Monday, February 27, 2006

Wish

I am lying in bed in a house on the ocean. The windows are open, and all I can hear is the slow breaking of waves. There is no telephone to answer, no newspaper to collect in the morning. The nearest city is a hundred miles away.

I fall asleep with arms around me and dream about nothing at all.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Quiet

Simone is on my lap, her paws curled around my knee, purring. For just a second, this is all there is.

My brother has emailed me four times this week. He is, by turns, lucid and then impossibly strange. Sometimes, he apologizes for what he has written and asks me to please write back.

I want to comfort him, but I can’t think of what to say. I don’t know how to smooth the edges of what he is feeling. I can’t understand what he is feeling.

I’m usually good with words; they come easily to me. Too easily, often. I am forever thinking out loud, as though I have to hear what things sound like before I know what they are.

There are times, though, when words fail me. Then, all I have is a body with dumb hands and arms.

I can’t touch my brother. He’s too far away.

Simone looks up at me and grazes my chin with her paw. Her eyes are as pale as water.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Classified information and a small act of defiance

In a palpably defensive op-ed piece in today’s Montreal Gazette, mention is made of a 2004 study by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade which shows that the province’s smoking ban has had a negative economic effect on its hospitality industry. Strangely, the Gazette elects not to share the conclusions of the study with its readers; even more strangely, it appears that the document was never released to the public, and that a pro-smoking group had to file a Freedom of Information request to gain access to it.

My curiousity piqued, I decided to head over to the group’s website for a closer look. Although sections of the released report remain blacked out, it nevertheless projects that the public revenue shortfall in the gaming sector alone could reach half a billion dollars per year, or approximately one-third of the total provincial deficit. The report does not address financial losses in the bar, restaurant, or hotel sectors, or lost tax revenue generally.

The Gazette piece also mentions a 2004 study commissioned by the New York Nightlife Association and the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, which shows that the city’s smoking ban had by that time cost “2,650 jobs, $50 million U.S. in workers' pay, and $71 million U.S. in revenues.” However, the study is promptly dismissed as illegitimate because it was commissioned by bar and restaurant owners, who, it is claimed, are “hardly detached observers.”

Bear in mind that this is the Montreal Gazette talking, which is staunchly pro-business when it comes to landlord rights, health care funding, and labour issues, and which can scarcely keep itself from ejaculating whenever business groups lobby for tax cuts, debt reduction schemes, or the privatization of government-run corporations such as the SAQ. But now, suddenly, small business owners can’t be trusted to speak on behalf of their industries? It’s enough to make a skeptic’s head spin.

In frustration, and after much dithering, I have finally decided to join CAGE, the primary sponsors of the legal challenge to Bill 112. The group is registered as a not-for-profit organization, is fully independent of the tobacco industry, and is headed by a post-doctoral student in Political Science, which makes it the most reasonable alternative I have yet found to both government and corporate spin. Further, CAGE espouses a philosophy that is not wholly incompatible with my own:

The overarching concern must become one of protecting individual freedoms, so as to reverse the popularity of the "banning" movement and eventually roll back some of the erosions that have been made in individual freedoms. Quebec emerges as a particularly good place to launch this campaign, given its tradition of "joie de vivre" and the greater acceptance of everyday, personal "vices" in the province.

Indeed. I now implore the smokers, skeptics, and curmudgeons among you join me in this small act of defiance: all you have to do is fill out a membership form, which you will find here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Five odd things about me

While I was away, I was tagged with several memes of varying origin. This one comes via Nick, who really should know better.

1. I was almost a concert pianist.

I studied classical piano for ten years, then gave it up for rock ‘n’ roll. My reasoning: more groupies.

2. I have never driven a car.

Like many urban teenagers, I never got around to getting a driver’s license. This is probably just as well since I won’t be able to afford a car until my early fifties.

3. I have a mole on my left hip.

Not one of those little pin-prick moles, although I must have at least fifty of those. No, this mole’s different: it’s bolder, saucier, with a certain je ne sais quoi. I should probably get it looked at.

4. I am hopelessly addicted to Smartfood.

Mmm, Smartfood...

5. Deep down (like, waaay down), I am really a utopian anarchist.

I believe that the government should provide all citizens with a guaranteed annual income of $25,000 per year. Anyone who wanted more money than that would be permitted to engage in paid employment. The rest of us would be free to spend our time doing things that don’t pay: e.g., smoking, blogging, art. Who’s with me?

Okay, uberfrau, you’re it...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Out

For the first time in a very long time, I spent the afternoon at the Café. I brought a couple of books with me and read as the sun streamed in through the window, catching the curls of smoke that hung defiantly in the air.

One of the things I love about the Café is that it is, by day, the neighbourhood’s study area. Today, every one of the tables was strewn with notepads, books, and laptops, a scholarly clutter that gave the place the aura of a library, albeit one in which patrons have recourse to a respectably stocked bar.

I’ve hardly gone out at all during the last two months, other than to work, and I have missed the Café terribly. I am also becoming steadily more aware that in a few months time, it will be irrevocably changed. As I sipped my café au lait, I briefly considered forming a smokers’ militia, which would be led by bespectacled Mile End boys with laptops.

Speaking of smokers, I am missing James as well, who remains ensconced in his dissertation-writing bunker. Probably more than anyone else, I understand his need to cloister himself, to shut out the world and commit every fibre of his being to the task at hand. It doesn’t stop me from missing him, though, or from wishing that he could come out to play.

Arit, by contrast, came over to do laundry last night and we talked for hours, forgetting even to watch the DVDs she brought. Arit and I have seen very little of each other since the new year, so it was a rare treat to spend a whole evening with her, even if it did keep me up past my bedtime.

At various points in our conversation, I told her about the emails my brother sent me this week, and the gambling problem my father is fast developing. I also described a dream I had to her, which we agreed meant one of two things: (a) that I am, possibly, ready to love someone again; or, (b) that I am not. Clearly, further research is required.

There are a thousand things I have to do tomorrow, and every day thereafter. (Sighs.) Onward, Vila...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lull

The wind has finally died down a little, after bringing down bricks and trees throughout the neighbourhood. I lost power three times, which made the whole day feel fragmented and strange.

I’ve been edgy lately and full of dreams I can’t shake. There’s a lot I haven’t written about, though I’m not exactly sure why. Have I become suddenly guarded? Or just dull?

In one of the dreams, I am walking up my street with someone I know but not well. It is spring, or maybe fall, and we are talking about a band we both like. As we walk, he takes my arm as though we are lovers. I notice this and think, “How brave of him!” And then the dream ends.

I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

WTF?

Environment Canada Weather Forecast

Tonight: Snow mixed with ice pellets changing to freezing rain this evening then to rain overnight. Local blowing snow early this evening. Wind northeast 30 km/h becoming light this evening. Temperature rising to plus 3 by morning.

Friday: Rain ending late in the morning then cloudy with 60 percent chance of flurries. Wind west 30 km/h increasing to 60 gusting to 90 late in the morning. High 6 with temperature falling to minus 8 in the afternoon.

Friday night: Cloudy periods. Wind west 60 km/h gusting to 90 diminishing to 20 gusting to 40 near midnight. Low minus 18. Cold wind chill minus 28.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Footnote

Virgo Weekly Horoscope:

This week, everything changes. Finally, at last, Mars moves into your career sector after a seven-month delay. This means that what you were hoping for and expecting to happen for you last August is actually going to happen now. You may have given up on your hopes, learned to let go of a dream, totally moved on, or the like, but it turns out you were being prepared for a best-case scenario opportunity. Are you prepared for it? If not, do so now, and don’t put it off for a moment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The other side

Valentine’s Day is not celebrated by graduate students, since “love” and all related “feelings” are expressly forbidden by university administrators. However, in lieu of valentines, PhD supervisors are permitted to disseminate good news to their students, generally in the form of email or other electronic communication.

I received just such an email tonight, which informed me that my synthesis paper has been accepted by the examining committee and that it will now proceed to the defense stage. In non-academic (i.e., human) terms, this is equivalent to receiving a dozen long-stemmed roses, a box of chocolates, and the promise of a second date, all rolled into one.

I will start preparing for the defense tomorrow. Tonight, however, I am drinking a glass of scotch and trying to remember how to exhale.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Y'think?

From The National Post:

Statistics Canada says senior women who suffered from psychological or financial stresses in 1994-95 were far more likely to die over the next eight years than those who did not have such problems.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

High

Last night, after a breathtakingly rough day at the office, I smoked a joint—which is, incidentally, something I haven’t done in a very long time.

The experience was pleasant enough at first. Today, however, I awoke with an intense pot hangover, which had the curious effect of transforming the neuroses that, on most days, fester quietly just below the surface of my consciousness into a band of pole-vaulting monkeys.

It was in precisely this state that I finally had occasion to meet one of my blog crushes, the elusive g_pi. I had just sat down to have brunch with Ada when suddenly Bob appeared, who led me to their table and presented me to her. The monkeys dutifully followed. Of course, she was charming, sweet, and quite beautiful. I was considerably less so. Damn monkeys.

Upon returning home, I searched the internet for some means of distracting the screeching primates from what was left of my sense of self. Thanks to contrary_wise, I found just the thing: the Interactive Johari Window. It is one of those pseudo-psychological games that is tailor-made for neurotics and pot-smokers alike, and which I encourage you to play with me. Better yet, start one of your own!

N.B. The IJW omits a number of terms that are essential to describing the average thirty-something grad student: for example, needy, flaky, pretentious, sex-obsessed, and drunk. Do the best you can...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Vernissage

A certain dear friend and photographer who appears regularly in this blog is having her first solo exhibition. Of course, you should go.

If you can't make it out tonight, the exhibition runs until the end the month. And if you can, I'll be the one in the red dress. :-)

Monday, February 06, 2006

The news in brief

The province lurches right...

Offering advice on how to lower Quebec's debt, business groups yesterday proposed higher charges for daycare and tuition, tolls on roads and bridges, and raising the provincial sales tax as Ottawa lowers its GST. [. . .] "What we are proposing is that the government should adopt a full strategy to reduce the debt, which would include a revision of the tax structure," a spokesperson said. This would also mean more reliance on a user-pays approach, for instance raising tuition fees.

...and dreams of a leader

Are the winds of political change whispering the name of someone that could turn the Liberal party fortunes around and handily defeat the PQ in this key election? If murmurs about Charest's leadership intensify, I predict one name is likely to emerge as a potential leader of the Liberal Party - Lucien Bouchard. Bouchard once claimed that "Canada is not a real country." Ironically, he could soon be anointed as the saviour of that same country he came so close to breaking up 10 years ago. His recently published manifesto For a Clear-Eyed Vision of Quebec is in many ways, a spring-board for a political comeback.

Meanwhile, the left regroups

Hundreds of delegates are gathering at the Universite de Montreal this weekend to found a new left-wing party that believes in Quebec independence, but not as its immediate priority. Unlike the Parti Quebecois, founded in 1968 as a left-right coalition committed to separation, the new formation is a blend of two leftist groups committed to social justice. [. . .] The new party hopes to attract progressive anglophones and allophones as well as francophones who support neither the Liberals nor the PQ, said Sujata Dey, of the Option Citoyenne co-ordinating committee.

And the anarchists...?

In a continent where safety trumps sensuality, this province is one of the last havens for anarchy and I'm strangely attached to it. Like many, I take a perverse pride in our town's crazy driving habits, pleased that Montreal and New York are the only cities that can't be trusted to make right turn on reds. I have trouble breathing in our smoky bars, but I also like their naughty image, the European devil-may-care attitude that reminds me that I'm in bar, not a church. What will come next in Quebec's journey from sensual to sensible? "OK, this is the poutine patrol speaking. We have this frites stand surrounded. Just put your gravy down - and walk away!"

N.B. All excerpts are taken from articles from The Montreal Gazette, which is, infuriatingly, subscriber-only.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

At the diner

Seemingly cured of my insomnia, I’ve been taking the newspaper with me to the diner each morning. As I read, I listen to the regulars talk over their eggs and coffee in what I’ll admit is a respectful form of eavesdropping.

I am growing quite fond of Bill and Marc, two middle-aged truck drivers who meet virtually every morning for breakfast. Bill has a son who has just purchased his first truck, and a younger daughter who wants to be either a truck driver or a marine biologist when she grows up. When Bill told Marc this on Wednesday, he laughed and said, “Marine biologist is better.” “You got that right,” Bill said, lighting a DuMaurier regular. “She should definitely be a marine biologist!”

Mike and Joe usually sit on the far side of the smoking section, and have a conversational dynamic that falls somewhere between Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton and Jay and Silent Bob. Mike, the more loquacious of the two, is a wellspring of unsolicited advice on matters ranging from Joe’s financial woes to his choice of girlfriends, which, apparently, are not unrelated. “No wonder you’re broke, Joe,” Mike opined yesterday. “She’s a mooch, pure and simple.” Joe occasionally mumbles in protest, but mostly he looks off somewhere in the distance and smokes.

Then there’s George, a thirty-ish labourer who is positively surging with testosterone and who may or may not have ties to the Greek mafia. George brought his ten-year old daughter with him today, whom I infer is the product of a failed marriage and is clearly as sharp as a tack. After he placed their order, George playfully harangued the girl about the perils of global warming. “It isn’t normal,’ he said, gesturing toward the rain outside. “By the time you grow up, this country’s going to be a swamp!” “Since when did you become an environmentalist?” she shot back at him, teasingly. “Because...” he pronounced, suddenly grave, “if you don’t leave your kids with solid ground under their feet, you’ve given them nothing.”

It goes without saying that the men at the diner remind me of my father, and their daughters of me. There are faint echoes in their voices, their gestures, in the way they drape their arms across the booths and joke with the waitress when she comes to refill their coffee. I find these echoes comforting, even if I know I am romanticizing them a little. They are, still, the residue of the world I grew up in, which couldn’t be farther away from the world I live in now.

As I paid for today’s breakfast, a twenty-something hipster couple sat down in a non-smoking booth and considered their order. The man decided on souvlaki, but his female companion wasn’t hungry. “I’ll just have an herbal tea,” she said brightly. The waitress responded in a flat voice. “We don’t have herbal tea. We have regular tea and coffee. And water.” Then, she looked over at me and rolled her eyes. I smiled back and left my tip on the table.

The woman had water.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

This just in

The pleasure of orgasm, the high from cocaine, the rush of buying Google at $450 a share - the same neural network governs all three [. . .] What's more, our primal pleasure circuits can, and often do, override our seat of reason, the brain's frontal cortex. In other words, stocks, like sex, sometimes drive us crazy.

So, the world economy is run by horny cokeheads? No wonder I feel like I'm getting screwed...