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…