Tuesday, January 22, 2008

are you the favourite person of anybody?

Things John. C Reilly should spend more time on (and you should too): Miranda July's short stories.

"It comes to me that fear of death is, from another angle, love of the world."

Originally printed in the Journal (Vol 135's Literary Supplement) in a collection of books for each season, this is the book I've been talking about to anyone to will listen lately.

When I Was Young and In My Prime - Alayna Munce

During the season of short days and long nights, it's easy to find refugre in that which is static--though life, as this book's narrator discovers, rarely stands still. When I Was Young and In My Prime skips between and around generations of one family, telling their stories with raw and beautiful concision, from Mennonite children in revolutionary Ukraine to broken bones on backyard ice rinks in rural Ontario to the painful awkwardness of old age.
Through diary entries, lists, poems and prose, over and over again, Munce nails the everyday, the mundane, with knowledge that comes from the heightened awareness of pain.
Our narrator is a young woman in her mid-twenties living in the Parkdale area of Toronto, who splits her time between waitressing in a bar* and writing. She's a version of Munce, and the book walks a blurred edge between fiction and autobiography--its truth is that palatable.
When I Was Young paradoxically provides comfort in its realism and its simple acceptance of the things that are beginnings, ends and everything in between.

(Need more? The title of this entry comes from the author's description of biking home through Toronto's rush hour, towards the sunset. Truth.)

*Rumour has it the bar she works at in the novel is Mitzi's Sister (pictured above). Live music every night. Queen West at Dowling, or so.

Monday, January 21, 2008

that said,

My latest addiction is Fecal Face's Photo of the Day. Lurk it regularly: http://www.fecalface.com/POTD/
More POTDs:
• Toronto's Daily Dose of Imagery (doesn't that title sound a little bit Orwellian, with the caps and all? I love it.)
Paris Daily Photo, taken by a cute old dude who introduces himself as a "Friendly Parisian (yes, it does exist!)
• Torontoist's (nearly always) interesting collection of photos, which they scoop from the Toronto Flickr group
• And finally, the super-cool Panaromist. 360-degree views! Science and technology!

rainbow's end

I'm reclaiming Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The beautifully sad 1961 film has been pigeonholed, painted over and made into something it's not. I can promise you this: it's not the stuff of cheap photo purses in Chinatown, it's not wallpaper for co-eds' dorm rooms, it's not an early chick flick.

The original novella, written by Truman Capote (arguably one of the weirdest damn fellas of the 20th century), is a sort of autobiography (Holly Golightly's real name? Lulumae. Capote's mother's name? Lillie Mae.), maybe also the document of a gender crisis, and certainly an intricate story of those things most complicated: of sadness, of letting-be, of growing up, of not-knowing.

I saw the film for the first time when I was very young--probably too young. I certainly didn't understand Holly's professional life, and I was terrified by the scene where a drunken partier cries into a mirror. I was old enough, though, to be charmed by Holly. It wasn't classic opening scene, it wasn't the diamonds or the beehive or the long dress.

It was the Holly who wasn't sure who drew me in. The Holly who sings on her fire escape and who answers her door wearing an eye-mask and ear-plugs and who refuses to give her cat a name.

This is a movie that's grown with me, and that I've grown with. I didn't understand how sad Holly was, because I was too busy looking for a why. Now I'm starting to understand that it's the lack of Why that can make us saddest, and that maybe this whole movie is about a girl trying to make her own Why (there's no shortage of men trying to do it for her).

Now, peep this:

"The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?"

Two drifters, off to see the world...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

sometimes a person's hands are the only words she knows

Something new I've stumbled upon this year (one of those so-close-you-trip-over-it discoveries) is the writing of Bronwen Wallace. Born in Kingston, Wallace taught at Queen's and St. Lawrence, worked at Interval House (a women's shelter) and wrote. Wrote, wrote, wrote. Wrote her heart out, wrote till it was spilled out and wrote till it was stitched back up. She had a weekly column in the Whig during the '8os (ahh, the institutional legacy: some comfort in a past that nothing can buy out), she argued about the usefulness of language in feminism with fellow poet Erin Mouré, she wrote intelligent, angry poems about violence against women and she wrote poems about the land north of Kingston in which, through disconnected family lines and dusty county lines, I've come to find something of a home.

Wallace died of cancer in 1989, and I'm feeling the loss of her 20 years late.

If I had a god,
I'd say we were holy and didn't know it,
but I see only what we make of ourselves on earth,
how long it takes for us to love what we are,
what we offer to each other only in our best moments,
but carelessly, without shyness,
like food grown in plenty,
our mouths blessed with it every day.

--Bronwen Wallace, from What It Comes to Mean, in Common Magic, 1985

*This spring, Queen's is hosting a conference called Common Magic: The Legacy of Bronwen Wallace in March. Kingstonians, and others, look
here for more. Rumours that Emmylou Harris might be playing were unfounded--the big concert is Kate & Anna McGarrigle.

**Grace O'Connell, former writer for the Queen's Journal, a former "who" of the University's literary "who's," etc. was one of three finalists for the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers (the award was recently picked up by RBC and now comes with cashola to the tune of $15 000 for the winner). Marjorie Celona won the award for her story "Othello."

And one more:

It's never easy.
Even the effort of a few steps
from the bedroom to the kitchen, say,
or a few muscles, opening my eyes
to find you still there in bed beside me
is an act of magic or faith,
I'm never sure which.

All I know is that it's learned
by doing, over and over again,
like any other trick,
until you don't need to think about it.
Like now. Like the way I'm walking home
to you through this city I've learned to accept
as the only kind there is: five o'clock,
night coming down and rain
just hard enough
to make the crowds on the corners shove a little
when a bus finally splashes to the stop.
Outside a restaurant, two men shake hands
and a little boy holds his father's
as they watch a toy airplane turning in a shop window.
It could be anywhere. But what I want you to notice
are the women. They are wearing white nurses' shoes,
or dirty sneakers or high-heeled boots.
They carry briefcases and flowers, bags of groceries
as they hurry home to their husbands and kids,
lovers, ailing parents, friends.
We all have the same look somehow.

See: over there by the bank
how that stout woman lowers her eyes
when she passes that group of boys,
how her movement's mimed
by the blonde, turning her head
when a car slows down beside her.
Even the high-pitched giggle of the girls
in that bunch of teenagers is a signal
I've learned to recognize. Tuned in
on my own tightened muscles, jawline or shoulders.
In fact, you might study the shoulders.
The line of the backbone too; arms and hips,
the body carried
like something the woman's not sure what to do with.

I've already told you that this is an ordinary city.
There are maps of it and lights to show us
when to walk, where to turn.
What I want you to know is that it isn't enough.

On a trip to Vancouver once
I discovered clearer landmarks. Red ones,
sprayed on sidewalks all over the city.
They marked the places
where a woman had been raped,
so that when I stepped out of a coffee shop
to find one on the pavement by the laundromat
geography shifted.
Brought me to the city I'd always imagined
happening in dark alleys, deserted parking-lots,
to somebody else. Brought me home in a way,
no longer the victim of rumours or old news,
that red mark planted in the pavement
like the flag of an ancient, immediate war.

I used to hope it was enough
that you are gentle,
that I love you,
but what can enough mean any more,
what can it measure?

How many rapes were enough
for those women in Vancouver
before they got stencils and spray paint
made a word for their rage?
How many more until even that word
lost its meaning
and the enemy was anything that moved out there.
Anything male, that is.

How can any woman say
she loves a man enough
when every city on the planet
is a minefield
she must pick her way through
just to reach him?

It's not that we manage it though.
It's that we make it look so easy.
These women wearing their fear
like a habit of speech or movement
as if this were the way
the female's body's meant to be.
The way I turn the last corner now,
open the door to find you
drinking wine and reading the newspaper,
another glass already filled
and waiting on the coffee-table.

When I turn on the hall light
the city will retreat into the rain,
the tiny squares of yellow
marking the other rooms
where men and women greet each other.
It's a matter of a few steps,
magic or faith, though it's not that simple.
The way the rain keeps watering the cities of the world.
How it throws itself against our window,
harder, more insistent,
so that we both hear.

--Bronwen Wallace, To Get To You, from Common Magic

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

without prejudice

It's been a long winter already--the wind-blowing and up-hill both-ways kind that makes some kind of summer of the mind seem impossible, and that reassurance that you are indeed the grasshopper this time around (however unwilling). My comfort comes in that Farmer's Almanac kind of knowledge that life rolls through in seasons, and change is the only constant.

This is the diagnosis:

I am a broken lip,
and a fat arm,
and a cauterized hip.
I am cataract teeth
and measles mouth,
I am a stained eye and
a rash smile.

*I titled this blog with the cautious hope that ideas are circles and everything is joined. Were I risky enough to grant credit where it was due, it would be to one who dares to write even when the rest of him is being changed and saved and forgotten.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

on hiatus, and other wintry things

Short days and long nights and uphill both ways in blowing snow, that's sort of been the way of things lately.