the fuck out of the car.’ He smelled smoke and thought the car was going to explode. So I got out of the car.”

“Fuck.” I light a cigarette. “But you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.” I hear him light a cigarette. “It was really bad, but I’m okay.”

“Thank god…”

“I could have died.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t.” Jesus Christ, he could have died. “You cheated death.”

“Yeah. I cheated death.” He inhales. “I should go. I just wanted to tell you that I’m okay.”

“I’m glad you’re okay. And I’m glad you called to tell me.”

“I should go.”

“Okay. Bye.”


Happy birthday, James. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re okay.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this straight.

If you’re a brutal dictator who has no weapons of mass destruction, America invades your country, kills tens of thousands of your citizens, and subjects the survivors to indefinite occupation.

However, if you’re a brutal dictator who has a large stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and actually launches six of them in the general direction of a neighbouring country, America ignores you and hopes you’ll go away.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Wet

Tonight, monsoons, followed by stifling heat. Each time the thunder cracked, I willed myself not to flinch. I only slipped once.

Oh, and duh.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Week four: A glimmer of hope

While returning home from a cinq à sept the other day, I ran into the owner of a small café that keeps me in coffee when I am at work. He was sitting on a nearby stoop smoking a cigarette, and I decided to stop and smoke with him.

We chatted about his business, which is doing fine. “The turnover’s higher now,” he told me. “People don’t linger. It’s just in and out.” Still, he remains incensed at the smoking ban, which is killing his friends’ bars, and mentioned that he is talking to his lawyers about opening another café. A smoking café.

Apparently, the provincial ban contains a loophole that allows for smoking in members-only establishments, but only on the condition that their patrons are not visible to the general public. According to the lawyers, this means that a private club which is located on an upper floor of a building, or which is located on the first floor but does not have any windows, may legally permit smoking.

While walking home, I thought that this was quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Nevertheless, if it is true, then it is only a matter of time before the city is overrun with windowless smoking clubs. Having endured four weeks of this smoke-free nonsense, I can hardly wait.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Random notes

More rain. Soon, Montreal will be completely submerged, at which point the STM will be replaced with a city-wide gondola service.

In the meantime, I have created a Bloglines account, and am presently considering my audio hosting options. I really must get out more.

Finally, I am completely enamored with this Broken Social Scene video, which I discovered at the Avenger’s Mansion. Sweet as it is, I do not regret ditching Jocko High for art school, where queer goth boys abounded.

Thank God for art school.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Postscript

As far as I'm concerned, being any gender is a drag.

Thoughts on love written in a fog of sleep-deprived delirium and while sweating

I made a mix CD today and remembered something. I was front row centre at a Patti Smith show, her first after her husband Fred’s death. She started to play a song for him, just her on acoustic guitar, but she fumbled and stopped. Looking somewhere past the audience, she quoted Fred to herself: “Clarity, Patricia.” Then she started the song again.

This is, I think, an inkling of love at its best: a close observation of an endearing flaw, noticed with encouragement and deep affection, and premised on an absolute faith in the promise of the one who is loved. You have to know the tiniest bones of a person to have this, and, at the same time, to admire them as something different and apart from yourself.

I wonder if I could love someone I didn’t admire in this way? And why I always wonder about such things when I’m terribly tired?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Week three: Antsy

Sometimes, things stay with you. Things like this:

How is one to live obsessively in Mtl, to leave one’s mark on the place, now that indoor smoking is banned?

How, indeed.

I am missing the Café tonight. With the heat as it is, I should be sitting at one of the two window tables, drinking a beer special and talking breathlessly about politics or art or the state of my soul. Instead, I am sitting at my computer in my underwear, trying to find solace on the Internet.

As D. would say, how lame.

James called the other day, and he reminded me that bars in Vancouver are still permitted to have smoking rooms. How is it possible that he can smoke freely in the land of hemp-draped wood nymphs while I am forbidden to do so in the province that invented poutine? I tell you, it just isn’t right.

I have been invited to a St. Jean Baptiste party tomorrow night, at which I plan to get completely soused. I think I will apologize to the hosts in advance.