Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Review: Terry Pratchett's "Nation"

"One is nothing. Two is a nation."

Here's a list of some stories about islands: The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe,Lord of the Flies, Swiss Family Robinson,The End, in A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Prisoner and the entire six seasons of Lost. What they have in common, to one degree or another, is that each uses isolation and transposition to create a new society. This new society is then held up as a contrast or reflection of modern society. (Or 18th century society, or quasi-suburban gothic, or whatever the case may be) I'm currently reading Visual Thinking by Rudolph Arnheim for my multimedia comprehensive exam; Arnheim's main idea is that we need to realize how an object's context and surroundings influence what we think about it. Moving people out of their context into a new environment lets us understand that context and the people.

But I'm not here to talk about Arnheim. (Thankfully.) I'm here to talk about Nation. The book centers on two young teenage characters, Mau and Daphne. Mau is a tribesman of the island people known as Nation, and when the book starts, he is undergoing a tribal ritual to become a man. Daphne is the daughter of a Victorian-era British lord, en route on the ship The Sweet Judy to visit her father in the colonies. A giant tidal wave kills everyone in Mau's village before the ritual is complete, and shipwrecks Daphne alone on the island with him. They go through the stages of learning to communicate, and Hijinx Ensue. Other nearby survivors arrive at the island: a trauma-stressed mother with a newborn child, an elderly priest, and an expectant mother, for starters. After restructuring the age-old human experiences of child birth and milking a wild sow, more people arrive, a society forms, and the story moves towards its climax: a battle with the only surviving nearby tribe, the cannibalistic Raiders, now led by a charismatic European who also happens to be the Sweet Judy's former First Mate.

The story's themes are more wide-ranging than mere plot summary can suggest. Both Mau and Daphne cope with survival in the face of their respective restrictive moral codes; Mau, in particular, deals with being haunted by the voice of his grandfathers and challenging Death for the remaining members of his shrinking nation. There is also a heavy postcolonial element to the story. Pratchett writes Nation under a 19th century setting, the height of British colonial power. As such, he can play the two societies against each other; Daphne rejects her colonial background and devaluation of the island people, and Mau has to come to terms with the validity of his people's ways in the presence of superior European technology. Daphne's father (and consequently Daphne) is also heavily influenced by the Royal Society, and the book ultimately moves towards a conclusion reconciling faith and religion with the logical positivism of modern science.

Terry Pratchett is probably best known as the writer of the Discworld series, a comedy-fantasy series that uses parody to examine everything from religion to the post office to Santa Claus. He's such a great comedy writer that some people (okay, me) forget that he's a great writer, period, and Nation shows him at the height of his game. The book isn't without some humor, but it's hardly a comedy, either; it opens with the death of hundreds of people, after all. It's a book about ideas, and Pratchett isn't afraid to come out and say so. I think what I liked most about the book is that Pratchett explores all of these different social issues without making the book seem overly preachy; every element is carefully balanced to show multiple sides of an issue, and the social commentary is balanced well with the actual events. I don't feel that this description is entirely doing it justice, so let me just conclude with this: on a day when I was absolutely dead tired, to the point where I was literally falling asleep in mid-conversation, I stayed up all night working my way through 450 pages, just to see how everything would end.

So it's good. Read it.

Later Days.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Random Quotation

"And I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
--"The Night Before Christmas"

Later Days.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Music Musing: A (Brief?) Return to Proper Blogging Form

On my last post, I quoted at length a method of reading. Essentially, you read until whatever you're reading strikes some sort of a chord with you, and then you go off on a tangent, pursuing whatever line of thought the reading material at hand prompted. I don't actually read like that. When your reading is directed toward a 14 000 page comp exam, you don't time to stop and think about the roses. Although to be fair, I didn't read like that before the comp either. My reading habits tend to pretty linear: you go sentence by sentence, page by page, and the story accumulates around you. My exception is dialogue; I like to think I have an ear for story dialogue. I certainly have a preference for it, since if a work of fiction is getting too descripty for my tastes, I often jump ahead to the next big speech. It does mean that I miss the fine details sometimes (I remember having to go back with Neal Stephenson's Anathem the first time around to find where, exactly, the climax happened, because I pretty much missed it), but it works for me. Honestly, I think I never would have finished Lord of the Rings otherwise.
So the tangential method not how I read books. It is, however, how I listen to music. I'll hear a tune, or a few lines, and my mind will instantly drift off to other things I associate with it: where I listened to that song previously, people I associate with a set of lyrics, other songs that remind me of it, etc. And by the time the drifting is finished, so is the song, and I'm always mildly surprised when I "come to" and something new is playing. The same holds for live performances--not that I've been to many, but of the, uh, one, I've been to, it unfolded in much the same manner. (And to go off on a tangent here, the tangential is also how I listen in general; I learned a long, long time ago that if I'm not taking detailed notes during a lecture, I'm not going to actually learn a damn thing.)

But with most music, I think it makes sense that it's never what I'm focusing on. I listen to it when I'm heading out to the store, or biking to the university, or out for a run. In other words, it's what I do when I'm in transit. And just like the journey is rarely the point of the transition movement, what I'm doing on the transition is rarely the main focus either. So I tend to drift. (I also tend to burst into song, when the mood strikes me, and I manage to convince myself that no one can hear me. Which is rarely the case, especially when I'm on my bike. You know how some people driving forget that other people can see them? Well, when I'm biking, I forget that other people can hear me. Can hear me singing loudly. Oops.)

Normally, this isn't a problem. If you miss a song, you can just go back and hear it again. It started to become a bigger deal when I started with my "books on tape" series. (The proper term, I think, is "audio book"; there's no actual tape, and there hasn't been for quite some time. But "books on tape" sounds better to me.) I thought that the half-hour or so a day I spent in transit could be better spent listening to something edifying. The edification started with Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. It was actually a few days before I realized that not only was I developing a very scattered notion of the plot, I was getting some weird de ja vu as well. After some manual examinations of my playlist, I realized that I had not only put the book on my Ipod three times, which meant that I was getting each chapter three times, I had also set it on shuffle, so I was getting them in a random order. And it took me a few days to notice this. The tangential listening method had been so ingrained that I could have been listening to Metallica lyrics. As long as a prim, middle-aged British woman was reading them out, I'd never had known the difference. From this wonderful experience, I devised a few rules for later book on tape listening:
1. Pick books read by British people. Northanger Abbey experience to the contrary, people with accents that differ minimally from the norm are easier to pay attention to than people with no discernible accent or thick accents.
2. Pick books that are anthologies. Generally, the longer the work, the harder it is to stay focused. A book of short stories is perfect, especially if the length of the story corresponds roughly to the length of your travels. This rule led me to G. K. Chesterton's Club of Queer Trades (which is in the public domain, and can thus be found easily online).
3. Pick books read by their authors, or famous people. The latter makes the book easier to pay attention to, and the former actually might add a dimension. I've heard the argument that listening to a book rather than reading it adds another level of interference between you and the author's "intentions." But if the author is actually reading the book to you, then he or she knows exactly where to place each emphasis and pause, which may actually add to the "authenticity" of the work. (Sorry for the quotation marks, but after a lit theory comp, I can't let either term pass by blithely anymore.)
These three rules led me to Neil Gaiman's M is for Magic, a book of short stories all read by Neil Gaiman. He has a great voice and storyteller ability, which helps a lot. In fact, I imagine there is a direct correlation between the level of the author's resemblance to a story teller as opposed to writer and the level of quality of an audio version of their work. But I'll muse on that some other time.
Later Days.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Quotation

"Don't be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful for me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it. The stimulus of reading is indispensable to me, and of meaty reading, even if, of every book, I manage to read no more than a few pages. But those few pages already enclose for me whole universes, which I can never exhaust."
Yeah, I'm still milking If on a winter's night a traveler. And though the above is not the way I read at all, it is the way I listen to music. More on that another time.
Later Days.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: "If on a winter's night a traveler" by Italo Calvino

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." --If on a winter's night a traveler

In a book of short stories (I'm going to guess Cosmicomics), Calvino presents a sort of readerly version of Sophie's Choice. The narrator of the story travels to the beach, and, once there, finds himself torn between two different, seemingly exclusive choices: he can either read the truly captivating novel he brought, or flirt with the attractive sun-tanning woman that is smiling invitingly at him. He chooses the former, and flips through a few enticing pages, before a gust of wind blows the book into the woman's path. A short enticing conversation ensues. The narrator considers putting the book away, but the woman seems to see someone she recognizes, and darts off. Mentally shrugging, the narrator returns to his book--but look! The woman is back! Things go back and forth in this manner, and both the conversation and the book's plot progress, to the point where, in the woman's bedroom, the reader-narrator must choose between two different climaxes. (Sorry, but if you think Calvino didn't intend the pun, then you're fooling yourself.) Torn, the narrator finally decides to---well, you'll have to read it yourself to find out.

The story, in other words, is about the conflict between the pleasure of reading and other pleasures. It's a theme that must have lingered with Calvino, as If on a winter's night a traveler enlarges on it, and, in fact, encompasses largely every conceivable factor of reading. The plot is both inconsequential and essential; it's inconsequential in that if you take it seriously, then you're going to get a lot of the reading, but essential because it traces the patterns and ideas Calvino wants to explore. The idea of the book is that it is written in second person, addressed to the reader who just bought Calvino's new book. However, upon reading the first chapter, you (the reader) discover that the first chapter is all that's there; due to a printing error, it's just the first chapter, over and over. In fact, a trip to the bookseller confirms that it's not Calvino's book at all, but Tazio Bazakbal's Outside the town of Malbork. The plot thickens.

Another customer, Ludmilla, has the exact same problem. You meet with her, and both agree that you'd like to read Bazakbal's novel instead. The bookseller gives you his book--but it turns out to be the first chapter from another book as well. And so you and Ludmilla embark on a search for the complete book, but find only one unfinished beginning after the other, and you start to wonder whether you're more interested in the reading, or in Ludmilla. (Apparently, "you" are a heterosexual male. Depending on what gender/sexuality you conceived yourself as being before this, "you" may now be surprised.) This sets up the pattern of the book: a chapter on the latest attempt to find the next chapters for the missing books, alternating with a chapter that starts a new story.

The entire book could be seen as one continuous novel, broken up by several short stories, but such an interpretation misses the point. The novel is about reading, about every facet of reading. In the search for the real books, "you" come across booksellers, writers, plagiarists, university reading groups, literary professors, librarians, book publishers, object artists, and government censorship officials--each with their own ideas on what a book is for. The beginning chapters, on the other hand, look at more varied situations: a spy looking for his contact, a man granted the power to erase the universe, a professor with a phobia for telephones. Since they are allegedly first chapters, each story is unfinished, but the manner in which they are unfinished, how they are left off and what they tell up until that point, conveys what Calvino wants to say about reading.

Exactly what that something he wants to is---um, I'm not entirely sure. Ironically, I don't think it can be entirely put into words. And I'm not sure it's the sort of thing that can be answered. Instead, he raises questions: what kind of a reader does a writer want for his books? What is a perfect reader? What does it mean to read? How does a reader want a story to end? Why does a reader want a story to end? (Further irony: this book would not have been at all out of place on the reader-response section of my literary theory comp. And if it had been there, I might have read more books on that list.) Calvino's characters bring up 1001 Arabian Nights more than once in the book, just to make sure the connection is 100% clear: stories are made up of other stories, and to say one ends is to say another is beginning.

It's also a very masculine look at reading. Wayne Booth is a literary theorist who generally gets the credit for articulating the difference between the implied author and the author; the implied author is the notion of the author you get from reading a book, and is distinct from the actual author, and often from the narrator as well. In a similar manner, the implied reader is the audience the implied author seems to be telling his or her story to. And in this case, Calvino is assuming a male "you"--or creating an implied reader that is male. Indeed, like the short story I mentioned, the pursuit of women and the pursuit of reading are put in conflict and in parallel. Ludmilla is both the perfect woman and the perfect reader. If the implied reader of the story was female, then the purpose of the novel would have to change considerably. In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Wolfe claims that a woman writer writing firmly in a woman's tradition will produce a work that would be vastly different from anything a male writer has done; does a female reader read differently than a male?

Another significant factor of the book, and one that may determine whether it's worth your while, is that it is--as you could probably guess from the description thus far--very meta, and self-referential. After all, it does start off with a description of the reader initializing the process of reading it. A book about reading would most likely be very aware of how it is to be read, and Calvino addresses this awareness in several different ways. In the chapter from the point of view of the author, for example, the author wonders if he fell in love with the perfect reader and wrote her into her book, how would he keep the protagonist of the book from taking her from him, the author? Why, he would send the protagonist on a global goosechase, forever chasing down copies of books that have only the first chapter written. And if this sounds familiar... well, how could you write an overview about the experience of reading without including a sense of deja vu?

If this sort of thing sounds tiresome and trite, then this probably isn't the book for you. If it sounds overly confusing, then blame it on my own descriptive powers, and give it a chance. For my money, this book is brilliant. Calvino intertwines his themes so deftly and perfectly that when you (or "you") finally see the connections he's laid down, it's a moment of revelatory brilliance. At the same time, it's not perfect. In a previous book review, I alluded to my fondness for Calvino's Invisible Cities. If on a winter's night a traveler doesn't quite stack up to it, in terms of sheer enjoyment.

I think the problem is the plot I alluded to earlier; the subject matter of either books doesn't really lend itself to a proper, conventional plot; it's more ephemeral than that. In Invisible Cities, Calvino barely bothers to make an attempt; Marco Polo and Kubla Kahn are just there, just talking. If on a a winter's night a traveler attempts and parodies a traditional plot because that's part of the point, part of the experience of reading. It ties into the overall study of reading, and is essential from that perspective, but in accepting that necessary realism, it just doesn't, for me at least, reach the same level of sublimity.

But calling something "not as good Invisible Cities" is sort of like the opposite of damning with faint praise. (Praising with exuberant damnation? No, that's not it...) It's an excellent book, and one I look forward to re-reading for years to come.

Later Days.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Quotation

"The Koran is the holy book about whose compositional process we know the most. There were at least two mediations between the whole and the book: Mohammed listened to the word of Allah and dictated, in his turn, to his scribes. Once--the biographers of the prohet tell us--while dictating to the scribe Adbullah, Mohammed left a sentence half finished. The scribe, instinctively, suggested the conclusion. Absently, the Prophet accepted the divine word what Adbdullah had said. This scandalized the scribe, who abandoned the Prophet and lost his faith.
"He was wrong. The organization of the sentence, finally, was a responsibility that lay with him; he was the one had to deal with the internal coherence of the written language, with grammar and syntax, to channel into it the fluidity of a thought that expands outside all language before it becomes a word, and of a word particularly fluid like that of the prophet. The scribe's collaboration was necessary to Allah, once he had decided to express himself in a written text. Mohammed knew this and allowed the scribe the privilege of concluding sentences; but Abdullah was unaware of the powers vested in him. He lost his faith in Allah because he lacked faith in writing, and himself as an agent of writing.
"If an infidel were allowed to excogitate variants on the legend of the Prophet, I would venture this one: Abdullah loses faith because in writing under dictation he makes a mistake and Mohammed, though he notices it, decides not to correct it, finding the mistaken form preferable. In this case, too, Abdullah would be wrong to be scandalized. It is on the page, not before, that the word, even that of the prophetic raptus, becomes definitive, that is to say, becomes writing. It is only through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the nonwritten becomes legible, that is, through the uncertainties of spelling, the occasional lapses, oversights, unchecked leaps of the word and the pen. Otherwise, what is outside of us should not insist on communicating through the word, spoken or written: let it send its messages by other paths."
--Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Later Days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Back in Sask

The problem with an ongoing blog is that there is only so many times you can do the introduction for a subject. I've talked about the airplane flights before: here, here, and here. So you can assume the usual rigmarole here. I came, I flew, I conquered. Only without the conquering. Elements of note:
1. A Shout-Out to the friend who gave me a ride to the airport. She probably doesn't read the blog, but she still deserves some recognition. (And I guess I also should deliver a shout-out to my dad, for driving 1 and half hours to the city, and picking me up at an airport, at midnight, in -30 Saskatchewan weather. That also deserves recognition.)

2. In total, I spent about ten hours at the airport. That was fun.

3. This trip's reading was mostly recreational, as compared to the comp reading I've been doing of late. At the same time, it was a very high-level literate reading: Itano Calvino's "if on a winter's night a traveler" and Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum." I didn't finish either, but expect a full review for both. Preview: they're awesome.

4. Someone recommended the A&W veggie burger to me a while back, and during my 2 hour lay-over in Calgary, I ordered one. It took some time to prepare, mostly because the people working there didn't know where they kept the veggie patties, but it was worth it. It has a nice, portobello mushroom flavor to it. (Which is a nice change from the "sawdust with grease" flavor some restaurants seem to prefer).

5. The Westjet plane I flew on didn't have any TVs, as it was the newest one in the fleet and hadn't been fitted for them yet. This lack was disappointing, since after my US trip, I was looking forward to the superior Canadian product. On the other hand, to make up for the lack, one of the flight attendants gave a parodied rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." And he pretty much rocked it.

6. I was going to start jogging again today. And yes, I said jogging, not running. After you take a month-long hiatus, you no longer have the right to call it running. And to extend the humiliation, I don't think I'm going to be starting up again today; -30 weather is not good for someone still recovering from the Mother of All Colds.

That's all for now. Hopefully, there will be some new exciting thing to discuss after today's flu shot.

Later Days.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cleveland Steamer

There's an episode of "South Park" in which the characters discover that episodes of "Family Guy" are written by manatees randomly assembling brightly coloured balls with subjects on them--an aquatic Mad libs, in other words. This criticism is fairly justified. Since the show returned from its cancellation, the episodes have become increasingly random and nonsensical. The humor comes equally from the random aside gags as from the episodes themselves, and there really isn't a through plot--just a sort of gross lurching from event to event.

And yet I watch it. There's a few reasons for this: I like to see how far the TV medium can go and be allowed to go in terms of cartoons and network television. I like the 15 second comedy "burst," in small doses, at least. And sometimes, to be honest, I like mindless comedy where you can turn off your brain for half an hour. So I like "Family Guy." I even like the second show MacFarlane put together, "American Dad"--it DOESN'T use the random comedy bits, so at least it feels like it has an ongoing plot.

And then there's the third show by the main creators, the Family Guy spin-off, "The Cleveland Show," which took possibly the most boring character from Family Guy and gave him his own series. Honestly, I think the only mandate MacFarlane was given by Fox executives was "Could you do the same show as Family Guy, but with a black lead to play to our other demographic?" To be fair, the show does flush out the Cleveland Brown character somewhat--it pretty much had to, or the show would be 22 minutes of him repeating his one previous catch-phrase, "That's nasty." And while the show occasionally pushed the bounds of good taste even further than its predecessors, it was okay.

Enter Thanksgiving episode.

Here, in broad strokes, is the plot for the show. Cleveland's parents come down for Thanksgiving. Cleveland is surprised and dismayed to find out his dad came at all, since the man is a philandering dead-beat who is dismissive and abusive towards his family. Within a few minutes of his appearance, he threatens Cleveland physically and comes after him with a broken bottle. And yes, that is an offensive, caricatured stereotype, but hold tight, because we haven't gotten to the really offensive bit yet. The other guest for dinner is "Auntie Mama," the aunt of Cleveland's wife. Auntie Mama is an obese woman with frequent flatulence problems (because nothing says cutting edge humor like a fart joke) who constantly tells everyone how outrageous she is. She flirts openly with Cleveland's father (Freight Train), and the two plan to go upstairs and have sex right during Thanksgiving dinner. Which makes for a fairly awkward meal downstairs.
The catch is that Cleveland discovers that Auntie Mama is really a man, who, as he explains it, dressed up as a woman thirty years ago to give Cleveland's wife a maternal figure after her parents' divorce. Cleveland tries to stop his father from making his rendezvous, but figures the man will get what's coming to him when Auntie Mama disrobes. Instead, the two are gone for 40 minutes, and when they return, exchange crude innuendos in which stuffing a turkey figures prominently. Cleveland's response is to vomit for a full minute over the entire Thanksgiving dinner. Later, when he tells his father what really happened, Freight Train's response is the same projectile puking.
There is a lot here that, where one of a mind to do so, one could take offense with. But I want to focus on one particular aspect: the homophobic undertones that are never quite brought into the forefront. Let's start with the puking reaction. Note that Cleveland is not nauseated by his father having sex while the rest of the family, including his mother, gather downstairs, knowing exactly what is going on. Nor, due to other comments throughout the show's history, does he have a problem with anal sex. Or homosexuality in general: the show started with him asking two female characters to make out in front of him as a going away present. But when it's two guys--well that's just icky gross, how could you not throw up?
It could be argued that this is just Cleveland and Freight Train's characters, and they are homophobic rather than the show itself putting forward a negative message. But there's two things that keep me from believing that. First, the show makes it pretty clear that Freight Train is a bad person, and the sex is a form of narrative punishment. Now, it's swell that a show produced in 2009 frowns on cheating on your spouse while you're in the same house and child abuse. But to portray male homosexuality as a punishment, as something negative, seems not to be the best way to go about it. And that brings up the third point: the portrayal of Auntie Mama. Auntie Mama seduces Freight Train, and has sex with him without revealing her true identity--and the implication here is that THIS IS WHAT "THESE" PEOPLE DO. In other words, from the evidence presented in this episode, homosexual males dress up as women and seduce straight men as SOP. That, in case my stance here hasn't been made clear, is bullshit. I won't go so far as to say that the writers deliberately meant to present anything that could be interpreted as homophobic. But I do think it's there, and presenting it in an unconscious manner doesn't excuse the problem--it just suggests that it runs deeper than meets the eye.
Again, there's counterarguments to be made. First, that when a show attempts to take on tough issues, I shouldn't reject it because the result doesn't fit within my standards of morality. Sorry, no, that doesn't work for me. I'm a fan of Dexter, so I'm no stranger to watching shows that depict alternate morality structures. I'm a fan of South Park, and I've sat through the "Million Little Fibres" episode, so I can stand pointless grossness and general disgusting premises. And I'm a fan of "Boondocks," so I KNOW there are better, more intelligent, and frankly, funnier ways that black issues (and homosexuality in black culture,for that matter) can be dealt with in the cartoon medium. I reject this show because it's not dealing with the issues it presents at all--it just presents the case in an insidious manner, and tries to hide it behind fart jokes and vomit takes.
The other argument is that I'm taking all of this too seriously, that it's just a cartoon show. Like I said earlier, it's time to turn the brain off. The problem with this argument is that the human brain doesn't have an off-switch. The argument that "entertainment is just entertainment" is a derivative of the argument of "art for art's sake." The latter tried to elevate "high" art above social issues, and the former tries to shove entertainment below them. The "art for art's sake" argument was eventually discredited when people realized that it itself was a social position. And the "entertainment is just entertainment" should not be allowed on the same grounds. When I was in high school, the boys in my class would repeat Seinfield catch-phrases ad nauseum to show off our social cache. And my Facebook page is usually littered with grad students quoting Arrested Development and the Simpsons. And some of those are mine, because, dammit, they're funny. But to pretend for a moment that these shows haven't had any influence on their viewers is ridiculous. According to the these guys, this episode was watched by 6.3 million viewers. That's a lot of brains out there being told that if they misbehave, they run the risk of being turned gay. Because that's how that works.

So to sum up, for next week, and every future week after that, the number of viewers for the Cleveland Show will have 6.3 million viewers minus one, because I'm not going to be watching it. Frankly, I've got better things to do with my time.

Later Days.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

How It Went

I figure it's about time I did this post. Prepare for excruciating detail that is still very vague to stave off accusations of leaking departmental secrets!

The text was November 27th, from 11:05 am to 3:05. I and 7 of my PhD candidate cohorts were ushered into a computer lab, set up with a word document, and told to have at it. Four hours, four thousand words, and seven single spaced pages later, it was had. The time flew by fairly quickly. I can't really say how long any one question took me, as I alternated: I had three essays to write, and so I would do one paragraph of one, then alternate to the next. It maybe wasn't the best idea in terms of the overall flow of the essays, but for weeks before the exam, I was told over and over again that the worst thing I could do on it would be to skip a question entirely. The alternating method was a way of moving beyond that.

The whole exam went quickly, and unfolded in ways I really didn't expect. For the first two essays, I wound up with theses I actually thought were kind of interesting: "The means by which literature is defended provides the grounds for its next attack" and "The definitions of semiotics demonstrate a constant push and pull towards the original linguistic definition provided by Ferdinand de Saussure." Even the last essay surprised me, in that the pinnacle text turned out to be Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning, a book I almost skipped reading because I thought there was no way I'd be using a Renaissance-based text. I guess the whole exercise was a demonstration of how things can unfold unpredictably in a test situation.

Now, the gripe: I worked pretty damn hard on the studying for this exam. My list had (depending on how you count) 80 some texts on it, with nine different subcategories. I read for 4 months solid (okay, solid if you don't count the time in Toronto with my parents, or the time at the conference in Atlanta. But even in those cases, I had a book with me the whole time, and read a few hundred pages during the trip.). I wound up with 400 pages of typed single-spaced notes. That's about twice the length of the average dissertation. But due to the way the test was written, I could only write on 5 of 9 categories--which means a maximum of about 45 texts. And each text I used should be used in a fairly in-depth manner, which meant that I managed to use about 12 in the whole paper. Twelve texts out of 80. Sigh. Of course, there was no way to know going in which 12 I'd use, and the purpose of the exam to teach me an entire body of literature that will be useful for my academic career. Which texts I use in a 4 hour exam is ultimately of little importance when compared to the significance of setting up an area of expertise I'll be able to draw on for the rest of my life. But still... 12...

Anyway, I turned my paper in, and I'll be hearing the results in 2 weeks. For now, it's time for relaxing and chilling--chillaxin', if you will. We kicked it off English Grad Style starting the night of the exam, which was filled with beer, pool, and bowling--then in bed by midnight, because after 8 years of schooling, we're all prematurely aged and cranky for missing our afternoon nap. Good times.

I'd like to thank my friends and family for all the support over the last few days--it's been hugely encouraging, and being able to celebrate with said friends after the comp was the icing on the awesome cake. One down, one to go--multimedia, be prepared to be... studied.

Later Days.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I've Got Other Things On My Plate Today, So Let's Make This Quick

"A certificate tells me I was born. I repudiate this certificate: I am not a poet, but a poem. A poem that is being written, even if it looks like a subject." --Jaques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Portrait of the Flash-Card Maker

My study process:
1. Read the text; take notes, approximately one per page of text.
2. After each chapter, summarize notes for that chapter.
3. Once reading is done, summarize the chapter notes into a RefWorks file.
4. Compress the information from the RefWorks file onto a flashcard.

So, for those keeping track, we have a summary of a summary of a summary of a summary.

This process is time-consuming and labor-intensive. For example, on account of steps 1 and 2, I now have over 200 pages of typed, single-spaced notes for this exam. This exam on Friday.

In other news, I am insane.

Later Days.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sensible Course of Action, or the Loneliest Option?

"A man that is able may have wives, children, goods, and chiefly health, but not so tie himself unto them that his felicity depend on them. We should reserve a storehouse for ourselves, what need soever chance; althogether ours, and wholly free, wherein we may hoard up and establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitariness, wherein we must go alone to ourselves, and take our ordinary entertainment and so privately that no acquiantance or communication of any strange thing may therein find place: there to discourse, to meditate and laugh, as without wife, without children and goods, without train or servants, that if by any occasion they be lost, it seem not strange to us to pass it over; we have a mind moving and turning itself; it may keep itself company." ---Michel de Montaigne.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This Update is For My Mother, Because I Know She Worries

It seems every time I promise to recount some trip, my present situation gets sufficiently complicated that I need to cut the recounting short to deal with something else. This time, conference discussion will be compressed here on account of comp studies and one of the weirder illnesses I've had. First, because everyone loves hearing about other people's health problems.
Back in the middle of October, I had a raging sinus headache. It was so bad that every now and then, I had to stop whatever I was doing to just concentrate on not screaming in frustration for the pounding in my head to cease. The sinus stuff ended just before the trip to Atlanta, but a bad cough has plagued me since then--so it's been about a straight month of illness. To top it off, I've been pretty lethargic the whole time. So of course, it's only today that I bother to actually seek medical "help." I put the help in quotations because it wasn't particularly helpful. From the examination, the doctor believes that I had some sort of virus and the cough and tiredness are symptoms of what may be an extremely prolonged recovery period. The bad news is that there isn't really much I can do; the good news is that, from the examination, he was pretty confident it wasn't mono or H1N1. So... yay?
The worst part of this is that it's put a definite cramp in my comp studies. Not enough that I think it's really hampered my ability to take the test, but enough that I won't be devoting quite the level of attention to a few of the more challenging texts that I'd like to. That exam, for those counting the days (like me), is on Nov. 27th. So... nine days. Yikes.
So between the lethargy and the studying, I'm not going to have a lot of time for updating. I know, I'm still getting back to speed after a slump, but... well, that slump will have to last a little longer. Expect a new flurry of book reviews, TV commentary, and a weeklong dissection of "The Batman" TV series when I return. For now, here are some truncated thoughts on the Atlanta conference:
--Though the focus on paper of the conference was coding, what everyone in the science/humanity crossover seems most interested in at the moment is animal-human cognitive relations. I feel very ambiguous towards this focus, but I'm putting off articulating those misgivings to a later date.
--My fellow students gave their panel with Katherine Hayles sitting in the front row. That's a big deal.
--Of the conference, the two highlights in terms of panels would have to be Ian Bogost's key note speaker address, and W. H. Mitchell's presentation on images. Those guys know their stuff.
--Atlanta has some of the most courteous servers I've ever seen, even though one waitress repeatedly referred to me as 'ma'am' to the great amusement of all, until someone finally took pity on me and her and pointed out gently that I am, in fact, all man.
--My presentation went fine; amazingly, the math analogy seemed to be the part that everyone liked the best. It was also the part where I set down the paper, and just presented my thoughts as they came, so that's something to keep in mind for the next conference presentation.
--Atlanta looks like a big forest from above. It's weird. But very eco.
--I kind of wish I'd kept the "confused for a woman" story to myself.

There. Sorry, but that's all you get, conference-wise. I'll post again once the sheer panic from comps requires an outlet.

Later Days.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Flipping the Clock

It is time, once again, (fifth time, to be exact) to reset the mighty stat counter. As is traditional, this moment will be observed by an analysis of the word searches that have led people to this blog. It seems that with the TV show "Chuck" on hiatus, the number of people searching for Chuck and Sara porn has dropped precipitously. What's left, then, is an actual reflection of this blog's content:

"sexy" Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
"what movies have been made from the author of the door into summer" United States
"short review the door into summer by robert heinlein" Oakland, California
"Gothic elements" 'Painted Door' Sinclair Ross" Halifax, Nova Scotia
"libraries toronto" Toronto, Ontario
"david antin" San Diego, California
"review THE DOOR INTO SUMMER by Robert Heinlein" Bois-de-lessines, Belgium
"rushdie marco polo" Warsaw, Indiana
"rushdie enchantress" New York, United States
"Lorna Crozier poem 'The Painted Door'" Regina, Saskatchewan
"door into summer review" Ithica, New York
"Fallout 3 progress blog" Greenfield, Indiana
"Post Colonism in Enchantress of Florence" Delhi, India
"best study space robarts library" Thornhill, Ontario
"salman rushdie enchantress of florence review" West Hartford, Conneticut
"compliant and promiscuous by military custom" South Hamilton, Massachusetts
"the door into summer 'horse sense'" Potomac, Maryland
"farscape dilbert" Huntsville, Alabama
"waking up cant get back to sleep" London, UK
"waking up and cant get back to sleep" Richardson, Texas
"" Humboldt, SK
"www.humbugbistro" Humboldt, SK
"" Saskatoon, SK
"" Lanigan,SK
"" Humboldt, SK
"" Edmonton, AB
"" Saskatoon, SK

I also got a lot of traffic for this post, largely because I made a cryptic reference to it on my Facebook status, which led to some further traffic on other pages. And then petered out, because Facebook friends are numerous, but easily distracted.

As you can see, the humbug bistro blog has really ruffled some feathers, and I guess the related URLs have let it out of the bag which town "humbug" actually refers to. Beyond that, most of the traffic seems geared towards my Heinlein and Rushdie reviews, which I'm glad for, since I put a fair bit of effort into writing both.

I'd like to draw your attention to two searches in particular: first, "compliant and promiscuous by military custom." I hope the searcher knew he or she was using a quotation directly from "the Forever War," because otherwise, that's a really creepy fetish.

Second: "Post Colonism in Enchantress of Florence." That sounds like the Enchantress encountered a nasty movement after a meal.

And on that classy note, I'm going to wrap things up. May the next 500 visitors be as interesting as this 500.

Later Days.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Right, So This Happened in Atlanta:

So, I'm strolling back to the hotel at about 3 am in the morning from a nearby bar when this large fellow comes up to me on his bike. "You're from out of town," he says, in a very friendly manner. "And you look lost. I'm going to walk you back to your hotel." I consider denying that I'm from out of town, but, well, I clearly was in no state to keep up that level of bluff. So I admit it, and we keep walking. I tell him where I'm from, he tells me about the time he spent in Vancouver.
A while into the conversation, I tell him again that it's really not necessary for him to follow me. "No problem," he says. "I'm happy to do it. And, if, when we get there, you want to, maybe, thank me with something, then..." I reply that I don't have much money on me. "Whatever you've got'll be fine," comes the less than reassuring reply.
We walk for a few more minutes in silence. Then he says this: "You know, you really should not walk around with your hands in your pockets like that. Some people see that, they know you're from out of town, and they might take advantage." And that was the point I decided it was time to say goodbye. I tried alternating paces slow and fast, but that didn't work so well. So we reached an agreement: I gave him all four of the dollars left in my wallet, and he'd stop following me. He took the four dollars, and sped off into the night.
It was a cross between a helpful local, an extended begging session, and a mugging. But it was definitely a four dollar story, so I came out on top.

Later Days.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quotation and Updates

"I know about two things: War, and stories. Every story is about resolving conflict. If you engage in the conflict, it's because you want the story to continue. The narrative still has you. It takes two to tango, and that's a dance that never ends." Jacob, from Television Without Pity, describing an episode of Gossip Girl.

I actually wanted to use a Montaigne quotation today, but I don't have the book with me, so this is what you get.

--exactly two weeks till comps. (Okay, less. This time in two weeks, it'll be over.) My nervous energy at this moment could power several metropolises.
--In the near future, I'll be doing Atlanta anecdotes, a new stat flipping/internet searches leading to me report, and a 200th post.
--Speaking of internet searches, how awesome is it that the search on the URL for the humbug bistro blog leads to me instead of her?

Later Days.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Questions, with Answers Postponed to a Later Date

I had a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday, and it was one of those conversations that seem to dovetail with a bunch of others, to the point where it shines a light of clarity on some of the darker corners of your mind. Without getting into detail on the specific conversation, what it really brought out for me was a cold look at my own sense of elitism, one that has two main sources: my past and my present. (Yes, that's pretty vague, but I'm going somewhere with this. Bear with.)

The past aspect involves my upbringing. I come from a rural community and my feelings towards growing up there are really ambiguous: I'm proud to have come from there, but at the same time, a part of me, sometimes a large part, feels pretty alienated from it. Every now and then, something happens that really draws the latter to my mind. Most recently, it was this blog:

It's a blog about a well-traveled woman who opens a restaurant in a small town--and then proceeds to eviscerate that town in every sense of the word. It's essentially a case of small town mentality clashing with her personal world view, and the result isn't pretty. The woman, Wendy, is actually downright offensive at times, and the sheer vitriol of her writing makes it, at times, extremely distasteful. It could be argued that it is entirely a satiric piece, but there's far, far too many details specific for "Humbug" for that to be the case. She goes way too far--I'd support exposing the hypocrisy of the extreme homophobia that goes on in rural Saskatchewan, but when you're outing an area's local priests for no purpose than showing how "backwards" the people there are, then you've really gone about things in the wrong way.

(Two quick sidenotes here: first, some readers not knowing my personal background may think that it's my own hometown she's describing. It's not. My town's nearby, but "Humbug" is not it. Second: where was this woman when I was looking for a paper topic for my autobiography/blogging course? Considering the identity she constructs for herself and the ideologies she claims to be present in the "Humbuggers" (her, frankly, offensive term, not mine), there's a rhetorical goldmine here.)

Like I said, Wendy's attitude is less than even-handed, and fairly off-putting. The word "fuck" appears 72 times in her post (usually, interestingly, in her recollection of her own speech) and the word "hick" 16 times (alienating one's customer base may not be a sound business decision). But at the same time, as much as I disliked her tone, I never doubted what she said about the townfolk, even at their supposed worst. And until I talked with my brother about it, I didn't even realize I believed it. "Come on," he told me. "We know some of these people. Don't you think they deserve the benefit of a doubt?" I didn't extend to people I'd known for years the same courtesy I'd extend to complete strangers; I wanted to believe the worst about them. For me, it came down first to a small town vs. big city issue and I immediately picked my side. I've demonized some of these people in my mind, and they deserve better. I'm not sure why, but I feel the need to distance myself from those roots, to feel like bringing myself to out of province university somehow entitles me to look down on them. And realizing that I sometimes feel that way consequently makes me realize what an entitled and false world view that really is.

And that brings us neatly from the past into the present. I'm a doctoral candidate (and there's a self-aggrandizing position description for you) in a G13 Ontario university, studying in a field broadly categorizeable as the liberal arts. At this level, there is a lot of ego and abstraction involved, and you have to be aware that some elitist thinking can creep into your world view. I haven't been very aware, and the recent reality shock is part of the price I'm paying for that. I think the symptoms of late have included some somewhat racist behavior (that we are NOT going to get into, and may possibly stem more the rural upbringing), an aggrandizement of my work's importance, and a disdain towards my TA responsibilities.

Now, what follows holds true for me personally; your own mileage may vary. In the arts especially, there's occasionally a sense of entitlement that we enrich the community in a way that other, more impersonal departments, like mathematics or engineering, do not, that our grass roots extend further. For some people, this is actually true, and they work damn hard to keep it true. But just as often, this sort of reasoning is a liberal self-congratulatory excuse to stay within the confines of an insular institution. I'm a pretty insular person by nature, but some times, I need a reminder that there is more out there, and as a member of society, I have a responsibility towards all of it.

And a big part of that responsibility, currently, is the one I have towards my students. I don't want to give the wrong impression here; I teach my tutorials, and I mark my papers, and my students get what help I can give on both. But due to the nature of the course I'm TAing for this term, and my looming comp exams, if something is left to slide, it's usually going to be the tutorial prep time. More than once this term, I've been called out on making fun of a grammar mistake or sentence construction rather than trying to see the paper from the student's point of view.

There's a streak of narcissism at work there, and it's something that may be impossible to entirely eliminate because it's so deeply embedded in what I do. During the school years, high academics was how I distinguished myself, so it's largely a part of my identity. While it was far from my only motive, part of the reason I did a double degree in Math and English in university was because I wanted to make myself stand out again. Even this post topic comes from a conversation with a friend that I'm bending to my own ends. Hell, writing a blog is undeniably one of the greatest narcissistic acts--look at me, I'm so important that people should spend time reading about me! I don't know what I can do about some of that--I think some narcissism is embedded in the idea of personal identity. But there must be something I can change.

And that's the first part of the next step, I guess: what to change. Ideally, what I'd like to do is find something that I find socially appealing and enjoy, but it's not going to be easy. I don't think the answer, for the moment, at least, is a change of careers; I truly enjoy what I'm doing, and though it's not really that socially relevant, I kind of believe that making a positive difference means that you have to start from doing work that you like, and move outwards from there. I suppose I could go further in the direction of dedicating myself to teaching, but... both my parents were teachers. I know the level of dedication and commitment necessary to truly be a great teacher, and I don't have that, not right now.

I know friends who find a lot of what they need through volunteer work, but that doesn't quite feel right for me either. I'm a little too uncomfortable around strangers for that, and it tends to just make me feel more distant. I've talked about political activism before, and it's not the ticket any more than religious activism is, largely for the same reason: I believe that if you pursue a cause like that, it should be because you truly believe in it, not because you're looking to make up for some gap in yourself.

I guess the answer for me personally, for the moment (there's that phrase again), is to just keep my eyes open, see my actions for what they are, and look for opportunities to change.

This has been a pretty reflective post. Expect a return next time to a description of my time at an international arts conference. So yeah, back to the elitism.

Later Days.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Remember when complaining about air plane food was an option?

I just got back from my conference in Hotlanta (That's what we called "Atlanta." It's an in-joke. You wouldn't get it.). Now, from the other posts about trips, you'd be expecting me to break up the trip into minute parts and deliver piecemeal over the next few days. And that's exactly what you'll get. Consistency is important in this modern work-a-day world.
Today, the focus is the air trips.

Okay, the focus today is the airport portion of the trip. There was a grand total of eight grad students from my department going, and there were people taking flights from Toronto, driving out to Buffalo and flying out from there, and people driving, and people taking the train. So yeah, not a great amount of coordination. There was a lot of yelling (me) and accusations (me), but after some even-tempered discussion and honest dialogue (not so much me), we did wind up doing something a little more collaborative for splitting the hotel rooms.

But anyway, I flew out and back on my own. I've done the Ontario-Saskatchewan trip back and forth a few times solo, so I don't really have a problem flying alone. I was a little worried about customs, but it was actually a fairly positive experience on both sides of the border, so no worries there. (I did wolf down a pop and a chocolate bar on the airplane back to Toronto just because I didn't want to declare them, but that's just my bizarre paranoia/love of chocolate speaking.)

On the way there, I had a layover in Phiiladelphia, and on the way back, another in Charlotte. Both had rocking chairs everywhere, which felt like a nice touch. Very homy. The Philly connection had its rough points--it took me a while to figure out I needed to take a shuttle bus to get to the section of the airport I needed to, and a little while longer to realize they'd changed the gate for my plane. I was only at the Charlotte port for an hour, but I spent the entire time walking around--it's friggin' huge. It's got 5 sections, each with about a half dozen restaurants, and an atrium area with 15 restaurants, 10 stores, and a chapel. A chapel. I was dead tired by the time I reached that terminal(I split a cab from the airport with some associates whose flight left at 5:30 am, so we skipped sleeping that night, and it was 8:00 am by the time I hit Charlotte), but I still spent most of my time looking around. It was pretty cool--well, the largely soulless, overpriced, generic coolness of an airport, but still, neat-o.

The downside of traveling by air, for me, anyway, is always the number high altitudes play on my inner ear. As I type, my right eardum STILL won't pop. It's getting kind of annoying. Anyone have any suggestions on how to restore my lost hearing?

Next Time: City of Atlanta

Later Days!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You'd Better Believe There's a Right Answer

Just a reminder: I fly out to the conference early tomorrow, so no new posts till Monday.
To give you something to think about in the meantime, and try yet again to massage some actual comments, I pose the following question:

Seinfeld or Friends?

Later Days

Monday, November 2, 2009

Suit Yourself

Halloween is awesome. There's no disputing that. And this Halloween was particularly awesome because I went to an Arrested Development-themed party. Dressed up as Barry Zuckerkorn. And we could do a whole post about how lovely that was, and who dressed up as what, and how many bananas on sticks were eaten, and who doesn't remember what because of how much rum they brought, but that's not today's focus.

Today's focus is on the preparations for the SLSA conference. The travel arrangements have been eye-rollingly complicated: first, I need to get a ride to Toronto, since Blank's airport doesn't service Atlanta. Then there's the flight itself. And the subway ride from the airport to the hotel (note to self: get American funds at some point for this). That's Thursday. The paper itself will be done on Saturday, (note to self: one round of editing at least is necessary before the paper is ready) and I get as much time as I can manage to celebrate before I go back to the airport for my 7 am flight back to Toronto Sunday morning. (Only I'll have to take a cab, since the subway doesn't start on a Sunday till 8 am.) And from Toronto, it's a shuttle bus back to my apartment.

All of that is entirely beside the point; I just wanted to see if I could actually write the whole thing down without being confused.

The point is my apparel for the paper I'm giving. I've thought about this. It needs to be formal. I could probably get away with just a button-up shirt and a decent tie, but I learned from the costume that I can't count on my tie skills to reach a level of "decent" by Saturday. So that means I need to wear a suit jacket. The problem is, I have only one suit jacket, and I wore that as part of the costume on Saturday. Consequently, it's covered it's a little messy--mostly with little specks of grey hair spray. (See, Barry Zuckerkorn has grey hair, and I don't... etc.) This morning, I took the suit to the nearest cleaner that would promise on the phone to have it cleaned by Wednesday. (If it fails to deliver, then... well, back to the tie.)

Then, finally, we reached the most difficult part of today: transporting a suit on a hanger while riding a bicycle. I had a suit sleeve at least (is that the right word?), but there was no decent way to handle it. If I threw it over a shoulder, it would get caught in the back tire. I tried to bike using one hand, and holding the suit upright in the other, but one good hill made me realize how much I needed both hands to operate both brakes. (Plus, in the panic that followed, I rested the hook of the hanger on my hand while I grasped the brake. So while both my hands were occupied, it was digging into my skin. Ow.) Finally, I sort of just laid it between my legs in such a way that it didn't drag on the ground. Admittedly, it's not going to help the suit's wrinkles, but... well, that's part of the dry cleaning, right? But clearly, that's not an option on the return trip. I don't know what I'll do.

I guess I'll just have to walk the five blocks.

Later Days.

Friday, October 30, 2009

So, basically, think of the novel as Literature's rotten egg

"The novel is the end of genre... a narrative ideologeme whose outer form, secreted like a shell or exoskeleton, continues to emit is ideological message long after the extinction of its host."
--Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In Which I Make Not One, But Two People's Birthdays All About Me

One of the handy, how-did-we-ever-do-without-it features of Facebook is a little box that tells you when one of your friends is having a birthday. Given that a typical Friend list is approximately at least 100 or so friends long, that means you've got, on average, eight birthday notifications a month. Of course, not everyone posts their date of birth, so let's round that down to four. Still, that's a lot of birthdays. And you can't skip a birthday--not unless you want to face THAT social stigma. So you're left with posting birthday message after message, until the sheer banality makes you envy the creative powers of greeting card writers.

Happy Birthday, X!
Happy B-Day, X.
Have a gooder, X.
Hey man, happy birthday!
Birthday wishes!
Hope your day is nice!
Way to be born!

And the pressure to conform and just go with Facebook's own brand of birthday expression (Send X a Gift!) builds and builds, and the evil that is social networking is revealed in all its internal systemizing glory.

But no. I refuse to succumb to such mediocrity. I started a campaign to create meaningful, caring birthday messages that contain layers of symbolic meaning: each message represents what I think of that person, what I think they think of me, and what I think is appropriate for a Facebook birthday message. This entry was an early foray into this bold new genre.
Future attempts focused on the historical moment. One friend, for example, was born on the same date that featured, years earlier, an historic defeat of the Scots at the hands of the British. So he got to hear all about that war. Another friend was born on the day of composer Albert Lortzing, so he got a summary of the opera Der Waffenschmie, and a short note about why it was relevant to his life. Plus a short youtube clip of the opera.

Yes, my friends love these messages. Why do you ask?

But with this last message, I discovered you could attach youtube links, and suddenly, I had access to a new bold venue. That's why, for this Tuesday, I sent out two radically different Facebook birthday messages. First, this message:

“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
- Franz Kafka

So here's to growing wiser, but not older. Happy birthday!

And second, this message:

And the point, which I have reached in my classic roundabout manner, is that, in posting these two particular birthday wishes in short succession, is that their incongruity really struck me. The radical difference in tone made me consider not just what each of these girls meant to me, but rather, what image I wanted to present to them. The process really drove home to me how much identity is constructed, and, sometimes, willfully constructed. Which birthday wish is more authentically me? Is there an authentic me?

Facebook: good for existential crises AND wishing people happy birthday. Hallmark WISHES they could do both.

(Special bonus: people who know me in RT can try and guess who the two ladies in question are. No fair cheating by looking on Facebook.)

Later Days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If You Think This Is Bad, You'll Never Guess What I Thought Limp Bizket songs Were About

As I've mentioned before, my musical tastes, according to the music in my Ipod, at least, is built on a foundation I inherited from my brothers. As such, I've developed an eclectic taste that doesn't really jive with my other interests, hobbies, or basic personality. I'm very fond of the Foo Fighters, I have a high tolerance of Bryan Adams, and I am actually a fan of Blink 182. Until recently, my favorite song of theirs was an early ditty by the name of "What's My Name Again?" Aficionados can listen to the full version here (sorry, no embedded version):

For those who didn't check it out (and I'm not going to blame you for that), it's essentially the three members of the band, running around naked for the whole video and Freaking People Out. A later video does the same thing, but with midgets. Charming. And in case there's any doubt as to the song's tone, here's one of the verses:
Then later on, on the drive home
I called her mom from a pay phone
I said I was the cops and your husband's in jail
This state looks down on sodomy

And that's about the time that bitch hung up on me
Nobody likes you when you're 23
And are still more amused by prank phone calls
What the hell is call ID, my friends say I should act my age
What's my age again?
What's my age again?

Why was I a fan of this song? Simple: I misheard it.

I have to think this sort of thing happens more often than people are aware of. You hear one bit of the song incorrectly, and your entire conception of the song can be altered, even by a minuscule difference. For example, I have a brother who insists that the Smashing Pumpkins song "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" contains the lyrics "Despite all my rage, I'm still just a-ready to rage" even though that makes no damn sense.

So what was my misinterpretation? Well, in the course of the song, the narrator's girlfriend throws him out when he stops making out with her to catch a TV show, and then he calls her mom as a prank on the way home and implies that her dad was arrested for homosexual behaviour, and when he's caught, the girl breaks up with him. So he's essentially a dick. And throughout the whole thing, he repeats: my friends say I should act my age. What's my age again? The turn comes (or so I thought) in the final verse:

That's about the time that she broke up with me
No one should take themselves so seriously
With many years ahead to fall in love
Why would you wish that on me, I'll never wanna act my age
What's my age again?
What's my age again?

And that's the twist: this self-righteous asshole is really just a guy who's afraid to grow up, afraid to commit to a relationship. With "so many years ahead," an expression that gets more and more hollow as the years go by, why be serious? The moment you acknowledge that what's here and now is important to you, that you need to grow up and take it seriously, then you have grown up, and the cartoon shows and prank phone calls are a part of your past. From this final verse, the narrator becomes someone more complex and more interesting.

Only he doesn't. Because the real last verse goes:

With many years ahead to fall in line
Why would you wish that on me, I'll never wanna act my age
What's my age again?
What's my age again?

So yeah, he's still just your typical, young twenties self-obsessed asshole who can't seem to get it through his thick skull that there's more important things in life than dedicating it to your own hilarity. And even if you're not being that critical, the song is still nothing special--it's just another emo/punk song about the "rebel" not being understood by the "norms." The argument could be raised that, at 26, I'm past the song's age demographic, but trust me: I'm more sympathetic towards general slacking now at 26 than I ever was at 23--or 20, for that matter.

So: one word, three letters. A small thing, but my feelings towards the text as a whole hinged on it. Anyone else have a story of misinterpreted song lyrics?

Later Days.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Regarding the Pratchett Books: CHRISTMAS IS COMING, PEOPLE

What I did this weekend:

I finished my SLSA paper, bid a fond farewell to my parents, started running again, welcomed the new roommate who will be staying for a few months, marked a few papers, read a few papers, entirely failed to finish Jameson's Postmodernism, and learned that there are two Terry Pratchett books out I haven't read: Nation and Unseen Academicals.

Man, if I truncate a bit, we can get through these updates much faster. And none of these items were rushed through. Nope, not one. You've got as much information on each one as you're ever going to get, and there's absolutely, positively nothing more to tell.

Later Days.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cold War

Once again, we seem to have entered a dry spell of postings. I'd make the promise that things will be different this time, but after so many betrayals, I can't expect anyone to believe that. So let's just work through this, together, one day at a time.

Actually, I have reason to be optimistic re: a new, better posting schedule. See, I'm presenting a paper in a conference in Atlanta on November 7th, and I finished said paper... oh, about eight hours ago. Considering I got accepted to the conference back in about June or so, and considering it's only an eight page paper, this level of procrastination has been about as ridiculous as it was lengthy. For the past five months, it's been competing for my attention, right alongside the comp exam, and being able to give it a rest is a huge weight off my mind. I'm hoping it'll free things up in other areas.

Such newfound freedom would be a good thing, considering I'm battling one of the most prolonged sicknesses of my life at the moment. I was somewhat hesitant to make this claim before, because the concept of a trendy disease really, really rubs me the wrong way, but... H1N1? Maybe. According to my first Google search, symptoms include "runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue." I've had all of those, at some point in the last month. Of course, that's the problem; with a virus that has so many traits in common with virtually every damn virus out there, and with the (admittedly justified) advice that you're NOT supposed to go see a doctor unless it gets truly life-threatening, knowing whether you have H1N1 or not becomes a rather elaborate guessing game. What I know is that 3 weeks ago I had an incredibly sore throat, 2 weeks ago I had about a week of migrane-level headache attacks, last week my left side was so congested that I had a low-level headache 24-7, and right now, my cold is keeping me up at night so I have a tendency to fall asleep several times during the day. Blergh.

And now I'm the guy that complains to everyone about his health problems. I hate that guy. I guess I can take some condolence in the fact that, at the moment, I have nearly an entire city full of company right on my doorstep.

Later Days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Quotations: Why Yes, It Was This Book that Gave Me the Migraine

"There have always been churches to hide the death of God, or to hide the fact that God was everywhere, which amounts to the same thing. There will always be animal reserves and Indian reservations to hide the fact that they are dead, and that we are Indians. There will always be factories to hide the death of labour, the death of production, or the fact that they are everywhere and nowhere at once." Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death.

Later Days.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Honest, they will. Just not soon, because I'm taking off to Toronto for a few days with the parents. So here's a catch up session, bullet-style.

  • The Folks Arrived Last Thursday. Me: Are you sure you guys want to stay here? I mean, I only have one bed. Folks: No problem. We'll stop after the airport at IKEA and buy a bed. Me: (envisioning free bed) Well, all right then. And you got me a new keyboard? And... my God, is that a printer/scanner? Welcome, parents!
  • Oktoberfest. Doesn't any young man dream of a night on the town with his parents? Seriously though, it was a lot of fun. Highlights included: the middle-aged woman who decided to sit down and start talking to us for no particular reason; watching my parents be rather uncomfortable at the second Pavillion which featured a few hundred people with an average age of around 20; and watching a traditional German dance that involved chopping wood. There's something very Canadian about drinking beer and watching people chop wood.
  • Best Thanksgiving Ever. Man, it was awesome. Last Saturday, I went over to a friend's house, and got a full helping or two of Thanskgiving, East Coast style. Then on Sunday, it was a family dinner with the folks, all Prairie style. (I honestly didn't realise how much I missed a family thanksgiving until I had one. Thanks so much for being here, parental units.) And on Monday, it was dinner at another friend's house, Ontario vegetarian style. At the third dinner, the hostess's niece (three years old? Six? I'm no good with kids' ages) ran around in circles singing nursery rhymes at the top of your lungs. (I honestly didn't realise how much I missed having little kids around until I had one. And then I quickly realised how much I missed not having them around.) There was much food eaten. Too much, frankly. I need to either pick up my running routine immediately, or make plans to hibernate. Most important part: I HAD SIX KINDS OF PIE. (I knew exactly how much I missed having pie. And it was glorious.)
  • The Play. Yesterday, my parents took me to a play. More specifically, a musical. Which thus makes it more awesome. It was A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. It's much, much better live than it is in the movie version, Zero Mostel and Buster Keaton notwithstanding. The down part is that I chose to spend from 1:00 to 6:00 reading lit theory, and it literally gave me a migraine headache, which is not particularly conducive to play enjoyment. Oh, lit theory. Is there anything you won't ruin?
That's it for now. Any one of these items would normally be expanded into something meaningful and deep, but... well, I'm out of practice. The swing in my step is loose in the chain. There's a disturbance in the Force. I'll fix it for next week. Probably.
Later Days.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Quotations: Is that "Global Respect" thing up and running yet?

Nobel prize win 'humbles' Obama.

Apparently, the BBC News headline writer feels the award should have gone to Morgan Tsvangirai.

Later Days.

Monday, October 5, 2009

aRe THe LeTTErs SuPPOsed To dRIP DowN teh ScREEn?

A proper update is coming soon. For now, I just needed a place to say that, thanks to a particularly unfortunate bout of insomnia, I have had six hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, and about 3 in the past 24.
Today's To-Do List:
-Turn in my OGS application
-Meet with one of the chairs on my literary theory committee
-(Start and) Read Foucault's Archeology of Knowledge.
-Go for a run.
-Eat a light lunch. I'm thinking bagel, apple, orange juice. I could go either way on the cream cheese.

Later Sleeps.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is NOT a post about my comps

I'm experimenting with false titles.

I haven't been very prolific postwise recently. Generally, as I'm sure you have all noticed, my posts are either about whatever aspects of my personal life I feel willing to share, how my school research is doing, and various pop culture investigations.

My personal life has been preempted by comps. My school work is comps. My TV show schedule is preempted by comps. And I decided I'm not going to talk about comps on my blog. So not much to post about. Okay, that was all a slight exaggeration; I'm still fitting most of that stuff in, but... frankly it's all really boring of late. The comps stuff, on the other hand, is really interesting.

Here's an example: I've had to read multiple essays by Jacques Derrida. For those who don't know Derrida--I envy you greatly. Derrida is a French literary theorist who specializes in revealing complexities. He's often been named as the main figure of the deconstructionist movement, though he himself would probably deny that. (And if you don't know what deconstructionism is, again, I envy you. The short version is that it's about taking the most obvious readings of a text and tearing them apart. The long version is the same as the short, but to get there, you need to spend about an hour explaining why the short version contradicts itself.)

The text I'm reading at the moment of his is about truth and literature: whether truth is something that exists, and, if it does, what literature's relationship to it is. He's making his mark on a long strand of literary discussion that dates back to ancient Greece. Basically, it boils down to Aristotle and Plato saying that the purpose of literature is to imitate reality. In order to deal with this mimetic relationship, Derrida discusses Mallarme (another French critic) and what Mallarme said about "Peirrot Murderer of His Wife." Peirrott is a stock name for a mime, and miming is about imitating reality, so we have one level of representation. This particular scene was invented by the actor Paul Marguette. Marguette was later accused of plagiarising another actor's scene by a similar name, which would have been a representation of a representation of the "real" murder. He DID write a book about it, and asked one of the people who saw the performance to write the foreward. His book, then, is a representation of the performance of the murder, and the foreword is representation of someone observing the the performance of the murder. Mallarme read the second edition, with a new foreword by Marguette about writing the original book. So the second edition is an imitation of the representation of the performance of the murder. Then, finally, Mallarme writes about his version of this, which makes it an interpretation of an imitation of a representation of the performance of the murder.

Derrida lives for this kind of stuff.

Finally, Big D gets his hands on the text, and in great, yet vague, detail, outlines that this is his interpretation of an interpretation of an imitation of a representation of the performance of the murder. And after that, *I* got a hold of it, took down a set of notes, then used this set to write this blog. So: you're reading an outline of a summary of an interpretation of an interpretation of an imitation of a representation of a performance of a murder. That's seven levels of imitation between you and the murder--now remember that the murder was imaginary. What is the "real" here?

If you are in any way confused, then I have succeeded in conveying the reality of how it feels to read Derrida. To add to all the confusion, I had originally mistaken "Peirrot" for "Poirot" and spent most of the essay waiting for everything to turn into an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Which would have made it so much better.

Later Days.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009


So my day started with a dream that I had met with a professor to discuss my SSHRC proposal. In the dream, she told me my writing was turgid and amateurish--in fact, it was so bad that they were canceling my funding, expelling me from the program, and she had filed papers to retroactively take back my Master's degree.

So not a good start.

I woke up at 6:00 am to get an early start on my work. I had one thing to do before I went to school: renew my public library books. There were fourteen of them, and they were all due today. But when I went to renew them, my computer wouldn't connect with the internet. It was a connection problem rather than a computer problem this time, so I thought I'd phone Rogers and give them an earful. I pick up my cell phone, and realize I forgot to charge it, so it's completely dead.

Thus, I'm faced with the choice of either returning the books, or paying the fine, which adds up when you've got 14 books out. Now, the wonderful thing about the library system at Blank is that it is actually two systems that never bothered to amalgamate. That means that you can't return books from one system to a branch that's in the other system. I had books from both systems, and the respective closest branches of each were in opposite directions, so I had a long bike ride ahead. At least, I thought, this would give me a chance to listen to that podcast I was looking forward to. That's when I remembered I had decided last night to download the 'cast in the morning--and that my internet wasn't working. Further, I suddenly realized I hadn't actually seen my iPod since Saturday morning, so God only knows where that is.

Deciding that I've wasted enough time at home, I depart, with my backpack full of the library books plus the books I needed for school today. Unfortunately, since my internet weather application was down, I forgot to anticipate or even check for the possibility of rain. And sure enough, it started raining about five minutes after I left the apartment. I wasn't so worried about my own state, but the backpack full of books was going to fare well. I drop off the first set of books, which amounts to two of the fourteen, then proceed to bike the six kilometers to the next drop off, then head to the university. By the time I get to the university, I'm soaked, both from the intermittent rain and the sweat that builds up from carrying a dozen or so hardcover books six kilometers on a bike. (Plus, the books were kind of waterlogged by that point, so that had to add to the weight.)

And when I get to the university, I leaf through the soggy notes and papers I have left and realize that I dropped one of the University library books I was supposed to be reading today at the first library by mistake, so as soon as my cell finishes charging in my office, I can phone someone to have a conversation about that. Then there's the actual meeting with the professor about my SSHRC application in a few hours. After how the day started, I am not looking forward to this.

But none of that is the worst part. The worst part is that all of this has happened, and it's still before 9:00 am. There are whole magnitudes of things that can still go wrong with today. I still have one memory card, a working bicycle, and mostly dry underwear. Which one will go first? Place your bets!

Later Days.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hey, So I Remembered I Said I Was Going To Do This!

"A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.Just as the height of pain may encounter sensual pleasure, and the height of perversion border on mystic energy, so too the height of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the sublime.”
---Umberto Eco, delivering his private theory on why Casablanca is so popular: not because it's in any way good, but because it delivers every cliche imaginable. I personally have no opinion on the subject; I just want to see what he thinks of Titanic.

Later Days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: Salman Rushdie's Enchantress of Florence

When the emperor came home from the wars the command of silence felt, in the mud city, like a suffocation. Chickens had to be gagged at the moment of their slaughter for fear of disturbing the repose of the king of kings. A cartwheel that squeaked could earn the cart's driver the lash, and if he cried out under the whip the penalty could be even more severe. Women giving birth withheld their cries and the dumbshow of the marketplace was a kind of madness: 'When the king is here we are all made mad,' the people said, adding, hastily, for their were spies and traitors everywhere, 'for joy.' The mud city loved its emperor, it insisted that it did, without words, for words, for words were made of that forbidden fabric, sound. When the emperor set forth once more on his campaigns--his never-ending (though always victorious) battles against the armies of Gujarat and Rajasthan, of Kabul and Kashmire--then the prison of silence was unlocked, and trumpets burst out, and cheers, and people were finally able to tell each other everything they had been obliged to keep unsaid for months on end. I love you. My mother is dead. Your soup tastes good. If you do not pay me the money you owe me I will break your arms at the elbow. My darling, I love you too. Everything. --excerpt from Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence."

I went out for lunch at a Korean/Japanese place yesterday. I made sure to get something vegetarian, but I showed my Asian culinary inexperience by forgetting to make sure that I selected something tame enough that said inexperience could handle it. So I wound up with something super-spicy. And I did not take it well. We're talking sniffles, coughing, full-out tears, the works. The best part was that I was trying to impress a woman at the time. I understand that it is possible to impress women with your sensitivity, but I don't think that's the sort of sensitivity generally meant.

But oh, wait! There's a book review going on! Keep a finger on the "White boy coping with the exotic" story type, 'cause it'll be returning.

The story begins when a young European who calls himself "Mogor dell'Amore" journeys to the Middle Eastern court of the Emperor Akbar. Once there, he starts to tell the story of the Enchantress of Florence, a woman who, a generation ago, held the people of Florence spellbound with her beauty and grace. The book is constantly alternating between the two stories: one set that investigates the Emperor's court, and the other portraying Renaissance Florence and the life of the Enchantress. This book is the first full Rushdie novel I've read, and it's largely what I expected--a well-crafted book that is equal parts cultural history and magic realism. Rushdie is one of the few writers I can name whose work I read, and then have to stop reading on occasion, just I can take a moment to laugh at the sheer brilliance of a passage. (Yes, I do this. Often in bars, libraries, computer rooms, or other places where there are many people around to stare at the crazy man.)

One of the larger themes of the book is its discussion of personal power. As you can see from the quotation, the emperor Akbar definitely falls under this heading. He is roughly comparable to the absolute monarchs in the French tradition, only more so. One of the more interesting subplots concerns his eighth wife, a princess who exists solely because he wills her into existence. He decided one day he wanted the perfect woman as his bride, and, since he couldn't find a real one, he created an imaginary one by sheer force of will. Everyone treats her as real, and even she thinks of herself as real--because if the emperor believes you exist, then you do. It's an interesting twist on the Emperor's New Clothes; no one lets themselves believe that the wife cannot exist, because if they do, then the Emperor is wrong, and everything falls apart. Contrasted with the emperor's power is the power of the Enchantress, who is able to win over any man and most women; at least, as long as they stay near her. There's a clear gender dynamic behind these power discussions, and an element of colonialism as well. The Enchantress needs men to protect her from other men, but she can always seduce a new one, who will remain loyal to her, knowing all the time that she will betray him for her own continued safety, if she has to. The Emperor can will women into existence, but he is enchanted with another woman through the stories the European brings. I guess if the book has a message on this front, it's that no person's power is absolute, because just being human puts bounds on such power.

The story is excellent--my only real complaint is that with magic realism, the longer you try to sustain it, the closer it gets to out and out fantasy, which requires a different set of conventions. Most of the characters are just too mythic or larger than life to be sustained for quite as long as Rushdie uses them. But to be honest, what really drew my attention throughout the book was the narrative framework: a European voyages into the Middle East, reaches an exotic country and its emperor, then gains credit with the emperor by telling him stories of places even more outlandish. It's exactly the same framework at play in Itano Calvino's Invisible Cities, which is one of my all-time favorite books. In that case, it is Marco Polo, and the emperor is Kubla Khan. Rather than an enchantress, the stories Polo shares are all descriptions of cities based around a particular theme--cities underground, cities of the dead, and so forth. Invisible Cities leans on the magical realism even more heavily than The Enchantress of Florence, but since it has much less of a ongoing story thread, I think it pulls it off a little better.

But what can we say about the structure of the books, in terms of postcolonial studies or otherwise? Well, one reading is that you have the Westerner imposing his power on the foreigner. No matter how great the power of the Emperor--and in both books, the power is near absolute--he needs the creative power of the Westerner, and is defeated by it in turn; he needs to know how the story ends. Of course, this view is further complicated in Rushdie's case (not so much in Calvino's) when you add the meta level and remember that he is a Middle Eastern telling this story to a Western audience.

The other facet is that if you change the gender and nationalities, you get another story entirely. If we transform Marco Polo into a female, we get a gender dynamic that takes precedence over the postcolonial aspect. (In fact, a minor, almost throwaway section of the book is where the Emperor tries to court Queen Elizabeth, from a distance of a few thousand miles. In terms of the gender dynamic, it's interesting that between Queen Elizabeth, the eighth wife and the Enchantress, the Emperor spends almost the entire book searching for a female equal.) If you turn that female into a native of the Emperor's court, then you're in the middle of another story, A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. If the one telling the stories is a male from the Emperor's court, then it's a power struggle. If both figures are male Europeans, the stories amount to a meeting of the Explorer's Club, and it becomes part of the European conquest genre (if it wasn't there already.) If the gender between listener and teller are opposite, you inevitably have a seduction story. And if you have one female telling it to another--well, that's so far out of any Western tradition that you can just shrug your shoulders, pronounce them lesbians, and look around for some dude so you can go brag about how manly you are.

I guess that what interests me about this framing device isn't so much its variations as how it draws attention to what stories do and what kind of power they can have. The little boy who notices that the Emperor has no clothes is famous for a day, but the little European who creates the Emperor's dreams is set for life.

Later Days.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Vacation IV: Too Cute

I figure one more vacation post is the most I can justify doing. That means we're not going to get posts on my video tour, a general discussion on board games, the movie "Glen or Glenda," my culinary adventures for the weekend, or the finer points of bacchi ball. I know, I'm disappointed too, but there's a new school year starting on Monday, so I really need to clear the slate for anything of interest. So today we're going to wrap things up with a look at a topic near and dear to the image files of the internet:


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "adorable" means situated at the mouth. ...Sorry, that's "adoral." "Adorable" means worthy of adoration and worship, or, alternatively, capable of inspiring an intense, passionate attachment. (To illustrate the latter usage, the dictionary uses a reference from C. D. Lewis that is... somewhat dated: " John McCormack, an adorable man, handsome as the top of the morning, racy and bawdy of tongue, a heroic figure with the simplicity of the heroic and a heart of gold.") Note that neither of these definitions include actually liking the adorable objects; following them strictly, "adoration" may even be viewed as a more intense form of "fascination."
Some context. My essential interactions in Toronto revolved around 10 beings: 4 human adults, one human baby, and four cats, evenly distributed among the two adult pairings. The human baby was four months old, the cats ranged from a year old to the double digits, and the adults probably wouldn't appreciate me posting their ages on an internet site.

I've got a huge weak spot for cats and young creatures. My Facebook avatar, for example, is a kitten wearing a hat. And just as it is no longer in fashion to refer to a man's adorability, I admit that this weak spot is perhaps not the manliest of preoccupations. However, I maintain that the surest sign of masculinity is to be so certain of your own masculinity that you can act in stereotypically unmasculine ways and still be certain of said masculinity.

...I'm also certain and sure that if I say this enough times, then it will become truth through repetition.

Anyway, the fondness for cats is easy enough to explain. My parents have owned various cats for my entire life. My brothers and I, once we moved into a larger place, got a cat of our own. As pets, cats have their benefits. They don't have the same intense loyalty as dogs, but they do have a greater sense of independence, which generally makes them more low-maintenance. Dogs need to be walked. They need to know you're close by. They need to excitedly greet/threaten newcomers. If they're not on their leash, they need to chase runners for blocks on end. (This last one may be the source of my any lingering grudges I hold against the noble canine species.) Cats need a change of litter, water, and food on a regular basis. Beyond that, they will present what level of affection they deign you deserve.

Every night I spent in Toronto, I stayed with people who owned multiple cats. And it struck me how much I missed just having a cat around. Just their presence at the foot of the bed can be comforting. And their idiosyncrasies are awesome--I've known cats with phobias of the outdoors, cats that purr at seismic levels rather than meowing, cats that dash across the room and attack your outstretched wrists because that is what you do with oustretched wrists, dammit. Cats are like mentally disturbed snowflakes--no two have the same disorders. They make humans look normal. I like that.

Babies, on the other hand... forget dogs being high-maintenance. Babies are so high maintenance that you'd swear there's some sort of deal going on between the manufacturer and the producer. Feed me, burp me, change me, look at me, dress me, feed me, feed me, wipe me, change me, listen to me cry for a few hours straight because I'm baby and I don't really have a lot of other options yet. The second night at Toronto, I stayed with some friends with a baby, and the mother was happy in the morning because, for the first time, the baby had slept for five consecutive hours during the night. When I get only five hours of sleep in a night, it's because I've just gone through a Batman marathon.

I'd love to make some cutting observations on how baby-obsessed the new parents were, but... well, it's been a while since I was around a newborn, and I was just as spell-bound. The baby rolled from its belly onto its back, twice, and this was absolutely amazing. Her parents gave me a quick car tour of Toronto, showing me such sites as the bridge whose construction is featured in Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, and the actual Degrassi street, but I had a hard time paying attention because the baby had grabbed my finger in her teeny tiny fists and suddenly this was the coolest thing ever. The shine was wearing off a little by the time we headed back after supper though--baby was getting cranky. The parents tried the lesser tactics of rocking her carseat, and talking softly, then brought out the big guns: the mother grabbed her iPod, set it to static, and put it next to the baby--and the baby stopped crying instantly and just stared at the iPod for the rest of the trip. Spooky. She adored that static.

Do I need more adorability in my life? Perhaps. I looked at that baby, saw it coo and gurgle, felt whatever the male equivalent of a biological clock is ticking, and thought to myself--

--Man, I could really use a cat.

Later Days.