Saturday, 29 December 2007


Joel is over as usual today, which eases the solitude a bit. I decided not to go into the city with him today, despite his preference, as I'm back from New York City and with a giant vet bill to pay (X-ray, "euthanasia" and cremation). We played Super Mario 3 on my NES after I checked out "Commando" which I picked up used in NYC. I also tried out rolling perch fillets in corn meal mixed with spices, and then frying them in a bit of peanut oil. It worked out quite well.

Joel's lent me the super-duper Blade Runner 5 disc DVD set with all the extras. I seem to watch extras more than actual movies, lately. I seem to prefer learning stuff about things I already like, rather than finding new things to like, nor even re-enjoying things I've liked for some time. It strikes me upon watching Blade Runner that the "eye" graphic I made of my own face reflected in my own eye for the header on this blog is pretty 2001/Dark Side of the Moon/Blade Runner. Even with me pointing out eye, nose and mouth, Joel was unable to see my face reflected in my eye.

Switched To Blogger

I've been blogging on 20six since 2003, but repeated problems with pictures, formatting and logins have made my mind up for me.  Now I'm gonna post here on blogger like most people.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

A First For Me

I've never had a young woman put me in handcuffs before. She was gentle. She was the border guard at the US-Canadian border.
     When she put my name into her system, someone with my identical first and last names and birthdate who's always in trouble with the law, who lives in my area came up, and her screen hooted quietly with a "submarine diving" klaxon sound. Six border guards materialized from nowhere, hands on sidearms. I was cuffed and led across the lanes of cars into the Homeland (Fatherland) Security office.
     They patted me down a few times rather vigourously, then took one hand out of the cuffs in order to cuff me to a bench set in concrete. I let them know of their error once they asked, and suggested that, as they always ask "Do you have any tattoos?" that the man they thought I was probably had tattoos, and I do not. They scurried out to their computer and came back in later saying this was true, and that "I" was also supposed to be about 6 inches taller.
     Without removing my right arm from the cuffs, they got me to show them my right shoulder and shoulder blade (no easy feat) to see that there were no tattoos. There was a lengthy process afterward anyway. They guards were slightly amused and very apologetic, and joked around embarassedly with me. They also had to give me a Homeland Security "Your Border Experience Comment Card" to fill out like at MacDonald's, but with "Was the officer who detained you courteous and professional?" and "Did you feel you were detained because of racial profiling, or other reasons?"
     I went to Best Buy, hoping to see the movie Once for sale, with thoughts of buying Stardust if it was cheap also. I didn't expect them to have Once, but when I walked into the store, the front "Christmas Display" table had the two films sitting side-by-side for $20 each. It's nice having Canadian money be worth the same as American.
   Also, the Reese's Peanut Butter Commemorative Elvis Banana Creme cups that I didn't get to try in Graceland last July, and which, it turns out, they do not sell in Canada, were on sale in New York State, so I got some. Quite good, actually.
   My folks had given me my Christmas presents right before I left. I got a "Dr. Seuss' WWII editorial cartoons" book, Jon Stewart's America (the "Teacher's Edition," corrected in red throughout by a college professor) and some stuff like that.
   While in New York state, I ate at The Cracker Barrel (I had catfish again, and warm chocolate pecan pie, I'm afraid) and got my dad a Hee Haw DVD there. I got to my uncle the optometrist's (in New Jersey) late, but he still did an amazingly thorough job of making a slightly adjusted prescription to deal with nearsightedness and astigmatism properly. His professional patter reminded me of an extremely laid-back magician's ( "First there was one, but now there are two... now you should see a hot air balloon, but now it should be gone, now two, now just one...right now it's off-centre, tell me when the two are lined up perfectly" ) He also helped me pick out new glasses frames. I got ones with magnetic sunglass clip ons that look very Matrix-y. He can get contacts and glasses much more cheaply than McLensCrafters sells them for, so he's going to mail me some and I can PayPal him.
    I also saw a cousin of mine who I rarely see and enjoyed, and was given the recipe for, some excellent ziti.
     Then it was off to New York City, and Brooklyn. M and I stayed up 'till all hours showing each other YouTube stuff we and our friends did, and other stuff on there, and laughing and laughing. The "Jake E. Lee Shreds" video was a particular favourite.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Yup. Snow Day.

After seeing this out my bedroom window, I didn't even try to go into school.   Lazed around.  Tried not to be sad.  Was anyway.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

The Rest of the Weekend (Grieving and All)

Once I wrote my blog entry about having my cat put down, I had a tough time. Grieving and all. Then I realized I wanted to get out and get doing things. I phoned J and we went into the city. John Gray's Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus suggests that men, when they can't control or fix everything, feel ashamed, weak, out of control, and so they find comfort in small things that they CAN fix or control. The following should have ample signs of this working for me. 
     My mission was to clean up my place. I went to Ikea and got more glass jars to keep flour and corn meal and pasta and so on in, a shelving system with doors to put my non-hanging up clothes in (I always have clothes everywhere, through a mixture of being unable to throw away things I don't really wear anymore, and not having enough room for stuff that doesn't hang up in the closet) and a new switch for my broken floor lamp and two bags of assorted capacitors I planned to use to fix my broken DVD player. 
    We went to T's place, and he desoldered my DVD's board so I could put in a new capacitor, verified that the type of capacitor needed was beyond the scope of the two assorted capacitor bags, traded me some Atari 2600 games for my NES cartridges that I didn't want (I traded Felix the Cat and Ghosts and Goblins for Centipede, Ms. Pacman, Zaxxon and a few others). 
    We then went to the store T recommended for getting the correct capacitors and I got a little bag of them. Then Ikea, where we got the glass containers, the shelving unit for clothes, the dimmer switch for my floor lamp with the broken switch, and a little basket to put rolled up socks into, on the shelf in the shelving unit. 
    Afterward, we went to a Chinese buffet, and I found I couldn't eat much, and was very impatient to get going, because sitting silently while J ate was tough, and his mile-a-minute, four nonlinear ideas per second chatter was more than I could participate in. 
     Then, he wanted to buy a new guitar accessory. He'd been recording weird sounds created by using a back and neck massage device on his guitar strings and pickups, so he wanted to buy a variable-speed vibrator and try that out, with a phase pedal, wah pedal and distortion on at the same time. 
    I sat in the car while he apparently took stock of an adult store's entire inventory of vibrators while two "fascinated by his novel intentions" female staff showed him how to put batteries in them and change their speeds and so on. I'm sure he had the time of his life. As for me, I was in the car being miserable. 
    I sat in the car in the dark and moped fairly hard and felt full of a desire to just drive off, anywhere, when suddenly a huge barge of a car with two really old people (too old to be driving) sitting in front and an older middle-aged woman in back, pulled up in a parking lot that was empty apart from my car. The man who was driving tottered out and I thought for sure he'd ask me for directions. 
    "There is no way he will be going shopping in the sex shop while his wife and older middle-aged daughter wait in the car" I thought. 
    In he went. My interest was piqued. Then a blonde salesgirl came outside into the bracing cold, arms folded tightly over her chest, and pointed up the street to show him where to go to get to a restaurant he was looking for. He'd asked for restaurant directions from a clerk in a sex shop while out for a family outing. 
     J came out, excited at the percussive power and variety of whiny sounds his new purchase apparently makes (I didn't ask to see it) and we went back to my place. My computer was full of (and continued to receive) kind and sympathetic words about me losing my cat from all sorts of people I don't normally hear from much. I soldered a capacitor into the pin holes T kindly left for me in the power supply circuit board of my DVD player (I've never done electronics work of this complexity before, but used the Internet and was thus emboldened) and the thing started working just like new again. J watched an uncharacteristically well-made cartoon from my 1967 Spider-man DVD, then got very wrapped up in playing Super Mario Brothers 3 on the NES I fixed last week (I both replaced the 72 pin cartridge socket, and cut the number four pin on the chip the Internet told me is the fiddly one that causes NES's to flash so much and refuse to play cartridges. It's a cartridges-not-made-by-Nintendo safeguard gone haywire) while I assembled the shelving unit. 
     Early on, I felt like I'd been through a war, but continued on into the evening, and after I drove J home I came back exhausted. I'd wanted him to help me empty my deceased cat's litter boxes, as it seemed like a pretty sad task, but we were too tired to do it (bags of litter are quite heavy to lug down three floors). 
     Then I slept badly and woke unable to sleep in but wanting to sleep for the forseeable future. I still didn't want to eat, so I cleaned. There is a truly record-breaking blizzard I haven't seen the likes of that's been blasting outside all day, so I can't really, say, drive into the city and watch The Golden Compass or anything like that. I watched another episode of season two The Six Million Dollar Man (an episode, actually, that I'd left for my Grade 9 class one day when I was going to be away, in 2004, so I didn't watch it with them, but heard their comments the next day, complaining of too much slow motion. 
     It was "The Seven Million Dollar Man" about the rogue bionic guy Steve Austin is supposed to help adjust to his bionic limbs, but who keeps ripping stuff up and hurting people, all power-mad and stuff). Then I watched a whole thing with Louis Theroux (who'd been in Michael Moore's TV Nation years ago) in which he hangs out with Boers (affrikaaners) in South Africa, exploring their clinging to separatism, long after that battle has, legally, been lost. 
    Back to dishes, I guess. If I wasn't planning a trip to Brooklyn over Christmas, I'd go out and buy a kitten right now, just to make the litter boxes, cat toys and empty food and water dishes that I'm continually tempted to absent-mindedly refill less upsetting. Maybe I'll take a walk down the street in the blinding blizzard to stores that are within walking distance. That's always good. 

UPDATE: snow still blowing, but you can see through it. Don't know if we'll have a snow day tomorrow or not. Still feeling "phantom pet syndrome," in terms of reflexively worrying about leaving the hall door open or a plate of food left out in the other room, then remembering there is, at this time, no cat here to get into that stuff. 
   D phoned and we had a leisurely, long chat in which I was free to babble about things other than lost pets. A while after I got off with him, and organized my DVDs and polished my shoes with mink oil after wiping some road salt residue off them, then did laundry, my Mom phoned. 
    We talked for a good while, including kind of a comforting retrospective of all of the pets we've had. Most died on the highway. Here's most of the list, excluding things like zebra finches, gerbils and fish: 

 Freddie. Huge declawed black cat who seemed to be around since my birth. A great hunter. Killed rabbits quite often, ate them, and then lay around nursing his distended belly for days. Lived to almost 20 years before being hit on the road. 

Flossie: beautiful black, white and tan collie we had for a few years, then hit on the highway. Heidi: very intelligent, attentive female german shepherd who could open doors with her paws and seemed to understand family routines and casually-spoken english to an unnatural degree. Got sick with parvovirus, survived that, and I think was hit on the road. Lived about five years. 

Max: 125 lb bear-like male german shepherd. Trained to stay away from the road. Could eat muffins in one gulp without chewing, and you could put your fist in his mouth and not touch the teeth on either side. Un-neutred, became an "outside dog" once he reached full size upon this incident: Dad was going around the house with a plant sprayer, spraying nutrient-enriched water on all of mom's many plants, and then saw that Max was walking around after him, a few plants behind, also "spraying" each one. Max lived to a fairly ripe old age, but got hip dysplasia (a typical German Shepherd problem) and eventually was put down. 

Smokey: affectionate, smoke-grey cat who was cool and liked to "hang out" with me. When my grandmother was dying of stomach cancer, he was dying from bladder stones blocking his bladder, but, distracted by all the hospital visits, we didn't notice until it was too late to save him. Cats hide their illnesses when they can, and he didn't do anything obvious like peeing blood into the tub, like Syd did when he had that problem. 

 Josie: beautiful, bitchy female grey and white tabby cat who eventually got brain tumours, which caused her skull to swell up like Brain from Pinky and the Brain so I (a young adult) took her down to the vet and had them put her down, and brought her back home in a plastic bag for Dad to bury. 
Sam: medium sized black cat my father brought home from my uncle's (could have been a relative or ancestor of Syd's, therefore). A playful, fun cat. We actually got him for Dad to keep in his Grade 5 classroom (until a child with cat allergy complained) while Josie was still alive, and he got hit on the road before she got sick. 

Alex: once Max died and my parents had no pets, I bought Alex at a pet store and brought him to them. They were going to refuse him, but soon came to really like him. He was a slender, large grey cat with pleasing barred stripes of darker grey. He lived for years before succumbing to the highway. You'd think we'd not let cats out if they kept get hitting on the road, but my dad is very old-fashioned, did his best to train dogs to stay away from the road, and thinks cats belong in a barn to kill mice, so even though we let ours stay inside (which, to his mind, meant they weren't "working" and earning their keep by mousing in the barn) he certainly wouldn't insult their professionalism by keeping them from going outside. 

Azra: my sister got this huge, hyper, hairy, smelly Golden Retriever while living briefly with my parents, then moved to an apartment and she stayed with them. She has survived for about seven years without getting hit on the road. Can't be still for a moment. She runs everywhere and gets hair and slobber everywhere. Continually desperate for constant attention, and petting her makes your hand stink. When you get used to a cat, this isn't too welcome. 

Lana: a huge fat, grouchy grey cat with odd brown markings that look like she's got dirt in her fur. More than a bit psycho. My sister got her a few years back and has spent the rest of the time trying to get other people to take her off their hands. Unpleasant. Apt to unexpectedly bite, scratch or snarl. I was once sitting in an easy chair at their house, with no idea that Lana was between the chair and the wall (there was plenty of space, and she'd crawled in there) and my brother-in-law handed me a drink. I was sitting there, and as I went to bring it to my mouth, Lana erupted in my face, apparently from nowhere, mouth wide open, a vicious howl moving rapidly up the scale, and then landed back on the floor, growling. My flinch reaction caused the fluid in my glass to leap about two feet into the air above the glass, and some of the drink didn't land back in the glass.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

An Extremely Sad Start to My Weekend

After a week of giving him aspirin to try to prevent blood clots and heart failure, my cat went into heart distress while I was sleeping, and I woke to the sounds of him rumbling and rattling under the bed, looking for air. At first I didn't know what it was, and got up to check my email, and he flopped out from under the bed, hind legs paralysed and cold, in distress, getting the breath to yowl his upset and wanting help.

I tied my hair back, took him to the vet, and they descended upon him and put in an IV, took an X-Ray and wanted to know if I wanted them to try to put him on something, and stick him in an oxygen tent, as he was dying, or did I want them to put him down. While I discussed this, they kept working with him (he scratched one of them) and the young female vet gave me a hug a couple of times.

Eventually, the older female vet agreed with me that, if he had two of these incidents while on aspirin, and was near death now and in a lot of pain, that it was very likely that he'd not pull through, and if he did, he'd most likely have another attack quite soon. So, as much as it hurt me deeply to do it, I told them to "euthanize" him, which is how they describe it. I signed a form, they explained that it was a drug overdose/drug high kind of thing and they left me alone with him to tell him he was a good cat, and stroke him, and then they stuck the needle in his IV and he stopped gasping for air. I cried like a baby and the younger vet hugged me.

When you're approaching middle-age, can't keep a relationship with a woman afloat, and have no kids, and most of your friends have moved to the four corners of the earth, you put a disproportionate amount of what can only be described as "fatherly" emotions into a cat. I lived alone in my 20s, and knew that this was not healthy for me. In my late 20s, I lucked into being able to get a townhouse in the city with friends for a few years while the millennium ticked over. Living with other human beings suited me to the ground.

When they moved out, resolved not to go back to living in a dark basement apartment, working nights, alone, I got a place in the nicest of the little towns around the city and went on the lookout for a cat. I wanted a big, black cat like the one I remember my family having from my first memories (the one whose body I found on the road walking to the bus). Someone told me that my grandfather's cat had kittens, so I went to his place (he's a grouchy old cuss and I don't visit him often) and in the basement was a thin, large grey tabby cat with a litter of kittens, some all black, and some grey. I asked about it, and was told that these kittens were slightly too young to take from the mother, but that Grandpa being as he is, was going to have them all killed. So I took one.

It was a frigid November night around my birthday, and I tucked a little black fuzzball into my shirt under my coat and drove to my apartment. He yowled and fussed the whole way, and I picked up some of those little "juice box" boxes of milk substitute for kittens and he drank it and from the beginning took over the place. Troy had a cat he called "Floyd" for Pink Floyd, and so I called mine "Syd Barrett" though the ‘last name for a cat’ thing never really lasted. Right from the beginning he'd do two characteristic things: one is that when I lay on the futon to watch TV, he'd want to lie right on my neck or chin and lick my mouth. I wouldn't let him lick my mouth so he learned to rub his mouth against my nose and chin. The other thing he'd do is, whenever he was upset about anything, he'd pee on the spot on my bed or futon where I lay. He loved to "fetch" cat toys like a dog, and he "spoke" like a dog in that, wherever he was in the apartment, if you wanted to know where he was, if you called him name or just called "hello?" he'd answer back. He hated me to leave, and he wouldn’t leave the apartment. I don't know why he was so scared of the outdoors, but it took years before he got used to going out at all.

Once he saw me place a resume on the end table near the door and get ready to leave, waited while I went to brush my teeth, and then peed on the resume. Another time he did the same thing, except he peed in my suitcase when I went to get clothes to put in it to go on a trip. I had to replace the mattresses and get a couple of those allergy-layer sheet things. They're great. People who are allergic to dust in their mattresses can zip on these covers and they are air and water (and cat urine) proof. After some abortive attempts to punish him in various ways (including the traditional spraying with water) I learned to simply lock him in the hall, change the cover and sheet, and so when he did it, he'd get no reaction at all and it was like he didn't even do it. This eventually worked.

During this time, I lost my job at Nortel in the crash of the huge high tech bubble around the millennium, 911 went down, I got and soon lost a job in web design (once again this second company collapsed under its own weight and they let us all go) and then got a huge line of credit and put myself in debt to become a teacher, which I should have done from the beginning. I had to commute between where I was living and teacher's college just over the US border. Syd had to hold down the fort at home from Monday until Thursday evening sometimes, and he always scolded me when I came home. Although he grew to almost 20lbs, and was a giant of a cat (not just fat, large) he still always wanted to lie across my neck. The compromise was that he could climb onto my chest and curl up with his head jammed under my chin. He'd do this, after some dragging his cheek across my chin. I could get him to go out into the hall and walk around in there, but he seemed terrified of the sun and the sounds of people nearby, so he never really was an outside cat at that point.

Then I got a job two hours from here and had to move. I took him, and he yowled and complained the whole way there. He throve on living in half a house, though he did odd things like climb inside the cupboards in the kitchen. He learned to go outside after dark, but I had to keep him from fighting the neighbour cats. I'd had him neutered, but this didn't seem to do much of anything. Then I was transferred to a different school the next year and had to move back where I started. He yowled and fussed the whole way. I tried to train him that he could go down the rear exit stairs-fire escape, and it took a long time. What he really wanted me to do was just open the kitchen door and let him look out over the town from the third floor apartment I still live in. He went through a phase where I could open the door to the fire escape, and count to three, and on "three" he'd either jump out and make his way timidly down the fire escape, or give an annoyed yowl, turn on his heels and come back in.

I wrote a song about him which always gets a good reaction when I sing it. It goes like this:

I Live Alone
I came back home, ran up the stairs
And I sang three songs to a girl who wasn't there
Lay on the couch, which I had all to my own
What's that you say? I live alone.

I live alone, 'cept for my cat
He pees on my bed (now how 'bout that?)
When I'm asleep, then he cuts free
That's why I change my sheets so frequently
And live alone

I live alone with no one there
And so my sink fills up with human hair
My toilet's grey, my bathtub too
I'll clean them when I've got nothing better to do
I live alone

I live alone, all by myself
Overflowing garbage and empty shelves
More beer than fruit and I'm outta cheese.
But what the hell, I got nobody else to please
Except myself.

I wrote this song totally as a joke, but people seem to laugh yet take it seriously as "a good song" too. So, last year the vet found a bladder stone the size of a peanut in him after I took him in when he was peeing blood into the bathtub. He also listened to his heart and told me that Syd had a congenital heart problem that would claim his life soon. This upset me, but I carried on. The "single, in her 50s, never married, has a lot of plants and some cats" teacher at school was disturbingly understanding.

Then last weekend he had some sort of incident with his heart, so I started giving him the aspirin. I had a week of lying on the futon and watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker DVDs, and then yesterday my Six Million Dollar Man (season two) DVDs came in (not available in North America) so he lay on my chest and we watched some of those. Then the DVD player died. I went to bed, woke up, and the events that started this sad tale unfolded.

Now I am home, trying not to cry, typing this to commemorate what was essentially, just an animal. An animal I had poured years of care and concern into, though. An animal I did what I felt was best for, getting bites and scratches and fuzzy-headed chin rubs in return, and ultimately, it wasn't enough, and now I asked them to kill him. It took away the pain, and he's not suffering now, but I feel like I failed him and I feel vaguely helpless and guilty. I kind of feel like I killed him. When I think of him gagging and panting, sides heaving, froth coming from his mouth, and how that all relaxed once they gave him an overdose of anaesthetic, though, I know I eased his pain. I'm sure in the New Year I'll get another big black cat and call him Roger or something, but for now I am pretty...bereft, I guess is the word.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Big T.O. Trip

The plan this weekend was to go to Toronto after school and meet up with people I spend a lot of time talking to on the Internet about religious subjects, but have (in many cases) not met in real life. Most of them I met on the (ex) Plymouth Brethren forum ( ) which Shawn Cuthill started and I administer. Lately, we've been feeling the need for new perspectives, as the rest of us have filled the forum up with months of hard debate and creative thought, and would like some fresh blood. Do join up, whoever you are, if you want to jump into that.
    Most PB forums are "keep doing everything the brethren way, say you love it and feel blessed to be part of it all, and don't think." This one's more deconstructionist, and allows people to discuss things that may depict certain factions or aspects of brethrenism in an unflattering light on occasion.
   Friday I taught, somewhat grouchily, and when I saw that a kid had a huge set of male genitalia drawn with marker in his locker, I said "the custodians take a dim view of people drawing self-portraits in their lockers" to a kid I don't teach or anything.
    I drove to Toronto with some audio book chapters downloaded. I listened to a bit of I am America (And So Can You) and the first two chapters of a Jim Butcher novel and also Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" which is him melding Sherlock Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft in his inimitable style.
     I hung out with a roomful of people in Toronto who all had opinions and we ate things and stayed up late, and then the next day I came back home, stopping only at The Flying J to realize I very much felt like buying a t-shirt from a truck stop and eating the least nutritionally balanced meal ever: In the middle of my plate I put a very small chicken drumstick. Around it were things that are meant to go with chicken: mashed potatoes with gravy, spicy potato wedges, nonspicy potato wedges with sausages and onions, and turkey stuffing. Then, full, I took a dinner plate to the dessert buffet and realized "Hey! I love chocolate pudding! And jello! And New York Style Cheesecake! And hot chocolate pudding cake! And apple cobbler! And bread pudding!" and ate some of each.
   Then even fullerer, I drove home, weighed down by all of that. I don't normally eat things like that, so I totally enjoyed it. And the t-shirt? A black one which reads "I'm only wearing black until they invent something darker."
I got home in time (as agreed upon) to play some songs at my grandfather's birthday party with my uncle (and two aunts), who always played music while I was growing up, but we've never played together before.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A Snow Day That Would Not Be Denied

Normally when I wake up and see lots of snow or ice outside, I check online and see if buses to my school are cancelled. If they are, the walking kids don't come either, and I drive carefully into school on dangerous roads, and hang out there all day, not getting much of anything done, with a random kid wandering here or there in the halls. 
     Today, the buses were cancelled due to snow (usually it's ice) and I got into my car and drove it backwards out of the parking lot. I saw that the snow plow had left a big crest of snow across the sidewalk, and that I'd have to get up some speed to get over it. I got up some speed, and at the last minute a truck hove over the horizon and I had to jam on the brakes, getting firmly stuck at the sidewalk. I couldn't get out, despite a lot of digging with a shovel, and tossing down cat litter, so I went in and watched the "Razor" episode of Battlestar Galactica, overjoyed to see the designs from the classic series rendered in computer form, showing how much cooler they are than the new ones, which really can't compete on any level with them. I had to stay home from school, for once.
Then when I saw a man needing to snowplow our parking lot which my car was blocking, I went out and he tried to help push, but to no avail. Eventually, we hooked a towchain to my tow hitch and he pulled me out onto the street. It was almost noon, so I decided not to go into school. I made up my (recently micturated upon by a sick feline) bed, took a prolonged nap, did laundry, did dishes, worked on my school website (mostly this page), talked on the phone to a vet about the cat, who is acting like nothing at all happened yesterday, and walking with only a slight stiffness (that's not how blood clots are supposed to go at all) and checked the post office for my replacement Nintendo cartridge socket (still not in) and surprised myself by walking into the restaurant that is beside my building and ordering a hot turkey sandwich. I had food at home, but, after this weekend, and after the ordeals of the day, I seemed to totally need some coddling. 
Then I came in and started watching the BBC live-action TV movie of Terry Pratchett's novel Hogfather. Quite a thing to see that not in cartoon form. Looked fairly Harry Potter, actually. That's not the best of Pratchett's work, but it is Christmas-themed (kinda. The Santa Claus character of the Discworld is missing, so Death has to fill in) so was an obvious choice for adaptation. 
   The story is too complex and farflung to make an easy transition. The concepts are far more entertaining than the execution. Then I did more dishes and played my way through a selection of Johnny Cash songs on my electric guitar (not plugged in) which I surfed through on the net. I'm all cabin fevery, the weather outside is fairly frightful, no one has been phoning or emailing for days, I'm sick of watching DVDs but have nothing else to do, really. All my marking is at school, or I'd have done some of that.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Not a Restful Sunday

So, as the day wore on, it became clear that Syd (the cat) seemed to not be well. He curled up with me, though, and watched Terry Pratchett's Soul Music cartoon, which is largely about the necessity of death. Then, around supper time he crawled under the bed, started thrashing around down there, then came out and stumbled awkwardly around the bed, peeing sporadically as he went, then leaped clumsily right onto my computer keyboard and seemed to want attention. 
       I was looking up his symptoms and saw that cats with his heart problem usually just drop dead of a blood clot, and when they don't, they usually are suddenly completely (or almost completely) paralysed in their hind legs. For some reason, in humans, clots tend to go right to the brain, whereas in cats, they have a "saddle thrombosis" which blocks off blood flow to their hind legs. 
     Syd crawled under the bed and wouldn't come out, and I started to envision spending Sunday evening at home alone, watching my cat die. Nothing on the 'net was at all encouraging, and the vet had warned a year ago that he was likely to drop dead without notice at any time. (The cat too.) I thought about a dumpster to throw the body in and so on (I have just that sort of brain. The ground is frozen, and the vet's is closed on Sundays). I got fairly thoroughly miserable. 
      I left a message, unable to keep my voice steady, on the vet's emergency line, and one of the cute female vets phoned back and was very nice. My voice was wobbly throughout. She seemed to not be of the opinion that he was dying (right now anyway), saying that they usually drop dead instantly, or show much worse hind leg paralysis than merely having a weak hind leg. She said if he could jump onto the computer keyboard, or up onto the bed, then he's had quite a mild blockage, though last night was probably quite painful, as having blood flow cut off to some of your major muscles is pretty bad. She told me to get a special "daily low dose" aspirin that human heart patients take to thin their blood, which is about double what you'd normally give a cat, but appropriate when they're having distress of this kind. She said "Get that into him. It might be necessary to save his life." The idea is that it will dissolve clotting in his blood, or prevent more clotting. 
     I drove to the next town over, where they have a drug store that's open until midnight, and got some. Syd wouldn't come out from under the bed, and I knew I couldn't get him out until he was ready, so I sneakily built more of my history web page and then tried to concentrate on a episode of Kolchak so he'd come out. 
   I heard some quiet thumping around and knew that a cat (normally stealthy) would be quite uncomfortable with clumping around so noisily, but that a TV playing and the noises of my usual routine would reassure him. 
      I was most of the way through an episode of Kolchak when Syd suddenly ran casually out of the bedroom and jumped very smoothly onto the back of the futon. He wanted attention and I held him and then tried to give him his aspirin pill. He snapped and swatted and yowled and otherwise warned me to quit trying to do that every time I tried, and I realized he was too vigorous and dangerous to get that pill into. He is a giant beast, and a 20 lb cat seems much more dangerous than a 20lb dog for some reason. 
    Oddly, he clung steadfastly to me despite my trying to pry his jaw open, and wouldn't leave my side. Distraught, I did something out of desperation: I crushed the pill between two spoons and mixed it in with this hairball goop you feed the cat by putting it on the tip of your finger and the cat licks it off. Syd wasn't fooled for a moment, having watched the whole process, and he normally turns his nose up at anything that has pills mixed into it just by smelling it, but he eagerly licked my finger thoroughly, getting the majority of the human low-dose pill into him. What a relief. 
   Now he's playing with an old guitar string on the floor and seeming remarkably spry. Not out of the woods yet, and all, but still...

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Saturday Spending Extravaganza and Beowulf

Having been paid, Saturday I picked up J, and went into town with the express intent not to buy too much crap. I picked up the Kolchak: The Night Stalker series on DVD, not having been able to download all of it, and the Once soundtrack I'd been two dollars short of being able to pay cash for at the Swell Season concert in Montreal.
      We picked up J's friend M, who he used to make funny videos and record music with until M moved into the city. Neither J nor M drive, so this reduced their friendship and creative partnership to phonecalls until I pointed out that, if J was coming into the city with me many weekends to go shopping anyway, we might as well pick up M on the way.
     J really didn't want to see Beowulf, and I really did, so I dropped them off in the middle of Ottawa's Byward Market (pretty busy place as to restaurants, stores and bars) with a video camera, and went across town to see Beowulf in 3D.
It was awesome, I thought. Better than I'd hoped, though I always hope great things of Neil Gaiman. It had poetically dramatic dialogue and rude songs, unabashed heroism and an examination of the unflattering side of making one's self a hero to begin with.
     I've never seen anything 3D at a theatre before. It was weird, with the ushers manning tubs of what looked like coloured plastic sunglasses (not with red and blue lenses, though, just normal looking) and with a huge theate full of people apparently sitting in the dark wearing sunglasses. I found myself blinking and flinching at the spears and arrows and blood flying out of the screen at me at first, and it was weird when they did giant pullbacks, with everything apparently passing right through your head to appear directly in front of your nose. They kinda "played up" the 3D stuff at first, then eventually the greater middle section is all characterization and story-telling, with the end becoming an action sequence again. Way to make Beowulf a teenager's action hero, guys! 
     I returned, J and M having bought CDs they didn't think they'd ever find anywhere, and having shot a video in which they went to the various modern art sculptures and statues in the area and videoed each other pretending to be the (extremely pretentious) artists who'd designed all of them, making up fake symbolism and bizarre premises for them all. 
We went to a giant used book store. I picked up some graphic novels I was going to buy anyway, at half the new price. 
I came home late, watched some of a Kolchak episode, and wondered why the cat was growling and skulking under things. Then, all night long he was growling and hissing and yowling and miserable. The vet told me years ago that he has a serious heart defect and will likely drop dead of a heart attack, or have a stroke at some point, so I was concerned. (for the cat as well) He's seven, which isn't very old, but the vet didn't expect him to live to be old. In the wee hours, he crawled under the bed (the cat as well), and was growling under there. 
When he eventually emerged in the morning, he was tired, cowed and limping. I checked to see if he was dragging a leg (signs of a stroke) and it seems more like he is having trouble putting his full weight on it, but can move it. It seems to hurt him to step on it, which looks more like an injury than a stroke, though I'm no vet. Just being optimistic, I guess. Anyway, he's staying close to me today, looking a bit woebegone, but able to walk about, still troubled by his leg. He has four legs, after all, though. 
Today I'm watching one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld cartoons. Soul Music to be precise. With the various thick accents in silly voices, the dialogue is harder than you'd expect to catch, and the jokes are quite obscure. Still very unusual, though, and therefore a nice change from the naked American "real" and "scripted" stupidity that is spewed trumpeting from the tube. Writer's strike? I didn't know they had any.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

For The World Is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky

It was 1991. I was standing in the lobby of the movie theatre in the Gloucester Town Centre on the other side of Ottawa, feeling very exposed. I was 21, and I was about to attend my first "in a movie theatre" movie against my parents' wishes and the teaching of my church. There were many theatres closer to where I lived, but I had picked this one because I knew of only one family from my church who lived anywhere near this shopping mall, and who might see me waiting in line.
      It wasn't like I was going to keep this indulgence a secret for the rest of my life, but still, the shame of possibly being seen by someone I knew while perpetrating the act had been engrained in me heavily enough that it felt exactly like picking up a prostitute would have for the average person.

* * * 

More than 15 years earlier, I had first seen Star Trek on television. It was the 70's, and my parents had recently gotten rid of their television when the jokes on M*A*S*H* had became too embarrassingly sexual and/or alcohol-related for my father to be able to comfortably watch with my mother in the room. We were visiting my grandfather's much-younger brother's house, and he had a pair of teenaged sons. I was about five years old, and when I went down to the basement to where they were hanging out, they were watching Star Trek.
     I asked what the show was, instantly engrossed in anything that moved around in black and white on the little TV set. Jamie kindly explained to me that it was Star Trek and that it was a very cool show. I started to watch it with them, the show already underway. What I saw terrified me so much I had to go upstairs and sit with the adults as they discussed politics, home renovations and mortgages.
     What I had seen, I learned much later, was a small part of the "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" episode. What was happening was that the Enterprise crewmen had beamed down to a planet where the inhabitants for generations lived inside the planet, rather than on the surface. The inhabitants of this hollow planet did not know or understand this, as the whole society had descended into mindless, superstitious religion, in which a computer called The Oracle told everyone what to do and shaped how they thought and lived. Questioning any of this resulted in the computer punishing you by inflicting mortal pain directly into your head. If you didn't relent and give in to the brainwashing, it fried your brain from the inside out.
     I saw the heroes writhing on the floor in agony, punished by the computer for bringing "outside thinking" into this tight-knit religious circle. Not too oddly, this terrified me.
     Its connection to my own life then is still actually kind of creepy now. The episode takes its title from the dying words of a man, newly freed from the shackles of his superstitious religion, grasping that they are, in fact, inside a hollow world, who utters this realization as he dies, having won some vista on the truth at the cost of his life.  
     Star Trek was already in repeats when I saw that brief terrifying scene, it having been cancelled before I was born. I soon forgot all about it until an animated version of it was made for Saturday morning television, and though I didn't see it, the kids started talking about it at school. As usual, I followed them around, pumping them for information and trying to picture the whole thing in my head with no visual reference.
   The ideas of an emotionless man with pointy ears, of ray guns with immense destructive power, of being teleported from place to place, exploring alien planets; these concepts captured my imagination. Because I was imagining it rather than seeing it realized on 1960’s television budgets, it didn’t have cheap special effects. It was REAL.
    My father taught gym class at a grades 6 through 8 school I did not yet attend, and I was in his office in June. I was perhaps in grade 4 or 5, having started to read books, and I saw on his desk a book called Star Trek: Log Seven. It had been left in a change room by an unidentified kid who was now done school for the summer, so first I read it covertly, then I got brave and asked if I could keep it and Dad said I could, but would have to give it back if the kid came looking for it. I still have it.
    This started me on a quest to find the novelizations of all of the Star Trek episodes and read every one of them in the evenings while normal kids were watching TV. Star Trek: Log Seven, I found out later, wasn't even a novelization of the original TV show; it was an adaptation of the animated cartoon that came after. I didn't care. It was a book that allowed me to experience Star Trek. (The idea of writing books with the characters from the TV show, but in new, completely original stories hadn't really taken off yet.)
     Eventually, I convinced my parents to buy for my birthday (we didn't have Christmas) a black plastic toy phaser gun that shot a circular propeller from the front, and later on, a Mr. Spock doll from Mego. I never did get the dolls of any of the other characters. (Well, not until recently, when I discovered eBay)
     The window of opportunity between when one could ask for things like this, once or twice a year, and when said objects were eventually all sold out of stores was a narrow one. I only had Mr. Spock for company, and I related to the man heavily. I had exactly the same practice of not showing my emotions on my face. It wasn't safe to wear your heart on your sleeve in the setting I grew up in. If you showed pleasure in something and anyone concocted a reason as to why it wasn't a good thing for Christians (for example. my uncle saying "Star Trek is a Godless show" ) that joy you had just displayed attracted lectures and guilt like a magnet attracts iron filings. Conversely, if your face or posture showed some sign of boredom or annoyance with some church-related person or thing, you might be showing signs of being headed for Hell.
     My buddy thought Captain Kirk was so much cooler than Spock, because Kirk hit people and got girls and was the boss. My friend tended to hit people and sometimes got girls as well. He's on his second wife now. I related to Spock because he was an outsider, no one understood him, and he wasn't allowed to show emotion, take part in or enjoy anything, so all he had was logic and a life inside his own thoughts. When everyone was laughing at the end, he was standing there with a blank look on his face.
    I loved to laugh, but I’d been taught that an awful lot of things weren’t at all funny. Sexual or alcohol-related jokes, for instance. Or ones about religion. When I played with my Mr. Spock doll (which I always called an "action figure" as my father apologetically explained to visitors "Michael plays with dolls..." ) the intrepid officer had always just beamed down to an alien world alone, and had gotten stranded there, for various reasons. Able to communicate with his ship, but stranded nonetheless, he waited around, trying to survive and eventually to escape it all. I related heavily. Star Trek movies came and went, and I read the novelizations of each one, from the library. When it came to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, I read the newspapers, and was appalled. They'd killed Mr. Spock! I read the novelization of that movie and found it deeply moving.
     By the time Star Trek III: The Search For Spock was out on video, I hadn't gotten my hands on a novelization of it yet, and besides, I had a new idea, made possible by the wonders of practical 1980’s electronics technology. The kid across the road had gotten a VCR, and we hung out, so I screwed up my courage, went directly into a video rental store, no matter WHO might see me, and I rented Star Trek's I through III.
     I watched them almost back-to-back. I started with what Dave calls Star Trek: The Motionless Picture and was amazed and interested in how the characters moved, what their facial expressions were, and how their voices sounded. I hadn't suspected that William Shatner would talk...thaaaatWAY! or that Leonard Nimoy as Spock would have such a deep, resonant voice. I had assumed that, in typical American TV style, the "smart science guy" would have a nasal, nerdy voice.
   I borrowed a second VCR and made a murky copy of the movies onto a VHS tape, one whose picture darkened and lightened in a partly successful attempt at copy protection. Watching those three Star Trek movies was an incredibly definitive experience. It felt spiritual in a way church never had, as guilty as that made me feel. I'll never forget it. Now I could simply wait until half a year after the movie stopped playing at the theatre, and I could simply rent it as it came out on video, being careful not to read the novelization until after I'd watched the movie, so as not to "wreck" the movie by knowing how it all turned out.
    Then I went to University and Star Trek: The Next Generation came on TV. It was ok, but I certainly never felt I needed to watch all of the episodes. I always felt like it was good, but was watered down Star Trek. Same stuff happening to more characters, more talking, and a ship interior that looked like it was designed by the people who design cubicle-farms in offices.
   Later, when my buddy got an apartment with cable TV and a VCR, we started a routine. I would go over to his house each week night shortly before 10 while he was still at work and set the VCR to tape the rerun of Star Trek that was playing that night, but I'd leave the TV turned off so as not to see it. He'd get in from work around eleven (he was working at the gas station below his second-floor apartment) and we'd rewind the tape and watch it. I soon had eight VHS tapes of Star Trek episodes, commercials still in them. After a year or so of that, I had seen every episode. This definitely felt like a victory of sorts.
* * *  
So, having a TV and VCR of my own (no cable though, out in cow country), and getting comfortable renting movies from the video rental store without shame, at the ripe old age of 21, I was ready to take the next step.
    I drove into Ottawa and across the city to the most out-of-the-way movie theatre I knew of, in the mall where I'd worked at Radio Shack during Christmas and been laid off once the holiday season was over. Having a TV was a bit shameful if you wanted to be taken at all seriously as a follower of God's will, and was not something one talked openly about with church folk, unless one knew for certain that everyone within earshot also had a TV.
    One guy would actually stand outside of church afterward and ask, "Did you see Magnum PI (on the microwave?)" in a mock attempt at subterfuge, as he didn’t much care about his reputation. Going to the movies was something I had always strongly disapproved of in others, far into my teens. It was decadent, sensual self-gratifying pleasure wallowing and nothing less. It had no possible worth or spiritual purpose, so if you did it, you made clear to everyone that you were the sort of person who preferred "the things of this world" to "the Lord's things." You could be a respected churchgoer who forswore various fun things, or you could be an indulger in these things who was merely a tourist at church, and there was no middle ground. You knew who you were and what was expected of you.
     By 21 I had come to terms with how hypocritical it was that my family now had a television, but strongly disapproved of people who would watch a movie at the theatre. This didn’t make sense, and I knew it. My plan was that I'd go see Oliver Stone's The Doors with a guy from work, but I'd been recently laid off and we hadn't managed to synchronize schedules, so I went to my first movie, as with most movies since then, alone. With only myself to please, there was no contest. Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country it was, the last film with the original cast.
     It was a very cold winter evening, and I went into the mall, and walked around pretending I wasn't actually about to do the most audaciously irreligious, heretical thing of my life up to that point. Other people's kids at church were (somewhat) secretly drinking alcohol, smoking pot and having sex at this point, but I wasn't other people's kids. I was from a family who insist upon taking absolutely everything deadly seriously, even if it kills us. Just going to the movies would hurt my dad’s credibility at church and completely destroy mine. If I wanted to ever be a respected member of the church, an unofficial elder or teacher of some kind there, I was boldly going in the wrong direction.
    So, I walked around, getting my courage up, seeing the bastard who'd laid me off from Radio Shack, hard at work in the store. (Not that I had a brain that could think of anyone as a "bastard" at that point. My brain literally thought of him as "that ______ guy, Tito Peralta" with an unexpressed blank spot where I wasn't allowed a word to express my anger with him, in much the same way I often made inarticulate grunts in place of "swear words" when angry).
    If the "important" boss people from my church had found out that I'd gone to the movies, they wouldn't have excommunicated me, as they did a few years later over the parody of their religious literature that I made. They would probably have either informally shunned me as an unabashed hedon, or else would have given me a "word to my conscience." You couldn't have fun AND expect blessing from God. It didn't work that way. You were given eternal life as a free gift, thanks to the work of Jesus. Your life was blessed or not, based upon your abstinence from joy. Every moment of transient pleasure you forestalled was money in the Bank of Heaven. Saved by grace, living by sombre continence, we subsisted.
     After living a few decades this way, when anything pleasurable seems to be in the offing, one develops a learned annoyance/disapproval/disappointment response to it that overshadows what would have been the natural one. My cousins soon found out exactly where I'd gone the first time I showed in depth knowledge of the movie before it was out on video, and one of those cousins who routinely watched (rented) movies with me made it very clear that I wasn't "living properly."
    I didn't agree, but I nonetheless literally had a series of nightmares in which he and the other church folk drew back in fear and disgust, with burning black globes of hate for eyes, as I became a walking curtain of maggots, vainly calling out for their aid as the writhing grubs filled my eyes, ears and mouth until I couldn’t cry out or breathe anymore.
     Needless to say, I bought a ticket for the sixth Star Trek movie, not sure where to go or what to say to get a ticket, trying not to look over my shoulder to see if anyone was looking (in case someone was looking) and went in to catch the very start of the very tail end of the very last incarnation of the very first Star Trek franchise.
     It was perfect. In every way. Drama. Wit. Tricks. Shakespearean quotations in space. Klingons may be scary, but their blood is pink. The origin of the word “sabotage.” I was surprised at how it felt to be surrounded by a room full of people laughing and cheering and so on as the story unfolded. I had always before watched movies alone or with one or two others only, as kind of a guilty, secret thing. Now, I was in a roomful of strangers, all openly enjoying something in a way I never saw a roomful of people enjoying church. It was perfect. The animated signatures of the principal cast at the end made me feel almost teary-eyed, as if I had just managed, through cunning and boldness, to seize for the very first time my very last chance to see Kirk and Spock on the big screen. I saw it all, and it was very good.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Conformance Disorder

I just watched the VH1 Storytellers episode with Tom Waits. Unsurprisingly, his performance manages to end up coming across as being completely structureless and virtually uneditable.
     There is no part where he walks out and says hello, no part where he says "this next song" or in any way signals that he is about to, or has played, the last song. The anecdotes between the songs do not really have anything to do with any of the songs, for the most part. It's hard to tell when the songs have begun, and where they will end. It's entertaining.
     He's getting by on oddity, ugliness and charm, with a created wistfulness as to the worn out and the thrown away, without choosing to make any reference, conversely, to the new or current being inferior, confusing or unsightly, as is the manner of some.
     I thought about how a person can take guitar lessons for 5 or 10 years, and get really good, and what they usually do is end up playing only the most challenging songs, on the very best instruments, for the most discerning audiences. Usually, they leave most people behind, and don't mind doing it. A highly trained guitarist can play anything (with his/her fingers, like a jukebox, at least, if not usually with his/her heart.)
     Why then, is there always some guy with idiosyncratic choices as to equipment and music, with (frequently) a very limited range of technique, who does something in a certain way that so fully exploits the possibilities of an extremely limited range of choices, that everyone cries "Creativity! How'd he manage to do so much with so little!?" I guess creativity isn't about being able to do anything you want, just because you can. It's more to do with being poor and inventing the blues, or something like that, on a broken guitar you found somewhere, using three chords, or three strings or something. Many of my friends are a bit like Tom Waits. I'm a bit like that, but they're consistently, completely like that. It's like, given any situation or opportunity, it is no exaggeration to say that, inside, in terms of their own self images, they absolutely can't follow the expected path, or do what it is assumed that a person will.
    Examples? Well, give J an online searchable bible with 35 translations to play with, and he can't help himself but type in things like "transistor radio" or "white supremacy" that he knows won't be in there, until he gets tired of that. He won't type in a single thing that will result in a positive hit. Most people would type in "buttocks" or "murder" or something, and see where the word occurs and in what context. Not J.
     Another example: any game where you're supposed to type in your name. Most people would just type in their name, a made up rude name, a nickname, a celebrity name, a name of some sort. Not the people I know. They can't. I have dress clothes. I seldom wear them, and view them as a costume it is amusing to dress up in on certain occasions.
    My friends actually do not have any dress clothes. They do not dress up. If there's a wedding or a funeral, you will see me in dress clothes that in some way reflect my personality. My friends? They will be wearing a fur vest, a black turtleneck and leather pants. (and that's at their own wedding.) And they will ask bizarre things of people. Like potential employers taking them seriously at a $60 000 per year job interview, wearing a Pac-man shirt and torn sneakers. Or with tattoos on their throat and hands. (or being a girl with a buzzcut and eyebrow piercing)
     I'm not innocent of this. I got a teaching job with hair down to my shoulders and a beard, hoping I reminded them more of Jesus of Nazareth than Charles Manson. I did have a tie and dress shoes. I've met many, many people like this, most of whom consider themselves artists of some stripe. Artists expect to be accepted and well treated while continuing to do quite odd things on a daily basis. They will decide they want to be referred to with a specific symbol instead of a name. They will demand to be referred to as "The Baron," (or some other form of title or royal designation, or a made up name like "Alice Cooper" "Marilyn Manson" or "Rob Zombie" instead of their birth name) or will ask that their gender never be referred to in any way, including by any pronouns, they will ask that people respect their insistence in not touching anything that is made of plastic, they will refuse to wear shoes anywhere, they will say the word "elevator" instead of "and," or declaim "your feet are melting" in lieu of the words "thank you" and want everyone to accommodate them and treat them normally, despite their not acting normally. One is tempted to "warn" people that they will need to expect this sort of thing from this person, yet one gets the feeling that this robs the "artist" in question of most of the fun of confounding people.
     I'm a lot like that, but not to the same degree. Growing up, it was all about wearing all black, or not wearing anything with a designer name or company logo on it, or something like that. To this day, I feel odd if I'm not wearing something that is black, even if it is only black shoes. I don't feel quite like myself. All it used to take in my teens was getting a "blank" shirt and subtly making a little parody of a designer logo on the breast of it ("Rolf Loran Polar", with a little guy clubbing a polar bear to death with a polo mallet from astride his shoulders). Or "Reekbok" or something like that.
     What does this sort of thing say about us? That the "norm" annoys us, and does not accommodate us (or makes it known that they feel they are doing us a huge favour by "accommodating us" in what seem to us like trivial ways, but to them seem like a huge deal)? That we want to be special, or more interesting than the usual, which we don't like much? Is it all elitism? Is it "anything but the normal?" or "something besides the normal?" Is it about boredom with the usual, feeling alienated from the usual, hating the usual, distrusting the usual and needing to be outside of it, or what?
    We notice that living differently seems to threaten people, and this annoys/amuses/fills us with a feeling of being threatening and interesting and special? What is the difference between someone who "has to" do what 'everyone else' is doing, and someone who "can't do" what 'everyone else' is doing, whether they admit that or not? (each would claim they are free to do as they wish, and just "don't want" to do the opposite, but could each move freely around socially and feel like themselves, if they'd switched stances on their relationship with normal?) Are a lot of people keeping societal expectations away from them with walls of absurdism and continual mocking parody of the usual?

Saturday, 12 May 2007

All About Yesterday

I think a lot of us have a reservoir of things from the past that cause us sadness, if not actual regret, if we think about them much at all. We "try not to dwell on them." It's pretty easy to unexpectedly get reminded of someone or something from the past and then find your day shot through with feelings that have nothing to do with anything that's happening right now at all. People always say you need to move on. You can move on, but you always take the past with you inside, wherever you go. Many of us get through hard life stuff by using creative outlets. One of the disadvantages of this method is that, years after, even if the creative work has been destroyed, that difficult experience was once given some concrete, memorable form, and this stays with you. In my case, paintings, bits of writing and songs stay in my memory, long after I no longer want or need to think about the events that made me feel I needed to create them to begin with. The better they were, the more memorable they are, and the more they seem to connect to ongoing life stuff that continues to unfold. Even if I don't keep them around, years later, a bit of one may float into my mind, and these fragments tend to drag after them almost all of the details and bits of difficult things that they were once part of. People, places, conversations, things. This means that you can have a quiet, still day to live on the outside, while on the inside, you are all about yesterday.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

When Brakes Break

Today I'm off to my parents' place so my Dad and I can look at my rear brakes which are grabbing and grinding a bit. Last night I drove into the city to see Spider-Man 3. There were huge line-ups and I had to wait an hour to see it. Oddly, I happened to need to stand in line right next to Bill's brother Joel (wearing his Indiana Jones hat, suspenders and Spider-man black costume T-shirt in honour of the event) and four kids from my school. We all just happened to show up to the same showing at the same time (well, Joel was watching it for the 5th time that day.) This is a small part of the world, and running into people you know is unavoidable, and kinda fun. The movie was fun. I liked the darkness and the silliness. There was more of a darkness to it than any real seriousness, depth or intensity, but it was ok. People nitpicked and fussed, but I didn't agree that it was too complicated. It was no Batman Whatever. I did agree with the ass behind me, shouting out that they're standing around with umbrellas at the end, but it's not raining, but I was annoyed by his derisive shouting of this fact. I liked the social complications and relationship stuff and was bored whenever the whole screen went CG (which it did a bit too often) so that kinda makes me a girl, I suppose. I'm also tired of movies with brick walls being battered to pieces by people's heads, which heads don't end up with bruises or abrasions of any kind. Some real physics would help, not hurt, but people are cheating, and not in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon arty way. After neglecting doing so for a full year, I finally went and got my hair trimmed. I got over three inches off it, and no one noticed at all. Time for a fried egg bagel sandwich before going to fix my brakes.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

New Week

I came home today and found some guys replacing my kitchen door (it's never fit right in its frame, and lets snow in in winter). I was tired enough that I took a nap despite all the drilling. Naturally my cat hid under the bed the whole time. When the guy left, he called out that he was done, so I woke up, had some supper and watched Dylan Moran's Monster which is some pretty funny stuff. 
     Then, when I was supposed to be marking, I just kinda recorded another old hymn fairly quickly. I used the opening drum loop for Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me" and did "Little Brown Church In The Wildwood." I wonder if I should call my eventual hymn CD (for my parents and their friends) something like "Kickass Hymns." 
      Before bed, tired from such things as rapid shaker and tambourine shaking, not to mention lots and lots of singing and strumming and bass playing, I decided to go for a jog. I was coming down the fire escape when I heard some sounds from the area with the garbage bags piled in the corner of the parking lot for garbage pickup. I looked straight down, and one story below me was a 20 pound skunk, tearing open the garbage. I waited until it toddled off before coming down all the way (doing some Batman-like rooftop lurking until it left) and then walked to the park, ran around the track under the almost-full-moon a bit, then came back. 
     I didn't have much energy in me (lots of emotional energy, little physical energy). I had to edit this fairly extensively (for me) due to the fact that when I run or exercise, all the oxygen seems to leave my brain in favour of my muscles.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Religious Stuff, Sacrifice and getting Gratuitously Philosophical

When reading Johnny Cash's autobiography (his second one) I was struck by how much of a heritage of old hymns were behind his whole life, and how I grew up with the same heritage. It was like having a culture again, and not one that I felt 100% ashamed of and resentful toward, for once.
     I noticed which hymns he mentioned, and I (never going to church, or listening to religious music anymore) have been for years mentally running through the hymns we grew up with, and seeing if there was any juice left in any of them. Most of them are pretty quaint, tired, dusty now. Most are part of a definite style, a tradition of expression or of musical and lyrical workmanship that is pretty inaccessible to most people today. Most of it is part of a mindset that exists in a reality in which so many questions have not been asked, ideas not pondered and experiences not imagined.
     Sadly, when I hear hymns with modern music, they seem exactly the same as that, except laminated, instead of dust-covered. A friend calls them "7-11" hymns. Seven words sung eleven times. Even so, I've been putting together a list of some old hymns with a bit of bounce and verve, or else with some melancholy majesty. I don't relate to almost any of the lyrics, which are all about greatly looking forward to being dead and not having to live this life anymore, or of how horrible we feel we really are, deep down, both of which are part of a phase I trust I have largely worked through and moved beyond.
     This morning I was approaching my first attempt at recording an old hymn from my heritage, but with a bit of new life breathed into it (without breaking it apart, like what happens when they put new wine in old wineskins). I eventually settled into working fairly casually on "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder." As happens when things work out well in my musical endeavours, I got sucked into the project as an intellectual and emotional exercise, and kept on trying to edit together bits of drum samples from that "Bun E. In A Box" set of drum samples I'd bought (Cheap Trick's drummer) and then just went simple and used drum sounds cued to the metronome, in 2/4 time at 120 bpm.
     What was supposed to be a version heavily based on "I Would Walk 500 Miles" by The Proclaimers rapidly turned into an Irish/pirate drinking song style like I have done before, but a little more beat-y and soaring than I've yet done. It is short and has punch. A bit like a children's song, in some ways. I did lots of choiry backing vocals, and didn't stop at doing things that sounded ridiculous and silly until mixed in tastefully. To add to the Irishness of the thing,
    I recorded a 4-part recorder part (well, two different parts done twice each, with only about two notes per part) despite having never really played the recorder before. I just knew that a wash of flutey stuff hiding in the background would add Celtic Cred to the thing. It's a whole lot of fun. Watched Bill Bailey: Part Troll again, and shared with Paula by MSN some more of the stuff I don't believe, especially since reading Martin Zender's "An Intelligent Guide To Prayer."

Growing up, it was a deeply bitter thing to sacrifice 80s television, music, comic books, dances, video games and girls. It was my sacrifice to make the whole "religion" thing work. It was me buying my way to a sanctified, holy, workable, blessed life. Anything else would bring what they called "shipwreck" of my life. Thing is, my life shrank and shrivelled and proved incapable of flight or even escape. I'd sacrificed everything, and not to God, but to a Religious Movement. I served, not Him, but keeping the illusion of the Movement's "life" going.
     All religions (and countries) eventually demand the sacrificing of the lives of young people to them. This movement didn't live anymore, and it didn't work, but we had to try to make it seem like it did, and we had to never entertain the notion that it didn't. We sacrificed anything that might give us joy, that might awaken excitement or passion of any kind, and we were taught, "That stuff isn't good. It isn't worth anything, so you aren't sacrificing anything to shut it out, you are just keeping your priorities straight." Wrong. We were sacrificing. We sacrificed anything that would tie us to our own generation and culture. We sacrificed the very vocabulary and shared experiences that would have enabled us to connect to others. We were taught that God never demanded any real sacrifices from us, not anything that mattered. It was always merely a matter of trading Something That Seemed Nice But Wasn't Worth It, for Something Better. There was never any doubt that we'd get to enjoy the Something Better, personally, and in a timely fashion.
     We asked God for things, and if we didn't get them, we assumed He Had Something Better In Store. Something imminent, something specific, something for us personally, rather than for others, or people in general. We asked for things and doubted ourselves or the worth of the things themselves, if we didn't get them. We never considered that maybe we were just asking for something we weren't going to get, and that it might be a good thing, but that sacrifice means not getting good things, and that sometimes we sacrifice for the good of other people besides ourselves.
You see, like most religions, our religion was all about US (and just us) getting more religious, more holy, getting better than everyone else, being special, being part of an elite group, being right, being God's Favourites. It never occurred to us that this isn't a spiritual, holy, or even upright human attitude or motivation to have. Tell the average religious person to stop shutting everyone out, and to pursue spirituality for reasons other than being righter, being better, being more spiritual than other people, and s/he will think you're nuts. You see, that's what they're in it for.

My Current, Best View of Prayer 
 My current, best view of what prayer is like (and what it is for) is influenced in equal parts by Zender, and by my daily classroom routine. I come in with an essay to assign, a test to supervise, a funny video to watch, a story to read, a sheet to fill out or whatever, and the kids leap in with "Can we watch volleyball instead of doing class?" and "Can we just leave? It's sunny" or "Can we watch Borat?" Sometimes they say "Can we do that thing we did last week? That was fun."
    I always have a plan, and a reason why and how what we do will help us get where we're going. My favourite is when a kid says "You should show us Borat" and I have actually edited a scene from it to show them, as it illustrates anti-Semitism, useful in learning about the Nazis, and I can give them their wish. I love to give them their wishes when I can, but usually their wishes aren't useful. I am actually far better at giving them things they don't know they'll like, or that they like, but had no idea I'd put to educational use, like Dave Chapelle, or The Family Guy. You see, they have no idea how my head works or what I'm up to, most of them, most of the time. They should share their thoughts, though they are often uninformed, poorly argued and naive. They should also listen to me a great deal, as I'm trying to give them good stuff.
     I think prayer is like that. God loves to accommodate our preferences, but He's kinda awfully busy doing much bigger things. Our pleasure is not His first priority. Our personal well-being isn't either. All things do not work together for my good or even the good of my community or of people I know or care about. They work together for the greater good. They work together for Good, not merely what suits me to the ground, or is beneficial to my current lot in life. I believe in sacrifice, both in it being required of us, and in personally choosing or needing to make sacrifices for the Good, or even just for the good of others. I believe people have to sacrifice happiness, comfort, money, health, and even things like their lives, sometimes, for a Good they will not understand, enjoy nor see. [and, of course, it doesn't take long for me to get around to the subject of sex, or of not having sex, as the case may be]

Not Having Sex A Whole Lot
It took me quite some mental, spiritual and emotional gymnastics and maturity to come to the epiphany that God might very well have good reasons and might purposely, unmaliciously expect me to be single my whole life, and to also have to turn down easy sex with easy women. Turning down offers of sex from women I've liked the looks of but didn't know well has been one of the bitterest sacrifices I've had to make on an ongoing basis. It wasn't hard to do. It wasn't like I agonized over whether or not to give in and drop trou. It didn't take much willpower or inner strength at all. After all, I'm programmed from birth upward to say "no" to everything nice, and to assume that nice things are for other people, and that God doesn't like us enjoying nice things. This is automatic and very hard to leave behind.
     The actually hard part wasn't rebuffing the advances of these women (and as a man, it is easy. All I have to do in the case of persistent women is sarcastically say "What, are you going to rape me?" and the woman climbs right off soon enough), it was not hating God for allowing my life to be like this, and for putting me in or allowing me to put myself in situations where clearly the only good choice was to miss out, and not have any reward or better things waiting that made the whole sacrifice seem worthwhile. To have nothing, instead of something fun. To say "no" just to have said "no," not to get something else, in particular, or nothing that& seems imminent and worthwhile. We all do this. 
       As far as I've been told, heroin is wonderful as an experience. I am resolved to go to the grave without knowing what it's like. This makes sense. I don't regret not experiencing heroin. I regret the decades of solitude. Don't get me wrong, , I do not regret for a moment that I now can truthfully say, unlike Bill Clinton, "I did not have sex with that particular woman," because in every case, having sex would have been nice at the time but bad to have done after the fact. For many non-scriptural, mundane reasons it would have been bad. Reasons like "being connected to her in any way, for any length of time" kind of reasons, or "she was still connected to him and was going to start dating him again the next week anyway" reasons.
       I know it's an unpopular view, but who you have sex with definitely reflects somewhat upon you. The women I have kissed, I have still kissed. I will always have kissed them. I do not regret having kissed any of them. I do not regret refusing them sex. I did what I thought best and didn't do what I thought not a good idea. I am growing out of resenting God (and Reality, for you atheists out there) for putting me in positions where Nothing was better than the sex, so I had to choose the nothing if I was to be as wise as I wanted to be, and as (very relatively) free of headaches and guilt and entanglements as possible. I always seem to need to choose the nothing to get anywhere. So, recorded a song and it sounds interesting.
    A kid I see every day tried to kill herself, and a kid I teach every day almost tried to kill another girl. I finished the yearbook and tonight I am to go to Troy's and introduce him to the zany wonders that comprise Green Wing. That's something, I guess, right? (life is a mingled yarn, good and bad together, and pretty damned tangled at times)