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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
On my last day in Victoria I made Nik and Dani go to the beach with me, since I am from Alberta and rarely get to see the big salty water thing. We walked along the boulders, navigated around driftwood stumps and other obstacles, with Dani madly snapping pictures of the coastline and her mother and Zena the dog and the big-bummed pal from Calgary.
Note: anyone with a camera can take pictures. But not everyone is a photographer. Dani's got a way of capturing shots that most everyone else who is not a photographer would dismiss, or overlook entirely. Damn, does everyone in that family have to be so talented? It's just not fair.
So anyway, beach, walking, tree trunks, kelp. One overturned trunk I pass has roots that are stretched out like the BVM's arms in Michelangelo's Pieta. I turn to Nik: "Hey, wouldn't it be funny to pretend we're victims of a shipwreck who've been thrown up on shore by a wave? You could be dangling upside down from the tree trunk here." No sooner suggested than accomplished, with Dani dashing over to take pictures. I don't know exactly how Nik managed to look so mangled and boneless, but that was some pro contorting, toots. Next: my turn. I am tied to a tree trunk with kelp and made to look strangled, Dani snapping away as I show the whites of my eyes and let my jaw hang slack. Hard to stay dead when one's crime scene photographer keeps snickering helplessly, but we eventually succeeded.
Having proved that we refuse to act our age, Nik and I then set upon Dani, making her lie supine on the ground and giving her hair extensions of seaweed, so that you can't tell where her hair ends and the kelp begins. Nik took the pictures that time, as everyone's seen what my thumb looks like. Later, after the pictures were developed, we hurt ourselves laughing at our various poses and post-mortem expressions.
A very good visit, despite the whining (mine) about the writer's block. I saw Breezy the mare for the first time since returning from Nevada, and she's adjusting to life in Canada pretty well overall, though she scared us on my last day by lying on the ground until her spavined left hind leg was fast asleep, then being unable to get up again without help from Nik and me. But she's a far cry from the scrawny bonebag we met in Reno, with a good winter coat, a love of carrots and a newfound addiction to BC apples. And she's as adorably sweet as ever, despite the roomatiz, and still bomb-proof around kids and dogs.
And so, back to Calgary, where my first trauma as condo board president awaited. Theft in our condo community! Horrible, horrible. Someone's garage was burgled during the day. By dint of many e-mails, I've learned that the burglary may have taken place because of (a) the garage door being left open while the owner went out, or (b) the owner leaving his automatic garage opener in plain view in his car, which was unlocked. Gee, Holmes, how do you figger that one? Also, we hired plumbers to dig up and repair a broken sewer line in one building, but they got the location of the break wrong, and have to dig up the garage pad in the adjoining condo, and it's all very very boring and more and more expensive. When it gets aggravating I'm simply going to recall the picture of Dani's, Nik's and my respective deadnesses on the beach, and smile.
Monday, November 25, 2002
When you're hanging out with a prolific author, it's a little pathetic to whine about having writer's block. Spent the weekend in Victoria with Nikki, who has, I believe, about 12 books on the go. I tend to say that I have the same, but in my case, I'm reading 'em, not writing them. Anyway, Nik's put the latest ream of manuscripts by the way and kindly given up a couple of days to hang out with an old pal. Part of hanging out with me has entailed a gentle but persistent harangue -- no, "coaxing" would be the better word -- that I should really start writing something. Nik's very good about sending me notices on writing contests and other literary attractions, and it's natural that she should be curious to see how I'm getting along. Truth is, I'm not.
It's tempting to call it "writer's block," but that's a shade too convenient. My other lifelong pal. La Vin, who is currently in Mainz, Germany, wrote last week and said that, just like "convenience" and "surrender," the Germans don't have a word for writer's block. "They don't fetishize writing," she said. "They figure they can do it as well or better than anyone else, and simply get on with it." The getting on with it would certainly characterize Nik's approach to writing (Nik's mom, Helga, is from Germany...perhaps it's the maternal influence). Still, Nik's been very encouraging and refuses to believe that I will never be able to finish -- or to start, for that matter -- a short story, screenplay, or even another poem. So now I'm waiting for the well to refill, and I know if Nik could, she'd have started a bucket brigade to help it along. Pretty lucky to have such pals as Nik and Vin.
Of course, the visit hasn't all been "Bucking up Jane," oh no. There's also a lot of what you could call untrammelled Jane abuse going on. Ever since I established my infamy as The Terror of the Motor Home, Nik and Dani pretend to live in abject fear of my grammatical severity. And ever since I blogged about being an arrogant reader, the label of "Snob" has been indelibly stamped on every opinion. To hear them tell it, they have to huddle together and figure out if they've parsed each sentence correctly before asking me what I'd like for breakfast. "Am I really that bad?" I asked. "Yes," came the chorus. Well, it seems that we can still live together despite my impossibly high standards.
I've always thought of Nik as one of the most unconventional people of my acquaintance, so of course she had to blow that assumption to hell yesterday by treating me to an exceptionally lavish brunch at the Empress Hotel. Typical tourist activity or not, we could barely move afterwards, it was that good. I'm waiting to get my revenge when Nik comes to Calgary, whereupon she'll be taken to the Stampede, treated to beef dip and pancake breakfasts, and given a choo-choo train ride at Heritage Park.
Friday, November 22, 2002
The reason there's coffee all over the place: Because I read the following in the San Francisco Gate newsletter:
"I wanted it to bring all these (Mormon) filmmakers and writers out of the woodwork," said Richard Dutcher, dubbed the "Mormon Spielberg" for directing "God's Army."
Thank you yet again, Mark Morford, evilly funny entity that you are. I can't even think "Mormon Spielberg" without busting up.
Thursday, November 21, 2002
Come on, delete delete delete delete. I want my ramble on friendship to go away, dammit, because I had a Prufrock moment yesterday whereon I said (paraphrasing J. Alfred), "That is not quite what I meant, at all. That is not it, at all." So off to Blogger to flush the post, but it was still on the page the last I looked.
[quick reload of page]
Ah, it's gone. Lovely.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
A salute to inconsistency. Yep, you got me, I don't like eating bee barf [honey], but I do enjoy the glandular secretions of a cow in my morning coffee, as well as the curdled, separated, pressed and matured secretions sliced and melted onto my toast. Occasionally, but increasingly rarely, I savour a lightly grilled cross-section of dead muscle, too.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
My afternoon, complete with bee poo: [L'après-midi quand j'ai mangé un morceau de merde de bourdon.] I guess not all that surprisingly, in a studio full of creative types, there is more than the average number of health cranks in our midst. You can always tell the ones who are on cleanses, as they are grey-faced and bitchy, and tend to pass out in meetings. The marathoners have their bank of supplements and massive water bottles at the fore. The environmentally pure have assorted expensive foodstuffs with colourful labels, and you know the food is good for you because the packaging itself is flimsy [no plastics, see?].
But by my reckoning, the herbalists are about to take over the place. There are enough multi-coloured lozenges and sachets and gargles to open our own apothecary's den. Something smelling of compost is continually being brewed up in tea mugs in the lunch room. The staggering amount of roughage consumed per capita leads me to assume that the level of colonic health must be extremely high, too, but I've never dared to ask, knowing that people would be only too happy to share digestive anecdotes.
Of course, there are the inevitable cross-overs between groups, with the accompanying inconsistencies. A vegetarian who would excoriate you for wearing fur-trimmed mittens has no compunction about exploiting the lowly honeybee. Thus it was that I was offered a delectable bee pollen "chew" while trying to get through yesterday's lunch hour unlectured.
I've sort of gone off honey in my adult years, though I will still use it in a couple of recipes. Taken straight, the smell of honey makes my throat itch. Besides, the thought of eating bee barf, pasteurized though it be, just isn't all that appetizing. [Point of accuracy, says a coworking bee-squeezer: honey isn’t bee puke, it's um, well…pollen that's mixed in the honey sac in the bee's gullet with, er, bee spit, then deposited in the hive for energy. You say deposited, I say barfed.] And bee pollen, well…talk about misleading names. You'd think pollen would be fresh off the flower, yes? But bee pollen is what's collected at the bottom of hives after the bees have eaten their energy-enriched honey. In other words, bee crap. [I see how that name wouldn't sell many products, even if you called it "Merde de Miel" or even "Petites Crottes de l'Abeille." ] But good for you, of course, because bees are gentle on the environment and pollinate flowers and crops, so of course their droppings are health-giving. For the record: I've been fond of bees themselves ever since a summer day in my childhood when a pollen-loaded, exhausted bee landed on my yellow sock-clad foot. I was about to freak and kick it away when my gramma, a bee-charmer in her own right, said, "No, no, let it rest. It's not going to sting you. It thinks your foot's a flower." And the bee panted for awhile, then gathered strength and slowly flew away.
Tasting notes: Bee pollen chews smell cloying, taste cloying, and leave a pasty residue on your molars. But if you simply must chew poo for health, it's probably the easiest sort to get down. Yes, I ate it on a dare. Yes, I am that immature.
Monday, November 18, 2002
Quote du jour, 11/15/02: Scenario: city bus, 10 minutes off schedule and extremely overcrowded. Male construction worker: <nfld accent>"Some days I'd rather get kicked in the balls than ride this fockin' bus, wha'?"</nfld accent> His colleague: "Jeez, I am gettin' kicked in the balls! And I think you're the one as doin' it!"
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Durn those Veer ideers! Now all I can think about is how I really, really need this for my Christmas morning to be less pointless than usual. [It's GH's entry from 11/12/2002.]
And if you really loved me, or just wanted the whining to be over! please! anything! -- you could also get me this.
My inaugural condo board meeting took place last night. The fastest ever, clocking at 1.5 hours, about half our usual time. Oh sure, you could say it was because there wasn't much on the agenda. Or you could attribute it to my helmsmanship, modelled after Dr. Evil. Any time anyone would stray off agenda -- "Zip it!" "The hills are alive with the sound of -- Zip it!" "When a problem comes along -- you must Zip it!" "Zip! Z- Z- Z- Zip!"[I have to hand it to Mike Myers. In creating some of the silliest movies going, he's also created at least one indelible cultural icon.]
Big topic of the night: who the hell ordered up the plow after last week's dusting of snow? Turns out the company, "Hire-a-Husband," took it on themselves to remove the snow. It was done so haphazardly, the snow piled so ineptly, that I sneaked a second look at the invoice to make sure it wasn't called "Hire an Ex-Husband." Boom-ching. Controversy rages about whether we will pay the $50/hr charge for removal we didn't request. Hang on, folks -- it's going to be a bumpy ride.
In the reading room: Breakfast book: "The Godwins and The Shelleys," another superlative biography by William St. Clair. Bus book: "godbox," by Tim Earnshaw, which threatens to be over with much too soon, and which I call the "seat by myself" book, as I tend to laugh out loud at certain turns of phrase, scaring away any seatmates. Lunch book: various Internet articles. Evening book: The remainder of "Esquire's Big Book of Fiction," and "A Mapmaker's Dream," by James Cowan. Question: am I a book-surfer? Do I have an attention span shorter than that of Toad of Toad Hall? Or is this just how it's meant to be when you try to increase your word power?
Monday, November 11, 2002
By way of explanation: Not a lotta bloggin' going on. Last week was an odd one. There was an epiphany of sorts, from which stemmed both enlightenment and despair. Yet there was renewed purpose as a result. And as a treat, one event last week even confirmed a previously held opinion.
I finished the massively rewarding biography of Oscar Wilde that had been the early morning before-work read for the last three months. Perhaps most helpful was the statement that "maturity starts when one stops apologizing for one's faults and starts admitting to them." I didn't know it as I read it, but that was epiphany on its way.
Wednesday night saw me at a writers centre, where I listened to an experienced author talk about common pitfalls of creative writing and how to avoid them. The wisdom from the Wilde bio suddenly flashed in my thoughts and the epiphany floored me. Fact: I am an arrogant reader and even more of an arrogant writer in the advertising work I do. Enlightenment: no wonder I think I'm too good for writing workshops and critiques. I get published every day as it is -- so what I write on my off-hours should be equally as compelling. Except that it just plain isn't. Bonjour Tristesse. Salut Désespoir.
So, having let arrogance out of its shabby, duct-taped enclosure, I've been carried along by it over the last week. I usually view fellow audience members at writing workshops as competition, not community, but this time I wallowed in absolute hatred for all of them. Then I went to a tribute for late Canadian author Timothy Findley, and resolutely hated everyone in the audience once again. I especially loathed the two presenters, one of whom was the perma-sultry and sluggable Anne Green of Wordfest fame. She's the second Anne I know who has a colourful surname and a wandering plummy Brit accent. The other is the heinous PR client who rewrites all my copy without fail.
Oh, the confirmation happened during the tribute. I haven't changed my mind on one thing over the past 15 years: Findley's "The Wars" is utterly brilliant and his "Not Wanted on the Voyage" is pompous and self-indulgent. "Headhunter" and "The Piano Man's Daughter" are well above average, though the first meets all my friend Laur's criteria of a deeply sick book.
So that's how I've started this week, hostile and arrogant, waiting to get over myself. I think humility is the one lesson I've never learned about writing or reading, or any other aspect of life outside of sports, where I know I am screwed. Luckily, I know the current of hatred for everyone who writes or even reads books is not going to last. Already it's slowing to a trickle. Now for the fucking humility part.
The joy of having one's fantasies played out on TV: I happened to be awake early enough to catch a rerun of "News Radio" last week. It was an otherwise contrived episode, where WNYX Radio staff participate in a talent show for charity, and Dave Foley just happens to be a knife-thrower with the jitters, and the feckless Andy Dick is the world's worst ventriloquist who bombs utterly onstage. Afterwards, his workmates console him and he's inspired to pick up his dummy and ventriloquize horribly again. Before you're aware of what's happening, a knife screams past from off-screen, ripping the dummy out of Andy Dick's hands and skewering it by the head to the wall. Suddenly the dummy screams in pain and Dave Foley walks into view, smiling contentedly. It was one of the funniest and most satisfying television moments of my viewing life.
Monday, November 04, 2002
Cuss splutter clench: After my special noon-hour trip downtown to get a ticket for tonight's talk at the Jube by Simon Winchester, author of "The Professor and the Madman," and his latest book, "The Map that Changed the World," and after blasting home from work to grab the car and race back to the Jubilee Auditorium and wait, wait, wait to get into the parkade, then trot to the front doors, I discover -- oh. Simon Winchester cancelled two days ago and is still sick in hospital somewhere in Connecticut.
The Canadian Society of Professional Geologists, the host of the event, scrambled around to get another keynote speaker, so I thought, well, hell, I'm here, might as well find out what's going on in the rock biz. The evening was supposed to start at 7:00 p.m. but they were still seating people at 7:20 -- another, albeit more minor irritant. Finally the first speaker took the stage. You know, when the speaker is using Powerpoint and then starts her talk with dictionary definitions, which I believe has been a time-honoured essay ploy of students ever since Samuel Johnson got the bright idea of putting together a lexicon of English in the 18th century, I begin to question just how polished of a speech I'm hearing. I don't blame the CSPG for trying to fill the sizeable gap left by Simon Winchester's absence, but I do think they might have called the ticket agents to say, um, "Our headliner has cancelled." Although it wasn't a total loss -- I now know what kimberlite looks like up close, and that Canada has 13 of the 19 most promising kimberlite sites in the world.
"Real" old-fashioned television: I don't like reality shows for a number of reasons – don't like seeing strangers being paid to be mean to each other, I guess -- but I do really like "re-living" shows. I was an avid watcher of "Bronze Age Britain" (the title's probably wrong, but it featured about 20 long-suffering Brits spending 6 weeks in a Bronze Age village, complete with cheese maggots, bad smells, worse cooking and so on). Then "1900 House," another favourite, showing a modern English family having to live in a house in the same conditions as would have existed at the turn of the 20th century. I don't think I've ever appreciated having indoor plumbing and a refrigerator quite so much before or since.
Anyway, next up is "1940 House," starring another English family. This time they live in a house in London during the Blitz, are forced to make do with meager rations, get awakened regularly by air raid sirens and have to hustle out to the bomb shelter, and so on. The details are, as usual, impeccable -- a pyrotechnics crew will even be simulating bomb blasts in the yard and neighbourhood. I can't wait for the episodes, frankly.
The shows got me thinking…. I am notorious for being slow on the uptake, but let me say that I think I've spotted a trend here, so I'm going to be bold and anticipate the next series: "2002 Condo."
In "2002 Condo," the inhabitants are faced with a number of challenges. Where to put all the books? The coffee cups? The "past due" statements? And the privations! A single-disc CD player. ["CDs? Primitive!"] A dial-up modem! A nervously stomached VCR ("No, thanks, I don't feel like watching 'Harold & Maude' again – eurrggghretcheject"). Outdoor garbage disposal! A cat who sheds enough fur to be a four-legged felt factory, frequently rests her bum on your sleeping head, and wakes regularly at 4:30 a.m. to meow the reveille. A garage so narrow that each entrance/exit damn near requires forceps. "We didn't know it could be like this," say the hapless dwellers. "You have to keep garbage on the premises until the bag is full, instead of vaporizing it to nitrogenized pellets for the community garden. There's only one bathroom for all of us, and planes fly over our condo at night. At night! And they ate something called microwave popcorn A LOT. It's disgusting stuff, really. God, how could people live like this? It makes you think, doesn't it?"
Friday, November 01, 2002
I would have been about 11 at the time the Creepy Neighbours moved in. Our neighbourhood was filled with young families, but the new homeowners had no children, something we had trouble understanding. “They're married, aren’t they? So where are their kids?” Creepy Neighbour Man was roundish and pallid, and had a nasal, high-pitched voice that just sounded wrong, all the time. Creepy Neighbour Lady never, and I mean never, came out of the house.
Halloween that year started as usual. We were optimistic enough in those days to go to a house even if the lights were out, but the array of decorations in the Creepy Neighbours’ yard and on their house was almost too much even for us. Tombstones. Dancing skeletons. Carved pumpkins lining both sides of the sidewalk from the road to their door, smelling of pumpkin guts. And for the first time any of us could remember since they moved in, their garage door was halfway open.
Creepy Neighbour Man was that tiresome specimen of Adult Halloween Hosts, a talker. “What are you supposed to be?” he asked a child draped in a bedsheet. “A ghost!” came the indignant squeak. “Oh, a ghost! Yes, you’re certainly a scary ghost. I don’t think I can ever remember a ghost as scary as you are! Do you have a trick for me?” And so on and so forth, holding a handful of candy over the child’s Halloween sack as he chatted. It was a guaranteed way to hold a kid’s attention, trapping him there no matter how much he wanted to run away from that wrong, wrong voice. And yet something else, the open door of the garage, drew everyone’s attention. There was a long, strangely tall station wagon parked inside. “Oh my GOD!” my brother said as we waited. “That’s a HEARSE! They’re undertakers!” It was all I needed to hear. I was down the driveway and across the street before I could bear to turn and look at the garage.
“Betcha’ 5 bucks you won’t walk into their garage and walk around the hearse,” my brother said, catching up to me. Five bucks was a lavish sum at the time, the cost of a record album, 10 Mad Magazines or 5 consecutive weekends at the movies. “Will too!” I said. “Will not!” he said. “You don’t even have 5 bucks to bet, you moe!” “Do so! Really! You’re just scared to go in the garage, chicken! Chicken chicken chicken!”
He never paid me, of course, claiming that walking into the garage and getting caught and thrown out by Mr. Creepy Neighbour didn’t fulfill the obligations of the bet. Our parents were even less understanding after the phone call came. “Mr. Huygenall is very angry with you, and so am I,” said my mother, confiscating my Halloween booty then and there. I almost wanted her to keep yelling at me, to drown my thoughts in her angry voice. Anything to get rid of the feel of Creepy Neighbour’s hand against my chest, where it did not need to be, preventing me from completing a circuit of the hearse.
My brother’s voice came under my bedroom door later that night: “Was there a coffin? Did you see anything?” I didn’t answer. I couldn’t sleep until I’d ripped apart and stuffed my Arabian dancer costume in the garbage can and covered the opening with my school books. The next day I threw it in a stranger’s garbage can six blocks away from our house, on the way to school. I thought nothing more about the incident, except to stay the hell away from those weirdos’ yard and make up wild stories to my friends about embalming hoses and caskets stacked in their garage. That was the only truly scary Halloween for me, the time I discovered that “creepy” had a deeper meaning than ghosts and vampires and mummies.