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Thursday, January 31, 2002
Oh dear, oh my. Thanks to the Gaijin, whose blog I read almost as often as I do my own, and thanks to his ability to find some of the funniest stuff on the Internet, I am now in danger of losing a lung every time I think of the words "blue-veined haggis-legs."
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
A Heady Trip Home: Last night the fetid bus slams to a halt in the middle of one of the busier thoroughfares in downtown Calgary to avoid flattening a couple standing in the middle of the road. Those of us who were standing, and who are now swinging from the bus straps, wonder at the logic of the driver who proceeds to open the doors and let the couple board the bus. We are overcome with glue fumes in a matter of seconds. This would explain the standing in the middle of 9th Avenue for the bus, rather than at a bus stop. In under a minute, people are complaining to the driver: "Get them off!" "I'm gonna' puke!" Meanwhile the miasmic duo are laughing unsafely, high, shrieking, drawn-out laughter. The bus driver has retreated into Standard Bus Driver Defence Position, hunched over the steering wheel, ignoring the cattle behind him. The mad laughing continues. Suddenly, the bus pulls over again. The driver is going off shift. The replacement driver comes aboard, takes one whiff, traces the aroma to its appallingly obvious source, and yanks the couple off the bus, lecturing them: "If you're going to sniff glue, you stay off the bus!" Pointless, really, since he's talking to people who could no longer reliably tell him what a "bus" was. The driver resumes his place behind the wheel. Those of us closer to him heard him utter, "I'm going to get that fuckin' prick." I'd love to know what happened when next the two drivers met.
Monday, January 28, 2002
A Weekend in which the Author once again learns of the frangible nature of glass:
  1. Why does a rectangular pane of glass crack first at an unreachable corner? Why does the glass, when it's being removed from the cabinet door, shatter, not from the previously cracked upper corner, but from the bottom? And why, when we see a large shard of broken glass falling toward us, do we reach out to catch it? Upshot: I had two neat pieces of skin carved from each of three fingers, and it could have been worse. I remind myself of that. It could have been worse. But my dormant survival instinct kicked in with the words "This is a bad idea, yes?" before I could get much of a grip.
  2. I have voluntarily watched "The Cell" at long last, and I ask you: if you're going to go to all the trouble of creating visually overwhelming scenes of exquisite madness, why would you gutshoot the whole thing by hiring Jennifer Lopez to lisp her lines and bat her lashes? It could have been so much better if they'd hired someone who could at least remember she was supposed to be a serious, highly educated counsellor, not a dressmaker's dummy with a plunging neckline and fruity taste in shoes.
  3. Post-"Cell" watching, consider adding "that's a real nipple-ripper" to my collection of epithets. Reject consideration almost instantly.
  4. Not content with playing the swashbuckler with cabinet doors and glass panels, I came over all manly and hung my bathroom cabinet last night. Got the right drywall anchors and everything, so it's rock-steady. Only problem is, [after the other tiny problem of shooting the drill bit out twice before figuring out how to tighten the screw] the cabinet is ever so slightly, endearingly, crooked. Damn.

Friday, January 25, 2002
Poetry Friday:
A Few Words on the Soul
[by Wislawa Szymborska. Transl. from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh]

We have a soul at times.
No one's got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

it will settle for awhile
only in childhood's fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.

It's picky:
it doesn't like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow
aren't two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we're sure of nothing
and curious about everything.

Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won't say where it comes from
or when it's taking off again,
though it's clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.

Thursday, January 24, 2002
Busy, busy, busy. Busy at work. Busy after work, going to plays at the High Performance Rodeo and elsewhere.

Part of the fun of going to the Rodeo is that you never quite know what you're going to get. You may be elated. You may be angered. You may feel you've wasted your time. Or you may feel all three at different times. That's what theatre should be -- a risk -- otherwise you just end up seeing Alan Ayckbourn's lastest cleverness with a bunch of actors faking transatlantic accents.

But last night I was bored, Lord, bored. I saw a piece called "White Mice" by a group known as Mammalian Diving Reflex. [I found the very company name irritating; this, as it turned out, was foreshadowing.] The show featured two men with mouse tails carrying on a machine-gun rapid, Warner Bros. cartoon style discourse on institutionalized racism. And because they were mice, certain words like "capitalism" were cutened to "capitappitalism", "Canada" to "Canananada," "individual" to "individululule." That got old pretty quickly. In fact, while I appreciated what the actors were trying to do, I came out of the performance feeling as though I was a teenager being nagged by my parents for an hour and a half. And while there was no denying that the actors put an incredible amount of background work into the play, the result was still a bewildering amount of verbiage, and a surprisingly shallow conclusion. Did I learn anything new? No. Did it make me think? Not really, except for thinking about how bored and irritated I was by the whole thing. But maybe it was supposed to be more profound than are white mice -- and white mice are experimental subjects, a bunch of animals who can't control what happens to them...oh yeah, that's deep.
Or maybe it's just a bunch of pretentious arty dreck.
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Scrounging through Google, I find...I am an African band. And an urban legend.
Sure. Sure clients can write copy. I'm not saying they can't. It's just that, when they do, things like this happen:
"Relax under our Fathers of Confederation and soak up some history in the Confederation Lounge."
Ooh, that Sir John A. Macdonald...what a find out why he's the father of our great nation. Gimme some of that Upper Canada sugar, baby!
As an addendum to my previous entry, I should mention that friend-hero Fearless drove me back to my car and attempted to boost the battery. Witness two females standing in the bitter cold, trying to read directions in the dark, connecting the cables and then trying to start my car. Nope. Not even a cough. Sort of like trying to jump-start a tractor with a hair dryer. Fearless is right: there are booster cables and there are booster cables, and we didn't have the right ones. Still, we were determined not to be helpless females, we did try, and once again I am in the debt of the mighty Fearless. Soon she'll own my condo, if this keeps up.
Monday, January 21, 2002
The car battery conked out, but her heart held up: Well, damn it. I just got out of the most absurd and possibly the funniest play I've ever seen, called "Stiff," by the theatre troupe Spymonkey, only to find that I left my lights on and now have a very dead battery. I called AMA and got a scene straight out of "Brazil." I want them to send someone to give me a boost. They're sorry, I have to have an active membership. Fine, I'll renew my membership. Sorry, I can only do that during regular office hours. THE HELL? Sorry. They wish they could help. Apparently, in this age of online banking and wireless connections, AMA is still maintaining its database with wax tablets and sharpened sticks.
Hum de dum dum...just waiting for the tow truck to la la....and my back is actually sore from all the laughing I did at "Stiff." There was a scene where extremities and entrails performed an Irish dance inside a coffin, and I actually shrieked with laughter. And a fight between two tombstone promoters that had Fearless and I bent double, hardly able to breathe. Lemme tell you, it was the perfect cardiac test. If I had really had heart trouble, I'd be dead by now. Oh, my lungs. My stomach. I'm going to feel this tomorrow.
"In the last 10 years, I've had three heart attacks. All of them imaginary."
--Steve Martin as Harris K. Telemacher in "L.A. Story" (1991).
Upshot: my wonderful and admirable GP is slightly ticked to see me in her office, carefully reciting the unmistakable symptoms of coronary artery disease that I'd noted in myself last Monday night: angina radiating into upper arm and neck, arrhythmia, tachycardia, dizziness, nausea, you know, the classics. Doctor listened to well-informed patient dispassionately, then takes out the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Blood pressure: 110/60. Heart rate: 70. Lungs: clear. Doctor shoots look of disbelief at patient. Can anyone be that dumb? Oh boy.

"Well, first, you didn't have a heart attack last week, not if your blood pressure is this low," she says. "You are, however, clearly not taking care of yourself very well, if this panic attack is any indication." We talked some more, then she reminded me of my upcoming physical and suggested that, um, losing a few pounds would be a fine idea.
I can't believe how stupid I feel.
Situational irony. It's been a long time since I've thought about that term. Now I'm wondering if I'm living it. Take two scenarios: (1) I blame my anxiety on people, but ultimately people are the only cure; (2) I think of death as a great answer to most of life's problems, but the moment the Grim Reaper even brushes my field of vision with a ragged hem, all I can think of is "I want to live!" a la Susan Hayward, circa 1958.
What a luxury to have such neuroses, really.
Friday, January 18, 2002
Took work home last night. Actually worked on it. Came up with a good headline for one ad. Came up with another that should survive the translation into Japanese. Shitcanned the one I loved, "Ichibanff," as I'm not sure Japanese tourists to Banff would appreciate the play on words; however, I'm very sure the client won't.

Rewarded myself for hard work by watching one of the funnier movies of the 1990s, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Oh sure, it's silliness itself, but so enjoyable. It's another of those movies where the writing takes precedence over the action. No good line is ever sacrificed, even if it's slightly out of step with the action or mood. [This also happens in "The Opposite of Sex"; you get a sense that certain scenes exist only as buildup for great wisecracks. Still, as a frustrated screenwriter, I don't have a problem with this, even though it actually detracts from the movie.]

Distinguished myself by forgetting to take the work back to the office this morning. Thank God once again for good friends: Fearless zipped over after my panicked phone call, picked me up from work, drove me home to pick up the goddamned book, and then back to the office. Somehow buying her a coffee as thanks doesn't seem nearly enough.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
"...from one point of view, we really do create our own surroundings, but from another, we ourselves are merely the reflection of all that surrounds us. And therefore the fate of any individual in any country repeats in metaphorical terms what happens to that country -- while what happens to the country is made up of thousands of separate lives."
Eep. This book by Pelevin is really hurting my brain. But it's a good hurt.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
For the last three days I've been keywording again. I used to keyword image libraries for Adobe, then EyeWire, before making the much-desired move to copywriting. Keywording comes naturally to me, therefore I tend to discount it. That is, until I see atrocious keywording -- such as that generated by keywording programs. Note to people out there: hey, language, it's subjective, you know? You need a human brain, not a software app, to keyword properly. Otherwise you end up with linguistically correct but utterly absurd keywords for images. [Example: "Allure" for two kids holding hands.] So though I'm bored solid this week, I know I'm performing a necessary service for the company. Remember, kids: computers can't keyword, people can.
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
Some days there are just things that go so well. Like meeting a few ex-EyeWire lads for lunch and talking about fainting spells and music and media and what everybody's doing now that EyeWire is four in the air. Everyone seems to be pleasingly busy. So this goes on the happy thoughts list for today. [Yes, I have started writing down a list of 5 good things before I hit the sack each night in an effort to keep the weltschmerz at bay.] Also, I was laden with much loot at lunch, including three CDs which I am enjoying the hell out of as I write this. And the book, The Life of Saint Nicholas by R.O. Blechman, is hilarious and deep and human and over much too soon. Another high point of the day.
Monday, January 14, 2002
And now the masterminds at Getty Images have decided to pull the plug on the Seattle creative studio, following the rationale of, "Well, we shut down Calgary, so....". So much for thinking that working in head office grants you a little more job security than working in a satellite office. Getty, having thrown tentacles across the world from its original London base, is retracting those tentacles at record speed. Of course a creative studio in London can produce catalogues [sorry, catalogs] for a North American market. And a Pacific Rim market! And an Australian market! Sigh. I know, I know I'm prone to distrust, but somehow I don't think Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein actually care about people. Note: File that insight under "There's a Goddamned Bulletin."
Well, that explains it. I found myself at a wacky gift exchange party on Saturday night in central Alberta. You know, where you draw a number and then you choose a gift and the next person can take your gift away, then you have to get another gift from the pile, etc? I used to organize these for EyeWire and former companies I worked for, until it one year it hit me: getting a gift I like taken away from me, even in fun, makes me very, very mad. So I stopped organizing the exchanges.

Anyway, I was visiting my pal Jean and her boyfriend's family was having their yearly Ukrainian New Year's gift exchange, and she had already bought a gift for me to contribute, so I couldn't really back out. Besides, I like her friends. There were about 20 people at the party, and it quickly became obvious that the gift exchange is taken very seriously. There's a huge competition year after year to see whose gift will become "the most stolen," and dirty gifts (penis-shaped macaroni, for example) are frowned upon. Bring something like that and you don't get asked back.

Central Alberta tends to be more on the conservative side, and the gifts mostly reflected this. The majority were either utilitarian (alarm clocks, safety lights, toolbelts) or pancreas-blenchingly cute (stuffed snowmen, carved knick-knackery, angel candles). Uber male and uber female, in other words.

My number was drawn late in the game, and I opened a present full of cottage-crafted ornaments which made my toes curl by their very winsomeness. I hope I managed to keep a happily surprised expression on my face, but inside I was screaming "Make it stop! Get it off!" I consoled myself with the thought, hey, at least they burn, but then, phew, somone swiped my gift. I picked the final package of the night which contained a box of chocolate and a gift certificate to The Keg restaurant for $50, well in excess of the agreed-upon $15 limit. Eyebrows were raised and jaws dropped. My theory: a number of people in the crowd were Seventh Day Adventists, a.k.a., "pork dodgers," and The Keg is notoriously meat-centric. I suspect someone was recycling a Christmas gift, but I'm not complaining. I fall off the vegetarian wagon pretty frequently, but the local Keg has a splendid salad bar. Beautiful.
Friday, January 11, 2002
Poetry Friday, the first of 2002:
Two Countries
[Naomi Shihab Nye, 1995]

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travellers, that people go places
larger than themselves.
Occasionally, certain poems make my breathe quicken, my heart feel as though I've been running. This was one of them.
The Spiritual Life of Construction Workers, Pt. I.

Overheard at lunch:
Speaker 1 [20-something male]: So Jesse, he sees there's a light on downstairs, right? Coming from the bedroom. And he goes to the room and whoa! There's a guy sittin' on the end of the bed. He says to him, "I come for Ryan."

Speaker 2 [Late 40s male]: No!

Speaker 1: Yeah: "I come for Ryan." Jesse says to him, he says, "You can't have him."

Speaker 2: Oh, no way.

Speaker 1: Soon as he says that, the guy, eh, he's like out of there, but like -- there's like -- fuckin' five people upstairs, right, and no one sees anything -- anyone or nothing goin' out the door. That's how come I believe in ghosts. 'Cause you know--

Speaker 2: I'da shit myself, man, you know, fuck!

Speaker 1: Jesse come upstairs all white and shit, totally freakin', man. Just gone.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
(Reinhold Niebuhr)
How's that for a little anaphora, Mr. B?
Poetry Friday to follow, but first I must fake two weeks worth of timesheets.
Thursday, January 10, 2002
Another browse through "As I Lay Dying," by William Faulkner. I neglected to mention that I'm reading a school edition of the "corrected text", which had apparently once been the property of a bored high school student in the mid-1980s. The marginalia are cracking me up: "Horray!" [sic] written at the end of the book. "I am not" scrawled over "William Faulkner" in the verso running head. Although, wait, that might be a reference to Darl's ongoing existential argument about "is" and "was." Come to think of it, Faulkner is pretty weighty stuff for high school students to be reading. I think my teachers gave me "Black like Me," and "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- oh, and "The Hobbit", which I hated at the time. As far as Faulkner goes, I'm in my 30s, and I feel I'm just barely sentient enough to grasp the intricacies of his writing. Mind you, when I was in high school, I knew everything. So there you go.

My favourite author response of all time was from Faulkner. An audience member came up to him after a lecture and chirped, "Oh, Mr. Faulkner, I've read 'The Sound and The Fury" three times and I just don't understand it." Growled Faulkner: "Read it a fourth time." Perfect.
If, in your sleep-deprived morning haste, you mistake the jar of ground cayenne pepper for the jar of ground cinnamon, and you notice this mistake at the very second you are scattering the first few grains onto your piping hot porridge, and you curse profoundly and scrape the damn stuff off the top of the bowl, and add the stupid cinnamon, and mix everything around, you will notice in the first bite that you didn't get every last bit of cayenne out of the porridge, and that mixed with a modicum of cinnamon, it actually tastes pretty damned fantastic, though not actually breakfasty.
Wednesday, January 09, 2002
Once again I'm working for a company where the presence of Tech Support is the exception rather than the rule. I'll explain: Back in the days when I worked for Adobe, there were two I/S employees, G. and N., both of whom took more sick time than any other employee. In Product Development we used to have a joke about N: "Is there a "Y" in the day? Then he won't be in." I hasten to add that both men were intelligent and talented and probably bored out of their skulls with the trivial but necessary fixes they were called on to perform. And then along came EyeWire, and I was spoiled completely by Sean and his Gilligans. [He's probably reading this and saying "pshaw," but it's true, all true. I have never seen, before or since, quite the same level of conscientious expertise as that manifested by Sean and his team.] Anyway, now I'm at Karo, and for over a month I've had a request in to upgrade Quark, but no dice. I offered to instal it myself. "No, only Rudy can do that." Too bad Rudy is gone three days out of five, and leaves early on the two days he is here. So Sean, if you were wondering about your chances for success in your new incarnation, I can assure you there is a great, great need for you.
My, yes, I'm irritable today. My low-grade anxiety has kicked into high gear, which has resulted in lack of sleep and overreactions. Last night, I thought, "Ah, perhaps a nice, charming movie," and thought a repeat of "Amelie" might help, but in my fretful state I broke my cardinal rule of NEVER going to a theatre on Tuesdays, the cheap night in Calgary, which brings out the crowds. I tried to convince myself that there was really nothing wrong with my fellow man, and that I could handle the talkers, but no. I was seated next to a deaf, phlegm-horking old man who kept reading the subtitles out loud. And repeating them to make sure his companion heard them. And then, if that weren't bad enough, he turned out to be that noxious breed of moviegoer, A Predictor: "Oh, I bet he gets the garden gnome back now. See? Told you!" Oh dear oh dear. I asked him to keep it down, but to no avail. I lost it and hissed at him to shut up. His response? "Huh!" So I did what I hate to do most, which is move my seat, but by then my anxiety was too much and I couldn't relax and let the movie work its considerable charm on me.
I realize I'm overreacting again, blowing a minor annoyance well out of proportion, but that's the hallmark of anxiety. Everything is epic. So I'm off to get my daily B12 capsule and think happy thoughts.
Tuesday, January 08, 2002
I look at the stack of unread blogs from my estimated 35 favourite bloggers, and I ask you all: could you not have slacked off, even a bit, over the holidays? Oh no, no, it's witty observation this and piquant comment that, day after day. Buggers.
Oh, nearly forgot to add the obligatory comment on The Lord of The Rings movie. Bear in mind I just read the trilogy for the first time in the fall, and prior to that I was pretty anti-Tolkien, despite having belonged to The Society for Creative Anachronism for a number of years. Anyway, the movie: the best. Even non-Tolkien reader Fearless loved it.
Monday, January 07, 2002
My holiday, in three words: Rain. Truffles. Books. Yes, it rained every day of the 12 days I was in California, but not hard, and not incessantly. Note: I like rain a lot, and after living in terribly dry, landlocked Calgary for so many years, walking on the beach in the rain was a treat.
I read:I also bought a few more books while in California, just to underscore how fundamentally STUPIT I really am: I ended up spending more on the book than I would have if I'd bought it in Canada, thanks to the punishing exchange rate. But there you go, I was in my favourite bookstore in Santa Cruz, and all frugality and common sense flew out the door. Anyway, up next on the reading list: Buddha's Little Finger, by Victor Pelevin; Made in America, by Bill Bryson; Samuel Johnson is Indignant, by Lydia Davies; and "godbox", by Tim Earnshaw, if I can ever find the goddamned thing.
Truffles. Oh Gott, the truffles. My hosts import a lot of food from France, and this year scored a big one with a container of fresh, that's f-r-e-s-h, not that tacky first-boil stuff, black truffles. Not white truffles. Not summer truffles. Please. Tuber melanosporum, the rare, fragrant black gem itself. We feasted. Christmas day luncheon was a truffle souffle. I ate truffled potatoes on my last night on the coast. Many other truffle dishes graced my visit. Is it possible to get sick of fresh truffles? I'm afraid I have to conduct more research in order to answer that properly.
Two travel notes: (1) I was searched twice on my way down to California. My suitcase was emptied in Calgary and pored over by a guard who asked me at one point, "How come you need 100 mcg of B-12, my doctor said I only need 50?" How that prevents air terrorism, I can't figger. In Denver, at the gate, I was in line behind an man of Middle Eastern descent. He, of course, was automatically searched. Then I presume I fell into the "See? We search Wonderbread White folks, too" category, because I was made to dump out my purse, take off my shoes, undo my belt (!), pull out my waistband (!), lift up the hem of my sweater (!), etc. In front of everyone, too.

(2) I fly United Airlines a lot, but I have to say that their plane hygiene is pretty bad. This is a disgusting note to relate, but just imagine how I, one of the most puke-phobic people on the planet, felt when I discovered that my seatbelt clasp was clogged with dried vomit. Luckily, phew, the seat next to me was empty (and so was its seatbelt clasp), so I disconcerted the person in the window seat by sitting next to him and leaving the aisle seat empty. Then I lied: "Oh, sorry, misread the seat assignation on my boarding pass," and spent an anxious few minutes hoping no further passengers came onboard to claim my new seat.
An odd dream fragment, no doubt induced by truffles and Armagnac and the unfamiliar situation of seeing the US Flag everywhere I went, on just about every car, every store, every shipping van, even made into earrings, candy, and bikini bottoms:

"God Bless America! Don't you get it? God Bless America. I know what it means. It's so simple! The terrorists spoke French! "Blesser", transitive verb, meaning 'to wound or to harm.' Do you understand? The terrorists thought God wanted them to wound America!"

Yeah. I know: deep, eh.