Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Writers

A month ago I went to the Festival of Books at UCLA.

Discovery one: taking the bus from Santa Monica on an idyllic Saturday morning is delightful.

Discovery two: UCLA's campus is pretty- prettier than USC's. The brick-obsessed architecture is more ornate, for one, and for two, there are grassy hills to sit on with shade trees. Maybe it's because I grew up on a hillside so hilly my middle school was named Hillside, but a place never seems properly landscaped without a few steep inclines. The entire area we were walking around was filled with glorious sunshine and the smell of hamburgers.

I'm always curious to see writers, partly out of what Margaret Atwood labels perversity. I want to know what these people look like who make a living out of getting their thoughts down on paper in such a way that people want to read them. Really, there are very few people who manage to do that.

The panels were mostly kind of weird, because the writers themselves are kind of weird, and not weird in the same way. Also because they are up against a roomful of people, some of whom are hoping to catch certain writers after the panel and have a 45 minute conversation with them. So really there were only particular moments of panel discussion in which the writers really got down to it on certain issues and some interesting ideas got thrown around. Not as much of a torrent of interesting ideas that I was hoping for, but a handful nonetheless.

There seemed also to be a number of writers who were pretty interested in their cultural errand or some kind of responsibility to talk from a place of being disenfranchised or poor or (in a particularly LA turn) non-drivers. Every panel I went to brought up Hollywood movies and talked about them with mostly disdain. There were a couple of writers who were good enough to have more expansive thoughts on the politics of demographics and that was pretty enjoyable. Maybe it's because a lot of them got English degrees like I did, but most of them seemed pretty intent on fixing something about the world, or at least embodying a voice that, quote, needs to be heard, unquote. It's not so much that I think those voices don't need to be heard, it's more that people self-identifying as fringe has started to feel like such a popular thing to do that it's become necessary to a certain kind of authorial identity. "I'm worth listening to not because I speak from inside the center, but because of my socially underprivileged but artistically privileged viewpoint outside of it". I'd argue (and Shakespeare would back me up) that the center doesn't actually exist anyway, except in our minds when we think about how we are outside of it. I wish people would just shut up and tell whatever story they have it in them to tell without mapping their own cultural value. If it's a "story that needs to be heard" then it will have its own value. All this positioning feels like listening to someone talk who is at the same time pointing at themselves with both hands.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vancouver Chat Poem

by artists formerly residing in Vancouver

me: o burnaby, you are lost to me
the train tracks
i wander
have no robin's donut stores

Sarah: !!!!!

me: a poem by robyn marshall

Sarah: a great poem

me: so epic
i miss poems. and crosswords

Sarah: we could write a huge missive
poems are for high school summers
and lit class
What would a vancouver epic be called

the heroic call to poets the lower mainland wide!
bring me your bic, your papermates,
bring me your sharpies and your dr. grips
we ride tonight!

Sarah: your donald's market shopping bags

me: your triple-o mugs

Sarah: and soggy bus transfers

me: glance not at the wheeling crows

Sarah: the palette of MEC passes 'fore me
the motley of lulu thunders by on rollerblades

me: do not be troubled by the torn tilleys that dot your path

Sarah: ha
(my favorite word uttered in beowulf was "lovelimb")

me: you have a higher calling, vancouver poets, a sharper purpose

Sarah: for penis

me: stretch your lovelimbs wide across the whaleroad


Myanmar and Sichuan


Red Cross


World Vision

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From Heaven

I mean, am I wrong?

Futura Caps


There are a couple other people I would yell marriage proposals to at a show: young James Taylor and Bill Callahan.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Music is the New Pornography

Several month ago Sarah copied me a bunch of albums. I've been getting to them every time I have to spend serious quality time with Excel at work. Listening to music helps it be less boring and also drowns out neighbouring conversations about episodes of Friends, so it's a double-fisted concentration booster.

So I finally heard the new New Pornographers album all the way through. "Challengers".

[Yes, I am terribly behind the times. Don't even worry about it: I'm killing it in Fantasy Moguls in both leagues that I am in. I've traded my book and music on-top-of-it-ness for movie on-top-of-it-ness. I love me some tracking reports.]

This music is good. Good enough to distract me from =SUM(A:14*1000), good enough to play some songs over again right after hearing them for the first time. "Myriad Harbour", wow. "Go Places", wow. How great would it be to write songs for Neko Case's pretty pretty voice? If I were a guy, I'd be one of those guys at New Pornographers shows shouting marriage proposals to Neko (which happened both times I saw them back in Vancity, although at the Commodore, she also got, "show us your tits!" which is a good reason not to play at the Commodore, horsehair floor or no). As it is, the only person I'd yell a marriage proposal to at a show would be Roy Orbison. Too bad for me he's dead. Also: old.

"Go Places", though. I've been listening to that all day. Thank you, you magical side-projecteers for the semi-all-knowing, semi-nonsensical lyrics. Good thing this is in the era of the convenient portable device with headphones, otherwise my roommate might kill me the same way roommates of the past have probably wanted to during winters of "The Only Living Boy In New York" eighty-seven million times in a row.

Tearing It Up with Robyn and Sarah

On Friday night I went over to Sarah's house and borrowed some pants so I wouldn't have to sit around on the couch in the skirt I'd been wearing all day at work. I've been pulling this precise move since 1995, the first pair of pants I borrowed from Sarah being dark green and wooly with cool pockets and a great belt. I remember succeeding in hanging on to those for two weeks at least before I felt bad and gave them back. The pants she lent me this week were hospital scrubs. The moral of the story being that twelve years after high school ended, her job involves much more comfortable clothing than mine.

We watched several episodes of Flight of the Conchords, and discussed Figwit, watched Figwit's line in ROTK and laughed ourselves silly at the badness. Dude seriously looks like a lady in that movie. Probably because of the absence of pants.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Marie Antoinette

I caught the last 40 minutes of Marie Antoinette on TV the other night. I remember watching this and being very bored by it and by the end feeling very exasperated with both Marie and Sophia and kinda sorta being on the side of the peasants with pitchforks. I definitely remember being annoyed at the way it ended, partly because, to my peasant, pitchfork-wielding attitude, she got away scot free. The whole thing seemed like a boring dress-up movie.

But the end gets pretty good.

Sophia Coppolla is actually pretty adept at getting a certain kind of quality out of her actors, especially young women, and it's really satisfying to watch a movie that's well shot. And she's very good a getting a kind of lovely complicated sadness up on screen.

The camera is wistful, like a Mallick movie (actually this feels a little shot-for-shot New World). Kirsten Dunst's Marie is much more complicated and tired at this end of things, and there's a whole section near the end when things start to get really scary with scene after scene of no dialogue that is quite moving.

Also, that movie has really amazing dresses in it, which would cancel out all other concerns if it had to.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Music Appreciation

I have the dubious fortune of constantly living next to singers. In high school, our next door neighbor's son started studying opera, and would practice in the basement. I'd be sitting watching Cheers and then I'd hear this cascading baritone from next door. Later at UBC, I lived in Gage Towers and the apartment across the hall (being dormitories apartments, the space above the door was open) had another student of opera. People would be hanging out with me in my apartment and we'd hear this rich voice rocking some Mozart. Once the person I was hanging out with bellowed, "shut the fuck up" across the hall before I managed to let them know that it was a real person making the noise.

On a tangent, I kind of miss Gage Towers. They were three, communist-style, seventeen-story apartment blocks grouped together around a 1-story commons building. High rise living and the associated voyeurism is an important part of the Vancouver lifestyle and depending on what room you got, you could find yourself either with a multi-million dollar view straight up the Georgia Strait and sunsets all year or staring at another one of the blocks across the no-man's land of the roof of commons, which was invariably littered with beach balls, frisbees, various alcohol-related accessories, someone's pants, definitely a bra and a number of other items that seemed to have no place there, but were likely tossed out of windows.

(Tossed out of window story one: Once when leaving the building I almost stepped on a raw, skinless, boneless chicken breast, all pink and weird on the sidewalk. Hard to say how far it fell and why before making its touchdown on the walkway.

Tossed out of window story two: late December, deep into the exam period, I'm sitting at my desk at 4am taking a break from my Caribbean Lit paper by writing my Milton paper. I'm staring out into the darkness and a pumpkin falls past my window. I think I'm going insane, then reconsider and look out onto the pavement. Smashed pumpkin. In the morning, no trace remains.)

When signing up for housing, you could either request a good view or to room with your buddies. My buddies and I got the sixth floor, looking out at the other two buildings. Despite the bad view, the one and only time I've seen the Northern Lights has been from that balcony.

Anyway, at the end of the year, people got a little more exhausted and raucous and the individual parties that you could watch happening in apartments sort of turned into a yell-back-and-forth party amid the towers. I may have been involved in borrowing my cheese-hating roommate Yen's New Kids On The Block Greatest Hits album to blast it with maximum volume across the gulf.

All this is to say: my next door neighbor is this squirmy little dude who is very nice to us but sings, with much gusto, Disney-esque tunes and soul sometimes in the afternoon. Guy better watch out or I will start hitting him back with Yma Sumac.


On cement steps of the back stairway between the 2nd and 3rd floors in my building: the crushed wings of a monarch butterfly. There was a time that I would have found this sad and poetic (if cheesy). Now, after silverfish, ants, maggots and cockroaches, my thoughts are more along the lines of, "Ha ha, bug."