Monday, June 26, 2006


On Sunday morning there was a strange smell in the air outside the kitchen window. A chemical smell, but scented. An agent of some kind.

By the time I got home on Sunday evening, tiny ants had made their riverbed pathways all over the bathroom, across the hall and up my desk to a glass that had a residue of orange juice in it. They turned their little ant faces up to me as I stared at them swarming. "Hey there!" "Man, I love orange juice!" They scampered around on my desk, running blithely over my wrist. "Weeee!" The worst thing about having bugs in your house is not even that they crawl over you but that you start to feel them crawling over you even when they are not.

Fumigation from the apartment downstairs had made them forget that my apartment is a house of death for ants.

I put some more orange juice in a plastic yoghurt lid and stationed it a prime spot on the bathroom floor. They were shy at first (could they smell the ant-death on my fingers and the soles of my shoes?) but soon they were porking away, a tidy row of them, face down, sucking up the OJ. Delicious. Wholesome. Tell your friends.

Then, my friends, came the switch. I pulled the OJ lid and put down the sweet sweet ant killer instead. They were confused a for a bit. A force larger than them was at work. But it turned out not to matter: the soma sweetness was still around to be gobbled and gobble they did. Delicious. Tell your friends.

I read recently about a Buddhist priest offering a kind of apology/excuse before a major extermination in Japan. Was it rats or bugs? The priest asked forgiveness of the rats for killing them, but pointed out that it was their bad luck to be reincarnated as things so low that could offer nothing positive to the world and, indeed, brought dirt and disease with it. It finished off with pointing out to the rats that killing them only sped them on their karmic journey, which would certainly lead them to better incarnations than that of the rat.

I just want them to move on to someone else's apartment.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Beginning Filmmaking

The other day my roommate was using some toner and the fruity alcohol smell drifted out into the living room and transported me back to grade eight when I was best friends with Lauren. This was before the day at the beginning of grade nine when Lauren told me that she didn't want to be friends with me anymore because I wasn't cool enough. The best part was her new best friend Karen who said to me, re: her presence for the conversation: "I'm not part of this, I just want to watch."

Anyway, Lauren's older sister Jessie was that kind of older teenager who was adept at things like how to use toner (or even that Oxy stuff), which stores in the mall to get your white jeans at, how much CK perfume to pour on and how to gel your curls, skills that left me kind of in awe. She was one of those girls who was popular and ugly, which even I knew meant getting to watch all your friends get attention from boys while the only way she could get such attention was to be a slut, which, apparently, she was. She also had some major anger issues, because she was incredibly cruel to her little sister Lauren. I got to witness some dramatic fights at Lauren's house. Some serious door slamming and screeching and hitting and kicking.

Lots of fllmmakers have stories about Super 8 and ketchup to illustrate their from-the-womb lust for movie-making. I don't have any such stories because my family didn't have a camcorder, just very well-stocked libraries and frequent trips to plays. But Lauren had a camcorder and we used to film weird little movies at her house, in-camera edits of stories made up on the fly. The thing I most remember, though, is after a particularly devastating fight in which Jessie had inflicted some injustice on Lauren, Lauren and I were shut up in her room and she made me film a tearful testimonial from her about how much she hated her sister and how she would always hate her, for the rest of their lives. She wanted to document the moment. I remember shooting her in black and white as she talked, aware of the seriousness of the moment which was actually happening and trying desperately to get the camera to reflect the reality of it as best I could. The panic I felt at not being able to do it justice.

Maybe that's what a good take is, when you are screaming in your head because it is so good, and yet you are terrified that you are not capturing it wholly. Maybe a good filmmaker is someone who can stop head-screaming because they know what they need from that moment and are confident they don't need to worry about capturing anything else.

Monday, June 19, 2006

10,000 Leagues Under the House

While at my parents' house a couple weeks ago, I cleared some of my old boxes out of the crawl space. We moved into that house on Halloween 1990, the year I started grade seven and left elementary school and its accoutrements (charm necklaces, fuzzy stickers, Bobbsey Twins) behind. The boxes I was clearing out were time capsules, sealed by my 10-and-10-months-old self in the stage of packing where anything that is not clothes, books, or music and cannot be easily contained in a box and labeled sits in the corners of the room staring at you until you throw it all in random boxes and label them "STUFF". This stage is also known as the Hysteria Stage. In this case, they were labeled "Stuff For Basement". Not surprisingly, never unpacked.

Thankfully, the boxes were light. Some of them were practically empty, or containing stuff that should have gone in the garbage sixteen years ago. At least, they would have if I could have borne it then. It's easier to give your best white plastic purse away to the Sally Ann with the distance and maturity that 27 brings. Ditto, actually, for stuffed animals. Six or eight boxes actually didn't take that much time to divide into recycle, donate, and keepsake.

What took me the longest in this exercise was being my own personal archeologist. Why did I think endless mounds of cotton batten (and layers and layers of toilet paper when the cotton ran out) were necessary to protect small porcelain cats? I knew I was obsessed with Tic-tacs, but why did I pack so many empty boxes of them? Best of all was reading my grade one, two and three journals out loud to my mom, including impertinent answers written underneath the teacher's comments (journal: [something about eating a lot of hotdogs], teacher: "You might get very fat." my postscript: "No.") and one year when my teacher used such boring reward stickers that I made each one into a crazy-looking face.

I had a small obsession with little posable woodland creatures called Sylvanian Families and maintained an elaborate shoebox dwelling for them with many small and inventive homely touches (ideas ripped, no doubt, from the pages of The Borrowers and A Cricket in Times Square). Ladders made of chopsticks and toothpicks, stoves with drawn-on elements, a bath made from an oyster shell, lumpy little vests made of felt. The Sylvanian Families guys obviously had the same obsessions I did, because I found a tiny hand-drawn copy of The Phantom of the Opera on their bookshelf.

I also found a little notebook of paper that proclaimed itself as a book of secrets that only Robyn could read and any trespassers would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This book, of course, had nothing written in it after that proclamation.

There were middle school and high school things as well. All my old sheet music. The yearbook I faked signatures in so I would seem less uncool (which of course resulted in feeling even more uncool than before). The computer dating match-up results which recommended me to one moron, five people I didn't know and Jeremy. Projects about Whales! Egypt! Anglo-Saxons! After elementary school I stopped making weird little things so there was less to find.

I had a strange feeling looking at this stuff. It readjusted the idea I have of myself enough that I could catch a glimpse of what I must have been like as a kid without all of my self-aggrandizing or self-deprecating notions getting in the way. I was the funniest girl in grade five! I have a certificate to prove it! Maybe the secret is to try to be true to your 10-year-old self as often as you can afford to be.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Film Nerd


The temp music on the Charlotte's Web trailer is from Days of Heaven. Weird.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The BH

Last Wednesday I had occasion to be in Beverly Hills. I overheard a man say to another man, "The biggest mistake I made was putting her on the deed to my house," other man says something indistinct, first man says back, "I can't. Not until I divorce her."

I also saw a Lamborghini drive by. It was very loud and sounded bad, like it needed a tune-up. It was probably just semi-defective in that way ridiculously expensive things can be. Ridiculousness seems to be the central concept to cars like that, unless you are driving on windy Swiss mountain roads or something.

When I was a kid, the Lamborghini Countach was one of those things my brother thought was cool, so I did too. The fanciness of the name (mysterious and unnecessary vowels!) added this unknowable, untouchable coolness to the whole idea of the thing. Not unlike Sudan Coulior, the ski run so steep you could hit your head on a mougul. When my brother skiied down Sudan as a teenager it was a feat of extreme coolness not unlike driving a Lamborghini. When he reported that the sign said "Sudan Coulior, Experts Only" with a smaller font coda: "Tighten Your Schpincter", the coolness and the ridiculouslessness got bundled up into such delightful mash.

Like fluorescent zinc oxide on your nose or jams, I feel like 80s notions of coolness are inexplicably silly in this way. Cf: Breakin' and Breakin' 2: The Electric Boogaloo. It was like a light-hearted precuser to what would later turn into grunge and then just sheer, cold irony.

So I salute you, riduculously wealthy driver of ridiculous, crappy-sounding car! Raise the goblet of ridiculosity high! It's so much more fun that disconnected irony!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Titles for Bob Dylan Albums

I went for a run the day before yesterday and there was puke on the track. Now THAT is exercise.

And at the grocery store I was buying a box of banana bread mix and the cashier told me about a woman who had come looking desperately for boxes of the stuff because she had enchanted all the tenants of her apartment building with the smell while neglecting to tell them she got it out of a box. There's some essential truth here about complicated webs of lies but I can't quite figure it out.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Wedding Story

When I lived in Gage Towers at UBC (which, if you mention to people and slur your words together, makes people think you are saying you got engaged) my 5 roommates all liked to watch a show on the Life Network called Wedding Story.

Every afternoon when I would come home to make my lunch, they'd all be hunkered down around our tiny TV as the theme music swelled and the title "A Wedding Story" was etched in white cursive over a female hand opening a giant picture album upholstered in white satin and lace. The half-hour shows were ultimately all the same. A mildly unattractive couple gets suited up in wedding clothes that look stiff and awful, the bride gets a stiff and awful hairdo and some stiff and awful makeup, there's a ceremony in which the bride and/or groom cry tears of snotty joy and the music swells again and the female hand comes back and closes the satiny album. Ahhh, another two people safetly bound in wedlock. Then there'd be another episode right after. My roommates watched this show pretty much every day. I started eating my lunch in my room.

That's where I got the idea that weddings are dumb and kind of horrific.

I went to my friend Katie's wedding a couple of weeks ago and it was neither dumb nor horrific. It was, in fact, quite lovely, and low key, full of things that just kind of happened, lovely things, and everyone looking around and smiling at each other.

I haven't really gone to a good friend's wedding before, so it was an odd feeling. The week before I helped Katie make some little paper decoration things with ribbon and it could have been 1995 and high school as we drank weird tea and CBC Two played and we sat at the kitchen table making stuff. But no, it is 2006 and we both have much better haircuts and a lot more post-graduate education.

Katie got married on Galliano Island, which is also the name of a liquoer that goes in The World's Best Drink: the Harvey Wallbanger. She had done a med school practicum there and so could be somewhat considered an islander. Galliano is one of the Gulf Islands, a grouping of small pieces of land in the Georgia Strait between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. They are small spots of unspeakable paradise.

I went over on Friday with her dad on BC Ferries, feeling so grateful, as I always do, that I know longer work for that company. It was pouring rain and beautiful. Her mom and lots of family friends were already out at the resort, set up in the little cabins among small lakes and sheep. I helped tie up wedding favours in little cloth bags as Katie and Brendan cooked their wedding cake. Then I had a nap. It was very quiet and there were big juicy ants inside the cabins.

When I woke up I was doozy and all Katie's female friends were arriving for the wedding eve Girls' Night (which is such a sophomoric name for it, but there it is. Did we braid each other's hair and hang around in our underwear? Not telling.) It is a pleasant feeling when your friend has such good taste in friends that you like all of her friends almost immediately, especially if all of you are trying to use a tiny kitchen to reheat food. I can't help liking people who can cooperate in a small kitchen. There were some delightfully embarrassing stories of Katie told (Katie has the good fortune to be both a very serious and determined person and a very silly person at the same time. It makes for great stories.)

I bunked with Katie downstairs and said goodnight to Dr. Katie Longworth, who only the day before had been just Katie Longworth and the next day would turn into Dr. Katie McAleer.

Then I woke up about 5 a.m. and felt peculiar. Then I went to the bathroom and went totally deaf for a minute. Then I barfed a lot. Then I thought about how really cold the floor tiles where and how nice they felt on my forehead. Then Dr. Katie knocked on the door with a mug of water and my toothbrush and diagnosed me with classic food poisoning. Later there was more barfing with rests in between. When I woke up at 10 Katie was in the front room getting her hair done by a fabulous hairdresser who was threatening to give her 80s bangs. I sacked up, had a shower, ate three crackers and drank some tea, looked out the window at the rain and was ready to hike down the trail with the rest of female footsoldiers of wedding attendance at 11.

Nothing like a walk in a wet forest for a quivering stomach. Two people had the wedding dress in a plastic garment bag that they carried over their heads through the wet bushes on the trail. We had sandwiches and I guess someone must have been carrying the tents. We were all wearing raincoats and muddy boots. We found a firebelly newt on the trail and held it for a while. It got clearer and clearer as we walked. When we got the ocean it was mildly sunny. Some people went to go set up the tents for Katie and Brendan to change in. Some of the other guests started coming down the trail. People sat on logs on the beach and looked at the ocean. Kids ran around.

When it was time we went out on the to point of land and bunched up in a ring and made sure no one stepped in the sinkhole and then Katie came walking up in her wedding dress with her parents and sister and it is a shock to see someone who used to wear red waffleknit one-piece long underwear with jeanshorts with paint on them to school, someone who you have aided and abetted in dying one half of the hair on their head bright red and the other half bright blue, only to shave it all off for them at the end of the summer, someone who used to get another ear piercing for every December we spent in Victoria walk up in a totally pretty dress looking so wonderfully shining and pretty it's like she finally looks like herself.

And the sun came out and lovely things were said and people cried and we all sang a song and then they were married and the photographer was getting pictures of them and everyone stood around looking at the ocean and enjoying the sunshine. Later people started walking back. I was supposed to take the one tent on the beach down with a couple people and we did but then we got distracted by the rock formations that looked like humpback whales and we started finding crabs and urchins in the tidal pools and Sarah slipped and got one boot all wet.

That night during dinner many of the relatives, including those from Ireland stood up and spoke. There was a little man named Patrick O'Shea who looked like a garden gnome taking polaroids of everyone. "There we go," he'd say, getting a nice-looking young couple to sit down on a bench. "This is for Play-boy". There was a triple rainbow during dessert.

After dinner no one wanted to dance, which was deeply disappointing, because why else do you go to weddings but to dance? I had five noble comrades in this belief and we danced as everyone wandered back to their cabins at 11:30. We had a wine bottle each to sustain us, and periodic visits from the Huskiest Huskey in the World, who waddled bashfully in and out of the room through the night. A number of polaroid pictures can prove this. At 2:30 two Champions of the Party wandered down the trail to the ocean (in their dresses!) to go swimming in the phosphorescence.

The next day dawned painful, but if you've never ridden a ferry hungover then you can't rightly call yourself a westcoaster. Riding home in the backseat of someone else's car with the window down and the radio up and dirty feet under my socks, I decided to recind my earlier prejudice and decree that weddings could steer safely around the treacherous coasts of horror and dumbness and actually end up being pretty darn genuine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

By Air

Today's flight from Vancouver to LA was a great parable of how fucked up flying has gotten now that the airline industry keeps, uh, crashing. I flew up on Alaska, but then was supposed to be on United to come back down, but then that got shifted to Air Canada, and there was a moment at check-in where the woman was visibly getting prepped to tell me that I didn't have a booking when whoops! there it is! Gate-switching for departure, delay, and even gate shifting for arrival, in which we taxi up to the gate and then get informed (in English and French- ah how I miss Canada) that we're going to toodle on over to another gate after all.

And the man sitting behind me on the flight was troubled by my seatback being so waaaaay far back, but instead of just asking me to move it forward he made guttural sounds of frustration and bumped against the seat back a lot and even briefly put his open laptop on the top of the seatback. Awesome. Then he complained to the flight attendant. Then I punched him in the face.

When they separate girls and boys for PE in middle school the boys should have to do a unit called "Your Feelings: You Can Actually Talk About Them!". Sorry. Just saying.

No, actually, sleepiness seemed to couch all of travel hecticness in a soft bubble of dozy fleece, perhaps something akin to what post-partum might feel like (as described by my friend's wife)(who has a baby)(and is younger than me).

After Vancouver in May, which is, uh, heaven? (even the rain is like Miltonic dew) I wasn't really looking forward to LA heat and dirt. Actually, I really wasn't looking forward to it. I was trying not to think about it. But then, today, something about the cracked sidewalk as I walked to the apartment seemed very much exactly what I know and also where I want to be.

(Also, to be truthful, sometimes the Vancouver May rain is more like Miltonic hellfire but wet, and it seeps up through the cracks in your shoes)