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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vacation III: Vacation Manifesto

Item 1: Vacations should be less stressful than your regular life.

That is all.

Okay, this post was prompted by someone who, upon hearing my initial comments regarding my vacation, followed it up with a single question: "So... did you do anything... you know, interesting?"I pretty much didn't. I'll admit that. I didn't go to the CN Tower, or to the Royal Ontario Museum, or see a game at the Sky Dome or... actually, that's all I can think of. What else does Toronto have?
In my defense, I did go to Honest Ed's:
As one tourist guide claims, "New York has Macy's, London has Harrods, Chicago has Marshall Fields, and Toronto has Honest Ed's. It is quite an attraction - honest." That's pretty accurate. It's also a hell of a place to get lost in when you're already going to be late for supper.
And some friends took me out to FRANK, the Art Gallery of Ontario's restaurant, which was pretty impressive:
"Culinary art" is pretty much the best way to sum up that meal. I've never eaten things that were so pretty.

But for the most part, I didn't do very much. This was a deliberate decision on my part. Allow me to explain further.

This "vacation"--remember, it was relatively short; two and a half days, less than 72 hours, and much of it was spent studying--was really the first vacation I've been on where my family wasn't involved. My family has done some pretty good vacations in the past. Lots of camping, cross-province trips, and a trip to Orlando last year. I've seen and experienced some incredible things during those trips that I wouldn't change for anything in the world. But it always seemed a bit like a negative sum--no matter how much we saw, there always seemed to be something we didn't get to see. It was stressful. And that always seemed to me to defeat the purpose of a vacation. (These statements should in no way indicate to any parental units that I am not absolutely looking forward to some destination locations when you visit in October. Because I am absolutely looking forward to that, and it will be Awesome.) So when I was planning my own, I minimized the planning aspect. I had no "must-go" destinations, no "must-see" sights. I knew where I'd be sleeping each night, and beyond that... que sera, sera.

The theory--zero stress--is admittedly questionable. First of all, I'm not sure it's accurate to state that reducing stress even IS a goal for a vacation, at least, not every vacation. Equally important goals include expanding one's horizon, adding some excitement to life, getting out of a routine. If your focus is relaxation, these other goals aren't going to get much attention. Not to mention I built stress into the vacation to begin with by bringing my work with me. The result, I'll admit, wasn't perfect. Sure, I didn't have much stress, but at the same time, I wound up with a vacation that doesn't exactly lend itself to a lot of interesting stories. (Did you notice that these aren't particularly interesting stories? I noticed you noticing.) So next time, I'll try for a bit more balance. A little more planning, and, hopefully, a little more EVENT. But like any good radical, I'll recant my manifesto when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

Later Days.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vacation Recounting Interlude: Oh God, It's That Time Again

I'd like to take a break in retelling my Toronto trip with a brief (okay, not so brief) complaint. It's orientation week on campus. Apparently, this requires much marching around campus in identical clothing while chanting loud slogans. The purpose is to familiarize new students with the campus, and provide a sense of community, especially for those that live in residence. I understand this purpose. I support the concept. I merely question the method. By the time I was in my last years of high school, "school spirit" was already something to be viewed with suspicion. And if you want me to do a frackin' cheer about how happy I am to be there, you've already gone a long way toward making me wish I was not.

So by the time one becomes a university student, then, the group cheer thing seems a bit... hollow. Isn't there better ways to foster a sense of community? Through, I don't know, free pizza or movie nights, or so forth? Through positive social change? Through alcohol? (I'm just coming up with ideas, here, people. Underage drinking is wrong.) Any of these would seem better to me than the idea that all we have to be proud of is that we can show up in a square and scream about how Shamu met his demise on the business end of a canoe. I suppose the whole cheer thing might create community in the sense that people bond by going through embarrassing situations together, but surely that sort of thing can only go so far.

But maybe these students actually like this sort of thing. In which case, well, I guess I'll have to bear it. We'll see how many cheer rallies there are in the middle of midterms.

And yes, I realize that it's somewhat hypocritical to be complaining about this when I made fun of the university people who complained about being disturbed by little dancing girls. In my defense, I can only say that this level of enthusiasm stops being cute if you add a decade to the children's age. And if that doesn't work for you, then my only other defense is that I recently converted to curmudgeonism, and I'm still in the vocal practicising stage.

God help you if you walk on my lawn. Or play your dagblastit music too loud. Darn kids.

Later Days.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Toronto Part II: Libraries are the New Raves

My bike fell over yesterday, which means the chain got caught in the rear axle, which means I'm currently back to being without transportation. Further, since it's Labour Day today, the bike shop is not open, so I've got to wait till Tuesday at least to take it in. And since I don't feel up to the eight kilometer hike back and forth to the university, that means I'm working from home today. And as yet another direct consequence, that means I'm stuck using my keyboard with the broken spacebar, since my bike isn't my only possession with a tendency to crap out when I need it. And for added fun, my internet connection is randomly going out every few seconds.(In case you're wondering, I created the spaces for this post by copying a single space, then pasting it every single time necessary. YES IT IS TEDIOUS.)

And all this cause-and-effect is to make this point: if this post comes across slightly peevish, the above events are the reason why.

Anyway, today's vacation topic is libraries. When I went to Toronto, I went with the goal to maintain my minimum hundred-pages of lit theory a day, a goal that had already been recently tarnished, thanks to all the time I spent on that Batman game. (Still worth it.) I managed to fulfill that goal for two of the three days I was in Toronto, which was about as good as I could realistically hope to have done. And most of this reading was done in the environment I still find most conducive for it: libraries.

All right, I realize that "The Libraries of Toronto" isn't going to become a popular walking tour anytime soon. But even if I hadn't set the comp goal, there was about even odds that I would have wound up in a library or two anyway. See, the truth is, I like libraries. Especially public libraries. I like seeing how the assortment of books differs from branch to branch. I like seeing how the interior architecture complements the building's function. I like the wide swathe of humanity that comes through the door. It's almost like a franchise store chain, where you can travel the world over and still feel like you never left home--only the libraries are allowed to express a sort of individuality that your average heartless conglomerate lacks.

(Incidentally, here's too things I don't like about libraries, and I'll admit both have a certain amount of snobbery on my part: the large swarm of people in public libraries always buzzing around the DVD section, because Heaven forfend you actually read something; and the fact that any given time, a university library seems more a place for undergraduates to sit and study on laptops than a place for people actually reading or looking for books.)

So anyway, I went to three different libraries during my stay in Toronto. The first was the big kahuna: since I was on campus, I went to the U of T main arts library, the Robarts. This is the Robarts:
The Robarts Library, I'm told, was built in a style of architecture called brutalism. Why someone thought that it would be a good idea to construct a building where the end result being considered brutal is the best case scenario is left to other minds than mine. Here's what wikipedia says about brutalism:

Brutalism as an architectural philosophy, rather than a style, was often also associated with a socialist utopian ideology, which tended to be supported by its designers, especially Alison and Peter Smithson, near the height of the style. Critics argue that this abstract nature of Brutalism makes the style unfriendly and uncommunicative, instead of being integrating and protective, as its proponents intended. Brutalism also is criticised as disregarding the social, historic, and architectural environment of its surroundings, making the introduction of such structures in existing developed areas appear starkly out of place and alien. The failure of positive communities to form early on in some Brutalist structures, possibly due to the larger processes of urban decay that set in after World War II (especially in the United Kingdom), led to the combined unpopularity of both the ideology and the architectural style.

You know what else is unfriendly and nonintegrative? The fact that in order to go beyond the first floor of the Robarts library, you need a U of T library card. Admittedly, any grad student in Ontario can apply for one, but that didn't do much good right then and there. I could have sat on the first floor and worked, but it would have been like working in an afterlife waiting room; you don't know if what you're missing is heaven or hell, but you do know you're missing it. And since the interior isn't much less brutal than the exterior, I went elsewhere.

Specifically I went here:

Here in this case being the Lillian H. Smith Branch. It's not brutal, but, well, we can't have everything. It was, however, quiet, and that was all I needed to get my work done for the day. If I had more time, I would have loved to peruse their Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy,but there was some sort of sign in policy, and after being turned away at U of T, I couldn't bring myself to face rejection again so soon.

I never made it to a library on Thursday, but I did go to see lots of second hand bookstores, which I'll talk more about later. But on Friday, I spent multiple hours at this library:
This is the S. Walter Stewart District library. I wasn't actually intending to spend quite so long here, but the theory book I was reading was a little harder to read than I anticipated. Ah, hubris. The SWS library was a lot like the area itself. Again, I'll be talking about it in more detail later, but I think I can give you a good idea what it was like just by saying that its most frequent customer is mid-twenty to early thirty year old new mommies with baby strollers. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it bears an interesting constrast with the student atmosphere of the Robarts library, or the more cosmopolitan mix of social classes at the Smith branch (in that the Smith branch got a mix of students, the elderly, what looked pretty much like hobos, young women, and children. The SWS was missing the students and hobos. That might be to its credit.). It also had the best graphic novel variety. Take that to mean whatever you'd like.

And that was the library portion of my trip to Toronto. According to the Toronto Library website, there are 99 branches in the city; I have now seen two. It's nice to know there's something left to do on the next visit.

Okay, that wasn't nearly snarky enough, given the conditions I'm writing under. If you really want to get my mood at the moment, just insert a random curse word every five words. Yeah, that does it.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

And Now Back to Our Regular Programming

As you may recall from my last vacation, I believe that a proper vacation description can serve as fodder for multiple posts. In fact, last time around, I wrote a half-dozen entries chronologically following my trip back to Saskatchewan for a wedding, and, with one thing and another, never actually got around to the part where I, you know, went to the wedding. Oopsie. So, this time, I'm not sticking to strict chronology, but blogging about the parts of Toronto and the trip itself that interested me most. Which means we're starting with a philosophical discussion of vacations in general. But for those who don't really care about that and just want to hear about the trip, here's a quick sketch for now: long car ride, walking, libraries (yeah, I went to a lot of libraries. It was MY vacation, dammit.), fine dining, veggie chili, sushi, baby, cats, CN tower, U of T campus, Monopoly, Cranium, All My Best Friends are Superheroes, Honest Ed's, bookstores, photo tour, and Glen or Glenda.

On to navel-gazing! I don't have a lot of vacationing in my past There's a few reasons for this. First, there's the general social ineptitude issue that plagued my late teenage and early adulthood (what? Ask someone if they want to go on a vacation? Or if I could go with them? Isn't that terribly presumptuous? And I'd hate to have to force someone to say no--think of how awkward that would be for them. Yeah, issues.). A second, nearly as odd, reason comes from my aversion to paying for experiences--why should I pay to go somewhere else when I can relax right here? And finally, there's the completionist issue: I like to completely finish something before I move on to something else. It's one of the reasons I like video games, I imagine--you play, you complete the achievements, you move on. Under that logic, why would I bother going to Toronto when there is so much in Blank left to see?

Honestly, with all of those factors at play, it's amazing that I ever left Saskatchewan at all.

But I did leave, and buried somewhere in the reason why I left is the point to all this. You go to new places, you experience new things, because you don't know how they'll affect you. You can have some idea what the effect will be; travelling to Disneyworld and travelling to Afghanistan don't really carry the same set of expectations, for example. But how you'll come out of it, and what you'll come out of it with is undetermined. To use a vastly incorrect metaphor, it's like your life is a science experiment. Your desired effect is a greater level of happiness, and when you go on vacation, you turn some elements of your life--surroundings, location, culture, etc--into variables, and some you hold constant--yourself, your values, your travelling companions. While I didn't take any travelling companions, I did stay with people I knew while there, so they served as something constant, or, at least, something familiar in a new context. Of course, the whole metaphor falls apart pretty quickly, because your happiness is part of yourself and your values, and changing the former will probably alter the latter two elements.

Additionally, I wouldn't say I was particularly changed by the vacation, which is another way that life is not like a scientific experiment (or a video game)--evaluating the results of an experience is more complicated than that. On the other hand, it did disrupt my personal inertia, and reminded me that new things aren't bad things. So maybe there was a measurable change after all.

Next time: things that actually happened.

Later Days.